What I thought of Action Comics #1000

80 years ago Action Comics #1 was published and the world of comics, indeed, the world at large, changed as Superman quickly became a massive success. The fact that Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster’s creation is still with us speaks volumes about the strength of the character in how he relates to people.

1000 issues for an America comic is a landmark, though it does have to be said the only reason Action is hitting that landmark now ahead of Detective Comics (which started publishing first) is due to a period in the 1980’s when it was published weekly. On the whole DC Comics have managed to produce a fitting anniversary issue with the only real duffer being Brian Bendis’s first Superman story which is just a pretty standard fight scene with a cliffhanger ending which is to make you buy his new run.

The issue starts with a very 90’s feeling story by Dan Jurgens which isn’t substantial but reads nicely and reminds me how simple it is to write Superman if you don’t make him an arrogant prick.

Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Never-Ending Battle is a lovely look through Superman’s history that consists of splash pages, and Marv Wolfman and Curt Swan team up in an unpublished story which reads like something from the 80’sand is again, a nice read. It’s also nice to see Curt Swan’s pencils (Jackson Guice inks him) again.

One of the highlights here is Geoff Johns and Richard Donner’s (the one who directed the 1978 film) The Car, drawn by Oliver Coipel. It deals with the story of that car Superman is smashing up on the cover of #1 and is quite literally the spirit of Superman in just a few pages.

Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerue’s The Fifth Season is a Superman/:Lex Luthor story which doesn’t quite hit the heights it aims for but Tom King and Clay Mann’s Of Tomorrow is wonderful. It reads like a coda to Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman which is no passing praise.

Five Minutes by Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway again reads like something from the 1990’s which isn’t to insult it. IN fact compared to DC’s current often awful storytelling in its comics, it’s a joy to read this as well as seeing the great Jerry Ordway doing what he’s best at.

The stand out gem and reason you should buy this is Actionland! by Paul Dini and the great Jose Luis Garcia Lopez. It is everything great about a period of Superman’s history done in a way that looks glorious.

Brad Meltzer and John Cassaday’s Faster Than A Speeding Bullet lives up to the title and this leads into the first Bendis Superman story which is the least substantial thing here.

Action Comics #1000 is a fitting tribute to the character and title that kicked off an entire industry that changed the lives of millions. For a title that’s often had less than stellar work in its pages over the decades (Superman quickly became the main focus for the character) this reminds us of the title’s anthology origins and how good Superman can be if done right. Here’s to seeing what happens over the next 1000 issues…

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What I thought of Marvel Team-Up

Comixology had a ridiculous sale recently where Marvel trades and masterworks were a fantastic 69p per book so I filled my boots and got all the Marvel Team-Up masterworks. For the uninitiated, Marvel Team-Up was an extra Spider-Man book which featured a ‘special guest star’ each issue, so the issue would normally start with Spidey swinging around New York bumping into a fellow hero and then both team up to fight a baddie.

Essentially most of Marvel Team -Up was fight scenes.

Early issues featured the Human Torch as the guest, but the series moved away from the idea of a fixed guest hero from issue 4 when the X Men appeared as guests at a time when their own book was in effectual limbo reprinting older adventures, however MTU acted within a parallel continuity linked to the the other Spider-Man book.

Those early issues featured some nice art from Ross Andru, but for me it’s the Gil Kane issues that stand out. His Spidey is sadly underrated and MTU allowed his to have fun with the then growing Marvel Universe.

These are superhero comics from a simpler time when the worst thing that would happen to Peter Parker was forgetting a date with Gwen Stacy, or he was on a crap job for The Daily Bugle.

The most stress yoj’d get as a reader is hoping the next issue would feature someone good, or even better, one of your favourites. Marvel Team-Up has returned several times over the years but nothing cries nostalgia as much as that first run of 150 issues. If you are a fan of 70’s superheroics then get yourself these books because they’re an utter joy.

What I thought of Black Panther

I made it through the snow and ice to see Marvel’s film version of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s Black Panther character.

First appearing in Fantastic Four #52, T’Challa, the Black Panther, was the first black superhero Marvel produced at a time when mainstream comics didn’t have black characters, though KIrby and Lee had already introduced a black character into their Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos title.

The film draws heavily upon Kirby’s vision of a futuristic African nation that developed entirely independent of Western influences, while the portrayal of T’Challa (played by a solid Chadwick Boseman) sticks firmly to the comics as opposed to Marvel’s film heroes jokey, wise-cracking style.So The Black Panther is a noble, stoic leader, and unusually for a Marvel film, the villain, Killmonger (a great Michael B. Jordan)  actually has a background not to mention his main motivation (that Wakanda is letting the world down by not sharing it’s technologies and resources) is right, but his method to rectify this (starting a global war) is what makes him a villain.

