More horrors from the MARVEL UK back catalogue: a copy of the much-deried (I can't imagine why) SPIDEY COMIC from November 1985, six weeks before the long-runner (dating back, under numerous names and formats, to 1973) was finally spiked.
This same piece of art had previously adorned the cover, complete with the same text, of issue 525, cover-dated 30 March 1983. By this point, Marvel UK had no shame. And - apparently - no budget.
Here's another obscure items from the MARVEL UK vaults: THE DRACULA LIVES SPECIAL EDITION, published by those purveyors of shoddy hardbacks (although this is an A4 softcover with black & white interiors) World Distributors.
There's scant information inside so dating this one-shot is a little tricky. The two reprinted strips, Night of the Stalker and Let It Bleed, hail from 1974 so this likely appeared mid-seventies, probably alongside the regular DRACULA LIVES weekly (1974-76).
I have the run of DL but I've not had a chance to check to see if this received any plugs, which would help narrow down the publication date more.
The copy I have has loose interior pages and a quick bit of Googling uncovers a retailer selling another copy (for more than double what I paid) who also notes loose pages so I assume the binding quality wasn't stellar.
Happy Halloween! Insert all the usual cliches now.
By way of celebration, each of today's posts will have a scarefare theme. I imagine no-one else has thought of doing something similar. Hehe.
First out of the coffin is this, the launch issue of the British horror magazine FEAR, unseasonably published in July-August 1988.
Edited by John Gilbert, and published by Newsfield Publications (previously responsible for LM, see here, and a whole bundle of computer magazines), this mixed movie and VHS articles and reviews with coverage of more literate endeavours in the genre, and original fiction.
I remember this magazine from its original run (and I'm sure I bought a few at the time although I don't remember much about the specifics) and stumbled across a few back issues recently. The main attraction now (for me anyway) are the vintage film and video reviews along with the related advertising.
It apparently continued until Newsfield went bust in 1991.
Frank (DAN DARE) Hampson needs no introduction to any connoisseur of British comics but his work for MARVEL UK is often overlooked.
He'd already contributed one centre-spread for SPIDER-MAN's weekly in 1976 and followed-up with this lovely spread from SUPER SPIDER-MAN AND THE TITANS issue 206 (cover-dated 19 January 1977).
Unlike its predecessor, it's got bugger-all to do with the Marvel Universe (despite some tenuous attempts to link it to the previous piece) and owes a lot more to his most remembered creation.
It's in the "super" landscape dimensions because, of course, SPIDER-MAN was being published in the "TITANS" format during this period.
I have no idea how Hampson got the gig and who commissioned it. Did he pitch to Marvel or was someone, in Sevenoaks or New York, a fan of his work. The British weeklies, still two years away from the Marvel Revolution, were still being prepared and packaged by the New York Bullpen whilst the British outpost dealt with more administrative functions.
The new THOR movie is about to open in cinemas (the first was surprising good) so I thought, to mark the occasion, I'd start a COVER GALLERY devoted to THE MIGHTY THOR, the Thunder God's short-lived British weekly.
Thor had already been knocking around the Marvel UK line for a decade (and was a fixture of the sixties Power Comics line before that), dating back to the launch of SPIDER-MAN's weekly in early 1973, but this was the first (and, I think, only) time he - ahem - flew solo in an ongoing series.
The weekly only lasted 19 issues (and another 20 as the combined THOR AND THE X-MEN... but, in the words of Kevin Arnold, we'll get to that) which makes it little more than another minor title in the succession of short-lived reprint titles hatched, matched and dispatched by the Annex of Ideas.
Except... it earns a place in Marvel UK's history for being the first all colour weekly. The earliest issues of CAPTAIN BRITAIN had dabbled with some interior colour pages back in 1976/77 before abandoning the idea when sales were less than spectacular and the anticipated US reprints (which would have need to have been coloured anyway) failed to materialise in any meaningful way. But this new generation of British comic (which left IPC and DC Thompson's newsprint weeklies looking rather old fashioned) combined glossy covers with colour interiors. It should have been a revolution...
If it had worked.
The first issue looks pretty good. The dated early seventies Lee/ Kirby strips weren't the best choice to hook in eighties kids (and, yes, they'd already done the Marvel UK rounds at least once before) but at least (apart from the back page, see below) they were presented well (and maybe long-time older fans would have welcomed the chance to see vintage strips in colour).
And then the second issue hit newsagents. What a mess. The bulk of the colour plates were out-of-register (Marvel couldn't colour within the lines!) and pages were also often creased. The same problems - which lasted for weeks - also cursed the earliest issues of THE X-MEN (the second colour weekly) and the revived THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL (monthly). The "great Marvel colour" masthead looked pretty stupid.
These early teething problems must have really affected sales and almost certainly contributed to the demise of both titles. The problem was only really sorted when Marvel drastically reduced the number of colour interior pages for "economic reasons" after a few months.
Cynically, I suspect all three new launches were intended to test the technology, economics and reader reaction to colour printing before rolling-out the format change to established titles such as SPIDER-MAN (which switched in the summer) and STAR WARS (timed to coincide with the relaunch as RETURN OF THE JEDI weekly).
Here's another MARVEL UK House Ad, this time plugging the impending launch of the 1977-78 THE COMPLETE FANTASTIC FOUR weekly, the British Bullpen's first punt at launching the foursome in a solo title.
This ad appeared in THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL issue 259, cover-dated 14 September 1977.
Before it was the MARVEL SUPER HEROES SECRET WARS it was COSMIC CHAMPIONS!
This news page from Marvel's in-house plugzine MARVEL AGE MAGAZINE shows how late in the day, at the behest of toy manufacturer Mattel, Marvel switched titles for Jim Shooter's sprawling (some might say rambling, although I think that's a comment better suited to the ramshackle sequel) twelve-issue game-changer.
This page comes from MARVEL AGE issue 8, cover-dated February 1984.
This is a House Ad for two rather ill-fated 1994-95 additions to the MARVEL UK line: BLAKE'S SEVEN POSTER MAGAZINE and DOCTOR WHO POSTER MAGAZINE.
I never really understood the appeal of these two seventies throwbacks... or who exactly they were going to appeal too. It's hard to imagine that the target audience for poster mags (surely pre-teen boys or - in the case of popular music combos - pre-teen girls) would have the remotest interest in either of these long-defunct TV shows and older fans - however loyal - would be unlikely to adorn their home with giant glossy pictures of Paul Darrow.
The very nature of poster mags is that text features (printed on the reverse side of the main attraction) tend to be a little scant in detail and - sure enough - the same was true here. Although the B7 one did at least indulge in some original short fiction by authors fandom, at least, had heard of.
Somewhere around this time, Visual Imagination clocked up a substantial run of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION Poster Mags and its possible that Marvel UK fancied a piece of the action.
Sure enough, these soon succumbed to retrenching within the M-UK operation although this subscription advert, which filled one 'page' of each issue, continued to appear right until the end of the run.
MEGAFORCE is, for me, the original G.I. JOE/ ACTION FORCE live action movie: a hardware-centric, impractically costumed (in Wilma Deering's cast offs), counter-terrorist (not-at-all) covert special weapons force.
I first saw this at someone's birthday party way-back-when there was still a novelty in hiring a tape from the local video library and keeping the teeny guests quiet for 90-odd minutes. This was at the height of ACTION FORCE's popularity (around 1984, at a guess) and MEGAFORCE seemed to me to be a (perfectly entertaining) wannabe. It's only much more recently that I've realised that it was actually (disastrously) released (at least in the US... I'm not sure they even bothered with a UK cinema release) back in the Summer of 1982.
That's bad timing as G.I. JOE's uber-successful Real American Hero incarnation was only just hitting American toy stores and had't yet become a super-hit. The TV-plugged Marvel Comic was stoking interest but the syndicated show was still a few years away.
If MEGAFORCE had hit a year later (somehow dodging the RETURN OF THE JEDI Star Destroyer) then it might have been perfectly-placed to capitalise on JOE's success.
To date, the 'Force has been AWOL from DVD and BR (VERY covert operations, it seems) but it does (or, at least, did) occasionally crop-up as a British TV schedule-filler.
This article appeared in STARLOG MAGAZINE issue 57 (cover-dated April 1982).
Anyone remember GIGGLES? Nope, not me. But MARVEL UK indulged in a little record plugging with this half-page (albeit from the TITANS format era, hence the portrait dimensions) feature from SUPER SPIDER-MAN AND THE SUPER HEROES issue 189 (cover-dated 22 September 1976).
I suspect that there's more to this feature than just an excuse to plug Spidey's own (perfectly playable) recorded rock opera ROCK REFLECTIONS OF A SUPER HERO. Was Neal Tennant just trying to indulge his real passion? Were Giggles somehow affiliated to the British Bullpen?
THE ROAD TO THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR: THE MARVEL UK HANDBOOK
A few days ago I posted the OFFICIAL HANDBOOK TO THE MARVEL UNIVERSE entry for Marvel UK's Knights of Pendragon so it seemed appropriate to next post the one-page entry for ALBION (who also did a spot of out-of-time moonlighting in M-UK's wannabe Avengers team book DARK GUARD).
Here's another start for a long-runner: a (slightly battered) copy of Visual Imagination's Starburst spin-off TV ZONE, launched September-October 1989.
The TV Zone column (with the same crappy logo) had been running for a while in Dez Skinn's pre-Marvel creation and, with the boom in new small screen SF (and home video tentatively making some archive material, notably Doctor Who, available for the first time), a spin-off (albeit initially bi-monthly) must have seemed a no-brainer.
Forget the IDW WHO/ TREK crossover extravaganza: all you need is sharp scissors and a Pritt-stick to cobble together your own Timelord-meets-Trek blockbuster.
The contents were also similarly primitive but - at the time - were pretty cool. The News page was just that: one page of big-fonted type revealing that Robin of Sherwood was coming to tape, War of the Worlds was being retooled for season two and fan-favourite Beauty and the Beast wasn't cancelled after all.
The articles followed Visual Imagination's (the clue is in the name) tried-and-tested formula of minimal words accompanied by as many nice pictures as possible. It's a slim read, both in terms of page count and words. Several pages were even filled by the unwelcome (and swiftly dispatched) comic strip Star Seven: The Next Degeneration. A feature - ahem - better suited to a fanzine.
The first featured Fantasy Flashback was SPACE 1999's opener: Breakaway. The feature's initial formula - which continued for years - was a verbose summary of the episode followed by minimal background/ making-of information. Over time (especially under the auspices of Andrew Pixley), it evolved into a far more detailed account of production with the summary itself reduced to a sidebar.
This was a bit of a boom time for cult screen magazines: Marvel UK inexplicably decided to get back into the game with FANTASY ZONE (see here) at the same time, the almost-professional fanzine DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN had broadened its remit (partly to boost sales, partly to avoid accusations from the BBC and Marvel that it was encroaching into DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE's officially-licensed territory) to become DWB (latterly DREAMWATCH) whilst, of course, STARBURST under its new owner was still going strong. And copies of STARLOG, THE OFFICIAL STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION MAGAZINE, THE STAR TREK FAN CLUB MAGAZINE and others were crossing the Atlantic if you knew where to look.
TV ZONE enjoyed a long, and occasionally illustrious, life: clocking-up 231 issues (and numerous specials) through to the end of 2008. The last months saw publication, and distribution, becoming increasingly patchy, coupled with a noticeable decline in quality. Visual Imagination succumbed in early 2009 although Starburst eventually emerged from the wreckage.
TVZ spawned, directly or indirectly, several spin-off of its own: the long-running CULT TIMES was basically a TV guide for cult TV (although the realities of TV scheduling made it all but impossible to include the terrestrial channels) supplemented by features published in the largest possible type size. X-POSE started-out as a Fortean Times wannabe before happily settling into yet another outlet for pictures of Gillian Anderson. ETV (Emergency TV, apparently) attempted to capitalise on the success of folks-in-uniform type shows... but it didn't last long.
I guess sudden death (along with bad movie adaptations) is an occupational hazard in Frank Castle's line of work. That might help the sudden and unheralded (and hardly glorious) demise of Marvel UK's THE PUNISHER comic.
