Tuesday, 25 April 2017


WARNING: The following contains unbridled nostalgia and reflection from a man hurtling rapidly towards the grave.
The cover to Avengers #198 was posted on the Back Issue Magazine Facebook group this morning. This comic is very, very familiar to me. It got me a-ponderin' how our approach to reading comics is so different as a kid and as an ever-so-slightly older adult.
I don't remember when I got Avengers #198 and #199 – they weren't my first comics, but not far off. While my first American comics, not to mention my seminal collection of UK Secret Wars reprints, have long since gone astray, these two issues have persisted, and have remained in my possession for more than 30 years.
When you're a kid getting into comics, your first few issues, regardless of quality, have a particularly potent impact on you. Not just because first impressions are so powerful, but because the tininess of your embryonic collection means that you read the few comics you have over and over and over. I've read these issues dozens of times over the years. I've wallowed in every panel, lingered on every word, been swept along by every action. George Perez's art is amazing, of course, but the overall aesthetic has permeated my brain so deeply that more recent Perez art, with more modern colours, from the 90s Avengers relaunch onwards, looks all wrong to me. For me, Perez demands flat, slightly washed-out colours – there's no rational reason for this. I've just been programmed that way.
There's a sad irony in the fact that, while these comics were instrumental in launching me into a lifelong obsession, they also, in some ways, represent a high point that necessitates an ongoing gradual diminishment of the depth of enjoyment I get from this medium, and therefore a nagging sense of loss. This is partly due simply to sheer volume – when you have a handful of comics that you read over and over, they are your whole world. When you have thousands, half of which you barely remember, you are drowning in sensory input. Plus, increasing distractions, concerns and responsibilities, a more cynical/critical eye, and the decreasing malleability of your brain as you creep towards decrepitude make it harder to become as deeply, intimately enmeshed with art and storytelling as you did as a kid.
All of this means that, no matter how much I may absolutely love a particular comic in the moment – recent favourites include Lazarus, Squirrel Girl, Saga, The Mighty Thor, Paper Girls, Black Panther – ask me a week later and I can barely remember the overall thrust of the story, never mind the minute details of every single panel. The comics reading experience is a constant and increasingly futile quest to achieve the same strength and depth of connection I had with Avengers #198 and #199.
That's not to say that these two issues are the gold standard by which everything else is judged, it's just that they represent a time in which attachment and engagement came easily. I often see geeks of my vintage complain that comics just aren't as good anymore. Sorry, but that's absolute nonsense. There are great comics and terrible comics, just as there always have been.
Comics haven't become crap. You've become old. And that's OK. It happens to us all. 

Tuesday, 19 July 2016


I was nine years old when I saw the original Ghostbusters. For a while back then, it was my world. Oh, how I loved that film – which seems odd in hindsight when you consider how adult much of its humour is. I think as a kid I didn't even think of it as a comedy. Ghostbusting was a serious business.

My wee girl is now pretty much the same age I was when the first film came out, and we find ourselves with a new, rebooted, female-led version. You may have noticed that this has caused some consternation online, with disproportionately angry men attacking the idea at every opportunity, declaring it sacrilege, an insult and the worst film ever (months before it came out, of course...).

Naturally, all of this embarrassing nonsense made me sympathetic to the notion of a Ghostbusters reboot. As a general rule, I'm pro anything that angers people who use terms like 'feminazi' and 'SJW', or who feel an unhealthy amount of ownership over corporate geek culture. Even so, I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun Ghostbusters 2016 is. It's more overtly comedic than the original, broader and lighter in tone, but has a lot of laughs and thrills, a few effective scares and a strong story. There are also not only pleasing nods to the so-called controversy surrounding the film, but a general metatextual thread relating to the Ghostbusters asserting their legitimacy. The well-balanced main cast are all really strong, especially Kate McKinnon as eccentric and delightful scientist Holtzmann. And the final climactic showdown is ace – dare I say, better than its 1984 counterpart?

