Sunday, 10 December 2017

Forty years ago today - December 1977.

As I sit here, typing this deathless prose, snow is falling from the skies, and the streets are being increasingly buried beneath a pure-white blanket. Faced with such nightmare horror, there's only one thing I can do.

And that's to rush straight out into it, leap onto my Time Toboggan and hurtle, full speed, down the Hill Of Nostalgia until I crash, face first, into the massive great snow bank that is 1977!

Avengers #166, Count Nefaria

The Avengers are still battling against the nefarious schemes of Nefaria - which is a shame, as I always get this incarnation of him mixed up with Graviton and can't remember which tale it is in which what happens.

I think I may have just reinvented the English language in that last paragraph. That's how powerful Nefaria is. He even has the power to warp English into something unrecognisable.

Conan the Barbarian #81

It's another day at the office for Conan.

Captain America #216, the Human Torch

I'm slightly confused. At first I assumed the Human Torch in this issue was the revived Original Torch, destined, no doubt, to disappointingly pop his clogs at the end of the tale, as he seemed to whenever he was revived.

However, the character on the cover does look much more like the modern version and I therefore assume it is he instead.

I suppose that makes more sense, as it's hard to see how the original could be in a 1970s tale when his body was, at the time, being used by the Vision.

Fantastic Four #189, the Original Human Torch

And speak of the devil...

Yes, no sooner have I finished crafting that earlier paragraph than the Original Human Torch does indeed put in an appearance.

My razor-sharp senses tell me this is a reprint of the 1960s tale in which the flaming fighter of fiendishness was resurrected by the Mad Thinker, only to turn against his resurrector in a tale that then led to the Silver Surfer meeting Quasimodo whose untrustworthy activities were enough to convince him that humanity needed to be taught a lesson.

Given that Quasimodo was blatantly not human, this seems like a strange conclusion for the Surfer to have drawn. But, then, you always got the feeling the Surfer was always looking for any excuse he could find to turn against humanity.

Regardless, I'm pretty sure the Original Torch pops his clogs at the end of this tale, just for a change.

Incredible Hulk #218, Doc Samson vs the Rhino

It's good to see Doc Samson being as positive as ever.

To be honest, I find it very hard to believe the Rhino has just beaten the Hulk, seeing as the Hulk mostly swatted him like a fly in every encounter between the pair of them that I ever read.

Iron Man #105, Jack of Hearts

Marvel's attempts to make a major character out of Jack of Hearts continues as he comes up against Iron Man. I wonder at what point they realised it was never going to happen?

Amazing Spider-Man #175, the Punisher and the Hitman

In retrospect, it was quite tiresome how gun-toting psychopaths kept showing up in 1970s Spider-Man comics but it seemed exciting and modern at the time.

Spectacular Spider-Man #13, Razorback

Hooray, it's the debut of one of the few super-heroes named after a pig.

Come to think of it, was he the only super-hero named after a pig?

Admittedly, when I say, "Hooray," I don't remember him being particularly sensational. My main memory of him is that he drove a big lorry and was constantly saying things like, "Ten-Ten," for no good reason.

Come to think of it, it's making me miss the gun-toting psychopaths now.

Still, if I recall correctly, he did help Spidey defeat Brother Power and Sister Sun, so he must had had something going for him.

I do believe this tale leads to a clash with the Man-Beast/Hatemonger, which is no bad thing.

Thor #266, Loki and the Destroyer

I do believe that, in this tale, the Destroyer is being powered by the consciousness of Balder and is giving Thor a good slapping. Other than that, I can say little of what happens.

X-Men #108

I do believe this is John Byrne's first issue on the strip, even though Dave Cockrum drew the cover.

At the time, of course, we had no way of knowing it'd be a permanent switch, nor have any idea of just how important it'd prove to be.

The change was a disappointment to me at the time, as it meant we didn't get to see Cockrum finish the story arc he'd done so much work on but it was always a pleasure to see the work of Byrne who was one of my favourite artists even before he took over the strip.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

December 7th, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

I'm currently watching a Star Trek episode in which the crew encounter a bunch of aliens who don't know what love is and don't know what kissing is. I'm sure it's only a question of time before Captain Kirk fully enlightens them.

