Thursday 29 September 2016

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

On this might in 1976, BBC One was broadcasting the legendary third meeting between Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton. I'm sure it was all very thrilling but it's hard to believe anyone was watching that when they could have instead been watching some real fighting going on in the pages of the finest comics that Marvel UK had to bring us.

Marvel UK, The Titans #50, the Thing

I do believe this is the first tale in John Buscema's stint on the Fantastic Four.

Not only that but it's a truly ground-breaking story line, as it sees the Thing start to turn against his teammates for only the nineteenth time ever.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #102

I wonder what the Man-Thing story was? The only Man-Thing tales I can recall from his Planet of the Apes days are the one with the dead clown, the one with the lost conquistador village in the swamp and the one with the space pirates. I have no clue if the tale in this issue is any of those.

Mighty World of Marvel #209, Hulk vs Devastator

Did the Devastator ever make another appearance in the pages of Marvel? I can't remember him ever doing so.
Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #190, Mysterio

Gerry Conway did like to revive old villains by having them be replaced by imposters, Hot on the heels of the fake Vulture, he's at it again, as Fake Mysterio seeks to succeed where the real one has failed on so many occasions.

Needless to say, he uses the same methodology as the real Mysterio.

Needless to say, he fails just like the real Mysterio.

Sunday 25 September 2016

X-Men #3. 25th anniversary review.

X-Men #3, 1991
Break out the cake mix because I've just realised I'm coming up to a very important date.

And that's the twenty fifth anniversary of me buying issue #3 of the all-new 1990s X-Men comic.

That might not seem like much of an anniversary but, when I got it, it was the first American comic I'd read since 1984.

I must confess that, nowadays, that seven year gap doesn't seem like very long at all but, back then, it seemed like an eternity had passed.

It happened because, in December 1991, having found myself in Meadowhall's WH Smiths, I spotted, upon the shelves, the comic shown to the left of this deathless prose - and, in a fit of nostalgia, I bought it.

It turned out to be a remarkable coincidence because the first issue of the the 1970s' New X-Men I ever owned was issue #100, which featured a bunch of X-Men I'd never heard of, fighting some other X-Men on a satellite. And this one too featured a bunch of X-Men I'd never heard of, fighting another bunch of X-Men on a satellite. Not only that but the first issue of the 1960s' Original X-Men I ever owned featured Magneto - and this one featured Magneto. Truly, the Fickle Finger of Fate was working overtime that day.

But there was more. Not only did it thematically link to those other landmark tales but it was Chris Claremont's last issue on the strip, while Stan's Soapbox in this issue featured Lee's tribute to the recently deceased Vince Colletta. Could a comic be more designed to prod my Nostalgia Button if it tried?

X-Men #100, Magneto and Moira McTaggart
What happens in it is this. Thanks to his skullduggery, some of the X-Men have teamed up with Magneto and are having fun in his satellite's swimming pool.

You have to hand it to Magneto. Not many people have a swimming pool in their satellite.

The other X-Men, not approving of such behaviour, are determined to stop Magneto from doing whatever it is he's planning to do, and so, propelled by the sheer power of exposition, they set off to his satellite.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Russians and the Americans are planning to nuke both his satellite and his swimming pool, regardless of whether the X-Men are on it or not.

Needless to say, it's not long before the X-Men are slugging it out with each other before they all come to their senses and decide to slug it out with Magneto instead.

The only problem is that Magneto's not looking for a fight. He's well into his, "My philosophy is in conflict with yours, Charles," years and so, instead of having a fight, he's looking to make a great big long speech and then send them on their way as he dies nobly for no noticeable reason other than that it's Chris Claremont's last issue and he's clearly determined to go out by writing Magneto's obituary.

When I bought this, all those years ago, it seemed dramatically different from the comics I'd read in the 1970s. The art seemed different. The writing seemed different. The lettering seemed different. The colouring seemed different. The inking seemed different. Even the adverts were different. It was different to a degree that meant it took a couple of readings and a hefty determination to be open-minded about change for me to accept it deserved to exist.

X-Men #100, Magneto and Wolverine
The odd thing is that, reading it now, it seems almost indistinguishable from comics of that earlier era but dramatically different from how comics are now, even though it'd be classified as being from the current Modern Age rather than the Bronze Age.

Bearing in mind the general unpopularity of 1990s comics, I'm going to commit heresy but I've always quite liked Jim Lee's artwork.

