Sunday 29 May 2016

May 29th, 1976 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

It's been an exciting twenty four hours for all football fans, with Hull winning their Premier League playoff against Sheffield Wednesday, and Real Madrid winning their Champions League final against Atlético.

But, forty years ago today, there was only one set of winners - and those were the readers of Marvel UK, who were no doubt being given thrills beyond those that any mere sporting event could ever hope to muster.

But just what were those thrills?

Hold on to your hats, sports fans, because here's where we find out!

Marvel UK, the Titans #32, Fantastic Four vs the Mole Man

It's the big one, as the FF move into a house that's designed to send the whole world blind.

Why such a machine is in the form of a house, I have no idea.

I also have no memory of the Mole Man's staff being cosmic. Was that just something made up for the front cover? Or was that a real thing?

Marvel UK, Avengers #141, Annihilus

It's good to see Rick Jones throwing in the towel at the first sign of trouble, there. I'm starting to realise why he never worked out as Captain America's partner, or as the Hulk's partner, or as Captain Marvel's partner, or as a Country/Rock singer, or as leader of the Teen Brigade.

Has Rick Jones ever been mentioned in any of the Marvel movies?

If not, that seems a bit harsh, bearing in mind his close links to so many Marvel heroes.

I've always quite fancied being Annihilus. He has a certain something about him.

Mighty World of Marvel #191, Adam Warlock

Adam Warlock's still on his Jesus trip.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #84

I think we're still in Tom Sutton land with this tale but don't quote me on that, as I could be completely wrong.

Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #84

To be honest, I'm not sure how dramatic, "Ghost Rider shakes hands with Satan," is as a concept.

Despite what it claims on the cover, it certainly doesn't instill a sense of horror beyond belief in me.

Then again, I watch the Horror Channel every night, so I'm probably inured to such things by now. Frankly, once you've survived eight hundred episodes of The Legendary Journeys of Hercules, you can take anything.

I am curious though about the fact that Ghost Rider still has a strip in two Marvel UK mags at once. They really did seem to have a remarkable level of faith in his ability to attract readers.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #172, Luke Cage

I believe this was the first time I ever encountered Luke Cage.

Needless to say, he made a big impact on me and I've modelled my dress sense on him ever since.

I also believe this is the story where Peter Parker snaps his pen in half.

Granted, that might not sound all that dramatic but, at the time, it seemed incredibly potent and was a sight that burnt itself into my memory.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

My Top Ten Savage Sword of Conan covers.

Not that I'm a violent man but there are times in this life when all I want to do is pick up my broadsword and hack a monster to death.

The only problem is I can't because I've already killed them all.

Happily, I can at least seek solace in the adventures of Conan, a man who's clearly determined to follow in my footsteps.

And that leads me to fling together another of those Top Tens that always push up the site's visitor numbers. This time, I'm looking at the covers of Marvel/Curtis's Savage Sword of Conan. How impressed by their covers I remember being when I was a mere lad.

As so often with these things, I've not given them any sort of ranking, as doing such a thing tends to hurt my brain, and so they're posted here in a purely random order.

What does strike me is how many of them are from the title's early days. There are some covers I like from later on in the mag's run but I don't like them enough to put them in the Top Ten. Plus, a fair number of them are badly marred by what, to me, seems to be a highly unsympathetic typography that destroys their chances of feeling suitably Howardian no matter how hard the artist tries.

Marvel Comics, Savage Sword of Conan  #1

It's issue #1 and I've only just discovered that this cover's by Boris Vallejo. It doesn't look as photographic to me as his usual efforts. It also feels a lot livelier and more comic-booky than I'm used to from him.

Marvel Comics, Savage Sword of Conan  #2

Neal Adams shows what he can do when let loose on our favourite swordsman.

And what he can do is give us a bold image with an elegant background.

Marvel Comics, Savage Sword of Conan  #3

Mike Kaluta gives us a dynamic scene where the strongly-lit characters contrast starkly with their black background.

