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.

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So, the Avengers: Infinity War trailer…

The Avengers: Infinity War trailer has hit which means a tsunami of insufferable reaction videos from many, many wankers but it does look like huge fun. Take a look if you’ve not already seen it.

15 seconds or so of the trailer is made up of the Marvel Studios intro. There’s no mention of the film being based on this comic…

That comic was written by Jim Starlin and drawn by George Perez. Starlin is the creator of Thanos, the Infinity Gauntlet, the concept of the Infinity Stones/Gems, Marvel’s version of Death, Pip the Troll, Gamera, Drax, and pretty much all the characters not created by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko which will appear in this film.

There’d be merry hell if say, the Lord of the Rings films had excluded Tolkien’s name from the marketing and I know the Marvel films have credits to the actual creators of these concepts and characters hidden in the endless trawl of credits that intersperse short teasers for future films or in-jokes, but it’d be nice to see a little bit of blowing up the name of creators to shine the light on them and give them the credit they deserve rather than just mindlessly cheer on the product of one of the largest multinationals on the planet.

So go read the comics. They’re fun and Starlin and Perez were having the time of their lives creating them. It’s also some of Perez’s best work. Trust me, it’ll make you look forward to the film more…

Jim Shooter is right about Marvel Comics

I guess it’s a sign of how far gone the comics industry is when Jim Shooter, a man who embodied to a generation everything wrong with Marvel Comics is now speaking sense about the industry as he does in this interview at Adventures in Poor Taste.

For a generation of us Shooter remains at best a controversial figure. He on one hand presided over a time in the 80’s when Marvel Comics were at their most popular since their 1960’s heyday, but as a good companyman he alienated creators, but at the same time he gave creators the sort of creative freedom Marvel of today would barely consider. When asked what he thought of today’s Marvel, Shooter answers…

I think they forgot what business they’re in

This is a crucial point, It could be the only point. Marvel are only vaguely in the business of making comics as really, what they are is intellectual property farms to be mined for films, TV and games which is where the real money is for Marvel, who I should remind you all are now owned by Disney.

Shooter’s time at Marvel made extraordinary amounts of money for Marvel but in retrospect he did allow Frank Miller to grow as a creator, or give Epic more or less total freedom, and the superhero line sold. Nowadays a title hits 30k a month and it becomes a hit. In Shooter’s time it’d have been cancelled. Of course things have changed and there’s more competition for people’s time and money than 30 years ago however we’re in an age where superheroes dominate pop culture.

So reluctantly and through gritted teeth I have to side with Shooter here. Do Marvel Comics know what business they’re in as they’ve been busy taking the piss out of you and making it so prohibitively expensive and complex for you to read and collect their comics that one wonders if it is in fact making comics for people to read and follow easily.

Sexual abuse and the comics industry

The Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal continues to unfold to depressingly Savile-like proportions as the scale of sexual abuse in the film industry starts to unfold. The film industry is hardly unique. This is fairly common across most industries I’ve worked in, and I imagine most people have at some point seen something, or worse, been the victim of this sort of abuse. This is also true of the world of comics.

I’ve been in and out the industry since the early 80’s and you don’t hear the stories or rumours until you’re sitting there late at night at conventions when a few beers have opened mouths or just basically as part of the rumour mill all relatively enclosed industries have. So I’ve heard stories such as the one about the shop that shared premises with a pornographer that built a studio upstairs in the shop, or the one about the comic shop owner who would try to groom any young female customers he liked, or a whole load of stories of shop owners and con/mart organisers who were paedophiles and in some cases ended up convicted ones too. I personally saw one dealer at a convention try desperately to pay girls to sleep with him. In this case he was laughed out the convention, but this isn’t a one-off situation as I’ve heard other people doing the same crap over the years.

There’s lots of great wee stories about comic-related people that often verge into something horrible, but sometimes darkly funny. However there’s these stories which swirl round the scene and this is just in the UK but because the UK has such a small industry compared to the US the scale ramps up. Take example the stories that have circulated around Julie Schwartz. Schwartz was the man who shook up DC Comics in the 1960’s and 70’s by pushing what they did kicking and screaming into the modern age.

His position in comics is astonishing but those stories were from more than one person. Then there’s there’s what happened to writer/editor Janelle Asselin who has been a victim of threats and abuse in all her years in comics, especially when she spoke out. As she admits, the industry is a boy’s club…

Asselin also helped break the story about Dark Horse Comics editor Scott Allie, who was accused of assaulting women at conventions which is something that sadly doesn’t shock me one bit.

Things are getting better. More women are getting involved in comics but the old attitudes remain and while the big superhero publishers like Marvel and DC are essentially boy’s clubs this isn’t going away. The point is that when stories like Jimmy Savile or Harvey Weinstein breaks it should be an excuse for industries to be more open about what’s happened in the past and what is happening now, but there’s still a silence about this. Worse, there’s people who are victims being threatened or furthered abused mainly by fans of the person involved or of the publisher as they pile on the accuser.

Now I only know bits and bobs. I’ve not been full time in the industry for two decades, and I’m only sneaking back into it now, but there’s people out there who are allegedly ‘journalists’ who can help by trying to expose what’s going on but far too many of these people have one eye on themselves getting a job higher up the greasy pole, so will play along and help keep silent.

