Thursday 30 April 2015

Comics. Did you ever send off for anything?

Thing and Sub-Mariner, Marvel badges/buttons
One of the endless fascinations of reading comics as a child was encountering the advertising that showed all the comics-related merchandising the devoted fan could acquire should he or she be brave enough to cut coupons out of their favourite comics and thus ruin them.

It was a tempting thing. After all, there were posters, web shooters, medallions, dartboards, stickers, model kits, action figures and a whole lot more.

But, if you lived in Britain, there was a problem when it came to such items when advertised in American mags.

And that was that they had to be paid for with strange things called dollars that no one had ever seen and that no one knew how to get their hands on; meaning that, no matter how tempting they may have been, such items would be doomed to remain out of reach for those not familiar with the arcane art of international payment.

For items for sale through Marvel UK, there were of course no such obstacles. You could pay in pounds which were readily available even after that pesky decimalisation which so confused the elderly and led to them still chuntering on about, "New Money," forty years after it was introduced.

Even so, despite the ease of purchase, I only ever sent off for two things from any comics. Those things were a pair of quite sizeable Marvel badges.

Sadly, despite my best efforts, I've been able to find no signs of any pictures of those badges online, but one featured the uppermost image pictured here, while the other featured the Thing in a pose that was either the same as the one here or something very similar.

For some reason, in the Sub-Mariner badge, our hero had been recoloured red. It seemed an odd thing to have happened but I suppose that, if Dinky Toys could recolour Space 1999 Eagles, Thunderbird 2 and UFO Interceptors green, then Marvel could recolour the Sub-Mariner crimson. Then again, maybe he just wanted to silence rumours that he was semi-literate, by proving he was well red.

Anyway, that's enough of my heart-warming recollections. Did you ever send off for anything from a comic, what was it and were you pleased with it when it arrived?

Saturday 25 April 2015

April 26th, 1975 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

I can think of nothing whatsoever clever or interesting to say as an introduction to this post.

So here's what Marvel UK were up to forty years ago this weekend.

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #115, Dr Octopus

Terror at 10,000 Feet? Wasn't that the title of that William Shatner Outer Limits episode where he's on the plane, being threatened by a monster?

Oh. According to Google, that was called Nightmare at 10,000 Feet and was in The Twilight Zone.

Other than that, I was completely right.

I think I'll give myself a medal.

Marvel UK, Avengers #84

It's one of my favourite covers to one of my favourite stories, as the Avengers make the Vision a member.

Mighty World of Marvel #134, Hulk vs Crawling Unknown

The Hulk's still going Quatermass about it all.

More importantly, we get the legendary Dr Doom/Daredevil body-swap tale in which Doom takes over DD's body but somehow never manages to notice that he's blind.

And they claim he's a genius.

Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #27

Is that a Neal Adams cover I espy?

It's weird how right the painted covers look on Marvel UK's Planet of the Apes but how out of place they seem on Dracula Lives. I can only put it down to the fact that Dracula Lives has a clumsier and more intrusive masthead.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #27, Museum of Terror

You'd never know it from the cover but it's yet another instalment of the Apeslayer saga.

This is the third Marvel UK mag this week to feature the word, "Terror," on the cover. Clearly, it was a very scary weekend for us readers. I'm amazed I got though it with sanity intact.

I think I'll give myself another medal.

Marvel UK, Savage Sword of Conan  #8

I seem to remember this being about Conan deciding to loot a tomb and consequently coming up against a supernatural menace that fair threatens to destroy him and his female companion. I do wonder if he ever feels like he's trapped in Groundhog Day?

Still no clues given to us as to what the Ka-Zar story is about.

Marvel UK, The Super-Heroes #8, Thor vs Silver Surfer

Surely one of the greatest comic book covers of all time, as the Surfer meets Thor.

Sunday 19 April 2015

April 19th, 1975 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

Hooray! The World Snooker Championship has just begun in Sheffield!

Back in 1975, we had no such thing. The only snooker we ever got on TV was Pot Black.

Being a tight-fisted family, we used to watch it in black and white.

Contrary to popular mythology, you can watch snooker in black and white.

You can also read American comics in black and white.

And we did, in the pages of Marvel UK's brightest mags.

And here's where we find out what monochrome magnificence those mags were offering in this very week of 1975.

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #114, Dr Octopus

Snooker players might often need a long rest but I suspect Spidey'll soon be needing an even longer one because he's up against Doc Ock again.

Perhaps even more excitingly, the Titanium Man is back, prompting me to burst into a certain Wings' song.

That's right; Mull of Kintyre.

Marvel UK, The Avengers #83, Dr Strange vs the Juggernaut

I never had this issue at the time and, so, until I got my hands on the Avengers Treasury Edition that reprinted it, I never found out how the Vision's debut story concluded.

For the same reason, until after I got the internet, I never knew that Dr Strange had fought the Juggernaut.

Mighty World of Marvel #133, The Hulk

Is this the one where the Hulk gets captured and put on trial?

If so, that was one of my favourite Hulk tales from this era.

Then again, it might be the one where that senator goes all Quatermass Xperiment on everyone.

That too was one of my favourite Hulk tales of this era.

Marvel UK, Savage Sword of Conan #7

My Holmesian intellect tells me this may be an adaptation of REH's The God In the Bowl. In which case, I've read the original version of this tale and pronounce it to be interesting.

Until now I was totally oblivious to the fact that Ka-Zar had had a strip in Conan's mag. I wonder what the Ka-Zar story was.

Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #26

The standard Dracula Lives cover there, with our fledermausian felon heading straight for some woman while issuing melodramatic threats along the way.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #26, Killraven

I saw another episode of the old Planet of the Apes TV show the other day. It was the one with the blood transfusion.

While I found it surprisingly enjoyable, for such an unregarded series, I was still disappointed by the lack of Apeslayer.

Why is there not an Apeslayer TV show? I demand one now.

Marvel UK, The Super-Heroes #7, Silver Surfer vs Loki

From the subtle clues on the cover, I'm assuming this is the one where the Surfer meets up with Thor for the first time.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Herb Trimpe. RIP.

Incredible Hulk #139, Herb Trimpe It's odd how you can feel fondness for people you've never met and know nothing about. And yet that's the effect the people who drew the comics I read as a child have on me.

Ross Andru, Jim Aparo, John Buscema, John Romita, Jim Starlin and a whole load of other comicbook creators somehow wormed their way into my affections as a child even though I often couldn't even work out how to pronounce their names and, for all I knew, they could have been the very reincarnation of Satan on Earth.

And so it is that every time one of my favourite childhood comics creators dies, that small part of my psyche that loved their work feels a little diminished by their passing as human beings.

That's especially true in the case of Herb Trimpe who was one of my favourite artists as a child. He took a strip, in the Hulk, that had barely been worth reading up until that point and, along with a number of writers, turned it into one of Marvel's best books. Even now, as an adult, I enjoy his Hulk tales far more than virtually any other comics from that era.

Marvel Spotlight #12, Herb Trimpe, Son of SatanWhy was this? Trying to get to the heart of it, he gave the Hulk a sense of humanity, he brought out the inherent pathos of a simple brute who mostly wanted nothing but to be left alone but was also capable of massive acts of destruction.

His was a Hulk who wanted nothing but to sit in the woods and commune with nature but was also a nigh-unstoppable force of nature - one you really could believe was capable of lifting mountains. Trimpe put the Hulk in a strange world of monsters, robots, military bases, secret organisations, swamps, lost lands, European dictators, ghettos and almost poetic menaces from outer space.

Over a period of seven years on the strip, Trimpe produced story-telling that was rarely flashy but was often beautiful, displaying a remarkable consistency from the start of his run to the end of it, and his mastery of drawing monsters, military equipment, robots and spaceships made him perfect for the strip in a way few other artists could ever have been.

Of course, the Hulk wasn't his only claim to fame. He was co-creator of Marvel UK's first British hero Captain Britain (that is if you don't count Apeslayer who Trimpe could bizarrely claim to have been the definitive artist for, his work on Killraven having been heavily recycled to give us that strip each week). And he also had stints on, among other things, Ant-Man and Godzilla.

While it could be argued that the world wasn't exactly crying out for a Godzilla strip, his previously mentioned strengths as an artist made him just as much the ideal man for that job as he had been for the Hulk.

But probably my favourite Trimpe artwork is in the pages of Marvel Spotlight #12 & 13 in which his Son of Satan strip creates a sense of tortured delirium that's perfect for such a strip and contrasts noticeably to his more controlled work on the Hulk.

By all accounts he was also a nice man in real life.

It wasn't necessary for him to be a nice man in real life.

It wasn't necessary for him to be anything in real life.

As I alluded to at the start of this post, if he'd had no existence outside of drawing the Hulk for seven years, that alone would have been enough for me to feel saddened by his passing. But it's always pleasing to find out that those who brought you pleasure in your more innocent years were not in the habit of dissipating that pleasure when you met them in the real world.

