Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Weird War Tales #29. Lawrence of Arabia and the antiquated archers.

Weird War Tales #29, Lawrence of Arabia and the Phantom Bowmen of Crecy
Without doing any research whatsoever, I have a feeling this may be a unique issue of the comic that tries to ruin the good name of warfare, because all three of its tales feature someone who really existed.

The first person who really existed is someone called Adolf Hitler who puts in a blink-and-you'll-miss-him appearance in the tale of a Nazi major out to discover the ultimate torture, one that can break the spirit of any man. When that major's implicated in the plot to assassinate Hitler, he's subjected to his own methods, only to discover the ultimate torture is a thing called Hope. It looks like those Greeks knew of what they spoke when they claimed Hope was the only evil left behind in Pandora's Box.

Next up, Lawrence of Arabia has a very dull adventure that mostly involves him saying "Allah" a lot and referring to everyone in sight as "Brother" in between blowing things up. He keeps following around what looks like a fox but writer Robert Kanigher keeps insisting is a jackal. Being drawn by Alfredo Alcala, the story's inevitably a thing of visual beauty but it's somewhat uninvolving and the fact that Lawrence seems to be killing people for the sake of it makes it hard to feel any great empathy for him. There's also the question of the ethicality of creating fictional tales around real people.

Our final real person is King Edward the Third, who spends the first part of the closing tale having a barney with a bunch of Frenchman in Crécy.

I could stun you here with my knowledge of Edward the Third but frankly I don't have a clue who he was or what he did, so I'd best draw a veil over that whole subject and say the second half of the tale fast-forwards to the First World War where a bunch of under-fire Tommies are rescued from the Germans by the giant ghosts of Edward the Third's bowmen. As a story, this clearly owes something (everything) to Arthur Machen's myth of the Angels of Mons, instantly planting in the mind of any true comic fan the only question that matters; "Who'd win a fight between the Phantom Bowmen of Crécy and the Angels of Mons?"

Personally, when it comes to a punch-up, I'm on the side of the Angels - but then I always have been.

Overall, it's not a great issue, in fact I'd say it's noticeably sub-par. The first story's the only one that really works, the TE Lawrence tale fails completely and, Eddy the Third aside, the Bowmen tale has no actual named characters, meaning it feels more like an anecdote than a full-blown story.

As always, the letters page finds editor Joe Orlando pleading with readers to send him some letters so he'll actually have something to print. War may be hell but it seems it's nothing beside the nightmare that is editing Weird War Tales.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Supergirl's Adventure Comics #424. Supergirl gets serious.

Supergirl Adventure Comics #424
Hooray! I've finally reached the last of the 85 million Supergirl comics I impulse-bought a few months back. And appropriately my marathon slog comes to an close just as Supergirl's tenure in Adventure Comics comes to an end. After this issue, she was transferred to her very own mag which, despite the best efforts of Art Saaf, famously failed to set the world alight.

So, does she go out with style?

Well, it has to be said it's a very strange way for her to make her departure, with by far the grimmest and most earnest Supergirl comic I've read from this era. Bruce Ryan, a former gangster, is drip-feeding intrepid girl reporter Linda Danvers info about a criminal syndicate he was once a part of. Fearing for his life, he has to go into hiding but, thanks to Supergirl's recklessness, the syndicate manage to find and kill him.

Blaming herself for his death, Supergirl sets out to smash the syndicate but not before a sequence where they kidnap Linda Danvers and torture her with a branding iron. It doesn't hurt her, of course, what with her being Supergirl but it is totally at odds with the mostly light fluff that readers had come to expect of a Supergirl comic.

Something else that jars is a scene where, to teach Bruce Ryan a lesson after he flees a thrown hand grenade - thus leaving Linda to get blown to pieces - Supergirl pretends to be Linda's ghost, telling him he's to blame for Linda's "death". It's an extremely silly scene, a throwback to the days of Jim Mooney and Kurt Schaffenberger and, in an otherwise serious story, it feels horribly out of place.

