In the 1960s the only way most UK fans of superhero comics could get their fix was via irregular US imports, Alan Class reprints, or the five titles in the Odhams Power Comics range. Of these five (Wham!, Pow!, Smash!, Fantastic!, and Terrific) the most short lived as a separate title was Terrific.
Running for just 43 issues, from 15 April 1967 to 3 February 1968, with not even an annual to call its own, Terrific nonetheless managed to feature some of the very best Marvel stories from the early sixties, with scripts by Stan Lee and art by almost all the giants of the period: Kirby, Heck, Ditko, Colan, Ayers, Adkins, Lieber... The list is a veritable Who’s Who of early Marvel. Some issues featured original pin-ups of Marvel characters which were among the earliest published work of Barry Windsor Smith.
Issue No.1 kicked off with The Sub-Mariner from Tales to Astonish #70, The Mighty Avengers from Avengers #6, and Doctor Strange from Strange Tales #115. Sub-Mariner’s opening tale was a bit dull but Gene Colan’s art at least looked good. Around about issue No.13 or 14 things improved and even some musical-chairs with the artist (Colan yielding the pen to Kirby in mid-episode due to illness) Prince Namor’s adventures went out on a high in No.22 with artwork by his creator, “Wild” Bill Everett.
Namor’s adventures were succeeded by those of Giant-Man and the Wonderful Wasp, one of the most engaging double acts in comics’ history: as written by Stan Lee, they came across as a kind of Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man movies. Their adventures began with the origin of Giant-Man from Tales to Astonish #49 and ended in No.43 with his last ever adventure in his own strip from TTA #69. It wasn’t a comprehensive run: 5 issues were omitted (TTA #60-63, 67) and to be fair most of those were pretty bad so it was no great loss. Of those that were printed, the ones drawn by Bob Powell stood head-and-shoulders above most of those around them – the Madam Macabre story, in particular, being one of the most creepily atmospheric ever put on paper.
The Avengers had debuted in Smash!; Terrific picked up their adventures with their first ever battle against Baron Zemo and his Masters of Evil. The Lee/Kirby period quickly gave way to the legendary Lee/Heck period, and the Old Avengers yielded the stage to the New Avengers. After a desultory couple of opening stories, villains like the Swordsman and Power Man put the new team on the map and showed that they were every bit as good as their predecessors. A couple of fill-in issues by Wally Wood on the art chores didn't hurt.
The Dr. Strange origin tale that appeared in Terrific No.1 was, in fact, his fourth outing in the US (a pattern that Marvel UK would follow about a decade later when he appeared in their Avengers comic). Of the remainder of his run, only a single episode would be omitted (from Strange Tales #114) but given how lousy it was that was no great loss. A few later tales would appear out of chronological order but only encyclopaedically minded purists would notice. For some, these Ditko-drawn (and often Ditko-plotted) adventures remain the definitive take on the Master of the Mystic Arts. When Bill Everett took over (in Terrific No.35) he had a hard act to follow, and in some ways he never quite made it. The good Doctor came to an ignominious end in the pages of Terrific and his last couple of stories were nothing of the kind: billed as “Doctor Strange tells a Tale” they were just slightly reworked shorts from the pre-Marvel universe (one by Ditko, one by Heck). It was a sad end to a once glorious series.
Issue No.27 saw the start of a brief run of Tales of the Watcher. This was a very variable series, plumbing some pretty dreadful lows (“The Watcher Must Die!” featuring some of George Tuska’s worst ever artwork and a script by Stan Lee that was a match for it) and some soaring highs (“The Watcher’s Sacrifice”, perhaps the most tragic weepie ever to appear in a Power comic).
A pair of solo Wasp tales appeared in Terrific Nos.41 and 42 and to be honest they are probably best forgotten. Written and drawn by Larry Lieber they came from Tales to Astonish #57 and #58.
Like the other Power comics, Terrific also printed a handful of “Marvel Mystery Tales”; the best was probably “Markham’s Magic Crayon” (Strange Tales #104); the worst (by a country mile) was “Barker’s Garage” (“Barker’s Body Shop” in Journey into Mystery #89).
Terrific ran only a single UK-originated series. It began as “The Living Dolls” in No.3. No.4 saw the tardy arrival of its star, Don Starr (and, yes, the puns very soon started to come thick and fast). Don went on to have three further adventures (“The Drama of Doom”, “Appointment with Fear” and “Appointment with Mr. Big”), finally getting his name above the titles in issue No.27. His was an almost unclassifiable series: part spy drama, part thriller, part supernatural/SF schlock, it could probably only have originated in the 1960s and in the UK.
Following No.43, Terrific didn't vanish entirely. It merged with companion paper Fantastic but was only a shadow of its former self. Don Starr was gone, the Watcher was gone, Giant-Man and the Wasp were gone. The Avengers and Dr. Strange remained, but neither of them was enjoying the best period in their history. Only the Avengers would survive the remainder of the combined comics’ total run, bowing out in style with the mega-five-part “Monstrous Master Plan of the Mandarin” from King Size Avengers #1. But the spirit of Terrific failed to survive the merger. At its best, Terrific had been a pure fantasy comic that had a lighter tone than Fantastic and that appealed to a younger audience. It was, in many ways—even among the Power comics—unique.
(For a fuller exploration of Don Starr, check out Crikey! magazine No.11. For a detailed history of the Power Comics, and a comprehensive breakdown of their entire run, see Steve Holland’s excellent tome “The Power Pack”.)