Sunday 28 May 2017

Happy fortieth birthday, Star Wars!

Star Wars poster, Brother Hildebrandt
"Star Wars. Yes it's the Star Wars. Yes it's the Star Wars. Yes it is."

I must own up. Those are the words I hear in my head whenever I hear the Star Wars theme tune, and no one will ever convince me those weren't the words in John Williams' head when he was writing it.

"That's all very well," I hear you say, "But what does that have to do with anything?"

What it has to do with is that, as mentioned previously on this very blog, this week has seen the fortieth anniversary of the release of the film that saved an industry, saved a comic company and launched a religion that you're actually allowed to list on your census form. In light of the historic nature of such a release, and my desperation to keep up my Google ranking, I feel obliged to at least do a post about it.

Now, I have to admit I've never really been a Star Wars fan. I don't mind the original film but I'd never put it anywhere near a list of my favourite films of all time. Granted, most of my favourite films of all time involve people being killed by monsters, so it was always going to struggle to make that list.

But what I do like about it is the way it looks and the way it sounds. The spaceships, the droids, the lightsabres, the Death Star, the storm troopers, the alien worlds, Luke Skywalker's hover car, all look great. And, of course, it has that classic score which manages to lend drama, romance and even a sense of epic grandeur to what is at heart a fairly modest and silly remake of the old Flash Gordon serials.

On the other hand, the story itself, with its fairy tale plot, characters and sensibilities, doesn't do a lot for me, being somewhat basic and juvenile even for a man of my lack of intellectual development.

The Empire Strikes Back is, to me, a better and more developed film, although arguably not as much fun as the original.

Of the first trilogy, I think I prefer The Return of the Jedi, even though there are many who see it as the runt of the litter. Certainly, the reuse of the, "We must destroy a Death Star," motif shows a noticeable lack of imagination and ambition but the film feels livelier than the first one and more fun than the second and wraps the series up perfectly well.

As for the prequels...

Let's be honest, they're dreadful. They're so bad that I didn't manage to get through any of them in one sitting and had to watch them all in instalments, meaning I have very little idea as to what the overall plot of them is, other than that Anakin Skywalker turns evil for some reason that's not clear to me, there's a weird love story going on and various characters that I don't like get killed.

My main perception of the prequels is that they're simply very very long and very very boring, weighed down by politics that don't even make any kind of sense, involving things like a queen fighting to protect the republic she rules. I don't know how a queen can rule a republic but, if you're George Lucas, it is, apparently, very possible. Blind-sided by having to do everything in rooms filled with nothing but green sheets, the actors don't seem to know where they're supposed to be or what the significance of their lines or actions is and therefore basically don't act at all but sleepwalk their way through scenes that are beyond their comprehension.

When it comes to the new films, I've not seen any of the Disney sequels because, although I wish them no ill, I sort of feel like I don't need to. I'm basing this on the assumption that, once unleashed upon free television, they'll be on every bank holiday until the end of eternity, meaning I'll have all the time in the world to find out what they're about.

Of course, my other exposure to the world of Star Wars came from the Marvel UK comic of that name, which launched in early 1978 and which I had every issue of. I must confess the main strip never particularly interested me and I remember little of it other than that it always seemed to be drawn by Carmine Infantino but the comic featured some rather belting back-up strips such as Warlock, Star-Lord and general sci-fi-ness that kept me hooked for week after week.

Marvel UK, Empire Strikes Back #140
In 1980, it switched to a monthly schedule and became The Empire Strikes Back.

Even though I read that one too, I have even feebler memories of it than the weekly title and can honestly not even recall what the back-up strips were. This lack of recall seems a strange beast indeed but, as we all know, lack of recall is what this blog does best.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter. You may have other thoughts. You may not. You are free to share them or not as you see fit.

In cliché loving fashion, I would finish this post by saying, "May the Force be with you," but I don't even know what that actually entails. Is it possible for the Force to choose not to be with you?

After all, it was with Darth Vader and he was evil. So, it doesn't seem to be that fussy about who it's with. Thus, I'm taking it for granted that it's with you already. Just make sure not to misuse it. Remember, if you do, you could end up yelling, "Nooooooooooooooooo!" and complaining about sand.

Thursday 25 May 2017

May 25th, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

It's time to grab your lightsabre, shoot Greedo first and punch a droid in the gob because today marks the fortieth anniversary of the release of the film that changed the course of human history.

That's right. It was on May 25th, 1977, that Star Wars was unleashed upon an unsuspecting planet and the picture houses of the Western World and beyond were saved.

Not only that but Marvel Comics - in both the US and UK - was about to be saved by it as well. Good gravy, is there anything that wasn't saved by that film?

As it turned out, Borussia Mönchengladbach weren't. On that very night, they lost 3-1 as Liverpool won the first of their eighty five billion European Cups. Clearly, the Force was not strong with the titanic Teutons that night.

But what of Marvel UK in the week that ended on that historic day? Could it offer anything that could match the epoch-making significance of that film premiere?

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #33

Not half it could, as Britain's greatest hero gets a makeover at the hands of Merlin.

I assume this is the issue where he gets his sceptre to replace his stick, meaning he can now fly instead of having to get everywhere by pole vaulting. Does he get any other powers to go with it? I don't recall.

I do know that, in the back-up strips, the FF are still battling the Space Creature From The Black Space Lagoon, we're getting the origin of SHIELD, and Spider-Man is teaming up with Werewolf By Night.

So, would this be the tale that comes just a few weeks before his first encounter with Man-Wolf? At that stage in his career, he must have been feeling like he couldn't move without tripping over a lupine adversary.

Super Spider-Man and the Titans #224

I remember liking this Spidey tale at the time but, in retrospect, with its gun-toting villain whose face has been stitched back together after having been rammed through a plate glass window, it's quite unpleasant. Call me juvenile but I preferred it when he fought foes he could defeat with a vacuum cleaner.

Let's face it, in the 1960s, a Marvel villain who'd had his face rammed through a plate glass window wouldn't have become a homicidal maniac. He'd have gained the powers of a window and then used those powers to frame Ant-Man.

Quite what the powers of a window are, I have no idea but who cares? Super-powers are super-powers and we should accept what we can get.

Mighty World of Marvel #243, Hulk and Planet of the Apes

The Hulk seems to still be on Jarella's world.

I'm not sure what's going on on the Planet of the Apes.

Marvel UK, Fury #11

It's the same old situation. It's a nice cover and I have no idea what happens inside.

Only another fourteen issues to go before my torment and that of my readers is over.

Sunday 21 May 2017

2000 AD - April 1979.

As is so often the case with months, April 1979 was packed to the gills with turmoil and tumult.

But, of course, all of that pales into insignificance because it will forever go down in history, thanks to just one incident, and one incident alone.

And that was the legendary moment when US president Jimmy Carter was attacked by a rabbit.

If I remember rightly, he might have been in a boat when it happened and it was an attack that could chill the marrow in a man's very soul but, to be honest, other than that, I know little. What was the rabbit's motivation? Who won the epic battle? Did it stick to his face, to be followed, three days later, by a new, younger rabbit bursting out of his chest before going on a deadly rampage in the corridors of the White House? I couldn't say.

But it is amazing how such a thing has stuck in my memory when more world-shaking events from the time have faded from mind.

Inevitably, what hasn't stuck in my memory are this month's issues of 2000 AD. Not only can I not remember their contents but I can't even claim to recall any of their covers, making this feature even more hopeless than ever.

The only things that strike me from looking at them are that one of them bears the title The City of Lost Souls which brings to mind Blondie's 1982 single Island of Lost Souls and its notoriously drug-addled video which has to be one of the most clueless promos in the history of music. Meanwhile, Prog 108 semi-references the band Dr Feelgood and, on the cover of Prog 110, Dan Dare seems to have teamed up with some sort of Mekon creature with a normal-sized head. Does this mean that most members of the Mekon's race have normal-sized heads and only he has a noggin the size of a beach ball?

If so, it at least means I've learnt one thing from this post, so it hasn't been a total waste of time.

2000 AD, Prog 107

2000 AD, Prog 108

2000 AD, Prog 109

2000 AD, Prog 110

Thursday 18 May 2017

May 18th, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

As I type these fateful words, I'm watching the original Star Trek on The Horror Channel. It's not one of the more memorable episodes. They appear to have been eaten by a giant space amoeba.

There's only one thing for it. If the entertainment of the 1960s is failing to float my starship, I'm going to have to take refuge in the escapism of the 1970s.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #32

I don't like to nitpick but that is so blatantly an American style stadium and not a British one. That was the problem with Captain Britain. The lack of authenticity, pulling you out of the stories.

My research tells me there's nothing happening in the back-up strips that wasn't happening last week.

