Saturday 26 April 2014

Bad luck 'aving comic reviews on board... even a miniature one

The Royal Mail finally condescended to bring me my comics, so, y'know, reviews of a few comics from the pack, a light one this week and both by Mark Waid (not that I'm complaining, I bloody love Mark Waid comics)...

Daredevil #2
I could certainly bitch about how this issue in no way addresses #1's cliffhanger but I'm not going to. A mystery like that will probably be better for a slow boil and in the meantime Matt and Kirsten's hazy and undefined relationship is more than interesting enough for me. Besides, arguably the #1.50 one-shot gave us enough clues for the time being.

As to what this issue is doing it's another pleasingly direct issue of Mark Waid Daredevil. Someone's kidnapping Mafiosi, Matt Murdock's contact Deputy Mayor Charlotte Hastert brings him the case and away we go! If this seems like damning with faint praise it is not. What superhero comics need right now are a few more series like this because we've spent damn near two decades now de-constructing, reconstructing and subverting this art form to the point that there really is mileage in writing “standard” superhero stories with modern techniques.

Aside from that the issue sketches in some more of Matt's life in San Francisco, consciously fails to define his relationship with Kirsten (so she's probably going to live a while longer) and even introduces one of San Fran's native heroes to the mix. Marvel's San Francisco has a storied (if spotty) history so seeing that come into play was nice. There's a lot of foreshadowing, mainly name-dropping the Owl who we know will be a big cheese in this series from #1.50 and you're confident in where things are going but then Waid pulls out a last page twist.

Original Sin #0
What did this issue do? It made me care about a character I had no previous knowledge of and added layers to one I've known practically my entire life.

It didn't look like either was going to happen to start with. The issue is mainly the new Nova, Sam Alexander, soliloquising about his relationship with his absent, alcoholic father in the general vicinity of a more-silent-than-usual Uatu. Since I'd never read a Sam Alexander story and barely read any Nova stories this wasn't a promising start. I mean that's as basic an origin as you can get, the only real distinction is that a young man has daddy issues.

But this is Mark Waid writing and as we deal with four paragraphs ago Mark Waid does simple only so he can pull the rug out from under you with something clever and makes Sam's origin actively relate to Uatu's character. As an origin primer it's a good choice because really the only other thing this telling has going for it is one small different detail from the standard telling so giving it emotional weigh gives me another reason to stick around.

Yes, it's true that Uatu's strong silent act does not quite ring true. Just a week or so back he was keeping Hank McCoy up all night (in All-New X-Men #25, by talking, what did you think I meant?) and he's never been big on keeping to his non-interventionist vows. 

Thursday 24 April 2014

Adric: Big Finish's limit case scenario?

Yesterday I pre-ordered Doctor Who: The Fifth Doctor Box Set from Big Finish because I am honestly interested in seeing what they do with Adric. I took a moment to think about it and realised my expectations were actually really, really high.

On the face of it this is insane. Take most any Doctor Who fan's temperature on Adric and you'll get a description along these lines: a mediocre actor playing a terrible character with material that is unflattering at best and utter dreck at worst (I mean, the “I love fascism” material in Four To Doomsday, Jesus fucking Christ). The character was killed off, the first “proper” companion to do so, and his death was followed by silent credits so fans could really, really hear those champagne corks popping.

This isn't to say the character is completely unloved, every companion is someone's favourite, but I can't imagine many people were clamouring for his return.

So why am I looking forward to this box set? It sounds like a trainwreck on paper. Well, two reasons. Firstly I'm only paying £20 for it and at £2.50 an episode I can't feel too swindled if it turns out badly. Secondly, Big Finish have worked miracles with... well, not worse characters precisely, but similarly poorly received ones.

They made me like Mel, after all, who on television no defining character traits and a professional background that was used a grand total of once (and for a line that made no sense). The same company managed to redeem Colin Baker's Doctor, not just by giving him material that allowed him to act but rehabilitating his relationship with Peri. They even gave Steven Taylor a personality beyond “action man” and “delivering William Hartnell's lines when he's ill”.

I can at least be assured that Matthew Waterhouse's acting has improved. Big Finish have done two Dark Shadows audios with him already so they aren't using him sight-unseen. So all that's left is to wait until August and see what they've done with Adric's personality...


That's the sticking point, isn't it? There isn't much to work with: he's good at maths, which is a bit abstract; he's awkward with girls; he's a bit easily influenced. Not much to work with but I look forward to seeing what they manage to get out of it. 

Wednesday 23 April 2014

The Saint George rant

Today is going to be trying. You see, its Saint George's Day: George the Dragonslayer, patron saint of England and so there's going to be a lot of pictures of the guy about and in every one I'll bet you he'll be white. He'll be white and dressed in the armour and tabard of a Crusades-era knight and I think that, symbolically, this is a bit problematic.

I can't help but think that it might help, in just the tiniest way, if we took this day that's all about our national identity and acknowledged that our patron saint was Greek (or of mixed Greek and Palestinian descent as seems equally likely given his mother is described both as Greek and as a local of Palestine where his father was stationed with the Roman Legions). George (probably originally Georgius) was a Roman officer in the late third century, the legend was brought home by soldiers and knights who had fought in the Crusades about a thousand years later and he was adopted as England's patron saint because the legend spoke to the national identity of “never say die”, “damn the odds”, “do the right thing no matter what”. You know, the stuff from every Second World War film ever.

One guy against a dragon, it's an image that we've used in wartime propaganda and as a fable about standing up to bullies. It's a great story but the most faithful retelling of it I've ever encountered was a Fred Van Lente comic in Dark Horse Presents (and even that felt the need to have a real dragon in it, not that anyone's sure who the dragon represents, probably just the heraldry of some warlord whose name is lost to history).

Instead of a man from another culture who represents the best qualities we strive for in our own culture (can you see why this appeals to me?) the national myth presents him as “one of us” and that necessarily places the dragon in the place of the “Other”, the outsider.

And so St. George's Flag and St. George himself have been taken up by nationalist, isolationist and racist causes as a representation of a white man fighting to save a maiden from an aggressive Other. The fact that the dragon is overtly represented by the legend as a Satanic figure (again, probably a Crusade-era embellishment) there's a subtext of rape and thus the nationalist (as George) becomes a heroic defender of maidenhood / purity / sanctity: personal invasion equated to national invasion.

And this is ridiculous. Saint George was not white, he wasn't English and very likely spent his entire life in the Middle East. Even his status as an English icon is shoddy: he's a known figure in Islamic culture, especially in Egypt where he is also a major figure (“The Prince of Martyrs”) in the Coptic Orthodox Church, and the Russian Orthodox dedicates two feast days to him.

I just want the nationalists who wave their flags and the thugs who get St. George's Cross tattoos to know their symbol isn't like them, that the ideal they think they're representing was a figure from another culture, of another race and not even their exclusive property. 

Friday 4 April 2014

A very random musical opinion

I'm not usually one for rap (and if the woman I'm about to talk about isn't technically a rapper I apologise, I can never keep all those musical genres straight in my head) but I have to admit I like Nicki Minaj's style. That wonderful quick fire delivery like she's voicing a stream of consciousness instead of lyrics.

Fast, pacey delivery of complicated lyrics, I can't help but wonder what it would be like if she covered Gilbert and Sullivan. Can you imagine her rendition of “Modern Major-General”? It would be fantastic. 

Thursday 3 April 2014

The Comics Ramble in which Batman looks pretty

 Now that my financial situation is a bit more secure I can get back to reading comics on some sort of regular basis. I've dipped my toes in here and there thanks to the generosity of friends but this week was the first time in a long time I got to unwrap a package of comics of my very own in a long, long time. So, on with the motley...

Loki: Agent of Asgard #3
I wasn't going to follow this. I loved what Keiron Gillen did with Loki in Journey Into Mystery and Young Avengers and part of me wanted to leave it there. The aforementioned friend lent me the first two issues and whilst the first was fun it was the second one (where Loki went speed dating, helped knock over a casino and met a nice girl with wicked ink) that absolutely bowled me over. Between inheriting Loki from Gillen and Luke Cage from Brian Michael Bendis this Al Ewing fellow is proving to be a very safe pair of hands.

Anyway, after those two done-in-one capers this issue shifted gear and we get the original Loki (or perhaps another fail safe) plotting and scheming and indulging in time travel. It's very different from what came before and other writers might be tempted to stretch out those caper stories for five or six issues before changing gear.

Being old-fashioned Loki shenanigans this was all set-up for future pay-off (whereas new-fangled Loki tends to provide his own pay-offs in short order) and ominous words were spoken concerning Loki's sword and the nature of Verity Willis (she of the wicked ink). I'm very much looking forward to seeing where this goes, though I do hope we get a few more new-Loki capers along the way.

Detective Comics
My God, this was a beautiful comic. Not that I was surprised by that since Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato's Flash run clued me in on how bloody pretty they can make a comic. They just keep throwing those wonder two-page spreads at you filled with slanted panels and kinetic movement drawing your eye effortlessly across the page no matter how complicated the layout might be.

There is a danger in it being more of the same. After all, Batman and the Flash share a few qualities: they're both essentially procedural detective series with colourful criminals for antagonists rather than “supervillains” per se. Where Manapul and Buccellato get something new to play with is in the colour palette. In the nighttime world of Batman they splash out on the blacks, purples and blues where in Flash they used that character's iconic reds and yellows. It has to be said they draw a damn mean Batman, as well.

I have to wonder though if I'm missing something with the villain: is the Squid intended as a brand new villain, a reinvention of some obscure old character or the most obscure Batman: The Animated Series reference ever?

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #200
This comic was just all kinds of awww. It's a necessary little pause between Cataclysm and the next phase of the Ultimate Universe, a little get together of characters from both incarnations of Ultimate Spider-Man on the second anniversary of Peter Parker's death.

(Aunt May gathers them by e-mail, her e-mail account is registered to “silverhippy”. Have I mentioned how much I loved Bendis' reinvention of Aunt May as a rowdy Sixties liberal?).

That's all: no threats, no villains, just a moment out from it all to consider who these characters are as people and where they're at emotionally. There were a few big two-page spreads by various artists who have worked on the series as the characters imagined what Peter would have been like had he lived which were fun but I loved the smaller moments the issue provided. There's an unbelievably sweet moment involving Gwen (I won't spoil it) that just goes to show that Bendis' version of the character a) cannot ever be predicted and b) is ten times more complex than the “good girl” originally conceived in the 1960s.

This, of course, is not the end because Miles Morales' story is continuing in a new Ultimate Spider-Man and in All-New Ultimates but this is as good an epilogue as the series could ever hope for. It's always these “inbetween times” issues I think of when I'm extolling on how special Ultimate Spider-Man is: the issue that's just Peter telling MJ he's Spider-Man; the one that follows Aunt May through a therapy session; or Peter cussing out Nick Fury after taking on Venom.

I certainly hope we see more of these issues in Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man if only because they've been rather rarer in Miles' run than they were in Peter's and they really give Bendis' writing style time to shine separate from all the superhero action-adventure.

Moon Knight #2
This was another fantastic done-in-one and I'm beginning to think they're making a comeback. On paper its a very simple story: there's a sniper killing bankers in New York, Moon Knight tracks him down and beats him up, The End. That sells it short, though.

The opening section is amazing: eight-panel pages following a different victim in each panel until they're killed and the panel goes blank. One by one the panels disappear, its visually distinct and makes great use of the panel format.

Moon Knight himself barely appears in this issue and, despite some misdirection in one second, we get nothing of the story from his point of view. As a consequence, and since I missed the first issue, I know nothing about the larger story Ellis is telling, what he's doing to Marc Spector as a character and what his new status quo is. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, I like a slow reveal and the story more than stands up on its own. I'm more than willing to buy issue three in the hopes of finding out what's going on with the series.