Sunday 30 October 2016

The stories that SHOULD have been in Origins of Marvel Comics.

Origins of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee and others
As we all know, one of the great joys of life is trying to work out which songs should have been on the Beatles' White Album if it had been released as a single LP.

Admittedly, when I say, "Joys," I do, of course, mean, "Trials," as, no matter how you try to do it, the track listing never actually works in the real world.

Still, I'm not going to let that stop me tackling its comic book equivalent.

And that's trying to decide just which stories should have been included in that seminal 1970s tome Origins of Marvel Comics.

Famously, as well as the origins of our favourite heroes, the aforementioned book contains later examples of each strip, in order to give us a sense of how each title has progressed since its inception.

While this is clearly a good thing, it has to be said that people often complain that some of the choices seem quite arbitrary, if not downright perverse. So, here's where I select the stories that would have gone in it if it had been up to me.

For me, the first problem is the inclusion of Fantastic Four #55. While it's a perfectly good tale, the obvious failing is the Fantastic Four aren't in it.

Instead, we get the Thing vs the Silver Surfer.

Presumably, this tale was included in order that we get a fix of the Surfer as well as the FF, giving us twice as much Marvel goodness for our money but it's a frustrating selection, nonetheless.

Most of the FF's greatest tales from the Lee/Kirby era are multi-part stories, reducing the possibilities. So, I'll go for issue #64 and its introductory tale for the Sentry. It gives us all four heroes in action, a bit of Erich von Däniken and our first exposure to the Kree. What more could one want from a comic?

Fantastic Four #64, the Sentry

The Hulk vs Sub-Mariner tale is fine and gives us a chance to see Prince Namor in action but, personally, I'd go for the Captain Axis tale from Incredible Hulk #155 because, with its sub-Atomic setting, World War II references and the debut of The Shaper of Worlds, it's a much more interesting and offbeat tale.

Incredible Hulk #155, Captain Axis

The chosen Thor story has always baffled me, mostly because it's part of a longer epic, which means that, at its climax, we're suddenly lumbered with a cliffhanger and the dreaded words, "To Be Continued."

No one who's not a lunatic wants to see the first half of a multi-part story in a standalone book. Therefore I'd go for the Replicus tale from issue #141 which seems to me to be the best of the few single-issue Thor tales from Lee and Kirby's peak period.

Thor #141, Replicus

The Spider-Man vs Shocker story's okay but it's not one of the classics and it's atypical in having been drawn by John Buscema. Therefore, I'd go for the legendary issue #50 in which our hero decides to throw his costume in a convenient dustbin and give up being Spider-Man.

Amazing Spider-Man #50, Spider-Man quits, John Romita Cover

The third Dr Strange story, I'd dump altogether, as it's not in the slightest bit memorable and, using the space created, I would, between the Fantastic Four and Hulk tales, shoehorn in The Man in the Ant Hill, from Tales to Astonish #27, seeing as Origins of Marvel Comics currently completely ignores the existence of Ant-Man, despite him being one of Marvel's earliest and longest-serving Silver Age heroes.

Granted, this wouldn't be ideal, as the story doesn't feature Hank Pym in costume but I do feel it'd be a better use of the pages than the Dr Strange tale and, if extra pages can be added, we could include Ant-Man's first costumed appearance as well.

Tales to Astonish #27, The Man in the Ant Hil

Anyway, those are my picks. If you think other tales should have been chosen instead, the Comments Box is available for your suggestions.

Wednesday 26 October 2016

October 27th, 1976 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

Hooray! I'm posting this a day early - because, thanks to that impertinent interloper the world knows as, "Real Life," I may not be available to post it tomorrow, and the automatic post scheduler on this site never seems to do what it's told to.

Still, that means we get a mighty handful of Marvel awesomeness even earlier than expected, and who could complain about that?

The enemies of our favourite Marvel heroes could. That's who.

That's because it means they're going to get punched in the face even sooner than they could ever have dreamt possible.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #3

It's the first issue of Captain Britain that I ever read!

As I've said elsewhere, I wasn't overly impressed by the star of the show but I did at least like the way he smelled.

