Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

It’s the four issues from 1985 of Marvel UK’s Spider-Man Weekly reprint series, that began its sudden and mistifying attempt to shed its existing teen readership in favour of one half its age.

Unsurprisingly, these issues also began the decent towards the title’s inevitable cancellation six months later.

With issue #634, the new production team retitled the mag The Spider-Man Comic and began replacing all the established Marvel Universe strips with material from outside the generally accepted canon. Spider-Man’s decades-old storyline was suddenly dropped in favour of rather more generic fare. Readers who had previously enjoyed the mag for all its super-powered battles were now being invited to send in their funniest rib-ticklers. But on the plus side, the first two issues did come with free transfers!

(admittedly some of the transfers were the same)

These four issues principally reprint two Spider-stories.

The first is Danger In Denver! which is set in the world of the old Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends TV cartoon, featuring as it does our hero together with his flatmates Iceman and Fire-Star.

In the US, this hadn’t even been printed in a regular Marvel Comic. This strip was especially created for a free advertising supplement within the Denver Post.

So throwaway had this insertion been, that apparently someone had even thrown away the original printing plates. Look at the colour, or rather lack of it, in this panel:

And now imagine it in black-and-white.

The second story – the earlier published Southwest Showdown! - looks much clearer, and had originally been distributed free with both the Dallas Times Herald and Tulsa World, as well as through the now world-famous Sanger Harris store. World-famous since this strip got reprinted by Marvel UK anyway. These strips had after all originally been written just for shoppers and their kids, so take a look at these six panels, and ask yourself if you feel like buying anything...

As an impressionable fourteen-year-old, after reading this story I realised that I really needed to go out and buy some clothes. At the Sanger Harris store in Dallas. And I told my parents that I wanted to become a cheerleader.

It's hard to fathom just who these UK editions were really aimed at, but I guess it was very young British girls, who were fans of rugby, and shopped in Texas.

The back-up strips, which for the past ten years had featured a dazzling array of other Marvel super heroes, didn’t fare much better, replaced by reprints from Star Comics that were very definitely aimed at pre-teens.

Writer/Artist: Bob Bolling
Letterer: Grace Kremer
Colours: George Roussos
Editor: Sid Jacobson
Executive Editor: Tom DeFalco
Editor In Chief: Jim Shooter

Making it difficult for themselves from the outset, Willy The Wizard was a reprint from the US of Wally The Wizard. Why did they change the name? Your guess is as good as mine.

Whatever the reasoning, it required Marvel UK to rewrite the title character’s name every single time it was mentioned, along with all the other words they so liked to Anglicise. Joyously, they miss an instance on the very first page, when Marlin is actually telling-off Wally, sorry I mean Willy, oh whatever, for getting his name wrong!

If the irony was intended, then I’d like to know what excuse they had for again calling him Wally in the narration the following week…

Minor spelling errors aside, I’ve got to say that I really enjoyed this opening four-parter, entitled A Plague Of Locust. It’s pun-laden and very funny. Why aren’t there more strips like this?

Queen: (viewing events through the watchtower window)"Sir Flauntaroy! He’s been unhorsed… by a chestnut tree! No, I believe it’s an elm!"

King Kodger: "Is the sap running?"

Queen: "No! He’s out cold!"

Writer: Stan Kay
Art / Colouring: Marie Severin
Lettering: Grace Kremer
Editor: Sid Jacobson
Executive Editor: Tom DeFalco
Editor In Chief: Jim Shooter

The other back-up strip is Fraggle Rock in The Magic Time Machine. This one also impresses, being very true indeed to the original series. Not just in getting its facts right, but the characterisations, structure and tone too. Fraggle Rock was a much deeper show than it’s generally remembered for, and this spin-off outing is true to all of that.

Yet again though, Marvel UK managed to fumble their presentation of it.

In the US TV series, the human character was an American named Doc, who owned a (muppet) dog called Sprocket. When the show was sold overseas, these scenes would be refilmed with a local actor playing a completely new character, who also owned a (muppet) dog called Sprocket. This grounded the show as being set fairly nearby wherever it was viewed. In the UK, TVS got through three different actors playing three different humans (the Captain, PK and BJ) over the course of the show’s history.

With this in mind, (or maybe just because they couldn’t use the American actor’s likeness, I don’t know) the US comic strip deliberately hid the human character’s face, presumably expecting overseas reprints to simply replace the name ‘Doc’ with whatever the local one was. You gotta admit, Marvel UK should have taken to this idea like a duck to water.

Well, they missed it, which is such a shame. They would have been so good at that. Maybe they needed TVS’ permission or something. But all the same, in this first story Doc does only get name-checked in the opening narration and UK-originated recaps!

These issues also feature two British strips by Lew Stringer - Snailman and the suspiciously titled Captain Wally. These days Mr Stringer writes a hugely informative, and entertaining, blog about comics that I sometimes dip into, but twenty-five years ago these strips betrayed nothing of that knowledge. Both are about a comedically terrible super hero, and both appear to have been written for readers who are rather unfamiliar with the genre.

The inside back-cover of each issue reprints one-pagers from Spidey Super Stories, a US comic that tied-into the Children’s Television Workshop’s Electric Company TV show. After these four issues, material from this educational source would supply the lead Spider-Man strip, with predictably disastrous consequences.

These four issues therefore represent the title’s month-long segue from aiming for a teen audience to aiming for a pre-teen one. It’s an odd kind of mixture, because although the overall tone begins to talk-down, some of the old features still remain, almost apologetically. The Hallowed Ranks Of Marveldom! - a list of honourary abbreviations describing how obsessed the reader is with collecting Marvel Comics – just doesn’t belong in a comic aimed at children too young to have much pocket money.

And as for the back page of issue #637… well!

Sleep tight kids!


2 comment(s):

At 11:32 am, Anonymous Faiz R said...

Boy, this bring back memories! It was around this time I switched to the US comics, the distribution of which was getting rather good in South Wales. But it was so sad to see the once mighty Marvel UK title go down this pointless route. I stuck with it, right until issue 666... When Spidey came back with Zoids, I supported that too, until it, too, folded. Happy days!

At 2:26 pm, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Thanks for sharing Faiz - I'm glad the memories are happy ones. :)


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