What I thought of Fantomex #4

Thoughts about #1#2 and #3.

We reach the final issue of this four issue series.

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We start this episode on a cliffhanger as our Baddie decides to reveal his plan to kill as many people as possible using the meteor defence weapon they’ve all broken into. Unfortunately the authorities aren’t going to nuke the place from orbit because…

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So the only person who can save millions is Fantomex, except he’s incapacitated by Stirling’s powers but thanks to something introduced in the first issue, Fantomex is able to get free for the final showdown with Stirling which takes on Bottinesque proportions as the pair fight.

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Without giving anything away too much, the final confrontation is suitably satisfying, as is the resolution of the Fantomex/Flemyng relationship which sets up potential future meetings.

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There’s also a nice end with Eva which wraps things up and it’s The End.

So overall what did I think?

The series suffered badly from a patchy at best opening issue but as said at the time, there’s enough potential to carry on reading and anyone who did would have been rewarded with a solid action story that was well written and beautifully drawn by Shawn Crystal. Part of the problem sadly was the comic press and initial reviews which were on the whole quite scathing, but considering the utter rubbish Marvel and DC pump out, Fantomex stood out as at least trying something different. Alright, this isn’t a series brimming with originality but it’s something different from the reams of grim superheroes talking about how they were raped, or their parents killed but there’s actual puns, bad jokes and a lightness of touch missing from too many superhero comics.

Where the series had weaknesses was the meandering first issue left it trying to play catch up so Hope has to pull it back which is the equivalent of going in at half time 5-0 down in the hope that the 17-year old striker and the 40 something veteran sitting on the bench can pull it back in the second half and they did. Not without some problems though.

One of the problems is the treatment of Agent Flemyng. She’s beaten, possibly raped and generally slapped around waaaay too much. Now she does rise above all this and remains a strong character but if there’s any way for those early accusation of misogyny to stick, then it’s with this. I’d rather not see another female character in comics become a punchbag for men as that sends out an iffy message to women, though Hope generally does write good female characters in this (the flashback cameos of Fantomex’s mother is great, if somewhat too brief) story, this is a weak spot. The riff on The Champions was fun but I never felt the villains developed much at all, which is a pity but they were suitably bad bastards to make the reader root for Fantomex, Eva and Flemyng.

Of course one does have to take comics ‘journalism’ with a pinch of salt as this frankly shite page shows, the general standard of journalism, let alone criticism, in comics is around the level of a pissy teenager who’s just found out they’re always going to be a virgin.

There’s also problems with pacing. The second issue An Awful Lot happens, but at least Hope remembers stories are about characters so there’s an attempt throughout the series to make Fantomex and Flemyng actual 2-dimensional characters in a superhero comic as opposed to flat images of people doing kewl stuff for da kidz! Thankfully the art glosses over some of the problems as Crystal really is a potentially big talent in the making. Yes, he does need to work on his storytelling but his designs are lovely and his layouts are fantastically designed at times. He makes a good team with Hope and it’d be nice to see them work together on something again sooner rather than later.

Overall this is a worthwhile bit of fun, problems aside of course. I still think that with very few changes this could easily have been an all-ages book, and in fact Hope sets up an all-ages Fantomex perfectly here but with both Marvel and DC not especially giving a toss about kids buying comics I suppose they’ll carry on chasing the ‘core audience’. We really do need superheroes again to be aimed at the people who they were meant for, which is another thing I agree with Alan Moore about.

So, buy the trade when it comes out. Download the comics from the splendid Comixology site, but give it a chance. It deserves it.

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What I thought of Fantomex #3

Thoughts about #1 and #2.

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First off let me start by saying this is the best issue of the series so far. The development of writer and artist is nice to see, and a lot of the problems with the first issue are gone, but a lot of the problems lie with the fact that Fantomex is a bit of a crap character.

Anyhow, this issue opens with a conversation between artificial intelligences.

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At the same time Fantomex is fighting the same bloody great sea monster he was fighting at the end of last issue, and this is wrapped up in a rather cracking double page spread you need to buy as I’m not sticking it up here to spoil it.

Meanwhile Agent Flemyng seems not to have been obviously raped as was the vague suggestion last issue, but rather beaten up, though the suggestion still lingers.

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Now I’m glad there’s an ambiguity here as frankly the use of rape against female characters in mainstream superhero comics is an overused, and often sadly misguided plot device so I’m glad there’s a fudge here, and more crucially Flemying clearly isn’t a victim here.

Anyhow, this reveal prompts a shameless parody of the origin of The Champions, which includes one great line which is a bit of an in-joke between myself and Andy Hope….

