Monday, 31 October 2011

It's Halloween! Down to the bare bones: The Top Ten greatest skeletons on Weird War Tales covers.

Hooray! It's that magical time of year again, when the dead rise from their graves and pester the living. It's good news for fans of Jimmy Savile but what about the rest of us?

Well, such an occurrence can only mean one thing.

Skellingtons.

Thus it is that Steve Does Comics looks at what I reckon are the Top Ten skeletons ever to grace the cover of Weird War Tales. As always with Steve Does Comics, it's hard-hitting, it's controversial, it's a debate likely to tear the Internet itself asunder. But here we go...


Weird War Tales #31
10. 
It's not just a skeleton. It's a skeleton with a pet skeleton.


Weird War Tales #29
9.
Just when you think it's safe to pop down to the beach, those pesky skeletons come up at you from under it. That's the last time I ever go to Skegness.


Weird War Tales #15
8.
This time of year, even the clouds want in on the skeleton action.


Weird War Tales #26
7.
One of Britain's finest war heroes once claimed they don't like it up 'em. Here's someone about to put that theory to the test.


Weird War Tales #23
6.
What's the use of being a skeleton if you can't have a weird flying bird-thing to flap around on and cause even more consternation with?


Weird War Tales #30
5.
Beckoning. Beckoning.


Weird War Tales #25
4.
All because you're a skeleton doesn't mean you can't be an artist.


Weird War Tales #18
3.
They still don't like it up 'em.


Weird War Tales #24
2.
It's even more beckoning - but this time with the Clawing Hands of Horror.


Weird War Tales #27
1.
Just when you think they've run out of skeletons, they send on the sub.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Sheffield's Most Wanted. Part 11: DC Famous 1st Edition #C-26, Action Comics #1.

DC Famous 1st Edition, C-26, Superman in Action Comics #1
While the world holds its breath awaiting the outcome of our poll to find the Avengers' greatest enemy, it's time for Steve Does Comics to bring back the Internet's most demanded feature, as I once more ramble on about a comic I've never read but always wanted as a kid.

I have to admit that, even now, I've never read Superman's debut tale. But that's all right, as I've managed to divine his origin from other places. Thus I know that Clark Kent was a nerdy reporter until bitten by a radioactive spider, whereupon he took to dressing up as a bat to fight crime.

Of course I'd have known all this sooner if I'd had the catchily titled DC Famous First Edition #C-26 which reprinted Action Comics #1 in all its glory. I was never, as a child, in any doubt that, being very old, the contents would be crude compared to what were then modern standards but, still, the chance to see how it all started was a severe temptation for me.

One thing that does strike me is that, looking at this title's entry on the Grand Comics Database, Action Comics #1 would appear to have had seventy two pages. Was it normal in the 1930s for comics to have that high a page count? I always knew old comics had more content than their modern equivalents but I was assuming it was something like fifty pages. If seventy two was the norm, they certainly believed in giving you value for your 10 cents back then.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Avengers' all-time greatest villain.

Avengers #79, the Lethal Legion
For a team specifically created to be Marvel's flagship super-group, it's always seemed to me the Avengers have generated surprisingly few great villains in their time.

Mostly, in the 1960s and '70s period in which I read the strip, they seemed to find themselves up against villains who were rarely - or even never seen again - or bad guys imported from other titles, often after failing to set the world alight  there.

Still, amongst all these not-quite-greats, there was the odd classic bad guy created for the strip.

And, anyway, all because a villain's not an all-time great doesn't mean he can't be appreciated.

In a couple of days from now I'll create a poll to find out just who is the Internet's favourite Avengers foe. And that means I need your nominations.

Remember, if he/she/it isn't in it, he/she/it can't win it.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Giant-Size Avengers #4. The Celestial Madonna Saga: Part 13.

Giant-Size Avengers #4, Dormammu. The Vision marries the Scarlet Witch. Mantis marries a tree. The conclusion of the Celestial Madonna Saga
At last it's the end of the Celestial Madonna Saga. Soon I shall be free to drivel on about whatever it is I want to drivel about next.

But first, with such an event, I think we can take it for granted Marvel'll have pulled out all the stops to make sure such a tale's special, using the finest creators to produce a truly landmark issue that people'll speak of in hushed whispers forever.

And so it is that when we open the book, we find Giant Size Avengers #4's guest artist is...

...Don Heck.

Now, as long-suffering readers of this blog'll know, I'm open-minded on the subject of Don Heck. I quite like his early Iron Man and Avengers work, and I like his work on Sub-Mariner #68.

