Sunday 26 August 2012

Atlas Comics - Planet of Vampires #1.

Atlas Comics, Planet of Vampires cover, Neal Adams
Recent events may have got us all thinking about astronauts right now but we should remember that some astronauts are luckier than others. After all, not all of them return to Earth to be greeted by a hero's welcome.

No. Instead, some of them return to find the planet's been taken over by talking apes.

And some return to find it taken over by vampires.

After five years in space, the crew of the Aries 7 find themselves up exactly that creek when they arrive back home to discover a planet ravaged by nuclear war, its streets populated by homicidal, "savages."

Despite losing one crew member to a spear in the back, the rest of our gang are swiftly rescued by a bunch of people who live inside a huge dome built around the Empire State Building.

Atlas Comics, Planet of Vampires #1
Sadly, the people who live in that dome are even worse than the people who don't, and it soon turns out that, in order to ward off the effects of a plague, they're in the habit of draining the blood from their captives and helping themselves to it.

Needless to say, our heroes won't stand for such behaviour and, after teaming up with a group of captured savages, escape the dome - only to find themselves confronted by a whole horde of distinctly more hostile savages.

Can our heroes survive?

Only next issue can tell us.

It doesn't take a genius to spot that Atlas Comics is again doing its speciality of blatantly stealing ideas.

Atlas Comics, Planet of Vampires #1
Yes, it's the 1970s all right.
This time, it's lifting Charlton Heston's classics of dystopian foresight Planet of the Apes and The Omega Man. It also seems to have flung in a great chunk of Escape From New York, even though Escape From New York wasn't made until six years after this comic came out. It says everything about Atlas' genius for filching that they could even steal ideas from movies that hadn't been made yet.

The observant reader may have noticed I've not always been kind about Atlas Comics in the past. So, do I have a higher opinion about this one?

Not really. It's certainly way better than the nightmarish excesses of Michael Fleisher and it's solidly drawn by Pat Broderick in an Adams/Giordano sort of way but it does suffer from a serious lack of characterisation.

The truth is that all the main characters seem interchangeable and the two black ones barely make their presence felt at all until halfway through the tale where their sudden rise to noticeableness makes it feel like they've just appeared from thin air.

On top of this, the portrayal of the post-apocalyptic world doesn't feel right.

I'm not an expert on how a post-apocalyptic world would be but, to my eyes, some things seem to have changed far too much in two years, and some things don't seem to have changed enough. Supposedly there's been a nuclear war but there's no hint the astronauts might be in danger from radiation. Maybe this and other matters'll be dealt with in future issues.

It'd be nice, given its set-up, to think it all goes a bit Killraven from this point on but, knowing Atlas Comics - and seeing that the cover of issue #2 seems to feature an appearance by Dracula - I suspect such hopes may prove to be forlorn.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

The Cat #1.

The Cat #1, Marvel Comics
I think all of us at some point in our lives have wanted to create a race of women with the powers of cats - ones who can commit crimes on our behalf.

Sadly, with the various pressures of life, it can be hard to find the time to achieve it.

Not so afflicted with limited time is Mal Donalbain who in The Cat #1 sets out to do just that.

Tragically, the first of his subjects - a woman called Shirlee - proves to be barely more than an air-headed bimbo and falls to her death during her initial trial run.

Even more unfortunately for him, she's not the only woman thus powered.

For, unknown to him, Dr Tumulo, who gave Shirlee her powers, also gave Greer Nelson the same abilities.

Greer Nelson's not like Shirlee. Greer Nelson's talented, intelligent and dedicated. Now, out to give him a smacking, for killing Dr Tumulo for knowing too much, Greer does just that and justice is served.

The Cat #1, Mal Donalbain meets his fate

The Cat was of course one of a wave of feminist heroines Marvel introduced in the early 1970s, in a bid to get more girls reading super-hero comics.

I suppose there was an obvious flaw in this thinking, which is that young girls traditionally liked romance comics about beautiful women meeting nice men and marrying them. Therefore, comics about beautiful women meeting terrible men and beating them up was not necessarily giving them what they wanted.

The Cat #1, Zabo attacks our heroine

It'd be nice to say that, despite this, The Cat #1 is as good as its dramatic cover suggests but it's a fairly workmanlike comic. It's not actually bad but nor does it scream, "Buy issue #2," at you.

It's pleasantly drawn by Marie Severin and the redoubtable Wally Wood but is nothing special to look at and Linda Fite's story's fairly standard, with hints of the origins of both Daredevil and Captain America to it.

You also wonder how they got away with it, bearing in mind the central character's noticeable resemblance to DC Comics' Catwoman. It seems odd that DC sued Fawcett Comics for Captain Marvel's alleged resemblance to Superman but The Cat bears far more resemblance to Catwoman than Captain Marvel ever did to Superman and, as far as I know, DC never once called the lawyers in over her.

But maybe it's true what they say; that where there's a hit there's a writ, and failure is an orphan.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Adventure Comics #431 - the Wrath of the Spectre!

