Writing About Comics in 2016

Mainly for the sake of my own failing memory, which has been a sparkless nightmare all year, I wanted to do a run-through of my year in writing about comics across 2016, and the sorts of things I’ve been working on. Also because I like attention. Here’s a sort of summary, with brief anecdotes, about my various projects through the last year.

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JANUARY

The first big piece of the year was with Si Spurrier and Ryan Kelly for Cry Havoc. Si Spurrier is one of my favourite people to interview, because he always puts 100% of himself into his answers – it must be exhausting for him to do so. Alex de Campi is another who also gives brilliant interviews, and Greg Pak. When you have someone who is willing to put in time to their answers, and is naturally so gifted at writing and stringing words together, it’s absolutely perfect as an interviewer. I never feel I push far enough with them, though, but hopefully that’s slowly started to shift with each new time I get the opportunity.

This year was also a chance to write some really silly articles in a really serious way – like this tribute to a random background Green Lantern character who got killed off in a comic at the start of the year. Killing off Green Lanterns in ironic fashion has become a recent staple of that franchise, and it was fun to explore it.

FEBRUARY

Emma Rios and Hwei Lim joined up for an interview for Mirror at Image Comics, which was unbelievably exciting. Emma ran that one, if I remember correctly. What a way to kick off 2016 proper – two spiralling talents, who think about comics in an entirely different way to anyone else I’ve ever spoken to. Sometimes after an interview you feel you’ve managed to catch the intent of the interviewees perfectly – this wasn’t one of those cases. I hope that I’ll have a chance to interview them both again some day, because I think the second interview’ll be a charm in each case.

And I also spoke to the cast and director of an X-Men fan film in February! Almost forgot about that – there was a Dazzler music video released a year ago or so, and the sequel video had actresses Sage Montclair and Gentry Ross playing Lila Cheney and Dazzler respectively. Director Arvin Bautista remembered I’d been positive about the previous video, so he got in touch about this follow-up – and it was really entertaining to put an interview together with everyone.

MARCH

Jamal Igle agreed to do a lengthy interview about his attitude towards comics in 2016, which changed really interestingly. He made a pledge that he’d focus solely on creator-owned projects moving forward, despite being one of the most well-known Supergirl artists around at a time where the character has been made incredibly popular by the TV show. In addition to his series Molly Danger, he was also heavily involved in the kickstarter-funded project Black, an ambitious project which deserved more reviews and analysis than perhaps its received.

Looking back, what a coup it was to get to interview both Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk about Mockingbird. It’s embarrassing how the comics fanbase treated Cain in 2016, and it’s embarrassing that I couldn’t think of any meaningful ways to help, even after the fact.

APRIL

I had a few opportunities to sneak in interviews with Marvel at the start of the year, when I was being more proactive and aggressive about getting interviews approved, and one of the most fun ones was with Ryan North and Erica Henderson, the creative team on The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. They’d just done an issue which was a ‘choose your own adventure’ set-up, and I tried to mirror that with a ‘choose your own interview’ for readers. Perhaps more trouble than it was worth, but North and Henderson made up for it with their banter throughout the piece.

#ArtCred has had its stumbles over the year, but the essential goal remains a solid one: that the comics industry needs to look equally at writers, artists, colorists, letterers, inkers, flatters – anybody involved in the creative process of actually putting a book together. I’ve spent the year trying to make sure that I at least ask if I can interview both the writer and artist on a book whenever I have chance, but I also wanted to do this interview with artist Jamie McKelvie and colorist Matt Wilson about The Wicked and The Divine. Knowing Matt, I was able to pitch the idea to him, and he then drove it forward – he’s a fantastic interviewee in his own right, and having Jamie in the interview as well really opened things up, I think.

MAY

At the start of the year ComicsAlliance put together a series of posts where we ranked the X-Men, to find out who the Top 100 were. As part of it, I casually referred to the fact that Beast should be put in prison, and several people emailed me or wrote in the comments that they had no idea why I thought that. Their requests led to this, where I got to write an essay about why Beast should be put in prison forever. That was great!

JUNE

I think I might have been once of the first people to interview Claire Roe, years ago, when she was working on a Scottish graphic novel about a superhero called Saltire. When she got announced on Batgirl and The Birds of Prey this year, I absolutely wanted to make sure she was included in the interview we ran on CBR – and her answers were some of the most fun, and most Scottish, I received all year.

Our last Delinquents column also went up in June, focusing on Quantum & Woody. JAM is such a delight to write about comics with, as she’s so much smarter than me and it’s terrific fun trying to keep up with her, and give her something to bounce off against. I hope I managed to do her justice in that regard.

