“Of Star-Gods And Sales Figures”: The Short-Lived Comic Books That Live Long In The Memory

Another Frenetic Excursion Through Bronze Age Awesomeness. 

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“Easy with that pig-sticker! You and your buddy ought to be more discreet about where you have spats…” – E. Hammond Preiss.

“Not quite a year ago, I composed a brief text feature on the letters page as an introduction and I’m writing what amounts to an epilogue.”

So wrote David Kraft, in an Editorial, snazzily titled: “Of Star-Gods And Sales Figures,” effectively announcing that this: Creatures On The Loose Featuring Man-Wolf #37 (June 1975), would be the final ish.

He explained how: “Sales, of course, are generally the deciding factor. But not totally.”

Apparently, despite “doing well on the newsstands,” it hadn’t been doing well enough. Kraft explained that granting J. Jonah Jameson’s hairy star-cursed son his own book was given “very serious consideration,” but at that time, Marvel had already laid extensive plans to launch a variety of new series.

Wonder if any of them reached the heights of Man-Wolf?

With Kraft‘s script and George Perez’s art, the final ish of Creatures On The Loose is a rip-roaring yarn.

It’s only fault?

Who knows if the savage progeny of the moon managed to land the spacecraft and save his friends on the last page…?

And now, we take a rare venture into DC territory – from Man-Wolf to Ironwolf – hey, get that symmetry!

“You’re no better than the Empress – you’re worse! At least she doesn’t hide her evil behind fine words and gracious hospitality!” – Ironwolf.

The tenth and final ish of DC’s Weird Worlds: Ironwolf #10 (November 1974), features an Editorial called: “Weird Words.” It states that despite being both a critical and commercial success, this title has to close – why?

“In a word: Ecology.

“For years, we’ve been publishing stories in the comics, warning of impending shortages of vital materials… The problem is real. One proof is that there will me no more Weird Worlds. We can’t get enough paper to publish it. Simple as that.”

Hmm… your correspondent is NOT convinced.

This “serious paper shortage” does not appear to have affected all the poor and underwhelming titles churned out – by both DC and Marvel, not to mention other indie publishing houses – during the intervening four decades (thus justifying my love and belief in Bronze Age books).

This particular ish – featuring Ironwolf: a sword-wielding adventurer in the John Carter of Mars mould – has lots to commend it, especially lively art by Howard Chaykin. The story is pleasing galactic fun, enticing enough to make me hunt down further ishs – there are only nine of them, so it shouldn’t be an extensve hunt…

“Fool! My defensive screens can easily neutralize your pathetic attack. Can you do as well against my ionic sword?” – Salia Petrie.

“She’s forcing me into a corner and if her sword punctures the copper foil skinsuit under my costume, I’ll age a thousand years in a second!” – Vance Astro.

The third selection in this eclectic mix also happens to be the final ish of a classic title unfairly terminated much too soon.

Three reasons drew me to Ms. Marvel: a woman as the central character; news of her own forthcoming movie; and perhaps the most obvious excuse: it was written by Chris Claremont – the same auteur responsible for making The Uncanny X-Men such a stupendous – and enduring – series.

After acquiring both impressive and disappointing mags in this series, this ish: #23 (April 1979) is one of the best in the series. Abducted by The Faceless One and taken to the space station known as Drydock, she finds Salia Petrie – a fellow NASA colleague whose mind is being controlled by the cosmic villain.

And there is a cameo appearance by Vance Astro, leader of the Guardians of the Galaxywho will be all the rage in cinemas again next month!

Actually, it is not that difficult to see why the fate of this particular series was sealed: apart from the constant change of artist – always not a good sign Carol Danvers’ drastic change in costume appears to have been a desperate misjudgment. Moreover, being terminated in 1979, alas, meant that female-led series still had a long way to go before achieving mainstream acceptance…

“You people kidnapped me, you seek to destroy our planet… Do you expect me to show you mercy? If so, forget it, fiends. There’s nothing I won’t do to stop you. Nothing!” – Dejah Thoris.

“I have never been one write letters to the editor. However, something has come up that I cannot let pass. Simply put, the termination of John Carter of Mars, Warlord of Mars is an injustice,” stated one disgruntled reader, printed in #26 (August 1979) – the penultimate ish.

On the strength of this exciting – and yet moving – mag, other copies have been sought this past few months. It was truly a great expedition when #7 (Decemper 1977) came into my possession, and at a reduced sale price too. A keen John Carter fan for most of my life, Marvel did a fine job on this series.

This particular ish just happens to be blessed with the pulsating pencils of Gil Kane. And its title: Dejah Thoris Lives promises a suitably feisty appearance by one of science-fantasy’s most iconic princesses. In the hands of that other exceptional Wolf: Marv Wolfman, this ish does not disappoint!

Again, it is such a shame that this brand of awesomeness was ultimately defeated by the crass excuse of “poor sales.”

1979 was one of my favourite years; and yet it seems to have been less than favourable as far as comic books are concerned…

“Awwright, ya flap-eared yahoos! Everybody git your tails inside an’ git them fishbowls off!” – Nick Fury.

Know you this: Nick Fury is one of my all-time fave Marvel characters. It has been an absolute pleasure tracking down the work of the legendary Jim Steranko, arguably the greatest artist to bring this deadly Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. to bold and wise-crackin’ life. You’d think that he would have no trouble saving an experimental title like What If? from the dreaded sales figures curse, but no…

Stan Lee presents: A Stunning Saga Of An Alternate Reality, indeed!

