Saturday, 1 December 2018

Top Ten Best Marvel Characters

A few years ago Comics Should Be Good! ran a poll to find the Top 100 Marvel & DC Characters. Of course I voted. Like all superhero comic fans I'm insufferably arrogant and believe that I know better than every other fan, so I thought I'd present my own personal list.

This is the Marvel list. Check out my DC list here.

10. Hulk (Bruce Banner)


Jose Luis Garcia Lopez

Where did Bruce come in CSBG's list? #8 

Who was #10 in CSBG's list? Cyclops

Dr. Bruce Banner would have us believe that his regular transformations into the gamma spawned manifestation of the raging beast that dwells within him (otherwise known as the Incredible Hulk) is a fate worse death. We, his fans, know better.

Whenever we lose our temper, somewhere deep beneath the red mist is a desire to be taken seriously. We may be frothing and spluttering incoherently as our skin turns pink and our eyes bulge, but what we're really saying is "Can't anyone see how important this is to me?" When Bruce Banner loses his rag, nobody can roll their eyes and say "Old purple pants is off on one again". People have to take him seriously. I think this is the key to Hulk's appeal, and possibly why so many of his adversaries are people who have attempted to duplicate his condition. We are all just a little bit jealous of the Hulk.

Sal Buscema

9. She-Hulk (Jennifer Walters)


Walt Simonson

Where did Jen come in CSBG's list? #18

Who was #9 in CSBG's list? Iron Man (Tony Stark) 

She-Hulk initially began as a rip-off her Incredible cousin, a female Hulk who changed into a savage brute whenever she lost her cool. After the demise of her own comic she joined the Avengers, where she was never really much more than 'third Avenger from the left'. It wasn't until writer/artist John Byrne had her join the Fantastic Four that she really came into her own. In the pages of FF and then her own relaunched series Byrne emphasised the one aspect of She-Hulk that really made her unique; unlike her cousin she likes being a Hulk and is able to use her power to be a force for good, and have a lot of fun. Shulkie remains one of the most unique characters in comics. In the past ten years writers Dan Slott and Charles Soule have played up her day job as a super-hero lawyer to great effect. Whether She-Hulk is extraditing Doctor Doom's son, questioning a ghost who's a witness to his own murder, or helping Spider-man to sue himself, her comics are always like nothing else on the shelves.

Javier Pulido


8. J.Jonah Jameson


John Romita

Where did Jolly Jonah come in CSBG's list? #91

Who was #8 in CSBG's list? Hulk (Bruce Banner) 

The best thing about J. Jonah Jameson (newspaper editor, Spidey's #1 detractor, and Peter Parker's boss) is that he's essentially an honourable, principled man who just happens to also be a massive arsehole. Over the years we've seen Jonah severely damage the credibility and the bank balance of the Daily Bugle with a crusade against Spider-Man that can only be described as petty. Jonah's vendetta has even seen him finance the creation of at least three super-villains; The Scorpion, The Fly, and the Spider-Slayer. His hatred of the "wall-crawling menace" stems not from a staunch belief in the dangers of vigilantism but from his own feelings of inadequacy and desire to pull the heroic Spidey down to his level. (This motive was established very early on in Spidey's history and was probably influenced by co-creator Steve Ditko's wacky Randian worldview.) And yet, Jonah is also shown to be a brilliant, incorruptible and fiercely honest newspaperman. He has often fought for civil rights and risked his life to expose corruption. He is a loving husband to his wife Marla (or at least he was until she was killed off), and despite his bluster he treats his employees like family members.

Funny, angry, honest, deceitful, greedy, generous, dangerous, heroic. J.Jonah Jameson is a complicated, multi-layered, and completely brilliant character.

