INSIDE MARVEL UK'S AVENGERS #28 (1974)

 
 

MARVEL UK

INSIDE

THE AVENGERS #28

MARCH 1974

 
In late September 1972 Marvel launched its own UK imprint (commonly known and refered to as Marvel UK) with a weekly title called Mighty World Of Marvel. It was the start of a highly successful venture onto the British comic book market which would (re-)introduce a whole array of Marvel characters and a number of black and white weekly titles throughout the 1970s (see THOUGHT BALLOON #4).
 


Mighty World of Marvel #46 introduced the Avengers
(18 August 1973)

  The Mighty Avengers were introduced into he ranks of Marvel UK in August 1973 in the pages of Mighty World of Marvel #46, starting out with the classic Stan Lee & Jack Kirby origin tale from Avengers #1, and almost immediately moved on to their own weekly title in September 1973.

The Avengers also introduced a new production format - unlike Mighty World of Marvel and Spider-Man Comics Weekly (launched in February 1973) the title featured glossy covers which really embellished the newsstand appearance of the all black and white content. For the first 27 issues the 36 pages had run a full Avengers story (i.e. reprinting one US issue in its entirety) with the early 10-page adventures of Doctor Strange from Strange Tales as a backup strip. But as The Avengers #28 went on sale during the week ending March 30th 1974, this formula was changed.

 


Avengers #1 brought the number of Marvel UK weeklies to three
(22 September 1973)

 
Now, The Avengers began to feature three characters and storylines from the Marvel Universe, with Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, joining Earth's Mightiest Heroes and the Sorcerer Supreme.
 

Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu
"Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu!"

Originally published in Special Marvel Edition #15 (December 1973)

Script - Steve Englehart
Pencils - Jim Starlin
Inks - Al Milgrom
Lettering - Tom Orzechowski
Tones - Mike Esposito
Featuring characters created by Sax Rohmer

Original page count: 19
Reprinted pages: 10

 

 
Following a growing presence of martial arts throughout the 1960s in both US and British TV shows (Bruce Lee as Kato in The Green Hornet being an example of the first, and Diana Rigg's Emma Peel in The Avengers of the latter), an influx of genre movies from Hong Kong snowballed into a full-blown (and mostly Bruce Lee-fuelled) "karate craze" in 1972/73. Marvel, still in a phase of genre expansion, had acquired the rights to Sax Rohmer's Oriental villain Fu Manchu, and the way Shang-Chi came to be created is rather typical of many early Bronze Age characters.

“I [Steve Englehart] had a few friends up to my place in Connecticut for a weekend, and we were about to go out and get some dinner when Steve Harper, the artist, said he’d stick around to watch the second episode of a TV show he liked called Kung Fu. We were dubious but he put off dinner for an hour, and I totally fell in love with that show – as did Jim Starlin, who was also there. When the third episode came around, Jim and I were down in New York, and I guess Jim didn’t have a TV, so we asked Roy Thomas if we could watch it at his house. Roy was dubious, and remained so, but we remained enthralled, so without my pretense whatsoever, Jim and I created our own version of what we liked. Then Roy, who loved old pulp - as did I - had us add Fu Manchu to the mix.” (Steve Englehart in: Pearl, 2012)

 

  Thus created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, Shang-Chi was given a slot in one of the many tryout titles Marvel was running at the time and made his first appearance in Special Marvel Edition #15 with a December 1973 cover date. In stark contrast to the Avengers and Doctor Strange material featured in Avengers #28 (with both stories dating back to 1966), Shang-Chi was so recent and up to date that one even hesitates to call it "reprint material". It was more like Marvel UK was running him on the British market almost in sync with his US appearances.

An instant and huge success in the States, the Master of Kung Fu takes the center stage spotlight of Avengers #28.

 

 
The story which introduces him to the British readership is, of course, the first Shang-Chi story from Special Marvel Edition #15 - or rather the first ten pages.
 
  Shang-Chi is a master of martial arts, a "living weapon" - and the son of Fu Manchu. When sent to England and ordered to assassinate a certain Dr. Petrie whom Fu Manchu describes to his son as "possibly the most evil man alive", Shang-Chi only agrees reluctantly and only because he believes his move serves a higher and just cause. After the deed is done he is confronted by Sir Denis Nayland Smith, a former British intelligence officer, who reveals the truth about Fu Manchu: An adept in all arts and sciences and possessing the intellect of any three men of genius, he has used his immense power and faculties for the sole purpose of world domination, becoming the most infamous villain of all time - and, after having found the famed life elixier, a nearly immortal evil mastermind.

Smith carries the proof of the sadistic cruelty of Fu Manchu in his own body, maimed by the torture applied by the evil villain. Shang-Chi is shocked and abhorred, and seeks out his American mother who can only confirm the dread image painted by Nayland Smith. Revolted, Shang-Chi vows to seek out his father, who has wittingly turned him into a killer, and to seek revenge for himself as well as the many others who have suffered at the hands of Fu Manchu.