#14 (April 1979) boasts the incredible question: What If Sgt. Fury Had Fought WWII In Outer Space? On the morning of 7 December 1941, the Pearl space station is attacked by a squadron of “crummy Betan lizards.” Such a bizarre premise proved too irresistible; plotted by Gary Friedrich, drawn by Herb Trimpe – and narrated by The Watcher of course! – this special bumper-sized edition is certainly unputdownable stuff!

All the ishs featured here hold reserved places in my ever-expanding Bronze Age collection, although it is a shame that that it is their ephemeral nature that link them together. Ironically, the discontinuation of these titles has bolstered their value – not to mention made them more difficult to come by.

At the end of the day, sales figures proved to be far more effective at crushing heroes than any nefarious plan concocted by the most devious costumed supervillains.

Thankfully, David Kraft and George Perez were allowed to produce the two concluding episodes of the Star-God Saga in a couple of ishs of Marvel Premiere four years later.

Kraft ended that editorial in 1975 by stating: “Doing this series has been a lot of fun for all of us here, especially George and myself, and we hope that you’ve gotten some entertainment out of it along the way.

“We’re only sorry it had to end so soon.”

“I knew one of you super-creeps was responsible for this! Good or bad – you’re all the same…! You’ve got to be stamped out – no matter what the cost! And if J. Jonah Jameson has anything to say about it, you will be!” – J. Jonah Jameson.

 

From All-Star To Dawnstar: Recent Vintage Acquisitions Read And Reviewed

The Quest For Classic Comics Continues…

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“Silence, please, everyone! I’ve been a little worried about how to tell you this … but, in my identity as Carter Hall, I’m going to enlist in the US Army!” – Hawkman.

And with this bombshell, so begins “Never Step On A Feathered Serpent!” the fifth issue of All-Star Squadron, a title whose debut ish (in September 1981) – with its mix of of superheroes and World War II history developed into an unputdownable phenomenon in the Bradhouse. 

My only regret is that (apart from #10, ten years later), no further ishs could be found.

Staying in the UK on extended leave, belaboured over the bonce by the Mace of Nostalgia, yours truly set aside this Summer to finally track down those comic classics from the so-called “Bronze Age” that eluded me all those moons ago, as well as checking out previously unseen titles. 

Three months ago, perusing the back ish departments of some handy awemongers’ emporiums in London, the ball started rolling with the purchases of All-Star Squadron, #s 5 & 7.

Was it a good start?

  • Squadron scrambled, or brain scrambled?

Amazingly imagineered by the invincible creative team of Roy Thomas and Rich Buckler, its reserved status in my collection is well-assured! But equally astounded at how this ish could have slipped past my Radar of Ninth Metal back in the day…

#7 is equally compelling, with the introduction of the Nazi costumed super-villain: Baron Blitzkrieg! 

Already looking forward to snapping up further ishs of this great title!

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“I’ll have to hit-and-run – use my speed and Kree-training to counter his brute strength – and try to wear him down!” –  Ms. Marvel.

Ms. Marvel #15 (March 1978)

“Carol Danvers a woman who had it made – until the day radiation from an exploding alien machine gave her the skills and powers of a Kree Warrior, plus an uncanny Seventh Sense – transforming a human woman into… a heroine!”

With a proposed Ms. Marvel movie in the works, now would be a good time to catch up and get to know her – if anything, isn’t everyone curious to find out what radiation from an exploding alien machine does to you? Moreover, this Seventh Sense – it sounds groovy! – could we have some?

The woman with the Kree powers must battle Tiger Shark. This villain looks supercool on that dynamic cover (see above) and makes for a mighty antagonist inside.

The script is provided by Chris Claremont – always a big plus in my book! 

But when you consider the premise: woman in leotard is punched and has cars hurled at her by lunatic dressed as a shark… 

  • Marvelous, or Ms. Fire? 

Despite this dodgy premise, this ish is fab; the art by Mooney & DeZuniga is great, and there is a craving for more of this title.

Please note: his captive (who turns out to be the cousin of Namor – y’know: The Sub-Mariner!) is actually fully-clothed during the few panels in which she appears, so no fish-scale bikinis or strategically-placed hubcaps herein…

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“The thing is: that’s my Mom up there! What’s come over her since she won the Earth election?” – Colossal Boy. 

Legion of Super-Heroes was a title hugely enjoyed as a nipper. Now, an irresistible curiosity to find out what other ishs looked like spurred me on. #273 was the ish selected. 

Such characters as Wildfire and Tyroc were as cool as fudge, while others such as Bouncing Boy and Matter-Eater Lad(!) made the title unintentionally hilarious. 

One member of the Legion of Super-Heroes stood apart from the others: a graceful figure with a stunning pair of wings, her name was Dawnstar – or as her co-Legionnaire: the blond, green-skinned Brainiac 5 called her “Dawny.”

Hey, just be thankful this Post was not entitled Finding Dawny jeez, that sounds as corny as heck…!

  • So, Legend, or just leggo…?

What a swiz – she’s not in it! 

Undoubtedly, this is a compelling epic, bristling with drama!; intrigue!; the craziest super-cozzies you will ever see! And the story-line involving a revered Legionnaire framed for murder, wasn’t bad, but considering the immensity of the issue, and a high turn-out, where was the yellow, tassled one?

By the Black Nebula! It feels like your correspondent has been stood up…  

That other strong fave, Wildfire, barely got a look-in either.

