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.

A quick word about Herb Trimpe

Two years ago today I started this blog. One of the very first blogs I wrote was about trying to get American comics in Glasgow during the 1970’s and early 1980’s, and in that blog I mentioned that the very first American comic I bought with my own money was a Herb Trimpe dawn issue of The Incredible Hulk.

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I loved that comic, but for reasons I don’t need to go into now I no longer have it. For the last couple of years I’ve been meaning to search it down to add to my collection, but I’ve never actually done it. Tonight I heard that Herb Trimpe died at the age of 75, and I’m gutted.

Trimpe never got the plaudits he should have, but for people of a certain age his portrayal of The Hulk is the definitive one, even more so than Jack Kirby’s. He drew The Hulk for what seemed forever, but I never tired of his work. Sure, he’d sometimes have some awful inkers, scripts and turn in the odd duff page, but as a superhero comics artist he was immense.  He’s also famous for being the co-creator of Wolverine.

For me, his best work after his run on The Hulk was a four-issue Machine Man mini series inked by Barry Smith published by Marvel Comics in the 1980’s, but he did so much that has mainly sailed into history. He also co-created Captain Britain in a mainly terrible run, and he drew Marvel’s Godzilla comic they published in the 70’s and 80’s, not to mention what is probably dozens, if not hundreds of fill in issues on dozens of Marvel’s comics.

So thanks for all the fun over the years. I hope now he gets the just credit for helping form the Marvel Universe that he should.

Overstreets World of Comics-Comic book documentary from 1993

This is a cracking find. Overstreet’s World of Comics is a documentary based around the San Diego Comic Convention in 1993 and details the world of comics as they were in those days just before the great comics bubble of the early 90’s went POP! It’s a fascinating watch to see how people thought that comics were going to be a huge investment for the future, and that comics coming from the likes of Valiant were massive investments. They weren’t. The entire market went down the toilet and a number of the companies featured in this film like Topps, went under, and companies like Marvel nearly went bankrupt.

What is striking is how comic focused San Diego was then as opposed to the big pop culture event it is. It’s about the medium of comics and there’s a lovely bit in the film about Golden Age artists like Murphy Anderson, a history of EC Comics, as well as a great interview with Jack Kirby, the man who built the house that Marvel are now exploiting for their films like The Avengers and Captain America.  It is however, Todd McFarlane who hogs a lot of time on the film because at that time Spawn was the biggest selling comic in the world, selling around a half a million to a million copies on average per issue. There’s a certain sad irony looking back at this seeing McFarlane talk with such idealism; something that vanished when the money started flooding in.

The film does have some amazingly tacky music running through it that makes it feel like a health and safety training video you see on the first day of a new job, If you can ignore that then this is a great bit of archive, if only to see Stan Lee say with a straight face that he hates taking from what other people have done….

Happy Birthday Jack Kirby

It’s Jack Kirby’s 96th birthday today.

I’m not going to go into how Marvel and now Disney have shafted Kirby and his family out of his rights, his credits and his place in cultural history (let alone comics history), and you would be amazed if you don’t know who Kirby is just how much of modern culture owes to the man. That’s not for today. There’s better articles about the man and his life out there.

This is a celebration of his brilliance on what would be his 96th birthday, but before I go on I’ll make a confession; I didn’t like Kirby for long periods of my life. The first time I remember of seeing anything by Kirby that I remember was the reprinted strips in Mighty World of Marvel #1.

That made me go to my brothers collections of comics to look at those American imports which were a pain to get back in the early 70’s in the UK. When I read those I discovered just how brilliant Kirby was, but I prefered his work in black and white (which the British Marvel reprints were) to the gaudy colour versions of the originals.

It was Kirby’s portrayal of the Thing that I adored as a kid, and I still do.

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That page is simply one of the greatest splash pages of any superhero comic printed at any time. It’s an astonishingly powerful page that tells you a story without Stan Lee’s flowery doggerel getting in the way.

Then there’s Galactus, Kirby’s version of God.

And of course there was the inspiration for Darth Vader, Doctor Doom.

I don’t think Kirby put a foot wrong at Marvel. His work ranges from good to flawless, and let me say that Kirby’s ‘good’ at this point was superior to 95% of other artists of the time.

