A short history of black superheroes on film

With Black Panther opening this month there’s a massive wave of excitement at a high profile black superhero having their own big budget film but T’Challa isn’t the first black hero to get on film.

First up is 1997’s Steel.

I know the trailer looks shite but trust me, the film is much, much worse.

Next up is Michael Jai White in Spawn, also from 1997 and marginally less shite than Steel, though not by much.

The less said about Halle Berry’s Catwoman film the better.

There’s also the likes of Hancock and err, Meteor Man to be briefly mentioned and discarded.

There are of course the odd one’s out with the first two Blade films which were actually really good. The first one apart from being a bloody good action film had much to say about class and race in its own wee way.

And the sequel was all about Guillermo del Toro having a shitload of fun.

Sadly, the third film was rubbish so moving on, can you see now what if you’re white there’s plenty of superheroes that look like you on the screen, but if you’re not there’s a small handful of mainly rubbish films and the odd two that stand out so for a large section of the population, Black Panther is a big deal.

We’ll no doubt see companies turn out more films featuring black heroes, and indeed, the Black Lightning TV series  is doing some good work but before we don’t see films like Black Panther as unusual there’s still a load of work to be done.

I’m waiting though for my 200 million dollar Brother Voodoo film.


How fans look like pricks part 2149: Marvel V DC

Marvel’s Black Panther film is coming out in a few weeks. It looks like it’ll manage to straddle the boundary between Marvel’s house style and something actually different for a superhero film.

Not content with just enjoying/ignoring the film, a group of DC fans are planning to ‘sabotage’ the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score. This raises a couple of points. Firstly using Rotten Tomatoes as a guide is pretty pointless as it rates critics who’ve an understanding and knowledge of film alongside Some Bloke who has a blog and is super-excited about the new Transformers film and likes all those old films from the 90’s.

As an aggregate of opinion it rates all opinion as equally valid when it isn’t. There lies the flaw so remember it when some arsehole quotes the site as some sort of empirical truth.

Secondly the ‘Marvel V DC’ thing got tired back in the 60’s. Truth is there’s always been a happy rivalry and remember, if DC hadn’t brought back its superheroes in the late 50’s to early 60’s then Marvel wouldn’t have thought of venturing away from western, romance and monster comics to do them themselves. Over the years creators have flitted from one company to the other all the time, plus there’s been cross-company collaborations on and off for the last 40 years.

I’m looking forward to Ryan Coogler’s film, but frankly reading of fans scheming to fix opinion is just another sad example of how fans can take their fanaticism too far to the point where they can’t enjoy things for what they are. Instead they have to ‘win’ and fight false wrongs.  It is a nonsense way to spend your existence on this planet but this won’t sadly be the last time a group of fans act like dicks because they don’t have anything better to do in life.

A quick word about the brilliance of José Luis García-López

Over the decades the world of comics have produced superstar artists from Jack Kirby to Jim Steranko to Neal Adams, John Byrne, George Perez, Brian Bolland, Jim Lee and dozens more. You rarely find the name of José Luis García-López in these lists yet artists rate him enormously & you’ll have almost certainly seen an example of his art. In fact I guarantee you’d have seen it.

García-López is essentially the artist that defined how DC Comics superheroes looked from the late 70’s to fairly recently, and having drawn countless character sheets for artist references not to mention the endless items of DC’s merchandising it is likely you’re sitting not far from a García-López piece right now.

His characters aren’t muscle-bound or cursed with infeasibly large breasts, but although hyper-realised, still look like human beings albeit somewhat fantastic in their costumes.

I especially recommend the series he drew for DC called Twilight. Written by Howard Chaykin, the series is a glorious science fiction epic that allows García-López  to indulge himself, and the covers are simply wonderful.

So go search out his work. In the last 40 years there’s few artists who’ve drawn superheroes as well as he has, and with DC stuck in their current bland ‘house style’, García-López stands as a reminder of how it could, and even should be done.

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.

What I thought of Doomsday Clock #2

DC’s Doomsday Clock started off last issue it provoked a strange reaction from the majority of comics media in that it was all strangely positive, though this series of articles by Chase Magnett made a great case against the comic while explaining the problems with it from  it from an ethical point of view. Thinking it’d be worth seeing how Doomsday Clock is developing I dipped into issue two.

We pick up with Ozymandias, Nu-Rorschach and Mime and Marionette. The latter two are a sort of generic Joker/Harley Quinn type of DC psychopath who seem to be here to show off how Geoff Johns can write ‘crazy and dangerous’, but in the verisimilitude of Moore and Gibbons Watchmen these would be characters who’d  be shot by the police but Johns has to build them up as ultra scary baddies even though this weakens Johns point that Watchmen was the well of all these characters. As said last time, in fact it was those trying to copy Moore’s prose and who only took the violence away from Watchmen that made the industry worse.

Anyhow we have a flashback to them raiding a bank, when Dr Manhattan’s shows up and doesn’t kill them because…

Yes, it does look as if Manhattan doesn’t turn them both into tomato soup because he’s clocking her tits out but this mystery is why Ozymandias freed the both as he searches for the missing Dr. in hope of saving the world and to do so they all pile in NIte Owl’s Owlship, Archie, which has been converted to follow Dr. Manhattan however the nukes have started falling.

Meanwhile in the DC Universe (I suppose all this is now the DC Universe) Bruce Wayne has some issue with Lex Luthor, as well as Gotham protesting Batman while Geoff Johns shoehorns something in he heard on the news.

The group makes it through into the DC Universe, and we find out Nu-Rorschach is Malcolm Long’s son Reggie.

We then get what DC have been wanking themselves into a fury to achieve for nearly 30 years as Watchmen characters walk the streets of Gotham City!

Nathaniel Dusk was a great series DC did back in the 80’s by Don McGregor and Gene Colan. Not content with dragging Watchmen through the mud, Johns drops this in here hinting (well, making an obvious bloody reference) to something important in the plot and dear god, this is all plot. Every page is dense plot dripping from the page with no time for characterisation or any form of subtlety which by the time we get to Lex Luthor and Ozymandias swapping cringe-worthy dialogue with each other has left the building.

That isn’t what people came for. They came to see Nu-Rorschach fight Batman!

Which is teased for next issue, but this issue features the return of the Comedian who shoots Lex Luthor, while the text pieces tell more about the backstory. No characterisation of course, just more big, bleeding, juicy chunks of plot.

All Doomsday Clock is, is plot. As an example of the sort of comic Moore and Gibbons were satirising in Watchmen, and what followed as lesser talents tried to ape the success of Moore and Gibbons.Doomsday Clock works as fan-fiction because lets all be honest here; that’s what this is. There’s no attempt to deliver a greater meaning outwith of ‘wouldn’t it be cool if X met Y‘ and while that can be fine, watching the industry cannibalise itself this way isn’t good.

Reason being that if you’re an up and coming writer, or any writer in any stage of your career with a Great Idea, and you happen to work for DC why the hell would you deliver it to them when you’re watching them dissect the work of the biggest writer in comics of the last 30 years? Doomsday Clock isn’t even a very good comic as I couldn’t care less about any of the characters on display. Nu-Rorschach is probably the most interesting as there’s still something to find out about him but Johns will flatly just deliver those revelations as plot points spelled out tediously on the page.

As an example of corporate comics unleashed, Doomsday Clock does what it has to. Here’s the Watchmen characters in the DC Universe. That’s it.It carries a pretence of trying to be something greater but as said, this is fan-fiction that has managed to give DC clout over its main competitor Marvel (who to be fair, are shooting themselves in the foot constantly) and make themselves lots of money which is the point of all this. So when you cheer on Batman and Nu-Rorschach fighting (or not) remember the purpose of this isn’t to create, but generate product to keep shareholders happy and people in a job who were running out of ideas.

Prez: The 1970’s DC Comic for 21st century politics

The 1970’s were a bizarre decade. Anything was up for grabs at a time of astonishing change and this change included DC Comics who were trying hard to stay relevant at a time when their competitor, Marvel Comics, so they called on Captain America co-creator Joe Simon to produce Prez, the story of America’s first teen president.

Along with artist Jerry Grandetti, the story of Prez Rickard, the first teen president, lasted four short issues (a fifth issue later appeared in Cancelled Comics Cavalcade) and one guest appearance in Supergirl’s ongoing comic. There have been revivals, most notably an issue of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, but these four issues are completely and utterly bizarre.

It should be noted that in 1973, Simon was 60 and being asked to write a strip about a teen hero at the fag-end of flower power when much of what previous generations had known was ripped apart and reformed. That said, had DC stuck say, a Steve Englehart or Denny O’Neill on it who were younger men it probably wouldn’t have this strangeness about it and although some of it is iffy (Prez’s friend and head of the FBI is the permanently bare-chested Native American called Eagle Free) there’s something curiously subversive to it all.

