SPOTLIGHT ON

MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL #1

50 YEARS OF
MARVEL UK

 

 

HULK
"The Coming of the Hulk"
(10 pages)
Originally published in Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962)
Story - Stan Lee
Art - Jack Kirby
Inks - Paul Reinmann

FANTASTIC FOUR
"The Fantastic Four"
(13 pages)
Originally published in Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961)
Story - Stan Lee
Art - Jack Kirby
Inks - George Klein
Lettering - Artie Simek

SPIDER-MAN
"Spider-Man"
(10 pages)
Originally published in Amazing Fantasy #15 (September 1962)
Story - Stan Lee
Art & Inks - Steve Ditko
Lettering - Artie Simek

 

Mighty World Of Marvel #1
(UK, October 1972)

 

 


Smash #17
(28 May 1967)

 

PRELUDE:
BRITISH MARVEL REPRINTS IN THE 1960s

British comic book readers had previously been subjected to having Marvel superhero material reprinted in ways which seemed haphazard at best.

In the early 1960s, London based Alan Class Comics started publishing Marvel superhero material, but in absolutely random order and with no regard to continuity whatsoever. Readers had no guarantee that a character would appear in consecutive issues of a title, or even in the same title.

Class lost the rights to publish Marvel characters in 1966 to Odhams Press of London, a subsidiary of IPC. Marvel superhero material was reprinted under the banner of Odham's Power Comics imprint brand, eventually comprising five weekly titles: Wham!, Smash!, Pow!, Fantastic and Terrific.

 

Whilst the first three of these titles featured traditional British comic book strips with only a small amount of Marvel material as backup feature (reproduced to the standard UK comic book market format, i.e. in black and white and serialized in weekly installments), Fantastic and Terrific were more magazine-like in style and featured mainly Marvel content (Stringer, 2008).

In order to make the material fit their classic British comics page size (9.75" x 12", compared to the standard US 7.125" x 10.5"), editors would cut up and rearrange panels (and sometimes even leave out a few), resulting in entirely different page layouts.

Odham's even got a mention in the March 1968 Bullpen Bulletin (although the actual message was that, in spite of Odham's reprints, Marvel was still shipping select US colour titles to the UK news stands), but their presentation of Marvel material from 1966 to 1968 was rather special.

Whilst editorial copied the style of Stan Lee's banter heavily, the word "Marvel" was never spoken (apart from the statutory copyright notice in small print). Instead, they referred to themselves as "Power-House" and told readers about the "progress of Powerdom". In addition, all five titles - Wham!, Smash!, Pow!, Fantastic and Terrific - carried a "Power Comics" logo that beared absolutely no resemblance to any Marvel Comics logos.

Ironically, Odham seemed to soon run out of power, as the five titles were gradually merged throughout 1968 into Smash!, and the last Marvel material (which had by that time seen a greatly decreased page count per issue) was published in Smash! #162 (8 March 1969).

For the next three and a half years, there were to be no more Marvel reprints for the UK comic book market - until the arrival of Mighty World of Marvel #1 in October 1972.

 


Bullpen Bulletin, March 1968 (above)
Odhams in-house ad (below)

 

 

WELCOME TO THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL

 
On the last Saturday of September 1972, a new comic book appeared on British newsagent stands. Cover dated "week ending Oct. 7, 1972", Mighty World of Marvel #1 heralded a fresh start for Marvel's superheroes and the beginning of Marvel's own UK operation. As such, the well chosen title was both symbolic and programmatic.

Marvel UK, as the House of Ideas' British imprint would soon be known as, finally brought some sense of order and chronological continuity to the superhero material reprinted for readers in the UK. This new approach was spearheaded by Mighty World of Marvel #1, 40 page first issue had a real and lasting impact on the British comic book scene, kicking off with a cover by John Buscema and contents starting with the origin stories of the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man.

 
 
British comic books at the time were generally published weekly, with predominantly black and white content. The Mighty World of Marvel - which would soon acquire the affectionate acronym of MWOM - followed this formula, although the first few issues featured single tints of so-called "spot colours" on certain pages; the tone chosen was a light green, which at least made perfect sense for the opening story featuring the Hulk.
 

