Friday 30 September 2011

Avengers #130. The Celestial Madonna Saga: Part 6.

Avengers #130, Celestial Madonna, Mantis, Titanium man, Crimson Dynamo, Radioactive Man, Slasher
This is the tale that puts the Clobber into clobber as we get a tale involving no less than four characters in armour - although a fan of such apparel might be less pleased to discover the character who comes across as toughest has no shielding at all. And that's Thor who gives both Iron Man and Titanium Man a lesson in what brute force really is.

At Mantis' prompting, the Avengers go to Vietnam to lay the Swordsman to rest at the Temple of Pama, and then roam the streets of Saigon trying to find out if her memories of growing up there are reliable.

They aren't, and it's becoming increasingly clear that Libra's version of her origin was true.

But the Avengers have more immediate problems.

Thinking the group are there to arrest him, a villain called the Slasher decides to set the Titanium Man, Crimson Dynamo and Radioactive Man on them, telling them the Avengers have tried to frame him for a diamond theft. The trio are now working for the communist government and don't appreciate the Western heroes flinging their weight around on their turf. Needless to say it all leads to a punch-up.

Avengers #130, Thor at the Swordsman's funeral serviceBut oh dear, the Avengers are not in a happy place - and I don't just mean Vietnam - what with Mantis still not knowing who or what she is, the Vision convinced his recent tendency to freeze under pressure means he's going mad, the Scarlet Witch still jealous of Mantis, Thor and Iron Man coming to blows over the difference between justice and revenge, and the Swordsman dead.

Admittedly, the Swordsman's problem's somewhat bigger than those of the other Avengers but at least he gets a nice send-off.

I said that Thor gives both Iron Man and Titanium a bashing for their impertinence in taking him on - and he does but more important is that he's effectively the peace-maker of the day, looking for rational solutions to conflict where others just want to solve everything with a smack in the kisser. It's at times like this that his superiority over mere mortals really shows through.

One of the images that leaps out at me reading this issue is Agatha Harkness sitting in on an Avengers meeting; bringing to mind all those tales of Yoko Ono sitting in on Beatles recording sessions and annoying the other members by eating their biscuits. I sincerely hope Aggie's not in the habit of nibbling on Thor's Garibaldis.

The Titanic Three, Avengers #130
The Titanic Three? I hope there're no icebergs in Saigon.
But of course the main novelty of  the tale's the sight of the Avengers coming up against a communist super-group made up of what're normally villains. Clearly Steve Englehart's going for a bit of undisguised metaphor here as, motivated by a middle man, the representatives of two world-views take each other on with a level of hostility and distrust that's not at all necessary.

Whether Radio, Crimso and Tit, as I don't like to know them, are still villains is open to question. As you'd expect from their background, they certainly don't come across as the nicest people on Earth, but they do seem to be operating to a moral code that's been previously alien to them, punishing a man who's killed his wife, and wanting nothing to do with the Slasher once they discover he's a thief.

The Slasher, Avengers #130You have to say the Slasher's a genuinely nasty piece of work, leaving a trail of battered and hacked up people behind him. The sight of blood flying from innocent bystanders as he attacks them is genuinely unpleasant and, for some of us, feels like too real a level of violence to belong in what's mostly an escapist comic.

But just why is the Slasher referred to as "Buzzsaw" at one point? Is that his civilian identity's nickname, or did Steve Englehart just get confused? Maybe it's just me but "Buzzsaw" - bearing in mind the potential double meaning of his more usual title - would've been a better name for him than "the Slasher".

But then what do I know? Apart from that time I was wounded by shrapnel in Vietnam and had to fight my way out, I've never even worn a suit of armour.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Swamp Thing vs Man-Thing: Poll Results.

Swamp Thing vs the Man-Thing
As the swamps of Sheffield bask in the hottest late September since records began, it's that time of day when I have to stop wrestling with that alligator, stop tying that anaconda in knots and concentrate instead on the matter at hand -- because the swamptastic results of our mudtacular poll are in.

And you The Public have decided that DC's Swamp Thing is better than Marvel's not at all similar Man-Thing - with Swampy winning by fourteen votes to nine. As you wouldn't expect for such an un-nimble character, Man-Thing got off to a racing start but, slowly, Swamp Thing caught up with him and overtook him.

Having only read one issue of Swamp Thing but numerous issues of Mike Ploog's Man-Thing, I can't deny that when it comes to scientists turned into mud monsters after jumping into a swamp when their work on a secret formula was sabotaged, I have a bias in favour of Ted Sallis' carrot nosed alter-ego and am therefore disappointed not to see him triumph.

Incredible Hulk #121, the Glob
Click me to go here!
On the other hand, given the reverence people tend to have for Bernie Wrightson's Swamp Thing, I did fear Manny wouldn't get a single vote apart from my own. And so, seeing Swampy at least put up a good fight, gives me great cheer.

Of course, all true lovers of things that go glump in the night know the pair of them'd be flattened by the Glob from the old Hulk comics.

But clearly that's a poll for another day.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Giant-Size Avengers #2. The Celestial Madonna Saga: Part 5.

Giant-Size Avengers #2, Kang, Rama Tut, Mantis and the Celestial Madonna
Sometimes you can't help wondering how Kang the Conqueror keeps track of who he is at any one time.

Tipped off that the Avengers have been abducted by Kang, Hawkeye rushes to the Avengers Mansion, to be met by the Swordsman and Rama-Tut.

It seems Rama-Tut's a later version of Kang who, tired of endless conflict, returned to Ancient Egypt to reclaim his throne before deciding to prevent his former self from acquiring the Celestial Madonna. For that end, he had himself sealed in his tomb, in a state of suspended animation, until the time was right for him to awaken.

