Thursday, 31 December 2009

Mighty Marvel Calenders

What better way to get ready for the new year than with a look at some of these beauties.
Yet more proof, were any needed, of what an absolute doofus I was as a kid. It simply never occurred to me that all those great things I saw advertised in Marvel's ad pages could be mine. I used to see things like these fantastic calendars and wish I could get 'em, but you had to have american money! Where could I get that?
Anyway, these things are, of course, treasure troves of exclusive art, like this strange composite of The Avengers here. is it a re-drawing of some classic Buscema poses, or is it the real thing?

Or this Bee-ootifull Romita original. So weird to see Luke Cage, and especially Conan, grinning like loons alongside everybody else.

October is Halloween, so by law, every pic for that month had to feature the Marvel monsters. Here's Marvellous Mike Ploog's superb Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, Man-Thing & Werewolf By Night.

I'm always fascinated by the bizarre choices Marvel used to make of which characters to show off on their promo stuff. Doc Doom and The Vision is a little odd, isn't it?

Here's Jazzy John's masterful cover to the '76 calendar. I think the only other Bicentennial thing Marvel did that year was Kirby's Captain America's Bicentennial Battles, which is odd. Beautiful cover though, as I say.

But here's more nationalistic flag-bearing with George Washington crossing the Delaware alongside The Avengers. I'm not suggesting Hawkeye isn't as true-blue as, say, Cap, but I just don't see him volunteering for this little trek. He'd be spending the Bicentennial in some bar somewhere, wouldn't he?

Another Halloween fest here, this time from Frank Brunner, with Drac, Manny & Wolfie re-enacting The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, years before Tim Burton.

And here again, is another strange grouping. Apart from the fact a few of these guys became Defenders, what on earth do they have in common? Not to mention Shang-Chi possibly wanting to celebrate the chinese new year, if anyone bothered to ask his opinion. And I still, nearly every day, have to pinch myself to believe that Marvel ever got away with a character called The Son Of Satan.

On to '77 though, with this wonderful cover that looks like Kirby inked by Romita. Though I'm willing to be corrected on that, there's no way, f' instance, Jack drew that Spidey.

Here's a rejig from that year of Doc's first story, originally by Ditko of course, this version, equally obviously comes from Gene The Dean.

And talking of The Defenders ( as we sort of were ), here's Our Pal Sal's reinterpretation of their first adventure. As much as I love Gerber's Defenders ( which is to say, a whole hell of a lot ), I also can't get enough of these early Thomas / Englehart issues. It was just about the only time I ever really liked Subby, and the idea of a group who genuinely don't get on was irresistible.

More Colan here, with a brilliant scene encapsulating everything that was great about his & Marv Wolfman's Tomb Of Dracula.

And finally, from the 1981 Spidey calendar, heres' John Byrne's illo of all of the webbed wonder's Team-Up buddies. I'd say name 'em all, but that'd be too easy.

Tomorrow: The DC calendars. (Which I also never realised I could buy!)

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Howard The Duck In: The Sleigh-Jacking

Wondering what Howard & Bev are up to this holiday season? Well, let's head on over to a snow covered Cleveland and find out. This section of the Howard The Duck newspaper strip appeared in 1977, and although it's not quite as sharp as some of the earlier stories ( like the one where Bev inherits a massage parlour owned by pensioners ), it's still prime Gerber and prime Mayerik. Plus it's always nice to see these characters again. Oh, and there's an elf with a gun.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Bucky's Christmas Caper

Been waiting to post this all year. Bucky's Christmas Caper hails from 1967, when it ran in syndicated daily newspapers for three weeks leading up to that yuletide. It belongs to Wally Wood's 'little people' humour style, similar to Goody Bumpkin or Pipsqeak Papers, and is truly wonderful. The lead character, Bucky Ruckus, is of course Woody in disguise, and his name comes from a tiny farming town in Ohio called Bucyrus, which Wally and then wife Tatjana once drove through while on holiday. Woody thought the name hysterically funny, and swore to use it as a character one day. As somebody once said, it's a shame Wally Wood never had kids, as this is the perfect bedtime story for Christmas Eve. I was gonna save it for nearer Xmas but what the hell, here it is today. Happy Crimbo everybody and enjoy.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag

As all right thinking people know, by far the best way to get your comic fix at Xmas is in the form of a Giant Treasury Edition, and Marvel did three of the best ones with these beauties. Yeah, these are really just big reprints, but man were they cool. The first Deluxe Edition Of Marvel's Mightiest Heroes comes with a bit of an odd cover. You expect The Hulk to be growling all year round, but you'd think Benjamin J. Grimm could muster up a seasonal smile. Not to mention Cap. Cheer up, fella's, it's Xmas!

Pretty sure I had every one of these babies ( or maybe Sean did and I just read his copies a lot ) so 'scuse if I get anything wrong here. Relying on 30 year old memories ( and The Grand Comic Book Database! ) is always more fun anyways.
The Grab-Bags, on reflection, are more than a little odd, certainly in the choice of stories they re-introduced. They seem like a weird mix of undisputed greatness and...hey, what's that doing here? Cutting between tales of Marvel's superstars while making room for the minor leaguers, they certainly did what it said on the tin. The first one, for instance, released for Crimbo '74, plays it safe with the big names, like Spidey & The Torch taking on The Sandman in one of those early Team-Ups that all blur into one in my memory. Though this tale does have the unusual twist of our heroes going easy on Sandy as he just wants to deliver a present to his ailing mum. Makes you feel all warm inside, don't it?

Then there's one of Wally Wood's many finest hours, and apparently Stan Lee's favourite Marvel comic of all time: Daredevil 7, where DD takes on Subby, and gets his ass handed to him on a plate for his trouble. One of the true greats of the early Marvel's, this issue sold me on Hornhead for life as, no matter how many times Namor kicks him to the ground, the hopelessly outclassed DD keeps getting back up for more.

But hang on, what's the Black Widow doing in here? Don't get me wrong, if Natasha Romanoff was real, I'd marry her, but a major leaguer? Not a chance. Still, Gene Colan's drawing it, so what the hey.

And finally, there's this two-parter, where both the F.F. and The Avengers take on Ol' Greenskin. Obviously, we needed a huge great superhero fight in the inaugural Grab-Bag, but I never thought much of this story, especially with George Bell's ham-fisted looking inking job over The King's pencils. Surely there were better slug-fests to pick from, even at this early stage.

The next Xmas treat came in '76, and came with easily the funniest cover of the three books. Of course you'd get Spidey to come to your xmas party, and at a pinch, Doc Strange might show up to do a magic show. And sure, I guess if you were nice to The Hulk and explained it to him really slowly, he might agree to dress up like Santa ( remember Bambi the deer in The Defenders? Hulkie can be calm sometimes ), but a righteous dude like Luke Cage? At some W.A.S.P kids house on Xmas day? When there's poor kid's in the ghetto who ain't got nothin'?! Sweet Sister! No way, baby! And Nick Fury? In his bondage outfit smoking a huge fuck off cigar? What parent in their right mind is gonna let that guy over the doorstep?

Even funnier though is the back cover, as Santa ( or is it Stan? ) sends our heroes out on their Christmas mission to spread good cheer to the world's Marvelites. I love these covers more than life itself, they just epitomise everything that was great about Marvel when we were kids.

Things start weirdly with this issue of Fury's own book, drawn by an artist I still, after all these years, can't be doing with: Frank Springer. I don't remember this story at all, but a quick trip to the GCBD reveals that our Nicholas narrowly avoids an attempt by The Hate-Monger to spread germ warfare across the globe. Fury apparently does this with the off-camera help of one S. Claus. I think we should move on rapidly.

Next up is an equally bizarre Luke Cage where our Lucas gets to utter Christmas! actually at Christmas! coming up against an even more looney tune villain than most who runs some kind of ghost of christmas past, present & future schtick past our bemused hero. Always liked that scene tho' where Cage admits to having to sell papers on Christmas Eve as a kid to: Make Christmas Day that much shinier. That's what was great about Cage, you never forgot how poor he actually was.

Then there's a real early Spidey, reprinted itself from a reprint, Marvel Tales 19, and not the issue of his own book it originally came from. But hey, it's Ditko, maybe it's best not to ask too many questions.

The random placing of the big stars of the line continues with this Hulk story. Interestingly, in both these tales ( according to the GCBD ) each hero spends most of the time hallucinating like motherfuckers. Too much punch, guys?

And to finish things off, here's Doc again, but from his blue face period, which I never understood for a minute, but absolutely appreciated the barking mad weirdness of. Plus there's Eternity, easily the bad guy most likely to make you question your very concept of reality. And you don't get much more Christmassy than that.

On to 1976, and sadly the last Grab-Bag jamboree of fun is here, with a truly wonderful cover from Gil Kane & Joe Sinnott, with back cover to match.

It also had one of the greatest comic strips ever: 'Tis the season, a bridging story that is about nothing more earth-shattering than The Avengers and The F.F. having a snowball fight. Only in the '70's could you get away with something like this, and it makes me smile even now just to think of it.
Another so-so issue of Team-Up opens proceedings proper, principally to get big hitters Spidey & Benjy in there.

But that's more than made up for by this:

With one of the greatest splash panels of John Buscema's or anybody else's career. And at Treasury size it looks even better. I think Rascally Roy was the best writer The Avengers ever had, and I think this story proves it.

Next up, the criminally underrated Marie Severin treats us to a comedy of errors, when Ol' Greenskin tries to hitch a ride off Earth with The Surfer. Hilarity and broken bones ensue.

And finally, DD makes his second xmas appearance, from Gene Colan's epic run on the book, at this point with Gerry Conway scripting. It's a time filling issue, as Matt & Karen split up for the millionth time, so that Conway can get DD together with The Widow and they can move to 'Frisco. Still, I could read Gene Colan drawing a story where DD does origami, and The Ox absolutely rocks here.

This is probably the best of the three Edition's, mostly because of the snowball fight story and Avengers 58, but like I say, even The Savage She-Hulk would look like the greatest comic ever at this size. Even though, as you've probably guessed from my ramblings, not all of this stuff has stuck in the memory completely, I do know that these were some of the best Xmas prezzies I ever got, and leagues ahead of the british annuals, as great as they were. Bring 'em back!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Les Dawson Is Superflop

Just a quickie. Les Dawson, for the benefit of our american viewers, was a TV comedian in the '70's and '80's, much given to one-liners regarding his horrific Mother-In-Law. Although basically a stand-up, he had loads of sketch shows on the BBC, including a not very funny one where he went into his garden shed to change into a lame superhero called ( oh the hilarity ) Superflop. None of which would concern us, were it not for the fact that, like most other comedians of the time, he got his own strip in Look-In, drawn by none other than the great Brian Lewis! Yep, Brian 'House Of Horror / Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires' Lewis. This strip isn't even remotely amusing, but it is, like all of Lewis' work, absolutely perfectly illustrated. Wish I could see more of his humour work.