Saturday, November 30, 2019

My one big idea for the DC Multiverse

I would always rather have something that tries to be crazily ambitious and fails, than anything that plays it safe and uses the excuse of taking things 'back to basics'. This particularly applies to Doctor Who, and after the last series showed a crippling lack of ambition, I fan-wanked all over the place a few months back with my idea of the unknown history of the main character from before he was William Hartnell, and his other roles before he took on the title of The Doctor.

But it also applies to the big, dumb superhero comics that I can never really get over, and with so much opportunity that the DC multiverse offers, it's always a bit disappointing when the biggest idea seems to be turning Batman into the Joker.

The dark multiverse shenanigans of the past couple of years might feel edgy and groundbreaking for some, but surely the people creating these things actually want to do something new and different. Don't they?

Shit, if I had my way - and I can happily share this nonsense here because there is no way in hell I'll ever have my way - I'd be making the DC multiverse a lot more metaphysical, and have the different universes housing the souls of the same characters, with their spiritual essence traveling between universes at the point of death, so that the Bruce Wayne of Earth-2 isn't just the same person as Earth-1 Bruce physically, they're the same person spiritually, and the afterlife that has been well established in many, many DC comics is a way-station on the soul's journey, before the souls head on to the next universe, in an endlessly self-perpetuating cycle of rebirth and renewal, so you could create an endless rebooting, and it's always the same person, even if they can't remember their past lives, and  the time differences would all be a bit Jeremy Berimy, but that's easy to fix with an exposition box or two, and we can have endless Bruce Waynes, always updating for a new generation, never bogged down by years of bullshit, while also hinting at the actual meaning of life, at least in a fictional universe, and oh shit, I've just bored everyone to death again....

Friday, November 29, 2019

The worthlessness of seeing the future

Everyone likes to moan about the state of comic journalism these days, and a lot of that moaning does have merit. Even with the tragic loss of Tom Spurgeon and his mighty Comics Reporter, there are still a lot of great websites putting out interviews, but there is also a lot of trash.

I do miss a lot of the long-form interviews, with creators really only sitting down to discuss their work when they have a new project to hype. The kind of long-ranging rambling interview that covers a whole career, the kind we used to get every other month in the print Comics Journal, are now a rarity.

At least some of the interviews we do get these days do occasionally offer something worthwhile, a small nugget of thoughtfulness or cleverness or humour. But the comic news sites are also clogged with a lot of bullshit that makes this stuff hard to find, with endless casting announcements for live-action adaptions and features that breathlessly promise to explain the endings of stories that didn't need any fucking explanation.

But of all this trash, I think the most worthless kind of news is the exclusive preview of comics, where you get a few pages of some story, out of context from the overall issue. So many websites are clogged with these things instead of some proper analysis, creaming themselves because they got an exclusive that nobody else gives a damn about. As somebody who has been regularly buying comics for decades, I've never been swayed into buying something because of these few pages, because they're just marketing, and there is no worth there.

There are important issues about the comic book industry that need to be discussed, like the health and well-being of the creators, with another artist who created valuable IP for DC Comics passing away last week and leaving behind a mountain of healthcare debt. Comic journalism needs more of that, it doesn't need another six pages of a Vampirella comic.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Ultimate thrillpower: Finding the original 2000ad

Like any fool with a comic book habit, I can't help checking out any pile of average looking comics when I see them in a second hand bookstore or thrift shop or anything like that. These piles are almost certainly going to full of worthless trash, usually in extremely dodgy condition, but sometimes - just sometimes - there is an absolute gem in there.

But I doubt that any great discovery will ever beat finding the very first issue of 2000ad #1, just sitting there on a shelf in the back room of a second hand shop in Christchurch. It's a shop that was one of many in that trade that vanished after the earthquakes that devastated that city earlier this decade, but while it still existed, they had had a copy of Prog One, just sitting there like it wasn't anything special.

Finding any issues from the first two years of the comic have been teeth-grindingly difficult in this part of the world, I've got an unblemished run from #96 to last week's #2148, but finding copies from that first couple of years in this part of the world is super hard, let alone something as big as the very first one. But there it was.

Even better, the bookstore owner only wanted a buck for it, a deal that was so astonishingly good that I'm amazed I kept a poker face, and got the deal of a lifetime. If I was a decent human being, I would have insisted on giving them something closer to what it was actually worth, but I'm definitely not a decent human being, because I just shut the fuck up and gave them one coin for the original Galaxy's Greatest Comic.

Even without the space sinner, it's still the best score I've ever found at a secondhand score, and it's unlikely to ever be beaten. Unless there is a copy of Detective Comics #27 lurking among all the Beanos at the thrift store around the corner....