I have always wondered though just why Captain Britain's staff had the French Tricolour on it. Clearly he was a very confused nationalist.

I'm assuming the Fantastic Four tale is the one where the Thing turns bad, yet again, and has a punch-up with the Hulk. It's odd but I have no memory at all of ever having read that tale at the time. Given its epoch-making nature, it does seem odd that I'd totally forget ever having encountered it.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #106

It's a miracle! I think I know what the Ka-Zar story is and even believe I have a copy of it lying around somewhere!

I'll have to make the effort to review it in the not-too-distant future, as, if it's the one I think it is, it has some nice artwork, and people who have stripes like those of  zebras.

Mighty World of Marvel #213, Hulk vs Gremlin

I detect the arrival of the world's greatest poetry-spouting triceratops. And it's not every issue you can say that about.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #194, the Scorpion

The Scorpion returns for the first time since the days of Ditko.

Considering how epic his first appearance was, it seems strange that he was used so sparingly in the strip from that point on.

Isn't this the one where the prison guards let him have his costume back, in an attempt to cheer him up? What a fantastic prison. With penal staff of that quality, it's hard to see why 1970s New York had such a crime problem.

Marvel UK, The Titans #54, Avengers vs Ares

I love this story. That naughty rapscallion Ares tries to stir up a war on Earth, we get the return of Hercules, the return of Hawkeye and the chance to see just how much Barry Smith's style has changed since his previous stint on the strip way back in Adamantium's origin tale.

I am alarmed by the title of that Captain America tale though. Does it mean he's going to be going on about Bucky again?

Sunday 23 October 2016

2000 AD - September 1978.

It's nearly November.

That can only mean it's time to look at what the galaxy's greatest comic was up to in September.

No one can accuse this blog of not being topical.

It's currently 2016. The September in question is in 1978.

No one can accuse this blog of not being topical.

For me, the biggest news from September 1978's issues is that, in Prog 81, the Tharg's Future Shock story is - What Hit Tunguska? I'm wondering if this was the first time I ever heard about that mysterious incident which has so intrigued the world for over a century.

That was in 1908. No one can accuse this blog of not being topical.

To be honest, other than that, I don't have a lot to say about this month's issues. It's nice to see Robo-Hunter on the front cover. Could this strip - and not Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - have been the true inspiration for Blade Runner?

Well, probably not but I'm still going to draw the parallel anyway, if only to push up the word count of this post.

It's interesting to see Dan Dare being called, "The Guardian of the Galaxy," on his cover. Marvel must have been contacting their lawyers even as that issue hit the newsstands.

And it's nice to see Ant Wars on a cover, given that I've always had a penchant for films about giant insects on the rampage.

2000AD Prog 80, Robo-Hunter

2000AD Prog 81, Dan Dare

2000AD Prog 82

2000AD Prog 83, Judge Dredd

2000AD Prog 84, Ant Wars

Thursday 20 October 2016

October 20th, 1976 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

It would appear, from scouring the pages of Twitter, that the headliners for next year's Glastonbury Festival have just been announced.

As a clapped-out old has-been, I would of course declare them to be nothing compared to the headliners of the 1976 festival - except there wasn't a 1976 Glastonbury Festival.

Clearly, there was presumed to be no demand for it, as all true culture lovers were too busy reading the output of our favourite comic company.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #2

Britain's greatest ever super-hero gets his second ever outing.

Not that the creative team in America are going for every British cliché available but, after encountering Merlin and Stonehenge in his first appearance, he now comes up against a knight in shining armour. Next he'll be driving to fights, in a double decker bus and setting up base in a red phone box.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #105

After just over two years, I've finally developed the wisdom to take Colin Jones' advice and remembered to look at Hunter's Planet of the Apes Archive before doing one of these posts.

I can thus tell you that this issue centres on a story that allegedly bridges the gap between Conquest and Battle. It all seems to be highly violent and a warning to us all of the dangers of inter-species intolerance.

Mighty World of Marvel #212, The Hulk vs the Gremlin

Sweet Christmas! It's a ground-breaking day for Marvel UK, as Luke Cage gets his own strip in their flagship title!

The only time I remember him appearing in Marvel UK before this was when he tackled Spider-Man, straight after the death of Gwen Stacy.

As for his own strip, I didn't mind it but it never particularly gripped me. I suspect that his foes were generally not of a standard to fully satisfy me.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #193, the Cyclone

Speaking of foes who aren't of a standard to fully satisfy me, Spidey's still in France and still battling the mind-boggling power of the Cyclone, possibly the only super-villain ever to have been defeated by a fan.

I take it this issue features the Silver Surfer vs Durok the Demolisher. I do believe I've previously mentioned my appreciation of Durok. You can't help but admire a villain who prefers to do his fighting in silence.

Marvel UK, The Titans #53 the Kree/Skrull War

From out of the blue, Golden Age heroes burst out of the dimmest recesses of Rick Jones' psyche.

And, from out of the blue, the Avengers appear in the pages of The Titans, after several months in Mighty World of Marvel. They just don't seem to be able to make up their minds as to which comic they should be appearing in.

I do remember being highly disappointed at the time that Neal Adams didn't get to finish the story he'd done so much to define, even if we did get to see more old-time heroes than you could shake a stick at.

I am interested in Captain America being in deadly battle with himself. I'm trying to recall just which tale that could have been.

Sunday 16 October 2016

Forty years ago today - October 1976.

It's been a mad time, of late, for us all, with evil clowns on the loose and gorillas escaping from their enclosures.

There's only thing for it. I'm going to have to take refuge by leaping into the Time Vortex and fleeing to the safety of 1976.

Avengers #152

But, even there, it's not that safe - because it's the senses-shattering debut of Chicken Man or whatever he's called, as we get a tale of Voodoo that I believe restores Wonder Man to the pages of the Avengers and leads to all manner of internal and external conflict for the Vision.

Conan the Barbarian #67

Hooray! I had this one - and the next three issues!

It's the tale that sets up the Conan/Red Sonja/Bêlit punch-up/team-up/mash-up that sets up the first epic meeting of Conan and King Kull.

Captain America and the Falcon #202

I'm not totally sure what happens in this story but it looks like it might be curtains for Cap.

Daredevil #138, Death's Head

Is my memory betraying me or was Death's Head's horse just a normal horse painted to look like a skeleton? If so, exactly how could that fool anyone who was standing within a hundred feet of it?

Fantastic Four #175, High Evolutionary vs Galactus

I had this one too - and the next three issues. Galactus threatens Counter-Earth and we get the battle we all wanted to see, between him and the High Evolutionary.

In retrospect, it's clear that it's basically a retread of the original Galactus Trilogy, with the High Evolutionary standing in for the Surfer, and the Planet Poppup  substituted for the Ultimate Nullifier.

Incredible Hulk #204, Kronus

I have no memory of this tale at all but is that a Herb Trimpe cover? And does this mean he also drew the interior?

Iron Man #91, the Controller

As I may have mentioned before, I always had a soft spot for the Controller because he seemed a suitably nasty piece of work.

Didn't he gain the strength of everyone he took control of? Does that mean that, if he took control of a billion billion beings, he'd be able to fight Mangog? Then again, what if he took control of Mangog and another billion billion beings? He'd be able to beat anybody.

Amazing Spider-Man #161, Nightcrawler

I remember loving this story when I was a youth, mostly because it was the first chance I had to get a substantial exposure to Nightcrawler who I'd previously only known from his appearance in X-Men #100.

Thor #252, Ulik

Hooray! I've always liked Ulik. I do wish he'd been allowed to win from time to time. It would have made him seem far more effective as a villain and therefore more of an actual threat. Apart from their first meeting, Thor always seemed to dispose of him with little difficulty.

X-Men #101, the Phoenix makes her debut

It's an epoch-making issue, as the Phoenix makes her debut, and things will never be the same again. It's a tale that reminds me of why I loved the Dave Cockrum era so much.

