The above advertisement and mail-in form appeared in a lot of Marvel Comics in 1994; I remember seeing it all the time, but I never went ahead and placed an order. The ad was for an X-Men/Captain Universe crossover comic (officially titled "X-Men/Captain Universe: Sleeping Giants") that would be personalized for each and every order. If that weren't cool enough, the book had a cover by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt.
I probably never got this because of a combination of things: I was never a big X-Men fan, I didn't want to rip anything out of my comics, and at 13, $14.95 plus shipping seemed like a lot of money. Still, probably because of that dang cover, it was one of the various promotional comics that has managed to stick in my mind ever since I saw it.
Twenty-five years later, the book is relatively hard to find and usually not cheap, either, but after searching for a number of years, I managed to get a copy. It was a little beat up and didn't have the accompanying trading card, but at least I was able to get one for a price that wasn't too steep.
And then, of course, two weeks later, I found another, nicer copy for even cheaper. What can I say? The (Captain) universe is funny like that. So now I have two copies of this mail-in book, ones that once belonged to Josh Meinhausen and Allen Bechy. Josh's copy was more well-read, to be sure. I also get the feeling that the post office didn't take great care of these in transit back in '94. Nice copies are tough to come by.
Captain Universe is a relatively obscure cosmic Marvel character, which combines the "Enigma Force" (sometimes called the "Uni-Power") with a nearby host; the idea here is that Captain Universe is "the hero who could be you!" So in times of crisis, the power is granted to someone in need. That seems built in for a story like this, where folks could write in and get their name in an actual Marvel Comic.
From what I can gather, the trading card (also personalized) came stuck, face down, to the front cover when it arrived. Maybe the white strip had sticky stuff (official term) on it or something. Anyway, mine is detached, but it doesn't take anything away from the presentation. And the card is harder to find than the book, for obvious reasons. This also features Hildebrandt Bros. artwork!
Let's take a look inside the book. One thing that became obvious really quickly was that the book takes absolutely every opportunity to put the buyer's name in. It probably shows up, almost shamelessly, 30 times throughout the book. You're welcomed on the inside front cover with a letter from Stan Lee himself.
Allen Bechy's copy had text that didn't line up super well in the printing process, which I'm sure what a disappointment at the time. And the personalized text has a different weight and feel to it than the other, standard stuff, but it's still kind of impressive that this worked out at all on such a large scale.
The story is by Bob Budiansky and Jim Craig, both industry veterans if not stars. The plot is fairly generic: a kid (ostensibly you) travels to New York City where bad stuff happens. You're transformed into Captain Universe, team up with the X-Men (after a brief confrontation), and save the day. Everything about it is very 1990s, but it's about what you might expect from a comic like this from '94.
"Suddenly, I'm not plain old Allen Bechy anymore!"
The X-Men show up at the shopping mall where this all goes down. Wolverine is unnecessarily aggressive the whole way through.
See? Wolverine threatens to rip your lungs out. For no reason! Why did this make it into the book?
The mail-in form asked for your home town, for the purpose of tossing it out there a few times. So now we're closer to showing up at Allen Bechy's house in Utica, NY.
It also asked for a friend's name, as your character stops to make a phone call. Josh's friend was "Dad".
Well, it looks like Captain Universe saves the day! Here's some more poorly aligned text! Oh well.
On the inside back cover, you can get a personalized letter from Charles Xavier.
The back cover also folds out into a double-sided poster, complete with your name on both. These are also by the Hildebrandts, and are more satisfying to look at than the entire interior comic.
A lot of kids tore their posters out, as well, so I'm lucky that I was able to get a copy that was in good shape.
The very back cover - also personalized, as no space could go to waste - tells you a little bit about Captain Universe.
There are two versions of this book: one with a male Captain Universe and one with a female version. As you might expect, the female version of the book is much more rare and thus expensive. I don't know if I'll ever shell out $300 for that version, but I'm at least happy to have finally found a copy for myself. It was an ambitious and fun concept and I'm sure it made a lot of kids happy for Christmas of '94.