Most importantly, the girl and her pal loved it. Stories and ideas go in cycles. Every generation has their Robin Hood, their Tarzan, their Wonder Woman, their Jedi... and now their Ghostbusters. For cultural concepts to be living things, rather than dusty museum pieces, we must be open to kids approaching them on their own terms. Much as I still love Ghostbusters 1984, it's a film very much of its time. It's now more than 30 years old. When I was a kid, films from the 1950s might as well have been from outer space for all they resonated with my contemporary experience. So it saddens me that some fellow ageing geeks are angered – actually angered, for god's sake – by the prospect of the next generation enjoying new iterations of stuff we loved, in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them. My daughter now has Ghostbusters of her own, and that's something to be celebrated.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016


Double confession: Despite expressing my lack of interest in the Deadpool movie, last night I went to see it.

Even more shamefully, I enjoyed it. Mostly.

In my defence, I had a free ticket courtesy of my friend, but even so, I felt a little grubby about the whole affair. Deadpool to me symbolises the very worst of ’90s comics, the tipping point at which Marvel turned to a crapfest of guns and pouches and everything being EXTREME. The arrival of Deadpool represented the start of what might well have been the slow death of my interest in comics. I turned away from Marvel, turned away from comics completely, only to be saved by a chance encounter with one of DC’s finest titles (as discussed at nauseating length here).

Maybe this whole comics obsession thing wasn't such a good idea after all.

So Deadpool had a mountain to climb to reach my affections. To make matters worse, I’ve never been able to stomach Ryan Reynolds in anything. Green Lantern, Blade Trinity, X-Men Origins: Wolverine… his snarky, cocky charisma clearly connects with lots of people, but I find him pretty much intolerable. Nothing personal, just a matter of taste. He's the cucumber of actors. 

And then there were the painfully unfunny trailers. It looked like a complete disaster. Never have I been less interested in a comic book movie – and I even went, with some mild enthusiasm, to see Fan4tastic, so this is a pretty low bar. Yet the entire geek community seemed to be absolutely in love with this dreck.

I have never felt so alone.

There was, however, one big, steel fly in the ointment of my wrath – Colossus. One of my favourite X-Men, one of my favourite Marvel heroes, one of my favourite fictional characters, full stop. And here he was, looking pretty good, with an actual personality and actual lines of dialogue, far more than he’d ever been given in any X-Men film. Damn you, Fox. Damn you. I may have no choice to see this after all.

Two-ton dreamboat.

So it came to pass that I found myself in a cinema, watching a Deadpool film, loathing myself a little bit. And it was… pretty good, as it happens. Utterly generic, but knowingly so. Some really great action sequences (especially the brilliant climactic battle), a startling horror atmosphere during one sequence, and some surprisingly sweet romance beats. The supporting players are for the most part excellent – Colossus was handled really well, and gets into some brutal action during his brouhaha with Gina Carano’s fantastic Angel Dust, who is in no way responsible for my burgeoning evil-women-with-quiffs-and-super-strength fetish. Brianna Hildebrand's Negasonic Teenage Warhead is a charmingly surly adolescent who packs a big punch, and Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa is a compelling romantic foil, albeit thanklessly relegated to the clichéd damsel-in-distress role during the third act.

Why no Monster Magnet cameo in this movie? Dave Wyndorf needs new bell bottoms.

On the downside, I recognise I have some baggage here, but my least favourite aspect of Deadpool was Deadpool himself. To be honest, little about the film served to change my mind about either Reynolds or Deadpool. It was unclear whether we, the audience, are supposed to like/sympathise with Wade Wilson at all. Yes, he undergoes a horrible ordeal and does everything he does in the name of love, but on the other hand he’s relentlessly annoying and a complete arsehole. It’s like being trapped in a wardrobe with Adam Sandler.

Further downsides are the agonisingly nondescript and forgettable main villain, who makes Ant-Man’s Darren Cross look like Dr Doom by comparison, and supposed comedy relief sidekick TJ Miller, who is roughly as entertaining as a dead dog floating in a toddler pool.

Squeeze, Gina. Squeeeeeeze.

My biggest problem with Deadpool is that, while it’s a pretty good comic-book movie, its focus is largely comedic. No bad thing in theory, except that, to be brutally honest, Deadpool is nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is. There are a handful of good gags, but the seemingly endless stream of witless duds is frankly wearying. If you buy into Reynolds’ smartass/dumbass motormouth schtick, maybe it’s a lot more effective, but his delivery just doesn’t work for me. In combining superheroics and comedy, it superficially has a lot in common with Guardians of the Galaxy, but the latter does so much more successfully – thanks in no small part to the naturally funny, dangerously personable and thoroughly dreamy Chris Pratt. 

