Thursday 12 December 2013

This week, I have mostly been reading...

As you no doubt know, this blog ploughs through millions of comics every day in order to bring you opinions so powerful they could rock the world. Why, grown men themselves have been known to hide in cupboards to avoid the power of my fulminations.

But the truth is that even I don't always have strong enough feelings about a comic to bother reviewing it in full. Therefore, this is a selection of what I've been looking at lately that I can't bring myself to give a full write-up to.

Avengers #2, The Space Phantom

The Avengers have their second outing and find themselves up against the Space Phantom who, for years, I always got mixed up with the Space Parasite.

Needless to say, in this tale, everyone gets everyone mixed up with the Space Phantom and by the end of it all, the Hulk's quit and the newly formed group are already a man down.
Avengers #3, Sub-Mariner

Just to make things worse for our heroes, not only are they a man short but the very next issue, they have to fight both him and the Sub-Mariner.
Avengers #4, Captain America returns from the dead

Bah! Who needs that pesky Hulk anyway? Thanks to the maturity levels that only Namor can supply, the Avengers return to full strength with the return of Captain America.
Batman #265, Batman Greatest Failure

Batman has  his greatest failure!

Or perhaps he doesn't, as he encounters murder on a film set.

This is actually one of my favourite Batman tales from the era but I don't have anything to say about it that I haven't said about other Batman tales in other posts, therefore I shall not review it but merely express my liking for it.
Captain Marvel #29, Cap goes Cosmic

Captain Marvel goes all cosmic and has his head redrawn by John Romita.

To be honest I've never been totally sure what Cosmic Awareness is but it's all good mythic stuff as Jim Starlin's Cosmic Cube saga rumbles on and we get some back-story for the solar system.
Captain Marvel #50, Super Adaptoid

Jim Starlin's long-gone but Mar-Vell's Cosmic Awareness comes in handy as he uses it to beat the Super-Adaptoid and bring Rick Jones permanently back to our world.

Tragically, this means we shall have to endure more of Rick's singing career which mostly seems to consist of him declaring himself not to be John Denver.

I can confirm that I too am not John Denver.
Ka-Zar #6, Moby Dick

Ka-Zar finds himself in a Savage Land re-enactment of Moby Dick as he helps a vengeance-seeking wally try to kill a giant river monster.

The story's concept might be pretty clichéd but it's beautifully drawn by Alfredo Alcala.
Mighty World of Marvel Annual  1979

It's the Mighty World of Marvel but it might as well be called Daredevil Annual 1979, as our red clad hero finds himself in two tales.

The first is a very long but uninvolving team-up with the Black Panther. The second is shorter and stronger as the man without fear finds himself on a train, up against the Beetle and the Gladiator.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Forty years ago this month - December 1973.

December 1973. It was the month when the two greatest Christmas songs of all time - Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody and Wizzard's I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday were released. How we watched with bated breath as they battled it out for chart supremacy.

But who was gaining supremacy in the battle between our heroes and their enemies as that year drew to a close?

Only a ride in Steve's magic sleigh ride to the past can tell us.

And it's about to do it  right now.

Amazing Spider-Man #127, the Vulture

No one else likes this story.

I love it.

We get the senses-shattering return of the Vulture, intent on snuffing out Mary Jane before she can dob him in to the cops about a murder he's committed.

Or do we?
The Avengers #118, the Defenders, Dormammu and Loki

The Evil Eye saga hits its climax, as the Avengers and Defenders confront Loki and Dormammu.
Captain America and the Falcon #168

To be honest it's a story I know nothing of but Cap looks strangely unbothered about the prospect of being both sautéed and broiled at the same time.
Conan the Barbarian #33

Conan's in his traditional spot of bother.

Judging by the absence of the obligatory cowering blonde from the cover, I assume it must have been her month off. Even cowering blondes have to take a break sometimes. All that crawling around on your hands and knees, and flinging your hand in front of your face, it can be a very tiring profession.
Daredevil and the Black Widow, Terrex

Daredevil and the Black Widow find themselves up against the menace of Terrex, who is presumably no relation to Terrax.
Fantastic Four #141

Is this the one where Reed Richards does whatever it is to his son that Fantastic Four fans have been complaining about ever since?
Incredible Hulk, Island of Monsters

It's another classic, as the Hulk finds himself up against an island full of monsters.

I got this cover from The Grand Comics Database. Some naughty soul seems to have removed Betty Ross's clothes before posting it on there.
Iron Man #65

At last Iron Man has the sense to do what I'd do if I had a suit of armour. He goes on a murderous rampage.
Thor #218

Is this the one where Thor and his mates come up across a giant planet populated by giant people with a giant hoover?