But sadly not all his art was of that standard and there were times when trying to read a comic drawn by him could be a painful experience.

This is one of those times. It simply looks dreadful. How much of that's down to Heck and how much is down to John Tartag(lione), whose inking here can only be labelled primitive, is hard to say but either way the final effect is terrible. In places it genuinely looks like the thing's been drawn by someone who was just randomly dragged in off the street.

Still, as we all know, pretty pictures are only part of a comic book, and a great story might yet overcome ugly graphics.

Giant-Size Avengers #4, Umar and Dormammu threaten the VisionIt turns out that story has an awful lot to pack in.

Diverted from his travellings through time, the Vision finds himself in what I take to be the centre of the Earth where he discovers Dormammu and Umar have captured the Scarlet Witch and're up to their usual out-to-take-over-the-world mischief. The Vision soon sees off Dormammu's underlings but looks like he's going to come a cropper when the Witch, under Dormammu's control, drains him of all power. Happily the sight of her BF dying brings the Witch to her senses and she sorts out Dormammu with an almost bathetic ease before she and the Vizh head off to Vietnam to rejoin the rest of the gang.

While all this has been going on, the rest of that gang have been exposited-up senseless as writer Steve Englehart tries to tie up all loose ends.

Giant-Size Avengers #4, Kang and the Space Phantom
So we get the final threads of explanation that Moondragon and Mantis were both raised as potential Celestial Madonnas but, of the two, the more in-touch-with-reality Mantis has been chosen. Then at least three different version of Kang show up to cause trouble before a final Kang appears and kidnaps Mantis, who then turns out not to be Mantis but the Space Phantom in disguise. Kang out of the way, Mantis is now free to marry a tree and fulfil her destiny - but not before the Vision and Scarlet Witch arrive and say they want to make it a joint wedding. So Immortus does the honours, Mantis and her new tree-husband become beings of pure thought, and everyone lives happily ever after - except Kang who's presumably now stuck with the Space Phantom for a girlfriend from now on.

Giant-Size Avengers #4, The Vision proposes to the Scarlet Witch
The thing that strikes you about the story is how over-crammed it feels as Steve Englehart seems determined to throw in everything including the kitchen sink. We even get the return of the Titanic Three. I suppose some of it's unavoidable; he had to finish off the Scarlet Witch sub-plot that'd been rumbling on for several issues, in order that the Vision and the Witch could get married. Hence we need the intrusive and unwelcome Dormammu sub-plot that, apart from making Dormammu look feeble, really feels like it belongs in a different issue altogether.

Of course, the question has to be asked why did the Vision and the Witch have to be married this issue anyway? Wouldn't it have made more sense to have a later tale devoted to their wedding rather than having what should be a major event squeezed into Mantis' wedding story?

The multiple Kangs really do feel like overfilling the bucket, as does the arrival of the Space Phantom. By the point that he shows up, you're feeling it wouldn't be a surprise if even the Living Eraser put in an appearance.

I also wonder just how valid the Vision and Scarlet Witch's marriage is. I'm no expert on American law but does a wedding overseen by "the King of Limbo" really have any legal status in the US?

Giant-Size Avengers #4, The weddings of the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Mantis and the Swordsman/Cotati plant person
Being the rampant hard-line feminist (grrr) that I am, I also query the fact that, without ever being consulted, Mantis and Moondragon have been raised purely with an eye on them becoming a wife to a tree. You'd have thought it's something they might be a little offended to discover. Instead Moondragon seems offended only that she's not the one who's been chosen.

I also have to wonder about the ethics of Mantis' prospective tree-husband having resurrected and taken possession of the Swordsman's corpse to use as a kind of zombie for its purposes. There is such a thing as respecting the dead.

So, overall it's a disappointing end to the whole thing, with Steve Englehart simply trying to fit too much in for the good of the story, lapses of taste and a terrible art job.

The one thing I do like is the characterisation of Thor, from whom we get a fair bit of internal monologue as he ponders on the nature of mortality, godhood, the passage of time, leadership of the Avengers and no doubt a whole bunch more things I've forgotten about. I don't remember him ever being depicted as so thoughtful in his own mag and it's refreshing to see here.

Monday, 24 October 2011

The Fantastic Four's all-time greatest villain. Poll results!

virtually everyone in the Marvel universe vs virtually everyone else in it, the wedding of Reed and Sue, the Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby
Flame off, team-mates. Clobbering time is well and truly over because the results are in from Steve Does Comics' breathless poll to discover the Fantastic Four's greatest villain of all time.

