Superman Returns

Action Comics is due to hit its 1,000th issue in April. In it Superman finally ditches the armour he’s been wearing since The New 52 revamp and returns to his traditional outfit.

Superman after being away for so long is back, and Action #1000 also feature the wonderful José Luis García-López, an artist who I’ll be blogging about in more detail soon as one of the finest, but yet under-appreciated, artists of the last 40 years.

There’s a lot of people who hate Superman quoting anything from the character being boring or too good, or powerful, but yet this is the basis for the genre of super heroes and done right, Superman is a character than can show us the best of who we. He is also escapism and he can also be used to deal with issues of the day as he was 1,000 issues ago in Action Comics #1.

When Superman started it was dark times with an economic recession and the rise of the far right threatening us, and we’re in similar times so Superman can stand as a beacon of hope rather than the arsehole he was in The New 52, or the brooding killer of Zack Snyder’s imagination. Instead we’re hopefully back to having a heroic figure for people to aspire to which is what we need in a genre full of ‘edgy’ anti-heroes as sometimes you need to point to a moral standard to aspire to rather than just accept lazy cynicism passing for ‘cutting edge’.

We shall see but regardless, hitting 1,000 issues in an American comic (British comics use to pass that milestone regularly) is an achievement and if that includes the proper Superman returning then all the best for it.


Laughing at old films makes you an idiot

I was chatting with a friend the other day about Quatermass and the Pit; a film both of us shared as one of our favourite horror films and how I’ve never seen it on a big screen as I’ve never had the chance to. He mentioned he did have the chance to but after going to a cinema showing of Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue where the audience laughed throughout the film he couldn’t muster the energy to go sit in a cinema full of wankers sneering at an old film.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t laugh at old, bad films like an Ed Wood classic, or somesuch rubbish like Troll 2, but if you’ve paid money to go and see a classic film like Quatermass and the Pit, and all you do is sit there with your 21st century viewpoint (and fail to appreciate it as a film) just sneering because others are doing the same then it frankly makes you a bully and well as an idiot. There will be people there who want to see the film and watch it without your snarky commentary but your entitlement means you make people’s experience awful for a few seconds jolly.

There is an argument that some people, mainly Millennials, don’t see film as art but as a fashion so whatever film is trending and fits what is fashionable this week. I don’t quite buy that as the sole reason (though I think it plays a part) but this has something that’s been discussed for a few years now. This somewhat sad piece titled Stop Laughing At Old Movies, You $@%&ing Hipsters outlines the problem when during a viewing of Mario Bava’s Hercules in the Haunted World, this happens…

The guy behind me munching Sour Patch Kids and wearing an ironic Hawaiian shirt kept up the chuckles for 91 minutes, long after I began to beseech Zeus to throw a non-styrofoam boulder at him. His stubborn laughter was an advertisement for his own superiority, like it’s heroic to refuse to be “suckered” by a fake rock that’s obviously fake. But there’s nothing triumphant about being too cool to dream.

And this is the problem. People can’t suspend their disbelief as after all, that involves putting effort into it. If you’re used to seeing film as two hours where you’re spoon-fed what you want and when you see what films people have laughed at (including John Carpenter’s The Thing, which would have driven me to murder had I been there) you do wonder if it is a case where people really have lost the ability to imagine or understand nuance, or even put things in the context of the time.

Another article points out the reaction to a showing of From Russia With Love.

“It’s sad to think that there was once a time when Hollywood released dozens of movies like this each year, and millions of people went to see them, and enjoyed themselves, and laughed, and sang along, and got wrapped up in the story, and that if the same kind of movies were released right now, people would laugh at them and call them unsophisticated. That so many of you could sit there and snicker at ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ for being unsophisticated depresses me beyond words. This movie is not unsophisticated. You are.”

This is I think the problem. People are no longer sophisticated in the sense they can put themselves in a time and place, or understand film as an art. Who needs nuance when you’ve got <insert this months blockbuster here> to fill your needs and this is a pity because of ignorance and peer pressure people are losing the history of their culture. Also if people just put themselves into the moment they may find themselves enjoying something their peers may not, but fuck their peers think for yourselves & that’s something I hope people do more of.

My top 5 YouTube channels

YouTube has been around now since 2005 so a generation has grown up with the streaming service as a platform to publish videos, while those of us digital immigrants have adapted to this newish medium which has helped transform how we view what they used to call ‘motion pictures’ in the olden days. Of late YouTube has had a bad press thanks to wankers like Logan Paul, but there’s a number of really creative channels out there putting out the sort of work which is of such a high standard that it puts most film and television to shame. Here then is a top five in no special order of channels you should watch.

5/ hiimmarymary

Hi I’m Mary Mary is one of the tens of dozens, even hundreds of horror webseries out there but under the jump scare obsessed masses, this takes time to build up a very Silent Hill type of creepiness in a strange scenario before the scares (and the scares are earned) kick in.  The series is ongoing still but here’s the first one which sets the mood.

4/ Infochammel

There’s a touch of the Chris Morris about this fictional channel which is a pisstake of those horrendous shopping channels mixed with daytime telly. It is on the whole, genius and here’s a sample…

3/ Petscop

There’s loads of internet myths about ‘haunted video games’ but few manage to act as a story in its own right as well as acting as a nice satire of that genre of YouTube video where people play through games. In this case the set-up is that someone has found an old Playstation 1 game and is playing it for the first time with us as viewers. This also subverts a genre and the less said about what happens the better as it is a joy…

2/ Don’t hug me I’m Scared

This starts as a kids TV show and then goes places as it tells a story in six parts. It is by far the best thing you’ll see today.

1/Red Letter Media

There’s lots of review channels on YouTube. Most are shite, but this one run by Mike Stoklasa and Jay Bauman does that trick of managing to critique films, take the piss out of YouTube review videos and do something you can probably only do on YouTube. Stuff like this for example..

There’s loads of crap on YouTube but dig deep enough and you’ll get gems like the stuff listed here and more as we enter a new age where anyone can upload anything and the only thing separating them from the masses is talent, ideas and creativity. All of these channels display that in abundance…

A quick word of appreciation for Steve Gerber’s ‘Howard the Duck’

Created by writer Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik, Howard the Duck is probably best known these days for that horrible film in the 80’s and cameos in the Guardians of the Galaxy films. What Howard was, and what he allowed Gerber to do has somewhat been lost over the years but over Christmas I picked up a load of issues and I’d forgotten just how angry and subversive the comic is.

Howard started out as a supporting character during Gerber’s Man-Thing run in Adventures into Fear, but proving himself popular in his own right he ended up in his own book in 1976 which was an important year in the US, as it was not only their bicentennial year, but the year where they elected Jimmy Carter as president as they tried to move away from Richard Nixon’s disastrous time as president.

Howard’s solo comic was initially drawn by Frank Brunner, and although I like Brunner, he didn’t really work with Gerber’s increasingly bizarre, edgy, satirical scripts, so when veteran Gene Colan arrived something clicked and the comic leapt up to heights unexpected and when Gerber had Howard run for president in the 76 campaign it was a comment on the political landscape of America at the time, while being something that still rings relevant for today’s politics.

In issue 16 Gerber broke the mould of Marvel Comics and having failed to hit a deadline, instead of reprinting an older story as was the practise at the time, Gerber went meta submitting a series of text pieces (illustrated by Colan) which read more like Gerber trying to unload his issues with Howard, writing and dealing with Marvel.

Gerber had started fighting with Marvel who were cashing in on a popular character in all the ways they can, but without asking Gerber’s permission as creator of the character. This resulted in Marvel sacking Gerber, and the writing chores of Howard passed to a number of writers before settling on Bill Mantlo, who with the greatest respect, wasn’t anywhere near as good a writer as Gerber.

So Gerber launched a campaign to get Howard back, which this page from the Comics Reader outlines.

What Gerber was hinting at ended up being Destroyer Duck, a benefit comic to raise money for Gerber so he could fight Marvel, and drawn by Jack Kirby who had his own long term issues with Marvel.

Throw into all this Disney launching their own lawsuit in regards Howard, and the result was the character barely appeared in comics (I’ll draw a veil over the appalling film) til the 21st century when Gerber returned to Howard for a six-issue series from Marvel’s ‘adult’ line, Max Comics.

Howard is still around in a series which has turned Howard from a tool to satirically attack the industry, politics and culture to just a smartarse character that does silly things. A couple of appearances in the Guardians of the Galaxy films added to this but all you need if to read Gerber’s stories and read one of Marvel’s best run of stories in the 70’s along with Jim Starlin’s Warlock/Thanos stories, and Don McGregor’s Black Panther stories.

You might miss some of the contemporary references but that aside, these are some of the best mainstream comics produced drawn with amazing skill by Gene Colan who produced some of the best work of his long career. Forget the nonsense being published today, you need to read these original stories and although back issues can be expensive, reprints are quite reasonable. Go get yourself some Howard, you won’t regret it.

The Guardian and the censorship of horror films

The Guardian is the so-called ‘liberal voice’ of the UK, and now proposes itself as one of the leading liberal voices online. It often comes out against horror films and this week, Jigsaw (a return of the Saw films) is released as this particular film series returns from the dead.

