Monday 28 February 2011

I can hear music

Strange is the human mind and, just as we have a tendency to associate certain smells and sounds with certain places and events, so we can come to associate certain songs with certain objects.

Thus it is that, for various reasons - some straightforward and some more arcane - I tend to associate certain songs with certain comics I read as a kid. In one of my attempts to be inclusive, I thought I'd share which songs I associate with which comics and ask if you have any similar song/comic associations.

Nightmare #17, Kim Wilde and Kids In America

Kids in America by Kim Wilde, with Nightmare #17.

For some reason, I never appreciated Kimberley's monster early-1980s hit at the time but have come to recognise it as possibly that decade's finest three musical minutes. It was out at the same time as I first read the UK reprint of this comic.

In retrospect, I think the record was better than the comic.

Savage Sword of Conan #4, January by Pilot and Angie Baby by Helen Reddy

January by Pilot, and Angie Baby by Helen Reddy, with Savage Sword of Conan #4.

As mentioned elsewhere, I got this comic on a Sunday. Sunday was and is the day of Radio 1's UK singles chart countdown and I'm fairly sure both songs were played on that rundown on the day I first read this mag.

Nova #3, ELO and Shine A Little Love

Shine A Little Love by ELO, with Nova #3.

As Nova #3 came out in 1976 and ELO's Shine A Little Love came out in 1979, I don't have a clue why I associate these two things with each other but I do.
Mighty World of Marvel Annual 1975, David Essex and the Goodies and Gonna Make You A Star

Gonna Make You a Star by David Essex, with Mighty World of Marvel Annual 1975.

I remember David Essex being on Top of the Pops, doing the song in question as I read the annual for the first time. The Goodies were also present. They mimed the line, "I don't think so."

Avengers #66, Don Estelle and Windsor Davies and Whispering Grass

Whispering Grass by Don Estelle and Windsor Davies, with Avengers #66.

As I said mere days ago, I heard Don and Windsor while on a coach headed for Blackpool as I read the first part of this story in Marvel UK's weekly Avengers mag. To this day I can't see the panel where the Vision's stood over Wonder Man's grave without hearing those magical words, "I will not 'av gossiping in my jungle!"

Rampaging Hulk #9, Marshall Hain and Dancing in the City, Clout and Substitute

Dancing in the City by Marshall Hain, with Rampaging Hulk #9.

I seem to remember this being a hit around the same time I read Rampaging Hulk #9. The two are now inseparable in my mind, which is a bit of a shame as it's not a song that's ever overly interested me.

I also associate it with Substitute by Clout but there's no way I'm ever admitting to that on the Internet.

Mighty World of Marvel #5, ELO and Roll Over, Beethoven, Pond Street bus station

Roll Over Beethoven by ELO, with Mighty World of Marvel #5.

I remember singing this on Pond Street bus station escalators shortly after getting Mighty World of Marvel #5 from a nearby news kiosk. I don't think I liked the song at the time. I just liked the noise it made and also that "Beethoven" sounded like, "baked oven." The things that amuse you when you're eight.

Conan the Barbarian #5, ELO and On the Run

On the Run by ELO, with Conan the Barbarian #5.

There's a worrying amount of ELO on this list. I recall this playing on the radio while I was dutifully using my felt tips to colour this story in Fleetway's legendary 1972/3 Marvel Annual. Dave Lee Travis may have been the DJ. The fact that it'd taken me over six years to get round to colouring it in says everything about my dedication to the task.

X-Men #108, Gary Numan and Down in the Park

Down  in the Park by Gary Numan, with X-Men #108.

Now here's an odd thing. I remember hearing Gary Numan's We Are Glass on Radio 1 as I read this story for the first time, in Marvel UK's Rampage magazine. But, the human psyche being a perverse thing, it's not We Are Glass that I associate with the book but instead the more memorable Down in the Park.

If you sing Down in the Park without the accompaniment, it sounds like one of those nightmarish hey-nonny-nonny folk songs they always made us sing in primary school. This realisation always gives me more pleasure than it should.

So, am I alone in such madness? Or does this association between comic book and song afflict you as well? If it does, what songs do you associate with the comics you read as a child?

Sunday 27 February 2011

Let's all do the Mind Warp. Supergirl in Adventure Comics #420.

Supergirl Adventure Comics #420
DC Comics clearly liked to spoil us in the 1970s, giving us not only its hundred page mags but also its 52 page behemoths as well. So it is that Adventure Comics #420 gives us not the usual two, but four tales of derring-do and occasionally derring-don't.

After being followed by a strange probe, Supergirl follows its heat trail to a planet with a garden that can defeat all attempts at attack. I'd tell you what happens next but just trying to type a plot summary not only hurts my brain but robs my fingers of all will to go on.

All I can say is there's a goody-goody youth, three bad guys, an enemy army and a thing called the Mind Warp. For a while Supergirl goes a bit aggro and then the three bad guys go a bit aggro and, as far as I can make out, everyone but Supergirl's dead by the end of it all. It's OK to read, if a bit baffling but the fact that I can't force myself to explain its conceptual intricacies suggests it must lack a certain something.

I do though have to congratulate artist Tony De Zuniga on only giving us one gratuitous shot of Supergirl's backside in the entire tale, surely a record for a story from her shorts era.

Speaking of complete arses, next up we get the less than welcome return  of Animal Man who has to fight a gang of small-time crooks despite there never seeming to be any impressive animals nearby for him to mimic. In the end, he has to defeat them by using the powers of a fluffy bunny rabbit.

As the tale closes, Animal Man declares the nation's crooks had better watch out because he's going to wipe out all crime in the country, which seems a little ambitious considering he's having to rely on the powers of Mr Flopsy. Oddly enough, the local zoo has no animals, but the local pet shop sells gorillas. That's one hell of a strange town.

Now we get the tale of a thief who goes to a mysterious planet to steal a load of treasure guarded by nothing but a bunch of statues. I'd say it has a twist ending but if you've ever read anything of this type before, you'll have guessed the twist before you've even got past the first panel.

The issue finishes with its highlight as it reprints a story from Supergirl's dim and distant loopy era. In it, Superman investigates a giant egg that's been unearthed by an earthquake, and is promptly turned into a giant flying snake monster by its red Kryptonite shell. Thinking the monster he's become has killed Superman, the US government sets out to destroy him.

Fortunately for Supes, Supergirl comes along and realises what must've happened, meaning everyone just hangs around and waits till he turns back into Superman. This is what the main Supergirl tale lacked - simple-minded imbecility. But I say that ruefully, as such juvenile nonsense is actually a good thing in a Supergirl story.

