Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Spidey gone! - Stabilisation of a comical critical mass

There was an embarrassingly long period in my life when I thought my collection of comic books would just grow and grow and grow, until I ended up with a house full of the things, with entire rooms devoted to Superman comics or Fantagraphics books or Asterix collections.

Between the age of about 10 and somewhere in my mid-twenties, I hoarded every goddamn comic I could get my hands on. I bought a lot, and never got rid of any of them, because I was hooked. I even had a fair amount of comics I actively didn't like by creators I actively despised, but I still held onto them, because there was always the chance I could change my mind. I could get into them one day. I could.

And so, at my absolute height of comic book frenzy, I had about forty thousand individual comics, which was a fair feat, considering I lived in the arse end of the world, where it was hard to find the good stuff, and exorbitantly expensive when I did.

I've only got a quarter of that number now. But it's the good quarter.

It wasn't a sudden realisation that broke the hoarding habit – it was the slow-burning idea that I probably didn't actually need three large boxes full of bland post-Crisis Superman comics, and all those late nineties Spider-Man comics were even more worthless.

So I ditched them, and then I got rid of some more, and then I went a bit crazy and got rid of everything I didn't absolutely love (for both quality and nostalgic reasons). Entire boxes of stuff disappeared in online auctions, and it felt good, especially when I ended up making a few grand out of it.

Since that first big sell-off, there have been a number of other large purges of that collection, and three-quarters of my comics have gone to good homes, grasped at by Trevor in Whakatane who can never find any Black Panther comics, and Denise in Dunedin, who is a fiend for Books of Magic issues.

I still have the odd clean-out, and just dumped another bunch of random crap at bargain prices, ditching the last J Michael Straczynski and Jeph Loeb comics I had. It felt good. It felt really good.

Things have slowed down a bit in the past couple of years, mainly because I'm really getting down to the good stuff now and partly because I'm really really lazy, but I still have a sell-off every six months or so, just to clear out some of the ballast.

The interesting thing is that while there was a huge reduction in the number of comics over the past decade, the size of the collection has actually stabilised in the past few years, at around the 10,000 mark.

Those 10,000 comics are the ones I don't want to get rid of. I hold onto quite a lot of them because they remind me of a specific time in life, which is what always happens when you start binding your ego to four-colour pages. But I hold onto all of them because they have beautiful art, or great stories, or both.

More than a fifth of them are 2000ad and the rest are spread pretty evenly between Marvel, DC and other publishers, with the latter category gaining a larger and larger footprint over the years.
It's a quarter of the size of what it used to be. But it's the best quarter.

I once had several hundred Spider-Man comics, but now I've got 34. I now have more comics featuring Groo than I do starring Spider-Man. I stopped getting Spider-Man comics a month before the whole clone saga really kicked off – which was an extraordinarily good bit of timing – but I still had hundreds and hundreds of them, mainly from the mid-nineties. And while I have a deep fondness for Mark Bagley's Spidey art, there came a day when I realised the stories were pants, and would always be pants.

So now I've got 34, but they are 34 which represent all I love about Spider-Man. Some of them are excellent reference texts and some of them are fast and stylish. All of them are still in that box behind me for reasons of unabashed sentimentality. There is the occasional annual and even rarer random single issues, some Inferno tie-ins (still my absolute favourite superhero crossover), some decent Marvel Team-Ups (mostly by Claremont and Byrne), some random issues of Tangled Web, (more for the creative teams than any inherent spider-connection) and Bagley's first two regular issues (which were the slickest damn things on the comic shelf in mid-1991).

I now have more issues of Marvel tales reprinting Amazing Spider-Man than actual Amazing Spider-Man comics, which is mainly due to the Ditko. And that's about all the Spider-Man stories I really need to hold onto.

I favour complete stories and done-in-ones. I follow the work of several dozen creators, and buy everything and anything by a dozen favourite writers and artists, but that doesn't mean I always hold onto them – I broke the completist mentality about eight pages into Alan Moore's epically awful Violator vs Badrock.

Now that I've given up any real desire to be a total completist, I just hold on to the weird and stylish, the ones that look good, or have stories that really move me. I'll never have every issue of the Fantastic Four, but I can hold onto every issue of Peter Bagge's Sweatshop, or every issue of the Nth Man, or every issue of Jason Lutes' Berlin, so that's what sticks around. 

And there are some regrets about getting rid of so much, but there should always be some regrets, and there is always the local library, if I'm ever seized by the desire to read something like Ed Brubaker's Captain America, or the Superman death storyline.

(And as disinterested as I am in digital comics, I fully understand people who turn the mediocre majority into space-less computer files if you really want to hold onto them. That means the comics require no effort to hold onto, and we all like that.)

Comics shuffle in to my life and comics shuffle out of my life, and the good stuff sticks around, and the ones that don't thrill me anymore go out the door, and I have ten thousand comics, and that's enough to keep me happy.

The good wife wouldn't mind if I cut that number in half again, but that's asking a bit much. For now. I still don't care how hard it is to haul around all that crap, because they're the best stories I've ever owned, and they are worth the effort.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Venture Bros: 'I'm some kind of super-cool, probably magic, Highlander cyborg clone!'

Previously, on the Venture Bros





“No! The metal murder man from my nightmares! He was real!”



“He always said he'd have the last laugh.”

“He was always wrong!”



“Where are you, blood of my blood? Come to King's Landing and take your rightful seat on my iron throne!”

“Go for it.”

“Wha-? Why the fuck are you Rocky?”

“You said you were going to be Drago.”

“Drogo! Kahl Drogo! You're supposed to be my kahlessi! What, did you think I meant Ivan Drago?”

“Well, obviously.”

“Why would I-? What's sexy about that?”

“Well what the hell is a Khal Drogo?”

“Not a what! A who! From Game Of Thrones!”

“Well, I have never seen that stupid thing.”

“It is not stupid! It's spectacular!”



“Are you nuts?”

“Sometimes! Not today.”



“They had nutty buddies!”



“Submit to desire. I offer you ultimate pleasure. Your thirst, your lust is hunger. Submit to my toast. My pleasure toast. You hunger for it.”



“He's coming in low and slow. That's classic Monarch look-at-my-cool-new-thing approach."

“Should I ready the extinguishers?”

“Please. He only uses fire and lasers at night. I got my money on acid, or a magnet kind of thing.”




“I didn't specify my thumb!”



 “Just fill it for me! I literally need a hand here!”

“No! No drinking! I'm the one who has to hold your hair while you throw up.”

“I can hold our liquor, sir!”

“The last time you did this, you vomited for a solid hour. I swear I saw a license plate come up. It was like we were gutting a tiger shark.”



“Hench has killed hench!”



“I don't remember any of this!”



“Last year, right where you're sitting, David Bowie - looking like David Bowie in the seventies - slapped a guy with invisible arms and legs. Right over there, Brock killed a guy from Dimension C, that may or may not have been an alternate Earth.”



“Why is he helping us?”

“The albino code. A covenant more sacred than his loyalty to St Cloud!”



“If it's cat fight you want, sister, you messed with the wrong pussycat.”


“Rust, what the hell is this? Cola and.. tomato soup?”

“Close. It's ketchup and bourbon. I call it the 'hunchback'.”



“I've been listening to this stupid learning bed my whole life. And you know what? I haven't learned shit! I can tell you how many taste buds there are on the human tongue, but I've never even french-kissed a girl!"



“Well, guess you should just go home. Do you even call it a home, or is it just a boxful of memories?”

“All right. Um, can I get a ride?”

“Nah, can't. I gotta tell the wife you escaped, and.. you understand.”

“Yeah, no. So, uh, should I just...?”

“Yeah, let yourself out. Break a couple of things. Make it look... good.”

“Euh, I like being tortured more than this here. This is... bleah....”



“Fingers. Fingers.”

“Pay attention, Ghost Robot.”






“Why are you calling me, man?”



“May I be excused?”



“Yeah! Mother helped build the wall! Tear down the wall! Tear down the wall!”






"Come on.... Come on....



“Hey, why do you still have tits?”



“Listen to him. He's like his old man. But he's too young for somebody named Destiny. He should be with a Pam, or a Pamela.”

“Or a Pammy, maybe.”

“Pammy?!? The boy's not ready for a damn Pammy!”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A cos worth fighting for

The biggest comic convention in the world happened over the past weekend, but like most of you, I wasn't there. I've never been to San Diego, and I'm unlikely to go in the near future, mainly because I live exactly one Pacific Ocean away. If I went down to the local beach and squinted, I might have been able to see the Marvel booth far, far off in the distance, but it's not quite the same.

But while I can't replicate my main reason for going to conventions – buying up cheap comics – a lot of the good stuff that comes out of Comic-Con is still easily available. Any new news is instantly on the internet, and interesting panels are quickly covered, and soon analysed. There are glimpses of new projects, and some unexpected candour among the shilling.

