Thursday, 20 February 2020

SUPER NATURALS #9: THE FINAL FRIGHTS

<< GO TO THE ADVENTURE BOOK
<< GO TO SUPER NATURALS PAGE


Well if you're going to go out, go out in style! Francesc Masi's cover starring The Doll clearly wasn't designed to be the last Super Naturals cover, but it's a powerful image and probably my second favourite front page second only to Ian Jackson's gorgeous painting for the preview issue.

Not only is it a remarkable cover for that demonic doll, which is a brilliant design it has to be said, but also for the fact that this is a licenced comic but, big bold logo aside, there's actually nothing associated with that licence! Even though it had a very short lifespan the comic is fondly remembered among those that had the good fortune to be readers, as its own anthology horror title, and The Doll is the most remembered strip of all. He fitted in perfectly alongside the licenced strips and his inclusion was a stroke of genius from editor Barrie Tomlinson.

More on The Doll further below but for now let's concentrate on the final chapter to The Legend of The Super Naturals.


This actually has a rather funny ending. Skull has made it to the mythical lake where it is said Excalibur can be found, his ultimate goal being to corrupt this symbol of hope into a symbol of evil which would tear apart the very fabric of everything the country stood for. But as you can see above the Lady of the Lake had other ideas. This is a fun way to end the story because all the way through we've seen our heroes use powers which exhausted them, and they seemed doomed to lose with no hope of survival.

Now, it might seem like a little bit of a cop out with the way I've described it but it really isn't, however there is a caveat with this. I'll let you read this final page of the story and have a look at Dave D'Antiquis' artwork before I explain.


You see, that whole thing with the Lady in the Lake led to the good Ghostlings (including Hooter who hasn't had much to do in the comic until now) take on their counterparts and win, banishing them back to Ghostworld. This leaves Skull all alone with the upturned Bat Bopper, stranded on Earth. The Legend of the Super Naturals story has been an ongoing tale designed to tell the tale of the first encounters between the two sides after they emerged from Ghostworld for the first time. We've had two scenarios so far but one grew organically out of the other. I get the feeling this wasn't going to be the ending of the story, rather it was probably meant to set up a defeated and angry Skull setting out on his own in the next issue.

But alas it wasn't to be. It does feel like those final few speech balloons have been rewritten to end the story. Maybe in the script whatever Skull said led to another great cliffhanger?

With the review of the Super Naturals Adventure Book I highlighted a particularly good drawing from a reader of the comic and while reading this issue I discovered I had to do so again. Below is a drawing of Thunder Bolt by Christoper Evans and it's just wonderful. It's such a shame it's so small on the page though, it deserved to be blown right up but it's still a great addition and kudos to the young artist.


I have a memory buried somewhere in my grey cells of being in the back of my late nanny's car, my mum was in the front and we were parked somewhere in Carrickfergus here in Northern Ireland. (The things we remember, eh?) Anyway, we were off out somewhere and I'd had the chance to get a comic for the drive and I'd chosen the latest issue of Super Naturals, a comic I'd really enjoyed the first couple of issues of but then hadn't collected any more. Not for any other reason than a short attention span.

I'd wanted to get into the toys shown I first saw the ads and Santa did bring me a Ghostling, but between that time and Christmas my ten-year-old brain saw other toys and unfortunately forgot all about the holographic monsters. The same thing happened with the comic. I was collecting Oink! and two weeks before #1 of this comic I'd also asked my parents to reserve Marvel UK's Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends. I wasn't allowed another regular comic (later on I'd be allowed three or four at once but this was still at the start of my comics journey) and so I was buying Super Naturals with my own pocket money. Then, with so many comics to choose from each week I just ended up buying different ones most weeks.

But, I was crushed when I saw Spooks' letters page. I had been really enjoying the comic, in particular the main Super Naturals strips and that terrifying doll, who I hadn't seen in a few months. But after reading them I turned to the rest of the comic in my tiny hands and read the below.


Gutted. I didn't understand why it was finishing so soon. Oink! was still going strong and I just assumed comics kept on going. I was in a household where my brother read the long-running The Beano and Roy of the Rovers (another of Barrie's titles). The previous magazines I'd collected had been Story Teller partworks which had a pre-planned limited lifespan, but comics weren't supposed to end so soon. I was really upset and within the space of 10 minutes had gone from wanting to go to the toy shop to thinking there was no point.

I'm actually not sure if I read the remainder of the comic! But now I have and the next strip on the agenda is the final Scary Cat Challenge. Unlike last week's special book this idea has been supplied by a reader and the idea is simple; a young boy discovers a genie in a lamp and gets a lesson in greed. What I particularly like is how the genie himself is a bit snarky and not the typical stereotype we knew from the movies.


Tracking down who drew all of these wonderful strips hasn't been easy but John Freeman and Lew Stringer have been incredibly helpful throughout this comic's run. John's research and the general consensus with those he asked led him to believe Genie was crafted by Alan Burrows (Beano, Red Dwarf, Transformers) and there's a definite classic British comics feel to the art.

Finding the lamp in some old ruins, young Jason Watkins doesn't believe the genie's powers and keeps testing him with small tasks such as suddenly being able to skateboard and make friends with the cool kids, things like that. But it's not long before those same kids start to turn on him, thinking it's all a con. To prove them wrong Jason starts to wish for bigger and more elaborate things. As his popularity grows he starts to get greedy, which our mysterious servant notices straight away.


I thought at this point the strip would end with Jason alone, friendless, out of wishes and living a life of much wealth but poor and lonely in every other way. I should've known I couldn't predict the outcome in this comic though. Becoming more wealthy and powerful, the young boy quickly turns on his new friends, thinking himself better than everyone around him. The genie is quick to scold him and warn him of the error of his ways.


Jason, now acting like quite the spoilt brat is just begging to take things that one step too far but I never expected what came next. His wishes had become so elaborate he was struggling to outdo himself with each successive demand until he came up with the ultimate wish, one that no human had ever done before; to be able to travel at the speed of light and see the whole universe on a whim. The genie is startled but replies, "I most certainly have never been asked that wish! However I must try to grant it and for once, it will give me great personal pleasure!" Uh-oh.

But matter disintegrates at the speed of light and Jason soon sees his own body becoming "zillions of particles" and panics, demanding that everything become as it was before he found the lamp, leading on to this wonderful ending.


Scary Cat returns just to wish us harm instead of the usual request for more story ideas and that's the final reader story we'd see. Such a shame. I'm not aware of how detailed the original ideas were, or how much of each plot was taken from the readers or crafted by the writer, but it'd be interesting to find out. When reading these strips and seeing the letters and drawings sent in it's clear Super Naturals had captured and nurtured some great imaginations.

For the final time we've got another Sandy James poster and it's the evil Snakebite who gets the double-page treatment this time.


I love that shield drawing and, upon seeing it in 3D in some of the classic television adverts for the toys online, I'd say this guy would've been a firm favourite of mine if I'd had him as a child.

Instead of a one-page Ghostling Tale this issue we've got a full page advertisement for the Adventure Book which had come out two weeks previous. If you've come to this blog series with this issue you'd best click right here and go and read the review of this superb book right now before Skull hypnotises you into doing so!


So here we are then with the final chapter of The Doll. Last time I was concerned the ending would be very rushed but thankfully that isn't the case at all. In fact this may have originally been an ending of sorts for this chapter in the story anyway.


It kicks off with Simon saving his foster dad's life and confirmation that the doll was definitely trying to murder him. Leaving the hospital with his foster mum Louise, Simon demands to know the truth about her previous foster son Alan, a story we've had hints of before but never all the details. As with all good horror stories we get to know all about the doll's interference in their lives right before we see history about to repeat itself.

Below are two individual parts of a double page spread to show the mirror image it created.


You'll recognise David's fall from the cover, although the maniac itself was added for the front page. This time however, the doll's victim has a big brother strong enough to fight against the terror and dive straight into the doll-infested water in order to save his sibling. Unlike Alan, David hasn't been dragged to the bottom and drowned but the doll is missing.

Until the final frame, that is.


I'm not sure if this was always intended to be the final chapter of The Doll or not. Unlike the Super Naturals serials it doesn't feel rushed and feels like a well thought out climax. Perhaps it got the cover treatment because it was going to be his final issue no matter what? I don't think so. He was a hit with readers and is still fondly remembered (well, terrifyingly remembered) by so many people today it would seem if reactions to these reviews on social media is anything to go by. I prefer to believe this may have been the final chapter for Simon and David, but that in the next issue the briefcase would've washed up somewhere else, taking us on another suspense-filled tale with a completely new owner.

