Posted in Comics n Stuff

Weathering the Storm: Introduction

A while back as a sort of retrospective, I looked at Image Comics, 30 years from it’s launch back in the spring/summer of 1992, the post is here.

The studio/line that I was more drawn to was Jim Lee’s Wildstorm. Launched by WildC.A.T.S. (Covert Action Teams) it soon blossomed into a shared fictional universe as complex as anything early Marvel/DC did and with it’s own rules, tropes and cast of characters. With DC trying again to integrate these properties into the DCU (it hasn’t gone great before) I wanted to have a look at the comics, the characters and titles that shaped this line and why it was I so enjoyed it. I want to look at characters, stories and titles that made me enjoy this so much and also ask, where did it go wrong, or did it?

But my first question is to you all, do you remember the initial Wildstorm series and the ones that followed, are you nostalgic for them, feel they weren’t good or that they haven’t stood the test of time.

Posted in TV Stuff

Calling for a Doctor: William Hartnell part 1

Doctor Who started with the remit of putting something on telly between the sport and Juke Box Jury on a Saturday night in the early 1960’s. This was a bit of a gap where families were sitting down together after a day doing whatever and this could cause them to move to the other channel and cost the British Broadcasting Corporation millions of viewers in this nascent field of television.

Produced by Verity Lambert, it was conceived as a show that could be fun, exciting and educational, showcasing science and history in a new and engaging light. It had a modest budget to go along with the modest capacity of special effects of the time, but it had so much heart it pulled it together and produced something a little bit special.

Episode 1: An Unearthtly Child aired on 23 November 1963 and told the tale of school teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Lewis, who were discussing an odd student they both teach called Susan Foreman. She seems at odds with current fashions and concepts, yet is far advanced in science and in history. She seems amazingly bright and yet also lacking the most basic of knowledge that children her age should know. To make matters worse, her home address is just an old junk yard. Feeling concerned and yes a bit nosey, Ian and Barbara go to check it out. Through misunderstandings, they force themselves inside what appears to be a Police Box, a common enough sight at the time, but inside is a large room, too large to fit inside the box. (The first depiction of “it’s bigger on the inside”)

Susan’s only family member is her abrasive and mysterious grandfather who only identifies himself as the Doctor. He gives no name and precious little other information either. Whilst the teachers try to get answers off him, hearing only that he is from neither this place or time, their argument is ended when this ship, which Susan calls TARDIS lights up and with an eerie noise vanishes from the junk yard and appears in a wasteland. The TARDIS is still a Police Box, which concerns the Doctor greatly.

What follows is a story with people from the future interacting with cave people, desperate to learn the secret of fire. Ian raises himself up as an early leader of this group, whilst the Doctor is not shown as friendly, or even really a good man. At one point, he considers killing a captive they have to help them move more quickly and stay safer. Finally this motley foursome make it back to the ship and travel away, finding themselves on a world and time unknown to all of them and as they leave to explore, the Geiger counter (or whatever TARDIS have in its place) shows an alarming amount of radiation outside. They may not be in the caveman era, but they are neither home, nor are they safe.

What was the Doctor Like?

With no particular mould to fit into, in a show that hasn’t really settled on the Doctor as your protagonist, there was no reason to treat the Doctor as a hero and he isn’t. In the first episode he wants little to do with humanity, his staying on Earth in the 1960’s is simply to indulge his granddaughter. He wants to be left alone and as a result is very combative with the two stowaways. Ian and Barbara are in the way and he wants rid of them and I suppose that makes him just as much as stowaway as they are once all of them are forced together through circumstance. But despite his prickly and abrasive demeanour, he is devoted to his granddaughter. Their interactions are genuine and loving. Hartnell doesn’t make his Doctor particularly likeable, but he does give you hints that there’s a good man in there. He’s far from the jovial 4th Doctor, or the charming 10th, but you imagine you can see how to get from one to the others.

What is the story like?

The problem with TV from years gone by is length. Modern Doctor Who operates on a 44min 1 episode story model, at most an 88 minute 2 parter, whilst classic Doctor Who was based on a 25 minute episode, 4-6 part story model and this creates some pacing issues in comparison. They group are captured several times and the main themes and ideas are laid out for the audience several times. It was jarring, but you re-think that as a problem when you realise it was a show that had to appeal to children and maybe a bit of spoon-feeding of plot might not be such a bad thing.

Outside of that, there’s the dialogue, which as for the time is clunky and expositional and the performances are often melodramatic, but in this heightened world that also fits in. William Russell is a good leading man, trying to be both a man of action as well as a thinking man, trying to take care of these people he’s found himself marooned with. The jeopardy feels real and earned and each character has a moment to take the spotlight.

It’s not Doctor Who as I know if, but if there’s anything the show can do it’s reinvent itself. All you need is the basics, a traveller in time and space, a blue box, trouble and people who need help. Everything else can be changed.

