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).

Dracula

 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).

t_battle

t_potauk001

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!)

gullivar-jones

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.

t_potauk018

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.

potauk028

12114-2469-13563-1-amazing-adventures

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.

t_potauk082

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.

t_potauk088

 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.

t_potauk098

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.

t_tmwom231

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 .

MWOM 247 22JUNE77 COVER

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 Hurrican 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 far more and Byrne’s aforementioned Alpha Flight was probably the team book 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.)

300px-Seraph

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?

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

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.

DW_10D_04_Cover_C_10_COPY_CASAGRANDE_VARIANT-674x1024

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.

Titan_11_Doctor_ForbiddenPlanet

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

doctor_who_12th_01_infinity__beyond_des_taylor_smaller-1

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.

mummy_orient_express

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.

239px-Voord

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

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

You Can Always Spot The Aristocracy

No politics today just an observation again that escapism seems more necessary than ever.

The autumn leaves are rattling down the street and dusk comes around six-thirty. A Time Lord-y post again today.

Doctor-Who-Season-8-Caretaker-Poster-Trailer

Capaldi Series One continues to disappoint with its bafflingly late time slot, its BAFTA aspirations and general sense of deja vu.  The Caretaker wrapped a dreary workplace romance in the comic strip notion of “The Doctor works in YOUR SCHOOL!”  One we’d already seen more winningly rendered in 2006’s School Reunion. Capaldi’s Doctor was spikey and drily funny but there was little else to recommend this flimsy effort. Also, why does no one in tv drama teach in a modern, fit-for-purpose school?

Happily, I can report that Big Finish delivers a satisfying adventure for the 30-year-old Sixth Doctor in Scavenger. It’s quite slow – and the cliffhangers are pitched in an oddly undramatic way- but this hard sci-fi story reminded me of Arthur C. Clarke.

A futuristic Indian space agency discovers an ancient alien robot probe in Earth orbit . Sixie then finds himself in a race against time to rescue his Essex girl companion Flip before she is absorbed by the invader. I had found Lisa Greenwood’s character a little thin and generic in previous stories but her uncertain fate here is both touching and dramatic.

aberlour-450

I read the first issues of Titan Comics two new Doctor Who series in Aberlour at the end of July. The Tenth Doctor series begins with Revolutions of Terror. Gabby Gonzalez, a shift worker in a laundromat, helps the Doctor fight an invasion of Cerebravores in present day Brooklyn.

Nick Abadzis and Elena Casagrande capture the tone of the RTD era although Latina Gabby is quite like Rose Tyler.  However, I preferred The Eleventh Doctor series by Al Ewing and Rob Williams.

Ewing writes one of my favourite Marvel series, Mighty Avengers. It features a group of  ethnic minority heroes in urban adventures with nods to Marvel’s funky Seventies era. Naturally, it’s about to be cancelled. (And relaunched, but still…)

Ewing captured the ludicrous heights of Moffat’s first season as The Eleventh Doctor saved the House of Commons from a rainbow-coloured giant space dog accompanied by bereaved library assistant Alice Obiefune.

This sensitive and well-observed character study was followed by a satire of customer  service and theme parks and the series reminds me more of the DWM strip at its best.

Are these comics better than the previous IDW series- and are they as hard to obtain? The answer is yes in both instances. Further, imagine launching a Pertwee Doctor comic in 1982 as Peter Davison got started.  It’s an odd idea. However The Twelfth Doctor’s adventures are coming to Titan this month courtesy of Robbie Morrison ( whom I think worked in the 1991 Census Office in Hillington with me – and scores of others – long ago).

Coming soon: Zatanna. Black Canary. Arrow.

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

You’ve Got Eyes Out To Here

Last weekend I was invited to Glasgow for a 50th birthday party. In the wake of a No vote to Independence, it felt a lot like a wake. Today, it seems the bolstered UK has found £3 billion for war while the Elgin foodbank is still accepting donations. It feels as if escapism is more necessary than ever in this jingoistic culture.