Its been great to look at art not seen for 35 years – one or two other ishs will certainly be tracked down…

Even if it is just to see her again…

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“I am Gaius Tiberius Augustus Agrippa! I am power! – What kind of beings are you? Is all the world now the domain of monsters?” – 

During online research for comic art a few years back, my trail led to pages for an ish of Fantastic Four. Although not a fan of this so-called “World’s Greatest Comic,” both pen an’ pencilling duties for #241 (April 1982) belonged to the legendary John Byrne.

In “Render Unto Caesar,” S.H.I.E.L.D. has detected a mysterious power source emanating from the interior of Africa. With the aid of the Black Panther, the Fantastic Four go to investigate and discover – “Jupiter!” – a being, once a soldier in a distant outpost of Emperor Caligula. Almost two millennia ago, he stumbled upon alien technology to create a fabulous city, more splendid than the Roman Empire at its height.

He even neutralises the Fantastic Four’s superpowers. Irate at being selected to be his “Empress,” Sue Storm removes his golden helmet, only to find that- ha! Well, don’t let me spoil it for you! 

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  • Really Fantastic, or just a 4-letter word?

When this Summer of nostalgic comic-collecting set forth, a mental note was taken to look out especially for this one.

That priority was well-rewarded. 

Yes! Fantastic by name – undeniably fantastic by nature. With terrific guest-star appearances by Nick Fury and the Black Panther – two characters high on my Wanted list, this story: “Render Unto Caesar” is an absolute classic.  

Particularly enjoyed the amusing nod to Raiders (above), a light moment that presents its creator perfectly at the height of his enchanting powers.  

Feel the Byrne!

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“The X-Men would have trained me to use my mutant abilities more efficiently… If only I had joined them when I had the chance!” –  Dazzler.

Dr. Doom happened to be one of those characters sought after 30+ years ego, but never got him – could not find the relevant ish of the Fantastic Four that featured him.

Dazzler was a cult figure – “gifted” with the ability to convert sound into dazzling light – who got her own solo series.

The Monarch of Latveria guest-stars in #s 3 & 4. Ended up picking up the latter (it has a slightly more thrilling cover).

  • So, truly dazzling, or just dazzled off? 

Nah, this is not one of my better purchases.

The art by Frank Springer is good enough, but the prospect of a cutie mutie (…on frickin’ roller skates, fer cryin’ aht lowd!) never excited me even way back when yours truly was cute an’ supple enough to arse about with frickin’ roller skates. 

White flares are no match for a yellow, tassled cozzie. Any day… 

Good Grud, this is precisely the sort of infantile mag a chap of my age should not be bothering with – so will sell this on asap!

Hang on… 

If a character as lame as this could get her own series… and a popular fave such as Dr. Doom – or Dawnstar, for that matter! -couldn’t, well… 

Undeterred, my quest – delving further into the dense jungle of back issues – continues… 

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“This is one time… all the words in the Universe aren’t enough…” – Dazzler.

Voyage To The Bottom Of The Wardrobe!: Secrets Of The Bradscribe Comics Collection Revealed!

Some Time in The Future, Somewhere in Space:

An Earthship Careens Madly Through The Interstellar Void, Screaming At The Top Of Its Lungs Like A Lost Child. 

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“Excellent! Soon I shall be “rescued,” and my mission of sabotage against the fleshers shall begin” – The Skelon Astronaut. 

During every stay back in the UK, it’s always pleasant to seek out that box in the wardrobe – the one stashed away from the perils of light and dust.

In these dark and difficult times, it is gratifying to have something to fall back on – to escape into. And as writing about other, more mundane, subjects has brought little enjoyment, or success, this week, something therapeutic was called for… 

The first phase of my comic-collecting: 1979-1982 probably amounted to no more than 50 books – by all accounts a measly haul for a kid with such a voracious appetite for sci-fi action and adventure.

You may think that yours truly is a Marvel Man, but actually, the majority snapped up during those heady days were predominantly DC – such faves included Legion of Super-Heroes, All-Star Squadron and Dial “H” For Hero.

Just about all my comics were acquired at the news emporium on the concourse of London Victoria railway station, on the way home from Grandma’s gaff (but only during school holidays).

We had so little time before train departure, so snap decisions were the order of the day. My judgment was invariably hugely influenced by how wicked the cover looked. Primarily a team title rather than a solo title would be more economical, but if Legion of Super-Heroes – especially the Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes mini-series – was on display, that got snapped up instantly. 

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To this day, it’s beyond me why only one issue of Mystery In Space #116 (eerie and compelling outer space fare); Shogun Warriors #18 (actually the premise for Pacific Rim!); and Ghost Rider #52, which inspired me to draft my only (so far) screenplay focussing on a comic book character – came into my eager mitts, but then again, poor distribution played a regrettable part in these proceedings…

In addition, Mum was not so keen on me acquiring too many comics anyway. 

Speaking of cool covers, they mostly got cut out and compiled into a well wicked  (we never said “awesome” back in those days!) scrapbook (hey, does anyone still keep them these days?!) which subsequently, much to my dismay, “vanished without trace.”

Of the various interior pages and very few complete ishs to survive, here is a peek at a select few: 

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“My belt of gravity-resisting Ninth Metal can’t possibly halt that bomber’s plunge, but I’ve got to try!” – Hawkman. 

There is a fondness for a particular DC title that made its debut in 1981.

Can still remember finding the first issue of All-Star Squadron (dated September 1981) set in the alternative world of Earth-2, with its iconic cover.

That Fabulous First Issue ended up being my one remaining copy until picking up #10 during my second phase of collecting ten years later.

The Squadron itself was a superhero ensemble formed just prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. They are presented with the dilemma of disbanding the team so individual members can go and enlist in the armed services. Undoubtedly, the main attraction with this title was Hawkman, and the 40s detail which always looked amazing.

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No! Our orders are to destroy Herne and recover the medallion. That trinket is the key to our destruction. Stay… I will deal with Herne personally” – Algol The Terrible.

It was not all about DC and Marvel Comics. 

Alternatively, a regular pocket-sized book called: Starblazer – “Space Fiction Adventure In Pictures” appeared in the UK from 1979 onwards. Although acquiring only half a dozen of these, they were a welcome form of diversity at a time when SF comics were multiplying at such an unprecedented rate. With over 200 books, the title offered some of the finest writers and artists in the business until its demise in 1991).

For most fans of this obscure series, the first one bought happened to be the best. You really couldn’t get any better than Algol The Terrible, famous now for being one of the earliest weeks of acclaimed comics writer: Grant Morrison. 

Algol‘s appearance and actions were impressionable enough to guarantee him a place in my Top Villains Of All Time. 

And his gimmick? 

A stash of sonic javelins slung in a quiver across his back – a weapon so potent they “could vibrate any solid object apart.” 

Oh dear…

Standing defiantly against him was Herne The Outlaw, one of Starblazer’s very few recurring characters.

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“C’mon, Brad, quit bothering me. I said I don’t want to go out with you anymore” – Vicki Grant.

Last, but by no means least, it’s back to the endearing DC stable for Dial “H” For Hero (which appeared in several issues of Adventure Comics). 

Legion of Superheroes served me very well, so it’s such a shame that none of my copies survived. Issue 272 contained a Preview of Dial “H” For Hero; these particular pages have survived the cull, and are steeped in cosy nostalgia for me.

Based on a really cool idea, Vicki Grant and Chris King, two high school students, stumble upon a couple of strange lockets that, when activated, turn them into different superheroes (albeit only for one hour). This title appealed because of its innovative concept: different heroes (and villains!) were each created by a reader who had submitted their own ideas. In the panel where the good/bad guy/gal made their first appearance, that creator’s name, age and hometown were mentioned.

My particular fave was “The Silver Fog was created by Harlan Ellison, Age 46.” His dramatic, if unconventional, entrance on the splash page is lovingly reproduced for you below:

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Would have given anything to see my Danger Man recreated by the legendary Carmine Infantino, but that exceptionally high airmail fee dashed all my plans before they could get anywhere.

In case you were wondering where exceptional faves: ROM and Thor can be found, they will be getting their own Posts in due course… 

That wardrobe doesn’t store as many comics as one would have liked, but that box contains some of the most significant works sifted through on rainy days or sleepless nights down the years. Most importantly, these comics played a major role in influencing and shaping my own writing.

And yes, Brad always had a soft spot for Sunspot:

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Homecoming Scream!: Is Comic Book Movie Fatigue Setting In?!

Tell me, do you despair? You will… 

SPIDER-MAN AGAIN: Why?! How about Spider-Woman? After sex, the female spider EATS the male - who wouldn't pay good money to go watch THAT?!
SPIDER-MAN AGAIN: Why?! How about Spider-Woman? After sex, the female spider EATS the male – who wouldn’t pay good money to go watch THAT?!

“I’m not overly fond of what follows…” – Loki. 

Of all that’s sacred! Another one?! 

Still reeling with dismay from the announcement that the umpteenth Spider-Man movie is forging (or should that be spinning?) ahead, it’s even been given the title: Spider-Man: Homecoming. Now this is quite possibly the lamest tag EVER concocted; what a pun – alluding to Peter Parker’s high-school frolics as well as “coming home” to Marvel after enjoying box office success in the hands of Sony.  

Ahem, is there anyone celebrating this news?

Sure, the original Spider-Man movie with Tobey McGuire was an enjoyable outing. Good to see Sam Raimi on top of his game, but Willem Defoe as the Green Goblin stole the show and rightly so. When the inevitable Spider-Man II came out, it looked okay, but made me realise that there is more to life than sitting through sequels. By the time No. 3 came along, there was no incentive to go watch; many agreed – in fact, a universal arachnophobia had set in. And then for some ludicrous reason – which STILL  thwarts my investigative journalistic powers – with the dust barely settled on this non-starter, we were subjected to: the reboot. This time it was The Amazing Spider-Man. The obligatory Stan Lee cameo happened to be the only amazing aspect of this forgettable movie.

Sorry, Spidey, but Ant-Man was always more intriguing. Even when only seven years old – and in the prime of his comic-collecting duties – yours truly could never accept the Webslinger’s red and blue costume. Nah, Ant-Man had a cool helmet, and the ability to shrink to ant-size really appealed, especially as a viewing of Jack Arnold’s classic: The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) at around that time had thrilled my infant mind beyond measure. 

But press me on the issue (hypothetically of course) of an Ant-Man franchise and yours truly would have to respectfully decline. Don’t get me wrong, last year’s Ant-Man movie was like a dream come true, but, bearing in mind the wonders that can be achieved now with modern sfx, the exploits of the tiniest Avenger really don’t suit the big screen.

