The Mighty World of Marvel UK

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Marvel comics have been publishing since the 1960’s and their shared universe has enjoyed countless successes both in print and on screen, but starting in the 1970’s Marvel was to find a niche 3000 miles from home with the origin of Marvel UK.

Marvel UK was originally intended as a vessel for reprints of earlier american comics already printed by Marvel, which were either anglicised or censored in some way to make them more palatable to the British market. This changed in 1976 with the introduction of Captain Britain Weekly. A new anthology style magazine featuring the exploits of the eponymous Captain Britain as the main feature and then made use of reprint material from Marvel’s american back catalogue to fill the rest.

By the end of the 1970s Marvel UK had been given the go ahead to create a whole world of new characters as well as having obtained the rights to a number of classic science fiction properties (Doctor Who, Transformers and Star Wars among them) and by the end of the 1980’s Marvel UK had made the move to printing the american format of comics that has become the industry standard (the only notable exception being 2000ad and its sister publication the Judge Dredd Megazine). But it was in this era that Marvel UK created some its best properties and that what this piece is going to look at now.

Captain Britain  

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Captain Britain was Marvel UK’s first attempt (and truthfully most successful attempt) at creating their own original content originally running for 39 issues Captain Britain proved both a hit with UK readers, but was later brought into the mainstream Marvel Canon becoming a member of Excalibur (along with various X-men) and serving as an Avenger,  as well as having his own US title in the late 2000’s.

Deaths Head/ Deaths Head II 

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Deaths Head was a robot bounty hunter from the future, he featured in the Marvel UK transformers, and made appearances in Doctor Who Weekly, and was eventually given his own title which lasted 10 issues. The Character was then revamped and became Deaths Head II (whose series last 16 issues). Deaths Head has remained a fan favourite, making cameos throughout Marvel comicdom to this date, whilst Deaths Head II was seen to be unpopular and lacking the originals charm and fanbase.

Dragons Claws

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Set in 8162 it follows The Claws a team of players in the mysterious game, along with their leader Dragon, as they try to win and stay ahead of the machinations of the  National Union of Retired Sports Experts. Lasting 10 issues this was Marvel UK’s first attempt at a US style format of comics.

Dark Angel

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Originally Hell’s Angel, but quickly changed to Hell’s Dark Angel and then simply Dark Angel following the threat of legal action from the biker gang the Hell’s Angels (who knew bikers could be so litigious?) was a 16 issue series that highlighted the life and adventures of Shevaun Haldane Hell’s Dark Angel. In the Middle Ages, a group of sorcerers were granted immortality by  Mephisto in exchange for a steady stream of sacrifices. One of these men, Ranaulph Haldane, was Shevaun’s father  When Shevaun was 21 years old, Mephisto killed her father for betraying him. Shevaun then saw the Angel of Death arrive for her father. The angel placed a fragment of the universe itself within Shevaun, and gave her a suit of body armour to control her powers. She used these powers to atone for her fathers sins, and begin repaying the debts that he owed the world.

Knights of Pendragon

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The Knights of Pendragon were formed to be agents of the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Knight is in ageless conflict with the Bane, an unnatural destructive force of warfare and winter, led by the Red Knight, the Green Knight’s adversary. The Green Knight invests power, to various groups throughout British history, to protect nature; one such group were the original Knights of the Round Table; the Knights of Pendragon are a modern-day incarnation. The Knights of Pendragon had two series (18 and 15 issues respectively) and team members of made sporadic appearances in Marvel US Titles over the last 20 years.

Comic Review: Flesh

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Flesh was something that I wanted to take a look at, after reading the sort of sequel that takes place during Judge Dredd’s Cursed Earth Saga (which I’m fairly certain was ripped off completely to form the basis of the Jurassic Park series of films). I was intrigued to know the origin story of the dinosaur Old One Eye.

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The story that makes up Flesh sounds like some sort of dystopian nightmare, in which the world has run out of meat based products due to population expansion and just plain gluttony on the part of humanity, but it being the future man has developed time travel. So mankind, instead of adopting a vegetarian diet, has travelled back in time to the cretaceous period in order to take advantage of man’s lust for flesh. Yes you read that right, men from the 23rd century won’t eat their broccoli so go back in time to farm dinosaurs.

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The story reads more like a western rather than a sci fi dino romp, just with the part of the native American’s being played by a few rather vicious Tyrannosaurs. In particular the lead Tyrannosaur, the 120 year old Old One Eye, so named for the eye lost to one of the Dinosaur ranchers.

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Again this is Pat Mills at his thrill power churning finest, delivering the readers right into the worlds of both past and future simultaneously, which when you think merging dinosaurs with cowboys from the twenty third century sounds like a concept that wouldn’t work Pat Mills is the man to work that thing out.

