During the 1950s and 1960s a number of UK companies including Alan Class Comics and Odhams Press licensed the rights to reprint first Atlas and later Marvel Comics American-originated material, while companies such as World Distributors held separate licenses to reprint US Marvel comics reformatted for the British annuals market. Their success prompted Marvel to start up their own UK branch, Marvel UK, in 1972 to cut out the middlemen and directly reprint American strips.
Like most other UK comics, Marvel UK's titles were black and white weekly anthologies, reprinting several US strips in installments; in order to split up American comics which were between 18 and 22 pages in length into 2 to 5 page segments while still making sense and ending each week on suitable high points, panels and text were frequently rearranged or removed altogether, and it was not uncommon for new splash pages to be drawn by UK artists to properly recap the start of each segment. The first comic was Mighty World of Marvel, reprinting the Hulk, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, but early in 1973 Spider-Man was split off into his own title, Spider-Man Comics Weekly, which would prove the most enduring of all Marvel UK's titles, lasting until 1985 and issue #666, undertaking through a variety of title variations and merging with several less successful titles during its run. Several other titles were soon launched, including Avengers, Planet of the Apes, Dracula Lives!, The Super-Heroes, Savage Sword of Conan and The Titans, and though most were short lived, failing titles were inevitably replaced by new ones.
However, Marvel UK began to hit a number of problems. First, being published weekly meant that in some cases the reprint material would run out as the UK caught up with the matching US title; while sometimes this would prompt a break in the run of a given strip, a more innovative approach was tried when Planet of the Apes hit this problem, and copies of Killraven's escapades from Amazing Adventures were redrawn and relettered to give Killraven black hair and to pit him against Apes instead of Martians, as the renamed Apeslayer. The second problem was that the most popular US material was soon used up, prompting Marvel UK to increasingly have to populate their titles with Marvel's poorer selling material. With the UK market nevertheless proving lucrative, the decision was made to provide Marvel UK with a strip aimed specifically at the UK audience, though the creative team were all Americans, and so in 1976 a weekly Captain Britain comic was launched; the other strips within - Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Fantastic Four - remained US reprints. Though popular for a while, it was not an unqualified success, and Captain Britain's comic was soon absorbed into Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain (the title formerly known as Spider-Man Comic), where the British hero stayed for a few more stories before being replaced by reprints again. The mid-1970s also saw Marvel do a deal with new annuals publisher Grandreams, resulting in the co-publication of Marvel Annuals, bringing that license in-house. And all the meantime Marvel UK continued to launch new titles reprinting Marvel US material, such as Rampage, Fury and Star Wars Weekly.
In 1979 new Marvel UK editor-in-chief Dez Skinn was asked to revamp the now-ailing line. His solutions included commissioning material from UK writers and artists and begin producing new strips, several of which were launched in Hulk Comic (later Hulk Weekly and later still Incredible Hulk); Captain Britain returned as an ongoing co-star in the UK's new Black Knight strip, alongside prohibition-era vigilante Night Raven, and new UK-penned tales of US heroes the Hulk and Nick Fury. Skinn also arranged a deal with the BBC to publish a tie-in comic with the popular Dr. Who TV series; though the Doctor had previously enjoyed comic strip adventures in several titles over the years, this marked the first time he had his own comic entirely devoted to him. Doctor Who Weekly was launched in 1979, and though it has changed its name to Doctor Who Monthly and then Doctor Who Magazine over the years, and switched publishers to Panini, it is still being published and is now the longest-running TV tie-in magazine in the world. From this point on, while most of Marvel UK's output would remain reprints through the 1980s, it would be continuously producing new material, both set in the Marvel Universe and for tie-in comics to various TV shows, including SF drama Blake's 7, children's show Worzel Gummidge and others.
After Hulk Comic reached the end of its run both Captain Britain and Night Raven endured, the former in his own strip drawn by Alan Davis and initially written by David Thorpe, and subsequently by Alan Moore, and the latter in text stories that jumped from title to title. Captain Britain's story would move from Marvel Super-Heroes to The Daredevils and eventually Mighty World of Marvel, before Moore's story ended. Jamie Delano joined Alan Davis in picking up the hero's story following this, and a few issues later Captain Britain regained his own title, at least for a while.
Another prominent, if unexpected, title to produce acclaimed new material was Transformers, where again the reprint material kept running out as the UK caught up with the US comic, resulting in a huge percentage of new UK material, most written by Simon Furman. These new stories would see the debut of Death's Head, a mercenary cyborg who would subsequently transfer over to the regular Marvel universe.
The company had a major growth in the early 1990's when it came up with many new heroes such as a reinvented Death's Head II, Hell's Angel (soon retitled Dark Angel) Motormouth, the Knights of Pendragon and Warheads. These series were extremely popular for a few months, but in 1994 Marvel UK became a victim of Marvel US' financial woes. Almost all Marvel UK's series where canceled at the end of 1994 and Marvel UK was sold to their distributor, Panini, who took over reprinting US Marvel titles for the British market.
Marvel UK's legacy
Perhaps not as famous as the American Marvel Comics, Marvel UK did make a large footprint in history by creating characters that are still used to this day.
Famous comic book characters such as Captain Britain, Psylocke, Meggan, the Technet team, the Fury and Courtney Ross all first appeared in Marvel UK comics before they made their American debut. Also prominent writers and artists such as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Gary Frank and Mark Miller had some of their earliest work published by Marvel UK before breaking into the US market.