I love Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men | 168 – Live at NYCC, feat. Chris Claremont & Louise Simonson, let’s play it!
I love Crisis On Infinite Midlives | Episode 163: Batgirl’s Gap Year, 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.
I have an awesome wife. The MIGHTY Rosie has always done right by me, being generous and thoughtful. For my birthday/Christmas this year, my main gift is to have my left arm tattoos covered up. There are three stories here, why I have tattoos to start with, why I chose the picture I chose and the day itself.
Why I have tattoos: I got a tattoo about 13 years ago. I showed the tattoo artist the shape and asked for it bigger, he did it to scale, so I wanted one taking up my upper arm and got a tiny one on my shoulder. In order to fix that I got another one to fill it out. To balance them out, I got one one my right arm. They are one of the few things I have done that I regret. Getting them covered up has been a cathartic undoing of mistakes.
Why the picture: Well it surprises no one, but I am a massive comic fan. So it was no question whether my cover ups would be comic related. I wrote about the first cover up here The Right Arm of Vance Astro part 1
and the rest of it here The right arm of Vance Astro part 2: return of the pain
so I knew that know matter what, I would go back to design for life tattoo studio and the amazing Simon K Bell who designed it. But why this one? That goes back to my silver age of comic collecting, the 90’s. I missed the boat by a few months in the 90’s. I didn’t really jump on the Image bandwagon when that started and I missed the launches of X-Force and X-Men vol 2 by a matter of months and it wasn’t till near 20 years later that I looked at Ultraverse or Valiant. And Vertigo wasn’t my thing either, so I missed many of the fads of the era, because I wasn’t in on the ground floor. But that changed after several months of reading Peter David’s first run on X-Factor. His use of humour and in depth character study was a revelation for me at the time and then Marvel announced that he was the writer of the flagship title of a new imprint, Marvel 2099.For those who don’t know or care, Marvel 2099 was the idea of looking at the future of Marvel heroes, what would they look like 107 years from the present day, at that point the present day was 1992. There was Doom 2099, Punisher 2099, X-Men 2099 and Ravage 2099.The first, the longest lasting and by far the best was Spider-Man 2099. Drawn by Rick Leonardi and written by Peter David, this was a less friendly neighbourhood and less friendly Spider-Man. Being on the ground floor for this has always left very fond memories of it in my head. Despite many comics fans having buyers remorse, I acknowledge the flaws of many comics of that era, but I really enjoyed comics in the 90s and that was the time that they hooked me, never really letting go, so it was always going to be a 90’s character on my arm and he was at the time one of my favourites.
The tattoo: So after applying some numbing cream (again courtesy of the MIGHTY Rosie) I went to the tattoo place and saw the first part of the tattoo. I didn’t realise how big it was going to be. So I got the sketch done by Simon who applied the stencil to my arm.
The numbing cream helped, I will admit that. Managed to sit for over 4 hours with little problem. However, when he got to my shoulder, I realised the that I didn’t expect the tattoo to go so far up and that’s when I realised how painful it gets when the tattoo is close to bone. That last 90 minute hurt more than the previous 4 hours, by quite a long way. But damn it’s hard to argue with the results.
I won’t lie, that was a tough sit, but with a chicken caesar wrap, couple of bananas and the several episodes of Michael Bailey’s Views from the Longbow, I got through it with a smile in just enough time to go and get my son from school.
This is what was had been finished by 4:30.
So now I have matching tattoos, in that I love both of them. There’s still more to go and I will have to book another appointment but for now, I’m very happy with what I have on my left arm and it’s only going to get better.
Most of the impetus for all this is the support and care of the MIGHTY Rosie.
Like I said, my wife is awesome.
Prolific podcaster Michael R Bailey in an old promo for his show (one of many)Views from the Longbox, referred to comic collecting as a crippling addiction. As time goes on, I realise how right he was.
It’s a ridiculous hobby for a grown ass man, but comics have been part of my life for longer than most things. So as you can imagine, I have a lot of them, Seriously, it’s ridiculous. So last year I did what I needed to and bought some longboxes. It’s weird to think I didn’t use them before. I now have eight of them in use, plus another two or three for trade paperbacks and the like.
Part of the collecting illness is the organising of these comics. I have whole systems for that process, publishers, themes and so on and so forth and have for the last several months avoided sorting them out (I am good at avoiding, it’s a skill, not a good one, but a skill) and have begun the process of cataloguing them, comic by comic. Now given that a large percentage of my comic collection is digital these days, those eight long boxes are but a fraction of what I have to read, but there is something about physically holding the comics that makes the reading experience richer. But I digress and will not wade into the digital vs hard copy debate, because both have too many merits for me. The point is that organising them is a bit of a thing.
It’s a good thing. I have comics that date back to the 90’s from when I got them and the 70’s from when they were published and I have some really good stuff in there. For example, it would have been Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday last week, if he hadn’t passed away and i was able to find my copy of the Kirby Genesis series from a few years ago and I re-read it. It was awesome, in fact I plan to do a post on it later. I saw loads of comics that I knew that I had, but forgot how much I actually enjoyed. Re-organising those comics started as a chore, but re-affirmed my love for them. A bag of comics, read once for their new-ness still have the power to transport me to strange places and fill my mind with wonders.
The joy of comics is still with me, they do not overshadow the best things in my life (my son, the MIGHTY Rosie) but they do add something to them and if I hadn’t been such a messy sod, this wouldn’t be at the fore front of my mind right now.
So if you are a collector of stuff, have a butchers at it once in a while, read an old book, listen to an old CD, play an old game and remember, why it is you have those things in the first place.
Bit of a rambly one today, ta ta for now internet people.
I love Council of Geeks | 90s Comics Retrial Episode 44: Spider-Man 2099 #1-3, let’s play it!