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Thursday, September 28, 2017

45 Year Flashback: MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL No.1 (1972)

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...


varszava_vavava said...

Ha ha

For 'the centre pages of MWOM were used for self-promotion, and who better to present those pages than Stan Lee himself?' That will set the Stan Lee worshippers off!

And for 'Although there's no guarantee he wrote his own editorial every week' - well done for starting another Stan Lee 'how much did he do?' controversy!

A prize is heading to you True Unbeliever.

Nuff said!

ParryS said...

Thanks for this insightful and nostalgic entry, Lew.

By the way, I grew up on a "diet" of black and white reprints (not so much with DC as I bought their annuals which were usually in colour). So when I first picked up a Marvel US title, the colour was jarring. Nice, but jarring.

Also, the black and white really suits some tales, i.e. dark Hulk tales (I suppose all Hulk tales are dark), Punisher, Daredevil, etc.

This post brought back many memories. Thank you.

Lew Stringer said...

You're welcome, Parry. I first saw the Marvel U.S. comics about a year after the Hulk reprints in Smash began, so I just accepted them as equal really. (I was only 8 so you tend to adjust better at that age I think.)

There's nothing controversial about it, V. I'd be more surprised if Stan HAD written every editorial for the UK comics. By late 1972 he was the publisher and had given up scripting for the comics, having other matters to contend with. He was still the figurehead of Marvel though, so I think it's fine if someone ghosted his style on those editorials.

paul Mcscotty said...

Oh I feel old! 45 years ago and I still vividly recall the excitement in buying this comic and where I got it (and even the fact my Hulk transfer was not in my comic - although my Dad got me another one) – Always nice to revisit the MWOM again – thanks Lew

Lew Stringer said...

When MWOM came out it felt like it had been ages to me since Fantastic ended, but there was only a four year gap between them. Life feels like it moves slower when you're a young kid. Plus, to me, the 1970s felt like a different, less carefree time than the 1960s. All part of growing up though.

Chris said...

Lovely entry Lew, very enjoyable.

Over on the Panini Facebook page someone commented with the upcoming Marvel Legacy renumbering that the Collectors editions should do the same. I spend a bit of time and you might like to know I worked out that the current issue of MWOM would be issue #537 - quite an impressive number over the years.

Lew Stringer said...

I'd like to see MWOM go back to legacy numbering but its history is a bit complicated though isn't it? Would the numbering include when it changed its title to simply 'Marvel Comic'? Didn't it also become Marvel Superheroes at one point, or was that a different comic?

Also, I'm not convinced the legacy numbering will stick with the US comics. I suspect we'll see a bunch of first issues again in a year or two.

Plus, Marvel Legacy has already confused the issue in the USA by having Captain America revert to the old numbering (which includes its Tales of Suspense run), then relaunching Tales of Suspense alongside it, also continuing the old numbering. The experiment is flawed already.

James Spiring said...

Yes, Marvel Comic merged with Spider-Man Comic to create Marvel Super-Heroes. Issue 353 says 1st issue on the cover, but the legacy numbering showed up from issue 363 (I don't know if it had been in the indicia all along), which also introduced a corner box.

Anonymous said...

Marvel Comic and Marvel Super-Heroes continued the numbering from MWOM but they were NOT the same comic, whatever anyone says !!

I was only six-and-a-half when MWOM No.1 came out so I don't remember it. I discovered Marvel comics two years later - Planet Of The Apes No.5 was my first ever Marvel comic :)

And until the internet came along I'd assumed that MWOM No.1 was the first UK appearance of Marvel characters. I'd never heard of Fantastic, Terrific etc.

Lew Stringer said...

Well, Colin, if Marvel themselves count it as the same comic (according to James) then I'm afraid that's what it is.

The point could be moot though, because there's no confirmation that modern day MWOM will go back to the old numbering yet. I'm guessing they won't, but I hope they will.

Tony Howson said...

I quite like the legacy numbering game. It amuses me that applying it to my favourite comic ever (EVER!) reveals that Blackhawk quietly celebrated #300 by being cancelled in June 2012.

You could argue that Marvel were getting this wrong as far back as 1973 when they relaunched Strange Tales with #169, conveniently ignoring the 15 issues published as Doctor Strange in 1968/1969. That annoyed me at the time - but I was a teenager and irritated was my default setting. These days I can appreciate that it's more about recognising longevity than hard counting of inventory.

45 years since MWOM #1 eh? That should make me feel old but I'm just happy we're both still around. Happy birthday to the dear old rag, regardless of publisher, trade dress or cover feature.

Beezertop said...

I remember the tv advert and running to the local newsagents to grab a copy...the start of a long running affaire that's still going strong today!

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