Friday, 21 July 2017

1993: THE UK TELEFANTASY YEARBOOK 1992/ 1993

From 1993: THE UK TELEFANTASY YEARBOOK 1992/ 1993, published by the fanzine Metamorph in 1993.

This was a cracking A4, b&w 'zine that - as the title suggests - looked back on the previous year's small-screen genre offerings.  And it was a pretty cool list of new and repeated shows.  And - best of all - this was just before the schedules (and the genre press) were overwhelmed by THE X-FILES, BABYLON FIVE and the wave of 1990s (mostly) syndicated and cable shows.

Both 'V' and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA were in reruns that year.  As was KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER (I rewatched the pilot of the revival show again this week... it's OK but completely lacks the charm of the original).  THE TOMORROW PEOPLE was the then-current Thames revival... which made more sense than the recent, rather confused, American reboot.

This was a mail-away 'zine which - I'd guess was advertised in either DWB/ DREAMWATCH and/ or TV ZONE.  or I may have seen the advert in another fanzine and sent off my cheque.  Those were the days...


1998: HORIZON THE BLAKE'S 7 APPRECIATION SOCIETY NEWSLETTER ISSUE 38

From June 1998: a new look for the 38th issue of HORIZON, the fanzine-come-magazine published for the membership of THE BLAKE'S 7 APPRECIATION SOCIETY.

And - let's be honest - you can never have too much Jackie Pearce!

Maximum Power my darlings...


1988: THE FIRST EAGLE AND BATTLE MERGED ISSUE

From January 1988: the first combined issue of EAGLE AND BATTLE.

As with the previous week's house ad for the merger, the combo is pretty low key.  I almost missed that this was the first combined issue when I was flicking through a stack of random back issues in one of my boxes...  There's none of the hoopla that surrounded the TIGER merger of previous years and there's a real sense of 'that'll do'.

The transferred strips were Stormforce (which appears to have already been doing double-duty in both BATTLE and EAGLE anyway), Charley's War and Johnny Red.

BATTLE did continue to appear as the occasional annual and special... I certainly have a copy of a special that was published (in the old tradition) several years after the main comic had been killed off.


Thursday, 20 July 2017

1988: MERGER ALERT: EAGLE ANNOUNCES THE MERGER OF BATTLE

From 1988: MERGER ALERT!  Here's how the EAGLE announced the impending arrival of the refugees from the fall of BATTLE.

Despite the traditional hype ('Big News Issue!') it's obvious from the two-page house ad that this is now EAGLE AND TIGER style combination of equals (at least until the dust settled).  The BATTLE logo is conspicuously smaller than the Eagle's.  Funny that.

I think, by this point, two-thirds of the BATTLE strips were reprints anyway with only the fairly new Stormforce (introduced - after a treading-water hiatus - to plug the large gap left by the withdrawal of ACTION FORCE).  Maybe that helped to stunt in-house enthusiasm for the merger.  




1988: LAST ISSUE ALERT! THE FINAL ISSUE OF BATTLE

From 1988: Last Issue Alert!  Years after the first predictions of its impending demise, BATTLE was finally overwhelmed by enemy forces (the enemy being changing tastes and a changing market) and plucked from the battlefield by - yup, you guessed it, EAGLE.

Given the deadlines and the on-sale date, it's easy to imagine that this issue, number 673, was put together just before the staff broke for the Christmas holidays and the end-of-year break.

By this time, despite the better printing that IPC/ Fleetway had switched to the previous year, BATTLE was a mere shadow of its former self.  The loss of the ACTION FORCE franchise had done some serious damage (although Marvel's glossy successor was faring little better in a tough market) and Stormforce, their in-house successors were more gimmick than traditional military might.  Charley's War and (as seen here) Johnny Red were really holding the fort... although one or both may have slipped into reprints by this point.  Overall, BATTLE followed the same slow decline as the other IPC weeklies... more and more reprints as budgets got tighter and tighter.

IPC had launched BATTLE back in March 1975 to counter the early success of WARLORD, launched by DCT the previous September.  Marvel UK also had a crack at their own me-too weekly, FURY, but that didn't work out so well.  Battle eventually outlived Warlord, which closed in September 1986.  The genre champion was, without doubt, Warlord's older sibbling VICTOR.  Launched in January 1961, it didn't retire from active service until November 1992.

Battle folded into EAGLE, management's go-to title for failing comics.  It's almost surprising that SUPERNATURALS and RING RAIDERS didn't go the same way but Fleetway opted to burn-off the remaining inventory from both early cancellations in end-of-run one-shots.  Stormforce had already been appearing in Eagle for a month-or-so, presumably part of a plan to prepare for the merger.  Or an indicator that the Eagle was also short of material pre-merger.  Charley's War and Johnny Red remained Eagle mainstays for the rest of its run.


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

1982: THE FALL GUY COMIC STRIP IN LOOK-IN

From June 1982: He's the unknown stuntman... LOOK-IN publishes the first episode of the new ongoing THE FALL GUY double-page strip, based on the Glen Larson TV show starring Lee Majors and NOT starring Heather Locklear.

There's a fun game you can play either whilst watching reruns of TFG or - indeed - any action film made before the 1980s: spotting/ guessing the source of the stock footage stunts, lifted from assorted movies (oft from the Fox library), peppered throughout the series to make Majors look good and the show look more expensive than it was.

FALL GUY trivia:  There is a 1993 TV movie called THE COVERGIRL MURDERS starring Majors (along with Adrian Paul and an island full of the sort of beaties beloved by telly execs) and written by Douglas Barr...co-star on TFG.

The Adam Ant cover was obligatory.LOOK-IN's arch rival (at least for a little while) TV TOPS also obsessed with the campy rocker.  Even going as far as creating a time-travelling comic strip to ensure he appeared in every issue.




1988: THE BEST OF EAGLE MONTHLY ISSUE 4

From August 1988: THE BEST OF EAGLE MONTHLY issue 4.

This is another hefty batch of cheap-and-cheerful IPC reprints which is gard to find today.  This issue compiled a run of Death Wish (nope, not Paul Kersey) strips.

Blake Edmonds was an F1 driver who had it all... until a crash left him badly burned.  Thereafter he took on any stunt or challenge - no matter how dangerous - because he had - yup - a death wish.

The strip started in 1980 in SPEED (from where, I suspect, these strips hail... making the mag even more collectable).  When that weekly went belly-up after a mere 31 issues the strip transferred to TIGER.  Thereafter it remained a mainstay until it transferred (along with the likes of Billy's Boots and Golden Boy) to EAGLE.  It continued to appear, albeit with a supernatural twist, long after TIGER was quietly dumped from the masthead.  He didn't have much luck for someone determined to die.


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

1986: MASK SUPER PREVIEW ISSUE

From October 1986: The MASK PREVIEW ISSUE, published by IPC.

This was a little bit of a comics landmark.  It wasn't the first IPC title to be launched with a free preview issue (that was - probably - OINK which started with a freebie copy given away with the other IPC humour weeklies in April the same year) but it was the first time that IPC had really embraced the idea of doing a boys adventure comic based on a toy line.

It wasn't the first of course.  BATTLE had featured ACTION FORCE from the summer of 1983 onwards (and fully embraced the tie-in from later the same year) and EAGLE had run ROBO-MACHINES between November 84 and July 85.  But those had been strips running in an established title... this was the first time IPC had followed the MARVEL UK model of devoting the whole title (or - at least - the bulk of it) to a tie-in.

The toy was, of course, a TRANSFORMERS/ G.I. JOE hybrid (secret agents and bumbling villains use cars with secret 'enhancements' to foil each other's plans) intended to snatch sales from the two Hasbro powerhouses.  There was also the obligatory cartoon/ extended plug which was syndicated in the States and shown - mostly at weekends - on TV-am here in the UK.

This preview was a nicely put together full-length teaser which includes the origin story for the MASK organisation.  A story untold elsewhere... but retold in the first proper issue of the fortnightly comic.  Indeed all the stories (probably put together for the in-house dummy) are original, leaving the DC strips from the States to appear in the MASK annuals instead.  It's printed on glossy paper (another first for IPC... who were mostly content with leaving their weeklies to languish at the bottom end of the production standards league table) with a fair few interior colour pages (but, unlike the standard MARVEL UK comic of the time, not full-colour throughout).

Management were clearly taking this opportunity to fight back against the British Bullpen pretty seriously.

Copies were bagged with issues of EAGLE, BATTLE ACTION FORCE and ROY OF THE ROVERS.

The ongoing MASK series was initially published fortnightly (Marvel had done likewise with THE TRANSFORMERS... not least because there was a shortage of material to reprint) but later - no doubt due to strong sales - switched to weekly.

The tone of the ongoing run was a little less serious than this pilot... especially compared with the TV show and rivals such as the aforementioned Robots in Disguise or ACTION FORCE.

MASK ultimately ran for 80 issues before going the way of most licensed comics... But IPC continued to show faith by folding it into EAGLE rather than instantly ditching the license.

