The history of Marvel UK in the 1970s
The Mighty World of Marvel
Probably responsible for introducing more British readers to Marvel Comics than any other publication, The Mighty World of Marvel was launched on Saturday 30th September 1972 with a cover date of 7th October (it was common practice for comics to be dated a week after their release to ensure they stayed on the newsagent shelf longer). It was published in one form or another for the next 10 years and despite starting life as one of the best selling and most influential comics in the country its end was sad and ignoble.
The first launch from Marvel’s new UK subsidiary Mighty World of Marvel, or MWOM as it was commonly called, was the US company’s first foray into the British comics industry. Realising that the UK was a hitherto largly untapped market for American comics Marvel made the canny decision to produce its own selection of reprints aimed specifically at the British market. Unlike their US counterpart, where titles are published monthly and in colour, the British comic market was based on weekly anthology titles with each issue featuring several stories, or strips, printed in black and white. Therefore to compete in this market MWOM was launched at 40 pages in length and featured Marvel stories that were broken-up into 10-14 page segments with colour used on the outside covers and the centre spread with a second, or ‘spot’, colour used on some pages too. Marvel UK also mimicked the British tradition of offering readers free gifts as enticements, with iron-on t-shirt transfers and stickers given away free with the first three issues.
The first issue of MWOM featured the publisher’s most recognisable characters: The Amazing Spider-Man, The Hulk and The Fantastic Four in reprinted stories from Amazing Fantasy #15, The Hulk #1 and The Fantastic Four #1 respectively. The new title was heavily branded with Marvel’s unique style of fan-friendly chatter and reinforced Stan Lee as the company’s mouth piece and reader focal point. But Marvel UK were also keen to emphasise the uniqueness of their UK product – none of the US comics were advertised with the exception of some one-off specials, such as the Marvel Treasury Editions which featured colour reprints of standalone stories and were aimed mainly at the Christmas market.
The new title was an immediate success, so much so that Spider-Man was quickly dropped from MWOM to front his own title and Spider-Man Comics Weekly was launched less than five months later. The success of both these titles led to a deluge of weekly, and then monthly Marvel UK superhero titles in the 1970s: The Avengers (first issue dated 22 September 1973); Dracula Lives! (26 October 1974); Planet of The Apes (26 October 1974); The Super-Heroes (8 March 1975); Savage Sword of Conan (weekly edition, 8 March 1975); The Titans (25 October 1975); Captain Britain Weekly (13 October 1976); Fury (16 March 1977); The Complete Fantastic Four (28 September 1977); Rampage Weekly (19 October 1977); The Savage Sword of Conan (monthly edition, November 1977); Star Wars Weekly (8 February 1978); Rampage Monthly (July 1978) and Hulk Comic (7 March 1979). Some of these titles would enjoy lengthy publication runs while others would be quickly merged back into MWOM, which remained Marvel UK’s cornerstone publication.
Marvel UK cannily used the success of MWOM to introduce readers to many of their other characters. Issue 46 (18 August 1973) saw The Avengers feature for several issues before they were given their own weekly title in September 1973. The Inhumans, Ka-Zar, The Sub-Mariner, Iron Man, The Silver Surfer and Captain Marvel, amongst others, were also featured during the comic’s long run. Spider-Man’s exit in MWOM issue 20 (17 February 1973) saw Daredevil introduced to the title’s roster and the comic’s line-up would remain unchanged for the next three and a half years. (Daredevil would be temporarily dropped after issue 31, 5 May 1973, and the slot filled by a second Hulk story, although Daredevil would return to the roster permanently with issue 69, 26 January 1974).
With issue 38 (23 June 1973) The Hulk was added to the comic’s main title which now read The Mighty World of Marvel featuring The Incredible Hulk, with the emphasis on the character’s name – Marvel UK had clearly recognised the comic’s main asset. This was reinforced again with issue 54 (13 October 1974) when the comics logo shrank to a single line while ‘The Hulk’ dominated the cover. Although this was changed back with issue 60 it would not be the last time the comic’s logo would be tinkered with.
After almost 180 issues worth of appearances The Fantastic Four were eventually replaced with The X-Men in issue 187 (1 May 1975). With issue 199 (21 July 1976) The Avengers comic was merged with MWOM to form the awkwardly titled The Mighty World of Marvel starring The Incredible Hulk and The Avengers. It would be the first of many mergers as other Marvel UK titles were closed and folded back into Marvel UK’s core weekly title.
