Wednesday 22 December 2021

The Existential Ennui Review of the Year 2021

Time was I would mark the end of the year with a post, or even a series of posts (ha! those were the days...), rounding up everything I'd read or watched or listened to or, sometimes, worked on over the previous 12 months – a record of certain aspects of my life, preserved for my own posterity (after all, it was pretty unlikely anyone else would be interested in years to come – or even right then for that matter). The last time I managed anything along those lines was the end of 2019; the pandemic, the death of my dad, and my complete inability to read a book – three things which were not unrelated – put paid to any notion of a round-up last year. This year has been better both personally and work-wise, and in recent months I've even managed to start reading novels again (albeit at a much slower pace than previously), so although the pandemic is still very much a going concern, and life continues to throw shit at us all with alarming abandon, I thought I'd post something about what I've been up to.

First and foremost, there's the DC Heroes & Villains Collection. I've written about this graphic novel partwork a few times already, so I shan't dwell on it here, except to say that editing it has allowed me to do more professional writing (as in, writing for money; I can't speak to the professionalism or otherwise of the actual writing) than I probably have since the start of what I laughingly call my career (back when I was a music journalist in the 1990s). By the time the collection reaches 100 volumes in about three years' time, I'll hopefully have written a fairly thorough history of the DC Universe since 1980, bit by bit, in the introductions and bonus features in each volume (alongside the occasional creator interview by my good friend Tim Pilcher). That's the plan anyway. 

The DC Heroes & Villains Collection launched in January (during lockdown no less), and is now up to 25 volumes, which is no mean feat considering everything that's been going on. Meanwhile, in November, the book pictured at the top of this post was published: Marvel Universe: Map by Map, co-written by James Hill and me, and illustrated by Adam Simpson, Matt Taylor and Andrew DeGraff (and, of course, a legion of Marvel Comics artistic legends). It's a lovely great big beast of a book – you can get a good look at it here – and it was an honour to be asked to play a part in its existence (by DK's estimable Senior Editor, and British comics vet, Cefn Ridout, to whom go my thanks). Four months before that, another DK book I contributed to was published: the updated edition of the DC Comics Encyclopedia, which I wrote even more of this time, and which in this new version sports a spectacular Mikel Janín cover. And somewhere in amongst all of that, Titan and I relaunched Star Trek Magazine as Star Trek Explorer, with all sorts of new-fangled features and regulars in it, including brand new fiction.

So that's what I've been up to this year. As to what I've read, I haven't actually kept a record of whatever comics I've consumed, but I have been making note of the books I've read since I managed to pick one up again, which in order have been:

The Moat Around Murcheson's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
Dune by Frank Herbert (which I read shortly before seeing Denis Villeneuve's excellent and powerful film adaptation)
The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds
Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds
Jack Kirby by Tom Scioli
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist by Adrian Tomine

I might also manage to finish Alastair Reynolds' most recent novel Inhibitor Phase – a first edition of which he kindly inscribed to me (he's featured in the forthcoming second issue of Star Trek Explorer) – before the end of the year. We shall see.

Saturday 11 December 2021

On Tim Truman and the DC Heroes & Villains Collection Edition of Hawkworld

Something I don't really get into in my bonus feature on Tim Truman, Gardner Fox and Joe Kubert in the DC Heroes & Villains Collection edition of Hawkworld – which has just been published – is how the 1989 three-issue prestige format miniseries was received at the time. (There's only so much space in these books for me to bang on about the minutiae of DC's past!) Certainly it did well enough for DC to launch an ongoing series off the back of it, but it seems there were some readers who were less than pleased with Truman's take on Fox and Kubert's Silver Age Hawkman – this despite Truman being a friend and avowed fan of Katar Hol's creators. In an October 1994 interview in Wizard magazine (issue #34, which I happened to be reading just now), Truman responds to interviewer Paul J. Grant's assertion "You managed to enrage a lot of old-time Gardner Fox/Joe Kubert fans with Hawkworld" in the following manner:

"Yeah, especially those that only managed to read the first issue. Most of those that read through all three issues of the miniseries and saw what I was trying to do appreciated it, but I've had people come up to me at cons practically spitting on me. In no way did I want to denigrate the character, especially since I was dedicating this to Gardner and Joe Kubert. This was just my take on the fact that there are heroes, but they aren't created by seeing a bat fly though a window. 

