Friday, 25 December 2009

Ten Reasons Why Peter David's Aquaman is the Mutt's Nuts!

My Christmas gift to all of you out there in internet land is this post, urging you to seek out and find every single issue of Peter David's run on 'Aquaman'.  Seriously, if you like superhero comics you owe it to yourself to read Peter David's run on 'Aquaman'.  If you read it your life will be enriched, and I will have spread joy and goodwill this Christmas.  In no particular order, here are ten reasons why Peter David's 'Aquaman' is the mutt's nuts.

1) The Atlantis Chronicles 

Before David started his run on the title he wrote  'The Atlantis Chronicles', a seven issue series that told the story of Aquaman's home from it's sinking right up to Aquaman's birth.  The artwork by Esteban Maroto is absolutely gorgeous and David's story is breathtaking.  The story was so grand and epic I felt like I was reading an ancient myth and yet I totally identified with the characters and genuinely cared about their fate.  It is easily one of the best comics I've ever read and yet it's never been collected in trade paperback and will probably be erased from continuity with the next Aquaman reboot.  If you ever see the series in a bargain bin or on ebay I urge you to BUY IT!

2) Martin Egelund and Jim Calafiore

The bulk of David's run was drawn by these two guys and they're two of my favourite pencillers.  Calafiore's work has popped up in titles such as 'Deadpool', 'Exiles' and 'Gotham Underground' but I haven't seen Egelund's work on anything other than 'Aquaman'.  If you know of any other examples of his work please let me know.

3) Soap Opera

So many soap opera-esque plots!  Aquaman's estranged wife Mera catching Aquaman in bed with Forgotten Hero Dolphin!  Aquaman's efforts to bond with his angry long lost son Koryak!  Aquaman battling his half brother, Ocean Master! Aquaman's old friend Vulko plotting to overthrow him behind his back!  David's twists and turns made 'Aquaman' an underwater 'Eastenders'.  That's a good thing.

4) Tempest

By the early '90s Aqualad and his white man's afro was a bit of a joke.  David's solution to this was simple.  He turned Aqualad into Tempest, a double-hard bastard of an underwater sorceror who was potentially more powerful than Aquaman himself!

5) "Impressed Yet?"

One clever trick of David's during his run was to have certain characters voice some common fan criticisms of Aquaman.  Aquaman would then answer these criticisms by kicking his critic's ass.   This tactic was evident in issue three of the run, when Superboy stated that he was "mucking with some guy who talks to fish and sucks water" and that he was "not impressed."  Aquaman responds by hitting Superboy with a tsunami while shouting "Hey punk! Impressed yet?"

6) Aquaman repels an alien invasion and doesn't bother to tell the Justice League

Secret Invasion?  It's no biggie for Aquaman.  The first 25 issues of David's run involved Aquaman reclaiming the throne of Atlantis and repelling an alien invasion with only a handful of his watery buddies.  He didn't need Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman.  When you're as hard as Aquaman all you need is the Sea Devils, Neptune Perkins and your own awesomeness.

7) Aquaman invades Japan 

Your dolphin mother has just been brutally murdered by a cyborg who is now hiding in Japan.  The Japanese government has threatened you with retaliation if you go looking for revenge.  What do you do? Well, if you're Aquaman you jump inside the giant, ancient, sentient spaceship located underneath your city and invade Japan.  You then ban Japan from the ocean, using your aquatic minions to sink all their boats!  You'll probably find that the Japanese government give you what you want by the end of the issue. 

8) Aquaman escapes from Hell

It's strange that Aquaman's currently having a hard time being dead in the pages of 'Blackest Night' considering the first time he died he wasn't all that bothered.  Apparently David had planned a big storyline where Aquaman would get killed by the god Triton.  He would be gone for a bunch of issues and then return as a water elemental.  Sadly David's superiors pissed him off one too many times and he took his ball home and buggered off to Marvel.  As a result Aquaman was dead for only one issue, during which time he fights his way out of the Kingdom of Hades by punching the Ferryman into the River Styx and chopping off one of Cerebrus' heads!  Not quite the epic storyline David had planned but it was still pretty cool.

9) The Clear

All the groundwork for David's failed plan to have Aquaman fulfil his true potential as an elemental being can be seen throughout the series.  For example, in issue 36 Aquaman discovers that he can connect to "the Clear".  Just as Swamp Thing is connected to all of Earth's plant life and Animal Man to all of it's animals, Aquaman could connect to all of Earth's sea life regardless of where he was by reaching out with his mind through "the Clear".  Of course this interesting idea was ignored by every single subsequent writer.

10) It's not a hook, it's a harpoon

Before David could show off all these interesting ideas he had to get people to read the damn comic.  He did this by having pirhanas chew off Aquaman's hand in the second issue.  This has been criticised as an example of the type of cheap publicity stunt that was typical of '90s comics.  One of the critics of this plot twist was Kevin Smith who described the maiming of Aquaman as "sensationalistic crap"!  But say what you will about the hand loss, it got people talking about Aquaman and it got people to notice the good work that David was doing.  And bloody good work it was too!

So there we have it! Ten good reasons for you to put down that turkey leg and go to ebay or your nearest comic shop to find -
  • The Atlantis Chronicles #1-7
  • Aquaman: Time and Tide #1-4
  • Aquaman #0-46
  • Aquaman Annual #1-4

Oh, and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Superman: Secret Origin. An Origin too far?

Be warned, this post contains potential spoilers for the first issue of Superman: Secret Origin.

If you're a superhero comics fan and you're not reading Superman: Secret Origin, sort it out! Every time I see this series mentioned on the web I notice that there's always someone complaining "Oh no, not another Superman Origin revamp, Superman continuity is a mess blah, blah, moan, moan, bitch, bitch". I never got the "mess" accusation. DC could put out a new Superman origin every year for the next 100 years and everyone of them would involve Krypton exploding, raised by the Kents, going to Metropolis and meeting Lois Lane etc, etc. DC will never reveal that Superman is really a reincarnated Egyptian Prince or the son of an Ancient Wizard. You want messy origins, try being a Hawkman or an Aquaman fan. As for the accusation that there's too many origin stories, how many is too many? Because in fact, while Supes' origin is perhaps the most retold origin in comics, there have only been two other official origin revamps in the past quarter of a century, Man of Steel and Rebirth.

Man of Steel by John Byrne is one of the reasons that I'm such a big Superman fan. Before reading it I preferred Batman and always thought that Superman was a bit of a pompous douche-bag. Byrne trimmed down Superman's power level and emphasized the importance of the Clark Kent side of his personality. At that point in my life I don't think I had ever read a version of Superman that was so easy to identify with. However despite it's awesomeness it's worth remembering that Man of Steel came out in 1986, 23 years ago. There's as much time between Secret Origin and Man of Steel as there is between Man of Steel and this version of Superman....

My point is, as great as Man of Steel is, a lot of time has passed since then. What's wrong with updating the myth a little bit?

Which is what happened in 2003 with Superman: Birthright. There's a lot to admire about Mark Waid's version of the origin. Interesting Silver Age aspects such as Lex Luthor's childhood in Smallville are placed back in continuity while new additions to the myth are added as well. For example, Superman has a new power, a sort of soul vision. This ability to see the life literally leaving a dying body led to Superman's decision to become a vegetarian. Familiar characters are given intriguing twists. For example, Pa Kent is initially resentful of Clark's developing powers, feeling that they are driving a wedge between him and his son.

As entertaining as this origin is however it never seemed to take. Perhaps it was because of the lack of appropriate advertising. When the first issue came out it seemed to come out of nowhere. DC dropped Birthright on us without commenting on whether it was "official canon" or not. This was later confirmed by Waid nine months after the first issue came out. Personally, it was Lenil F. Yu's art that prevented me from warming to the series. While it is very pretty to look at I feel it is inappropriate for Superman. It's too dark in tone and lacks that iconic, timeless feel of Byrne's art. This is no more evident than on the cover of the first issue where Superman is drawn without pupils in his eyes. This happens a lot with Yu's Superman, it pops up once again on the cover of the trade paperback. While removing the pupils from Superman's eyes can be a most effective image when drawing angry Superman, generally speaking he has lovely big blues that radiate kindness. Batman has eerie white slits.

Which brings us then to the latest attempt, Geoff Johns' and Gary Frank's Secret Origin. Rather than dump this one on our lap DC have wisely spent the past four years weaving the changes wrought by this origin into continuity and teasing fans as to what this new origin might involve. The answer is, it involves everything great about the origin from the past 70 years. Only one issue has come out so far and it has timeless classic written all over it. It contains aspects of Man of Steel and Birthright, for example the way Byrne let Lana Lang in on the secret and the way Waid returned young Luthor to Smallville. It contains aspects of the Silver Age, for example Clark's indestructible glasses and Superman's indestructible costume. It brings it's own fantastic touches to the myth, Clark flies for the first time rescuing Lana from a tornado.

Frank's art is clean, clear, timeless and iconic, just as it should be. A lot of people have complained about his Superman looking like Christopher Reeve but I say, who the hell else are you gonna make him look like? Dean bloody Cain?! In short, Secret Origin is shaping up to be an origin story that will endure, hopefully even longer than 23 years.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

William Shatner, The Transformed Man

Like all intelligent people I am a big fan of William Shatner. Writer, director, singer, horse enthusiast, practical joker, extreme sportsman and of course actor. There are many strings to the bow of William "Tekwar" Shatner. He will be forever remembered for such roles as charismatic gigolo Matt Stone in Want a Ride Little Girl (1974) or effete Southern drifter William J. Baxter in Big Bad Mama (1974). He's also in some sci-fi thing, I forget the name of it.

