Archive for the ‘Comic Books’ Category

Starburst 400

May 7, 2014 1 comment

So, Starburst Magazine has made it to issue 400. That’s a grand old age for a monthly magazine, especially one filled with sci-fi, fantasy and horror content. It’s a bit of honour to be involved and it’s still a thrill to walk into the offices of Starburst Towers, which is a bizarre and wonderful haven of all things geek. (One of these days I’ll get someone to draw up a proper schematic of the building to give you an idea of what the place looks like. Might need a fold out bit to accommodate all the rocket planes and quantum flange generators though.1)

This issue is filled with the usual goodies (including a column from myself), and some background and history on the magazine itself, as well as a spot of Star Wars news (just like the first ever issue). It also has a bit of my short fiction, which I’m absurdly proud of. I’ve had short fiction published before of course, but it feels a bit liked I’ve joined some sort of club with this one.

Starburst Issue 400

The cover is a shout out to the first ever issue of the magazine

This post is a little late in coming, so issue 401 will be out very soon as well. You may want to hurry to your local newsagents.

1: What ever happened to Tharg’s spaceship after 2000AD moved out of King’s Reach Tower?

Categories: Comic Books

True Believers

February 23, 2014 Leave a comment

On today’s show we talked to Stuart Mulrain, who is organising The True Believers Convention.

The plan is to create a regular UK based Comic Convention at the famous Cheltenham Racecourse in early February. If they pull it off, this will make a rather splendid start to the convention season. This will also nicely book-end the Leed’s based Thought Bubble, which happens in November, which feels like way too long to wait.

Looks super, thanks for asking.

Looks super, thanks for asking.

You can find out more on and they’re currently running a Kickstarter with some interesting rewards.

Categories: Comic Books

Dan Abnett Interview

November 26, 2012 Leave a comment

No blog post update today; way too much to write up. Instead, take a look at this interview I did with Dan Abnett for Starburst magazine.

Link Here.

Categories: Books, Comic Books, Games, Geek

Superman Versus The Elite

November 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Mainstream comics have a strange sort of an affliction; on the one hand the producers are constantly looking out for innovative new ideas and story lines in order to sell books to an increasingly jaded and cynical audience, who also fear change1. The result tends to be that any work that challenges the status quo does incredibly well to begin with, before being quickly buried. 2

I was remind of this after watching Superman versus The Elite, which is an odd sort of cartoon. It’s an adaptation of a comic book which in itself was a reaction to another comic book that had nothing to do (directly) with Superman. The plot of Superman versus The Elite can be summarised as something along the lines of this; “Superman encounters a new team of heroes who, lead by a Union Jack Flag wearing Englishman3, go out of their way to directly take on tyrannical regimes. Superman’s public approval is suffering due to his boy scout image, and he goes on to teach this team, known as The Elite that killing is wrong, and that violence is scary.” The behaviour of the characters make little sense, Superman comes across as a grumpy old bully and the plot fails on every level, even as a possible parody.

Jenny Sparks; the spirit of the last century, wrapped up in the Union Flag.

Or to put it another way, the cartoon is a boring bag of rubbish, and it’s based on an equally boring Superman story, What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?. That story was written as a response to The Authority, a comic book series created by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch. The initial run of book asked the question “If you literally had the power to overcome tyranny, then would you accept the moral responsibility to do so?” Thought provoking and deliberately provocative, it was crammed with some lovely ideas, such as the spirit of the age, the soul of cities, super heroes as a pantheon, and iconic heroes being part of a much older story.4

It didn’t last, of course. DC comics bought Wildstorm, who published The Authority. After an initially amazing run, with some great talent involved, it was quietly taken out round the back and shot.

The fact that Superman versus The Elite exists is just odd; it’s as if someone at DC felt so threatened byThe Authority that they wanted to ensure that it was stomped on thoroughly. What it actually did was remind me how good the original work was, and not only dig them all out again, but recommend the back-issues to friends. Maybe that was the plan, but I doubt it.

1: Perhaps because the audience is getting older. Recent research (article here) suggests that over a quarter of the readership is over 65.

