Thursday, 24 November 2022

Guardians of the Galaxy The Ultimate Guide New Edition Coming April 2023

I posted this on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, but it deserves a post here as well, if only to raise the consciousness of Existential Ennui from the freezing reefersleep it's slipped into. What can I say: these days I'm back to spending most of my time writing professionally – as opposed to editing, though I also do a fair amount of that – so I don't really have the time to blog here too. But anyway, up for pre-order now – on Amazon, obviously, but it's also available through the likes of WHSmith – is the new edition of my 2017 book Guardians of the Galaxy The Ultimate Guide!

Pleased as I was with the first edition, this new edition is even better, fully updated with new info, images, and even more pages, bringing the story of the Guardians in comics bang up to date – and not a moment too soon either: published on 6 April 2023, it'll be out just ahead of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, so if you want to know who Adam Warlock is ahead of the film, Guardians of the Galaxy The Ultimate Guide will explain all. You can read more about the book here, and no doubt I'll be banging on about it at greater length ahead of publication – and about the other book I'll have out later next year, and the other other book I've contributed an essay to.

Friday, 18 March 2022

Meanwhile... in the DC Heroes & Villains Collection: Joker's Dozen and The Untold Legend of the Batman

The next release going out to DC Heroes & Villains Collection subscribers is significant, because not only does it boast one of the volumes I was keenest to include in the collection when I put the whole shebang together, but it comes accompanied by a subscriber-exclusive special edition. 

That special edition is Joker's Dozen, a 432-page bumper collection of some of the best Joker stories of the 1980s – 13 Clown Prince of Crime Classics, as I put it in the subtitle. There was a bit of back-and-forth with DC on the contents, but I think we've arrived at something unique: 13 Joker stories – 20 comics in total – which delineate a decade of change at DC, as the Bronze Age of Comics gave way to the Modern Age. The murderers' row of creative talent on the front cover – Len Wein, Walt Simonson, Gerry Conway, Don Newton, Jim Aparo, José Luis García-López, Doug Moench, Gene Colan and Marv Wolfman – isn't even the half of it, because there are also stories from Paul Levitz, Joe Staton, Martin Pasko, Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn, Paul Kupperberg, Alex Saviuk, Max Allan Collins, Chris Warner, Ross Andru, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle, many of which have rarely been reprinted since original publication.

On top of that, the book includes October 1986's Batman #400, a 60-page multi-villain extravaganza written by Doug Moench and with art by – among others – John Byrne, Steve Lightle, George Pérez, Bill Sienkiewicz, Arthur Adams, Joe Kubert and Brian Bolland which has only been collected by DC once since its original publication 36 years ago. Plus, it's preceded by September 1986's Detective Comics #566, a Doug Moench and Gene Colan lead-in story to Batman #400 that's never been reprinted – though its cover may be familiar from posters, prints, T-shirts and the like:

As for the volume I was keen to include in the DC Heroes & Villains Collection, that would be our 32nd release, The Untold Legend of the Batman, which features the eponymous 1980 three-issue Len Wein, John Byrne and Jim Aparo miniseries. Only ever collected under its own title as a book once before – by Tor Books in 1982 as a pocket-size black-and-white paperback, long out of print – it's a terrific mystery thriller that expertly weaves together decades of piecemeal Batman continuity, an approach reflected by the four other stories in the volume, each of which I selected for the brilliant way they too embellish the legend of the Batman. (Incidentally, the Untold Legend miniseries was reissued in 1989 as a three-part 'audio theater' edition, each issue comprising a mini-version of the original comic and an audio cassette; you can hear the audio, and its accompanying funky theme tune, on YouTube.)

Speaking of those other stories, one of them is mentioned in a 'Meanwhile...' column I was reading just this morning. For those who don't know, back in the 1980s, DC's Executive Editor, Dick Giordano, wrote an editorial column, 'Meanwhile...', which appeared in most DC titles on a monthly, then later weekly, basis. The 'Meanwhile...' that appeared in comics which went on sale on 3 July, 1986 was an especially notable one, because it announced some epochal changes to come in the Batman corner of the DC Universe over the remainder of that momentous year. It's also pertinent not just to the aforementioned bonus story that appears in the The Untold Legend of the Batman, but to a pair of stories that appear in the DC Heroes & Villains Collection's edition of 1986–87 crossover event Legends, and a sequence of stories that will appear in the DC Heroes & Villains Collection down the line. Click on the column below and see if you can work out which comics I'm referring to.

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.