What I thought of Absolute Carnage and other comics

In which this is the latest of a series of occasional blog talking about recent comics, and to start the big Marvel crossover event since the one they had in the spring, Absolute Carnage. Written by Donny Cates and drawn by Ryan Stegman this teams Spider-Man and Venom up against Carnage in a story that is virtually incomprehensible if you’ve not been reading Cates’s run on Venom, or dipped in and out of various Spider-Man titles over the years.

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If you don’t want to dive into Wikipedia, Cates does include pages of exposition in the first issue explaining what’s going on as Eddie Brock brings Spidey up to speed with what’s going on but it’s a scene that kills the story stone dead. Prior and post this scene, the comic is a pretty average superhero title with lots of fights as one would expect from a massive crossover event. The problem with these events now is they’re weighted down with so much continuity that they have to have these scenes to explain to reading just what the fuck is going on.

And what is going on is that Venom and Spider-Man have to fight loads of Carnage controlled symbiotes who are out to kill as many people as possible. It is basically what you’d expect, though Ryan Stegman’s art is nice, plus he can tell a story which is a sadly decreasing talent among many Marvel/DC artists. This is ordinary stuff, but there is one great scene at the end of the overlong exposition scene which shows Cates is capable of doing more than he is here.

Which brings me onto Silver Surfer Black.

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Written by Cates and drawn by Tradd Moore, the story is a typically angst-ridden Surfer story, which most Silver Surfer stories are. Again this spins out of another Cates written title, The Guardians of the Galaxy, to tell this story of the Surfer fighting an old evil. There’s nothing spectacular about the writing but dear me, the art is extraordinary stuff.

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Moore is a definite talent,  and his work here veers from surrealism to expressionism to whateeverism. It really is like watching a talent hit his prime, and Marvel need to be applauded for releasing this in the autumn in the same treasury format they released Ed Piskor’s X-Men work.

Meanwhile over at DC Comics, Brian Bendis is writing Event Leviathan, another crossover event wich also relies upon knowing lots of continuity but less so here as Bendis is crafting a detective story so much of the exposition flows better here, but it’s still a crossover that reliesupon characters stopping what they’re doing and telling others the plot.

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Bendis is a good solid writer, but hasn’t bothered to push himself in over a decade and he doesn’t here, but this is still decent enough stuff though it is Alex Maleev’s art which drags this up from the usual DC crossover. I especially love his version of The Question.

The problem with crossovers in 2019 is they give publishers a healthy sales boost during the spring and summer when they’re traditionally fighting against other streams of entertainment. Quality tends to go out the window but here at least, there’s three examples of good to great artists showing what they can do.

And finally, The Wicked and the Divine #45.

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Keiron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s superb comic comes to an end with a sort of coda set in the future when the gods are old and can mourn their dead. It is a firm, definate end. Over the coruse of the run Gillen and McKelvie carved a story which criticised and celebrated modern culture, society and the comic itself  as an artform. As a comic it was one which did a lot but recently never quite got the plaudits it deserved but it was one of the best published this decade.

It is a shame the market goes wild for an uninspiring crossovers while comics which try new things build a solid audience without the aid of empty crossovers. As a comic I wish more tried to explore the medium as The Wicked and the Divine did.

And that’s it. Another blog soon about some of the stuff clogging up comics shop shelves…

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The joy of diving into back-issue comics

Here’s a brutal fact. Most comics are crap and not worth the price on the cover. As a semi-occasional dealer this is breaking one of the rules of comic dealers which is not to downplay what you have, but no, really, most comics end up slowly rotting somewhere because they weren’t bought, or over-ordered, or just crap. Dealers who have been around a while however are a teasuretrove of delights as their over-stocks could be utter gems, or their crap something you find to be a diamond.

Back in the days of Bristol’s nearly remembered, semi legendary comic shop Comics and C.D’s, I’d spend hours upstairs in the warehouse raking through endless long boxes to decide the fate of many a comic from a Destroyer Duck to Alpha Flight through to Wild Dog as to whether they lived on in the back issues proper or ended up relegated to the 50p boxes. Today most shops sales stock tends to be New 52 crap and recent stuff which was over-ordered which might, one day, be worth a pound.

The below is a great video of Jim Rugg, Ed Piskor and friends searching through the dollar boxes of a local shop for diamonds and they find many a diamond for next to nothing.

Even as a bitter, old, entrenched old bastard like myself feels a spark when finding something gloriously cheap. I mean I’d kill to pick those Jack Kirby 2001 comics up for a buck each but on this side of the Atlantic it isn’t going to happen. Nobody over here is that public spirited!

I bring a few boxes of overstocks/crap to the bigger shows I do. I do throw some gems in there as a public service but you’ve got to be fast or you’ll miss them. Come along next year at the Edinburgh show and you’ll see what I mean. Til then buy more comics, and search out those diamonds in the rough…

A quick word about 9/11

Today is the 18th year since the 9/11 attacks in America. It has dawned on me that for a generation of adults from 18-25 have no real experience of the event itself being too young for it to register, and also they have no idea of a world where the global situation wasn’t as chaotic as this. Yet at the same time they’ve been shaped by those images of 9/11 easily found on YouTube and elsewhere so for me it isn’t a coincidence that things like found footage horror is so popular when much of it looks like footage from that day.

The thing about being glued to the TV that (the internet on that day was up and down, so messageboards were the only real way to pass on what little information there was) all it really was that first night was talking heads basically being stunned.

BBC switched into doing what they’re good at, ITV was a confused mess and Sky was a shitshow thanks to Kay Burley. This though was our transition from the 20th century to the 21st. It made all of us who lived through any of the Cold War, and who saw the end of that thinking the days of terror were over that it was back but this time we had no idea of where it’d lead us.

As it is it’s led us to Donald Trump, Brexit, a bloodbath in Syria, Yemen and much of the Middle East as well as an unending war in Iraq and Afghanistan as it slowly dawns on us we’re living in the sort of future dystopia we thought we’d never live through in our middle age.

So maybe it is better to be young enough not to be burdened by the memories of when there was a better time, or at least a time less fucked than this one.

In praise of John Byrne’s Superman

If you talk to most comics fans they’ll reel off the big turning points of comics in the 80’s. Watchmen, Dark Knight, Maus will be first out the block. Maybe Frank Miller’s Daredevil run, possibly Love and Rockets, maybe even Crisis on Infinite Earths which did kick DC Comics back to life. Few will mention John Byrne’s run on Superman from 1986 to 1988 which is a pity as this showed not only to handle Superman, but how to revamp a character by bringing in newer, updated elements while staying faithful to the roots. Not an Alan Moore style total reimagining,  but something fresh and old at the same time.

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And it is forgotten how huge Byrne’s Superman was. The mainstream media picked up on it which helped turn Superman from a comic which barely registered on most people’s radar to the essential purchase if you were a superhero comic reader, or indeed, just a reader of comics.

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See, for most people in 1986, Superman was one of four, maybe five superheroes (the others being Batman, Spider-Man, Hulk and Wonder Woman) the general public knew on sight. Everyone knew who Superman was, and the idea John Byrne was revamping him so that anyone could jump on board from Man of Steel #1 and get what was going on. Which they did. And it sold bucketloads. True, shops did over-order and you can spot how long a dealer has been in business by how many copies of Superman #1 they’re selling cheap, but the fact Superman titles were selling was extraordinary.

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Byrne played it right. He seriously depowered Superman so he could be beaten in a fight but a villian who wasn’t as powerful as a God, plus he made Clark Kent likeable and interesting. Byrne also slowly bled in the scale of the DC Universe, so eventually crossovers happened and Superman became a Big Thing in DC’s titles again.

For a few years Byrne crafted some great little superhero tales,  and for me it’s his run on Action Comics that show off how to do the team-up book (I’ll skim over the dreadful Big Barda issue) while keeping it always accessible but editoralstarted making clear demands of him which came to a head over a stoyline where Superman had to kill General Zod; a decision which split the readership apart.

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Reading this 30 years later all of it seems odd as superheroes now kill all the time, but this was a Big Deal. To be honest, Byrne had written himself into a quandry so killing Zod was the only option, but it was his last big contribution to Superman that still lingers on today.

After this Byrne’s time was past anyhow, Sure, things like Next Men sold, and his Spider-Man run for Marvel later in the 90s was fun,  but he wasn’t as box-office as he was. The industry had moved on and he was no longer the sales draw he was as tends to happen to many a creator. However his Superman run changed things. It showed how Superman could, and possibly should be done, while making readable comics which brought in tens of thousands of new readers who had a few years of fun before Superman slowly became over-powered and what he was again. But it was still Byrne’s character. That mix of Christopher Reeve and Byrne’s idea of what a superhero should be never really changed even to today, where the version of Superman (although long since bastardised) is still drawing upon what Byrne did for a few years in the 80’s.

