Hi,my name is Mark (Sparky) Ryan and I’m delighted to have been invited to do this blog post by my good friend Dean Compton, who like yours truly is a huge fan of comics of the ’90’s variety. This blog is more or less unique in the blogosphere, in its focus.I commend Dean for that.It’s a great blog he’s got here Please visit my own blog http://sparkyslongbox.blogspot.ie/ if you wish, for reviews of individual issues from both Marvel and DC from the start of the Bronze Age, or find us on Facebook at Marvel UK Comics.
What was Genesis ’92?
In 1992 Marvel UK launched a bevy of titles directed at the US market. Many of you reading this, actually probably most, will remember Deaths Head ||. This was probably the most successful title in the line and is still fondly remembered by many on both sides of the Atlantic to this day (Death’s Head || and the other Marvel UK characters returned in Revolutionary War earlier this year).
Marvel UK created many properties or characters in the early 90’s. Some were very good, some mediocre and some were plain atrocious. Most anyone that has read Marvel comics over the last 20 years or so should be familiar with some or all of these names; Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Geoff Senior, Charlie Adlard, Doug Braithwaithe, Simon Furman, Bryan Hitch, Carlos Pacheco, Salvador Larroca, Alan Davis, Gary Frank, Andrew Wildman. All these gentlemen cut their teeth working for the UK branch of Marvel and have gone on to have varying degrees of success in the US.
A Little Background. ..
Marvel UK have existed since 1972. They were originally created to reprint US Marvel titles in weekly format for UK consumption. These reprints proved popular. They were in a larger format and normally black and white. It was ultimately controlled by the US operation but had UK editors and staff.
Marvel US had the idea in 1976 to create a character exclusively for the UK market in attempt to ground the line of mags, and give British readers their own superhero. Captain Britain was born.
Now Cap B was written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Herb Trimpe and later John Buscema. It was very much a US type superhero and the only thing that differentiated him from the US stable of heroes was a perfunctory illustration of London’s Big Ben or Trafalgar Square and some English type expressions that often failed in their attempt at naturalism.
It was a fairly popular strip that eventually faded from the pages of Marvel UK until the early ‘80’s when Alan Moore took over the writing duties, who, aided and abetted by the gifted pencils of Alan Davis gave the character a second lease of life in a classic and much celebrated run.
Captain Britain is still the most popular and important Marvel UK character ever, appearing for many years in the pages of Chris Claremont’s Excalibur, a popular X-title. Except he wasn’t really a Marvel UK created character as he had his origins in the US.
Marvel UK’s first attempts at reaching the US market.
After the Secret Wars 2 and tie-ins dried up for Marvel UK they took the editorial decision to stay away from superheroes due to falling sales and concentrate on profitable licensed products such as the hugely popular Transformers, Thundercats and Action Force/GI Joe.
These mags had a mix of US material and fresh UK originated material that still proves popular with collectors today, particularly fans of the Transformers.
1987 – Death’s Head Appears
In 1987 Simon Furman and Geoff Senior create the first Death’s Head robot, a bounty hunter that kills Transformers. He proves popular with the readership returning several times, even though he had nothing to do with established Transformers continuity in the US. The seed is planted for the UK line.
In 1988, due to his popularity with Transformers readers the Freelance, Peace-keeping Agent/Bounty Hunter gets his own title, yes?. It’s written by Simon Furman and drawn by Bryan Hitch/Mark Farmer. It is in US format with the Marvel US logo and is sold in US comic shops alongside popular US comics of the day. It lasts 12 issues and features appearances from Iron Man 2020 and the Fantastic Four in an attempt to appeal to the US market and also ground the character in the greater Marvel Universe. Although the early issues had no appearances by US characters, the character appeared in Dragon’s Claws,, with the Claws then also appearing in Death’s Head’s book. I honestly believe the first Death’s Head character is superior to the second – but that’s just personal taste.
This initial series is a damn good read.
Note: This 12 issue series was re-released in the US in 1992 as ‘The Incomplete Death’s Head’.
1990 – The Knights of Pendragon
Death’s Head and its companion title Dragon’s Claws didn’’t last due to low sales. In 1990 Marvel UK releases the Knights of Pendragon. This was a classy title with tenuous links to Captain Britain that was steeped in Anglo/Arthurian mysticism and environmental concerns. It featured gorgeous artwork by Gary Erskine and featured appearances by several US characters such as Iron Man and the Fantastic Four. It proves popular and again, is sold on the direct market in the US along with a fortnightly glossy magazine called Strip which featured Marshall Law, Death’s Head (again) and a variety of mature European type strips.
Genesis 1992 – The Big Push
By 1992 Marvel UK already looking to expand, were encouraged by the popularity of comics, even the cool kids were reading ‘em in the wake of the million + selling X-Men #1 & X-Force #1 in Summer ’91.
In April 1992 they release an anthology title in the UK called Overkill. It features five strips, Hell’s Angel, Warheads, Knights of Pendragon, Digitek and Motormouth and Killpower.
It was also sold in the US as separate standalone titles. It was a two pronged assault. The UK had a 2000AD type anthology title that didn’t always include the appearances from X-Force or Iron Man and the US editions included this extra material in an attempt to appeal to the US market. Paul Neary, who many US readers will remember from his pencils on Captain America (1985-1986) was the Editor-in-chief at the time and the major driving force behind this publishing initiative.
These characters didn’t particularly look like regular US superheroes and they battled a Faustian evil conglomerate that was given nefarious powers in the 16th century called Mys-Tech. Hell’s Angel /Shevaughn Haldane(later Dark Angel after a costly legal dispute with the biker club) had part of the universe implanted in her that gave her powers. (yes, really). The strip was nothing special but was anchored by the gorgeous artwork of Geoff Senior, whose dynamic work I could look at all day.
Digitek is a little remembered computer warrior who teamed with Deathlok at one point. It was a little bland at times but featured gorgeous painted artwork by Dermot Power. It was a feast for the eyes. It lasted 4 issues and wasn’t bad at all, however Digitek is very much a hero of his time and is rooted in the technology of the early 90’s.
The Knights of Pendragon, were heroes of Arthurian legend and more of a Saturday morning cartoon. They were bland and uninteresting in my opinion. They teamed up with Iron Man early in their series. Again, they resembled actual superheroes to a very small degree and had little connection to the earlier, excellent KoP series in terms of flavour or theme.
Warheads were a ragtag group led by the scarfaced Col. Liger who travelled around wormholes (because it seemed hip at the time) and fought against Mys-tech aswell. The Warheads book wasn’t bad, but far from great. It was a book that had pronounced peaks and troughs. It featured the sublime artwork of Gary Erskine in the early issues and was later drawn by Simon Coleby.
Motormouth and Killpower was a pretty good strip with gorgeous art by Gary Frank. Motormouth /Harley Davis was a foul mouthed street rat who cursed constantly and travelled between dimensions. (Notice a trend) fighting against the forces of Mys-tech. Killpower was her simple minded Hulk-like friend. She and Killpower had the distinction of being the only UK characters to appear in a main US book, as Killpower battled with the Incredible Hulk in the pages of his book. (Probably prompted because M & K artist Gary Frank was now the artist on Hulk).
I was excited as anyone at the time when these strips arrived as I was a Marvel zombie and voraciously consumed any product I could get my hands on.
The big breakthrough was with the appearance of Death’s Head || an upgrade from Death’s Head | who was more technologically advanced and had the same bad-ass, extreme attitude of Cable and his crew, an anti-hero. He was one part Predator, visually and another part the molten metal guy from Terminator 2. The book and character proved an instant hit with both audiences on either side of the Atlantic with his first issue reaching high numbers, largely in part to the Image stylised, yet individual artwork of one Liam Sharp. Death’s Head’s stories were irreverent and full of attitude and black humour. Marvel UK now had a real and tangible hit and a property they could really bank on. It really was the title that anchored the entire line.
Make sure and come back for part 2, as we take a look at some of the many crossovers and titles that the line spawned as it reached its commercial zenith in ’93.