The trio set off to stop Kang's attempts to start World War Three but first have to defeat Kang's Macrobots, each of which contains and is powered by a paralysed Avenger.

Mantis is the Celestial Madonna, Avengers Giant-Size #2
Once that's finally achieved, Rama-Tut tackles Kang who refuses to listen to sense. The physical clash between the pair causes the walls of Time to break down, allowing Kang to see it's Mantis who's destined to be the Celestial Madonna.

The villain decides that if he can't have her, no one can and tries to kill her but the Swordsman flings himself at the shot and, as Rama-Tut and Kang vanish, fighting, the Avengers are left to ruminate on the death of their fallen colleague.

Hooray! Hawkeye's back! He may be the second-least powerful member the Avengers have ever had - and not always have the best of attitudes - but, like Hank Pym, he's always felt like one of the things that makes the Avengers the Avengers. Although I suppose the fact that he returns in an issue whose cover promises us the death of an Avenger tips us off as to who that Avenger'll be. Let's face it, they're not going to bring Hawkeye back as the natural replacement for Thor, Iron Man or the Vision.

That means it can only be the Swordsman who cops it and, at last, the poor sucker gets to be the hero he's dreamed of being. And finally, after spending chunks of the issue insulting him, Mantis comes to appreciate him.

Kang vs Rama-Tut, Avengers Giant-Size #2
It's interesting that on the page where Kang and Rama-Tut's fight breaks down the fabric of Time, not only do we get to see all of Iron Man's previous incarnations and Hank Pym's but we also get to see Dr Doom, leaving us in no doubt that Kang, Rama-Tut, The Scarlet Centurion and Doom are all supposed to be the same character. Apparently Doom was also going to be on the cover, alongside the other two but the idea was dropped. If we take it that Doom is indeed the same character as them, it does raise all sorts of questions of just where he fits in their various time-lines.

The Death of the Swordsman, Avengers Giant-Size #2
Also wanting to know where they fit in are Mantis and the Scarlet Witch. Held prisoner in large glass tubes, still not sure which of them's the Celestial Madonna, the fate of the world hung in the balance, it's good to see the pair of them showing their sense of perspective by bickering over which of them's the Vision's girlfriend. They really do come across as stunningly up their own backsides in these exchanges. Still, at least Wanda compensates to some degree by finally stopping being useless and flattening Thor with a meteor.

PS. Does anyone know if Neal Adams had a hand in the inking? Dave Cockrum gets sole art credit in the issue but there're certain panels where the inks have a noticeably Neal Adams vibe to them, not least in the last three panels and also the full-page splash where the Avengers combine to attack the Thor-powered Macrobot.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Sheffield's Most Wanted. Part 8: Batman meets the Spectre. Brave and the Bold #116.

Batman meets the Spectre, Brave and the Bold #116, DC Comics, 100 pages, Jim Aparo
Once more Steve Does Comics casts off the icy grip of the grave, whips out its Ouija and returns from beyond the veil to look at another comic I always wanted as a kid but never owned.

This time it's the meeting of DC's two finest men of mystery, as Batman teams up with the Spectre to fight whatever forces it is they're up against.

As a kid, I loved Batman and I loved the Spectre. Thanks to The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, I also loved murderous multi-armed goddesses. I loved Jim Aparo and I loved 100 page comics. So, when you put all that together on one cover, how was I ever not going to be drawn to The Brave and the Bold #116?

Although I never had it as a kid, I read this tale a few months ago, online, and was somewhat disappointed with it, as Batman and the Spectre acted like old buddies and even knew each other's secret identities. It has to be said the Spectre presented here seemed far removed from the totally unknown Vengeance of God character I knew from the Michael Fleisher Adventure Comics tales.

But then, I don't suppose that version of the character would even have wasted his time teaming up with Batman.

Monday 26 September 2011

Avengers #129. The Celestial Madonna Saga: Part 4.

Avengers #129, Kang and the Celestial Madonna
Way back in the early-to-mid-1980s, Madonna Louise Ciccone might've been singing about her Lucky Star but, in The Avengers #129, her Celestial counterpart gets her very own star - right above the Avengers Mansion.

To some this might seem like a good thing, as all that light spilling from it into the mansion'll save the Avengers a fortune on electricity.

But it only brings trouble, as Kang the Conqueror takes its appearance as his cue to launch an attack on our derring-doers.

It seems that, whoever the Celestial Madonna's to be, her child's going to be the most powerful being in the Universe and, like the unassuming soul he is, Kang's decided that if anyone's going to be father to that child, it's going to be him.

So he defeats the Avengers with ridiculous ease, captures the Scarlet Witch, Mantis and Agatha Harkness - in case one of them's suitable material to be the next Mrs Kang - and whisks them all off to Egypt where he's set up base in the pyramid of his earlier incarnation Rama-Tut.

Avengers #129, Mantis, Scarlet Witch and Agatha Harkness are rendered helpless
Being the insensitive brute he is, Kang doesn't bother capturing the Swordsman, who he deems to not be worthy of his attention; leaving Swordy to make his own way to Egypt, under the captive Agatha Harkness' mystic guidance. Unfortunately, just as he's about zap Kang, he's stopped by someone who declares himself to be Rama-Tut.

I suppose the main thought this issue raises is what's going on in Kang's head? Not knowing who the Celestial Madonna's going to be, he captures all three women who're present at the Avengers Mansion - including the not exactly youthful Agatha Harkness. I don't like to be ageist but, really, what're the chances that a woman who looks like she'll never see 100 again is going to be one he's after? And what's he going to do if she is?

