Sunday, January 14, 2007
40 year Flashback: Pow! No.1
The Brand New Comic for the New Breed of Comic Fans - Strap line on the cover of Pow! No.1 published Saturday 14th January 1967.
Forty years ago today, following the success of Wham! and Smash!, Odhams launched the first issue of Pow! across the UK. For the tens of thousands of British kids who bought it, myself included, it was our first exposure to Spider-Man, the lead strip in the new weekly. That's hard to believe today, now that Spidey is the megastar of movies, games, and countless items of merchandise, but back in 1967 that wasn't the case.
Back then, unless one had seen the imported Marvel comics that some newsagents stocked, the Odhams comics provided the perfect introduction to Marvel superheroes. (Although I suspect the main reason for including US reprint was to save Odhams money on originating new material.) Therefore The Incredible Hulk thundered into Smash! in 1966, closely followed by The Fantastic Four in Wham! and (presumably because it had a smaller budget) Pow! featured not only Spider-Man but also Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Like its companion papers, the rest of Pow's contents were a mixture of Beano-style funnies and Valiant-style adventure strips. Alongside the Marvel reprint, this made for an interesting and varied package. (A formula sadly abandoned in the 1970's when IPC segregated adventure and humour comics into their own titles.) The free gift of that first issue was a cardboard gun that shot cardboard pellets; a style of freebie that Odhams excelled in.
Looking at Pow! No.1 today, forty years later, it's clear that design-wise it's not as slick as the magazines of the 21st Century, but its strips had an energy and anti-authoritarian irreverence mainly lacking in modern comics. In the St.Trinians inspired Dolls of St.Dominics schoolgirls throw their teacher into the river and, tooled up with daggers, mallets, and axes, chase the errand boy out of school with cries of "Lynch him! Get the oil boiling!". Whilst in the kid-gang strip The Group the kids use a springed-boot device to kick a policeman in the face (but he gets his revenge by beating them up in the woods).
All that sounds shockingly irresponsible and violent in text like that, but in strip form it was presented as a slapstick cartoon. As far as I'm aware there was never any calls for Pow! to be banned as back then parents understood that kids could differentiate between cartoon violence and the real thing. In fact, such slapstick cruelty was frequent in the Odhams comics and it certainly never inspired my friends or myself (who read them) to imitate the acts.
Other strips in Pow! No.1 worthy of note include the start of the adventure serial The Python. (Pilots crash in the Bay of Bengal and encounter a giant robot python, which they later take control of. It's like Mytek the Mighty but with a mechanical snake instead of a mechanical gorilla!)
As he was busy on other comics, Pow! contained no work by Leo Baxendale, but artists such as Mike Brown on The Group ghosted his style well enough. However, the standout strip of the issue, and the main reason Pow! is still collectible, is the back-page strip, Dare-A-Day Davy, illustrated by the marvellous Ken Reid. The plot was simple; Davy cannot resist any dare, and this always lands him into trouble. As the weeks progressed, and the readers were invited to send in their outrageous dares (for the prize of... a pound!) the strip became even more manic and violent, showing Ken Reid's artwork at its most outrageous, and funniest.
Like any new comic, Pow! had some clunkers in there too: Jack Magic (13th Century magician's apprentice finds himself in modern times), and Wee Willie Haggis (Scottish version of Eagle-Eye from Wham!). Neither appealed to me much, and presumably didn't appeal to many readers as they were eventually dropped and replaced by much more memorable strips... but that's a story for another blog later this week.