Sunday, 18 February 2018

2000 AD - January 1980.

Make ready your thumbs and get set to twist your mind into knots - because, thirty eight years ago last month, the Rubik's Cube made its senses-shattering international debut, at the British Toy and Hobby Fair at Earl's Court, London. Never before had so much youthful intellectual power been spent on achieving something so pointless as getting coloured squares to match up.

Needless to say, I had a Rubik's Cube.

Needless to say, I lacked the patience or motivation to master it but I did, if I remember correctly, manage to complete it a couple of times.

Admittedly, that was before I realised you could complete one simply by getting a screwdriver, prising the blocks apart and snapping them back together again in the right order. If Ernő Rubik was so bright, why didn't he also set up a company making screwdrivers for breaking open his cubes? He could have doubled his profits.

But Earl's Court wasn't the only place that was seeing a historic debut that month.

Because Prog 149 of the greatest comic in the galaxy saw the arrival of a thing that was even more enigmatic, perplexing and traumatising than a Rubik's Cube.

And that was Judge Death.

Yes, it's true. Surely the most memorable villain ever to emerge from Judge Dredd's strip made his first appearance thirty eight years ago last month and immediately lodged himself in the minds of all comic fans. I am proud to say I was there when it happened and that I spotted his star potential at once.

As did everyone else, because it was obvious.

I am therefore proud to announce that I spotted what everyone else spotted.

It was a major life achievement.

Elsewhere that month, Prog 147 was giving us the results of their competition to design a space alien.

Needless to say, I remember nothing of this.

I do, however, remember once designing a space alien purely for my own pleasure. I decided to give it caterpillar tracks, instead of legs, in order to make it look less like an Earth creature. That is the sum total of my recollection of it.

Anyway, let's look at those covers and see how many memories they bring flooding back.

To be honest, they don't bring any memories flooding back.

So much for the claim that playing with Rubik's Cubes would sharpen our intellects.

2000 AD Prog 146, Judge Dredd

2000 AD Prog 147, The Stainless Steel Rat

2000 AD Prog 148, Judge Dredd

2000 AD Prog 149, Blackhawk

Thursday, 15 February 2018

February 15th, 1978 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

Listen. Do you hear those portentous bongs? Can you see the face of Big Ben, all lit up, in closeup?

You should do because this week of forty years ago saw the arrival of ITN's first ever female newsreader Anna Ford. How we gasped as a woman proved she could read out loud, just like a man can. It does seem amazing now that the hiring of a female newsreader would be big news but it's a reminder that the past is indeed a different country.

Elsewhere that week, ABBA were claiming the Number One slot on the UK singles chart, with Take A Chance On Me and Blondie were making their chart debut with Denis while Gerry Rafferty also had a new entry with Baker Street.

Perhaps the most anomalous song on the chart was ELO's Mr Blue Sky which was rapidly ascending. It does seem highly strange that arguably the most summery record of all time would be released in the depths of winter but maybe the record company thought we all needed cheering up.

They were wrong, of course.

We didn't need cheering up at all.

Why?

Because we already had the warm glow of the pages of Marvel UK to do that for us.

Marvel UK, Star Wars Weekly #2, the Sand People

Hooray! It's the second majestic issue of the comic that's coming to us from a galaxy far, far away and a time long, long ago. Luke Skywalker gets to meet the Sand People, which implies that he may also be meeting Alec Guinness.

But what really matters is that we get a cardboard T.I.E. Fighter to go with the X-Wing Fighter we were presented with last week.

All we need now is to get our hands on next week's free cardboard Death Star and we can reenact the movie to our hearts' content.

Wait?

What's that?

They never gave away a free cardboard Death Star?

The tight-fisted...

Rampage #18, Defenders vs the Wrecking Crew

Apparently, this story involves the Defenders being lumbered with a Gamma bomb that they have to get rid of.

