MARVEL UK
THE MIGHTY WORLD OF BRITISH BRONZE AGE MARVEL

1972 - 1974
SETTING UP MARVEL UK

 

 

This is a revised version of a text originally compiled in 2009.
Special thanks to Robin Kirby for some valuable corrections and additional input.
All dates given are cover dates unless specified
Click on covers for larger images

 

 
PREFACE - THE BRITISH SILVER AGE
 
Selected material from Marvel's new Silver Age world of superheroes was reprinted in Great Britain in the standard black & white UK comic book format soon after its original publication in the US by three publishers: Thorpe and Porter were the first, followed by L. Miller & Son and Alan Class (Kirby, 2011).
 



Fantastic #1
(11 February 1967)

  However, the characters and their adventures were presented completely devoid of their original continuity, and readers were thus faced with lots of loose ends and a general lack of coherent plot logic. This situation improved slightly between 1967 and 1969 when Odhams Press acquired the rights to publish Marvel material under its imprint brand of Power Comics.

This would eventually consist of five weekly titles (Wham!, Smash!, Pow!, Fantastic and Terrific). Whilst the first three of these titles featured traditional British comic book strips with only a small amount of Marvel material as backup feature (again reproduced in black and white and serialized in weekly instalments), Fantastic and Terrific were more magazine-like in style and featured mainly Marvel content (Stringer, 2008).

Fantastic #1 was published on 11 February 1967 in a decisively different style than its predecessors and, in fact, any traditional British comic book. Fantastic featured a whole barrage of Marvel superheroes in the form of Thor, Iron Man and the X-Men as its main content, supplemented by an only minimal amount of traditional British material. Terrific, which followed in April 1967, introduced more Marvel characters as the Sub-Mariner, Dr Strange, Thor (again) and Captain America ruled its pages (Stringer, 2008).

 
The Power Comics line enjoyed only a brief period of success which lasted for a mere nine months, after which Odham's set-up started to dwindle. Wham! was merged into Pow! on 13 January 1968, while Terrific merged into Fantastic three weeks later. This left three Power titles for just over six months, after which first Pow! and then Fantastic were merged into Smash! in September and November 1968 respectively. Smash! continued to include a reduced amount of Marvel material until early in 1969, when Odham was taken over by IPC Media and the new owner dropped the Power Comics logo and revamped Smash! into a virtually new comic in the new owner's established style (Stringer, 2008).
 
WELCOME TO THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL
 
One of the oddities of the Odham's period of Marvel reprints was the fact that (apart from the statutory copyright notice in small print) the name "Marvel" was never actually mentioned and replaced by "Power" throughout. Marvel set out to rectify this in 1972 when the House of Ideas formed its own publishing channel, Marvel UK. Although clearly set up with the intention of reprinting original US material for the British comic market, it did produce some original material by British creators at a later stage.
 
On the last Saturday of September 1972, Mighty World of Marvel #1 appeared on the newsagent stands and heralded the start of Marvel's UK operation. Edited in the US under the supervision of Tony Isabella but printed in England (and later Ireland), this 40 page first issue had a real impact on the British comic book market as it kicked off with a cover by John Buscema and contents starting with the origin stories of the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man.

Both the message and the intention of this new comic book were crystal clear: forget those Marvel reprints from a few years back which were handled by others - this is the real deal from Mighty Marvel. As such, the comic's title was, of course, programmatic, and to further accentuate its authenticity, issue #1 contained an editorial from Stan Lee who gave a basic recap for the uninitiated reader of the Marvel philosophy and the company's interactive and highly personal concept of communication with its readership:

"As a mad Marvelite, you're more than just a reader - you're a friend! So drop me a line soon as you can, I'll be waiting, hear?" (Lee, 1972)

The very same double-page editorial also greeted readers with a blurb stating "Congratulations! You've entered the Mighty Marvel Age of Comics and the excitement is just beginning!"

