Saturday, 1 November 2014

I met Ian Chesterton, Steven Taylor & Jamie McCrimmon!!!!!

Today at the Sheffield Film & TV Expo I was lucky enough to get the chance to meet three of my all time favourite Doctor Who companions: Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon), Peter Purves (Steven Taylor), and William Russell (Ian Chesterton).

I chatted with Frazer Hines about missing episodes (he suspects there's more to come), and his Big Finish work. He recommended The Selachian Gambit, Lords of the Red Planet, and Shadow of Death. I was able to tell Peter Purves how much I enjoyed his work with Tom Allen in the Oliver Harper Trilogy, and he sang the praises of the trilogy's director, Lisa Bowerman (who also plays 7th Doctor companion, Bernice Summerfield). She was also at the Expo but sadly I couldn't afford to get her autograph too. Peter Purves also told me that he almost appeared in an earlier Doctor Who, The Web Planet, but they felt he deserved a better part and so he was cast in The Chase instead.

I was completely tongue tied when I met William Russell. He's something of a hero of mine, having starred in both Doctor Who and Superman. As a result I didn't say much, but he was very friendly, and I was able to tell him that he's my favourite companion. Later on I got a photo with him and he happily put his arm around my shoulders like I wasn't just some sweaty stranger who was falling to pieces in front of him.

David Warner was at the Expo too, but as with Lisa Bowerman, I had run out of cash for an autograph, but I did witness him eating a Snickers bar so I feel as if I've shared a bit of an intimate moment with him at least. :)

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Everybody Hates Aquaman

A transcript of a presentation I delivered at Techniquest Science Centre in Cardiff as part of their Adults Only Superhero Science Evening on 03/10/14.

A video of the talk can be found here....

When Techniquest asked me to do a talk for their superhero science night I originally thought I’d take a look at the innovations in the fields of weapons technology, space exploration, & genetics that are bringing us closer to the world of superhero fiction every day. But then I remembered, I don’t actually know anything about any of that so I’m just going to talk about Aquaman for twenty minutes instead. It’s not that I’m stupid, it’s just that I suffer from a rare affliction that means that my brain is unable to retain any information that might actually be of any value. This is why I still can’t drive but I can remember the theme tune to the 1980s Nigel Havers sitcom, Don’t Wait Up.

Aquaman is just one of those superheroes that people love to mock. He’s a perpetual pop culture punchline and it can be a bit disheartening if you happen to be a fan. Not that Family Guy and South Park are entirely to blame. I think Aquaman has brought some of the mockery on himself.

For example here he is riding some flying fish.

Here he is sitting on an octopus looking pretty pleased with himself.

Here he is operating on an octopus.

Here he is being a fat bastard.

Here he is getting kicked in the balls by the Joker.

Here he is having his head dunked in a fish tank by Batman.



But there’s a lot more to Aquaman than obesity and being bullied by other characters. I thought I’d share with you some of the reasons I find him such a fascinating character.

So let’s start with who is Aquaman? Aquaman (real name Arthur Curry) is a DC Comics superhero created by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger. He has the ability to survive underwater, swim at high speeds, and communicate with & command all sea life. He is the King of the Sea and everything that dwells within in it. Luckily for him this includes the land of Atlantis, which is full of water breathing humans, so he doesn’t have to just talk to sturgeon all day.

How did he come to be? Well he’s had a few different origins over the years. Sometimes he’s the son of a human lighthouse keeper and an Atlantean Queen. Sometimes he’s the son of an Atlantean Queen and an immortal wizard. But my favourite origin is his original origin from the 40s. Here’s Aquaman explaining it from More Fun Comics #73 (1941):
"The story must start with my father, a famous undersea explorer — if I spoke his name, you would recognize it. His greatest discovery was an ancient city, in the depths where no other diver had ever penetrated. My father believed it was the lost kingdom of Atlantis. He made himself a water-tight home in one of the palaces and lived there, studying the records and devices of the race's marvellous wisdom. From the books and records, he learned ways of teaching me to live under the ocean, drawing oxygen from the water and using all the power of the sea to make me wonderfully strong and swift. By training and a hundred scientific secrets, I became what you see — a human being who lives and thrives under the water."
So 1940s Aquaman was trained to breathe underwater by his dad! That must be the ultimate example of pushy parenting.

"But dad, why can’t I go out and play with the other children?"

"Ungrateful whelp! You'll never be as good as Namor the Sub-Mariner at this rate! Now go stick your head in the fish tank and study!"

That’s seriously messed up.

So why should you like Aquaman? There’s a lot of defences of the character on the internet that basically amount to “he’s so badass! He’s really strong!” but I think the character’s even more interesting than that. Although I will say that, yes, Aquaman is a double hard bastard, and as many internet commentators have pointed out, if you’re a bad guy, Aquaman will throw a bear at you. Yup, not a web, not a batarang, but a big bastard polar bear.

“Haha it’s Aquaman, how you gonna stop us robbing this bank Aquaman? Talk to some fi..JESUS CHRIST!!!!”

It’s also worth remembering that Aquaman, like many other superheroes, has died and then returned from the grave (several times in fact). But it’s the way Aquaman returned from the grave that stands out for me. Superman got killed and then just sat in a giant egg in his Fortress of Solitude until his solar energy was recharged. Jean Grey from the X-Men was placed in a giant egg at the bottom the ocean by a cosmic entity. Egg related symbolism was too subtle for Aquaman however.