And I love it. I love Comic-Con time, even if it always makes me feel insanely jealous that some people get to read the new Love and Rockets a whole damn month before the rest of us. I love hearing about all the new comics that I'll want to read, and I love the panel coverage that looks behind the scenes of this crazy medium, (I can take or leave the panels that are purely publicity driven). And I love all the movie crap too, even if a Comic-Con rave session is really not to be trusted.

And I love seeing photos of all the crazy costumes that the crazy kids come up with.

As long as there have been conventions, there have been people dressing up as their favourite characters. Even the earliest real comic conventions, which drew several hundred people to some hotel ballroom in a washed-out 1970s, had those dudes in Spock ears, and that one guy who always went to extraordinary lengths to look like Gandalf The Grey.

Those people are still there, year after year, but the whole cos-playing thing has really taken off in the past decade. They're no longer rare exceptions among the crowd – they're a significant minority, who get louder and louder every year.

It's a hobby that attracts a lot of young blood into geek culture, and one that women enjoy as much as men (if not more). They add colour and volume to any convention, and all this seems to fiercely piss off some nerds, but screw those guys, because these costumes are often incredibly awesome.

I'm hugely impressed by some of the technical skills on display on modern convention floors - some of the in-mask animatronics are astonishing (and are something that would have had the 1980s Doctor Who techincal department creaming in the spats), and new technologies in fabrics and latex produce some incredibly nice costumes.

I am getting to the age where I feel like a real pervert for staring at young women in extraordinary outfits, but I really am impressed by their costumes, and they are there to be looked at and appreciated, and I surely appreciate their efforts.

But I'm just as fond of the fat balding bloke who just covered himself in green paint and turned into the Incredible Sulk, or the kid with the cardboard sword and helmet. Because the thing I like most about cosplayers is that they're totally not afraid to wear their heart on their sleeves.

They don't care that they're going to be stared out by genuine pervs, or that they're being judged, or that people are laughing and sneering at them. There is too much enthusiasm to bother with that crap and you can't judge people for their enthusiasms, if they do no real harm.

Last weekend we went to see the Lone Ranger film, and there were two late middle-aged people there who had honestly dressed up as cowboys for the film screening. Teenagers openly laughed at them, and they genuinely didn't give a fuck, and had a great time watching the film, and that was probably the cutest fucking thing I seen all week.

There is more safety in numbers at something like Comic-Con, because there are so many of them, but they still stand out in the crowd, and they’re not afraid to show their love for some comic, or movie, or anime, or TV show, or whatever. And I’m all about the love.

But not everybody feels the same way I do about it, and I often see grumbling and moaning about cosplayers, much of which is hopelessly misplaced.

The annoyance is understandable when people with huge costume pieces do take up space on a crowded convention floor, (made even worse by others trying to get photos of them). But that’s not really the cosplayer’s fault, more an organisational issue, and if you start banning people for taking up space, there are plenty of other candidates, such as people with big backpacks, or groups of friends who stop dead in the middle of a choke point, and if we got rid of everybody who got in the way, there wouldn’t be anybody left. Which would be a fairly rubbish convention experience.

Another annoyance directed at cosplaying also has a tiny smidgen of merit, and that’s when mainstream media covering these events head straight for the people in the weird outfits. This leads to unrealistic portrayals of all comic readers as fanatical fans, when the vast, vast majority of readers are perfectly happy in normal clothes, and don’t let silly things overwhelm their lives. But again, that’s not the cosplayer’s fault, it’s the clich├ęd media portrayal of them. (And besides, it’s really only an issue for those who get way too worked up about how the regular world sees the comic medium, which is really not worth worrying about.)

These are relatively minor annoyances, easily forgiven and forgotten, but other complaints have that fetid reek of entitlement about them, with a hint of the loathsome snd ignorant idea of the 'fake geek girl'. Some moan that cosplayers “aren’t true fans” or are only interested in getting attention without actually liking the thing they’re impersonating, but those complaints are pitiful. After all, we all hate it when our favourite things become succesful, but that doesn't mean the new fans don't love it as much as you did, and just because the girl in the Spider-Woman costume wasn’t even born when you first fell in love with Jessica Drew doesn’t mean she isn’t as passionate about it as you are.

I've never, ever felt the urge to put on a costume myself - a cool tee-shirt is enough to identify me as one of the nerd herd. But I do have a tiny bit of admiration for people who do go to the effort of putting on a costume.

You have to appreciate the effort, the imagination, and the sheer technical skill in creating these costumes, and they come in such an incredible variety. And you have to admire the guts to wear it, and show the world your love.

(There are some terrific examples of the costume at this year's Comic-Con here. My favourite is the Aquaman dude.)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

101 great things in comics

1. Greenberg the Vampire's moustache

2. Thor's hammer

3. Luba's hammer

4. Hammerstein's hammer

5. Otis the Penguin's umbrella hat

6. The wanker from Dicks and his incredible right arm

7. Cyclop's visor

8. Havok's headband

9. The Grendel eyes

10. Night Thrasher's skateboard with the blade inside it

11. The Joker's fake flower with the acid inside it

12. Jesse Custer's white pants

13. Zenith's Phase 2 jacket

14. Starman's rod

15. Daredevil's horns
16. Jack Staff's staff

17. The original Captain Britain's mace

18. The batmobile

19. Horse the cat's jaw

20. Doyle's missing tooth

21. Superman's bottled city

22. Shade The Changing Man's M-Vest

23. Nick Fury's eyepatch

24. Nick Fury's eyepatch (ultimate version)

25. Captain America's shield

26. The little wings on the side of The Flash's head

27. The little wings on the side of Namor's feet

28. The giant wings on the side of the Warlord's head

29. Catwoman's ears

30. The little fluffy bits at the end of the gloves and boots on the Black Cat's original costume

31. The big fluffy bits around the Creeper's head

32. Guy Gardner's turtleneck

33. Tintin's quiff

34. The Infinity Gauntlet

35. Tetsuo and Kaneda's bitchin' motocycles

36. Lobo's badass space hog

37. Terry Downe's cigarettes

38. The broken bottles that are frequently employed by Milk and Cheese

39. Dan Dare's eyebrow

40. Concrete's cement armchair

41. The Question's blank facemask

42. The Marvel Universe's Dracula and his awesome supernatural dress socks

43. Bat Lash's pansy

44. Rogue Trooper's bio-chipped buddies

45. Obelix's menhirs

46. The Wasp's endless election of wonderful costumes

47. Cowboy Wally's Foreign Legion film

48. Megaton Man's biceps

49. Bizarro Superman's skin

50. The batarang

51. The Nth Man's snow-white mullet

52. Omac's mohawk

53. Maggie Chascarillo's hair when she puts soap in it

54. Betty's ponytail

55. Mr Natural's beard

56. Adam Strange's jetpack

57. The body language the Scarlet Witch uses when she throws out some hexbolts

58. Ambush Bug's antenna

59. Robyn Slinger's wonderful collection of toys

60. That weird fucking flying thing that Orion of the New Gods is always bombing about in

61. Doctor Fate's fullface helmet

62. Magneto's helmet

63. Scrooge McDuck's spats

64. Judge Dredd's helmet

65. Judge Dredd's lawgiver

66. Judge Dredd's Lawmaster

67. Judge Dredd's kneepads

68. Judge Dredd

69. The Unknown Soldier's bandages

70. Smiley Bone's cow costume

71. The Goon's flatcap

72. Hellboy's massive red hand of doom

73. Lois Lane's accusing finger when she confronts ill doers

74. Hans Von Hammer's flying goggles

75. Martha Washington's earrings

76. J'Onn J'Onzz's brow

77. Mean Machine's dial

78. The Phantom Stranger's medallion

79. The Phantom's skull-ring

80. The bat-signal

81. Billy's boots

82. Itto Ogami's babycart

83. Longshot's little knives

84. Green Arrow's boxing-glove arrow

85. Nikolai Dante's inner computer

86. Deathlok's inner computer

88. John Constantine's old punk band

88. Luther Arkwright's scarf and flying jacket combo

89. Madame Xanadu's tarot cards

90. Motormouth's sneakers

91. Nemesis The Warlock's Blitzspear (or is it the Blitzspear's Nemesis?)

92. Merv Pumpkinhead's mop

93. Jonah Hex's scar

 94. Quimper's mask

95. Wolverine's sideburns

96. Batman's hatflaps in Red Son

97. Batman's bootlaces in Year 100

98. Groo's cheese dip

99. Forbrush Man's pot

100. Spider-Man's webshooters

101. Crazy Jane's hopeless smiles

Friday, July 12, 2013

Comic masters and baiters: The Judas Coin and Batman: Odyssey

While most of the new 52 line remains utterly mediocre and lacking in any kind of style, DC still has the pleasing habit of getting older superstar artists of days-gone-by to do something new for them, usually involving some kind of prestigious presentation, with almost zero editorial influence or oversight.

These artists – who have been influencing the look of modern action comics for decades – often deliver works that drive nerds mental, with a callous disregard for current continuity or the “right” way to do a character, but this is usually the most attractive thing about the work: it doesn't look like everything else.

The ultimate example of this is still Frank Miller's DK2, which polarised readers to an incredible degree – some loved it (that's me), and many hated it. Either way, it still sold a shit-ton of copies, which inspired the company to pursue other fading greats, getting them to return to DC and do whatever the hell they want.

Sometimes this works rather well, and you end up with something worthwhile, like Water Simonson's terrific Judas Coin book. And sometimes, you get Batman: Odyssey

Neal Adams' Batman: Odyssey really is as nuts as everybody says it is. It has a demented and hysterical tone, a bizarre and complicated plot, and worrying digressions into dodgy philosophy. The few examples of this craziness I saw on the internet quickly convinced me I didn't need to read that comic straight away, but I eagerly nabbed it when it showed up in the library, because I wanted to see if it was really as mental as everybody says it is. It is, and they're right.

Adams was an incalculably large influence on the look of superhero comics, bringing a flowing grace to capes and boots that is still being imitated, years and years later.  His Batman comics from the late sixties and early seventies are still remarkably powerful, (and still fairly profitable, as well), so you can't blame DC for being so willing to let Adams go crazy with a new Bat-project for 13 new issues.

Which is exactly what he did, with this mad rambling story of ninja bollocks and evolved dinosaur versions of Batman and Robin with fetching blond hair. It's so dense with weird twists and extreme overeactions, that it can be hard for the modern reader to even get through.

The strange thing is that I found it incredibly readable, once I got into it, and I did read the whole 13-issue collection, which is not something I can say for all the regular-flavour Batman books I got out of the library. It did take me a few weeks to get through it, but I kept picking it up and reading it in 30-page bursts.

That was all I could get through before the ridiculousness got too much, but I would always want to see where the story would go next, because I legitimately had no idea where Adams was going. And while modern Adams art looks a bit rushed and over-staged, and drenched in that dull and muddy colour palette, it is still occasionally quite effective. Adams still does a mean hands-thrust-out-at-reader, and there is something gloriously goofy about Batman riding a flying dinosaur.

Batman: Odyssey really is one of those so-bad-it's-good books, but it's not just that. The plot unpredictability is really refreshing at a time when every other bloody scriptwriter still think they have to do what Robert McKee says, and it was a singular, idiosyncratic chunk of comics, which I can never help sneakily admiring.

Walter Simonson is another comic great whose influence is everywhere. His work for Marvel in the 1980s was a fantastic blend of strong craftwork and messy chaos, which was a huge influence on the Image artists, (even if they took the mess and left the craft behind).

He's been keeping busy in the past couple of decades, with his art and writing showing up in odd, surprising places, but his most recent big project was back at DC. The Judas Coin is a lot tighter than Batman: Odyssey, but the principle is the same – let the artist do what they do best and leave them to it.

It's about a hundred pages long, with half a dozen short stories, but it's still pretty ambitious – telling the story of one of the silver coins given to Judas for betraying Jesus, and the sad fates of those who come into contact with the cursed currency, over two thousand years of the DC universe.

There are ongoing themes of betrayal and honour amongst the stories, but they also give Simonson the chance to play around with a few different styles, with a few different characters, with some warm contrasts. The only story set in the present day is told in the form of an old newspaper comics page, and features the Batman – the man who never loses – failing to accomplish much when he tangles with Two-Face.

The scope of the story means there is also room for some Bat Lash fun and stories about the Viking Prince, Captain Fear and the Golden Gladiator, who all haven't had stories in years and years. They're all ridiculously entertaining, with monsters and daring deeds and evil scum to be vanquished. The final story, featuring Manhunter 2070, is a fairly old fashioned version of the future, but that's just part of its charm, which works well with Simonson getting even looser with his line, and piling up the storytelling tricks in finest post-post-modern fashion.

The lack of editorial oversight that leads to these kind of works is both a blessing and a curse, and sometimes you really wish somebody had tapped the artist on the shoulder and asked them to have another go with some of the cheese-tastic dialogue, or filled in that gaping plot hole, or taken another go at that pencilling that leg.

But I can't just write them off for this kind of thing, because I have too much affection for comics by artists who are just doing whatever the hell they feel like. They might go to places I'm not really that interested in, but at least they're going somewhere.