 



Mighty World of Marvel
#1 launched Marvel's own UK imprint on 30 September 1972

 
The UK comic book market in general hadn't changed much since the first Marvel reprints of the mid-1960s. It was still quintessentially keyed at a weekly interval of publication with predominantly black and white contents, and The Mighty World of Marvel (MWOM for short) followed this formula, although the first few issues had "spot colours", i.e. single colour hues in some parts of the panels (a technique Marvel had employed only months earlier when publishing existing black and white Man-Thing material in June 1972 in Astonishing Tales #12 and #13 with colour highlighting in order to adapt this material to the book's colour format (Wymann, 2010).
 



Mighty World of Marvel #5 featuring a Jim Starlin cover
(4 November 1972)

  Each issue of MWOM featured several distinct characters in one issue, which meant that the original material had to be cut up and serialized in order to fit this format, so that what had been published in one (monthly or bi-monthly) issue in the US was spread out over several (weekly) issues in the UK.

Previous British comics featuring Marvel material had simply reprinted original US covers or used paste-ups almost without exception, but the weekly publication schedule of Mighty World of Marvel with multiple featured heroes and serialized content (material from one US issue would be run over three to four UK reprint issues) immediately caused a shortage of US cover artwork and also required new splash pages. As a consequence, a variety of artists working for Marvel in New York were called into service to provide new cover images for the British weeklies.

Mighty World of Marvel quickly proved to be the huge success Marvel no doubt had hoped for, and little more than four months later Marvel UK made its next move to increase its share of the British market by launching their second weekly on February 10th 1973.

 



Mighty World of Marvel
#9 featuring a Jim Starlin cover
(2 December 1972)

 
HERE COMES THE SPIDER-MAN
 
Slinging his web out of the pages of MWOM, Spider-Man became the star of Spider-Man Comics Weekly, which introduced Thor (and later on also Iron Man) as a backup strip. The first issue was also used to promote the UK branch of Marvel's brand new US in-house fan club and fan magazine FOOM (Friends Of Ol' Marvel, which grew out of the original Merry Marvel Marching Society of the 1960s) - a clear indication that the House of Ideas had identified the UK as a lucrative market.
 



Spider-Man Comics Weekly
#1
(10 February 1973)



Spider-Man Comics Weekly
#34
(6 October 1973)



Spider-Man Comics Weekly
#138
(4 October 1975)

  Eventually, Spider-Man Comics Weekly would become the longest running UK Marvel comic book, although it changed its title name several times and with increasing frequency once it was beyond the 150 issues mark:

- Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes (as of issue #158)
- Super Spider-Man and the Titans (#199)
- Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain (#231)
- Spider-Man Comic (#311)
- Spectacular Spider-Man Weekly (#334)
- Spider-Man and Hulk Weekly (#376)
- Super Spider-Man TV Weekly (#450)
- Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends (#553)
- Spider-Man Comic (#634)
- Spidey Comic (#652)

Publication finally ceased in 1985 after 666 issues and a 12 year run.

By the time Spider-Man Comics Weekly hit the British comic book market, the friendly neighbourhood web-slinger had long since become Marvel's flagship character. He was often used as the company mascot in many ways and, by all means, Spider-Man had become one of the most recognizable fictional characters in the world (Knowles, 2007). This included the most prominent part of his comic book presence, the covers of Amazing Spider-Man, many of which became not only classic Marvel icons but key visuals of American comic book culture.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the covers of Spider-Man Comics Weekly and its later title identities displayed a large proportion of virtually unchanged covers from Amazing Spider-Man, including perhaps the classic and best-known John Romita Sr. cover of the entire series from Amazing Spider-Man #40, showing Spidey overlooking the fallen Green Goblin, which was used unchanged for Spider-Man Comics Weekly #34 in October 1973. Another virtually unchanged John Romita Sr. cover example comes from Amazing Spider-Man #100 (used for Spider-Man Comics Weekly #138 in October 1975), whilst the also classic set-up from John Romita Sr.'s cover for Amazing Spider-Man #70 was redrawn (Kirby, 2011) to show Spidey actually facing guns shooting bullets at the web-slinger.