Things seemed to be chugging along nicely until the sudden - and apparently last-minute - announcement that, from issue 30, the frequency was suddenly halved... to fortnightly. And we're still waiting for the 31st issue.
Although he never had a chance to say goodbye, there was a merger of sorts when a reprint of one of Castle's early seventies adventures suddenly appeared in STRIP MAGAZINE, accompanied by a sew-on badge (similar to the ones that adorned the first issues of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (here) and THE COMPLETE SPIDER-MAN (here).
PLASMER was one of the very last series to launch during the final months of the GENESIS 92 era with the first issue hitting the shelves somewhere around September 1993.
Created by Glenn Dakin, Pascual Ferry and Sean Hardy, the conceit was that Plasmer was one person split (by MyS-TECH, of course) into her purely good and purely bad halves.
The first issue was bagged with four trading cards, the last set of Marvel UK cards to see the light of day. Another set, Red Mist 2020, was planned to accompany the first issues of that three-book crossover but the project - and the cards - were spiked pre-publication.
The bag of the first issue was printed with what - politely - look's like pink gentleman's relish (was this the anticipated reaction of fanboys the moment they sighted the improbably top heavy cast?) which - as you'll see below - just serves to obscure the artwork. Maybe that was the idea....
The series was mid-way through a reprint in Britain's OVERKILL when that comic was pink-slipped. Dakin mentioned at the recent Marvel UK panel at the London Film and Comic Con that a trade paperback collection was published... in Spain.
The four-issue didn't make much of an impact at the time (or - indeed - since) but did generate some infamy when Marvel's Stateside lawyers used the character as a reason to try and block the publication of Jim Shooter's similarly-named new comic.
Shooter's new enterprise (after it all got a bit nasty at Valiant) Defiant Comics was planning PLASM as their first launch until Marvel's lawyers got wind of the plan and sued (Shooter had been - of course - Marvel's Editor-in-Chief until he was sacked during the New World era. He'd subsequently put together an unsuccessful bid to buy the company) forcing a hasty name-change to WARRIORS OF PLASM. The renamed book, and the company, didn't last long and Shooter blamed the cost of fighting Marvel in court as a contributory factor in its demise.
This is a really nice piece of BLAKE'S SEVEN fan art scanned from the back cover of the December 1992 edition of the always weighty HORIZON FAN CLUB newsletter (more of a magazine really).
Unfortunately, I couldn't find a credit for the piece anywhere in the magazine although there is a signature (which I can't decipher) bottom-right.
The newsletter itself was a 100-page black & white (with glossy colour cover) A4 letterbox-buster only available to club members. There's more fan-pleasing stuff in one issue of the newsletter than all the eighties Marvel magazines combined.
The show was going through something of a renaissance at the time thanks to the BBC VIDEO releases (£10.99 for a tape with two episodes... what were we thinking?!?) which included a plug for the club on every sleeve. It was those VHS tapes that reacquainted me with the show (and drained my wallet) and led me to sign-up for the club.
THE ROAD TO THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR: THE MARVEL UK HANDBOOK
The Knights actually predate the GENESIS 92 project, they made their debut back in 1990 in their own pre-GENESIS US format monthly. That book (the complete run is available in a must-have Panini trade) clocked-up an impressive eighteen issue run before being canned by a combination of marginal sales and the new broom of the incoming Neary regime.
A revamped Knights returned the following year as part of the inaugural GENESIS 92 line-up, reprinted in the pages of OVERKILL in the UK.
That book - which many fans of the original didn't exactly take a shine to - was a slow burner of the G92 line and eventually clocked-up a 15 issue run making it more successful than some of its higher profile companions.
The illustration comes from Alan Davis' overhaul of the characters. Hmmm...
COMIC COLLECTOR issue 2 (April 1992) was - planned or not - a bit of a MARVEL UK special. Not only did it preview the launch of OVERKILL/ GENESIS 92 (see my previous post) but it also included this nice three-page Hero History on CAPTAIN BRITAIN by Phil Hall.
Although a lot of water has passed under Tower Bridge since 1992, I reckon this is a still a great little primer for Britain's best.