Sunday, 26 March 2017

Avengers #157. The not quite so dark knight returns.

Avengers #157, Jack Kirby cover
Avengers assemble, true believers! Inspired by my post the other day, I've been for a rummage in my Steve Does Comics Cave and found Avengers #157 lurking there.

I was motivated to do this because it dawned on me that, although I have it, I don't think I've ever read it.

How could I allow this oversight to continue?

I couldn't.

So, here goes.

The first thing that leaps out at me is that the inside front cover is a full page ad for the 1976 King Kong remake.

It's the ad where Kong's straddling the twin towers of the World Trade Centre while plucking jet fighters from the air. You know? The one that makes it look like it's a movie that's a million times better than it actually is and makes it look like Kong himself is going to be totally awesome?

It only goes to prove how advertising can lie to us.

King Kong, 1976
Having said that, I do prefer that version to the Peter Jackson remake, which I've never managed to make it all the way through.

As for the Avengers story, the first thing that strikes me about that is that it's drawn by Don Heck.

I must confess there've been times in my life when discovering that a story's drawn by Don Heck has been enough to send me into a dizzying combination of depression and indignation.

But now, oddly enough, separated from the publication of this comic by almost exactly forty years, seeing his work here makes me feel strangely warm, fuzzy and nostalgic. I can't deny it, there's something psychologically fulfilling about seeing him work again on the strip whose pages he did so much to grace in its early years.

It's got to be said that it's not Heck at his best - but, then, nor is it him at his worst.

I suspect this may be down to the inking of Pablo Marcos who manages to add a touch of polish and tidiness to the pencils that helps to hold them together in a way that some other inkers failed to do in this era.

The script is by Gerry Conway, so I started this tale assuming that someone's girlfriend was going to die.

Avengers #157, the Black Knight revives
The other thing that strikes me is it's a tale that's the very definition of, "Simplicity." Basically, the Avengers are at home in their mansion when the statue of the Black Knight, from way back in the days of the Evil Eye Saga, smashes into the building and, one by one, knocks them out, until the Vision shows up and disposes of him.

Along the way, we discover that he's not really the Black Knight. He's just the now-soulless statue of him, which has been brought to life by an unnamed villain and, thinking he's the real Knight, is out to gain vengeance on the Defenders and Avengers for leaving him to stand around as a statue for the rest of eternity.

Avengers #157, the Black Knight vs the Vision
Other than the main plot, the other point of interest is we're now in the era of Wonder Man's return.

From what I can gather from the dialogue, he's not long since been revived and seems to already be thinking that he and not the Vision should be the Flake in the Scarlet Witch's 99. Given that he and the Vision are effectively the same character and that Marvel heroes can't deal with a problem without hitting it, I suspect this can only end in fisticuffs.

But that'll clearly have to wait for a later issue.

As will the identity of the true villain of the piece. Tragically, in this issue, we're never told who animated the statue. All we see is a hand that I don't recognise. I will therefore assume it belongs to either Kang or Ultron because, well, it's an Avengers story.

Avengers #157, the Black Knight vs Wonder Man
So, it's not a classic tale but it is one that you could imagine lingering in the mind, if only for the way the statue ultimately smashes itself to pieces on the Vision before giving up the ghost completely and simply dropping dead.

All of which, I suppose, proves there's a merit to simplicity when it comes to story-telling.

And that's basically it. I've fulfilled my duty and finally got round to reading a thing that had been unread for so long. It was a pain-free experience and I thoroughly recommend reading unread things, to everyone who views this post.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

March 23rd, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

Good news, nostalgia fans! In this week of 1977, Manhattan Transfer were at Number One on the UK singles chart, with their cover of Chanson D'Amour. How quaint it seemed at the time for a band to be performing in the style of the 1940s.

And yet the 1940s were, in truth, more recent then than 1977 is now. How can we possibly hope to cope with such a dread realisation?

There's only one way.

And that's to seek refuge in looking at what hyper-modern antics the heroes of our favourite comics were getting up to at the time.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #24

I believe this is the issue where glossy covers finally arrived for the nation's greatest hero, and colour disappeared.

It was also the first issue I'd read in months, making it doubly eventful for me.

Apparently, this issue also featured the FF vs Gabriel, Nick Fury against that hell-hound thing that you see a lot of on the Internet, and Spider-Man teaming up with Iron Man.

The last one is something of a stumper for me, as I have no recall at all of Spider-Man's team-up adventures ever having featured as a backup in this comic. Given my love for Spidey, how could I have forgotten such a key feature?

I likewise cannot recall whether the free cardboard plane was capable of flight or not.

Marvel UK, Fury #2

Fury hits its second week and, like Captain Britain, gives us a free toy plane. Marvel UK clearly had a thing about toy planes back then.

