All images © Marvel Characters, Inc.
In 1972 Marvel replaced the modified version of the original FF logo with this one, reworking the entire trade dress and cover design at the same time. The new cover layout, with the art in a square and the logo and trade dress against a solid color was actually a throwback to comics of a previous era, the 1940s. It has one advantage: the logo is always extremely clear and visible. Otherwise, it’s a poor design idea in my opinion, and for readers used to full-cover art, the smaller art area was a decided drawback. It wasn’t just this title, I think all Marvel books at the time toed this line.
The new logo design was also, in my opinion, a step backward, as it went completely in the opposite direction from the original FF logo: blocky, squared letterforms that are almost as generic as it gets, with the only modifier being the curved divider between the words. That at least gave it a slight distinction, but it also locked the word FOUR into one immobile spot. Sure, the logo is very bold and readable, but I don’t find anything about it appealing, really. I haven’t found any information on who designed it.
In 1975 the logo changed again. Still blocky, but now angled, with a telescoped drop shadow, and taking up about the same amount of space as the original FF logo. The letterforms are, to me, a game of “one of these things is not like the others.” I’ll give you a minute. Okay, all the shapes are squared block letters except the S, which is rounded. A very odd combination! There are some other odd things: look how wide the O is compared to the U, and the R has a right leg that seems to be trying to escape from the logo altogether. I don’t know who designed it, but he was doing other similar logos for Marvel in 1975, as here:
The word GIANT-SIZE has the same design disconnect. I looked at this cover in my X-MEN logo study, and tried to find out who was doing logos for Marvel at the time, with no luck. Whoever it was had some odd ideas. Despite that, I like this third FF logo better than the second one, at least. And the drop shadow gives it some depth, helping to pop it off the cover. And finally, did you notice? They finally got the comics code seal off the logo and up in the corner, out of the way.
Most of the time the drop shadow was open to allow a second color in the logo, which is usually a good idea, though it does undercut the three-dimensionality somewhat. Marvel seemed happy with this design, and it stayed on the book for some years.
Finally, in 1980, they returned to the original logo. My guess is that fans who had loved it when they were growing up were now working for the company, and prevailed. They were right, the original is unique, and immediately improved the look of the book immensely, in my opinion. They also went back to the character corner-box trade dress, which I always thought worked well too. The top-line motto had shrunk, but was still there, though dwarfed by the MARVEL COMICS GROUP banner. At least they kept the code seal at the top, and not on the logo!
When more space was needed for cover art, they used this one-line version, very similar to the shorter, fatter one from back in 1970, though I think this one was a newly drawn version, as there are some minor differences. Works fine, still very readable, has that appealing bounce of the original, and leaves lots of room for the art.
Through the 1980s the book was very successful, with great runs by John Byrne and Walt Simonson, among others, but as far as the logo went, nothing much changed. In 1983 the top banner was dropped, leaving more room for the logo, and returning the trade dress to something closer to the original Marvel look, though the UPC code was now by far a bigger distraction than the code seal, but required for newsstand sales.
Starting with this one in 1985, during the Byrne run, they dispensed with the drop shadow, getting back even further to the book’s original look, though the outline around the open letters was thickened to give the logo more impact against background art. And, somehow, that logo always worked, never seemed tired or outdated, at least to me. The characteristics of an excellent idea.
The 1990s would bring an expansion of the FF into more titles, and other unusual happenings. We’ll look at those next time.
More chapters and other logo studies on my LOGO LINKS page.