An article by Benjamin Lee was published in the paper decrying the ‘return of torture porn’ and yet again the paper sets their sights on the horror genre and in particular, ‘torture porn’ which they’ve written more or less the same article since 2007.

I get why middle class liberals at the Guardian may hates films like Jigsaw. They are after all designed for mass audiences and this sort of middle class sneering is aimed at all mass forms of entertainment, but it’s the priggish sense of superiority from the contributors and commentators mixed with a barely suppressed push for censorship that should be concerning. This isn’t to say I think Jigsaw will be a good film, it probably won’t be as barring the first Saw film there’s pretty thin pickings in that series but I get why people watch them. These are rollercoaster rides. The audience can safely wallow in gore, enjoy a few mild scares and go home safely. Yeah, the films are shite without any real importance but so what? Censoring them wouldn’t work but it’d make these middle class liberals happy they’re controlling the ‘masses’ for what they think is their own benefit.

Violent and gory stories are part of our culture. They’re embedded in religion, history and culture, so while things like Jigsaw may be bad films but they’re just part of who we are. Censoring for the wider public good is simply, bollocks and perhaps the middle class media shouldn’t be so sneering at such entertainment because people might enjoy them for what they are?

The KLF return to the Dark Ages

Last night in Liverpool, the KLF returned to the streets in an ice cream van.

This weekend they’ll be curating a series of events under the banner of the Dark Ages, where ticket holders become volunteers in, well, nobody knows because there’s strict rules of participation.

So we enter the weekend not knowing what’s happening, and won’t until the end of the Dark Ages. We do however know there’s a book coming, 2023, and that’s it. It is glorious that in the year 2017 when the tiniest detail of films, books, etc are splattered across the white wall of our popular culture like a zombie’s brains, the KLF can still do stuff that surprises us.

And we enter the Dark Ages with a wee smile on our faces that they’re back…

Do Marvel have a diversity problem?

Marvel vice-president David Gabriel recently said that Marvel Comics are suffering a sales slump due to the fact they now publish a diverse line of comics featuring people of all sexes, races and ages. As this Vox piece says, the truth is somewhat more complex but that was lost in the outrage from all sides when this story broke into the mainstream from the comics ghetto.

What do we mean by ‘diversity’ though? Well, this is the Marvel Universe in the 1970’s into the 1980’s.

Here’s a poster of the Avengers in the 90’s.

To put it bluntly the Marvel Universe is a white one.  Sure there’s the odd green skinned hero and blue mutant but black characters, or anyone non-white, are thin on the ground. In short it doesn’t reflect the world of today and that’s a problem if you want to pitch to as wide an audience as Marvel did in the 60’s.

The Marvel Universe today is better. There’s Ms Marvel, Moon Girl and a load of other characters that expands what the Marvel superhero universe is and many of these characters are in decent to good books, but for people like Gabriel the sales figures are what’s important and they don’t add up.Which brings me to the point that this isn’t an issue for comics as a medium, but the superhero genre which may have had over the last decade undreamed of exposure, but that’s never translated to sales.

This Cracked article touches on some of the reasons why this is the case. Some of it will be painful reading as the point that Marvel can say ”we have an <insert minority here> character! Why are you moaning!?’ is going to resonate. For years Marvel did this with the Black Panther before they actually started creating other black characters but even then that was mainly to cash in on the 1970’s Blaxploitation craze.For me though the issue is accessibility. There’s no point coming up with say, a Muslim Ms Marvel if you’re rebooting the series with a new number one every other year, and your entire superhero universe has a massive crossover event once a year. People may have more disposable income in 2017 but people have limits.

If you want to have read all of 2016’s Civil War II with all the crossovers then with titles priced at $2.99 to $3.99 (or for the UK, somewhere between £2.00 and £3.50) then you’re paying hundreds to keep up with an event where to be blunt, most of the series is shite. You may pick up a few issues but finances and tedium dictate that you bin the rest so you leave only the hardcore fans to carry on. Which is another point as if Marvel pander only to the core fan (as DC Comics are doing) then they’ll never grow and develop to take advantage of the fact their films are making billions having been seen by hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

So the hard facts are that Marvel are the creators of their own problems. Yes, it’s a tough market but making it harder for readers doesn’t help so it isn’t a case that Marvel has a diversity problem which causes them sales, it has a problem with making easily accessible comics for all ages. Until it gets to grips with that and at the same time it stops pandering to a decreasing, ageing core then it won’t be picking up the readers it could, and indeed, should.