Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, Marvel comics ran muscle-building or bodybuilding ads that appealed to people wanting to get stronger and physically fit. Whether it was Charles Atlas promising to turn you into a He-Man or Mike Marvel saying you could transform your body without any exercise at all, a repeating theme throughout that period was the unrealistic expectations used; an indication that advertising regulations and standards weren’t as strict as they are today.
In Fantastic Four, Issue #173, 1976 was an ad for the ‘World Famous New American Physique Chest Developer’ that claimed it could add 2 to 4 inches to your chest in 14 days. If that didn’t set alarm bells ringing, within the same ad was a mini-ad that claimed to add 2 to 7 inches to your height in a few weeks, 100% guaranteed.
In Tales to Astonish Starring the Sub-Mariner, Issue #8, 1980, we were told that “Strong arms make all the difference”. To what exactly, we don’t know. But in just 10 minutes a day you’d get fantastic strength with muscles of steel.
Let’s not forget about the Super Bodybuilding Course in Sub-Mariner, Issue #59, 1972. Totally legitimate testimonials claimed a 5 inch gain on arms while losing 3 inches of the waist, and 30 pounds gained in 45 days. Not a bad transformation for a “skinny weakling”.
As the 90s approached, perhaps one could think bodybuilding advertising could tone it down a bit and be a bit more realistic. The above ad from Fantastic Four versus the X-Men, Issue #2, 1987, proved that to be wishful thinking. The above ad hinted you could get an Atlas Body in 7 days and a 300 lbs bench press in 3 months.
Once bodybuilding supplements hit the shelves and became more widespread, the claims became more outlandish. Protein powders, creatine supplements and testosterone boosters were just a few of the products that were spun to make people believe that manufacturers had stumbled upon powerful ingredients to pack on muscle size fast.