Monday, 31 January 2011

Steve Who Does Comics - A Man of Letters.

Hudson Leick as Callisto in Xena Warrior Princess
Hudson Leick gains me my SFX  immortality. 
Wherever you go on the Internet, it's well known that Steve Who Does Comics is a man of erudishun and littrassy. Therefore it should come as no shock to the keen-minded reader that I may in my time have attempted to get letters accepted by various periodicals.

Insanely, despite my way with words, my one success was in an issue of SFX magazine, about ten years ago, where, in the guise of a pair of lesbians, I demanded they print more pictures of Xena: Warrior Princess actress Hudson Leick. I actually wasn't that fussed about whether they published more photos of Hudson Leick or not. I just felt that a letter demanding more photos of an attractive woman might press the right buttons with an editorial staff of geeky types who liked to think of themselves as laddish, and therefore increase my chances of publication.

Reader, that ploy, shameful as it was, succeeded, and the Hudson Leick as Callisto photo above is the one they printed in response to it.

Sadly my earlier ventures into the vale of such egomania brought less success. And that's where comics come into it.

Despite sending a whole bunch of letters to Marvel UK when I was a child, not one ever got published - not even the one that pointed out the Silver Surfer shouldn't need to dodge when the Hulk throws boulders at him.

My sister, however, only ever wrote one letter to them. All it did was criticise them. That letter got published in Spider-Man Comics Weekly. I won't say which issue because then she'd probably kill me but it was a John Romita issue and featured the Spider-Slayer. I'm not sure what it says about me that, even after nearly forty years, there's still a little part of me in which it rankles that my repeated efforts failed where her single effort succeeded.

Still, I can always recompense myself with the knowledge that she doesn't have a blog like I do, one with a million adoring fans whose lives would collapse if I didn't tell them whether I like Supergirl #8 more or less than Supergirl #7. On top of that, I know that not everyone's had the nightmare experience with letters that I have, so I might as well ask you while you're here; have you ever had any letters to the editor published, and just when and where?

Spider-Man Reboot: new costume pictures released.

When I say released, I don't know if they've been released or if they escaped but I do know they have copyright notices plastered all over them and I'm a raging coward, so no way am I posting them on here. They can however be found at this site and I have to say that, from these pics, the costume looks absolutely dreadful.

What's with the red stripe running down Spider-Man's legs - and the metallic carpet slippers? As for Spidey's mask, I do wonder if they're trying to make his costume look even worse than the old 1970s' Nicholas Hammond TV version in order to win some sort of a bet.

Obviously, the costume isn't everything but the stills we've seen so far mean my hopes of the film matching up to the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies aren't exactly stratospheric.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Supergirl Adventure Comics #398.

Supergirl Adventure Comics #398
Just as snooker players of a certain vintage always seek to endear themselves to an audience by joking they'd give their right arm to be ambidextrous, I must alienate the entire human race by declaring I'd kill to have a, "Touch of Death." Oh how mankind would fall before me as I stalked the aisles of Poundland, clearing a way to the till to pay imperiously for my bargains.

Supergirl, being more wholesome than me, and not in the habit of using Poundland, is it seems less sanguine abut the prospect. Returning from a mission of peace to a number of alien worlds, she discovers she's picked up a strange radiation that kills any super-being she touches. Straight after threatening to give Streaky the Super-Cat a good spanking for leaving the door to her secret tunnel open, she kills him - not as you might think for leaving open the door to her secret tunnel but because she can't help it.

Next she accidentally kills Krypto the Super-Dog and then Comet the Super-Horse. She also kills Mr Myxomatosis or whatever he's called, which you would've thought'd be a source of celebration to all denizens and readers of the DC universe but she even feels guilty about that.

At last Superman shows up and says the only answer is to banish her to the Phantom Zone forever, where her Touch of Death can cause no more harm. Is this the end for our plucky heroine?

Happily, Supergirl realises it's all a trick by a bunch of shape-changing aliens seeking to get her out of the way so they can invade the Earth. Having been foiled, the alien planet shows its gumption by instantly surrendering and agreeing never again to attempt such hostility against our home planet.

Despite its brevity, the issue's second tale's quite the landmark as it introduces Supergirl's new-look costume, cobbled together with elements suggested by Adventure Comics readers Jean Bray and Louise Ann Kelley. Do comics still invite readers to redesign their stars' costumes? I hope they do, if only to see what nightmare concoctions they'd put their heroes in. As long-standing readers will know, I always feel any good hero should have a pie tin strapped to his thigh, a suggestion I'm sure any serious comics company would be glad to adopt. As for this issue's costume, it's the one that involves the thigh-length boots (which is good) and the long red gloves (which is bad).

Supergirl investigates the mystery disappearance of an aircraft carrier and, when she spots some jets vanishing in the same vicinity, she follows them, to discover they've been abducted by a giant alien child. Being the stalwart of justice she is, Supergirl dobs to the child's father, and she and the missing vehicles are returned to Earth as the kid receives the kind of spanking Supergirl no doubt had in mind for Streaky. At just six pages, it'd be fair to say it's a somewhat insubstantial story. Drawn by Mike Sekowsky, it's more assertively and modernly drawn than the issue's Jim Mooney pencilled opener but lacks its charm and also has Supergirl in a pose I never want to see her in again.
Adventure Comics #398 Supergirl straddles a giant nose
Argh! No! Please! My eyes! My brain!

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #86. The Black Widow.

Amazing Spider-Man #86 Spider-Man vs the Black Widow
Has there ever been a more successful costume change in comic book history than that of the Black Widow? One moment she was running around in a fishnet and basque collision that at best could only be labelled quaint. The next she was running around in an outfit that suggested black leather had suddenly become available in aerosol form. Interesting that, in the wake of The Avengers TV show, both Marvel and DC decided to reinvent an established character in the Emma Peel mould.

With DC, it was Wonder Woman. Well, Wonder Woman's transformation was always doomed to failure, being, as it was, the equivalent of turning Superman into James Bond.

But if the switch didn't suit Diana Prince, it fitted the Black Widow as snugly as her new outfit did, and this is the issue where it all happened.

Amazing Spider-Man #86, The Black Widow, John Romita
In Amazing Spider-Man #86, the Black Widow decides she's had enough of living the jet-set lifestyle of Madame Natasha and that it's time to make a return to the ways of derring-do. As well as knocking up a new costume in five minutes flat - as only super-doers can - she decides that, to complete the reinvention process, she's going to take on and defeat Spider-Man so she can learn all his tricks. Bearing in mind how many years he'd been around by this point, I would've thought most of his tricks were pretty well-known by now but it seems Madame Natasha hasn't been paying that much attention and doesn't even seem sure if he has any super-powers at all when she meets him.

Unfortunately for our hero, he just happens to be ill when she turns up to tangle with him. This is a Stan Lee scripted tale, so I suppose Stan felt that no mere woman could hope to take on the web-slinger unless he was debilitated in some manner, and it has to be said that when they meet it's not exactly an epic clash, as Spidey at first doesn't bother putting up any kind of fight, because he doesn't feel well and then, when he finally feels provoked enough to do so by snapping her string and clogging her web shooters, the Widow promptly decides he's too much for her to handle, and scarpers. And to think I complained about the Vision's lack of sticking power in The Avengers #94.

Amazing Spider-Man #86 Spider-Man vs the Black Widow
This blog has of course travelled down dark and dangerous pathways of lust lately with its wildly successful, "Who's the sexiest character in comics?" post and now it must do so again by acknowledging that the main part of this issue's appeal is that John Romita and Jim Mooney between them manage to make the Widow look fantastic - even if you do worry she'll snap in half if Spidey actually decides to hit back, so narrow is her waist. We all know John Romita's romance comics background meant he could draw an attractive woman, but in the Widow he seems to have found the perfect conduit for his talents. And so a character who'd always been somewhat naff and pointless suddenly becomes cool and with-it.

