My Misspent Youth — The Official Marvel No-Prize Book

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

There are few relics from my tween years that represented a convergence of my various obsessions more completely than The Official Marvel No-Prize Book. For the uninitiated, a No-Prize was the award created by Stan Lee to bestow upon diligent readers who discovered and explained a mistake in a mighty Marvel mag. The slip-ups were usually related to continuity, the vaunted connectivity between Marvel stories that was always prone to wavering consistency thanks to the notably sporadic memory of Lee, who was of course the scribe of the vast majority of Marvel tales throughout the nineteen-sixties. The No-Prize, befitting its name, was an empty envelope sent out to the fan who found fault but offered a explanatory workaround. The real trophy was a prime place in the letters column of the publication that featured the original transgression.

In the early nineteen-eighties, the House of Ideas effectively fessed up to a couple decades worth of blunders with a one-shot. Scratching a whole lot of my personal itches, The Official Marvel No-Prize Book was heavy with Marvel lore, drawing from stories across a range of years. Essentially a Marvel comics gag reel, the comic played to the delight I had in clumsy bumbles in pop culture, which I would consider a mortifying factoid about my younger self if it didn’t happen to be something I shared with a whole lot of people at that time. Bloopers were having a moment. Written by Jim Owsley, the comic book positioned Lee as the official guide through the storytelling wreckage.

The framing device was penciled by Bob Camp, and it’s entertaining enough. The real appeal of the comic is the procession of polluted panels culled from the long saga of Marvel, their errors briskly explained in the punctilious, purplish prose evoking Lee’s distinctive voice.

The narrative infractions hit every conceivable sour note. There are artwork abominations and goofs of basic fact, like the secret identities of different characters. There are times when the dialogue, usually owing to a distracted attempt to imbue fiery passion, becomes a jumble of incoherent bravado (Captain America promises a foe, “ONLY ONE OF US IS GOING TO WALK OUT OF HERE — UNDER HIS OWN STEAM — AND IT WON’T BE ME!“). Every stumble was a giggly gem, all making me wish I had been the one who first turned the page and hooted with excitement that I’d discovered something an editor should have corrected before the printed presses did their clanging business.

The main reason Marvel comic books held such sway over me — certainly more than those of the distinguished competition — was that they made me feel like I was a cherished part of a great, rambunctious club. The chummy writing in the various promotional materials, primarily the hype-heavy Bullpen Bulletins page, saw to that. The Official Marvel No-Prize Book was an extension of that collegial reverie. Nothing proves foundational friendship quite like the ability to josh around, playfully teasing about that misbegotten decision, that goofball wrong turn. I wasn’t laughing at Marvel when I read the comic; I was laughing with them.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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