What I thought of Black Panther

I made it through the snow and ice to see Marvel’s film version of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s Black Panther character.

First appearing in Fantastic Four #52, T’Challa, the Black Panther, was the first black superhero Marvel produced at a time when mainstream comics didn’t have black characters, though KIrby and Lee had already introduced a black character into their Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos title.

The film draws heavily upon Kirby’s vision of a futuristic African nation that developed entirely independent of Western influences, while the portrayal of T’Challa (played by a solid Chadwick Boseman) sticks firmly to the comics as opposed to Marvel’s film heroes jokey, wise-cracking style.So The Black Panther is a noble, stoic leader, and unusually for a Marvel film, the villain, Killmonger (a great Michael B. Jordan)  actually has a background not to mention his main motivation (that Wakanda is letting the world down by not sharing it’s technologies and resources) is right, but his method to rectify this (starting a global war) is what makes him a villain.

Apart from the Kirby vision, director Ryan Cooglan heavily draws from the Don McGregor run on Black Panther in the 70’s to create one of Marvel’s best films. Though it does come with issues which mainly consist of trying to have a film with a different look and vision crammed into the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has become an impressive sausage machine pushing out hit after hit.

When the film has Jordan’s Killmonger in it, there’s a moral and intellectual heart in Black Panther; when it doesn’t then it’s a good superhero film not as bad as say, Iron Man 2 but not as average as Ant Man. Take Jordan and the moral argument his character brings, and we’re facing another Marvel film where the baddie is the same as most Marvel baddies. Black Panther manages to pull itself out of Marvel’s formula for much of it’s length, though there is a predictable, but fun, big fight at the end.

As a film it doesn’t hit a Logan, or a Dark Knight level of pushing out of the superhero ghetto but it gets close and considering that Marvel’s next film is Avengers:Infinity War, there’s not going to be much subtlety in the MCU until that film is out the way. Black Panther manages to engage once a meandering first 45 minutes or so setting things up is out the way so this isn’t one of the best films ever, but it is a very good superhero film that if possible, should be seen on a big screen.


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.

Stan Lee is the latest person accused of sexual abuse

One of the things about the post-Harvey Weinstein world where #metoo shows how prevalent sexual abuse is and just how badly a large number of people are as their reputation lie in tatters. Although there are issues with the campaign it has done good, there is some concern of a new wave of puritanism, which has indeed sparked off the French, but that is to be expected…

With things being as they are it seems anyone is up for accusations of sexual abuse, with the latest big name being Stan Lee.In an exclusive by the Daily Mail, Lee is accused of groping nurses, demanding oral sex and generally being a bit creepy. Lee’s lawyers in turn have sent out cease and desist letters to the Mail, and the whole thing gets played out in public with nobody knowing the facts and with the Mail’s piece being a masterclass in supposition, hints and rumour we won’t get the truth from that fascist rag either, though at least it calls Lee a co-creator of characters like Spider-Man so there’s at least an ability to look up Wikipedia.

My point is I’m concerned by this trial by media as in a time when everyone is so polarised and as the cases of Toby Young and Jared O’Mara shows, both the establishment left and right have issues with sexism and we seem to have taken one step forward and two steps back.

If Lee is found guilty of crimes on a court of law rather than the court of Twitter then fuck him, but until he is, he’s going to be dragged into this highly charged and polarised atmosphere where everything is seen in absolutes and there’s no room for anything else & in the era of Brexit and Trump this polarisation isn’t a healthy thing for society.

A word of appreciation for Elektra: Assassin

There’s a number of comics constantly spoken about as breaking new ground in the 1980’s and bringing a new audience into the world of comics. The same names come up; Watchmen, Maus, Dark Knight Returns, maybe Love and Rockets, Swamp Thing and Daredevil. One a few lists you’ll get possibly the most subversive comic published by the Big Two publishers in the 80’s; Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz‘s Elektra: Assassin.

Originally an eight issue mini series from Marvel’s Epic imprint (their creator owned or non-mainstream line) , Elektra: Assassin starred Frank Miller’s creation Elektra who he’d introduced and subsequently killed in his acclaimed Daredevil run. This though was something out of continuity is still some of the most brilliantly insane comics Marvel have ever published.

The story seems basic enough. Elektra is on the trail of The Beast, a demon whose end-goal is possessing the president of the United States and starting a nuclear war. In this task she’s aided and abetted by a SHIELD agent called Garrett who in the course of the series because more and more of a cyborg due to being blown and cut up.

Remember that in 1985/6 America was trapped in the presidency of Ronald Reagan while the baby boomer generation had started gaining power and influence over politics, culture and media. There was also a wave of comics where characters started waving big guns around as the 80’s Rambo culture seeped into comics with ultra-violent titles like The Punisher. All of this was thrown into the mix to create an ultra-violent satire on American politics, culture and superhero comics that doesn’t grow old or not relevant.

Elektra: Assassin is from that period prior to 911 where Frank Miller was one of the few creators who could take on the left and right of politics equally and find both lacking, while at the same time playing on the monsters created by both. It really is a comic that gives its all, and asks the reader to work to go with the inspired lunacy, not to mention genius, being paid out from page to page.

So if you want to see how exciting comics were in the 80’s as well as reading something that is a fantastic work of art, then Elektra: Assassin should be for you, assuming killer cyborgs and ninjas are to your taste of course…

A quick word of appreciation for Steve Gerber’s ‘Howard the Duck’

Created by writer Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik, Howard the Duck is probably best known these days for that horrible film in the 80’s and cameos in the Guardians of the Galaxy films. What Howard was, and what he allowed Gerber to do has somewhat been lost over the years but over Christmas I picked up a load of issues and I’d forgotten just how angry and subversive the comic is.

