Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Stewart Lee, Alan Moore and Comics

That's not Stewart Lee with Alan Moore, it's my pal Mike.  He got to meet Moore and I didn't! Lucky git.  Photo by Rosie Reed Gold.
Stewart Lee is the best British comedian around today, FACT.  He's probably most famous for co-writing Jerry Springer the Opera but he's also a massive comics fan.  In fact he's even pitched ideas to Marvel, including one about the teenage years of Agatha Harkness that sounds awesome.  Five years ago he interviewed beardy comics legend Alan Moore for BBC Radio 4.  The interview can be found here on Lee's website.  Moore discusses his influences, how he got into comics and his various great works such as From Hell, Swamp Thing and V For Vendetta.  They also talk a great deal about superheroes and the various goofy aspects of Silver Age comics that first drew them to the medium.  Moore remembers Ace the Bat-Hound, "Batman's dog had a mask, in case any of the other dogs recognised him", while Lee fondly recalls the classic Legion of Superheroes story,  The Super Moby Dick of Space, much to Moore's amusement.  It's really fascinating stuff and very funny so I thought I'd share it here.

The interview can be heard by following this link.

There's also an unbroadcast snippet where Moore talks about Superman and Mort Weisinger and another where he discusses The Killing Joke.

I had a ticket to see Stewart Lee performing a few weeks ago but a family illness meant he was forced to cancel.  I'm looking forward to the rescheduled gig in March and I hope the family illness wasn't too serious.  Here's a clip of his comedic might from the ol' Tube of You.  It's NSFW with lots of swear words,

Listen out for the Marvel Comics reference....



And here's part two of that clip...

Thursday, 21 October 2010

YOU can vote for the next leader of The Legion of Superheroes!

DC Comics are giving fans a chance to vote for the next leader of the Legion of Superheroes! Here's what the DC Comics blog, The Source had to say about it...
LEGION’s esteemed writer Paul Levitz revives the traditional fan poll to elect the Legion’s leader—just as the Legionnaires themselves vote within the series. But it is the fan’s vote that counts, and not, say, Dawnstar’s (sorry, Dawny). Legion elections energize and empower readers in that they can directly participate in the direction of the series, and who knows, it might pique the interest of folks not yet reading the series. Where else can readers have direct interaction like this?
And the results can have some very interesting consequences. A reader poll throws us a potential creative curveball. I recall during the 1980s, the readership elected longtime Substitute Legionnaire Polar Boy—an unlikely turn of events, given the illusion that the Legionnaires themselves were voting. But Paul, who wrote the series at the time, just rolled with it and crafted some very clever and entertaining stories around it.
 Voting ends November 10, and the victor stands revealed in LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #8, hitting stores December 22 (a holiday treat for certain!).
Sadly my favourite Legionnaire, Matter Eater Lad, is not currently a member and so is not eligible (BOOOOO!), but there's still twenty five cool Legionnaires to choose from.   I had a bit of a hard time choosing who to vote for. After much consideration I narrowed it down to a final four. But which one should ultimately get my vote?

BRAINIAC 5


Brainiac 5 is the descendant of the original  Brainiac, a major Superman baddie.  His only power is his massive intelligence.  Brainy is probably my favourite Legionnaire, next to Matter Eater Lad, and my reasons for liking him are down to the same factors that would make him a very interesting leader.  Brainy's a hero, but he's also a complete arsehole.  While he's undoubtedly a super-genius and a valuable asset to the team, he's also extremely arrogant, incapable of admitting he's wrong and prone to occasional bouts of insanity.  For example, during a period when he was feeling particularly unappreciated by the rest of the Legion, Brainy created Omega, the gigantic physical embodiment of universal hate, in order to destroy the Universe.  I only wish I could do something similar every time I was feeling under appreciated at work.  Having an emotionally unstable super-genius as Legion leader could make for some interesting stories.