Yes it's full of unnecessary lines, and muscles like cannon balls, and bosoms like water melons but, rarely for an artist of his era, he did have a grasp of how to place panels in an order that made sense without there having to be arrows telling you where to look next or the writer having to explain what was happening, on the artist's behalf. That's why, for me, Jim Lee was easily the best of the artists who drew like Jim Lee.

The problems I do have with the tale are that Chris Claremont's gone into verbal overdrive with it. Everyone's spouting huge great mountains of dialogue at each other to a degree that'd make even Don McGregor protest.

My other problem with the story is that Jim Lee's pacing is surprisingly slow. His art looks dynamic, in that everyone has a dramatic look on their face and they all like to stand in action-packed poses but they often don't actually seem to be doing anything. It seems to take forever for the X-Men to get to the satellite and, when they do, the climax seems to draw on forever.

On the plus side, the paper and the printing are strikingly better than they were in the 1970s. It also smells nicer. Opening the comic now, even after twenty five years, the paper and the ink smell startlingly fresh, like it's a brand new comic. It reminds me of that experience you used to get when you pulled open a newly bought LP for the first time.

So, it wasn't a masterpiece, but it was at least trying to do something with a bit of profundity to it and it did reintroduce me to the Marvel Universe after a long gap. It also forced me to stretch my mind by forcing me to accommodate a different style to the one I'd grown up with, and I can't help feeling that anything that forces you to be more open-minded is ultimately a good thing.

Thursday 22 September 2016

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

There are some mad fools in this world who think 1970s Britain was some kind of a cultural wasteland.

How wrong they were - because, on this day in 1976, BBC One was showing Carry On Jack and the Wurzels were reigning supreme at Number Three on the singles chart, with I Am A Cider Drinker.

But what of our favourite comics company?

Could they possibly match such high-faluting offerings?

And would they even try?

Marvel UK, the Titans #49, the Fantastic Four

John Romita's short run on the Fantastic Four reaches its dramatic conclusion.

But, looking at these covers over the months, and reading the blurbs at the top of them, has made me realise just how frequent it was for Captain America to come up against the Red Skull in this era.

At times, he must have just sat there,  on the end of his bed, head in hands, wondering, "When will I get someone else to fight? When?"

Mighty World of Marvel #208. Avengers vs Inhumans

Hooray! The Kree/Skrull War makes its way to the Great Refuge and, I believe, we're given the reason why Maximus went mad.

Needless to say, my sympathy was all with Maximus.

This was mostly because he was wearing a flamboyant shirt at the time but also because, being evil beyond words, as I am, I can spot a kindred spirit from a hundred miles away.

It does strike me that, for a man who was sworn to never speak, Black Bolt seemed to do a remarkable amount of vocalising. In fact, it was virtually a miracle if he managed to get through five pages without letting rip.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #101

I assume the cover relates to the comic's reprinting of the original Planet of the Apes adaptation.

Oddly, I have no memory at all of the mag having committed such a heinous act, even though, at the time, it must have felt like a bit of a swizz to be given it once again.

I can only assume that Marvel UK was running out of Planet of the Apes material once more.

Clearly, they should have shown some sense and redrawn Skull the Slayer stories as Apeslayer tales. Did these people have no idea as to how to put a comic together?

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #189, the Jackal and the Grizzly

Oh dear. Loki's seized control of Asgard for the millionth time. You'd have thought that, by now, everyone in that place would be on the look-out for him.

But what's the promised second Spider-Man feature? Is it a Marvel Team-Up tale?

If so, is it the one that features Spidey and the Human Torch battling Morbius?

Sunday 18 September 2016

2000 AD - August 1978.

The internet tells me that not one interesting thing happened in all the world in the whole of August, 1978.

Fortunately for all thrill-seekers, something interesting was definitely happening in the pages of 2000 AD - because Prog 76 saw Sam Slade make his debut in what was surely the world's first ever attempt to mix Humphrey Bogart and robots.

To be honest, I still have trouble remembering what the difference is between Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.

Then again, I have trouble remembering what the difference is between Philip Marlowe and Christopher Marlowe.

Then again, I have trouble remembering what the difference is between Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare.

Literature can be a confusing thing.

In other developments, Prog 80 saw the finale of Judge Dredd's Cursed Earth storyline. A storyline so legendary that even I can remember it.

