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.

What I thought of Falcon and the Winter Soldier

The Marvel Cinematic Universe must be like living in an ongoing hellscape rather than a world of wonders. Mad gods can wipe half the universe out of existence, while enhanced people and super-powered individuals stomp round the planet caring nothing of borders and international treaties, and you don’t know if giant alien craft are going to come crashing upon you. You would literally be living in terror, yet here people live in a mix of normality or an unsettled refugee.

Then there’s the entire character of Sam Wilson who we first see acting on behalf of the US armed forces, and I assume the US government, in doing slightly dodgy things in the Middle East, but by the end of the series he’s rewriting what it means to be Captain America while being a tool of that nation’s colonialism. He’s no more a hero than John Walker who for much of the series is painted as a villain but in reality, this is a normal human being asked to fight people with superhuman abilities, and his unpreparedness costs the life of his partner who is Fridged as soon as the show can.

On top of this there’s the shonky pacing and plotting of the series. This series feels like a film expanded to nearly six hours so there’s so much padding with characters literally just standing there spouting exposition in flatly shot scenes which reminded me of how soap operas look To be fair some of this horrible disjointed feel can be put down to the break in production because of Covid 19. That said, it could have lost a couple of episodes and been better for it.

It is enjoyable junk fun if you don’t think about the horrible contradictions it throws up, or how the writers struggle to see the world without an American lens on, but like WandaVision before it this was a way to get Sam into being Captain America while pushing the MCU plot along a bit. Unlike WandaVision it was not as good and less cohesive as a work in its own right. Next up is the Loki series which does at least promise a break from the norm of the MCU.

One last thing, vast chunks of this series, including dialogue, was lifted from the works of people like Mark Guenwald and Ed Brubaker, but beyond a small credit hidden away these people, or their surviving families, get nothing even though Disney/Marvel make millions from these things. I’d assumed Disney were paying creators but it appears not to be the case. I wish MCU fans were as passionate about creator rights as they are about how cool Sam’s new costume is…

What I thought of WandaVision

Marvel’s first Disney+ series had a lot of heavy lifting to do with there not being anything released from Marvel in over a year thanks to Covid, plus it had to prove Marvel’s TV output could match the film output. WandaVison succeeds when it tries to venture off from the Marvel formula and fails when it slides back into the Marvel formula.

The story is essentially about Wanda’s grief after having to kill her lover, The Vision, in Infinity War in order to save the universe from Thanos. In the small ton of Westfield she’s formed her own reality based round old American sitcoms in which she’s recreated The Vision, as well as forming her two children. The hundreds of people living there are being controlled by Wanda as characters in her sitcom. At the same time the US government are trying to find out what’s going on so we get a mix of old and new characters with a gron up Monica Rambeau from Captain Marvel being the most notable.

As a set up it’s interesting, and the first half of the series is superb. Using the sitcom format renders an odd surrealism into the series as the viewer tries to work out what’s going on with what are entertaining pastiches of each era of sitcom featured from the 1960s to the 2010s. In terms of storytelling it is brave as the Marvel formula is by now a well oiled machine, and the films don’t verge too far into anything too different to that which they’ve set out so far. WandaVision deliberately challenges the viewer and in doing so allows Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany to flex their acting chops. The first half of this series is wonderful and bold. Then they play their cards too early and the series falls into traditional storytelling techniques which is a shame. Part of the problem is that WandaVision is there to push along the unstoppable plot which is the Marvel Cinematic Universe so this has to set up half a dozen things which follow it which makes for a less than satisfying end where we kick a Big Fight Scene or two masked in some good lines to give the idea this is something more than what it is which is well done superheroics.

I do hope though that Marvel decide to become more adventurous off the back of this rather than just sitting in their formula and endlessly repeating itself.Also sacrificing chunks of storytelling to cram in the relentless MCU plot is tiresome when it leaves so many dangling ends which may well take years to complete.

WandaVision though is overall a triumph of the superhero genre. It tries to break free of Marvel’s sometimes static direction by using less green screen unless needed, which makes it feel more organic.Having characters developed for longer was good to see, even if it still is firminly lodged in two dimensions. True it does swerve some of the bigger questions, like for example Wanda basically mind-raped the people of Westfield, while Monica’s glib dismissal of the population’s fear and hatred of Wanda continues my belief that the MCU isn’t a universe full of wonders but a cold, dark dystopia where literal gods walk the Earth without challenge. Civil War touched on this, but they pulled back on how awful it’d be to be there.

Marvel are in a good place as people have been so starved for their films that any possible exhaustion has been postponed thanks to Covid, but if it tries more like WandaVision while working hard to avoid the obvious, then it’ll have a strong future creatively. Though in future I wish they’d credit comics creators higher up the credits as this series quite literally took chunks of dialogue from various comics creators with the most minimal amount of credit they couold give.

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…

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!

About That Scene in WandaVision and spoilers

I’ve got the weekend off which in a world of Covid means I don’t have to log onto a remote server but still have to face the ongoing Lovecraftian horror of an unseen menace and terror. As usual though when I do have time off I forgot to turn off my alarm so I was still awake at the usual time, so as usual I checked Twitter to see what’s going on with the news, and in 10 seconds had episode 5 spoiled rotten for me. This pissed me off a tad because otherwise this would have been a wonderful surprise.

Spoilers after the trailer.

WandaVision is by a massive country mile the most adventurous thing Marvel has done and if far removed from the standard fare of the Marvel movies which are always essentially action films. This has very, very little in the way of action, but it does do an awful lot in terms of developing Wanda Maximoff as a character. Yes, it draws upon other works such as Pleasantville, and bizarrely The Prisoner, not to mention a whole load of comics mainly written by Steve Englehart, John Byrne, and Tom King (none of whom get a major credit which takes the piss somewhat) but it does manage to be its own thing. And that’s a mix of satire, superheroics, SF and horror as the set-up is horrific when the series starts to explore what’s actually happening.

It’s also clearly a bridge between Phase 3 and 4 so it will have to do some heavy lifting to push this juggernaut which is the MCU on, and episode 5 is the episode where this comes to a head when the Evan Peter Quicksilver from the X-Men films pops up at the end to announce the arrival of the previously owned by 20th Century Fox characters into the MCU. Seen without knowing this would be brilliant instead of spoiled, but this is the state of the 21st century. Spoilers now don’t even last days or hours, they litteral happen as something is being watched, and the people spoiling the fun don’t give a single fuck of the enjoyment of others. They just want the likes.

I’ll do a review of WandaVision when the series ends, but this annoyed me a tad. It won’t change now so I guess in future it’ll be about muting certain things til I’ve managed to see it for myself.

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…

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.

50 years of the Overstreet Comics Price Guide

I’ve been reading this much of this week.

The Overstreet Price Guide is and essential for dealers and fans for 50 years now, and when I’ve been a ful-time dealer it was something I always had in my box of stuff I’d carry around with me in the shop or at conventions. It wasn’t always right, sometimes it’d be horribly overpriced but as a reference book it was essential though it never dealt with UK prices (I’ve often wondered why Overstreet never did a UK guide) which meant going on memory or relying on the often sketchy UK Price Guide Duncan McApline produces.

But 50 years for what was a glorified fanzine (it grew out of the fandom that sprung up of EC Comics, and in fact it’s often missed how EC drove what we know today as fandom) is extraordinary, as are the top reams of talent that have produced covers for it over the decades who’ve helped the Overstreet guide what it is. This celebration is a fascinating read of the backstory of the guide, plus the comics that have made it as after all, people really buy this to see what their copy of X-Force #1 is worth.

There’s some nice articles reprinted here too. Especially of interest is the interview with Bob Kane from 1989 which in hindsight misses out some large bits of history but is still fascinating, plus the article on ‘patriotic’ (some might say jingoistic) covers is nice, but most of the book just celebrates Bob Overstreet and what he’s done for comics for 50 years and although the guide is normally a book for the hardcore fan or dealer only, this is a more accessible book and a lovely bit of history. Go check it out if only for the galleries of beautiful covers…