Steve Ditko

7. The Human Torch (Johnny Storm)




Where did Johnny come in CSBG's list? #63

Who was #7 in CSBG's list? Thor (Odinson)

All the fans who moaned about Michael B. Jordan's casting as Johnny Storm in the recent Fantastic Four movie made me laugh. They insisted that their objections weren't motivated by racism but by a desire to stay true to the source material. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby originally created Johnny they depicted him as a hot-headed, white, teen heart-throb. So by the moaners' logic the only truly faithful casting would have been Justin Bieber. Fanboys should be careful what they wish for.

These days Johnny is much more than a teen heart-throb. He is narcissistic, fame obsessed, and desperate to avoid responsibility and cling to his youth. He has been mothered his whole life by his older sister and as a result is always looking for a woman in his life to make him feel complete. He falls in love at the drop of a hat and is known for his intense but short relationships. While he is still fairly young he's already been married and divorced once, although to be fair his wife turned out to be a Skrull who gave birth to an egg that turned into a tentacled monster that tried to kill him. Despite being created in 1961 this perpetual man-child is truly a 21st Century hero. And yet, despite his immaturity Johnny is a hero through and through. He has sacrificed his life at least twice to save the world (he got better), and has literally gone to Hell and back for his family. Johnny mirrors the worst aspects of 21st Century Western culture, but hopefully we can try to mirror his best aspects.

Dale Eaglesham

6. The Invisible Woman (Sue Richards)


John Byrne

Where did Sue come in CSBG's list? #39

Who was #6 in CSBG's list? Magneto

Initially Stan Lee and Jack Kirby depicted Sue Richards as a delicate, naive flower, forever overshadowed by the huge personalities of her team mates. Since the '80s Sue has been much, much more. Sue is the matriarch of the entire Marvel Universe. Pretty much every other character in the Marvel Universe loves her and respects her. Her husband Reed (and father to her two children) has the science-brains but she has the wisdom. Technically Reed's the leader of the Fantastic Four, but he's perpetually distracted and constantly one bad mood away from becoming a super villain. Sue is the real leader and has been for years. She does more to look after the team and hold them together than he's ever done. Sue is a lioness. She is loving and nurturing and will rip out your spine if you try and harm a member of her family.

Sue's not just defined by her family however. She is one of the most powerful Marvel characters and is capable of taking on all of the Avengers at once in battle.  She is an Agent of SHIELD, an Ambassador to a race of long lost Atlanteans, and has an evil personality called Malice living in her head. While she loves her husband she also has a bit of a 'will-they-won't-they' thing going on with Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner. Both Reed and Namor are punching above their weight if you ask me.

Dale Eaglesham
5. Doctor Doom


Jack Kirby

Where did Doom come in CSBG's list? #5

Who was #5 in CSBG's list? Dr Doom

Victor Von Doom is the perfect Super-Villain. He's a mad scientist, an evil sorcerer, and a ruthless dictator. He's horribly scarred but incredibly charismatic. He's motivated by a noble desire to rescue his mother from Hell, and by his small minded, petty resentment of the only man who's cleverer than him, Reed Richards. If you put every single great villain from history and legend into a blender you would end up with Doctor Doom. He's such a great character that he now has his very own plot device to absolve him from crappy stories. Whenever he appears in a story that's anything less than spectacular, writers have taken to explaining that the Doom who featured in the disappointing tale was merely a 'Doombot', a robot minion created in Doom's likeness.

When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created him, they created the ultimate, archetypal bastard, and the world loves a bastard.

Esad Ribic


4. The Thing (Ben Grimm)


John Byrne

Where did Ben come in CSBG's list? #11

Who was #4 in CSBG's list? Daredevil

It's weird how a so-called monster, with a hair-trigger temper and a grumpy demeanour, can be the one character in the Marvel Universe who everybody is friends with, even most of the villains. Every character respects Captain America, and every character ends up teaming up with either Wolverine or Spider-Man at some point. But Ben is the guy that every character wants to hang out with, either to play poker or have a drink. Perhaps it's because of the fact that, despite his monstrous appearance, frequent mood swings, and love of "clobberin", he's actually one of the most sensitive characters in the Marvel Universe. Like his friend Johnny Storm he falls in love very easily and is fiercely loyal to his friends and family. He has chosen to turn down possible cures for his monstrousness on more than one occasion in order to save lives.