We'll never know.

The three main franchise strips do feel like they're in a bit of a rush to wrap things up, but at least they are wrapped up, that's the important thing, although Ghostlings seems to suffer the most. This is a shame because Anthony Williams' art is so full of character it deserved more meaty content. Last issue Thunder Bolt was able to turn up all-of-a-sudden despite it breaking the comic's established rules but maybe this was the only real way to get our characters out of the predicaments they'd found themselves in. However, having Weird-Wolf pushed off a cliff and the Tomb of Doom randomly appear right beneath him seems rather convenient.


The final strip of the fortnightly is Alan Langford's The Curse. Alan's strips have been my favourite of the three Super Naturals stories every month, his artwork lending a creepy feel to the proceedings and a real sense of danger from Skull and his evil cohorts. Whoever wrote this story (and the previous Mount of Athos) really nailed their leader's character, giving him a slightly harder edge in his words, such as below.


With their hands on the mummified coffin of Britannicus this final chapter initially seems like it's setting things up for an epic battle, with Skull and Burnheart either getting the coffin open or escaping with it again to open it elsewhere. They've been fighting over this for months after all, but in the end it builds up to nothing. This is an unfortunate necessary evil (no pun intended). First though, have a look at some more gorgeous, atmospheric Alan Langford art. Oh how I'm going to miss this!


We do get a bit of a battle between the Super Naturals but it's all over very quickly. Some humans get involved and start firing artillery into the abandoned church in which the battle takes place and for some reason, despite burning down whole villages previously, the powers of evil run away. The good guys apparently grab the coffin and they all meet up in Ghostworld where Lionheart gives his men a quick speech about the power of good being triumphant and then that's it.

It's just unfortunate that it feels so curtailed in the end. The good guys actually win off-camera! They disappear for a few panels before returning to tell us the coffin has been transported to Ghostworld through the Tomb of Doom (which, to be fair, did pop up) where it can't be opened thanks to the rules that say no combat nor any event that'd give any one side an advantage can take place in that otherworldly dimension. The mystery and intrigue around the coffin in previous issues is lost and it feels little more than a McGuffin in this final part, just something to have a bit of a duff up about.

It definitely feels like it was meant to carry on for a few more issues. But hey, at least we get to see Alan's superb depiction of Skull a few more times before we bid adieu.


Barrie's later Ring Raiders comic ended even more abruptly after only six issues and, it would seem, with even less notice because none of the stories could be finished off in that last issue. Instead, they all ended on a cliffhanger and a couple of short months later a big, thick special edition was produced finishing off all the stories. It was a fantastic read for fans and it's a shame the same couldn't have been done with Super Naturals two years previously, but I can appreciate the wish to finish off the stories and give the young readers closure.

The door to the Tomb of Doom would open one more time though. In no time at all the Super Naturals Holiday Special would leap out of the dark depths of newsagents shelves and into trembling hands. As Spooks said above its release date was set so expect the full review of another special edition, the very last comic for these creatures on Thursday 26th March.

- GREAT NEWS FOR ALL READERS -

But how about more Barrie Tomlinson and holograms before then? Well, come back on Saturday 7th March for the review of the second half of that aforementioned Ring Raiders special from Barrie's team, then Tuesday 24th March is the original release date of Marvel UK's hologram-based Visionaries! That's right, that'll be the next comic to receive the real time treatment on the blog. Exciting times ahead!


Wednesday, 19 February 2020

TRANSFORMERS INSTAGRAM: MONTH #15 of 89

<< GO TO MONTH 14
<< BACK TO YEAR TWO


November 1985 brought a whopping six comics for fans of Marvel UK's Transformers weekly, with the month having five Saturdays and the series itself releasing its second Collected Comics special. The first Earthbound Transformers are created, the latest human foe comes out of the shadows, there's a Marvel crossover reprinted in full colour and even a brand new version of Iron Man pops up in the Machine Man of 2020 back up strip. How could you possibly want anything more? Oh, well there's a quick glimpse of something extra exciting coming next month too!

Anyway, let's get on with the show.