JULY

July saw the first in a short series of long-form interviews called Five Stars, which follows a creator through five books in their career to date. I’ve always wanted to be able to interview people beyond their newest #1 issue, and I think it’s essential that comics websites be able to look at the past with as fresh an eye as they look at the present and future. To start, I wanted someone who I knew would be a comprehensive, insightful interviewee – and Declan Shalvey has shown himself to be someone who wants to improve the industry, and also listens and pays attention to comics websites when they do interesting work. I approached him for that reason – when you know the interviewee is invested, that’s a significant part of the battle already won, even before you write the first question.

I’m not involved in ShortBox at all, which meant I was able to pitch and complete an interview with Zainab Akhtar – who is one of my best friends in real life, in full disclosure – which ran on CBR in July. Seeing her basically stop just over a year ago, reassess where she was and what she wanted to do, and then move forward with projects like ShortBox and Critical Chips? That’s been such an inspiring thing to witness. And complain about at Nandos.

AUGUST

I was speaking to Alison Sampson, the engine who quietly powers the comics industry, and she listed off some people she thought would be great for Five Stars – but as soon as she mentioned Larry Hama I jumped on that opportunity. He’s got an intimidating legacy, but his stories are fantastic, and he’s absolutely unworried about telling them. He’ll talk about anything, and is completely open, which made this probably the best interview I had published all year.

I’m probably remembering this wrong, but I believe I was haphazardly planning two interviews with Hope Larson in August, for books at two different publishers – but as things threatened to go off the rails, FirstSecond and DC both agreed that they’d be happy to run a single interview which touched on her projects with both of them. I wrote out questions which gave equal space to both her projects, and I think the whole thing managed to come out pretty well, despite my mess at the start. What a year Hope Larson has had, too.

Back Pages ran intermittently all year, but I really appreciate having it as an opportunity to speak to brilliant people about their Kickstarter projects – be they for webcomics, print comics, anthologies, whatever. Robin Hoezelmann’s interview for Curia Regis stands out in particular, as I’ve wanted to speak to her about webcomics for ages and this offered me a place to do so.

SEPTEMBER

The month was dominated by setting up – and then running – an interview with Karen Berger. Five Stars is all about finding interesting parts of comics history and trying to dig out stories and insight about them, and she was understandably a little cagey when talking about Vertigo. That said, she didn’t ignore any of my questions, and she also suggested shifting one of the intended books we were going to feature so that instead we could talk about Punk Rock Jesus – I think that’s a project she looks back on with a lot of pride.

I ran interviews with both Benjamin Percy and Jonboy Meyers in September, who were scheduled respectively as artist and writer on Teen Titans. The interview had to be separated into two pieces rather than one, as something was going on behind the scenes with the book – Percy doesn’t mention Meyers at all in his interview, for a start. Jonboy subsequently left the series entirely, actually, down to creative differences, which is a shame because his interview was really interesting, and he provided a LOT of his design work for reference throughout the piece.

I also spoke to Matt Smith, editor at 2000AD, as the publication celebrated 2000 issues (or ‘progs) or existence. I believe there will be further 2000AD-related news that involves me in the new year.

My longest ‘essay’ actually showed up right here, as well: about Star Wars and Marvel, and how the two have been working together.

OCTOBER

Going to New York for Comic-Con was a terrifying, huge deal for me, but it went well mainly due to the kindnesses of people like Alexander Lu, who was brilliantly nice to me across the whole weekend. I did two in-person interviews for CBR, and covered panels on topics as wide-ranging as Star Wars, WWE Comics, #ArtCred, Scott Snyder and #BlackComicsMonth. It was especially nice to watch David Brothers’ approach to moderating panels in-person, as he’s one of the most professional and observant panelists in the industry.

Kyle Baker was my most recent interviewee in Five Stars, and his interview was the most aspirational for me, in that he has a lot of advice to offer, and I hope I was able to corral questions which enabled him to properly bring his experience and understanding of comics to ComicsAlliance readers.

I like writing essays, but my day job holds me back from really having time to engage with anything beyond short pieces. For that reason, they’ve been short on the ground for me in 2016. It’s always a pleasant day when you get to write about world-ending dragon monsters, though.

NOVEMBER

Tee Franklin, who hosted the #BlackComicsMonth panel, reached out to me afterwards about her first published comics work as a short story in the back of Nailbiter over at Image, with Juan Ferreyra – which led to this sharp, fun interview on CBR about the project shortly after.

I did a number of Valiant interviews this year for CBR, including some phone calls. These are always a challenge, as you have multiple people speaking from different parts of the world, and I’m based in the UK – I think at one point we had four people from three countries all talking for one interview. Valiant strike me as a publisher who have a few years of real potential to work off, though. They have a shared universe of diverse characters, and just need to reflect that within their hiring choices moving forward, as they do tend to lean on the same three/four writers for all their projects. The comics talent working at Valiant, though – without exception, they’ve all made it clear that they find it to be easily their best work for hire experience in the comics industry.

