What I thought of The Defenders #100

defenders100

There is quite literally naff all of interest in terms of new comics this week on Comixology, so for a wee change I’m going to look at one of the many older comics they put online each week, in this case The Defenders #100, cover dated October 1981 which meant it came out around June 1981 as comics were dated often months in advance to help sustain their life on newstands. Also, that looks like early Frank Miller inks at least on the cover.

This anniversary issue was the end of a storyline that saw The Defenders fight demonic forces, including Marvel’s version of Dracula, Mephisto and the  overall baddie, Satan hence why the story is titled Hell on Earth.

defenders100-1

Writer J.M De Matteis is to me, the great underrated writer of 1980’s American mainstream comics. While Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Frank Miller and the usual suspects always pop up in retrospectives, De Matteis never does yet he wrote Moonshadow, one of the best comics of the decade and helped write with Keith Giffen DC’s highly successful Justice League International. His earlier superhero work however is just, well, weird as these panels show.

defenders100-2

Satan married, and then consummated that marriage with Dorothy Parker, and yes, the name isn’t a coincidence.

At this point The Defenders line up was all the Marvel characters too weak at the time to hold a place in The Avengers I(The Hulk), or poorly selling characters who could barely sustain their own book (Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange, Sub-Mariner) or cast-offs or minor characters(Son of Satan, Nighthawk, Valkyrie, Gargoyle, Devilslayer) who Marvel would chuck into The Defenders and hope a writer could do something with them. Because the book sold low amounts but was still above cancellation thresholds, writers found they could have a bit more freedom. Steve Gerber being one who had fun on the book as did De Matteis who wrote these odd metaphysical super hero stories with odd subtexts 12 year old kids wouldn’t get.

defenders100-3

The issue does the old Gardner Fox JLA trick of splitting the team up so they each fight individual threats before coming together for one huge battle at the end.

defenders100-4

There’s lots of superheroical fighting, but under it all is this dabbling with metaphysics and theology that De Matteis would often use later in his career, though in this context it seems bizarre but it works.

defenders100-5

Defenders #100 is one of those comics from the Jim Shooter era of Marvel where I wonder how on earth it managed to get passed him, because the implied incest between Son of Satan and Hellcat is actually barely implied.

defenders100-6

How about the scene where millionaire playboy and superhero Nighthawk (Marvel’s rip off of Batman) is confronted by the dead soldiers who died in Vietnam because they weren’t millionaires who could blag their way out the draft?

defenders100-7

There’s a couple of boxes of narration which smack of editorial as they don’t match with the narrative of the story, but this is still astonishing stuff for a superhero comic published in 1981. The story veers from melodrama, to fight scene, to incestuous temptation, to fight scene, to the discussion of what is evil, not to mention the nature of reality. Oh, and a fight scene.

defenders100-8

This is a weird amalgam of 1970’s style superheroics and something much more different, more advanced, even ahead of its time. True, the dialogue is almost universally awful while Don Perlin’s average at best pencils are beyond boring at times, but looking back at this I see a lot of stuff in it that would have shown to people paying attention, not to mention old enough, to spot what an amazing potential De Matteis had. and which on the whole, he delivered upon.

The horror of Aurora model kits

A few weeks back when attending the Bristol Comics Expo, myself and a couple of friends were talking about the old Aurora monster model kits of the 1960’s and 1970’s being a bunch of old bastards.I though this would be a brilliant thing to blog about, especially as there was some controversy over some of the kits being marketed to poor wee kids like me.

Then a few days later the website Mental Floss went and published this, which was roughly what I was going to write myself.  Bastards.

So a change of approach was needed, but first a quick potted history of the Aurora monster model kit for those of you unable to click on the link in the first paragraph.Aurora started making monster kits in 1961 with the Karloff Frankenstein Monster kit being their first, and indeed, when I was a wee child in the 70’s it was my first kit too.

aurorafrankie

They then went to release 13 kits in total, including my favourites, Godzilla, the Creature From the Black Lagoon and the Forgotten Prisoner.

auroragodzilla

auroraforgottenprisoner

They then diverged into other horror related kits as well as science fiction and comics related kits. I had the Batman one and the Superboy one.

auroracbatman

aurorasuperboy

I loved Krypto, Superboy’s dog, squaring up to the alien dragon thing he and Superboy were posing in front of.

