Monday 29 July 2013

Do you dare enter... The House of Mystery?

That Day-Glo-haired pop princess Toyah Wilcox once declared it to be a mystery. What it was that was a mystery, she never said - but perhaps that was the greatest mystery of them all.

All this can mean just one thing. That it's time to finally bring to a close that feature where I post covers of DC horror mags I once owned, and then try as best I can to recall what was actually in them.

House of Mystery #213, Bernie Wrightson

Needless to say, I fall at the first hurdle, as I remember nothing at all about this one. But it does have a rather splendiferous cover by Bernie Wrightson. And that alone must surely justify its existence.

PS. A great big Steve Does Comics No-Prize goes to the first person to name the ex-Mott the Hoople star who features on this cover.
House of Mystery #216

I don't recall anything about this one either but I do know its cover's by Luis Dominguez whose art graced many a DC horror cover.

A great big Steve Does Comics No-Prize goes to the first person to name the Meatloaf track depicted on this cover.
House of Mystery #222

Hooray! At last it's one I do remember.

And I remember it with style.

I got this one in Blackpool, and it featured a story about a serial murderer called the Teddy Bear Killer. I was in some sort of restaurant/cafeteria when I first read it, and recall having found it an oddly engaging tale at the time.

A great big Steve Does Comics No-Prize goes to the first person to name the Jam track depicted on this cover.
House of Mystery #227

Argh! It's 100 page comic! How can I remember nothing about a 100 page comic? Don't I realise that every 100 page DC comic was a epic journey into wonderfulness?

Still, it had a werewolf in it and...

...hold on...

...was the twist at the end of it that the werewolf wasn't the hero but actually his girlfriend?

If so, I DO remember it! I DO!
House of Mystery #235

At least I can bow out with some dignity by remembering that my dad bought this one on a Sunday.

As I've said before, I never encountered a Sunday-bought comic I didn't like. Therefore I will have liked it.

Sadly, the contents don't leap instantly to mind. I think there may have been a story about a woman accused of being a witch, or possibly not. Cats may have been involved. The Black Death was certainly involved.

A great big Steve Does Comics No-Prize goes to the first person to name the Stranglers album depicted on this cover.

Saturday 27 July 2013

The Avengers #1.

Avengers #1
Yo! How's it hanging? With the nation reeling from the news that the world's oldest, whitest, poshest, least likeliest gangsta DJ in history - and direct inspiration for Ali G - Tim Westwood has finally been dumped by the BBC, it's time to remind ourselves he's not the only one who's spent a lifetime having to endure a string of bum raps. In The Avengers #1, the Hulk's encountering one too as he finds himself blamed for a near-train wreck he was in fact trying to prevent. Check it out.

Framed by Loki for that event, the green grappler takes refuge in a circus by pretending to be an elephant-juggling robot clown. Something Tim Westwood will no doubt not be considering as a future career option.

Unfortunately for Hulkie, Rick Jones has tried to call in the Fantastic Four to sort it all out but, thanks to yet more incompetent Loki machinations, he's succeeded instead in calling in Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Having met for the first time, the four heroes resist the usual Marvel super-hero urge to bash each others' brains out and set off instead to bash the Hulk's brains out.

Avengers #1, the gang's all hereFortunately, the Hulk doesn't have any brains to bash out and, anyway, barely has Thor arrived than the thunder god sets off to Asgard to bash up Loki instead.

Needless to say, Thor defeats his evil step-brother and returns him to Earth to explain the plot to his new colleagues.

The Hulk suitably cleared, the quarrelsome quintet decide to gang together and become a team. For no noticeable reason, they decide to call themselves the Avengers, and a legend is born.

I first read this tale in the Mighty World of Marvel where it was printed before the group got their own UK mag, and it's always been one of my favourite Marvel origin tales.

Avengers #1, Thor vs a trollBasically it's an amiable romp, with the heroes getting on way better than you'd expect and a pivotal role being given to Rick Jones and his Teen Brigade. You do get the feeling Stan Lee saw the mag primarily as a promotional tool for introducing new readers to as much of the Marvel universe in one go as he possibly could. Perhaps because of that, there's little of the traditional Marvel angst and even the Hulk is noticeably less aggro than he'd previously been in his own strip.

My favourite part of the tale's always been Thor's diversion to Asgard and his fight with a troll. The Earthbound stuff's fine but Asgard's always grabbed me and, with its silence and spindliness, the troll does seem a genuinely weird and alien thing - more so than Kirby's later depictions of members of that species.