I could claim it was a close-run thing but the truth is that, to possibly no one's surprise but Diablo's, Dr Doom ran away with it, coming out on top with a crushing nine votes.

In second place was the Sub-Mariner, with just two votes, while Galactus had to settle for a mere one vote.

Not to be outdone, Hockey Stick Head matched Galactus stride-for-stride by also getting one vote, meaning Hockey Stick Head is officially the joint third-greatest Fantastic Four villain of all time.

No I don't know who he is either, and neither do Mr Google and Mr Wikipedia, but a good villain never let a small problem like non-existence get him down.

As always, thanks to everyone who voted.


Dr Doom
  9 (69%)
 
Diablo
  0 (0%)
Galactus
  1 (7%)
 
Sub-Mariner
  2 (15%)
 
The Impossible Man
  0 (0%)
The Frightful Four
  0 (0%)
Hockey Stick Head
  1 (7%)
 
The Black Panther
  0 (0%)
The Red Ghost and/or his apes
  0 (0%)

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Avengers #135. The Celestial Madonna Saga: Part 12.

Avengers #135, Ultron and the Vision, origin of the Vision
Some might accuse me of lacking stamina but I must admit that, by this stage, Celestial Madonna Fatigue's starting to claim me. Still, at last, after twelve issues and over a month of posting, the end is finally in sight.

And for it we get a fresh new look. Most instalments of the seemingly endless epic have so far been drawn by either Sal Buscema/Joe Staton or Dave Cockrum but this issue's pencilled by George Tuska. I know Tuska's not the most popular of artists with everyone but I've always had a soft spot for him. His style's instantly recognisable, full of vigour and his story-telling's clear and efficient.

While it might be part of the Celestial Madonna storyline, the issue's focus is more on the Vision than on Mantis, as the red-faced battler discovers just how Ultron turned the Original Human Torch into him.

It turns out he did it with an awful lot of effort; first having to track down the Mad Thinker, then having to snatch the Torch from under the nose of the Silver Surfer and then having to find the Torch's creator Phineas T Horton to force him to make the necessary changes.

The origin of the Vision and the death of Phineas T Horton, Avengers #135
It's here we're told Ultron wants to create the Vision so he'll have a son, which I'm not sure is as pleasing an explanation as the original one that he was simply out to create an assassin to bump off the Avengers.

Regardless of that, it's a strange sight seeing the newly-activated Vision before he's had his memories wiped and therefore speaking and acting like the Original Human Torch. And, seeing him having his identity wiped by Ultron again raises the feeling I've touched on before that the Torch really was hard-done-to by Marvel's post-Golden Age writers.

While all this is happening, the rest of the Avengers are back in Vietnam, increasingly mystified by what's going down as they find themselves in conversation with Libra and the ghost of the Swordsman.

The origin of Moondragon, Avengers #135
But it's not the origin of Mantis they get to hear. It's the origin of Moondragon who turns up and tells us that, as a girl, she was in a car attacked by Thanos' spaceship, only to be rescued by Mentor - ruler of Titan - and taken to his world for an upbringing noticeably similar to Mantis'.

If all this wasn't enough, back at the Avengers Mansion, Jarvis - alarmed by a sinister laugh coming from the Scarlet Witch's room, barges in to find it empty.

What can it all mean?

Only next issue - the concluding part of our saga - can tell.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Steve Does Covers. Planet of the Apes #2.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #2
As I roam the streets of Sheffield, people often say to me, "Steve, with your knowledge of the visual arts, you're like Sheffield's answer to Brian Sewell."

And I say, "What? the bloke from UFO? I'm sure he was great but, frankly, I'd rather be Ed Bishop."

"No, you great steaming fool!" they say. "Not George Sewell. Brian Sewell, the renowned art critic and vowel mangler."

"That's all lovely," I tell them, "but I'd still rather be Ed Bishop. Does Brian Sewell have a secret underground base full of unlikely equipment for fighting aliens? Well? Does he? Does he?"

Apparently he does.

Still, being Sheffield's answer to Brian Sewell gives me all the excuse I need to climb onto the roof with my bazooka and take a pot-shot at the flying saucer of Art Appreciation.

And I'll start with the cover to Marvel UK's Planet of the Apes #2.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #1After issue #1's beautifully painted cover [right], I was at the time hugely disappointed by it. It just seemed like a return to the second-rate covers Marvel UK habitually inflicted on us.

