Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Song-cry of the living dead man

Man-Thing #12

So now I've gone and set myself a problem. I wrote a review of the first volume of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, saying that I thought it was pretty good, but in some ways flawed. Greg, Marionette and Jim Roeg very politely responded that they thought I was wrong. Which is fair enough, because it wouldn't be much fun if we all thought the same way.

But then I got to thinking: what was my problem with Swamp Thing? The prose is beautiful, the plots well constructed, the ambience scary, the art fabulous. Why don't I love this book? And the answer is that I can't get over thinking it's derivative. It has such a resemblance to Steve Gerber's Man-Thing that I just can't view it as a great individual work. But it's been such a time since I read Man-Thing...

Man-Thing is one of those books which I read young enough in life that they shaped my perceptions of what comics (and, I think, literature in general) should be. I was about fifteen or sixteen, just graduating up from slug-it-out superheroes, and there was this disjointed, surreal strip quite unlike anything I had ever experienced. Now I don't want to get too drawn into this whole childhood comics Proustian memory thing, since Jim does that stuff so well, and, anyway, this is how my early years went:

But he did not finish his lessons. "Shirker. Slacker", they shouted. Oh childhood, the tedium of school.*

And who wants to remember that?

So to find out whether Swamp Thing is derivative or not, we can start by comparing Gerber with Moore, right? Well, yes. I know this is going to sound like I need a slapping, but I appear to have mislaid at least half my Man-Thing collection. When I was young, American comics were a rarity, and often a disappointment. Why? Because they usually had only one strip, and they were monthly or even (whisper it) bi-monthly. To someone brought up on the weekly schedule of British Marvels, monthly issues seemed unbearably slow (and this in the age before decompression). So, up until the early eighties, my comics were overwhelmingly black and white weekly reprints. And many were bulk buys of back issues, which I had no intention of treating properly. Once I gravitated to American comics, I revisited the early British ones at first only rarely, and then not at all. I moved house frequently, and my British comics stayed mouldering in their boxes. And somewhere along the way, half my bloody "Dracula Lives" and "Planet of the Apes" disappeared. A big pile of (amongst others) Marv Wolfman, Steve Gerber, Doug Moench, Gene Colan and Val Mayerik comics has simply vanished. Bollocks.

Man-Thing is a good candidate for being utterly disappointing on rereads. Firstly, it was from the early seventies, and much of the work before 1975 reads like a museum piece. Secondly, Man-Thing was extremely weird, and weirdness tends to age quite badly. So I'm relieved to say that I still like this story, and not for nostalgic reasons. I like it because it's good, and because of its startling originality.

The Man-Thing, an empathic creature who is drawn to strong emotions, comes to a former insane asylum deep in the swamp, where a man called Brian Lazarus has been sitting for days, attempting to write something. He is interrupted from his work by a man. Lazarus screams, and we see this scene:

The Man-Thing grabs one of the assailants, who evaporates in his hands. When he snatches Lazarus, his attackers disappear.

Lazarus explains that he was trying to write a work called the "Song Cry", finished it, and realised it wasn't good enough. It's become clear that Lazarus is on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Lazarus then meets Sybil Mills, a recently introduced cast member.

Lazarus: You know that old Beatles album? I put it on, and it just sounded like noise to me. Ugly, ugly, ugly noise. That's when I knew I was dying. But it wasn't just the music, it was everything. My whole life became one gigantic impenetrable wall of noise. My boss's yelling, the dog's whining, and the lies I had to write. All one big noise.

Gerber builds up the story around the "Song Cry", but there's a big problem coming. The depiction of Lazarus' instability with the assaults of his own subconscious is good. There isn't really a need for the reader to actually see the Song Cry, but unfortunately we do. It's a mish-mash of stream-of-consciousness surrealism, pretend song lyrics and prose poetry. I think I liked it more at fifteen than I do now; it sadly comes over as unstructured and pretentious:

Type dem words! Advertise? No, absurdize! Makes a man healthy, wealthy and how you despise dem golden slippers, mama, tucked in crawlspace unborn trauma. More!! More!! All this and more!! Our product has MORE of what you pay MORE for! A crumb in the loaf of industry, makin' life without identity, on the river island of eternity...

Well, you get the idea. You can see stuff like this in Bob Dylan's Tarantula, a truly unreadable book. Maybe it was a sixties thing.

Lazarus is now assaulted by his subconscious manifestations again, and the Man-Thing disposes of some of them. Then it realises that Lazarus is the cause of the emotional disturbances, and turns on him. Sybil intervenes to save him, and takes a punch in the face. Lazarus is shocked back to sanity by the selflessness of the intervention, and the manifestations vanish.

It's difficult not to think that this story is autobiographical. Lazarus is Gerber, and they have the same fears of bourgeois life. Lazarus is trying to write something, and failing, which makes you wonder if Gerber had a similar unrealised project. If attempting to write the "Song Cry" was Gerber's mistake, in a story about unrealisable writing it makes a certain kind of sense.

The ending, though: I can't see mental illness, any more than physical illness, being ended by a simple act of kindness. You wonder if Gerber, who has written on his website of his problems with depression, is searching for a resolution for issues which in the real world could never be solved in such an easy manner.

So I have reservations about this story, but let's be clear that its problems are those of over-ambition. Writers, especially young ones like Gerber was, have to get a few failures under their belt. I've got hundreds of punch-punch-punch superhero comics on my shelf, and I don't remember anything about them, but this one gets in your head and sticks there. Even if "Song Cry" doesn't totally succeed, the intent alone makes it an important book.

About influences

It's striking how many references Gerber in this story makes to the Beatles (a popular Scouse boy band), which might make them one of the conceptual ancestors of the Swamp Thing. Except their psychedelic era offerings seem to me to be confused rehashes of Bob Dylan's Bringing it all back home. It took me a long time to work out that Dylan wasn't being wholly original either, and that many of his ideas were reworkings of various poets such as WH Auden, Ezra Pound and especially TS Eliot, who Dylan namechecks in Desolation Row. Which puts The Waste Land, Eliot's towering masterpiece, as a major influence on all of them.

In fact, there are also a couple of hints of The Waste Land in Moore's work:

That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?

This strongly suggests the scene in Swamp Thing #21 where the remains of the Swamp Thing starts to put out new growth.

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passes the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

I have Phlebas in mind when I think of the mariner in The Watchmen.

Eliot wasn't working in a vacuum, either. His Phlebas could have come from Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Or Shakespeare's The Tempest. And don't they all come from the grandfather of them all, Homer's Odyssey? And who knows what lost works Homer was building on?

Here's a challenge: how many comic books have been influenced by TS Eliot's The Waste Land? The first person to come up with five plausible examples gets a copy of Aleksandr Blok's Selected Poems. Who could resist a challenge like that?

*Boris Pasternak's description of Aleksandr Blok's childhood in Four fragments about Blok. Incidentally, if you haven't done so, you need to go and read Blok.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

What DC books should I be reading?

You've probably figured by now that my knowledge of the DC universe is limited to events which happened after, er, February 2005. So what have I missed? Can anyone suggest a list of DC trade books I should pick up? Exclude Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Swamp Thing, which I've read. Preferably light on Batman stories, too, because he irritates me nearly as much as Wolverine. And writing is much, much more important than art.

And none of that "The Watchmen" stuff either. What a load of pretentious wobbly rubbish that was...

...just kidding.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Wakandan paradise

Black Panther #1 - 2

The problem with the Black Panther is that he's a tyrant. T'Challa, a Lee - Kirby character, is monarch of the African state of Wakanda and a regular hero in the Marvel Universe. Like all monarchs, he has a distinct preference for doing whatever he wants with his Kingdom, and not having the slightest intention of letting the people of Wakanda decide their own fate. Absolute monarchs (not these days a typical form of government in Africa, composed mainly of republics) tend to rule with a combination of cant, flummery and suppression. While his personal attributes are favourable, he is at heart no different to Victor Von Doom, sometime dictator of Latveria. Yet while Doom is rightly reviled, a succession of writers have allowed T'Challa to continue to be a hero.

The greatest Black Panther writer was Don McGregor, who turned Wakanda into a battleground. T'Challa's prolonged absence, caused by sojourns with the Avengers fighting space monsters or whatever, caused disaffection, which led in turn to civil war. McGregor, drawing on contemporary (1970's) African experience, made Wakanda a revolutionary state, with a weakened T'Challa facing defeat at the hands of an insurrectionist, the appallingly named "Erik Killmonger", who I prefer to call "N'Jadaka". Panther's Rage, which ran in Jungle Action, was essentially a reactionary (though excellent) story, in that the rebels were painted so badly that it was difficult to see why anyone would follow them. McGregor, in emphasising T'Challa's impotence and anger, was the writer who best got inside his head. Wakanda, rich in minerals and modernising rapidly, had much in common with some of the African states of its day.

By Christopher Priest's time, Wakanda was a much richer and much less divided country. While I enjoyed Priest's run, I think in making a bungling white American, Everett K Ross, the fulcrum of the series, Priest failed to make much effort to explain T'Challa's mind, and none to explore the contradiction of T'Challa being a good man, and yet a tyrant.

If T'Challa was truly so laudable, he would recognise that his position is reprehensible, make Wakanda a democracy and assume a role as a purely ceremonial monarch. In the absence of this, you are entitled to wonder what would happen to a pro-democracy Wakandan with a printing press. Would T'Challa's police be turning up at their door?

If they are not going to give up the kingship, then writers have to find a mechanism to explain and excuse T'Challa's behaviour. The most common one, used by apologists for dodgy regimes everywhere, is to say that cultural differences mean that the Wakandans are happy with their system, revere their monarch and wouldn't want democracy if it was offered. Personally, I think the ability to get rid of your rulers is a fundamental human right.

Failing the cultural differences excuse, we are really down to the divine right of monarchs, which says that monarchs are special people set aside from the common herd who rule because they are superior. The mechanism by which this superiority is first acquired and then passed down through the line is not usually explained, principally because it's so much horseshit. Comic book writers often show a remarkable affinity for this idea (witness Chris Claremont's obsession with the expansionist, tyrannical Shi'ar imperium). The further from America, the more likely we are to see absolute monarchy being portrayed favourably.

Which brings us to the latest incarnation of the Black Panther, written by Reggie Hudlin. Hudlin's Wakanda is one of a society at least a match for the west, and in some ways superior. He retcons out the old Wakanda in favour of one which has lived in splendid isolation for centuries. Apparently not appreciating that setting up your borders with the mediaeval version of minefields and submachine guns is an act of violence against your neighbours, Hudlin demonstrates the Wakandans' lack of desire to interact with the outside world by slaughtering a small party of warriors, allowing one to take back knowledge of the Wakandans to his people. Installing fear, in other words.

He then has some racist would-be Victorian conquerors being butchered by superior Wakanda firepower, before cutting to the present day White House, where a named military advisor calls the Wakandans "jungle bunnies" in front of Condoleeza Rice. Hudlin finishes off the first issue with an episode (one I don't recognise, but my knowledge of these things is far from complete) from World War Two where T'Challa's father, T'Chaka, defeats Captain America in hand-to-hand combat.

In issue two, Hudlin explains his version of Wakandan politics:

The Black Panther is the ruler of Wakanda. It's a spiritually-based warrior cult, sort of like being pope, president and head of joint chiefs of staff all at once. The Panther is a hereditary title, but you still have to earn it. Thje series of tests that a Panther must pass are so arduous that only candidates who've had special training from childhood can qualify. But just so everyone gets a chance, once a year, there's a day when any Wakandan can challenge the King for the throne. So as royal lineages go, it's a lot more of a meritocracy than, say, England

Where do I start with this lot? First off, the United Kingdom (not "England" - do your research properly, Reggie) is a parliamentary democracy. Our monarchy is little more than ceremonial these days, and, in the massively unlikely event that they tried to increase their powers, they would be promptly removed by our elected representatives. Not like being pope, president and head of joint chiefs of staff at all. And can anyone explain why this job description doesn't amount to temporal and spiritual dictator?

This "yearly combat" device is so unlikely and foolish that you would hope Hudlin is repeating an earlier plot, and hasn't made it up himself. So the monarch not only has to be the toughest person in the kingdom, they have to defeat every challenger consecutively in the same day. Could even Muhammad Ali have taken, say, George Foreman, Joe Frazier and Larry Holmes one after the other? If any monarch was insane enough to implement such a scheme, the monarchy would change hands each year, with the new monarch to be one of the ones who had left their challenge till the end of the day. The only way the Wakandan monarchy could hope to survive such an ordeal is to use massive amounts of performance enhancing drugs to the point where the combat is just a sham anyway. And is muscle power such a good determinant of rulership ability, anyway? Wouldn't this have left Mike Tyson in charge of the USA? It also seems to be a good way of ensuring that no woman could become ruler of Wakanda.

So there you have Hudlin's Wakanda - xenophobic, misogynistic, despotic and violent. Believe it or not, Hudlin's trying to make Wakanda sound like an attractive place.

What strikes me most about Hudlin's Wakanda is that it's not African. While McGregor placed Wakanda firmly in the revolutionary climate of the post-colonial 1970's, Hudlin's Wakanda, shown on a map to be in the Great Lakes Region (scene of an ugly decade-long conflict where avarice, war, civil war and genocide have merged together), floats serenely apart from its neighbours, buoyed on so much wealth that it doesn't even pump its own oil. No state remotely like Wakanda exists, or ever has existed. So what is Wakanda?

The answer lies in the politics of the African-American population of the United States of America. Wakanda as presented is a black superpower. While skin colour is of little importance in African countries (like,say, Rwanda) with negligible white populations, it is of extreme importance in America. There is a line of African-American political thought going back at least to Malcolm X which expresses a desire for solidarity and advancement which can be realised by the growth in power of African states. Wakanda symbolises what the African-American community should aspire to. This, the internal politics of the USA, is how to see the two incidents of brutal white racism depicted in the first issue. Now personally, I don't mind racists shown for what they are in comic books, but when two of them turn up in one issue, you've got to suspect an ulterior motive by the writer. Hudlin is showing is that the white, western world was racist and anti-Wakandan a hundred years ago, and continues to be so.

This has led to accusations of (anti-white) racism again Hudlin, and you can go and join in the whole bun-fight at Hudlin's website. Myself, I don't think that these events amount to anything like racism, and, anyway, once you use that word everything just deteriorates into a slanging match. But they are partisan and deliberately designed to be contentious. And I question the White House racism scene. I don't know much about George Bush's cabinet (nor, particularly, do I want to know), but I find it difficult to believe that such blatant racism should occur. If it is based on a real incident, then Hudlin is fully justified in writing about it. If he's just making it up, then this is little more than a reprehensible slur.

What Hudlin is doing, I think, is myth-making. He is attempting to make Wakanda a symbol of power, and his primary audience is emphatically African-American, not African. There is nothing new in this. Captain America is a symbol which can view either as patriotic or nationalistic, depending on your passport. Iron Man was a Commie-killing arms dealer. Cloak and Dagger were a symbol of eighties-style racial harmony.

This type of use of political symbolism is, if not uniquely American, then certainly typically American. Americans appear to find nothing unusual in characters such as Captain America or USAgent who literally wrap themselves in the flag. In Britain this overt use of the flag would be met with deep unease - while the Union Jack has had a revival the past few years, there is a long-running association of the flag with extreme right-wing politics. For all that he wears the Union Jack, Captain Britain couldn't be more American if he had a baseball cap and a Bronx accent. In his desire to use political symbolism, Hudlin is showing how American he is.

So, if we are looking at it metaphorically, then Hudlin's portrayal of the Panther (symbolising, by proxy, black America) defeating Captain America, implicitly here the representation of white America, then we can see why some people got upset. It doesn't bother me in the slightest - Captain America's symbolic American importance has often been used by writers in giving him victories, and an unexpected slapping is long overdue.

If Hudlin can bring in a new African-American audience of comic book buyers, then that is all to the good. But it all feels like an unstructured lecture by a shouty anti-racism campaigner. The problem with these issues isn't in what Hudlin's trying to do, it's that it's not being done very well.

Friday, August 26, 2005


Saga of the Swamp Thing (#21 - #27)

Am I allowed to say that I don't think this is a masterpiece? This is one of those books which it seems everybody adores. When I bought this, back in 1987, it made little impression on me. I come back to it, and nope, I'm still indifferent. Am I missing something, or is everyone else seeing something that's not there?

In one of those strange-but-true moments, DC's Swamp Thing and Marvel's Man-Thing were created simultaneously but independently by flat mates Len Wein and Gerry Conway. Each is the story of a man who becomes a murky creature who hangs out in swamps doing ... well, not doing much, actually. Man-Thing soon fell into the hands of Steve Gerber, who (I'd better declare an interest here) is in my opinion the greatest comic book writer of them all, and the only one who inspires me to Wayne and Garth "We are not worthy" devotion.

God forbid I should ever meet Gerber - I'd probably say something idiotic and then wet my pants.

The temptation with these Swampy characters is to have them be a struggle for the man inside the monster to find his lost humanity. But if he should ever manage it, that's the end of the series. So you soon twig onto the fact that, no matter what magical or scientific remedies are tried, they're just never going to work. Then you tend to lose interest damn quickly.

Spotting this, Gerber decided not to bother, and instead made his Man-Thing a fulcrum for his supporting characters, and made his swamp a nexus for strange, arcane happenings. Out of which one day waddled Howard the Duck, who has been scientifically proven to be the greatest comic book character of all time, and I think we need to all accept that and move on.

The Swamp Thing, on the other hand, I don't know too much about, but by reputation was nothing compared with the Man-Thing. Up to the point where Alan Moore took it on.

Moore starts with a massive retcon in the form of a remarkable story. A minor villain, the Floronic Man (Jason Woodrue) is performing an autopsy on the apparently deceased Swamp Thing. He discovers that its organs are non-functional - pretend kidneys and brains rather than real ones. It turns out that his Swamp Thing is not the mutated body of Alec Holland. Rather, it was a load of vegetation which had become imprinted with his memories. Moore, as Gerber, had recognised that Holland was never coming back and was setting up the series to progress away from finding his lost humanity. I wouldn't be surprised if regular readers felt extremely cheated, but this issue is beautifully written (and drawn).

We then get into the first of two arcs making up this book. In the first the Floronic Man becomes possessed of a hatred for humanity, and convinces the plant world to up its production of oxygen in order to kill off all animal life. A great scheme if plants and animals weren't co-dependent, something you might have thought a scientist like Woodrue would have noticed. The scenes in the swamp with the deranged Woodrue are fantastically creepy. There's an unwelcome spandex interruption in the form of the JLA (Moore pretty much apologises for this in his introduction, saying that pointless crossovers were sometimes necessary in struggling books - not the last time we would hear that one). The whole threat to humanity device was there to get the spandexes in, but once a swamp creature becomes globe threatening it loses its mystique. And the JLA don't really achieve much, except destroy the mood with a loud pop.

