Last week, I wrote about the first record release of the Marvel Comics fan club of the 1960s, the Merry Marvel Marching Society, a spoken word disc featuring the Marvel Bullpen. The club only lasted a few years, but during that time the club released another record, this time with music.
The whole disc was called Scream Along With Marvel, with “The Marvel Super Heroes Have Arrived” on one side and “The Mighty Marvel Marching Society Theme” on the other. These songs were also, respectively, featured as the opening and closing themes of the Marvel Superheroes cartoon show that was syndicated in the 1960s.
Strangely, there is also this version of “The Marvel Super Heroes Have Arrived” recorded more recently by the Meridian Studio Ensemble for a BSX Records release of soundtrack re-recordings. It’s more than twice the length of the original, but it’s pretty faithful sounding as if you really needed more of that song in your life.
The Marvel Superheroes cartoon show first ran in 1966, so I’m guessing that these songs were not written expressly for the fan club record release, but rather the TV show. Word is that Stan Lee was not a fan of the shows or anything about them, but I guess he liked the songs enough to use them for the fan club — or at least wasn’t embarrassed by them.
The show itself featured extremely limited animation, basically clipped art from the comics with some special effects added. This mean that they were adapting actual comic book stories, using the work of Lee and Kirby — stories and art — so for a little kid in the 1960s, the show was pretty mesmerizing even with the substandard animation. At the time I saw it in reruns in the early 1970s, it was an easy way to catch up on the old adventures of Captain America, the Hulk, and others without having to track down and afford back issues.
The show was produced by Krantz Films in New York City, the animation company behind Rocket Robin Hood, which was one of my childhood favorites. Owner Steve Krantz sold the company to cable operator Vikoa in 1969, and he went onto produce Ralph Bakshi’s Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic in the 1970s.
According to a 1967 article in The World of Cartoons, which was a journal for professional cartoonists, this animation choice was an intentional aesthetic. Krantz Films wanted to keep the Kirby quality to the show’s visuals and decided the best way to do that was to use Kirby’s original art. The process they used is called “Xerography,” which used actual Xerox machines to transfer the Kirby images onto animation cels, which are then modified and then photographed.
The modification included removing the word balloons, as well as either altering or entirely doing away with backgrounds that wouldn’t translate well to the TV screen. Slight animation like the movement of lips, eyebrows, or arms might be added. The animation studio says in the article that Kirby created the illusion of action so well that once they blew his art up to 18×14, there wasn’t much they had to do to make it work better to that end.
Because the art used in these cartoons were so different from the style in other animated shows, which were more simplistic, the animators decided to not use the standard, over-the-top sound effects and instead use film score music that would be more like something you’d hear in a movie than a cartoon show for kids.
But of course they weren’t going to commission an actual score, so they turned to the wonderful world of library music. The soundtrack was provided by the KPM Music Library, just like the Spider-Man cartoon series. Marvel Super Heroes featured pieces scored by Wilfred Burns, Van Phillips, Harry Lubin, Wilfred William Burns, Peter Yorke, and Trevor Duncan. Interesting factoid about Duncan — his library track “Grip of the Law” was used as the theme music in Plan Nine From Outer Space.
The two songs used by the fan club record release and featured book-ending the show, though, were written especially for the Marvel Superheroes show by Jack Urbont, who wrote individual themes for all the heroes featured — Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and The Sub-Mariner — and I’ll be talking about those, and Urbont himself, next week.