I now have visions of Dr Strange running up and down the waterfront, with a Gamma bomb in his hands, desperately trying to find somewhere to dispose of it, Adam West style.

But I would assume this is one of those occasions where Bruce Banner suddenly comes into his own.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure I can remember Bruce Banner ever putting in an appearance in any of the Defenders stories I ever read. When it came to their strip, he seemed to be in Hulk form permanently.

The Complete Fantastic Four #21, Mahkizmo

It would appear the Defenders aren't the only people having problems with things that are in danger of exploding.

Admittedly, in the FF's case it's a man who's in danger of going kablooey.

And I now have visions of Reed Richards running up and down the waterfront, with Mahkizmo in his arms, desperately trying to find somewhere to dispose of him.

Not that we need care about that. If the cover blurb is to be believed, it's the mightiest FF saga ever.

That's the Galactus Trilogy put in its place.

Mighty World of Marvel #281, the Hulk

This is either the climax of the Hulk's first fight with Jack of Hearts or it's the beginning of his second encounter with the Bi-Beast. Which of those it is, I could not say.

Super Spider-Man #262, the Molten Man

I predicted last week that Spidey and Moltie might end up in a burning, collapsing building, and it looks like I may well have been right.

Elsewhere, I believe the Captain America story may herald the arrival of the Red Skull's Fourth Sleeper who can walk around underground and fire great big force blasts out of his great big face. How can our hero hope to triumph? How?

Actually, I think he triumphed with the aid of a tuning fork but I don't quite recall how.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Marvel Lucky Bag - February 1978.

Remember that scene in Flash Gordon, where Peter Duncan has to stick his hand in that tree stump and risk death, not knowing what nightmare toxic horror is going to be lurking in there?

Well, this feature is like that.

But with one difference.

Whatever is lurking in the Steve Does Comics' Tree Trunk of Nostalgia is bound to be nice, because it's produced by Marvel.

And it's the 1970s.

Doctor Strange #27, Stygyro

I don't know if I've read this one or not.

I do know that, "Stygyro," is a terrible name for a villain - possibly because it reminds me of little-remembered 1980s band Spyro Gyra who I recall inflicting some sort of easy listening cocktail music upon me when I was least expecting it.

I suspect it was a Spyro Gyra album that Peter Duncan found in that tree trunk. No wonder he keeled over and died.

Ghost Rider #28, the Orb

I don't know. What? He's being attacked by a motorcyclist with a giant eyeball for a head? How would that man even pass his motorcycling proficiency test? He has no depth perception. He'd be crashing into things, all over the place.

For that matter, how's he even speaking? He's got no mouth. How's he even hearing things? He's got no ears.

I'm starting to think they haven't thought things through properly.

Godzilla #7, Red Ronin

Hooray! It's the debut of the one significant character that I can remember coming out of Marvel's Godzilla strip, as Red Ronin shows up.

Not to be confused, of course, with Red Raven. You'd be a bit disappointed if you'd arranged for Red Ronin to turn up to tackle your thousand foot tall monster, and Red Raven showed up instead. Not least because you'd have to endure endless exposition about bird people, which seemed to be his sole topic of conversation.

Marvel Comics, Man From Atlantis #1

At last! It's the debut of a comic book character like no other!

Well, admittedly, he's like Aquaman and the Sub-Mariner.

Unlike them, however, he had no staying power and his comic was cancelled after just seven issues. I suspect that Marvel readers were perfectly happy to settle for the one man from Atlantis they'd always already had.

Rampaging Hulk #7

I could be wrong but I think that, in this tale, Bereet's bag of tricks falls open and our heroes have to fight the various weirdnesses that lurk within it.

Whatever the tale's about, it has a Jim Starlin cover and that's good enough for me.

Of course, this villainous eyeball has a mouth. You see? Judo Jim, he thought things through.

Marvel Classics Comics #32, White Fang

I've never read White Fang, nor seen the movie adaptation of it.

