Marvel UK - The Avengers featuring Dr Strange, plus Shang-Chi






The Mighty Avengers were introduced into the ranks of the black and white weekly Marvel UK reprints (launched in late September 1972) in August 1973 in the pages of Mighty World of Marvel #46 and almost immediately moved on to their own weekly title in September 1973. For the first 27 issues the 36 pages of each issue ran a full Avengers story (reprinting one US issue in its entirety) backed up with one of the early 10-page adventures of Doctor Strange from Strange Tales. This formula was changed with The Avengers #28 in March 1974 when The Avengers began to feature three characters and storylines from the Marvel Universe as Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, joined Earth's Mightiest Heroes and the Sorcerer Supreme.

So let's take a closer look at the black and white content behind the glossy cover of The Avengers #66, which went on sale in the UK the week ending December 21st 1974.


Dr Strange
"...This Spell I Break Asunder!"

Originally published in Doctor Strange #173 (October 1968)
Original story title: "While A World Awaits!"

Script - Roy Thomas
Pencils - Gene Colan
Inks - Tom Palmer
Lettering - Artie Simek

Original page count: 20
Reprinted pages: 10 (+ UK produced splash page)


Since the very first issues, the Sorcerer Supreme had served as the backup feature, usually on the last pages. This time, however, the Master of the Mystic Arts was the cover star and hence, according to established Marvel UK practice at the time, even received a billing in the title of the comic itself - THE AVENGERS featuring DR. STRANGE.

  Because all of Marvel UK's titles of the mid-1970s were published weekly (in line with the general UK comic book market setup) with 36 pages to an issue, having three distinct characters and storylines in one title meant that the original material had to be cut up and serialized in order to fit this format - and as a rule of thumb, the content of one US issue was thus spread out over two weekly issues in the UK.

This instantly caused a shortage of original US cover artwork and also required new splash pages where the UK reprint actually consisted of the second half of an original issue. Which was precisely the case with the Dr Strange installment, reprinting pages 11-20 from the original US Doctor Strange #173.

Editorial and the pencilling staff involved in this process displayed some ingenuity in tackling this task, and one frequently used solution was to take a single panel from an original interior page and blow it up to full page size, adding title and credit panels. This method was also applied here, as the first panel on page 11 from the original material was turned into a splash page. This sometimes resulted in quite dramatic splashpages, but in this case, blowing up the panel and tilting it to the right even made Gene Colan's pencils not look too good and hardly recognizable. Which is probably why the editors didn't feel that starting off the actual story with the very same panel was a problem - besides ignoring the fact that they goofed and put a statement coming from Dormammu in Strange's mouth...

The story continues Dr Strange's fight against the dread Dormammu, who seeks to break open a portal to Earth at the Doorway of Dimensions and finally enslave it. However, the Sorcerer Supreme succeeds in breaking free from the mystical chains which hold him down and in a last effort, applying all his mystical force and magic, Strange closes the portal, foiling Dormammu's plans and defeating him. The world is saved from a fate it never even knew was looming, but Stephen Strange himself finds no victory for himself as he can defeat the dread Dormammu but not, it seems, conquer the loneliness his powers force upon him.

Interestingly, a deviation from the original can be found in the final panel of this story. Whilst it did end a multi-issue story arc showing the hero in a ponderous stance reflecting his own personal vulnerability, Marvel UK editorial added an additional text box with the caption THE END ?

Was Marvel UK thinking of dropping Doctor Strange as a feature in the pafes of the Avengers? Reader opinion as voiced in the letters pages was always somewhat divided over the Sorcerer Supreme. But letting him go at this point would have been a shame - after all, the original letter column of Doctor Strange #173 stated:

"Dapper Dan Adkins decided he wanted to stick to inking for a while (so) we asked Gentleman Gene [Colan] to try his hand at drawing the mystic master’s exploits.  We think that (...) with the unique inking style of newcomer Tom [Palmer], the current Dr. Strange is certainly one of the artistic high points of panel-graphic literature!" 

But in any case, the Master of the Mystic Arts would continue until being pushed out by the cancellation-displaced Conan as of Avengers #95 (mid-July 1975).