With some irony then, the current Dr. Who series, with a Scottish leading man and Scottish show runner, struggles somewhat to fire me with enthusiasm. The Robin Hood episode was an insubstantial romp while Moffat’s portentous Listen was merely a soap romance wrapped round a saccharine glimpse of the Doctor’s childhood. Only last week’s cartoony Time Heist –  a bizarre tribute to Hustle with a Dickensian message – managed to entertain and that,in part, due to a throwaway cameo of Abslom Daak.

Daak

So what of the recently completed series of  single-disc Fourth Doctor audio adventures, starring Tom Baker and Lousie Jameson as Leela? Are they boom or bust?

The season began with The King of Sontar: a Time Lord mission for the Doctor as he encounters the eponymous potato-head. A genetic anomaly, Sonataran super-soldier Strang plots universal domination.

John Dorney’s story is a cliched plodder, despite the presence of David “Silver” Collings but it did introduce friction in the relationship between Four & Leela.

White Ghosts: Alan Barnes delivers a Base Under Siege story on a planet which experiences a single’s day’s light every 1000 years. It begins as a Triffids-style story then descends into a genetically-engineered vampire adventure. Four is also quite ruthless.  Confused and unsatisfying.

The Crooked Man: John Dorney’s creepy play  of “Imaginary Fiends” in a wintry seaside town. A baby is menaced rather distastefully in a story that, while it has roots in the Patrick Troughton era, felt more suited to BF’s Dark Shadows range.

The Evil One: the first of a trio of vanilla adventures from Nicholas Briggs. The Master, posing as Inspector Efendi ( oh, COME ON), turns Leela against Four. There are some giant insect aliens  on a space cruiser named the Moray Rose ( from an Irish folk song, rather than any horticulture up here).  Slight.

Colophon

Last of the Colophon: Jonathan Morris delivers the most eerie and atmospheric story in the series but it’s still basically a retelling of The Invisible Man. Gareth “Blake” Thomas plays the sinister, crippled Morax.

Destroy the Infinite: a gung-ho (gung Who?) adventure by Briggs, recounting the Doctor’s first chronological encounter with the gaseous Eminence and its Infinite warriors. I listened to it on Nairn beach. Can’t remember much about it at all except it sounds very RP. I wish the Eminence were the Embodiment of Gris referenced in The Daleks Master Plan.

The Abandoned: a claustrophobic but wearingly self-indulgent fantasy originated by Louise Jameson herself.  A disturbed and omnipotent Time Lady-  prisoner but formerly part of the original crew of the Tardis – unleashes her imaginary friends on Leela and Four. Ironically, too actorly for me.

Zygon Hunt: This story captures the haunting Geoffrey Burgon chamber music soundtrack to tv’s Terror of the Zygons . On an alien planet. A party of roistering, futuristic knights on safari is infiltrated by the eponymous shape-changing monsters. Briggs’ third disc is, again, very predictable but a rather comforting story for that very reason.

For me, aside from some of the incidental music, many of the 4th Doctor Adventures sound like impressions or imperfect recollections of TB’s era.  That said, they’re probably more authentic than Paul Magrs’ whimsical confections for AudioGo.

doctor-who-serpent-crest-pt_-1-tsar-wars-dr-who-bbc-cd-7895-p

However, unlike the Eighth Doctor series with Sheridan Smith ( or the inexplicable award winner, Dark Eyes),  the Fourth Doctor’s life was clearly mapped out on tv. There is a gap between the departure of Leela and Romana’s assignment- and possibly a small space when she too left-but BF’s policy is not so  much to plug gaps but to evoke a period. And it isn’t convincing in the main,  largely because of the ageing voices of the principals.