By my reckoning, he's also just twenty five minutes away from destroying their god, causing societal collapse and then flying off into space, abandoning them to their fate, and expecting them to thank him.

But if those aliens don't know what love is, we certainly do.

Love is that thing all sensible people feel for comics.

And that can only mean one thing.

That it's time to look at what the loveliest comics company of them all was giving us almost exactly forty years ago.

Marvel UK, Savage Sword of Conan #2

Judging by the book's first two issues, Marvel UK seem to have had a policy of hitting the market hard, with Boris Vallejo covers, in order to arouse maximum interest from those scanning the news racks for something to read.

They were of course right. Who wouldn't be tempted to buy something that had a Boris Vallejo painting on the front of it?

I had the American original of this one. I remember it involving a sorcerer who had a well in his citadel, via which he could see into the future and the past and had used it to bring a tyrannosaurus into the Hyborian Age.

I think this may be the story that first introduced me to the word, "Citadel." Yet again, comics had proven their educational worth.

As for the dinosaur, with a grim inevitability, it escaped and Conan had to fight it.

With an equally grim inevitability, he beat it. They should have let Conan loose in Jurassic Park. The film would have been over in about five minutes, with him on the loose.

Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain #252, Photon

"Now it's your turn, chum!" Why do I get the feeling this issue's cover copy was written by the same person who used to do the cover copy for Captain Britain's mag?

Regardless, Spider-Man's team-up with Nova continues.

Didn't this tale involve the theft of a top secret prototype of some device or other?

I also remember it involving a speedboat chase, which was nice.

Rampage #8, Attuma

It's Attuma's turn to get his bottom kicked by the world's most overpowered super-team.

I don't like to be harsh but, much as we all love him,  I fail to see just what Hawkeye can bring to the table, given the power levels of his team mates. I mean, getting hit by a stun arrow's not really on a par with being punched in the face by the Hulk, is it?

Mighty World of Marvel #271, Hulk vs Mongu

Despite being on Earth, with the Defenders, fighting Attuma, the Hulk also manages to be on another planet, fighting Mongu II.

By the looks of it, he could do with Hawkeye's help.

Complete Fantastic Four #11, Dr Doom

As predicted by several commenters last week, Dr Doom makes his dastardly return.

I could be wrong but I think this tale may involve Darkoth turning against his creator.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Marvel Lucky Bag - December 1977.

It's the first week of the month!

And that means it's time for me to once more leap into my time car and drive headlong into the world as it was forty years ago for Marvel's less celebrated titles.

And I'm starting to see why they were less celebrated. Normally, a month produces a whole bunch of issues that are worthy of scrutiny but I have to say that December 1977 seems to have been a cursed cover date, as that month's Marvel publications provided very slim pickings indeed. Out of all of them, I really couldn't find any covers that screamed out at me as being worthy of inclusion.

But I'm nothing if not determined to fill a web page with meaningless words, and so, bravely undeterred, I've decided to post the following six covers as being slightly above the others when it comes to matters of intrigue.

Rampaging Hulk #6, the Sub-Mariner

I don't care what it says in that blurb; those depths don't look at all dark to me.

Regardless, given that the early Rampaging Hulk tales took place in the period straight after the scrapping of the Hulk's first Silver Age comic, I think this might technically be the first ever meeting of our hero and the Sub-Mariner.

I'm struggling to recall exactly what happens in it, other than that they have a fight, but I do vaguely recall the Krylorians in some way being responsible for the clash.

For an alien race who had marginally less credibility than the Ferengi, the Krylorians did manage to cause a remarkable amount of trouble.

Marvel Comics' The Flintstones #2

I've posted this as a reminder that, although we all think of Marvel as the home of super-heroes, the 1970s was also the era of licensed properties for the company.

Admittedly, in this case, it wasn't the era of the Flintstones for long, as the title only lasted for nine issues before disappearing from the spinner racks.

Marvel Classics Comics #30, the Arabian Nights

Not that I'm shallow but I can never see the phrase, "Arabian Nights," without thinking of the Banana Splits TV show and shouting, "Size of an elephant!"

I'm sure, however, that this comic did its best to put me - and people like me - right.

Admittedly, putting a man the size of an elephant on the front cover probably wouldn't have helped.

Howard the Duck #19

Am I to take it that, in this issue, Howard decides to retire from being a duck?

How peculiar.

And how unlikely.

Marvel Classics Comics #29, The Prisoner of Zenda

Marvel give us yet another of their literary adaptations.

To be honest, I always get the Prisoner of Zenda mixed up with The Man in the Iron Mask and don't know where one ends and the other one starts.

Marvel Premiere #39, The Torpedo

Hooray! Marvel Premiere gives us the adventures of the Torpedo!

For some reason, I know who the Torpedo is. Why I know who he is, I have no idea. Did I once read one of his adventures?

If so, I don't have a clue where.

Anyway, with that cover, Al Milgrom gives us his best Steve Ditko impression.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Fifty years ago this month - December 1967.

In this month of 1967, the least appropriately named radio show of all time was launched, as Radio 4 gave us the legend that is Just A Minute.

Far from lasting just a minute, the show has now lasted for fifty years - with exactly the same presenter at the helm from then until now. Bearing in mind that the guilty man - Nicholas Parsons - wasn't in the first flush of youth even in 1967, it does seem quite astonishing that he should still be going strong in the role even now.

But, of course, this revelation means that I shall have to tackle the subject of what our favourite Marvel heroes were up to fifty years ago, in one minute, without hesitation, repetition or deviation.

Can I do it?

Can I?

Obviously not, as I've just repeated and deviated in one go.

Rargh! These things are far harder than Kenneth Williams ever made them seem.

Avengers #47, Magneto

Don Heck and Frank Giacoia give us what feels to me like a very un-Avengers kind of cover.

I suspect the story within is the one in which Magneto and the Toad return to Earth, after escaping the clutches of the Stranger and proceed to try and re-recruit the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, causing a chain of events that will lead to the creation of the all-new, all-improved, all-heroic Black Knight.

Daredevil #35, the Trapster

Is this the one where the Trapster disguises himself as Daredevil in order to gain access to the Fantastic Four headquarters?

A full two issues before Doctor Doom decides to disguise himself as Daredevil in an attempt to gain access to the Fantastic Four headquarters?

Obviously you expect comic book plots to get recycled but you expect a slightly bigger gap between recyclings than two issues.

You also expect Dr Doom to be able to come up with a classier plan than the Trapster can.

Fantastic Four #69

The Thing's still on the rampage.

Oh well, at least he's not disguised himself as Daredevil in order to gain access to the Fantastic Four's headquarters.

Amazing Spider-Man #55, Doctor Octopus

It's a classic cover, as Doc Ock continues to be the worst lodger ever and Spider-Man tries to do something about it.

Strange Tales #163, Nick Fury, agent of SHIELD

I don't have a clue what's going on in the Nick Fury tale but, apparently, the back-up strip features Dr Strange having problems with the Living Tribunal. I think an attempt at rescuing Victoria Bentley from some dread realm might be involved.

I assume this wasn't the same dread realm that Barbara Norris was trapped in. Women did have a remarkable knack of getting trapped in dread realms when Dr Strange was around.

Tales of Suspense #96, Captain America

Is this the one where Captain America's revealed his secret identity to the world, and now everyone's out to kill him?

Tales to Astonish #98, the Sub-Mariner

I do believe that, in this tale, thanks the activities of the Plunderer, the hated surface dwellers drop depth charges on Atlantis, causing yet another war between that kingdom and the planet's air breathers.

Thor #147, Loki

Loki decides to take advantage of Thor's reduced powers, by giving him a good old lesson in fisticuffs - and inadvertently causes the creation of The Wrecker while he's at it.

I'm not totally sure what Odin's up to on that cover.

X-Men #39

I take it the Mutant-Master is still causing trouble.

