Sunday, 12 April 2015

It's a great time to be a Superhero fan!

I was reflecting today while watching Marvel's AMAZING new Daredevil series, on the diversity of all the recent live action superhero stuff we've been getting. After Tim Burton's Batman in 1989 every live action superhero thing aped it to a certain extent. For example, the 1990 Flash TV series had a Danny Elfman score, even though it was massively inappropriate for that type of character and show. These days we have Arrow, Flash, Gotham, Constantine, the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the big screen & on TV, the X-Men franchise, the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, Man of Steel and it's upcoming spin offs, and everything is doing it's own thing & has its own style.

Daredevil and Avengers are set in the same universe and yet they couldn't be more different in tone. Arrow and Flash even crossover with each other and yet they both have their own distinct voices. It would be easy to lump Gotham, Arrow and Daredevil under the same, lazy "gritty" label, but they're all actually completely different. Arrow has more of an emphasis on soap opera than Daredevil. Both Gotham & Arrow are gloriously over the top, while Daredevil is much more grounded. They are all brilliant.

There really is something for everyone out there at the moment. It's a great time to be a superhero fan.

And now, apropos of nothing, here's Grant Gustin inserted into some classic Flash covers.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Morrison on Moore: Miracleman & The Killing Joke

Alan Moore and Grant Morrison are two of my favourite comic creators. They've both got gigantic imaginations and have both found ways of looking at the superhero genre that have changed it forever. They also have a long running feud with each other, which is always good for a laugh.

Whenever Moore has commented on Morrison's work it's always in a dismissive, catty way that frankly is a bit beneath him. Morrison on the other hand is a big fan of Moore's work and always has something interesting to say about it.

Any excuse to trot out this image

I find Morrison's interpretation of Moore's The Killing Joke and Miracleman particularly interesting. I agree with his interpretation of the former 100%, but couldn't disagree more with his interpretation of the latter.

Morrison on Miracleman 

Based on the old 1950s Marvelman strips by Mick Anglo, Miracleman tells the story of a middle-aged man called Michael Moran who one day remembers that he can turn into a superhero. Like Moore's other '80s masterpiece Watchmen, Miracleman takes the superhero archetype to its logical and terrifying conclusion. Moore's run on the character ends with Miracleman and his superhero friends destroying London in a brutal battle with a supervillain and building a new worldwide Utopia out of the city's ashes. The heroes reign over a peaceful, happy planet from a new Mount Olympus, and human beings have absolutely no say in the matter.

In a 2011 article for the Guardian Morrison wrote:
By the end of the story the characters find out that they've been lied to all their lives, and they emerge into the real world. There are beautiful sequences where the superheroes are escorting Thatcher out of No 10 and she's sobbing helplessly: suddenly there's this new power that bombs can't stop, weapons can't stop. The whole last issue is this fabulous liberal fantasy of what the good guys would do if they got in charge and got rid of all the bastards! I like it much more than Watchmen; it was a real triumph for lefties everywhere!
I prefer it to Watchmen too, but the fact that Morrison interprets the ending as a joyful fantasy is frankly, a little disturbing.

For me, the ending to Moore's Miracleman is absolutely terrifying. Between them the heroes decide that they know what's best for the world. Humankind in it's entirety is reduced to the role of a naughty child who needs to be told what's good for it. The fact that the heroes effectively enslave mankind with such kindness and benevolence makes it even more creepy and disturbing. It never even occurs to them to ask what we want, and they're so far removed from us that they don't even realise what they're taking from us.

By the end of Moore's run there's no money and no crime, and humanity is marching towards a superhuman future through the sharing of alien technology and a programme of eugenics. The very last page depicts Miracleman looking down on his new world, baffled and bemused because his wife Liz turned down his offer of a place among the gods and wants nothing more to do with him and his "perfection". It's a brilliant and powerful ending that never fails to stay with me for days, no matter how many times I read it.

And Morrison apparently interprets it as, "Yay, the good guys won!"

The Margaret Thatcher scene that Morrison describes is perfect example of where he and I differ on our interpretation of Miracleman. I'm by no means a fan of Thatcher or her politics but this is a scene where one of the most influential and forceful world leaders of the 20th Century is reduced to a gibbering wreck by the realisation that humankind is no longer in control of its own destiny. To come away from it saying "Hurray, take that Maggie" seems a little childish to me.

