Kingsman: The Secret Service was such a breath of fresh air when it came out. It was an action comedy that didn’t decide it could skip out on the action choreography part. Matthew Vaughn made a movie that was all the way both things. It was honestly a bit shocking to experience after so many Austin Powers movies where not giving a damn was basically part of the fabric of the movie. Obviously there’s no element of surprise with Kingsman: The Golden Circle but the formula is still solidly there. This is an action comedy that wants to have it both ways and while it’s perhaps a little worse on both ends there’s a solid movie in here anyway.
While Kingsman: The Secret Service was taking the piss out of the cliche British spy tropes, for Kingsman: The Golden Circle Vaughn decidesto invent some American ones to lampoon. Instead of being prim and proper buttoned-up bespoke suit salesman the Statesmen are rough and tumble cowboys who make whiskey (and bicker with their UK counterparts on whether that last e belongs there). It’s fun and more importantly I think it underlines for the American audience how absurd the characters are in the first movie. An audience raised on James Bond movies might think that’s actually what England is like so having that mirror held up can make all of the original jokes hit a bit harder. Is an electrified lasso that cuts through anything it touches completely ridiculous? Yes, but not that much more than the see-through umbrella nonsense from the first movie.
I’ve been sitting here for more than five minutes trying to figure out how I would end the sentence “Kingsman: The Golden Circle is about” without completely failing. On one hand it seems to be about how drug prohibition is ineffective as public policy but the people involved in the drug trade are universally unlikeable. It might be about how hypocritically we deal with illegal drugs versus legal ones like alcohol but there’s no actual condemnation of alcohol use and, in fact, even in the closing minutes we are asked to celebrate the liquor industry. Maybe it’s about the nihilism at the heart of political debate surrounding drugs but they don’t hit that very hard. I appreciate that I wasn’t beat over the head with a message (especially one about drugs) because I don’t need to be preached to but this movie kind of exists in a nebulous in the middle which feels more like a fear of committing or, perhaps, like a slew of studio notes.
The standout scene in the first Kingsman is the fight scene in the church set to an ever quickening version of “Freebird” and there’s no scene in this movie that’s better than that. I don’t understand why you would make a sequel if you weren’t prepared to do a heightened version of the signature scene from your first movie. There are two attempts to top it and they come close with a fight during a car chase in the beginning but the third act melee is obviously their main attempt and it’s flat. I’ve seen spies effortlessly deal with nameless mooks dozens of times before and it isn’t special like a church full of drug-fueled nobodies did. The sequences aren’t bad or anything and in a generic movie I would probably be gushing about them, but to be in a movie called Kingsman it needed to be better.
I’m cautiously optimistic on Kingsman as a franchise. There’s good bones here and as long as every spy movie has to constantly race to be the most serious it can be, having a release valve like this is essential. Serious action combined with a ludicrous backdrop makes for a winning combination and I can even accept a romcom-esque meeting (the parents scene) dropped in in the middle. The high body counts mean it’s easy to churn in new talent (and maybe eventually Channing Tatum will have time to actually be in one of these) and their willingness to hand wave any consequences with super-science means that they only have to be as macabre as they want. The franchise needs to push itself, Vaughn can’t rest on his laurels like he sort of did with the action sequences in this one, but as long as this is willing to be arch and wry while James Bond is stuck trying to out-grim himself every time out, Kingsman is going to continue to feel like a breath of fresh air.
This past Saturday I participated in the Women’s March in NYC. While I marched with a group of burlesque performers and friends, other columnists here at ComicMix participated including Molly Jackson and Martha Thomases. It was an important moment of demonstration for the first days of the new administration here, and I’m glad I participated. For all of those reading who want to do something and were unable to attend I can assure you there will be plenty more opportunities to come.
Meanwhile, in my free time I’ve been reading some of the DC Comics Elseworlds. For those of you unfamiliar, these were stories that took place outside of DC Comics continuity that often involve alternate histories of what could have been. As you can imagine, that premise is really intriguing to me lately.
I’ve read four Elseworlds in the past couple of weeks, all of which were ones starring Superman. I really like Superman. The ones I read were Superman’s Metropolis, Superman: Kal, JLA: Shogun of Steel, and Son of Superman. While they varied how much I personally enjoyed each one, they all did a good job of characterizing Superman. Want to know more about these stories? I was just getting to that!
Let’s start with Superman’s Metropolis. Written by R.J.M. Lofficier and Roy Thomas and drawn by Ted McKeever, this story is based on the classic silent film Metropolis by Fritz Lang and the novel by Thea Von Harbou. The premise is what if Clark Kent, spelled Clarc Kent, was raised by Jon Kent who is master of Metropolis. This beautifully illustrated story show Clarc Kent realize the plight of the workers below and Lutor’s poison grip on Jon Kent; propelling Clarc to become a champion of the people. While this story is well written, Ted McKeever is the true champion of the story. The book is stylized and absolutely gorgeous in a way rarely seen in mainstream comics. Ted McKeever was also Rachel Pollack’s longest collaborator on Doom Patrol which includes The Teiresias Wars arch that has often been cited as one of if not the high point of her run. For personal reasons he has stepped away from comics and the industry as a whole is devalued as a result. His presence will be sorely missed. If you can find a copy, get it.
Superman: Kal is written by Dave Gibbons and drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. It’s a tale of Kal-El coming to earth in medieval times and being found by peasant farmers. Once he’s older he’s taken to work with a blacksmith in a town run by Lex Luther, an illegitimate ruler. So much for escapism, huh? Anyway, Lois gets involved and there’s kryptonite. There was also kryptonite in the last story, but I like how that previous paragraph turned out without mentioning it. You know now anyway, so I don’t see what the problem is. While the story starts strong, for me it loses steam towards the end and falls into the all too familiar trappings you find in damsel in distress stories and harming women to motivate men to action.
