Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Marvel Novel Series Covered

I actually wrote a little about these books back in 2008, which you're welcome to read (especially if you've always wondered what a Sampasumb is).

But just the other day I had the books out again, waxing nostalgic, and thought "Man, some of these covers are pretty good." And then I thought "How many people remember these things were even around, back in the day?"

And so here we are.

Now... I know I say this almost every time and it's almost always a lie, but I think this post really will be shorter on the word count. I'm mostly just looking at covers, so any 70s kids out there who might have been fond of the series can take a quick tour down memory lane.

So, the series was put out by Pocket Books. At least, all the books have "A Kangaroo Book - Published by Pocket Books New York" on the title page, and a little capital "P" with a kangaroo next to it as a logo. As far as I know, Pocket Books is/was a Simon and Schuster imprint, even though their website doesn't list it as one. And Wikipedia lists as its official website, but the link is currently dead. So I guess I'm not sure. I did an image search for the logo itself, but couldn't even find an exact version of that.

Well, here's a camera phone picture, in case you're interested:

I know, you were burning with curiosity.

Anyway, there were eleven books in the series, and they were published between March 1978 and October 1979. This was right in the middle of Marvel's late 70s television heyday, with Spider-Man and The Hulk having series in full swing, and both Captain America and Dr. Strange at least hoping for series as well. And several of these books have the privilege of being the very first novel ever written for a particular character, so that's noteworthy right there.

Okay, enough chit-chat. My plan is to put each front and back cover up, then offer whatever comes to mind about the cover or book as a whole. Which for most of these probably won't be much. It's been twenty or thirty years since I've read most of 'em, and there's not a lot rattling around in my brain at this point, certainly not enough to give each book a Brain Count. (Well, plenty rattling around my brain, just not much about these books specifically.)

So here we go.

First in the series was Mayhem in Manhattan, and it featured Spider-Man. Good choice for a first book: even if his TV series was struggling (with good reason), Spider-Man has always been one of Marvel's bread and butter characters, and he was huge in the 70s.

Most of these books have artist-signed covers, and this one does, too. But it was signed in dark blue over an almost-as-dark background, and it's teeny-tiny to boot. But me and my trusty magnifying glass are pretty sure the signature on it is Bob Larkin's: He did a lot of the other covers, this one fits his style, and the tiny little blurry signature here is the same general shape as his more discernible signatures on the other books. So I'm giving it to him.

Of special note to me: Bob Larkin is one of the artists who worked on the Bantam Doc Savage covers. And I'm pretty sure you'll be seeing some Doc Savage around here soon, if the old rumor mill is at all accurate. (And it is.)

Anyway, feast your eyes on this cover. And feel free to click through (on all of these) for a super-big-gigantic image with more detail.

Cover by Bob Larkin. I think.

Marvel is making sure we know this is Spidey's very first novel by calling that out on both front and back covers. And the book's back cover sets a tone for the whole series, being filled with that cheesy 70s Marvel copy we all love to hate (I do, anyway).

The book was written by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, both big names in the 1970s Marvel world. And I know I've read it, but it was a long time ago and I can't even comment on what lies between the covers at this point.

Snappy 70s Marvel Patter.

The series' second book wisely featured Marvels other big name at the time (as far as non-comic book aficionados were concerned): The Incredible Hulk. Like Spider-Man, this was Hulk's first novel. I can't for the life of me see any kind of signature on the cover, so nothing to share on that. I will say the person who did this cover probably wasn't the same person doing the next one, on account of The Hulk looking so different between the two. This cover has a cool look, though.

[Edit: For what it's worth, SFE has Bob Larkin down as the cover artist. I didn't find anything to back that up anywhere else, but....]

Mystery Artist, going for a slightly less muscular, slightly more
realistic Hulk than you tended to see in comics of the day.

Anyway, this one was also written by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, with the addition of Joseph Silva as a third author.

