Thursday, 30 October 2014

The most forgettable comics I have ever owned. Part 14: Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion #13.

Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion #13, melty man
I owe a debt of gratitude to The Groovy Agent at Diversions of Groovy Kind because, the other day, he produced a post about the comic whose cover resides to the left of these very words.

And I have to admit that, until he did so, I had no memory at all of ever having owned it - or of it even having existed.

Even now, my memories of it are vague. I know the main story is about a man who learns never to mess with a woman who likes to mutilate wax figurines but I don't have a clue what the, "Second mind-chiller," is that's contained within.

According to the Grand Comics Database, the other tale is called The Eavesdropper, a title that rings no bells with me at all.

Exactly why I forgot about having owned the comic, I don't know. It does, after all, feature a striking Mike Kaluta cover - and the main story's resolution bears strong similarities to that of Phantom Stranger #32, which is one of the most strongly remembered tales from my childhood.

Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion seems to have been a strange comic, as it started out as The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love, which all sounds very exciting and luridly delirious. But it seems that Luridly Delirious was not what the comic-buying public of 1972 wanted, as it changed title and concept after just four issues.

Sadly, after issue #15, the re-branded title also disappeared from the shelves. Perhaps DC were just producing too many horror comics by that point and Forbidden Mansion was one title too many?

Or perhaps there was some other reason?

But, sadly, like the onlookers on the above cover, I fear I may forever be in ignorance of the reasons for the dread demise I have blundered across.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

November 2nd, 1974 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

Strap yourself down, tigers! It's the most exciting night imaginable, as we find out what magic Marvel UK were flinging our way exactly forty years ago this week.

One thing I do notice is that, for some reason, their two new mags cost one pence more than their longer running ones.

Eight pence for a comic? It's madness! Do they not know it's the 1970s? Have they not heard of the oil crisis? Do they not know we've still not paid off all that World War One debt yet? Do they think we're made of money?

Spider-Man Comics Weekly, #90, Silvermane and Man-Mountain Marko

Spidey's in trouble, cornered by Silvermane, Man-Mountain Marko and the Lizard.

But all of that pales into insignificance next to the chance to win ourselves one of these fancy modern colour TV things that everyone's talking about.

Apparently, you can win it by playing Charades.

I'm not sure exactly how you play Charades via the medium of the comic book but you could clearly never accuse Marvel UK of lacking optimism.
Mighty World of Marvel #109, Doc Samson

Doc Samson makes his debut.

There's no indication of what DD and the FF are up to this issue, though I suspect the FF are still up against Galactus, as they were last week.
Avengers #59, Whirlwind

Hooray! It's Ant-Man vs his own ants, thanks to the diabolical doings of the Whirlwind.

I'm completely guessing here but I have an instinctive feeling that the Dr Strange tale may be one of the Gene Colan ones.
Dracula Lives #2, Marvel UK

It's yet another chance to win a colour TV, via one of the few issues of Dracula Lives I ever had.

I think this is the one I read in Pauldins department store, which makes it a very privileged issue indeed..
Planet of the Apes #2, Marvel UK

It's only issue #2 but already those apes are having to squeeze up as they have to make room for the senses-shattering debut of Ka-Zar.

If I remember right, he comes up against Kraven the Hunter in a Jack Kirby drawn tale of drama, thrills and action.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Marvel Premiere #4 - Dr Strange meets the spawn of Sligguth!

Marvel Premiere #4, Dr Strange v Sligguth
I must confess I've always been in two minds about HP Lovecraft.

On the one hand, I've always liked the idea of old, evil things lurking in slumber, ready to rise at any moment to once more claim the world that they see as being rightfully theirs.

On the other hand, I've always found his actual stories to be fairly hard going, with far too many adjectives flung in and not enough characterisation and dialogue.

Then, of course, there's the whole issue of certain 1920s and 1930s social attitudes that no longer look quite so clever in a world that learned from Nazi Germany where ideas of racial purity and inherent racial decadence might lead.

Still, despite such reservations, I have always had a soft spot for The Whisperer in Darkness and At the Mountains of Madness. Thus it is that I'm always going to be grabbed by the idea of Dr Strange coming up against Lovecraftian menace.

I'm not sure if Marvel Premiere #4 was the first time he ever came up against such menace but it was certainly the first time I became aware that he was doing it, when I first read the tale in Marvel UK's Avengers mag. It was 1975. At the time, I was on a coach, on my way to the seaside. What could better prepare you for the English seaside than a tale of eldritch dread?

Marvel Premiere #4, Dr Strange has a hotdogWhat happens is this. Returned home from his most recent fight with Nightmare, the good Doctor discovers he has a visitor, in the form of one Ethan Stoddard who's worried about his girlfriend who's in his hometown of Starkesboro and getting more and more obsessed with all things evil.

Needless to say, it's not long before Ethan and Strange are on their way to Starkesboro to find out what's happened to her.