Super Spider-Man and the Titans #223, Nightcrawler and the Punisher

From the days when putting the Punisher on the front of a comic wasn't guaranteed to drive readers away in their droves.

It was this story that made me want my own personal cable car system. Tragically, I still don't have one. How is it possible for life to be so cruel to a man?

But how exactly are Spider-Man and Nightcrawler trapped? They're about as untrapped as any human being has ever been. They're surrounded only by the sky, which is gigantic and gives them many directions in which to flee. The Punisher, on the other hand, is trapped. He's on a tiny roof, about five hundred foot up in the air. Where's he going to run to when Spidey whips his guns off him, Nightcrawler teleports at him and then the fists start flying?

Mighty World of Marvel #242, Hulk and Planet of the Apes

The Hulk would appear to be in Jarella's world. The people from the Planet of the Apes would appear to be in The Last of the Mohicans.

Marvel UK, Fury #10

While I would never wish failure upon Marvel UK, I can't deny I'm glad this title didn't last long. It means there are only a finite number of issues about which I have to declare, "I don't have a clue what happens in this one."

As always, it has a nice cover.

Hooray! I only have about another dozen weeks of saying, "It has a nice cover," to go.

Sunday 14 May 2017

Forty years ago today - May 1977.

Call me, "Hard as nails," if you like but I'm proud to announce that I survived this year's Eurovision Song Contest, last night.

Needless to say, I was torn between voting for the man stood up the ladder, wearing a horse's head, the dancing gorilla, the man doing a duet with himself and the rapping, yodelling Romanians, and so, I voted for none of them.

Obviously, the United Kingdom deserved to win, like it always does but once more we were thwarted, despite a highly impressive set of visuals and a bravura performance from a woman not anything like weird enough to stand a chance of actually getting any votes.

Of course, it wasn't always thus. Once there was a time when we did well in Eurovision.

That time was the 1970s.

And that's where we're going right now, to see what our favourite heroes were up to in the year when the UK finished second, thanks to Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran's Rock Bottom.

You don't want a rock bottom. It's a very uncomfortable thing to sit on. Just ask the Thing.

Avengers #159, Graviton

I remember little of this tale, even though I seem to keep coming across it wherever I go on the internet.

Conan the Barbarian #74

It's the same old routine for Conan. Everywhere he goes, there's peril. Why he doesn't sue his travel agent is beyond me.

Captain America and the Falcon #209

I take it, from the cover blurb, that this is Arnim Zola's first ever appearance anywhere. Who would have thought, reading this comic, that, decades later, he'd be a movie star and played by Toby Jones?

Well, no one, obviously, as no one had heard of Toby Jones back then and, anyway, Toby Jones looks nothing like Arnim Zola.

I don't have a clue who the yellow individual attacking Cap is. I would assume it's an android but, as Zola is described as a, "Bio Fanatic," I have to conclude that it's not an android.

Daredevil #145, The Owl

I have no idea at all as to what happens in this one, other than that the Owl is likely to be involved.

Fantastic Four #182, the Brute

Hooray! After last month's reprint, the Brute is back.

I always liked the Brute. I liked the idea of an evil Reed Richards. Plus, he was suitably unpleasant for a villain.
Incredible Hulk #211, Mongu

I assume this isn't the same Mongu who showed up in the Hulk's early days and turned out to be a communist in a big costume, pretending to be an alien invader?

Iron Man #98, Sunfire

The world's most annoying super-doer is back, as Sunfire shows up.

No doubt we'll get twenty pages of bitter, nationalistic nonsense from him before he flees the scene, still ranting on about foreigners.

But why is Iron Man wearing what looks to be his Steve Ditko era armour?

Amazing Spider-Man #168, Will O the Wisp

I can't help feeling that calling Will-o'-The-Wisp a, "Superstar," might be a slight exaggeration. In fact, was he ever seen again after this story?

I would have assumed the answer is, "No," given that he died at the end of the tale but, knowing the world of comics, that's no guarantee he didn't go on to have a long and fulfilling career.

Spectacular Spider-Man #6, Morbius and the Human Torch

That's a bit poor. They're only on issue #6 and they're already reduced to using reprints.

I recall this tale from its Marvel UK printing but remember little of it. Didn't Morbius attack some woman near a bridge?

Thinking about it, there's a bridge on the cover. Maybe it's the same bridge.