 
Clearly one of the Marvel comic books of the early 1970s where writers and artists were aiming at an audience in the teenage and older age range whilst using literary characters, it enjoyed a smiliar success as Tomb of Dracula.

"Nobody else at Marvel believed in it, but we [Englehart and Starlin] got a slot in a previously-reprint title called SPECIAL MARVEL EDITION and we co-created SHANG CHI. I [Steve Englehart] meditated for a long time on the I Ching to create his name, which means "The Rising and Advancing of a Spirit" and I envisioned the title as a companion book to DR STRANGE. After just two issues, the series was such a sensation that the the book officially became MASTER OF KUNG FU - and - Marvel added a second book, the black-and-white DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU! Shang Chi became Marvel's most popular character for years thereafter. Unfortunately, doubling my work load was something I couldn't do with such a philosophical book, and rather than crank it out, I left it. This was too bad for me, but fortunately it was taken over by Doug Moench, who went on to work with a series of great artists like Paul Gulacy and Gene Day to make it one of Marvel's truly memorable series." (Steve Englehart on steveenglehart.com)

 
Master of Kung Fu didn't really work out to be a companion book to Dr Strange, making the almost side by side appearance of Shang-Chi and the Sorcerer Supreme in the pages of Marvel UK's The Avengers all the more special.

The black and white rendition of this very first Shang-Chi story in this mag was followed only months later, in June 1974, when it was also reprinted in a monochrome rendition in Marvel's US magazine type The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #2. For the UK reprint, the colours were replaced by grey tones, for which the splash page in Avengers #28 gives Mike Esposito credit; a comparison of the coloured pages and those rendered in the UK reprint do indeed show some reworking. Another addition unique to Marvel UK's version are the various titles which for some time adorned the header of every page (including the Avengers and Dr Strange material) - a special feature of many UK comic books which was eventually dropped.

Cutting the story in half meant that some form of indication refering to the continuation of the story in the next issue had to be inserted - which in this case proved very easy as the panel of the last page reprinted in Avengers #28 left just enough space to fit in a small box reading "NEXT: SON VS. FATHER !" ...

 

 
In the US Doug Moench (who took over as of Master of Kung-Fu #21 - the book had taken on that title as of issue #17 and simply continued the numbering of Special Marvel Edition) penned the adventures of Shang-Chi in an action and espionage adventure vein and pretty much in tune with Rhomer's later original Fu Manchu books, whilst remaining true to Englehart's vision of a spiritual and philosophical (and thus reluctant) warrior who never wavers in fighting his father's evil schemes. Moench would remain the title's main writer until Master of Kung-Fu #122 (December 1982), when he left Marvel for DC after prolongued arguments with editor in chief Jim Shooter, who cancelled the title three issues later.
 


Shang-Chi

  In the UK, the arrival of Shang-Chi in The Avengers #28 meant a change in title for the book, which would now become The Avengers starring Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu for the next 25 issues - in fact it was almost as though the Son of Fu Manchu had effectively taken over the book as he became the cover feature of Avengers #28 through #51.

Master of Kung-Fu came out in 6th place in the Comics Bulletin's 2010 "Top 10 1970s Marvels" (Sacks, 2010) for its "thoughtful writing and some very intense artwork". Unfortunately, the Bronze Age Master of Kung-Fu is a title lost to reprint editions as Marvel no longer holds the licensing rights for the Sax Rohmer characters.

 
This is, of course, especially true for this first Shang-Chi story (which features all three major personae from Rohmer's novels: Fu Manchu, Nayland Smith, and Doctor Petrie) - which in its time was published very quickly in an amazing number of foreign language editions, namely Swedish (1974, Mästaren på karate), French (1974, Les Mains de Shang-Chi, Maitre du Kung-Fu, for the Canadian market), Italian (1975, Shang-Chi Maestro del Kung Fu) and German (1976, Die tödlichen Hände des Kung Fu, for the German, Swiss and Austrian market). Whilst these were all in colour, two black and white reprints (other than the Marvel UK reprint) were published in the US in The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #2 (June 1974) and Special Collector's Edition #1 (1975) - both shortened to 15 pages.
 

The Avengers
"Never Bug a Giant!"

Originally published in Avengers #31 (August 1966)

Script - Stan Lee
Pencils - Don Heck
Inks - Frank Giacoia
Lettering - Artie Simek

Original page count: 20
Reprinted pages: 10

 

 
Turning over the final page of the Shang-Chi instalment, readers found themselves in the living room of Avengers HQ - and at the start of a story from the Earth's mightiest heroes' classic 1966 period when Stan Lee and Don Heck were getting into full swing with a line-up of heroes with no original member left (although Captain America, who had joined the team in Avengers #4, felt as though he had been their leader forever) - and the in-group bickering and provocations between Cap and Hawkeye were running in top gear.

