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?

Friday 4 October 2013

Forty years ago today - October 1973.

We may all be reeling from the news that Twitter is to launch on the stock market for $1bn but I can promise you that Steve Does Comics will never float on the stock exchange for a billion dollars, no matter how much Warren Buffett might beg me to do it.

And that means it's time to slide down the index of History to this month's events of forty years ago and to take stock of what our favourite Marvel heroes were up to back then. Who was feeling bullish? Who was feeling bare?

And who was in danger of getting their assets handed to them on a plate?

Amazing Spider-Man #125, Man-Wolf

Man-Wolf is still causing trouble - and flashbacks ("Gwennn!").

I believe this is the first Spider-Man issue Ross Andru ever drew. As Andru was my favourite Spider-Man artist when I was a lad, I regard this as a good thing.
Avengers #116, Silver Surfer vs the Vision

The Avengers/Defenders Evil Eye saga gets into its swing as the Silver Surfer takes on the Vision and the Scarlet Witch.
Captain America and the Falcon #166, mummies

I don't believe I've ever read this one - but my eagle eyes tell me mummies may be involved.

Upon seeing this cover - and its title - I wondered if the tale within might have been inspired by DC's Shadow story Night of the Mummy but it seems that that came out a year after this one. So, clearly it wasn't.
Conan the Barbarian #31, John Romita

John Romita does a substantial amount of reworking to a Gil Kane cover.

Much as I love Jazzy John, I can't help feeling his Conan really doesn't look very barbaric.
Daredevil and the Black Widow #104, Kraven the Hunter

Good to see Daredevil's radar sense being as much use as a stainless steel tennis ball.
Fantastic Four #139, The Miracle Man

Hooray! I bought this issue from Sheffield's late lamented Sheaf Market and, thanks to the return of the Miracle Man, the artwork of John Buscema and the presence of Medusa, it's still a comic I love.
Incredible Hulk #168, the Harpy

After all those years in the comic, Betty Ross finally stops moping and starts blasting.
Iron Man #63, Dr Spectrum

Dr Spectrum's back.
Thor #216, Mercurio

Mercurio and Thor are still at odds over a big, talking jewel that's captured Sif and Karnilla.

I do feel that "Karnilla" is one of the greatest names in literature. It's a source of great regret to me that I've never met anyone in the real world who has that name.
X-Men #84

Apparently, Mekano lives.

Presumably, Leggo's feeling quite well too.

Stikklebrix is, however, well and truly a goner.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Fifty years ago today - October 1963.

It's October 2013. And that means all lovers of high culture'll be excited to recall there's just one month to go now till the fiftieth anniversary of Dr Who. How we always gasp as the titular Time Lord battles the forces of evil.

But the gallivanting Gallifreyan's not the only one who can travel temporally. Thanks to me having stolen Dr Doom's time machine, I can travel back fifty years to discover just what our favourite Marvel heroes were doing in the run-up to that momentous occasion.

Were they busy tripping over their scarves? Or were they instead reversing the polarity of the neutron flow to confound and belittle their enemies?

Fantastic Four #19. Rama-Tut

Gadzooks! It seems I'm not the only one who's had the, "Steal Dr Doom's time machine," idea, as Kang makes his Fantastic Four debut.

Personally, I think Marvel should have done a story at some point that revealed that every single one of its villains is exactly the same character; Dr Doom, Kang, Rama-Tut, the Mandarin, Magneto, Thanos, Loki, Dormammu, the Leader, The Rocket Racer...
Journey Into Mystery #97, Thor vs the Lava Man

It's Thor vs the Lava Man.

Frankly, I don't care about the Lava Man. I'd just like to know if he has a lava lamp. My respect for him will grow exponentially if it turns out he does.
Amazing Spider-Man #5, Dr Doom

Still seething from the loss of his time machine, the aforementioned Dr Doom shows up to cause everyone's favourite wall-crawler no end of trouble.
Strange Tales #113, Human Torch vs Plantman

The Human Torch finds himself up against a criminal so lame you'd expect him to show up in an Ant-Man tale.
Tales of Suspense #46, Iron Man vs the Crimson Dynamo

Iron Man battles the villain who was so disgracefully omitted from the title of Wings' Magneto and Titanium Man.

Personally, I shall never forgive Paul McCartney for the omission - not even if he comes round to my house and gives me a personal performance of The Frog Song.
Tales to Astonish, Ant-Man and the Wasp vs the Porcupine

Forget the chlorophylltastic menace of Plantman.


Because Ant-Man comes up against his deadliest foe yet.

A bath.

Is there no end to the indignities Marvel could heap upon the least impressive super-hero in history?

Still, at least we get to meet the Porcupine, a foe so powerful that none who live can resist him - shortly before he's defeated by, erm, Ant-Man.