Seaside Rendezvous

I was taken by surprise when I realised I’d missed the 36th anniversary last Friday of the death of Elvis Presley. I must have originally heard the news on the radio at fifteen. Our  summer holiday was in remote Portobello Bay, near Leswalt in Galloway in 1977.

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As you may know by now, two publications remind me of that holiday: a five-year-old paperback on the caravan bookshelf called The Lost Worlds of 2001 and Marvel’s second Conan Treasury, which I got in Stranraer (probably). I also associate that town with the TV Action weekly in the 1970s and thus, Doctor Who.  In those days, the tv series didn’t materialise on screen  until late autumn, but there was the occasional summer special in newsagents to plug the gap.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a copy of the 1991 Doctor Who Magazine Summer Special.  That was the year that I visited London for the first time in nearly a decade, largely to see the MOMI Dr. Who exhibition. The highlight for me that July was the walk-in Dalek prop:

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The contents of the summer special  are almost comically fan-oriented: a comprehensive guide to location filming- all the gravel pits and quarries of the Home Counties!  It also contains a short comic strip by DC’s Paul Cornell and Gary Frank. “Seaside Rendezvous” is named after the Queen track from ’75’s Night at the Opera.

It’s the cover that hooked me though. It’s by Lee Sullivan, one of my favourite Who artists. Ace is wearing Starfleet earrings and is being pursued by a Dalek, the Loch Ness Monster and the Weed Creature from Fury From The Deep. The Doctor is reading The Gallifrey Grauniad. Equally wittily, a tiny Ian, Barbara, Susan and Dr. Who are running from a crab to a tiny Tardis in an homage to Planet of the Giants.

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The masthead is so redolent of the UK summer specials from DC Thomson or IPC that we knew from the 70s and 80s. But as Paul Weller said, now autumn’s breeze blows summer’s leaves through my life…

  Just before we returned to work for the autumn term, I listened to another instalment in the Destiny of the Doctor audios. Smoke and Mirrors teams up the Fifth Doctor and his youthful trio of companions with escapologist Harry Houdini. This is an interesting idea and the haunted fairground settting is spooky but the answer to the story’s mysteries is concealed in the title. Janet Fielding gives a spirited reading ( no pun intended) of a toothless tale.

Fielding’s Tegan has brought a influx of energy into the usually sedate 5th Doctor adventures for Big Finish over the last couple of years. However, The Lady of Mercia is a plodding and charmless adventure.

Paul Magrs has brought a lush, fantastic and camp dimension to previous adventures of The Doctor. His first BBC book, The Scarlet Empress, remains one of my favourites since it immersed the 8th Doctor in an exotic Orientalist fantasy.

However, I haven’t warmed to very many of his audio scripts. In this one, the Tardis delivers its crew to an English University in the early 80s where a time travel experiment  results in Tegan’s imposture as the warrior princess Aelfwynn in a war with the Danes.

BF did this before, last year and far better when Leela was befriended by Boudicca in Wrath  of the Icenii. This is a tedious script, unfortunately saddled with an unconvincing adultery subplot among the academics.   I wish Magrs had called  it “Sisters of Mercia”, at least. 

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The Best There Is At What He Does

Contains Spoilers!

The secret to a super-hero film, I’d argue, is a good leading man ( or woman, although that’s much, much more rare, unfortunately). One of the reasons I was so disappointed by Man of Steel was that I found Henry Cavill devoid of charisma. Not so Hugh Jackman, who has been playing The Wolverine for a dozen years now.

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I was never a fan of the diminuitive, feral Canadian mutant. In my first issue of the All-New, All-Different X-Men, in the late autumn of 1975, he only appeared at the end of the story and for a couple of panels.

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Romita Sr.s original design for The Wolverine

It was Canadian artist-writer John Byrne who established the Canucklehead as the breakout star of the series.

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However, it was Chris Claremont (and Frank Miller) who crafted the themes and imagery that inform this movie. Claremont, who has no regular writing assignment these days, is shamefully overlooked as (next to Kirby) the creator whose work has been most mined for Marvel movies.

