Posted in Comics n Stuff, TV Stuff

Modern Fandom: Or, it’s really not that bad

I like liking things, I enjoy being caught up in a tv show, comic or film and enjoy talking about such things with like minded folks, or even ones that disagree with me, provided we at least try to see the other person’s viewpoint, or can agree that our tastes and opinions can differ. As I look at pop culture websites, youtube and facebook I can see that I am somewhat in the minority, or certainly the less vocal percentage of internet fandom. It may be an age thing, I have been around long enough to see much of the reasons for the vitriol before and am no stranger to long-standing properties undergoing changes that I either didn’t understand, nor approved of. I’m sort of tired of it now, because despite all the changes and things that aren’t as I remember them being, it really doesn’t matter.

Now hear me out, I don’t mean that these aren’t things to care about in the ‘more important things in life’ way. There’s validity to that, but I am a man wearing an X-Men tee shirt and have Marvel comics characters tattooed on both of my arms, so lets not be of the misunderstanding that I have my life in the correct perspective. What I mean is, so what if it has changed? Is that so bad?

Whilst I have seen this happen a few times in comics (a female Thor, a Captain America of colour and an Iron Man who is also a teenage girl of colour) it has never felt like any kind of betrayal or anything like that. Captain America has been replaced several times and my objection to the Sam Wilson era, was that Falcon was very much his own man as a character and sticking him with the name seemed to diminish Sam Wilson, rather than affect how I saw the name of Captain America. I read some of his appearances, saw that they were going for a man trying to live up to a legend, but believing he never would was a valid story to tell and I found it somewhat interesting. Thor as a woman, split the character and showed us a Thor who wasn’t worthy and another for whom wielding the hammer could be a death sentence, these were good ideas and led to interesting stories. A teenage girl in the Iron Man armour led to interesting things either and we got away with having the original Iron Man in that story well, so what did we lose? It seemed to me that people arguing these things, seemed bothered about something beyond their preferred characters not being the ones under the familiar name.

When it came to movies and tv this seemed to get worse. Earlier this year, I watched Captain Marvel, which was the film that introduced the Carol Danvers version of that character ( the 5th Captain Marvel I believe) and there was so much anger over the character, the actress playing her and what seemed to be her insertion into the comics and the MCU as a major character. There is a couple of things to look at here, I am a fan of the other versions too. I liked the Mar Vell version when he was a spy for the Kree who fell in love with the Earth and out of love with the Kree. I liked the Genis Vell version too (mostly for Peter David’s writing) and I hold them dear to my heart, but Carol Danvers was a character going back to the early Mar Vell stories and had been a character under her own name as well as Ms Marvel, Binary, Warbird and Ms Marvel again, before getting the name Captain Marvel which wasn’t being used at the time. I read some of the character’s comics and they weren’t for me. But here’s the thing, it doesn’t have to be. I read a recent mini-series which did a bit of a secret origins take on Carol and that was actually very good and other appearances have been good too. The character isn’t for me, nor does it have to be. She was in a movie, which was slammed by some for being too feminist. That does take me to a quote I like from the author Salman Rushdie “Of course I am a feminist the other option is a$$hole.” I may not have read much of what he has written, but I like what he said there. Is feminist a bad thing now? Being raised by a strong woman, being married to one and working with a couple, I never thought of women as anything other than as good as a man at anything they do. But I watched the film and when the character of Mar Vell was gender swapped to be a female, posing as a human called  Wendy Lawson I didn’t think of it as a betrayal, but more of an interesting plot choice that I didn’t think of. If you change any of the cast to male, the story doesn’t really change too much and if we can be honest, haven’t enough men had this movie anyway? 22 MCU movies and only 1 is female led? That’s a pretty poor showing don’t you think? Whilst it’s not one of the MCU’s best, it is a solid midcarder of a film that was both fun and accessible. I was glad to see it come out and will no doubt pick up the Blu Ray before too long.

That came on the heels of last year’s recasting of the BBC TV series/character Doctor Who. So many people complained about the casting and overall direction of the show that I seriously wondered what they could have seen that would make reasonable people feel this way. Was it her well received performance on Broadchurch? Or her appearance in the apparently underappreciated Attack the Block? Was it that the role was just handed to her? Oh wait, it wasn’t. As far as I was aware, she hadn’t actually been seen on the show yet. So what was all the anger about? When it finally was on the air, I watched it.

It was enjoyable, good performances, action and writing and whilst not as good as Matt Smith’s the 11th hour, it was better than the rest of the new Doctor Who actor’s first episodes. The rest of the season was okay, some good episodes, some not so good, but isn’t that always the way? What about the quality had changed that so many people could be so down on it? The retorts of ‘SJW’ and ‘get your politics out of my …..’ etc etc as well as the usual ‘ruined my childhood’ rubbish came up. But here’s the thing, most heroic fiction has an element of social justice in it. It is built into the idea. The politics argument is also spurious as most good fiction and good science fiction in particular has politics or some message built into it. Doctor Who has had a go at taxation, prejudice, war, totalitarianism and a dozen other things besides going back as far as it’s pro-enviroment themes during Inferno over 40 years ago. It’s not the actor you are objecting too (no one could accuse Slyvester McCoy or Colin Baker of being master thespians) nor the writing (I watched Fear Her and 42 as well you know), so really what is it that you are complaining about?

This post (rambling as it may be) came about because our puppy isn’t always sleeping through the night and I have had a few sleepless nights as a result. After a couple of occasions of channel surfing, I decided the next time I would put a film on and the newest film I had bought, that I was able to watch at 4am was Star Wars episde XIII, the Last Jedi. Wow, did that film get a lot of unnecessary bile as well. But I watched it and it was alright. It was better then most of the prequels, better than the last one and I will be honest, I didn’t know what the fuss was all about. The grief that the cast has to deal with was ridiculous (one of the cast was chased off twitter) and for what? A film that many people didn’t like, but many people did? It was okay, there was a lot of good moments in the film and it pointed towards an interesting episode IX, yet once more we have the not my star wars people, the cries for re-edits and complaints of SJW agendas again (so we didn’t think that a film about a rebellion against a fascist empire wasn’t going to have any of that?) and discussion of the film seems to have been  shoved aside in favour of shouting about what the film means and how the fans have been betrayed by this newest installment. I may write more about this film as I have both positives and negatives about it, but it seemed to crystalise what I had been thinking.

The point of this incredibly long diatribe is this. If you do not like it, that is okay. The world is full of things that I do not like, but others do. The world also has stuff that I like and others do not. That is okay. Not everything is for me. I am quite fortunate, being a straight white man, quite a lot of fiction is for me. But I have also enjoyed stuff that shines a light on other points of view and perspectives. Many of my favourite shows have female leads, or leads of colour and not seeing myself reflected in this fiction is not a problem to me. But having that broader range of appeal and greater representation does mean something to other people. If I can see myself reflected on TV or film in a leading role, why shouldn’t everyone else. If a lot of TV and film and comics is aimed to me as a demographic, why doesn’t every demographic have the same thing? If something is for me, or if I can enjoy it, fantastic. If it isn’t, well that’s okay too, because it doesn’t have to be and it will be for someone else. If The Last Jedi isn’t my star wars, well that’s okay, because there’s another 7 or 8 movies that might be, no point getting all aireated about it. My not liking it, doesn’t make it wrong, any more than my liking it makes it right. If the new stuff doesn’t do it for me, that’s not a betrayal of the fans or the ruining of my childhood, that’s okay, because I have a lot of stuff that does do it for me and more seems to be coming up all the time. You can reboot, recast or remake whatever you want, it doesn’t ruin my childhood, because I had those things then and in terms of popular culture, my childhood was pretty damn good. Most of the things that I enjoyed as a kid or available now still. I can watch 80’s cartoons, 70’s movies, 90’s tv shows and so on and share them with those I love and every now and again, something new will appear that will impress and/or entertain me.

If you like something, enjoy it, share it and be thankful for it, because it does enhance your day. If you don’t, what you can do is, walk away. If you don’t like the new Doctor Who, don’t watch it, millions of others will and the older stuff is still there for you to enjoy. If you don’t like the way the new Star Wars films are being done, then vote with your £ or $ and don’t go to see it. You are not harmed by these things and this bile and vitriol is neither helping you, nor changing anything. Several times I have walked away from stuff that I felt wasn’t for me, sometimes I go back, sometimes I don’t and in neither instance is anyone else affected.

If watching a female Doctor Who doesn’t do it for you, don’t watch it. The complaining, the hate-watching isn’t necessary. Some little girl might watch that and be inspired, the way that you were once inspired when they were a he. The geeks of the world like to still see ourselves as the keepers of these myths, these fragile things that need to be protected from the newcomers, but weren’t not. These stories belong to all of us and maybe you need to be a little less precious about them. The greatest stories grow and change and aren’t the same decade to decade. We need to let new people enjoy them, new people create them, so they are sustained and continue to enhance all of our lives.

Wow, kind of went on a long rant there, didn’t I?

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Posted in Comics n Stuff, TV Stuff

Well that was unnecessarily dark: Or, I really enjoyed Titans

A few years back, Marvel made a deal with Netflix and made some TV shows Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and the Punisher. They were gritty and less family friendly that the MCU movies and dealt with themes of guilt, PTSD, race and the effect violence has on you and those around you. Each one had a strong first season, which myself and the MIGHTY Rosie binge watched at the first opportunity. The second seasons and the Defenders series were less strong and were more of slog to get through, to such an extent that it took two months to watch Luke Cage and I gave up on Iron Fist, bypassing Punisher altogether. It wasn’t that they were good, it’s just they kinda struggled to have the same impact. I didn’t feel I had to watch the next one and there seemed less and less reason to carry on after the story had been told.

I tried some of the other shows in a similar vein, with Runaways being such a faithful adaptation that all it did is make you feel you had already watched it. Black Lightning came next which felt too similiar to other shows to be it’s own thing. Then came Cloak and Dagger which was also faithful to it’s source material in that it was overly preachy with uninteresting lead characters. So by the time that Titans was announced I was somewhat less than optimistic.

Titans was originally the Teen Titans which was a bunch of sidekicks including the original Robin (partner to Batman) Aqualad (sidekick to Aquaman), Speedy (sidekick to Green Arrow), Kid Flash (nephew of the Flash) and Wonder Girl (sidekick of/younger version of Wonder Woman) which was as bizarre as Silver Age Bob Haney could make it. Then came the New Teen Titans, which kept some of those characters (Robin, Kid Flash & Wonder Girl), Doom Patrol alum Beast Boy and some new characters (Cyborg, Raven and Starfire) who were created by the new creative team Marv Wolfman and George Perez. It was a massive success for DC when they needed one and the characters blossomed into success stories.

There are other iterations of the Titans, but to be honest, whenever everyone talks about the Teen Titans, this is the version they are talking about. The excellent cartoon series Teen Titans and it’s successor the risable Teen Titans Go (Don’t care, still hate it.) contained most of that line-up. So when the TV was announced, this was where the line-up would come from. Still less optimistic.

Then came the trailer and some screen shots and then came the internet fandom bitching and moaning, too grim and gritty, too off model yadda yadda yadda. So again, my expectations were so low that it was more of a question of ‘might as well’.

But it was actually good. There was the story of Raven, who was revamped as a gothy teen and the death of her stepmother, which brings her into contact with a Detroit detective called Dick Grayson, who up until a couple of years ago was Robin, a role that has left him tortured by the violence he has committed and yet also addicted to that violence. As he realises the danger he is in they flee, meeting up with Hawk and Dove first them colliding with Beast Boy and Starfire as Rachel’s past comes for her. As well as Hawk and Dove, we get a look at the Doom Patrol and Wonder Girl, with the added bonus of Jason (the second Robin) Todd who is exactly as obnoxious as you expect.

The dark tone, the team-less team and the fact that these characters work best as animated ones are all reasons that this shouldn’t have worked and yet. Each character gets their own unique spin with Starfire being unaware of her past through most of the season and Beast Boy being traumatised by something he does in his animal form. We also see that the life Batman leads can do so much harm to those around it. Robin isn’t the swashbuckling boy wonder of old, but a man suffering tremendously with PTSD and guilt. This isn’t the Robin who softened the Batman’s edge, he’s the weapon Batman forged him into. We have a unnaturally powerful girl, a woman who burns like the sun and a boy who can be a green tiger once he’s stripped off, but the scariest is Robin who can and will do brutal harm with abandon. This version of Robin isn’t what I expected, but it was compelling. That’s a microcosm of this whole show. Unexpected and compelling. The violence is brutal, but in a way that feels earned. These guys are doing violent things, mostly for their own reasons and there is no sound effect projected into the air that softens it. It talks about the damage it does, both to the body and mind and I found the whole thing fascinating.

The pacing is tight, with one episode’s exception and after each episode, I checked the time to see if I can watch another one and when I couldn’t, I was disappointed. This was dark, unrelentingly so at times, but this was the best comic-related TV series that I have seen since the first couple of Marvel Netflix shows. I would highly recommend this, even if the characters haven’t grabbed you in other incarnations, because this is a show that made me give a toss about Hawk and Dove and I didn’t think that was possible to be perfectly honest.

It’s on Netflix here in blighty, but I assume it’s available elsewhere and is well worth checking out. Fair warning, there’s a cliffhanger.

Posted in Comics n Stuff

For the Geek in me, 2018 was awesome part 1: Comics

In a ‘challenging’ year there have been a number of times I needed to get out of my own head and just enjoy this and whilst pickings have been slim, what I have found to enjoy I really have enjoyed.I found a few titles that were new for this year that left an impression.

Domino


Domino is a background character from X-Force back in the 90’s. She had potential that has been glimpsed, but never really developed. Gail Simone took interesting b-list characters and fleshed them out in Birds of Prey and Secret Six for DC so was the idea person to give Domino the starting role she deserved. It has action, comedy, high stakes and a relatively continuity light story. It was above all fun.  With representation being very important, a high quality comic with a female lead, mostly female cast and written by a skilled writer is important when the majority of the industry has a predominantly white male feel to it.

Hawkman


Spinning out of an event I didn’t read about a character that I don’t like came this gem.

Take Indiana Jones, add a touch of Highlander and splash in some Conan the Barbarian and wings and you get this guy. This is a fun book that has action, mystery and a flying barbarian who does feel the need to wear shirts. The art is something of a selling point here with Bryan Hitch back on form. It’s not epoch making stuff, but it’s the best Hawkman I have seen in a long time.
Superman/Action Comics



Superman turned 80 this and in a convenient bit of timing,  Action Comics reached the milestone of 1000 issues. As a fresh start sort of thing, DC just as they did in the late 80’s handed their flagship character to one of Marvel’s big guns who wrote a 6 issue series called Man of Steel. Taking the John Byrne told was Brian Michael Bendis on words and a  rotating cast of artists which attempted to breathe new life into an 80 year old character that many struggle to get. Mission accomplished. Bendis has a knack for dialogue and clawing new ideas from older ones and he writes a new but still very recognisable Superman. We have the Daily Planet, Lois Lane and a Metropolis that works as a city and a character. We have new histories, New villains and it’s the best the character had been in a long time.

Fantastic Four


With the media rights held at Fox, Marvel has downplayed their First Family for the last few years. Human Torch was in the Inhumans titles before arrives in Uncanny Avengers, whilst the Thing was in Guardians of the Galaxy and then Infamous Iron Man, the pair reunited in the excellent Marvel Two in One, which led to the return of the FF. After a long run on Amazing Spider-Man, Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli crafted a comic that feels like the Fantastic Four, this was fun sci-fi with heart that reminded me why I like the characters in the first place.  I enjoyed the start and am looking forward to the next issue, which is waiting upstairs as I write this. 😁

X-Men


The year started well for the children of the Atom. X-Men Blue and X-Men Gold were really good and it was joined by X-Men Red and the 5 week long X-Men Black, which focuses on the villains as well as a story that reinvigorated Apocalypse as a character. Then came Exterminated the 5 part story which ended the original X-Men in their teens pulled into the future story in a fairly satisfying way. This also ended X-Men’s Blue and Gold series and so it was relaunched under its old name Uncanny X-Men with a weekly schedule and rotating creators, giving you X-Content every week, without the stress of following multiple titles. It’s fun, well put together with a compelling story and a huge cast. It’s the most interested in the X-Men I have been since Whedon did Astonishing 15 years ago.

Also the side projects are good too, with Ed Piskor doing a condensed history of the X-Men in Grand Designs, which was absolutely amazing as a story and a look at the history and continuity of what can be a tangled ball of continuity string at the best of times.

Posted in Comics n Stuff

Rest in Peace Mr Lee

​After my post yesterday, I checked FaceBook and hear the news that at 95 Stanley ‘Stan Lee’ Lieber had passed away. Without a thought I started writing and this is what I came up with.

Of all the celebrity deaths, this is the one that effects me. Stan ‘The Man’e was a legend who influenced and affected so many people over his life. His work enriched many childhoods including mine. His ideas, his collaborations with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko changed the face of popular culture in ways that may never be calculated. To me, his stories taught me to never give up, to treat everyone well, despite colour, creed or origin. His stories taught me wonder, the idea of other worlds and responsibility. His creations litter my home, my memory my DVD collection. My first comic was Original X-Men 1, reprinting X-Men from 1963. He changed comics forever, working with the best creators of the age to create a fictional shared universe that is still thriving today over 55 years later. He was the ambassador for comics and the voice of Marvel for many years. When comic book movies became a bigger thing, it was always the idea that the movie only starts when Stan Lee shows up.
Thank you Stan, you created a world for us all to play in and give us a direction to head for, onward and upwards towards glory.

