Wednesday 29 February 2012

Top of the Pops 1977. Steve gets down with the kids.

Garbage lead singer and all-round sex goddess Shirley Ann Manson holds a microphone and leads forward as she sings live
By Rubenfh (Own work)
[GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0],via Wikimedia Commons
Shirley Manson celebrates the launch of Steve's new
blog by eating a giant stick of Blackpool Rock.
As I roam the streets of Sheffield, teaching the street kids the latest Hip-Hop moves from Norway, they say to me, "Mr Steve, you're so in touch with all the cool sounds coming out right now, you ought to do a blog about it."

And I say to them, "It's funny you should mention that because BBC4's started doing a show called Top of the Pops 1977 which plays all the latest songs by all the latest acts, like Smokie, Leo Sayer and Gary Glitter and, by a coincidence beyond words, bearing in mind the totally spontaneous nature of the conversation I'm having with you right now, I'm planning to do a blog dedicated to my thoughts on each week's show."

"Jinkies!" they say and, "Zoinks! That sounds cool-a-reno, Daddy-O!"

I just ruffle their hair and tell them to get back on with spinning around on their heads like I've just shown them how to.

But, yes it's true. My latest blog - Steve Does Top of the Pops - is now amongst you. Each week - God willing - I'll be doing a running commentary on Top of the Pops 1977 and then posting it on the internet. Will it be a triumph like Steve Does Dr Who or a total disaster like Steve Does Everything? I like to feel it's that kind of doubt that makes it exciting. You can read the site's introduction here, and you can read the very first running commentary here.

Steve Does Top of the Pops, logoThanks for your time. And, remember, keep practising those breakdance moves or you'll never make it onto Top of the Pops.

Sunday 26 February 2012

Captain America's greatest ever foe - Poll Results!

Captain America #104, Jack Kirby
It might be the Hollywood Oscars tonight but all eyes are on a far more glittering occasion, as it's time for evil to duck once more beneath the Table of Justice and the results to be announced from our poll to find Captain America's greatest ever foe.

It has to be said it wasn't the most vote-heavy of occasions but still it mustered enough responses to give us an unequivocal answer.

In joint third, with one vote each, were Madame Hydra, the Sleepers and Modok.

Second, with two votes was Baron Zemo.

But the winner, with a walloping 58% of the poll, and seven votes, was the man whose head's as crimson as that carpet the stars walk on - the Red Skull.

Sadly, the Red Skull can't be here tonight to collect his award, what with him not existing, and there're those who'll say he rigged the voting, using his Cosmic Cube but I know he'd never pull such a stunt. So, congratulations to the Red Skull, commiserations to the plucky losers, and thanks as always to all who voted.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Happy birthday to 2000 AD.

2000AD, Flesh
A quick sweep of the Internet's horizons, through my Telescope of Nostalgia, tells me 2000 AD is now 35 years old. I must confess I've not read - or even seen - an issue since 1984 but, of course, that's not going to stop me spouting off about it.

The picture on the left belongs to the first issue I ever owned and, after years of viewing British comics as hopelessly inferior to their American equivalents, it was a shock to suddenly encounter a British title that seemed every bit as brash, breezy and imaginative as the Marvel mags I was used to reading. In fact, I was so impressed by it I removed that cover and pasted it into my scrapbook for posterity.

Sadly both that issue and that scrapbook are long since gone from my possession and so I have to rely on hazy memories to do this post.

What I do remember from those early days was a strip called Invasion about Britain after a Russian takeover, although I'm pretty sure they kept referring to the villains as Volgans for some reason.

There was M.A.C.H.1, a strip that so blatantly ripped-off The Six Million Dollar Man it was a miracle they got away with it. There was Shako, the heart-warming tale of a rampantly murderous polar bear, and Flesh, the tale of people going back in time to shoot dinosaurs. The Harlem Heroes, one of my favourites, was a cross between the Harlem Globetrotters and Rollerball.

And of course we shouldn't forget the book's two most iconic heroes; the revived Dan Dare and the newly created Judge Dredd.

Apparently Massimo Belardinelli's take on Dare wasn't popular with the masses and he was dropped from the strip to make way for a revamp but I loved his artwork and it was arguably his Dare strip that did most to hook me on the book.

With its hard-nosed satire, Judge Dredd was of course an instant icon and, if nothing else, gave the world Walter the Wobot, Tweak the thinly disguised aardvark, and Judge Cal's law-enforcing goldfish

Later on, we got Ro-Busters and Strontium Dog, both of which I suspect were imported from the then-defunct Starlord. We also got Nemesis the Warlock, which seems to be very highly regarded although I never much cared for it, never being certain what was going on and not having a taste for the violence of it all.

Other strips that stuck in my memory were one about giant ants on the rampage, that may have been called Ant Wars, Moore and Davis' excellent D.R. and Quinch, and Sláine who was a sort of cross between Conan and the Hulk. When I last read an issue of 2000 AD I'm pretty sure Halo Jones was stuck in a giant spider's web. Did she ever get out of it? I suspect she did.

Looking back on it, it's clear that 2000 AD was a book that was happy to shamelessly lift ideas from every source going and not even make an attempt to disguise it but, somehow, recognising its sources was part of its charm, coupled with its sheer energy and swagger. The truth is, to me at least, what 2000 AD most represented was the revelation that, given the chance, British comics creators could easily match the heights of their counterparts across the Atlantic and sometimes even surpass them.

Monday 20 February 2012

Captain America's greatest ever foe.

Captain America #104, Jack Kirby
A wise man once said that when Captain America throws his mighty shield, all who choose to oppose him must surely yield.

And yet still those opposers keep opposing.

What fools they be.

But what's bad news for them is good news for us, as it's time to ask the question of just who is Captain America's greatest ever foe.

Being a veteran of World War Two, Cap's been around a long time and has had plenty of opportunities to make enemies. There's Baron Zemo, a man with a paper bag stuck to his face, the Red Skull, a man with a rubber skull stuck to his face, and Modok, a man with a flying chair stuck to his face.

But, in all this face-happy action, we shouldn't forget those with other body parts, such as Batroc Ze Leapair, the Super-Adaptoid and Dr Faustus.

And who could forget the Human League haired beauty that was Madame Hydra?

But that's enough of my thoughts. Nominate your own favourite, in the comments box, and, as always, in a couple of days from now, I'll compile it all into a poll.

And then, at last, the world shall decide just who is Captain America's greatest ever foe.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Bring on the Bad Guys.

Bring on the Bad Guys, John Romita cover, Mephisto,GreenGoblin,Dormammu,Abomination,Red Skull,Loki,Stan Lee
Anyone who's ever seen me striding through the aisles of my local Poundland, pushing people aside and declaring, "Out of my way, clod!" knows I've always had a certain leaning towards the villainous.

And so it is that, while Son of Origins might have had my favourite cover of the Marvel Origins books, Bring on the Bad Guys had my favourite contents.

I received it the same Christmas as its two predecessors and still recall the thrill of reading it for the first time.

Fittingly for a man who's arguably Marvel's greatest ever villain, we got two Dr Doom tales; his first ever appearance in the Fantastic Four and then his actual origin.

There was the genesis of the Red Skull in a tale that seemed to go on forever, the origin of the Green Goblin and the creation of the Abomination.

We got the first ever appearance of Dormammu, which was a marvellous thing from Steve Ditko, as Dr Strange entered a weird and disorienting landscape. He met Clea, he met the Mindless Ones, he got a new cape. Most of all he met a villain who was not only more powerful than him but also turned out to have his own brand of morality.

The Loki section was an odd thing, giving us two tales from his childhood and then a Thor story that mostly focused on the first appearance of the Absorbing Man. Given that it was the second half of a two-parter and Loki wasn't even its main villain, it always seemed a strange choice and you'd have thought there were more suitable stories out there they could've used. Still, the sight of Crusher Creel absorbing the power of the Earth itself as he grew to gigantic size was always an appealing one.

It could be argued that having the book feature the Abomination, instead of the Hulk's true arch-foe the Leader was also an odd one but I've always felt the Abomination's first appearance was a far better story than the Leader's, so the choice made sense and did give us a reminder of Gil Kane's stint on the strip.

But the highlight of the book for me was the first appearance of Mephisto. John Buscema's art was a thing of beauty as the Silver Surfer battled the living embodiment of evil itself. I still swear to this day that Mephisto in this tale bore a remarkable facial resemblance to my dad and, despite the tale seeming to be a million pages long, it never outstayed its welcome.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Son of Origins of Marvel Comics.

Son of Origins of marvel Comics, cover, John Romita, Iron Man, Daredevil, Silver Surfer, Nick Fury, Watcher, Scarlet Witch
Hooray! It's Valentine's Day! And that can only mean one thing.

Son of Origins of Marvel Comics.

Son of Origins of Marvel Comics always had my favourite cover of the first three Marvel Origins books, even though, looking at it now, I'm not sure why the Scarlet Witch is on it, seeing as how to my recollection there's no sign of her inside the thing.

Of course, her old gang the Avengers did appear, having their first ever adventure as they tried to deal with both the Hulk and then Loki.

But, as if such excitement wasn't enough for us, we also got the origins of the X-Men, Iron Man, Daredevil, Agent of SHIELD, the Watcher and the Silver Surfer. Still no origin of Ant-Man and, more oddly, still no origin of Captain America.

Still, what we did get was more than enough to make up for such absences.

Even though I never liked the original X-Men, I did always enjoy their debut outing. It featured a charming naivety to it and an appealing minimalism to their costumes. Iron Man's origin's always been one of my favourites. And, though I've never been a fan of Nick Fury, the origin of SHIELD was OK and did at least feature a flying car. The Watcher's origin gave us a stark morality tale I've always born in mind before interfering in the affairs of other worlds.

But the highlight for me at the time was the origin of the Silver Surfer, mostly because I'd not read it before. Plus,at a million pages long, and featuring Galactus, it had a certain epic quality.

Unlike the first Origins book, we didn't get a later tale from the career of each of our heroes but did get later stories for Iron Man and Daredevil. The Daredevil story was a perfect selection but the Iron Man tale, featuring the Maggia and Whiplash was Part One of a multi-part story and therefore ended just as it got exciting.

Overall, I recall it as a less focused book than the first - and featuring the Watcher rather than Captain America does, in hindsight, seem plain perverse - but, as I sat there on the Christmas Day of what I believe to be 1976, reading my brand new present, none of that mattered.  All that mattered was my heroes were once more saving the day and I had a brand new cover to try and draw a copy of.

Friday 10 February 2012

Thor's all-time greatest enemy - Poll Results!

Journey into Mystery #83, Thor and the Stone men From Saturn, origin
By the malleting majesty of Mjolnir, the results are in from our poll to find Thor's greatest ever foe!

And what results they are. Why, they threaten to shake the foundations of fair Asgard itself.

In joint fourth, with one vote each, are the Destroyer, Mangog, the Enchantress and Zarrko the Tomorrow Man.

In joint second, with three votes each, are Hela and the Absorbing Man.

But the runaway winner - appropriately, given that he's no stranger to running away -  is none other than Thor's half-brother Loki, with a mighty fifteen votes.

Verily, the people of the Internet hath spoken.

Sadly, Larry the Lava Man got no votes at all. Oh the cruel injustice.

But, regardless of such unfairnesses to the sneaky subterranean, thanks to all who voted - and commiserations to those plucky villains who didn't quite make the grade.

Monday 6 February 2012

Origins of Marvel Comics.

Origins of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, John Romita cover, Fantastic Four, Sub-Mariner, Spider-Man, Dr Strange, Hulk, typewriter, hands
First off, I promised the man the world knows as Capn Midnight that I'd give a plug for his comic Zombie Outlaw. So, if you don't have enough zombies in your life - or would rather spend your time with the outlaws than the in-laws - it might be just the thing for you.

But it's now time for Steve Does Comics to leave such gruesome matters behind and perform its speciality of reviewing something I've not actually read.

Well, OK, that's not strictly true. I've read Origins of Marvel Comics more times than I could shake a Skrull at but I  haven't had my hands on a copy for a good fifteen years, meaning I'm going to have to ramble on about my vague recollections of it and hope they bear some resemblance to reality.

I was given the first three Marvel Origins books on Christmas Day in what may have been 1975 and, of course, quickly realised they're the three greatest books ever published in the history of mankind, containing as they do the births of our favourite heroes and villains.

First of the Triptych of Tremendous was Origins of Marvel Comics. How could I not love it? Not only did it have Stan Lee's hands on the cover but it gave us the first appearances of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor and Dr Strange. Sadly, Ant-Man, who was technically Marvel's second ever super-hero, was nowhere to be seen.

Still, as if the origins we did get weren't enough to make any Christmas, we also got a bonus story for each of those characters, from a few years later in their development.

Admittedly the choice of later stories could in places seem a little odd.

The later Fantastic Four tale barely featured the Fantastic Four at all, concentrating as it did on the Thing fighting the Silver Surfer.

It was hard to argue against the story featuring the Hulk vs Sub-Mariner. With its lack of the usual supporting cast, it could hardly be called a typical example of that phase in the strip's history but it had two of Marvel's mightiest heroes going toe-to-toe, so who was ever going to complain about that?

The later Spider-Man tale featured the Shocker. It was entertaining enough - and gave us a fair bit of Peter Parker's personal woes but, given the string of classics to choose from, and the fact it was atypical in being drawn by John Buscema, I always felt there must've been more logical tales to choose from.

The selection for the later Thor story always seemed plain perverse to me - being Part One of a two-part story, meaning it ended just as it was getting exciting. Not only that but it was inked by Bill Everett instead of Vince Colletta, meaning we didn't get a flavour of the strip's usual look.

I must admit I can recall barely anything about the later Dr Strange tale other than it was drawn by Marie Severin and featured Umar. To be honest, such was its lack of impact on me, I think I may have only read it once and never bothered to revisit the tale. The failure to select a Gene Colan/Tom Palmer outing really did strike me as baffling.

The other Dr Strange tales - featuring his Steve Ditko drawn debut and his origin - were of course beyond reproach.

I think Thor's origin was the only one I'd actually read prior to getting the book, so it was an eye opener to see exactly how my much-loved heroes started out. The Fantastic Four tale, with its origin and then meeting with the Mole Man felt incredibly long and epic. Spider-Man was of course an emotion-packed classic.

But my favourite origin of the ones presented here had to be the aforementioned Thor. There's still something about Don Blake finding that cane in that cave, and the Stone Men From Saturn's invasion attempt that always grabs me.

My least favourite of those origins was probably the Hulk's. The bit where he actually became the Hulk was fine but the later section with the Gargoyle all felt somewhat workmanlike and of its time compared to the other origins.

At the time I had the book I wasn't aware of the controversies over who created what in the Marvel Universe and so took as gospel Stan's recollections of himself basically coming up with everything. It'd be interesting to read Stan's text sections today, with that in mind.

I also now know the golf match at which Martin Goodman decided he needed an answer to the Justice League may never have happened, that Amazing Fantasy #15 may not have been planned to be the last ever issue when Spider-Man was slotted into it, and that a whole bunch more anecdotes about how things unfolded may have owed more to Stan Lee's faulty memory and breezy willingness to bend reality to the needs of a good story than they did to accuracy.

So, as a historical document it was probably somewhat unreliable but it helped make my Christmas one year, and anything that makes a child's Christmas can't be totally without merit.

Saturday 4 February 2012

The Norse Poll. Who is Thor's all-time greatest enemy?

Journey into Mystery #83, Thor swings his hammer has he is surrounded by the descending Stone Men from Saturn, first appearance and origin, Jack Kirby
With his flowing blond locks, fluttering cape and wingy helmet, who doesn't love Thor: God of Thunder?

Well, plenty of people it'd seem as, over the years, he's managed to acquire more foes than you can shake a hammer at. But just who is the thunder god's greatest ever enemy?

There's plenty of contenders. There's Loki, Mangog, the Absorbing Man, the Wrecker, Ulik the Unstoppable, the Stone Men from Saturn and, of course, Odin.

I'll always have a soft spot for Hela thanks to the fact she's managed to kill him on more than one occasion.

But who can forget such foes as Mr Hyde, the Cobra, and that lava man bloke? I can't remember what his name was; so, given Stan Lee's love of alliteration, I'll assume it was Larry the Lava Man.

Regardless of such well-informed musings, put forward your favourites and, in a couple of days from now, I'll put the poll up.

And at last the world can decide just who is Thor's greatest ever enemy.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Forty years ago today - February 1972.

Hooray! It's February, named in honour of the Roman god Februlon who got his super-powers by...

...oh OK, I admit it, I've no idea who it's named after.

Not that it matters. All that matters is that this month forty years ago found our heroes still in the mood to give everyone a good kicking.

Avengers #96, the Vision beats up a Skrull, Neal Adams

I think we all remember where we were when we first saw the Vision trying to beat a Skrull to death.

I certainly do.

I was reading an issue of The Avengers.

By an incredible coincidence the Vision was in it, trying to beat a Skrull to death.

With its venture into space and its tale of our heroes vs a Skrull armada, this issue was surely the highlight of Neal Adams' short stint on the strip.
Amazing Spider-Man #105, the return of the Spider-Slayer

It's the return of the foe no one ever seemed to want to see return, as Dr Spencer Smythe and his Spider-Slayer make yet another futile attempt to bump off Spidey.

Captain America #146, Hydra

Captain America's clearly on a mission against Hydra.

But who can that mystery man be?

My money's on either the Kingpin or the Red Skull.
Daredevil #84, the Assassin

Gil Kane gives us another of his determinedly 3D-style covers, as the man without fear bursts out of his own cover box

Is that Mr Kline who's doing the zapping?

I liked Mr Kline. He was up to no good.
Fantastic Four #119, the Black Panther

I used to have a copy of this but owned it before I started collecting comics, and therefore only got to read it once or twice before it found its way to a rubbish tip. I still have fond memories of it though.

Am I right in remembering it as an attack on racial segregation and apartheid?
Incredible Hulk #148, Jarella returns

Jarella's back and causing all sorts of problems for our sun.
Thor #196, Kartag

Thor's messing about fighting Kartag the Keeper while Mangog threatens Asgard itself.
X-Men #74

Is this the one with the pharaoh type bloke in it?

If so, I first read it in an Alan Class comic.

If it's not, I don't have a clue what's going on.