Anyhow, in 1975 Aurora released another wave of movie monsters, and a few years later they died off as kids looked to finding out what to do with girls, and have fun with these new fangled video games things which really would never catch on…

It then dawned on me there’s no point retelling the story of the naughty, almost pervy kits, as anyhow, that’d been done by those mind-reading wankers at Mental Floss, so if you haven’t noticed so far I’m telling the story of what these kits meant to me, not to mention the thousands of mainly men now encroaching upon middle age wishing they still had them instead of losing, selling, breaking them over the decades.

As I’ve said, the first one I had is that lovely Frankenstein Monster kit, it is a thing of beauty, but that set me off as a child I was mental on the old Universal Monsters even though at this point I hadn’t  seen the 1930’s film until the BBC frequent summer horror film double bill seasons broadcast them, however it was seeing the Aurora ads in DC Comics of the early 1970’s that got me, a wee DC fanboy, hooked.

auroradccomics

In the early 1970’s the monster kits were easy to find in Glasgow where I grew up. I even used to buy two with my meagre pocket money, one to make up with the glow-in-the-dark parts, and one without. Unfortunately the superhero kits were a nightmare, but a wee stall in the Barras sold some of them.  I managed to pick up the Superboy and Batman, but couldn’t get the rest, though the same stall did sell loads of old Mego dolls which led me to having a full set of their DC, Marvel and Star Trek dolls but that’s another blog for another time.

What was an issue was getting the naughtier kits like Vampirella who my parents decided was a bit much for me at an age where pubic hair was still something to look forward to. The idea was to build up all this wave of kit into a playscene you could swap around to your demented wee hearts delight.

aurorahorrorscene

Someone thought that kids would love these gruesome scenes of torture and of course they were entirely right. This was the heroin of the Aurora model kit to the movie monsters crack for kids because once you started collecting these kits you couldn’t stop, they were immensely addictive. They may not be safe or sanitised, but to be honest, there was their joy.

Then you grow up.

You put these kits away in cupboards, or they get broken or when you move they’re left behind but it isn’t til later that you realise that they were essential, if pervy in some cases, parts of your childhood. That’s not to say that when I was older I didn’t try to get them back, especially when after leaving Glasgow and on a trip back in 1994 I was taking my then girlfriend round a tour of where I was brought up and I saw a shop on Maryhill Road had loads of these kits in their window. Sadly I didn’t have the case, or the space to return with a load, plus a confused looking girlfriend wanting a bevvy back in the West End took priority.

Ah well.

The kits today go for eye-watering sums of money, and the pictures I’ve used in this blog are liberally nicked from the internet as my own kits probably sit near the bottom of a landfill site somewhere in the country, but these kits were a wonderful bit of growing up for me. Brilliantly designed, wonderful looking and fun to make not to mention collect. There’s not an awful lot I’d have back from my childhood given a chance, but I’d have these, plus should I ever win the lottery I’d make a lot of sellers on E-Bay have an amazing day.

And the moral is that even if a major site like Mental Floss rips your idea off days after you’ve thought it up, there’s always another angle to tell a wee story of your own…

The Exorcist-1974 documentary film

I love archival films, especially recent ones which show how the world of the recent past has been lost and that applies to the blockbuster film, the first of which in the modern era is William Friedkin’s excellent The Exorcist.

The Exorcist was the first mega-blockbuster of the modern age that predates Jaws or Star Wars as something where everyone had to see, even if that meant queuing for hours and hours to get into a cinema to see it. Which brings me to this wonderful wee bit of archive footage from 1974 which shows the queues, as well as the audience expectation and reaction.

Today much of this reaction is transitory as there’s a new blockbuster out next week, but in 1974, The Exorcist stood alone in drawing the sort of crowds we take for granted. This is a wonderful little film showing those early days of the modern blockbuster, enjoy.

