Wednesday 1 April 2015

I just can't stand it when good things happen to people I used to love

As we're very near the 32nd anniversary of the publication of the first issue of Marvel UK's War Cars, I thought I'd dig out my old issues to see if they were as bloody terrible as I remembered - oh sorry, anniversaries are supposed to be celebratory, aren't they?  Well when you're anniversarying a 32 year-old UK comic based on toys that in the end were never released outside Asia, maybe that just isn't possible, The Internet.
Although to be entirely fair, it's not without some positive attributes - the paper stock is not as bad as I thought it would be, and the staples are still intact after all these years.
The toys themselves had no background mythology or context for any supposed conflict or tension that would force the blue team (sports cars that transformed into robots) and the red team (dune buggies that transformed into spiders) to fight each other, so the holes had to be filled in by Marvel editorial staff and writers on the fly, who apparantly took some box art of the teams racing against a background of a nuclear explosion literally and made the story about a series of races across a post-apocalyptic Earth, so it's like Hunger Games, if Hunger Games had Transformers in it and was also Death Race.
It may surprise you to learn that there's not very much on the internet about a comic from three decades ago that no-one bought or gave a poop about, but apparently the franchise was originally called Car Wars to cash in on the cultural cache of the Star Wars name.  It was quickly retitled War Cars, however, to avoid the litigation that nearly befell the theatrically-released pilot of Battlestar Galactica (which all good nerds will know was originally called "Star Worlds" before hastily having "Saga of" added to the title to foil Lucas' vicious legal department), though the change came too late for the UK manufacturers of the toys, who had the name emblazoned on everything from box art to sticker albums, all of which had to be dumped in an English coalmine by Stadium UK, the licence-holder for the toys in the western market who went bankrupt shortly after, leaving Marvel to sell a comic based on toys no-one had heard of and most likely never would.  The villains being referred to as "reds" (in reference to the colour of their vehicles) was not unnoticed by then-popular communist Arthur Scargill (if you're under 30 and reading this, he was sort of the Russell Brand of his day), and - on top of a coalmine being closed down specifically to be used as landfill space for the toys - was taken as evidence of a campaign against trade unions, prompting him to denounce the comic in a newsletter that caused the book to be boycotted by working class families across the UK, leading to the only moment in popular culture when War Cars actually entered the mainstream, after Ben Elton made a joke that more copies of the comic were burned in the street by angry adults than were bought by joyful children.
To put it mildly, War Cars was not a hit, and copies of the comic are so rare that they often go for stupid prices on eBay.  Seriously - 32 pounds for this?  The effing thing's got dog ears and someone's already done the word search and maze puzzles, not to mention some kid's coloured-in the illustrations for the text story.
Scanned from a copy described on eBay as "near mint condition" - MY ASS - this is the first episode of the strip as it appeared in the comic, not just a whopping 4 pages of original content exclusive to the UK market, but in colour, too, so Marvel UK were clearly planning on War Cars being a major title to have made this much effort.  The reprint material typical of the time that pads out the rest of the book is stuff like Killraven and an adaptation of Planet of the Apes by European writer/artist Ernő Zórád - that was probably reprinted dozens of times in the English market by that point - which keeps the post-apocalyptic theme going, alongside overly-aggressive editorial input from the (presumably fictional) "Sargent Wheels", who despised "the reds" and seemed to be some kind of talking scooter, just in case you ever forgot it was the 1980s.
I'll see if I can dig out some more issues to scan in later blog posts, as I am pretty sure I have at the very least got all the episodes of the first story arc to hand.  I imagine it's something we can all look forward to.


  1. You're a bit of a bloody genius, Bear. Carry on with the, err, scanning!

  2. Like my parole officer before you, you may come to regret encouraging me to follow my passion.