JLA: Shogun of Steel brings us to a mystical feudal Japan setting where characters that mirror the Justice League are working together to fight a cruel Shogan version of Brainiac. The story is written by Ben Raab and drawn by Justiniano. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t familiar with this creative team. The art in the story is solid, and I enjoyed that. The story itself is feels a bit dated and incorporates some elements that seem stereotypical, like Kal-El arriving on Earth as the result of a dragon from heaven. Also more kryptonite, but no Lex so I give it some bonus points for that. Though I don’t feel anything about this story is malicious and I would be more than happy to check out over works by Ben Raab and Justiniano, I don’t think you need to worry yourself too much to find a copy of this particular story.
And finally was have Son of Superman. Unlike the other three stories I read which were about 60 or so pages, this one was over 90. As a result we get a pretty well fleshed out story. It helps that it’s written by Howard Chaykin and drawn by J.H. WIlliams III, with David Tischman co-writing. Howard Chaykin has a love of Superman that is very apparent just by reading this, and not just because I’ve heard him talk about Superman before. The story takes place in the future with a woman President. Escapism has failed me yet again. Anyway, in the future Superman is presumed dead, but has had a son with Lois. Due to a freak solar flare, their son Jon gets his Kryptonian powers activated. Now in a world with a government run Justice League and terrorists acting in Superman’s name, Jon has to figure out how he fits in while he tries to learn more about his father and the conspiracy that took him away. The story is honestly a great read with some sweet moments and is probably the closest Superman graphic novel you can get that you can compare to The Dark Knight Returns. I definitely recommend hunting down a copy if you haven’t read it. According to DC Comics website, you can still purchase Son of Superman so you don’t have to hunt too hard.
A lot of things are going on now with the new administration coming into power. While we need to stay informed, escapism is important too. In these times, what better place to escape to than to a world of what could have been?
One day in the early 80s, I was with my girlfriend in a shopping mall. Somehow I had been relegated to the role of sidekick while she shopped. I liked to do a lot of things with her, but shopping wasn’t high on that list. I was bored so I decided to buy a comic book to read while she shopped.
Back then I was enjoying a lot of comics and purchasing them every week at Kim’s Collectible Comics and Records. But one store in that mall had a spinner rack filled with comics, and I knew I could snag an issue that I had missed.
I evaluated the comics available on that rack and hoped that one would be my salvation from the dreariness of shopping. I reached out for Swamp Thing #21, and was surprised to find an unfamiliar writer wrote it. I decided to give it a try nonetheless.
Those initial low expectations quickly gave way to… my brain exploding! That issue masterfully took a fresh approach to a tired concept, and wrapped it in thoughtful, clever and creepy prose. It was a big deal. I was so excited, and at the same time so frustrated, as I couldn’t really discuss it with that girlfriend. She had no interest in comics.
I didn’t know it then, but comics were about to change.
Alan Moore, that writer, was just one of the creators who ushered in a new era of comics. Sequart’s newest book, The British Invasion – Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and the Invention of the Modern Comic Book Writer discussed the important contributions of these writers. I was able to catch up with author Greg Carpenter and he shared some insights.
Ed Catto: Can you tell us a little bit about your new book, British Invasion, and what you set out to do with this book?
Greg Carpenter: I’d be happy to Ed, and thanks for having me here. The British Invasion is an in-depth analysis of the intertwined careers of Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison – three influential British comics writers who first began writing American comics in the 1980s. The book traces their work from the ‘80s through today (or as close to “today” as you can get in the book-publishing world), and it focuses in particular on how these three writers redefined our understanding of what it means to be a comic book writer.
At least, that’s the dry, academic-y answer. As for what I wanted to accomplish, on the simplest level I think it was to try to answer the question that students always ask me: “Why have comics become so popular lately?” Obviously that’s a loaded question with lots of presuppositions, but the gist of it – that comics culture has moved from the outskirts of society to the mainstream – seems fair. And for me, the answer to that question leads directly back to the work of people like Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison.
I remember back in 2004 when I was sitting in a theater watching The Incredibles. Here – in a Pixar movie that didn’t really have to be all that smart or insightful in order to be successful – was a full examination of the wonder and the absurdity of the superhero genre, viewed through a real-world prism with real world consequences. Even though there had already been several superhero movies by that time – some of them quite good – what struck me was that Brad Bird seemed like the first filmmaker who had really “gotten” writers like Moore, Gaiman, Morrison. The thrill for the viewer came, not from the style of the costumes, the nature of the superpowers, or the threat posed by the villain, but rather from the momentary suspension of disbelief that comes when you realize – this is what superheroes would really be like.
That thrill, that feeling, that … sensation is far more rare than you might think, and I knew then that at some point in the future I wanted to try to show everyone why that feeling is so powerful.
EC: What’s your personal fan experience, and did you enjoy these writers when they burst onto the scene?
GC: I came of age at the perfect time. As a kid, my comics reading was pretty random – a smattering of superhero books and a lot of commercial tie-ins like Marvel’s Star Wars and GI Joe. By the mid-‘80s I was pretty heavy into DC’s Star Trek, but I kept seeing all these in-house ads about a book called Swamp Thing that was winning all sorts of awards. This was pre-Internet and I lived in the rural American South, so a person wasn’t going to find much comics journalism in the local Wal-Mart. My education came from those in-house ads. And if a house ad said I oughtta pay attention to a particular title, well, that carried a lot of weight with me.
So I wound up buying Swamp Thing #56 – the blue issue. I didn’t really understand it, but I could tell it was different from all the other stuff I was reading. And once I started stepping out of my comfort zone, I found myself swept away with the energy of the times – The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Maus, The Shadow, Byrne’s Superman, The Killing Joke, The Question, Black Orchid, Animal Man, Arkham Asylum, V for Vendetta … Sandman. It was an amazing period. And Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison were the ones shaping my worldview, my own personal mentors – priests, professors, and practical philosophers. They could do no wrong.
