Sunday, 21 June 2015

DC Comics' Kevin Dooley VS The W.E.T.R.A.T.S

DC Comics and Marvel Comics are currently putting their characters through quite a few changes. Captain America is black, Thor is a girl and the Marvel Universe has been completely destroyed, save for a single "Battleworld" on which alternate versions of Marvel's Heroes & Villains battle for dominance. Meanwhile over at DC, Superman's secret identity has been revealed by Lois Lane, Commissioner Gordon is Batman and Wonder Woman has pointy bits on her bracelets! Online fans have been divided once again between those who cry "This character has changed too much, it's all ruined!" and those who cry "What's the point, it's just going to change back to the status quo?!"

For the most part I'm enjoying the ride, although I have had the odd fanboy moan over the cancellation of Fantastic Four. It's amusing to see fans, some of whom are older than me and should know better, acting as if this is the first time the Big Two have monkeyed around with their characters in order to shift a few extra comics.

In the early 90s Superman was killed and Batman had his back broken, and it all ended up being quite a money spinner for DC. DC sought to repeat this success in a number of ways, for example Green Lantern went evil and was replaced by a younger model, while Aquaman had his hand chewed off by piranhas. The editor in charge of the changes to GL and Aquaman was a man named Kevin Dooley. Dooley apparently got sick of the constant complaints he was receiving from hardcore fanboys and eventually, in the letter column of Aquaman #0 (Oct, 1994) he let rip. His infamous WETRATS rant is still bitched about on message boards to this day, but I have to say, I completely agree with him. Most of what he said can easily be applied to today's fans and today's comics. The only difference is that many of today's fans are moaning because comics aren't more like they were in the '90s!

Here for your enjoyment is Kevin Dooley's WETRATS rant (I've highlighted the bits I thought were particularly relevant today).

What do you think? Are you a WETRAT?

Intro to Letters Page - Part 1

Intro to Letters Page - Part 2

Reply to letter

Reply to letter

Reply to letter

Closing column - Part One 
Closing column - Part Two

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Doctor Who and the Greatest Brian Blessed Anecdote Ever

My great pal Madeley and I were reminiscing on Twitter yesterday about one of our favourite Doctor Who related anecdotes so I thought I'd dig it out and share it with the world. In 2002/2003 Doctor Who Magazine (issues #321-325) ran a huge Colin Baker interview in which the magnificent Sixth Doctor reminisced about his life, his career, and his time on Doctor Who. It's an extremely candid interview in which Colin Baker comes across as a warm and witty man with a great love for the programme. It's full of brilliant anecdotes but this one about the mighty Brian Blessed (who played King Yrcanos in Trial of a Timelord) is definitely one of the best.

If you're a Who fan I recommend tracking these issues down on ebay. It's a fantastic interview.

On a personal note, later in 2003 I met Colin Baker when some friends and I hung around in the bar of St David's Hall in Cardiff after watching him perform in a production of HMS Pinafore. We told him we enjoyed the performance and he asked if we were music students. We apologetically told him we were Doctor Who fans and he reassured us, "That's ok, you're allowed to exist." He then signed autographs for us and enthused about Doctor Who's return, which had just been announced a few months previously.

He remains my favourite Doctor.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The Best of DC Comics' New 52

Since the New 52 is officially over today here's a list of my favourite titles released under that banner. You should definitely read them all!

Grant Morrison's Action Comics

Just imagine Grant Morrison's mind-bending cosmic concepts done in the style of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's fast paced, kinda rushed, two-fisted, angry, joyful, passionate, early Superman strips. Well you don't have to imagine it 'cos it's all in the first 19 issues of the New 52 Action Comics!

The first 8 issues, Superman & the Men of Steel. Superman laughs at danger, dangles corruption of a roof and then takes a running jump into space to punch evil in the face.

Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo's Batman

Simply phenomenal comics. Snyder and Capullo find brand new things to say about a 75+ year old icon, and brand new ways of saying it too. Up there with Miller, O'Neil & Adams, Grant & Breyfogle, Englehart & Rogers, and all the legends of Bat-history.

Zero Year. Writing a new origin for the character was a brave move considering how beloved Frank Miller's Year One is, but Snyder and Capullo gave us an epic tale chock full of imagery that's destined to become just as iconic and revered as Miller's work.

Geoff Johns' Justice League

I can understand why the first year of this book wasn't everyone's cup of tea, even though I loved it. The first story arc, Origin,  is a big dumb punch-up, while the second arc, The Villain's Journey is quite dark. But in the second year artist Ivan Reis came on board, the Throne of Atlantis crossover began and Justice League became more of a place for the punch-the-air superheroics that made Geoff Johns famous. This book has made a Cyborg fan out of me and issues 28 & 29 will make the Metal Men your new favourite characters.

When a superhero comic crosses over with another title the results can often be messy and inconsistent. But Throne of Atlantis, a crossover with Aquaman, is exciting, consistent and coherent, and thanks to Ivan Reis and Paul Pelletier, it looks amazing. Trinity War, a crossover with Justice League Dark and Justice League of America isn't quite as successful, but it contains one of the greatest reveals of a spy in the heroes midst in the history of comics. The subsequent event that spun out of the events of Trinity War, Forever Evil, is one of the greatest Lex Luthor stories ever told.

Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul's The Flash

Whenever people have bemoaned the darkness and lack of traditional superheroics in the New 52 my reaction has always been to tear my hair out and scream "BUT WHAT ABOUT FLASH!!?? READ FLASH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!!" There's not a speck of grim or grit on Barry Allen, he's still a straight up, decent, honourable, super-goddamn-hero getting up to traditional super-heroics. If he's not vibrating a crashing plane safely through a bridge he's posing for photos for a grateful public. This book was also one of the most beautiful looking comics on the stands. Manapul was always finding inventive ways of showing Barry's powers that always enhanced the story and were never distracting or clever-for-the-sake-of-clever. Buccellato and Manapul's Flash was just pure fun.

The first arc, Move Forward, introduced Mob Rule, a new character with a really original power that made him a perfect Flash baddie. Later there came the Reverse arc which introduced a brand new Reverse Flash with a compelling new origin that tied him to Barry's sometimes love interest, Iris West.

Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's Wonder Woman

Azzarello made great use of Wonder Woman's ties to Greek Mythology during his run. But rather than trot out the old beardy-men-on-clouds cliches, he and artist Cliff Chiang gave us inventive, modern twists on the Greek Pantheon, while at the same time really playing up the dysfunctional family aspect of the mythology. They also played up Wonder Woman's warrior side, while simultaneously keeping her compassion and capacity for love front and centre. Add to this some gorgeous art, a shocking new origin, and the funnest version of Orion of the New Gods ever, and you've got one great comic.

During the second arc, Guts,  Wonder Woman is shot with Eros' pistols and betrothed to Hades, god of the Underworld. The reason for her subsequent escape is one the greatest WW character moments ever.
"I love everyone."

China MiƩville's Dial H

This title had a ton of mind-bending concepts and crazy, imaginative superhero parodies, but it was all grounded by two relatable and thoroughly likeable lead characters. The unlikely relationship between Nelson Jent and Roxie Hodder is as much fun to read about as the weird identities they dial up.

Cock-a-Hoop! Definitely Cock-a-Hoop! With the fate of the world at stake, Nelson Jent battles a gigantic, man shaped, sentient void, armed only with the powers of a hula-hoop with a rooster head.

Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino's Green Arrow

Oliver Queen is a character who has been portrayed at various times as a Batman rip-off, an angry hippie, and a middle aged activist. Perhaps as a result of the power and resonance of these versions of the character the title initially floundered a bit as writers struggled to find an appropriate voice for a youthful, New 52-ified Green Arrow. But then, starting with issue 17, Jeff Lemire began to establish a distinctive new status quo for the character as he introduced the mysterious Outsiders; several clans of warriors, each masters of a different weapon. He also began to explore Ollie's reasons for being on the island where he mastered the bow and arrow. There are undoubtedly nods to Mike Grell's famous Green Arrow run from the '80s, and the recent Arrow TV series, but Lemire has built a brand new mythology that fits the character like a glove. Andrea Sorrentino added to the distinctiveness by giving us some artwork that looked like no other superhero book on the shelves. Hopefully their work should serve as inspiration for subsequent writers for a long time to come.

Lemire's first arc is one of the most powerful opening storylines of any run. The status quo established in the previous 16 issues is torn apart piece by piece as Ollie is stripped of his money and gadgets and left with only his wits and a handful of arrows.

The New 52 offered a lot more great comics, including:

Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder's Action Comics
Geoff Johns' Aquaman
Greg Pak's Batman/Superman
Batman Eternal
Adam Glass' Suicide Squad
James Robinson and Nicola Scott's Earth 2
Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman's Animal Man
Grant Morrison's Multiversity
Scott Snyder and Jim Lee's Superman Unchained
Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr's Superman.

The New 52 also had a lot of major flaws (see here). But Morrison's Action Comics, Snyder & Capullo's Batman, Johns' Justice League, Buccellato and Manapul's The Flash, Azzarello and Chiang's Wonder Woman,  MiĆ©ville's Dial H, and Lemire and Sorrentino's Green Arrow are some of my favourite comics ever, so I'll always be grateful to the New 52 for them.

What were your favourite New 52 comics?

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (1940s Style)

I made a 1940s style Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer starring Kirk Alyn & Lewis Wilson. The clips are from Columbia Pictures' 1943 Batman serial and their 1948 Superman serial. It was inspired by Bobby Burns' retro style Batman v Superman trailer.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Arguing about Superman with a Comics Writer

I had an interesting exchange with a comics creator on Twitter last night and it made me realise exactly why I can some times be over-sensitive when it comes to debates involving the greatest superhero ever, Superman.

(I've obscured the identity of the creator because I don't want this to come across like I'm attacking him or settling scores on my blog. I'm a great admirer of his work and I have a lot of respect for him. I'm really just writing this to discuss my own feelings as a Superman fan. It's pretty easy to figure out who he is though.)

The trailer for the new Supergirl series was released last night and it looked pretty amazing. My excitement turned to dismay however when I realised that people on Twitter were already comparing it to the last Superman movie, Man of Steel. I wanted to express my irritation at the fact that fans can't seem to celebrate one thing without simultaneously tearing something else down. The best example of such a tweet came from the aforementioned creator so I screengrabbed it but obscured his name as I wanted to ensure it came across as a general moan about fans rather than a specific attack against him.

His name was subsequently mentioned by a friend in a reply and the creator found our conversation, presumably by searching his own name.  The following exchange occurred:

As you can see, it's a good natured exchange, although I must confess I was left a little irritated by it. It did however help me to put into words why I'm usually left irritated by such exchanges.

I consider myself a pretty big Superman fan. I'm more than a little obsessed with the character. I also, as you may have guessed, loved Man of Steel and felt that it was a perfectly valid interpretation of the character. I'm not going to go into the reasons why I feel it's valid here as that's a discussion for another day but many of them can be found here and here.

Now you may not like Man of Steel and of course that's absolutely fine and dandy with me. After all, I didn't make it, what do I care? But I can't help but feel frustrated when other fans dismiss it as "not the real Superman" and "against the core of the character". It's doubly frustrating when they do so because of some narrow and arbitrary idea of "brightness" and "hopefulness". Personally I found plenty of brightness and hope in Man of Steel, but as I said, that's a discussion for another day.

If you don't like a particular interpretation of a character, fine, but please understand that it's frustrating as a fan to be told that a character interpretation that I'm very fond is "wrong". It's a condescending attitude for a fan to have. It turns fandom into some kind of pissing contest. "You'd realise this interpretation of Superman was wrong if you were only as big a fan as I am." Obviously it's not the worst problem in the world (we are just talking about comics and movies and superheroes here) but it's irritating to be constantly told that you don't understand what makes something you love great. To be constantly told you're getting 'being a fan' wrong. And it's particularly irritating when you want to celebrate something really cool involving that thing you love (in this case, Supergirl), but other fans can't seem to celebrate it without pissing on something else you love.

Let's face it, the "real" Superman has been many things. Let's not turn being a fan of him into a competition.


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