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Claremont and Byrne were inspired by the tv miniseries Shogun to create a demure Japanese romantic interest for Wolverine. The Lone Wolf and Cub manga then inspired the 80s comics miniseries that expanded the samurai trope for Logan-san. Other , lesser creators have returned to that well but it’s Jackman who has made me an admirer of Wolverine,

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Is the movie itself any good? I found the final half-hour somewhat jarring. The super-heroics involving the movie’s version of Silver Samurai and Viper seemed to strike a different, slightly campy tone. I was irritated to see the alluring but lethal Madame Hydra, created by Twitter sensation Jim Steranko, reimagined as a skin-shedding mutant with a venomous kiss,

However, most of the Japanese sequences were atmospheric and exciting and the bullet train fight reminded me in a way of a modern You Only Live Twice. In my  very late teens, I was fascinated by Japanese culture and wrote a Fifth Doctor adventure set on a bullet train.

Mariko, Shingen and Harada were all present. The bisexual thief Yukio was now a precognitive Hit-Girl type and Jean Grey as Wolverine’s Angel of Death was logical and poignant. My absolutely favourite scene, however, was in  the closing moments where C****** and M****** made a surprise appearance, linking with an image of Trask Industries. This ,of course, heralds the film version of the infamous and influential Days of Future Past storyline.

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As a man of honour and a savage, in many ways, Wolverine is the heir to the Conan tradition in the Marvel Universe. This is best illustrated by John Buscema’s work on the character and the crucifixion sequence from the Silvestri X-Men in the 80s, which recalls REH’s own “A Witch Shall Be Born” ( or Schwarzenegger *shudder*). And of course, the Weapon X series was illustrated by Barry Smith, as was the “Wounded Wolf” story in 1986.

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Byrne’s vision of Wolverine ( pre-X-Men 98)

In fact, if Curtis Magazines produced b/w comics for a “mature” market, Wolverine: Weapon X would probably have a healthy lifespan ( with Black Widow back-ups?) But Wolverine is also Marvel’s answer to Batman. He can star in any kind of story- from war comics; superhero team books ( the incorporation of Wolvie and Spidey in the Avengers was, ultimately,  an inspired idea by Brian Bendis); even slapstick comedy.

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“I really like beer.”

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Curently, one of my favourite comics is Wolverine and the X-Men. In an hilarious and logical move, Logan is cast as the headmaster of the Jean Grey School, in the footsteps of Professor X. Scipter jason Aaron has delved deep into the enormous back catalogue of X-Men comics and references Claremont, Cockrum, Byrne, Lobdell and Grant Morrison. It’s a dramatic, darkly humorous comic, funny and touching.

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In the 70s, under Cockrum’s pencil, Logan morphed quickly into the Legionnaire Timber Wolf- and Gerry Conway responded by ramping up the Wolf’s solitary nature and Noble Savage traits. This is ironic since the Wolf began as a super-acrobat and Wolverine as a super-contortionist: neither were primarily animalistic heroes, yet that trop of Claremont, Cockrum and Byrne shaped so many other characters: Sabretooth, Vixen, Wildcat, Blackmane, Talon, Catspaw and so on,

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 Now that the LSH has foundered as a result of Paul Levitz’s glacial plotting, Wolvie/X’s Jason Aaron is the scripter I think best suited to honouring the Legion’s wackiness, convoluted history and garagantuan cast. That is if DC hasn’t dismantled the LSH completely- I’ll know in a week or so with that final New 52 issue.

Coming soon: Saturday seaside summer specials

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In Dark Cimmerian Desert Ever Dwell

With the school holidays dwindling to an end, I’m reminded of my teenage years and my voracious appetite for heroic fantasy paperbacks. I think the late 70s and early 80s, with their Heavy Metal boom, were the origin point for both the role-playing game hobby and the Goth fashion trend.

It’s July 1978. You’re the One That I Want is of course Number One. Elsewhere, Don’t Fear the Reaper and the Who’s CSI theme have charted. My first exposure to Bob Dylan is his New Wave-y single, Baby Stop Crying.

I am desperate to get my hands on the UK reprint of 1977’s Savage Sword of Conan adaptation of The Slithering Shadow. I take the train to Central Station to scour the wooden newsstand but to no avail.

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1960s Central Station hardly looked any different in ’79.

