Comic creator and archivist Lew Stringer celebrates the debut of Marvel UK’s very first comic, Mighty World of Marvel, this week, back in 1972…
The Mighty World of Marvel No.1 arrived in newsagents on Saturday 30th September 1972, with a cover date of October 7th (because all weekly comics had the following Saturday’s cover date back then). It was the first comic launched by Marvel UK, the British arm of America’s Marvel Comics, although initially the UK comics were edited and designed in New York, with a London office just handling advertising, printing and distribution.
Marvel UK no longer exists under that name, of course. For many years now, Marvel have been represented in Britain by Panini UK, who have the license to publish UK editions of Marvel Comics (and a great job they do, too). However, Marvel UK had a good run and it all kicked off five decades ago with Mighty World of Marvel issue one.
For some reason, I missed the TV advertisements back then for the launch of the comic, and the first I knew about it was a few days later when my Mum and I were about to embark on a day trip to Blackpool. Nipping into the bus station newsagent to buy a bottle of pop for the journey, I still remember the excitement when I spotted a pile of copies of The Mighty World of Marvel No.1 on the counter. My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. A weekly British Marvel reprint comic – and with a brand new John Buscema cover to boot!
Needless to say, a good portion of the coach journey to Blackpool was taken up reading the comic from cover to cover. The weather was pleasant that day anyway, but I don’t think I’d have noticed if it had been lashing down with rain as I was too engrossed in that issue.
British reprints of Marvel comics had appeared in the past by other companies. Firstly, in the 1950s with Len Miller reprinting Human Torch, Kid Colt, and more, and Odhams in the 1960s with their late lamented “Power Comics” such as Fantastic and Terrific. Alan Class had reprinted some Marvel classics in the 1960s too, mostly in a random order, in his anthology comics such as Creepy Worlds and Astounding Stories, but Marvel UK had been set up to introduce their characters to Britain for a new generation.
The Mighty World of Marvel was printed Web Offset on matt paper (like Fleetway’s Tiger and Cor!! of the time) so it resembled the familiar British format. MWOM also imitated the style of its Odhams predecessor, Fantastic, in that it was a 40-page comic comprised of an anthology of three strips, reprinting half of each of the original comics. Therefore, in the first issue we were given the opening 10 pages of The Incredible Hulk No.1, the first half of Fantastic Four No.1, and the Spider-Man origin story from Amazing Fantasy No.15. (Subsequent weeks would continue this serialised approach, so issue 2 presented the second halves of Hulk and FF and the first half of Amazing Spider-Man No.1, and so on.)
Having 40 pages, The Mighty World of Marvel (or MWOM, as it was often referred to) was a bit more substantial than the average 32-page UK comic, and its 5p cover price reflected that. Most UK adventure comics of the time, such as Valiant, were around 3p in 1972.
Like most British comics back then, full colour on every page was out of the question if they wanted to keep costs down, but rather than print in black and white MWOM alternated between green spot colour and pale green paper. (I know some readers hated this, but I really liked it. Only five pages were in full colour (increasing to eight a few weeks later). Unfortunately, all interior colour was dropped several months later and contents became entirely black and white.
The centre pages of the first issue of MWOM were used for self-promotion, and who better to present those pages than Stan Lee himself? (Although there’s no guarantee he wrote his own editorial every week). The rest of the spread was taken up with teasers for “The World’s Greatest Free Gift Offer”, encouraging readers to clip out the coupons over 11 weeks and send them in for a mystery gift. Clues were provided every week (“It’s bigger than a breadbox”) and eventually it was revealed to be an excellent full colour poster drawn by John Buscema of Spider-Man, Hulk, and the FF. (Yes, I clipped out the coupons and sent away for it, and had the poster on my bedroom wall for the rest of my schooldays.)
The free gift tucked inside MWOM No.1 was heralded on the cover as “A Green-Skinned Monster T-Shirt Transfer”. It was, of course, The Hulk, but bearing in mind this comic was aimed at a brand new readership who would never have encountered him before, the words “Green-Skinned Monster” in the topline were probably more effective.
With such an incredibly strong line up of characters and featuring some of Marvel’s most iconic stories, how could it fail? Although I’d read some of the material before in Odhams comics and American reprint comics such as Marvel Tales, I still bought Mighty World of Marvel avidly every week. I was 13 at the time, and getting a bit jaded by traditional British comics of the day, so this was just the ticket. Seems a lot of other people felt the same, as Marvel UK swiftly expanded with more comics, – Spider-Man Comics Weekly, The Avengers, Planet of the Apes, Dracula Lives, The Superheroes, Savage Sword of Conan, and numerous others. Some were successful, some were complete flops, but Marvel were soon firmly established as part of the UK comics scene.
The late 1970s were a period of changes and mergers at Marvel UK. As sales of MWOM inevitably waned, new editor Dez Skinn introduced a title change to Marvel Comic in 1979. It then changed again to Marvel Superheroes later that year (becoming a monthly), before ending in 1983, replaced at the same time by a new monthly series reviving The Mighty World of Marvel title. That ran to 17 issues.
As the message in issue one back in 1972 said, “The excitement is just beginning”. It certainly was. Many of us who read MWOM and other Marvel UK comics back then grew up to eventually contribute to their comics when they started to include brand new material. Legendary names in the industry such as Steve Dillon, Mike Collins, Alan Davis and others had their first breaks at Marvel UK, and many other notables such as Dave Gibbons, Tim Quinn, Dicky Howett, John Wagner, and, of course, Alan Moore contributed too. Marvel UK became a good grounding for editors too, with Richard Starkings, Simon Furman, Steve White and John Freeman adding to the new energy that gave Marvel UK the advantage over its rivals as well as developing their own creative skills.
By 1995, Panini UK had obtained the Marvel licence, producing various Marvel reprint titles. In 2003, they brought back The Mighty World of Marvel as a 76-page full colour monthly. It ran for various consecutive volumes (rebooting with a new first issue every so often) but finally ending in 2019, axed so suddenly that the last issue carried an ad for the next one which never appeared.
Will Panini ever revive The Mighty World of Marvel again? Who knows? It’s a good title and was always useful to have a changing roster of stories to keep it fresh. These days it’s a more difficult market in which to launch a new comic, but perhaps MWOM will live again at some point.
This is a revised and updated article that was originally written for the 40th anniversary of The Mighty World of Marvel
British Comics legend Lew Stringer has been freelancing professionally in comics as an artist and writer since 1983, inspired by a lifelong love of the medium. Over the years he has worked for titles such as the Beano, Dandy, Oink!, Viz, Doctor Who Magazine, Sonic the Comic and many more.
He also self publishes his own creator owned Combat Colin, Derek The Troll and Brickman Comics, which have a loyal cult following across the UK and beyond.
Special thanks to Lew for taking time out of his busy schedule to contribute this updated celebratory article, and Steve Cook for the use of his image of an early Mighty World of Marvel dummy
Mighty World of Marvel and Marvel Comics characters © and trademark Marvel Comics