What Deadpool does is weld a good, if formulaic formula superhero/revenge flick to a tiresome frat-boy comedy under the pretence of being subversive and irreverent. While there is some fourth-wall breaking and a few digs at superhero cinema (the X-Men franchise in particular), that side of it is relatively polite, almost cursory. But that's where Deadpool's real potential lies, and I feel the film would have benefitted from pushing these elements much, much further to create something far sillier and much bolder. And maybe it will do that in the inevitable sequel (which should ideally be called The Inevitable Deadpool Sequel). I’m thinking Adaptation meets Adventure Time meets Byrne's She-Hulk meets the end of Blazing Saddles. With katanas.

Saturday, 2 January 2016


As discussed in my last post, I've been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. I was but a sprout when Episode IV was first screened on ITV and captured my imagination and heart. Star Wars was my world. Well, Star Wars and comics. More specifically, Star Wars and Marvel...
But until last week I had never read a Star Wars comic in my life (let alone read an EU novel). Which seems ridiculous – surely this would be a perfect synthesis of my interests? For some reason, I've always been repulsed by the very idea of it. I've never quite been able to put my finger on why...

'A laser-gun' might have had something to do with it.
A few days ago, I met up with an old, old friend who I see not nearly enough. He and I were tiny sprouts together, we grew up playing with each other's Kenner figures and playsets, we pretended to be Luke and Han in our back gardens, drew Star Wars pictures, went to see Return of the Jedi in the cinema. Our childhoods were inextricably intertwined with Star Wars. Obviously, I was really keen to hear what he thought of The Force Awakens. But he hadn't seen it and had little interest in doing so. I was stunned. For the love of Jabba, why, man, why? He told me that the prequels had completely crushed his interest in Star Wars, because 'It's amazing how much of the appeal of Star Wars is in things that aren't explained.'

My god. He's right. That's it.

So much of the original trilogy is left to your imagination. Who the Bothans are and why they died. What the Senate is and how it was disbanded. The badassness of Boba Fett. Who the hell Mon Mothma is. Anakin and Obi-Wan's relationship. Tosche's station. What happened in the Clone Wars. Those spider-robot-brain things in Jabba's palace. How Han won the Falcon from Lando. What a womp rat is. What happened to Dengar's face. Half of the familiar names are never even said in the films themselves but came to us via the toys – AT-ATs, Ugnaughts, Y-wings, Bosssk, Gamorrean Guards, Lobot, Wampas, Salacious Crumb...

Who hell he?

This willingness to drop the viewer into a world without feeling the need to explain every detail is a huge part of what makes OT Star Wars so compelling. It's also one of the many reasons why I find the prequels so unsatisfying. And it's the main factor, albeit a subconscious one, in my avoiding the comics and the EU for the last 30 years. I don't want to someone else to fill in the gaps for me, because the gaps are where quite a bit of the fun lies.

If the OT taught us anything, it's that not everything needs to be spelled out, while the prequels explained too much. Yet one of the recurring complaints I've read about The Force Awakens is that not enough is explained or resolved, and too much is left open for the sequels. Needless to say, I don’t think this is a problem – we're now in an age of serialised movie storytelling, and I embrace the wider scope of that. I'm all for movies working in isolation, but I'm equally excited about them working towards something bigger. TFA gets the balance right, and in leaving a number of questions unanswered, it opens up a lot of directions in which modern Star Wars can go.

All of this is a very long-winded, circumlocutory way of saying that I recently read the first two trades of Marvel’s new Star Wars and Darth Vader series. Set just after A New Hope, these intertwining stories follow Luke, Han, Leia et al as they mount a raid on an Imperial weapons factory, and Vader as he tries to uncover the identity of the Rebel pilot who blew up the Death Star. From a pure comics storytelling point of view, I enjoyed these quite a bit – especially the Vader one. Both are rollicking, multi-layered tales that interconnect in interesting ways and explore new facets of the Star Wars universe. And both have fantastic art, from John Cassaday and Salvador Larocca, respectively.

