My top 10 horror comics:7: Crossed by Garth Ennis

Crossed is a problematic comic. It is by no means woke but when creator Garth Ennis isn’t writing it, the comic descends into empty sex and violence which is frankly boring, and even sometimes designed purely to offend for the sheer hell of it. Ennis’s work pushes what post-apocalyptic horror is as well as delving into how humanity would keep itself going against an enemy who doesn’t give a fuck.

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Be warned, Ennis may well be investigating human emotion and the nature of what humanity actually is, but he doesn’t shirk from showing you everything.

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The first volume Ennis, along with artist Jacen Burrows, reshapes the survival horror apocalpse story we’re now familiar with thanks to things like The Walking Dead. Here there’s no hope. The Crossed are not zombies; they’re humans with canibalistic habits (as well as every habit you can imagine) but they retain some of their intelligence and worse, memory, so they’re able to taunt you as they’re raping you to death.

However my favourite Crossed story is more akin to a political thriller at first, and more amazingly, it features Gordon Brown as the chief protagonist.  The Thin Red Line is an amazing work as it spins into a work of political intrigue to horrific apocalypse with the fate of the world resting on a politician not known for being decisive.

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It really is one of the best comics of the 21st century, but sadly after Ennis leaves again the book falls into the usual shock and gore, before Alan Moore’s interesting run set a century after the initial outbreak however search out the first volume and The Thin Red Line for two very different variations of the modern horror comic.

 

What the HBO Watchmen trailer tells us

American TV channel HBO are making a Watchmen series based on the comic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons which has been adapted by Damon Lindelof. It isn’t an exact adaptation as opposed to a ‘remix’ of the source material.

Take a look.

There’s an excited buzz around the trailer, and as far back as last year some in the media were proclaiming how this could be another triumph from HBO. However what’s the hidden message in the heart of not just the trailer, but the entire project?

 

I’ll give you time to think…

 

 

Scroll down if you don’t want to avoid spoilers.

 

 

 

 

The hidden message is that DC/Warners/HBO/Lindelof think Alan Moore is a cunt.

 

”BUT I WANT MY RORSCHACH CLONES BEATING PEOPLE UP” you may be screaming right now, but there’s no getting over the fact that Alan Moore does not want Watchmen used and abused like this. The comic made DC/Warners a lot of money and critical acclaim over the decades, and indeed, DC did for a time avoid exploiting it but the gloves are off now so they couldn’t give a fuck about Moore, creators rights or respecting the source material. There’s money to be made and who knows when the superhero bubble is going to burst, so cash those cheques now while the going is good.

Who cares if it sends a message to creators that they’re ultimately there to create intellectual property for their multinational bosses. This trailer is the horses head in the bed of every creator working for DC (and Marvel) thinking of getting uppity about creators rights. Fuck with them and they’ll give your babies to the man who wrote Star Trek: Into Darkness.

That’ll teach them!

Go get ‘Poisoned Chalice: The Extremely Long and Incredibly Complex Story of Marvelman (and Miracleman)’

Pádraig Ó Méalóid’s, Poisoned Chalice, his long history of the British comics character Marvelman, or Miracleman, has finally been printed and is available from your favourite non-taxpaying retailer Amazon.My copy is ordered and on it’s way so more when the Royal Mail eventually delivers it!

Marvelman: Lost Hero of the Golden Age

Marvelman is a character who has a complex publishing history, which is to be mild, a massive bloody understatement. Created by Mick Anglo in the 1950′ and brought back from the dead in the 1980’s by Alan Moore and then continued in a story written by Neil Gaiman in a story which still hasn’t been completed some 35 plus since it started.

This is a YouTube documentary that tries to cram this complexity into a mere 16 minutes. It isn’t perfect but it is worth watching for the attempt to do this in as short a time as possible while still giving it some sort of justice. It strikes me that if anyone ever wanted to make a drama about the comics industry, then the story of Marvelman lies begging to be made…

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.

What I thought of Doomsday Clock #1

There’s a song by Pulp called Bad Cover Version.

