Thursday, 1 December 2016

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

On the first of December, 1976, two events occurred that rocked Britain to its very foundations.

The first was that the Sex Pistols (and Siouxsie Sioux) achieved TV immortality when they said naughty words on Bill Grundy's early evening TV show.

The other was that Kevin Keegan fell off his bike in Superstars.

Talking-Head nostalgia shows would have us believe that the former of those events had the greatest impact on the British public at the time but my memory is that, the next day, everyone was talking about the Keegan incident and no one at all was talking about the Sex Pistols one.

This is hardly surprising, as one was transmitted at peak viewing time on national TV and the other was only on local television and therefore couldn't have been seen by around ninety percent of the people who claim to have watched it at the time. Presumably they're also the five million people who were at the Sex Pistols' first gig despite it having been in a venue that only held one man and his dog.

Either way, with such trauma in the air, we clearly had no choice but to seek respite in the world of super-heroes.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #8, Hovercraft driving up the wall of a building in Regent Street, London

What's this?

Hovercraft can drive up walls?

Now that I know this, it makes me wonder why they've never caught on with the public. I'm going out to get one, right now. Come to think of it, I have a hover mower. I'm going to see if I can use it to mow my ceiling.

Marvel UK, Planet of the Apes #111, Battle for the Planet of the Apes

They're still battling for The Planet of the Apes.

It looks like someone's going to have to tell that chimp that at least one human's already reached the guns and he seems to have nabbed virtually all of them already. Those sneaky humans.

Super-Spider-Man and the Titans #199, the Vulture kicks Spider-Man in mid-air, above New York

It's an epoch-making moment in human history, as Super-Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes merges with The Titans to give us what promises to be the greatest comic in the Universe.

I believe this is the issue in which Peter Parker sets out to discover if he's a clone or not.

Fortunately for us all, he soon realises he's not, and that's the end of the matter and it's never mentioned again.

Mighty World of Marvel #218, the Hulk vs the Toad Men

The Hulk's still sorting out the Toad-Men.

I have no memory of Diamondback at all, though the name rings a bell.

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?

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