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There’s also another Jimmy Savile line, a few twists and a cliffhanger for the last issue that I won’t ruin. All I’ll say is that after an average at best start to the series, Hope and Crystal have pulled a fun pulpy big of action/adventure out of their hats. It’s not going to change the face of superhero comics, let alone the medium generally but when so many superhero comics are overblown examples of depressingly badly written grimness, it’s nice to see something self contained that’s at least a bit lighter.

So next issue if the last issue which means a big old overview of the entire series in gory detail….

What I thought of Fantomex #2

Last month I did a review of Fantomex #1, so as if often the case with monthly comics, here’s a review of #2…

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Before I dive in I will say this issue is much better structurally than #1 as we dive headfirst into the plot, but there’s things here and there which niggle, but I’ll get to that.

As we start this issue off, Fantomex  is in a submarine at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

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We get a crisp and brief bit of exposition as to what Fantomex is doing and why he’s in this place. Nice simple superhero comics dialogue that isn’t clogged down with continuity, or fourth generation sub Alan Moore dialogue as you see in a massive amount of superhero comics today.

As I did last time I have to praise Crystal’s art. There’s a lot of potential with this lad’s art though I don’t find his depiction of Fantomex as a stupidly muscled superhero convincing. I find it amazingly forced, so that when he does draw him as this wonderfully flexible character it feels natural and fluid.

What doesn’t feel natural or fluid is this bit of dialogue that Andy Hope sticks in.

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We don’t need the exposition about Nauls being called after a character from John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’d have been a nice in-joke to keep the character genuinely called Nauls rather than this couple of bubbles of Claremontesque exposition. Again though, Crystal’s art here is excellent.

I also have a problem with the dialogue here.

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It’s the use of the word ‘cunt’ that seems forced. I’ve nothing against fucking swearing in fucking comics, but like Crystal’s muscly Fantomex it seems forced and trying too hard. The threat as it is without the word ‘cunt’ is fine.

There, that couple of sentences should clear out the Guardian readers.

Anyhow, Hope comes back with a blinding bit of dialogue a few panels later…

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You won’t see any other comic in any genre this year with a Jimmy Saville reference…

I do actually think that when Hope is more comfortable in a slightly more jokey, more fun, even camp tone than the more traditional superheroics that’s come up in the two issues so far. I know this isn’t a style the hardcore superhero readers of 2013 enjoy as they want grim grimness with extra grimness on top and a side-order of mutilation and a big glass of gore, but there’s something nice about bad guys being bad, good guys caring about a bloke called Nauls and an anti-hero who isn’t a rapist thug but a charming gentleman thief. It’s simple but Hope never makes it simplistic.

This is an example of what I mean.

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It’s fun. Frankly making this a Max title means that it’s cut out a potential larger audience. Ah well.

Anyhow, the rest of the issue is involved with setting up the plot, so there’s a lot more exposition, a conversation with a hologram that reminds me of a scene from Doctor Who, but I know Andy’s not seen the new series so it’s not a rip off or even inspired, and lots of people standing around talking. This is a problem of all superhero comics going back decades in that at some point you’re going to have people standing around explaining who is doing what to whom and why, but Hope makes these scenes pass as quickly as possible, plus Crystal’s art makes it easier to sail through.

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After several pages of setting up the meat of the plot, the issue leaves both our heroes (Fantomex and Agent Fleming) in peril. I won’t talk about this yet as obviously it’s to be resolved next issue, so you’ll wait til then.

All in all, Fantomex #2 is a vast leap on from the first issue. It’s got a great tone at times as Hope’s voice begins to be found, and Crystal’s art improves though tone down the superheroic cliched muscles! I do still think that both creators are struggling to be comfortable with the main character but they’re doing as good a job as possible, and as said, I do think the Max format is just an excuse for tits, gore and swearing to make it seem ”mature” but in this case, it doesn’t seem at all suited to the story as it could very easily be made a book read by a wider audience.

Also, Jimmy Saville being referenced in an American superhero comic. That’s glorious…

Be back next month for #3!

What I Thought Of Fantomex #1

As promised here’s my review of issue one of Marvel’s Fantomex. It’s been getting some horrible reviews, but although there’s points which I may agree with, the reviews like this one at IGN are grossly unfair, especially when the reviewer complains about the violence in Fantomex, a title meant by Marvel to be read by adults but seems to revel in the violence in certain DC Comics meant for a different audience.

All the panels here come from the Comixology download I had to make this morning when I realised I wanted to show some panels and didn’t have a working scanner. It’s a superb service and I’ll be using that site an awful lot in future…

Also, I’m going to make it clear I’ve know the writer Andrew Hope for years, but I’m going to be doing this review as if I didn’t. Also, Andy would think I’m being a creepy wanker if I didn’t and he’d be right, so lets crack on….

First is the cover. The cover is excellent.

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It’s got a nice touch of Milo Manara about it. It’s gaudy and eye-catching while not looking exactly like all the other superhero fayre out there at the moment. It’s a lovely work of art. The interiors are by Shawn Crystal, an artist I wasn’t familiar with but there’s nice touches that remind me of Paul Grist via Berni Wrightson  & Mike Ploog in places. His use of letratone is also incredibly welcome when many superhero artists only fire up the laptop, slap some computer effects on and then go back to bed, so to see some genuinely hand-crafted touches like this is welcome. Crystal has serious potential.

As for the story the first page launches us right into the action without telling us what’s going on. We also get a hint of the tone from this panel.

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It’s a nicely composed panel with Fleming on one side, the ship on the other, and the eye is drawn to the body in the centre of the frame so we’re told that Fleming is the character we should be rooting for thanks to the jokey line about looking ‘great in skintight black kevlar’ and the fact she’s running into danger so she’s the hero we should be following.

What’s instantly jarring is that as soon as Fleming is introduced we’re thrown into a battle between the title character Fantomex, and a man in some hi-tech battle suit in the next few pages. In fact the man is the night watchmen of whatever secret base Fantomex has broken into, and we assume, Fleming is breaking into.

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There’s a nice light tone in all this bantering but the reason this is all jarring is I’m not being told as a casual reader why I should care about Fantomex, what he is (there is a caption saying he’s an international super criminal in a previous panel) or anything that makes anyone who hasn’t read an X Men comic care about this character. It’s a good thing especially in a four issue series to throw your audience in at the deep end, but this assumes you’re familiar with Fantomex, not to mention it shifts your focus from Fleming to Fantomex too quickly. Who’s our entry character?

To show an example of what I mean, look at the first episode of Russell T Davies’s Doctor Who, revamp Rose. The first ten minutes or so is all about the Rose character, her life, and we start to empathise with her so that when Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor arrives the madness and insanity which follows is something that we’re seeing through Rose’s eyes. She’s our focus even though the programme isn’t really about her, but it is. I use this as an example because it’s a brilliant example of easing a casual audience into things and then hitting them with everything but the kitchen sink once they’ve been lured in.

With Fantomex who is our focus? Who’s the reader to empathise with from the off? The rush into an action scene means the tone isn’t set up properly which leaves things for the rest of the issue feeling a bit jarring as Hope tries to cram a lot into these opening pages. A slower pace might not cram in lots of action, but it helps introduce a casual reader without being bombarded with so much BOOM!

After a few pages our two main characters meet..

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As said, I think the artist is a serious prospect, but his attempt to render Fantomex as a more traditional superhero doesn’t work here, especially when you’ve got a well rendered Fleming to compare it with. I do think it’s these first few pages which cause the problem with the tone of the issue. It’s a bit too scattergun.

After all this the issue settles down and we start to get into the plot as Fleming’s boss in the agency (we’re not told what agency) she works for brings in a group of people very clearly based upon the old ITC series, The Champions.Those mornings during school holidays plumped in front of the telly were not wasted…

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From here on, the tone settles into a pulpy tone as we’re introduced to the idea that Fantomex is trying to help Fleming for some reason, though as we’ve barely been introduced to either character it’s debatable at this point whether a casual reader cares.

The next few pages show the Champions, or whatever they are in the Marvel Universe are not the good guys we assume, which brings me to where I think the proposed idea that this comic is homophobic comes from.

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Fleming rebuts MacReady’s advances in the same way one assumes she’d rebut a bloke doing the same thing, plus she’s probably not a lesbian. This isn’t Hope going ‘I FUCKING HATE TEH GAYZZZZZ’, but showing that there’s something not honest about these characters. We’re finally let into the fact that it’s Fleming who’s our entry character and the one we’re rooting for, though there’s problems with this panel.

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I’ve an issue with rape being flung around casually in superhero comics, even ones meant for adults and as I’ve written before about the subject of misogyny and sexism in superhero comics, it’d be remiss of me to not pick up on this. The tone is distinctly rapey. It straddles the line where it’d be cheap but  part of the story or just cheap. It does however stay, just, on the side of being part of the story. Of course the fact there’s a massive amount of violence before this panel where innocent agents are murdered by The Champions also shows how much of a bunch of bastards these three are. Still, it’s part of the story. It’s an easy way to introduce a threat from the three directly towards Fleming from these three without going into the Hulk threatening to rape Betty Ross territory.