As for the cover blurb, I don't like to be pedantic but isn't it a contradiction in terms (not to mention cheating) to escape from a suicide mission?

Marvel UK, Mighty World of Marvel #234, Hulk vs Doc Samson

No toy planes from Mighty World of Marvel, just a punch-up between Doc Samson and the Hulk.

Is this the tale where Samson tries to capture the Hulk so he can shrink him down and inject him into Glenn Talbot's brain in order to literally remove the major's psychological block?

I somewhat suspect that's the sort of behaviour that could get a psychiatrist struck off.

Super Spider-Man and the Titans #215, Dr Octopus and Hammerhead

Can anyone spot the flaw with this cover?

That's right, Aunt May's warning Spider-Man of a trap, when we all know the real Aunt May would never warn Spider-Man of a trap.

I can only conclude she's an impostor and it's actually the Chameleon that Doc Ock is planning to marry. I feel he's going to get the shock of his life on the wedding night.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

RIP, Bernie Wrightson. Plus 2000 AD in February 1979.

Bernie Wrightson

It's not been a happy day for comics fans today, with the death of legendary artist Bernie Wrightson at the age of sixty eight.

I must confess that, thanks to pure happenstance, my childhood acquaintance with Bernie Wrightson's work was all but non-existent, thanks to me never having encountered any comics drawn by him.

Instead, I first encountered him via the book The Studio which featured a collection of his work alongside that of Barry Smith, Mike Kaluta and Jeffrey Jones and, even to my untutored eyes, it was obvious at once that Wrightson's work possessed a remarkable mixture of style, character, mood, dark humour and technical expertise that went far beyond and above the norm. Some artists, through sheer force of talent, make it impossible for you to ignore them and Bernie Wrightson was one of them.

*

Also above and beyond the norm, in its own way, was 2000 AD which in February 1979 reached the milestone of its 100th Prog. Had anyone ever doubted that it'd make that milestone?

Not if they had any sense, they hadn't. It was clear from the start that it was a comic that had the potential to become a phenomenon - and a phenomenon it became.

But just what was it offering us in that fateful spell, thirty eight years and one month ago?

Apart from it hitting its centennial, the main points of interest are the rather belting Brian Bolland cover for Prog 98 and the fact that we get the return of Dan Dare and Sam Slade, both of whom, I think, had disappeared mid-story when we'd last seen them. Now, at last, we got our chance to find out what had happened to them.

What with this and Judge Dredd's epic Judge Cal storyline, we must all have felt we were being well and truly spoiled.

2000 AD, Prog 98

2000 AD, Prog 99

2000 AD, Prog 100

2000 AD, Prog 101, Dan Dare and the Mekon

Thursday, 16 March 2017

March 16th, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

My in-depth research tells me that nothing in the slightest bit interesting happened in this week in 1977. Just what strange madness had befallen the Earth, that allowed such a thing to happen?

I have no idea.

But, whatever it was, I probably didn't care. I was no doubt too wrapped up in the never-ending dramas that were befalling the heroes and heroines of our favourite comics company at the time. Not for them the quiet ennui of the real world. They inhabited a realm where every day was a life or death struggle.

And, if it wasn't, they'd contrive to make it so.

But what were those dramas?

And just how did they affect me?

Super Spider-Man and the Titans #214, Dr Octopus

Doc Ock is still causing trouble and still hasn't made an honest woman of Aunt May yet.

It's a shame he never did. Just think of all the angst, torment and storylines they could have gotten from Peter Parker having Otto Octavius as his stepfather. If Stan Lee had still been writing the strip, he'd have known how to get maximum soap opera shenanigans out of that set-up.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #23, Jim Callaghan and Captain America

Haven't I published this cover elsewhere in recent weeks? I'm sure I remember people commenting on the fact that Jim Callaghan is the only one not trembling with fear on this cover.

But if I have posted it before, when, where and for what reason?

Is this the last ever colour issue? I have a feeling it might be.

Mighty World of Marvel #233, Planet of the Apes

The battle for the Planet of the Apes is still ongoing.

Will it never end?

At this rate, the poor old Lawgiver'll have popped his clogs from old age before it ends.

Even worse than that, it's keeping the likes of the Hulk, Captain Marvel and Daredevil off the cover.

Marvel UK, Fury #1

This is it! The comic that changed the world!

Well, alright, admittedly it didn't.

To be honest, there's not much I can say about it, as I never owned - nor even ever saw - an issue of the comic.

I believe that, as well as the Howling Commandos strip, the mag reprinted various other Silver Age and possibly even pre-Silver Age war tales.