Did he ever return after this tale? I have no recollection of him ever even being mentioned again. Surely even a malevolent space octopus deserves a second story at some point.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

November 30th, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

This is it, music lovers! Grab your bagpipes and get strolling through those glens, in your wellies, because, forty years ago this week, Wings' unstoppable Mull of Kintyre leapt five places to claim the Number One slot on the UK singles chart.

It was a grip it would refuse to release for week after week after week and, when it finally let go, it had sold over two million copies to become the UK's biggest selling single of all time.

Not only that but it had seized the Number One slot by holding off the mighty challenge of Queen's We Are The Champions and Status Quo's Rocking All Over The World; two songs that would surely have been destined to reach Number One in any normal period.

And it wasn't just a big week for bagpipes. It was also a great week for technology, with the launch of British Airways' London to New York Concorde flights.

While, elsewhere, the TCP/IP test succeeded in connecting three ARPANET nodes in what would eventually become the Internet Protocol. I think we all remember where we were when that breakthrough was announced.

Meanwhile, on the 28th of the month, jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp recorded On Green Dolphin Street, the first digitally recorded album to be commercially released in the USA.

What a strange mixture of the retro and the futuristic that week had turned out to be.

Anyway, with seismic events like that unfolding, Marvel UK were clearly going to have to give us something special to divert our attention away from such history-making drama.

Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain #251, Nova

And they did give us something special!

They gave us the first meeting of what they described as, "Marvel's two greatest heroes!"

Granted, one of those heroes might not have quite lived up to his half of that billing - what with him being a thinly disguised retread of the other - but it did at least draw together two of the eight million strips that Sal Buscema was pencilling at the time and gave us a tale of murder and intrigue.

I could be wrong but I think that, inside, Spidey was also still teaming up with Captain Britain.

It was like he couldn't fight foes on his own anymore.

Rampage #7, the Defenders

I genuinely don't have a clue what's going on in this one but it would appear the Defenders' foe is so mighty that the combined power of Namor, Dr Strange and Valkyrie isn't enough to stop him, which means the Silver Surfer has to chip in too.

If it takes all that to thwart him, it sounds like he must be the greatest villain in the history of Marvel Comics.

Complete Fantastic Four #10, Darkoth

Hooray! Darkoth the death demon makes his hell-spawned debut in a tale I've still never read and know only from it being mentioned in that book of monsters I'm always going on about.

But does that right-hand cover blurb mean the back-up tale reprints the FF's first ever encounter with Doctor Doom?

Mighty World of Marvel #270, the incredible Hulk

It's all gone a bit Planet Hulk as our anti-hero gets to fight Mongu II.

Did he refer to himself as, "Mongu II?"

If so, that's a bit weird, bearing in mind that Mongu I never existed and was just a Russian agent pretending to be a space alien.

Meanwhile, speaking of villains who are not the original article, Daredevil and the Black Widow are up against Mr Fear III in a tale I first encountered in an Alan Class comic.

Elsewhere, Captain Marvel battles to free himself from the mind of Rick Jones, otherwise known as Bucky II.

And who can blame him?

Let's face it, who'd want to be stuck in the mind of Rick Jones? All that self-pity would send you mad.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Forget Gal Gadot. Let's celebrate the real Wonder Woman.

As everyone knows, Steve Does Comics has always been the world's main bulwark against despotism, and this week has been no exception, with it over-seeing yet another of its votes upon which the fate of civilisation itself might hang.

And that was the vote to discover just who had the most groove; the Bee Gees or Michael Jackson.

Millions voted and, after consultation with the UN electoral observers, I can proudly announce that the results of the poll are as such:

  • Michael Jackson. 5 votes.
  • The Bee Gees. 8 votes.
  • "I can't decide." 1 vote.
  • "Neither of them have the levels of groove that I have." 4 votes.

And so it's official. The Bee Gees were groovier than Michael Jackson. In fact, according to the poll results, they were a hundred and sixty percent groovier than Michael Jackson - and that's an awful lot of groove to have.

But what could be groovier than even that?

Batman could.

