Monday 28 April 2014

Because even a super-hero needs somewhere to live.

The Fantastic Four, Baxter Building
As I soar through the skies above Pitsmoor, people often say to me, "Steve! What the beeping beep are you beeping doing!?! I come down to Pitsmoor to take in a little of the local character that's made it so celebrated and, instead, I find myself startled by the sight of the 37th most popular blogger in Sheffield flying through the air like he's King of the Rocket Men or something!"

And I tell them, "Quiver, ordinary person. I'm currently in flight because I've decided that never again shall I leave the house by the front door. For, such methods are for the humdrum and the predictable. From now on, I shall always leave my house by firing myself from a cannon, like Ant-Man always did."

"But won't you die when you land?"

"No," I tell them. "Because, just like Ant-Man, I've arranged for a pair of flying ants to catch me and carry me off to lands hither and thither."

"Isn't there one slight flaw in that plan?"

"Not that I can think of."

"What about the fact that Ant-Man is the size of an ant and you're the size of a human being."

"I knew there was something I hadn't thought of."

But, of course, I'm not firing myself through the air for no reason. I'm doing it because I've always wanted to own two things in life.

One is a secret passage and the other is a secret headquarters.

Everyone knows that a super-hero's no kind of super-hero if he doesn't have a secret headquarters. Why, even Ant-Man has one. And therefore I've always wanted one.

But, of course, it's not that simple. There's the question of just what kind of secret headquarters a man should have.

Batman had a Batcave. Superman had his Fortress of Solitude. Peter Parker had his bedroom. And Daredevil had his flat. Nick Fury had his heli-carrier, Dr Strange had his Sanctum Sanctorum and, in his early days, Bruce Banner had an underground lab in the desert.

I must confess I've always had a liking for the Batcave. Who wouldn't want to slide down a pole to get to one's secret HQ? And who wouldn't want to be confronted by a giant penny when one got there?

On the other hand, I've never wanted a Fortress of Solitude, which, by its name, sounded a very unwelcoming place.

Then again, there was always the fact that Superman had to share it with Supergirl, Superhorse, Superdog, Supercat and Superchimp, not to mention the entire population of Kandor; making it possibly the least solitudinal residence in global history.

Like Peter Parker, I too have a bedroom - but that's hardly a secret. Most people do.

Unlike Daredevil, I don't have a flat.

But there's one secret HQ above all others that I've always wanted.

And that's the Fantastic Four's Baxter Building.

From the moment I saw Jack Kirby's first cutaway of the skyscraper, with its labs, cinema rooms, observatories, computer rooms, lecture rooms, conference rooms, map rooms and sundry rooms that could serve no noticeable purpose, I knew that was exactly the sort of place a man of my class deserved.

This could just be because my nan lived in a tower block and it didn't take much imagination to envisage it being turned into a replica of the FF's digs. Even now, I can't help feeling that tower block would have been so much better with a great big rocket silo incorporated. Why the council never thought to add one, I have no idea.

And the truth is that - just as I know there's still an outside chance I might be called up to play for England in Brazil later this year - even now, at my advanced age, I still have a vague notion in my head that, one day, I shall somehow yet get to own a headquarters just like the Baxter Building. Once I'm in it, I shall say portentous things and do mad experiments in Space-Time that regularly threaten the lives of the local populace.

Admittedly, the Baxter Building's not actually a secret headquarters, as the whole world knows about it. But, of course, if I owned it, it would be. For, my other inspiration in the headquarters stakes is The Shadow who, I believe, also operated from the higher reaches of a skyscraper but, unlike the FF, made good and sure to keep quiet about it.

Sunday 20 April 2014

The most forgettable comics I have ever owned. Part 12: Marvel Preview #13, The UFO Connection.

Marvel Preview #13, the UFO Connection
A long long time ago, I did a post in which I revealed the covers of all the Black and White Marvel magazines I ever owned.

That post was full of such obvious contenders as Savage Sword of Conan and The Rampaging Hulk.

What it lacked was Marvel Preview #13, The UFO Connection.

Why did it lack it?

Because I'd totally forgotten I'd ever had it.

In retrospect, this seems astonishing, bearing in mind it was about aliens - and we all know there's no subject in the world more memorable than aliens.

Not only that but it contained an article that revealed that John Lennon and Jimmy Carter had both reported having seen UFOs.

Sadly, I haven't seen a copy of the mag since the early 1980s but, celebrity UFO eyewitnesses aside, what I do recall of it is its main story involved a man who was being hounded by space aliens and decided to build a pyramid to keep them at bay.

Why a pyramid would keep aliens at bay, I'm not sure.

But I can't help feeling the mag was a veritable time capsule for the age in which it was published. It was an era when Close Encounters was huge, when Erich Von Daniken was still big and anyone with any sense knew full well that pyramids had mystical. powers.

Was the mag any good?

I don't know. I recall so little of it.

But I do recall feeling a certain frisson when I read it at the time, so it must have been doing something right.

And if I forgot all about it, surely that can only be down to one thing.

The handiwork of the Men in Black themselves.

Tuesday 15 April 2014


Reader, I must come clean. The only thing I've ever been a member of is the human race - and that's only thanks to an administrative error.

But, of course, if I were, as a child, going to have joined anything, it would've been Marvel's very own fan/social club FOOM.

How impressed I was by the adverts featuring that Jim Steranko poster and the fancy badge with the wings on it that one could get if one only dared cut out the coupon from an actual comic and send off one's membership fee.

In the end, I didn't join FOOM...

....but I did have three issues of their magazine.

They arrived all at once, several months after I'd sent off for them. I'm pretty sure they were waiting for me when I got back from my summer holiday to wherever it was I'd gone on holiday.

But that's enough heart-warming reminiscing. Let's see what my mighty memory can recall of them and their contents.

FOOM #12, The Vision

My vast intellect tells me this one may have been dedicated to the Vision.

I seem to recall it featured an interview with Jarvis the butler.

Despite the fact he clearly doesn't exist, I think he detailed the Vision's relationship with the Scarlet Witch.

Bearing in mind his position as an underling, this seemed a very presumptuous thing for him to be discussing in public and one can only hope he was suitably disciplined for such a lack of discretion.

There may also have been in interview with Steve Englehart, about Mantis and the Celestial Madonna storyline. Or I could just be imagining that.

FOOM #13, Daredevil

My vast intellect tells me this issue may have been devoted to Daredevil.

I seem to recall it making the then shocking to me revelation that Daredevil had always been one of Marvel's slower sellers. Like a fool, up to that point, I'd assumed Marvel didn't have any slow sellers and that every title they had simply crushed all opposition like bugs.

I recall it reproduced the Gene Colan/Tom Palmer page in which DD gives up on Karen Page and goes off with the Black Widow.

I'm also pretty sure it featured the alternate Gene Colan cover for issue 43, which seemed far better than the somewhat stiff Jack Kirby cover that was actually used.

Daredevil #43, Captain America, unused cover, Gene Colan pencils

FOOM #14, Conan and Red Sonja

Crom! It's an issue devoted to Conan and Red Sonja!

I believe it featured an interview with Roy Thomas about the characters, and possibly also an interview with John Buscema in which he said he felt Frank Frazetta's version of the character looked a little too savage for his liking.

It was also where I first learned of Red Sonja's origin, which even then seemed like a terrible idea for an origin.

Among other goodies, I recall one of these issues having a feature about Woodgod and also a page from the X-Men that detailed Storm's origin.

There was also a pencilled Jack Kirby Invaders cover featuring a giant Red Skull.

On top of this, each issue featured a section that was like the Mighty Marvel Checklist page on steroids.

All this in mind, I can declare owning three issues of FOOM to have been better than receiving a poke in the eyes with three sharp sticks, and therefore well worth cutting a coupon out of one issue of Mighty World of Marvel for.

Saturday 5 April 2014

Forty years ago today - April 1974.

Reader, I must level with you. There are times when I can't help wondering whatever happened to the Connells, that mysterious group who had a classic one-hit wonder nineteen years ago with the song 74-75.

I mostly can't help wondering it whenever I see the numbers 74 or 75.