Nowadays I think it's great. Granted the draftsmanship's not what you'd call sophisticated but the actual composition's pleasingly dynamic, with the apes' heads rising above the horizon, their varying heights fitting in nicely with the curve of the logo but also breaking through it to exacerbate the sense of three-dimensionality created by having the crouching humans on a different plane in front of them.

The line of apes plays a nice trick on the subconscious. Obviously, we know it's a group of separate apes but, having them in a line as they make their way across the page, creates a subliminal impression of a single ape caught in a string of snapshots as it crosses the cover, creating a sense of movement in a static image.

I also like the red sky - and the presence of a low sun; a homage, I assume, to the opening titles of the TV show which featured a gorilla with raised rifle silhouetted by the burning sun.

At the time, I thought the ape in the lead bore a remarkable resemblance to Nationwide presenter Michael Barratt. Sadly, nowadays, the resemblance is lost on me.

More happily, none of them ever reminded me of his co-host Sue Lawley.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Avengers #134. The Celestial Madonna Saga: Part 11.

Avengers #134, the origins of the Vision the Original Human Torch and Mantis
This cover bears no relation to what actually
happens inside. Grrr!
It's time to grab our talking sticks and fling ourselves once more into the swirling tempest of Time to learn yet more of the origins of Mantis and the Vision.

Still clinging onto their stick, the Avengers learn that, after the rise of the Kree empire, a group of Kree pacifists discovered the Cotati plant people still lived, having gone into hiding in a cellar for what appears to be several hundred years.

The pacifists promptly forged an alliance with them and, through a series of events, including the arrival of the Star-Stalker, ended up finding their way to Earth where they created the Temple of Pama and the garden in which the Swordsman was buried.

Personally I'm always happy to see the Cotati. I can't say they come across as riveting company but they do seem to be nice people. Like Columbo, though, there is one thing that's always bothered me.

The Cotati Plant People, Avengers #134
We're led to believe that, following their massacre by the Kree, the Cotati took to hiding themselves away in a cellar in the Kree capital for several hundred years.

Leaving aside the question of how they managed to remain hidden in the middle of a major city for hundreds of years, there's the obvious problem that it means they've been living for centuries in a room without windows. Now, I'm no Kim Wilde - that's why they wouldn't let me on Top of the Pops - but even I know enough about gardening to know that plants and rooms without windows don't mix.

The Vision meanwhile is having revelations of his own. Hanging onto his own magic stick, he learns that, after the Original Human Torch inconveniently exploded in the mid-1950s, he was revived by the Mad Thinker in order to fight the Fantastic Four's Human Torch.

The Mad Thinkers finds the Original Human Torch, Avengers #134, the origin of the Vision
Sadly, such a revival was short lived, as he suffered the indignity of being killed by the computer Quasimodo, surely one of the rubbishest villains in the history of comicdom. If you're going to kill a legendary character, at least do him the service of having him be killed by a proper villain.

But, when you read this section, it really does rub it in how futile the life of the average super-villain is, as The Mad Thinker puts what's clearly a ridiculous amount of work into finding and repairing the Torch, for no worthwhile reason.

Meanwhile, back in the present, having picked up a signal sent by Hawkeye but meant for Captain Marvel, Moondragon shows up at the Avengers Mansion and is promptly attacked by the Scarlet Witch.

Now, there're those harsh souls who might say that wanting to attack Moondragon is a perfectly normal response to meeting Moondragon. But the Scarlet Witch is no normal human and it's clear from her behaviour that something dark and sinister is going on with her and Agatha Harkness. After the events of last issue, where the Witch was almost attacked by her own chair, this is all quite intriguing in its sense of dangerous forces at work in the domicile.

So, yet another chapter progresses in the lives of our heroes, and at last we get the promise of resolution, as the Avengers - minus the Vision and his girlfriend - suddenly find themselves transported to Vietnam where the ghost of the Swordsman, and Libra await them.

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Fantastic Four's all-time greatest villain.

Fantastic Four #100
They say you can judge the quality of man by who his enemies are, which is bad news for some of us, as my deadliest enemy is the "Bossa Nova" setting of any Yamaha keyboard.

But the Fantastic Four are cut from a different cloth; a cloth of unstable molecules. You the public have already decided who Spider-Man's greatest enemy is, and now, in Steve Does Comics' endless quest to find the greatest super-villain of them all, it's time to take a look at Marvel's mightiest quartet.

There can't be many comics that've given us so many classic foes as the FF have. Why, just off the top of my head, I can name the likes of Dr Doom, Galactus, Annihilus, the Super-Skrull, Diablo, the Sentry, Ronan the Accuser, the Mad Thinker and, erm, Paste Pot Pete.

