Sunday 27 November 2016

Your favourite comic book martial artist.

Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu
As you may know, I'm something of a master of the martial arts, able to snap street lamps in half with a single kick of the foot.

"But how did you, a humble blogger, acquire this awesome ability?" I hear you ask.

It's simple. It's because I paid very close attention to Dr Who whenever Jon Pertwee demonstrated his remarkable expertise at the little-known skill of Venusian Aikido. How I gasped as Sea Devils, Ogrons, Daleks and assorted other monsters fell before his fists of death.

Granted, when you've seen a man of advancing years cheerily beat up a horde of Sea Devils, it does tend to undermine their aura of menace but such is the fate of the Sea Devil.

Still, there were other martial artists in my childhood.

And those martial artists filled the pages of my favourite comics.

Cashing-in on the early 1970s' Kung Fu craze, Marvel Comics gave us the likes of Shang-Chi, Iron Fist and the Sons of the Tiger.

But they had more martial artists than even that. They also had Mantis and Karnak. Captain America was always going on about his Judo skills. Even the distinctly non-physical Dr Strange was a martial artist, although the only times I can remember him using such skills was in one particular fight with Dormammu, and in his first meeting with Mantis. I can't help feeling that being flung around by a string of Judo throws is an indignity that no artist or writer should ever inflict upon Dormammu but, upon the receiving end of them, he nonetheless was.

Mantis vs the Avengers
Not to be left out of this high-kicking action, DC had Karate Kid, while Batman was supposed to be supreme in every fighting skill going - though I refuse to believe you can properly practise such things while wearing a cape. If I remember rightly, the revived Manhunter was a master of Ninjutsu, while I seem to recall that, during her de-powered era, Wonder Woman suddenly gained a mistressy of such skills.

Meanwhile, Charlton Comics had Yang who bore no resemblance at all to TV's Kwai Chang Caine. It was, no doubt, pure coincidence that he was a Chinese Kung-Fu expert who lived in the Wild West and kept fighting cowboys.

Dr Strange Judo throws Dormammu
All of this raises the question that's obvious to anyone who's desperately trying to find something to write about on his blog on a Sunday evening - and that's who, of this power-punching pantheon, was my favourite?

Well, Yang was indeed too similar to Kwai Chang Caine for comfort. He also liked fighting far too much. We all know that a true martial artist only fights when he has to, whereas Yang clearly couldn't wait to get stuck in. Mantis was annoying. So was Moondragon. Although I read plenty of Legion of Super-Heroes tales as a youth, I can't remember Karate Kid ever actually doing anything. I refuse to believe that the likes of Batman and Dr Strange were as good at the martial arts as they claimed to be. Meanwhile, if the Sons of the Tiger were really any good at fighting, they wouldn't have had to gang up on foes in order to beat them. Therefore I have to put it down to a choice between Shang-Chi and Iron Fist.

The fact that Iron Fist never seemed to be able to beat anyone without using his Iron Fist power suggests he can't have been that good at fighting. Therefore, I have to go for Shang-Chi who never needed to resort to such cheating in order to triumph over all odds. Not only that but he did it while wearing his pyjamas and he'd always make sure to give us a good chunk of home-grown philosophy while he was doing it.

But that's just my verdict. Who was your favourite comic book martial artist of your childhood, and why?

Thursday 24 November 2016

November 24th, 1976 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

On November 24th, 1976, BBC One showed the episode of Last of the Summer Wine that went by the title The Kink in Foggy's Niblick.

This isn't very exciting news but it did introduce me to the word, "Niblick," and is the only Last of the Summer Wine episode whose title I can recall. So, whatever people think about the show, it did at least, for one evening, enlarge my vocabulary.

Well, my vocabulary may have been enlarging but, at that very moment, Marvel UK was shrinking, as one of its magnificent comics was about to breathe its last. Reader, can you guess what that comic was before I reveal it?

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #7, the Hurricane

I must confess to being somewhat curious. Where exactly is the Hurricane meant to be on this cover?

Is he in the plane's cockpit?

If so, how come he's facing the engine? I'm no aviation expert but I'm pretty sure planes don't have their engines in front of their windshields.

On the other hand, is he in the airport's control tower?

If so, how's he controlling the plane's engines? I'm no aviation expert but I'm pretty sure Concorde didn't work by remote control.

This is the sort of nightmare mystery that'll keep me awake tonight, worrying about it.

Speaking of mysteries, I wonder just what story the Howard the Duck pull-out comic featured.

Marvel UK, The Titans #58, final issue, Avengers vs Sentinels

This is it, the last ever issue of The Titans, and I for one will be sorry to see the back of it. In its fifty eight issues, it gave us an eclectic mix of strips that didn't always quite seem to know where they belonged.

One strip that had totally lost all sense of where it belonged by this stage was The Avengers, which, in the space of just months, had managed to move from its own comic to The Mighty World of Marvel then to The Titans before being shunted off into Spider-Man's comic. The world's mightiest super-team must have not known whether they were coming or going by this point.

Despite all that, I loved this Avengers tale and remember it revealing that the Vision was an android of several decades vintage, thus letting us know there was a mystery to his origin that we'd never previously suspected.

Is the Hercules solo story the one where he fights Typhon whose axe is stuck to his hand?

If so, I remember that one.

If it isn't, I probably don't remember it.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #110, Battle for the Planet of the Apes

Hold on a banana-peeling moment! If I recall my Battle for the Planet of the Apes lore, Isn't it Aldo the gorilla who chases Cornelius off the tree - not some random human? What is this madness? It's the kind of mystery that'll keep me awake tonight, worrying about it.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #198. the Jackal meets his fate

It's the Spider-Man story the whole world loves because it launched the Clone Saga that everyone still recalls with such fondness.

It also gave us the death of Professor Warren. I don't have a clue if he's still dead or not. I'm sort of hoping he's alive again and has learnt the error of his ways.

Mighty World of Marvel #217, Conan the Barbarian

Oooh! I remember this one! It's the one where Conan comes up against what are effectively a trio of super-villains.

Somehow, the idea of Conan fighting super-villains just feels wrong, even if there's no good reason why he shouldn't.

Was The Tribune from the Daredevil story that man with the hammer who liked to sit in judgement on people and then find them guilty whether they'd done anything wrong or not? I remember him being a little unhinged and certainly not an example of the Judiciary at its finest.

Sunday 20 November 2016

2000 AD - October 1978.

October 1978 was an epoch-making month for 2000 AD, as it merged with its sister comic Star Lord.

While it was a shame to see the latter title fold, this was still a matter of some pleasure for me because it meant that, as well as the adventures of Judge Dredd, I could now keep up with the action-filled excursions of Ro-Busters and Strontium Dog.

On the other hand, it did spell curtains for Dan Dare and Ant Wars, both of which were dropped to make way for the new strips.

But the merger wasn't the only thrill that lay in store for us that week because not only did we get to see the return of original 2000 AD stalwart Flesh but we were given a chance to win a Sinclair Mini TV!

Tragically, I never knew anyone who had a Sinclair Mini TV and I don't have a clue whether it suffered the same fate as the Sinclair C5 or if it matched the success of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

I did know at the time, though, that its hand-held nature clearly signalled that it could only be a matter of time before we were all wielding Space:1999 style communicators.

And, Reader, I was right. Even as I speak, I'm wielding my Space:1999 style communicator while firing my Moonbase Alpha style laser-stapler. The power of people in the 1970s to predict the future was genuinely astounding.

2000 AD, Prog 85, Judge Dredd

2000 AD and Star Lord, Prog 86, merger issue

2000 AD and Star Lord, Prog 87, Flesh

2000 AD and Star Lord, Prog 88

Thursday 17 November 2016

November 17th, 1976 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

It's been a week of outright lunacy for us all, with the Supermoon looming large in our skies. At one point, it got so big that I contemplated fleeing to Australia to get further away from it.

But one set of people who are guaranteed not to be fleeing from anything are the stars of our favourite comics company in 1976, as they set out to launch their foes into a similar orbit, by using just their bare super-fists.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #197, the Tarantula and the Jackal

At last we get to find out who the Jackal is, in one of the least likely revelations in the history of literature. Why didn't they do the obvious and have him be Harry Osborn? Why?