DECEMBER

Hey, just one hour ago this posted: Yearender, my annual look at the year ahead in comics. I pick a random selection of books which I think’ll be interesting, and write random anecdotes about them – just like I’ve done with 2016 during this self-indulgent piece! That’s one of the joys about writing for attention, rather than as a full-time job that pays the rent, I guess. I hope 2017 proves to be a decent one.

A Galaxy Within The Universe: Star Wars and Marvel

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John Cassaday

 

Marvel have been trying something which isn’t often seen at shared-universe publishers: introducing a second universe. Their “Star Wars” comics arrived last year, following Disney purchasing Lucasfilm and the inevitable subsequent end for Dark Horse’s most enduring comics licence. Since then, the books have been some of the biggest selling comics for the publisher, even as they move away from variant covers and #1 issues to head off into double-figure publishing numbers. And whilst we’d all expect the books to do well, it’s surprising just how much of an audience they’ve not only picked up – but retained.

And by introducing this Far, Far Away Galaxy apart from the Marvel Universe, Marvel have essentially offered a second line which appeals to a readership apart from their superhero fans. There’s clearly a lot of crossover between superhero comics fans and Star Wars fans, but there are also plenty of movie fans who are picking up comics only to catch up on the inbetween moments lived by Luke, Han, and Leia. DC have Vertigo, and Marvel have had the Ultimate Universe: but they touch on and sometimes interact with their core superhero universes. The Star Wars comics stand aside from everything, and it’s fascinating.

There aren’t many examples of a publisher having two universes existing at once, with the one big exception that of course Marvel have experimented with this before. The Ultimate Universe was a rebrand of their ‘classic’ Universe, which started with a few of their core ideas – Spider-man, Fantastic Four, Avengers and X-Men – and rolled them into a contemporary, somewhat harder-edged and more cynical superhero universe. Again, there were only a handful of books available at once, meaning there could be a tight continuity (hypothetically) which let readers track the whole universe at once. There were no books that didn’t “matter”, so to speak, so the audience were encouraged to try everything without feeling like they weren’t getting a whole story.

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Mike Mayhew

 

But when you look back, you can also see where the Ultimate Universe started to fall apart and disintegrate under its own weight. Perhaps in a few years the same thing will happen to Star Wars, particularly as throwaway comics like the recent “C-3P0” one-shot are released and the line becomes more about continuation than telling new, connected stories. The more readers find that there are dispensable Star Wars comics on the shelf, the more the line will feel dispensable as a whole. But on that front, Marvel do have one safety net: Disney itself.

Marvel Comics run their own universe, and they get to decide if continuity makes sense of not. If they want to kill off characters or write storylines which conflict continuity with one another, they can generally just go ahead and do that – it’s no matter. The Star Wars comics are stuck within a permanent timeline, however, and so their focus cannot be on “important” or “game-changing”; because we know when the characters live or die. It happens in the movies. Instead, the comics have to focus on “fun”, and developing the characters through the moments we haven’t seen onscreen. And if they ever did decide to kill off, say, Zuckuss, before the books catch up to at least “The Empire Strikes Back”? Then they’d be in for a hell of a lot of trouble with Lucasfilm!

Possibly. It’s likely nobody cares about Zuckuss at Lucasfilm either, because he was clearly the worst bounty hunter of the bunch and viva Gengar. But that’s the thing: even the lamest of the background characters is protected by an unshakeable canon. Compare that to the Marvel Universe, where “House of M” or “Age of Ultron” or “Secret Wars” can trigger a re-shifting universe whenever the company feel like it. There’s no sense of stability, which appeals to many readers and turns off perhaps just as many. Some people really enjoy knowing that everything they know will never be the same again – but a lot of people really like the security that comes from knowing that everything they know will always be the same forever.

With only a few comics, and a few characters to play with right now, Marvel have opted to retain a Star Wars line which remains accessible for readers, and where you can track the location of all the major characters at any one moment. To expose myself shamelessly, it’s a little like the plotting style of “Game of Thrones”. Almost all the major players in that series all started off converged in one place, before they subsequently wandered off into their own stories. Here Marvel adopted a similar tactic, where the first arc of the main “Star Wars” comic featured Luke, Han, Leia, Darth Vader, Chewbacca and the droids at once.

