What I thought of The Flash #21

When watching a car crash it’s said to happen in slow motion. Well, it doesn’t and DC’s attempt to integrate Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen into the DC Universe and blame it for all of DC’s fuckups continues from the last issue of Batman to the latest issue of The Flash. To be fair the issue starts well as being a fan of the Justice Society of America it is nice to see Johnny Thunder at the start of this issue.

However the issue picks up from Batman #21 with Barry Allen finding not just Batman having had the living shite beaten out of him by the Reverse Flash, but the corpse of the Reverse Flash.

This isn’t actually bad superhero comics. Barry Allen is a bit too draped in misery to be the Barry Allen I grew up with but this is all decent, even passable stuff. It just feels a tad forced but there is a nice scene between Barry and Bruce Wayne which allows both characters to breathe a bit.

During this chat Bruce reveals to Barry he saw his father in a vision.

It seems also that the Comedian’s badge from Watchmen didn’t return with the Reverse Flash,not to mention Barry’s been having visions of Jay Garrick’s helmet.

In this reality Jay Garrick (the original Golden Age Flash) never existed, but yet Barry can’t stop thinking about his helmet and how it makes him feel. There’s a suggestion a lot of things from the pre New 52 era of DC is about to make their return, and indeed, when Barry goes to the JLA’s Watchtower there’s clearly been some tweaking going on.

After some faffing around The Flash and Batman go off in search of the Comedian’s badge, or to be exact, where it came from. To do that Barry digs out the Cosmic Treadmill which takes him and Batman though time and space.

What they see are all the missing out of continuity stories DC decided to dump for one reason or another.

Barry and Bruce end up back in the Flashpoint universe with Bruce’s father who is the Batman of this universe. Confused? Of course you are if you’ve not got any idea of the history of DC Comics. and frankly, it’d have been easier to just reboot DC’s superhero titles from the start but being attached to continuity means this complex bollocks.

Still, it seems that DC are heading towards at least making things more accessible unlike Marvel who are stuck in a mess of their own making. Still, two more parts of this story arc to go and we might just be nearer that Batman-Rorschach team-up people have been wanking themselves into a frenzy for.

What I thought of Batman #21

The ongoing car-crash that is DC’s Rebirth (DC’s attempt to integrate Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen into the mainstream DC Universe and blame it for everything ‘dark’) continues with Batman #21, a comic that makes the Watchmen link very, very obvious from the off.

That’s Saturn Girl of the Legion of Superheroes who has been locked up in Arkham Asylum since the Rebirth reboot started.She’s a telepath from the future so has knowledge of the 21st century and can read minds, so she knows (we think) what’s coming. As for the reader what’s coming is a bloody unsubtle reminder of what DC are doing with Watchmen.

Yeah, that isn’t subtle. Neither are the pages on 9-panel grids as Batman watches the same hockey game Saturn Girl was, which also adds as a meta-commentary on the nature and voyeurism of violence in comics. Of course Watchmen had very little violence in it, though what their was was either repulsive or there to make a point about the nature of violence in comics was never reflective of the nature of violence in reality. Here the point seems to be muddled, not to mention blaming Watchmen for the violence in comics after its publication.

A brush with the Psycho Pirate’s mask sees Bruce Wayne encounter his father, the Batman of Flashpoint.

Bringing the Flashpoint Batman back for a glimpse reminds us of The New 52,one of  DC’s previous attempt to reboot its universe in a ‘gritty’ way. it’s also blamed for generally poor sales and the company struggling before leading to Rebirth last year.Anyhow, after contacting The Flash, Batman ends up in a fight with the Reverse-Flash as it’s hinted that a ‘power’ (Dr. Manhattan?) brought him back from the dead.

So we get a few pages of Thawne beating up Batman (MORE VIOLENCE!!) before Thawne finally wins thanks to The Flash being late. Picking up the Comedian’s badge does this to Thawne…

That does look like a Dr. Manhattan style ”BZZT’ there. Unfortunately for Thawne he comes back a tad worse for wear.

The story picks up in The Flash #21 due out next week but it’s clear DC are pushing on with the integration of Moore and Gibbons work into the DC Universe even if its clear they don’t seem to really have got or understood Watchmen, or what Moore and Giibbons were doing with their work. I don’t blame writer Tom King as he actually does a pretty good job in working with a shitty stick to create a pretty reasonable superhero tale, but the entire idea seems seedy.

I don’t think the higher-ups of DC get how integrating Watchmen changes the meaning of it, but they are counting the praise for that work rubs off on titles like this. It’s a bit like the Fearless Girl statue in New York and the controversy around that. This is just simply another example of late capitalism of course, but as a sales tactic it’ll work as already on Ebay issues of Batman #21 are being advertised at stupidly high prices.

So I’ll take a hit for the team and carry on to the next part in The Flash to see what happens next…

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.

Comics fans in Glasgow; come and give me all your money this weekend!

A few weeks ago I mentioned that after a long, long time I was heading back into the world of comics? Well, this weekend I’ll be trading at the Glasgow Sci Fi, Cosplay and Comic Con http://www.glasgowscc.co.uk/at the iconic Barrowlands in Glasgow.

I’ll be having a selection of lovely comics from the 1950’s to today, including variant covers. Lots of pointless variant covers but hey, the kids love them!

So what am I calling myself? Well, Companies House has issues with me digging up the AKA Books and Comics name and I don’t really want to spend more than the £12 it’s cost me to make a limited company to untangle that mess. Then I had a brainwave, realised that hurt too much and remembered another bit of my past which (cutting a long story short) leads to the answer.

Welcome to Neptune Comics and Books.

Yeah, I got me a logo and everything!

So, this weekend Glasgow folk, even from outwith of Glasgow, come to the Barrowlands, see some cosplay, see some guests and mainly, spend some money with me and get yourself some rather splendid comics…

What I thought of Mister Miracle #1

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Another week of no decent new comics on Comixology so it’s time for another delve into the past with a genuine classic comic; Jack Kirby’s Mister Miracle #1. Originally published in 1971 this was part of Kirby’s massive Fourth World storyline and from the off throws the reader right into the world of a super escape-artist.

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However things aren’t as they seem to the modern reader’s eye, as this is the Mister Miracle before Scott Free, Thaddeus Brown.

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Kirby starts with a bang, but he waits to throw in the cosmic elements of the characters choosing instead to introduce Inter-Gang; a Mafia analogue influenced by not just Kirby’s clear love of superheroes, but his experiences as a child growing up in the rough streets of Depression era New York. As this is a superhero comic, there’s a fight scene once these guys come on the scene but as of now there’s no real hint of anything cosmic. We’ve got a strange young man, and an ageing escape artist fighting ordinary criminals.

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We’re also introduced to a boss of Inter-Gang, Steel Hand, who is called that for bloody obvious reasons.

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Meanwhile Thaddeus and his assistant Oberon test Scott Free as Kirby slips in some hints that things may well not be as they seem.

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Passing the test, Scott shows the pair his Mother Box, an almost magical super-computer that Scott uses to break free of his bonds.The next day Thaddeus is testing out a ridiculously dangerous stunt while Inter-Gang are out to kill him.

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Thaddeus is killed, which means Scott steps up and this is the trigger for Kirby to go full-on Kirby as Scott becomes Mister Miracle in order to seek revenge for the death of Thaddeus by the hand of Steel Hand.

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After escaping another deadly trap, Mister Miracle and Steel Hand have a big fight because this is Kirby!

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Of course Mister Miracle wins, the baddie is beaten, Oberon becomes Scott’s sidekick and everything is established quickly with enough mysterious hints of a huge backstory for Scott yet at this point we don’t know how it’ll connect to the other Kirby titles DC published. Every single page of this is Kirby at his peak and because of that this comic is an utter joy. The storytelling is superb, and although the baddie is fairly bland by Kirby standards, he exists only to get defeated by the end. He’s a plot device to show how much more advanced Scott is compared to Thaddeus.

Comics like this made me love the medium as a child as it still does as an adult!

What I thought of Action Comics #12

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Imagine being a kid in America in 1939 when you’re gripped in not just a depression, but there’s looming war in Europe? Imagine how grim it’d be? Imagine then coming across a copy of Action Comics #12 with its bright, gaudy cover of a space ship, a man in an shiny top hat and the promise of Superman; the first superhero. Imagine opening up the issue and seeing this first panel in the Superman story?

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You would quite literally wet yourself.

The story itself is astonishing. A friend of Clark Kent is killed by a reckless driver and after asking the mayor of the city (this is early days so much of the mythos of Superman hasn’t formed yet) he decides to take matters into his own hands.

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Early Superman didn’t fuck about. Deciding to tell the city that he’s not fucking about he goes to a radio station to tell the city that he really isn’t going to fuck about here because he’s fucking Superman!

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Superman tells the city that he’s pissed off with the city having the worst safety record in the country for driving, and that in future reckless drivers are going to answer to him.

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Quite bluntly, Superman is a angry twat here but its amazing to see a character which for years became so bland being so angry, and remember, this is 1939, this is radical stuff for what are still children’s comics. Still, Superman isn’t finished as he takes on the 1939 version of Swiss Toni.

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Superman kicks off scaring the hell out of drunken drivers and the police equally as he continues his crusade scaring the shite out of hit and run drivers before taking on corrupt industrialists, as this Superman is a proper socialist firebrand.

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As I’ve said, reading this decades later is extraordinary a Superman seems more like Judge Dredd with a hint of Tony Benn as he smashes up factories, busts corrupt policemen and pulls up the mayor for failing to enforce speed laws in an utterly brutal way. Remember, these were children’s comics in 1939…

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This is genuinely brilliant stuff from the Golden Age of comics. This is a social active Superman that sees a problem, thinks ‘fuck it’ and does something about it while the crudity of Siegel and Shuster’s art and script make the strip effectively brutal in its delivery. It’s a little sliver of joy for kids at the time who I’d imagine have to deal with reckless drivers in those early days of mass automotive transport.

The icing on the cake of this is the last panel advertising a new strip in Detective Comics that same month.

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Nah, it’ll never catch on.

What I thought of Justice League of America #94

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Another crap week for new comics on Comixology, so time to dip into their weekly digital releases of classic comics and The Justice League of America #94 is a little gem of a comic and one that’s a key issue as it continues the revelation of the League of Assassins as a major part of the DC Universe, and who are now a major part of DC’s television adaptations, especially Arrow.

Also this is a big issue for Neal Adams fans as he drew the Deadman (DC superhero who happens to be a ghost that can possess anyone, even Superman or Batman) segments of this issue, with regular JLA artist of the time, Dick Dillin, drawing the rest of the story.

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Dillin is one of the most underrated superhero comics artists of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Never flashy, never ostentatious but solid, reliable and with great storytelling which sounds like faint praise, but it isn’t. There’s far flashier artists working today who don’t have a tenth of Dillin’s storytelling talent.

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It is however Neal Adams who is the Superstar artist popping up throughout the issue displaying the sort of work that redefined superhero art and broke the mould of endless Jack Kirby clones, though it did gives us years of Neal Adams clones.

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The script by Mike Friedrich is again, good solid superheroics and typical of when DC started to adopt a more Marvel-esque style in writing. It isn’t spectacular, but he handles the archer,Merlyn the Magician well enough as something more than just a typical JLA villain of the time.

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This is a little gem of an issue that acts as a fun wee JLA tale, as well as setting up years, in fact, decades, of Batman stories.

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There’s also a pair of classic Golden Age Sandman and Starman stories which are charming, if somewhat more crude than I remember from reading this issue when I was much younger. Overall this is a classic bit of comics history that clunky in places manages to reflect the changes from the old reliable DC Comics to the new, exciting DC Comics by people like Neal Adams.