England, Their England

Reading through the latest Marvel Essential volume, collecting loads of Tomb Of Dracula, I came across something that reminded me of a special small pleasure of mine in American comics. On the splash page of issue 7, when Marv Wolfman takes over the writing, Dracula is looming over a snowed in small town somewhere, posing on a mountaintop. It’s only when you read the captions that you learn that this is “many-peopled London”. Now besides the lameness of that composite adjective and the size of the place, there are no mountains in or even near London. And don’t try to tell me there are snowy rocky outcrops on Shooters Hill, anyone.

I’ve always enjoyed American superhero comicbooks’ depictions of the UK. A Challengers Of The Unknown story where someone parachutes into a quaint village with cobbled streets and thatched cottages, which turns out to be Charing Cross, smack in the centre of London. A Rom The Spaceknight story set in Wales, “on the southernmost shores of the island nation known as England” – where Wales is full of peasants weilding pitchforks and flaming torches. A Spider-Man story set in Liverpool, which turns out to be a fishing village populated by cockneys moaning about the pea-souper fogs. Chris Claremont got some stick for an X-Men story set in Edinburgh, but apart from the flaming torches again this struck me as one of the more accurate portrayals of the UK by American comic creators.

Marv Wolfman seems to be something of an anglophile, in that he has been responsible for lots of comics set over here, but as far as I can tell his total research was watching an old Sherlock Holmes movie or two. London is all cobbled streets and thick fog and gas lamps, with lots of Tudor cottages. I’m pretty sure it was him who wrote a Marvel Two-in-One tale wherein the fight moves on foot from Trafalgar Square (80% of action in the UK happens within sight of Nelson’s Column and Big Ben, sometimes both at once) to outside “London’s leading hospital”, which surprisingly turns out to be a wooden hut in a forest. The same storyline took our heroes to Stonehenge at one point, and there’s a great panel of the characters driving on the right (i.e. wrong) side of the road past a road sign reading ‘Stonehenge 11km’ with a mountain backdrop. Obviously the location of Stonehenge on Salisbury PLAIN didn’t provide a clue as to the terrain.

Actually, I don’t think he wrote the Indiana Jones comic also set there (it’s a great nexus for mystical activity, you’ll be amazed to hear), which as well as mountains with rope bridges across deep chasms also features jungle complete with quicksand. And I wish I could remember if it was Marv who had a cockney (who make up the two thirds of London’s population who aren’t aristocracy) addressing someone as ‘bloke’, as in “Watch your driving, bloke!” or some such.