What I thought of Zombies Assemble #1

The zombie genre is, well, like a zombie. It lumbers on and somehow keeps going even when the genre has well and truly been done to death. However, never underestimate the power of milking a dead horse and when mixed with Marvel’s Avengers cash-cow and the popularity of manga we have a hybrid here as these are The Avengers of the films, not the comics. So yes, a ”mixed bag” as you may say…

Part of the problem is that all the characters have that tedious wide eyed look that large chunks of Manga artists use, not to mention that they all look about 12. Anyhow, the story starts with Tony Stark’s birthday party which involves Steve Rogers dressing as a zombie to scare Tony, before (Ho Ho) a real zombie crashes Tony’s party and is dispatched by the Black Widow fairly quickly.

A virus breaks out turning people into zombies thanks to Tony’s R & D department, and (all the while everyone involved is talking like 14 year old kids)  who all seem to have been turned into zombies.

The vaguely teen Avengers then decide to stop a potential outbreak.

Somehow Thor becomes infected, and we’ve got a sort of zombie Thor.

The Black Widow is also infected so we’ve got two Avengers slowly decomposing. Yes, seriously, this is like a Garth Ennis script but without the spite and humour.

This, frankly, is shite. There’s a rich stream of manga or even unlicensed comic versions of films which can be fun, but this is just garbage. The art is bland. The writing is awful. The horror isn’t horrific. There’s pages where characters act like children. It’s bollocks, and that’s the best I can say about this exercise in self-abuse.

A look at the Marvel Bullpen in the 1970’s

The 1970’s was a great time for comics when arguably Marvel Comics were still in their pomp, and it really isn’t a point of discussion that DC Comics were in a terrible state with sales down thanks to a slump which was to last til the early 80’s. It was that Jurassic period of comics fandom and creativity.

Thanks to YouTube a wonderful bit of archive popped up showing not just how much some prime Golden Age comics sold for in the late 70’s (hint, much less than now) but what members of the Marvel Bullpen looked like around this time. It’s a wonderful bit of archive so enjoy…

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.

What I thought of Captain America Annual #8

Written by Mark Gruenwald and drawn by Mike Zeck and John Beatty, this was the one-off annual of a title which then sold poorly at the time hence why this annual guest starred Wolverine who was then as massive as he is now.The fact the comics opens with Wolverine gives away the sales tactic here.

Wolverine in the 80’s was still a man of mystery. Everything that made the character so fresh and interesting hadn’t yet been flushed down the bog and a guest appearance would add serious numbers to sales.

In fact any casual reader at the time would have picked this up wondering where the hell Captain America is in his own comic but after half a dozen or so pages we finally get the titular hero turning up.

There’s a giant robot and dodgy dealings going on but really this is about when Cap will actually fight Wolverine, something Gruenwald teases out for as long as possible but thanks to CB radio Cap gets informed of events.

Eventually Cap and Wolverine meet, have a misunderstanding and a fight because this is superhero comics.

We also get a tease of the sound effect that launched 1000 memes however the fight carries on before the pair eventually realise they’ve got a common foe to fight.

After a while the robot escapes, Cap and Wolvie find out what’s going on and the robot comes back tougher than ever for the pair to fight.

Of course the goodies win after a touch of moral greyness. In fact this is a rollicking good bit of fun and an example of great 1980’s superhero comics so you’ve got some good fights, a good guest hero, Captain America being Cap, and a big robot that gets smashed up. Gruenwald does this well and as for Zeck and Beatty their art is fantastic stuff. Overall this is a wonderful snippet of a time when Marvel managed to make their comics fun, accessible and also good!

What I thought of The Amazing Spider-Man #200

Anniversary or ‘event issues’ are ten-a-penny nowadays. Blink and you’ll miss a dozen of the bastards. Back in 1980 they were actually a big thing, and the 200th issue of The Amazing Spider-Man was a big deal even if it had (and with all due respect) less than a stellar creative team of Marv Wolfman writing and Keith Pollard and Jim Mooney on artistic chores.

We start with some good old fashioned Spidey angst as he’s lost his powers after a battle with Mysterio. Aunt May is facing death and the burglar that started all this way back in Amazing Fantasy #15 is back for his own revenge.

This is a pretty formulaic anniversary issue for Spidey as in addition to the angst, there’s a recap of his origin, and a reminder of how it all started which leads to Spidey/Peter Parker getting angry as he finds his purpose again.

Only problem is he’s powerless.

Of course Spidey doesn’t die, otherwise one of Marvel’s prize assets would be gone. We do however get a scene that shows Peter Parker has learned from his mistake that led to his Uncle Ben being murdered.

After a fight with Uncle Ben’s killer Peter is captured, tied up and we get some medium level threat.

After much fannying about, a powerless Spidey confronts the burglar and loses.

Eventually we get to the big climax where it’s revealed Aunt May isn’t dead, Spidey has his powers back and we get a climatic, not to mention cathartic, fight.

Which leads to Spidey telling us he’s learned a what is now, familiar lesson.

This was the Marvel of editor Jim Shooter so it’s basic stuff, even for what it is it’s actually well done. Wolfman turns in a decent script that looks back and sets up Spider-Man for the rest of the 80’s while Pollard’s pencils are good though they suffer from Mooney’s drab, bland inks. This though may well not be an especially memorable anniversary issue but as a good solid bit of Marvel superheroics it’s readable stuff, and most of all accessible. Anyone could have picked this up and got the story just by reading this issue without having read 17 years worth of comics as is the case so often today.

