Sunday 24 September 2017

The Complete Fantastic Four.

Marvel UK, Complete Fantastic Four #1
This was it! This was the week, forty years ago, when, following a string of setbacks, cancellations and mergers, the once juggernautal Marvel UK decided to hit back with the launch of a brand new comic.

And what better way to do it than with the team who'd been there right at the start, in the very first issue of Mighty World of Marvel, all the way back in 1972?

In truth, there were probably much better ways of doing it, bearing in mind that the idea of the Complete Fantastic Four was to reprint an entire issue of the world's greatest comic every week.

Bearing in mind that, even in its previous form as a truncated back-up strip in various other mags, it had managed to draw ominously close to catching up with the original mag it was being reprinted from, it meant the venture was inherently doomed from the start.

The title only lasted thirty seven issues but, by the time of its last week, it was less than eighteen months behind its parent comic, meaning that, by my off-the-top-of-my-head calculations, had it lasted just another five months, it would have completely caught up with that parent mag, would have run out of material to reprint and would have been facing the chop no matter how successful it had been. It has to be said, it didn't seem like a lot of foresight had gone into this venture.

Then again, maybe Marvel UK could have done an Apeslayer on us and redrawn old Killraven stories as Fantastic Four tales. Old Skull redrawn as the Thing, Killraven as Reed Richards, Hawk as the Human Torch, Carmilla Frost as Sue Richards, Grok redrawn as Willie Lumpkin, M'Shulla as Alicia, the Martians as Skrulls? Let's face it, who wouldn't pay good money to see that?

Marvel UK, Complete Fantastic Four #6, the Miracle Man returns
As for the comic we actually got, I'd like to say it made a big impression on my life but I only ever saw two issues of it.

The first was issue #6 which reprinted the opening part of the Miracle Man's return. This was pleasing for me, as I already had the tale's second part in its original form and it was satisfying to finally read its first instalment.

By clear coincidence, its back-up strip featured their introductory meeting with the Miracle Man, a tale I always recalled with fondness from my first reading of it.

This does pose a mystery to me though because I also recall reading an issue of the The Complete FF whose back-up story was an early tale in which Doctor Doom gets inflatable dummies to follow the FF around for reasons that totally escape me. No doubt it was all part of a truly diabolical plot the like of which would take the world's breath away had the world known about it.

The trouble is, when I look at the covers of the mag's other issues, none of them ring a bell for me at all. So, which issue that was, I have no idea.

Anyway, with its inherently short life-span, the mag might not have proven to be Marvel UK's salvation but, in being a statement of intent about the company's determination to fight back against declining sales, market share and profitability, it has to be viewed as a title of some significance.

And, as it turned out, it wasn't to be the company's last stab at a comeback - because even more exciting news for UK Marvel lovers was just around the corner.

But what could that be?



Marvel UK, Complete Fantastic Four #37, Power Man


Anonymous said...

As I understand it Steve, by the late 70s the conventional wisdom in the British comic biz was that sales of a title were strongest early on and object of the exercise was do as well as possible before a merger.
So the Complete FF didn't have to last long to be a fairly astute attempt at understanding what Marvel readers wanted - to be able to read full stories in one go, and find them reliably from issue to issue. If you think about it, the FF format - complete new reprint plus oldie - is pretty much what Pannini have been doing for ages.

Doing a Savage Sword of Conan monthly after the weekly failed was pretty sharp too, showing they grasped there was a slightly older part of the audience that could support it.


Anonymous said...

The Complete FF #1 came out exactly three weeks after I'd started secondary school so the comic's entire run coincided with my first year. I'd missed the first two years of Marvel UK so now I had the chance to read the early FF stories, including their origin, for the first time - of course, the FF's origin story seemed ancient to me in 1977 but it was only 16 years old, the same distance we are now from 2001. But I had every single issue of The Complete FF and I have fond memories of it even if it was doomed from the start :)

And obviously I know what the other comeback is !

Anonymous said...

Bah, Sean spoiled the mystery !

Anonymous said...

Loved this, the older stories and newer ones were a nice contrast. Was it more or did Anhillus seem to be in almost every issue?

My buddy used tro get the FF and I’d get The Defenders and then we’d swop. Stopped reading for a while then I had a mountain to enjoy. Maybe 2000AD tool my eye of the ball I suppose (or Blondie)

Still love FF, am collecting the Byrne originals now.

- tharg

Timothy Field said...

Despite this coming out at the point I was most dedicated to Marvel UK's output, I was somehow completely unaware of its existence as it never showed up in any of the local newsagents. It must have been advertised in its contemporaries but I only found out about it earlier this year, I've since picked up a complete run and looking at it now, 8 year old me would have been delighted with it.

Steve W. said...

Sean, thanks for the insight into the Machiavellian machinations of the minds of the Marvel masterminds.

Colin, I had the same feeling reading the very early issues of, "Mighty World of Marvel." The stories seemed like relics of an impossibly dark and ancient era, despite being only ten years old.

