DC Comics are no longer being distributed in British newsagents

Titan Comics are no longer publishing their licensed reprints of DC Comics in the UK meaning there won’t be DC titles in newsagents which means a lot of readers will be disappointed.

Comics in newsagents is important because for many people it’ll be their first encounter with them, and indeed people like Warren Ellis has spoken of stumbling across comics in newsagents when he was young. So that spark led into careers in the industry for a lot of people but for the last 20 years or so DC have royally fucked up ensuring readers get their favourite stories, or even pick up new ones. Licences have been passed around but we shouldn’t have a situation where on the verge of 2019 the license is dangling there waiting for someone else to pick it up.

But as said, it never used to be like that. DC used to have their comics well distributed from the 1950’s when 5/6% of the average titles print run was sent to the UK to be shipped to newsagents. By the 80s and early 90’s large chunks of certain titles print runs (Hellblazer for example)  were escaping cancellation as much of the print run was being sold in the UK, and not just the direct market. You could pick up titles in not just the big chains like W.H Smith’s but your corner shop with your loaf and pint of milk. All of that stopped in the late 90s.

Next time out I’ll be going into this more as I start a series of stories of unsung heroes of British comics.

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What I thought of Hook Jaw #5

After the penultimate issue we arrive at the climax of this revived series of Hook Jaw as it draws to a close and finally delivers the blood and gore it’s teased throughout its short run. To recap; the baddie Somalian pirates and the baddie Americans have all kidnapped, threatened and tortured each other and the rapidly depleting band of environmentalists are stuck in the middle of a power-play that threatens the world.

Writer Si Spurrier manages to tie things up in a nice little bow and in the grand Hook Jaw tradition there’s only one character out of the main cast who survives to presumably tell the tale of Hook Jaw and what it is. Hook Jaw now isn’t just a slavering eating machine but a figure of folk mythology bordering on the supernatural as well as being an eating machine. As a series it lacked a certain bite for gorehounds, but managed to beef up the actual character of Hook Jaw which is something of an achievement.

So overall a good solid mini-series that now its introduced the concept to a new generation of readers moves onto greater things, assuming of course that Titan continues to publish stories.

What I thought of Hook Jaw #4

As of last issue the body count for this series has been not just low, but relatively bloodless. Not so here as Hook Jaw is turning into a very different sort of comic. It could have taken the blood and guts approach (and when there is gore and violence it is pretty extreme) but choose instead to take a more political, even measured (as much as is possible in a comic mainly about a giant man-eating Great White shark) approach. This issue sees the focus switch to the Somali pirates who have captured our group of protagonists which for at least one of them means a very messy end at the teeth of Hook Jaw herself.

There’s also a clunking great MacGuffin that everyone is looking for which if found can either save the world or destroy it, in the wrong hands of course. It is a tad clunky but it is purely there to drive the plot ahead. The real meat here is in the twisting turns of a plot that’s ramping up the stakes so that the world itself is at risk. Not bad for a series about a shark.

As always Si Spurrier turns in a good script that’s smarter on a second read, and Connor Boyle’s restrained style means it isn’t just a gorefest or tedious talking heads. As a series this is one of the best things Titan have published though the cruel amongst us say that isn’t a high benchmark which would be unfair as Hook Jaw is a fine comic.

What I thought of Hook Jaw #3

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Last issue saw the plot thicken, and this one sees it becoming a gloopy soup as those familiar with Si Spurrier’s Crossed +100 run will spot the similarities. Both are weaving massive mysteries. Both have a quirky, satirical edge and both built up to short, sharp incidents of horror which is where we are in Hook Jaw #3 from Titan Comics as Spurrier racks up the tension, as well as the scale of the story, towards something far bigger than what one would have expected from the first issue, or indeed, the history of the character who up til now has been mainly to eat people in as many bloody ways a psychotic Great White shark can.

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This issue sees our core cast of environmentalist scientists, Somali pirates and CIA operatives joined by Greenpeace (not actually called Greenpeace here) activists and the media and more and more bodies keep getting lined up for a potential bloodbath. In this issue though there’s only one big death at the teeth of Hook Jaw, and it’s a pretty chilling one too, but we’ve been spared the gorefests of the Action strips so far as Spurrier slowly builds up his cast as well as why are there strange bones on an island off the coast of Somalia and who exactly has been feeding Hook Jaw with animals?

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This isn’t as fast paced as the original Action strips. After all they had to cram as much as possible into four or five pages to keep plucky British kids coming back next week for their diet of severed heads and mutilation. The monthly format is a slower burn, but this is still a surprisingly good, somewhat political, book about a pissed off giant shark.

