What I thought of Heroes in Crisis

Written by Tom King and drawn by Clay Mann, Heroes in Crisis was yet another massive event title which promised to ‘change the DC Universe forever’, or at least til the end of June. It is an interesting, but seriously, seriously flawed experiment  but more on that in a moment.

The story centres round Sanctuary, a centre created by Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman designed to help superheroes deal with the physiological effects of being a superhero. Basically it’s a drop in centre for people suffering with PTSD. This in itself is a great idea as it deals with the violence intrinsic in superhero comics and forces the reader to confront the fact their favourite genre is a violent one soaked in wish fulfilment.   This would be a great chance to do something unique and original as Tom King is certainly a talented enough writer to pull it off.

Except it doesn’t. It fails badly because it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Is it a murder mystery or a psychological study of the superhero because merging both doesn’t work as all of the threads become a mess as King also throws in some threads from his Batman run not to mention enacting obvious editorial demands which ends up making the ending pretty worthless.

But is an experiment. It does try to say something different. Mann’s art is pretty good often following a 9-panel grid but again it all feels a bit empty which is a shame as DC need something to give them a hard kick in the arse and this could have been it.

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.

The endless futile entitlement of fandom

This week saw pitiful cries of entitlement about Game of Thrones, and the casting of the new Batman. In the case of Game of Thrones, fans started a petition asking for ‘competent writers’ for a proposed remake of the last season. As of the moment I write this there’s over a million people who’ve signed it which is not a shock but these people basically want the programme to pan out as they want it to, so when they say ‘competent’ what they really mean is ‘someone I like writing something I like’.

The next bit of fan entitlement is the casting of Robert Pattinson as the new Batman. Shrill cries of outrage followed as fans cried a torrent of tears and anger that one of the star of the Twilight film should be cast. Some calmer voices pointed out that was a decade ago and he’s been carving a career as a pretty good actor since but no, outrage!

Back in 1988 when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman in the then forthcoming Tim Burton film fans were outraged and yes, a petition circulated round pre-digital fan circles.

There’s nothing new about fan entitlement. It is an old thing but it doesn’t stop people from complaining, or indeed, desperately doubling back once they’ve realised that Thing X isn’t actually as bad as it was or that complaining about Thing X makes them a bit of a cock.

So in around 18 months many of these people signing petitions will be praising Robert Pattison and wishing there was another series as good as Game of Thrones.All of this will be forgotten as these people move onto their next target and the cycle carries on throughout the generations…

Inside John Byrne’s studio

For those of us of a certain age the name John Byrne is associated with the X Men.

As well as his Superman reboot.

Over the last decade or so Byrne’s been doing bits and bobs away from Marvel or DC, though there is a rumour he’s working on an X Men book again. Byrne has a pretty Marmite reputation with fans but this is someone who helped change modern superhero comics, and really probably deserves more credit than he gets.

The video below is a fascinating tour round his studio and his collection of original art. It should make you supremely jealous. Enjoy.

RIP Norm Breyfogle

The definitive Batman artists on the late 80’s and most of the 90’s, Norm Breyfogle, has sadly passed away at 58. Norm was one of those Batman artists who pop up every decade to redefine the character and indeed, if you’re around 30-40 and started reading comics as a kid then Breyfogle’s Batman is probably the first version you saw.

I loved Breyfogle’s work. It dropped at a time when DC Comics took risks, even with their prize cash cow Batman, who at that point in the late 80’s with the first Tim Burton Batman film was enjoying success like never before so dropping Breyfogle as the main artist in Detective Comics, DC’s secondary Batman title then written by Alan Grant and John Wagner was a comfortable mix of the old and new as Breyfogle took inspiration from the likes of Neal Adams, Carmine Infantino, Nick Cardy, and then newer artists like Alan Davis and Todd McFarlane, but quickly developed a style purely his.

Throughout the 90’s Breyfogle made Batman his own, and with Alan Grant they carved the last great version of Batman before the character turned into someone who could do anything, beat anyone and the idea of a detective fighting evil in his city slipped away.

With writer Alan Brennert he drew Batman: Holy Terror, an alternative version of the Batman myth where Bruce Wayne has been brought up within the church in a story which published today would probably cause merry hell. In fact I doubt with America swinging so far to the right that a company like DC would even commission this.

Breyfogle went to great heights in the 90’s and it’s forgotten he was one of Malibu’s Big Star Names when they launched the Ultraverse with his own title, Prime, being one of the flagship titles.