Thursday 13 October 2016

October 13th, 1976 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

I must announce I've scoured the internet, with a fine-toothed comb and can find no signs of anything interesting having happened anywhere in the world on October 13th, 1976.

Fortunately, we didn't need anything to happen in the real world.

That's because we were still reeling from the events that had unfolded in the world of Marvel UK in the preceding few days.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #1

And this is why! It's the comic that's going to change all our lives forever!

Britain's first and greatest super-hero - if you ignore all those earlier ones like The Spider and The Steel Claw - makes his pole-swinging debut!

He also gives us a free gift while he's at it!

Tragically, I never had that free gift because I never had issue #1 but the strip was written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Herb Trimpe, so, even with my absence, how could it not be a success that was guaranteed to run and run?

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #104

Will man and ape ever learn to live together in peace and harmony?

Judging by the cover, I'm beginning to suspect they may not.

I am always impressed by how easy characters in these comics find it to beat up gorillas. I'd like to see the writers and artists of the strips try to beat up a gorilla and see just how far they get with it.

Mighty World of Marvel #211, the Hulk vs the Gremlin

The Gremlin's up to no good at all.

I believe this is the tale where various members of the Hulkbusters team decide to invade the Gremlin's castle.

Is it to rescue Glenn Talbot from the Russians?

Does it turn out he's lost his memory?

Doesn't the Hulk then have to enter his brain and sort him out with a peculiarly muscular brand of psychiatry?

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #192, Cyclone

Forget Captain Britain. Not to be outdone by its troublesome neighbour to the north, France gets its very own nationalistic super-doer as the Cyclone makes his first appearance. Tragically, he didn't hang around for as long as the good Captain did.

 Marvel UK, The Titans #52, Annihilus vs the Fantastic Four

But forget Britain and France's super-doers. We don't need them for excitement - because we've got the Negative Zone's battlingest battler, as Annihilus returns and we soon get things heading towards that planet again. The one that destroys everything that enters its atmosphere.

Given that the Negative Zone appears to be a whole universe in its own right, you'd think it'd be fairly easy to stay away from that planet but, somehow, no FF visit to the Negative Zone ever seemed to happen without it looming into view.

Sunday 9 October 2016

Captain Britain!

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #1

This week in 1976 was a good week for all rampant nationalists, as Marvel UK gave us their first ever super-hero.

Admittedly, he wasn't really their first ever super-hero because they'd already given us the epic legend that was Apeslayer but this one was at least their first ever British super-hero.

I'd like to claim I was blown away by issue #1 of this mag but I never saw it. I don't think I got hold of a copy of the title until it hit its third issue.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #3

What I recall of that comic was that it was mostly in colour, with one page generously left in monochrome so we could colour it in ourselves.

The other thing that most struck me was its rather magnificent smell which was like that of no other comic I'd ever owned. When it came to scents, it was somewhat in the marker pen envelope and was therefore a good thing. Frankly, I could have sat there inhaling its fumes forever.

In all honestly, apart from the smell, the comic never particularly grabbed me. Captain Britain and his cast owed far too much to the early days of Spider-Man for my liking, and the Britain he inhabited was far more like Britain as Americans imagine it to be than it was like the Britain I actually inhabited. Thus we got cobbled streets, gas lamps, knights in shining armour, highwaymen, wizards, sceptres and the Royal Family.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #26, the Red Skull

After issues #3 and #4, I didn't see the comic again until after it had switched to the format of Marvel UK's other mags, meaning glossy covers and black and white interiors. To be honest, it was a format I preferred. The colour had always been a bit too bright for my liking and the matt covers had made it feel like it wasn't a proper Marvel mag.

Sadly, the loss of colour robbed it of its special smell - but it now more than made up for that by being drawn by John Buscema and Tom Palmer.