It is remarkably convenient though that the car factory our heroes find themselves in at the tale's climax just happens to have a radiation-proof chamber in its cellar.

Steve Does Comics - keeping it real.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

There's no escape from - the House of Secrets.

As I roam the multi-layered splendour of Tinsley Viaduct, Sheffield's finest tunesmiths the Arctic Monkeys often lean out of their Rolls Royce to ask me, "Steve, how many secrets can you keep?"

Then they ask me, "Don't you know that you're in deep?"

Then they ask, "Stop making the eyes at me. I'll stop making the eyes at you."

And I say, "Why are you speaking in your own song lyrics?"

They say, "Your name isn't Rio but I don't care for sand."

And I say, "What the hell are you on about?"

And they say, "Dancing to electro-pop like a robot from 1984."

Then they wind up the window and drive silently on while affecting to have the accents of ageing northern working men's club Elvis Presley impersonators.

But, in answer to their question, I of course keep no secrets.

However, there is one place not so blessed with the quality Quincy used to pronounce as, "Nigh-eev-tay," and that's the comic that each month brought us terror in doses we'd be lucky to survive.

That can only mean one thing...

It's time to revive that ever-popular feature where I vainly try to remember what was in an issue of a DC horror mag I've not read in nearly forty years.

House of Secrets #123, ice cream

Mr Whippy turns Mr Drippy, as ice cream becomes you scream.

From what I can remember of this, we get a re-telling of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court but starring an ice cream van driver.
House of Secrets #123, geek

Is this the one with the rather pathetic sideshow freak who eats live chickens?

If it is, this was the mag that first introduced me to the word, "Geek."
House of Secrets #114, ice skating

I remember this one containing the tale of an ageing ice dancer who gets her revenge on a man who can only be labelled a cad and a bounder.

Sadly, there was not a Zamboni in sight.
House of Secrets #119

Another of those stories about a man who imitates a monster and gets his comeuppance, in what turns out to be a tale of unlikely romance and love at first sight.
House of Secrets #124

Is this the one with the boy who disappears off into a fantasy land filled with unicorns and satyrs?

If so, it's another of those Blackpool-bought issues - and one of my faves.
House of Secrets #126, haunted house

I had a copy of this a couple of years ago but all I recall of it is that the cover story features a boy who takes up a dare to spend a night in a haunted house - with disastrous consequences.
House of Secrets #127, skeleton pool

I wrote a review of this very issue, right here.
House of Secrets #129, graveyard

I have a feeling this one contains a traumatic tale of a terrible tontine.

If it does, it's the mag that first introduced me to the word, "Tontine."

This means that, in its time, the House of Secrets introduced me to two new words. Who says comics aren't educational?

Thursday 18 July 2013

X-Men #1.

X-Men #1, Magneto, art by Jack Kirby
You have to hand it to Professor X. He might not be too mobile but he doesn't let that distract him from the task of being a complete and total nutjob. Not only does he set up a school for mutants but he sends the children in his care off to fight deadly threats to mankind. He doesn't even bother waiting till they've graduated from his You-Too-Can-Be-A-Superhero course before dispatching them. He just sends them the moment he feels like it. Why, he even sends a teenage girl into battle on her very first day at school.

But what did you expect? Wisdom? He is, after all, only seventeen years of age.

Yes it's true. In X-Men #1, it's revealed he was the child of a pair of scientists who worked on the first atom bomb. As the first atom bomb was exploded in 1945, X-Men #1 came out in 1963 and the human gestation period is nine months, that'd make him seventeen years old. Like Aunt May, who - as I demonstrated a while back - must only be in her mid-thirties, he must have led a tough life to look like he does.

The one good thing about this fact is it means his early infatuation with the teenaged Jean Grey suddenly doesn't seem so disturbing after all.

In X-Men #1, the menace our teen scientist orders his charges to face is Magneto who's decided to do what we all would if we had the power of a hundred fridge magnets, and take over a US missile base.

Needless to say, when confronted by a bunch of half-trained kids, Magneto soon folds and the world has cause to love the X-Men.

Apart from Professor X's criminal negligence, the main thing that strikes you when you read the tale is its obvious adherence to the Fantastic Four formula. We have the rough one, the sensible one, the walking thermostat one, the flying one and the fit bird. Thankfully though, Marvel Girl's power isn't completely useless like the Invisible Girl's was.

Magneto is of course straight out of the Dr Doom envelope, being a haughty megalomaniac with no idea how to talk to people, and even having a metal-covered face.

It's no secret that the only Marvel strips I never liked as a kid were Nick Fury and his Howling Agents of SHIELD and the original X-Men. But I must admit I've always liked the X-Men #1 because it introduces us to the mag's heroes and villain with a pleasingly linear clarity. Devoid of Magneto's hopeless team of sidekicks and schemings, there's nothing to distract us from a simple tale of good v evil.

It's just a shame it took another decade before the strip started to realise its potential.

Thursday 11 July 2013

The Horrific World of Monsters.

Dulan Barber, The Horrific World of Monsters
As I scale the glassy heights of Sheffield's Velocity Tower, in protest at inappropriate drilling for oil, people often lean out of the windows and say to me, "Steve, with what do you associate Christmas 1974?"

And I tell them, "With what? I'll tell you with what I associate it. I associate it with toffee. I associate it with Quatermass and the Pit - which may or may not have been on TV that Christmas. And I associate it with The Horrific World of Monsters."

Yes, it's true. For Christmas 1974, I was given that self-same book.

And what a magnificent tome it was, giving information about virtually every monster you could ever hope to encounter.

It had such Hammer and Universal standbys as Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula and the Wolfman.

It had dinosaurs.

It had Kong.

It had monsters from ancient mythology.

It had Japanese monsters.

It had British monsters.

It had real-life monsters like the Yeti and Nessie.

It even had Marvel super-heroes.

Granted, even at the time, it seemed a little strange to see the likes of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four labelled as monsters but I didn't care. The inclusion of such characters meant we got reproductions of pages of artwork and pin-ups from said comics. How we thrilled as the Human Torch encountered Annihilus, and the Hulk met the Bi-Beast.

Monsters' Who's Who by Dulan Barber
It was from that book that I learned of the existence of Angar the Screamer.

It was from that book that I learned of the dread Anthropophagi, those mystery cannibals whose mouths are in their chests

For a Dr Who fan like me, it was a treat, as it featured old stills of such Dr Who monsters as the Daleks, Cybermen and Ice Warriors at a time when we had access to neither repeats of the show nor recordings.

All in all, I do believe it may qualify as the greatest book ever written.

A bit of Googling tells me it was written by someone called Dulan Barber, of whom I know nothing. But I do recall the book was often advertised in American comics at the time, where it was re-titled The Monsters' Who's Who. But, whatever name it went by, it was thoroughly and totally monsterific.

Sunday 7 July 2013

Marvel Premiere #3. Barry Smith tackles Dr Strange.

Marvel Premiere #3, Dr Strange, Barry Smith art
One of the things you have to give Barry Smith about his early Marvel career is he clearly didn't believe in outstaying his welcome. Apart from his two-year stint on Conan, if he started to draw one of your favourite titles, you could be pretty much sure it wouldn't be long before he stopped drawing it. Daredevil, Ka-Zar and the Avengers all saw him managing noticeably short stints on them before vanishing without trace, and so it was with Dr Strange.

On his way home from wherever it is he's been, Dr Strange is almost run over by a lorry but saves himself with a quick burst of the old, "Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth."

But, returning to his Sanctum Sanctorum, he senses an evil presence.

Before long, he's in a world gone weird, his body's been possessed and he's up against an unknown foe.

Marvel Premiere #3, Dr Strange v Nightmare, Barry Smith art
It's then he realises that he didn't stop the lorry from hitting him at all and is now in a coma, trapped in the land of his old foe Nightmare.

Armed with this knowledge, he soon disposes of the threat and makes a full recovery - but not before discovering there are darker forces than even Nightmare behind it all.

It's a nice tale and beautifully drawn by Smith. The writing too seems more sophisticated than we sometimes credit Stan Lee with being capable of. No one's credited with the story's colouring, so I'm assuming it was supplied by Smith who does some rather lovely things with red and black at certain points in the tale.

To be honest, even though I read the good Doctor's adventures avidly every week in Marvel UK's Avengers mag, I remember virtually none of his stories, which can't be a good sign.

However, along with Steve Ditko's early haunted house tale, this is the one that's always lodged itself in my memory, which suggests it must have been a cut above the average.

The only disappointment is that Smith hung around for just two issues before being replaced by a whole string of other artists just after he'd launched the somewhat repetitive Shuma-Gorath storyline which seemed to consist mostly of Strange going to seaside towns to be threatened by vaguely identikit watery menaces. Given how stylish a start to it he'd made - and just how suited he was to the strip - it would've been nice to have seen just what Smith would have done had he managed to see the whole project through from start to finish.

