I love Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men | 168 – Live at NYCC, feat. Chris Claremont & Louise Simonson, let’s play it!
On my Facebook feed recently was one of those memories posts, three years ago I did a post on 5 one shot stories. 5 Comics: 5 One off stories
I realised that I never followed up that post with longer stories, so I have decided to do that here.
One of the good things that comics can do is long form serialisation. With a small amount of people involved in the whole creative process, it’s easier for the vision of a single creator to shape a series and spend years doing that. Being a more writer driven fan, it’s easier for me to see the writer’s ongoing influence on a series, especially when this writer is playing in someone else’s sandbox, so I have picked this 5 based on properties owned by one of the big two comic companies. I may do another based on creator own works, hopefully within three years of this one.
Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America
Captain America vol 5 1-50, art by Steve Epting mostly
Steve ‘Captain America’ Rogers is often categorised as humourless and a little bit sanctimonious, all straight-laced and speechifying. Mark Waid wrote excellent stories with Cap during his run on vols 1 & 3, making him a more sympathetic guy, but the person who fleshed him out the most was Ed Brubaker, one of Marvel’s super-start writers of the early to mid 00’s. Brubaker did crime really well, so his Cap was more of a secret agent with a mask than hero and as more of a soldier, had a two fisted, take no prisoners approach. He was no killer, but in his first issue, hospitalised a number of bad guys and threw another off a moving train. Steve was well travelled and experienced, but his cynicism was tempered with hope, in fact the characterisation for the whole cast, good and bad was tight and when halfway in Steve was killed off, the book carried on without missing a beat and maintaining quality even without the star. It was consistently fully of high octane action, tension and wonderful characterisation.
Highpoint 1: Captain America vol 5 16 – During Cap and Sharon’s search for Bucky, they get into a firefight with A.I.M. and Steve dodges the bullets and when Sharon asks how he could do that so well, he calmly points out that he can see faster than most people as if it’s perfectly normal.
Highpoint 2: Captain America issue 25 -The moment when we learn who the real shooter is, as does the shooter.
Ed Brubaker’s Sleeper
Sleeper Season One 1-12 and Season Two 1-12, art by Sean Philips
After a darker turn on Captain America, Brubaker went further into the night with the Noir-fest that was Sleeper, a spy thriller with a super villain twist. Containing pre-existing Wildstorm characters like John Lynch, Grifter, Backlash and Tao, Brubaker added to that world with his own characters to tell the story of Holden ‘Conductor’ Carver, a spy for International Operations, who goes off book and under cover in the new crime syndicate run by the Tactically Augmented Organism known as Tao. After an accident involving some alien technology, Holden can no longer feel pain, but store it up and conduct it to other people. He can also no longer feel anything else either and he’s bitter because of it. Also, only John Lynch knows he isn’t the traitor that IO think he is and just before the story starts, Lynch is left in a coma. The ‘good’ guys want him dead, some of the bad guys do too and he has nowhere to turn.
It’s the seedier side of a super hero universe, with drugs, illicit sex, groupies, murder and bizarre characters. A 24 part self contained story, it’s exciting, with tension built into the moody art and it’s completely devoid of the hollywood-esque happy ending.
Highpoint 1: The character and origin of Miss Misery, who needs to be evil to survive.
Highpoint 2: Sleeper Season Two 12, the final fate of Tao
Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men
Astonishing X-Men vol 3 1-24 and Giant Size Astonishing X-Men 1 art by John Cassaday.
After a decade or more of owning the comics world, the end of the 90’s was a bit more of a low point for the X-Men, if not for sales, at least in the stories and characters themselves. It wasn’t what it was under Claremont, or even what it was under Lobdell, so in 2000, Marvel gave the flagship title X-Men vol 2 to Vertigo Wunderkind Grant Morrison. Morrison revitalised the franchise with new ideas and characters and an infusion of energy that was much needed. The franchise was alive, but lacked it’s soul. I was interested with Morrison being announced as writer, but excited with Whedon. If anyone could restore that lost soul to the X-Men it was him. The evidence was his shows, he’d be writing X-Men for years, he just didn’t call it X-Men. I waited and hoped it would deliver upon it’s promise.
Whedon’s X-Men while new, used a lot of old school X-Men tropes to craft an enjoyable story with excellent art, iconic yet relatable and recognisable characterisation. He deconstructed characters, without taking away anything that made them work for many years before. He wrote a 25 issue love letter to the comics of old, but was accessible enough that non-X-Men fans liked it, including my own wife the MIGHTY Rosie. It’s not a comic I would recommend to just anyone, it’s one I would recommend to everyone.
Highpoint 1: Just everything with Cyclops, from him taking Xavier to task for enslaving Danger in issue 12, to his bad-assery in issue 22-23 ‘To me, my X-Men”
Highpoint 2: Issue 18, Beast recovering his mind and dressed in a tweed three piece suit, classic Beast. (When I was talking about getting my left arm tattooed with the MIGHTY Rosie, that image of the Beast was being considered.)
Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory
30 Comics, 2 bookends and 7 4 issue minis, by various artists.
Grant Morrison seems fascinated with both super-heroes and the metafiction of stories. His stories often go left of where you expect them to go, or what you expect the story should be or could be. So when he did a 30 part event, he went left once more, with no big characters, no recognisable threat and just recycled names, but the biggest left turn was that this super hero team, never actually meet up as they save the world. They cross paths briefly as needed, but never really interact. We have stories with roots in horror, standard super-heroics, fantasy quests, time lost knights and Jack Kirby’s 4th world all wrapped up in a single story that only feels like a single story, when you get to the end. It’s ambitious, interesting and ultimately a great read.
Highlight 1: Seven Soldiers Manhattan Guardian 1, Subway Pirates
Highlight 2: Seven Soldiers Mr Miracle 4, the last escape of Shiloh Norman
Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch
Stormwatch Vol 1 37-50, vol 2 1-11 & WildC.A.T.S vs Aliens, art by Tom Raney, Brian Hitch, Chris Sprouse and others.
Stormwatch was one of the second wave of Image comics from the early to mid 90’s. It was a timely mix of military sci-fi and ‘EXTREME’ super heroics and did at the time catch my attention. The idea of a UN run super-hero team was interesting, but the title ultimately suffered from sub-par writing and very inconsistent art and design. After the crossover Fire from Heaven, Wildstorm handed the title over to Warren Ellis, most likely with caveat that he could do what he liked with this mid-level and forgettable comic.
Within the first issue, Ellis had got rid of all but 9 of the cast and brought in three of his own characters and the team was repurposed as a special forces style black ops team. There was no longer a sprawling team of ill-defined characters, under Ellis’ stewardship it was three small three-man teams and some support staff, offering violent action, reprisal and espionage. The good guys saw no issue with using lethal force when needed and the bad guy? Well he was in charge of them. Weatherman One, Henry Bendix was as evil and complex a villain as anything Marvel had at that time. He did the dirty work for a UN that really didn’t want to ask questions about what he was doing. At the end of Vol 1, an actual super team of mainstream allegories and their mission was to kill them. It was a great tail end to the series, with Bendix being ousted and replaced with 3rd in command Jackson ‘Battalion’ King, who started the second volume being more open and media savvy, but still running a spy team and making the hard choices. The second volume ended with a bit of a whimper with Stormwatch being mostly destroyed by the Aliens (yeah, Ridley Scott/James Cameron ones) who were defeated by the WildC.A.T.S. Ellis was by this point done with this iteration and was ready to launch the Authority, so Stormwatch fell by the wayside, but at the time, being on the ground floor of this series relaunch was a great part of my fandom.
Highlight 1: Issue 37, people fired, danger, death and Nietzsche quotes.
Highlight 2: Any issue with Jenny Sparks, a truly great comic character.
That’s all for now internet people maybe next 5 comics, should be creator owned stories?
All of my heroes have been fictional. Religion has no value for me, institutions are often more corrupt and people in the real world will always let you down. For me the ideals and insights in fiction have offered me ideas, rather than things to believe in. Knowing that they are fiction was in reality comforting, you take your meaning as you want to. A book can’t let you down, a comic or a tv program can’t cause you to be disillusioned. I believe in the people around me and on the good days, myself, haven’t really needed anything more than that. Being able to be moved by music and identify with characters on the screen and page has been enough, beyond my loved ones that is.
As I have spent the last four or so years trying to understand the bats**t crazy elements of my personality, I have been looking at why I identify with certain characters, what that means about me and well hence this article. Now by this I mean specific characters, relating to specific personality traits/issues, so I don’t need to mention always identifying with the outsider/inhuman character. My status as a bit of a misfit is not really much of a mystery, nor in geekdom that unique a thing. But I found this thought interesting, so wanted to explore it.
Vance Astro: Finding purpose
Appearing in Marvel comics, including Guardians of the Galaxy, Vance Astro was an astronaut who sacrificed his entire life to visit another star system and further the human adventure by travelling to Alpha Centauri in a thousand year one way trip. Only to find out that 800 years before he arrived, Harkovian physics rendered his entire trip obsolete and humanity was already waiting for him. The image he had of himself and the purpose that he lived for were pointless. His entire life seemingly a waste. So he did, what any person would need to do, he started again. He found a purpose in freeing the worlds of the Sol system from the Badoon. It wasn’t quick, easy or all at once, but he began to live again. I find that aspirational, the idea of starting again and changing who you are to yourself and becoming something greater than who you were before. If it can be imagined, then it can be done, if it can be done, maybe I can do it?
Henry ‘Beast’ McCoy : Bad judgement and deflection.
