Saturday, 31 March 2012

MMC - Extra Portions 4

An aside; because anyone who has followed this knows I like asides (I'm also a big fan of some b-sides too).

At some point during the serialisation of My Monthly Curse, one of my friends asked me a similar question to the one that prompted me to e-publish and blog serialise the book what I wrote. He asked me if I would go back into comics if could; which considering how vehement I've been about there not being a future in comics seemed a little like asking me if I'd like to invest in manufacturing black and white analogue TV sets. My reply was my stock answer - pay me enough money, guarantee that income for a minimum of five years and don't fuck with me; which as we all know is as likely to happen as a boom in black and white analogue TV sets.

However, this got me thinking and some time later, while watching another friend fiddle with her iPhone, I thought apps. Yes, I met some kids recently who have just got into comics, but come on, after everything you've read can you see how and why that won't save the industry? But what if comics could be made available to be read on a phone or a tablet? They probably can; I'm so out of the loop on modern technology, it's probably been done for years (so don't tell me unless it hasn't, okay?). But my understanding of an app is you either get it for free or pay a nominal charge - what if you gave away a viewing app and then charged a small fee to download each monthly instalment of your favourite comic? Hell, if you could buy a comic for $0.49 to read on your phone or tablet, you'd probably be tempted to try something you wouldn't normally.

The way technology has developed since I dropped out of comics is phenomenal: I have the piss taken out of me regularly because of my archaic and decrepit Samsung phone, but I didn't actually own a mobile phone until 2002, so I really am more of a novice than the average 4 year old. You see for as much as I claim to still not collect, there's this 1500+ CDs behind me that include things I've either downloaded or bought that I have never played; I have them because they were there and either I might like them or I have it because I have something else that I quite liked and one day I might listen to this and like that too... I still collect and suddenly, while perusing my big boss's iPad the other day thought, 'Hmm, you know, you could read a comic on one of these things and it would be hi res and I could, theoretically, read it on the toilet (maybe not the bath, unless I had shitloads of money) and with all those gigabytes of storage space, I could have just about any comicbook series I've ever enjoyed and they would take up NO ROOM! I wouldn't be concerned about how much they're worth or whether I could get a copy of something and that, if I had any inclination to read anything again would be, what they call, a sure bet.

Obviously, the yoof of today can get more kicks from playing a Marvel or DC Universe superhero video game (do they still call them video games?) and with the amount of scope available in these sprawling great mammoths now, you could be anything from Batman to the Joker to a clingon on Batman's cape - the scope is becoming endless. But as a comic and one that could be charged at such an affordable rate that piracy would be almost pointless; think of the money these companies could make from everything they possess?

Heck, you could interactive versions; versions for dyslexics, even the blind. You could package the legit versions with extras to make people want to buy it from the publisher rather than pick up a torrent copy. How about a top writer or artist conducting an exclusive interview split across any title he or she works on as incentive to buy other comics by that creator? Yes, it's the gimmick cover malarkey again, but if you charged $0.49... Plus think of the devastating effect it would eventually have the monopolising distribution company, um, companies? If over the next 20 years tablets become very affordable and the change over to comics on screen is a success then out goes expensive printing, haulage and excessive editorial costs - the companies can pay the creators the same or similar money, but save millions over a year in physical production costs. If a comic sells 10,000 copies at $3.95, the actual profit is going to be something like $1.00, before editorial costs. So out of possibly $10,000 gross profit on a single issue, the company might make $4,000 net profit. If, however, they could sell 10,000 copies at $0.50 each, that's $5,000 profit before editorial costs; okay, you've got to pay some people to convert the finished pages into something that can be scanned and read on a tablet, so you can knock 10% off that gross profit - but that leaves $500 more than a physical copy would make and there is far more scope for increasing sales on marginal titles because of the less than prohibitive price. A fair to middling book with a wee bit of money thrown at it to publicise it throughout the net and the comics community could double the readership and suddenly that minimal extra profit becomes no longer marginal - nearly $10,000 on a single issue instead. To my obviously misguided and addled brain that sounds like a far better area to investigate and develop than attempting to flog the dying horse that is the paper comics medium.

I am convinced that the only real thing preventing some kind of comicbook renaissance is the price you pay. In a world where economics is God and potential customers are inclined to buy food and pay the mortgage before they indulge in a spot of Spandex, innovation has to be the thing these dinosaurs need to invest in - they're dying anyhow, so what's to lose?