It does make you wonder why Marvel UK never took a leaf from Alan Class's book and produced any mags that recycled Marvel's pre-Fantastic Four monster stories. After all, such a policy kept Class's company afloat for a good three decades, so it must have had some sort of commercial viability.

Oh well, at least if the strips in Fury weren't to everyone's taste, one could at least get a free model plane from the endeavour.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Forty years ago today - March 1977.

In March, 1977, the rings of Uranus were discovered.

I genuinely have nothing to say about this fact other than that I do feel it's a shame they've always been so comprehensively overshadowed by those of Saturn.

But, back on Earth, I'm sure our favourite heroes weren't suffering a similar fate. I'm sure that, unlike dim and distant celestial objects, they were flinging themselves well and truly into the spotlight.

Conan the barbarian #72

It looks like it's another typical day for Conan.

I do sometimes wonder if he's ever managed to go anywhere, ever, without encountering an evil sorcerer, a murderous man-beast or a fiend from hell. Admittedly, he does always meet beautiful women too but, as they always need rescuing from the aforementioned menaces, it has to be questioned whether it's worth it.

He could just sign up with a dating agency. They have an app for that now. Has no one told him?

Daredevil #143, lion

This cover's ringing no bells for me whatsoever but I'm sure we'd all like to see Daredevil fighting a lion, so I've no doubt it's a marvellous and thrilling tale to behold.

Fantastic Four #180

I seem to recall that our merry band encountered the robot in question when it tried to rob a bank vault by carrying the vault off with it.

Did we ever discover just where the robot came from, or was it a plot strand that was dropped barely before it had started?

My main memory of this era is that, after years of complaining about being a monster and a social pariah, The Thing was suddenly having to fight women off with a stick, with both Thundra and Tigra having taken a shine to him.

Incredible Hulk #209, Absorbing Man

Isn't this the one where the Absorbing Man defeats himself by grabbing a piece of glass whilst falling from a great height?

It doesn't say much for you when the reason you can't beat the Hulk is because you're not intelligent enough.

Iron Man #96

Just how does Iron Man defeat Ultimo in this tale? The only times I can remember him defeating him was by trapping him in a conveniently located volcano. Does this mean there's another handily placed volcano in the vicinity?

Amazing Spider-Man #166, The Lizard and Stegron

The cover's decor leads me to believe this is a Christmas tinged tale.

And what could better capture the feeling of Christmas than being rushed at by two reptile men with murder on their minds?

I never liked the fact that the Lizard had to share the bill with Stegron in this tale, given that, to me, Stegron just seemed like a blatant rip-off of him.

He didn't even have a lab coat. How can he call himself a classy villain if he doesn't have a lab coat?

Spectacular Spider-Man #4, the Vulture

Is this the first part of the Hitman storyline that I could claim to remember well but don't remember well at all, other than that he had something to do with the Punisher?

Thor #257

This cover tells me nothing about what happens within.

However, I do see some tentacles, which leads me to suspect that Sporr is still hanging around.

Captain America and the Falcon #207

Captain America's comic did seem to get quite violent in this era. I have a suspicion that this issue may have been no exception.

Avengers #157

Am I remembering correctly in thinking the mystery assailant on the cover is the statue of the Black Knight, around which revolved the Avengers/Defenders War?

I can't claim to recall just how it came to be attacking the Avengers Mansion, long after the Knight himself returned to human form.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

March 9th, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

Marvel UK, Fury #1
This week of forty years ago was a pivotal moment in the history of Western civilisation, as, at the insistence of nifty Neil Tennant, Marvel UK launched its first ever war comic.

That's right. It was in this week that the legendary publication Fury hit the newsstands.

A British-style war comic filled with reprints of American-style war stories, competing with the output of UK publishers who had decades of experience in producing the form, and featuring one of the most offensively stereotyped British characters of all time? How could it possibly fail?

Well, next week, we'll possibly find out how it could fail but, in the meantime, let's take a look at the comics that were reaching their sell-by date just as that comic was about to hit the shelves like a badly aimed howitzer.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #22, Captain America and the Red Skull

You can't accuse the Red Skull of not knowing how to put together a devilish master plan.

Why, just look at it. In this tale, his master plan seems to be to drop our heroes into a big bucket of water. How could they ever hope to survive such a trap? The crimson craniumed catastrophe causer!

Mighty World of Marvel #232

The dreaded split covers that'll mar the comic for what seems like an eternity make their debut.

Meanwhile, the apes may have found themselves a new home but it would appear there's still no end in sight to the adaptation of Battle. I wouldn't be surprised if it's still running even now. Probably, if I pick up this month's issue of Mighty World of Marvel, it'll still be in it and still nowhere near a conclusion.

