Wednesday 26 June 2013

DC Comics' The Unexpected.

"Surprise surprise! The Unexpected hits you between the eyes!" There aren't many comics so awesome that Cilla Black has been moved to record a song in their honour - but DC comics' The Unexpected managed just that feat.

And deservedly so. With its tales of dread and terror, it was right up there with all those other DC comics that were virtually identical to it.

Of course, what set DC's horror titles apart from each other was they usually had some sort of gimmick; whether it be Ghosts' boast that all its tales were true; or having a host, such as Cain, Abel, Death or the three witches.

Off the top of my head, I don't recall what The Unexpected's gimmick was.

Perhaps it didn't have one

And perhaps that was the most unexpected thing of all about it?

Regardless, let's take a butcher's at the few issues of the mag I ever owned...

DC Comics' The Unexpected #149

Issue #150 gives us one of my favourite Nick Cardy covers.

I have a memory of a tale that ends with a bunch of dead people playing cards in the skeleton of an unfinished apartment block.

I have a feeling it may have been drawn by E R Cruz.

I have a feeling this may have been the issue in which it appeared.
DC Comics' The Unexpected #150

This is the first issue of the title that I ever got. And it's one of the pivotal comics of my youth.

Why is it so pivotal?

I don't know but I do remember it making a huge impression on me at the time.

Oddly, despite that, I can't remember anything much about its contents. I have a feeling there may have been a story about a youth ending up trapped inside a watch as a just reward for his wrong-doing.
DC Comics' The Unexpected #151

I got this one in Blackpool. Possibly 1978.

Is this the one with the volcano whose lava flow dries in a shape matching the profile of its good-for-nothing victim?

If it is, I always like that one.

If it isn't, I still always liked that one.
DC Comics' The Unexpected #154

I remember nothing about this issue at all other than that I got it on a Sunday, and the title The Horrible Harrow Formula .

What the Harrow Formula was, I have no idea but I can tell, just from its name, that, like the Unexpected itself, it's not a thing to be messed with.

Thursday 20 June 2013

Strange Tales #115 - The origin of Dr Strange.

The origin of Dr Strange, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
William Hartnell was fifty five when he was first cast as Dr Who.

Lou Reed is seventy one.

This makes "crotchety old" William Hartnell young enough to be Lou Reed's son.

Such unlikely agenesses raises the question of how old is Aunt May?

If Peter Parker was sixteen when The Amazing Spider-Man was launched, shouldn't that make her somewhere in the region of thirty six? One can only marvel at the life she must've led, to have been in that sort of state before she was forty.

This in turn raises the question of just how old is the Ancient One?

Is he genuinely ancient or is he merely ancient in the sense that William Hartnell and Aunt May were?

Tragically, there're no answers to this question in the origin of Dr Strange.

But there is the answer to the question of how Strange got the mystic powers that so fail to define him.

The origin of Dr Strange
Stephen Strange is a self-centered surgeon who, thanks to his free living ways, has lost the digital sensitivity vital for surgery.

Taking this development with impressive aplomb, he decides to become a no-good drunken bum.

However, there is just one hope left for him. He goes to Himalaya, in the hope the legendary Ancient One can help him.

While there, Strange discovers the Ancient One's prodigy Baron Mordo's up to no good and agrees to become the Ancient One's apprentice in an attempt to foil him.

I first read this tale in Origins of Marvel Comics and, as with all early Dr Strange tales, was much taken with its ability to not outstay its welcome.

The origin of Dr Strange, Stephen Strange gets clamped
The thing can only be labelled a masterclass in compression. In just eight pages, we get to meet Dr Strange, discover his backstory , meet the Ancient One, meet Baron Mordo, discover Mordo's evil scheme and then see the good doctor become the Ancient One's sidekick. If Stan Lee and Steve Ditko had been let loose on the Lord of the Rings movies, the trilogy would've lasted about ten minutes and been all the better for it.

Thanks to some rather pleasing Steve Ditko art and the fact I've always wanted to be a master of the mystic arts, I'll give Dr Strange's origin tale eight Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth out of ten, which puts it slightly behind most 1960s' Marvel super-hero origins but comfortably ahead of most 1970s' Marvel super-hero origins.

Sunday 16 June 2013

Your favourite childhood TV memories.

Skagman - Avebury. By John Nuttall from Hampshire, United Kingdom
(AveburyUploaded by ComputerHotline)
[CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
A wise man once said, "Life without variety is like cow heel without tripe," and who could argue with a claim like that?

I certainly couldn't. Nor could Crikey the evil ventriloquist's dummy who guides my every action.

