by KC Carlson
This is a story about a Marvel comic book that’s filled with mistakes — deliberately. (As opposed to all the “honest” mistakes that happened in various Marvel comics in their earliest years when their staff was tiny and proofreading was often a luxury.) This is the story of the infamous 1982 Official Marvel No-Prize Book! The comic reprints panels with logic errors, continuity contradictions, and art mistakes, accompanied by narration by “Stan Lee”. It’s like the internet, except with paper cuts.
Somebody at Marvel thought it would be a good idea to collect most of “Mighty Marvel’s Most Massive Mistakes!” as the book was subtitled. Surely it wasn’t Jim Owsley (better known today as Christopher Priest), credited as “writer, layout & design, art direction, making it happen, and glory-grabbing”. Nor was it Roger Stern or Steven Grant, two nice Midwestern boys credited as “researchers”. (AKA paid to read comic books, a nice gig if you can get it!) It certainly wasn’t artists Bob Camp (pencils) or Vince Colletta (inks), who drew the framing pages on which the original “error panels” were inserted. Paul Becton, who is the “sacred keeper of the reprint file” is also credited as “foreign licensing” so that makes him suspicious, just like Eliot R. Brown, the typographer, who sneakily managed to have his (and only his) job title boldfaced. It might be cover artist Michael Golden, whose cover of Doctor Doom unmasking to reveal Stan Lee!? was deliberately printed upside-down. It could be editor Larry Hama’s fault — editors get blamed for everything. But the real culprit turns out to be none other than Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, who is credited for “Concept” — like he really needs another Marvel thing blamed on him…
Actually, the whole thing’s probably Stan Lee’s fault — he originally made most of the mistakes that are on display here, including calling Spider-Man Peter Palmer (twice). Unbelievably, he even has Doc Ock calling Spidey Super-Man. Holy lawsuits, Batman! Actually, Stan is very gracious in being called out here. He (supposedly) writes the book’s introductory letter, and “comic book” Stan narrates the entire issue from his “office” while wearing his Spidey-slippers — conveniently labeled “left” and “right”.
A BIT OF HISTORICAL BACKSTORY
There were a lot of bonehead mistakes in the early Marvel comics, and there are plenty of reasons for that. The early publisher was not the monolith they are now. They were a tiny portion of Martin Goodman’s “evil empire” of publishing, which at any given time included pulps, “girlie” magazines, Hollywood scandal rags, true crime, horror, western, humor, paperback books, and comics. (He’s the reason that the Timely/Atlas/Marvel publishing history is so confusing.) The “legendary” Marvel Bullpen that Stan hyped in the lettercols and hype pages in early Marvel comics probably had fewer full-time employees than the group of people who assembled this No-Prize Book. In the earliest days, it was just Stan, Flo Steinberg, a part-time Sol Brodsky, and (maybe) an occasional production artist. The freelancers (including Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) would bring their work in, get a check from Flo, and go back home to work. Proofreading was a low priority. Stan was writing (or at least plotting) almost everything, as well as all the lettercols. Who had time to proof?
So mistakes crept in. And letter writers caught them. Stan dreamed up the “No-Prize” in 1964 to award to them, but this was actually a joke by Marvel on the readers — there was no actual prize/award. That’s why it was called a No-Prize! Eventually, because so many readers didn’t get the joke and wrote in asking why they didn’t get their “prize”, a physical No-Prize was created in 1967. It was an empty envelope with “Congratulations, this envelope contains a genuine Marvel Comics No-Prize which you have just won!” printed on it. (Although clueless people still wrote in wondering if their “prize” had fallen out of the envelope.)
The criteria for receiving a No-Prize also evolved over the years. At first, they were offered up in the lettercols for creative responses to occasional survey-like questions. Later, when fans began to request No-Prizes for no real reason, Stan required that people find actual factual or continuity errors in the comics. When that turned the lettercols into “Hey! I found a mistake!” gripe-fests, the criteria shifted again to a reward to those who performed “meritorious service to the cause of Marveldom”. Readers who found mistakes had to offer up a plausible explanation to explain them away, or the No-Prize might be received for performing a service in Marvel’s name, like donating comic books to hospitals or people in the military.
In 1989, Ronald Perlman, the guy who drove Marvel into bankruptcy, also killed the No-Prize. Ironically, he thought it was too expensive to send them out! By 1991, then-Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco reinstated it, including the “meritorious service” clause. In 2006, Executive Editor Tom Brevoort instituted a digital No-Prize, once again for “meritorious service”. In 2011, reports surfaced that physical (empty envelope) No-Prizes may be once again in circulation.
BACK TO THE NO-PRIZE BOOK
Not all of the mistakes in this bizarre one-shot are Stan’s fault; there are frequent art errors cited as well. My favorite is the eye-patched villain Captain Barracuda looking through a periscope — with the eye that has the patch over it. Sheesh! There are also some usual bone-head mistakes: Reed Richards with two left hands! Daredevil (a blind man) with a gun and a holster! And plenty of typos, also. Anyone remember Marvel’s famous Thing team-up book, Marvel Two-On-One? Or Conan #25, where the word “traitress” is lettered as “waitress”?
The early X-Books were populated with mistakes. In X-Men #36, the Angel (whose first name is Warren) is called Scott throughout the entire issue. In X-Men #125, Chris Claremont tells us that the man called Jason Wyngarde’s “name is as false as the man himself”. By X-Men #138 he appears again, but this time, the helpful caption indicates that Jason Wyngarde is “his real name, ironically enough.” Forget Phoenix. What has Mastermind done to Chris Claremont’s brain?!
X-Men #28 features something that isn’t so much of an error as a public relations problem for Marvel. Marvel Girl (Jean Gray) levitates a screwdriver (but she says it’s a pair of pliers) to assist the Beast, who replies “ You’re a credit to your gender, Jeanie!” To quote Stan Lee, “Hoo-boy.”
Some of the errors play out over years. A two-page spreads ask the musical question “Where is the Great Refuge of the Inhumans?” and four different locations are presented: the Andes, the Himalayas, the Alps, and finally … the Moon! (One of these things is not like the other…) Another two-page spread covers all the confusion about “the Girl from Captain America’s Past” (Sharon Carter or Peggy Carter) which played out over years, and I’m still confused. Hope the movies don’t go down that road!
There’s lots more in the book, including the original Captain America sequence that inspired the dialog on the book’s cover. My favorite thing was the the breakdown of everything that was wrong with the story in Marvel Team-Up #28 (Spider-Man and Hercules), which I still believe was the worst book that Marvel ever published. Little did I know that the logic lapses in the story were even worse than I thought! Let me quote “Stan” again: “… stuff you can’t believe. Like… Hercules dragging Manhattan Island; proving that not only can Manhattan Island float, not only can it slip through a Narrows which is smaller than the island is wide, and not only can he tow it back into place, but he’s stupid enough to put it back with the Battery pointing towards the Bronx! Of course, I was away on business when we printed Marvel Team-Up #28.”
And there you have it. The best reason for having The Official Marvel No-Prize Book exist is to answer the long-time question of how the “real” world and the Marvel Universe are different. Answer: In the Marvel Universe, Manhattan Island (and therefore much of New York City) is backwards. That explains so much.
KC CARLSON ASKS: So, wait, does that mean the Bronx is down and the Battery is up? Is On The Town in the Marvel Universe different also? Does this also mean that West Side Story is actually EAST Side Story in the MU? My head hurts.
Bonus Fun: I just noticed that there are also jokes in the indicia of this comic. Geez, I’ve only owned this book for 32 years.
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you.