I finally read the story later that year in Conan the Adventurer, having joined Strathaven Library and haunting Grant’s bookshop in Glasgow and the flagship John Menzies in Buchanan Street.  I then read the Marvel adaptation some thirty (!) years later  in the second volume of the Dark Horse b/w Conan collection.  Last month, I decided I wanted to own the original (US) SSOC printing.

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Originally titled, romantically, Xuthal of the Dusk, the story depicts Conan and a prostitute called Natala surviving a desert slaughter of their mercenary band and discovering  a glassy, green city of Oriental lotus eaters. These somnabulent scientists are prey to an alien creature. An imperious Stygian female named Thalis sets in motion a chain of events that leads to the destruction of the populace.

This is rather an excessive story of bondage and addiction with a titanic struggle between Conan and the monster, which the barbarian only survives through a draught of miraculous liqour. It’s very bloody and the spicy scenes are a bit more sensationalist than the monthly colour Conan. Thalis is one of  Buscema’s statuesque villainesses; much of her pantherish menace and the decadent, langourous atmosphere is down to the inking of Alfredo Alcala. But the penciller renders the creature as a cross between a toad and a triceratops, however and the effect is faintly comic. As is often the case with Howard (and Thomas!) Conan sounds quite contemporary: ” Did I tell the Stygian to fall in love with me? After all, she was only human!”

The other features are Solomon Kane’s Homecoming, a Howard poem, prettily illustated by Virgilio Redondo and Rudy Nebres and a photo-feature, Sing a Song of Sonjas, in which Michale Walters of San Diego cosplays a charming Red Sonja.

Now…it’s August 1979. Cliff Richard is Number One and his new lyricist,  droll teacher BA Robertson has a career boost in tandem. There are two songs in the charts called Anegl Eyes. Chuck E is in Love, and the Chic Organisation has revived disco.  My family go on holiday in Lamlash on Arran and it rains in torrents. I am reading ERB’s tedious Lost on Venus (having devoured the Conan Sphere paperbacks) and Starburst magazine which previews Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings.

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Although it’s rained on all but one of my five return visits to the island,  I gave Arran another chance last weekend and aside from one quick downpour, the weather was unusally sunny. I had been to a cremation in Glasgow and retreated to Brodick for a day or two. This time, I had a copy of Savage Tales 2, purchased in Glasgow’s City Centre Comics.

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I had first seen the cover reproduced in b/w in the second Foom magazine, as a 9-year-old, and it had a brutal, illicit fascination.

Barry Smith’s first installment of Red Nails looks stunning in black and white, Interestingly, this REH story  is Slithering Shadow revisited, with trappings of Mesoamerican instead of Asian culture. Valeria the pirate heroine is more robust than Natala  but the story is hugely violent and sensational, with its imagery of torture and lesbianism.

Lone Star Fictioneer is a biog of REH illustrated by Frank Brunner. Dark Tomorrow by Conway and Gray Morrow is a rather cliche Ruritanian adventure set in a dystopian future.  It’s a bit dull but the heroine’s costume may have inspired that of Starfire, DC’s heroine who occupied a similar milieu.

Cimmeria is a stunning, moody BWS asaptation of a Howard poem.  It’s followed by The Crusader, a Fifties reprint of Saracens vs. Mongols by Joe Maneely. He was the creator of the Yellow Claw and the  Black Knight , a favourite artist of Stan Lee, but one who died tragically young. Someone confused Saracens and Crusaders though.

A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career is reprinted from a1938 fanzine. It’s a chronology of the REH stories with vintage illustrations from Weird Tales. Finally The Skull of Silence is a reprint of Marvel’s first Kull story.  This moody but extremely caption-heavy story was reprinted from Creatures on the Loose– the former Gothic horror comic, Tower of Shadows. It reminds me of DC’s genteel sword and sorcery efforts of the late 60s.

Despite an ad for Satana in a ludicrous Tina Turner bat-outfit, I  feel the absence of Ka-Zar or Man-Thing since this is essentially a trial run for Savage Sword of Conan.  These comic magazines are sweetly tame compared to the gruesome imagery of modern Batman in WH Smith. Crucially, they confirmed my preference for the Marvel Conan -especially by Barry Smith or Gil Kane-to the pulp original. 

