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.


Simon B said...

I missed the first issue of The Titans ( gutted! ) but started buying it with issue 2 and loved it - once I figured out how to read the damn thing! Honestly, the format messed with my 8-year old mind and it took me a few goes to suss out the panel order on the landscape page. But it was worth it - I was introduced to lots of great stories and characters,including your fave superspy, Nick Fury. Great stuff!

The only other landscape comic I know of is John Byrne's Fantastic Four no. 252 from 1983. It's one of the few Byrne FF's I haven't got so I don't know how successful he was in using the format. It does say "The World's Most Innovative Comic Magazine!" on the cover... but we know differently :-)

Kid said...

I'm beginning to think you have access to my back issue stash. When you think about it, it was a daft idea. It took them a few years to realize that if they were going to print the pages this size, they'd be better doing it as "pocket books" - which is what they did in the early '80s. Still, I suppose they have to be given credit for trying something different.

Aggy said...

I can't think of an other Landscape comics but in the mid to late 90's one publisher produced a comic that unfolded. Starting from a normal sized and shaped book instead of turning the page you unfolded the book until it ended up as a large poster.

I seem to remember there was (probably unsurprisingly) only one, maybe two, issues published. Unfortunately the name of the book and publisher completely escapes me. At the time I was getting upwards of 100 books a week so probably not surprising.

Anyone remember this book who can help me?

Steve said...

I don't remember that I'm afraid but I do have a mid-1970s sci-fi magazine that unfolds to make a huge big poster.

Anonymous said...

The key things I remember about Titans and SSM are:
(1) I could never work out how the stories linked numerically to the US Captain America, Doc Strange etc. comics I was buying at the same time (I didn’t know about Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, Strange Tales and various other comics hung over from Timely, mostly, it seems with the word ‘Tales’ in the title). For example, I couldn’t figure out how Doc Strange was only on issue 8, but had already been reprinted in SMCW for years. Clearly something was afoot.
(2) In adult life, you know how you have about five novels or books lying around your bedroom, all started, none finished? With the Titans, once you had a good collection going and then re-read them, you had to go back & forth constantly between about five issues or so. For example, you’d read a Cap story that went over two issues, then a Subby for five then back three to pick up Captain Marvel, which went forward six, then back again to start on Xmen, etc. You never actually finished reading an issue before you’d started the next six.


Anonymous said...

I know....I wasn't SMCW, it was Avengers, right?
Oh, the shame. Oh the ignominy.