Conan The Barbarian was next to be added to MWOM with issue 199 (The Savage Sword of Conan and The Avengers weeklies had merged in July 1975), replacing The X-Men. With issue 211 (13 October 1976) The Avengers were dropped from the title and the following week saw Luke Cage added to the roster. Issue 220 (13 December 1976) saw the first appearance of Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos. With issue 231 (2 March 1977) the Planet of The Apes comic was folded into MWOM, with the new strip sharing equal title billing with The Hulk. With issue 250 (13 July 1977) Dracula Lives! (which had previously merged with Planet of The Apes with its 23 June 1976 issue) replaced the Apes strip as MWOM’s second feature, which in turn was replaced with Fury from issue 258 (7 September 1977) when that publication was closed.
Things settled down for a while with The Hulk, Sgt Fury and Daredevil remaining in the title’s roster for the next 10 months. With issue 298 (14 June 1978) Sgt. Fury was replaced with the Fantastic Four when The Complete Fantastic Four title closed a week earlier. It would be the last merger and the comic would thankfully remain static until the end of it’s initial run.
In the late Seventies sales of MWOM started to flag and attempts were made to cash-in on the popularity of the new Incredible Hulk TV series: the cover to issue 305 (2 August 1978) featured a flash announcing ‘The Hulk, star of the T.V. Series.’ Although this blurb, in one form or another, remained in place for over three months, sales of the title continued to drop and something needed to be done to revive sales.
Dez Skinn, Marvel UKs new editor-in-chief, then made the decision to rebrand the company’s titles in an attempt to align them more with traditional British adventure comics. So with issue 330 (24 January 1979) The Mighty World of Marvel was relaunched as Marvel Comic while continuing MWOM’s issue numbering. The ‘new’ title featured six weekly strips: The Hulk; Daredevil; Dracula; Conan the Barbarian; Shang-Chi (Master of Kung Fu) and Skull the Slayer. With issue 333 (14 March 1979) The Hulk was dropped from the line-up so the character could appear in his own weekly title, Hulk Comic, and he was replaced with Godzilla. Despite the introduction of new strips featuring The Avengers’ Vision, Ms Marvel and The X-Men, sales failed to pick up and the comic limped on for another five months before being revamped again.
With issue 353 (September 1979) the title was again rebranded, this time as Marvel Super-Heroes and published on a monthly schedule while still keeping MWOM’s issue count. The line-up was reduced back down to three strips featuring The Avengers, the original X-Men and a third entitled Marvel Spotlight which featured Ms Marvel, who was then replaced with Spider-Woman in issue 355 (November 1979). With issue 358 (February 1980) The Champions joined the roster which then remained unchanged for 19 issues until Captain Britain was introduced with issue 377 (September 1981). Issue 393 (January 1983) incorporated the recently cancelled Rampage Monthly and with issue 397 (May 1983) Marvel Super-Heroes was itself cancelled. Sadly, for a comic that had always remained strong while other titles were merged into it, this version of MWOM was itself merged into the new monthly title The Daredevils with issue 6 (June 1983). The Daredevils was then cancelled with issue 11 that November.
Proving that there was still life in the title, Marvel UK relaunched The Mighty World of Marvel as a full-colour monthly title in June 1983. Running for just 17 issues it featured The Uncanny X-Men, The Vision and the Scarlet Witch, Wolverine, Cloak and Dagger and Captain Britain. In a case of sad symmetry, the title then incorporated the cancelled Daredevils monthly with issue 7 before MWOM was again cancelled in October 1984. A few of the title’s strips – Night Raven and Magick – were moved over to The Savage Sword of Conan before it too was cancelled 8 issues later. All in all it proved to be a sad end to the once hugely influential comic.
At the beginning of this article I made the claim that The Mighty World of Marvel was probably responsible for introducing Marvel Comics to more UK readers than any other comic published in the Seventies, and I include myself it that statement. MWOM was my inauguration to the world of Marvel Comics and my enduring affection for the characters stems from reading those comics. I have very fond memories of visiting my best pal (I was around seven or eight years old at the time) and sitting in his bedroom while the two of us read his older brothers collection of MWOM. There was just something magic about those early issues, and it wasn’t just that I was reading the stories for the first time. Being able to read the stories in their proper chronological order, and on a weekly basis, was terrific. I even liked the rough newspaper stock the comics were printed on. It’s a shame to think that such an important and seminal comic fizzled out and died in such a inglorious way, but in it’s heyday its influence cannot be understated. However, on a more positive note, The Mighty World of Marvel has proved a durable title and the comic has been recently revived as a colour monthly published by licence by Panini Comics. It may not be the same comic I remember but it is reassuring to know the title still endures.