As one might expect, the strips have never been reprinted although I suspect some of the strips that appeared post-merger in EAGLE had previously appeared in the main comic.

IPC - and then Fleetway - were a little hit-and-miss with selecting which toy lines to ally themselves with.  Possibly because Marvel and London Editions already had good relationships with most of the big toy makers and had first choice with new liceses.  SUPERNATURALS, a toy with a hologram gimmick, was also launched with a free preview issues but - without a TV show - couldn't recreate the MASK effect.  The unfortunately named RING RAIDERS (also a pants toy) couldn't take flight either.


1997: HORIZON THE BLAKE'S SEVEN APPRECIATION SOCIETY ISSUE 37

From November 1997: HORIZON, the newsletter of THE BLAKE'S SEVEN APPRECIATION SOCIETY issue 37.


Monday, 17 July 2017

1987: EAGLE CELEBRATES 300 ISSUES

From December 1987: the now not-so-new EAGLE celebrates 300 issues with a 'photo' opportunity and the hoisting of a flag.  Tharg did something similar - on a more impressive scale - to mark the 2000AD on sale at the turn of the millennium.



1995: COMICS INTERNATIONAL: MARVEL VERSUS DC

From October 1995: When titans clash... COMICS INTERNATIONAL previews the MARVEL VERSUS DC crossover event: an almighty punch-up between the two companies intended to bolster the sales - and profiles - of both companies in the midst of an industry in trouble.

Unfortunately, inter-company crossovers were so frequent during this period that - despite the literal heavy-hitters on parade here, it didn't seem as special as it once might have done.


SPACE: 1999 ALIEN ATTACK VHS

From Moonbase Alpha:  I was sad to hear that Martin Landau died overnight (London time).  He had a long and distinguished career (including an Oscar for playing Bela Lugosi in ED WOOD) but, for Star Warriors, he'll always be remembered for SPACE: 1999.  Not least because the moon was still bouncing around the ITV schedules well into the 1980s... followed by 1990s reruns on BRAVO and BBC TWO.

The show's home video carrer was a little more complex.  The early releases were restricted to cut-and-shunt multi-episode presentations created by ITC after the show itself.  The 1990s saw the newly-launched ITC VIDEO add it to their roster... Although they initially had to skip the episodes already licensed elsewhere for the 'movie' versions.  Which, naturally enough, included the all-important opening episode Breakaway.

Polygram had inherited the rights to pump out the movies onto tape and this reissue - from the 1990s - was released alongside the ITC tapes.  It contains Breakaway and War Games with - unusually - some additional sequences, with none of the original cast, set at the International Lunar Finance Commission.  They are, understandably, quite busy after they misplace the moon.


Friday, 14 July 2017

SAPPHIRE AND STEEL ITC VHS VIDEO ADVENTURE 1

From the VHS era: More SAPPHIRE AND STEEL, this time in the form of the first volume (a double tape affair) of the ITC VIDEO releases.

It was so cool to see this on the shelves of OUR PRICE VIDEO way-back-when.  Not only was it a long-lost show that I fondly remebered from over a decade earlier but it also showed the potential for VHS to bring all sorts of old shows - previously assumed lost in the vaults forever with no chance of a repeat outing - back from the dead.

As we've seen in past posts (and will do again in the future) ITC (who had spent the previous decade cut loose from the ITV system and doing not very much) really woke up to the potential of the programme library they had previously been - for the most part - sitting on.

Despite being banished from the ITV tent by the early 1980s franchise round, which saw ATV and ITC split with the former being reinvented as Central Independent Television with a new ownership structure and renewed commitment to the midlands (part of the deal was that they had to sell Elstree Centre, home of many of the ATV shows), old ITV shows (mostly the Gerry Anderson ones) had continued to appear on ITV throughout the decade (FIREBALL XL5, in black & white, during the school holidays anyone?).  But these were mostly the high-end film series that were ITC's forte.  Far less likely to see the light of day again were any of the former ATV shows that had become part of the ITC library after the restructure.  

Suddenly, in part thanks to some vintage repeats on Channel Four, ITC opened the floodgates with all manner of old shows suddenly hitting the shelves.  Some of the heavy hitters were initially off-limits thanks to existing licensing deals which - possibly - left some gaps in the schedule for the more obscure stuff.  TV Heaven was born.  

As for this show?  I love it.  For the most part.  The two leads are great, the writing top-notch and the production and direction really make the most of the studio-bound nature of the series.  Indeed it feels weird when, in one story, they briefly decamped to the roof of the London headquarters of ACC, parent company of ATV and ITC.  The sedate pace would horrify viewers today... but it feels just right.  

This isn't the most memorable story.  Some may argue that it is the one with 'the man without a face' (and it is genuinely great) but, I think for many, it is the second adventure: The abandoned railway station.  It suffers a little from being several episodes overlong but the atmosphere and drama is exceptional.  It was the stody that was in mid-run when - in 1979 - a series of local industrial disputes across the ITV network conflated into an all-out shutdown (except, where things are calmer, in the Channel Islands) which halted all broadcasts and production for ten week.  No programmes.  No adverts.  No income.  No TV TIMES And no other option than to watch the two BBC channels.  Those were the days.  

Given such a long hiatus, ITV's schedulers opted to repeat the story from the start rather than rely on anyone remembering what had happened the best part of three months ago.  

Other contemporary S&S merchandise included a novelisation, an annual (with new stories) and - most memorably - a great LOOK-IN comic strip.


1989: SAPPHIRE AND STEEL ON THE COVER OF TIME SCREEN REVISED ISSUE 4

From Summer 1989: the revised and updated second edition of TIME SCREEN issue 4, with a cracking line-up of classic British Telefantasy shows.

Sapphire and Steel have been assigned...


1984: THE FIRST A-TEAM STRIP in LOOK-IN

From October 1984: THE A-TEAM arrive, in comics form, in LOOK-IN.

This wasn't the first outing of the iconic-yet-underrated action show in British comics.  Cannell's guns for hire had already been appearing in TV COMIC, the moribund long-runner that had shown some belated signs of life in the Eighties by running original strips based on THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, BATTLE OF THE PLANETS, TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY and - ahem MISTER MERLIN.

Signing the A-listers hadn't been enough to keep the weekly in business and LOOK-IN were quick to swoop once the property came into play.  It really was a logical team-up and it must have annoyed and frustrated ITV Publications that - somehow - Universal had licensed it to someone else first.

However, adapting the show was not without some hassles.  Despite ruling the early Saturday night schedules (sorry Colin Baker), editors were worried that the random gun play (and cigars) might attract the attention of parents when translated to the printed page.  So firearms and tobacco were strictly controlled, no doubt to the frustration of the writers.

Universal's fast-and-loose licensing struck agaion the following summer when MARVEL UK published the first of two TAT specials, recycling the three-issue mini-series rushed into print in the States.  Someone had obviously spotted that LOOK-IN had securred the rights to publish a weekly strip... but not all comics rights.  It's telling that Marvel were never tempted to rerun the reprints, in serial form, in any of their late-eighties anthologies (THE INCREDIBLE HULK PRESENTS or MARVEL BUMPER COMIC) when the show was still bouncing around the ITV schedules.

I've posted about those Marvel specials, and the US limited series that spawned them, in posts-long-past.  Follow the link below to see my A-Team musings to date.




Thursday, 13 July 2017

1977: MERGER ALERT! THE FIRST COMBINED ISSUE OF BATTLE AND ACTION!

From November 1977: Merger alert!  The well-past-its-prime ACTION had finally been axed the previous week... clearing the way for the merger with BATTLE to create - yup - BATTLE ACTION (not to be confused with BATTLE ACTION FORCE, of course).

And there's not a shark in sight...


BLOODBATH AT THE HOUSE OF DEATH NOVELISATION

It's not a great horror film.  It's not a great comedy film.  I would be amazed if it is a great paperback (I've not actually read it... can you imagine the looks I would get on the bus?) but this was too bizarre to pass up: the official novelisation of Britain's BLOODBATH AT THE HOUSE OF DEATH, the now (and then) obscure movie starring one of my heroes: Kenny Everett!

I've got a bootleg copy of the movie stashed away but it is a while since I've seen it.  I remember being - for the most part - underwhelmed when I did.  But, after finding this, it feels like one I should revisit again.  





1996: HORIZON, NEWSLETTER OF THE BLAKE'S SEVEN APPRECIATION SOCIETY ISSUE 35

From December 1996: Another issue (number 35) of HORIZON, the official (and hefty) newsletter of THE BLAKE'S 7 APPRECIATION SOCIETY.


Wednesday, 12 July 2017

1992: GHOST RIDER MARVEL UK AUTUMN SPECIAL

From the autumn of 1992: The MARVEL UK published GHOST RIDER AUTUMN SPECIAL.


1995: COMICS INTERNATIONAL REPORTS THE EXPANSION OF THE MARVEL MUSIC LINE

From February 1995: COMICS INTERNATIONAL reports the substantial expansion of the MARVEL MUSIC imprint.