Aquaman punched death in the face.

That’s right as he was being taken across the River Styx by Charon, Aquaman punched Charon in the face, nicked his boat and then rode Cerebrus out of the kingdom of Hades. 

Double. Hard. Bastard,

But like I say, a defence of Aquaman should go deeper than “He’s a badass!” He’s a much more interesting character than that.

Unlike other heroes Aquaman is a world leader. If you piss him off he won’t just send you to jail. He’ll invade your country.

For example in Aquaman #26 (1996) Aquaman’s adopted dolphin mother is killed by a Japanese cyborg. (Don’t you hate it when that happens?) The cyborg seeks asylum in Japan so Aquaman gets all the fish to attack any Japanese boats that happen to be in the ocean. He then gets into the gigantic telepathic skull shaped meteorite spaceship that happens to be attached to the bottom of Atlantis and flies over Japan and threatens to blow up the country if they don’t hand the cyborg over. Even Japan, accustomed as they are to being attacked by oversized monsters, feel that this is a bit much and so they agree to his demands. 

You might be thinking “Hang on a minute Paul, Aquaman is the unelected, totalitarian ruler of an underwater nation who will occasionally use his considerable power to act aggressively against other countries. Isn’t he a bit of a fishy fascist?” Well, yes. But in Aquaman’s defence he doesn’t really have any choice but to rule over the people of Atlantis himself, because, and this sounds really bad, but the people of Atlantis are really, really stupid. Every time the people of Atlantis have an opportunity to choose their own leader, they usually choose some complete bastard who enslaves them. The second Aquaman’s back is turned they’ve usually placed some evil maniac in charge instead of him and he has to risk life and limb once again to save them from their cack handed attempts at democracy. Now that I think about it, Aquaman comics have a really terrifying attitude to politics. “People can’t be trusted with freedom.”

In Aquaman #28 (1966) Aquaman and his sidekick Aqualad befriend an old scientist named Dr Starbuck who’s given himself and his pet gorilla the power to survive underwater. (Seems legit) Soon after, Starbuck betrays his new pals and chucks them down a giant hole. Aquaman’s wife Mera goes off searching for her husband & leaves her son, Aquababy, in charge of Atlantis with Dr Starbuck as regent. That’s right. Mera leaves a baby and a creepy old man she’s just met in charge of a whole nation and the people of Atlantis aren’t just cool with this, they do whatever the old man says, to the point where they follow him in an attack he mounts on the US Navy. So yeah, Aquaman is technically a fascist dictator, which is bad, but his people did attack a nuclear submarine just because a strange old man and a baby told them to, so, y’know....

At this point I feel I must emphasise neither myself nor Techniquest endorse fascism.

But Aquaman comics don’t just have political intrigue going for them. There’s also more soap opera going on than in any other comic. Old “shagger “ Aquaman has had more girlfriends than Dr Karl Kennedy. In fact one comic even shows us how he lost his virginity; a roll in the snow with an Inuit girl. Unbeknownst to him this resulted in an illegitimate son named Koryak who years later returned to Atlantis and, of course, took over the throne from Aquaman. 

Aquaman is, as we mentioned, married to a lady named Mera but theirs has been a stormy relationship. They’ve split up and got back together several times, again, a bit like Dr Karl Kennedy. During one break up Aquaman got it on with a girl named Dolphin. I must emphasise she wasn’t an actual dolphin, although there is one story that has a young Aquaman hitting puberty and being advised to seek out his own kind by his adopted dolphin mother after putting the moves on his adopted dolphin cousin. Anyway, at one point Aquaman and Dolphin are getting it on in the royal bedchamber when who should come home but....

Cue Eastenders drum roll sound effect

You’ll be pleased to hear that it all sorted itself out and Dolphin ended up getting knocked up by Aqualad and marrying him in a shotgun wedding. Here she is giving birth in an underwater birthing pool. (Not sure how that works). 

As you may have gathered so far Aquaman is not the most fortunate of heroes. Despite being the monarch of over ¾ of the planet his consistent bad luck has meant he’s been able to retain the status of plucky underdog, which makes him a much more appealing character in my view. For example, in 1994 his hand was eaten by piranhas. Then, eventually it grew back. Then he got the other one chopped off. For a while he replaced his missing hand with a harpoon. He only stabbed himself with it once but to be fair Martian Manhunter’s mind was in his body at the time. After a while his harpoon was replaced by a magic shape changing water hand by the magical Lady of the Lake, but he was told he wasn’t allowed to use it for violence, which was difficult for Aquaman as he really likes punching people. There he is using it to punch Superman.

But Aquaman’s bad luck didn’t end with his missing hands. In the late 70s his son, Aquababy, got killed by Black Manta. (How could anyone kill off a character called Aquababy?!). His aforementioned illegitimate Inuit son died when Atlantis got stepped on by the Spirit of God’s Vengeance. There was also Aquaman’s adopted son, Aqualad, who got his heart ripped out (literally) by Aquaman himself(who had been turned into an evil zombie at the time). There’s also AJ, who might be Aquaman’s son, but might also be the son of Thanatos, Aquaman’s evil other-dimensional doppelganger. Given the survival rate of Aquaman’s sprogs I imagine AJ’s not in too much of a hurry to prove that he’s part of the Aqua-bloodline.