We’re hitting a potential watershed. This might be a chance to put the industry’s house in order and I hope people now come forward to ensure that abusers are exposed, even imprisoned for what they’ve done. It won’t be easy but this is a prime chance to change things and frankly, I don’t think we’ll get a better chance.

RIP Len Wein

Writer, editor and comics creator Len Wein has passed away at the age of 69, which is far too soon. He leave behind a massive amount of not just important creations (Swamp Thing with Berni Wrightson and Wolverine with Herb Trimpe and John Romita Snr to name the two big ones) but some truly great comics work. For me, my first exposure to Wein was Justice League of America #100 and this great Nick Cardy cover.

Wein wrote the JLA from this issue to #114, and these remain some of my favourite superhero comics ever not just because they’re enormous fun, but for me, these were the first superhero comics I read that even had a hint of doing something more than just stringing together fight scenes. It remains a vastly underrated run.

His Marvel work in the 70’s helped entertain me massively, especially the joy filled fun that was Marvel Team-Up.

A nice fun run on Amazing Spider-Man,

And a long run on The Incredible Hulk which is where Wolverine first made his début.

It’s worth noting that if Wein hadn’t brought Wolverine into the new X-Men in Giant Size X-Men #1, the revamped X-Men might never have gotten off the ground and failed and Wolverine would be a minor character that once popped up in a few issues of the Hulk’s title.

Instead though, Wein made the masterstroke of sticking Wolverine into the X-Men and unleashed a massive fan-favourite for decades to come.

As an editor he’s responsible for helping Alan Moore and Gave Gibbons Watchmen into the world.

Overall Wein gave comics more than he’s probably appreciated for. Without him DC may never have hired Alan Moore in the first place and all that British talent DC mined from the 80’s to today. Wein changed the mainstream comics industry in the US and UK massively and his passing is a loss. Yes, we can dwell upon shite like Before Watchmen and later work, but let’s not dwell there and choose instead to remember his work for helping kids like me have some entertainment over the decades…

A century of Jack Kirby

On the 28th August this year comic artist/writer/creator Jack Kirby would have been 100 years old. I’ve spoken about his birthday in the past but this is a big event obviously and a celebration as at one point it seemed as if the Kirby family would never win Jack the recognition he deserved in life.

After all, Kirby helped shape modern pop culture in a way few people have but it is only in recent years he’s even got a snifter of the credit he should have got when he was alive.

Finally though at this centenary we see Kirby being paid tribute not just by friends, colleagues and a core of fans, but people outwith the ghetto of comics.

The man may no longer be with us but his powerful, astonishing, and glorious art and creations live on.

People flock to the latest Avengers film, or look forward to Justice League, or the new Star Wars, but no Kirby and no Avengers, no Darkseid to fight and no Doctor Doom who directly influenced Darth Vader so no post-1977 pop culture.

Happy anniversary Jack. It’s nice that more people appreciate you and that your creations thrill and delight a world, and as for your art, well, they’ll never be another like you. Cheers for everything..

Princess Diana has risen from the grave

20 years ago Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris and the UK lost it’s tiny little mind for what seems like a lifetime, but it is only 20 since the ‘people’s princess’ speech from a then, fresh-faced Tony Blair which really helped the lunacy kick into gear.

The week before was the Reading Festival and the dregs of Britpop died a death then, but waking up on that warm August Sunday morning 20 years ago to face wall-to-wall media enforced grief imposed upon a people who somehow mainly became infected with something that wasn’t just normal human responses to the death of someone famous, but something almost hysterical in it’s response.

Then there was the conspiracy theories. Oh god, the theories! I went to my local that Sunday night (I was living in Leicester at the time) and even in those early days of the internet there were people talking of what they’ve read online. As for the funeral it was a ridiculously mawkish display from a people who’d lost all sense as they were all driven forward as driven on by some memetic infection as everyone had to shown to pay respects and be stricken with grief about someone many of them were sneering at or lapping up Sunday tabloid headlines the week before her death.

The lunacy took years to die down. It even affected comics as writer Pete Milligan and artist Mike Alldred were planning to use Diana in the pages of X-Statix, an X-Men spin-off title, in 2002. That was until the press got hold of the plan.

And after a Daily Mail/Express fuelled outrage, Marvel changed the storyline from it being about Diana to a nondescript ‘pop star’.

It didn’t have anything like the same impact even if reading the story it was clearly Diana, the faux outrage neutered the story. Thankfully things started retreating into the pages of hysterical tabloids as people woke up from what was a feverish dream, or nightmare depending on your point of view.

And now here we are in 2017 facing the 20th anniversary of her death and those that canonised her in death (but mocked/hated her in life) are now flooding back into the media like a burst sewer telling us of how sad, upset and tearful we all were. Well, we weren’t. On the day of her funeral I went to the pub, and with others, played pool and stuck the Sex Pistols on the jukebox til the whole thing washed over us. Two decades on and I’m a different person to the one I was on that warm late summer’s day, but I again treat the oncoming storm of Diana programming and articles with suspicion. After all, Diana can now be used as this immortal figurehead of a Britain that doesn’t exist except in the heads of people who see the British identity as a superior one, and her ‘sacrifice’ gives these people a martyr to rally behind.

So I suggest over the next few weeks retreating to the pub to ignore this. Even if you, like me, no longer drink. It’s the only way to maintain sanity.