Morrison on The Killing Joke

The Killing Joke chronicles the Joker's attempts to prove to Batman that one bad day can drive anyone insane. Joker sets out to drive Jim Gordon mad by crippling his daughter Barbara (AKA Batgirl) and forcing him to look at pictures of her wounded body. (Yeah, it's pretty grim). Running parallel to this story is a flashback to Joker's own "bad day", the events that bleached his face and broke his mind. Batman eventually rescues Gordon who implores him to bring Joker in "by the book." Batman has a final confrontation with his arch foe that ends, unexpectedly, with the Joker telling Batman a joke. The pair of them laugh together as the police arrive.

While Moore never intended the story to be "canon" the events of the story were nevertheless expanded on by subsequent writers. Barbara Gordon, for example, spent the next twenty or so years in a wheelchair. As a result it was always assumed by most people, including myself, that the story did indeed end with the Joker's arrest. Morrison had other ideas. As he told Kevin Smith in a 2013 interview:
That’s why it’s called ‘The Killing Joke.’ The Joker tells the ‘Killing Joke’ at the end, Batman reaches out and breaks his neck, and that’s why the laughter stops and the light goes out, ’cause that was the last chance at crossing that bridge. And Alan Moore wrote the ultimate Batman/Joker story — he finished it.
While this doesn't appear to have been Moore's intention this is now the only interpretation of the ending that makes sense to me. After hearing Morrison's take, The Killing Joke changed for me into something a hundred times more satisfying than it had previously been.

The story begins with Batman offering the Joker a chance to get off their path of mutually assured destruction. When the story actually ends with that prophesied destruction coming about then that first scene becomes so much more significant and poignant. Batman begins the story still trying to convince himself that there's a way out for both of them, but by the end he's realised there's no hope. The Joker tells a joke about two lunatics escaping from an insane asylum, and the Batman realises that they are the two lunatics. He realises that their dance towards the inevitable is going to hurt more and more people the longer it goes on. He realises there's only one way out and the realisation breaks him. The Joker is trying to prove to Batman that one "bad day" can drive a man insane. The Killing Joke is the story of Batman's "bad day". His "bad day" is not the day his parents were killed (as the Joker speculates at one point), it's the day the Joker wins and Batman breaks his oath never to kill.

Hey, I'm not saying it's the happiest interpretation, but it is I believe, the most satisfying.

Morrison's ending also changes the nature of the Joker's assault of Barbara Gordon. If the story is canon then Barbara's fate is needlessly vicious. We know Joker's a nasty bastard, we don't need a character as significant as Barbara to become collateral damage in order to prove that. It does very little to change Batman and Joker's relationship and does nothing at all for Barbara. (Indeed, it was John Ostrander who used her injury to develop her character in the pages of Suicide Squad.) But if this story is the last ever Batman/Joker story then the assault of Barbara Gordon becomes the worst thing the Joker has ever done, the thing that helps tip Batman over the edge. The nastiness is justified.

For me Morrison's interpretation turns a good story into a great story. And while it wasn't Moore's intention for Batman to kill the Joker, artist Brian Bolland has implied that it was his, so at least half of The Killing Joke's creative team agrees with Morrison.

Regardless of whether I agree with him or not it's always fascinating to read the opinion of a genius like Morrison on the work of a genius like Moore. It's a shame they don't get on because Morrison can enrich Moore's work just by discussing it, and I'm sure if he ever actually gave it a fair chance Moore could do the same for Morrison's work.

Having said that, if his opinion on Miracleman is anything to go by, I hope to god Grant Morrison never gets super-powers.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

All the Doctors, All the Masters

In 2013 the BBC released this image as part of the Doctor Who 50th anniversary celebrations.

They have yet to update it with Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, and they have yet to do a similar image for The Masters. I got tired of waiting and made one myself.

If you're wondering why Julius from the Thick of It is in there, it's because Alex MacQueen plays The Master opposite Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor in Big Finish's Dark Eyes series, and he's bloody brilliant. Since McGann name dropped his Big Finish companions in Night of the Doctor (including Molly O'Sullivan, his companion in Dark Eyes) we know that Big Finish is canon, so MacQueen totally counts. 

So there.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Fantastic Four Trailer: My Reaction

I'm a pretty huge Fantastic Four fan....

Decades worth of  FF comics looking surprisingly small when piled together.