They say a superhero is only as good as his villains and Aquaman’s actually got some pretty cool baddies. There’s Black Manta, the underwater pirate who killed Aquababy, Ocean Master, Aquaman’s evil half brother, Kordax the Cursed, an evil bastard from Ancient Atlantis, and the Dead King another evil bastard from Ancient Atlantis. Unfortunately he’s also had a few stinkers. Piranha Man, a giant piranha in yellow leggings, the Fisherman, who fights Aquaman with a titanium fishing rod, and the Human Flying Fish who’s, well, a human flying fish.

In the upcoming sequel to Man of Steel, Batman vs Superman, Aquaman’s apparently going to be played by Jason Mamoa, seen here playing Kung Fu Panda. 

If the film makers can hit on the right combination of soap opera, dodgy politics, bad luck, and macho posturing then I reckon he could easily carry his own film franchise. But if I haven’t convinced you, well, look at this way. There’re a lot sillier superheroes out there. 

There’s Chunk, the morbidly obese human black hole.

Blockade Boy, with the power to turn into a wall.

Stone Boy, who can turn into a statue but is completely immobile while in statue form.

Black Condor, a man raised by a family of condors who taught him to fly.

The Red Bee, who fought crime with a trained bee called Michael.

I’m mentioning these superheroes to get a cheap laugh, but I would actually watch the crap out of a film featuring every one of these characters.

Hopefully I’ve given you some insight into why I think Aquaman is so great. If however you’re still tempted to slag off Aquaman remember, he will throw a bear at you. 

Sunday, 31 August 2014

I went to Sheffield Comic Con & met Mel Bush & two Doctor Whos!!!!!

I've had an amazing weekend at Sheffield Comic Con. As well as spending far too much money on Iron Man comics and Doctor Who DVDs I was also able to meet Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, and Bonnie Langford. All three were wonderful, but McGann and Langford were particularly nice and seemed to be going out of their way to help the people posing for photos with them to feel at ease. Which was good for me as I was in bits with nerves and hero worship.

I attended two Doctor Who Q & A panels. The first featured McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Frazer Hines, and John Leeson, while the second consisted of McGann, Langford, Louise Jameson, Terry Molloy (who did his Davros voice!!!), and Dan Starkey. I asked the first panel to name their favourite Doctor Who story. Sophie Aldred said hers was Curse of Fenric as it was the first time we saw a darker side to Sylvester's Doctor. Frazer Hines said he enjoyed the challenge of arguing with himself in Big Finish's The Glorious Revolution, in which he plays both Jamie and the Second Doctor. Then John Leeson went off on a tangent that had nothing to do with my question but was nonetheless very entertaining. 

At the second Q & A I was able to tell McGann, Langford, Molloy, and Jameson how much I love their Big Finish work, and that I was particularly glad that Big Finish have given McGann and Langford a chance to shine (given their brief stints on board the TV version of the TARDIS). I then asked if there were any Big Finish adventures coming up in which the 8th Doctor and Mel would work together. They both seemed very interested in the idea and said they'd suggest it to Big Finish. 

I would have loved to have got a photo with every Doctor Who star present this weekend but my wallet (and my nerves) couldn't take the strain. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic experience meeting some lovely people.

I bloody love Doctor Who!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

RIP Jim Petrie

"Enjoy this curry, Fatso."
An hour ago I read on the Beano website that Jim Petrie has died. He was one of my favourite artists when I was a kid & his work had a massive influence on my own art work and my sense of humour. Yet weirdly, until I read that sad announcement sixty minutes ago I didn't even know his name.

Despite my woeful ignorance regarding the identity of a man whose work helped mold me into the person I am today, I still often think of his Minnie the Minx strips and laugh. That sounds like the type of insincere twaddle people write about someone who's just died, but it's true. One strip that always makes me laugh whenever I remember it was about Minnie's dad's efforts to get his daughter to have a bath. The strip began with Minnie, covered in muck watching Eastenders on the telly and cheering a growling image of Leslie Grantham on the screen; "Go on, Dirty Den! Be dirtier!"
Found the actual strip by Googling 'Beano 1988'! Living in the future is great.

Petrie also drew a series of film/book parodies starring a Minnie supporting character, Fattie Fudge. These strips (written by Craig Ferguson) involved Fudge's attempts to gorge himself on food while playing the role of the protagonist of whichever film or book was being parodied. To this day I can't hear the famous Macbeth line "Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble" without mentally finishing the line with "MacBroth drinks it at the double!" while picturing a bekilted Fudge gleefully downing a witches cauldron of broth.

The Fat-Tum of the Opera

Whenever I draw cartoons I still unconsciously (and unsuccessfully) try and emulate Petrie's' s style. His Minnie would often leap into the air, legs akimbo, stretching her beret above her head in triumph. It's a pose that I find cropping up in my work a lot, but of course it never looks as good. Petrie also had a fantastic way of drawing spindly fingers and knobbly noses, and I'll often find myself trying to give my characters similar features.