Adventure Comics #431, the Spectre melts a criminal, cover by Jim Aparo

Like any reasonable man, I've always wanted the power to melt people's arms.

Sadly, such are the vicissitudes of life, that I've yet to be granted that ability by whatever higher power it is that controls my destiny.

That being the case, I'll just have to get my pleasure by watching other people do it. 

But who to watch?

If he wanted to, Superman could melt people, with his heat vision - but, like a great big sap, he never does. And I've only ever seen Supergirl melt lions from outer space.

That means it's going to have to be the Spectre.

Adventure Comics #431 was my first introduction to the character - and I loved it; so much so that, from that point on, whenever I saw an issue of Adventure Comics with him in it, I had to buy it. I even had to buy issues he wasn't in.

Adventure Comics #431, the Spectre splash page, Jim Aparo, plane

What was its appeal?

That was simple enough.

It was that it was simple enough.

Adventure Comics #431, the Spectre, phone booth, Jim Aparo

There were no twists and turns for the Spectre. Nor were there attempts to heroically preserve the lives of those he was fighting. Some bad guys showed up, the Spectre showed up and the bad guys checked out. It was the perfect strip for anyone who's ever wanted revenge on a bus driver for speeding off when he sees you running for his bus.

In Adventure Comics #431, a gang's robbed a security van, their leader gratuitously killing the guards in the process.

It's not long before the Spectre's on their trail and killing them in outré ways. The first one he sends plummeting off a cliff, the second he melts and the third he reduces to a skeleton.

Adventure Comics #431, the Spectre melts the gun of a killer, Jim Aparo

Looking at it now, it's obvious the tale lacks a certain... ...drama. No obstacles get in our hero's way and his alter-ego of Jim Corrigan is left so totally undeveloped as a character that he might as well have stayed in his grave.

Clearly that didn't bother me as a child. All I cared about was the Spectre was cool - and he was cool because Jim Aparo made him look cool. If ever there was a strip Aparo was born to draw it was the Spectre, a character who was like Batman with the dial turned up to 11.

And if ever there was a strip Michael Fleisher was born to write it was the Spectre, the perfect vehicle for his love of inflicting death on everyone he encountered.

In all honesty, his writing's no more sophisticated or ambitious here than it was on all those terrible Atlas titles he inflicted on us but, being given a character who was perfect for his weird misanthropy, and an artist who knew exactly what to do with it, somehow meant it didn't seem to matter.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Detective Comics #438. A Monster Walks Wayne Manor.

Detective Comics #438, Batman, A Monster Walks Wayne Manor

Call me presumptuous but I've always wanted a brutish man-servant. The sort who can push people aside for me as I roam the streets of Sheffield.

But where to find such a thing?

Well, it turns out Wayne Manor is where to find such a thing because Bruce Wayne has a problem.

It would appear the house is haunted - haunted by a monster that's already killed a man and attacked poor old Alfred.

After some investigation, it turns out it's not a monster at all but Ubu, former man-servant to Ra's al Ghul.

Affected by an explosion and chemicals from the Lazarus Pit, he's now in the habit of glowing in the dark and looking for revenge on Batman for past indiscretions.

Detective Comics #438, Ubu in bandages

Needless to say he doesn't get it.

When I first read this tale as a kid, I didn't have a clue who Ra's al Ghul was or what the Lazarus Pit was. Nor had I previously been aware that Wayne Manor had been abandoned, or why it'd been abandoned.

What I was aware of was that, with a Gothic mansion, its darkened corridors stalked by a, "monster," it was a tale of mood and mystery.

Of course, what really sold it as such was the fact it was drawn by Jim Aparo.

Detective Comics #438, Ubu attacks Batman

I can't deny it, Jim Aparo's my favourite Batman artist. Neal Adams was fine but his work always seemed so polite compared to the more macho, rough-hewn look of Aparo. It's a fairly slight tale, only a few pages long - and feels more like an epilogue to another tale than a story in its own right - but the harsh moodiness of Aparo gives it a style that guarantees it takes hold in the memory more determinedly than logic suggests it ever should do.

Detective Comics #438, Batman departs dragging an unconscious man through the snow

Thursday 9 August 2012

Atlas Comics - Morlock #3.

Atlas Comics, Morlock 2001 and the Midnight Men #3
Life's never easy when you're half-man half-salad, and issue #3 of Atlas Comics' Morlock seems determined to prove it beyond all doubt.

When it begins, we find Morlock still roaming the countryside and - having killed virtually everyone he's ever met - still bemoaning his fate.

He's on his way to see a scientist called Whitlock who he believes can help him with his random homicidal tendencies.

How he knows about this Whitlock, we're never told. How he finds him, we're never told.

Unfortunately, Morlock's not the only one to find him because the dreaded thought police have also located the scientist and, when Morlock gets there, he finds them setting fire to the man.

Morlock of course reacts as any of us would. He turns into a killer tree and eats the thought police's leader.

Morlock and the Midnight Men #3, Atlas Comics, book burning, Steve Ditko and Berni Wrightson
Fortunately, despite having been set on fire, Whitlock doesn't die.

Instead, when Morlock's returned to normal, the scientist befriends him and shows him his underground base from which he's all set to lead his followers in a somewhat ad hock revolution that mostly involves him putting on a mask and declaring it's a revolution.

Unfortunately for that revolution, within minutes, the thought police burst in and start killing everyone, just as Morlock once more turns into a killer tree.

Morlock and the Midnight Men #3, Atlas Comics, Morlock shot dead, Steve Ditko and Berni Wrightson
So, Whitlock shoots Morlock dead and then, showing the never-say-die spirit any revolutionary needs, prepares to blow up himself, his base and all his followers.

You have to give it to Atlas, there's not many comics companies that'd think of killing a strip's star in the third issue.

But then again, did they really intend to leave him dead? It should be pointed out that Morlock's a plant not a person and so there's no guarantee a bullet would kill him like it would the rest of us. And it's a safe bet they weren't really going to have Whitlock blow up himself and all his followers, or there wouldn't have been an awful lot left to write about in the next issue.

Apart from the seeming death of Morlock, the comic's main point of interest is of course that its art's by Steve Ditko and Berni Wrightson which isn't quite as exciting a combo as it sounds, as, a bit of extra visual depth aside, it looks pretty much like Steve Ditko always looks.

Morlock and the Midnight Men #3, Atlas Comics, Steve Ditko and Berni Wrightson
On the writing front, Michael Fleisher's no longer on board, which means no females get eaten. But anyone fearing a shortage of cannibalism and humourless bloodshed need fear not, as his replacement Gary Friedrich serves up more of the same, with Morlock having a remarkable knack of blundering into the people he needs to blunder into for the story to happen, and showing no personality beyond complaining about his fate.

Strangely, at no point are we told why Whitlock survived being set on fire, and it doesn't seem we're even expected to be curious about it.

I said, when I reviewed issue #1, that Morlock was one of the few Atlas strips that had potential. And it had.

Don't get me wrong. I don't mean Morlock himself had the potential to be a great super-hero. With his tendency to kill everyone he encounters, he clearly didn't, but the basic set-up of an inhuman man on the loose in a dystopian world did at least have the potential to create interesting stories.

Sadly, it never lasted long enough, nor seemed ambitious enough to give us them. Who knows what magic the likes of Don McGregor and Craig Russell could have conjured up if handed the same concept?

Still, with the introduction of the Midnight Men, there're clear signs Atlas were at least trying to expand the narrative and take the strip into whole new directions.

Sadly though, there were to be no more issues for Morlock; and we're doomed to never know just what fate would have had in store for the titular terror and ourselves.

Saturday 4 August 2012

Forty years ago today - August 1972.

Summer bursts into a brand new month.

But we don't care about that.

It's 1972 and we're too busy looking to see which of our favourite Marvel heroes is doing the most to put the awe into August.

Fantastic Four #125

The Fantastic Four are still battling the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Avengers 102

That bounder the Grim Reaper's busy putting temptation in the Vision's way.
Captain America 152

"You can't let him be killed by Hyde!"

What a fussy woman. Just who DOES she want him killed by?
Conan the Barbarian 17

Gil Kane gives us the clash of steel on steel.
Daredevil 90

Miracle of miracles, it's a Daredevil story I actually remember.

Mr Fear shows up and...


...admittedly, that's all I recall but at least I recall it.
Incredible Hulk 154

It's one of my favourite Hulk tales as our hero finds himself shrunk to the size of a doll and having to take on the hordes of Hydra.

Never fear. It's Ant-Man to the rescue!
Iron Man 49

Hooray! It's the Super-Adaptoid - and that kneeling woman who seemed to appear on every cover Gil Kane ever did.
Thor 202

Thor's Ego's getting out of hand.
X-Men 77

It's the Super-Adaptoid again - but there's no sign of that kneeling woman.
Amazing Spider-Man 111

Kraven makes a monkey out of the Gibbon.

Thursday 2 August 2012

Fifty years ago today - August 1962.

As time flies by faster than Quicksilver's ferret, we launch, feet first, into yet another month.

And that can only mean one thing.

It's time to see what our favourite Marvel heroes were up to exactly fifty years ago.

Amazing Fantasy #15, Spider-Man origin, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko cover

With the Fantastic Four and the Hulk on holiday, thanks to their mags still only coming out once every two months, it creates an opening for a living legend to makes his début - as Spider-Man swings into our lives while Stan Lee promises us a message about the, "New Amazing!"
Journey into Mystery #83, Thor makes his debut and quickly sees off the Stone Men from Saturn

And Spider-Man's not the the only legend to be making his début - because Thor too appears for the first time.

Could nothing stop the irresistible rise of the company that wasn't yet called Marvel?