Comics have long been popular in the United Kingdom from books such as The Beano to 2000 AD. Marvel had been producing its own heroes in the United States starting in 1961 with the Fantastic Four (and well before that as Timely Comics), it didn’t have much of a foothold in Britain. Other publishers such as L. Miller and Sons had reprinted earlier WWII superhero tales featuring Namor the Sub-Mariner, The (original) Human Torch, and Captain America during the 1950s. Rival publisher Alan Class also reprinted marvel stories going into the early 1960s.
Prior to going out on its own, Marvel had teamed with publisher Odhams to bring its newest heroes to the UK in the 1960s, and Odhams books such as Smash!, Terrific, and Fantastic reprinted the adventures of Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, The Avengers, and more. However, comic publications in the US and the UK were quite different, which caused some issues (no pun intended) with bringing things over. While American comic books published monthly, British comics were weekly publications that contained collections of serialized strips (as American comics had been prior to the 1930s). British weekly comics were also published in black-and-white rather than full-color like the States’ books.
Wanting to increase its market share in the United Kingdom, Marvel Comics decided to launch the subsidiary Marvel UK to have its own in-house weekly comic books. Tony Isabella was hired to oversee the Marvel UK publication arm (despite maintaining his office in the United States) and the first issue of The Mighty World of Marvel was published in September 1972. As was customary for the time, the first issue included a gift, which for MWOM (as it came to be known) was a Hulk iron-on t-shirt transfer. While some MWOM issues published in color, the book mirrored its British counterparts by reprinting the US stories in black-and-white while breaking up the monthly stories so that they would last for several weeks’ worth of issues.
In February 1973, MWOM was joined on the newsstands by Spider-Man Weekly, focused primarily on reprinting The Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel Team-Up. The latter book in the United States regularly saw Spider-Man partnered with other Marvel heroes and was sometimes a means to introduce new characters. Additional new weekly titles were added from 1973 to 1975 such as The Avengers, The Dracula Lives!, Planet of the Apes, The Titans, and The Super-Heroes. The last of these was eventually merged into Spider-Man Weekly starting with Issue 153. However, at this time Marvel UK still lacked any original content of its own.
This changed in 1976 with the coming of Captain Britain. Debuting in October’s Captain Britain #1, Brian Braddock was a scientist from an aristocratic family who was touring his university professor’s lab when the villainous Reaver attacked. Brian was killed as he attempted to flee and bring help, whereupon the wizard Merlyn and his daughter Roma appeared and told Brian to choose between the Sword of Might and the Amulet of Right. By choosing the amulet, Brian was transformed into the titular hero. The book lasted for 39 issues before it was folded into Spider-Man Weekly which became Spider-Man and Captain Britain. He eventually moved to the title Marvel Superheroes where the team of Alan Moore and Alan Davis introduced several concepts and characters that helped boost Captain Britain’s popularity.
Isabella was eventually replaced by UK-based editors Petra Skingley and Maureen Softly, who worked under male aliases Peter L. Skingley and Matt Softly, and they were succeeded by none other than Neil Tennant who went on to being a founding member of The Pet Shop Boys. After Tennant, Stan Lee hired Dez Skinn to help revive Marvel UK titles’ sales. Skinn was given broad control to make changes as he saw fit and often resized splash pages and larger panels to fit into the weekly books. Skinn was also on hand for one of Marvel UK’s first licensed titles, Doctor Who Weekly, which started publication in 1979. Marvel UK added several other licensed books over the 1980s such as Star Wars (featuring a mix of British and American creators), Ghostbusters, Thundercats, and more. The publication of the Doctor Who comics eventually led to original character Absolom Daak getting his own book in the Marvel UK stable.
However, the success found in the late-70s through the 80s was not to last. As many publishers suffered from rapid expansion in the 1990s, so too did Marvel UK. It began to produce a great number of original titles including Knights of Pendragon, Death’s Head II, Warheads, and Motormouth. However, the connectivity between Marvel US and Marvel Uk was often lacking. Editor Tom DeFalco required US characters to show up in the UK titles but didn’t reciprocate save characters and plots related to Captain Britain, who was appearing in Excalibur. By 1995, Marvel UK had folded, and the titles were incorporated into Panini Comics after the publisher acquired the brand. Panini took over the reprinting of the American comics as well as Doctor Who Magazine and continues to publish them today.
While gone from the market for twenty-five years, Marvel UK’s legacy is still part of the Marvel comics we read today. As mentioned previously, Captain Britain and the universe of characters surrounding him have had a great impact thanks to the likes of Chris Claremont, Alan Moore, and Alan Davis, who introduced Brian’s girlfriend (and later wife) Meggan, the Captain Britain Corps, Jamie Braddock, the robotic Fury, and more through Excalibur and other X-Men titles. Robotic bounty hunter Death’s Head proved popular when Marvel UK published some of its titles in the US, and he continues to appear from time-to-time in the Marvel Universe. And was with the aforementioned Moore and Davis, several writers and artists who worked for Marvel UK later found their way into American Marvel books as Steve Dillon (Punisher), Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (New Mutants), Salvador Larocca (X-Men), Carlos Pacheo (Avengers Forever), and Grant Morrison (New X-Men), among others. These characters and creators from Marvel UK still hold a major influence over the medium and contribute to the stories we enjoy.