Happy Birthday, Overkill!

Overkill Issue One

Overkill was a Marvel UK anthology published during the 1990s which ran for 52 issues, deliberately designed as a Marvel equivalent to 2000AD. Initially edited by myself, it was also edited by Alan Cowsill.

The magazine was part of Editorial Director Paul Neary‘s “Genesis 1992” project – the UK aspect of a new Marvel UK-gnerated pantheon of heroes  created with a view to  publication in US format comic books. Tom de Falco, marketing expert Carol Kalish and other Marvel US staff were supportive of Marvel UK and helped convince the powers that be of Paul’s vision, a faith repaid when the first Death’s Head II mini series, written by Dan Abnett and drawn by Liam Sharp, sold in staggering numbers (despite some at Marvel US claiming robot characters would never be popular).

For the next couple of years, Marvel UK was on a roll, the initial success of Death’s Head II and its other core titles – Hell’s Angel (which became Dark Angel after threatened legal action from the Hells Angels), Warheads, Motormouth and Knights of Pendragon – prompting demand for more and more books (and indeed, a revival in 2014 in Marvel’s limited Revolutionary War series). The pressure on Paul and the entire editorial team (and creators) was immense but few would say it was not an exciting time. (At one point I realised I was editing 12 US books as well as the weekly Overkill).

Overkill had a limited amount of origination (although some commissioned stories were never completed or published, such as a Warheads tale written by that series original writer Nicholas Vince and drawn by SMS – now Smuzz) but in the main it reprinted strip pages from Marvel UK’s 1992 US comics comics as Warheads and Motormouth. Hoping to reach the 2000AD audience, Paul Neary came up with the idea of not including any of the superhero pages from the reprinted stories in Overkill, feeling superheroes weren’t what UK audiences wanted to read in an action adventure anthology. Consequently, the US comics were actually being written as two stories – one that included superheroes on 11 pages, with 11 pages of story where they didn’t appear – but still made sense as a standalone story!

Fortunately for the sanity of the writers involved, market research indicated this was counter-productive. We were advised the target audience of teen boys expected to see superheroes in a Marvel branded comic – and after I left the company in early 1993, the policy had already been dropped, with Death’s Head II (his US title featured superheroes on a regular basis) taking a prominent role in the comic.

Despite the huge amount of creative energy that went into the Genesis project – an enthusiasm matched by most Marvel UK staff working on the licensed, non-action adventure titles that were the company’s real bread and butter – market circumstances and problems for the parent company brought an end to its UK and its was absorbed by Panini UK, with Doctor Who Magazine one fortunate survivor of the change of ownership.

While Overkill was not the enduring success of the title it aspired to compete with,thanks  the number of talented creators involved and its distinctive early covers by Mark Harrison and Steve Sampson, the comic is still fondly remembered by both its readers and many of those who worked on it today.

Happy Birthday, Overkill! It was fun while it lasted…

See also: Marvel UK’s “Genesis 1992”: Looking Back on What Might Have Been

A page from an unpublished Warheads story commissioned for Overkill, written by Nick Vince, drawn by Smuzz
A page from an unpublished Warheads story commissioned for Overkill, written by Nick Vince, drawn by Smuzz

Categories: British Comics, Creating Comics, Featured News

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