I remember we had to read a section of it when we were at primary school but it involved him being savaged by a bulldog, which I didn't like, as I don't like my protagonists to be savaged by bulldogs.

Marvel Comics, Scooby-Doo #3

It's this feature's obligatory reminder that not everything Marvel did in the 1970s involved super-heroes, as we get the company's take on the world's most famous ghost-busting dog.

Tragically, that dog made as big a mark on readers as the Man from Atlantis did and his book was cancelled after just nine issues.

There does seem to have been a trend for any 1970s Marvel comic based on a TV show to not even make it to ten issues before being dropped.

Marvel Classics Comics #31, First Men in the Moon

One of my happy childhood memories is of Ray Harryhausen's movie sending Lionel Jeffries to the moon to fight giant, talking ants and then kill them all with his Earth-born diseases.

Nowadays, in its first half, the film seems too whimsical for my liking and it takes too long to reach the moon but I still view it with fondness.

Interesting that the Selenites on that cover look nothing like the ones we were treated to in the film. It does make me wonder how they were described in the original book.

Howard the Duck #21, the Sinister Soofi

The wise-cracking duck takes on television clean-up campaigners.

And you can read my review of this very issue by clicking on this very link here.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Forty years ago today - February 1978.

Snow is battering hard at the walls of Chateau Steve Does Comics. I therefore have no choice but to seek refuge from the elements and snuggle up with a warm set of comics.

And what warmer set of comics could we find than the ones that were in the process of being removed from the newsagents' shelves exactly forty years ago, when every winter brought us twenty feet of snow that lasted from December through to April?

At least, that's how I remember the winters of the 1970s and, as we all know, my memories of the 1970s are infallible.

Avengers #168

From that cover, I'm assuming that this is the issue that introduces us to Henry Peter Gyrich and his malevolent machinations.

The internet tells me that this issue also features Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. In what capacity they appear, I do not know.

Conan the Barbarian #83

I have literally run out of things to say about Conan. I suppose that at least this issue's menace is a type of creature I can't recall ever having seen him face before.

Captain America and the Falcon #218

"At last! The secret of Cap's origin revealed!" I'm pretty sure I mentioned this a few weeks ago but did this book ever manage to go for more than three consecutive issues without retelling Captain America's origin? It has to be the most ridiculously over-revisited origin ever.

Fantastic Four #191

For whatever reason, the Fantastic Four have quit.

I do believe this leads to the Plunderer launching a raid on their abandoned headquarters, in order to steal Reed Richards' inventions.

I don't like to teach my granny how to suck eggs but you would've thought it would have occurred to Reed to dismantle his unbelievably dangerous devices, instead of just leaving them lying around where any super-villain can get at them. Let's face it, if even the Plunderer can break in, security can't be that tight.

For that matter, why does only the Plunderer think to do this? Why aren't all the super-villains trying to get into the building? From what I can recall, the Mad Thinker was always trying to come up with ways to get his hands on them. Now that he finally has a chance to do it, he's beaten to the punch by Ka-Zar's loser brother.

Sometimes, super-villains can be perverse creatures.

Incredible Hulk #220, Captain Barracuda

Speaking of perverse, Captain Barracuda is turning salty seamen into ape men. I can see no reason at all why a submarine commander would want to do this.

I think this tale was the only time I ever encountered Captain Barracuda. Given his ocean-dwelling nature, I assume he had a few run-ins with the Sub-Mariner in his time?

Iron Man #107, Midas

As with all Iron Man stories, I have no idea what happens in this tale but, doing this feature over the years has led to me being surprised by how many times Midas has turned up. I'd always assumed he was one of those villains who appeared once and was never seen again. In reality, it turns out he was a serious contender for the honour of being Iron Man's main arch-enemy.

Amazing Spider-Man #177, the Green Goblin

Barton Hamilton's fake Green Goblin is still causing trouble and, by trying to gain control of New York's mobs, is acting like the original Steve Ditko vision of the character, rather than the John Romita take on him, which is interesting.