Then the Swamp Thing gives Woodrue a sorting, and that's that.

There are some good scenes here, especially when the Swamp Thing, realising it has never been Alec Holland, starts to take root. Some of Moore's descriptions are wonderful, and his ability to keep you involved as he moves the story along is peerless. But the Woodrue threat is just overdone. What Moore has, though, and which Gerber (whose fascination with ideas could overcomplicate his stories) sometimes lacked, is ambience.

The second arc, involving fear, demons, an evil homonculus and the mentally ill is much less original, strongly resonant of Gerber's stories. There's a drunken man crashing in the swamp and being possessed before death, which I swear I've read somewhere else. And the nature of fear is very much the province of the Man-Thing, who hates fear and burns upon touching anyone who shows it. The second arc also suffers from having a demon who talks only in poetry:

I am the one who comes to cage the ape
I pay no need to youth or purity
I'll roast each fool that aids the beast's escape
And drink their health tonight in purgat'ry

It's not awful, I suppose, but, lord knows, it's not good. If you're not a talented lyrical poet, it's probably best to stick to prose.

Not quite up to the first arc, then, but a reasonable story nonetheless.

Perhaps (I haven't read them) Moore's run on Swamp Thing goes on to produce truly classic material. But, first issue apart, I can't bring myself to believe this is more than a well-written piece typical of the Swamp monster genre.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The darkness is over, Dad

JSA: Princes of Darkness (#46 - #55)

First, congratulations to DC on fitting in the names of twenty-one senior corporation executives onto the inside cover of this one. While I'd love to believe that, for instance, Lillian Laserson, Senior VP and General Counsel, had a big input into the production of this trade paperback, I'm reluctantly forced to concede that this is more likely to be an exercise in corporate ego. Sticking the name of all your company bigwigs into every book you publish is a masturbatory tickling of your own G-spot. It reeks of briefing documents, steering committees, Darwinian struggles for reserved parking spaces and lavishly furnished executive washrooms where wide-eyed exotic beauties hand out silk-embossed personalised toilet paper. There's a reason, DC, why I didn't see the name of Kellogg's VP of Sales and Marketing on my Corn Flakes box this morning. It's because they realise that (much as I abhor the use of coarse language) I don't give a flying fuck what their name is.

There is an argument going round that, these days, all the stories written for monthly comic books are actually just installments for their future TPB. If so, there's not much sign that Geoff Johns, the writer, is paying any attention. The book begins in the middle of a battle, which then continues for 160 pages or so. Then we have a completely different story lasting about 40, and then two further stories lasting about 20 pages each. If this book is taken to be a coherent whole, then the finish is about two-thirds of the way through, and the rest is padding. No, this is ten contiguous comic books stapled together. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I'm falling for the JSA. I've been reading DC for a few months now, and they've made far more impression than the JLA, who appear to be constructed out of cardboard. If I were to speak in Marvel terms, I'd say there was a Thunderbolts air about this book. You get the feeling nobody is particularly safe, that members are going to come and go, and that generally things aren't caught in the permafrost of relationships in which the big books (both Marvel and DC) are stuck.

The problem for the new reader is simply the volume of members of the JSA. A priceless introduction explains a little about its fourteen members and five friends. Most seem to have convoluted origins involving wizards, aliens, ancient Egyptians and, er, genies. And let's not forget the fabulously named "Cosmic Converter Belt" sported by group cutie Courtney Whitmore. There's also a complex web of familial relationships which I don't come close to understanding. In the long run this is good, if you haven't already thrown the book away in frustration. Like how come Hector Hall looks about twenty years older than his father?

The male/female balance of the book is badly out of kilter, though - there are only three women, and one, Power Girl, is a rough-tough "touch me and I'll snap your spine like a twiglet" type and another, Hawkgirl, well, is she a stroppy teenager in a huff? Because she never seems to do anything but bristle.

Anyway, I'm getting to really like the JSA, but I think this book has problems. The main one being that most of it is one long battle. One hundred and sixty pages of wham! thud! slam! haha and now I'll move the moon from its orbit! Now I'm a decompression fan - I like my heroes sitting on comfortable settees talking to each other, with battle scenes used sparingly. This prolonged fight was like being shouted at by a small, aggressive, Scottish sergeant-major standing one inch from your nose. It's not necessarily that what he's saying is wrong, it's just he needs to calm down a bit, otherwise you're just going to conclude he's a twat.

I couldn't begin to explain how our villains, Mordru, Eclipso (surely the name of a refreshing pineapple soft drink?) and Obsidian get defeated. Obsidian turns out to be the son of one of the JSA: he gets off lightly with a small spell in hospital supervised by a skull-faced doctor. Apparently attempting to destroy the world doesn't result in a custodial sentence. And then there's Kobra, named as a villain at the front but who only appears once, when he is summarily executed by Black Adam and Atom Smasher. His connection remains opaque to me. Nice hideout, though.

And then there's Mordru's fiendish plan to destroy the earth by plunging it into permanent darkness by putting the moon in front of the sun. I don't want to come over all hyper-critical, but this doesn't make any sense. The moon is smaller than the earth: it can't block out all of the sun from every point on the earth's surface. I think perhaps DC have a vacancy for "Executive Vice President of Science (The Bleedin' Obvious)".

Moving on to our second story, we have the Crimson Avenger on a mission to kill Wildcat. I couldn't quite decide if Crimson Avenger was scary, as she is given to appearing at random and shooting people, or a bit ridiculous ("me guns, me guns, I can't control me guns"). And the way Wildcat actually turns out to have nine lives - you've got to respect the courage of a writer who would build that into a character.

And then the last two parts - one is a special Thanksgiving tale, the other a special Christmas tale. Isn't there a certain amount of redundancy here? And who was the woman who used to become a superhero by putting a pan on her head? Certainly has me baffled.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Medication for Mister Parker

Spider-Man: House of M #1-2

The first problem with this series is that it breaks what I like to call Harras' Law. This law states that

"No mutant should ever appear in a superhero book"

The Marvel 616 Universe, which in my idle moments I like to think of as having a Stan Lee-esque unity, is in fact anything but a coherent whole. The sheer number and power level of Marvel's mutants mean that their world is in a state of low level civil war, where riots, uprisings and atrocities have become commonplace. Peter Parker is supposed to be still slugging it out with gangsters on the riverside while the entire city has been occupied by Magneto and his gang of teenage sycophants. While one isolated city occupation could be forgiven, the sheer number of major mutant operations means it is impossible to think that mutants and superheroes exist in the same world.

Mutants carry so much baggage around with them (Xavier's alleged dream, humanity's desire to castrate all mutants and lock them up in concentration camps) that the moment one of the buggers appears in the non-mutant book, then with a bang, that book becomes momentarily part of the monstrously huge, overworked and tediously self-important X-Men franchise. Spider-Man only becomes a non-mutant the moment an X-Person appears. Before that, he's just Spider-Man. The mutant element warps superhero books.

Why Harras' Law? Well, Bob Harras was the editor-in-chief under whom the most flagrant breaches of this law occurred. My favourite example is in the Clone Saga, when there was a mysterious-yet-powerful supernatural dude called "Judas Traveller", mysterious to the point that none of the editorial staff actually knew who he was. Harras, using his years of X-editing and beautiful reductionism, solved all the problems about Traveller just by saying, "Ah, fuck it, let's make him an emotionally unhinged mutant".

Brilliant, but totally, undeniably daft.

Now mutants weren't always this pompous and some mutants had innocuously spread to the superhero titles long ago, so we have to include the Exception to Harras' Law

"Except Wanda, Pietro and the Beast, cause they don't count"

They are allowed to appear in superhero comics without them instantly becoming mutant titles. The utterly overexposed Wolverine may also count, but I try not to think about him.

And that is one reason why Wanda is the mad, universe endangering uber-enemy she is today. Pietro and the Beast couldn't knock the skin off a rice pudding, so it had to be her. She provides a bridge between the mutant and superhero universes.

The prima faciae problem with all House of M titles is that they flaunt Harras' Law. The whole world (a wish-fulfillment made by Wanda for Magneto, the Avengers and X-Men) is being run by Magneto, the superannuated crypto-fascist buckethead who was unforgivably resurrected by Chris Claremont. And Marvel's heroes, rather than saying "hey, there's a crypto-fascist buckethead running our world, let's go and kick his intestines up his throat", have inexplicably decided to live with the system (basically apartheid South Africa).

Which is my way of saying that writer Mark Waid has a huge dollop of shite to deal with, none of which is remotely compatible with a Spider-Man comic. He copes rather well, actually. Peter's a successful shaven-headed (surely a nod to notorious slaphead Brian Michael Bendis?) businessman who would be shamed if it came out that he was not a mutant, just a high school geek who got lucky with his choice of spider. Waid struggles manfully not to get involved in all the mutant cobblers.

This being Peter's dream world, Uncle Ben's alive. And so is Gwen. She's back! Praise the Lord, I've waited so long for this moment...

...just kidding. Let's keep her dead. But this is a "what if" story, so we'll soldier on.

