1990s Marvel UK Nostalgia: The first Overkill trading cards

Back in the early 1990s, some fantastic trading cards were given away in three early issues of Marvel UK’s Overkill, which I edited, featuring art by Gary Frank, some of the cards inked by Cam Smith.

These cards feature Hell’s Angel (later, Dark Angel), The Guide, Algernon Crowe, Colonel Tigon Liger, Master Key, Misha, Motormouth, Killpower, Death’s Head, Tuck, Purge and Digitek.

Many Marvel UK fans will have no doubt come across these images in various places online before, conjuring up, perhaps, fond memories of the debut of Death’s Head II in Overkill #12 – 14 in 1992, his arrival further enhanced by fantastic covers by Mark Harrison and Steve Sampson.

In the main, fans have perhaps unknowingly sourced them from the brilliant STARLOGGED blog, where Jon Carpenter offers more details of this first Overkill trading card set here, here and here. I hope he doesn’t mind me liberating some of his scans, too!

Overkill Trading Card - Hell’s Angel aka Dark Angel, art by Gary Frank

Hell’s Angel initially appeared in Hell’s Angel, written by Bernie Jaye, drawn by Geoff Senior. As is widely known, the book’s title and character were legally forced to become Dark Angel, after legal action from the Hells Angels to defend their brand.

Marvel UK trademarked a few of their early characters after this. We were allowed to trademark “Warheads” as a comic title, but cautioned we couldn’t apply that name to any missile the publisher might be planning to produce. No, really. I saw the paperwork.

Overkill Trading Card - The Guide, art by Gary Frank

The Guide was Dark Angel’s guide. I didn’t edit that book and don’t remember much about him. He always was fairly mysterious.

Overkill Trading Card - Crowe, art by Gary Frank

Crowe was the leader of, some of us felt later, the perhaps over-used evil organisation Mys-Tech. As I’ve previously mentioned elsewhere on this site, both Paul Cornell and Warren Ellis took stabs at writing a Mys-Tech origins book that never happened. Instead, early storylines across Dark Angel, Warheads and other titles built to the amazing Mys-Tech Wars miniseries written by Dan Abnett, drawn by Bryan Hitch.

Colonel Liger, Misha and Master Key appeared in Warheads, initially written by Nick Vince, beautifully designed by Gary Erskine, designs that still blow minds to this day, but so unique, so brilliant that, quite honestly, only Gary Erskine could make them work.

When Nick and Gary left the book after just two issues, there was a slow evolution of the character designs to make them easier to draw for other artists. Geoff Senior drew Warheads #3, then Simon Coleby gamely stepped up to the plate, with Stuart Jennett and Charlie Adlard later drawing stories written by Craig Huston.

Motormouth and Killpower appeared in Motormouth & Killpower, initially written by Graham Marks, and drawn by Gary Frank.

Editorial Director Paul Neary was fiercely protective of how these two characters should be handled, and rewrote a lot of the stories. Ultimately, he decided the script on one story was so out of keeping with his vision of the book, as incoming editor I volunteered to deliver an entirely new story to fit an issue that was already drawn, overnight.

I must have done something right, because he shook my hand at my desk after reading it, and it went straight to lettering. I didn’t run my name as writer in the issue.

Graham Marks is an extremely talented writer, who has gone on to write a huge number of YA books. Looking back, I don’t think Paul’s concerns about his early Motormouth stories were properly relayed to him, otherwise that overnight writing session would never have been needed.

Death’s Head and Tuck starred in Death’s Head II, written by Dan Abnett, initially drawn by Liam Sharp, back then Marvel UK’s most commercially successful character in terms of sales, surpassed today in terms of longevity, presence and sales in the main Marvel line by the original Death’s Head, who was conceived by Simon Furman and Geoff Senior.

During the development of Death’s Head II, Paul Neary told me he wanted a character to lead Marvel UK’s “Genesis 1992” line that wouldn’t look out of place in 2000AD. When I showed him some designs Liam Sharp sent me by fax for an entirely different character, the die was cast in his favour to deliver just that.

Liam Sharp's faxes, sent to John Freeman featuring ideas for a proposed Marvel UK mini series featuring Rourke, Monark Starstalker and Wolverine.
Liam Sharp’s faxes, sent to John Freeman featuring ideas for a proposed Marvel UK mini series featuring Rourke, Monark Starstalker and Wolverine.

Ironically, Death’s Head II was such a commercial success Marvel US bosses wanted more of the same than Marvel UK team could deliver, which led to a reprint of the entire original Death’s Head run, in The Incomplete Death’s Head. My cunning plan as editor was to have Dan Abnett write a wraparound story featuring Death’s Head II, from my outline, that represented the entire run as flashback, enabling us to feature both Death’s Heads on the book’s covers.

Spoiler alert! A certain Time Lord proved to be the manipulator of much of Death’s Head’s life, or lives. Back then, it was Marvel publishing Doctor Who Magazine, and the Doctor messed with Death’s Head before.

(For some reason, Marvel US creators never took to the revamped Death’s Head, despite the company demanding more books of Marvel UK with “Death” in their title. Other Marvel UK editors, such as Bambos Georgiou, recall Paul Neary kept a list of possible titles with the word Death in them, in his desk draw. Perhaps to pull it out when questioned by American company execs as to what was coming next and give them an option at random?).

Digitek had his own four-issue mini series, written by Andy Lanning and John Tomlinson, beautifully painted by Dermot Power, where he fought Purge and his fellow Bacilicons.

This story was probably as close to a 2000AD-styled story that Marvel UK got at the time, other than the insane idea to only feature non superhero pages from the longer US stories in Overkill.

That was a nightmare to do (I wrote one – Warheads #3, featuring Iron Man, partly to see how hard it was. It was hard!).

If you dig around on the web, you’ll find posts where keen-eyed fans have spotted accidental appearances of superheroes on some pages in early issues of Overkill, when there shouldn’t have been any.

Fortunately, early market research revealed comic readers expected to see superheroes in a Marvel book, and the excision of superheroes from Overkill was quickly dropped and their arrival promoted, in this three-issue run.

Sadly, this also brought an end to the very limited amount of strip material initially originated for Overkill, mainly “Warheads” short stories, although I did propose some short two-page strips to introduce new strips for UK fans, such as Shadow Riders, later in the anthology’s run. Some were scripted but never ran, as content plans for Overkill changed after I left MUK in early 1993 and the title went monthly.

For more on Marvel UK’s “Genesis 1992” era and beyond, including information on cancelled books and more, check out this section of downthetubes

• STARLOGGED – Overkill Trading Card Set One – detailed here, here and here

• STARLOGGED – Overkill Trading Card 3D set, illustrated by Bryan Hitch, detailed here, here and here

• STARLOGGED – MUK Plasmer Card set is detailed here

• An original Death’s Head card from the 1991 Marvel US set is here

• One more single card, promoting Clandestine, eventually published by Marvel US, was cover-mounted to an issue of Comic World magazine

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