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.

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Parasocial relationships in the 21st century

We all have a multitude of parasocial relationships but few of us actually understand what they are let alone the actual name for them. They actually aren’t bad things unless of course, your entire life is dominated by them which could explain a lot about abusive cultures on social media and multiple types of fandom from comics through to just about anything.

First of all, what is a parasocial relationship?

Parasocial relationships refer to one-sided relationships with celebrity, a prominent person in the community or a fictional character, when a fan knows everything about the subject of their adoration and feels very close to them, but there is no chance of reciprocity.

From here.

Every single one of us at some point in our lives has had a parasocial relationship. It could have been a pop star, or a footballer or a film actor but at some point we’ve all had a one-sided relationship that will never, ever be reciprocated. You see it now being used with politicians as diverse as Nicola Sturgeon, Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage so it doesn’t take a genius to work out how potentially harmful this potentially could be.

There’s three levels of relationship; entertain, intense and borderline pathological. There’s a load of academic videos out there but this set of videos from StrucciMovies is excellent and breaks it down for non-academics.

By now you should all be concerned about people who form their strongest relationships with people they’ll never meet who are pushing a hardline view at them, be that political, lifestyle or anything else that can draw someone in on an emotional level.Again, we’ve all at some point held a parasocial relationship but most of us have it as part of a series of real-world relationships that’s real, often physical and involves often dealing with flawed people who often don’t agree with everything you say which is fine. That’s how life should be as we’re supposed to encounter people, ideas and things we don’t 100% agree with or even like.

The danger comes when parasocial relationships are used not just to control people to buy shit, (I spoke about this the other day) but to shape their lives as well as removing the ability to critically think. As has been said by others, unless you’ve met someone and seen their flaws you don’t 100% know them. Just because some YouTuber with dead, dead eyes is telling you that you’re their friend doesn’t mean they are, or they even care about you beyond giving a like or hitting that bell.

Fandoms have always been slightly toxic. H. P Lovecraft for example was a troll but he was also a talent who created things but fandoms now are riddled with toxicity through so many people creating false personas in order to gain followers so there’s not this level of creativity. ”But what about <insert social media platform here>’ you may say and you’d be right. There’s tons of wonderful creative stuff out there, but there’s also mountains of shite created in the name of gaining followers and grifting money from them. I see it within the world of comics. There’s a lot of people who turn up at shows to sell their work who are awful, but because they’ve tapped into ”geek culture” which brings me again to mention late capitalism as what we’re seeing is human lives being repackaged to people to buy into and I mean, buy into.

I’ve met a number of my heroes. Some have been nothing like I imagined them. Some have been twats. Some have been wonderful people. I’ve spent lots of money over the decades on their work but I’ve moved on from the one-way relationship phase and the influence of these people but it doesn’t preclude me from having parasocial relationships at stage one. I know how to ensure it doesn’t become pathological but for many it does because they don’t have the tools to ensure it doesn’t so the young and vulnerable are especially weak at resisting what’s being sold to them be it product or lifestyle.

And here’s the point. We’re being sold to all the time. but newer generations don’t have the tools or experience to get through life so find their answers anywhere they can. Sometimes that works out but some times things don’t and that can lead down dangerous paths as people fall behind the more famous without any thought of what these people are really like or what damage is being done to people in the name of a relationship that will never be real.

Why are comic shops closing in a time when comics have never been so popular?

The Guardian published an article recently about why are comic shops closing when superheroes are quite literally making all the money on the planet and have never been so popular? The article isn’t bad and gets most of the reasons why. For example…

So why are so many going out of business? Like other retailers on the high street, comic shops must factor in rents, business rates, staff wages, insurance – but the profit margins on comics are so narrow as to make this a very delicate balancing act.

They then go onto discuss how monthly comics is a guessing game. You as a retailer have to sit with a copy of Diamond Previews, and try to guess what will sell and in what numbers.

Previews is a massive book released by the largest, and only real distributor of mainstream comics in the world, Diamond Distributors. As a retailer you spend so much time scouring the monthly order form working out how much of say, Iron Man, is going to sell in three months time. So you order enough for your standing orders and maybe 5-10 copies for the shelves as people like Iron Man right? But all that money of yours is now sunk into comics that aren’t sale or return (SOR) plus your profit margin is pitiful, so do you run the risk of having unsold copies sitting there wasting your money or have nothing which means people coming in asking for Iron Man leave empty handed?

Whatever decision you make depends on lots of things but the one thing you can’t change is where you get your comics from as Diamond operate a monopoly. There is no competition, which means the direct market which was meant to bring control to retailers and create a better overall industry, is stale and bloated at a time when the Marvel films are making billions, and folk see comic related characters adapted to to film and TV everywhere.

There are other reasons, such as kids especially not being familiar with how comics are read because it isn’t just words with pictures. Comics are an entire art form and medium of its own, and although there’s a lot of titles out there which are written or drawn by people who don’t understand how comics work (hence why some books are glorified storyboards) a lot do get the basics at least. Also some shops are opened by people who may love comics but have no idea of business so once the comic collection they used to help launch the shop is gone, then they struggle to push on because they don’t know what to do next.

As for shops there’s still those out there where staff are uninformed, unhelpful and these tend to be places with ‘Geek’ in the name of the shop. These places are part throwbacks to the old style of shop and a pretence of a more modern shop but end up just being awful places to shop. To use one example I walked into one such shop and had some 17 year old follow me around the shop thinking I’m obviously some shoplifter even though I’m now a middle aged man who suffers from right sided numbness after a stokes three years ago, so move at the pace of a drunken slug.

But ultimately the main reason shops go under is the business is an unforgiving one controlled by a monolithic distributor so it forces the retailer to take on other revenue streams which may be more profitable (see the proliferation of Funko Pop toys and wargaming) but take you away from what you wanted which is a comic shop. There is no easy solution to this but for shops to make money they need to adapt, but they all need to start questioning, and actually challenging, the way the entire direct market has been set up. Maybe then things will swing back the retailers way.

Happy Burns Night

Today is Burns Night where fellow Scots, new Scots and anyone inclined, celebrates the writings and life of Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s most famous poet. Many a haggis will be cruelly ripped from their mountain homes and slaughtered for our delight but it is for the man Burns that we do this.

Tonight raise a dram and insert a form of steaming haggis and tatties in your mouth in celebration of the man himself and enjoy one of his best works!

The real effects of toxic fan culture

Twenty years ago there was a new Star Wars film; the first for 15 years. The Phantom Menace was eagerly anticipated, as you may well imagine and indeed, news programmes at the time focused on how much people were looking forward to it.

In the film was a character completely animated by computer based off the performance of Ahmed Best. Jar Jar Binks was going to be the character to bring in a generation of younger fans, as well as being the main provider of the film’s comic relief. It was at the time an amazing break.

Then the internet kicked in.

In 1999 the internet wasn’t as it was now. It was still in the Wild West phase as it was growing but still somewhat regulated as social media was years away so most people were either blogging, or posting on forums to give the world their opinions. There was also Angelfire sites, but we’ll move on swiftly from those.

The backlash against Jar Jar wasn’t instant from  what I remember. It was a slow burn as fans realised that actually, the film was pretty poor and a mess. It was more of a slow rumble as fans turned on Jar Jar, with some turning on Best himself as if it was his responsibility that George Lucas cocked it up. By the end of 99 as we entered a new millennium, Jar Jar, and Best, were figures of fun and mockery of a scale and ferocity all too asimilar to the fan outrages that happen almost daily today. Thing is there’s a real world consequence of this as Best makes clear in the following video.

That’s right, a man nearly killed himself because he acted in a film and fans (A section of them at least) tore him down bit by bit for shits and giggles. There’s a section of fans who could not give a fuck about the human consequences because the backlash became more than just a laugh as it turned into institutionalised bullying.

Fast forward to 2019. This sort of this is happening daily. on a scale that we couldn’t imagine in 1999 and we’re seeing it get worse as Comics/Gamergate types target people in order to destroy their careers, even lives. Words have real world consequences and perhaps in order to create a better, kinder world we should learn the lesson of Ahmed Best and try to make things better than worse?

How good does the Resident Evil 2 remake look?

Back in the 90’s when I first got a Playstation I’d play Resident Evil 2 til my thumbs bled. The load screen became imprinted upon my eyes.

A remake was announced a while back. Would it even capture anything of what wasn’t just a game, but a crucial part of culture for those of us of a certain age who invested so much of our time into the game.

Well, just look at this!

Roll on January.

Go read my UKCAC piece in Fanscene #2

I’ve written a number of UKCAC pieces on my blog here. One of them has been slightly adapted for the second issue of the splendid fanzine, Fanscene.

The 50th anniversary mentioned is of the first British comic convention in Birmingham in 1968 which essentially spawned not just the British fan scene, but also the British comics industry. Every year since 1968 there’s been at least one large convention held in the UK,  sometimes these events were thrown together in the last minute, or in the case of today there’s at least a dozen or so large conventions with hundreds of smaller cons of varying quality filling up a busy calender but there’s no way this would exist were it not for the work done in the 50 years since that first con.

So, download the magazine here and enjoy what is a smashing good read.