2: The good but over-rated Watchmen is not the exception to this rule you may think it is. The work has been pretty much seen as a one-off, its innovations taking decades to filter into mainstream books. They recently launched spin-off books based on the original work, causing much outrage from the comic book reader community, who mostly failed to consider that had this happened sooner, it may have triggered all sorts of interesting ideas.

3: Oh, and they have a magician, a super strong guy, a winged girl with techno-organic powers and a reality hopping space ship that can generate teleportation portals. The Elite are a strawman parody of The Authority, such much so that it’s kind of sad.

4: Apollo and Midnighter where direct references to mainstream characters Superman and Batman. One was the Sun, the other night. Where one was kind, the other was vicious. They were also lovers, which made every homophobic comic book fan who read the book spit out their dummies so fast that the sound barrier was breached. Seriously, the day that book came back you could hear the sonic booms.

Categories: Comic Books, TV

Black Library Weekender

November 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Rather than the usual format for a blog post, in which I wax lyrical1 about some nerd thing or other that has caught my eye this week, I’m going talk about what I did this weekend. Which is go to a luxury hotel in Nottingham and hang out with book geeks.

The Black Library Weekender was a two-day event focusing on the books produced by the world’s fifth largest publisher of Science Fiction. I am a big fan of the Black Library, partially because I was bitten by the Warhammer bug at a very young age2, but also because it deals with expanding consistent world settings; everything BL produces is part of a growing mythology, and everyone is invited to dive in. The imagination, much like sports, can be more fun with the addition of some basic rules, and the loose guidelines that define the worlds of Warhammer tend to be a lot of fun.3

So what happens when hundreds of fans turn up at a really nice place with conference facilities, a bar and a spa? A good time is had by all it seems, though I didn’t see many other fans in the swimming pool (they were mostly in the bar). Personal highlights for me include getting to chat away with the likes of Clint Werner4, who is very epitome of a Texan Gentleman, getting to geek out slightly at Aaron Dembski-Bowden5, and talk to a host of authors, editors and fans. (I was stunned to learn that they are people still using the old-school Rogue Trader rules to play RPGs. That is deeply hardcore.)

I also got to interview Dan Abnett for Starburst Magazine. I’m a big fan of Dan’s work, and it was a lot of fun to do. He’s a nice chap and I got some great stuff to write up later. I probably came across like a huge fanboy, but then that is who I am.

I totally played it cool, as you can see.

As an event, it was mostly seminars and signings, and there was quite a bit of overlap with the Horus Heresy talks; I learned a lot about what was coming up over the next 18 months for that series, and much less about other lines. However, I was also able to grab multiple viewpoints and takes on that bestselling series, so nothing was wasted. Another highlight was some great insights into the adventure gamebook industry.

The evening social events included The Pitch Factor, a Pop Idol style event where nervous unpublished authors pitched their ideas to two editors and an English teacher6. I had a go myself, and got the reality TV experience7, but it was an awful lot of fun. There was also a quiz, which was essentially authors versus the fans. Technically the fans won, but judging by the amount the laughter, I think everyone did.

It was a large, but intimate feeling event. The Black Library ‘tribe’ is a rather awesome one, and I can’t wait to do something like this again soon.

1: Or if you’ve met me, babble in excitable Geordie whalesong.
2: There is no known cure for Geek. It may mutate, but it can never be cured, and that’s fine the way it is.
3: Black Library, and indeed Games Workshop, have a policy that can best described as “It’s all true, especially the lies”. Much of the work is told from a specific viewpoint, and no one pretends that any one faction has the full facts. This means that stories are stack upon stories, creating a deep yet flexible world. This is a very British approach to dealing with story settings that feature multiple creative talents. Doctor Who has a similar policy.
4: He writes some cracking stuff; if gritty fantasy featuring rat-men and disease sounds like your thing, check out Dead Winter.
5: Aaron is a great writer who should be more famous than he is. He also wrote a great article on canon here.
6: Legion of the Damned writer Rob Sanders. Possibly the coolest English teacher ever, for a given value of cool. I may have babbled incoherently at him at one point about his cinematic scenes in The Primarchs.
7: I should have gone for My Little Primarch, also known as We buy any Khan.

