In the first part of this highly-acclaimed-by-me series, we looked at how the Doctor Who Weekly comic evolved into the Doctor Who Magazine magazine. This time, it’s the turn of another staple of the Marvel UK publishing group, Spider-Man Comics Weekly.
A spin-off from The Mighty World of Marvel — launched four months earlier — Spider-Man Comics Weekly was Marvel UK’s second title, and to date is its most successful going by issue-count (in terms of actual longevity, the Doctor Who title has it beaten three times over). SMCW absorbed ten other titles — see the recent MWOM & SMCW timeline on this very blog — and was rebranded many times during its almost-thirteen years of life, especially towards the end where a dwindling readership sparked a couple of very drastic but ultimately unsuccessful overhauls.
Spider-Man Comics Weekly was launched with a TV advertising campaign. (I’m pretty sure I remember seeing the ad, but I might have dreamt it: I wasn’t quite seven years old and the time and I had a lot of dreams about Spider-Man. I’m fifty-two now, and I still do.)
Issue #1 came with a free Spider-Man mask. Sounds like cool gift, right? It’s not. It’s a printed paper bag.
The first issue had a cover-price of five pence, which wasn’t cheap back then. Published in the same week, IPC’s June & Pixie, Lion & Thunder and Tiger were all 3½p each, while DC Thomson’s The Beano and The Dandy cost only 2p, and copies of Romeo and The Wizard were only 3p each.
But now, let’s take that look at the history of Spider-Man Comics Weekly…
#1 (17 Feb 1973) to #80 (24 August 1974) — 80 issues
The first logo, nice and clear, and very unambiguous: This is a comic, about Spider-Man, and it’s weekly. Most of the covers were reprinted from the US comics, but a few were created specially for SMCW. The regular back-up strips are Thor (reprinted from the US Journey into Mystery comic) from issue #1, and Iron Man from issue #50. While neither are popular enough to completely steal the front cover spot from Spidey, Thor does get an inset on the cover for the first twenty-eight issues.
From issue #1, the price is five pence. It hits 6p with issue #48, then 7p with #64. Update: Andy Allard informs me that issue #48 also saw the introduction of glossy covers!
#81 (31 Aug 1974) to #91 (9 Nov 1974) — 11 issues
A little more flair is introduced to the logo — curvy text! Thor and Iron Man are still providing regular back-up. (Captain America is listed a couple of times on the banner across the top, but it’s unclear whether he was guest-starring in the other strips or had one of his own.)
The price remains constant at 7p — a convenient figure because at this stage I was earning 1p per day pocket-money, contingent on successful completion of my chores, of course.
#92 (16 Nov 1974) to #157 (14 Feb 1976) — 66 issues
Curvy text on the logo is a success, but the main hero’s name isn’t quite big enough… time for an upgrade! It’s this form of the logo that I most associate with the comic. Iron Man and Thor are still the regular back-up strips… and in issue #141, they finally get to star on the cover without Spidey taking up most of it! (Though they are both standing in front of a giant Spider-Man symbol.)
The cover price is initially 7p, but with the arrival of #106, the price has shot up by an extra penny per issue. I don’t recall how I managed to afford that, but it’s likely that my pocket-money was increased.
#158 (21 Feb 1976) to #198 (24 Nov 1976) — 41 issues
With the merger of The Super-Heroes, the comic goes into landscape-mode, the two-pages-in-one format introduced in The Titans that allows much more content. Doctor Strange showed up in the last issue of the previous run, and he’s still here, along with regular strips Thor and Iron Man, and newcomer The Thing (reprints of the Marvel Two-in-One comic), and later The Invaders. Why the word “Super” has been tacked onto the front of the title is unknown — I can’t see how it adds anything.
The merger comes at a price, though: another penny, making these issues 9p each.
#199 (1 Dec 1976) to #230 (6 Jul 1977) — 32 issues
And now it’s the turn of The Titans to be absorbed. The landscape mode was kept for this version right up to the final two issues of this run. The Avengers and Captain America join the line-up.
