Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Marvel's special editions: Nothing beats the Baxter


Like anybody who has been reading comic books for more decades than they'd like to admit, I have some high-faluting ideas about the best comics ever produced. My own thoughts about the individual issues and series that are the pinnacle of comics, and their ultimate form.

It's something I'm still searching for, but there is a part of me that thinks I found it years ago in the deluxe 'special edition' reprints that Marvel put out in the early 1980s. Sometimes they were beefed up with new material, but the main things is that they were printed on that lovely baxter paper that made the regular newsprint look like garbage (even if the actual printing wasn't always up to that lofty standard).

They were bright, chunky things, double the size of a regular issue, with some truly terrific artwork. Some were one-offs, others are several issues long, and when trade paperbacks were a rare thing, these issues were sometimes the only way to find these stories.

There were weird specials like Phoenix: The Untold Story, which told the real story behind the original death of Jean Grey. The Byrne/Austin art never looked so slick and dynamic as it did in this bright color, and there was some invaluable glimpses of the creative process with a roundtable interview with everybody at the end of the comic.

There were also reprints of some of Marvel's biggest stories over several issues -the bombastic Kree/Skrull War covered in a couple of issues, Giant-Sized X-Men #1 got the full treatment and the entire Elektra Saga required four issues to fit in all the ninjas and deep emotional dynamics.

But mostly they were all about the art - this is where you could find some of Steranko's Captain America comics or Frank Miller's earliest Daredevil comics without breaking the bank, or all of Barry Windsor-Smith's Conan: Red Nails epic in one place.

There were a couple of Kull comics that showed off the extraordinary talents of John Bolton and John Buscema and a Doctor Strange one by Engleheart/Brunner (with a terrific Bernie Wrightson cover that leaves you wanting so much more Doctor Strange comics from the artist),

There were the Adam Warlock and Captain Marvel comics by Starlin; some Fantastic Four which mashed some classic Kirby with some pretty average Byrne; a bit of Sienkiewicz Moon Knight; three issues of the Neal Adams X-Men and a one-off Star-Lord with some bonus Michael Golden.

It was just a handful of the very best comics Marve had produced in its first couple of decades - it's a bit shameful there isn't much Kirby and no Ditko comics in this lot, but it was a good dose of Marvel's best.

Later on the format was used for special one-off originals like the first Spider-man v Wolverine comic, and the bright and bulky package was used to incredibly lucrative effect in Jim Starlin's Infinity Gauntlet comics.

And now all these comics remain in print in some form or another and nobody needs these kinds of issues anymore.

But the solid package of these special editions, with that sharp paper and great fucking art, make them one of the best formats I've ever read.

Monday, October 18, 2021

A life in 2000ad

I could not overestimate how much 2000ad is tied to my life. The comic started a few years after I was born, so it has always been there, week after week, year after year. I've been getting it regularly for about 3/4 of my life, for longer than any of my friendships.

It's more than just the exact memory of what shop I got a large number of them from, (even with 2000+ issues, I can remember where I got a disturbing amount of them). It's entire phases of my life, living in different towns, working in different jobs, living different lives - it's all there, encoded in the weekly schedule of a British science fiction comic.

I know exactly where all the earliest issues I owned came from, the ones I craved and hunted out as a kid and found in dairies in Ashburton and Waimate and Pleasant Point. All that adolescent obsession is caked on the decaying paper, and the issues are literally starting to fall apart because I read them too many times.

And later, there are exact issues that pinpoint the moment I moved on with things - that's the last one I got before we went off on a six-month trip around the world, and that's the one I got when I came back and moved to Auckland in late 2007, (and haven't stopped again since). There's the last one I got from the world's best bookshop shortly before it closed forever.

And the ones I got overseas - reading the last chapters of Day of Chaos and Nikolai Dante in a frnachise cafe off Shaftsbury Ave in 2012, getting the issue with the Shaun of the Dead strip from Jim Hanley's Universe on in New York, and the one issue I really needed with the Nemesis cover that was in a beautifully messy store in central Dublin. The massive fucking pile that nearly drokking killed me walking from a Sydney train station to my sister's place.

There are sharp memories of reading issues at jobs they I quit decades ago, and in cafes that don't exist anymore. All this life, tied to these comics, these pages, these panels.

There are also entire eras of my life are there in a 30-issue run of progs, major life changes swirl around latest Dredd mega-epics and the Rogue Trooper reboots. I grow at roughly the same pace as Carlos Ezquerra's coloring evolution.

There was an 8-year gap that took me , so 1996 progs mix with 2003 memories when I try to match it up, but it's been a straight diary since that 2007 issue. Life changes, homes where this ridiculously massive pile of comics were stored and reread are abandoned for new flats.

