Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Steve Does Comics - A Man Of Letters: Part II.

1970s Marvel Comics letterpack, Spider-Man, Thor, Hulk
Gasp, primitive humans, for I am now going to try and write an interesting post about sheets of paper.

I could claim that I'm doing this as a personal challenge designed to explore the very depths of my literary talent.

But the truth is I can't think of anything better to write about.

Admittedly, this isn't strictly speaking true.

Excitedly inspired by recent talk of Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford, Liverpool and Manchester agglomerating into one huge mega-city of ten million people, I was going to declare that the only thing wrong with the plan is that Mr Bumbleton, my local Community Support Officer, has now been replaced by Judge Dredd and that the bottom of my street is now populated entirely by hostile mutants. I was then going to use this as an excuse to write a review of a Judge Dredd tale from the 1978 2000AD Annual.

Sadly, this scheme hit the buffers when I actually read the tale and decided it wasn't a substantial enough story to  review, and then remembered that scanning hardback books is difficult. I must confess that, while I might live in a mega-city, I somehow fail to have mega levels of commitment.

So instead I fall upon my back-up plan, much as a failed samurai falls upon his sword, and bring you my thoughts on writing paper.

It's not just any old writing paper, of course.

That's because it's Marvel writing paper, as advertised on the back of early 1970s Marvel UK mags.

It's at this point that I must confess that my mind has long been tortured by thoughts of chocolate bunnies.

The reason for this is that fifty percent of the reason you buy them is that they look like bunny rabbits. But, the moment you start to eat one, you begin to wreck its innate bunniness and therefore diminish its spiritual appeal to you. Therefore, you don't want to eat it.

But the other fifty percent of the reason you bought it is that it's made of chocolate and can be eaten. Therefore, if you don't eat it, it fails to serve its purpose as chocolate and is therefore a waste of money.

That very same dilemma smacks you in the face when it comes to the subject of writing paper letterheaded with your favourite super-heroes. If you use it for its intended purpose and send it, in the form of letters, to other people, you won't have it anymore, depriving you of the item you coveted enough to hand over money for.

On the other hand, if you don't use it, then it has no purpose and you've wasted your money.

What is the solution to this emotional trial?

I have no idea.

That aside, the one thing that does always strike me whenever I see an offer on the back of an old comic is what happens if I cut out the coupon and - over forty years later - send it off?

Will I still get my goodies? Will I get a reply from a totally unrelated body telling me that Marvel UK no longer live there anymore? Will the coupon and the postal order simply disappear, never to be seen again? Perhaps all such orphaned coupons are placed in bottles by a government agency and then flung into the sea to float forever, gaining, in the process, a romance that one could hardly ever imagine would be bestowed upon a forty five pence postal order.

And there was me thinking that sheets of paper were less interesting than mega-cities. What a fool I was. Judge Dredd and his big stroppy Chopper bike might be one thing but I see now that, within that very subject of writing paper, lies the route to a madness from which no human mind could ever hope to escape.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

March 22nd, 1975 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

Galloping galaxies! What an astronomical week we've had in Blighty. Within mere days of each other, the Northern Lights, a supermoon and a solar eclipse have all occurred above the city in which I live.

Needless to say, I missed all of them, thanks to it being cloudy.

Still, at least I can find comfort in looking back, through my Telescope of Time, at what our favourite Marvel UK mags were up to in this week of exactly forty years ago.

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #110, Black Widow

The Black Widow's still tangling with Spider-Man.

And you can read my review of this tale, right here.
Marvel UK, Avengers #79, Dr Strange

It's the cover that infamously redraws the Vision as Thor because no stories featuring the Vision had yet been reprinted in the UK.

You can read my review of this story right here.

Meanwhile, it's exciting for me to see that, in this issue, we also get the only Sons of the Tiger tale I've ever read.

Mighty World of Marvel #129, Hulk vs the Inheritor

Hold on a minute. Didn't the Hulk vs Inheritor story get reprinted just a few weeks ago, in the issue before he met Jarella?

You do have to congratulate whoever it was who noticed that, "Inheritor," is a very similar word to, "Inhumans," and that, therefore, minimal changes would need to be made to Jim Steranko's original artwork if it were to be re-used for this tale.
Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #22

Call me a Luddite but I'm not at all sure that Dracula and motor bikes will ever belong on the same cover as each other.
Marvel UK, The Super-Heroes #3, Silver Surfer vs the Badoon

I never had this issue but I have read this tale reprinted in an issue of Guardians of the Galaxy. Presumably, the dreaded deadline doom must have stricken them.
Marvel UK, Savage Sword of Conan #3, the grim grey god

Conan about to go on a chopping expedition.
Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #22, Evolution's Nightmare

Covers commissioned especially for Marvel UK tended to be less than memorable but I have always liked this one. It has a level of drama to it that appeals to me.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Worlds Unknown #4 - Arena!

Worlds Unknown #4, Arena
It's Saturday evening.

It may be 1969.

Before my very eyeballs, a new TV show's appeared.

It features a strange man in a ripped shirt.

It features another man, with the head of a dinosaur.

I know at once that this isn't Antiques Roadshow. Mostly because Antiques Roadshow hasn't been invented yet and, in my innocence, I have no reason to fear that it ever will be.

It turns out it's a new show, a show from a land far across the sea, where everything's bigger than it is over here. It's called Star Trek and it's the sort of thing anyone with any sense would want to see on their TV on a Saturday.

That episode was, of course, Arena, in which Captain Kirk's dumped on a planet by some all-powerful aliens to scrap it out with a ruffian to decide which of their two races deserves to live.

Worlds Unknown #4 - Arena
Kirk's outmatched in both the brute force and shirt-strength departments and his foe is cunning. But Kirk finally comes to realise he has one advantage.

He knows how to make a bamboo bazooka.

As I'm sure we all know, that episode wasn't an original tale. It was based on a story of the same name by Fredric Brown.

Except it seems it wasn't. Apparently, when it was written, the producers knew nothing of Brown's tale but, upon being informed of their own tale's resemblance to it, they promptly had the episode re-titled Arena and credited it as an adaptation of his story in order to make sure the lawyers wouldn't be calling.

Marvel, however, suffered from no such ignorance and so gave us their own straight adaptation of the tale in Worlds Unknown #4, later reprinted in Marvel UK's Planet of the Apes comic.

Worlds Unknown #4 - Arena
What happens is this. Bob Carson, an Earth astronaut, suddenly finds himself on a strange planet, having been teleported from his spaceship just as he was about to open fire on the craft of a pilot from a mysterious race known only as the Outsiders, with whom Earth's at war.

It turns out that an all-powerful being has put him and his foe on the planet, to fight it out.

After much scrapping and scheming and exposition, Carson finally achieves victory in his personal battle and instantly finds himself back on his ship - only to be told that the entire Outsider fleet has blown up for no noticeable reason.

Worlds Unknown #4 - ArenaEveryone else assumes it was down to a structural flaw in their ships but, alone of all the human race, Bob Carson knows what really happened.

It has to be said that Carson wins thanks to a plan that has to be the worst plan ever devised. It basically involves him knocking himself out and then hoping he'll recover his senses before the Outsider can tear him to pieces.

Luckily for him, it works but, given that the Outsider is only yards away when he knocks himself out, you have to say that, in the real world, it'd need a miracle for it to succeed.

Other than that, there's no bamboo bazooka, no tearing off of shirts and, most differently of all, upon achieving his victory, Carson doesn't give an impassioned speech at thin air about not killing a helpless foe, he just gets stuck into the task of killing him in the most basic manner possible.

On the plus side, there are a couple of lizards. One of which suffers a tragic fate, and another which reveals it has the power of speech. Regardless of the presence of a protagonist and an antagonist, the lizards are definitely the stars of the show.

