In which I look at a comic featuring a man whose head is on fire. It’s by Clayton Crain and Garth Ennis; so no soft lads past this point. BRAAAAAAAAAAAS! GHOST RIDER: ROAD TO DAMNATION by Crain, Ennis & Eliopoulos
GHOST RIDER: ROAD TO DAMNATION #1-6 Art by Clayton Crain Written by Garth Ennis Lettered by Chris Eliopoulos Marvel Comics, $2.99 each (2005-2006) GHOST RIDER created by Mike Ploog, Gary Friedrich & Roy Thomas
I’m probably not the audience for this one, as the only exposure I’ve had to motor-biking is when my dad used to go arse over tit every Friday after the pub, sending our fish suppers skidding across the drive’s tarmacadam. Being a small child at the time, the experience didn’t really endear the manly art of riding about very fast indeed to me. But, being a large child at this time, I do quite like the idea of a man whose head is perpetually aflame, which is very much what this comic is about. In fact the book itself mentions the ceaseless flickering of our undead chum’s combustible noggin on more than one occasion. Either because he profoundly underestimates his audience’s ability to retain information or because he profoundly overestimates the humour of doing so, Ennis repeatedly goes out of his way to remind us, in case we had forgotten, that the man with the head on fire we are looking at, is in fact a man with his head on fire. He also has a good beery laugh at the expense of names like Johnny Blaze and Richard Rider because they sound a bit, well, unmanly. Dick Rider! Hurrr! It’s okay having a pop at the camp names from old comics, but if you wrote one of the most hilariously repressed comics ever (Preacher, obviously) you might want to think about motes, beams, eyes and the removal of such. See Matthew 7:3 -7:5, as Garth could no doubt tell you, him being such a keen Biblical scholar.
Or maybe not a scholar as such. There’s his usual guff about angels and devils and Heaven and Hell, which suggests wee Garth Ennis wasn’t listening too hard when old Sister Clodagh was giving it the old Scripture business. The angels are as bad as the devils, seems to be the thing he’s going for here (#EDGEYSTUFF) but it’s all undone by the fact he’s clearly having more fun with the Hellish emissary, Hoss. Hoss is a big fat cowboy type, who is all down homey and grits, and all that big belt buckle stuff; he’s probably a real hoot if you are, uh, well, Garth Ennis. Or Jason Aaron. (Ironically, Jason Aaron AKA "the house-trained Garth Ennis", would later have a really quite decent run on GHOST RIDER.) And get this (it’s awesome) he has a biker (get ready for awesome town) stick his own head up (buckle up! Awesome City limits up ahead) his own anus (HOO! HOO!) and that’s how the guy remains for the rest of these series. Classic, Garth. Just classic. Better yet he’s called “Buttview.” Because he has his head stuck up his butt. Oh, my aching ribs. Yeah, Buttview’s up there with Garth Ennis’ other nuanced creations Arseface and, uh, Shithead. Excuse me while I crush this beercan on my forehead. BOO-YA!
All of which is just Garth Ennis’ usual cheeky playground humour schtick. But his schtick comes unstuck this time out. While it is really super edgey to declaim there is no difference between Heaven and Hell, it is a bit confusing. I’m not sure which creed Ennis is addressing here; which is kind of important if you’re wanting to believe he’s making any points at all; besides how bloody proper bloody hard he bloody is. It doesn’t work, basically. The angels in the book are a couple of effete berks who cause a woman to miscarry because she can see them, and Ruth, a lady angel in a white pantsuit, who makes a kid stick a pencil in his own eye because he can see her wings. Which is the big problem of wearing white pants suits. HA! See I did a joke about pantie pads just for all the manly fellas out there! Hurr! Who’s up for an Indian? Now, as the sages say, the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum so it is possible that miscarriages and self-blinding children might be real thighslappers somewhere, but it’s doubtful. It just doesn’t work and the book knows it. The giveaway is that the kid’s traumatic eye injury occurs off panel but we get to see the biker put his head up his butt on panel. The shift from the harmlessly crass humour beloved of booger-eaters the world over, to the sadistically nasty is too sharp. They don’t sit right together. Sure they are both violence but the mix is off. You don’t put pepper in your Angel Delight do ya? Call me picky but I’m not sure miscarriages and blinded children sit so well with, say, Miss Catmint, the mousey downtrodden assistant with the 1970s comedy name. “Oooh, can I just look in your drawers, Miss Catmint!”, no one says but you bet Garth though hard before deleting it. That's right he even thinks hard! What? Yes, I get it: they're all the same, they're all bastards. Great. That's useful. As observations go, it's fit only for funnybooks. And while I have some sympathy for what some inclined towards academia might view as a pointed erosion of the traditional hero (Johnny is basically a clueless f-wit all too eager to think the best of people, even demons), let's not forget it's a book about a man who's head is on fire.
The plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, but is basically a kind of cut down Wacky Races with Hell, Ghosty and Heaven all competing to stop Squiddlybipbopbop the Demon from bringing Hell to earth. Ennis makes such a hash of explaining things that I’m a little unclear really about why anyone is doing anything. Particularly as it all seems to revolve around keeping schtum about some kind of spiritual insider trading so that God doesn’t catch on. Now it’s been a few decades since Sunday School but I’m pretty sure one of the big things about God is that whole omniscient thing so, uh, I guess omniscience isn’t all it’s cracked up to be or someone’s been overselling The Big Yin for the last few thousand years. Or, uh, muhwuhmuhmu, look his head’s on fire! Did we mention his head's on fire! Basically, when it comes to specifics this plot has a strong air of oh, is that the time, must dash! Which is fair enough since this is a comic featuring (and it’s important to bear this is mind) a man whose head is permanently aflame, so no one’s expecting intellectual rigour. Worse though is the brevity of the race. There’s all of one fight scene involving a bus full of hapless chumps being wielded like a mallet, and then the various racers are where they need to get to. Why they couldn’t appear right where they needed to get to in the first place, what with them all being supernatural and that, is a question only someone who doesn’t know how hard it is to fill six issues would ask.
On the upside Clayton Crain’s art is…difficult to judge, honestly. Mainly because it’s really dark for the most part, not in a “Ooh! Kind dark! Kinda edgey! That won’t play in Peoria!” way, but in a “Hey, Who forgot to pay the light bill!” way. Squinting through the gloom though, he seems to have an ambitious array of grotesquerie on display. His Hell is a kind of smouldering meatscape, with Ghost-ado being pursued over what looks like barbecue holocaust by escapees from a demon butchers. He has a lot of fun visualising the demons, especially Shabbadoowaaa who is all spinal cord and wheels, like some kind of roaring, sentient, apocalyptic car accident; definitely Hellish looking. The normal scenes obviously interest Crain less, but they are okay; he has a lot of fun with the bloated paraplegic businessman, but the more normal folk get short shrift. But no one is reading a Ghost Rider comic to see thrilling evocations of the mundanity of day to day life. No, they are here to see nauseating physical monstrosities and a man with his head on fire. And there is where Clayton Crain delivers. In spades. The ace of spades! I loved the liquid quality of the flames crowning Ghostarino's dome in particular. In fact Crain’s art is probably better than it looked to me, because he’s obviously using them there computers, and back in 2006 that was a pretty avant garde. Also, In the interests of not being a total jerkwad I went and looked at the preview pages on Comixology and I have to say that his art pops a lot more in digital. A lot of the FX such as the butane-blue flames are so blurry in print as to not be worth the bother. So I binned all my dark unto uselessness scans and skanked all the panels off Comixology. It seemed like the only way to give Crain a fair shake. No, it's okay, I'm made of time. There's nothing I'd rather be doing with my swiftly disappearing lifespan. Anyway, Digital did the art some favours, but it didn’t improve the script. Funny that. It's a good book to look at, but not so hot to read.
Fair’s fair though, the art makes GHOST RIDER: ROAD TO DAMNATION a step up from autopilot Ennis (oh, throw a stick you’ll hit one), sure and it’s not a big step. The book struggles to be more than a six issue round of Garth Ennis Bingo (1st Prize: a big auld steak and a six pack o’stout. 2nd Prize: A dog-eared Sven Hassel novel. 3rd Prize: That ‘70s poster of the tennis player scratching her bare arse). And don't worry he manages to get in the old maudlin whinny of "Noo Yawk! As pretty as a fair Collen passed out in her own sick with her drawers round her ankles! Oh, New Yawk! Let me paw your arse!" Christ, show some decorum, man. What is it with the Irish and New York? Whatever it is, give it a rest. Mainstream North American genre comics being what they are It’s not uncommon for Ennis (or anyone) to do work-for-hire about a central character he clearly has little interest in, but unfortunately here he seemingly struggles to find anything he does have an interest in. But, you know, it’s w-f-h so maybe he had an editorial remit to fulfil rather than this being a personal work of searing truth; The Ghost Rider Story He Had To Tell. You know, all that waffle falafel they come out with. (“After I handed in the final draft of SPIDER-MAN: BOOMBOX BOONDOGGLE I wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”) It reads like someone rang him and said, “That Preacher you did? The kids like that, Garth, so do six issues of that stuff. Just remember to stick a bloke whose head is on fire in there. ” And he saw the cheque and went, “Konichi wa! Fair dinkum, boyo!” and got stuck in. And why not? We’ve all got bills to pay. This was EH!
NEXT TIME: More GHOST RIDER by Garth Ennis? JUDGE DREDD mayhap? Or a Euro-Comic? I don’t know, I’m trapped in a Hell of – COMICS!!!
So…The biggest names in comics! The biggest comics in comics! Several thousand words which can be summed up as, “Seriously? You jest, right? THIS?” Break out the bunting because the world’s sourest man is back! Nothing is good enough for him! He’s a big old stinker and no mistake! Comics by beloved creators spat at by a man with not a fraction of their talent! Oh, it’s good to be back. (We are back, right?) The following is dedicated to OKOliver who left OKComics without me having the chance to say goodbye. Good luck in your new life as a space gigolo! M-Wah! M-Wah!
Someone must have been telling lies about John K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he found himself blocked from The Savage Critics… Ho ho ho, a little bit of Kaf-KA! there. Actually, I have no idea what happened. At first I thought Cap’n Hibbs had sacked me but…wait, he hasn’t has he? Anyway, I don’t know because I’m writing this while the site’s still down, so I don’t know what happened because as I type it’s still happening. If you’re reading this we’re BACK! If you’re not, then we’re NOT!
CASANOVA: SUSSUDIO#1 Art by Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon Written by Matt Fraction & Michael Chabon Lettered by Dustin Harbin Coloured by Cris Peter Image Comics, £0.69 Digital (2015) CASANOVA created by Fraction, Moon & Ba
I’m not really a Matt Fraction man, so if you are you might want to just skip this one. But, as little time as I can find for his work in my withered and bitter life I do have to give Fraction kudos for the unflinching portrayal of vacuous self-obsession embodied by the almost heroically oblivious buffoon, Jerry Cornelius, er, Casanova Quinn. Few are the authors who would dare be so upfront about the distasteful shallowness of their lead. We’re all grown-ups hereabouts (we skew “old” at the SavCrits, so I hear) so we all know that no one needs to actually like a lead character. Still to actually invite, nay, compel, readers to loathe so fiercely the focus of a work of fiction is a feat worthy of attention, nay, applause. Applause I imagine Mick Jagger, er, Casanova Quinn, would expect purely as his due for his mere existence. The book’s right upfront about it as well. So foolish a fop have we here that he openly declares himself to be “good at people” (and, oh, the attention that “at” so conceitedly coerces!) Obviously, it is a secret only to people who utter such self-serving bilge that people who feel they are good “at” people are never anything of the sort, and that the people that they feel they are good “at” only endure their hilariously transparent horseshit (ugh, all that open body language, the direct gaze, the tilted head and, worst of all, the excessive interest in, no, really, you; how are you doing? Spare me.) with such forbearance because it would be cruel to just laugh in their patronising face as it swarms with smarm.
This total lack of self-awareness reaches a hilarious nadir when the book risks actually transmuting into a substance composed of pure condescension as Casanova Quinn explains his own very poor joke about an elephant in case we missed how clever he was being. Like all his type Casanova Quinn understands that if you have to explain your own joke the fault is always (always) that of the audience. There is no such thing as a bad joke just bad audiences. Just as there is no such thing as bad writing, just bad readers. Obviously. Cruelly, but understandably since he is so dulled by self-adoration, Quinn is made to inhabit a world as obsessed with surfaces as he himself is. His oleaginous self slithers through a slurry of outdated signifiers of alienation and joyless ostentation snipped from decades of pop culture (swimming pools, ladies flashing their knickers, gamines with balloons, joyless parties) all huddled together like confused refugees yanked without thought or feeling from other, better, works in the futile hope that their mere proximity will create fresh meaning. Casanova Quinn is the kind of person who has watched The Great Gatsby and thinks this is the same as reading The Great Gatsby. How can anyone know me, when I don’t even know myself?, thinks Casanova Quinn; so impressed with his own insight he practically shudders with the struggle not to climax. Casanova Quinn and his banal world are such flagrantly faux creations that it’s testament to the art of Ba and Moon and the muted citrus wash of Peters' colours that I kept coming back to the this series as long as I did. But enough. I shall find places where their art is better served, and inflict upon Casanova Quinn the, to him, ultimate insult of the snub. Postscript: Michael Chabon writes a strip in the back. This is a big deal because Michael Chabon not only won a Pulitzer Prize but, more importantly, wrote a whole book about old timey comics which was nice of him. Unfortunately his comic writing is very much exactly as good as you would expect someone his age trying to be H!pS@xyF*n would be. In short then, Casanova EH!
FCB: CIVIL WAR II©™ #1 Art by Jim Cheung & John Dell, Alan Davis & Mark Farmer Written by Brian Michael Bendis©™, Mark Waid Coloured by Justin Ponsor, Matt Hollingsworth Lettered by VC's Clayton Cowles, VC's Cory Petit Free! from Marvel Comics©™ All characters within created by human beings who had hopes, dreams and loves just like you, but they don't get a mention. You can look them up on Wikipedia if you want. I'm betting you don't want.
This was sent unbidden by hands unknown, so don’t get the idea that I’ve gone out of my way to read this. It was stuck in the packing of an almost criminally flamboyant purchase, just in case you had the idea I had fans who send me stuff. I don’t have fans (boo fucking hoo), and if I did they’d have more sense than to give stuff away. Also, don’t get the idea that I have anything against Brian Michael Bendis©™ as a human being, as a sentient entity, as a carbon based lifeform. He seems like a nice enough man; he’s certainly a wonderful provider for his family and I don’t doubt he is a loving father, a rewarding partner, and I’m even willing to entertain (under duress) the notion that he’s a regular sexual tyrannosaur (although I think that’s his business really). He does use his exalted position to bring in talented new artists and he obviously has a lot of love for the medium of comics. He’s well into it isn’t he? What with his perpetual tumbling and incessant tweeting, and he’s dutifully repaid Marvel©™’s faith in him like a good little soldier. And who has a heart so hard that it can be failed to be moved by his child like glee when Marvel©™ put him, and a bunch of other White Hot Fan Favourites©™, in a room to harvest their brains for ideas, like they are interchangeable cogs in a hugely dull machine. Oh, I wish to be as happy as Brian Michael Bendis©™ is when he tweets a picture of himself holding a Name Brand Burger next to the literary colossus Matt Fraction. There, I say, there is a man who has built a life and is enjoying it. There, right there, is a successful human being. Unfortunately, having said all that I think his writing is terrible. Dreadful stuff. Quite disheartening. He is consistent though, to give him his due; with all his work running the gamut from gibberish to mediocre with much of it falling into that sweet spot of mediocre gibberish. However, we have a saying over here – tackle the ball not the man. Hopefully that’s what I’ll be doing. (Hopefully that’s what I always do, but I am a bit of a prick so sometimes I probably slip.) Know ye this then: I wish Brian Michael Bendis©™ no ill will; and anyway I have a sneaky suspicion that the millions of dollars in his bank account will soften the feathery blows from some anonymous dude who should really save his energy to provide for his own family one fiftieth as well as the tiny dynamo Brian Michael Bendis©™. But, uh, y’know, maybe, just maybe, I mean this, uh, comic, will make the preceding cowardly caveats redundant. (SPOILER: it doesn’t. It’s bloody awful.)