I am going to carry on with his and hope to see where this character goes and more importantly what happens next.

Posted in TV Stuff

Calling for a Doctor: Opening

In a world growing more and more complicated and more an more anxiety worthy, it is not an unreasonable desire to find comfort in the familiar and to harken back to times that if they weren’t at least felt simpler. It has led me to rediscover my older fandoms. I have watched the new Star Wars series that have come out, finding them nostaglic on one hand and genuinely engaging on the other. I finished just a month or so ago a highlight heavy rewatch of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 with my son (his first viewing of it) and found it still stands up. This extends to the whole family who are re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it’s spin off (son’s first time on that too) and trying to avoid re-examining the show after accusations on it’s creator and show runner.

But one that I had neglected TV wise was Doctor Who. A week or so ago I made a decision to start watching Doctor Who, from the beginning and if I didn’t have the DVD for it, I would buy it. It’s going to take me years as far as I can gather and to be honest, I’m looking forward to it.

So, like reading/watching projects there are rules. 1: Just the TV show, no Peter Cushing films, no audio-dramas, comics or tie-in/new adventures novels. 2: Everything has to be done chronologically. I start with William Hartnell and move forward with it from there. Rather than do a full re-watch blog, am going to look at firsts and lasts, how the cast, characters and show changes and the highlights/lowlights.

So naturally I started with the first episode of the show and the subsequent 5 part story that came after it, the who story named after chapter 1: The Unearthly child.

Posted in Mental Health Struggles, Miscellaneous

Trickier coming down

Though I don’t talk about it as much here, my battle with depression and anxiety is still ongoing. That’s a post for another day.

There are several methods of battling/managing these things. Talking helps, diet is a factor, support from those around you. But one that I have neglected is exercise.

I know, shocking that a geeky, overweight middle-aged man with high blood pressure isn’t getting enough exercise. Whilst you are reeling from that particular bombshell. I can tell you that it has started to change.

Through my sister-in-law, my son was introduced to indoor climbing. What I saw in the next 2 weeks was nothing short of remarkable. He grew in confidence and set and met challenges each time. After his 2nd week, I decided I would give this a try myself. And so I did.

Climbing Hangar is a company that has warehouses converted with climbing walls that a colour coded for levels of difficulty. Struggling to climb one wall, then try again and again. Once you crack that wall, you feel 2 feet taller. I learned two things the first week. One is that climbing up is quite a bit easier then getting back down.  The other is that I have missed that sense of accomplishment. I enjoyed the rush of almost falling and the next day sweet pain of overdoing it.

I quickly became a member and go regularly once a weekend, whilst my son goes twice. It’s been a boon to my mental health as well as my physical and every time I go, I improve. Last week, I tried a level 3 course and nailed it, today I did one that I have been aiming for all summer. Now I need a new target and I will have one by Saturday.  I would recommend it as an exercise and activity.  There is a huge cross-section of ages and fitness levels and a great sense of mutual good feel, everyone is rooting for everyone else. The only person you compete with is yourself.

With so much negativity around and in an increasingly uncertain world, its nice to find something that is only positive. Everyone should try this. Because it is a nice reminder of a truth we all need to remember. Whenever you fall, you get back up.

Posted in Comics n Stuff

5 Times they tried to do Spider-Man again

It has been my experience that in regards to the big 2 of comics (Marvel & DC) the split in regard to origins has often been concept vs execution.

Superman for example has a conceptually perfect origin that in one series was broken down into 8 words. But this origin has been re-done so many times just in the pages of the comics. Some basic things stay, but other stuff gets changed. Batman is the same, the origin’s core concept stays, whilst a lot of the details get reshuffled. It keeps their stories flexible and to a degree timeless. It’s allowed these modern myths to be retold again and again.

Marvel on the other hand, generally keep the stories themselves the same. The themes and the details stay. Some stuff has to move, with the impetus for the fateful flight which led to the Fantastic Four can’t really be pre-moon landing cold war fear and Iron Man can’t really still have come from the Vietnam War. But apart from the moving of the times (thank you the Marvel Sliding Timescale) their origins and basic themes have stayed pretty stable with very few things about them being changed. The clearest example of this is Amazing Fantasy 15 and the origin of Spider-Man.

Beyond the pop-culture touchstones, very little dates this story. The universality of the teenage experience and the struggle to find your place in a world that feels you are already in the right box adds pathos and a degree of realism to a story about a superhero in long underwear climbing walls.

It’s almost a perfect super-hero origin and what came from it is the almost quintessential super-hero story. The young person who is not popular living a regular life, falls ass-backwards into super-powers and then lives a double/triple life: student, family member and masked adventurer. It was a great concept and you can tell that just by how many times they tried again. This isn’t the teen-hero trope like Robin or Kid Flash or even Invincible and it isn’t a hero from humble origins destined for greatness. It’s more the everyman angle. This is the hero who might be you, or someone to whom you can relate. Not many could relate to a rich Howard Hughes type with an artificial heart, or a man who slept whilst the world moved on. But who can’t relate to money troubles, trying to land a date, or even be everywhere you need to be and stuff getting in the way. A lot of the comic reading populace could relate to that, as could most other people.