Given the weekly publication schedule, Marvel UK was set to run out fairly quickly not only of interior pages but obviously also original covers from the Amazing Spider-Man series. As a result, other Spidey titles had to be tapped, closing the gap on the original US publication date and its reprint appearance in the UK more and more. As a consequence, Super Spider-Man & Captain Britain #242 (20 September 1977) featured a story originally published in Spectacular Spider-Man #5 along with its Dave Cockrum cover which had been used by Marvel USA only five months previously.

 



Daredevil replaced Spider-Man as of Mighty World of Marvel #20
(17 February 1973)



Spider-Man Comics Weekly
#88
(19 October 1974)



Super Spider-Man & Captain Britain #242
(20 September 1977)

 
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
 
Daredevil took the place of Spider-Man in the pages of MWOM and became a regular and long-standing featured character of this title, adding yet another superhero to the ranks of Marvel UK, and these were expanded further in August 1973 when the Avengers were introduced in Mighty World of Marvel #46, starting out with the classic Stan Lee / Jack Kirby origin tale from Avengers #1.
 



Mighty World of Marvel
#46 introduced the Avengers
(18 August 1973)

  Daredevil and the Avengers were another step forward in Marvel UK's plans to gradually introduce more characters to the British readers. The two weeklies were selling extremely well and were widely available at newsagents from Dover to Inverness.

Just under a year after the launch of MWOM, Marvel UK was thus able to expand its range of weeklies to three when the Avengers received their own title mag in September 1973 - only a month after having made their debut in the pages of Mighty World of Marvel. Clearly, Marvel UK's motor was running in high gear.

The Avengers also introduced a new production format - unlike MWOM and Spider-Man Comics Weekly the title featured glossy covers with all black & white content only (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 the previously 20 page strong Spidey stories were about to be halved to accommodate reprints of Iron Man in Spider-Man Comics Weekly .

 



Avengers
#1 brought the number of Marvel UK weeklies to three
(22 September 1973)

 
Soon, Mighty World of Marvel and Spider-Man Comics Weekly both adopted the same format as The Avengers, with 36 interior pages and glossy paper covers. Much of the appeal of the UK reprints lies precisely with some of these covers.

Printed to a larger format than American Marvel comic books, some were just used pretty much as they appeared on their original US material, but others had specific features or were made especially for the UK publications, often in a very glossy and flashy way and sporting a multitude of blurs announcing the mixed contents of the comic book in question.

Whilst The Avengers was - like all other Marvel UK publications - slightly dull in comparison to Marvel's American comics in prime colours, the glossy covers quite often made up for the black and white content. Besides that, the quality of the paper and printing was far better than that used by Marvel for its US comics.

 



Avengers
#25
(9 March 1974)



Avengers
#29
(6 April 1974)



Avengers
#69
(11 January 1975)

  Due to the fact that the comic featured three different characters (other Marvel UK titles had even more) there would be a regular change in which title figure would make it onto the cover, and the sub-title would change accordingly, e.g. The Avengers featuring Dr. Strange or The Avengers starring Shang Chi Master of Kung Fu.

Marvel UK had started out with then 21 year-old Tony Isabella as the American editor of Marvel's British weeklies, and the production was, for obvious reasons, strongly based in the US.

"I [Tony Isabella] started working at Marvel Comics on Halloween, 1972. My first job was editing weekly reprints for Great Britain, working very closely with Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Sol Brodsky." (Mithra, 1997)

Sol Brodsky (1923 - 1984) had been one of the original three employees of the House of Ideas (together with Lee and secretary Flo Steinberg) and - as the production manager and thus main architect of Marvel's Silver Age expansion - was described by Stan Lee as his "right hand" (NN, 1998). As vice-president (operations) he was overseeing Marvel UK amongst other things such as the Marvel Books brand.

Marvel UK was thus deeply rooted in the inner sanctum of the House of Ideas - a UK bullpen within the famous bullpen, as also shown by a Marie Severin layout schematic for a cover of FOOM (Kirby, 2011).

On the other side of the Atlantic, the UK end of the business had had a London venue lined up even before MWOM 31 saw the light of day, complete with an editor (Kirby, 2011). As the Marvel UK titles became more and more successful and the imprint brand established itself as a major publisher of weekly comic titles in Britain, more and more English (and locally based) staff joined the editorial team.

The first editor was replaced by Peter L. Skingley, who was at times also called Peter Allen but who in reality was Petra Skingley, and then Matt Softly, who in reality was Maureen Softly (Kirby, 2011). At the time it was clearly felt in Britain that "boys comics" should have male editors, even if by "pen name" only - which is in some contrast to the German Marvel reprints by Williams Verlag from that era, where female editor Kirsten Isele in Hamburg was editor-in-chief from December 1974 to May 1979 - and indeed something of a Darling to the readers.

 



Avengers
#28
(30 March 1974)



Avengers
#66
(21 December 1974)



Avengers
#70
(18 January 1975)

 
Softly was followed by Neil Tennant (later of Pet Shop Boys fame) in 1975-77 and then Nick Laing (Kirby, 2011).

The comic books were never printed in the USA but rather came from printing companies all over Europe - wherever the best deal could be had (Kirby, 2011). However, the copyright notice in every issue stated that these comic books were not to be sold in the US and Canada.

 
 
 
MARVEL'S HOUSE STYLE WINS THE MARKET
 
By the second year of its existence, Marvel UK was a rip-roaring success and had built up an imposing presence on the British comic book market - not somehing which could have been taken for granted at the start of the enterprise, considering the fact that all of the material published in the first issues of Mighty World of Marvel, Spider-Man Comics Weekly and The Avengers had previously already been seen in the Odhams comics only a few years earlier. Apparently, this made little or no difference at all.
 
But just why were MWOM, SMCW and The Avengers succeeding where previous Marvel reprints had failed?

Was it because they had such lively and attractive covers?

Or had the time gap between the original publication in the US and its reprint in the UK become wide enough to make these weeklies the only opportunity for a new segment of readership to enjoy the early Marvel material?

 
 
It is fair to assume that all of this played its part in the successful launch of Marvel UK, but the key element was the authenticity.

Unlike the reprints of the mid- to late 1960s, this was the House of Ideas at work, and readers in the UK now got their real share of Merry Marveldom - not only the visual house style of Marvel, but also the editorial house style, established by the Maestro Supreme Stan Lee.

His friendly and chatty comments and phrasings, which went all the way from avuncular to tongue-in-cheek and over the top, were essential in creating a sense of community:

 



Click to see the entire Bullpen Bulletin from Avengers #61
(16 November 1974)

 

"What I [Stan Lee] always tried to do with Marvel was to make it seem like a club, like an inner group that we knew about and the outside world wasn't even aware of. If you read Marvel you were on the inside, you were hip, and it was sort of an exclusive thing, limited just to Marvel readers. And I tried to talk to the readers as if they were friends, not readers, so that not only - hopefully - did they enjoy the stories, but they enjoyed being part of the Marvel mystique if you might say, and I'm probably making it sound much more profound than it really was, but that's the way I looked at it. I wanted people to be aware of Marvel, and I wanted people to know about the mysticism and the magic and marvelness of Marvel, and they say that if you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door, but the world will only do that if it knows the mousetrap exists, and I didn't want us to be doing these books in a vacuum, because you know comic books had no advertising budget, no promotion. There were no ads on television, on the radio, in newspapers - you just printed your comic book and it was out there, and I was sort of like Joan of Arc, I was on a crusade, a mission, to let the world know about the marvelous world of Marvel. So in that sense, I guess I was a little bit of a huckster." (NN, 2003)

 
All of this was, quite simply, unique, and having the original and not a watered-down copy was a first for British comic book readers - and it struck a welcome sentimental chord with seasoned readers accustomed to the US publications. The "Bullpen Bulletins" were a feature of the UK weeklies as much as they were of Marvel's US comic books, and during the first two years of Marvel UK also contained an anglicised version of Stan Lee's soapbox, in which he presented news from the world of Marvel to British readers. The style, however, was unchanged - readers received this input ("nutty news") on an eye to eye level ("from one Marvel madman to another").