Events, eh? Why are they so hard? You’d think it would be a slam dunk every time. A big threat, heroes band together, some character work, a few set pieces and a page shaking climax. I’m up for that, I was up for that from the first time they did it (because I am old, did I mention I was old?) but as bovine and intellectually listless as even I am, the perpetually dreadful incarnations of this promising ideal soon withered my good will to naught. Tell you what, take a break from imagining punching me in the face and let me know of a good Event comic. Whoa, hold up there, podna, not one you liked; one that was good. E.g. I liked FINAL CRISIS but it was not exactly good was it? So take your time – a good Event comic. In your own time. At your own pace. No rush. Ah, there they are: the sounds of silence. This time out the latest in the never-ending stream of comics to which the only sane reaction is to wonder, “Who is buying this crap?” comes CIVIL WAR 2©™ FCBD#1. In which Brian Michael Bendis©™ bring his intellect to bear on the thorny philosophical problem of if the market has been gamed to the extent that a comic is guaranteed to sell hundreds of thousands of copies no matter what’s in it, what does it matter what’s in it? Only joking, it’s really about the thorny philosophical problem of how to rip off Minority Report and sleep at night. Haw, Haw I’m just joking! A regular jester I am with my fool’s cap jangling. Ting-a-ling! Ding-a-ling!
Which is about all this…thing deserves. Because this…comic(?) is basically a bunch of painfully “cute” scenes which, uh, follow each other and kind of depend entirely on the generosity of the reader to pretend they are a coherent narrative. The first couple of pages set the tone as Brian Michael Bendis©™ takes a ridiculous amount of space to tell us that Cap’n Marvel©™ and War Machine©™ are an Item. Let me just pause to reassure any other crusty comics warhorses like myself that Cap’n Marvel©™ is now a lady. Marvel©™ may be chasing that progressive dollar like it made off with their car keys but they aren’t that progressive. Gays are a bit much, right? Sure, I mean a tip of the hat is in order for a white lady and a coloured man locking lips , but pernickety as ever I think this kind of Step Forward would be a lot better in a Good Comic. Call me Icarus, eh? Despite the fact that everyone in this scene is a grown-ass adult Cap’n Marvel©™ asks Black Panther©™ to turn round while she snogs War Machine©™. That’s not because adults behave like that but because Brian Michael Bendis©™ saw it in a TV programme, probably iCarly if I had to guess. Page wastage, “cute” scenes ported across from other media, adults acting like tweens, a narrative as taut as unset jelly (US: jello), so far so Brian Michael Bendis©™; all we need now is some of his Stellar Character Work©™ And whaddya know, as if on cue…Thanos©™ turns up! I know arguing about character consistency at this point in the history of North American genre comics just earns you pitying looks like you turned up at work with two jumpers on but sans trousers, but still…Thanos©™…Thanos™© just beams in bellowing and festooned with weaponry like he was just plucked from a particularly savage session of the new DOOM (VERY GOOD!) game. Does that sound like Thanos©™? Is that anyone’s idea of how Thanos©™ operates? Personally, and I’ve not really been paying attention so I could be wrong, I thought Thanos©™ was a master manipulator, a singular strategist, a regular Machiavelli of the Marvel©™ Universe. Apparently I was wrong, it seems that nowadays if Thanos©™ wants something Thanos©™ just covers himself in guns and bursts into view bellowing and fighting everything in sight until he gets what he wants. Stellar Character Work©™. Obviously, I’m guessing, this happens not because that behaviour is an accurate reflection of the established character of Thanos©™, but because that’s what the (ahem) plot demands. You could plug anyone into that role, you could even, maybe, and I’m just throwing this out there, plug someone suitable into that role. The only reason it’s Thanos©™ is because he appears for less time than it takes me to make sweet love, at the end of the credits of some Marvel©™ movie or other (I neither know nor care which, thanks). Of course it is possible behaving like a bear on fire might be Brian Michael Bendis©™’ idea of a regular Sun Tzu; I mean Brian Michael Bendis©™ is not exactly into that whole subtlety deal is he now. I mean, I know he thinks he is, but I think I’m fucking sunshine on legs so we can already see that self-perception isn’t always reliable.
So, yeah, Thanos©™ is in it, but rather than have him act like Thanos™©, he just acts like a big violent idiot because the (cough) plot require someone to do that. Synergy’s on the whiteboard, so put The Thanos©™ in! Personally I don’t think this is pandering mindlessly enough at the cost of the internal consistency of the comic. They should have really blue-skied this one. I mean, sure people like Thanos©™ because he was at the end of that movie (nope, still don’t care), but they have also always liked chocolate, and even before chocolate they liked diddling themselves, so why not work that in? Have Thanos©™ turn up but instead of guns he could be studded with giant chocolate dildos. That should cover just about everybody. If you’re going to pander then don’t hold back, you know. Shame? Just a movie with Alan Ladd in, yeah? The Inhumans©™ are in it too, but the only interesting thing about The Imhumans©™ (outside of the work of Jack “The King” Kirby) is the big teleporting dog. Until Marvel©™ realise this The Inhumans©™ are just a dead loss. Al Ewing on LOCKJAW? I’d buy that! No, I wouldn’t, because I’m not paying Marvel prices. The fact this denies me access to Al Ewing’s work is a major thorn in my paw, but he’ll leave eventually. They all do. Except Brian Michael Bendis©™. So, yeah, Thanos©™ shows up and there’s a regular wing-ding. So life-or-death, so savage, so brutal a fight is this that She-Hulk©™ comments on Thanos©™’ funny chin while they are whaling away at each other. I can’t be doing with these soul chafingly awful attempts at quippy humour which constantly puncture any sense of drama in modern comics. Worse yet, She-Hulk©™ upbraids Thanos©™ for his poor sentence structure. That’s right, Brian Michael Bendis©™ (BRIAN. MICHAEL. BENDIS.©™) writes a character that has the self-absorbed gall to criticise another character Brian Michael Bendis©™ is writing for their poor English which Brian Michael Bendis©™ has written. Let that sink in for a bit. Take your time. Christ, if She-Hulk©™ were really that keen on correcting the grammatical infelicities of everyone in Brian Michael Bendis©™ comics she…she’d be very, very busy, let’s just leave it at that. I mean, there’s irony and then there’s just heartbreakingly unaware. Of course why Thanos©™ is talking like The Hulk©™ (it’s almost as if it was The Hulk©™ in the first place but was ineptly changed to Thanos at short notice©™. As if!) anyway is not explained, because it’s all just so bloody hilarious, so who cares. Except it isn’t hilarious, it’s jarring. We get that all these writers want to work in TV and that they have a sense of humour apparently completely shaped by sub-par sit-coms but, look, Everybody Loves Raymond is not something to aspire to. I’m sorry, but there it is.
Mind you I’m not exactly well disposed to the TV. This Golden Age of Television? Look, just because you can name three TV series you liked in the past 5 years doesn’t make it a Golden Age of anything, it means there’s some stuff you liked on Television. That’s kind of the whole raison d’etre for television: to put stuff on you like. I liked The Wire too but one program does not a Golden Age make. Because I have to work with people younger than I am (when you get to my age most people are younger than you are, except the dead) sometimes they puppyishly tell me to watch something. Well, setting my monocle firmly in place, I did just that: I had a pop at that there Mr. Robots people squeal so deliciously about. Alas, the charms of a program about a pill popping magic hacker who wants to fuck his sister and is haunted by Christian Slater eluded me. With a title like Mr. Robot it should be about Christian Slater made up like he’s in Heartbeeps moonwalking about a patently fake set, with his arms set at right angles and slowly turning his head, while learning important lessons about human behaviour from the wacky family of his scatty inventor with whom he lodges. The series’ catch phrase would be “Oh, Mr. Robot!”, at which the camera would unfailingly zoom in on Christian Slater in a tuxedo and slathered with silver paint, body popping in confusion at the latest mistake he’s made in aping these crazy humans. “Oh, Mr. Robot!” You’ll all be saying it tomorrow. Or you could just read that VISION comic. Ha ha ha! You didn’t like that punchline did you?! No prisoners today! Oh, hey, thanks for sticking with this one; it’s gone a long way from the point hasn’t? It’s possible that the lack of focus was intentional and an indication of just how much serious critical consideration this comic(?) deserves, but on balance it’s more likely that I am a feckless twat. As a comic it was CRAP! Even as packing (remember that bit?) I think it was bettered by the polystyrene doohickeys it was stuffed in with. Nothing personal though, right? Oh, and it’s no good telling me it was free. So what? It should be shit? It’s supposed to be an enticement not a turn-off. Weirdly even if it's free I still turn my nose up at shit. Me and my high standards! Yes, the best thing about it was the art and we’re always told to say something about the art but why, seriously, why bother when the stench of the writing just makes any art at all an utter waste of talent. It’s pretty but unthrilling stuff, which given the stink of a script is a monumental testament to Cheung & Dell's professionalism. This is a flatulent jumble of dumb and it’s worth reiterating it’s CRAP! It’s like a poorly coded robot tried to write a comic – everything rings tinny and off. And cue:
(N.B. There's also a story about The Wasp©™ by Waid and Davis & Farmer. I'm sure it's fine, but after the slackjawed pap I'd had just about enough of comics for a while.)
NEXT TIME: I burn even more bridges in "The Biz" as I take a “look” at some Brian Azzarello Bat-comics.
I was locked out in the dark but I never stopped loving – COMICS!!!
MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER Art by Goran Parlov Written by Jonathan Maberry Coloured by Lee Loughridge Lettered by VC's Cory Petit Originally published as MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER #1-4 Marvel, (£4.99, Digital), (2010) The Punisher created by John Romita Snr, Ross Andru & Gerry Conway
“The Last Man Alive Is Not Alone!” hooted the tagline for The Omega Man (1971) and such remains the case in Parlov & Maberry’s spiritual cousin set in the Marvel U. This time out the last man alive isn’t the brawny melancholic Charlton Heston but comics’ favourite armed meltdown Frank Castle, and he has all the ordnance in the world. This is good for Frank because his opponents aren’t a bunch of disgruntled anaemics with flaky faces and frightwigs but your very own childhood favourite superheroes gone cannibal and crazy. The appetites of these long pig crazy super mentals are vast but probably not as vast as the modern appetite for seeing our four colour chums degraded and subjected to the basest of instincts. Which is fine, as long as it’s done well. Mostly it isn’t, that’s my beef. This stuff appeals to the misanthropic adolescent within us all, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s little point railing against the inevitable and inarguable components of human nature. Particularly the shitty bits. After all, if I may mangle Voltaire for a moment, if the misanthropic adolescent within us all didn’t exist then Mark Millar would have had to invent it. We all like to get a little nasty is what I’m getting at. But you’ve got have standards. Because, well, if we don’t have standards, then where are we? Hmm? Hmm? At this point having begun sounding like Richard Liberty losing his mind in Day of The Dead (1985) it can only mean it’s time to segue silkily into the next paragraph. MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER by Parlov, Maberry, Loughridge & Petit
The crux then, as ever, is whatever the comic is, is it done well? Oh, I’m supposed to tell you? Well, okay then, if I must. We all know The Punisher (the man who is to picnics as Thomas Wayne is to shortcuts; comic book dads are a feckless bunch are they not?) and I know I’m familiar enough with the work of Goran Parlov (the master of the Alex Toth and landscape panel one-two punch) for his work to be the reason I bought this book, but I know not of this Jonathan Maberry. So I had a look, and it turns out Jonathan Maberry writes books I don’t read. In a somewhat grudging and definitely perfunctory spirit of fairness I looked at some of the covers. These prominently featured sweaty men with shaved heads and muscles like subcutaneous melons grimacing as they clutched big guns like someone was going to snatch them away and also, zombies. Lots of zombies. The titles were peppered with words such as ghost, blues, dead, moon, bad, kittens, plague, patient, zero etc. like so much butch literary buckshot. It’s a genre unto itself it seems and it’s called Military Horror apparently, and its heavy balls swing deep and low. Or so I’d guess having not read any of it. It’s probably pretty fun stuff; everyone likes reading about ball swingers killing the shit out of shit as the clock ticks down. Even effete old berks like me. And he’s won a few Bram Stoker Awards this Maberry fellow, so, you know, we probably aren’t talking about some ungodly toxic male trash the rapists keep stealing from the prison library. No, that’s the Hugo Awards.
What I’m getting at is I wasn’t expecting much, something for my eyes at least; I can always depend on the pared down but still beefy stylings of Goran Parlov to give me my money’s worth. But as you’ve probably guessed by now, turns out this book’s premise is well within the quarantine area of Jonathan Maberry’s sweet spot of Sweaty Cock Gun Horror. The end result being that not only were my eyes entertained by Parlov’s thrillingly sparse art but Maberry’s darkly fun mangasm of violence engaged my adrenal glands throughout. Which is obvious in retrospect, given his literary oeuvre and the fact that this comic is about comics’ foremost swinger of balls killing the shit out of shit while the clock ticks. And there’s a lot of shit to kill the shit out of this time out. Someone, probably not Voltaire, once said that when seeking revenge one should first dig two graves; in MARVEL UNIVERSE VS PUNISHER they may have underestimated that by about six billion.
Because, right, because thanks to some dude exercising his right to bear arms a little too enthusiastically (Guess who. Go on.) in close proximity to some chemical weapon smugglers the world is now populated for the most part by deranged cannibals, and that includes the super folk. Faced with a world gone wrong Frank decides to kill it. He’s a simple man. Cue up scenes of Frank murderalising all the old favourites, who are now hunched over and drooling with a malignant savagery that seemingly seeks to pander to the worst conceptions of mature super-hero storytelling, but due to an undercurrent of intelligence actually serves to poke deadpan fun at such edgey larks. The danger with such edgey stuff is that it may swiftly misstep into mean-spirited sadism, and the book fails to dodge this danger on a couple of occasions. The worst is when The Invisible Woman suffocates her kids with her force field. Personally (call me old fashioned) but I’m not super into seeing kids killed (that bit took me right out of the trash classic Planet Terror (2007)). I think your work needs to be pretty weighty to pull that stuff off, and I’m pretty certain MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER isn’t in that weight class. Sure, it’s about stuff like redemption, and the price of peace in such a wronged-up world, and contains Frank’s final frank acceptance of his own bleak nature, but that’s genre stuff; the book’s not about enough real stuff or even about genre stuff robust enough to carry a double infanticide.
