Thursday, 27 April 2017

April 27th, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

It's not been a cheering week for lovers of British comics, with the news that artist Leo Baxendale has died, aged 86.

Baxendale was the industry colossus who created the Beano characters Little Plum, Minnie the Minx, the Bash Street Kids and The Three Bears before going on to create Clever Dick, Sweeny Toddler and Willy the Kid for other publications, not to mention I Love You Baby Basil! for The Guardian.

Baxendale must surely be the most celebrated British comics creator of them all, his style being the one you instantly imagine when you think of British comics and there's no doubt that, with his death, the art form has lost one of its greats.

But that's the present. What was happening way back, in another, very different, branch of the UK comics industry, exactly forty years ago?

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #29, Lord Hawk

Lord Hawk is causing trouble with his robotic raptor.

I don't recall much about Lord Hawk, other than that I didn't like him. For some reason, even though the whole mag was in black and white, he seemed greyer than everything else in it.

I believe the back-up strips are still giving us the same stories as they were last issue. Upon occasions, time really does seem to crawl with this comic.

Super Spider-Man and the Titans #220

I don't care what anyone says. I always liked the Spider-Mobile. I'd definitely have one if I was a super-hero.

Given his fugitive status, I wonder where Spidey used to buy petrol for it?

Come to think of it, I assume he was driving it illegally. It didn't seem to have a number plate. I would suspect he also didn't have the American equivalent of an MOT, insurance or a tax disc. I bet he didn't even have a log book. The man was clearly not fit to be let loose on the roads.

Mighty World of Marvel #239, Hulk and Planet of the Apes

Is this the one where the Hulk comes up against that Conan-style barbarian whose name I can't remember? The one with the big axe, who keeps declaring himself to be invincible?

Speaking of not being able to remember, I have no recall at all of viking apes. When this post is done, I shall have to investigate the matter further, via the internet.

Marvel UK, Fury #7

I wonder what the combat radios were like?

Not that I care. If it's called a combat radio, I want it. Given my two-fisted lifestyle, I never know when I might need one.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The most forgettable comics I have ever owned - Part 17: House of Hammer #7.

The House of Hammer #7, Twins of Evil, Peter Cushing, Burn witch burn My childhood Fridays were dominated by two things; Googie Withers and Appointment With Fear.

Googie Withers, because she starred in Within These Walls, a TV show I have no memory of, other than that it starred Googie Withers.

Appointment With Fear dominated my Fridays because that TV feature dragged late Friday evenings down into a pit of terror from which no human mind could ever hope to escape.

Admittedly, even though I was of tender years and an habitual coward, Appointment With Fear never actually managed to scare me in the slightest. In truth, its introductory sequence of monsters' faces morphing into each other, one after the other, seemed more menacing than the movies ever did but it did introduce me to what seemed like an endless parade of Hammer horror films that all seemed to have exactly the same cast.

But ITV wasn't my only source of mallet based mayhem in the 1970s.

There was another.

And that was The House of Hammer, a magazine launched by future Marvel UK editor Dez Skinn, featuring comic strip adaptations of classic Hammer movies, and prose and photo features on the work of the company.

Admittedly, it wasn't much of a source for me, because I only ever had one issue and that was the one above, which published an adaptation of that cheeky tale of Karnstein based vampirism The Twins of Evil. Who could forget Peter Cushing's turn as a puritanical nutjob trying to rid his village of wanton and lascivious women, only to find that one of his own nieces is no better than she should be and likes to drink people's blood while she's at it? Why, I doubt that anyone with his wits about him could forget that film.

However, up until recently, I'd totally forgotten I once owned the magazine that adapted it. Happily, the internet is a wonderful place and the moment I accidentally stumbled across the cover on it, I realised at once that it had formerly been in my possession.

As always with this feature, despite the title of this post, The House of Hammer #7 wasn't at all forgettable. Now that my memory's been prodded by the cover image, I recall its take on the Twins of Evil quite clearly. I also recall that the issue contained an article about a movie I've only ever seen once, one which featured human sacrifice and possibly Donald Pleasance. What was the title of that movie? I have no idea. I know it wasn't Curse of the Crimson Altar but could say nothing beyond that.

The issue may also have featured a last-page photo of Yutte Stensgaard with fangs, and blood all over her. This image was clearly taken from Lust For A Vampire. However, I couldn't swear on my life that that image was indeed present, as it might actually have been in the one issue of Skywald's Nightmare that I ever owned.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

April 20th, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

As mentioned previously on this very site, in this week of 1977, the World Snooker Championship moved to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, creating something of a television, social and sporting phenomenon. Who could forget Hurricane Higgins, Whirlwind White, Steve (Interesting) Davis, Steady Eddie Charlton, Boozy Bill Werbeniuk, Cyclone Sanders, Tornado Thompson, Breezy Bob Blenkinsop, Dust Devil Darren, Gusty Gordon, Pyroclastic Density Current Palmer, Gentle Zephyr Jensen, Mid-Atlantic Depression Morgan, El Nino Ellinson and all those other people whose names I can't be bothered to make up?

I don't have a lot more to say than that on the subject, as I've already pretty much shot my bolt on the matter in the earlier comments sections. All I'll say is, "Happy fortieth birthday, Crucible World Snooker Championships and long may your cue stay chalked."

The other big event that week was the BBC's Sky at Night celebrated its 20th birthday. Who would have thought it'd still be going all these years later? The Radio Times summary for the event was as follows:

 In April 1957, The Sky at Night began. It could not have started at a better time. Within months the Space Age opened, with the launch of Sputnik 1 and, over the next few years, astronomy saw some of the most spectacular advances of all time. Today, 20 years later, men have visited the moon. Rockets have flown past the planets and even landed on some of them.

Reading that really does bring home the astonishingly accelerated nature of the Space Race - the fact that just twelve years separate the first man-made object to enter orbit, and men walking on the moon. Also that, just twenty years after Sputnik, moon landings were already a thing of the past.

"Gadzooks!" I hear you cry. "That's incredible but is there anything in existence that could possibly tie snooker, astronomy and Marvel Comics together in a way that brilliantly allows you to lead into a look at what Marvel UK was up to in the week that bears today's cover date?

No there isn't.

Therefore I'm not going to bother looking at them this week.

Oh, alright then, I am.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #28

It looks like Captain Britain's decided to tackle common street thugs - the kind who go out armed with a gun and a stick.

However, I do believe the dastardly Lord Hawk and his robot bird are already starting to rear their ugly head inside the comic.

I also believe the FF are busy fighting Galactus, and Nick Fury is still up against that Hellhound.

I think Spider-Man and the Torch are also teaming up to fight someone but don't ask me who.

Marvel UK, Fury #6

Fury is still doing everything it can to keep its titular hero off the front cover. It's almost like they thought he'd put people off buying the comic.

Mighty World of Marvel #238, Hulk, Planet of the Apes

I think the Hulk is still inside Glenn Talbot's brain.

I don't have a clue what's going on in the ape tale but it would appear there's a serious level of mutant-bashing going on.

It seems rather hard on mutants. Have they ever tried to just sit down and negotiate with them?

Super Spider-Man and the Titans #219
For a moment there, I did think the phrase,"Spidey Strikes!" was contained in a speech balloon emanating from our hero. I did like the idea that Spider-Man would shout, "Spidey strikes!" as he kicks people. It's the sort of thing I'd do if I had spider powers.

As for the comic, I believe this is the start of the tale that sees the webbed wallcrawler battling his own car, at the behest of the Tinkerer.

While I was glad to see the return of the villain after all those years, I wasn't glad they'd retconned him to claim he wasn't really an alien and had only been pretending to be one in his previous appearance.

I don't like it when aliens turn out to not be aliens. It makes the world seem that little bit more mundane.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Quatermass and the Pit meets Guardians of the Galaxy.

Hooray! It's time for a new regular feature on the UK's three hundred and ninety one millionth best blog. One where I give a quick round-up of whatever genre-related films I've been watching lately.

Obviously, when I say, "Regular," none of us should hold our breaths waiting for the next instalment because, once I've done this post, apathy'll probably seize me and the feature will no doubt never be heard of again.

Quatermass and the Pit, Martian, Hammer Studios
Anyway, inspired by conversation on Back in the Bronze Age, I've been rewatching the classic 1958 BBC serial Quatermass and the Pit - that dread reminder of why messing about with shovels can only ever lead to horror. By eerie coincidence, the night after I watched the final episode, the Horror Channel then showed the 1967 Hammer movie remake, giving me a chance to make a direct comparison in a way I'd never done before.

It's always been the thing amongst the wise and informed to say the TV version's massively superior to the film version but, as someone who saw the movie first, I've always had strong resistance to such a notion and see both incarnations as equal but different. Being a serial, the TV show has time to explore its characters, ideas and setting in more depth, especially with its backdrop of Notting Hill style race riots, references to which, I think, are totally absent from the movie. But the film gains by being quicker and more sharply focused, cutting out all of the padding that was logistically necessary in the TV show.

Quatermass and the Pit, Andre Morell
When it comes to casting, it's also a draw. André Morell and Andrew Keir are chalk and cheese, Morell all sophisticated charm, and Keir, a ball of kindly irascibility. You could imagine Keir's hero decking someone with a well-placed right hook. Something you could never imagine Morell doing. Despite the differences between them, both are excellent in the part and, despite delivering exactly the same dialogue in totally different ways, both somehow manage to be perfectly cast.

