Sunday, 30 January 2011

Comics are for teenagers!

As an old (42 years and getting older by the minute) comic fan my mind is often focused on the future of the industry.  I worry that the hobby I have spent so much of my life obsessing over will soon be gone.  Anyone who cares for the medium probably feels the same.  The numbers seem to be falling every year and even a slew of bad to reasonable movies don’t seem to be helping.

This blog in particular was started for two reasons.  The first being my son Ross who is becoming a comics monster like his father.  At first I was worried that he was reading them because it’s just something that we do when we have our weekends together (it is worthy of note that none of his friends enjoy the hobby).  But recently his enthusiasm for them seems to have grown on it’s own.  He has his own pull list at our LCS.  He has his own long boxes stacked and a shelf for trade paperbacks.

The second reason is that I was going through the loft space trying to clear out some boxes when I came across a folder that contained lists I made when I was 13 years old.  Lists meticulously made every week of my favourite top three comics, heroes and creators.  I would even write little reviews of a comic saying why I liked it and trying to say why the art was good (never ever bad).

The list was full of Hawkeye and Shang-Chi.  The Avengers, Teen Titans the Uncanny X-Men.

It was clear that my enthusiasm for the medium was a huge focus of my teenage life and I began to wonder how kids think.  And having a 13 year old son who I can ask I decided to explore what he likes and dislikes in comics.

Here are his answers.

Question 1 – Who are your favourite characters.

  1. Deadpool.
  2. Blue Beetle  
  3. Original Question.

Deadpool is kind of a given in this category.  He has the kind of humour that appeals to the 13 year old in us all.  My son and I had seen Wolverine and loved the Deadpool character.  Ross often tells me all about his powers and the storylines in his various titles (I am not a Deadpool reader).  He loves the humour and the outrageous action.

Blue Beetle is a character he started reading with the introduction of the new character and he loves the appearance he made on The Brave and Bold cartoon.  We are desperate to see what treatment he gets in the new season of Smallville when it comes to UK television.

The original Question was a bit of a surprise to me. I felt sure that a member of the Green Lantern posse would make an appearance.  My son has read the old Dennis O’Neil and Denys Cowan issues and we
talk about him a lot on our journeys. 
(Deadpool by PJ Holden.). 

Question 2 – What are your favourite comics series.

  1. Deadpool Team-Up.
  2. Generation Lost.
  3. Exiles.

The anarchic humour in the team up pits Deadpool with/against heroes from the Marvel Universe who are often new to my son.  He really liked the Iron Fist issue.

Generation Lost is new to him (I bought him the up to date run on the series at a sale at the LCS) and gave them to him all in one lump.  He loves the ‘slightly crap’ characters and enjoys the interplay between them all.  He pretty much devoured fifteen issues in one sitting.

Exiles has always been one of his favourites and he often talks about Mimic (who I am surprised didn’t make it on the list somewhere).  It was one of the first comics that he latched on to and would often ask me when the next trade is out.

Question 3 – Top three supporting characters.

  1. Warpath.
  2. The Indigo Tribe.
  3. Sinestro.

The X-Men space opera aspect is a favourite of his and the ‘cool knives’ are as well (slightly worrying?  Not at all he is a sensible kid).  Maybe Marvel should start looking at Warpath as a new Wolverine style character for the new generation of comics readers (if there is one).

The indigo Tribe and Sinestro are interesting in that Ross finds the supporting characters in Green Lantern as more notable than the heroes (Guy, Kyle and Hal didn’t even chart).  My son devours all three GL books and loved Blackest Night.  He loves Doug Mahke's and Christian Alamy's art especially.

In Conclusion.

I think much of what I have shown is a matter of interpretation by the proffessionals. I won't labour the point that the industry is in decline and we need to build up the younger audience.  As a perting shot below is my son's pull list so you can make of that what you wish.

1.  All Green Lantern comics.
2.  All Deadpool comics.
3.  Generation Lost.
4.  Teen Titans.
5.  Anything Blue Beetle.
6.  Walking Dead in trade paperback.
7.  Exiles (if we ever see it again).

Sunday, 23 January 2011

11 O'clock Comics - Creator Portrait.

Being a regular listener to the 11 O’clock Comics Podcast at I decided to take up their challenge of trying to explain what draws me to certain creators.

This writer uses characterisation like a sword.  His dialogue is sharp.  His influences shine through in what his characters say.  The language owes as much to Mamet and Sorkin as much as they do to Stan Lee and Roy Thomas.

He pushes through the crowd of the numerous good writers in today’s industry due to a clear love of the medium.  He has taken the style that Stan, Jack and Steve started.  Flesh out the person before we are invited to believe the super person.  And he does it without peer!

Oh Yes.  It’s Marvel Comics MVP Brian Michael Bendis.

Take a bow Brian.

Not that this is a Wiki entry but Brian is the winner of five Eisner Awards.  He writes for both Marvel and for creator owned projects at various companies (although now under the umbrella of Icon). He runs the all encompassing and writes the odd tele/screenplay.  (Not to mention his numerous Con appearances, the Bendis Tapes on Wordballoon and his College lecture series on comics).

Beat that Johns!

I am going to pick my way through some of his work that I have loved over the years.  I would recommend them all.

I have tried not to overly research or overly examine each panel but to shoot from the hip about how each series made an impact on me at the time of reading.

Early Discovery.

I think that I really started to notice Bendis as a writer (let’s not forget that he sometimes draws) during his run on Sam and Twitch.  A comic that was essentially a 1990s spin off from Spawn.  It hit all the right post modern crime noir buttons.  I was on holiday and had run out of English language stuff to read when I found some S&T in the hotel lounge.  I still own them now.


Powers shows that it is possible to deconstruct the superhero genre without coming off as a cheap rate Watchmen.  It takes a pair of Detectives who are tasked to investigate crimes committed by the spandex community.  His work with Michael Oeming ( at first sight has a simplistic almost cartoonish quality.  Upon further examination it reveals a dark underbelly.  It swirls round in a Shieldesque conspiracy spiral.  The characters have often fatal flaws and are caught up in the darkness surrounding and reflecting from them.  Nobody has a simplistic past or future and we are left wondering who will be left standing at the conclusion of the arc.

Sure Powers at times is quite complicated.  To be fair it also reads better in trade.  But the stories whip along at a pace.  Bendis and Oeming (who is credited rightly so as co-creator) have stuck by the title as it changed companies and at times has had a slow release schedule.  It is in my opinion the gateway drug for Mr B and if you haven’t tried it perhaps you should (straightaway!).


To me Alias is the most groundbreaking comic that Mr Bendis has so far written.  It does not subvert the Marvel Universe as much as increase it’s depth.

It is the story of Jessica Jones who is operating as a Private Investigator after a failed attempt at Super heroine.  She is a strong female character (a common thread in Bendis’ work) who has suffered horribly at the hands of a super villain.  In fact the ‘never act like a victim’ storyline with the Purple Man is one of the strongest ever in comics. 

As a Marvel character you may be surprised at how she acts.  She has casual sex, she enters into unwise and doomed to fail professional and personal relationships that play out almost as story arcs.

The art duties on the series are carried out by Michael Gaydos.  The style on the story is almost a contradiction to the style of Powers.  It has a gritty realistic style to it that sets both pace and mood in a cool Tarantinoesque style.  Many of the conversational shots are seen almost from the view of the reader as an outsider prying on sometimes very personal details.

Marvel has always done the quiet moments well.  We care for the people who their writers have created.  Who can forget Shang-Chi’s meditations on life and love or Jarvis fussing about in Avengers Mansion.  Bendis uses this as both exploration of intention and sometimes even as well crafted (and crafty) storytelling devices.

The series actually only ran for twenty-eight issues but continued on in to The Pulse.  Bendis keeps the character alive and she is now married to Luke Cage and appears regularly in the Avengers titles.  She actually played a pivotal part in The Secret Invasion event a couple of years ago.

As a bit of shelf porn the hardbacks do look awesome!

Big Events.

As a point man at Marvel Comics Mr Bendis has written more than his share of big events for the company.  Have a look out for House of M,  Avengers Disassembled,  Secret War and Secret Invasion.  But what by far my favourite so far is the one he has finished most recently – Siege.

The mini series Siege puts an end cap on the Dark Reign event that ran throughout Marvels main titles for the previous year.  In a psychotically manipulated state the villain du jour Norman Osbourne decides to invade Asgard (which is currently hovering over some American small town).  To help he uses his Dark Avengers which include the equally mental Sentry.

This event never lets up.  Each issue has iconic moments.  (Who can forget the reflection of Captain America’s shield in Iron Patriot’s face plate, or the beating that Thor takes)  The shock factor is also very high. Unexpected death (Ares is literally torn apart by The Sentry).  Olivier Coipel outdoes himself on the art chores.  It has the feel of a Superhero war film crossed with Independence Day graphics.  Ares (who in many ways is the star of this storyline) rides a fighter plane into the glory of battle.  Stick that on a T-Shirt Marvel Comics!

This mini series also has much to say about the state of American news reporting.  We see Osbourne play power games with his image and the supposed righteousness of his place as the saviour of the human race after taking out the Skrull Queen before rising to prominence. The news has a realistic 24/7 quality with reporters and news anchors spinning stories depending on their own personal agendas.

Siege again resets the Marvel Universe and we head off towards The Heroic Age (which as I write is still rolling on and in many if not all ways fails to match Siege’s intensity).  Bendis remains in control of the Avengers comics franchise.  It is a credit to his writing that after the fall out of an event so world changing that he keeps the characters fresh and interesting (just have a look at what twist he is putting on the Simon Williams / Wonder Man character).