We also shouldn't forget such perennially under-appreciated foes as the Miracle Man, the Molecule Man and Psycho-Man. For that matter, I hear Willie Lumpkin was in the habit of bending Johnny Storm's hot-rod mags in half to get them through the letter box, leaving an unsightly crease in them. The vile so-and-so.

But don't let my ramblings influence you. Simply nominate your favourite Fantastic Four foe and, after a couple of days, I'll put your nominations in a poll. Then, at last, the world can vote for the Fantastic Four's greatest villain of them all.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Avengers #133. The Celestial Madonna Saga: Part 10.

Avengers #133, the Celestial Madonna Saga. Mantis and Libra
You have to hand it to the Avengers. If someone with Immortus' track record handed me a stick, claiming it'd take me back in time, the least I'd demand is a good sturdy rope to tether me to the present, and for Thor to remain behind to give him a pummelling if he tried anything.

Not the Avengers though. He gives them the sticks and they're off, no questions asked, into the ocean of Time to unearth the origins of Mantis and the Vision.

It's the origin of Mantis that turns out to be the most convoluted, as it doesn't even begin with her but with the beginnings of the Kree race and the seeds of the Kree/Skrull War.

Long long ago, on a world far far away, the Skrulls decide to pay a visit to Hala, homeworld of the then-primitive Kree and their planet-mates the Cotati plant people.
The Cotati Plant People, Avengers #133, the origin of the Kree
The Skrulls offer them a deal that whichever race does most in the next twelve months to impress them'll be granted access to the Skrulls' technology and knowledge. The Cotati win the competition by creating a garden - as opposed to the Kree who waste an awful lot of effort creating a totally pointless city on the moon - and the Kree respond with good grace by killing all the Cotati and the Skrull visitors. All of a sudden it's clear just where Ronan the Accuser got the attitude from.
The Kree kill the Cotati Plant People, Avengers #133
Yes, they're celebrating killing some plants.
It is a strange thing though to see the Skrulls depicted as more advanced and peaceable than the Kree, given how they've always been portrayed up to this point. On the one hand, I like the fact that we're told it's such Kree aggression that'll ultimately drive the Skrulls to become the devious war-like imperialists we all know and love but, on the other, it does feel a little off for the Skrulls to be so much more advanced than the Kree. I do prefer the idea of them as moral and technological equals.
The Kree kill the Skrulls. The origin of the Kree, Avengers #133
Not that the Vision cares. He has other things to worry about as, sent off with a stick of his own, he heads back to the late 1930s to see the origin of the Original Human Torch. For those like me who've never read the Original Human Torch's adventures, it's a useful history lesson on one of Marvel's Golden Age giants and provides an explanation for various mysteries, such as the Vision's fear of jumping into water.
The origin of the Vision and the Original Human Torch, Avengers #133
But, clearly the origins of both the Vision and Mantis are so earth-shattering and senses-searing they can't be contained within one comic and so we have to wait for next month to find out how these events lead to the creation of our heroes.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, even stranger things are afoot, with the Scarlet Witch using her powers to bring a chair to life while, in Saigon, the ghost of the Swordsman - who seems a much happier bunny than he ever did in life - and Libra hang around waiting for something to happen.

But waiting for what to happen? And what does it all have to do with Moondragon?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Spider-Man's all-time greatest villain: Poll Results!

Spider-Man, Mysterio, Dr Octopus, Jackal, Morbius, Vulture
Walloping Websnappers, the results are in from the first stage in Steve Does Comics' epic quest to find the greatest super-villain of all time.

 And the vote for who's Spider-Man's greatest foe has given a resounding victory to that boggle-eyed bounder of badness the Green Goblin. It might be unlucky for some but not for Norman Osborn's worse half who gained a pumpkintastic thirteen votes.

Second was J Jonah Jameson with six votes.

Doc Ock managed five votes.

"Himself," and the Kingpin both managed two votes, while the Shocker, the Scorpion  and my own personal favourite the Lizard managed just one.

Thanks to everyone who voted, and my condolences to all those super-villains who had to walk away empty-handed.

With thirty one votes, it was this site's most responded-to poll so far and, here, at a glance, is how it all went:

Doc Ock
  5 (16%)
Green Goblin
  13 (41%)
The Rhino
  0 (0%)
The Scorpion
  1 (3%)
J Jonah Jameson
  6 (19%)
Himself
  2 (6%)
The Lizard
  1 (3%)
The Sandman
  0 (0%)
The Kangaroo
  0 (0%)
The Gibbon
  0 (0%)
Molten Man
  0 (0%)
Kingpin
  2 (6%)
Electro
  0 (0%)
The Chameleon
  0 (0%)
The Looter
  0 (0%)
Mysterio
  0 (0%)
The Vulture
  0 (0%)
The Shocker
  1 (3%)

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Giant-Size Avengers #3. The Celestial Madonna Saga: Part 9.

Giant-Size Avengers #3, Legion of the Unliving
Maybe it says something bad about me that the thing that's always most impressed me about Giant-Size Avengers #3 is Mantis' chest.

This is because, when she lies on her back during her fight with the hapless Midnight, Dave Cockrum shows it flattening out under the pull of gravity.

Compared to the other revelations in this tale, the fact that Mantis' breasts move might not seem a major plot point - or even two major plot points - and it isn't but it's always been one of my bugbears when a comic book artist shows human soft tissue being totally immune to the effects of external forces such as gravity and inertia, giving the impression that the characters are made from some form of living concrete. Frankly, looking at the way most super-heroines are routinely depicted, you do wonder how the undertakers are ever going to get the coffin lid shut.

But of course, while my focus might be on Mantis' anatomy, plotter Steve Englehart's attention is on an altogether different anatomy - that of the Vision.

Giant-Size Avengers#3, Hawkeye in a sticky situation
Still trapped in Immortus' labyrinth, the individual Avengers still keep coming up against members of Kang's Legion of the Unliving. This time out, Mantis makes short work of Midnight, while Thor goes on a one-man avenge trip against Kang, after discovering Iron Man's seemingly dead body.

With Kang doing a runner after getting fed up of Thor hitting his force field, Immortus uses his own Magic Limbo Powers TM to restore everyone to perfect health, sends the component parts of the Legion of the Unliving back to where they came from and promises to reveal everything there is to know about the origins of the Vision and Mantis.

But of course this is the issue where we get the start of the whole process of Vision-origin-unveiling, as we're given the big reveal that the synthezoid is in fact the Original Human Torch.

We find this out when the Torch inspects the Vision's mortally wounded body and spots something that astonishes him.

Giant-Size Avengers #3, Mantis vs Midnight
Exactly what that something is, is anyone's guess. As with Ant-Man's shock discovery of something in the Vision's brain, way back in Avengers #93, the nature of that discovery is never explained to us. Still, I do remember how important and gob-smacking this issue's revelation seemed when I first read this tale all those years ago, even if now I'm not sure it's the best way to handle it. I can't help feeling it would've been better to just give us a teaser that there was a big secret behind the Vision's creation and delay the full reveal until the the issue that specifically deals with the Vision's beginnings, rather than shoehorning it into a story about something else.

Something that does bother me in the issue is that people keep saying Iron Man's dead because he has no pulse and no heartbeat.

But how do they know?

For one thing he's wearing armour and, for another, no one who says it ever seems to actually make the effort to check or even get close enough to find out. It seems to me they're all a bit too quick to declare him gone, almost as though it's wishful thinking.

I don't know, you give them a mansion, give them a butler, and still they can't wait to get rid of you.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Six-Armed Spider-Man: Poll Results!

Amazing Spider-Man #101, Morbius and the six-armed Spider-Man
The poll results are in and, after all these decades of controversy, you - the World - have decided you love Six-Armed Spider-Man; with ten of you voting for, "Like," six voting for, "Loathe," and four deciding that, after forty years, you still haven't made your mind up. Truly this is the Steve Does Comics Age of Democracy.

Faced with this result, I think we have to say Marvel now have no choice but to bring back Six-Armed Spider-Man.

Not only that but I'd say so decisive a result means they have to give all their characters six arms from now on. We demand Six-Armed Ant-Man, Six-Armed Deathlok and Six-Armed Galactus.

Admittedly this means Dr Octopus would now have twelve limbs, meaning they'll have to rename him Dr Dodecapus but what do we care? In all revolutions there have to be casualties.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Steve Does Comics' 100,000th Anniversary Special! Sheffield's Most Wanted. Part 10: Batman Limited Collector's Edition. All-Villain Issue.

Batman Limited Collector's Edition, Jim Aparo cover
Wham! Bam! Splokk! And whatever other sound effects you can think of - because, like a drunk smashing majestically through a plate-glass window, Steve Does Comics has finally crashed through the 100,000 page-views mark.