 


The spot colour certainly did set aside this reprint of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Hulk origin story from its first offering to British comic book readers, which had been published in June 1968 by Odhams Press in Fantastic! #70 (and who, for reasons only known to themselves, had started the Hulk reprints in Smash! a year earlier, in 1967, by skipping this story and going straight to the yarn originally published in Incredible Hulk #2).

Titled "Part 1 - The Coming of the Hulk", Mighty World of Marvel #1 actually fused the first two chapters from Incredible Hulk #1 into one, omitting the original title page to chapter 2 ("The Hulk Strikes!") and thus bringing the page count down by one to ten pages. Six of these have the green tint (pages 1 through 5 and page 8), four are rendered in standard black and white.

Most readers at the time would not have been aware of the fact that the omission of the original second chapter's title page wasn't, in fact, the only editorial change, although most of them were rather subtle, such as cropping some panels at the bottom of pages slightly in order to fit the British page size (which was wider than the standard US comic book page) better.

 


Mighty World Of Marvel #1
(October 1972)

 
Page 6 from Mighty World of Marvel #1 and Incredible Hulk #1 illustrates this cropping, which takes quite a bit off the bottom three panels of the original material. On other pages, the cropping was, however, far less noticeable.
 

  More importantly, of course, was the change to the colour of the Hulk's skin. Whereas the green tint hinted at the classic green, the "jolly green giant" had in fact been a grey giant in his first appearance back in 1962.

By the time his origin story was reprinted in April 1968 in Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #14, Marvel switched the colouring to reflect the by then established green skin.

Whilst this was of no real concern for the spot colour / black and white pages of Mighty World of Marvel #1, editors did fall back to the 1968 reprint - simply because it too had split the origin story in two and thus conveniently featured a text blurb (obviously absent on the original 1962 page) pointing readers to the next issue.

 
The Hulk would prove immensely popular with British readers, quite possibly even outranking Spider-Man.

Not only did Ol' Greenskin thus become the star-billed feature of MWOM (as of issue #38 in June 1973), he also appeared on almost every cover, week after week, over the course of the next few years.

 


Incredible Hulk #1 - Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #14 - Mighty World Of Marvel #1

 

 

As with the Hulk story, most of the pages of the segment featuring the origin of Marvel's First Family from Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961) are printed with the green spot-colour (story pages 1 through 10 plus page 13), with only two pages in actual black and white.

Fitting three different features into 40 pages inevitably meant that material originally published in one single issue had to be cut up into segments - something that would become a characteristic trait for Marvel UK's reprints (with only few exceptions).

As with the Hulk segment, the FF feature thus only features the first 13 pages of Fantastic Four #1, i.e. their actual origin story, whereas their subsequent encounter with the Mole Man appeared in Mighty World of Marvel #2. Given the weekly publication schedule, the segmentation of features never really felt awkward (even when it was cut down to only five pages). It also made sure that Marvel UK wouldn't run out of material to reprint (something that would happen all the same and soon enough).

 


Mighty World Of Marvel #1
(October 1972)

 
What does, however, set the Fantastic Four segment apart from the Hulk's origin story on the preceding pages of MWOM #1 are the numerous - and sometimes quite substantial - editorial changes made to the dialogue in comparison to the original material.

On page 25 (which corresponds to page 9 of Fantastic Four #1), editorial not only replaced the original "Commies" with "Russians" in panel 2 (even Odham's felt compelled to redact that, using "someone" instead for Smash! #28 in August 1966) but actually opted to delete no less than three speech balloons in panel 4.

 

 


  This was done with the intention to eliminate any mention of or referal to the relationship between Reed Richards and Sue Storm (along with some jealousy on the part of Ben Grimm). Exactly why this rather core element of the FF's team dynamics was suppressed for British readers in 1972 is anybody's guess.

There was, as a consequence, more elimination of romance on page 28 in panel 1 (corresponding to page 12 of Fantastic Four #1), when Reed exclaiming "Thank Heavens!! You're all right my Darling!" is toned down to "Don't be scared Sue! You're all right!".

The change to dialogue in panel 2 on that same page seems just as unnecessary - editorial obviously deemed "purposely" as being either too American or too convoluted and replaced it with "on purpose".

Since the decision had been made to blot out the fact that Sue is Reed's fiancée, further changes were needed on that same page. In panel 5, "Run, Reed, Darling!" becomes "Run Kids!", and Ben's vocal jealousy is completely changed, even resulting in a much smaller speech bubble.

In panel 6 this then goes from "I'll prove to you that you love the wrong man, Susan!" to "I'll knock your block off! And then (...)", whilst Reed's "No, you don't!!" is changed to "Not today you won't!".

 
 
Possibly judged to be adjustements that would render the FF story better adapted to British readers, editorial input of this kind quickly dropped to a trickle. The one constant, however, was the substitution of the early 1960s political lingo such as "commies" and "reds" with more neutral terms that were somewhat more in tune with the language of the early 1970s.
 

 

Apart from the spot colour pages, Mighty World of Marvel #1 also featured a total of four full-colour pages, one of which was to be found between pages number 7 and 8 of the Hulk story and featured a "Mighty World of Marvel Pin-Up Page".

In actual fact this was, of course, a reprint of the cover of Fantastic Four #1 with a number of alterations: All of the original logo and cover text was dropped and replaced with two new blurbs, explaining that what readers saw here was one of the "marauding minions" of the Mole Man - who (as per the second blurb) would feature in the next issue of MWOM, available the following week.

The cover was also recoloured for the purpose of depciting all FF members other than the Human Torch wearing blue costumes, even though the cover of MWOM #1 was the only place where readers got to see the FF in colour.

 

 
The Fantastic Four would enjoy a very long run within the pages of Mighty World of Marvel (albeit always taking a back seat to the Hulk) before moving to the (rather infamous) landscape-format Titans in April 1976 - after having clocked up a total of 186 issues of MWOM.
 

 

The third and final superhero introduced in Mighty World of Marvel #1 was Marvel's by then flagship character: the Amazing Spider-Man.

For this first web-swinging outing around the block, Marvel UK went back to the actual origin story from Amazing Fantasy #15, which had been overlooked by Odham's and only reprinted once before in the UK, by Odham's chaotic predecessor, Alan Class Comics, in October 1964 in Out Of This World #17.

The only change made to the original material was the omission of page 7, which was the "Part 2" title page. Most pages were reprinted in the green spot-colour (which could actually fade to a light blue in places), namely story pages 1 and 2 along with 5 through 9, with only pages 3 and 4 being rendered in actual black and white. The final page, on the outside back cover, was even printed in full colour.

Spider-Man would be the first of the original MWOM line-up to receive his own weekly title, Spider-Man Comics Weekly (which would also introduce Thor and later on Iron Man), in early February 1973.

 


Mighty World Of Marvel #1
(October 1972)

 

 

 

"WOW! WE MEET AT LAST!"

 
Two of the three stories featured in Mighty World of Marvel #1 had been reprinted by Odham's Press five years prior - but this was a fundamentally different approach. This was the real deal, coming straight from Mighty Marvel, and the comic book's title was, of course, programmatic - even more so since there is pre-production evidence showing that it may initially have been planned as "Wonderful" World of Marvel (Cook, 2022).

A big part of accentuating all of this was presentation - and what better way to bring "Mighty Marvel readers" up to speed with the Marvel philosophy and the company's friendly banter with its readership than to run a welcoming "special message" from Stan Lee.

 
  Placed on the centerfold double-spread (pages 19 and 20) and printed in glorious colour, Stan (not The Editor or any other formal moniker) used his avuncular hyperbole to let readers know that Marvel was "comicdom's most talented team of artists and writers" who had come up with "the world's most powerful and most popular superheroes".

He also made it clear that the "supersensational" Might World of Marvel was "more than just a name" - it was a "ticket of admission to the most fantastic fun and adventures of all time".