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #6, the Hurricane

Chris Claremont's love of smashing up airports is back with a vengeance, as our hero tackles the windy wastrel of wanton wreckery.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #109

I'm assuming we're still being given Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

I seem to recall it having been drawn by Alfredo Alcala. This was, of course, a good thing.

Mighty World of Marvel #216, Glorian and the Toad Men

Hooray! The Toad Men are back!

And so is the Shaper of Worlds!

And we get to met Glorian for the first time!

How could anyone not love this story?

In my adulthood, I do feel there's a noticeable gay subtext to this tale, which was a very advanced thing to do in a comic back in those days.

In my childhood, however, this all passed me by and all I knew was that I was delighted to see the Toad Men restored to their rightful place as the awesomest aliens in the Marvel Universe.

Then again, I also loved the Stone Men from Saturn, so my taste in comic book aliens might not have been as sophisticated as you might expect from a man whose favourite movie is Carry On Cowboy.

Marvel UK, the Titans #57, The Avengers

Everyone else seems to dislike this Avengers story.

I love it.

On top of the chess drama that we all demand from a super-hero yarn, it also gives us Rich Buckler doing his Neal Adams impersonation which I always much preferred to his Jack Kirby mimicry.

But, "Captain America No More!" Does that mean we've reached the point where he fakes his own death, during Jim Steranko's brief run on the strip?

Sunday 13 November 2016

Strange Tales #110. The first appearance of Dr Strange.

Strange Tales #110, Dr Strange makes his first appearance By the Hoary Hosts of Hogwarts! It's an exciting time for all fans of the mystics arts, with Meddly Mick Thrunglesnatch's Dr Strange taking the global box office by storm.

And that can only mean one thing.

That it's time for me to cynically cash-in and try to raise my page-view numbers by looking at the sorcerous surgeon's first ever appearance.

That appearance was, of course, within the pages of Strange Tales #110, and such was Marvel's faith in the character that he didn't even get to feature on the cover.

Was our hero daunted by this omission?

Of course he wasn't. He was too busy wondering when the Ancient One was finally going to die, and concentrating on the dark forces that surround us.

Strange Tales #110, Dr Strange
It's New York. A man is being tormented by dreams of a chained and hooded figure.

What can it mean?

He doesn't know but he knows of a man who might.

That man is Dr Strange who obliges by promising to enter his dreams that night to get to the heart of the problem.

No sooner has he done so and discovered the chained figure represents victims of the man's ruthless business practices, than Strange encounters a much bigger problem - his, "Ancient foe," Nightmare has appeared and now refuses to let him leave.

As Strange and Nightmare face-off, the nameless man wakes from his slumbers and decides to shoot Strange while he's still in a trance, in order to prevent him revealing what he knows.

Fortunately, thanks to his psychic link to Strange, the Ancient One opens the Eye of Agamotto, the would-be killer is thwarted and Strange escapes back to the land of the waking, all ready to give the man a good lecture and, no doubt, escort him to the nearest police station.

Strange Tales #110, Dr Strange, Nightmare
To be honest, with its total earnestness, its lack of length and its not exactly warm hero, the tale comes across more like a one-off curiosity than the start of a sensational new series that's going to take the world by storm but it's pleasingly drawn by Steve Ditko, and Stan Lee reins in his own showboating instincts to create a sense of the sombre and mysterious.

I'm not totally sure how Strange manages to get past Nightmare and back to the land of the waking. He basically just seems to fly past Nightmare who stands there while he does so. This does give the impression that he's not exactly the greatest threat in the universe.

Another oddity is there's a sequence in which Strange's astral self flies all the way from New York to Tibet, only to be told, when he gets there, to go straight back to New York. Well, that wasn't a wasted journey then.

The other thing that strikes me is that both Strange and the Ancient One spend the whole story with their eyes closed. There is literally not one panel where they have them open. I would assume this is Steve Ditko's attempt to make them look Asian, except I can't believe Ditko really believed that people from Asia never open their eyes. How did he think they avoid walking into things?