But maybe that was the idea, because this prank ends with Ryan shot dead, Supergirl having failed to save him because she was too distracted by her messing about. Maybe by having an old-style Supergirl prank end in a man's death, writer Steve Skeates was signalling that it was time for Supergirl to grow up and put such Silver Age frivolities behind her, ready for her new, more grown-up, mag.

Supergirl clearly thought so, as, at the tale's end, sickened by the fact that a man died purely because of her desperation to get a scoop, Linda angrily quits the newspaper she's been working for and walks off to-who-knows-where.

The only problem with that is that when her new mag arrived it was for the most part as frothy, juvenile and escapist as we'd come to expect of a Supergirl comic. If the new seriousness on display here was meant to be the start of a new direction, it was one that only lasted for the duration of this issue.

Mention should also be made of Tony De Zuniga's artwork. It's as stylish and sophisticated as ever but that feeling he generates that you're looking at work copied from photos gives it a sense of reality that doesn't  feel at home in a Supergirl comic. In the end, the writing and art combined have to be seen as a brave attempt to do something new with the strip but, given how it turned out, you can see why it wasn't repeated.

The issue's back-up strip's drawn by Don Heck.

This gives me pleasure.

Don Heck wasn't my favourite artist but I did like his early work on Iron Man and the Avengers and, bearing in mind the stick he's often got over the years, and tales I've read about editors ignoring him at times in his career, it does please me to be reminded that he was still finding work post-1960s.

It's the tale of an alien spaceship heading to Earth to invade and enslave us all, confident that Earth's primitive technology can't save it from the mightiest war machine in the galaxy. Given this set-up - and that I've read a gazillion of these twist-in-the-tale outings, I guessed what the ending was going to be before I'd even finished the first page.

I suspect I'm not the only one who could do that.

Therefore a Steve Does Comics No-Prize goes to the first person to correctly guess how the tale ends.

Remember, it's the mightiest spaceship in the galaxy. As far as its crew are concerned, nothing can stand before it, such is its huge, awesome power.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Kicking in the front seat. Kicking in the back seat. Got to make my mind up. Which book can I choose?

Warlock #11, the Strange Death of Adam Warlock
A great philosopher of our time once said, "It's Friday, Friday. Gotta get down on Friday." Sadly for Steve Who Does Comics, the demands of blogging mean there can be no getting down, even on a day reserved for, "Partying, partying, yeah!" So instead I'll present this offering...

As mentioned elsewhere, all things considered and looked at from both ends up and a sideways angle, I generally believe issue #11 of Warlock - The Strange Death of Adam Warlock - to be the best single issue of a comic published in the 1970s. It's the one where Jim Starlin has Adam Warlock meet his future self at the moment of his death, in order to stop himself becoming the evil and loopy Magus, my review of which can be read here.

However, as always with this blog, I've put no thought whatsoever into this choice and am probably wrong.

So, this in mind, what's your choice for the best single issue of a comic published in the 1970s?

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #46. Good? It's a Shocker!

Amazing Spider-Man #46, the first appearance and origin of the ShockerSpider-Man Comics Weekly #40, the first appearance and origin of the Shocker
Back when I started collecting comics - as opposed to reading them then throwing them away - the first issue of Spider-Man Comics Weekly I collected and put in my Big Cardboard Box of Posterity was issue #40, which, all sharp-eyed observers amongst us will spot, reprinted Amazing Spider-Man #46. It featured the debut of the Shocker, surely the only super-villain ever to be inspired by a duvet. That is unless there's such a villain as Duvet Man, with his incredible tog powers.

Arm still in a sling from his fight with the Lizard, Spidey's swinging around town when he comes across brand new super-villain the Shocker committing a robbery. With the usual Spider-Man style, he then proceeds to get knocked out. This is a cue for our hero to return to civilian life and meet up with friends and family.

In one of those happy coincidences that almost make you think these things are planned, he bumps into Harry Osborn who offers him the chance to share a luxury apartment with him, rent free. Then Aunt May tells Peter she's planning on moving in with Anna Watson, meaning PP doesn't have to worry about leaving her alone. Thus begins a whole new phase in the life of Peter Parker.

