40 years of 2000AD

2000AD is 40 this year. Recently there was a convention celebrating the comic and those who created it and still produce work for it. Thankfully for those unable to attend the convention panels were put online and one (The Originals) stood out for me as it featured not just Mick McMahon and Dave Gibbons who were there at the very start, but Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy who came along not long after.

It’s a cracking bit of viewing and a bit of comics history. Enjoy.

 

 

What I thought of Batman #9

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DC’s Rebirth cranks onwards towards the depressing Batman versus Rorschach battle which is coming as this two year (!) event rides towards Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons book, Watchmen, becoming part of the mainstream DC superhero universe. We’re not going to have any resolution to the various plot threads til 2018 which even by DC or Marvel standards, is an astonishing crossover.

I’ve found the Rebirth even to be at the very, very best patchy. At worst insultingly cynical with comics of such poor standard that I wonder if there’s anyone at DC who knows how to edit or write, comics. As for imagination there’s a dearth of that as DC continues to look back and give you the past repackaged rather than present a new vision for the future. This brings me to Batman, currently written by Tom King who is by no means a bad writer. In fact, for mainstream superhero comics he’s quite good. This latest arc, I Am Suicide, is based round Batman recruiting his own Suicide Squad to break into Arkham Asylum where dark things are afoot involving Bane and the Psycho Pirate.

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Batman recruits his team from the criminals of Arkham, which includes old enemies like the Ventriloquist.

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There’s also a massive hint for the return of the Legion of Super Heroes.

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This Batman is a sociopath filling Arkham with the criminally insane while being utterly unaccountable to anyone for his actions. His moral compass is essentially, fucked, as in trying to protect the city of Gotham, he’s creating the conditions for such mentally ill criminals to exist and thrive.

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There’s the odd allusion to The Killing Joke yet King doesn’t explore the connotations of what he’s putting on the page. This is a Batman willing to break the law, any law, to get what he wants and he’ll threaten anyone he likes, and use the criminals he wants to get it. Now King may well explore this in future but in the supposed bright new DC Rebirth Universe you’ve got a neo-fascist Batman who as a billionaire, can do what he likes. The democratic implications alone should mean that if the DC Universe is supposed to be like ours, then Batman should be locked away so he pays for what he’s done.

As said though, that moral exploration doesn’t happen. It’s just Batman walking through Arkham putting together a team of which we’ll find out more about next issue, but I do hope King realises just what he’s doing here and it doesn’t end up being a pallid rehash of what’s come before.

Still, bet we can’t wait for Batman vs Rorschach, assuming the concept doesn’t make you cry and despair of course?

What I thought of Titans: Rebirth #1

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The Teen Titans, or Titans are BACK!!! Sit down, control that excitement for a second as DC’s Rebirth even trundles on as it absorbs Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen into the regular DC Universe in an event that won’t be matched until the next big DC event. This issue by writer Dan Abnett and artist Brett Booth picks up the story of Kid Flash readjusting to the world after returning in DC Universe: Rebirth #1. 

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Wally West is being slowly remembered by those he meets and fight scenes erupt in this superhero-by-numbers tale from Dan Abnett, who at one time, was a decent writer, but anyhow, after some fairly dull pages of people fighting, Wally gets the rest of the Titans to remember him because of the Speed Force, something now used by writers to get themselves out of any hole they need.titansrebirth2

Wally explains to his mates that someone stole a decade of their lives, and the others suggest a Mister Twister as the culprit even though he sounds like a sexual deviant as opposed to a cosmic villain.

So Wally explains the person that stole ten years of his life is coming back to do it again and after talking for ages in some exceptionally average pages of art they decide to take the fight to them, but we know it’s Dr Manhattan from Watchmen, The one thing that becomes clear here is that DC are building up to a Big Revelation not to mention the horror of a Big Fight against Dr Manhattan is looming and that’d be horrendous.

Titans: Rebirth is a thin read. It’s an introduction to a new series that may or may not be fun, but the entire thing is just dull. It really is corporate superhero comics by numbers with no joy. Yes, there’s love for the characters there but its all so boring. This ultimately is just another cog in the wheel and it shows.

People finally realise that fandom is a bunch of sad, entitled dickheads

After the last week’s frankly insane stuff in the aftermath of the ”Captain America is a Hydra agent and therefore a NAZI!!!!!!’ stuff in the last week, along come two good online articles about the state fandom’s gotten itself into.

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That one page has caused so much pain and outrage in superhero comic fans since, oh, the last time either Marvel or DC did something like this with one of their characters. Now as said by many including myself, this isn’t going to be forever as it’ll be sorted out before the next Avengers film, nor does it make writer Nick Spencer a bastard for turning Cap into a Nazi because Hydra in the comics has never been equivalent to the Nazis. Nor is it anti-Semitic, nor does it shite on the memory of creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby because it is what it is; a shocking plot twist that’s designed to sell comics and create buzz. Somewhat successfully it seems but that doesn’t stop the death threats, book burnings and hyberbolic fan entitlement on social media.

