Tag Archives: marvel

True Brit (Captain Britain and MI13 Spoilers)

The final issue of Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain and MI13 hit the shelves this week. I came to this series late – just in time for the final storyline in fact – but I’ve bought the first two published collections, as well as Cornell’s “prequel” Wisdom.

I really liked this series and appreciated Cornell’s agenda in it. Cornell, lest we forget, is unusual in terms of British comic (and sci-fi) writers in that he is a practicing Christian. Far from this meaning he is a Bible-bashing bigot with an obsession with genitalia and morbidity, his outlook can be quite refreshing to the usual brand of cynicism and paranoia. He wrote Xtnct for the Judge Dredd Megazine, he admits, partly as a reaction against the Pat Mills tendency to push his own political world view forward (I have to admit that Xtnct went a bit over my head but it wasn’t helped by the month between episodes and the lack of consonents).

In the case of Captain Britain and MI13 his quite transparent agenda was to make a superhero comic that was distinctly British whilst still being optimistic. Over the past three decades there have been numerous attempts to write the iconic British superhero, but they have all leaned towards a certain amount of deconstruction. Even writers who do the optimistic widescreen version of US superheroics well, like Grant Morrison, have tended to go adopt the Alan Moore template whenever they write about characters based on this side of the pond; compare the UK-based Invisibles Volume One with the US-based Invisibles Volume Two for a perfect example (for that matter, compare Moore’s Marvelman with Tom Strong).

I don’t want to go on too much about the specifics of the series or I will degenerate into fanboy-wank (he writes after deleting about four paragraphs of said toss). Instead I just want to focus on two aspects.

The first is the character of Faiza Hussain and her wielding of the sword Excalibur. Every time a gay character appears in comics it gets a blaze of publicity, and MI13’s own guest appearance of Gordon Brown certainly attracted some attention. So I’m amazed that this decision to make a Muslim character wield one of the mythical “symbols” of Britain didn’t garner any headlines. It may just be that it missed a slow news cycle – certainly news of DC’s decision to do a joint project with Kuwait-based Teshkeel Comics seemed to excite people. But I like to think it is a positive sign amidst a sea of depressing news about the rise of the BNP etc. Having said that, perhaps that is a bit Guardianish of me. I well remember getting irked at the way that the Sun reviewed Bend it Like Beckham as a film about a girl who wanted to play football while the Guardian agonised about what it said about Multicultural Britain Today. The Sun is not always wrong.

The second is a great bit of dialogue in the final issue which I think sums up Britishness better than most attempts to do so (you can call it Englishness if you’d prefer, but I think it goes wider). Captain Britain is talking to Faiza’s father, and academic who has been made a vampire by Count Dracula (long story). Freed from Dracula’s control, Hussain is understandably somewhat perturbed by his newfound status:

Dr Hussain: Is there a home for me there, though? Captain, I don’t want my wide and daughter to see me like this. To have to deal with —

Captain Britain: But what’s the alternative? Give up? Dr. Hussain, I think your life from now on is going to be a very British compromise — living with something terrible, dealing with it in domestic terms. Tragedy right up against sitcom, in a way other cultures don’t really get. I think if anyone’s going to understand all this, is going to want you to stay around and get through it, day by day — with all sorts of awkward conversations — it’s your daughter.

Hussain: You’re right. So I shall. You know I could murder a cup of tea.

I don’t know. It certainly ticked me anyway.

The series isn’t perfect, although the too-neat tying up of loose ends in the final issue is almost certainly mainly due to the series’ forced cancellation than anything else. But it is well worth checking out.

Nine wishes for 2009 #5: Comics I care about

Yoink! These nine wishes for 2009 were meant to be done and dusted by 31 December. Nevertheless, I shall plough on…

I’m a geek, to paraphrase Nick Clegg, by temperament, by instinct and by upbringing (the latter is all too true – my dad made me watch Alien when I was 8 FFS! He would also blare out War of the Worlds at 11pm. My earliest memories were reading science fiction and horror mags on my parents’ bed and the excitement surrounding Star Wars and Close Encounters – really was there any hope for me?).

So it comes as no surprise that, despite being in my mid-thirties, I have an unusually large comic collection (the only geek I know who doesn’t read comics is Will Howells. Bad Will! No biscuit!). But I have this problem: they aren’t exciting me like they used to.

My first comics were the Beano (but not the Dandy – rubbish!) and the eighties Eagle. From there it was but a short step to 2000AD during its bog paper, black and white glory days and with the eighties UK comics brain drain in full swing, moving onto US comics was all but inevitable. Highlights have included: too many Judge Dredd stories to mention, but in particular Block Mania, Chopper’s escape to Oz and the revelation of the identity of The Dead Man; Nemesis the Warlock; Halo Jones (I could mention loads of Alan Moore stuff, but this is the one that inspired me the most, oddly); Grant Morrison’s greatest hits (Zenith, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, The Invisibles); The Sandman; Preacher; The Adventures of Luthor Arkwright. More recently, Nikolai Dante has had its moments. Morrison’s run on X-Men was good and Joss Whedon’s follow up was great too. I whizzed through Mike Carey’s Lucifer last year after, wrongly, assuming for years that it was just another worthless Sandman spin-off (Vertigo have only themselves to blame for that assumption, but that’s another story).

But the sort of buzz I felt during the late eighties and nineties isn’t there any more. Don’t misunderstand me, I recognise that to an extent I am merely a little jaded and that is unavoidable. And there is still good stuff out there. Buffy Season Eight, while patchy, is generally strong. 2000AD has been consistent (but not amazing) for a good decade now going through a very bad period before. You can’t switch brilliance on like a tap but I don’t think 2000AD can be accused of doing anything to piss on their chips.

I think my dilemma is threefold. Firstly, the demise of Comics International. To be clear (last year I bemoaned the state of the magazine and got ticked off by Burt for my trouble), it does appear to be a going concern and at least one of the problems for its erratic publishing schedule over the past couple of years has been the editor’s ill health, but it is a far cry from the rigorous monthly schedule that Dez Skinn managed to work to for 15 years. I hope that if they do get it back up and running, they go back to basics. When it was launched, CI was a free newsheet printed on newsprint which offered news, reviews, and pretty much nothing else. I don’t miss anything else; I do miss that basic service. It is a bit of an embarrassing thing to admit as somone who likes to think of himself as generally web-savvy, but I can’t get my head around using the web as a news source for my comics. Something does not compute. Nothing feels as natural as a few pages of news I can pore over on the tube home from the shops (I depend on Empire for similar reasons).

Secondly, I find it really hard to get into the indie-scene these days. Even though I’ve never actually lived in the East Midlands, I occasionally used to go to Page 45 for some of their special events. In particular, they ran a great open day in 1996. Ostensibly a day to promote Dave Sim‘s latest UK tour (I continued to collect Cerebus up until it ended even though I basically gave up reading it during the last few years as he seemed to get increasingly bonkers – needless to say I don’t share his views), they invited lots of other independent comic creators as well. Since the queue to get stuff signed by Sim and Gerhard was so long, you ended up going around and talking to all the creators. I ended up buying stuff from pretty much everyone, discovering a passion for, among others, Kane, Sleaze Castle and Dix (the cartoonist on the brilliant Roll Up! Roll Up! which ran in the Guardian a few years ago before they criminally cancelled it. Thanks to the magic of teh internets you can now own a collected edition – buy it now!). But as you’ll have seen by following those links, those particular wells of creative talent have either mutated (Jack Staff is good, but nothing like as good as Kane) or dried up entirely.

Are Page 45 still organising such open days? If they are, I never read about them even when CI was coming out regularly. Back in London these days, the closest to Page 45 is Gosh! – they often do signings, but don’t seem to use them as an opportunity to do something more ambitious. Maybe in 2009, this might change.

My third problem though seems much more intractable. I’ve always tended to read DC more than Marvel. This is simply because DC used 2000AD as a recruitment brochure in the eighties and took a lot of the fanbase with them. Slowly I got sucked in, loving Keith Giffen’s take on the Justice League and the post-John Byrne Superman (an era which effectively ended with the death and rebirth storyline). Having stayed away for a few years, I ended up picking up 52 and some of the other Infinite Crisis spinoffs and tie-ins.

Now, 52 was a well executed and enjoyable series – a year in the life told in real time. The problem is, it was such a success that they immediately issued a sequel – Countdown – which in turn was a prequel of Final Crisis – which in turn was a sequel to Infinite Crisis (and sort of a sequel to Seven Soldiers of Victory) – which in turn was a sequal to the Crisis on Infinite Earths (and that’s just the simplified version). The idea that the Infinite Crisis had created 52 alternate universes (after the Crisis of Infinite Earths destroyed the “infinite” alternates and merged them into one, the revamped eighties DC universe), is essentially lame, lazy and, as you will have seen by reading this paragraph, incredibly confusing. Add to this the “is he? isn’t he?” death of Batman at the end of last year, and an alternate timeline in the latest weekly series Trinity, and you have a terribly stodgy mess. The problem with all these tie-ins, cross-overs and spin-offs is that it utterly alienates the casual reader. DC seems to have decided that their future lies in giving the hardcore dizzyingly complex onanistic wank. I’ve put up with it for a year longer than I should have done and expect to more or less drop all my DC titles later this year.

Marvel also seem to be going out of their way to alienate readers by producing company-wide meta-narrative after company-wide meta-narrative even if by all acounts they are doing it much better. But again, how do you get on board? Browsing through trade paperbacks in Borders and the specialist shops, I haven’t the foggiest where to start with, say, Civil War.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is rooted in the fact that both of these companies have discovered that they have such large back catalogues now that the casual reader has plenty to churn through before running out and wanting to look at the latest stuff. Want to get into Batman? Most “top ten” lists include Killing Joke, Dark Knight Returns, Year One, The Long Halloween and Arkham Asylum. Most of the Marvel films are mining stories from the sixties which you can read in their Masterworks series of books. So even if they did make the new stuff more accessible, I suspect they would get very little out of it in terms of improved sales.

As someone who is more than a casual reader but much less than the hardcore, this is a problem. Are there really so few of us out there though? I just think it is a real shame that as comics finally enter the mainstream, they seem to be having such a creative lull. And while there is undoubtedly good stuff out there to be found, finding it seems to be becoming harder and harder. Anyone got any suggestions?

Spider-Man 3: good, but not great (SPOILERS)

Last year, one of my friends commented that the problem with X-Men: The Last Stand was that it should have been two films: there was simply too much plot to fit in just one. I disagreed: the problem was it just wasn’t a terribly good film. Less would have been more, no Brett Ratner at all would have been even better (not that the box office agrees with me on that point). I’m torn however in the case of Spider-Man 3 – was it a case of trying to squeeze too much into 2 hours, or should they simply have tried to do more with less in the first place? Continue reading Spider-Man 3: good, but not great (SPOILERS)