"In order to appreciate the story, you had to hang with it. Luckily, a lot of people did. I'm very proud of the fact that it won a Haxtur Award, a fan-based nomination sponsored by the government of Spain in 1992, for best comic series. They flew me over there to accept it. Having been so fond of European work for so many years, that was a real honour."

In the same interview, there's a nice bit of background on the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, which Truman attended in the late 1970s – and which I do cover in my feature – Truman recalling, "We were housed in this big, ramshackle old mansion with a pool out back where we'd go swimming with tadpoles and frogs," and revealing that among the instructors, besides Kubert himself, were the likes of Dick Ayers and Dick Giordano. If you want to read more about that period of Truman's life, and how his friendships with Kubert and Fox shaped his life and career, check out the DC Heroes & Villains Collection's edition of Hawkworld.

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Brian Bolland's First Joker Cover

Something I neglected to mention in my piece on Brian Bolland's Joker comic book covers in the back of the DC Heroes & Villains Collection edition of Joker: Last Laugh – which has just been published – is that Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) wasn't really Bolland's first Joker cover. That honour arguably belongs to his cover for the British Batman Annual 1982, published by London Editions in 1981. Bolland did a number of covers – and the odd interior page or endpapers – for the Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman annuals published by London Editions in the early 1980s (as did Garry Leach, Bryan Talbot and other stalwarts of the British comics scene), around the time he was breaking into US comics at DC. His Batman Annual cover naturally has the Dark Knight front and centre in the composition, but in Batman's hand is a Joker playing card, and there, behind him in the background, is the Joker himself, pointing a pistol at Batman's back. So even though the Joker's not the star of the cover, I suppose it probably does qualify as a Joker cover, and therefore Bolland's first Joker cover.

You can read more about Bolland's cover work – Joker and otherwise – in Joker: Last Laugh (available now via Hachette and at all good newsagents and supermarkets), but I'll just note here that, like many of the British superhero annuals published back then, the Batman Annual 1982 – which isn't easy to come by these days (my copy was a very lucky recent-ish eBay find) – has a text story nestled in amongst the reprinted comics stories (one of which is Len Wein, Walt Simonson and Dick Giordano's terrific 'Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker...!' from 1980's Batman #321). Written by 2000 AD and Starlord editor Kelvin Gosnell, it boasts splendid illustrations by Anderson: Psi Division/Button Man artist Arthur Ranson, who also illustrates the annual's endpapers. Well worth the price of admission alone... assuming you can find a copy in the first place.

Wednesday 31 March 2021

Free Stuff! The DC Heroes & Villains Collection Subscription Gifts

A little remarked-upon aspect of the graphic novel partwork I'm editing, the DC Heroes & Villains Collection – well, little remarked-upon by me, anyway – is that if you subscribe to the collection you get free stuff! I've had absolutely no input into the free gifts that have been arranged for subscribers – my purview is the graphic novels themselves – so I'm not really beholden to anyone when I say that the two I've received thus far (you get four altogether – plus a free volume – spaced out across a few deliveries) have been bloody great.

The first one, a metal Batman bottle opener keyring, turned out to be surprisingly sizeable and hefty, with the potential to be used as an actual shuriken-style Batarang once your beverage of choice has been de-lidded (perhaps to fend off anyone foolish enough to try and steal your beer). 

Just as surprising was the second gift, a heat-changing mug sporting the Andy Kubert image from the cover of our debut release Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? I did dimly recall it was heat sensitive as I dropped in a teabag and filled the mug up with hot water, but it was still a delight to behold the villains behind Batman – Penguin, Joker, Two-Face and Catwoman – being slowly revealed. 
The next free gift I'll be getting should be a metal version of Brian Bolland's Batman: The Killing Joke cover art (look out for the inside story of that cover's creation in the bonus feature in our tenth release, Joker: Last Laugh), followed by potentially the best of the lot, a pair of metal Batman and Joker bookends to keep the gradually growing collection upright and together. 
The DC Heroes & Villains Collection is a genuine labour of love for me – something I plan on expanding upon in a future post – and it's been a pleasure seeing the reactions of readers in the Facebook subscribers' group to the books we've been putting together; but these free gifts have been an unexpected added joy – something I get to to share in common with everyone else who's along for the ride on this collection.