But it's the same old routine for Spider-Man as he catches up with the Shocker committing yet another robbery and this time defeats him by the simple expedient of webbing his thumbs so he can't fire his vibro-blasters. Exit one villain, enter a swingy new pad.

But still a shadow hangs over Peter Parker. Why can't he shake the feeling that something's wrong?

When I think of Spider-Man, I always think first and foremost of the era when he was sharing a flat with Harry Osborn, so this issue signals the start of what I regard as the real Spider-Man. On top of that, I've always had a soft spot for the Shocker. Despite repeat appearances, he might never have amounted to much - mostly thanks to the fact his weakness was having opposable thumbs - but who cares? He had attitude and that's what I like. Bearing in mind, though, that he developed his ground-breaking vibro-technology in a prison workshop, you do have to wonder just who supplies prison workshop equipment in New York City. Is it SHIELD?

Unlikely penitentiary exploits aside, the thing that strikes me reading this issue is just how wordy it is. It seems like Stan Lee was in a competition to see how many speech balloons, thought bubbles and captions he could pack into every panel.

And you know what?

It's great. None of that fancy modern, "Let the pictures tell the story," nonsense. You were handing over your 12 cents and, Goddammit, Stan Lee was determined to make sure you got your 12 cents worth.

So there you have it. So crammed with things is the tale, there's even time for Fred Foswell to play at being Patch the stool pigeon in an attempt to discover Peter Parker's secret - a bid that fails miserably thanks to the ex-Big Man being the world's most gullible human being.

Maybe I got lucky or maybe I'm biased or maybe nostalgia warps the mind but in hindsight it seems to me that if you're going to start collecting Spider-Man, this is probably as good an issue as you could begin with. Perhaps, as with Peter Parker and Aunt May's simultaneous moves to new homes, there really is a plan to it all.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Phantom Stranger #32. Trouble in the library.

Phantom Stranger #32, Black Orchid
What do you do if you're immortal and the people around you start asking questions about why you never get any older?

Well, if you're me, you slap them round the ear and tell them not to be so impertinent as to question their betters.

If you're a comic book villain, however, you keep faking your own death, returning a few years later as your own descendant and killing anyone who might discover the truth about you.

If you're blessed with magical powers, like the Phantom Stranger, you might feel moved to do something about this. But if you're the Phantom Stranger you have a bigger problem to worry about.

Redundancy.

It can't be easy to be a super-doer and know you're not wanted in your own comic but by this stage in the thing's run, the Phantom Stranger was only popping up here and there to nag people before disappearing.

Phantom Stranger Quote of the Day.
"Look! Look deep into the whirring, flashing pinball game that is the mind of man! See what drives its wild workings! You'll find three engines -- the lust for gold, the thirst for power and -- fear of the unknown!"
And so it is with this tale, as nosey librarian Carol James sets out to discover the truth behind a series of minor but local witchcraft-related incidents that may be the fault of Mary Haggerty, an old woman who frequents the library where Carol works. After a fire that almost kills the old woman, Carol unearths the truth - that her boyfriend the dastardly mayor's out to get rid of Mary so she can't use her knowledge of the occult to uncover his secret.

I'm not sure why he's that bothered if she uncovers it or not. The last I heard, being immortal wasn't a crime. Setting fire to people however is and he therefore seems to be putting himself at risk of imprisonment for no good reason.

The truth is that, thanks to the Phantom Stranger's near absence from the tale, it feels more like one of those 1970s American made-for-TV "horror" movies than a Phantom Stranger story but it's pleasing enough, however cliched, and Bill Draut's artwork has a cunning simplicity that, early on at least, bears vague but surprising hints of Alex Nino.

Nestor Redondo, Black Orchid, Phantom Stranger #32
If being immortal isn't a crime, what definitely is is imitating the Black Orchid and pretending to be her in order to frame her for a robbery you've committed.

That's what a latter-day Bonnie and Clyde have got up to in this issue's back-up story. Needless to say the bulletproof battler's soon on their tail and quickly wraps them up for the police to take away.

