X Men day!!

X Men day is here!! What? You’ve never heard of it? Well its a day to celebrate the end of a 20 run of X Men films as the last 20th Century Fox X film is due to be released ahead of Marvel taking back ownership of these characters, and we assume, a rest of a few years before new films are launched. There’s lots of talk of how these characters are great, how much money they’ve made for Fox, how excited Uberfans are for the forthcoming Marvel films and on and on but there’s one thing really missing.

That’s the fact the comic was created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in 1963. It may not have been one of Kirby’s favourite creations, and certainly Lee made his mint off the characters over the last 20 years but for fucks sake can anyone writing about this horrendous marketing toll at least mention the two people who actually came up with the concept in the first place?

The weird world of romance comics

I got a batch of old DC, Marvel and Charlton romance comics the other day and they’re simply insane in their simplistic old-fashioned sexism, or worse, when the creators were trying to be ‘progressive’ in the 60’s and 70’s.

These titles sold hundreds of thousands of copies every month yet they’re now highly collectable thanks to having some work from fine creators like Wally Wood, Jim Steranko, John Romita and Stan Lee who must have churned out thousands of stories where men were men, women knew their place and love always won. What’s bizarre is that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created the genre in 1947, but don’t expect a billion dollar film franchise for Millie the Model anytime soon.

Think of this; when Jack and Stan were carving themselves what would be the Marvel Universe they’d sell thousands upon thousands of glorious stuff like this.

And it’s the Marvel romance comics of the 60’s and 70’s I’m drawn to like some masochistic butterfly which isn’t to say that DC didn’t knock out a few gems.

But it’s the Marvel stuff created by then middle aged men trying hard to tell stories which teenage girls could lap up that’s the prime choice.

This stuff is generally awful, but there’s an ironic joy in these tales of romance which are often beautifully drawn, but it really is the cries for contemporary relevance that makes these stories so fantastically shite, yet great at the same time.

By the mid-70’s romance comics were dead, more or less. The rise of the superhero meant Marvel and DC concentrated on that genre and the days of both main publishers printing a variety of comics of all genres were on the way out. However these now highly collectable relics contain some work that needs better appreciation from comics historians and the fact that this genre is often disregarded or skimmed over in various histories of comics is a tragedy. Especially as even low grade copies of these comics fetch high prices.

So seek these comics out. If you’re any sort of fan of the medium you may not be exposing yourself to great stories but you’ll find some amazing art, and you can ironically enjoy them to your hearts content…

The legacy of Stan Lee

Now that Stan Lee’s death has sunk in, the conversation turns to his legacy which considering that some of his obituaries are crediting him with the likes of Captain America, the time for this to be made clear is now.

The first thing to be said is that Lee’s position in comics is unquestioned. Without Lee, comics today would be very, very different and as for Marvel, they’d have went bust without Lee’s work in the 60’s. There also isn’t any question that Stan Lee helped create iconic characters now worth billions or that his dialogue helped sell Marvel Comics, or that he was a very nice man as anyone who met him can testify to.

No, the issue lies with ownership. Stan was always the publishers nephew and an exceptional companyman for Marvel even during the times he wasn’t welcome in the 90’s in the company he helped build.Stan claimed ownership of everything to the point where it became a joke in recent years.that Stan would have claimed credit for the Bible if he was around.

The issue of ownership is important because  while Stan was alive he never gave people like Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko the credit they deserved. Sure, he’d give them credit for being great artists but never actually the credit they wanted, and because when Stan was interviewed especially after the 70s, it’d be no more than a promo film for Stan/Marvel, journalism failed. Except one time when Jonathan Ross interviewed him.

One of the reasons Lee’s claims to have essentially thought all the Marvel characters up and then gave them to an artist to fill out is nonsense, is partly because we can look at Lee’s post and pre peak-Marvel output and see how thin it is creatively. She-Hulk amounts to Lee’s one lasting post Jack Kirby/Ditko/etc creation. The main reason is the weight of evidence from not only co-creators but those staff who worked at Marvel, not to mention artists who came in after the peak 63-66 period of Marvel.

The site Comic Book Historians has an excellent listing of Stan’s, well, bravado and liberal application of what he created, and it’s pretty damning. Also in the week of Stan’s death, Howard Chaykin’s splendid history of comics, Hey Kids! Comics. released it’s fourth issue…

This issue deals largely with its version of Stan Lee. Its pretty brutal in places. Funky Flashman levels of brutal.It’s also essential reading as Chaykin’s comic is a telling of all those stories creators tell each other that never hit the history books…

So what’s Stan’s legacy? Is he a jocular grandad who built a universe from an amazing spurt of creativity over six years or was he always the companyman working to ensure the creations now worth billions stayed safe with the company? Was he someone who could make a wee boy’s year by signing a Hulk comic for him or was he someone who didn’t especially care about giving his co-creators the credit they deserved?

