Once again the Royal Mail deliver some pop culture quality. Their Marvel stamps are more than a cash-in, although their pulp power can’t paper over some side-way glances at the Special Relationship, on page and off.
RELEASED ON 14 MARCH, THE LATEST LAVISH SET OF POP CULTURE STAMPS FROM ROYAL MAIL ARE PART OF A SEMI-REGULAR SERIES READY-MADE TO APPEAL TO PHILATELISTS, A PARTICULAR FAN-BASE AND ALSO COME IN PRETTY HANDY FOR SENDING LETTERS TOO.
The set comprises 10 main stamps, diplomatically giving a tenner of Marvel characters a first class value, while a secondary sheet has a variety of denominations bedded into a short comic strip that finds Marvel Heroes UK take on galactic rogue Thanos.
It’s not an exclusively UK line-up. Though led by Captain Britain, stronger together is an alternative Avengers team comprising him, Americans Dr Strange, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Hulk, Wakandan Black Panther and Asgardian Thor. All the heroes and villains are brought to life in ink and colour by Mark Farmer and Laura Martin respectively, but the pencils and framing (the originals printed under the stamps in a nice touch) are courtesy of Alan Davis, an artist with a pedigree across DC and Marvel comics. He can count as one of his career highlights a seminal mid-1980s run on Captain Britain.
It’s Captain Britain who takes point on the stamps. More than a Limey mirror of the vastly more famous Captain America, he is Brian Braddock, twin brother of the mutant Psylocke, of Maldon, Essex. A young academic from an aristocratic family, Merlin saved him from a fatal accident, bestowing on him the Amulet of Right, powers of strength, flight, and the mantle of Captain Britain. In one of popular comics greatest moments, Alan Moore penned the Alan Davis illustrated tale that took UK’s Cap to fight the reality-altering Mad Jim Jaspers and his multi-dimensional creation the Fury (also featured here) – a comic run everybody should read.
Alongside him are Davis’ interpretations of two of Cap’s wartime predecessors. Union Jack, who’s first incarnation was Lord Falsworth, a Pimpernel-type figure who fought as part of Freedom’s Five during WWI, most frequently against his vampiric brother Baron Blood. His current incarnation shown here is Joey Chapman, the Manchester-born son of a shipbuilder, but on the stamps appears to be the middle incarnation, Brian Falsworth.
Thirdly, typically calm amid the explosions of the Second World War as ever, is (Agent) Peggy Carter. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has seen her legend grow as portrayed by the brilliant Hayley Atwell.
A certain historical mysticism blended with a jingoistic heyday is not an unusual bedrock for four-colour origins. But it’s difficult not to view this super-powered manifestation of the Special Relationship through the prism of current events; when the United Kingdom and the United States face their greatest peace-time turmoil for many decades, certainly beyond the creation of these comic characters.
Perhaps Peggy, Brian and Joey are fighting Brexit in-between Thanos’ visits.
The presentation packaging wraps the stamps, comic sheet and a number of quite warranted comic bubble stickers in biographies of key Marvel heroes and villains. But the fact Thanos leads the villainous plot on the secondary stamps, earning a quite imperious stamp of his own, reflects the House of Ideas‘ major success on the big screen, Though a major Marvel villain since Jim Starlin brought him to page in 1973, the big purple fiend has pulled the strings behind the scenes of the MCU‘s 10-year arc as its cemented its position at the top of the box office. Presumably he’ll reach his Waterloo in the Avengers Endgame, in theatres near you at the end of this month. Sadly, his downfall won’t feature any of these British heroes, unless Peggy Carter can pull off something quite spectacular.
Although the emphasis of this collection is on the four-colour history that started with Marvel’s arrival in the UK in 1972, Royal Mail have once again earned a gratuitous jump onto the bandwagon. Not only because they do it so well, pay tribute to marvel landmarks, not least of which is the publisher’s 80th anniversary later this year, but because they pull in a few of cultural and political thinking points as well.
The real shame is that RM chose four of the American heroes for their framed print editions – and strangely, unlike recent Bowie and Game of Thrones versions, they don’t include post-marked stamps in the frame. There’s hope though: No idea ever dies in comics, and every success warrants a sequel.
As the late, great Stan Lee would have said, and somewhere still is: Excelsior!