It’s just a slip though, and all of one panel of a slip at that. But, you know, it really put me off my stroke. In most other places the older-sibling-breaking-all-the-toys vibe works fine, as when The Thing sits on a pile of skulls while super-ladies caress his shingly thighs. That avoids being crass or misogynistic in and of itself because it’s riffing on an image central to a predominantly crass and misogynistic genre. The visual call-back to crass misogyny applied to a big orange lug in the 21st Century is funny, and that humour carries you past the bad taste. I’m not sure who could get real humour out of a woman suffocating her two kids, Todd Solondz maybe, but it isn’t Jonathan Maberry (and it’s a comics challenge I’m content to leave hanging, thanks). In fairness though, Mayberry’s dealing here with tonally tricky stuff; it has to be horrific but humorous, yet one can’t swamp the other. So, I guess the odd slip’s okay. He sure gets Iron Man’s demise just right though. It’s truly horrible and also sickly amusing. A fate worse than death indeed, but probably not a fate worse than having to appear in two books a month written by Brian Bendis. Death would be a kindness. A few stumbles then, but Maberry manages to avoid Millar Syndrome for the most part to provide a playfully appalling take on the Marvel Universe.
It might be catty but I can’t help but suggest it could have done with a tighter editorial rein though, as some of the book seems oddly contradictory. The identity of Patient Zero is played out over more than one issue as being some kind of big deal Mystery Reveal, while in fact the comic has already clearly shown Patient Zero in the first issue. So that’s a bit odd. And I’m pretty sure I’d already seen the head of the actual Real Mystery Reveal sat atop a stake in Frank’s garden. It could have been someone else, I guess, what with the uniqueness of that character kicking in below the neck, so that might be me getting confused. Last week I almost poured milk into the kettle, so anything goes! Just little niggles; on the whole the terse and gruffly streamlined approach works a treat. The spread of the contagion is portrayed in a dismayingly convincing manner and the smackdowns are brutal and inventive. Even Deadpool, who capers about on many of these pages, failed to make me wretch. But it wouldn’t be such a treat without Parlov’s art; his storytelling remains a thrilling enough reason for purchase in and of itself. The staging of the Frank vs. The Hulk sequence is perfection, with the reveal of what Frank’s firing a perfect punchline to the preceding sequence of set-up. The basically ridiculous nonsense is all grounded in an overgrown and rubbly New York confidently evoked by Parlov’s use of familiar landmarks with his noteworthy ability to convey a sense of both space and scale. Although clearly doffing his cap to the disgruntled Master Alex Toth, Parlov seems to push past Toth in one respect at least; his daring quest to see how few lines he can put on the page without them buckling under the weight of the visual information they have to carry. However, as much as I fawn over his work, I do take issue with Parlov’s decision to give Frank a pony tail which undermines him a little, because as we all know under every pony tail is a horse’s ass. Just joking, it was getting a bit dry with all that art stuff. But if you are grown man with a pony tail do feel free to take that seriously. The ‘60s are gone and you blew it, Chester.
Christ, that’s far too many words for what is essentially THE PUNISHER SHOOTS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE IN THE FACE AND DOESN’T TAKE HIS FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL HE JUST HEARS DRY CLICKS. Jonathan Maberry does a good job and Goran Parlov does a better one, so if we add that up, turn around three times, and say the magic word “spangdangler!” we get VERY GOOD! (in terms of craft and entertainment, I stress).
NEXT TIME: Maybe I’ll turn my
PENNANCE CRITICAL STARE on Ghost Rider! Maybe I won’t! It’s what’s called a cliff-hanger. They used to have ‘em in – COMICS!!!
I am given to understand that self-proclaimed Futurist and alleged butter sculptor Warren Ellis is currently writing the comic book adventures of Britain’s favourite misogynistic throwback tool of the ruling elite. Not only that, but word has reached me that said knuckle faced sop to the Pre-Suez nostalgists like Your Grand-Dad is also currently tumbling out of explosions and beds while adjusting his cuffs at a Multiplex near you. Talking about James Bond there, not Warren Ellis. Although, having said that, having said that…no, definitely James Bond. So, what could be more appropriate then, than to write about a completely different set of comics Warren Ellis wrote and Declan Shalvey illustrated. Probably a lot of things would be more appropriate, John. Yes, but this is what you got. Life lessons, we got 'em! MOON KNIGHT by Shalvey, Ellis, Bellaire & Eliopoulos
Anyway, this… MOON KNIGHT VOL.1: FROM THE DEAD Artist – Declan Shalvey Writer – Warren Ellis Colour Artist – Jordie Bellaire Letterer – VC's Chris Eliopoulos Contains material previously published in magazine form as MOON KNIGHT #1-6 MARVEL WORLDWIDE INC, $17.99 (US), $19.99 (CAN) (2014) Moon Knight created by Don Perlin & Doug Moench © 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc.
NB: This book was obtained from Derbyshire County Council's excellent Library Service. Do NOT let them take your libraries away.
In which we join Declan Shalvey and Warren Ellis in Marvel's continuing battle to make anyone care about Moon Knight (MK) post Bill Sienkiewicz. Changes have been made. Changes not only to the creative personnel but also to the set up itself. MK doesn’t have his old supporting cast anymore, but he does have a special Moon Mobile which is dead flash; like one of those big long cars, you know, like those limousines teenagers and hen parties hire to drive around Grimsby town centre in for reasons which quickly escape them. It drives itself, because of course it does. That’s Warren Ellis, The Futurist there (“In the Future cars will be faster, literally, and maybe have, uh, bigger wheels! MAYBE FLIGHT IS INVOLVED!!! Hic!”) MK also has a drone thing, because drones are bad except in the hands of insane vigilantes who are unaccountable to anyone. Then they are cool. More spooky Futurism there probably (“Everyone (burp!) will have their own drone, like. To go down the shops and that, yeah? I drink whisky and swear. AND YOU CAN’T HANDLE IT!!!”) Also, I misspoke back there because it turns out Sir Moon’s not nuts no more. So the whole “lunar” and “lunatic” wordplay thing has gone for a Burton. Shame, I liked that but then I am a bit traditional. Hey, keep up, old man, tradition’s for tossers and it’s the 21st Century (according to my Cats in Funny Hats calendar) so in the first issue both MK and we are told (in a phrase clearly intended to be quote fodder, and who am I to disappoint (shut up, mother! SHUT UP!)), “You’re not insane. Your brain has been colonised by an ancient consciousness from beyond space-time. Smile.” Naturally, this being Warren Ellis the flop sweat scented linguistic razzle-dazzle errs away from the meaningful and more towards the polytechnic-lecturer-down-the-pub-with-the-new-intake-and-his-eye-on-the-wee-lassie-with-the-nose–ring-and-the badly-obscured-cold-sore. Like many an Ellis-ian concept splash it’s not like it ever gets mentioned again, but I think we all felt all the cooler for reading it. I know, being a simple soul, you might think having a character “colonised by an ancient consciousness from beyond space-time” might be something you’d want to expand upon a bit, but no. As it happens, astonishingly enough, it doesn’t matter because MK still acts like someone who needs a hug and a good chat. Just in a different way.
Visually MK is redesigned as a man in a suit with a bag over his head. (Well, sometimes he isn’t, but it’s this image that works best and that you come away from the book with, so in the interests of brevity: a man with a suit with a bag over his head.) Sounds silly but it isn’t. It’s a good design; men in suits generally look really quite grand, I find. Lot of graphic potential in a suit, you know. It’s just plain classy for a start. The bag’s okay visually too, and is a proper bit of Futurism because, and there is no way Warren “Future Sailor” Ellis could possibly have known this when he wrote the book, shops now charge you for a carrier. I am forever being caught out by this, but MK can just stick his chicken dippers in his hastily doffed headgear. No fool he. I imagine (many things, but let’s stick to this one) Declan Shalvey is the one who makes the redesign work quite as well as it does. (“He’s in a suit now, Declan, not that capey thing. Oh, stop whining, JUST BLOODY DRAW IT!!!”) It’s a sharply cut suit and the visual potential of a nicely draped ensemble’s ability to communicate flow and to just generally cut a flash dash on the page is fully realised by the man Shalvey. Someone has also decided not to colour MK in which makes him really pop off the page. Pages beautifully toned by Bellaire's subtly muted shades. Unlike Warren Ellis the Irish human being Declan Shalvey is a new one on me, but he’s very much worth watching as an artist (as opposed to watching as a “suspect”, but never rule anything out, eh). I was first struck by his apparent talent when I noted the jaunty angle at which he had cocked MK’s shoe sole on the initial splash. By the end of the book there was nothing apparent about it, Declan Shalvey was pretty firmly established in my fractured mind as a Talent with a capital “T”. Which is lucky, because sometimes it’s Shalvey’s Talent that makes the book work as well as it does. Which is why everyone refers to it as Declan Shalvey’s MOON KNIGHT, right? Oh.
It’s easy to knock Warren Ellis (so I did) but in his defence FROM THE DEAD collects six issues, the majority of which are very strong done-in ones (they vary, but are mostly good times). It’s possible Ellis even put his drink down and typed with both hands on some of them. Inevitably though there’s a couple of underdone slips into the worst of Warren Ellis’ patented Post-It Note plotting. He gets a lot of stick for this, but in all fairness sometimes this works (and equally sometimes it doesn’t). I guess it depends how detailed his Post-It Note gets before he collapses from the exertion of coming up with a crunchy hi-concept soundbite hook. Because all these issues have a crunchy high-concept soundbite hook, but they don’t all have a story. I would hesitate to suggest that Warren Ellis occasionally has his writerly priorities wrong since, you know, he’s the feted millionaire author with a built-in audience and I’m the erratic crank who has his hair cut at home and whose own love partner won’t read his stuff, but it did cross my mind every now and again. Particularly during “Box” which seemed to be based on “Moon Knight punches Ghost Punks!” and then forgot to be about anything else, although there was some half-hearted stuff about gentrification and a sad music box. All of which possibly interesting stuff was shuffled to the side-lines, because who doesn’t love pages of Moon Knight punching ghost punks! Haw, Haw. Oh, that tickles me. Ghost punks. Punching. Well worth all those pages. (There’s some sarcasm going on there but as I don’t use emoticons I’m just going to have to risk you missing it). It’s okay, sometimes comics creators are clearly having a lot more fun than their audience (Matt Fraction) which is fine in moderation (everyone else). Oh, Shalvey tries his best and it is gorgeous stuff, but storywise at base “Box” is pretty thin gruel. However, in all fairness, “Scarlet” works really well and that one’s just “Moon Knight beats up five floors of thugs to rescue a little girl.” Which as a story is equally austere in its development and complexity (“Declan, child, I have seen this film called THE RAID. DELIVER THAT UNTO ME, YOU CUR!!!”) But, ah, ah, but, crucially, this one is rich as Croesus in the visual opportunities it offers up to Declan “I can” Shalvey. The brutal choreography and general illusion of movement created by Shalvey’s art here is superlative stuff and truly cinematic in the very best sense. I winced more than once at the imaginary violence on show.
Since Shalvey saves “Scarlet” there’s only really “Box” which is a damp squib. “Sleep” gamely attempts to present a creepy mystery; one which Ellis has given a decent beginning and a solid ending, but during the (lengthy) mid-section relies so hard on Shalvey’s phantasmagorical fungi fuelled hallucinations it’s only they that prevent its title becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Slasher” is impressive for not only introducing the new MK set up with economical élan but also for cramming in a serial killer who MK hunts and bests using his intelligence. It even finds room for a little dig at the weaponisation of humanity to keep things current (“THEY’LL TURN US ALL INTO GUNS, I TELL YOU!!! Oh look, HOLLYOAKS is on”). It’s a tidy comic book script and Shalvey’s art keeps it interesting even during the largely static (and just on the right side of self-consciously flip) conversation bits, but it really hits its stride when things get a bit weird under the streets where the S.H.I.E.L.D. creeps sleep.
“Sniper” raises the game in term of storytelling. Yeah, Ellis really exerts himself on the one about the sniper. Or maybe it’s the case that Shalvey nearly busts a gut on this one. Perhaps it’s even a joint strainer. Whatever the case may be, it’s really just an exercise in storytelling rather than a story as such. But it’s such a good exercise in storytelling you can forgive the bit where the man walks in at the end to explain the point of the story to Moon Knight. And since that point is that bankers are dangerous assholes and we should never forget this since we are all still trying to claw our way out of a recession their unregulated greed caused with very little impact on themselves, I’m inclined to leniency. “Sniper” is a thing of beauty in its execution. As Shalvey's countryman Frank Carson once said, “It's the way I tell 'em!” and in “Sniper” the way Shalvey & Ellis et al tell it is pure COMICS!!! The volume closes with a smart call back to the first issue, “Spectre” (Now THAT's impressive futurism.), where a bit part player goes entertainingly if somewhat unconvincingly nuts and tries to replace Moon Knight. I say unconvincingly nuts but if anyone was exposed to the previous volume of Moon Knight (apparently fuelled by “years of research” into MK’s condition. Oh, give over.) then in comparison Warren Ellis’ treatment of mental illness here resembles that of B.F. Skinner.
Given the paucity of plot elsewhere there’s a surprising surfeit of it in “Spectre”, maybe too much. Might have been better to have it running as a sub plot through the other issues…but clearly it’s more important that each issue be “stand alone” and self-contained” in line with whatever high-falutin’ modus operandi Warren Ellis has informed the world he is operating under via interviews I haven’t read (“NOW HEAR THIS!!! NOW HEAR THIS!!!). Remember all that horsefeathers about “comics as 7-inch pop singles” (“One day there will be 12-INCH POP SINGLES!!! Mark my words!”)? I know I am forever picking up copies of FELL and exclaiming, wow, this is like the comic as a 7-inch pop single! Rather than, Oh, yeah, another series he just left floating like the sad corpse of a duck that didn’t make it through the winter! Obviously that whole 7-inch single thing is a bit dated now, so this time out these particular comics are probably “fibre optic nano-belches of picto-jism”. You know how he gets, that Warren Ellis. With his catchy tag lines and such. Oh, you can mock, you cur, but that’s what they pay him for. With MOON KNIGHT VOL1: BACK FROM THE DEAD Warren Ellis trots out his long running Warren Ellis schtick and gives us exactly what we expect, exactly what he gets paid for, warts and all. However, Declan Shalvey, the wee shaver, is a total and thoroughly pleasurable artistic revelation, so it’s on him that the book ends up with VERY GOOD!
Seriously, that “Sniper” Chapter is - COMICS!!!
So, hey, you know all the Goodwill I've built up with y'all. Let's douse all that in kerosene and flick a lit match at it. Because, damn, this comic sure rubbed me the wrong way. Sometimes I'm like a mad dog. A sexy mad dog. You've been warned. WOOF! WOOF! MEN OF WRATH by Garney, Aaron, Milla & Fletcher
Anyway, this... MEN OF WRATH Art by Ron “Through The Jungle” Garney Written by Jason “Star Wars” Aaron Coloured by Matt “Killer” Milla Lettered by Jared K. (“-Bar”) Fletcher Marvel, $3.50 each MEN OF WRATH created by Ron Garney & Jason Aaron
And all the others Running 'round so hot and bothered Anything to give their lives some meaning In the evening Running around with guns and Said they would act in self-defence With violence
I’m a Killing Machine! I’m a Killing Machine! I’m a Killing Machine! I’m a Killing Machine! I’m a Killing Machine! I’m a Killing Machine! I’m a Killing Machine!
Hey, Buddy! Yeah, you! How bad is your ass? No matter how bad your ass is I bet it’s not as bad as the bad asses in this comic and that’s allowing for a high level of badness when it comes to your ass. Man, the asses in this book are all bad. Because they are all (mostly) men's asses. And all men are violent. All the time. I’m being violent right now. And manly. Hell, I piss oxtail soup and fart raw lumber. Imagine an ambulatory hickory-smoked cock constantly emitting milky explosions of violence and that’s me, Padre. Straight up! I didn’t grow this beard, I was born with it! Chafed my Ma so bad on the way out that during the delivery (in a clapboard shack with a roof o’ tin) she tore an intern’s throat out like The Swayze in Charles Dickens’ immortal classic ROAD HOUSE. Shitfire and molasses! Get out of my sight! Get out of my way! Rubber Duck to Teddy Bear, we got ourselves a convoy! A Convoy of Violence! Yeah, my chapped lips to your cauliflower ears, I thought this comic was just great, if a little dainty for a giant violent hickory-smoked bearded cock like my bad ass self. No word of a lie, this comic displays all the nuance and insight into male violence you would expect of a comic called MEN OF WRATH which is about some men called Rath who are angry. And that’s some smart stuff right there, Cochise, because, see, wrath is a synonym for angry and, get this, wrath rhymes with Rath (largely in fact due to it being the same word except the “w” has gone), but not only that, but, and I don’t want to tell tales out of school or anything, but men are renowned for being violent, and violence is often a physical embodiment of anger, or, brace yourself - wrath. MEN OF WRATH! Geddit! Yeah, that stain on the wall is your mind, baby. Because like a sailor on shore leave, it just got blown. And that’s just the title. Comics aren’t just for kids anymore! They are for big kids! Big kids who enjoy the literary equivalent of staring into the gummily cycloptic eye of their own boner.
MEN OF WRATH by Garney, Aaron, Milla & Fletcher
MEN OF WRATH has many things to tell us about the human condition and some of these things are about men growing old. And revenge. And religion. And animals. The religion bit is easy – religion is rubbish. A white collar won't stop a bullet. And nor will God. Controversial stuff there; knocking Christianity being as tough as mocking Perry Como in this the year of Our Lord 2015. There's a lot of sheep and horses in it so I guess the idea is to suggest people are just like animals, they just pretend otherwise because, uh, that sounds like a really badass thing to say. In fact, people can indeed act like animals when under extreme duress, or following lengthy periods of systematic abuse or when there are soup makers with 33% off RRP on Black Friday. Mostly though people act like people. I'm not sure about the animal thing, MEN OF WRATH might not be that complex, but I'm committed to this train of thought so we'll carry on - I suspect people are not actually just like animals because I’ve yet to hear of a chicken tiling a bathroom or a capybara performing chanson. Although, true, quite a few barnyard animals do seem to be elected to political office. Actually it's probably not saying anything about animals. What about men and age? I bet it's replete with wisdom on that score. Oh yeah, as men get older, MEN OF WRATH tell us, they might get cancer but that's okay because they'll just spit blood, or maybe run out of puff during a gunfight, or occasionally clutch their side and grimace like they are trying to keep a fugitive poo in. Cancer, MEN OF WRATH assures us, much like renal failure or pulmonary embolisms, can be pushed back by sheer force of will, a crinkling of the forehead and a manly hiss of “Not now, old man. Not yet.” Old men, cancerous or no, MEN OF WRATH reveals, can be shot and burned with little immediate impact, although MEN OF WRATH is fast to point out that they will suddenly fall over and black out at a moment of high emotional impact in the narrative. This is because, and I'm reaching here, maybe, old thoughts don’t travel as fast as young thoughts so it takes time for the news of their injuries to reach their aged brain. Like dinosaurs. Sometimes old men can be referred to as dinosaurs because dinosaurs died off; the fact that humanity will have to stick around for several millennia more before they equal the dinosaurs’ tenure never gets mentioned. Or maybe it’s because old men are scaly and have a tendency to stumble around roaring with no pants on. I don't know. Mostly, though, MEN OF WRATH is telling us about sons and fathers. What it tells us about sons and fathers is fuck all. It starts off telling us that a cycle of violence began when Papyrus Wrath stabbed a dude over sheep, but then it realises that it isn't the 1970s and everyone with more sense than a doughnut now knows all that “bred in the bone” shit is just a weak ass refusal to take responsibility for one's own actions. This means it kind of stumbles about all confused and bellyflops into a truly poor end reveal which is both pandering and maybe a wee bit sexist. Because ladies? Not violent. Ever. Hey, Jason Aaron - meet my mum. Yeah, you better run, boy. Stop when you hit the sea. Anyway, MEN OF WRATH has many things to tell us about many things, I'm not sure what they are but I am sure all of the things it has to tell us are dumb. This is because everything MEN OF WRATH tells us is based on a bunch of movies and books that have already told us all these things better. On reflection I suspect MEN OF WRATH doesn't tell anyone anything, because MEN OF WRATH is five issues of macho posing and as a consequence any message within has all the strength of a sick man's piss. MEN OF WRATH is a book apparently written by someone who doesn’t get that the truest thing movies like TAXI DRIVER and ROLLING THUNDER tell us is that Paul Schrader was a very unhappy young man.
MEN OF WRATH by Garney, Aaron, Milla & Fletcher
Oh yeah, MEN OF WRATH has a lot of violence in it and this violence is extraordinarily effective in solving everyone's problems. True dat. Now, sure, some people will tell you violence solves nothing. Probably some guy who goes to work in an office and wears glasses and loves his wife like he’s some puling castrato or something. Personally speaking, I’ve yet to find a problem violence can’t solve. See as a for instance, a couple of years back we were calculating our return for the Tax Credits and it turned out some sums had gone awry and we’d been claiming more than we should. We’d been claiming it for a full year, so we had to make the choice of whether to ‘fess up and pay the not inconsiderable sum back, or just sail right on ahead living with the possibility that at any moment the black helicopters would descend and there’d be knock at the door. Please understand, it wasn’t that we didn’t want to pay it back. After all I’m big on paying taxes because I have this dumb idea I’m a part of a wider society to which we should all contribute so that we can raise each other up (also, hospitals, prisons, schools and roads - quite useful!) No, the issue was whether we’d get into trouble; it was an honest mistake, but you know maybe They wouldn’t see it like that. I don’t know about anywhere else but in the UK the last person you go toe to toe with is the Tax Man. You’ve got more chance of getting away with fiddling with kids than with fiddling your taxes. So, we talked about it for a few days and it all got a bit stressful and in the end I just went out and murdered someone. That solved the whole Tax Credits problem right quick, don’t tell me it didn’t. You can visit me on Wednesdays. Bring cigarettes.
MEN OF WRATH by Garney, Aaron, Milla & Fletcher
Look, it's not that Jason “Star Wars” Aaron can't write and can't write well but, seriously, this is some tired path he's treading. It's certainly very fucken' far from Cormac McCarthy. Because, hey, didn't you hear, Jason “Star Wars” Aaron is Comics’ Cormac McCarthy. You know, like Brian Michael Bendis is Comics’ David Mamet, Ed Brubaker is Comics’ Raymond Chandler and Matt Fraction is Comics’ Rip Taylor. Throw all that stuff on your rhubarb to make it grow. Jason “Star Wars” Aaron can write, but MEN OF WRATH is refried junk. Oh, hey, since my pills are overdue and I'm going all Scorched Earth have you heard the one where comics writers equate themselves with Charles Dickens? Have you not heard that one? It’s great. Honestly, I’ve seen at least one do it in a public comments section, and given comics writers are herd creatures you can bet the concept’s got some traction with a few of ‘em. Modest folk that they are. Anyway, it seems to run like this: Charles Dickens produced popular fictional entertainments in a serialised format which were later collected between two covers for posterity. So do they. Thus, comic book writers are like Charles Dickens. QED. If any comic book writers think that, I want them to know that I have two step ladders in my garage and they are more than welcome to borrow one to try and get over themselves. Because, yes, clearly it was the format in which Dickens’ work was published that makes it great rather than, you know, the genius of Charles Dickens. See, you start out complimenting a writer and before you know it we’re in a place in which Frank Tieri is comparable to Charles Dickens. A hot place with imps and cackling. Look, the last thing I want to do is rub poo in anyone’s eyes here, but if the writing was the most important thing about comics there wouldn’t be any pictures in ‘em. Writing is the most important thing in prose - fancy your chances in that arena, comic book writers? Yeah, thought not. Go back to hiding behind Frank Quitely’s skirt. No offense, like. Look, short version: If Charles Dickens was alive today I doubt very fucking much if he’d be writing comics about C-3PO’s arm or Han Solo’s sassy wife. Check and mate. Cormac McCarthy, my arse. More like Charlie fucking McCarthy. Gottle a geer! Gottle a geer!
Also, I made the mistake of starting to read the back matter until I hit the usual ride-a-cock-horse about how the story has a profoundly personal aspect, which comes across about as sincere as Wayne Newton telling us Peace Frog holds a very special place in his heart before clicking his fingers and getting stuck in on the Trocadero Main Stage, during a poorly attended Thursday matinee. Apparently one of Jason “Star Wars” Aaron’s kin done gone killed some fella back yonder times over some sheep or some such, hence the inspiration for this timeless paper classic; one which will be ranked by posterity somewhere under that FRIDAY THE 13th comic Jason “Star Wars” Aaron did. I think I’m supposed to be impressed by the honesty of Jason “Star Wars” Aaron’s facing of the familial sins of the past full on and the colossal internal strength he draws on to use it as a spur to create art (i.e. money). And had the ancestral Aaron touched kids I probably would be suitably impressed. But Festus Aaron killed someone, which is still a manly and butch crime; the kind of crime you can walk tall behind, and so we just got another comic about how violence is, oh, so very, very bad but still manages to force itself to roll around in it like a dog in fox shit.
What? Maybe I'm just not the audience for this? Maybe it's a bit too raw for my fluffy pink liberal palate? Seriously, you have no idea who you are dealing with here. Circque du Soleil would gasp at the contortions my Electric-Pink Liberal Conscience can make just so I can enjoy my Hot Strong Man Boner Action. DIRTY HARRY? The balls, man, Just the balls. I can recite that thing; don’t test me, it’ll end badly for you. And yet, as my regular reader
s will attest I’m all, hey, why don’t we all look after each other, and, like forgive although we can never forget, and bad things are real bad, yeah, and you use roads, you were born in hospital, so pay your taxes and all that, ugh, nasty, nasty, wispy beard, cork sandaled, recycling, folk listenin’, home-made preserves shit. Listen to this, and you best believe you better be bracing yourself like nobody’s business because here it comes: I’m the guy who thinks Harry Callaghan throws his badge away at the end of DIRTY HARRY because he has failed The System! That’s right! The System hasn’t failed Dirty Harry, Dirty Harry has failed The System. He no longer believes he is fit to carry the badge. (Well, he isn’t is he? I mean, there’s crossing a line and then there’s being silly about it. He endangers about twelve little kids at the end; not cool, Harry.) Why then, John, is he back in MAGNUM FORCE and also, John, not only is he in MAGNUM FORCE but he is such a plainly unapologetic fascistic bastard they have to set up a bunch of bike cops including David “Black Bean Soup” Soul and that guy from Vega$ as a kind of Central American Death Squad, whose only Real Crime the movie seems to be saying is offing a luckless cop. Why, John? Because John Milius is why. Also, it’s a fucking cartoon. The first movie is a proper film; Don Siegel made proper movies - word to that. And the rest of the Harrys? Fuck those. That Cagney & Lacey one is so badly directed it’s a good job the human charmball Bradford Dillman’s in it, and THE DEAD POOL has a remote control car chasing Harry Callaghan about like it’s some kind of R-Rated Hot Wheels movie or something. A remote controlled car! That movie is for goofballs and Liam Neeson/Jim Carrey completists. The only half way decent one (other than MAGNUM FORCE; I like fascist cartoons! TWIST!) is that one that keeps forgetting it’s a Dirty Harry movie and thinks it’s Sondra Locke in DEATHWISH. (N.B. DEATHWISH is a piece of crap.) And SUDDEN IMPACT’s only good because it would take a sleepy chimp indeed to come away from that one feeling revenge was any fucking good at all. A chimp, or John Milius. I mean, I’ve checked my pants and I’m a man; I have a weakness for dumb aviator shaded, cigar chompin’ shit like the stuff John Milius sprays like musk, but the important thing to remember is that stuff’s a fucking cartoon. Yeah, I know he’s dead. It should be sprayed not sprays. Fuck tenses. Grammar ain’t manly, pal. Except Powers Boothe’s Gramma. Ma Boothe cures her own pork, you hear me! Skiddlyupyah! But, y’know, you can step the Hell back if you’re even thinking of telling me RED DAWN says anything about the human condition. My point? Like John Vernon said in Josey Wales, “Don’t piss down my neck and tell me it’s raining, Senator.” Capiche, cochise?
MEN OF WRATH by Garney, Aaron, Milla & Fletcher
Someone out there is going to go, yeah, yeah, you big limey mincer, but have you read SOUTHERN BASTARDS - that’s great! And because I was raised right I am going to ignore the fact that this site is fully searchable and you can find out fairly easily that I have read SOUTHERN BASTARDS and, no, in the world in which I am cursed to live, it is not great. SOUTHERN BASTARDS took five issues of “stellar character work” to tell us nothing about said character or the mise en scène (yeah, some ooh-la-la parlez vous francais there. Bite me, tough guy!) that couldn’t have been covered in one issue. He’s old, he’s sad, his dad was bad and Americans react to seeing dogs shitting like someone was murdering a baby. (Of course he’s been in ‘Nam. Of course he had. Did you know ‘Nam backwards is Man? There goes your mind again!) Anyway, five issues of repetitive dithering. Five issues of it. Five fucking issues of packing boxes, hitting people with sticks and being sad. Fucking interminable stuff. And all so that the end of issue 5 would come as some big surprise. Which it did, because who had “Jason Aaron is just wasting everyone’s time” in the raffle? You, sir or madam, are a winner! Tickets to that raffle cost $14.95 approx. You’re welcome. And ugh. That last page. Where the non-Caucasian non-male character is revealed on the page turn like she’s Darkseid or something; a move shocking only in its humungous smuggery. Who the hell in their right mind went – it’s a coloured lady! A POC! OMG! Why the blue fuck wouldn’t it be? Even better - she’s in the Army! Talk about mixed messages. Either all the suspense just dropped out of the arse of this book because, really, who will win between a drug dealing sports teacher and his shit-thick hicks, and a government trained killing machine with revenge on her mind? Dur. Lemme think. In Michael Bay’s documentary CON-AIR Cameron Poe (Nic Cage with seaweed on his head) is dealt with more harshly than other mortals by The System because his awesome military training makes him unlike other men – he is become like unto a Living Weapon, he has become War. It’s not much of a contest is it? Lady Cameron Poe versus Craig T. Nelson's COACH? Or maybe it means Jason “Star Wars” Aaron thinks the US Military is so shit its soldiers would have trouble dealing with a drug dealing sports teacher and his shit-thick hicks. I very much doubt that was his intention, Americans being pretty well disposed on the whole toward their boys in uniform. There are even a couple of movies about it and everything. You could say I didn’t give it long enough; how long is long enough? Perhaps I should have waited to find out that the drug dealing sports teacher had a Bad Dad and got his knee shot off so he could never play football. Or whatever, I didn’t give it that long, did I? Sure, I can see someone turning to crime because they can’t play their favourite sport in a professional capacity. My heart bleeds. I never got to be Howard Victor Chaykin’s pool boy but you don’t see me peddling drugs and exhibiting singularly poor recruitment choices. Maybe the lady character will allow Jason “Star Wars” Aaron to bring to bear some “stellar character work”. Perhaps when she’s strapping some C-5 under a pickup with a Confederate flag on its plates she’ll pause wistfully as a baby in a pushchair is wheeled past. Because: nuance. Jason Latour’s art was spectacular, mind you. It had a lovely autumnal pallet all russet and dusty and what a goddamn waste. Which reminds me, Ron Garney illustrates MEN OF WRATH and his art, inconsistent as it is, is wasted on this cowflop. They say you should talk about the art so there you go. That much I did right. MEN OF WRATH is CRAP!
You can't choose your family but you can choose – COMICS!!!
Okay, here are some words about some (near)recent comics. I guess they are capsules, relatively speaking that is. Although, after this one some of my relatives won't be speaking to me, particularly the Morrison branch.
Anyway, this... AXIS: REVOLUTIONS #4 Art by Gullermo Mogorron & Felix Ruiz, Howard Victor Chaykin Written by John Barber, Howard Victor Chaykin Coloured by Rachelle Rosenberg Lettered by VC's Travis Lanham Marvel,$3.99 (2015) Ice Man created by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee Doctor Doom created by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee
You could be forgiven for thinking that this comic has little reason to exist, being as it is one of those inessential spin-off things barely connected to the latest Godawful Event comic to clog up the rapidly thickening arteries of the Direct Market. And yet, there are many reasons for this comic to exist (beyond Marvel's contractually stipulated page quota with the printing company). Firstly, it allows John Barber to introduce himself to me with a comical study of overweening youthful angst most familiar to those who inhabited the 1980s, as represented by Ice Man (who is a lot pointier than I recall), versus the more incurious, practical and contented youth of the noughties, represented by a young lady who probably has an App to handle all that emotional crap. Secondly, I get to see the art of Guillermo Mogorron & Felix Ruiz; art which reminds me of the work of Phil Hester ovelaid with the signature urgent scribbliness of Bill Sienkiewicz; it doesn't work as such, but it's still fun to look at.
Third, I get to imagine Howard Victor Chaykin's little face as he listened to the premise of the Axis "concept" and also get to wonder where exactly his pragmatism kicked in and he said "sure.", because it never hurts to keep a door open to Marvel, and even Living Comic Book Legends have bills to pay. Fourth, Howard Victor Chaykin gets to demonstrate that no matter what nonsensical shit he's handed he can sculpt it into a passingly convincing simulacrum of a decent story. Despite at no point ever suggesting he was in any danger of spending more than a morning on it, his part of the book is a surprisingly taut and suspenseful look at conflicting loyalties centred around the world's most dangerous (and ghastliest patterned) waistcoat. It's all particularly effective since it is set in Latveria, a country which resembles a never ending beer festival held inside a cuckoo clock. Necessary or no, this was OKAY!
THE MULTIVERSITY: MASTERMEN #1 Art by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Sandra Hope, Mark Irwin, Jonathan Glapion Written by Grant Morrison Coloured by Alex Sinclair, Jeromy Cox Lettered by Rob Leigh DC Comics, $4.99 (2015) Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster
I recall in 1991 (I know!) being tickled by the televisual sight of the poet Tom Paulin splutteringly declaring Martin Amis' Times Arrow to be "boneheaded!". Time's Arrow, you need not be reminded, is the one where Amis fils runs the Holocaust backwards like that one Dresden bombing chapter in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5. "Boneheaded!" or not Time's Arrow does at least have the decency to include an attempt at suggesting the indecency of the Holocaust in its backwards pelt through Nazi Germany. Which is more than Grant Morrison can be bothered to do here.
I started high on the cultural scale there because, for some reason, in comics Grant Morrison is held up as beacon of intellectual dynamism. Having characters in panels directly address the reader is apparently world shakingly profound in its inventiveness, despite being a device used approximatively five minutes into the Golden Age and ever since. Wait! What's this! You can hear my voice in your head! Yet I am not in the room! Is it some form of Shamanic magic! Or is it just how writing has worked ever since its invention millennia ago, and to pretend to be surprised that words on paper become thoughts in your head is the behaviour of a poltroon! Perhaps! Your world is dying! Now read on! Also, a belief in the possibility of fictional super hero universes achieving independent and pulsatingly active existence is a great idea, but only if you are 8 years old. These are all the things I am repeatedly told are fascinating about Grant Morrison's work but none of them are as fascinating to me as the fact that his work's total retreat from the real world has resulted in his apparent inability to write comics about anything other than other comics. Obviously, this is not without entertainment value and to pretend otherwise would be unfair in the extreme. However, to produce a (skeletally illustrated by Jim Lee) comic about a world in which Nazi Germany won in which the Nazis are portrayed as just another bunch of bad guys and the Holocaust is treated like a larger scale version of The Joker poisoning a reservoir is...(words fail me). I wonder what Tom Paulin would make of a comic where The Holocaust was given the same weight as Mr. Mxyzptlk turning all the cars in Metropolis to ice cream. I don't think boneheaded! would be enough, I think he'd go straight for CRAP!
THE MULTIVERSITY GUIDEBOOK #1 Art by Marcus To, Paolo Siqueira, Brett Booth, Norm Rapamund, Gary Frank, Nicola Scott, Trevor Scott, David Finch, Juan Jose Ryp, Cameron Stewart, Marcus To, Joe Prado, Bryan Hitch, Dan Jurgens, Mike Hawthorne, Emanuela Lupacchino, Jake Wyatt, Jae Lee, Prado, Ben Oliver, Kalman Andrasofszky, Andrew Robinson, Giusepe Camuncoli, Richard Friend, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Darwyn Cooke, Yildiray Cinar, Gene Ha, Chris Burnham, Declan Shalvey, Todd Nauck, Jeff Johnson, Evan Shaner, Jed Dougherty, Jon Bogdanove, Kelley Jones, Duncan Rouleau, Andy McDonald, Scott Hepburn, Paolo Siqueira, Rian Hughes Written by Grant Morrison Coloured by Dave McCaig, Hi-Fi, Nathan Fairbarn, Pete Pantazis, Sonia Oback, Tomeu Morey, Marcelo Maiolo, Alex Sinclair, June Chung, Jake Wyatt, Gabe Eltaeb, Dave McCaig, Jordie Bellaire Lettered by Todd Klein DC Comics, $7.99 (2015) Superman crated by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster
The pages of this book which are actually comics are pretty good. There's a section involving the brutal murder of child-like versions of DC heroes, and one involving 1970 Jack Kirby's DC creations. There are no prizes awarded today for guessing which section I liked most. And I did like the comic booky bits even though, as ever, Grant Morrison soars above the base need to actually provide a proper comic. And so this is just te usual Late (how late it is, eh?) Morrison-ian explosive entrances, gnomic asides, exclamatory burst of bombastic exposition and grand hints at great developments which will not disappoint on their arrival (honest, guv!), and all this in a fashion so disjointed and cursory it must be really, really clever. I don't know if it's all that clever but it isn't unentertaining. Unfortunately most of the (SEVEN! DOLLARS! AND! NINETY! NINE! CENTS!) book is padded out with one paragraph summations of alternate Earths accompanied by a little picture of the main capes domiciled thereupon. Even as someone who actually spent some of his youth reading RPG manuals for fun I found this a bit lacking. If that's all it takes to float your boat here's one for free: On Earth-74 Batman wees from his ears, Superman poos from his nose and Wonder Woman is made of burlap sacks. Get Frank Quitely to waste his time illustrating that and we're off! EH!
Speaking of off, so am I. But there's still - COMICS!!!
I don’t know if you noticed but I spent much of the first part of this magical year telling you how Marvel©™ chose to present and package their comics in the United Kingdom during the 1970s. Through the somewhat cumbersome time travel device of being old I am now in a position to tell you how Marvel©™ present and package their comics in the United Kingdom in the science fictional sounding year of 2015. Captain America by Romita Jnr, Janson, White, Remender & Caramagna
Anyway, this... MARVEL LEGENDS Vol.2 #1 Captain America:Castaway in Dimension Z Part One & Part Two Art by John Romita Jnr & Klaus Janson Written by Rick Remender Lettered by VC's Joe Caramagna Iron Man: Believe Part One: Demons and Genies Art by Greg Land & Jay Leisten Written by Kieron Gillen Coloured by GURU EFX Lettered by Joe Caramagna Thor: The God Butcher Part One: A World Without Gods Art by Esad Ribic Written by Jason Aaron Coloured by Dean White Lettered by VC's Joe Sabino Captain America created Jack Kirby & Joe Simon Iron Man created by Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Larry Lieber & Stan Lee Thor created by Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber & Stan Lee and the people of Norway Collects material first published in Captain America #1 and #2, Iron Man#1 and Thor, God of Thunder #1 Marvel/Panini UK, £3.50 (2014)
Marvel©™ comics are packaged over here by Panini, who also provide the children of Albion with DC Entertainment©™ comics content in a similar fashion. This fashion being to take material which first ran in the Americas in single issue form and then package (usually) three of these issues between two stiff covers under a thematically unifying title, and publish it monthly all for roughly the cost of one of the original American issues. The only drawback is that the most recent comics printed are around a year old(?). So you can get a chunk of cheap Marvel©™ product but you miss out on the real time bitching about whether Turner D. Century was written in character. For example there’s Essential X-Men which contains three issues of Brian Bendis’ X-Men for £3.50 rather than the near tenner it would have originally gouged you for. Since it’s Brian Bendis that’s still remarkably poor value for money so that didn’t get chosen. Other titles were disqualified from purchase for various reasons including that they were well into their runs, I just had no interest in their contents (the DC ones) or Brian Bendis had leaked out of the cordon sanitaire around his X-Men books onto the pages of another luckless book. In the end, then, I went with Marvel Legends, because it was #1 and everybody involved had made at least some comics I hadn’t despised out of all proportion.
Thor by Ribic, White, Aaron, & Sabino Marvel Legends features Captain America, Iron Man and Thor; a character roster clearly influenced by the success of the Marvel©™ movies, which makes a lot of sense. After all in the land of Good Queen Bess these books are potentially available to a less comics savvy audience than usual. Over here Panini books are not kept in controlled environments designed to mimic their original environs (i.e. specialist comic book stores) but instead are allowed to roam hither and yon across the newsagents of this United Kingdom. Every month I walk down to the newsagents next to the bridge and purchase my copy of Marvel Legends. I enjoy the ritual more than the comic, I suspect. Truly, I believe the measure of a country can be marked by the ease with which comics may be purchased. Sure, also little things like socialised Health Care, the care and protection of the vulnerable in society, not burning people who are a bit different, etc. but mostly it’s the whole being able to buy comics easily thing that matters. And here, despite The Tory beasts, you still can. But they are a bit out of date. This issue of Marvel Legends reprints the first Marvel©™NOW! issues of Captain America (and #2 as a BONUS!), Iron Man and Thor. Of course Marvel©™NOW! was not only a meaningless piece of brand trumpeting but also quite a while ago now (THEN! if you must). Usually I’d just look up what number those series were currently on and divide it by twelve (I know! I'm a human Enigma Machine! I impress myself sometimes.) but thanks to Marvel©™'s fetish for renumbering and double shipping I have no clue how long ago these issues were originally published. Unless I check my review of Thor, God of Thunder #1 from 2012 (see later). There you go then; a bit out of date this stuff but then that’s the story of my life, so who am I to carp. Physically the Panini books are quite appealing. The paper inside is matt and I like that and the covers are card because conditions in newsagents are hard. Flimsy paper covers are okay in the hot house environment of the specialist comic shop with its bags and boards, and respectful avoidance of spine bend and corner crumple. But after ten minutes in a British newsagent these delicate things’d look like they were praying for death. Kids go in newsagents and kids have hands and those hands are laden with germs and disrespect for the physical integrity of comic books. It’s okay I’ll go on about the contents now.
Iron Man by Land, Leisten, Gillen, EFX, & Caramagna
First up in the front of the book is Captain America. Here Panini made the bizarre decision to reprint an issue of Frank Miller & Klaus Janson’s 1980s Captain America from an alternate dimension where that actually happened but, crucially, it was also a dimension where Frank Miller couldn’t write very well. I am having a little joke there with you. Surprisingly, since I am forever being told about how sophisticated comics are these days in comparison to their aged forbears; Rick Remender has chosen to spend the two issues of Captain America (re)presented herein doing a really quite poor impression of Frank Miller comics from the 1980s. I’m not just saying that because I am old and can’t be arsed updating my frames of reference anymore (although that is true), no, I’m saying it because it is ridiculously obvious. What’s also ridiculous is how badly Rick Remender misses the mark. Everybody thinks 1980s Frank Miller comics are easy to write even though no one has ever managed it except 1980s Frank Miller. Even 1990s Frank Miller wobbled a bit and 2000s Frank Miller clearly has health issues so, hey, ease off the guy.
Captain America by Romita Jnr, Janson, White, Remender & Caramagna
I mean, you’d think the concept of the 1980s Frank Miller Internal Monologue would be simple enough to grasp but Remender demonstrates repeatedly that even that’s beyond him. Blunt simplicity is key with a 1980s Frank Miller Internal Dialogue and Remender constantly fumbles this with poor word choices and a lack of clarity. Basically, if I have to pause to puzzle out the meaning of your 1980s Frank Miller Internal Dialogue then, my friend, your 1980s Frank Miller Internal Dialogue has failed. Which it often does here. It isn’t the only failure; there’s a , ahem, comedy villain at the start (he’s a tree hugger but he’s violent, LOL!) whose dialogue is supposed to be amusing in an explicitly overblown and (Nudge! Nudge!) comic booky way, but while you know what effect Remender’s after you also know that it’s an effect he’s missed. That is, he’s going for that ‘70s/’80s Kirby bombast and, again, everybody thinks that’s easy but no one else’s ever managed it.
Captain America by Romita Jnr, Janson, White, Remender & Caramagna
Remender further attempts to cuddle up to Kirby by having flashbacks set in the ‘20s and Romita Jnr/Janson’s art (I think, but I’m not psychic so maybe not) wilfully evokes Kirby’s Street Code Strip from the Streetwise anthology. It’s in these flashbacks that Remender attempts to beefs up his antic larks in the main narrative. It doesn’t work. I’m not going to get upset that Captain America’s dad is a wife beater and a (it’s implied so lightly I may be mistaken) suicide but I will point out it’s poorly done. Remender brings the same level of nuance and sensitivity to the scenes of domestic abuse (and, later, child bullying) that he brings to a B52 hurtling out of the sky; that is to say, none. The art here doesn’t help as Cap’s dad smack’s Cap’s Mom right in the kisser and Romita Jnr/Janson retain every ounce of thuggery in their line. The same force is brought to a man smacking a woman as would be used with the Hulk smashing a tree. Sure, it communicates the ugly brutality of the act but undermines it at the same time with the air of unreality. None of this is to diminish the seriousness of addressing these issues. In the ‘Gents’ at my workplace (I can’t speak as to the ‘Ladies’ as we aren’t that swinging in Britain) there’s a poster about domestic abuse. Apparently people need to be told that “No matter how badly a woman has behaved she does not deserve to be beaten.” Is that news to you? If it is, drop me a line as I’m interested in what the fuck you think you’re playing at. Or I can at least send you a poster. Lightening the mood of micturatory visits there is also a colour chart against which you can check your urine to make sure you aren’t dehydrated. Admittedly this isn’t really where I saw myself ending up; surrounded by dehydrated wife beaters but there you go. Little glimpse into my life there for you; every day an adventure! Anyway, as ever with genre comics they get the cheap heat for bringing a touchy subject up but nil points for developing or addressing it.
