Monday, 24 October 2011

And There's More

Part Two of what looks like becoming a three or possibly four part catch-up on all that’s new and groovy in the wonderful world of comicbooks (it says here) continues last post’s look at DC’s New 52, of which I could be bothered with twelve (‘twelve’ is a wonderful number, don’t you think? Always looks better written as a word than as figures, has a lovely sound to it, looks quite ravishing as well). 


I may be alone in thinking that JH Williams 111 is a slightly over-rated artist. I think the same of Alex Ross, who brought a few painting techniques from commercial art to comics and was hailed a god, but whose photo-realistic work I feel detracts from the necessarily faux-kinetic nature of the form. Wrinkly costumes do not a dynamic figure make. And don’t start me on his creepy man-child Captain Marvel.

Williams 111 has finally given us his much-delayed Batwoman series; it’s been one of the most anticipated and most demanded of the 52, selling out in a matter of hours at the shop and going into several (all right, three) printings. Some of this can be put down to the general 52 hype, some of it to the book’s astonishing delay -  this is a series that was meant to continue from the character’s Detective run but has taken the best part of a year to appear – which has lent it a reputation as something so good it’s been worth the wait.

I’m not going to traduce the book; it has a decent plot in it, the characterisations don’t just pick up from the Detective run but have evolved and changed since, and as a result of, that story.

What I’m suddenly impressed with is the subtle change in Williams’ art. His storytelling was, before now, all over the place; his signature off-kilter layouts and needlessly Bat-shaped panels not only detracted from the narrative flow but also demoted the narrative to a firm second behind the eye-catching visuals. It didn’t seem to matter that the reader couldn’t understand the story so long as it looked good.

That urge to dazzle is still there, but it’s been toned down considerably. Yes, there’s a two-page spread that’s contained within a bat-shape, but that’s about it, and that’s counterbalanced by a repeated use of another Williams trope: that of the continual background containing sequential images. Here in #1 the most obvious example illustrates Batwoman’s use of a grappling hook gun: there’s a particularly good use in #2 that shows a police detective taking a sweep of a crime scene.

Also, the differentation in art styles to show either different times or even different characters works better here, toned down from its use in the Detective run. Williams uses a more traditional comicbook illustrative style for scenes that don’t involve the actual, in-costume Batwoman character, changing to the Ross/painterly technique for in-costume scenes, and sometimes using both – there’s a sequence of the Kanes changing into costume where everything is in standard style and colouration except the Batwoman costume, which blazes out in fully-painted glory. Symbolism ahoy.

One last observation: all of the Bat-family of characters now have a unifying costume trait: they each have their individual emblem moulded into the soles of their boots. While I can see this being something brought down from on high by the man himself, Batwoman has no official ties to the whole Batman Inc concept. So either Bruce is really generous with the old steel toe-capped jobs, or somewhere in Gotham there’s a really discreet cobbler who’s grown used to these crazy footwear specifications.

Pull-listed? Didn’t think it would be, but why the hell not?

One of the big hoo-hahs surrounding this re-establishment of all things DC is that certain characters have been swept back up into the main universe (and what a terrible fanboyish phrase, ripe for something more grown-up, that is) after being considered for many years to be for Karen Berger’s use only. So there’s a DCU John Constantine again (as well as the swearing-shagging-ageing Constantine still under Berger’s wing in the Vertigo Hellblazer title), and there’s a Madame Xanadu, and there’s a Swamp Thing. It’s a bit too tied into recent continuity for my likes because I couldn’t be bothered with the whole Brightest Day thing, so maybe this one had better sit on the shelf until it gets the will-he-won’t-he ‘Alec Holland refuses to be Swamp Thing’ set-up is resolved and we see where Scott Snyder’s taking this thing. Pull-listed? For now.

Having said that: this comic made me realise why I don’t like the new Superman costume. It’s too militaristic for a humanist character – he looks like he’s here to take over the planet rather than help anybody. And while we all thought “Grounded’ was tosh, Supes should knock that ‘floating a yard or so off the ground’ lark on the head. It’s just showing off.

But while we’re talking about what were Vertigo characters, let’s have a look at Justice League Dark. If you’ve not been keeping up with/don’t give a monkey’s about this relaunch, you’ll just have reacted to the words ‘Justice League Dark’ in the same way that I did when I first read them: a snort of contempt and then a mild pang of ‘Really?  Really?’ Especially when you find out it’s written by Peter Milligan, who’s got form on the weird and unnerving front. Essentially, the Justice League Proper gets fucked over by MAGIC, so Zatanna who’s apparently in the Justice League Proper even if this is the first anybody’s heard of that, grabs a handful of MAGIC characters and away they go. Dawn Dove’s in it because Deadman, who’s one of these MAGIC coves, is her boyfriend. How the hell does that work, then?

There are some wonderful Milligan ‘yick’ moments, like the big opening spread of many many June Moones wandering about on a busy motorway (it doesn’t end well), or Superman getting cut up real bad by a storm of witches’ teeth, but they’re not served well by some rather bland art. But still: Pete Milligan writing John Constantine and Shade The Changing Man. Can’t say no, can you? No need to ask about the pull-listing, surely?

Blue Beetle is another of the books that I’m picking up due to a fondness for the character, or in this case for the character’s last series. The Rogers/Giffen/Hamner Beetle series was a lovely little thing, doomed from the start of course, one of those books that you dread reading the solicitations for because you just know that one month it’ll contain the words ‘Final Issue’[1]. Also, everybody hated that it’s not Ted Kord anymore but a teenaged boy (and a Spanish one at that!) and he didn’t go bwah-ha-ha with Booster Gold and all that. But it was a good little book that put a new spin on the BB concept while still keeping it firmly tied to the last two incarnations of the character.

So the perfect thing to do with the relaunched BB would be to take the characters and the concept from that series, pretend none of it happened, and start the whole thing from scratch. With different creators. Who, sadly, aren’t Rogers or Giffen or Hamner. But despite that, the new team – Tony Bedard and Ig Guara which you can’t help but type as Ig Guana – do a decent job, jiggling around the chronology so what was the climax of the original telling is the opening of this one, straight away bringing in characters that originally took months to appear, changing the characterisation of a couple of the cast. The concept’s a good one - the Blue Beetles as a kind of harbinger to an imperialist anti-Green Lantern Corps taking over any planet they can, but the one that falls to Earth is damaged and bonds with its wearer rather than subsuming him.

However, this would have been the ideal time to simplify the costume, which is beautifully conceived but terribly over-designed, but that didn’t happen because this is the age of the over-designed costume.

Pull-listed for nostalgia’s sake and to see how much more of the last run gets used here.

And finally: OMAC. Or O.M.A.C. but who the hell can be bothered to type all those full stops? OMAC. God, I love this comic. It’s Keith Giffen channelling Jack Kirby. No idea what Dan Didio does but he’s in the credits so he gets a mention.

It’s all-out crazy comics, with no explanations or subtlety, just overstated action all the way. Criticise Giffen all you like for wearing his influences on his sleeve, but nobody’s done Kirby like Giffen does Kirby since Kirby stopped being Kirby and started being dead.

I’ve been writing and re-writing paragraph after paragraph as to why and how Giffen isn’t merely another slavish copyist of Kirby but rather is an artist who takes Kirby’s tropes and uses them as foundation for his own modernist style. But each attempt at those paragraphs has got bogged down in over-intellectual blather and, to be frank, hasn’t proved my thesis. So instead, let me say that OMAC is a love letter to the original Kirby series, with the core character now a Hulk-like monosyllabic creature, hilariously repeating the last word of his controller’s sentences while ripping buildings to pieces with his bare hands, his blue electric Mohawk waving in the wake of the destruction.

It also has a serious subtext about the nature of individuality and identity in the modern, technologically-driven corporate world: OMAC himself occasionally re-stating his own identity while taking a huge splayed-legged stance like some giant beast staking out his territory, his alter-ego Kevin Kho being transformed from one office worker amongst many into this unique engine of destruction, and the continual presence of Brother Eye, OMAC’s creator/controller, through electronic devices. There’s a great scene in the second issue where the now-normal Kho tries to escape Brother Eye’s constant surveillance but can’t, as Eye makes contact through everything from somebody else’s mobile phone to a railway station ticket machine, leaving the exhausted and defeated Kho to accept his fate by simply putting on a pair of earphones.

