Power Comics was an imprint of the British comics publisher Odhams Press that was particularly notable for its use of material reprinted from American Marvel Comics. Appearing chiefly during the years 1967 and 1968, the Power Comics line consisted of five weekly titles: Wham!, Smash!, Pow!, Fantastic and Terrific. The first three of these titles were essentially traditional Beano-style British comic papers supplemented by a small amount of Marvel and DC material, while the last two were more magazine-like in style and were dominated by their Marvel content.
When Odhams obtained the rights to reprint Marvel material in the UK, they began by incorporating superhero stories such as the Fantastic Four into their existing titles Wham! and Smash!. The Marvel material was reproduced in black and white, and serialized in short instalments alongside the original British strips which still dominated the content of those comics. "Smash!" also reprinted the Batman newspaper strip, to cash in on the popularity of the live-action TV show.
Power Comics took more concrete form with the appearance of Pow! and Fantastic early in 1967. 'The first issue of Pow! appeared on 14 January 1967, by which time Wham! had reached issue 136 and Smash! was at issue 51. Pow! was similar in format to the two earlier comics, a mixture of traditional British material and Marvel reprints — in this case Spider-Man and Nick Fury.
Fantastic first appeared on 11 February 1967, and was quite different in style from its predecessors. In many ways it looked more like one of the American black-and-white anthology magazines of the time, such as Creepy and Eerie, than a traditional British comic such as The Beano. It was aimed at an older audience than the latter, though a younger one than the American anthology magazines. The content of Fantastic was dominated by Marvel superheroes The Mighty Thor, the X-Men, and Iron Man, with only a minimal amount of British material. In general appearance, style and content, Fantastic can be considered a direct precursor of the Marvel UK weeklies, such as The Mighty World Of Marvel, that appeared during the 1970s.
The number of Power Comics titles was increased to five on 8 April 1967 with the first appearance of Terrific, which was similar in format to Fantastic and was again dominated by Marvel reprint material: The Avengers, Dr Strange, and the Sub-Mariner.
The Power Comics line remained at five titles for nine months, after which it started to dwindle. Wham! was merged into Pow! on 13 January 1968, while Terrific merged into Fantastic three weeks later. This left three Power titles for just over six months, after which Pow! and Fantastic were merged into Smash! in September and November 1968 respectively. Smash! continued to include some Marvel material till early in 1969. In December 1968 the Power Comics logo was dropped, and in March 1969 Smash! was revamped into virtually a new comic, in the style of established IPC titles such as Lion and Valiant (into which Smash! eventually merged in 1971).
The history of the Power Comics is really a history of the managed decline of the UK comics industry in general during the 1960s, in the face of falling sales resulting from the growing power of television. In the course of that decade the UK television industry introduced a new channel (in 1964), cheaper TV receivers (in consequence of the transistor revolution), hire-purchase (broadening the market so that anyone could afford a television set), and, dealing a death-blow to mass market comics, launched British television into colour at Christmas 1969.
Style and content
Power Comics was the first attempt to integrate elements of American superhero comics into mainstream British comic publishing, motivated by the huge success of Stan Lee's line of Marvel Comics in the USA. Besides reprinting many of Marvel's most popular series such as Spider-Man and the X-Men, there was also an attempt to create a home-grown British superhero: firstly with Johnny Future, who appeared in Fantastic prior to its merger with Terrific; and subsequently with 'Tri-Man', who appeared in Smash after its merger with Fantastic.
As well as drawing heavily on Stan Lee's creative output, Power Comics also attempted to emulate Lee's chatty style and community building efforts, through their own Editors, who were Alf and Bart on some titles, and Alf and Cos on others. In point of fact, "Alf" was Odhams staff editor Alf Wallace, "Bart" was Eagle editor Big Bartholomew, and "Cos" was Albert Cosser who would later be the Editor of TV Times magazine. Each title had its own letter column (such as "Fantastic Fan-mail"), and also a half-page editorial ("News from the Floor of 64", a reference to the editorial offices at 64 Long Acre in London, an address common to all of the Power Comics), comparable in style and purpose to Marvel's "Bullpen Bulletins".
Unlike the otherwise similar Marvel UK reprints of the 1970s, the Marvel material in the Power Comics was frequently edited to replace American spellings and slang with their British equivalents. Dialogue and/or images were also changed occasionally to remove snags in continuity caused by the lack of synchronisation between reprints of different storylines. The alterations were quite crudely done and easy to spot.
One of the more controversial aspects of Power Comics was the relative lack of credit given to Marvel Comics and the American creators of the material used. For the first few weeks of the Marvel reprints the company was not acknowledged at all, but Odhams then had a change of heart and published a letter from a reader pointing out the origin of the strips. But, throughout, Marvel credit boxes containing the names of Stan Lee and collaborators such as Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby were invariably deleted from the splash pages; the space they occupied was either left blank or covered with drawn-in artwork. Apart from the compulsory copyright acknowledgement in small print, the name "Marvel" was never mentioned — wherever it appeared in the strips it was changed to "Power". Marvel continued to be mentioned occasionally though. For example, when the Hulk was removed from Smash! the editors had to justify the decision by admitting the reprints had caught up with the American originals. After a gap of several months, due to the character's popularity with readers, the Hulk reappeared, but in Fantastic.
A distinctive feature of both Fantastic and Terrific was the full-colour pin-up that featured as the back cover of most issues. Many of these were reprinted from American Marvel comics, but at least some (including a Johnny Future pin-up) were produced especially for the Power Comics by a young Barry Windsor-Smith.