By Douglas Enefer, A. Tyson, John W. Elliott & various (World Distributors, Ltd.)
Hereâ€™s a question for all you dedicated Marvelites out there: do you remember how Ant-Man helped troubled boxer Danny Fury go straight? Or when the slaver Abdul Rey captured the Fantastic Four? How about the time Spider-Man captured the arsonists who were torching department stores?
If your memory fails you here it might not be four-colour overload but rather the singular fact that youâ€™re neither old nor British. Please allow me to explainâ€¦
When Stan Lee rejuvenated the American comic-book industry in the early 1960s, his biggest advantage wasnâ€™t the small but superb talent pool available, but rather a canny sense of marketing and promotion. DC, Dell/Gold Key and Charlton all had limited overseas licenses (usually in dedicated black-and-white anthologies liked the much beloved Alan Class Comics such as Suspense) but Lee â€“ or his business managers – went further, sanctioning Marvelâ€™s revolutionary early efforts in regular British weeklies like Pow!, Wham!, Smash! and even the venerable Eagle. There were two wholly Marvel-ised papers, Fantastic! and Terrific!, which ran from 1967 to 1968. These slick format comics featured a number of key Marvel properties, and, appearing every seven days, soon exhausted the back catalogue of the company.
Another factor to consider was the traditions of the UK market. US comics had been primarily strip based since the 1930s, but British weeklies had long provided Boyâ€™s and Girlâ€™s â€œpapersâ€ that were prose-based. In fact DC Thompson had persevered with illustrated text periodicals until well into the 1960s. So the seasonal annuals provided a vital sales peak of the publishing year and a guaranteed promotional push (see Alan Clarkâ€™s superb The Childrenâ€™s Annual – ISBN 10: 1-85283-212-9 for more information). Any comic worth its salt needed a glossy hardback on the shelves over the Christmas periodâ€¦
In future years UK Marvel Annuals would provide full colour reprint strip extravaganzas, but in 1966 the material just wasnâ€™t there. Thus this peculiar novelty: a comforting 96 sturdy pages of bold illustrations, games, puzzles and prose stories featuring Marvelâ€™s mightiest in exceedingly British tales of skulduggery and derring-do.
As well as Ant-man in â€˜Fightinâ€™ Furyâ€™, the FF in â€˜The Chains of Abdul Reyâ€™ and Spidey against â€˜The Fire Raisersâ€™, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner faced a â€˜Howl in the Nightâ€™ and Iron Man faced the Bloated Bandit (one of the all-out daftest villains of all time!) in â€˜A Cushioned Clashâ€™. Captain America fought with the British Eighth Army in the World War II thriller â€˜Tomb of Terrorâ€™ and Iron Man travelled to Australia to defeat â€˜The Ghost of Ned Kellyâ€™, whilst Doctor Strange rescued two pot-holers who were imperilled by â€˜the Guardians of the Tombâ€™, far beneath the streets of Manchester and Oldham!
Along with many explanatory features providing origin info for the superheroes and related science features on ants and such-like, thereâ€™s even more thrills when the Fantastic Four faced â€˜The Bull of Minosâ€™, The Mighty Thor crushed pirates in modern day Scotland in â€˜North Sea Wolfâ€™, Doctor Strange visited mystic India on a â€˜Flight into Dangerâ€™ and the book gloriously concludes with a fraught trip to Canada for Bruce Banner and Rick Jones that could lead to â€˜The End of the Hulk!â€™
Behind superb covers by R. W. Smethurst, the interior illustrations are by M.K. Powell, J. Leeder and P. Limbert, ranging from adequate to great, but the stories, communally attributed to Douglas Enefer, A. Tyson and John W. Elliott are quirkily engaging and oddly enjoyable. This is probably hard to find, and might horrify dyed-in-the-wool fans, but Iâ€™d like to think that thereâ€™s enough of us who can temper our mania with a little nostalgic perspective to enjoy an innocent dip in rare waters, and muse on what might have been if this experiment had caught onâ€¦
Â© 1967 Marvel Comics Group. All Rights Reserved.