And finally, but maybe even most importantly, Stan let readers know that

"As a mad Marvelite, you're more than just a reader - you're a friend! So drop me a line soon as you can, I'll be waiting, hear?"

The very same double-page editorial also greeted readers with a blurb stating "Congratulations! You've entered the Mighty Marvel Age of Comics and the excitement is just beginning!"

The launch of Marvel's UK imprint was a huge success, and a key element was its authenticity. This was the House of Ideas at work, and readers in the UK now got their real share of Merry Marveldom - not only its visual house style, but also its friendly and chatty (often tongue-in-cheek, and sometimes waaaay over the top) editorial style as established by the Maestro Supreme Stan Lee. It all was essential in creating a sense of community.

 
Having the original and not a watered-down copy was a first for British comic book readers - and it struck a welcome sentimental chord with seasoned readers accustomed to the US publications. The "Bullpen Bulletins" were a feature of the UK weeklies as much as they were of Marvel's US comic books, and during the first two years of Marvel UK also contained an anglicised version of Stan Lee's soapbox, in which he presented news from the world of Marvel to British readers. The style, however, was unchanged - readers received this input ("nutty news") on an eye to eye level ("from one Marvel madman to another").

"What I always tried to do with Marvel was to make it seem like a club, like an inner group that we knew about and the outside world wasn't even aware of. If you read Marvel you were on the inside, you were hip, and it was sort of an exclusive thing, limited just to Marvel readers. And I tried to talk to the readers as if they were friends, not readers, so that not only - hopefully - did they enjoy the stories, but they enjoyed being part of the Marvel mystique if you might say, and I'm probably making it sound much more profound than it really was, but that's the way I looked at it (...) to let the world know about the marvelous world of Marvel. So in that sense, I guess I was a little bit of a huckster." (Stan Lee in NN, 2003)

Just as their American counterparts, Marvel UK's titles also featured regular in-house advertising - which always served a double purpose at the House of Ideas.

 


Avengers #26
(March 1974)

 

Firstly, it was, of course, a way of telling the readers of one comic book title that there were others available which would be just as interesting. But secondly - and just as importantly - the in-house ads also served to establish and strengthen the Marvel house style.

Comic books weren't just good, they were "triumphs" and "dynamite" from "magnificent Marvel" on the move as the advertising followed the same flashy and often bigger than life presentation seen in the stories and in editorial copy.

Quite simply, Marvel not only excelled at presenting its actual product, but just as much at presenting itself. Set up and guided by the master of the soapbox, Stan Lee, Marvel were masters at impression management, and Marvel UK was setting out on a proven path with Mighty World of Marvel and other weekly titles to follow.

 


Spider-Man Comics Weekly #47
(January 1974)

 
Quite often (and understandably so), this meant more than just emulating Marvel's advertising house style, as the following comparison between a 1970 US and a 1974 UK example shows. Lifting elements straight off of previously used material not only guaranteed an authentic look and feel, it also saved time and money.
 

 

 

PUTTING TOGETHER THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL UK

 
Mighty World of Marvel #1 was published by Marvel under the newly set up corporate name of Magazine Management London Ltd, the imprint affectionately labelled "Marvel UK" both by fans and staff.
 
 
Stan Lee was heavily into an "international dream" (Kirby, 2019) for Marvel, but nobody had originally planned or intended for the House of Ideas to publish its material in the UK themselves. It was only when a collaboration deal with London based comic book distributor Martspress Ltd (Beal, 1997) fell through - leaving Marvel with a substantial investment at risk - that they came to the conclusion and decision that they would go it alone (Kirby, 2019).

A contract was already in place with Pippa Melling (née King), who had previously worked for Odhams Press and brought her experience in breaking down and editing Marvel material from monthly to weekly sequences to the project (Murray, 2017). She remained the editor of Mighty World of Marvel, as per the indicia, up until issue #28 in April 1973, followed for one single issue by Peta [sic] L. Henley, and then Petra L. Skingley - possibly one and the same person, since Petra Skingley was later dubbed both Peter L. Skingley and Peter Allen in the indicia (somebody must have felt that "boys comics" should have male editors, even if by "pen name" only). Both Melling and Skingley were based at 120 Newgate Street in London, but Marvel UK was, to all intents and purposes, launched and initially directed out of Marvel's NYC offices.

 


Tony Isabella

  The practical task of getting Marvel UK up and running was handed to Tony Isabella - a newcomer of a mere 21 years of age, indicating that this was clearly seen as an entry-level job (Murray, 2017).

"I started working at Marvel Comics on Halloween, 1972. My first job was editing weekly reprints for Great Britain, working very closely with Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Sol Brodsky." (Tony Isabella in Mithra, 1997)

The strategic side of things rested with Sol Brodsky, one of the original three employees of the House of Ideas (together with Stan Lee and secretary Flo Steinberg) who was described by Lee himself as his "right hand" (NN, 1998). As vice-president (operations) he was the person overseeing Marvel UK amongst other things such as the Marvel Books brand.

 
Marvel UK was thus deeply rooted in the inner sanctum of the House of Ideas - a UK bullpen within the famous bullpen, so to speak, as Isabella coordinated the necessary work out of 575 Madison Avenue, including his own creative input.

"I definitely wrote some of the even more absurd topper lines for the British weeklies that Marvel was producing around the same time, the result of our frequently clueless UK partners thinking we should make our weeklies look like every other British weekly (...) this sort of disconnect between the Marvel offices and the folks across the ocean." (Isabella, 2017)

"Topper lines" couldn't really be called neither the norm nor a definitive trait of British comics at the time, and Marvel UK only used them for a very short period of time in 1973/74 - so this may actually have been a misunderstanding on both sides of the Atlantic.


Spider-Man Comics Weekly #47, page 2 (January 1974) / Avengers #25, page 8 (March 1974)

They acted as something akin to a chapter title for each page, possibly with the intention to increase the suspense of expectation, or - as in the examples above - or clarify context used on that page (spelling out "E.S.U." as Empire State University or explaining "his laboratory" to be The Laboratory of Fu Manchu!).

 

But Tony Isabella's statement sums up the work distribution for the UK reprints very clearly - anything to do with the actual content material was handled by Marvel staff in New York (to which Isabella kept recruiting individuals such as Tom Orzechowski, another newcomer, who did lettering retouches), leaving the London office to contend with editorial chores, administration, advertising and distribution.

The editorial work at London's 120 Newgate Street soon included handling the letters pages, the first of which appeared in Mighty World of Marvel #5, on sale the first week of November 1972. As the Marvel UK titles grew in number and became more and more successful, the number of London based English staff went up accordingly.

Holding the reigns of the production process on the US side of things seems to have been something of a revolving door job. Isabella wasn't associated with the task very long, and artist Dave Hunt, who did some cover, splashpage and centerspread artwork for Marvel UK, all out of the New York City offices, recalls Marie Severin being involved in the earlier stages of the enterprise (Hunt & Benaka, 2018).

 


Mighty World of Marvel #5
(November 1972)

 
By 1974 several individuals (Pete Iro, Jim Salicrup and David Cohen) were involved with various tasks for the British reprints out of NYC, and in mid-September 1976 no other than Larry Lieber was put in charge - a fact highlighted by his brother Stan Lee in his famous Soapbox column.

"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 1976)

 


Mighty World of Marvel
#43
(July 1973)

  A sign of the growing role and importance the UK based staff were playing was mirrored in the fact that Mighty World of Marvel #43, on the newsagent stands in late July 1973, featured the first "Message from the Bullpen" - and in this case, the Bullpen was based in London. Whilst featuring the occasional input from Stan Lee and news about Marvel in NYC, it contained mostly text relevant to MWOM and Marvel UK's operations.

But Isabella wasn't wrong inseeing some disconnect in the transatlantic enterprise of putting together Marvel UK. As the number of London staff grew, the local editors would be pointing out to readers at fairly regular intervals that certain things were simply out of their hands and control, since that was all "done in the US".

A random yet typical example of this can be found on the letters pages of Avengers (UK) #66 (December 1974). Comparing the original colour material with the greytones added to the black and white Marvel UK reprints often revealed some problems, some of which would even obscure the original artwork to a degree. In reply to a reader complaining about this, editorial stated that

"We've a growing feeling that those against the tone are convinced that it is added to the original Marvel pictures by someone in England - someone not necessarily sympatico with Marvel. Not so! The tone is placed upon those pix in the Marvel Bullpen in New York. Never doubt that. So now, if you disagree with it at least you know who it is you're disagreeing with!" (Avengers (UK) #66 , December 1974, Letters page).

 

 

THE IMPACT OF THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL

 
The Mighty World of Marvel would clock up a staggering 329 weekly issues between early October 1972 and mid-January 1979, and witness the coming (and going) of many spin-off and companion titles. Although retaining its numbering, it lost its "Mighty World of" moniker and simply became Marvel Comic as of issue #330, and as of August 1979 what once used to be MWOM was merged with Spectacular Spider-Man Weekly, erasing almost all traces of the comic book that had started it all for Marvel UK. It was, quite simply, a time when comic books generally had a hard staying afloat, let alone being "mighty".
 



Mighty World of Marvel
#35
(June 1973)

  But back in the autumn of 1972, The Mighty World of Marvel was a huge success in launching Marvel's very own weekly reprint title for the British market.

This undertaking would soon become known as Marvel UK, and working its way from the base camp that was MWOM, the imprint would steadily increase its share of the British market by launching a succession of additional weekly titles, initally all spinning out of MWOM: first Spider-Man Comics Weekly in February 1973, and then Avengers #1 in September 1973. These were followed by the simultaneous launch in October 1974 of Dracula Lives! and Planet of the Apes.

Mighty World of Marvel launched the Golden Age of Marvel UK, very much true to its programmatic title. While essentially becoming a vehicule for the Hulk as other characters spun off into their own or new titles, MWOM was always the hub - the mothership from which all things Marvel UK radiated.

 



Mighty World of Marvel #55
(October 1973)

 
It was therefore no surprise to see the Mighty World of Marvel logo featured in the ads heralding the new Dracula Lives! and Planet of the Apes weeklies.
 

  MWOM was, quite simply, more than a weekly title - it was in many ways the programmatic synonym for all and everything connected to Marvel UK.

So much so, in fact, that the title went through several publisher permutations, reaching volume 7 before being cancelled for the last time (at least for now) in November 2019 - just before Covid-19 wiped out all of Panini's UK Marvel reprint titles.

The impact that Mighty World of Marvel had on the British comic book market in the 1970s was well served by the recurring images of the Hulk on its covers - it simply smashed its way into UK comic book history, and 50 years later, these resounding shock waves still resonate.

 

 
 

 
FURTHER READING ON THE THOUGHT BALLOON
 
  There's more on the 1970s history of Marvel UK here, and some closer looks at specific titles and issues here.
 

 
BIBLIOGRAPHY
 
BEAL George (1997) "Obituary: Leonard Matthews", The Independent, 5 December 1997

COOK Steven (2022) "The Wonderful... er, Mighty World of Marvel", Secret Oranges, published online 25 August 2022

HUNT Dave & Lee Benaka (2018) Dave Hunt - An Artist's Life, Book Baby Publishing

ISABELLA Tony (2017) "Rawhide Kid Wednesday 98", Tony Isabella's Bloggy Thing, published online 18 January 2017

KIRBY Roy (1997) "Stan Lee, Al Landau, & the Transworld Connection", Alter Ego (vol. 3) #161

MITHRA Kuljit (1997) "Interview with Tony Isabella", Man Without Fear, published online May 1997

MURRAY Chris (2017) The British Superhero, University Press of Mississippi

NN (1998) "Roy Thomas Interview", in The Jack Kirby Collector #18

NN (2003) Stan Lee Interview, contained as extra feature on the double disk DVD release of the movie Daredevil (personal transcript)

 

 



(c) 2022

uploaded to the web 17 September 2022