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Saturday, 31 March 2018

British Superheroes

I was a voracious comic book reader as a kid and the British comics were always my favourite but I could never understand why it was only the American comics that had the costumed superheroes and why British comics were more grounded. Well in a comic book reality kind of way - the action was over the top but it came from heroics rather than superheroics. I remember Billy the Cat but that's all really. And while Judge Dredd could, at a stretch, qualify as a costumed superhero he doesn't really since he has no super powers other than a squarer jaw than Ben Grimm.

The superhero was an American obsession or at least that was what I thought until I read an interesting article in issue 4 of Future Publishing's Comic Heroes. Apparently British comics had its share of costumed crime-fighters with super powers. The article by comics expert Lew Stringer lists several UK superheroes and although most of them were before my time it is an illuminating article.

The Dandy comic featured a character called The Amazing Mr X in the 1940's. The character was named Len Manners and he wore a curious costume and could summon incredible strength at will. There was also a character called Powerman who apparantly gained his powers from the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. There was also a rather attractive fellow called Captain Magnet, as well as Maskman and Electro Girl.

One character I do have vague memories of was The Steel Claw but then only from reading old strips in copies of The Valiant that I've picked up over the years. The Spider is another character I remember and his adventures were still running when I was a kid, but he was more a super-villain than a superhero.
 By and large though British comics tended to focus on adventure strips - war stories, western adventures, sports stories and secret agents were always successful. Humour was also very popular in British comics and titles like The Beano, Dandy and Whizzer and Chips were dominated by humour strips.

 British superheroes just couldn't be taken as seriously as their American counterparts. Where they had Batman, we had Fishboy (Buster 1968) who was abandoned on a desert island and learned to breath underwater and grow webbed feet. Some other unlikely Brit heroes - Birdman from Baratoga (Smash 1970), Kangeroo Kid (Scorcher 1970) and Kid Chameleon (Cor 1970).

King Cobra featured in Hotspur comic and I do remember this character from my childhood but when Marvel UK launched in the UK in the early 1970's it was a massive success and the British superheroes seemed tame in comparison to all the new American characters that were cropping up. Of course most of the better known American strips such as Batman, The Fantastic Four, Spiderman and some others were already known on these shores and there had been British titles that had run the strips, but we now had entire titles dominated by the costumed heroes from across the pond. From then on UK comic publishers gave up on creating original superheroes and tended to concentrated on their strengths with titles such as Warlord and Battle Picture Weekly.

It was from this period onwards that I became aware of all the comics out there and whilst I would pick up titles like Planet of the Apes, Dracula Lives and Spiderman from time to time, my true allegiance was with the British comics such as Warlord and Battle which I absolutely adored and would never miss a single issue. It was not until 1976 when 2000AD came about that British comics were able to create characters that could compete with the likes of the Americans - characters like Judge Dredd were more than able to stand alongside the American heroes in terms of creating their own mythology.

The first truly successful British superheroes were created by the Americans - Marvel's Captain Britain made a stir with British comic book readers in the UK.

"The character was created by writer Chris Claremont and artist Herb Trimpe and originally appeared in Captain Britain Weekly, a British anthology comic that also included reprinted material featuring other Marvel Comics characters (such as Nick Fury and the Fantastic Four). The first few issues of the comic were also promoted with free gifts, including a cardboard Captain Britain mask and a Captain Britain boomerang - free gifts in the first three issues of a title were a tradition with UK comics. Chris Claremont left the series after just ten issues, midway through the 'Doctor Synne' storyline, and has since stated that this was because his view of the character and series was very different to that of the editor.Up to this point, the character had appeared exclusively in Marvel's UK comics - although some established Marvel characters such as Captain America and the Black Knight appeared, Marvel's American comics had not referenced these stories or acknowledged that Captain Britain was part of the same shared Marvel Universe.In 1978, though, Chris Claremont revisited the character and introduced him to an international audience, fully integrating him into the Marvel Universe via a story that starred Captain Britain and Spider-Man. Initially published as a black & white story in the UK's Super Spider-Man & Captain Britain comic, this was then coloured and reprinted in an American title, Marvel's long-running Marvel Team-Up series." FROM THE WIKI ENTRY

These days the American heroes are still being published in the UK by the likes of Panini and Titan, but there are still the odd British superhero popping up in titles like Judge Dredd Megazine and the long running 2000AD. These days it is the traditional war, sport and adventure strips that are no longer being produced and you know, I miss them.

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