So when they drifted away from mainstream DC, I drifted away from comics. It’s hard to remember now, but in those days, in the part of the country where I lived, there wasn’t much access to books like From Hell, Sebastian O, or Signal to Noise. It was like loving music but only being able to listen to Top 40 Radio. So for me, it felt like my three favorite writers had largely left comics – even though they hadn’t. And I really didn’t care much for what had taken their place at DC, Image, and Marvel in the early ‘90s. So I stopped reading.
And then, as fate would have it, I was standing in a Wal-Mart and saw a comic book display. I paused for old times sake and was struck by a new title – JLA #1 – written by Grant Morrison. From then on it was like the Michael Corleone line – “just when I thought I was out, (Grant Morrison) pulled me back in.” And I’ve been reading ever since.
EC: You do such a great job of putting it all into context and telling a “big picture story.” As I’m reading your book, I’m thinking “Yeah, I vividly remember those stories from Supreme or Promethea.” I’m impressed by the way you are able to analyze those stories in the context of each writers’ career and within a particular historical timeframe. How much of a struggle was it to tell the tale that way and how did you go about it?
GC: You’re very kind to say so. I wish I could say that everything just fell together perfectly, but alas. I think the low point for me came when I was staring at dozens of little scraps of paper scattered across the floor, trying to figure out how in the world to make the overall structure for the book come together. I knew I wanted to do rotating chapters, but there were lots of organizational problems. While these three writers have always been active, their creative peaks often come at different times. So I was left with a floor full of jigsaw pieces that all came from different puzzles and all I had was an X-ACTO knife and some touch-up paint to try to make it all go together.
As for the rest, I learned to make a friend of the Grand Comic Book Database, tracing chronologies and sketching out long timelines. If I can’t see something visually, it’s never quite real.
EC: By focusing on these three British writers, are you leaving out other important creators that are important to the big picture?
GC: More than I could even begin to list. The beginning of the so-called British Invasion wasn’t even a writer movement – it was about artists. People like John Bolton, Brian Bolland, and Dave Gibbons had begun working for DC and Marvel and were doing great work before Alan Moore made a splash with Swamp Thing. And, of course, there were so many great writers in those early days – people like Alan Grant, John Wagner, Jamie Delano, Peter Milligan … and that doesn’t even begin to include the writers who came after these three – Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, James Robinson, Mark Millar … you could go on and on.
And that’s just the British creators. The book focuses in particular on the impact of the Invasion on the notion of the modern comic book writer. If you want to really look at the development of the writer’s role, there are also plenty of non-British writers who helped pave the way for what these three were able to do. I’m thinking of Denny O’Neil, Chris Claremont, Steve Gerber, as well as writer-artists like Frank Miller and Howard Chaykin.
But ultimately in any book you have to focus. What is the problem you’re trying to solve? What’s the question you’re trying to answer? In my case, I knew I wasn’t writing an encyclopedia. I was looking specifically at the role of the writer, and these three writers’ work seemed so interwoven that it was impossible for me to talk about one without the other. But I still lose sleep over all the creators who frankly deserve their own book.
EC: I love the chapter titles. Can you tell me a little bit about how you chose them?
GC: I love that the titles worked for you. That was one of my earliest ideas for the book. Each chapter gets its title from the name of a song by either the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or the Who. Some of those choices are hopefully pretty obvious – a Sandman-heavy chapter is “Golden Slumbers,” the chapter with Grant Morrison’s vision at Kathmandu is “I Can See for Miles,” and a chapter on Spawn is “Sympathy for the Devil.”
But beyond setting the mood or reinforcing the theme, the choices don’t follow any set pattern. I don’t think Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison correlate directly with the three bands – one of them isn’t the equivalent of the Beatles or the Stones, for instance – so I just drew liberally from all three to find the most appropriate title for each chapter.
EC: It’s a big book, but I’m sure you had to make decisions and choices about what to include. What do you regret leaving on the cutting room floor?
GC: When I started, I naively thought I’d be able to cover all the published work of each writer. It didn’t take long to figure out that was impossible. So there are lots of things I never got to write about. But of those things that I did draft and then take out, the most disappointing was probably a section I wrote on Alan Moore’s Neonomicon.
Any of your readers who’ve read that book know already that it’s a tough book to deal with – powerful, complex, and disturbing for a number of reasons. But when I was drafting the manuscript, I dove into it and wrote what I thought was a really nuanced, insightful analysis.
Well, have you ever had one of those moments of brilliance at 2 AM where you’ve just stumbled upon the plot to a novel that’s probably going to earn you the Nobel Prize for literature? You feverishly scribble the idea down so you don’t lose it, but then, the next day, when you pick it up to read it there’s nothing there besides the most banal idea imaginable. That’s basically the story of my Neonomicon analysis. When I found myself editing the manuscript a few months later and got to that chapter, I just scratched my head. What I thought was enlightening was utterly vapid. It was so nuanced that there wasn’t anything there. I thought about revising it, but the book was already overlong so I just dropped it. Maybe I’ll go back to it someday – just not at 2 in the morning.
EC: We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but your cover is clever and to the point. How did the design come about?
GC: The cover is great, isn’t it? Kevin Colden, who has done some great work on The Crow among other projects, did the cover. In keeping with the theme of the British Invasion, it’s an homage to the album cover, Meet the Beatles.
But it didn’t start that way. Originally, I actually tried to sketch out an idea myself. It was an image of Mount Rushmore with Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison carved into the rocks. Trust me, it was even worse than it sounds. My wife took one look at it and said, “Seriously?”
So I went back to the proverbial drawing board and tried to draw an empty bandstand modeled after the Beatles, with a drum set, microphones, and three guitars. I sent this one to Mike Phillips at Sequart and he said something along the lines of, “Um … yeah. So, anyway … what would you think about something inspired by an album cover?” And with that, for the betterment of all humanity, I retired my drawing pencil.