The story is to the point as Captain America, the Wasp and Hawkeye leave for South America to help Goliath (to whom the title of the story refers) while Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are back home in the Balkans, temporarily without super powers, though yearning to be Avengers once more and hoping their powers will return soon...

As is usual and typical for the mid-1960s Avengers material the story consists of a plot build-up and a subseuqent all-out fight ending with the defeat of the villain - this second part would be served to UK readers in The Avengers #29.This plot structure lended itself rather well to splitting one original US Avengers story into two segments, but obviously the last page of "part one" was required to carry some indication of the "continued next issue" type which was lacking from the original.

 

  As seen with the Shang-Chi example this would sometimes be achieved by adding a small note to an existing panel, but in this case editor Peter L. Skingley (who in reality was Petra Skingley - at the time it was clearly felt that "boys comics" in Britain should have male editors, even if by "pen name" only) opted for a flashier teaser. As a consequence, the first panel of the bottom row of that page had to go - as can be seen in comparison with another reprint version, Williams Verlag's German language Die Rächer #30 which presented the entire Avengers #31 story in colour to readers in Germany, Switzerland and Austria in March 1976 (comparing the two rows of panels also highlights how the shades were often reworked in some areas in order to get a coherent rendition in black and white - something not always done very successfully, as can also be seen from this very same row of panels).

Initially having the Avengers and Doctor Strange as backup had meant that the original material could be reprinted over 30 pages without any editorial ado at all. However, there was a problem.

 
As Marvel UK followed the standard British comic book market format by publishing its titles weekly, it was clear that by running entire US 20-page issues the British weeklies would catch up all too quickly with the original material. It really was an easy calculation to make: one US issue per weekly British issue meant reprinting four years' worth of original US material in one single year for the UK market.

The easiest solution to make the original material last longer was to cut the Avengers stories in half, resulting in ten rather than twenty page instalments per issue. This, however, meant that 10 pages required some other content. Hence The Avengers began to feature three characters and storylines from the Marvel Universe - enter Shang-Chi (and later on Iron Fist).

 

Dr Strange
"The Pincers of Power!"

Originally published in Strange Tales#140 (January 1966)

Script - Stan Lee
Pencils - Steve Ditko
Inks - Steve Ditko
Lettering - Sam Rosen

Original page count: 10
Reprinted pages: 10

 

 
The third feature of Avengers #28 is also the oldest material reprinted, dating from 1965 and published with a cover date of January 1966 in the US. At that point in time, Dr Strange, the Master of the Mystic Arts, shared the pages of Strange Tales with S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Nick Fury, meaning that he only had a monthly page count of 10.
 
  For readers of Marvel UK's The Avengers this in turn meant that they were getting full length reprints of the stories as originally presented.

In "The Pincers of Power", the dread Dormammu - who is challenging Dr Strange to a duel of magical and mystical powers - summons all the various lords of other realms and dimensions to watch and witness the fight. Using the "pincers of power" as the choice fighting weapon, Dormammu has the upper hand until Dr Strange is able to figure out how to properly use these devices and then starts gaining the advantage. Just when it appears that Dr Strange is about to win, the wicked Mordo (not wanting his master to lose) blasts Dr Strange with a mystic bolt from behind...

Dr Strange, who was the backup strip ever since Marvel UK's Avengers #1, was also something of a dark horse, tucked away in the final pages of each issue and most often only present on the cover with a blurb such as, in the case of this issue, "ALL THIS - PLUS: DR STRANGE !". It would take until Avengers #58 for the Sorcerer Supreme to actually adorn the cover of The Avengers and get the spotlight star billing.

 

 
 
The Avengers #28 also features a double spread letters page (lavishly illustrated with vignettes showing members of the Avengers in action) plus an in-house ad for Marvel UK's at the time other two weeklies, Mighty World of Marvel (or MWOM, as the acronym loving readership would call it) and Spider-Man Comics Weekly (yes, that's SMCW).

The letters display a strange fixation on typos and also illustrate how the readership at large was still in the process of acquiring its basic knowledge on all things Marvel. At the same time, it is just as striking to see how many editorial replies didn't actually answer the questions put forward... such as one reader's query if it would at all be possible to have colour interior pages.

 
 
  Also of note, on the back cover, is a competition readers could enter into and for which the first prize was an inflatable rubber dingy boat. The inclusion of the Hulk appears rather forced but of course adds visual enhancement to the slogan MAKE WAY FOR ADVENTURE! MARVEL STYLE.

In order to win one of the prizes readers had to answer four multiple choice questions correctly, which were a mix coming from English history, sealife, and the Marvel Universe. And the latter had a rather hilarious touch as one possible answer to "Iron man suffers from..." was "mental black-outs".

'

 
 
BIBLIOHGRAPHY

PEARL Barry (2012) "Lost in Licensing: Exit Fu Manchu", published online at Comic Book Collectors Club, June 27th 2012

SACKS Jason (2010) "Top 10 1970s Marvels", published online at Comics Bulletin, September 10th 2010

 

First published on the web 6 November 2014