PANDA-BOY BEGINS!: What?! Neither DC nor Marvel publish a book called Panda-Boy?! Honestly, if you wanna job done properly...
PANDA-BOY BEGINS!: What?! Neither DC nor Marvel publish a book called Panda-Boy?! Honestly, if you wanna job done well…

“Never rub another man’s rhubarb” – The Joker.  

Initially, the prospect of a Suicide Sguad movie did not instill too much confidence in me. So we’ve never heard of them before, but such was the case with Guardians of the Galaxy, and look what an awesome bundle of fun that turned out to be…

The astonishing success of Deadpool in February showed that cinema-goers want something different… something fresh. Hell yeah, Sguad is so fresh, it’s got the Fresh Prince playing Deadshot who, admittedly, is the only member of this mental mob of misfits one can identify from the comics. It is difficult to tell whether this will be a smash or a mere cult hit – talk so far has centred mainly, (worryingly), on the music used in the trailers, rather than the sort of action on offer.

The big news is that this pic will feature an exhilarating new version of the Dark Knight’s archnemesis: the Joker, played -with tattooes?! – by Jared Leto. Personally, Heath Ledger’s performance as the Clown Prince of Crime seemed so fantastic and fearsome, that any subsequent portrayal would seem misguided.

If, however, that is Leto in the Panda-Boy disguise in the above pic, then sure – what the hell! – let’s have a butchers… 

In Squad We Trust? 

We can find out if these bad’uns do good from 5 August. 

SEARCH & DISTRAUGHT: Argo-Man scours the blogosphere in vain for any favourable reviews...
SEARCH & DISTRAUGHT: Argo-Man scours the blogosphere in vain for any favourable reviews…

“Next time they shine your light in the sky, don’t go to it. The Bat is dead, buried. Consider this mercy…” – Superman.

So, most critics and bloggers unanimously agree that DC’s initial entry of their own Cinematic Universe is just a Dawn of Just Ass. Honestly, how can a movie featuring the two most iconic superheroes EVER turn out to be SUCH a phenomenal FAIL?!

Believe me, as someone who collected both Superman and Batman comics as a kid, the thought of seeing them finally spar against each other in one epic blockbuster was overwhelming to say the least! (Given the choice who to root for, it would be very difficult for me to pick a side). Unfortunately, we read the somewhat underwhelming reactions from reviewers and bloggers alike…

One of the few warmly-received aspects of Batman v Superman (or BS for short) was Ben Affleck’s seemingly definitive portrayal of the Dark Knight. Fans are rejoicing at the prospect of another solo Batflick written/directed by Benaffleck – the very same fans who, incidentally, were cursing the casting director when news of Dawn of Justice broke…

If this is the Dawn we’ve all been waiting for, a lie-in has never seemed a sweeter option. And if this “dark and gritty” approach is what we should expect when the DC Cinematic Universe expands, then all does not bode well for a Justice League movie. As a Brit, Brad finds himself rooting instead for the imminent Captain America movie (a character he’ll never tire of watching!) – where’s the Justice in that?

Civil War (released on 6 May!) is shaping up to be another cracker, but personally, the build-up has been marred with a tad too much speculation as to whether – uh-huh, him again – Spidey would make an appearance… in the latest trailer…  

Couldn’t care less? You bet…

Ooh, but Brad! Did ya see that cool thing Spidey did with his eyes?

Yeah… so what?

My attention falls instead on Black Panther. His appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about time and would be most welcome. And a standalone Black Panther movie? Sure: a previously unseen character, and an exploration of diversity – why not? 

But PLEASE – for the love of cake – DON’T give us ANOTHER Spider-Man cameo!!

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“Are we done here?” – Steve Rogers. 

Be sure to join me next time for more cynical banter an’ japes! Same Brad time, same Brad channel. 

Komikaze!: The Cutting Edge Of Comic Book Culture

Is It Still Possible To Create Original Comics In The Age Of The Comic Book Movie Blockbuster?

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“Where once comics were summarily dismissed as light entertainment for adolescent boys, there are now comics for everyone by everyone. In many ways, there has never been a better time to read comics” – Eric Stephenson.

Konnichiwa, my comic-guzzling friends! 

This past week saw both the 80th Anniversary of The Phantom, the archetype for the costumed comic book superhero (created by Lee Falk), and the record gross for Deadpool, the latest Marvel character to get a solo outing on the big screen. So, a comics-related Post here seemed sorta inevitable.

It’s unbelievable now, but during the 1990s, comics looked to be on the way out.

No, really!

Video games were surging in popularity; an upcoming medium called “the internet” was predicted to transform our leisure time; indie comic stores were struggling to stay in operation: how would/could comic books survive?  

Fast forward to the here and very much geeky now.

More comic book titles than ever before are in regular production. Encouragingly, more original titles than reboots are appearing on the shelves. Movie producers eagerly scan the most popular titles to see what will make the most successful strip-to-screen conversion. 

Fortunately, my first phase of comic book-collecting (198o-1983) occurred at what most people considered the “right age” to immerse oneself in such products. With the emergence of “mature” titles during the 80s, the age range significantly increased. Nowadays, comic books are no longer the province of youths; guys in their 40s – even 50s – scour comic books. And no one bats an eyelid. 

When “analysts” state that it’s a “new kind of culture” they invariably tag on such annoying terms as “more free time” and “disposable income.” They overlook the inescapable truth that if modern twenty-(and thirty!)somethings do have an income, it is too darned miniscule to be disposable! Somehow, though, they are the demographic most likely to have made Deadpool the new record-breaker at the cinema.