It's a real shame that it never occurred to me to find out the identity of the man responsible for these cherished memories. My ignorance not withstanding, Jim Petrie was a true comic book legend. My condolences to his friends and family. A proper obituary can be found here and Lew Stringer (another favourite artist of mine) has a number of examples of Petrie' s work on his blog.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Top Five Best Comic Book Writers Ever!

There are a number of comics writers whose work I love. James Robinson, John Wagner, Alan Grant, Mark Waid, Stan Lee, Denny O' Neil, Garth Ennis, Scott Snyder, Dan Slott, Roger Stern, Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger, Marv Wolfman, J. Michael Straczynski, and Jim Shooter are just some of them. But for this article I've attempted to list the creators whose work has given me the most joy throughout my entire life. The writers whose words and ideas stay with me long after I've put the comic down.

5. Gerry Conway

If I'm reading a comic from the 70s/80s & I think "Wow, this is bloody good" more often than not I find it's been written by Gerry Conway. In 1972 at 19 years of age Conway took over writing duties on Amazing Spider-Man from Stan Lee. That's pretty damn impressive in itself. According to Conway, in order to make up for his lack of experience and maturity he "wrote instinctively and from the gut". The imagination, creativity and sheer range of ideas on display during his Spidey run is testament to this. Conway's contribution to the Spidey universe is almost as big as Stan Lee's! Under Conway Spidey had his first encounters with the Punisher, the Jackal, Man-Wolf, and Tarantula. Conway was not only the writer who cloned Spider-Man, he was also the writer who married Aunt May to Doctor Octopus! But despite all these amazing ideas Conway is probably most famous for killing off Gwen Stacy. That particular story has been imitated and referenced (most recently in Amazing Spider-Man 2) more than any other Spidey story, save for the origin. But the shock of Gwen's death is by no means the only reason it's remembered. It's one of the most powerful superhero stories ever written, Peter Parker's grief and rage burns from every page and we feel like we're experiencing it right alongside him. We also get a deeper insight into Norman Osborn's madness and its destructive effect on his son than we ever got before, and we witness for the first time the hidden depths beneath Mary Jane Watson's party girl facade. This story defined Spidey and his world almost as much as his origin.

But Conway didn't just make his mark at Marvel. Among Conway's many achievements at DC was a lengthy run on Justice League of America, where he wrote some of my favourite Justice League stories of all time. These include a tale involving the League getting their minds swapped with the Secret Society of Super-Villains, and an adventure where the League help Zatanna discover the origins of the sub-race of magical humans to which her mother belonged, Homo magi. Conway also wrote several of the best Justice League/Justice Society team ups, including an Agatha Christie style murder mystery on board the JLA Satellite HQ and the very first team up between the two teams and Jack Kirby's New Gods. 

While these are my personal favourite examples of Conway's work they are by no means the only examples of his significant contribution to the history of super-hero comics. He co-created Firestorm with Al Milgrom, Vixen with Bob Oksner, and introduced Jason Todd and Killer Croc to the Batman mythos. He also wrote the very first Superman-Spider-Man team-up. Without Conway the world of super-hero comics would be a very different place.

Essential Reading

The Amazing Spider-Man #121–122, 143-149 (1973-1975)

Firestorm #1-5 (1978)

Justice League of America #163-168, 171-172, 183-185 (1979-1980)

4. Peter David

If all Peter David had managed in his career was his Incredible Hulk run then he'd still be lauded as one of the best super-hero comics writers ever. But David is also responsible for lengthy, much loved & consistently brilliant runs on Aquaman, Supergirl, Young Justice, X-Factor, and many more. One of the things that makes David's Hulk run so incredible (see what I did there?) is that he understood that change is an integral part of the character. When Stan Lee wrote the first six issues of Incredible Hulk he experimented with the character, changing his status quo from issue to issue. David followed Lee's example and during his run readers barely had time to adjust to Hulk's life as a fugitive from the military before he suddenly became a mob enforcer for a Vegas casino, and then a leader of a secret organisation, and then a bearded tyrant from the future! Under David, Hulk was a green skinned savage, a grey skinned pervert, and a pony-tailed boffin in a muscle vest. But it never felt as if David was making changes because he didn't know what to do with the character. Throughout all the many transformations David kept a firm grasp on the core of the character. David understands the Hulk like only a few others do.

David is also responsible for making Aquaman a force to be reckoned with. Geoff Johns has garnered a great deal of (well deserved) praise recently for tackling the fish jokes head on and showing the world just how badass Aquaman can be. But David was doing exactly that back when Johns was still writing fan letters to Superboy. David's Aquaman was not a guy to be trifled with. In one memorable issue the Sea-King invaded Japan in a gigantic, skull-shaped, telepathic, meteorite-spaceship. David deftly blended soap-opera, super-hero action, and political intrigue to make Aquaman one of the best comics of the 90s. His Aquaman origin story, The Atlantis Chronicles is a genunine epic masterpiece and it's a crime that it's never been collected as a hardcover or even a paperback.

I've barely scraped the surface of David's many achievements. In Supergirl he explored religion and identity. In X-Factor he explored the lives of mutants living on the fringes of Marvel's superhero community. In Young Justice he actually made Red Tornado interesting! Perhaps one of his greatest contributions to superhero lore was his Spider-Man story, 'The Death of Jean DeWolff'. This grim but compelling, Death Wish inspired tale gave us an insight into the anger and frustration that Spidey carries around with him and had repurcussions for the character that are still being felt today.