Thankfully a couple of very good articles have emerged from the piles of vomit that fans have thrown up online over the last week. The first is by Jesse Hassenger at The A.V Club and it’s an excellent read. Hassenger makes some excellent points from the off:

It’s probably safe to say that James Rolfe does not consider himself a sexist. Rolfe, apparently better known as the “Angry Video Game Nerd,” has bravely crossed over from the world of video game crit into a broader discussion about movies via his internet-famous video wherein he announces his intentions to not see or, as such, review the upcoming remake of the 1984 film Ghostbusters. For many people, the decision not to see a particular film does not require a lengthy video announcing that intention (if it did, just imagine how many minutes of internet video would have been dedicated to Norm Of The North). But the 2016 version ofGhostbusters is different.

I don’t mind Rolfe, I even find his material funny and he clearly loves his stuff, but releasing this video….

Just makes him a bit of a sadcase. I don’t care if he’s not going to see the new Ghostbusters because it’s not going to match for him the heights of the original, or even it’s pretty dreadful sequel. I do think though that video reeks of entitlement and smugness. There’s got to be hundreds of films Rolfe isn’t going to see in a year yet this one merits it’s own video which gives an excuse for the thousands of misogynist complainers about the new Ghostbusters to mask their bitter hatred.

Now I’m not saying the new film is going to be good. I have no idea as I’ll probably not bother with it as big budget Hollywood films interest me less and less these days, but it may find an audience. It’s a talented cast so why can’t it work? Why cut off what may be something that gives new life to something you love and brings new people in to search out the source material unless you’re a tediously entitled fan or in this case, a sexist who can’t stand women being cast with the same importance as men.

Another point made by Hassenger is this:

Fans so hardcore they become irrational are hardly a new phenomenon, but they have more access to each other than ever. This is partially because of the internet, but it may also have to do with the galvanizing effects of major pop-cultural events like, say, adaptations of the Harry Potter books back in the early ’00s.

The internet has certainly made things worse, as has an anti-intellectualism and misplaced ownership of things people think they own, but the lunatic reaction to something has been going on for years. As one example take Marvel killing off Spider-Man’s then girlfriend Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man #121.

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Gwen was killed off because it was a shock and dramatically, there was nothing else to do with her character as if she’d lived she’d have married Peter Parker followed by domestic bliss and that’s no fun for a superhero like Spidey who lives on angst, guilt and self-doubt. Writer Gerry Conway got death threats which back in 1973 wasn’t as easy as opening up your laptop or turning on your phone. You had to get a pen, paper and then write out your threats before sticking your letter in an envelope and sending it to Marvel or Conway so you’d let them know how much of a lunatic you are.

Yet here’s the lesson. Within a couple of years Gwen’s death had stopped being so controversial. Peter and Mary Jane Watson become an item and their spiky relationship provided writers with the soap opera dramatics superhero comics need which was the point. Same thing is going to happen with Captain America or Ghostbusters. In a few years, months even, people will move on and the wailing sounds of the entitled will be drowned out by the next thing these people will find to batter to an inch of it’s life because it’s not 100% as they want it.

Or….

Of course, the things fans are actually entitled to are their own opinions and feelings, even petty or deeply stupid ones. But it’s more than a little depressing when passionate fandom and fan glorification allows anyone to become convinced that resistance to a Ghostbusters remake is a principled stand rather than sexist whining.

Nuff said.

The second good piece comes from BirthDeathMovies.com (a shite name for a site, but the piece is solid) and writer Devin Faraci whose previous piece I dismissed in my essay on DC Universe: Rebirth and the news DC were introducing Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen into the DCU proper. This one makes some of the same points as the previous one, but it’s still worth reading as the last week has seen a level of crazy, entitled bullshit I’ve not seen since Doctor Octopus became Spider-Man…

There’s one point that Faraci makes which is worth exploring;

I had an argument with a younger fan on Twitter recently and she told me that what she wants out of a Captain America story is to see Steve Rogers be happy and get whatever he wants – ie, the exact opposite of what you want from good drama), but while the details change the general attitude is the same: this is what I want out of these stories, and if you don’t give it to me you’re anti-Semitic/ripping off the consumer/a dead man.

Fans want stories they want to read or see. Forget the fact they may be a small minority and in giving into their demands companies like Marvel or DC end up damaging their brand name as they’ve done oh so often over the last decade especially.

