Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Joshoncomics Review of 2010

2010 has been a mixed year for me on a personal level, with several high points and sadly some low points as well. That said, it gives me great pleasure to see this post bring me to 20 for the year - equalling my output for 2009 despite a period of shocking and inexcusable inactivity in the Summer. It has been, in all honesty a below par year for comics. Sales are down to near unheard of levels and my pull list has been mercilessly shorn. Despite this there is much to celebrate, as in my mind Marvel's Heroic Age has been a quiet success, ushering in an end to the event driven storytelling of recent years. Hopefully next year will be a great, and improved year for comics with increased sales and more great stories! But for now, let's focus on the best of 2010. Happy reading, happy new year and a million thankyous to anyone who has spent even a moment reading my inane ramblings this year!

Best Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
While Bendis has been one of the most lauded figures in modern day comic books, he is also heavily criticised, with online fandom taking issue with his decompressed style of writing and distinctive patterns of dialogue. Thankfully, given his rather prolific output I am not one of those critics. While his relaunched Avengers title has faltered, both New Avengers and Ultimate Spider-Man have been firing on all cylinders. Bendis deserves this award for consistently delivering quality, despite a workload that would reduce many other writers to tears.

Best Artist: Pasqual Ferry
The jury is still out on Matt Fraction's hotly anticipated Thor series, yet its biggest success in my eyes has been Pasqual Ferry's distinctive artwork. I am not art critic but Ferry's work on the title has enlivened Fraction's occasionally pedestrian scripts, making Thor one of 2010's most readable titles.

Best Series: Avengers Academy
Christos Gage is a writer that few would have been familiar with just a few years ago but in the last 12 months he has risen to the top of my list of up and coming Marvel writers. In his acclaimed, if not hotly anticipated run on Avengers Academy Gage has mixed deft characterisation with classic superheroics, to brilliant effect.

Best Single Issue: Ultimate Avengers 2 #2
Mark Millar's return to the Ultimates characters that he made famous has sadly not fully lived up to its potential, despite being an entertaining enough blockbuster action romp. The undoubted highlight in my mind was the second issue of the second volume of his Ultimate Avengers series. In the space of 22 pages Millar introduces a compelling and multi-layered new character, as well as finding space the hard hitting fight scenes that made him famous. Add Leinil Francis Yu to the mix, back to his best after a lacklustre showing on Secret Invasion and you have my favourite single issue of the year.

Biggest Disappointment: Avengers
While he was my favourite writer of the year, this title's inclusion shows that Brian Michael Bendis is in no way exempt from criticism. Avengers promised much, especially after a stellar opening issue, but delivered little. Its opening arc was something of a confusing mess, although a promising latest issue suggests that the title could be in for a much improved 2011!

Best Film: Shutter Island
For someone who quite simply did not understand Inception, Shutter Island stands as a memorable highlight in a solid year for film. Martin Scorsese's psychological thriller melded a star studded cast and a bafflingly brilliant storyline, to create one of the most thought provoking films of the year, with probably my favourite twist ending of all time (Yes, I didn't see it coming).

Best TV Series: The Trip
I was sorely tempted to give LOST, my personal favourite television series of all time, this award, but the fact is that sixth season was slightly below par, and was largely saved by an outstanding conclusion. With that in mind, my favourite television series of the year goes to a show that probably won't be widely known outside the UK - The Trip, starring British actors/comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan. Boasting a confusing premise, the Trip's strength lies not in its comedy but its honesty, with Brydon and Coogans often inane conversations standing apart from anything else on modern television. Infused with an unexpected bleakness, The Trip is a rare breed - a completely unique modern televison program. Highly recommended.

Song of the year: O Children - Ruins

Album of the Year: Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

Well that brings us to a close, and concludes my postings this year. While I still have your attention I implore you to listen to the above songs - they really are excellent! Thanks to everyone once again for reading, if you disagree (or agree) with any of my choices then by all means contact me - the links are in the top left of the page. Happy new year readers! Josh out!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

How Did Writer's Tackle the Spider-Marriage?

One of the major bones of contention among Spider-Man fandom in recent years has been the character's marriage - or lack thereof. Joe Quesada's hugely controversial decision to terminate Peter and Mary-Janes wedding in the widely panned One More Day storyline has literally split the webslinger's fanbase through the middle. Whether you loved it, hated it or are somewhere inbetween it is a definite fact that several writers disliked the marriage, and found it difficult to write stories with a married Spider-Man. However - arguably just as many writers thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of writing a married Spider-Man and thrived under the constraints that the marriage provided. In this article I intend to look at a few of the more notable writers who dealt with a married Spider-Man, looking at who was successful and who was...less than successful.

David Micheline:
David Micheline was the first writer to regularly tackle the Spider-Marriage in the flagship title, Amazing Spider-Man. Micheline also wrote the landmark storyline running through ASM #290-292 where Peter finally pops the question (successfully). In my opinion, a lot of the strongest aspects of Peter and Mary Jane's marriage originated in Micheline's portrayal of their relationship. Micheline writes Mary-Jane as a woman who in Peter has finally found someone that she can trust - enabling to grow out of being the girl who always ran away from her problems. MJ's acceptance of Peter's double life is a testament to her growth of character, and many forget that is Micheline who is largely responsible for this growth. Of course Micheline's portrayal of the relationship is not without fault - I felt that he often idealized their relationship. Although it was initially appropriate as Peter and MJ were still in the 'honeymoon period' I felt it wore a little thin as his run progressed. Nonetheless, in my mind Micheline still stands as one of the foremost architects of Spider-Man's massively popular marriage.

Tom Defalco:
Although Tom Defalco's record writing the marriage in mainstream continuity is unremarkable at best, he definitely deserves plaudits for his superb alternate reality take on it in his recently cancelled Spider-Girl series. Although Defalco's portrayal of Peter and Mary-Jane's marriage is undoubtedly changed due to its status in the characters future, it is an undeniably fascinating look at how the make up of their relationship is fundamentally altered by the presence of a child and the absence of Peter's dual identity. Defalco writes a hugely convincing Peter as a father, and his portrayal of Mary-Jane is bang on as well - with her rebellious streak often coming to the fore during disagreements about their daughters superheroics. While at its core, Spider-Girl is a series about the daughter of Spider-Man, it could be argued that it is just as much about Spider-Man's family.

J.M Dematteis
Probably the man responsible for my favourite marriage related stories, J.M Dematteis is distinguished as man responsible for not one, but two of the most underrated runs in Spider-Man's history. What is even more remarkable is that his, and arguably the best ever story about the marriage actually takes place outside both of these runs, in a stand alone arc running through all four Spider-Man titles shortly after the wedding entitled Kraven's Last Hunt. Dematteis' blend of psychological and light hearted stories lent itself well to Peter and Mary-Janes characters, as Dematteis proved himself to be adept at writing both the serious and more jokey sides of their relationship. I also really liked the way, particularly in his second run on Spectacular Spider-Man that Mary-Jane was shown to be an active participant in Peter's in costume adventures, such as when she knocked out the Chameleon and helped Peter design several new costumed identities during the Identity Crisis storyline.

Howard Mackie
There are several writers who wrote Peter and Mary-Janes relationship poorly, but few failed as spectacularly as Howard Mackie in his post-reboot run on both the Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: Spider-Man. To be fair to Mackie, he has publically admitted several times that he was burnt out on the character during this period, and some of the blame must lie at Marvel's door for putting him on both titles. Nonetheless, I am of the opinion that this roughly 25 issue period did more to damage public opinion of the Spider-Marriage than any other period in its history. Peter and Mary-Jane both behaved bizarrely during this period, repeatedly reminding readers of how young they were during their all too frequent squabbles. Mary-Jane's supposed 'death' was pretty much caused by her ridiculous refusal to tell her husband about the stalker making her life hell. To add insult to injury, after Mary-Jane finally returned Mackie promptly wrote her out of the series in a diabolically bad annual where Peter relentlessly hounded her for sex. As I said, Mackie is not entirely to blame here but this was very bad stuff.

J. Michael Straczynski
In all honesty I am only including JMS as he is probably one of the most acclaimed writers of the marriage in its history. While I enjoyed his run and felt that Peter and MJ's relationship was one of its strongest aspects I just didn't find it as compelling as under previous writers, possibly due to the fact that I thought that the quality of his stories gradually decreased when Mary-Jane returned to the series. That said, I think that Sins Past is one of the strongest examples of the marriage in recent history - while it was a hugely controversial story I don't think that his portrayal of Peter and Mary-Jane's relationship during it can be faulted.

