Thursday 8 February 2018

February 8th, 1978 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

All of a sudden, it seems like nothing more than a bad dream. Just six months ago, Marvel UK was reduced to publishing a mere two titles a week, and death for the whole venture was surely close at hand.

And, yet, here we are, in early 1978 and, suddenly, the company has comics coming out of its ears. Not content with recent launches for Rampage, the Complete Fantastic Four and Savage Sword of Conan, we suddenly get its most significant event ever.

Star Wars has come to Marvel UK!

I can't claim I'm that excited. I've never been that big a Star Wars fan. It's alright but there's other stuff I'd rather watch.

Still, it's a well repeated claim that Star Wars saved the US version of the company from bankruptcy and, by all accounts, it performed the same feat for its British offshoot. So significant was the book that, when US Marvel tried to sell Marvel UK to IPC, Star Wars Weekly was the only title the British comics giant wanted, as that was the only one it saw as being commercially viable.

I do wonder, though, just what were the back-up strips in the early issues of Star Wars Weekly? I can easily remember the early issues of Marvel UK's Planet of the Apes giving us Ka-Zar and Gulliver Jones reprints but, of the early supporting contents of Star Wars Weekly, I recall nothing.

However, huge as that event might have been, Star Wars wasn't the only big thing going on that week.

Because, on this very day in 1978, BBC One broadcast the first ever episode of Grange Hill.

How we thrilled as Tucker Jenkins, Benny thingy, that girl, Alan Somebody, Trish Someone and that other boy battled to survive the nightmare horror that is secondary school, all accompanied by a catchy theme tune and a sausage on a fork.

I'm sure there are experts in the field of Story who can tell us that there are major parallels between the narrative themes of Star Wars and Grange Hill but I can't think of any. So, instead, I shall take a look at just what our favourite comics were up to, even as all that was transpiring.

Marvel UK, Star Wars #1

Hooray! I had this issue!

Even more excitingly, I had the cardboard X-Fighter too. It was certainly more appealing - and appropriate - than the plastic commercial aircraft Marvel UK was normally in the habit of giving away in this era.

Tragically, I don't remember how good it was at flying but I always liked the look of it, regardless.

But how accurate is that cover boast that it's a, "Valuable First Issue?"

I've just checked, on eBay and, last month, a copy, complete with X-Wing, sold for £79.

I can only conclude that that cover boast is indeed the ever-loving truth.

Marvel UK, Rampage #17, the Defenders vs the Wrecking Crew

The Wrecking Crew are up to no good.

Then again, when are they ever not up to no good?

I can't answer that question because I don't think I've ever read any story that involved them. I gather that they each basically had the same power as the Wrecker, which doesn't sound very promising. I mean, if we already have one Wrecker, what do we need any others for?

Mighty World of Marvel #280, Hulk vs Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts is still battling the Incredible Hulk.

And, after hours of dogged research, I can confirm that this is indeed the tale in which the stage magician Kropotkin the Great makes his debut.

Was he named in honour of the Amazing Kreskin, who I remember filling chunks of early afternoon television in the 1970s, usually before Paint Along With Nancy came on?

As for Kropotkin, I don't really remember him ever actually doing anything, so I'm not sure what he was there for. Was he in the strip for long? Was he a mere flash in the pan? Who can know? Not me but I shall continue to look into the topic, diligently.
Super Spider-Man #261, the Molten Man

I couldn't claim to have a clue what's going on on that cover, when it comes to the Spider-Man panel.

Then again, I'm fairly fuzzy about the whole tale. Obviously, the Molten Man is in it and still looking for a cure but, other than that, just what is underway?

Does the tale conclude with Molty trapped in a house that's on fire and containing Liz Allen, before he's forced to jump into the river to try and retrieve the bagful of chemicals that is his only hope for survival? An act that, in itself, seemingly causes his doom?

Or am I just making things up?

The Complete Fantastic Four #20

I believe that Mahkizmo is still causing trouble for our manly heroes.

I believe that Medusa isn't really going to abandon them.

I believe that that is all I know.


Aggy said...

The early Star Wars weeklys had stand along stories featuring aliens and monsters etc. I assume they were reprints from pre-superhero books.
I'm fairly sure that's where I read the original Groot story. Although what books they were I have no idea.