The Dr Strange installment is followed by a Bullpen Bulletin page plus two letters pages (discussed in detail further below), and after that break (assuming you read your Avengers #66 in page order) it's all change as the focus turns to the title's namesake group of heroes.


The Avengers
"To Tame A Titan!"

Originally published in Avengers #50 (March 1968)

Script - Roy Thomas
Pencils - John Buscema
Inks - John Buscema
Lettering - Artie Simek

Original page count: 20
Reprinted pages: 10


Starting out with reprinting the first half of an original US issue was, naturally, the easiest way for Marvel UK editorial to handle things, and the Avengers feature thus kicked off with the original splash page and story title. However, comparing the original colour material with the choice of blacks, whites and greytones in the Marvel UK reprints often revealed some rather odd choices which would frequently obscure the original artwork. Avengers #66 actually displays very little of this problem (quite unlike the preceding Avengers #65), but the subject found its way into its letter pages.


In the case of this splashpage, the one thing which stands out is that the Wasp has clearly taken off her gloves in the UK reprint version ... although, as the reply to this reader (who obviously was well-versed with the original colour material) pointed out, the tones were actually applied in the New York offices.

  True to most of the late 1960s Avengers material from Marvel, the story is told swiftly (spiced up by the usual loud disagreements between Hawkeye and other team members), keeping a multi-issue plot running at speed as Hercules wanders the "unknown world", finds the other Olympians, and is sent back to Earth by Zeus to defeat Typhon - who is wreaking sheer havoc and has overpowered the Avengers...

Leaving off the original story midway rarely caused a problem in terms of storytelling, as the plot was paced in a way which almost automatically gave readers a mini-cliffhanger at the bottom of each page. In this case, it was thus just the very simple task of fitting in a caption box which informed readers that this was it for this week and what would happen next ish.

Following this second feature installment, Avengers #66 switches focus again as the final pages are filled with martial arts action.

Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu
"Massacre Along the Amazon!"

Originally published in Master of Kung Fu #24 (January 1975)

Script - Doug Moench
Pencils - Al Milgrom / Jim Starlin /
Inks - Sal Trapani
Lettering - Dave Hunt

Original page count: 18
Reprinted pages: 9


Reprinting a story which was told over two original issues (Master of Kung Fu #23-24) this was part 3 of 4 in the UK installment format and therefore did not require any custom made splashpage as the original from Master of Kung Fu #24 could be used with only minor alterations (which basically meant dropping the masthead text along with the credits for colouring).

Nayland Smith and Shang-Chi have previously travelled to South America in pursuit of Fu Manchu where the evil genius seeks to acquire the plans for a secret Nazi weapon, held by a former Gestapo agent named Bucher who fled to Brazil after the war. Now Shang-Chi is lying in ambush in the Amazonian jungle and takes out and poses as one of a group of Si-Fan assassins making their way to Bucher's camp, where his group tries to spring a trap on Fu Manchu - only to discover that the evil genius is well prepared and has himself taken preemptive measures, wiping out the Nazis in a deadly crossfire... to be continued.

Doug Moench's earlier Shang-Chi stories focused heavily - and in interesting ways and plots - on the difficult relationship between Fu Manchu, who was the evil mastermind and leader of a gang of cold blooded and sworn assassins but who was also the father of Shang-Chi, adding a very special dramatic twist to this fight between good and evil.


Shang-Chi's contradictive sense of duty and loyalty towards his father would become the focal point once more in the next issue of Avengers as the Amazon story reached its climax with Fu Manchu falling into the hands of Bucher and Shang-Chi the only one who can save his father's life.

  Which, by way of logic of fighting for good, he does - only to find that Fu Manchu has managed, once more, to escape...

The frequent use of characters from Sax Rohmer's original novels during the early years of Master of Kung Fu is what prevents Marvel from reprinting and collecting this material today, simply because the House of Ideas no longer holds the rights to these properties. Strangely enough, the reference to this literary source present on the original splashpage was omitted from the UK reprint version.