This did strike me at the time as being something akin to a miracle. Bearing in mind Marvel had initially refused to use Buscema  on Conan The Barbarian because he was too expensive, his presence on this title does suggest the paymasters in New York were taking the comic surprisingly seriously. As did the decision to team our hero up with Captain America and SHIELD in a battle to prevent the Red Skull bumping off Jimmy Carter and James Callaghan. It does seem like the parent company was making a genuine attempt to turn the thing into a success, even if they didn't really know how to achieve it.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #39

Sadly, Buscema didn't hang around forever and the art soon deteriorated, as did the stories. By the time his own title had failed and the good Captain had moved into the pages of Super Spider-Man, I'd come to regard it as a strip to avoid and I can't tell you how relieved I was when it was finally scrapped and replaced with something else.

Marvel UK, Super-Spider-Man and Captain Britain #231

But there was a surprise in store - because, some time later, a mysterious figure turned up in the pages of the Black Knight's strip in Marvel UK's Hulk comic.

It turned out that that figure was Captain Britain who was now involved in a strange Lord of the Rings type fantasy. It did strike me at the time that the new strip seemed classier than the old one but, not being a fan of that particular style of Fantasy, I couldn't be altogether sure. I have a feeling it was now being drawn by Steve Parkhouse but don't quote me on that.

Marvel UK, Hulk #31, Captain Britain

What I could be sure of was that when I next encountered him, I definitely liked what I saw. Now he was in the pages of the monthly Mighty World of Marvel mag and was being produced by Alans Moore and Davis. It was instantly obvious that the whole thing was a drastic cut above anything I'd seen from the character before, as he found himself in an alternate Britain ruled by a seemingly all-powerful Enoch Powell type intent on making Britain not at all a nice place to be. Reader, thank God that prophecy never came true and that Britain now has no one in power making Enoch Powell type noises. This tale was far darker, far more stylish and far more potent than we'd come to expect of the stiff Spider-Man knock-off we'd once been given.

Mighty World of Marvel #12, Captain Britain

Sadly, after a few months of this, I lost touch with him again until, in the early 1990s, I bought a trade paperback that reprinted his adventures from the immediate post-Moore era.

My knowledge of his career since then can only be called sketchy. I believe he got dragged into Marvel's mutant corner, despite not being a mutant himself. Beyond that, I can say little. But I do know that his sister Betsy became Psylocke and somehow changed from being a blind, posh, non-mutant Englishwoman to being a Japanese mutant ninja martial arts expert. Comics. You have to love them.

So, was Captain Britain a good idea?

No. He was a terrible idea, a British super-hero, for a British audience, created by people with virtually no knowledge of Britain and cast from a mould far too derivative of already existing Marvel heroes. Still, after a number of false starts, he finally came good in the end, so I suppose we should be glad of his creation even if it was all a terrible mistake.

Thursday 6 October 2016

October 6th, 1976 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

You could never claim the 1970s wasn't the Marvel Age of Comics.


Because, on this night in 1976, BBC One was broadcasting legendary children's series Fingerbobs, the show that introduced me to the word, "Scampi."

As we all recall, the Bob Harris-esque presenter was always introduced by a name that was never totally clear and might have been Boffy but might not have been.

However, thanks to a fit of investigative journalism that Woodward and Bernstein would envy, I've just discovered his real name was Rick Jones. That's the kind of place the 1970s was. We had Peter Parker in charge of the railways and Rick Jones in charge of the Fingerbobs.

And then they claim the 1970s lacked glamour.

But they were about to get a whole lot glamorouser - because this was the week in which a brand new super-hero hit the streets of Britain. A super-hero like no other.

Needless to say, I'll be looking further into that development, at the weekend. But, in the meantime, let's see what was occurring on Planet Marvel UK just as any unsold copies of our favourite mags were being removed from the shelves to make way for that epochal event and others.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #103

There's absolutely nothing on that cover that gives me any hint as to what happens inside the comic, other than that it involves humans and apes. I had already suspected that might be the case.

The inking on that cover looks quite Tom Palmeresque. I wonder if it was indeed by he?

Mighty World of Marvel #210, Hulk vs the Gremlin

The Gremlin's back!

But what of his father? Has the Gargoyle ever returned from the dead?

If not, does this make him Marvel's longest-running dead character?

It would appear, from the blurb at the top of the cover, that this is the legendary issue where the Vision beats up a Skrull.

