A Strangely Compelling Masculine Figure

It’s nearly Dr. Who’s fifty-first birthday. Twelve months on from the celebration that encompassed The Day of the Doctor, Light at the End and Destiny of the Doctor ( plus a line of reprinted novels), how is the series faring?

The Drama Channel is very late to the party with a series of sequential  repeats that began with The Aztecs and tomorrow revisits the Pyramids of Mars. While it’s a welcome move to show classic Who on tv, what about the real BBC deal?

The final quartet of episodes have strayed far from the 60s mission to educate as well as entertain. The Tardis has left the mathematics and computer science of the 80s far, far behind as it whirls into Harry Potter territory. Is the magical thinking and Blakeian allusion another manifestation of Cycle 24, like the mind-expanding imagery of Capaldi’s early episodes?

Flatline, like Mummy on the Orient Express was a popular episode by writer Jamie Mathieson. Part urban horror and part tribute to Banksy, it focused on Clara’s gradual transformation into a Doctor-figure. Frank Cotrell Boyce’s urban fantasy In the Forests of the Night was a whimsical fable, with more poetry than logic and less well-received, although I thought the writing was better.

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Moffat’s traditional season finale (Dark Water/Death in Heaven) reminded me of the DWM strip The Flood as Cybermen harvested the dead in an elaborate revenge scheme fostered by Missy, the “gatekeeper of the Nethersphere”. The new female incarnation of the Master was typically “bananas” – an evil Mary Poppins. But I found the episodes quite dissatisfying. The first part was  macabre but in poor taste with the cremation terrors of the newly deceased and the second resounded with the jingoistic militarism that post -Referendum Britain revels in.  Twelve’s antipathy towards the armed forces seemed to be resolved in a glutinous tribute , awkwardly poised before Remembrance Sunday.

I haven’t warmed to this  reactionary Doctor, crabby and choleric. Smith’s second season was about River Song and her timeline. The third was about Clara and her timeline. Capaldi’s first season has felt like  an extended epilogue to the Eleventh Doctor, wasting time on the “Am I a Good Man?” question which can’t really go anywhere- and didn’t.

I have no issues with the actor’s suitability for the role: his grouchy delivery makes me laugh and I find his Cushing-like scuttling particularly amusing. But the Rude Magician’s next outing already looks like a pastiche of 1965’s TV Comic adventure with Father Christmas.  Sentiment and whimsy seem tonally jarring after the grisly boneyard horror of the preceding story. I don’t want to descend into a cliche “Moffat Must Go” routine but in modern ministerial style, one might hope lessons had been learned. A fun-free Doctor in “just -pre-watershed” adventures isn’t a brilliant idea.

The three novels featuring the Twelfth Doctor are for the most part undemanding Young Adult fare.  The prolific Justin Richards writes prose that’s often flat and tedious: Silhouette, a Paternoster Gang Penny dreadful where aliens weaponise circus performers, plods through Victorian tropes. Another BBC stalwart, Mike Tucker evokes the Pertwee era- as suggested by Capaldi’s costume- in The Crawling Terror. This undemanding  invasion- by -giant- insects is very Terrance Dicks although the sprightly Home Guard veteran in action in 2014  stretched my credulity somewhat.

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The most successful of the three is The Blood Cell. Although I can think of three other  Doctor- Captive- in- Inescapable -Prison stories, James Goss’ novel is very well-written, blending dark humour and horror in a way that Moffat can’t quite get right.

Meanwhile in the parallel universe of audio Who,  Peter Purves plays Steven Taylor as King Lear in The War to End All Wars. Purves’ energy lifts a very humdrum story of a phoney war inspired by the writing of Alex Comfort.

Philip Olivier makes his final exit(?) as Hector/Hex in two tales: The Mask Of Tragedy, again by James Goss, is a comic sci-fi romp in ancient Athens which takes a very dark turn. A gossipy alien insect healer and a living god with mind-control powers clash in a very theatrical adventure.

Matt Fitton’s Signs and Wonders is quite reminiscent of the Virgin New Adventures as a Northern Revelationist (played by Warren Brown) summons aliens in a near-future Liverpool. A truce is eventually called between Doctor Seven and the Elder Gods- thankfully, since these stories are too apocalyptic to wear every day. Even better, Hex gets a happy ending after all his trials. I never felt Phil got to play Hector very differently from Hex, despite being possesed repeatedly and while I’ll miss his boyish energy, the character’s resurrection was squandered.