Therefore I thought I'd make a rare drift away from the long-gone world of comics and look at the long-gone world of TV.

This post is, of course, not for mere common-or-garden TV - but for the Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Horror series that thrilled us in our younger days.

Many and splendiferous were the treats that TV gave us during our childhoods. If it wasn't Dr Who or Star Trek, it was the Tomorrow People and UFO.

British TV of course held up its end magnificently during that era, with a whole slew of children's shows that seemed designed to send us screaming to a padded cell. Escape into Night gave us a house surrounded by boulders with eyeballs. While Children of the Stones gave us the Avebury sarsens turned evil.

And there was more.

The Changes gave us a world without technology. Sky gave us a boy from the future, attacked by trees, while Timeslip gave us yet-to-come dystopias of heat and cold.

Then again, there was the nightmarish The Singing Ringing Tree - that East German fairy tale that did more than anything to convince us it was a good idea to keep an iron curtain between us and the Warsaw Pact, if that was what they thought was suitable entertainment for children.

They were classic series all. And there were plenty more where they came from. So, what were your fantastical favourites from your childhood days?

Tuesday 11 June 2013

The sanity-challenging terrors of Where Monsters Dwell #2!

Where Monsters Dwell #2, Sporr, Taboo, Dragoom
As everyone knows, the biggest disappointment in my life is that none of my experiments into things that man should never know has ever ended in total disaster. How I long to inflict Graggsloo, The Thing From The Sewage, upon mankind.

Fortunately, in my younger days, I had Where Monsters Dwell to compensate for such disappointment.

Where Monsters Dwell was one of the 1970s comics that Marvel used in order to reprint their pre-super-hero era monster tales.

Many were the terrors that were thus inflicted upon the youth of the Bronze Age.

And surely there was no finer issue of that mag than issue #2, in which three creatures of indescribable menace are unleashed upon an unsuspecting world.

Where Monsters Dwell #2, DragoomIn its breathless pages, we meet Dragoom, The Flaming Invader; Taboo, The Thing From The Murky Swamp; and Sporr, The Thing That Could Not Die.

Dragoom's a giant fire creature, come to Earth to rule it, having escaped a prison on his own planet. For all his power, it has to be said Dragoom must be the stupidest alien outside of the skrulls, as he proves himself incapable of telling the difference between members of his own species and cardboard cut-outs.

Taboo is cut from a far sneakier cloth.

Allowing himself to be discovered in an Amazonian swamp, he then gives mankind a sob story in order to trick it into giving him all its scientific secrets.

Where Monsters Dwell #2, Taboo
Fortunately, mankind isn't as dense as Dragoom had been and humanity tricks Taboo with the aid of a hydrogen bomb.

Let's face it it, any trick that involves a hydrogen bomb isn't likely to end happily for its victim.

Despite this unfortunate end, Taboo did somehow manage to return to fight the Hulk many years later.

But, of course, the true star of Where Monsters Dwell #2 is Sporr, The Thing That Could Not Die.

Totally ignoring all common sense, a scientist decides to rent the Transylvanian castle in which Frankenstein did his infamous experiments.

He then proceeds to try and create giant chickens.

Outraged by his plans to create giant chickens, the locals, complete with flaming torches, storm his castle and stop him.

Where Monsters Dwell #2, Sporr
Sadly, thanks to their actions, an amoeba grows out of all control and rampages around the countryside, threatening anyone who wears lederhosen, until the scientist dispatches it in one of the quicksand pits for which Eastern Europe is famous.

A more sophisticated man than me - or indeed a less, or even equally sophisticated one - might say such tales are all a load of hokey old bunkum, knocked out on a conveyor belt.

And of course they are.

Even Stan Lee, who may or may not have scripted this issue's tales, has said so over the years.

But there's something oddly charming about it all, a hint of a more innocent age of story-telling where, seemingly, no one had the slightest grasp of either logic or science.

On top of that, such mags were a way for 1970s readers to see just how Marvel had been in the days before it'd become the powerhouse publisher we knew and loved.

But, at this point, I must make a confession.

Despite my love for them, none of the creatures in this issue is my favourite from this title.

That honour has to go to Grogg, the giant, underpant wearing, dragon from Where Monsters Dwell #27.

But that is, of course, a whole other story...

Sunday 9 June 2013

It's Midnight! The Witching Hour!

After my recent post about DC Comics' Ghosts, it's time to look back at another of their Bronze Age horror anthology mags.

This time it's The Witching Hour.

Obviously The Witching Hour didn't have the power to paralyse as Ghosts did, what with its stories not being true like those of that other mag. However, they compensated for it by having not one but three hosts in the form of the witches Cynthia, Mildred and Mordred. I think we each have our favourite of the trio. In many ways, they were the Spice Girls of their day.