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Now I'm being chased by the Silver Surfer

I used to be haunted by Kid Eternity. No matter how many times I sold off the issues I had of the actually-pretty-good Ann Nocenti/Sean Phillips comic from the 1990s, I somehow ended up with more. They would be given to me with others, or some part of a bulk purchase, and some issues I ended up owning three or four times.

Right now I think I've finally ditched the Kid Eternity, but now it's all about the Silver Surfer.

In particular, it's Silver Surfer #51, a fill-in issue put out while the sleek spaceman was chin-deep in the Infinity Gauntlet storyline, with the Surfer teaching Nova - the then-Herald of Galactus - an important lesson about life and time in the universe.

I owned that issue for years, but ditched it a long time ago, and then I've been given it twice since, and it came in a small collection of comics I wanted (to be honest, I was just after the What Ifs) and now I'm selling it off yet again. It'll be easy to get rid of, with the Infinity Gauntlet tie-in and a general love for all things 90s out there, it's an easy sell.

I don't know how this keeps happening, or why this particular issue keeps crashing back into my life over and over again. It's just a fairly average issue of a fairly average series, but I can't get away from it. This never seems to happen with comics that are actually worth something.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The real failure of Understanding Comics

Even though giants such as Will Eisner and Jim Steranko had put out books looking at the craft of comic creating, and how story and energy flow across that infinite break between panels, Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics still had a powerful impact when it debuted in the early nineties.

McCould's book put a lifetime of thinking about the medium into a coherent narrative that could be easily followed, with sparks of self-deprecating humour and a willingness to accept that other theories - even if they contradicted his own - were always equally valid.

His book was extremely popular because it didn't just talk about the need to have action or mood or thematic resonance in every panel, it talked about the perception of comics, and how the brain works when it puts static images together to create the illusion of movement, and all sorts of things.

McCloud's observations were incredibly thoughtful and those big ideas had a light touch, and almost everybody involved in comics at the time was grateful that he had put in the hard yards. But they were a little too grateful, in the end. Because if there was one real failure with Understanding Comics, it's that it didn't inspire more of the same.

The book ends with the hope that other creators will come up with their own theories and ideas, and put them out in the world, and there has been some of that, but there was also something like a sense of relief that somebody else had done it, and had put out a book that everybody else could point to and say: 'See? Comics are a genuine artistic form'. And nobody else had to bother.

McCloud himself went back to the well with a couple more books, with some diminishing returns, and while there has been plenty of comic scholarship since, there hasn't been anything that has had the broad impact that Understanding Comics did. Nearly 30 years later, we're still waiting for that promise to be fulfilled.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Would've got X if it was only X

As somebody whose love of all things X is deep and true, I was interested in the new X-Men direction, because it actually looked like something genuinely new, and even though Johnathan Hickman's other comics have left me cold, the ideas and execution behind this new direction definitely looked interesting.

And all that interest shriveled up and died the moment they announced they would be following up the first mini-series with six new series, and I never bothered with any of it.

If there had been just one X-comic - even if it came out weekly with a stable creative team - I would have been more interested in picking it up, but I just couldn't be bothered with endless other titles by creators that I never gave a damn about. Some of them sounded interesting enough at first glance, but Marvel couldn't stop themselves from squeezing every possible cent they could, and it was all such a fucking overload that it was easier to just not bother in the first place.

Maybe those editors in the 1980s who fretted about diluting the X-brand with The New Mutants actually knew what they were talking about. Maybe just one story in one comic (okay, you could probably still get away with a Wolverine comic on the side) is actually all you need, not a whole new line of things.

It's an idea that is still as relevant now as it was more than 30 years ago, but Marvel's fear that it might be leaving money on the table by not saturating the market means they're getting less money in the first place. There's no evolution here.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Letting the bad guys win

Boy, I hope the next big event put out by DC Comics is one where the bad guys have taken over the entire planet, and carved it up among themselves, and the world's greatest heroes have been reduced to a ragtag group of freedom fighters who have to go on one last desperate mission to restore the status quo and make everything right again.

Because they've only done that like six or seven times now, so there's no reason why they couldn't do it again. And again. And again...

Saturday, November 23, 2019

A perfect equilibirum of comics

It's taken a while, but I've finally reached a perfect equilibrium in my comic collection. It's just not getting any bigger, I'm just refining it more, getting it down to the best of the best, and disposing of anything that isn't completely brilliant or of great sentimental value (which is most of them).

And after several decades of buying this shit, I have enough that the stuff I sell pays for the the new stuff I get. Getting it down to the basics by getting rid of the mediocre and using just some of those funds to load up on more.

We're on a tight budget in our household at the moment, and there is literally no spare money for something as frivolous as comics (even if they are better value than the claim of the 10 minute read reckons), but comic can pay for comic. There is a nice symmetry there.

The whole collection is slowly reducing, but it's also getting sharper and better. It's probably going to take the rest of my life to dispose of the lot, but that long investment is slowly paying off.

Friday, November 22, 2019

There is some worth in old Wizards

Wizard was often an appalling magazine about comic books, full of sexist, frat boy humour that has aged incredibly badly in 2019, while the price guide mentality it fed off ultimately ate itself up (even if it never seems to really go away).

But I still bought a small pile of them for ridiculously cheap recently, and behind the dumb jokes and mediocre puff pieces, they do capture a time that is lost now, full of breathless articles about comics that I've forgotten even exist anymore, including crossovers that were rarely reprinted, and endless Authority spin-offs.

Especially because the magazines I was reading were all from the early 2000s, and all these things were heavily covered in the internet of the day, but have now been wiped from the digital record, and can only be found with some serious digging through the wayback machine.

I bought this latest batch of Wizards with the intention of getting rid of them straight away, but they're such weird documents of a weird time in comics, and one that is already largely forgotten, that maybe I'll hold onto them for a while.

Plus, they're fucking excellent for propping up the baby's cot, so they aren't going anywhere.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

No value in a 10-minute cost analysis

I know we all consume and judge our entertainments in different ways, but reducing the experience of a comic to a cost benefit analysis always seem so useless to me.

It comes up all the time when people are talking about the economics of modern comics, usually holding up comic books as a bad deal when compared to literally any other entertainment medium. It's always helpfully pointed out that reading a new comic takes about 10 minutes (if you're lucky), when you can get a couple of hours out of a movie.

Never mind the idea that different mediums have different expectations and are completely different experiences, I always get a lot more than that blessed 10 minutes out of a comic, because what kind of monster only ever reads a good comic once?

Maybe it's because comics always cost so fucking much in my part of the world, and the distribution was so spotty, but I've always read them over and over again. Sometimes I'll read them multiple times soon after getting them, sometimes I'll wait till a series or arc has concluded before going back and taking the whole thing in again, and sometimes the comics are something exceptional, and reward multiple readings over many years.

I couldn't tell you how many times I've read Love and Rockets, or gone through a full 2000ad prog slog, and every time I read the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen I get a few more of the jokes (not getting all the references straight away is a feature of the series, not a bug).

Panels and pages from my favourite comics over the years are burned into my brain, but I keep going back to them anyway. It's not just comfort, and it's not just that sometimes I find new things in old favourites, but it's definitely more than just a 10-minute experience.

They're just more than that initial experience, and sometimes the combination of art and story is so strong, they're just priceless.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Judge Dredd - America: The evolution of MacNeil

'America' by John Wagner and Colin MacNeil is a stand-out story in 40 years of Judge Dredd comics, a heartbreaking tale of freedom in the future society of Mega-City One, where the judges are pure fascist bully-boys, crushing the hopes and dreams of regular citizens in the name of rigid law and order, until some of those regular joes bite back.

It's worth getting the collected edition of the America comics because you see how the story evolves over a couple of decades and becomes something even richer and deeper, as actions have massive consequences, years down the line.

And it's also worth getting the collection because you can see MacNeil's art change over the years, and see the artist evolve with the story.

The first series is painted in an especially 1990s manner, with fuzzy edges that give the comic a hot and humid kind of gloom, while covering up any early awkwardness in the artist's style. By the time of the first sequel, it's a bit more refined and slick, but also slathered in harsh 1990s colouring and weird skin tones.

But by the third chapter in the collection, MacNeil has really sharpened as an artist. At first glance, it may be seen as more cartoonish, but there is also a lot more confidence in his line, with less shading and a strict, bold sweep. It's the style the artist has stuck with for a few years now - and has even been on display in a new Dredd strip by Wagner in recent progs.

The great appeal of the Dredd storyline is that the plot has grown and become something truly exceptional over the decades, as the years build up and consequences come down the line. But it's also enabled artist like MacNeil to grow too, and you can see it in a single story. America is not just one of the best Dredd stories ever, it's a gruddamn art class.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Doom Patrol: Not as weird as 30 years ago

The new Doom Patrol TV series turned out to be fairly entertaining. There was some brilliant acting - particularly from Brendan Fraser, who has been knocking it out of the fucking park in multiple things recently - and there was an 'anything goes' attitude that is genuinely refreshing in this age of cookie-cutter superhero shenanigans.

There were also a few mis-steps - taking Timothy Dalton out of action for most of the first season was incredibly silly (when you've got the Daltonator, you should be using him as much as possible), and making Jane more of a one-note character was horribly ironic, considering her fractured psyche.