Anyway, the point where it gets really creepy is when Mary Jane Watson appears. She and Peter are interviewed on TV about the film she's just made where she plays Gwen, who is married to Peter. This is Peter's dream world? Now I know that we all carry a candle for the soul of our cruelly butchered first love (that's just one of the hazards of everyday teenage life), but do we actually fantasise our real world spouse playing them in a movie?

Can't he have a fantasy world like mine? Lynda Carter. Wearing her Wonder Woman outfit. In a hot tub. Carrying a near mint copy of Fantastic Four #1 and a bucket of drugged custard. That's normal, right? And my wife could hardly complain, cause she's given me two "Celebrity Shag Amnesty" cards (matrimonial law in the United Kingdom and Dependent Territories makes it clear that all sexual activity from idle daydreaming right through to fully-fledged rumpy pumpy with these named individuals is not admissable as evidence in a divorce court). One card for our Lynda, and one for Gwen Stacy lookalike Natasha Bedingfield. Though it does all make me wonder if my ability to tell the difference between comics and reality is as acute as I like to imagine...

And there's a poster of Gwen's wedding to Peter: she's wearing Mary Jane's wedding dress. God almighty, you don't need a psychoanalyst to see that this is wrong, wrong, wrong. If Peter had any friends left who hadn't been slaughtered, wouldn't one take him down the pub, slurp a few pints and say, "Look, Peter, this whole fucking Gwen thing, mate - you're just fucking bang out of order"? And what about Watson - shouldn't she notice that she is just a rebound shag gone horribly wrong? Isn't she in need of a big fat woman with over-ornate fingernails who'll shove her hand right up MJ's nose and say, "You should kick him to the curb, sister"?

Has Waid noticed that he's making Peter out to be a mental case? Rather like the oddly-behaving cousin who has little incidents the family never talks about, Peter has a bit of history in the mental disturbance department. I could do without the improvised ju jitsu moves on Mary Jane's face, but I do hope Peter will soon again be swinging around the skyline shouting, "Parker is dead, long live the Spider". Cause that was fantastic entertainment.

Best case scenario that can come out of this story? Marvel are getting set to ditch comicdom's most tedious, destructive marriage (beating the Kents by a short nose), as Peter realises his love for his wife is actually just horrific self-delusion. Now I know you may be a Mary Jane fan, and you may be thinking, "but, but, my Mary Jane, is she not beautiful, is she not love?" But just consider how many really good Spider-Man stories there have been during this marriage: I could count them on the fingers of one finger. And haven't you noticed that most of their conversations go something like

Peter: I love you, schnibbles
Mary Jane: I love you too, floppsy

This is because they have absolutely nothing in common, him being a hyper-intelligent guilt ridden geek superhero and her being, well, less than generously endowed in the brain department. This is how their conversations should go

Peter: So, anyway, MJ, I'm thinking of heading down to the lab to do a gene crossmatch to see if we can fit the Schemer into that triple gangland killing...
Mary Jane: That's great, Tiger. And I'm off to the Hoboken Playhouse to audition for the part of Molly the Chambermaid in "Is That Your Banana, Vicar?"
Peter: Oh...
(Long Pause)
Peter: I love you, flossie-woo
Mary Jane: I love you too, blumpy-tupple

No, Watson's got to go. I'm hoping for an affair with Tony Stark and a bitter divorce.

Friday, August 19, 2005

My desert island comics

Should I have a go at one of these meme things? Oh, why not? I saw the "What five comic books would you take on your desert island" idea on Jim Roeg's Double Articulation. "Spider-Man: House of M" will keep till Monday.

I suppose I could take "The Watchmen" or "Howard the Duck" to my island, but what's the point? I've read them so many times the pages squeal for mercy whenever I pick them up. No, what is needed is a comic you can read as many times as you like, but never remember a single thing about. And what could fulfil that role better than Howard Mackie's run on X-Factor? I could sit on the beach and reread those things again and again like a dim-brained goldfish until that elusive Liberian container ship comes chugging over the horizon to save me. From the island, obviously, not Mackie.

On dark island nights, tormented by malarial fits, the shrill whine of mosquitos and red ants the size of labradors, there is a need to remember that despair can envelop even those in civilisation, that a fall from grace is inevitable, and that sometimes even your most beloved pastimes can come to feel meaningless and dim. Which is why I always pack Louise Simonson's New Mutants whenever I fly across the Pacific.

I need a good mystery to while away the long hours and days, something almost completely inexplicable which I feel if I study conscientiously I may someday be able to at least partially understand. And I can think of little more perplexing than John Byrne's disastrous relaunch of Spider-Man. Perhaps, buried in those apparently slapdash pages, is a hidden code, which, when deciphered, will provide me with an answer to the question which I still scream in the night, "Why did you do it, Johnny, why, WHY?"

I think there is a need to maintain your "sang froid" in straightened circumstances, to remember, though your clothes may be ragged and your bed made out of discarded coconut husks, that nothing can take away the composure and dignity that you carry in your heart and mind. And what better comic to contemplate this than Geoff Johns' Avengers #71, in which Hank Pym shrinks down to ant-size and then voyages up the Wasp's front bottom in order to give her a good pleasuring?

Being bereft of all the items one needs to maintain an acceptable lifestyle, there is a need to adapt old objects for new purposes. Given the total lack of firelighters, fly swatters and toilet paper on our island, I can think of no candidate more suitable for adaptation than Mike Carlin's run on the Thing. And "Rocky Grimm, Space Ranger" and a god awful Wrestling Tie-in have already proved their usefulness to me many times over, by being stripped of their backing boards whenever I run short.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A few thoughts about death

Astonishing X-Men #4

Mashenka, I never knew it was possible
To live, and grieve so much

(Nikolay Gumilyov)

For three months, it looked like the X-Men finally had a writer who could succeed Chris Claremont. Joss Whedon's writing was so controlled and elegant, so clearly superior to the host of X-Writers who have come and gone these last ten years. And then, midway through issue #4, my heart fell beaten to the floor as Whedon unveiled his first big idea.

He had chosen to resurrect Colossus, an X-Man whose main achievements had been to speak cod-Russian, be official group punchbag (Cyclops or Storm can't take one in the face from Juggernaut), have a morally suspect affair with an underage Kitty Pryde, and to be insufferably maudlin.

Colossus wasn't a good character. He didn't appear in classic storylines: his anger looked simulated, his naivety like stupidity and his affection that of a dumb, ugly animal. A succession of writers grappled with him, but none were inspired and Colossus' contradictory and reprehensible actions eventually turned him into an object of embarrassment. He died when Scott Lobdell had the masterstroke of simultaneously ditching both him and another overlong annoyance, the Legacy Virus. I don't think it was well done, but it was done, and goodbye.

And then the brightest new writer on the street comes along and brings him back in his fourth comic book. Resurrection is an insipid, ailing cliche which has become the stomping home ground of work-a-day hacks, but it wasn't tiredness or talentlessness which brought this on. He had the entire panoply of characters in the X-Universe, but Whedon went straight for the discredited, deceased one. What is going on here?

Now perhaps you treat your mortality with equanimity, appreciating the fullness of your days and calming accepting the inevitability of your predestined end. In which I envy you, and congratulate you on your Zen-like transcendence.

Not me, though - death has me waking up at three in the morning, witless with grief, foreboding and panic. Knowledge of inescapable death casts a faint, sickly shadow over everything in the world. Death is a vile, hateful monster, who's going to come and take every single thing from me. Either he takes it from me quickly, or he takes my loved ones first and then takes me anyway. And then there's bereavement, a sticky, claustrophic mess of loss and pain and unresolved love which smothers you like a mental illness.

Colossus: if only...

Go take a look at the Iliad, or Wuthering Heights, or Slaughterhouse Five or even Harry Potter. Death is there, stepping through the pages, framing and contrasting the characters, because it's powerful and uncontrollable and demands to be confronted. Death makes great literature, because it's unremittingly awful but it's there in every one of us and we have to deal with it.

And what have we, the comic book world, done with death? Adam Warlock - back. Jean Grey - back. Magneto - back. Donna Troy - back. Betsy Braddock - back. Aunt May, for goodness' sake - back.

Every character, no matter how few their fans, how feeble their achievements, how little they can inspire, must be brought back from beyond. And what about Bucky? The symbol of sacrifice and loss in the Second World War is (apparently) returning. Normally, I wouldn't comment on a book I haven't read, but this is just outrageous. What was the thought process behind this rank idea? Are the real dead of D-Day coming back too? Stalingrad? Auschwitz? Didn't think so. Any resurrection is bad; the resurrection of such a symbolic and resonant character is shameful.

And what happens when they do come back? Look at Jean Grey: a perennial dullard turned by Claremont and Byrne into a wild and insane force of nature, she committed suicide in a superb, portentious story. She got brought back, and then vegetated as a passionless automaton for ten years before Grant Morrison gave her the merciful one-two. Now she's kicked it again, but they still release a Phoenix mini-series. What are we doing?

We talk about deceased characters being "rested", like they're not corpses but underperforming midfielders. We have internet polls where you can say which character you'd like to see brought back from the grave. And, hey presto, a few months later there they are! Death has become an inconvenience, a momentary break. As Kitty says, "You have to know that if you're a clone or a robot or a ghost or an alternative universe thingie..." Exactly. What Whedon is recognising in the act of pointless resurrection is that we, the readers, no longer make even a pretence of suspending our disbelief. He knows it's grossly overused and so must know that this resurrection can't touch us, but he ploughs ahead anyway. Why?