No change at first for the price — 9p — but then along comes issue #216, and suddenly we’re getting no change from a 10p piece.
#231 (13 Jul 1977) to #253 (14 Dec 1977) — 23 issues
The Captain Britain part of the logo is in italics (and often a different colour to the Super Spider-Man part), perhaps to give the impression that while Cap’s name is in smaller letters, that doesn’t mean he’s any less important. The regular strips are Spider-Man, Captain Britain, Fantastic Four, and The Avengers. Thor shows up again from #245, replacing the FF.
Still 10p per issue, so even though we’re getting the same number of pages per issue as the landscape mode, there’s less content because we’re back to one comic page per physical page.
#254 (21 Dec 1977) to #310 (17 Jan 1979) — 57 issues
And now we’re back to plain ol’ Super Spider-Man. By the end of this run, the “Super” part of the title has been around for almost half the comic’s life but no one knows why. Captain Britain has been axed (hence his name being removed from the title), and his strip replaced with Captain America and The Falcon. The Avengers and Thor are still in there, too.
Still 10p — the economy must have stabilised!
#311 (24 Jan 1979) to #333 (27 Jun 1979) — 23 issues
In an attempt to solidify Marvel UK’s branding, Super Spider-Man and The Mighty World of Marvel are given a facelift: the former becomes Spider-Man Comic and the latter is simplified to Marvel Comic, with both comics’ logos redesigned to have a similar style. Very wise, and very nicely done! The only negative being that the glossy covers have disappeared. The regular strips for this incarnation are Spider-Man, Thor, Nova, Fantastic Four, The Avengers and the Sub-Mariner. So a pretty strong line-up, there.
Still only 10 pence per issue — excellent! (Less excellent, though, is the six-week gap between #311 on January 24th 1979 and #313 on March 7th… #312 appeared in there somewhere, but without a cover-date.)
#334 (1 Aug 1979) to #375 (14 May 1980) — 42 issues
No one knew at the time, of course, but this incarnation marks the second half of the comic’s life-span, triggered by the merger with Marvel Comic (the new name for The Mighty World of Marvel). The word “Weekly” has reappeared on the title for some reason, but it gets dropped for the last four issues of this run (#372 to #375). The first issue here boasts “9 great stories” though that drops to seven within a few weeks. It’s the beginning of the end, in my opinion: chopping up 22-page stories into three or four-page chunks does not do them any favours. Strips carried over from Marvel Comic include Daredevil and Godzilla. (Issues #360 and #361 of this run are both erroneously cover-dated a week too early — I believe that questions were asked in the Houses of Parliament.)
The 10p cover-price, by now an old friend, is with us at the start… but come issue #348 there’s suddenly an extra 2p tacked on. That brings the price to twelve pennies, which was a shilling in pre-decimal currency, but two point four shillings in 1980. That’s inflation for you.
#376 (21 May 1980) to #449 (14 Oct 1981) — 74 issues
Spider-Man’s comic absorbs The Incredible Hulk, hence the new title. The line-up also includes Spidey and Hulk’s female counterparts, Spider-Woman and She-Hulk, as well as the Fantastic Four. Around the #400 mark, longer strips start to appear, an excellent move in my opinion (I’m not taking credit for this, but, well, it’s not beyond the bounds of credibility in this infinite universe that my constant whining about the chopped-up strips was powerful enough to breach the barriers of time and reach the ears off the editorial staff…). Daredevil replaces Spider-Woman when her strips run out. With issue #418, the short-lived Marvel Team-Up title is absorbed, triggering a slight title-change with #425 to Spider-Man and Hulk Team-Up (and an appropriate tweak to the logo). Later regular strips include Wonder-Man, Dragon-Lord, Hell-Cat and WoodGod.
12p per issue until #398, when it becomes 14p. Then #438 demands the sacrifice of a further penny, but we do get a free Spider-Man mask with that issue (and this time around it’s not a paper-bag!).
#450 (21 Oct 1981) to #499 (29 Sep 1982) — 50 issues
To capitalise on the live-action Spider-Man TV show, the comic is again rebranded, this time with the reintroduction of glossy covers (a necessity, as the new look dictated colour photos on the cover and they would have looked terrible on the old newsprint covers). “Super” has been snuck back in. Well, technically it says “Uper” but they can’t fool me. Strips for this run include Guardians of the Galaxy, The Defenders and King Kull.
But what’s this? We have been paying 15p per issue and now we’re suddenly digging into our lint-filled pockets to scrounge up a total of twenty pennies! (At this time, 2000AD cost only 16p, but then it didn’t have glossy covers.)
#500 (6 Oct 1982) to #552 (5 Oct 1983) — 53 issues
Another revamp, again triggered by a merger with a cancelled Incredible Hulk title. At last it means that for the first time in the comic’s history — almost ten years at this stage — it has the title it should have had from the start: Spider-Man. No redundant “Weekly” or “Comics” or “Super.” By this stage a lot more text articles — on movies and the like — are starting to appear. Strip-wise, Spider-Woman and The Fantastic Four eventually return.
The 20p price remains constant until issue 544, when we get a 25% increase to 25p (or fives times the launch price).
#553 (12 Oct 1983) to #578 (4 Apr 1984) — 26 issues
The animated TV show Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends was a big hit, so again the comic was rebranded to reflect that. Strips included Spider-Man, Cloak & Dagger, and The Fantastic Four. Absorbed the cancelled Thor & The X-Men comic with issue #567, bringing those strips with it. Trivia: #560 sneakily re-uses the cover of #535!
25p per copy for this entire run, or four for a pound.
#579 (11 Apr 1984) to #633 (20 May 1985) — 55 issues
Back to the unadorned title again — the first and only time the logo would revert to a previous style. We also get a nice little Spidey in there for decoration. The Incredible Hulk returns to the line-up, and is later joined Marvel’s adaptations of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Last Starfighter. After eighteen issues, fellow title The Thing is Big Ben is absorbed with issue #595. Other strips include Fantastic Four, Daredevil, The Avengers and Captain America, some of them only for brief appearances. This era gives us a lot of new home-grown covers, including work by John Higgins and Bob Wakelin — lovely stuff!
We’re still at 25p for most of this run, but a sneaky 2p leaps onto the price with issue #623.
#634 (27 May 1985) to #650 (24 Aug 1985) — 17 issues
With sales falling, the editorial folks made a deliberate choice to steer the comic towards younger readers. After the expense of the brain-storming session to find the most dull title possible, the budget didn’t cover a new logo so they just dug out the Letraset in the cheapest typeface they could find and said, “That’ll do.” Fraggle Rock is added to the line-up, then The Dukes of Hazzard, I kid you not. On the positive side, it does also feature Lew Stringer’s excellent Captain Wally and Snail-Man strips. Marvel UK’s cancelled Indiana Jones title is absorbed with issue #646.
Still 27p. But worth it for Snail-Man and Captain Wally.
#651 (31 Aug 1985) to #666 (14 Dec 1985) — 16 issues
Where it all ended… All pretence at being anything other than a kids’ comic has been abandoned. It’s not the name I object to as much as the different-coloured letters. That’s the sort of thing a five-year-old kid does because they don’t want any of their crayons to feel left out. Strips include Spider-Man, Hulk, Ewoks, Indiana Jones and an adaptation of Disney’s The Black Cauldron.
Initially 27 pence per issue, but that leaps to 30p with issue #659.
Funless fact: the final issue of this once-seminal comic doesn’t even have Spider-Man on the cover. It has a full-page pic of Santa instead, from Santa Claus the Movie, which — in case you’ve not seen it — is as bad a Santa movie as you can imagine, plus a little bit worse than that. Is it a mere coincidence that the “death” issue is #666 –the number of the beast — and that “Santa” is an anagram of “Satan”? Yes. yes, it is a coincidence.
