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 BĂȘlit 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 BĂȘlit 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?

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