Jim Shooter is right about Marvel Comics

I guess it’s a sign of how far gone the comics industry is when Jim Shooter, a man who embodied to a generation everything wrong with Marvel Comics is now speaking sense about the industry as he does in this interview at Adventures in Poor Taste.

For a generation of us Shooter remains at best a controversial figure. He on one hand presided over a time in the 80’s when Marvel Comics were at their most popular since their 1960’s heyday, but as a good companyman he alienated creators, but at the same time he gave creators the sort of creative freedom Marvel of today would barely consider. When asked what he thought of today’s Marvel, Shooter answers…

I think they forgot what business they’re in

This is a crucial point, It could be the only point. Marvel are only vaguely in the business of making comics as really, what they are is intellectual property farms to be mined for films, TV and games which is where the real money is for Marvel, who I should remind you all are now owned by Disney.

Shooter’s time at Marvel made extraordinary amounts of money for Marvel but in retrospect he did allow Frank Miller to grow as a creator, or give Epic more or less total freedom, and the superhero line sold. Nowadays a title hits 30k a month and it becomes a hit. In Shooter’s time it’d have been cancelled. Of course things have changed and there’s more competition for people’s time and money than 30 years ago however we’re in an age where superheroes dominate pop culture.

So reluctantly and through gritted teeth I have to side with Shooter here. Do Marvel Comics know what business they’re in as they’ve been busy taking the piss out of you and making it so prohibitively expensive and complex for you to read and collect their comics that one wonders if it is in fact making comics for people to read and follow easily.

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What I thought of The Amazing Spider-Man #200

Anniversary or ‘event issues’ are ten-a-penny nowadays. Blink and you’ll miss a dozen of the bastards. Back in 1980 they were actually a big thing, and the 200th issue of The Amazing Spider-Man was a big deal even if it had (and with all due respect) less than a stellar creative team of Marv Wolfman writing and Keith Pollard and Jim Mooney on artistic chores.

We start with some good old fashioned Spidey angst as he’s lost his powers after a battle with Mysterio. Aunt May is facing death and the burglar that started all this way back in Amazing Fantasy #15 is back for his own revenge.

This is a pretty formulaic anniversary issue for Spidey as in addition to the angst, there’s a recap of his origin, and a reminder of how it all started which leads to Spidey/Peter Parker getting angry as he finds his purpose again.

Only problem is he’s powerless.

Of course Spidey doesn’t die, otherwise one of Marvel’s prize assets would be gone. We do however get a scene that shows Peter Parker has learned from his mistake that led to his Uncle Ben being murdered.

After a fight with Uncle Ben’s killer Peter is captured, tied up and we get some medium level threat.

After much fannying about, a powerless Spidey confronts the burglar and loses.

Eventually we get to the big climax where it’s revealed Aunt May isn’t dead, Spidey has his powers back and we get a climatic, not to mention cathartic, fight.

Which leads to Spidey telling us he’s learned a what is now, familiar lesson.

This was the Marvel of editor Jim Shooter so it’s basic stuff, even for what it is it’s actually well done. Wolfman turns in a decent script that looks back and sets up Spider-Man for the rest of the 80’s while Pollard’s pencils are good though they suffer from Mooney’s drab, bland inks. This though may well not be an especially memorable anniversary issue but as a good solid bit of Marvel superheroics it’s readable stuff, and most of all accessible. Anyone could have picked this up and got the story just by reading this issue without having read 17 years worth of comics as is the case so often today.

What I thought of Daredevil: Born Again

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I’ve been doing weekly reviews of some of the new comics I get each week for a year or so now, but a while back I said I’d review some old classics, so here’s the first one, Frank Miller’s best Daredevil story, Born Again. This story in nearly 30 years old yet it’s still the well that every single writer since has drawn from when writing about not just Daredevil, but that type of superhero however this is by far the best example of the story of a hero who has it all before being brought down by his main villain and then coming back from the dead and renewed in purpose.

30 years ago mainstream comics were in a very different place. DC were reshaping their entire line thanks to the miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths, while they published the first American work of Alan Moore in Swamp Thing a few years earlier that started to change how mainstream superhero comics were written from a more literary background than many previous writers. Before all that Marvel had let Frank Miller loose on a comic called Daredevil, a fairly second rate superhero whose main identifying characteristic was that he was blind, but had a radar sense thanks to being exposed to radioactive waste in the same accident that blinded him. He was essentially Spider Man lite, but this meant he ended up being a pretty blank slate for when Frank Miller took over writing and drawing Daredevil in the early 1980’s. Miller, like Moore, drew from a literary background but Miller’s influences were more hard boiled and pulpy and this made his Daredevil more visceral than any other superhero comic on the market at the time.

It’s also worth noting that the Marvel Comics of 30 plus years ago under the then Editor in Chief Jim Shooter was a strange place. In one hand it published the likes of Daredevil that was breaking new ground, or John Byrne’s Fantastic Four which is still for me, the last really great run of that title,  while it also published crap like Secret Wars. Marvel on one hand could publish some fantastic material or pump out endless shite but shite that made the company vast sums of money at a time when people thought comics were dying. In fact the mid 1980’s energised comics as a whole with the effects still being felt today.

Born Again came at a time for Marvel when DC Comics were biting into their market share, and at a time when there wasn’t much in the way of any critical praise for 99% of Marvel’s output (though work like Moonshadow for Epic received rightfully high praise) until Born Again hit the shelves with the first part appearing in Daredevil #227.

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This issue outlines how The Kingpin tears down Matt Murdock’s life bit by bit, making his life as Matt and Daredevil a living hell, and then in the next issues, the Kingpin and Matt face off with the Kingpin thinking he’s killed Matt/Daredevil off. It’s a story that’s been done in various form so often over the last 30 years but here it’s raw, brutal and allows Miller to rip all the things that makes Daredevil what it was and gives Miller a chance to reshape Daredevil.Matt in his image. At the time the only other example of this is Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, but that was a title on the verge of cancellation and a character that wasn’t especially beloved of a load of fans so Moore could do pretty much what he wanted. Here, Daredevil was a solid Marvel character (thanks mainly to Miller’s previous run that dragged him up from the B Team to Marvel’s A List) with a large fan following, and done during a run that was getting acclaim thanks to David Mazzucchelli’s superb art.

Daredevil in these issues is mad. He’s had everything taken from him, and Matt even has Daredevil taken from him as the Kingpin knows his identity. And then as Matt is at his lowest, Miller redeems him and rebuilds him.Gone is the fancy Manhattan house, the big time lawyer practise, and Daredevil fighting traditional Marvel super villains. Replacing it is a Hell’s Kitchen setting. A more working class, Catholic background. A grounded Daredevil fighting for the weak, and not just beating up baddies for kicks and giggles.

Daredevil for a  while doesn’t even appear in the book. Miller relegates him to a mythic figure so he can rebuild Matt as an almost Messianic figure saving the people of Hell’s Kitchen from the crooks, mobsters, drug dealers and pimps infecting the area, and of course, from The Kingpin. Miller teases the reappearance of Daredevil choosing to have the costume worn by a psychopath used by The Kingpin. It’s only at the end of this issue that Miller has Matt back in costume in possibly one of the most iconic splash pages of the 80’s.

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The one thing Miller understood at this point was the power of comics. Sure, you could make this page work fine on screen, but turning the page and seeing this was astonishing and the praise Miller and Mazzucchelli get for this is never enough. At this point Miller was on an astonishing roll with Dark Knight Returns, Batman Year One, Daredevil: Love and War and the still extraordinary Elektra: Assassin all coming out within a few years. Any one of these works would be a single creators finest, but Miller did all those and of course, this one, for me, probably the finest bit of work Miller did in the 1980’s.

Once Matt’s back in the Daredevil outfit Miller allows superheroics to reappear. There’s a lovely cameo of The Avengers that mirrors Alan Moore’s use of the Justice League in Swamp Thing and then Miller throws the reader aside by giving us a Captain America story in the middle of this big Daredevil one. It’s only as best half an issue, but Miller’s Captain America ends up being the template for not only much of what comes after (Cap is this libertarian/liberal out to protect the ideals of America as opposed to this flag waving patriot he’d often been previously)  but in today’s Marvel films.

And that brings me to the Netflix Daredevil series out this week.Advance reviews are astonishingly positive, with the series looking as if they’ve simply used Miller’s Daredevil work as storyboards.

Of all the Marvel projects they’ve done, this is the one I’m utterly and completely excited for. It’s clear that Born Again as a film is the end goal which is testimony as to how great a story this is. Miller and Mazzucchelli didn’t just create a fine work that dragged the medium of comics on a bit, but they created a story that could work in any medium, as long of course you’re aware of the history of Daredevil, hence why Marvel didn’t just launch into this from the off.

Born Again is one of the finest superhero comics you’ll ever read. It’s a story of failure and redemption. It’s a story of a middle class hero being stripped down to his working class roots to stand out from Marvel’s legions of billionaire genius’s, Mutants, gods and aliens. It’s an ordinary man with extraordinary skills trying to do make things right for the weakest in society. It’s a story that’s been on TV and film to some extent (Arrow especially owes a lot to Miller’s work) but never to the level of quality that’s in Born Again.