After all, he was the man who invented the Batusi, surely the greatest dance of all time and one that I still insist on performing every time I go down the disco.

But Batman almost wasn't the only super-doer to be given the TV treatment back in the grooviest decade of them all because, powered by the triumph of that show, William Dozier, its executive producer and narrator, decided to have a second stab at success by launching a Wonder Woman show.

And that show is posted above, in the form of a 1967 five minute try-out that was made to see if it could tickle the fancy of studio executives and lead to an entire series being commissioned.

Amazingly, it couldn't.

I wish I could claim the world missed out on a golden opportunity to thrill to the adventures of Diana Prince long before Lynda Carter, Gal Gadot or even Cathy Lee Crosby came along but such a claim would be madness as, quite frankly, it has to be the worst five minutes of television I've ever seen.

For a show that was designed to cash in on the success of Batman, it seems strange that, other than Dozier's narration, he imported nothing of the feel of the Batman show. Instead, we get a weird low-level sitcom that would even insult the intelligence of someone who thought On the Buses was the height of Wildean wit.

Oh well, at least its failure to be commissioned means that its star Ellie Wood Walker escaped a fate worse than death.

Oddly enough, her reflection in the try-out was played by Linda Harrison, perhaps best known as Nova in the original Planet of the Apes movie, which meant she went from playing a reflection to playing a woman who probably wouldn't recognise her own reflection. Acting, it's not always a dignified profession.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

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

In this week of 1977, ABBA were at Number One on the UK singles chart with Name of the Game.

But, elsewhere on that chart, Punk and New Wave were starting to make their presence felt, with Elvis Costello's Watching the Detectives, Tom Robinson's 2-4-6-8 Motorway, the Boomtown Rats' Mary of the Fourth Form, The Jam's Modern World and the Sex Pistols' Holiday in the Sun all featuring.

Then again, upon that chart, we could also find the Carpenters, Crystal Gayle and The Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, while the determinedly alarming Ram Jam Band were battling it out with The Dooleys, and Kenny Everett was going head to head with Nazareth. Truly the singles chart of 1977 was a schizophrenic place indeed.

Speaking of which...

Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain #250, Dr Faustus

He might be a master of psychology but that doesn't mean Dr Faustus can't get physical.

If I remember right, the sinister psychiatrist's plan is to convince Spider-Man that he's his ally, so he'll help him commit a robbery. I remember Doctor Octopus having also used this self-same tactic many moons earlier.

Needless to say, just as Octopus failed in his bid, the Freudian felon also comes a cropper, as our hero quickly regains his senses and lets his fists give Faustus and his men the aversion therapy they've been asking for.

Rampage #6, the Defenders

My first assumption was that the large character on this cover is the Living Colossus but, as far as I'm aware, Livvie is a good guy who even once tackled  the might of Fin Fang Foom for the good of humanity, while the individual on this cover appears to have nothing in his heart but ill will.

On other matters, I espy the Valkyrie making her first appearance on the title's cover and clearly setting out to emulate more established heroines like Sue Storm by finding herself in the grip of a giant hand on her debut frontispiece.

The Complete Fantastic Four #9

Speaking of Sue Storm, this is it. As predicted by Colin Jones last week, this is the issue in which Reed Richards zaps his own son in order to stop him doing something or other.

To be honest, I'm not sure what it is he's zapping him to prevent but it's clearly something potentially hazardous.

Maybe he was about to explode or something. I hate it when people do that.

I do believe this issue's back-up strip reprints the Silver Age revival of the Sub-Mariner, caused, of course, by the Human Torch dropping him into some water and restoring the trunks-wearing warmonger's memory.

Mighty World of Marvel #269, Daredevil vs Kilgrave and Electro

How on Earth is Daredevil still alive? He's just been simultaneously shot by two people (one of whom seems to be aiming for his genitals) and electrocuted by a third.

And still Killgrave and Electro are trying to get him to surrender. I would have thought that, after a triple whammy like that, surrendering wouldn't even be an option.

Still, it's good to see Daredevil get a cover in a comic that's normally dominated by the Hulk.

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