Coming soon: Titan’s Doctor Who and Iterations of I

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Generation of Loneliness

I am waiting for tonight’s Dr. Who finale to pronounce my judgement on the Twelfth Doctor and its flavour of  Cycle 24 New Psychedelia . (Read up on the Sekhment Hypothesis and the hippie maxima being in ascendant). I had wanted to revisit the Claremont/McLeod New Mutants this month after 30 years but the TPBs are dreadfully expensive.

Then last week’s “Goth at the BBC” compilation regaled us with the spectacle of  Speciemen’s hilarious Rocky Horror pronouncement : “Peasants gather round oh beautiful mutants”.

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This doggerel reminded me it was the twentieth anniversary of Generation X, the Nineties generation of Marvel’s mutants. Synchronicity indeed!

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This moody, monstrous class of mutant teens made their debut in The Phalanx Covenant.  A small scale crossover  event by comparison to the modern era, it involved an attack on some new mutants by a group of human supremacists infected by Warlock’s  Transmode virus. The story ends with the sacrifice of Blink ( who’d go on  to appear in this year’s’ X-Men: Days of Future Past.)

The creators were Scott Lobdell ,Joe Madueira, Fabian Nicieza and Andy Kubert. It feels quite contemporary, probably because the art styles are so influenced by early 90s Image Comics… as are modern DC books.

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When GNX were launched in their own comic, the art was by Chris Bachalo. Stylised and moody but with a quirkiness that replaced the Neal Adams-ish photo realistic elements of  Bill (New Mutants) Sienkiewicz.  Ugliness and cartoon elements abound in GNX making the kids feel less wholesome and more, well, Goth.

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Where the New Mutants of the previous decade were often rather child-like and twee ( even Sam, who was shaving), GNX looked more dangerously glamorous and adult. They were loners with literally spikey peronalities  and Angelo even smoked. Don’t call them X-Babies!

Actually, don’t call them at all. Very few are around in any form today. Mondo, the short-lived Samoan member and the mute Penance were essentially red herrings. Skin and Synch were killed off. Husk and M were hived off into other X-Books as was Chamber. The disfigured poster boy of the group, an analogue of  Neil Gaiman’s Sandman- or even of Gaiman himself -was a  passive-aggressive character, given to glaring in the rain, whilst delivering his monologues in telepathic thought balloons. The Ultimate Goth hero is now reduced to cameos.

Even the Identification Figure -the Cyndi Lauper-ish Jubilee – lost her sass and sparkle,vampirised years ago but too late for GNX.  Happily though, the  MC2 version of Jubes grows up to serve as leader of the X-Men, sorry, X-People.

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On the other hand, the series effectively created or reinforced the star-status of the adult leads: all former X-foes.  Banshee was clearly rejuvenated and became a buff, bearded Irish hunk from the cover of a romance novel.  A far cry, sadly, from the  spectral, androgynous figure designed in the 60s by Werner Roth. The ultraviolent Sabretooth was in the midst of his bizarre transition from serial killer to antihero while the conflicted super- bitch Emma Frost provided sexual chemistry with Banshee that would ultimately lead to her starring role in Morrison and Whedon’s iterations of the X-Men.

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Curiously, GNX was awarded its own TV movie , predating the Jackman-Stewart-McKellen cinema cycle. I haven’t seen it for years but US sensation Max Headroom is the villain. Sort of. Bwah-ha-ha.

What GNX proves, ultimately, is the strength of the X-Men’s core concept. They are not, despite the potency of the Claremont-Cockrum-Byrne 70s era, a super- powered strike force but a school. And as I now know, all students have to leave eventually but the classes are refreshed with new intakes. The experience is similar but always individual.

Many of these Marvel students are now long gone but the legacy of Young X-Men, New Mutants Vol. 2 , Genext and Wolverine and the X-Men proves that mutant school days are the best of their lives.

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To conclude: another shape-shifting character, blending tragedy and comedy,  is fifty this month. Metamorpho, the Fabulous Freak created by Ramona Fradon and Zany Bob Haney, is one of my earliest Batman memories. He was a strangely comfortable fit in the campy (Batman and) the Outsiders of the 80s. But the chemical hep-cat has resisted attempts to turn him into a moody, Goth outcast. Happy 50th, Rexy-Boy.

Coming soon: Signs, wonders and death in Heaven.

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File It Under Fear

Before I write about this unseasonably warm Hallowe’en, I just want to announce how fascinating I’ve found the BBC Genome Project, which archives issues of the Radio Times.  I found out the very night my dad sent me to bed in 1973 when I wanted to see Barbarella. (Monday November 26th!) It is an amazing tool to reacquaint you with your childhood and adolescence through  BBC TV.

It also lends weight to my recent theory that, as a very small boy, I only began to watch Patrick Troughton in Dr. Who because Batman had ended on STV in the spring of 1967.  I hope Scottish nostalgists might supply transmission dates for Batman in the Clyde Valley area.