Meanwhile, it's not just in his super-hero life that Spidey's having problems with women as, by this stage in the strip's history, Gwen Stacy's in full-on limpet mode and whingeing at Peter to stop taking photos of Spider-Man in case he gets hurt. What Gwendolyn doesn't know is that getting hurt is the least of his worries because, at the end of the issue, we're left with the cliff-hanger - is Peter Parker about to lose his Spider-Powers? I'm betting he doesn't. But, then, what do I know?

Thursday, 27 January 2011

SDC goes LCD.

Whenever people visit my house and see my crank-starting television, they say to me, "Steve, what're you doing with that thing in your house? An LCD - that's what you need. An LCD."

Why they think I need a lowest common denominator I've no idea but other people are usually right and I'm usually wrong, so, here it is, Steve Does Comics' Lowest Common Denominator. And that means it's time for our greatest ever poll.

As we all know, comic book characters look better than the rest of us. When I say, "Us," I of course don't mean me. Despite being repeatedly smashed in the face in my years of fighting evil, I'm still pretty. But comic book characters look better than other people - you know, the ordinary people. So, of the various comic book characters we grew up reading in the 1960s and 70s, who, in your opinion, has been the sexiest?

Needless to say, this is open to all genders. Male and female characters alike are welcome. This isn't Sky Sports and there's no place for all that discrimination on this blog. Why, even now I'm fighting a constant battle for women in Sweden to get the vote. Granted, women in Sweden have had the vote since 1921 but, as a fighter of evil, I was always taught that complacency is the greatest enemy of freedom and so, ninety years after Swedish women got the vote, I'm still fighting for them to get it. I like to think the Swedish Embassy lives in fear of me.

So, let's think for a moment, to contemplate the subject and to cram my post with the keywords needed for valuable Search Engine Optimization, what sort of contenders are there?

At DC, there were the likes of Supergirl, Wonder Woman, the Black Orchid, Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl and the Black Canary.

Marvel gave us a whole heap more. The Defenders gave us the Valkyrie, the female Red Guardian and Hellcat. The Avengers gave us the Wondrous Wasp, the Scarlet Witch, Mantis, and Moondragon. From the Fantastic Four, there were The Invisible Girl, Crystal, Medusa and Thundra. The X-Men gave us Jean Grey, Polaris and Storm. Then there were the solo acts like She-Hulk, Spider-Woman, Shanna the She-Devil and Red Sonja. In terms of the non-super-heroic, there was Lois Lane, Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson. Who could forget Sif and Hela? And what of Millie the Model? When it came to the men, there was, erm, Thor, Ka-Zar, the Abomination and, erm, Annihilus.

Regardless, I shall leave the window for nominations open for a week, hope no burglars get in and, at the end of that week aim to have a full and varied non-sexist list of the sexy to go in my planned poll, although I have no doubt I'll probably have a list of two characters, one of which will be Krypto the Super-Dog.

LCD. You have to have an LCD.

PS. Did I mention I want your nominations?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Avengers #94. The Kree Skrull War Part 6. Mandroids.

Avengers #94 Kree Skrull War Neal Adams Mandroids
Frying pan, thy name is, "Vision." Some people have more sticking power than others, and this is the issue where we learn that the Vision's wrought from purest Teflon.

Having somehow caught up with the fleeing Skrull ship, the red faced robot confronts the Super-Skrull in it in an attempt to liberate the captive Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Captain Marvel. After a short argument with the villain, he decides he really can't be bothered to rescue them and goes back home. Whatever happened to heroes willing to fight to the death against impossible odds?

He's not the only one to head home. Now rid of his non-stick foe, the Super-Skrull returns to the Andromeda Galaxy with his captives. There, by threatening Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, the Skrull King blackmails Mar-Vell into agreeing to build him an omni-wave transmitter that could destroy the Kree home world.

Back on Earth, the Avengers are facing a peril of their own as H Warren Craddock unleashes his secret weapon on them; the Mandroids, a bunch of men in Tony Stark designed titanium armour. During this fight, Iron Man suffers the ultimate indignity of knocking himself out by tripping over whilst roller-skating.

And who's that showing up at the very climax, courtesy of a convenient man-hole cover? Why, if it's not Triton of the Inhumans.

I have to say I like Neal Adams' work more this issue than last. I still think the panels are occasionally too packed with detail for their own good but it has the expected stylishness and I do love his portrayal of the Great Refuge surviving a nuclear attack from the Super-Skrull's ship.

After a few pages, John Buscema takes over for the mid-section before Adams returns to complete the later stages. Despite Tom Palmer inking both men, the switch is surprisingly jarring - the contrast between Buscema's more melodramatic and simplified Kirby-style story-telling and Adams' more unconventional and detailed approach does tend to hit you in the face. It's also obvious Buscema didn't get to see Adams' work on the issue before doing his bit, so the look of the Skrull ship changes completely. Suddenly it has a crew, and the Super-Skrull's captives are being held vertically rather than horizontally. Writer Roy Thomas tries to gets round it neatly by inserting a line of dialogue that suggests the Super-Skrull's transferred to another ship since we last saw him, a page earlier, but we're wise to such wily tricks.

The main irritant of the issue has to be the Skrull King's daughter Anelle who really is a limp piece of lettuce. Granted, she's a good guy and he's a bad guy but her constant whingeing about everything her war-like father gets up to does start to get on your nerves after a while.

Conan and Red Sonja smite the one thousand.

Conan the Barbarian #44, Red Sonja, John Buscema and Neal Adams
Congratulations to my snappily titled post Neal Adams, John Buscema and Red Sonja makes three. Conan the Barbarian #44, which has just become the the first ever post on Steve Does Comics to reach the 1,000 page-views mark.

Admittedly, some people might say that congratulating blog-posts for getting page views is a bit sad and a bit like congratulating a balloon for inflating but I feel one should celebrate every triumph in life, no matter how petty. So, congratulations to it regardless.

Those who wish to congratulate the post on its awesome achievement may do so in the Comments Box below.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Fantastic Four Annual #4. The New Human Torch vs the Original Human Torch.

Fantastic Four Annual #4, the Human Torch vs the Original Human Torch
With the news that the Fantastic Four's Human Torch has died, or is dead or is going to die (no one can accuse me of not knowing exactly what the score is when it comes these fancy modern comics), it seems as good a time as ever to dry our tears by reminding ourselves of another Human Torch who died...

...and then came back...

... and then died...

...and then came back.

Yes! It's the Original Human Torch, created in 1939 by Carl Burgos and later resurrected - or not as the case may be - as the Avengers' Vision.

But it's easy to forget that, before his density-changing reappearance, the Original Human Torch made a fleeting comeback in the pages of the Fantastic Four Annual #4, to bother and bewilder the teen inheritor of his title, in a plan conceived by the Mad Thinker.

The Thinker's brought the android back from the dead in order to kill the new Human Torch who's looking for a way to be reunited with his beloved Crystal. She's still trapped, along with the other Inhumans, in the Great Refuge, so the new Torch flies into the desert in order to try something with his nova power that he thinks might bring a solution.

But, as John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans," and our hero's promptly intercepted by the Original Torch.

Unfortunately for the Thinker, despite having amnesia and therefore not remembering he's a good guy, the Original Torch doesn't have it in him to try and kill his namesake and, when the rest of the Fantastic Four show up, thanks to Lockjaw they all find themselves in the Thinker's den where the Thinker kills the Original Torch and flees, leaving behind his super-computer Quasimodo to act in a pitiful manner at his abandonment.

It has to be said it's a somewhat undignified appearance for the Original Torch too, brought back to be a slave, blunder around not quite knowing what's going on and then die again, and he does come across as depressingly subservient and weak-spined. It's a major let-down when you compare it to the much more whole-hearted Silver Age resurrections of Captain America and the Sub-Mariner. I assume Stan Lee felt there was no place for the Original Torch in a comic book universe that had a new Torch and therefore he wasn't a permanently revivable character but you can't help feeling that one of the company's Golden Age trinity of classic heroes should have been treated with more respect on his return.

