Monday, 11 November 2019

SUPER NATURALS: BLOCKBUSTER ADVERT

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<< GO TO ISSUE 1

Way, way back when I first started this blog I posted up an introduction to Oink! which included the hype surrounding the release of the new comic before its launch.  This included leaflets sent exclusively to newsagents, telling them all about the new comic, its contents and how to order it for their shops.  There was also another 4-page publication readers of other IPC Magazine comics had fall out of their favourite weeklies, subtly called a 'blockbuster advert'.  Well, it appears this idea was something Fleetway decided to carry over after taking on the former publisher's comics.  Just like Oink!, Super Naturals had both a preview issue and one of these so-called blockbusters.


At the same bigger-than-A4 size of the comic itself it surely must've made an impact when that Sandy James-illustrated face fell out of readers' regular comics.  I don't remember getting this inside any Oink!s so it must've been restricted to the action titles such as 2000AD, Eagle etc, which makes sense.  This would've been released on to the unsuspecting public at Hallowe'en, the same day as the premiere issue, the idea being to have a perfectly themed advert that would tempt people to get back down to their newsagent straight away.


Inside, the layout shows off all the main highlights of the comic to come, including that bloody doll.  (If you haven't read the review of #1 yet, you'll know I mean this endearingly because I loved being scared by that thing.)  A few of the toy characters are shown in their new comic form and there's a great selection of three pages of strip that perfectly highlight the superb, creepy art.  I'm not 100% sure what the "Be Patient" is all about though, I have to say.


The back page shows off the cover of the first issue and I always did love the way Fleetway adverts like this (Oink! did it too) would draw the actual pages behind the comic, like they were showing off the fact this was an actual, full comic we were being sold and making them look like really meaty reads.  The free gift takes pride of place and I have to say if I had seen this I would've been back down the shop in and instant.

There was definitely a big promotional push behind Super Naturals both in terms of the toys and the comic.  This blockbuster advertisement came a week after the same comics would've already given  away the aforementioned preview issue.  It was all set to be a hit for Tonka and Fleetway, but alas it was not to be.  But let's not get hung up on that, let's enjoy the journey through all the issues (and more) of this exciting, creepy, scary read.  Will it hold up to the chills I remember?  Let's find out.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

TRANSFORMERS INSTAGRAM: MONTH #5 of 89

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1985 began with a bang for the young readers of Marvel UK's Transformers comic, with the very first originated British strip.  It all begins rather humbly but over the course of the title's run the mix of US and UK strips turned this comic into the publisher's best-selling comic, telling huge, epic tales spanning months, sometimes years and it all started right here.  There's also no need to write anything like they were "finding their feet" or "not bad for their first attempt" or any other such review clichés because right from the off they nailed it.  The story which spanned January and February's issues would even go on to be reprinted across two of the American issues.

The UK stories are fondly remembered and enjoyed by many even today.  Here's how it all began.

ISSUE 9
12th January 1985


#9: With the ninth issue of Transformers, publishers Marvel UK started something new, something that was essential to fill the gaps between the current American stories, something they couldn't have foreseen would still be held in such high regard across the globe decades later.  What a shame it's ushered in with a cover which is just a panel of the strip blown up to a full page, as this issue deserved so much more.

But anyway, in the States Marvel had originally intended to finish their comic with issue 4 of their bi-monthly Transformers mini-series.  But sales were phenomenal, so the last page of the strip in the last issue was changed to a cliffhanger (seen in #8 in the UK) and work began on a new ongoing monthly title.  But there'd be a delay until that fifth issue, so over here we needed original British strips to fill the gap.  They became so much more than gap fillers and it all began with the classic Man of Iron.


Beautifully illustrated by John Ridgway, its depiction of the English countryside suddenly subjected to an alien war is nigh on perfect.  I also love these early stories' representation of the Transformers.  In particular Jazz looks just wonderful here, exactly like a gigantic version of the toy and it works perfectly.

There's also a really interesting mystery story here too which makes for compelling reading, involving ancient stories and myths which end up being previous encounters we as a race have had with the Autobots.  It reminds me a lot of The Last Knight in that regard, though on a much smaller scale of course.

Anyone who bought the recent #0 of Transformers '84 from IDW Publishing should recognise the castle here.  So Simon Forman wasn't retconning anything, despite criticisms from American readers. We UK readers knew better.


Finally, there's a couple of adverts for some other small Marvel UK comics too.

It's only with hindsight I can say this of course, but this is one very important issue and if you haven't already you should track it down for a little bit of actual Transformers history.

Man of Iron: Part One art by John Ridgway and colours by Gina Hart

COMMENTS HIGHLIGHTS:
@dan.man - "This is the issue and story that completely captured my imagination and resonates so much still.  Startling for me to see the cover date and realise I was 4 at the time."

ISSUE 10
26th January 1985


#10: An atmospheric panel from the main strip inside is blown up again and in doing so the small, intricate lines and subtle colouring come across as rough and amateurish, ruining the fantastic art.  Why were no new covers being drawn for the comic anymore?

Sticking with the positive though and the second part of Man of Iron is another fantastic slice of storytelling.  The story starts with some lovely nighttime scenes, the black and white pages highlighting the atmosphere perfectly, with Mirage skulking about the sleeping village.  It all feels so alien and new, even to this seasoned reader of later issues.  This must've been an amazing experience to read as a kid at the time, like a magical animated movie on the page.

But elsewhere in the strip it appears editor Shiela Cranna realised one particular scene was going to prove problematic once published.


Having Jazz coax young Sammy inside and then driving off with him, especially as the cliffhanger, wasn't the best idea the comic ever had.  It resulted in several warnings throughout the issue as you can see above.

As for the rest of the issue, the star of the movie Forbidden Planet, namely Robby the Robot gets his own feature this issue and I just love the retro comic book feel to the opening splash page introducing Machine Man's new story.  I especially like the recognition that two of the special guest stars wouldn't actually be in it that much!


Man of Iron: Part Two art by John Ridgway and colours by Gina Hart
Machine Man: Kill Me or Cure Me art by Steve Ditko

COMMENTS HIGHLIGHTS:
@misterboomer - "This was what started it all for me!"
@theoinkblog - "What a start! 👍"


It'd be quite a while before the publisher's big brother across the pond would start printing new stories so readers got quite a few months of such British strips before returning to that cliffhanger from last time.  In the meantime Transformers would continue with its self-contained strips all set before Shockwave's grand entrance, with barely a hint of what would come from these islands in the future.  On top of that, over the course of this first year there'd be many new additions to the comic to fill out its pages, some more successful than others.  Some unique issues ahead before the end of year one.


Friday, 8 November 2019

TRANSFORMERS INSTAGRAM: MONTH #4 of 89

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Month four and we're at our first Christmas in this epic read through, not that you'll get much in the way of celebrations from the actual issue on sale over the holidays.  But we do get three issues this month which makes it a bit special I guess, so Happy Holidays!  The month begins with a Marvel Comics crossover that works superbly well, there's more references to the universe in a tale which brings probably the most popular Autobots to the comic for the first time and we conclude the original US comic mini-series.  What could be next?  Well that's a tale for the next month, in fact the next year, but what a tale it'll be!

For now, let's enjoy our triple-bill of comics.  Let's enjoy December 1984.

ISSUE 6
1st December 1984


#6: Imagine what it must've been like to walk into your newsagent as a kid and see that cover!  Yes, Spider-Man stars in the first crossover event for the Transformers, bringing his wit and abilities to the strip to great effect.  It's a really fun story which pairs up grumpy Autobot Gears with the sarcastic hero in a rescue mission which feels truly epic thanks to it being told from the the point of view of Spidey.

As it shows events from his perspective it really gets across the size of the Decepticons, resulting in that panel with the tank which reminds me of the opening scene of Michael Bay's first movie!


Elsewhere in the comic there's news about some new toy merchandise for my favourite thing ever, to which Transformers are a close second: Knight Rider.  Although, as with a lot of the show's merchandise at the time it's clear our esteemed editor Shiela Cranna, unlike K.I.T.T., wasn't up to speed as he's referred to simply as "The Knight 2000".  Oh dear, not a great impression to make for the young readership.

Machine Man goes up against a superb villain in the shape of Kublai Khan (no, not that one) and for the cartoon series pin-up is it just me or is Megatron giving off a sort of Dr. Evil vibe?  Ah yes, Transformers UK, the comic so good you could subscribe twice!

Cover by Mike Zeck
Prisoner of War!: Part Two pencils by Frank Springer, inks by Kim DeMulder and Mike Esposito with colours by Nel Yomtov
Machine Man: Xanadu! art by Steve Ditko and colours by George Roussos

COMMENTS HIGHLIGHTS:
@the._inevitable.k - "I was/am a huge Spidey fan, so I don't have to imagine.  I loved it.  🙂"
@dave_karmauk - "I did.  Got my copy.  I got it delivered from a local newsagent.  That and The Dandy and The Beano."

ISSUE 7
15th December 1984


#7: Issue 7 gets another US cover and again it goes uncredited.  It's a rather basic cover by Mark Texeira but the main thing is how the UK editor plasters captions onto it with what seems very little thought, covering up the most important parts.  But at least it's still an actual cover image, something which will change in a couple of issues, unfortunately.  There's a passing recognition that it's Christmastime too, a far cry from future issues.

Inside, fan favourite modern day movie star Bumblebee gets the fact file treatment at last, looking somewhat different to what we're used to now.  As the strip begins, Jazz goes rather overboard to stop Sparkplug Witwicky from running off and taking his son with him!  But, to be fair to the Autobots we're still very alien to them and this may have been a reasonable action back on their homeward.  They're still just learning about humans and for us readers the result is a series of enjoyable Vietnam flashbacks for the senior Witwicky, which then tie nicely back into the story.


Flashbacks are the theme this issue, as they continue with the Transformers themselves, or at least with old archive video from The Ark.  The craft's computer fills us in on certain events from a few million years ago and it includes another example of the comic fitting in to the larger Marvel universe, in this case with the creation of the Dinobots!

A great story behind a lacklustre cover, the first of many in this first year.  Finally, there are some quick adverts for Marvel UK's Captain Britain and Star Wars Ewoks comics.

Cover by Mark Texeira
The Last Stand: Part One pencils by Frank Springer, inks by Ian Akin and Brian Garvey and colours by Nel Yomtov

COMMENTS HIGHLIGHTS:
@selkie_76 - "[Jetfire gets a] sneaky first appearance on that page where Sparkplug and Buster attempt to flee, partially obscured by an arm.  Not as jarring as Red Alert appearing years before he even arrived on Earth and toy-accurate in a story that features the near identical Sideswipe looking completely off-model."
@theoinkblog - "Yeah, I'll be mentioning the strange Sideswipe figure soon, however I wouldn't hold it against them with Red Alert. The awfully negative TF Archive site makes such a huge deal about things like Annual stories featuring characters not introduced yet, but there's nothing to say those stories couldn't simply slot in anywhere in the timeline.  Plus, I doubt at the early stages anyone knew the comic would last so long or have such complexity, so they went the cartoon route of just assuming all the robots arrived at once, ready to be introduced when new toys came out.  Of course that changes very soon in the comic, which was for the better."

ISSUE 8
29th December 1984


#8: One more original UK cover this issue, the last for several months and it's just a poor copy of a panel from the strip.  I'm surprised, as Barry Kitson is one of my favourite early artists.  This just doesn't feel like his work but he gets the credit inside.

The strip rockets along to its shock finale, planting seeds to Shockwave's entrance early on.  Sparkplug Witwicky's Vietnam flashbacks are expertly woven in and the strength of the Greatest Autobot Of All becomes painfully apparent to Starscream!  Ratchet's trip to the hospital for the Witwicky brings some comic relief which will be hilariously built upon when this story continues, um, several months from now.


For now that's the end of the original limited run comic series produced by Marvel US.  The final page was changed from a conclusive ending (which you'll see later) to this one with Shockwave apparently destroying all the Transformers, Autobots and Decepticons alike.  It was enough of a cliffhanger in the US where the comic was bi-monthly until its fifth issue, never mind how long we'd have to wait over here.  But we had something rather special to read between now and then.


Back to this issue and there's a painted calendar of Optimus Prime and while the colouring is all over the place it's a piece of retro loveliness, then Doctor Who returns again to the Robot Round-up feature.  Finally, Machine Man's villain, Senator Brickman feels depressingly familiar.  Unbelievably, people still fall for these comic-book-baddie tactics today, even when their own comics warned them decades ago!

First impressions aren't everything, as this is a fantastic issue from cover to cover.  Or rather, from pages 2 to 32.

Cover by Barry Kitson
The Last Stand!: Part Two pencils by Frank Springer, inks by Ian Akin and Brian Garvey, with colours by Nel Yomtov
Machine Man: The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls art by Steve Ditko and colours by Roger Slifer


We might be back to just the two issues next time, but it marks an important part of this whole project and of the comic's whole run.  What would Marvel UK do now that it'd be so long until the next strip made its way from the States?  You know the answer already of course; it's time to introduce you to the British strips!