The art is always something I feel a little fraudulent in reviewing, as my artistic talents stretch to bad stick men on a good day. But since I’m only going to say nice things about the work of Roman Sola, Boix and Felix Carrion, the hypocrisy seems to wane slightly, they all create a fantastic masterpiece and actually make you feel as though you’ve somehow been dropped right in the middle of both the cretaceous period and the 23rd century all in one fell swoop, they all manage to bring something to the major dinosaurs, and not to mention the horrible flying dino’s and even the Giant Spiders seem to just pop right out of our nightmares and onto the page, yes you read that right, Dinosaurs and Giant Spiders…and cowboys from the future… all in the same comic, and yet it still works.

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Given that dinosaur stories only ever seem to have one outcome the ending of the ranchers tale is only to be expected, although it does manage to have a little twist to make the last page have a bite to it. Coming from the golden age of 2000ad Flesh is really a title that you can sink your teeth into, and it has a good number of sequels for you to chew over as well.

Comic Review: Judge Dredd- America

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For one of the seminal Judge Dredd stories, this one doesn’t actually feature old granite jaw that much its one of those pieces that immerses itself in the world of Mega City One and the wider themes that make up the world of Judge Dredd. It focuses on the Benny Beeny and his relationship with America, no not the nation , America Jara, his childhood friend and for most of his life unrequited love.

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This storyline really is one of the big mood pieces of the big meg, it looks at the harsh nature of world of Dredd where the American Dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has been stripped back to one out of three, with the majority of the population oblivious to the fact that that’s bad. It shows that the cost of Justice is the loss of liberty and that its the little people that suffer, and that the freedoms people have fought for for centuries have been boiled away to nothingness all for the promise of security. Which is a harsh reflection for the political climate of the early 21st century, written a decade before such things as the Patriot Act, or cages for Asylum Seeking Children, America highlights greatly the dichotomy and divide between freedom and security.

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As Benny grows older he goes into show business and America throws in with the Democrats, a democracy seeking group of underground revolutionaries, who believe in the violent overthrow of the Judges and the establishment of a new democratic government for the people, not on the people.

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John Wagner by this point is mired in the world of Dredd, having written over 12 years of Judge Dredd stories by the time America had hit the shelves, but even with new characters like Benny Beeny and America herself, Wagner manages to capture the true humanity and human cost of the world of Mega City.

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Colin Macneil does a marvellous job immersing us in this dark and corrupt world of Mega City and sleazy side of democracy and the activist movement, it takes a true talent to showcase the falling of liberty and Macneil is true talent.

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The outcome of this story is true Dredd style and is heartbreaking to read on paper but the complimentary style of prose and penciling is just so much a blend of utter perfection on page.

 

Comic Review: Harlem Heroes

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I know nothing about sport, but Harlem Heroes is one of those titles that keeps coming up whenever you look at lists of great British comic books, and I decided to put my natural reticence about sport comics behind and pick up the Complete Harlem Heroes, and I’m glad that I did.

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What you get with Harlem Heroes, is a straight up murder mystery wrapped up in the pageantry of the World Aeroball Championships. “the game of Aeroball has swept the world! It’s Football, Boxing, Kung Fu and Basketball all rolled into one! Players roar through the air wearing jet packs (controlled by buttons on their belts) and score “air strikes” by getting the ball in the “score tank”.

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In the opening act The Heroes Team Bus is sabotaged leading to the death of most of the team, and leaving one member a brain in a jar. So the surviving members of the team along with a few rookies, a few veterans and few reserves try to take down the Heroes killer all whilst trying to bring home the championship back to Harlem.

This is Pat Mills and Tom Tully at their best, you can tell that they really care about the characters they’ve created here and that love is also transcribed ably by legendary artist Dave Gibbons (Of Watchmen fame) my only negative comment that I will make about this book, is that it felt as though the ending of the Hero’s saga was somewhat rushed, another thing that I hope comes one day, is a colourised version of the strip, I would love to see the world of the 2050 Aeroball Championships brought to life in colour.

Comic Review: Scarlet Traces Volume One

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I’ve really been getting in to 2000ad over the past few weeks, not just Judge Dredd, but a whole wealth of other worlds, stories and characters that have begun life on the pages of Britain’s longest running thrill power serial. So its no surprise that a good number of the 30 comics that I want to read before I turn thirty originally sprang out of those thrill laden progs. Scarlet Traces was on obvious choice to wind up on that list, it takes HG Wells war of the worlds, adapts it so you don’t even have to have read the original, and then provides you with a sequel, where we see a steampunk British Empire based upon reverse engineered Martian technology.