MON-EL


Mon-El is an alias of Lar Gand of the Planet Daxam.  He has all of Superman's powers but also a fatal weakness to lead.  I never used to see the point of him.  Superboy could do everything that he could so why did the Legion even need him?  My opinion was completely changed by Mon-El's stint as the lead character in Superman in 2008/2009 during the period that Superman was on New Krypton.  I thought that some aspects of the New Krypton arc were very enjoyable while others were not so great (Nightwing and Flamebird, I'm looking at you).  Mon-El's adventures definitely fell into the former category.  Reading about Mon-El living in Metropolis, making friends, losing his virginity and trying to fill Superman's shoes really made me warm to the guy.  But the biggest reason I think Mon-El might deserve a shot at being Legion Leader is that he's just so damn unlucky! Mon-El endured a thousand years of isolation in the Phantom Zone waiting for a cure for his fatal lead poisoning to be found. That's pretty bad for a start, but that's still not the worst thing that's ever happened to him.  While Mon-El was filling in for Superman during the New Krypton arc  he got kidnapped by the baddies and got experimented on by an evil super-intelligent gorilla scientist who seemed particularly keen on taking a scalpel to his balls!  Not only that, but currently in the Legion of Superheroes comic Mon-El's girlfriend has given him the elbow and appears to be shagging Earth Man, a fascist, xenophobic nutbar who's just joined the Legion.  After going through all that maybe Mon-El deserves a lucky break.



TYROC


Tyroc possess reality warping screams and is the only superhero of the dimension hopping island of Marzal.  For a futuristic team full of aliens, the Legion fared pretty badly on the whole ethnic diversity front during the first few years of their existence.  Amazingly, Jim Shooter had intended Ferro Lad to be the Legion's first black member in 1966, but the idea was vetoed by editor Mort Weisinger who feared that such a move would alienate readers in the Southern States!  And so it came to pass that Ferro Lad was killed off without ever having removed his mask and Tyroc eventually became the first black man to join the Legion.  Sadly he was was a white guy from the '70s idea of a black man and as such he bore little resemblance to anyone who has ever existed ever.  For one thing his home, Marzal, was an island inhabited completely by black people who had decided to separate themselves from the rest of the world.  When you consider Marzal along with Vathlo Island, the place where all the black Kryptonians lived, you have to wonder what the deal was with DC Comics and racially segregated Utopian societies?  The concept was so offensive that Mike Grell, the artist on the issue in which Tyroc first appeared, deliberately designed the most ridiculous costume he could for the character.  Hence the disco collar and silver medallions.  As a result of all this Tyroc hasn't been used much since the '70s.  That is until now.  Writer Paul Levitz has given Tyroc a much more prominent role than he's ever had before in the current Legion series.  It makes me wonder what Levitz has planned for the character and it would be intriguing if this seldom used character was suddenly thrust front and centre as Legion Leader.  Don't worry, he's been given a better costume.



GATES


Gates is a large, hoodie wearing insect with teleporting abilities.  He is also a socialist who views the Legion as inherently fascistic.  You can see where I'm going with this right?  I don't think the Legion's had a non-humanoid boss before and his socialist views and objections to the Legion's militaristic nature could mean some unusual methods of leadership.  Also, Gates was originally a member of a Legion from another dimension and has only recently joined "our" Legion.  As a result he is only familiar with alternate versions of his fellow Legionnaires and may not know the team as well as he thinks he does.  



In the end I voted for Brainiac 5, since he is my second favourite Legionnaire, but I believe any of the above characters as leader would make for stupendously interesting reading.  But what do you think?  Who would you vote for? Don't just think about it, go on over to legionelection.com and VOTE!  Let me know in the comments below who you voted for.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Three Comics That Shaped My Life

I've always disliked it when critics and bloggers describe a piece of pop culture as important. Once in a while a piece of work may come along that changes the way we think about a particular medium, but to dub that piece important just seems like pretentious hyperbole to me. For example, Revolver's a great album, but it hasn't cured any major diseases yet. And yet the following three comics are important, at least they are to me. I can honestly say that more than any other piece of pop culture, these three comics have helped to shape me into the person I am today.

The Beano #2354 (1987)




The 29th of August 1987 is a very important day for me. It's the day my old Nan bought her grizzling six year old grandchild the latest copy of The Beano in an effort to get him to shut up for five minutes. It was a gesture that was to begin a lifetime of comic collecting! The Beano introduced me to the joy of regularly following a comic and looking forward to 'comic day'. It also introduced me to the wonderful concept of a group of characters sharing their own universe. But more than anything else The Beano was very, very funny and helped to shape my sense of humour.

One of my favourite strips was Tom Paterson's Calamity James. James is the world's unluckiest boy. He is constantly followed around by his own personal rain cloud and each week finds himself the victim of some disaster or other. His only friend is his pet, Alexander Lemming, who is always looking for things to plummet from. The great thing about Calamity James wasn't just the bleak humour surrounding James' adventures but also the weird little things going on in the background of each panel that would usually go by unnoticed by the main characters. For example one panel might depict James stepping obliviously over bags of cash or gold bars while another panel might have a fly buzzing out of James' trousers carrying away his underpants. One of the best recurring background gags were the Little Squelchy Things. These were little blobs with faces that appeared in a variety of different guises, from Scottish Squelchy Things in tartan berets to cheeky Squelchy Things showing their bums.

The Beano 2316 (1986)


Calamity James wasn't the only Beano strip to display this unique humour however. There were jokes and situations that were just as surreal to be found in strips such as Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, Roger the Dodger and Baby-Face Finlayson (a baby dressed as a cowboy who would commit crimes in a motorised pram). I believe the following panel from The Bash St. Kids sums up everything I loved about The Beano more than anything else.



Many thanks to Zeg The Dalek and the members of The Beano Project for their help in tracking down my very first Beano.


Batman Monthly #1 (1988)




The following year my dear old Nan was once again forced to dip into her purse in order to silence her moany grandchild. This time her purchase opened my eyes to the wonderful world of superheroes! The first issue of Batman Monthly contained a reprint of the first two issues of The Untold Legend of The Batman a story that covered every detail of Batman's world. The origins of Batman, Robin, Alfred and a whole bunch of villains and supporting characters are found in this story and I absolutely loved it. It introduced me not only to superhero comics but also to the wonderful experience of laboriously poring over the backstories of fictional characters in a slightly obsessive manner.

It was quite a while however before I fully embraced the world of superheroes. My dad had a pile of old DC and Marvel comics that I'd always been too scared to read. I must confess that I was rather a sensitive/wimpy child. I once burst into uncontrollable tears of fear at a screening of The Shaggy D.A. on a wet afternoon in primary school. As a result of my sensitivity/wimpiness, I was always too scared to read my dad's comics for fear of seeing something that might upset me. I even taped the last few pages of Batman Monthly #1 together so I could read the issue without fear of seeing the images of Joker and Two-Face that lay at the end of the comic. The day soon came however when the love of the story overcame my fear and I cut the tape binding the these pages. Once I had confronted my fears I realised there was nothing to be scared of and it wasn't long before I was digging into my father's comics. A lifetime of superhero fun followed.

Two of the pages that frightened little ol' me

Batman Monthly #1 taught me that confronting my fears can lead to a world of wonderful experiences. Unfortunately only this week I read Garth Ennis' Crossed and learned that I was right to be scared. Comics are terrifying and traumatic and can leave you with scars that will never heal. Oh well.

Crossed #9 with art by Jacen Burrows

JLA: New World Order (1997)




It was ten years after my first Beano, and I'd drifted away from comics and superheroes somewhat. It was for a variety of a reasons. Firstly, there was a lot of crap out there. I'd never really been a fan of the whole Image Comics style over substance approach that was so influential back then. Even as a kid I wanted more from my comics than guns and pouches and boobs. The last trade paperback I'd bought had been DC's Zero Hour in 1994 and, as I've previously discussed on this blog, it had left me scratching my head in bewilderment. But it wasn't just comics that had turned bad. I had too. Like many young men in their teens I had transformed over night into a complete arsehole. Being generally unpleasant to people took up most of my day, leaving me little time to enjoy comics.

That was the case until the day I found myself with a bit of spare cash and bought a CD, Kula Shaker: K and Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's JLA: New World Order. Crispian Mills' opus has long since been donated to some charity shop where I imagine it probably still remains. New World Order on the other hand is still one of my favourite comics to this day.