Here one character meets two different thoughts. Dr Henry McCoy first appeared in X-Men 1 and was one of the original class of students of Charles Xavier. He is also the person who has made some fantastic blunders over the years. He quit the X-Men to become a professional wrestler, we were all young once, has been the victim of femme fatales so many times and in order to deal with some corporate espionage, actually mutated himself into some kind of were ape creature. Yeah, that wasn’t do to him, he did that to himself. When anti-mutant bigotry cost him a job opportunity, did he sue? No he stripped down to his undies and jumped out of the window like an azure gorilla. He then tried to be somewhat smarter for a long time and then because of an off-hand comment by his friend, decided to steal a time machine and bring his younger self and his classmates into their future/his present to PREVENT disaster. Yup that’s right, for what seemed to be laudable reasons, he tore open time and stole 5 people from the past, including himself to prove a point to one of his oldest friends. Now, who here can’t relate to making a few stupid decisions? He’s also good at deflecting, the affected intellectualism, where he’d use many long words, play up how smart he is, to keep people at arms length, or his constant light-hearted jokey replies to everyone, to make sure they don’t keep things too real. Even during his time on the Avengers and his ladies man antics are just more deflection from his problems. I also do that, preventing people from seeing who I really am.
Hank Pym: Self Esteem
I have, for as long as I can remember, suffered from low self esteem. I don’t think I would as far as calling it an inferiority complex, but I know full well that feeling of being less than. I did a long piece called In Defense of Hank Pym, here so will be brief about the specifics, but no matter how smart he was, or how hard he worked, in the original team of Avengers, he was the little guy. Think about it, the god of thunder, the human tank, the flying woman and a guy who’s power is to be small. Who’d want to be that one? There’s a reason that he was left out of the Avengers movie.
Probably the first comic character I identified with, Cyclops was introverted, quiet and kept his feelings very much to himself. He was in love with a girl, but could never tell her how he felt. He was also skinny (as was I when younger) and wore glasses. As I got older and new writers took over, Cyclops was seen as more of a repressed character, who not only kept his feelings from other people, but also from himself. He closed himself off from the world and whenever he didn’t, it didn’t go well for him. A man who never really learned how to ‘people’, this is a feeling that I can understand completely and I was never brainwashed into a cult. Fortunately his being at times a shockingly bad human being and making at best questionable life choices keeps me from identifying too much.
The Thing: Depression
Ben Grimm is my spirit animal. In fact recently I considered him as part of my left arm cover tattoo. Like Vance Astro, my identification with him is aspirational. In mind’s eye, he is the battle with depression. Happy for a lot of his life, despite a harsh upbringing, Ben became the Thing, not through fault of his own, but as part of an accident partially caused by his best friend. None of this is his fault, but he bears the burden for it nonetheless. He still has his own voice, his own wants and needs, but is almost perpetually cut off from the world. He can’t feel things like he used to, feels at times like a monster and there is always this tinge of bitterness and melancholy. And yet, he battles for others, has the biggest of hearts and a stubborn refusal to surrender to either his own problems, or any opposing force.
5 ways to explain some of the s**t in my head, there you go, till next time internet people.
A moving piece that I felt I had to share
I am as of this writing, off my meds. I have been on some form of anti-depressant medication for 4 years, 7 months and 21 days.
For the first 3 years, I was on the wrong medication it turns out, I switched about 18 months ago, but by and large haven been taking pills for over 4 and a half years. Back in the summer, I came to the decision to come off them, feeling that they were no longer part of my recovery, but perhaps they had become an impediment to it. I decided to fix that by slowly weaning myself off them. For a period of 4 weeks, I went down to one every two days, for 4 weeks after that, it was one every three days, then twice and week and then for the last 4 weeks, one per week. Wednesday, was my last one. It’s been a long road internet people, but I am as of this writing no longer being treated medically. It’s a big step to take and I have taken it.
That’s my win for today (well Wednesday) and am glad of it.
The main problem now is that hard won victory hasn’t really changed anything.
I still battle depression and I don’t win every single day, a few days in a row where I haven’t won was noticed, sadly not by me. Kinda been letting the side down recently, not looking after myself as well as I should do, missing things and being less than present. Nothing earth shattering is it? Work stress and other shit getting to you to the extent that you’re not your best self for a bit? Thing is, I don’t have the luxury of doing that do I? I don’t have the freedom to let things go a little, but it’s only a hop skip and a jump to falling back into the places I’ve spent the last four years trying to escape. My health can suffer as can my relationship with the MIGHTY Rosie as well as other important stuff. Once again, how off my game was pointed out to me gently on Monday evening and significantly less gently Tuesday morning. (Totally justified both times, I’m not crying foul here, this was more of the MIGHTY Rosie having my back as she always has.) I’ve been as a result left reeling this last couple of days. In the past, I would spend quite a while feeling shitty about myself. Oh don’t worry, I still fully intend to do that, but will also try to do better, to be more engaged, more focused and more even tempered. My son deserves better, the MIGHTY Rosie deserves better and am slowly coming to the conclusion that I deserve better too.
This is a blip, not a backslide, proof of this will be what I do next. I am off my meds, that was part of it, but I do have such a long way to go.
“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill