Saturday, 29 September 2012

What was your favourite Marvel UK comic?

Marvel UK, The Avengers #88, The Wondrous Wasp is attacked by a giant python at her wedding to Yellowjacket
As mentioned the other day, forty years ago this week, Marvel UK was foisted upon a breathless world.

And that  seems as good a time as any to ask our British readers, just what was your favourite weekly Marvel UK reprint mag of the 1970s?

Mighty World of Marvel was the original but it was quickly followed by Spider-Man Comics Weekly.

And soon the shelves were heaving with the likes of Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, the Super-Heroes, Dracula Lives, Rampage and many many more, as Marvel UK threatened to take over the UK's comics market.

Sadly, it was not to last and, as time went by, comics began to merge... ...and then merge again with other titles that had already merged with others, until we had The Mighty World of Marvel Incorporating The Avengers Incorporating Conan the Barbarian And Incorporating Planet of the Apes Incorporating Dracula Lives And Also Incorporating Fury. I always had great fun asking at the local newsagents for that one.

But, while Marvel UK's weekly heyday may have been short-lived, it was nonetheless glorious.

From such splendour, it is of course impossible to choose a favourite - but that won't stop me trying. And so, if forced to, I'd probably plump for The Avengers.

The Avengers gave us its titular titans plus Dr Strange, before adding Shang-Chi and Conan to the mix. John Buscema's Avengers? Paul Gulacy's Shang-Chi? Barry Smith's Conan? Gene Colan's Dr Strange? What kind of raving lunatic could not love a comic that gave them all that?

Those are my thoughts on the matter but you may have ones of your own that you wish to share with the world.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Happy Birthday, Mighty World of Marvel!

Mighty World of Marvel #4, Spider-Man vs the Fantastic Four, Jim Starlin cover
It's an exciting time in the Steve Does Comics household.

Why?

Because my boiler's been declared free of deadly carbon monoxide.

But freedom from the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning is nothing compared to the other grounds for excitement.

That's because, in but a few short days from now, we celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the most important event in the history of humanity.

That event was the launch of The Mighty World of Marvel - a magical moment when American and British comics traditions fused to create an experience guaranteed to blow the socks off any child.

Sadly, despite seeing it advertised on TV, I missed issue #1 but my dad did see sanity in time to come home three weeks later with issue #4. And, from that point on, no weekend was complete without it.

How I thrilled as the Hulk took on the terrible Toad Men. How I boggled as the Fantastic Four were grabbed by the Skrulls. How I did whatever it was I did as the Amazing Spider-Man battled the FF.

I've not read issue #4 since I was eleven but what I do remember of it was how dark the world of Marvel Comics seemed in it. While the heroes of DC inhabited a mostly cheery world in which they were revered by their fellow inhabitants, Mighty World of Marvel #4 gave us a Frankensteinian monster whose first instinct was to destroy humanity rather than save it, a Fantastic Four who had another monster amongst  their ranks and defeated aliens by brainwashing them into becoming cows, and a teenager with the powers of one of the most loathed creatures on Earth.

It's easy as an adult to read those early Marvel tales and see them as cheery, naive escapism but escapism wasn't the real secret of their allure. Like Dr Who, they brought a weekend dose of the unsettling and sinister into the world of a child and, for that, some of us were strangely grateful.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Justice League of America #110.

Justice League of America #110, the murder of Santa Claus, 100 pages
It's September.

And that can only mean one thing.

Christmas.

And that can only mean one thing.

Let's kill Santa Claus.

Sadly for those with murderous intent towards the arch commercialiser of Chrimble, we've been beaten to it.

For some villain's done the deed before we've even got settled into this Justice League adventure.

Or at least they've killed a man who was playing the part for charity.

Who can it be? What can he want?

It's dying arch-criminal The Key and, if the Justice League don't deal with him sharpish, he's going to blow up some slums in St Louis.

The JLA gather their forces and invade the villain's underground lair, only to, one by one, be killed by his fiendish gimmicks. Is this the end of the world's greatest heroes?