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Phil Noto

 

Since then, the characters have moved apart a little, and Marvel have started to introduce comics set at different points in the timeline (primarily to tie into “The Force Awakens” and the upcoming “Rogue One” – although the latter comic now seems to be in limbo). But at the start, everything was in one place, and readers got everything they needed from that one title. If you unfairly compare that to the Marvel Universe right now, then you start to see perhaps some of the reasons why the Star Wars Galaxy is currently outselling the Marvel Universe. There’s no ‘central’ location, because Marvel are putting out around forty titles a month and no single book can contain and reference all of them. At any point in time, Star Wars can loop the majority of the characters back into a single story. At no point in time can Marvel hope to do the same. Not least because the “Fantastic Four” are seemingly banned from being in the same place at the same time for perpetuity.

Which isn’t a criticism of the Marvel Universe either, particularly. The lack of jumping on points is a difficulty for a lot of potential new readers, but I tend to revel in the fact that this is a complex-continuity franchise where the X-Books have their own quirks not found in the Spider-Men titles, and where the Guardians of the Galaxy contrast and sometimes interact with the Avengers. Without the insane sprawling of their Universe, you’d never get something like Secret Wars, which thrilled to the idea that everything existed simultaneously and nobody could hope to contain it at once. That’s why “Civil War 2” has to exist as a main series, a bunch of tie-in stories within other ongoing comics, and several new comics which will be around for a few months solely because they can have an event banner across the top of their covers. It’s too big to contain, and Marvel don’t particularly want to contain it either.

Editor Jordan D. White, on the other hand, is able to contain the entirety of Star Wars in his head, seemingly. Most books are set between “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back” at the present, but there’s also a Kanan” series set through the time of “Star Wars Rebel”, sitting before “A New Hope”. And then there’s the developing group of comics which sit between and around “The Force Awakens”. The first was “Shattered Empire”, which is set immediately after the first trilogy and gave us a really early origin for Poe Dameron – who was the first character from the new movies to get his own series. Given how every other character went into the new movie with a mystery, and left on a cliffhanger, it’s likely he’ll be the only one to do so until 2017/18.

This is where we’re most likely to see the books start to separate out. The comics have a thirty-forty year gap between them now, chronologically, and people can pick and choose which parts of it they want. It’s a little like having the option between X-Men and Inhumans – they’re essentially doing the same thing, only with slight aesthetic differences. The key for Marvel will be in ensuring that there’s merit to all the different parts of their Star Wars Galaxy, where nobody steps on the toes of the movies or starts contradicting things established in the other comics.

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Adi Granov

 

As long as Marvel can create the aura of cohesiveness between the comics, the movies, the video games, and any other in-canon elements of the Star Wars brand as a whole, their line will remain fresh. It’ll also remain important. The lack of control over the main product leaves them fighting to prove the books they do put out, and it creates a sense of urgency in the line which you don’t always see in their franchise books. Each one of the books has to have a reason to exist, and a story to tell, but we’ll have to see how long that lasts for.

At this moment, Star Wars is the clear jewel in Marvel’s crown. It’s a Galaxy within their Universe, where readers get exactly what they’re expecting to get. The Star Wars line is an exercise in delivering comics which have a reason to exist and can hook in new readers without leaving them confused and isolated. The death of the Expanded Universe, in this case, saved the ongoing product – Marvel can maintain a Galaxy within their Universe.

500 Words On Chamber

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Actually 650, but don’t hold that against me.

At the current moment, as far as we’re aware, Chamber is a teacher at the X-Men’s school, whoever it may be named after. The Sean Cassidy School for Advanced Mutant Learning and Phonetics? But the thing about him is that he doesn’t teach something like English Lit, Biology, French, the standard sorts of classes that you might see in a school. Instead, he teaches “Coping With Physical Changes”, which brings up an aspect of the X-Men we don’t get to see explored in much depth: mutation as disability.

Being a mutant means you’re in a thirteen-year lottery where some will receive telepathic powers, some gain the ability to fly – and some will be physically altered in ways which impair their lives. Chamber, perhaps, is the most brutally obvious of those mutants, with his upper torso and mouth literally blown off and replaced with a flaming blur of nuclear fission. He’s unable to talk – but has telepathic powers which replace that ability.

Chamber’s role as a teacher fascinates me, because he’s been through a singular traumatic experience – twice. And now he’s working to help others deal with it. We don’t see disability dealt with often in the X-Men comics. It’s just accepted that Xavier will periodically recover use of his legs, that Anole will regrow his arms, or that Wolverine will heal from whatever happens. With Chamber we had a long-term disability shown on-panel. It may not be one which anybody in the real world can ever experience themselves, but with the X-Men inference is key. They are, after all, a walking metaphor for the minority experience whose membership is primarily made up of straight white people.

Comics are terrible for recovering disability, for shrugging off injury as either a joke (see DC’s decades-long in-joke of lopping off hands, now co-opted by Marvel’s cinematic universe) or as a short-term problem. Even Chamber was ‘fixed’ in a comic for a while, until he was reverted back to his default visual – Chris Bachalo’s design was so iconic that comics can’t get rid of it for long. But what’s remained with the character always is that he has to live a different life because of the way his powers are active. Even when sat down at a table, or walking down the street, he is impaired and impeded by his mutant powers. They are a constant, and something which he has to work with every day.

It’s not a case of eventually overcoming his situation, like for Cyclops or Rogue, but of accepting and making his situation work. It’s the same situation which those with a disability work with, and through, and within. The metaphor is not exact, as is the case with any time the X-Men books attempt to create some kind of real-world connection, but the constant characterisation of Chamber has essentially shown him to be a Paralympian.

And with his position as a teacher for the X-Men, he’s now passing on his experience. There are other several other mutants in a similar position to Jono, including Onyxx, Rockslide, and Dust. Although all four have human form, it’s suggested within the comics that all of them may in fact be functionally dead, that they’re psionic beings, inhabiting bodies but not ever connected with them. If somebody shut off their brain function, they’d essentially evaporate into non-existence. Which, thankfully, hasn’t happened to any of the characters yet. But it’s a scary concept to work into a comic.

All the X-Men have had to overcome something: from supervillains to illness to betrayal and heartbreak. Chamber’s goal, however, isn’t to overcome something – it’s to live with something. And that’s harder and more terrifying a goal than anything, at times. That the character has a sense of humor is miraculous, but that he’s now a teacher at the school, grumpily attempting to teach Glob Herman about life? That’s brilliant.

Chamber was created by Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo

Review: Daredevil #8

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Daredevil started a new arc this week, as the fabulously smart caption box on the front of the latest issue informed me. Of anything that Marvel has implemented over the last few months, the caption box on the front page which says “all-new story starts now!” has been the most useful, and the one which I desperately hope more publishers take advantage of. I know Image like to have you read every issue of a comic, but it’s nice to have a definitive point where you can start reading a book with relatively little background info and give the whole thing a try.

I’ve not heard much talk about Charles Soule’s turn writing Daredevil, unusually, given that his time with She-Hulk was so memorable. For those unaware, Soule is also a practising lawyer himself, and he brought that knowledge into his run writing Jennifer Walters in a convincing and arguably star-making performance as writer. Here, with Marvel’s other big lawyer, I’d not heard anything, to be honest. All had gone quiet.

Soule’s run has started with the gambit “he’s hidden his identity again” and is running from there, with the big reveal of how the character managed it looking to be the big hook of the overall narrative. This current arc though, seems like a deliberate step away from the standard type of Daredevil story and an attempt to try something different and new with the character – hurling him into a crime caper in China, where he’s participating in a poker tournament. It’s all fairly simple to keep up with, although the narrative breaks from Matt Murdock across to Daredevil slowly introduce a more confusing thread, as we reveal that Matt’s activities are just a bluff for his alter-ego to investigate something else.

Which is quite neat, bluffing the reader into thinking this was Matt Murdock trying to make some extra money when actually there’s some kind of villain in the hotel he’s actually trying to get closer to. It draws from the Waid/Samnee characterisation of Daredevil before pulling away into something different, and perhaps more in-line with whatever the Charles Soule iteration of Daredevil will be. As someone jumping on the issue with this arc, it was a little disappointing to realise that the Matt Murdock I’m reading about is actually lying to me, so I don’t get to see what his actual character is – but then hey, I suppose that’s character as much as anything.

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So I was fine with the story, which takes a few interesting detours although does feature a slightly dour, less appealing version of Matt Murdock than the last few years have gotten us all attuned to. With Goran Sudzuka presenting him as basically a blank slate for the entire issue as well, the comic doesn’t make him a particularly compelling protagonist, which slows the issue down and draws things out in order to make the bluff stronger. We’re holding to the interest of the game itself to pull us through the pages, tension building up because we want to see if he’ll win the tournament or not.

Sudzuka is a ridiculous artist who draws a face on every background character, merges the background into the foreground during fight scenes as a way to break panels apart, and generally does incredibly impressive work throughout. His take on the Casino captures the mix of shine, sleeze and dirt which you feel whenever you walk past a gambling table. There’s glamour and elegance, but at the same time everybody looks slightly discomforted by the experience and holds a slight grimace – when you transfer gaze from Daredevil to the people stood around him, things feel sinister and claustrophobic in a completely natural way. It’s not that everybody is out to get him here, it’s just that this is what casinos feel like.

The most noticeable aspect of the comic, though, is the colouring, which I’m not sure I enjoyed. Daredevil is not meant to be a bright comic, but this issue seemed surprisingly grim and dour for what was meant to be a high-stakes poker tournament. Matt Milla uses reds and blacks for the scenes set in the casino, mirroring the look of a roulette wheel but muddying and hiding quite a lot of Sudzuka’s work. Scenes outside the casino drop the red for a dark blue and dark green respectively, which means the whole issue feels less flashy than perhaps it could.

The casino loses sheen, the location work from Sudzuka doesn’t have much pop, and the fight scenes look grimy and harsh (which is the part of the colouring choice that really works nicely). Partway through the issue is a fight scene set in the astral plane, with Daredevil taking on a mind-reader, and it looks drab. Sudzuka does some really nice work on one panel in particular which has a snowy mountain as the backdrop. Daredevil and his assailant have a fight scene laid over the top of the mountain, their movements and swipes of swords throwing up snowy paths down the face of the slope and providing downward momentum which speeds up as the page reads onwards.

However, the colouring mutes absolutely everything, reducing the impact of the sequence dramatically. Perhaps not every superhero comic should have a bright shine to it, but this issue of Daredevil absolutely feels like it needed a pick-up. With everything muted (even the whites don’t have the gleam you’d see in, say, Moon Knight) there’s nothing to grab your immediate attention, and it’s easy to lose tracking on which panel to read at what time. I don’t have any of those pages to show you, though, so uh, just take my word on that one I guess. The preview pages are slick.

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Letterer Clayton Cowles picks up for the reader and offers a route through some of the more dull pages, but it shouldn’t have to be presented like that – with a more dynamic colouring style, like as seen once Daredevil appears on the pages at the end of the issue, the artwork would fit the style of the script in a more convincing manner.

As things are, a reasonably solid comic trades in style for a moody atmosphere which doesn’t quite feel right for what we’re being shown. I found Daredevil #8 to be a mostly fine comic which just feels dull, slowed down, and less effective than it could have been. It’s certainly not Sudzuka holding the issue back, as he sets up the pages in sterling fashion, with a series of brilliantly constructed moments scattered liberally throughout the pages. And whilst Soule’s narrative gambit does hold back on Matt Murdock’s personality, he does offer an interesting story. But the colouring choice really feels like it holds things back, here. I still think the issue was decent, but it loses a lot of razzle-dazzle in an Boardwalk Empire-style palette of dour dullness.

 

Writer: Charles Soule

Artist: Goran Sudzuka

Colourist: Matt Milla

Letterer: Clayton Cowles

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Review: Scooby-Doo Apocalypse #1

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Jim Lee

DC are launching fix or six Hannah-Barbera comics over the next few weeks, such as an update of Wacky Races which promises to invest the franchise with the post-apocalyptic latex bodysuits it clearly apparently needed. It’s a freakish mix of books, with what looks like a straight-laced version of The Flintstones being the only one of them which seems to be following the original spirit of the cartoons it’s based on. Perhaps.

The big one for me, though, is Scooby-Doo Apocalypse. This is one which retains the color-coding of the characters’ different clothing and not much else, it seems, with the “team of teens tackling a nefarious villain dressed as a monster” concept chucked away in favour of something really, really quite bizarre. Scooby Doo Apocalypse is a series in which the monsters are actually real: the creations of a nanotech virus unleashed on the world by Velma, amongst others.

In the world of the comic, each of the five characters has been updated somewhat. Fred now appears to be clearly coded as gay by the artist but straight by the script; Daphne is a self-invested brand in the Lois Lane fashion; Velma is a cynical scientist who triggers the events of the series as part of a sinister corporation; and Shaggy and Scooby are no longer cowards.

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Those two are the characters who hew closest to their original iterations, with Scooby basically the same he always way – with the addition of a heroic streak and a monocle which projects emoticons for Shaggy to read. That monocle is the strangest choice of the book, actually, because artist Howard Porter’s work is a huge step up from his work with Grant Morrison’s JLA (my only other point of reference for him: I’m not much of a DC reader) and he does a really quite impressive job of giving life and expression to the great dane. Scooby is arguably the most articulate of the entire team in this comic, rendering his emoticons largely irrelevant – I stopped reading them after the first two instances, to be honest, because his face told the story by itself.

What’s confusing to me about the book is where it’s meant to be aimed at. I think… me? I think my sort of age is the reference, because this certainly isn’t a book for kids. Not in the sense that it’s particularly violent or crude (although there was actually a suggestion on the last page that we might a get somewhat less moderate level of violence than you’d want on a Scooby Doo comic) but because the concepts are all just so high-level. Fred’s first few pages have him mention “granola-snorting weirdos”, for instance, before talking about, of all things, Esperanto. I’m in my twenties I have barely any memory of Esperanto! And even that was only because it got mentioned on Red Dwarf.

