Sunday 19 October 2014

Happy fortieth birthday to Marvel UK's Planet of the Apes and Dracula Lives!

Marvel UK Dracula Lives #1
Marvel UK Planet of the Apes #1

Thanks to Colin Jones for pointing out that this is a very special week indeed for all British comics fans.

Dracula Lives #2, Marvel UK
For it was forty years ago this week that Marvel UK unleashed two new mags on an unsuspecting public.

One of those mags was Planet of the Apes and the other was Dracula Lives.

Of the two comics, it would have seemed reasonable to assume that it'd be Dracula Lives that would have the longer shelf life, seeing as Planet of the Apes was launched purely to cash in on a TV show that failed to catch light so badly that it only managed to run for a few months before never being seen again.

On the other hand, Dracula Lives was built around classic characters who'd proven their staying power by already having had a long and distinguished career long before the comic had even been conceived.

But how wrong we'd have been in such an assumption. Dracula Lives was finally staked through the heart with issue #87, being forced to merge with its sister title, whilst Planet of the Apes held on for a walloping one hundred and twenty three issues before merging with Mighty World of Marvel where such simian adventures never quite fitted in with the likes of the Hulk, Daredevil and Captain Marvel.

Planet of the Apes #21, Marvel UK
Bearing in mind that Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan's Dracula tales were nearly always more compelling than Marvel's ape-based fare, I can only assume that Dracula Lives' shorter lifespan was down to the fact that its back-up strips - featuring the likes of Frankenstein and Werewolf by Night - were noticeably weaker than such Planet of the Apes' backup strips as Ka-Zar, the Black Panther and Adam Warlock.

Or perhaps, by the 1970s, such traditional horror characters were merely seen as being too corny to live.

Whatever the reason, while I had every issue ever published of Planet of the Apes, I think I only ever had two issues of Dracula Lives, one of which I recall reading whilst stood just inside the entrance of Pauldins department store in Sheffield city centre.

Sadly, like Planet of the Apes and Dracula Lives, Pauldins is no more. A grim reminder that, like the king of the vampires, ultimately everything in life will one day be reduced to dust.


John Pitt said...

I'd like to add my thanks to Colin for mentioning it to you last post and great idea for you to do a post about it. POTA #4 was the very first Marvel comic I ever bought { originally " for my younger brother") but I got hooked myself. POTA led to Drac, which both led to TMWOM, which led to.... ALL Marvel UK titles. But these 2 hold a special place in my heart.

David said...

Well, that's a nice, cheerful, uplifting post, isn't it? Turn to dust indeed.

Seriously though, I had tons of each series given to me with a load of other British (& US Marvels) when I was about 11. I agree the backup strips in POTA were good, though I preferred Dracula Lives, which enabled me to fill in the gaps in the Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night runs I was also given. (Frankenstein, who cares).

IIRC the interior art didn't half look good in A4 (or foolscap?) sized black and white.

Anonymous said...

Crikey, John - I was only one week behind you as POTA No.5 was MY first ever Marvel comic. Steve, I'm amazed you only read two issues of Dracula Lives - it was actually a pretty good comic and as well as Frankenstein and Werewolf By Night it also featured things like The Living Mummy, the Man-Thing and Ghost Rider. As for why it failed I can't say but from about No.60 onwards it was re-named "Dracula Lives featuring The Legion Of Monsters" which seemed to be an attempt to downplay Dracula a bit and big up the back-up strips although Dracula remained the sole cover star. After the merger with POTA Dracula only lasted for about 5 weeks and was then dropped without explanation so for the final 30 or so issues Dracula didn't feature at all in the comic despite his name being on the masthead which was just a blatant deception. As for POTA - I had nearly every issue from No.5 to No.116. I very much disliked the merger and started to lose interest. For me it all seemed to go downhill - the apes story in No.99-101 was a reprint of the story from POTA No.85-86 only 3 months earlier and the adaptation of "Battle of the POTA" was tedium beyond belief. It all led to me bailing out of POTA which had been my favourite Marvel comic but, like John, I have a particular fondness for both Dracula Lives and POTA.

Steve W. said...

Colin, I really don't remember seeing Dracula Lives in the shops that often. In fact, I saw the American Tomb Of Dracula comic more often and had more issues of that than the UK Dracula Lives.

Dougie said...

I was just thinking of blogging about POTA! At the time they came out, my parents only allowed me to choose one of the two titles to add to my weekly order. After all, that was over 30p and for just a little more, you could have a burger and a coke in Strathaven.( Just think about that).

I chose POTA over Drac and initially I was pleased because I was captivated by the Barry Smith ka-Zar stories and Gullivar Jones ( I didn't realise it was a pastiche of ERB's Gods of Mars despite having read a couple of issues of Weird Worlds in '73).

I imagine my decision was moulded somewhat. Dracula Lives was frowned upon despite my dad having let me watch the 1958 Hammer film late one Friday night (also in '73, I think). I did come across about three or four more issues of Drac in the homes of neighbours' kids but while they were intriguing comics, the doomy tone was off-putting. They felt almost as illicit as the b/w Savage Sword would a couple of years later.

As you said yourself back in 2011, one of the highlights of POTA was the Panther's Rage reprinting but I also remember the Triffids adaptation.

(I'll probably blog about Apeslayer & Killraven since I was keen on any Marvel sword-slingers.)

Simon B said...

POTA and Dracula Lives were two of my absolute favourite comics as a kid. I think POTA just edged it because I was a major fan of the Apes movies and TV series - so much so I even joined the official fan club! Hard to believe it was 40 years ago. Scary!