So, let's take a look at the issues I had and, in a feat of memory not encountered since The 39 Steps, see what I can actually recall about them.

Witching Hour #33

I'm really not sure what happens in this issue. I'm going to guess there might have been a story in it about a World War II seance, and Pompeii being destroyed.

But who cares what was in it? It's a lovely cover by Nick Cardy and, as we all know, it's packaging that matters most in this life.
Witching Hour #34

I've got a feeling this may involve a fake monster. Other than that, I'm not certain.
Witching Hour #35

I got this one on a Sunday. I seem to recall it involved a naughty husband dressing up as a monster to terrorise his wife.

I have no doubt he got his comeuppance in a suitably ironic manner.
Witching Hour #38

It's the Holy Grail! A 100 page version of The Witching Hour!

Bought at Sheffield's then new, but now demolished, Sheaf Market, how I thrilled to this as a child.

My favourite tale was always the one about the boy up the clock tower and the penny that brought nothing but bad luck.
Witching Hour #39

I think this one contains a tale of a man who's a reincarnation of an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh and starts to become him thanks to the work of his sinister psychiatrist.

Does this also include the tale about the woman who has a tiny demon growing inside her? That may well have been my favourite DC horror tale of all time.
Witching Hour #40

Nope. Can't remember anything that happens in this one.
Witching Hour #41

Easily my favourite of Nick Cardy's Witching Hour covers  though I can't remember anything that happens inside.
Witching Hour #43

This is one of my faves, in which a village is eagerly awaiting the arrival of Satan until a gormless youth manages to mess the whole deal up.
Witching Hour #45

And another of my faves, as a boy decides to expose his sinister and inhuman uncle.

Interestingly, Nick Cardy basically recycles his own cover from Witching Hour #31.

Witching Hour #31, Nick Cardy
Witching Hour #46

One bought in Blackpool - possibly 1977 - but another issue I can't remember anything about.
Witching Hour #47

Another one I recall nothing of but, from the cover, I suspect there may be more of the, "Husband dressing up as a monster," routine.
Witching Hour #48

And to wrap this post off with the total failure that makes this site so distinctive, I know I got this in Blackpool in 1978 but, otherwise, remember nowt.

Was there a Chinese charm whose weight drags greedy divers to their death? Or am I just extrapolating that from the cover?

Thursday 6 June 2013

Jack Kirby's Black Panther #1.

Black Panther #1, King Solomon Frog, Jack Kirby
If you've been keeping your ear to the internet, you may know, from other sources, that I recently had a dream in which Jack Kirby rewrote the Galactus Trilogy in the style of his 1970s' Marvel comics.

In it, the Silver Surfer became Shiny Waverider, a jive-talking brother from the 'hood, the Watcher became Chrome-Dome McGinty and Galactus became Mr Greedy.

I suspect this dream was prompted by memories of the first time I read issue #1 of Jack Kirby's Black Panther.

After having diligently and enthusiastically read all those issues of Don McGregor's Panther's Rage, it was a bit of a shock - not to mention a total let-down - to find my favourite Wakandan suddenly in the middle of an action-packed yarn about a time-portal in the shape of a frog

To be honest, at the time I felt appalled and even betrayed by developments. How could Marvel do this to me? How?

But that was then, and perspectives can change. So, how will my adult mind react to re-reading that tale for the first time since then?

Jack Kirby's Black Panther #1
What happens is this. The Panther and Mr Little (who's little) pay a visit to a man, only to find he's been murdered by a knight in shining armour. Refreshingly, the dead man isn't called Mr Dead.

After a brief fight, the Panther and Little depart with a statuette of a frog the dead man had been holding when they'd found him.

It turns out it once belonged to King Solomon and is in fact a time machine, sought by sinister forces who'll stop at nothing to get it.

Jack Kirby's Black Panther #1, Cancel him
By the end of the issue, Little has been killed and the Panther captured by Princess Zanda who wants the frog for herself.

That's when someone very strange indeed shows up...

To be honest, in terms of writing, the thing still seems terrible; crudely plotted and full of weirdly inappropriate and clumsy dialogue.

Characters are never developed in any way. We get to learn almost nothing about Mr Little and how the Panther came to be with him.

Jack Kirby's Black Panther #1, Hatch 22
The murderous knight is left to simply run off into the outside world, with no attempt made to stop him, and the feeling you get is that Kirby could have removed the Panther from the tale and replaced him with Captain America, Kamandi or Ikaris from The Eternals and it would have made barely any difference to how he'd told it. Kirby in this era seemed to have no grasp of the idea of catering a story to suit the persona and powers of the central character, meaning it's basically a string of action-oriented images with no feeling of being an actual story.