Despite all that, the strangest moment of the issue has to come in the letters page when someone I won't name demands that DC Comics strips every single one of its super-heroes of their powers forever and gives them a non-super-powered sidekick, on the grounds it'll make the stories more compelling. Oddly enough it was an idea DC never followed up on.

Friday 25 February 2011

Fantastic Four Annual #5. "I will not 'av Psycho-Men in my Jungle!"

Fantastic Four Annual #5, Psycho-Man, the Inhumans and the Black Panther
So it's 1975 and I'm on a coach headed for that Las Vegas of the north; Blackpool. Before the journey's over, I'll be reading Barry Smith's first ever Avengers story while Don Estelle and Windsor Davies "sing" Whispering Grass on the coach radio. It probably doesn't reflect well on me that such a song can be the highlight of a coach trip but I don't care. The phrase "Guilty Pleasure" is unknown to me, as I refuse to feel guilt.

But, before that moment arrives, I'm reading this week's Mighty World of Marvel and, within it, the Fantastic Four's first encounter with a deadly new peril known only as Psycho-Man.

Psycho-Man is good. Psycho-Man can control the emotions of mere humans and thus have total power over them. Psycho-Man's smaller than the smallest germ and can only be seen because he's inside a human-sized robot he controls with the power of his will.

But there's something wrong. While Psycho-Man's head has a teeny tiny man inside it, inside my head there's a tiny voice that says this story isn't as good as I'm used to from the Fantastic Four. I don't know why - I'm only eleven, I have few critical resources - but it feels like a 100 watt bulb's been suddenly replaced with a 40 watt bulb.

A zillion years later, I read the tale again, as an adult, in Essential Fantastic Four Vol 4  and it has exactly the same effect. To my adult self, it's like virtually every Fantastic Four tale printed in the three years preceding this tale was a classic and virtually everything in the three years following it was no better than mediocre. The feeling's so stark I can practically point to the exact panel in this story when the Fantastic Four's Silver Age golden age ended.

At the risk of being daring, I'll say it's either panel three of page four, or panel one of page nine. The first instance is where a trio of totally unnecessary lackeys are introduced for Psycho-Man to boss around - including one who's dressed as a cowboy(!). In the latter, it's where the story suddenly goes off at a tangent to introduce the Black Panther's first ever encounter with the Inhumans. In both cases, you're left in no doubt that Jack Kirby's now being left entirely to his own devices by Stan Lee when it comes to plotting the strip, and we find the tale being driven along by what seems to be a random flinging together of ideas and action, rather than coherence and planning.

A large part of the problem is that, although it's advertised as a Fantastic Four tale, they're barely in it. This is the issue where we learn that Sue Richards is pregnant. As a result, she and Mr Fantastic are in no mood to go adventuring. Instead, with two of the FF out of commission, we suddenly get the story veering off to Wakanda as the Black Panther and the Inhumans have a fight before teaming up to take on Psycho-Man who, by total coincidence has set up base under an island off the coast of that kingdom (even though we were told three pages earlier that his base is in the Caribbean). Kirby's lack of interest in characterisation's thrust in our faces in this segment as the Panther and the Inhumans team up, despite neither party making any attempt to introduce themself to the other.

Once inside the villain's lair, the heroes are confronted by Psycho-Man's irrelevant lackeys and defeat them. Now, from nowhere, the Human Torch, the Thing and Triton suddenly arrive without explanation, and our veritable army of heroes find themselves confronted by Psycho-Man's creations drawn from their worst nightmares.

With that fight going nowhere, Gorgon shows up from wherever it is he's been and, handily, it turns out his foot-stamping power's the only thing that's effective against Psycho-Man's handiwork, before the Panther, who's been forgot about, launches himself at the villain to stop him. Suddenly, and without warning, from being arguably the greatest American comic book of the 1960s, the strip's lurched into a valley of mediocrity and redundancy it'll rarely escape until after Jack Kirby leaves. So, for some of us, the tale of Psycho-Man represents a minor watershed in comic book history.

Still, not everything was negative about that coach trip. I loved and still love the Barry Smith Avengers yarn and, to my eternal surprise, I still love Don Estelle and Windsor Davies' version of Whispering Grass. The Fantastic Four may have changed on that fatal day but it seems some things will always remain the same.

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Bringing it all back. The play's the thing.

Daredevil #1
As I'm sure you know, writing this blog's the only thing that stops me from plunging headlong into madness. So, I thought I'd give you the chance to allow it to serve your therapeutic needs as well.

Therefore the question I'm asking you is which super-heroes did you most pretend to be when you were a kid, and in what ways did you pretend to be them?

As I've mentioned before, the comic book characters I most pretended to be were Dracula, the Sub-Mariner and Daredevil, with Daredevil being perhaps the most imitated. Pretending to be Daredevil did, after all, give me the chance to indulge in my five great childhood passions; super-heroes, Lego, Meccano, lying down, and pretending to be a woman. I won't go into any detail other than to say, "Billy club, grappling hook, hauling myself into dangerous places, and Daredevil expected an answer from the Black Widow when he spoke to her."

I'm sure you have equally heart-warming tales from your own childhood, that you'd like to share with us. Or perhaps you don't. Either way I'd like to hear from you in that comments box below. Remember, you'd have to pay hundreds of pounds an hour to get this sort of service from a trained psychiatrist, while Steve Does Comics offers it for free. Truly they don't lie when they call this the Steve Does Comics Age of Primal Therapy.

Monday 21 February 2011

Nostrils and monsters. Life's a beach on the island of terror.

Mighty World of Marvel #176. Reprints the Incredible Hulk #170. The Hulk and Betty Ross/Talbot on an island of giant monsters.
Never explain and never apologise. Neil Gaiman once told me that.

When I say he, "told me," he told me nothing of the sort. I've never met him and he's never met me. That's probably for the best, as I have a much daintier nose than him and I'm told these writers can easily plunge into a jealous rage.

But the advice I began this post with, I read it in an article he once wrote, and The Incredible Hulk #170 (AKA, The Mighty World of Marvel #176) is a perfect example of its correctness, as, having seen off the Bi-Beast, the Hulk and Betty Ross find themselves on a mystery island. With no immediate way to leave, the Hulk takes on the role of protector and provider, while Betty Ross takes on the role of annoying woman who keeps running off and having to be rescued.

The island, you see, is home to a bunch of giant monsters. Where they come from and how they got there, we don't know. Not only that but the monsters themselves don't know. It seems they're from outer space but the hows, whys, whats and wherefores are so long forgotten they've degenerated into little more than animals. All we - and they  - know is they speak in cryptic symbols, without the aid of speech balloons, and they're very keen on killing Betty Ross. This means that, when she flees the Hulk one time too many, they take her off to be sacrificed, at which point the Hulk flings them to their deaths in a volcano, before a rescue helicopter arrives.