The in-house advertising always served a double purpose at Marvel. Firstly, it was, of course, a way of telling the readers of one comic book title that there were others available which would be just as interesting. But secondly - and just as importantly - the in-house ads also served to establish and strengthen the Marvel house style.

 
  Comic books weren't just that, they were "fabulous" and "winners" or, better still, "triumphs" and "masterworks". As the initial delights served by Marvel UK came straight out of the House of Ideas' NYC kitchen, it is no surprise that the advertising featured in the British reprint books followed the same vein of chatty and semi-spoof language and flashy and often bigger than life presentation. Marvel not only excelled in presenting its actual product, but just as much in presenting itself. Set up and guided by the master of the soapbox, Stan Lee, Marvel simply excelled at impression management.

The very own concept of communication was another key element of the Marvel house style which won the British market for Marvel UK. Involving readers was a completely alien concept to British comic book publishers, and Marvel UK not only talked to and with its readers through editorial pages, but actually asked for and encouraged readers to participate and be a part of it all.

 
The gathering call of the world's mightiest group of superheroes thus turned to directly include and address the readership when "Avengers Readers Assemble!" was called out.
 
The authencity of Marvel UK's weeklies was further strengthened through the letters pages as the editors did not shy away from discussing topics raised by individual readers which actually concerned Marvel's American output.

For those readers, this proved that Marvel UK was indeed part of the Marvel Universe, so to speak, and for readers with little or no knowledge about the US side of the House of Ideas, it opened up a much broader perspective - this was much more than a handful of weeklies, this was a part of "something big".

 



Click to see the entire letters page of
Avengers #67
(28 December 1974)

 



In-house ad for the imported US Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag on the back cover of Avengers #61
(November 1974)

  Even highly practical questions regarding the British weeklies and their original US sources were discussed, as one reader's question of why the American books were smaller than their UK counterparts was replied to:

"They're printed on different types of printing machines. We have always striven (and still do) to get the British mags as similar to the American format as poss. The present format of the British mags is the closest we've been able to get so far." (Marvel UK, 1974a)

The direct link and thus pedigree connection to Marvel USA was even taken further by occasional in-house adverts for US comic books imported to the UK, such as the Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag . No advertising was run for the regular monthly imports of US edition Marvels, but a one-shot special (such as this one) was obviously not seen as a competition for the weeklies. Selling for $ 1.50 in the US, it was priced at 50p in the UK.

 



In-house ad for the launch of Iron Fist as follow-up for master of Kung-Fu in Avengers #69
(January 1975)

 
As mentioned before, the weekly publication schedules of Marvel's British output created a need for new covers and new splash pages at very frequent intervals. The various editorial teams came up with several different possible approaches to this over the months and years, but again the awareness and the drive to create an overall feeling of authenticity was at the heart of both the production values and the success of Marvel UK's weeklies.

As for covers, Marvel UK basically had three options: a) use an existing cover from a US book, b) create a new cover by producing a collage from existing material used in a different context, or c) draw up an entirely new cover.

 



Mighty World of Marvel
#258
(September 1977)

  The cover from Mighty World of Marvel #258 (September 1977), for example, makes use of three different sources: an illustration extracted from the cover of Tomb of Dracula #50, an illustration extracted from a Defenders panel page, and the well-known 1960s style "string of heads", taken from Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos # 12 but arranged in a new order.

As opposed to this approach, the cover from Mighty World of Marvel #276 (January 1978) was pencilled by Pablo Marcos especially for that issue. The editorial headings clearly mark the art as being for a "British Book" and there's even an instruction that this is to be reduced to 83% of its original size in the final printing process.

Other original cover work especially for Marvel UK came from the likes of John Buscema and Tom Palmer, Jim Starlin, Herb Trimpe, Larry Lieber and Frank Throne (Kirby, 2011).

