Saturday 23 February 2013

Sheffield's Most Wanted. Part 15: The Super-Heroes #1.

Marvel UK, Super-Heroes #1, The Silver Surfer, Jack Kirby cover
I think most people are by now familiar with the tragic circumstances that mean I'm currently trapped on Earth and cannot soar through the spaceways as is my birthright.

That being the case, I was always going to be fascinated by the Silver Surfer.

When I say, "fascinated," I of course mean bored senseless. Has there ever been a bigger Moping Minnie than Norrin Radd? Always standing around on that board, grizzling about something or other? If it wasn't the plight of the Yetis he was whining about, it was Mephisto trying to steal his soul, or not being able to get his leg-over with that clingy wet blanket Shalla-Bal.

Fortunately, when I was a child, I wasn't familiar enough with his adventures to be aware of that. Nor was I perhaps a sophisticated enough reader to spot this failing anyway.

All I knew was the Silver Surfer flew around a lot, had turned up in The Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk and he seemed a lively piece of work. And so, when I saw it advertised, I quite fancied getting my hands on Marvel UK's Super-Heroes #1.

Reader, I never did - though I did get my hands on two later issues; the one where the Flying Dutchman shows up and the one where the Surfer meets some descendant or other of Baron Frankenstein. Somehow, when I read these tales as a kid, I was too snow-blinded by John Buscema's impossibly elegant artwork to notice what a pain the Surfer himself actually was, and I loved them.

As for the tale printed in issue #1, I'm assuming that was his origin tale and, fortunately, my suffering didn't turn out to be to prolonged, as I was later exposed to that very adventure in Sons of Origins of Marvel ComicsThanks to its guest appearance by Galactus, I enjoyed it immensely.

As for the X-Men story featured in issue #1, I still to this day have no idea what it was.

Then again, the original X-Men have always grabbed me even less than the Surfer, so perhaps it was for the best that I never had the issue after all.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Sheffield's Most Wanted. Part 14: The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1.

Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1, Neal Adams cover
The Martial Arts - just one slip of the typing fingers away from the Marital Arts and yet, in some ways, so very different.

But what a marvellous thing they were. Not only did they offer each of us the hope that one day we might be able to kill people with our bare hands but, without them, would the world have ever had Emma Peel, Joanna Lumley or the sight of Ingrid Pitt karate-kicking the Sea Devils' pet Myrkka?

More to the point, without them, we'd never have had The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1.

As a matter of fact, I never did have The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 - as I never saw an issue of it in the shops, ever.

I did however see numerous adverts for it in Marvel's other mags and was suitably wowed by Neal Adams' cover, even though I didn't know it was a Neal Adams cover at the time.

What actually happened in The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1?

I don't have a Scooby.

There's no mention on the cover blurb of either Shang-Chi or Iron Fist. There's not even a mention of The Sons of the Tiger. To be honest, if you're a Marvel comics editor and you do a Kung Fu mag and you don't even include the Sons of the Tiger, then you really are clueless about what the public want.

Still, as a mere stripling, such concerns never occurred to me. I took it for granted that Marvel's greatest fighters were in it and I knew, from its cover alone, that it looked a mighty fine magazine indeed.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Forty years ago this month - February 1973.

A wise man once said, "February made me shiver."

It was Don McLean; not to be confused with Don Maclean, the old Crackerjack presenter who's not to be confused with Bernie Clifton the other old Crackerjack presenter, the one who used to tell us it was Friday while sat upon the back of a majestic ostrich.

But will February of 1973 prove to be a similarly tremulous experience for the faithful Marvellite?

Or, like Bernie Clifton's ostrich, will we instead be forced to bury our despairing heads in the sands of time?

Captain America and the Falcon #158

"You'll Kill Him! And if you do--!" says Cap but I've never read the tale and may thus never know to what he alludes.
Amazing Spider-Man #117, The Disruptor

The Disruptor displays his own special brand of bringing politics to the masses.
Avengers #108, Grim Reaper and the Space Phantom

It's the long-awaited return of the Space Phantom.

