Comic Therapy looks at The biggest Wankers in Comics

It’s time for my annual holiday, so as a great man with mascara across his eyes and wearing a red cockpiece once said “School’s out for Summer!” Remember how on the last day of the school you could bring in games? (Always high comedy when some kid would end the day bawling his eyes out because some expensive toy they’d bought ended up broke). Or watching movies (at 15 I remember watching Rambo 3 at school about a month before it even came out in the UK. Pretty sure there’s quite a few laws been broken right there).

Well in that tradition I’ve decided to fuck around with my last articles for a while as I bring to you my own list of the biggest wankers in comics.

H.E.R.B.I.E

herbie

“Herbie? Herbie? Who the fuck is Herbie?” is what a nation of kids were yelling at their TV screens in the late 70’s when a Fantastic Four cartoon appeared on our teatime telly in the UK. Unlike today Marvel cartoons were a rairety on television with a Spiderman cartoon featuring one of the catchiest themes in cartoons ever being the only chance we had to see superheroes in motion, so the Fantastic Four was something we were all getting excited for. Yet something seemed amiss when the opening credits began showing the origin of the FF while a certain Johnny Storm seemed to be missing for that fateful trip into space. In his place was a hovering, dated looking little robot..

Yes, the Human Torch had been retconned out of the new Cartoon to be replaced by “Herbie, the newsest member of the team”, a tagline that frankly made no sense whatsover.

Letter’s poured into the offices of ITV (probably) demanding to know where the Human Torch was and who the fuck this Herbie was, similar to the outcry when Buck Roger’s sidekick Twiki (now there’s a proper robot) has his voice changed during the incredibly lame second series. The people at ITV probably thought “fucked if we know”.

Urban myth has it that the Human Torch was left off the cartoon due to fears that impressionable kids would be inspired to set themselves on fire (apparently the Fantastic Four comic was a big hit with Tibetan monks during the Vietnam war).

The truth is that the Human Torch had been licensed to appear in a possible live action TV show and so the character could not be used. The show was never made, probably because the special effects would be too expensive at the time…and maybe because some dumb kids would set themselves on fire. Let’s face it we live in a world where kid’s Superman outfits have to come with a warning “does not enable flight”.

Neither Herbie or the cartoon were a hit, with only 12 episodes being made, during which the annoying little droid just kinda acted like a mechanical know it all and generally got on everyone’s nerves especially the Thing.

Incredibly Herbie joined the cast of the Fantastic Four comics but as a companion not an actual member. At least this time we got to see him killed off.

By the way I mentioned the 80’s Buck Roger’s In the 25th Century TV series. Anyone who remebers getting hot under the collar for Colonel Wilma Deering and Princess Ardala when they were kids needs to go on youtube and check at the bizarre and frankly blue movie like opening credits to the Theatrical Movie version of the pilot.

You’ll thank me for it.

Rodimus Prime

300px-Headhunt-Rodimus

Look it was always going to be tough following in the footsteps of the great Optimus Prime. However we could all trust the Matrix to find us a suitable kick ass replacement right? I mean Hotrod was a pretty cool character right? All hot headed and reckless. So hell, Rodimus Prime was going to be an awesome leader yeah?

Well as it happens the answer is no.

Because Rodimus Prime turned out to be one of the most dislikeable Transformers ever. For a start a fighter this guy was not. I mean Optimus had a whole hippy peace and love philosophy towards life, but he’d spread some shit when things got tough. Rodimus seemed to prefer to run away or order Ultra Magnus to do his fighting for him. On those occasions when he was forced to actually have a fight himself he normally got his ass handed to him. Let’s see Sam Bush make an awesome song out of that guy.

He wasn’t the most inspiring leader either. He was always racked with self doubt and was often indecisive which one time prompted Grimlock to lose his rag and totally go to town on him during a crisis meeting, even bullying him into a course of action.

Listen let’s just accept that the Matrix just had to settle for whoever was around during their darkest hour. We should have had Griminus Prime Goddamit.

Hank Pym

hank_pym_slap

Now I know not all superheroes should be likeable, there should be all different personalities and we need opportunity for conflict. I get that. But frankly any guy who lays a hand on his wife automatically makes it into shithead status as far as I’m concerned. Which is what Hank Pym did to the Wasp during his emotionally turmoil time as Yellowjacket.

Granted the fall of Hank Pym was a pretty edgy storyline at the time (I think it far more powerful than the often lauded Demon in a Bottle saga) but I still hate the guy. After all Joffrey helped make Game of Thrones awesome but I still wanted to strangle the little shit.

Seriously Hank Pym has always been a whiny character, with all that emotional baggage and self esteem issues causing him to switc from one lame persona to the next (remember the time where he had a sickly sweet flying robot car?) Even calling himself The Wasp when it was thought she’d died during Secret Invasion, which is just damn creepy.

The thing is, with all his backstory I think Pym could make a decent villain, maybe his issues one day tipping him over the edge and forming his own Masters of Evil. This was something that was realised in The Ultimates which made him even more of a dick and when Pym beat on the Wasp this time it did not go unpunished. Because Captain America beat the shit out of him in one of the greatest beatdowns ever, rivaling the scene in Godfather where Sonny kicks the crap out of his brother in law for bruising up his sister. Seriously that comic is worth reading just for that scene alone.

You can grow in size all you want Pym, but you’ll always be a little man at heart.

Nuclear Man

Nuclear Man on this list may be a little unfair, because in truth I’m just using him as an excuse to rag on one of the worst films of all time Superman IV the quest for Peace.

This was a watershed moment in my love of movies, as this was the first time I saw a film that I realised was absolutely garbage. See I loved the Superman films as a kid, I’d seen the trailer which was awesome with Superman seemingly trying to balance preventing Nuclear Armageddon with battling a new foe just as powerful as him.

I knew shit about films at that age, but from the opening moments with those cheap looking opening credits and a feeble rescue in space scene that looked awfully like a studio, I knew something just wasn’t right. You see the makers of the first three movies had sold the franchise to Canon films who were trying to do the film on the cheap and boy did it show, with effects so bad they were laughable, I mean how many times was the same shot of Superman flying get used?

Oh and the awful comedy. At least in Superman III we had Richard Pryor. Here we have a long scene involving the hilarity of a double date situation where both Superman and Clark Kent are invited and have to keep switching from one to the other. It’s just awful and by the way Margot Kiddor was looking really ropey as Lois Lane by now.

You know what? If I was professional I’d watch Superman IV again for this piece, but I just can’t. Especially when there is an “Honest Movie Trailer” for it on Youtube. So go seek that out instead.

The film has provided us with one of the greatest DVD commentaries of all times where the director Sidney Furie just pretty much offers one long apology. And believe it or not it could have been even worse, as a subplot was left on the cutting room floor that would have seen an original Nuclear Man created who turned out to be…how can I say this in politically correct manner? Let’s say he’s a bit special. The footage exists and is even more horrible than the stuff that made it onto the screen.

My mum actually once described Nuclear Man as dishy, seriously.

The Four Wankers dressed as Ghostbusters at Sheffield Comic Con

ghostbuster

I’m a big fan of conventions. I absolutely adore the fact that people decide they’re going to dress up as characters from comics and video games for the day and don’t give a damn what other people think. To me It’s a form of counter culture and to all those “cool” people who say “get a life” or “look at them saddos” whenever I’ve been to cons I see nothing but happy, positive people enjoying their day. But I digress.

Last year the first comic con came to Sheffield where I live and to commerate this occasion me and some friends decided to make costumes and go. As it happens I was the only one of the group that bothered to dress up, but anyway I decided to go as Peter Venkman of the Ghostbusters (the reason for this choice will soon become clear). So the bank holiday before the Con I raided my attic for any discarded electrical appliances I could find and built myself a backpack along with the ghost catcher thingy, painted a water gun black and finished the whole thing off with some safety stickers and voila I was a Ghostbuster.

I arrived at the Sheffield Arena, marvelling at the sight of Boba Fett and a group of Stormtroopers stood outside the pub across the road and watching the wonderful cavalcade of characters crossing the carpark seeing the first of many hot Harley Quinn outfits I would see that day. As I got out of my car a van just happened to roll up containing four other Ghostbusters. Now these guys were true enthusiasts. There’s costumes were exact replicas, down to the smallest detail as opposed to mine that was creatively put together with what ever I had lying around (I like to think mine was an interpretation as opposed to an attempt to replicate). They looked impressive, even if they were a little on the wrong side of overweight themselves.

Now I’m not the most social of people normally, but I was caught up in all the good vibes and friendliness all around me and in the spirit of nerdy comradely I smiled their way and gave them a friendly nod of the head. So did they respond in greeting at the coincidence of Ghostbusters parking so close together?

