Marvel Comics established its Marvel UK division in 1972 as a vehicle for reprints of its American-produced superhero stories.  Prior to 1972, UK publishers L. Miller & Son, Alan Class, Odhams, City Magazines, and IPC had all at various points been licensed to reprint Marvel material, but the Marvel brand—the most popular in American comics at the time—remained little known in Britain.  The new division’s flagship title, The Mighty World of Marvel, aimed to bring the distinctive flavor of Marvel Comics into the UK market, featuring edited reprints of the first appearances of the Fantastic Four, Hulk, and Spider-Man, and “a special message” to British readers from Stan Lee, whose hokey editorial voice had become an integral feature of Marvel’s US comics.  Additional titles featuring Spider-Man and the Avengers followed within the year, the latter introducing the glossy covers that would distinguish Marvel’s comics from those of their competitors.  In other ways, Marvel UK followed the established patterns of the British industry, publishing weekly in anthology formats and occasionally luring buyers with enclosed gifts.  Stories produced for the four-color US monthlies were divided into shorter, weekly, black-and-white episodes, which frequently ended in mid-action with an abruptly inserted “continued next issue” notice.

The weekly anthology format necessitated the creation of new or revised introductory splash pages and cover art, but otherwise, Marvel UK’s comics featured recycled American material until 1976, when Captain Britain Weekly introduced a new character created specifically for UK readers.  Brian Braddock’s transformation into Captain Britain is achieved through the intervention of the wizard Merlin, who offers him an amulet that makes him one with the Arthurian knights, a British superhero rooted in British legend.  However, despite an earnest attempt on the part of the strip’s American-based creators to adapt the Marvel formula to British tastes, responses were mixed, and the title was cancelled within months.  Like other British comics publishers, Marvel UK would merge cancelled titles with surviving ones:  thus, one week after the termination of Captain Britain Weekly, Super Spider-Man became Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain until Marvel’s British superhero was quietly shelved a few months later.  A survey of Marvel UK’s output of the mid-1970s indicates a company struggling to connect with British audiences, as new series and features were introduced, cancelled, and merged in a dizzying fashion, resulting in such unwieldy titles as The Avengers and the Savage Sword of Conan and Planet of the Apes and Dracula Lives!

From the late 1970s, however, Marvel UK experienced success with licensed properties:  Star Wars Weekly was introduced in 1978, Doctor Who Weekly in 1979, and The Transformers in 1984.  Marvel UK continued to publish into the 1990s, at which point the UK license was sold to Panini, launching its series of Marvel comics in 1995.

— Brian Patton

 

Further Reading

  • Chapman, James.  British Comics:  A Cultural History.  London:  Reaktion Books, 2011.
  • Dittmer, Jason.  “Captain Britain and the Narration of Nation.”  Geographical Review 101.1 (January 2011):  71-87.
  • Wymann, Adrian.  “The Mighty World of Marvel UK.”  The Thought Balloon.  Jan. 2015.  Web. 26 Feb. 2015. <http://www.wymann.info/comics/MarvelUK.html>.