I say long-awaited but, unfortunately, when I first read this tale, as a youth, I got the Space Phantom mixed up with the Space Parasite, and was somewhat confused as to why he'd changed appearance so dramatically.
Conan the Barbarian #23, the Vulture

At last, the Vulture finally shows up!

As mentioned last month, his arrival was delayed by the trials and tribulations of the postal service but it's worth the wait, as poor old Vulchy suffers a fate that shall long live in the memory of all who read it.
Daredevil #96, the Man-Bull

That Man-Bull. He's nothing but trouble.
Incredible Hulk #160, Tiger Shark

It's another classic as the Hulk meets Tiger-Shark - who's always been one of my favourite villains - at Niagara Falls, which has always been one of my favourite gravity-driven water-dependent North American tourist phenomena.
Iron Man #55, the Destroyer

Hooray! Jim Starlin shows up on Iron Man.

Is this the one where Thanos makes his debut?
Fantastic Four #131, Quicksilver and Crystal

My razor-sharp senses tell me this might be the issue where Quicksilver and Crystal get married. I predict it'll never last.
Thor #208, Mercurio

Maybe there's something wrong with me but every time I see the name Mercurio, I think of Lurcio, Frankie Howerd's character in Up Pompeii. It does undermine his sense of menace somewhat.

Somehow though, I suspect Thor will be tittering ye not if Mercurio gets his Freezing Hand on him. In fact, I suspect he'll be shivering like Don McLean.

You see? You think I just throw all that stuff into my intros at random but it's all a carefully planned mechanism, like a cuckoo clock of verbality.
X-Men #80, the Juggernaut

Juggernaut's up to no good.

Friday 8 February 2013

Happy 40th birthday, Spider-Man Comics Weekly!

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #1
Thanks to Kid Robson's blog, I know that in a few days' time it'll be the 40th anniversary of the launch of Spider-Man Comics Weekly.

At the time, this was a very exciting event for me. Having been avidly reading The Mighty World of Marvel for the previous few months, to suddenly get yet another Marvel UK mag foisted upon me was indeed a special treat.

But how could it not be? Not only did it feature everyone's favourite wall-crawler, it also starred Thor. I was always a big fan of the early incarnation of Thor, with his long-handled hammer and lack of muscles. And, though his handle gradually got shorter and his muscles bigger, I remained gripped, as trolls, gods and other supernatural luminaries were added.

With issue #48, the comic adopted the glossy covers that made it and other Marvel UK mags feel so much better than their British rivals. With issue #50, Iron Man was added to the roster and the comic seemed as close to perfection as it could ever hope to be.

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #50

What tales that comic brought into my life: the death of George Stacy, the menace of Mangog, the hypno-neanderthal robot from outer space, and a whole bunch more.

Then, just as excitement hit a peak, with six-armed Spidey tangling with Morbius, the comic disappeared from my local newsagents.

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #141

Would it ever return?

Yes it would.

But when it returned, several months later, it had been magically transformed into Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes and had adopted The Titans' landscape format.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #165

This was good. It meant I got twice as much drama for my money. It meant I got Dr Strange. It meant I got the adventures of The Thing. It meant I got even more Iron Man and even more Thor.

And, of course, it was during this era that Gwen Stacy died.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #170, the night Gwent Stacy died

But storm clouds were looming over Marvel UK. As though to warn us of the dark days ahead, it wasn't long before Super Spider-Man merged with the comic whose format had inspired it, as it became Super Spider-Man and the Titans.

Later, the comic returned to portrait format and, after the failure of his own book, Captain Britain joined it.

Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain

This wasn't such good news, as Captain Britain in that era was terrible and he was always doing things I wasn't interested in, like rescuing the Queen or hanging around on the Ark Royal.

In 1979, Super Spider-Man became Spider-Man Comic, the glossy covers gave way to matt ones and the comic was crammed with a ludicrous six strips, meaning you'd barely started on reading a tale before you hit the words, "To be continued!"