If Stan Lee was right that within each of us ofttimes there dwells a mighty and raging fury, it's also true that even more ofttimes within each of us there dwells a ten year old. And, through his artwork, Herb Trimpe knew better than most how to appeal to that ten year old.

Sunday 12 April 2015

April 12th, 1975 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

Hooray! Thunderbirds has returned to our TV screens!

Happily, it's a lot faster-moving than the original show, which, much as I have warm and fuzzy feelings for it, I find almost impossible to watch these days, due to its glacial pacing.

But how different things were in 1975 when the knowledge that Thunderbirds would be on when I got home was often the only thing that got me through French lessons with sanity intact.

"What's that?" I hear you cry. "1975? Isn't that the subject of this post?"

Why, yes it is. So let's take a look and see if any of Marvel UK's stars were in need of the services of International Rescue in this week of that year.

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #113, Dr Octopus

There you go. The old shows could have easily got forty five minutes out of Thunderbird 2 trying to keep that water tower upright.

Do New York skyscrapers still have those water towers on top of them? They always seemed an incongruous but charming thing to have in such an otherwise modern landscape. They should definitely stick one on top of the Shard.

Mighty World of Marvel #132, Hulk vs Havok

The Hulk's still gearing up for his cliff-lifting antics.

Marvel UK, Avengers #82, Behold the Vision

Hooray! The Vision makes his cloudy debut and at last Marvel UK will no longer have to redraw him as Thor in their mags.

I remember copying this cover when I was a child, with my trusty pencil and cartridge paper pad. It was definitely the clouds I was most proud of having got right.
Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #25

Somehow that cover looks oddly out of place on a UK Dracula mag.
Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #25, Apeslayer

Apeslayer's still slapping those monkeys around.

A few days ago, I saw an episode of the old Planet of the Apes TV show, for the first time since the early 1990s. Much as I enjoyed it, I can't help feeling it would've benefited greatly from having Apeslayer burst in on it, declaring, "Back, you simian fools!"

Marvel UK, Conan the Barbarian #6, Devil Wings Over Shadizar

I always used to get Thulsa Doom mixed up with Thoth-Amon.

Did Thulsa Doom ever appear in any Conan tales or was he just limited to Kull stories?

Marvel UK, The Super-Heroes #6, Silver Surfer vs Mephisto

That's a rather unhappy looking monster the Surfer's tangling with there.

Wednesday 8 April 2015

April 1975 - Marvel Comics, Forty Years Ago Today.

Tremble before the power of Steve Does Comics - because, in the last few days, I've felled not one but two trees with my bare hands.

Admittedly, when I say, "Bare hands," I mean with a saw. I was tempted to try and level them in the style of Iron Fist, by concentrating every iota of my life-force into my knuckles but bottled it when it dawned on me that that might hurt.

Needless to say, all this arboreal devastation makes me feel suitably heroic but were our favourite Marvel characters being similarly heroic in this month of exactly forty years ago?

Were they trying to branch out?

Was anyone rooting for them?

Were they determined to turn over a new leaf?

Were they a bunch of saps?

Did any of them try to make a trunk call?

Avengers #134, Origin of the Vision

After what now feels like centuries, the Celestial Madonna Saga still rumbles along, as we get yet more of the origin of the Vision.

And you can read my review of this issue, right here.

Conan #49, Wolf-Woman

Isn't this the flashback tale about how Conan got his cherry popped by a mysterious woman in a log cabin? Shades of Norwegian Wood in reverse?

Then again, maybe I'm just imagining that that story ever existed

Either way, it's a very nice and dramatic cover by Gil Kane.

Captain America and the Falcon #184, Red Skull

I don't think I've read this one. I take it Sharon Carter's still not  dead by this point?
Daredevil #120, El Jaguar

Clearly someone's been going to the same tailor as Kraven the Hunter.

But I do like it that El Jaguar's preferred fighting method consists of hair-pulling. He clearly learned his fighting skills from the same place that I did.

Fantastic Four #157, Doomsman

It feels like every few months I ask, "Is this the one where Dr Doom builds a robot with the powers of the Silver Surfer?"

And you know what?

It never is.

Perhaps that story never existed.

Anyway, is this the one where Dr Doom builds a robot with the powers of the Silver Surfer?

Incredible Hulk #186, Devastator

Much as I love this era of the Hulk, I can't claim that the Devastator is one of Marvel's greatest villains. I'm also not sure that yellow ever really works for a super-villain.

Amazing Spider-Man #143, Cyclone

Speaking of yellow, and speaking of not being Marvel's greatest villain, here comes the Cyclone, the only super-villain ever to be defeated by a fan.

Thor #234, Loki

I genuinely don't know what happens in this story.

I'm assuming that Thor and Loki have a fight.

Granted, that's the plot of every other issue of Thor ever printed but still I feel proud of myself for having deduced it.

Sunday 5 April 2015

April 5th, 1975 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

Hooray! It's Easter!

Needless to say, in order to celebrate, I've spent all day biting the heads off bunnies.

Wait. What's that you say? You can get them in chocolate form these days?

Well, don't I just feel like a fool?

That's all well and good but what were our favourite Marvel UK mags up to in the week that the Bay City Rollers were Number One on the UK charts with Bye Bye Baby?

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #112

By the looks of it, it's going to be a case of, "Bye bye, baby," for Gwen Stacy.

However, if this issue contains the story I think it does (the one where Spidey announces his true identity at a party and then gets Hobie Brown in to cover for him), I can confirm that Gwen Stacy is in no danger at all and that this cover is a great big fib-monster

Marvel UK, the Super-Heroes #5, Silver Surfer vs Mephisto

Gwen Stacy might be in no danger but Shall-Bal certainly is because Marvel UK reprints my favourite Silver Surfer story, as Mephisto  makes his diabolical debut.

Marvel UK, Avengers #81, Dr Strange

I've no idea what's going on on this cover but it certainly looks striking.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #24, Killraven

Hooray! Apeslayer's still sorting out those naughty apes.

Mighty World of Marvel #131, The Hulk

I  do believe that this is the one where the Hulk lifts up an entire cliff in one of the most memorable comic book images of my childhood.

Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #24

It's another of those covers where Dracula grabs someone and threatens them.

I do feel it's high-time they had a cover that features Dracula as the one who's being threatened.

Marvel UK, Savage Sword of Conan #5, Zukala Daughter

It's the first Conan story I ever read, as Zukala and his daughter make their first appearances.

And you can read my review of that story, right here.

Thursday 2 April 2015

April 1965 - Marvel Comics, Fifty Years Ago Today.

April the First has just been and gone but were our Marvel heroes of exactly fifty years ago finding themselves being made fools of?

It's after twelve o'clock, so let's find out.

Avengers #15, Masters of Evil

It was only recently that I discovered that the Baron Zemo in the Silver Age comics wasn't the original Baron Zemo from World War Two. Truly my ignorance knows no bounds.

Giant-Man and the Melter are clearly having a contest here to see who can have the worst costume. Despite Giant-Man's best efforts, I think the Melter's won. Just what are those weird bat's ear things on his head for and how do they relate, conceptually, to the power of melting things?

Daredevil #7, the Sub-Mariner

It's a bit of a classic, as our hero comes up against his mightiest foe yet.

I do like this tale because it's one of those rarities, an early Marvel tale where two of their heroes meet and there's no doubt at all about who wins.

Fantastic Four #37, the Skrull Homeworld

And it's a classic FF tale as they decide to invade the Skrull homeworld.

I did always wonder why the only Skrull female in this story looks an awful lot prettier than the Skrull males do.

But I do remember being very taken with those aliens who look like dandelion clocks.

Journey Into Mystery #115, Thor, the Absorbing Man and Loki

I have always thought this was a very strange cover, with Loki just floating there in mid-air. I wonder if he was added after the rest of the artwork, at Stan Lee's insistence?

Amazing Spider-Man#23, the Green Goblin

One of my favourite Steve Ditko Spider-Man covers, showing off the elegance of both his figure-work and composition.

Strange Tales #131, The Human Torch, the Thing and the Mad Thinker

Dr Strange is relegated to being a cover insert by The Bouncing Ball of Doom! Oh the grave indignity. No wonder he looks so peeved.

Tales of Suspense #64, Iron Man, the Black Widow and Hawkeye

I did always like it when Hawkeye and the Black Widow used to show up in Iron Man's strip. Even though they shouldn't have been any real threat to him, they had a certain soap opera charm to them. Maybe in my subconscious they were some sort of criminal counterparts to Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts.

Tales To Astonish #66, Giant-Man vs Madam Macabre

I have no idea at all who Madam Macabre is, nor just what's going on on the cover.

The south east Asian appearance of Madam Macabre and her lackey/boss hints that the surprise guest villain of this tale might be the Mandarin but I'd hope not. Not wanting to put him down but I couldn't see Giant-Man surviving for five seconds if the Mandarin showed up.