Categories: Books, Comic Books, Reviews


October 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Comics have been around for a very long time1, but the modern superhero story is a relatively recent invention2, and it’s only since the late eighties that this genre has begun a series of awkward self-examinations. Typically, when people talk about comic book stories that are about themselves, they start with The Watchmen3, but for my mind, a far more worthy and interesting take on what the hero myth means in modern times is Warren Ellis’s Planetary.

Rather than simply setting out to deconstruct comics, Ellis created a solid super-hero story about a small team of metahuman archaeologists who went out into the world looking for the strange and the fantastic. Their tag-line is ‘The world is a weird place, let’s keep it that way’ and the book is a celebration of the fact that the world is a diverse and interesting place. Not just one world though, all worlds. All possible worlds, and perhaps the impossible ones as well.

One of the graphic novels in the series focuses soley on cross-overs. The book’s premise is set-up to explore other worlds in a very specific way, and each story in the book cross-examines the cross-over. Also, they’re great stories.

Of course, as this is a super-hero book, their world is even more interesting than ours, as it features dinosaur islands, atomic babies and darker origin myths. Planetary is set in a reality where the sort of super-science and techno wizardry found in the mainstream comics produced by the likes of Marvel and DC has been deliberately kept secret from the world. This itself was a commentary on limitations of mainstream comics at the time; your average Green Lantern or Iron Man story contains things that should permanently change the lives of many people, and yet never seem to do so.4

It is because of this book that this is less true now, and indeed, the new crop of Marvel Movies do seem to constantly acknowledge that the world is being changed by the presence of superhuman beings. 5. Planetary also examined and discussed how fragile many of the origin stories of super heroes are; for example, the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman both begin their tales with the kindness of strangers. For their stories to work, you have to assume that people are still kind and decent enough to take in lost strangers, and this should set the bar for the nature of the world that the heroes inhabit.

Unlike The Watchmen or even Kingdom Come, the thing that will make Planetary stand the test of time is that it is a story about how the world shapes stories, and how stories shape the world. It’s a lesson in how to make myths, and deserves a place in the list of classic super hero stories.

1: Depending on how you define comics of course, but telling stories with pictures is as old as language.

2: Tales of human beings with remarkable abilities are, of course, ancient. But we only started dressing them in spandex since the 1930’s.

3: Alan Moore’s The Watchmen is seen as a classic simply for its mature approach to superheroes, focusing on the consequences of their actions in a way more in tune with real world events. It is, however, an awkward teenager of a book, a lot of the key themes fumble at points and there seems to be little love for the actual genre. It’s groundbreaking, which also means that as the genre moves on, it becomes more and more dated.

4: It would be dishonest to pretend that mainstream comics didn’t begin this journey on their own. This bit of social commentary predates Watchmen by over a decade (it’s from Green Lantern #76). What Planetary did was turn this commentary in on itself, and encourage writers and producers to make the notion of ‘how does an alien invasion effect the stock exchange’ something that’s worth talking about.

5: Ellis would go on to write for the Iron Man comic book, and ideas from those books are directly referenced in the movie. Another example of Marvel is keeping a track of how the heroes change the world around them can be found in the excellent Marvel Movie One-Shot Item 47.

Categories: Comic Books

Justice League Dark

October 22, 2012 4 comments

Just over a year ago, DC Comics1 rebooted and relaunched their long list of comic book titles so they all began at Number 1 again. In addition to confusing bric-a-brac bargain hunters all over the world as they picked up a copy of the Superman number 1, DC also launched a range of new comic books, including Justice League Dark, which as silly names go, is up there with Green Lantern.

DC have a bunch of ‘supernatural’ heroes whom they’ve struggled to write about in the past. However, they announced that, during the reboot, they’d be moving some of the more obviously occult characters from their more grown-up range of comics back into their mainstream line, and this is why Justice League Dark features one of my favourite protagonists; the Liverpool-born, London-living, dirty-blonde bastard John Constantine2.