It's a curious cover, in which the mobsters are basically cast as the protagonists, with the Goblin and Spider-Man being the joint menaces they must overcome.

Spectacular Spider-Man #15

A cover that seems to be a less-watery homage to that of Amazing Spider-Man #33. I believe this is the issue in which Spidey and Razorback finally reveal to the world the Man-Beast's evil plans.

X-Men #109, Weapon Alpha

John Byrne may have taken over the art reins in the previous issue but, for me, this is where his run really starts, with the launch of a whole new era for the team, Wolverine starting to take centre stage and the introduction of a brand new Canadian super-doer.

Thor #268, Damocles

I have a copy of this somewhere near here. If I recall correctly, Damocles is committing various crimes around the city, using his big sci-fi cannon, unaware that it's leaking deadly radiation all over the place. Now, Thor and Damocles' brother have to stop him, in another of those tales brought to us by a combination of Walt Simonson and Tony DeZuniga.

Apparently, the Stilt-Man is in this issue, in his Wilbur Day identity but I have no recollection of that appearance at all. I shall have to dig the comic out and take a look at it.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

February 8th, 1978 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

All of a sudden, it seems like nothing more than a bad dream. Just six months ago, Marvel UK was reduced to publishing a mere two titles a week, and death for the whole venture was surely close at hand.

And, yet, here we are, in early 1978 and, suddenly, the company has comics coming out of its ears. Not content with recent launches for Rampage, the Complete Fantastic Four and Savage Sword of Conan, we suddenly get its most significant event ever.

Star Wars has come to Marvel UK!

I can't claim I'm that excited. I've never been that big a Star Wars fan. It's alright but there's other stuff I'd rather watch.

Still, it's a well repeated claim that Star Wars saved the US version of the company from bankruptcy and, by all accounts, it performed the same feat for its British offshoot. So significant was the book that, when US Marvel tried to sell Marvel UK to IPC, Star Wars Weekly was the only title the British comics giant wanted, as that was the only one it saw as being commercially viable.

I do wonder, though, just what were the back-up strips in the early issues of Star Wars Weekly? I can easily remember the early issues of Marvel UK's Planet of the Apes giving us Ka-Zar and Gulliver Jones reprints but, of the early supporting contents of Star Wars Weekly, I recall nothing.

However, huge as that event might have been, Star Wars wasn't the only big thing going on that week.

Because, on this very day in 1978, BBC One broadcast the first ever episode of Grange Hill.

How we thrilled as Tucker Jenkins, Benny thingy, that girl, Alan Somebody, Trish Someone and that other boy battled to survive the nightmare horror that is secondary school, all accompanied by a catchy theme tune and a sausage on a fork.

I'm sure there are experts in the field of Story who can tell us that there are major parallels between the narrative themes of Star Wars and Grange Hill but I can't think of any. So, instead, I shall take a look at just what our favourite comics were up to, even as all that was transpiring.

Marvel UK, Star Wars #1

Hooray! I had this issue!

Even more excitingly, I had the cardboard X-Fighter too. It was certainly more appealing - and appropriate - than the plastic commercial aircraft Marvel UK was normally in the habit of giving away in this era.

Tragically, I don't remember how good it was at flying but I always liked the look of it, regardless.

But how accurate is that cover boast that it's a, "Valuable First Issue?"

I've just checked, on eBay and, last month, a copy, complete with X-Wing, sold for £79.

I can only conclude that that cover boast is indeed the ever-loving truth.

Marvel UK, Rampage #17, the Defenders vs the Wrecking Crew

The Wrecking Crew are up to no good.

Then again, when are they ever not up to no good?

I can't answer that question because I don't think I've ever read any story that involved them. I gather that they each basically had the same power as the Wrecker, which doesn't sound very promising. I mean, if we already have one Wrecker, what do we need any others for?

