Inside John Byrne’s studio

For those of us of a certain age the name John Byrne is associated with the X Men.

As well as his Superman reboot.

Over the last decade or so Byrne’s been doing bits and bobs away from Marvel or DC, though there is a rumour he’s working on an X Men book again. Byrne has a pretty Marmite reputation with fans but this is someone who helped change modern superhero comics, and really probably deserves more credit than he gets.

The video below is a fascinating tour round his studio and his collection of original art. It should make you supremely jealous. Enjoy.

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Avengers: Endgame goes all Scandinavian…

The Superbowl has come and went, and for those of us who give zero fucks about the game get to pick apart the trailers for forthcoming films, which this year includes the latest 30 seconds or so of footage from Avengers: Endgame. The footage is dark, as in BBC 4 Scandi crime drama dark as the films looks as if it’ll deal with the results of Thanos’s snap which wiped out half the life in the universe.

It’s a pity Marvel have toned down the Thanos of Jim Starlin, who did the same thing because he essentially wanted to fuck Death so like any lovestruck bloke, he did something massive to impress her. The film Thanos has a rationale which from a certain point of view makes sense, but just keeps Thanos at the level of being a psychopath as opposed to a psycho-sexual tyrannical lunatic who wants his old purple chap in the actual physical representation of death. I admit that’d be hard to sell toys off the back of such a concept but still…

Anyhow, I’m glad Marvel aren’t going to brush over the effects of the Snap but at the same time I’m sure they won’t spend the entire film dwelling on it as this is the culmination of a decade of world-building while setting up the next decade of Marvel’s film and TV production. We also know from announcements that the dead will return and the trailer for the new Spider-Man film suggests the world isn’t affected with the snap, so clearly there’s a Big Red Button reset coming which is exactly what’s happened in the comics so, so many times.

Still, we only need wait til April.

Come to the Rutherglen Comic Con and buy lots of lovely comics from me

So, this Saturday come to sunny (or possibly snowy) Rutherglen for this year’s comic con and the first of the Scottish convention calender. I’ll be beside Gary Erskine, who’ll be in the large main hall, so easy enough to find. I’ll have a lovely section of new and older comics including these wee gems.

Doors open at 10am, come early to avoid disappointment!

What I thought of Daredevil season 3

I didn’t mid season 2 of Daredevil. Yes, it did die off after the first half of the season and ended in a terrible final episode designed more to set up The Defenders that provide good storytelling. Also the Marvel series on Netflix are overlong, with some episodes being glacially slow or just there to pad out the season. Daredevil season 3 is as good as the Marvel Netflix universe gets. It never feels padded out, there’s no filler episodes and the story moves to a satisfying ending that essentially would have set up future seasons had Netflix not cancelled the series,With Marvel/Disney being coy as to whether this cast returns.

Season 3 picks up after The Defenders with Matt Murdock (still played wonderfully by Charlie Cox) battered and broken being cared for by Sister Maggie (Joanne Whalley reminding us that she’s still a talent) while Foggy and Karen carry out their own fight against the Kingpin (a fantastic Vincent D’Onofrio). 

Season 3 also throws in Bullseye, though he’s never referred to as that name, it very definitely is that character and he gets a backstory too where he’s either a broken child or vicious bastard depending on your point of view. And this moral nuance is embedded throughout the season as characters aren’t black and white, but various shades of grey. Even the Kingpin isn’t a total bastard as there’s some humanity there but overall he’s still a monster, as well as Marvel’s best cinematic villain. Forget Thanos or Loki, Wilson Fisk is magnificent with how evil his corrupting influence is being the slow burn of his evil this season as Fisk uses one good man to his own needs.

That good man is Agent Nadeem played by Jay Ali. Nadeem is a good man working in the FBI trying to do what’s right, but desperate for money after paying for his sister-in-law’s cancer treatment so he pushes himself into a position that places him next to the Kingpin and Matt Murdock/Daredevil. This season Daredevil sheds his red costume for the plain black one he started out with, as Matt struggles with himself trying to work out who and what he is.

There’s a lot going on this season, which means there’s no padding, or filler episodes. Indeed one episode which could have been a filler (Karen) gives us essential background on Karen Page plus it allows Deborah Ann Wolf to show us what she can do. Overall all the main players get their moment, the introduction of Bullseye means we’ve got an equal in fighting ability to Matt which also means plenty of scenes where Daredevil takes a beating, in fact there’s a lot of fight scenes where various protagonists take a hellish beating.

Daredevil season 3 is the best thing Marvel’s done for Netflix. It’s an almost perfect crime/superhero drama that uses the potential for these characters while utilising the comics history of them to tell new stories. After the cludgy second seasons of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage (not seen the second season of Iron Fist & probably won’t) this shows how things are done just in time for it to get cancelled as Marvel/Disney pull as much of their intellectual property back in-house. Whether Disney/Marvel will have the creative bollocks to do something like this season of Daredevil in-house remains to be seen (and I’m wary they will) but this will stand as testament to what can be done when creators work together to do something good.