I think we, readers and creators, have become like children. We want what we can't have. And the only thing in comics that we really can't have is the dead. So we clamour for their return, failing to remember the ones that returned and were forever discredited. And the powers-that-be, like indulgent sweetshop owners, reach for the big jar at the back and give us as much as we want till we sick up the whole lot.

And in all of this, death, real death, still comes looking for us. But we've allowed our chosen form of literature to render itself impotent to tell us anything about it. What can the X-Men teach us about death, these people who are in and out of the abyss like trampolining gravediggers?

Comic books can't tell us how death is, or what it means, or how to deal with it, because it doesn't exist there any longer. The reason why these resurrections have to stop is because of the cumulative damage they have caused to our art form.

So if you're thinking of creating a "Who should they bring back?" poll, remember to include an "Absolutely fucking nobody" option, and I'll be sure to vote.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Laughable Retcon Awards 2004

The inaugural Laughable Retcon Awards Ceremony was held in the lobby of a specially recreated Baxter Building. The gathering included a host of industry luminaries plus selected superheroes such as evil Max Lord with a phalanx of sternly dressed beauties, Jessica Drew with a box of doughnuts, the Black Panther beating Captain America senseless, and several hundred thousand mutants fearful of getting the chop at the end of House of M. Five different Wolverines appeared: three with different X-Men teams, one with the Avengers and one morosely on his own.

The Character Flip-Flop Award went, as expected, to Brian Michael Bendis (writer) and Tom Brevoort (editor) for the inexplicable and fantastical metamorphosis of Wanda Maximoff from middle-ranking spell-caster to universe-endangering reality changer. The judges greatly appreciated the fact that it was based on a mini-series which nobody had read, or indeed wanted to read, since 1987. Special commendation was given for the depth of their retcon: by deciding that Wanda had been insane and powerful for a long time, they had effectively retconned every Avengers story for the last two decades. The judges felt this was dedication beyond the call of duty, and Wanda then demonstrated her new-found power by hilariously aging and de-aging Steve Rogers.

But audible groans could be heard from Bendis and Brevoort as they found out they had missed out on the top prize. The Laughable Retcon of the Year Award for 2004 went to J. Michael Straczynski (writer) and Axel Alonso (editor) for the "Sins Past" arc of Amazing Spider-Man. This outstanding retcon, where Spider-Man's dead girlfriend Gwen Stacy turns out to have had two children by the Green Goblin without Spider-Man even noticing, had impressed the judges with its span (around 25 years), its total lack of plausibility, its rewrite of a Stan Lee story, its use of rapidly aging twins and last but not least by Straczynski's claim that he wanted Peter to be the father, not Osborn, but the Marvel wouldn't let him.

The judging panel then attempted to work out whether "Sins Past" would have made any more sense if Peter had been the father, but were forced to retire baffled after several hours. After which Straczynski gave an emotional speech, in which he promised he would be in the running in future years with his forensic examination of exactly why the spider had decided to bite Peter. He then waved a heavily annotated copy of "Essential Fantastic Four Volume 1", shouting, "there's some good stuff in here, too". The new Grey Goblin, Gabriel Stacy, then lunged at Straczynski, only to be pummelled senseless by Spider-Man. Gabriel subsequently fell to the floor with amnesia and was carried out by bemused sunbathers. Gabriel's charmless drug-dealing sister, Sarah, was then expelled for selling the mutant power enhancer "Toss" (or "Flum" or "Plop" or "Slap" or whatever it's called) and for trying to suck the tonsils out of a surprised Peter Parker.

Joss Whedon (writer) and Mike Marts (editor) then picked up the Leaping Lazarus Award for the most pointless resurrection for the return of Colossus in Astonishing x-Men. Colossus, last seen (in a story of little artistic merit) blowing himself up in order to destroy the Legacy Virus, had turned up in an alien's basement for no reason whatsoever. The judges especially wanted to commend Whedon for bringing back a character whose original death had caused sighs of relief worldwide.

During the intermission, Wonder Woman and Thor came to the dias to read from the braille edition of their latest paper, "Retinal Damage in Mythical Heroes: The Challenge for Ophthalmologists", but were ambushed by a swooping shrill-voiced harpy. Diana responded to this assault in a robust Amazon fashion by cutting off her own ears. Thor then changed into Dr Donald Blake in an attempt to stop the profuse bleeding, momentarily forgetting that Blake himself had been retconned out of existence.

Mark Ricketts (writer) and Tom Brevoort (editor) picked up the second last award of the evening, the Feeblest Effort Award for reinstating Tony Stark's secret identity by the old trick of getting Happy Hogan to put on Tony's armour at a press conference. Some argument followed as to whether this counts as a proper retcon, since it involved no change to past stories. However, since a secret, once out, can never be made secret again, it was decided that this was in spirit a retcon, and a useless one at that.

At this point there was a complaint from DC that they had missed out on every award. The judges were forced to sheepishly admit that was because the only DC book they had read last year had been a stunningly slow Superman story. They then pointed out that DC had some strong resurrectees and a massive cross-over going on, and would surely figure in next year's awards. Indeed, they could still figure in this year's awards, since the award ceremony itself could be retconned at any future point.

To finish the evening, the envelope containing the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award was opened to a hushed audience. After weeks of deliberation, it had been decided that the worst ever retcon in the history of the universe was the Resurrection of Aunt May in Amazing Spider-Man. In this classic story, Aunt May was brought back by the device of having the Aunt May who had previously died turn out to be an actress, while the real Aunt May was held captive by Norman Osborn. The reader is expected to believe that Peter Parker would have lived with this actress for a period of time without noticing any change whatsoever (and indeed without the mildest tingle of his Spider-sense), and that the actress would have actually given a death bed speech and passed away without giving up the pretence.

The judges felt that there had been many more damaging retcons than this, but none had managed the sheer depth of arrogance, disdain and stupidity that this story had plumbed, nor had they managed to insult the reader's intelligence so contemptuously.

As was typical with the Clone Saga, no-one could work out who was responsible for this story, so finally a tearful Aunt May went up to collect the award herself, until it was pointed out that she was actually an imposter, and the real Aunt May was being held incommunicado in a dungeon complex in Languedoc-Roussillon. At which point Jarvis the Butler attempted to seduce her, and the Award Ceremony broke up in some confusion.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Terrorism Week: World Trade Center

Amazing Spider-Man 36

This is the "Black cover" issue of Amazing Spider-Man, set in the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

You can take the view that this is a commemorative issue, and should be beyond normal rules of criticism. Which is, I think, true only if the the vast majority of its expected readership issue would find themselves agreeing with the sentiments expressed. But there is enough controversial content in this issue that it is more than a simple commemoration. Having read it a few times, I'm still not entirely sure what it is supposed to be.

Perhaps we should start by looking at what this book clearly is not. It is not a narration of events as they happened - the presence of superheroes puts paid to that idea. But nor is it, properly speaking, a story. Without being trite, it is impossible to imagine the events of 9/11 could have happened in the Marvel Universe. I could think of a dozen ways in which Marvel characters could have stopped, or ameliorated the effects of, the disaster. So whatever Spider-Man and Wolverine are doing here, this is not a coherent story, and nor do I think it is intended to be.

A small word about the writing of this issue. J. Michael Straczynski is the accredited writer, and the flow of words in the narrative is clearly the work of one person. However, if I were in charge of Marvel, there is no way I would let any single person have complete creative control over a story as sensitive (and potentially damaging to Marvel, if written wrongly) as this. I would have had it bouncing up and down meetings for weeks, ironing out points of contention. Perhaps Marvel did not do this, perhaps they did. But it seems to me that "design by committee" might explain some of the inconsistencies in this issue. The flow of ideas in it doesn't quite seem to add up to something whole.

The first place where I have difficulty is on page four, where two fleeing survivors ask Spider-Man, "Where were you? How could you let this happen?". This is a non-question, since Spider-Man doesn't exist. Possibly this a covert criticism of the people who provide national security? If this is so, then the narrator's answer, "How do you say we didn't know? We couldn't know. We couldn't imagine." is weak. It might be beyond the imagination of some normal citizens, but those involved in national security would certainly have been contemplating events like this. That's what their job is.

The story now moves into the debris of the buildings, where various superheroes such as Thor and the Thing are moving rubble. It's jarring to have this juxtaposition of reality and imagination in a place of mass slaughter. The only way I can make sense of this is to think that Marvel, as an entity, is showing its sympathy with the victims, perhaps best symbolised by Wolverine wearing a "FDNY" hat.

Then we get to one part that is just plain wrong. Magneto, the Kingpin and Dr Doom are shown mourning. Doom is crying. Now these, particularly the latter two, have been consistently shown to be the epitome of evil. I remember Doom once slaughtering hundreds of creatures he had created just to show that he was "the master of life and death". Perhaps, as the narrator says, "even the worst of us, however scarred, are still human", but Doom's actions have always shown him to be as close to monster as you could get.

Should we care how mass murderers feel about anything? The logic of this page is that journalists should head to the nearest maximum security prison to ask some lifers how they were feeling about the attacks, which would then have produced justifiable outrage from their victims. While the fact that Doom and the Kingpin are fictional makes their portrayal here more acceptable, I think if the likes of Doom and Fisk are coming to the party, then it's time to leave. They shouldn't be here. It was a mistake.