An update on Futureshock, Glasgow’s first comic shop

Back in August 2014 I found out that Neil Craig, the owner of Futureshock had passed away. Futureshock was Glasgow’s first real comic shop, and Neil had been onboard from its early days when it was called Photon Books through to it’s end 34 years or so later. Since then the shop sat with it’s stock slowly fading thanks to the meagre sunshine Glasgow gets.

I’ve promised to find out what’s going on, partly because there was an idea of perhaps finding out who owned/leased the property and perhaps take it over myself when I get up to Glasgow, but illness hit me at the start of the year and although I’m hopefully over the worst, I still have issues to deal with before I’m hopefully fit to move from Bristol to Glasgow in the autumn.

So I’ve been relying upon friends to keep me updated, and around a month ago the shop started to be cleared of stock.

Futureshock

Unfortunately finding out who owns what in Scotland is an overcomplicated mess,  or costs more money than I’m willing to pay. It is basically, headache inducing trying to work out who owns what but I did find an old ad from an issue of the New Scientist in 1981 advertising that year’s summer SF convention in Glasgow called Faircon. If I lived in Glasgow I could go to the relevant offices and check the details for free but it strikes me it’ll be a pity to let Futureshock die, which sadly it looks like it’ll have to.

For a while I’ve dabbled with the idea of writing something, be it a series of blogs here or elsewhere, or even a book about British comics fandom and for me, Futureshock would be an essential part of that history as when the shop opened there were a handful of shops across the UK. In a time when remembering most of these shops has fell upon the shoulders of ageing fans in the darkest corners of social media, it seems a shame one of the last original locations is probably going to be some shitty Starbucks, or a Hipster shop selling ethical vegan doughnuts.

So basically unless a miracle happens Futureshock is done and a bit of Glasgow’s comic history will be lost forever.

Running up that hill-The ongoing story of my stroke/cancer

Yesterday I was in extreme agony. I could seriously only focus for 30 minutes or so a time without the aid of painkillers or having to lie down so I went to bed early, dropped a couple of herbal sleeping tablets (not that type of herb before you ask) and slept eight hours in one stretch which is virtually unknown to me since the stroke in February.

I woke up this morning feeling better, in fact there wasn’t an acute stabbing agony going up my thigh to my hip and then spine as there has been for the last ten days or so. My back still hurts, there’s still a dull ache in my thigh but I ventured out the flat today which was good though walking down steps is really quite painful but walking up them is fine. As this stands I’ll take this as an improvement though I’m not going to beat Usain Bolt or The Flash anytime soon.

flashinfantino

Hopefully I’m at a situation where the arthritis or sciatica becomes manageable til it’s diagnosed and a medical solution helps me out. Thanks for the good wishes, it is appreciated when things hit a bad phase but I’m going to ask everyone to send some good wishes to someone else too.

That person is Norm Breyfogle.  Norm’s a comic book artist best known for his wonderful work on Batman in the 1980’s and 1990’s, his work on Batman:Holy Terror (written by the equally wonderful Alan Brennert) is some of the best stuff you’ll see in a superhero comic of any era.

batmanholyterror

Norm suffered a stroke which affected his left side (mine affected my right side) but because he’s in the US, he doesn’t have the support of something like the NHS which we have here in the UK, which I’d be honest in saying had I lived in a country without something like the NHS I’d probably be dead, or on the way to a grave right now instead of moaning about a sore back.

I follow Norm on Facebook, he’s a genuinely decent bloke but he’s suffering post-stroke pain, something it seems isn’t widely discussed in the US, yet has been discussed with me in the months since mine and indeed, the NHS has done plenty of research into. His problems lie in getting painkillers which for me would be a simple visit to my GP and at worst, cost me £30 every three months with all my other meds while I still live in England, when I move to Scotland they’ll cost me nothing.

I mentioned in my previous blog about how there’s always someone worse off than you, Norm’s one of those people, so chuck some cash to the Hero Initiative who help comic creators in need. Or buy the rather nice hardback of his Batman work DC Comics released, or if you’re an editor working in comics have a thought in perhaps seeing what he can do for you as although he can’t draw anymore, he can still write and as I’ve discovered when your body isn’t fully working as it used to, your brain goes into overload.