Avengers #129, Swordsman vs a vampire
From one thing that doesn't bear thinking about to one man who doesn't get thought about. And that's the Swordsman. The former villain continues his long decline into psychic collapse as he now has to battle on, knowing that both the woman he loves and the Avengers' deadliest foe view him as beneath consideration.

Not only that but, as the issue nears its climax, he has to overcome the knowledge that he's only still alive to see it because a vampire he's encountered in Rama-Tut's pyramid couldn't be bothered to kill him when it saw more appetising prey. I know from personal experience that it rarely does a man's self-esteem good to know he's not even viewed as a worthwhile meal.

Still, there is at least hope at the end of the tale that he can turn it round.

But just who is that man claiming to be Rama-Tut - and how can he be there if Kang is too?

Only Steve Englehart and the next instalment of our thrilling serial can tell us.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Sheffield's Most Wanted. Part 7: Swamp Thing #5.

Swamp Thing #5, Bernie Wrightson cover
Glug, gluggle glog and slurg; bubbling like a mad thing, Steve Does Comics emerges from the swamp to list the latest comic it always wanted as a child but never possessed.

I only ever had one issue of DC's Swamp Thing - and this wasn't it. The one I had was, if I remember correctly, the penultimate issue and drawn by Nestor Redondo. While the inside of that comic was a beautiful thing to look at, the cover was pretty run of the mill.

Swamp Thing #5 on the other hand, I have no idea what it looks like inside but you can't ignore the thing it's wrapped in.

Actually this is the first time I've ever seen it in colour as, at the time, I'd only ever encountered it via those one-page ads DC used to run where they'd post a picture of five or six random titles they had out that month, while reproducing them with a seriously strange colour scheme. Therefore I had no inkling as to how brightly-coloured parts of the cover really are.

Still, even if I'd have preferred it to be more darkly lit, the sheer dramatic composition of Bernie Wrightson's image - with its echoes of old Universal horror films, and Swampy bursting out of the frame itself to do some serious smiting - was more than enough to sell me on the thing.

All of this inevitably raises one obvious question. And that's the subject of the site's latest life-or-death poll which can be found in the life-or-death sidebar to the right of this life-or-death blog.

Friday 23 September 2011

Avengers #128. The Celestial Madonna Saga: Part 3.

Avengers #128, the Scarlet Witch vs Necrodamus
If you should always know which witch is which witch, you should always know never to let anyone mystically seal you off in a room until cock crows.

Sadly, the Scarlet Witch fails to heed this advice as, after returning from the wedding of her brother to Crystal of the Inhumans, she agrees to let the Fantastic Four's nanny Agatha Harkness tutor her in the real ways of witchcraft.

Needless to say, trouble soon follows. Within moments of Harkness magically isolating the pair of them in the Avengers Mansion, they're attacked by a demon called Necrodamus who's after their souls.

With Harkness and her familiar knocked out, the Scarlet Witch is forced to defeat the demon on her own, using her hex power for an unprecedented fourth time in one fight, at which point it becomes clear the whole battle was set up by Harkness as part of the Witch's first lesson.

Meanwhile, on the nookie front, Mantis finally gets round to telling her supposed beloved The Swordsman to sling his hook, and then wastes no time coming on to the Vision.

The course of true lust rarely runs smooth though and, before she can make a serious stab at getting her leg over, a mysterious star appears from nowhere above the Avengers' Mansion, flooding the place with light.

When the Avengers rush outside, they're confronted by Kang who declares he's going to conquer the 20th Century. And there's nothing anyone can do to can stop him! Nothing!

Avengers #128, the Scarlet Witch and Agatha Harkness
With this tale, the emphasis suddenly shifts from Mantis and onto her love-rival the Scarlet Witch. It's not before time. She's been in the strip for years by this point and for the most part's been next to useless, spending most of their fights stood around trying to conserve a power that rarely achieves anything beyond annoying a foe. Clearly writer Steve Englehart's decided it's time to beef up her powers so she'll actually be more use in a life or death struggle than I would. She still comes across as fairly useless in the fight with Necrodamus but at least she comes out on top in the end, even if it's more by luck than judgement.

On the art front, the combination of Sal Buscema and Charlton Comics' stalwart Joe Staton's an odd one. Buscema always had a somewhat flat and simple style, with Staton having a more quirky, cluttered look and plenty of contrast between light and shade. At times his inks threaten to overwhelm Buscema's pencils while adding visual depth to them. It's not an off-putting combination but it's likewise not a natural one either.

The Avengers #128, Mantis and the Vision
Mantis really is coming across as a first class biyatch by now, callously dismissing the Swordsman's desperate declarations of love, while on her way to take advantage of Wanda's absence by coming on to the Vision.

But you have to hand it to Kang. How many times over the years has he turned up declaring he's about to conquer the 20th Century and that nothing can stop him, only for him to be sent packing five minutes later, with his tail between his legs? And still he never gives up hope.

One can only hope the Scarlet Witch can show equal sticking power in her romantic struggles with her love-rival.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Sheffield's Most Wanted. Part 6: Batman Limited Collector's Edition.

DC Comics, Batman Limited Collector's Edition, Neal Adams
While Mantis takes a breather, pondering the twists and turns of her battle with the Star-Stalker, it's time for me to slide down the Batpole of Nostalgia, into the Batcave of Reverie, into the Batmobile of Memory and out onto the streets of Comicdom City to consider yet another mag I always wanted as a kid but never got.

You may just have guessed from my subtle intro that this time out it's Batman and his Limited Collector's Edition.

Sadly, even though I was indeed a limited collector, I never managed to come by a copy of it.

