Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Marvel UK: The early years
Reprints of US Marvel Comics for the British market had met with limited success prior to the 1970s. The 1950s had seen UK black and white versions of Human Torch and Captain America, the sixties had the Odhams "Power Comics" such as Fantastic (as well as the Alan Class titles such as Creepy Worlds) and even the latter issues of TV21 in 1971 had featured edited reprints of Silver Surfer, Spider-Man, Ringo Kid and the Western Ghost Rider.
After IPC published two annuals of Marvel reprints in 1971 and 1972 (called simply Marvel Annual) there was speculation that the company was about to launch a weekly. Whether this was true or not it never came to pass, as Marvel US was about to take charge of its own destiny where their British readers were concerned.
On Saturday September 30th 1972, the first issue of The Mighty World of Marvel took readers by surprise, heralding the start of Marvel's UK operation. (Even though, in those early days, the comics were actually edited in the USA by Tony Isabella but printed in England.) This 40 page first issue had real impact, kicking off with a cover by John Buscema and contents starting with the origin stories of The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man its intention was clear, - forget the Marvel reprints of the past which were handled by others, this was a new beginning from day one with Marvel firmly in the driver's seat. To accentuate its authenticity it even contained an editorial from Stan Lee.
The comic only had four pages in full colour. The rest used spot colour (green, mainly for the benefit of the Hulk strip). It would be several years before full colour was used throughout Marvel UK comics. (By which time the original MWOM would be gone.)
Previous British comics featuring Marvel material had always used reprinted covers from US comics, but MWOM had the luxury of brand new covers, many, from issue two's powerful Hulk cover, were by a young Jim Starlin, who was also wowing his readers in the USA with his work on Captain Marvel. (Some of Starlin's covers for Mighty World of Marvel can be seen above.)
With the success of Mighty World of Marvel, Marvel UK launched their second weekly on February 10th 1973. Spinning out of the pages of MWOM , Spider-Man became the star of Spider-Man Comics Weekly, which introduced Thor as a back up strip. The first issue was also used to promote Marvel's new fan club F.O.O.M. (Friends Of Ol' Marvel) with a 50p subscription form. It was now clear that Marvel saw the UK as a lucrative base to recruit new readers.
The emphasis wasn't all American though. Keeping up the British tradition of free gifts in first issues of new comics, MWOM had given away an impressive iron-on transfer of the Hulk. Spider-Man Comics Weekly promised a Spider-Man Mask! Excitement was short lived though when the "mask" turned out to be... a paper bag, which when worn looked more like a Klan hood (see photo).
Daredevil filled the space left by Spider-Man in the pages of Mighty World of Marvel, as the plan to gradually introduce more characters to UK readers took shape. The fact that all of these strips had previously been seen in the Odhams comics only a few years earlier apparently made little difference to the sales of the two new weeklies. Why were MWOM and Spider-Man Comics Weekly succeeding where previous Marvel reprints had failed? Perhaps because readers knew these were "proper" Marvel comics? Perhaps because they had lively attractive covers? Or possibly because the time gap between origination and reprint was wider now and these weeklies were the only opportunity of obtaining the early Marvel material.
September 15th 1973 saw the third Marvel UK weekly appear. Simply titled The Avengers its format was slightly different to its sister papers. Unlike MWOM and Spidey it had glossy covers, although this was at the cost of having no interior colour pages. (Although by this time the other two comics were also losing their spot colour interiors.) The back up strip for The Avengers was Doctor Strange, whilst over in Spider-Man Comics Weekly the 20 page Spidey stories were about to be halved to accommodate reprints of Iron Man.
Soon, Mighty World of Marvel and Spider-Man Comics Weekly both adopted the same format as The Avengers: 36 pages including colour glossy covers. They would soon be joined by an onslaught of companion titles; Dracula Lives!, Planet of the Apes, The Superheroes, Savage Sword of Conan and many more. Some would fail (Conan lasted just 18 weeks) whilst others would triumph (Spider-Man underwent many title changes and restarts and still survives today in the form of The Astonishing Spider-Man).
The Mighty World of Marvel had a long run, swallowing up various flailing weeklies from diverse titles as Planet of the Apes to Fury. Eventually, its own dwindling sales required it to have a revamp and new editor Dez Skinn simplified its title to Marvel. Perhaps the changes came too late, and it folded, but was reborn as The Mighty World of Marvel volume two, a monthly, in the early 1980s. Sadly, that failed, but the title was revived again a few years ago and The Mighty World of Marvel volume 3 (now published by Panini, who handle all Marvel's UK output) has been successful. The impressive 76 page full-colour monthly is now up to its 53rd issue. Together with its group of companion comics, from Avengers United to the newest title Marvel Legends, it would appear that Marvel are once again firmly established in the UK.
To find out more about current UK Marvel editions visit the Panini UK website: