Tuesday 24 June 2014

Steve Ditko's Captain Atom - Space Adventures #33.

Space Adventures #33, Captain Atom, Charlton ComicsFor some reason, they don't let me have atom bombs.

I don't know why.

After all, what harm could a man of my quality possibly do with a bunch of weapons of mass thermo-nuclear annihilation?

Probably a lot less than the characters in Charlton Comics' Space Adventures #33, who tend to treat such weapons as though they have no more destructive power than a boxful of indoor fireworks.

Still, you have to hand it to them, if not for their recklessness, we would never have had the hero the world knows as Captain Atom.

Captain Atom is no stranger to me. I first encountered him reprinted in the black and white pages of various Alan Class comics.

But, long before those heady days of the mid 1970s, he had his origins in 1960, in the far more colourful pages of Charlton Comics.

What happens is this. The American military are about to fire a nuclear missile into space and explode it there for no good reason, when, no sooner have they launched it than they realise that, oops, their finest pilot Captain Adam is still on board. Clearly, whoever was in charge of this launch was the same character who was in charge of the gamma bomb test that Bruce Banner was working on.

Sadly, this unforeseen but avoidable development means Captain Adam is blown to pieces.

Charlton Comics, Space Adventures #33, Captain AtomBut all is not lost. For, with the nation still adjusting to life without a man who'd been a national hero, he reappears on Earth, having reintegrated himself and been transformed into a nuclear-powered super-being.

It's at this point that you realise exactly where Alan Moore got the idea for Doctor Manhattan from.

Needless to say, the military quickly see the value of this turn of events, put him in a costume designed to stop him leaking radioactivity all over everyone and rename him Captain Atom.

And it's just in the nick of time. For, no sooner has he shown off his powers to a startled top brass, than a pair of double agents (no doubt recruited from the same place Bruce Banner found Igor) decide to launch one of America's nuclear missiles at one of their own cities, in order to give their beloved leader a reason to start World War Three. The comic doesn't name this country but, with a plan like that, I think we can assume it's not one of the better run ones.

Charlton Comics, Space Adventures #33, Captain AtomWasting no time at all, Captain Atom flies into action and blows the missile up in mid-flight, by punching it in the face, and the world is saved.

The thing that strikes you about the tale is that, with only nine pages to tell the tale in, there's no character development or backstory at all. We first meet Captain Adam as he's being launched into space. Even after his return, we learn nothing of him. Does he have a family? Is he a little peeved that he's been blown up? Does the fact he's now giving off deadly radiation bother him in the slightest? We're never told and the man seems totally unphased by it all to a degree that suggests he may have accidentally forgotten to bring his soul along with him when he recreated his body.

Not for Captain Atom the eternal agonising and self-doubt that Marvel heroes would later encounter.

Apart from Steve Ditko's art, I suppose the main virtue of the strip is it gives us a peek back into the depths of the Cold War mentality, with its tale of people firing off nuclear missiles at every opportunity; while starting a World War for no reason seems perfectly sensible to all involved.

And, of course, without Captain Atom, Jim Starlin would never have been inspired to copy him by showing Captain Marvel leaving a sparkly trail behind him wherever he flew. And where would we all have been without that effect?

Charlton Comics, Space Adventures #33, Captain Atom

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Steve Does Adverts. The magic and mystery of See-Action Football

See-Action Football Game
To be honest, it's not been a happy week for those of us who're fans of all things loveably juvenile. Within days of each other, we've seen the deaths of Rik Mayall, Shaggy and Captain Scarlet. Not to mention the demise of Captain Thingy from Allo Allo.

Still, there's one juvenile thing we can all rely on to never go away.

And that's football.

Yes it's true; even as I type this deathless prose, I'm busy watching Belgium vs Algeria in the World Cup of Footsoccerball.

How I love the World Cup. Frankly, nothing outside of the Eurovision Song Contest and the return of Dr Who manages to get me quite this excited in life.

Needless to say, England have shown a versatility many thought beyond them by finally managing to find a way to lose that doesn't involve the use of penalties.

Of course, if the government had listened to me and adopted Kate Bush's Oh England, My Lionheart as the National Anthem, I like to feel we would have swept to triumph. There's nothing like singing about a man dying in a plane crash to get the adrenaline going.

But we should remember that there's another kind of football on this planet.

A kind of football no one can understand.

It's American Football. It seems to involve neither feet nor balls, and one of my strongest memories of reading American comics as a child is seeing the advert above and not having a clue what was going on in it.

I must confess that, looking at it again as an adult, I still don't have a clue what's going. Just how does a field goal differ from any other kind of goal? What is a 5 yards off tackle? And what, in the name of Johan Cruyff, is a 4-3 bump and run?

Whatever it all means, I do feel that, in the interests of money-saving, this is how future World Cups should be played, with the managers televised as they stick various slides in a projector and spout gibberish at each other.

The scary thing is I could see BBC2 actually doing it, with Craig Charles introducing.

Sadly, I fear the BBC's perma-bewildered ubercommentator Jonathan Pearce would have no more comprehension of what was going on in it than he does in real-life matches.