But this is the problem. Having worked in comics in some shape or form on and off for over 30 years I’ve seen fan entitlement first hand more times than I can remember, and I’ve also seen fans who think they’re The Next Big Thing being crushed after being told that, actually, you’re not very good. you can see this sort of thing happen in the patchy Morgan Spurlock documentary, Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope as prospective comic artist Skip Harvey suddenly comes to terms that he’s not as good as he thinks he is. Part of the reason for that is the culture of ‘you can do anything should you want it enough‘ that we’ve seen spring up on both sides of the Atlantic, that’s resulted in an increase in the anti-intelllectualism that’s been part of American culture for generations that now seeps into British culture to the point where actual genuine idiots like Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson are considered to have opinions worth listening to.

Faraci says:

It’s been interesting watching so many people bring up Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the Captain America fracas; one of part of it is that their Jewishness allows angry, petulant fans to throw down a social justice bomb but it also speaks to how modern fans see many modern creators. They’re nobody compared to the ones who invented this stuff. The modern creator is the server, and they should be going back into the kitchen and bringing back a Captain America cooked to their exact specifications, and without any sort of complications or surprises. This is what fans have always wanted, but the idea of being consumers – people who are offering money for services rendered – only reinforces the entitlement.

Which is true. We live in an extreme consumerist society where we’re conditioned to consume from an early age, and ”Geek Culture” is an example of that where fans who will love a character, video game, film, etc will lavishly love that film to the point where it becomes almost religious in their defence of the sanctity of that character. Yet many of these people leaping to the defence of the now dead Simon and Kirby are also the same people that leapt to the defence of Marvel Comics when the Kirby heirs  were fighting to give Jack Kirby the credit he deserved for creating most of the Marvel Universe. The fear many of these people voiced was that the Kirby’s would ‘take their characters away’ and the consumerist defence of Marvel Comics was rife. After all the fear of losing their monthly fix outweighed any sense of right or justice for the man who created their beloved characters in the first place.

I don’t propose any solution because right now there isn’t one. However calling the likes of Rolfe out for annoyingly announcing he’ll never see one film or those weeping and wailing over a plot twist in a Captain America comic is a start. Calling out the hyperbole and hysteria is a start. Calling out fans for not protesting things that matter like creator’s right, even if that creator is dead, is a start. Actually discussing things at an intellectual level above toilet graffiti is a start. Addressing the issues of ‘Geek Culture’ (a term I so many issues with but that’s for another time) is a start.

Making debate better, and more informed is a way forward because once you do that the crazy types look even crazier and obsessed. Not letting silly wee boycotts or Twitter hashtags replace actual proper debate helps too. As said, there’s no easy solution to it but while people sit back and tolerate, or worse, encourage the nutters things aren’t going to get better.

Some of the reactions to DC Universe: Rebirth and Nazi Captain America is depressing

Yesterday saw the release of two comics. Yet another Captain America #1 and DC Universe: Rebirth #1, the latter I’ve handled with care in a lengthy blog yesterday. today sees the fallout around both comics start to congeal like fat  on a plate of a cheap full English breakfast.

For those people who missed it, or don’t especially care the jist is this. Captain America is and always has been, a Hydra agent and in the Marvel Universe that basically makes him a Nazi.

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This is of course disgusting and Marvel would never have made Cap a Nazi at all in the past.

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Oh.

This is of course a sales gimmick to get people talking about Captain America and as such, it’s hugely successful. It’ll also be overturned by no later than the release of the next Avengers film in a couple of years as the Red Skull or someone will have done something with the Cosmic Cube, or something and the status quo will return.

The problem is that writer Nick Spencer seems to have just pulled this out of thin air (having not read Captain America regularly since Roger Stern and John Byrne were the creative team I can’t say) but a better idea surely if Spencer and Marvel wanted to explore a right wing Cap would be for him to slowly become less trusting of democratic institutions, more libertarian til A Big Event pushes him to become more and more right wing. He’d still do heroic stuff but rather than being an American liberal’s caricature of a conservative , he’d be something more nuanced so Spencer really could explore what’s happening with the likes of Donald Trump than bluntly just make Cap a Nazi which is like taking a sledgehammer to a peanut?

Moving aside from my fanfic, what’s interesting to me is the reaction. It simply veers from informed comment to the insane where Spencer is receiving death threats, something no writer should have to deal with. In 18 months to two years this will be gone and forgotten like all the thousands of superhero comic plot twists have after they’ve caused people’s knickers to get into a twist. But for fuck’s sake don’t threaten to kill someone because they’ve done something to a fictional character you love, that’s insane!

As for DC Comics they released DC Universe: Rebirth  #1 which incorporated Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen into the DC Universe.

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I’ll be totally upfront for those unfamiliar with my blogs. I’m an Alan Moore fanboy that prays to a statue I made out of potatoes of him every night. He is my god!