This one caught my eye because it got me wondering: how many of these projects actually made it into stores?  This looks like a very ambitious publishing slate... yet copies of Marvel's music industry books very seldom seem to surface.  Which makes me think many of them were distributed in very small numbers, were distributed outside the direct market or (and given the dodgy financial status of Marvel - and the marketplace - at the time) never actually happened at all.




1988: THE LOST ARCHIE COMICS ADVENTURE LINE IN COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE

From September 1988: An issue of COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE with details of a universe untravelled: Plans by ARCHIE COMICS to reboot their superhero characters for the 1980s.

They eventually settled on the name Spectrum Comics as the vehicle to retool and relaunch their heroes for the evolving Direct Sales market.  Ultimately, they decided they didn't want to take the company - or their characters - in that direction and abandoned the whole shebang, making it a fascintaing road untravelled.  The characters next appeared, now licensed to DC Comics, in the Impact line early the next decade.  Copies of most of those books can still be found in 50p boxes across the land.


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

1975: MARVEL MOVIE PREMIERE: THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT ADAPTATION

From 1975: Marvel's adaptation of the Nazis, submarines and dinosaurs movie THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, starring Doug McClure.

This dumb-but-fun 1975 update of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel (two more movie adaptations followed... all are available on disc) was shot in the UK by Amicus Productions and released by AiP.

Thanks to what seemed like frequent outings on the BBC, this was a key part of my TV viewing when I was growing up.  So I was delighted to gett he chance to see it again.  It's not great... but it is great fun.

I hadn't been aware - until I found this copy - that Marvel New York had published a magazine tie-in.  This must rank amongst their earliest movie adaptations.


1980: MARVEL UK's FRANTIC SPOOFS THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

From October 1980: MARVEL UK's FRANTIC (think: Marvel UK knocking-off CRAZY which was knocking-off MAD) spoofs THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

This is issue 8, on-sale in September 1980 with an October cover date.

I would guess this is one of the lesser-known Marvel UK STAR WARS tie-ins, even if it it is of a more unofficial nature than the regular weekly/ monthly and assorted spin-offs.  Marvel NY were unaware of its existance until I alerted them.  It remains to be seen whether this cover will appear in their upcoming omnibus (which will now - it seems - contain less than originally billed) of British STAR WARS material.


1987: NEW FORMAT ALERT: EAGLE GETS A MUCH NEEDED REBOOT

From March 1987: EAGLE gets a much needed makeover.

IPC really let their comics go in the early 1980s... the better formats enjoyed by some of the titles (notably TIGER and EAGLE) had been lost and - across the line - print and paper quality (mostly courtesy of Southern Print) had declined to not far from newsprint standards.  And IPC's standard slighty-more-square page dimensions made the artwork ill-suited for international sales and - in the case of 2000AD - recycling in the States.

Meanwhile, competitors MARVEL UK and London Editions, bolstered by their strong relationships with toy and media properties, had romped ahead with glossy paper and colour interiors.  The IPC line-up, shrinking fast, was beginning to look very tired just as the audience for all comics was declining.

The relaunch (better - but not glossy - paper, new page dimensions, the end of the hefty white page borders and better reproduction) roughly coincided with Robert Maxwell's purchase of IPC Youth Group and the creation of his new Fleetway business (reviving a pre-IPC brand that had continued to appear on the company's myriad of annuals).  The move was probably not coincidental and almost certainly part of a plan (like moving the group out of King's Reach Tower and into neighbouring IPC premises) to prepare the titles for sale.

These format changes are a handy way for collectors to limit filling their home (a problem I really have at the moment) by only collecting and retaining select, format-dictated, sub-runs rather than every copy of long-runners.  


Monday, 10 July 2017

1985: STREET HAWK LOOK-IN STRIP

From June 1985: A random instalment of the STREET HAWK strip from the pages of LOOK-IN weekly.  I always think of this shortlived series as the greatest Glen Larson show that Glen Larson had nothing to do with.

The series, part of the super-machine Star Age sub-genre, had a peaktime slot on ITV and probably had a higher profile here than it did back in the States.  It is now available on DVD and even comes with a new documentary.





1982: E.T THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL STICKER ALBUM

From 1982: Another piece of playground crack: the E.T THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL STICKER ALBUM.  

Some albums get traction some don't. This one did.  Pictures of the E.Tster were in the highest demand and commanded a swaps premium in the playground.  

I think, like many of the albums, this one was a freebie with one of the weeklies.  I have a hunch it was a copy of LOOK-IN but I can't recall for sure.  Book and stickers were also available to buy in the usual fashion.  This copy, which I picked up for a quid, is empty.  Sadly.

Great film as well.  

Here's a question to ponder as well... What was the first sticker album to be given away with a comic?  And which comic?  It was probably a football one.  But within our genre I think it might have been something like the MUPPETS ALBUM (although I'm not sure it was stickers or cards) that came free with a copy of LOOK-IN.  Or the Marvel-published INCREDIBLE HULK album with the first issue of HULK WEEKLY... albeit again cards rather than stickers...


1988: THE BEST OF EAGLE MONTHLY ISSUE 3

From July 1988: THE BEST OF EAGLE issue 3, starring Manix.

BoE was one of a bunch of BEST OF... monthlies published by IPC around this time.  The benefits were obvious: quick to paginate, no origination costs, no back-end payments to the creators.  In short: a very profitable way of making the IPC archives work harder to offset falling sales in the core comics business.

Some of these titles did very well.  THE BEST OF 2000AD MONTHLY ran for a decade AND spun-off a JUDGE DREDD solo version and a few specials as well.  This one, on the other hand, shuttered after a mere six issues.  Despite being a spin-off from IPC's most successful new launch of the decade.  Very strange.

Maybe the strips were too recent.  Maybe EAGLE's readership had no interest in revisiting the past.  Maybe IPC couldn't secure decent distribution.  Or maybe they realised that they would need to run more and more reprints in the core title in the years ahead... so didn't want to run them all in a spin-off.

It's not to be confused with the dying days of the main EAGLE comic.  It switched to a monthly frequency and - with a few exceptions - became a mostly reprint title as the sales dropped through the floor.

These six issues are now pretty hard to find.  They are worth picking up if you do.


Friday, 7 July 2017

ADIOS ELDORADO VHS TAPE

From the VHS shelf: another long-lost tape that never made it into the age of the shiney disc: ADIOS ELDORADO.

You have to admire the bravado of BBC ENTERPRISES for getting this tape into shops just as BBC ONE cancelled the show.  A neat commercial move to capitalise around press coverage of the show's premature (in my opinion) closure.  Especially as the ratings had been on an upward curve for the previous few months.  Maybe the BBC would have had a moderate hit on their hands (and spread the cost of their investment a little further) if they had held on for another twelve months before deciding whether to pull the plug.  Instead, as is often the case, it fell victim to management changes when Alan ('Kids Company') Yentob took over the BBC ONE hotseat.

I can't say that I was a regular viewer (three times a week is a lot of watching... and I'm not much of a soap viewer anyway) but i was there for the start and I was there for the end.  And I dipped in and out inbetween.  There was a lot wrong with it, from writing through casting through to strained production standards but there were the seeds of a good show.  It just needed time to sort things out... and the problem with making ninety minutes of TV a week, 52 weeks of the year, is that there is never time to stop and marshall your forces.  Especially if you need to get more episodes in the can to allow everyone to have a bit of a Christmas break.


1982: BATTLE RELAUNCH ISSUE

From 1982: You've seen the previous week's preview... now here's the first relaunched, now-an-adventure-comic issue of BATTLE.

None of the three new strips fit the existing BATTLE formula and it's obvious that IPC had realised the finite appeal of the all-war format of old.  The three newcomers all feel like they could all have been lifted from a particularly exciting night's viewing on ITV... although the martial arts might have made the IBA a little nervous.

Maybe the management were already thinking about a future without BATTLE and were introducing adventure strips that were better suited to being shifted into another title... possibly the new EAGLE, launching around this time.

By the following year, the rumours of an impending closure had grown louder and were now being reported in the fanzines... but then ACTION FORCE entered the circulation warzone and - much to the grumblings of the old guard - took over half the page count.  Were they really any worse than Truck Turpin?  IPC and Palitoy formed an alliance because the publisher needed the business and the toy company needed a comics partner after their early plans, announced to the toy trade, to launch a new weekly with MARVEL UK somehow collapsed.


1982: TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY STORYBOOK

From 1982: A fairly rare (at least in the UK) piece of TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY merchandise: The storybook adaptation of the feature-length pilot episode.

I really liked this show back when it aired on BBC ONE and I still think it is one of the better shows to emerge out of the Universal Action Factory of the 1980s.  A great premise (not really just an Indiana Jones knock-off... although the network was trying to push it in that direction), good cast and characters and - of course - the Goose.  Plus one of the all-time great theme tunes.

Despite the exotic locale, only this pilot episode included any principle photography shot somewhere tropical: Hawaii.  The rest of the series used the Universal backlot, carefully disguised with clever camera angles.  Occasional off-lot filming took the cast to locations like the Queen Mary.  

The really surprising thing is that the show latest only a single season before it was axed.  It had the look and feel of a long-runner. It aired on primetime BBC ONE here which - I think - always magnifies our perceptions of success because an imported show always seemed like a much bigger deal.  Look at the UK vs. US success of the POTA weekly series a decade earlier.  Or the relative high profiles of MANIMAL, AUTOMAN and STREETHAWK over here.  Although no-one other than me seems to remember the weekly series version of FREEBIE AND THE BEAN.  Sigh.

Merchandise related to the show is limited.  There is an excellent UK DVD release which is well worth getting and finally allowed me to dump my long-held bootleg copies.  It's worth getting not least for the very good new documentary, although the relationship between Stephen Collins and Faye ('V') Grant has - ahem - taken a turn for the worse since it was made.  Revelations about Collins may also mean this show is even less likely to get any TV exposure in future.

There was also supposed to be a UK annual but - to be honest - I have never seena copy 'in the wild' so i can't be 100% sure it was ever published.  But I will keep looking.  UK comics rights went to TV COMIC, which is always hard to find.



Thursday, 6 July 2017

1998: DOCTOR WHO'S CELESTIAL TOYROOM PLAYS 'MINDGAMES'

From 1998: An issue of DOCTOR WHO APPRECIATION SOCIETY newsletter CELESTIAL TOYROOM with coverage of the straight-to-tape (and now DVD) spin-off drama MINDGAME.


1989: COMICS SCENE MAGAZINE ISSUE 6

From February 1989: the relaunched US magazine COMICS SCENE kicks-off 'The year of the Bat' with a preview of the BATMAN movie.

The age of the superhero movie was about to begin...


1979: LAST ISSUE ALERT! TORNADO CRASHES.

From 1979: Last Issue Alert!  After only 22 issues, IPC's TORNADO ran out of luck and announced its impending merger with 2000AD.

I posted the first merged issue the other day but this is the last of the vanquished, complete with the customary 'great news chums' cover splash... an announcement that meant either an impending freebie (this was the time when announcing an announcement was almost as big as whatever was being announced... sometimes bigger if it was just going to be a Heinz badge taped to the following week's cover) or the axeman cometh.  

It's interesting that the merger page goes big on the 2000AD characters and only mentions Tornado's lucky survivors as an afterthought.  Maybe no one thinks they are a strong selling point!  I'd have also changed how I presented the logo so that - in the advert at least - Tornado didn't look like such an afterthought.

On your marks... Get set... Stop!



Wednesday, 5 July 2017

1994: 2000AD's STRONTIUM DOGS THE POSTER PROG ONE-SHOT

From 1994: STRONTIUM DOGS THE POSTER PROG issue 1, a one-shot spin-off from Tharg's Command Module.

Poster mags were quite a sideline for Tharg between 1993-95 with five dedicated to JUDGE DREDD and one apiece for SLAINE, ROGUE TROOPER, NEMESIS and the Dogs.

The format consisted of a giant poster with an original six page strip printed on the reverse.

The very first, albeit unofficial, 'Poster Prog' was published within months of 2000AD's launch making it one of the very first spin-offs.  The DAN DARE POSTER MAGAZINE hit newsagents in August 1977, tucked into the schedule between the first 2000AD SUMMER SPECIAL (not yet the more familiar Sci-Fi Special) and the first 2000AD ANNUAL.  


1995: HORIZON: THE BLAKE'S 7 APPRECIATION SOCIETY NEWSLETTER 33

From November 1995: Issue 33 of HORIZON, THE BLAKE'S 7 APPRECIATION SOCIETY.

I suspect I'm not the only B7 fan who was 'reunited' with the show when the BBC started to release the show on tape in the early 1990s.  And I bet I'm not the only person who started off just buying one tape for nostalgia's sake... and then finding that I had to buy the whole lot as the addiction grew.

I also joined HORIZON (who had a useful plug on the back of every BBC tape, a move that probably helped deflect a ton of mail landing at BBC Woodlands wanting to know more about the show and the cast) around this time.  And rejoined several times over the next few years.  I don't honestly recall if this edition of the newsletter was one that I had at the time or one that I found later.  They don't surface in the wild very often.  As far as I know, copies were only ever available to members with - maybe - overstocks also sold at conventions.

The Horizon newsletters were, in my time, very hefty affairs stuffed full of letters, articles and updates (either news or reviews) of the cast's latest work.  Which seemed to involve a lot of trips to the theatre.

The club also offered members assorted limited-run merchandise like stills and t-shirts.

Spin-off publications included fiction-based fanzines (never my thing), a compilation of interviews (which i posted sometime previously) and a rather excellent Technical Manual with detailed plans and cross sections of assorted hardware and ships seen on the show.

I'm revisiting episodes of assorted Star Age SF shows at the moment (WAR OF THE WORLDS last night, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA earlier in the week) and rewatched a couple of long-unseen B7 S4 outings.  They have a reputation, not entirely undeserved, for looking a little rough around the edges and suffering from some overacting.  But I was impressed by 'Orbit' by Robert Holmes.  Not only does it include one of his trademark double acts but the performances towards the end of the episode, by Darrow and Keating, are first class.

Now... If only Network would get around to releasing Darrow's 1990 Thames series MAKING NEWS.


1992: THE BEST OF BILLY'S BOOTS HOLIDAY SPECIAL

From 1992: THE BEST OF BILLY'S BOOTS HOLIDAY SPECIAL VOLUME 2.

This was a late-in-the-day compilation of old strips which (along with its predecesor) passed me by completely at the time.  I guess I wasn't spending enough time in newsagents.

Billy Dane, owner of the supernatural footy boots of Charles 'Dead Shot' Keen lived a transitory life in British comics.  The strip started in SCORCHER in 1970 before transferring to TIGER when the titles merged in 1974.  He spent the next eleven years of his playing career in the pages of the sports weekly.  Billy's Boots was one of the better strips to transfer to the 'new' EAGLE AND TIGER in 1985.

The strip was shuffled in the IPC portfolio again the following year, findinga  more natural home in ROY OF THE ROVERS weekly (itself a Tiger spin-off, launched in 1976) where it remained until 1990.  When Billy's playing days were finally over, the new strips were (true to Fleetway form at the time) reprints from the vaults.  The reprints later shifted to THE BEST OF ROY OF THE ROVERS.


Tuesday, 4 July 2017

1994: MARVEL BUYS MALIBU COMICS.

From December 1994: Marvel Comics gobbles up the MALIBU ULTRAVERSE, as reported in the UK's COMICS INTERNATIONAL.


Malibu, one-time home of Alien Nation, Planet of the Apes, Japanese animation, Deep Space Nine and softcore titty books, hit pay dirt when - for a year - they looked after the just-launched Image Comics and, when that contract came to an end, they realised there was a good living to be made from superheroes.  So they unleashed the Ultraverse.  

Fair to say they were not the only publisher to be launching new shared universe books at the time.  Dark Horse went for it in a big way and gave the world Barb Wire.  There was Milestone.  Marvel had a whole bunch of new universes, including our own UKverse.  

But Malibu burned pretty bright.  In addition to A LOT of comics, they also expanded fast into syndicated animation (Ultraforce), action figures, computer games, TV advertising ('Jump On Now'), TV series (Glen Larson's Nightman adaptation) and much else besides.  They were burning bright... but also burning cash.

The owners raised the 'for sale' sign and DC came oround to measure for curtains.  That paniced Marvel who knew a DC takeover would catipult their rival to numero uno by marketshare... and that would dent Marvel's all important shareprice.  So they swooped.  

It's pretty safe to say that Marvel were only vaguely interested in the comics themselves.  The move removed a competitor but Malibu's existing multimedia deals didn't sit well with Marvel's business people and the characters were never going to be as important to Marvel as their own.  But they must have wondered how an upstart like Malibu could get a two-season deal for a (cheap) syndicated action show when Stan Lee had spent a decade in Hollywood delivering not very much.  

Marvel made some half-hearted moves to merge the Ultraverse with the Marvel Universe (this was, after all, the era where inter-company crossovers were pretty much a monthly event) but Marvel fans weren't interested and Ultraverse readers resented the takeover.  The line was slimmed... and then closed altogether.  And another sub-set of 'Marvel' characters were warehoused.  

Which is the interesting bit.  Marvel will dust off old characters either just because they can or because the lawyers tell them they are in danger of slipping out of copyright.  But the lawyers are saying something else about the Malibu Ultraverse.  It seems that the whole shebang is out-of-bounds.  And no-one seems to quite know why.  Although it is a safe bet that someone, somewhere, would have to be paid if they were resurected.  And it seems that Disney and Marvel just don't care that much.  

The good news is that - should you be tempted - the Ultraverse is a staple of the 50p back issue box.  Dealers must have ordered so many of these books that they are still trying to shift the stock decades later.  There are - of course - a lot of special and limited edition copies (this WAS the 1990s) that are harder to find but the core books are a pretty easy find.  Take a punt.  

BTW: Stan's EXCELSIOR COMICS, yet another Marvel imprint, failed to see the light of day.  
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