It also tried to capture the vein of deep weirdness that has been part of the comic books for most of its existence, with a particular debt to Grant Morrison and Richard Case's brilliantly bonkers run, while still offering a slick mainstream sheen. And sometimes it worked. And sometimes it didn't.

It's just a little disappointing that it doesn't go nearly as far as comic books published in the late 1980s. This was most obvious with the treatment of the Negative Man, who in Morrison's hands became a hermaphrodite creature that evolved into something new and strange, neither man or woman, and ultimately had sex with itself in a metaphysical mindfuck of an episode, while the new version was somebody that was gay in the 1950s. It just seemed safe and a little boring.

Some parts of the comic haven't aged that well at all, its treatment of Jane can seem jarring to 21st century eyes, but it was still well ahead of many of its contemporaries when it came to the weirdness of the new, and it seems that more mainstream entertainments are still catching up. (This probably shouldn't be such of a surprise, the big movies are still riffing on things the comics did 30-50 years ago, and they should catch up with actual cutting edge storytelling around 2050 or so.)

It's so much easier to do anything with words and pictures than any kind of major studio production, and maybe the rest of the world isn't ready for the full Rebis experience. But some of us were cool with it a long time ago.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Lone Wolf and Cub: Lost on that white path

When I watch too much Curb Your Enthusiasm in one go, I have the unfortunate tendency to turn into the TV show's version of Larry David - a selfish prick who just can't let anything go. More than a couple of episodes a week, and I find myself giving people the David stare, or getting into petty arguments about the absolutely dumbest shit.

In a similar vein, I'm currently on a quest to finally read all of Lone Wolf and Cub, the majestic 9000-page epic by Koike and Kojima, and it's very slowly turning me into Ogami Ittō.
I read the editions put out by First Comics in the 80s a lot, but never really went beyond those 40-something issues, even though that was just a tiny fraction of the overall work. But now I've been going through the omnibus editions in one go and getting deeply into it. It's not as repetitive as it first appears, stories are consistently clever and intriguing, even as the ongoing saga of Itto and Daigorō's war against the Yagyū clan crawls ever forward, and it's always beautiful and exciting to look at.

And even though Itto is an enigma, walking a philosophical path that I just cannot follow, and even though I'm currently just over a quarter of the way through the whole story, I can't help but pick up on his honour and sense of duty and single-mindedness. I can avoid the inevitable self-destruction - and there is no way in the seven hells I am ever going to treat my child the way he treats his - but when confronted by the everyday challenges of normal life, my brain keeps falling back to 'What would Itto do?'.

I'm not any good at projecting a death aura, and if I picked up a samurai sword I'd probably end up impaling myself before dispatching some dastardly ninjas. But there are worse examples of dealing with life than this assassin's way.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

What if.. The Watcher was actually a decent metaphor for the meaning of life?

Figuring out the meaning of life is for intellects vastly greater than mine, but I reckon if human beings exist for anything in this massive and terrible cosmos, it's to experience this slice of time and space that we exist in, and accumulate data and information about it, and process it, interpret it and record it.

We're the part of the universe that looks back on ourselves, and sees beauty in it, and if we've got any fucking sense, we'll observe without interfering too much, unless it's to stop true injustice and misery.

In other words, The Watcher totally knows the score.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

JLA: Big doings?

It's been 23 years since DC published Justice League: A Midsummer's Nightmare, and I still have no idea what 'big doings' means, and have never, ever seen it used anywhere else (and I have, sadly, been looking).

I've always suspected the line from Fabian Nicieza, because his New Warriors comics were full of similar weird slang, but this one was not very successful. I certainly haven't been able to get it into a conversation for the past two decades (and I have, sadly, been trying).

Friday, November 15, 2019

X-Men Grand Design: Made for me

The Comics Journal is one of the few places left to offer up decent, chunky reviews of a huge variety of comics on a regular basis, which is a great thing and sorely needed in this time when a twitter thread is about as in-depth as you get, and they still do that classic Journal thing of ripping into something that everybody else has loved.

And a recent review of Ed Piskor's X-Men comic did just that, and even though I highly rate Piskor's work, it was a genuine breath of fresh air. It did make some super subjective comments about the limits of Piskor's art - it's way more fluid and flowing on a panel-to-panel basis than it first looks - but it also asked a very good question: who is this project actually for? Too alternative for the mainstream crowd, and the artcomic crew aren't going to be down with corporate bullshit.

Fortunately, I'm exactly this kind of audience. A idiosyncratic artist with a distinctive style re-interpreting stories that I am deeply familiar with? Yes please!

I know the long, convoluted story that Piskor is retelling enough to dig on the changes, and appreciate what he's going for - I'm such a fucking nerd that I notice how the cover gallery on the endpapers goes weirdly out of order halfway down the page - and the small changes he makes to the story are fucking fascinating.

That kind of affection doesn't go away, and to see it interpreted through another's eyes - sometimes with endearing clumsiness, and sometimes with flawless grace -is always going to be attractive. The Journal's mileage may vary, but this is my jam, and I happily eat it all up.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Of all the comics reporters, Tom Spurgeon was the best comics reporter

I never met Tom Spurgeon, but I followed his coverage of the crazy comics industry ever since I saw his name in the Comics Journal, and it was always good because there was always so much warmth and humour there, even when he was ripping something to shreds.

Sometimes he would say something nice about the bullshit I put up here, and it was a thrill every time. He filled a gap in comics journalism which is going to be impossible to replace, because I don't think I'll ever trust anybody's opinion as much has I trusted Tom's.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Prodigy: Considerably smarter than you

You can always spot the smartest person in the room in a Mark Millar comic - they're the one telling everyone else that they are, in the most smug and patronizing way possible. They're also the one always calling every other character an idiot or a moron, in a storytelling tic that is almost as overused as Millar's 'what are you talking about'?

Unfortunately, anyone with even the slightest bit of intelligence knows that anybody who is consistently bragging about how smart they are always looks like an idiot doing so, (a lesson a few prominent politicians in this world are too fucking thick to learn).

This kind of false smarts is everywhere in Millar's comics, and none more so than Prodigy, a comic whose entire premise is that the world's smartest man uses that intelligence to save the world. Unfortunately, he's only smart in the sense that he seems to have read the script before the comic has started, and can make huge leaps of logic based on plot dramatics. He's also not even smart enough to save the world from an invasion from a parallel dimension without blindly murdering billions of people, which is pretty fucking dumb.

I still like Millar's comics a lot, because they're short and punchy and can be so mean they're hilarious, and he gives artists some terrific action to get stuck into - Rafael Albuquerque gets to draw action in Prodigy that is light-years away from his moody and gloomy scratching in American Vampire, and his art is wide and open and free.

But smart people don't need to keep telling you how smart they are. Anyone with half a brain knows that.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Batman: White Knight - Redeeming the irredeemable

Like all the best villains, they keep trying to fuck up the Joker by redeeming him, and making him a 'good guy' for a while, but it can never really stick. Usually because he's a fucking mass murderer who has caused untold carnage and misery in a long and homicidal criminal career.

So in Sean Murphy's Batman: White Knight, where the whole idea is that Joker can be turned into a force for good, it's notable that he is about as homicidal as Cesar Romero's mustachioed clown prince of crime. The comic skips around the idea that he could have been a killer, avoiding the inconvenience of things like grieving relatives and vigilantes bent on murderous revenge.

Even the one murder that hangs over the whole series - the Joker's killing of the first Robin - turns out to be something completely different, something a little more psychologically harmful than physical.

Making the Joker a good guy is, like all those other redemptions, a waste of a glorious and mean villain. But if you have to reform it, this is the only way to go.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Immortal Hulk: There's still room for daft puns among the horror

After coming into Al Ewing and Joe Bennett's Immortal Hulk long after the cool kids were all saying how good it was, the gross body horror and the existential dread generated by the green door weren't that surprising.

What was a bit surprising is that there were also a lot of dumb puns and wordplay. Sometimes it works - the use of the end titles as a storytelling device is superb - and sometimes it's just a bit clumsy and groan-inducing. Ewing's work has always had a wicked sense of humour in it, going back to his earliest Future Shocks in 2000ad, and while a lot of the talk about his successful Hulk comics has focused on the horror, there are still some laughs in there (or at least a few smirks).

Still, as a comic that has plundered all sorts of Hulk eras to create something genuinely new with the character, it shouldn't really be shocking that some parts of it read like Peter David never left. David was, after all, the Hulk writer for more than a decade, and his long stint was marked by pop culture references and some of the worst puns in modern comics.

The Hulk is now evolving into something disturbing and new, but he can't leap away from that kind of history.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Batman's Grave: Have at it!

Warren Ellis is going hard on the detective aspect of Batman in first issues of the new comic he's doing with Bryan Hitch, which means it's something in the fine tradition of 'person stands around a simulation of a crime scene talking to themselves until they have a revelation'. That kind of detecting has become a little played out, but Ellis does that kind of monologing better than anybody else in mainstream comics, so it's not so bad.

But the best thing about this comic is Hitch's art. Hitch's work is usually noticeable for the huge cityscapes and mountains of rubble that invariably litter his artwork, but the Batman's Grave also gets stuck into some street-level fisticuffs, which has Batman just fucking going for it with the kicks and acrobatics.