Not really, he’s by far my favourite comics writer, but I’ve admitted his flaws and readily admit when he’s wrong, but I’m not going to send Geoff Johns or Dan Didio a death threat because they’ve done themselves a shite and called it a comic. I’ll criticise it and rip the piss out of it because that’s better than getting angry over something which actually proves Moore’s point he made around the time of DC’s Blackest Night event, also written by Geoff Johns..

The comics that I read as a kid that inspired me were full of ideas. They didn’t need some upstart from England to come over there and tell them how to do comics. They’d got plenty of ideas of their own. But these days, I increasingly get a sense of the comics industry going through my trashcan like raccoons in the dead of the night.

That comment that so outraged fans and some professionals at the time has now had the truth firmly rammed home because if DC are going back to mine Watchmen (which they are) then there’s a clear lack of creativity here that should be indefensible as with the Captain America stunt, it’s a sign that they’re running out of ideas.It’s something that should get fans rallying for a more creative, more intelligent form of superhero comic and many are, but there’s still those clinging onto the faith that DC will be right in the same way dogshit sticks to your boot.

One of those people is Anghus Houvouras. A man who bravely stood up for white people being represented on film and rallied against political correctness. At this point when people talk about ‘political correctness’ this Stewart Lee clip has to be brought in…

Anyhow, our Anghus did write himself a piece which sums up the argument of those defending DC entitled Why Alan Moore is wrong about The Watchmen. That’s right, The Watchmen, not Watchmen. From there it gets worse.

As a writer, I love Alan Moore. He is, without question, one of the most talented writers to ever grace the la bande dessinée.

The only thing anyone can sanely reply to this is ‘fuck off’.  However let’s dig our hands in deeper for a wee bit…

At some point Alan Moore became the comic book equivalent of the Old Man on his front porch shaking his fist at the machinations of the ever evolving comic industry.

This is of course bullshit. It makes it easier to disregard Moore’s often sharp comments on the American comic industry than deal with the comments themselves. Also, seeing as Moore only works for Avatar being allowed I believe the freedom to do what he likes rather than writing superheroes which he’s not done in some time then he’s every right to comment upon something he’s such a major part of. His shadow is after all cast over DC’s big event for 2016.

Trying to devalue his comments by making him a ‘crazy old man’ is frankly, a cunt’s trick. Play the ball, not the man.

And there are things that Old Man Moore has been absolutely right about.

Patronising arseholery doesn’t help.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a series of stories based on preexisting characters that Moore himself had no hand in creating. If Moore believes that Hollywood studios are lazy for taking his concepts and adapting them to film and television, isn’t it just as accurate to call Moore lazy for using borrowed characters for his own comics?

To call Moore lazy is in itself a lazy assumption. Moore’s put a lot of thought into using the public domain characters that make up the core of the League. The ones that aren’t are changed to keep them legal or so clearly parody they’d not be a case against Moore, or artist Kevin O’Neill.

And our Anghus misses the point. Moore’s point is that he as creator or co-creator deserves to decide what to do with his work, not multinationals so bereft of imagination that they mine 30 year old works in order to make money in 2016 because they know the name ‘Alan Moore’ attached to a comic will help sell it. Even obliquely in the case of DC Universe: Rebirth. That’s what Moore meat with his the comics industry going through my trashcan like raccoons in the dead of the night comment.

When DC rolled out the Before Watchmen prequel series, many fans were perplexed by how to feel.Watchmen has always been treated as sacrosanct. One of those singular works of artistic perfection that should never be expanded upon. A story told completely and not in need of embellishment. And while fans and Moore are quite clear on their position on the subject, there are those of us who are actually excited by the prospect to see more stories with these characters

Why? That story was told. Everything you need to know about those characters is in Watchmen. Can you imagine if DC had published Art Speigleman’s Maus? Would there be a demand for new stories of L’il Artie? Or something like The New Adventures of Vladek where Speigelman’s father is brought back from the dead to fight Nazis in 2016? A complete work is just that. It’s done, it’s there but let’s move on to something new rather than trying to capture something with the same characters you’ll never capture again.

Alan Moore is wrong about The Watchmen.

There’s no ‘The’ here.

The original Watchmen series was based on the Charlton Comics characters that DC had acquired in 1983 which included Blue Beetle, The Question, and Captain Atom. Originally Moore wanted to use these characters for the Watchmen series, but because they were being integrated into the regular DC Comics Universe, Moore and artist Dave Gibbons decided to created thinly veiled versions of these characters. While the names may have changed, it borrowed heavily from the iconography of many DC owned characters. That was always the intention: to create a more mature story in a familiar world. Mission accomplished.

What’s missed out here is the fact Moore initially had the idea using The Mighty Crusaders, but as the story evolved he ended up creating new characters with artist Dave Gibbons who were archetypes of superheroes who could serve the purpose of the story.

Where Moore errs is thinking that these characters should stop existing outside of the originalWatchmen series.