Well, no it's not because, just as it seems it's all over, the Phantom Stranger reveals he was onto the villain's plan all along and has got the JLA-ers to safety, dispatched The Key's henchman and foiled his plan. Now all that's left is for our heroes to evacuate the slums before the bomb goes off.

I do remember really liking this story as a kid, mostly because it was a tale with a heart. It has snow in it and any story with snow in it's going to struggle not to warm the cockles.

Reading it again as an adult, the obvious question that raises its head is that, as the Phantom Stranger's aware of The Key's plan all along and spends the entire tale in the room next to him, why doesn't he just walk in and give The Key the slapping he's asking for, thus saving the Justice League from their ordeal?

But that's the Phantom Stranger for you; always happy to spew out words of wisdom, but never willing to actually show any wisdom.

Actually, this story's main importance to me is it introduced me for the first time to the Red Tornado. Even when I was a child, his similarity to the Avengers' Vision was impossible to miss, and it's interesting here that they've set up a relationship between him and the Green Arrow that's clearly based on Dr McCoy and Mr Spock.

The other matter of interest is it introduced me to the alternate Green Lantern - John Stewart - who has his JLA debut adventure here. Despite his novice status, and the initial distrust of his new teammates, John becomes the hero of the piece by virtue of his compassion and by using his power ring to recreate the destroyed slums, minus the rats fleas, damp and rot that had previously blighted the lives of the deprived locals.

You see? We didn't even need Santa anyway. Not when we had John Stewart on standby.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Action Comics #441.

Action Comics #441, Superman punches the Flash as he runs towards him, Nick Cardy cover
Life can be full of crushing disappointments.

Take me, for example. I pick up a copy of Action Comics, led by the cover to expect the sight of Superman punching the Flash's teeth in and, once inside, I get nothing of the sort.

Instead, I get a weather forecaster on Clark Kent's TV show who keeps predicting freak but destructive weather events.

Needless to say, Superman's soon on the case and, after dealing with the aforementioned events, he heads off to see the Flash, having reasoned the Weather Wizard must be behind it all.

So, together, they're off to see the Wizard who's currently in jail.

Upon being confronted, the Wizard confesses he's behind the scheme. Not only that but it was all a plot to lure Superman and the Flash into seeing him so he can zap Superman with some Kryptonian black lightning.

Action Comics #441, the Flash watches on as Superman is zapped by black Kryptonian lightning
According to the Weather Wizard, upon being struck by such a phenomenon, a Kryptonian must kill the person nearest to him when it struck – and that person is the Flash!

Can nothing save our Hermes heeled hero?

Well, yes. It turns out it can because, before going to see the villain, Superman and the Flash disguised themselves as each other, and so it was really the Flash who the Weather Wizard zapped, meaning the black lightning had no effect on him. A quick chop across the back of the neck, from Superman, soon deals with the foolish felon.

Apart from the fact it hinges on him somehow bouncing hypnotic commands off the ionosphere, there does seem to be a fairly obvious flaw in the Weather Wizard's plan, which is that if Superman hadn't bothered to bring the Flash with him, the person standing closest to Superman at the moment the lightning was fired would've been the Weather Wizard who Superman would then have killed. With smarts like that, I think we can see how come he's in prison in the first place.

Actually the main disappointment of the tale is the Weather Wizard's declaration that it's been proven the Flash can't outrun Superman. I do tend to feel that, if Superman gets to have a zillion powers and a character like the Flash only has one, then the Flash should be better at his one super-power than Superman is, otherwise who needs the Flash?

Action Comics #441, Green Arrow and Black Canary drop in through the skylight, Mike Grell
And who needs a dog?

The Green Arrow and Black Canary do. Because in the issue's back-up tale, they've taken in a stray one - and they don't know where it came from.

But the mystery of where that was can wait as, first, the duo have to burst into a bad guy's lair.

Disastrously for them, the crook has an ageing ray.

Not so disastrously for them, the stray dog turns out to be Krypto who promptly bursts in and saves them before once more disappearing.

Maybe there's something wrong with me but it gives me a warm feeling to see Krypto back in the Superverse after his mystery disappearance, even if he vanishes immediately afterwards.