I am currently seeing the number 74.

And that can only mean one thing.

It's time to look at what our favourite Marvel heroes were up to in April of that very year.

Avengers #122

The Avengers are still having ludicrous amounts of trouble defeating Zodiac, despite the bad guys barely being able to muster a super-power between them.

Wasn't this image used as the cover to one of Marvel UK's 1970s' annuals? Or am I going mad?

Conan the Barbarian #37

Do I detect the hand of Neal Adams in this cover?

Then again, do I also detect the hand of Tony DeZuniga?

Either way, it's an oddly static thing, lacking our hero's usual eagerness to leap headlong into the fray.
Captain America and the Falcon #172, the Banshee

It's time to journey up the nostrils, as Gil Kane gives us our heroes vs the Banshee.
Fantastic Four #145, Ternak

I must confess to knowing nothing at all about Ternak. Did he make any future appearances?
Incredible Hulk #174, the Cobalt Man

Hooray! The Cobalt Man's still causing trouble for the Hulk.
Iron Man #67, the Freak

The Freak is back.

For some reason, every time I see the Freak in an Iron Man comic, I have the irresistible urge to sing Rick James' Super Freak. That in turn makes me want to start randomly shouting, "Hammer Time."

If you ever meet me, you can't say you haven't been warned.
Amazing Spider-Man #131, Dr Octopus marries Aunt May

It's the story you never thought you'd see!

Mostly because it's ridiculous.

Aunt May's IQ drops even further as she decides it'd be a good idea to marry Dr Octopus.

But, of course, he only wants her for one thing.

Her nuclear power station.
Thor #222, Hercules

It's up-the-nostrils-time again, as Gil Kane gives us Thor and Hercules.
X-Men #87

Is this the one where the Mutant Master is defeated when his chair explodes?

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Fifty years ago today - April 1964.

Ex-Genesis front-man Peter Gabriel once sang, "Red rain is pouring down all over me." And we certainly know that feeling right now, as the UK is deluged with sand blown in from the Sahara.

How we've battled today, through the newly created sand dunes, merely to make a few yards' progress. "Water! Water!" I've cried. "Must have water!"

It's been like the human drama of Carry On Follow That Camel made real.

Well, I say that. So far, I've not seen any signs of it whatsoever.

But were our favourite Marvel heroes of exactly fifty years ago building their plans on shifting sands?

Or were they instead aiming to cement victory over their deadliest foes?

Amazing Spider-Man #11, Dr Octopus

Dr Octopus is back and causing all kinds of mischief on a boat.

And that cover has to feature the wordiest caption ever to appear on the front of a comic.

But is this the one with Betty Brant's brother?
Daredevil #1

Hooray! The Man Without Fear makes his debut.

After fifty years of existence, he's still the only human being I've ever encountered who has a billy club.

For that matter, he's still the only human being I've ever encountered who I've ever heard use the term, "Billy club."

In fact, he's probably the only human being I've ever encountered who even knows what a billy club actually is.
Fantastic Four #25, The Hulk vs the Thing

It's the fight we've all been waiting for, as the Thing takes on the Hulk while the rest of the gang hand in their sick notes.
Journey into Mystery #103, Thor vs the Executioner and Enchantress

The Executioner and the Enchantress make their debuts.
Strange Tales #119, the Human Torch vs the Rabble Rouser

It's the Rabble Rouser!

To be honest, I don't have a clue who the Rabble Rouser is.

I'd assume, from his name and the front cover, that he's a less celebrated equivalent of the Hate Monger. Though, looking at him, there are hints of the Molecule Man about him.

No disrespect to the Torch but I'm more interested in Dr Strange and what lies beyond the Purple Veil.
Tales of Suspense #52, Iron Man vs the Crimson Dynamo

The third greatest super-villain ever to feature in a Wings song makes his senses-shattering return.

Perhaps more importantly, the Black Widow makes her first appearance.
Tales to Astonish #54, Giant-Man and the Wasp

Giant-Man's desperate quest to find a super-villain who's not completely forgettable brings him face-to-face with El Toro.

Sadly, I suspect his quest is not yet over.