Surf’s Up

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Forty years ago, Marvel UK added two more titles to its stable. I was already collecting Mighty World of Marvel, Spider-Man Comics Weekly, The Avengers and Planet of the Apes. (Dracula Lives was too gloomy and possibly-subtly- parentally banned.)

I was fairly keen to read The Super -Heroes, which featured the Silver Surfer’s solo adventures and the circus-flavoured exploits of the X-Men ( although I had some 60s Fantastic reprints, several US Marvel Super Heroes reprints and even their origin in MWOM). I was far more excited by Savage Sword of Conan, with Barry Smith’s blend of Kirby influences and Art Nouveau.

CONAN V1N1

I had read perhaps seven US Conan comics at that point and the b/w reprint in the 1972 Fleetway “Marvel” annual. The most recent had been bought in the cafe in Stonehouse Hospital in February 1974, a whole year before. I was wild about the Cimmerian’s sorcerous exploits and curious about the King Kull back-up. Instead of adding these titles to my weekly order in the Cringan’s general store in Chapleton, my brother and I craftily suggested we get them from Craig’s newsagent in Strathaven; Jonathan would (ostensibly) collect The Super- Heroes. Surprisingly, our parents complied.

* https://materioptikon.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/i-got-dem-ol-kozmic-blues-again-mama/

From the off, however, there seemed to be distribution problems with the new weeklies. I missed issues 3,5 and 7 of SSOC and 2,3 and 5 of TSH. I remember reading issue 4 in Ayr, between the High Street and the Sandgate, probably at the Easter weekend: again, the X-Men episode was one I had read in colour.

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Where SSOC only lasted a mere 17 weeks (thanks, Kid for the arithmetic) before merging, bizarrely, with The Avengers,  The Super-Heroes achived an eclectic mix of sci-fi, super heroes and heroic fantasy. I’ve often blogged about Conan before- and will again, I expect- so let’s focus on the fortunes of the other comic…

I had little experience of the Surfer stories: one issue of TV21 in its dying days and only three issues of his original US mag. The first of those was the giant-sized third issue with the infernal debut of Mephisto; the second featuring the Abomination and thirdly, before I could mistake it for a DC “Weird” title, with SHIELD. Although the Buscerma art is beautiful, the melancholy, moping Surfer pleased me less than the merry mutants. I had never seen their first encounters with Namor, the Stranger, the Juggernaut and the Sentinels. I also liked the team’s badinage and their malt shoppe antics. As a little kid, I was fascinated by the idea of other mutants joining the school.

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The third TSH feature, Doc Savage reprints from his b/w magazine, began in August 1975. This must have been to tie into the George Pal movie.

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I had also glimpsed this paperback on sale at the ferry terminal in Rothesay that sizzling summer, in the same week I first read the debut of Justice Inc., DC’s answer to the pulp avenger. Oddly, Doc’s short-lived 1972 colour monthly stories went unreprinted. I like the Moench “Silver Ziggurat” story more now than then but, of course, now I see the Dr. Moreau riff.

The next change in the line-up took place in October 1975 in the shadow of the novelty of the “landscape” Titans weekly. The Surfer series, having coming to an end ( and with the abortive Kirby Savage Surfer reboot printed out of order) replacements were required.

2276210-sh31The Cat: miscoloured on three covers

I must have seen some Giant Man stories in Terrific, before I could read, as I had a fond recollection of the Human Top. Also, some time in the early 70s, visiting my mum’s elderly Aunt Anna in Lesmhagow, I had read this Alan Class comic:

creepy

Sadly, like the preceding Ant-Man stories, the adventures of the Big Man and the Little Lady are not very memorable.

Claws of the Cat was, of course, one of Stan’s early attempts to create a feminist/Relevance title for the gals, with female creators (in the main; the Wally Wood inks in the first issue are classy but domineering). Greer Grant Nelson is a sympathetic heroine but her whole schtick is derivatively “Catwoman”. The art of this short-lived 1972 series became more Underground in style and amateurish (to my sensibilities at least.)  I did subsequently develop quite a fondness for the legacy character Hellcat in the Defenders however.

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The Scarecrow- a riff on the sensational Adventure Comics Spectre series- appeared at the year’s end. It must have been printed virtually simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic. It doesn’t make very much sense and it’s more silly than sinister. The X-Men moved to The Titans at this time.