Ron Smith RIP

If you throw out names of 2000AD artists over the year, specifically Judge Dredd, you can’t avoid the name of Ron Smith who has sadly passed away.

Other names like Brian Bolland, MIke McMahon or Carlos Esquerra over the years got the critical and fan love, but Smith never got the credit he deserved from certain parts of fandom. Fans loved his work though, and for me his finest Dredd stories are the Otto Sump ones where he indulges himself in drawing some glorious grotesques in one of the best storylines of the 80’s.

Personally I loved the Satanus story just because it looked great, and Judge Dredd always works when you throw him against a fantastic monster, and Satanus was a great monster.

With Smith’s passing another of the grand old greats of British comics goes with him along with a style of his own. He can’t be replaced and will be greatly missed.

DC Comics are no longer being distributed in British newsagents

Titan Comics are no longer publishing their licensed reprints of DC Comics in the UK meaning there won’t be DC titles in newsagents which means a lot of readers will be disappointed.

Comics in newsagents is important because for many people it’ll be their first encounter with them, and indeed people like Warren Ellis has spoken of stumbling across comics in newsagents when he was young. So that spark led into careers in the industry for a lot of people but for the last 20 years or so DC have royally fucked up ensuring readers get their favourite stories, or even pick up new ones. Licences have been passed around but we shouldn’t have a situation where on the verge of 2019 the license is dangling there waiting for someone else to pick it up.

But as said, it never used to be like that. DC used to have their comics well distributed from the 1950’s when 5/6% of the average titles print run was sent to the UK to be shipped to newsagents. By the 80s and early 90’s large chunks of certain titles print runs (Hellblazer for example)  were escaping cancellation as much of the print run was being sold in the UK, and not just the direct market. You could pick up titles in not just the big chains like W.H Smith’s but your corner shop with your loaf and pint of milk. All of that stopped in the late 90s.

Next time out I’ll be going into this more as I start a series of stories of unsung heroes of British comics.

What I thought of Hey Kids! Comics!

The other day at work I was waiting to grab myself a coffee when I was standing behind someone with an Iron Man mug. I recognised the design to having being inspired by Steve Ditko’s version of the Iron Man armour. In those seconds I stood there watching my cup fill I wondered just how much income Ditko lost over the decades because he was ripped off by an industry which still sees the creator as a minor part of what is a sausage machine grinding out product and associated merchandising.

Then I got home and the last issue of Howard Chaykin’s Hey Kids! Comics! was sitting there to be read and it ended up being just the scream of primal rage for creators shafted by the industry.

Hey Kids! Comics! draws its title from the innocent blurb American newstands used to lure children into buy in decades past.

Thing is as one gets older you hear more about how the Marvel Bullpen wasn’t making Jack jolly, or how creators would be dumped in the gutter, and that’s where the comic opens as the analogue for Jerry Siegel (who along with co-creator Joe Schuster was royally shafted by National/DC over the rights and profits from Superman) living virtually as a down and out as he joins the crowds at the opening of the Superman (called Powerhouse here) musical.  

From this grim, bleak opening Chaykin tells the history of comics through three people, Ted Whitman, Ray Clarke, and Benita Heindel who travel down the decades from the 40s til their deaths in the early years of the 21st century when comics as an industry has transformed into a billion dollar one, but has remained a breeding ground for bastards and con-artists. Though to be fair the amount of actual gangsters in the industry has fallen of late.

Using these analogues, Chaykin tells a lot of those stories you only hear in convention bars, or the occasional critical book on the industry and some of the incidents in these five issues are familiar ones to those of us who know bits of the industry’s history so things like Mort Weisinger’s legendary cruelty through to Stan Lee sitting the the office waiting for Jack Kirby’s work to turn up because his creative role was at best, minimal. This book is not for those who see the industry on a purely surface level or those who canonise the superhero as the pinnacle of the medium.

But Hey Kids! Comics! for all the cynicism, bitterness, hate and bile recounted in these stories has a love for the medium as the core of the book. It just says that people involved in the industry were crooks, racists and bastards but the industry itself is full of people who believe there’s a future for the medium beyond superhero stories. This is a book for those of us who love the medium but want to deal with the awfulness of the history of the industry at the same time so it makes an often harsh read as after all, we want to cling onto our childhood heroes. This comic will see people many see as heroes being portrayed as somewhat less than that (the fact issue five came out not long after Stan Lee’s death adds an extra thrill to it) but these stories are an essential part of the history of the industry. They need to be told because if they don’t the next Steve Ditko is going to see his work made into mugs to help make corporations money while they get fuck all.