Remember when San Diego Comic Con was about comics?

 

This year and 2020 sees a load of significant 50th anniversaries with next year being the 50th anniversary of San Diego Comic Con which started with a bunch of fans getting to gether with a shared love of comics. Today, I’ll bet you there’s people going this week who give a total of zero fucks about comics, the medium or what it can do. For these people the con is about cosplay, buying toys or meeting XXXX from whatever TV/film they like.

Things change of course and the thrust of late capitalism absorbs all but it seems a shame that in all that will come over the next five days, very little reported in the mainstream will be not about comics. But at one point it was all comics as far as you can see. Well, not quite, as it had a crossover with films but it was still rooted in comics.

Look at these back issues!

EC Comics sitting in piles. Carl Barks Disney comics going for $150. Oh for a time machine.

Oh so many comics!

By the 90’s things were diversifying but the core was still comics.

Also, ‘Green Jello’ in that last clip sounds awfully like a foetal Gorillaz.

This aside I’d still love to go as it, like Glastonbury, is one of these Meccas which fans will always hold in a special place but for one year I’d like to see more talk about comics and how the medium beats anything Hollywood can come up with, or is able to come up with but the money lies in film and TV hence they’ll always get the headlines.

Shame. I’d still like the first headline coming out the show to be ‘man buys mint copy of Fantastic Four #50’.

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What I thought of Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man: Far From Home acts as a coda to Avengers: Endgame and the first decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole while throwing out seeds for the next phase of the MCU. It is also a film that  messes with the characters of Spider-Man and Peter Parker, and not for the best either.

From here on in lie SPOILERS. You’ve been warned.

The film takes place shortly after Endgame where the world is still reacting to the death of Tony Stark (less so the Black Widow) and the return of half the life in the universe after five years.  The problem lies with the return of people who’ve been essentially dead for half a decade suddenly returned to life to deal with the people who survived. A Spidey film could have been the perfect place to deal with the angst of this through Peter Parker; a comic character who is angst himself but instead we get a few gags as Peter and his pals (who all happened to be main or secondary cast members who died during the Snap) go on a jolly to Europe.

I get the idea to give Peter and co a break as a plot tool to show how the world (well, Europe) has changed but while on holiday Peter is contacted by Nick Fury who has hooked up with Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhall having enormous fun), a self-proclaimed hero from another reality who snuck through chasing four elementals after the Snap. At this point Peter is mourning Tony Stark and is vulnerable to another role model entering his life to dish out helpful lessons in life.

The problem is that the very essence of Spider-Man/Peter Parker is that he’s learned his main lesson in life that great power comes with great responsibility due to his selfishness causing Uncle Ben (the man who raised him as his own son) being murdered. Now we don’t need to see Ben die yet again on screen but in every version of Spidey out there this is the core of who he is, even the Ultimate version written by Brian Bendis on which this version is largely based. Up to now things have worked with Peter desperate for a father figure in Tony Stark and carrying on his lesson learned from Ben’s death but here Peter is a lovesick arsehole doing silly things to prove himself to MJ and Mysterio who he barely knows.

Nobody is fleshed out. Nobody has sensible motivations.  Mysterio is yet another bitter villain who just wants revenge on Tony Stark, or on his legacy,  while Peter and MJ’s relationship feels rushed and unearned even though Tom Holland and Zendaya work their arses off to make the best of what they’re working with.

Far From Home isn’t a bad film. It’s a summer blockbuster that is fun and entertaining but the script is a road accident as it feels like it took a desperately quick rewrite after Endgame to take that film into account, not to mention work so it sets up Phase 4. Plot overtakes story and characterisationas these films are made on a production line. That’s one reason why most recent MCU films use a load of green screen work which makes scenes look cheap and rushed. However ignoring the character of Uncle Ben changes Spidey. It takes the guilt and self-loathing (in those Ditko/Lee strips Peter not only hates himself but is often a pretty unlikeable bit of work) out of Peter Parker and replaces it with a whining stupidity that ends up with Peter giving Mysterio the key to Stark’s technology because Peter here is an idiot.

Which is a shame. Tom Holland is a perfect cross between the John Romita and Ultimate era Spidey. He’s a good actor who will clearly be the new cornerstone of the MCU in the decade to come and will hopefully have better to work with in the future but Far From Home feels rushed and more interested in the overall arc of the MCU than telling a great Spidey story.

The story of Herbie Popnecker , the greatest comics character ever

There’s a ream of comics characters who are huge today from Batman to Spider-Man but I’m betting your average cosplayer knows nothing about the greatest of them all, Herbie Popnecker AKA The Fat Fury.

But who is Herbie? Here’s a handy introductory video explaining his history and why he’s such a massive cult character.

How comics have predicted the next Tory leader

Imagine a populist Conservative MP pitching fear and hate by demonising minorities on a relentless single-minded march for power that risks throwing the UK into eternal chaos and carnage? No, not Boris Johnson but Jim Jaspers from the revamped Captain Britain strip of the early 80’s as created by Dave Thorpe and Alan Davis, and latterly written by Alan Moore.

Of course it isn’t superheroes in Johnson’s case, but Muslims, or indeed any minority, but mainly Muslims as they’re easy targets and it plays to the Tory base, not to mention the folk following Nigel Farage into whatever circle of hell they’re destined for.

And before you think that an irrational hate-filled madman would really turn the UK into a charnel house for the most vulnerable may I remind you of the bodycount piling up thanks to austerity, and with Johnson planning to leave the EU with no deal therefore enabling the sort of poverty we won’t recover from for generations, if at all, then look at this. 

In short, we’re fucked but at some point back at the dawn of Thatcherism a few people in British comics thought of just how bad things would be come the age of the populist who doesn’t care about facts or reality. They just want to bend reality to their own will and of course, their own benefit which is why folk like Trump and Farage win elections, and now Johnson looks to be following in their paths to leap to electoral glory thanks to the worst opposition in memory and an electorate which has truly fell through the looking glass.

What I thought of Heroes in Crisis

Written by Tom King and drawn by Clay Mann, Heroes in Crisis was yet another massive event title which promised to ‘change the DC Universe forever’, or at least til the end of June. It is an interesting, but seriously, seriously flawed experiment  but more on that in a moment.

The story centres round Sanctuary, a centre created by Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman designed to help superheroes deal with the physiological effects of being a superhero. Basically it’s a drop in centre for people suffering with PTSD. This in itself is a great idea as it deals with the violence intrinsic in superhero comics and forces the reader to confront the fact their favourite genre is a violent one soaked in wish fulfilment.   This would be a great chance to do something unique and original as Tom King is certainly a talented enough writer to pull it off.

Except it doesn’t. It fails badly because it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Is it a murder mystery or a psychological study of the superhero because merging both doesn’t work as all of the threads become a mess as King also throws in some threads from his Batman run not to mention enacting obvious editorial demands which ends up making the ending pretty worthless.

But is an experiment. It does try to say something different. Mann’s art is pretty good often following a 9-panel grid but again it all feels a bit empty which is a shame as DC need something to give them a hard kick in the arse and this could have been it.

What I thought of some recent comics…

For many folk who follow this blog one way or another you possibly followed me because of my reviews of comics and although I don’t have the time (or to be honest the energy right now) to pick this up again but I do miss it so here’s a rundown of some of the comics you should be picking up, and some to avoid,

Starting with…

The Immortal Hulk.

The Hulk has had long runs of quality throughout the character’s long life from the original Kirby/Lee run, through to Herb Trimpe’s long run, and so on. This latest run written by Al Ewing and drawn by Joe Bennett is rewriting the character in a horror setting although still playing with the superhero genre. It owes a lot, and I mean a lot, to Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run and Neil Gaiman’s superhero work.

It is however a stunning work in its own right melding body horror. supernatural elements and superheroics. This is by far the best comic produced by the Big Two today.