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There is an hallucinatory, sci-fi quality to early stories like Tower of the Elephant or Queen of the Black Coast. I would, however, recommend the Pictish (read: Native American) adventures Beyond the Black River and The Black Stranger as the best-written, most exciting and well-characterised in the canon.

Coming soon: The Wolverine

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Babble On and On

Due to continuing problems with Blogger on a public computer, I’m putting Some Fantastic Place on hiatus until those issues can be resolved. Successive posts  here were drafted for that site so the 100-page “Super Specs “posts are on hold now, also.

Just under a month ago, Britain was sweltering in the grip of an usually hot summer. I was visiting the Rhins of Galloway and en route had a pit-stop in the tiny village of Lendalfoot, five miles south of Girvan.

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In 1978, my family took a caravan holiday in Lendalfoot and my lasting memories are of our dogs making themselves sick on seawater when the rain wasn’t cascading down the road and swelling the Water of Lendal. I spent much of that week reading the Target books of Terrance Dicks: they inspired my earliest attempts to dream up adventures for Dr. Who. The savage Leela had departed from the series earlier in ’78 and I thought the Time lady Rodan  from The Invasion of Time would make an excellent replacement.

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I seemed to be in tune with the zeitgeist since a couple of weeks later, the autumn season issue of Radio Times showcased the glamorous Mary Tamm as Time Lady assistant Romana. This imperious character seemed to be inspired by Star Wars’ Princess Leia.

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Sadly, Mary Tamm passed away earlier this year.  I listened to her final audio adventures with Tom Taker’s Fourth Doctor earlier this summer.

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Phantoms of the Deep:  Jonathan Morris departs from his often blackly comic, timey-wimey style for an action thriller on the subsea vessel Erebus in the Mariana Trench. The Doctor, Romana and K9 encounter super-intelligent squid and psychic goblins on a sunken WWII submarine.  This cross between The Abyss and Quatermass and the Pit is a  bit too spooky for 1978’s Season Sixteen but entertaining enough.

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The Dalek Contract: The two-part season finale sees David Warner return as intergalactic CEO Cuthbert, a character originally created for the Audio Visuals taped plays of the mid-80s. Here, the conceit is that the Conglomerate has contracted the Daleks as a security force on the freezing wasteland planet of Proxima Major. The Doctor meets a generic band of rebels but the opportunity to lampoon that trope is ignored. The USP of the story is K9 vs the Daleks, of course.

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The Final Phase: the Daleks’ master plan to open a Quantum Gateway is revealed but it feels very familiar: Nicholas Briggs has explored a plot to conquer all realities in his Dalek War series, IIRC. The mystery of Cuthbert’s motives and origins  is floated but I don’t think the scripting was up to the face-off that Baker vs. Warner promises. I’d like to see someone other than Nicholas Briggs write a Dalek script for a change; I feel he’s burned out on them.

Is the series in the vein of the Graham Williams era? Well, not especially: unless, perhaps, Cuthbert had been replaced with the usurious Collector from The Sun Makers. Two-part season finales are an innovation of Russell T. Davies and the only story that felt genuinely like a Seventies script was the Wodehouse parody, The Auntie Matter.

 Big Finish seems compelled  by nostalgia to revisit every era of the show, no matter how crisis-torn and to produce sequels to virtually every story. It’s a fannish impulse to see absolutely everything as “brilliant”. The chemistry of the leads in this mini-series was much less engaging than the combination of McGann and Sheridan Smith. However, the music by Alistair Lock is amazingly evocative of Dudley Simpson’s late 70s scores.

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The character of Romana (or “Ramona” as Cuthbert would have it) is a clear response to the perennial request to cast the Doctor as a woman- a pointless and tokenistic idea that resurfaced yet again before the Peter Capaldi announcement. In my opinion, it’s as redundant as a Jane Bond or Tarzana. Yet, I have actually seen it suggested on Facebook that it’s the only way to make the series relevant to a modern audience! I don’t understand what’s relevant or modern or empowering, most importantly, about passing the mantle of a male hero to a female one (see also Supergirl, Bat-Girl, et al).  However, the second and most Doctor-ish incarnation of Romana stars in Babblesphere.

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Jonathan Morris returns for the fourth installment of the Destiny of the Doctor talking book range, posing the question:  would Douglas Adams have made fun of Twitter? A very vivid picture of the volcanic planet Hephastos is evoked where, incongrously, a man in a powdered wig dies in a replica of Versailles, “head smouldering like a spent firework”. The Doctor and Romana are pitted against the Prolocutor of the Babble network, an archetypal mad computer and overcome the machine with a stream of trivia, such as a list of the bits of the Tardis which go wrong. This is a charming and witty two-hander delivered in Lalla Ward’s plummy, acerbic tones.

At present, i’m listening to The Harvest of Time, an audiobook love letter to the era of Jon Pertwee, the Master and UNIT. I’ll be posting about that, about The Wolverine and Marvel’s Savage Tales in the very near future.

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Missa Pro Defunctis

In a change to our advertised post, we’re bringing you World’s Finest 227 from February 1975, It’s the second of three 100-page Super-Spectaculars from that month which I’ve read this summer. I always had a soft spot for WF: it was one of the first DC comics I can recall reading. It operates on the briliant and simple premise of teaming up Superman and Batman every month- except in the early Seventies when it  functioned briefly as a Superman team-up book , in the mould of Brave and the Bold.

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The cover is an eyecatching (patriotic?) mix of white, blue and red. it’s more appealing than the murky green of the previous June…

Death Flaunts Its Golden Grin: this  is the sequel to the Thomas Wayne/Deadman story that introduced Batman’s insane brother in WF 223 .

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The World’s Finest team is on the trail if a gold smuggling ring operating out of a WW1 flying circus. Batman  is on the trail of acrobats, since Deadman has usurped the body of his sibling. It ends with the inevitable, tragic sacrifice of Thomas Wayne.

This ingenious crime story by Haney and Aparo focuses more on the temporary schism between the WF than on the Deadman subplot. It’s also a prime example of Haney’s freewheeling approach since Thomas Wayne Jr. is effectively written out of the canon permanently with this story.

Having read many, many JLA stories in the 70s, I tend to view Dillin as the Sal Buscema of DC- he drew just about everyone in the DCU- while Aparo is the John Buscema, if you will.

The Secrets of Mount Olympus: Jack Miller and Bill Ely present a cinematic epic for Rip Hunter, Time Master, who uses the Trojan Horse to thwart an invasion of aliens posing as Greek gods. This rather stodgy 1962 story may have inspired LSH Annual 2 by Dave Gibbons. That 1983 story saw the shape-shifting Durlans mimicking the gods of Olympus.

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The Reformed Owlhoot Club: for much of the Sixties and Seventies, three Golden Age-rs were promoted so often that I’m surprised they didn’t graduate to the JLA. They were the Spectre, Wildcat and the Vigilante. in this Howard Sherman yarn, crooks who have gone straight thanks to Vig are blamed for fresh crimes that use their M.O.s

It turns out that crooks are posing as a film company and using the club members talents as training material. A clever little idea that deserved more space to develop. Also, Stuff the Chinatown Kid no longer looks Chinese.

The Man With 20 Lives: this is the third adventure for the Martian Manhunter from Detective Comics in 1956. Jack Miller and Joe Certa show the reluctant vistor from space bring a criminal’s career to an end when a hood thinks he’s being pursued by a ghost.  I like this noir-ish angle to an otherwise humdrum hero. I don’t really understand why J’Onn J’Onzz didn’t appear in the Super-Spec Detectives when the supernatural likes of  Dr. Fate and Kid Eternity did.

DC Comics Stars on the Screen: with a reference to the  Super Friends on tv , Bats & Supes introduce a three-page retrospective of their movie serials, tv shows and cartoons. Matinee serials starring Vigilante, Congo Bill and Blackhawk are also featured.

The Cape and Cowl Crooks: a simplistic mystery in which scerets of Superman’s Fortress rejuvenate and alter the personalities of Commisioner Gordon and Perry White. They become Anti-Superman and Anti-Batman. This predictable adventure is drawn beautifully by classicist Curt Swan and written by sci-fi author Ed Hamilton, who wrote many of the Legion stories. In terms of tone, it’s feels like the Adam West tv series. It’s also chock-full of villain cameos: Luthor, Brainiac, Prankster, Toyman, Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman all appear, in person or as statues.

This is a mildly diverting, inoffensive issue. Much of the art is classy if not especially dynamic. The selected strips reflect a rather sedate period of DC history, prior to the unsettling, angsty debut of upstart Marvel.

Coming soon: Wuxtry! Wuxtry!

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Madman in a Box

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Last night, surely the only place to be was in front of the BBC’s giddy Doctor Who Live for the announcement of the Twelfth Doctor. I have to say I was very surprised: I’d read the internet rumours but was surprised to find they were right. Some of the speculation had seemed wild to me- Idris Elba sounded highly unlikely. While I was hoping for a black or Asian actor, like Richard Ayoade or Riz Ahmed, I was actually expecting Andrew Scott, Sherlock‘s Moriarty.

I had dismissed the casting of a woman – an idea I find pointless and irrelevant at present,  although I did support it in the late 90s, when Daniela Nardini was associated with the part in the tabloid press. I was also surprised at the casting of an actor of Capaldi’s experience- then of course, I remembered Christopher Eccleston, Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann, who had all been selected for revivals of the series.

So I’m very excited- I hope the scripts improve in quality but it’s very encouraging to have a Doctor who is older than me again and one who, like me, formerly performed with Strathclyde Theatre Group.

So, fittingly, today’s gala 150th ‘optikon post reviews the most recent tabloid sized comic in my collection: Doctor Who Dave Gibbons Treasury Edition from August 2012. I was completely oblivious to its existence until this year. This collection, from IDW, brings together the first couple of months of Dr. Who Weekly strips from 1979 by Mills, Wagner and Gibbons.

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Oddly, the cover image refers to the 1981 story Junkyard Demon from Doctor Who Monthly: it doesn’t appear in this Treasury.

The Iron Legion is the first of two seven-episode strips, which were coloured and reprinted in the early 80s in the US Marvel Premiere comic. It begins with the invasion of a sleepy English town ( very Avengersland) by robotic Roman Legionaries. A shopkeeper is killed in an explosion of baked bean cans: this image is both comic and violent and heralds a very different sensibility to Tom Baker’s whimsical adventures in TV Comic only months earlier.

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The Doctor encounters the sinister raptor-robot Ironicus; is thrown to the slug-like Ectoslime in the arena ( where, wittily, he goes through his “memory files”- “Abominable Snowmen, Autons, Axos…”); finally becoming an air- galley slave.

Of course, the Doctor initiates a rebellion with the aid of a stammering robot, Vesuvius and Morris, a cyborg gladiator. The former recalls Tin of the Metal Men, while the latter reminds me of Artie from Harlem Heroes.  The Gods of the Roman Empire, the bat-like Malevilus, feed on humans very like the Mahars from At the Earth’s Core.

Not only does the strip evoke the tv show’s jackdaw approach to popular culture, it also accurately captures Tom Baker’s character voice as well as his likeness: ” Until the end of eternity, you’ll rule a kingdom beyond all kingdoms, Magog! For now, you’re the emperor of the empty dimension! Lord of Nothing!” I can clearly hear Tom taking those lines from a sonorous mutter to an angry hiss.

As a satire of sword and sandal epics, with 1950s sci-fi imagery thrown in, The Galactic Roman Empire is a fascinating setting; it surprises me that it’s never been revisisted in comics, prose or on tv.

City of the Damned aka City of the Cursed in the USA is 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 viewed through the 2000AD prism. The inhabitants of the planet Zom are ruled by a Brains Trust (literally humanoids with giant, exposed brains) who enforce a emotionless autocracy.

 

The Doctor falls in with ZEPO, a rebel movement of Pythonesque characters who have each adopted an emotion to keep it alive. These include Angry, Very Angry, Humble, Nervous and Half Daft. When Big Hate unleashes the rapacious Barabara Blood Bugs, the “perfect society” has to re-adopt the “evils” of emotion. The story ends with the entire populace modelling itself slavishly on the Doctor. This outcome is both inevitable and somewhat sinister: it’s very much in the vein of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide.