Likewise Cec Linder and James Donald are both excellent as maverick archaeologist Matthew Roney. The movie's Donald does seem more like an intellectual, while TV's showmanlike Linder feels more like an outsider, a status that becomes crucial as the tale reaches its climax. It also has to be said that Linder really does look like he's stepped straight out of a panel drawn by Steve Ditko.

As Barbara, Roney's assistant, Barbara Shelley is more glamorous and self-possessed than Christine Finn but Finn has a somewhat strange quality to her and she's allowed to develop a friendship with the army captain that's totally missing from the film.

For me, where the film definitely scores over the TV version in terms of casting is that of Colonel Breen. Julian Glover's Breen starts out with some degree of charm, wit and even manners before degenerating into a deranged blockhead, whereas Anthony Bushell's Breen is a deranged blockhead from the very start, making you wonder how he ever got into any kind of position of authority.

Having said that, the TV show possibly gives hints that his behaviour is because (having a militaristic mindset?) he's being influenced by the machine before everyone else, whereas the movie doesn't hint at that, making Breen's refusal to recognise the mountain of evidence piling up in front of him somewhat baffling.

Quatermass and the Pit, the Ship, BBC serial
When it comes to production values, amazingly, the TV version beats the movie. The creatures are far better constructed in the TV version (although the movie ones are creepier) and the purging of the Martian hives is staged far more impressively. It does seem odd that a 1950s BBC serial should be able to rustle up better effects than a big screen movie from a decade later but I suppose that's just a reminder of how low-budget Hammer films really were and just how much they managed to hide that sin by hiring excellent casts to make them seem classier than they were.

So, in the end, I still declare it to be a draw, with both versions being classics in their own right.

One thing that does strike me as being astonishing about the TV version is that it was broadcast live, with filmed inserts for the trickier scenes. The idea that anyone would broadcast a science fiction show live seems like madness but they pull it off beautifully, with only the odd glitch to remind you that there were no retakes possible.

One last thing that strikes me is that the TV version of the craft looks remarkably like a dalek that's got drunk and fallen over on its way home from the pub. I had assumed it must be because dalek designer Raymond Cusick was involved but it turns out he didn't join the BBC until a couple of years later. Could he have been influenced by the design when he first drew his deadly mutants or was it pure coincidence?

Guardians of the Galaxy Poster
If last night was a chance for me to revisit an old friend in Bernard Quatermass, it was also a chance to visit some new ones in the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Obviously, the Guardians of the Galaxy aren't really new friends. They're not friends at all. I've never met them and they've never met me and they'd probably mug me if they did meet me but I have at least encountered them before.

However, that was in the pages of a comic, and last night's bank holiday scheduling did give me a chance to see their movie for the first time.

Obviously, I was looking forward to it because I'm that kind of a man but did I enjoy it?

I enjoyed it when there was personal interaction going on. The characters were well-defined and sympathetic, somehow managing to come across as plucky underdogs despite having enough power between them to flatten an army.

I didn't enjoy it anything like as much when there was actual action going on. Not being a fan of space battles, especially CGI ones, I must admit the film lost my attention whenever the lasers started firing.

My other complaint would be that Ronan was a totally undeveloped villain. From what I can remember, we found out nothing about him other than that he wanted to destroy a planet for no reason that I could remember. Also, Thanos and Karen Gillan's Nebula were frustratingly underused. So far, all I've seen Thanos do in Marvel films is sit in a chair. I do hope he manages to escape his chair in future films or the series' climax is going to be a bit dull.

Anyway, I give it seven out of ten. It wasn't a film that blew me away but I'd have no objection to watching it again.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

2000 AD - March 1979.

Hooray! It's Easter Sunday! And that can only mean one thing!

That I'm looking at what the galaxy's greatest comic was up to exactly thirty eight years and one month ago.

I use exactly the same method to work out when to do it that they use to work out when Easter is. It's all highly scientific and I'll probably win a Nobel Prize for it.

It also means I have to wish everyone who visits this blog a happy Easter in between bouts of complaining that there's nothing on TV.

In fairness, there was something on the TV yesterday and there will be tomorrow because Dr Who returned last night and Guardians of the Galaxy is on BBC One tomorrow night.

I enjoyed the Dr Who return, although it was noticeably lacking in tension. It did at least tell a story in a straight line and Pearl Mackie did her job well. After severely disliking the last two Christmas specials and feeling heavily jaded during the last season of the show, it was nice to finally see a Dr Who story I enjoyed again.

I can't comment on the Guardians of the Galaxy just yet, not having so far seen it, so tomorrow will be my chance to find out at last what the fuss is about.

As for the all-important matter of 2000 AD, as always, I have no idea what was happening with it, as my memory's totally failed me. I do know the Judge Cal storyline was still ongoing, which means it may be even longer than the Captain Britain/Red Skull shindig. Having said that, I don't recall it outstaying its welcome and I remember finding it entertaining from start to finish, especially when Cal made his goldfish into a judge.

Admittedly, that might be because I'd seen I Claudius and therefore knew what it was they were sending up. If I'd not seen it, possibly the whole point of it would have bypassed me. Thank God I was allowed to watch TV shows that were inappropriate for children.

Apparently we've reached a point in the saga where Walter the Wobot becomes vital in the fight against evil. This gives me pleasure, as Walter the Wobot is a living legend and an example to us all.

Anyway, Happy Easter and these are the covers to the issues in question. Even if they lack the vital info needed by bloggers, they do at least demonstrate that you should never get in the way of an angry baby.

2000 AD, Prog 102, Robo-Hunter

2000 AD, Prog 103

2000 AD, Prog 104, Strontium Dog

2000 AD, Prog 105, Judge Dredd

2000 AD, Prog 106, Robo-Hunter

Thursday, 13 April 2017

April 13th, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

My awesome research tells me that, in this week of 1977, nothing at all interesting happened in the whole wide world.

How so very different from the following week, in which the most head-explodingly exciting thing in the history of humanity occurred.

I think you can guess what it is.

But we shall have to wait seven days before I tackle that subject.

In the meantime, there may not have been anything happening in the real world but at least we had thrills and spills in the world of black and white to make up for it.

Hold on? Black and white? Could that be a clue as to just what was going to happen in the following week?

Perhaps it could.

But what could it be?




Marvel UK, Captain Britain #27, the Red Skull

I have a feeling this may be the very last instalment of the Red Skull/Captain America/Jim Callaghan/Jimmy Carter tag team challenge that's lasted longer than World War Two itself.

No doubt, it can only lead to a brand new direction in the life of our hero. One that, if the cover can be believed, involves pulling swords from stones.

Super Spider-Man and the Titans #218, Doctor Octopus and Aunt May

The  Red Skull's battle with democracy may be over but Aunt May's battle to marry a boy her parents wouldn't have approved of goes on and on.

I've just realised that the Marvel UK mags have had a recent price increase and the glossies are now all ten pence, instead of the previous nine. When will this inflationary madness end?

Mighty World of Marvel #217, Hulk, Planet of the Apes

The Pet Shop Boys might have said, "You were always on my mind," but it's beginning to look like the Hulk is permanently in Glenn Talbot's brain, as his unique brand of two-fisted psychiatry continues.

No doubt it was this that  Neil Tennant was contemplating when he decided to cover that very song.

Is the Apes story a Jason and Alexander one? Or are we again on that Tom Sutton drawn ship, with the crossbows and the derring-doings?

Marvel UK, Fury #5

I have no idea what happens in this one but I suspect it'll be full of people declaring things like, "Gott im Himmel!", "Schweinhund!", "Donner und Blitzen!" and, "Achtung!"

With a vocabulary that limited, it's no wonder the Nazis lost the war. It's very difficult to relay complex strategy when you only have eight words in your lexicon.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Thor: Ragnarok, New Teaser Trailer (SPOILERS!).

By Niffleheim's nifty nipples, it's time for me to stumble into a Nordic cave, bash a gnarled stick against a wall and unleash my mystical blogging powers - because Marvel Entertainment have unleashed the teaser trailer for their upcoming epic, Thor Ragnarok.

I must confess I have mixed feelings about the Thor films we've been given so far. I greatly enjoyed the first one, which I found to be far lighter on its feet than I'd expected but the second one mostly left me confused and bored. I still don't have a clue who the bad guys were, where they came from, what their plan was or how they got to wherever it was that they'd got to. For that matter, I didn't even know where they were.

Still, I enjoyed Iron Man 3 more than Iron Man 2, so perhaps the same pattern will occur with the thunder god's movie career?

As for the trailer itself, I'm not overly excited about his clash with the Hulk. We've already had that in The Avengers and I was kind of taking it for granted we'd see another punch-up from them at some point.

Call me a grizzled old fashionista but I must confess that what really excites me about the trailer is that Hela gets to wear her big fancy hat.

I know that finding such a detail the most thrilling thing in a trailer that's packed with incident and Led Zeppelin makes me the saddest man alive but, I mean, come on, as fancy hats go, that's the fanciest - and it'd make a great place to hang your washing from when you need to get it dry in a hurry. If I were a death deity - which I still hold out high hopes of one day becoming - I would definitely wear a hat like that.

Is it my imagination or is Chris Hemsworth sounding more Australian with each film he does? At this rate, by the next Avengers movie, he'll be talking like Steve Irwin and riding into battle on the back of a kangaroo.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter. If you have opinions on the whole thing, you are, of course, free to share them in the comments box below.

If you don't have opinions on the whole thing, you're free to share that too. That's the kind of blog this is. One that stirs up apathy at every opportunity.
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