Given that Giffen isn’t the superstar draw he should be, and given that Dan Didio is near-universally loathed as a writer (he isn’t exactly setting the world on fire with the dialogue in this book, but it’s a step up from what he was doing on Outsiders), and given that it’s a bloody tough marketplace right now, OMAC the comicbook is probably doomed to last no more than twelve issues. I’d say you should enjoy them while you can.

Next: Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. There's Apples, And Pears. Maybe A Nice Banana.

[1] See also THUNDER Agents, Doom Patrol

Friday, 21 October 2011


And there are times when Life takes a butcher’s at you, sees what you’re thinking of doing, and says, loudly and clearly, “NO!”

I was, for instance, supposed to be in Northampton yesterday. Instead I was sitting at the kitchen table and working from a laptop, occasionally wincing, occasionally getting up and either pouring another cup of coffee or taking a short, painful walk around the living room, occasionally grabbing another couple of painkillers.

I got hit by a car.

Not very hard, not very fast, but with enough of an impact to make life a bit more difficult until the bruising and swelling have gone down a bit.

What happened was that I was cycling north to get home and as I passed a turning on my left somebody in a car heading south turned to their right to enter that turning. I was in exactly the right wrong place to be hit, so that’s what happened. In a very short space of time I could see the car approaching, saw its signalling, recognised that it hadn’t slowed enough to stop and thus either hadn’t seen me or was taking a chance, and realised that there was no way I could either clear the junction or stop in time.

Then I looked down to my right and saw a car bumper smacking my calf. And then I fell down.

Anyway: the driver – a late-middle-aged woman – was bloody terrified. Once she’d calmed down a bit, and I’d collected bits of buggered chainguard off the road and ensured that no part of me was left behind, we went our ways.

Oddly, it was only when I got home that I reacted – I stood in the middle of the living room for half an hour unable to move or think.

There is no harm done, except for a broken chainguard that was going to be taken off soon anyway, and a bruised, slightly swollen leg.

And the lesson is: you can have flashing lights and reflective clothing galore but it means nothing against human stupidity.

Oh, and always wear a helmet.

And thick upper-body clothing.

And learn how to fall.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

What Exactly Is It About That Number?

Hey hey hey, cats’n’kittens! Just to prove that Tottenhamista’s gotten over its spell of self-pity and can’t-be-arsedity, just to prove - if proof be needed – that not only is it once again cooking with gas but it’s also still following that same winning recipe of bad temper, bad language and bad grammar… Here’s some comics reviews!

And straight away let’s answer that question that’s been hanging over our heads like [redacted]’s beergut hangs over a ten-dollar blowjob: What did you think of the DC New Fifty-Two, Mr. Tottenhamista? Well, I’ll tell you.

You know what the most important thing about this whole thing is? More important than Wonder Woman’s pants or Starfire being a slapper (more later!)? It’s that the number of DC Comics that I personally slap down cold hard coinage for each month has increased from six to twelve. That’s a 100% jump. And against my better will and my bank’s, I’m going to stick with them for at least six months.

And furthermore, the regulars at the shop have increased their spend; new punters arrived near enough every day of the first month; many of those punters have stayed, opening new standing orders/pull lists. And a number of those who came in looking for ‘this new Superman, this new Batman’ have bought trades, and bought comics that weren’t part of the 52, and brought their kids along and bought those kids some comics too. (And here’s a tip for any retailers out there: that out-of-date promotional material? The Marvel Sneak Peeks from two years ago, the posters, the postcards? Give ‘em to the kids. They’ll love ‘em, and more, their parents will love you.) So, it’s been a good thing. Nothing wrong with that, and you name-callers and nay-sayers can just go away.

But to get back to the res; how about that 52?

It was alright.

That’s it. That’s all. It was alright. It was fifty-two new books, all put together in pretty short order. So it turned out exactly as you’d expect it to: some were good, some were bad, some were better than you’d think they’d be, some were nowhere near as good as you’d think they’d be, some were nowhere near as good as they thought they were, some were howling stinkers and one was totally batshit. (Totally Batshit was week three, wasn’t it?)