You can't get round it. With its almost total lack of clarity as to what's going on and the unlikelihood that such gigantic creatures could've remained undiscovered on a small island for what seems to have been thousands of years, it's tempting to write the whole episode off as a hallucination caused by the infected wound we know Betty has.The problem is I'm pretty sure the Hulk makes a reference to the monsters in a later tale, so it looks like if it was a hallucination it's one they were both sharing.

I've mentioned before that in 1975 The Mighty World of Marvel disappeared from my local newsagents, again without explanation and apology, but this was the first Hulk story I read upon its return. It seemed a strange tale then and it seems a strange tale now. And that strangeness lies at the heart of its appeal. However frustrating its lack of answers, it's that very lack of answers that makes it live long in the memory.

So, it looks like Neil Gaiman was right. There is a strength in not explaining things. Maybe I should write a post without any explanations. Maybe I should make a plaster cast of my nose and send it to him, leaving him none the wiser as to why. The power of mystery. The power of mystery.

Sunday 20 February 2011

Adventure Comics #415. Rolling the ball but rarely dropping it.

Adventure Comics #415. Supergirl, Animal Man and Zatanna
The good news is Supergirl finally has her powers back. No more of that exo-skeleta-cyborg or whatever the hell it was called.

The bad news is her battle to find a decent costume continues as the first tale in this 52 page comic sees her wearing an outfit as cluttered and badly assembled as the front cover's masthead.

After peeking through his interplanetary telescope, an outer space pirate's decided Linda Danvers is the only woman in the universe for him. Not knowing she's really Supergirl, he orders his Mister Spock lookalike lackey to kidnap her.

That's when it all starts to go wrong for the pirate. First, Supergirl rejects his advances, then his death-ray doesn't kill her. And then his Mr Spock lookalike lackey - upon discovering his commander's a wrong 'un - responds by disintegrating himself. Needless to say, within a few panels Supergirl's mopped up the bad guys and handed them over to the space police.

In the issue's second tale we're introduced to Animal Man. Now, up until reading this issue I knew nothing of Animal Man other than that he existed but it transpires he has the power of any animal on Earth but can only use the powers of creatures that're near him at the time. Round my way that means he'd have the power of kittens and hedgehogs but, in the story, this somewhat clumsy condition's got round by having the villain just happening to hang out on an island he's filled with deadly animals, giving Animal Man plenty of opportunity to use his abilities. It may be harsh to say it but, given the unwieldiness of his powers, and a certain sense of sappiness about him, I don't feel any great desire to see Animal Man again.

Next we get a second outing for Supergirl. It's supposed to follow directly on from the first but the fact she's wearing a completely different costume telegraphs that they were never meant to be linked. Mercifully she's now in what those of us of a certain age regard as Supergirl's real costume. You know - the one with the hot-pants and cleavage. After all the horribly fussy and seemingly randomly thrown-together outfits we've seen her in lately, it's a relief to see her in something that at least feels coordinated.

Sadly the story itself isn't of similar classic status as, returning to Earth from her adventure in space, Supergirl comes across a mad scientist in a satellite who wants to launch its missiles at us. It all goes belly-up for him when Supergirl destroys the missiles while he and his satellite burn up in our atmosphere. In just six pages, there are at least eight panels with the "camera" pointed straight at Supergirl's backside. DC were clearly determined to make full use of those hot-pants.

Finally, we get Zatanna.

I can't deny I have two problems with Zatanna. One is she keeps saying everything backwards.

The other is I can't see her without thinking she's Kate Bush.

For those unfamiliar with the Wuthering Heights singer, in her early days it wasn't altogether unknown for her to appear on TV in an outfit noticeably similar to Zatanna's, as she warbled away. Thankfully, she didn't insist on singing everything backwards, which, given Kate Bush's eccentric nature, is pretty much the only thing she didn't do.

No time for singing, Zatanna has to confront her father Zatara who's turned evil and is using his powers to destroy a city. It all ends happily when she kills him.

I seem to recall from childhood that Zatara was almost as big a source of problems for Zatanna as Odin was for Thor, so his death might be no bad thing but, as it turns out, she hasn't really killed him. She's just tricked the evil elemental who's possessing him into thinking she has, so it'll flee his body. Hooray to Zatanna - and well done to her on keeping her hat on through thick and thin.

Apart from the fact that I'm really not that interested in Animal Man, there're two things that strike me most about this issue. One is that - terrible costumes aside - Win Mortimer draws a rather lovely Supergirl. The other is how conventionalised the Supergirl strip's become by this point. There was a time when to open a Supergirl story was to know one was to be plunged into a whole world of socially irresponsible lunacy. By the time of Adventure Comics #415, nearly all that madness is gone to be replaced by an earnest sort of blandness. It's a shame. Although the more sensible stories don't threaten to damage the brain as much as their predecessors, there was something you couldn't help but like about those older tales.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Fourteen ways to spot if your neighbours are Inhumans.

There goes the neighbourhood. Marvel Comics, Inhumans #2
Thanks to a well-known Australian soap opera, we all know that everybody needs good neighbours. But how do we know if our neighbours are members of a highly advanced secret race that’s been super-evolved by a bunch of aliens to be used as an army in a future war with another bunch of aliens? Well, here’s where we find out.

They can’t get through a sentence without mentioning someone called Black Bolt who they expect to do absolutely everything for them.

They speak English as a first language despite being from South East Asia.

They can’t make their minds up if their house is in the Andes or in the Himalayas.

They all have super-powers but half of those powers are of no use whatsoever, like being able to swim, or being invisible but with a shadow that means everyone can still tell you’re there.

They’ll accept any madman as their king if he sticks a crown on his head and says he is.

They keep accidentally creating a dome of impenetrable energy over their house that they then can’t escape.

They speak only in exposition.

One of them used to be evil but is now good, and no explanation has ever been given for this.

They keep calling themselves a family even though it’s not clear in which way any of them are related to any of the others.

They think they can get what they want just by stamping their feet.

They say they’ll love you forever, in a love greater than all loves - and then promptly marry someone else.

Their weddings get gate-crashed by Ultron.

Even though they’re from a completely landlocked kingdom, one of them’s been genetically modified to only be able to live in the sea.

Their comic always gets cancelled after twelve issues.

Friday 18 February 2011

Horizontal heroics from a long-gone landscape. The Titans #1.

Marvel UK, The Titans #1
Has there ever been a greater comic book cover than that of Marvel UK's The Titans #1? What kind of comics fan could resist the sight of all those heroes rushing out of the page at him?

Of course, the other thing that leapt out at you when you first saw The Titans was that it was printed the wrong way up. Surely such a thing was madness but it was also genius, allowing twice as much content at no extra cost.

Admittedly, not all those heroes on the cover could exactly be called easily recognisable. Just who is, for instance, that blue man with the pointy ears behind Nick Fury?

But, if the cover wasn't packed entirely with what you could call Marvel "A" Listers, it was at least a reflection of the mag's not-always Top Line content as the issue kicked off with the Inhumans in a tale written as well as drawn by Jack Kirby, which means the dialogue's often made up of people just describing what's happening and we get a silly plot by Maximus the Mad to start a war between the Inhumans and humans by making the former think the Fantastic Four are firing missiles at them. The Inhuman Royal Family, having seemingly had lobotomies, all fall for this cunning ruse and, within mere pages, Black Bolt's all ready to declare war.

If the Inhumans are ready to launch into conflict, the next story starts in the thick of one as we get Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's 1960s retelling of Captain America's origin. At just ten pages, it can only be seen as a master class in compression - although it does bring home Captain America's irresponsibility in making a young boy his accomplice on deadly missions and it does beg the question as to why Captain America - who was presumably a captain - spent most of the war pretending to be a private instead of just being Captain America.

From one World War Two veteran to another as we're then given the first half of Nick Fury's first-ever adventure as Agent of SHIELD. It's not exactly a secret that I'm somewhat allergic to both Nick Fury and SHIELD but the story does at least feature a flying car, so it has something to appeal to me.

Next we get the issue's only real clunker as Stan Lee and Gene Colan give us the start of a Sub-Mariner epic in which Namor returns to Atlantis only to discover Warlord Krang has claimed the throne of Atlantis in his absence. It'd be easy to say one's outraged by this villainous behaviour but the truth is Namor acts like such a complete jerk in virtually every panel that when Krang has him flung into a cage to rot, you're hoping he spends the rest of eternity there. Sadly, Lady Dorma - who betrayed Namor to Krang in an attempt to win Namor's heart - then helps him to escape in order to try and win his heart. Those Stan Lee scripted women, eh?

Captain Marvel too finds himself threatened by a menace that arrives from underwater as he faces the Metazoid, a Soviet dissident who, exposed to experimental rays, has become a strange inhuman creature. The Metazoid's been told by his masters that if he kidnaps Mar-Vell's alter-ego - rocket scientist Walt Lawson - they'll restore him to normal. The tale's dominated by the Metazoid's struggles with his conscience and endless philosophising as he tries to work out whether he can justify kidnapping a man to return himself to normal. Surprisingly the haunted nature of the Metazoid makes the Captain Marvel tale the best story in the issue, marred only by the fact that some of the pages are printed out of order. Was this a consequence of the printers struggling to make sense of the new format or was it just one of those things that happens?

Throw in a John Buscema poster featuring a whole host of Marvel super-doers, and a plug for that year's Marvel annuals and there you have it; as far as I know, Britain's - and possibly the world's - first ever landscape format comic. I can't deny it, the format and the five stories per issue always made The Titans feel like something special to me. There was also something that appealed about the unpredictability of just what strips were going to be in it that week.

Have there been any comics since The Titans and Super Spider-Man that were printed in landscape format? It's a shame if there haven't because it was an ingenious idea and, when my destiny's finally fulfilled and I hold ownership of the American comic book industry in my talons, then the world had better beware, for I shall make sure the landscape format returns to once more bamboozle printers and newsagents alike.

Thursday 17 February 2011

How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. The missing link.

How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way, by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Back in the 1970s, when British television proudly proclaimed itself the best in the world, the biggest star on British TV was arguably a small dog that said, "Sausages," in the voice of Satan whenever its owner manhandled it.

Sadly the days of such quality broadcasting are long since gone but the usefulness of sausages to those involved in the arts remains.

From time to time I've been known to do the odd painting or drawing and I long ago taught myself to draw people by assembling them from hastily sketched sausages before properly defining their shape and detail. So, in the early 1990s, when I saw a copy of Stan Lee and John Buscema's How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way, in my local branch of WH Smiths, I had to buy it.

Disappointingly there wasn't a sausage in sight. In the world of Marvel, it seemed, all was done with stick figures, cubes and cylinders.

Fired up by this new-found knowledge, I had a try at drawing people the recommended way but I can't deny it, by this stage I was too set in my sausagey ways to be able to get the hang of building people up from stick figures, and my attempts to reproduce what Buscema was doing in the book's examples all failed miserably.

I'm also not sure it was written as clearly as it could be. I was never certain whether we were meant to replicate all the construction lines on the heads in the examples or if we were just supposed to imagine them as we drew. As for its claim that the human head is just a cylinder with bits cut off, I always found it better to think of it as an egg that was blunt at both ends. Sausages, eggs; if only I'd been able to work out a way to get bacon into it, maybe I wouldn't have made such a meal of it all.

Still, if the book failed in its principal aim of actually teaching me how to draw, at least I had fun looking at all the art in it and spotting whose work was being used. And I did learn to draw characters with their feet too wide apart, to impose a sense of drama and dynamism.

Sadly, despite its inherent promise of turning us all into John Buscema, as a guide to drawing comics and/or people, I really couldn't claim How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way is the best, or even particularly good. A book I bought around the same time, called Figure Drawing Without A Model by Ron Tiner, as well as having an awful lot more content jam-packed into it, proved far more useful and easier to emulate.

Now if only Marvel had ever had the sense to launch a super-hero called Sausage-Man, then my career in comics would've taken flight.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Avengers # 97, Part Nine, the Kree/Skrull War Finale.

Avengers #97 The Kree/Skrull War finale
After what at times has seemed a conflict to outlast the One Hundred Years War, we finally reach the grand finale of the Avengers' Kree/Skrull War and, possibly to the surprise of everyone except Roy Thomas, it all centres on Rick Jones.

On the face of it, bearing in mind this is meant to be an Avengers tale, that might seem perverse but, when we look at the whole thing in perspective, it becomes clear that, like the addressee in Billy Paul's version of Wings' Let 'Em In, we've been took, we've been had.

We can see that Roy Thomas hasn't been writing an Avengers tale at all. He's been writing a Captain Marvel tale and, because the Captain's own mag had been cancelled, Thomas had simply staged it in the Avengers' comic instead. That's why the epic kicks off with Captain Marvel and closes off with Rick Jones.

Finding himself trapped in the Negative Zone, it looks like it's worse than curtains for Rick, it's roller blinds, shutters and louvres all packed into one, until he discovers he can fire mind-beams from his brain that see off the threat of Annihilus.

Now Rick discovers he can fly though the Negative Zone purely by the power of thought. This brings him back to the Kree homeworld where he wills a bunch of Golden Age Marvel heroes into life to delay Ronan and his guards for long enough to send out another mind beam - via Captain Marvel - that immobilises the whole of the Kree and Skrull galaxies. We're told by the Intelligence Supreme that Captain Marvel's attempt to contact Rick and the Avengers through his Omni-Wave transmitter's released the latent psychic power in Rick that all humans possess. The only problem is this has proven too much for Rick to handle and Captain Marvel has to once again merge with him in order to save his life. So, the thing's gone full circle. It began with Mar-Vell and Rick Jones separating and ends with them reuniting.

It's interesting that the saga's run coincided with Marvel becoming America's biggest comic book publisher, seeing as the whole thing can be seen as a celebration of the company's history - from the Golden Age through the Silver and into the Bronze. With its incorporation of characters from throughout the company's various incarnations, the saga is in some ways the equivalent of those old Soviet May Day parades where the might of the Red Army'd be wheeled out and showcased for the world to see. If anyone was in any doubt that Marvel deserved its place as the new big kid on the block, the Kree/Skrull War seemed purpose-built to crush such thoughts. And when the Intelligence Supreme talks of the Kree and Skrull having stalled on the evolutionary ladder and hating the human race because they know deep down that, with its greater dynamism and ability to adapt, the human race is ultimately their superior, from Marvel's viewpoint he might as well have replaced the words "Kree" and "Skrull" with the letters "D" and "C".

So that's it. With a nine-part epic drawn by two of the artists most associated with Marvel's Silver and Bronze Age dominance and one previously poached from their rivals, Marvel had planted their flag at the summit of Mount Comic Book, a place they weren't in any hurry to concede.

Sadly no great deed goes unpunished and so, as the creative and commercial success of Sgt Pepper led to a whole slew of ghastly wannabe albums by less talented or just less cunning acts, so the Avengers Kree/Skrull War could be claimed to be responsible for a whole raft of multi-part cross-overs that haven't always covered the companies that created them with glory. Still, just as the Beatles can't be held responsible for the fact that others failed miserably to find lightning in the same bottle, it'd be wrong to blame this story for what it inspired. I know from reading it at the time that, back then, the concept was fresh, startling and exciting and led to at least one person grabbing a pencil to try and emulate it.

The main downside of the issue is that Neal Adams - the artist  most associated with the saga - isn't here to see it through but, apparently, deadline problems meant John Buscema had to step in to finish it off. It means the climax isn't as visually ambitious as it might've been - Buscema for the most part giving us good solid story-telling and sometimes stock poses rather than daring innovation but, given that the story centres around the company's history and, given Buscema's presence in a large chunk of Avengers history, it is perhaps appropriate he should cap off its first true epic.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

The Top Ten super-heroes with no reason to live.

As we all know, there's nothing better in the world than being a super-hero. You get to save humanity, a million times a week, and look good naked.

But there're some super-heroes for whom it has to be conceded there's no good reason for them to exist. So, compiled with the usual lack of thought, insight, wisdom, knowledge and planning I'm famous for, here's the official Steve Does Comics list of super-heroes with no reason to live.

10. The X-Men.
I'm not talking about the "New" X-Men, which we all know is arguably the greatest super-team of all time. I'm talking about the original X-Men, whose adventures completely failed to set the 1960s alight. The whole problem is they were clearly just a clumsy copy of the Fantastic Four, with Cyclops and Professor X standing in for Mr Fantastic, Marvel Girl standing in for the Invisible Girl, the Beast as the Thing, and Iceman and the Angel combining to fill in for the Human Torch. As Marvel already had one Fantastic Four, what did it need another one for? As if that inbuilt redundancy wasn't enough, they had to run around following orders - and what kind of super-hero wants to follow orders?

9. Mon-El.
The pseudo-Kryptonian may have been a Legion of Super-Heroes stalwart but he was just Superboy, wasn't he?

8. The Wasp.
She shrank down to the size of a gnat and then buzzed around, mildly annoying super-villains till they got fed up of her and invariably trapped her in a glass tumbler. She had a weapon - her wasp's sting - but it never seemed to do anything but irritate even the weakest of foes.

7. Ant-Man.
Henry Pym had the same powers as the Wasp - except he didn't have a sting and couldn't fly. So that'd basically be no powers at all apart from the ability to shrink and therefore be less of a threat to evil-doers than he was when he didn't use his super-powers. Let's face it, when you get down to it, shrinking isn't a super-power, it's an affliction.

6. Sif.
After the wimp-fest that was Nurse Jane Foster, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby gave Thor a new girlfriend in the indomitable warrior woman that was Sif. The only problem was, that for all her sword-waving, all Sif ever seemed to do was get kidnapped and have to be rescued. Frankly, you could've got Jane Foster to do that and at least she'd have given you a few bandages while she was at it.

5. Sons of the Tiger.
Marvel gave us Shang-Chi, master of Kung-Fu, and Iron Fist, master of Kung-Fu, so what it needed to do next was give the world three more masters of Kung-Fu, yes? No.

4. Duo Damsel.
Duo Damsel's power was that she was normally an ordinary woman but, with concentration, could turn herself into two ordinary women. This was even less impressive than it sounded, as she started out as Triplicate Girl who was an ordinary woman who could turn herself into three ordinary women. At the rate she was going, she was going to end up as Mono Woman, an ordinary woman who, with a lot of straining, could turn herself into an altogether different but identical ordinary woman. That'd teach the super-villains of this world.

Skull the Slayer #1. the top ten super-heroes with no reason to live
3. Skull the Slayer.
Skull the Slayer was a modern human trapped in a land where dinosaurs still roamed, which meant he was Marvel Comics' answer to Ka-Zar, a modern human who lived in a land where dinosaurs still roamed.


Hold on a minute.

Ka-Zar was a Marvel character.

So why did they need another one?
The Human Fly #1. Top 10 super-heroes with no reason to live.
2. The Human Fly.
I'm sure we all remember the Human Fly from our childhoods. He was like Evel Knievel, a stuntman who did daring things like standing on top of things. He had no super-powers and no one knew his true identity and so couldn't relate to him in any way. Naturally, with his power of standing on top of things, Marvel gave him his own comic. Naturally it only lasted nine issues.
Black Goliath #1, Top Ten super-heroes with no reason to live
1. Black Goliath.
Yay! We're Marvel Comics. Let's show our commitment to non-white readers by giving the world a brand new black super-hero who's just a dull copy of two other characters that Marvel already have, then lumber him with such classic foes as the Stilt Man. Sadly, the adventures of Black Goliath lasted just five issues.