As a result I've been looking forward to the new Fantastic Four film in a very big way. A lot of fans seemed to have written the film off already for the usual reasons: "These plot fragments that are emerging with no context sound slightly different to the comic!" etc. There's also been some bloody daft moaning about Michael B. Jordan playing Johnny Storm. (Needless to say, Johnny Storm is hot-headed, impulsive, vain, loyal, heroic and enjoys fast cars and teasing the Thing, and being portrayed by a black actor doesn't change any of these traits.)

Despite the barrage of online negativity I've remained optimistic, and after seeing the trailer today my optimism has turned to full blown excitement. Here's a few things that excited me about the trailer....

1. The Stars!

A few seconds into the trailer and we've already flown over literal "new horizons" and turned our gaze up towards the stars. This film is looking in the right direction.

2. L'il Reed & Ben!

Is this Reed as a kid, trying out some dangerous experiment while a young Ben Grimm looks on? It would seem likely. Ok, so they were best friends from college onward in the comic, but I have no problem with that being extended back to childhood. As long as Reed & Ben are best friends, that's the important thing, and it's looking like that's what we'll see in this film.

3. Reed is passionate about science and discovery!

This bit conveys that beautifully. He looks utterly content and at home surrounded by this complex machinery.

4. Johnny's fixing up a fast car!

Just this one small thing, that harks back to the character's first appearance, is enough to convey that yes, this guy IS Johnny Storm!

5. Astronauts!

Ok, so it doesn't look like a space mission (hope it's something to do with the Negative Zone though) but nevertheless they've certainly got "the right stuff". Four friends risking their life to brave the unknown. (Or in this case, five. I imagine that's Doom with them.)

6. A Thing egg?

Is this Ben's transformation? It looks awesome! To paraphrase '80s Fantastic Four writer/artist John Byrne, the Thing is not Fozzie Bear, he's a monster. He should look like a monster. It sucks being the Thing, that's why he's such a likeable but tragic character. Whatever's going on here looks weird and creepy and monstrous, and that's good.

7. New Frontiers!

Not much to go on here, it could just be a volcano, but is this the Negative Zone? If it is, will we see Annihilus? Hope so!

8. Reed & Vic

Looks like Reed and Victor Von Doom have some kind of bond here. This bodes well. The great thing about Reed & Doom is that they could both so easily become the other. Without his family Reed is pretty much one bad day from becoming Doctor Doom and there have been occasional flashes of nobility from Doom over the years, in between all the evil. Doom seems to be warning Reed here, or he could almost be advising him. Reed and Doom should always be enemies, but at the same time they should also be a bit too close to each other for comfort.

9. A family braving the unknown together!

Not only does this bit look cool, but it also raises some interesting questions. Is this the Negative Zone? Is that a plane in that big shaft of light? Is the Thing not wearing any pants?

Ok, so I could have done with a bit more Sue, bit all in all, this trailer looks great. Judging from the characters' youth, the set up of their power-granting experiment, the presence of Doom and what looks like Johnny & Sue's father at the experiment, and the possible involvement of the Negative Zone, this looks like it's based heavily on Ultimate Fantastic Four. This is fine with me as I really like those comics, especially the Warren Ellis stuff.

Obviously this film isn't going to be to everybody's tastes, and yes, it could still be rubbish, but there's one comment that's kept popping up online today that really, really irks me, so I figured I'd finish this article by disputing it. It's the wrongest thing that's ever been said about the Fantastic Four, and everybody seems to be saying it.

Let's get something straight. The Incredibles is not "Fantastic Four done right". In fact, beyond a few superficial similarities, the Incredibles are nothing like the Fantastic Four.

They're both a family. They both have members who are strong, who can turn invisible, and who can stretch. THAT'S IT!!!

The Fantastic Four is a comic about an occasionally dysfunctional family of sci-fi explorers and adventurers who do what they do because of their love of adventure, their thirst for discovery, and their loyalty to each other. The Incredibles is an animated film about a family of superheroes who go into hiding because of the public's fear and distrust of them and find themselves struggling to deal with anonymity and a "normal" life. It is entertaining enough but, as my pal Madeley has observed many times, it is also a staggeringly right wing, Randian wank-fantasy where superior beings triumph over us ordinary slobs and our attempts to drag them down to our puny level. "If everybody's special, nobody is" etc. And, hey, if that's your politics, more power to ya, but it's not, in any way "the Fantastic Four done right."

This new film however, certainly looks like it might be!



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