It's also a mystery as to what Quasimodo's doing in the tale. Leaving aside the fact he's a terrible character - a computer based on the Hunchback of Notre Dame - in this his first-ever appearance he serves no purpose at all. He just spends all his time whingeing and whining in a style reminiscent of the X-Men's Toad but worse.

But what matters most of all is that it involves a Human Torch coming back from the dead. How times change. With modern comics' much greater sense of reality, I'm afraid there's no way the current Human Torch is going to be coming back. I mean, there's no way any comic book company would ever dare kill a major hero and milk the sales from it before rendering that "collector's item" comic worth less than you paid for it by bringing him back six months later. Damn you, Marvel. In killing the Human Torch forever, you've robbed us eternally of a small part of our childhood.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Nova #3. Diamondheads are forever.

Nova #3, Diamondhead
"He's here!" declares the front cover, "The ultimate super-hero!"

No. It's not Superman and, sadly, the fact Nova's title only lasted twenty five issues would suggest the great comic book reading public didn't think he was the ultimate super-hero either. But what Nova was in his short run was by, all accounts, an attempt to produce a comic in the 1970s that could've been made in the 1960s.

I can see why, for comic creators, a nostalgic attempt to relive the comics of their younger days would appeal but was that ever going to mean anything to readers?

Here's what's going on. There's a villain called Diamondhead who, like many a Silver-Age villain, got his powers in an unlikely manner, this time by tripping over whilst seeking to rob a science institute, and falling into the path of its experimental laser beam. By some means unexplained, this turned him into a man made of living diamond, who therefore can't be harmed. Now, as well as wealth, he's after a box he thinks can enable him to defeat an unseen foe he refers to as the Dreaded One. From my knowledge of future issues, I'm assuming the Dreaded One was the Sphinx although I stand to be corrected.

Not that Diamondhead's blatant invulnerability to harm stops Nova from trying to harm him. Again and again our witless hero flings himself at the villain, only to find it doesn't even phase him. And still that doesn't lead him to change tack - and still he keeps flinging himself at Diamondhead. You do get the feeling from reading this issue that Nova isn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. Perhaps we're meant to see Nova's inability to change tactics as a sign of his inexperience as a super-hero but, really, how much experience do you need in order to know that if head butting someone is hurting your head more than his, you're going to have to try something else?

Finally Diamondhead gets bored with hurting Nova's head and teams up, at the tale's end, with a villain called the Condor who likewise wants to sort out the Dreaded One.

No one loves a comic from a simpler time more than I do, so does this attempt at retro work?

On the strength of this issue, sadly not.

It has two big problems.

One is the hero's domestic set-up's too cosy. As we all know, Marvel super-heroes tend to have troublesome home lives, usually involving the loss of at least one legal guardian and the obligatory work and women troubles. But Nova's alter-ego Richard Rider has a mother and father and a brother and lives in suburban comfort. If there are girls in Rider's life to give him grief, there're no signs of them here, meaning that pretty much his only source of personal conflict seem to come from the school bully who, in the style of an early Flash Thompson, likes to give him a hard time. That brings us on to the other problem.

He's Spider-Man.

You can't get away from it, virtually every line of dialogue Nova spouts in this comic sounds like it was written for the masked wall-crawler. It means you might as well be reading an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man with all emotional conflict removed.

The plot's also too straightforward, with no twists and turns. In fact, the one moment of intrigue comes with the claim by a person unseen that one of Richard Rider's friends has murdered someone. This is clearly meant to be a hook to make you buy future issues but just feels bizarre. I know next to nothing about the character in question but it seems obvious from what little I've seen here that he isn't a murderer.

The thing's solidly drawn as always by Sal Buscema (just how many books was he drawing for Marvel at this time?) but inked by Tom Palmer. We all know Tom Palmer's a great inker but I'm not convinced his style suits Buscema's pencils. It may sound a ridiculous thing to say but somehow it just looks too inky.

So, in the end it's a mildly diverting comic but there's really nothing that'd make you want to come back for more. I would say that's a shame but, as long as we had Spider-Man in two monthly mags, why would we ever have had a reason for mourning his imitator?

Poll Results: The Kree/Skrull War artists.

Avengers #93, Neal Adams, the Kree/Skrull War
Another day and another poll, which means it's time to find out which of the titanic talents who contributed pencils to The Avengers' classic Kree/Skrull War storyline is the Internet's favourite.

Despite my awesome championing of Sal Buscema, it's no surprise to announce that the winner, as voted by you the reader, is Neal Adams with a walloping 12 votes out of the 18 cast. Still, Sal Buscema managed to come in second with a respectable 3 votes, showing that my love for him isn't unique, while that old stand-by, "I can't separate any of them," took a mighty 2 votes. Poor old John Buscema, meanwhile, had to settle for just 1 vote, proving that even the greats can't win them all.

Thanks to everyone who voted, and may your Great Refuge never be blown up by a Skrull atom bomb.

Now, back to: Adventure Comics#395. Supergirl shows why she's not going to be made head of the World Wildlife Fund any time soon.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Adventure Comics #395. Supergirl shows why she's not going to be made head of the World Wildlife Fund any time soon.

Adventure Comics #395, Supergirl and the haunted house
For most of her time on this Earth, Supergirl seemed happy to be a complete and total doormat, especially when her big cousin Kal-El was around but even the maid of might can have her days and this is the issue where Kara Zor-El's ego goes out of all control, as she throws a wobbler at the discovery that she's only the ninth most popular woman in history. To be frank, I'd struggle to be voted the ninth most popular person in this room - and I'm the only one here - so I don't know what she's complaining about.

Yet again it's a case of computers causing trouble for Kara as her teacher at Stanhope College uses one to add up the votes of her classmates in a poll to decide who're the most popular man and woman of all time.

Depressingly, Superman wins the male vote and, to mark the occasion, Supergirl plants a big metal arrow on each of our solar system's planets, in honour of the poll's nine most popular men.

This is where it all starts to get a bit disturbing. Admittedly, planting big metal arrows on uninhabited worlds suggests a certain mental instability in itself but when Supergirl plants an arrow on Pluto, she's perturbed to see a group of metal Plutonian lions pawing at it. Obviously, you can't have metal lions pawing at a pointless big arrow, so she does what anyone with a social conscience would and disintegrates them to death with her heat vision.

Hold on a minute! Isn't Supergirl supposed to be a good guy? Since when does she disintegrate animals to death for pawing at giant metal arrows? I don't fancy Streaky the Super-Cat's chances the next time he starts raking the sofa.

Not that Supergirl cares. She's got more important things to worry about. When she gets back to Earth, the college computer's again put to bad use, adding up the votes to learn who the most popular woman of all time is. Supergirl of course has no doubt it'll be her.

And what do you know?

It isn't.

It seems there're eight women in the entire history of planet Earth who're more popular than her.

To say this discovery destabilises the maid of might is an understatement as she flings herself onto her bed, sobbing her eyes out and wondering if she should give up being a super-heroine in the light of this "humiliation" from an ungrateful world.

Fortunately, duty calls her out to do various good deeds, during which all the girls she meets tell her they voted for her.

Clearly they can't be lying. People don't lie. So there must be something wrong with the computer, and it all ends happily for Supergirl when she discovers that particles of the disintegrated Plutonian animals have got into her  hair and thus messed up the computer. After she finishes jokily washing the bits of murdered animal carcass from her golden locks, she gets the professor to try the computer again and, this time, it does its duty and declares Supergirl to be the most popular woman of all time. Presumably no one who likes animals was allowed to vote.

In the second tale, Supergirl gets to investigate a haunted house, after a famous horror actor who bears no resemblance to Vincent Price is sent mad by trying to spend a night there. In her Linda Danvers guise, our heroine decides to do the same.

Before long, she's encountered the ghost of Superman's dad and an animal from her native Krypton. Upon meeting the animal, she does what any responsible person would upon coming across a member of an endangered species. She tries to beat it to death and then she uses her heat vision to melt it into oblivion. I think I'm starting to spot a trend here.