Also, talking to my good friend Rodrigo in Brazil last week, I asked him to give me a breakdown of Brazilian comics: home produced comics; kids' books, funnies etc., cost the equivalent of about $1 in Brazilian money; if you want the Marvel or DC superhero titles you'll pay about 200% more, because these are popular amongst the kids - yet home grown books still sell upwards of a million copies a month, while the reprints translated into Portuguese sell about 100,000 copies - but more than enough to make them lucrative. However, because of the cost of superhero reprints, there's been a growing small press market with Brazilians producing Brazilian superheroes (not all of them child friendly either) and these, because they sell massive amounts compared to UK and US small press, are making creators some money, despite the ridiculously cheap cover prices - in line with the funny books. More importantly, it gets them exposure and the chance to work for one of the major USA companies and earn, by their standards, big bucks - it's why Mike Deodato jr went into comics, it was either that or go into design work, because for all the comics Brazil sells, creators don't earn the same as they do in the USA - proving that the USA made a fatal error when it started beatifying their hot artists.

Brazil just replaced the UK as the 6th largest country by GDP. It can't even be described as a Third World country any more. Yes, I'm aware there's a multitude of practical reasons why US and UK comics cost so much and there's the strange peculiarity of comics fans distrusting comics that are ridiculously cheap - Marvel tried a 99c range back in the early 90s and it flopped like a gay man on a lesbian porno set. The fact the line was utter shit is immaterial, no one was tempted and largely because of the price. Fucking comics fans, just love to be as contrary as a contrary thing.

The point is, if this hasn't already been done - why not? If comics - the paper versions - are still needed, then the publishers invest in developing their own small direct supply networks, with local print companies producing small runs of books and shipping them out and setting up deals with book publishers to supply artwork for trade paperbacks and albums.

The future of comics companies might be to dispense with the need for distributors entirely.

Next up: I'm hoping to remember the thing I've forgotten I was going to write about.

Friday, 16 March 2012

MMC - Extra Portions 3

If Spider-Man ever had a semi-modern renaissance then it was probably around the time that Marvel was lining up hot new artist Todd McFarlane to work with comics veteran (even then) David Michelinie to boost the fortunes of the Wallcrawler, whose comics had been plodding along, inspiring no one and living off its name and reputation.

But before these two had a chance to set Amazing Spider-Man alight, there was Kraven's Last Hunt; a comics story arc that, had it been released a few years later, would have been a prestige mini-series and not much else. Created by J. Marc DeMatteis and Mike Zeck, it was a groundbreaking and controversial six-part story that [spoiler warning] ended up with long-time Spidey villain Kraven the Hunter committing suicide because he could never live up to his greatest nemesis. This was after drugging Peter Parker and burying him in an unmarked grave with limited air supply. This series was as dark as Spider-Man ever got and some of the themes and ideas introduced had the Comics Code of Authority glancing nervously at Marvel's offices. I mean, no one had ever committed suicide in a comic before (maybe they had, I can't remember) and especially not a supposed pinnacle of masculinity which Kraven was. It was shocking and should have heralded an era for the web-slinger filled with ideas never touched on before.

Instead, you got retro-Spidey, which in itself was great fun for a couple of years, at least until Todd McFarlane's ego got the better of him and someone told him he could write.

Kraven's death might have been unexpected and shocking, but death was a really useful plot device for a lot of comics. People remember deaths in comics, so a comic where people die a lot is bound to be a winner. Carl Potts, Alan Zelenetz and Frank Cirocco created a SF superhero combo called The Alien Legion, which essentially could have been one of the best comics ever created, but never really found the right audience. Imagine the French Foreign Legion meets Star Wars, that was Alien Legion and it had some excellent artwork, strong stories and minuscule support from Marvel's Epic line. It wasn't owned by Marvel so they spent the equivalent of a buck eighty on its promotion.

While it wasn't like Marvel's other death book - Strikerforce Morituri - where you could pretty much bet the farm that someone would die and regularly, in Alien Legion some characters such as Sarigar, Torie Montroc and the brilliant Jugger Grimrod were pretty much guaranteed to survive, no one else was afforded the same luxury. The closest thing I've ever seen to the Legion in film was Paul Vorhoeven's Starship Troopers. The earlier issues are the ones worth reading, before it became too fixated on Grimrod.