Of course, magnificent as all this might be, the real interest in this month's offerings is Prog 77's chance to win a UFO Interceptor.

Inevitably, like any good 1970s child, I already had a UFO Interceptor long before reading that issue. But I also realised that, if one is to protect the Earth from pesky aliens, one needs three of them, as UFO Interceptors only have one missile each, and aliens always send three spaceships to attack the Earth with.

If it had only occurred to them to send four spaceships, we'd have been doomed!

2000 AD Prog 76, first appearance of Robo-Hunter

2000 AD Prog 77, Judge Dredd vs the Jolly Green Giant

2000 AD Prog 78, Ant Wars

2000 AD Prog 79, Judge Dredd in Las Vegas

Thursday 15 September 2016

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

On this night in 1976, BBC 1 was showing the epic drama of Noah and Nelly.

I admit that might not be the most arresting revelation of all time but I can genuinely find nothing else interesting that happened on that day.

My main memory of Noah and Nelly is of them once riding their boat around on a roller coaster. How that unlikely circumstance came about, I have no idea.

But, if life was a roller coaster for Noah and Nelly, what was it for the heroes of our favourite comics company?

Marvel UK, The Titans #48, the Fantastic Four

It's that rare thing, a Fantastic Four story drawn by John Romita.

I've seen criticism of his very short stint on the title but I loved it. And he actually managed to make Sue Richards not look like a wet blanket, which was a fair achievement and possibly the first time it had ever happened.

I suspect that an unconscious Crystal was meant to be on the cover but was somehow omitted. Otherwise, I'm not sure who the, "She," is the Torch is referring to.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #100

Given that it was launched to cash-in on a craze - and given the tendency of Marvel UK mags to disappear without notice - plenty may have doubted it would ever happen but Planet of the Apes celebrates its hundredth issue.

And it does it with a punch in the mouth for those pesky apes.

I believe I detect a Frank Thorne cover.

If so, I suspect it may be the first Frank Thorne cover I've ever seen on a Planet of the Apes comic.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #188, the Grizzly

This issue gives us one of the few Thing stories I remember, as he teams up with the Scarecrow who, if I remember rightly, was in the habit of living inside a painting and of bursting out laughing for no good reason. Well, you have to like a man who has a sense of humour.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man's up against the Grizzly who, tragically, gets no respect from anyone.

Needless to say, I always liked him. Like the Kangaroo, he never seemed to grasp that he was hopeless, and surely you have to admire such a quality in a villain.

Mighty World of Marvel #207, the Incredible Hulk

Ooh! I remember the Daredevil story! I think he's in Los Angeles and there are dead mammoths in a tar pit in a museum and there's possibly a man in an exoskeleton, hanging around.

I remember the Hulk tale too, in which Thunderbolt Ross gets his own equivalent of the Spider-Slayer.

Needless to say, it proves to be just as effective in fulfilling its purpose as the Spider-Slayer always was.

Sunday 11 September 2016

Forty years ago today - September 1976.

September 1976 was an exciting month for all lovers of talking frogs, amorous pigs and strange, indeterminate crow-like creatures because it was the month The Muppet Show was broadcast for the very first time.

To be honest, I was never a fan of them, as they seemed far too energetic and enthusiastic for my liking and kept bursting into song and dance routines.

Fortunately, there was one group of characters in my life who could never be called a bunch of muppets.

Well, alright, given their propensity for fighting each other at the drop of a hat and for no good reason, "A bunch of muppets," is probably exactly what they should be called.

Regardless, what were they up to in this month of exactly forty years ago?

Avengers #151

I genuinely have no idea what happens in this one.

The blurb gives the impression that a brand new lineup for the Avengers is being introduced - but weren't all those people on that cover already in the Avengers?

Conan the Barbarian #66, Dagon

I believe this is the lead-up to the tale where Conan, Red Sonja and Bêlit scrap it out to get their hands on the dreaded Book of Skelos, only for Kull to somehow get dragged into it all.

I was always happy for Red Sonja to put in an appearance, especially if she was threatening to stick a sword in Bêlit who I always found a bit annoying and surplus to necessity.

Thinking about it, not having read any Lovecraft up to this point, this comic must have been the first time I'd ever heard of Dagon.

Captain America and the Falcon #201

I believe I've never read this tale but it does have a memorable cover that I've seen reproduced in numerous places over the years.