After the villains depart, we are back into a commemoration, and one written eloquently. Of the emergency services: "Those who step into the darkness without assurances of ever walking out again, because they know there are others waiting in the dark".

But then the narrative lurches solidly into controversy. "Refusing to accept the self-serving proclamations of holy warriors of every stripe, who announce that somehow we had this coming." Below are two men sermonising. To the right is one clearly meant to be an Al Qaeda supporter, " is God's will that America should fall through their iniquity and their sin.." To the left is one saying "...probably what we deserve. All of them who have tried to secularize America. The pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians and the ACLU. I point the finger in their face and I say, 'You helped this happen.'"

I'm extremely uncomfortable with the implied equality of the views held by these two preachers. One is an Al Qaeda supporter. The other I take to be a member of the Christian Right. What they hold in common is that they hold views opposed by the writer. I'm no Christian fundamentalist, but this is little more than a smear, the old rhetorical trick of tarring all your enemies with the worst brush you can think of. Even if you despise the Christian Right, you have to recognise that there is no moral equivalence between them and Al Qaeda, simply because they haven't slaughtered thousands of people. The commemoration has become a polemic.

And then, following a good scene with Spider-Man imagining what it must be like for Captain America, who witnessed World War Two, to see similar scenes again, we head back into controversy. "What do we tell the children? ... Perhaps we tell them that we are sorry. Sorry that we were not able to deliver unto them the world we wished them to have. That our eagerness to shout is not the equal of our willingness to listen. That the burdens of distant people are the responsibility of all men and women of conscience, or their burdens will one day become our tragedy."

This may be a view held by many, but it's perfectly respectable to not feel in any way responsible for the actions of mass murderers. The narration has again stepped over the mark by taking a contestable partisan position. It's not necessarily that I think it's wrong, simply that this, a commemoration, is entirely the wrong place to be saying such things.

And with this the narrative heads into its final phase, an exhortation to be strong, and a prophetic promise of retribution ("You wanted to send a message, and in so doing you awakened us from our self-involvement. Message received. Look for your reply in the thunder." - over a picture of a naval vessal sailing by the Statue of Liberty).

It's too awkward, this issue. There are many moments when it is well-written: sad, angry and touching. But the line the story is trying to take is simply not sustainable. When it fails, it fails in a way amplified by the ultra-sensitivity of its subject matter. To me it was a mistake to produce a commemoration in this format, and I doubt whether any number of rewrites could ever have made it fully work.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Terrorism Week: Happy to be of service to the IRA

Daredevil 205

What makes this book special is that it is the only major comic book to give support to a terrorist organisation, which brings into question the views, knowledge and judgment of the writer (Denny O'Neil), the editor (Bob Budiansky) and the editor-in-chief (Jim Shooter). The story revolves around a murderous Irish villain called the Gael with a simply pathetic habit of leaving clover on his victims. He is a rogue operative of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

A little Irish history

Wikipedia gives a good, balanced account of the history of Northern Ireland

Ireland was colonised by English conquerors in the middle ages, and the northern part was colonised as an act of policy, with groups of Englishmen and Scotmen forming the majority of settlers. These settlers were predominantly protestant, while the existing Irish were mainly Roman Catholic. By the time Ireland became independent from the United Kingdom in the 1920s, these settlers had lived in Ireland for several centuries, and were firmly committed to staying in the United Kingdom (UK). To solve this problem, only three quarters of the island formed the country known as Eire, commonly Ireland.

The northern part of the island, still part of the UK, had a substantial Catholic minority who in the main wished to join Eire ("Republicans" or "Nationalists"), and referred to their area as "the north of Ireland". The Protestant majority who generally wished to stay in the UK ("Unionists" or "Loyalists"), called the same area "Ulster". The term "Northern Ireland" is the term taken to be politically neutral. If you think I'm being fussy about this definition, that's because all this matters a great deal to those involved, and is important in understand this issue of Daredevil.

By the middle of the twentieth century, Northern Ireland had developed into a mini-state where the predominant political force were the Unionists. The Republicans felt themselves to be oppressed, and by any reasonable standards they were. In 1969 the prolonged period of fighting known as "the Troubles" started between Republicans and Unionists. The British army was sent in, initially to protect the Catholic minority. The Irish Republican Army, originally formed in 1916, launched a campaign aimed at removing Northern Ireland from the UK.

In 1972, British paratroopers killed 13 unarmed civilians, including boys, after a civil rights march in Derry (known to the Unionists as "Londonderry"). Thereafter, more Republicans came to see the British army as an occupying force, and the IRA's membership increased. Often their targets were military, but they frequently targeted civilians. In total, the IRA is estimated to have killed 1700 people during the Troubles. Protestant paramilitary organisations also regularly committed murders. There were also dissident republican factions such as the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and the "Real IRA", some of whom engaged in fratricidal conflicts with other Republican organisations. Ditto with Unionist paramilitaries.

A plebiscite was held in Northern Ireland in 1973, with a large majority (aided by a nationalist boycott) voting to stay in the UK. Only the most optimistic republican would believe another plebiscite would have a different result.

It's also worth pointing out that the IRA was only supported by a minority of the Catholic population of Northern Ireland. If you took the population of either the island of Ireland, or the United Kingdom, you would find that the IRA was supported by a tiny minority of the population.

Northern Ireland seems now to heading towards normalcy, following a prolonged, exhausting and stumbling peace process. The IRA has recently announced that their armed struggle is now over, though some Unionists have questioned whether this is so, citing a recent armed bank robbery and the recent pub murder of a Catholic man, both by the IRA.

Was the IRA a terrorist organisation?

To sum up, at the point this issue came out (1984), support of the IRA involved believing both in a United Ireland, and in the use of paramilitary force to obtain it. This involved killing civilians. The IRA's attacks included letting off bombs in pubs and in department stores. Other uses of force included punishment beatings, kneecappings (shooting victims in their kneecaps) and exile ("Leave Northern Ireland in twenty-four hours or we'll kill you").

I know there's this stuff about how "one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist", but I think that the moment you let off a bomb in a public place you become a terrorist. Of course the IRA were terrorists. You can argue that terrorism is justified in certain circumstances, but you can't reasonably argue that what the IRA was doing wasn't terrorism.

What is the evidence that Daredevil #205 supported terrorism?

In Daredevil 205, Denny O'Neil does not make the slightest attempt to portray the IRA in a even-handed manner.

Glorianna Breen: My father ... he worked for the IRA, the anti-government rebels.

Straight off, we have a contentious statement. "Anti-government rebels" is how the IRA would describe themselves - it's a Republican phrase. Unionists would say "terrorists". A neutral phrase might be "paramilitaries". Remember, language matters in this conflict.

Hotel doorman: She went in about ten minutes ago. 'Course I can't be positive it's the O'Breen girl.
IRA member 1: If she matches the description, tis probably her goin' to her aunt.
IRA member 2: Thanks for keepin' an eye open fer us, Hannigan.
Hotel doorman: Happy t'be of service t'the IRA.

Note the jolly inoffensive doorman, happily providing the IRA members with information, without any question of whether this information might be used for violent or illegal purposes.

IRA member 1: An enforcer, he is, a hit man, he'd be called in America, worked for the IRA an' then went bad.

A strong implication from this is that the IRA are good people. And this in the middle of an amiable (following an obligatory fight scene between Daredevil and the IRA agents) conversation. Either Matt's well-honed sense of justice has momentarily deserted him (a sensible precaution would be to treat these members of an organisation illegal in both the UK and Eire as being criminals) or else he doesn't think justice east of the Atlantic matters.


The I'd just gone sixteen when I killed my first, a British corporal, he was, a fuzzy cheeked boy no older'n meself. Over the years, I came to realize that the patriotism wasn't important to me, the killin' was...

At no point in this issue is there any indication that the IRA is an organisation which uses terrorist methods. The Gael is bad because he has betrayed the IRA. The IRA is a positive, "patriotic" organisation. There is no mention that their killings might have been aimed against civilian as well as military targets. This is simply not a balanced portrait of the IRA.

It's just the characters supporting the IRA, not the narrative

Now there is a argument which says that these characters are all IRA supporters in one form or another, and that therefore their dialogue is realistic. Which is true in the sense that this does accurately present their world view (but unrealistic in the sense that O'Neil's Irish accents are awful).

But this will not do. A writer is responsible for the voices of their characters, but also for presenting a balanced portrait. If there is no character who gives an alternative view of the IRA (a British diplomat perhaps, or a kneecapping victim), then it is the duty of the writer to introduce one. If there is none, that is the choice of the writer, and they should be judged accordingly. By repeatedly showing the IRA in a good light, and not showing any alternative view of them, O'Neil has wittingly or unwittingly used his story to show support for that organisation.

Support or Ignorance?

I can see a sliding scale of possible motives for Denny O'Neil here, with "IRA supporter" at one end and "Ignorant comic book writer" at the other. It's possible that O'Neil's grasp of Northern Irish politics was limited - he at no point mentions Northern Ireland, and his characters come from Dublin (in the Republic of Ireland). (He certainly shows his ignorance in not knowing that the phrase "hit man" is commonly used in the UK and Ireland). He might not have known the IRA killed civilians. He might have been concentrating purely on his character, the Gael, and have been unaware of how offensive his story actually is.

This issue, horribly unbalanced, was covert propaganda for the IRA, aimed at a primarily foreign audience who could be expected to have little knowledge of the intricacies of Northern Irish politics. Marvel should never have allowed it to be published: editorial staff are there to make sure that stories like this get spiked. That it didn't points to a serious failure by Budiansky and Shooter.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Terrorism Week: Your young men shall slay Visions

Avengers 113


The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence against people or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives -

Acts of murder and destruction deliberately directed against civilians or military in non-military situations - was always a perjorative term, and has largely been used to assert the violence of an enemy as being immoral or wanton, relative to acceptable forms. The word is used exclusively to refer to others. No known group self-identifies as 'terrorist' - Extract from Wikipedia

This week probably isn't going to be a bag of laughs, but terrorism is one of the themes of our times, one which comic books have sporadically covered, and I think that a reviewer should make an attempt to tackle this most difficult subject. And I promise to return next week with a fresh batch of snide comments about my anti-muse, Mary Jane Watson.

Since most comic books are steeped in violence, it is surprising that few comic books have made head-on attempts to analyse the terrorist phenomenon. Many of the books in the X-stable have covered terrorism in one form or another, usually with extremist mutants being checked by the X-Men, though sometimes with extremist humans taking action against mutants. Despite this, I have had difficulty thinking of an X-book which has had the morality and effects of terrorism as its major theme. Mutant terrorists are simply too strong, and usually end up in a knock-down fight with the X-Men, which is, frankly, not how real terrorists like to operate.

Avengers #113 was published in 1973, the year following the Palestinian "Black September" killings at the Munich Olympics, which led to the deaths of eleven Israeli athletes, five kidnappers and one German police officer. This was the first high-profile terrorist attack on civilians in the Western World, and caused reverberations which still continue.

It's difficult not to see this issue in the lights of Black September, and perhaps as being writer Steve Englehart's personal response to them. Englehart, inconsistent but gifted and occasionally brilliant, came up with a startling plot. The Vision (an android) and the Scarlet Witch had recently fallen in love, and were seen kissing in public. This led to the activation of the "Living Bombs", a previously unheard-of society who feared the coming of a society where robots would replace humanity.

The prescient feature of this story is the lengths that the Living Bombs were willing to go to to obtain their objectives. They were suicide bombers. One of them manages to get close to the Vision

Vision: Wait. What are you doing?
Assailant: You'll never know, you plastic scum. I've been lucky enough to find you before my friends, and I'm the one history will praise forever. Now all we've got to do is die.

With this, the assailant blows herself up, almost killing the Vision.

In the second part of the story, her accomplices attempt to finish the job by attacking the Avengers, showing themselves willing to kill themselves just to gain an advantage in the battle. Finally, Thor uses his hammer to sweep the remaining Living Bombers up into the atmosphere.

Narration: However, with the rabies of madness churning ever more rapidly through their veins, corrupted now by raging frustration, the mortals who called themselves the Living Bombs choose to end this sad conflict their own way. "Death before dishonour" is probably their final thought...if they think at all.

With this, the Living Bombs kill themselves and the story ends.

Having set up his villains, Englehart, as can be seen in the narration above, emphatically condemns the Living Bombs. He concludes that their allegiance is one based in delusion and insanity, and the reader is not expected to feel any sadness in their final end. You can't help but feel that Englehart himself didn't truly believe that people could act in the way the Living Bombs did.

The disturbing nature of the Living Bombs is perhaps undermined by the decision to have large buttons on the top of their heads as triggers. It looks odd, bordering on ridiculous.

In childhood, I can't think of any villains who disturbed and dismayed me more than the Living Bombs (far more than the confused time-hopping of Kang, or cardboard villainous Ultron), who in action and rhetoric show a striking similarity to modern terrorists. Englehart was writing in a time which had terrorism, but not suicide bombing. He was looking back to Japanese kamikaze pilots in the Second World War, but you nevertheless can't help but be shocked at his apparent ability to see the future. And Avengers #113 still makes an uncomfortable read.

Friday, August 05, 2005

What does sunshine sound like?

Daredevil 51 - 55 ("Echo")

Until these issues came out, there had only ever been two official "Most beautiful comics in my collection". The first was "anything drawn by Neal Adams", which ruled the roost for a decade until I bought Bill Sienkiewicz's amazing "Elektra: Assassin". David Mack's "Echo" series seems to me to outstrip even that. I spent most of yesterday evening just flipping the pages back and forward. It is quite simply exquisite.

It's one of those things you see and can't quite bring yourself to believe that someone could have created it.

It's clear that David Mack has very little interest in Daredevil himself. Horns appears only twice, and those briefly. This issue is about Echo, Murdock's deaf ex-girlfriend, coming to terms with herself, bereavement, betrayal and the end of the affair. It's an essay in words and pictures.

If you're into plot-heavy action, don't buy this. Mack, on this showing, has little interest in action of any sort. He wants to dwell inside the head of his characters, or rather character, since Echo is overwhelmingly the subject of this story. Echo (or Maya), a native American, goes on a "vision quest", which involves sitting in the forest for several days till you start hallucinating. This being Marvel, there is a contractual obligation that any story set in a forest has to involve Wolverine, and sure enough, old Adamantium-brain turns up to have an entirely futile fight with Echo before they get down to the main business of this arc, which is talking about things.

In both form and plot, we can see this story is a direct descendant from Claremont and Sienkiewicz's New Mutants arc, Demon Bear, which used similar native American / surreal imaging to magical effect, though that was a much darker affair. Mack uses handwritten scribbles, sign-language cards, abrupt switches to comic book art and just about everything else he can think of to sustain the startling quality. It's like opening up a magazine and finding an art gallery inside.

Mack: it's possible he knows how to draw a bit

Now I felt like being hypercritical, I would say that Maya is indulging in a bit too much navel-gazing: that the psychobabble level is uncomfortably high. But for something created as lovingly as this, serious criticism is heresy.

(I would love to show some scans, by the way, but my scanner is currently only scanning in shades of pink, which I'm pretty sure might spoil the effect a little bit. -- LATEST UPDATE - pink scanning crisis now averted)

All the artwork is painted, which straight off tends to improve the look of a story dramatically. You almost feel at some points - like a Maya describing her travels is depicted with frame portraits of her face in the style of artists like Van Gogh and Picasso - that Mack is showing off. Surely not?

I have a feeling that I need to buy Mack's main work, Kabuki, as a matter of urgency.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Laughable Retcon of the Year Award 2005

Nominations for the prestigious Laughable Retcon of the Year award are now invited. This solid gold, diamond and ruby encrusted statue of Aunt May* will be awarded to the editor / writer combination which comes up with the worst example of a storyline which changes, breaks or distorts the continuity of an ongoing comic book.

Definition of Retcon

Retroactive continuity – commonly contracted to the portmanteau word retcon – refers to the act of changing previously established details of a fictional setting, often without providing an explanation for the changes within the context of that setting - Wikipedia.


For a story to be eligible, its main revelation must have occurred in a comic book published in the calendar year of the award.

The winners

The award will be awarded jointly to both the writer and the editor of the victorious story. This is because the writer shouldn't have written it and the editor should have stopped them. And, frankly, because the more blame that gets inflicted, the better.


Nominations are accepted from the comic book reading public, the judges (if no-one else nominates anyone) and embarrassed creators who wish to admit they screwed up.

The ceremony

The award will be presented in the January of the following year. I rather fancy taking over the Savoy in London, but I think next year it will probably be in the car park of the Beauchamp Arms in Claxton, Norfolk.


The following criteria shall be used to decide what is a Laughable Retcon


Is it likely that such as event could occur (see "Resurrections")?


How many real world years does this retcon cover? The more years, the better. Extra points are given to authors who break original Stan Lee stories.

Character inconsistency

Points are given for characters unexpectedly growing new powers or acting in a manner which is completely different to any previous storyline.

Story inconsistency

Points are awarded for retcons which change the meaning of an earlier story to the point where it becomes impossible to believe that the creators have actually read or understood it.

Deft use of cliche

Points are available to those creators who use the most obvious cliches in the pursuit of their objective. In particular this includes clones, actors, twins, aliens, robots, amnesia, phoenix powers or trick handshakes from Doctor Doom.

Brazen contempt

Points shall be available to creators who appear to simply not care that their retcon doesn't work, and who treat their readers like idiots with goldfish-long memories. Bonuses shall be available for creators who then have hissy fits at conventions and / or on the internet.

Obscure mini-series

If a story was consistent with a 1980s mini-series whose storyline went against the general grain of several decades of stories, this is nevertheless still a Laughable Retcon. This means you, Bendis.

Clever-clever explanations

A creator may think it's OK to make massive changes to the current order by invoking powerful mutant forces or universe mergers, but it won't exempt them. In the judges' opinion, if the universe has been changed by a story, then it's a retcon. That's because real universes don't actually suddenly change.

Public denials

Extra points are available for writers who write awful retcons and then say that they would have done it differently, except their editor wouldn't let them. The judges simply don't care - if it's got your name on it, you answer for it.


All resurrections are by definition Laughable Retcons and fully eligible for this award. This is because dead people don't actually go back to being alive. If a publisher makes a big deal out of a resurrection, like we're supposed to be happy they're grossly lying to us and snubbing death, then the judges shall have the option of issuing punitive points.

Lifetime achievement award

If a retcon is so bad that it still has us shaking with derision five years after its publication, then it shall become eligible for recognition by this special award.*

Hall of fame

Winners will automatically become part of a new Laughable Retcon Hall of Fame, a permanent memorial to shameful comic book plotlines. At their discretion, judges may include past stories which were so risible they would have swept that year's Awards, if they had existed.


