2. Spitfire And The Troubleshooters #1 (Brown/Morelli/Conway/Trimpe/Sinnott/Morgan/Roussos)
The New Universe was intended to be more ‘realistic’ than the main Marvel line – “the world outside your window” as the early editorials put it. In the comments to the first post in this series, Phil Sandifer reasonably asks how much of this was hastily added after the fact, perhaps to cash in on a vogue for gritty realism following the success of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.
For some of the New U titles, the relationship to ‘realism’ is obviously a very tenuous one. But there’s clearly something to it. Several comics read like attempts to solve puzzles, where the starting point is “the real world” and the end point is, say, “an Iron Man comic”. If you must do a comic about a powered exoskeleton, who is most likely to be building one?
Iron Man’s answer to this is – clear-sightedly for a 1963 comic – ‘arms manufacturers’. Spitfire And The Troubleshooters arrives at the same rough conclusion: a genius scientist is building it, the military want it. The wrinkle the comic adds is that it’s not about the genius scientist, who is killed off on page one. It’s about his daughter, an MIT Professor, who sets out to keep his final creation out of the hands of the military. With the help of five of her students, who essentially go on the lam with her.
This is a blog about failure. Thirty years ago, Marvel Comics celebrated its 25th Anniversary by launching a “New Universe” – a start-up line of all-original comics, designed to… well, that depends who you ask. In theory, the New Universe was meant to reflect “the world outside your window”, returning to a level of ‘realism’ other Marvel comics had supposedly once had and lost. From the world outside Marvel’s window, it looked like a colossal vanity project – born of a need by Marvel’s then Editor-In-Chief, Jim Shooter, to prove a point to his critics: he was a creator, not just a brand manager.
In practise, once underway, both these aims were quickly scrambled. Marvel slashed the New Universe’s budget, and the grind of producing eight monthly comics on a shoestring soon became visible on the page. Within a year of its launch, Shooter was out of a job. This is a blog, after all, about failure, as it shows up in creative product: disappointing, mediocre, half-hearted, cruddy failure. It will also be about comics, and hype, and the 80s. At 13, a Marvel fan, I believed in the New Universe. Shooter’s very eighties pitch – that I would be “in on the ground floor” of something big – suckered me in. I have hardly ever been as excited as when the first issues of its titles trickled into a suburban British comic shop. And hardly ever as disappointed as when I read them. Some I dropped entirely, some I followed doggedly. At least one became a favourite, for a while. In among the failure may be some elements of success.
“Hi, we’re Jay, Mike, Cheryl and Bobby, better known as Bucks Fizz, stars of LOOK-IN magazine – oh the mischief we got up to! Nothing risque, you understand, it’s a children’s paper. Of course we’re also famous as the inspirations for Amaterasu, Inanna, Lucifer and Dionysus from last year’s comics poll winner, The Wicked + The Divine, which we thought we’d remind you of just in case it turns up again below. Our own comics career has been a little quiet lately but between you and us I think hosting this amazing Top 12 will be just the leg-up we need for a new beginning (mamba seyra), maybe a licensed series from IDW or perhaps Boom! Studios. Move over Jem and the so-called Holograms, Bucks Fizz are back and ready to twirl!”
Thanks, Bucks Fizz! Yes, bringing the curtain down on Poll Month, it’s the Comics Top 12. As usual, an asterisk means I haven’t read any of it but thankfully Kat has once again stepped in to lend her webcomics expertise to the countdown.
“Hi Readers! It’s WHACKY here from COR!!, the weekly mag that thrashes the others. You’ve not seen much of me in comics lately, which is a bit of a sore point. I used to have to beat the offers away, but frankly, now Corporal Punishment in schools has been given the boot, there’s not been much call for my services. It’s a shame – a good whacking builds character. It certainly built mine. Still, I’m happy to help Freaky Trigger with their punishing poll schedule – they’re caning these results posts at the moment. Here’s the next instalment of the comics poll – I’m sure you’ll agree it features some real belters!”
Thanks, Whacky! I said in the last block of comics that it had the most titles I hadn’t read in. That, er, turns out not to be the case. Apologies for the perfunctory nature of some of the commentary below! As ever, an asterisk signals that I’ve not read any of it. We pick up with number 24…
“Greetings people of Earth. It is I, Servitor Vek of the Doomlords of Nox. My all too convincing alien visage has come among you to pass final judgement on your species. I expect to reach a guilty verdict. Perhaps the comics you have selected in the Freaky Trigger poll can persuade me that despite humanity’s many imperfections, you deserve to be spared cosmic annihilation… for another few weeks.”