So like clockwork, every decade or so we get an young everyman hero, trying his best to make it in a world to weird and dangerous to make that easy. Here are 5 of the more successful of that breed.

Richard Rider: The Man called Nova

First appearing in the Man called Nova #1 in 1976, Richard Rider differed from Peter Parker (apart from a letter of the alphabet) in that wasn’t some unappreciated genius. He was average. Average height, average athletic skill, average intelligence and part of an average nuclear family. He was right in the middle and as a result overlooked by his smarter/more sporty classmates and his certified genius younger brother. He was given powers by a dying alien, part of a group called the Nova Corps of the alien world of Xandar. It does sound like Spider-Man and Green Lantern’s origins had a baby, but it set the scene for a hero who was eternally out of his depth. He battled aliens, villains, Thor at one point, ageless beings like the Sphinx and at the end of his series the entire Skrull army. He is also unique in one other way, he quit. He gave up his powers to help Xandar after the war against the Skrulls he was drafted into and went home, a powerless high-school drop out. He was brought back for the 90’s series New Warriors and he keeps doing that, he keeps coming back. Being dead and in the wrong universe didn’t stop this guy from making yet another come-back. He’s a local guy made good on a cosmic scale.

Ronnie Raymond/Dr. Martin Stein: Firestorm – the Nuclear Man

Almost a contemporary of Nova, Firestorm also debuted in 1976, but low sales and other factors kept him out of the limelight until a stint in the Justice League raised his profile enough to earn him a second shot. This was a little closer to the Spider-Man formula, it added the scientist element as well as the hero deal wreaking havoc on the personal life, but this time the hero was a mix of 2 people. Ronnie Raymond was the body with the subconscious of Martin Stein being an advisor. The flipside of it was that since it was Martin’s subconscious that worked in the Firestorm identity,  when split  he had no memory of being Firestorm. This was the way of making the hero stuff a problem for the regular life. It was a Marvel style character for DC and he always comes back.

Chris Powell: Darkhawk

First appearing in March 1991 as one of a group of new titles, such as Sleepwalker, Guardians of the Galaxy and New Warriors it was a basic by the numbers hero book that  followed Chris who is learning to be a hero after the loss of his father who was revealed to be a corrupt cop, adding a secret burden to the title’s star. It hasn’t aged well, depending on 90’s edginess, but lacked the pathos of earlier and later versions of this idea. When revisited, this lacking of originality and star quality was made much more a part of his story. Ironically the thing that made him forgettable was the hook that future writers used to make him worth reading about. I include him mostly because he fit the remit.

Kyle Rayner: Green Lantern

Ou first, but not only legacy character. He first appeared in 1994’s Green Lantern #48 before getting his own full costumed appearance 2 issues later at the end of #50. Up until then, Green Lanterns were greeted with their name and the phrase “you have the ability to overcome great fear, welcome to the Green Lantern Corps.”

Kyle got ” You will have to do. ” which is a very different thing. Rather than being honest and fearless, Kyle was a struggling artist who was quite aware of how out of his depth he was. Early in his career he lost his girlfriend, the helped restart the universe. That is a steep learning curve. But with an apprenticeship with the New Titans and an invite to the JLA, he was someone who learned and could stand alongside any Green Lantern. He was a DC Spider-Man, but definitely one done in a DC way. He was my Green Lantern as he got me back into DC comics and watching him grow into a hero was a great journey.

Kampala Khan: Ms Marvel

This 3rd iteration of Ms Marvel first appeared in her eponymous #1 in 2014. She followed in the wake of the introduction of several Inhuman characters being introduced as a way of created mutant-ish characters that could be used in a multi -media capacity without other license holders havin rights to them. Since all that was needed was some nebulous gene, different nationalities and backgrounds could be considered. Desperate for some diverse representation, Marvel opted to make this character a muslim. Kamala is a teenaged Pakistani -American super hero fan. Her favourite hero is Carol Danvers and when terrigenesis gives her shapeshifting powers, that’s who she looks like. Soon gets the hang of it and is able to use her powers to do all sorts of things and becomes the hero of New Jersey, a member of the Champions as well as negotiate high school life, family issues and being A POC in modern America.

Kamala is of this 5 the one who is closest to the New version of Spider-Man that we see her, but is also the one doing her own thing the most. Giving a new perspective and more inclusive mileu, she expands the number of people who can identify with this type of hero. When the readership expands, the more diverse the characters are, the more people the hero who could be you could be.

So that’s my 5. There have been others, but these are the ones that stuck out to me. Who did I miss?

Take care Internet people.