Why don’t superheroes have daft sidekicks anymore?

Back in the day superheroes had daft sidekicks like this.

Or like this:

Or like this:

Those are the Martian Manhunter’s Zook, Captain Marvel’s Mr. Tawky Tawney, and Supergirl’s pet cat, Streaky. They were fun, stupid and silly. They reflected the fact readers were mainly young kids but they also realised that the concept of superheroes are essentially, daft, as if you can have a Superman why not then a Supercat?

It was fun, innocent times as the readership grew up and rather let this sillyness remain it was purged, so superheroes became dark, cats were no longer super-strong and sidekicks or groups like the Teen Titans became crammed full of murderers and psychopaths because of ‘darkness’.

The fact is when the main audience for superhero comics were late teens to 60 plus in age, the urge to read daft, simple things which are fun is lesser. Partly because of the urge to make a childish genre ‘dark and mature’ but mainly because these people don’t want to be seen as being kids and since the industry listens to these people more than they should we end up with grimness upon grimness. With one big exception, Squirrel Girl’s Tippy-Toe.

I miss the days where most superhero comics were silly, and I find the endless piss-coloured stream of grimdark superheroes tedious but I can dream of the days of flying cats and talking tigers thinking it to be better than grim, moody murderers.

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I’m suffering from Superhero film exhaustion

It’s New York Comic Con this weekend which means reams of stuff being pumped out by the major film and TV studios, lots of cosplay, some stuff about games and toys, plus more TV and film. Everything!! Even some comics at a comic convention! Shocking I know.

Anyhow, the new Aquaman trailer has dropped and it looks alright.

I’m not going to see it at the cinema because it’ll be a waste of time, and frankly, I’ll save my tenner and wait til it comes on the likes of Netflix. I don’t think it’s going to be a terrible film; in fact it’ll probably be fun but we’ve been here and frankly, it is bloody Aquaman, a character who’s been a running joke for much of his six plus decades since he first appeared in 1941.

There’s also a Venom film out this week which is getting dreadful reviews and indeed, trailers look appalling but again, I’ll catch it on Netflix because I’m bored with massive media companies milking their properties regardless of whether people actually want to see them, or they’ll be very good. Instead it’s a case of throwing product out (and this is indeed, product), having a big week or two then tailing off. Repeat and rinse.

But this is all becoming exhausting, and frankly, boring. We’ve got a new Batman film coming drawn probably from the works of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, plus a few Joker films also drawn from Miller and Moore. Of course film companies are going to milk a genre while its hot, but this is genuinely exhausting to muster up any joy anymore. There will of course be a time when the superhero film tails off as studios suffer diminishing returns and the taste of audiences change onto something else. We’ll still have superhero films just not as many, and not as many pointless ones telling stories we’ve kind of seen before.

Til then try to get excited about bloody Aquaman!

RIP Carlos Ezquerra

Carlos Ezquerra passed away today. This is a loss not just personally to his family and friends as Carlos was a profoundly decent man, but to comics where in terms of influence, ability and creativity Carlos ranks up with the best so there’s a place next to Steve Ditko, Moebius and Jack Kirby as this was someone who co-created not just one classic character in Judge Dredd, but two in Strontium Dog.

Carlos was one of those Spanish artists in the 1970’s that IPC would use because he was quick and cheap, but he had a style unlike many of the older artists who were sometimes elegant, and smooth. Carlos’s art was heavy blacks and sketchy lines which made his work, well, edgy to pre-teen boys like myself who found his Major Easy character the entrance to his work.

And of course, his Action cover which wasn’t just as Punk as fuck in 1976, but it also helped the comic get banned.

However the minute you saw his splash page for the then new Judge Dredd strip in the new 2000AD in 1977, you knew you were seeing a talent erupt.

That one page still sums up what Judge Dredd is. Dredd is a fascist keeping law in a spectacular future city which doesn’t look like a dystopia, but is very much one because there’s cameras watching your every move when the Judges aren’t. Even in the design Carlos makes clear what Dredd is by slipping in symbols of fascism he lived with in the Spain of the fascist Franco.

Thanks to scripts from co-creator John Wagner, not to mention Pat Mills and Alan Grant, Dredd’s fascism wasn’t just a thing of black and white as weekly the Dredd strip ensured kids around the UK were exposed to intellectually and moral grey areas which for me hit a height with the superb Apocalypse War.  Dredd’s Mega City One and the remnants of the Soviets battle it out with the spectre of nuclear destruction being there on the page at all times as the reader battled with the prospect of real life nuclear destruction.

Carlos didn’t just work on Dredd; as said, he co-created Strontium Dog, but he also drew covers and strips at an enormous rate  never dipping in quality and we as readers probably took his work for granted as he was consistent.

By the 90’s Carlos saw Dredd on film, which we’ll draw a line under however he was now working in American comics mainly working with Garth Ennis and getting the sort of credit and recognition outwith of the UK and Europe he deserved while still working and producing lush work. In more recent years his son was helping him as he struggled with poor health thanks to cancer, and only a week or so ago was posting on his Facebook that he’d come out of a major operation and was in recovery. Sadly he lost this last fight and passed away at 70.

He is irreplaceable. There is nobody out there able to do what he did.I met him a few times at various comic conventions over the decades and he was always charming, if somewhat overawed that his work is so appreciated and loved but this is a man who saw his work shape lives, and culture, so he’ll be missed for the artist, and human being, he was.

RIP Norm Breyfogle

The definitive Batman artists on the late 80’s and most of the 90’s, Norm Breyfogle, has sadly passed away at 58. Norm was one of those Batman artists who pop up every decade to redefine the character and indeed, if you’re around 30-40 and started reading comics as a kid then Breyfogle’s Batman is probably the first version you saw.

I loved Breyfogle’s work. It dropped at a time when DC Comics took risks, even with their prize cash cow Batman, who at that point in the late 80’s with the first Tim Burton Batman film was enjoying success like never before so dropping Breyfogle as the main artist in Detective Comics, DC’s secondary Batman title then written by Alan Grant and John Wagner was a comfortable mix of the old and new as Breyfogle took inspiration from the likes of Neal Adams, Carmine Infantino, Nick Cardy, and then newer artists like Alan Davis and Todd McFarlane, but quickly developed a style purely his.

Throughout the 90’s Breyfogle made Batman his own, and with Alan Grant they carved the last great version of Batman before the character turned into someone who could do anything, beat anyone and the idea of a detective fighting evil in his city slipped away.

With writer Alan Brennert he drew Batman: Holy Terror, an alternative version of the Batman myth where Bruce Wayne has been brought up within the church in a story which published today would probably cause merry hell. In fact I doubt with America swinging so far to the right that a company like DC would even commission this.

Breyfogle went to great heights in the 90’s and it’s forgotten he was one of Malibu’s Big Star Names when they launched the Ultraverse with his own title, Prime, being one of the flagship titles.

In the 2000’s things changed. DC sacked Alan Grant from the Batman titles while Breyfogle’s art didn’t fit a DC establishing a house style and a changing editorial structure which Grant in particular was a severe critic of. This left Breyfogle in some barren times before in 2014 he suffered a stroke and was left crushed upon the rocks of the American healthcare system.

After I had my own stroke I chatted with Norm a few times on social media and did my own wee thing to raise his plight but from conversations it was clear a mix of worry about finances and post-stroke pain (something that without painkillers leaves you in constant chronic pain when it hits) but there was always humour and a will to do better. Sadly he’s no longer around to spread his humour and at 58 left the world far, far too early. He leaves behind a body of work I hope is reappraised as be some of the very best superhero work of the last 25 years, and I hope that his death highlights the problems comics professionals have with working without a safety net, especially in a country like America. If anything that may mean no other professional has to struggle as Breyfogle did and that’s a good way to remember a man who gave so much to the industry.