It’s curious that the notion of Hallowe’en as a month-long festival and something of a holiday has seemed to have filtered into our culture in the last couple of decades- probably through the service industry and US corporations like Wal-Mart. Trick or Treat was an exclusively Yank custom in my childhood; we called it “guising” and it was a time for monkey nuts, not Haribo. 

However, I don’t need much encouragement to watch old Universal or Hammer movies at the weekend. This year, it was Sixties Brit monster movie, Island of Terror and Thirties Art Deco-Satanist shocker, The Black Cat.

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The former is like a Pertwee Who projected backwards a few years in time. It features Peter Cushing and the bluff Edward Judd fighting bone -eating  monsters on a (not very) Irish island. I think I first saw it in the 80s on C4 and it’s quite slow. The “look” reminds me very much of Daleks -Invasion Earth 2150 AD.

I first saw The Black Cat, I think, the weekend before our holiday in the Rhins in 1977: the weekend before Elvis died. It is an astonishing -and very short- story of necrophilia, torture and revenge. Karloff and Lugosi play old enemies who engage in a battle of wills in a fantastic Bauhaus fortress. It must have been very shocking to its audience and it’s still powerful (if a little mannered to our tastes). Interestingly, the soundtrack was reused for the Flash Gordon serials – and his Trip to Mars was on the very same Saturday in ’77.

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My Halloween reading matter included DC’s  Showcase Presents Ghosts. I’ve read a couple of volumes of the Joe Orlando stable of titles from the late Sixties and early 70s. Ghosts was editor Murray Boltinoff’s contribution: Levitz says it was a “disproportionately good seller”.

It purports to present “true tales of the weird and supernatural” but the very first story borrows heavily from that of Miss Havisham in Great expectations so I hae ma doots on that score.

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Many of the stories  were written by Leo Dorfman, who created Pete Ross, Superboy’s pal. I didn’t find Ghosts anywhere as enjoyable as The Witching Hour, for example but I like Cardy’s stylish scroll design for the covers. I also came to enjoy the exuberance and surrealism of Jerry Grandinetti.

Last night I read the sole two issues of Marvel’s 1975 Masters  of Terror anthology. This was quite a late entry in their horror line of b/w magazines: Dracula Lives and Vampire Tales were finally staked at this year. 

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The selling point of this mag was its literary value: these were all shockers by Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard etc. They had all appeared in colour two or three years earlier too, so it was a reprint collection, tapping the vein, as it were, of Chamber of Darkness, Journey Into Mystery, Supernatural Thrillers and others. I never read many of those titles at the time- I preferred the superheroes and I often found DC’s “mystery” books like House of ,eh, Mystery quite scary!

Here’s a run down of the contents of issues 1 & 2:

It: first published in Supernatural Thrillers and  the originator of swamp monsters  including Solomon Grundy, Swamp Thing and Man-Thing. Really well-written. Adapted by Roy Thomas and Marie Severin.

The Horror from the Mound: dull Mexican vampire tale by REH. Adapted by Gardner Fox and Frank Brunner for Chamber of Chills.

The Terrible Old Man: primitive work by Barry Smith on a Lovecraft story in Tower of Shadows (and from the first issue I ever glimpsed). Disappointing on all levels, although I like the Kirby-isms a little.

The Drifting Snow: eerie, gorgeous vampire tale from, uh, Vampire Tales #4. Adapted by Tony Isabella and Esteban (Satana) Maroto.

The Shambler from the Stars: Robert Bloch does Lovecraft adapted by Ron Goulart and Jim Starlin. Very early Starlin is not great. This story and the next are both from Journey into Mystery

Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper: dynamic Bloch adaptation by Goulart, Thomas and Gil Kane. A very well-known story- one of my S4 pupils wrote about it in her Added Value Unit. Second-best thing in this issue.

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The second edition opens with The Invisible Man by Goulart and Val Mayerik who always seemed like a poor man’s Berni Wrightson. I think I first saw this “Supernatural Thriller”  in POTA weekly and maybe again in Dr. Who Weekly. it’s competent but a bit boring.

The Man Who Cried Werewolf: weak Bloch adaptation by Gerry Conway and Pablo Marcos. You can see Steranko influences. This was the headliner in Monsters Unleashed #1.

Dig Me No Grave: my favourite in this issue. a Faustian tale by REH, adapted by Thomas and Kane. Again, from the revived Journey Into Mystery and an early POTA reprint too.

The Music of Erich Zann: Thomas and Johnny Craig provide the first of two Lovecraft adaptations from Chamber of Darkness. This cosmic tale is competent but not brilliant.

Pickman’s Model: The other Lovecraft shockeroonie is by Thomas and Tom Palmer. it’s very naturalistic but also predictable.

The Roaches: this is quite unsettling. Gerry Conway and Ralph Reese bring an Underground Comix flavour to a queasy revenge story by Thomas Disch, who novelised The Prisoner. The Roaches ( from Monsters Unleashed features a rather racist and sexually repressed woman with an obsession for cleanliness.

There were no further issues of Masters of Terror ( although the branding was re-used in 1978 in an issue of Marvel Preview). This is a pity because I would be interested in more reprints from Tower of Shadows . Ron Goulart was a name I associated with the one-and only issue of Power of Warlock I got at Glasgow’s Queen Street Station in the early 70s. Turns out not only did he ghost-write Shatner’s Tekwars, he also wrote this Flash Gordon book I got later in the decade.

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And neatly we return to the Seventies- tonight I have House of Dark Shadows to catch up with and the beginning of the Twelfth Doctor’s series finale. More on this to come…

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.

Bring Me My Bow

We’re currently in something of a Golden Age for tv series based on comic books. Agents of SHIELD returned to UK screens last night with the blinkin’ Absorbing Man! Gotham began two weeks ago and I imagine The Flash and Constantine might be picked up by terrestrial channels.

I  had lost interest in the first SHIELD series one very quickly since it seemed a rehash of Angel with a few elements from the Marvel Cinemantic Universe. I’m willing to give it a second chance after watching the first box set of Warner Brothers Arrow.

Arrow is a descendant of Smallville, the  Superman teen soap which ran for a spectacular ten seasons. Green Arrow first made his tv debut there as a Batman-substitute- even forming a Justice League of sorts in season six -who bullied Lex Luthor at prep school.

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Arrow, is firstly, an action show about urban stealth warfare. But the plot is driven by family dramas with a soapy feel and the series also co-opts the island ordeals of Lost with some of the convolutions of Heroes. So far,so formulaic.

Indulged playboy Oliver Queen retuuns to Starling City after five years on an island in the China seas. He uses his archery skills to thwart a conspiracy that began with his own family and is assisted by loyal Tough Black Man and Adoring Blonde Computer Nerd. For some reason, she is named after a supporting cast member in 80s Firestorm . The weekly flashbacks to the hero’s origins on the island tend to be more compelling than the conspiracy story until the requisite series finale.

GA is never called Green Arrow in series one. Frustratingly, he’s referred to as the Vigilante or the Hood- the names, of course, of other comics characters. The conspirators are led by John Barrowman ( the man who introduced the Commonwealth Games accompanied by dancing tea cakes). His scenes are actually among the most entertaining with a knowing and larger than life gusto which contrasts with the endless exposition and admiring shots of the grimacing hero’s glistening torso. Another Doctor Who  alumnus, Alex Kingston, appears as the matronly Dinah Lance.

  A wide variety of DC characters appear in series one: villains include Deadshot; the Royal Flush Gang- here, a family of masked bank robbers; Count Vertigo – a drug dealing gangster; Firefly ( re-imagined as a firefighter-turned-arsonist). One of the major threats is Deathstroke, looking faintly ridiculous in his Perez-designed orange face mask.

DC heroine The Huntress appears as a very dark, conflicted character: a mobster’s daughter turned Lady Punisher. The Blackhawks were almost eviscerated as a corrupt security firm turned robbers. Delinquent Roy Harper has been introduced, presumably with the intention of becoming Speedy for tv. Similarly, damsel in distress Laurel Lance, who works for a law firm called CNRI (Can-ar-y!) is surely set up to be Black Canary. There have also been cutesy references to Slade Wilson’s son Joe (Jericho); Nanda Parbat, the Shangri La of the DCU ; a seismologist Brion Markov (Ge0-Force) and Laurel’s friends Ray (Palmer) and Jean (Loring). There seems no way, however, that sci-fi or supernatural characters could exist in the “grimdark” world of Arrow.

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Green Arrow, created in the 40s by Weisinger and Papp, was a masked crimebuster with a boy sidekick in the Batman and Robin mould. In the late 50s, King Kirby brought a more fantastic edge, naturally including a trip into a futuristic dimensional world. But the character remained a Batman knock-off. Even one of his few memorable costumed foes, Clock King, was co-opted for two Batman tv series. GA only became interesting in the late 60s when he was redesigned and re-purposed by O’Neil and Adams as an angsty Liberal who’d lost his personal fortune.

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Permanently linked to Black Canary and regularly partnered with Hal Jordan, Ollie’s character became less strident but more cranky and he was often portrayed as a smart-ass and a boor: an annoying amplification of Hawkeye but a mainstay in the JLA. Mike Grell’s prestige format Longbow Hunters in the late 80s elevated Ollie into the Mature Readers sphere where he dealt with a mid-life crisis and drug crime in Seattle.

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It’s a version of The Longbow Hunters Ollie we see in Arrow and it’s his use of lethal force that bothers me most.  My reading habits were formed by Silver age reprints and I find the murderous “Hood Guy” an uneasy watch. If the series had featured Marv Wolfman’s 80s Vigilante ( a bleak take on the Punisher), I’d find it more acceptable. I appreciate it may be part of the “Hero’s Journey” but I don’t approve of it. Especially because the family themes of Arrow with Hamlet-ish  mother’s boy Ollie  seem reminiscent of Smallville. It’s dull, predictable stuff in the main.

Gotham is ostensibly, a more adult series while  a more violent one. I’m enjoying Sean Pertwee’s Caine-inspired Alfred and the reptilian, effete Penguin (played by the aptly-named Robin Lord Taylor).  However, while the story’s inevitable end would be the young Bruce Wayne leaving the city to train as Batman, it’s unlikely to reach that point for years. The downfall and rise of Jim Gordon (studded with Arkhmam inmates appearances) is the probable arc of the show.

The Oliver Queen I recognise- mature, playful but still  ” a guy” and NOT Bruce Wayne- is featured in Bloodspell, a hardcover DC graphic novel by Paul Dini and Joe Quinones. This project began as a joke in a text feature in one of the Dini/Ross tabloid editions of the early Noughties. It’s an adventure of fishnet-wearing heroines Zatanna and Black Canary and while it does contain some adult situations and humour, I think it’s inoffensive enough; I would let any of my senior students read it- especially the girls.

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The two super-heroines pursue a ghostly villainess to Las Vegas and flashbacks charmingly depict the growth of their friendship. These flashbacks are unafraid to show the ladies’ dubious fashion choices in the 80s and feature several Justice Leagures including a wonderful Chrisopher Reeve Superman.t

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I’d much prefer to watch a Canary/Zatanna series, to be honest. I’d also like to see more graphic novels from these creators. It’s iconic yet modern, fresh and yet classic. Recommended.

Coming soon: Masters of Terror

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

Return to the Forbidden Zone

It’s a staggering forty years since the launch of Marvel UK’s fourth and fifth reprint titles, Planet of the Apes and Dracula Lives. The Apes tv series began its UK run in October 1974 but, ape-allingly,  was never picked up by STV (although it probably was in broadcast up here in the North East)! Apparently Channel 4 showed the series twenty years later but I didn’t have a telly for much of 1994 so I wouldn’t know.

I’ve cast a desultory eye over both Tim Burton’s campy 2001  re-imagining of POTA and 2011’s “reboot”, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Neither, of course, satirise Sixties and Seventies culture the way the originals did.

in ’74, the two new comics were a departure from the Sixties super-hero fare of the original trio of  weeklies. POTA reprinted material from the US magazine of the same name. Marvel had published it as a response to high American tv ratings for winter screenings of the Apes films. 

My parents permitted me to add only one new comic to my weekly standing order ( Four comics equalled 32p a week. In the strike -bound  mid- 70s, you could get a hamburger and a coke for about 50p in Baxters in Strathaven).

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 I had been allowed to watch the 1958 Hammer Dracula one Friday night in STV’s Don’t Watch Alone slot and my brother and I had been taken to see Battle for the Planet of the Apes at the cinema in East Kilbride,  possibly in early ’74. Furthermore, one of the the first “grown-up” books I read was the novelisation (which I probably got in Safeway,  where the Blish Star Trek paperbacks were sold).

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I suspect I was subtly guided towards the POTA comic and away from Dracula – my parents being quite unaware of the references to lobotomy, gelding and other gruesome experiments in the script and oblivious to the Joy of Sex Man in bondage on the cover. By the second issue, I was captivated by the “savage tales” reprinted within.

Despite my love of  Kirby’s whacked-out post-apocalyptic cartoon Kamandi and its dolphin society however, or the talking worm in Shazam,  the simian satire of POTA didn’t grab me the way the back-up strips did. Ka-Zar, Lee and Kirby’s riff on Tarzan’s New York Adventure, segued into the Conan-esque sword and sorcery of the Petrified Man by Gerry Conway and Barry Smith. Meanwhile Thomas and Kane produced a pastiche of ERB’s Gods of Mars in Gullivar Jones (Even having read a couple of issues of DC’s Weird Worlds, I failed to pick up on the resemblance  for years!)

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I did come across occasional copies of Dracula Lives in the following months, in the homes of neighbours’ kids. I was intrigued by Conway and Colan’s first couple of dread-soaked outings but was far less keen on Ploog’s Werewolf By Night and the antiquated adventures of the literary Frankenstein’s Monster.

The adaptations of the Apes movies began, of course, with the Charlton Heston original which ran from October ’74 to the first week of January’75. This serial was followed by Marvel’s first original story arc, Terror on the Planet of the Apes: a Moench/Ploog collaboration which introduced long-running protagonists, Jason and Alexander. The friends would continue to appear in increasingly -bizarre adventures with  a frontiersman named Steely Dan.

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Back-ups now tended to be Marvel adaptations of bleak sci-fi stories from Worlds Unknown, like “Black Destroyer”, “Killdozer” and “Arena”. At some point in this period, we were taken to see the first POTA movie and Escape from ... at the Ritz cinema in Strathaven.

The weekly publication schedule quickly devoured US Apes material. The response to this crisis, in March 1975, was one of the  most notorious creations of Marvel UK:  Apeslayer. Basically, this was a reprint of the mongrel Adams/Chaykin/Trimpe Killraven/War of the Worlds series…with Martians substituted by apes.

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Absorbed as I was by any and all of Marvel’s sword-wielding barbarians, I owned exactly this one issue of Amazing Adventures (from Stonehouse in ’73) so I was more than happy to read a bastardised into of Carmilla Frost and Grok the Clonal Man. However, this hybridised strip was mothballed by mid-May as Marvel’s version of the mutant-ridden sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes began in June 1975 and concluded in September.

Further Marvel adaptations appeared as back-ups in the summer of 1975: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and The Day of the Triffids. In August, reprints began of Lee, Thomas and Colan’s stultifying spaceman saga , Captain Marvel. They carried on in the pages of the first landscape title, The Titans from October 1975.

At the same time, the comic began to reprint the surreal fantasy of the “Future History Chronicles”, a piratical sequence of ape adventures by Tom Sutton. This story arc would also feature a Captain Nemo pastiche.

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Escape from the Planet of the Apes was reprinted close on the heels of Beneath in that same month.  The most literary strip carried by the weekly POTA was Don McGregor’s Panther’s Rage, beginning in November  and continuing into the late spring of ’76.  Meanwhile, the adaptation of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes ran from January to mid-March, 1976.

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 Ultimately, as was always the way with British comics, there was “great news” for readers as POTA and DL merged that legendary summer,  in June 1976, ahead of the Masters of Terror double-bill on BBC2 that August.  Fittingly, the Jungle Lord , Ka-Zar, was still vine-swinging in POTA’s pages and the mindless Man-Thing , occasionally illustrated by Ploog, shambled over from the horror weekly.

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Meanwhile, Jason and Alexander’s saga became ever more surreal and satirical with monkey-demons, the Gandalf-esque Lightsmith and the unearthly, multi-orbed Keeper.

By December, Conan had bludgeoned his way into the weekly, with the Italianate intrigue of the Crimson Company/ Ring of Black Shadow storyline. It also introduced my favourite sidekick for the Cimmerian , the hoyden Tara of Hanumar.

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The following spring, in March 1977,  POTA/DL merged with the perennial Mighty World of Marvel. By that time, I was more interested in the Headshop Kozmic of Starlin and Englehart’s Captain Marvel than the interminable Battle for the Planet of the Apes- my first Apes story, after all, three years earlier.

The last hurrah for POTA  reprints, with Viking apes, Gorilloids and Terror-Toads,  finally came in the summer of 1977, just before I went into S3. Elvis was still alive but the charts were ruled by Disco Inferno and Carole Bayer Sager.

From early 1978, Star Wars Weekly would carry the bulk of Marvel’s sci-fi output, including movie Guardian Star-Lord;  Starlin’s subversive, trippy Warlock; and toy-based George Lucas pastiche, the Micronauts. Text features  on sci-fi movies, pioneered in POTA, would transfer to SWW and later to Starburst magazine .

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Ironically the apes would be replaced in MWOM by their ’74 stablemate, Dracula himself. 1977 saw the longest BBC2 summer season of horror double bills on a Saturday night: Dracula, Frankenstein and Friends. It was also the summer of BBC1’s Supernatural – and the final episode of that series was repeated for the very first time last night.

As we progress through the season for all things supernatural, future posts will venture into the realm of Marvel’s own Masters of Terror

All images are presumed  copyright of their respective owners. Thanks especially to Hunter Goatley’s Planet of the Apes archives.

