Monday, June 21, 2021

Amsco Marvel World Playset: Description, Pictures, Scans, and Video

As a long-time comic book reader I wanted to post an entry about the Marvel World Adventure Playset. It debuted in 1975 during the Bronze Age of comic books and was created by Amsco, the toy division of board game maker Milton Bradley. The playset depicts five of the major buildings from Marvel Comics. These include Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum, The Fantastic Four’s Baxter Building and plane, Peter Parker’s home, the Daily Bugle, and the Avengers Mansion. It is made of die-cut, heavyweight cardboard. Every piece of cardboard has color graphics printed on both sides. Click on any of the pictures below for a larger version.



Here is the front of the set with the characters:




And here is the back:



Before you continue reading you might want to watch the video below that I uploaded to youtube about the set. That video covers much of what is discussed here. It also shows the set in 360 degrees. 


In the comics all these buildings are located in New York City. And in this set, they are all found on the same block. However, there is a minor inaccuracy here because Peter Parker and his Aunt May traditionally live Queens and the other buildings are in Manhattan. But this certainly doesn’t detract from the charm. Other than that, the buildings and characters are highly comic accurate which was rather rare for merchandise at the time. It sold for $6.95. And, if you ordered it by mail, there was an 89 cent postage and handling fee. It was marketed to ages “five and up.” Me? Uh… I believe I’m over five.

And talking about immaturity, excuse me but I got a kick out of placing this cityscape in the context of a downtown skyline. This picture was taken from the roof of a 20 story apartment building (Promenade Towers) just north of downtown LA.


The set comes with 34 cardboard figurines that fit into small plastic stands. Each is between 2 and 3 inches tall. The set I bought did not come with all of the figurines and included no stands, so I used a scan provided to me by the seller to print the characters onto heavy cardstock. I left a flap at the bottom of each cutout and used double sided tape to attach each flap to a quarter. A quarter seemed to be a good size and weight. It worked pretty well, and if you print your characters from the scans below you might try doing the same.




Here are the contents of the box after they have been punched out, but before they have been put together. I wiped them down with a dry cloth before putting them together. Assembling the buildings takes at least 20 minutes and I had fun doing it. I cannot imagine a five year old bending the corners and making all of the panels fit properly, but maybe they made five-year-olds differently in the 70s. 



Here I am using the assembly instructions to find out how to mount the buildings onto the base (which was the bottom of the box).



Here is a close up of the base.



Here are the assembly instructions. Full scans of the set and the instructions can be found closer to the bottom of this post.




And here it is fully assembled. 



Marvel World is a very detailed and colorful set with fantastic art. The consensus on the web is that the characters were probably drawn or inked by either John Romita Sr. or Sal Buscema (or a combination of the two). Often the artist who draws in pencil is different from the artist who inks the work, and this may be the reason why it is very difficult to discern. Romita and Buscema were very popular Marvel artist in the 70s. Online commenters suggest that the buildings were inked comic-style by Marvel artist Dave Hunt. Sections of the artwork seem to be inspired by some of the other early greats. For example, Reed Richard’s lab has some outlandish equipment that is styled after Steve Kirby drawings, and the Sanctum contains mystic art that channels Steve Ditko’s work. It definitely has the look and feel of 1970s Marvel.


Here are some closeups of the characters. Who do you think the artist was?



The set itself is quite rare, and there is not much about it online. Sometimes it is referred to as the “holy grail” of Marvel toy collecting and it is arguably the mother to dozens of other subsequent playsets. Searching online I only found low-res pictures and no video footage. I created this post and the video above to address this. I got the set pictured here in the mail recently from a great guy named Steve in San Francisco whose auction I won on eBay. I set an automatic search notification for the set many months prior and this was the first one I was alerted about. 




I wish I had a complete and undamaged set to show you. Unfortunately, this set is missing a few characters and has a bit of damage. However, I was able to print out the missing characters and fix most of the tears. I carefully pulled off the pieces of old tape and applied glue to broken sections. The set was also missing two roof panels, so I scanned the opposite (symmetric) side, flipped it digitally, printed it, cut it out, and pasted it to the set.

 


The detail is exacting. Take Peter Parker and Aunt May’s Victorian house for instance. It is highly decorated with classical entablature, egg-and-dart molding, an ocular window, a skylight, a basement, a mechanical door bell, and a window sill flower planter. I believe this is supposed to be their home in Forest Hills in Queens New York. The address on the front says #220, and this is similar to the address in the comics, 20 Ingram Street. 


The first floor appears to be Aunt May’s living room. It is a cozy and welcoming space. It features a writing desk, with a stool, rotary telephone and mirror. There is a blazing fireplace with a candelabra, a clock, and a porcelain dish on the mantle.  Above the mantle is a detailed painting of a man leading a cow to a classical temple in front of a mountain. 



Here is a closeup of the painting over Aunt May's fireplace.