I can’t say I’ve read all fifty-two but I can say I’ve at least leafed through them all, and read (as in ‘paid for, brought home, sat down with, read, analysed) a number of them. And rather than give you an immediate response on each like some blogs have done  - it’s not a sprint, fellas – I’ve chewed over my responses for a time, often as much as ten minutes.


This Red Hood and the Outlaws thing. Everybody seems to hate it. I loved it. It’s a stupid, sarcastic comic book. It has crazy action sequences where the artist doesn’t quite make things clear enough to follow, it has putative heroes going ape and killing people with arrows and guns, it even uses the ‘Tanks!’ ‘You’re welcome!’ gag. It’s exactly what modern mainstream comics are about. And frankly I don’t see the fuss about Starfire being portrayed as a slapper who’ll shag anything because A) most male characters are portrayed that way and That’s Just Fine, and B) it’s just a magnification of how she’s always been portrayed, ever since she first grabbed Grayson and tried to suck his face off. Pull-listed.

There were high hopes here at the ‘Nista for Stormwatch and Demon Knights because they’re both written by Paul Cornell who can do little wrong and is a very nice man, but frankly they both came off a little ‘meh’. DK wasn’t helped by some overcooked but still unclear art or by the fact that few/none of the characters are visually distinct (apart from Etrigan and the Shining Knight, obviously). Stormwatch seemed to be trying really hard to be Warren Ellis without emulating Warren Ellis’ techniques, especially – and thankfully - not those establishing captions that tell you The Carrier is Whistling Through Act Two of Hyperreality And Wearing A Dustman’s Hat. Still pull-listed, both of ‘em, but on the bubble.

Rags/Ralph/Rafe Morales draws people who look about five years older than they actually are, so if Action Comics is taking place quite some time in the past (which it must be if it’s showing a nascent Superman and if Justice League, which shows fully-formed Superman, is set five years ago), then the Superman it stars would be about sixteen. That aside – and it isn’t the complaint it seems to be, as I’m inordinately fond of Morales’ work and have been since Black Condor – this is what my mate Mark said it was: the best Superman story in years. Alright, it’s by Grant Morrison who is the God Of All Comics these days (but have you read Supergods? If ever a book needed a good hard editing…) and as such it will be a good comic. But this isn’t Morrison’s usual ‘concept above clarity’ style of storytelling, it’s straight-on linear stuff, exciting, action-packed, while still drawing on the tricks Morrison’s used in, say All-Star Superman or JLA: you can read the story carefully, noting the symbols and the subconscious actions, or you can read the story entirely superficially and still have a great time. Pull-listed? You betcha.

I bought and read every issue of the last Jonah Hex run and I have no idea why. Hugely pretty, some absolutely stunning art – how often do you get to see Jordi Bernet and Darwyn Cooke working on the same character? – but always slightly disappointing writing. Not disappointing story concepts, but stories that were disappointing in their execution: there’s always been a stilted quality about Palmiotti & Gray’s dialogue and story structure, a air of non-sequiteur that draws the reader’s attention to itself when it should solely be there to service the narrative. Still, the habit was there to be fed and All Star Western feeds it nicely. I don’t know if the format change from done-in-ones to longer arcs will help the title – it may keep new readers stringing along when they’re put off by the $3.99 price tag – but that’s by the by. New regular artist Moritat, who produced a fine few issues at the latter end of The Spirit’s last run, gives ASW a European feel that suits the book well. Hats doffed also to Gabriel Bautista who, when he isn’t playing left-back for Man City, colours the whole thing in muted, washed-out purples and greys. Pull-listed for old times’ sake.

Flash: Stunningly pretty, with some of the best Ordinary People in ages – there’s some schlub reading a paper in the background (though actually, technically, the foreground) of one panel who looks so real I’d like to read a book about him rather than Barry Allen. But no fair having a double-page title splash, even if it contains story-telling elements within its big, clumsy letters. Pull-listed? Probably. It’s like a first wife; it’ll have to stay this pretty.

Of the criticisms levelled at these new titles, the most common – and the most biting – is that there’s a strong element of 1990s Image Comics about them. Worst offender is Teen Titans – a book so poorly drawn it didn’t even make it halfway into the ‘flicking through the pages in the shop’ stage.


I possess every issue of every Hawk and Dove comic. Even the piss-poor Mike Baron mini-series. So I had to buy this new one. It’s very, very 90’s Image. I’m willing to give it a chance but I’m not sure that even my love for Dove’s mask[1] can survive this. It looks awful, it’s not very well-written and the main plot point’s already had the rug pulled out from under it by a recent editorial statement[2]. Pull-listed? Depends on the second issue, which is on my sideboard as we speak. Apparently the bad guy’s called Condor. If he says ‘Nothing should disturb my moment’ at any point[3], I’m in.

Whar else do we have? We have Blue Beetle, and Swamp Thing and Batwoman, we’ve got the bitter chocolately goodness that is Justice League Dark, and we have OMAC. Oh boy, do we have OMAC.  Next time, okay?

[1] C’mon, those big blank eyes and the tiny little beak that doesn’t actually come anywhere near her nose? How can that not be sexy?
[2] This first issue makes great play of Hank Hawk’s resentment of Dawn Dove because she took the place of Don Dove who died during ‘the worst crisis the world’s ever seen’. A crisis which, according to Dan Didio, never happened. Sort that one out.
[3] If you understand this reference, please keep it to yourself

Monday, 10 October 2011

Beggin' Yer Pardon, But...

I am by nature a polite person. Not happy-go-lucky by any means, nor naturally cheerful or optimistic. Years of experience have burnished the patina of cynicism to something hard and matt, like the paint on an old garden shed.

But I am polite. I make way for old ladies. Give up my seat on the bus if a pensioner or pregnant woman or just plain fat lazy sod looks like they need it. I’ll be scrupulously polite to shop assistants because god knows they put up with some arseholes. I may even go so far as be look aghast if anyone treats one of these benighted creatures with rudity or contempt because dammit, they're people and they're just as good as you no matter that there’s a counter (and all that it implies by way of master/servant relationships) between the two of you.

Sometimes, though… Today, for instance. I’d just spent too much time trying to explain to Pete The Greek – my tonsorial artist of choice – that if I was going to sacrifice a good nine month’s worth of hair growth I was going to have it in exactly the style I wanted, I’d even pointed at one of his wall photos that showed the desired length (but most certainly the undesired 1980s boy-band moussed-up style), and, as always, I'd left his salon raring to go home and shave it all off. The man cuts men’s hair for money. What part of ‘longish crop’ doesn’t he understand? I wanted George Clooney, I got Rosemary Clooney.

Next stop, the bank, to pay in some Income. The automated deposit machines were both out of action and someone had performed some manner of unspeakable act on the rapid deposit slot, so it meant queueing for a real human teller.

I’m standing there, end of the queue, when a woman comes in behind me, holding a small child, pushing an empty pushchair. No idea why. Maybe she just liked making more work for herself. She pushes the pushchair a little too far, it hits the back of my ankle, just by the Achilles. No harm done. I look round, automatically reacting to the feeling. The kid smiles, I smile back. His mother looks at me like I’m Gary Glitter on his first day release. Still. No harm done.

Queue moves forward. Woman pushes buggy into my heel again. I turn and give her the ‘That’s twice, let’s not let this happen again’ look, but still politely.

And again. And, surprisingly, again. By now I’m nearly at the head of the queue, estimating which number cashier, and frankly I’m a bit pissed off.

“Would you mind being a little more careful, please? I’d like to be able to walk out of here.”
“What you talk to me like that for? You should move your feet and not complain.”
“You’ve got a child, I don’t want to upset the child, let’s leave it, but please watch what you’re doing.”
‘Fuckin’ tell me what to do.”
“You know what, lady? Fuck you.”

And I paid in my deposit, leaving her muttering voodoo curses even as she manoeuvred the buggy to the adjoining teller.

But you put it behind you.

Sainsbury’s: three checkouts actually manned by a human being, twelve self-services. Three staff to oversee/help. Long queues on the manned tills, so onto a self-scan. As is usual, an item registers wrongly and sets off the little red light to summon an assistant. All three assistants are happily chatting about the weekend, or the X-Factor, or whatever. I look at them, raising my eyebrows and tapping my foot. One come s along.

It happens again. Assistant takes as much time as he likes. Third time, none of them take any notice at all – they’re all chatting away like it was lunchtime.

“Excuse me! Need to, y’know – “

And rather than leap over to my side and double check my Fairtrade bananas, the guy keeps talking.

“Hey! Can you come over and – “

Guy looks at me, so he’s obviously aware the scanner’s misread again… and he turns away and keeps talking.

That’s how come he had to clean up the bag of unpaid-for shopping that I upended, along with the unscanned items in my basket, over his nice, clean, but sadly unattended self-scanning area.

See? Be polite. Do your job. Don’t treat people like arseholes. ‘Cause if you do, they’ll act like one. 

Stretch. Yawn. Breathe.

Not been here for a while. Been a little busy, a little blocked. However; for some time, I’d been meaning to write something about how life folds in upon itself.

The reason for this is that in the last two years or so, my past has been like a mythical lizard-god, sloughing off the ocean floor under which it has lain for centuries, rising up from its rest and lumbering towards civilisation, there to wreak havoc and remind everybody exactly who and what it’s all about.

I’d kind of embraced, a long time ago, that there was a cut-off point, approximately twenty years ago, before which Almost Nothing Happened. School? Too long gone. School friends? Old work colleagues? Well, you swear blind you’ll be mates forever, but after a month or six they’re very much In The Past. If I’d wanted to stay in touch, I’d have stayed in touch. Others fade away, weekly meets become monthly become annually become ‘I really must get in touch with him/her’ become Gone Forever.

Admittedly, it’s difficult these days to leave people behind. Facebook’s a main culprit; one absently clicks the ‘Accept’ button and is forever seeing exactly what Former Work Colleague X had for lunch. Twitter’s probably worse, with its open-to-all attitude that allows anybody and their uncle to read what you’ve posted, without your permission or your knowledge. But that’s only for newer acquaintances. Old ones, ones from beyond the cut-off point, they’re gone, done, juvenilia…

…Except for the old school friend who phoned out of the blue a year or two back after over thirty years. And except for the old work colleague who recognised me, twenty years on, as I topped up my Oyster card at Blackhorse Lane tube, and who luckily now works for London Transport and so wears a name badge otherwise I wouldn’t have had a bloody clue. And except for the woman who just happened to be taking a friend’s photo when I arrived to see him and who turned out to be an old work colleague from nearly twenty-five years ago.

None of them expected, all of them welcome, all of them from a time so long ago it seems like someone else’s life, suddenly rushing up and handing to two entirely different people the realisation that they’re the same person, decades apart. All of them still in touch – with luck, though we’ll see what the passage of time brings.

There was another such person. She’d gone missing for about ten years when the phone rang and she told me we were going on holiday together. Which we did. And again the following year. The first of those holidays was the best I’d ever had, full of carefree, ridiculous, full-on childish behaviour, which is a good thing when you’re some way beyond being a child. Alright, at one point we almost died. And at another we honestly believed we were being driven out into the desert to be shot and left for the jackals. We got home alright though, didn’t we?

The second wasn’t so good: the place we were based at was n the middle of nowhere, the food was lousy and the weather was so hot that it played havoc with her diabetes (Type One, if you please. None of your namby-pamby ‘Ooh I’ve eaten too many McDonalds’ Type Two bollocks for her, oh no). Still a good time though, in spite of the horrendous, hypo-fuelled, no-testing-strips-left flight home during which she really didn’t look as if she’d make it.
In June, her sister contacted me through Facebook, asking for my phone number. You know what had happened. She’d gone to sleep, hadn’t woken up, laid undiscovered for days, until a local friend kicked down her door and found her.

In what had been her last few weeks she’d phoned me a hell of a lot. Too much, in fact. I’ll be honest: those calls I’d missed through not being in or just by not bothering to answer the phone, I’d stopped returning. She knew this. She said, in one of our last talks, that she felt she’d started stalking me and would be easing off a little. I laughed it off. I think, though, I was a little relieved. I don’t know how she felt things stood. I hope she didn’t think she’d become unwelcome.

Three days ago I pulled up her details on my mobile, took one last look at her photo – standing in a hotel lobby, one hand reaching up so she looked like she was swinging from the chandelier in the background – and deleted her. Then I went to my landline, listened again to her final message, from a couple days before she died:

“Hi. Don’t worry. It’s not important. Bye.”

Said goodbye. Pressed ‘Delete’.