It's very telling that when the Marvel heroes went to war with each other over the issue of Superhuman Registration, each side was desperate to get Ben on their side. It was as if having Ben on board would legitimise their point of view. It's also very telling that Ben refused to join either side and buggered off to France instead. Ben is, more than any other character, the heart and soul of the Marvel Universe.

Brad Walker

3. Iron Man (Tony Stark)


Mark Bright

Where did Tony come in CSBG's list? #9

Who was #3 in CSBG's list? Wolverine

Tony Stark is one of the most real characters in the Marvel Universe. By that I don't mean realistic, he is after all a guy who flies around in a metal suit that fits in a briefcase. And I don't mean that he's a character that's easy to identify with. Well, he might be if you're a billionaire who's one of the cleverest men in the world, but for the rest of us he's a man with a lifestyle that we can only dream of. When I say that Stark is 'real' I mean that he is one of the most fully-developed characters in comics. He's a complete character with motives, and fears, and desires, and flaws, and hidden aspects to his personality. Stark is proud of his wealth and success, and simultaneously ashamed of his privilege. He's ruthless enough to use people to achieve his goals but compassionate enough to feel awful about it. He's desperate to be loved and yet willing to make himself the bad guy in order to serve the greater good. He's constantly looking towards the future and is occasionally horrified by what he sees, but is just arrogant enough to think he can steer us all on the right path. He embraces pleasure as only a man on borrowed time can. He is an alcoholic. There aren't many characters in comics as fully developed as Stark (maybe John Constantine). If Tony Stark were any more real I'd be typing this on a Stark Industries laptop.

Jack Kirby

2. Mr Fantastic (Reed Richards)


John Byrne

Where did Reed come in CSBG's list? #35

Who was #2 in CSBG's list? Captain America

Reed Richards is a hero, a born leader, a super-genius and the Marvel Universe's ultimate father figure. But these factors are only part of what makes him so appealing. In the fifty+ years since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four it's been pretty well established that Reed is just one bad day away from going completely batshit insane. Reed is the cleverest person on the planet and he's just one hissy fit away from deciding that everyone on Earth doesn't really know what they're doing and he'd be better off just taking over. There is of course one thing that keeps Reed grounded and stops him from crushing us all like the intellectual cockroaches we are. His family. The rest of the FF. Whenever Reed starts losing it, his wife, his brother-in-law, his best friend, his two children and sometimes even his deadbeat, time-travelling dad all manage to keep him on the straight and narrow. A man who can fit whole Universes into his brain but can't survive without his wife, kids, and best friends. There's something really beautiful about that. 

Esad Ribic

1. The Amazing Spider-Man (Peter Parker)

John Romita

Where did Pete come in CSBG's list? #1

Who was #1 in CSBG's list? Spider-Man (Peter Parker)

One of the first Spider-Man stories I ever read as a child ended with Spidey collapsing in an exhausted heap on his bed following a particularly intense battle with Electro. Nursing his burnt hands he says to himself "If this is a victory... I'd hate to be defeated." Even as a kid I realised this was miles away from Superman or Batman, but I didn't realise quite how different it was. I remember asking my dad if he had the next issue, where I assumed Spidey would pick himself up, solve his problems and win a decisive victory. I didn't realise that there was no second part to this story, this was Peter Parker's life! Even when he won he didn't really win.

Many Spidey stories over the years have begun with Pete acting out of anger or spite, or deciding to put himself first, or not thinking about the consequences of his actions. For me that's the wonderful thing about Pete. He makes mistakes, big mistakes. His origin revolves around him making a mistake, one with tragic consequences. Pete's not a hero because he always does the right thing. He's a hero because he tries to do the right thing and when he fails he faces up to his mistakes and does his best to make things right. That's the key to Spider-Man's popularity. He's not perfect, he's as flawed as us. But he never lets that stop him from trying to do the right thing, and neither should we.

Salvador Larroca

Sunday, 9 September 2018

The Grim and Gritty Movie Committee - Episode Three: Richard's Donner's Superman



It's the third episode of The Grim and Gritty Movie Committee, the podcast where two men who have been chained together for over 30 years by a mutual love of superheroes discuss superhero films.

This time me and Madeley discuss the greatest film of all time, Richard Donner's Superman. We ask the question; Did Christopher Reeve kill Superman? We discuss the politics of Superman; is he a working class hero or a centrist dad?

It can be found on iTunes

And Soundcloud:

Listen, like, comment, and share!

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Buy my stuff on Red Bubble!

I've started sticking my artwork up on redbubble.com. You can now order t-shirts, stationery, mugs, stickers and posters with my art on it. I'm hoping to make a bit of much needed spare cash and also get that fleeting yet addictive hit of validation every time a sale is made. There's a lot of Doctor Who inspired designs, and a few more inspired by other bits of pop culture, with more designs on the way.

Here's a couple of satisfied customers wearing my art!




I'm going to use this post to share a few examples of what I've got on offer in the hopes of tempting some more people to make a few purchases. You can BUY MY STUFF BY FOLLOWING THIS LINK!











Thursday, 19 April 2018

How I learned to accept that Morrissey is a twat



'Miserable Lie' was the song where it all clicked for me.

On previous attempts to appreciate the Smiths I had found them morose and impenetrable. But one evening in 1997 I decided to give their first album a go and by the third track I was completely hooked. Everything great about the Smiths and their singer Morrissey is present in 'Miserable Lie'. It starts off slow and mournful and then suddenly transforms into a melodramatic and self-deprecating teenage diary entry about being really terrible at having it off, sang in falsetto. It's a very silly song and I love it.

After that I got all the other Smiths albums and found the same mixture of camp, wit, melodrama, self-deprecation, and sincerity. I loved Johnny Marr's music but it was Morrissey's voice, lyrics, and persona that really drew me to the band. It's not hard to see why songs about misery and loneliness and being really terrible at having it off would appeal to a teenager, but lots of bands offer that. Morrissey delivered it all in a unique, over the top way that echoed how huge these things seem to a teenager while at the same time acknowledging how ridiculous it all was.

Another aspect of Morrissey that appealed to me was his honesty. He was unapologetically a pop star, but he was doing it his way. Even with all the imitators that followed him he was still like no other pop star around. And if occasionally he had said some problematic stuff in interviews, well, that's what happens when you're uncompromising. If you speak what's on your mind without dressing it up to protect your image like all the other pop stars then occasionally you're going to say some things that get you into trouble.

In 1999 I saw Morrissey live for the first time. It was a couple of years after his poorly received album, Maladjusted (which I loved) and he was in between record contracts. I was in the first year of University at Swansea and I couldn't find anybody to go with me, so I went on my own. When I bought the ticket in a local record shop about a month in advance I asked the girl behind the counter if there were any tickets left and she laughed, "yeah, a few". On the night of the gig I got a taxi from the Student Village to the Brangwyn Hall and the taxi driver said "Morrissey? He's an old has-been isn't he?"

Brangwyn Hall was only half full, but everybody there was completely devoted to him. Morrissey opened with 'You're Gonna Need Someone On Your Side' and he swished and cracked the microphone lead like a bullwhip. At one point he threw his West Ham United t-shirt into the crowd and two men gripped on to either end of it in a sweaty tug-of-war, neither one willing to let the precious memento go, until Morrissey himself had to intervene. He also threw a banana into the crowd and a few years later I befriended the girl who had caught it. She kept it in her freezer for two years until a power cut defrosted it and turned it to mush. He finished the night with an encore of the Smiths' 'Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me'. Every single person in the audience knew every lyric to every song.