Mike and I talked about several album covers, but we kept coming back to Meet the Beatles. For legal reasons, you can’t use a real person’s face on a cover, which is understandable, but (and I think this was Mike’s idea) we thought it might still work if we put them in Union Jack masks. And Kevin took it all from there.
EC: If you could go back in time and give any “Dutch Uncle” advice to Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman or Grant Morrison, what would it be?
GC: Oh, I don’t think they need my advice. They’ve each done pretty well on their own, don’t you think? So I dunno … I guess if I had to, I might tell them – especially Moore and Gaiman – to skip some of the work they did for Image Comics in the ‘90s.
But honestly, I don’t believe in second guessing the past like that. Let’s say, for example, you were able to help Alan Moore get a better Watchmen contract with DC, saving him from some of the nastier aspects of the profession. That would seem like a good thing. But would a happier, more content Alan Moore have gone on to write From Hell? I tend to doubt it. I don’t know about you, but given a choice between enjoying three years of Alan Moore writing something like Green Lantern – as enticing as that might be – or getting Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, I’m gonna take the Jack the Ripper story every time.
EC: There’s such a rich landscape of creative comics being produced today. What are you enjoying and what do you feel will be viewed as important in the years to come?
GC: It feels almost like a cliché to mention it, but I really love the March Trilogy. What’s special about it, I think, is that once you get beyond how amazing John Lewis is and how well he and Andrew Aydin have compiled his story, Nate Powell’s art is extraordinary. All too often, comics that are classified as “educational” tend to be stiff and lifeless – like your great-grandmother’s idea of what a “good” comic book might be. But Powell is the real deal. Great cartooning, imaginative layouts. The national media might make it sound like broccoli sometimes, but it’s really great comics storytelling. And because of its subject matter, it’s going to be part of the high school curriculum for a long, long time.
Among mainstream comics, I was a big fan of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye. I always joked that it felt like I was watching some mythical Quentin Tarantino movie shot in the ‘70s and starring Steve McQueen circa 1963. I also think Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman is deceptively good. It’s one of those comic book runs that is easy to take for granted, but ten years from now we’ll still be thinking about it. And Eric Powell’s The Goon always makes me smile.
But the other area that makes comics exciting today is the changing demographics – particularly the infusion of more women creators and readers. Any time you can shake up the industry and change the aesthetics, good things can happen. I once got to interview the artist Janet Lee, best known for Return of the Dapper Men. She showed me some of her work in progress and, to be honest, I was dumbfounded. Instead of something conventional like rough pencil layouts, inks, or even watercolors, she was using a technique akin to decoupage, drawing and coloring images and then cutting them out and painstakingly layering them on a larger page. I can’t even imagine what it must take to do that, but once it’s published, her stuff looks unlike anything else out there. That’s what you get when you have greater diversity in the field – fresh voices, fresh perspectives, and new aesthetics.
In a lot of ways, that was the lesson of the British Invasion too, I think.
EC: What’s next?
GC: Well, my wife and I are both writers – her debut novel, Bohemian Gospel, was published last year by Pegasus Press (heavy-handed plug) – so we tend to alternate between projects around our house. That means that lately I’ve been doing a lot of copy editing and proofreading on her sequel, The Devil’s Bible.
That’s not to say I don’t have a couple of book ideas of my own brewing. I do. But I also remember what Hemingway said – the book you talk about is the one you never write.
For some of us, the 1990s was a certain kind of Golden Age of Comics. The success of Image Comics meant that creators were given a lot of freedom to do what they liked, with deep-pocketed corporations competing to see who could throw the most money at the talent. It was in this environment that DC launched the Vertigo imprint, and eventually set up a satellite office in London.
Art Young was in charge, fresh from a brief stint at Touchmark, Disney’s pre-Marvel attempt at the Direct Market. The only other person on staff was Tim Pilcher. Together, they published a slew of books (including most of the books originally commissioned for Touchmark) and generally made comics seem even cooler.
I only met Tim Pilcher a few times, although we talked on the phone fairly often. He always struck me as a delight, quick and funny and smart – although it should be noted that, like many, I am a sucker for anyone with an English accent.
Now he has a new book, Comic Book Babylon, not to be confused with this Comic Book Babylon by ComicMix pal Clifford Meth. Tim’s version is an account of his time in the Vertigo UK office, about the drugs and the sex and the blatant disregard for any sort of corporate decorum.
God, I wish I had been there.
MT: What titles did you work on? Were there any Vertigo UK titles you did not work on?
TP: Officially (meaning credited in the books) I worked on Face, Tainted, Shadow’s Fall, The Mystery Play, Rogan Gosh, Kill Your Boyfriend, and The Extremist. Unofficially, the first books I started working on were #4 of Enigma and #3 of Sebastian O. I was also working on Egypt, Flex Mentallo, The Eaters, Millennium Fever, and Tattered Banners towards the end of my tenure, but didn’t get credited in any of those. Other Vertigo UK titles I didn’t work on were the Tank Girl miniseries and film adaptation (which were pretty poor), and Mercy (as that was already completed by the time I’d started).
MT: Ever since I saw The Monkees as a kid I assume that all rock bands share a house, and from there, I imagine all kinds of groups share houses. There was a point when I was at UKCAC one year when I realized that I subconsciously thought all British comic book creators shared a house. While that isn’t true (not even for The Monkees), you did share a flat with a few. What is that like?