Hitch's action staging on the hand-to-hand stuff has always a bit clumsy, but that's also been a huge part of its charm, it's never stiff or cordinated. He's good with the posing, but there is no time to pose when somebody is actively trying to kick your head in, and Hitch's Batman is always flailing around like he means it. We've all seen superhero fistfights a million times before, but Hitch's are still dynamic and strange enough to be interesting, because nothing beats Batman laying into some poor sucker who deserves it.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

History of the Marvel Universe: Staging the history lesson

There's something comforting about tying a whole superhero universe together, and insisting that thousands of comics published over decades by hundreds of different creators were actually part of some grand, unified storyline. It never really matches up, but that doesn't mean it's not worth giving it a go, if only to see how they fix the contradictions.

As ostensibly the same universe that began in the early sixties, Marvel keeps trying to do this every few years, and the latest effort from Mark Waid and Javier Rodríguez takes a decent stab at it.

It generally works - the framing device of Franklin Richards and Galactus at the end of time is almost touching, (until you wonder if it really is necessary to remember the New Warriors at the end of all existence), and Waid does skillfully weave together dozens of different retcons that have cropped up over the years.

Waid overreaches with the retconning of the Vietnam War into the Saincong War, which isn't just casually racist in a way the writer certainly never intended, it's also totally unnecessary - there is always a war in the past 15 years that can spawn a Punisher.

Fortunately, Rodríguez glosses over these odd bits of clumsiness with some wonderful artwork, which is the real attraction in this project. His figurework can get a little repetitive, but his general framing and drafting of pages is consistently excellent. This is the kind of thing Perez was always so great at - and did something very similar with the 1980s History of the DC Universe - providing pages and pages of pin-ups that tell the whole idea and theme behind characters and events, without resorting to the same old 'heroes standing on a pile of rubble'.

Rodríguez stages all this history with a terrific eye, and even makes areas that are overly familiar pop with new, vibrant life. History texts can sometimes be ideologically contentious, but they should all look this sexy.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Green Lantern: To nowhere and back again

If somebody told me 20 years ago - when I was deep in my Grant Morrison fanboy love, and absolutely convinced the Invisibles was the greatest comic ever - that the main output from the writer in the far-off future of 2019 would be a fairly average TV show about a hitman with an imaginary unicorn; a comic book about Santa Claus; and Green Lantern comics that still feel like every other Green Lantern comic, I would probably be a bit disappointed, and not only because the time and date for the Supercontext came and went seven fucking years ago.

The new Green Lantern comic has still been leaning into the big, heavy mythos that have overwhelmed the dude-with-a-magic-ring story for ages now, and while it has had more of the weird space stuff, the ending with another senses-shattering status quo upheaval just felt a little tedious.

Liam Sharp turned out to be the perfect artist for this comic - he gleefully embraced the weird, and could draw any of the craziness Morrison could serve up, but it's always been obvious which parts of the story Sharp isn't interested in, because it's always easy to spot the half-arsed effort he puts into that part of the page. He'll do some insanely detailed alien figure, and then rush out everything else on the page. And while that can be jarring, there is a similar focused feel to the writing, and it doesn't really bite.

I'm not sure The Invisibles is the best comic ever anymore, but I'm certain The Green Lantern isn't.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

BPRD: They blew it all up

I'm still feeling a bit overwhelmed by the ending of Mike Mignola and friends' long-running BPRD comic. After years and years of warning of an awful apocalypse, they only went and bloody did it, didn't they? They blew it all up.

Comic books aren't short of an Armageddon or two, but this one was such a slow build, coming inexorably closer over a couple of decades, and a world that was vaguely similar to our own slowly broke down under the weight of extra-dimensional invasions and evil plans until it was truly hell on earth. And then things got really bad.

There were still some surprises there, at the end of all things - including the length of time the monsters actually rule the earth, and the amount of survivors who get away to start a new life in an underground utopia - but this was the only way things could ever end.

That doesn't actually make it any easier, and the cost of saving what they could and cleansing the world was so high that it's a pretty depressing ending to the comic, but you have to admire the commitment to stick to it. Prophecies don't mean anything if they're never fulfilled, and this end of the world was always coming.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Mr Miracle: The discipline and the claustrophobia

Many, many modern comic books utilize the classic nine-panel panel grid, and some of them use it to startling effect, but few of them show the hardcore discipline of Tom King and Mitch Gerads' Mr Miracle comic. 

The 12-issue series has a lot going for it - it's bleakly funny (and just plain bleak), and has things to say about godhood and modern life and parenting and existential despair and all that jazz. And it has a genuinely claustrophobic atmosphere, as Scott Free and family escape the life trap that is squashing them down into the griminess of reality.