 



Original art by Pablo Marcos for the cover of
Mighty World of Marvel #276
(January 1978)

 
With regard to splash pages - which were needed because material originally used for one comic book would be presented over multiple weekly instalments - Marvel UK had multiple options. Perhaps the most obvious one was to use an existing splash page, where possible, in its original form, even though this left readers with an incongruous credit for "colors", such as in the example page below fromithe Conan story "Man born of Demon!" (originally published in Conan the Barbarian #51, June 1975), the first part of which was featured in Mighty World of Marvel #210 (October 1976). An easy remedy for this slightly inconsistent approach was to simply replace "colors" with "tones", such as in the example page below fromithe Hulk story "There's a Gremlin in the Works!" (originally published in Incredible Hulk #187, May 1975), the first part of which was featured in the same issue of Mighty World of Marvel, i.e. #210.
 



Splash page for a Conan story reprinted in Mighty World of Marvel #210
(6 October 1976)

 



Splash page for a Hulk story reprinted in Mighty World of Marvel #210
(6 October 1976)

 



Splash page for a Dr Strange story reprinted in Avengers #64
(7 December 1974)

 



Splash page for an Avengers story reprinted in Avengers #65
(14 December 1974)

 
In the majority of cases - i.e. where no original splash page was available - Marvel UK had to resort to other means, and the editorial and artistic staff involved displayed some ingenuity in this task. Sticking to original material, there was in some relatively rare occasions the possibility to use a full-page interior splash and then add title and credit panels, as illustrated by the example of a Dr Strange splash entitled "The Doorway of Dimensions!" used in Avengers #64 (December 1974), which originally was page 13 from Doctor Strange #172 (September 1968). In order to create this splash page, the word balloons used to convey the threats of Strange's attacker had to be moved downwards to make room for the title panel (and a closer look does reveal the balloon lines to be cruder than those of the original word balloons in the lower right-hand corner). A similar approach was to take a single panel from an original interior page and blow it up to full page size, again adding title and credit panels. This is illustrated by the splash page from Avengers #65 (December 1974) where a single panel from an interior story page from the original Avengers #49 (February 1968) was used.
 



Splash page for an Avengers story reprinted in Avengers #69
(11 January 1975)

  In some cases, Marvel UK's editorial staff did not fall back on existing original artwork for splash pages but rather opted for new art produced especially for the British reprints. The quality of this work varied, although generally speaking only a small percentage came close to the standards set by the original material or settled in well with the style of the original material, such as the example on the left showing Iron Man in flight. By far the larger part of these newly produced splash pages didn't quite look the part, such as the Daredevil splash on the right (although, fair enough, in that specific case it really was hard to achieve something close to Gene Colan's artwork).

The artists in charge of the material produced especially for Marvel's UK reprint line were mentioned in various editorial bullpen bulletins:

"Adorable ED HANNIGAN and Mischievous MIKE ESPOSITO, long time workers on these books, have been teaming up on covers drawn especially for the British editions of THE PLANET OF THE APES!" (Marvel UK, 1974b)

 



Splash page for a Daredevil story reprinted in Mighty World of Marvel #210
(6 October 1976)

 

"And while we're on the subjects of covers, we might as well throw in the name of PABLO MARCOS, who's been doing most of our DRACULA LIVES frontispieces!" (Marvel UK, 1974b)

On special occasions, even some of Marvel's most acknowledged artists would contribute to the production of Marvel UK:

"Since we're on the subject of Spider-Man, we might as well bring up the name of the greatest Spidey illustrator marvel ever had - Jazzy JOHNNY ROMITA! This is a warning to all true Marvelites that they should haunt their newsstands in search of the 100th issue of our favourite web-slinger's mag - 'cause we managed to steal the Jazzy One away from his spot as Art Director of our whole darn line so he could take time out to do us a commemorative cover!" (Marvel UK, 1974b)

The official Marvel UK editorial charge in 1974/75 - still based in New York - rested with Jimmy Salicrup for covers and David Cohen for interiors - both extremely young members of Marvel's staff which later on would continue to pursue careers as comic book editors without, however, becoming truly big household names.