It turns out the spirits are actually Kryptonian villains from the Phantom Zone - including General Zod - who're trying to con Supergirl into thinking they're ghosts so they can send her mad.

After playing along with their scheme by pretending to have gone insane (frankly, the way she's been acting this issue, that doesn't take much of what you might call acting) our heroine deals with them. The story then has a somewhat bizarre cliff-hanger ending when a real ghost, complete with spectral scythe, shows up and starts to attack her in the very last panel. It doesn't feel like a cliff-hanger ending. It feels like they just forgot to print the next page, but the caption tells us this is indeed meant to be final panel of this issue and we have to come back next month to find out how our heroine survives her encounter with the homicidal horror.

The tale's pencilled by Kurt Schaffenberger who has a remarkable knack of drawing Supergirl in unflattering poses. This might sound like a criticism but it does have a humanising effect on a woman who it'd be all too easy to portray as a physical paragon and lends her a sense of having a character, even if it's probably the same character as he gave to Lois Lane.

Bearing in mind Supergirl's egomania and animal-murdering tendencies, probably the most worrying contribution to the issue is a letter from someone who I feel it's best remains anonymous who declares Supergirl to be short, fat and ugly and that she should be drawn to look nicer. It's a good job Supergirl never got to read that one or I suspect its sender would've been going the same way as those metal lions and the beast from Krypton.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Help needed. Fleetway's Marvel UK Annual 1974.

Fleetway Marvel Annual 1974
Wherever shadowy men gather in dockside bars, to speak of dread secrets and crazed travellers' tales, hushed whispers are spread that one of the most futile and pointless successful features on this blog is where I ask readers for help in tracking down a comic.

Well, in this case, I don't need help tracking one down. The comic in question, I already know what it is and I know where to get it. The only question is one of content.

Bearing in mind my affection for Fleetway's Marvel Annual 1972/1973, whenever I see their 1974 annual up for sale, I get this urge to buy it. So, if you happen to know what stories are in it - so I'll know if the sound of it grabs me - I'd be delighted to hear from you.


PS. Don't forget. The results of our battling amphibians poll are now in. Did everyone else agree with your selection?

There's only one way to find out.

Poll Results: The Battle of the Amphibians.

Poll results, Marvel's battling amphibians, Leap-Frog, Gene Colan
Slap me down with a flipper; it's like Election Night Special in the Steve Does Comics dungeon right now. No sooner do we have the outcome of our Superman Family poll than in come the results of our battling amphibians poll.

So, without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to announce that the winner, when it comes to the question of who'd win a fight between Marvel's larcenists of the lilly pads, is, "I don't have a clue," with a humongous four votes.

Second was Amphibius, with two votes, and third was Leap-Frog with one.

In a shock turn-up that's bound to set the conspiracy websites buzzing from here to Kathmandu, Frog-Man and the Toad each got no votes whatsoever.

All I can say is thank God tomorrow's Supergirl Sunday. We can always rely on the Stanhope Sensation to to calm us all down after such furious debate.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Poll Results: The Superman Family.

Comet, Streaky, Krypto, Beppo, the super-pets
Look at him. Look at how happy Streaky looks. I bet you feel guilty now. 
The results are in - and it's probably a sad reflection on the man of steel that the winner of our, "Who's the best member of the Superman family?" poll isn't Superman.

In fact it's Krypto the Super-Dog who wins it, with three votes.

Supergirl was next, with two votes, Superman tied with Comet the Super-Horse, on one vote each, while poor old Streaky the Super-Cat and Beppo the Super-Chimp got no votes at all. I don't care about Beppo but will Streaky never win the love of the the comic book readers of the world?

Regardless, thanks to everyone who voted, and I'm sure Krypto would thank you personally if he could only speak.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Adventure Comics #428. The Black Orchid flutters in.

Adventure Comics #428 Black Orchid's first appearance
Did any super-heroine ever have a more baffling costume than the Black Orchid? Just how exactly did it fit together? Then again was any super-heroine ever more baffling than the Black Orchid herself? A woman forged from a fluid but shapely dose of mystery that seemed to have been poured into that self-same costume. Adventure Comics #428 features her first appearance and, despite its proud boast that it incorporates her origin, we're no clearer about who she is at the end of it than we are at the start.

What we do know is that some bad guys have killed some good guy. Exactly why, I'm not sure but the DA's on their case.

Trouble is, they're on his, meaning the Orchid's going to have to keep him alive as he does his sleuthing. The Black Orchid can fly, is super-strong and invulnerable to bullets, so, to a large extent she's not that different to Supergirl, her long-standing predecessor as Adventure Comics' leading light.

The big difference is the Black Orchid's also a mistress of disguise and, after rendering everyone clueless as to which of the tale's female characters she is or isn't, she's got the case solved, leaving all and sundry no wiser than ever.

Despite its impracticality it's a great costume, defying all known laws of physics - and sometimes, you suspect, its artists' comprehension - while doing its all-important job of showing off her chest and backside. To be honest, I don't really know what was going on in the story or who all these people are but it is at least an intriguing debut that makes you want to read more, if only to find out what's to do.

The back-up story involves a character called Dr 13: the Ghost Breaker, which does make it sound like he's in the habit of torturing helpless spirits. I have no great knowledge of Dr 13 but, from what I can see here, he seems to be modelled on Michael Caine. He's brought in on a case that involves a pair of spectacles that kill anyone who wears them but Dr 13 isn't a man to be outwitted by a pair of horn-rims and he soon puts things to rights. The twist at the end somehow manages to be both inspired and completely lame simultaneously.

Both tales in this issue are drawn by Tony De Zuniga, so they both look classy and elegant - although Sheldon Mayer's dialogue in the Orchid tale's pretty dire, being crammed full of creaking exposition and stiltedness and it's hard to work out just why anyone in it's doing what they're doing.

Would the Black Orchid be back?

Of course she would.

Would her strip, like the woman herself, take flight and soar to new triumphs?

Sadly not. She was gone after just three issues, replaced by the Spectre, as she found herself relegated to the back of the Phantom Stranger's comic but, like the trail of perfume she left behind her wherever she went, she was nice while she lasted.

All the latest movie news from Planet Comic (Potential Spoilers).

Being a fan of comics, I do of course take an interest in all the latest super-hero related movie news that washes up on my front beach of belligerence. The world is still trembling from my recent coverage of the latest images from the new Spider-Man flick. Sadly, more often than not, I find myself failing to be impressed by super-hero movies. However, every so often one comes along that actually gets it right. So, will the next crop of super-hero flicks be hit or... ...erm, something that rhymes with "hit" but isn't quite the same word?

It seems Anne Hathaway's been cast as Catwoman in the new Batman film The Dark Knight Rises. On the one hand, speaking as someone who only knows Anne Hathaway from her time as William Shakespeare's wife and from certain "interesting" photos of her on the Internet, this intrigues me. On the other, the fact that we're getting Catwoman and Bane in this film fails to light my candle. Will I never get to see Killer Croc on screen?

Meanwhile, More photos of Captain America in Captain America: The First Avenger have come to light. There've been some complaints about his costume but I like it. It has the look of the 1940s to it and my disappointment that - like Thor - Cap's to lose the wings from his head has been largely assuaged by the fact that he will at least have them painted on his helmet.

Meanwhile there's always the Thor trailer that's up on Youtube. Admittedly It's been up for months but no one ever accused me of rushing these things. I won't bother getting into the, "Oh My God! Heimdall's black!" arguments, as everyone with any sense knows the Norse Gods aren't even human, let alone Scandinavian, so they can be any colour anyone wants them to be. I do worry it might all turn out to be a bit dry and humourless and therefore ultimately uninvolving but it does mean we get to see the Destroyer smashing things up.