Fantastic Four #174, Torgo returns

Hooray! Torgo's back - and so are the Skrulls - as the Fantastic Four strive to find a planet for Galactus to eat instead of Counter-Earth.

Incredible Hulk #203, Psyklop is back

Psyklop is more than back, in a tale I suspect can only mean bad news for Jarella.

As I may have mentioned elsewhere, Psyklop's first appearance is one of my favourite ever Avengers tales, and the first time I ever saw Sal Buscema's work in print. So, I was no doubt pleased to see the villain's return, even if the Hulk wasn't.

Iron Man #90, the Controller

I always had a soft spot for the Controller, even if he did look bad.

Come to think of it, I think I had a soft spot for him because he looked bad. It doesn't hurt a super-villain's appeal if he looks like someone you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.
Amazing Spider-Man #160, the Tinkerer is back

Amazing Spider-Man #98, Spider-Man loses his gripThe Tinkerer's back, on a cover that seems to owe a fair bit to the front of Amazing Spider-Man #98, as we see the ultimate demise of the Spider-Mobile.

Tragically, I think this issue claims the Tinkerer wasn't really an alien and had just been pretending to be, on his first appearance.

Given my love for aliens in fiction, this was a development of which I didn't approve.

Thor #251, Hela is back

Do those arms belong to the trolls who put in an appearance in the very first issue of The Avengers?

If so, I'm all in favour of such a return, as I fear the trolls' grabbing ability was woefully under-utilised from that point on.

In fact, I can't remember it ever being utilised at all.

Daredevil #137, the Jester is back

The Jester's still up to no good.

Thursday 8 September 2016

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

September the 8th, 1976, was a night to remember for all comedy fans, with BBC1 showing both Carry On Up The Khyber and the first ever episode of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

Well, I'm sure it was great and I'm sure it was super but I didn't get where I am today by allowing TV to distract me from my comics reading. So, just what was our favourite comics company up to on that fateful date?

Marvel UK, the Titans #47, Fantastic Four vs Magneto

It's a matter of some vexation to me that I remember almost nothing of the Ghost Rider tales that were reprinted in The Titans each week.

I remember them being drawn by Mike Ploog. I remember there being a woman in them called Roxanne. I remember there being a story involving someone armed with rattlesnakes. And that's about it.

It's a shame as, ever since I first encountered Dormammu, I've wanted to have the ability to stand around boasting while my head's on fire. And Ghost Rider should therefore have been a major role model for me.

Still, at least I have my memories of the Nicolas Cage movies to keep me going.

Mighty World of Marvel #206, Conan the Barbarian

It's the story that had to happen! Conan goes to war with vegetation!

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #99

I wonder what the thing on Midnight Island was? And which feature did it relate to?

Was it in the Planet of the Apes story? Was it in that week's Ka-Zar story? Was it in another strip altogether?

I'm also intrigued by the promise, "Special bonus! At last: the enemy uncaged!"

Had there been much demand for the enemy to be uncaged?

And if so, by whom?

And just who was this enemy they all wanted uncaged?

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #187, Mind-Worm

Hooray! It's the Mindworm!

Everyone else hates the Mindworm!

I love the Mindworm!

I demand to know why I never got to see anything of him again after this issue!

Not only that but, in this tale, we get to see Peter Parker and Flash Thompson share a flat!

What more could you want from a Spider-Man tale?

Sunday 4 September 2016

Fifty years ago this month - September 1966.

September 1966 was an historic month in the history of television, with Star Trek, Ron Ely's Tarzan, The Monkees and Mission Impossible all making their very first appearance.

Clearly, Marvel was going to have to pull out all the stops if it was going to yank us away from our TV screens that month.

Admittedly, they wouldn't have had to work that hard to yank me away from my TV screen, as I was in England and probably couldn't see any of them until about two years later.

Still, what dynamic first appearances was Marvel going to fling at us, in order to counter those of the dread gogglebox?

Avengers #32, the Sons of the Serpent

Is this the first ever appearance of the Sons of the Serpent? And was there a single Sons of the Serpent storyline when I was young that didn't climax with the shocking reveal that their leader was actually black?

After the fifth time that that revelation was made, it had started to somewhat lose its dramatic impact.

As I work my way through these covers each month, I am increasingly of the opinion that the main reason Goliath/Giant-Man was in the Avengers was because Marvel felt it was dramatic to have a giant on the cover.