The main selling point of the tale is a slick and stylish art job by Mike Grell that mostly avoids the oddly amateurish lapses in draftsmanship he was sometimes prone to.

But I'm not sure I'll be able to sleep tonight for worrying what'll become of Krypto now his whereabouts are once more unknown.

Then again, where's Streaky the supercat? Streaky, where are you?

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Wonder Woman #203.

Wonder Woman #203, dogs attacking
As I roam the streets of Sheffield, people often say to me, "Steve, when's Vol 2 of your fantastic book Great Dominatrices of the World coming out?"

And I say, "I'm sorry. I think you must be mistaking me for someone else. The only woman in dominatrix gear I've ever encountered is Wonder Woman."

Sadly, when I first encountered her, Diana Prince had dumped the "role-playing" gear and was wearing far more sensible clothes, having already entered her Emma Peel phase.

And so it is that issue #203 finds her minding her own business, beating up men in the street, when she gets offered a job promoting a department store.

Sadly it turns out the owner's not a feminist and is therefore evil. He's underpaying his all-female workforce and doesn't even have an adequate sprinkler system.

Needless to say, Wonder Woman won't stand for shenanigans like not having a legally required sprinkler system and soon gives him and his men the good slapping he deserves.

Wonder Woman #203's so right-on it comes across like a send-up as Wonder Woman learns a valuable lesson in what it really means to be a women's libber, and a male chauvinist pig's put in his place by women from the local community centre. I wish I could claim all this social relevance makes it a great and stirring strip but it just feels ridiculous, with just about every line of dialogue from a female mouth being socially relevant and just about every line from a male mouth being proof of what creeps men are.

It also has to be said Wonder Woman comes across as a total blockhead, at first refusing to believe her new employer's a wrong 'un, purely because she likes the money he's paying her.

To make things worse, we even get the bizarre spectacle of her declaring at one point that she doesn't like women.

Clearly the tale's doing its best to tackle important issues of the day but that doesn't change the fact it's complete and total pants.

The truth is I don't want to see Wonder Woman dealing with department store managers who don't have sprinkler systems. I want to see her punching super-villains in the face.

It could be that I'm just an old dinosaur who hasn't yet caught up with the 1970s - but clearly I'm not alone in this as, just one issue later, she'll be back in costume, hanging around with Amazons and flying around in an invisible plane.

Granted, she'll also be up against people like Dr Domino, who has to be one of the most ridiculous villains in comic book history, but what can you do?

Wonder Woman #203, In the gut, big boy!
Yeah! In the gut, big boy!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Forty years ago today - September 1972.

September 1972 will always be a special month for me. Why? Because that's when I first started reading super-hero comics.

But will it prove to be as special for our favourite Marvel heroes?

Amazing Spider-Man 112

Clearly not. It's only just started and Spidey's already fed up of it all.
Avengers #103, sentinels

The Avengers take on the Sentinels in a story-line that ultimately leads to the marriage of Crystal and Quicksilver. Boo, those Sentinels have a lot to answer for.
Captain America #153

First Spidey cops out and now Cap and Falc fall out. Is there to be no end to the discord this month can generate?
Conan the Barbarian #18

A monster. A temple. A damsel in distress. There must be times when Conan feels he's living through groundhog day.
Daredevil #91, Mr Fear

I always liked Mr Fear. But then I'm a sucker for any villain with a skull face.
Fantastic Four #126

Is this the one that retells the FF's origin?

I seem to recall this cover being reproduced in one of Marvel UK's 1970s annuals, with Agatha Harkness added.
Incredible Hulk #155, Captain Axis

It's another of my faves as the Hulk finds himself up against a would-be Nazi superman.
Iron Man #50, Princess Python

Is this what Iron Man's reduced to? Struggling to survive an encounter with a refugee from the Circus of Crime? Clearly the Invincible Iron Man is feeling distinctly vincible lately.
Mighty Thor #203

Is this the one where Ego Prime creates a new race of gods as part of some baffling Odin master plan?