Mighty World of Marvel #280, Hulk vs Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts is still battling the Incredible Hulk.

And, after hours of dogged research, I can confirm that this is indeed the tale in which the stage magician Kropotkin the Great makes his debut.

Was he named in honour of the Amazing Kreskin, who I remember filling chunks of early afternoon television in the 1970s, usually before Paint Along With Nancy came on?

As for Kropotkin, I don't really remember him ever actually doing anything, so I'm not sure what he was there for. Was he in the strip for long? Was he a mere flash in the pan? Who can know? Not me but I shall continue to look into the topic, diligently.
Super Spider-Man #261, the Molten Man

I couldn't claim to have a clue what's going on on that cover, when it comes to the Spider-Man panel.

Then again, I'm fairly fuzzy about the whole tale. Obviously, the Molten Man is in it and still looking for a cure but, other than that, just what is underway?

Does the tale conclude with Molty trapped in a house that's on fire and containing Liz Allen, before he's forced to jump into the river to try and retrieve the bagful of chemicals that is his only hope for survival? An act that, in itself, seemingly causes his doom?

Or am I just making things up?

The Complete Fantastic Four #20

I believe that Mahkizmo is still causing trouble for our manly heroes.

I believe that Medusa isn't really going to abandon them.

I believe that that is all I know.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Fifty years ago this month - February 1968.

February 1968 was an exciting month for all lovers of standing on one leg and playing the flute, because it was the month in which Jethro Tull played live for the very first time.

I confess it's not the most compelling news of all time but I do feel it's noteworthy, purely because there aren't many bands named after 18th Century agriculturalists.

Avengers #49, Magneto

The Scarlet Witch headbutts a bullet at the United Nations and suddenly she and Quicksilver are on the side of evil again. Honestly, I wish they'd make their minds up. I've heard of being indecisive but, really.

If I remember right, this results in the team being reduced to just three members, only one of whom (the Wasp) has any super-powers. When your most powerful member is the Wasp, you know you're in trouble.

Daredevil #37, Doctor Doom

Doctor Doom unfurls his brilliant plan to defeat the Fantastic Four by swapping bodies with Daredevil, in order to stand in for him and take the FF by surprise.

Sadly, he neglects to tell his flunkies of this plan, thus allowing Daredevil to become unchallenged monarch of Latveria. Is he sure he's a genius?

Then again, while in Daredevil's body, he  somehow fails to notice that he's blind.

Then again, on that cover, Daredevil is hitting metal armour, with his bare hands. This isn't exactly a battle of the Einsteins, is it?

Fantastic Four #71

I have read this tale on more than one occasion but all I can recall of it is that the Fantastic Four are present, an android belonging to the Mad Thinker is present, and there's a fight.

Still, it does at least feature Sizzling Big Action...

Amazing Spider-Man #57, Ka-Zar and Zabu

I suspect that this tale may have been only the second time I ever encountered Ka-Zar. The first having been his earliest meeting with the Hulk.

At this point, I was still blissfully unaware that he's just some bloke running around without a shirt on and that any Marvel super-hero you can name could flatten him with barely an effort.

Regardless, I nonetheless thrilled at the sight of everyone's favourite wall-crawler tackling the king of the hidden jungle.

Strange Tales #165, Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD

I'm not sure if I've read this one or not.

Apparently, it features a villain with a metal claw who then gets an entire suit of armour that he can fight people with, which is nice for him.

I'm now waiting for Daredevil to show up and try punching it.

Tales of Suspense #98, Captain America vs the Black Panther

I assume this is the one in which a fake Baron Zemo wants to zap the Earth, with the assistance of an evil space satellite.

It does seem a strange thing that someone would want to pretend to be Baron Zemo, bearing in mind that his distinguishing trait is having a paper bag super-glued to his face.

