INSIDE THE TITANS #52 (1976)

 
 

MARVEL UK

INSIDE

THE TITANS #52

OCTOBER 1976

 
Launched in September 1972, Marvel Comics' UK imprint (commonly known and refered to as Marvel UK) enjoyed immediate success, and a steadily growing number of titles reprinted US material following the standard 1970s UK comic book market format of weekly publication and black and white printing (see THOUGHT BALLOON #4).

In late October 1975, Marvel UK added another weekly title to its range of publications (the seventh in total and the fifth superhero mag) when The Titans was launched, featuring a number of well-known Marvel characters such as Captain America, Captain Marvel, the Sub-Mariner, the Inhumans, and Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (see THOUGHT BALLOON #5)

But the real novelty of Titans was its 8.5" x 11" (21.6 cm x 28 cm) landscape format, which made it possible to reprint two original pages side by side on one extra wide page. Whilst this made the individual panels of a story appear rather small, it gave Titans readers an amazing amount of reprint material per issue for their money, as a closer look at the 36 pages of The Titans #52 (on sale the week of October 13th 1976) illustrates.

 

FANTASTIC FOUR
"Death in the Negative Zone!"

Originally published in Fantastic Four #109 (April 1971)

Script - Stan Lee
Pencils - John Buscema
Inks - Joe Sinnott
Lettering - Sam Rosen

Original page count: 19
Reprinted pages: 19

 

 
Ever since the launch of Marvel UK readers in Britain were used to having several characters feature in one comic book title. As a consequence, the individual storylines in one issue could be as short as five or six pages. Given the weekly publication schedule this didn't really make the stories any harder to follow than e.g. with the monthly pause between two US originals, but it did create a distinct segmentation. The landscape format of The Titans, however, effectively doubled the page count of original material which could be reprinted, and readers were thus treated to a full length rendition of one original US issue of the leading character. This first slot had been filled by Captain America, Nick Fury, the Sub-Mariner, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, the X-Men in earlier issues of The Titans, but as of issue #30 it fell predominantly to the Fantastic Four.
 
  "Death in the Negative Zone!" comes from one of the first FF issues after Jack Kirby left Marvel, but John Buscema's pencils painted a vivid picture of a dramatic Stan Lee story as Reed, Johnny and Ben travel into the Negative Zone to stop Annihilus from succeeding in finding a pathway to the positive universe (i.e. ours).

As the conflict mounts, Reed sends Ben and Johnny back through the portal, leaving himself caught between the barrier, and Annihilus... drifting further into the Negative Zone and towards certain death in order to insure that the monster doesn't find the portal to our world - and providing us with what must surely be one of the most dramatic FF final panels ever.

 
Reprinting an entire original issue in The Titans called for no extra editorial or in-house artwork at all, but as the original page count was uneven the end page only filled half of a landscape page. This space was used either for standard advertisements or, to a lesser degree, for in-house announcements - in this case the Super Spider-Man Roadshow. The date of the event (October 9th 1976) is somewhat in conflict with the publication date given on the cover (week ending October 13th 1976) [1].
 

GHOST RIDER
"At the Mercy of Zodiac !"

Originally published in Ghost Rider #7 (August 1974)

Script - Tony Isabella
Pencils - Jim Mooney
Inks - Jack Abel
Lettering - Alan Kupperberg

Total page count: 18
Reprinted pages: 9
Original story title: "...And lose his own Soul!"

 

 
Ghost Rider had been introduced to the readership of Marvel UK's titles in The Titans #31 (May 1976) and was the most recent material to be reprinted in its pages. In this story, Tony Isabella pits Johnny Blaze (who is joined by the former Daredevil antagonist Stuntmaster) against a villain who goes by the name of One Man Zodiac. Not unlike Johnny Blaze, he sold his soul - in his case to be granted amazing powers for one full year.
 
  Battling the Ghost Rider and Stuntmaster, the One Man Zodiac shapeshifts from one sign of the Zodiac to another when the demon appears to claim his soul - because as Zodiac changed into all the signs he "passed through a full Zodiac year". As both the Demon and the One Man Zodiac disintegrate, Ghost Rider is once more confronted by Satan himself...