Spider-Man Comic, Marvel UK

Clearly the writing was on the wall-crawler for our once-mighty mag. Suddenly it seemed cheap, uncared for by those creating it and disposable.

As if to rub it in, it later suffered the indignity of merging with the equally clueless Hulk comic before disappearing forever from my local newsagents.

Spider-Man and Hulk Weekly #376

My knowledge of what happened after that is fuzzy but I do know the comic's fate from that point on was a dispiriting one, involving attempts to cash-in on a TV show that could hardly be called a rating blockbuster, and increased juvenilization.

Super Spider-Man TV Comics #450

Still, one has to accept that the comic, like all of us, was a victim of the reality that nothing good lasts forever, and if its ultimate decline proved to be both depressing and frustrating, at least its heyday lasted long enough to see me through a great big chunk of my youth. How would I have known of the glory of Asgard without it? How would I ever have encountered the Jackal? How would I know that Iron Man has a slide rule in his gauntlet?

The answer is I wouldn't. And, for this, and all the other things I learned about super-herodom from it, I shall be eternally grateful.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Fifty years ago this month - February 1963.

Hooray! they've found Richard III in a Leicester car park!

Why this is big news, I have no idea. After all, I've been seen in Leicester Railway Station and no one's ever made any kind of fuss about that.

A group of people who would no doubt give Richard III a good smacking before teaming up with him to defeat a mutual foe are Marvel's mighty roster of heroes. But just what were they up to this month in 1963?

Journey into Mystery #89, Thor swings his hammer

Just to prove it's not just modern comics that have pin-up style covers that tell us nothing about the mag's contents, here we see Thor doing nothing-much-in-particular in a manner redolent of 1930s propaganda posters.

I genuinely have no idea what happens in this issue.
Fantastic Four #11, Impossible Man

You either love him or loathe him. It's the Impossible Man.

Personally I always had a soft spot for him, even though I'm not sure exactly what purpose he served when he returned to the strip in the 1970s.

But it does make you wonder who'd win a fight between him and the Infant Terrible from issue #24.
Tales to Astonish #40, Ant Man

Tales to Astonish #40 sees Ant-Man seemingly failing to fix his car engine.

Thus does our hero demonstrate just why his strip never quite caught on.
Strange Tales #105, the Human Torch vs the Wizard and his force field

Last month it was Paste Pot Pete. This month it's the Wizard. One by one, the Torch works his way through future members of the Frightful Four.

Saturday 2 February 2013

Help! I don't know how it's meant to be said!

Sub-Mariner #1, John Buscema cover
What a magnificent figure of a man stands to the left of this breathless prose. No wonder Sue Storm was infatuated with him, with his big pointy prongy thing that he could jab into the ground.

As we all know, that is the man the world knows as the Submareena.

Except it isn't.

It's the man the world knows as the Sub-Marinna. But, for many a year, when I was younger, I thought he was named in honour of submarines, rather than mariners. Thus was my ignorance complete until my dad one day put me right.

But it seems I'm not alone. Judging by comments on this blog, over the last few days, others too have had problems pronouncing all sorts of things comic book related.

I still remember how my favourite Marvel artist when I was young was John Bus-Schemer.

Over at DC, who could fail to love the work of Alfredo Alkayla? Or was it Alkahla? Or was it Alkallaah? Or was it something else altogether?

Then there was Paul Gulacy, the master of the Master of Kung-Fu. To this day, I still don't have a clue how Gulacy is pronounced. I can think of at least a dozen ways in which it could be said.

Then again, for a long time, I thought Shang-Chi rhymed with bullseye rather than with debris.

Once upon a time, I thought Conan was Connun, Loki was Locky and Ka-Zar was Kuh-Zaahh.

Clearly this madness can't go on. It's a matter that needs urgent attention. So, are there any characters, artists or writers whose names you could never work out how to pronounce? If so, here's where you can break your silence and tell the world about it.