Don’t Forget the Motor City

As the last  remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo bluster across the North East, I’m still still working my way through the last discs of the Arrow box set before I blog about Black Canary’s graphic novel. But that line of thought led me to a current DC team title where Green Arrow has been featured.

JL Canada

Justice League United was originally advertised as Justice League Canada.  However, aside from a Cree teenager with mystical powers who doesn’t really participate in the first story arc, the series actually appears to be riding the coat tails of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. That aforementioned arc was set on Thanagar’ moon and revamped both Adam Strange and the obscure Ultra the Multi-Alien, a space-going Sixties rip-off of Metamorpho.

The Canadian elements are comically scant compared to  Byrne’s Alpha Flight of three decades ago.  In one of my favourite titles between 1983 and 1985, the curmudgeon writer/artist crafted dark, compelling and ground-breaking adventures for his creations, evoking mental illness and Elder Gods. He  killed off the Alphans leader and replaced him with his own civilian wife; replaced 25 per cent of the team by the end of its second year; and with  Puck, Aurora and  Shaman  shaped  contributions to the House of Ideas as authentic and iconic as the Lee/ Kirby/Ditko legends of the 60s.

Alpha 1

In my opinion, JL Canada ought to be replaced by a franchise more worthy of revival and one that’s also of 30 years vintage. Because October 1984 saw the release of Justice League Annual 2.

Gerry Conway had sought to revitalise the dwindling sales of  JLA in the light of the success of  X-Men and DC’s Legion and New Teen Titans. Since many of DC’s heavy hitters, including  Batman, Flash (and lesser lights like the Atom ) were out of bounds in the early 80s, Conway devised a smaller, less-powerful team. He would have greater control over their storylines  and he chose to make up numbers with new, young heroes based in a real-life locale: Detroit, the Motor City of Vandellas fame.

JLA 2

Steel was a new iteration of Conway’s homefront hero of WWII- a blend of Cap and Iron Man – while Vixen had been a casualty of the late 70s DC Implosion (and possibly another version of an abortive Ms.Marvel villain, the Fox). Gypsy and the reviled Vibe were youthful characters who had echoes of pop sensations Madonna and Menudo. I was intrigued by the idea of a DC team that interacted with ordinary people and the “Marvelization” of Conway’s approach appealed to me.

It wasn’t a comic I rated that highly,however- at the time, Claremont’s X-Men/New Mutants canvas appealed a great deal but the Baxter Legion and Titans comics (and Byrne’s aforementioned Alpha Flight) were probably the team books that impressed me most. Nevertheless, I tracked down the first few issues with their interlinking covers. Then the team had an obligatory Reagan-esque USSR incursion with a hokey maestro villain and Vixen went solo for one issue.

After Crisis on Infinite Earths, JLDetroit experienced a number of reversals: art by George Tuska  a return to the Secret Sanctuary cave of the Fox/Sekowsky era and the domineering presence of Batman- which suggested this was another branch of the somewhat tongue-in-cheek  Outsiders.

Despite popular belief, the Detroit League wasn’t “the team fans love to hate”: reaction to the new direction had been more moderate. But the upshot of the continuing fall in sales was that the new kids were all killed off or written out to make way for the naturalism and “dramedy” of Justice League International.

JLU1

And yet, the Detroit League refused to die. Gypsy continued into the 90s in Justice League  Task Force. Vixen was a member of the Meltzer League; and an entire new issue of the series appeared just prior to the New 52 in 2011, as part of the DC Retroactive event. Then, startlingly, new versions of Steel and Vibe appeared, the latter even winning his own short-lived comic.

Now, obviously the JLA should be the Olympians, the “Legends” if you will of the DCU. A dozen or more ( in the Satellite Era) champions who have proven their mettle (although I’ve always believed Bridwell’s Biblical hero the Seraph deserved a place at the table.)

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But alongside my newly-minted daytime devotion to the scuzzy NYC of Kojak repeats, Al Ewing’s Mighty Avengers has been my favourite Marvel comic for over a year now.

Mighty Avengers

An ethnically-diverse, second -stringer team in a metropolitan neighbourhood would also  be a welcome direction in the DCU.  So submitted for your approval: Urban Justice, if you will.

Canary

Black Canary: team leader ( and widow).

Booster Gold

Booster Gold: Heart. media-savvy. Defensive capabilities.

martian manhunter

John Jones: In his Smallville form as played by Phil Morris.  Brain (psi-powers)

supergirl

Supergirl: Muscle and integrity.

Red Arrow

Red Arrow:  Both arms intact. Single father. Playing up Navajo heritage.

Hawkgirl

Hawgirl (New 52 Earth-2 version): Hispanic heroine with Thanagar tech. Awkard romance with Roy.