Worlds Unknown #4 - Arena
"...from bamboo!"
As seen in the treatment of the first lizard, the tale's more sober than the Star Trek version but I must admit I do prefer the Star Trek one, simply because it features Captain Kirk and, no matter how melodramatic Kirk is as a character, he does have a certain vigour that helps to keep an episode bowling along energetically.

Star Trek also has that music. That music we all like to sing along to whenever there's a fight scene. No matter how hard it tries, no comic can ever hope to give us that.

Admittedly, I say that but I don't remember if that episode actually does use that music at any point.

But in my head it does. And that's good enough for me.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

March 15th, 1975 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

Twitter tells me that today is the Ides of March, as made famous by that legendary historic epic Carry on Cleo.

But what kind of a carry-on will we be getting from Marvel UK in this week of exactly forty years ago?

I must wrap myself in my time-travel toga and find out.

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #109, the Black Widow

The Black Widow goes all Emma Peel, gets a new costume and decides to tackle her male counterpart.

More importantly, the stationers I got this from at the time had an underground tunnel that linked it to what claimed to be the largest toy shop in Europe.

And if that didn't make that stationers more glamorous than any stationers should ever be, I don't know what would.

You can read my review of this Spidey tale, right here.
Marvel UK, Avengers #78, old vs new

It's easily my favourite Don Heck Avengers story, as our heroes go back in time to fight themselves.

I do like the evil Wasp in it. I think they should have kept her.

You can read my review of that very tale, right here.
Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #21, Blade

Blade gets his first cover appearance.

I do worry about him though. On that cover, he looks about eighty. It's a miracle he managed to even get up those stairs.
Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #21, Evolution Nightmare

Not only do we get a highly dramatic cover that promises apes vs monsters but we get the promise of Killdozer.

You can read my review of that tale, right here.
Mighty World of Marvel #128, Hulk and Jarella

Marvel heroes never have a straightforward love life, do they?
The Super-Heroes #2, Silver Surfer, origin

The tale that I first read in Sons of Origins of Marvel Comics continues.

I did like the fact that Galactus was taller in it than he'd been in previous appearances.

I wasn't sure, however, about the Surfer having been a living, feeling person before Galactus created him. I had preferred the idea of him having been created from scratch by the Big G.
Marvel UK, Savage Sword of Conan #2

Much as I love Conan and much as I love Barry Smith - even early Barry Smith - I'm not sure that's the greatest cover ever to grace the front of a Conan comic.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Strange Tales #120. Is there a doctor in the house?

Strange Tales #120, Dr Strange and the House of Shadows

Here it comes - hot off the chopping board - my latest video review.

This time, I tackle the first Dr Strange story I ever read, as the psychic surgeon makes a house call and battles his least likely foe yet.

It was originally published in Strange Tales #120 but, as those who've encountered the first ever post on this blog will know, I originally read it in somewhat more British circumstances.

Now, at last, after over forty years, I revisit the tale I shall always associate with an electricity meter.

Don't ask me why I always associate it with an electricity meter. Even after forty years, some tales are too dread to tell.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

March 8th, 1975 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week. A sensational new era begins!

It's exciting times for me. Not only has the UK chosen this year's Eurovision entry but it's the fortieth anniversary of the week when I discovered that Conan is pronounced Coh-nan and not Con-nun.

How did I find that out?

I found out when Stan Lee appeared on ITV children's magazine show Magpie to plug the launch of Marvel UK's two new comics, The Super-Heroes and Savage Sword of Conan. How I gasped as he began his appearance by pretending to be J Jonah Jameson while Mick Robertson dressed up as Spider-Man.

I believe it was also the first time I'd ever seen Stan Lee on TV, though I could be wrong.

But what else was happening in the mighty world of Marvel UK on that fateful week that shall live forever in legend?

Marvel UK, the Super-Heroes #1, the Silver Surfer

It's issue #1 of one of the very books that Stan was plugging, as the Silver Surfer gets his own mag and is now free to inflict his own unique brand of self-pity and tirelessly depressing sanctimony on the people of Britain.
Marvel UK, Savage Sword of Conan #1
And Conan too is launched upon the nation.