Another example of the idiocy of Comicsgate supporters

Comicsgate is something that, sadly, isn’t going away and I’ve mentioned before of just how little its supporters know of the history and the medium of comics, and just how much they think displaying this ignorance is a thing to broadcast loudly. The latest example of this is this…

For those people casually reading this who don’t know who Scott McCloud, the short answer is he’s one of the stone-cold genius’s of comics who has written three of the essential textbooks about the medium of comics. For a lone Comicsgater though, he did some ‘lame’ comics. These ‘lame’ comics included Zot, the first American comic to incorporate Japanese manga influences and do new and interesting things with the medium.

The more Comicsgaters expose themselves to the world, the more they show that actually, it isn’t about giving people ‘choice’ but defining comics as only to be their own narrow definition which is this.

So, there you have it. These people target creators, slag them off in ignorance and shy off into the night or their own wee echo chambers when it’s pointed out they’re idiots. They’d be easy enough to ignore if they weren’t so potentially toxic for people which is why people need to stand against them. Because if we don’t the only comics we’ll get are fucking cybernetic frogs.

Does whatever a spider can…

I’m struggling with writing blogs at the minute because I’m playing the new PS4 Spider-Man game and it’s fucking awesome.

There’s been lots of great Spidey games over the years, and in many they manage to capture some of what made Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s creation great, but this (so far) seems to get it. The fact the game is an open world game that allows you to just swing around New York in the sort of detail that’s astonishing to watch is another added attraction as you could spend hours swinging around and not even playing the story.

So I’ve got quite literally loads of blogs that are half finished, and I’ll endeavour to put the game down long enough to actually finish some over the next week which will be easier said than done!

Wax and wane

I am broken today. Two comic conventions in as many weekends and no break has pretty much outlined my limits post-stroke but thanks to events outwith my control I only have one more event this year before being thrust into the year 2019 where lots of things may be happening.

But the latest show I’ve done was probably the weirdest place I’ve done one in 35 years (and that includes nearly selling comics at Glastonbury) which was Mark Millar’s old primary school, St. Barthlomew’s, in Coatbridge. Upon driving to the school it dawned on me and my driver Jordan, that it was a fucking primary school, and that means everything in it would be wee, and of course it was. So big hefty units such as myself squeezed into tiny wee chairs meant for frames far, far, far younger than us. Also,we expected to turn up and for the dealers to be in a central gym or hall but we were strewn through the corridors of part of the school like discarded Panini World Cup 2018 stickers.

Luckily I ended up with a spare table, so managed to take over the end of one such corridor like this.

Plus I was positioned next to someone I’ve only spoken to online, so it was nice to put a face to the name and as the doors opened at 10am that was consolation for the fact nobody came to where we were. but with a wee prompt for the staff, and some carefully placed arrows, there were soon people coming up our alley for comic, and comic-based, delights.

And I ended up having more fun (while obviously making enough money for the day to not just pay for itself, but so I can put money in the bank) than I was expecting as it wasn’t just the faces that have become familiar to me over the last year, but loads of kids who were attracted by the impressive spread Mark and his staff had laid out with lots of guests like Frank Quitely, Leah Moore and cast members from Still Game and Burnistoun. Many of these kids had no idea what comics to collect having just come down to see what was going on, or come with a mate. I was taught years ago by someone wiser than me to encourage the kids because if you don’t, there won’t be an audience in the decades to come.

And that’s what made this event something a bit different, and a bit more fulfilling than just flogging comics to folk. Keeping the flame burning and passing it on to kids, boys and girls, was great but it’s worn me out . As for the show overall, it’s always hard to say when you’re stuck behind your tables, but people clearly enjoyed it and although there were problems (the cramped space being the biggest one, and although some of the issues were teething pains some things will need to improve if there’s a next time. Having a free for all for tables at a show where to be honest, too many tables were sold, was a big mistake especially when dealers left better positions very, very early in the day leaving some areas virtually dead)  I’d do this again next year.

But I’m done for now. One more show this year, which means I can regroup and plan out 2019 a bit better than just letting it happen and hope for the best which to be fair, is how I’ve led my life up to now but look where that’s led me!?!