Thursday 5 June 2014

Forty years ago this month - June 1974.

According to the internet, June 1974 saw the birth of a very special man.

That man was TV survivalist Bear Grylls.

From Bear Grylls, I learned that, when trapped in the desert at night, one should cut open a dead camel and climb inside it.

What for? There's not even a bed in there.

No. Far better to check into the nearest hotel and leave Bear Grylls to it.

But what exactly were the survival chances of our favourite Marvel heroes in that very month?

With not a dead camel in sight, I fancy they were none too good.

Fantastic Four #147, The Sub-Mariner

Camels may have humps but it's whole other kind of humping that Prince Namor has on his mind.

As we saw the other day; exactly fifty years ago, Subby was trying to get his leg-over with Sue Richards.

Ten years later, and he's still trying.

You have to give him credit. He's persistent, if nothing else.
Amazing Spider-Man #133, the Molten Man

The Molten Man's still in a bad mood.
Avengers #124, the Star-Stalker

The Avengers find themselves up against the Star-Stalker, as the Celestial Madonna Saga rumbles on.
Captain America and the Falcon #174, the Secret Empire

If this is the Secret Empire storyline, does that mean the man in the silly looking hood is Nixon?

I do always wonder why Nixon didn't do his political broadcasts wearing a hood. It would have given him a certain something that other politicians lacked.
Conan the Barbarian #39

This tale was reprinted in Marvel UK's 1977 Avengers Annual and I can confirm the cover accurately depicts what happens inside.
Daredevil and the Black Widow #110

I have no memory at all of what happens in this issue. Is, "The Master," really the Mandrill in disguise?
Incredible Hulk #176, the Man-Beast, Counter-Earth

The Hulk's on Counter-Earth and having a barney with the President and his horde of beast-men.
Iron Man #68, Sunfire and the Unicorn

Does one detect a Jim Starlin cover?

Only days ago, I confidently declared that the June 1964 issue of Tales of Suspense was the only time a comic had ever dared to try and use the hero's new mask as a marketing ploy.

It shows how much I know, because, exactly ten years later, they're doing it again - with exactly the same character.

On other matters, I take it that Sunfire manages to be very annoying from start to finish?
Thor #224, Hercules and the Destroyer

The Destroyer's back - and causing all kinds of mischief.
X-men #88, the Frankenstein Monster

If anyone wants to know why the original X-Men rarely grabbed me, they only have to read this tale, as our merry Marvel mutants go after Mary Shelley's most famous creation, and it all gets a bit juvenile.

Monday 2 June 2014

Fifty years ago this month - June 1964.

As I tread the boards of Sheffield's finest comedy clubs, wowing everyone, with my wide range of farmyard impressions, people often say to me, "Steve, you great big, fatheaded ignoramus. If your blog's supposed to be about things that're comic, why don't you do more features about the classic 1970s and '80s sit-com Terry and June? I love Terry and June and would happily murder anyone who doesn't also like it."

Well, those people only need to murder fifty percent of me. Because I don't have much Terry but I do have a whole load of June for you.

Amazing Spider-Man #13, Mysterio

Mysterio makes his mind-bending (and possibly spoon-bending) debut.

I don't care how lame some people claim he was; Mysterio was always one of my favourite villains and he had probably my favourite costume of any criminal.

If I ever turn to crime, this is definitely how I'll dress in order to do it.

In fact, I think I'll dress like it even if I don't turn to crime After all, how could people fail to respect me once I've donned such garb? How much more impressive my farmyard impressions shall sound coming from inside such a helmet.
Daredevil #2, Electro

Daredevil comes up against his first super-villain, as Electro gets zapping.

I used to have a copy of this issue. It was in decent nick and cost me less than £30. The lack of financial value of early Daredevil comics does seem unfair for one of Marvel's Silver Age Superstars.
Fantastic Four #27, The Sub-Mariner and Dr Strange

Subby's still trying to get his leg-over with Sue Storm.
Journey into Mystery #105, Thor, the Cobra and Mr Hyde

Gasp! How can our virtually all-powerful hero possibly hope to prevail, as Mr Hyde and the Cobra team up against him?
Strange Tales #121, Human Torch and the Plantman

It's hard to see how the Human Torch's strip failed to set the world alight when he was up against villains as epic as Plantman - a foe so mega he didn't even feel the need to hyphenate his name. Plantman fears nothing - not even the Comic Book Grammar Police.

Dr Strange is starting to make the cover now. This can't be good news for the Torch.
Tales of Suspense #54, Iron Man v the Mandarin

The Mandarin's back, on a very strange cover that obliterates the hero's face.

I can't remember ever seeing any other comic book cover that reduced its hero to such anonymity.

Nor can I remember one whose blurb tried to use its hero getting a new mask as a marketing tool.

Come to think of it, what was the new mask? Was it the one with the rivets along its edges?
Tales to Astonish #56, Giant-Man vs the Magician

Giant-Man's still in search of a foe who's not completely useless.

And hes still failing.