I've been doing another prog slog, going through the past 20 years, which usually just means reading all the Dredd and Dante, skimming Sinister Dxter and hoping for the best with the rest. Not even bothering with Necrophim or Space Girls, but giving the 10-Seconders and Zombo some proper consideration

And it's all there, every gruddamn issue I go through, a dorky record of my life, written in an invisible vocabulary that only I can read. A life in 2000ad.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

A lot of The Cure

I've been listening to a lot of The Cure lately, which was partly sparked by the continual revelation that as good as cover versions are, the originals are always better.

But it's also because I do find this music incredibly bold and positive, and we could all use a bit more of that right now. The band have always had a reputation as gloomy sods, and they are a lot of the time, but there is joy in Robert Smith's wail. The Cure always bounced from gloom to ecstasy - the light stuff just made the dark even sharper. 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Tom Sutton and the mirror universe Tom Sutton

Even though I was reading both comics at roughly the same time, it took me years and years to work out that the Tom Sutton who drew the Star Trek comics in the 1980s - with the excellent likenesses, solid uniforms and insanely large engines, computers and navigation arrays - was the same Tom Sutton who drew the Man-Thing series for writer Steve Gerber in the Marvel Comics Presents weekly comic, with intricate detail and shaky foundations, and rot and mosquitoes and gross fungus.

The Man-Thing feels more pure Sutton. He did the inks for most of it, while his Star Trek work was given a very clean tidy-up by Ricardo Villagran. But months after he finished his tour of duty on the Enterprise, he was drawing every rotten fly and zit and captured the stink of the bayou in the MCP serial. Sutton - who used his art as a way to stay off the alcohol - could be so down to earth he was getting into the mud, and he could also soar to the fucking stars.

Friday, October 15, 2021

A Song of Ice and Fire: The theories are still sound

It's taken George R R Martin many, many years to produce the next book in A Song Of Ice and Fire. He's blown though promised deadlines with experienced ease, and I totally support the speed at which he's working, because that's how it fucking works. It'll come out when it comes out.

But at least that long, long delay means I never run out of theory videos and essays to gorge on. I have wasted vast amounts of my life happily watching and reading these fucking things, spending hours on fuckin' Patchface and his freaky shit.

And even if they're years and years old, they're still valid. The TV show spoiled a lot of stuff, but veered off from the books right from the start (because they're two different things) and there are all sorts of theories about Hightowers and Blackfyres and Manderlys that haven't had any further resolution in a decade.

I highly doubt I'm going to run out of them, because at least 27 new ASOIAF theory videos are uploaded every second. And I don't have a lot of faith that the next book is coming anytime soon, so there's always something to fill the gap, and it's all as tasty as a Frey pie.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

All the Shade in the world

I can't remember where I first came to Peter Milligan's Shade The Changing Man comics. It was somewhere in that terrible, glorious rush of 90s Vertigo, and was probably a story in one of the anthology books they put out at the time. By the time I got to the actual series it was almost over, and I only bought a few issues brand new. But I decided to try and get the series, or as much of it as possible.

That was about 30 years ago and it was only last week that I finally got the last issue I needed in the 70-chapter story. I hunted Shade down in back issue bins literally all over the world. I dug my first issues out of the $1 bin at Bag End Books in Dunedin, got a couple of key issues at a sweet store in Stockholm during our last big overseas trip, found the first dozen issues for 50c each at the gloriously messy Comics Kingdom in central Sydney, and bought the last four issues I needed from mycomicshop.com, even though that's cheating.

It's arguable that this was the best way to read it, in bits and pieces. It doesn't matter if you're missing vast parts of the story and if there are years and years between the completion of storylines. It's not hard to figure out how things work out. Shade is all over the place, Cathy is dead and alive at the same time, Lenny is always Lenny, and you don't miss the Chris Bachao art for long, not when you keep finding entire issues of his gorgeous artwork..

I'll get back to you, once I've finally seen how this story of Rac Shade and his unfortunate interactions with Earth was actually meant to go down.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Sight and Sound: The art of the synopsis

I've been reading Sight and Sound every month since the mid 90s - mostly through the local libraries -  and I'm still quietly impressed by the review crew's ability to write short synopses for every movie they review.

Each new film gets one, and while some of them are terse to the point of obliqueness, others give you all the info, and some straddle that line. It ain't always easy, summing up an entire film in a couple of paragraphs. You can usually only get pure plot, and all the art and mood and everything else can get dealt with in the actual review, which doesn't have to trip over its own recap.

I've always liked the style, and there are films I've seen clips and trailers for, and read the synopsis, and that's all I ever need. Because if I can't get to the cinema, I can count on Sight and Sound to deliver.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Was Superman really dead?

It might seem stupid in hindsight, but those few months in the 90s when Superman was dead - like, properly dead - was the last time I genuinely didn't know what was going to happen next in a major superhero comic I was following.

All I had was the next issue box at the end of every issue, and they were suddenly full of 'There is no information about Superman #78' and shit, and I had nothing. No access to comic magazines, no conventions nearby and certainly no internet. I found out comics were cancelled by seeing that they had disappeared from the subscription forms in the back of issues, and the Marvel Bullpen and DC editorial pages were a primary source of information.

So even though the whole Death of Superman thing had been such a monumental event that it was talked about on One News At Six on television, once he was buried, I had no idea what was coming next. There were no clues.

I had been getting all the new Superman comics I could get since I'd fallen for the Panic In The Sky storyline a year or so earlier, but there was a good couple of weeks there where it felt like it might all be over. That there was no more Superman.

I'm not even sure when I learned they were bringing them him back in the form of the four new pretenders, although I'm fairly sure it was an ad in an issue of the Flash comic, which was my other big DC obsession of the time. It can't have been very long after Funeral For A Friend part eight, but it had been a little while of glorious cluelessness.

It was the last time I was really in the dark, and would be almost impossible now. It was nice while it lasted.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Wrestling with the Superstars

Teenage obsessions burn so brightly and usually fade away just as fast, but they can leave behind a lingering fondness that does no real harm. I don't really love old X-men comics and zombie movies as much as I did when I was 13, but I still love them all the same.

And I still have an absolute loyalty to the late 80s WWF wrestling that will never, ever die.

There had always been wrestling on the TV around here. In the days of two channels in New Zealand, 'On The Mat' was huge for a decade, bringing in overseas stars for bouts with local talent. But that was squeezed out in the mid 80s when they couldn't get international wrestlers to come over to the arse end of the world anymore, and there wasn't any wrestling for a while. 

The growth of the WWF and the way it gobbled up all the regional circuits was a large reason for New Zealand promoters failing to secure that overseas talent. And then they started showing WWF Superstars of Wrestling on TV2 and fucking everyone was into it.

My mates were into it, my sisters were into it, my parents were into it. It was 1988 and that was a prime time for the glorious absurdity of wrestling, and the histrionic slugfests made the whole world a little less drab, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The Superstars show was almost entirely full of the big names beating the living crap out of the poor jobbers, and all the big events took a long time to show up at the local video store. If you were lucky, someone might have a sixth generation video tape copy of the early Survivor Series that you could borrow, but most of us had to wait for Wrestlemania IV to show up on the shelves at Video Ezy (in a two-tape set, because video tapes could only hold so much power).

And fuck, it was fun. Moments like Demolition fighting each other at the start of the 1990 Royal Rumble (and then taking on the big man Andre) -

- or the Ultimate Warrior absolutely laying out the honkey Tonk Man and seizing the Intercontinental Championship belt in 30 seconds -

- or the Rockers showing up and blowing everybody's minds. 

I never cared much about the big guys like Hulk Hogan and the A-listers, it was always a little disappointing when guys like Brutus the Barber Beefcake and Randy Savage made the leap to the big time and lost some of the allure, and started to drown in their own hype.

Me and my mates got in trouble at school for clotheslining each other, but nobody ever seemed to understand that there was just as much fun in coming up with outlandish and elaborate wrestling identities, and we spent way more time on the trash talk and figuring out our entrance music than we did actually hurting each other.

But then we figured out we could do moves in the swimming pool at the house we were renting, and it was a lot easier to pick each other up and slam them down when you're in a five-foot deep pool. We would record our rants into the tape deck, then bash each other around the pool, and we beat the shit out of the pool, it was an over-ground thing held together by sheet iron and plastic and the whole thing literally fell apart when I threw Anthony or Kyle into the side once too often.

That kind of white hot obsession never really lasts and while it was It was all-consuming for a little while, most of us quickly tired of it. The tedious Hogan v Warrior fight in Wrestlemania VI was about the end of it, which meant the whole craze rose and peaked within 18 months.

Apart from the utter joy of getting totally ripped and playing eight-man tag matches on the PS2, that was as far as I ever went with the wrestling, and missed out on the era of The Rock, Cena and Austin, and whoever they've got going these days.

And I know it gets bad, I've seen the documentaries, especially the addictive Dark Side of the Ring. A lot of those man mountains have died of weird heart attacks and brain embolisms and getting shot in the back of the fucking head. The horror of the Benoit story and the infinite sadness of the Von Erich family show that there was real pain behind the smack-talk

(Although the one where there is acknowledgement that the guy died doing what he loved - and make no mistake, he LOVED hookers and cocaine - has a kind of zen brilliance.)

But shit, when you're 13 and these huge musclemen are hurling themselves around, it's the most amazing thing in the world. I'm still coasting on that high.