Saturday, 28 February 2009

Terror On The Planet Of The Apes

Along with adapting the movies into comic form, Planet Of The Apes also ran some great original serial's, courtesy of the fevered mind of Doug Moench. Copyright not being as stringent back then as it is these days, Moench was pretty much left alone to tell whatever kind of stories he liked, regardless of whether it fit into the Apes universe or not. Here's one of my all-time faves, the first adventure for Angry Young Human Jason & his hip and groovy pal, McDowellian chimp Alexander. I obviously didn't realise as a kid, quite what a product of the '70's these two were, but, natch, that makes the strip even more fun these days. The gorgeous wash artwork is, obviously, by Marvellous Mike Ploog. Here's part one:

Friday, 27 February 2009

Jim Starlin's Mighty World Of Marvel

Not much luck tracing any of the late, great Marshall Rogers ' work for Marvel UK, but here's some covers by the equally legendary Jim Starlin, along with a couple of oddities. First off, here's my favourite, an obvious homage to the first appearance of Robin in Detective Comics 38:

Then there's a whole bunch of Hulk covers: I think it's Jim inked by Al Milgrom, but I'm willing to stand corrected if anyone knows different! The Spidey & F.F. heads seem to be Buscema copies by some anonymous Marvel UK staffer.

Now here's an odd one. No idea who did the Spidey figure, but don't the bad guys look familiar?
The one on the right looks kinda Romita-ish, whereas the left-hand one is almost Cockrum. But I don't think Cockrum was working professionally at this point. Or is it Milgrom again?

And this one is, again, an unidentified brit armadillo doing copies of a Ditko Spidey and, I guess, a Kirby Thor. Still, I defy any kid not to snap up this baby when they see it. And I always loved the idea of the hero reading his own comic up there in the left hand corner.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Deathlok The Demolisher

Marvel's other great sci-fi hero ( other than Killraven ) was Deathlok. Created by Rich Buckler, Deathlok was a great character stuck in a, at times, very irritating series. Set in the far-flung future of the year 1990, shortly after ( or possibly during ) some unspecified war, Deathlok was Luther Manning, a soldier blown to pieces in a bomb blast, and put back together in cyborg form by his unhinged commanding officer Ryker, who may, or may not, be in charge of the army, as well as what remains of New York. Like a lot of things in this series, it's never that easy to be sure.

As the cybernetic creature that Deathlok is consists of only 17% of what was left of Manning, he's technically a kind of futuristic zombie, his dead flesh encased in metal alloy, and sharing what remains of his brain with a particularly supercilious computer. He's a classic tortured tough guy, constantly snapping at the machine in his head he calls " 'puter", and fighting a one cyborg war to survive, and to get revenge on Ryker. At least some of the time he is.

What makes Deathlok such a frustrating series is that, having created such a great character, neither Buckler, nor co-writer Doug Moench, really seems to know what to do with him. For much of the time, he just sort of wanders around New York, having random fights with crowds of faceless bad guys who might, or might not, be working for Ryker.
Ryker himself spends a good deal of time ranting at computer screens, swearing to catch his cyborg charge, before, halfway through the series, simply changing his mind, and forgetting about the whole thing.

So much is never explained here. We're never really given any kind of detailed look at the world we're in, or why things happen the way they do. For instance, there seems to be some sort of revolution against Ryker, but we're never told why, who or where.

Then there's the structure itself: In the early issue's there are so many flashbacks, it's impossible to figure out what's happening. If I've got the chronology right: Deathlok breaks out of Ryker's compound, comes across his best buddy from his previous life, Mike Travers, and escapes with him. Travers is then recaptured ( though we're never told why Ryker wants him ), so Deathlok goes back to break him out. But before that we're told that Deathlok was hired by some racketeer to murder two random people who turn out to be the doctors who operated on Deathlok/Manning. But when that bit happened, or why a cyborg would need money in the first place is beyond me.

Then there's War Wolf. Having decided to rescue Mike, Deathlok makes it to the statue of liberty, where Ryker faces him off against this other cyborg who he says is Travers, then says it isn't. So our confused cybernetic pal pushes War Wolf off the top of the statue. But we're never told who the furry felon actually was. Was he a real wolf that Ryker experimented on? Your guess is as good as theirs.
And then, having found his arch enemy, our unmotivated Death-Machine decides to just... stroll off for another couple of issues.