In the 2000’s things changed. DC sacked Alan Grant from the Batman titles while Breyfogle’s art didn’t fit a DC establishing a house style and a changing editorial structure which Grant in particular was a severe critic of. This left Breyfogle in some barren times before in 2014 he suffered a stroke and was left crushed upon the rocks of the American healthcare system.

After I had my own stroke I chatted with Norm a few times on social media and did my own wee thing to raise his plight but from conversations it was clear a mix of worry about finances and post-stroke pain (something that without painkillers leaves you in constant chronic pain when it hits) but there was always humour and a will to do better. Sadly he’s no longer around to spread his humour and at 58 left the world far, far too early. He leaves behind a body of work I hope is reappraised as be some of the very best superhero work of the last 25 years, and I hope that his death highlights the problems comics professionals have with working without a safety net, especially in a country like America. If anything that may mean no other professional has to struggle as Breyfogle did and that’s a good way to remember a man who gave so much to the industry.

Come to East Kilbride Comic Con tomorrow and buy comics…

Tomorrow is the East Kilbride Comic Con held at East Kilbride central library. It is the night before a show and I am shockingly still bagging and pricing.

So come along tomorrow and make it all worthwhile for me, and oh, as it’s Free Comic Book Day, everyone buying something gets a free comic from a mystery box while stocks last…

 

A quick word about the brilliance of José Luis García-López

Over the decades the world of comics have produced superstar artists from Jack Kirby to Jim Steranko to Neal Adams, John Byrne, George Perez, Brian Bolland, Jim Lee and dozens more. You rarely find the name of José Luis García-López in these lists yet artists rate him enormously & you’ll have almost certainly seen an example of his art. In fact I guarantee you’d have seen it.

García-López is essentially the artist that defined how DC Comics superheroes looked from the late 70’s to fairly recently, and having drawn countless character sheets for artist references not to mention the endless items of DC’s merchandising it is likely you’re sitting not far from a García-López piece right now.

His characters aren’t muscle-bound or cursed with infeasibly large breasts, but although hyper-realised, still look like human beings albeit somewhat fantastic in their costumes.

I especially recommend the series he drew for DC called Twilight. Written by Howard Chaykin, the series is a glorious science fiction epic that allows García-López  to indulge himself, and the covers are simply wonderful.

So go search out his work. In the last 40 years there’s few artists who’ve drawn superheroes as well as he has, and with DC stuck in their current bland ‘house style’, García-López stands as a reminder of how it could, and even should be done.

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.

Los Angeles pays tribute to Adam West in the best possible way.

Adam West sadly died recently. His Batman is for me, the only Batman as he wasn’t a psychopath like Michael Keaton’s, or a sociopath like Christian Bale, or a murdering lunatic like Ben Affleck’s. No, West was good, cheerful, honest and decent and although his Batman looks archaic it is still Batman.

So the people of Los Angeles marked West’s death in the best, and most glorious, way possible. Have a look..

 

What I thought of The Flash #22

It all ends and begins here! The DC Rebirth/Watchmen clustefuck hits a new level as the four-part ”The Button” storyline comes to a close with a cover featuring Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash promising the return of everything the New 52 cleaned out, but before we get there there’s a bit of matey banter between The Flash and Reverse-Flash, not to mention some prime product placement.

During all this Barry Allen mentions Hypertime, the Grant Morrison/Mark Waid idea that DC dabbled with in the 90’s to try to explain all the inconsistencies of their superhero universe.

Eventually the Reverse-Flash encounters the mysterious figure behind all of this (It’s Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen which we know anyhow), gets horribly killed and the Flash and Batman end up adrift in time and space heading towards an unknown voice.

That’ll be the Golden Age Flash.

However Barry and Bruce have no idea who Jay is because of that evil Dr. Manhattan chap and his big blue willy.

After Jay vanishes back into the ether, Barry and Bruce wrap things up while leaving things dangling, and talking about dangling, here comes Dr. Manhattan.

Which leads to the issue plugging November’s Doomsday Clock in which Superman and Dr. Manhattan will punch each other and ensure, once and for all, that nobody working at DC from Dan Didio to Geoff Johns actually read and understood Watchmen. As a roll of the creative dice this is a massive blank, but in terms of sales (and I speak now as someone diving back into the world of comics retail) this will sell books. They won’t be very good books but such is the power of Watchmen that it’ll propel DC along for a few years and then the novelty will have worn off.

See, Watchmen will continue to sell. It’s a classic book. Every time I read it I find something new in it. You will never, ever say that with Doomsday Clock. But hey, it’ll sell and in 2020 when this has all died down DC will try to work out what to do next and realise they’ve nothing left in their tank and creatively, they’ve worn out the bottom of the barrel but certain people will have kept their jobs which ultimately is what all this has been about…