Excelsior.

Posted in Comics n Stuff

5 Non-Franchise Superhero teams.

And as we approach the weekend.

Avengers, Justice League and the X-Men, all marquee teams of super-people and all subjects of the proliferation problem in 80’s and 90’s comics, with multiple teams and multiple books. From West Coast Avengers, to Young Justice and X-Factor, it’s easy to believe a set of characters is only good if they either are, it’d have spin-off or satellite teams. But often my favourite teams are either one offs, or using a second hand name.

Thunderbolts.

First appearing in an issue of The Incredible Hulk, this was a new team of heroes that rose to prominence in the post-Onslaught era of the Marvel Universe, consisting of Citizen V, Atlas, Meteorite, Techno, Mach-1_and Songbird, they were just new heroes inspired to fill the void left by the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. It soon transpired that this was a new incarnation of the Masters of Evil, in reality they were Baron Zemo, Goliath III, Moonstone, Fixer, the Beetle and Screaming Mimi.This series was by Kurt Buziek and Mark Bagley and was a highlight of Marvel’s Heroes Reborn era. After ditching Baron Zemo/Citizen V, this team of criminals tried their hand at actually being heroes, it was well written and had great art and the sense that anything could happen as these bad guys tried to be something more.

WildC.A.T.S. Covert Action Teams

One of the first wave of Image comics in the early 90’s, it was the brainchild of X-title wunderkind Jim Lee and was a sci-fi tale of aliens and alien human hybrids in covert battle with less friendly aliens. It was more sci-fi than super-heroics, but with a memorable line-up: Emp, Void, Maul, Warblade, Grifter, Zealot and Spartan and then several additions and status quo changes, it was never boring.

New Warriors

Another 90’s Marvel title with Mark Bagley art, this time with Fabian Niceza on words. This was a mix of underused and forgotten characters, this was an ‘Arby’s team of young heroes including Firestar, Nova, Speedball, Namorita and Marvel Boy, together with new characters Silhouette and Night Thrasher. There were 90’s cliches paired with a social conscience of a sort and a rapidly changing roster that kept the series interesting and the team was never gone for too long.

Stormwatch

A second tier Image title, it was written by Jim Lee with help from Brandon Choi and had art by Scott Clark, although a consistent art team would be hard to find for this story of a UN run super soldier crisis response team. With very 90’s members such as Batallion, Winter, Hellstrike, Diva, Fuji, Weatherman and Backlash, they were different from what Marvel and DC were doing at the time. Part Avengers, part Star Trek, this was an interesting idea that struggled to find it’s identity after the first few issues and benefitted greatly from a new writer when Warren Ellis took over and retooled the book considerably.

Guardians of the Galaxy

This was a bit obvious for me, rather than the second team with the name that appeared in the mid 00’s, this was a sort of Avengers in the futures with space opera trappings and more than the odd reference to the modern Marvel Universe. The team of Martinex T’Naga, Yondu Udonta, Aleta Ogord, Charlie-27, Nicholette Gold, Starhawk and Vance Astro all became favourite characters of mine, especially when Jim Valentino gave them their own title in 1990. I loved this series so much as one of the first comics that really hooked me. I could write about it all day, but I did a blog about it, which lays it all out quite effectively.

These were 5 teams that weren’t huge sellers or multi-title franchises, but were a lot of fun and I enjoyed each one, more than once.

Posted in Comics n Stuff

For the Love of Comics: The loss of a titan

Found out that Steve Ditko passed away at 90 years of age. One of the trinity of silver age marvel along with the late Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Ditko was a massive part of comics history. The man who defined the look, feel and much of the plotting of the first few years of Amazing Spider-Man, he was a legend of the time, having a  distinct style which was uniquely his. His work on Spider-Man and Doctor Strange were iconic and much of the characters he came up with, still are used today, with only small cosmetic changes to them.

I don’t have some story to tell, how Spider-Man or Doctor Strange comics changed my life, but I have recently been re-reading some early Spider-Man stories, some even last night and it makes his loss somewhat sadder. To his friends or family, he’s gone, but for the millions of comic fans who adored his work, his legacy is immortal.

Good journey Mr Ditko and thankyou for all you gave to us.