By various (Marvel/Panini Publishing UK)
The British Invasion was a term coined in the 1980s to describe the influx and influence of a band of creators (most with 2000AD or Warrior credentials) that began working in and revolutionising the American comic-book industry. In this context, however, it’s simply a collection of work by British creators who have contributed to Marvel’s vast continuity.
This second volume of notable Bits By Brits has a much bolder and more varied selection than its predecessor (ISBN13: 978-1-933160-68-9), kicking off with an average tale illustrated by an unsung genius of the industry.
Lee Elias moved to America in 1925 (aged 6) and worked for all the major US publishing houses beginning in 1943 at Fiction House. With Jack Williamson he created the brilliant science fiction newspaper strip Beyond Mars (1952-1955) before returning to comic-books at National Comics/DC, most notably on the Green Arrow feature, although his runs on Tommy Tomorrow in Showcase (#41-42, 44, 46-47) and both Ultra, the Multi-Alien and Adam Strange in Mystery in Space (#92-110) are well-loved classics.
In the 1970s he moved over to Marvel before settling at Warren Publishing where he produced his best ever work on the Rook and the Goblin. From his time at the House of Ideas comes a capable psycho-drama from Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #35 (1979) ‘Labyrinth’, scripted by Tony Isabella and inked by Mike Esposito.
John Bolton is a major creator who hopefully needs little introduction. His classically illustrative style added a fresh realism to the superhero genre in Classic X-Men as well as many Marvel Magazine and graphic novel projects. From the black and white magazine Bizarre Adventures # 32 (1982) comes ‘Sea of Destiny’, written by Alan Zelenetz, a mythical wonder featuring Mighty Thor and the Heroes Three, rendered in glorious wash tones.
Comics Renaissance Man Paul Neary began his career at Warren, art-directed and edited Marvel UK through its most creative years and illustrated a long run of Captain America and the landmark Nick Fury Vs S.H.I.E.L.D. miniseries before settling into a productive career as an inker. In 1986 he drew a solid superhero romp written by Bob Harras for Iron Man Annual #8, teaming the Armoured Avenger and the resurgent mutant Superteam X-Factor. ‘When Innocence Dies!’ is an effective and readable parable on intolerance, inked by Ian Akin and Brian Garvey.
Probably one of Britain’s most visible comics exports, Barry (Windsor) Smith made the jump straight to Marvel in 1969 after serving an apprenticeship producing pin-ups for the UK comics Fantastic and Terrific, published by Odhams Press and almost exclusively featuring Marvel reprints. After popping up all over the Marvel Universe he settled on the groundbreaking Conan the Barbarian title for a few years before beginning his own Fine Arts studio. On his return to comics he had his pick of projects and worked often with Chris Claremont on X-Men related tales. From Uncanny X-Men #214 (1987) ‘With Malice Towards All!’ stars Storm and Wolverine in pitched battle against a murderous disembodied mutant who can possess a victim’s body…
Alan Davis was discovered by Paul Neary, and his clean linear style captivated a whole generation of artists, just as he had in turn been galvanized by the work of Neal Adams. As well as a magnificent artist Davis is a superb writer, most often associated with Marvel’s X-books and has produced stunning work with Chris Claremont. One such example is 1987’s Uncanny X-Men Annual #11, inked by Neary. ‘Lost in the Funhouse’ features the mutant team (and Davis’ signature character Captain Britain) in combat with an omnipotent alien called Horde in a battle to save reality itself.
Comics Legend Dave Gibbons has done relatively little work for Marvel, but the Dr. Strange tale included here is possibly the best of them. Written by Walt Simonson, ‘Perchance to Dream’ from the experimental anthology title Marvel Fanfare (#41, 1988) finds the Sorcerer Supreme battling deadly dreams in an eerie netherworld. In this case, Gibbons also contributed a rare painted colour finish to the artwork.
Bryan Hitch also got his start thanks to Neary, graduating from Marvel UK’s licensed properties to the likes of StormWatch, the Authority, the Ultimates and Fantastic Four. Along the way he brought an elevated artistic standard to a few less well regarded titles. The Sensational She-Hulk volume 2, #24 featured the sometime Avenger in comedic combat with Freelance Peace-Keeping Agent (don’t call him bounty hunter) Death’s Head in an engaging little romp entitled ‘Priceless’, scripted by Simon Furman and inked by John Beatty.
Scottish superstar Frank Quitely has reached dizzying heights since he debuted in Glasgow adult comic Electric Soup, his lush, precise visuals and unique vision marrying the hyper-bizarre and ultra-mundane into an always credible graphic reality. Extracted here from a much longer saga – with concomitant loss of sense, regrettably, is ‘Imperial’ (New X-Men #122, 2002), scripted by long-time collaborator Grant Morrison, and inked by Tim Townsend, Perrotta and Florea. Pictorially stunning, this bridge between two much longer stories is virtually impenetrable to all but the most dedicated X-junkie, and commits the cardinal narrative sin of being a “middle” with neither beginning nor end.
The Punisher volume 4, #23 (2003) provides a fine example of the talented and inimitable Steve Dillon’s economical mastery of line, and as ‘Squid’ is written by fellow wise guy Garth Ennis there are plenty of the other sort of lines in this hugely funny revenge drama.
The volume concludes with one of the very best Spider-Man stories of the past decade, written by Paul Jenkins and illustrated in magical style by Mark Buckingham (with colours from old CCG comrade, D’Israeli), who’s equally at home with fights ‘n’ tights melodrama and cutting edge adult fare, such as the multi-award winning Fables. From Spectacular Spider-Man #27 (2005) comes a deeply moving moment as Peter Parker has a brief graveside conversation with his dead Uncle Ben; drawn as a tribute to the winter scenes of Bill Watterson’s legendary Calvin and Hobbes strip. Touching, illuminating and poignant enough to make a tombstone cry, this alone is worth the price of admission.
This collection is a much more balanced read and augmented by highly informative biographical features from Mike Conroy, is a Marvel primer that could win the company a lot of new fans, and even rekindle the lost magic for many older ones.
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