Fact is, it’s all of the above. Stan’s legacy is going to be a complex, and probably messy one. The truth is comics wouldn’t be the same without him, but the truth is also he wasn’t the creator he made himself out to be and that complexity is going to make some people reappraise Stan, but that’s probably a good thing. If it gets the names of Stan’s co-workers out there and helps give a more accurate picture of Marvel’s Silver Age before all the men and women involved pass away then that’s a good thing and that can be Stan’s legacy.

Who writes the narrative of the history of comics?

From the very start of comics as we’ve known the medium for the last century or so, people, and companies, have claim credit for creating characters which they didn’t. The main reason this has happened is money, then ego in order to propel their own career and in the process create a narrative that’s often adopted to become the mainstream view. The best known cases of this are Bob Kane claiming he created everything about Batman, and the likes of Jerry Robinson or Bill Finger (who actually came up with most of what we know as Batman today)  were just hired hands helping Kane out. Complete bollocks of course.

Then there’s Stan Lee who has seemingly been claiming creative ownership since his first pubic hair grew, though this is something he inherited from his uncle Martin Goodman. So over the decades people have been fighting to get the credit they’re due but the narrative is something they often have to fight against.

The video below is from San Diego Comic Con this year and it features a discussion which may well only be of interest to the hardcore comics freak like myself, but it’s a fantastic discussion of history that really does make you question the narrative of history.

Marvel’s plan for an Eternals film is music to the ears of comics dealers

Marvel’s Kevin Feige has announced on the films they’re working on for the future is The Eternals, another Jack Kirby creation as is most of Marvel’s cinematic output, but this time from the autumn years of his career and his last big creative burst.

Heavily influenced by the work of chancers like Erich von Däniken, The Eternals was essentially Chariots of the Gods with superheroes which frankly does it an injustice as it really is a work of demented genius as Kirby threw all the ideas he’d had rattling in his his head into one big pot since his New Gods series ended too soon at DC.

Problem is it isn’t one of Kirby’s best works. Sure, it has some amazing ideas (Marvel have already used the Celestials in their films) but it really is disjointed at best, and every attempt to resurrect the title since the 1970’s has seen comic dealers stock up on what would quickly be unsold comics destined for the 50p boxes. I’ve worked for shops where vast mountains of unsold Eternals would be summits to conquer and now with one passing comment, Kevin Feige has made those comics valuable. Right now old wizened dealers are reaching for their price guns to stick a 50% plus premium on Eternals back issues.

So thank you. At this rate we might all get rid of stuff we’d thought would die with us.

From the New Gods to the Avengers

If you’re a superhero comics fan of any description then today is an amazing day because the New Gods; Jack Kirby’s masterpiece of fantastic imagination, is being made into a film by Ava DuVernay. A lot of people, including people who read comics and are part of the ‘Geek’ boom don’t realise that the New Gods are the well in which much of what is here now comes from. No New Gods and Star Wars is very, very different. No Darkseid and comic book villainy is very different. There’d be no Thanos for a start.

A New Gods film done right could be astonishing as Jack KIrby’s imagination has barely been represented to its full potential on the big screen, however with the Avengers: Infinity War trailer you can see little bits of Kirby there, not to mention Jim Starlin who created Thanos.

If I was 14, I think I’d be unable to walk after watching that trailer as it really is more or less everything I’d want to see in a superhero film.  I mean, Capitan America taking on a cosmic baddie like Thanos is a Jim Starlin classic moment.

Which will be something we’ll see on the cinema screen.

So, strap on a new pair of underpants and get set for a 14 year old fanboy inhabiting a middle aged man’s dream…

What I thought of X Men: Grand Design #1

Marvel Comics are in trouble according to many an article out there on the interwebs, and indeed much of their monthly line (barring a few gems like Squirrel Girl and the astonishingly charming Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur) ranges from average superheroics to incompetent drivel created by people who don’t know what they’re doing. So here comes a genuine comics auteur in the shape of Ed Piskor to retell through his eyes the first 300 issues of X Men. That takes us from Kirby and Lee’s early vision, through to the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams/Jim Steranko era and then the Chris Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne era and beyond.