Apart from the Kirby vision, director Ryan Cooglan heavily draws from the Don McGregor run on Black Panther in the 70’s to create one of Marvel’s best films. Though it does come with issues which mainly consist of trying to have a film with a different look and vision crammed into the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has become an impressive sausage machine pushing out hit after hit.

When the film has Jordan’s Killmonger in it, there’s a moral and intellectual heart in Black Panther; when it doesn’t then it’s a good superhero film not as bad as say, Iron Man 2 but not as average as Ant Man. Take Jordan and the moral argument his character brings, and we’re facing another Marvel film where the baddie is the same as most Marvel baddies. Black Panther manages to pull itself out of Marvel’s formula for much of it’s length, though there is a predictable, but fun, big fight at the end.

As a film it doesn’t hit a Logan, or a Dark Knight level of pushing out of the superhero ghetto but it gets close and considering that Marvel’s next film is Avengers:Infinity War, there’s not going to be much subtlety in the MCU until that film is out the way. Black Panther manages to engage once a meandering first 45 minutes or so setting things up is out the way so this isn’t one of the best films ever, but it is a very good superhero film that if possible, should be seen on a big screen.

About the Star Trek: Discovery finale…

I’ve mentioned previously how much I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Star Trek: Discovery and how against a core of fan’s howling at the moon, it has managed to actually do something different with the Star trek formula. This week was the final episode of the first season and from here in there’s spoilers.

The last half of the first season has been superb. Based in Star Trek’s Mirror Universe where baddies are goodies and vice versa, this allowed the writers to play with the idea of what is Starfleet and what are the principles of the Federation. Plus it had Michelle Yeoh fighting…

That kick Yeoh does at 1.22 is, well, more than impressive for someone of 55. Anyhow, everything was set for a fantastic finale then I saw Akiva Goldsman’s name smeared over the credits like dripping phlegm. Goldman is the man who brought us Batman and Robin, and who’s writing C.V is peppered with shite. Shite which makes Hollywood money so he’s managed to get into a position beyond his actual talent and thus was the finale of Discovery placed into his hands.

It was to be utterly nice; average. If I was being honest I’d say I was utterly let down by it mainly because it was badly written. The main plotline of the Klingon War was finished too quickly and characters barely had time to breathe as the episode tripped and stumbled to a close which didn’t feel earned. We’ve followed these characters (And I think what Discovery has been great at is introducing new characters into Star Trek that are more than variations on a theme, plus in Stamets and Tilly they have a pair of fantastic characters to build on, while Doug Jones is doing tremendous work as Suru.) through hell, and them *poof* everything’s solved and we’re onto the cliffhanger.

Before I get to that cliffhanger I can’t make it clear how much of a shame this was. It could have been better as opposed to alright at best but now they’ve told the big over-arcing storyline in the first season I hope they learn from their mistakes in their second. Build on the characters more and give the bridge crew more to do than just look over their shoulders at Suru but that cliffhanger. Again, spoilers, but if you’ve read this far you probably don’t care by now.

At some point they would have to deal with being in the same era as when Pike captained the Enterprise, but to my surprise they’re going right into it now and isn’t that a lovely looking Enterprise?

So with the promise of big things in season 2 Discovery I hope improves, learns from mistakes made and becomes better because we need a good, positive bit of Star Trek so now we’ve got over the grim war, we can build up the positive vision of the future we could all do with dreaming about.

A quick word of appreciation for The Rocketeer

One of the joys about picking up collections of comics is finding the gem in the rough. This time the gem wasn’t the most expensive item, but The Rocketeer graphic novel.

Written and drawn by the late Dave Stevens, this is a comic that has a core cult following but in the history of 1980’s comics that changed how the industry works, not to mention how comics were perceived by people outwith our little comics ghetto, The Rocketeer never gets a mention.

Originally published by Pacific Comics, The Rocketeer was the first big success of the then small, but growing, independent scene that was taking advantage of the expanding direct market. Stevens was a genius and is also the man most responsible for the Bettie Page revival in the 80’s.

The Rocketeer helped prove independent comic publishers could have a hit, and proved creators didn’t need Marvel or DC to be successful. Sadly Stevens was a tad, well, slow, so it took years to get his story out but it was worth it as it is a work of art with every panel a clear labour of love.

Stevens even managed to get his character onto film with a perfectly respectable and even underrated film adaptation in 1991.

Since Stevens untimely death other people have attempted to carry on the story with IDW publishing some decent story but they’re nothing like that original Dave Stevens story which remains, and always will be, a complete joy.

What I thought of The Cloverfield Paradox

A decade ago Cloverfield came out having had one of the best marketing campaigns for a film I’ve ever seen having built up an air of mystery about a film which was and is, something hard to achieve. I love the first film because it is the giant monster film I’ve had in my head since being a teenager, and although its sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane is patchy, it works as a claustrophobic thriller before the end gubbins. A third film has been coming which was originally promised last year, and was expected in the spring before suddenly dropping after the Superbowl on Netflix worldwide.

From here on in lies SPOILERS. You’ve been warned!

Directed by Julius Onah and starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw who has fully recovered from having Bonekickers on her C.V and here frankly holds the entire thing together which is good because at times The Cloverfield Paradox is a tedious mess of technobabble and stuff we’ve seen in the likes of Event Horizon.

Mbatha-Raw plays Ava, an astronaut on Cloverfield Station in orbit round an Earth dying through a lack of energy resources which amount in this film to some blackouts not to mention the world’s superpowers squaring off against each other. The station is the one last chance to solve Earth’s problems peacefully as the multinational crew use an experimental particle accelerator to create unlimited free energy for the planet. As you’d expect, something goes wrong and the crew find themselves stranded having lost Earth with increasingly strange happenings occurring on the station.

The plot is pretty routine but the script is appalling. Characters spout clichés, or when faced with horror make quips that sap the scene of any tension. There’s one scene especially with Chris O’Dowd’s character that could have been a highlight of creepy body horror but ends up played for giggles then there’s the climatic fight scene that is welded on badly to the end. This for me is the problem with The Cloverfield Paradox in that is doesn’t know what it’s trying to be and I’ll be blunt, Life trod this sort of ground pretty recently and better. It does manage to explain the events of the two previous films, and I assume future films as there’s at least one more Cloverfield film coming in the next year but take the Cloverfield name and the last 90 seconds off this film and it really is the sort of film you’d watch on Netflix if there was nothing left on your list. The last 60 seconds do lift the film and make it worthwhile though it teases the prospect of a sequel that should be made but probably won’t be.

What is interesting is how Netflix and Abrams decided to release this. It could have had a release in cinemas and made a decent amount of money, but releasing it this way without any notice on Netflix suggests this is an experiment. If this film is deemed successful (and it will be as the Cloverfield name, and the last 60 seconds guarantee it)  then we’re likely to see more films dropping with no notice and that would be a good thing. After all it means then that at least for a day or two we’ll be forced to make our own minds up but hopefully if this sort of thing is done again it’s done better than this.

A word of appreciation for Elektra: Assassin

There’s a number of comics constantly spoken about as breaking new ground in the 1980’s and bringing a new audience into the world of comics. The same names come up; Watchmen, Maus, Dark Knight Returns, maybe Love and Rockets, Swamp Thing and Daredevil. One a few lists you’ll get possibly the most subversive comic published by the Big Two publishers in the 80’s; Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz‘s Elektra: Assassin.

Originally an eight issue mini series from Marvel’s Epic imprint (their creator owned or non-mainstream line) , Elektra: Assassin starred Frank Miller’s creation Elektra who he’d introduced and subsequently killed in his acclaimed Daredevil run. This though was something out of continuity is still some of the most brilliantly insane comics Marvel have ever published.

The story seems basic enough. Elektra is on the trail of The Beast, a demon whose end-goal is possessing the president of the United States and starting a nuclear war. In this task she’s aided and abetted by a SHIELD agent called Garrett who in the course of the series because more and more of a cyborg due to being blown and cut up.

Remember that in 1985/6 America was trapped in the presidency of Ronald Reagan while the baby boomer generation had started gaining power and influence over politics, culture and media. There was also a wave of comics where characters started waving big guns around as the 80’s Rambo culture seeped into comics with ultra-violent titles like The Punisher. All of this was thrown into the mix to create an ultra-violent satire on American politics, culture and superhero comics that doesn’t grow old or not relevant.

Elektra: Assassin is from that period prior to 911 where Frank Miller was one of the few creators who could take on the left and right of politics equally and find both lacking, while at the same time playing on the monsters created by both. It really is a comic that gives its all, and asks the reader to work to go with the inspired lunacy, not to mention genius, being paid out from page to page.

So if you want to see how exciting comics were in the 80’s as well as reading something that is a fantastic work of art, then Elektra: Assassin should be for you, assuming killer cyborgs and ninjas are to your taste of course…