TP: Well, actually, at the time, many of us were mostly fans creating stuff for fanzines and writing and drawing for free. When I look back on it, it was a fun time and funny how I took all that creativity for granted. I lived with Fiona Jerome, who was a respected comics journalist and writer who went to John Brown Publishing and revolutionized their magazine publishing. There was Martin Hand, a very well regarded small press creator and Howard Stangroom (nee Will Morgan) who wrote lots of strips for Meatmen Comix. Plus, the house owner, James Wallis, who wrote for various comics magazines and eventually became a games designer. But there were little groups like this all over the UK. I used to go and visit the “Worthing crowd” who all came out of Northbrook College including Philip Bond, Jamie Hewlett, Glyn Dillon, and Alan Martin. They all used to share houses and hang out together, so it was quite common. The British comics scene is pretty small and incestuous!
MT: Did you resent having to go to a day job when they got to stay home?
TP: Not at all! I got to work in Soho, the coolest part of London at the time, and we had various creators and people popping by the office all the time. Plus, there was a free bar on our floor and private advance film screenings in the Warner Bros. building at least once a week!
MT: Can you describe your first week at Vertigo UK? What was most different from your other jobs?
TP: It was the first proper office job I’d had. Prior to that I’d spent almost six years working in retail, so not having to deal with the public and just me and Art in an office was a big change! I was very nervous and mindful of not screwing anything up! I probably put in far more extra hours than I needed to, as I was enthusiastic and really wanted to learn. In those days everything was much slower as we didn’t have computers (initially) so all our business was conducted by fax, phone and Fed Ex. It feels really archaic now, as I work with digital files being transferred all over the world and talk to my colleagues in Paris and L.A. on Skype on an almost daily basis. Technology has definitely made comics publishing much easier (in certain respects).
MT: Can you describe your last week at Vertigo UK?
TP: It was very bleak. In many ways it was like the emotional hangover of someone who’d been raving on ecstasy for three days straight and now had hit the mid-week depression blues. All the dopamine of the job had been used up. The fun had gone completely and things were very tense. I’d learned some very important, and hard, lessons. I think in many ways those hedonistic days of the Vertigo UK office have actually switched me around from a crazed party animal to an obsessive workaholic! Hopefully, one day, I’ll find the correct work/life balance!
MT: My tenure at DC overlapped yours, and our office was run much differently. For example, expense accounts were monitored so closely that we were not allowed to tip more than fifteen percent. Do you know if anyone in accounting was ever asked to verify your expenses?
TP: I think one of the major factors for Art wanting to set-up shop in London was exactly to get away from that micro-management. Karen Berger trusted him enough to run the London office, and as far as I was aware he had a pretty much carte blanche expense account (at least initially). I think as the spending went up, and the titles’ sales didn’t match that, questions in NYC were started to be asked. But really, it was impossible for DC’s accounts to prove how much an average taxi or a meal would cost in London, so they had to take our word for it.
MT: What was the most outlandish thing you ever expensed?
TP: I was actually very wary of pushing things because I didn’t want to kill the golden goose. In the book I talk about when Art took myself and our intern, Helen, out for my birthday to a fancy restaurant and spent the equivalent of around £450/$650 in today’s money on the meal and champagne, which was charged back to the company. So, thanks for that, DC!
MT: Have you seen the movie, The Devil Wears Prada? (Or read the book, although I haven’t done that.) Was Art Young like that?
TP: Actually, that’s a pretty good analogy, it was a little like that. Art was a tad flamboyant at times! I actually used Toby Young’s How to Lose Friends and Alienate People as my template in approaching the story: Eager, keen guy gets job of a lifetime and screws it up! To be fair to Art, he was a brilliant mentor, and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for training me up and explain how the business works, and I’ll be eternally grateful for that…and all the free drugs.
MT: Finally, I asked Tim to tell me what people said about me, although I said I probably wouldn’t print that. Suffice it to say that he assured me that everyone thought I was the most beautiful woman in Puppetland, but he added this:
I can’t recall anyone being bitchy about anyone at DC at that time! You, Bob, Patty, Karen, et al were thought of as good guys. ;-) Sadly, it’s no longer the company we used to know! I don’t think there’s a single person left there working from our days! Nearly all the women have gone! All looks pretty bleak to me and sadly the company I grew up reading, loving and working for, no longer exists. Had lunch with Dave Gibbons the other day and he feels the same way!
Tell people that if they want copies of the book they can contact me on Twitter: @Tim_Pilcher
So Mike Gold, our old and grumpy and sly editor, threw down the gauntlet last week, challenging the marvelous Marc Fishman and the grammatically incorrect me to read the same comic and opine on it. That comic was DC Rebirth #1, the umpteenth revision of the company’s four-color mythos. Marc had his turn on Saturday. Today is mine.
Unlike Marc, I didn’t have travel a long and hard road 45 minutes from my suburban home to another suburb “to make a transaction.” Unlike Marc, I live in a city and the nearest comics store is three blocks away. However, I’m not a particular fan of this four-color emporium – I used to have a fantastic shop six blocks away where I browsed and hung out and bought for many decades, but it closed because of the owner’s illness – so I downloaded and read the e-comic version.
First the positives:
The artwork, by Gary Frank, Phil Jimenez, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver, Brad Anderson, Jason Wright, Joe Prado, Matt Santorelli, Gabe Eltaeb, and Hi-Fi Colorists, is brilliant, breathtaking, and inspiring. It’s clean, it’s sharp, and it’s spectacular. The storytelling is so fantastically good that no writing is even necessary to follow the story, and every emotional nuance is there in the faces of every single character, from cameos to supporting characters to the “all-stars.”
That writing, by Geoff Johns, is no less than anyone would or could expect from a man who is a master of his craft. As Marc said, and as I concur, “Geoff [Johns] made hiscareer (in my humble opinion) – and also im-not-so-ho, and c’mon Marc, don’t be so modest or polite! – on harnessing emotion and sewing it into the rich tapestry of DC’s long-standing continuity.” Geoff also has the writer’s gift of building tension, that all-so-important command of plot that keeps the readers engaged and turning pages, while not forgetting those common-to-us-all integral and humane emotions that unite us with our fictional avatars, doppelgangers, and heroes.