Also featured were interviews and stories related to the movie. Also the awesome 'Who's who page' which was completely different from the film. I remember Biggs being a major character in that early run.

Anonymous said...

Without knowing actual figures I suspect Star Wars weekly #1 m must have sold bucket loads. Almost every kid at school had a copy and many prior non-comic readers stuck with it beyond the initial adaptation. I already had the treasury editions (already, somewhat cynically, split into two volumes) and so the black and white film adaptation was not a particularly big pull, unlike the cardboard X-wing fighter that definitely was an essential item. I vaguely recall the back-up stories were old sci-fi shorts, rebadged as tales of the Star Wars universe (ala. Tales of the Watcher). As a then 10 year old, this really was a big deal.

Unlike most of my comics I do know exactly what happened to my copy Star Wars #1. When the movie was broadcast on TV, a few years later, I recorded it onto VHS and cut up the cover of the first issue, to wrap around the VHS box, to make it appear somewhat 'authentic'. No 79 quid for me...


pete doree said...

Aggy's semi-right about Star Wars Weekly. It was mostly filled out with any sci-fi strip from the US b/w mags that didn't have tits in it.
So lots of one-off strips from Unknown Worlds Of Science Fiction, Man-Gods From Beyond The Stars & Sword In The Star from Marvel Preview and liberal sprinklings of those pre-FF Kirby / Ditko things like the original appearance of Groot, vaguely introduced by ol' Uatu as Tales Of The Watcher.
As for The Wrecking Crew? They rocked! As well as Wrecker hisself, you also had Bulldozer ( who was basically Juggernaut ), Piledriver, who had enlarged, steel-hard fists, and my personal favourite Thunderball, who had an adamantium strength wrecking ball, and who turned out to be a noble scientist who worked for Nighthawk's company.
All created by the late, great Len Wein by the way.

pete doree said...

Oh yeah, and Biggs being in the comic was because Chaykin was working from an early script from before the film was released, and those scenes, though filmed, were edited out of the final movie. Jeez, I know too much about this kind of stuff...

Dougie said...

Sword in the Star introduced Rocket Raccoon and some concepts wrapped up in Micronauts. That strip and Starlin's Warlock were later reprinted in Star Wars Weekly. I enjoyed them but I only remember Jaxxon the wabbit from the earliest issues. And the Claremont/Byrne/Infantino Star-Lord.

Dougie said...

Sword in the Star introduced Rocket Raccoon and some concepts wrapped up in Micronauts. That strip and Starlin's Warlock were later reprinted in Star Wars Weekly. I enjoyed them but I only remember Jaxxon the wabbit from the earliest issues. And the Claremont/Byrne/Infantino Star-Lord.

Christopher Nevell said...

I was happy to see another Marvel weekly but it was 4 pages lighter than the other titles. Oh-oh I thought- how long before that happens to the others... (it didn’t though, did it)

Timothy Field said...

Reading Star Wars weekly before the release of the film over here must have given me a strange idea of the movie. The Marvel adaption had the feel of an Errol Flynn swashbuckler meets the Dirty Dozen in space with James Dean as Luke Skywalker.
Thinking about it now, I'd rather watch that version of the film.

Timothy Field said...

Oh and the Wreaking Crew were awesome, not enough working class super villian teams out there.

Steve W. said...

Thanks to everyone for all your info on Star Wars back-up strips and the Wrecking Crew. It's always nice to have gaps in my knowledge filled in.

Unknown said...

I remember cycling to my local newsagent to buy my copy of Star Wars number 1 as if it were yesterday. In my school (at least in my 14-15 age group), comics were definitely uncool and I hid my copy under my coat. Unfortunately, I was immediately approached by a girl from school who asked if I wanted to come back to her house as her parents were out! I declined because my comic buying secret would be unveiled. As I hadn't properly kissed a girl up to that point, and she was always "friendly", I regretted my decision almost immediately.

At least i enjoyed the comic though. I still wonder what would have happened if I'd gone with the girl instead.

Timothy Field said...

Bet the girl didn't come with a free cardboard X-Wing though.

Anonymous said...
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Unknown said...

Hey Timothy, you're right - her potential freebies didn't include X-wing fighters though she had the body of a model! That might be my false memory betraying me though!!