It’s been twenty years since the beloved Marvel UK imprint went dark. But for fans, that light has never gone out – and now it’s coming back for the world at large.
In January, Marvel is returning to the characters of the Marvel UK line in a big way with an event series titled Revolutionary War. Headed up by comics writers (and former Marvel UK staffers) Andy Lanning and Alan Cowsill, Revolutionary War is a who’s who of characters from that beloved English imprint from Captain Britain and Death’s Head to teams like Knights of the Pendragon and the Warheads. And even Pete Wisdom of the MI-13 is getting in on the action.
The fun starts in January as Lanning and Cowsill partner with fellow Marvel UK alum Rich Elson in Revolutionary War: Alpha, to be followed by one-shots featuring various stars of the former imprint like Dark Angel (written by Kieron Gillen), Knights of the Pendragon (written by Rob Williams) and more. Newsarama spoke with Lanning and Cowsill
Newsarama: So guys, what brought about this return to the Marvel UK characters and the Revolutionary Warseries itself?
Alan Cowsill: Think it was something Andy had been planning for a while. It’s about twenty years since the Marvel UK heroes were at their height – some first issues used to sell in excess of 300,000 copies or even more in Death’s Head II’s case – and there seemed to be an increasing interest in revisiting them.
Andy Lanning: I’ve been pestering Marvel editor Steve Wacker for over a year about doing a Marvel UK project, ever since I realized that 2013-14 would mark 20 years since the last Marvel UK title was published. Steve championed the idea and we finally wore down Marvel and they’ve given us the chance to revisit these characters who had a brief but bright time in the limelight back in the 90s.
Nrama: The big stars from Marvel UK, back in their own series: what is the central conceit of Revolutionary War?
Cowsill: The basic idea is to bring a whole bunch of Marvel UK heroes and villains back into the Marvel Universe. Mostly the 1990’s vintage – Death’s Head II, Motormouth, Dark Angel, Super Soldiers, Warheads and a few surprise guests. With the addition of Pete Wisdom, Captain Britain and S.H.I.E.L.D., we’re not only bringing the heroes back but making them very much part of the modern Marvel universe.
Lanning: It’s been 20 years in real time since these characters were in their own titles and 5 years since we last saw most of the Marvel UK heroes (in Paul Cornell’s excellent Captain Britain and MI-13 series). Our story finds many of these heroes either retired, decommissioned or M.I.A. but events unfold that lead the agents from S.H.I.E.L.D. and MI-13 to team up and seek them out because it looks like an old enemy is resurfacing to threaten the country and even the world.
Nrama: Who’s in this team all together? The solicits for Revolutionary War Alpha #1 says the main team of heroes will be Captain Britain, Pete Wisdom, Death’s Head II, Motormouth, Killpower, and the Warheads.
Cowsill: We’ve also got the Knights of Pendragon and the Super Soldiers in the mix, with a few cameos along the way. There are a lot more characters we’d like to have included but they didn’t fit the story we wanted to tell.
Nrama: In that list is a big standout for me – Pete Wisdom. Although he’s British, he wasn’t introduced in a Marvel UK title but the Excalibur book by Warren Ellis and Ken Lashley. Why was it important to bring him into the bunch?
Cowsill: Mainly because we both like Peter Wisdom as a character and he fitted perfectly with the story we’re telling. Peter and his role in MI-13 also provide a nice bridge between Marvel and Marvel UK.
Lanning: Wisdom is now very much a part of the Marvel UK universe and continuity; it would be a waste not to include him. The last time readers got to experience stories from this part of the greater Marvel Universe was in the pages of Captain Britain and MI-13; our story is very much an extension from that existing continuity.
Nrama: And Captain Britain -- while he might seem like a mainstream Marvel hero – debuted in in a 1970s Marvel UK book, Captain Britain Weekly and created by British comics writer Chris Claremont. Can you talk about Braddock’s stature as Marvel’s most popular British superhero, and what it meant for Marvel UK then and now?
Cowsill: Well I’ve liked Captain Britain since the first issue came out in the 1970s. I had the mask and everything as a kid. Later on Alan Moore and Alan Davis’ run on the title blew me away. I wish someone would release a black and white version of it in the original size. I still think it’s one of the all-time best super hero series. So when we learned we could use Cap, we were chuffed. He also acts nicely as a way into the story for readers who only know the MI-13 stuff.
Lanning: Like Alan, I grew up reading Cap Britain from issue #1: he was the UK’s own hero and I’ve been a fan followed his stories ever since. Again, it’s a waste not to include him in a story set in the UK although we are focusing more on the Marvel UK heroes from the 90s.
Nrama: And what is the threat that these united heroes are up against?
Lanning: That’d be telling. But obviously it has to be something pretty world threatening to bring these guys back to the front line.
Nrama: This isn’t just a simple miniseries, but you have one-shots in this Revolutionary War umbrella like Kieron Gillen & Dietrich Smith’s Dark Angel one-shot. Can you tell us about all these solo one-shots, and how they fit into your larger story?
Cowsill: It was important to us to make sure some of the old heroes got the moment in the spotlight. One shots seemed one of the best ways to do this. Between us all we selected the ones we had the fondest memories of or could be updated to be relevant today and say something about the world we presently live in. They might be one-shots but they’ll also give the reader a better understanding of the main story running through the series.
Lanning: The one-shots are a chance to focus on the individual heroes and hopefully reintroduce them to today’s audience who may not have heard of them before. We have some great UK writers working on the one-shots and they are bringing their own unique vision to these characters. Rob Williams will be writing Super Soldiers and Knights of Pendragon, Kieron’s on Dark Angel, Glenn Dakin (an original alumni from Marvel UK in the 90s) is back writing Motormouth and Alan and myself will be writing Death’s Head II and Warheads as well as the Alpha and Omega issues that bookend the series. We have some great artists too, along with Dietrich Smith on Dark Angel, we have Nick Roche on Death’s Head II, Simon Coleby on Knights of Pendragon, Brent Anderson on Super Soldiers, Gary Erskine on Warheads and Richard Elson drawing the Alpha and Omega issues.
Nrama: That’s an amazing set of creators. How’d you and Marvel go about picking who’d join you two on this venture?
Cowsill: We basically just picked some of our favorites. I’ve been a big fan of Kieron Gillen and Rob William’s work for a while and I’ve loved Glenn Dakin’s since I edited an issue of Motormouth and Killpower he did back in the mid 1990s. In fact, his recent children’s books about Candleman were great gothic superhero stuff.
Lanning: We wanted to use as many UK-based writers as possible and were very lucky to secure some great artists, many of whom (Gary, Simon and Richard) got their start at Marvel UK back in the day.
Nrama: The original Death’s Head popped up in Gillen’s Iron Man recently. We see Death’s Head II prominently featured in the marketing for Revolutionary War, but could we also see the original Deaths’ Head here?
Cowsill: Yup. It’s a secret but both incarnations are going to be taking part. If Doctor Who can meet his various incarnations, we don’t see why Death’s Head can’t… Of course whether they get on or not is another question.
Nrama: Many fans have a warm spot for those Marvel UK titles of the 70s, 80s and 90s. So guys, what makes it memorable for you?
Cowsill: My main memory – in fact one of my main comic memories – is seeing a TV ad for the first issue of Mighty World of Marvel (Marvel UK’s first title) back in 1972. It had a ‘free green-skinned monster transfer” with the first issue. Guess I’ve been a Marvel fan ever since. Getting to work in the office in the 1990s was a blast too – especially as I got to meet and work with so many amazing writers and artists passing through the company back then. Some of the biggest artists in the business got their big breaks at Marvel UK in the 1990s… Liam Sharp, Bryan Hitch, Doug Braithwaite, Jim Cheung, Mike Perkins, Carlos Pacheco, Pasqual Ferry, Salvador Larroca, Andy Lanning… and lots more.
Lanning: Marvel UK offered many readers (myself included) a chance to read Marvel heroes on a regular basis as it was very difficult, if not impossible, yp get a hold of U.S. comics. The Marvel UK titles in the 70s and 80s reprinted 7-page sections from regular Marvel U.S. format comics in black and white as part of a weekly anthology. It was via these titles you could read Spider-Man along with the Inhumans, Avengers, and Fantastic Four all in one comic. In the 90s marvel UK got a chance to create its own titles with a very distinctive flavour to them: these were superheroes but with a unique UK take on them: a blend of Marvel heroes and 2000AD sci-fi. These proved to be very popular during their brief run and it was these characters we wanted to revisit in this series to hopefully give today’s readers a chance to appreciate them.
Nrama: And given your mutual involvement in these titles, do you still get fans asking about it at conventions or online?
Cowsill: Oddly enough, just before I started work on it I kept meeting people who told me how much they loved the Marvel UK stuff. And since it was announced there’s been a real buzz developing on various fansites such as It Came From Darkmoor and the Marvel UK Facebook page.
Lanning: Over the years I can say that every convention I’ve attended I’ve always had someone ask me about some aspect of Marvel UK; normally when is Death’s Head coming back. We’ve been really encouraged by the swell of interest and comments that have flooded the web since the announcement of the series. It shows there is still interest in these characters and this corner of the Marvel Universe.