And if all that wasn't awesome enough, he created Spider-Man 2099!

Essential Reading

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #107-110 (1985-1986)

The Atlantis Chronicles #1-7 (1990)

Aquaman: Time and Tide #1-4 (1993)

Aquaman #0-46 (1994-1998)

Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect (1993)

Supergirl #1-80 (2002-2003)

3. Alan Moore

A bit of an obvious choice for a Best Comics Writers list, but tough, Moore deserves his reputation as one of the greatest comics genius of all time! I'm finding it a bit hard to write about him to be honest because he's made no secret of his contempt for modern superhero comics and their audience. He recently stated;
These days, superhero comics think the audience is certainly not 9 to 13, it's nothing to do with them. It's an audience largely of 30-, 40-, 50-, 60-year-old men, usually men. Someone came up with the term graphic novel. These readers latched on to it - they were simply interested in a way that could validate their continued love of Green Lantern or Spider-Man without appearing in some way emotionally subnormal.
Crikey, he's really got my number! I've read and loved a lot of Moore's work but it's his superhero writing that's resonated with me the most. But I can't help but feel uncomfortable writing about my love of his superhero work when Moore would probably see that love as evidence that I'm a philistinic, emotionally stunted man-child. Balls to him though, I'm going to do it anyway.

Moore's probably most famous for Watchmen, the 12 issue maxi-series in which he takes the concept of the superhero to it's logical and terrifying conclusion. But my personal favourite of all of Moore's work is Miracleman, in which he takes the concept of the superhero to a completely different but equally logical and terrifying conclusion. Only Moore could turn the superhero genre on its head twice, in completely different ways. Miracleman is quite simply the most powerful and affecting comic I've ever read. Scenes from the comic clung to me for days after reading it. I went to sleep thinking about it every night for a week after I first read it. It's uncomfortable and horrific in places, and it demands that its readers asks themselves serious questions about the superhero myth and what it really means. But the story is so compelling and the characters are so real that it's never a difficult read, quite the opposite in fact.

Another favourite of mine is Moore's work on Supreme, a cheap Superman knock-off created by Rob Liefeld. Rather than take Supreme as another opportunity to reinvent the superhero genre, Moore seemed to decide to have a bit of fun with it. Given a Superman rip-off to write Moore set about making Supreme the greatest Superman rip-off there ever was. Supreme is Moore's love letter to the Superman comics he grew up with in the 60s. Every aspect of Silver Age Superman's life has an equivalent (Radar the Hound Supreme - Krypto the Super-Dog, Suprema - Supergirl, Darius Dax - Lex Luthor, Supremium - Kryptonite, The League of Infinity - The Legion of Superheroes, etc), and when Supreme has flashbacks of his past they're in the form of stories written and drawn in the style of 40s, 50s and 60s DC comics. This all sounds quite self indulgent but it really isn't. After all the deconstruction and hard questions of his older superhero work it's fantastic to see exactly what drew Moore to superheroes when he was a child. Moore's love for the imagination and fun of those old comics really shines through. And of course, at the core of all the fan wank are great stories and great characters.

Moore has been responsible for so many of my favourite comics; The Saga of Swamp Thing, his Superman stories, The Killing Joke, Tom Strong, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Captain Britain, and V for Vendetta. If he didn't want emotionally subnormal man-children like me writing about him he shouldn't write such amazing comics.

Essential Reading

Miracleman (1982-89)
A Dream of Flying 
Red King Syndrome 

The Saga of Swamp Thing #20-64 (1984–1987)

Supreme (1996-1998)
The Story of the Year
Judgement Day
The Return

Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Deluxe Edition Hardcover (2009)

2. Geoff Johns

The thing that makes Geoff Johns such a fantastic writer is his ability to uncover and bring to the surface the simple, core truth of a character. When Johns writes a character he strips away all the clutter and baggage that character has amassed over the years and finds that unique, defining quality that made the character popular in the first place. He has a knack for being able to convey years of character development and plot points in a few lines of dialogue. In a few lines he can explain why he thinks any particular character is cool and why you should too. Johns is King of the 'Elevator-Pitch'. He does this better than any other writer and as a result he's written some of the most accessible superhero comics ever created.

His work on JSA probably best exemplifies this. The Justice Society of America is a team of Golden Age superheroes and their successors. They were a team of B, C, and D List heroes who had been through a number of different writers and a number of status quo changes. Johns took each and every one of them and, (without discarding much, if any of their backstory) molded them into characters you could pitch to a TV executive or, more importantly a potential fan in just a few sentences. For example Power Girl and Hawkman were two JSA members with histories that were inextricably tied up with convoluted, contradictory and discarded storylines. They were considered by many to be broken characters. Johns streamlined both characters into something that could grab you, without losing anything that made them who they were. Of course, they had always been amazing characters, but it took Johns to see the potential through the clutter and show us just how amazing they were.