Just to rub in how hand-me-down his powers were, the comic's star Bill Foster later became known as the Second Giant-Man and then the Fourth Goliath. Presumably he had to stand at the back of the queue if the other three Goliaths showed up.

Monday 14 February 2011

Supergirl's Adventure Comics #404. A super girl no more?

Supergirl's Adventure Comics #404, Starfire
Elton John once claimed that sorry seems to be the hardest word, which shows how much he knew because, with breath-taking ease I'm about to issue not one but two public apologies in one mighty bound.

The first is that in my Eliza Dushku exploiting post of two days ago, I claimed to be Gragsloo, nightmare fiend from the sewage. I should of course have spelt it "Graggsloo" and can only apologise to the Society of Silver Age Monsters for not using enough Gs in my name to strike terror into the hearts of mankind.

The other apology is that, as we all know, thanks to me getting carried away and buying far too many Supergirl comics for my own good, yesterday should've been my regular feature; Supergirl Sunday. Sadly, the urgency of serving up the poll results for Who's The Sexiest Comic Book Character Of All Time? while they were still hot meant I had to postpone the feature till today.

Happily, I've had a word with DC Comics and they've agreed to rename Supergirl "Mupergirl" from now on so I can make today Mupergirl Monday. I like to feel the difference'll be barely noticeable.

Well, today might be Valentine's Day but Adventure Comics #404 is a dark day for all lovers of Supergirl, as it marks the start of that dread period that seemed to drag on forever where every time there was a crisis, she promptly lost her powers. I can see that, for a writer, having a virtually all-powerful character must be frustrating, but having Supergirl's powers constantly switching on and off was even more frustrating for the reader.

But there's an even bigger problem. Part One of this story ended with the powerless Supergirl gunned down and killed in a hail of bullets. This issue kicks off with her still alive and only partially injured. Not that I want the always lovely Kara Zor-El to die but if someone's dead at the end of one issue, you don't really want them alive at the start of the next. Writers of the Fantastic Four be warned.

Anyway, as Kara's staggering back to her "secret HQ" - otherwise known as her apartment - her powers come back, lending her an instant recovery from her wounds. She goes to see the scientists of the bottled city of Kandor and, unable to sort out her condition, they give her a strength-boosting exo-skeleton (that, for some reason, they call an exo-skeleta-cyborg) and boots with jets in their heels. Now, whenever her powers fail her, Supergirl'll be able to fall back on technology.

Sadly, neither gadget's protection against being bashed on the back of the head and, while trying to foil a bank job, she's captured by Starfire, the villainess behind her loss of powers. Once Starfire's had her fun using her judo skills to toss Supergirl around the room for a while, Supergirl's powers kick back in and Starfire and her pet scientist flee, leaving our heroine to end the issue determined to find them and make them give her a cure for her condition. Why she hasn't found them already, bearing mind they only had a head start of about three yards and she has super-speed and magic vision and can fly, isn't explained.

Given the cop-out beginning and the start of the whole on-off powers thing, it's a tough task to feel affection for this issue. Also some of the action sequences - especially when Supergirl's tackling the all-female bank robbers - are not exactly handled with style by writer/artist Mike Sekowsky.

I suppose the one consolation of the issue is we get to see Supergirl naked, although the people fitting her with her exo-skeleta-cyborg preserve our blushes by standing strategically in the way of her more interesting parts. Mupergirl naked? Whatever would Muperman say?

Sunday 13 February 2011

Who's the sexiest comic book character of all time? Poll results!

Mary Jane Watson, Face it, Tiger... you just hit the jackpot! John Romita, Amazing Spider-Man #42. Who is the sexiest comic book character of all time?
Did Mary Jane hit the jackpot?
Get that tiara ready, break out that sash, because the results of our hottest poll ever are in. At last, the Internet's revealed who it deems to be the sexiest comic book character of all time. In the grand old tradition, I'll be giving a quick verse of Isn't She Lovely? before doing the results in reverse order.

With no votes we have Stalin, The Daughters of the Dragon, Gullivera and Druuna. The failure of Gullivera and Druuna was especially surprising to me, mostly because I've never heard of them and am therefore surprised to discover they even exist. Still, whoever they are, they can console themselves that they are at least as sexy as Stalin, who I have heard of.

With a mighty single vote each it's Hellina, and Val from SHIELD. Sadly, the only comic book Val I'd have voted for wasn't among the nominations.

On two votes apiece it's Gwen Stacy and Phoenix. Cyclops will be so disappointed.

On three votes it's the Black Canary and Sue Storm.

Steve Does Comics favourite Mary Jane Watson shows Gwen Stacy what it's all about by coming second with a healthy five votes.

The Black Widow by John Romita. The sexiest comic book character of all time?
The Black Widow contemplates how she's going
to use her Steve Does Comics "Sexiest Character
in Comics" Award.
But the supreme champion, with a walloping nine votes, crushing all opposition like bugs, is Madame Natasha Romanoff, AKA the Black Widow. I must confess that, despite my liking for Mary Jane, I too voted for the Black Widow. It just goes to show the lasting appeal of skin-tight leather. Or was it rubber? I was never too sure.

Anyway, thanks to all who voted, and congratulations to the Black Widow, even though she doesn't exist and therefore such congratulations are wasted.

Now I have to go away and think about it; now that we know what the Internet thinks, should I draw up my own personal Top Ten sexiest characters list? After all, we all know how the Internet loves a Top Ten.

Saturday 12 February 2011

Of Eliza Dushku, sewage and super-heroes.

Eliza Dushku
By Toglenn (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], 
via Wikimedia Commons.
Reader, before you read this post, can you guess why Buffy the Vampire 
Slayer's Eliza Dushku is appearing in a comics blog?
As I picnic in the Elysian fields of Blackburn Meadows sewage works, people often say to me, "Steve, what's your favourite super-hero movie of all time?"

And I say to them, "Why are you on a sewage farm?"

And they say to me, "I work here. Why are you on a sewage farm?"

And I say, "Because I'm Gragsloo, unstoppable fiend from the slurry, that threatens all mankind."

At which point they defeat me with a simple but ingenious trick before turning to an audience that isn't there and explaining how they did it, while giving a warning that although Gragsloo was defeated this time, mankind must be always-vigilant in case such monsters should ever rise once more.

Still, all this being defeated at least gives me time to think about what's my favourite super-hero movie.