Triggered by the full-blown (and mostly Bruce Lee-fuelled) "karate craze" of 1972/73 and first introduced in the UK in Avengers #28 in March 1974, the Shang-Chi feature was as close to contemporary material as Marvel UK could get - and this quickly turned into a problem. Due to the weekly publication schedule and the resulting reprint of two original US issues in one single month, the Master of Kung Fu stories had by now virtually caught up with the original material. Although January 1975 was the cover date for Master of Kung Fu #24 and thus meant that this story had in fact been in the hands of readers in the US in October 1974, this was now definitely too close for comfort for Marvel UK's editorial workflow. The end of the Amazon story arc proper was followed by what could be seen as an "Amazon epilogue story" from Master of Kung Fu #25, reprinted in Avengers #68-69 before the temporary demise of Shang-Chi as of Avengers #70, replaced by another Marvel martial arts character, Iron Fist, who had already served as a stand-in feature in Avengers #52-59.


Surprisingly enough, no indicia is included in The Avengers #66, but like the previous and the following issue it was edited by Matt Softely (who in reality was Maureen Softly) and printed in Ireland. It features a full page Bullpen Bulletin as well as one and a half Avengers Assemble! pages of letters, and the readers' attention was drawn, by means of in-house adverts, to Marvel UK's weekly titles Mighty World of Marvel and Dracula Lives.

The Bullpen Bulletin gave readers a "batty barrage of bombastic banter and bare-faced babble" (an excellent example of how Marvel UK brought its US house style to the British Isles) in the original tone of Stan Lee's friendly chatter as he engaged in a conversation with friends. Much of that information pertained to individuals and events across the Atlantic, but there was also a British element involved, such as the welcoming announcement for Duffy Vohland, who would go on to become the US editor (and later associate editor) of Marvel UK from 1974 to 1976 (Kirby, 2013), plus a plug for Stan Lee's Origin of Marvel Comics book - and even a clarification of how to pronounce John Buscema's name ("byoo-sem-a").

  Apart from the usual commentaries on the likes and dislikes of readers concerning characters, stories and art, the letters pages of Avengers #66 also featured an interesting point raised by a reader who obvioulsy had some familiarity with the original US material: the quality of tone application.

The original colour material was never reprinted by simply reducing the pages to black and white - it was reworked to a certain extent to make sure that details of the artwork weren't simply obliterated by the fact that certain colours are reduced to the same graytones.

This was done by adding "tones" - and just as reader Chris Hard pointed out, the application of this technique produced some rather odd results at the time when compared to the original material, to the extent where an image was actually changed to produce a wrong impression (such as the example of the Wasp's gloves mentioned above).

Interestingly, this was not the result of work done by someone in the UK who didn't really know the original material too well, as the reply from editorial informed readers that the tones were actually applied by Marvel staff in New York. In addition, it pointed out that the printing process used for Marvel UK's weeklies did not allow for half-tones.

This was a point which caused quite a bit of concern amongst the more experienced readers throughout 1974 and 1975, but eventually Marvel UK improved the graytone rendition in its printing and the problem disappeared. Another concern which was often raised throughout this period was the problem of availability in some places where seemingly distribution was not always fully guaranteed.

One page featured a third party advertisement by regular advertiser Matchbox, providing some period flavour from today's perspective and showing how popular military models were at the time.

And finally, absolutely identical to the preceding week's Avengers #65, the back cover in its full splash of glorious colour advertised badges featuring some of Marvel's best known superheroes. They were available, by mail order, directly from Marvel Comics Ltd, which at that time had their offices in Room 109 at 52 High Holborn in Central London.

Up until Avengers #52 cover appearances had first been dominated by Earth's Mightiest Heroes themselves (issues #1-27) and then Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu (issues #28-51) until the latter was replaced with Iron Fist who took cover billing as the newly introduced feature. From that point on, the three features of the title took regular turns in appearing on the cover; Doctor Strange's debut came with Avengers #54, and Avengers #66 was his 5th spotlight appearance up front in glossy colours.

The previous four cover appearances of Dr Strange had been a reworked cover of Strange Tales #166 and straightforward cover reprints from Doctor Strange #169, 170 and 172, but the Sorcerer Supreme's cover for Avengers #66 features original artwork by Ron Wilson (pencils) and Frank Giacoia (inks) produced especially for Marvel UK.



KIRBY Rob (2013) "The Mighty World of Marvel UK", in Back Issue #63, April 2013


First published on the web 2 April 2015
Text is copyright (c) 2015