Over the years Johns has done the same thing for Green Lantern, Booster Gold, Legion of Superheroes, Flash and his Rogues, Shazam, Cyborg, Superboy, Aquaman, Lex Luthor, and even Superman. Most recently in the pages of Justice League he made me a massive fan of the Metal Men in just one issue. When he worked for Marvel he wrote a Vision mini-series that I guarantee will make you love the Vision.

Johns is also master of the 'F**k-yeah' moment. Whenever a comic has made me literally punch the air with joy and shout "f**k yeah!", most of the time it's a Johns comic. Johns' Superman doesn't just defeat Brainiac, he grinds Brainiac's face into the mud and says "Welcome to Earth!" Under Johns' pen, Green Lantern doesn't just rise from the dead, he rises from the dead at the eleventh hour "with plenty of damn will!" Johns throws a lot of pretty big threats at his heroes (he's gained a reputation for maiming Z-List characters), but when they eventually win, they really WIN!

If you're reading this because you want to get into superhero comics I can unreservedly recommend pretty much any Geoff Johns comic as a good place to start. He will make you love these characters as much as he does.

Essential Reading

Justice Society of America #5-77, 81, Annual #1 (2000-2006)

The Flash #164-225 (2000-2005), The Flash: Iron Heights (2001)

Green Lantern: Rebirth #1-6 (2004-2005)

Action Comics # 844-846, 850-851, 855-870, Annual #10-11 (2006-2008)

Blackest Night #0-8 (2009-2010)

Justice League #1-50 (2011-2016)

Forever Evil #1-7 (2013-2014)

Batman Earth One Vol 1-2 (2012,2015)

1. Grant Morrison

Ever heard of B'wana Beast? He's an obscure 60s superhero with the power to merge any two animals together to form a chimera. If you had the power of B'wana Beast, and you were to merge Alan Moore and Geoff Johns together into one unholy super-creature, you would have created Grant Morrison. Morrison has Alan Moore's imagination, intellect, vision and creative ambition merged with Geoff Johns' love of superheroes, knack for stripping characters down to their 'elevator-pitch', and ability to craft a perfect "f**k-yeah" moment. He is, to my mind, the perfect comics writer.

I first fell in love with Morrison's work when I bought the trade paperback of his first Justice League of America arc, New World Order. I was 15 and had gone off comics a bit. I bought JLA: New World Order on a whim, not expecting much from it. I'm pleased to say it sucked me right back into the world of comics fandom where I have remained immersed to this day. After reading it I remember phoning a friend who had also fallen out of love with comics somewhat and urging him to read it, declaring "I didn't know they made comics like this anymore!" Morrison's JLA run is typical of his work. It contains mind boggling concepts (such as a villain that can control coincidence, or a planet sized weapon that emits hate created by a race of extinct gods) but grounds them with characters who have understandable and relatable reactions and motivations, and enough "F**K-yeah!" moments to make your arm tired punching the air. During the course of Morrison's JLA run Superman wrestles an angel and holds up the moon, Green Arrow and the Atom take out cosmic badass Darkseid, and Batman outwits and defeats a man who can download the fighting skills of all the worlds' best fighters into his brain.

It's impossible to sum up Morrison's many ideas and innovations in a few paragraphs. He's had Superman perform twelve final super-feats before going to live in the sun to keep it burning for the next million years. He's made the X-Men fight villains from a stage of evolution even higher than homo superior. He's had the Flash race his childhood imaginary friend across the Universe. He's made Animal Man realise he's in a comic. In 2008 he gave us a company-wide DC Comics event of the sort we'd never seen before, Final Crisis, in which Darkseid takes over the world, the Justice League have to fight a cosmic vampire who feeds on stories, and Superman has to sing the Universe back into existence. He's just completed a huge run of Batman stories that incorporated every single version of the character from the past 75 years into one coherent narrative. He also killed Batman and had him fight his way through Earth's history in order to come back to life, introduced Batman's long lost son - Damien Wayne, and introduced a team of international heroes who are members of a Batman franchise. Most recently Morrison has revamped Superman by telling modern stories about the Man of Steel facing alien invaders and creatures from the 5th dimension in the fast paced, two fisted style of the character's creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

As well as the mythology of the characters Morrison has also experimented with how a story can be told with comic books. For example, Seven Soldiers is comprised of two single issues that bookend seven mini-series about seven vastly different characters that can be read in any order to tell one hugely entertaining story.

However it's not just superheroes that Morrison is famous for. One of his most celebrated stories is We3, in which a dog, a rabbit, and a cat who have been made into living, cybernetic weapons work together to escape their captors and return home. It's the most absurd and violent comic ever to move me to tears. I never thought I could care so deeply for cybernetically enhanced pets.

But, as with Alan Moore, it will always be Morrison's superhero work that resonates with me the most. Morrison seems to really love superheroes. As far as he's concerned superheroes represent the best in all of us and the very fact that a race as damaged and flawed as us has created them is cause for joy and optimism. As the man himself put it; 
I love all the characters, but Superman is just this perfect human pop-culture distillation of a really basic idea. He's a good guy. He loves us. He will not stop in defending us. How beautiful is that? He's like a sci-fi Jesus. He'll never let you down. And only in fiction can that guy actually exist, because real guys will always let you down one way or another. We actually made up an idea that beautiful. That's just cool to me. We made a little paper universe where all of the above is true.
Morrison conveys his love for the superhero genre while expanding our minds with huge, abstract concepts, speaking to us through characters with authentic emotions and motivations, and using the medium of comics to its maxium potential. This is why he's my all time favourite comics writer ever.