John Constantine cigarette pentagram

According to his creator, Alan Moore, Constatine’s look was inspired the musician Sting.

Unlike the usual sort of comic book hero, John isn’t a fireball flinging wizard; he’s cast more in the mould of a gritty occultist from an urban fantasy novel. Deceit and information are his weapons first and foremost, and his adventures tend to be very character focused dramas where the supernatural serves as a metaphor for more everyday horrors. So an odd choice for a leader of a what is essentially a version of The Avengers who fight vampires not aliens.

The weird thing is, it sort of works. Don’t get me wrong, the tales are rather silly and there’s nothing in Justice League Dark that hasn’t been done countless times in mainstream comic books. But there’s a charm to seeing a trench coat wearing cynic light up a cigarette whilst the world faces annihilation from this Vampire King or that ancient evil from beyond the stars. This is, perhaps, because we can believe wisecracking bravado from a bitter looking middle-aged man who’s still standing, despite clearly having been through hell.

It helps that the rest of the League are more brightly coloured; we get, for example Zatanna3, a top-hat wearing Las Vegas stage magician who can do almost anything with magic simply by focusing her will and saying what she wants doing backwards.

This has made her tricky to write for in the past, but because she’s in a book that focuses mostly on supernatural menaces, the writers get to limit her by making any threat worth her while resistant to her power. So she can deal with henchmen with a simple “skoom paz” spell, but can’t cut to the chase with a “dab gib tuo ekat” spell. This version of Zatanna is less light and more angry than previous incarnations, but balances out the team nicely.

We also get Deadman, a wise-cracking ghost in a silly costume, who’s been around for ages and is actually quite dull; character growth is limited if you’re a ghost, I suppose. The rest of the team changes, but these three seem to be our core team and they generate enough conflict and bickering between them to keep the book going.

I suspect the problem will be, that in the long run, Justice League Dark can only do a sanitised version of occult horror. These characters had been relegated to the more mature books for a reason, and actually making something scary without going for clichés like ancient evils and hordes of vampire requires tightly scripted, ongoing drama. They are hints that the book is attempting to go in this direction, but time has yet to tell if it can deliver the sort of chills needed to make this book stand out. I hope it does, but I suspect it will eventually yet another footnote in DC’s long list of abandoned ideas.

1: DC gave us Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and The Flash, and happen to be owned by Time Warner. DC’s premier superhero team is The Justice League, who have yet to have a good movie. Not to be confused with Marvel, who own Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and Spider Man, who are owned by Disney these days. Marvel also gave us the The Avengers, and currently top dog, hero books wise.

2: John originally appeared in a 1985 issue of Swamp Thing, as part of a ‘mature minds’ range of comic books which eventually became known as the Vertigo line. The character eventually got his own book, Hellblazer and had some great writers during its long run, such as Warren Ellis and Mike Carey, and is currently in the hands of the under-rated Peter Milligan, all of which needs its own post. Hellblazer also inspired the movie Constantine, which also needs its own post and about half a bottle of whisky to write.

3: Zatanna, alas, doesn’t have her own book, as it keeps getting cancelled, and has been ‘reimagined’ many times. For my money, the best take on her so far has been Paul Dini’s run, who wrote her as stage magician first and a hero second. Though you could argue that Dini is at an unfair advantage as he’s married to professional illusionist, Misty Lee, who also looks good in a top-hat.

Categories: Comic Books

Person of Interest

October 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Once in a good long while, you get a crime drama series that does something different with the basic premise of ‘they fight crime’. Alongside the many variants of Law & Order and CSI we now have Person of Interest, a show that owes more to classic crime fighting action heroes such as The Shadow and Batman than it does to the usual formula of “the law always wins”.

The premise is very comic-book like. A reclusive billionaire genius has access to limited information on forthcoming crimes. He recruits a down-on-his-luck ex-CIA agent to help him to get more information, and together they fight crime. The agent, John Reese, is a one man army with his own problems. His motivations for doing the things he does are complex, but you always get the feeling that he’s always one step away from being a true villain without that being played up a clichéd, angst-driven way. Actor Jim Caviezel1 does a good line in gritty voiced, hard boiled bad-ass, and it’s hard not to like this hero, who’s known to the police as ‘that guy in the suit’2.

