onsdag 22. oktober 2014


A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Italian Marvel editor Marvel Comic Book Luca “Dolce” Dolcini, who is trying to collect information about when and how Marvel Superhero comic book have been published around the world. I promised I’d provide him with the information he’d need about the Norwegian publishing history. I tried to limit myself as best I could, but still ended up with a fairly detailed overview, which I’d now like to share with the rest of you as well.

Roughly speaking, there have been three waves of Marvel superheroes in Norwegian comics publishing history.

The first one was in 1968, when prominent comic publisher SE-Bladene decided to push Marvel with four titles: Edderkoppen (Spider-Man), Fantastiske Fire (Fantastic Four), Koloss (Hulk), Demonen (Daredevil) Fakkelen og Jernmannen (The Human Torch and Iron Man). Most of these titles failed to make any sort of impact on the Norwegian market, and only lasted one year. Daredevil’s title was the only one that didn’t get cancelled by the end of the year. It lasted until the end of 1970. It wasn't Daredevil's book alone, though. It also featured the characters whose books had been cancelled - Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Hulk. In fact, Hulk became a backup feature in Daredevil's book as early as in late 1968, and from 1969 on, the other heroes were featured on the cover just as much as Daredevil himself.

For most of the seventies, Marvel was dead in the Norwegian market (DC, on the other hand had its golden age in Norway in the seventies, but that’s another story).

The second wave began in 1978, when Spider-Man and Fantastic Four was reintroduced in Norway, both with the same names as used in the 1968. The comics were published by Atlantic, and the release schedule was coordinated in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Atlantic also introduced Atlantic Spesial featuring stand-alone stories with various Marvel heroes, and in 1979 they began publishing albums and double digests featuring Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and the Hulk. The Hulk had his original name this time, possibly to take advantage of the synergy effect from the TV series. The next year, Hulk got his own monthly comic, which went on to be a cornerstone in Atlantic’s Marvel line. For the next five years, Spider-Man and Hulk were the only consistent Marvel titles on the Norwegian market, but a whole lot of other titles came and went.

Atlantic Spesial became an anthology magazine, mostly featuring X-Men, Iron Man, Daredevil and Ghost Rider. Then Daredevil got his own book for a couple of years, and so did She-Hulk, of all things (still more proof of the Hulk’s popularity). Fantastic Four stayed monthly up until 1982, and there were a ton of albums and double digests featuring Spider-Man and the Hulk. Atlantic even got a couple of year’s run out of comics that weren’t technically superhero comics, but was still considered part of the Marvel universe, such as Ka-Zar and Tomb of Dracula. A competing company even published a Moon Knight comic book for three years, aiming it at an older audience. All things considered, the early eighties was a great time to be a Marvel fan in Norway.

Then, in late 1984, Norway’s biggest comic publisher Semic (later bought up by Egmont) got the rights to Marvel in Scandinavia, which changed the game completely. Semic made some important changes in the Marvel line, some for the better, others for worse.

The good thing first: Semic encouraged fandom activity and contact between readers and editors in a way that Atlantic had never done. They introduced pages for reader’s letters and provided their readers with good and proper information, rather than just spewing out the comics blindly, like Atlantic had been doing. Also, they brought the X-Men (under the name Prosjekt X) back into the Norwegian market as a new, monthly comic book. X-Men was a comic that Atlantic had never treated with much respect or attention.

The bad: for some reason, Semic began reprinting Hulk stories that had Atlantic had already put out five years ago, messing up the continuity that Scandinavian readers had gotten used to. Semic hardly put out any new albums or digests, and the few digests they offered were single and in black and white. Semic’s Norwegian editor admitted that he had no idea how Atlantic was able to publish several double digests in color every year.

By the end of 1985, Semic’s great plan for the Marvel universe in Norway was falling apart. X-Men was cancelled before the end of the year. Hulk was as good as cancelled by the end of the year. In the following year, only a few Hulk issues came out. Spider-Man continued as before, though, and to make some amends, Semic began publishing the Miller/Janson run on Daredevil as a monthly comic book (called “Demonen”, a name which has not been used for the character since 1970). It actually did quite well, mostly because Miller’s writing appealed to more mature readers. Daredevil was considered proof that the comics medium was growing up, so to speak.  

Encouraged by the Daredevil success, Semic began publishing new bi-monthly comic books in 1987 under the vignettes Marvel Spesial and Marvel Superheltene.  Through these books, the X-Men made their return to the Norwegian market and, perhaps more surprisingly, so did the Fantastic Four. Semic must have had great confidence in John Byrne’s ability to deliver quality comics at this time, as they published everything they could find of Byrne in the period 1987-1989: Fantastic Four, Hulk and even Alpha Flight - In addition to John Byrne’s Superman, which they also had the rights to.
Hulk and X-Men got their own comic books back 1990 (bi-monthly for the Hulk and monthly for the X-Men). But alas, this turned out to be tempting fate. X-Men was cancelled within a year, Hulk was cancelled within two years. Only Spider-Man stayed afloat, but was cancelled by the end of 1993. And that was the end of the second wave, after what seemed like a constant and defiant struggle to remain in the Norwegian comic market ever since 1985.

Technically, it wasn't over until the Punisher's comic book ended in 1995, after being published in Norway for five years. But the Punisher's Norwegian publisher was trying to avoid making a book that would have appeal to fans of Marvel superheroes. And probably for good reason - The reader's letter pages suggested that the typical Punisher reader detested superheroes.The Punisher was publised by Bladkompaniet.

The third wave began, once again with Spider-Man. In 1999, he made his surprising return to the Norwegian market, probably encouraged by the character’s increased mass media presence. It was perfectly timed: Media’s interest in Spider-Man was about to explode, thanks to Sam Raimi’s movie.
One important detail changed with the third wave: All the characters kept their original names from now on. In Norway (and in many other countries) there’s a tradition of translating superhero names.
Spider-Man was now published by Egmont. Encouraged by its success, Egmont also relaunched the comic book Gigant in 2000. Gigant was originally for DC superheroes only, but this time it was used to print both DC and Marvel heroes, especially Ultimate Marvel.

Egmont also tried a Wolverine comic book for two years. When it got cancelled, they replaced it with an X-Men comic in 2003. This was actually the X-Men’s most successful run in Norway; it was bi-monthly with double-sized issues every time, and ran for four years. At the same time, the fan-driven company Seriehuset reintroduced Daredevil and the title Marvel Superheltene with the aid of the old publishing house Aller. They also added another title, Marvel Universet, for Iron Man and Captain America stories. It lasted two years. Daredevil also lasted two years, new Marvel Superheltene lasted for four years including a year-long sabbatical, and was made up mostly by Fantastic Four and Thor stories. It’s worth noticing that despite the character’s roots in Scandinavian mythology, this was the first time ever that Marvel’s Thor had been prolific in a Norwegian comic book.

In 2007, the Norwegian rights to Marvel were taken over by the important publishing company Schibsted, who tried their best to keep the heroes in circulation. Spider-Man continued as before, and the vignette “Marvel Spesial” was reintroduced. It was mostly made up by X-Men and Wolverine material, so the X-Men stayed around for a little while longer. Schibsted also published Marvel color single digests for a couple of years. From 2009, the issues became less irregular, but they also became thicker and had a greater diversity of characters. The content was to some degree based on whatever Marvel hero had a movie out at the time, but the editors were free to use any story they wanted with that particular hero. Yet also in 2009, Spider-Man was cancelled, which was obviously a bad sign. Gradually, the new special became fewer, and for the last couple of years, they’ve only featured reprints of material formerly released in Norway.

This year, nothing has been published save for the “Spider-Man Kids” book produced by Panini. So I think it’s safe to say the third wave is over, and I don’t think there’ll ever be a fourth one. The kids in Norway are content with Marvel superheroes on TV and cinemas, while the adult fans know English well enough to read the originals.  The translated material just isn’t selling anymore.  

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