The second floor is Peter’s room complete with the chemistry equipment he uses to make his webbing fluid. The dresser to the left (not seen) features a photo of his Aunt and his girlfriend Mary Jane. You can also see a trophy, a football, a shelf lined with books, a lab coat, a record player, and headphones. Clues to his secret identity as Spiderman can be seen in the double locks on the door. You can also see that somehow, despite his full time job, student, boyfriend, and superhero status, he had the time to make his bed this morning.



The Sanctum Sanctorum is a three-story Victorian-style brownstone townhouse (just as in the comics). It is in the French Baroque style replete with fancy masonry and a Mansard roof. It contains the expected skylight known as the Window of Worlds containing the seal of the Vishanti, under which lies his inner sanctum. The yellow flashes of light behind the windows imply that there is magic going on inside. 



If you remove the Sanctum Sanctorum you can see the entire wall of the Avengers Mansion. It has cosmic art on it which is intended to be seen when the front door of the Sanctum is opened.


...this is that view from the front door.






Also visible from the door of the Sanctum is this otherworldly scene on back of the garage door to Avengers Mansion.


And this psychedelic strip of the cosmos.



The set has a few interactive features that are enticing for imaginary play. Namely an elevator, a trap door, and a break away wall. The elevator is found in the Baxter building and it can hold characters. 

 

On the right you can see the front door to the Baxter Building. Because it is the back side of the elevator it opens when the elevator goes up and closes when the elevator goes down.




The Avengers Mansion (I like to think of it as Avenger's H.Q.) has a garage door that can open and close to reveal the interior. Above that door and attached to it, is a trap door that characters can fall through. 



Avengers Mansion (called Avenger's Townhouse on the box) is the least developed of the five buildings. There is little indication that the brick building behind the Sanctum Santorum indeed belongs to the Avengers. When you open the garage door there is more machinery very similar to that in Mr. Fantastic's lab. This machinery is opening a three dimensional portal to the negative zone. We know it is the negative zone because it is advertised on the box and the multi-layered effect is pretty cool. Within that portal to the negative zone you can see planets, a nebula, a comet, and an asteroid. 


You can even see the inside of the Sanctum Sanctorum if you push your cell phone camera inside that portal cut out to the negative zone. You can see a burning caldron on one side and a crystal ball (possibly the Orb or Agamotto) on a pedestal on the other. 




Here is the view of the reverse side of the Sanctum when that piece is removed and straightened. Of course, much of this view is not visible when the set is fully assembled.


 

On the side of the Daily Bugle there is a hinged door cut to look like bricks which appears broken when swung open. Not including this brick cut-out-door or the trap door, there are four other hinging doors on the set and four open windows.


The Fantastic Four's airplane is also included. The promotional material calls this the Air Car, so it is not their more popular, multiple-passenger Fantastic Car or the Pogo Plane.  



This is the top floor of the Daily Bugle, J Jonah Jameson's office. 


Gotta love that Spiderman dartboard on the wall.


Here is the disheveled bottom floor of the Daily Bugle with an unmade bed, an unkept drawer, pin up swimsuit model, bookcase, mail slot, broken mirror and elevator.




This is the bottom floor of the Baxter Building. It seems to be some kind of entrance area or elevator lobby. 


This seems to be the workout room in the Baxter Building with weights, rings, a meeting table and a computer.


And the third and final floor of the Baxter Building is clearly Mr. Fantastic's laboratory. It definitely has that Jack Kirby feel to it.



So 1975. This was a world after Star Trek (1966) but before Star Wars (1977). Marvel had been named “Marvel” since 1961 and thus had only existed for 13 years. The same goes for Spiderman and Iron Man who were both created in 1961. The X-Men had been around for 11 years but most of their iconic characters had yet to be introduced in Giant Size X-Men # 1 (later than same year in 1975). This is why there are no X-Men in the Marvel World figurine lineup. They just hadn’t become popular enough yet. The characters in the set were Marvel’s major players at the time. And remember in 1975 these characters took a backseat to DC comic’s stable of more popular characters.


I was born a few years after this came out, but I had never heard of it until two years ago. I believe that it is very much overlooked as there is currently very little about it online, but if awareness increases these sets may increase significantly in value. Consider the fact that the set contains Loki, Falcon, Vision, and Scarlett Witch, the currently most popular MCU Marvel characters. In other words, the set comes up every several months on eBay or other auction websites and it might be a worthwhile investment.


The set includes the following heroes: Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, Falcon, Red Wing, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Shang Chi, Thing, Invisible Woman, Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch, Silver Surfer, Sub-Mariner, Captain Marvel, Valkyrie, Sif, J. Jonah Jameson, Mary Jane Watson, and Aunt May. It also includes the villains Galactus, Dr. Doom, Kraven, Dr. Octopus, Loki, The Red Skull, The Lizard, and The Green Goblin.