How ironic that he and the Surfer should get their own mags in the same week. Were there ever two characters who were more the polar opposite of each other? One all moping and speechifying; and the other a man of few words, with barely any capacity for moping at all.

Why did Conan's mag not succeed in Britain when it was a major success in America? Who can know? Certainly the cover of issue #1 should have had it flying off the shelves.

Was Conan technically Marvel's first British hero? I suppose it depends where Cimmeria was.

Personally, I like to think it was in Cleethorpes.
Spider-Man Comics Weekly #108, the Schemer


Who can guess the dread secret of the Schemer?

In all fairness, I think we all did. Still, it's a dramatic cover if nothing else.
Mighty World of Marvel #127, the Hulk

Marvel UK merrily printing the Hulk's adventures out of order. Straight after the first Jarella story, we get the one where she comes to Earth and it all goes a bit unfortunate if you're a sun worshipper.
Marvel UK, the Avengers #72, Dr Strange

Doc Strange in what I assume is the prelude to possibly my favourite John Buscema Avengers tale.
Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #20

I take it from the cover that the Jason and Alexander tale's over.

I don't have a clue what happens in this week's story but it all looks like its going to be exciting.
Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #20

A less than stellar cover does however contain news that we're about to meet the man who was, at one point, Marvel's biggest movie star.

Friday, 6 March 2015

March 1975 - Marvel Comics, Forty Years Ago Today.

Hold onto your tripod, tiger, because there's a very nice picture on the Internet today of how Mars looked when a fifth of it was covered by an ocean.

This has nothing at all to do with today's post, which is about what our favourite Marvel heroes were up to exactly forty years ago.

Then again, March is named after Mars. And, no doubt, Marvel is too. And I'm writing about March and Marvel. So there's a sort of link there if you're really determined to find one....

Avengers #133, the Celestial Madonna Saga

Meanwhile, somehow unconcerned about the fate of Mars, the Celestial Madonna Saga rumbles interminably onwards.
Conan the Barbarian #48

That's a very dramatic cover but I do find it somewhat disappointing that there's no sign of Red Sonja on it, despite it trumpeting her return.
Captain America & the Falcon #183, Death of a Hero

I've definitely read this tale - and in the not too distant past - but can't actually remember what happens in it.
Daredevil #119, the Crusher

The Crusher is back.

Wasn't he from Cuba or somewhere?

Or am I thinking of someone else?

Or perhaps I'm just imagining things?
Fantastic Four #156, Dr Doom

I take it, from the advertised presence of the Silver Surfer, that this isn't the one where the FF help the Latverian Underground overthrow Doom and install democracy?

Democracy? Pshaw! They don't want to mess around with that sort of nonsense. We have that sort of thing in this country. It's rubbish. They shut down the local library for the day, so people can vote. How am I supposed to borrow a book if the library's closed?

There you go. Proof positive that Democracy is the enemy of reading skills. Ban it! Ban it now!

And I'm sure Dr Doom would agree with me.
Incredible Hulk #185

I must confess this isn't one of my favourite Hulk tales from this era. It's alright but I'm not sure I ever longed for Thunderbolt Ross to get his own answer to the Spider-Slayer.

Still, it does have a satellite dish, so at least he'll be able to watch some nice TV shows while he's in it.
Iron Man #73, Crimson Dynamo

I don't believe I've ever read this tale.

I do note that it's tagged Fury In A Far-Off Land. I wonder how many Marvel stories have managed to have that tagline over the years? It must be up there with Lo, There Shall Be An Ending!
Amazing Spider-Man #142, Mysterio is back from the dead

How can you not love a cover like that? Though I suppose the fact that we all know that Mysterio's a master of illusion does somewhat lessen its ability to stun the senses. Let's face it, if it had been Betty Brant who was removing her own head, that'd be a whole other matter.
Thor #233, Earth vs Asgard

It's another one I have little recollection of. Does this happen sometime around the Orrin/Odin saga of which I have vague memories?

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