I was just about to tell you I couldn't find anything on Silva, when I chanced upon a reader's comment from another blog: Turns out Joseph Silva was one of Ron Goulart's (many) pseudonyms. I don't know Goulart from Adam, and it looks like he published most of his work under pen names, but there you go. Mystery solved.

My vague recollections of this book are mostly around the idea they tried to take 70s Comic-Hulk and directly transfer him to prose, which didn't really work that well. 70s-Comic-Hulk was great on the comics page, but all that "Hulk Smash!" stuff fell a little flat with no visuals to back it up.

An instant collector's item: The Hulk's first full-length novel!

Cry of the Beast was the third book in the series, and it was my favorite by far. Part of that, of course, was due to Hulk being my favorite Marvel character, period. But since I didn't care as much for the other Hulk books in this series, it can't have been the only reason. Ric Meyers was this book's sole author, so I'm giving all the credit to him. What he really did was melded 70s-Comic-Hulk and 70s-TV-Hulk into a more original creation that worked better in a prose format.

Meyers' Hulk was taller and lighter than in the comics, standing eight feet high and weighing 800 pounds (versus the comic's seven feet and 1000 pounds). He never spoke, except once to repeat his name. He didn't jump miles into the air or leap across continents--a twenty or thirty foot hop was more in line for this Hulk. He even ended up sustaining a few (admittedly minor) injuries as the story moved along, and that never seemed to happen to Comic-Hulk in the 70s. The book's overall storyline was toned down, too: No aliens or super-powered villains running around, just Banner/Hulk getting caught up in various human affairs. They were global-scaled human affairs, but still just human affairs.

...his fingers burst through the cool marble tiles. 
He came up directly in the middle of the guards.

This is the only book that held up really well for me when I went back and reread the series as an adult. Truth be known, I still pull this out every every few years for a quick reread. As far as the cover is concerned, I don't have a clue on the artist; there's no signature on it I can see. That's some great art though, huh? I wonder if Larkin did this one, after all.

This was the first book in the series that was numbered and given the little "Marvel Novel Series" blurb in the upper left corner, and also the first with the diagonal banner going across the top with the book's title in it. All the other books would have this, but later books would also incorporate the author into the banner, instead of having it at the bottom like this one.

And, in this book, you get to see The Hulk take on a rhinoceros.
No way to turn that down.

So book four featured Captain America in his second novel (the first being this one, in 1968). This book was also written by Joseph Silva, aka Ron Goulart, but all on his own this time. Although the title page does say the book was "packaged and edited" by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. (Actually, most of the books say this, but I'm not sure what all it entailed.) At any rate, cover art was by Dave Cockrum, best known for work he did on The X-Men.

I am running from a giant floating head! Aieee!!!
Unlike Cap, I am not a living legend of World War Two.
Or any kind of legend, really....

Book number 5 featured The Fantastic Four, who were my brother's favorites back in the day, if not mine. I did always like Ben Grimm because he could (try to) take on The Hulk. In fact, I'm pretty sure if you had a time machine, and went back far enough, you might see a couple of brothers playing Hulk versus Thing in their back yard. Pretty sure.

A pretty standard grouping for these folks.
70s Thing always looked a little 2-D to me....

This one is also the FFs very first novel, with Marv Wolfman as its author. Who the cover artists are isn't quite as clear, though. There are two signatures, the first one I can read as being "Buscema." Now, there were two Buscema brothers who worked for Marvel back in the day, John and Sal.

But I'm giving this credit to John, just because his "notable works" included a long run on The Fantastic Four and his brother's didn't. I'm only guessing. The other signature here looks like "Lebger," or something like it, but I couldn't find anything searching that name or permutations of it. So I guess this second artist will have to remain a mystery for now.

I would've killed to see a Hulk versus Thing novel in this series....
"Killed" is a strong word for it, I guess....

The sixth book featured Iron Man in his first full-length novel. It was written by William Rotsler, who had the distinction of being a Hugo Award winning science fiction author, as well as a noted pornographer. You learn something new every day. Cover art here is by Bob Larkin.

That Hugo belongs to me!
No! It's mine and you can't have it!
We A.I.M to please!
(Did I really just write that?)

The seventh book was also by Rotsler, and featured Doctor Strange. I'm not a huge fan of the whole mystical thing, in general. (Although I will happily go see the upcoming movie with Benedict Cumberbatch. I'm a big fan of both Cumberbatch and the MCU.) Anyway, the novel had him going up against Nightmare, a demon who influences people's dreams and psychically feeds on their terror. Oh, this book is also Dr. Strange's first ever novel. And once more, Bob Larkin did the cover.

Am I a bad man if this cover reminds me of Rarity from My Little Pony?
Am I a bad man because I even know who Rarity is?
That's awesome: "A soul-chilling tale of terror... terror that could be YOURS!"
Right out of the pulps--makes me think of The Spider, in particular.

Next on the list is Crime Campaign, another Spidey novel by Paul Kupperberg. Kupperberg has written, well, gazillions of things, and he spent fifteen years editing over at DC Comics. This book has Spider-Man matching wits (and fists) with The Kingpin, one of his big comic book nemeses, and I remember it being pretty decent. Cover artist? You guessed it: Bob Larkin. (Another great cover.)

Taking on Spider-Man whilst keeping cigar lit and suit coat unruffled.
(And this cover features our second giant-floaty-head of the series....)
Spidey being hunted for a crime he didn't commit? Shocking!

Marvel broke tradition with this next book, by doing a short story anthology versus a novel. The Marvel Superheroes featured The Hulk, The Avengers, The X-Men and Daredevil, and each story clocked in around 50 pages or so. Here's the breakdown:
The Avengers go up against Ultron, Daredevil takes on The Owl, The X-Men match wits with Magneto, and The Hulk (and Man-Thing) deal with The Collector. (Yes, it was hard coming up with four different ways of saying "X battles Y" in one sentence. In case you were wondering.)

Hulk looks stoned. Am I right?
These stories might be the first time Daredevil and The X-Men were ever presented in prose.
I couldn't find anything that said otherwise.

Book 10 in the series was actually the third time The Avengers were part of a prose tale. (That short story in the last book was their second outing.)

The very first Avengers novel was published way back in 1967 (same year I was born--now that's old). I happened to stumble across the novel in a used bookstore several years back, but haven't actually read it yet. Apparently it wasn't just the first Avengers novel, it was also the first novel featuring any Marvel character. Quite a claim to fame, huh?

Anyway. Since this post isn't really about that earlier book, I'm adding an image (it was published by Bantam Books, same folks who would do Doc Savage) but keeping it small and to the side. You can click to enlarge the image and see the cover in all its glory. (And it is glorious.)

So this particular novel was written by David Michelinie, who's best known for his work on Iron Man (apparently he was the one who gave Stark his alcohol problem). He also did long stints writing for Spider-Man and Superman comics. Dave Cockrum is the cover artist. The novel itself is has The Avengers taking on Kang the Conqueror.

Kang the Conqueror is all about time travel, and this book has plenty of that.
I finished this book like there was no tomorrow! (Get it?)

And here we are: last book of the series. It's only fitting, with the first two books featuring Spider-Man and Hulk, we should finish things up with the two of them as well. The story here has Hulk being mind controlled by some non-canonical bad guys, Spidey figuring out what's going on, having a skirmish or two with mind controlled Hulk, freeing him of said control and the two of them cleaning up on the bad guys. It was written by Paul Kupperberg, who also did Crime Campaign, with Bob Larkin doing the cover art.

Pretty sure Spider-Man would be dead, with Hulk's hand around his neck like that.
Even if Hulk didn't actually mean to, strong as he is, bones would be cracking.
Space station thinly disguised with fictional name: Skylab.

And we're done! (Yay!) That was a little shorter word count than I've done in the past. Wasn't it? Come on, it was eleven full length novels, for crying out loud. I did good.

Till next time.


  1. I just picked all 11 up and look forward to reading them. Thanks for the article.

  2. You're most welcome, Max. :-)