When they get there, it's obvious the duo are not exactly welcome and that the locals have a somewhat reptilian shift about them.

And it's not much later than that that Strange and Ethan find themselves trapped in the local church, surrounded by malevolent locals, as Strange finds his powers being drained by the town's aura of ancient evil.

And there's a sacrificial altar just waiting for him!

Marvel Premiere #4, Dr Strange goes ectoplasmic
There are two obvious things that stand out about his tale as you read it.

The first is - despite a splash page credit for Robert E Howard - an obvious debt to Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth. In fact, at times it practically feels like plotter Roy Thomas has simply inserted Strange into that tale.

The second thing is that it's drawn by Barry Smith who does an excellent job of creating a tale that's far moodier than we're used to from Marvel. The usual Marvel house-style of high-octane action is abandoned in favour of something far more subtle and slow burning.

Oddly, as the issue progresses, Smith's influence on the tale starts to wane, just as surely as Dr Strange's powers do, as Frank Brunner increasingly takes over the art chores until, by the last few pages, there's very little if anything left of Smith still visible.

That's not exactly a disaster - as Brunner is himself one of Dr Strange's great artists - but it would have been nice to see Smith maintain control of the art all the way through the issue.

Marvel Premiere #4, Dr Strange finds the altar of Sligguth
Looking ahead, it's also a shame that Smith doesn't stay on the strip beyond this issue, as he clearly has a handle on how to do this kind of thing and it would have been great to watch him see it through to the end. Instead, after this issue, the serial goes through a string of artists, robbing it of the visual cohesion that would have benefited it greatly.

Overall, it's not a bad serial. In fact, it's perfectly entertaining. It's just that, looking at Smith's work, you get a feeling of just how good it could have been.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

October 26th, 1974 - Marvel UK forty years ago this week.

 Holy Tunbridge Wells, Spider-Man! Inspired by my post the other day about it being the fortieth anniversary of Marvel UK's Planet of the Apes and Dracula Lives comics, I've been motivated to launch a brand new feature.

Admittedly, I'm not sure how long this feature will last, as it partly replicates a certain feature where I look at what the American Marvels were doing exactly forty years and fifty years ago but I shall give it a go and see how it turns out.

Late October 1974 was a time when Marvel UK was only a couple of years old and still expanding - though it still only had five titles to its name.

But what titles they were.

Marvel UK Avengers #58, Iron Fist

The comic might be called The Avengers but it's obvious who the editor thought was the star attraction, as Iron Fist meets a man with nunchucks.

Even more excitingly, it claims that Ant-Man is back!

And it's because I demanded it!

I assume this is the Avengers tale where the Whirlwind shrinks Hank Pym down and traps him in a deadly ants' nest without his ant-controlling helmet?

We also get a re-telling of Dr Strange's origin.

Truly this was an issue to treasure.
Marvel UK, Mighty World of Marvel #108, Hulk

The Hulk's up against Leader-created replicas of his deadliest foes.

And it looks like the FF have hit the Galactus Trilogy.

As to what Daredevil is up to, the cover furnishes us with no clues.
Spider-Man Comics Weekly #89, Silvermane

Silvermane learns that it's not always a good idea to keep taking the tablets, as he seeks the key to eternal youth.

I've no idea what the Thor and Iron Man stories were.
Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #1

It's the launch of Dracula Lives, as documented right here.
Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #1

And it's the launch of Planet of the Apes, as also documented right here.

I don't like to drag the tone down but that is the Joy of Sex Man, isn't it?

I mean, that is what strikes me every single time I see that cover.

It's not just me, is it?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Happy fortieth birthday to Marvel UK's Planet of the Apes and Dracula Lives!

Marvel UK Dracula Lives #1
Marvel UK Planet of the Apes #1

Thanks to Colin Jones for pointing out that this is a very special week indeed for all British comics fans.

Dracula Lives #2, Marvel UK
For it was forty years ago this week that Marvel UK unleashed two new mags on an unsuspecting public.

One of those mags was Planet of the Apes and the other was Dracula Lives.

Of the two comics, it would have seemed reasonable to assume that it'd be Dracula Lives that would have the longer shelf life, seeing as Planet of the Apes was launched purely to cash in on a TV show that failed to catch light so badly that it only managed to run for a few months before never being seen again.

On the other hand, Dracula Lives was built around classic characters who'd proven their staying power by already having had a long and distinguished career long before the comic had even been conceived.

But how wrong we'd have been in such an assumption. Dracula Lives was finally staked through the heart with issue #87, being forced to merge with its sister title, whilst Planet of the Apes held on for a walloping one hundred and twenty three issues before merging with Mighty World of Marvel where such simian adventures never quite fitted in with the likes of the Hulk, Daredevil and Captain Marvel.

Planet of the Apes #21, Marvel UK
Bearing in mind that Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan's Dracula tales were nearly always more compelling than Marvel's ape-based fare, I can only assume that Dracula Lives' shorter lifespan was down to the fact that its back-up strips - featuring the likes of Frankenstein and Werewolf by Night - were noticeably weaker than such Planet of the Apes' backup strips as Ka-Zar, the Black Panther and Adam Warlock.