“Merc With A Mouth,” eh? 

Well, Brad is a Bunny With A Bushido – ha, TOP THAT, juves!

What The Fiddle-Faddle?!

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“When I was at Marvel and our newsstand comics were on spinner racks that touted them as wholesome entertainment for kids, I wouldn’t allow profanity” – Jim Shooter.

Thankfully, this week saw the most-welcome return of childhood Marvel faves: Power Man and Iron Fist. Especially chortlesome is the ingenious way in which this series gets round the age-old swearing bug, as you can see above!

Perhaps the most heartening trend in this recent comic book popularity resurgence is the remarkable increase of female readers. As such characters as Gwenpool and Squirrel Girl – not to mention Jessica Jones – have clearly demonstrated, yes, it is quite possible to have popular – and original – female-orientated titles. 

Of course, there should be more to comic book creativity than just rad and contentious race/gender switching. As Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson mentioned at ComicsPRO’s AGM last week, the comic book industry is doomed to repeat the same old mistakes that brought Marvel Comics to the brink of bankruptcy twenty years ago:

“We’ve gone back to gimmicks, to variant covers and relaunches and reboots and more of the same old stunts disguised as events, when really all our readers want are good stories.”

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“Mortimer Hill is a veteran officer who has busted his fair share of criminals, but when mechanical monsters start causing trouble he’ll need to use all his wits (and brawn!) to get to the heart of the mystery” – all-comic.com 

Ah, the wonders of Steampunk! 

It’s amazing how this site has not done an appreciation piece about this unique genre much sooner. Trouble was, you could never tell the best place to start.

No worries: The Precinct – published by Dynamite – seems like quite an intriguing prospect worth pursuing. Through one major comics blog, its striking covers have regularly appeared on my Reader these past few weeks. In the sprawling, steampunk metropolis, only the officers of The Precinct can maintain law and order!

With so many new unknown names in the script and art depts these days, it is admittedly difficult to keep tabs on all of them. Some legendary names from yesteryear would be nice…

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“I find most superhero stories completely meaningless… So long as the industry is geared towards… the same brightly coloured characters doing the same thing forever – you’re never going to see any real growth” – Garth Ennis.

‘Allo, what’s this?!

These two names leap out at me – or anyone who savours comic book talent of the highest order. Garth Ennis is an award-winning writer, responsible for DC Vertigo’s The Preacher, and the best issues of Hellblazer (John Constantine’s solo series) during the ’90s; the name of Carlos Ezquerra, meanwhile, will always be synonymous with Strontium Dog, one of the best stories to appear in legendary, ongoing British comic: 2000AD. 

Published by Image Comics, Bloody Mary – “set in a world only slightly worse than our own” –  looks like those far-out comics me and me mates used to dig during school lunchtime. It’s due to hit the stands next week.

Come on! 

Mary Malone, a gun-totin’ nun: surely not your run-of-the-mill fiddle-faddle?!  

SandmanOverture_DeluxeEditionHardcover_1435241790

“Home. It feels so good to be back… I left a monarch. Yet I return naked, alone… Hungry. Weakened, I clutch a passing dream…” – The Sandman. 

If anything, my second phase of comic book-collecting (1989-1994) was motivated primarily by the release of Neil Gaiman’s classic, game-changing title: The Sandman: Master of Dreams. Alternating between enchanting and unsettling, but always inspirational, this title – along with Swamp Thing and Hellblazer – helped establish a darker, more mature, more sophisticated side to the medium.

To celebrate its 25th Anniversary, Gaiman agreed to return to his outstanding realm of dreams. That classic premier issue (dated January 1989) told how, in 1916, a British magician: Roderick Burgess intended to entrap Death, but instead caught Dream, her little brother. Sandman: Overture is a Prequel, chronicling the events that led to this complicated member of the Endless getting into that predicament. 

Originally released in 2013 as a six-part miniseries, with particularly sumptuous artwork by J. H. Williams III, it was published as a complete graphic novel just in time for this Christmas just gone.

It would take a real sourpuss knick-knack-paddy-whack not to be impressed by this!

Couldn’t let you go without slipping in just one page of awesomeness: 

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As you can see from the striking image above, it is imperative that this mesmerising book gets – by hook or by crook – into my collection. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman really is the pinnacle of graphic magic.

Any Collector would want it to grace their shelves, because – quite simply – it is:

beautiful

Batshit Crazy: What A Week In The DC Extended Universe!

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly In The DC Pipeline. 

THE UNUSUAL SUSPECTS?: "We want Justice, an' we wan' it now!"
THE UNUSUAL SUSPECTS?: “We want Justice, an’ we wan’ it now!”

“That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men… cruel” -Alfred Pennyworth.  

Most of you who frequent this site will have noticed that Brad has been a huge comics fan, and continues to be an avid follower of comic book movies. Overjoyed at the recent thrilling developments from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it almost seemed like sheer folly for DC Comics to weigh in with their own equally immense big screen projects.

While Marvel reigns supreme at the box office, DC would seem to be quite content to have their Arrow and Flash (and the imminent Legends of Tomorrow) shows dominate TV ratings. Yet as Chris Nolan’s outstanding Dark Knight trilogy showed, DC Films are prepared to put up one helluva fight. 

Yes, there is a part of me yearning to find out how DC will show off their Extended Universe. After all, despite my “Make Mine Marvel” chants, rummage through my comic collection atop my wardrobe/TARDIS and you will discover that a decent 65% of them are DC titles (dating between 1980-1993 for those of you taking notes).

This week, we finally got tasters as to what DC/Warner endeavour to unleash. Last Tuesday night, a TV special: DC Films Presents: Dawn of the Justice League on The CW showcased some of DC’s current movie developments, including an exclusive trailer for August’s Suicide Squad, plus new footage of next summer’s Wonder Woman movie.

Tell me: do you geek? You will… 

FISH AN' QUIPS: "Oh water day! Water lovely day! (Now you're just being silly...)
FISH AN’ QUIPS: “Oh water day! Water lovely day! (Now you’re just being silly…)

“The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world: Son of Krypton versus Bat of Gotham!” – Lex Luthor.  

Ta-da! First up is Batffleck vs. Superhenry: Clash Of The Capes. Sorry, but seriously, Dawn of Justice just looks like such a perilous venture. Placing DC’s two most box-office-friendly heroes in the same blockbuster has all the hallmarks of safe bet – even desperation – written all over it. 

Show some guts, DC!

If Marvel Studios can gamble with such risky, obscure material as Guardians Of The Galaxy, then surely you can give Matter-Eater Lad his own big screen adventure at last! Can’t you…? 

From what we can gather so far, Dawn of Justice looks too dark and too bleak… please, the last time this “style” was done we were lumbered with Fantastic frickin’ Four – and see how badly that pap turned out!

The news that Ben Affleck had been chosen to play the Caped Crusader didn’t trouble me at all, although plenty of diehard fans predictably vented their spleen over the matter. What is really disconcerting is the casting of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. An evil mastermind?! Ha, our cat looks more menacing than him. Unable to work out what the casting director saw in such an inexplicable choice…

Rather than paste the same old Bat-pics, here (above) is Jason Momoa, simply stunning as The Dothraki Waterboy Aquaman, who hopefully – for me – will help make Dawn of Justice a more intriguing spectacle – he’s easily its second-best aspect. 

The top attraction, of course, being the – long-awaited! Let’s not let that lie!! – big screen debut of Wonder Woman, which should make this outing more worth our while.

Just for you, here’s the trailer:

IN SQUAD WE TRUST?: A bunch of cool cats. And Will Smith. Hey! Who's that reptilian dude on the right? Possibly my fave Squad member already...
IN SQUAD WE TRUST?: A bunch of cool cats. And Will Smith. Hey! Who’s that reptilian dude on the right? Possibly my fave Squad member already…
DADDY'S LIL MONSTER?: My Daddy warned me about lil monsters like you, lov...
DADDY’S LIL MONSTER?: My Daddy warned me about lil monsters like you, lov…

“Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you people?” – Rick Flagg.  

If DC’s behemoth in March does regrettably turn out to be the “Yawn of Justice,” then how about Suicide Squad?

When news of a Suicide Squad movie broke, my inner geek – whatever that is – shouted yippee!… until realising yours truly had been thinking of Doom Patrol, a totally different – and a whole lot weirder – ensemble brought to us once upon a time by the exceptionally talented Grant Morrison. 

The general consensus is that this trailer is outstanding, but being subjected to this concept, and these characters, for the first time, awash with grungy style and zero substance, it fails to amaze me… yet. Nice use of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody though. 

Jared Leto’s Joker – notice how Joker-free the pics department is here – seems to be just as misguided a casting choice as Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. Trying to follow in the (purple) wake of Heath Ledger’s arguably definitive portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime is either brave or foolish. 

Suicide Squad appears clearly aimed at the teenage boys Sucker Punch market, apparently, blatantly, disregarding the ever-growing number of female comic readers out there.

Worst? Heroes. Ever? Yep, can’t argue with that… 

All in all, a Doom Patrol movie – would have been preferable… 

AMAZON STORIES: The Wonder of you...
AMAZON STORIES: The Wonder of you…

“The greatest thing about Wonder Woman is how good and kind and loving she is, yet none of that negates any of her power” – Patty Jenkins. 

So, if Dawn of Justice feels bad, and Suicide Squad looks, well, ugly, was there anything good to come from DC this week?

Well, yes, just the most iconic superheroine of all time! 

Arguably the most intriguing news from the DC Extended Universe’s trawl of exclusive thrill-power was the first footage from the star n’ striped Amazon in her own solo movie, set for release in June 2017.

When the first image of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in her patriotic… chocolate-brown(?!) combo first adorned the worldwide web, my heart sank. Honestly, she looked like a Xena: Warrior Pincess cosplayer. And a third-rate Xena: Warrior Princess cosplayer at that.

My initial hopes for the movie were not high, but when this pic (below) was released a few months ago, the project starting to look quite intriguing. Then this actual footage was shown last Tuesday, and the movie now looks far more encouraging. It revealed Wonder Woman’s dexterity with a sword in typical 300-style slo-mo action; the Amazon riding on horseback; and – most interestingly – in her guise as Diana Prince, but during the First World War, and not the Second as traditionally told in the original comics.

Of course it’s still too early, but with this project at least, it looks as though DC/Warner finally know what they’re doing. 

Gal_Gadot

Superman: “Is she with you?”

Batman: “I thought she was with you.”

comments

“Everything Is Blue”: A Celebration Of One Of The UK’s Finest Writers

Sophisticated Suspense.

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“Why shouldn’t you have a bit of fun while dealing with the deepest issues of the mind?” – Alan Moore.  