Super Spider-Man and the Titans #213, Dr Octopus

It's the start of the story arc we've all been waiting for, as Doc Ock rekindles his love affair with Aunt May, and Ghost Hammerhead shows up to give everyone the willies. This is a very silly storyline but I always liked it, when I was younger.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Fifty years ago this month - March 1967.

March 1967 was a historic month for all humanity.

That's because it was the month in which Jimi Hendrix set fire to his guitar for the first time.

To celebrate, I've set fire to this laptop and am now typing whilst engulfed in flames. The sacrifices I make to keep this blog at the forefront of human endeavour are beyond mortal comprehension.

But what of our favourite Marvel heroes in the comics that displayed that month on the front of them? Were they likewise setting the world alight?

Avengers #38, Hercules

Judging by the cover, I suspect this may be the issue in which Hercules first appeared in The Avengers. I assume he was included in order to get round Stan Lee's ban on Thor appearing in the strip.

In some ways, he was a better fit than Thor, what with him not having so many powers that it made the rest of the team redundant. On the other hand, he never quite had the glamour, competence and charisma of Thor.

But did he ever actually use that mace for anything?

Daredevil #26, Stilt Man

New York no doubt trembles as the Stilt-Man returns.

I think it probably says it all about Stilty that he should find himself ending up as the lackey of a character who thinks it's stylish to attach a curtain to your sunglasses.

Strange Tales #154, Dr Strange

I have no idea what goes on in this tale but I gather that Clea's involved.

Tales of Suspense #87, Iron Man vs the Mole Man

I vaguely recall that this story involves the Mole Man wanting to kidnap the world's finest minds for some reason or other.

Needless to say this leads to him kidnapping Tony Stark.

Needless to say this turns out to be a bad idea.
Tales to Astonish #89, Hulk vs the Stranger

I'm a bit vague about this story. Is this the one where the Boomerang meets his death besides a dam?

If so, how does that involve the Strangererer?

Thor #138

We tend to think of Thor as being an old-fashioned kind of man but here he is, having trouble with trolls, decades before the rest of us ever did.

X-Men #30

It's an early X-Men tale and therefore I know nothing about it.

He's an early X-Men villain and therefore I know nothing about him.

Whoever he is, did he ever show up again? He has the air of someone who'd turn out to be The Toad in disguise.
Fantastic Four #60, Dr Doom

It's one of my favourite FF tales, as Dr Doom continues to use his stolen Power Cosmic to make a nuisance of himself at every opportunity.

I do like the way Reed and Sue are placed on the rocky outcrop to the right. It strikes me as pleasingly compositionally quirky.

Amazing Spider-Man #46, the Shocker

I love the Shocker. He might have had his limitations as a villain - his thumbs being his weakness, being the main one - but there's something about all that quilting that's always appealed to me.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

March 2nd, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

On this night in 1977, BBC One completed its (very) short season of sci-fi films by showing Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon.

From what I can recall of it, it's a comedy about a group of people who fail to get into space and think they've landed on the moon, even though they're in a field on Earth. After the high stakes drama of Forbidden Planet and The Time Machine in the previous two weeks, it must have felt like a massive letdown for sci-fi hungry fans to be given such frivolous and mundane fare this week and I wouldn't be surprised if they all descended on Television Centre, armed with flaming torches and a desire to destroy the Blue Peter garden.

Still, if that was a traumatic letdown, at least we had Marvel UK to fall back on.

Or did we? This was the week that Marvel UK's output was reduced to a mere three comics. Given that the company had once been giving us seven comics a week, we must have feared for the future of the whole venture.

Well, I assume we must have. I can recall having no such misgivings at the time. Clearly I was the kind of youth who needed a weather man to know which way the wind was blowing.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #21, The Red Skull

The Red Skull's finally got round to kidnapping James Callaghan, which means we must be approaching the era when I started reading the comic again.

Mighty World of Marvel #231

It's the merger we all demanded! The Planet of the Apes and Dracula Lives joins The Mighty World of Marvel to create the greatest comic ever published!

Then again, maybe not. Even as a Planet of the Apes fan, I couldn't claim to have been happy to see the apes in the pages of Marvel UK's flagship. Whatever their charms, those sprightly simians just didn't fit in alongside the likes of the Hulk, Daredevil and Captain Marvel.

Judging by the cover, it also looks like poor old Luke Cage's strip bit the dust to make way for them.

Super Spider-Man and the Titans #212, Mirage

Sadly, apart from the Spider-Man tale, the cover provides no clues as to what happens in this comic.

I do remember the Mirage being the first super-villain I ever saw defeated by a chandelier. Then again, in fairness to him, it was still more dignified than the Sandman having once been defeated by a Hoover.

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