Sunday 22 May 2011

Supergirl Adventure Comics #405. Rodney, you plonker.

Supergirl Adventure Comics #405
The Black Death. It was very popular a few hundred years ago.

When I say, "popular," I mean it kept coming back, whether people liked it or not.

And so it is that, like the Black Death, we see the return of the feature the world came to know as Supergirl Sunday.

I could claim this is thanks to public demand but I know from emails I received at the time that there is no public demand. I did, however, make an unconscionable error at the time and somehow failed to review Adventure Comics #405. As a man of honour, I feel I owe it to Supergirl to complete the task I set myself all those many moons ago and finally finish off my blog's collection of Supergirl reviews.

Already the grim memories of those earlier posts are flooding back as we're back in the era when, thanks to the villainous Starfire, Supergirl's powers keep disappearing at inconvenient moments.

That, of course, doesn't stop the Maid of Might or Might Not from her pursuit of the one-eyed villainess.

Her quest takes her to Paris where Starfire's out to kill a fashion designer and steal his latest collection.

But first, Supergirl has to deal with Rodney, identical twin brother of Derek, the man who gave her the drug that makes her powers keep cutting out. Derek was killed by Starfire but Starfire's told Rodney that Supergirl did it. Now he's out for revenge.

Happily, Supergirl manages to make Rodney see sense and together they thwart Starfire's plans, as Starfire plunges to her death in a castle moat.

But, wait! What's this? Is that a woman's hand we see emerging from that self-same moat at the tale's end?

This issue has to be distinguished by being possibly the only DC comic ever to feature two brothers who share the names of the brothers in Only Fools and Horses. And, just as in that show, Rodney is indeed a plonker. Just how stupid would you have to be to believe ruthless master-criminal Starfire when she says the Doris Day of heroics is the one responsible for the brutal murder of your brother?

But then he's not the only one who's not that bright. You see, Starfire has a cunning plan. She's going to take advantage of Supergirl's frequent losses of invulnerability, in order to fire a dart laced with more of the drug that originally robbed her of her powers, so she'll permanently lose her invulnerability and then Starfire can kill her. I'm no master-criminal but couldn't Starfire just take advantage of Supergirl's frequent losses of invulnerability by sticking some bullets in her and not bothering with the drug?

In truth, its not a very interesting story, mostly made up of people trying to shoot Supergirl as she keeps ducking. Rodney's a plonker. Starfire's a plonker. A fashion designer gets murdered but no one cares. Starfire looks nice in a bikini. Supergirl wears the long red boots I approve of. Supergirl wears the long red gloves I don't approve of. Supergirl gets to fight a gorilla. Supergirl, "slaps Rodney into unconsciousness." But I don't care. I've fulfilled my duty.

And, you know what? It was only half as bad as having the Black Death, and less dispiriting than sitting through Only Fools and Horses' final days. On top of that I'm now convinced that he who dares wins and that by this time next year I'll be a millionaire.

Friday 20 May 2011

Special Marvel Edition #15. Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu.

Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, Special Marvel Edition #15, Jim Starlin coverMarvel UK Avengers Weekly; Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu

As I roam the streets of Sheffield, people often say to me, "Steve, I know your hands are deadly weapons, before which no mere house brick could hope to stand, and often are the times you've thwarted the fiends of this world with your feet of steel but how did a simple lad from a Sheffield council estate get to have such a mastery of the Eastern arts of murder?"

I tell them it's simple. I learned all I know about the way of the Oriental punch-up from Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu.

As though Marvel UK's weekly Avengers mag couldn't get any better, in March 1974, the Avengers and Dr Strange were joined in it by the son of Fu Manchu, and the world was never the same again. Each week we could thrill to Shang-Chi giving foe after foe a punch in the bracket inbetween bouts of philosophising, mostly along the lines that the praying mantis can defeat the mighty elephant because, unlike the wrathful pachyderm, it keeps its composure in the face of provocation. Such was his importance that, for long months, Shang-Chi featured on each week's front cover, relegating the Avengers to the status of back-up strip in their own comic.

Did he deserve to?

Of course he did. Great as the Avengers were, Shang-Chi had a greatness all his own, one that totally transcended his status as cultural cash-in.

Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, Jim Starlin, Fu Manchu
It seems odd now to think that, back in those early days, Shang-Chi was drawn not by Paul Gulacy - the artist I most associate with him - but by Jim Starlin, a man I associate with cosmic fare like Captain Marvel and Warlock. But the man they called Judo Jim did indeed help to bring the master of Kung Fu into this world and he did a brilliant job of it.

Starlin's artwork and page composition on this debut story are magnificent as, having been tricked into murdering the dying Dr John Petrie, Shang-Chi attacks his own father's HQ, battling assassins, the huge Sumo wrestler Tak and a giant insane gorilla along the way. It's a hauntingly grim tale, giving us a hero trained to further his father's empire of evil, one who makes his first foray into the outside world by killing a bed-ridden octogenarian, before a confrontation with his victim's friend Denis Nayland Smith - crippled by Fu Manchu - makes him realise it's his own father who's the threat to mankind, not his recent victim.

Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, Jim Starlin, Tak
It has to be said, given all that Shang-Chi goes through to get to his father in this tale, the fact that when he finally reaches the heart of the fiend's lair, he just has a conversation with him, rather than bashing his head in, does feel like a let-down and makes no great sense. But, of course, the series would've been over before it'd begun if that'd happened and it does give Fu Manchu the chance to be stylishly evil in those closing moments, while setting things up nicely for the rest of the series.

Shang-Chi, Master of King Fu should never have been any good - being as it was, an obvious leap onto the martial arts bandwagon that was then sweeping the world, and its use of the hoariest of stereotypical villains. But its artistic success proves there's no such things as good ideas or bad ideas, just good and bad execution - and Master of Kung Fu, right from the start, had the finest of executions, even if the unfortunate Dr John Petrie might have argued otherwise.

Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, Jim Starlin, Fu Manchu
Thanks to Fu Manchu, I know to end every conversation by receding into darkness. 

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Mayday! Mayday! Forty years ago today.

The arrival of a new month at Steve Does Comics means it's time for my regular look at what our favourite Marvel heroes were up to exactly 40 years ago.

And, as always, what they were up to was getting into a whole heap of trouble.

Amazing Spider-Man #96, Green Goblin drugs issue

It's an all-time classic as Stan Lee and Gil Kane cast aside the strictures of the Comics Code and give us an anti-drugs message to rock the world.

But who cares about that? What really matters is Mary Jane gets to dance and the Green Goblin gets his memory back.

Avengers #88, Psyklop

One of my favourite Avengers tales, as the action-packed assemblers brave giant caterpillars and voodoo rites to stop the HP Lovecraft inspired Psyklop from doing whatever it is he's doing - but don't arrive in time to prevent him shrinking the Hulk down to the size of Don't Scare The Hare's viewing figures.

Captain America #137, Spider-Man

I'm pretty certain I must've read this in the pages of Spider-Man Comics Weekly, which reprinted Captain America tales from this era. But despite that and, despite it featuring everyone's favourite web-head, I have no memory of this tale whatsoever.

My suspicion would be that Cap and the Falcon meet Spider-Man, fight him and then decide to team up with him against a common foe who's not interesting enough to show on the cover.

Conan the Barbarian #5, Zukala's Daughter

Conan the Barbarian #5 is the first Conan story I ever read, and the barbarous battler finds himself up against ruthless sorcerer Zukala, and his daughter, the only person on Earth who never turns down the chance to sing along to the old Lulu song, I'm A Tiger.
Daredevil #76

I've no idea at all what happens in this one but I do know that if I had a gun I wouldn't waste my time setting a bird on someone.

Fantastic Four #110, Agatha Harkness, Annihilus

It's deus ex magician as Agatha Harkness weaves her spells to enable Reed Richards to flee the Negative Zone without leading Annihilus back to the Earth.

It's all good dramatic stuff from John Buscema but I'm not quite sure what that look on the Thing's face is about though.
Incredible Hulk #139, many foes has the Hulk

How could anyone not love this tale, as the rascally Leader decides all he has to do to beat the Hulk is make him fight all his foes one after the other?

Needless to say, the plot soon goes wrong for the villain who's as high handed as he is high headed.
Iron Man #37

Another Iron Man tale I have no recall of ever having read, even though I almost certainly have.

Is that man with the beard that Irish bloke who had the green suit of armour?

Oh yes, I know my Iron Man history.
Thor #188, Infinity

Odin's still evil. Thor's trying to hit himself on the back of the head with his own hammer, and Karnilla's scrapping with Loki for his helmet. Happy Families it isn't.