Of course the art by Jerry Grandetti helps give a constant weirdness to it all as in a few short issues Prez deals with the threat of multinationals, assassins and vampires in stories that only make sense in the strange, dreamy world Simon created for Prez. It’s this dreamlike quality Gaiman picked up on for Sandman, but in reading these stories for the first time in decades it strikes me that Simon is trying to give his version as a 60 year-old man of early 1970’s America and what teenagers would be up against which would be mainly industrialists like Boss Smiley.

There’s something not right about Prez. It feels like a satire but it also feels like it’s played straight, but it also plays as a parable, but at the same time a post-modern commentary on the hippies, but it also breaks the fourth wall. Basically it doesn’t behave in the way we would expect a comic to behave as it changes tone, even genres sometimes from one panel to another.

It doesn’t always work and to the eye of someone in 2017/8 it can look awful, and indeed, much of it has dated, but as an oddity it is simply astonishing, and when it works its something weird and subversive. There’s been a few attempts to revive the character but with no success. There is a collection available but it is really worth having the originals as these as this is a bizarre wonder from DC at a time when the world was leaving it behind and it was trying to keep up.

What comics should Doomsday Clock blame for making superhero comics‘dark or grim’

DC’s Doomsday Clock is pushing the idea that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen is the root of all evil by essentially turning superhero comics into dark, grim and gritty comics. In a sense Geoff Johns (the writer and architect of Doomsday Clock) is sort of right as without Watchmen there’d have been less ‘grim’ superhero comics but only because the superhero comics industry follows a trend.

But this version of history is ignoring the fact that ‘grim and gritty’ was by the time of Watchmen’s publication in 1986, very firmly established. Before I explain it’s best to explain what ‘grim and gritty’ actually is. TV Tropes establishes it as…

A Tone Shift that seeks to make a work of fiction more serious, cynical or gritty.

Superhero comics have always had those elements in them from the early days of Superman beating up slum landlords to the JSA hanging around with kids in the 40’s New York ghetto but for most of the time superhero comics were just escapism, especially in the 50s when after the introduction of the Comics Code anything ‘edgy’ in superhero comics were neutered for years. Yet tonal shifts started happening at DC in the 60’s when in response to Marvel’s more neurotic heroes some of their heroes became ‘darker’. Best known of all these is Batman who went from this…

To this..

In the course of the 1960’s.

The idea of making a character ‘darker’ was a simple, sometimes lazy, shorthand for making superheroes more ‘realistic’ and was such a trope in the world of superhero comics that Moore and Gibbons actually satirise it in Watchmen.There’s even a few lines of dialogue from the older characters in the book mentioning about how the younger heroes are more violent, darker, than they were. Problem is that if you only read Watchmen on a single level this will pass you, so if you read it purely as a simple superhero story you won’t notice the different levels. This appears to be the problem with Johns in that he’s not read it, or gets how superhero comics would get ‘gritty’ when they needed to.

The wave of grim and gritty Watchmen was really talking about was the post Frank Miller Daredevil phase.

The impact Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil is somewhat lost today but he took a character who’d artistically soared when the likes of Wally Wood or Gene Colan had drawn the book, but was at best a second rate character clinging onto his own book by their fingernails. Marvel’s then Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter threw an incredibly young Frank Miller onto the title first as artist, then as writer/artist giving Marvel their first real auteur of the 1980’s.

The problem wasn’t Miller’s work which was superb, it was the stuff that tried to be Miller that was on the whole, poor and problematic, as was the work which initially followed Alan Moore’s early American work. Heroes start becoming ‘darker’ in stories where all the creators have taken from the work of Miller and Moore is the violence, and on the whole the work is awful. One exception is Steven Grant and Mike Zeck’s Punisher miniseries which at least tried to do more than just have senseless violence.

And here’s where we get to the point. Johns should be protesting and complaining about but that would mean dissecting his own work, which includes Blackest Night; a story featuring zombie heroes coming back from the dead to do what zombies do.

DC Comics should also turn in on themselves to study their part in creating their own problems with works such as Identity Crisis or the entire failed revamp which was The New 52.The issue with degrading art or going for the lowest possible option often doesn’t lie with the originators but with the copycats who aren’t talented enough or willing, to create something new from inspiring works. Instead they’ll mine certain elements and everyone digs violence and rape right?

DC dug themselves a hole. Doomsday Clock is an attempt to dig themselves out that hole while throwing shite at Moore and Gibbons for having the audacity to create something great that gave DC plaudits and cash, but because DC allowed creators lesser than Moore and Gibbons to turn out lesser material in an attempt to make people think they’re buying something like Watchmen because there’s a hero beating someone’s face off in graphic detail. So when you read Doomsday Clock realise that it’s the act of a company trying desperately to absolve itself of blame and making you excited about it.