"What about Jumpin' JIMMY SALICRUP who produces the covers for these mags? Ever since I mentioned to him that I'd drop all you Marvel-mad people out there a line or two about him, he's gone into hiding under the draughting table in the corner of the office (...) Did you know that he's been working at madcap Marvel since he was only fifteen? And he's only seventeen now! Sheesh, the way we're hiring younger and younger people these days, in a few years Marvel's going to be a nursery!" (Marvel UK, 1974b)

"We told you a bit about Jumpin' JIMMY SALICRUP who coordiantes and produces the covers for these British Marvels. This time around we want to say a word about his counterpart on the inside [...] Dauntless DAVE COHEN, who, Snappy SCOTT EDELMAN reminded me to mention, resembles CHARLTON HESTON with dark hair. Everytime he walks down Madison Avenue, the crows part like water, or so we've heard." (Marvel UK, 1974c)

 
THE HORROR AND SCIENCE FICTION EXPANSION
 
Back home in the USA, Marvel Comics Group was in the midst of a process of change which had started around 1970, and a very substantial and important role in the diversification the House of Ideas underwent as it progressed from the 1960's Silver Age to the 1970's Bronze Age period was Marvel's range of horror characters and comic book titles, together with other non-superhero themed genres such as Marvel's sword and sorcery fantasy and science-fiction comics (Wymann, 2010).
 
By mid-1974, the success of Marvel UK's three weeklies had the powers in charge look to further expansion, and this move would - at the height of the popularity and importance of the horror and fantasy genres for the US market - almost inevitably point to additional material which would complement the so far superhero-only publications. The move happened on 26 October 1974 when two new weeklies were launched simultaneously: Dracula Lives! and Planet of the Apes.

Marvel's most successful venture into the realm of horror was the introduction of Dracula, the lord of vampires created by Bram Stoker in his classic 1897 novel, to the ranks of Marvel's characters through his own title, Tomb of Dracula in April 1972 (the extension to the vampire count's name was necessary for Marvel to be able to copyright the title). The book ran for a total of 70 issues in the US before cancellation came in August 1979 after the longest run of any Bronze Age Marvel horror genre title.

In essence, Tomb of Dracula broke new grounds: Penciller Gene Colan and writer Marv Wolfman achieved a quality of storytelling which was not only in the best vein of the classic gothic vampire stories but also added its very own stamp of originality and thematic momentum, weaving an ongoing saga which plotted the vampire count against the group of vampire hunters and others who sought to put an end to his existence.

 
 
Tomb of Dracula is a comic book classic beyond its genre, and - as the jewel in the crown of Marvel's bronze age horror world (Wymann, 2010) - a logical choice for Marvel UK when it came to expanding its range of weeklies. However, in a slightly confusing move, the reprints of Tomb of Dracula were launched in Great Britain under the title of Dracula Lives, which was the existing title of Marvel's US black and white magazine format comic book featuring the count since June 1973.
 



Dracula Lives
#1
(26 October 1974)



Dracula Lives
#2
(2 November 1974)

  Whilst the horror genre spearhead Dracula was already very well-established in the US by autumn 1974, Marvel's science-fiction venture to the Planet of the Apes had only been launched a mere two months earlier in the USA with the black and white magazine format Planet of the Apes #1 in August 1974. Eager to expand into any genre and theme which held the promise of an increased comic books market share at the time, Marvel launched the series with an adaptation of the original 1968 movie starring Charlton Heston. Originally a novel by French author Pierre Boulle published in 1963, the uncanny story of the Planet of the Apes features a group of astronauts who land on a planet which seems to be a spitting image of the Earth save one big exception - the status and roles of human beings and primates on this planet are just the opposite of what they are back home. Here, the apes shape and control society and rule over human beings, who are treated as an inferior species.

