Marvel Frontier Comics: The Complete Collection

Looking back on Marvel UK’s “Frontier” comics, on their way as a new collection in 2016

Frontier Comics Special #1

Picked up by numerous Marvel fans in mid July, Amazon has posted details of the upcoming Marvel Frontier Comics: The Complete Collection, assembling a number of strips published by Marvel UK in the 1990s as part of what was the company’s small attempt to offer a Vertigo/Epic-style range of creator-led books.

To be published by Marvel, the books featured include work by the likes of  Nick Abadzis, Charlie Adlard, Mark Buckingham, Paul Johnson and Liam Sharp, but I have to confess to being a little puzzled by the news, as I’m not entirely sure that Marvel own the rights to all of the strips… so the project might provoke some mutterings from creators whose work is to feature.

Marvel Frontier Comics: The Complete CollectionHere’s the advance information on the book, sourced from Amazon:

“A forgotten gem from Marvel UK is uncovered, dusted off and collected in its entirety for the first time! Who is Bloodseed? And what is his mission in a barbarian world of talking pterodactyls, giant lizards and remnants of technology from a long-lost civilization? Something is haunting author Sam Wantling’s dreams – could he be a Child of the Voyager? Will James Owl survive his dance with demons when he discovers that he is the heir to a great Native American spirit?

Collecting: CHILDREN OF THE VOYAGER 1-4, DANCES WITH DEMONS 1-4, MORTIGAN GOTH: IMMORTALIS 1-4, BLOODSEED 1-2, MARVEL FRONTIER COMICS UNLIMITED 1.

The release was picked up on by former Frontier line editor Michael Bennent (now Michael Wiesmuller), assisted by Gary Russell, who went on to script edit The Sarah Jane Adventures for the BBC, who tells me he’s not involved in the collection. The Frontier line was one of the first casualties of Marvel UK’s implosion and ultimate collapse in the early 1990s that saw the company’s assets absorbed by Panini UK, including Doctor Who Magazine.

The pair were consigned to a somewhat pokey office on the first floor of Marvel UK’s Arundel House in London, just up the stairwell from the Bullpen (where you’d find the likes of Liam Sharp and Bryan Hitch beavering away on various books, along on occasion with Andy Lanning, Rod Ramos and the late, great Steve Whitaker. Above them stomped the junior comics department and boys adventure. They still managed to push out some great work despite their surroundings…

 

Children of the Voyager #1
Children of the Voyager #1

In Children of the Voyager (by Nick Adadzis and Paul Johnson), Nick – the creator of the brilliant Hugo Tate and now working on Titan Comics Doctor Who – delivered a dark tale about a horror author haunted by bad dreams. The dreams become so real and threatening that he consults a witch to see if she can somehow exorcise the demon in him or find a way to relieve his dreaming. Paul Johnson, an artist whose credits include London’s Dark, Hellraiser and Books of Magic, now sadly lost to the industry and pursuing other fields of endeavour, delivered this creepy tale.

There’s a nice little review of the series here on the Behind the Times blog in 2004, and the Marvel Unofficial Appendix has a good outline of the Voyager here.

Dances With Demons #1
Dances With Demons #1

Dances with Demons by Simon Jowett, Charlie Adlard and Rod Ramos centres on Native American James Owl who lives in Beverly Hills, goes surfing, and glides his way through college. His father is a successful entertainment lawyer. All in all, his life is about as far removed from the reservation as you can get.

But James’ past has a way of catching up with him. Back on the reservation, James’ grandfather was called Ghostdancer — a man who possessed great spiritual power. Grandfather is dead now, but a demon called the Manitou still seeks his power. Once a man himself, the Manitou now slaughters them and wears their skins as clothing. It has carved a bloody trail across the country searching for the heir to the Ghostdancer’s power… and that trail leads it straight to James Owl.

Mortigan Goth: Immortalis #4
Mortigan Goth: Immortalis #4

Mortigan Goth: Immortalis (created by Nick Vince and Mark Buckingham) is certainly a title Marvel will have some claim to, as both Doctor Strange and Spitfire feature (as noted here on It Came From Darkmoor). The immortal magician – both a victim of and a challenger to Mephisto – also had a run in with Wolverine, as noted on his Marvel Wiki entry.

A page from Bloodseed by Paul Neary, Liam Sharp and Cam Smith
A page from Bloodseed by Paul Neary, Liam Sharp and Cam Smith

The sword-twirling Bloodseed (by Paul Neary, Death’s Head II artist Liam Sharp and Motormouth artist Cam Smith) is a very European-skewed title (which should come as no surprise, given Liam’s work with Storm and Trigan Empire artist Don Lawrence in his youth). Very much in the vein of Conan (but with more of an adult theme, Bloodseed has magical healing powers and is found battling fantasy monsters and giant ape-like brutes in this short-lived book.

Coincidentally, Liam dropped me a line just this morning to let me know about his new  project, Andrew Wilmingnot’s Paradise Rex Press Inc.,. complete with Afterword-cum-essay on Beardism by China Mieville, published recently by PS Publishing, There’s some information here on the book.

The wonderful It Came From Darkmoor website dedicated to all things Marvel UK has a lot more information on the character here.

Along with the mini series above, this collection also features the shorter strips featuring the characters published in the only issue of the Marvel Frontiers Comic Unlimited, which also included the strips “Evil Eye”, written and drawn by Strange Embrace and The Bulletproof Coffin writer David Hine, and “The Fallen” written by Nick Vince, drawn by 2000AD’s D’Israeli (Matt Brooker).

The Starlogged blog has a short article on the line here, published back in 2012, which notes then that Marvel had shown no interest in the characters for over 20 years. Like others, this collection is welcome, but a bit of a surprise. That said,  features some great work deserving of collection, and I’m not the only one who thinks that way.

“I would definitely recommend this collection, based on that promised content,” says Mark Roberts over at It Came from Darkmoor, the excellent blog devoted to all things Marvel UK. “Having reread all of the Frontier books a few years back I can confirm that they actually have aged pretty well.

“These were the books which seemed to be defining the direction in which Marvel UK was trying to go in those later days for the Imprint. Doing something a little different. Darker and more serious tales within the Marvel Universe.”

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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