The Shadow Radio Cover

The Shadow is a grandaddy of crime dramas featuring people with unusual abilities, and a clear source of inspiration for Person of Interest.

He’s supported by Harold Finch3, a crippled genius who has access to all the surveillance systems ever, and an unusual way of predicting crimes. I’ll avoid spoiling exactly what that is, but this element lends a further air of the fantastic to the whole show; it’s entirely believable, and yet incredible at the same time, making a Person of Interest less of a cop show and more of a super-hero story where nobody has super powers or wears a cape. It might not surprise you to learn that the producer is Jonathan Nolan, who co-wrote the relatively down-to-earth Batman movie The Dark Knight alongside his brother Christopher.

As the show progresses, the cast grows; we meet further heroes who again are regular people with an interest in keeping the streets clean and saving lives. Indeed, they’re introduced so subtly that it takes a while for us to realise that actually these characters are remarkable crime-fighters in their own right. Of course, they are recurring villains as well, and they are exactly what they need to be; real people, with real motivations doing bad things for reasons that they can justify and feel righteous for doing.

Person of Interest is now in its second season, and it keeps getting better and better as it goes on. I have high hopes for this show and I hope it inspires a renaissance in good solid story telling which features not indestructible action heroes, but remarkable people doing amazing things.

1: As badasses go, he’s an excellent choice. He’s also played incredibly powerful humans in the past; he was Jesus Christ in the The Passion of the Christ.
2: A regular suit, not a superhero costume. Though it may as well be.
3: Played by Michael Emerson, who’s made a career out of playing the quirky and off key. Previous roles include clowns and serial killers, which I’d argue is almost the same niche.

Categories: Comic Books, Reviews, TV

Guardians of the Galaxy

July 13, 2012 1 comment

With the success of The Avengers, it was perhaps inevitable that Marvel would attempt to make another super-hero team movie. Rather than playing it safe and going for another team that may be familiar to some, it’s possible that Marvel have gone for the full on weirdness that is 1 The Guardians of the Galaxy

The Guardians have been through two major iterations; the original 70’s/80’s team was delightful chunk of science fiction madness that had only the barest of connection with the mainstream Marvel universe. Set in a far future, the team roster featured super-strong soldiers from high gravity worlds, noble savages, crystalline beings (with hyper-intelligence) and the mandatory ‘man from the past’; Vance Astro. (Who was a cross between Captain America and Buck Rogers.). It was good, clean schlocky fun, but barely fitted with the rest of the Marvel range, being a lovely bit of space fantasy amid a range of gritty, street level hero books. The fanbase drifted away over time, and got itself cancelled in the mid-nineties alongside many other Marvel comic books that didn’t quite fit2.

Rocket Racoon; striking the balance between comic relief and diminutive badass. Somehow, it works, but that’s Marvel comics for you

Then, in 2008, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning came along and re-launched the Guardians of the Galaxy off the back of epic space opera series, Annihilation3. Abnett and Lanning upped the tone of series from space opera romance to cinematic science-fiction. Alien invasions, insidious memes and cosmic conspiracies are the focus of the reboot, and because it’s Abnett, we get some great character interactions. The line up of the team is utterly different; we have Rocket Racoon (an Earth mammal with a rocket launcher), Kroot (a talking, super-strong, regenerating tree-person), Quasar (Marvel’s more likeable version of the Green Lantern) and Starlord, (an experienced soldier who punches far above his weight, a sort of space Batman.) Just as weird as the original, but with the sort of punch modern audiences expect, and much more like The Avengers in Space than the original line-up. It’s a credit to Abnett and Lanning’s skill that these heroes are quite so charming. The new guys keep the romance of the old book whilst keeping it interesting and fun.

Is Guardians of The Galaxy going to do well as a movie? I have no idea. If the movie going audience is willing to buy into super heroes with a sci-fi twist, then probably, but it’s going to take one hell of a good script and a director who can juggle the weird with genuine character drama. I hope they pull it off though, it could be deeply awesome.