Thor #259

Unless my memory betrays me, the cover to this issue was reproduced in the John Buscema/Stan Lee book How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way.

I'm assuming those creatures on the cover are the High Evolutionary's evil New Men?

Thursday 11 May 2017

May 11th, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

It's been an exciting week for all lovers of gun-toting anti-heroes, with the news that there's going to be a Judge Dredd TV show. With this mad rush to get every available super-doer on screen, surely this means it can only be a question of time before we get a show dedicated to that other British crime-busting icon Captain Britain.

And that can only mean one thing.

That I'm going to use this paragraph to clumsily lead me into a look at what the good Captain and his contemporaries were up to forty years ago when, lumbered with just three channels, we could never have dreamt that such things were possible.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #31

If he does ever get his own TV show, he's going to have to buck his ideas up a bit. I'm not saying he's a rubbish super-hero but he's been trying to overcome that stupid bird for three issues now and still hasn't got anywhere with it. You have a stick, man. Hit the bird with it. How hard can it be to figure out?

Elsewhere in the comic, it would appear that Nick Fury is trying to get to the heart of the mystery of who Scorpio is, while the FF are still up against the Creature That's Not From The Black Lagoon, and Spider-Man is teaming up with the Inhumans to fight some menace or other.

Super Spider-Man and the Titans #222, Nightcrawler

I'm still convinced I first read this story on my summer holiday, even though it was published in May. This is a perplexing mystery to me that may never be solved.

Other than that, I can offer no thoughts on this issue, as the cover gives no clues as to what occurs in the various back-up strips. I have a suspicion that, in it, Thor is drawn by John Buscema and inked by Vince Colletta. It's not much of a summary and may be completely wrong but, in the absence of either knowledge or wisdom, it's all I currently have.

MIghty World of Marvel #241, Hulk and Planet of the Apes

The Hulk appears to still be in that story where he takes on a fake Conan. Not that that creature on the cover is a fake Conan. It's the kind of creature a fake Conan would fight. The fake Conan isn't fighting it. That's how you know he's a fake Conan.

I assume we're also still being given Viking apes. Judging by that cover, they would appear to have turned blue. In fairness, it is a bit cold in Viking climes.

Marvel UK, Fury #9

It is a strange thing how Germans in war comics oscillate between English and German when they're speaking. If I ever go to Germany and that's not how real Germans speak, I shall be very disappointed in them.

Tuesday 9 May 2017

The Defenders' Netflix series trailer.

Marvel Comics, is there no stopping you?

Not satisfied with already having a million and one TV shows and movies based on our favourite heroes, this August, Marvel's set to unleash yet another small-screen spectacular on us.

And that's The Defenders.

Naturally, I'm delighted, as I can't wait to see Dr Strange, the Hulk, Valkyrie, Nighthawk and the Red Guardian team up to battle the likes of Nebulon, the football-faced woman and that gorilla with the human head.

Wait? What's that you say? It doesn't have any of those in it? Instead, it's just a bunch of characters who aren't interesting enough to be able to support their own movie franchises? Given this effrontery to my expectations, I must take a look at the trailer immediately.

I have to say that that really doesn't do anything for me. Obviously, it doesn't have the characters in it that I'd want it to have but The Defenders was always supposed to be a hotchpotch of whoever was available at the time, so I can forgive that and it makes sense to call it The Defenders, bearing in mind that one of its characters is a defence lawyer but, still, what's in the trailer feels somewhat uninspired, like someone decided to make a Guardians of the Galaxy TV show without the sense of fun, imagination or budget.

On the plus side, it's nice to see Sigourney Weaver still getting gainful employment  after all these years but, to my eyes, the show seems quite run-of-the-mill and made from a template.

But its greatest crime is that its existence suggests we'll never get a movie version of the strip, starring those characters we most strongly associate with it, which seems like a crime against reason.

Still, what do I know? The rest of the internet seems stoked by it and I'm the man who liked the Green Lantern movie, so my judgement should never be listened to.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. If you have any on the matter, you are of course free to express them in the comments section below.

Sunday 7 May 2017

Fifty years ago this month - May 1967.

Welcome to my Sunday. I can proudly boast that I've not been wasting it. As well as accidentally breaking my freezer door, I've just been watching Return of the Swamp Thing on the Horror Channel. It's the first time I've seen it in about thirty years. To be honest, it wasn't as good as I remembered and was an awful lot jokier but it was fun nonetheless and the monsters in it looked suitably monstrous.

