Wednesday 7 April 2010

Marvel style, done the Fleetway way. Marvel Annual 1972.

Fleetway Marvel Annual 1972/1973I was in the grip of madness. A madness that had led me, for long and bewildered years, to believe that, long before the Mighty World of Marvel comic hit UK news stands, I'd had three issues of TV21 that featured the Silver Surfer fighting the Abomination.

Apart from the fact that this meant "Abomination" was probably the biggest word I knew at the age of six or seven, such a thing made no sense. After all, TV21 famously published Gerry Anderson stories, and in what way was the Silver Surfer either TV or Gerry Anderson?

So, over the years, I decided I must have got confused and that it must've been a comic like Terrific, which did indeed publish Marvel reprints and, crucially, also began with a T.

But the Internet's a wonderful thing and, through it, I recently discovered that, in its dying days, TV21 did indeed publish Silver Surfer adventures. It seems Fleetway had a deal with Marvel to reprint their tales and no longer had the rights to the Gerry Anderson shows. Hence we suddenly got the likes of Spider-Man and the Surfer in the pages of TV21.

It also explained my Christmas disappointment of 1972 when I eagerly received that year's Marvel Annual, only to discover that most of the tales therein had been published in the Mighty World of Marvel just a few weeks earlier. Given their massive back catalogue of stories, what had possessed the House of Ideas to make such a perverse decision?

I now know the answer to both mysteries was the same. That year's Marvel Annual wasn't published by Marvel at all but by Fleetway, taking advantage of their reprint rights. I admit, you don't have to be a Sherlock Holmes to know that. After all, it says on the front cover that it's a Fleetway publication and, even at that age, I knew Fleetway and Marvel weren't the same thing. Fleetway, after all, did Whizzer and Chips. But I assumed Marvel'd got Fleetway to publish it on their behalf, because Marvel didn't traditionally do hardback annuals and Fleetway did.

Time, however, heals all wounds and while I felt let down as a kid, I now see the book as a treasure trove of ancient Marvel tales. It doesn't hurt that it features some of my favourite outings of that era. Spidey's first meeting with the Scorpion's always been my favourite Spider-Man epic of the Ditko run. It's so hard and violent, with Spider-Man nearly beaten to death twice by his specially created nemesis, and Ditko's art's at its peak here. I also love the Terrible Tinkerer's debut for its off-beatness. The Hulk comes up against Tyrannus, a cross between Alexander the Great and the Mole Man. The Fantastic Four come up against Kurrgo and his robot, and the Hulk comes up against the Toad Men.

I have to admit the Hulk v the Toad Men might not be Marvel's greatest achievement but it was drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by Steve Ditko, and Bruce Banner looked like Eric Morecambe in one panel, which always gave me great pleasure. The book also had a Barry Smith Conan tale. I'd never seen Conan before and, for some reason, had it in my head he must be Thor - who I'd also never seen before - even though everyone kept calling him Conan!

What really stands out about the annual though is that, in its pages, it has a couple of articles. One deals with the various villains in Spider-Man's life. The other gives an overview of the world of Marvel and those who inhabit it. Given that they still had the rights, using the reprints made sense but it does seem odd that, through those articles, Fleetway was needlessly giving publicity to a rival publisher's entire pantheon but perhaps, it being Christmas, they were in a generous mood.

The other matter of interest is the cover. What a thing of beauty it is. Who did it? I don't know. Is it by a British artist?

I only ask because I've always felt there's something oddly continental, maybe Italian, about the thing. I base this on no knowledge whatsoever of Italian comic book covers of the early 1970s but, for some reason, whenever I look at it, the world "Italy" always bursts into my head.

That aside, I always felt there was something oddly camp about the soldiers in this picture and, looking at it now, it's suddenly occurred to me what it is.

It's the footwear.

Were those men really sent into battle with those things on their feet?


Simon B said...

Have you never heard of the Pentagon's elite Slipper Squad? You just don't mess with soldiers in comfortable shoes...

Steve said...

Of course. What a fool I've been. Not only that but I'd forgotten about Fu Manchu's Flip-Flop Ninjas as well.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think Marvel merely arranged for Fleetway to publish the book on their behalf, as it must have been printed from newly-supplied proofs. Why? The pages were printed in their original format and not resized as in TV21 (and earlier Odhams/IPC titles).

Also, Dez Skinn once said that Stan Lee had told him that MWOM's original title was going to be called The Wonderful World of Marvel, and the Annual features an article which uses that title.

I'd imagine the Annual was a rush job, and that it was a Fleetway Annual only because they had the set-up to print and distribute it. It was advertised as an official Marvel Annual in the pages of MWOM itself, and was probably titled simply "Marvel" because, at the time of preparation, they hadn't yet made up their minds on whether to go with "Wonderful" or "Mighty". It was the same with the 1974 Annual also.

Brian Hamilton-Smith said...

That cover is based on a panel from page 6 of Incredible Hulk #109, btw. Herb Trimpe pencils.

Steve W. said...

Hi, Brian, it also resembles a panel from The Incredible Hulk #2.

Mark said...

I´ve just spotted the Eric Morecambe panel (page 9, panel 7)!
I remember reading somewhere that the cover artist was a Spanish chap.

Steve W. said...

Hi, Mark. I have the feeling I might have been the person who said he was Spanish. It would appear that he was the British artist James E McConnell, a man noted for his work on Look and Learn.

I shall have to dig out my copy of the annual to see if you're right about which panel is the Eric Morecambe one. I do recall that it's in the scene where Bruce and Rick first encounter the Toad Men and find themselves pinned to the wall by the villains' magnetic guns.