Wednesday 28 March 2012

Stranger in a Stranger's land. The Mighty Thor #178.

Mighty Thor #178, The Abomination attacks Thor from behind while the Stranger says Thor must die
As I've mentioned before; for some strange reason, some time in 1975, Spider-Man Comics Weekly disappeared without trace from my local newsagents.

When it finally re-appeared, several months later, it'd changed shape and title.

Now it was in The Titans' landscape format and called Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes. Possibly there was a little too much use of the word "Super" in there.

But the return of Spider-Man also meant the return of its back-up strip Thor. And the first Thor story I read upon that return was our hero's first encounter with the Abomination.

But something had changed in that absence - because Jack Kirby was gone, replaced by John Buscema.

One thing that hadn't changed was that Vince Colletta was still on inking duty. While his soft scratchy lines suited Kirby's somewhat rigid pencils on the strip, they were less suited to Buscema's smoother, slicker style.

But there are strange things afoot in this tale.

For a start it begins with everyone stood around hailing Odin as the best thing since sliced bread even though by now you'd have thought everyone must've realised what a complete and total idiot he was.

It's not long before Thor has better things to worry about, as the Abomination accidentally teleports him to the Stranger's home world, where the rascally reptilian tricks him into releasing the various criminal aliens the Stranger's acquired over the years.

Needless to say the Stranger's not overly happy with this development and is out to get Thor.

Certain things leap out at you in this yarn. The main one being Thor's stupidity. In order to avoid detection by the Stranger - so he can explore the Stranger's world for no good reason - he turns back into Don Blake who then wilfully blunders into the midst of the Abomination and his criminal coterie, meaning he then has to be rescued by Sif who appears from thin air to help him. He really does come across as a useless and incompetent berk during this section.

But the real shocker is how Thor sees off the Stranger.

The moment the mountainous menace appears, Thor simply spins his hammer round and turns back time to before the encounter began.

Strangely enough, I don't recall him ever using this power again. No doubt for the obvious reason that nothing's going to kill dramatic tension more than the hero turning back time every time things get a bit sticky for him.

With its disconnect from the rest of the world of Thor, its cop-out use of Thor's temporal powers and its lack of consequences, it's pretty obvious reading it now that the tale was knocked out as some sort of filler between Jack Kirby's last two issues.

It also suffers from the fact we never really get to see Thor fighting either the Abomination or the Stranger, meaning the pulse poundingness that it promises never fully materialises.

Still, for all that, the fact that it was the first Thor story I got to read after that long absence means I'll always have a fondness for it, and at least Sif looked nice in her spray-on armour. You have to hand it to Buscema, he knew how to do spray-on armour.

Monday 26 March 2012

Great covers of our time. Nick Cardy's Superman #274.

Superman grabs his logo as he is stretched like a rubber band and sucked into a hole in the Earth, Nick Cardy cover, #274
Hooray! It's yet another great new feature from Steve Does Comics, the blog that, over the years, has brought us a whole slew of all-time classic features, like, erm, er...

I could claim the concept came to me in a flash of inspiration but the truth is I was going to review the story within but soon realised I didn't have anything to say about it.

It's a pleasant enough tale - even if Superman does save the world by a method that's far-fetched even by his standards.

But the truth is that what really makes the comic memorable is Nick Cardy's cover. Who couldn't be sucked in by the sight of Superman being sucked in?

Just to add drama to it he's crushing his own logo, a good six years before Dark Phoenix thought to do the same on the front of X-Men #135.

Probably the cover's only failing is the presence of Superman serenely flying along above the masthead. Is that figure by Neal Adams? It's a nice enough picture but the cover would've benefited from it being removed so the main image could reach right up to the top of the page.

Friday 23 March 2012

Marvel's all-time greatest villain. The Grand Final - Poll Results!

A wise man once declared that everything must end. In fact it was Dr Who. He said it just before exploding a villain. And such talk of villains and endings can mean only one thing because at last Steve Does Comics' bid to name the greatest Marvel villain of them all's reached its senses-shattering conclusion.

Fittingly for such an important event, it was the most voted-on poll in Steve Does Comics' history, with a mammoth 45 votes.

All the villains featured were of course legends in their own right - and role models to us all - but someone had to lose out, so, just how did your favourite do?

In joint fifth, with one vote each, were those fiends who share a U, the Red Skull, Dormammu and Ultron.

In fourth, with two votes, was the man who's not safe to be let loose with iron filings and a sheet of paper  - Magneto.

In third place, with five votes, was the that dastardly slayer of girlfriends; the Green Goblin.

Second, with twelve votes, was the man who has a lovely rockery - on his face - Thanos.

But the winner, with a mammoth twenty three votes and 51% of the poll, was Dr Victor Von Doom. I like to feel it in some way makes up for him having blown himself up in that university experiment all those years ago.

So, congratulations to Vic, and commiserations to our plucky losers. As always, thanks to all who voted and helped make this glamorous occasion the triumph it is.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Superboy #195.

Superboy being sucked into a whirlwind/hurricane as a blind boy in dark glasses boasts he can stop it, even though Superboy can not, Nick Cardy cover
Pink Floyd once claimed we don't need no education.

They were wrong.

We all need an education.


Because without one we wouldn't be able to read comics.

And you know what? It's a virtuous circle because, once we start to read comics, they become an education in themselves.

For instance, if there's one thing I've learned in life, it's that I should never change my name to Don Blake. Not only does Marvel's character of that name have a dodgy leg and no personality but when DC get round to giving us a character of that nomenclature, he turns out to be blind and wallowing in self-pity.

Thus it is that Superboy #195, finds DC's Don Blake feeling as unnecessary as Pink Floyd's education. But, thanks to his knowledge of electronics, his initiative - and his sheer stupidity in the face of danger - he helps Superboy foil a local DJ's plot to use his station's transmitters to create a series of devastating Thunderballs with which to vex Smallville.

It's all good stuff and delivers a message to us all about believing in ourselves, no matter how disadvantaged we may feel, but the real story of this issue's to be found in its second half as Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum bring us the classic tale of ERG, a wannabe derring-doer who applies to join the Legion of Super-Heroes but is turned down because all his powers simply replicate those of current members.

Now, if I ran a super-hero group and someone came along to me and said, "I can do all the things the current members of the Legion of Super-Heroes can," I'd bite his hand off. But no, not the Legion. The group that accepted Bouncing Boy and Triplicate Girl quickly decide his eight zillion powers aren't up to their exalted standards and send him packing. Bizarrely, it's Mon-El who tells him that every Legionnaire must have a power that's uniquely his or her own. Erm, that's Mon-El whose powers are exactly the same as Superboy's?

Fortunately for the sake of drama, ERG's not one to be put off, and he sneaks aboard the Legion's spaceship when they head off to tangle with a giant Henry the Hoover that's eating all the crops on some planet or other.

When the proper Legionnaires fail and Colossal Boy's about to be vacuumed to death, up pops ERG to save the day by using his one unique power - a power he can only dare use once.

With its slick, dynamic art and tragic pay-off, the tale far outshines the main Superboy story of the issue and it's easy to see why, within a few months, the young Kryptonian found himself having to share the billing with the Legion. It's also easy to understand how Dave Cockrum successfully rejuvenated another comic about a group of super-powerful teens.

So there, you see, Pink Floyd? Education, it's a wonderful thing.

Saturday 17 March 2012

Marvel's greatest villain - The Grand Final!

It's been an ordeal that's dragged on longer than the Clone Saga but at last it hits its conclusion as we reach the Grand Finale of Steve Does Comics' quest to find the greatest Marvel villain of them all. Many were nominated and many fell but, after what seems like endless years of voting, we have eleven men standing.

And what a sinister melange of menace we have, with some of the finest role models any of us could ever demand. Like Dr Doom, I hide my face behind a mask of steel. Like the Mandarin, I have the power to fire black light at my enemies. Like Ultron, I am made entirely of metal. And, like Paste Pot Pete, I didn't make the list.

The poll's now up, so don't forget to vote - you never know when you may again be granted such power over so much evil.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Forget your Marvel Firsts. Steve gives you Marvel Lasts.

We all know the most head-explodingly exciting event of the century's been the recent release of the Marvel Firsts in which we can see how our favourite heroes made their debuts. But Steve Does Comics is nothing if not so far ahead of the curve that it's over the hill, under the radar and up the creek without a paddle. So I thought I'd get in there and do Marvel Lasts before someone else thinks of it.