Howard started out as a supporting character during Gerber’s Man-Thing run in Adventures into Fear, but proving himself popular in his own right he ended up in his own book in 1976 which was an important year in the US, as it was not only their bicentennial year, but the year where they elected Jimmy Carter as president as they tried to move away from Richard Nixon’s disastrous time as president.

Howard’s solo comic was initially drawn by Frank Brunner, and although I like Brunner, he didn’t really work with Gerber’s increasingly bizarre, edgy, satirical scripts, so when veteran Gene Colan arrived something clicked and the comic leapt up to heights unexpected and when Gerber had Howard run for president in the 76 campaign it was a comment on the political landscape of America at the time, while being something that still rings relevant for today’s politics.

In issue 16 Gerber broke the mould of Marvel Comics and having failed to hit a deadline, instead of reprinting an older story as was the practise at the time, Gerber went meta submitting a series of text pieces (illustrated by Colan) which read more like Gerber trying to unload his issues with Howard, writing and dealing with Marvel.

Gerber had started fighting with Marvel who were cashing in on a popular character in all the ways they can, but without asking Gerber’s permission as creator of the character. This resulted in Marvel sacking Gerber, and the writing chores of Howard passed to a number of writers before settling on Bill Mantlo, who with the greatest respect, wasn’t anywhere near as good a writer as Gerber.

So Gerber launched a campaign to get Howard back, which this page from the Comics Reader outlines.

What Gerber was hinting at ended up being Destroyer Duck, a benefit comic to raise money for Gerber so he could fight Marvel, and drawn by Jack Kirby who had his own long term issues with Marvel.

Throw into all this Disney launching their own lawsuit in regards Howard, and the result was the character barely appeared in comics (I’ll draw a veil over the appalling film) til the 21st century when Gerber returned to Howard for a six-issue series from Marvel’s ‘adult’ line, Max Comics.

Howard is still around in a series which has turned Howard from a tool to satirically attack the industry, politics and culture to just a smartarse character that does silly things. A couple of appearances in the Guardians of the Galaxy films added to this but all you need if to read Gerber’s stories and read one of Marvel’s best run of stories in the 70’s along with Jim Starlin’s Warlock/Thanos stories, and Don McGregor’s Black Panther stories.

You might miss some of the contemporary references but that aside, these are some of the best mainstream comics produced drawn with amazing skill by Gene Colan who produced some of the best work of his long career. Forget the nonsense being published today, you need to read these original stories and although back issues can be expensive, reprints are quite reasonable. Go get yourself some Howard, you won’t regret it.

40 years ago Stars Wars opened in the UK

On the 27th December 1977 Star Wars opened to a British audience who had spent months waiting for the film to hit British cinemas, but in those long months from the film opening in the USA in May of that year to the UK opening, fans had plenty to keep them going.

Today a big blockbuster opens wordwide generally at the same time, or even places like the UK get say, a Marvel film, a week or two before our American cousins. In the 70’s a film would take on average six months between American and British openings, and even then it’d likely be a limited release so London, Glasgow, Birmingham, and the larger cities before it opened in the smaller cities and towns.

For those of us who managed to get hold of American magazines like Famous Monsters, we were teased something we’d not see for months, but for many British SF fans the one thing we had was the novelisation by George Lucas.

Also one of the biggest effects the original Star Wars had on the UK was the launch of 2000AD in the February of 1977 so by the time of the film’s release that December, 2000AD was firmly established and its readership lapped up the comic’s publicity for the new film.

We also had the Marvel Comics adaptation. Not the black and white weekly which didn’t launch in the UK til February 1978, but the American issues, well, some of them at least as we never had the first issue distributed in the UK but we did have the second to the sixth issue distributed. The reason for this was that Marvel’s US style comics were restricted in distribution with only 15-20 titles per month deemed fit for UK distribution as Marvel UK’s reprints would be printing Spider-Man, Hulk, Avengers and other titles which mean large runs of US Marvel Comics in the 70’s and 80’s are ‘non-distributed’ so are scarcer in the UK than they may be in the US. We did however get the treasury editions (large over-sized comics) of the film adaptation.

Eventually though December rolled round and the film finally opened, well, for those of us living in cities like Glasgow or London , and we finally saw what the fuss was all about. Of course the film was a huge success as it had been in the US, but it took time to spread across the UK which is why Star Wars (later Episode IV: A New Hope) had incredibly long runs at cinemas in most of the UK’s big cities.

Upon the film’s release the floodgates opened as magazines like Dez Skinn’s Starburst tried to cash in on the film…

While Marvel UK finally released their black and white reprints of the comic adaptation…

I loved my little paper X-Wing Fighter!

Even the late Barry Norman liked it.

The rest is of course history. The film seeped its way across the UK and wherever it went it brought the huge queues that’d been part of the film’s history since it’d opened just after Christmas 1977. See this was the thing; you had to work to get most things Star Wars related. You had to search out the comics before Marvel UK released their version. You had to hunt out the few toys that sneaked over the Atlantic that Christmas. As for the film, in the few cinemas it was opening in they’d sold out tickets months prior, so like me you waited in the cold as wee child to see a film you’d waited to see for nearly a year, then you felt you’d earned it. Though to be honest I prefer popping online and booking tickets. Far easier…

So remember when you’re moaning that you have to wait a week for a Big American Blockbuster opening what it was like in the analogue days when seeing these films involved a lot of patience because if you didn’t have that then you’d go insane with the wait.

Ah, simpler times…