So give it a try and the credit it deserves.

Doing the work of Brexiters

This week has been a fucked week in politics. Boris Johnson has wiped his arse on British democracy. The Tory Party is split in two with the older, conservatives being flushed out the party to be replaced one assumes by UKIP/Brexit Party types, there are legal cases everywhere, fascism marches closer, the opposition is a mess and people are becoming scared assuming you’ve not had your life turned into hell over the last three and a half years thanks to Brexit.

But the thing you’ll remember the most about this week is Jacob Rees-Mogg lounging around on the benches of the House of Commons and the Tory Party’s insane attack on Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘chicken’ and handing out ‘JFC‘ packs to eager hacks. You’ve probably shared both stories on social media, or at the very least seen a Jacob Rees Mogg meme and had a laugh.

Problem is you’re helping these people spread their image to the masses and they don’t have to lift a finger. Their narrative & image are all important to Johnson and Mogg, as after all, both are narcissists, and both want their image spread far and wide as long as it plays to their narrative of course. These people are monsters and should be portrayed as so.

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Remember, these people thrive from publicity. I’m as guilty as anyone doing this but don’t buy into the narrative of these people and don’t do the Brexiters work for them.

In praise of Batman: The Animated Series

In 1992 a new animated series hit American television and in doing so changed how animated superhero comic based material was done. It was basically a turning point, and it was (on the whole) bloody great and it was accessible for everyone, not just a core of fanboys. DC Comics take note.

Drawing from the Tim Burton films as well as the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons of the 1930s. There was also a lot of Golden Age Batman in there, plus a healthy influence from the comics of the 80’s and 90’s.

Over here in the UK it was first show on Saturday morning kids TV on ITV, which often meant crawling out of bed with a crushing hangover to watch the latest episode before going out on the afternoon for a bit of shopping and a hair of the dog. Over the years it’d turn out classic episode after classic episode but my favourite episode is he first Man-Bat one with this great moment.

So here’s to a great series that will remain a standard for years to come. You can buy it now on nice discs so no more need to watch those old VHS tapes with adverts and all that crap on it.

How will Brexit affect the comics industry in the UK?

As it stands, Boris Johnson will be leading the UK out the EU on Halloween, which is going to affect a load of industries, as well as every single one of us living in the UK. How it’ll affect comics is not something that’s headline news but it will be affected, and it will be something many dealers, con organisers and assorted parts of the industry will not be prepared for.

The most obvious affect is the state of the pound which right now is £1.00 gets you $1.21. It is basically, fucked for an industry which is reliant upon US imports so dealers will put up prices, which means people will cut back which means less money (and less sold books) in the market. A $3.99 import will have to sell around £3.6-80 to make any money, and believe me, the profit margin on new imports is thin as fuckity anyhow so a lot of dealers are going to work hard to make the business work. The likes of Forbidden Planet will be ok, but smaller dealers could well go bust.

But that isn’t the worst of it. Right now the entire scene is in an over-inflated bubble thanks to ‘geek’ culture, the Marvel films and the fact more people than before are interested in comics, or at least the characters. That bubble has been growing since 2008 and is due to pop so if you’re a comics dealer you may survive as there’s always going to be collectors, but we’re in new ground in regards much of the ancillary industries like cosplayers, artists, or pretty much any of the oddities that now populates the modern comic convention. Bluntly put, if you offer a shit product and you’ve been skimming by on the seat of your pants now, just wait til people choose between eating and whatever you offer them. I’ve been through at least three recessions as a dealer/publisher and there are always casualties even with businesses run well, but this recession promises to hurt and badly.  I made a deliberate choice to scale back the one day events in the last half of the year so I could concentrate on larger events or the really good one day shows because all the signs are there for the bubble bursting.

For con organisers this isn’t good. The less traders there are, the less money coming in. It then becomes hard to put on a show that isn’t a glorified mart with a few bleak looking cosplayers and someone selling bubble gum flavoured Deadpool shaped chews. The actual realities of Brexit means it will be harder and more expensive to ship in guests from Europe and America, assuming guests see the UK as an attractive place to come to.

It isn’t all bad. Bubbles need to pop to clear out the chaff but this will be more than that as the UK isolates itself from the world because some racist pricks heard Polish spoken on the bus once. This will be hard, and you’ll need to think hard what you want to do to survive and yet again, my only real hope is that Scotland becomes independent because otherwise I can see things being awful for years.