Friday, October 23, 2020

The first Mad Max is the scariest


The second Mad Max film is absolute the greatest Australian film ever made - The Castle is a close second - because it's balls to the wall action, full of leather raiders and speed injections and good mad Aussie bastards who break their legs for a stunt and come back for the reshoots in a cast.

But the first film is still the most unsettling, because it's the only one that's not post-apocalyptic, it's straight-up apocalyptic. The world is still recognisable, with places where you can get a beer or a milkshake or a fried breakfast. It's a white line nightmare out of the streets, but there is still an economy, there aren't any nuked-out cities.

In this year of plague on the streets and turkeys in power, that recognisability is disconcerting as fuck. We're not in the age of the Humongous or Immortan Joe not yet, but Toecutter could be out there right now, ready to swoop in like a vulture and feed on the decaying society.

See you on the roads, skags.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Last Box of Marvels: This is the time and place


I spent 27 days cataloguing my Marvel comic books and wondering in public why I held on to so many of them, but that was 26 days too long, because there wasn't really much to wonder about. A very few of them are kept for the writing, a lot of them were still there for the art, but most of them were because I'm a sentimental old shit who can't bear to throw out things I've had and loved for years. They spark joy, all right.

It's a matter of raw nostalgia, but also a memory aid. My brain is full, and years of pot use hardly helped, and now I hold onto these things as an outsourcing of memories. Comics books were always so expensive in this part of the world, that I can remember exactly where I was when I bought so many issues of these issues. I know exactly where I got that Avengers, or where I was living when I got the last issue of the Nth Man I needed. I can remember jobs I've had and places I've been friends and friends I've know when I look at these comics. They're a time and a place.

Some of the dumbest comics can spark the most precious of memories, remind me of feelings long dormant, take me back a place we all ache to return to. If I get some decent Captain America Kicks The Shit Out Of Nazi Scum comics out of it, that's a bonus.


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A time of explosions


There was a glorious time in cinema, just before CGI came in and ruined everything, where everybody in Hollywood was trying to do bigger and bigger real-life explosions than everybody else.

 

They would set off a behemoth of a blast in the office building in Terminator 2, and then one of the Lethal Weapons film would blow the shit out of something downtown, and then Demolition Man would be: fuck you, we're blowing up a warehouse in the first six minutes.

;

If computer effects hadn't come along, this pyrotechnical war could only have ended with somebody eventually setting off a real-life nuclear bomb for entirely cinematic effect, and we're all the poorer for the fact that this did not happen. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

There are no good video game movies

It's almost become charming, because endlessly hopeless optimism is always a bit charming. I've seen it in multiple Empire Magazine articles over the years, preview articles of movies based on video games, angled about whether it will break the golden rule of game adaptions and actually be good. 

It would be annoying, but they've been doing it constantly for the 25 years I've been reading the magazine now, and the desperation that one of these things might be worth the phenomenal time and effort that go into creating them has come all the way around to being funny again.

(Spoiler: none of them are ever worth the time or effort.)

At least Empire is usually brutally honest about the things when they're coming out, and give them the two-star treatment (the classic not-even-bad-enough-to-be-entertaining rating). While there have been a lot of great video games that are better than most movies ,they never make good films, no matter how much Empire is hoping.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Primal Who: Figuring out the different Doctors

I always thought my absolute primal memory of Doctor Who must be a lie, because it never made any sense. The earliest thing I can remember about watching the greatest television show in the history of everything, it's thinking the Third Doctor was the Doctor on one channel, and the Fourth Doctor was on the other. There were only two channels in New Zealand in those days, so it made sense.

But it didn't. This didn't make any sense at all. I can clearly remember watching Destiny of the Daleks, which would have played in this country in the very late 70s, but the Third Doctor had mostly come and gone before I was born in 1975.

Fortunately, there are people more obsessive about this than me, and I can take massive advantage of their hard work and research. So all I had to do was go on to the NZ Doctor Who Fan Club webpage, where they have listed the local transmission times of every Doctor Who story and I can figure what it was. And I can see that the Green Death suddenly played in a run of Fourth Doctor stories in very early 1979, when I was four years old and allowed to watch Doctor Who at 6.30 on a Friday night.

Then it went back to Tom Baker, and the rest of the 1970s were full of his greatest adventures, including eventually Destiny of the Daleks. And if my Doctor Who obsession started anywhere, it started there.


Because New Zealand is a strange and backwards place, there were only two channels for years, and one of them changed its name from SPTV to TV2 between those two Dr Who stories, so I can see where the confusion came from. There were two channels, and there were two Doctors.

The internet can be a fearful place, but it's also a place where you can go and find out facts, and check whether your earliest memories actually have a basis in fact, and haven't been too distorted. There were two Doctor Whos on New Zealand's TV channels, and I saw both of them. The primal Doctor Who memory is present and correct. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Last Box Of Marvel: The ones that don't fit


Up there on the bookshelves, there's all the Ennis Punisher; and all of the Claremont and Bendis and Morrison X-men; and things like The Ultimates and Marvels and three Elektra books and the first Marshall Law and the first Avengers comics, but that's just about everything in the last box of Marvel.

There's a few things that don't fit into any other category, like the issue of 411 with the Millar/Quiteley gem, or the bonkers Avengers 100th Anniversary comic by James Stokoe, or the lovely Captain America/Thor comic from some FCBD years ago, or a few issues of the ultra-weird 'What would Marvel Comic looks like in the Marvel Universe?' things that they put out in 2000, including the X-Men one which is the most Mark Millar comic Mark Millar ever created.

And there's a few more reprints, including a couple of issues of the Marvel's Greatest Comics title, which offered the best value for money with a-grade FF, Iron Man, Captain America and Doctor Strange.

But that's it, that's the last box of Marvel. I'll add to it slowly, and take some away just as slowly, and it's stablised as one banana box's worth of comic Marvels. 

Now I just have to get the Two Last Boxes of DC down to one... 

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Last Box Of Marvel: Kicking in high heels


 #26 in a 27-issue limited series

Ms Marvel #22 is, as far as I can recall, the earliest comic issue I ever remember reading, and a lot of my love for all things comic book can be traced back to reading this exact comic while sitting in the spare bedroom on a hot Sunday afternoon at my Aunty Val's place when I was five. 

(Well, it was either this, or motherfuckin' Captain Sunshine. They both date from the exact same time.)

A lot of my love for comics can also be explained by the fact that Ms Marvel #22 - the penultimate comic in the series - has two beautiful and strong women in high heels kicking the crap out of each other. This made an impression.

I forgot all about this for years and years until I found a copy in a grotty second hand bookstore a hundred miles away, and realised every single panel had been imprinted on my brain, even though I'd forgotten it even existed. This is primal comics.

There's other random issues of Power Man and Iron Fist (#75) and Marvel Two In One (#96) that I still held on to since I first started really collecting comics, and they've held up pretty well over the years. They're not going anywhere. And Ms Marvel is forever.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Last Box Of Marvel: Still warrioring

#25 in a 27-issue limited series

I really wish they would stop trying to reboot the New Warriors, because nothing will ever come close to beating the absolute shine of its first 25 issues in my heart.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Last Box Of Marvel: Marie's Namor ran deep


#24 in a 27-issue limited series

There really is a baffling amount of Namor The Sub-Mariner comics from the 1960s still hanging around, but if these prove anything, it's that Marie Severin's art is so lovely and always so welcome, especially when they give her something other than the funny stuff to do. And the fact she isn't spoken of with equal reverence as almost every other Silver-Age artist is unmistakable testament to the inherent sexism of superhero comics (see also the timelessness of Ramona Fradon's squeaky clean linework).

Because while everyone else drew the Sub-Mariner like he was punching his way through the water, Marie's Namor would always glide through the ocean with supreme grace, and she always managed to give the underwater surroundings real weight. Any affection I have for Namor stops not far beneath the surface, but my love for Marie Severin's art runs very deep.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Last Box Of Marvel: Giant-sized fun

#23 in a 27-issue limited series

There were never quite enough giant-sized comics from Marvel. They provided massive value for money for both readers and retailers, and gave you something a lot meatier than the monthly issues. And sometimes you got something like the X-Men one, which somehow changed the whole direction of mainstream comics for years to come. 

I don't have the X-Men one, because I don't have a house to mortgage. (My mate Kyle does, and does.) I do have the one issue of Captain America they giant sized, because Kirby Cap is the best Cap; and one of the Giant-Sized Man-Things, because like 2001 comics, it's not a proper collection unless you've got a Giant Sized Man Thing.

All of the Tomb of Dracula issues I once had have been replaced by reprints, but the Giant-Sized Dracula comics are still there, because that's a good chunk of Marvel vampire fun. The Giant-Sized editions are all good chunks of substantial comics, and sometimes that's all you need.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Last Box of Marvel: Of a certain Age

#22 in a 27-issue limited series

I've still got several Marvel Age comics that were read so much over years that they're only held together by my own nostalgia. And while they are pure marketing material, they also have actual value in their own right.

When I was at Peak Marvel, there was no internet - not as we know it - so finding an issue of Marvel Age was always something, because it was absolutely jammed with news and background material. It wasn't the sort of thing that would talk about talent getting butt-fucked on their page rate, or where you'd see any discussion of Kirby's difficulty to getting his bloody art back, but if you wanted to know who the background characters in the last issue of GI Joe was, or what's going on in the New Universe, or Sue Richard's new haircut, Marvel Age had everything you needed. 

You also had some guaranteed couple of pages of Hembeck every month, and every now and then you'd get a super passive-aggressive open letter from Jim Shooter, having a dig at Dick Giordano for not calling him back or some shit.

And, best of all, old issues of Marvel Age have art that never appears anywhere else, including copious behind the scenes sketches and unused covers. Occasionally they get their hottest artists  to do unique pages of comics which are 97% hype, but  that doesn't mean they can't be beautiful.

It's a fucking fine line, posing as hype-man to a bunch of fairly average comic books, but Marvel Age just about stayed just on the right side of it.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Last Box of Marvel: Fantastic voyages


#21 in a 27-isue limited series

When I was very, very young, we visited some distant relatives, and one of them was a third cousin or something who had an astonishing collection of Fantastic Four comics. He'd been getting them regularly for years, and had dozens and dozens of FFs. I never saw that collection again, but that thrill of seeing all those super colourful covers is imprinted on my head.

That's the closest I've ever really come into any kind of connection to the World's Greatest Comics Magazine.  Despite this early entry into the world of Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben, the FF always felt a little flavourless, compared to the complexities of the X-Men or the balls-out action of the Avengers.

The early Kirby issues were never available, and every issue I tried seemed to be too overawed by that original vision to do anything new with it.

Still, now I've read all the lee/Kirby work, and even have a few of my own - five issues between  43 and 74, the first annual with Namor going full Namor, and reprints of the first issue and the third annual with the wedding - and I can easily see what all the fuss was about, because those are as good as superhero comics get.

But after that, the only Fantastic Four comics I have are The Trial Of Reed Richards comics and the annual with the evil milk from the Byrne era; and the New Fantastic Four comics by Simonson/Adams. (I need to carve out an Art Adams section, because he seems to be the sole reason I hold onto a lot of comics).

A little of the fantastic goes a long way.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Last Box of Marvel: The devil's creators


#20 in a 27-issue limited series

It's not that I'm really such a huge fan of Daredevil or the various trials of Matt Murdock - it all gets a bit miserable, over and over again. But the comic has always attracted great creators at the peak of their game and that's why I still have so many DD comics left.

After all, the Kesel/Nord Daredevil comics are objectively excellent, and Mark Waid's run was the best the comic looked in years, with some phenomenal art and terrific cliffhangers. There's all of the Miller comics, and a very select few of the phenomenal Nocenti/Romita Jr comics (usually centered around the Inferno storyline).

I've also picked up a surprising amount of Daredevil from the first few years - half a dozen issues from the first five years, with lovely art by Gene Colan and Barry Windsor Smith, and they're easily the best looking non-Kirby/Ditko Marvel comics of that period. There is a certain monotony in seeing Matt Murdock getting the shit kicked out of him, over and over again, but it often looked so beautiful.

Friday, October 9, 2020

The Last Box of Marvel: Weird in space

 #19 in a 27-issue limited series

I was properly freaked out as a kid by the clowns building the pile of trash and diamonds in those 70s Warlock comics, and absolutely obsessed with the Infinity Gauntlet when it suddenly appeared in one of my local bookstores a decade later - I hadn't heard a thing about it, didn't understand what the hell was going on, but Perez's art was gorgeous and the unsettling tone it set, right from the start, was addictive.

Now I've only got a tiny amount of Starlin's Captain Marvel and hardly any of the Thanos stuff past 2000, but I've still got the Infinity Gauntlet issues that I picked up off the shelves as they came out, and the 1990s reprints of his Warlock comics on the nice paper, and almost all of the Silver Surfer comics.

Starlin did get diminishing returns from his cosmic stuff - the later Infinity series quickly spiraled into mediocrity but once upon a time, nobody else could match him for taking science fiction concepts and somehow making them deeply creepy. Space wasn't just a place full of starships and empires and lasers, it was a place of altered states of consciousness and absurdity and hardcore surrealism, with madness among the stars, (see also his various Dreadstar comics)

It all got a bit stale and repetitive around the time Starlin's work really started to gain a mass audience, but there is plenty of weirdness in his part of the universe, and he would show it all.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Last Box of Marvel: She-Hulk can see you


# 18 in a 27-issue limited series.

The first eight issues of John Byrne's She-Hulk are my absolute favourite John Byrne comics, because they're stripped of any self importance, and are not trying to be epic or crucial, just fun. Jennifer Walters was always giving Byrne crap for messing up her life, but she was also a well-rounded character, with a personal life and career that went further than beating up the Abomination. She would be going into the office and chilling out in front of the TV and house-sitting her rich friend's apartment and living a real life.

The meta-jokes have been done to death by now - and were already a bit stale by the time Byrne returned to the comic - but there is still a kick in the way characters rip through the page, and take a shortcut through the comic book listing ads, full of dozens of tiny jokes that give the reader real value for money. 

But the real highlight was really She-Hulk's chunky sweaters. She just looked great in those.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Last Box of Marvel: When the weirdos crash the House of Ideas


#17 in a 27-issue limited series

Marvel can produce its own satire comics in-house, but when the weirdos crash the place, and get a chance to play with the toys, the results are usually relatively sedate, while still being lots of fun.  Hembeck's few chances to go crazy with a full issue are to be relished, and the one where he slaughters everybody is a gold mine of bad puns and excellent sight gags. Likewise, there is no harm in letting Sergio Aragones Massacre Marvel, because they're more Sergio comics than Marvel comics, and he can do anything he likes, because it's always brilliant.

The Strange Tales issues from a few years back mostly aren't the usual joke comics by the usual band of idiots, but talents from outside the regular superhero grind. A lot of the stories do fall into a familiar rut, with endless 'this is an absurd idea, but kinda fun' riffs, and if you didn't know that most superhero stories are a pointless waste of time, you'll know of it after a couple of these slightly strange tales.

Petr Bagge's Spider-Man comic was the best in this vein. His one-shot Meglomanical Spider-Man comic turns Peter Parker into a fully obnoxious rational libertarian, following Ditko all the way down that Rand hole, and is genuinely one of the funniest and sweetest comics Marvel has ever produced.

