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The Dobermann Always Rings Twice

SMASH!Creative Destruction and change

Uncategorised Posted on Sat, March 14, 2020 12:33:56
Spot the Difference…

Lew Stringer recently revisited the traumatic week in 1969 when the comic SMASH! was completely revamped . The article here at https://lewstringer.blogspot.com/2009/03/40-year-flashback-smash-regenerates.html gives a good summary and evokes the distress some of us felt. It also raises some interesting points about change and the management of change. I’ll talk about the revamped comic at the end, but just to get to the essential points:

The main reason most of us bought SMASH! 51 years ago was because (like all the old Power Comics) it contained a mix of Marvel superhero reprints and anarchic British comedy. As Lew points out, this had gradually been changing over the previous year due to internal management shifts within the International Publishing Corporation (IPC). But January 1969 was the “big bang” when the comic was revamped to the taste of staff from the prevailing Fleetway comics. An article by the fictional new office boy, “Mike” (‘Smash Chat’) informed us that they’d decided to give the superheroes a rest for a bit. It was my first taste of corporate bullshit. There may have been sound reasons for reducing the Marvel Comics reprints (as weeklies, the several Power Comics published by IPC’s Odhams subsidiary had come close to exhausting the supply of monthly Marvel comics) but as Lew points out, the bottom line is that the old Smash was not to the taste of the prevailing management *. So like most forced recipients of change, I was probably ( 51 years is a long time to remember accurately) predisposed to resist!

*Spider-Man and Ghost Rider reprints popped up the following year in the revamped TV21.

And yet I stuck with the new SMASH! I still have a copy from September 1969 The Warriors of the World feature on the cover helpfully shows that this is the 26th issue of the new series, which suggests that the comic won me over.

A simplistic reading might be that this was just Schumpeter’s Creative Destruction at work, with innovation pushing aside the exhausted old guard and delivering new benefits to the consumer. The lesson might be that it’s better to embrace change rather than resist it because – in the end – you will come round. Better sooner, rather than later.

But, it’s not quite that simple. The Fleetway arm of IPC were the old guard. Odhams’ Power Comics had been the young Turks winning over the audience with new ideas. If anything, this was the reverse of creative destruction, with the old monoliths being rebuilt. And to complicate things – while the look of the new SMASH! was more conventional with distinctive artists like Ken Reid and Mike Higgs, writers on the old SMASH! were employed on the new SMASH! They may have been tales that looked more corporate but they still had the same inventiveness. So any benefits may have been derived from the quality of the staff, rather than the management vision.

To sum up, we’re told that change is good. In small steady doses that may be true (Fleetway had already slipped traditional strips like Sergeant Rock, Paratrooper and King of the Ring in among the superheroes the previous year). When big change does come, the staff and the punters have little choice but to accept it and make the best of it. Since we can’t live parallel lives we never really know if it’s for the better, although as Lew’s article shows, external events often have a trick of undermining the best laid plans. What you can be sure of is A: There is no point telling management their plans won’t work B: If it doesn’t work, you can be sure it will because of external factors that no-one could have predicted C: By the time it doesn’t work, the people who made the original decision will have moved on to new successes.

The Rebbel Robot

Many of the new comic strips were good. Rebbels on the Run had been a fairly conventional theme – three orphaned brothers run away from a care home rather than be split up. But with this issue the story morphed into The Rebbel Robot. The brothers meet the mysterious Professor Bodkin who tells them that their dead father had been a secret service agent. Just before he died, Frank Rebbel allowed Bodkin to feed his brain patterns into an electronic brain which is now enclosed in a robot body.

Other stories included Master of the Marsh, in which a strange hermit called Patchman (implied to be a reincarnation of Hereward the Wake) teaches the working class children at Marshside Secondary School. This weeks episode is like a reverse of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, with ‘Knocker Reeves’ trying to sabotage his classmates chances in the County sports day. There are eleven dramatic strips (some reprints) all well-told and exciting. Janus Stark and Cursitor Doom are among them, but there’s a host of lesser-known strips. And that’s before you get to the comedy strips.

It strikes me now that the most ironic of the strips is The Battle of Britain. Not a wartime strip, it tells how Secret Service agent Simon Kane and his West Indian assistant Tubby oppose “the power crazed Baron Rudolph” who has seized control of London and most of Britain. I believe this was a reprint from the early 1960’s, but with sharp, clean Geoff Campion artwork this was one of my favourite strips. By September 1969, Kane has managed to rescue the Prime Minister from a prison camp in Hyde Park and is working with army loyalists to smuggle the Prime Minister out to Canada. The irony is, of course, that IPC’s chairman Cecil King had been sacked by the board after a farcical attempt to launch a coups against Harold Wilson’s government in May 1968. If only they’d got Ken Reid to draw that one up!



Wolf 359 on the rocks

Uncategorised Posted on Sat, March 14, 2020 00:16:45
Sara Shane, Patrick O’Neal and Ben Wright sip Martini’s in Wolf 359

Synchronicity reared its’ head this morning when I came across this recipe for the Carole Landis Martini on the @silverscreensup Twitter account. Only the night before, I’d been watching The Outer Limits episode Wolf 359, where philanthropist Philip Exeter Dundee (Ben Wright) asks, “Didn’t DeVoto write a whole book on the Martini”?

In the pre-Internet age, it would have taken some detailed research to discover that Dundee was referring to historian Bernard DeVoto, whose curmudgeonly essay The Hour was published in book form in 1951. It refers to 6pm, the cocktail hour which is illustrated by scriptwriter Seeleg Lester in the TV episode when scientist Patrick O’Neal proudly mixes his perfect cocktails as thick steaks sizzle on the barbeque.

By coincidence, the Silver Screen Suppers recipe links to an article by Richard Ehrlich which quotes DeVoto’s description of the Martini as , “The supreme American gift to world culture.”

Wolf 359 – the malevolent force escapes from the planet

Until now, my main fascination with Wolf 359 (from a screen story by Quatermass Xperiment adaptor Richard Landau) was the concept of a tiny planet, created by O’Neal in the lab funded by Wright in order to promote space research. With evolution speeded up, O’Neal is able to observe the growth of microscopic life, and evidence of war, cruelty and inhumanity but unaware that a malevolent force is issuing from the planet and invading his home.

I first saw this 1964 episode in 2005, and it seemed clear that it must have influenced Jack Kirby when he was drawing Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen issue 142 in 1971. Here, Superman and Jimmy Olsen discover that scientist Dabney Donovan has created a miniature planet in a lab beneath an ancient graveyard. Having said that, Kirby’s humanistic instincts took the basic concept to another level. In the TV show, the ‘alien’ is a micro-relative of Hob from Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit. The ‘alien’ is a science-fiction embodiment of ancient evil, bringing out the worst instincts of the microscopic creatures on the tiny planet.Director Laslo Benedek (Death of a Salesman – 1951) employed some stirring horror film iconography as the prairie wolves outside the lab react to its presence. But Kirby turned the concept round by having the scientist project images from old horror films onto the planet Transilvane. The microscopic life forms are natural mimics which actually take on the forms of vampires and werewolves. Kirby’s humanism detects the need for self-determination and self-preservation in the creatures. For them, the scientist Donovan is the malevolent God, who regards planet Transilvane as nothing more than an experiment.

Count Dragorin and Werewolf

On Friday the 13th I could do nothing less than succumb to influences on me and mix up some vodka martini’s as I reflected on Wolf 359 and The Man From Transilvane. I’d noted before that Ben Wright, the actor playing Dundee, had a slight physical resemblance to Walt Disney. But now I see that he was the voice of Roger Radcliffe, owner of Pongo in the first Disney version of 101 Dalmations. Can I find a link between Disney and Transilvane? Give me a few more Martini’s and I’m sure I will!