Reprinting the second half of the original material pencilled by Jim Mooney for Ghost Rider #7, a newly produced splash page was required as lead for the feature. Such pages were required frequently for UK reprint material (as it more often than not cut an original US issue into two or even three segments), and their quality varied heavily

 
in this case, however, there is no discrepancy as luck - and Jim Mooney - provided the UK editorial with a splash page in the original material which could be turned into the required intro page by simply pasting the character headmast, creator credits plus a title onto the original page. A not so elegant trait which was specific to the landscape format Marvel UK titles was a rather conspicuous black bar running from top to bottom in the centre of some but not all pages - an erratic feature which did nothing to enhance the overall impression of the landscape layout design.

Again, the odd number of pages left half a landscape page free for ads - or two, in this case. Both Meccano and Sea Monkeys are long since gone, but how could we ever forget them...

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA
"Cap goes Wild !"

Originally published in Captain America #106 (October 1968)

Script - Stan Lee
Pencils - Jack Kirby
Inks - Frank Giacoia
Lettering - Sam Rosen

Total page count: 20
Reprinted pages: 12

 

 
The third feature of Titans #52 presents the first 12 of a total of 20 pages of classic Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Captain America fare which revolves around a communist plot (though for once originating in Red China) to seize S.H.I.E.L.D.'s latest generation of LMDs, i.e. life model decoys, in order to discredit Captain America and the free world leaders.

Even though the iron curtain was, of course, still firmly in place in 1976, the "commie plot" theme was an exception for Marvel by 1968 (when the original story was published). Frequently used in early Thor and Iron Man issues, the House of Ideas soon realized that super villains and their own brand of evil schemes made for far more colourful antagonists.

 
  In this case, some of the spectacle was infused by way of the location as Cap goes to Hollywood to foil production of a damningly discrediting movie using a Steve Rogers / Cap LMD.

That part of the story, however, would be left to the next issue of Titans and the final 8 pages of the original material. Pushing the pause button was usually fairly easy for Marvel UK editorial as they would simply insert - as illustrated here - a text box at the bottom of the original panel reading "NEXT: ...".

 
What readers did get to see in the first 12 pages of "Cap goes wild" was a guest appareance by Chairman Mao - although ironically he had died only a month before his cameo was reprinted in Titans #52.

Together with the Fantastic Four story this is the A-List Marvel material reprinted in Titans #52 - although I distinctly remember that reading it as a 12-year old I was completely unimpressed and, besides much prefering the Don Heck Captain America I knew from Avengers reprints to Jack Kirby's, felt that the preceding Ghost Rider story had a lot more zap and wham to it.

 

PRINCE NAMOR THE SUB-MARINER
"The Chaos and the Crown !"

Originally published in Sub-Mariner #12 (April 1969)

Script - Roy Thomas
Pencils - Marie Severin
Inks - Marie Severin
Lettering - Herb Cooper

Total page count: 20
Reprinted pages: 9
Original title: "A World against Me !"

 

 
In terms of the history of Marvel Comics the Sub-Mariner is a pivotal and important character. He was Marvel’s first superhero, first anti-hero and first mutant, all in one. He has been an Avenger, an Invader, a Defender and more recently even an X-Man. Prince Namor, King of Atlantis, has been around for a very long time, and any time Marvel celebrates an anniversary (such as 75 years in 2014), the Sub-Mariner can claim the same. And yet he has never quite enjoyed the enduring success of other A-List Marvel characters since the 1960s and more often than not been something of a dark horse, only rarely enjoying runs in a comic book title of his own.
 
  "A World against Me !" from Sub-Mariner #12 (the last 9 pages of which are reprinted as fourth feature in Titans #52) stems from possibly the most memorable run of all, when Roy Thomas gave Namor depth and edge in the very late 1960s and artists such as John Buscema, Gene Colan and Marie Severin gave the stories cinematographic quality.

In this chapter Naga, emperor of a water breathing humanoid Lemurian race and bearer of the Serpent Crown (which has changed his physical appearance into resembling a snake) battles Namor, who must also withstand the illusions set forth by the Serpent Crown. During the fight, the fair Lady Dorma is accidentally killed by Namor...

 
Once again, the odd number of pages leaves half a landscape page free for ads, which in this case is put to good use to sound the drums for the launch of Marvel's very own British hero - Capatin Britain - and the first weekly from Marvel UK to feature full colour pages (see THOUGHT BALLOON #5).

Being the last third of an original US issue, this feature's segment required some form of custom intro page, and here editorial opted for a full size landscape splash page which also served to recap the rather complex storyline.

 

THE INHUMANS
"... And Finally: Black Bolt !"