The funniest Marvel comic in recent years might be the Cage comic that Genndy Tartakovsky finally did. Loaded with gags and a tone that starts out over the top and then goes several levels higher, it was also infused for a genuine affection for the character and premise, as well as some terrifically kickass action art.

None of these comics ever come close to being in continuity and stand on their own a lot better than any Dark Avengers comic from 2008. When the weirdos crash this house of ideas, they leave behind something timeless.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Last Box of Marvel: Falling into Kirby's Cap


 #16 in a 27-issue limited series

People are still desperately trying to match Kirby's power, and the way he would have Captain America beat the fucking shit out of some nazi scum. And after decades of attempts, nobody has come close.

The Madbomb-era stuff is brilliant comics, fizzing with energy and ideas, and supremely out of place with the more sedate pace of the rest of 70s Marvel. And the Bicentenial Battle is even better, and not just because it's a done-in-one adventure that tells you all you need to know about Steve Rogers.

It's because when you get the Kirby art this big, it can feel like you're falling into the pages. When Cap yells, his open mouth is a chasm, and when his fist comes pumping out towards you, you have to duck. Kirby Captain America is the best Cap, but super-sized Kirby Cap is the best of all.

Monday, October 5, 2020

The Last Box of Marvel: What If.... it wasn't that bad?

#15 in a 27-issue limited series

They looked like generic and safe superhero comics, but the What If comics Marvel published in the late eighties could get properly horrific. Even something like the relatively harmless Atlantis Attacks storyline had a nasty-as-shit ending if the heroes failed, with the whole world turned into mindless reptiles, and the sight of the Marvel Universe's greatest female heroes getting eaten alive by their snake god offspring.

I've always been a fan of the What If format, but have only held onto a few issues. There's the one in the original series where Daredevil gets a happy ending, and the one that was a joke issue (I'm a sucker for the joke.) And there's these two X-Men stories from the early 90s.

The Inferno issue is about as dark as it gets, once you've got a demonic Wolverine openly eating babies, it's hard to top that. But the Asgard one shows that you don't have to go completely grim if a different path is taken. There is still tragedy if many of the X-Men characters stayed behind in Odin's realm, but no more than the regular universe. It isn't a 'everything gone wrong!' storyline, it's just 'everything went a bit different!'.

Because the best alternate realities stories can show a different path, they don't have to  blow the whole path up as they go. 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Last Box of Marvel: Action is my reward


Spidey used to be my guy, and I had hundreds of Spider-Man comics. I always liked the way he would just get knocked down again and again, and would always get up again with a dumb quip, ready to go. The world would take a giant crap on him, nobody would respect him, but he was the dude who would always be there when he needed to be.

But it's a familiar feeling in this last box of Marvel as I find there's just been so much Spider-Man comics published in the past 50 years, and that I only need a relative few to get my web-head fix.

So I still have some things like the Spider-Man Saga comic I painstakingly put all lawn-mowing money into in 1991, which is still excellent reference material for the vast sweep of Spidey history up to that point, and the third Web of Spider-Man annual with the big friendly pin-ups of all of Spidey's old-school friends and foes (the second annual is also in there because it's Art Adams doing a 1980s annual, and I'll always have a weakness for Adams annuals).
 
And with the fantastic perfection of the Claremont/Byrne Marvel Team-Up comics collected on the bookshelf, I only need a couple of other issues of that series - the bonkers one where the SNL crew showed up, and #100 with the Fantastic Four and the Miller art. I've also got the terrific Bend Sinister annual with more Miller art in a Marvel Tales comic, as well as another couple of issues of that series which covers the whole Gwen Stacey/Green Goblin deaths thing.
 
I've still got all the Spider_man comics that tied into the Inferno crossover, because Inferno was the greatest Marvel crossover ever, and a few of the McFarlane ones from immediately afterwards, because that's when his art peaked for me, and it feels like the last time really tried to impress, while actually having the chops for it.
 
