Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Secret Brotherhood of Power

Issue 2 of Fantastic, the Odhams' Power Comic launched in 1967, enrolled all its readers into The Secret Brotherhood of Power and gave away a free scar. "We raise our clenched right hands and whisper the wondrous word 'POWER'," revealed the writer of that week's "News from the Floor of 64". "Get this week's issue number two of FANTASTIC then you too can have a scar on the inside of your wrist. Your too can breathe the password 'POWER'. And we can say unto you 'Welcome to the Secret Brotherhood'."

Issue 2—dated 25 February 1967 and already ready for the printers long before the first issue was ever published—also announced that Fantastic had already been awarded a prize, the 1967 Educational Publishing Prize, by The Guardian newspaper. "You've probably never heard of The Guardian but we're sure you'll be as impressed as we are about this award when we tell you that The Guardian is regarded by some people as one of Britain's leading daily newspapers!"

The sarcasm of this line would have been lost on the readers but was a response from the editors to a piece that had been published in The Guardian a few weeks earlier. The Guardian's "Miscellany" column for 4 January 1967 had included the following:
THIS BEING the high season for journalistic awards, "Miscellany" has a couple of nominations. First, the 1967 educational publishing prize to Cecil King (via Odhams Press) for "Fantastic." A bit premature this, perhaps. "Fantastic" won't arrive on bookstands till mid-February; but advance reports—featuring the Invisible Fantastic Iron Man, the Mighty Fantastic Thor, the Incredible Fantastic X-Men—are (not mincing words) fantastic. "The best American comic material carefully re-edited for the British youngster," Odhams says. And what fantastic bait is being used to sell this fantastic mish-mash? A free pennant wallet with one edition; free bubble gum with another; and free plastic scars. "Get the secret brotherhood of power scar," "Fantastic" proclaims. You also get three other scars for sticking on wrists and a "mighty Cyclops" plastic eye. "Don't be a chump—be a scarface." As the headmistress said to the bishop, this is just unbelievable.
When Fantastic chose to announce this as a genuine award, Miscellany took umbrage and offered them a second "prize" on 21 February under the heading "Nerve awards 1967":
... the nonexistent award for nonexistent educative worth wasn't meant totally seriously. Nevertheless, "Fantastic" this week touts the "prize" in its editorial columns as proof that "we've started something special." "You've probably never heard of the 'Guardian' but we're sure you'll be as impressed as we are about this award when we tell you the 'Guardian' is regarded by some people as one of Britain's leading daily newspapers! So how about that! Thanks for the honour you 'Guardian' Guys..." The layers of irony grow too dense: all the harassed "Guardian" perverts of "Fantastic" children who 'phoned bemusedly yesterday are hereby notified that the award-giving business is simply ridiculous.
The following week's free gift of a packet of bubble gum didn't earn Fantastic a single mention in the newspapers.

(* Fantastic © IPC Media)


  1. Like Proust and his crumbs of madeleine biscuit, that ad for stick-on scars brought happy childhood memories flooding back :-)

  2. As a proud possessor of that issue of Fantastic, I sometimes re-read it and took pleasure in the cheerful self-parody of the text pages.

    But I am taken aback by the sheer joy they must have had in spinning the Guardian's snide crack into a compliment.

    I can imagine the Guardian columnist frothing red-faced and puffy cheeked like some outraged Ken Reid cartoon. For uncovering the facts behind that Guardian Education Award, you really do deserve the Carl Kolchak award for researching.

  3. Did the Grauniad print "invisible" Iron Man, presumably one of their mos-pronts, surely it should have read invincible?

  4. Yes, "invisible" is right. They were obviously being ironic about the titles, hence "Fantastic Thor" instead of "Fantastic Four" but you could be right that they meant to say invincible rather than invisible. One for the "When Sarcasm Goes Bad" file.

  5. You're probably right that they did sarcastically indeed mean invisible instead of invincible - I didn't see it!!! ;)

  6. Actually, Steve, they were quoting from the cover of issue #1, which worked the comic's title into the description of each character. Hence 'The Invincible FANTASTIC Iron Man', 'The Mighty FANTASTIC Thor' and 'The Incredible FANTASTIC X-Men'. So 'Invisible' instead of 'Invincible' seems to have been a mistake.



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