Daredevil #20, the Owl

Hooray! The Owl is back! With his awesome power of gliding!

I'm trying to recall if this was his first appearance since his debut in issue #3. At the time, that seemed like a massive gap, although it was only seventeen issues.

I believe this story may have featured the first appearance of his giant mechanical owl. A thing so huge, bulky and heavy that it'd clearly never be able to get off the ground in the real world.

Fantastic Four #54

I have a feeling this may feature the first appearance of Prester John, of whom I'd never heard until I read this story, proving once more the educational value of comics.

I believe this means it's also the first appearance of the Evil Eye. And we all remember the trouble that ended up causing.

Come to think of it, has Thanos ever tried to get his hands on it? He's tried to get his hands on every other awesome object in the Marvel Universe. The last I heard, he'd worked his way through so many awesome objects that he was reduced to trying to get his hands on the Leap-Frog's shoe springs while declaring, "With the Leap-Frog's shoe springs, nothing can stop me destroying the universe! Nothing!"

I believe that Death then told him he might benefit from taking a holiday for a while.

Amazing Spider-Man #40, the Green Goblin

A cover that doesn't exactly leave you in doubt as to who wins the most dramatic clash yet between Spidey and his arch-nemesis.

Strange Tales #148, Dr Strange vs Kaluu

I know nothing of this tale - or of Kaluu.

I assume the Ancient One's on the brink of death again. It was always a contest between the Ancient One and Aunt May to see which one would pop their clogs first.

I have a suspicion that, fifty years later, they're both still alive and well, and possibly younger than they were then.

Tales of Suspense #81, The Titanium Man

A very odd cover indeed by Gene Colan.

I always had a soft spot for the Titanium Man. He was appealingly anti-social.

Tales to Astonish #83, the Hulk

I have no idea at all as to what happens in this story. Wasn't there one, around this time, where Thunderbolt Ross gets captured by The Leader or an enemy power or something and the Hulk has to rescue him or something, from somewhere or other?

Thor #132

Hooray! Thor's making his first ever visit to the lovely planet of Rigel!

And that means a first-ever battle with Ego can't be far behind.

X-Men #24, the Locust

Wasn't there a villain called The Locust who showed up in one of the first Hulk tales that Sal Buscema drew? Is it the same Locust?

And why does he seen to be holding a microphone in a way that suggests he's about to inflict a spot of karaoke on the X-Men?

Thursday 1 September 2016

September 1st, 1976 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

Get down the disco and cover yourself in glitter - because, in this week in 1976, Dancing Queen by ABBA hit the Number One slot on the British singles chart and cemented their position as the late 1970s' supreme musical force. Was there anyone not excited by this development?

Of course there wasn't!

But could the output of Marvel UK match it for epoch-making excitement?

Marvel UK, The Titans #46, Fantastic Four vs Sub-Mariner

I wonder what the Red Skull's trap of doom was?

Did it involve the Cosmic Cube? It always seemed to feature in his plans in this era of Marvel history.

Given its all-powerfulness, you do wonder why he never seemed to be able to win, even when he had it.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #98

I spot a cover by Happy Herb Trimpe.

Having your eyeballs on stalks may do wonders for your image if you're trying to look disturbing but I can't help feeling it's a serious disadvantage if you're planning to get into a fist fight. It does make it very easy for your foe to do you a mischief.

And you're going to impress no one down the disco, dancing to ABBA, with your eyeballs tied in knots.

Mighty World of Marvel #205, The Avengers and Triton

It's another classic issue, as the Inhumans get involved in the Kree/Skrull War.

I remember being very impressed by the sequence in which Triton emerges from the sewers.

In fact, I was so impressed by it that, ever since, I've made it  my policy to always arrive everywhere via the sewers.

Is the Wolf-Woman in the Conan story the woman who introduced Conan to the ways of physical naughtiness? Or was that another wolf-woman I'm thinking of?

Super Spider-Man  with the Super-Heroes #186, the Green Goblin

I believe the Thor story is the senses-shattering climax of the Infinity storyline.

I have a soft spot for any story that features Hela. I do feel it's impossible to insert a seven foot tall death goddess into a tale without improving it.

Speaking of things that could be improved upon, this appears to be the issue in which the Invaders invade the comic. I remember not welcoming this development with open arms at the time.

They definitely needed a seven foot tall death goddess to be let loose on them.