Wednesday, 20 February 2019

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT - Who Trumped?



Welcome back dear fiends to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! A few weeks ago we were rummaging in the games cupboard and unearthed a fondly remembered deck of cards that was essentially a set of Marvel superhero Top Trumps. They were made by the toy company Jotastar, who held a great many licenses to produce spin-off and tie-in tat for a variety of kid-friendly franchises and properties. However this Marvel card game was not their only foray in the twilight world of exactly-like-Top-Trumps-except-in-name-only card games. For in 1978 they produced another suspiciously Trump-like card game but tied to another legendary fictional universe - Doctor Who.

Back in 1978, Doctor Who was enjoying one of its many golden ages, for this was the era of the Fourth Doctor. And not only was Tom Baker's incarnation of the Time Lord that delighting the kids with his own brand of anarchy, humour and jelly babies. He was teamed up with popular companion (and in particular very popular with the Dads watching), Leela, she of the handy dagger and tribal garb, plus at that time was just coming to the end of a run of particularly scarifying stories, which had greatly expanded the Who canon of iconic monsters and villains. 

Now the card game produced by Jotastar was assembled by using pretty much the same template as their Marvel game, with the same rules being were used with minor tweaks here and there. Aside from the rules text being rewritten to include references to the long running  SF show, there was a slight change to the stats on the cards - while we still had the attributes Special Powers and Weapons, just like the Marvel deck, instead of Physical Strength we now had Mental Ability - a fitting change as the Doctor tends to outthink his enemies rather than throw buses at them.


Just like the Marvel game, you could divide the pack into to halves and play the good guys vs the baddies. However it is here that this game goes a little weird. For over the years the Doctor has had a long line of companions and assistants, plus he has met a host of good characters who have helped him out, such as the Brigadier, assorted Time Lords, Thals, and so forth. However somewhat weirdly, in the Heroes list the only familiar faces we have are the Doctor himself (obviously) and the TARDIS.  And instead of other characters from the show's history, we have the following - 

HEROES
Alexander the Great
Annie Oakley
Boadicea
Chaka King of the Zulus
Colonel James Bowie
Davy Crockett
Doctor Who
Geronimo
Hercules
King Arthur
Lord Nelson
Parthian Warrior
Robin Hood
Samson
Sherlock Holmes
Shiao Chi Samurai Warrior
Spartacus
The TARDIS
Thor
Wyatt Earp

Yes for some reason it was decided that famous historical characters should be the good guys. The rules refer to this disparate group as "the Legendary Legion". Now firstly it is only right and proper to question why we have mythological characters (such as Thor) and fictional folks (Sherlock Holmes) rubbing shoulders with actual historical personages. But to kids back in the 1970s the more important question was "Why the hell are this lot in here? They were never in the show!". Well alright, Wyatt Earp had appeared in an First Doctor Story The Gunslingers, back when the show still did purely historical stories without any alien monsters in. But even so, that was back in 1966, well before most of the target audience would have been able to remember, or even been born. So then, here was a Doctor Who game in which nearly the half the cards had bugger all to do with Doctor Who.


On the whole, looking at the selection of characters in the deck, I rather suspect the deck was devised by someone who had never seen the show properly - which would explain the good guys being pulled from history books. And as for the Aliens selection, it looks like they just went through the seminal Target tie-in tome The Doctor Who Monster Book which was first published back in November 1975 (and you can read about it here). And hence, there are no monsters more recent that Tom Baker's first season (Davros and the Zygons). However while it was suspicious there were no newer monsters and villains, in all fairness  it is a rather good list of famous foes! 

ALIENS
Davros
Gellguards
Omega
Sea Devils
The Autons
The Axons
The Cybermen
The Daemons
The Draconians
The Giant Robot
The Ice Warriors
The Mechanoids
The Ogrons
The Sensorites
The Silurians
The Sontarans
The Spiders of Metebelis
The Wirrn
The Yeti
The Zygons

However there is an obvious anomaly - for although we do have their creator, Davros, their hired muscle, the Ogrons, and two races they fought bloody and bitter wars with, the Mechanoids and the Draconians, the Doctor's most famous enemies, the Daleks do not appear,  Possibly this was down to the fact that Terry Nation, who originally created the intergalactic terrors, still owned the copyright to the Daleks, and indeed around this time he was considering various plans featuring the pepperpots from Skaro such as having them appear in Blake's 7 and developing a separate Dalek series.

However judging from some of the attributes given on the cards, it is equally plausible that the Daleks being missing was just a blunder. For it seems clear that not only had whoever devised the set never seen Doctor Who, they were also wildly oblivious to both history and even what was on the cards. For example, Boadicea has a Weapons score of 0 despite being shown waving a dirty great sword and riding in her famous chariot with spiky wheels!


Sadly also the artwork on the cards isn't quite as good as the Marvel pack. Some cards do like rather nice, and it's fun to see familiar faces for Whoniverse rendered in a pseudo comic-book style. On teh downside though, many are clearly copied from very familiar photos (hello again Target's Doctor Who Monster Book) and some look distinctly wobbly. Also as many of photos used as reference were in black and white (spookily enough just as they all were in Target's Doctor Who Monster Book), you can see where the artist has just been guessing what was in the dark, smudgy areas. The Ogron is a great example of this, with clear guesswork filling in many areas of shadowed detail, and the whole picture looking like a ripply funfair mirror reflection. See also the background face on the Spiders from Metebelis card, whose features have been clearly surmised from a blurry photo.

On the whole then, while it seemed like a brilliant concept, sadly this Doctor Who Trump Card Game didn't deliver on its promise. Nor did it live up to its Marvel cousin - while that card game had felt authentic and official, to the extent it was like a little loose leaf encyclopedia or guidebook for the Marvel Universe, the flawed execution of the Doctor Who game clearly marked it out as cash-in tat. Much like the Doctor Who Annuals of the same era (more on which another day) or the previously discussed TARDIS TUNER, while we were happy to have them - there wasn't a lot of merch about back then remember -  at the same time you knew they weren't exactly right; they weren't proper Doctor Who like the Target Books or the Palitoy Talking Dalek. In fact in many ways they were a pale shadow of Doctor Who cards given away free with Weetabix around the time which featured not only better art but an innate understanding of the series (and again, more on those another day)

However despite all that, the set now goes for a hefty price, with many sellers flogging off individual cards for a couple of quid a go. And while my inner collecting geek naturally baulks at breaking up sets and selling off cards one by one in this manner, at the same time I can understand why you might really want, for example, the Sea Devil or Mechanoid cards but be more than happy to pass on the wobbly Ogron... 



If you want to see the set without paying an arm or a leg you can download a copy here - DISCLAIMER - I have no idea about the legality of this

Sunday, 17 February 2019

HYPNOGORIA 109 - Garth Marenghi's Darkplace


Mr Jim Moon explores the world of a true master of horror, Mr Garth Marenghi and revisits his seminal cult TV series Darkplace (copyright Dean Learner Enterprises) that was axed by the powers that be - Garth Marenghi's Darkplace!  In this episode we look back the career of Romford's chillmaestro, the comedy horror classic that was Garth Marenghi's Darkplace which starred Matthew Holness, Richard Ayoade, Alice Lowe and Matt Berry, plus its spin-off Man to Man with Dean Learner. 

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Thursday, 14 February 2019

COMMENTARY CLUB ST. SKELETOR'S DAY SPECIAL - Sightseers (2012)



In a special bonus episode Teresa and Jim celebrate  St. Skeletor's Day with a suitably anti-romantic movie - Sightseers (2012). Starring Alice Lowe and Steve Oram and directed by Ben Wheatley, this British comedy horror tells the moving tale of young couple Chris and Tina who set off with a caravan to explore the scenic sights of the British countryside with several murders along the way! 

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - ST. SKELETOR'S  DAY SPECIAL - Sightseers

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Wednesday, 13 February 2019

STRAY PAGES - Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath


49 years ago today the first Black Sabbath LP was released, and to mark this milestone in rock history, Mr Jim Moon pays tribute with a special reading of a most enigmatic poem found on the sleeve of that LP

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - STRAY PAGES - Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath


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Sunday, 10 February 2019

MICROGORIA 66 - Spawn of the Subhuman


Thanks to a raging throat infection Mr Jim Moon embarks on a daring raid into the dusty audio archives of the Great Library of Dreams and return with a high strange prize - one of weirdest ever  tales to come out of the golden age of horror radio - Spawn of the Subhuman from Dark Fantasy


DIRECT DOWNLOAD - MICROGORIA 66  Spawn of the Subhuman


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Friday, 8 February 2019

BRING BACK ALL ABOUT GHOSTS!


In the late '70s children's publisher Usborne, produced a new line of books aimed at young readers. Entitled 'World of the Unknown' it comprised of three large format paperbacks, with glossy covers and lavish colour illustrations throughout. One was  All About Monsters, the next All About Ghosts and the third and final volume All About UFOs. All three volumes were collected together in a large hardback edition which hit the shelves under the title of Mysteries of the Unknown.

Introducing kids to strange creatures such as the Lambton Worm, the Hopkinsville goblin and Gef the talking mongoose, and transporting them to weird locales such as Loch Ness, Borley Rectory and the Nazca Lines, these books are fondly remembered by several generations of children. Packed full of details and wonderful illustrations, these tomes were high octane fuel for the imagination and now can command frighteningly high prices secondhand... Something that make me very glad I still got my much cherished though slightly battered edition of Mysteries of the Unknown. Indeed I still enjoy flipping through this tome whose words and pictures still trill me to this very day.

These books made a huge impression of many kinds back in the day and are still very fondly remembered. Indeed posting the covers or images from their pages online always brings a huge response. And many folks over the years have lamented the fact that subsequent generations have not had the same intoxicating mixture of wonder and fear in their childhoods since the books went out of print!  However there are plans afoot to bring them back! 

Anna Howorth who actually works for Usborne as director of global marketing and branding wants to get the range back into print, and so has started a petition asking Usborne to reprint the most scarifying title in the range, World of the Unknown: All About Ghosts. And here's the petition to sign! 

Bring back Usborne's The World of the Unknown: Ghosts 

If you want to know more about the books, a few years ago, as part of my adventures in audio, I decided to go through the books and reminisce about their marvels and read aloud some samples of their magic. And as Usborne collected all three volumes together into one bumper package, it is only right and proper that I now do the same..

MICROBOBS 05 - ALL ABOUT GHOSTS


In this minicast, Mr Jim Moon once again dusts off a spooky childhood favourite. This time we talk about a volume in Usborne's late 1970s series World of the Unknown, the haunting tome All About Ghosts


DIRECT DOWNLOAD - Microbobs 05 All About Ghosts



Time travelling once more on the black batwings of nostalgia, Mr Jim Moon enthusiastically rambles about World of the Unknown: All About Monsters published by Usborne back in 1978. Swearing, over-excitement and a feast of monsterdom results!



DIRECT DOWNLOAD
 - Microgoria 04: All About Monsters



Completing the trilogy of World of the Unknown books, Mr Jim Moon, in a predictably over-excitable fashion, voyages back to the 1970s to take a look at  All About UFOs (Usborne 1977)


DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  MICROGORIA 11 - All About UFOS

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Wednesday, 6 February 2019

COMMENTARY CLUB 006 - Howard the Duck (1986)


George Lucas making a big screen adaptation of a cult Marvel comics character? What could go wrong? Well, just about everything... as Teresa and Jim discover in this episode!

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - COMMENTARY CLUB 006 - Howard the Duck (1986)


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Sunday, 3 February 2019

Sunday, 27 January 2019

HYPNOGORIA 108 - Bird Box


In this episode Mr Jim Moon takes a look at the recent Netflix horror release Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock. In the first section of the show, we have a spoiler-free look at this movie before taking off the blindfolds in the second half to head down river into spoiler-territory, delving into the history of the movie and its influences.

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Thursday, 24 January 2019

COMMENTARY CLUB 005 - Tucker & Dale Vs Evil


In the first episode for new year, Teresa and Jim return to tackle a favourite cult movie - the 2010 horror comedy Tucker & Dale Vs Evil




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Wednesday, 23 January 2019

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT - Top Marvels! Part II



Last week we learned how in the mid '70s, there were two hot crazes gripping the playgrounds of the UK - Top Trumps cards and Marvel comics. And it was perhaps inevitable that these two titans would not only meet, but be fused together by colossal cosmic forces in a Stan Lee style plot twist!  Well, that was almost the case... For back then Top Trumps were still mainly concentrating on vehicles and military hardware and it would be several before the brand began to produce packs that were tie-ins to fictional properties such as movies, TV shows or comics. Clearly they were missing a trick here, but in the shadows, other eyes were looking to seal a canny and timely toy licensing deal. 

Those eyes, presumably glowing with the uncanny light of comic-book radiation, or at least the prospect of big money to be made, belonged to Jotastar, a toy maker who would produce a great many tie-in toys for a variety of different kid-friendly properties, from the Mister Men and Hollie Hobby to The Real Ghostbusters and M.A.S.K. Now when it comes to games, rules mechanics are very hard to copyright, mainly because so many share commons ones i.e. roll a die and move that number of spaces, or play a card on your turn etc. Now in the case of Top Trumps, things were even murkier, as that game itself had evolved from earlier card games such as Quartets. Hence you could, quite legitimately produce a game with identical rules, and provided the magic words "Top Trumps" never appeared in the instructions, packaging or marketing there was very little to stop you.

Now while cars and motorbikes undoubtedly had an appeal for kids, Jotastar couldn't help but notice that superhero comics were greatly outselling motoring magazines down the newsagents. And so, in 1977, the Marvel Superheroes Card Game was launched, and news soon spread that there was now a marvel Top Trumps. Of course, that last two words in that sentence very carefully did not appear anywhere in the rulesor marketing, but kids everywhere instantly knew who to play this game - indeed the rules included could have been written in ancient runes of Latvaria and the game would still have sold shed-loads.


The pack itself consisted of forty cards, two a card detailing the rules and another listing all the character in the deck. The pack was divided into two halves, twenty heroes, and twenty villains -  

SUPER-HEROES
Black Bolt
Captain America
Captain Britain
Daredevil
Ghost Rider
Goliath

Invisible Girl
Iron Man

Mr Fantastic
Spider-Man

The Black Panther
The Hulk
The Human Torch
The Mighty Thor
The Silver Surfer
The Sub-Mariner
The Thing
The Vision

The Wasp

VILLAINS
Absorbing Man
Dr Doom
Dr Octopus
Dr Strange
Galactus
Hammerhead
Loki
Mephisto
Morbius
Tarantula
The Abomination
The Dread Dormammu
The Green Goblin
The Gremlin
The Grizzly
The Human Top
The Jackal
The Red Skull
The Rhino
The Vulture
Tiger Shark


The rules of the game suggest dividing the pack into heroes and villains and for two players to have at it. An alternative is also suggested under the banner of GAME TWO - basically a brief couple of lines saying just shuffle the pack and divide it among the players and use the rules for GAME ONE.
However of course many kids came up with their own variant, such as pitting a small team of heroes, like for example all the Fantastic Four and seeing how they fared against an army of villains, or if they could take down their fellow heroes.

Indeed using the stats given on these cards - Physical Strength, Special Powers and Weapons - many a geek argument was settled. And fact-fans, in case you wondering how Civil War would play out in this deck, well it was no contest really - with Iron Man out-gunning Cap in all categories: Physical Strength - 8 vs 7, Special Powers - 5 vs 3, and Weapons 6 vs 5. Yep, Shell-Head wins every time! Now you may argue that these stats were just pulled from the air by some desk jockey at Jotastar, but these cards were OFFICIAL Marvel merch right? They even advertised in the pages of Marvel's flagship comics in the UK, The Mighty World of Marvel as seen below (which even cheekily included the word "Trump" just to ensure everyone knew what they were getting). And what's more you could even send off from a pack from the advert too in case your local toy emporium didn't stock it. 


And hence as they were not only advertised but sold in the pages of Marvel UK comics, this game felt like pretty definitive. Indeed even the rules sound like Stan the Man himself, complete with unnecessary capitals - "a game for challenge for two players in which those Mighty Marvel Super Heroes battle the most awesome array of Vicious Villains ever assembled!". Of course now we may question the actual selection of characters - Grizzly and the Gremlin but no X-persons - but it is a fascinating snapshot of the Marvel Universe as it was back then, an era before the likes of Wolverine, the Punisher and Venom became mega-favourites with the fans.

Back in the 1970s however, in an age before Wikipedia, and lavish coffee-table books on comics lore and history, this card game was more than just a fun pastime - it was a secret encyclopaedia of the Marvel universe. Remember that cheesy old song about how a soldier gets out of trouble for having a deck of cards by spinning an elaborate explanation of how the cards all remind him of something in the Bible? Well, that was close to how we felt about the Marvel Super Heroes Card Game, except we really sincere (unlike that soldier in the song who I suspect if he were a Top Trumps card would have stats such as BARE-FACED CHEEK 8 and BULLSHITTING SUPERIORS 9). And this was even more true I think for UK kids, who had only recently discovered this universe thanks to Marvel UK opening as few years earlier. Of course, even back then we knew there omissions - what no Nick Fury or Man-Thing? however this was a close to a guide book to the comics as you were going to get back in the mid-'70s. And hence that what it was to many of us - an encyclopedia with shufflable pages! 

Interesting around the same time, Jotastar would produce a very similar Doctor Who themed deck... But that's a story for another day...


Sunday, 20 January 2019

MICROGORIA 65 - Shiver and Shake and the Creepy Creations of Ken Reid


Appearing in the British comedy horror comic Shiver and Shake, every week a new mutant monstrosity escaped the pen of Ken Reid. And now the crazed creatures from this marvellous menagerie has been rounded and collected together in a handsome new tome from Rebellion - Ken Reid's Creepy Creations. Mr Jim Moon explains why you need this essential monster spotter's handbook on your shelves!




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Wednesday, 16 January 2019

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT - Top Marvels! Part I


Welcome back dear fiends to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! While a new year may well be beckoning, rest assured that all of the crew here at the 'Orrible Old'Ouse have our eyes firmly looking to the past, where things may not have been better but certainly on many occasions were more amusing! Now on this blog, several years ago, we ran a lengthy series on the infamous Horror Top Trumps sets (which may well be resurrected in a new form at some point this year), however they weren't the only cultish decks available. And today we're going to have a look at another must-have pack! 

Now in case you don't know, Top Trumps is an enduringly popular species of card game, and the basics are as follows. Every deck has a theme, such as cars, tanks, animals, and each card features an particular item complete with a picture, sometimes a bit of text, but always with a list of statistics. To play the game, players pick one of these stats from the top card in their hand and compares it with the other players' card. Whoever has the highest or best stat wins that round, with the winner collecting the vanquished cards and adding them to his hand. The game ends when one player has got all the cards (or some one has a massive strop). It's a very easy game to learn, quick to play, and the game has been adapted to many themes over the years, ensuring that no matter what floats your boat, at some point there's been a Top Trumps deck to suit your interests. And yes, there have been adults only naughty decks produced over the years! 

However while the leading brand and game generally goes under the name of Top Trumps, thanks to the way the game evolved - namely being spawned by earlier card games such as Quartets and Ace Trumps (a history which is explained here) - no one company or individual own the copyright. Hence many different companies have produced Top Trumps-a-like games. In fact, even in 1977, the year Dubrec launched Top Trumps in the UK, within months rival companies had started producing their own Trumps-a-like games. And as it happens, one of the coolest decks to own back in the first flowering of Top Trumps mania, and one of the most fondly remembered, wasn't an official Top Trumps deck. 


But to set the scene, we first have to step out of the toy shop, carefully step over that hazardous pile of white dog poo, and pop in the newsagent next door. Just as in America, Britain had a flourishing comics industry entertaining the nation's kids, and just as the market in the US was dominated by two titans, Marvel and DC, weirdly enough,  it was the same state of affairs in the UK, with another DC - DC Thomson, publishers of venerable heavyweight titles such as The Dandy and The Beano, fighting it out with arch rivals IPC for dominance of the British comics market.  However in the 1972 the titanic twosome's fortunes were threatened by the sense-shattering arrival of a bold new outfit. Can you guess who that was true believers? 

Now American comic books had been finding their way to this septic isle for many decades beforehand. Famously in the war-years, US comic books were packed into the crates as padding. However thanks to the vagaries of shipping and having no proper national distribution network, while you could find copies of US comics featuring the likes of Batman and Spider-man in UK shops, it was somewhat a haphazard affair, and the mighty superheroes of Marvel and DC were better known through reprints by UK publishers such as Odhams Press or Alan Class Comics. However these reprint deals had petered out at the end of the 1960s, and hence in the early 1970s, Stan Lee decided it was high time to bring Marvel back to British shores. 

He realised that aside from the expense of shipping comic books to the UK, and lacking a proper means of distribution in Blighty, there was another tricky problem. And that was that UK comics were very different to their US cousins. Rather than been published monthly, British comics appeared weekly. They were twice the size, and rather than featuring the adventures of one character each issue, British comics were anthologies running several strips in every week. With characteristic insight, Stan realised that for Marvel to break the British market, they needed to radically rethink their comics. Like the Skrulls they would have to shapeshift to infiltrate the UK comics scene. And so, Marvel UK was born, an outfit based in that London, but taking orders from the Big Apple, with a remit to publish classic tales from the House of Ideas, but in a format that blended in with the home-grown British titles. Hence in early 1972, a new weekly comic appeared in newsagents up and down the land, The Mighty World of Marvel, which served up adventures featuring The Hulk, Spider-man and The Fantastic Four. 

It was soon joined by Spider-man Comics Weekly later in 1972, with more titles being added to the roster over the next few years. Pete Parker got a second title all to himself, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Superheroes featured tales of the X-Men and the Silver Surfer while The Titans brough British kids the adventures of Captain America, the Sub-mariner, Captain Marvel and the Inhumans. Outside the land of the spandex brigade, Marvel UK also thrilled kids with a Planet of the Apes tie-in comic and more exciting still, delivered spooky action with Dracula Lives that featured a selection from theer horror lines. In 1975 a young chap called Neil Tennant was put in charge - yes, the same Neil Tennant who is now half of the Pet Shop Boys - and his two year reign saw Marvel UK begin to produce their own UK-grown material for the Marvel Universe with the debut of Captain Britain in 1976. 

So then by 1977, the year Top Trumps was released, nay, unleashed upon the nation's kiddiewinks, Marvel UK had a thriving stable of titles and were giving IPC and DC Thomson a run for their money. Plus they had given Britain its very own Marvel superhero to boot! Marvel was no more an exotic import, but was now well and truly part of British pop culture. Now the initial decks in the Top Trumps range were very much vehicle obsessed, with packs themed around cars, motorbikes, tanks and planes. However some bright spark in a rival company noted how these card games were selling like hot cakes and had the smart idea of producing a game that might appeal to something other than the petrolhead market... 


NEXT TIME! Discover how kids in the '70s could play their own version of Civil War decades before Marvel had come up with that epic storyline! 



Saturday, 12 January 2019

GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS 55 - The Indian Lampshade by EG Swain


In the first show for a new year, Mr Jim Moon takes us back to the sleepy parish of Stoneground, where EG Swain has another eerie tale to tell, one that occurred upon a cold and frosty January night...

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  The Indian Lampshade by EG Swain


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