Nope.

These fuckers remained stone faced, and stared at me with a look of contempt before marching off without any form of acknowledgement. In short they blanked me. Maybe they didn’t approve of my crude outfit or felt I was encroaching in on their turf. I don’t know. Well maybe I don’t have an exact replica Proto Gun but I have something that they can’t touch.

Because I’m told I resemble Bill Murray and you can’t replicate that. It’s an ongoing gag, with customers where I work remarking on it as does the host of the excellent Bourbon Room club in Las Vegas whenever I visit there.

As I did the rounds of the convention it was been remarked on constantly. I even ended up being asked to pose with people for photos (in truth anyone with a half decent costume was getting asked the same), with people commenting how I looked like the actual Venkman. As one excited young guy succinctly put it “Dude you look like Bill Murray, NO ONE looks like Bill Murray”.

So yeah that was my fifteen minutes right there.

I wonder how much a Death’s Head outfit would cost?

Jax Teller

jax soa

Jax Teller of Sons of Anarchy? The TV show that was a hit amongst fans of motorcycle gangs and prison rape? “But Dazza Sons of Anarchy is a TV show, how can he be included in a list of comic wankers? Wah, wah, wah, wah.”

First up don’t talk to me like that, I’ve thrown away more comics than you’ve read.

Second a Sons of Anarchy comic exists so I’m claiming his entry as legit.

Thirdly I have to include Jax Teller, because he’s worse than a wanker, I’d go so far to call him some thing that starts with a C, ends with a T and has UN in the middle.

I loved Sons of Anarchy, it was one of my favourite shows of all time. I even ignore the ridiculousness that a motorcycle gang would be able to go toe to toe with the IRA, Russain Mafia and Yakusa. Or the ludicrous amounts of murders in broad daylight they were able to get away with season to season. “So tell me did you get a good look at the killers?” “Yeah they were riding motorcycles and had these jackets on that said Sons of Anarchy of the back?” “Hmm well I’m stumped!”

I hated Jax Teller. When he wasn’t baring his admittedly preposterously well toned arse every single episode, he was normally trying to act as some great philosopher and using a romanticised notion of brotherhood to justify the generally thuggish behaviour of him and his buddies as they pretty much rob, kill and intimidate anyone who gets in their way.

My real hatred of Jax grew during the episode where he forcibly injected heroin into the arm of his former girlfriend who was a recovering addict. From that point on I wanted nothing but a brutal ending to the character, but sadly that wasn’t to be. Jax’s actions seemed to get everyone around him killed, whle Jax was able to go out on his own terms dying on his motorcycle as a free spirit with a smile on his smug face.

If I’d been writing the show it would have ended with Jax in prison, bent over his bunk as a long line made up of members from all the gangs he’d crossed waiting to take a turn with him. Let’s see how good his ass looks after it’s been heavily sodomised by members of the various street gangs as well as white supremacists, IRA, Russian Mafiosa, Triads, redneck militia and Marylin Manson.

And so that’s It from me for a while, I really would like to thank Fettman, Luro and Marvel2K for welcoming me to the site and giving me a showcase for my articles and allowing me on their podcast. I’ve had a blast and hope to continue doing so for some time to come.

So far now I’ll say so long, farewell, Auf wiedersehen, adieu and I’ll be back later in July. That’s if the guys don’t take the opportunity to move websites while I’m gone.

Dazza

Comic Therapy Sessions Radio: Episode 4

Image and video hosting by TinyPicDazza, fettman, luro, and marvell2k set out talking Dazza’s recent article about UK Transformer comics but end up talking all things Transformers.

Including the various animated television series and the famous animated movie of the 80’s. Great show show as always and we explain why Dazza and Comic Therapy Sessions Radio will be going on hiatus before resurfacing on Halfguarded.com 

And as always Dazza previews his next article and whatever new comics he just so happens to be reading as well.

All this and so much more on the final episode of Comic Therapy Sessions on ComicConversations.com!!!

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Comic Therapy Sessions looks at The UK Transformers Comic

MarvelUK-1My name is Dazza and I’m a Transformers addict! (Everyone else in the meeting says “Hi Dazza”)

I first got addicted to Transformers when I was twelve, which I realise is an age I should have already put away such childish things in favour of indulging in underage smoking, underage drinking, underage sex, hanging around supermarket carparks at midnight, writing poetry about getting depressed, spending a night in jail! You know all the stuff my friends were doing before really going off the rails and becoming lawyers or accountants.

And I did try to put these things behind me. I’d conquered my Star Wars Toys addiction after an intervention with my mother who convinced me I should sell my massive figure and vehicle collection to a cousin for a nominal price because “they’re second hand they’re not worth anything” (yeah cheers mum, got any stock trading tips while you’re at? Just wait until you see the shitty home I put you in. If only I had a pristine At-At to sell to raise some cash to get you somewhere nicer).

But then those darn Transformers arrived and they looked so tantalising, all packaged up with those epic murals on the back. Oh the names like Skywarp, Thundercracker, Prowl and those biographies on the back that seemed to portray even the Autobots as real grumpy bastards. Yes, I bought the toys, telling myself and everyone that they were collectables. I loved them, ignoring the fact that the planes were the same toy with different colours and the design flaw in the dinobots that meant they couldn’t stand up on their own in robot mode.

My addiction took many forms. The only thing that could get me to rise out of bed early during my school holidays was to watch the cartoon on breakfast telly (remember “whack a day” UK readers?) Oh that epic theme music and Peter Cullen’s awe-inspiring voice work of Optimus Prime. Even today I can’t help but smile when I hear that little jingle which would show a Autobot symbol turning into a decepticon symbol between scenes.

And I know so much more about the toyline than a grown man who was practically a teen when it was introduced to the UK should. I know how the Hasbro line in the US was built up of various Japanese toylines such as Diaclone and micro man. I know the legal issues surrounding the Jetfire toy and why he was changed to Skyfire and looked totally different in the cartoon. I know how a brand new character called Sunstorm came about simply because animators on the first episode coloured a few of the jets differently to pad out the Decepticon forces. I even know why they had Spike say “Shit” in the animated movie.

But it was the Marvel UK comic that was to prove the one vice I could never kick. Every Monday from the ages of twelve to sixteen a copy of Transformers would be delivered with my parents daily newspaper. No way was I ever going to miss an issue.

Hasbro’s marketing plan was to promote the toyline with cartoons and comics to add a backstory and personality to the toys. Therefore in 1984 a four issue limited series ran in America introducing potential toy buyers to the war of the Autobots and Decepticons (and including a copyright headache appearance of Spiderman in issue 3). Although crudely drawn by today’s standards (and drove the more stickler for details fans crazy with a catalogue of rushed miscoluring and drawing errors) the comic was better than a toy tie-in about giant robots had any right to be. The series ended on a grim cliffhanger with the seemingly victorious Autobots suddenly laid waste by a previously unknown Shockwave and a sign that a regular series would begin in a few months. (Legend has it the series was meant to end with issue 4, however the popularity of the comic meant the scenes with the appearance of Shockwave as well as a tease of the introduction of the Dinobots were added).

400px-UKDinobotsPosterWith the arrival of the toys on UK shores (albeit reduced in number for fear of flooding the toy market, we never got swoop dammit) the Transformers comic was adapted into the UK tabloid size format. The first issue came with a free set of transfers and a poster, Marvel obviously too cheap to produce a bunch of space spinners to give away. What is more striking is the UK only cover that appears to depict a massive Soundwave kicking the ass of Optimus Prime. Perhaps he’d been on some performance enchaning energon?

In keeping with the UK format the comic was a mix of colour and black and white pages (it would go full colour very quickly) and featured a back up strip reprinting Machine Man from both his original comic run and the excellent limited series set in 2020. There were also several comedian funny strips such as combat colin and Robo capers as well as profiles on the major chracters. Later backup strips would feature the limited series of Hercules, the awesome Rocket Racoon, Planet Terry, the New Univeres’s Spitfire and the Trouble Shooters, a Spiderman Annual story that featured Iron Man 2020 and the quite frankly lousy toy tie ins Visionaries, Robotix and Inhumanoids. (Eventually the Transformers would merge with the Action Force comic).

The problem that the UK comic had was being weekly it would often catch up with it’s American monthly counterpart, but this created an opportunity for the UK team to begin producing it’s own stories to fill the void, something that would improve the comic immensely.