I kinda knew Moench & Buckler were really making it up as they were going along, when I realised they'd stopped using the third voice in Manning's head, a kind of emo/goth spouting stream of consciousness gibberish even Don McGregor would find hard to follow.
In the letters pages, Moench admits as much, saying they got rid of it as it " confused the readers".

Towards the end of the run, Bill Mantlo was brought in to try'n make sense of it all, and he does his best, but you don't really buy any of it. At this point, Deathlok is trying to track down a courier who was carrying counterfeit money to ( or possibly for ) the head doctor who operated on him. Eventually finding him, he turns out not to be the doctor, but instead Ryker's hitherto unmentioned brother Hellinger, another cyborg who's trying to take over the world. ( Oh, didn't I mention? Ryker's a cyborg too. Pretty much everybody in this strip is. ) Hellinger, by the way, has, for no apparent reason, a clone of Luther Manning standing around the place.

Apparently, Hellinger wants to deliver the money to the revolution, so Deathlok volunteers. Except it's not money, it's a bomb. And it isn't the revolution ( or maybe it is ), it's the C.I.A, who also haven't even been alluded to before this point. The C.I.A also have a clone of Manning, again for no real reason. Oh yeah, and the real doctor who operated on Deathlok finally shows up. In yet another Luther Manning clone.
Ryker meanwhile, concerned that the reader's forgotten him with all this going on, has plugged himself into the mainframe, and is now a 'God-Machine'. Deathlok goes into this virtual reality, and in a pretty cool scene, the enemies discuss american military policy before the special effects laden finale. In a disappointing ending, it's all over in a couple of panels.

Deathlok wakes up in Ryker's body, while Ryker wakes up in Deathlok's, so that he can see the true horror of becoming a machine ( even though he already was, being a cyborg ). Then they swap back. Then the CIA put Deathlok's consciousness into the Luther Manning clone. Manning is alive again. Then Deathlok wakes up again and he's still alive too. Then my head exploded.

I know it seems that I don't like Deathlok, but I really do. It's just such a damn frustrating series. As I said, the character is superb & the fight scenes exciting and shockingly violent for the times. I always liked how Deathlok actually exulted in the violence he created, and the verbal sparring with 'puter makes for riveting dialogue. There are individual scenes that really work too, like when Deathlok goes back to see his wife & child, an inter-racial marriage that, tellingly, isn't made a big deal of:

Or the fight in the subway with the cannibals, obviously lifted from the Yul Brynner post-apocalypse flick The Ultimate Warrior, then doing the rounds, or even the scene where Deathlok tears up and treads on the american flag. There's clearly a political edge to Deathlok, if only the rest of the story was as lucid.

Buckler, although he's the king of the swipes ( ripping off Buscema every few pages ), does turn in some mostly good work, and, when he's inked by Klaus Janson, you could almost pretend you're looking at Neal Adams.

But, every time I read this series, I give up about halfway through trying to understand it, and just enjoy the character & the action.
After getting rid of Ryker, the series lasted two more issues, with Buckler introducing Devil Slayer, his character from Atlas comics, but it was all over bar the post mortem. Deathlok keeps coming back, 'cos like most characters from The Bronze Age, he really works. Regardless of the story he's in, there's just something ridiculously cool about him. It's like what Cary Grant said: If you find yourself in a bad movie, the least you can do is look good.
Deathlok. The Cary Grant of comics.

Where Do I Sign?

Ok, I've got this all figured out: All I need is the tuition fee......And a Time Machine.

Archie, Al & Star Wars

So while flipping through my Savage Sword's, I came across this little gem, and thought I'd share it. From 1981, here's an interview with Archie Goodwin & Al Williamson on their then current work on the Star Wars strip. Check out the ludicrously posed photo on page 3...

" That's great, Al, but maybe you could make Leia a little more...
zoftig? " " Who's the artist here, Archie? By the way, nice jumper. "

Monday, 23 February 2009


And all these years I thought I'd imagined the whole thing.
Back when Planet Of The Apes was the biggest thing ever ( ie. For most of the early '70's ), Marvel, of course, published their own adaptation's, mostly written by Doug Moench. Equally naturally, Marvel UK reprinted that stuff in a weekly format, along with backups like Gullivar Jones. Well, for years, I've had this memory in the back of my mind that Planet Of The Apes Weekly also ran a great serial called Apeslayer. It was all about an escaped slave who, with a band of like minded warriors, fought against the domination of Earth by the apes. It was a great strip, and I vaguely recalled that it might've been drawn by Herb Trimpe.