Death is also a lead character in another Marvel graphic novel; The Death of Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin acted as kind of an epilogue to the acid casualty of a writer's early spell on the cosmic superhero. It had one purpose really, to have a superhero die of cancer, it had a secondary purpose, to tug on the heart strings of any comics fan. It was pure schmaltz wrapped up in decay and blackness. It has probably been over-written umpteen times since it originally came out and probably struggles to pass the test of time (Starlin's artwork is just so 1970s), but if you want to feel miserable and elated at the same time, this might fit the bill.

Death as a character was a sensibly used guest star in DC's The Sandman, a series which I hate admitting that I loved at times. It was like the X-Men in many ways, you just couldn't pick out one issue or one story that superseded any other and the opening seven issues were possibly the weakest, it really sprang into life with the introduction of Death in #8 and Season of Mists is possibly my personal favourite story arc. It's almost clich├ęd to say it, but if you haven't read comics, read the one that most other non-comics fans read.

Oh and I have told you that I discovered Dave McKean haven't I?

Moving away from mortality and back at Marvel, where one of my true loves was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's long and at times simply brilliant Fantastic Four. I dread to think how much out of time they must look now; how simplistic and unadulterated they were; but for 100 issues it was pretty brilliant stuff. Unfortunately, anything but trade paperbacks would set you back the cost of your house, your parents' house and all of their friends' houses; so let's move on...

Alan Moore might have reinvented Swamp Thing, but most of the 23-odd issue first series were personal favourites of mine. Initially by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, it has been documented that it was the first US comic I bought and still have, but after their remarkable 10 issue run, we were treated to David Michelinie (again) and Nestor Redondo's slightly less gothic, more superhero slanted version, which I loved with equal enthusiasm. Truthfully, most of them suck by today's standards, but hell, I enjoyed them and hated what my neighbour Mr Moore did with it, even if it was evolution.

Moore, with the aid of Gene Ha, produced Top Ten, a kind of superhero Hill Street Blues and it was one of Image's true high points. Unfortunately, it was so irregular that you kind of forgot what it was about and I'd long given up comics by the time it probably progressed or even finished. It was a good read, looked nice and evoked the feelings you got from watching a well made TV series.

Rarely has there been a comic that has stopped or has been cancelled that fully deserves your attention and what makes my next nomination all the more odd is that it only lasted 3 issues and never finished, yet it was, quite simply, one of the loopiest and intelligently put together comics ever published. Bill Willingham's Coventry, had it been published by a company with money, rather than Fantagraphics, might have been one of the most successful independent comics of all time; but it wasn't and Willingham took some of the ideas to DC for his Vertigo book Fables (which isn't a patch on the source inspiration). Set in the 51st State of the USA in an alternative universe where it is the only state where magic is allowed to be practised, it offered so much and might have delivered with the couple of spin-off novels released in 2002, but I don't know, I only found out about the books about two minutes ago.

What I do know about Coventry is that every single person I showed it to, bought it and each to a man was as disappointed as I was that it never continued.

I always had a bit of a soft spot for Howard the Duck or it might have been a teenage crush on Beverley Switzler's tits, which were finally unveiled by Gene Colan in the Howard the Duck magazine. For it's time it was a cutting edge satirical comic book, a rarity for US mainstream comics, looking back on it now, it was a strange comic, for which Marvel took a lot of risks with, but I suspect it has little more than curiosity value now, although it documents a period in US life that has largely been sandwiched and overlooked between the reigns of Nixon and Reagan.

Jim Starlin crops up a lot in my nominations and amazingly I got into him before I discovered drugs - a child psychologist might have fun with that - because he came into my life when I was about 14. Starlin did shit loads of stuff, but also had a name for himself as something of a maverick re-inventor, long before John Byrne or Alan Moore 'mastered' it. He took a lame character, originally invented by Lee and Kirby and poorly rendered in the interim by Herb Trimpe and Len Wein into one of the craziest Marvel comics ever created and then, through some clever writing managed to tie it into the core Marvel universe without so much as a dissenting voice. Warlock was bonkers comics and I suspect it would still be pretty bonkers even today. This sprawling story eventually played out in two hard to find Marvel annuals - Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two in One Annual #2 and had more superheroes than you could shake a stick at (Starlin loved drawing mass superhero scenes, even if he could never master the art of drawing feet).

I don't know if (Adam) Warlock has ever been resurrected, but when he died, like Captain Marvel, you got the feeling that bringing him back would be a story too far.

Next time: maybe some more, I'll have to search the memory banks; but there will be something.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

MMC - Extra Portions 2

I was trying to think if there was one thing most people who have heard of me would remember about me. Would it be as the guy who invented Borderline (hopefully), the git who worked on Comics International (probably), the bloke that spent a lot of time talking about The X-Men (doubtful, unless you've known me a loooong time) or even the man who is best known for telling people what he's most known for, just to remind them, in case my name has slipped their mind or they just remember me as the long haired fella with the big nose who loved himself? Whatever.

Most people who remember me as, first and foremost, a comics fan will probably associate me with the X-Men; it is, after all, one of the key obsessions in My Monthly Curse and yet, I've often said I can't think of a single X-Men story or arc that I would include in a favourite top ten comics - no, not the Death of Phoenix* or the Roy Thomas and Neal Adams issues, even Jim Steranko's brief cameos; most of them were either rendered redundant or were big dollops of shit with a dusting of loveliness to disguise the fact that the story was about as interesting as counting the amount of hairs on your forearm.

The X-Men was a bit strange. it got canned because, essentially, it was neglected and had stories that made Millie the Model worth reading. It was one of those comics that seemed to get passed around the Marvel Bullpen in a Russian Roulette fashion and I think Roy Thomas returned to it because it was the first comic he really got the chance to have a good run on, but he did it much too late. Another problem with the X-Men was, despite it being pretty much cutting edge upon its return, Chris Claremont recreated a comic as a soap opera, so while you had story arcs, you had other stories running in the background all the time, so even if separate issues were defined, it was difficult to pick any one specific issue or story arc as stand out. To be fair to it though, in the late 70s, when the book was having its renaissance it was pretty much unique compared to most of the rest of the major companies stable of titles. Plus it had had a major character's death happen inside 6 months, which sort of made it a bit edgy - who would die next?

It was also a book where the characters were so well developed that it wasn't about the stories as such, but about the way the characters were progressing and growing with the reader. People will nominate favourite stories such as the first Savage Land tale or the Hellfire club, the Brood, Inferno, Nimrod, the Starjammers, the Sentinels, etc etc ad nausea, because people have their favourites. However, I found most X-Men comics to be enjoyably frustrating and having left with most of those frustrations intact, I wouldn't return to it now if someone offered them all free of charge and threw in their beautiful wife to give me oral pleasure. Besides, I've seen your wife's teeth and frankly I wouldn't want those teeth anywhere near me.

Do I have a favourite X-Men comic? It depends what you class as an X-Men comic. If I had to pick one for a collection on pleasure value alone it would either be X-Men #66 by Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema and Sam Grainger; as it was the first US X-Men comic I ever bought, therefore it has some weird sentimental value. If I had to pick something else, it might be Uncanny X-Men #200 by Chris Claremont, John Romita jr and Dan Green, not because it was particularly stunning, but because it promised so much. Apart from those two I'm hard pressed to remember anything that sticks out like a sore thumb. It was a comic book that did more for your imagination than it did for your reality (or your finances).

However, I think there have been some awesome spin-offs - which is weird considering I've never been a fan of spin-offs. Some of the Claremont and Alan Davis Excaliburs were pretty funky; some of Peter David and Larry Stroman X-Factors were worth another read. I, perversely, liked Louise Simonson and Brett Blevins's New Mutants, thought the 6-part Longshot series was fantastic eye candy and didn't have a bad story (Ann Nocenti again) and Art Adams's X-Men annuals always looked fantastic even if the stories were always a bit twee. The populist in me likes the Peter David and Todd McFarlane issue of The Incredible Hulk where the green (or grey as he was then) giant had a rematch with Wolverine, even if it was one of the most popular and expensive comics of the 1990s (and only in this list by virtue of its guest star).

The other real enigma about the X-Men is the fact that there are so many great characters in search of the ultimate storyline. Over the years, heroes such as Nightcrawler, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Mystique, Rogue, to name just a handful, have been strong characters as 'humans' as well as heroes, with interesting back stories and likeable personalities; but... you know... it's like reuniting the cast of a brilliant TV series and getting them to do something else; the chemistry might be there, but the scripts just make it a novelty item.

The X-Men was more about a way of life rather than a battle every issue. It was probably the first comic ever to ponder; to take 5 between massive stories. It could have issues where nothing particularly happened apart from conversation and some fans would have gladly had this every month for a decade if it untied some of the convoluted and knotted history; because people who have never read this comic or all its family of titles cannot possibly understand the miasma it created and if you think that's a harsh or even wrong definition, then think again.

Another problem the X-Men had was Wolverine - the puzzle within the enigma. It got to the stage during the 1990s where Logan was appearing in just about every Marvel comic being published at some point in a calendar year. Wolverine sold, so Marvel put him everywhere and rarely was it more than just a gimmick or a poorly executed attempt to boost sales with a piss poor story with shit artwork. The X-Men weren't the X-Men without Wolverine; more of a cash cow than a vicious predator. It also kind of made a mockery of Marvel's famous continuity.

Of course, one of the reasons that the X-Men was successful was its similes to race problems, oppression, and the analogies and parallels it used - mutants were blacks, Jews, gays and Muslims all wrapped up in spandex and prejudice became the watch word in the series - no other comic could focus on the differences and how unsettling they were to normal people more than X-Men. It also allowed Chris Claremont to get subtly political by portraying Republicans as fascists and kind of made The X-Men the first oppressed minorities comicbook - I mean, it had a black chick, a Jew, a lesbian couple and balanced it with a fuzzy blue German, a Russian (therefore a communist) and worst of all... a Canadian...

It wasn't just the themes and the writing that made the comic popular. The X-Men's list of artists is like a veritable who's who of comics legends: Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Sal Buscema, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Paul Smith, John Romita jr, Marc Silvestri, Arthur Adams, Michael Golden, Frank Quitely, Alan Davis, Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, Whilce Portacio, Joe Madureira, Terry Austin, Dan Green, Scott Williams and probably a lot more since I last read an issue - approximately Uncanny X-Men #380, (I'd pretty much stopped collecting it by #350). Looking at it now it seems like an even greater mess. Which is probably one of the biggest reasons why I no longer want to read comics.

* Oddly enough The Death of the Phoenix is something I was discussing at work today with a couple of new comics fans - two 15 year olds - both relatively new to comics and spending over £10 a month on just FOUR comics each! They had both been told that probably the ultimate X-Men story was the death of Jean Grey - the first death (she gets better and dies again later I've been told) and neither of them regard it as anything more than a slow paced story that didn't really install any interest in the supposed 'classics'. They were more into Spider-Man (which isn't a bad thing, really), so I recommended they read Kraven's Last Hunt.

One thing I was quite interested in was their reaction to the fact that I used to collect comics and worked in them for years. They were impressed, but of course, it meant little to them. They were intrigued that I'd worked for Marvel UK writing a 52-part biography of all the X-Men in the Marvel universe, which is part of my original tale that managed to slip through the cracks...

I got approached by Marvel on the recommendation of Steve Holland, the editor of Comics World and my other boss - because I wrote a monthly column for that magazine for almost its entire life. The Marvel UK editor's name escapes me - that impressive - I think it was Scott something. Anyhow, he was highly critical of my contributions - and rightly so - because I was lackadaisical and submitted pretty shoddy copy. If I wanted to be pissy, I'd say he wasn't an editor and didn't know how to edit. He seemed to expect word perfect copy and everyone needs an editor; my mistakes were pretty fundamental, yes, but that's what a copy editor is for. Marvel UK didn't have any of them by the time I worked there.

Anyhow, I got about 20 weeks into the assignment and I was getting hassled by Dez Skinn because I was spending too much time on this 'other job'; a job, incidentally, that he hated me having and virtually admitted so one night when he drank most of a bottle of ouzo. I rang the editor and basically said he wasn't happy with me, I wasn't happy with him, so perhaps he should find someone else to finish it; he already had a replacement lined up and was going to tell me. Oddly enough, the replacement had been busy working for weeks on future contributions and yet this Scott fellow, from New Zealand, was going to tell me. But this was my fault; I didn't treat the job serious enough and besides I already had my own arsehole; I worked for an arsehole, I didn't need my own personalised mutant power of having no less than 3 arseholes.

The sad thing is I have all the issues of Comics World, Comics International and all the other magazines I was published in, but I never kept those British X-Men comics, which had my name in bold on the contents page for 20 weeks. I can't think why.

Next time: having got t'mutants out of the way, the rest of my recommendations (possibly).

Saturday, 3 March 2012

MMC - Extra Portions 1

Over the years, I've read, written or heard about thousands of comics and someone suggested that I do a column or two about things I'd recommend. Now, the thing is, I think he was talking about the here and now, but that would be a wee bit impossible, especially as I don't read comics any longer. So that kind of precludes everything that has happened since 2003...

That said, there have been a number of comics and series that I look back on fondly and here is a selection of stories I think you should check out. Whether they have stood the test of time is an unknown for me, only you can decide whether or not something I liked was actually a piece of shit and for others this might be a real jolt of nostalgia. Let's see, shall we?

Captain Britain - already covered in the main section, this Dave Thorpe, Alans Moore & Davis, story is arguably one of the best ongoing series ever to appear in a UK comic. Groundbreaking, emotive and very, very riveting; I shan't go about it, read the original entry in Part 47 of My Monthly Curse.

Daredevil - Everyone tends to talk about Frank Miller's first two spells on this Marvel series, but Ann Nocenti and a fledgling John Romita Junior turned this series, for a couple of years at least, into a complex mixture of minimalism meets philosophy meets despair. It was arguably the first comic that took a hero too far; reminiscent of the above Captain Britain story, it follows the fall and eventual resurfacing (not rise, by any understanding) of a man who doesn't seem to understand anything about his life and his surroundings any longer. Outstanding highlights include the fantastic A Beer With the Devil and a double-sized issue where DD gets his arse handed to him, repeatedly, by a group of second-rate bad guys who the blind hero would normally dispatch in seconds.

Towards the end of the run, the series got just plain weird with guest stars including the Silver Surfer, The Inhumans and what is essentially the main story about the fight between Mephisto and his son Blackheart. Nocenti stuck around for a while, but the replacements for Romita failed to elevate the appearance above mediocre, which subsequently made Nocenti's unusual themes lose their impact. However, the biggest crime was that Nocenti never got the chance to do much more in comics and that is also a big tragedy.

The Griffin - Dan Vado & Norm Felchle (unfortunate name, if you think about it) created a strange 6 part hybrid of Rebel Without a Cause, Superman and Alien Legion, with some thrash metal Muppets thrown in for good measure and a banana.

The story is simple - Matt Williams is a high school jock with limited future because of his crazy ways; one night while railing against society he is offered the chance of becoming a super powerful hero as long as he enlists for a superior race of aliens in their seemingly never ending war against their greatest foes and for a long time Matt is the champion and is committed to the cause above and beyond the expectations of his 'masters'. He has everything he could ever want, but essentially he is a prisoner, performing in wars that his keepers no longer have the ability to win. When he seems to win the war, Matt decides it's time he went home to see the people he left behind, so he goes AWOL and inadvertently sets into motion the possible destruction of Earth.

The art is stylised, the script kind of suggested that Vado had a bright future and it was neatly tied up with only the barest hint of a sequel, which never, to my knowledge happened and that makes this an excellent stand alone story to be enjoyed and, at times, savoured. Some of the twists and turns are not obvious and I'm still of the opinion it would make a quite brilliant action movie.

We3 - Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely's contribution to this list is possibly the most recent thing I've read and fallen for. It is a truly heart-wrenching tale of cybernetic organisms - a dog, a cat and a rabbit and just kicks ass big time. This is Morrison at his simplistic best - no weird shit, no existential bollocks, just a damned good story with an uplifting ending, although the one fatality from our trio of heroes upset me because she was the real hero. If you love your animals, love a great action adventure and want a story that will stick with you for a long time, this has few rivals.

The Incredible Hulk - Peter David's first spell at the helm introduced us all to one of the definitive Hulks, well, actually several definitive Hulks, but let's not split hairs (or purple pants). With initially Todd McFarlane and then newcomer Dale Keown, David literally reinvented the green giant in such a way that probably no other comic character has been changed so drastically, yet kept total faith in Lee and Kirby's creation.

This was my favourite book for several years; the consistency was of the highest levels and Marvel had arguably the finest superhero writer of his era; David wrote sparkling and evocative stories that sometimes completely ignored history and made you wonder how come no one had ever thought about doing what he did. He was let down by Marvel's inability to manage themselves properly in the early 90s - they never seemed to realise that 95% of the people who bought the book was buying it for the writer; the extremely good artists they attracted only made it sumptuous eye candy; once they started to impose the artist du jour on the writer, cracks started to appear and the flow was lost. Gary Frank was a good addition to the art chores, but over a year of David's scripts being crucified by below average artists like Jan Duursema, meant that by the time the young English artist joined the team, you could tell that David was losing faith in his long term plan.