Trying marketing something with an existing name. Why do Coca Cola guard their property so much? It’s because it has value to them and those trying to piggy back off it are trying to buy into that value for their own gain as Richard Branson tried to do with his Virgin Cola, yet even Branson learned the lesson that the bigger beast in business will crush you. Same thing is true of DC using Watchmen without Moore or Gibbons permission, and yes, they did sign what was proclaimed a great contract at the time but as as both admit, they were stupid. It doesn’t make the points Moore’s made about exploitation of creators and creator rights any less valid.

I’m not here to throw stones,

Says Anghus, throwing stones everywhere til one eventually lands on his head.

I suppose the core argument from fans would be that further uses of the characters diminishes the original work in some way. That’s another argument I never could take seriously. The Dark Knight Returns was an amazing series. The Dark Knight Strikes Again was a hot mess. The jury is still out onDark Knight III. None of these average works have lessened the impact of the original. Much like the two flaccid Matrix sequels didn’t end up sullying the majesty of the original. Caddyshack is still hilarious no matter how terrible Caddyshack 2 turned out.

Ah, The Matrix (which ”borrowed” from Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles) and Caddyshack, giants of cinema.  But sad cash-in’s don’t diminish the original, they just make it clear there’s a paucity of creativity as companies chase money in the hope they might recapture what they had, again one of the points Moore has made over the decades.

The point is, it’s kind of nutty for Moore to think that these characters should stop existing

They’re not real. They only exist in the medium they were created for and by their creators. Plus Moore’s never said that, he just wants control of his work.

Only time will tell if it’s a good use of the characters or a pointless cash grab.

Took me 0.2 seconds to work out it’s a cash grab.

When it comes to the subject of originality in regards to Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Moore has a little too much glass in his house to be chucking stones.

For the nTh time. Moore’s issue is creative ownership and control. Listen to his words.

It’s not hard in the year 2016 to find out exactly what Moore thinks about creator rights or that Marvel have pulled cheap stunts to sell comics once or 300 times before. Yet people still get angry or fill a swimming pool full of pish as they repeat what they’ve read other people say in order to get clicks. It’s a total nonsense yet the real problems of mainstream superhero comics sail on and on with an imploding readership and a creative community either scared to create new works in case they’re exploited to the hilt as Moore has been, or they end up being so devoid of imagination they make Captain America a Nazi.

What people like Moore want to see is better comics with creators treated like people who end up with control of their work. It shouldn’t be a battle, and fans should slavishly leap to the defence of multinationals because all they care about is ‘their characters’.  Here’s a bit of news, if you do then that makes you part of the problem, not the solution.

What I thought of DC Universe: Rebirth #1

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It’s 2016, so it must be time for another DC Universe reboot, but this one masterminded by Geoff Johns brings back the hopeful, cheerier DC Universe that Johns apparently loves, ditching the dark, miserable one that Johns played such a major role in creating. Except as revealed in leaks last weekend, it’s nothing to do with Johns, or DC chief Dan Didio, or the miniseries Identity Crisis but rather it’s Watchmen (the book, and it’s creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons shoulder the blame according to this extraordinary comic)that  is the real smoking gun as to where DC went wrong over the last decade or so according to Johns and this already controversial comic.

Before getting stuck into Rebirth, it’s worth spending time having a wee recap of Identity Crisis. This was a 7-issue miniseries released in 2004 which was to redefine what DC’s superheroes were, so no longer were they these shining figures of hope, but instead they were darker, more ‘gritty’ and instead of fighting bad guys they were busy fighting each other. To make the point that the brighter days were over, Sue Dibney, wile of the Elongated Man and part of the jokey, fun Justice League International was raped by Dr. Light.

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It’s clear what DC were doing here as this at the time was massively controversial, and although Identity Crisis sold,  it’s worth paying heed to the comments of creator Kyle Baker at the time.

BAKER: This is a business, and all this stuff revolves around giving people what they want to read. All of the trends that you see in comics are a direct response to sales. DC and Marvel do what sells, and they repeat what sells. If the Atom is a villain, it’s because audiences respond to superheroes that have turned into villains, and that’s what they want to read. We were talking about how you have to change things over the years. Everything is a response to trends; public fantasies change as a response to trends. Someone like Captain America is created as response to Nazism. He’s a fantasy of beating up the Nazis, a fantasy of America. You could probably sell a character like that today, but that character was created because of the times, and the fantasy that people were the hungriest for. Even the name “Plastic Man” — when Plastic Man was created, plastic was this new miracle polymer. All of the Marvel characters were created by radiation, and Iron Man’s superpower was transistors, because that was hot at the time. That was what had captured the public imagination. I think the last superhero fantasy that really grabbed the public that way was The Matrix. [laughs] That fantasy of breaking out of your shitty office job and fighting crime, instead of being some cog in a cubicle somewhere. That really resonated with people at the time.

