Tuesday 1 June 2010

The Titans Annual 1977. A sideways look at a non-sideways book.

Titans Annual 1977, coverAccording to that infallible source of information we call Mr Google, The Titans was an unpopular comic unloved by readers because it shrank artwork to the size of a postage stamp, and feared by newsagents because it'd flop around hopelessly when stacked vertically. This is odd as I have nothing but happy memories of it.

For those not in the know, in 1975, someone at Marvel UK had the type of stroke of genius that leads to the invention of Post-It notes and decided to launch a comic that was printed horizontally rather than vertically. Because of the larger paper sizes used in British comics, this meant two pages of artwork could be printed on every physical page of comic, meaning that twice as much story could be crammed into each issue.

Granted, at a time when Marvel's weekly reprints were fast catching up on the US originals, printing twice as much material every week probably wasn't the wisest of moves but like I cared. I was getting twice as much super-hero action every Saturday. That's all that mattered to me.

It differed in one other way too. While the other Marvel UK's had a regular roster of strips, the Titans line-up changed on a regular basis, mostly because it concentrated on characters who'd often struggled to hold down their own title Stateside. And so, while the other UK mags gave us big-hitters like the Hulk, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and the Avengers, in The Titans we found the likes of the Inhumans, Agent of SHIELD and Captain Marvel.

1977's Titans annual however ignored all that and was printed vertically. It kicks off with a story in which the Sub-Mariner comes up against a slime monster from space. Apparently, it was first conceived as the second part of an Aquaman story but, when it was never used, Steve Skeates dusted it down and rewrote it as a Sub-Mariner tale. This does explain something that always baffled me as a kid and that was why the Sub-Mariner in this tale seems noticeably less powerful than he normally is.

Next we get the comic book equivalent of a clip show, as Captain America spends twenty pages looking back on his life and career, trying to decide if he should remain as Captain America. Rather surprisingly, at the tale's conclusion, he decides he shouldn't. Despite being one long string of flashbacks, Sal Buscema and Steve Englehart give us what has to be viewed as the best tale in the book.

I think I've mentioned before that I was never that fussy as a child. The only 1960s Marvel Comics I never liked were ones starring Nick Fury, and the Original X-Men. It's a bit of a shame then that, from this point on, the annual becomes an Original X-Men smorgasbord; first with a Werner Roth drawn look at the powers and prowess of Cyclops and then, with a Dashing Don Heck story wherein they come up against Frankenstein's Monster who turns out to be a robot from outer space. Frankly, it's a terrible tale. All the more so since Prof X knows all along the monster can be defeated by Iceman but refuses to let Iceman use his powers on it until the allotted twenty pages are up. Re-reading this juvenile run-around reminds me all over again of why I hated the 1960s X-Men.

Next it's back to Werner Roth for a look at the powers and prowess of Marvel Girl . Despite being written by Linda Fite, who I assume to be a woman, it seems Marvel Girl's powers consist mostly of picking apples, peeling apples, doing housework and picking up scissors. She then reveals that her greatest power of all is the power to get men leching after her in the street. Who says the 1960s were a different age?

We finish off with another Captain America tale. Why the Captain gets two stories when a whole bunch of characters who featured in the weekly comics are missing is anyone's guess. Bearing in mind the short-lived nature of many of The Titans' strips, maybe there were simply more unused Captain American back issues available but it's an odd tale, drawn by Frank Robbins, who seems to loom large in this blog. Cap Am's walking past an airport when, as you do, he decides to randomly climb aboard a plane. As luck would have it, it's full of criminals led by the notorious Dr Faustus. After messing about for a bit, Cap sorts it all out by calling the police and letting them deal with the bad guys. In terms of super-heroics, that might not be the most dynamic thing you've ever seen from a Marvel character but it probably is the most sensible. I like to think Cap was hiding in the toilets while the police were sorting things out.

In retrospect, it's an oddly disappointing annual, bearing little relation to the comic that spawned it and certainly isn't up to the standards of the other Marvel UK Annuals that came out that year. But so what? I don't care. It appeared in my life on Christmas Day and you're never going to feel ill-disposed towards anything that did that.


nyrdyv said...

Funny, many people when they first see copies of these thing there may have been some odd form of printing error.


Steven G. Willis

Anonymous said...

The first Captain America story sounds like CA #176, just before he quit being Cap for about eight issues (while taking up the mantle of Nomad in the meantime).

Linda Fite is indeed a woman - Herb Trimpe thought so too as he married her some 35-40 years ago, and I believe they are still together to this day.

The second Cap story I would guess to be #192, which came across almost as filler material-the next issue heralded the return of Jack Kirby and the "Madbomb" story that concluded, patriotically enough, with #200 in July 1976 (just in time for the US Bicentennial).

Why I can remember things like this but forget where I put my glasses is one of those things only other fanboys would understand....

B Smith

Steve said...

Hi, B. A quick check of the Grand Comics Database site tells me you're probably right about the numbers of the Captain America issues.

As for your glasses, I find that when I can't remember where I left my glasses, I'm probably still wearing them.

Darci said...

Linda Fite used this same Marvel Girl feature to fill the space left over in The Cat #4 when the hastily-prepared Man-Bull story wasn't long enough. It was her second-published work, after a story in the back of Rawhide Kid #67.

(I wonder if you're familiar with Charma from Legion of Superboy #s 221 and 240?)

Steve W. said...

I don't think I'm familiar with Charma. The name doesn't ring a bell.