For once there's actually a reason for the Orchid to use her traditional subterfuge rather than her super-strong fists to deal with the bad guys, as she goes undercover to trick them into confessing. But of course, much as we all love the Orchid, the real star of the story's Nestor Redondo whose artwork's as beautiful and fluid as ever.

I do worry about the quality of villains the mid-1970s was producing though. The pair seem to be under the impression that if you're going to flee the country and live in Rio de Janeiro, you have to learn to speak Spanish. D'oh!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Tomb of Dracula - undead but animated.

Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity at all will have encountered my contention that, along with The Defenders, Tomb of Dracula was the best American comic of the 1970s. Therefore thanks to Pum Spak of the Unemployed Monsters blog who's drawn my attention to the Japanese Toei Studios' 1980 cartoon version of Marvel's Tomb of Dracula. It's an adaptation of the Domini/Janus storyline from the strip's later issues. Dark stuff indeed for a cartoon to be tackling.

It has to be said you'd struggle to call it lively and, for some reason, it changes the names of major characters, including bafflingly renaming Dracula's wife Domini as Dolores(!).

It also suffers from ropey voice-overs and, of course, lacks the moody artwork of Gene (the Dean) Colan but, on the other hand, unlike many comic book based cartoons, it's clearly not afraid to show death. It also takes its subject matter seriously and is therefore spiritually purer than the infantalized Conan cartoon I remember watching in the early 1990s. No comedy relief phoenixes for Dracula.

Toei Animation, Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula cartoon

It may not go down as a classic but, for those of a curious bent, here it is:

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Supergirl in Adventure Comics #423. Making a spectacle of the Justice League.

Supergirl Adventure Comics #423, Justice League of America
If there's one thing you can rely on when you're a Supergirl it's that the next lot of troublesome aliens'll be along almost as soon as the last lot are out of the way. Last issue they were setting a giant robot loose in the city, now another bunch of aliens are out to cause chaos with spectacles.

As Linda Danvers is out and about, a mysterious shop assistant sticks a pair of sunglasses on her, sunglasses she can't get off no matter how much super-strength she applies. For some reason it doesn't occur to her to melt them with her heat vision. Nor does it occur to her to deck the assistant and find out what her game is.

Then it turns out the sunglasses are a mind-control device which the aliens use to make her put a pair of evil glasses on Superman. Now under the aliens' power, Superman sets out to stick mind-controlling glasses on the other members of the Justice League. Can Supergirl stop him in time?

Of course she can - but not before the leader of the aliens and his more responsible brother drown in their wrecked underwater base.

It's clear almost from the start that the leader of the aliens has gone completely mad and refuses to listen to his brother's repeated attempts to talk him out of a scheme that has no purpose other than to give him pleasure, but no explanation's given as to exactly why he's gone mad. Towards the end, the revelation's made that he's suffering from periodic bouts of blindness, which doesn't really explain anything in terms of his behaviour, although it may at least explain his strange obsession with glasses.

When it comes to the art, Mike Sekowsky'll never be my favourite artist but the truth is while I don't particularly enjoy his work here, it doesn't really put me off either.

Highlight of the issue has to be the sight of a bespectacled Superman trying to force a tiny pair of glasses on the Atom but, slightly underwhelming art and a lack of explanations aside, the main thing that strikes you with this outing is that, for once, it's a full-length Supergirl tale. Presumably this was in preparation for her finally getting her own mag just two issues later. It is one of the mysteries of life as to how Supergirl was able to sustain a viable series for three years in Adventure Comics but, once given her own mag, poor sales led to it being cancelled after just ten issues.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Tomb of Dracula #60.

Tomb of Dracula #60, Gene Colan, the death of Janus

Anyone who's ever seen a Hammer horror movie knows full well that things rarely end happily for everyone's favourite Transylvanian. And that's certainly true here as Dracula's attempts to play happy families has died with the death of his newly born son Janus, accidentally shot by Anton Lupeski, the head of the Satanists' church Dracula's taken over in his quest for world domination.

After killing the killer, Dracula spends the rest of the issue in a state of demented soul-searching, even if he has no soul to search. In his fit of rage, he looks back on his life and its failures and the fact that all his descendants, including his own daughter, have never sought anything but his death.

Able to bear no more, Dracula sets out to kill himself by being hit by lightning. But the attempt fails and he finishes the issue vowing to defeat the forces of virtue that he blames for his plight.

But, in the graveyard, things are afoot. It seems that, thanks to Dracula's wife Domini, Janus' death may not be a long-lasting one at all.

Tomb of Dracula #60, Gene Colan, the death of Janus

Writer Marv Wolfman continues to steer the strip away from the good-guy fights bad-guy formula that'd always served Marvel well, instead moving things ever further into the realms of tenebrous soap opera.

But, for all that, the issue's completely dominated by Gene Colan's art which has a frenetic energy that means characters often become little more than abstract shapes or amalgams of seemingly half completed light and shade. Dracula flies around, flings himself around, flings others around and is battered by a rain that looks like it could knock holes into your very soul itself, before he's finally blasted clean through by lightning.

The strip only had another ten issues to go, and the seeds of its demise were already being laid in this issue's editorial with Marv Wolfman announcing that, due to Gene Colan's other work commitments, the strip was switching to a bi-monthly schedule. But, while hindsight says the end was nigh, it doesn't show here. The title feels as vital as it's ever done, its pages practically an unleashed force of nature, meaning this issue does nothing to dissuade me from my notion that Tomb of Dracula really was the best American comic of the 1970s.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Ou est the Abomination?

Silver Surfer #12, the Abomination
As you can see from the above title, I have a phenomenal mastery of that language they speak all of twenty miles away.

Sadly I don't have a phenomenal mastery of my memory which is a wayward and unreliable thing.

As I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, when I was a kid my first ever exposure to the world of Marvel Comics came not through reading Marvel comics but through the unlikely source of TV 21, a comic famously devoted to the TV shows of the magnificent Gerry Anderson.

However, it seems that towards the end of its run it started to reprint the not-at-all Gerry Anderson originated Spider-Man and Silver Surfer stories.

I remember having three issues of TV 21 from this phase and recall dutifully hiding them behind our immersion heater, as a sort of time capsule to be retrieved when I was grown up.

Sadly, somewhere along the way they went missing, possibly when the local council fitted us with a new immersion heater, and so they were lost to me forever. Now all I remember of those three comics is that one issue featured the Silver Surfer turning up to find the Abomination destroying a city which I now know to be London, although I then thought it to be New York.

Obviously this was reprinted from Silver Surfer #12, as seen above . However, I don't have a clue in which issue of TV 21 it was reprinted. So, if anyone in the vast recesses of the Internet knows what that issue is, I'd be delighted to hear from you. Thank you very much for your time, and for whatever else you may be sacrificing by being here.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Defenders #23. The Sons of the Serpent.

The Defenders #23, the Sons of the Serpent
Now, you see, this is why I should be leader of a criminal organisation. Leaving aside the fact I'm a being of pure evil who likes to stride around town in thigh-length boots and a mask, I can spot certain things lesser villains can't. Take the Sons of the Serpent. Whenever I've read a story featuring them, their modus operandi's been to try and convince white America that they're the good guys and to side with them in their battle against reason.

This being the case, you'd've thought that calling yourselves the Sons of the Serpent isn't exactly the best way to convince people you're the good guys. Maybe they'd have been better off naming themselves something more appealing like the Kin of the Kittens or the Brotherhood of the Fluffy Bunny Rabbits.

Not that it makes much difference. Whatever they're called, the Sons Of are back to their old tricks - and this time it's down to the Defenders to stop them. Being the Defenders, they of course make a total Horlicks of it and're soon captured, meaning we finish the tale with the Sons Of making their plans to dispose once and for all of their brand new arch-enemies.

But nothing's ever straightforward in The Defenders and, urgent though it may be, the battle with the Sons Of is only part of the tale as, in the course of events, the Valkyrie for the first time meets her husband Jack Norris - setting up a less than cosy relationship that goes on for several months to come - while Yellowjacket, enduring some kind of mid-life career crisis, teams up with the Defenders. Clearly, the disease that renders the Defenders incompetent in the face of all threats afflicts him too and he's quickly captured after twisting his ankle. Even the Hulk's not immune to this syndrome. In his own mag, just one pound of the pavement from his fist'd be enough to defeat a handful of goons with stun guns but here, appearing in his role as a Defender, it's not long before he too's lying flat on his face.

Of course, no complaints about the mag stick. It's the Defenders, which means it's great. Steve Gerber writes it how it should be written - even if I'd've liked the Sons Of to speak a bit posher - Sal Buscema draws it right, and the much abused Vince Colletta does a perfectly good job of inking it. Apart from the ease with which the Sons Of take out a group of characters as powerful as the Hulk, the Valkyrie and Dr Strange, I really only have one gripe about the issue, which is that when the leader of the Sons Of makes his obligatory speech on national TV, we're given it in tiny white print on a black background. Don't the people who conceive such ideas realise that some of us are getting on a bit and have to hold the comic about two inches away from our nose to read such things? This isn't dignified for a criminal mastermind.

Then again, with fallibility like that, maybe I should be a Defender.

But then, if I were a Defender, I couldn't be leader of the Brotherhood of the Fluffy Bunnies.

The choices one has to make in life.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Incredible Hulk #121. The Glob.

Incredible Hulk #121, the Glob
If a man should learn something from every experience in life, He should learn two things from The Incredible Hulk #121. He should learn never to hang around in a motel next to a swamp - you never know what might come calling - and he should learn never to fling barrels of radiation into the Everglades.

But of course, Glenn Talbot and Betty Ross pay no heed to the former advice, while the Hulk pays no mind to the latter. And so is born one of my favourite Hulk tales as the Glob stalks the sludge.

The Glob's created when a slightly miffed Hulk flings barrels of radioactive material into the swamp, causing the mutated resurrection of a long-dead escaped convict.

When he died, that convict had one thought on his mind - to get to the woman he loved.

Unfortunately that woman, like the convict, is long dead so he goes instead for Betty Ross and when he kidnaps her, mistaking her for his former love, it's mere pages before the Hulk and Glob are fighting. But, as the Glob re-enters the swamp and starts to dissolve thanks to a load of chemicals Thunderbolt Ross has poured in, the muck monster holds Betty aloft for the Hulk to rescue, leaving the Hulk to reflect on the possibility that he's lost someone who could've been his friend,

How could anyone not love this tale? Leaving aside that it's got a cover that can only be called spiffing, the Glob's easily my favourite comic book swamp monster, leaving the likes of the Man-Thing, the Heap, the Swamp-Thing and the other Glob far behind. Herb Trimpe's art's perfect for the story, and Roy Thomas weaves a tidy tale that at times feels suitably feverish. The fact that we never get to know the name of the long dead convict, even when we get his back-story told in flashback, adds to the vaguely nightmarish nature of the story. But of course it's not the Hulk's nightmare, it's the Glob's.

It's easy to compare the Glob to those other swamp creatures but, with its resurrected monster looking for the woman he once loved, only to be swallowed by the mire, I detect the influence of a million and one Mummy movies. It seems that's the third thing to be learned today; be you mummy or muck monster; learn to let go.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Toys are me. Of ball-bearings, Green Hornets and full-length costumes.

There are of course three main joys of childhood. They are: comics, toys and sweets - and happy are the times when such things overlap. How I remember well the adverts for Dracula ice lollies that featured repeatedly in the British Dracula Lives comics of the 1970s.

Well, ice lollies were one thing but toys were a whole other matter. I have to admit I didn't have many comic book related toys. I never caught sight of a super-hero action figure in all my childhood and when I saw the pictures of them in the comics I devoured like sweets, I never felt any urge to own them. Compared to my Action Man, those adjustable heroes seemed a poorly articulated bunch.

I did however have a Green  Hornet car. Given its solidly-built metallic nature, I assume it was a Dinky toy  although I couldn't swear to that.

Exactly how I came to have a Green Hornet car, I have no idea. I certainly never asked for one - as a kid, I didn't even know who the Green Hornet was. Even now my knowledge of him extends barely beyond knowing what he looked like and that Bruce Lee was involved.

On more solid ground, I had a Batmobile just like the one in the Adam West TV show.

When I say, "Just like," it was of course much smaller, being no bigger than my palm but it had a chain cutter at the front and plastic flames at the back and that was good enough for me. I may also have had a toy Bat Boat but don't quote me on that.

Also on the Batman front, I had a toy Robin the Boy Wonder.

Unlike the Green Hornet car, I know exactly where I got it. I bought it from a couple of kids holding a jumble sale on Constable Close in my very early youth. It was a legless version of Robin, a small plastic thing with a ball-bearing where his legs should've been, What the idea was of giving Robin a ball-bearing in place of legs was anyone's guess but I had hours of fun for more years than I'd care to admit, rolling him along the hearth - pretty much the only thing in our house that was smooth enough for ball-bearing related fun.

But pride of place in the Batman toy department was my Batman costume. I got it one Christmas, probably when I was four, and it consisted of a Batman mask, a plastic Bat Cape and a bright yellow utility belt. Sadly the utility belt was just a belt, not containing any of the wonders the real thing did but I didn't care, suddenly I was Batman and no one could stop me.

As it turned out, someone could stop me. I don't know his name but the moment I clapped eyes on him I knew he was a wrong 'un. Within days of getting that Bat costume, I discovered my nemesis as, on a trip to the local shops, I saw a kid with an entire top-to-bottom Batman outfit that put my mere mask, cape and belt to shame.

Still, I stuck with my Batman kit until, years later, it helped the nation fight the energy crisis by adding fuel to our fire during one of the country's regular 1970s' electricity outages.

I'm sure you'll agree, it's all heart-warming stuff, in a traumatising way and I'm sure you had equally powerful experiences, so, if you had any comic book related toys as a youngster, you are of course free to let us all know.

If you sold me that ball-bearing bearing Robin, you're even more free to let me know.

And if you were that kid on at Herdings shops in that winter of 1968, flaunting his full-body Batman suit, you are of course even more welcome to let me know - especially if you can tell me that owning such a thing still didn't guarantee you the flawless and ideal life that was denied the rest of us.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Supergirl in Adventure comics #422. It's all gone King Kong.

Supergirl in Adventure Comics #422, the giant robot and the Vigilante
As I know to my cost, when you're a super-heroine you have to be ready for any kind of threat and it can thus be a mere matter of time before you come up against a giant robot.

So it is that Adventure Comics #422 sees a duo of shape-changing aliens arrive on Earth to appropriate a giant robot a scientist has created to be the world's policeman in his hope of bringing peace to mankind.

Sadly, the aliens' plan is anything but peaceful as they send his robot on the rampage.

Having been inconveniently hit by a car it was throwing as she was trying to get to work, our intrepid heroine's soon on hand to deal with it. But she gets nowhere and has to endure the ignominy of being Fay Wray as it carries her to the top of a skyscraper where it happily swats planes as though they're bluebottles.

Fortunately, Supergirl has one thing on her side that Fay Wray didn't which is the ability to blast X-Rays into the brain of an opponent and, thus blasted, the robot plunges from its lofty perch to shatter on the street below, leaving us all to ponder that this time it wasn't the aeroplanes that killed the beast, it was most definitely the beauty.

The tale's bit a bit of light-hearted froth that allows writer Steve Skeates to have fun with a battle between two invulnerable characters and with the King Kong parallels before ending by threatening a sequel. Basically you get to see Supergirl battling a giant robot and get to see a bit of bare Supergirl midriff, what more could you want from a comic?

The back-up strip's a very odd thing featuring a masked cowboy called the Vigilante. I don't know anything about the Vigilante. I don't know if he'd ever appeared before or if he ever appeared again but he's clearly a good egg because he sets out to help an all-black Rodeo crew fight a gang of racists.

Did the Vigilante only deal with Wild West type problems? If so, you'd have thought the fact he was living in the present day would be somewhat limiting when it came to story ideas. You also have to question his choice of motorcycle which owes more to Lambretta than Harley-Davidson and is something you suspect a 17 year old girl would be slightly embarrassed to be seen riding, let alone a rough tough modern cowpoke of justice.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Midnight Tales #9. The Sorceress.

Charlton Comics, Midnight Tales #9, Arachne and Professor Coffin, The Sorceress
Being the wild and windy rebel I am, I never went to university but if my local college had been anything like the one in Charlton Comics' Midnight Tales #9, I most definitely would have. Not only would I have been sat next to the most appealing woman ever to have been named after a spider but I'd be studying how to do magic spells.

As part of her studies, Professor Coffin's niece Arachne's researching the life of a late sorceress called Tanya. This framing device gives us the set-up for a triptych of tales about the life of said mystic.

In the first, we get a glimpse of the sorceress' childhood, in which the five year old Tanya decides to summon a horrifying demon to free her mother who's been arrested for witchcraft, but then finds it all goes wrong in the nicest possible way. I may be showing my ignorance but I've never associated artist Tom Sutton with cuteness but, here, he and the ubiquitous Nicola Cuti give us a tale that could only fail to warm the coldest of hearts.

Next we get a bit of insubstantial fluff as, in her courting days, Tanya comes up against an evil witch out to steal her boyfriend. It's easily the weakest of the three stories and, with an ending that just appears for no reason other than to bring the story to a close, it feels like it might as well never have existed.

Last, we get a tale in which the elderly Tanya, now running an occult bookstore in what's more or less the modern day, has to help the victim of an American Indian curse, before the framing story ends with a twist that's neither gripping nor strong but at least ties things off in time for the pages to run out.

As with Midnight Tales #8, it's all tension-free stuff, designed to be more diverting than chilling but, thanks to the lightness of its touch, plus the framing device of Arachne's somewhat fickle crush on her university professor, it gets by on charm and well-meaningness where lesser Charlton comics might sink.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

It was forty years ago today.

Soothsayers might say beware the Ides of March but I say behold the 1st. That makes it a brand new month and that means the return of the feature where I attempt to look at what our favourite Marvel heroes were up to exactly forty years ago.

Fantastic Four #108, Janus, the cobbled together years

It's like a lesson in how not to put together a comic book as we get the story of Janus the Nega-Man, a tale cobbled together from a rejected Jack Kirby story that was left lying around, as John Buscema adds a load of new panels in an effort to make it work. I think it'd be fair to say it wasn't an experiment that succeeded.
Amazing Spider-Man #94, origin retold, the Beetle

Gwen Stacy's gone, and Aunt May manages to get herself kidnapped by the Beetle who's ultimately defeated by a swimming pool. We also get a retelling of Spider-Man's origin. There were a lot of great Spidey stories published around this time but, for me, this has never been one of them.
Avengers #86, brain-child and the Squadron Supreme

Still stuck in an alternate world, the Avengers team-up with the not-altogether competent Squadron Supreme to take on Brain-Child, the world's most evil ankle-biter.

Captain America #135

In one of the very first American comics I ever owned, Captain America and the Falcon tangle with a human gorilla. I remember being entranced by Cap's costume which, to my eight year old self, seemed positively mind-blowing.

Daredevil #74

From the cover, I'm assuming everyone's gone blind. Was this an Angar the Screamer appearance?


Incredible Hulk #137, The Abomination, Klaatu, Xeron and Captain Cybor

How great is this tale? The Hulk on a spaceship, in pursuit of the Moby Dick of space while having to deal with the threat of the Abomination. Frankly, if you don't like stories like this, you don't like stories.

Iron Man #35, Nick Fury and Zodiac

Another of those Iron Man tales I have no memory of. It clearly features Nick Fury and Zodiac. It's not fair; with Nick Fury and Zodiac involved, how was I ever going to stand a chance of remembering it?

Thor #186, Hela

I don't recall the exact details of what happens this issue but it's the John Buscema era and it's got Hela and she's after Thor, so I have no doubt it was all rather fab and groovy.
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