Captain America by Romita Jnr, Janson, White, Remender & Caramagna
Ultimately the Cap stuff is carried by the strength of the art. Because, let me tell you, I am all over a John Romita Jnr/Klaus Janson joint. I see a lot of mithering over this duo’s stylings on-line but I don’t get it (the mithering). These guys are rock solid. John Romita Jnr brings bulk and solidity to anchor every ridiculous visual conceit while Janson’s frenetic scribbliness lightens it all enough to bring some fizz and pop to combat the threatened visual inertia. It doesn't hurt that the pair have chosen to channel DKSA Frank Miller, a choice I can only applaud. As a result John Romita Jnr and Klaus Janson’s images have a power so great they can only be measured in “Kirbys”. Sure the kids look like bobble heads and the minimalism can slip into incoherence but that’s part of the style. And their style is so brash and unapologetic it just tucks me under its arm as it rushes past without pausing for breath. Romita Jnr and Klaus Janson’s art is The Stuff and that would be enough, but here they also have Dean White’s colours. Dean White’s colours are glorious. And that Dean White’s got some chutzpah, I tell you. His colours are actually laid over the art, as thickly glutinous as oil paints, at times obscuring the lines beneath as though he thinks the final image should read as a synthesis of pencils, ink and, the hell you say, colour. The enormous coconuts of the man to think he shouldn’t just colour inbetween the lines and keep his head down whenever the writer enters the room. This dude thinks he’s an essential part of the team. Sonofabitch isn’t wrong either. Damn. Reading this comic is OKAY! but looking at it is VERY GOOD!
Captain America by Romita Jnr, Janson, White, Remender & Caramagna
Next up is Iron Man. This is written by Kieron Gillen who is a very talented writer, I believe. I liked that Journey into Mystery stuff he did, but otherwise I’m not overly familiar with his work. This is because I’m not in my ‘20s and don’t give a shit if anyone shares my musical taste. I didn’t think this was a very good comic mainly because it strains too hard to achieve aims I wasn’t in sympathy with. The story opens with two visually dull pages of Iron Man flying high in the sky while babbling in his head about how he’s so smart he can see everything but himself (#SADINSIDE). I guess this is so that when he acts like an overbearing prick for the rest of the book we can remember he is #SADINSIDE and maybe not find him quite so hateful. (I did remember, but I still hated him.) Then, to allay any fears about anything happening too quickly, we have more pages than any reasonable human needs devoted to Tony trying to get his tinkler milked by a lady in a bar. (The lady is in the bar, she isn’t going to actually milk his tinkler in the bar; I don’t know what bars you frequent, cochise) Big prizes are awarded here for getting Tony’s alcoholism mentioned early; as ever it has sweet fuck all to do with anything that happens in the comic but, y’know, #SADINSIDE. I hated this scene because it is so scared of offending anyone that it practically offers up its belly like a craven hound, so determined is it that we know no one was being taken advantage of. Ugh. And just to rub the pointlessness of it all in my daft face Tony doesn’t even have chance to get Lil Tony out before he’s Iron Manning about. Now, not only is Tony #SADINSIDE but he’s also #BLUEBALLS, and even I’m starting to feel sorry for him. But not for long because he’s up against Extremis.
Iron Man by Land, Leisten, Gillen, EFX, & Caramagna
Let's not dance around; Extremis is rubbish. It’s one of those Warren Ellis things where he magnanimously showed up for six issues to redefine a character for other, lesser hands. As ever, being Warren Ellis, he dispensed with silly things like characterisation or entertainment and just really slowly placed some concepts in front of the reader and then quickly stepped backwards out of the room making Ta-Daa! hands. Sure, Adi Granov’s art was nice if more than a little inert, but, c'mon, I do recall there being more than one thrilling page of people in a room looking at a phone while someone spoke out of it. Extremis, my arse. And here it is again in the hands of AIM (Extremis that is, not my arse; no strange hands on my arse, thanks. I don't frequent those clubs; we've covered that.) There’s an auction, Tony turns up, Tony kicks ass and decides to go track down the other bits of Extremis which are still out there. Personally, all these bits (the bits where things happened) could have done with stealing some of the real estate wasted on Tony’s floating regret and his futile attempt to get his end away. But then I’m old, so it’s probably that isn’t it? I didn’t like this issue of Iron Man but that’s fine. I don’t think I like Tony Stark who apparently just talks about how smart he is without ever demonstrating it and is a real asshole. Frankly, I’m not sure where Tony's appeal lies and in the pages here Kieron Gillen is unable to show me. The obvious intention of it all is that it resemble the movie(s) in feel and tone; it succeeds a bit, but succeeds more in revealing how bad those movies would be without Robert Downey Jnr.
Iron Man by Land, Leisten, Gillen, EFX, & Caramagna
Maybe with better art Gillen’ movie-centric remit would have worked better but here he’s saddled with Greg Land. So, you know how that goes - all the woman look like soulless teeth demons, visual inconsistency gives everyone and everything a woozy feel, the men are vapidity incarnate and it’s just really impressive how consistently sterile and bland it all is. Greg Land is like the rice cakes of comic art. Rice cakes with pictures from
porno wrestling lightboxed on them. Sorry, but this comic is like the Iron Man movie had been made by the cast and crew of one of those End of Life Care infomercials broadcast when everyone normal is asleep. EH!
Thor rounds out the issue. Since these are reprints I thought I'd reprint my review of this very issue from way back on December 8th 2012. Don't think of it so much as my having misjudged my time tonight, rather think of it as some excruciatingly hilarious piece of meta-wit. And so from way back, before Jason Aaron had worn out my Christ-like patience with his recent weirdly insecure creator owned macho nonsense, we have...
"It’s not a bad idea to relocate Thor as a serial killer thriller narrative. It’s certainly better than the previous writer’s decision to give priority to trying on trendy hats and alphabetising his coloured vinyl 7″ single collection while letting his artists to do all the work. It’s fine, no problems really. Aaron even seeds possible future stories with the introduction of a new pantheon of Gods here represented by The God Butcher. Consequently later stories will no doubt focus on such dastardly deities as The God Baker and The God Candlestick Maker. The whole thing is a kind of watered down Heavy Metal strip the success is which is due mostly to Ribic and White’s work which lends the whole derivative but enjoyable thing a grandeur and scale it probably doesn’t really merit...GOOD!"
Thor by Ribic, White, Aaron, & Sabino
For £3.50 Marvel Legends is not a bad package, in fact it's GOOD!
It's certainly - COMICS!!!
Details to be confirmed as yet, but I'm sure we are all of one mind and one heart that this is an end to it all right here.
We now return to our regularly scheduled weekend...
O, America! There you go again sneaking another holiday in! Did it involve turkeys? You and your turkeys, America! Well, there’s no holiday from me going on about something I read. Much as both of us might wish otherwise. Was it a turkey though? Eh? Eh? Some clever word play there. Force your own face under the break to find out!
Anyway, this… EARTH X Story, character designs, epilogue & covers by Alex Ross Pencils by John Paul Leon Inks by Bill Rheinhold Story & Script by Jim Kreuger Coloured by Matt Hollingsworth, Melissa Edwards & James Sinclair Lettered by Todd Klein Marvel, $29.99 (2010) Collects Earth X issues 0, 1-12 & X
Featuring characters created by a veritable multitude of minds in tandem with a host of hands the naming of all of whom it shames me to say I am not up to. However, the bulk of the stuff herein must surely have come from some of these: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Carl Burgos, Don Heck, Gene Colan, Joe Simon, Neal Adams, Dave Cockrum, Herb Trimpe, Bill Everett, Wallace Wood, Dick Ayers, Marie Severin, John Romita Snr, John Romita Jnr, Jim Starlin, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Gerry Conway, Arnold Drake, Steve Gerber and one more time…Jack Kirby
I picked this up from the remaindered book store despite it looking like someone had beaten four generations of spiders to death with it. It was a bit shop worn is what I’m getting at there. (1) I’d not read Earth X before this and I didn’t really know anything about it. From the Alex Ross covers I’d lumped it in with Marvels and Kingdom Come; books that hit readers younger than me harder than they hit me. Because to be honest both those admittedly well-crafted series just sort of glanced off my burly shanks; that’s nice, I thought and thought no further. But at £8.99 I was willing to have a pop at this unknown quantity. My pecuniary impetuosity was spurred mostly because of the presence of John Paul Leon’s art because, c’mon, John Paul Leon is a pretty great comic book artist. (2) The words and such in Earth X are by Jim Kreuger and his name didn’t tempt me much. (3) So when I opened the book I thought I’d just end up flipping through it and making cheeky monkey faces at Leon’s sweet art (4) but when I shut the book I had actually read it all and had a surprisingly good time.
I know! Considering the whole thing is mired in Marvel continuity up to its nuts and has its origin in some sketches (artistic not comedic) Alex Ross came up with for Wizard or something Earth X turned out to be a decent enough read indeed. Basically then Earth X seems to be set on an Earth (Earth X, I guess?) where all the Marvel characters exist but in the time since their inception they have aged and things have happened to them that have actually not been undone five minutes later. (5) This means a lot of characters are dead when the book opens and a lot of characters aren’t who their name would lead you to believe. (6) This is fun stuff and arrests the attention early on but the real advantage of the set-up is that this is a story where there are actual consequences. If there’s a threat of such magnitude that the world might end then, in this book at least, there is actually a possibility that the worst might happen. (7) The book also attempts to tie all of Marvel’s continuity up in a neat bow (8) and it does a credible job too. Of course I’m not all that invested in the minutiae of the Marvel Universe so it’s possible some of the fudging and bodging necessary to make the book work might curl some readers’ hair. Those readers are duly warned although let’s be honest I probably lost those particular readers at the first footnote where I gently intimated Marvel’s treatment of Jack Kirby’s legacy was somewhat less than ideal. I’ll find the strength to soldier on though.
Given the scope (wide) and the scale (big) of the story it would be quite understandable if characterisation received short shrift, particularly as two of the major story strands initially seem to revolve around how You Can’t Trust The Smart Folk and how Captain America Can’t Make The Hard Decisions. (9) However, Kreuger & Co. slowly layer their portrayals and while not everyone (there’s a lot of them so fair enough) is nuanced those who are nuanced are revealed as being surprisingly so. By the close of play things have become quite emotional indeed.(10) The writing and the art play the whole thing on the dour side but, crucially, Earth X is never as dour as I feared and it is always more entertaining than I hoped. This is largely because the creative team remember that you can have the biggest stakes in the world but it matters not one jot unless the reader cares. (11) They also remember that there is always humour in life even when things are looking pretty grim (especially then? Yes, especially then) so there is also some humour; I liked the Vision joke and that whole domesticated Ben Grimm dressing like an elderly Jack Kirby shtick but there’s a sparse smattering of other comedic offerings; offerings which seem to rise naturally out of the situations presented and temper the dourness somewhat.
Be in no doubt though that given the reverential treatment of all things Marvel for some folk Earth X will be the interminable continuity wank I feared. Luckily for all our souls John Paul Leon’s presence swung it for me. Assisted here by Bill Rheinhold's sturdy inks he’s got this high contrast thing going on. A lot of detail is bleached out but all the detail you need is there. This approach is super rough on the colourists but Hollingsworth, Sinclair & Edwards do a mighty fine job. John Paul Leon’s got the magic happening in pretty much every aspect of his art on the pages of Earth X. His staging’s great and a lot of the impact comes from this and his thin vertical panels which suddenly burst on a page turn into double spread splendour. Because be in no doubt that there are images in here that need to have some impact; if some of this stuff doesn’t work the book won’t work and I think John Paul Leon makes it work. But he also makes the small stuff sing. This is a book which starts with a man in a room and ends with another man in another room but in-between there are swarms of humanity and creatures so gargantuan humanity is less than a swarm and John Paul Leon sells all that tricky shit like Ricky Roma on a roll. Only a truly talented artist could make comics with so many vertical panels work so well, and only a few of that select bunch could successfully lend humanity to a robot exoskeleton. John Paul Leon’s chunky lines and slabs of black give everything the necessary gravitas but he builds in sufficient space for the crucial emotions to sit. (12)
While John Paul Leon’s mostly to blame for my enjoyment of this book there’s no way everyone else’s contributions can be discounted. I wasn’t expecting much when I cracked the covers so maybe that made me value what I found all the more. But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Almost as surprised at how influential Earth X has proven to be. (13) I can’t deny Earth X was VERY GOOD! What a revoltin’ development!
(1) Initially I was going to pick up a Rick Remender X-Force book and make a joke about Rick Remaindered but I think he’s suffered enough recently, so I’m glad I didn’t make that joke. There was also a whole bunch of Brian Bendis books but, I’m sorry, even at remaindered prices…not with your money even. Truthfully I was tempted by his tiny wee digest Oral History of the Avengers but I read a bit and I don’t know what happened but when I came to I was crying in a library surrounded by burning televisions. Yes, the selection of trade paperbacks on offer was just Marvel books by the way. Which is probably due to some distribution deals or other rather than any intrinsic lack within Marvel’s trade program per se. Heaven forefend anyone should think I’m being petty just because Marvel refuse to acknowledge the contribution of Jack Kirby to their multi-billion dollar revenue streams. I don’t need a reason to be petty.
(2) John Paul Leon’s work on Winter Men is pretty much reason enough for someone to put that beauty back into print (and Brett Lewis’ writing on it is none too shabby neither).
(3) The only place I recall his name from is his and Alex Ross & Doug Braithwaite’s Justice (DC Comics, 2005-2007) and if I can tell you one thing about that comic seven years on then I’d be guessing. The JLA all turned into robot toys or something? I should dig that out for a re-read. Right after I sort my life out.
(4) Ook! Ook!
(5) The quicker studies will have gathered I’m not one for recounting plots; I’d rather let you know if I liked something and why that was or wasn’t. I will also throw in some heroically terrible jokes and probably lose my mind for several sentences over something or other like a goddamn crazy man. That’s why this shit’s free.
(6) Thankfully they even keep the High Evolutionary and the fact that he created an exact duplicate of earth, but without bologna or something. Every time that High Evolutionary guy shows up I want to know where he got his funding. He must pitch like nobody’s business.
(7) This is slightly undermined by the fact that I now know that Earth X was followed up by Universe X (2000 - 2001) and Paradise X (2002 – 2003). N.B. There is no truth to the rumour of plans to pave over Paradise X and call it Parking Lot X. A little early Christmas present for Brian Hibbs there; more of a Joni Mitchell man than a Cher man, I’m guessing.
(8) People are always pulling this “Everything’s Connected!” shtick and it always irritates me how we are supposed to be impressed. Of course everything’s connected if you write something where everything’s connected. Nuh!