I remember vaguely as a kid when Kirby left Marvel this was a huge thing, but I was too young to appreciate this, but I do remember reading New Gods as a kid and not liking it at all. That changed in the 80’s when I was old enough to get what Kirby was doing in creating this vastly epic story of good versus evil, and villainy versus heroism.

The issue that summed up Kirby’s working class hero winning against all odds philosophy in New Gods #8.

It’s a spectacular issue and probably my single favourite Jack Kirby comic I’ve ever read. The copy I used to have fell apart because I read it so much from around 18 to around 30 whenever I needed a boost. Then I stupidly sold it. I bloody wish I hadn’t. New Gods was, and is magnificent.

After Kirby left DC in the 70’s he returned to Marvel to do work which was perhaps some of his best, even if it didn’t make people leap up in a frenzy. His adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey is amazing.

His other Marvel work of the time is odd, but there’s a part of my heart which is forever Devil Dinosaur.

Then in the 80’s I fell out of love with Kirby’s work. It wasn’t the best work he did. It wasn’t as bad as I thought though, nor did it deserve the contempt many fans threw at it at the time as frankly Kirby had done enough to carve his name in history but I was stupid and learned my lesson. Kirby was and is a genius. There is nobody in mainstream superhero comics who has ever been like him nor will there ever be, which isn’t saying there’s a lot of poor creators out there as there isn’t but it’s saying that Kirby is so far ahead of everyone that he deserves a massive celebration of his work and life.

Do take time to look at his granddaughter Jillian’s Kirby4Heroes Facebook page. It’s an amazing look at the man and his family that anyone who’s ever read a Kirby comic should look at and support.

So happy birthday Jack. You deserve all the praise in the world.

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Hide and Seek

The first comic I remember reading is Asterix in Switzerland and I was probably three. In fact it’s one of the earliest memories I have and it’s a golden one as I still chuckle at it because it’s such a bloody great piece of comics but at three I just liked Obelix, and didn’t get the puns regarding the English translations of the original French names til much later but I digress..

It was the first thing I remember reading though I know I was reading earlier than that but it was this book that stood out and opened up a world to me so I went from Asterix, to Tintin, to DC (especially The Flash and the JLA) and eventually Marvel Comics through their Marvel UK reprints such as Mighty World of Marvel with that funky Hulk transfer which I nagged to get ironed on a t-shirt so I could be a cool five year old.

It was at this point I started collecting. I’d moved onto the hard stuff as my older brothers were buying American Marvel of DC comics, plus the odd Gold Key or Charlton comic. I started getting into the Hulk thanks to the simply glorious art of Herb Trimpe, the first American superhero artist whose name I remembered because it sounded so weird to a boy living in Glasgow who was five or six. So I tagged along with my brothers as they searched for comics.

This is where I need to make a point to any younger reader here who is wondering what I mean by ‘search’. Surely there were comic shops? Well no,this was the early 70’s in the UK and in Glasgow when distribution of American imported comics were at best patchy, though DC had slightly better distribution than Marvel, it was still a search to get an issue you might have missed and with the first few comic shops in the UK several years away and the first shop in Glasgow years away beyond that (1980 if I remember right) you had to know where to go.

This meant being shown the ancient sources of four-colour fun. So at the time I lived in Possilpark,  and in the mid-70’s the family moved to Milton which was a case of moving from the fire into the frying pan but this is a topic for another time, let’s stick to comics and how to get them.

There were shops which sold comics, and McGhee’s, the newsagent near where we lived in Milton was one, as was on in the middle of Possil but the trick was to find where you could get the hard to find stuff. So by eight or nine (75/76) I knew the chemist in Possil who had a load of American comics under the counter in boxes they’d had sitting there for years which even had Warren Comics as well as Marvel and DC; I knew the newsagent on Maryhill Road  who had spinners full of comics going back to the late 60’s; I knew the old bookshop by Partick station that was full of strange men in long coats that looked a wee bit crusty and stained but it was here I found my first American comic I bought with my own pennies and it was a Herb Trimpe Hulk!

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From here on I expanded my territory. I already knew of the three stalls at the Barras that sold comics, and it was here I picked up JLA #30 for 50p!

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I still have that comic. I genuinely love looking at it, and taking it out it’s bag to smell it because the smell of an old comic is like nothing on Earth One or Earth Two.