What I thought of Marvel Two-in-One #3

1970’s Marvel comics are a source of joy and derision. Sometimes both. One of those titles I’ve grown fonder of over the years is Marvel Two In One, one of those titles Marvel, and DC, published where a ‘big name character’ (Spider-Man, Batman, Superman) would team up with another hero in normally, a one-off adventure. Marvel Two In One featured the Fantastic Four’s Thing, a bit of an oddity as although the Fantastic Four sold well in the early 70’s, the idea of sticking The Thing as the ongoing character in a team-up book today seems daft.

These titles also allowed new writers to play around; in this case Steve Gerber was allowed to play with Marvel’s characters and in this issue he throws in Mr. Fantastic as well as Daredevil and the Black Widow.

These comics tended to follow a certain formula. Something would happen to bring our heroes together, they’d argue/fight and then team up to fight the main villain and the story would be wrapped up in 20-24 pages. In this case Daredevil wants his billy club back.

At this point Marvel was building its universe up to the point where any comic would reference any number of other Marvel titles.

This however is a Steve Gerber comic. This means after the soap opera superheroics we get a large chunk of political content which looks amazing even today.

Then it gets insane when Adolf Hitler pops up and he’s hip to the 70’s.

At this point The Thing and Daredevil have a sort-of-fight for the sake of a fight.

After some banter, The Thing and Daredevil team up, fight the bad guys and end up saving the Black Widow who is being controlled by the aforementioned bad guys.

There’s no end here, just a promise of continuing the plot in that month’s issue of Daredevil which seems a cheat but remember these comics were cheap. Kids had a load of disposable income and could buy all the titles they could which is at least what I used to do.

Marvel Two In One is a relic of a bygone age of fun, disposable comics, albeit one with some frankly bizarre political commentary from a writer who at this point was finding his voice as well as his feet in an industry where comics were disposable. Some good, solid Sal Buscema art makes the issue a joy of nostalgia though nothing here is overwhelmingly outstanding, just solid superhero comics that’s fun which is all that matters here.

 

Should superhero comics be political?

A comic shop chain Coliseum Of Comics,  in America released this statement by their owner Phil Boyle the other day via Bleeding Cool in regards ‘political comics’.

Publishers, get your politics out of my stores!

We live in a climate of polarity, with people being violently opposed to issues and events. Note the word “violently” and then think about what you’re bringing to our stores.  With every new proclamation from either the White House or CNN we have a new round of vitriol coming from the opposing side. 

I’ve always told my staff that we are the safe zone from what’s outside our doors.  I’ve been touting this policy before safe spaces were a thing, not because we need to be protected but because we provide entertainment. To be crystal clear, we provide entertainment. We are not mouthpieces for any polarizing cause nor is our shelf space for rent to any organization, left, right, or center.  If you want to support fighting cancer or bullying, all good. No one is fighting for worse cancers or more bullying.  If you want to put Planned Parenthood or the NRA on my stands, you’re getting no traction in my stores.  We are not for sale and we’re not going to undermine our store’s tranquility for your cause-of-the-month.

Get your politics off my stands.  Get political figures off the covers.  Get poorly disguised villains out of your books.  Get back to telling stories that don’t remind people of the vitriol and bile being spewed from every direction; we have enough outlets for that. You’re not being clever.  You’re not being altruistic.  You’re costing me the carefully built atmosphere that has allowed me to sell your books over the last 3+ decades to people of all races, creeds, genders, and sexual orientation as well as Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and no doubt a few anarchists as well.

Don’t screw that up.

It is frankly, a childish inane statement which is me being nice. The idea that the medium of comics is to purely ‘provide entertainment’ isn’t just restrictive on the medium itself, but it’s actively restricting your business by just having comics which meet your restricted world-view.

Now it is entirely down to Boyle as to what he sells as after all it is his business, but stripping politics from art, any sort of art, is just an attempt to sterilise art. From looking at his website, it is clear he’s focusing on superheroes and fantasy, which as said is fine, escapism is a glorious thing but you can’t live in a world of escapism and you can’t cut politics out of the superhero as the superhero’s origins are rooted in politics.

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Take Superman for example. In his early years he’d fight crooked landlords, corrupt politicians and generally act like a socialist working class hero fighting for the common man. Another example is Captain America who was designed as a propaganda tool to help fight the Nazis. The X-Men were a metaphor for any persecuted minority. Early Marvel comics in the early 1960’s pumped out anti-Communist propaganda so characters like Iron Man and The Hulk are rooted in politics. In the 1960’s Marvel and DC published comics which tried to deal with the issues of the time to draw people in and reflect the world they live in.

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In fact the drug awareness comics DC and Marvel did in the 1960’s were widely praised at the time, if however they seem somewhat clunky to a modern eye.

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Then there’s the link between costumed crime fighters and the Ku Klux Klan. Superheroes are inherently political; not to mention powerful, fantasy figures that can provide people with entertainment but underneath all that spandex is a seething mass of politics to be used by creators as they wish, and consumed by readers accordingly.

What Boyle seems to be doing is calling for his shops to be a ‘safe space‘. Now Boyle is quite clearly coming at this from an American right wing point of view, but the idea that someone can demand creators cut politics out of superhero comics is as said at the start of this; painfully childish. I’d wonder what the likes of Boyle would say if for example, Batman started cheering on Donald Trump and beating up Mexicans for a laugh, but the point is that superhero comics are just fine doing politics of any political slant.

The only thing that matters is whether the comic is good and it is perfectly possible to do a massively entertaining comic with a serious political slant. Not every comic has to be serious, but the fact we’re seeing cries for a genre of comics to be turned into mindless pap (well, beyond what they are right now) is just depressing but I suppose a sign of how fucked as a culture we seem to be when people demand a genre rooted in politics denies itself a chance to express itself beyond childish power fantasies for teenage boys.