So if people are fantasizing about their heroes becoming murderers, that’s just what’s in their heads right now. That’s what they want to see. That’s what they’re dreaming of.

FARAGO: Yeah, it’s, uh —

BAKER: Weird.

FARAGO: I thought the industry was moving away from it, and there were all these signs that people wanted the noble heroes again —

BAKER: Isn’t that [Identity Crisis] the biggest book of the year?

FARAGO: Yeah, easily.

BAKER: Every time people buy it, they’re going to do another one. That’s common sense. If the biggest book of the year features brutal rapes, you’re going to have to top it next time. You’re going to have to come up with, what’s worse than that? What’s worse than raping and killing a character’s wife? We’re going to have to top that. Maybe we can cut Lois Lane’s head off and shove it up her ass. That’s what’ll be at the next meeting. We’re going to have to figure out how to brutalize the rest of the DC universe.

And they did figure out how to brutalise the rest of the DC Universe (DCU) as it veered from one major event to another and the DCU five years ago went through the New 52 revamp which made all their heroes a bunch of pricks. Superman? Prick. Batman? Prick. Green Lantern? Prick. You get the jist…

Thing is the sales of Identity Crisis were never reached by DC by the time it got to the New 52, barring a few titles like Grant Morrison’s Superman stories in Action Comics. Even then the diminishing returns for moody, grim, violent rapey, angsty superheroes were minimal, especially with Marvel’s film arm producing bright, cheery heroes who save people and act generally like superheroes. So in 2016 we come to DC Universe: Rebirth where for the last decade and everything that happened in it is blamed on Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen who created the New 52 to see what a universe without hope is like. It’s been posited this is a ”gutsy work of comics criticism’, but that is frankly, a load of fucking shite. If it was Johns would turn this so-called criticism upon himself, and his superiors who for a decade have shaped the DCU into what it is now, not a comic produced 30 years ago that still makes DC money. Maybe it’s the fact it’s a constant reminder of what DC’s lost in terms of talent and prestige that clearly annoys Johns about Watchmen, I dunno, I don’t live in his head.

The comic itself makes it clear with it’s opening 9-panel grid opening page where it’s coming from and it’s a jarring sight, but unlike Grant Morrison’s Multiversity event last year, there’s no sign of Johns having read, or grasped what Watchmen was.

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The disembodied narrator could be Johns himself speaking, and it probably is even if it’s odd that someone who helped get DC’s superhero titles in the mess they’re in is saying there’s ‘something missing’. As for the story, if you’re hoping to jump on board picking things up from scratch then forget it. This is a comic with three Jokers.

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So this is a reboot not for new readers as such, but for older readers who’ve perhaps ditched DC and this is to attract them back, which if so, is extraordinary. Why not just wipe everything out and start again from scratch rather than make it needlessly convoluted in the first few pages for anyone that hasn’t a knowledge of 75 years of DC history?

Anyhow, the narrator is Wally West, former Flash but back in his Kid Flash outfit, and he’s touring the New 52 world trying to find a connection with someone to pull him out the Speed Force so he can return to this world and warn them of some threat or other. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter. The art is so painfully bland/awful/uninspiring and reeks of the conformity of the last decade of DC’s art by numbers policy that when added to a remarkable for all the wrong reasons script, this becomes a hard package to read if you’re not a serious DCU fanboy/girl. if you are then you’ll be glad to know everything is back. Even Crisis on Infinite Earths is back.

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As said, new readers turn away now. This isn’t for you, this is for the people who lap up DC continuity like an alcoholic licking a spilled tin of Special Brew off a pavement.

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That’s the hand of Dr Manhattan who is behind the darkening of the DCU, and as you can see in the dialogue, Johns is blaming the ‘darkness’ on one thing, and one thing alone and that’s Watchmen which is remarkable. Watchmen is a multi-tiered work that acts among other things as a criticism of the darker comics which were becoming more in vogue in the mid 1980’s, a fact Johns totally overlooks here. By the end of the book it’s dripping in hope with  a cautious note that the bad times always lurk round the corner. It’s a complete artistic work.

The New 52, and indeed, the last decade of DC is as said, the decision of a number of people who’ve looked at sales figures and decided rape, violence and ‘dark’ = money. It’s a decision of a large multinational corporation and a handful of it’s employees to impose a philosophy upon it’s comics because they think running a line of superhero comics can be done by committee and accountants. The creative instinct is suppressed to ensure creators create product, not art. What Johns should be railing at is DC’s consumerist obsession with marketing a superhero universe where everything is the same, rather than as it was previously, where there was a mix, something Johns hints is returning to the DCU which may in the long run be a good thing if it actually happens. Right now it’s a mess.

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And indeed, since Watchmen DC’s taken the topic of darker superheroes on before, most notably with the excellent Kingdom Come series, but the deeper one gets into Rebirth the more insane the meta aspects become. None as much as the scene where Pandora, the character behind the New 52 is murdered by Dr Manhattan.

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Subtlety isn’t a Johns strong point here.

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That, if rumour is believed, is Ozymandias from Watchmen. Even John Constantine and Swamp Thing turn up in this jumbled, disjointed mess.

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Then when you think it’s all coming to an end at last, Johns pisses in your face again as he hammers home the point that Watchmen was really miserable as far as he’s concerned and is responsible for dark superhero comics, Simon Cowell and cancer.

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After the much publicised page of Batman holding up the Comedian’s smiley badge, there’s an epilogue where it’s driven home that now Watchmen is part of the DCU.

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DC Universe: Rebirth takes a complicated mess of continuity and makes it worse. it throws in Watchmen as a scapegoat for a decade’s worth of bad corporate creative decisions in order I presume to absolve people like Johns from any sense of responsibility for what they’ve helped create. It takes one of mainstream comics best, most respected books, a book that changed comics, brought in tens of thousands of new, fresh readers and is still selling massive amounts 30 years after first publication, and crams it into a mess of a book in order to give it a kicking.

Yet by doing so Johns proves Alan Moore’s point that DC Comics are so creatively bankrupt they have to mine works he did three decades ago to help them sell comics. This also isn’t going to fill creators who may create new, exciting works with joy or confidence as after all, they’re seeing Geoff Johns metaphorically rub his balls all over Moore and Gibbons creation while shouting ‘IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT‘ loudly at the top of his lungs at a picture of Alan Moore he’s stuck on his bathroom mirror.

This doesn’t crap all over Watchmen as a work, because that’ll always be there, and anyhow, DC’s already done that with the inept Before Watchmen crap from a few years ago. What this does is show that Paul Levitz deserves much more praise for protecting Watchmen from this sort of exploitation as it protected not just it’s artistic integrity, but showed that although DC were bastards, they weren’t fucking bastards. They are now.

DC Universe: Rebirth is trying to have it’s cake, eat it, and after it’s thrown it up force it down your throat because it’s what you want, honest. Rather than do a flat out reboot it’s chucking everything in because one has to keep the hardcore continuity geeks happy, and fuck new readers. If they’re not up with seven decades of DC history then tough. Here’s a bit of New 52, here’s a bit of pre-Crisis, here’s a bit of something new, here’s some Vertigo. It’s all there. It’s all a mess. A fresh start will piss off the 30-50 year old core readership of DC Comics, but it clears everything out. It leaves a blank slate. It gives creators freedom, rather than have to throw in a mention of say, The Killing Joke, because going back in time to draw inspiration rather than try something different and new is all they know. Didio,Johns and the others making decisions at DC are locked into a spiral where after this they’ve left themselves with two options: to do a fresh start or fiddle round the edges yet again and lose readers til it’s just a small core of bitter fans clinging on because ”their” characters are what’s important to them.

In short. This is bollocks.

DC Comics make Watchmen part of their continuity because they’re unimaginative arseholes

DC Comics are undergoing yet another company wide revamp of their line in yet another attempt to stop declining sales as they reset a couple of previous revamps done as far in the past as 2011. DC Rebirth is going to solve all the problems DC’s been having now for at least 15 years where creatively they’re at a dead end. Sure, there are other problems such as an ageing readership, increased competition from other mediums and talent heading for companies like Image due to DC’s contracts or working conditions but at some point if you’re having to relaunch your line, or take a ”bold new direction’ every couple of years then you’re not building up confidence in the readership you’ve got and you’re essentially turning off new readers who may perhaps like Superman as a character but wonder why DC’s turned him into an enormous prick?

So in 2016 there’s another revamp, and this one is going to go down like diarrhoea on your wedding night. This overly excited Bleeding Cool article explains:

Wally West is back. There are three Jokers. The Original JSA is back. Watchman are now part of the DCU and are responsible for the loss of time???

Wait? Watchmen is now part of the DC Universe? It appears they are…

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DC have been trying to weld Watchmen to their main universe of superheroes for years. A few years back they did a series called Countdown: Arena which was publicised with a poster featuring Frank Miller’s Batman from The Dark Knight beating up Rorschach.

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DC have been clearly biding their time to sneak Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons graphic novel Watchmen into their main universe for some time,  but fearing fan backlash or the (correct) accusation that they’re so creatively bankrupt that they have to keep mining what Alan Moore wrote for them 30 years ago (see also Frank Miller) rather than get their heads down and do something new and original. Then again, that’s involving listening to people, something DC don’t have form for unless it’s the small core of hardcore fans online who obsess about continuity hence these seemingly endless reboots to cater for this demographic.