The muted colours are very effective in this collection, the point where the ethos of 2000 AD ( then two years old,) meets the Dr. Who strip. Tharg’s Future Shocks saw satirical and anarchic British humour mixed with dystopian visions of the future, drawn largely from 1970s US cinema. The outlandish worlds of the strip fit the tone of Seasons 16 and 17 with their Oxbridge absurdity and sci-fi settings: only two late 70s Who adventures had contemporary Earth settings- one in a pagan Mummerset Home Counties and the other, an ITC action series version of Paris.

Doctor Who Weekly was also the starting point for Russell T. Davies’ vision of Who: the “bitchy trampoline” Cassandra, the flatulent Slitheen and the leech-like Jagrafess all feel like they could have been drawn by Dave Gibbons.

This is a lovely edition and a reminder of when the strip was not only informed by the tv series (which was not always the case, as in the 5th Doctor’s time -or the Sixth,when it was better) but by the zeitgeist.

Coming soon: Superman Super-Spectacular, 1975

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Flop Goes the Joker

Recently on Some Fantastic Place ( where an annoying error is preventing me from posting yet again), I presented a fantasy run on Batman by Jack Kirby. The reason for this pipe dream was my disenchantment with the 70s scripts of Denny O’Neil. Submitted for your consideration: Batman 260 from February 1975…

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The tomato-red cover with the purple logo is exciting but the contents are lacklustre. Unlike Detective Comics, all reprints are Bat-centric; no other heroes from the DC archives appear.

This One will Kill You, Batman: exposed to drugged coffee during the Joker’s prison break, Bats is in danger of laughing himself to death. Rescuing a guillotine victim from London’s Comedy Manor music hall, Batman cures himself by recalling the Marx brothers’ funniest scenes (!)

This is the first appearance of the murderous Joker ( aside from a cameo in 258) since the legendary ” Joker’s Five-Way Revenge”. It’s quite a comedown. While the Novick/Giordano art is slick and kinetic, O’Neil strikes a macabre and jarring tone. In this story and in his previous Penguin and Two-Face efforts, he seems to be aping the camp craze of the Sixties but with a sour 70s twist. It doesn’t work for me.

The Grade A Crimes: Dick Sprang and Starman‘s Jack Burnley present a 1943 adventure concerning jewel thefts carried out by criminals disguised as milkmen.

The Perfect Crime…Slightly Imperfect: a complex plan to kill author Kaye Daye, this is a dry, dull “Mystery Analysts of Gotham City” story by Gardner Fox and Sid Greene from 1966.

The Case Without a Crime: a 1946 Win Mortimer human interest story about mistrust and suspicion in a costume shop. One employee impersonates Catwoman.

The Pearl of Peril: a mildly amusing 1945 vignette which sees Alfred embroiled in a scam in a restaurant.

The Riddler’s Prison-Puzzle Problem:  Frank Springer ( better known perhaps for Nick Fury and the original Secret Six) pencils a Fox story from 1968 that looks a bit like Gil Kane in its figure work and panel design. This is the first iteration of Batman I ever knew and I prefer it to O’Neil’s jaded campery. Although contemporary Detective Comics looked back to the Forties, in the here and now, DC has launched Batman ’66, a delirious evocation of the tv show.

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Also presented for your approval:

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“Meet the Tempter and Die”: Joe Giella and Mike Friedrich mimic Smilin’ Stan’s style rather sweetly with references to ecology, “beautiful people” and the “divine master”. Friedrich’s villain is basically Mephisto (with a dash of Gomez Addams): Superman’s soul is his greatest challenge and he inveigles Hawkman in a plot to restore Kandor that is intended to destroy the World’s Finest superhero.

Hawkgirl and Lois Lane guest-star in this interesting, early-70s attempt to challenge Marvel. Grant Morrison revived the Tempter for his Zatanna miniseries in 2005.

However, the attraction of this issue was really the “Bureau of Missing Villains” featuring the debut of Tweedledee and Tweedledum. “The fantastic rotund rogues” are sluggish sadists who utilise steel traps and electrical weaponry on B&R. They paralyse the Dynamic Duo while robbing a masquerade ball where “the admission is a $1000 War Bond”.

I’ll return to the Golden Age (Earth-Two) Batman in the near future. Hopefully I’ll be able to post my thoughts on a female Doctor Who on Place before the casting announcement this weekend.

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