In the 1970s, one of Simon & Schuster's divisions launched an annual collection of Marvel Comics reprints. I guess there were ten of these, reasonably priced samplers of mostly Stan Lee-scripted superhero smash-ups, and they were certainly the gateway drug for millions of kids who'd never seen much of the classic 1960s Marvel work.
These days, these sort of samplers seem pretty quaint and silly in the wake of so much reprinted material available. I found my copy of Bring on the Bad Guys - an extremely nice first edition for $5 - at the old Lakewood Antique Market in 2004, and there's nothing in it that hasn't since been collected in the pages of Marvel's Essential line. Each chapter has one or two stories, or some multi-part adventures, telling the tales of those nefarious nasties Doctor Doom, the Red Skull, Loki, the Green Goblin, Dormammu, the Abomination and Mephisto. These are names that should, if the 4-5 pages of introductory material for each chapter (penned especially and breathlessly for this edition by Smilin' Stan) have done their job, strike fear in the hearts of law-abiding citizens everywhere!
About half the artwork in this book is by Jack Kirby, and honestly, I was never really taken with his earliest work on Fantastic Four. This has got that odd little story where Doom forces our heroes to travel back in time and collect Blackbeard's treasure for him, and while the artwork is better than just about anything in mainstream comics today, it's not a patch on what he'd accomplish in just a couple of years. The sequence where the Red Skull kidnaps and brainwashes Captain America, and the climactic part of Thor's battle with Loki and the Absorbing Man, along with some short "Tales of Asgard" adventures detailing Thor and Loki's long enmity, well, those are jawdropping.
Just about the only thing in 1960s comics to come close would be Dr. Strange's initial, mindblowing battle with Dormammu and those Nameless Ones, which Steve Ditko co-plotted and drew, and it's just amazing stuff. I still think Marvel's criminally missing some sales by not packaging all of the Ditko Dr. Strange stories in a nice hardcover with good paper. There's sort of a bitter irony in that the Spider-Man adventure included here would be the one which Ditko refused to draw, in which the Green Goblin reveals his identity. John Romita drew this adventure in sort of a lackluster Ditko imitation before his own style really manifested, and it ends up, visually, being the weakest thing in the book.
The Abomination story is drawn by Gil Kane, and it's notable for the almost naive take on the Hulk's power, which kept being described in the sixties as limitless, but nobody ever seemed to believe it. I think that's why I prefer the comparatively low-powered 1960s Marvel Universe. One cliffhanger comes when Abomination just smacks Hulk in the head really hard and Rick Jones starts screaming that not even the Hulk could survive a blow like that. These days, I reckon you could split the planet in half and it wouldn't slow him down. Yawn. Finally, John Buscema draws a Silver Surfer adventure, and he draws the hell out of it, but I've always thought that this was the series, among all others, where Stan's dialogue reached its overblown, overwritten pinnacle, and so I just sort of tuned out and enjoyed looking at the pretty pictures.
As a sampler or an introduction, this book's just terrific. It's one of those books that every aunt and uncle in America should have handy for when younguns visit. I mean, really, if an under-ten isn't doing a double-take at the sight of Kirby's Cap beating the hell out of enough Nazis to completely pack a hallway, or Ditko's Strange crossing limbo voids where nobody ever heard of physics, then you need to get that kid checked out. Something's wrong with him. From a collector's standpoint, it's also pretty handy. The next time somebody tells you they're not interested in Essentials because they're in black and white, you can show 'em this and compare the aggravating off-register printing and limited color palate to the nice, unvarnished, untainted Kirby artwork in Essential Thor volume two and settle the argument instantly. Recommended, of course. Now how about putting together some new editions of this and the two Origins books and The Superhero Women and the others, so folks can buy 'em again, Marvel?