The first UK story was Man of Iron centred around a race to secure a mysterious spacecraft unearthed by archaeologists in England. Immediately noticeable was the upgrade in quality of the artwork, now more vibrant, more exciting in it’s composition. The action scenes benefited with more imaginative use of their alternating forms as well as capitalising on the differing weaponry that the profile on the toy boxes claimed they had (the US comic often ignored these). Man of Iron had an overall darker tone as well as more personality shown from the Transformers (Optimus Prime seemed a more commanding figure). The Transformers in general were more imposing, even the good guy Autobots had a sense of menace about them.

This was followed up with “Enemy within” (which featured a more fierce depiction of the rivalry between Megatron and Starscream) and the unfortunately titled “Raiders of the Last Ark” (which is notable for having a huge battle scene that featured characters from the second wave of toys such as the Insecticons and new seekers, despite the fact they were not amongst the Earth bound squads in storyline). These stories featured the introduction of Simon Furman as writer to the Transformers Universe, a man who like Chris Claremont would be for the X-Men would be responsible for creating a whole mythos for the UK side of the Transformers and would eventually take over the American series and later beyond the lines time with Marvel.

From this point on the UK comic would run the American stories as it’s basis in the direction of the saga while slipping in it’s own UK created stories. However these stories were not treated as simply filler. Instead they would compliment the US stories by expanding on them. For example in the US comic the Dinobots were introduced when resurrected by Ratchet to take back the Ark that had been overtaken by the Decepticons and the rest of the Autobots deactivated. Upon reclaiming the Ark Ratchet repairing the whole autobot army happens in a single panel while the Dinobots simply disappear with one brief appearance in almost two year’s worth of issues. Instead in the UK Simon Furman wrote a story that explained the Dinobots absence with them leaving the Autobots ranks being unable to fit in with their allies. In the UK story was also built around Ratchet reclaiming the Ark and more depth and time was spent on him repairing the other Autobots.

I have to talk about the Dinobots here because they highlight a major difference in the UK and US stories, but also because I absolutely adored them. Let’s face it the Dinobots were every one’s favourite because, well they turned into fucking Dinosaurs, you don’t need any more explanation than that.

Their portrayal in the US comic mirrors their depiction in the cartoon, with them being childlike simpletons, dim witted and with inarticulate speech patterns (“Me Grimlock, like bashing Decepticons”). Simon Furman in his UK stories made them cool as fuck bad asses, who loved to brawl and cause trouble. They were rash, head strong, boisterous but far from the dumb oafs of the US comic (except for Sludge who was endearing in his stupidity, even falling in love with a female human reporter, much to the hilarity of his fellow Dinobots). This version was massively popular in the UK, so much so that the Dinobots dialogue in the American stories would be altered for the UK comic to keep in with the version UK readers were used to.

The Dinobots reminded me of a rough biker gang, even with their loyalty to each other as while they would argue and mock each other they would band together against any outsider that crossed one of them.

The changes in story were many. A battle for leadership between Megatron and Shockwave, leading to Megatron being exiled for a long time faded out with the deposed leader returning and reclaiming his leadership rather uneventfully. The UK manged to expand on this storyline in a more satisfactory manner, with depictions of Megatron scheming to build up support before his return while Shockwave showing anxiety over his predecessor, even explaining the Decepticon’s change of base being down to fear the of Megatron. The UK even devoted a whole issue to a fight over leadership between the two, a battle which the US series teased for a while but never delivered.

One of the problems with the US stories was that new Transformers were being introduced seemingly every issue and to make way the earlier (and better) characters simply appeared less and some seemed to disappear completely. This was down to the demands from Hasbro who wanted to showcase as many of their new toys as possible which I’m sure put a strain on poor Bob Budiansky’s ability to tell a story. A space bridge between Earth and Cybertron was introduced as a convenient plot device to explain the steady stream of Transformers appearing. By comparison the UK would run stories that kept the original cast around, or at least would write them out storyline wise to explain their absence. Likewise the UK ran a slow build concerning the development and design of the combining transformers to make sense of their sudden appearance in one issue of the US comic.

Without Hasbro breathing down their necks the team behind Simon Furman were able to produce infinitely better stories. The artwork was always superior, full of life and energy as opposed to the increasingly static depiction of the Transformers (in truth the US comic was never anything better than average in it’s artwork). The US was hampered with having to include an ever expanding catalogue of characters and having to come up with storyline reasons for some ever increasingly ridiculous gimmicks from the toyline. Seriously, there were the Targetmasters who for some reason had a human who could turn into a gun and as for the Pretenders (transformers who came in the shell of either a giant human or monster) well the writers didn’t even bother trying to give any personality to these lame Transformers. The UK for the most part ignored these characters in it’s stories.

jazzThe US also increasingly focused on an expanding human cast such as The Mechanic, The Robot Master (oh I can’t be bothered explaining who they were, look them up if you’re interested. Suffice to say Marvel didn’t go to the trouble of having them appear in a regular Marvel comic to retain the rights). There was also a disturbingly large number of annoying kids who seemed to team up with the Autobots.

The UK was savy enough to keep the focus on what the fans really wanted, which was more robot action and in 1986 fans were going to get that in spades.

Transformers: The Movie hit theatres in 1986 and you know what? the critics can kiss my arse because I fucking love this movie (even if for years the UK was saddled with a UK cut that began with a lame Star Wars like crawl). A great voice cast, lots of fun action, infectiously quotable lines (“one shall stand, one shall fall”) and a spectacular feelgood soundtrack that should have had Grammy’s being thrown at it! (It didn’t which should have fans pulling a Kayne West in protest. Also Stan Bush’s excellent “The Touch” was snubbed by the academy awards Best Song category in favour of “Say you, say me!” so fuck the Oscars and fuck you Lionel Ritchie). Also there’s a shocking amount of Transformer causalities in this Movie including the scene that traumatised kids everywhere when Optimus Prime passes away (the UK cut added a voice over at the end promising that Prime would return probably to quiet all the yelling kids).

300px-FallenAngel-UnicronThe film features the final appearance of Orsen Welles voicing the planet devouring giant Unicron. “This is the film Citizen Kane should have been” is probably what he would have said if he’d not died before the film was completed. Make no mistake about it, this film is a masterpiece. (Just swap Rosebud for the Matrix of Leadership and its practically Kane).

Rather than simply run an adaptation of the movie, the UK comic featured a story to accompany it and what a story it was. “Target 2006” featured an invasion from the future as Galvatron accompanied by henchmen Scourge and Cyclonus travelled back from 2006 (where the movie is set) with a plot to build a weapon that can destroy Unicron who has enslaved them (the story is meant to fit into the moment in the film where Galvatron says “To Earth” before heading for Autobot City). The Ultra Magnus of 1986 travels from cybertron to Earth to investigate the disappearance of Optimus Prime (here the science of time travel dictates that for every Transformer that travels back in time another transformer is transported to a limbo type dimension. Hey I didn’t write this).

The eleven issues of this storyline felt epic at the time and were one of the high points of the comics run. The stakes are high, with the Autobots even entering into a brief alliance with Megatron to combat the threat of the mysterious Galvatron. This story also appeared before the film debuted in the UK and so it was here that we learn the shocking revelation that Galvatron is the future Megatron. This story also began what would become a key feud in the comic between Magnus and Galvatron.magnus galvatron

Galvatron would be tricked into returning to 2006 to complete his adventures in the movie. However a Christmas card front cover featured Galvatron promising to return and indeed he did in early 1987 with the explanation that after his defeat at the end of the movie he used his time travel device to escape back to 1987. A fan pleasing clash with the Dinobots was just the first step in an epic saga for the comic.

By now I always considered the American stories an unwelcome intrusion into the UK comic as the stories of Furman were going from strength to strength and into all different directions in Furman’s ever expanding scope for the Transformers universe. The US story was left to plod along on it’s merry way, as the UK stories had plenty of other avenues to focus on. There were the stories set in the future after the movie (which introduced a certain freelance peacekeeping agent yes?), some set on Cybertron with the resistance movement led by the kick ass motley crew called The Wreckers and Galvatron a dangerous element wandering Earth and causing problems for both Autobot and Decepticon alike. The feud with Galvatron and Ultra Magnus was building nicely and even though the future autobot leader had a 0-4 record in these clashes before finally managing to get a mild win all those set the stage what readers expected would be a final epic battle between the two.