But back to the trail..

I’d also by 77 or 78, discovered newsagents by Queen Street station and Central Station that sold comics, another few shops/porno bookshops in the West End and pretty much every single place which sold comics over half of Glasgow.

See, part of the problem was that Marvel would distribute some of their American comics via newsagents in the UK as long as they weren’t titles published by Marvel UK, so there was a Spider Man Marvel UK title which meant the American Spidey dropped out of distribution, and so on. Also they were restricted to 12 titles if I remember right, so you were lucky to get anything at all! This is why if you look at some comic dealers boxes at marts or conventions now you’ll see some titles marked ”ND” which stands for ”non distributed’ which means it didn’t get a newsagent distribution in the UK. This was torture for collectors like me. It did help that my oldest brother used to go to Liverpool when they started their comics marts (they still run today) with an empty suitcase and return with a full one.

I also found by accident while having a Subbuteo set bought for me as a birthday treat a toyshop that had boxes, and I mean boxes, of Marvel comics which were slightly water damaged but readable, and more than a few were in mint condition.

At one point I had ten copies of this:

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What happened to these is another, more painful story but needless to say if I still had two or three of those today I could happily clear my debts and possibly take a month off work.

There was also a magazine stall by St. Enoch’s Square in Glasgow who sold more ballast comics, as that’s what all these were-ballast copies of comics that were doomed to be dumped somewhere between the ports on the Clyde and the US but some smart people saved them. In fact I know there was a warehouse full of these comics in Glasgow in 1978 because several people filled their boots, including a local collector called Pete Root, but more of Pete another time as he’s an important figure not just in the comics scene in Glasgow but quite a few people’s lives, mine included. Consider this a tease…

Anyhow. The amount of ND Marvel’s were ridiculous. Loved the X Men? Forget about reading from #102-108 because they were ND. Spider Man was out of bound and the Hulk, the comic which dragged me in, was nowhere.

By this point Marvel UK titles were running adverts for UK dealers and the first mail order services from the likes of Dark They Were and Golden Eyed in London and Forever People in Bristol, which ended up being my first contact with Bristol and what would end up becoming a large part to my adult life up to the present day but again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

These mail order services were frankly shite. Orders would turn up with titles missing, or comics damaged, or months late. Then one day one of my brothers came home and told me about the fact there was something called ‘The Science Fiction Bookshop’ in that other place, or Edinburgh as it was known to non-Glaswegians. This was around 79 and the SF Bookshop had been open for a good few years but who were we to know that?

My first trip there was sometime in late 1979 and I remember picking up a few issues of the Hulk, and picking this up…

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One of those ND issues of the X Men I needed! Little did I know it;d take another ten years to get all of them but it was a start! I knew a shop where I could get comics I couldn’t get in Glasgow, especially as all the sources I mentioned earlier were going or gone.

So when I hear or read about comic fans today moaning because the latest issue of Batman is an hour late, I have to point out how much easier things are for them now thanks to the network of shops that grew up in the 70’s and early 80’s, not to mention Titan Distributors, an associate company of Forbidden Planet who distributed comics to a growing network of shops across the UK. However it’s the comic distribution wars between Titan and Neptune, and in particular the personality war between Mike Lake (the MD of Titan) and Geoff Fry (the MD of Neptune) which got worse thanks to a comment made by myself to Geoff (for those who don’t know, I worked for Neptune) while travelling to London that made the war escalate to ridiculous (I will tell you dear reader of the races round London, the intimidation, the late night train journeys to Glasgow, and all the other battles in this war another time) degrees. All these things helped get where we are today.

By autumn 1980, Glasgow saw it’s first specialist shop, Futureshock, which is amazingly still open. However it was run by Bob Shaw (who has been mentioned before) and Neil Craig. These people were oil and water, but that’s a story for another time…

1981 saw Glasgow’s first comic mart organised by the local comics fangroup and the whole business with comic shops in Glasgow embarked upon a bizarre and messy few years before things settled down and AKA Books and Comics hit it’s Golden Age.

But for the 1970’s comics fan you had to be committed, patient and most of all obsessed to a degree beyond belief.

It’s now 2013. I sold all those ND X Men years ago even though it took me a decade to get them. Fuck.