In Conclusion.

Mr Bendis continues to show an unrivalled loyalty to mainstream comics.  He gives his time and energies to the fan over and over.  (Seriously go have a listen to The Bendis Tapes on Wordballoon where he answers the questions of fans on his message board for hours on end).  He is a regular star of conventions and can be seen wandering the floor speaking to fans and remains incredibly approachable (I speak from experience).

He spins a web of stories that show real people and real motivations and feelings.  The language he uses simultaneously makes me laugh out loud on the train to work and feel the blow of surprise when a character meets a sticky end.  His exposition is often done in an imaginative way (check out the ‘Timeline’ in Avengers).  His style makes it seem that he is speaking directly to the reader in a style that draws from all the best Marvel traditions.

As a writer he has turned ‘C’ list characters into genuine leads of stories and comics.  Check out Luke Cage in The Avengers and Thunderbolts.  Or Spider-Woman in her own title.  Yet he continues to explore new areas of the older mainstay characters (Stark in particular has become one of my favourites).

I genuinely feel that the comics world would be a poorer place without the likes of Mr Bendis.  (Even if he never replied to any of my Twitter messages!!)

Sunday, 9 January 2011


Just a few thoughts about the current Comics internet handbags at 4pm drama.

It seems that every so often Alan Moore likes to shout from his Ivory Tower and tell the oh so fortunate comics world where they are going wrong.

Don’t get me wrong I am not a hater.  I have loved Mr Moore’s work since he made me laugh out loud on DR and Quinch in 2000AD.  His reworking of Captain Britain and Marvelman had me desperate for the next issue and I would scour local newsagents in West London on my bicycle.  Then I finally got to meet him on the stairs at UKCAC as a star struck 14 year old (fresh from a painful rebuff from Chris Claremont) and he was a gentleman.

Then Watchmen and Swamp Thing hit me square behind the eyes and I thought I was a fan for life.

But slowly my fan worship of Mr Moore began to slip away.  I was unconvinced with the ABC issues and the Supreme stories.  He began to vocally criticise comics companies and (although he may be entitled to do so) I began to wonder how wise he was to do this and why he needed to be so public about it.

He has since then inflicted us with his terrible music projects picking cheap laughs from Marvel and DC creations.  The almost unreadable Dodgen Logic and LXG: Black Dossier (to me a childish tantrum made into a hardback – bath scene? 3D? Different paper stock? Brown M and Ms?).  The less than impressive Lost Girls (still to this day the only Alan Moore book I have given up on because of it’s misguided premise and overall dullness, to me it was just a sleazy mess).

So what do we get now?  We get his flaring up at an industry through his own admissions he neither likes, takes part in or even reads.

He has publicly voiced his disappointment with Dave Gibbons because he forgot to call Alan up (is he on the phone?) and thank him on bended knee for the royalties to the Watchmen film.  He further sticks the mystical dagger in to Mr Gibbons over being a middle man for DC and approaching him about possible Watchmen prequels and sequels.  Let’s face it Mr Moore has an image that would lead you to believe that he is less than approachable in the first place.

Now we have the Jason Aaron situation.

Similar to Alan Moore I have followed the works of Jason Aaron.  I love Scalped and consider it to be one of the best books out there at the moment.  He has a rough edged freshness to his work that has a dirty south noir that fires ferociously out at the reader.  His Wolverine series is spot on in tone.  He is a good and solid writer who pulls me in to a story and does it from a new and thrilling angle.

Mr Aaron then goes on to the internet and expresses his disappointment in a hero.  I am sure that he is not the only professional out there feeling the same.  He has had support from the industry as well as criticism.  But I am left wondering if this is a healthy debate that we should be having.  However I must admit to agreeing wholeheartedly with his sentiments.

From my own personal perspective I feel that the time has come and that someone needs to tell Mr Moore  that there are those fans out there (myself included) who think that the comics we read have never been better.  They have built on what the likes of Moore and Miller started in the 1980s and have become one of the most relevant art forms out there. 

It is not the place of Mr Moore to tell us that we are wrong.  He is hardly involved anymore.  His output of recent has been nowhere near the quality of the 1980s.  His pompous attitude actually hurts my pride in the industry that is such a big part of my life.  Has he really been treated so badly?

The whole debate still rattles on in podcasts (11 o’clock  Comics I am looking at you), message boards and the like.  As with all these things I have left them to ferment and wind me up for a few days and leave me with a bad taste in my mouth.

However all it does do is leave me with a number of questions.

How much of current comics is Alan Moore reading?

Should Jason Aaron voice his disappointment in such a public (well for comics anyway) forum?

Should I be talking about it?

Is this helping the industry?

With wars, famine, floods and the Black Eyed Peas out there should us comic nerds get a life?

Perhaps what we should be saying is that Comics are fucking great.  Get out there and buy some. 

Let’s face it we could do with the numbers.