The decision of the judges (ie me) is final, but I promise to reach my judgment with as much ill-humour and pomposity as I can muster.

*this award does not physically exist yet. However, I promise to create it once the following qualifying criterion has been met:

"My late father has to abruptly return from the dead, after having been kidnapped by a villain and taken to France while he was replaced by an actor. This actor lived with my mother for several months without my mother noticing any difference. It was this actor who died and my family mourned."

On falling in love with Adam Warlock

Strange Tales 178 - 180, featuring Warlock

Back in the eighties, I would probably have said that the best comics books I had read were (in no particular order)

Chris Claremont's X-Men
Steve Gerber's Howard the Duck
Jim Starlin's Adam Warlock

I'm not sure I would still think like that today (actually, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't), but it shows the extent I adored Jim Starlin's work.

Starlin made his name at Marvel with the Thanos War (there was only one Thanos story at that point), which ran across Captain Marvel, Iron Man and the Avengers. I loved this story when I was fifteen, and got a bit of a shock when I recently reread one of the Captain Marvels, expecting to find it was fantastic, and noticed that actually it wasn't much more than all right. Which had me rather concerned that maybe the Thanos War's follow up, the Magus Saga (is that its proper name?) which ran in Strange Tales, Warlock and got finished off in a couple of annuals, might also turn out to be a big disappointment.

Adam Warlock had a convoluted origin which Strange Tales #178 spends four pages outlining. Warlock was originally Him, created in a cocoon by some mad scientists who he subsequently trashed. Adam spent the next few years practicing his "What is this strange thing you Earthlings call love?" routine on unamused Asgardians. Then he took part in one of those strange series which Marvel used to specialise in. In a New Testament allegory by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, Him (He?) became Adam Warlock, sent to save Counter Earth from the High Evolutionary's nemesis, the Man-Beast. Adam died and was reborn, and then took out the New Men with the soul crystal on his forehead. I would dearly love to review this, but I read in UK Marvel reprints, some of which have either disappeared or are festering in my garage.

Anyway, at the point Strange Tales takes it up, Adam has gone off to wander the stars. No longer a questioning naif, Adam has become a righteous, angry doubter. He is contacted by a woman who begs for his help, but is promptly murdered by the agents of a Church. Adam temporarily (and chillingly) resurrects the woman in order to find out who they were. The Church turns out to have been founded by a being called the Magus, and it controls a totalitarian empire covering star systems. Adam is subsequently captured by one of its ships, and only escapes by using his sinister soul crystal to mind-wipe the ship's Captain. Which is when Adam discovers that he and the Magus are the same being.

Having travelled to the Church's homeworld, and acquired comedic relief in the form of Pip the Troll, Adam enters the Church's temple, where he is captured and put on trial. This increasingly surreal story has a prosecutor with only a huge mouth, a sleepy, mute defence counsel who is just an eye and a despotic judge who uses summary execution to keep order in court. At the end of Strange Tales #180, Adam is sentenced and dumped into the Church's dungeon. Now unable to control his vampiric crystal, he has also discovered that the Magus is his future self.

I could go on, but this is a great story and it's going to take several reviews to cover it.

There are elements of this story which are much more irksome than they used to be. The characters have an overwrought, anachronistic use of language ("save" instead of "except", "tis" instead of "it's") which was actually rather common in those days - even Claremont used to do it. I can only really explain this by thinking they were all a bunch of hippies who had read too much Tolkien. Alternate future selves are now as common as stinky toe fungus: characters regularly face cruel future versions of themselves, and we all know they can be beaten. But in 1975 these ideas were, if not completely original, still fresh and dramatic. But the use of surrealism, well I had never seen that before, and never imagined you could do it. How can you classify a combination of superheroes, science fiction and Alice through the Looking Glass?. Of modern writers, I know only of Peter David who does similar things (excellently, I might add), and you can almost guarantee he has well-thumbed copies of Starlin on his shelves.

This was different, and it was inspired. Despite its slightly dated feel, this series is one of those important books you simply have to read.

There is already an Essential Killraven, there's going to be an Essential X-Factor, there are four Essential Tomb of Draculas (the first two are probably all you need), but, as far as I can tell, no Essential Warlock.

This is perverse.

God damn it, Marvel, you shouldn't be depriving people of this stuff. Should I go to and tell him, or should I go and watch over-sexualised, plank-thick, emotional dribblers scrapping for their fifteen minutes of who-gives-a-toss on Reality Television? Decisions, decisions.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Ten great plot disasters

1 Reed Richards joins the Avengers

It was always difficult to imagine that Avengers spear-carrier was an appropriate job for the most brilliant mind of his generation, who could create an entrance to the negative zone, build a protective shield round Earth's atmosphere, punch out Annihilus, contemptuously defeat Galactus and still have time left over to read "Fix-it Duck" to his son. It might all still have worked if Steve Rogers had acted like a born leader with decades of combat experience, rather than a clucky manager of an under-12 after-school football team. It all ended in tears when Reed saved the universe without first asking permission from the musclebound control freak.

2 Tony Stark wires up his repulsor rays and heart pacemaker to the same power source

Which led to dozens of stories where Iron Man would be about to administer a finishing blow to the exposed skull of the Crimson Dynamo only to be cruelly felled by a sneaky villainous one-two-three of rabbit punch to the kidneys, knee in the cobblers and massive coronary arrest. You're a great engineer, Tony, couldn't you have used a battery?

3 Illyana Rasputin gets de-aged

Five year old Illyana was lost in limbo for ten years where she was brought up by demons. Recovered by the X-Men, she was a tormented character, caught between good and evil and easily my favourite New Mutant. Naturally, someone (do I detect the hand of Louise Simonson?) had to go and return her to her original age, seemingly oblivious to the fact that five year olds, who spend most of their time building farm animals out of Playdoh and telling you they've done a poo, make poor superhero material. Then some clown gave her the Legacy Virus and killed her. Sigh...

4 Gerry Conway butchers half the Spider-Man cast

Mesmerized by the personality of serial gibberer Mary Jane Watson (sample dialogue: "Hiya Petey-o, let's go jivin' with those crazy cats down at the Whisky a-Go-Go, Tiger"), Conway killed both Spider-Man's girlfriend and his greatest enemy, destablising his best friend in the process and effectively terminating the golden age of Stan Lee's finest title.

I'm willing to reconsider my position on this story if someone can convince me it really did usher in a fantastic Mary Jane-inspired era of quality Spider-Man stories, rather than a decade-long glacial tundra populated by malign skateboarders, will o' the wisps, stupid made-up cults and mallet headed gangsters. And let's not forget Stegron, the Living Dinosaur.

5 Stomach churners join the X-Men

Maggott. Marrow. Run the names around in your mind. He had two large alien parasites nestling in his large intestine. She was able to pop bones out of her own body and throw them at people. You can see what's wrong with these characters, right? Aspiring writers should note that if thinking about a new character's powers makes you feel slightly sick, then you should probably go back to the drawing board.

6 Bill Mantlo let loose on Howard the Duck

Not so much a plot hole as an extended subterranean complex of interconnected fistulae. Marvel flicked a two fingered "fuck off" at outgoing writer Steve Gerber by putting a career journeyman on the most subtle and difficult title in its stable. Mantlo rose to the challenge, wreaking similar carnage as that caused to Roman Late Antiquity by Genseric the Vandal. Favourite moment - Howard goes back to his world, Duckworld, where ducks called Duck McDuck eat duckmeals with duckknives and duckforks while watching the Duckovision. OK, I'm exaggerating, but sadly not by much.

7 Peter Parker marries a supermodel

Surely an Iron Man plot which accidentally got filed in the Spider-Man drawer? A kind of reverse colonic irrigation, it injected a seemingly endless seam of excrement into Marvel's flagship hero by removing two great cornerstones of Spider-Man's greatness: the sexual tension and Peter's poverty. Writers have spent the last twenty years trying to explain why an ambitious vacuum-head who could make a hundred thousand dollars in two days just by putting on a halter top and staring moodily into the middle distance would stay in a flea-ridden apartment with a High School Science Teacher with an above-average number of facial bruises.

8 Police Officer becomes Black Panther

Christopher Priest's great run ran into the buffers when he appeared to tire of trying to get inside the head of difficult-to-write Panther. His solution was to have a New York City policeman go through the Panther initiation mumbo jumbo, despite an absence of any obvious claim to the throne of Wakanda. A blatant attempt to get readers to jump to another of Priest's books, it should be required reading for those who see Priest being given back the writing duties on Black Panther.

9 Clark Kent gets busted down to junior reporter

This inspired piece of managerial diktat should have been successful for exactly the same length of time it would have taken Pulitzer Prize winner Kent to

- consider which rival publication he'd like to work for
- decide how much they would have to pay him
- work out which of Perry White's bodily orifices his demotion was going to be shoved up

10 Bullseye kills Daredevil's girlfriend...again

Much as I hate to criticise Kevin Smith's otherwise brilliant Daredevil run, but this was idiotic. Daredevil is hardly packed with fascinating support characters and Karen Page was HIV positive, a failed actress, and Matt's great love. All this potential spewed away in a farcical and pointless murder which was to all intents and purposes exactly the same as that of Elektra. Perhaps Karen will also be coming back as a Ninja assassin.