In the mid-eighties DC began to populate the Justice League with second stringers such as Blue Beetle and Captain Atom rather than the big guys like Superman and Batman. Initially the exploits of the new line up were very entertaining but by the mid '90s the original writers, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis had left and characters like Nuklon, Bloodwynd and Triumph were roaming the halls of Justice League HQ. There was nothing really wrong with these characters and there were still some great stories to be told (Dan Jurgens run on Justice League America stands out as particularly good). However, none of it really felt like proper Justice League. I had grown up on my dad's copies of Satellite era JLA and by the time Zero Hour came out I was yearning for some big names to join the League.

That was exactly what Morrison gave us with New World Order, the return of the seven founding members, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter. Not only that but Morrison gave us the return of the 'punch-the-air-with-joy' moments that had long since disappeared from mainstream superhero comics. It seemed that everyone was so busy trying to copy the success of Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and Claremont and Lee's X-Men #1 back then that they'd forgotten that comics were occasionally supposed to be fun. New World Order seemed different. As I read Batman taking on a bunch of Martians, Flash defeating an evil speedster with a Flash-Fact and Superman inspiring the entire world to fight off a Martian invasion I was literally punching the air with excitement. I remember telling a friend at the time "I didn't know they made comics like this any more!"



After New World Order I was back into comics in a big way and have remained so ever since. This may sound a bit wanky but reading that comic was also the moment I began to remember who I was before the horrors of puberty and comprehensive school. I began to get further away from Paul the Teenage Bastard and closer to becoming the sort of person I wanted to be. I'm not saying I'd still be a git if I hadn't bought that comic, and I'm not saying that I'm a perfect, well adjusted person now. But reading New World Order was definitely the beginning of a period in which I did a lot of growing up. With this new found maturity came the realisation that being deliberately unpleasant to people is bad, comics are awesome and Kula Shaker are shit.


So what about you? What are the comics that have shaped your life? Leave a comment and let me know.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Director of Morrissey video to direct Superman movie!

Bleeding Cool have just made it known that Zack Snyder is directing the new Superman movie!  This is fantastic news.  Snyder is just what Superman needs.  While I'm a fan of Superman Returns there's no disputing its faults.  A Superman movie in the 21st Century has got to be more than just feelings and crystals.  In 1978 Richard Donner made us believe a man can fly, a modern Superman film has to do more than that.  Superhero movies are ten a penny these days, Superman should be taking the genre that one step further.  A modern Superman film should be showing us things we've never seen before.  I believe Snyder is the man to do this.

I'm basing this opinion mostly on 300 and WatchmenWatchmen definitely has its faults, mainly a script that contains far too much exposition and a godawful sex scene!  But these are balanced out with some great moments, such as the excellent opening montage and just about every scene Rorschach's in.  300 has a few morally dubious scenes, in fact it's fair to say that anyone who takes the film at anything other than face value is going straight to hell.  But who cares when a film is this much fun?! Watching 300 was one of the most fun movie experiences I've ever had.  Every single gory, homoerotic, over the top scene is just beautiful.

I usually refrain from using words like sumptuous to describe films for fear of sounding like a wanker, but it's a very appropriate word for Snyder's films and its exactly the quality that needs to be brought to a Superman film.  When I think of Superman Returns, despite some of the beautiful sets on display in the film, all I can bring to mind are the muted, dull colours of the Fortress, the muted, dull colours of Luthor's Island and the muted, dull colours of Superman's weird burgundy cape.  A Superman film needs to stand out and burn itself into your brain.  Superman's world is a world of robot duplicates, gorillas with laser vision, cube shaped planets and tyrant suns.  Superman has one foot in reality, the other in a '50s sci-fi wet dream.  Based on the look and feel of 300 and Watchmen, I think Snyder's the man to provide us with this vision.

There is however, one more reason that I'm thrilled with the decision to let Snyder direct the film.  In 1992, Zack Snyder directed the music video for Morrissey's Tomorrow.  He's directed the living music god that is MORRISSEY and now he's directing Superman! Sounds good to me!


Morrissey - Tomorrow
Uploaded by samithemenace. - Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more.

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