On the art front, it's fine. I know I'm in a minority here but, as a kid, I always preferred Kirby's art in the Bronze Age to his work in the Silver Age and, while I appreciate his 1960s stuff a lot more now than I did then, I still like his Bronze Age stuff too.

The truth is that, by the 1970s, Kirby's imagination had simply gone too free-range for a non-super-powered character like the Panther or Captain America, meaning there's a terrible sense of the ill-judged and out-of-place about his writing for them.

I do though like the climax's enigmatic visitor having the ominous words, "Hatch 22," on his forehead. Of just what unknown menace does that phrase hint?

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Forty years ago today - June 1973.

It's certainly exciting times for all flag-wavers, with it being the 60th anniversary of the Queen first getting herself crowned.

But Steve Does Comics cares little for that. It's more concerned with what the kings and queens of Marvel Comics were up to forty years ago.

Avengers #112, the Lion-God lives

Hooray! The Lion-God shows up.

Forget the likes of Thor. If I was going to be a god, the Lion-God would be the one.

Then again, judging by the way Mantis defeats him in a later story, he does seem particularly dim.
Conan the Barbarian #27, Bel-Hissar

I've never read this story and therefore don't have a clue what happens. I'm going to guess there might be a sorcerer, some treasure and some magic. There's probably a wench in need of rescuing. The word, "Crom!" may be uttered at some point and Conan may be out to steal something.
Captain America and the Falcon #162, Cap Goes Mad

What would a Marvel hero be without regularly doubting his sanity?
Daredevil #100

DD hits the big ton.
Fantastic Four #135, Dragon Man

Looking at the cover, I don't have a clue what's going on in this one.

Still, it's got Medusa and it's got the Dragon Man, so it clearly has something going for it.
Incredible Hulk #164, Captain Omen

Hooray! It's Captain Omen and his undersea kingdom!

How well I recall this tale from The Mighty World of Marvel Annual 1975 - and its splatterific ending.
Iron Man #59, Fire-Brand

Iron Man finds himself in a grave situation.
Amazing Spider-Man #121, the death of Gwen Stacy

Who can it be?

Who can it be who's going to die?

My money's on Randy Robertson.
Thor #212, Sssthgar

It did always seem unlikely, when I first read this tale as a kid, that the whole of Asgard, including Odin, could be captured by a bunch of ants with ray guns.

For that matter, ants with ray guns never really felt like they belonged in the same universe as Asgard.
X-Men #82, Tyrannus

Hooray! My favourite subterranean's back.

Sunday 2 June 2013

Fifty years ago today - June 1963.

Matt Smith may have devastated the world by announcing his departure from Dr Who, and Karen Gillan may have thrown us into chaos and confusion with her Guardians of the Galaxy announcement but one thing can always be relied upon - that I'll carry on rambling away about comics that were published decades ago.

And here's where we discover what our favourite Marvel heroes were up to back when even Dr Who was barely more than a twinkle in our eyes, and our eyes themselves were barely more than twinkles in the fundament of the universe.

Fantastic Four #15, The Mad Thinker and his awesome android

The Mad Thinker makes his debut - as does his Awesome Android,.

I must admit though that I've always been most taken with the passer-by who decides to indulge in helpful exposition for no noticeable reason whatsoever.

But what exactly is, "Their own game"?
Journey into Mystery # 93, Thor and the Radio-active Man

He might wear a nappy like Sting in Dune but that doesn't mean you can't take the Radio-Active Man seriously as he demonstrates his ability to make Thor look camp, silly and effete.

I wonder if Exposition-Man on this cover is the same bloke as the one on the FF cover? He's wearing the same hat.

Maybe he's paid by the council to roam New York explaining what's going on to passers-by whenever super-doers show up.
Strange Tales #109, Human Torch and Pandora's Box

No signs of Exposition-Man here as the Torch finds himself up against the devilish imps of Pandora's Box.

I do like to bore people by pointing out that Pandora actually had a jar, not a box. Maybe I should be on that cover, declaring, "The Torch is being threatened by imps from Pandora's Box but she actually had a jar, not a box!" If New York City Council are reading, I have a hat and I'm open to offers.
Tales of Suspense #42, Iron Man and the Red Barbarian

Iron Man's taking it to the commies.
Tales to Astonish #44, Ant-Man and the Wasp

The Wondrous Wasp makes her debut, thanks to Henry Pym being obsessed by her non-existent resemblance to his dead wife. The signs were there right from the start, weren't they?