Who's yours?

Essential Reading

Animal Man #1-26 (1988-1990)

Doom Patrol #19-63, Doom Force #1(1989–1993)

Legends of the Dark Knight #6-10 (1990)

JLA #1-41 (1997-2000)

New X-Men #114-154, Annual 2001 (2001-2004)

We3 #1-3 (2004–2005)

All-Star Superman

Seven Soldiers (2005-2006)
Seven Soldiers #0-1
Manhattan Guardian #1-4
Shining Knight #1-4
Klarion the Witch Boy #1-4
Zatanna #1-4
Mister Miracle #1-4
Bulleteer #1-4
Frankenstein #1-4 

Batman (2006-2013)
Batman #655-658, 663-669, 672-683, 700-702
Batman and Robin #1-16
Batman: The Return 
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1-6
Batman Incorporated v1 #1-8
Batman: Leviathan Strikes!
Batman Incorporated v2 # 1-13

Final Crisis #1-7, Final Crisis: Submit, Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1-2 (2008–2009)

Action Comics #0-18 (2011-2012)

Friday, 11 July 2014

Top Ten Best Superman Costumes

Ask an average person on the street to describe Superman's costume & they'll describe the red & blue colour scheme, the cape, and the little red undies worn on the outside. And yet, over the past 75 years the Man of Steel has been through some costume changes that would give Marvel's super hero/fashion designer The Wasp a run for her money. Here's a list of some of my favourites. I've deliberately stuck to costumes worn by whichever version of Superman was the "main" one at the time and omitted any costume worn by Elseworld or alternate/parallel universe versions of the character.

10. Doomsday Hunter
Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey #3(1994)

Dan Jurgens (source: Siskoid's Blog of Geekery)
When Superman went up against the monstrous Doomsday in their first rematch since they killed each other, he got given a new costume by the superior technology of New Genesis, in order to give him an edge. I love this costume because it's so endearingly 90s. The sword that you have to plug into your leg, the straps (especially the ones around his boots, what are they for?), the pouches, the shoulder pad (but just the one), the adorable little balaclava; there's not one aspect of this costume that doesn't look dated and absurd. But if you think about it, is it any dafter than a grown man wearing red boots, a red cape, and blue tights? Yes. Yes it is. 

9. Soldier of New Krypton
World of New Krypton #1-12 (2009-2010)

Gary Frank
The New Krypton saga told the tale of the formerly shrunken Kryptonian city of Kandor getting re-grown and its inhabitants literally building a new planet for themselves on the other side of the Sun to Earth. How did Superman react to this? He immediately buggered off to New Krypton to serve in the New Kryptonian Army! His reason? To keep an eye on the Army's boss, the villainous General Zod. Seeing Superman train Kryptonian soldiers in non-lethal ways of using their powers was fun, and it was great to see Zod written as a multi-layered character for a while. Ultimately however the intriguing plot threads of the World of New Krypton series fizzled out as the (admittedly awesome) finale to the whole saga, Last Stand on Krypton & War of the Supermen swept everything away and returned the Superman comics to the status quo. While he was on New Krypton Superman wore a great looking militaristic uniform. It looked particularly great on the fantastic covers, drawn by Gary Frank.

8. Recovery Suit
Superman Man of Steel #25 - Superman #82 (1993)

Tom Grummett
After Superman died at the hands of Doomsday it only took a few weeks sitting in a giant egg in the Fortress of solitude to get him back on his feet. It's easy to laugh at the way the newly resurrected Superman was depicted, with his mullet and giant gun, but the fact is, EVERYBODY looks cool in black and chrome, and no amount of silly hairstyles that were dated even in the 90s can change that.

Dan Jurgens
7. Saviour of Apokolips
Adventures of Superman #426 - Action Comics #586 (1987)

John Byrne
Fans on the internet like to moan about how there seem to be a lot of evil alternate versions of Superman running around theses days. They claim that the evil, corrupted Supermen appearing in titles such as Injustice: Gods Among Us (driven barmy by the death of Lois) and Earth 2 (corrupted by Darkseid and driven barmy by the death of Lois) are indicative of the cynical view DC have of their greatest hero. What these fans forget is that Superman has been corrupted by Darkseid before, and he wasn't even an alternate version of the character, he was the real deal! In Adventures of Superman #426 Darkseid's lackey, Amazing Grace hypnotises Superman into believing he's Darkseid's evil son. While under her influence he tricks a group of revolutionaries into following him to their doom, and has hot, jacuzzi loving with Grace! He's eventually de-programmed by Lightray and Orion, who opt not to tell him about the evil shit he got up to for fear of traumatising him. So, unlike in Earth 2 and Injustice, Superman never faced any of the consequences of his evil deeds! Still, it was quite a good story, and the Kirby-esque costume looked cool.