Volume One of Scarlet Traces is divided into two stories, the first is a very faithful adaptation of HG Well’s original War of the Worlds Novel, which is so faithful in fact, whilst reading it all I had going through my head was the music from Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds, I mean literally right from that very first “No one would have believed in the last years of the 19th century….” it was like I was seeing on page the very images that I imagined when reading the book (and lets face it listening to the CD) The Artist, D’israeli, manages to capture the whole victorian sci-fi epic, in quite an open way, his work is a little more cartoonish than I would usually like, but for this story it seems to work.

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The Second half of this volume is given over to a completely new story set a decade after the abortive Martian invasion, and shows Britain entering a seemingly golden age, at least on the surface, thanks in no small part to the technology that the Martians left behind. But all is not ticketyboo in the heart of the undying empire, unemployment is rife, discord in the north is high, women are going missing and bodies are turning up in the Thames, Captain Robert Autumn, retired solider and adventurer,and his former Sergeant-Major Archie Currie are drawn into a mystery that leads them from seedy bars to the corridors of power and the very Hall of the Martian King.

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Ian Edginton manages to create a whole world (well several actually) and begins to answer a good number of questions that Mr Wells left unanswered in his original manuscript. But whilst the HG Wells original does serve as a jumping on point for this creation, what it doesn’t do is rely too heavily on it to work as a sequel, it introduces completely new characters who work as the stories protagonists, and indeed its antagonists, and manages to actually sit there as its own thing, I mean you could quite easily remove the Wellsian parts and it would still sit as its own story, a story of the price of Empire and how that price is measured in blood and sacrifice. I greatly await the arrival of Volume Two (which I have already ordered), and hope it lives up to this first instalment.

 

Comic Review: Nikolai Dante- Too Cool To Kill

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I hadn’t actually read any of 2000AD’s Nikolai Dante, beyond a few pages in an old prog that I picked up at a car boot sale many thousands and thousands of years ago. But because I’ve been getting into the best of British Thrill Power over the last few weeks, I thought, I can just stick with Judge Dredd and the varying spin offs, so I went right out there and picked up a copy of Nikolai Dante: Too Cool To Kill.

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*MILD SPOILERS AHEAD*

The story follows Nikolai Dante in the future Russian Empire, the man is the illegitimate son of the patriarch of the Romanov Dynasty and lady pirate, Nikolai discovers his heritage early on, after being saved from execution by the Tsar, this half suave, half sleazy thief is dragooned into serving the crown before betraying/ seducing the Tsarina Jena Markarov and  joining his true family to become the black sheep and the new most expendable member of the Romanov clan.

The story moves with a fast pace and is ably written by Robbie Morrison who in a short space of pages manages to build the world of the future Russian empire and lend life to this larger than life Lothario and create life for a whole host of other characters that feels completely fleshed out and natural, unlike so many writers whose background characters sometimes come across as two dimensional and flaccid.

I most be honest, I really am looking forward to picking up the next 10 volumes of this series, because this sometimes sleazy, sometimes suave and sometimes chivalrous son of a Romanov has already jumped into my mind as one of the best characters in comicdom, and why with a lot of other 2000AD work proves why British is best.

Comic Review: 2000AD’s Button Man The Killing Game

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Today I picked up my copy of 2000AD’s  Button Man. Its been on my to read list ever since I put together the list of 30 comics that I wanted to read before turning thirty, and in fact has actually been something that I’ve wanted to read for the best part of 15 years after reading an entry about it in either 500 Great Comicbook Action Heroes or 500 Comicbok Villains (I forget which) but I was absolutely fascinated by the idea of “The Game”.

Button Man was written by John Wagner way back in 1992 (serialised through progs 780-791 of the weekly 2000AD), with the art provided by Arthur Ranson. The story is actually amazing in its simplicity, its a modern day gladiatorial competition which sees a former special forces operative Harry Exton (Harry Ex) getting involved with “The Game” a contest between killers with matches worked out by mysterious voices, each with their own financial stake in their chosen killers performance. The Game ends in two ways, either in death, or in taking another killers marker (one of three fingers, if they’ve already lost three, they die). The story charts Harry Ex’s beginnings after joining the game, right the way through to game over.

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The art by Authur Ranson is very textured and detailed, with great use of shadow which helps convey the dark nature of the story, and this is matched nicely with the pastel shades that dominate the story for most of the collection and whilst I don’t usually single out specific panels and pages, I want to just show how awesome the the front cover (above) of this collection is, and is probably one of the reasons why The Button Man stuck in my head as something that I wanted to check out for over a decade and a half.