Although I stopped reading comics in the early-to-mid 1980s, nostalgia did see me having a brief spurt of comic buying in the early 1990s. I wanted to see what my favourite characters were up to and how the art form had progressed.

It was a spell that didn't last long, mostly because my head couldn't cope with the idea of paying a mammoth 70 pence for a comic that would've once cost me six. Thus, here are the last new Marvel comics I ever bought (so far).

What strikes me is that at the time they seemed radically different from the comics I'd read in the 1970s but, now, they seem to resemble them far more than they do current comics. I mean, what madness is this? The covers actually have strong vibrant colours, and action that has something to do with what's happening inside!

Daredevil #303, the death of the Owl

Clearly some things hadn't changed too much in my absence because I pick up my first issue of Daredevil in years and who does it feature?

None other than The Owl.

Admittedly, he seemed to have sprouted Wolverine-style claws and I think he had bionic legs but still it was nice to see a familiar face.

Sadly, I wasn't seeing him for long, as, no sooner had he come back than he kicked the bucket - which, presumably means he was back and in perfect health again within six months.

Uncanny X-Men #286, the angel bursts out

I have very little memory of what happened in this comic. I think they might've been on another world. Collossus' sister might've been in it.

I picked up three issues of The Uncanny X-Men in one go - but they all seemed like soft and uninvolving fare compared to the brand new Chris Claremont/Jim Lee X-Men comic that was out.
Avengers #347, Galactic Storm, white cover

I bought this because I'd liked the previous issue which I'd liked mostly because it'd introduced me to Deathbird who seemed quite feisty. It was a funny thing but she had claws and was a bit angry, just like Wolverine.

I don't remember anything much that happened in this one other than the Supreme Intelligence had a master plan, so it all felt like a retread of the Kree/Skrull War.
Fantastic Four #363, Occulus

I have virtually no memory of what happened in this comic. Were they on some other world? Were there some sort of barbarians in it?

And did someone at Marvel really think Occulus was a great name for a villain?

Guardians of the Galaxy #23

I quite enjoyed this one. It had angry people with claws, just like Wolverine (am I spotting a trend here?). I think one of the characters was supposed to be his descendant.

I also seem to remember Dr Doom putting in a cameo appearance.

Warlock and the Infinity Watch #2

This was the one I really liked.

It was disappointing to me that Jim Starlin only wrote it and didn't draw it, and it was a bit worrying that, nearly twenty years after I'd last read anything by him, he was still tinkering around with the same handful of characters as he had been back then, but it had his usual charm and was nicely drawn by whoever it was who drew it.

Also, almost uniquely for a comic of this era, it didn't feature anyone with claws.
X-Men #12

The then-brand-new X-Men comic was the only one I bought regularly. After initially finding Jim Lee's art flat, stereotyped and annoying, it started to grow on me.

Sadly, the later days of Lee's run were noticeably patchy and then he ran off to help inflict Image Comics on the world.

After one issue without him, I too ran off, feeling 70 pence was far too much to spend on a comic drawn by someone drawing just like Jim Lee.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Marvel's all-time greatest villain. Those who fall between the cracks - Poll Results!

First of all, a big thanks to Booksteve, over at Super I.T.C.H, for linking to my Herb Trimpe all-time Top Ten Hulk Covers post. Thanks to such sterling efforts, that post's become a runaway success and is already challenging John Romita's all-time Top Ten Spidey Covers for most viewed post of the week.

But now, on with the breathtaking action that awaits us, as I'm proud to announce the results are in from our poll to discover just who is Marvel's greatest super-villain who fell between the cracks of our other polls.

With so many fiends to choose from it was as hotly contested as you'd expect; and joint 5th, with one vote each, were Mephisto, Baron Zemo, Maximus the Mad, the Abomination and Dracula.

In 4th place, with two votes, was that man who never hesitates to get stuck in - Paste Pot Pete.

In joint 2nd, with three votes each, were the Yellow Claw and Doc Ock.

But the grand winner, with five votes, was that lovely man who just wants a bit of peace and quiet for us all - Thanos.

So, at last it can be officially confirmed that Paste Pot Pete is a greater super-villain than Mephisto, Dracula and the Abomination. How could anyone ever have doubted it?

As always, thanks to all who voted, and a big congratulations to our winner.

Friday 9 March 2012

Herb Trimpe's all-time Top Ten Hulk covers.

The Mighty World of Marvel - thirty six pages of magic that entered my life every Saturday in the 1970s. Its line-up changed over the years but one thing never changed.

Every issue began with the Hulk.

Even now, re-reading his old tales gives me more far pleasure than it ought to. Why is this? No doubt because anyone with any sense wants to be able to bend street lamps with their bare hands, and thus the Hulk appeals straight to the heart of what it is that makes super-hero comics appealing.

Reading The Incredible Hulk #127, a couple of days ago, for my post on that issue, reminded me just how much I love old Hulk stories. And so, fired up with a suitable passion, here's my ten favourite Hulk covers that were drawn by Happy Herb Trimpe - the Hulk artist of the 1970s.

Incredible Hulk #140, Jarella and Psyklop
The Hulk finally finds love - but not for long, as naughty old Psyklop crashes the party.

Incredible Hulk #110, Umbu, Ka-Zar and Zabu
Ka-Zar swings into action as Umbu the Unliving strikes.
Let's face it, what sort of mad person wouldn't want to read a comic that features a monster called, "Umbu the Unliving"?

Incredible Hulk #122, Fantastic Four, Hulk vs Thing
It's an orange monster vs a green monster! 
It's the Hulk vs the Thing!
It's all happening on the side of the Baxter Building!

Incredible Hulk #181, Wolverine and the Wendigo
The Wolverine makes his debut and heads straight for our hero.

Incredible Hulk #135, Kang the Conqueror
Thanks to Kang, time weighs heavily on the Hulk's shoulders.

Incredible Hulk #131, Iron Man
Can it be? Can it be curtains at last for our hero?

Incredible Hulk #109, Ka-Zar and Zabu
It's Ka-Zar again, as Herb gives us serpentine layout packed with power and portent.

Incredible Hulk #121, the Glob
I love that colour scheme.
I love the Glob.
I love the cover.

incredible Hulk #142, the Valkyrie
It's got the Hulk. It's got the Valkyrie. It's got a storm. It's got the Empire State Building.
Not only that but just dig how the angle of the masthead conflicts with that of the rest of the shot, to give us a cover seething with drama.

Incredible Hulk #141, Doc Samson
Doc Samson makes his debut.
And, just for a moment, he manages to convince us he's actually a threat to the Hulk.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Incredible Hulk #127. Mogol! Tyrannus! The Mole Man! And Me!

Incredible Hulk #127, In his first appearance, Tyrannus robot Mogol lifts a building ready to throw it at the Hulk who is leaping down to fight him, Herb Trimpe
Art, music, sport, pig husbandry; many are the talents a man may have in life. But anyone with any sense knows there's only one gift worth having. And that's the ability to smash down doors with your bare hands.

Happily, The Incredible Hulk #127 gives us not one but two people who can do just that, as the Hulk meets the being known as Mogol.

Mogol's no ordinary man. He's a huge subterranean sent to the surface by Tyrannus to enlist the Hulk's aid in his war with the Mole Man.

Now, you might've thought it a pitiful super-villain who needs help to defeat the Mole Man but need it Tyrannus does. After the inevitable initial scrap, the Hulk and Mogol recognise a sense of kinship and become the best of friends as they work together to prepare Tyrannus' mighty machinery for battle.

Sadly, when that battle finally comes, Mogol's hit by an inconvenient death-ray and his minor wound makes it clear at once that he's actually a robot.

At this point the Hulk reacts as anyone would. He decides he's been lied to and smashes his friend to pieces. He then goes on to destroy the Mole Man's underground city and then its Tyrannusian counterpart.

The truth is there're few Hulk stories from this era that I don't love and this has always been near the top of my list. Herb Trimpe's art's wonderfully dramatic, as perfectly suited to the strip as ever, especially in the fight scenes between the Hulk and Mogol, and writer Roy Thomas has the sense to know it'll always be gripping to see the Hulk gain a friend only to lose him.

It doesn't though reflect too well on the Hulk that he kills Mogol for no reason other than that he's a robot. Somehow I'd expect a man who spends all his time lamenting his lack of friends to be more tolerant.

Still, at least we get to see the Mole Man's kingdom get trashed, and we see the return of Tyrannus, a man who's always been one of my favourite villains - mostly because he reminds me of myself.

If only I had mastery of an underground kingdom.

How exactly does one get to gain control of such a thing? Is there an exam one can take?

And is there a chance I might pass it if I cheat hard enough?

Monday 5 March 2012

Marvel's all-time greatest villain - Those who fall between the cracks!

Over the last couple of days, the people of Russia have been busy with the election to find their new president. With Vladimir Putin yet again claiming victory, many have been the protests against the result, and many have been the protests in favour. But what does that matter when there's a far bigger vote taking place right here on Steve Does Comics?

That's right, after what feels like an eternity, our quest to find Marvel's greatest super-villain of them all's finally approaching its climax.

So far we've conducted polls to find the #1 enemy of each of Marvel's main heroes - and these're the villains who've so far made our short-list:

The Red Skull.
The Gladiator.
The Mandarin.
The Leader.
Dr Doom.
The Green Goblin.

But with super-villains, nothing is ever simple because there're villains who're enemies of not-major-heroes or of no one in particular. Some, like Mephisto, are so clearly the main enemy of their allotted hero that there seemed no point having a poll for them.

So, which Marvel villains who didn't make the above short-list would you nominate as your favourite? As well as Mephisto, there're obvious absentees from that roll-call, such as Thanos, the Magus, Attuma, the Sphinx, Dr Sun and, erm, Maa-Gor.

As always, a couple of days from now, I'll put your nominations in a poll - and then at last we'll be able to conduct the ultimate vote to find Marvel Comics' greatest super-villain of them all.

Saturday 3 March 2012

March 1972. Forty years ago today.

Barely does the year seem to have started than we're into March already. March, of course, was named after the Roman God of War. I wonder if this means we might see our favourite heroes celebrating his month by indulging in a spot of fisticuffs?

Amazing Spider-Man #106, unmasked

Naughty old Professor Smythe's cunning plan to unmask our hero rumbles on.

Despite the title, no spiders were squashed during the making of this epic.

Avengers #97, Rick Jones gets super-powers

The Kree/Skrull War reaches its conclusion, as Rick Jones gets the super-powers that are rightfully mine
Captain America #147, Supreme Hydra unmasked

I don't recall anything about the contents of this story but my razor-sharp instincts tell me Captain America probably unmasks the Supreme Hydra.

My money's on it being either the Red Skull or Sharon Carter.
Conan the Barbarian #14, Conan meets Elric

Conan meets Elric of Wotsit.

I read this in Essential Conan, a few years back but, from what I recall, I'm not sure the combination worked too well.
Daredevil #85, the Gladiator

I'm definitely going to have to get the appropriate volume of Essential Daredevil, so that one day I'll actually know what's going on inside his comics.
Fantastic Four #120, Airwalker

No such problems with this one as Galactus' latest herald shows up to give the Fantastic Four some grief.
Incredible Hulk #149, the Inheritor

One of my Hulk faves, when the green giant finds himself up against one of the High Evolutionary's cast-offs.

But just what is The Inheritor's secret?
Thor #197, Mangog, John Romita

Mangog's back, as John Romita gives us a suitably dramatic cover.
Iron Man #45, student protesters

I have no idea what happens in this tale but I do know I wrote a post about its cover once.

And here it is.

Thursday 1 March 2012

March 1962. Fifty Years Ago Today.

Fantastic Four #3, first costumes, first fantasti-car, Miracle Man
It's March 1962 and, with Henry Pym currently swearing off the size-changing serum, Marvel's roster of super-doers still consists of just one comic; The Fantastic Four.

Fortunately there's plenty going on in that comic as, bowing to reader demand, Lee and Kirby give the FF costumes, just like proper super-heroes.

Not only that but they also get their very own answer to the Batmobile, in the Fantasti-Car, a vehicle Reed Richards seems to have concocted from an old tin bathtub.

On top of that, the Baxter Building reveals its hi-tech secrets.

Phew! Could Stan and Jack possibly throw any more excitement at us?

Too right they can! Because we also get the debut of that menacing master of mesmerism the Miracle Man.

It may be true that, for most people, the Miracle Man hasn't exactly gone down in the annals of the legendary but I've always liked him and was glad to see him finally make his return many years later - this time with genuine super-powers.