But one look at that Neal Adams cover, showing Batman running around in mud, when he should've had the sense to make Alfred do that, should be enough to explain why I wanted it.

Nor was the cover the only secret of its allure. If the accompanying blurb was to be believed, the mag had 6 spine-tingling stories, 3 super-size pin-ups, a guide on how to draw Batman, and yet another 3D diorama cut-out.

I'm telling you; if only I'd had all those collector's editions, my life would've been so 3D that I'd've ended up with a sense of depth that would've left me thinking Radiohead sounded like Wham.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Avengers #124. The Celestial Madonna Saga: Part 2.

Avengers #124, Mantis and the Star-Stalker
This is the issue that reveals that sometimes in life the worst thing you can do if you're evil is to talk too much. Therefore, being a creature of purest evil, I'll learn that lesson and get straight to the point.

Still in the temple of the Priests of Pama, the Avengers find themselves confronted by Monsieur Khruul's killer, a talking  space dragon called the Star-Stalker which tells them it feeds on the energy of planets but had once been defeated by the priests, who'd discovered its sole weakness.

Now, with them having been killed last issue by Monsieur Khruul, there's nothing to stop it from destroying the Earth - and that includes the Avengers who get nowhere in their attempts to battle it.

It all looks like curtains for our favourite planet until Mantis realises the Star-Stalker can be killed by heat and gets the Vision to zap it with his solar eyeballs.

Avengers #124, Mantis and the Star-Stalker
You do have to wonder about the lack of powers of observation of the Avengers. They're total inability to notice a giant space dragon mere feet away from them at the tale's beginning doesn't exactly suggest they're the sharpest knives in the drawer.

Then again, the Star-Stalker's not too bright either, giving them a long monologue about itself that lets them know it has a fatal weakness, before harping on at every opportunity about the fact it has a fatal weakness. Granted, he doesn't actually tell them what that weakness is but still you'd think he'd have the sense not to tell everyone he meets that he has one.

On the Mantis front, we learn more about her origins. It turns out her alleged tutors the Priests of Pama were Kree pacifists banished from their home world for not liking violence.

Avengers #124, The Priests of Pama - dead!
This seems a somewhat ironic back-story considering they were the ones who taught Mantis how to be handy in a punch-up and even, presumably, were the ones who taught her her legendary death-grip which, from last issue's example, seems to consist mostly of crushing your face between her thighs. Clearly the Kree have a somewhat liberal understanding of the word, "Pacifist."

On the art front, things are looking up considerably as John Buscema and Dave Cockrum take over to create a hybrid of their styles which looks as slick and polished as you'd expect. Mantis in particular looks the best she's ever done.

Avengers #124, the Star-Stalker
So, at last we're getting somewhere in our quest to find out what the deal is with her. Despite her protests, her knowledge of a secret panel in the temple suggests she is indeed Libra's daughter and that she was indeed raised by the Priests of Pama. But to what end?

Someone too busy to worry about that right now is the Swordsman who, after all his recent troubles, is clearly on a sad and sorry downward spiral. If only he'd never left that sideshow he used to work at.

But then, if only the Star-Stalker had had the sense to keep its trap shut.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Ka-Zar vs Tarzan: Poll Results!

Ka-Zar and Zabu
Ka-Zar takes it out on the neighbours!
Ho, Zabu! What strange and new madness befalls the Savage Land?

This kind of madness - because the results are in from Steve Does Comics' poll to discover who's the best jungle lord; Tarzan of the apes or Ka-Zar, lord of the Hidden land!

It was an epic struggle, featuring two characters who think nothing of walking down the street in a loin cloth or of killing everything in sight to prove how great they are.

Still, eventually we got a winner.

And that winner is...


That's right, in a decision to send the most rational of jungle lords on an enraged quest to stab even more dinosaurs, you the reader have voted in favour of Tarzan, by a margin of eight votes to four.
Tarzan, king of the jungle
Take this, Tibbles! Nothing can stop me now! Nothing!

Sadly, this means Lord Plunder must now settle for being evicted from his tree-house to make way for Lord Greystoke, leaving him to live in a caravan in Morecambe where there's barely a dinosaur in sight but they do have a lovely bird sanctuary for him to terrorise. Those ducks aren't going to know what's hit them.

But oh the bitter shame and disappointment.

Monday 19 September 2011

Mantis vs Moondragon: Poll results.

Avengers #114, Mantis
As Mantis was always telling us, strength is as nothing beside skill.

But now it seems a bald head is as nothing beside a pair of antennae, because the sensational results are in from our sensational poll to discover which of Moondragon or Mantis you'd marry if you were a tree.

And the answer is...


Yes, by a mighty eleven votes to five, you voted for the Vietnamese Vixen.

I must admit I voted that way too, mostly because she ran around barefoot and I like to think that if I were vegetation I'd prefer a woman who didn't clomp around in big nasty boots.

Poor old Moondragon. First passed over by the Cotati plant people, now passed over by you the reader. Is there to be no end to the poor girl's humiliation?

Still, at least she's taking it well.

The Avengers, Moondragon crying
Then again...

Oh pull yourself together woman. It's only a tree you've been rejected by. It's not like it's anyone classy.

PS. A great big Steve Does Comics No-Prize goes to the first person who can tell me which comic the picture of Moondragon crying comes from and the real reason she was blubbiing.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Avengers #123. The Celestial Madonna Saga: Part 1.

Avengers #123, Mantis, Libra and the Celestial Madonna
It puts Zodiac into perspective when you realise
its,"most dangerous member," is a non-super-
powered blind-man with only half-hearted criminal
tendencies and what appears to be a terminal case
of constipation.
When tackling the Avengers' Celestial Madonna storyline, the obvious question is where to start.

The obvious answer is, "At the beginning." But that means going all the way back to when Mantis made her first ever appearance.

Even then, in that debut, she was clearly being set up as a woman of mystery, although whether the writers knew back then just how it'd all pan out has to be viewed as questionable.

But reviewing every Avengers story in which Mantis ever appeared'd be madness - especially as a lot of them aren't very good. Plus, most of those stories have no relevance to the epic anyway.

Therefore I'm going to do what seems logical and start with the moment that sets in motion Mantis and the Avengers' quest to uncover her murky origins.

Avengers #123 kicks off with Zodiac member Libra declaring to a shocked gathering of Avengers and captured Zodiac members that he's Mantis' father. Apparently, some years back, he was a mercenary in Vietnam where he married a local girl and had a daughter with her.

Unfortunately for the course of true love, his wife's brother was local gangster Monsieur Khruul who could've given even Quicksilver lessons in how to disapprove of your sister's relationships, by killing her.

Blinded in Khruul's attack, Libra fled with his infant daughter, stumbling across a temple run by the Priests of Pama who took him in, taught him to see without eyes and raised his daughter Mantis to be a mistress of the martial arts.

Avengers #123, Mantis versus the Vision
In the present day, Mantis has no memory of this and decides the best response to such claims is to knock his block off.

Needless to say that leads to a mass brawl, with Mantis taking out all the Avengers before they all realise the Swordsman's flown off to avenge the death of Mantis' mother at the hands of Monsieur Khruul.

That plan soon goes awry and it all ends up in a temple, with a set of massacred priests and a huge dragon about to attack the clueless Avengers as the issue draws to a close.

The first thing that hits you in the face about Avengers #123 is the cover. It's easy to knock modern comics for having covers that have nothing to do with the actual contents but Avengers #123 turns the crime into an art form by depicting a scene that's the exact opposite of what's inside, as Mantis seeks to protect Libra from the wrathful Avengers, whereas inside it's the other way round. And just why does Libra look so constipated?

Avengers #123, Mantis versus Libra
It has to be said that Mantis' fight with the rest of the Avengers stretches credulity to ridiculous limits. She not only takes out the Scarlet Witch and the Black Panther but also the Vision, Iron Man and even Thor. I know she's supposed to be mistress of the martial arts but the way she's depicted here, you'd even place bets on her beating Galactus. Such unstoppability's made to look even more unlikely by the fact that Libra then stops her simply by holding her down with a move even I could escape from.

Not for the first or last time, the Swordsman gets to show what a complete loser he is, first by getting captured by the man he's turned up to kill, and then giving away the existence of the Priest of Pama, leading to all their deaths at the hands of Khruul's lackeys. You have to feel sorry for the man. He really can't get anything right. The again, you have to feel even more sorry for the Priests of Pama.

Avengers #123, Swordsman tortured
The artwork's not sensational, being a combination of Bob Brown's pencils and Don Heck's inks. It's not the ideal combination although the results are clear enough and dynamic, and the closing double page splash of the dragon lurking in wait for the Avengers is nicely done.

What's even more unlikely than Mantis' sudden near-invincibility is Libra's blindness. We're left in no doubt he's really sightless when the Avengers and Mantis react in horror to his destroyed eyeballs but there's no explanation given for how he's able to function perfectly without them. He doesn't even have a Daredevil style radar sense to fall back on. Apparently he can sense everything that's going on round him in perfect detail because, erm, he just can. The most egregious example of this is the flashback scene at the temple, where he goes to watch his daughter training, even though he's blind.

Still, whatever its sillinesses, it's all lively, dramatic stuff and gets the ball rolling on the whole Mantis saga while setting us up for the sight, next month, of the Avengers versus a giant dragon. If only it'd been Fin Fang Foom, my day would've really been complete.

Friday 16 September 2011

Sheffield's Most Wanted. Part 5: Tarzan Limited Collectors' Edition.

Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, DC Comics Limited Collectors' Edition, Joe Kubert
Yodel-odel-odel-odel-o!!! It's time for me to depart my tree house and swing anew from the jungle vine of Nostalgia as I once more recall a comic I always wanted as a child but never had.

Even though I was a big fan of the Ron Ely Tarzan shows and the Johnny Weissmuller movies, I must confess I was never interested in the comics of that name.

After all, we comic lovers had Ka-Zar who was not only lord of the jungle but fought dinosaurs and had a sabre tooth tiger. In comparison to such exotic fare, Tarzan seemed a very mundane proposition.

The one exception was DC's Tarzan Limited Collectors' Edition. That Joe Kubert cover, showing Tarzan fighting a giant, erm, whatever kind of ape that's meant to be, while other non-specific apes watched on, was enough to entice any man into handing over his cash.

Looking at it now, I can't help but feel Tarzan looks a little apathetic about it all, and it doesn't half seem like cheating that he has a dagger and his opponent doesn't.

Then again, Tarzan's pointing it at his own genitals so maybe it's a bigger danger to him than it is to his foe. Or perhaps Tarzan's playing the, "Let me go or I'll impale my cobblers," trick that's served me so well over the years whenever I've been attacked by wild beasts.

But, beyond the fight, there's more - the promises of a giant pin-up of the jungle lord, and a guide as to how to draw Tarzan, not to mention a 3D diorama cut-out of something or other.

I like to think it was a cut-out of the whole of Africa but I suspect it wasn't.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Mantis vs Moondragon.

Avengers, Mantis vs Nuklo
Those of us who were fans of harrowing World War Two drama series Allo Allo will remember the vital life-or-death storyline that involved The Fallen Madonna With The Big Boobies. How we gasped as Herr Flick of the Gestapo tried to track down that painting.

But, of course, for comics fans there was a far more important Madonna than even her.

And that was the Celestial Madonna.

In yet another feat of masochistic madness, within the next few days Steve Does Comics is to launch a project that dwarfs even its review of the Kree/Skrull War, and begin the demanding process of reviewing every instalment of the Avengers epic that gave us the origin of the Vision, Agatha Harkness being abducted as possible breeding stock (!!!), and a woman with antennae marrying a talking tree.

MoondragonIn the meantime there's a bigger issue to be addressed.

All devoted Avengers readers'll know that at one point it was touch-and-go as to whether it'd be Mantis or Moondragon who'd nab the Celestial Madonna gig.

That's hardly surprising as they had much in common, most specifically a level of self-regard that'd make Brian Clough blush and a determination to cause ructions at every opportunity. So, the subject of our latest poll - to be found in the sidebar on this blog's starboard side - is; "If you were a talking tree, who would you rather marry; Mantis or Moondragon?"

Don't forget to vote. Remember, somewhere out there a randy tree may be depending on your answer.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Sheffield's Most Wanted. Part 4: The House of Mystery, Limited Collectors' Edition.

House of Mystery, DC Limited Collectors' Edition
Shiver, mortals, as Steve Does Comics delves into realms of fear and terror for yet another look at a comic I always wanted as a kid but never managed to acquire.

Unlike the Marvel Treasury Editions, the DC Limited Collector's Editions never seemed to show up in Sheffield - maybe that's why they called them, "Limited." Or if they did show up I somehow never noticed them.

That of course didn't stop me from coveting them.

And one of my most coveted was The House of Mystery's venture into the format.

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I was always a sucker for DC's horror anthologies, so this was always going to grab me.

Just look at that hand beckoning us inward to experience the horrific delights it has to offer.

Look at that promise of a lesson in how to draw a haunted house.

Look at that offer of seven king-size tales.

Most of all, look at that promise of a 3D mystery cut-out - a promise I to this day still always misread as, "3D mystery cat." 

What kind of lunatic could say no to a 3D mystery cat?

Not this kind of lunatic. Why, to even think of refusal would be to show a disgraceful lack of manners - and Manners is my middle name.

Actually it's not. As we all know, my middle name is Does. But that's a whole other issue- as is whatever comic I'll be talking about in my next post from the Frontline of Nostalgia.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Billy the Cat and Katie. Beano Book 1973.

Billy the Cat and Katie, Beano Book 1973
As we all know, the American comic book industry's always been the natural venue for the super-hero yarn. Maybe it's the brashness of American culture, or the epic scale of New York but somehow super-heroes have always felt more at home there.

However, in the 1970s, British comics did give readers the occasional chance to see some home-grown super-heroics. I've already mentioned the late lamented Vulcan comic and its oddball battlers, in this post from June, and now it's time to acknowledge the existence of The Beano's very own stab at the form, in the shape of Burnham Academy's answer to Daredevil and the Black Widow - the crime-fighting pair of youngsters known as Billy the Cat and Katie.

Billy the Cat and Katie, Beano Book 1973, schoolbusBilly the Cat and Katie were William and Kathleen Grange, two cousins who fitted in fighting crime around their school work. How they got their incredible powers of agility and athleticism, I don't know. Where they got their leather costumes and crash helmets from, I don't know. Who wrote them, I don't know. Who drew them, I don't know. I only know that with them around no crook was safe.

In The Beano Book of 1973, Billy the Cat and Katie tackle a pair of escaped convicts by the name of Wat Graham and Jake Carson who hijack the local school bus.

Well, those crooks might think they're being smart in taking on a bunch of kids but what they don't know is it's none other than the bus that Billy the Cat and Katie use to get home on. Within mere pages, after much bouncing round on the rooftops, our heroes have the crooks all tied up and helpless, with no one any the wiser as to their true identity.

Beano Book 1973, Biffo the Bear and Dennis the Menace
It has to be said that, compared to the life-or-death, angst-ridden adventures of Marvel's heroes, it's all rather pleasant stuff, packed with a sense of cosy Englishness and drawn in a way that evokes little sense of drama or urgency, even when the bad guys start waving guns around.

This is a good thing. This is The Beano after all, a comic noted for its feel-good escapism, not its nail-chewing melodrama.

Most of all, what the story does do is make you want to be Billy the Cat and/or Katie. If only I too could leap around on the rooftops. If only I had one of their metal cat claws attached to a piece of line. If only I had a crash helmet with a set of whiskers on it.

Oh well. Maybe one day. Maybe one day.

Monday 12 September 2011

Sheffield's Most Wanted. Part 3: Savage Sword of Conan #5.

Marvel Comics, Savage Sword of Conan #5, Conan crucified, Boris Vallejo cover
Outside, the wind might be blowing up a storm but in the sheltered recesses of the Internet, the world practically stops on its axis as yet again I highlight a comic I always wanted as a kid but never managed to acquire.

This time it's The Savage Sword of Conan #5; upon whose cover we find the Hyborian Hero nailed to a cross, as a vulture gets ready to tuck in. If this was The Beano, that vulture would of course be holding a knife and fork while wearing a napkin tied around its neck. Oddly enough, artist Boris Vallejo didn't think to add that detail.

Apparently laid out by John Buscema, the pic has crucifixion, it has vultures and it has a big skull. As DC's regular Weird War Tales cover man Luis Dominguez could tell you, a comic book cover can never go wrong with a good skull on it.

Not only does Savage Sword of Conan #5 have a great cover but it also appears to feature an adaptation of A Witch Shall Be Born, one of my favourite Robert E Howard Conan tales.

Not that I knew back then that it was one of my favourite Robert E Howard Conan tales as, at that point, I'd never read any of them. Since then I've read them all - and have come to the conclusion that I agree with myself on the matter.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Sheffield's Most Wanted. Part 2: The Shadow #1.

DC Comics' The Shadow #1, Mike Kaluta cover
The Internet's most sensational new feature returns as Steve Does Comics once more talks about a comic it's never read.

That's right, it's time for me to tackle another mag I always wanted as a kid but failed to get my hands on.

This time out it's DC's The Shadow #1.

I don't think I need to explain for one moment why I wanted it. One look at that Mike Kaluta cover should be enough to dispel all doubt, as the Shadow looms large over the skyscrapers, neon signs and traininess of New York city - much as I always dreamed of looming large over the chip shops, dual carriageways and spoon factories of Sheffield.

I claimed to have not read The Shadow #1, and it's true that I never read it as a kid. Thanks though to the wonders of the 21st Century, I did in fact read an online reproduction of it a few months back. As expected, it was all very stylish but the truth is I prefer Frank Robbins' more energetic take on the character.

PS. I mentioned in this post from February a list of songs I always associate with certain issues of certain comics. And that applies to this one as well. For whatever reason, I can't look at that Kaluta cover without hearing ABBA's Money Money Money in my head.

I also can't avoid thinking of a long-forgotten ITV sit-com called Squirrels but that's a whole other story.

Friday 9 September 2011

Conan the Barbarian #5.

Conan the Barbarian #5, Zukala's Daughter, tigress, Barry Windsor Smith

I'm pretty down with the street gangs, winning them over instantly with my mammoth break-dancing skills. "Gordon Bennett!" they declare, "We've never seen anyone spin on his head like you do! Please become the leader of our crew and teach us your skillz so we can save our local youth club from closure, with the winnings from next week's National Street-Dance Disco Dancing Competition!"

Sadly, not everyone's as popular as me; and the evil sorcerer Zukala's among them. He keeps sending his daughter Zephra into the nearest town to demand taxes from the locals.

This might not sound like much of a problem for the said locals. Can they not just show her pictures of sad kittens until she cries?

But Zephra's no ordinary gal. Like 1960s pop legend Lulu, she can turn herself into a tiger.

Conan the Barbarian #5, Zukala's Daughter, tiger attack, Barry Windsor Smith

Unfortunately for Zukala, on this particular occasion, Conan the Barbarian just happens to be in town, and one look at his horny helmet sends her so horny she decides to side with him against her father.

After being promised lots of money by the locals, Conan sets off to Zukala's castle and takes on the wizard - but not before Zukala summons the demon Jaggta-Noga to collect the taxes his daughter so miserably neglected to gather.

It all ends with Zephra fighting Jaggta-Noga before, to protect her, Zukala sends the demon back to where it came from, and he and his daughter vanish off to some mystic dimension, leaving Conan to help himself to the collected taxes they've left behind.

Conan the Barbarian #5, Zukala's Daughter, Zukala summons the demon Jaggta-Noga, Barry Windsor Smith

This was the first Conan story I ever read - in the pages of Fleetway's Marvel Annual 1972/3 - and it was love at first sight. How could I not love a story with a sorcerer, a tiger and a demon in it? How could I not love a story with a castle?

Granted, I didn't at that point have a clue who Conan was and, because Thor got mentioned in an article elsewhere in the annual, I somehow convinced myself the star of this tale was Thor - even though everyone kept calling him Conan.

It's from the strip's early months and thus features Barry Smith's art when it was still partway between his days of badly imitating Jack Kirby and his more ornate later style. But even here there's a class about it - an appreciation of "camera-angles", perspective and poses - that hints at the true potential behind the pencil. Smith's renditions of the tiger, and Jaggta-Noga are especially appealing. Frank Giacoia's inking doesn't best suit Smith's pencils, being too crisp and harsh, but it's not enough to spoil the enjoyment.
Conan the Barbarian #5, Zukala's Daughter, Jaggta-Noga and Zephra the tigress fight, Barry Windsor Smith

The more observant may notice the colouring in the images I'm posting here isn't quite the same as in the original comic. Those devoid of marbles might think it's because I have a priceless and rare edition re-coloured by the great man Bazza himself.

They'd be wrong.

It's because at some point as child I decided it'd be a good idea to colour-in the otherwise black and white reprint with felt-tip pens. Comic book colouring? Break-dancing? Truly I am the Renaissance Man.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Sheffield's Most Wanted. Part 1: Detective Comics #443.

Detective Comics #443, Batman meets Manhunter, Jim Aparo cover, 100 pages
For the most part I was extremely lucky as a child. My nightmare of being forced to appear on Mike Reid's Runaround never became reality and I also managed to get my hands on most of the comics that I ever wanted.

However, just as no game show is ever free of fear, no life is perfect and there were a number of comics I always coveted but never got my grubby little hands on. In an exciting new feature that'll no doubt prove to be as popular as my legendary Supergirl Sunday slot, I'll from time to time be giving those comics a quick mention.

First on the list has to be Detective Comics #443. Not only was it a 100 pager, not only did it have a cover by Jim Aparo, not only did it feature the Spectre but it gave us the meeting of Detective Comics' then two biggest stars, Batman and Walt Simonson's Manhunter. Was there really anyone alive who could take one look at the pair of them stood back-to-back on that cover and not want that comic? Just the positioning of their feet alone was enough to sell the thing to you.

I actually got my hands on a copy a couple of years back, as part of a job-lot, and it was OK but if only I'd read it as a kid, then I'd really have been able appreciate it.

Actually it's probably best that I didn't. For if I had, my head would surely have burst from all the excitement and left nasty bits of my skull embedded in the walls where they would've become the subject matter of the worst song about wallpaper that Pulp ever wrote.

Sometimes in life it's best that we don't get what we hope for, but such a charming anecdote does give me chance to ask which comics did you always want but never got?

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Avengers Annual #2. The Old vs the New.

Avengers Annual #2, the new Avengers vs the original Avengers, John Buscema cover
Like anyone sane, I've often wondered how I'd fare in a fight against myself.

I like to think that, thanks to my animal cunning and willingness to use any dirty trick in the book, I'd win comfortably, but only after a long and gruelling struggle with my superior strength.

Happily, it's not a problem I'm going to have to face for many a long year yet, but the Avengers aren't so lucky. They've already been through that trial, way back in 1968, in the pages of Avengers Annual #2.

It barely needs to be said that Avengers Annual #2 features one of the great comic book covers of all time, as John Buscema literally flings our super-doers headlong at each other - though, looking at that picture, you can't help but feel the Black Panther drew the short straw in his choice of opponents. Unlike Captain America, he didn't even get a shield to protect himself with.

Avengers Annual #2, Giant Man vs Goliath
Still, however much I may love the cover, it's what's inside a book that counts. And what's inside is one of my favourite Avengers tales as, fresh back from their trip to gawp at Bucky getting killed in World War Two, the Avengers discover that the Wasp's nodding off at the time machine controls changed the course of history, meaning the original Avengers never broke up and instead fell under the influence of a being called the Scarlet Centurion who's promised he'll give us all a barrelful of Utopia if the Avengers defeat and imprison all other super-powered beings in the world. This means that, by the time the new Avengers show up, the originals are the only super-beings left at liberty anywhere on Earth.

Of course, upon meeting the old Avengers, the New Avengers have a chat with them about the situation and, being reasonable adults, as they all are, they sort the whole thing out and team up to get rid of the Scarlet Centurion.

Of course they don't. They're Marvel heroes. They could start a fight in an empty room. And so, now at war with their older counterparts, the new Avengers set out to stop them and use Dr Doom's time machine to restore everything to how it should be.

Avengers Annual #2, Hawkeye vs the Incredible Hulk
After achieving an improbable victory over the more powerful original Avengers, the new Avengers find themselves in a showdown with the Scarlet Centurion who turns out to be an earlier incarnation of Kang the Conqueror. Happily, he's soon sent flying off into the far future by Doom's time machine, and everything's soon put back as it was, with none of the Avengers remembering anything that's happened.

How could you not love this story? It doesn't just give us the Avengers, it gives us the Avengers times two, and there's something irresistible about seeing the likes of the Black Panther and Hawkeye somehow taking out the Hulk and Iron Man while the totally un-super-powered Captain America defeats Thor. In my favourite section of the story, Goliath beats Giant Man by virtue of having practised learning to hold his breath for longer, just in case he ever has to fight the Sub-Mariner again, while the Wasp beats her old self simply by being marginally more level-headed.

It's an interesting thesis the story puts forward that, without any super-villains left to fight and no other super-heroes to rival them, the Avengers would soon drift into being nothing more than super-villains themselves. Given how eager the average Marvel hero is to use his knuckles before his brain, it's probably not an unreasonable point for writer Roy Thomas to posit.

If you were really determined to find fault in the tale, you might complain that, unlike the cover, the interior's not drawn by John Buscema. It's drawn by Don Heck. This isn't always good news in a comic but Heck's in one of his more reader-friendly modes this time out and Vinnie Colletta's inks soften his pencils pleasingly. There's also a helping hand lent by Werner Roth whose style's close enough to Heck's for the transitions between pencillers to be barely noticeable let alone jarring.

Monday 5 September 2011

Like one of those bricks they made you rescue in swimming lessons, Steve Does Comics heads straight to the bottom. Unlike those bricks, it stays there - because it likes it there.

Marvel Spotlight #12, the Son of Satan
We all know the biggest crime ever committed against humanity was when Marvel Comics stopped putting those one-line ads at the bottom of their pages - the ones that used to tell you what was going on in their other releases of that month.

"But even so," I hear you cry, "what kind of fool would be so sad as to have a favourite set of those ads?"

This fool would.

In Steve Does Comics' tireless endeavour to sink ever further into the quagmire of futility, I bring you my favourite set of Marvel's one-line ads. They come from Marvel Spotlight #12, featuring the debut of the Son of Satan.

Why they're my favourites, I don't know. I suspect a quick check would tell me they're neither better nor worse than the ones that could be found in any randomly selected comic. It strikes me that, rhythmically, these particular ones're mostly ungainly - and the last quote in particular seems especially clumsy in its execution.

In the end I think it's down to mere association, the fact that they appear in conjunction with the Son of Satan, the man I've modelled myself so closely on for all these years.

So, to compound my madness further, here they are:

"Who'd ever believe the Miracle Man could destroy the world? Not the Fantastic Four- till they face the truth in ish #139!"

"Dracula Lives - in three terror fraught tales, no less!"

"How can Conan stand against - the Shadow in the Tomb?"

"Special battle issue! Ka-Zar vs the Super-Soldier --- all waiting for you, in Astonishing Tales #20, right now!"

"Who is Memorax? Learn his startling secret - in Warlock #8!"

"Crazy magazine! First explosive issue - now on sale!"

"Kraven the Hunter's back in town! But this time, the town is Frisco --- and the victim is Daredevil! Don't miss the wall-to-wall action!"

This is where I now ask you which Marvel comic featured your favourite one-line ads.

This is where I suspect I'm not going to get any answers.