However, I do still have a psychological block with these titles, partly because of the aforementioned wish not to have the gaps filled in, but also because there is a slight element of uncanny valley to them. When comics are converted to films or TV, they are of necessity more or less faithful adaptations, taking sometimes considerable liberties with the source material in order to work in a live-action medium. The conversion of films to comics, however, entails a tendency to replicate the movie visuals as accurately as possible – which is, of course, great for purists, but for me often makes for an unsettling, stilted experience, heavy on photo reference, full of designs optimised for the screen, not for the page. Star Wars is, of course, full of classic, iconic design, and I’m in no way suggesting they should be reworked for the comics – but it makes it harder to see the comic in its own terms, rather than an as ersatz version of the real thing.

Ultimately, this is my brain’s problem. And I’m seeking help with it. But the comics are pretty good. If you can handle them.

Thursday, 17 December 2015


How it all began.

A long time ago, in a town far, far away…  I can’t remember how old I was when that Star Destroyer first flew overhead, blocking out the sky – maybe five or six? I know that I saw Star Wars on ITV, that I was too young to see Empire at the cinema, or had completely missed it by the time I saw the first one. I saw Jedi at the cinema, but it would be another year, maybe two before I saw Empire. Much of my childhood was spent obsessed with everything Star Wars. I had a healthy collection of figures and ships, none of which I have now, for reasons of ill-advised putting away of childish things, or even more ill-advised experiments in inflicting realistic-looking battle damage, following a dire convergence of circumstances involving a scorching hot day, a magnifying glass and poor, poor Zuckus.

When I first met my now-wife, I took her to an all-day marathon of the original trilogy, as she’d never seen any of them. With hindsight, I’m not sure what my motivations were – wanting her to share one of my passions, or a test to see if my suspicious fondness for Wookiees would send her backing slowly out of the room. Luckily for me, she stuck around, though it’s fair to say she tolerates rather than shares my affinity for all things in that galaxy far, far away. However, our daughter is very much a fan. I can’t begin to imagine how that happened.

The arrival of the prequels, however, began to change everything. People make comparisons now between the hype and weight of expectations for The Force Awakens and what we saw back in 1998–99 for The Phantom Menace. I can only assume I was as excited as everyone else, but I remember nothing about this time – the much-vaunted trailer, the marketing, going to see the film itself, what I thought of it. The whole experience has been wiped away. It’s as if my mind cried out in pain and was suddenly silenced. I remember thinking that Attack of the Clones was, at least, an improvement (though that’s less certain with hindsight), and I remember going in to Revenge of the Sith with a sense of grim obligation, only to be (slightly) pleasantly surprised – at least until the notorious ‘Noooooooo!’

From http://www.deviantart.com/art/Darth-Vader-Brand-Nooooooo-s-Cereal-Tshirt-Design-367971806

I still can't quite believe that made it to the final film. Fuck’s sake, George. 

Having recently revisited the prequels with my daughter, they’re not all bad. They have their moments. But these are few and far between. I find them turgid, humourless, confused, unmemorable affairs, with no appealing characters, questionable, wooden performances, empty spectacle and a sickly synthetic sheen courtesy of over-reliance on the not-fully developed CGI of the era. One of the things that’s great about the original trilogy is that all of the main cast, but especially Han, seem like ordinary people in an extraordinary environment. There’s nothing to ground the prequels. Everybody, with the possible exception of Ewan McGregor, is a dead-eyed sci-fantasy cipher.

The prequels left me bruised, dejected, hoping that would be an end to it. There would always be the originals, of course, but there was clearly no need for any more. The announcement of The Force Awakens, then, led to many conflicting feelings. A new, young cast of nigh-unknowns combined with some icons from the original trilogy, a new director, no George Lucas… all of these could be either promising signs or portents of doom. The trailers looked great, but as others repeatedly mentioned, this is exactly what happened with The Phantom Menace. I tried my hardest to remain cautiously optimistic while reining in my enthusiasm. Right up until last night. Right up until this.

Until Jimmy Fallon, the Roots and the cast performed an a cappella medley of Star Wars themes. That was it. Defences broken down. I was all in. A few hours later, I found myself in a pub full of bearded men in Millennium Falcon and Stormtrooper T-shirts (and my friend Martin in full Emperor (bath)robe), awaiting the midnight screening. It was actually happening.

It didn’t disappoint. Far from it.

I will avoid spoilers, for there are many things to spoil, but The Force Awakens is both a fantastically entertaining film in its own right, and a symbolic passing of the torch between generations. Much of the speculation and hype has focused on the presence of the old guard, but in truth it’s the new kids – Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver and, especially, Daisy Ridley – who are the backbone of this film. It’s an expansion of the original trilogy, building on its elements, establishing new aspects of the mythology and moving forward. And, crucially, it’s built on character, on ordinary people in an extraordinary environment. Finn and Rey are our point-of-view characters, everypeople thrust into a world they – and we – don’t fully understand. They’re immensely likeable, compelling, funny and have a real chemistry between them. But fans of the original cast (and who isn’t?) won’t be disappointed either. Speaking as a massive Chewbacca fan, who feels the character has been somewhat under-utilised in the past, this film made my furry heart gronk furiously with joy. 

From Chewbacca #1 by Phil Noto

There are criticisms to be made, though. In trying to balance the old and the new, JJ Abrams occasionally tips a little too far into the nostalgic side of things. A few moments amount to little more than ‘Hey! Remember this minor detail?’ and come across as cheap, and there are some concepts and sequences that are needlessly recycled when a new vision may have been more desirable. Part of this, of course, may be the fact that events in the Star Wars universe are cyclical, as we’ve seen before and will no doubt see again. Part of it is, as mentioned, a passing of the torch. This is a bridge between old and new, but the former doesn’t overshadow the latter.

To illustrate this point… it was notable that there were several spontaneous rounds of applause throughout the film. I understand that American audiences can often be a bit more audible in their appreciation of movies, but we Britishers are largely reticent. Applause just simply does not happen at a film, so this was remarkable in itself. And there were multiple nostalgia-fuelled outbursts here – for the crawl, the first appearance of the Falcon, of Han & Chewie, of Leia, C-3PO… But the biggest, most enthusiastic one was reserved for an unbelievably wonderful, heart-stopping, lump-in-throat, fuck-yeah moment for Rey, for Daisy Ridley. It was extremely telling. She’s our hero. In two days’ time, when I see it again with my family, I’m pretty confident she’ll be my daughter’s hero too. 

Torch passed.

Sunday, 18 October 2015


IMPORTANT PREAMBLE: This blog was originally written for the Big Glasgow Comic Page, and was the last of my columns for that august institution. I originally rewrote it to omit all the references to goodbye, sayonara and such, but to be honest it slightly ripped the heart out of it. I'm a sentimental old geek, so I've left all the teary farewells in. They do not, however, mean that this is the final post on this blog. Unless I just can't be arsed to do any more. Which is possible. 

Good morning squishy carbon-based fleshbags and superior silicon sentients. It is with a weary, heavy and gin-pickled heart that I bid you welcome to the final BARGAIN BASEMENT OF DOOOOOM. Sadly, I have received my draft papers and must spend six years as a minion-slash-henchman-slash-cannon fodder in the private army of a sixth-rate supervillain (please send all correspondence c/o Dr Demonicus). As such, I must reluctantly take my leave from the BGCP family, but I for one eagerly anticipate my exciting new life of servitude, mortal danger and daily personal diminishment.

I could have been one of Dr Doom's goons, but noooo.

This being the last BBoD post, I’m all demob-happy and drunk on love, so I’m going to indulge myself all up in your face with a whole bunch of Alan Davis goodness, in the form of THE CLANDESTINE. It’s no secret that Davis ranks pretty bloody highly in my all-time pantheon of favourite comics artists – in fact, six days out of seven, I’d probably give him the top spot. Yet, back when I was a nipper, I never liked his early work on Excalibur and New Mutants, and would even deride it as ‘cartoony’. What a silly, silly and devilishly handsome young man I was back then. Having since acquired a taste for his work, I’ve graduated to a full-on obsessive, amassing almost everything in his back catalogue, and slavishly buying anything on which he daubs a curve.

While he’s rightly celebrated for his sumptuous work on high-profile titles such as JLA: The Nail, X-Men, Fantastic Four: The End and Avengers Prime, his lesser-known scribblings are equally worthy of laudation. Both penned and pencilled by Davis, with support from legendary inky soulmate Mark Farmer and colours by Sophie Heath and Helen Nally, the occasionally definitely-articled ClanDestine first ran for 12 issues from 1994–1995. The series begins in stereotypical fashion, with a couple of naïve young costumed heroes – Crimson Crusader and Imp – interrupting a warehouse robbery. It turns out they are twins, Rory and Pandora Destine, keen to conceal their covert nocturnal superosity from their strict uncle, Walter. However, their actions this night have unforeseen ramifications – and when strange, semi-human creatures attack their family home looking for a whoozit or a whatzit called the Gryphon, it’s more than just the twins’ secret that comes to light. Before their eyes, Uncle Walter (a romance novelist by day) transforms into a giant, oddly proportioned, blue Hulk-like creature with flaming hair. 

His own dark secret revealed, Walter decides the time has come to tell the twins the truth about their extended family. Those people the kids thought were their aunties, uncles and grandparents are nothing of the sort, but are in truth their siblings – some of whom are hundreds of years old, all of whom have superhuman powers. They are all the children of Adam, an 800+-year-old indestructible Adonis, who we first encounter sitting in a hippified VW camper van in deep space, having a little chat with a slightly confused Silver Surfer.

Like many families, the Destines have drifted apart over the years, something actively encouraged via their Relative Stranger Protocol. Fearing exposure, the family have nurtured their estrangement, taken on new periodic identities to hide their longevity, and vowed to use their powers covertly, subtly, and only for personal gain. Now, however, someone has started to track down and kill the family members, sparking a chain of events that brings these oddballs reluctantly back into each other’s company for the first time in decades, if not centuries. Aside from Adam, Rory, Pandora and Walt, we meet, among others, Sam – a stern, aloof warrior woman capable of forming metallic armour and weapons; Kay – a vastly powerful body-hopping psychic with a hedonistic streak and questionable ethics; Newton – a super-genius inventor with more than a passing resemblance to Woody Allen, who spends much of his time on an alien world playing emperor-warlord in a genetically engineered Conan-esque second body; and Dom – a harlequinesque acrobat and stage magician whose Daredevil-dwarfing hyper-senses force him to live in seclusion.

It’s an extremely enjoyable book, fun but not flippant, vividly colourful and full of big concepts, family drama and askew ideas, with a very British sensibility. Rory and Pandora are the point-of-view characters, and it’s their – or, more accurately, Rory’s – youthful aspiration of becoming a superhero that places them at odds with the family’s survival tactic of remaining hidden. This clash between idealism and pragmatism is the catalyst for a series of events that imperil the family, threaten their exposure (and, indeed, survival), and cause them to question their status quo. Adam in particular, immortal and invulnerable, barely even capable of feeling anything at all, a father who has spent most of his youngest children’s lives sitting in a camper van on an asteroid several light years away, begins to reassess their purpose. Nonetheless, it is stressed, over and over again, that these are not superheroes, despite their powers. 

Indeed, they’re not particularly competent or heroic when they try to operate in the manner of yer traditional Marvel heroes. Dom finds himself knocked into ecstatic senselessness at an inopportune moment by the taste of chocolate; Kay alters a man’s memories to illegally inherit a fortune; Walter has anger-management issues and difficulty returning to human form. Rory fantasises about saving the Avengers, but more often than not the day is saved by others – by Spider-Man, by the Punisher, by Doctor Strange, by the last-minute return of the family patriarch. In fact, Adam’s climactic confrontation with the big villain in #4 is one of my favourite ‘fight’ scenes in comics – stoic, peaceful, understanding and utterly invulnerable, he simply refuses to engage in combat and then offers his foe the opportunity to leave. The way Davis draws Adam in this scene – serene, compassionate, strong, but also alien in his distance from the frailty of humanity – is masterful.

Naturally, Davis and Farmer’s artwork is arse-smackingly good throughout their run on the title. Clean, fluid and traditional in terms of form and style, but hugely inventive in terms of layout and angles, brilliantly expressive depictions of character, and wildly explosive and visceral when it comes to action, this is a great example of why I rate Davis so highly. Alas, he and Farmer left the title after #8, and the remaining four issues are completely forgettable, conveying none of the distinctive character of the book, despite new penciller Pino Rinaldi’s stilted attempts to ape Davis’s style.