Originally published in Thor #148 (January 1968)

Script - Stan Lee
Pencils - Jack Kirby
Inks - Joe Sinnott
Lettering - Sam Rosen

Total page count: 5
Reprinted pages: 5

 

 
The contents of Titans #52 come to a close the same as they started - with a full reprint of an entire original US feature. Although "full reprint" in this case still accounts for the lowest page count as "... And finally: Black Bolt!" is a backup feature from the 1968 run of Thor which as of issue #146 had switched from the Tales of Asgard to the Inhumans. Another Lee / Kirby classic, I again have a distinct recollection of having had no sense of excitement whatsoever when reading this back in 1976...
 
  Once again the landscape format in conjunction with an odd page count left half a page to be filled, and this one - on the inside back cover - featured Marvel UK's version of the Bullpen Bulletins, or in the words of editor Neil Tennant (who would ultimately find fame and fortune with the Pet Shop Boys five years later) "a ragbag of riotous repartee for our resplendently rarefied readership"...

The big news, of course, was Captain Britain and the splash of colour coming to black and white Marvel UK, but Titans readers could also note that this issue's headline act, the Fantastic Four, would be moving to the new Captain Britain weekly and be replaced by the Avengers.

 
This was rather typical for Marvel UK's editorial policy amongst a stream of merging weekly titles and changed lineups. Readers could never be quite sure that the next issue of a certain weekly title would continue to feature all characters in its next issue (see THOUGHT BALLOON #5). All in all, however, readers of The Titans had few reasons to complain. The landscape format gave them an incredible amount of stories and number of characters a week for 9 pence - in fact virtually double from what the regular format reprint titles would offer for the same price.

From a business perspective one might wonder where exactly the publisher's gain was to be found in this formula, but The Titans had actually been joined by a second landscape format weekly title, Super Spider-Man with The Super-Heroes, in February 1976. Ultimately the two landscape weeklies merged in October 1976, to become Super Spider-Man and The Titans. When this in turn became Super Spider-Man & Captain Britain in July 1977 (following the cancellation of Capatin Britain's own weekly), the title reverted from landscape back to standard.

The fact that this oddball format (which didn't work that well on newsagent racks either) lasted for more than 18 months is all the more surprising as one of Marvel UK's constant worries and woes was the fact that the weekly publication schedule meant they were often catching up on the original material way too fast for comfort.

Marvel UK wasn't all reprint, though. Leaving aside Captain Britain, a lot of splashpages and covers were produced in Marvel's New York offices for the British weeklies.

 

"Larrupin' Larry Lieber (...) has also come aboard to handle the issues which we produce for an ever-growing army of Marvel fanatics in Great Britain. Wouldja believe they're on sale weekly over there; so we're bettin' that Larry'll be kinda busy." (Stan's Soapbox, September 1977 Bullpen Bulletins, Marvel [US] Comics)

Stan Lee's brother had, in fact, already been quite busy for Marvel UK even before taking on the job as editor of Marvel's British department, pencilling covers and other material (such as the cover of Titans #51, inked by Frank Giacoia).

 

 
Due to its unusual format The Titans is not a truly typical example of a mid-1970s Marvel UK weekly, which would commonly never see a complete US issue reprinted in one go because the standard concept would feature at least three (if not more) different characters and hence storylines within the 36 pages of a weekly title, resulting in the segmentation of one US issue over two or three issues of the Marvel UK title. In this respect, the landscape format of the Titans was a real game changer for as long as it lasted.
 
  What remained absolutely unchanged, however, was the black and white rendering which was, of course, quite unlike the original. This was a point the UK price variants were eager to make on their covers with their MARVEL ALL-COLOUR COMICS headmast. By mid-1976 these special UK market print runs (completely identical with the US issues other than having a pence price and the different headmast caption on the cover) were becoming more widely and more reliably available, so the lack of colour in the UK reprints was more highlighted.

Did that cut into Marvel UK's sales? Some experts seem to think so. In my case, I happily picked up and bought the UK Titans #52 as well as the US pence price Iron Man #86 - both for 9p - from the same newsagent during a holiday in the Scottish Highlands. Firstly because the comic book market was nowhere near as saturated as it is today. And secondly, because both had their distinct appeal - so if you got the opprtunity and had the pocket money required, chances were you'd go for both the original US and the UK reprint offerings.

 

 
NOTES

[1] It is possible that the date indicated on the cover did not correspond to the actual date the issue went on sale; I bought Titans #52 whilst on holiday in Scotland for the last week of September and the very first days of October 1976, and it seems unlikely that newsagents in Fort William received their comics earlier than elsewhere.

 

First published on the web 27 October 2014