ISSUE 34
2nd November 1985


#34: 32 years before reading this issue for its Instagram post this uninspiring US cover made the front page, concealing the excitement inside in the second part of the Circuit Breaker origin story, which thrilled readers over on this side of the pond too. Josie Beller's suit had now completely transformed her (ironically) into a new antagonist and to begin with we got the run down on what it's made from and what she's now capable of. All very believable in the 80s.


Bribing her former boss G.B. Blackrock she finds herself and all the other humans at his event under attack from Starscream but it's Jazz who's the first on the receiving end of her revenge. This would not be the last time the Autobots, or indeed Jazz, would be the targets of her blind hatred towards all robotic aliens, regardless of how much they try to prove their innocence to her.

While the truth was an unfortunate casualty in her war against all Transformers she still became a sympathetic character. Her very real inner trauma was making her carry out this cruel justice and Blackrock himself sums up her tragic character perfectly in that final panel above. There's much more of her to come right the way through to the final issues of the whole run.


Is that Iron Man joining in as well? No, that's Arno Stark as The Iron Man of 2020 in the cliffhanger to The Machine Man of 2020. As the editorial reminded readers other Marvel characters had already crossed over into the Transformers story, such as Spider-Man and some others who I'll get back to you about below in Collected Comics #2.

In other Marvel UK news fellow robotic toys Zoids were coming to comics for the very first time in the pages of Secret Wars weekly as a new back up strip. These strips are fondly remembered to this day but surprisingly they never had their own regular title!

Cover by Mike Mahley
Dis-Integrated Circuits!: Part Two pencils by Mike Mahley, inks by Manny Hands and colours by Nel Yomtov
Machine Man: "If This Be Sanctuary?!" breakdowns by Herb Trimbe, finishes and colours by Barry Windsor-Smith

ISSUE 35
9th November 1985


#35: This issue we saw the creation of the very first brand new Transformers since the series began and the Constructicons seemed just like any other group, but Shockwave had a plan and while the editorial hinted at what was to come there was no mention of their big secret in the strip yet. Well, it wasn't a secret because kids knew about the toys, but you get my drift.

G.B. Blackrock was another great human character, which I have to say at the time of writing is the one thing missing from the modern comics, but which the movies definitely got spot on. He would be in the comic for the rest of its run on and off, but not all of the fleshing creations would be so lucky. For example above is Bomber Bill. That one page is all we see of him this time but it shows how even one-shot characters got treated as three-dimensional. His inclusion will be explained next issue.


The Marvel UK Winter Specials were on the scene and alongside the warring robots were warring superheroes and, um, furry fluffy creatures versus cute crocodiles battles? Finally, this issue also included a Save the Children plea which appeared in all Marvel UK comics at the time and unfortunately it's one which could still be included today.

Cover by John Ridgway
The Next Best Thing To Being There!: Part One pencils by Ricardo Villamonte, inks by Brad K. Joyce and colours by Nel Yomtov

COLLECTED COMICS 2
SPECIAL ("OCTOBER 1985")


CC#2: Alongside #35 this particular week also saw the release of the second reprint collection, Collected Comics #2. While not officially designated a "Winter Special", the first was the Summer one and for the rest of the run they'd be given such seasonal names so this is generally seen as the first winter edition.

It includes the second half of the original US mini-series (#5 to #8 of Transformers UK) and with it definitive proof the Transformers were officially part of the Marvel Universe. We'd also see the Savage Land in this story and they'd later have a few crossovers with G.I. Joe and of course Death's Head was created by Marvel UK and first appeared in Transformers. But for now here's some more highlights from Spider-Man's guest appearance, the first of such crossovers and it features some other cameos too.

Then in that final panel is that a little joke about Russian bots? Well no, but it is why I laughed when I read it. Maybe I'm spending too much time on Twitter.

Cover by Mark Taxeira
Prisoner of War! pencils by Frank Springer, inks by Kim DeMulder and Mike Esposito, with colours by Nel Yomtov

ISSUE 36
16th November 1985


#36: This was the week Transformers UK introduced us to the Constructicons' combined form, Devastator. The huge combiner Transformer's debut was rather muted though, as for some reason he wasn't drawn much bigger than the regular characters by the American artists. This wouldn't happen again and he'd tower over them next time, but for his first appearance you'd expect more of an impact.

So what's the plot and where does Bomber Bill fit in? The Constructicons have stolen vehicles to turn to scrap and then into a giant satellite dish so Soundwave can let his Decepticon comrades on Cybertron know where they are and call for reinforcements. Bill returns because his beloved lorry was stolen and along with the Autobots he comes to the rescue. It's unfortunate he never returned because he was a fun human character.

Also this issue there's a hefty bit of reading for the young target audience in the form of a catch up for new readers (an awful lot has happened in 35 issues!) in Robot War II and then if you take a look below you'll see the Labybird Tell-A-Tale books and cassettes were now all available in one big gift pack. Something tells me I owned this but I can't quite place it. My mind could be playing tricks with me but I'm almost sure I have a vague recollection of opening it!


Cover by Ricardo Villamonte
The Next Best Thing To Being There!: Part Two pencils by Ricardo Villamonte, inks by Brad K. Joyce and colours by Nel Yomtov

ISSUE 37
23rd November 1985


#37: Surely the biggest news this issue was that the first Transformers Annual was out in the shops, ready for fans to eagerly gawk at while waiting for Santa Claus to bring it to them the next month! There are seven of these books altogether in the series, which is a whopping amount for a licenced comic and I can't wait to get stuck into the first this festive season. Watch out for it in the next round up.


On the strip action front Buster Witwicky still has the Creation Matrix in his head and surrounded by his floating 80s tech. Able to suddenly understand machinery and complex science it's driving him crazy, the Decepticons are after him and Bumblebee is out to protect him. Over the decades some things never change, eh? Shockwave cuts an imposing figure despite his over simplistic upper legs (how does he walk on those?) and you can see the still inactive Jetfire in the background, awaiting the Matrix to bring the fastest and deadliest Decepticon yet to life.

Plenty of transformations, infiltrations and scheming on the part of the Decepticons this issue and I'm loving it! It's these kinds of stories and scenarios that really made the comic for me, when they showed off that whole Robots in Disguise thing.


In the Machine Man of 2020 back up strip we get reacquainted with some old enemies, namely Ambassador (formerly Senator) Brickman who hasn't aged well after a life of corruption and Sunset Bain who first appeared in the original Machine Man series, and in #8 and #15 of Transformers respectively.

Cover by John Ridgway
Brainstorm!: Part One pencils by Herb Trimbe, inks by Tom Palmer and colours by Nel Yomtov
Machine Man of 2020: Rime of the Ancient Wrecker breakdowns by Herb Trimbe, finishes and colours by Barry Windsor-Smith

ISSUE 38
30th November 1985


#38: Another week and another 32-year-old Transformers UK comic from Marvel has been read and photographed. The latest Decepticon has now been built and is programmed by Shockwave to seek out Buster and the Creation Matrix in his head, all so that this formidable new machine can be brought to sentient life. Sleek, fast, unstoppable but at the moment still little more than a remote control toy, this is Jetfire. I have to say, I do prefer his airplane mode in the movies though.

Bumblebee has an idea and sure enough Buster disassembles the giant at the last moment using the power of thought and the Matrix.


In the backup strip Machine Man bashes it out with The Iron Man of 2020, who isn't a superhero, just a wealthy man who bought all of Tony Stark's tech and his name and uses it for his own means. I wonder if there's any inkling that Marvel will bring this character back now that we're almost at the year in question. Arno Stark is actually quite a complex character but we'll come back to him later in the run and take a proper look. Right now he's just out to eliminate our friend Aaron Stack after being hired by Bain and Brickman.

Finally, on the letters page a young reader mentions how he discovered the comic. I can't remember ever seeing an advert on TV for any comic in my youth. Does anyone remember it? Even better, does anyone have a recording?

Cover by Herb Trimbe
Brainstorm!: Part Two pencils by Herb Trimbe, inks by Tom Palmer and colours by Nel Yomtov

COMMENTS HIGHLIGHT:
@andrewdturnbull - "The second Transformers comic I bought and the first our local newsagent kept back for me. It had an ambition that none of the other licensed comics from Marvel had. Zoids might have had, if it had not been cancelled."


This has been a great month, the whole comic has felt on top form from cover to cover every single week, with The Machine Man of 2020 bringing the goods and showing it's a more than competent sequel to the first year's classic tales. It was even fun to reread some of those early Transformers stories again in full colour, especially the Spider-Man crossover which was a great laugh. Onwards and upwards though, the festive season is upon us and I can't wait to see what they have in store for us.