For giving a reader his money's worth, there was nothing like Marvel's early annuals!
Where the competition only gave fans reprints of old stories, Marvel not only offered an extra long original adventure but all kinds of fun features.
A great example of that, and of how Lee in these years was busily creating the friendly, familiar atmosphere that would soon inspire in his readers a fanatical loyalty, was Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 1 (1964).
Of course, the star feature of this book was its 41-page extravaganza that included a team-up of every major villain our hero had fought in his first year (the Vulture, Dr. Octopus, Sandman, Mysterio, Electro and Kraven the Hunter!)
as well as cameos by every hero in the youthful Marvel universe.
Besides a fast, fun-filled plot, the story served as a wonderful vehicle for showcasing Ditko's growing talent for super-hero slugfests.
Coming a long way from his first crude outings on Spider-Man, Ditko here lets out all the stops offering six full-page action shots of Spider-Man in action against each member of the Sinister Six (the one with Electro is the standout!).
But beyond the lead story, the book was filled with such extras as pin up pages, 'secrets of Spider-Man' pages, supporting character profiles and a self-parodic gem in which Lee and Ditko fill readers in on how they come up with
such great stories.
It was this last item, in which the creators poke fun at themselves, let their hair down and give the readers a figurative nudge and wink indicating that it's all done in good fun, that Marvel began to solidify its chummy
relationship with fans.
In effect, Lee was taking them into his confidence, inviting them in and making them feel part of the Marvel 'bullpen.'
It was a device that would be used again, but was soon to vanish in the wake of such all-parody titles as Not Brand Echh that made poking fun at the company a full time occupation.
In the mean time however, Lee would continue to solidify his relationship with the readers with other tools such as the Bullpen Bulletins page, Stan's Soapbox, fan clubs like the Merry Marvel Marching Society (MMMS) and the Friends Of Ol' Marvel (FOOM) and letters' pages that included sometimes lengthy personalized replies.