This intriguing juxtaposition proved a box offixce hit which spun off four sequels from 1970 to 1973, followed in 1974 by a short-lived CBS television series. Marvel's US black and white Planet of the Apes would run for 29 issues and, besides adaptations of all five movies, featured original stories written by Doug Moench and Gerry Conway with artwork by Mike Esposito, Mike Ploog, George Tuska, and many others.

In October 1975, Marvel launched a second tie-in title in the US, Adventures on the Planet of the Apes, in standard colour comic book format, which eventually ran for 11 issues until cancelled in December 1976. Material from both sources was reprinted in Marvel UK's Planet of the Apes (again, the acronym POTA became a household label), together with adapted material from the Killraven stories featured in the US Amazing Adventures #18-39 (May 1973 - November 1976) which was renamed Apeslayer and featured re-drawn ape-aliens.

 



Planet of the Apes
#1
(26 October 1974)



A "personal message from Stan Lee" launches Planet of the Apes #1 (26 October 1974)

 
Other than reprints of The Tomb of Dracula as the lead feature, Dracula Lives started out with back-up material from The Monster of Frankenstein and Werewolf by Night. As the fairly short-lived Frankenstein material came to an end, this slot was filled with the Living Mummy as of issue #42 in August 1975 in order to keep up the established formula with "three macabre masterpieces every issue". The weekly publication schedule resulted in a pronounced volatility of the UK comic book market in comparison to monthly or even bi-monthly installments, and only four months later the title of Marvel UK's horror weekly was expanded as of issue #60 in December 1975 to Dracula Lives featuring The Legion of Monsters - with no change to its featured contents.
 



Dracula Lives
#16
(8 February 1975)

 



Dracula Lives
#55
(8 November 1975)

 



Dracula Lives
#56
(15 November 1975)

 



Dracula Lives featuring The Legion of Monsters
#86
(26 June 1976)

 
However, as Marvel UK began to run out of Living Mummy material - which had enjoyed an even shorter life in the US than the Frankenstein Monster (Wymann, 2010) - other Marvel horror genre characters eventually made their appearance in Dracula Lives featuring The Legion of Monsters, such as Man-Thing (debut in issue #63, January 1976) and Ghost Rider (first featured in issue #79, April 1976), who acted as a replacement for Werewolf by Night.
 

 

THE MIGHTY WORLD OF BRITISH BRONZE AGE MARVEL
1975 - 1977 : EXPANSION, MERGERS AND CAPTAIN BRITAIN

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

KIRBY Robin (2011) personal communication

KNOWLES Christopher (2007) Our Gods wear Spandex, Weiser

LEE Stan (1972) A special message from Stan Lee, editorial published in Mighty World of Marvel #1

MARVEL UK (1974a) Letters page, published in The Avengers (UK) #67, 28 December 1974

MARVEL UK (1974b) Bullpen Bulletin, published in The Avengers (UK) #61, 16 November 1974

MARVEL UK (1974c) Bullpen Bulletin, published in The Avengers (UK) #63, 30 November 1974

MITHRA Kuljit (1997) Interview ith Tony Isabella, available online and accessed 19 March 2009 at www.manwithoutfear.com/interviews/ddINTERVIEW.shtml?id=Isabella

NN (1998) "Roy Thomas Interview", in The Jack Kirby Collector #18

NN (2003) Stan Lee Interview, contained as extra feature on the double disk DVD release of the movie Daredevil (personal transcript)

STRINGER Lew (2008) "The Road to Marvel UK", published online at Blimey! It's another blog about comics (lewstringer.blogspot.com/2008/01/road-to-marvel-uk-part-1.html) and accessed 23 February 2009

WYMANN Adrian (2010) Superheroes from the Crypt - Marvel's Bronze Age World of Horror, available online at www.panelology.info/SuperHeroesFromTheCrypt.html

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The illustrations presented here are copyright material
and are reproduced for strictly non-commercial and appreciative review purposes only.
Text is (c) 2009-2012 Adrian Wymann


page first published on the internet 13 May 2009
page moved to panelology.info 12 January 2010
page last revised 14 February 2012