Therefore, I shall be kind and assume that it's simply intended as a trait that he decided people of a mystical bent possess. It is interesting though that the strip started out with two central characters who were Asian and, by the time the film was released, they'd both managed to turn non-Asian. I do worry that Wong might be next.

Strange Tales #110, Dr Strange
I also wonder if Ditko's intention was that the chained figure is meant to represent someone the unnamed man has murdered but Stan Lee, inspired by Jacob Marley, decided to water it down and make him simply represent the victims of the man's ruthless business methods.

Anyway, it's all nicely moody and atmospheric and gives us a pleasing introduction to a smattering of Strange's powers and his mentor but I refuse to believe there was a single person who read this tale at the time and concluded that one day it would be the subject of a multi-million dollar movie. Why, for that to be the case, they'd have to have been almost as psychic as Strange himself.

PS. A great big Steve Does Comics No-Prize goes to the first person who can guess which early 1990s chart hit was lodged in my brain while I was reading the sequence in which Nightmare is refusing to let Strange get back to his own world.

Friday 11 November 2016

November 10th, 1976 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

The keen-eyed reader will observe at once that, although this post investigates comics that are cover-dated November 10th, it's being published on the 11th. I can only put this down to a nightmarish glissando in the Space/Time Continuum, otherwise known as, "A total bog up." Needless to say, I blame everyone except myself, which is a policy that's served me so well for all these years.

At least the rupturing of said Space/Time Continuum allows me to see more clearly than ever what our favourite comics company was up to almost exactly forty years ago.

And - as we all know - in my head, "Almost," is good enough.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #5, the Hurricane

It's the beginning of a famine for me because not only did I not own this issue but I didn't own any issues of Captain Britain until he got his glossy cover and the Red Skull showed up.

Meanwhile, we can tell we're in England because we're calling each other, "Chum," on the cover.

In even more exciting news, the French Tricolour seems to have vanished from CB's stick.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #108

It's the news we've all been waiting for, as we finally get the adaptation of Battle For the Planet of the Apes, which I believe was the first Apes film I ever saw. This fact could explain why I like the movie, when everyone else hates it.

I seem to remember the adaptation being completed in the pages of Mighty World of Marvel. Does that mean this comic's days are numbered?

Come to think of it, I seem to recall reading an issue of Planet of the Apes in the summer of 1977. This confuses me deeply. Surely it didn't take over nine months for the adaptation to be completed?

Mighty World of Marvel #215, Conan the Barbarian

Hooray! I think this is the one where a giant scorpion statue comes to life and then has a fight with a big evil shadow. I do remember the evil shadow being quite sinister and a serious threat to cattle.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #196, the Tarantula

He might not have been what you could call a great villain but I did always like the Tarantula's costume.

In this story, doesn't he escape from prison by making himself a new pair of pointy shoes in the prison workshop? I know I've complained before about lax security in that prison but, with things like that happening, how could anyone blame me?

Marvel UK, the Titans #56, The Avengers

It's more Hellenic hi-jinks from Barry Smith, as the Avengers continue their invasion of Olympus.

I suspect the Captain America story may be the one where our star-spangled scrapper defeats the Trapster thanks to Sharon Carter having put nail varnish remover in his paste. This is after twenty pages of him declaring that his paste makes him unbeatable. Poor old Trapster. He really never had a clue, did he?

Thursday 10 November 2016

Forty years ago today - November 1976.

November 1976 was a great month for fans of mouths, as it saw the discovery of the first known megamouth shark.

To be honest, even though there was a fair fuss about it in the press at the time, I can't remember hearing anything much about megamouth sharks since. I hope it's simply that they turned out to be very boring and not because they've become extinct since then.

But, speaking of extinction, it's time to find out just how many of our favourite Marvel heroes were facing just such a fate in the comics that bore the cover date of that very month.

Avengers #153, the Whizzer is back

Given that the Whizzer is about eighty by this point and has been established as having a bad heart and he possibly died at the end of the first Nuklo story, it is surprising that he seems to be causing the Avengers so much trouble and that he's even claimed to be capable of killing them.

