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. Following up on the first (and flagship) title Mighty World of Marvel, the most successful and best loved superhero from the House of Ideas, the Amazing Spider-Man, was given his own weekly title in February 1973: Spider-Man Comics Weekly.

It would turn out to be one of the longest running UK Marvel comic books (clocking up 666 issues over a 12 year publication run up until 1985) - a fact somewhat obscured by no less than 10 title changes along the way. The first of these occured in February 1976 when Spider-Man Comics Weekly became Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes as of issue #158, and essentially was the result of merging the successful Spider-Man Comics Weekly with the somewhat less successful weekly Super-Heroes, which had been launched in March 1975. With the British economy sliding into deep recession in 1976, both such mergers and the resulting composite titles almost became a trademark survival strategy for Marvel UK's weeklies as they braved the harsh market conditions of the mid-1970s.

Almost adding insult to injury, Marvel UK also had to fight for readers in competition with the "real deal": copies of US Marvel comics imported to the UK and sold as "Marvel All-Colour Comics" (which would eventually be known as "pence price variants"). One way of pushing and promoting black and white reprints over original colour material at the newsagent was to be eye-catchingly flashy, and the full colour covers of most Marvel UK weeklies did a splendid job in that respect. Another way was, quite simply, to be "different", and it is generally assumed that this was the reasoning behind Marvel UK's decision in late October 1975 to publish a new weekly title (the by then seventh in total) called The Titans in a 8.5" x 11" (21,6 cm x 28 cm) landscape format. Strikingly different in appearance, this highly unusual format made it possible to reprint two original pages side by side on one extra-wide page. While this made the individual panels of a story appear rather small, it gave readers an amazing amount of reprint material per issue for their money - which made it all the harder to decide whether this format was a cumbersome nuisance or a fanboy blessing. The dilemma grew when Spider-Man Comics Weekly became Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes in February 1976 and also switched to the landscape format (which previously had remained an exclusive for The Titans).

So let's thumb through the 36 pages (or would that be 72 pages?) of Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #190, which went on sale the week ending September 29th 1976.



"The Man's Name appears to be... Mysterio!"

Originally published in Amazing Spider-Man #141 (February 1975)

Script - Gerry Conway
Pencils - Ross Andru
Inks - Frank Giacoia & David Hunt
Lettering - Artie Simek

Original page count: 17
Reprinted pages: 17


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, but 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. It did, however, create a distinct segmentation which wasn't always in true snyc with the creative team's pacing for the original material.

The landscape format of Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes - which effectively doubled the page count the way it was used by Marvel UK - made it far easier to reprint one original US issue. Unlike the "original landscape" Titans, where various characters took turns in being the leading character thus treated, it would always be Spidey who got a full issue reprint in Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes.

  But having an entire US issue of Amazing Spider-Man reprinted in one British Marvel weekly was no novelty as the first 50+ issues of Spider-Man Weekly had done just that. On the up side, such a - hugely popular - concentration of Spidey material made SMW (British marveldom loved to refer to the individual weeklies by using the acronyms of their - increasingly lengthy - full titles) a winner for Marvel UK at the newsagents.

On the down side, it had the British reprints eating their way through the existing Silver Age and early Bronze Age Spider-Man at an alarmingly high speed. Once past the 50 issues mark Spider-Man Weekly would start to split one original US issue and run it over the course of two UK issues, but that only served to slow down the problem a bit - in essence, Marvel UK was still catching up with the original material at a rate of two to one a month.

Turning the cover, the action immediately kicks in on the inner cover page as Spidey finds himself in the spotlight of a patrol car as he is cruising the Manhattan streets in his Spidermobile.

A car chase is the inevitable consequence (and the pop culture quote from writer Gerry Conway that it makes Spider-Man feel "just like Steve McQueen" is possibly just as inevitable), and it all seems to go well until ol' webhead makes a right turn down an alley down by the waterfront where all of a sudden a strange purple fog obscures his field of vision - until the Spidermobile drives straight off the end of a pier and plunges into the river together with its driver - who upon resurfacing can't quite understand what happened and how what he perceived to be an alley turned into a pier...
As Spider-Man is soon to figure and find out, there can only be one person hiding in a strange mist where strange things seem to be happening: Mysterio. It has, however, been a while since their last encounter (way back in Amazing Spider-Man #67 in December 1968 - or, not quite so long ago, in Spider-Man Weekly #69 in June 1974), and this time things just seem to go from bad to worse as Mysterio has been joined by a whole gang of Spider-man's most formidable foes: the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, the Vulture, the Molten Man, Tarantula, the Jackal, Hammerhead, the Grizzly, Morbius the Living Vampire, and the Lizard.

But things get even more mysterious, as Peter Parker learns that Mysterio died in prison a year ago... to be unravelled in the next issue of Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes - which meant a mere week's wait for UK readers.

A nice little yarn featuring a villain who is so good at being bad that really he should have been brought back a lot sooner. The return of the "Spider-Mobile", on the other hand, definitely lacks that "good to have you back" feeling. Thought up by Gerry Conway for Amazing Spider-Man #127 (December 1973) after Stan Lee had been approached by Mego Toys (who really really wanted a car to add to their line of merchandising products...), it was portrayed as the result of an engineering team effort by Spidey and the Human Torch.

After 11 issues of having it parked somewhere (it had a cloaking device which made it look like any ordinary car when not in use), Conway brought the Spidermobile back out again, only to have it sink to the bottom of the Hudson River after the first few pages.


Amazing Spider-Man #127 (December 1973)

Amazing Spider-Man #130 (March 1974)

It all came, with an escape hatch, though, as Conway had Spidey thinking "They're right, I should never have dragged this monstrosity out of retirement. I'd chuck the whole thing and simply forget it, if I hadn't made a deal with those clowns at Corona Motors to build the stupid thing".
  Paired with the landscape format of Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes and its 2-on-1 page reproduction, the uneven page count of Amazing Spider-Man #141 resulted in a "mixed" page - with the final page of ASM #141 reprinted to the left and the splashpage for the following feature to the right.

While this wasn't problematic per se, editorial at Marvel UK would usually try to fill a landscape page of this type with standard advertisements or, to a lesser degree, for in-house announcements.

The reason for this can clearly be seen here: nothing makes an original US page reprinted this way look quite as small as having a blown-up UK splashpage right next to it, with word balloons twice the size but only half as much text and large bold letters spelling out the title of the next feature...

It was just one of those things which, as mentioned before, made it really hard to decide whether this format was a pain to read or, given its massive page count of original material reprinted in one issue, a fantastic deal to have. But then in this case it may just as well have served to pull readers into the next feature of Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #190, as the Mighty Thor (evidently) faces Durok the Demolisher...


"Durok the Demolisher!"

Originally published in The Mighty Thor #191 (August 1971)

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

Total page count: 19
Reprinted pages: 8 (+ UK Splashpage)
Original story title: "A Time of Evil!"


The need for additional splash pages (i.e. large, often full-page illustrations which open and introduce a story while at the same time often containing the credits for the artistic team involved) was a consequence of Marvel UK's concept of having several features in one title along with a weekly publication schedule. This meant that a story originally presented in one US comic book was published over two or three (and in some cases even more) weekly instalments.

In addition to its original function - to signal the beginning of a story segment - the splash pages in Marvel UK's weeklies also served the need to bring readers up to speed who had missed the previous instalment(s), which ultimately also helped accessibility for new readers. One approach was to take a single panel from an original interior page and blow it up to full page size, again adding title and credit panels - such as the splash page taking readers into the Mighty Thor feature running in Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #190. It is easy to see how the original panel was blown up and reworked to serve all of those purposes: adding a caption box at the top containing a recap of previous events as well as a (Marvel UK specific) title to the story, repositioning the word balloons and partly changing their contents, and finally adding a credit box at the bottom. Given that all of this involved original artwork from the material reprinted (in this case, that specific panel had been reproduced in Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #189), splash pages like this one often felt "right" (something which couln't always be said of splash pages created in Marvel's NYC offices for Marvel UK).

  In this story from Mighty Thor #191, Loki - having taken the Odin-Ring and claiming the throne of Asgard - defeats both Thor and the Warriors Three and then unleashes Durok the Demolisher, sending him forth to ravage Earth - hence the (original) blurb for the next issue: "Hell on Earth!"

The Mighty Thor had joined the ranks of Marvel UK in February 1973 in Spider-Man Comics Weekly #1 - as a backup feature. And even though the Asgardian was part of the original early 1960s "Marvel Age" and certainly an important character with regard to Marvel's publication history, Thor never really made it to the front row of Marvel UK's 1970s reprints. After a good three and a half years of being a regular feature in the pages of Spider-Man's title, he lost that slot when that weekly became Super Spider-Man and the Titans (merging the two landscape titles) as of issue #199 on 1 December 1976.


So far, readers of Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #190 had been presented with an entire US issue of Amazing Spider-Man and half an original issue of Mighty Thor - and they hadn't even reached the center pages of their comic yet. This illustrates what great value for money the Marvel UK landscape titles were - and also how quickly Marvel UK was burning through original material to reprint, based on this formula.
  However, the de facto page count of 72 pages also offered the opportunity to slot in more (mostly in-house) advertising.

Upon finishing the Thor feature, readers were faced with a page promoting two other Marvel UK weekly titles on sale at the same time as Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #190: Planet of the Apes #102 and Mighty World of Marvel #209.

The key element to Marvel UK's success in the 1970s was its authenticity - its faithfulness in reproducing both the visual and editorial house style of Marvel, established by the Maestro Supreme Stan Lee. As such, the in-house advertising always served a double purpose at Marvel. First and foremost it was, of course, a way of telling the readers of one comic book title that there were other weeklies available which would not just be interesting too but which were "more triumphs from Marvel".

And in that sense - and just as importantly - the in-house ads also helped and served to establish and strengthen the Marvel house style. Another important part of this distinctly unique and recognizable concept of communication were the regular letter pages. Involving readers was a completely alien concept to most if not all British comic book publishers, and Marvel UK not only talked to and with its readers through editorial pages, but actually asked for and encouraged readers to participate and be a part of it all - the famous "(secret) club atmosphere" which Stan Lee kept pushing and which, of course, went down well with British kids and teenagers who most likely had also had their fair share of exposure to Enid Blyton's adventure books, Secret Seven and Famous Five.

In the case of Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes letters from readers wound up in Spidey's Super Mail, of which there were two full pages in issue #190.

The letters pages in all of Marvel UK's weeklies always came with some snappy artwork, but the most interesting aspect from today's perspective is seeing how individual readers writing in were travelling at vastly different speeds through the Marvel Universe. Some were in the know about "no prizes" and how to get them, such as Paul Upton from Merseyside (he clinched one here), while others clearly were less seasoned fans and blissfully unaware of the fact that these were all reprint comics and that making any suggestions as to future plots or changes in the creative team line-up were, of course, completely futile. And then there was the fairly regular stream of readers writing in about the US imports to the UK, the "pence price variants", and those asking for colour to replace the black and white printing. Editorial answered them all politely and in the house style of the club, and everybody seemed happy and continued to write in - like John Porter from Sutton.

He raised a good point in this issue of Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes when he noted that "you have a problem in that several of the stories in S[uper]S[pider-Man] are being published almost consecutively with their USA counterparts". Editorial didn't feel that way (or didn't feel like admitting it), but the problem was obvious to those who understood the American comic book market: if you have eighteen to twenty original pages a month and you reprint those on a weekly basis, you are bound to catch up with the original material, and reprinting entire issues (as in the first year of Spider-Man Weekly and now in Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes) only meant that Marvel UK would catch up with and then run out of original material fast.

  From this perspective, publishing Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes in landscape format was not only a bad idea from a commercial point of view (it was effectively a comic book sold at half price week after week, de facto offering 72 pages for 9p compared to the 36 pages of the regular portrait format weeklies, also sold for 9p in late 1976), it also had a massive editorial headache almost built into it.

The landscape format did, however, also offer opportunities the regular weeklies didn't have, such as having an almost Cinemascope-like centrespread every week.

In-house advertisement often used an entire page as well, such as the example here promoting the "Super Spider-Man Roadshow" which stopped by at various ABC cinemas throughout the second half of 1976.



"What Price Life?!"

Originally published in Invincible Iron Man #19 (November 1969)

Script - Archie Goodwin
Pencils - George Tuska
Inks - Johnny Craig
Lettering - Jean Izzo

Total page count: 20
Reprinted pages: 6


Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes had five separate features in every issue in 1976, so it was clear that it could not all be the entirety or a half of original US issues - and in issue #190, it was Iron Man who got the short end of the stick.
The serialisation into weekly instalments of, on average, six to eight pages was standard procedure for most of Marvel UK's reprint features in the 1970s. The landscape format of The Titans and Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes did allow for more material to be included in one issue, but there would always be storylines which would be cut into smaller segments. But then these segments were published on a weekly schedule, and British comic book readers were used to this formula.

The Iron Man story reprinted in Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #190 was the most vintage material - and had indeed been available to UK readers before, back in November 1969, the actual cover date of Iron Man #19.

This original US comic book had been part of a print run destined for export to the UK which therefore featured a British currency price cover (in this case still in pre-decimal currency, i.e. one shilling [1/-]) while the inside pages remained unaltered. Bulk shipping across the Atlantic resulted in these export comic books catching up with their cover date (which in the US was three months ahead of the actual publication date, giving comic books an extended shelf life).


For Marvel UK's editorial, this was something of a bothersome instalment, as this story had kicked off in US Iron Man #17 and then moved back and forth between Iron Man #18, Avengers #69, Iron Man #19 and, for its conclusion, Avengers #70. No doubt a measure aimed at boosting sales of Iron Man's title by getting regular Avengers readers to pick up (and hopefully stay with) the title, it certainly required some extra planning for reprint schedules.
  The plot is all about Midas, a gluttonous villain who like his namesake from Greek mythology, craves riches, and along the way of trying to stop him, Tony Stark / Iron Man face up with Madame Masque and a Tony Stark "Life Model Decoy" (a well-used and typical 1960s Marvel Comics plot device) with a twist in the form of having developed intelligence and now wanting to run Stark Industries itself. In the course of it all Archie Goodwin weaves in some dream sequences, which by way of their nature allow for pretty much everything, including lots of cameo appearances featuring superheroes and villains alike.
It is the kind of story that rarely disappoints its readers, not the least due to the heavy dose of Marvel Universe it conveys. More of this, however, would have to wait until the next issue of Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes. Pushing the pause button in these cases (i.e. somewhere in the page count of an original US issue) was usually fairly easy for Marvel UK editorial as they would simply insert - or squeeze in, as illustrated here - a text box at the bottom of the original panel reading "CONTINUED NEXT ISH!".


"A Valkyrie Rising!"

Originally published in Invaders #1 (August 1975)

Script - Roy Thomas
Pencils - Frank Robbins
Inks - Vince Coletta
Lettering - John Costanza

Total page count: 18 (3 Parts)
Reprinted pages: 9
Original title: "The Ring of the Nebulas! (Part Two: A Valkyrie Rising!)"


The newest material to be reprinted in Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #190, this adventure from the first issue of the Invaders' ongoing series was only slightly more than one year old - and a first for readers in great Britain. For although they would find pence price copies of The Invaders #3-40 at their newsagent, the first two issues as well as the final issue (#41) were not distributed in the UK [1].

The material was representative of Marvel's Bronze Age expansion, but the Invaders actually had their roots in the Golden Age and creator Roy Thomas' love for the characters of that era. Based on the All-Winners Squad from Timely's All Winners Comics #19 (Fall 1946) and #21 (Winter 1947), the line-up was almost identical: Captain America, his sidekick Bucky, the original android Human Torch, the Torch's sidekick Toro, and Namor the Sub-Mariner.

  Thomas first introduced them in Avengers #71 (December 1969), though they weren't called Invaders and only consisted of Namor, the original Human Torch and Captain America. The team next appeared in its own try-out title (Giant-Size Invaders #1) in 1975 followed by its ongoing series The Invaders.

Set in World War Two with the heroes fighting the Axis powers, the series introduced a number of British heroes to the ranks of the Invaders (such as Union jack and Spitfire) as well as several Nazi villains and even supervillains.

Reprinting an odd number of pages left one half of a landscape page free, and following on the heels of the Invaders instalment were the "merely magnificent meanderings that mean almost everything" - i.e. the bullpen bulletin page.

Essentially an expanded checklist of all of Marvel UK's titles on sale the same week as Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #190, it tied in well with the Invaders as one bulletpoint item told readers not to forget that "the biggest bombshell in Marvel British history is gonna happen in just two short weeks."
  Readers who possibly were in some doubt as to what editorial might be refering to found their clue on the next full landscape page.

The House of Ideas had come to the conclusion that the time was right for some original content to feature in Marvel UK's line, and turned out a character whose name said it all: Captain Britain. He was heralded as "all new", "all different", "the world's newest and greatest super hero" and, perhaps most importantly with a view towards Marvel's UK comic book market share, "all British".

Captain Britain #1 would hit the newsagent stands two weeks after Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #190, on 13 October 1976, featuring an eight page colour origin story written by Chris Claremont, drawn by Herb Trimpe, inked by Fred Kida, and - yes indeed - coloured by Marie Severin.



"From the Negative Zone: Annihilus!"

Originally published in Marvel Team-Up #2 (May 1972)

Script - Gerry Conway
Pencils - Ross Andru
Inks - Jim Mooney
Lettering - Sam Rosen

Total page count: 21
Reprinted pages: 10 (plus 1 UK landscape splash page)
Original title: "And Spidey Makes Four!"


Publishing Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes as a landscape format weekly which reprinted an entire issue of Amazing Spider-Man pushed the accelerator down in a substantial way with regard to Marvel UK catching up with the original US material. By the time SSMSH #190 hit the newsagent displays, the inventory of original material from Amazing Spider-Man had shrunk to a mere 18 months' worth of US issues; given the publication schedule at the time, that stock would last a mere four and a half months in Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes. But as the popularity of Spider-Man practically demanded a substantial presence every week, editorial even introduced a second Spidey feature.

