Sunday 29 April 2012

Avengers #58. Even an Android Can Cry.

Avengers #58, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Goliath, Hawkeye and the Black Panther head burst towards the reader as the Vision watches on in the form of a gigantic face, white cover, John Buscema
With the exciting news that, during the Olympics, some of us are to have the army stationed on our roof, complete with missile launchers, it's time to look back on a far simpler time when the only things people had to worry about turning up on their rooftops were groups of super-doers.

Turning up on the Avengers' rooftop this issue is the Black Panther who discovers he's been summoned to their mansion to help mull over whether the newly introduced Vision should be accepted for membership. I don't think I'm giving away too much by saying his application is indeed successful, although it does make you wonder what he'd have done if it hadn't been.

Regardless of such questions, this was always one of my favourite Avengers tales when I was a kid, mostly because of its celebrated closing shot of the Vision crying like a great big sissy after he's been voted in.

Well, super-heroes - and androids - crying might have seemed a novelty back then but, looking at it now, it's plain to see how atypical the whole issue is. For once, there's no super-villain to fight, just twenty pages of exposition and flashbacks as the team get to the root of just who the Vision is and where he came from.

Right from the start, it's established he's solar powered. Was this a sign that, even at this early stage, writer Roy Thomas was thinking in terms of the android having once been the original Human Torch? I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise, given that he was clearly revelling in a chance to let his love for comic book continuity hold sway. We already had the Vision as a partial revival of the Golden Age character of the same name, and now, in this tale, we find out he's also a partial revival of Silver Age Avengers' foe Wonder Man. Such is Roy's love of continuity, he even gets a plug in for Hank Pym's previous fight with Dragon Man.

Nice to see that the creation of Ultron was all Hank Pym's fault. You do have to worry that, if things are to be taken as they're told here, Pym not only accidentally created a homicidal robot but somehow gave the prototypical Ultron a deadly weapon without realising it. The Avengers really should have been asking questions about that man's state of mind long before they did.

Monday 23 April 2012

Avengers #57. Behold the Vision!

Avengers #57, shrouded in smoke, the Vision makes his first appearance as his giant figure towers over the shocked and helpless Avengers, John Buscema cover
As I roam the streets of Sheffield, people often say to me, "Steve, I saw what you just did to that bunch of visiting snooker players. Just how do you do that thing where you fire devastating heat beams from your eyeballs?"

And I say, "It doesn't come easy. It's a very complicated process, involving solar power and decades of baffling continuity."

Fortunately for me, I'm not alone in this, as one of Marvel's finest super-teams possesses a character in the exact same mould.

And Avengers #57 is where we get to meet him.

The Avengers're minding their own business, lost in their domestic troubles, when a strange being called the Vision shows up and tries to kill them all.

Then he decides he doesn't want to kill them all.

Instead he wants to lead them to the lair of his creator - the rapacious robot Ultron.

There, the Avengers quickly find themselves trapped like the dozy lumps they are, leaving the Vision to prove he can be trusted, by setting off on his own to bump off Ultron.

Reading the story now, there're two things that most strike you about it.

One is that the Vision, who we tend to see as Marvel's answer to Mr Spock, seems to be a veritable ball of emotions in the tale. He's tormented, he's tortured, he's angry, he's confused. It's a far cry from the impassive creature we expect him to be at this stage of his existence.

The other is what a complete and utter dolt Ultron is.

First, his plan involves letting the Avengers know exactly where to find him.

Second, he traps them in a chamber with moving walls, but those walls move at a snail's pace, giving them every chance to escape.

Third, despite having created him, Ultron totally forgets the Vision can change his density - not once but twice - leading to his own destruction.

And fourth, he actually tells the Vision what his only weakness is (the electrodes on his head), giving his foe the chance to discombobulate him that he would never otherwise have had. If you didn't know better, you'd think the rancid robot wanted to be defeated.

However, the charm of the tale is three-fold.