Meanwhile, Sharon Carter is pretending to be a ruthless, evil hitwoman, and the Black Panther's getting involved, in defence of his realm. A sequence of events that I believe leads to the Panther joining the Avengers.

Tales to Astonish #100, Hulk vs Sub-Mariner

It's probably my favourite Marie Severin drawn Hulk tale, as the Puppet Master gets the two powerhouses to battle it out in Florida.

I think that reading this tale may have been where I first discovered the existence of Florida.

You can never say comics aren't educational.

Thor #149, the Wrecker

Stripped of his godly powers by Odin (just for a change),  Thor gets a good bashing from a man with a crowbar.

Not that I care. If my memories are correct, it all leads to Hela showing up, which is always a good thing.

Unless you've just been beaten up with a crowbar. In which case, it's probably a bad thing.

X-Men #41, the Sub-Human

The Sub-Human vaguely rings a bell but I don't know why.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

February 1st, 1978 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

This week of forty years ago was a good week for all fans of  reggae, as magnificent one-hit wonders Althea and Donna knocked a certain bagpipe waltz off the top of the UK charts, thanks to their smash hit Uptown Top Ranking. Forty years later, I still don't have a clue what exactly it is they were trying to say to me but I do know it's surely the first classic Number One of that year.

But, even as that epoch-making event was occurring, what about the heroes of our favourite comics company? Were they in their pants and ting and, if they were, were they strictly roots?

I suspect they weren't but there's only one way to find out.

Rampage #16, the Defenders and Luke Cage

Luke Cage shows up. Does he become a member for a while?

I have a feeling he does but I could be getting confused with his stint in the Fantastic Four.

Then again, maybe he didn't have a stint  in the Fantastic Four and I'm getting that mixed up with this.

Either way, I believe this tale involves some evil-doer using Nighthawk's fortune for nefarious purposes.

What those purposes are, I'm not totally certain of. Does it turn out that Nightie is inadvertently funding the Sons of the Serpent?

But I can't help feeling the good Doctor is being unnecessarily defeatist there. Surely a man who can take on Dormammu could flatten Luke Cage without trying?

Then again, Batman can beat up Superman but often has trouble dealing with the Penguin, so, who can know?

The Complete Fantastic Four #19, Mahkizmo punches the Thing as Thundra watches on

Mahkizmo shows up.

That really is one of the worst super-villain names ever.

As predicted, at some point, somewhere in this site's comments section, this issue features the Fantastic Four's Silver Age trip to Hollywood to make a movie produced by the Sub-Mariner. As a kid, I always loved that tale, especially its confrontation between the Sub-Mariner and the Thing.

Mighty World of Marvel #279, Hulk vs Jack of Hearts who is firing rays at him from his hands as he flies through the air

There's little I can say about this issue, other than that it features Jack of Hearts again. For such a minor character, it was remarkably hard to get away from him in this era.

Super Spider-Man #280, spider-man swings down at a mysterious man in a back street who then turns out to be the Molten Man and grabs him by the ankle as he tears his own coat off

Liz Allen's half-brother is back.

No doubt he has a plan to cure himself of his nightmarish affliction and make the world a safer place.

No doubt Spider-Man does everything he can to wreck that plan and then congratulates himself when he does so.

Marvel UK, Savage Sword of Conan #4, the Devil in Iron by Robert E Howard, in a boris vallejo cover, conan swings his sword as a giant with a mace heads towards him

Marvel UK were clearly keen on using Boris Vallejo to drive sales. Four issues in and he's already been responsible for every cover.

I had the American original of this issue. I recall Conan going to an abandoned island, for some reason or other, and encountering a dead giant on a slab, one who's made of metal and, inevitably, comes back to life and starts killing everyone he meets.

Needless to say, his invulnerability to all harm doesn't save him from Conan.

I believe this tale may also include a giant python and a woman who's been asleep for centuries and knows nothing of the passage of time since she fell into her slumber.

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