So that’s it, folks. The complete abbreviated history of Spider-Man Comics Weekly, packed with bonus “Easter Egg” features such as typos and errors caused by shoddy research.
Because I know you’re wondering, I will tell you that the logo with the most appearances is… the very first logo, with a grand total of 80 issues, though the Spider-Man and Hulk Weekly/Team-Up logo comes a surprisingly close second with 74 appearances, though that’s debatable because that logo did change part-way through to reflect the change in title. It arguably could have had its own entry on the list above, but the change is so minor I just didn’t feel it was necessary.
During the Spider-Man Comics Weekly era Spider-Man turned up occasionally in strips in other titles — as is standard for Marvel characters because they all live in the same universe — and he also appeared in the digest-sized Spider-Man Pocket Book (April 1980 to June 1982, 28 monthly issues) which reprinted material from the US Marvel Team-Up comics. The Spider-Man Pocket Book also reprinted some of the earliest tales from Amazing Spider-Man (which would have mostly been unseen in the UK since the days of Mighty World of Marvel and SMCW).
The Team-Up stories in the Pocket Book — which always featured Spider-Man working alongside another hero or a team, but only after they’d first had a scrap due to a misunderstanding — must have been popular enough with the readers because Marvel UK soon launched their own Marvel Team-Up title, which ran for 25 issues from 11th September, 1980 to 4th March 1981 before being absorbed into Spider-Man Comics Weekly.
The cancellation of Spidey Comic in the dying days of 1985 wasn’t the end for Spider-Man at Marvel UK: he was back a few months later with a brand-new title. Spider-Man and Zoids ran for fifty-one issues from 8th March, 1986 to 21st February, 1987. The latter were toys, so this was very much a licensed property. It was a bizarre combination that should never have worked, but the Zoids material (original to this comic) was generally very good, and it was nice to see the return of the logo from issues #311 to #375.
The 90s brought Panini into the mix, and that meant lots of Spider-Man titles, all of them in full-colour as far as I remember. There’s been a dozen at least, including Complete Spider-Man, The Exploits of Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man Adventures, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man and X-Men, Spider-Man Magazine, Ultimate Spider-Man Magazine and at least five incarnations of The Astonishing Spider-Man (in 1995, 2007, 2009, 2013 and 2015). Probably a lot more, too: I’ve attempted to keep track of them but it’s not easy.
So Spider-Man is still going strong, perhaps even more popular than ever, but for me not one of the newer titles has that same pull as Spider-Man Comics Weekly did in the 70s. Perhaps that’s because there’s an abundance of Spider-Man material available now, but it’s most likely because I’m no longer a kid. Shame!
Before we go… Because you demanded it, true believer, here’s this week’s free gift for you to print-out-then-cut-out-and-keep…
That jagged white line trundling around the centre of the graph represents the cover price, starting with 5p with issue #1, then rising to 30p by the end. If you bought every issue on the day it was published, you’d have spent £92.91. (If anyone out there has a full set for sale, do let me know: I’m willing to round that price up to generous £93.00!)
And speaking of cover-prices… Some more stats! Back in 1973, the average annual salary in the UK was about £1539, or £29.60 per week. Enough for 592 copies of Spider-Man Comics Weekly (though it would have bought you 1480 copies of The Beano). By the time SMCW came to an end in 1985, the UK average annual salary had risen to about £7000, or £134.62 per week, which would buy you 448 copies of the comic at its end-of-life cover-price.
We didn’t have a lesson last time, but do we have one today? Yeah, I think maybe we do! It might be one you’ve already learned, but I do know that a lot of people on-line have not learned it… You’ll no doubt have spotted that in every one of these logos (except the final one) the name “Spider-Man” contains a hyphen. It’s always had a hyphen, of course, but some people either don’t know, or they forget. Or, worse, they don’t care. If you’ve been one of those people, trained professionals are available to help.
So until next time, folks, remember our motto: “Make Mine Rusty!”