Conan the Barbarian #68, Conan vs Kull

It's the battle we've all been waiting for, as Conan meets Kull and, oddly enough, it all leads to a fight between them.

Needless to say, it also ends in a draw and Conan and Kull going their separate ways. Argh! Now how'll we ever know which is the best barbarian?

Captain America and the Falcon #203

I must confess I've no idea what's going on here. Given the mention of the Alamo, and the year of publication, is it all tied in with the Bicentennial celebrations?

Daredevil #139

I've no idea what's going on in this one either. I have to say that's a very unhelpful cover for those trying to comment on its contents. Did Marvel give no thought at all to the needs of bloggers when they designed it?

Fantastic Four #176, the Impossible Man is back

Hooray! The Impossible Man is back!

Admittedly, I doubt there were that many people celebrating his return but I have a certain fondness for him.

Is this the issue where he shows up at the offices of Marvel Comics, and various Marvel creators, including Lee and Kirby, put in an appearance?

Incredible Hulk #205, Crypto-Man

Is that a Herb Trimpe cover? Does that mean he drew the inside as well?

Come to think of it, didn't I ask the same question last month?

I seem to remember that the Crypto-Man first appeared in Thor's strip and that Jack Kirby's original plan was to have Thor and Galactus team up to tackle him.

I also seem to remember Stan Lee vetoed that plan, presumably because it's hard to see why Galactus would need to team up with Thor to fight the Crypto-Man and, given the Crypto-Man's Earthbound nature, it's hard to see why Galactus would even feel motivated to fight him anyway.

Iron Man #92, the Melter is back

Hooray! The Melter's back!

Or is it the Living Laser?

Whichever it is, he's back.

Amazing Spider-Man #162, the Punisher and the Nightcrawler

I still, to this day, am not sure if there really are cable cars in New York City. I can't say I've ever seen them in any TV show or movie, so I'm still not certain if they weren't just made up for this tale.

Every so often, someone floats the idea of installing cable cars in Sheffield. Tragically, the idea never comes to anything. This is a source of great disappointment to me. How can I have exciting adventures, dangling from them, if they don't exist?

Thor #253, Ulik

I am totally unfamiliar with this story but it's always good to see Ulik show up.

Sunday 6 November 2016

Fifty years ago this month - November 1966.

Well, it was all very exciting yesterday evening, as Guy Fawkes' Night hit us all with its usual sound and fury. But November of 1966 had its fair share of intrigue too, as the Beatles began work on recording Sgt Pepper, John Lennon met Yoko Ono for first time and the infamous Mothman put in his first ever appearance.

Could our favourite heroes possibly hope to match such drama?

You bet your big fat Catherine Wheel they could.

Avengers #34, the Living Lser

You do have to say, given the nature of his powers, it's hard to see how anyone could emerge unscathed from a fight with the Living Laser - and yet I can't remember him ever actually managing to hurt anyone.

Of course, that was back in the days when we could be convinced lasers were death-rays and not just things that allow you to play CDs.

Daredevil #22, Tri-Man

Wasn't the Tri-Man a combination of three wrestlers or something? Needless to say, our hero made short work of him/them. It's almost as though their creator the Masked Marauder wasn't one of the all-time great arch-foes.

Fantastic Four #56, Klaw is back

Hooray! It's the return of Klaw!

I've always liked Klaw. I've always liked the fact he's made of solid, living sound, even though I can't remember anything ever having been made of that concept.

Come to think of it, what, exactly, is solid sound and how does one create it?

Amazing Spider-Man #42

John Jameson, the world's unluckiest astronaut, makes what I think is is his first appearance since issue #1 and gets his first taste of unwanted super-powers, as Jazzy John Romita continues to make his mark on the strip.

Strange Tales #150, Dr Strange

Is this the Dr Strange tale that was reprinted in Origins of Marvel Comics?

If so, given how many times I read and re-read that tome, it is odd that I can recall nothing of the story.

Tales of Suspense #83, Iron Man vs Titanium Man

Iron Man's giving Titanium Man the smacking he's asking for.

