The Mighty World of Marvel No.1 arrived in newsagents across the UK 45 years ago this week. I don't have time to write a new post about it at present but couldn't let the moment pass without celebrating it, so here's an updated version of a post I wrote five years ago, accompanied by scans and photos from the issue I own...
This coming Saturday, September 30th 2017, marks the 45th anniversary of The Mighty World of Marvel No.1, - and 40 years since Marvel UK set up business. (Even though, initially, the comics were edited and designed in New York, with a London office just handling advertising, printing and distribution.)
Marvel UK no longer exist under that name of course. For many years now Marvel have been represented in Britain by Panini UK who have the license to publish UK editions of Marvel Comics (and a great job they do too). However, Marvel UK had a good run and it all kicked off four and a half decades ago with the comic shown in this post.
For some reason I missed the TV advertisements on September 30th for the launch of the comic and the first I knew about it was a few days later when my Mum and I were about to embark on a day trip to Blackpool. Nipping into the bus station newsagent to buy a bottle of pop for the journey I still remember the excitement when I spotted a pile of copies of The Mighty World of Marvel No.1 on the counter. My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. A British Marvel reprint comic to replace the much-missed Fantastic which had folded four years earlier! And with a brand new John Buscema cover to boot!
Needless to say, a good portion of the coach journey to Blackpool was taken up reading the comic from cover to cover. The weather was pleasant that day anyway, but I don't think I'd have noticed if it had been lashing down with rain as I was too engrossed in that issue.
British reprints of Marvel comics had been appearing since the 1950s. Firstly with Len Miller reprinting Human Torch, Kid Colt, and more, and Odhams in the 1960s with their late lamented "Power Comics". Alan Class comics had haphazardly reprinted some Marvel classics too, but Marvel UK had been set up to introduce Marvel to Britain for a new generation. Therefore Mighty World of Marvel was printed Web Offset on matt paper (like Tiger and Cor!!) so it resembled the familiar British format.
MWOM imitated the format of its predecessor, Fantastic, in that it was a 40 page comic comprised of an anthology of three strips, reprinting half of each of the original comics. Therefore we were given the first 10 pages of The Incredible Hulk No.1, the first half of Fantastic Four No.1, and the Spider-Man origin story from Amazing Fantasy No.15. (Subsequent weeks would continue this serialised approach, so issue 2 presented the second halves of Hulk and FF and the first half of Amazing Spider-Man No.1, and so on.)
Having 40 pages, The Mighty World of Marvel (or MWOM as it was often referred to) was a bit more substantial than the average 32 page UK comic, and its 5p cover price reflected that. (Most UK adventure comics of the time, such as Valiant, were around 3p in 1972.) Like most British comics back then, full colour on every page was out of the question if they wanted to keep costs down, but rather than print in black and white MWOM alternated between green spot colour and pale green paper. (I know some readers hated this but I really liked it. Unfortunately it was dropped several months later and contents became entirely black and white.)
Only 5 pages were in full colour (increasing to 8 a few weeks later). Issue 1 used the colour of one page for a pin-up by recolouring the cover of Fantastic Four No.1.
The centre pages of MWOM were used for self-promotion, and who better to present those pages than Stan Lee himself? (Although there's no guarantee he wrote his own editorial every week.)
The rest of the spread was taken up with teasers for 'The World's Greatest Free Gift Offer', encouraging readers to clip out the coupons over 11 weeks and send them in for a mystery gift. Clues were provided every week ("It's bigger than a breadbox") and eventually it was revealed to be an excellent full colour poster drawn by John Buscema of Spider-Man, Hulk, and the FF. (Yes, I clipped out the coupons and sent away for it, and had the poster on my bedroom wall until I left school and decided I was perhaps a tad too old for superhero pin-ups.)
The free gift tucked inside MWOM No.1 was heralded on the cover as "A Green-Skinned Monster T-Shirt Transfer". It was of course The Hulk, but bearing in mind this comic was aimed at a brand new readership who would never have encountered him before, the words "Green-Skinned Monster" in the topline were probably more effective.
(Mt transfer remains unused. At the time I felt I was too old for superhero T-shirt transfers. Besides, as you can see, it arrived slightly damaged.)
With such an incredibly strong line up of characters and featuring some of Marvel's most iconic stories, how could it fail? Although I'd read some of the material before in Odhams comics and American reprint comics such as Marvel Tales I bought Mighty World of Marvel avidly every week. I was 13 at the time, and getting a bit jaded by traditional British comics of the day, so this was just the ticket. Seems a lot of other people felt the same, as Marvel UK swiftly expanded with more comics, - Spider-Man Comics Weekly, The Avengers, Planet of the Apes, Dracula Lives, The Superheroes, Savage Sword of Conan, and numerous others. Some were successful, some were complete flops, but Marvel were firmly established as part of the UK comics scene.
As the message in issue one said, "The excitement is just beginning". It certainly was. I could never have dreamed back in 1972, reading Mighty World of Marvel No.1 on that coach journey to Blackpool, that I'd be a contributor to MWOM's second series in the 1980s with some of my earliest cartoons appearing in its pages alongside Captain Britain by Alan Moore and Alan Davis.
That second run was short lived, but after a gap of about 20 years Panini UK revived The Mighty World of Marvel. Now published every four weeks, that incarnation is still running and the latest issue (below) is in the shops now. The original MWOM had 40 pages for 5p with only a handful of colour. The current issue has 76 pages in full colour for £3.99. Not a bad evolution for the price.
If you want to read more about the comics published by the predecessors to Marvel UK, see these old posts of mine...