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January 1976 was the last hurrah for The Super-Heroes.  A reprint run of The Thing solo stories from Marvel Feature and Marvel Two-In-One began that new year. The Starlin and Kane art in those early adventures was appealing and evoked memories of the first months of MWOM.

The weekly also featured the headshop barbarism of Bloodstone, the short-lived Hyborian monster hunter who had debuted in the US only three months earlier. The final feature in the series was the 1968 MSH try-out for the Black Knight, gorgeously pencilled by  Howard Purcell (co-creator of Sargon the Sorceror). A very early sword and sorcery tale from Roy Thomas and sadly the Knight didn’t, er, take off.

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These WERE the Super-Heroes

And that was the end of the weekly. In mid-February 1976, barely a year old, it merged with Spider Man Comics Weekly to form a second landscape title, Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes. What an unwieldy title. Of couse, that weekly would absorb its “parent”, The Titans by year’s end and the landscape format would vanish altogether in July 1977. Nevertheless, I’m afraid I didn’t miss TSH all that much.

2242151-shm_2_1 Debbie Harry IS Power Girl!

In September, 1980, London Editions revived the Super Heroes brand, as it were, with the glossy DC reprint magazine. The Alan Craddock cover signalled the cross-pollination of DC comics and British creators.

Meanwhile, that same month, I finally read the lead story of SSOC (UK) 7 in a b/w Conan Pocket Book– and a few weeks later, Valour Weekly launched, picking up the psuedo-African adventures of Conan after Belit’s death. But that is another story entirely…

Coming soon: The Power of Shazam; Apeslayer; Black Goliath

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

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6 comments on “Surf’s Up

  1. Kid Robson says:

    Talking of Conan, I remember sitting out on a pal’s back step going through a pile of comics, amongst which was CTB #1. This was around 1971 so it was still relatively new. I remember thinking that the astronaut panel seemed strangely out of place and, many years later (in the 21st century), Roy Thomas said that, on reflection, he thought pretty much the same thing and wouldn’t have included the scene now.

    I never had any difficulty obtaining Marvel U.K.’s The Super-Heroes or Conan The Barbarian, so perhaps it was just sold out some weeks in your local shops? Incidentally, as CTB only lasted for 18 issues, that means it was on sale for 17 weeks, not 19. I still have all my original issues of both titles.

    • Dougie says:

      I don’t teach Maths for a reason!
      As for the distribution issue, we had those weeklies on order but I suppose they could have been sold to another customer.

  2. I think I only had two issues of the Super-Heroes. I remember them appearing in local newsagents but, for some reason, it rarely occurred to me to buy them. Why, I don’t know, as I liked what little Conan I’d read up to that point and always loved John Buscema’s work on the Surfer.

  3. Paul McScotty says:

    nice review/blog : My first Conan was issue 26 which blew me away I hadn’t read anything like that until then and it made me an instant Conan fan ( ditto the Kull series with Marie and John Severin art).

    I was always a bit surprised that Dracula Lives (another favourite of mine via the US series) lasted longer than Conan in the UK, Conan being UK Marvels first real failure – but the UK Conan monthly was worth the wait. The Super Heroes I liked until the Silver Surfer tales ran out, after that it had some nice strips but was to weak (I wasn’t a fan of the early X men tales until Neal Adams run and the Giant Man solo strips whilst fun, were too dated by then ).

    My family moved to the Larkhall / Stonehouse area from Glasgow in the mid 70s (it was to be a “new” town but that never happened) and I was surprised by the number of amazing newsagents in the area with loads of US comics (particularly in Larkhall which also had a printers that printed a lot of the fanzines of the time BEM, Comic Media News etc) so I never had a problem picking up the weeklies or US Marvel, DC, Charlton, Warren etc books (I never ventured into Strathaven so I missed a few good shops by the sound of it sadly)

    • Dougie says:

      My mum was born and brought up in Stonehouse, I’m not surprised that the area was earmarked as another new town. Sadly, by the early 80s, it was becoming hard to get US comics anywhere other than John Menzies. In the four or so years I’ve been in Moray, I’ve sen lots of little shops that probably sold Marvel and DC on spinner racks in the 70s. As I said before, there are no comic shops outside Aberdeen. Kids up here are mad for superheroes, too.

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