There's also the one issue of Spider-Ma'ns Tangled Webs that Cooke did and Untold Tales of Spider-Man '96 for the sheer charming innocence of the thing, but I don't know why I've held onto Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #7 for 30+ years. I guess I'm a bigger Puma fan than I ever thought?

I've only got the first two issues of Mark Bagley's Spider-Man after selling off almost all of the 50 issues that followed it for nothing a decade ago. I could have made a fucking mint if I'd kept those Carnage issues, but I'm glad I also held onto the first issue with the hologram cover, because hologram covers get me so excited.

There are many other great Spider-Man comics, and many others that I enjoy reading. I still keep up with the latest stories through the library, but the relative few that have survived all the purges scratch that itch that feels like a radioactive spider bite.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Last Box of Marvel: Everyone bounce the dinosaur


#13 in a 27-issue limited series

While I'm after all the 2001 I can get, I only need the first three issues of Kirby's Devil Dinosaur, because the things I like most in these comics is the way the big red dude leaps into the frame, bouncing into the scene in exactly the way real life dinosaurs never did, and there is a fucking shit-tonne of that in the first three issues.

Friday, October 2, 2020

The Last Box Of Marvel: No limits

#12 in a 27-issue limited series

There was a weird amount of excitement when the big publishers started putting out limited series in the 1980s. It just wasn't how things were done - if something was successful, you squeezed as much out of it as you could, and if it kept making money, you just kept on going and going and going. You didn't actually let comic books stories have a proper beginning, middle and end like other mediums.

And terrific creators at the height of their powers relished the opportunity to tell those specific stories, unbound by the constraints of modern comics, and there was some quality work in the first wave of Marvel's limited series. After testing the waters with some Superman tie-ins, DC began smashing barriers with new, radical series that had nothing to do with their vast, never-ending tapestry, while Marvel used these off-shoots of the regular universe to take a slightly skewed look at that world.

Some of them are still great comics, decades later, and I'm glad to have a handful. Although I've been after the third issue of the Wolverine mini series since 1985 and still haven't got it. It was a lot easier to find all of the issues of the Longshot mini-series by the brilliant Ann Nocenti and Art Adams (even if that took a couple of years), but the two Hercules limited series by Bob Layton were easiest of all to find, and I've had a massive amount of affection for Layton's refreshingly loose space-spanning saga ever since.

All of these series have been followed up on over the years since, but those original comics still show why the concept took hold of the imagination for a while. Without the never-ending grind of regular monthly comics, a story could be told quickly and cleanly, and over and done with. Not everything had to be a 450-issues long. Sometimes four was enough.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Last Box of Marvel: Epics at the end of the world


 #11 in a 27-issue limited series

Apart from the substantial Groo collection that lives in its own special section in the bookcase by the bed (because you never know when you'll need some Groo in your life), and the couple of issues of Epic Illustrated that are lurking in the cupboard, the only Epic comics I have left are two short series about the end of the world.

One of them is the Moebius Silver Surfer story that really is an absolute epic, and anything else anyone has tried to do with Galactus since has been largely redundant after this. It took me many years to figure out if it was in continuity, or if it even mattered, but the gorgeous pastel sweep on Moebius' art was always so well suited to the gliding, slender Silver Surfer.
 
The Last American series by Grant, Wagner and McMahon really isn't very pretty - McMahon's art is jagged and grim and dark, because this is the story about the end of the world, with all hope steadily running dry. It's got a nastier edge than the usual sci-fi high-jinks the creators always brought to their 2000ad stories - there's still a song and dance number, but it just adds to the loneliness and despair.

There's still some hope for humanity at the end of the Moebius comic, even if humans are proven to be shallow, vain and stupid creatures by the arrival of the world devourer, they at least exist at th end of the story. There's nothing left in the Last American. Nothing at all.