(Updated 11/3/14 to add information on the SMASH! artist from David Roach): Last year, Marvel Comics put out Hulk: From the UK Vaults – and we completely missed the release! It’s only thanks to fan Robin Barnard that it’s now been drawn to our attention.
The book is a massive collection, compiling strips and text stories from, primarily, Marvel UK’s 1979 Hulk Comic that ran for 63 issues and featured a large number of originated strips in its first 20 issues.
Creators on that title included Dave Gibbons, David Lloyd, a young Steve Dillion (drawing “Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), John Stokes, John Bolton, Steve Parkhouse and others and, as well as original Hulk stories, saw the return of Captain Britain in a “Black Knight” strip and introduced the world to “Night Raven”.
For those wanting to track down back of the title on eBay, UK originated Hulk strips appeared in Issues 1-6, 9-20, 26-28. The UK originated “Nick Fury” strips appeared in issues 1-19 and UK originated “Ant-Man” strips appeared in issues 47-48. “Night Raven” appeared in issues 1-20.
“Black Knight” featuring Captain Britain appeared throughout the run, including the short-lived Spider-Man-led second volume, for 61 issues.
The originated Hulk tales from the hugely-popular weekly, which capitalised on the success of the Hulk TV show of the time, are supplemented with original material from contemporary annuals as well as a mysterious one-off Hulk strip from SMASH! comic, published by Odhams in 1966. Overall, the collection is about 50 per cent strip material, with the rest given over to text stories and pin-up pages etc.
The five-page SMASH! story, “The Monster and the Matador”, features Bruce Banner in Seville, Spain, tackling a corrupt bull fighter. Inevitably, the Hulk makes an appearance in the bull ring – sending giant bulls running in fear rather than face him.
What’s remarkable about that strip is that it could very well be not only the first original British Marvel strip but – quite possibly – the first ever overseas Marvel strip created anywhere, according to the excellent Marvel UK-focused Starlogged site.
While the strip was uncredited when first published, and in this collection, artist David Roach, who’s an expert on Spanish comic artists (as well as being a great artist himself) tells me he is pretty sure the art is in fact by Jose Garcia Pizarro, who, as well as drawing many Spanish comics, also drew strips for Eagle and Warren Publishing. Sadly, he lost his sight in the 1980s so no longer works as an artist.
Although some of the Hulk Comic strips were later published in the US in colour, they are featured in black and white in this giant collection, but the annual material, appears in colour, as first published.
Hulk Comic was a first for Marvel UK was, for a while, a truly British take on the superhero genre, with “Night Raven” and “Black Knight” being the stand out strips for me at the time. While the number of originated strips quickly dropped, “Ant Man” was the only US reprint in Issue One, which featured a free Marvel-published collector card album.
The strips originated under the direction of editor and, then, Marvel UK head honcho Dez Skinn, were created to reflect the style of the TV show, so as to not alienate new and casual readers who only knew the character’s screen incarnation.
Skinn appeared on a primetime BBC One documentary, The Persuaders, talking about the success of marketing the Hulk comic and products. The next day he had a meeting with BBC Enterprises (today: BBC Worldwide), the BBC’s commercial arm, to discuss his proposal for a regular Doctor Who comic. The BBC managers were apparently impressed by his TV appearance… and granted the license.
As well as the Hulk Comic strips, Hulk: From the UK Vaults features a selection of covers (including covers from the short-lived second weekly volume), pin-ups, free gifts and miscellaneous artwork.
The cover of the first issue was, by the way, drawn by Brian Bolland, but editor Dez Skinn apparently didn’t feel he’d captured the TV Hulk.
“My first professional encounter with Marvel was for Marvel UK, a Hulk cover,” Brian Bolland recalled in 2012.”The editor didn’t like my version of the Hulk’s face and arranged for a John Romita (I think) Hulk face to be stuck over the one I’d drawn. This led me to think there was a strict Marvel house style based on Jack Kirby, John Romita and others that had to be adhered to. I wasn’t very happy with my first encounter with Marvel.”
(In fact, it was Paul Neary who Dez Skinn ordered to replace Brian’s Hulk face with art by Sal Buscema – something I got the distinct impression he was a bit uncomfortable about when he told me one day back in my Marvel UK days, but he also recognised why Dez had demanded the changes).
Sadly, tidbits like this about the origins of the featured strips and other material aren’t covered in the collection. Like others, I’d argue the lack of a background article is a bit disappointing. For more on Marvel UK’s Hulk Comic, I’d therefore recommend popping over to Dez Skinn’s own web site for more on the origins of Hulk Comic – or take a look at this feature on the for a guide to the Hulk’s UK history.
• Hulk: From the UK Vaults is available in print and collects material from SMASH! Issue 38 (cover date 22nd October 1966); Marvel Storybook 1967; Hulk Comic Issues 1-6, 9-20, 26-28; Incredible Hulk Annual 1979; Hulk Annual UK 1980-1984; Super-Heroes Annual 1991; Wickid Issues 5, 9, 11, 25, 43, 49; and Marvel Rampage Issues 1, 7, 9, 12-14, 17, published in 1978.
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