Batman.

Tom King’s run initially was offputting to me but he’s developed a clear story for Batman/Bruce Wayne that’s went from strength to strength. DC suffer from producing reams of utter drivel with art trapped in DC’s sub Jim Lee house style. King’s Batman run is blessed from having artists who can actually draw comics.

The Walking Dead.

This is a title which has been treading water for some time since the introduction of the Commonwealth with the title often resembling an essay of the benefits of capitalism versus socialism. With issue 200 coming soon it was clear Robert Kirkman would pull something out his hat for that issue to rival #100’s death of Glenn and introduction of Negan.

Well he’s done that in #191 and #192 and in these two issues the entire comic is up in the air as I have no idea how the comic is going to develop from now on. Picking these issues up won’t be easy as they both are selling around the £10 mark already and look to increase once the second print hits.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

Remember the days when Marvel used to produce fun, all-ages comics that anyone could pick up? They’re more or less gone but Squirrel Girl keeps the flag flying with light, fun superheroics every issue and it is a complete delight.

Wicked and the Divine

This title was one again I was less than excited about at the start but is now clearly the best superhero based title out there today. It is however nearing the end so pick it up now and you’ll get the final days of one of this decades most interesting mainstream books.

The Green Lantern.

Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp’s revamp of Green Lantern is interesting mainly thanks to Sharp’s stunning art. Morrison is going back over old ground in terms of style and although it is readable, there’s not much going on here apart from Sharp’s splendid art.

The Avengers.

As a title, this sells like proverbial hot cakes and it should do but I’ve never been convinced by Jason Aaron as a writer and this title won’t be the book that sells me on him having one good title in him and that’s about it. Its readable but disposable rubbish.

Savage Avengers

Remember the 90’s when any old shite would be thrown out if it had a bunch of EXTREME characters who were anti-heroes so they could do EXTREME things every month? Well, this is that book but they’re doing SAVAGE things instead of just being EXTREME. With a lineup of Wolverine, Elektra, The Punisher, Brother Voodoo, Venom and err, Conan this is a shameless cash cow designed to milk the Avengers brand, the Conan IP, and the popularity of Wolverine, Punisher and Venom for every single fucking penny Marvel can get out of the punter. It is terrible but it does serve as a signpost as to how awful comics can get.

 

And that’s it. Hope this pointed you in the direction of some good books and warned you off others. I may end up making this a monthly thing, so until the next time go out there and get yourself some good comics.

Michael Gove hates Scots

A Stab in the Dark is a satirical show broadcast on Channel 4 in 1992. Basically a vehicle for David Baddiel but also featured Michael Gove in a ‘comedic’ role which strains the term ‘comedic’. For years it’s been a bit of an obscure joke in comedy fandom circles for featuring Gove, and an episode which featured Jimmy Savile which will never be repeated.

Gove, frankly, drains any life the show has from the air which is remarkable as there’s no life in the programme as it really is awful straddling the ‘serious’ Channel 4 and the radical Channel 4 of the early 90’s. There’s a handy YouTube compilation of Gove’s stuff and I warn you, it is appalling.

One clip came to light this week where he tears into Scots. Yes, Michael Gove is Scottish but he’s that strain of Scot who looks at his fellow countrypeople with contempt because they aren’t all like him, or ‘professional’ as he puts it.

Now 1992 was a tough year for a lot of people in Scotland. On my frequent trips to London you’d hear more and more Scottish accents as tent cities grew and grew on London’s Embankment. Things were bad but instead of seeing people in distress looking for help as they hit bottom, Gove’s instinctive reaction is to sneer and mock.

And this isn’t the only thing that comes out of this programme. There’s an extraordinary clip where he discusses talks with the IRA in a way that had we listened to Gove, we’d never had peace in Ireland.but Gove has made it clear the Good Friday Agreement should never have happened. See Gove is a hardline Unionist who would drag us into hell with nothing but contempt for people who don’t fit his standards and this man could well be Prime Minister by the end of July.