Crisis on Infinite Earths - by Marv Wolfman & George Perez. You could argue that this deserves no place on anyone's must read list, because it isn't really a story more of a long winded homage to bygone days. You could also argue that it created something DC never anticipated - a jumping OFF point, but it was pretty much the most ambitious idea ever attempted in modern comics.

I've talked about Crisis a lot over the years, because I love it. I love the pointless deaths; the heroic deaths, the ridiculously contrived situations, which evoked memories of a time when DC was much simpler to understand despite it being like a rat's maze of contradiction. DC seemed to realise that continuity was Marvel's big contribution to comics and pretty much its greatest asset and the only way they could hope to rival their young competitors was to reinvent their own universe and get rid of 50 years of stories that the fanboy editors of DC saw as the real hurdle to them re-establishing themselves as #1. But these guys grew up with these heroes, so they just couldn't start again, they had to give the die hard DC fans an ending of sorts.

It was poorly produced, suffered all manner of problems and ignored huge swathes of history because the powers that be wanted no change to Batman at all. At the time of Crisis, Batman was probably the only real competition Marvel had and DC editors felt that changing the character, the way they intended to with Superman, would be more detrimental to sales than stimulating. However, at the end of the series, we're treated to one of the most uplifting of ambiguous endings ever and an era had gone.

Detective Comics - Most people will cite The Dark Knight Returns or The Killing Joke as defining Batman comics, but after the furore of the, to be honest pretty poor, Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams issues, the character needed stimulating and in the mid-1970s the team of Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin produced half a dozen or so issues that might have been as classic as other stories had DC not been plunged into a financial mess that almost sent them to the wall.

It's an era of DC that had a lot of shit, a big lot, and little stuck to anything, yet despite their problems they had two of the hottest artists of the time in Rogers and Michael Golden producing wonderful little stories which seemed light years away from the usual DC dross. I'm betting these have stood the test of time the worst, because of the era they were created; but I can't help think that if DC hadn't imploded, this team might have gone on to great things.

However, Englehart really struggled to stay a top writer; Rogers seemingly disappeared for years before returning with an almost unrecognisable style, to draw the Silver Surfer for Marvel, with Austin, who spent many years inking The X-Men and other top titles. Yet this era of Detective and the odd issue of Batman Family had stories that stood out like a sore thumb compared to most everything else being produced by anyone.

Fish Police - Steve Moncuse was an unknown and he returned to that level, but for a while Fish Police was the reason I returned to comics. It was bright, colourful, funny, refreshing and essentially a quite British styled series that lost its way when Moncuse decided to introduce a story to explain the comics origin. But the first 16 issues and Special are a wonder to behold, with at least one side-splitting moment in each and usually from a kind of breaking the 4th wall aside; such as when Gil, our hero who just wakes up one day as a police fish in an underwater world, ponders why there is a need for stairs.

It's colour-saturated noir for the most part, which eventually got lost in an exercise in ego massaging; but the first part of the story is just plain bonkers.

The Thing and The Hulk in Big Change - is a Marvel graphic novel by Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson and is worth buying for the comedy than anything else, especially when Ben Grimm persuades his savage green companion to use reasoning rather than his fists to stop a fight, with results far more devastating than you could imagine.

Gumby's Winter Fun Special by Steve Purcell and Arthur Adams is still, possibly, one of the funniest things I have ever read and it still makes me chuckle even now. You don't get comics like this any more - full of cartoon characters, the devil, Santa Claus, moles, monsters, a journey to the centre of the Earth and everything else you can throw in and get away with. It is just 48 pages of utter madness and amazingly evocative of Art Clokey's original, but perhaps with a vat of LSD thrown in for good measure. Is especially worth checking out for the panel of Gumby and Pokey being carried around in buckets because it's too hot for them to be in their normal forms.

It was also one of the first things I ever saw Arthur Adams draw and frankly if you can't see the man's genius in this you have shit in your eyes.

Amazing Adventures #34 by Don McGregor* and P. Craig Russell was possibly my favourite comic of all time for many years. It looked good, read brilliantly and delivered the deaths of at least two major characters in a bloodthirsty and pointless manner. I had never read anything like it before and it belonged to a series that I had little or no time for before and sadly after.

Killraven was a character created out of the ashes of HG Wells War of the Worlds story, it was set in the near future and was Marvel's kind of version of Jack Kirby's Kamandi - it was about a band of freedom fighters trying to rest control of the world back from alien oppressors. This 'resistance' had pretty much been whupping the Martians' arses in most issues, but #34 was a game changer and amazingly (if you'll pardon the pun) was years ahead of its time.

The aliens decide to strike back and send an assassin charged with killing Killraven and his band of merry men. After killing two central characters with ease and seriously wounding another, our hero is left to fight the ruthless Martian killing machine and discovers to his dismay and anguish that the 'man' who killed his friends isn't a man at all but an unfeeling robot; so even when Killraven gains his revenge, all he can hear is the laughter from the robot that has decimated his family and life. It was a really shocking ending.

It left me slack-jawed in awe; it was so good I revisited the entire series and couldn't find much to endear it me, yet this one issue had more power, more shocks and more pathos in it than anything Marvel had ever done before and was the first comic I can recall that basically offered the example of the ultimate futility of war. It's worth checking out if you can actually find it and Russell's artwork has never been bettered.

* McGregor was one of the first creators I ever met in person and this set me on a path that was to bring me into contact with the group of people I wrote about in the main section - the ones who for a while made up Dez Skinn's entourage.

I'd pretty much been talking up the brilliance of Amazing #34 all the way back in the late 1970s, and I'd also been a big fan of his graphic novel A Remembrance of Threatening Green (which he produced with Marshall Rogers) and this had come to the attention of Richard Burton and Alan McKenzie who were helping organise the Bloomsbury Hotel Comic Convention. McGregor was one of the star guests and they needed a retrospective and fluff piece about the writer and I got asked to write it. I'm pretty sure what I submitted was a piece of crap, because they got someone else to do it at the last minute, but I was young and the disappointment didn't last for long - I'd expected a lot of rejection in my quest to write. As a result, the organisers gave me a guest pass and included my name in the Special Staff index and I got to meet McGregor, talk to him and basically tell him that I'd written the original article on him but it had not seen print. He was a strange man and I never really took to him.

However, George Perez, who I also met at the same event, proved to be a great guy and I still have a Vision sketch he did me. Had it been 30 years later, I have no doubt that because of the Internet I would have done McGregor justice and also built up a relationship with Perez, who, at the time, was one of hottest properties in comics art.

With hindsight, this might have been the first real opportunity I had of breaking into that clique and I blew it because I had not paid attention in English lessons enough. I had got to a level at school where I knew that I was a more ... exciting writer than my peers; some of my stories and poems had teachers scratching their heads in disbelief that the shit who did nothing but fuck about in class could produce such good, if grammatically awful, stories. So subsequently, when people were learning about verbs, adjectives, syntax, and all those important things you need for the future I'd set myself, I was sitting at the back of the class flicking bogeys at the nerds and acting like a chimpanzee.

This was never more acute than when I dug out the first novel I ever wrote, back in 1982. It was done on a typewriter, word processors were the thing of science fiction at the time, and being a lazy bastard, if I went wrong I attempted to right the wrong rather than scrapping pages and have to retype them. So when I sat in the loft, flicking through the pages, I wondered why on Earth I'd kept the thing. It was, for the most part, unbelievably awful, but it was 200 fullscap pages of single spaced type and I'd had an idea, started it, done the middle and finished it by the time I was not yet 21. If nothing else, that made me proud. What also made me feel slightly better about this original manuscript was that, in places, it showed the true potential my teachers had seen. Yes, it was full of apostrophes in the wrong place, bad sentence structure, dangling prepositions and split infinities. In places it read like a drunken man's rant and in others it made absolutely no sense at all, like I'd forgotten how to write in English, but had failed to notice it on the page (and proving the theory that you type what you think you've typed rather than what you have actually typed).

Yet, in places it absolutely rocked and I sat, slightly amazed, at the 10% of it that showed I had potential. I attempted to rewrite it in 2008 and got about 400 words into it before I realised that it didn't do anything for me and the time to write or revisit it had passed. I also, with hindsight, learned something about the people who read your work; three people read The Future, a tale about a boy with the power of God, the girl he loved and a mentally retarded (that term was still okay to use in 1982) serial killer. Two of the people were friends who raved about it, but they knew me and probably were impressed that I could write something so big and the other person was my old English teacher, who incredibly skilfully managed to avoid saying anything about it that she thought might upset me; but the truth of the matter was, she didn't need to tell me that it was shit, I realised that all by myself.

Next time: the rest of my recommended list, plus some other guff.