Most of these discs are undemanding, if unoriginal, fare for Dr. Who fans. A few would be recognisable, faithful tributes if you were at all familiar with the mid-70s series. Essentially, they all represent  the ” heritage industry” arm of the endlessly productive Big Finish machine.

There is an imminent box set based on story ideas proposed by mid-70s producer Philip Hinchcliffe. I will check it out but I’m not very hopeful.

Coming soon: Titan Comics’ new Dr. Who titles; Secret Origins of DC Super Heroes; and Multiversity.

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

 

Finally Someone Who Can Talk Properly

It’s been a very long time since I posted about Dr. Who.  It’s been quite an eventful summer for the old Time Lord. I review the audio plays, books and comics so you don’t have to.

Breaking Bubbles: another portmanteau disc with four stories of the Sixth Doctor and Peri. For me the best efforts were Nev Fountain’s The Curious Incident of the Doctor in the Night Time and Una McCormack’s An Eye for Murder.

The former is obviously a parody of Mark Haddon’s novel, pitting Sixie against an invasion of alien garden gnomes. Of course, he’s assisted by an autistic teen –who sounded a little too mature for my taste. Clever but a little sentimental. I bet Moffat kicked himself if he heard it.

The latter was my favourite: a pastiche of Dorothy L. Sayers as alien tech becomes part of a Nazi plot at a ladies college.

revengeoftheswarm_cover_medium

Revenge of the Swarm: a very “Trad” Seventh Doctor adventure. BF revives the prawn puppet that was the Nucleus of the Swarm from 1977’s The Invisible Enemy. The first two episodes reveal the origins of the viral antagonist and the next two are a Tron parody as the life form attains control of the Hypernet.

McCoy’s Doctor is at his most manipulative as he prepares to gamble the life of his Scouse companion Hector. Philip Olivier adopts a gravelly timbre for “possessed” Hector; his screams as Hector’s Hypernet avatar is devoured by the Swarm are actually quite harrowing.

Tales of Trenzalore: advertised as the 11th Doctor’s Last stand, this is the hard copy of an ebook which sees various classic Who monsters revived for the siege of Christmas Town as seen in The Time of the Doctor.

I liked Paul Finch’s sailing adventure Strangers in the Outland: an Auton story which reveals the secret of Eleven’s wooden leg!

doctor-who-engines-of-war-hq-300x465

Engines of War: the latest BBC hardback is a untold tale of John Hurt’s war Doctor. A bland Dalek story, it pits a generic older Doctor against his Skarosian arch-foes. He’s assisted by an equally generic girl rebel, Cinder. I was instantly reminded of Gerry Conway’s late 80s series Cinder & Ashe: a merc-and-orphan DC urban crime tale.

2888735-cinder_and_ashe_ad

The novel is weighty but lacks style and is wholly predictable-especially for Cinder. Inoffensive but quite inessential.

Prisoners of Time: IDW’s 50th anniversary collection. Each tv Doctor (aside from the War Doctor) has an adventure illustrated by a different artist. There is also a series arc as an embittered former ally abducts Companions in each installment.

The highlights are: Zarbi in the London underground circa 1868; Jamie and Zoe in a space shopping mall with the Ice Warriors; John Ridgway reuniting Sixie, Peri and Frobisher in his classic storybook style; Roger Langridge’s chubby Wildean Eighth Doctor and Grace; and Martha Jones vs Quarks at the Griffith Observatory.

Unsuprisingly, perhaps, the story has a Secret Wars-style payoff where all those Doctors and their companions face off against

SPOILERS!!!

 

No, not River Song- Todd off Corrie aka Adam from The Long Game. There’s some charm to the episodes but it’s really just  all the toys lined up on the counterpane . Thank goodness The Day of the Doctor didn’t take that route last November.

 Doctor-Who-fights-Robin-Hood-with-spoon

So: what of the Capaldi Doctor?

His debut was a plodding retread of The Girl in the Fireplace with the over-exposed and unfunny Paternoster Gang. The second episode was a trippy Cycle 24 rehash of Lost in Space’s “Trip Through The Robot”. The third, a campy romp with Robin Hood. ( If this were the US , there’d have been a crossover with Jonas Armstrong’s Robin Hood in 2008)

I dislike the discordant new version of the theme and the literal intrepretation of the titles i.e. clocks. Clara remains the ultimate Mary Sue. The Twelfth Doctor himself seemed like a brusque professorial crow. By the third episode, he resembled Chic Murray as an undertaker. The ageing bovver boy-cum-magician outfit that echoed Pertwee’s glam flash had morphed into a suave coat that might suit Paisley’s John Byrne. Twelve can double-take hilariously and his catty remarks to Clara are quite funny.

I’m not enthused so far, unfortunately, by the general “dark” direction of the series. I wonder if the pendulum swing to an abrasive middle-aged Scot was perhaps too drastic a change from the eligible young men of the last nine years. However, as possibilities swirl around us in the next few days, it might just seem that change has arrived, indeed, ” not a moment too soon”.

Coming soon: Titan Comics’ new Who titles and the third series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures. Plus Justice League Canada!

Next: Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.

Swords and Souls

Autumn feels very much on its way and the summer holidays are fading behind me. However, I wanted to post about some Bronze Age reading I did in August.

In the late summer of 1975, we had a family holiday in Rothesay. During that week, I got three DC comics: one was Kamandi’s excursion in Canada, the Dominion of the Devils; the other two were the first issue of Justice Inc. ( a Doc Savage imitator ) and, in Port Bannatyne, the first issue of Stalker.

These were both premiers in Joe Orlando’s Adventure line, heavily promoted in DC s of the day. These were (Justice Inc. excepted) sword -and-sorcery or caveman adventures poorly timed to glory of Marvel’s award-winning Conan. While that one character, as we’ll see later, achieved surprising longevity in comics, other fantasy titles faltered and failed. DC had launched the Fritz Leiber and ERB adaptations earlier in the decade but they had proved short-lived ( perhaps too “literary”).

225px-Stalkerdcu0

I was intrigued by Stalker perhaps because the alienated hero reminded me of Moorcock’s Elric, whom I’d discovered earlier in the summer of 75, in the UK Conan weekly.

Although I recognised Ditko’s blend of Tibetan mysticism and Film Noir from way back in the Power Comics days of my primary schooling, I don’t think I was impressed overly by him or indeed by Wally Wood in those days. Of course, Wood, unbeknownst to me then, had already drawn some charming epic fantasy short stories for Marvel circa 1970.

Quest For a Stolen Soul: the comic creates a Tolkienesque, medieval world and this opening episode introduces Paul Levitz’s elvish protagonist who is a fusion of Elric and Cinderella, with a touch of the Creeper thrown in.

The ice queen Baroness of Castle Loranth is marked for death by the urchin she once enslaved: a boy who sold his soul to the warrior god Dgrth ( Confusingly, there is also a reference to a god named Wgrth). It’s a dark, cynical world of crushed dreams and betrayal.  The protagonist cannot experience emotions and has been cheated by both his patron and his god. He sets out on a quest to reclaim his soul by entering hell and dispatches a monk in a fiery temple of blades once he’s got a lead.

Interestingly, Stalker’s tracking abilities recall Levitz’s Legion inductees, Dawnstar and Mwindaji. The comic’s text page also features a sure-fire winner for me: a map of Stalker’s world- although it’s a sparse one.

Stalker_Vol_1_2

Darkling Death at World’s End Sea: Stalker tracks down Prior F’lan at  the End of Eternity, where the sea literally rolls off the edge of the world. ( I remember my school friend Graham Sim telling me a planet would have to be extremely small to make that possible. Don’t know if that’s right.)

Stalker rescues a slave girl and extracts the location of the entrance to Dgrth’s realm from the prior . He then binds F’lan to the Wheel of Infinity. This ruthlessness is very 70s, very Punisher and Conan seems a bit more compassionate by comparison.

This was the second-and last- issue of Stalker I  read: back in 1978 or 1979 as one of a “Grab-Bag” of comics from Lewis’s department store in Glasgow’s Argyle Street. The contents also included one of Kirby’s last Kamandi issues (“The Soyuz Survivor” with a Joe Kubert cover); the final issue of the Fleisher/Kirby/ Wood Sandman; and one each of Claw, Beowulf and Kong- further entries in the Adventure line that didn’t grab me by that time).

However, I wanted to create some new memories of Bronze age books. So I bought the remaining two issues of the series online and read them while visiting Dufftown a couple of weeks ago.

Dufftwon is home to Glenfiddich and several other distilleries. So in a woodland park where the air was thick with whisky fumes , I read Stalker 3 and 4.

Stalker_Vol_1_3

The Freezing Flames of the Burning Isle: Stalker encounters a red-werewolf and a harpy. The latter  is revealed to be the beautiful Srani, a “changeling” who claims she was marooned on the island. With her destruction, Stalker enters the gates of Hell.

While in her human disguise, Srani recounts some of the history of Stalker’s world, including “legends of ships that sailed not upon the sea…gods came from the stars…men fought them back.”

So, this Epic Fantasy world contains imagery of astronauts. While an unusual approach, there was a precendent for this melding as seen in the very first Barry Smith issue of Conan the Barbarian: there, a shaman glimpsed a manned spaceflight in a vision.

Stalker_Vol_1_4

Invade the Inferno: Stalker beards  Dgrth in his lair,  Castle Carnage but is bedevilled by a “3-headed terror”, skeleton warriors, a dragon and a  riddling 3-foot imp. The god explains that Stalker’s soul is incorporated into his being – or something- and can only be released with his dissolution. However,  belief in evil sustains him so Stalker vows to  banish all evil from his world.

This final issue is not unlike The Son of Satan’s confrontation with his demonic dad a la Herb Trimpe. Indirectly, it also recalls Dr. Strange’s first meetings with Dormammu and Eternity.

And there the series ended, dying a quick death like most of DC’s Adventure line. Being rather pallid imitations of Marvel series from earlier in the decade, they didn’t really offer much of an alternative but Stalker was an interesting idea that probably needed more time to find its market,

Stalker returned in 1999 in the miniseries The Justice Society Returns: rather fittingly, since Levitz’s JSA in All-Star Comics was one of my favourite comics in 1977-78.

James Robinson, something of a fan of mid-70s Dc obscurities used Stalker as a world-conquering menace unleashed by Nazi occultists. In the series, Stalker now resembled Dgrth. A more familiar Stalker shared an adventure with Wonder Woman where she offered him some redemption despite a betrayal. He returned a third time in the New 52 version of Sword of Sorcery but that title folded in the spring of 2013.

I also read an issue of Savage Sword of Conan – a series I always associate with the last weeks of summer.

2577548-savage_sword_of_conan_015_01

The Devil in Iron is a Thomas/Buscema/Alcala adaptation of a REH tale, published in October 1976 ( at the same time that Captain Britain made his debut!)

The original adventure rehashed several elements of earlier Conan stories: the evil sheikh and his nubile victim in an island’s lost city  from Shadows in the Moonlight; the resurrection of an ancient menace from Black Colossus; and the phantom inhabitants of a city with secret passages from The Slithering Shadow.

The Marvel version is all lush charcoals and captures the furious action and decadent evil of the original. The metallic giant monster Khosatral Khel is a more pharaonic being than the grotesquerie of Boris Vallejo’s  cover and there is a rather silly image of his head on fire. However, it’s a good example of Marvel’s Conan Classic.

In the near future, I’ll comment upon the first outings for Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor and the new monthly Titan Comics for his immediate predecessors.

 
All images presumed copyright of their respective owners