Friday 19 March 2021

Testing, Testing... Coming Soon in the DC Heroes & Villains Collection

Further to this post on the graphic novel partwork I'm editing, the DC Heroes & Villains Collection: I've noticed in the Facebook member's group (there's also a public Facebook page) that some subscribers are receiving the sixth volume now, The Flash: Rebirth, which means we're reaching the end of the 'test' volumes. What the dickens are the test volumes, I hear you cry? Allow me to elucidate – and to offer a preview of upcoming volumes into the bargain.

Partworks go through a pretty long process before they go on sale. In the case of the DC Heroes & Villains Collection, I started putting ideas together for it – possible approaches and potential contents – at the tail end of 2019, followed by some firmer ideas for direction and an initial list of titles (which, looking back now, I realise wasn't a million miles from the final list) at the start of 2020. After some back and forth between myself, Hachette and DC and some further refining of the list and contents, we moved on to the test stage. 

This is the stage of a partwork's development where the initial instalments of the proposed collection are released in a particular part of the country to see what the response is. In our case, this entailed myself and the collection's ace designers, Amazing15, putting together the first four volumes, and then Hachette publishing those volumes... somewhere; don't ask me where because I still don't know (and even if I did I wouldn't be able to tell you; the world of partworks is shrouded in mystery and subterfuge). Complicating this – well, besides the pandemic, that is, which has introduced an extra element of complexity throughout – was the fact that alongside the UK test there was a Spanish test, which comprised some different volumes to the UK one.

I don't think I'm revealing anything terribly sensitive here by saying that the tests went well: the evidence for that is that the collection proper has now launched. But with The Flash: Rebirth arriving in some folks' hands, we've essentially reached the end of the volumes we assembled for either the UK or Spanish tests. From this point on, nobody (other than myself, Amazing15, Hachette and DC, obviously) will know for sure what lies ahead. So let me give you a flavour of what's coming up in the next few volumes:

Infinite Crisis: The OMAC Project: As part of the DC Heroes & Villains Collection we'll be collecting the entire 2005–2006 Infinite Crisis saga, including miniseries, specials and key tie-in issues – some of which have never been included in previous collected editions – with commentary and behind-the-scenes insights setting it all in context. This is the start of that.

Aquaman: The Trench: A story that was a big inspiration for the 2018 Aquaman movie, and one of the big successes of the 2011 New 52 relaunch – not to mention a taster for what was to come in the 2016 Rebirth initiative...

World's Finest: Dave Gibbons and Steve Rude's splendid 1990 Superman/Batman team-up tale, which comes accompanied by an exclusive new interview with Mr Gibbons, plus his original outline, and lots of sketches and designs by Mr Rude.

Joker: Last Laugh: Out of print for over a decade, this 2001 miniseries event is finally reissued as part of the DC Heroes & Villains Collection, complete with its essential first chapter, which has never been reprinted since originally appearing in the 2001 Joker: Last Laugh Secret Files and Origins one-shot. In addition, there's a bonus feature exploring Brian Bolland's iconic Joker covers.
Beyond those, you can expect more Rebirth volumes (following on from our fifth release, Batman: I Am Gotham), more brand new creator interviews... and a story which has never before been collected in graphic novel form.

Wednesday 20 January 2021

Introducing the DC Heroes & Villains Collection: the Ultimate DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection

Here's something I've been working on for well over a year now. The DC Heroes & Villains Collection is a fortnightly partwork comprising 100 hardback graphic novels, collecting comics stories from across the DC Universe. I've been shaping the rationale and approach, putting together the content – including writing many of the editorials and bonus features that will appear in each volume – and generally reworking and refining it all since October 2019, and now the first issue, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, is finally on sale in the UK, from WHSmith, newsagents, comic shops, and direct from publishers Hachete Partworks. I'll try and write some more about the collection – the idea behind it, the process of making it (in the midst of a pandemic no less), what's in it – soon, but for now, I'll just say that everyone involved is dead chuffed with how it's turned out so far, and that if you happen to buy it, and like the first few volumes... the best is yet to come.