From the off Piskor deftly welds Golden Age stories into the mythos of the X Men not to mention Piskor is perfectly happy using sound effects to create comics not designed to be adapted for a film of TV series, but to be read and enjoyed as what they are; comics.This panel of a teenage Magneto escaping Nazis by controlling Captain America’s shield is a delight.

We were promised a coherent story as opposed to a routine retelling of the X Men’s history, and we get it. In fact the information and detail in this is extraordinary, and even if you’re used to Piskor’s work from Hip Hop Family Tree, this is dense stuff. IT is however, never tedious or boring.

Neither does Piskor shy off from going cosmic early on in the narrative.

However the timeline is stuck to as snippets and back-up stories are all pieced together to form this one driving narrative Piskor was out to achieve.

So when we come to the X Men forming as we know them in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s first issue, we’ve had an extensive and detailed history in the equivalent of a single monthly issue of a standard American superhero comic.

X Men: Grand Design is a reminder of what made Marvel great which is that they made comics which were fun , not to mention the vision of one or two people pushing to do the best they can rather than committees of accountants or editors who have no idea how to edit. Things clearly are not right at Marvel as this interview with Ed Piskor and X Men writer Chris Claremont hints at,  but X Men: Grand Design is a joyful, loving celebration of everything that made Marvel great as well a great work of comics from a creator allowed to do what he wants. That should be a hint for Marvel as to how to make things better for the entirety of their line, but right now X Men: Grand Design is the perfect superhero comic.

A century of Jack Kirby

On the 28th August this year comic artist/writer/creator Jack Kirby would have been 100 years old. I’ve spoken about his birthday in the past but this is a big event obviously and a celebration as at one point it seemed as if the Kirby family would never win Jack the recognition he deserved in life.

After all, Kirby helped shape modern pop culture in a way few people have but it is only in recent years he’s even got a snifter of the credit he should have got when he was alive.

Finally though at this centenary we see Kirby being paid tribute not just by friends, colleagues and a core of fans, but people outwith the ghetto of comics.

The man may no longer be with us but his powerful, astonishing, and glorious art and creations live on.

People flock to the latest Avengers film, or look forward to Justice League, or the new Star Wars, but no Kirby and no Avengers, no Darkseid to fight and no Doctor Doom who directly influenced Darth Vader so no post-1977 pop culture.

Happy anniversary Jack. It’s nice that more people appreciate you and that your creations thrill and delight a world, and as for your art, well, they’ll never be another like you. Cheers for everything..

A short word of praise for the woman that helped make Marvel Comics, Flo Steinberg.

One of the most crucial but unsung figure in the creation of Marvel Comics, Flo Steinberg, has passed away.  At a time when women in American comics were at best, limited, Steinberg’s role is extraordinary in that if she didn’t act as not just Stan Lee’s ”secretary” (she seems to have had more like an editorial role) but as the glue, and blood of those early Marvel years in the 1960’s.

Steinberg famously left Marvel when they wouldn’t give her a $5 pay rise, but she didn’t just hold together Marvel at a time when the myth didn’t reflect the reality, she was an essential part in subsequent decades in trying to sort out who created what, and who essentially got shafted by Stan Lee’s myth-making. Of course only recently did the Kirby family finally get a settlement from Marvel/Disney, but as Steinberg herself later found out, Marvel wasn’t the merry place we all thought it was mainly thanks to Flo ‘s work with The Merry Marvel Marching Society (a Marvel fan-club in the 60’s) that cemented fandom’s image of Marvel Comics that lasted long after she left.

I especially like Kirby’s barely suppressed passive-aggressive tone…

So cheers Flo, you held it together and helped give us of a certain age joy. I hope now you get the credit you deserved when you were alive.

100 Years of Jack Kirby

It’s the San Diego Comic Con (well, it’s barely a comic convention than a media whorefest) this weekend, and the convention is celebrating Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday with a fantastic programme cover recreating one of his Jimmy Olsen covers from back in the 1970’s.

I’m glad they’re doing this as quite simply had there not been a Kirby all those people drawn to ”geek” culture would have drifted elsewhere. No Kirby, no Captain America, no Fantastic Four, no X-Men, no Iron Man, no Avengers, no Thor, no Mister Miracle, no Groot, no Nick Fury, no SHIELD, no Darkseid, no Black Panther, no romance comics, and in fact, the entire American comic book industry not to mention modern culture would look entirely different.

So well done to San Diego for driving the point home. No Kirby, and comic conventions would probably just be full of middle aged men buying back comics they sold when they were in their 20’s, and verbally wanking over Barry Smith’s Conan. Actually…

Anyhow, we should celebrate Jack Kirby and I hope the attendees this weekend make Jack proud.