Or perhaps, by the 1970s, such traditional horror characters were merely seen as being too corny to live.

Whatever the reason, while I had every issue ever published of Planet of the Apes, I think I only ever had two issues of Dracula Lives, one of which I recall reading whilst stood just inside the entrance of Pauldins department store in Sheffield city centre.

Sadly, like Planet of the Apes and Dracula Lives, Pauldins is no more. A grim reminder that, like the king of the vampires, ultimately everything in life will one day be reduced to dust.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Doctor Who Monster Book.

Doctor Who Monster Book, Chris Achilleos
Forget Spider-Man. If you have any sense at all, there's only one thing in this world that you want to see stuck to the side of a building.

And that's a police box.

Reader, in 1977, I saw that police box. It was stuck to the side of a building in Blackpool, Lancashire, England, Britain, Europe, the Earth.

Inside that police box was not a policeman. It was an exhibition.

It was a Doctor Who Exhibition. An exhibition that could only be accessed by entering that box and then descending a flight of stairs, into a basement.

Within that basement were many things.

There was a Dalek threatening you as you arrived.

There was a Sea Devil pointing its deadly round thing at you.

There were yet more Daleks, roaming around on rails, doing yet more threatening.

On the walls were stills from the making of the show, including the story The Talons of Weng-Chiang. How all visitors must have gasped at the site of ex-jungle-brawler Leela being nibbled on by a giant rat.

Most important of all to this story, there was a shop. And that shop sold only things related to the universe's greatest Time Lord.

From that shop, I got The Doctor Who Monster Book, a staple-bound book filled with articles about the Doctor's greatest enemies. In its centre was a poster by Chris Achilleos, the man who did all those covers for the show's epic Target novelisations.

In the modern age, none of this might seem that exciting but, in the dark days of the 1970s, when the internet didn't yet exist and old episodes couldn't be found on videotape, a book filled with photos of the show's greatest menaces was a Godsend. At last I could be reacquainted with the monsters I recalled from years gone by and I could meet other monsters I had no memory of at all.

There was a Giant Robot. There was a Zygon. There were hordes of Daleks on Westminster Bridge and a Mechanoid doing whatever it was Mechanoids did. Most intriguingly of all, there were the Zarbi, man-sized ants with human legs. What terrible powers of evolution had combined to create such a creature? Truly, this was the greatest book ever published.

I accept that this site is called Steve Does Comics and that that book was not a comic. But I don't care. Some things are so awesome they have to be shared with the world. Even things that aren't comics.

And if you fear it's too much to ask of flesh and blood to endure a post about a book on a comics site, just thank Rassilon I didn't do a post about the picture cards I used to get from boxes of tea. Now there is a post I'm saving up for when I have nothing at all else left to write about.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Son of Satan comics I have owned.

One of the banes of my late father's life was that when he'd saunter on to the local shops, the local madwoman would often suddenly point at him in the street and shout out for all the world to hear, "It's him! It's Satan! He walks among us!"

This could explain why I've always had a soft spot for the Son of Satan. After all, if a back-story like that doesn't make him a kindred spirit, then what would?

And that can mean only one thing.

It's time for me to look at the Son of Satan comics I had when I was barely more than an imp.

Marvel Spotlight #12, The Son of Satan

It's our anti-hero's first appearance, as he goes to Hell to retrieve the soul of Johnny Blaze, in a tale blessed with the tortured looking art of Herb Trimpe.
Marvel Spotlight #13, The Son of Satan

Despite what it claimed on the cover of the previous issue, this is the issue in which we actually get to learn the origin of Daimon Hellstrom and how he got that fancy pitchfork of his.

Apparently, his mother never once suspected she might be married to Satan, despite the fact her husband was called Hellstrom and he insisted on naming their two children, "Daimon," and, "Satana."
Marvel Spotlight #14, The Son of Satan, Ikthalon

Bored with fighting Satan, Daimon branches out and tackles a bunch of ice demons lurking in a college building.
Marvel Spotlight #17, The Son of Satan, Spyros

My memories of this one are vague.

Does it involve time travel and a team-up with Dr Strange to defeat some Steve Gerberesque menace to the cosmos?
Marvel Spotlight #18, The Son of Satan

If I remember right, this is a Gene Colan drawn tale of possession and exorcism.
The Son of Satan #1

The SOS finally gets his own mag.

And he's back off to Hell again after he discovers there's only one thing in life worse than having your house repossessed - and that's having it possessed in the first place.
The Son of Satan #2, The Possessor

My memories of this one are fairly vague. Clearly, it continues the storyline started in the previous issue and gives us the origin of the Possessor, which may or may not have had something to do with a travelling carnival.
The Son of Satan #4

I genuinely have no memory at all of what happens in this issue.

It all looks very dramatic though.

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