This is a somewhat controversial statement but I happen to think that Shatner is a very underrated actor. A friend of mine often recalls the time he saw a clip of Shatner playing Julius Caesar in 1960 on one those dreadful 'Before They Were Famous' Shows. My friend was confused as to what exactly it was that he was supposed to find funny, since Shatner appeared to be doing a damn good job of taking on Shakespeare! But whatever you may think of his acting ability you can't deny the man's charisma. He's just a pleasure to watch in everything he's in, all because of that indefinable Shatner-ness that is easy to imitate but impossible to truly capture. It's also worth remembering that Shatner is funny. Whether he's telling an anecdote about a monkey grabbing his balls or playing the legendary Denny Crane in Boston Legal, the Shat's timing and delivery are always spot on.

There is also, of course, his music. I'm not gonna tell you that The Transformed Man is the greatest album ever, 'cos it ain't. There's also his notorious 1978 version of Rocket Man. It's so unintentionally hilarious I can't watch it without taping my sides securely to prevent splitting. His 2004 album Has Been on the other hand is a different story. Some of the tracks on this album are genuinely moving and the funny ones are actually meant to be funny. It's really worth a listen.

Shatner's unique acting style and ventures into popular music have made him the butt of countless jokes over the years. However these many examples of Shatner-mocking, from his 'appearances' on Family Guy and The Simpsons to Kevin Pollak's spot on impersonation, all seem to be tempered with affection and admiration. And, of course, no one mocks Shatner better than Shatner himself. Shatner is often compared to David Hasselhoff. This, I feel is unfair. When Shatner sends himself up, no matter the ridiculous costume or situation he's in, he always carries himself with the dignity of a man doing things absolutely his own way. The Hoff, quite frankly, is a clown who will dance for spare change.

So let's mock away, 'cos y'know what? Bill can take it. He's William Goddamn Shatner and he's bigger than all of us.

With that in mind, here's Shatner waxing lyrical about the eroticism of mountains, all mashed up into a kick ass electro tune courtesy of Fall On Your Sword.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Not Another Comics Blog?!!!?

I know, I know. The internet needs another comic fan blogging like your Twitter account needs another pornbot follower. But, balls to it! Superhero comics are the only thing outside of Morrissey and cereal that I have enough passion about to bother writing about. And while there's certainly a gap in the market for blogs about a certain truculent Mancunian's breakfast habits, I'm afraid that material may be scarce. Besides, I see him as more of a porridge eater.

Anyhoo, lately reading about comics on the internet has become a depressing ordeal akin to being forced to sit on a beloved childhood pet's grave, listening to Joy Division while a weeping goth explains the plot of 'Our Friends in the North'. It's depressing I tell ya. Let's look at a few examples. Today we learn that the family of Jack Kirby are following the example of the Superman's co-creator Jerry Siegel's family and are suing Marvel for a share of copyright in Kirby's characters and their use in comics and other media. Bearded super-genius Alan Moore has a very dim view of today's comic industry, particularly their use of his ideas and concepts. And, y'know, when a bearded super-genius bitches about comics, ya gotta listen. I've recently checked out Valerie D'Orazio's 'Occasional Superheroine' blog entries in which she documents her rather unpleasant time spent working for an unnamed (but not hard to figure out) comics company. All in all it seems that behind the scenes in the comics industry is a pretty ugly place to be. Imagine Dorothy peeked behind the Wizard's curtain and found a registered sex offender covered in wee. That's pretty much how I'm starting to feel whenever I read about comics.

So I suppose I'd like to write about why I like superhero comics, if only to remind myself that there is still joy in this hobby. I guess everything I like about comics, particularly DC Comics can be summed up by one character.....

This guy! Matter Eater Lad! He's by no means my favourite superhero (although he is awesome), that honour is reserved for ol' Kal-El. But there's something about a teenager from the planet Bismoll who lives in the 30th Century and uses his ability to eat anything (and I mean ANYTHING, from guns to elephants)to fight crime that sums up the undefinable, goofy, childlike, anything-can-happen, wonderful charm of superhero comics. No other medium of entertainment holds that charm for me. Sure, in this sophisticated modern age we live in let's have gritty, post-modern relevance. But if we can have gritty, post-modern relevance involving a talking gorilla robbing a bank, all the better!

Here's another example of the wonderful unique charm of superhero comics. Megan Fox recently quashed rumours that she would be starring in a Wonder Woman movie with the following quote.

“Wonder Woman is a lame superhero… She flies around in her invisible jet and her weaponry is a lasso that makes you tell the truth. I just don’t get it. Somebody has a big challenge on their hands whoever takes that role but I don’t want to do it.”

Let's think about what she said here. "She flies around in her invisible jet and her weaponry is a lasso that makes you tell the truth." If that isn't pure unfiltered awesomeness right there then I don't want to know what awesomeness is! This is why superhero comics are awesome! So much unbridled imagination and pure, honest fun and we have 70 plus years of it to dip into! Hurray!!!!!!

So if you're ever feeling disillusioned with comics, or indeed life, just picture Matter Eater Lad chewing his way stoically through a talking gorilla's laser gun while Wonder Woman lassos that gorilla's ass from her invisible plane. All will be well.