The four-page supplement included in the Look-In issue for 29th July 1972 was part of the advertising campaign for a new doll - sorry, 'Action Figure' - from MATTEL. Although named 'Big Jim' in America, problems with licensing meant a different name had to be chosen for the European and UK markets, and so Mark Strong (The MAN From MATTEL) began to appear in toy shops. At approximately ten inches tall, he was slightly shorter than the better known 'Action Man', but Mr. Strong had two features the man of action lacked: his right arm could be released in a karate-chop motion, and pushing his forearms upwards caused his biceps to swell.
There were a number of 'Equipment Packs' for Mark Strong, comprising outfits and accessories. These did not have the usual military theme, but reflected the lifestyle of Mr. Strong, with equipment for skin-diving, Formula 1 racing, skydiving, a Karate outfit and a football kit. There was even a cowboy outfit! Interestingly, very few guns appear among the accessories. Indeed, 'Havoc', a later action figure (sorry, 'doll') for girls, had far more in the way of firepower then did Mark, with a weapon included in almost every one of her accessory sets. Girls, eh? A full page monochrome advertisement for some of these Mark Strong Equipment Packs appeared in the issue for 16th September 1972, presented as a way to enable I.C.E. agents to identify Mark Strong.
As well as promoting the action figure, the Look-In supplement also introduces readers to the fictional background of Mark Strong. He is a well known racing driver, but has a secret: he's the leading agent for the crime fighting organisation M.ATT.E.L. (Missions Attached to Europe and London). Their H.Q. lies beneath a toy shop in London, and it is from there that agents are given their instructions by a machine called the 'Thinking Computer'. Among the enemies M.ATT.E.L. fights is the world's largest crime syndicate, I.C.E. (International Crime Enterprises).
The strip would reveal that the Headquarters of I.C.E. are in a disused Roxy cinema close to Canterbury, the screen of which is used to monitor events in the outside world. The I.C.E. chief is named 'Avalanche', with operatives having suitably ice-related names; Avalanche's assistant is called 'Snow-Cap', perhaps a joke based on the fact that he is completely bald.
As part of this fictional introduction, there was a four-panel teaser for the comic strip which would start properly in the following week's issue: after a Karate workout in the gym, Mark is surprised to find a beautiful woman waiting for him in his sports car (always a risk with an open-top). The masthead for the weekly instalments names the strip as Mark Strong, but the teaser is headed 'The Adventures of Mark Strong'. Also included in the supplement is a page from a dossier about Mark, listing his hair colour as brown, his eyes as blue, and describing him as 'Adaptable to Disguises'. This latter is a bit puzzling, but later 'Big Jim' accessory packs did include facial masks (a little like those used by the Hood in Thunderbirds) to effect disguise. Perhaps these masks were intended to have been part of Mark's equipment too.
Like other secret organisations, M.ATT.E.L. used codes, but all these had been broken by I.C.E., so Mark had devised an unbreakable system, 'The Mark Strong Coder', capable of producing 26 different codes. Whilst it did not quite produce unbreakable codes, this code wheel was a rather good extra which was included with the boxed action figure, and was used in the competition which formed part of the supplement. Entrants had to match up pictures of Mark Strong accessories with a list of activities and then decode a message using the picture of the code wheel, set at the appropriate code, which was printed in the supplement. (With punctuation added, the competition message read, "MARK STRONG'S ADVENTURES APPEAR ONLY IN LOOK-IN. ORDER YOUR COPY NOW", and the message at the bottom of the dossier read, "RED ALERT ICE AGENT IN MONACO GRAND PRIX".) It's interesting to note that the supplement describes the 'Thinking Computer' as giving Mark his instructions 'often in code'. Did this mean that there were plans to include coded messages in the comic strip? If that was the case then, sadly, it never happened.
The strip comprised three stories, with the first clearly inspired by the James Bond film, 'Goldfinger'. They ran from 5th August 1972 until 27th January 1973, when Mark Strong would end his Look-In adventures with the thought-bubble, "Guess that wraps it up, as they say!" He seems to have done better in Germany, where he had a comic book of his own which ran for nine issues. Indeed, most of the information to be found on the internet about Mark Strong is written in German. But, sadly, Mark was not to be long lived. MATTEL all too soon gained the right to market figures under the 'Big Jim' name in Europe and the Mark Strong line was dropped.
(Article By Kim Stevens)