The nine-panel grid helps enormously here, with the uniformity of the panel size hemming in the characters on every page. Sometimes it's used to comedic effect - the beat of a joke almost always lands better when it gets its own little panel - but mainly it's there to give these epic battles for godhood an air of disturbing banality, and to keep everything shut down, and boxed in.

And the discipline of the creators helps. One of the great effects of adapting a strict nine-panel structure is that when you break it, it has some real power and narrative weight to it. To go from nine- panels to a full or half-page can have a big impact on the reader, and is used to the point of irritating familiarity. Even Watchmen - which famously told most of its story in this format and is the undisputed main influence on creators who use it today - was always breaking those nine panels up, or merging them together, to ramp up the action, or show off how tall Dr Manhattan and his giant glowing penis really were.

And Mr Miracle doesn't do this at all. For almost the entire story, the grid is absolute, and doesn't break, even when gods are being bludgeoned to death. When a picture is spread across several panels, there is always the white void of the panel break lurking. There is no dramatic relief or freedom, it stays tight until towards the end, when it does finally break, and it feels bright and open and free.

That's the kind of discipline Granny likes.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

2000ad in 2019: New blood always tastes the best

2000ad may have a gaming company behind it, but has never had deep pockets, and combined with a general reluctance to give the creators too much of the rights, it's always going to be losing its best talent. This has been happening for years, with brilliant writers and artists disappearing into TV or video game work, or hashing out quick novels. and novels. Thirty years after the first generation of 2000ad creators were gleefully snapped up by the industry's bigger, richer US cousins, the weekly prog is still a talent farm for them, with the likes of Al Ewing finding mega-success at the house of Stan and Jack.

Fortunately, 2000ad has always had a clear path for new writers and artists, with a submission policy built on proving yourself with a few Future Shocks, before getting a crack at a serial. It's a policy that has seem several new generations of creators find their voice, and produce some fantastic comics.

Some of the creators have quickly made the smooth transition to things like Dredd, and a lot of the new breed can quickly make a name for themselves.

But it's hard to pick the next stars, just from a four-page short. There usually aren't any individual stand-outs at this level. While you can certainly tell when somebody isn't going to make it, it can take a while to go from 'new face in the credit box' to 'oh shit, I have to check that person's work out right now'. 

And even the best creators can start out shaky. A lot of the Future Shocks can feel not quite there, and half-formed, or just dramatically dull. There isn't a lot you can really do with a four-page story - which is why there have been more three-part done-in-ones in recent years - and sometimes all you can hope for is a decent punchline and some nice art (the ones that work best are when a newbie is paired with an old hand, as an art robot who has produced a mass of work over the years can paper over the cracks).

But they still have an important place in the prog, after four decades of shocks. With a pleasing eye on some much needed diversity - 2000ad has more female creators producing regular comics than any other time in its history, and this year's all-ages issue showed a drive to get some readers outside the usual aging demographic - the future remains bright.

Monday, November 4, 2019

2000ad in 2019: Art to die for

One of the best things about an anthology comic is that you get a mixture of different art styles, all in the same package. Tharg the Mighty has always been clear that the art in 2000ad is kept to a high standard, and it's maintained that standard, right through the years.

It's been a while since we saw anything substantial from legends like McMahon, Bolland or O'Neill, and some of the greatest artists have now passed on, but there are still some artists who have been drawing for 2000ad for decades now, and their work is as powerful as ever. Colin MacNeil and Chris Weston's work on Judge Dredd has been magnificent this year, with MacNeil becoming the go-to artist for the big Dredd stories after Ezquerra's death, while Weston's Judge Pin story captured every tiny detail of the pile of corpses that broke the SJS judge.

More recent arrivals Tiernen Trevallion and INJ Culbard have also been doing beautiful work on Absalom and Brink respectively, the first in glorious black and white, the latter with a colour palette that truly pops. Great art can also overcome a weak story - Thistlebone was a bit thin, but Simon Davis' work - which is far more fluid and less stiff than in years past - gave the story the deeply creepy pastoral horror vibe it needed.

Neil Googe's slick cartooning almost makes Survival Geeks worthwhile; Jimmy Broxton gives Hope plenty of magical noir; and Mark Harrison, Simon Coleby and Steve Yeowell have all been rock solid as always.

But it's the overall presentation that still makes 200ad so visually stimulating. The standards are so high, and while there is always some artwork that misses the mark, no other comic brings so much excitement and beauty in its artwork every week. That's the real thrillpower lurking in these pages.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

2000ad in 2019: Covering the issue

The covers of the galaxy's greatest comic remain an odd beast. Sometimes they have strong runs of striking images, sometimes they don't.

This year has been a good one - there have still been some over-painted, sludgy messes with no dynamic composition, but there have also been others that have popped off the page, begging for a read, and promising unbridled thrills.

Unsurprisingly,  Chris Weston has produced some of the best for his Judge Pin climax, and the one with Dredd struggling to get out of a pit of rotting corpses is probably the best of the year (and is a nice metaphor for the entire Dredd saga):

Even stories that have left me cold are capable of striking imagery, with Neil Roberts - who always brings a dynamic punch to his covers - making Tracer look good:

- while the mighty Glenn Fabry makes a long overdue return to 2000ad with a Future Shock cover that wouldn't have looked out of place on his Preacher run:

But after more than two thousand covers, sometimes the simplest ideas work best, especially with a splash of vivid colour -

But you don't have to have explosions and fire to grab the eye - one of the best of the year was just an old man sitting in a chair (okay, it's on a small island of skeletons, but you get the idea):

There have been plenty of other covers that have leapt off the shelves of the local newsagent and into my eyeballs in the past few months, but these were my favourites, and you'll have to find your own faves for yourself. With 50-odd issues a year, there's always plenty to choose from.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

2000ad in 2019: Dredd's not dead

Judge Dredd won't live forever, but he's not dead yet. A rotating roster of different Dredd writers have all produced terrific work this year, adding to the saga of Mega-City One in clever, surprising and bloody funny ways. Some of them are building up their own cast of characters they return to, some of them have dug into the long history of the story, and some just have a killer punchline.

But there are two writers whose Dredd stories are clearly a cut above the rest. Rob Williams has written a brilliant run of Dreddworld tales in the past few years, and in recent months, he's been dealing with the fallout from the brilliant The Small House story, and wrapped up the Judge Pin story with typical style, although the undisputed brilliance of Chris Weston's art was certainly a factor.

But John Wagner's Judge Dredd is still the definitive Judge Dredd. He's not as prolific as he once was, but Machine Law and the current Guatemala storyline have both been incredible, with understated storytelling and remarkable pacing. The way Wagner makes it look so effortless cement his place as one of the best in the business - the opening of Guatemala is an aching gut punch in one page, and he's still chasing up themes he first started exploring in Mechanismo a quarter century ago (or even, arguably, ever since Robot Wars in the late '70s).

Judge Dredd just isn't the same with no Carlos Ezquerra art, and never will be again, but it's still the shining light in the 2000ad line-up. Dredd lives!

Friday, November 1, 2019

2000ad in 2019: State of the prog

The other week I couldn't get to the one place in town that still sold 2000ad, and I asked a locally-based online 2000ad community if anybody had any idea if there was somewhere else in the country's biggest city that I could find it, and nobody knew. They like to show off original artwork and autographed memorabilia, but nobody was actually getting the actual every week anymore.

They're missing some great comics. I haven't missed an issue in years and years, and getting it every Tuesday remains one of the great tiny pleasures of my life. Because 20 years after the millennium made its futuristic name a bit ridiculous, 2000ad remains one of the strongest anthology comics published anywhere in the world, producing great comics on a weekly basis.

Current Tharg Matt Smith - who has now served as editor of the galaxy's greatest comic for far longer than anybody else - has nailed down a winning formula that continues to deliver: some great artwork, an impressive drive to foster new talent, eye-catching covers and the glory of the ongoing Judge Dredd saga (there will be more on all of these factors here at the Tearoom over the next few days).

There are, as always, still a few dud stories. It's the nature of anthologies that everything isn't always going to connect. For this Earthlet, Kingmaker has never really lived up to its 'sci-fi crashing into fantasy' premise; there's a bit too many Judge Anderson stories; a lot of recent Future Shocks have been decidedly half-baked; Skip Tracer felt like it was desperately missing an injection of patented 2000ad irony; and Indigo Prime has been a slog ever since creator John Smith stopped writing the stories and the new writer decided this metaphysical mindfuck needed more guns and random guests (the Patrick Bateman cameo was particularly painful, but the JG Ballard one was even worse.)

But overall the general quality remains high, and the comic is still publishing some truly great comics. The ongoing War of the Worlds sequels by Edginton and D'Israel sequels are a goddamn delight; Jaegir remains a meaty and uncompromising excursion into the the world of Rogue Trooper; the long-running Absalom story came to a satisfying end - the last page was the only way it could ever really finish; Brink has been truly stellar; and Guy Adams' Max Normal revival was pleasantly meaty.

Even though it was hard to get into town, I didn't miss an issue in the end, I just had to make some effort to get to the newsagents, but I'm still getting a weekly dose of thrillpower, out there in the streets. Combined with the ongoing excellence of Judge Dredd  - and there have been times when it has been truly brilliant this year - it's been another strong period for 2000ad. Whatever year it is, and wherever I can get it.