That might not sound like a big deal but an awful lot of the covers that I rejected failed to make it because their total lack of colour variation between background and foreground made them fail to grab the attention.

Marvel Comics, Savage Sword of Conan  #4

This was the first issue of the mag I ever had and probably my first ever exposure to the work of Boris Vallejo. It had a huge impact on me.

Nowadays, I do feel that, accomplished as he was, his practise of painting from photos means his work does lack the energy and character of Frank Frazetta who he was clearly influenced by. Still, it's all lovely stuff to look at and he was clearly the king of the Savage Sword of Conan cover artists.

Marvel Comics, Savage Sword of Conan  #5

It's Vallejo again. I know I said I wasn't going to put the covers into any sort of order but I must confess this is easily my favourite. It has Conan being crucified. It has a giant skull. It has a vulture. How could I not love it?

Marvel Comics, Savage Sword of Conan  #6

Alex Nino and Frank Magsino give us a subterranean battle to the death.

Marvel Comics, Savage Sword of Conan  #7

Boris Vallejo again.

Marvel Comics, Savage Sword of Conan  #9

I'd say this is the least impressive of the Vallejo covers, with it all looking too much like models posing but it would definitely have made me want to buy it when I was a kid, so it makes the list.

Marvel Comics, Savage Sword of Conan  #13

Vallejo again.

My main memory of this issue is me throwing up halfway through reading it.

Fortunately, it was because I had a bug, not because I didn't approve of its cover.

Marvel Comics, Savage Sword of Conan  #192

Bob Larkin. I don't like the painting style on this cover as much as on the others I've chosen - because it all looks far too clean and modern for my liking - but what matters is the sheer strikingness of its imagery, with our hero about to be swallowed by a well-known movie star.

Sunday 22 May 2016

May 22nd, 1976 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

You can never accuse me of ignoring Melodramatic 21st Century Neo Prog Rock. Why, even as I type, Muse are on my radio, doing that song about not letting me bury it.

But I don't want to bury it.

I want to let the whole world see it.

What is it?

It's my look back at what thrills Marvel UK were giving us in this week of 1976.

Marvel UK, The Titans #31, Ghost-Rider

I do always wonder where super-heroes get those big hoops from for each other to jump through. I have never yet encountered a shop that sells them.

If Johnny Blaze models himself on Evel Knievel, he will, no doubt, crash upon landing and do himself a mischief.

Marvel UK, The Avengers #140, Captain Marvel

It's the start of what was, at the time, the greatest super-hero epic I'd ever read, as everyone's favourite Kree captain makes the mistake of using the most over-powered hairdryer in history.

Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #83

Unless I'm going completely mad, this story was reprinted in The Mighty World of Marvel some time later. It almost makes me glad I didn't used to read Dracula Lives, or I would've felt disappointed to see a quarter of my favourite comic devoted to a tale I'd already encountered.

Ghost Rider would appear to have a strip in both The Titans and Dracula Lives this week. Marvel UK clearly had a lot of faith in his ability to lure in readers.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #83

Are we back on the big ships, with Tom Sutton, or is my memory playing tricks on me?

Mighty World of Marvel #190, Hulk vs Adam Warlock

It's disappointing news for all Adam Warlock fans, as everyone's favourite golden grappler meets his maker.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #171, Death of Gwen Stacy/Green Goblin

Speaking of people popping their clogs, this is it, the issue that left me positively traumatised as a youth, as we get not just the death of Gwen Stacy but also the death of the Green Goblin.

To be honest, I still haven't recovered from it all.

And you can find out just how unrecovered I am, by reading my review of this issue, which can be found by clicking on this very link.

Wednesday 18 May 2016

2000 AD - April 1978.

If Wikipedia's to be believed, in April 1978, Dick Smith of Dick Smith Foods towed a fake iceberg to Sydney Harbour.

Why he'd want to do such a thing and what he did with it once he'd got it there, I have no idea, as Wikipedia sheds no light at all on the matter. I mention it only because it seems to me to be the sort of thing whose anniversary shouldn't go unmarked..

But, while that event was occurring in Australia, what was happening within the shores of this fair land?

2000 AD was what was happening.

And there was change afoot.

That change was that Dan Dare's run as the comic's cover star came to an end this month, as other heroes were once more allowed their place in the spotlight.

Needless to say, this does me no good at all, as I still can't recall the contents of any of these issues.

Although I have strong memories of M.A.C.H. Zero, I have no recollection at all of M.A.C.H. 2. I take it, from the cover, that he was no friendlier than Zero had been.

Was Death Planet that strip where some people crash their spaceship on a world that's full of acid rain, rabbit-eating plants and other such deadly inconveniences?

Is the Judge Dredd tale in Prog 61 the start of that arc that introduced us to Tweak the Aardvark? I think that tale may well have been the first time I ever encountered a depiction of an aardvark. To be honest, I've not seen all that many images of aardvarks since. Despite their willingness to keep us all free of ants, media coverage of aardvarks is surprisingly limited at the best of times.

2000 AD Prog 58, Dan Dare

2000 AD Prog 59, Judge Dredd

2000 AD Prog 60, MACH 1

2000 AD Prog 61, Judge Dredd and the Cursed Earth

2000 AD Prog 62, Death Planet

Sunday 15 May 2016

May 15th, 1976 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

It was an exciting evening for us all last night, with the UK sweeping to victory in this year's Eurovision Song Contest.

Admittedly, the UK in question was Ukraine but I like to think the only reason for that was because the people of Europe got confused by the similarity in names and didn't vote for the entry they intended to.

Of course, we never had that problem way back in 1976, when Eastern and Western Europe had the sense to not be on speaking terms and the Brotherhood of Man could therefore sing their way to triumph with stunning ease.

But what else was going on in this week of that year? Were the heroes of UK Marvel hitting the high notes?

Or were they just sinking horrifically down the scoreboard of life, like poor old Joe and Jake?

Marvel UK, Avengers #139

There are a remarkable number of Avengers covers from this era that show our heroes staring into things, at action that's going on elsewhere.

For that matter, they often seem to be looking into the past, mostly at Conan, or into the future, at robots. All I can say is it's about time they stole Dr Doom's time machine, so they can actually interfere in all these events.

Having said that, the Avengers are being strangely pessimistic here, bearing in mind that the Panther's clearly winning his fight - not losing it, as they seem to think he is.

Interesting to see that this is a special bombastic action issue. This leads me to announce that this post is a special bombastic action post.

And also an ordeal.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #170, death of Gwen Stacy

Holy bombastic bombasms! It's the issue where Gwen Stacy snuffs it!

Happily, I missed this tale at the time and only got to read the death of Gwen Stacy several decades later, when my mind was strong enough to take it.

I like to think I'm not giving away any spoilers by saying that Gwen Stacy dies. To be honest, I don't know what the statute of limitations is for spoilers.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #82

 What a rather lovely cover.

Mighty World of Marvel #189, the Hulk

I do believe the Hulk is still on Counter-Earth and still fighting the minions of the Man-Beast.

Interesting to see that this is a special all-action issue. Now I'm starting to wonder if I made the right decision in making this a special bombastic action post, when I could have made it a special all-action post.
Marvel UK, The Titans #30, the Fantastic Four

The FF are still trying to escape Latveria.

How did Latveria do in Eurovision last night? I don't recall Graham Norton saying. I hope the BBC aren't censoring their coverage. I hear that Dr Doom's power ballad about the unpleasantness of blowing your face off in forbidden experiments was quite spectacular.

Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #82, Ghost Rider

This can't be a good sign for Dracula. When you're reduced to secondary-feature status on the front of your own comic, it could be taken by some as a warning that that comic's days are numbered.

I do like the depiction of Satan on the cover. It's thoroughly in line with how he was drawn in his first appearance in the Son of Satan. As that tale was my first introduction to Marvel's take on the character, this fact gives me great pleasure.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Forty years ago today - May 1976.

Primal Scream are currently on my radio. This fact has nothing at all to do with the following post but I can't think of any other way of starting it. It's that song. You know? The one that sounds like the Rolling Stones. I might actually introduce a new feature to this blog; "Guess what song I'm listening to, based on my totally useless description of it."

In the meantime, what were our favourite Marvel heroes up to in an era when Primal Scream were a mere twinkle in the chart compilers' eyes and the band that inspired them was still a regular visitor to the Top 40?

Avengers #147

The Vision, getting a bit defeatist there.
Conan the Barbarian #62

Conan seems to have taken to riding around on a giant pig, which is an unlikely new look for him.

I first heard of Dagon in an HP Lovecraft tale whose title currently eludes me. I seem to recall it involving fish people and a mysterious island.
Daredevil #133, Think Tank

I'm not sure I have total faith in a story that guest-stars Uri Geller to be a literary masterpiece.

I'm also not sure that the phrase, "Think Tank," strikes terror into my heart.

I do, however, like it when we get to see multiple Daredevils in one shot, in order to signify movement. Were Spider-Man and Daredevil the only Marvel heroes who ever got that treatment?

Fantastic Four #170

To be honest, I've always assumed the Thing would be able to flatten Power Man with just one punch.

Incredible Hulk #199, Doc Samson

I do always feel that not enough was done with Doc Samson during my time as a regular comics reader. I mean, he never got to fight anyone but the Hulk and he was portrayed as being totally ineffectual when he did so, despite being one of the strongest men in the Marvel universe and also a scientific genius. They could at least have let him tackle Stilt-Man. If that wouldn't have boosted his self-confidence, nothing would.

Iron Man #86

I'm assuming that Blizzard was the villain formerly known as Jack Frost?

Admittedly, I have no actual evidence or knowledge to back this assumption up but, as his powers look to be the same and he's fighting Jack Frost's old foe Iron Man, it seems to me to not be an unreasonable assumption to make.

Amazing Spider-Man #156

It's the wedding of the year, as a not-overly memorable villain makes his debut.

I don't like to sit in judgement but I can't help feeling that, when you can be defeated by a chandelier, you're probably not a top-drawer wrong-doer.
Thor #247

I've no knowledge at all of what happens in this issue. Therefore I'm going to assume they're in one of those non-existent South/Central American countries that Marvel was so fond of.

No doubt this means that some low-down dictator is going to get a good slapping.

Captain America and the Falcon #197

It does strike me that Captain America seemed to be permanently on the brink of total hysteria at this stage of his career. Jack Kirby did seem to have a vision of him as being somewhat unhinged.

Sunday 8 May 2016

May 8th, 1976 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

It's been an exciting week for all lovers of plucky underdogs, with Leicester City winning the Premier League for the first time ever. But how were the heroes of Marvel UK faring in their own battles against the odds in this week of exactly forty years ago?

Marvel UK, Avengers #138, the Black Panther

Argh! I so want to say what unlikely thing links this issue to the Captain America: Civil War movie but that'd be a spoiler, so I can't.

All I'll say is what a coincidence it is that the comic should have come out exactly forty years before the film is doing the rounds.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #81

There's clearly plenty going on on the Planet of the Apes this week, although I'm not totally sure what.

That's a very Killravenesque monster. It makes me start to miss Apeslayer again.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #169, The Hulk

Hooray! This is the issue that signalled the permanent  return of Spidey's mag to my local newsagents.

And what a way to do it, with our hero battling the Hulk, and me being exposed for the first time to the word, "Geodesic."

Marvel UK, Dracula Lives #81

Juno the Impaler is clearly still out to make sure that Dracula gets his point.

This is all highly odd. I have the feeling that I've read this tale, even though I never had this issue.

Does this mean it was reprinted in The Mighty World of Marvel when Dracula's strip moved to it from The Planet of the Apes?

Mighty World of Marvel #188, Hulk vs Man-Beast

I generally loved this Hulk tale, although I didn't like the fact that the Man-Beast looked nothing like Gil Kane's take on the character.

Admittedly, Gil Kane's take on the character looked nothing like Jack Kirby's original depiction. I didn't mind that though as I liked Kane's more wolf-like portrayal.

On other matters; at the time, I preferred the X-Men's, "New," costumes to their old ones, as they were a lot less dull but I must confess I have since come to prefer their original ones, as the newer ones weren't very good.

Marvel UK, The Titans #29, Fantastic Four vs Dr Doom

Dr Doom is still demonstrating why he'll never get a job with the NHS.

Wednesday 4 May 2016

Fifty years ago this month - May 1966.

It would appear that it was in this month of 1966 that Bob Dylan was famously booed for using electric instruments on stage.

He could at least console himself with the knowledge that he wasn't alone in facing such hostility. I think we all remember the nightmare furore that erupted when Marvel Comics' artists were booed for using electric pencil sharpeners.

Let's see to what use they were putting the lead in those pencils.

Avengers #28, Giant-Man is back

Hooray! Giant-Man is back in the Avengers and calling himself Goliath!

I recall being strangely pleased by this development when I was a lad. I think I was impressed by the visual imagery of a man towering above all others, and the human drama of him being permanently stuck at that height.

Fantastic Four #50, Silver Surfer

The power! The drama! Hold onto your sanity as best you can as the Human Torch goes to college!

Hold on a minute. Shouldn't the fact that the FF are fighting a fifty foot tall alien who wants to eat the world be deemed a slightly more cover-worthy plot strand?

Amazing Spider-Man #36, the Looter

Yet more attempts to sell a comic by mentioning College on the cover. Stan Lee really was fixated with trying to get students to read his comics in this era, wasn't he.

If I remember rightly, the villain in this tale is The Looter, even though I suspect that everyone thinks his meteor-spawned powers should have seen him be called Meteor Man.

Tale of Suspense #77, Iron Man vs Ultimo

Sadly, Stan fails to find a way to mention College on the cover of this mag but we do at least get another giant.

I always liked Ultimo. He had an air of unstoppability that appealed to me. I wonder how he'd do against the Hulk. He'd flatten Hulkie, wouldn't he?

Thor #128, Pluto

It's another classic as Thor literally goes to Hades, and Hercules learns a lesson he'll never forget.

Obviously, Ultimo would flatten the pair of them.

X-Men #20, Lucifer

I've never read this issue but it all looks very dramatic.

I do always wonder if there's an issue where the Angel actually does fly into that giant X, like he's threatening to, and brains himself.

I'm not sure why Marvel Girl's balancing a bag of money on her head.

Daredevil #16, Spider-Man

Hooray! Spider-Man shows up, as Stan tests out Jazzy John's suitability for taking over the Spider-Man strip in the unlikely event of Steve Ditko leaving anytime soon.

And you could get it all for the bargain price of 10d.

Tales to Astonish #79, Hulk vs Hercules

Hercules is a very busy man. Not only does he have to take on Pluto and the hordes of Hades this month but he also has to tackle the Hulk as well.

I think this tale may have been the first time I encountered Marvel's take on the Obstreperous Olympian. I seem to recall that he struck me as being a bit of a wally.

Strange Tales #144, Dr Strange, SHIELD

How little the reader of 1966 could have suspected that a character who could barely make the cover of his own mag would one day have a big budget Hollywood blockbuster made about him starring Lord Benedict Cucumber Patch, while SHIELD would have to settle for a mere TV show starring that woman from Meadowhead.

I don't like to boast but I think I can theoretically see her old house from where I am right now. You can't accuse me of not mixing with the stars.

Stay tuned to this blog for future news of which celebrities' houses I can theoretically see.