Strokes are horrible things. I’m considering myself fairly lucky. Some others out there aren’t and they could do with a wee bit of the support some of us take for granted.

Road to Nowhere-The ongoing story of my stroke/cancer

The late, great Brian Clough once said in an interview I saw as a kid that if you had a problem that was troubling you to go to bed early, get some sleep and it it’s the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning then it’s a real problem. If it isn’t then it’s not perhaps as huge a problem as you thought the night before.

This brings me to the problem I’ve been getting with the pain in my back and leg that sprung up last weekend. Yesterday I saw my doctor who has narrowed down what it is to either an arthritic hip, or sciatica. He’s more inclined to think its sciatica as this has come over me suddenly in the last ten days which is beyond infuriating as my stroke recovery was going very well. I’d walked to work the other week, which did exhaust me and make me useless, but I did it. Plus I’d started doing normal things again then BOOM, I get this landed in my lap.

How it happened could be down to an old back injury when I was chucking around beer barrels while working at Leicester’s now sadly departed Pump and Tap, or it’s due to being overweight, or that the right sided numbness has knocked out my centre of balance putting strain on my back, or I’ve pushed myself too hard.

Or all of the above.

pumpandtap

So I’ve been told to rest for a few days and wait for the Bristol Royal Infirmary to contact me for an X-ray and MRI so they can see whether it’s arthritis or sciatica. Fixing this isn’t an easy fix, so painkillers are back in my morning mix of drugs not to mention a future of dealing with the pain which has been for the last week or so the first thing I’ve thought of when I’ve woken up. My body isn’t letting me forget what my problems are.

Now I know people in worse situations than me, and there’s plenty out there worse than me, nor is this the straw that breaks my back after the stroke and cancer, but it’s pushing it. This is wearing me out more than the stroke and cancer because of the sharp pain. I could deal with the constant dull pain and focus past it, this sort of sharp pain makes me want to stay in bed and hope I wake up one morning with it all fixed and even just back to what it was like a few weekends ago.

But it won’t, nor am I going to wallow in self-pity too much though I think I’m allowed a wee bit of that, so sorry about the lack of jokes or humour with this update but I’m fed up of something else coming up to put either my life on hold or to make my quality of life a bit crap.

Yet I’m still drawn back to that old Brian Clough interview. Yeah,this pain is often agonising in the morning and makes my mobility next to nothing at times, but it could be worse. I’m still able to move when the pain subsides, and sometimes it’s a case where things feel fine (this is what makes the doctor think it’s sciatica) so as I’ve done for far too long, I’ll make the best of it because I have to. I wouldn’t want to let Brian Clough down.

What I thought of Supergirl: Rebirth #1

supergirlrebirth

DC’s Rebirth titles are patchy affairs at best. True, they do seem to be working in terms of sales and readership, which is handy for certain DC Comics hierarchy as this is clearly the last roll of the dice before the American equivalent of the P45 is dished out left, right and centre.

This particular roll of the dice is Supergirl, a character who’s had her own series more times than I’ve had hot dinners it seems, but this time off the back of the successful TV series her own solo series has been relaunched again incorporating aspects of the TV adaptation while the main plot centres around some utter guff about a Kryptonian werewolf.

Before then we get Supergirl’s powers being returned due to a plot line nobody cared about in a title that few bought but this keeps the continuity geeks happy.

supergirl1Then we get to the werewolf. Seriously.

supergirl2

After Supergirl gets her powers back there’s a fight, there’s always a fight…

supergirl3

It’s all competent stuff as writer Steve Orlando reshapes this latest iteration of Supergirl to be virtually identical to the TV version played by Melissa Benoist with enough tweaks to make it all slightly different. Artist Emanuela Lupacchino’s art is samey and bland with all the female characters looking glamorous and in their early 20’s, even Supergirl’s foster mum looks the same age as Supergirl herself.

Supergirl: Rebirth is pretty standard superhero stuff. If you’re a fan of the TV series this might be for you even though it doesn’t have the same charm as the TV version but this is harmless, if frankly, uninspiring stuff.