Still, ClanDestine is very much Davis’s baby, and he has returned to these characters again a few occasions: in a ClanDestine/X-Men mini-series (which rightly but snarkily retconned the non-Davis issues of the original series as a dream), a further five-issue mini series in 2008 and a story that ran through three Davis-penned and-outrageously-beautifully-pencilled 2010 annuals (Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Wolverine). However, this mythos has never really caught on in the way the Davis clearly hoped it would. My theory as to why is this – in a world full of stretchy people, big green man-monsters, gods incarnate, shiny aliens, living robots and fuzzy blue mutants who smell like bum gas, the notion of a super-powered family is just not that outré. The whole point of the Destine clan is their clandestine nature (I see what they did there!), but that only really makes sense if they’re the only ones of their kind. My feeling is that these stories would have much more impact in their own universe (perhaps à la Jupiter’s Legacy), but are less well served by being woven into the wider Marvel continuity. This may have lessened ClanDestine’s appeal to casual readers, but makes these issues no less fun or gripping – or gorgeously illustrated.

Right, that’s your lot. Six months, 20 columns and more than 20,000 words later, I’m outta here. It’s been a pleasure being a part of the BGCP family, who have indulged my ramblings week on week. My apologies for never quite getting round to the other titles on my list: Firestorm, Green Lantern: Mosaic, Captain Atom, Peter David’s original X-Factor run, Hourman, The Ray, All Star-Squadron, HATE, the first couple of dozen issues of Justice League Europe, John Byrne’s run on West Coast Avengers, Dragon’s Claws, Secret Society of Super-Villains, Dork!, L.E.G.I.O.N, etc., etc.… But if you never have, you should definitely check out these titles. Because they’re cool. Because comics are cool. Never forget.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015


Right, so I went to see Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four tonight. It’s possible that you might have heard about it. You know, the film that got the lowest-ever score on Rotten Tomatoes? The film that’s the worst abomination cinema has ever known? The film that’s an affront to everything that’s good and right in the world? Why are we just sitting here gabbing when we could be tarring and feathering Josh Trank? THE MAN’S A MONSTER.

OK, stop. No. You've had your fun. Can we maybe, perhaps, stop being so hysterical about this thing? No, it’s not the best comic-book movie ever made. But you know what? It’s pretty far from the worst. Here are just a few shittier comic-book movies: X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Daredevil, Blade Trinity, Man-Thing. Batman Returns, Batman & Robin, Batman Forever, Superman III, Superman IV, Ghost Rider, Green Lantern. In my own personal rankings, Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four is probably on a par with Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk – which admittedly, is my least favourite MCU movie, but it’s by no means abominable (see what I did there?).

Some context first. Being primarily a lifelong X-Men fan, I’ve had a long time to get used to the idea that movies and comics are very different things. The first X-Men film offered only the merest of glimpses of my personal vision of Marvel’s Merry Mutants – and while I loved it anyway, it wasn’t without a certain amount of internal conflict about all the things they got completely wrong (i.e. changed for cinema). Eventually I reached the stage where I was comfortable with the idea that the cinema and comic universes were very different – complementary, perhaps, but their own entities. In many ways, the relationship between comics and cinema is much like Marvel 616 and the Ultimate Universe – the latter being a more streamlined, simplified, ‘cooler’ take on the former. It’s no coincidence that the movies have often turned to the Ultimate line for inspiration. And this latest iteration is no exception, plucking most of its story elements directly from the first couple of arcs of Ultimate Fantastic Four. The MCU also drinks deep from the Ultimate well – the most stark (excuse the pun) example being the casting of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, given that his likeness was appropriated for The Ultimates

Point being, I can happily see my comic films as parallel worlds or What Ifs?, as counterparts to the comics. I don’t require verisimilitude. The MCU and the Avengers do not, to me, feel like their comic counterparts, but I dig them both. 
I’m happy to take the films on their own terms, just as I take the comics in that fashion.

The one true Fantastic Four

Given all that, which is a roundabout way of saying a) this film is not very much like the 616 universe, and b) I'm not really all that concerned about that, what to make of Fantastic Four?

Taken on its own terms, it’s… well, a bit weird. The first two-thirds, a slow-burn sci-fi character study, are actually pretty compelling. The early bonding between child genius Reed Richards and best buddy from the wrong side of the tracks Ben Grimm is handled beautifully, and their bond is palpable and believable. Reed’s encounter with Franklin Storm and his induction into the interdimensional project is intriguing. And following the inevitable accident, the subsequent transformations, before our heroes learn to cope with their powers, make for some unexpectedly compelling, unsettling scenes of body horror.

But then there’s a sudden and huge leap – a ‘one year later’ leap. And it’s here where things start to unravel. Many others have mentioned this, but it really does feel like a big, generic mega-budget superhero blockbuster was awkwardly pasted onto a pretty interesting, simmering, atmospheric sci-fi flick, and the two don’t gel well at all. [Insert your own speculation here about studio interference and/or director meltdown and assign blame accordingly.] While there are some fun scenes in the latter third, the pacing becomes a desperate dash to the finish and it’s all ultimately a bit unsatisfying. What could have been an interesting, slower, quieter take on the superhero genre ends up as little more than a slightly confused prequel to some far better films that will most likely never be made.

A few closing points, good and bad.

GOOD: The Thing looks great in motion. Pants or no pants, this is by far the best rendering of live-action Benjy yet. Sometimes he feels like he could stand to have a little more weight, but he’s a sturdy presence nonetheless.

BAD: The best scenes from the trailer, of Ben being dropped from a place onto a military installation and wrecking the joint, were cut from the film at a late stage. A pretty shocking omission.

GOOD: Miles Teller carried the film as young Reed Richards, and to me inhabited the role really well. He had the awkwardness, the drive, the intense intelligence… could have used a little mania, but I liked him. In fact, all four team members were well cast, even if their interaction could have been handled better (see next point).

BAD: Before this film came out, I was confident that, whatever else happened, Trank (whose affinity for character work was well chronicled in, err, Chronicle) could relied upon to grasp what makes the FF unique – their family dynamic. But the ball was majorly dropped here. Reed & Ben were a tight lifelong partnership, and Sue & Johnny’s sibling relationship was good – tense and cool, though warming up – but as a quartet…? Reed and Sue had some extremely tentative flirting and burgeoning chemistry, but were basically work colleagues, while Johnny & Ben barely even speak to each other until the closing scene, and there's no real sense of the four as a team. Poor.

GOOD: For all the hoo-ha about Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara playing siblings – because oh my god, how could that ever happen in real life, apart from all the ways in which it can and does happen?! – this was played nicely and not turned into a tiresome plot point. A brief mention about adoption, and that’s all (arguably, even that was unnecessary, as Franklin had already mentioned she was his daughter).

BAD: This is the big one. Dr Doom was absolutely bloody awful. No getting around it. Looked terrible. Had no presence. No menace. No aristocratic arseholeness. While, as mentioned, I don’t require faithfulness to the comic, this Dr Doom retained nothing that’s interesting about Victor aside from the name. Nothing. Not one thing. The great thing about Doom is that he is a self-made man of power, and as such considers himself superior to the misbegotten freaks of nature that are the FF. Why Trank decided to repeat the mistake of Tim Story and portray Doom as just another superpowered freak is beyond me. And worse, Doom here is no imperious, arrogant megalomaniac, but just a mopey, slobby nihilist bent on pointless destruction because… well, reasons, OK? He was essentially fruit-dehydrating maniac Eddie from Friends, covered in broken glowsticks and duct tape, with an ill-defined assortment of superpowers. Had this character simply been renamed Annihilus or the Molecule Man, it might have worked better, but this was just a colossal waste of one of comics’, nay fiction’s, most interesting characters. Crap, I tells ya. Crap! 

(Addendum: Come to think of it...he's a creepy looking techno-organic thing, has freaky cosmic powers, he's a nihilist bent on destruction, and lives in the frickin' Negative Zone. He bloody well IS Annihilus. Well, Annihilus-lite.) 

A mid-tier movie, then. Starts well, ends badly. Shit Doom. Far from perfect, but not deserving of the nigh-universal, excessive opprobrium.