 


Some of the figurines have their alter egos on the reverse side. This seems to be the case for those that had secret identities at the time. Opposite Spiderman was Peter Parker. Captain America had Steve Rogers, Iron man had Tony Stark, Thor had Donald Blake, Hulk had Bruce Banner, Green Goblin had Norman Osborn, Captain Marvel had Mar-vell, and curiously Sif had Jane Foster (who is actually a totally different character).

 


The figurines are not all to scale. For instance, Captain Marvel is larger than the Hulk and Galactus, which is absurd. When I reprinted the characters I resized 10 of the them so that they were closer to their appropriate proportions.

 

Amsco had at least 5 other similar cardboard (Amsco calls it fiberboard) playsets with different themes that were popular in the 70s. Some of them were pretty cool, and worth checking out:


Planet of the Apes



Space: 1999



The Waltons


The Pioneer Village

 


Roy Rogers Magic Play Around



So again, Amsco was the toy division of Milton Bradley. Milton Bradley was an American board game manufacturer established by a Mr. Milton Bradley in Springfield Massachusetts in 1860. So it makes sense that Milton Bradley would use the die cutting facilities that they used to make board games to make cardboard playsets like these. Milton Bradley was bought out by Hasbro toys in 1984 ending 124 years of family ownership. Hasbro then purchased Milton Bradley’s archrival, Parker Brothers in 1991. Hasbro still has a working contract with Marvel Comics and they are responsible for the successful Marvel Legends line of action figures which can be found at just about every Target and Walmart in the US.


Marvel World was probably inspired by “The Amazing Spiderman Playset” from Ideal which came out in 1973. It contained plastic backgrounds and carboard Spiderman characters on stands.





Among the playsets inspired by Marvel World there were also a few other similar cardboard sets that are worth mentioning. These include “Spiderman American Bricks” from Playskool in 1977.


There were also the "Marvel Super Heroes" and "Spiderman Adventure Set" from Colorforms in 1983. 



The 1980 board game “Superhero Strategy” from Milton Bradley actually contains several of the same minifigures from Marvel World. 

In fact, the plastic stands from these board game figures fit perfectly with the Marvel World characters. Also, the game contains an additional figure, the Mandarin, who is not included in Marvel World. ...But you can always add him to your set if you want to.



Here is an advertisement for Marvel World that ran in the pages of old 70s comics.

 


Here is the 1975 Amsco catalog and its description of the Marvel World Playset.

 

Here are some pictures of my first shot at recreating the playset from scans. The building and spaceship below were printed on heavy cardstock. I folded them after scoring the edges with a razor. Below that, you can see it in miniature. 





Before I got this, I figured that I could find scans on the internet and just print and build my own playset from home. I found a lot of people in forums, comments sections, and message boards requesting scans, but I couldn’t actually find any. Consequently, I am including high res scans of the characters and the buildings here in case you want to make this little beauty yourself. Some of the panels are larger than 11 x 17 so this would require an industrial printer. You could even use Adobe Illustrator to make a miniature version or an oversized version. I hope you have as much fun with this as I have. For reference, the height of the Daily Bugle is exactly 9.5 inches not including the tabs at the base. I should also mention that the thickness of the cardboard is about 1.75 mm. The box dimensions are 19.75 x 13.5  x 1 inches. The serial number is Amsco set No. 9256. © 1975 Marvel Comics Group.

































Here is a link to a colorful and entertaining take on the set:



Here is another link to a fun story about a guy's childhood experience with the set:

 https://13thdimension.com/how-the-marvel-world-adventure-playset-opened-a-brand-new-universe/


Finally, here are some of the sales pitches that were used in promotional materials:


“Made of durable fiberboard. Completely die-cut, ready and fun to assemble. Complete illustrated instructions. A complete play experience right from your favorite Marvel Comics. Featuring the Baxter Building, the Daily Bugle Offices, Peter Parker's apartment, the Avenger's Town House, Dr. Strange's mansion, the Negative Zone, the Fantastic Four Air Car, a working elevator, and a secret trap door. Favorite Stand-Up Marvel characters including Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Hulk, Dr. Strange, The Red Skull, The Green Goblin, Dr. Doom, Loki, the Lizard, Galactus, the Sub-Mariner, J. Jonah Jameson, Shang-Chi the Master of Kung Fu and more!”


“Amsco joins forces with Marvel Comics to present a colorful, three-dimensional playset that includes all the popular superheroes and villains from the top-selling Marvel Comics Collection. Main structure includes the Negative Zone, the Avengers’ townhouse, Peter Parker’s apartment, and a trap door and elevator. Superstructure builds up on the slotted box bottom and comes complete with figures and an air car.”


“Be the first one on your block - to have this block! The homes of the super-heroes! The Avengers Mansion! The Baxter Building! The home of Dr. Strange! All this plus the Daily Bugle + 36 Marvel Characters.”

 

Thanks for reading. And here are some more pictures:

























All of the photos taken of Marvel World here were taken by me and I release them into the public domain.