We have reached a seminal moment in my development as a comic book reader. That Friday, my father told me about a new store that he’d head about–he pointedly didn’t tell me that it was opening in the same mall where the branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank he was stationed at was located, which was probably a good idea, although that information eventually did come out. But he said it was a store that sold old comics, and wanted to know if I wanted to go there this weekend. I had heard tell of such places, but I’d never been in one before, so of course I wanted to go.
It was called Heroes World, and it was located in the Nassau Mall in Levittown. Heroes World is now infamous as the outfit with which Marvel tried to partner in the 1990s to distribute the Marvel books exclusively, with disastrous results. But in the 1970s, they were the retail outlets for the company formerly known as Superhero Merchandise (the name changed after Marvel and DC co-trademarked the term super hero) that sold a variety of comic book-themed merchandise through comic book style catalogs like the one below. These things were ubiquitous at the time, and once you got onto their mailing list (as I would during this trip) you would be inundated with catalogs from them, all chock-full of cool goodies for sale.
The trip took about 45 minutes from our house to the mall. I didn’t know what to expect, but given my relatively limited funds, I made some initial plans along the way. I determined that I would put my efforts into buying the oldest issue of FANTASTIC FOUR they had on hand. That turned out to be FANTASTIC FOUR #1, for which they were asking $75.00 and so was well out of my price range. Other books that I can recall that they had on their wall behind the register included FANTASTIC FOUR #14 and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #2. I don’t remember what sort of condition they were in per se, but I can recall that they seemed to gleam before my eyes. This was really the first time I’d seen such ancient books up close.
As I recall, Heroes World was on the upper level of the mall. It was about the size of the Spencer’s Gifts today–a good size for a specialty store, but not huge. The central space was devoted primarily to apparel, T-Shirts and the like, which I imagine were good sellers for them. There were also the requisite posters and a variety of super hero toys. Along the leftside wall, there were w number of bins containing vintage back issues, these more within my price range. A number of spinner racks were set up towards the back carrying the latest releases for the past few months. And at the very back there were a series of shelves containing books and magazines and fanzines all relating to comic books and super heroes and affiliated genres. I know that I saw the ALL-STAR REVUE there but passed it up, only to spend the next 25 years or so searching for a copy. And that’s where I found the OFFICIAL MARVEL INDEX TO FANTASTIC FOUR.
I walked away that day with a handful of beautiful treasures, which I’ll be covering in detail over the next few installments. But the crowning gem in my haul was definitely this FANTASTIC FOUR INDEX. It was everything that I wanted that I didn’t even realize that I wanted or existed. As the examples posted here show, it reproduced the cover of every issue of FANTASTIC FOUR (plus affiliated titles such as HUMAN TORCH and SILVER SURFER) in black a white and gave a short indexed summary of its contents and creators. This was a tome that I studied like it was the Torah, and a vast part of my knowledge about the early Marvel releases comes from this Index and the others in this line.
The Fantastic Four portion of the index went all the way up to issue #180, the most current release when it was being put together, and almost exactly where I had started reading. So in essence, this book unlocked for me all of the secrets of the history of the Fantastic Four’s publishing history up tot hat time. These covers fired my imagination, and I wanted to read all of these stories, some of them badly. The book also opened with a short index to the six comic books featuring the 1950s character Marvel Boy, and I was knocked on my ass to learn that the villainous Crusader, whose first appearance I had read in FANTASTIC FOUR #164 a few months earlier, was actually a Golden Age Marvel hero who had gone bad. That revelation floored me.
These indexes were the work of researcher George Olshevsky, who had put together a complete collection of every Timely/Marvel release going back to the beginning. Eventually, Marvel would hire Olshevsky and his team to produce comic book format expanded versions of these indexes that would be released through the Direct Market in the 1980s and 1990s. But for me, nothing beats these original fan-driven indexes. This volume drove home for me the notion that all of the stories within the Marvel Universe connected to one another, like a massive ongoing soap opera, and learning all that I could about that fictional universe and the titles and characters published within it became an obsessive drive.
My original copy of this Index is battered and dog-eared, the cover having split down the spine. I’ve replaced it over the years with a pristine copy, but there’s a lot of sentimental value to be found in that first one, with my name and address written in inside the back cover, and with issue numbers circled if I owned the issue in question (or underlined if I had only a reprint of the story in question.) I even scribbled in dollar amounts throughout it, cadged from whatever year’s Price Guide. It’s kind of amazing that I defaced the book this completely, really. I was also driven to continue the work, and so I started indexing all of the issues that were released after #180 on my own. I continued this practice for years, until it started to feel like work and I let it lapse. It was just another way to wring the maximum amount of enjoyment out of my comics and comic book reading.