Marvel UK thus turned to Marvel Team-Up, which had kicked off in the US in March 1972 for similar reasons that it was now being reprinted in Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes: A second title would allow Marvel to cash in on the popularity and selling strength of Spider-Man.

  As the title implies, Marvel Team-Up brought together two or more Marvel characters for one story - and the lead billing was given to Spider-Man for 140 of its 150 issues. Initially a fixed team-up with the Human Torch (as featured here), this was changed into a revolving door formula which increasingly also featured less known Marvel characters.

As most issues were self-contained, supporting casts were scarce and the plots had to come straight to the point in much the same way every issue: Spider-Man or another Marvel character encounters one or more super-villains (no less than four of them in this story: Sandman, Wizard, Trapster plus Annihilus from the Negative Zone), the paths of the two heroes cross, they help each other out, things don't go too well at first but in the end, after a lengthy fight ensues between all antagonists, good ultimately prevails.

Nevertheless, the 1970s issues of Marvel Team-Up had their own charm, due in large parts to the seasoned writers, pencillers and inkers who worked on the stories. And now Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes was providing UK readers with their first chance to actually get a taste of the very early Marvel Team-Up yarns - although the title as such could be seen at the time at newsagents who carried Marvel US comics exported to and priced for the British market.
However, the first 23 issues of Marvel Team-Up had not been exported to the UK at the time of publication so British pence price issues only became available as of Marvel Team-Up #24 in August 1974. As of then, the title was widely distributed in the UK, missing only issues #38, #81 and #102-111 [2].

The stories from Marvel Team-Up would typically be reprinted as half an original issue per weekly copy of Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes. This required a custom-made splash page for every other issue, and in some cases the Marvel offices in NYC gave their best for those. Case in point is the splash page used here - a beautiful landscape format image pencilled by Larry Lieber and adorned with all the necessary classic splash page regalia.

Due to its landscape format, Super Spider-Man with The Super-Heroes was always going to be both an oddity and a treasure chest for readers.


It was a comic book which at times felt slightly awkward but ultimately gave readers an incredible amount of stories and number of characters a week for 9 pence in 1976 - virtually double in comparison to what the regular format reprint titles would offer at the same price. Positive and negative opinions regarding the landscape orientation seemed to be fairly evenly split if the letters pages are an indicator to go by.
  The almost counterintuitive overall feel of this oddball format (which didn't work that well on newsagent racks either) is illustrated by the back cover of Super Spider-Man with The Super-Heroes #190 - in order to be able to actually read the in-house ad on posters featuring Marvel heroes and learn the details of how to get them, readers had to turn their comic book 90 degrees, i.e. to what would have been considered "standard format" orientation.

But then the the landscape format Marvel UK weeklies were not to last much longer, anyway. The Titans and Super Spider-Man with The Super-Heroes 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 Captain Britain's own weekly), the title reverted from landscape back to standard.

Unusual as it was, the landscape format of the Titans and Super Spider-Man with The Super-Heroes was a real game changer for as long as it lasted, providing readers with a massive dose of Marveldom every week. As for the size of the panels on a 2-on-1 landscape page, it should be noted that the regular Marvel UK weeklies actually blew up the original material quite a bit to fit their standard "British Magazine size".

The paper used for the British weekly was generally a superior type of newsprint in comparison to the quality grade used for US comics at the time. As a result, the Marvel UK weeklies usually kept better, but as the scans used here illustrate they ultimately were just as prone to the common paper degradation processes (most importantly yellowing) if stored in a warm place and exposed to light. To make things worse, paper used in the 1970s had a high level of acidity (as can also be seen from many paperback books from that same period).

And finally, Super Spider-Man with The Super-Heroes also illustrates that Marvel UK wasn't all reprint. Leaving aside Captain Britain, a huge number 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 Super Spider-Man with The Super-Heroes #189, inked by Frank Giacoia).


The cover of Super Spider-Man with The Super-Heroes #190 essentially uses the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #141, but due to the landscape format the group of villains facing Spidey had to be stretched out horizontally, resulting in some reworking (e.g. the altered leg position of the Jackal or the hands and tentacles of Doc Ock) and changes to the word balloons. In comparison, a German reprint of ASM #141 was able to simply reuse the original cover as such.


[1] According to the Comic Book Price Guide for Great Britain

[2] According to the Comic Book Price Guide for Great Britain



Uploaded to the web 6 May 2015