But that's enough talk of thirty years ago. What of fifty years ago, and a bunch of characters who wouldn't be seen dead living in a swamp?

Avengers #40, Sub-Mariner

Is this the one where the Sub-Mariner has the Cosmic Cube and is too dim to make use of it?

Or am I thinking of another story?

Or does that story not exist and I've basically just imagined it?

Daredevil #28

Hooray! It's that one where Matt Murdock goes off to give a lecture on the legal repercussions of what would happen if aliens landed - and aliens promptly land!

And not only that but they're aliens with a plan to send everyone on the planet blind. Truly the power of coincidence is mighty in this tale.

I do have to say though that if your invasion can be thwarted by Daredevil showing up, then it probably isn't much of an invasion plan.

Fantastic Four #62, Blastaar

Hooray! Blastaar's still causing trouble!

While I'm a huge admirer of Blastaar and his works, I must admit I don't have a clue who the mystery figure on the left is. I know the Sandman's in this story but that certainly doesn't look like the Sandman to me.

I do like the way Reed Richards could never enter the Negative Zone without almost colliding with a planet. It's strange how Annihilus, Rick Jones and Captain Marvel never seemed to have that problem.
Amazing Spider-Man #48, the Vulture

Unless I'm mistaken, the Vulture might be back but it's not the Vulture we all know and love. It's Blackie Drago who's taken his place and demonstrates that it's remarkably easy to become a super-villain in Marvelworld.

Strange Tales #156, Dr Strange

I don't have a clue who Zom is.

I'm sure though that Doctor Strange will soon dispense with him.

Tales of Suspense #89, Iron Man vs the Melter

I've said it before but, bearing in mind that the Melter's beam couldn't hurt human flesh, I don't see why Tony Stark didn't just order all his security guards to descend on him, en masse and beat him up, rather than turning up on his own, dressed as Iron Man.

Tales to Astonish #91, Hulk vs Abomination

It's great news for all fans of talking reptilians, as the Abomination makes his senses-shattering debut.

When I was eight, "Abomination," was the fanciest word in my vocabulary, thanks to me having read his guest appearance in the Silver Surfer's mag. Because of this, the character will always have a special place in my heart.

Thor #140, the Growing Man

It's a Kangtastic tale for Thor, as the Growing Man shows up.

I can't remember what his plan was. I have a feeling he didn't have one and was just rampaging around for no good reason.

X-Men #32, the Juggernaut

Speaking of rampaging around, the Juggernaut's back and I don't have a clue what his plan is either. I suspect it's mostly to keep his hat on, as that'd be my main plan if I were him.

Thursday 4 May 2017

May 4th, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

It may seem impossible now but there was a time when the phrase, "May the 4th be with you," would have elicited nothing but blank looks from those around you.

And that time was this week of forty years ago - because we were still three weeks away from the release of the film that first gave us that fateful phrase.

When I say, "We," I obviously mean, "They/You," because, here in the land of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Grand Moff Tarkin's birth, the film didn't come out until December of that year.

What kind of madness was this?

Did the film get lost in Hyper-Space, halfway across the Atlantic, before it finally got here?

If UK sci-fi fans had to endure months of frustration before we could finally see the film, we at least had something else to fill our time. And that was the output of our favourite comics company.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #30, Lord Hawk

The UK's greatest ever hero is having trouble with a droid of his own, as Lord Hawk carries on causing chaos.

Apparently, the Fantastic Four tale in this issue is the one that sees the return of the monster that's clearly the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Mighty World of Marvel #240, Hulk and Planet of the Apes

We're about to get an answer to the question we've all asked so many times; "Who'd win a fight between Conan and the Hulk?"

Well, admittedly, none of us have ever asked that question because it's obvious who'd win.

But it's about to be answered anyway, as the green-skinned grappler gets to tangle with Kronan the Barbarian who bears no resemblance at all to the hearty Hyborian.

It looks like this issue is also giving us viking apes vs yetis with human heads. How often have we seen that scenario break out?

Super Spider-Man and the Titans #221, Nightcrawler

This is strange. I remember reading this one on my summer holiday - and yet it came out in early May. How is such a thing possible?

Anyway, this was only my second ever exposure to Nightcrawler and the New X-Men. Needless to say, I liked what I saw of them.

Marvel UK, Fury #8

I have no idea what happens in this one but I suspect that things are not going well for the Third Reich.