Sunday 29 November 2015

November 29th, 1975 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

In this week of 1975, Queen smashed their way to Number One on the UK singles chart, with Bohemian Rhapsody, forcing You Sexy Thing by Hot Chocolate to settle for second place.

I can forgive Queen for many things but not for keeping Errol Brown off the Number One slot.

There's only one thing for it. I'm going to have to soothe my nightmarish rage by looking at what our favourite comic company was giving us in that very week.

Marvel UK, Avengers #115, Arkon

Hooray! The Avengers reappeared in my local newsagents this week, meaning I actually got to read this issue.

How impressed I was by the artwork of John Buscema and Tom Palmer. How struck I was by Arkon's resemblance to Conan. How unlikely his trans-dimensional lighting bolts seemed.

Sadly, I recall nothing of the Dr Strange or Conan stories that accompanied it.

Marvel UK, Titans #6, Captain America

I never had this issue. I'm assuming it features the tale where the Red Skull brainwashes Cap into trying to kill Roosevelt?

Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #58

Looks like Dracula's about to meet a watery end.

Come to think of it, can vampires drown? I mean, do they actually breathe?

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #58

I'm going to guess the Ka-Zar tale is the one where he fights Gemini. I've no reason for thinking that other than a little voice in my head says it is.

The voice in my head also tells me the Black Panther tale is Panther's Rage. I feel I'm on firmer ground with that guess.

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #146, Kraven the Hunter

Speaking of Ka-Zar, Spidey's still messing about in the Savage Land.

Mighty World of Marvel #165, Hulk vs Captain Omen

And the Hulk's still messing about at the bottom of the sea, in one of my favourite Hulk tales.

Marvel UK, The Super-Heroes #39, X-Men

Hold on. Can it be? An Original X-Men story that actually looks interesting?

Admittedly I only think that because they're up against villains you wouldn't normally expect them to come up against.

In fact, that's one of the most random collections of super-villains I've ever seen.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Jungle Action #6 - Panther's Rage.

Jungle Action #6, Black Panther vs Killmonger
Inspired by the Black Panther's appearance in the trailer for Captain America's Civil War movie, which has just been unleashed upon the world, I thought I'd do a review of the first instalment of Panther's Rage, the saga that filled the pages of Jungle Action for almost a year in the 1970s.

The series made a huge impact on me when I first read it reprinted in Marvel UK's Planet of the Apes and it was probably my favourite ever comic book storyline when I was a youth.

Unfortunately, my attempt at doing a normal review of it was a total disaster. So, instead, I thought I'd try a different tack and break it all down to its bare essentials.

So, here goes.

The Panther returns to Wakanda after a lengthy absence, super-heroing in America with the Avengers.

Upon returning, he finds that many of his subjects resent him for his absence and now doubt that he's capable of leading his country any more.

Jungle Action #6, the Black Panther
To make matters worse, civil war's broken out in his kingdom's extremities and a ruthless giant of a man called Erik Killmonger is out to overthrow him.

What's good about this issue:
Rich Buckler draws it like he's capable of drawing it, instead of drawing it like he's Jack Kirby with a broken arm, which means it looks great.

There's plenty of conflict between the characters.

Jungle Action #6, the Black Panther
Don McGregor gives us his determination to make comics more grown-up but, for now, avoids the over-verbosity that can drag his writing down when it goes into overdrive.

Nothing's black and white. The Panther may be the tale's hero but there's no doubt he's ignored his responsibilities to his country and his people and is at least partially to blame for what's happening.

Erik Killmonger's a genuinely menacing villain and clearly physically too much for our hero to handle.

The Black Panther gets to fight a leopard.

What's bad about it:
The Panther's American girlfriend Monica Lynne is spectacularly annoying and insists on calling T'Challa, "Ta-Charlie," which is the sort of thing you could imagine the Thing calling him. In fact, the Thing probably did call him that at some point. It makes me wonder if, next issue, she'll start to declare, "It's clobbering time!" at every opportunity.

Jungle Action #6, the Black Panther, Killmonger
W'Kabi, T'Challa's head of security, has clearly taken belly-aching lessons from Killraven's Hawk and spends the entire issue griping to the Panther about how he's let his country down and that he's probably not fit to rule it anymore. He really is the biggest wet blanket you've ever met and, as far as I can remember, he manages to keep his world-class complaining going all the way through the series. How he manages to keep his job is anyone's guess. The Panther must have the patience of a saint.

Tayete and Kazibe, Killmonger's two henchmen, quickly become portrayed as hapless and almost endearing comic-relief characters, even though they're ruthless killers. It's a shift in tone that feels somewhat uncomfortable, bearing in mind that we first encounter them torturing an old man to death.

The tale's too short. It's only thirteen pages. The thing's over almost as soon as it's started. Fortunately, that failing's resolved in later issues, with the strip expanding to completely fill the book.

The verdict:
Overall, it's a strong introductory episode. It looks good, it has a great moodiness to it, quickly gets us up to speed as to what's happening, introduces the major players and conflicts and features more of McGregor's strengths than his weaknesses. There's really little to hint at the strangeness and the ambition of what's to come but there's enough in it to make you know it's not going to be a typical super-hero strip. I can understand why I loved it as a youth, even though I can see its flaws as an adult.

Sunday 22 November 2015

November 22nd, 1975 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

On November 22nd, 1975, BBC1 showed The Vengeance of She, a film that made such an impact on my soul that I can recall nothing of it other than that Ursula Andress wasn't in it.

My Googling tells me that this was the most interesting thing that happened anywhere in the world on that day, backing up my theory that 1975 was the most unexciting year in human history.

Still, perhaps it doesn't matter. Perhaps we didn't need real world excitement. Perhaps our favourite comic company was about to give us all the excitement we could possibly handle.

Marvel UK, The Titans #5, the Inhumans

I'm getting the feeling that this week's Inhumans tale may pivot around Black Bolt using the devastating power of his voice.

So, that's basically the same as every Inhumans tale I've ever read..

Marvel UK, Avengers #114, Quicksilver

I do believe we're about to get the introduction of naughty old Arkon and his trans-dimensional lightning bolts of mischief.

Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #57

I do believe this is the first issue of Dracula Lives not to feature Dracula on the cover.

To be honest, I don't know who those other people on the cover are but I assume the bandage-wearer to be the Living Mummy who looks like he might not be living for very much longer.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #57

They're still escaping from the Planet of the Apes.

Marvellous as that all was; being an Erich Von Däniken fan, I did prefer the Man-Gods From Beyond the Stars story which backed up all my theories about the origins of the human race.

I may have since amended my theories about the origins of the human race.

That's the kind of scientist I am.

One who believes everything he reads.

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #145

Spider-Man's still messing about in the Hidden Land.

Meanwhile, Iron Man's still discovering that you should never let Happy Hogan go anywhere near a hospital.

Marvel UK, Super-Heroes #38, X-Men

The Super-Heroes is still trundling along inoffensively.

Mighty World of Marvel #164, Hulk vs Captain Omen

I may never have had this issue but I did have a copy of its rather fabby Hulk tale in the 1975 Marvel Annual, so my sense of deprivation is not as great as it might have been.

Thursday 19 November 2015

The most forgettable comics I have ever owned - Part 15: Marvel Premiere #26.

Marvel Premiere #26, Hercules We all know that the most traumatic event in the entire history of western civilisation was that moment in Jason and the Argonauts when Hercules just decided to go wandering off and depart the movie, never to be seen again.

What on Earth were they thinking of?

He's Hercules!

You can't introduce him into your movie and then have him disappear halfway through it! He's the star of the show, for Pluto's sake!

Admittedly, the film's called Jason and the Argonauts, not Hercules and the Argonauts but that doesn't matter. Even when he's being the least physically impressive Hercules you've ever seen, he's still the star of the show and, quite frankly, of anything else he ever appears in.

Admittedly, that may not be true of comics.

In all honesty, I was never much into Marvel Comics' version of Herc. He just seemed like a less interesting version of Thor, with less powers, less brain cells and a mace that was a pale imitation of the thunder god's invincible weapon.

Still, despite his limitations, he did at least manage to get around a bit. As well as showing up in Thor's comic, he managed to become a member of both the Avengers and the Champions, as well as having a fight with the Hulk in one of his earliest appearances.

Not only that but it seems he also managed to get his own solo adventure in Marvel Premiere.

Not only that but I actually had a copy of that self-same adventure. I think I may have got it in one of those polythene bagged triple packs that Marvel seemed keen on at one point.

Not that it made any huge impact on me. I must confess that, until I stumbled across the cover online, I'd totally forgotten I'd ever had it.

Now reminded of its existence, all I can recall of it is that Typhon was in it and that, for some reason, his axe was stuck to his hand. By the end of the tale, he'd somehow got his hand free of his axe. Whether that put him in a better mood and led to him renouncing evil, I don't know.

Sadly, by the next issue, Hercules was gone from the mag, replaced by Satana, suggesting that perhaps the Marvel big-wigs didn't have a huge amount of faith in his ability to sell a comic.

Still, if the comic failed to stick in my head, it did at least give us a Jack Kirby cover that helped remind us of his days on Thor and I suppose we can at least appreciate that much.

In the meantime, just what did happen to Hercules after he parted company with Jason and the Argonauts? Is he still on that island, still searching for his missing friend who was blatantly crushed under that big statue? Someone should have said to him, "Look. He's dead. He's been crushed by that big statue. He's gone splat. Now forget about him and help us in the far more important matter of stealing a dead sheep."

For that matter, what happened to Jason and the Argonauts? At the end of the film, they just fell into the sea and the final credits rolled. We never got to find out if they got home or if they drowned or if they were just picked up by the harbour police and charged with stealing someone else's rightful property.

Epic quests, they can be a frustrating thing for the casual observer.

Sunday 15 November 2015

November 15th, 1975 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

On this day in 1975, BBC 1's Model World taught us how to modify toy soldiers for use in other scenarios. This may not be the most riveting piece of information you've ever heard but, apart from the formation of the G6, it's the most interesting thing I can find that happened on that day.

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #144, Ka-Zar and Gog

And, speaking of models, this is the tale in which Gwen Stacy beats Mary Jane to it and becomes a model herself as Spidey goes up against Gog.

I always did like the way Gil Kane drew reptilian lifeforms. They have a certain elegance in their execution.

Marvel UK, The Titans# 4, Captain Marvel and Nick Fury

Interesting to see that the Metazoid's back, after an absence of just three issues. Clearly, someone realised he was destined to become a major villain in Marvel's canon.

Come to think of it, that thing on the cover looks nothing like the Metazoid, which poses the question of just what it is.

Marvel UK, The Avengers #113

Hooray! It's an issue of The Avengers that I actually owned from this period.

I believe it was the first time I ever saw the combination of John Buscema and Tom Palmer on  an art job. Needless to say, I was most impressed.

I also have strong memories of the Conan story, which featured him fighting yet another of those man-apes that were always described as being rare but which seemed to lurk around every corner.

Mighty World of Marvel #163. Hulk vs Gremlin

I completely missed the Gremlin storyline at the time.

Fortunately, the Marvel Essentials later corrected that oversight.

Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #56

Those Marvel monsters just can't avoid fighting each other.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #56

It is helpful of them to put pictures of Zira and Cornelius on that Wanted poster, so we won't mistake them for any other talking apes we might encounter.

Marvel UK, The Super-Heroes #37, the Cat and Giant-Man

The Super-Heroes, using the style of split cover The Mighty World of Marvel would later adopt in its merger-happy years.

You have to hand it to The Super-Heroes, it didn't even have to merge with anything for it to act like a merged comic. That's how ahead of its time it was.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

2000 AD - October 1977.

In October 1977, the Sex Pistols released a legendary album whose title was such a challenge to public propriety that I cannot even name it here for fear that the skies themselves shall spin out of orbit and crash into the sun.

But what of the galaxy's greatest comic? Did we find it in equally stroppy mood?

Well here's where we find out. I shall though make no comment on each individual issue this time, on the grounds that I can't remember anything at all about what happened in any of them.

However, the estimable Comicvine informs me that issue #34 features a schematic of Judge Dredd's Lawgiver, which is handy for those of us who may one day wish to venture out into the terrors of the Cursed Earth and will need to make ourselves a weapon with which to face it.

The big news, however, is that issue #36 sees Shako being dropped from the comic, to make way for the return of the Harlem Heroes.

What kind of madness is this?

They'd drop the world's greatest homicidal polar bear to make way for a bunch of basketball players? Surely a deadly form of space insanity must have claimed Tharg for him to commit such an atrocity against literature.

Regardless, here are those covers...

2000 AD #32

2000 AD #33

2000 AD #34

2000 AD #35

2000 AD #36

Sunday 8 November 2015

November 8th, 1975 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

A wasteland! A wasteland! That is what my life has become!


Because this was the week in 1975 when Mighty World of Marvel and Spider-Man Comics Weekly disappeared from the shelves of my local newsagents, joining The Avengers which had already vanished several weeks earlier.

It means that, for several months on end, Planet of the Apes was the only Marvel UK comic I was reading. Now, at last, is my chance to find out what I was missing.

Marvel UK, Titans #3

It turns out I wasn't missing The Titans because I actually had this issue, even though, the following week, this title too disappeared from the local shops.

Marvel UK, Avengers #112, the Black Panther

The Panther is clearly still battling the Sons of the Serpent.

Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #55

I genuinely don't have anything to say about this cover, other than that it seems that vampirism isn't a cure for male-pattern baldness.

That's another of my plans dashed. It looks like I'll have to resort to lycanthropy instead.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #55

As fellow blogger Dougie predicted several weeks ago, Planet of the Apes is now giving us Man-Gods From Beyond the Stars, which I remember being beautifully illustrated by Alex Niño. It was so good a strip that Marvel UK reprinted it again a few years later, this time in their Star Wars comic.

That's not Planet of the Apes' only link with Star Wars. The cops on this cover have clearly taken aiming lessons from that film's Imperial Troopers.

Where on Earth is that one on the left aiming? There aren't even any apes over there.

And as for the one who's shooting directly between his colleague's legs...
Mighty World of Marvel #162, Hulk vs Gremlin

I assume this issue sees the return of Psycho-Man, as the FF go in search of the Silver Surfer in that wrong-doer's sub-atomic realm.

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #143, Morbius and the Lizard

It's all getting very dramatic.

But what on Earth was The Parker Principle?

Marvel UK, the Super-Heroes #36, the Cat

The Cat would appear to be following in the grand Marvel tradition of heroes fighting aliens early on in their careers. Presumably, this means that next she'll be up against a menace from beneath the Earth, a bunch of communists and a super-strong foe who turns out to be a robot.

Thursday 5 November 2015

Forty years ago today - November 1975.

Hooray! It's Guy Fawkes Night, that epic time of year when we fling a dummy on the fire, waggle our sparklers around and celebrate the Gunpowder Plot.

But what plots were our favourite Marvel heroes having to deal with in this month of 1975?

Here's where we get to find out.

Avengers #141, Squadron Sinister

The Squadron Sinister are back and, no doubt, causing as much trouble as ever.

Is this the one where Gerald Ford or Henry Kissinger or Spiro Agnew or someone turns out to be the real bad guy?

Conan the Barbarian #56

I suspect that this tale contains all the elements we expect from a Conan story.

Daredevil #127

I must confess I have no memory at all of the Torpedo but it's always nice to see Gil Kane giving us some clawed hands action on a cover.

Fantastic Four #164, the Crusader

Do my eyes detect a Jack Kirby cover?

I must confess I have no knowledge of the Crusader but his uncanny resemblance to Marvel Boy must surely be more than coincidence.

Incredible Hulk #193, Doc Samson

Doc Samson is back, which is always a good thing, as far as I'm concerned.

Iron Man #80

I detect another Jack Kirby cover.

I used to have this comic but I remember nothing of its contents.

The Amazing Spider-Man #150

I do believe this is the one where Spidey's getting all hot and bothered over whether he's a clone or not.

Fortunately, he soon realises he can't possibly be and that's the end of the matter and it's never heard of ever again.

Captain America and the Falcon #191, the Stilt-Man

"I've been paid to murder you, hero-- --and the Stilt-Man never fails!"

I would argue that claiming that the Stilt-Man has never failed is on a par with claiming that the Titanic has never sunk.

Thor #241

Mine eyes do detect another Jack Kirby cover.

They also detect that someone's probably been watching Jason and the Argonauts.

Tuesday 3 November 2015

Fifty years ago today - November 1965.

In November 1965, large chunks of North America found themselves without electricity in a notorious blackout that launched a thousand and one conspiracy theories.

I could claim that I know this because I'm a dedicated follower of 20th Century history.

But, of course, I only know it because I read about it in a Nick Fury story.

And that can only mean one thing.

It's time to look at what Nick and his merry Marvel mates were up to in the month when that dread outage occurred.

Avengers #22, Power Man

North America may have been saying, "There's no power, man," but Captain America was quickly discovering that there was more than enough Power Man.

Fantastic Four #44, Gorgon

Gorgon makes his debut, Medusa starts to turn into a good guy and Dragon Man makes his fiery return in probably my favourite Lee/Kirby FF storyline.

Journey Into Mystery #122, Odin vs Absorbing Man

The Absorbing Man tries to steal the throne of Asgard from Odin.

Let's be honest, if he succeeds, would he actually be able to make a worse job of running things than Odin ever did?

Amazing Spider-Man #30, the Cat

A story in which the lack of communication between Steve Ditko and Stan Lee hits you in the face, as Lee doesn't quite seem to know who the bad guy is and gets Dr Octopus mixed up with the Cat, leaving readers well and truly confused as to what's going on.

Strange Tales #138, Nick Fury, SHIELD

I don't care how much Nick Fury's contributed to my knowledge of 1960s' power cuts, I'd still rather see Dr Strange on the cover of a mag.

Tales of Suspense #71, Iron Man vs Titanium Man

It's Iron vs Titanium in what I think was either Don Heck's last issue on the strip or Gene Colan's first.

Of course, back then, so that DC wouldn't know they'd borrowed their artist, Marvel was calling Gene Colan, "Adam Austin." A ruse that fooled no one who had a pair of eyes.

Tales to Astonish #73, the Hulk and the Watcher

I think this tale was the first time I ever encountered the Watcher.

I was suitably impressed and have modelled myself on him ever since - especially his habit of interfering in absolutely everything that everyone does.

X-Men #14, the Sentinels

I assume this is the first appearance of the Sentinels. In which case, the Original X-Men comic finally manages to do something that interests me.