A year or so back, I bought the Essential Killraven, and really enjoyed it, especially as I'd only ever really seen the McGregor / Russell stories, and was keen to see the beginnings of the strip.
Except the early issues started to look familiar. Really really familiar.
This can't be right. This looks like what little I remember of Apeslayer. But it's Killraven, clearly it's Killraven. What the @*&! is goin' on? Am I in a Bob Haney story?

Well, thanks to the excellent Hunter's Planet Of The Apes Archive site, the truth can now be told. ( Hope he doesn't mind me liberating these scans for the cause ) 'Cos it turns out, that somebody at Marvel UK decided to extensively redraw the Killraven strip, and call it Apeslayer. Why? God knows, but here's the evidence:

And it's not just the covers that were changed, it's the hairstyles too:

And the names:

The apes now came from Mars, ( I guess it was too complicated to change all those tripods ), and every human bad guy was now an ape, but what I don't get is why change Killraven's hair, of all things?
For that matter, why change the strip at all? Why not just run it as is? What did they think? we were gonna go: " Killraven? Oh yeah, it's a great strip, but the comics' called Planet Of The Apes, and there's no apes in it, so I'm gonna stop buying it. "
I can only assume that Marvel UK had run out of reprints from the USA Apes magazine, and had to wait to play catch-up, so in the interim, had to run something.
By Issue 30 ( the end of The Warlord story ), Apeslayer was outta there, to be replaced by a new Doug Moench / Rico Rival serial, so I guess they caught up in the end.

Still, I'm glad I now know I didn't imagine it. It's like when someone swears blind that Captain Pugwash's crew included in it's ranks Master Bates, Seaman Staines & Roger The Cabin Boy. That can't be true. Can it?

The Savage Sword Of Conan

The british version of The Savage Sword of Conan was one of the few things from Marvel UK I regularly bought. ( Other than Hulk Comic, natch! ) When Marvel first started it's british reprint line with The Mighty World Of Marvel and Spider-Man Comics Weekly, we were pathetically grateful. Distribution in the late '60's /early '70's was so spotty, literally all there was were the occasional Superman or Batman comics.

But by the mid '70's, Marvel had sorted all that out, and you could get just about anything they published, and nearly every month! ( I still remember the double-sized Claremont/Byrne X-Men where Phoenix died, which no shop in our town bothered to stock. We'd only been waiting a year to read that denouement! ) Sure, we still bought the british Marvel, sometimes, but they weren't the real thing. Firstly, they were in black & white, and worse, to fit three serials in each issue, they split every story in half! Which usually meant you'd get some clumsily scrawled splash page inserted in next week's issue. ( Apparently, people like Jim Starlin & Marshall Rogers did some of them. Musta missed those ones. )
By this point Dez Skinn was in charge at Marvel UK, and trying to at least vaguely improve things. With that particular back-handed sense only comic fans have, we, of course, hated everything he did. And then still bought it.

The UK version of Savage Sword came out in '77. and we hated it. And then bought it. On the plus side, it was monthly, with more pages on slightly better paper, so we could at least pretend it was a real Marvel comic. And of course, it was Conan. The Conan from the US Savage Sword, with all those fantastic Buscema / Alcala tales, nudity & gore still intact. In our town, you might get a copy of Marvel Preview once in a while, but that was about it for the US Marvel black & white's. On the minus, the stories were still cut in half, usually at a point where there was no kind of cliffhanger at all. Each issue featured half a Conan story, half a Red Sonja ( taken from her colour book & scanned in b/w ), and either a Solomon Kane or a Kull.
And then there was the covers:

I mean, it's actually quite a good design, but, knowing how antsy Neal Adams is about his work being cut up and spoilt, I can't see him giving it the seal of approval. And, at the time, it annoyed the hell out of me, especially when you ( occasionally ) saw how good the american version looked. Still, in England, if you wanted to read Conan, this was pretty much the only way you were gonna do it. And you can't knock the material. SSOC always had great frontispieces and portfolio's too. Here's a few examples: