In the 22 years that I've been reading comics, I've built up a collection with some pretty weird stuff in it: A pristine copy of "Godzilla vs. Barkley" (in which Godzilla rises from the ocean to do battle on the court with a 300 foot-tall Sir Charles), a copy of "Rock Reflections of a Super-Hero
," even the two comics about Prince that Dwayne McDuffie wrote back in the early '90s. But of all the weird ephemera I've got laying around, this is one of my favorite pieces:
The Mighty Marvel Strength and Fitness Book!
Released in 1976 by writer Ann Picardo and artist Joe Giella, the "Strength and Fitness Book" was an attempt to whip the ever-widening youth of America into shape by illustrating simple exercises as performed by everyone's favorite Marvel heroes. The end result wasn't just an exercise manual, and it's every bit as strange as you'd expect from something called the "Mighty Marvel Strength and Fitness Book," which is why I've gathered up my ten favorite pages!
#10: The Torchie Twist
The book opens with some exercises performed by the Human Torch, because who better to illustrate the idea of the warm-up? It's worth noting, though, that unless you consider the Hulk's super-strength necessary to do five-pound curls, he's the only person in the entire book who's shown to be using his powers.
The fact that Marvel wasn't immediately destroyed by lawsuits from families whose kids assumed Step One of getting in shape was "set yourself on fire" means that either kids are smarter than we give them credit for, or the "Mighty Marvel Strength and Fitness Book" didn't get nearly the distribution it deserved.
#9. Silver Surfer's Heralded Highwires
Once he ditched his job putting together menus for the Devourer of Worlds, the Silver Surfer essentially became the Marvel Universe's resident philosopher. Thus, it is only fitting that he should debate the existential morality of the use of chalk.
#8. The Interplanetary Leap
Another good one from the Surfer, the best thing about this piece comes from his face. Not only is he concentrating super hard
on getting his vertical leap up to a whopping six inches, just look at how smug he is when he lands. That is a dude who has truly triumphed over human lethargy. By hopping in place.
#7. The Patriotic Pull
There's so much strangeness about this page -- including Picardo and Giella's shout-out to vermicelli, which I have to admit is
totally delicious -- but even more than Cap's totally condescending balloon is the fact that he's still wearing his shield. Pretending like your partner doesn't know how to do a deep knee bend is one thing, but making him pull against the added weight of vibranium/adamantium alloy? Jerk move, Cap. Total jerk move.
#6. Ghost Rider's Bizarre Bicyclces
If you ask me, Johnny Blaze ought to stop
working out so much. He's all skin and bones as it is.
#5. Jade-Jaws' Just-So Sit-Ups
I've never been much for fan-fiction, but I've got to admit that these two do
make a pretty cute couple. Also, I love
how this book manages to perfectly capture the melodramatic dialogue of the actual comics, specifically how Prince Namor is almost unbearably pompous at all times, while the Hulk is essentially the Marvel Universe's John Belushi.
#4. The Jameson Roar
For most of the entries, the super-hero illustrating the exercise makes a lot of sense: Reed Richards for stretching, Power Man and the Hulk for weightlifting, Thor for building up your endurance, they all fit their subject pretty well. But occasionally -- and awesomely -- they went for the opposite direction, like when they chose J. Jonah Jameson, the angriest man in the world, to show readers how to relax and meditate.
One assumes the Punisher was busy that day.
Each section of the book is introduced with a brief paragraph and a shot of one of the exercises that follows, which led to this, pretty much my absolute favorite page in the entire book. The Thing, in a blank white void, literally on the edge of his seat, looking utterly horrified
as he pulls his legs up to his chest. Not since he walked in on Dr. Doom getting out of the shower has Bashful Benjamin worn that look.
#2. Bashful's Brutish Bottom Basher
And it only gets weirder once you get to the actual exercises, like this page. Not only was the decision made to throw in a close up of hte Thing watching himself in horror, but it's also got "Rock back and forth, until you start to feel seasick," the single greatest instruction in an exercise book I've ever seen.
The best bit, though, is this:
#1. Spider-Man's Seductive Stretches
Okay, okay, that's nowhere near the actual name that they give to this section, but it's pretty appropriate. Maybe it's just because the design of his mask's eyes makes him look naturally seductive (What? Don't act like you haven't noticed), but every single picture of Spider-Man
in this book...
...looks like a dirty cell-phone picture he sent to the Black Cat to get her in the mood for a rooftop booty call.
And really, that's probably the most powerful motivator you could give to an impressionable young male Marvel fan.