I’ve avoided going into too much detail about the story of Born Again as it’s one that’s best appreciated by how little one knows about it before diving into it, and as a favour to those of you that haven’t read it, I suggest doing so sooner rather than later as you’ll end up enjoying something that changed superhero comics, not to mention the superhero genre across multiple mediums, forever.

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….

Good Lord! Choke!!

I’m still working on what is becoming a bloody huge blog about UKCAC that’s spanning 12 years and it’s getting a bit out of hand, so I’ve decided to separate the GLASCAC part of UKCAC’s history for a separate series as it was getting too big for it’s boots. Also, working at the Bristol Expo at the weekend meant more and more tales were remembered so I’m going back over things and adding in stuff.

However a few stories don’t fit in anywhere and are so grotesque they sound like sketches from Blue Jam. Be warned, don’t go on if you’re at all squeamish…..

The first story is of Siegi’s Comics who were based in Canterbury in Kent. The shop was run by a pair of brothers, and named after the eldest, Siegi. Both brothers made morbidly obese American’s look like Posh Spice. This is a fact you need to remember…

I knew them because they used to do the various London markets and of course, UKCAC. They were harmless enough but the general consensus was at the time that how on earth they weren’t dropping dead of heart attacks as they’d turn up to say, the Camden comic  mart, set up and proceed to demolish as much fast food as possible.

Then they vanished from the scene and the shop closed sometime in the late 90’s with nobody knowing what exactly happened to them. Thankfully Justin Ebbs of Just Comics filled us in with the full story one day while we were setting up at a London mart, possibly even a UKCAC….

Seigi had died of a heart attack. This came as zero shock, but what happened when he had his heart attack did as you see, when Seigi had his heart attack he was standing at the time so he collapsed on his haunches as the weight of his body split him in two so he disemboweled himself as he died.

Now I have no proof this is real and Justin was known for the teller of tall tales and Google doesn’t have all the information on the planet so file this under ‘skeptical’.

The second tale is real, and the facts are all so very true as we move from Kent to New York for the tale of George Caragonne.

Caragonne was another morbidly obese person who was desperate to get into comics. Now that’s the reality for 95% of people reading comics in that they will never, ever do anything in the world of comics. That’s why I count myself in being extraordinarily lucky in falling into the world of comics, but for most people it’s a dream as you either have to be very fucking lucky or work like a total bastard, sometimes it’s a mixture of both and yes, I’m ignoring the horrible nepotism and misogyny in parts of mainstream superhero comics because that’s for another time.

Anyhow, back to Caragonne. He was working in a number of crap jobs and somehow managed to blag himself his way into the industry due to Jim Shooter giving him work for some of Marvel Comics lesser titles and their children’s comics in the 80’s. One version of this is that Shooter felt sorry for him and decided to cut him a break. For those who know Shooter’s story that’s possible but realistically Caragonne probably had enough to convince Shooter he was a reasonable talent and gave him a job. Whatever the reason, he found himself in the comics industry and in one of those massive instances of luck I mentioned he managed to meet Bob Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse and a very, very, very rich man.

Somehow Caragonne convinced Guccione to start doing soft porn comics firstly for Penthouse, then as a separate line of comics and they were very, very successful for the short period of time they were around.

Problem was that Caragonne was suddenly rocketed from a world of comic book geekdom into that of millionaires and porn, so he developed habits and built up a world of debt which is admirable when the story was he was getting paid a six figure salary. To help supplement his income the rumour was he started dealing coke using the Penthouse Comics office as a base, not to mention ”borrowing” money from Guccione without ever having the intention of paying it back.

Eventually his employers sussed all this out, fired him on the spot and this pushed Caragonne over the edge, which considering by now this already sketchy person was a massive coke user suffering from mental illness this was not a good thing.

One day he decided to go to Times Square in New York and went into the Marriott Marquis hotel.

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He entered the hotel. Asked if it was true that this was the tallest building in Times Square, to which he was told by staff it was, so he took the lift to the top to the atrium. Here he stuck on his Walkman headphones, put on a tape featuring film themes including the James Bond theme, stuck his face in a massive bag of coke and jumped off the ledge to plunge 45 floors to what he probably hoped was a quick and painless death.

Problem was that as he jumped, his arm and head were torn off when he hit part of the building on the way down which meant he died quickly but painfully however the worst is yet to come.

Caragonne’s head, arm and body landed on the glass roof of a restaurant on the ground which was full of families enjoying a buffet spread while watching Caragonne’s head with it’s wide-open eyes slid gorily on the glass roof. To say that people were traumatised is an understatement.

Now for years, we’d passed this story off as one of Justin’s Tall Tales. We brought it up this weekend as one, until a few hours ago I remembered to Google it and found that Caragonne has a Wikipedia page and there’s also this post which confirms much of the story.

Who said comics were boring?

So after all that here’s some satire for a bit of light relief.

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