Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Creepy Worlds of Alan Class.

If there's anything I associate with childhood coach trips it's the competition to see who could be the first to spot a sheep. Sadly, as my sheep-spotting blog's yet to take shape, I'll have to talk about the other thing I associate with such journeys, and that's Alan Class. For some of us, no 1970s' coach trip was complete without first stopping off to buy at least two or three of the things to read on the journey.

Of course, at the time I didn't know the odd-looking comics were published by Alan Class. I didn't find out who he was until the early 1990s when I saw an article about him and his work in the now long-defunct Comic World magazine but, with their short, fat pages and black and white reprints of what were obviously ancient tales, I knew such books must all be the product of one company.

Where those reprints came from was anyone's guess, as Alan Class comics weren't dated and gave no copyright information whatsoever. Some weren't even numbered, bearing instead mysterious letters to signify who-knew-what?

Creepy Worlds Alan Class
We kick off with a thief who, fleeing the cops, hides in a museum. When he recognises everything in the display room, he concludes that in a past life he must've been the famously nice pharaoh who's on display and, realising what a good person he once was, gives himself up. The twist at the end of this tale's great as we find out he's got it completely wrong and, as a child, he was once trapped overnight in the same exhibition room, becoming so traumatised by the experience that it turned him bad. Apparently it'd taken his psychiatrists years to help him forget about it.

Creepy Worlds Alan Class
Next, a witch takes revenge on a bunch of pirates who killed her husband, by shrinking them down and putting them in cages. It's a nicely macabre tale of the type I always associate with Alan Class, let down only by a lame last panel.

Creepy Worlds Alan Class
In a tale that feels like pure Stan Lee - although no writer's credited - a Western scientist's kidnapped by that well-known communist state of Uralia and forced to create for them the ultimate weapon. Needless to say he then uses the weapon to deliver them to justice - ie, the West. For some reason everyone in Uralia has a sign hanging from his neck featuring what's presumably the nation's symbol.

Creepy Worlds Alan Class
Next is a story of pure bafflement. After getting too big for its boots, the Earth's trapped in an ice age, dying, after all the other planets in the solar system ganged up on it and attacked it in an act of preemptive self-defence. Now the survivors contemplate whether to invade a planet in a far-off solar system in order to save themselves. When they vote no, the sun comes out, the ice age at an end. It seems God's rewarding them for doing the right thing, although it's never actually stated. I suspect it's the sort of tale that would've gone down better in 1950s America than in the more cynical land of 1970s Britain.

Creepy Worlds Alan Class
In our next story, a criminal takes refuge in a lab and decides to escape justice by using the matter transporter he finds there. The twist is that it's not a matter transporter at all. It's a time machine and he finds himself trapped in the age of the dinosaurs. I have to say the artwork on this tale is at times lovely. According to the Grand Comics Database, it's drawn by someone called Angelo Torres who I have to admit to knowing nothing about. Judging by this outing, the failing's clearly mine rather than his.

Creepy Worlds Alan Class
Next up, a man searches for pirate treasure, unaware the isle he's searching for it on is one of a whole bunch of floating islands that move around at random and is therefore not the one marked on his map.

Creepy Worlds Alan Class
Now, we're back to being a bit odd as a lonely man up a mountain meets a version of himself from a more advanced dimension - and his babe of a girlfriend. "Why oh why oh why can't I have a babe of a girlfriend like that?" he asks himself - although not necessarily in those words - and, wouldn't you know it, promptly bumps into this dimension's version of her.

Creepy Worlds Alan Class
After this, a greedy inventor's robots manage to make the entire population of his town redundant. It's only when he's sentenced to jail for a minor offense, by the robot judge he created, that he discovers the error of his ways and realises human emotions are more important than mechanical efficiency. I realised this lesson long ago which is why I choose to be over-emotional and hopelessly inefficient at all times.

Creepy Worlds Alan Class
Now, mankind's first encounter with aliens ends in a twist that anyone familiar with Farewell to the Master can see coming a mile away.

Creepy Worlds Alan Class
Speaking of being over-emotional and inefficient, a film director dumps his star who takes the news well by killing herself before returning from the dead to make another movie for him. You have to say that for a Hollywood superstar to kill herself because a director wants to make a movie with another actress seems a little extreme. I'd have thought she'd have been better off just calling her agent.

Creepy Worlds Alan Class
Three scientists discover a power that could make them all-powerful and then, one by one, disappear from the face of the Earth for no good reason. The message of this tale being there are some things man was never meant to know.

Creepy Worlds Alan Class
Finally, in a story so packed solid with plot holes that it's more hole than plot, a man desperate to impress the woman he loves uses the power of invisibility to make a fortune, only to discover he's gone back in time, she's not yet been born, and his money's now worthless. The thing's drawn by a young John Romita Sr and, although it's noticeably different from the style we'd later become used to, we can still see the familiar Romita ways showing through.

So there you have it, what feels like eighty five million stories packed into one square bound comic. Bearing in mind its cheap and cheerful nature and its use of stories that were old when Stonehenge was young, I was expecting not to be impressed by my adult re-acquaintance with it but I actually like a number of the tales, and the artwork appeals to me more than I thought it would. Plus, no one can deny Alan Class gave you value for money. In an age when they keep bringing back the icons of our youth, will we really have to wait forever for them to bring back the might and majesty of Alan Class?


cerebus660 said...

Snap! I always seemed to buy Alan Class comics whilst on holiday, back in the 70's. There was always an eclectic mix of strips, from the brilliant to the deadly dull. I first came across Ditko's Captain Atom, the THUNDER Agents, and assorted Marvel/Atlas monsters in Alan Class mags. But, like many others, I flogged 'em all many years ago in a momentary lapse of reason...

Steve said...

Apart from the comic reviewed above, my main memory of Alan Class is a Flash Gordon story featuring some sort of kangaroo-like creatures and a monster with a zillion eyes.

There was also a story about a man who ended up being part of a totem pole.

borky said...

God, I used to love these things! They introduced me to the likes of Herbie Popnecker, his artist Ogden Whitney, Wally Wood's THUNDER stuff, and so much else!

And the fact they were uncoloured seemed to make them somehow almost even more magical.

I even encountered the female version of my own name, Alana, in the form of an enchanting little girl, for the first time, in one of them, and had a premonition decades later I'd have a daughter of that name - and I did, too!

Dougie said...

I also discovered the Thunder Agents in Uncanny Tales and Captain Atom in Creepy Worlds. I remember some Marvel stories too. Giant-Man and the first appearance of the villainous Black Knight and Spider-Man's seemingly interminable Doc Ock storyline from late '67. My impression as a kid was that the characters and stories were always third-rate!
Alan Class comics were, theefore,probably the choice I'd make before Charlton (in other words, if absolutely no Mavrels or DCs were available) and yes, they only seemed to be available at bus and railway stations!

Steve W. said...

I had an Alan Class comic with Giant-Man vs the Human Top. I know it's not a well regarded story but I always liked it. I also had one with Daredevil vs Mr Fear. And, like so many others, I too got my first exposure to Captain Atom through the comics of Alan Class.

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