Is this the one where Tony Stark's forced to testify before Congress or the Senate or whatever it is and he nearly pops his clogs just as he's about to reveal his secret identity to us all?

Tales to Astonish #85, the Hulk

I don't have a clue what happens in this one. I suspect a missile may be involved.

Thor #134, the High Evolutionary

Hooray! It's another Lee/Kirby classic, as everything goes a bit Dr Moreau, and the High Evolutionary makes his debut.

X-Men #26

It's another X-Men comic whose contents I can only guess at. I can, though, say that things look somewhat Aztec on that cover.

Saturday 5 November 2016

Wonder Woman. Latest trailer. Possible spoilers.

Hooray! The entire world's talking about the release of Benelux Crumblethumblethatch's Dr Strange movie!

That can only mean one thing!

That I'm sat here looking at the latest Wonder Woman trailer!

No wonder they call me, "The man the Zeitgeist bypassed."

Still, I have to say it all looks rather super. I do approve of the World War One setting, which lends her a certain timeless quality, and it all looks to have an appealing visual style - although I hope there'll be more to it than just, "Wonder Woman fights World War One," as that would be a little lacking in doings of a superhuman nature for my liking.

I like that Wonder Woman has a non-American accent. I like that the film appears to mix drama with humour, with a bit of real-world social history thrown in.

So, so far, I declare that it looks promising and like it might be a good deal more entertaining than some recent DC offerings have been.

I must confess, though, that I did get a bit over-excited when I saw those white cliffs and thought it meant the Amazons live in Dover.

Tragically, subsequent shots in the trailer would suggest they don't.

I have now cancelled my holiday in Dover.

Thursday 3 November 2016

November 3rd, 1976 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

Stone, Stephen Walker
It's an exciting time for anyone who's got ears, because my legendary audio-drama Stone is now recorded, uploaded and available to you for free, simply by clicking on this link here, thanks to the tireless hordes at Cornucopia Radio.

Gasp with awe as the modern world meets the world of myth and legend, and everything gets resolved in just forty one minutes.

"Well, Steve, that is insanely exciting," I hear you cry, "but surely nothing can be as exciting as what Marvel UK was giving us forty years ago this very week."

And, you know what?

You'd be totally right.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #4, the Hurricane

Only two weeks after we saw Spidey fight that French felon the Cyclone, we get to see our very own hero tackling the Hurricane. Clearly, super-villains were very windy back then.

I seem to remember the Nick Fury story being about the 1965 New York power blackout that has lived on in infamy ever since. From what I recall, it turned out that Hydra or some other similar organisation was behind it all.

The last time we had a power blackout round my way, it turned out it was down to a squirrel attacking the local sub-station. I'd like to have seen Nick Fury show up to try and tackle that nightmare.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #107

Was Ka-Zar's, "Metal Madness," caused by the local vibranium sending people a bit homicidal?

I suspect the apes story is still the one that was set in an era between Conquest and Battle.

Mighty World of Marvel #214, Hulk vs Mole Man

It's that one where the Hulk takes on the Mole Man and his hordes, in an attempt to restore sight to a blind girl. I suspect it was the first Hulk story to be narrated in the first person.

I wonder what the, "Life on the line," is in the Daredevil tale?

I suspect it reflects badly on me that, when I first saw that blurb, the first thought that popped into my head was the phrase, "Washing line." Oh I know how to inject drama into any situation.

Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #195, the Scorpion

I remember the Puppet Master story!

Didn't he have an alien that he'd taken over?

Or was it a robot?

Or was it an alien robot?

Wasn't it psychically linked with the Vision in some way?

Didn't this make him feel unwell in some way?

Marvel UK, the Titans #55, Avengers and Hercules

I have no memory at all of that Sub-Mariner tale. Which is odd, as you'd have thought such a clash would have stuck in the mind.

I've plenty of memories of the Avengers tale though. It was full of Barry Smith goodness and featured a chat between the Vision and Jarvis during sandwich preparation.

It's true; I remember the Vision and Jarvis making sandwiches but not the Sub-Mariner and Original Human Torch fighting each other. I truly am a disgrace to the profession of Comic Book Blogging.