The Spider

Vulcan most likely came about in response to the growing UK arm of Marvel, which was starting to become a player in the market due to anthology titles like The Mighty World of Marvel, The Mighty Avengers and Super Spider-Man. These sliced up US comic books so that readers would have three or four partial stories to follow an issue - bizarrely reducing the relatively self-contained stories in order to mimic the successful British 'serial' stories in comics (though this did mean Marvel weren't putting all their eggs in one basket). Fleetway had spent the previous few years moving away from the fantastical, making most of their money out of the reliable boys' market for war and football.

For Vulcan, then, they produced no new material, instead going to the archives of their weeklies to find more superhero styled strips. They came up with a solid core of seven stories - from Valiant came 'Mytek the Mighty', which featured a giant robotic ape in the control of evil scientist Gogra; 'The Steel Claw', a genre-hoping thriller about Louis Crandell, a man who could become invisible apart from the titular metal hand; and 'Kelly's Eye', about a man named Tim Kelly who became invincible due to a gem known as the Eye of Zoltec. From Lion came venerable adventuring android 'Robot Archie' and cult anti-hero 'The Spider'. From Look and Learn (where it was actually still running, though Vulcan went back to the beginning of the story) came science-fantasy epic 'The Trigan Empire', and from Tiger came Tarzan knockoff 'Saber, King of the Jungle'.

The weekly comic mimicked the Marvel series by adding a healthy dose of colour. 'The Trigan Empire', which (nearly) always straddled the middle eight pages having always been rendered in lush full colour, while for 'Mytek the Mighty' and 'Robot Archie' the fully coloured art used in overseas translations was switched back into English language (indeed, the Archie adventures utilised the complete re-drawings made by Bert Bus for the Dutch title Sjors). Add in the cover and that gave each 32-page issue a count of 16 colour pages. Unusually, the comic itself was a very different format to its' stablemates, being US comic book sized (well, nearly - as anyone who's tried to bag the issues can tell you, Vulcans are a frustrating fifth of an inch or so wider!). It also used what was - for the time - a very high quality glossy paper stock for both colour and black & white strips.

Vulcan launched in Scotland only in March 1975, an unusual step considering a new title usually started with a flurry of publicity. Presumably between the title being entirely reprints and the unusual format the comic was just considered to be too much of a gamble. It seemed to go down well, and from the 27th of September 1975 was relaunched as a national after 30 Scottish issues. So as not to alienate the Scottish readership, instead of restarting the reprints, the serials were all brought to a close one way or another in the preceding Scottish issues, allowing each character to kick off in the national with the start of a fresh story. While this was perhaps laudable, it meant many of the stories started off to English and Welsh readers with very little explanation.

Close to the end of the year, the publishers used the ending of storylines to test out a couple different characters, notably 'The House of Dolmann' from Valiant, telling the story of a crime fighter and his army of robotic puppets, and also bizarre football/gypsy crossover 'Raven on the Wing' (again from Valiant). Within a couple of months these had gone, however. A Vulcan Holiday Special was also produced, while the comic had some success in Germany, renamed Kobra.

However, sales for the national never seemed to have taken off. Even the late addition of the (dire) 'Billy's Boots' in place of the (dire) Saber, 'King of the Jungle' couldn't save it, and the national version barely limped past six months itself. After 28 issues, the last dated 4th April 1976, the comic merged with Valiant. Just as Vulcan hadn't been a conventional comic, it wasn't a conventional merger either - rather than being integrated into the comic itself, Vulcan was turned into a small black & white mini-comic mounted on the centre staples of the rechristened Valiant and Vulcan. These continued some serials, while others were just left incomplete.

That summer, a Vulcan Annual had been issued. Again this differed from the norm in being softback, and reprinted whole short stories (either from annuals, or just one- or two-part weekly serials) featuring 'The Spider', 'Robot Archie', 'The Steel Claw', 'The House of Dolmann', 'Kelly's Eye', 'Billy's Boots' and 'The Trigan Empire' (the only one in colour), padded out with Valiant's stalwart cartoon 'Sporty' (I'd have preferred 'Mowser' myself). Despite its' short life, Vulcan remains fondly remembered due to its' star-studded line up, wheeling out the best in sixties British comic fantasy.

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