|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
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.
|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.|
|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) .|
|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.|
|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
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...
|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.
|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
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.
|In terms of the history of Marvel Comics the Sub-Mariner is a pivotal and important character. He was Marvels 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.|
|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
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 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...|
|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
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
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.
|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.|
 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