There're super-hero movies that're so bad they become hypnotic, like Halle Berry's Catwoman, or Ghost Rider in which Nicolas Cage's hair and teeth seem to be twenty years younger than the rest of him and, unlike Nicolas Cage, have a life all their own.

Then there're ones that seem to have no point to their existence, like The Phantom and the eight million different Punisher movies.

There are of course the vast bulk of such films, that're just mediocre, like the Fantastic Four or Daredevil.

The first couple of Christopher Reeve Superman movies were OK but in all honesty, for me, weren't as enjoyable as the first season of Lois and Clark.

Apart from the Adam West movie, the Batman films have never done it for me. I'm just not sure I'm interested enough in Batman as a character to be gripped by his adventures.

Nope. When you get down to it, the only super-hero films I can think of that I've really enjoyed have been the X-Men movies and the first two Spider-Mans. Unlike most people, I liked X-Men 3 as much as its predecessors.

But I can't get round it. The first two Spider-Man films are my favourite super-hero flicks of all time, with Spider-Man 2 standing triumphant at the pinnacle.

There're those who'll argue Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst were miscast, and it's true that they really weren't the Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson I grew up with - I've always seen Dunst's Bring It On co-star Eliza Dushku as more the Mary Jane type - but Dunst and Maguire were perfectly suited to playing the characters as they were written in the movie. I also know a lot of people feel Spider-Man 2 sags like a failed soufflé, in the section when Spidey loses his powers but that's my favourite part of the movie.

For me, Spider-Man 2 took everything that worked in the first film and built on it while dumping the stuff that didn't work (like hiding the villain's face behind an immobile plastic mask). It should also be praised for making Dr Octopus seem genuinely threatening. Something he rarely managed to be in the comics after his first appearance.

So, despite my death at the hands of an ordinary citizen who talks to himself, that's my venture into film review done. Now I have to get back to my sewage. For, as long as humanity is foolish enough to dump his waste in such places, there is always the chance that Gragsloo might yet rise again to menace mankind.

Friday 11 February 2011

Annuals I wish I'd had. Part One.

As I roam the streets of Sheffield, one of the things I get asked most often is, "Steve, when you walk into a room, do you have a theme tune playing in your head, to herald your arrival?"

And I say, "Why yes. I do. It's this:

"with its pounding timpani, blaring fanfares and spaced-out electro-funk, I like to feel it captures me perfectly."

But of course, even when you've got the fact that you're the hugely successful creator of one of the Internet's most fabulously fabulous blogs to keep you warm at nights, it's not all plain sailing. And so this... what I have playing in my head when something bad's happened to me, such as I've run out of biscuits.

I must admit this post has only a tenuous link with comics but it does have one, as I own several
Space: 1999 annuals but I'm not aware that there was ever a Sweeney annual. Possibly such lines as, "Get your knickers on, you slag, you're nicked," were, on reflection, unsuitable for children - although that never stopped me, or any other kid I knew, from watching it.

Come to think of it, I don't think there ever was an I Claudius annual either. I can't deny I always saw a kindred spirit in Caligula. If only he'd had his own theme tune - and a blog - like I have, I like to feel it'd all have turned out so much better for him and he would never have had to utter that immortal line, "Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!"

Thursday 10 February 2011

Phantom Stranger #36. Gold! I'm indestructibowl.

Phantom Stranger #36, Jim Aparo, gold and treachery in the jungle
As I'm sure you know, I often venture into weird worlds. Not only that but I'm in the habit of hanging around behind bushes, eavesdropping on other people's conversations and then leaping out from behind those bushes to hand out a quick lecture; "David Smith, if you use an ordinary screwdriver to secure your garden gate, instead of a Phillips screwdriver, your mind will never know rest from the eternal torment that only the foolish can know! Repent your ways now, lad, before it's too late! Steve knows!" I do it all the time. I have the black eye to prove it.

A man with two black eyes to prove it is of course my role model in such ventures, the Phantom Stranger and, in Phantom Stranger #36, he's at it again as some poor secretary finds herself in the jungle with her tyrannical boss Mr Capehart. Mr Capehart's on a mission to find a crashed plane he reckons contains a bucketload of Nazi gold lost since the end of World War Two.

Of course he finds it and, when he verbally abuses his secretary one time too many, she decides to leave him to drown in some quicksand he's just fallen into. This prompts the Phantom Stranger to appear and give her a lecture about how it's wrong to stand there and leave a man to drown. Clearly he's not noticed the irony that, in order to deliver this lecture, he's just done exactly the same thing. Maybe at this point he should start giving himself a lecture, possibly with the aid of a Phantom Stranger glove puppet employed to play the part of the other man of mystery.

Sadly, he doesn't. And so, now having the Nazi gold all to herself, our secretary ploughs on, dragging her ill-gotten gains with her, finding the load increasingly difficult to pull as she gets more and more lost and more and more exhausted in the jungle. As she gets weaker, so she has to leave behind ever increasing amounts of gold until, exhausted and delirious, she has just one gold bar left, one she's determined to hang on to at all costs.

Phantom Stranger Quote of the Day:
"Man, if nothing more, is a creature of symbols. He will stake his eternal soul on concepts as tenuous as the mists that fade before a dawning sun. And yet, it is often this very dedication that blinds him to the true values behind the tokens he so cherishes."
Needless to say the Phantom Stranger doesn't bother to lend her a hand, seemingly having decided he's happy to stand and watch two people die - as opposed to the secretary who was only happy to watch one. I should say a word here about the art which is great. I feel a need to mention it purely because all Phantom Stranger letters pages of this period seem to be full of people complaining about Gerry Talaoc's work. For me, with his ragged and paranoid style, the man was perfect for the strip, and the complaints are a bigger mystery to me than the strip's titular character.

But what of the secretary? Finally, still clutching her gold bar, she has a heart attack and dies, at which point her bar rolls off down the hill where it's found by a young boy and his grandfather. The boy, being a boy, is impressed by its shininess but his grandfather points out you can't eat it, wear it or hunt it so it's worthless and only a fool would think otherwise. Perhaps at this juncture the Phantom Stranger should leap out from behind a bush to point out you can't eat, wear or hunt your wife, so where does that leave the old duffer's argument? Inevitably, our be-trilbied philosopher does nothing of the sort.

Despite that, as a fourteen year old I was so impressed by this ending that I stole it and plonked it on the end of a story I wrote in one of my English lessons. The rest of my tale was about two astronauts on a planet where the only other living thing was a sarcastic plant. Quite what the ending had to do with the rest of that tale, I have no idea. Maybe at that point I needed the Phantom Stranger to leap out from behind a chair and give me a lecture about the stupidity of using such an ending on a story that had nothing to do with it.

And did he?

No he didn't.

That was the odd thing about the Phantom Stranger. He was always giving advice but it was never advice that was any use for anything.

Then again, I seem to remember getting a good mark for that story, so maybe he did right.

And maybe he's still there, still behind that chair, waiting for the right moment to leap out, little realising the time's long-since passed.

Follow me into weird worlds -- for I am Steve Does Comics.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Avengers #96 Neal Adams & the Kree/Skrull War Part 8.

Avengers #96, Neal Adams, Kree/Skrull War
The first thing that strikes you about this issue is that it's inked not only by Tom Palmer but also by Neal Adams and Alan Weiss, giving it a more rough-hewn look than we've grown used to. For some of us this is a good thing. Pleasing though Neal Adams' efforts have been so far, I can't deny I've found the look of it all a little too smooth and polished for my liking. A few rough edges certainly go down well for some of us right now.

Not going down so well for the Avengers is what's happened to their missing colleagues. Deciding it's time they finally got proactive, they take to Hyper-Space in a ship borrowed from SHIELD and powered by Thor's hammer. So, it's off to the Andromeda Galaxy to kick some skrull butt.

This is of course insane, the idea that one dinky little shipful of people - even super-powered ones - could take on an entire galactic empire. Then again the Fantastic Four did the same thing in Fantastic Four #37, when they were out to find the killer of Sue and Johnny Storm's father, so at least there's a precedent for it.

Sadly, the Avengers don't get as far as the Fantastic Four did and're soon greeted by a vast skrull invasion fleet headed for Earth. Adams' full page depiction of that fleet is one of the visual highlights of the issue - as is his depiction of the skrulls, stopping just short of total caricature.

In no mood to stand and gawp, the Avengers attack the skrull flagship, while, fed up of being subtle, the skrulls launch a bomb-laden vessel on a mission to destroy the Earth. On the kree home world, the captive Rick Jones gets to meet the Intelligence Supreme and then, thanks to being flung into the Negative Zone by him, gets to re-meet Annihilus. As the issue draws to its close, it seems things are not looking good for any of our heroes.

Most memorable moment of the tale is of course the one depicted on the cover as, in a fit of a temper over the abduction of the Scarlet Witch, the Vision tries to beat a skrull to death. I suppose you do have to ask whether it's actually possible to beat a skrull to death. Bearing in mind their shape-changing powers, wouldn't they just absorb the impact of the blows, as Mr Fantastic does?

Regardless, with the Avengers nowhere near where they need to be, the Earth about to be blown up, the Intelligence Supreme pulling strings all over the place and Rick Jones about to be killed by a giant grasshopper, it seems everything's moved into place ready for the grand finale and I can't wait to see how Neal Adams handles that one.

Then again.....

Monday 7 February 2011

200 and counting.

With one mighty bound our trusty blog racks up its 200th post and what more obvious way to celebrate such a milestone than by looking at how some of our favourite Marvel heroes celebrated their 200th issue?

I do admit to having a problem here, as many of Marvel's mags reached issue #200 in the period when I wasn't reading comics. Needless to say I'm not the sort of man to let complete ignorance of a comic's contents stop me giving an opinion on it, so I might as well give my opinion of their covers too while I'm at it.

Incredible Hulk #200, Glenn Talbot's brain
I believe this is the one where the Hulk enters Glenn Talbot's brain to cure him of his amnesia. Not that you'd know it from the cover which features the foes the Hulk comes up against but tells us nothing of the tale's central dilemma. I'm very Route One. I do like a cover that lays the story's central dilemma out for us on a plate.

I have to admit I'm also a sucker for a good speech balloon. "You came here to find Glenn Talbot's mind, Hulk," a whole array of spookily materialising bad guys would declare if I had my way. "Instead, you'll find only death!!!"

Speech balloons, that's the sort of thing I like.
Avengers #200, Ms Marvel gives birth to Immortus
Is this the one where Ms Marvel gives birth to Immortus? I did like the Avengers during this period but I'm not so sure about the cover which again tells us nothing of the contents and seems somewhat randomly laid-out with no real focus. Why don't Wonder Man and Jocasta have any interest in looking at whatever it is the rest of the Avengers are looking at? I mean, come on, this issue features Ms Marvel giving birth to Immortus, and all we get is a half-hearted pin-up type cover. "Ms Marvel!" a horrified doctor should be saying. "That thing you've given birth to. It's -- it's--!" That's what I want. Covers that lend themselves to speech balloons.

What I really don't want is the Toys R Us advert, which manages to rob the cover of any class or dignity. I've also never liked the diamond-shaped price box Marvel were using at this time.

Amazing Spider-Man #200

I think I might've read this one too but have no memory at all of what happens in it.

The cover's OK I suppose. It has a certain intrigue - is the scene a flashback to Spider-Man's first ever appearance or does it mark another encounter with the man who killed Uncle Ben?

The blurb suggests it's a new encounter but how excited would that prospect be to the reader espying it on the spinner rack? The man who killed Uncle Ben was, after all, just a small-time crook of the type Spider-Man deals with every day. Would the prospect of him reappearing make readers desperate to hand over their 75cents?

Captain America #200, Jack Kirby

I've read this one, in the last couple of years, when I bought a job-lot of 1970s' Jack Kirby Captain Americas. I can remember nothing of what happens in this issue but must admit I really didn't like what Kirby did to the strip this time round.

Conan the Barbarian #200, skeletons

Surprisingly, especially as it must've been the first sword and sorcery comic ever to reach 200 issues, there's nothing at all done to mark this out as a special event.

Maybe it's just me but I really don't like Conan's helmet. Plus where's the fit bird in need of rescuing? Wasn't it in her contract that she had to be on every cover?

Daredevil #200, Bullseye

It's easily the most eye catching of all the covers that I'm looking at here but I've never been totally sure about the idea of a grim and gritty Daredevil.Whatever would Mike Murdock have said if he'd seen his brother acting like that?

And what's with the figure of Daredevil tripping over in the corner box and having to reach out for the logo to stop himself landing flat on his face?
Fantastic Four #200, Jack Kirby, Dr Doom

I'm fairly certain I've read this one. And guess what? I can't remember what happens in it. It's a Jack Kirby cover which is an appropriate way to celebrate a landmark issue and, creaky though it might be, it has a certain charm. The top third of the page is way too crowded though,

Uncanny X-Men #200, Magneto in chains

I don't like Magneto's costume and the fight in the background has an almost comedic feel to it but the cover would make me buy the comic, so I suppose it's going its job.

Iron Man #200, Iron Monger

This is good and striking, although Iron Man's pose lacks a certain dynamism and I'm not sure about the design of his armour.