The rest of the issue slips easily into a fun little read, with a lovely reference to John Carpenter’s The Thing, a fantastically executed dream sequence written entirely in French and the set-up for issue 2.

So what exactly did I think?

It’s hard to give a fair judgement of the first part of a four issue series eventually meant to be released in a trade paperback. The first issues of things like this tend to be reams and reams of crammed exposition setting up the next issues so they don’t muck around trying to explain what’s going on and who everyone is, but the sketchy start of the issue doesn’t help it fight it’s corner. However I do think that you’ve got a writer trying to find a voice for Fantomex but we don’t know what it is yet.

Also, it seems that X Men fans were expecting another Deadpool which this isn’t. It’s clearly heading towards a Diabolik (I wouldn’t expect a lot of current Marvel readers to spot this) style of European anti-hero as opposed to the slightly too self-referential character that Deadpool has become. It is what it is which is a big camp romp, but I think this may pass reviewers over, hence the hate as they want something else and this isn’t it.

Fantomex #1  is a fun read once you get past the first few pages of the book which is I think the flaw with the comic. It’s not a work of high art, or the best comic you’ll read but it’s a refreshingly pulpy read which is a change from the pompous superhero titles that clog up the market. I wouldn’t this trite as our friend from IGN did, nor do I think Crystal’s style is ‘silly’, especially when most superhero artists are variations of each other and originality is a hard thing to come by these days in the mainstream. I do however agree the swearing and violence feels forced at times, rather than part of the story or who these characters are. That’s always been the problem with the Max line though rather than the creators as I know editors in the past have asked for a bit more gore here, a fuck there and bingo! They have an ‘adult’ comic.

What I’m saying is come to this expecting a pulpy read. It’s a flawed comic from a writer who’s been out the industry for 20 years and an artist finding his feet in the industry. I’m not convinced yet that Fantomex is perhaps the character for these two to find their voices and style but they deserve as much of a chance as anyone else. It’s not a comic that ‘couldn’t have gone worse’ but it’s a comic which could be better, which is true of everything, even things like Maus which are as near to perfect as you get. Don’t believe those saying it’s a disaster, it’s not. I’ll be picking up the next three issues to see if things do shape up, and we get the fun read I’m expecting then I’ll give my informed opinion of the full series.

Buy Fantomex #1 Or Suffer the Consequences..

This is a shameless plug, so pay attention to my shameless whoring. This week sees the release of Fantomex #1 from Marvel Comics.

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It’s written by Andrew Hope, one of the former AKA Books and Comics crowd who became American after moving from the UK to escape a terrible crime that we must never speak of again.

He’s not a newcomer to comics. He drew Shadowmen, a Trident Comics title which was the company I worked for in the 80’s that we managed to get two whole issues out!

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The last few boxes of Shadowmen are in Bournemouth and Bristol. So please, for my sake, buy Fantomex #1, make it a success so I can bang these comics up on Ebay and finally make a profit from them. You’d also be helping make Andy a success as he transforms fully into Marvel’s Andrew Hope.

So buy it from your independent comic shop. Buy six copies. Speculate. You know you want to!

The Great Glasgow Comic Shop Wars- 25 years and one day later…..

Yesterday I wrote a blog. It seems to have been quite the kerfuffle, but as you can see from reading it there’s good reasons to as even I find it quite amazingly angry, bitter & and twisted some 24 hours later. However I stand by every single bit of it but this is a last word (for now) about that particular chapter now that Andy Hope has revealed he’s writing Fantomex for Marvel Comics.

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I know Andy is doing interviews and kindly Tweeted yesterday’s blog on his Twitter account which is why I imagine yesterday’s blog had more hits than anything else I’ve ever blogged about, including my Glastonbury blogs. So this is to say thanks to Andy, and I hope that when people stumble across this blog they go back and read my little biography/history lesson.

Just to make it easy here’s the links to each part.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Epilogue

For those people coming to this fresh, yes, there are huge chunks probably missing but I didn’t feel that served the story I was trying to tell. I am going to do a history of Neptune Distribution (I’ve made a start but trying to read my handwriting from 25 years ago was a task then) but my main priority for the summer is writing about Glastonbury and festivals in general as anyone with even a passing knowledge of this blog will have sussed out how much of my heart lies there these days. Not to say comics are dumped, but sitting in a field in the sun with like minded good people beats sitting in sweaty comic shops, warehouses or offices full of marketing people talking about comics.

Though in saying that there has to be a way to combine both & oddly enough I’m working on that….

In closing, I’ll be rounding off my history of my experiences of Glastonbury, tackling a few more blogs about my experiences of other festivals and then I’m going to do a big juicy history of Neptune Distribution with all the sex and violence intact…