I was never sure about this era of Thor. He and his sidekicks seemed to spend all their time on quests into deep space when they should have been on Earth bashing up Mr Hyde and the Cobra.
X-Men #85

Hooray! Not only is it an Original X-Men issue I had when I was a youth but it's an X-Men issue I actually liked, as our heroes find themselves up against Factor Three.

Sadly, I seem to remember the next issue being a return to the same old half-baked pants we usually got from the Original X-Men.

Monday 2 December 2013

Fifty years ago today - December 1963.

Hooray! It's December - the only month of the year that rhymes with, "Dismember."

But will our favourite Marvel heroes of fifty years ago be taking their foes apart - or merely falling to pieces under the pressure?

Only a journey in Steve's wibbly wobbly time machine can tell us.

Fantastic Four #21, the Hate-Monger

The Hate-Monger makes his aggro-packed debut.

But what oh what can his senses-shattering secret be?

Click here to find out. But be warned, your sanity might not be able to take it.
Journey Into Mystery #99, Thor v Mr Hyde

Mr Hyde makes his first appearance and it's another of those weirdly defeatist covers that Thor specialised in.
Amazing Spider-Man #7, The Vulture returns

Someone call the nurses. The Vulture's escaped from the retirement home again.
Strange Tales #115, the Human Torch v the Sandman

By the looks of it, Marvel cunningly use the fact that Spider-Man's not in the tale to make you think Spider-Man's in the tale. That Stan Lee was a marketing genius.

As for the Sandman; if you're made of sand, is it really a good idea to take on someone whose power is flame?
Tales of Suspense #48, Iron Man v Mister Doll

Thanks to Steve Ditko, Iron Man gets a new costume and unveils possibly the least likely piece of technology in the history of comics, as he takes on the power of Mr Doll.
Tales to Astonish #50, Giant-Man v the Human Top

I had a reprint of this, in an Alan Class comic, when I was a kid. I always had a soft spot for it, even though poor old Hank Pym comes across as being completely useless in it. Frankly, the sight of him being pitied by the Wasp every step of the way - it's not a dignified thing.

Monday 25 November 2013

The most forgettable comics I have ever owned. Part 10: Dr Who Annual 1978.

Dr Who Annual 1978, Tom Baker
As we all know, Saturday was the most important day in human history.

It was the 50th anniversary of the first ever broadcast of the first ever episode of Dr Who.

To celebrate, the BBC flung everything but the kitchen sink at us, creating the impression that it was impossible to switch on the TV without being confronted by a show about the Gallifreyan gallivanter.

Even their rivals Channel 5 got in on the act by showing the second of Peter Cushing's 1960s Dr Who movies.

For a Doctor Who fan, it felt like Christmas always felt when you were a kid.

As for the various shows, I generally enjoyed the 50th anniversary episode. Multiple Doctor stories are always going to suffer from the fact that no story really needs more than one infallible hero in it, meaning the need to give each of them things to do, and say, forces the inclusion of dialogue and actions that are fun but not vital to drive the story forward, causing a certain saggage in the pacing.

But it had the return of the Zygons, the return of Totters Lane, the return of the old opening titles and Susan's old school.

And what sort of madman wouldn't be excited by the sight of all incarnations of the Doctor turning up to save Gallifrey - especially when we get a cameo from Peter Capaldi's rather terrifying eyeballs?

And then, of course, there was the return of Tom Baker; as barking mad as ever.

I also enjoyed Adventures in Space and Time, the drama about the show's creation; and also The Five-ish Doctors, Peter Davison and Georgia Moffett's side project about Davison, McCoy and Colin Baker desperately trying to force their way into the 50th anniversary episode in defiance of all opposition. It managed to be funny, touching and oddly sweet at the same time, with all concerned coming out of it well, with their willingness to send themselves up. I especially enjoyed John Barrowman's horrific secret and Ian McKellen's Sylvester-McCoyless scene with Peter Jackson.

"This is all very well and good," I hear you cry. "But what does this all have to do with comics?"

Well, you cry right because this is what it has to do with comics. As well as once owning a copy of TV Action in which Jon Pertwee decided to teach a six-legged camel a lesson by head-butting its feet, I once also had a copy of the 1978 Dr Who annual.

I'd love to regale you with tales of its magical contents...

...but I can't remember any of them.

I know it, "starred," Tom Baker because it says so on the cover above. I have a feeling it also co-starred Leela, the most well-spoken woman ever to have been raised in a jungle. I suspect it may have included crossword puzzles and the odd Ludo style board game because such books always did. It possibly had some educational content about space travel and science. Who can know?

Were the daleks in it?

I fear not - or I should surely have remembered.

Strangely enough, despite my childhood love for the show - and my still burning ambition to be a Sea-Devil when I grow up - I never owned another Dr Who annual. I suspect that I feared such books might not live up to the knuckle-chewing drama of the TV show and therefore stayed away from them.

Still, I like to feel that, in purchasing it, I made my contribution to the Dr Who industry that has made the show financially viable enough to last for as long as it has.

According to one of those online, "Work out how long you're going to live," things, I'm expected to die at the ripe old age of 92. But those people are fools! There's no way I shall ever allow myself to die before the 100th anniversary episode. Even if I have to turn myself into a Brain of Morbius type monstrosity to do it, I shall be there to see it.

To be honest, I'm counting down the days already.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Forty years ago today - November 1973.

As a connoisseur of mass human suffering, it always depresses me to know there's apparently no truth at all in the popularly held belief that Ring a Ring o' Roses is really about the Black Death.

Fortunately, other nursery rhymes are available to us - and most topical of all right now is the one that exhorts us to, "Remember, remember the 5th of November."

And that sounds like a challenge to see how well I remember what my favourite Marvel heroes would have been up to had I picked up a comic on that date of exactly forty years ago.

Amazing Spider-Man #126, the Kangaroo

It's the return the whole world was crying out for, as the Kangaroo boomerangs back into action.

Sadly, it turns out not to be a happy comeback for the Antipodean antagonist.

As Bruce Forsyth would no doubt say, it wasn't a case of didgeridoo well.

Why do I get the feeling I've just lost all my Australian readers?
Avengers #117, Sub-Mariner v Captain America

The Evil Eye saga rumbles on as two Second World War legends have a punch-up in Japan.
Captain America and the Falcon #167, the Yellow Claw

Apparently, our heroes are up against the Yellow Claw, as they seem to have been for months.

Other than that I can shed no light at all on the contents of this comic.
Conan the Barbarian #32

Nor can I shed any upon the interiors of this mag.

It being a Conan story, I think we can probably guess what elements the tale's likely to contain, though.
Daredevil and the Black Widow #105, Moondragon, Angar and Ramrod

I do remember this one!

Isn't this the story where Daredevil has to press a yellow button to save the world but can't because he doesn't know which button is yellow?
Fantastic Four #140, Annihilus

I always wanted to read this story when I was a kid, mostly because there was a panel from it reproduced in The Horrific World of Monsters, more about which can be read right here.

Sadly, not only did I never get my hands on a copy of the original comic but I never even got to read it in reprint form. Truly, life can be tragic.
The Incredible Hulk #169, the Bi-Beast

Hooray! The Bi-Beast makes his debut.

Thanks to one of the first super-hero comics I ever bought having featured the place, I do have a soft spot for any story that uses the hidden city of the Bird People.
Iron Man #64

It's that rarity, an Iron Man cover that rings a bell for me.

But it's good to see Happy showing his loyalty to his boss there.
Thor #217, Odin

Is this the one where Thor and his mates return to Asgard, only to find it's been taken over by evil lookalikes?

In the case of Odin, how would anyone notice the difference?

Saturday 2 November 2013

Fifty years ago today - November 1963.

As all lovers of plots to blow up Parliament know, in but three days from now, it's Bonfire Night.

But were our favourite Marvel heroes of exactly fifty years ago likewise setting the world ablaze?

Or were they instead like one of those rockets you put in a milk bottle, set light to and then watch as it falls over and then just lies there, on the ground, doing nothing?

Avengers #2, Space Phantom

The Space Phantom makes his debut and promptly takes advantage of the average Marvel hero's desire to punch other Marvel heroes in the bracket.
Fantastic Four #20, the Molecule Man

And the Molecule Man also makes his debut.

I've never liked the Molecule Man. It's something about that zig-zaggy face that puts me off.
Journey Into Mystery #98, Thor, Cobra and Mr Hyde

Yes! Even a thunder god cannot match the Cobra's great power of... ...erm, crawling around on his stomach.
Amazing Spider-Man #6, The Lizard

Hooray! My favourite Spider-Man villain makes his first appearance, and features on my favourite Steve Ditko Spider-Man cover.

As always, we have to conclude that you can't go wrong with purple and green.
Strange Tales #114, Human Torch v Captain America

It's the Human Torch v Captain America but - as the real Cap's still encased in a block of ice - something tells me this one might be an imposter.
Tales of Suspense #47, Iron Man v the Melter

Iron Man comes up against the first of his foes who have the power to melt his armour.
Tales to Astonish #49, Giant Man v the Living Eraser

The Living Eraser and Giant Man both arrive on the scene, as Marvel finally give up all hope of Ant-Man ever catching on.
X-Men #2

The X-Men hit their second issue, with a foe of whom I must admit to knowing next to nothing.

But am I right in thinking that three of this month's villains have the power to teleport?

Saturday 26 October 2013

The Trigan Empire.

The Trigan Empire, Book
As I roam the majestic heights of Wincobank Iron Age hill fort, people often say to me, "Steve, it fills you with awe, doesn't it, to think that two thousand years ago, the people of Sheffield were stood on this very spot, murdering Italians."

"I don't blame them," I say. "I could murder a spag bol myself right now."

"Not Italian meals, you half-witted buffoon!" they declare. "Italian people. This was the front line in the battle between the ancient Brigantes tribe and the invading Romans."

"Well, Meadowhall shopping centre's nearby," I point out. "So at least they wouldn't have run out of supplies."

At which point, they turn their back on me and walk off as though I'm some sort of imbecile.

"But it has twelve thousand parking spaces!" I call after them, "And a Poundland! No wonder the Romans wanted it!"

The Trigan Empire, Don Lawrence
But of course I'm merely teasing them; as I'm fully aware of the history of the Roman Empire, thanks to The Trigan Empire, the comic strip which gave us Romans as they should have been - ie, with spaceships and ray guns.

I first encountered the strip in the pages of the short-lived Vulcan comic and was immediately struck by the superiority of its artwork.

Trigan Empire, execution
The three issues of that mag that I owned were all I heard of the strip until a few years later when I was given a hardback book for Christmas. That book pulled the early tales together into a volume so heavy that, had the Brigantes used it as a weapon, the Romans would have been forced to flee and history would have been so very very different.

Trigan Empire, flood
Created in 1965, by Don Lawrence and Mike Butterworth, it told the tale of an alien civilisation that bore a remarkable resemblance to Ancient Rome, and followed it as, thanks to the efforts of one man, it rose from barbarism to become the dominant force upon its home world.

To be honest, the story itself never did that much for me, with its somewhat one dimensional characters, over-reliance on replicating old Earth civilisations and some fairly dodgy racial stereotyping but it was one of the most beautifully illustrated comic strips I'd ever seen - and that alone was enough to justify its existence for me.

Sadly, I no longer have that book. I sold it on eBay many moons ago but like to think that, somewhere, someone is using it as the blueprint for their own attempts to conquer the world.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

The most forgettable comics I have ever owned. Part 9: Marvel Two-In-One #37 & #49.

Marvel Two-In-One #37, The Thing and Matt Murdock
Marvel Two-In-One #49, The Thing and Dr Strange It's a case of, "Steve Does Appropriate," today as the feature the internet can't stop talking about returns with a two-in-one edition of its own.

A couple of years back, I bought a job lot of old comics that contained, amongst other things, a sizable run of Marvel Two-In-Ones. Upon perusing them I was surprised to discover that amongst them were two comics I'd totally forgotten I'd ever owned during childhood.

The first featured the Thing being buzzed in the ear to distraction until he starts breaking things - such as street lamps - and lands up in court. Needless to say, New York's only living lawyer Matt Murdock's soon on hand to no doubt fail in his duties.

The other tale features Dr Strange - and possibly the Thing going on holiday. And this is just how forgettable the comic is; because, even though I re-read this tale just two years ago, I still can't remember what happens in it, making it the only comic I've ever owned whose contents I've managed to forget twice.

As I've said before, given my love for the Thing, and how fondly I remember his series, it really is remarkable the difficulty I have recalling any story he's ever appeared in.

Oh well, I don't care. He's orange, he's made of rocks and he says, "It's Clobberin' Time!" a lot. And, when it comes down to it, that's good enough for me.

Monday 14 October 2013

Giant-Size Invaders #1.

Giant-Size Invaders #1, Frank Robbins
What a cruel mistress The Mighty World of Marvel could be. Much as I loved it, there were times when it could inflict horror unimaginable upon a reader.

One such occasion was when it decided to run reprints of Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos for what seemed like an eternity. I really did try to read those stories but must confess that after a while I simply gave up and habitually left that section of the comic unread. How I celebrated when they were dropped from the mag, to be replaced by some other strip or other.

The other nightmare was when the comic started running reprints of The Invaders.

At this point, I have to come clean. As a kid, I hated war comics - all that, "Achtung!" and, "Donner und blitzen!" Even as a young child, it all seemed horribly stereotyped and juvenile. The truth is that the main reason I read Marvel Comics in the first place was because they bore no resemblance to the war comics that British publishers routinely inflicted on us.

The only exception to this antipathy was Weird War Tales - but that was only because it was full of ghosts and great artwork.

Sadly, The Invaders possessed neither, being straightforward super-hero fare and drawn by Frank Robbins. I don't like to be harsh on Frank Robbins but if he wasn't drawing The Shadow, I couldn't cope with his weirdly distorted characters who fought in strange balletic poses, with proportions that suggested they 'd been through some sort of mangling machine.

Well, the first time they made their appearance was in Giant-Size Invaders #1. How will that comic fare, upon me re-reading it for the first time since the late 1970s?

After bashing up some Nazis, Captain America learns that one of the scientists who helped create him has been taken to hospital after a run-in with yet more Nazis. There, he discovers the Germans have created their own super soldier known as The Master Man who's out to attack a British battleship headed for America.

Cap, Bucky, the Human Torch and Toro head off to stop him - and discover the Sub-Mariner's already on the boat. Our heroes then proceed to hit the Axis Antagonist from all sides.

When The Master Man's finally dispatched, it turns out his target on the boat was Winston Churchill who tells them to stay teamed-up in order to thwart the Germans, at which point our heroes go all gung ho and tell the Nazis (who aren't there) that they're going to smash their faces in, or words to that effect.

It'd be nice to say my adult self was won over by all this in a way my youthful incarnation never was but I still didn't like it. Roy Thomas' script is full of caricatured Germans being beastly and having silly accents (I'm sorry, I should have said, "Haffink der silly accents, schweinhund!") and it has to be said The Invaders are strangely inept and ineffectual. The only reason they beat The Master Man is because he loses his powers at an inconvenient moment, otherwise they'd have failed completely in their mission and Britain would have been looking for a new Prime Minister.

On top of that is the same old complaint that Frank Robbins' art just isn't suited to super-heroes. He was suited to the 1940s - just not men in tights in the 1940s.

There's also the problem that Namor talks like he did way back in the Golden Age. Granted, this makes some sort of sense, bearing in mind that the story's set in that era but, for a reader used to the more haughty Silver and Bronze Age Sub-Mariner, it really is jarring to see him rattling on about, "Ratzis," and slanging it up big-time. You also have to feel sorry for him not having a youthful sidekick like the other two adult members do. Could Marvel not have let him abduct Aqualad or something?

So, there you have it. I remain unconvinced that I was ever wrong about the strip. Still, at least it's not Nick Fury and His Howling Commandos.

Now that really would be a terrible thing to be.

PS. You can never say this blog isn't educational. Apparently, the phrase, "OMG," was first used in a letter sent to Winston Churchill way back in 1917.

I have no info on whether his diary entry for June 6th 1944 read, "Just invaded France. lol."

Thursday 10 October 2013

Your Bronze Age Marvel Horror Fave?

Marvel Spotlight #12, the Son of Satan, Herb Trimpe, horsies
As I prowl the graveyards of Sheffield, people often say to me, "Steve, you really do have a Lovecraftian capacity for bringing fear, terror and horror into our lives."

And I say, "Blimey, I didn't know anyone had even noticed my attempts at busking. And there was me thinking my version of In A Broken Dream brings a dimension to the song that Rod Stewart could only ever dream of."

"No, you silly sausage," they declare. "We mean your legendary tales of terror and horror what have made your name in this town and are readily available from Amazon and all other reputable book sellers."

And that brings us to my latest post. With Halloween a mere few weeks away, it's time to ask the question that refuses to remain unasked. Who was your favourite Marvel horror character of the 1970s?

With the Bronze Age easing of the Comics Code's restrictions, Marvel were free to bring us terrors that left our nerves in tatters and tingled our spines to the point of snapping.

Well, not really. The truth is their 1970s horror mags would have struggled to frighten the most timid of kittens but that doesn't mean I didn't love them. We had the werewolf by night, Dracula, the monster of Frankenstein, Ghost Rider, Morbius, Man-Wolf, Satana and a whole bunch more. But who was your favourite?

For me, there's no doubt Tomb of Dracula was Marvel's best horror comic of the 1970s but, in terms of characters, I have to go for the Son of Satan. He had a trident, he had fangs. He had pointy ears and his dad was Satan. If you couldn't love all that, then what could you love? Not only that but his first two adventures were drawn by Happy Herb Trimpe at the peak of his powers. Tortured and strained did his work on the strip look, proving SOS was the character he was born to draw.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter. What are yours?