When comic book speculators get scammed…

I have an odd relationship with speculators in that I don’t mind them buying my stuff, but I do have issues with the larger speculators who are inflating a bubble so alike the 90s one that when it bursts will be the first ones crying they have tens of thousands of comics, many slabbed, worth vastly less than what they paid for them.

Take as an example Comictom on Youtube. In the video below be details how he was scammed because he was buying a slabbed copy of Wolverine #1 from 1988 for $1000. This is a book which sells for 40-50 quid. He says he paid this money to stop himself missing out when the boom hits (which I’ve done, and indeed, still do) but I don’t inflate the market by spending so much over the odds.

I should feel sorry for him but I can’t. This sort of rampant stupidity sees comics priced out of the range of the average collector and takes an artform meant to be read into just another rich person’s way to ‘invest’ their money by inflating the market. This means for most new collectors the idea of owning a decent run of silver let alone bronze age is next to nothing which means the actual next generation of fans could be put off the medium because it costs too fucking much just to buy what used to be average or low value comics.

We have a responsiblity to ensure the hobby and the medium continues and it won’t if people are daft enough to pay a grand for a comic worth 50 quid!

David Anthony Kraft RIP

David Anthony Kraft has passed away thanks to Covid (the toll this virus has done to the creative arts is depressing) and with that, the world of comics has lost an important figure but we’ll never see the likes again. I first noticed Kraft’s name when he started writing The Defenders which thanks to Steve Gerber’s work, had becomed one of my favourite books.

Defenders, The, Edition# 47: Marvel, Marvel: Amazon.com: Books

The Defenders was one of Marvel’s team books but unlike say, The Avengers, the stories were not the normal superheroic stuff with pages of fights often replaced by the weird and bizarre (as much as you could do under the Comics Code in the 70s) which also coincided with artist Keith Giffen in his Jack Kirby phase so the entire book was a crazy mix of weirdness, philosphy and superheroics with a roster which would wildly change often with one issue to the next. It was wonderful stuff. As was his run on Marvel Two-In-One, a strange wee book featuring the Thing from the Fantastic Four teaming up with another hero each issue.

Marvel Two In One #41 Thing & Brother Voodoo (1978)

But it’ll be his magazine Comics Interview he’ll mainly be remembered for.

Comics Interview (1983) comic books

The magazine was vastly more mainstream than the Comics Journal, so more stuff from Marvel and DC would crop up, though Kraft still kept the magazine open for all genres and publishers til 1995 when the collapse of the industry he loved affected him directly when Comics Interview was cancelled. There’s still a gap in the market for something like this which parts of the internet tries to deliver.

And now another figure from an important era in comics is gone and they’ll be missed.

Jim Steinman’s Batman musical

The sad news about the death of Jim Steinman obviously brought out memories of listening to Meat Loaf as a kid, mainly because of the Richard Corben cover of Bat Out of Hell, and being a young person developing his own tastes I thought if the creator of Den did a cover for someone then it has to be ridiculously over the top which of course it is. Steinman changed the career of so many from Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler, through to the Sisters of Mercy where he helped rewrite the sound of Goth to include big pompous drums and guitars that lives on til today.

However the thing that slipped from our grasp was a musical adaptation of Batman, specifically Tim Burton’s Batman film from 1989. Sadly it was not to be, however the music lives on in all its OTT glory.

Sit back, turn it up and enjoy…

What I thought of Zack Snyder’s Justice League

The whole reason this film exists isn’t just down to a fan campaign like no other since they cancelled Star Trek in the 60’s, but the launch of HBO Max and the cinema closedown thanks to Covid meant that Warner Brothers were looking for a quick hit, and this with a readymade fanbase would be just that hopefully. The 2017 version completed by Joss Whedon is an odd beast that doesn’t work but does have some good scenes, but as a whole it was a mess. Snyder’s departure from the film is part tragedy because of the death of his daughter, and partly business as WB realised a 4 hour epic would not work in most cinemas with a film that came off the poor Batman V Superman.

Which brings us to the 4 hour epic streaming on HBO Max in the US, and Sky/Now TV over here in the UK. It’s a film I’ll probably never watch again, at least in the full version but this is probably the best of Snyder’s three DC films but it is a mess. There is literally no way this would work in cinemas to bring in the numbers Warners want as few casual cinema goers would sit through a film of this length unless it was coming off a massive success which it wasn’t.

Snyder’s JL starts at the end of Batman V Superman with Superman’s death cry ringing out around the world which is a bold opening sequence, however the 4:3 ratio takes some getting used to (after all, this is 2021 and we’re not used to films in this ratio) but it sets a grim, grey funeral tone for the film which I can understand with Snyder’s tragedy being exorcised onscreen. For much of the running time this tone doesn’t relent and with the film having very little intential humour (more on this in a minute) much of the first two hours is set-up and exposition which makes it often a chore to get through. It does give all the League a good backstory or introduction but scenes go on far too long or the construction is so poor that the scene becomes bloated and pompous. In the case of The Flash, it goes over old ground the TV show has done, and done better than this.

There’s two scenes in particular which highlight the problem. One is Aquaman’s walk along the pier during a storm, which just goes on and on and on. It also brought to mind this bit of classic comedy from The Comic Strip Presents.

Then there’s the Wonder Woman scene in London where she saves a class of schoolkids from terrorists which was a short, to the point scene in 2017 and is now a bloated mess with bad CGI terrorists being smeared across walls before Wonder Woman spouts the most inane form of feminism (‘you can be anything’) to one of the survivors. It’s a scene supposedly weighty but it’s a nonsense. It’s the sort of scene a teenaged boy who spends too much time online would find ‘badass’ but it just makes one of the few female characters just another violent killer. And here’s the issue with superheroes. You can make them ‘real’ but you can’t ever make them authentic because the nature of what a superhero is reduces characters to 2D models of what a real person should be.

As for the second half this is when all the set-up pays off, and with Snyder being a fan of Chekov’s gun, there’s a lot of things paying off from Cyborg’s relationship with his father and acceptance of who he is, through to The Flash accepting who he is, or Aquaman accepting who he is and so on. The villian Steppenwolf is a badly designed generic baddie who is fighting for the main baddie Darkseid, who is also poorly designed with poor CG. Both had good and great Jack Kirby designs respectively but this film was born out of DC’s disastrous New 52 reboot, and suffers because it takes so much from that mess. Ben Affleck’s Batman is probably the highlight of the film, though Henry Cavill’s Superman is essentially an extended cameo which is a pity as the best thing which came out of the 2017 version was giving Cavill a chance to actualy play Superman instead of some Emo version of the character via Kid Marvelman.

Anyhow, eventually the Justice League come together after a pointless McGuffin chase, fight the baddie, defeat him in a way which sets up a sequel which won’t happen and then we get a load of epilogues that would make Peter Jackson call time. These scenes set up films which have happened, will happen but not as intended here or just won’t happen like Affleck’s Batman solo film.

Is it the ‘masterpiece’ fans are saying it is? Fuck, no. There is no need for this film to be four hours long. A good producer would trim at least an hour, then there’s the 4:3 ratio which is the Imax ratio which is fine, but why not save that for when cinemas reopen and it can be seen in that ratio? Also the script is awful at times as Snyder is trying to create this great mythic thing (which at times he nearly does) but wooden, empty cliched dialogue does not an epic make then Snyder has never been anything but a visual filmaker. Visually at times Justice League looks extraordinary which makes me wish I could see it on a big screen with great sound as the action scenes are great. I especially like the scenes of Darkseid’s first attempted invasion of Earth which is so over the top that the film, finally becomes fun before it crawls back into brooding exposition. Snyder’s overall vision is to be applauded though, even if much of it is ponderous nonsense. There’s nothing like this directorial vision out there in regards to superheroes, and he takes the fascistic nature of superheroes head on, even if it comes over as ripped from Ayn Rand’s notebook. Marvel try to deal with some of the themes Synder engages but either runs away from the consequences of it or just tries to ignore the logical inconsistancies of superheroes. Snyder doesn’t care so we get the full vision.

As a film Justice League is a real director’s cut. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s appalling sometimes it has an overinflated view of itself but as an experiment it’s an oddity while being one those things that may well end up changing how films are made in a post-Covid world and its vocal, and sometimes aggresively so group of fans did the near impossible in getting a film studio to cough up the millions to make this film happen in a perfect storm. Whether it could happen again is debatable though the film’s early success may not last the week, I’m glad such a thing exists only to push others to do better.

Basically watch this if you’re a superhero fan, or maybe a student of cinema but otherwise this sometimes entertaining, often infuriating, sometimes dreadful film will be four hours you’ll never get back. Be aware of that going into this and commiting to the full experience.

Superhero film fans get annoyed by Martin Scorsese, again.

Martin Scorsese is along with Steven Spielberg, the greatest living American film director of his, not to mention, subsequent generations. He’s made some of the best films ever made. Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Mean Streets, Goodfellas, The King of Comedy, Wolf of Wall Street; all films which are the very best of cinema so when he talks its because he knows what he’s talking about and he loves cinema. His recent comments about reducing all film to ‘content’ is so spot on it hurts.

Scorsese wrote, in his opinion, that content is now a “business term for all moving images: a David Lean movie, a cat video, a Super Bowl commercial, a superhero sequel, a series episode.”

To Netflix or any other streaming service, Avengers: Endgame and Raging Bull are equals. They’re content to be consumed depending on how the algorithm works for you so potentially, depending on what you ‘consume’, your entire view of what makes up film can include only say, superhero and SF films, sorry, ‘content’. Now I enjoy much of Marvel’s films, while DC have made the odd decent one, but Marvel’s odd, sexless world of simplified human emotions or Zack Snyder’s weird neo-facism via Ayn Rand are not telling great stories about humanity, though to be fair Snyder is a talented visual director as opposed to Marvel’s functional by the numbers direction.

But they ain’t art or great cinema.

And here’s Scorsese’s point. Flattening everything out to be the same reduces all filmakers into content producers, so the idea of art and artistic craft is eradicated for this mush which tastes fine but eat to much of it ends up killing the taste buds. Mixing in a bit of smoked salmon, or a fine wine in with your mush leads to a balanced diet but if you don’t have the choice you won’t know that you’re being cheated of expanding your love and enjoyment of what is a wonderful medium, so you end up taking it personally because you’ve made this ‘content’ part of your identity instead of calmly listening to the point that we can’t just throw everything in a pot and expect it to be consumed the same way.

Instead fans become sensitive and overreact, close ranks and in doing so prove the point. It’s a depressing circle which eats itself but this is 2021…

Zack Snyder’s Justice League and fan service

After a massive fan campaign, Zack Snyder has finished his version of the Justice League film which was released in 2017 to resounding shrugged shoulders and now there is this ridiculously overblown trailer released.

In one sense I’m glad Snyder has made it perfectly clear about the inhert fascism of the superhero, but at the same time these are still children’s power fantasies so there’s this bizarre ever-so-serious tone which imparts these characters with a supposed mythology which gives them a gravitas they don’t deserve. It is basically, pompous.

But this is Zack Snyder we’re talking about. Now he’s clearly a talented filmmaker, plus his version of Dawn of the Dead is actually really good, while his adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 is very good especially with Snyder’s obsession with the neo-fascist elements of Miller’s work. However Sucker Punch was offensive, patronising bollocks which I’m astonished got made at all, and his DC work is relentlessly humourless, bleak and endlessly dark. From Pa Kent’s needless self-sacrifice to the ‘Martha’ scene in Batman V Superman, Snyder has managed to get away with some dreadful stuff because his work appeals to a hardcore of fans.Those fans are incredibly vocal online and you have to applaud how they’ve convinced Warners there’s money in getting Snyder’s version made,though for a more general audience they’re perhaps tired of the enforced grimness of Snyder’s work.

However if at all successful this could effectively change how films are made. The pandemic means studios have to reconsider new ways to get to audiences, and if there’s a large enough one out there shouting for something then give it to them. I await it’s arrival next month in the same way I awaited my last set of medical tests, but whatever happens it will cement a place as a cinematic oddity. Just how much we’ll see in March.

What I thought of some recent comics…Part two

Last time I gave a lot of recent comics a good and well-deserved kicking, especially DC’s titles which are mainly awful at the minute so I’ll start this off with something different from DC which is an excellent comic book.

The Other History of the DC Universe is a sequel of sorts to DC’s History of the DC Universe published 35 years ago, but this time it focuses on DC’s black and other minority characters in a five-issue series which dissects what it would be actually like to be black in DC’s superhero universe. Written by John Ridley (the screenwriter responsible for 12 Years a Slave) makes it clear from the issues published so far that it’d not be too much fun.

Drawn by various artists over the five issues, this promises to be an important series for DC who haven’t always been great with minority characters or representation as a whole. This could well be an important work when completed so get on board now.

Department of Truth is a massive disapointment. A great idea that there’s groups of people fighting to present the world in a certain way with one unit run by the not dead Lee Harvey Oswald is a great idea and at times it does work. The main issues with this is writer James Tynion makes great concepts but I couldn’t care less about any of the characters. This is a high concept series so it either needs a good everyman to have this world explained to them, or we as readers are dropped in this insane world and we pick it up as we’re going along.

The other problem is Martin Simmonds painted art. It frankly is a mess with characters wading through this shit-grey palatte at times and the entire thing having often such poor storytelling that I had no idea what’s going on. This is a shame as when it does click it can be great, and if rumour is true it’s heading for a TV adaptation which will make this a huge book for Image, maybe even fully replacing The Walking Dead in monthly sales, but otherwise this is disapointing.

Since the first Iron Man film, Marvel have struggled to find a decent selling let alone readable comic featuring the character. Part of the problem is that awful Civil War crossover written by Mark Millar which has hung round the character’s neck for over a decade. This may change now as Marvel have a decent title which looks like it’s selling better than before.

The creative team of Christpher Cantwell and Cafu don’t do anything spectacular. They just strip the character free of much of the crap built up over the last few decades just to concentrate on simple superheroics which creates a readable version of Iron Man in the first time for ages.

Dark Horse Comics may well be hurt by the loss of the 20th Century Fox titles such as the Aliens books which helped grow the company to what it is today, but it still finds diamonds in among all the rough. Spy Island is one of those wee gems.

Written by Chelsea Cain and drawn by Elise McCall, this is a comedy romp with roots going back to Harvey Kurtzman’s Mad, which isn’t a bad thing to be inspired by. It’s a load of great, fun nonsense with some great covers. A 4-issue mini which I’d recommend picking up.

And on the subject of great mini-series from Dark Horse, Mike and Laura Allred’s X-Ray Robot is a sheer joy. Now out in trade form I’d also recommend this typical surrealist bit of pop culture from the Allred’s just for a joyful, fun read from a team who remembers that superhero comics are supposed to be something other than grim and miserable.

And lastly, Al Ewing has come on leaps and bounds over the last few years, and his latest series, We Only Find Them When They’re Dead, is a so far interesting SF drama set in a future where giant god-like figures are found dead floating in space so humans being what they are, decide to harvest their body parts for a vast variety of uses.

Drawn by Simone De Meo the whole thing looks and feels like a strip from mid-80’s Heavy Metal, which again, is not a bad comparison. It clearly has been written for trade collections, so it doesn’t quite flow well reading it monthly, then again decompression in mainstream comics is abused, but I feel here that Ewing is working towards something big but right now everything feels like set-up and backstory. This aside I’d pick this up as it looks lovely and as said, there’s a purpose for all of this, I hope!

What I thought of some recent comics. Part one

The Covid pandemic made a small blip on publishing comics, but they’re coming out thick and fast with the Big Two especially turning out some uninspiring rubbish. DC’s Future State ‘event’ is an example of editorial coming up with an idea to sell comics and creative decisions made waaaaaay down the line.

Take the Flash issue as an example.

We’re now 40 years on from when Alan Moore revolutionised superhero comics with his version of Marvelman, and here we are several generations down the line and we have writers still trying to do ‘dark’ superheroes. In this case we have poor Wally West who has been generally treated awfully as a character by DC over the years who does his best to be a sort of Kid Marvelman type character. It’s all pretty derivitive from writer Brandon Vietti with decent enough art by Dale Eaglesham.

Moving away from DC’s BIG EVENT titles, the recent Joker War (out soon in trade paperback) which ran across the Batman titles is another example of the creative ditch DC especially seems to find itself in. Having given up even tryin to appeal to a wider audience in the mainstream titles, they now pitch at a more established, ageing readership.

Written by James Tynion IV (writer of the splendid series Memetic from some years back) this story sees the Joker and his new partner, Punchline (essentially a pornofied version of Harley Quinn) do their best to destroy Batman and company. Tynion is a good writer but this pushes this to ridiculous degrees so for example, we’re to beleive people will stay in a Gotham where tens of thousands have been murdered overnight, while a barely competent Batman eventually beats a murderous psychotic Joker and the bodycount rises, and rises and rises…

It’s as a bleak, nihilistic and depressing view of Batman as any DC have churned out over the decades since Frank Miller gave us Dark Knight, but like Alan Moore’s copycats, these people writing these stories today don’t have the skill or talent of Miller so credulity is stretched so a decreasing audience laps up the mindless violence in these dark, joyless comics. These comics also suffer from DC’s habit of hiring artists with poor storytelling which makes me wonder what the editors actually do?

Then there’s the ongoing road accident which is the Brian Bendis Superman titles.

Bendis hasn’t written anything worth reading in well over a decade and has been trading upon past glories for some time, but this run has been a complete disaster. He doesn’t get the character for a start, however it’s the overly wordy scripts (show don’t tell, this is comics after all) which again, editors should be returning but DC are paying Bendis stupid sums of money though with little return so far. The issue with Bendis is he needs to be reigned in and this doesn’t do this. I’ll see what he does when he leaves and starts Justice League, but I expect little or no change.

As for Marvel things are improving, however Jason Aaron’s turgid Avengers title displays all the problems with many modern comics in the writer has been brought up on a diet of comics and genre fiction, so we get recycled ideas from this.

It isn’t that this title is awful, but it’s just the same old stuff rehashed for the same old audience with little in the way of style or wit. A problem with many a comic coming from the Big Two. Stuck between pandering to an adult audience with one eye on the new readers who often get chased away thanks to the simply disastrous way companies, and fans, conduct themselves. Make these kids characters for kids but at the same time make it capable for adults to derive enjoyment out of them without having to read a bloodbath every issue or see someone like Bendis cram six word balloons into one panel.

I’ve realised I’ve been far too negative here, so in the next part some titles worth looking at…

Wonder Woman 1984 brings out the misogynists

I enjoyed the first Wonder Woman film a lot, mainly as it was a welcome relief from Zack Snyder’s grim narccism in his handling of DC’s superheroes, but also because it was well made fun. I’ve been looking forward to the sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, and as I live in the UK it means the film has been out now for a fortnight but there’s the little issue of virtually no cinemas open so I’ll have to wait til the VOD release in a few weeks.

The film came out on Christmas Day in the U.S, as well as being streamed on HBO Max to generally average reviews and some vicious online reaction, mainly from males who seem to always get angry when women headline these sort of films. In fact the reaction is so angry and aggressive that you’d think WW84 starts with her killing puppies Mondo style and going on from there, but it’s a superhero film so that mean Incels and sexists (including some women) unite not to say they didn’t like the film (which is fine) but to question whether women can handle these types of films which is enormously sexist shite.

Every single female focused superhero film gets this. Every female focused film normally the preserve of men gets this, and we end up with the stream of bile regardless of the quality of the film. Thankfully now it seems studios are starting to ignore this but the fact is there’s a lot of people out there who utterly hate women and the anonymous nature of social media means they can pour that hate out in real time often against the stars of these films.

I’ve not seen WW84 yet, so I’m not able to make a judgement on the film itself, but I do wonder how these people spitting out hate function on a daily basis, but worse, I wonder how on the verge of 2021 we’ve got to this state where men can do this and they think nothing of it.

Richard Corben RIP

Richard Corben has sadly passed away. Corben was one of the great comic artists of the late 20th century and managed to leap from underground to mainstream effortlessly, and I ensure that virtually every person reading this will have seen his most famous work.

Like many fans of a certain age, I first found Corben’s work in Heavy Metal, and especially his Den strip which is like a sexed up Conan for those who’ve never seen it’s beautiful insanity.

I then came across his work in Jim Warren’s magazines Creepy and Eerie, which is fucking spectacular works of horror, and it is in the horror and science fiction genres Coben did much of his best work. One of my favourite works is his and Harlan Ellison’s Vic and Blood, which is a wonderful work.

He did dabble in the world of superheroes with varying success, but there is a splendid run he did on Hellblazer which is worth searching out, as well as a Hulk miniseries which shows that Corben should have drawn the character years before he did.

However to millions he’ll be known for drawn the cover to Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell. It’s a good work but one that verges on self-parody, but as an image to seel a style,this was perfect for someone with such a varied and long career. Nobody’s art looked like Corben and although some of the 70’s and 80’s airbrush artists tried, it just wasn’t Corben…

A unique talent is gone and he’ll be seriously missed.