Knowing the usual quality of Odin's master plans, it's a miracle the entire universe didn't end up destroyed.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Fifty years ago today - September 1962.

Hooray! It's September, the only month ever to have been named after the septic tank.

But just what were our favourite Marvel heroes up to in this month of 1962?

Were they victims of dirty deeds - or were they busy, instead, cleaning up society's mess?

Fantastic Four #6, Dr Doom and Namor Team up

It's a sign of Marvel's expansion that we can now have super-villain team-ups and four super-hero titles a month.

I confidently predict that, if Marvel plays its cards right, it could yet become a major force in comic book publishing.

Meanwhile, the Fantastic Four's two greatest foes unite to thwart, bemuse and banjax our heroes.

With such dastardliness, it can surely be only a matter of time before the Mole Man and Miracle Man too unite to defeat our heroes.
Incredible Hulk #3, the Hulk can fly

The Hulk gains the power to leap, and loses the power to think, as Lee and Kirby battle to create a successful strip from a comic about a man who wants to kill us all.
Journey into Mystery# 84, Thor, captured by the executioner

What a pair of defeatist sad sacks Thor and Don Blake reveal themselves to be as the thunder god's crime-fighting career looks to be over virtually before it's begun.

Still, at least it's a victory for communism and I think we could all do with a little communism right now.
Tales to Astonish #35, the return of Ant Man

Forget Thor; you'll never see such defeatism from Ant Man. He knows exactly what to do when confronted with a petty crook - hide behind a bunch of ants.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Justice Inc #2.

Justice Inc #2, the Avenger, Sky Walker, Jack Kirby cover
Maybe I'm just perverse but, as a kid, I always preferred Jack Kirby's 1970s' work to his output from the decade before.

Perhaps it was that I instinctively felt his all-action, OTT, fling-in-everything-with-the-kitchen-sink approach was ideally suited to concept-driven strips like Kamandi and The Eternals.

But then again, I also liked what I saw of his work on Justice Inc, which, being about one man's fight against crime, was cut from far less grandiose cloth.

This could be because I was always one for an old-style adventurer, or it could be because I felt Kirby's style was also ideally suited to depicting life in the 1930s and 40s.

In Justice Inc #2, a man called the Sky Walker has taken to floating around in the air and destroying things with a big gun that vibrates them to pieces.

Justice Inc #2 collapsing skyscraper, Jack Kirby
Fortunately for those who like their cities intact, the Avenger's on hand to deal with him - but not before gathering a couple of new allies along the way.

The thing that first strikes you is what a complete and total Jonah the Avenger is. He's flying over a train when it promptly crashes. He's driving past a skyscraper when it collapses. Apparently, his wife and daughter were once murdered. You do get the feeling that, if you want to live a long life, standing next to the Avenger isn't probably the best of ideas.

The other thing that strikes you is the Avenger has one of the most unpleasant gimmicks in comicdom, which is that his face is basically made of Plasticine. This means he can rearrange it to make himself look like anyone. On the downside, it also means that, if someone punches him in the face, it leaves a great big dent his fizzog.

He's also what can only be described as a straight glass of water, displaying no signs of a personality whatsoever.

Having a personality is left to his sidekick Smitty who's a bit like Hank McCoy with the thesaurus removed.

The script's credited to Denny O'Neill but the whole thing feels like pure Jack Kirby. The dialogue bears little resemblance to the way anyone real has ever spoken and the plot's a string of events, owing a bucketload to random happenstance.

Justice Inc #2, the Avenger strikes, Jack Kirby
I certainly enjoyed it as a kid - especially the Avenger's ridiculously thin handgun. But, sadly - unlike Kamandi and The Eternals - being set in a world closer to our own than those were, it can't fall back on spectacle to overcome the problems of its writing, meaning it comes across like a less gripping version of the Shadow. It even ends with the villain plunging to his death, as all Shadow villains seemed required to.

At least the Avenger didn't laugh at the demise of his foe.

But then, with the sort of luck the Avenger had, you get the feeling he didn't get to do much laughing even at the best of times.
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