Elsewhere, there're pictures of January Jones as Emma Frost, on the set of X-Men: First Class. Well, I suppose it's better than some of the outfits Emma's been lumbered with in the comics over the years but my fashion senses tell me it's a look that'll never catch on. Being the red-hot Hollywood-watcher I am, I don't have a clue who January Jones is but it probably doesn't hurt that her real name makes her sound like a comic book character from the get-go. Apparently it's a prequel, so it probably won't be any good.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Avengers #93. Neal Adams. The Kree/Skrull War.

Avengers #93, Neal Adams, Ant-Man, the Vision & the Fantastic Four, Kree/Skrull War
There are some shameful things a man must admit to in life and I must confess here and now that, before reading the second half of this tale in Marvel UK's Mighty World of Marvel, I'd never noticed Neal Adams. Oh I'd seen his work before. I'd seen it in a 100 page issue of Batman where Batman took on a werewolf, and I'd seen it on the covers of various Atlas comics but, somehow, it'd made no impression on me.

But, with this issue...

...that all changed.

Suddenly enthused beyond all reason, I had to dig out all those old comics and look at them anew. I had to get out pencil and paper and have a go at copying everything he did; how he drew legs, how he drew faces, how he drew arms. Most of all, how he drew gums and irises.

There was no doubt about it. By the time I'd copied all that stuff, I was practically the next Neal Adams, so it was always going to be interesting to see what I made of his work when the Essential Avengers Vol reintroduced him to me.

But first, what happens? The original Avengers are having an Iron Man instigated meeting when the Vision barges in and collapses. Luckily Ant-Man's on hand to do his Raquel Welch impression and shrink down in order to enter the Vision's body and find out what the problem is. After encountering a whole bunch of obstacles, the diminutive dabbler succeeds and we get the story of how the Vision, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch - having gone to meet Captain Marvel at a farm - were attacked by a gang of cows that turned into the Fantastic Four. Long-standing Marvelites will know at once it's the return of the original Skrulls from way back in Fantastic Four #2.

Armed with this knowledge, the Avengers go to the farm and defeat the Skrulls.

But not before the Super-Skrull escapes in his flying saucer - with Mar-Vell, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch his prisoners - leaving the Avengers to stand despondent at their failure to stop him.

Two things strike me about this issue. One is it's long - 34 pages instead of the customary 20. The second is I really don't know what to make of Neal Adams' artwork. It's one of those things. I can see it's a work of beauty, executed with huge skill, talent and care. You have to hand it to him. He could presumably have made a perfectly good living drawing comics while putting in even half the effort he does here. Instead he gives it his best.

But still I can't get round the fact it doesn't really grab me. The panels feel just a little too detailed, the lines a little too polished, the style a little too stylish. It's a thing of beauty but, then, so's Keira Knightley and I've never found her any more stimulating than she finds me. For me, there's an odd blandness to Adams's work here, a lack of quirk or idiosyncrasy. It's the beauty of an advertising hoarding, rather than the beauty we're told exists beneath the skin. Plus, with his use of light, shade and exaggerated perspectives, I can't escape the nagging sense of Adams as, at heart, being just Gene Colan with anatomy lessons.

Rationally, as Neal Adams is recognised as an all-time great artist and I'm not acknowledged as an all-time great anything, the fault must lie with me and not with him and that's why I can't help thinking of the phrase, "Casting pearls before swine." If Suede sang, "We are the pigs," then, Reader, I am that swine.

On other matters, there's that panel that's always puzzled me. The one on page 15, where, just as he's about to leave, Ant-Man finds something in the Vision's brain that makes him double-take. What is it? Were we ever told? I've always assumed it had something to do with the Vision having once been the original Human Torch but, if so, just what was it?

The Steve Does Comics Guide to grading comics

As you may have noticed, in my usual desperate quest to get more visitors, I've added a comics grading guide to the site. Sadly, I've just realised visitors aren't able to add comments to static pages, so, if you find yourself affected by any issues raised by that article, here's where you can post your thoughts on the matter.

I now return you to the main post of the day; Aggressive Amphibians: Terror Among the Lilly Pads.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Aggressive amphibians: Terror among the lilly pads.

Daredevil's Leapfrog, Gene Colan
Who can explain why a villain with this kind of class
never caught on?
People often ask me why I always take my nunchucks with me whenever I go to Betty's Tea Rooms, and I always tell them that harsh experience has taught me that peril may lurk in even the most unlikely of places.

Well, no place is less likely a spot for peril to lurk than your garden pond but it seems like Stan Lee spent most of the 1960s convinced that the most dread menaces imaginable lurked beneath those shallow waters, as he repeatedly dredged them for new threats to inflict on our heroes.

We got the Toad. We got the Frog-Man. We got Leap-Frog.

What they all had in common - apart from being named after amphibians - was they were all completely and totally useless.

The Toad's deadly power was, of course, jumping about a bit.

The Frog-Man's deadly power was also jumping about a bit.

But, for me, worst of the lot had to be Leap-Frog. Here's a man who decided that the way to become an unstoppable super-villain was to attach a couple of bed springs to a pair of flippers and dress up as a frog. The only super-hero I ever remember him fighting is Daredevil, causing me to suspect Daredevil was only there to see off the villains no other hero could be bothered with. I seem to recall Daredevil once beating him, in the Gene Colan era, by throwing him in a lake. Yes, that's right, he defeated a villain based on a frog by throwing him in some water. That's like beating Gorilla Man by throwing him at some bananas.

But there was more. I seem to recall both the Avengers and the X-Men coming up against a character called Amphibius. Amphibius' deadly power was, inevitably, jumping about a bit. This time, Roy Thomas was the culprit.

Was this obsession with boingy amphibians a purely Marvel thing? Did other comic book companies share it? DC had Bouncing Boy who could jump around - and could inflate himself, as some toads do - but he clearly wasn't frog based. Image Comics had Spawn. I'd just love to be told Spawn was inspired by frogs' eggs but I fear I may be disappointed.

So, what's the lesson of it all?

Mostly this. If you're considering becoming a super-villain, first ask yourself one question; "With my powers in place, could I be defeated by being locked in a cupboard?" If the answer's yes, don't become a super-villain. Become a broom handle. I myself can be defeated by being locked in a cupboard. And that's why, no matter how long it exists, Betty's Tea Rooms will never see the back of my nunchucks.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Poll Results: Diablo. Yay or nay?

Jack Kirby Fantastic Four #30 Diablo
The results are in for our latest poll...

...and it's a resounding defeat for all haters of the world's greatest alchemist Diablo. Despite Stan Lee's belief that the Fantastic Four villain never caught on, the fiendish pharmacist of felony gained a magnificent seven votes for, "Diablo rocks," and only one vote for, "Diablo sucks." No one voted for, "I am unsure."

Not only that but, after just four days, the original post that prompted the poll (see below) has already become the site's third most viewed article of all time.

As Paul Daniels would have said, "That's Magic!"

And that's Diablo.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Supergirl in Adventure Comics #391. Linda goes to Hollywood.

Supergirl Adventure Comics #391 Linda Danvers Kurt Schaffenberger
It's the weekend - and that means only one thing.

It's time for Supergirl Sunday!

I could claim I've decided to label it that because it's a great new feature I've thought up but the truth is I'm only saying it because it alliterates and - to me - alliteration is averything.

To Supergirl, keeping her secret identity is everything - which does pose the question as to why, in this issue's first story, she agrees, as Linda Danvers, to star in a Supergirl movie? Won't everyone with a pair of eyes notice that, dressed up as Supergirl, Linda Danvers of Stanhope looks exactly like Supergirl of Stanhope?

Well yes they do but, showing that keen intellect possessed of everyone in Supergirl comics, no one seems to think anything of it.

What's happened is a new-fangled computer in Stanhope College has decreed the ideal career for Linda and her classmate Eve is "actress". Hearing of this, a big film director shows up to make her an offer she can't refuse.

The trouble is that, all through shooting, things go disastrously wrong, A rope snaps, sending Linda plummeting hundreds of feet into a ravine. A giant inflatable whale she's riding bursts, plunging her into shark-infested waters. A gun, that's supposed to fire blanks, fires a real bullet at her. By a whole bunch of unlikely bursts of ingenuity, Linda manages to get through all these mishaps without anyone thinking it odd that she can survive such things unscathed. It all turns out the "accidents" are the handiwork of the studio press agent who's trying to sabotage the film in order to get back at the director for marrying the woman who jilted him. And he would've gotten away with it if not for that pesky Supergirl.

The issue's second tale sees Supergirl go to an alien world, on a foreign exchange trip. What she doesn't know is the student she's supposed to have exchanged with has been kidnapped and replaced by a trouble-maker out to damage Linda Danvers' rep on Earth by leading a student riot back at Stanhope College. I don't think anyone'll be surprised that Supergirl quickly sorts it all out.

Of course, what we really read old Supergirl stories for is their sheer insanity. Sadly, the dementedness levels have been turned substantially down from those of Adventure Comics #390, meaning the only real moments of madness we get are the giant inflatable whale and the fact that the alien planet that Supergirl visits is modelled on Earth, with the town she stays in being an exact replica of Stanhope. But, overall, the comic's good clean fun and the first tale's beautifully drawn by an uncredited Kurt Schaffenberger.

Actually, the most interesting thing for me about this issue - Kurt Schaffenberger aside - is it's one of those months when they print the circulation figures. What strikes me is that, on average, 664,000 copies of Adventure Comics were being printed each month. And there was me assuming Supergirl books just barely limped along.

The other thing that strikes me is that, of those, "only" 354,000 copies were actually sold, with another 309,000 listed as being, "Office Use, Left-Over, Unaccounted," for or just plain, "Spoiled After Printing." Just where were nearly 3.7 million Supergirl comics disappearing to every year?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Amazing Fantasy #15. Spider-Man's origin.

Marvel Comics Amazing Fantasy #15 Spider-Man origin Stan Lee Steve Ditko Peter Parker
How was I ever not going to love Amazing Fantasy #15? I first read it on Christmas Day, I first read it in Stan Lee's Origins of Marvel Comics and I first read it while eating a genuine imitation-bacon sandwich.

This was the mid-1970s when imitation food was all the rage, and populist science show Tomorrow's World never tired of telling us that by the year 2,000 we'd all be eating nothing but soya beans masquerading as every kind of food imaginable.

Happily they were were wrong and happily there was nothing ersatz about the first-ever appearance of the Amazing Spider-Man. If any debut was the real deal this was it.

The first thing that strikes you reading the tale is that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko seem to have been bitten by a radioactive mongoose before creating it, such is the sheer speed the thing moves at. To give some idea, only just introduced to us, Peter Parker's already got his spider-powers by the end of the second page and has his costume and web-shooters in place by the end of the fifth. It's not surprising therefore that by the end of the tenth page he's had time to use his powers unwisely, made a bucketful of cash, made a huge blunder, and been forced by tragic circumstance to learn the error of his ways.

It's a cleverly constructed thing, tying its strands together beautifully to give us a morality play Aesop himself would've been proud of as, alienated by his treatment by society and therefore thinking only of himself, Spider-Man refuses to prevent a petty crook's escape and then pays the price as that self-same crook goes on to kill his Uncle Ben, one of only two people in the world who ever actually cared about Peter Parker. It's also a nice touch that the cop who breaks the news to Peter that his uncle's dead is clearly the same officer who Spider-Man refused to help apprehend the crook in the first place.

Interestingly, the roles of Spider-Man and Peter Parker are the opposite of what we grew used to in the John Romita years, with Spider-Man hugely popular with a public that can't get enough of his showbiz antics, while Peter Parker - the man who'd one day be fighting off the likes of Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson with a stick - can't even get a girl to look at him. Aunt May, in contrast to later tales, manages to get through the whole issue with not a heart attack in sight. Interesting too to see Flash Thompson at his most brainless.

Given its willingness to delve deeper into human torment and duty than super-hero comics had traditionally done, it's not a surprise that the strip went on to be such a success. The tactic of robbing its central character of a parental figure must also have chimed strongly with the deep-rooted psychological impulses of a readership that was young and therefore at its most dependent on such figures. It was hardly a new thing for a super-hero to lose a guardian - Superman and Batman had both lost their parents in childhood - but had the turmoil of such an event ever been flung in the reader's face in such a stark and cruel manner?

So of course it's an instant classic - though you do have to ask serious questions of those scientists who were ultimately behind all this; the ones who were conducting radiation experiments in front of a totally unprotected public. Maybe those scientists too needed their own reminder that with great power comes great responsibility.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Midnight Tales #8. Arachne & the Midnight Philosopher in, "Amnesia."

Charlton Comics Midnight Tales 8 Arachne and Professor Coffin
With their not-quite-glossy covers, serrated page edges and artwork that didn't always line-up properly with the paper they were printed on, you didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to notice that Charlton Comics were put together a fair bit more cheaply than the likes of Marvel and DC. But that was a large part of their charm. Everyone, after all, loves an underdog, and few comic companies felt underdoggier than Charlton.

Bearing in mind that a couple of years ago, I bought a bunch of Charlton comics and was somewhat disappointed by them, I didn't exactly have high hopes when, a few days ago, I bought two issues of Midnight Tales. I remembered them with affection but, then again, I'd remembered the likes of Ghostly Haunts and Dr Graves with affection and they'd done nothing for me upon adult re-reading.

Happily, Midnight Tales is the comic that bucked the trend because I really enjoyed both mags. You'd be hard pressed to call their contents spine-tingling because that clearly wasn't the aim. Midnight Tales, with its anchor characters of Professor Coffin and his niece Arachne was patently meant to divert and amuse rather than terrify. I'd say this was a wise decision as, even in the 1970s, there was a limit as to how blood-curdling you could be if you wanted to retain that Comics Code stamp.

So, instead, Midnight Tales #8, sees Charlton ever-present Nicola Cuti giving us a framing story as, called to an isolated island by their friend Charlie, Arachne and the Professor try to discover the identity of a mysterious young woman he's found himself saddled with. As the girl doesn't remember who she is, Charlie's named her Amnesia and, as they try to work out just where she came from, we're given clues via a trio of short stories.

The first involves a Scottish fishing village whose inhabitants set out to destroy a sea monster that's eating all the fish stocks - only to discover why killing the thing wasn't such a good idea after all. The twist doesn't really stand up to scrutiny but it's oddly pleasing and the thing's strikingly drawn by Tom Sutton.

The second tale concerns a man whose obsessive quest to find Atlantis causes him to neglect his wife, leading to disaster for all concerned.

Finally we get the tale of two ne'er do wells who steal what seems to be a giant pearl from a sunken city, only to attract the wrath of the "pearl's" rightful owners.

Now that these stories have been told, we at last get the revelation as to who Amnesia is and what she's doing there.

The nature of Amnesia isn't exactly what you'd call a shock, bearing in mind the watery nature of all these tales and that she was found, "on the rocks," but the reason she's there's a nice touch and adds to the air of affability of it all. The real genius of the comic is the use of Coffin and Arachne as the framing device. Unlike the framing characters of DC's horror mags, they aren't narrators as such, more investigators, and they each have a defined personality, with the always reasonable Coffin and the somewhat tactless Arachne.

Reading these two comics has genuinely made me want to go out and get all the other issues of Midnight Tales. Sadly that's not going to be a Herculean feat, as there aren't that many of them. The title lasted just eighteen issues before the plug was pulled, proving there's no justice in the world. But, with a Hollywood seemingly scraping the bottom of every comic book barrel it can find, for inspiration, I demand it raises its sights and gives us a Professor Coffin and Arachne movie. Knowing the huge weight this blog carries in such quarters, I have no doubt I'll get my wish.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Diablo. Devilish dues for the attitudinal alchemist.

Fantastic Four #30, Diablo's first appearance and origin
Sometimes it takes your greatest heroes to let you down the most in life and, for some of us, none are greater than Stan Lee. One of the biggest - but I must confess least life-changing - setbacks I've ever experienced was when, during a TV interview a few years back, I saw Stan being asked if he'd ever come up with a super-villain who hadn't worked.

Like any sane man I of course expected him to fling out the name of one of the many inept foes Daredevil or Iron Man had come up against in their early days. Let's be honest, whose heart really chills to the thought of the Purple Man, Leapfrog or even the original Scarecrow who Iron Man had so much difficulty defeating because said villain was helped by a pair of crows? You can see instantly why a man in high-tech battle armour that allows him to tangle with the Hulk would have so much trouble tackling a man with two pet birds.

Instead, Stan produced what for me was the most unexpected name of them all.

Diablo.

How could this be true? Diablo was and still is one of my favourite Fantastic Four villains. In fact, take away Dr Doom and Annihilus, and Diablo goes straight to the top of my list. He was sneaky. He was devious. He had a castle.

For anyone unfamiliar with him, Diablo made his debut in Fantastic Four #30 where, rescued from a giant cork, he set about using his powers of alchemy to amass a vast fortune so he could hire an army and take over the world. While he was at it, he managed the admittedly not rare feat of turning the Thing against his fellow FF members, before a clearly jealous Reed Richards exposed him as a fraud whose potions only worked for a short spell.

After such embarrassment, and having yet again been defeated by a giant cork, a lesser villain would never again have seen the light of day.

But Diablo was no lesser villain and he reappeared, months later, to give life to the Dragon Man for no good reason at all before he and his creation fell into a frozen lake, never to be seen again.

When I say, "Never to be seen again," I of course mean it in the old comic book sense of, "Disappeared for a little bit before reappearing." I recall he later turned up in The Avengers #41 where he seemed to have forgotten he was an alchemist and, judging by his sudden fondness for doing things with disks, seemed to think he'd turned into the Wizard. Frankly, in this appearance he bore little resemblance to the man some of us had known and admired.

Thankfully, by Fantastic Four issue #118, he was back to his old self and hatching a vile plot that involved hypnotising the lovely Crystal into thinking she was on his side so he could take over one of those Latin American countries you can never find on any map. What happened to him after this, I have no idea as I don't recall him ever putting in another appearance in any of the comics I ever read but I like to think he was still out there, still hatching his schemes, ready for the day when he could again return to wreak more pointless havoc on an unsuspecting human race.

Diablo never had any reason for doing the things he did and his greatest enemy was a giant cork. These facts alone would've been enough to endear him to all super-villain fans.

But there was more.

Diablo had one more asset up his sleeve.

He had a great moustache.

Now, a great moustache might not seem like a make-or-break thing for a super-villain but the truth is that villains with moustaches were thin on the ground in the Marvel Comics I read as a kid. The Leader had one but it was so weedy you could only assume he'd grown it purely to prove he could. The Stranger had one but, aww, who ever cared about the Stranger? The Miracle Man had one and, like Diablo, was treated with a disgraceful lack of respect by his foes.

So, for his love of doing evil purely for the sake of doing evil, his fear of giant corks, and his big moustache, in my book, Diablo is one of Marvel's all-time great villains and I'll fight to the death anyone who says otherwise. Unless of course that anyone is Stan Lee. At the age of 88 he might still be young enough to beat me and, like any good super-villain, I have little stomach for defeat.


PS. Today's clearly fated to be Diablo Day because the latest instalment of the Internet's greatest quiz - The Department of Pointless Questions - involves an issue of the Fantastic Four that the aggro-loving alchemist loomed over like a colossus. Remember; you can't win if you don't enter.

The Department of Pointless Questions. Fantastic Four #118.

Fantastic Four #118, Crystal and Diablo
As you'll see from other post of today, I'm in a Diablo state of mind. And that inevitably brings us to The Fantastic Four issue #118. It's a comic I have a lot of affection for, mostly because, as part of Marvel's short-lived move to longer comics, it features not one but two stories.

Not only that but its interior contains both Diablo and Crystal of the Inhumans, with Crystal in particular looking rather fetching in the guise of a fake goddess.

But, it strikes my eyeballs that there's an anatomical error with one of the characters on this cover. So, can you spot what it is?

As always the winner gets a great big Steve Does Comics No-Prize.

Remember, no ordinary blog hands out such awards - probably because no ordinary blog's so cheap and mean-spirited - so it's a non-prize you simply won't be able to get anywhere else.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Avengers #92. The Kree/Skrull War Part 4.

Avengers #92, the Kree/Skrull War, Neal Adams
What with interplanetary war on the brink of breaking out, there're many things to be concerned about in The Avengers #92 but possibly the most disturbing of them all is that the comic kicks off with Quicksilver cracking jokes and the Vision dressed like he's about to burst into a bunch of Perry Como songs. Presumably this attempt to show the pair in a more relaxed state than we're used to is an attempt by Roy Thomas and Sal Buscema to humanise our not always warm and cuddly duo but it feels more like we've fallen into an alternate world and I hope I never again have to endure the sight of the Vision in fireside crooner mode.

Then again, maybe they've been replaced by Skrulls.

Thanks to the blabbing scientists rescued from Ronan last issue, Senator H Warren Craddock certainly thinks there's something afoot with the Avengers as he demands they hand over Captain Marvel and then attend a hearing into un-Earthian activities, while he simultaneously whips the American public into a frenzy about the threat of aliens amongst us. It's easy to see the public here as a bunch of hysterical idiots - and that's presumably how we're meant to see them - but in fairness, if, in the real world it came to light that a group of self-appointed people had been keeping information of an alien menace from us, I suspect most of us would be a little miffed and distrustful.

As for Craddock and his commission, the parallels with Joe McCarthy are not exactly subtly presented but there's nothing like a foaming-at-the-mouth bigot to ramp up the dramatic tension and remind you just who the good guys and bad guys are. The one thing that does jar in the sequence at the hearing is the behaviour of the Thing, where he drops the Avengers in it, big-time, by making it clear he doesn't trust them not to be traitors to Earth. I know Aunt Petunia's favourite nephew isn't always the most diplomatic of souls but you'd expect him to have some sort of sense.

Captain Marvel meanwhile's done a runner, having been offered a farm house hiding place by Carol Danvers whose arrival by helicopter crash should've flattened the Avengers Mansion but barely put a dent in its roof. Interesting that, after Mar-Vell leaves, Rick Jones has a scene where he starts to think about the super-heroes he used to read about in the comic books of his youth, suggesting that Roy Thomas had, even at this early stage, worked out how the whole thing was going to end. Judging by his determination to keep using him in various comics, it seems Thomas always had a soft spot for Jones, possibly seeing the super-hero wannabe as a natural representative of the reader, but does this redefining of Jones as a comic book obsessive mean that keen comic book historian Thomas is projecting himself and his own interests through him?

Of course, despite rampaging mobs, one-sided hearings and helicopter crashes, the real drama of the issue comes at its very end as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man show up and, unhappy at the way the current line-up have handled the situation, disband the Avengers. How can our heroes get out of this hole? Well, I suppose they could just form their own super-hero team and carry on regardless.

But will they?

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Adventure Comics #390. A Supergirl in love.

Supergirl Adventure Comics #390
The good news is I've recently bought a pile of comics to review.

The bad news is most of them are Supergirl comics. So, if you're not fond of Kara Zor-El, the days to come might prove to be grim reading for you.

Fortunately I can't believe anyone could not be a fan of Supergirl. Over the decades, she's given us some of the most bizarre and twisted tales of perversion and weirdness ever inflicted on the human race, and Giant Adventure Comics #390's no exception as our Herculean heroine once more winds her way through the minefields of the land we call Romance. Frankly, I think anyone who's ever been young and in love will be able to empathise with the binds she finds herself in here.

In the issue's first tale, after watching a soppy romance film, Kara decides she must find Superman a wife. Clearly she's under the impression that her all-powerful cousin's incapable of finding one for himself.

After a dream that tells us she thinks his ideal woman is someone to do his cooking and cleaning, she decides Helen of Troy's the perfect fit.

Erm, that'd be the Helen of Troy who's a queen and therefore not too likely to be into cooking and cleaning?

This genius plan fails when, jealous of Supergirl's powers and beauty, Helen banishes Supergirl and Superman from her kingdom.

Showing the block-headed stubbornness that makes us all love her, Supergirl decides to fix Superman up with the grown-up version of the Legion of Super-Heroes' Saturn Girl. This all goes wrong when, after Superman gives Saturn Woman a snogging that threatens to suck her intestines out, it turns out she's already married to Lightning Man who isn't at all pleased to see Superman coming on to his wife. After no doubt pausing to give Saturn Woman her digestive tract back, Superman returns to the present day where he infamously declares that he knows the ideal wife for him.

It's Supergirl!

Sadly, he can't marry Supergirl because Kryptonian law forbids cousins from marrying. Seemingly, judging by the fact it never occurs to him to mention it, Kryptonian law doesn't stop grown men from marrying thirteen year old girls. Bafflingly undisturbed by this revelation, Supergirl scans the universe for a super-heroine who looks just like her but isn't Superman's cousin.

Happily she finds just the girl, in Luma Lynai, who presumably doesn't know about the existence of Supergirl, judging by her showing no signs of being completely repulsed and sickened by the whole back story of how Superman came to seek her out. Clearly she's the ideal woman for Superman because, not only does she ask no questions, but her initials are LL - just like Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Linda Lee, Lori Lemaris, etc, etc, etc.

Sadly, it turns out Luma Lynai can't live on Earth because the rays of Earth's sun have the same effect on her that kryptonite has on Superman.

Finally admitting defeat, Supergirl gives up on the idea and accepts that maybe Superman'll just have to slum it and settle for Lois Lane or Lana Lang, or presumably any other Earth woman whose name begins with LL. Lindsay Lohan, you have been warned.

Next up, Supergirl goes deeper into weird pervert love overdrive as Comet the Super-Horse sets out to win Supergirl's heart. Now, the more observant reader'll have noticed that Super-Horse is a horse. The even more observant reader'll have noticed that Supergirl is a girl. This should've set alarm bells ringing in DC Comics' editorial office.

Needless to say, it didn't.

Visiting a planet where magic reigns supreme, Super-Horse is transformed into a man whenever a comet's in the vicinity. In this guise, he becomes known to Supergirl as Bronco Bill and she's quite the smitten kitten until the comet leaves our solar system and he has to flee in order to turn back into a horse, leaving our heroine none the wiser as to what's been going on. Will our love-struck horse ever get his chance to climb on top of Supergirl like she so often climbs on top of him?

Of course he will. In the very next story he travels back in time and gets the sorceress Circe to turn him permanently into Bronco Bill.

Unfortunately he's mistaken for a dangerous criminal of the type whose first instinct upon seeing a horse is to set it on fire, and, when a posse comes after him, he has to flee and turn back into a horse for his own protection. He then rescues Supergirl from some kryptonite he's accidentally unearthed, leaving Supergirl to yet again wonder if she'll ever see Bronco Bill again.

Next, despite this being touted as a "Romance" issue, we have a tale from Supergirl's early days that has nothing at all to do with romance, when she tries to stop a kid called Dick from revealing to the world that Supergirl exists. She does this in a whole bunch of unlikely ways, involving cliffs, dummies and dumbbells, before convincing him that the flying female he saw was just a robot built by Superman.

Lastly, Supergirl meets her perfect man, a last survivor of Argo City who turns out to be an escaped criminal from the Phantom Zone. He's out for revenge on her, despite never having met her, and she almost falls for it, even getting as far as arranging the wedding.

Happily, her psychic friends, Super-Horse, Jerro the merboy and Saturn Girl, realise there's something up and, between them, they send the villain off to the future where he'll stay in a kryptonite cage until he can be returned to the Phantom Zone. Seemingly, Supergirl's adoptive parents have no problems at all with their schoolgirl daughter marrying a fully grown man. If they do, his knocking twenty years of their ages and giving them a load of jewellery seems to quell those objections.

So there you have it; Helen of Troy, lookalikes, robots, randy horses, merboys and alien super-villains. Just a typical teen love-life. No wonder we all love Supergirl so much. In so many ways, despite her powers, her day-to-day problems are just like those of the rest of us.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Teen Titans #33. The caveman and the Flasher.

Teen Titans #33, Gnarrk the caveman
First of all I owe an apology to Dr Strange. In my recent review of Super Spider-Man and the Super-Heroes, I declared his story therein to be incomprehensible. Clearly I didn't know what "incomprehensible" was back then because I hadn't yet read Teen Titans #33.

As far as I can make out, Kid Flash and a friend named Mal -  who rather unfortunately keeps calling him "Flasher" - are stuck in some weird medieval land with a wizard who seems to be a bad guy - not to mention a skeletal caveman and a sorceress. At some point Kid Flash has to fire an arrow into a lock, which, by some means unexplained, he manages to do despite being Kid Flash and not Speedy the Robin Hood wannabe. Then again, why's Speedy called Speedy when it's Kid Flash who's the fast one?

Clearly not bothered by such concerns, the bloke who keeps saying, "Flasher" grabs a helmet from a very odd bunch of characters who seem to have appeared from nowhere and, erm, that sort of sorts everything out.

Then the evil wizard starts acting like a good wizard. Then they drink some crystallised water and they're suddenly fighting a real-life caveman who they have to stop without killing, in order to put right whatever it is that's been going wrong. I'm sure this all makes complete sense to anyone who's read the previous issue, but coming to it cold it really is amongst the most disorienting things I've ever read.

Those who've suffered the long dark night times of this blog's soul will of course know this is one of the very first American comics I ever owned and that all I could remember about it was that its last panel featured a caveman bursting out of a van. Happily, thanks to the wonders of eBid, I've now got a copy of it and, sadly, my memory of that ending's turned out to be somewhat inaccurate, as it's a camper van the thing bursts out of and it's not actually at the story's very end.

But from where did this camper van caveman appear?

Having sorted out things in the past, Mal and "Flasher" return to the present, only to discover they've brought the caveman back with them. A man called Mr Jupiter won't let them send him back. He insists they instead keep the caveman in one of the iron cages he just happens to have handy. Personally I'd be a bit on the suspicious side of anyone who just happens to have some cages handy. Still, his ownership of cages aside, the Titans seem to trust him and he otherwise seems a kindly soul.

After christening their captive "Gnarrk", the Titans set about trying to educate and civilise him.

Sadly, the Titans'd make a total a pig's ear of it if not for a girl called Lilith.

I must admit I'm not at all familiar with Lilith but she's some sort of witch-come-psychic and I have to say she's rather nice. Thanks to Lilith, they manage to make some moves towards civilising Gnarrk but then, while on the loose in the city, he spots a local politician committing an act of criminality, meaning Gnarrk's needed in court. Will our heroes be able to turn him into a credible witness in time?

Of course they will. They're heroes. And by the end of the tale Gnarrk isn't only a civilised man but appears to now be Lilith's boyfriend. So, well done to them, well done to her and especially well done to Gnarrk.

I can't deny it. My total confusion over the earlier section aside, I really do like this tale. It's got a wholesome amiability about it that sort of rubs off on you. I even like the fact the Titans have an adult boss. While having an adult boss never did the early years of the X-Men any good, here it works, possibly because the Titans are already long-established as characters in their own right and therefore there's not the same problem of them being seen as mere puppets of their leader.

But there's more. Not only do we get this groovy tale of teens and caveman but, in lieu of a letters section, we get a full page bio of arguably DC's greatest ever cover artist Nick Cardy, revealing his activities in the war years. Judging by the events recounted in that, it looks like we were even luckier to have him around than we thought.
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