What I thought of some recent comics…

For many folk who follow this blog one way or another you possibly followed me because of my reviews of comics and although I don’t have the time (or to be honest the energy right now) to pick this up again but I do miss it so here’s a rundown of some of the comics you should be picking up, and some to avoid,

Starting with…

The Immortal Hulk.

The Hulk has had long runs of quality throughout the character’s long life from the original Kirby/Lee run, through to Herb Trimpe’s long run, and so on. This latest run written by Al Ewing and drawn by Joe Bennett is rewriting the character in a horror setting although still playing with the superhero genre. It owes a lot, and I mean a lot, to Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run and Neil Gaiman’s superhero work.

It is however a stunning work in its own right melding body horror. supernatural elements and superheroics. This is by far the best comic produced by the Big Two today.

Batman.

Tom King’s run initially was offputting to me but he’s developed a clear story for Batman/Bruce Wayne that’s went from strength to strength. DC suffer from producing reams of utter drivel with art trapped in DC’s sub Jim Lee house style. King’s Batman run is blessed from having artists who can actually draw comics.

The Walking Dead.

This is a title which has been treading water for some time since the introduction of the Commonwealth with the title often resembling an essay of the benefits of capitalism versus socialism. With issue 200 coming soon it was clear Robert Kirkman would pull something out his hat for that issue to rival #100’s death of Glenn and introduction of Negan.

Well he’s done that in #191 and #192 and in these two issues the entire comic is up in the air as I have no idea how the comic is going to develop from now on. Picking these issues up won’t be easy as they both are selling around the £10 mark already and look to increase once the second print hits.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

Remember the days when Marvel used to produce fun, all-ages comics that anyone could pick up? They’re more or less gone but Squirrel Girl keeps the flag flying with light, fun superheroics every issue and it is a complete delight.

Wicked and the Divine

This title was one again I was less than excited about at the start but is now clearly the best superhero based title out there today. It is however nearing the end so pick it up now and you’ll get the final days of one of this decades most interesting mainstream books.

The Green Lantern.

Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp’s revamp of Green Lantern is interesting mainly thanks to Sharp’s stunning art. Morrison is going back over old ground in terms of style and although it is readable, there’s not much going on here apart from Sharp’s splendid art.

The Avengers.

As a title, this sells like proverbial hot cakes and it should do but I’ve never been convinced by Jason Aaron as a writer and this title won’t be the book that sells me on him having one good title in him and that’s about it. Its readable but disposable rubbish.

Savage Avengers

Remember the 90’s when any old shite would be thrown out if it had a bunch of EXTREME characters who were anti-heroes so they could do EXTREME things every month? Well, this is that book but they’re doing SAVAGE things instead of just being EXTREME. With a lineup of Wolverine, Elektra, The Punisher, Brother Voodoo, Venom and err, Conan this is a shameless cash cow designed to milk the Avengers brand, the Conan IP, and the popularity of Wolverine, Punisher and Venom for every single fucking penny Marvel can get out of the punter. It is terrible but it does serve as a signpost as to how awful comics can get.

 

And that’s it. Hope this pointed you in the direction of some good books and warned you off others. I may end up making this a monthly thing, so until the next time go out there and get yourself some good comics.

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Why are comic shops closing in a time when comics have never been so popular?

The Guardian published an article recently about why are comic shops closing when superheroes are quite literally making all the money on the planet and have never been so popular? The article isn’t bad and gets most of the reasons why. For example…

So why are so many going out of business? Like other retailers on the high street, comic shops must factor in rents, business rates, staff wages, insurance – but the profit margins on comics are so narrow as to make this a very delicate balancing act.

They then go onto discuss how monthly comics is a guessing game. You as a retailer have to sit with a copy of Diamond Previews, and try to guess what will sell and in what numbers.

Previews is a massive book released by the largest, and only real distributor of mainstream comics in the world, Diamond Distributors. As a retailer you spend so much time scouring the monthly order form working out how much of say, Iron Man, is going to sell in three months time. So you order enough for your standing orders and maybe 5-10 copies for the shelves as people like Iron Man right? But all that money of yours is now sunk into comics that aren’t sale or return (SOR) plus your profit margin is pitiful, so do you run the risk of having unsold copies sitting there wasting your money or have nothing which means people coming in asking for Iron Man leave empty handed?

Whatever decision you make depends on lots of things but the one thing you can’t change is where you get your comics from as Diamond operate a monopoly. There is no competition, which means the direct market which was meant to bring control to retailers and create a better overall industry, is stale and bloated at a time when the Marvel films are making billions, and folk see comic related characters adapted to to film and TV everywhere.

There are other reasons, such as kids especially not being familiar with how comics are read because it isn’t just words with pictures. Comics are an entire art form and medium of its own, and although there’s a lot of titles out there which are written or drawn by people who don’t understand how comics work (hence why some books are glorified storyboards) a lot do get the basics at least. Also some shops are opened by people who may love comics but have no idea of business so once the comic collection they used to help launch the shop is gone, then they struggle to push on because they don’t know what to do next.

As for shops there’s still those out there where staff are uninformed, unhelpful and these tend to be places with ‘Geek’ in the name of the shop. These places are part throwbacks to the old style of shop and a pretence of a more modern shop but end up just being awful places to shop. To use one example I walked into one such shop and had some 17 year old follow me around the shop thinking I’m obviously some shoplifter even though I’m now a middle aged man who suffers from right sided numbness after a stokes three years ago, so move at the pace of a drunken slug.

But ultimately the main reason shops go under is the business is an unforgiving one controlled by a monolithic distributor so it forces the retailer to take on other revenue streams which may be more profitable (see the proliferation of Funko Pop toys and wargaming) but take you away from what you wanted which is a comic shop. There is no easy solution to this but for shops to make money they need to adapt, but they all need to start questioning, and actually challenging, the way the entire direct market has been set up. Maybe then things will swing back the retailers way.

What I thought of Avengers: Endgame

In 2007 I read in Empire magazine that a film version of Iron Man was on it’s way from the newly formed Marvel Studios along with a new Hulk film. Future plans included a Thor and Captain America film as Marvel expanded into film media with what characters they’d left having sold the film rights to all the crown jewels like Spider-Man and X-Men during the 1990’s when the company was on the verge of going out of business.

Iron Man, Thor and Captain America (along with Hawkeye and the Black Widow who made appearances in those early Marvel films) were characters from comics who’d had the odd good run, but the majority of the comics featuring these characters were landfill comics. Basically these were destined for dealer’s 50p boxes with the odd issue/run standing out. Add into the mix Robert Downey Jnr who was in 2007 desperately piecing back something of a career after his drugs and alcohol problems of the 90’s left him popping up in films like the underrated A Scanner Darkly, or Zodiac, or the rather wonderful Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.He was never really a megastar, and you most certainly didn’t pin the hopes of a virgin movie studio upon him.

But we’re now in 2019, Downey Jnr is one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. Iron Man is as recognised a superhero as Batman or Spider-Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the biggest moneymaking machine in film history, hence why Disney bought the company. Endgame is the end of a number of story arcs that started with Iron Man in 2008 as well as setting up some of what comes next so what maybe plotholes could actually be setting up future films, or TV series.

So, the film. From here on in lie SPOILERS.

The film starts right after the events of Infinity War, with the remaining Avengers trying to work out what to do next now that half the life in the universe has been wiped out. Meanwhile in space Tony Stark is near death’s door as he and Nebula try to return to Earth from Titan in the damaged ship of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Saved by Captain Marvel who returns the ship to Earth, Tony is bitter, angry and cynical after his defeat at the hands of Thanos plus seeing the likes of Spider-Man die in front of him has left him jaded. Leaving the Avengers to retreat and set up a family, the remaining team decide to find Thanos and use the infinity stones to reverse what he did. Upon finding Thanos they find he’s used the stones to destroy them leaving no way of changing things back to what they were, so Thor kills Thanos and the film jumps five years into the future.

Time has past. The world is trying to cope but we’re told economies around the world are in collapse while people try desperately to live normal lives while trying to cope with overwhelming grief. This first hour or so is not what you’d expect from a billion dollar blockbuster. There’s genuine big ideas as well as how grief affects people and how the phrase ‘moving on’ is easier said than done. There’s also hints that actually, Thanos may have been a lunatic but the oceans are becoming cleaner and well, life is going on. The film however doesn’t dwell on this for too long which isn’t too much of a shock but I hope in future films we see how this world has changed.

After Scott Lang frees himself from the Quantum Realm (another reality) he was left in at the end of Ant Man and the Wasp, he meets up with the Avengers to propose a ‘time heist’ to steal the Infinity Stones throughout time to make a new Infinity Gauntlet to turn back what Thanos did. Tony Stark is initially reluctant having now settled down with Pepper and having a child but rejoins the team after a sort-of reconciliation with Captain America.

The film then flips tone as firstly the original team is reformed, and then embark on a heist to steal the infinity stones throughout time which means the Russo brothers and scriptwriters Stephen McFeely & Christopher Markus can do a tour of past MCU films, specifically the first Avengers film and Thor: The Dark World. This section allows the three core Avengers some personal moments so Tony meets his father, Thor meets his mother, and Cap looks longingly at Peggy Carter. Meanwhile the Black Widow sacrifices herself to get the Soul Stone which means all the stones are returned to the current day so the Hulk can use the stones to change things back as the Hulk is the only one of them powerful enough to use the stones.

