Tag Archives: Steve White

ViSiONARiES #2: THE BEGiNNiNG

This gorgeous Andrew Wildman cover (Transformers, G.I. Joe, Venom: Carnage Unleashed) opens the second issue of Marvel UK‘s new Visionaries monthly, released on this day back in 1988, showing some of our heroes and villains surrounded by the magical totems that’ll become a part of their very being. We’ll get to that further down the review, but is that a price increase already? It’s only 5p but back then that was quite the hike, especially for a second issue.

Not only is the price increase a bit strange, so is the Vision On editorial which doesn’t mention anything about the issue’s story, instead focussing solely on other Marvel releases. The recap of the previous chapter is then pasted on top of the next page, excising the top third of the strip! It is atmospherically written though.

Last time, Reekon pulled on a lever as a large stone gargoyle rushed towards Leoric, Ectar and Feryl but what the lever did could easily have been missed because of where the story stopped. The metal gates that trapped them with seemingly no hope of survival would have come down at the top of this page. So not only could it have been missed last issue, this time it’s been deleted by editor Steve White.

Thankfully the strip itself more than makes up for any shortcomings in repackaging it for UK readers plus the outer eight pages are made of an even higher grade of paper than last time. A shame the rest is of the usual stock because these glossy pages are lovely and really do justice to Andy‘s cover, as well as the opening pages of the strip from penciller Mark Bagley, inker Romeo Tanghai, letterer Janice Chiang and colourist Julianna Ferriter.

Adapted by Jim Salicrup from Flint Dille‘s animated teleplay, it’s all action this time around, with the knights from across planet Prysmos now inside Iron Mountain facing the trials of Merklynn the ancient wizard. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t time for humour, as we see when the startled gargoyle runs off like a yelping dog, and then there’s this panel featuring Darkling Lord leader Darkstorm and (the voice of) Mortdredd, his snivelling follower.

In fact the first several pages contain some comedy gold. Below, Cravex hears some apparently noble knights talking of forming what sounds very similar to Leoric’s future team of Spectral Knights. It’s all talk though, humorously told with mention of their skills and expertise but their actual plans amount to nothing more than monthly meetings. It reminds me of some office managers I’ve had to work with.

Then, after being surprised by an animated skeleton pushing him over a crevasse, Darkstorm’s superior climbing skills and cool head save him and he finds himself beside a vat of milk from a giant spider, which looks ominously on overhead. Realising that in order to fulfill his ambitions he’ll need underlings he traps three knights in the sticky goo and forces them to pledge their allegiance. Cindarr‘s sole requirement had me roaring.

We see some personal rivalries begin here too. The Cryotek versus Cindarr fight is interesting as it’s actually the Spectral Knight who loses his temper during it. Showing a fearsome, darker side and swearing to kill his enemy, his magical totem in the final pages is revealed to be the grizzly bear for his incredible strength and endurance, so I’m interested to see how these two aspects of his personality develop in tandem in future issues. But I want to concentrate on one particular grudge match here.

At the time of Visionaries, having only one or two female warriors was deemed enough in everything from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe to The Transformers. The former at least had a female-centric spin-off but the latter had only one female robot in a cast of hundreds. This has been remedied in the intervening years with the Cybertronians but we can see now just how woefully inadequate it was at the time. Galadria and Virulina, shown here in a thrilling underwater fight scene, weren’t even toys and were instead creations of Flint’s. I hope they’ll get as much coverage as their male counterparts in future issues.

While the comic’s origin was based on the cartoon’s, there were already key differences. Something that irked me about the same story in the cartoon was the fact only the characters who’d receive the magical powers in the end had the hologram-shaped chest panel. It kind of gave the game away, but in the comic they’ve shown several background characters with the same design. It’s not overly done, we’re always aware of who’s going to make it and who isn’t, but it’s a welcome change.

It may be over three decades later and it may be based on a toy line, but this is still a thrilling read.

Something else a comic can do is expose the inner thoughts of the characters and it’s used here in abundance, and not in that annoying way of just describing what we can plainly see is happening to them. Instead, it’s used to add depth to reactions, portrays their inner doubts and fears and adds to each individual character.

As we approach the final pages a huge climactic battle between the knights is interrupted by a booming voice as a huge wooden door nearby contorts into the shape of Merklynn‘s face. Daring them forward, they’re faced with horrors on the other side.

It’s actually Darkstorm who feels a certain level of familiarity with the screaming souls in front of them. They march on and Merklynn explains this was their final test, the spirits really being mystical reflections of their deepest, darkest fears and in conquering them they’ve conquered themselves. It’s quite startling to turn the page over and see this image. It may be over three decades later and it may be based on a toy line, but this is still a thrilling read.

It’s at this point we finally get some more background into the previous Age of Magic. It’s played out over a page previously shown in the preview mini-comic but essentially Prysmos was a planet with a strong-willed race of humans, able to achieve anything they set their minds to for the good of their neighbours. The strongest were the Knights of Prysmos and from these arose the Mages of Prysmos. Only a few were able to predict the cataclysm when the Age of Science came, of which Merklynn was one. By secreting his power inside the mountain upon which his castle once stood he was able to ride out time until the suns aligned again and the ages were reversed.


“Be not afraid, Knights of Prysmos! Accept these totems as your just reward! Only you had the vision it took to succeed in finding this chamber! Truly thou art Visionaries!”

Merklynn the Great Mage

Then it’s on to the finale and the part I, as a fan of the toys and cartoon, had been waiting for. It was time for the new Knights of Prysmos to receive their totems, their magical emblems that would encapsulate each individual character, granting them each unique special powers, regardless of their intentions beyond the mountain.

Looking over these particular images sparks happy memories. I had so many of these toys it’s like being reunited with old friends. It’s been a great start and we haven’t even seen any of their powers being used yet. But given what we’ve seen them all achieve as people grasping for the power to rule or rebuild, it’s already a compelling story and I think this is mainly thanks to the way the characters have interacted with one another. They feel real, which is no small feat given these are based on action figures.

Judging by these beginnings, if Visionaries had proven more popular and had the chance to develop over the course of a few years, I would say these human characters could’ve risen through the ranks of comics to sit proudly alongside the likes of Larry Hama‘s superlative G.I. Joe creations. I’m well aware I’m saying this after only one story, but I’ve a feeling the remaining issues are going to back that up.

For now The End… The Beginning finishes with everyone safely transported back to the entrance of Iron Mountain, where a rock formation in the shape of its soul occupant’s face (he does like doing stuff like that) ends the proceedings with some ominous words for all those assembled.

After this initial story the comic would diverge completely from the cartoon and I’m looking forward to seeing what direction it goes in, what with the animated series being one of the best of its time. I really do get the feeling all is set for a story unlike any other. The comic team should be proud of their adaptation and now with them at the helm completely we’ll have to wait a whole month to see what they bring to the myth of the Visionaries.

To round off this review here’s a quick look at the only two non-strip pages in the comic after the editorial. I know how much people love these retro advertisements. This month there’s another Marvel UK monthly looking for attention, then that small promotion in the preview comic for what I’m sure was a superlative poster gets the full back page treatment.

I can remember the whole family sitting down and watching ALF together on the TV every week. We’d giggle along with the canned laughter as we watched the adventures of the Alien Life Form, real name Gordon Shumway from the planet Melmac, taking shelter in the home of the Tanner family after his planet was destroyed when everyone turned their hairdryers on at the same time. I think I can remember buying an issue of the Marvel comic, which was a basic repackaging of the American title along the same lines as Visionaries.

It’s been great fun revisiting this story on the planet of Prysmos so far. I’m eagerly awaiting the next edition and I hope you’ll join me too, #3 of Marvel UK‘s Visionaries‘s review shall be here from Wednesday 19th May 2021.

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ViSiONARiES #1: THE END

They were the latest toy line from Hasbro, the latest cartoon from Sunbow and now the latest comic from Marvel. With Transformers and Action Force (G.I. Joe) still riding high what could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately this sure thing wasn’t to last, but while it did the Visionaries brought with them one of the greatest 80s cartoons, some of my favourite childhood toys and what could’ve been one of the greatest comic book epics.