Gosh, thanks Doomlord. This is the – slightly delayed – second section of this year’s comics poll, and also has the honour of being the section where I have read fewest of the titles voted for. Will that stop me making brief and ill-informed comments? No, it will not. (An asterisk means I haven’t read it AT ALL, though)
Translation: “Good morning, everyone. I’m Rasher, the porcine companion of that young shaver Dennis, and I’m delighted to introduce the 2015 Freaky Trigger Comics Poll. In a year when pigs have had rather a rough ride in the news, it’s wonderful to be able to show that we are cultured animals with a deep appreciation of the ‘Ninth Art’. Some of the comics here may not meet my high aesthetic standards, but I think you’ll agree that the diversity of the list is a credit to its voters and our shared hobby. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment with some week-old cabbage.”
Thanks Rasher! We had more voters, and more nominated comics, than last year, with the happy result that I’ve actually had to leave off some titles to produce this Top 50. I’m still greedy enough to go up to 50, mind you. The Comics poll is unique in that the same titles can, in theory, win it again and again if they’re being published year on year. So it’s worth reminding you all that last year Image Comics’ The Wicked And The Divine pipped Marvel’s Ms Marvel to first place by one solitary point, with Loki: Agent Of Asgard in third. Will any or all of those show up this year? Wait and see!
More comics reviews from goodreads.com
One of the nice things about the current rise of Image is the leeway it gives creators to do passion projects, in this case a pair of historical crime thrillers which stand or fall on how indulgently evocative they are of places long-established in other fictions. So The Fade Out is story set in the dream factory of 40s Hollywood, where fine movies are made by people of integrity who spend their time being nice to each other. ONLY JOKING! There’s a dead starlet pretty much on page one and after that it’s four issues of noir bingo, lovingly executed by the purring collaborative engine of Brubaker and Phillips.
“The biggest horror is that the whole world’s becoming suburban. I find it very worrying.” – Norman Mansbridge
The last thing on anyone at IPC’s mind, when they launched a comic, is that somebody might actually want to keep the thing. Comics were born on the production line, and landfill was their grave, and in that brief span between their urge was not to survive but to reproduce, to impel the reader to buy next week’s issue. So in May 1979 the second issue of Jackpot – “IT’S A WINNER” invited mutilation at front and end. On the cover, a free SQUIRT RING to lure buyers in, mounted with sellotape, which still sticks to my Ebayed copy, covering a gash in the paper like a badly sutured wound. On the back, a coupon to fill in, cut out and hand solemnly over to the newsagent: “PLEASE RESERVE A COPY OF JACKPOT FOR ME EVERY WEEK”.
It’s a loyalty game. There are only so many kids who want to buy comics, and most of those already do. A new title offers a raft of new stories, which may or may not wear better than the ones in the comic you already buy, whose formulae have begun to thin and fray. But with a squirt ring, too – who wouldn’t risk ten pence? Then once you’re snagged, the magazine urges you to the newsagent for next week. You don’t want to miss out.
So it is that the first comic you see in Jackpot No.2 is a three panel, silent strip, admirably clear, instructing you on the use and delight of your squirt ring. Panel 1: a girl shows off her ring to a passing boy. Panel 2: the boy leans in close to admire this fine piece of jewellery. Panel 3: SPLOOSH! A deluge – in the poor sap’s face. HAW HAW!
1978: The Shooting Star
It’s the spider I remember. In The Shooting Star, boy reporter Tintin is investigating an apocalyptic threat, a star on a collision course with our world. He visits an observatory, hoping they can tell him what’s going on. They can: the world is doomed. He is led to the telescope and through it he sees a colossal spider, clinging to the star.
The beast is only on the telescope lens. And the world is not doomed. But I was entranced. By that, by the panic in the streets, by the race to reach a new island formed in the wake of the star’s passing, and by the grotesque exploding mushrooms our hero finds there. Tintin is the first comic I can remember reading, and The Shooting Star is my first memory of Tintin. In many ways, I wish it was almost any of his other adventures.
Thermae Romae I (Yen Press)
Surely the greatest time travel/bathhouse design manga ever written, Mari Yamakazi’s charming Thermae Romae has the pace and pleasures of a culture-clash sitcom: each episode, down-on-his-luck bath architect Lucius Modestus is confronted with a bathing-related problem in 2nd century AD Rome, finds himself whisked away to modern Japan, and returns home full of inspiration. Along the way he invents the Roman Empire’s first reptile house, water slide and loyalty marketing scheme.