How it relates to Geoff Johns and Gary Franks’ Doomsday Clock #1 will become clear very, very soon but first a quick recap as to what Doomsday Clock is. It is the sequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen. It looks like Watchmen, it has characters from Watchmen in it, and it looks like it in design but every page reminds me of how good Watchmen was and how much of an unpleasant aftertaste Doomsday Clock leaves.

Johns starts this as the world of Watchmen faces imminent nuclear destruction and as he throws out Moore-esque prose but something isn’t quite right. Moore told the story of Watchmen using the world as it may have been in 1985 and restricting himself to a world where costumed heroes were real and one superhero was the most powerful thing in the universe. In Doomsday Clock, Johns throws in 2017 references such as Brexit or the American president playing golf during a crisis (imagine if Moore had chucked in mentions of Thatcher and Reagan to make it really obvious) to spell it out for the reader because Johns doesn’t seem to trust the reader.

Hence the large chunks of Claremont-esque exposition such as above which means the story doesn’t unfold as a mystery (which is one of the many ways one can read Watchmen) but as conventional superheroics influenced by the post-Watchmen/Dark Knight ‘dark’ comics that poured out like a pissy golden stream from 1986 onwards.

This is the odd thing here. Johns has publicly said the entire idea of DC’s Rebirth relaunch is to flush the ‘dark’ comics introduced by Moore and Gibbons away for something more cheery, yet the problem with ‘dark’ superhero comics wasn’t Watchmen, it was from people like Johns trying to be Alan Moore and failing. It was the reams of imitators who read Watchmen and only took the grim stuff and violence (and compared to a book like Punisher or Wolverine it isn’t as violent) out of it and thought that’s what made it so good. It isn’t easy to forget or disconnect from Moore’s vision when this happens.

Rorschach was the most popular character from Watchmen but he’s dead, however fanboys want to see him fight Batman, so he’s back! But not quite.

The obvious candidate is Rorschach’s psychiatrist from Watchmen #6,   but he died in #12, unless of course Johns is going to make him not dead making his small human sacrifice in Watchmen pretty useless and Johns wouldn’t be that on the nose surely?

Oh…

Anyhow, this Rorschach is springing a jailbreak in order to try to find Dr. Manhattan who we assume, will then save the world from the aforementioned nuclear destruction but not before we’ve been treated to a few pages of the sort of stuff Johns seems to think Watchmen was about.

This seems to me to be Johns having his cake and eating it. There’s no real intellectual weight here, and Johns seems to be just throwing in things that makes it all feel Watchmany, but like a saccharine kiss it doesn’t feel true.

By the time we get to Adrian Veidt (complete with cat) acting like Dr. Evil and a brief taster of Clark Kent and Lois Lane in the ‘proper’ DC Universe the idea of Watchmen as a complex, multi-layered book that can be read in many different ways is flushed away for the promise of Ozymandias and Rorschach fighting Batman, and Dr. Manhattan and Superman throwing planets at each other.

There’s a lot of good reviews of this quoting things like ‘it adds to the Watchmen universe‘ but that of course is shite. It didn’t need to have anything else said and if it did then why not try to do something original, new and different rather than be an imitation that’s got it all wrong?  Sure Gary Franks does a good job and as a simple superhero story this isn’t better or worse than many out there however why can’t Johns do some self-reflection and create something that deals with why superhero comics became dark, miserable and the home of ”fin-headed rape” as Warren Ellis once put it? After all in the 21st century he’s played a major part in making superhero comics what he’s now trying to correct and I’d be genuinely interested in seeing Johns test himself as a writer.

Doomsday Clock is not a test. It’s a bad cover version and a last desperate roll of the dice from a company devoid of ideas hoping to cash in on the last big thing it could cash in on. Sure, it may be devoid of an artistic soul and be the equivalent of an own-brand box of cornflakes but it’ll give a core of fans what they’ve fantasised over in some cases for decades.  There isn’t any reason for this comic to exist except to make money and give the impression that DC is still artistically challenging by wrapping itself up in the trappings of what Moore and Gibbons did but like any sad cover version it’ll let you down.