Janissary

Janissary: Muslim heroine with magical scimitar. Brawler.

Fate

Fate: wild card!  90s demon hunter.

Guest appearances by new Korean -American hero

Ray

 

The Ray, Firestorm, Big Barda, Power Girl and Nuklon.

Villains: the Star Conqueror, of course, the Wizard and the immortal Vandal Savage.

This is the line-up I’d pitch for a story arc called “Community Relations”. Thoughts? Comments?

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Can I Talk About The Planets Now?

I had planned to write a blog on Paul Dini’s original DC graphic novel starring Black Canary and Zatanna. I think I’ll watch to the end of the first Arrow box set first- then probably throw in a few observations about Gotham.

The first week of the North East’s  Tattie Holidays  ended with very mild and sunny weather. The park is strewn with conkers and the boating pond has been refilled. A pair of swans are gliding round it- when they take off, their wings snap like wet washing on the line.

This week, I’ve been reading more of Titan’s new Doctor Who comics. They’re all entertaining and faithful to the modern show.

The introductory adventure of the Tenth Doctor is (but only just ) the weakest of the three. The artwork is very busy but the story of a weaponised telepathic species unleashed on the Hispanic community of Brooklyn on the Day of the Dead -and saved by the music of a Mariachi band-does feel like something RTD would’ve written for the American market.

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The third issue also features an amusing humour strip set in a Psychic Paper call centre. It felt quite believable to me after 10-hour weekend shifts on Directory Enquiries.

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Al Ewing has been succeeded as the scripter of the Eleventh Doctor series by Rob Williams. He introduces a very witty parody of David Bowie- John Jones, the Tall Pale Earl- as a new companion in a story about Delta Bluesman Robert Johnson. Very amusing but possibly impenetrable to anyone under 45. However, the monster truck version of “sprightly yellow roadster”  Bessie is also worth a look.

bessie

image from robwilliamscomics.co.uk

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As the Kevin Bacon of Scottish pop culture, I’m convinced that the Robbie Morrison who wrote issue one of the new Twelfth Doctor title worked alongside me in Hillington during the 1991 census. His story “Terrorformer” is set on a jungle planet owned by the 25th century’s richest man. The tone is very reminiscent of the DWM strip (although there’s nothing wrong with that). He cracks a joke about Scottish weather and  also captures the spikey new Glaswegian Doctor very well. “Bigger inside than out. Heard it!”

I have to say however that I’m finding Capaldi’s Dark Doctor quite wearing on tv. Kill The Moon and Mummy on the Orient Express were handsome episodes with creepy moments. However, the former’s daft sci-fi science and the latter’s remounting of 2007’s Voyage of the Damned (but with Frank Skinner instead of Kylie) left me feeling dissatisfied. Kill The Moon also strongly reminded me of a charming 1996 children’s book, World -Ea ter by Robert Swindells- one I was drawn to as a pigeon fancier’s son, in Jordanhill’s library, as a student about seven years ago.

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The tv narratives were told in innovative ways- in media res or with a countdown on screen- but the rift between Clara and the Doctor in Moon  became a “break up to make up”  story.

The ambiguous alien Doctor was pioneered and then mellowed quickly in Hartnell’s first months ( and later revisited very briefly with Troughton in Evil of the Daleks.) The  idea was then exhumed  least successfully in Colin Baker’s era -which is the one I’m most reminded of today. The production team, for my money, are on a hiding to nothing undermining the Doctor’s authority -especially in the wake of The Caretaker which saw an acerbic white man implying  a black soldier wouldn’t be able to teach Maths, despite occupying a less-qualified job role.

So, as ever for the Cancerian, I returned to the past for comfort. Domain of the Voord is the first release in the Big Finish Early Adventures range. It’s very much in the vein of The Companion Chronicles which tended to be two – or three- hander readings rather than plays with more interior monologue. I think the re-branding has come about because some 60s companions have been recast.

Anyway, this story is a sequel to 1964’s Keys of Marinus and was written by Andrew Smith who was a big inspiration to me as a teen. His tv Who adventure Full Circle  in the autumn of  1980 suggested a 17-year-old could write a script for the series and see it produced.

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Set on a water world invaded by the Voord, this story is extremely “Trad” and the spectre of 60s totalitarianism informs it. Hartnell’s Doctor even has a “holiday” during the storyline. The combination of authentic cast voices and 1964-style stock music makes it feel like a genuine Lost Story. It also elevates the rubbery Voord by giving them a “cultist culture” with a gruesome (if predictable) initiation ceremony. This is a nostalgic listen if you like the First Doctor and his adventures.

Coming soonfor hallowe’en : Dark Shadows and Masters of Terror

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