With this blog's usual Route One approach, that'd normally be my cue to post a picture of the cover of issue #100,000 of various comics and pass comments on them along the lines of, "I've never read this one and don't have a clue what happens in it."

Sadly, thanks to the major comics publishers' habit of relaunching their titles every few years, we're never likely to see a comic hit the 100,000 issue mark. So, instead I'll ramble on about yet another comic I always wanted as a kid but never had. This time out, it's another of Batman's Limited Collector's Editions.

I always loved the way Jim Aparo drew torsos, so this was always going to appeal to me. Surely only the terminally unexcitable could fail to be aroused by the sight of our felon-bashing fledermaus reacting dramatically to the sight of his deadliest foes being Bat-Signalled into a purple dusk. You also have to dig that cape too. The way Aparo used to draw it, it was practically a character in its own right.

Marvel UK, Avengers Weekly #9
Steve Does Comics: How it all
began, 100,000 years ago.
Click the pic to go there.
If the cover blurb's to be believed, there's all the usual features one expects of a DC Limited Collector's Edition but you also get a giant pin-up plan of the Batcave - which means that all the villains on the cover had to do was buy a copy of the comic and they'd have access to all of Batman's greatest secrets.

Why, with knowledge like that, it could only be a matter of time before Two-Face stole Bats' giant coin.

And then what would our hero do if he ever encountered a giant bubble-gum machine and had no giant money with which to buy a circular ball of latex he'd be scared to swallow in case it wrapped itself round his intestines?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Spider-Man's all-time greatest villain.

Marvel Comics Amazing Fantasy #15, Spider-Man's all-time greatest foe
There're times in a man's life when he must set himself a task so huge it staggers the very senses. Steve Does Comics favourite Brian Blessed did just that when he set out to climb Mount Everest without shouting oxygen. Mount Everest then reciprocated by trying to climb Brian Blessed without oxygen.

Sadly that attempt ended in tragedy for Mount Everest and never again would its hubris know such abandon.

So it is that I'm setting out to discover just who is the greatest super-villain of all time.

But, to do that, I need a poll. And, to get that, I first need candidates.

And where better to start collecting candidates than with Marvel's flagship character Spider-Man? That's why I'm asking you to name your all-time favourite Spider-Man villain. In a couple of days from now, I'll use that list of nominees to create a poll for us to vote in. That done, I can then start collecting criminal candidates for all our other favourite heroes.

Spider-Man of course is remarkable for being blessed with a whole slew of classic villains. In its first couple of years, the strip gave us Dr Octopus, the Lizard, the Green Goblin, the Scorpion, Mysterio, Kraven, the Vulture and many more. The production line of memorable villains slowed after that but the Romita years gave us the likes of the Kingpin, the Shocker, Silvermane and the Rhino, while even later years gave us Morbius, the Jackal, Venom, that bloke who was like Venom, and that bloke who was, erm, made of bees.

So, that trip down Memory Lane completed, who's your all-time favourite Spider-Man villain?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Avengers #132. The Celestial Madonna Saga: Part 8. More of the Legion of the Unliving.

Avengers #132, the Legion of the Unliving
Some people might pay good money to hang around in mazes but I don't get the feeling the Avengers would be amongst them.

Abducted by Kang, our super-doers find themselves separated, trapped in the labyrinth beneath Immortus' castle, with no way out and no choice but to roam its passageways until they find someone.

What they find are various members of the Legion of the Unliving who waste no time trying to do for them.

While Mantis and Hawkeye escape their respective confrontations unscathed, Don Blake's almost killed by Frankenstein's Monster until it occurs to him to turn back into Thor, Iron Man's seemingly killed by the Original Human Torch and, at the tale's climax, the Vision lies close to death, having had The Ghost pull the same materialising-inside-you stunt on him that the Vision usually pulls on others.

Meanwhile, in Vietnam, strange things are afoot with the Swordsman's ghost...

The Original Human Torch kills Iron Man, Avengers #132
Rarely have things looked so grim for our heroes as they seemed destined to die, one by one, in Kang's inescapable trap.

Admittedly, it'd do their cause good if they actually tried activating their brains at some point. I'm really not sure at all why, at a time of high danger, Thor decides to change back to Don Blake. He claims it's because Don Blake might have more hope of escaping Kang's labyrinth than Thor does but it's hard to see why he'd think that. It's also hard to see why, having made the change, he tries to  fight Frankenstein's Monster while still in his Don Blake guise.

Then again, Thor starts off the issue knowing that Kang's behind it all but, within a few pages, seems to have totally forgotten Kang's behind it all.

Don Blake/Thor vs Frankenstein's Monster, Avengers #132
It does feel wrong to see the original Human Torch as part of the Legion of the Unliving. Obviously plotter Steve Englehart flung him into the mix because he knows the Vision's the original Human Torch in remodelled form and, with Wonder Man in the team, the Torch might as well be there too.

But you can't get round the fact he just doesn't belong. The rest of the Legion of the Unliving are all to some degree misanthropes, while the Human Torch isn't. We're given the explanation that Kang somehow has control over them by virtue of being the one who revived them but - what with Torchie having been brought back and used for wrong-doing by the Mad Thinker in Fantastic Four Annual #4, and now this - of Marvel's classic Golden Age trinity, he does seem to have been the one most poorly served by later writers.

The Ghost vs the Vision, Avengers #132
Still, you can't knock the drama of it all, with poor old Don Blake nearly coming a cropper, Iron Man seemingly deceased and the Vision on the verge of death at the issue's climax, it's beginning to look like one of those days when nothing can go right for our heroes.

They might be up against the Legion of the Unliving but, at this rate, the tag, "Legion of the Unliving," could end up being a fit description for the Avengers too.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Avengers #131. The Celestial Madonna Saga: Part 7. The Legion of the Unliving.

Avengers #131, Legion of the Unliving
It might sometimes feel like the life of a super-hero is like mine - non-stop action. But it seems that even super-doers can have their hiatuses.

And Avengers #131 is just that, as the team have probably their least action-packed day ever.

Their tribulations with the Titanic Trio over and done with, the team hang around in Saigon, with not a lot to do but take stock of just where they're at in their lives. The Vision mulls over his love triangle with Mantis, Mantis mulls over her claimed destiny as the Celestial Madonna, Hawkeye mulls over where he fits in with the group as they are now.

And Captain America...?

Well, Captain America reappears from nowhere, in a silly costume and calling himself Nomad. It'd be nice to say his guise as Nomad lends him a certain dignity but the truth is that, looking at him, it wouldn't be a surprise if instead of "Nomad" he'd renamed himself Captain Cheesy, so corny does he look. And let's face it, it takes something special to make a man who normally runs around wearing a flag look cornier than usual.

Kang and Rama-Tut, Avengers #131Someone who'll never be normal is of course Kang the Conqueror who's in no mood for mulling. He and Rama-Tut have been plucked from their fight in the time-stream and taken to the castle of Immortus.

Immortus is, as long-standing fans will recall, the King of Limbo. Sadly, this doesn't mean he's the world champion at dancing under a horizontal pole.

It does mean that, like Kang, he's had past doings with the Avengers.

And this means that, within moments of meeting, Kang and Immortus have agreed to an alliance and, using Immortus' equipment, Kang brings the Avengers to the catacombs beneath Immortus' castle, where they'll have to face the Legion of the Unliving, a group of battlers Kang's constructed from the ranks of deceased super-beings.

Nomad/Captain America, Avengers #131
From the point of view of our heroes it's a strangely low-key issue. Up until the final two pages, when they're abducted, the only excitement most of them get is right at the start of the tale when Mantis gets to kick-up a mugger. And you have to hand it to the mugger; there can't be many street-crooks optimistic enough to try and rob the Avengers.

But even now, all is not quiet, as a figure appears at one point who seems to be the late Swordsman.

And just who is that hooded mystery-man lurking in the shadows?

Iron Man meanwhile is as much use as a wet paper bag, as he refuses to give the Vision any advice on his love-life. He's Tony Stark: international playboy womaniser. Has all that womanising taught him nothing of the ways of lurv?

But, with the Avengers in introspective mood, the focus is all on Kang as he refuses to accept he's going to reform, and sets about his latest scheme. You do wonder how block-headed he is that, even when knowing Rama-Tut is his future self, he still won't listen to any of his warnings.

The Legion of the Unliving, Avengers #131
I do like the Legion of the Unliving. The grouping of Frankenstein's Monster, the original Human Torch, Wonder Man, Midnight, the Ghost and Baron Zemo is so disparate it could only occur if justified by them all being not alive. And I'm especially happy to see Midnight back - not least because he looks remarkably like my own legendary super-hero The Masked Manhunter.

But can the Avengers possibly overcome such odds as a load of dead men?

Only time will tell.

But wait, there is no time in Immortus' Limbo.

Now we're in lumber.

Limbo lumber.

With linguistic skills like that, God alone knows why they won't let me write comic books.
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