Sunday, 8 November 2015

Top Ten Best Marvel Characters

Comics Should Be Good! have recently run 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.

10. She-Hulk (Jennifer Walters)

Walt Simonson

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

Who was #10 in CSBG's list? Cyclops

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

9. Spider-Man (Miles Morales)

Mike McKone

Where did Miles come in CSBG's list? #48

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

In 2000 Marvel launched an updated version of Spider-Man called Ultimate Spider-Man, free from from the baggage and contradictions of years of continuity. Ultimate versions of the X-Men, Fantastic Four and The Avengers (The Ultimates) soon followed. Despite the success, influence and (mostly) top-notch quality of the Ultimate Universe, by 2011 it was looking a little bogged down by, funnily enough, the baggage and contradictions of years of continuity. The Ultimate Universe was a Universe without a purpose.

And then writer Brian Bendis had the brilliant idea of killing off Peter Parker and creating a brand new Ultimate Spider-Man

Miles is an instantly likeable character. Unlucky, filled with self-doubt, and always trying, sometimes unsuccessfully, to do the right thing. In other words, classic Spider-Man. At the same time Miles is completely different from Peter Parker in a lot of ways. Peter, despite his heroic nature has always had a selfish streak that has often proved to be his undoing. Miles is possibly more purely heroic than Peter, and watching him get underestimated by a series of villains and heroes, only to see them left gobsmacked by his nobility and skill is a joy.

Sara Pichelli 

8. J.Jonah Jameson

John Romita

Where did Jolly Jonah come in CSBG's list? Not in Top 50

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. Doctor Doom

Jack Kirby

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

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

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

6. The Human Torch (Johnny Storm)

Where did Johnny come in CSBG's list? Not in Top 50

Who was #6 in CSBG's list? Magneto

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

5. The Invisible Woman (Sue Richards)

John Byrne

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

Who was #5 in CSBG's list? Dr Doom

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

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

Friday, 30 October 2015

David Bowie and the Haunted Chateau

A friend and I were discussing David Bowie recently and he informed me that the album Low was recorded in a French chateau that Bowie, Brian Eno, and Tony Visconti later claimed was haunted. This painted quite a picture in my mind. Bowie being informed by a video will left by a recently deceased relative that he must spend the night in a haunted house in order to secure his inheritance. Bowie and Eno tip-toeing through a cobwebbed room while the eyes of a portrait of an elderly man who looks just like Bowie follow them. Bowie and Eno being chased by a figure in a white sheet (or possibly a suit of armour), running back and forth and in and out of doors lining a corridor.

I decided to mock-up an image of how I think all this looked. I think it falls into the 'things-only-Paul-finds-funny' category but since it's nearly Halloween I thought I'd share it all the same.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Some old Cartoons by Me

About 8-9 years ago I used to occasionally draw a comic strip and stick it on the internet. The art's not great, but I was looking through them recently and a few of them still made me chuckle so I thought I'd share them here. The humour is crude but lot of the jokes were based on stuff that happened to me when I was single, short-haired, and thin.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Doctor Who: The Lost Prequel (1953)

Ask a Doctor Who fan when the character of the Doctor first appeared and they'll tell you November 1963, in the very first episode of Doctor Who entitled An Unearthly Child. They'll tell you that the Doctor's race, The Time Lords, weren't named until 1969 in an adventure entitled The War Games, and his home planet of Gallifrey didn't get a namecheck until 1973's The Time Warrior. What many fans don't know however is that the Doctor and many other aspects of his myth, such as the TARDIS, the Time Lords, Gallifrey, and his archenemy, the Master, were established way back in 1953 in a lost and forgotten TV serial known as Genesis of the Doctor.

In the summer of 1953 the BBC scored big viewing figures and favourable reviews with their six part science fiction serial, The Quatermass Experiment. The success of Quatermass left the BBC brimming with confidence and eager for another hit. As a result they rushed another sci-fi script into production hoping to strike gold once again, this time during the Christmas period. The script was entitled Genesis of the Doctor. Willam Hartnell and Roger Delgado were cast as the two leads and Rudolph Cartier, fresh from completing Quatermass, was brought in to direct.

Genesis of the Doctor proved to be a disaster for the BBC. The ambition of the script exceeded the grasp of the BBC effects department. The difficulties in realising the serial's alien worlds were exacerbated by the fact that the serial was transmitted live every week. Soap operatics in space were considered too lowbrow for the critics who had championed Quatermass, and parents and teachers showered the BBC with complaints about the anti-authoritarian message of the serial. 

The BBC were so stung by the reaction to Genesis of the Doctor that it took another ten years for them to revive the concept. In 1963 Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert reworked the idea into an educational teatime drama for family audiences. William Hartnell agreed to step back into the role and the rest is history. It should be noted however, that despite the success of Doctor Who (as it came to be known) there was still a stigma attached to Genesis of the Doctor at the BBC. As a result the serial was never mentioned by anyone associated with Doctor Who, and it was several more years before the script for Genesis was mined for further ideas, such as The Master (Delgado agreed to reprise his role in 1971), Gallifrey, and the Time Lords.

Due to the extremely negative reaction of the British public to Genesis of the Doctor the master tapes were immediately destroyed. Only a poster, a photograph, and a few tele-snaps remain. Not one copy of the script has survived to this day and even the identity of the scriptwriter has been lost to time. Despite this a rough plot outline has been assembled from the memories of viewers and those involved in the production. 

Over six weekly half hour episodes, viewers saw the story of Theta Sigma and Koschei, two young men from an alien world. (Theta Sigma and Koschei are implied to be nicknames and their true names are never revealed). Gallifrey was their planet, home of the Time Lords, a race of beings sworn to observe and protect the order of time but never to interfere. Theta and Koschei were free spirits and yearned to break free of the repressive society of the Time Lords. They are convinced that their destiny awaits "out there in the stars." In episode one, The Dreamers, Theta and Koschei skip classes at the Time Lord Academy in order to wander the hillsides of Gallifrey and plan their escape. The episode ends with the pair stealing a time machine, or TARDIS in order to explore time and space. 

In episode two, The Runaways, Theta and Koschei arrive in the East End of Edwardian London where they are embroiled in a bare knuckle boxing tournament and meet a young girl named Violet Tyler. They both instantly fall in love with her and invite her to accompany them on their travels. Episode 3, The Bard sees the trio visit William Shakespeare. The two friends attempt to outdo each other, performing love sonnets for Violet while Shakespeare is seen slyly taking notes. 

Episode 4, The Alien World, sees them visit the planet Mondas, where the inhabitants have recently begun to "upgrade" their body parts with robotic replacements.  Episode 4 ends with Violet being seriously wounded, and episode 5, Edge of Doom takes place entirely in the TARDIS as Theta and Koschei argue and debate over the best way to save Violet's life. Koschei wants to keep travelling in the hope of finding somewhere to treat her wounds, whereas Theta believes the only way to save her life is to return to Gallifrey and sacrifice their freedom.

In episode six, The Doctor, Theta fights his old friend for control of the TARDIS and manages to return them to Gallifrey. He is able to save Violet's life, however the Time Lords capture them and return Violet to Earth with no memory of her journeys in the TARDIS. Koschei blames Theta for the loss of their freedom and for the fact that they will never see Violet again. He ends their friendship and vows revenge. Theta is shown returning to his studies and eventually settling down with a family. He has taken to wearing clothes in the style of Earth in the Edwardian era. It is implied that this is in honour of Violet. Saving Violet's life has had a profound effect on Theta and he has began to refer to himself as The Doctor. The serial ends with The Doctor telling his young granddaughter that their destiny awaits "out there in the stars."


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