Before Morrissey came on that night a group of 'lads' behind me had been chanting "WE LOVE YOU MOZZA, WE DO". They spotted an Asian teenager in front of me who was standing by himself and they began to chant over my head  "IT'S BRUCIE LEE! WE LOVE YOU BRUCIE! WE DO!" I remember rolling my eyes and thinking that this must be an example of the racist contingent of Morrissey fandom that I'd heard something about. I did nothing to help the teen. Halfway through the set the teen ran onto the stage and hugged Morrissey, whispering desperately in his ear as the bouncers dragged him away.

After that gig I went from being a fan to a devoted disciple of Morrissey. Throughout my teenage years a combination of being bullied, a desperation to be liked, and my own cruelty had turned me into the most craven, weaselly kind of bully. During my time at University I had begun to deal with the great shame I felt for my behaviour and I spent most of my time ruminating on my deeds and hating myself. In retrospect it's no wonder I became obsessed with a man who seemed to apologise for nothing.

I hated the NME but would buy it every time it had the smallest paragraph about Morrissey, even if it was slagging him off. I learned about how the NME had turned on Morrissey and accused him of racism. During conversations about him I would say things like "if you actually listen to the lyrics of  'National Front Disco' you'll hear that while he may be singing from the perspective of a would be member of a fascist party, he's not actually signalling any approval of the song's protagonist's choices." I never mentioned the songs 'Bengali in Platforms' or 'Asian Rut' much.

With the release of You Are The Quarry in 2004 Morrissey was popular once again. He seemed to have made friends with the NME, and there was a documentary about him on TV narrated by Christopher Eccleston where he had tea with Nancy Sinatra and Alan Bennett. It became easier to ignore the odd "dodgy" song and all the videos with skinheads in them. I still listened to the Smiths and Morrissey every day. I bought bootleg videos of his concerts and downloaded B-Sides and Morrissey covers of Bowie songs over Limewire. I became a vegetarian for two years.

Morrissey would continue to give interviews and in each one there would be something that stood out. Ill informed comments about immigration, or a dig at the Chinese. Over time "he says the odd dodgy thing" became "I don't agree with anything he says but I love him", which eventually became "I try and separate the art from the artist." By the time World Peace Is None Of Your Business came out in 2014 I had decided that there was Morrissey the man, who was immature, ignorant, and out of touch with the real world, and there was Morrissey the fictitious pop star persona, who had spoken to me through his music as a teen and who I still loved. This was enough for a while, even in 2016, when he hailed the loathsome Nigel Farage and George Galloway as "liberal educators".

And then came May 2017, when Morrissey used the Manchester Arena bomb attack as an opportunity to deliver a racist dog whistle rant on Facebook that earned him the approval of far-right bastards of note, Paul Joseph Watson and Milo Yiannopoulos. This was followed a few months later by an interview in which he gave a victim blaming defence of Kevin Spacey, who had been facing allegations of sexual abuse. I realised that I was embarassed to be known as a Morrissey fan. He wasn't just a man whose politics differed from my own. I had a picture of a racist and an abuse apologist above my desk at work and I was suddenly mortified.

I am not judging anybody who can still separate the art from the artist. I wish I still could. I would love to be able to still listen to 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out', 'Reel Around The Fountain', 'Bigmouth Strikes Again', 'Rusholme Ruffians', 'Why Don't You Find Out For Yourself', 'Trouble Loves Me', 'Late Night Maudlin Street', 'I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday', and the rest without getting angry at myself. I probably will again some day.

But for now, I'm not angry at myself because I listened to and loved the music of someone with problematic views. I'm angry because the one thing I can't accuse Morrissey of is deceiving anyone. After all, one of the things that first drew me to him was his honesty. Morrissey has always told us who he is. I deceived myself.

A miserable lie.

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