 

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It’s far too overwritten for younger readers, in other words. Not just because the references are ones only old readers are going to get, but because the wording of each concept is so unnecessarily convoluted and impossible. The basic idea of the comic is that a virus infects people and turns them into monsters, and the team have to stop it. But it’s not described in a simple way like that – instead, Velma strings off this hugely complicated spiel about the virus which uses big words and bigger concepts. Eight year old Steve, I can promise you, had absolutely no interest in googling to find out what a “biological template for a more abundant and peaceful world”is, nor looking up the meaning of words like “self-replicating”, “passivity”, “benevolent” and more. Why, each time, does the script use the most difficult and complex version of every word possible?

So yeah, I think I’m probably more the intended audience than the children who actually y’know, watch Scooby Doo cartoons now. On that level – I’m sort of interested in it? I mean, I’ve watched at least two Sharknado movies, and this brings out the same level of wide-eyed fascination for me. I can’t look away from the comic because I just don’t know what the plan is, how the series is looking to execute that plan, or if they even have a plan right now. The arch, knowing camp of the series when I watched it is replaced with a semi-serious tone that is possibly winking at the readers, or possibly just has something stuck in its eye.

I’m not really sure if the book is intentional or not, right now. I mean sure, you have Keith Giffen and Howard Porter as the central creative team for the series, which is a sign that DC want this to stand alongside all their DC Rebirth titles. At the same time, it’s a comic which sort-of posits that Fred is the nicest member of the team. Fred! In comparison to Velma, whose redesign makes her look like an alt-reality Dr Sivana; or Daphne, who spends the whole issue being furious about everything that happens, regardless of if its actually inconveniencing her or not; or Shaggy, who reads as a clueless and strangely earnest dude who over-explains every situation he’s in; Fred is the one who seems like the underdog here. Daphne even punches him for no reason near the end, just to make us really feel sorry for him, stuck with this nasty bunch.

Scooby comes off like a slightly toned-down version of himself. As I said earlier, that’s mainly because Porter gives him the best expressions and body language of any of them – he’s the most fun character to follow, even when not speaking or the focus of a panel. It’s also partly because he isn’t featured anywhere like as much as the others. He seems to be a supporting character at this point rather than the lead, but we’ll see how that changes over time.

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I do really like the colouring, provided by somebody at Hi-Fi. Porter gives things a Star Wars-esque sense of age and spectacle, with strange background characters passing by in every other panel. The colours could have followed that and used a muted palette, but instead they’re vibrant and bright -making the backgrounds pop and actually giving the book the grown-up effect it’s going for.

It’s such a weird direction for Scooby Doo, though. I don’t dislike it, but I can’t think of anybody I’d really recommend it to? It’s a fun comic at times, with something like a 40% hit rate for the jokes. I like Fred now, somehow. And over the course of an arc, we’ll be able to grasp what exactly the plan is for the book. How does it react to the original cartoons, what will it keep and what will it jettison? DC have taken the most predictable, formulaic comic they had (not criticisms! everybody likes the Scooby formula) and turned the book into the strangest, least predictable title on the shelf.

Scooby Doo Apocalypse #1

Writers: Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMattis

Artist: Howard Porter

Colourist: Hi-Fi

Letterer: Nick J. Nap

Publisher DC Comics

 

Review: The Fix #2

Cover

A few years back, at I think the second-ever Image Expo, the main story afterwards was how Image had attracted so many of Marvel and DC’s top writers and artists, where they would be making new comics without mandates or restraint. Gillen, McKelvie and Wilson would take their pop-influenced contemporo-action into The Wicked and The Divine; Scott Snyder and Jock would indulge their passion for horror with Wytches, and so on and so on. We were seeing people do work that referenced their well-read and much-seen work at larger publishers, but on their own terms.

That’s what you can’t help but keep in mind throughout reading The Fix. From Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber, this one draws an immediate parallel to The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, their series detailing the exploits and failed long-cons of some of Spidey’s D-List enemies. Here, again, we have people with no moral compass, who will betray everyone in order to get ahead – only this time at Image, rather than Marvel.

It’s another extension of an existing brand, but I found it to be a really different reading experience to some of the other franchise-to-Image transitions of the last couple of years. With the editor out the way and a group of new characters to play around with, the sense of danger immediately drops away from the comic – the formula which worked so well with a group of company-owned characters fizzles down when you take off the restraints. I enjoyed The Fix well enough, but it certainly feels like a weaker comic when you’d think it should be stronger.

It should probably be noted that, yeah, it’s not especially fair to draw comparisons between two different comics as the main note in a review – but that’s how the book’s been marketed, and it’s easily the most notable aspect of the series thus far. The two main characters in The Fix, whose names I don’t recall, are corrupt police officers who are looking to cover a debt they owe to an affable maniac who plays bluegrass covers of R. Kelly songs and then garottes people with his guitar strings. Their attempts to find a perfect score form the concept of the series, but the reality is a series of loosely connected vignettes building the characters and their reckless lack of morality.

But as it appears at the moment, there’s no fixed depth to that moral descent. Nobody follows a code, so there’s nobody pointing out that what the characters are doing is wrong. Everybody is implicit in the world of The Fix, which removes the feeling of danger from the comic. When reading, I found that a lot of the jokes were predictable because the structure of the comic only allows things to go in one direction. Each time the characters face a choice, I know they’ll pick the coward’s route. In this issue, for example, a long set-up is offered for one of their co-workers, who is the epitome of the hard-working hero.

He does charity work, is a devoted husband, brings doughnuts in for lunch. So the obvious route is for the protagonists to wreck his life and send him to jail. It’s obvious from the get-go that this is where they’re going, because there’s nothing to stop them doing so. But it’s also obvious that The Fix, with its highly cynical narration boxes, is also going to push further, and sure enough the character also proves ultimately to be hiding deeper secrets which make it fine for him to be arrested.

Everything turns for the worst, and it’s jarringly predictable. When combined with the fact that there are no characters who effectively act as condemnation for the actions of our leads? It makes for a surprisingly dull overall read. Likewise, the scene I mentioned above, with the man they owe a debt to? It almost reads as shorthand. He has already been characterised as somebody who is pleasant-acting and seems dull, almost, in his normalcy – but is actually a deranged murderer, and the second issue’s check-in only serves to re-tick the boxes we’re already seen.

He murders somebody for no real reason, he gets away with it, and it has no lasting effect. Compare that to the previous series, The Superior Foes of Spider-Man. In that book you have a similar looming presence over the heads of the team, in the form of well-known Spider-Man villains like Tombstone and Chameleon. They perform a similar role to the mob boss of The Fix, but in their case the editorial handcuffs surrounding them actually offers benefit to the comic. They can kill, and we know they can – but Marvel’s editorial guides mean we know they can’t overstep particular limits.

There’s a structure in that, a sense of discipline. It’s also set in a superhero universe, so we already know there’s a core of “good vs evil” in the coding of the comic. The characters like Boomerang, Beetle, Shocker etc who we’re following are low-level villains like the leads of The Fix, but they can’t just do whatever they want. They have a place in an established pecking order within the comic – and outside the comic too. Their decades-long history plays into everything we see them do, as these background characters attempt to worm their way past known murderers and mob bosses in order to make a living robbing banks.

We also know that they have to survive – so the basis of their book became “how do they get out of this?”. In The Fix, the characters are fresh and have only had forty pages of history, total, so far. And in their forty pages they’ve so far gotten away with everything, so there’s no sense of danger for their current situation. They don’t have the forces of the universe conspiring against them like, say, Shocker does. Shocker’s never going to win. He’s Shocker! Sucking is just what he does. The leads of The Fix aren’t underdogs – they’re just mean-spirited people who will drop all morale pretence if it’s to their benefit.

It’s not a story so much as it is a series of sketches, therefore, with the outcome pre-determined. At this point you feel you can tell exactly where each subsequent issue is going to go, and the only decision at the end is whether they get away with their score, or whether they get shot. Because unlike the Marvel characters, these two are completely disposable. Again, it removes the stakes somewhat. You can make a long-running Marvel character completely awful, because at the end of the day the creative team have to put all their toys back in the sandbox.

With The Fix, there’s no sense of that. We can’t connect to the leads because they’re definitively bad people. They don’t seem to be in particular trouble, as they spend all their time mucking around and elaborately ruining other people’s lives. And at the end of the day, Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber can always just kill them if they want. It makes for a fascinating series, where each new vignette tries to bring the characters to a new moral low – but the feeling I came away with was “okay, but why does it matter?” They could commit absolute atrocities by the time the series finishes, but it still doesn’t mean anything for me as a reader.

With The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, I knew that the characters had to be extricated from their situation, because a year down the line Dan Slott will probably need to use some of them in the main Spider-Man book, and he’ll want them relatively unharmed/unchanged from their ‘classic’ behaviour. That adds a level of difficulty to the series which The Fix doesn’t experience itself. It’s fine enough as a series; and I’m glad to see an Image book which isn’t just another one-word astronaut dystopia; but it’s certainly a case where the creative team’s attempts to one-up their past success actually detract from the comic they’re making.

And I still can’t remember the names of any of the characters.

 

The Fix #2

Writer: Nick Spencer

Artist: Steve Lieber

Colorist: Ryan Hill

Letterer/Designer: Nic J. Shaw

Publisher: Image Comics

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