(9) It is possible these were still original approaches back then but after a decade of writers continually going at them like a dog with a bag of chips it’s hard to tell. I think Jonathan Hickman is the one currently sucking the marrow out of these conceptual bones but we won’t know for another fifty years when he finally finishes his story.
(10) Although since I am the kind of man who blubs at the “That’s no salesman…that’s your Daddy!” scene in Armageddon YMMV. (Yes, Michael Bay’s made some shit but it is in the nature of shit that sometimes it sticks).
(11) Or if “caring” is a bit Dad then feel free to use “gives a shit”.
(12) Or: I like John Paul Leon’s work and I think the book succeeds as well as it does largely because of him. Why can’t I just say that? Write about the art, my arse. Do I come out there and tell you how to read? Well, do I?
(13) Truly, it’s like everybody at one of these Marvel Writer’s Retreats (Let’s whiteboard this one! We’re ordering burgers IN, how valued thou art! I’ve arrived, I’m a cog!) has a post-it note studded copy of Earth-X under the table or something. To say Earth-X has been influential is to put it mildly. Anyway, here are all the similarities I could remember. There may be more!
ITEM! Uatu the Watcher is blind. In 2014 he would lose his eyes and be killed which is about as blind as blind can be. In Earth-X he’s still alive mind, just blind. In both Earth X and the normal Marvel U something a bit more unpleasant than Pink Eye happens to his eyes anyway.
ITEM! The Terrigen Mists are changing everybody into special magic people. This is basically the same as that Inhuman series no one cares about. Even Matt Fraction, a man who cares so hard about everything veins pop out of his head like pulsing blue worms, doesn’t care about this series. If he cared he wouldn’t have left! Like my Dad! (N.B. this is a joke, my Dad didn’t go anywhere.)
ITEM! Black Panther has made Storm the queen of Wakanda. I think this happened a couple of years back. I’m not sure, I was busy and couldn’t make it but I sent a telegram and told them to let me know Wakanda present they’d like but they never got back to me. Brian Azzarello gets paid for puns like that and people still take him seriously.
ITEM! Johnny Storm is dead. I know he came back but he was dead for a bit back there in the Marvel U, or maybe he wasn’t; I haven’t read Fantastic Four since Wieringo & Waid’s (Very Good!) run, looking at the FF sales figures I’m not the only one.
ITEM! Norman Osborne has a position of political influence. In Earth X he’s President and in those post Secret Invasive comics he was whatever he was (Secretary of the Tommy Lee Jones Fan Club). I don’t really know about Sensual Invadement because there is actually a level of drivel I won’t sink below; yes, I’m as surprised as you are. In Earth X it’s believable that he’d be President because no one actually cares about being President on Earth X, they are all busy with their new powers and stuff. In the normal Marvel U it is not believable in the slightest but, hey, whatever, as The Kids are wont to emote.
ITEM! Beast’s appearance has changed. But then when has Beast’s appearance not changed. There are even comics where Beast’s appearance changes from panel to panel. But those comics are drawn by Greg Land, so there you go.
ITEM! Cyclops’ dad is alive. He’s that space guy who dresses like a pirate who is very comfortable in his sexuality, right? Nice sash, buddy! I’m sure he was dead in normal continuity but now he’s alive in some X-Men comics? I expect the explanation given for this sudden turn of events will be profoundly satisfactory.
ITEM! Professor X is dead. He died during Avengers vs. X-Men when things got out of hand at a rest stop in Phoenix. I don’t know; I have neither the money nor the patience for such Events. That’s what Wikipedia’s for. Do I look like Wikipedia? No, sir or madam, I do not.
ITEM! Thor is a lady. In the current comics this is shortly to occur due to the natural progression of a story Jason Aaron was compelled to write with a forcefulness non writers will never know, and they will always secretly hate themselves for the not knowing. Really. Ah-huh. In Earth X this is the result of Loki tricking Thor which is quite funny. Unfortunately in Earth X Lady Thor has a costume with these raised studs running down each side of the torso giving her the appearance of having being bestowed with many brass teats with which she can suckle her strange barnyard animal kids or something. It’s not a good look, honey.
ITEM! Cyclops leads a team of X-Men on Earth X. I understand that he now does this in normal continuity while also pursuing Revolution as effectively as anyone can while being written by someone who thinks it is a ride at Alton towers.
ITEM! In Earth X Captain America isn’t black but he is bald which is different but they do both begin with “b”. There’s a lot of prejudice against the bald even today. In many ways the bald are the invisible victims of our culture. Which is heart-breaking but they’ll just have to wait until we cut all that hateful racist, sexist, homophobic shit out first. (I see you, Internet. I see you!) Anyway, they should make Wyatt Wingfoot Captain America. Yeah, that’s right. Don’t you walk away from me, America. You heard; Wyatt Wingfoot. There’s nothing wrong with your ears, America!
Oh, I'm just mucking you about but I'm deadly serious about my love of - COMICS!!!
Yes, it's that time of the year again! The time of the year when we celebrate the eternal magic of the man born on this day in 1917 as Jacob Kurtzberg; a man more commonly known to all as Jack Kirby. I'll shut my fat yapper now because this is his day and so without any further ado here are a selection of "cosmic"!!! images that just boggle my mind every time I see 'em. Many happy returns then to the man whose physical form has gone but whose genius transcends mortality. KIRBY!!!
He was born on 28th August 1917.
He was Jacob Kurtzberg.
He was Jack Kirby.
He was EXCELLENT!
He was the King of - COMICS!!!
All images taken from issues of the 1976-7 comic book series 2001:A Space Odyssey(*) published by Marvel Comics. All pencils by Jack Kirby with letters and inks by "Mighty" Mike Royer.
(*) Based on concepts of the MGM movie by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke.
Due to popular demand what follows is about a new(ish) series and it’s also mercifully brief! Who says we here at The Savage Critics don’t listen? Well, they’re right. But we thought you’d find the illusion comforting.
MIGHTY AVENGERS #6-7 Artist - Valerio Schiti Writer - Al Ewing Colourist - Frank D'Armata Letterer - VC's Cory Petit Covers - Greg Land, Jay Leisten & Frank D'Armata Marvel Comics, $3.99 each (2014)
Luke Cage created by George Tuska, John Romita Snr & Archie Goodwin Spectrum (Monica Rambeau) created by John Romita Jnr & Roger Stern Spider Man (Doctor Octopus) created by Steve Ditko & Stan Lee Doctor Octopus (Spider-Man) created by Steve Ditko & Stan Lee Ronin (who isn’t Blade) created by Joe Quesada & Brian Michael Bendis Blade (who isn’t Ronin) created by Gene Colan & Marv Wolfman Blue Marvel created by Kevin Grevioux Power Man (Victor Alvarez) created by Mahmud Asrar & Fred Van Lente White Tiger (Ava Ayala) created by Tom Raney & Christos Gage Falcon created by Gene Colan & Stan Lee She-Hulk created by John Buscema & Stan Lee Iron Fist created by Gil "The Thrill" Kane & Roy Thomas (C) Marvel Characters, Inc.
I’ve been secretly reading Mighty Avengers since the start, so it’s probably time to upset everybody by going on about it. I’ve chosen this particular point to reveal I am reading it because these are the first issues where the series seems to have been drawn by a human being, rather than a bored robot. The art here isn’t great but at least it has a pulse. Previous issues were as visually engaging as the act of watching a toothpaste advert starring Halle Berry reflected in a stainless steel worktop. Valerio Schiti does a good job here; there’s nothing spectacular to speak of but it all gets done and that’s not unappreciated. He does a pleasant William H Macy anyway, and the whole affair sure looked kinda Cassady or McNiven-y. People like that, I hear. I wasn’t squealing and clapping my hands at any of it, but, again, I never felt like it was a product of The Forbin Project at any point. So, this is an Avengers comic but which Avengers comic is Mighty Avengers?
Mighty Avengers is the one with a bunch of non-Caucasian characters, but not Blade; Blade isn’t in it. There’s Ronin who acts like Blade would if he was in the Ronin suit, but it couldn’t possibly be Blade. Given past performance Ronin will turn out to be Puck’s Mom, despite so far having been clearly drawn as a six foot and then some man. It won’t be Blade though. (It is though; it’s totally Blade.) You all probably remember Ronin from Brian Bendis’ depressingly popular run on some staggeringly, yet characteristically, inept Avengers comics. I mean, how does that whole Ronin thing work then? Do all the Marvel heroes have a key to a locker in Grand Central station where the Ronin costume is stored, and if they feel a bit of mystery coming on they run down and slip it on? Do they have to have it cleaned before they return it? It looks hot in that thing so sweaty pits might occur. Also maybe in all the excitement of, say, dodging The Rhino, or, more likely this, sitting in a boardroom listening to someone jabber like a wet brain for nine panels, a little trickle of wee-wee might slip out. And some people can skimp on the wiping; I’m mentioning no names, Adam Warlock. So on balance, yeah, they probably do have to have it dry-cleaned afterwards. Does it have a voice changer in it like those Iron Man masks in Toys R Us? Do you like all this street level stuff I’m doing? Yeah, street level; it’s at the level of the street, dawg. Like crisp wrappers, dog ends and dog muck. Basically, street Level is a Bendis-ism for dull. This comic is full of Bendis-isms.But don’t run screaming in the opposite direction just yet because Al Ewing, in an act of sadistically calculated one up-manship, makes them all work. For the first time ever. Which Avengers comic is Mighty Avengers? Mighty Avengers is the functioning version of the Avengers comic Brian Bendis squandered the better part of a decade trying to make work.
Luckily Al Ewing, not unlike my cat, can write to a somewhat higher standard and so we can now actually see the shape of Bendis’ dreary vision made presentable. Basically it’s TV. Surprise! Whoa, old hoss; it’s not The Wire or even That Basically Decent And Stylishly Shot James Ellroy Rip Off Show With Two Stellar Performances Which Folks Are Inexplicably Touching Themselves Over. It’s more the kind of comedy you catch a bit of when you are just that bit more worn down than usual, and so are later than normal leaving for work. You know; the kind of TV that was on in the evenings but is now on in the mornings because the evening stuff is better now. Jim Belushi’s probably in it. Ray Romano definitely is. This is superhero comics as sit-com cum soap opera stuff.Which is fine, but that’s where most of the emphasis is and this comic, ostensibly, is about people who can throw cars around like bean bags. Anyone who came for the fights’n’tights may feel a little short changed.
But just a little because it is there; it is all there. Yes, it is all very much and quite definitely there; the soap-opera, the sit-com and, yes, the tights’n’fights. It’s all there. And it’s all done well; I’m not saying it isn’t. I think Astro City hits the mix whole lot better but that’s a high target to aim at, and, fair do’s, Ewing does get close. But, really, I don’t really know who needs all this faux everyday life stuff. Wouldn’t it have been of more use back when children read comics? Prepare ‘em for the future (Read Spider-Man! This Issue: Spider-Man’s Bin Loses Its Lid And The Council Refuse To Replace It! Also, Electro! Read Spider-Man! See How Grown-ups Really Live! Don’t Dream! Don’t Ever Dream!) Now though, apparently, adults read this stuff. Well, Buster, I’m an adult (physically anyway) and, as well done as it may be, my pulse doesn’t pound when I watch the Blue Marvel carry a fridge down some stairs. The only adults I know who would need to escape into a humdrum fantasy world of normality are convicted felons. Oh! I get it! Well played, Marvel! You finally found an audience more captive than the Direct Market! Hey, convicts, comics!
Look, Mighty Avengers is fine and Al Ewing writes it well. He probably writes it a lot better than I’m giving him credit for as he’s had to set up and develop his team despite the vulgar intrusions of at least two tie-ins. I mean, I don’t think Al Ewing’s in any danger of spraining any writing muscles here but Mighty Avengers is eventful, smooth and entertaining. Mighty Avengers is a GOOD! comic. If you’re fine with the Cosby-fication of Luke Cage you’ll like Mighty Avengers.
I hear the comments are broken. Unless I hear otherwise I’ll just assume I am bloody fantastic and you all totally agreed with me about everything. (Yeah, especially you.) It’s okay, no problem!
I feel like having a bit of a break. Even if you don’t read this stuff I still had to write it. And I’ve written too much lately. I'd just like to read something for fun with no pressure to perform for a bit. So, see you after next week’s Podcast. You know, that thing where Graeme and Jeff talk about - COMICS!!!
(AS LONG AS JEFF LESTER PRESSES RECORD!!!)
It’s a Skip Week! (Booo!) So let’s see what falls out of my head (Yay!). Checking the Savage Critic’s mail bag I see several of you may have contacted me expressing intense distress that I have yet to tell you how 2013 panned out for Howard Victor Chaykin. It was definitely several or none. It’s so hard to remember these things. So, hedging my bets I’ll tell you anyway…
Howard Victor Chaykin ended the year of 2013 by sprawling debonairly into the first month of the new year with the final issue of Buck Rogers, which splashed down in January 2014. Judging by the sales you ‘orrible lot were blasé in the face of the charms of Howard Victor Chaykin’s Buck Rogers revival. Well, that’s your loss because I can tell you it was in fact VERY GOOD! Yes, despite the fact that a page in the final issue !OMITTED! !THE! !DIALOGUE! Howard Victor Chaykin’s Buck Rogers was the usual witty, political savvy, oddly meandering then hectically climactic appeal for everyone to stop acting like jackasses, but this time with jodhpurs and jetpacks. Kenneth Bruzenak and Jesus Arbutov all played important parts in giving the series a vibrantly pulpy sheen in keeping with the hoary yet versatile source. It was certainly very Howard Victor Chaykin and finished off what was certainly a very good year for Howard Victor Chaykin. Actually, I don’t know how Howard Victor Chaykin’s year was. It was probably a pretty decent year because throughout it he would have been Howard Victor Chaykin. Head start right there, am I right? You know I am. And what I know is it was a good year for people who enjoy Howard Victor Chaykin’s work; both of us.
Despite being denied an overseas audience in its original periodical form (due to an aversion to spending decades in court) in 2013 Image collected and released Black Kiss 2. Which you will recall is VERY GOOD! So, it appears there are different rules for books and comics when it comes to peddling filth. And those rules are probably totally unconnected to the different amounts of money the different formats bring in. Black Kiss 2 was the one where Howard Victor Chaykin showed that even his sick smut made other people’s smart stuff look sick. Opinions were divided, with some declaring the book merely an old man whacking off in public. Such people are probably unaware just how much work goes into writing and drawing a hundred and odd pages of comics. A lot more work than whacking off, even given how much more work is involved in that the older you get. Particularly in public; you have to really plan that shit out like a caper movie unless you like having your windows broken. Or so I’ve heard. Naturally, untouched by bias as I am, in my head Black Kiss 2 was inventively vile but always engrossing and enthusiastically executed. A lot like an old man whacking off when you put it like that. It was certainly a lot less toe curling than that time Howard Victor Chaykin drew those Bendis Avengers comics. See, it’s that kind of bland doggerel kids need protecting from! Every year lowered expectations kill more people than pictures of gnawed off cocks being spat in people’s faces. Check your stats! Anyway, a mixed reaction to Black Kiss 2 like I say, but while we should always respect the opinions of others we should also remember they are worthless and only I am always right. To sum, Black Kiss 2 was probably a bit rich for most palates and we’ll move swiftly on.
Image continued to curry my favour by finally publishing Century West; this being an OGN from about 6 years ago which originally appeared in Spanish or French or some other vulgar tongue I can’t be arsed to learn because, well, indolence is bliss. Or ignorance. Either way, I’ve got that covered! Come on now, 6 years or whatever it was; what was the hold up there? It’s not like they had to translate it or anything. I know he can be a bit excitable and his dentures might slip making his speech go all mushy but I do believe Howard Victor Chaykin usually speaks English. Anyway, like when our cat went missing that time Century West finally turned up; unlike our cat it hadn’t lost an ear and now hissed at loud noises. Despite being a bit overcrowded layoutwise and so busy with characters and events in its short span of pages it risked leaving you feeling like you’d sucked a three course meal through a straw very quickly indeed, it was VERY GOOD! It didn’t hurt that Howard Victor Chaykin’s busy script and crowded art was blessed by the titanic typography of Ken Bruzenak and Michele Madsen’s lovely colours. There was a James Garner level of cool pleasure emanating from the endeavour embodied by Howard Victor Chaykin sneaking in a sly nod to his early work decades past on the Shattuck strip. One for the keen eyed old timers there. Basically it was another fine example of Howard Victor Chaykin’s love affair with the history of America and his somewhat more ambivalent feelings about the kinematograph (it’s okay, Howard Victor Chaykin, it’ll never catch on!). It was in fact very much like Black Kiss 2 in its themes and concerns but somewhat more sunnily optimistic in its conclusions, and certainly less likely to need stashing when the Rabbi pops round to chat about donations for the next jumble sale.
Throughout the year the odd voice was (reasonably enough) raised in opposition to the occasionally offbeat aspects of his work but it was Howard Victor Chaykin’s art that was the best reason to tolerate the tone deaf Altman impression of Matt Fraction’s Satellite Sam. Hey, another Image book. Image: we keep Howard Victor Chaykin off the streets! Despite Howard Victor Chaykin’s best efforts Fraction's incessant showboating continued to undermine the effects he was after. He's like a mirror that man, a mirror to which access is keyed on the DNA of the entire population of the world but me; I can't see what others see in him. One day his enthusiastic mimicry might make him comics’ Michael Sheen but as the final whistle blew on 2013 he remained comics’ Mike Yarwood. And Satellite Sam remained OKAY! So, that New Year's Resolution I made to not be such a dismissive prick? Not a success. Anway, I say the art but really it was the art and the lettering which were worth showing up for. Ken Bruzenak was here again, this time busting out an innovative invisible speech approach which harked back to Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon strip with its blunt ended bubble tails. In many ways Howard Victor Chaykin’s 2013 was also Kenneth Bruzenak’s 2013. Not only was Ken Bruzenak all over Dark Horse Presents like a beautiful rash of bruises but he was reunited with his beach dwelling pal on a seemingly permanent basis. Chaykin and The Bruise were back! Chaykin and The Bruise! Sounds like a forgotten quirky action flick from the ‘70s starring Peter Boyle and Alan Arkin or something. Maybe with a jazzily chugging score by Lalo Schifrin and a very special guest appearance by Ann Margaret. Sadly the reality is in all probability naff all like that; just a couple of salty old dudes doing the do old dudes need to do to get the dough.
Oh, there was also Howard Victor Chaykin keeping Marvel sweet with an Iron Man OGN and that weird strip in that A+X comic (which a kind Savage Critic commenter alerted me to). This latter involved Black Widow and The White Queen flashing their breasts at a man until he puked. Because, Howard Victor Chaykin! Some even more magical pals of The Savage Critics sent me reports of Howard Victor Chaykin’s doings at conventions which were very much appreciated (SPOILER: he was a gentleman!). My thanks to all the lovely people who enable my crippling obsession! I have not named anyone because sometimes people don’t like that, but while the mental hygiene behind my thanks may be suspect those thanks are genuine. So, the year in Howard Victor Chaykin there, Actually I just blurted all this out so I probably got all the release years wrong and missed stuff and oh, dear, I have to go now. So, I might have missed something, do let me know. Oh, do!
Anyway, Howard Victor Chaykin: 2013 was another year we should have been glad he still bothered with – COMICS!!!
Anyway, this... THOR: VIKINGS #1 - 4 Art by Glen Fabry Written by Garth Ennis Coloured by Paul Mounts Lettered by Dave Sharpe MARVEL, $3.50ea (2003) Thor created by Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, Stan Lee and the people of Norway Dr. Strange created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee
This 2003 limited series features the popular and girlishly tonsured hero Thor versus zombie Vikings. It is set in the Marvel MAX universe and is written by Comics’ toughest shave, Mr. Garth Ennis. Surprisingly Garth Ennis isn’t the star here and nor is Thor; the real star of this series is the genially grotesque art of Glenn Fabry. For a MAX series about Thor versus zombie Vikings in New York City the whole affair is relatively restrained. Particularly on the part of Garth Ennis. Quite possibly in deference to the real-life events of 11th September 2001; an event towards which eyes are obliquely lowered towards at a couple of points on these pages. While there’s some playful undercutting of the usual conventions of super hero comics (The Avengers get a royal battering; Thor is swiftly shunted to the sidelines) Ennis never really lays into the superhero concept as is his wont. He certainly doesn’t do that bullying overkill thing where it becomes less like reading a comic and more like watching a drunk squaddie man-dance on a student’s neck in a pub car park come closing time. The reason, I think, being Ennis just isn’t that interested in Thor;Thor's not worth it. To the extent that it doesn’t really read like a Garth Ennis Thor story at all. It reads like a Garth Ennis story that happens to have Thor in it.
The generic set up’s the give-away; all that’s required is a titular hero you can blindside the reader by immediately side-lining, a chippy wizard who does all the work and a city of Enormous Symbolic Importance. So here we have Thor, Dr. Strange and New York City but it would have worked as well with Judge Dredd, Devlin Waugh and Mega City One or Superman, John Constantine and Metropolis. Sure, you’d need to shorten the hem and let out the waist a bit in each case but the set up would basically be a snug fit. Because this is a Thor comic here we have Thor and (seriously) Ennis isn’t really interested in Thor so Goldilocks gets a good hiding in short order from the zombie Vikings. Dr Strange (who Ennis isn’t interested in either even though he gets all the best lines) kisses the be-banged one’s boo boos better and gets the plot moving and hustles us into the bit Ennis is interested in. See, to battle the zombie Vikings (a very English sounding) Dr. Strange plucks three people from the time stream (amusingly visualised as a stream of Time) and it’s these which allow Ennis to play with his favourite toys. Selected for the First Team are a lady Viking (woman are as good as men at the worst men can do. Violence, I’m talking about violence there); a Python-esquely single minded Crusader (Religion; not the top of Garth’s Pops so rumour has it) and a Good German (if Garth Ennis has a dog I bet it’s called "Erwin").
This bunch fight the Vikings while Ennis backs Thor into a ridiculously confined corner and then just shrugs and, metaphorically, has Thor turn round and open the door which was behind him all the time. It isn’t exactly tightly plotted is what I’m getting at there. It is, however, fast-paced, absurd and wryly inventive in its scenes of horror and violence; but best of all it is gifted with an artist who can do Ennis’ ridiculous flights of fancy justice;Glen Fabry.
Of course Fabry and Ennis have previous form; Fabry provided painted covers to Ennis and Steve Dillon’s popular series about the undeclared homosexual love between a vampire and a virile idiot. Preacher, I’m talking about Preacher there. They’ve worked together since then (e.g. The Authority: Kev); enough so to suggest that Ennis has geared this script to the tastes of his artist. Glen Fabry’s wonderful art first lunged off the page at me in 1985 when he started illuminating Pat Mills’ Slaine series in 2000AD. Unlike his Preacher covers his art there was B&W linework and the subject matter of Celtic barbarians soon made him a dab hand at drawing the underdressed enthusiastically hacking away at each other. This comes in very handy here as his zombie Vikings have a physical solidity and air of authenticity which make the ridiculous concept peculiarly plausible. The early scenes where the Vikings are behaving badly in their own time are highly convincing but it’s when the magically animated anachronistic dead start acting up in NYC that the art becomes most captivating, and the appeal of Fabry’s skills become most apparent.
The credibility Fabry’s detailed art has given the time shifted terrors in the earlier pages is carried straight-facedly into the more modern milieu in which they massacre like massacre’s are going out of fashion. The hard won visual integrity of these impossible figures allows Fabry to pull off the frankly preposterous demands of Ennis’ imaginative, but cursorily plotted, script. Severed heads piled so high they block a street; Fabry’s the man with his rubbery mugs which flinch just short of caricature. A dogfight between a levitating longboat and the last of the Luftwaffe in the sky alleys of the Big Apple; Fabry’s the fella with his melding of research and chutzpah.
While Fabry’s art is grounded in realism there’s an amiability about it which lends it a degree of flexibility. It’s more cordial than the chill of po-faced photorealism and this openness allows his art to embrace unreality just enough to make the impossible, well, probable at least. In its attention to detail Fabry’s art is very similar to the art of another talented 2000AD alumnus, Chris Weston. If Weston’s clench jawed and detail dense art were on muscle relaxants. Of the Old School Fabry’s art harks back to Hogarth (Burne not William; the 1700s is a bit too Old School, cheeky) both of them sharing a preoccupation with anatomy but Fabry’s figures are more placidly posed than Hogarth’s often frenetic excess in this area. It is of course excessive indeed to place skills of Fabry’s calibre in the service of, um, Thor versus zombie Vikings in the MAX universe. But then there’s little point to Thor versus zombie Vikings in the MAX universe other than the excess, which I guess is why Fabry’s art elevates a sloppy but fun wisp of a thing to GOOD!
Thor versus zombie vikings in modern day New York is very much - COMICS!!!
Happy New Year, fellow Whatnauts! Graeme and I are back with another installment of the external manifestation of the constant internal chatter constantly haunting your brain. After the jump: the link and some hasty show notes written by a dude with a cold trying to get this wrapped so he can take a nap!
So, first and foremost: you do remember we've shifted to a fortnightly/biweekly recording schedule, yes? You're not going to miss us that much, I know, what with the hundreds of hours of entertainment pouring at you like candy-colored magma, but we do appreciate you continuing to tune in, and hope our latest round of agreeable disagreements will provide your day with a bit of pleasure...
00:00-16-49: Greetings? Our first podcast of the new year and on the plus side, we’re on it within the first ninety seconds, talking about that lengthy Alan Moore interview (that as of recording time, Graeme had read in its entirety, but Jeff, alas, had not). Unfortunately, for the first ninety seconds, there are subjects we are not nearly as “on it” (such as talking and saying the proper year out loud, etc.) But make sure you listen to Jeff and Graeme have a very polite dispute on Alan Moore/Grant Morrison’s far less polite dispute. 16:49-34:22: As much as we probably could’ve lingered on Moore’s interview forever (had Jeff read it, anyway), we had other fish to fry: we were recording on the day of the Image Expo. We go over the announcements and our impressions. (Sadly, they’re not, like, actual impressions. We don’t alternate trying to talk like Robert Kirkman or whatever, but I think you know what we mean.) 34:22-1:06:02: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... Marvel got the Star Wars license! (yes, we have some old ground to catch up on.) Jeff frets about his digital collection and talks about why (in the face of mounting evidence that he should not). Also discussed: whether or not we’re excited about Marvel having the rights, age differences and Return of the Jedi, the book market, and more. [Note: the Marvel exec whose name Jeff couldn’t remember -- and whom Graeme couldn’t remember at all -- is Ruwan Jayatilleke and some of the stuff Jeff is talking about comes from here. 1:06:02-1:30:43: Discussion of the rumors that the Amazons are Kryptonian descendants in the Man of Steel sequel! Jeff wanted to talk about this rumor (originally mentioned and clarified here). Naturally, we talk a bit about The Man of Steel (since Jeff finally saw it), Star Trek Into Darkness, plans, theories, ideas, and stuff. Because I grew up in the '70s, I re-read the last part of that previous sentence and realized how much I sound like my fifth grade teacher. 1:18:23-1:30:43: “Hulk Hates Puny Relaunches!” With its third reboot in as many years, is The Hulk a title that just can’t work? Or is this barely any different than Marvel’s relaunch of Daredevil? There’s a brief lull in the conversation for 2014’s first mini-Techpocalypse but it's actually surprisingly small. Would that it were our only one. 1:30:43-1:45:27: Other topics, covered a bit more quickly: the leaked cover of Amazing Spider-Man! Original Sin, the upcoming Marvel crossover event! Shia LaBeouf! This should've led to a more in-depth conversation about comics we’ve read recently, including the Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine miniseries by Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert; and Detective Comics #27 by a mess of people including Brad Meltzer, Bryan Hitch, Francesco Francavilla, Gregg Hurwitz, Neal Adams, Peter J. Tomasi, Ian Bertram, John Layman, Jason Fabok, Scott Snyder, Sean Murphy, and others. But then we get derailed by another tech problem so instead we change gears and talk about… 1:45:27-1:54:28: Misfits! That cheeky bastard of a show recently wrapped up and Jeff finally caught up on it, and we discuss the finale. (Despite a lot of complaints on Jeff’s part, the show is worth digging up over on Hulu and having a watch, if you can put aside any preference on your part for internal logic of any kind whatsoever.) 1:54:28-end: Closing comments! Apologies! Reminders we have moved to that fortnightly schedule, so we will be back in two weeks! Closing show music!
Well, that wrapped things up, didn't it? Okay then, we'll see you -- oh, what's that? The actual podcast? Oh yeah, well, that's available by now probably on iTunes, and our RSS feed (and I was supposed to look into that other RSS service Al from House to Astonish wanted us to consider but I haven't done that yet) and, in fact, directly below:
As always, we hope you and enjoy and thank you for listening! And now, if you'll excuse us, it is naptime in the hopes of a speedy recovery.
Believe you me when I say I share your relief as we thunder into the fourth and final part of what people as far away as the chair next to me are calling a Planet of The Apes Weekly gallery! Merry Christmas! Ho ho ho!
After all that it turns out the guy I borrowed these off was just shy of the complete run. Sigh.
So 'almost' only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and - COMICS!!!
My name's John Kane and I wish you all, every man Jack of you, a very Merry Christmas!
"Beware the beast Man, for he is the Content's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he scans for the attention of strangers during Internet lulls. Yea, he will politely ask his work-mate to borrow his work-mate's Planet of The Apes Weekly collection. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will spend most of his time washing, cleaning and generally running about to little result before finally sitting and staring dully into the far distance. Shun him; drive him back into his new-build lair, for he is the harbinger of death." Thus spaketh The Lawgiver. And so Part Three of the Planet of The Apes Weekly cover gallery begins: Anyway, this...
Ape Shall not borrow and then forget to return ape's - COMICS!!!
Christmas The Holidays are almost upon us! Now, if you do knock back the old grape juice plus please refrain from driving. This isn't the Nineteen Seventies, you know! Although you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise as we plummet into the second part of our gallery of Planet of The Apes Weekly (very old but VERY GOOD!) covers. It ain't Nostalgia, it's History. (Okay, it's nostalgia).
BONUS**BONUS***: Fool your friends! Baffle your enemies! Be hunted by the Government and shot in a ship yard with our Amazing Like-Life Ape Mask! (Never use scissors unless supervised by an adult.)
Oh, apes might talk but they don't make - COMICS!!!