What I thought of Hook Jaw #2

hookjaw-2Turning a comic about a killer Great White Shark into something more than just a gloriously gory cavalcade of body parts and spurting red ocean spray is a massive task, but in issue 2 of Titan Comics Hook Jaw, Si Spurrier has pulled off a rather astonishing trick in making a comic ostensibly about people being eaten in interesting ways into one about folk myth and of course people being eaten in interesting ways.

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We pick this issue up after the first issue with the environmentalist crew and CIA operatives off the coast of Somalia trying to rescue a MacGuffin from the sea while an Amanda Waller secret service operative type barks orders to 2D military machismo stereotypes that are dropped in to provide a contrast to the lead character, Maggie, who in a throwback to the classic 1970’s Action strips, is a reluctant protagonist in a story where things are being set up to end very, very badly for all concerned.In some cases characters are there so we cheer for when Hook Jaw gets to do their worst to them and I love that.

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The other thing that’s a hard task is giving Hook Jaw a personality of her own, and that’s something Spurrier does menacingly well as we see how her appetite for flesh and blood is not just insatiable, but is all that drives her on to be the wild card in this stand-off between environmentalist hippies, the CIA and Somalian pirates.

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Spurrier’s script is splendid, but it is the meta aspect of the tale that raises this series beyond the predictable fun from the horror and gore we expect, and Connor Boyle’s art is excellent as he has to struggle with not just making people talking on boats seem interesting, but drawing lots of sharks in a way that gives them an individuality is an achievement. Overall this is building up to be a surprisingly fun, and even more intellectually challenging work than just watching people being eaten, though that too is something to look forward to for gore fans.

What I thought of Hook Jaw #1

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I loved Action when I was a kid.and like any sensible child I lapped up the gory thrills of Hook Jaw, the star of the comic which happened to be a vicious man-eating shark. Writer Pat Mills managed to capture young minds easily and now in the last days of 2016 comes Si Spurrier and Conor Boyle’s revamp courtesy of Titan Comics and their tale of a group of scientists held hostage by some pretty crap Somalian pirates.

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These pirates are essentially just fodder for a rescuing group of American navy SEALS and of course, Hook Jaw, whose presence is teased for much of this first issue.

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And all this first issue is really is about Spurrier setting up a cast of mainly disposable characters who’ll be eaten, or horribly killed by the gang of sharks who by the end of the first issue have already started chomping through a disposable cast of Navy SEALS.

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Hook Jaw is a gloriously fun revamp of a character mainly middle aged men look back at fondly. It isn’t too complex, but this doesn’t matter as its all about the creeping menace and of course, a giant man-eating shark that doesn’t give a fuck about who it eats. Welcome back Hook Jaw!

What I thought of Johnny Red #1

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A long, long time ago before the days of 2000AD, there was Battle Picture Weekly, a boys adventure comic published in the UK that featured such total classics like Charley’s War, Darkies Mob, Major Easy and Johnny Red, the story of a disgraced British fighter pilot sent to serve with a Soviet fighter squadron.

Battle was a massively influential comic for what it did for British comics by giving them a solid hard kick up the arse, and one of those people that loved it was Garth Ennis who has spoken often about how Battle shaped his style.Now thanks to Titan Comics, Ennis gets to have a go at Johnny Red and his Hurricane fighter plane.

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Ennis starts the story in the present as Johnny’s Hurricane is being bought by an American millionaire, Iverson, so this allows Ennis to do a potted history of the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane fighter and in particular Ennis makes the history of this particular fighter a mystery for our millionaire to search out in order to bring readers up to speed that might be under the age of 40 and reading Johnny Red for the first time….

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Upon arriving in Russia, Iverson meets a very, very old man that says he knows the plane and can answer his questions, and indeed, he knows the plane very well.

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All this slow build-up pays off as we finally see the Hurricane in action during the siege of Stalingrad..

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And suddenly I’m eight again eagerly reading Battle and lapping every single page up. Ennis paces this comic perfectly so if you’ve never read a Johnny Red story, you’ll get it by the final page, and if you have, you’ll love this. It’s like hearing a long-forgotten song come on the radio or pop up in your YouTube recommendations. It’s perfect.

As for the artist Keith Burns he’s channeling a bit of Joe Colquhoun and a lot of Carlos Esquerra but he has his own style which is very firmly rooted in those halcyon days of boy’s adventure comics.

Johnny Red is a joy.  If you’re of a certain age and don’t have a wee tear in your eye reading this then you’re dead from the scalp down….