Forget for a moment the fact it’s DC making a mockery of creator’s rights and it’ll make any creator worth their salt decide to avoid DC, or hold back ideas as after all, if they can fuck Alan Moore over constantly, they’ll fuck over anyone, it’s the paucity of imagination on display that’s the most depressing.

In short, DC Comics are being arseholes selling shite to wankers who’ll buy this guff up and then not see that the ever diminishing set of returns is going to end up destroying what they love. If anyone in DC had the vision, the imagination and the bollocks to try something new and think about how to cut across platforms and media to get new readers in (and those potential readers exist) then good luck to them but they won’t make things better by mining Watchmen, or by having Batman fight Rorschach because they want some bloke in his 30’s to say ‘kewl’ when they see it and buy all 12 covers of each issue they release.

Well done DC, just when you think there’s nothing left at the bottom of the barrel for you to scrape up, you’ve proven everyone wrong….

A look back at Alan Moore’s Superman story, ‘For The Man Who Has Everything’

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In the second of my very, very occasional retrospectives of classic comics I take my beady eye and cast it upon Superman Annual #11 from 1985 containing Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons For The Man Who Has Everything.

It’s a testament that what was essentially a one-off story done by Moore as a bit of fun and to help pay the bills still remains one of the finest Superman stories ever, not to mention it’s been the spring that a lot of lesser talents than Moore have drawn upon for inspiration but this is a fine example of how to do superheroes that have been around for decades in an updated way without making them ‘dark’ or ‘gritty’.

The story starts with Batman, Robin (the short lived Jason Todd version) and Wonder Woman arriving at Superman’s Fortress of Solitude for his birthday. Upon arriving they find Superman with a strange thing attached to his chest and the alien super-villain Mongul, a being as powerful as Superman himself. Mongul tells Batman and the others that the thing is a Black Mercy; an alien plant that grants it’s host visions of their life based upon their ‘heart’s desire’. In Superman’s case, it’s dreams of a Krypton that never exploded so he has a wife, a son and a normal life apart from his father Jor-El being involved with an extremist group called The Sword of Rao, who want Krypton to purge itself of alien immigrants and return to a ‘purer’ past.

As Superman dreams of this Krypton that never existed Wonder Woman is battling Mongul and just about hold her own, while Batman and Robin work out how to extricate Superman from the Black Mercy. Seizing upon the gauntlets Mongul was wearing before he started fighting Wonder Woman, Batman manages to tear off the Black Mercy freeing Superman from his dream but the Black Mercy attaches itself to Batman while Robin tells a now awake and very, very, very fucked off Superman just who did this to him.

Superman fights Mongul (who has defeated Wonder Woman and is about to kill her) trashing the Fortress of Solitude not to mention nearly breaking his code against killing but at the last minute stops upon seeing statues of his Kryptonian parents. Mongul takes advantage of Superman’s hesitation nearly killing him before Robin (who has pried the Black Mercy off of Batman, and stuffed it into one of Mongul’s gauntlets) appears from a hole in the roof above and throws the Black Mercy at Mongul who has the plant attach itself to him.

A coda to the story has Batman tell the others that his dream had his parents survive, and he too ended up married. Superman tells the others he’s dropped Mongul into a black hole, and as for Mongul he dreams of the galaxy conquered by him and the screams of his enemies……

For The Man Who Has Everything is a perfect mix of  Silver Age DC characters intertwined with Moore’s then fresh approach to superheroes. In 1985 Marvelman/Miracleman was still new, and Moore’s version of Swamp Thing for DC had revolutionised how mainstream comics were seen, so less pulpy and more literary. Moore’s influences still pulled from the Mort Weisinger influenced portrayal of Superman in this story, but he drew from literature and film as much as the decades of comic history that preceded him. That meant there’s a stronger depth to Superman here than most people had ever seen before (and with the odd exception, it’s not been seen since) which for me is why this story holds up so well.

We know Superman is essentially a god. He’s struck down on his birthday, a day most us enjoy and appreciate in the company of friends and family so his guard is down allowing Mongul to launch an attack that should leave Superman (and indeed Batman) a total mental wreck. Yet Superman survives thanks to the bravery of Robin rather than his own power. It’s the ordinary that saves the extraordinary and that makes Superman vulnerable to this sort of emotional attack. Moore shows you don’t have to be a physical match for Superman (although Mongul is) to beat him; you just have to take advantage of his humanity so with that Moore brings Superman to our level making it easier to relate to him as a person with the same drives, wishes and dreams as many of us ordinary folk.

I’ve not mentioned Dave Gibbons and his fine work in this story. Outwith of Watchmen it’s for me his best work, if only for these panels….

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With the story due for an adaptation in the charmingly upbeat DC TV series Supergirl, it’s worth returning to this story for a refresher, or if you’re discovering it for the first time I hope you appreciate one of the finest one-off superhero stories ever written.