1: The Fantastic Four would be the obvious choice, especially as the first two attempts where tosh, mostly because it failed to sell the viewer on the idea of a super hero family. The FF movies aren’t that bad, it’s just that The Incredibles got there first, and did it better.
2: Another example would be The Defenders, who were a hodge podge of heroes you may have heard of; Doctor Strange, Namor, The Hulk and others, especially as it’s a handy way of introducing minor heroes. Sadly The Defenders are bit crap; it’s actually part of their ‘thing’; other super hero teams don’t take them seriously. Sadly, this also meant that neither did comic book buyers. Despite this, they’re fondly remembered.
3: I raved about that series here, but in summary; big space war, things went boom.

Categories: Comic Books, Geek, Movies

The Avengers – movie phenomena of the year

April 30, 2012 2 comments

Apparently, if I hadn’t gone to see the The Avengers 1 this weekend, the geek police would have turned up at my door and taken away my geek card and nerd privileges. Or something. It’s mostly pointless to pretend to review what is rapidly turning out to not only the box office smash of the year, but the younger generations equivalent of Star Wars. 2

Go see it, if not to prevent people from endlessly telling you to go and see it. If you’re a comic-book fan you’ll emit little squeals of nerdy delight, if you like big budget hero movies, you’ll love it. The rest of you will find the performances engaging, the wit sharp, the heroes pretty and the plot doing its best to not get in the way of the fun.

More interestingly, the The Avengers shows that the super-hero movie has finally reached the point where it can not only emulate the more intricate elements of the comic book format, it can excel it. Namely, the idea that you can set multiple stories in the same place. This isn’t particularly news, recurring characters have been a feature of films in the past, but this is the first time that the concept of a shared world, spread across multiple movies, has taken centre stage.

Avengers. Assembling. Never seen in Ikea.

Audiences have proven that they can ‘buy into’ a coherent world and setting, in this case the Marvel Universe. Remember, The Avengers is not just set in the same world that the Thor, Captain America and Iron Man movies were set in, it also (technically), exists in the same place that Ghost Rider and Blade exist. In theory, any of these characters could turn up in a movie with each other, and though it’s unlikely that Marvel will produce a romantic comedy featuring Spider Man’s Flash Thompson and Patty ‘Hellcat’ Walker3, it’s more possible than it was last year. Moreover, other franchises will now try the same trick. I expect to see Batman taking on Superman sometime soon. 4

The other thing it means is that comic-book geeks are now mainstream. But then they always were; The Avengers (and their corporate rivals, The Justice League) are modern versions of god-like pantheons, a repetition of the stories of heroism that we’ve been telling in different ways since we could tell stories. It’s just this time, when we tell, they are explosions.

1: Apparently it’s actually “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble”, presumably to distance it from the 1998 movie “The Avengers” that completely misunderstood the classic TV series of the same name. Personally, I’ve always found comparing the British Avengers (a super-spy TV show with incredibly weird moments) with the American Avengers (a super-hero comic book with incredibly weird moments) a nice study in the differences of cultures. Also, the British Avengers actually have stuff they want to avenge, but that’s a different rant.

2: My generation’s Star Wars was Empire Strikes Back. Pity today’s adolescents, their big Hollywood movie was The Phantom Menace.

3: Patsy Walker is an interesting example of the weird adaptability of the Marvel Universe. She began life as a character in ‘teen romance’ comics, and was eventually re-imagined as Hellcat, a kick ass crime-fighter in tight spandex. Imagine if you will, a version of Sleepless in Seattle where Meg Ryan suddenly becomes a deadly assassin, beats up Tom Hanks and then goes on to save the world from shape shifting alien monsters. I’d watch that movie.

4: Of course, a lot of TV is connected to other TV. At least according to the Tommy Westphall Hypothesis, which isn’t the name of a rock band, it’s an odd little idea that much of American TV is a child’s dream.

Categories: Comic Books, Geek, Movies Tags: