Sunday, 6 January 2013

ICFD Cover of the Week - 6th January 2013

This week's cover is from Action Force #27 (September 1987). 

For the benefit of my non-UK readers, Action Force is probably better known to you guys as G.I. Joe

Although that's really not the full story... 

Action Force actually began its life as a spin-off toy line from Action Man, both manufactured by Palitoy. The idea was to produce a line of much smaller figures (In terms of physical size) using a similar formula to the Action Man line, and based very much on historical military styles. Ironically, this smaller line of figures fast proved much more profitable that Action Man itself, and really took off far more in its own right.  

Palitoy were bought out by Hasbro in 1984, who having purchased all the Palitoy moulds then began incorporating their own G.I. Joe figures into the UK Action Force line. The logo, as seen above, began to mirror that of G.I. Joe to match this. Eventually, inevitably, Hasbro opted to re-brand the whole lot under the name "G.I. Joe" in UK as well. Thus confusing the hell out of a whole generation of British kids, for whom the term 'G.I.' meant absolutely nothing at all.

Why this cover? Well, let me get to that...

Last summer Marvel Comics in the US did a huge crossover event called 'Avengers vs X-Men'. A lot of long time comics readers were pretty cynical and dismissive over the concept, from the off. The same old complaints rattled around forums online... "What is the point of one set of heroes fighting another set of heroes?" They weren't interested. I can understand the argument, but I couldn't help but think folks were kind of missing the point...

While those comics readers of my generation were dismissive of the whole thing themselves, they were finding a very different response to A vs X coming from their children. The kids didn't care that it was Heroes fighting Heroes. They weren't thinking in terms of higher concepts, ethics or 'what it meant to be a hero'. All they cared about was that it was Avengers AND X-Men, in a book TOGETHER. Forget logic, they were just excited because it was a crossover featuring BOTH. AT THE SAME TIME.

And for them it didn't get much more awesome than that.

When I was hearing such anecdotes during the summer, it immediately reminded me of another crossover from my own childhood, and through that to this very cover.

Back the 1980s Marvel UK owned the comics rights to both Action Force and Hasbro's other big seller, Transformers. Growing up, there were even cliques in the playground formed around which you were a fan of (And not everybody would accept 'both' as an option). The idea of a comics crossover featuring Transformers AND Action Force was pretty much enough to blow our tiny minds...

But that is exactly what happened in 1987. 'Ancient Relics' was the name of that crossover story, and to my mind this was the iconic Cover of that event. Granted the Transformer in the background, Blades, was hardly what you would call a Big Player in the Transformers world. But that wasn't the point. It was Flint, Scarlett and Wild Bill standing in front of sodding giant robot. Look at the SCALE! Things are ON FIRE! And they're all in THE SAME WORLD!!!

You can debate the creative merit of such a story all you like, but here too I think that's kind of missing the point. This was a story designed to showcase the two biggest brands of the day. And for a child of the 1980s it really didn't get much better than that...


  1. "Ancient Relics" also had the advantage of being much better than crossovers tend to be.

  2. It was so much better than the US Transformers/GI Joe series too. I will always be grateful that it didn't get reprinted at the time.

  3. I totally agree Pytyr2011. The US Transformers material, in particular, was always the inferior material. It's no coincidence that generally it's the UK material which has been collected by other US companies, picking up the Transformers license.

    I've been thinking quite a bit recently over what a very different attitude there was in the 1980s. And while this is going off at a *slight* tangent I was actually reminded of this over the weekend by an episode of Fraggle Rock.

    Bear with me... :)

    As part of CITV (Children's ITV) 's celebrating 30 years of programming the channel (As it now is) spent this weekend showing retro shows from across its history. As part of this retrospective they broadcast an episode of Fraggle Rock, the Jim Henson's international co-production puppet show from the early 80s.

    Now the reason this is relevant is that while the central stories of Fraggle Rock remained the same around the world, in a number of territories the wrap around 'real' world which the Fraggle's would climb up into was regionalised for the Country it was broadcast in.

    For example, in North America the surface world was the workshop of 'Doc,' an inventor, and his dog 'Sprocket'. Here in Britain, however, the surface world was a lighthouse on 'Fraggle Rock' owned by a retired Scottish sailor known only as the 'Captain'. The dog was still called 'Sprocket,' which just sounded great in a Scottish accent. :)

    In German it was also an Inventors workshop, but with a German actor, and in France it was the residence of a Baker, and the dog was renamed 'Croquette'...

    Sadly, the episode broadcast on CITV this weekend was actually a North American episode. Of the 96 UK episodes of Fraggle Rock only 12 are known to remain in broadcastable quality. Fraggle Rock in the UK was co-produced by ITV regional broadcaster TVS (Television South) who lost their franchise in 1994 to rival company Meridian. TVS folded, and sadly on 12 Master Tapes we found to still be in their vault when the offices closed. The other tapes remain missing, likely either having been swiped by a TVS employee or thrown out as offices closed... :(

    But I digress. The reasoning for this localisation of Fraggle Rock was simple. It was believed that kids responded better, and engaged more, to programmes in their own language and which used references and contexts which were actually relevant to their own countries and culture. It was certainly something which Henson had encountered before. If I remember correctly, when Channel 4 began broadcasting Sesame Street in the UK they received a fair number of complaints from Parents regarding the 'Mispronunciation of words and letters of the alphabet' (Read American English instead of British English) the show was teaching their children.


  4. I know that in the modern world this is considered a slightly old fashioned view, but it was certainly something which the Henson company seemed to believe to be worthwhile. It was also an attitude which I feel was shared by Marvel. It's why we HAD a Marvel UK, understanding the differences between territories and embracing the need to adapt.

    When I picked up a copy of Action Force, while the stories could and did go all around the world, the team were based out of offices in Wardour Street in London. When I picked up a copy of Captain Britain he was based out of a large country house in Essex. Even later on, with Excalibur (Which was a US market book, but still), the team was based out of UK locations from a lighthouse on West Coast of England up to a research facility on a remote Scottish island. Reading stories set in New York City never did anything for me. It was a City in another Country, which I still have never visited, and had absolutely no emotional attachment for me whatsoever. It mean nothing to me. It wasn't *real*. Not in the way which those British locations were. They were real to me, because while I wasn't daft enough to believe that the comics I was reading were anything more than fiction the places they were supposed to exist in were real. I stood far more chance in visiting them than I did New York. They were part of my culture. America, cool though it all looked, was not.

    It does seem to be an attitude, a school of thought, which was slowly abandoned after the 80s. Perhaps the greatest irony of that CITV retrospective weekend is that its celebration is somewhat hollow. When these programmes were first broadcast they appeared on the main ITV channel, as part of scheduled and targeted programming designed specifically *for* children. Now it's all been shunted off onto a separate digital channel, which no longer produces original programming of its own. It simply purchases childrens' programming from elsewhere. Some from Australia and Europe. But primarily from America.

    The same can be said of Marvel comics. Marvel UK is but a memory, and Panini are not allowed to produce original Marvel material of their own. They are only permitted to reprint US market books, exactly as they appeared in their original territory.

    The older British generations love to grumble over how 'The Youth' have no sense of belonging or pride in their nation. While I don't necessarily think that is entirely true, for those who don't is it really a surprise? You don't learn those things purely from a school education. Kids learn through exploring the world around them, what they see, what they watch and what they choose to read themselves.

    Well, in the last 10-15 years we in Britain have increasingly *stopped* our kids going out and exploring (Supposedly for their own safety) and kept them indoors with programming and reading material almost exclusively from countries and cultures other to our own.

    Why should anybody be surprised that a kid does not feel a connection to what should be their town, country and culture? Because from their life experience up to that point it ISN'T theirs. It not what's been taught to them.

    Culture is built through experience. By choosing to let that BE what they experience in their formative years we have given them the sense of a cuture which we might see as being alien to them, but which they well and truly see as just being *theirs*.

    At the end of the day, we did this to them.

    And here my rambling ends... :)

  5. Well, spare a thought for us poor deprived Irish comic readers in the 1980s...even the Marvel UK locations were, while "familiar", also "foreign"! That said, I visited England a few times as a child, but only managed to get to the US for the first time last May.
    With regard to the US material versus the UK material in the Transformers comic, I know, at the time, I used to almost groan if an ongoing UK-originated plotline was broken for a month or so by showing some sub-standard tale involving the likes of the Mechanic. I will admit that early Budiansky, before he lost his muse, was capable of writing some classic arcs: that whole time where Shockwave had Prime's head captive, Ratchet was the only Autobot left standing, the rescue of the Dinobots, Megatron making a deal with Ratchet and so on was genuinely great, as was the Straxus/Blaster thing on Cybertron, but he quickly lost the plot after that.
    Of course, it was a testament to the sheer audacity of Marvel UK that even the 'death' of Straxus could give rise to memorable moments down the spoilers, for anyone who wasn't there at the time! ;)