6. New 52
Superman #1 (2011) - Present

John Romita Jr.
Superman is currently wearing a suit of Kryptonian armour that's attuned to his DNA and as a result will automatically display his family's crest (the 'S'). It's got a lot of detractors but I quite like it. I like the darker shade of blue and I think the red belt and sleeve seams really work. However I must admit, I don't really like the collar, it looks too militaristic. There's also the fact that this costume only looks good when drawn by certain artists. Jim Lee (it's designer), Aaron Kuder, John Romita Jr and Ivan Reis all make this costume look great, but there are many other artists who can't seem to wrap their heads around the costume's many seams, and as a result they make it look chunky, blocky and clumsy. I don't think this costume has the timelessness of the classic one and I won't be surprised if it's eventually ditched. I'm quite happy to see Superman wearing it in the mean time though, especially as long as Lee, Kuder, Romita, and Reis are working for DC.

Aaron Kuder

5. Electric Blue
Adventures of Superman #545 - Superman #135 (1997-1998)

Howard Porter
For reasons that the Super-writers at the time never bothered to adequately explain, Superman got a new look and funky new electric powers for a year in the 90s. He even split into two different electrical beings, a red one and a blue one! Everybody hates this look, but I really like it. I think the main reason for my love of ol' Bluey is that my main experience at the time of the look was through Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's superb JLA. Porter never failed to make Superman Blue look cool, and Morrison always had him doing awesome things, like wrestling angels or holding up the moon. As for the solo Superman comics that featured the Electric look, I didn't read them at the time but checked a lot of them out years later. They weren't bad stories, but the soap opera had definitely started to outweigh the action, and I can see why DC were using Electric Blue gimmicks to inject a bit of life into their comics. Still, having said that, there was one particular Superman Annual that featured a cool cowboy variant of the electric Blue costume.

Dale Eaglesham - source:
4. Krypton Man
Superman #41 - Action Comics #652 (1990)

During the late '80s/early '90s Superman was forever getting mind controlled or brain-washed. In one particularly memorable arc he was turned into a cold, logical, and surprisingly violent version of himself by a Kryptonian artifact called the Eradicator. The Eradicator's mission was to preserve Kryptonian culture at all costs, and since everybody on Krypton was a massive arsehole when it blew up, the Eradicator saw turning Superman into a Super-Prat as the only way of fulfilling his task. Super-Prat had an awesome costume based on John Byrne's designs for Kryptonian clothing. It was such a cool design that a variation of it was used eleven years later in the pages of Mark Waid and Bryan Hitch's JLA run.

Bryan Hitch (2001)
3. Exiled Space Gladiator
Action Comics Annual #2 (1989)

Jerry Ordway
Superman exiled himself into space for a while during the 80s and eventually ended up forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena on the evil Mongul's Warworld. The sight of a hairy, semi-naked Superman standing over his fallen foe and defying Mongul's orders to finish the job with a cry of "I'm Superman and I don't kill!" remains one of the coolest things ever seen in super-hero comics. I recently saw someone on Twitter describe the aforementioned scene as depicting an aspect of Superman that's been forgotten by the makers of the recent Man of Steel movie. The Tweeter was referring to his or her displeasure at the fact that (SPOILERS) the film ended with Superman killing General Zod. Of course, what the disgruntled Tweeter had apparently forgotten was that the very reason Superman exiled himself into space and ended up in Mongul's arena in the first place was because he was going barmy with guilt from his descison to kill General Zod!

Kerry Gammil

2. Classic
Action Comics #1 (1938) - Superman #706 (2011)

Jose Luis Garcia Lopez
Okay, so the emblem and boots were slightly different when he first appeared but this costume (or slight variations of it) was Superman's uniform for 73 years. It's one of the most iconic superhero costumes ever and like it's wearer, it's the template for everything that came afterwards. I've never really understood why DC's current regime seem almost embarassed by the red underwear. The knickers have been the butt of some jokes over the years, but in the context of the costume they really work. As far as I'm concerned it's a truly timeless costume and will never look dated. It always looks great, even in the hands of the weakest artists. I'm not really bothered about the fact that Superman no longer wears it as I remain confident that it will eventually return. In the meantime I'm happy to enjoy his new look. Despite my love of this costume however, it's not my favourite. That honour resides with our final costume....

Dan Jurgens

1. Champion of the Oppressed
Action Comics #1 (2011) - Present (mostly in flashbacks)

Ben Oliver
For me, the best thing to come out of DC Comics' 2011 relaunch, The New 52, was this costume. According to current continuity when Superman first debuted he wore a t-shirt, jeans, boots and the indestructible cape he was wrapped in as a baby. This costume represents everything that's amazing about Superman. While wearing this costume he looks every inch the working class champion of the opressed and basher of bullies that his creators, Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster intended him to be. He looks like a real Kansas farm boy, and yet the cape is there as a reminder of his alien heritage. It almost seems as if Superman has tried to create a facsimile of Kryptonian garb with whatever he had to hand. The t-shirts come in different colours too, so we can get an occasional break from the blue, and the whole thing looks very dramatic whenever it's battle damaged and torn. In my opinion, this is the coolest thing Superman's ever worn and if I had my way he'd wear it all the time.

Rags Morales

There's my Top Ten Best Superman Costumes, at least of those worn by a non-Elseworld Superman in the comics. What have I missed? What are your favourites?

Also, for a further glimpse of the many and varied looks Superman has adopted over the years, check out Siskoid's ongoing 'Reign of the Supermen' articles.