One, there's John Buscema's beautifully elegant artwork, exemplified by the classic cover above. For me, this was the period when Buscema had just entered the very peak of his career.

Two is that we get to see something of the Avengers' private life; Hank standing Jan up to spend an evening in his lab, the disintegration of Hawkeye and the Black Widow's relationship, and the Black Panther deciding he needs to find a new role for himself besides that of costumed crime-fighter.

Interesting that, in Hank's early exchanges with Jan, Thomas seems to be laying the groundwork for the arrival of Hank's Yellowjacket persona a few issues later. Apparently, once his work in the lab's done, he has something to do with private matters that he wants to discuss with her. If only Jan had known then what a total nut-job he was.

The third charm is of course that we get a great new character added to the Avengers' roster. As far as I can remember, the Vision was the first character created specifically to be in the team, instead of being imported from another book. In a sense, you could argue this was a betrayal of the strip's original purpose but, as Ultron couldn't tell you - because his head's just flown off - sometimes in life, betrayal can be a good thing.

Friday 20 April 2012

DC Comics' all-time greatest villain - Poll Results!

Some kind of French democracy painting to do with universal male suffrage
The French elections to find their exciting new president may be under way but how can even they compare in importance to the Steve Does Comics poll to find the greatest DC super-villain of them all?

They can't.

And that's why I'm talking about this and not that.

But what a poll it's been, with a walloping thirty five votes - which may well be the highest turnout a poll on this site's ever managed.

Joint eighth were Crazy Quilt and Starro, with one vote each.

Joint sixth, with two votes apiece, were the Anti-Monitor and Dex-Starr.

Fifth, with three votes, was Lex Luthor. I suspect he'll be pulling his hair out at such a disappointing finish.

Fourth, with four votes, were DC Comics Themselves.

Third was Dan Jurgens, with six votes.

It's no laughing matter for the Joker as he finds himself relegated to second place, with seven votes.

Which means the winner - and possibly a surprise to many - was Jack Kirby's very own Darkseid, with nine votes.

So, congratulations to Darkseid, commiserations to the plucky losers and, as always, thanks to all who voted.

Monday 16 April 2012

Stone. Don't risk being the last on your block to get it.

Stone by Stephen Walker available from Amazon Kindle
It's time once more for all readers of Steve Does Comics to despair as I plug my latest eBook that's now available on Amazon.

Stone tells the tale of what happens when the 12th Daughter of Destiny goes in search of her lucky hand and finds instead the effects of a curse that ties the world of Ancient Mythology to the present. I won't give away too much but if I use the phrase, "A head full of snakes," I think you might have a clue where I'm coming from.

Such is its sensational selling power that, after mere hours online, Stone has already hit the dizzy heights of #90 in Amazon UK's Fantasy Short Story category and is currently available for just 99 Cents, 77 Pence or 0.89 Euros, depending on your geographical location.

Remember, you don't need one of those fancy Kindle machine things to download it. All you need is one of those fancy computer machine things that I suspect you already have, or you wouldn't be reading this.

Download Stone from Amazon.ComAmazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Spain, or Amazon Italy, right now - because your brain deserves it.

Saturday 14 April 2012

Spider-Man Annual 1979.

Spider-Man Annual 1979, Marvel UK
It's hard to believe but, sometimes in life, even Christmas can let you down.

The Christmas of 1978 was one such occasion because, although the rest of that festive period might've been fine (I think Blake's 7 was launched that very Christmas), that year's Spider-Man Annual was a thing of genuine disappointment to my youthful mind.

For one thing, it only featured one story - which wouldn't have been too bad had it been a classic.

But it wasn't.

It was the tale where our hero and the Human Torch go off to co-star in a Hollywood movie before teaming up to fight Mysterio and the Wizard.

The first and biggest problem with it was how it looked. After years of Steve Ditko, John Romita, Gil Kane, Jim Mooney, John Buscema and Ross Andru on the strip, the art on this tale seemed a remarkably basic and juvenile thing. The artist's not credited anywhere in the book but my Spider-Sense tingles whenever I think of the name, "Larry Lieber." I must therefore conclude it was indeed Stanley's brother who was responsible.

There was also the problem that, with Spidey and the Torch going to Tinseltown, the regular cast were nowhere in sight, meaning the human drama that'd made the strip great was absent. Instead we got a tale that was, at heart, Spider-Man and the Human Torch fighting each other for thirty-odd pages before joining together to finish off Mysterio and the Wizard who'd had a vague plan to trick our heroes into battling and killing each other.

This was the other problem. Leaving aside that their plan made no sense (since when do Spider-Man and the Human Torch set out to kill their foes?) Mysterio and the Wizard just came across as a pair of idiots.

I didn't really care about the Wizard seeming like a fool. In my book, outside the Frightful Four, he'd never been anything but a minor leaguer, but Mysterio had always been one of my favourites. OK, so he was just a fraud but at least he was a stylish fraud.

The rest of the annual was taken up by pin-ups, reproductions of classic covers and a Marie Severin cartoon. All of which were very nice but, let's face it, no one ever picked up a Spider-Man annual hoping it'd be full of pin-ups.

Sadly, it was the last Marvel Annual I ever read and it was a shame therefore that the grand tradition of Christmas super-herodom would bow out of my life on such a low.

Still, as one hero leaves, another set enter and at least the BBC ensured I had Blake's 7 to keep me company.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

DC Comics' all-time greatest villain.

Suffrage universel dédié à Ledru-Rollin, painted by Frédéric Sorrieu, 1850. This lithography pays tribute to French statesman Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin for establishing universal male suffrage in France in 1848
As long-suffering readers'll know, this blog recently conducted a series of polls to discover just who is the greatest Marvel villain of all time.

But that's not enough for the world's most over-ambitious blog. It must also discover the identity of the greatest DC villain of them all.

Now, I could do what I did last time round and launch a poll to find the greatest enemy of each major DC hero, before putting together a final poll. The only problem is that doing it for the Marvel villains took so long that I - and I suspect everyone else - was losing the will to live by the time we actually got round to the final. Thus, like Giant-Man biting off the Blob's head, I'm going to get it all done in one go.

Therefore, nominate your favourite DC villain and, in a couple of days from now, I'll put it all together in a poll.

Once that's done, I'll pit DC's greatest villain against Marvel's and, at last, we'll know just who is the greatest comic book villain in history.

Monday 9 April 2012

Captain Britain #4. This is the story of the Hurricane.

Captain Britain #4, the Hurricane
From the deepest valleys of this land to its highest hilltops, from its wettest rivers to its dryest wit, there's one thing everyone knows.

There's no one more patriotic than Steve Who Does Comics.

Why, I even know the first line of the National Anthem.

It begins with the word, "God," and then there are some other words.

But a man who's so wrapped in the flag he probably even knows the second line of the National Anthem, is the man they know as, "Britain's first super-hero."

Admittedly, Billy the Cat and Katie might have something to say about that claim but, nonetheless, in 1976, after years of giving us nothing but reprints, Marvel UK handed us our very own super-doer in the form of Captain Britain. Captain Britain was red, Captain Britain was strong, Captain Britain had a pole.

Captain Britain was in colour.

This was actually the comic's strongest point. Not because it was a visual treat but because it was a nasal one. Thanks to the unique combination of the coloured inks and the paper stock used, it was quite simply the best-smelling comic I can remember ever reading.

Apart from the smell, what also struck me was the strip's total lack of originality. Like Peter Parker, Brian Braddock was a student. Like Peter Parker, he had trouble with the campus big-mouth. Like Peter Parker, he had trouble with a stroppy grown-up determined to expose him for the menace to society he was.

Well, thanks to Joe Bloke at Grantbridge Street having posted it on his blog, I've finally had the chance to re-read Captain Britain #4; the first issue I ever read of that mag.

In it, Brian Braddock's minding his own business when his university's attacked by a man called the Hurricane. Snooker fans'll be disappointed to know it's not Alex "Hurricane" Higgins - who no doubt attacked it the following week - but a villain who wears an armoured costume and fires hurricane-force blasts at people. I quite like the Hurricane. For one thing, he just shows up at the university and starts demolishing it for no good reason. Secondly, he's a bit of a thug and a bully.

Captain Britain probably doesn't like him so much, as, by the end of the tale, the Hurricane's flattened him and left him for dead. I seem to remember this is a fate the poor Captain suffered repeatedly over the years.

The tale's drawn by Herb Trimpe, in a very simple style, possibly suggesting he was in a bit of a rush but, regardless, it's pleasing to look at.

But the truth is, such is the lack of originality and the lack of any real character development in this tale that it's hard to feel involved. It really does seem like a super-hero comic done by numbers. Who would've thought at the time that, from such unpromising beginnings, such future greatness would develop?

Thursday 5 April 2012

Spider-Man Annual 1977. Of Savages, Punishers and dresses.

Spider-Man Annual 1977, Marvel UK, hardback

That's right! That awesome jungle call can mean just one thing!

I'm fixating on Ron Ely!

As we all know, for any sane human being, there can only be two Tarzans in this world - Johnny Weissmuller and Ron Ely.

But the man they didn't call, "Rocket Ron," had another claim to fame. He wasn't just Tarzan. He was Doc Savage, Man of Bronze. And Doc Savage makes an appearance in Marvel UK's 1977 Spider-Man Annual, as Spider-Man teams up with the archaic adventurer.

In fact it's not really a team-up because they never meet. Instead, in the modern age, Spider-Man finds himself having to finish off a 1930s' case that involved Doc Savage, when a woman from another world shows up at a building site and complains she's being bothered by a giant monster.

Savage had helped her trap the beast but Spider-Man, being more worldly-wise than his predecessor, soon realises that women can lie and that she's the bad guy.

It does seem odd that a seasoned crime-fighter like Savage would be unaware that women can lie but the most unlikely revelation is that, thanks to having done a quick course in languages, Peter Parker can understand alien tongues. Building his own web-shooters, creating spider-shaped bugging devices, understanding alien languages - is there nothing the lad can't do?

After this opener, our hero finds himself teaming up with the Punisher to stop Moses Magnum from gassing people to death in a South American death camp. With its images of people being dissolved by nerve gas, it's a lot more gruesome than you'd expect of a Spider-Man tale from this era but that's the Punisher for you, dragging everything and everyone down to his own level. The tale's most memorable moment has to be when Magnum pulls off the captive Spider-Man's mask to reveal a face which - thanks to a cunning disguise that seems to consist of two gob-stoppers - looks nothing like Peter Parker.

But the best tale of the book - and I'd say the one that feels most like Spider-Man - is the final one, when our hero has to help an ex-footballing scientist rescue his daughter from kidnappers, leading him to re-enact a failed run in a game he played at the same venue years earlier. Unfortunately, thanks to the need to fit the story into the annual, it's heavily edited here. The loss of the opening few pages is no great loss but a later scene with Peter Parker and MJ at a university shindig ends up making no sense at all. This is a shame, as MJ's wearing a rather nice dress.

To be honest, what matters most to me about all these stories is they're drawn by Ross Andru, and I'll fight to the death to defend my claim that Ross Andru's my favourite Spider-Man artist of them all, occupying that stylistic middle ground, as he does, between Gil Kane and John Romita.

So there you have it; Spider-Man Annual 1977. All the fun you could want for a mere £1.10. Now to leap off this conveniently placed waterfall, wrestle with a crocodile and then punch a lion in the face.

I don't have to do such things.

I just like to.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

I: Robot.

Iron Man confronts Gargantus, the hynotic robot neanderthal who has his club ready to bash him with
Reader, can you guess Steve Who Does Comics' shocking secret!?!

Yes, it's true. I have a revelation to make because the man who's been bringing this blog to you for all these long, painful years is in fact no man at all!

He's a robot!

Or at least he would be if Stan Lee were in charge.

That's right. My post of two days ago - with its mention of the Fantastic Four's foe Gabriel - reminded me of Stan Lee's habitual love of revealing that villains were in fact cunningly disguised robots. Why, in the 1960s, you could barely move for unstoppable Marvel villains who, at the tale's climax, were revealed to be no more than nuts and bolts.

I covered one of them recently in my review of The Incredible Hulk #127, which told the tragic tale of Mogol. But the regular reader may not be surprised to discover my favourite such villain was the hypno-robo-Neanderthal that was Iron Man's foe Gargantus.

How could you not love him? Not only was he a Neanderthal, not only did he have hypno-powers but, at the denouement, he flew apart when confronted by a handful of magnets. Never again would his alien creators dare attack Earth now they knew mankind had at its disposal the deadly power of magnetism.

Well, that's my heart-warming anecdote done with but what about you? Just off the top of my head, I can think of a whole bunch of robots in disguise that turned up in the early days of The Avengers, X-Men, The Hulk and a load of others, so what Marvel villains do you recall that turned out to be robots? And which ones were your favourites?

Sunday 1 April 2012

Forty years ago today - April 1972.

It may be April Fools' Day but such shenanigans pale into insignificance once one realises April the 1st also means it's time to look at what our favourite Marvel heroes were up to exactly forty years ago today.

Incredible hulk #150, Havok, Polaris, Herb Trimpe, John Severin

Some say the Hulk's a philistine.

Some say he lacks musical appreciation.

They're wrong.

On this very cover, he gives us his rendition of Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson's monster-hit The Girl Is Mine.

Astonishingly, this is a full ten years before the song was released. If the Hulk goes to court over it, claiming copyright infringement, my legal training tells me this cover gives him an excellent chance of winning.

On other matters, this is the issue in which he picks up a cliff - and I don't mean Cliff Richard.
Amazing Spider-Man #107, Spider-Slayer

Was there really anyone wanted to see the Spider-Slayer return?

Clearly Professor Smythe did because he's brought it back.

And its more tentacular than ever.
Avengers #98, Ares

No sooner do the Avengers get the Kree/Skrull War behind them than they're back at war again - this time with the hordes of Olympus.

I love this storyline, mostly for Barry Smith's art which is a thing of grace and beauty.

What with Neal Adams and then Barry Smith, we were being positively spoilt by the Avengers during this period.
Captain America #148, the Red Skull and the 5th Sleeper, John Romita cover

Captain America comes up against two old foes; one human, one mechanical.

Is this the one where he teams up with the Kingpin and his son to fight the Sleeper? Or was that another issue?
Daredevil #86, the Ox

My memories of this tale are extremely fuzzy.

Is the Black Widow still on trial in this one? Or is all that over and done with?
Fantastic Four #121, the Silver Surfer and Gabriel

Hooray! One I can actually remember reading.

I remember reading it in Captain Britain's Marvel UK comic.

Despite the John Buscema art, the Fantastic Four in this era doesn't seem to get much love from the fans, but I loved it.

I can however confirm that, for the true comics aficionado, Gabriel's secret wasn't as mind-blowing as the cover would have you believe.
Thor #198, Mangog, Odin dead

Oh look. Asgard's facing doom, and Odin's just lying around.

Get yourself a new ruler, Asgardians.

I'm available

And I'm only 75% as useless, mad, irresponsible and despotic as Odin.
X-Men #75, the Mimic

The X-Men find themselves up against the Mimic in a tale I've never read.

I do of course know the Mimic from his one appearance in the pages of The Incredible Hulk. A story I'll have to review in the not-too-distant future.