The Hulk does indeed bring back everyone but not without being badly hurt in the process, then Thanos from 2014 (there’s lots of time travel stuff here) comes from the past to the present to get the stones, while destroying Avengers Mansion, and the Avengers. A big fight breaks out with Thanos and the core Avengers of Thor, Iron Man and Captain America who nearly beat Thanos, but his armies are pouring down on the Earth and all is lost…until all of the characters lost in the last film, come back along with the Wakandan tribes, sorcerers, Asgardians, and pretty much every film Marvel Comics bit of intellectual property barring the TV shows in a huge fight which everyone expected and just about stays on the right side of being a tedious cut scene from a computer game.  The gauntlet is in the hands of Thanos and just as we expect all to be lost, Tony Stark has stolen the gems from under him and clicks his fingers to wipe out Thanos and his armies.Tony dies, everyone is sad and we have a funeral to end Tony Stark’s arc and to maybe set up the future of the MCU.

Thor goes off with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Hawkeye returns to his family, Hulk is still around, but it’s Captain America who has the best ending as returning the stones back in time he decides to stay with Peggy to have the life he thought he could never have and the film ends…

Endgame is a titanic film. To think that in 2008 the first Iron Man film we’d end up at this with a film which isn’t just on track to be the biggest of all time, but is an astonishing piece of modern culture that cuts across every social, class and cultural divide you can imagine. I find it hard to imagine where Marvel go from here, and yes, sequels to Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther and Doctor Strange will ease the way in the future, but it took 11 years and 22 films to get here  using mainly the lower tier A list, not to mention B and C list Marvel Comics characters to forge what they’ve done here.

Of course Disney/Marvel now own the Fantastic Four and X Men characters which if done right would give the boost to keep it going for years, if not decades to come. We’re talking of a sausage factory here. Getting back to this level of popular culture? I don’t know. Plans for the future are still vague though a few TV series are announced for the new Disney channel but you can’t just throw Galactus or the Kree/Skrull war (which is where I think they’ll go) in two or three years for the next Avengers film without building up as effective a set of villains like Loki or Thanos so someone like Doctor Doom seems essential.

For now though Endgame is a triumph. It gives the audience what it wants, as well as what it didn’t know it wanted. It manages to hold together everything, and even for the first hour managed to challenge expectations massively but mainly it happens to massively entertain, even seriously provide some moving scenes for the 3 hour running time. To tie together 22 films to a coherent ending, not to mention acting as a new start for the next decade of Marvel is a task. My only real complaint is that I wish this massive piece of pop culture resulted in more people reading comics let alone actually knowing the names of the men and women who created these characters who make billions for Disney.

So, if you’re a fan of the films and/or comics go and see Endgame. If this is the peak for Marvel then it is a bloody good peak to hit.

 

Your Avengers: Endgame reading and viewing list

My review is on the way, but here’s a mildly spoilery out of context reading and viewing list for Avengers: Endgame.

First up, Children of Men.

Once you’ve seen the first hour this will make sense. As will the next one which is On The Beach.

I’m talking more of tone than plot here and a big lump of the film’s tone in that first hour seems ripped from the 1970’s BBC series Survivors written by Terry Nation.

But this is a film based off comics, so the main one is Secret Wars.

And of course all of Jim Starlin’s work, especially his Thanos series from 2003, and the climax to the original Thanos saga in the 1970’s.

Also, JLA/Avengers is a perfect one for the tone of the last hour.

Other Avengers books to check out are the Hickman run on New Avengers especially.

Also Peter David’s run on the Hulk is essential as the MCU’s arc for the character since the 2008 film owes much to his run.

Plenty of folk will be recommending Back to the Future as a film to help with the second hour of the film, but Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Chronocops to me is a better example, and comic related. As is Alan Moore and Alan Davis’s Captain Britain stories which introduced the concept of an ordered multiverse into the Marvel Universe.

Finally of course, what MCU films can you watch in a speed binge before watching Endgame? Well, Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Guardians of the Galaxy 1 & 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, Ant Man and the Wasp, Avengers: Infinity War.

So there you go. This isn’t exhaustive or definitive but it is purely to help where influences may, or may not have come from.

Avengers: Endgame goes all Scandinavian…

The Superbowl has come and went, and for those of us who give zero fucks about the game get to pick apart the trailers for forthcoming films, which this year includes the latest 30 seconds or so of footage from Avengers: Endgame. The footage is dark, as in BBC 4 Scandi crime drama dark as the films looks as if it’ll deal with the results of Thanos’s snap which wiped out half the life in the universe.

It’s a pity Marvel have toned down the Thanos of Jim Starlin, who did the same thing because he essentially wanted to fuck Death so like any lovestruck bloke, he did something massive to impress her. The film Thanos has a rationale which from a certain point of view makes sense, but just keeps Thanos at the level of being a psychopath as opposed to a psycho-sexual tyrannical lunatic who wants his old purple chap in the actual physical representation of death. I admit that’d be hard to sell toys off the back of such a concept but still…

Anyhow, I’m glad Marvel aren’t going to brush over the effects of the Snap but at the same time I’m sure they won’t spend the entire film dwelling on it as this is the culmination of a decade of world-building while setting up the next decade of Marvel’s film and TV production. We also know from announcements that the dead will return and the trailer for the new Spider-Man film suggests the world isn’t affected with the snap, so clearly there’s a Big Red Button reset coming which is exactly what’s happened in the comics so, so many times.

Still, we only need wait til April.

Avengers: Endgame is the blandest title ever!

After months of building up tension and excitement the new Avengers film has a trailer and title, and behold the name is AVENGERS! er, Endgame?!

Really?

Marvel have been good in using the comics for titles, which apparently has been nice for ageing creators who’ve ended up with a nice cheque and indeed, the name Annihilation was being thrown around and it’s a good, final, dramatic name.

But nah, we get Endgame, which sounds so bland it should be the name of a cheap margarine rather than a film which will make billions of squillions because it’s following Infinity War and is the end of the first decade of Marvel’s rise from risk taker (and in 2018 it is forgotten how much 2008’s Iron Man was a massive risk) to being a money-making colossus that’s helped rewrite popular culture across the world.

So we get a name probably dreamed up by marketing men playing things safe, but it is now a thing and we have to live with this thing.

And all this is about a trailer that’s gloriously bleak and downbeat. Enjoy…

The strange sexless word of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

The other night I was watching Avengers: Infinity War on Blu Ray and totally enjoying it as much as I did at the cinema. As is always the case I watched the deleted scenes and a wee thing stood out. Firstly watch the scene of Vision and the Scarlet Witch fighting Thanos’s Black Order in Edinburgh.

That line from the Vision about staying in bed and the Scarlet Witch’s smile is a cheeky little reference as to what Wanda and the Vision have been doing in Edinburgh apart from drinking in every pub in Rose Street and eating kebabs. Here’s the deleted scene; spot the incredibly small difference…

It’s only a few frames and it’s a longer shot on Wanda’s smile after VIsion’s ‘we should have stayed in bed’ comment, but those few frames change Elizabeth Olsen’s smile from a knowing one to a bit of a dirty ‘phwoar, I’ve got a super-powered sexbot’  kind of smile. It then dawned on me that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a chaste universe where people smile at each other or make jokes, but nobody, well, actually fucks. Hell, there’s barely any kissing let alone anything that might make Thor’s hammer twitch.

But it wasn’t always like this. Back in Iron Man in 2008, Tony Stark is shagging anything with a pulse, to the point where it’s hinted that he’s doing the deed with his pole-dancing staff.

There’s an attempt to set up a romance in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, but it isn’t helped by the lead pair of Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman having zero chemistry togehter onscreen, and Branagh concentrating on the more Shakespearean/Kirbyesque aspects of the story, while Captain America being the eternal virgin was a nicely hinted part of the characters sacrifice in WW2. ”He never came home for the girl” was loaded with meaning.

Through to Iron Man 3 there’s still a feeling that the people inhabiting the MCU live like normal people with the same urges but then once Disney have bought Marvel, the films become more celibate, sure there’s a longing glance between Bruce Banner and the Black Widow but it doesn’t go anywhere. Captain America might get a snog but he’s going to get nothing more than that. Sexual relationships don’t exist in the MCU (unlike the Marvel television shows, especially on Netflix, where characters are at it all the time) and have been replaced by this 1940’s style of interactive human relations where there might be a glance, or an odd cheeky line but no pants are ever dropped. It’s a very Disney, very bland vision. The one part of the MCU that stands out is the Guardians of the Galaxy, and this video from Lindsay Ellis explains some of the complexities going on in these films.

Two films where the expectation of Quill getting the girl has been dangled in front of us, and it’s never happened thanks to some very clever writing from James Gunn. Sadly much of this is wasted in Infinity War for the sake of the plot, but it shows there’s still room for emotional complexity in a series of films aimed for a family audience that’s action orientated.

I understand why the MCU films are like this. Marvel are now owned by Disney  and they need to reach as large an audience as possible but in creating a formula (and the MCU films as entertaining and fun as they are, follow a strict formula) they’ve created a strange sexless world that can be as violent as they can get away with for a 12A certificate but human relationships are limited to side-glances and marriage plans.I’m not saying the MCU should become like the Netflix shows, but perhaps rounding out the characters may make them a bit less 2-dimensional and a bit less Disneyfied because right now Disney is in danger of homogenising our entertainment and that isn’t a good thing.