But we’re not here to dwell on what could’ve been, this site is all about celebrating these classic comics by reading them in real time and on this day back in 1988 #1 of a brand new Marvel UK title appeared in the shops. While it does have a lovely glossy cover it only contains 24 pages, the same as the weekly Transformers which seemed strange for a monthly. Inside it was cover-to-cover strip action too. No extra features, no fact-files, letters page requests, back up story and no sign of a Lew Stringer humour strip. What kind of comic was this without that last item?

What it did have for kids in the 80s was a free holographic sticker. Featuring two images of Merklynn the wizard, one a 2D outline and the other a 3D image of his face, I can’t begin to describe how bloody difficult this was to photograph.

Inside, Transformers colourist Steve White is the editor and welcomes us to the premiere issue with Vision On, an editorial page which looks a lot like the HQ one from The Real Ghostbusters. Other than that, the comic is made up of 19 pages of strip, two Marvel UK adverts and another for the toys and that’s yer lot. It’s still an excitable introduction though and hypes the strip very well.

The End… The Beginning is adapted by Jim Salicrup (Jurassic Park, Transformers, Spider-Man) from Flint Dille‘s (Transformers: The Movie and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero cartoons) screenplay of the cartoon’s first episode. In the States, Marvel’s Star Comics released Visionaries bi-monthly (much like their parent company had with Transformers originally). The premiere issue from October the previous year had been a double-length edition, but here in the UK the origin story was split into two and spread over the first two months. This means none of our characters actually become ‘Visionaries’ this issue.

Set on the planet Prysmos, Merklynn the wisened old wizard brings portents of doom as the three suns begin to align, signalling the end of the Age of Science and the beginning of a new Age of Magic. Angered at their reliance on technology, Merklyn states he’s watched humans grow weaker for ages, so he’s obviously a lot older than we think.

He has a point. It would appear that from birth to death technology is on hand to answer to these humans’ every whim. Even in this restaurant, sitting on the side of Iron Mountain, we see people being fed their food by robots, after the robot chefs have cooked it and the robot waiters have served it. They don’t even have to bother their brains with the task of choosing what they want to eat, instead their dietary requirements are scanned by the maître d’.

Then the suns align.

In an instant the world is plunged into darkness. The restaurant crumbles and falls, no longer held in place by the advanced machinery and is destroyed completely as it hits the ground far below. To prove to the people around him this is truly the new Age of Magic, Merklynn teleports the diners to safety. All around them their world has changed forever in the blink of an eye.

Completely out of their depth, unused to thinking for themselves, the first words anyone utters as the world ends around them is, “Anyone know a good restaurant near here?”. A brief moment of humour before the horrors on the next page.

The Age of Science has ended and the beginning of the Age of Magic is a terrifying and violent place. It doesn’t take long before the human race is fighting for survival in this powerful double-spread. The once peaceful people oof Prysmos, who didn’t want for anything, soon descend into barbarism. But as society crumbles a new order slowly rises up “cobbled together from bits and pieces of the old”.

The useless technology all around them is melted down and used as protective armour and weapons, a necessity in these new times. From the villages emerge knights, some ruling with iron fists and led by Darkstorm, others aligning themselves with Leoric, the former mayor of New Valarak who witnessed first-hand Merklynn in the restaurant.

There’s some great imagery throughout this issue, with pencils by Mark Bagley, inks by Romeo Tanghai, colours by Julianna Ferriter and lettering by Janice Chiang. In particular the fight scenes are exciting and during one particularly brutal confrontation the skies light up with a familiar face (inside a familiar free-hologram-like shape) and a booming voice.

Merklynn tells the knights of his Iron Mountain, where the destruction began. Inside, great power resides, power enough to rebuild the world and take command of this new age, to rise up and become strong again. It’s obviously too much of an opportunity for someone like Darkstorm to pass up so he and his men (the grovelling but loyal Mortdredd and the brutal mercenary-for-hire Reekon) take off to claim the power for themselves.

They believe these times call for a tough leader, someone unafraid to make unpopular choices in order for their planet to survive, no matter the cost to the people. On the other end of the spectrum Leoric, Ectar and Feryl believe only by working together can the populace regrow their communities and flourish. In the background we also meet characters like Cravex who wishes to use the political climate to his advantage (he had the voice of Starscream in the cartoon, appropriately enough) and during the final pages we’re also introduced to Galadria, Arzon and my favourite, Witterquick.

“Anyone know a good restaurant near here?”

The first words uttered after the apocalypse

With the world building complete we move n to the main part of the origin story and the quest for their magical powers. Iron Mountain’s labyrinthine interior is home to tests of intelligence, fitness, strength, wisdom etc. Just as the toys had set out each figure’s specific ability, these tests are our chance to be introduced to them in a more natural way than resorting to the kind of long winded exposition we got in the earliest issues of Transformers.

For example, Galadria uses her keen senses to stop herself falling for a trap like the men ahead of her, Witterquick uses his speed to avoid deadly fast moving spikes and Arzon’s love of flight sees him soaring to escape danger. But not before we’ve had a cheeky wink towards their Hasbro stablemates; as a ladder transforms into dozens of intertwined snakes Arzon exclaims, “There’s more than meets the eye here.” Brilliant.

Our original six characters from earlier in the story round things off for us this issue when they discover a giant stone gargoyle, curled up in a corner and snoring loudly. It’s alive! But at least it’s asleep. Sneaking past it, Mortdredd puts on a weakened voice and tricks Leoric’s team into coming to the aid of an apparently fallen comrade.

There’s actually a nice bit of humour here too. Mortdredd’s character sucks up to Darkstorm constantly, eager to please him by carrying out any sinister task no matter how horrible, keen to have his protection. Darkstorm is constantly exhausted of the grovelling but recognises Mortdredd’s diabolical talents are crucial to his plans.

It’s at this point the story, which has been building momentum nicely from its atmospheric beginning, gets unceremoniously cut in half.

Below is the final strip page. If you look closely at the penultimate panel you’ll see a metal portcullis and it’s this Reekon is controlling with that lever. This could be easily missed so its effectiveness as a cliffhanger is debatable. From memory of the annual, showing the next panel or two at the top of the next page would’ve been much better, with maybe a ‘Next Issue’ box filling out the rest of the page.

The overriding feeling I get from this issue is how these are well developed characters, grounded in a magical kind of reality, their reactions and relationships with each other feeling very real. All in all a well thought out world full of possibilities for future storytelling and all before we’ve even concluded the origin tale.

It’s great fun reading something so full of far-fetched magical elements, action and adventure, yet has such believable characters at its centre. This gives real meat to the bones of the story and something to care about and draw you back to find out what happens to them.

By the end the lack of anything other than the strip itself isn’t an issue anymore, the story having been very satisfying in its own right. It certainly wouldn’t be the last Marvel UK comic to go this route either. Slimer, Alf, Inspector Gadget and others simply repackaged their American comics on larger paper with a new editorial and maybe a letters page.

Speaking of other Marvel comics.

Apart from the cover and editorial, the only non-strip pages are a toy advert (which you can see in this previous post) and two promotional pages for other comics which I’ve included above, because why not? The Real Ghostbusters had just launched this same month and Thundercats was celebrating its first birthday by this stage. The ‘Cats had also been launched as a bi-monthly in the States by Star Comics, proving popular enough to warrant going monthly from #8 onwards.

Despite knowing in advance a series won’t last long when I’m covering it for the blog, I won’t let that take away any of the enjoyment of reading them in real time and I’ve loved reading this. A whole month does feel like an agonisingly long time right now though. But I shall follow my own rules and wait.

Issue two shall be read and reviewed on Wednesday 21st April 2021. Join me then, won’t you?

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THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS: PREMiERE iSSUE ANNiVERSARY

I admit that back in 1988 when I finally got to open my copy of The Real Ghostbusters‘ premiere issue I was a little confused. I’d been looking forward to something like Transformers but with the ghost busting team, with a lengthy multi-part story and certainly no text stories which I associated with comics aimed at much younger kids. However, any confusion, or indeed initial disappointment, evaporated as soon as I started to read.

By the end of its 24 pages I was hooked and didn’t regret placing the order with my newsagent before even reading it. In fact, I stayed with the comic for the majority of its run. Now, 33 years later I’ve just finished reading issue one for the first time in decades. How does it hold up to reading today?

