Friday, 17 March 2017

THE FIRST ISSUE OF MARVEL UK'S THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK MONTHLY

From November 1980: The first issue of Marvel UK's THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK MONTHLY.  And what a story to start with!


Yup, mere months after the bold relaunch which saw STAR WARS WEEKLY rebadged to coincide with the release of the most hotly anticipated film ever (at least in my playground) the British Bullpen suddenly cut the frequency of their main attraction to monthly.

The sudden frequency change normally meant that a weekly wasn't doing very well (or paying its way) and a reduction in frequency and bump in cover price (accompanied by a few extra pages) was usually seen as a good way of extending its viability.  It worked a treat for DOCTOR WHO WEEKLY.  Bot so much for FUTURE TENSE.  But that's in the future.

It could be that the weekly's sales dropped off a cliff once the movie left the cinemas... but I find that unlikely.  Marvel didn't help the situation by running a dull post-adaptation story of diplomatic shenanigins which failed to live up to the epic scale of the sequel.  Maybe if they had run this man-against-machine showdown instead the story of SW in British comics would have been different.

A sales dip was probably inevitable but i think the British Bullpen were forced to cut the frequency to ensure that they kept pace with the slower US publication of one story a month.  The old weekly would devour two US editions per month and the US Bullpen had to create extra strips (which barely saw print in the States) just to fill the gap in the British schedules.  That was probably acceptable, before 1979, when the UK editorial strings were still being pulled by the New York office.  But, after the Marvel Revolution of early 1979, the UK office was operating at arms length and I doubt extra US content was still on the cards.

Jadwin House did go on to commission some UK created strips, including (famously) some early Alan Moore penned tales, which were dropped in alongside the US stories over the next couple of years.

Marvel weren't quite ready to surrender weekly SF to Tharg (DOCTOR WHO had already seen a similar scheduling cut) and cobbled together FUTURE TENSE to plug the gap.  The end result read like a compilation of SWW back-up strips without a strong lead strip (sorry STAR TREK) and suffered an eventful 1981 before quietly expiring at the end of the year.  Meanwhile, in the Pocket Books department STAR HEROES was already being prepared for a radical makeover as X-MEN POCKET BOOK.  

7 comments:

  1. The change was almost certainly down to the lack of material. I liked that diplomatic shenanigans tale ("The Third Law", I think it was called) but its UK printing was notable because it was cut into shorter episodes than any preceding SW strip, a clue to how close the UK reprint was to the US original.

    Most noteworthy, either the second or third ESB Monthly featured a US story called "The Dreams of Cody Sunn-Childe" which was written by JM DeMatteis and included an anti-war message at the conclusion. The strip also ran in the US, but was credited to writer "Wally Lombago" and had a rewritten ending c/o Lucasfilm licensing which DeMatteis objected to ... so only in the UK could one read DeMatteis's intended version. More details at DeMatteis's blog here:
    The Dreams of Wally Lombego

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  2. I will get to Cody in due course....

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  3. thanks for that link krusty, I seem to recall a THIRD redrawn and re-written ending for that story.


    there was no rhyme or reason to the monthly title with both uk and usa stories mixed and totally out of order. At one point, they had to re-print an older story as an issue filler.


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    1. I remember ... it was "The Hunter" reprinted in #150 or 151, which had previously run around #30, much to my childhood disappointment at the time. Presumably that was one of the few old stories that was done-in-one so could be slotted in in an emergency. Was that second showing behind a new UK cover obviously intended for Alan Moore story called (I think) "The Pandora Effect", or am I misremembering that?

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  4. you remember correctly except the cover was taken from a usa treasury edition as seen here :


    http://comicvine.gamespot.com/star-wars-the-empire-strikes-back-150/4000-329445/


    Moore must have missed the deadline so they re-used ' the hunter '.


    All of this was very puzzling and confusing at the time.

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  5. regarding the cody tale, after a bit of research, I can confirm that the uk comic published the original ending. And credited JM DeMatteis.


    when ROTJ weekly re-printed the story, it had the re-written ending.


    The ESB uk annual no.2 also included this tale though I haven't yet checked to see which ending they used.




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    1. Ed, when it ran in ESB Annual 2 it was the new credit (Lombego) and final page.

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