And weaving through all of this is an understanding of the complexity of the DC universe since the hallowed days of Crisis on Infinite Earths collapsed it all into a ball of wax, and playing on his loom to bring it all back into one single tapestry.
The climatic and emotional moment in which Wally West reconnects with Barry Allen, his uncle, his idol, and his mentor, is so! right-on! bro! that even I, jaded and cynical and world-weary, felt a wee bit of the emotional lumping in throat. Barry Allen was the Flash I knew and loved, the symbol of the Silver Age of DC, that – if you’ll excuse the expression – golden era of my life in which I discovered and fell in love with comics and their universes of imagination and adventure.
His was the lynchpin that kept it all together, and when that lynchpin was pulled from its place, it all fell apart for me. Supergirl was gone, the Legion of Super-Heroes were strangers, and Superman and his family (Superboy, Krypto, Ma and Pa Kent, Lois, Perry, Jimmy, Lana, Lex Luthor, Lori Lemaris, Lyla Lerrol, Jor-el, Lara, Lex Luthor, Lena Thorul, everyone! – along with his hereditary planet of Krypton, were all just one disjointed mess of a fallen soufflé. It was, in too many ways, just one big funeral.
Okay, here come the negatives.
Though I realize for purposes of plot, for purposes of story, for emotional climatic wallop, and for purposes of cleaning up the mess of the fallen soufflé that the DC Universe has become, it was (and is) necessary for ReBirth #1 to wind its way through the many layers of said soufflé, giving acknowledgement to everything that has come since 1985 and Crisis – especially the “Dreary52.”
However, the almost biggest pitfall of the storyline is that Wally, struggling to survive in and escape from the Speed Force before he succumbs to death, isn’t immediately drawn to the man who gave him everything that he was and became, not only as a man, but as Kid Flash and then as the Flash. Given that it is this rich, undying love and bond between the two that saves both Wally and Barry from the Anonymous “what and who” that threatens on the nearing horizon, it just doesn’t make sense.
If the answer to the “Big Bad” is, as Marc said (and to paraphrase) “hope, optimism, love, friendship, kindness, and heroism,” then doesn’t it seem that all of Wally’s attempts to “reach out and touch someone” are useless fodder that merely stuffs 81 pages with folderol? As I read it, it is really Wally’s soul, not truly his physical body, his very being, that is being torn apart and filtered into the Speed Force (art not withstanding); and if that being does not want to go, fights for survival, would not it first and foremost search for that anchor which means the most to it, that gave it meaning to exist in the very, very, very, very first place?
But of course that would have been a different story.
My absolute B-I-G-G-E-S-T problem with the story is the inclusion of the Watchmen. Okay, okay, I know, all we see is the blood-dropped Smiley Face. But Watchmen was, and is, a singular novel, existing outside the DC Universe – in fact, it was Alan Moore’s adaptation of the old heroes of Charlton Comics which had been acquired by DC Comics. It had, and has, absolutely nothing at all to do with the mythos of the DC universe. It stood, and stands, on its own, and is considered by many critics as one of significant works of the 20th century. It was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the “All-Time Novels”published since the magazine’s founding in 1923. Here is what critic Lev Grossman wrote when the list was published in 2010:
“Watchmenis a graphic novel – a book-length comic book with ambitions above its station – starring a ragbag of bizarre, damaged, retired superheroes: the paunchy, melancholic Nite Owl; the raving doomsayer Rorschach; the blue, glowing, near-omnipotent, no-longer-human Doctor Manhattan. Though their heyday is past, these former crime-fighters are drawn back into action by the murder of a former teammate, The Comedian, which turns out to be the leading edge of a much wider, more disturbing conspiracy. Told with ruthless psychological realism, in fugal, overlapping plotlines and gorgeous, cinematic panels rich with repeating motifs, Watchmen is a heart-pounding, heartbreaking read and a watershed in the evolution of a young medium.”
And though, yes, Time Magazine is part and parcel of that “huuuuge” – I just had to get my Trump dig in – mammoth known as Time-Warner, of which DC Comics is also a flea in that mammoth’s wooly hide, it’s pick to be on that list was not influenced by its publishing house. There are many books on that list without “Warner Publishing” on their copyright pages.
It is crass and mercenary to me, not to mention oh-so unimaginative, that DC has the chutzpah to claim literary ownership (if not copyright rights) to a work that is included with such masterpieces and classics as Animal Farm; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Great Gatsby; The Grapes of Wrath; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; On the Road; Mrs. Dalloway; Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret; and Beloved.
Blood-spattered Smiley Face also telegraphs to me that the “Big Bad” will have something to do with the machinations of Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, of whom Dave Gibbons, artist of Watchmen, said: “One of the worst of his sins [is] kind of looking down on the rest of humanity, scorning the rest of humanity.”
Hmm. If I may digress here for another moment of Trump-O-Rama: “Sounds familiar.”
So it turns out that I maybe I do have a TARDIS, because I was able to finish watching Jessica Jones and to catch up on Supergirl.
You remember that basically crappy review of Supergirl I gave a couple of months ago? Well, the show is getting there, though, im-not-so-ho, they aren’t taking advantage of what could be some great story arcs. Except for Alex Danvers. And Cat Grant. And Hank Henshaw. But more on that in a bit.
I watched “Strange Visitor From Another Planet,” an hour that really could have called “Why Did You Abandon Me?” Hank Henshaw, a.k.a. J’onn J’onzz the Martian Manhunter, struggled with the personification of survivor’s guilt and abandonment in the appearance of a “White Martian,” a member of the “other” Martian race responsible for the Martian holocaust – a literal “Strange Visitor.” And while the psychological voices from beyond the grave – including his wife and two daughters – chastised J’onn J’onzz for abandoning them by not joining them in death, Cat Grant dealt with her own, different kind of survivor’s guilt and abandonment issues when her “Strange Visitor” turned out to be the child she had chosen to abandon in her drive to become a professional success, now all grown up and wanting to know why she hadn’t loved him enough to stay. “Bizzaro,” a twist on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, borrowed – well, stole – the origin of the sad creature from DC’s New52 reboot, only instead of Lex Luthor creating the “monster” from splicing Superman’s DNA with human DNA and injecting it into a teenager, it was Maxwell Lord splicing Supergirl’s DNA with the human DNA of comatose young women who “resembled” Kara Zor-El. I thought the show sorta fell down on this one – it was essentially a “monster of the week” episode with Bizzaro Supergirl dying at the end and Maxwell Lord becoming “The Man in the Glass Booth,” kidnapped and imprisoned – for now – at DEO headquarters. Which is rather illegal, and I assume will lead to further ramifications down the line.
One immediate ramification of Max hanging around the DEO, though, is that he just happened to be handy when the alien chest-hugging flower called the “Black Mercy” dug its tentacles into Supergirl’s rib cage and inflicted her heart’s desires upon her in a hallucinatory mind-game. Many of you will recognize this as an adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ 1985 Superman Annual #11 story, For the Man Who Has Everything.
It’s not a bad adaptation, but if you remember FTMWHE, it’s not quite up to par in comparison, especially in the Krypton sequences. Granted, the show’s budget had to be a serious factor in producing this episode, but in Superman’s dream world, we really become invested in Kal-El’s life on Krypton and in Kryptonian society. Kara Zor-El, however, never leaves her home. She just sits in the “living room” talking with her parents and Aunt Astra, who was never banished to the Phantom Zone. Oh, yeah, and we also meet a prepubescent Kal-El, though there is neither mention of nor a visit from Jor-
El and Lara. And though there is mention of a serious boyfriend, we don’t meet him nor do we see anything else of what Kara’s dream life if Krypton had not exploded entails.
In Superman’s dream state he has no memory or sense of anything wrong – well, the dream does start becoming increasingly disturbing – but Kara’s immediate reaction when waking up in her bed on Krypton is one of confusion and a sense that something is definitely wrong. But as the Black Mercy continues its psychic invasion, Kara starts forgetting, and by the time “virtual reality” Alex shows up she has accepted her life for what it is and does not recognize her “Terran” sister.
It’s a good attempt, but not one for the ages. For one thing, for a story about Supergirl’s lost dreams, it’s a fantastic showcase for Alex, who totally steals the scene(s). Alex’s quest to save her sister, her devotion to her, is really what this episode is about – and I don’t know if that’s what the writers had in mind. In fact, lately it almost seems that the title should be Supergirl’s Sister, Alex Danvers. She has become the most well developed character on the show (with Cat Grant coming up behind and Hank Henshaw/J’onn J’onzz nipping at Cat’s heels). It’s too bad, because this could have been a real showcase for Supergirl/Kara Zor-El.
And, again, wasn’t it convenient that Max Lord was on DEO premises so he could help develop the “virtual reality” psychic connection thing-a-ma-jig that got Alex into Kara’s dreamland in the first place?
However, Melissa Benoist did a bang-up job in displaying Supergirl’s anger and rage and hurt and sorrow when she woke up. Echoing Moore’s words, she spits out “Do you know what you did to me?” and then “Burn” as she lashes out with her heat vision against Non, the evil – and oh so incredibly boring – Kryptonian who’s Aunt Astra’s husband, and who exposed her to the Black Mercy in the first place.
There’s a lot more plot about Non’s plan to destroy Earth (or something – I’m not quite sure exactly what he wants to do), but there’s a twist at the end that really disappointed me, which now means that it’s
Astra is killed by Alex.
This is right up there with the whole “fooling Cat Grant and convincing her that Kara isn’t Supergirl” storyline. I mean, Boo! Hiss! Really, Bernanti, Adler, et.al., killing off what could have been a fascinating character and story arc? Again, Boo! Hiss!
And as for JJ – it left me shaken and stirred, with that uncomfortable feeling you get when you’ve had a horrific nightmare which stays with you all day, or after you’ve made the mistake of watching a double feature of Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb) on Turner Classic Movies.
SPOILERS HERE FOR ANYBODY WHO HAS ALSO BEEN LATE TO THE PARTY!
What really got me was the straightforward and uncomplicated denouement of David Tennant’s Killgrave – a simple twisting of his neck, a quick dislocating of his cervical vertebrae, a horrific rupturing of the right and left common carotid and vertebral arteries, and he’s as dead as the Tyrannosaurus Rex that King Kong killed using the same method – only with a lot less fight than in that epic battle. It was so straightforward, not what is usually expected when dealing with the gifted, as the show’s super-powered individuals and others called them; in comic-book land fights are usually a chance for the artist to strut his stuff, consisting of many panels and sometimes many pages of balletic and brutal brawling. What I thought, as Jessica approached Killgrave, was that she was going to rip his tongue out, which would certainly, I think, have been an apt Sisyphean punishment for him – King Sisyphus of Ephyra was punished by Zeus for his hubris, lying, greediness, and self-aggrandizing by being condemned to push a gigantic boulder up a steep hill, only to have it roll back down to the bottom before reaching the top, repeating this pattern forever and ever and ever.
Killgrave with his tongue is essentially powerless, and as I said, it would have been a fitting punishment; but Jessica said she was going to kill him and she did. But though it looked simple it wasn’t; Jessica Jones literally killed her demon. But the question is: Will it be enough? Stay streamed.
I am in no way dissing Krysten Ritter or anybody else in the cast of this superb show – Krysten Ritter was nominated for a Critic’s Choice Award, but I think it’s sin that no one else was nominated (Jessica Jones was ignored by the Golden), especially David Tennant.
I now have an even bigger crushon appreciation of David Tennant.
He’s getting handsomer and handsomer and handsomer.
His acting chops just keep getting better and better and better.