That front cover is nothing short of iconic, often copied by my young self back in the day on several school exercise books. Andy Lanning (The Sleeze Brothers, Superman, Majestic) and Dave Harwood‘s (Action Force, Swift Sure, Conqueror) introduction to this new title perfectly captures the light-hearted tone of the comic. Unlike the aforementioned Transformers I’d enjoyed reading at my friend’s house, The Real Ghostbusters would focus on smaller, complete tales aimed at getting a chuckle out of its readers. A unique approach, brave even, but they pulled it off and created a comic like no other.

The first issue has no less than three strips and a text story, fact-file, activity page, ghost guide, request for readers’ letters and of course a Lew Stringer strip. What Marvel comic was complete without one? It’s all introduced on the HQ page which starts off the whole shebang by reciting the movie, setting the tone perfectly for this comedy comic (a term I’ll clarify later). The overall design of the comic wouldn’t change, there’d be no ‘new look’ every 50 or so issues, instead the cover and feature pages would remain the same throughout.

There’s certainly a confidence about this comic from the very start.

All of the strips here are written by John Freeman (of Down the Tubes). Editor of Doctor Who Magazine at the time he was asked by editor Richard Starkings to supply stories for the first issue. John told me this was literally his first regular writing gig, which is incredible since this was the launch of a brand new comic based on such a hot property. Needless to say, John knocks it out of the park.

As with the other stories, “There’s a Ghost in my House!” takes place with the team already on the job and gives us an idea of the pacing we can expect, as well as acting as an introduction to the Ghostbusters’ equipment, interactions and most importantly their humour. That’s all it really needs to do, but there’s still a twist. The ghost itself is a buggane, a house ghost and harmless if treated right. The homeowner ends up feeling sorry for it and keeps it as a pet!

Dave’s inking added ample shadow work to gloomy, haunted scenes in the annuals

The strip is drawn by Anthony Williams (Judge Dredd, Fate, Sinister Dexter) with Dave Harwood on inking, lettering by future Slimer! artist Bambos Georgiou (Knights of Pendragon, Spectacular Spider-Man, James Bond Jr.) and coloured by Steve White (Transformers, Xenozoic Tales in Jurassic Park, editor of Visionaries). One of the other stories, The Ghost Under the Hood is also drawn by Williams but with Dave Hine (Detective Comics, X-Men, Night of the Living Dead) inking and there’s quite the difference. For the previous blog site I’d read a couple of the annuals and Dave’s inking added ample shadow work to gloomy, haunted scenes and made for some very eye-catching, atmospheric frames in them. Finally, this strip is coloured by Paul Jacques (Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers).

Again, it’s full of action and humour and plays out like one scene has been plucked from an episode of the cartoon. This was Richard’s intention, he wanted each story to take place right in the midst of the action whenever possible. Here, Ecto-1 is out of control, Egon unable to steer or brake. You can see from the page above the plan isn’t to Peter‘s liking. In the end the car suddenly stops, sending him flying. Now parked outside a Chinese Takeaway, Slimer appears from under the hood.

To establish a scene and scenario, pack in some action, wit, character and a funny conclusion all in three pages is quite the achievement. Indeed, by the time I finished reading the comic I was a little breathless (metaphorically speaking) with the fast-paced nature of the stories and gags.

The humour in their interactions was always well developed and genuinely very funny.

The covers were mainly used to illustrate the text stories, doubling up as their title pages. So yes, basically we’d be getting two identical pages in our comic but we didn’t care, some of the front covers would have us frantically flicking straight to that story. This was especially true later in the run with some simply stunning artwork on the covers.

I’ll admit it took me a handful of issues before I read one of the prose stories as a kid because of a false perception they were aimed at younger children than me. But I remember discovering just how good they were and reading all the ones I’d glossed over one very enjoyable afternoon. From then on they often became the first thing I would read.

Space constraints might have been a factor here, but they would often focus on just a couple of members of the team per story. This would give each individual character time to shine, and in doing so the humour in their interactions was always well developed and genuinely very funny.

None were funnier than the Winston’s Diary series which ran in alternate issues, with Brian Williamson‘s (Doctor Who, Totally Primeval, Batman) panels repeated each time. In this issue, my favourite character takes us through a typical day in the life of the team. In this issue’s story, over the course of a few busts Winston’s cool head provides a hilarious contrast to the others. Here’s just one example, where a rock star is hearing strange noises in his apartment:


“The apartment was newly decorated and equipped. Egon took PKE readings in all the rooms. Ray spectra-scoped the walls and balcony. Peter explained that he must carefully examine the rock star’s expensive Hi-Fi and video in case the ghost was lurking there. We all heard weird noises, groans and whines. I bled the air bubbles from the newly-installed radiators and the noises stopped.”

Winston Zeddmore (Dan Abnett)

This repeats throughout the day, Egon and Ray going to ever more extreme methods of ghost hunting, Peter finding something to distract himself and Winston solving the problem with common sense. It’s deadpan humour at its best.

Another text feature would also be a highlight every issue.

Spengler’s Spirit Guide appeared in every issue until just before the end. In the film and cartoon Egon would make reference to ‘Tobin’s Spirit Guide’ and this ongoing series was his own version of the tome. These were all written by Dan Abnett (Knights of Pendragon, Death’s Head II, Sinister Dexter), which is no small feat when you think about how the comic went weekly from issue 14 onwards and he created well over 150+ altogether! In an issue which featured The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse the Guide detailed the other half dozen or so Horsemen that don’t get talked about. I can remember laughing hard at that one in particular.

What I’ve found out recently is that little illustration of Egon was drawn by none other than future Marvel US, DC Comics and 2000AD artist Cam Smith (Supergirl, The Incredible Hulk, Gen13). This means Cam’s work appeared in more issues than anyone else’s of course, technically speaking.

This issue also contains the first fact-file. As a child I drew a combined figure of the Ghostbusters based on that final sentence. From what I remember Egon was the brain, Winston the heart, Slimer the stomach (obviously) etc. It was a real Frankenstein’s monster which I decided not to send in to the letters page because, well, some things just aren’t meant to be seen.

Once in a while the comic would include what it called Ectoplasmic Activity, such as this membership card, and masks in a couple of future issues but it didn’t appear much, unlike Blimey! It’s Slimer. While it wouldn’t be too long until Bambos (letterer on our first strip) took over, at the beginning the little green blob was in the hands of OiNK’s very own Lew Stringer. With Lew at the helm, of course Slimer is going to make his way to Britain for a slap up feed.

Lew has written a blog post about his time on the comic, which you can read here.

A look at a classic comic wouldn’t be complete without a look at the advertisements within, especially when they’re connected to the subject matter. I welcomed these figures into my toy collection Christmas 1988, along with Ecto-1, Slimer, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and a few other ghoulish monstrosities, and I recall I ate far too many packets of these crisps that summer too. They were surprisingly nice for a tie-in.

So how did this 33-year-old comic hold up for this 43-year-old? One word: brilliantly. I was surprised at how many times I chuckled while reading it, even though I’m not exactly the original target audience anymore.

I called it a “comedy comic” above, a term I’ve never used before. The definition of “funny comics” conjures up images of OiNK itself, Beano, Buster etc. But while this is indeed a comic which sets out to be as funny as it can be (something it succeeds at incredibly well) it’s more the sitcom to OiNK’s sketch show. I also think calling it some combination action/adventure/funny comic would sell it short. The Real Ghostbusters was a unique comic and remains so to this day.

WHEN YOU GONNA CALL?

Just as it happened 33 years ago today I have an urge to collect this comic all over again. This issue has been immense fun and the comic just kept getting better and better. In fact, as brilliant as it began my favourite time with the comic wouldn’t be until around issue 80 onwards.

It’s just such a fun comic there’s only one thing for it.

Now of course this will take a while, it was Marvel UK’s most popular comic at one stage and lasted a whopping 193 issues, alongside four annuals, specials, poster magazines and more, even a puzzle spin-off. It’s going to be quite the task so don’t expect real time reviews after this one for quite some time, but I am officially announcing they’ll be joining the OiNK Blog posse as soon as possible. The daunting thought of covering a series of its size on a weekly basis has put me off in the past, but after reading an actual issue there’s no way I could do anything less.

Finally, just look at this little Easter egg I found while doing some research, from the pages of IDW‘s Ghostbusters Crossing Over comic from 2006!