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.

What I thought of Monsters Unleashed #1

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I love big monsters. They’re wonderful. I love the old Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko monster comics of the pre-Marvel era of the early 60’s and 1950’s.This latest mini-series pits Marvel’s superheroes against the various big monsters in their universe which means big battle scenes.

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And big monsters.

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There’s nothing especially subtle going on here. Writer Cullen Bunn doesn’t force the reader to strain the grey matter, and frankly this isn’t the point as we only want to see big monsters twatting the hell out of each other or Marvel’s various superheroes.

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This is fairly standard superhero stuff, and while Steve McNiven’s art is nice, it isn’t anything but functional in places which is a pity as some of these monster designs are quite nice but this aside there’s some fun superheroics here which makes this a nice read, but utterly unsubstantial.

What I thought of Giant-Size Man-Thing #1

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Back in the midsts of time, the title ‘Giant-Size Man-Thing’ would provoke laughs of Sid James proportions, but as the comic wasn’t distributed in the UK you had to really search to get your hands on a ‘Giant-Size Man-Thing’.

Fnarr, fnarr.

Anyhow, there’s no exciting new comics out, and Comixology put this up, and it’d be rude not to have a good look at it, but a bit of background first. Man-Thing was Marvel’s swamp monster (all comics companies should have one) akin to DC’s Swamp Thing. Man-Thing was formally scientist Ted Sallis who when transformed to the Man-Thing also had the ability to set people on fire as those who know fear burn at the Man-Thing’s touch. Most of the time the character is a second rate Swamp Thing, but when writer Steve Gerber and artist Mike Ploog got their hands on it the strip shone.Gerber was an exceptional writer who predated Alan Moore in terms of introducing a more intelligent approach to superhero comics.

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On the surface this is just monsters fighting each other, but the villains here are a cult that believe that entropy must be worshipped, and is a bit, well, odd.

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The brain turns out to have some history.

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Gerber then treats us to some panels of the adventures of a golden brain.

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The brain forms a body who wanders off to get some clothes and we’re back with the Entropists.

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After some 1970’s style environmental concern there’s more monsters fighting.

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And more fighting…

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This is a great little 1970’s monster comic that has a wee bit more going on between the ears than I expected going back to it for the first time in probably 20 years at least, though Mike Ploog’s pencils are ruined by some dismal inking. Even so Ploog does a great job, even if he’s inked so badly it makes his art look dreadful in places.

I miss these types of 70’s monster comics. Fighting, monsters, philosophy and Giant-Size Man-Thing’s….

Steve Dillon’s death is a massive loss for comics

This afternoon the brother of British comics artist Steve Dillon confirmed that his brother had passed away.

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That’s all the detail we have, and we should have now because the details are for friends and family. We don’t need to know anything else bar that the world of comics has lost someone who for decades had been lynchpin of British comics. Indeed, friends of mine who’ve known Steve for years are in mourning as this was utterly unexpected, and that this comes after he’s enjoying the financial rewards coming from the success of the TV adaptation of Preacher, which allowed him the freedom to do what he wanted is painful.

Like many fans I first saw Steve’s work in Hulk Weekly, the flagship title of Dez Skinn’s Marvel UK revamp, where he not only drew the Hulk, but a Nick Fury strip written by Steve Moore. He was 16 and this was 1979.

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These early strips are rough in places, but for a 16 year old to turn out such a high quality level of work with his own very distinct,clear style was extraordinary, so its no surprise that Steve was not only finding more work with Skinn at Marvel UK, but 2000AD leapt in to grab him. During this period he and Steve Moore created the popular Dalek killer Abslom Daak for Doctor Who Weekly.

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While for 2000AD, he worked on a variety of strips (including some Future Shocks with Alan Moore) before bagging the art duties for Judge Dredd.

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I loved Dillon’s Judge Dredd work. True it was smoother than Esquerra or McMahon’s art who I adored, but this was a crisp, clear Dredd who wasn’t boring which is what I found Brian Bolland’s too smooth Dredd. If you’re reading this with only knowledge of Dillon’s DC or Marvel work, then it’ll read like he was massively prolific which is because he was. During the same period he was also doing art for Dez Skinn’s Warrior and the Laser Eraser and Pressbutton strip, again written by Steve Moore. This I think is my favourite work of this early period of his career.

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He could have also been the artist for the return of Marvelman too as Alan Moore suggested him as a possible artist to Dez Skinn, who went for Garry Leach, but we did get a tease of what could have been in Warrior #4 where Dillon did draw a few pages of a Marvelman strip,

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Dillon had also picked up a reputation by now of being fast, talented and quick. He was also great fun at marts and conventions where you’d see him in the bar, and at the first big Glasgow comic convention in 1985 I had to try to find him from the loo when he was a bit too tired and emotional. Steve had a bit of a reputation as a drinker, though friends have said in recent years he’s come off the bevvy but let me make it clear here; in the 80’s and early 90’s there were a number of creators and fans in the British scene who could drink all night at cons and often did, myself included.

Steve though was a nice guy. Even when years later at a party in London for Deadline, the magazine he helped launch and edit,when I brought it up he laughed it off, thanked me, and bought me a pint.

By the late 80’s Steve’s work filled 2000AD, sometimes it was brilliant, sometimes it looked rushed, but it was there for not much longer as Steve was being courted by DC Comics, as were many other creators from the UK, but Steve took time to break. Skreemer was his first taste of DC Comics, but it remains still a sadly under-appreciated work.

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Then in Hellblazer #49 he drew a John Constantine Christmas story. Entitled Lord of the Dance and written by Garth Ennis it was a little bundle of joy for those who enjoyed the drink.

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Ennis and Dillon clicked as a creative team. Both liked going on the piss, both were from working class backgrounds and they started a run on Hellblazer from #57 that was magnificent. The pair then created Preacher for DC’s Vertigo imprint.

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Preacher was the perfect mix of Ennis and Dillon. As a comic it was probably DC’s finest comic of the 90’s and last year a television adaptation was finally broadcast which managed to capture some of what was in the comic. Sure, his superhero stuff was alright, but I always felt him wasted on spandex, as he was able to make pages of people just sitting around talking to each other seem extraordinary. Not in a flashy sense, but in a ‘I’ve managed to capture a truth’ sense, something few artists for Marvel or DC have managed to do in the last few decades.

Lured to Marvel, Dillon drew a number of titles, from the Punisher with Ennis again writing, to Wolverine. Although his work was fine here, I wasn’t taken with it. It didn’t have that joy his other work had, and it felt odd seeing him doing material as mundane as superheroes though when he worked with Ennis (who despises superheroes) it worked a treat. Few creative teams have a spark where both feed off each other. Ennis and Dillon had that. That team is now never going to create anything new ever again, and a number of people who knew Dillon as a friend, or knew him through his amazingly long career and body of work are at a loss tonight as this is a loss. He had years left in him and 54 is no age to go these days.

So I wish well for his friends and family, and I extend a debt of gratitude for his work from those early days at Marvel UK to his recent success with the Preacher TV series.Thanks for the work Steve and thanks for the pint..

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