Thursday, 2 May 2019

May 2nd, 1979 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

Before I start this week's look at what Marvel UK was up to forty years ago, I first need to deal with a reader's request.

That's because Charlie has demanded I provide coverage of this year's World Snooker Championship.

Needless to say, I don't have a ticket to any of the matches, nor have I managed to catch any of them on TV, so this is my attempt to capture the power and majesty of the event, as best I can without having been there and without having seen it.

The legendary venue itself.

The entrance of the Crucible Theatre is on the very spot where the entrance to the now-demolished Adelphi Hotel once stood.

It was in the Adelphi Hotel that the first rules of football were drawn up, and where Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, the Sheffield Football Association, and Yorkshire County Cricket Club were all founded. It was also the place where the decision was made to build Bramall Lane cricket ground which went on to become the world's oldest professional football stadium.

Some might argue that such epic historical significance made the hotel worthy of preservation.

Sheffield City Council thought otherwise.

Red snooker balls, made of flowers, and a Betfred billboard, let us know the event's in town.

Two men, made of leaves, and playing snooker, stand guard outside the theatre.

Guarding an entrance with two snooker players is a tradition that goes all the way back to the time of Stonehenge, 4,500 years ago.

This is where the TV trucks park, round the side of the building.

At the far end of the square, the glass wall of the Winter Gardens becomes part of the event.

This is the stage door, through which players can ofttimes be spotted entering and leaving.

After the end of World War Two, Winston Churchill once stood on the Town Hall balcony and addressed the cheering hordes below.

Where the great man once stood, now stands another Betfred billboard.

They have yet to teach it how to wave to the crowds.

A big screen stands outside the Central Library and the Lyceum Theatre, relaying live footage of the event to the watching masses.

Inside the Winter Gardens, the path that leads to, "The CueZone."

In the CueZone, we find the chairs used for TV interviews.

Behind those chairs, an exhibition match takes place for the entertainment of onlookers.

And here's an Arctic Monkeys related elephant, which has nothing to do with the snooker but is next to the CueZone, so I thought I'd throw it in anyway.

But that's enough of that. What of this week of forty years ago?

It was the week in which the London Underground's Jubilee line was inaugurated, best known for inspiring the earrings of my least favourite ever X-Man.

Even more excitingly, in this week of forty years ago, Greenland was granted limited autonomy from Denmark, with its own Parliament sitting in Nuuk.

Star Wars Weekly #62

It's another of those Star Wars issues where I don't have a clue what happens inside it.

Clearly, Adam Warlock and the Micronauts are still going but I can provide no detail of what they're up to. The Magus and the search for lost colleagues are almost certainly involved.

But does that cover say, "The tax collector from Space?"

Savage Sword of Conan (UK) #19

Conan finds himself up against the Pool of the Black one - otherwise known as Blackpool.

Pool of the Black One is a title that rings a bell for me. I'm pretty sure I've read the Robert E Howard original but I've no memory of anything that actually happens in it.

Rampage Magazine #11, The Hulk

Bruce Banner's investigating a dodgy mining operation. There's no doubt the management are planning to put a stop to his snooping.

And there's no doubt that, when they try,  they'll get more than they bargained for.

Dr Strange and Clea are still tootling around in the past, trying to untangle the truth about America's history. But will they survive an encounter with the deadly menace of Stygyro, a villain I still get mixed up with the American Jazz fusion band Spiro Gyra.

No such confusion for the X-Men. They're now up against Count Nefaria and his Ani-Men.

Admittedly, Count Nefaria and his Ani-Men sound like a jazz combo as well.

But they're not.

Starburst #9, Lord of the Rings

Starburst gives us a look at a Lord of the Rings film I've never seen.

Not that I've ever seen any Lord of the Rings films.

More importantly, it's taking a look at one of my favourite sci-fi movies - Forbidden Planet - and the greatest puppet show of all time.

Hulk Comic #9

The Hulk gets into a fight with some men on a train.

New York's being invaded by the Deviants.

Ant-Man's battling the Scarlet Beetle's insect hordes.

The Black Knight's fighting trolls.

I've no idea what Nick Fury's up to.

Night-Raven's up against the assassin who's been hired to kill him.

Perhaps most significantly of all, this issue's Sez Dez page features a claim that, in its first month, Hulk Comic sold over a million copies.