Even when the UK comic was forced to share the duties in featuring Hasbro’s new toy ranges it did it with a certain amount of quality, even managing to make uninspiring toys such as the Sparkabots (so called because the toys had a motor mechanism that shot sparks out of the back of the car form) into half decent charcters.

target11I was having a great time as a reader and didn’t care that I was probably too old to be seen with a comic that even fellow Marvel fans dismissed as childish. But little did I know that to me while the quality was never higher the end was already coming.
Things began to go awry in 1989. The many plot strands were brought together in what promised to be the ultimate epic “Time Wars” where the various time travelling exploits had caused a rift that threatened to destroy all reality. The various factions of present and future Autobots and Decepticons would collide with the nightmare team up of Megatron and Galavtron. It’s a truly apocalyptic battle, the Wreckers and their Decepticon counterparts The Mayhem Attack Squad are slaughtered while the combined might of the other factions fare little better. It all builds to the first and only confrontation between Optimus Prime and Galvatron.transformers-comics-best-of-uk-time-wars-issue-5-cover-ri_1267823589

It’s an enjoyable and violent story and succeeds in tying up all the threads. However the storyline feels rushed and ends so abruptly we’re not able to savour the victory of such magnitude. Worse, the feud we’d be following between present day Ultra Magnus and Galvatron never gets the climax we wanted as Magnus is a no show for the event. The Ultra Magnus who appears is the one from the future who’s sole contribution is to knacker up the Autobot and Decepticon alliance by accidentally shooting Scorponox.

The story left me with an odd feeling and my fears were soon realised when shocking changes came about in the UK comic. The UK scene as a whole was imploding and Transformers sales had fallen and to cut costs the comic reverted back to including some black and white pages on inferior paper from this point on. Even worse the pages containing new transformers material was cut to only five pages an issue with reprints of older stories making up the rest. The comic began to feel a ripoff and with the stories seeming to slip away from the long running sagas I enjoyed to a more mini one issue story format I ended up quitting the comic.

Ironically while the UK comic would begin to be a shadow of it’s former self the US comic would start a revival in quality, not surprising as Bob Budisky left the comic and his replacement was none other than Simon Furman. This was the dream scenario as Furman was now free to shape the entire Transformer saga his way and by introducing elements of his run in the UK such as the tie in with the movie universe he made the final years of the comic an enjoyable and edgier read. The US comic finally ended with issue 80 (with the tagline “issue 80 in a four issue limited series”) and that story featured in the final issue of the UK version which reached issue 332.

So if I quit the UK comic around 100 issues before it’s cancellation how do I know that Furman’s US run was a success story wise? Well, many years later I shelled out for the graphic novel collections. Because here’s the thing, I’ve never been able to completely grow out of the Transformers. Every so often I’ll buy up on some classic collected editions, or check out the new crop of stories. And I must not be alone, because Transformer comics have never gone away. After Marvel they were relaunched in an enjoyable series by Dreamwave and after that company collapsed found a home with tie in kings IDW who recruited the Don of Transformers stories Simon Furman. Yes, he’s still involved after all these years.

Seriously the one comic writer I would like to meet and interview is Simon Furman.

The Transformers comic is looked down upon by comic aficionados. There’s a disproving snobbery towards what was essentially a comic created as a marketing tool for a toyline. The otherwise excellent “Ultimate Book of British Comics” by Graham Kibble-White completely ignores the comics existence, while still featuring Dr Who Weekly (to be fair it does say in the introduction that it won’t featuring reprint comics, though I think the amount of original UK material should have secured it an entry).

But the Transformers comic, the UK side at least exceeded the narrow motivation for it’s creation and made something memorable.

It had the Touch.

Dazza

There are no guilty pleasures, just pleasures……unless kidnapping is involved. Then it’s guilty.

Comic Therapy Sessions Radio: Episode 3

308738-20540-123042-1-death-s-headDazza, fettman, luro, and marvell2k talk Dazza’s recent article about Death’s Head, Including but not limited to: the legality of the Death’s Head character, his Transformers debut, how’s he’s gone from Doctor Who to eventually ending up in the Marvel Universe and getting his own book! His infamous catchphrase, yes? The failure of Marvel’s UK comic line.

We preview Dazza’s next article and what comics he’s been reading as of late. As always all this and so much more on a brand new episode of Comic Therapy Sessions Radio!!!

(The Discussed Pic)

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Comic Therapy Sessions looks at Death’s Head… Yes?

deathsheadfpa4The Benny Hill Show was a hit in America?

This is something I discovered while watching an episode of Cheers where Sam Malone and all the other alcoholics started discussing Benny which I found a surreal experience and frankly quite baffling. Indeed there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to which UK “celebrities” find success on the hallowed and let’s not deny wealthy shores of America. Ricky Gervais for example, James Corden and for God’s sake Susan Boyle (I’d be amazed if any of the 10 million copies of her debut CD were played all the way through more than once) all achieved some level of fame In the US. (Meanwhile a great wrestling contender like Big Daddy never got his shot at the world titles held by Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan! Brits always get screwed over by American atheletes. At least Zola Budd took out Mary Decker in the Olympics, seriously check that out, it’s one of the most awesome events ever.)

Even the comic world provided one of most unlikeliest of successes for one of Marvel UK’s own creations. A character who when originally conceived was only meant to be a throwaway one shot bad guy, yet he made the trip overseas to become a cult hit in the 90’s….sort of.

For many years Marvel’s UK division existed primarily to reprint highlights from the American titles in a UK comic format. With the exception of Captain Britain that ran through various titles the only original material tended to be in television and toy licenses such as Doctor Who, a Zoids strip (an early gig for Grant Morrison) and of course a massively successful Transformers comic.

The UK transformers comic started by reprinting stories from the US four issue limited series (which itself went on to run for 80 issues). However being a weekly (and despite splitting each of the US issues into two episodes) it would often catch up to it’s American cousin. Therefore new stories had to be created by the British Marvel team that would fit in between the American stories and also expand the Transformers universe into other directions (I’ll be speaking more of the UK Transformers comics in an upcoming article as it’s an interesting part of Marvel UK and if nothing else I want the chance for Lion’s Transformers theme or The Touch to introduce the podcast).

Some of the best loved stories were those that spun out of the nostalgia inducing awesomeness that was the Animated Transformers the Movie in 1986. The comic ran an epic eleven part storyline that tied into the movie and featured several of the new cast such as Galvatron travelling back in time to battle the present day transformers. The story Target 2006 was a massive fan pleaser and from that point on the comic would occasionally run stories set where the movie left off. It was for one such storyline that Simon Thurman the man who became synonymous with Transformers brought to life Death’s Head, a bounty hunter…sorry, freelance peacekeeping agent to star in the sequel to one of it’s most beloved stories.

Originally Thurman only planned to have Death’s Head around for one story but legend has it that on seeing Geoff Senior’s concept for the character he felt there was some long term potential and quickly began fleshing out the personality, giving him a trademark where he would finish off sentences with the word “yes” which caught on like you wouldn’t believe. Seriously bring up Death’s Head to any old fan of the UK Transformers comic and they’ll most probably immediately emulate this particular tick.

downloadDue to the copyright issues surrounding the deal with Hasbro (where any characters created for the comic would become Hasbro’s property) a one page story High Noon Tex was created before Death’s Head appearance in Transformers so that Marvel could retain the rights to their creation (see the end of this article for more on this).

Death’s Head made his proper debut in Transformers issue 113 and immediately became a fan favourite. In this issue Death’s Head begins a hunt for Galvatron who has been missing since the end of Transformers the Movie in order to collect a bounty placed on him by Rodimus Prime (who incidentally comes across as a totally unlikeable bitch and probably the whiniest Transformer of all time).

Death’s Head was a breath of fresh air in Transformers, neither good nor truly evil, he was 100% business, showing hints of a code of professional ethics that he lived by where getting paid was the priority in all his adventures. His violent, skull like appearance was totally different from all the other robots in the comic and the gimmick where his hand was replaceable with a variety of savage weapons such as an axe, spiked ball, missile, machine gun etc made for fun fight scenes. Death’s Head had a very British anti hero feel about him and would not have looked out of place in 2000AD.

Despite being so skilled when it comes to violence he’s totally nonchalant towards it, seemingly finding no satisfaction in it (except when hired to take out someone he has a grudge and even then it’s business before revenge). He often shows great pain when forced into a fight that he has no financial motivation in, as if he’s giving away his skills for free.

I immediately loved Death’s Head. I was really into his no compromise attitude, his gallows humour and some of the best action sequences in the comics long run. I was also intrigued by an adventurer who saw his exploits as a business enterprise and loved how he could battle both heroes and villains depending simply on who was paying him.

And frankly I thought he looked cool as hell.

The début issue is built totally around him and he’s a badass from the start. In the course of the eight episode saga he beats the crap out of Galvatron’s henchmen Scourge and Cyclonus, destroys Bumblebee (this was included to explain Bumblee’s transformation into Goldbug that in the American line occurred in GI Joe vs the Transformers, which Marvel UK did not wish to include in it’s own continuity) kicks the shit out of Soundwave and is on the verge of taking out Galvatron himself before the interruption of Rodimus Prime.

Galvatron 044

Fans loved him and demanded his return. His further involvement with the Transformers sees him accepting assignments on Autobot and Decepticons as he again dishes out beatings to Rodimus, Scougue and Cyclonus and kills major heavyweight Shockwave (while under the control of Unicron an act that he states makes him feel sick). When the rather inevitable Return of Unicron saga came around Death’s Head was a major player and even mentally goes head to head with the Orson Welles voiced planet eater.

Not surprisingly Death’s Head had a future beyond the Transformer Universe and was about to become the breakout star. At the time Marvel UK was attempting a line of original UK comics in the American sized format and the freelance peacekeeping agent was chosen to headline his own comic. Therefore at the end of the Unicron saga we Death’s Head fleeing an explosion and disappearing into a time portal and out of the lives of the robots in disguise forever and in the process breaking this fanboy’s heart that we never got to see him meet up with the Dinobots.

He resurfaced in another Tie in comic in Marvel’s long running Doctor Who. While falling through time he collides with the Tardis and ends up battling the divisive Sylvester Mccoy version of the Doctor (Sylvester Mccoy is no one’s favourite Doctor, not even Sylvester Mccoy’s). The main purpose of this story seemed to be to shrink Death’s Head down from the giant Transformer size to regular human size before being sent off by the Doctor to who knows where (pun honestly not intended when I wrote this).

“Who knows where” turned out to be Earth 5555 the domain of another of marvel UK’s American Format experiment Dragon’s Claws an immensely enjoyable futuristic tale (set way off in 8162) of a retired sports team who competed in a violent gladiatorial sport known as “The Game” and are hired to police the various out of control teams. Death’s Head’s appears in the middle of a turf war and is hired by the leader of a team called the Evil Dead to take out rival team of the Jones Boys, a redneck clan with a taste for using flamethrowers as weapons. Death’s head ends up battling Dragon’s Claws, which does not end well for him as we see him blown apart and buried under a collapsed building. All of which sets the stage for his own new series a month later.

DeathsheadcomicDeath’s Head issue 1 deuted in December 1988 and saw Death’s Head rebuilt by a young tech wizard called Spratt who to Death’s Head’s annoyance would become his sidekick. Later he’d gain a pet Vulture who he actually had a soft spot for. This series took a more light-hearted tone than we’d previously seen and made for a really fun read. It’s kinda reminiscent of what Deadpool would later become though not as crazy and surreal. The series shied away from giving Death’s Head any jobs that would have seen him harming innocents and instead set him against a colouful assortment of criminals, gangsters and rival mercenaries.

Later he’d branch away from the world of 5555 when after another clash with Doctor Who he found himself skipping through time and dimensions. First stop was a visit to the regular Marvel Universe with an encounter with the Fantastic Four, where he showed an uncharacteristically softer side when he begrudgingly saved Frankling Richards from a bomb, although he was about to abandon him (Franklin’s tears cause Death’s Head to turn back to which he says “just call me nanny” ) He then travelled to 2020 where he battled the Iron Man of that era who UK readers were already familiar with as his appearance in the excellent Machine Man limited series had featured as a backup strip in Transformers.

As entertaining as Marvel UK’s American format experiment was (both Dragon’s Claws and Death’s Head were doing a good job of world building), sales did not set the comic world alight and the young line was scrapped within a year, Death’s Head coming to an end with issue 10. Poor distribution was blamed for the failure, however another reason that Marvel banded about was that the smaller format meant they were lost on comic shelves behind the larger weekly comics, which frankly sounds really reaching for excuses.

Rather annoyingly neither comic was given much of a send off. Dragon’s claws at least tied up most of it’s plotlines, but there was no formal announcement that this was the final issue, accept for the final splash page declaring that Dragon’s Claws would fight on in a “seems more like a beginning than an ending” moment.

Likewise for Death’s Head issue 10 which ended on a cliffhanger with rival bounty hunter “Big Shot” making a return. There were a few subtle hints this was the last issue as the usual “Next issue” tagline was missing. Also the final letter on the letters page was a complaint from one reader who was vehemently opposed to the use of crossovers with other Marvel characters. The editor’s reply was a promise to pass on the criticism to Simon Furman who they joked could be so hurt he’d probably not write any more issues. Sadly I did not take up on the hints and it took several visits to the newsagents to find no issue 11 before I realised something was amiss and it took a trip further afield to a comic shop to confirm that the Death’s Head’s comic was no more (though in true comic shop fashion the guy behind the counter couldn’t leave it at that and spent ten minutes gleefully explaining why Death’s Head was a ridiculous character. This while wearing I kid you not, a He-Man T-shirt. Funny the things that stick in your head).

This wasn’t quite the end for Death’s Head. The cliffhanger was resolved in a story that was serialised in Marvel’s short lived anthology comic called “Strip” (which also introduced Marshall Law to UK readers). The story “Body in Question” (designed to be collected into Graphic Novel format which was a rarity at the time) was beautifully illustrated by Geoff Senior and starts with some great action between Death’s Head and Big Shot (Spratt and the Vulture acting as cheerleaders is hilarious). However it shifts into an origin story for Death’s Head which while good takes away the mystique of the character, even going so far as to explain his obsession with professionalism and business.

I personally didn’t think that was needed. I don’t understand the need to have everything tied up and explained to me. Remember how epic and mysterious the ending to Raider’s of the Lost Ark was? How much speculation there was concerining where the Ark was been hidden? What was in all those other crates? Could this be area 51? Well yeah it turned out to be area 51, but did we really want that confirmed? Did we really need to show it limply sitting in a broken crate in that fourth film that will not be named? (And by the way anyone who liked the third film can go fuck themselves because Sean Connery was annoying as fuck in that movie).

And don’t even get me started on Midi fucking clorins!

Sadly this was it for the original Death’s Head in the UK. His next appearances were in the regular Marvel Universe with guest roles in She Hulk and Fantastic Four. The stories are fine, but something didn’t quite gell for me, sadly lacking Simon Furman’s handling of his creation. Death’s Head is a trickily designed character and it feels like the artists didn’t quite get the hang of him, failing to portray his inherent menace and at times make him look kinda goofy.

death-s-head-iiFrankly worse was to follow. In 1992 Marvel UK decided to have another stab at the US format and Death’s Head was to be the flagship title. Simon Furman and Geoff Senior were in the stages of drafting the series when new editor Paul Neary (who is now forever on my shitlist, along with Greg Dyke the man who took British wrestling off the telly) wanted a totally revamp for Death’s Head’s and a more contemporary look. Therefore a new creative team was assigned to what was now Death’s Head II, his origin being a robot called Minion who destroys the original Death’s Head and absorbs his personality traits.

Death’s Head II was fine and he gained a cult following. But he wasn’t my Death’s Head. He’s kinda like that dog that replaced Brian Griffin or BJ replacing Trapper in MASH (I’m dating myself here I know). It wasn’t just a change in appearance, it was a completely different chracter. So I stuck to my precious ten issues of Death’s Head and left the memories alone, yes?

WhatifReading the comments of Simon Furman you can sense the sadness of what became of his creation. Fortunately he was giving a chance to write an episode of What If? Where the original Death’s Head survives his encounter with Minion and later kills him in a climatic battle. It reminds me of how the Japanese makers of the Godzilla movies bought the rights of the monstrously terrible 1998 Hollywood version just so they could have him fight the real Godzilla and get beaten quickly. For real fans of the original Death’s Head it’s a satisfying feel good fun issue and Furman himself described the story as “cathartic”

The original Death’s Head continues to enjoy a cult following and has made appearances from time to time. Simon Furman was brought in to create a Death’s Head III, a new character seemingly with no relation to the original, although Furman planned to tie it into continuity with a final panel where the character says his trademark “Yes?” but the editor made a bollocks of that by cutting the word out by mistake. A more satisfying appearance apparently came about in the revolutionary war series that I have to admit I only found out about by doing background for this article (yes, I do research for this you cheeky gits).

download (1)And to bring things full circle with his Hasbro related origins, the toy company recently did a Death’s Head figure for their Infinite Series line. Rather bizarrely the toy did not get distributed in his own country, even comic shops over here didn’t seem to be stocking it and UK and fans had to resort to importing from American dealers.

Did I get one? You bet your sweet arse I did. Yes?

Till next time

I’m Dazza, yes?

With regards to the copyright issue and Death’s Head’s first appearance, I’d heard the story very early on how a debut had been rushed out for the character in another Marvel comic in order to secure the rights for Marvel. In researching this piece I found that the appearance in question was a one page story entitled “High Noon Tex” which is said to have run on the back page of several Marvel comics prior to his appearance in Transformers.

However when trying to determine which comics this strip appeared in I’ve strangely drawn a blank. Every entry on the various official and non official comic databases state the same story, that High Noon Tex appeared on the back page on several UK Marvel comics, but curiously without naming or dating the comics in question. I was pretty much reading all of Marvel UK’s comics at the time and I certainly never saw the strip until it ran in an issue of Dragon’s Claws which was over a year after he started to appear in Transformers. The one comic I never read was Doctor Who so it’s possible “High Noon Tex” appeared here without me seeing it, but if that’s the case why the rather vague “appeared in various titles line”?

For what it’s worth Marvel UK did a few of these one page strips to advertise their comics in other titles (I remember Transformers and Dragon’s Claws, possibly Sleeze Brothers), but I seem to recall that it was around the launch of the US format experiment that this trend started, again over a year after the Transformers debut (and it’s at this time when I first saw the High Noon Tex story).

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but a few others on the internet have questioned what comics pre May 1987 High Noon Tex is supposed to have appeared in and is it actually did at all. No one in the comic fandom that normally thrives on sharing such trivial detail seems to have a definitive answer.

Comic Therapy Sessions Radio: Episode 2

Dazza, fettman, luro, and marvell2k talk Dazza’s recent article about British Wars Comics. Comics like: Commando, Battle, Charley’s War, and Battle Action Force.

We talk how Dazza was wrong about 2000 AD being the longest running UK comic, the G.I. Joe fun of Battle Action Force, and the evil SNELL. All this and we preview Dazza’s next article and talk whatever comics he’s been reading as of late.

A fun show as always and an epic intro and outro on a brand new edition of Comic Therapy Sessions Radio~!!!

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Comic Therapy Sessions: looks at British War Comics

I’m sure that if I was some fancy intellectual I’d be able to share some clever high brow explanations on why us Brits are so fascinated by the first and second world wars. Maybe being so relatively fresh in the memory is a reason. After all many of my generation grew up with relatives who served in the war or even as civilians were touched by the war and threat of invasion first hand (my grandmother never forgot the time as a young child that she saw a German Bomber flying overhead one night). Perhaps it’s because in the case of the Second World War it’s the one moment that our Nation can show some pride in itself in standing up against a genuinely evil enemy, even if the rest of our history is morally dubious. Or maybe it’s just that we won both wars!

In any case both wars left their impact on our psyche in movies, television, radio and even on the shelves of school libraries with books such as the Biggles series, The Machine Gunners and When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit.

Naturally the world of comics would not be left out and for many years it was not science fiction or superheroes that were the providing the best and most popular comics but those featuring war.

1177049-16While comics in the UK have generally held nerdy connotations, one long running series remained that you could admit to being a reader of and still maintain a sense of macho respectability. In 1961 DC Thompson began publishing Commando, a war comic in a tantalisingly collectable 7 × 5½ inch, 68 page format that has since gone on to become a British Institution. I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be a rare British lad (before the collapse of the British scene anyway) who hasn’t at one time been a reader.

I had stacks of them and it’s not hard to understand the appeal. They’re massively easy to get into as each issue is a totally self contained story. And with titles such as Take No Prisoners, Hounds of War, Marauder Squadron and the vicious Knife for a Nazi, how could a young boy resist? especially with those wonderfully lurid, pulp style covers. Seriously Commando comics boasted some of the most exciting and enticing covers you’ll see on the front of a comic strip. It’s small wonder if you go to any second hand bookshop or market stall and you’ll see grown men raising a nostalgic smile when coming across a stack.

The stories themselves were very much of the boys adventure variety. Full of action and with a fair share of patriotism and stereotyping, there were many common themes that ran over the series. Many times we followed the adventures of a young solider or pilot having to fight his own fears or lack of confidence in order to prove his manhood and earn acceptance by his comrades. Or brave soldiers having to overcome the cowardice or incompetence of senior officers.
The plots may have been simple but I loved them as a kid and accidentally learned a bit of history along the way. Historically and technically the creators tried to be as accurate as possible even if the stories often were not realistic. I remember even as a child laughing at one panel were a British Solider in the jungle triggered a tripwire and as Japanese troops surrounded him cried out “Crikey!” in a moment of pure Englishness. The language and dialogue was often ripe for parody in Commando with such cries as “Achtung Tommy” “Take that Fritz” or “Ginger’s bought it!” common place.

While most of the stories focused on World Wars One and Two other conflicts would occasionally be covered, even sometimes featuring Vietnam and the Falklands and stories set in Ancient and Medieval times. Although the emphasis was normally on British or allied troops a few issues also told stories from the side of the German army.

Commando is still running today and ironically printing recently relocated to Germany. To date there have been 4742 issues of Commando and to my surprise new stories are still being published (currently eight issues are published a month half being reprints of earlier titles), which basically means 2000AD is not the longest surviving action comic like I claimed recently so it shows what I bloody know.

Although Commando has entered the public consciousness, it was in fact a direct copy of another series by rival publisher IPC called War Picture Library which ran from 1958 to 1984 (for what it’s worth I remember preferring War Picture Library to Commando though I can’t really remember why). Commando became a more successful comic to the extent that people would refer to WPL as a Commando comic. However IPC would enjoy it’s own success by copying it’s rival when it decided to compete with DC Thompson’s weekly war comic Warlord that began in 1974.

250px-BattlePictureWeeklyNo1The comic was Battle (originally Battle picture weekly) a weekly anthology comic which was launched in March 1975 and with it’s first issue came a free gift in the form of….a space spinner. Ok, I’m joking the free gift was a set of stickers based on World War II badges. Battle (like Warlord which I didn’t read) was a massive step away from the tone of Commando.

From the first issues there was a darker edge to the action in both story and artwork. Ratpack for example was a dirty dozen style team series of criminals being sent on suicide missions, Terror behind the Bamboo Curtain a short lived series that dealt with a British soldier’s battles with a sadistic ruler of a Japanese prisoner of war camp and Darkie’s mob which featured a guerilla squad behind Japanese lines led by a grim renegade Captain fighting his own private war. Darkie’s mob would heavily influence Bad Company in 2000AD many years later. In fact in many ways Battle paved the way for the violence and dirty, gritty feel that would be the hallmark of 2000AD and it’s most popular stories featured the anti heroes mold that it’s science fiction stable mate was built around. Certainly it brought together the team of Pat Mills, John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra.

SargeMy personal favourites were Johhny Red about a disgraced RAF pilot who finds himself fighting the Nazi’s as a member of the viking like Russian airforce and The Sarge. The Sarge followed the adventures of a platoon making their way through the second world war. Each member of the platoon you got to know through the nicknames and personality traits that stayed just short of becoming gimmicks but made each memorable. There was the miserable loner “Unknown solider” pretty boy “Handsome Carter” short guy “Beetle Baily”, the bickering “Laurel and Hardy”, “Frank the Yank” a half Brit half American who wanted to transfer to the American Army. You get the picture. In any case you got yourself attached to these characters at your peril as the death rate in this platoon was high, Anytime a member took centre stage in a story you worried for their well being as this was often a sign they were getting buried by the end of the story. I’ll never forget the lump in my throat when Speccy (without his signature glasses) wandered into the path of a sniper. (One week my local newsagent messed up and I missed an issue of battle. When normal service resumed I found to my shock that four regulars had been killed in that missing issue).

However the major achievement that Battle will rightfully be remembered for is one of the greatest comics the UK has ever produced, Pat Mill’s “Charley’s War”. Charley’s War is simply excellent. It’s a strip that has gained acclaim as not only a great comic but an important piece of literature, an accolade normally reserved for strips created for the graphic novel format such as Persepolis and Maus and not normally the pulp pages of a weekly like Battle. Set in the first world war it follows the experiences of Charlie Bourne who lies about his age so he can enlist and serve in the war. Through him we see the brutality and horror of daily life in the trenches, illustrated with fine work by Joe Colquhoun. It’s full of action, but it’s so grim and vicious that it resembles the tone of Saving Private Ryan where an impending battle is cause for dread rather than excitement.comics5

Nothing is held back, at one point Charlie is punished for refusing to take part in a firing squad to execute a comrade accused of cowardice. Later another comrade is burnt alive by German Flamethrower attack and has to be put out of his misery with a bullet. Even the enemy are treated with sympathy, when Charlie discovers a dead German solider he remarks that he looks as young as him. Likewise there is incompetence and sadism from within the British ranks, nowhere is this embodied more than in the strip’s main villain Snell, an upperclass officer who revels in the conflict and cares little for the men under his charge. charleys-war-mills-colquhoun-04One of the scenes that always stays with me is when he forces captured civilians into a cellar and then as he closes the door drops a grenade onto them. Throughout Snell orders his platoon into dangerous situations just to feed his own lust for glory, even ordering one final charge against the enemy with only seconds before the war is due to end at 11am and most of the squad are needlessly massacred (Incidentally how many people do you think lose their lives by setting a time for when hostilites are meant to end instead of just stopping fighting there and then? Pretty much tells you how fucked up the whole business of war really is!)

Like I said, Charley’s War is excellent, a stunning piece of work. For my mind it should be required reading for school children in the UK and is rightfully preserved over several beautifully bound collections with tasteful covers featuring the imagery of the poppy to affirm it’s anti-war stance.

battle action forceIn 1983 Battle controversially changed direction when it included several strips based on the toyline Action Force. Action Force was the British license of the GI Joe range of toys, adapted with it’s own characters for a more European based lineup, even having their own villains with Baron Ironblood and his Red Shadows instead of the forces of Cobra Commander.

Action Force was given equal billing with the comics title and many die hard fans were angered by this especially as some regular strips in Battle had to end to make way for the toyline’s adventures. Despite the obvious commercialism the creators did their best with the source material and some of the tales were entertaining (I always found it funny that you could tell who was going to be killed in a storyline as it was always those characters who didn’t have a figure based on them), but many felt the overall quality of the comic changed for the worst.

Eventually the toyline reverted to simply importing and repackaging the regular GI Joe toys and ceased production on the UK line. The comic followed suit and to maintain continuity ran a story where Ironblood betrays his own forces, allowing them to be destroyed and goes into hiding, discarding his Ironblood persona and re-emerging as Cobra Commander. Although necessitated for commercial reasons the story of Cobra Commander recruiting his familiar henchmen and building Cobra was pretty enjoyable (later stories where Ironblood’s former agents and surviving Red Shadows returned for revenge on Cobra also provided some fun).

Commando+AchtungHowever the tie in still probably lost Battle some of it’s fans and when Marvel UK acquired the rights to produce Action Force’s comics at the end of 1986, the fans of Action Force deserted the comic too. Battle’s creation of a copycat Storm Force reeked of desperation and the comic’s days were numbered as it struggled along during the fall of the comics market until it was merged into Eagle in 1988.

While today Battle is a name on the comic wall of remembrance it’s legacy lives on in the reprint market as stories such as Darkie’s Mob, Johnny Red, Ratpack and of course Charley’s War are available as graphic novels. A number of books have been printed featuring the “best of” battle, as well as collections of artwork and covers from the comic. Similarly as Commando continues to appear on newsagents shelves, collections can also be found in bookshops with a series of compilations.

War comics are a genre with a great deal of diversity and potential creativity. They can be can be simplistically action orientated, rallying cries of patriotism, used as propaganda or as tool to protest or inform. They are able to show us humanity at it’s worst or conversely depict the goodness that can shine through during the very darkest of times. When at their very best war comics can act as a warning. Of what the consequences are when countries embark on the very worst course of action no matter the cause. Because unlike with science fiction and superheroes, pretty much every scene that’s inked on the pages of a war comic happened to a living breathing person somewhere.

Til next Time,

Dazza

charlie's war

Comic Therapy Sessions Radio: Episode 1

Image and video hosting by TinyPicfettman, dazza, luro, and marvell2k return to talk all things Eagle related including but not limited to: Photo Stories like Doomlord, Dan Dare, and Danny Pike.

As well as Boxing in the UK, Big Daddy comic strips, and Dazza previews his article for next week. All this and so much more on a brand new edition of Comic Therapy Sessions Radio~!

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Comic Therapy Sessions: Looks at Eagle

2082972-eagle_168I could try to pretend I was a cool kid, so wild that the first comic I read was the ultra edgy, rebellious 2000AD. Yet the fact is I wasn’t a regular reader of the adventures of Judge Dredd until well into my teens. As a younger child it was another British Comic featuring it’s own iconic Sci-Fi hero that transitioned me from reading funnies such as Beano and Dandy to a more adventure orientated weekly. A comic that while never reaching the heights of it’s punk rock IPC stablemate, still managed a respectable twelve year run, outliving nearly every other weekly boys comic.

It was in 1982 while watching ITV children’s television that I saw the advertisements for a brand new comic called Eagle (ITV is the independent alternative to the BBC, which unlike it’s stuffy rival features television advertising), the first issue it excitedly proclaimed would feature the all new Dan Dare as well as the return of the green skinned villain The Mekon. I didn’t know who Dan Dare was, or his enemy the Mekon whose return I couldn’t get excited about as I didn’t realise he’d even been gone in the first place. Even so the ad worked it’s magic on me, the crude animation showing the Mekon bursting out of an asteroid looked cool as hell so yeah I was going to give this a try. Especially as the first issue came with an inspired free gift in the form of…..wait for it, a space spinner! Yep, another sodding space spinner!1804425-eagle19820327 I wonder if someone in the IPC higher ups had part ownership in a sweatshop making space spinners? In any case I’m curious to know if anyone has ever raced the space spinner from the first issue of 2000AD against the one from Eagle no.1. If I win the lottery that’s on my to do list.

Unknown to me this was actually the second incarnation of Eagle. The first that ran in the 50’s and 60’s was designed to promote strong moral values amongst children and would also be educational. That’s not to mean it wasn’t also going to be fun and full of adventure. After all, it also created the iconic British character Dan Dare. An astronaut based on the typically English archetype of the RAF fighter pilot, embarking on Flash Gordon style adventures in some beautifully illustrated stories with a now vintage interpretation of space travel and alien worlds.

Dare became one of the top stars of British comics and though his inclusions in 2000AD may have been a misjudgement, those behind Eagle’s relaunch intended to build their new comic around a more back to basics Dan Dare that all the dads would remember from their own childhoods and would encourage their own children to read. However in order to avoid conflict with a Dan Dare television show (which never actually happened) creators decided to feature not the original Dare but his great, great grandson (also called Dan and himself a cadet in Earth’s space academy). The original Dare’s arch nemesis the Mekon returned in the first issue as promised where it was explained that he’d been found guilty for war crimes but since the Earth had no death penalty he’d been imprisoned in an asteroid and sent drifting into space for centuries. Because yeah that sounds way more humane.

The decision to replace the original Dare was controversial and writers have claimed with hindsight that it was a mistake. Personally I liked the new Dare as he was depicted as more hotheaded and rebellious than his stiff upper lipped ancestor. Certainly the first story arc where the young Dare returns from a training mission to find Earth had been invaded in his absence and mostly conquered by the Mekon’s forces was a long running saga that had me gripped.

When the 1st issue hit newstands it was a very different comic from any of it’s counterparts. For a start it was published on higher quality paper, rather than the pulp material that was the norm at the time. Though the focus was on the strips, Eagle also featured a large number articles, with interviews with children’s tv personalities, sport stars and musicians. Celebrities such as Olympian Daley Thompson and comedian Lenny Henry were given regular columns. Cutaway diagrams of vehicles a feature from the original Eagle made their way into the relaunched title as well as news stories aimed towards young males.

But it was the stories themselves that were the most striking difference, as most of the strips were illustrated not with drawings but with photographs. These Photostories featured more down to earth tales of detectives such as Sgt Streetwise, Joe Soap or the school drama Thunderbolt and Smokey (showing a little bit of 80’s political incorrectness) where two kids try to turn around the fortunes of their loser football team, while dealing with the usual school problems of bullys and pain in the arse teachers (the kids succeed in reaching the final of a schools tournament but lose the big match which left me really deflated).

The use of photos while different did have a stiff staged look to them and could be laughable in their awkwardness. However for one story in particular it helped to make the tone more horrific. Walk or Die was a story of a group of schoolchildren who survive a planecrash in the Canadian wilderness and are forced to make a dangerous journey back to civilization. The first episode sees the surviving teachers mauled to death by a grizzly bear and later one of the younger boys drowns when a self made raft capsizes. It’s not quite Lord of the Flies but it’s still a grim tale made all the more intense by being acted out by real children.

Drawings were retained for the most outlandish strips such as Dan Dare and another fantasy story The Tower King set in a world where an accident causes the loss of electricity and society reverts back to a medieval existence. It’s an exciting tale (as a child I was freaked out by a tribe that resided in the tunnels of the London Underground called the Rats and by the return of the Plague to Britain’s shores), and had it had been in 2000AD we could probably be enjoying reprints of it to this day. The drawing style of strips allowed for more creative indulgence, but it was still a photo story that quickly became the comic’s breakout feature.

doomlordDoomlord featured a shape-shifting alien who kills and adopts the identity of various humans, as he follows his agenda to seemingly wipe out the human race. Tracking him is a reporter who no one will believe. It makes for a fairly standard monster story, but is still entertaining and the rubber mask worn by the actor is genuinely grotesque and creepy.

The story takes a more philosophical turn in the final episodes where Doomlord while making a virus that will wipe out mankind reveals he comes from a race that acts as judge, jury and executioner when investigating lifeforms and evaluating their right to existence. Humanity he’s deemed is destined for extinction and in a montage showing the evils and crimes that mankind has inflicted on the Earth and it’s inhabitants, it’s hard to argue with his conclusions. The reporter manages to turn the tables on Doomlord and both are killed by the virus, stating that humanity will die but it will be at it’s own hands and not Doomlords. This proclamation comes across as shallow when considering that the purpose of the virus was to destroy only humans and leave the rest of the lifeforms on Earth intact unlike the holocaust that mankind would likely have unleashed.

A sequel Doomlord II soon followed, with a second Doomlord being sent to find the missing first one and complete his mission if necessary. This series had a different tone from the first with comedy moments in the opening episode where Doomlord kills and takes the form of the first person he meets, who happens to be an unfortunate tramp. It’s an identity that causes him discomfort due to the flees in the rags he’s now wearing, and when he’s later accosted by two thugs Doomlord dryly asks them which one of them has the least bodymites to help decide which ones form he should adopt.

The new Doomlord is a more sympathetic figure and although he too finds humanity guilty, he believes the species shows the potential for redemption and so is given a year to change mankind’s ways. Doomlord succeeds in gaining a reprieve for the world by causing a nuclear scare that shocks the world into the disarmament of it’s nuclear weapons. However when Doomlord III comes around humanity has already reverted to type and the death sentence is ordered by Doomlord’s seniors. Doomlord rebels, instead revealing his existence to the world in an attempt to force humanity into changing his ways and later becomes Earth’s protector against the various agents that are sent to carry out humanities extinction.

Even though he became a hero, Doomlord stills resorts to dark methods to complete his goals such as brainwashing people and murdering innocents who’s identity he needs to use. He’s a challenging anti hero that became the comics second longest running strip and maligns the Eagle’s reputation as being a safe alternative to it’s edgier rivals.

Because of the photostory format, Doomlord was restricted from fully embracing the sci fi elements of his storyline. This changed after the first year of Eagle where to cut costs the comic was revamped, switching to traditional pulp quality paper and reverting photo stories to the traditional drawing style (the celebrity involvement was also dropped).

With this step writer’s were now free to do more outlandish and spectacular storylines, with Doomlord taking full advantage of the new freedoms now including more elaborate villains to face Doomlord. While a new strip that could not have existed in the photostory format was the Computer Warrior, where a boy finds a way to enter a dimension through his home computer, becomimg a physical part of his computer games where if he loses he’ll remain trapped there (one creepy moment is when he’s in a formula one game and finds the pit crews are made up of kids who are trapped in the world, begging the question why were these mass disappearances of gamers going unreported). As well as being a good story the strip also created the opportunity for merchandise tie ins as all the stories were based on actual games. Another cross promotion came when Eagle began running a strip adaptation of the budget clone of the Transformers toys known as the Robo Machines, which was pretty fun and a damn sight better than the God awful challenge of the Gobots cartoon.

deathwishblake003Other notable strips were the dinosaur epic Bloodfang (which I dealt with in a previous article), the adventures of Newsteam who covered stories in various hotspots and warzones, House of Daemon a really disturbing haunted house story, Golden Boy a young athlete blackmailed into competing on a dangerous tv show called the suicide game, Death Wish a race driver who is disfigured when badly burnt in a race accident and embarks on a career as a stuntman and Manix another anti hero in the form of a robot secret agent.

dannyPike_03My personal favourite and the one that I always read first was The Fists of Danny Pike a boxing drama where a troubled kid from the streets of Liverpool becomes a successful heavyweight boxer. It’s obviously draws heavy on the Rocky films but as a boxing fan I was gripped in his hunt for the world title held by Alvin Sharkley. Pike gains a shot at the title early on, and goes against the advice of his trainers who feel he isn’t ready, accepting the shot due to his desire for his dying grandmother to see him as champion before she dies. He loses the fight on a cut eye and has to climb his way to contention once again.

When he finally gets a return shot at Sharkly I can still vividly remember a panel where Pike is knocked down and seemingly out in a shocking cliffhanger (what made the scene special to me was the shot of a family back in England watching the fight in dressing gowns in the early hours of the morning, just like how my own family used to watch the big fights.) The following episode sees Pike cut again and given one more round to knock out Sharkly and achieve his dreams. Unfortunately Pike fails and descends into a state of depression and after drugs and alcohol abuse is left homeless and destitute…..oh course I’m lying he knocks out Sharkley in one of my all time favourite feel good moments of reading comics.

One of the things I liked about is Eagle is the diverse stories that covered all genres such as detective, war, sci fi, horror and even sport and school drama. This is due in part to the trend of merges between comics. In those days when a comic’s sales fell to a significant level the comic would be merged with a stronger comic, or in reality be absorbed. The new combined comic would feature the best stories from each title and the two would supposedly be given even billing although as time went on the lesser comic’s title would diminish until finally it would disappear altogether. Eagle in it’s position as a strong comic was the one that always absorbed the failing comics, with titles such as Tiger, Scream, Wildcat and Battle seeing their last days within it’s pages. (2000AD was also part of one such merger with it’s sister comic Starlord. Starlord was actually the better selling comic but was more expensive to produce and thinking that there was more potential in 2000AD, it was Starlord that was the one that ultimately dissolved).

Eventually though Eagle was the one that came to the end of the line and sadly as the UK comic industry was in a heavy decline there was no comic left to merge into. In 1994 Eagle became a monthly comic and shortly after disappeared forever. I’d long been gone as a reader by this time, having grown out of the comic and moved onto a life of Marvel fandom. Before I cancelled my own subscription I could see the signs of the comics decline, with costcutting reprints of early 2000AD creeping in. The appearance of the great, great grandson of original Dare’s partner Digby joining Dan Dare as his new sidekick seemed a desperate gimmick too and even as a youngster I groaned at his appearance.

Eagle is often seen as a tame, safer comic and true it’s nowhere near as gritty as 2000AD. However Eagle wasn’t without it’s edging moments, many characters were killed off, stories would have downbeat endings and it had a fair share of horror strips that didn’t hold back on the gore. One story that caused controversy in particular was the Hand about a photographer who has a hand transplant from a murdered gangster and as a result becomes possessed with his ghost and is forced on a revenge crusade against the mob that killed him. The strip was featured on a breakfast TV show (ITV’s TV-AM) for it’s violence, citing how a scene showing the lead fashioning a firebomb out of a bottle of wine could lead to children copycatting and making their own homemade devices. Eagle responded with a well reasoned editorial, that was enlightening to my young self on how the media really worked.

I have very fond memories of Eagle. In many ways it paved the way for my later obsession with comics, and at the times it made Monday mornings bearable as that’s when my copy would get delivered with the morning papers (one of the paperlads admitted to me that he used to read my copy on his daily rounds and would sometimes do my street’s deliveries last so he had time to read it, the cheeky sod). The end of Eagle to me signified the death of a style of adventure comics that delighted young readers for many decades. Styles and interests change and go out of fashion, it’s an inevitable fact of live. Yet when looking back at the comics that thrilled me as a child, I can’t help but feel a sadness at their passing and that aside from the more mature 2000AD there are no 21st century equivalent for today’s children.

And before I start going on about how much I miss Vinyl and betamax video tapes I’ll wish you all adieu

Dazza

One final Eagle story. Like most comics Eagle would run whacky competitions for it’s readers, stuff like winning an all you can grab spree in a toyshop or win your weight in chocolate.

However one competition stuck in my mind for it’s sheer bizzare concept. The winner of this contest would get to swim in a swimming pool filled with lemonade. Photographs of the winning boy, smiling as he swam in his lemonade appeared in Eagle which even as a kid I thought looked, well creepy.

I’m sure that this page from the comic exists somewhere on the internet, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be using the keywords necessary to find it.

Comic Therapy Sessions Radio: Episode 0

155 Comic Conversations Presents…

fettman, luro, marvell2k AND DAZZA in premiere edition of Comic Therapy Sessions Radio talk Dazza’s recent article of now legendary UK comic, 2000 AD.

We talk how 2000 AD has influenced English culture at large, Judge Dredd, UK publishers in the 70’s, Invasion, Nemesis The Warlock, Bad Company, what was in Kano’s box, We Preview Dazza’s next article, and so much more.

Like the show? GREAT. Because Comic Therapy Session Radio will be a continuing podcast here on ComicConversations.Com every week! ENJOY.

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