Marvel Premiere #3, Dr Strange. Barry Smith art

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Forty years ago this month - July 1973

Mere days ago, the Glastonbury Festival was in full swing.

And that means only one thing. Mere days ago, I was knee-deep in mud, enduring unsanitary toilets and supporting a young women on my shoulders as she waved her arms around.

Which is odd as I was in my local supermarket.

How we all thrilled to the likes of Professor Green, Arctic Monkeys, Dizzee Rascal, the Rolling Stones and Editors.

But what did the editors of Marvel comics have in store for us in the year when Glastonbury was mysteriously absent from the musical calendar?

Avengers #113

I must confess this is one of my least favourite comic book covers of all time. The overwrought melodrama of it's always struck me as ludicrous.

I've never been that big on the story inside either. Mostly because of the vaguely comedic detonation system favoured by the human bombs.
Captain America and the Falcon #163, the Serpent Squad

Is that the Eel on the cover?

Are eels technically serpents?

Are they not technically fish?

Shouldn't he therefore be in the Piscine Patrol?

With Attuma?

And Tiger Shark?
Conan the Barbarian #28, Beast of Zembabwei

Conan comes up against one of those pesky man-apes who seem to lurk in every Hyborean forest.
Daredevil and the Black Widow #101, Angar the Screamer

Hooray! A Daredevil story I actually remember, as Angar the Screamer gets up to confused mischief.

Angar actually gets mentioned in a book of monsters I got for Christmas one year when I was a child. I shall have to review that book at some point in the not-too-distant future.

That book was advertised in many comics of the time. Therefore, anyone who can name that book gets a great big Steve Does Comics No-Prize.
Fantastic Four #136

I really don't have a clue what's going on here.
Incredible Hulk #165, Aquon

Hooray! It's half man, half fish, all trouble, as Aquon makes his gluggery debut.

I first read this tale in the 1975 UK Marvel Annual.

More on that book, right here.
Iron Man #60, the Masked Marauder

I don't like to knock but, to be honest, the promise of the Masked Marauder returning would rarely be enough to make me buy a comic.
Amazing Spider-Man #122, the death of the Green Goblin

The Green Goblin dies and, forty years later, I still haven't got over it.
Thor #213

Is that a Jim Starlin cover I detect?

Either way, Thor's about to kick some alien butt.

Monday 1 July 2013

Fifty years ago today - July 1963.

"Woh oh oh oh, July, how I love you truly."

That's right. My unhealthy Shakin' Stevens fixation, that has made me an outcast amongst my fellow man, brings me to the seventh month of the year.

But will our favourite Marvel heroes be rocked and rolled by the fate that awaits them in July 1963?

Or will they be merely Lost in France?

Oh, no, hold on, that's Bonnie Tyler. I always get Shaky and Bonnie mixed up.

Fantastic Four #16, Dr Doom and Ant-Man

This is the story where I first encountered Ant-Man.

Because he leapt into action and rescued the Fantastic Four from Dr Doom's devastating masterplan, I got the impression he was the world's best super-hero and on a whole other level from the FF.

What a complete and total fool I was.
Journey Into Mystery #94, Thor and Loki

Loki's up to no good. And my razor-sharp senses tell me the United Nations may be involved.
Amazing Spider-Man #3, Dr Octopus makes his first appearance

One of my favourite early Spidey tales.

And one of my favourite Steve Ditko Spidey covers - as Dr Octopus makes his debut.
Strange Tales #110, the Human Torch v the Wizard and Paste-Pot Pet

It's the team-up the word probably never demanded, as Paste-Pot Pete and the Wizard unite.

No wonder the Torch is concerned. I mean, who could hope to prevail against such weapons as a mirror and a pot of glue?

Update: Since I posted this, Joe S Walker's pointed out that this issue also features the first appearance of Dr Strange, so it's an historic comic indeed.

Was that the story where he first battled Nightmare?

Nightmare was no threat. How could he be? He didn't have a pot of glue.
Tales of Suspense #43, Iron Man vs Kala, first appearance

Hooray! Kala makes her debut, as Iron Man faces the compulsory threat from beneath the Earth's surface that all Marvel heroes seemed to have to defeat at some point in their formative days.
Tales to Astonish #45, Ant-Man and the Wasp vs Egghead

When a hero goes into battle armed with a sewing needle, you know he has conceptual problems.