Perhaps Dez wasn't as daft as he might have seemed...

Marvel Comic #340, Godzilla

Godzilla's, clearly, still on the rampage.

Other than that, I've no information at all about the contents of this issue.

Spider-Man Comic #321, the Hypno-Hustler

Speaking of total ignorance, I don't know what's happening in this issue either.

I do know, though, that the Hypno-Hustler's up against Spidey - and that alone has to make it worth the admission fee.


Killdumpster said...

The cover of Marvel Comic looks like it features "Frog-zilla".

Forbidden Planet is a true masterpiece. Every scene is pure sci-fi enjoyment. Intro of Robby the Robot, Lesley Nielsen on Mark, and Anne Francis was so cute-hot.

"What's a bathing suit?"

The Id is one one of the greatest movie monsters.

dangermash said...

Good work Steve, even if it makes me feel bad about not taking photos of all the Greene King pubs in Carnaby.

Aggy said...

The Lord of the Rings movie is the slightly unfairly maligned animated film which used the rotoscope technique . It has a lot of energy in the action sequences and if it had only been used there would probably have been more accepted but the method was cheap and so was overused.

Been a few years but I seem to recall this movie covered the 1st 1.5 books? Or at least not all of the second. Plans to make the sequel were scrapped and the rights passed to Rankin and Bass who made a stand alone version of Return of the King which is just awful.

In the extra features on the DVD Peter Jackson mentions this film was the first time he was exposed to Tolkien.

Also can you think of a more natural villain than a Tax Collector? Even the bible used them. A supervillian older than Beowulfs Grendal

dangermash said...

In the bible, Matthew started as a tax collector but ended up as a disciple. Nobody that has read the bible was that shocked when Magneto joined the X-Men,

Steve W. said...

KD, I agree, the monster from the Id is a great idea.

I also agree that Godzilla looks very strange on that cover.

Thanks, Dangermash. :)

I now feel like I should take some photos of Greene King pubs in my area...

Aggy, thanks for the LOTR cartoon info.

Killdumpster said...

If a rapist got bitten by a vampire, and turned, you'd have a tax collector.

Anonymous said...

I was officially out this week, in that this was the first week/month since I started buying Marvel comics in 1974, that I didn't get anything at all. I think I stayed clean until the Alan Moore/Alan Davis Captain Britain era around 1984.

I think these recent covers, if anything, have convinced me that these issues were even worse than I remember. Fortunately the US monthlies were increasingly easier to obtain and the number of specialty shops, in London at least, was on the increase.

If five issues were published during it's first month, then circa 200,000 sales of Hulk per week may have been realistic. I'm guessing Dez didn't't publish the returns, three months later, which I suspect would have been more then 50%. Star Wars aside none of these titles lasted very long. Still, all easy to say with hindsight and, at least, Dez will go on to create the enormously influential Warrior (albeit, again, a loss leader..).


Colin Jones said...

It pains me to mention that today (May 3rd) is the 40th anniversary of the general election that brought Margaret Thatcher to power and ushered in the neo-liberal hegemony which is still with us today.

Without googling (honest!!) here is the plot of POOL OF THE BLACK ONE as I remember it:
Conan joins a pirate ship, kills the captain and becomes the new captain. The crew lands on the island of the Black Ones and finds a castle with the titular pool in the courtyard. Conan discovers that the pool has the power to shrink men down to the size of tiny figurines which the Black Ones place in niches around the walls of the courtyard. Conan and his crew (which includes an obligatory scantily-clad wench) must fight their way off the island and, in a last-ditch attempt to stop them, a massive column of green liquid rises from the pool and chases them down to the beach. Conan and his crew reach their ship and sail away before the evil green liquid reaches just another average day for conan.

Steve W. said...

Colin, thanks for the Conan summary. I'm sure I've read it but the plot doesn't ring any bells for me at all. I can only assume it's not one of REH's more memorable tales.

DW, it was certainly an era which tested the patience of the UK Marvel fan.

Anonymous said...

DW, British comics generally weren't sale or return back then. On his SezDez says Hulk Comic was launched with 300,000 copies of the first issue, so I suppose with four issues in that first month they cut back to a bit over 200,000 for the rest...?

Steve, as I understand it autonomy from Denmark allows Greenland to be outside the EU while still able to trade with it.
Thats a possible solution to the current brexit debacle - perhaps the UK could become an autonomous dependency of Denmark?


Anonymous said...

PS Ooops - that should be "on his website SezDez says..."


Anonymous said...


On his web site Dez confirms that the first four issues, which had the advertising support and free-gifts, were sale or return and with issue five, became non-returnable. If this was the norm, this explains why so many titles seemed to disappear after the first few issues. He also indicates that Hulk weekly was budgeted to break even at a 25% sales rate. I guess this all means they really aimed for around 50,000 sales per week. For context, I just looked up January 2019 sales, and Detective comics currently appears to sell just over 50,000 a MONTH. Very different times.

Dez also stated that the weeklies were aimed at readers aged 9 to 12, and they assumed teens would track down the US monthlies, which broadly anticipated my personal experience mentioned above.

My biggest personal disappointment with his approach was the increased numbers of panels per page. He makes the point that by cutting up the artwork, he upped the number or panels on each page and, therefore, provided better value. This ignores the fact that the visual impact of comics is fundamental. It's why there are relatively more 'hot' artists than writers. Marvel comics always looked different to other British comics, and that was their attraction. If we wanted the straight British look we could (and mostly did) buy Action, 2000AD or the sport and war comics.


Anonymous said...

Snooker championship...
You hadda do it, didn't ya Charlie.
Couldn't leave well enough alone, could ya. Got Steve going on and on about snooker. Whatever the hell that is.
What did you think was gonna happen, Charlie? Huh? And now we gotta read this? You know how he is. He can't help it!
You're a sick S.O.B., Charlie.


Anonymous said...

And Charlie isn't even here M.P.!

DW, I skimmed Dez' website earlier for the 300,000 figure and must have missed the bit about sale or return - I'll have to take another look.
Presumably Marvel UK aimed for a bit more than simply breaking even, and 50,000 sounds on the low side for a weekly comic in the 70s - as you say, it was a different time. Still, sales generally were in decline by the last years of the decade, and the comics didn't last so... maybe.

Completely agree on the reprints - the idea that his Spidey Comic was obviously better than Super Spider-Man because it had twice as many panels per issue is clearly ridiculous.
Mind you, as I've pointed out here before, I hadn't been reading the weeklies for a while anyway so what I thought didn't really matter (actually, I did get a few issues of Hulk Comic to see the new stuff, so that was an extra reader for the Dez revolution).

And to be fair to Dez, he wasn't wrong about aiming the weeklies at a young age group, what with older readers more interested in the monthlies and imports.


Anonymous said...

No, Sean, but he got it started. He knows what he did.


Anonymous said...

About the LOTR cartoon, it's kinda cool.
It's pretty scrunched together, which is understandable, given the length of the books. It's kind of abortive, but some sequences, like the Ringwraiths or the Orcs marching across Mordor will stick in your head.
My problem, and maybe this is my problem with the books, too, is there's no payoff. You've got a villain who's referred to in hushed whispers by the other characters, who's actions are driving the whole thing, but he, Sauron, never shows up. There's no confrontation.
I mean, even Dracula shows up in Dracula. Occasionally.
The monster you don't see may be scarier than the one you do, but at some point you have to see him, even if it's only a glimpse.


Anonymous said...

Not keen on the LOTR cartoon myself M.P., and not just because of a general dislike of stories about elves, dwarves and all that bollocks - I thought Wizards was ok (although like the rest of Ralph Bakshi's films it isn't really convincing either).

On the one hand, you have to give it to Bakshi for making animated flicks that went against the general expectation of the film biz, drawing on underground comics and whatnot, which can't have been easy. But they always sound better to read about than watch.
Actually, now I think about it, the first time I heard about him was in a Starburst piece - quite possibly the issue here - which made Wizards, Heavy Traffic etc all sound impossibly exotic and amazing.
Which made eventual disappointment somewhat inevitable I suppose.


Colin Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colin Jones said...

By the way, Steve, thanks for showing us those photos. How fascinating to see the exterior of the legendary Crucible theatre!!

Steve W. said...

Thanks, Colin. It's nice to know my photographic endeavours were not in vain. :)

Anonymous said...

It actually was interesting, Steve. You and Charlie know, I'm sure, that was just me having a bit of fun.
Or, my twisted approximation of amusement, in any case.


Steve W. said...

That was indeed how I viewed it, MP.

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