“My killers dislocated my electroskeleton…

Bent the clear note of my being out of pitch…

Out of harmony with the earth…

Barred from my planet’s emerald heart…

And unwilling to burn…

The turquoise ferns and duck-egg pebbles…

The aquarium light filtering through clouds of bleached cobalt…

“Everything is blue.”

Seeing as it’s his birthday today, this Post has been set aside to honour Alan Moore, acclaimed creator of such classic comic literature as Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,  From Hell and V For Vendetta; we shall focus instead on Swamp Thing, because that is where my startled discovery of his great talent was made.

Originally created as a simple eight-page modern gothic tear-jerker by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson for House of Secrets #92, in 1972, scientist Alex Olsen was “killed” in a chemical explosion, his flaming body hurling into the bayou, only to be soon resurrected as a mossy and morose muck-monster. 

Each edition of Moore’s Swamp Thing offered individual brilliance, but for me, none more so than Issue 56 (dated Jan 87).

Can remember reading this one for the first time; entitled: “My Blue Heaven” it was more a case of bewilderment, than being gobsmacked. Rather than displaying the traditional lurid coloured inks of say, Superman or Wonder Woman, this particular issue told a unique story utilising an ingenious monochromatic technique, adding instant mood and atmosphereevery panel was blue. 

Didn’t know what to make of it initially, but one thing was clear: here in my hands lay an example of a drastically different form of graphic art, and all my comic-reading years had never prepared my senses to savour a script quite like this. 

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Happy Birthday To The Wonderful Wizard of Northampton!

Moore, Veitch, Alcala - Swamp Thing, My Blue Heaven

“Forever.

I will spend forever here…

An immortal wandering endlessly towards eternity…

Across a monochrome landscape…

One color, ome word.

So many shades…

The color of saxophones at dusk…

Of orbiting police lights smeared across tenement windows…

Of loneliness…

Of melancholy.

The blues.”

When planning a movie adaptation of Watchmen, Terry Gilliam (who Moore revealed would have been an excellent choice to direct a Watchmen movie) asked: “How would you make a film of Watchmen?” 

“Well, frankly,” Moore replied, “If anyone had bothered to consult me, I would have said ‘I wouldn’t’.”

Moore had written Watchmen expressly to explore the possibilities of the comic book medium, utilising narrative devices that deliberately set out to be unfilmable. So with this title, Moore could really experiment with ways in which a superior sophisticated graphic novel could be presented.

What Moore could you want? Who better than the beloved bewhiskered Brit to take this tragic figure but present him optimistically as a creator of his own realm?

Instead of wallowing in loneliness, the Thing creates his own doppelganger: “manipulating… two sets of muscles… I stand and walk toward myself… We touch… marveling to find not the cold hardness of mirror glass… but another palm, cool and dry.” 

Thus unfolded a dream-like narrativestrange: most certainly; compelling reading: oh yes…

And for company, he (re)creates Abby, his long-lost love:

“…As the flowers blossom… in a pale mane from her scalp… I am breathless. 

“Oh, she is beautiful… and I am lost.”

Blue

“We kiss… then kiss again…

Embracing, we sink to our knees,

Through the dreamlike phosphorescence…

Of air too rich in rare gasses, 

We tumble… a kinetic progression…

Of stop-motion glimpses…

Sensual and inevitable in their sequence…

A blue movie.” 

Swamp Thing helped pave the way for DC Comics to handle more mature topics in an increasing number of titles specifically aimed at a much older readership. Amidst other bold and brilliant titles branded as: “Suggested For Mature Readers,” Swamp Thing did his own distinct and bizarre thing on a monthly basis.

For four years, Moore took this unlikely titular vegetable hero and revealed it to be just a tragic “shambling mound of foliage” that has merely acquired the consciousness of the dead scientist (now referred to as Alec Holland). This inspired the kind of extended, positively surreal, character study that Moore relishes.

Ultimately, the Swamp Thing must banish all thought of ever having been human in the first place, let alone trying to devise the bio-restorative formula to regain that glimmer of humanity. Thus, the creature must – over several episodes – contemplate not only the worthlessness of its existence, but decide what it should do with itself from then on.

Where else could you find a comic book where the central character foregoes living and merges with the mass-psyche of the earth itself, becoming a vegetable in all senses of the word?

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constantinea

“Like blue bile…

The scream floods from my throat…

And I turn and run…

Past cars that are gradually losing their shapes to the rain…

“I try… to hold the world together in my mind… 

“But it slithers from a grasp… made slippery by sap…

In despair… I let it die…

I let the buildings unravel…

And the children fall dead in the streets…

I stop the hearts… of the perspiring old men…

I kill the world.

Blue murder.” 

John Constantine, the British occult mage/annoying smartass – whose character would about to be considerably expanded in his own highly successful, critically-acclaimed ongoing series called Hellblazer – made his debut in The Saga of The Swamp Thing #37. 

Here, he makes another distinctive cameo appearance – as this is Swamp Thing’s own dreamworld, so John is nothing more than an illusion, but still offering an annoying supporting role! Odd, yet compelling material. 

Finally, as this Post comes to it’s end, so we reach the final lines of Moore’s classic script:

“I leave… the world that I have made… behind me…

It shall remain here…

As a decayed monument… to the pain… of sundered romance… 

A bitter love letter… left tear-stained and crumpled…

In the obscure corner… of the universe…  

abby

“A blue valentine.”