The history of Marvel UK in the 1970s
In the early ’70s Marvel launched a series of black and white weekly comics that featured reprints of comics previously published in the States. Most of those reprints featured Marvels biggest selling characters – Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, etc. – and were printed on cheap newspaper stock and sold for pennies. Many of those weekly reprint editions would feature one of the original US comics printed in its entirety with two or more support strips 6-8 pages in length. They were hugely successful and I’ve no doubt they helped create an entire generation of British comic book fans.
A couple of months ago, while walking round one of the regular bi-monthly London Comic Marts at the Royal National Hotel in Central London, I came up with the idea of writing a history of those Marvel Comics’ UK reprints: Mighty World of Marvel; Titans; Spider-Man Comics Weekly; Super Spider-Man; Rampage; et al. But I quickly realised I couldn’t really do justice to these hugely influential comics in one article. So I’m going to break them down into a series of blogs looking at each series in turn.
But instead of starting at the beginning with the first Marvel reprint publication, Mighty World of Marvel, I’m going to start with the title that probably had more of an influence over me that the others: Rampage Monthly. (I admit that the fact that I have piles of old issues to hand, therefore making research easier, was another factor in this decision!).
Rampage Monthly originally spun out of the short-lived Rampage Weekly, whose premier issue was cover dated 19th October 1977 and whose last was issue 34, dated 7th June 1978. The first issue featured an entire issue’s reprint of The Defenders and the first half of the origin issue of Nova. Future issues followed this similar format with a third strip added in issue 14 featuring Iron Man. A letters page was also included on an ad hoc basis as well as a few text pieces (as space fillers I assume). Overall Rampage Weekly wasn’t anything special and it folded in a little over 6 months. Today its only claim to fame is that it was commissioned by The Pet Shop Boy’s Neil Tennant when he worked as Editor-in-Chief at Marvel UK.
A month after its weekly incarnation ceased publication Rampage Monthly was launched. It still featured reprints of The Defenders, Iron Man and Nova but now the main feature was The Hulk. The Hulk stories were reprinted from the newly launched US Rampaging Hulk, one of Marvel’s black and white monthly magazines aimed at a slightly older audience (in the US comic ‘magazines’ were exempt from regulation by the Comics Code Authority and could feature more mature story lines). Rampaging Hulk would change its title to The Hulk! with issue 10 and would eventually close with issue 27 in 1981.
The UK version replaced Nova with Doctor Strange in issue 7 and The Defenders with The Uncanny X-Men in issue 8. There were further roster changes over the subsequent years and with issue 28 The X-Men replaced The Hulk as the comics headline feature. The comic was eventually cancelled in December 1982, with issue 54 being its last.
I have very fond memories of Rampage Monthly. The Hulk stories were set in the ’60s during the early days of the character and there’s a great tonal feel to the artwork. That initial run of stories was written by Doug Moench and drawn by Walt Simonson with inking by Filipino born Alfredo Alcala. As much as I enjoy Simonson’s work his art style is all but drowned out by Alcala – and the artwork is all the better for it. Alcala gave those early stories a great painterly feel (despite being printed in black and white) that didn’t resemble the usually crisp Marvel style at all. My favourite story ran in issue 4, the Jim Starlin plotted The Other Side of Night. Starlin also pencilled the story but, like Simonson before him, his work is smothered by inker Alex Nino. And again this works to the benefit of the story for Nino’s work is terrific. He infused the art with just the right amount of otherworldliness that suited the story perfectly. Although I’m a fan of Jim Starlin’s work I don’t think his art has ever looked as fluid, or as beautiful, as it does here.
Another reason for my affection for this series is the covers. Rampage Monthly was my first exposure to fully painted comic book covers (the first covers were painted by Ken Barr, Joe Jusko and Earl Norem) and they made a huge impression on me. The first five issues of Rampage featured full bleed covers and the artwork just jumped out at me. The covers to issues 2 and 4 are still two of my all time favourites. Sadly with issue 6 a thick border with text was added to the left hand edge and this resulted in the covers feeling cramped. The artwork still shone though, with the covers to issue 7 (which still creeps me out to this day) and issue 9 also being favourites of mine. Sadly later issues, especially when the X-Men headlined the title, relied on reprinting the cover artwork from their US counterparts. They’re still good but I missed those painted covers.
The greatest impact the comic had on me were the reprints of The Uncanny X-Men. I was 9 years old when I read my first X-Men story, a reprint of Giant-Size X-Men that came via issue 8 of Rampage. My love of those stories and characters began with that issue – I’d never read anything like it before. I was immediately hooked even though I missed issue 9 of Rampage and therefore missed the conclusion of that first X-Men story. It would be several years before I got hold of a copy of the original comic and read how the story ended.
By about 1980 I’d slowly drifted away from Rampage Monthly. My local newsagent started stocking the original X-Men comics from the States allowing me to read the stories first hand (and in colour!) and I think issue 28 of Rampage was the last one I bought. Despite being almost forgotten now – I haven’t met many people who even remember the title – Rampage Monthly will always hold fond memories for me. Those early Hulk stories still hold up 30 years later and how can I forget the comic that introduced me to The X-Men?
Essential Rampaging Hulk, volumes 1 and 2.
The Hulk stories (and only the Hulk stories – the secondary features are not included) from the original 27 issues of the US version are now available in Marvel’s phone-book sized B+W reprint series.