29 March

This weekend I read a lot of comic books.

Got to the end of Kieron Gillen’s run on Star Wars. This hard started very well, with stories that pretty much felt like they could have been lost classic era movies. But after 50 issues of stories set ‘in between Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back’, with no character development possible, Luke and Han and Leia had been pretty much reduced to a superhero who team who go off and have adventures. Greg Pak takes over on issue 65, and brings a bit of fresh air: everyone is now looking for Hoth; the main characters are sent off on separate missions in unlikely pairings (Chewbaca and Threepio, anyone?) and the whole thing, in style and art, felt less like a lost movie and more like an episode of a 1970s Star Wars spin off cartoon. In a good way.

Ms Marvel, which has been consistently the superhero comic I have most enjoyed over the last five years, also has a new creative team — and indeed has gone back to the beginning and started numbering from 1. Kamala has a new costume, and is dragged out of her New Jersey milieux for a piss-poor science fiction adventure. Oh, and aliens do a memory wipe so her Ammi - mum - doesn’t know her identity any more. On the plus side, Saladin Ahmed seems to have the characters voices about right.

Moon Girl remains silly and joyous. (You are reading it, aren’t you? Lunella is nine years old and officially smarter than Reed Richards, and due to some fooling around with a time machine, periodically mind-swaps with Jack Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur.) It mostly stays away from big story lines and sticks with superheroic farce. One recent issue involves her hanging around with Spider-Man, and, having easily worked out his secret identity, wanting to discuss Peter Parker’s science papers, while Spidey keeps desperately saying “who is this Peter Parker?”

Some of the one shot Star Wars comics doing vignettes about single characters — Age of Rebellion, Age of Republic, Age of Resistance — are pretty good, and have the advantage of being short.

Saladin Ahmed also wrote a Black Bolt series a few years back — Black Bolt befriending the Absorbing Man in an alien prison — which turned out to be quite fun, although the ‘almost as good as early Sandman’ line I kept hearing was wide of the mark. I suppose a backhanded complement because because early Sandman wasn’t that good.

Marvel long ago abandoned any attempt to maintain a Marvel Style and the ‘realistic” ethos of the Ultimate imprint has been absorbed into the mainstream continuity. Although, of course, Stuff Happens, I find picking up odd issue of characters I am interested in much less intimidating than I do with the Distinguished Competition: Marvel seems to be better at saying “the world thinks the Fantastic Four are dead” and “Peter Parker used to run a big tech company but it went bankrupt” and getting on with the story. Although granted Doomsday Clock may not show DC in the best possible light. Apparently Wally West is going to become “the new” Doctor Manhattan. I wish this was a joke.

Marvel Unlimited just put up the whole original run of Captain Britain. Not the famous Alan Moore run, full of multiple universes and ideas that he would develop more fully in Miracleman: the weekly comic that Chris Claremont and others did for the British market. It is very special indeed. It mostly avoids the sillier Americanisms that disfigure things like Tomb of Dracula and Master of Kung Fu when the action shifts to London, although at least one contributor thinks we were were still using shillings in 1976. But the Claremont seems to have written the character in his sleep. Brian Braddock is a student at “Thames University”, but home is a stately home in the countryside. He caused the death of his parents in unspecified ways and keeps breaking off from the plot to agonise about it. There is a girl at college who really likes him but thinks he is a wimp because he walks away from trouble. There is a boy at college who needles him for being a wimp. There is a policeman who is mindlessly prejudiced against superheroes and tries to make the public think Captain Britain is a villain. He has a magic quarter staff with three buttons on it. It takes him six issues to work out what the second one does (a magic force field) and after twenty issues still hasn’t tried the third one. In the end Merlin (actually a space alien) gets so exasperated that the he takes the quarterstaff away and turns into into a Starsceptre and the book goes to black and white. Morbidly fascinating.

Read the first volume of Legacy of the Jedi, a series of nine non canonical Star Wars novels series set a long way down the timeline, when Chewbacca is dead and Luke and Han are in their 60s. I remember writing an essay at college “proving” that Paradise Lost fails because the ideas in the Bible don’t make sense when retold in the language of Homer: Genesis doesn’t fit into epic form. (Comparing Star Wars with Milton is not pretentious, it’s post modern.) I think something similar applies here: Star Wars can’t be presented in novelistic form and remain Star Wars. The situation is not uninteresting: the New Republic — here called the Galactic Alliance — now dominates the universe, but some planets would rather be independent. One of the separatist worlds is Han Solo’s old home Corellia, meaning that the main characters are potentially set against each other. Meanwhile Luke Skywalker is having visions of — stop me if you’ve heard this before — the rise of a new Sith Lord. After much digression, Jacen Solo, Leia and Han’s son, is persuaded by a lady with a laser whip from a previous novel, that the Sith are not all bad, and agrees to secretly study their ways. While the idea that the Dark and the Light are different philosophies, and there could potentially be benign Sith and nasty Jedi is vaguely interesting, Luke’s Nephew Turning To the Dark Side shouldn’t really come about as the result of a quite civilised discussion. And while there are long descriptions of space skirmishes between the G.A and the Corellian rebels, there are also an awful lot of political conferences. I was going to say that it felt as if someone had learned about Star Wars from an RPG book and mistook it for Dune. I think it is probably just a fact that if you have 5,000 pages to tell a story about space wizards and star empires it is going to come out feeling like Dune: you can’t write a nine book novel cycle that feels like a cartoon strip. I admit I am intrigued enough that I might have a go at book 2.

I wonder if some of the people who were very, very cross about The Force Awakens think that this is what Star Wars ought to be like — complicated, political stories taken fairly seriously — and were therefore quite disappointed at how comic stripy the new trilogy was. Which would be ironic, of course course because “a dispute has arisen over taxation...” us one of the things for which the prequel trilogy has been widely mocked.

Trying to catch up with Netfux superhero series. Luke Cage is very good indeed. (Is it okay for me to watch a series in which they say the n-word quite so often?) It is of course exactly like Daredevil and Jessica Jones — a complex conspiracy, gangsters, extreme violence. The main character is heroic because he manages to rise above the extreme cynicism and corruption of almost everybody else. Luke Cage is depicted as being unreasonably strong and bullet proof and therefore never in any physical danger, so there is quite a lot of ingenuity in creating other kinds of jeopardy for him. I giggled out-loud in the flash back scene. Having got of prison, he steals purple pants and a yellow jacket from a washing line, looks at himself in the mirror, and says “you look like a fool.” (This is, of course, the one time he looks anything like his comic book incarnation.)

My computer appears to have stopped working: at any rate my computer monitor has stopped working so I am typing this on an I-Pad. It will be interesting to know if it affects my deathless prose.

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