Thursday 28 May 2015

1987: ACTION FORCE Issue 1 (Marvel UK)

From March 1987: the first issue of MARVEL UK's new ACTION FORCE weekly.

This glossy, 24-page opener (accompanied by the second issue... a launch strategy never repeated... possibly because if you missed the first one then the next available jumping-on point was the third issue... possibly a disincentive to would-be readers) was certainly a blast after years of IPC's relatively low-rent treatment of the license in the pages of BATTLE ACTION FORCE (although, in retrospect, there's a lot of good stuff to be found therein and its a real shame that the chances of an official re-release are near to zero).

Most issues had a three-strip line-up: a new British strip (primarily used to align the weekly with whatever toy Hasbro were currently trying to shift through TV and print advertising), heavily edited (to create a unique British continuity pegged to the main strip) reprints from the core G.I. JOE book (hitherto unseen in the UK outside comic book stores) and a third feature which, in typical Marvel fashion, bounced around a bit (Masters of Kung Fu, now integrated in to AF continuity, popped-up at one point).

The new license and publisher was part of the fallout from structural changes in the British toy industry.  Palitoy, creators of Action Force, had shuttered and the brand transferred to Hasbro, the maker of G.I. JOE.  Action Force, after a strong independent start, had essentially already morphed into a British interpretation of JOE anyway.  Hasbro used the relaunch as a chance to apply their glossy marketing muscle (including key art, box art, slick TV advertising and episodes of the Marvel made TV show) to the line.  

The British Bullpen were already publishing THE TRANSFORMERS and had a strong relationship with Hasbro through their US parent (who, on both coasts, were heavily involved in several of Hasbro's lines of the time) so it was a no-brainer that the license would shift from Kings Reach Tower to Redan Place.  The existing Transformers weekly was used to prime readers for the impending launch of this title and, throughout the year that AF appeared, crossovers and other plugs were a regular feature.  

I think this launch issue revived the old British tradition of hyping a new title with a TV advert.  It rings a very strong bell.  Can anyone confirm?  Hasbro were certainly plugging the toys in a series of spots that utilized animation (from Marvel Productions) originally created for either US advertising or the TV show itself.  The US JOE book had benefited from commercials, bankrolled by the toy company, who used them as a handy way of circumventing strict toy advertising rules by plugging the comic... which just happened to feature whatever toy they wanted to shift in any particular season.  
The AF weekly ultimately only notched up a paltry fifty issues.  A quite surprising failure considering the quality of the product and the corporate backing for the brand.  Presumably the changes in the British comic industry conspired to make it too difficult to gain traction. 

The franchise bounced back with a US-format monthly which benefited from distribution in the States under the alternate title of G.I. JOE EUROPEAN MISSIONS.  The reprints of the core JOE title shuffled to THE TRANSFORMERS (apparently much to the disappointment of Simon Furman who favored using the slot to showcase a revolving door of reprints) and reprints from G.I. JOE SPECIAL MISSIONS were slotted into the short-lived THE INCREDIBLE HULK PRESENTS in 1989. 

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