Friday, 15 November 2013


Here's a MARVEL UK House Ad, from their US books (cover-dated September 1993), plugging the first (and, as it turned out, only) wave of books from their FRONTIER COMICS imprint.

The core GENESIS 92 sub-universe had been born of a creative rift within Marvel UK.  Many of the creators, no doubt with one eye on the big bucks being splashed around by US publishers, saw M-UK as an opportunity to create Marvel's version of DC's booming VERTIGO imprint: edgy, (sometimes) less commercial books which really (hopefully!) pushed the boundaries of the medium.

Paul Neary, newly ensconced as the British Boss and seeped in the traditions of mainstream superhero fare (as well as accountable to the New York HQ and their demand for more and more product, and profits, during the industry boom years) favoured more commercial fare.

Even the earliest issues of OVERKILL reflected that conflict: the US standalone books were packed full of appearances by US characters (a policy piloted, with great success, in the original DEATH'S HEAD II limited series) in an attempt to get some attention and traction in the ferociously competitive US market.  The British "reprints", chasing the 2000AD audience (and initially billed as science fiction comic), chopped out (by deleting pages in a weird and cumbersome dual running arrangement) the bulk of the appearances by US characters.

With sales at their peak, and the GENESIS EXPLOSION in full bloom, M-UK did have a belated crack at the Vertigo vibe with the FRONTIER range.

Not creator owned, more risky (there's tit in BLOODSEED) and with one foot (loosely) in the Marvel Universe, Frontier produced some of the best creative work from the entire GENESIS era.

All of the books were initially announced as four-issue limited series although BLOODSEED was subsequently halved to a two-issue run with the promise of the final two issues, bunched as a second series, in 1994.  That never happened.

The problem with the FRONTIER line is that all the books were fundamentally less commercial than the mainstream G92 books.  That still made them viable when business was booming but a disaster once sales dropped off a cliff... which they did, just as the line hit the shelves.

As retailers and readers trimmed their sails (or, simply, bowed out) in the face of a glut of product, Frontier was particularly vulnerable.  Marvel UK found their books, floating at the fringes of the Marvel Universe, the first to get the chop as retailers slashed their orders.  Frontier, an imprint of an imprint, was even more vulnerable.

Marvel UK announced the entire line would shutter once the first wave of books had wrapped (kudos for allowing all of them to run their course) and plans for a quarterly companion, FRONTIER COMICS UNLIMITED (borrowing the brand, and format, from the similar US books), were curtailed to a one-shot, FRONTIER COMICS SPECIAL, using the inventory material (new outings for all the first-wave strips along with several new shorts which were, presumably, considered possibilities for future solo-dom) created for the first issue.

The cuts marked the beginning of the GENESIS IMPLOSION, a wave of cancellations and delays (which, as events turned out, amounted to cancellations) which were intended to trim M-UK back to a core offering but, by early 1994, closed the whole thing down.

The Frontier books are regular 50p box fodder and well worth grabbing if you can find them.  They represent some great hidden gems, from creators about to hit the big time, and are (without doubt) Marvel UK's best kept secrets.

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