Honourable mention must go to Matt Fraction, for his superb portrayal of the marriage during the critically acclaimed Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1. While I didn't think that it would be appropriate to include him based on one story I strongly recommend that anyone interested in the marriage check it out. I would also recommend the excellent J.R Fettinger's series of essays on their relationship entitled Why did it have to be you Mary-Jane? The articles can be found over at

That just about wraps things up - I hope you've enjoyed my brief rundown, if you think I have missed any writers out or disagree with any of my opinions please feel to free to comment or contact me by via email. Thanks a lot for your time, I hope all my readers have a very merry christmas!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Spider-Girl # 1 Review

Spider-Girl #1 by Tobin / Henry

The launch of Paul Tobin’s new Spider-Girl series has been more controversial than it really has any right to be. The fanatical following of Tom Defalco’s recently cancelled previous Spider-Girl series have sworn off the title in droves, seeing Anya Corazon as a pretender to Mayday Parker’s Spider-Girl throne. While I was a fan of Defalco’s Spider-Girl I thought that it had run out of steam in recent times. Given its poor sales I can understand Marvel’s decision to cancel it and hand the title over to a new character (albeit one that has been around for a few years in a different guise).

Tobin’s debut issue is a strong start, introducing readers to an engaging heroine with a well worked, if limited supporting cast. Anya’s relationship with her father is very well written and a welcome tonic to the fraught parental relationships often evident among young characters. The family’s links to the Fantastic Four are well worked as well, without seeming forced – it is great to see Sue Storm in an off duty capacity and Tobin writes the character very well.

Oddly for a new series, this issue is fairly light on superheroics and it is in the out of costume scenes where the story really shines. The story does start off with a fun bout between Spider-Girl and Screwball, an underused villain with a cool concept who I always like seeing. It bothered me that she was so easily beaten though – Screwball is a character who has often given Spider-Man trouble in the past so I found a bit odd that a teenage girl with no actual superpowers was able to take her out in the space of a few pages. Spider-Girl’s status as a non-superpowered heroine was one that while well explained, seems a bit of a stretch to me. The recap page helpfully explains that she has received training from other heroes but I found it a bit puzzling that she seems to find crimefighting as easy as she does. I’m hoping that this is something that is expanded on in coming issues.

The cliffhanger ending featuring the Red Hulk came way out of left field for me. While it is good that Spider-Girl will be tying into the wider Marvel Universe, I would probably rather that she was more attached to Spider-Man’s world. Red Hulk is never a character that I have found particularly interesting and he has appeared in two Marvel books that I pick up in this month alone – this seems a little like overkill for me, particularly for a character who appears regularly in the Hulk stable of books.

Clayton Henry’s artwork is solid and serviceable without ever being spectacular. While I admire his clarity and good grasp of anatomy I tend to prefer more stylised artwork, with his work in this issue appearing a little bland for my tastes. He still does a good job though and I am more than happy with him on the title.

The issue also includes a short back up, also written by Paul Tobin with art by Dean Haspiel. It was nothing groundbreaking but was a fun little story, providing some much needed backstory on the Corazon’s relationship with the Fantastic Four. The artwork was very easy on the eye and I would not mind at all were it to become a regular feature. Anya and her father’s relationship with the FF is a very interesting element of the series and one that is ripe for exploration in future issues.

This is an issue that will probably not blow anyone’s socks off, but it worked very well for me as an introduction to the new Spider-Girl and her world. Anya is a very appealing and unique character and hopefully Tobin can build on this strong, if unspectacular start.


Monday, 13 December 2010

Tpb Review: Batman - Gothic

Batman: Gothic, collecting Legends of the Dark Knight #6-10 by Morrison / Janson

My forays into the mainstream DC universe are rare at best, but after one of my class teachers last week encouraged me to 'read some Batman comics' in preparation for this weeks seminar, I thought it would be rude not to. In addition to being one of modern day comic books most critically acclaimed figures, Grant Morrison is the current writer of Batman inc. and has recently completed a hugely commercially successful run on Batman and Robin. Batman: Gothic is one of the Scottish writers earlier attempts at writing the character, taking place in the anthology series Legends of the Dark Knight.

The plot takes a more supernatural angle on Batman and his world than is often seen, with the Dark Knight dealing with a series of murders in Gotham City, which may or may not be linked with a mysterious figure from the past. I found the plot fairly unremarkable. The additions to Batman's backstory were solid and made sense, but it feels like every time I read a Batman comic book or watch a Batman film his childhood is dredged up in some way. This is probably a more modern day trend and so may not have applied as much when Morrison was writing this story, but I found it a fairly tired element of the arc that didn't really add much. The villain was pretty generic as well, with no discernible motivations beyond 'being eeeeevil'. One of the strongest aspects of Batman's universe is his wealth of cool villains, this might have been a more effective story had Morrison used an already established foe, or even one with a little more depth.

The tone of the story was spot on for me though, and was one of the arc's strongest features. While Batman stories do not traditionally deal with supernatural themes, they seemed to fit in very well here with his universe. Batman has the potential to be a very dark character, and this is something that Morrison was not afraid to explore here with some very 'mature' subject matter and imagery. He also has a great handle on the character of Bruce Wayne, in particular his relationship with his butler Alfred- who stole every scene that he appeared in. With Batman himself being such a compelling character it is often easy to ignore his civilian alter-ego, a pitfall that Morrison thankfully avoided.

Janson's art was serviceable and fit with the tone of the story but is ultimately not really to my taste. Janson is a great inker, but his pencilling work often looks rough with some questionable anatomy. Thankfully this fits with the tone of the story so it wasn't too jarring.

Despite having a few flaws, Batman: Gothic was an enjoyable enough read. Morrison clearly has a great handle on Batman and his world and I'm not surprised that he has gone on to great success with the character.


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Are Digital Comics the Future? Part Two

So what are Digital Comics, and why do I think that they have the potential to save the comic book industry?

Webcomics have been around in various forms since the 1980's, with varying degrees of success. Marvel and DC's forays into the world of cybercomics have been mixed at best with both publishers seeming hesitant towards the idea. Marvel experimented with Cybercomics - that is original flash animated online comic strips - from 1996-2000, before the companies financial worries saw the idea abandoned. Most comic book fans have an aversion to the idea of digital comics and I have generally shared that attitude, never being able to imagine reading a comic book on a computer screen. Sure I have done it before and it hasn't been too bad, but to me nothing can replace the feeling of holding the comic itself in your hands.

So why do I think that digital comics could save the industry when I'm barely even interested in them myself? The sad answer is that people like me (and probably you) are not who comic book companies need to be targeting. Like it or not, the world of comic books needs fresh blood. The industry has been shedding readers for decades and the trend has to stop somewhere if it is to stay alive.

Digital comics tick all the right boxes for me, in particular for users of the ipad; The comixology app features over 2,000 comics from 40 publishers, including the 'Holy Trinity' of Marvel, DC and Image. The devices slick interface allows for a truly ingenious reading experience, that potentially rivals the act of reading a comic book itself! Crucially the app also features 160 free comics. For me this is exactly what is needed for new readers, perhaps brought in by the myriad films and television series' based on comic books. Marvel and DC's digital download service also offer a similar feature, and with the sad social stigma around comic books, a free sample might be necessary to encourage many to take the plunge and give them a try. The fact is that comic books are not impulse buys anymore - to get hold of them you need to find a specialist shop and pay often in excess of £3 for a single issue.Digital comics allow potential customers to browse from the comfort of their own home, with affordable costs of around the £1-1.150 mark for a single issue.

If it sounds like I'm advertising digital comics that's because...I am. If you know anyone who is vaguely interested in super heroes or any of the various comic book adaptations on TV or cinema screens, chances are they will at least be curious about the possibility of seeing these characters in their 'original' forms. With free samples on offer there really is no excuse for them not to at least check out a couple of digital comics. Who knows, they could become a new comic book reader?

There is still some work to do, but if the major comic book companies can tap into digital comics in the right way they could bring in countless new costumers. Used in conjunction with the vast array of blockbuster comic book movies comics could finally become socially acceptable. It seems unlikely, even to an optimist like myself. But we can dream right?