Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Promotional Four

There's probably little argument of how successful the Fantastic Four became after their series premiered in late 1961. Once the book found its legs, you could almost see comics history unfold in front of you every other month. When the book went to monthly publication almost a year later, and still growing in popularity, Marvel apparently felt comfortable enough with the book's solid standing to begin using it to promote the company's other fledgling characters and titles. As the saying goes, they would have been fools not to.

In various other media, such as television shows, that method of promotion meets with mixed results, so with published product it's no surprise to find the same mixed bag of success or failure. Perhaps that's mostly due to the concept itself that you're trying to have "catch on"--i.e., if the concept is fundamentally flawed in terms of how it appeals to readers, that appeal isn't necessarily going to be ignited by a change of venue. But you never know what happens when you roll the dice--and with the FF on such solid ground, it remained to be seen whether their success could rub off on some of Marvel's other players.

And brother, were those dice rolled a LOT:

At the time, I suppose no character needed a leg up in terms of sales more than Incredible Hulk, another bi-monthly publication that was introduced just six months after the FF. When Hulk #2 hit the stands, we found this shameless plug in the FF's fifth issue:

Gosh--Bruce Banner is still coming to grips with his condition, and already there's a nationally published comic book about the creature he turns into. It's true, the paparazzi are everywhere.

The Hulk was again featured in the FF book just seven issues later, at the same time the character's sixth issue came out. Fans, of course, remember the issue as the first Hulk vs. Thing fight:

As it turned out, Fantastic Four was making a sort of "hail Mary" pass with the Hulk's second promotional appearance, as the Hulk's title was on the verge of flatlining--but the move didn't pan out, and Incredible Hulk was cancelled with that same issue.

During the same month, over in the first issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Spidey was getting his own bump from the FF. And also getting bounced by them:

Hey, it never hurts to have Reed's seal of approval--he was right, wasn't he?

A few issues later, it was Ant-Man's turn. Ant-Man had only been around for ten issues, featured in Tales To Astonish. In another four, he would undergo a refit and become Giant-Man, so that probably gives you an idea of why he's popping up in Fantastic Four:

How about that clever "promotion within a promotion" they did with the Wasp? Though it's not lending her much appeal if her own partner is telling her to stay behind. Ant-Man throws a punch or two at the end of the story, but he's really only there to loan the FF some of his potion:

Great, Reed--the guy already has issues with inadequacy, and you basically tell him that you could duplicate his work if you had nothing better to do.

The original Avengers were swept out the door after just fifteen issues, so maybe we shouldn't have been surprised to see them get their own plug in Fantastic Four, when they join forces to take on the Hulk:

Okay, so maybe Reed's seal of approval isn't foolproof, at least with this particular lineup. Still, it's clear by now that Marvel is massively pushing the Hulk, who in four months will split Tales to Astonish with Giant-Man.

The FF promotional machine isn't through yet, though--in fact, it's a little out of control, because this recent battle with the Hulk has the FF spending four issues in a row promoting other characters. Following the Avengers' appearance, we now get Dr. Strange:

Strange's involvement really amounts to just a simple lost-and-found mission--but the panel of Ben trying to haggle with him is (appropriately) priceless.

Then it's the X-Men's turn, whose run in their own title is about half over at the point when they're promoted in the pages of Fantastic Four. And when I say "promoted," that's clearly an understatement:

Well, you can't believe everything you read--I think that paper made a misprint, and probably meant the Vanisher rather than the Space Phantom, the latter never having crossed paths with the original X-Men.  Let's make a simple adjustment for Sue's sake:

The meeting between the two teams turns out to be a setup, due to the manipulation of Professor X by the Puppet Master (with the help of the Thinker):

But by issue's end, Reed is giving his seal of approval again, with a helpful sales nudge in the last panel:

The FF would take a break for almost a year before giving some assistance to another character who was having a tough time getting off the ground--Daredevil, who practically took the lead when the FF were powerless and forced to battle Dr. Doom while at their most vulnerable:

The mother of all promotional FF issues, of course, is Fantastic Four Annual #3. And I put it that way because the issue promotes just about the whole darn Marvel universe, heroes and villains alike. It served to cap the FF's promotional duties, and the remainder of the FF's silver age stories put a tighter focus on their own cast of characters as well as ramped up the tension of their encounters with their foes.

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