Friday, 8 February 2013

Happy 40th birthday, Spider-Man Comics Weekly!

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #1
Thanks to Kid Robson's blog, I know that in a few days' time it'll be the 40th anniversary of the launch of Spider-Man Comics Weekly.

At the time, this was a very exciting event for me. Having been avidly reading The Mighty World of Marvel for the previous few months, to suddenly get yet another Marvel UK mag foisted upon me was indeed a special treat.

But how could it not be? Not only did it feature everyone's favourite wall-crawler, it also starred Thor. I was always a big fan of the early incarnation of Thor, with his long-handled hammer and lack of muscles. And, though his handle gradually got shorter and his muscles bigger, I remained gripped, as trolls, gods and other supernatural luminaries were added.

With issue #48, the comic adopted the glossy covers that made it and other Marvel UK mags feel so much better than their British rivals. With issue #50, Iron Man was added to the roster and the comic seemed as close to perfection as it could ever hope to be.

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #50

What tales that comic brought into my life: the death of George Stacy, the menace of Mangog, the hypno-neanderthal robot from outer space, and a whole bunch more.

Then, just as excitement hit a peak, with six-armed Spidey tangling with Morbius, the comic disappeared from my local newsagents.

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #141

Would it ever return?

Yes it would.

But when it returned, several months later, it had been magically transformed into Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes and had adopted The Titans' landscape format.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #165

This was good. It meant I got twice as much drama for my money. It meant I got Dr Strange. It meant I got the adventures of The Thing. It meant I got even more Iron Man and even more Thor.

And, of course, it was during this era that Gwen Stacy died.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #170, the night Gwent Stacy died

But storm clouds were looming over Marvel UK. As though to warn us of the dark days ahead, it wasn't long before Super Spider-Man merged with the comic whose format had inspired it, as it became Super Spider-Man and the Titans.

Later, the comic returned to portrait format and, after the failure of his own book, Captain Britain joined it.

Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain

This wasn't such good news, as Captain Britain in that era was terrible and he was always doing things I wasn't interested in, like rescuing the Queen or hanging around on the Ark Royal.

In 1979, Super Spider-Man became Spider-Man Comic, the glossy covers gave way to matt ones and the comic was crammed with a ludicrous six strips, meaning you'd barely started on reading a tale before you hit the words, "To be continued!"

Spider-Man Comic, Marvel UK

Clearly the writing was on the wall-crawler for our once-mighty mag. Suddenly it seemed cheap, uncared for by those creating it and disposable.

As if to rub it in, it later suffered the indignity of merging with the equally clueless Hulk comic before disappearing forever from my local newsagents.

Spider-Man and Hulk Weekly #376

My knowledge of what happened after that is fuzzy but I do know the comic's fate from that point on was a dispiriting one, involving attempts to cash-in on a TV show that could hardly be called a rating blockbuster, and increased juvenilization.

Super Spider-Man TV Comics #450

Still, one has to accept that the comic, like all of us, was a victim of the reality that nothing good lasts forever, and if its ultimate decline proved to be both depressing and frustrating, at least its heyday lasted long enough to see me through a great big chunk of my youth. How would I have known of the glory of Asgard without it? How would I ever have encountered the Jackal? How would I know that Iron Man has a slide rule in his gauntlet?

The answer is I wouldn't. And, for this, and all the other things I learned about super-herodom from it, I shall be eternally grateful.


Kid said...

'Twas indeed a good comic, especially in the first year, but I had seen most of the Thor and Iron Man strips in Fantastic about 6 years before. I still enjoyed re-reading them, but I don't think I learned much I didn't already know. Shame about the dodgy printing once it switched to glossy covers 'though. I've still got all the early, paper-covered issues of SMCW and MWOM, plus a smattering of glossy ones. 40 years, Stevie - who'da thunk it?

Dandy Forsdyke said...

Wow, I remember it still. Wasn't there TV ads for SMCW as well? I'm sure I saw one or two during an episode of Tizwas, Magpie or The Tomorrow People! You had to be up early on a Saturday morning to get to the newsagent before they sold out of MWOM so when SMCW came out there was double the reason.

Thanks for the memories!

Steve W. said...

Dandy, I'm pretty sure you're right about there being TV advertising for SMCW.

Kid said...

There was - I remember seeing the ad myself. And the previous one for MWOM.

allan danone said...

i wish i still had my old british marvels...i saw a bunch of "spiderman tv comics" in the market in brighton today.

Steve C said...

I have issues 1 - 400 in near mint condition, each one kept in it's own plastic sleeve. I've not read any of them for years but just seeing a cover on the internet brings all the stories flooding back. Brilliant!

Dan Avenell said...

Comic sales declined rapidly between 1970 & 1980 (and onwards). Head cheese Dez Skinn took over Marvel (from Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant!) and has said it was fighting a losing battle, and that UK kids never took to super-heroes so he had to increasingly disguise the comics as sci-fi or war comics... or reinvent and create new comics designed to be merged with another title within months. All just screamed failure after failure to me, even as a kid. I hated the general direction British Marvel took, after a great start, and I hated that other stupid kids seemingly preferred the unfunny Beano or stupid Roy Of the Rovers. I mean, you could read about Spider-Man! Still Bitter.

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