During a 1940’s newspaper strike, New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia would read the comics over the radio so kids wouldn’t miss out on the funnies. In a similar vein, Liana Kerr is readingWatchmen for people who can’t see it:
Watchmen is a classic comic book written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons, published in 1986. It’s set in an alternate history where the existence of superheroes changed American politics, culture and everyday life. I’ve described it panel-by-panel for blind and low-vision readers, including the supplementary material at the end of each chapter. Text within asterisks indicates bold text.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is, hopefully, a watershed moment for spy action movies. Much in the way The Bourne Identity did in 2002, Kingsman has such a fresh new take on the genre that it begs to be the new standard these films are compared to. Kingsman could have so easily been the lazy bit of satire I feared it would be in the run up to the movie and it avoided nearly all of the pitfalls that could have felled it. It did step in to one big pit and while it put a bit of a crimp in my enjoyment of the movie it was at least a spectacular and bold piece of failure and I suppose tasteless and vexing is always better than boring.
Matthew Vaughn directs action sequences in Kingsman that are nothing short of brilliant. He shoots action with wider angles and without cuts like they’re musical numbers from back in the era when Hollywood stars could actually dance. He does this without sacrificing the complexity we’ve come to expect from a modern fight scene, something from the post-Tarantino, post-Yuen Woo-Ping era. Kingsman makes 54 year-old Colin Firth look like the baddest man alive at 54 years old. He looks like he would pick Liam Neeson out of his teeth. The fight sequences are exhilarating to watch and should be the new standard for any director looking to make something visually interesting but not too proud to crib an existing style. (I’m looking at you, 98% of directors working today.)
The rule of thumb in screenwriting is never to directly reference, even whimsically, a film which you are attempting to tribute or homage, for fear the comparison will leave your film lacking. Kingsman: the Secret Service makes numerous references to Bond and classic-era spy films, and not only holds its own against them, but could inspire a resurgence of the bigger than life style of espionage films
Kingsman: The Secret Service Directed by Matthew Vaughan Script by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughan, from the comic by Mark Millar, Matthew Vaughan and Dave Gibbons Starring Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson
Mark Millar is doing a damn fine job of creating brilliant little stand-alone comic mini-series that tell a coherent story, and are at the same time far from the standard fare of superhero titles. They are also almost tailor-made for adaptation into films for those very reasons. His high-action spy tale The Secret Service got a new main title and a solid cast when Millar’s co-plotter Matthew Vaughan (X-Men First Class) adapted it into Kingsman: The Secret Service. (more…)
While we’re all busy celebrating the 49th anniversary of Doctor Who and the 50th anniversary of both Spider-Man and the James Bond movies, the daddy of heroic fantasy characters quietly turned 76 way back in February. Or, depending upon how you look at it, he turned 476.
The Phantom was the very first masked, costumed hero in comics, debuting in the pages of the many Hearst papers February 17, 1936. He wore a dark outfit – when the feature added a Sunday page, an unthinking engraver made the costume purple for some unknown reason and the color stuck. He fought piracy and other crimes and handed down his clothes, his weapons, his Skull Cave, his fortune and, most important, his legacy to his son. The current guy – most have been named Kit Walker – is the 21st. This cool concept predated Doctor Who by a generation.
One would think the locals were pretty stupid to believe this dude has been the same guy all these many years. Indeed, given the fact that the base for the Phantom’s stories is in Africa (originally, it was sort of India-ish), one might even think this concept was kind of racist. Creator Lee Falk’s liberal street-cred was impeccable and he built the myth on local folk-lore and the unimpeachable fact that criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot.
As time progressed we saw African civilization modernize as we continued to see its treasures and its history plundered by contemporary pirates and opportunist Europeans. Nonetheless, about 30 years ago I was having a conversation with the features editor of the Chicago Tribune who expressed astonishment that The Phantom polled highest among its black male readership. I told him he wasn’t reading the strip very closely.
What’s remarkable – astonishing, really – is the fact that The Phantom remains in the newspapers to this very day. This is a feat unmatched by Terry and The Pirates, Little Orphan Annie, Li’l Abner, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and just about every other continuity newspaper comic strip except Dick Tracy and Mandrake The Magician.
I should point out that Mandrake the Magician was created by Lee Falk as well… two years before The Phantom.
The original artist was Ray Moore; subsequent talent on the strip and on the comic books reads like a Who’s Who of comics: Carmine Infantino, Bill Lignante, Sy Barry, Joe Orlando, Luke McDonnell, Dave Gibbons, Dick Giordano, Don Newton, Jim Aparo, Alex Saviuk, Graham Nolan, Alex Ross, Paul Ryan, Eduardo Barreto, and Terry Beatty… to name but a few. Writers include Peter David, Mark Verheiden, Scott Beatty, Tom DeFalco, and Tony Bedard. Tony DePaul has been writing the strip for the past twelve years; he’s also written many of the comic book adventures as well. Nearly every major American comic book publisher had a turn in creating new adventures, and it remains a top-seller in Australia, Sweden, India and many other nations.
Currently, the dailies are being drawn by Paul Ryan and Terry Beatty – perhaps best known for his work on Ms. Tree – is the Sunday artist. Terry had the awesome responsibility of stepping into Eduardo Barreto’s shoes after Ed’s sudden death last year. He’s doing quite an admirable job.
I continue to be amazed by The Phantom’s enduring appeal. If your local paper isn’t carrying the feature (assuming you still have a local paper) you can read it at King Features’ excellent Daily Ink site, where they carry all of the current KFS strips, including Mandrake, as well as reprints of many of their classics, including The Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon, Buz Sawyer, and about a zillion others. It costs $19.99 a year to subscribe to the whole thing, and I doubt you can spend the same amount on a better mix of comics material.
Every time we read a costumed hero comic of any sort, we owe a debt of gratitude to Lee Falk, an amazingly gifted and singularly interesting man.