If so, I did feel at the time that this instalment was the high watermark of the Kree/Skrull saga and I was most impressed by Neal Adams' ability to draw spaceships and bruises.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #191, Mysterio is back

It never fails. Every time Mysterio shows up, Spidey starts to doubt his sanity. You'd think he'd have realised by now that it's all done with trickery.

Marvel UK, The Titans #51, Fantastic Four vs the Nega-Man

It's that bizarre FF story Stan Lee Frankensteined together from unpublished art Jack Kirby left behind and newly inserted panels by John Buscema.

It'd be nice to say it was a ploy that worked but it was a very strange and jarring read at the time, which left me baffled as to how such a circumstance had arisen. It was only with the rise of the internet that I finally found out.

In other news, we get the return of Batroc Ze Leapair. I first encountered him in the pages of Iron Fist, via The Avengers comic. In that tale, he seemed a far more dangerous foe than he subsequently proved to be anywhere else. Admittedly, that was probably because I didn't know who he was at that time and thus didn't know any better.

Sunday 2 October 2016

Fifty years ago this month - October 1966.

Surely October 1966 must have been the most significant month in human history. Not only did the Beach Boys release Good Vibrations but Bob Moog patented the Moog synthesiser, it was the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and we saw Dr Who's first ever regeneration.

How little we suspected at the time that that regeneration was a pure one-off and we'd never see them use that trick ever again on the show.

But what of Marvel's greatest heroes? Could they possibly match such historic heights?

Avengers #33, Sons of the Serpent

The Sons of the Serpent are getting their just deserts as the Avengers teach them the importance of tolerance and peace by giving them all the punch in the face they're asking for.

Daredevil #21, the Owl

It's that spectacle none of us will ever forget, as the Owl's big metal bird takes full, featherless flight.

I must confess I've no memory at all of the volcano featured on the cover. Is it actually in the story, or is it just shown here as an act of artistic license?

Fantastic Four #55, The Thing vs the Silver Surfer

It's a tale I remember well from Origins of Marvel Comics, as the Thing learns it's not a good idea to tangle with the Silver Surfer when he's fully powered-up.

When I say, "learns," I'm pretty sure he learns nothing of the sort and doesn't hesitate to try and bash him up the next time they meet.

Amazing Spider-Man #41, the Rhino

Hooray! The Rhino makes his thick-skinned debut, giving us the first memorable villain of the Romita era.

Isn't this also the first issue in which Mary Jane features in more than just one panel?

Strange Tales #149, SHIELD, the end of AIM

Despite what it says on the cover, I suspect it's not the end of A.I.M.

I really don't have a clue what's going on on that cover, or why everyone involved is such a terrible shot. How ironic that a group called A.I.M. don't seem to be able to aim to save their lives.

Then again, Nick Fury, if it is indeed him, seems to be shooting at thin air as well.

Oh well. At least, with shooting like that, Dum Dum Dugan's flying saucer isn't in danger of getting damaged.
Tales of Suspense #82, Captain America vs the Adaptoid

Is this the first appearance of the Adaptoid, later known as the Super-Adaptoid and then later as, "That Skeleton Robot With The Big Axe"?

I seem to remember him being a bafflingly poor foe in this tale. Doesn't the Acrobat or the Tumbler or whatever he's called give him a good thrashing despite having no powers whatsoever other than the ability to do forward rolls?

Tales to Astonish #84, the Sub-Mariner

I vaguely recall there being a Subby tale where he goes to the cinema.

I'm assuming this is that tale.

Strangely, that's all I can recall about the story.

Why's he in a cinema?

I've no idea.

What causes him to burst out of it?

I've no idea.

Surely the Pearl and Dean adverts can't have been that bad.

Can they?

Thor #133, Ego, the living planet

Hooray! It's brawn vs Ego in one of my favourite Thor tales of the Lee and Kirby era.

X-Men #25, El Tigre

I know nothing of El Tigre, even though I'm sure someone's told me all about him in the past, on this very site.

Whoever he is, I'm getting a kind of Aztec vibe from him.