Tharg, it was always a source of regret to me that I never read the John Buscema Annihilus story that came after the Miracle Man story. I'd seen a panel from it in a hardback book of monsters I got one Christmas and it looked great to me.

Timothy, there was a fair bit of publicity for it in Marvel UK's other mags but it was a rarity to spot it in the shops.

Anonymous said...

I think there was just the one Annihilus story in the Complete FF, which ended with - spoiler alert! (I know its old, but just in case, as I wouldn't want to ruin things for anyone twice) - Reed zapping Franklin into a coma or something.
John Buscema's FF looked great of course, but Roy Thomas tended to overdo the soap opera melodrama aspect.


Anonymous said...

I'm baffled by the difficulty some had in acquiring The Complete FF - I got all 37 issues without any problems from my local WH Smith's.

Yes, the Annihilus story in issues #8 and #9 ended with Reed shutting down Franklin's mind before he turned into a nuclear bomb or something. Sue, Ben and Johnny are disgusted and flounce out of the FF which seemed totally unfair - what else could Reed have done ? But sensible Medusa stayed loyal to Reed and the FF soon re-united again :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, and the Annihilus story was also sadly the end of John Buscema's run on the Fantastic Four. Next came Rich Buckler doing his Jack Kirby pastiche which I hated.

Steve W. said...

I must confess I did far prefer Rich Buckler's Neal Adams impersonation to his Jack Kirby impersonation.

Anonymous said...

Pastiche, impersonation... or swipes?
Possible subject for a future SteveDoesComics poll maybe..,?


Timothy Field said...

Colin, much of my youth was spent walking between newsagents trying to get the various Marvel UK titles. I had an unreasonable fear of having them reserved as the hamfisted shop assistant would invariably ruin the cover by scrawling my name on them. Distribution was extremely patchy, made worse by what seemed like some sort of strike every other week.
TCFF managed to completely pass me by, though in just a few weeks time it was followed up with another new title that I never missed an issue of...

dangermash said...

On the one hand I find it a bit odd that TCFF included reprints of stuff that had already appeared in Marvel UK, what with Cap, Iron Man, X-Men,,... all on the bench at this point. (I think Thor comes back into Spider-Man when the FF leave)

On the other hand Marvel UK did have a penchant for experimenting with something new when launching a new comic. Avengers had glossy covers, Titans was landscape format, Captain Britain was in colour and now TCFF had reprints..

Steve W. said...

Sean, come up with the poll question and its options and I'll post it.

Timothy, I think distribution was pretty good round my way, apart from a short period in late 1975 and early 1976. "The Complete FF," however, was an exception to that.

Dangermash, I really liked the presence of old FF reprints in the comic. Even in 1977, my experience of having read them the first time round, in the early 1970s, already felt like ancient history, so it was a welcome glimpse into what seemed like a long-gone part of my life.

Anonymous said...

My experience closely matches Colin's, except that it was my final year of primary school. Having not read the old stories I enjoyed the whole comic, and started to get an appreciation of the ongoing-saga nature of the Marvel universe. I did think the free model plane was a bit naff, though. Don't recall any scarcity but I'd probably promoted myself to an orderer by then.


Charlie Horse 47 said...

Hey Gents:

Would they reprint these in their entirety or were they sometimes condensed like here in the USA? Sometimes a page or two would be removed, as the years went by, b/c page counts were getting smaller.

They were reprinting an issue a week (presumably 52 a year) starting with #1?

I really wish Marvel would do that again! I'd buy 'em at a fair price of maybe $2 each? Not sure if it is profitable for anyone, though. That being said Marvel is selling $1 comics of Jack Kirby (100th b-day) now like some early Iron Mans, Thor, Cap, Devil Dinosaur. My reading room is well stocked at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Dunno, Steve - a smartarse comment is one thing, but a poll along those lines seems a bit in churlish in view of Buckler's recent passing. But if the offer is there, perhaps I could get back to you with a better idea for an FF poll?

Ahoy Charlies - The FF did start with #1, but that was the back-up; the early Kirby/Lee stories were split between two issues as I recall.
The main feature picked up from where the (then) recent(ish) Buscema/Thomas run in Super Spider-Man left off. Pretty sure the first issue was the Thing v Thundra, but it might have been the one with Dragon Man.


Steve W. said...

Charlie, the stories were usually reprinted without anything cut out. The exception was the annuals which would, at times, cut great chunks out of stories to make them fit the page count. I think the worst offenders I read were the 1977 Spider-Man and Avengers annuals, in which some stories were rendered near incomprehensible by edits.

As Sean said, the main strip in the Complete FF reprinted an entire issue from the 1970s, while the back-up strip reprinted the 1960s stories, beginning with issue #1 and splitting it in two.

Sean, feel free to submit that poll.

Anonymous said...

Colin Jones hit it on the nail re: Medusa staying loyal to Reed, while Sue walked out on him. Quite a few fans back then thought that Sue was being very unfair to Reed by blaming him for shooting the gun at their son. If Reed had not acted, they all might have perished. Sue just did not think straight back in the 1960's and 1970's and thus her separation from Reed lasted a long time and almost ended in divorce!