“Beautifully drawn with tight scripts and a wit so sharp it could cut, this is for anyone who likes their horror to have an intellectual side.”
Over at Zone Horror TV
Over at Zone Horror TV
I was going through a garage clean out this week when I came across a box of old Wizard Magazines from the mid to late nineties.
For those that don’t know, Wizard was the magazine you picked up to find out about the latest happenings in the world of comics if you lived this side of the pond. This would have been in the days when web access wasn’t as pervasive or as fast as it is now, so your best shot at finding promotional art or getting a peek into what was coming down the pipeline was Wizard magazine.
Putting my garage cleaning duties on hold and sitting down to read through a couple of issues, it’s interesting to use Wizard as a barometer of how things have evolved in the industry.
For instance, Wizard used to run a section called Casting Call where fanboy daydreams pigeon-holed actors for key roles in comic book films– a precursor of the comic-book-to-movie adaptation trends prevalent today.
One issue highlighted the then-première of Grant Morrison’s Justice League title as a short 250 word news article. Grant’s run on the book would go on to become legendary and re-purposed a lot of DC for the next few years. Flash-forward a decade and there is another re-boot of the Justice League. Seemingly, the more things change the more they stay the same.
While the quality, agenda and influence of the magazine were criticised by some, the magazine was able to act as a snapshot of the comics scene at a point in time. Together with the Previews catalogue you could trace a line of past trends and how they eventual fared. The bad girl trend, manga, variant and chrome covers, the wave of new publishers and the shock-story epidemic seemed to typify the 90s.
But with fewer magazines left that report about comics, it’s harder to get that snapshot of the industry at this point in time. There are plenty of quality comic news websites out there right now, but if in five years time people were asked to look back and identify what the dominant trend was in comics in 2011, it would be hard to say.
Which is weird because there are arguably more changes happening now than ever before. There is the continued production of Hollywood movies based on comic books which may come to an end should the public grow tired of them. Without this injection of influence, just how valuable are licensed properties?
As digital takes hold and print production gets only more expensive in comparison, will comics shops suffer the same fate as record shops? Bear in mind circa 2003 there were several different record shops to buy new records in central London. Now there’s only one.
And what about the development of new talent—usually a prime indicator of the future health of the industry? Where’s that coming from? Where are the magazines and places people can cut their teeth and earn their stripes and learn their craft?
Not being one to usually make use of a crystal ball, the next five years are likely to see the most radical changes and this will be sped up by the global recession.
A look at the November sales figures show that the top 90 of 300 books were sold buy Marvel or DC (with the exception of the Walking Dead at number 68 and Buffy 64 and they have TV shows behind them). DC had a huge marketing push behind its relaunch and Marvel is still riding the wave of interest from movies. So exactly how healthy these books continue to be remains to be seen.
Major commercial distribution is likely to continue to service the big two at the expense of more progressive works, which would actually open up the industry to a wider audience.
The price point between pamphlet and graphic novel is likely to narrow in the same way the price point between a cinema ticket and a DVD has. Cinema tickets are now more or as expensive than buying the DVD. The reasons for seeing a film in the cinema as opposed to buying it outright on DVD are numerous, but with the pamphlet form of comics there is only one and that’s reading the story sooner rather than later in collected form.
Where it’s all heading, I can’t say. But rest assured the comic industry we know today won’t be the same as in 2017.
Christmas and New Year’s Eve are typically the time for end of year lists and reviews and so not being one to break with tradition here are some of the comics I’ve enjoyed this year:
#1 Criminal: The Last of the Innocent by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
That’s the question that Ed Brubaker tries to answer as he takes us on a journey about the dangers of getting drunk on nostalgia. Riley Richards’ life is out of focus as he returns to his home town.
Here he reminiscences about a simpler life than the one he has today, which involves working for his father-in-law, who thinks Riley is a loser.
As Riley falls in love with a childhood sweetheart he hatches a bloody plot to be free of the confines of his current life in hope of returning to the life he wishes he had.
What Brubaker accomplishes is guilt by association with the lead character: undoubtedly there are comic book fans out there who would like to return to simpler times, or for whom buying and reading comics forms part of some fond nostalgia. Cleverly, this is the motive that drive Riley. The fact that the world weighs down heavily on Riley Richards makes his attempt to escape his situation even more empathetic, even though what he goes on to do is deplorable.
The book was one of the few that had a strong built in need-to-know: how will this all turn out for Riley? This made searching for it each month a must requirement. The truncation of the story between key events and scenes and narration also lent it a speedy yet considered pace which meant the story never felt overly drawn out or bogged down in the character’s internal monologue.
#2 Crossed Psychopath by David Lapham and Raulo Caceres
Before I pour praise on David Lapham for coming up with arguably one of the best comic villains of all time, I have to talk about Raulo Caceres’ bloody imaginative art.
Not since Fist of the North Star have I seen such disturbingly violent scenes played out in comics form with such glee. This is a good thing. Too often you can flip through a comic in store and find nothing that actually stands out and grab you. I mean, Jim Lee drawing a splash page of Batman in Justice League is all good and well, but when compared to a Beano-style double-page spread of a slaughter orgy occurring in an apartment complex, well, all of a sudden the Dark Knight doesn’t look so impressive.
Be warned: Crossed has some seriously fierce stuff in it that may stop you from picking it up altogether.
But it’s Lapham’s writing that really makes the series interesting. He takes a bog standard premise of a survivors against zombies (the crossed aren’t zombies, but that’s the best description I can give) and throws in a psychopath amongst the group of survivors.
The psychopath in Crossed is super devious and the weakness he displays amongst his fellow survivors coupled with his devilishly dark thoughts and plans make him an appalling human being, but one I kept tuning in for each month to see just how far he’d go next.
Optic Nerve 12 manages what so few single stand-alone comics manage to do, namely; it tells a story that on the surface is straightforward but which resonates with the deeper complexities of being in an adult relationship.
Tomine’s art in this issue resembles a newspaper-style comic strip breakdown typically using a 2 by 2 layout for most scenes and using the comic book itself as a graphic novel.
As the the lead character Harold finds a renewed passion in his life through Hortisculpture, we chart the relationship with his wife as he attempts to make it in in the fancy world of artistic landscape gardening.
That might not sound like an end of the world style premise for a plot but believe me this little story has big things to say about pursuing success blindly and about the need for public validation for one’s sense of self-esteem.
Plainly rendered but with a perfect story that’s emotionally deep and which rings true on a human level, seeing Optic Nerve 13 come out renewed my faith about what’s possible in 41 pages.
#4 Punisher Kingpin Marvel Max
Jason Aaron’s run on this book has made it the ongoing title I’ve kept up with the most frequently over the last two years despite a few lapses in picking up the odd issue here and there.
Re-entering the series with #13 this year we saw a hollowed-out version of Frank Castle –one who had given up on life and his mission altogether – and seemingly willing to accept his fate in jail after being arrested.
Mixing flashbacks from from Frank’s early years returning home from the war with his current situation of being stuck in prison and in danger of being murdered by prisoners, Frank has to find some reason to carry on living and fast.
Aaron extends the Punisher legend by giving us a glimpse into how Frank was unable to fit back into civilian life following his tour as well as the final few days leading up to the fateful incident in the park.
#5 Witch Doctor Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner
I’d feel a tad bad for labelling this “Doctor Who but as a Witch Doctor” if the writer hadn’t thanked Steven Moffat in the opening pages of the collected edition.
Witch Doctor was one of those rare treats that you see few of in comics: an honest to goodness let’s go have an adventure book and shove as much weirdness as we can into it.
It wasn’t cynical, it wasn’t self-referential, it was what it was: sheer fun.
#6 ScreamLand Harold Sipe, Christopher Sebela and Lee Leslie
A Hollywood tale of what happens to famous movie monsters after the cameras have long stopped filming them, Screamland was a murder mystery that contrasted the golden age of Hollywood prestige with the comic conventions that celebrities who have long since been forgotten now have to endure.
Beneath the jokes about sullied legacies and the indignities now suffered by its cast of invisible men, werewolves and creatures from the black lagoon, the series was also about the dangers of idolising movie stars, who, as the series turns out are just as fallible as Joe Schmoe.
#7 Honourable mentions have to go to:
Brain Michael Bendis for making The New Avengers talk like people you know while maintaining perfect comic book need-to-know plot lines. Dan Abnett on Resurrection Man for making the new series as good as the old one. Grant Morrison for keeping Batman Incorporated as nutty as always and for Mike Mignola’s Being Human Hellboy story which was as profound as it was an exciting yarn. Finally, The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror #17 had arguably the creepiest and cleverest short story about a kid and a horror comic. If you can still find a copy, do go check it out.
Expecting Harold and Kumar to appeal to the lowest common denominator I was surprised to see the film was rated an 18.
Studios are only too happy to make cuts or edits to get a film down to a 15 or 12A to appeal to the widest possible audience. So when a comedy comes along that stands behind its 18 rating, my expectations are high.
While an 18 certificate doesn’t guarantee quality, it does indicate that the bar has been raised sufficiently to offend, one hopes, creatively and with a few laughs.
Harold & Kumar’s 3D Christmas hits both these nails on the head.
The film catches up with the protagonists in their 30s.
Their once tight friendship has been fractured by Harold getting married, sobering up for corporate life and trying to win the approval of his father-in-law, while Kumar continues to avoid responsibility by living a stoner’s lifestyles.
Circumstances conspire to bring the two pals together once again as they go in search of a replacement Christmas tree.
This is a mundane task that nevertheless sees the pals run up against the Russian mafia, shooting Santa Claus with a shotgun and interrupting a sexual assault as carried out by Neil Patrick Harris after performing in a musical.
Harold and Kumar succeeds where a lot of other stoner/buddy comedies fail – namely by having an A to B story and not overdoing the gags in a way that causes attention to itself.
The jokes are weird and gross, but watching the pair attempting to reconstruct their relationship throughout the madness is the film’s saving grace.
The use of 3D is done with a knowing wink towards the camera and its lack of subtlety makes it doubly enjoyable.
But what if there was only a victim and no killer? What purpose would a reconstruction serve?
In Dreams of Life writer-director Carol Morley uncovers the story of Joyce Vincent, a Londoner who died alone in her flat in 2003 but was discovered three years later.
The film is a mixture of first-hand interviews of the people that knew Joyce together with short dramatic reconstructions of key points in her life.
The path of her life is traced from child to adulthood and via key relationships. The film accomplishes something truly moving by recreating Joyce’s personality in vivid detail. This is no easy task as during her life Joyce appeared to be different things to different people.
The film can be likened to a reverse autopsy: instead of taking parts apart to find an explanation the film puts parts of her life that were seemingly unknown back together, so that the viewer understands how Joyce might have felt and thought during her life.
Although the film is underscored by Joyce’s eventual fate, her biography has moments that lift the viewer with interviews that are candid as well as funny.
By focusing on how Joyce lived rather than the circumstances of her death, you leave the cinema understanding that this wasn’t someone living in extreme conditions but someone who could easily be your best mate or neighbour.
And should you find yourself sifting through an old address book or been meaning to reach out to someone you’ve meant to call but haven’t then this film serves as a good reminder of why you should.
One of the best film’s of the year. Go see.
The first Sherlock Holmes film was all kinds of awesome: kinetic action scenes, superb acting, great humour and a solid story which served up the relationship between Holmes and Watson to perfection.
In many ways, it captured the awe and excitement of watching an Indiana Jones movie for the first time.
The second one tries to re-create the elements that made the first a success but with mixed results in comparison.
The good: the relationship between Holmes and Watson survives in the writing. It’s a joy to see Jude and Robert’s domestic fights percolate and bubble under gunfire and high-octane action scenes. Director Ritchie’s visuals have once again found the perfect vehicle – as an aside, I wonder how he’d fare on the next Bond. Jared Harris silently steals the show as Moriarty with controlled and calculated menace in contrast to the zany Holmes.
The bad: the action scenes are amped way up and there are more of them, so much so that at times it does feel like you’re watching nothing but a series of them all taped together. The plot is also frayed: Moriarty does have a plan, but confusion surrounds how Holmes is actually going about thwarting it as you’re watching it.
The bad doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the film overall. It’s fun while it lasts and is inventive enough to hold your attention.