Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons may be famous for Watchmen but these opening panels from one of their stories in 2000AD are basically the best thing comics have ever done.

Sometimes I remember that the two last issues of The Pirates of Coney Island never got published and then I get sad, which usually happens when I listen to DZ Deathrays, which is not the appropriate soundtrack for being sad too.

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Comic books of 2012 reviewed in gifs

Dial H — China Mieville, Mateus Santolouco

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Saga — Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples

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The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Century: 2009 — Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill

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Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch — Evan Dorkin, Jill Thompson

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Journey Into Mystery — Kieron Gillen, Doug Braithwaite, Pasqual Ferry, Richard Elsen, Mitchell Breitweiser

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Axe Cop: President of the World — Malachai Nicolle, Ethan Nicholle

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Fashion Beast — Alan Moore, Antony Johnston, Facundo Percio

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The Manhattan Projects — Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitarra

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Are You My Mother? — Alison Bechdel

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Adventure Time — Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, Braiden Lamb

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Before Watchmen — A collection of people who don’t know any better

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Friday:

In honour of Friday’s gig, here’s something relevant from Bobbins, which was young John Allison’s comic strip before creating the excellent Scary Go Round and Bad Machinery.

That is exactly how I imagine Ed O’Brien acts in real life. Though he probably doesn’t wear a Muse shirt.

So yeah, my idiotic plan of not bothering to organise Radiohead tickets because “the universe will sort something out” actually worked. Now is a good time to sell me on the healing power of crystals and Shirley Maclaine books.

Beating Panels #7

As is traditional, here is a shop with a pun in its name.

And here is Beating Panels, a blog about a few of this week’s comics that also has a pun in its name.

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Beating Panels #6

As is traditional, here is a shop with a pun for a name.

And here is Beating Panels, a blog about comics that has a pun for a name.

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Beating Panels #5

The rule is that if you come up with a name for something that is also a pun you must create that thing. Hence:

And also hence: Beating Panels, my thoughts on a few of this week’s comics with some pictures of the panels to accompany them, get it — panels. Genius.

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Beating Panels #4

Here is a shop with a pun in its name.

And here is this week’s instalment of Beating Panels, where I read some new comics and have extremely complicated thoughts about them.

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Beating Panels #3

It’s that time again, by which I mean it’s time for two things. Firstly: PUN BUSINESS.

Secondly: Some comics I read this week and the half-baked thoughts I had about them.

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Batman’s Best

(This was originally written when The Dark Knight was released, but remains just as relevant. Nothing’s happened in Batman comics since then, right? Naaah.)

You’ve seen a movie about a wealthy playboy dressing up as a shadowy incarnation of justice and now maybe you’d like to read a comic about the same? Especially if it involves him getting into fights with an evil clown? Here are some of the best.

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Beating Panels #2

If you come up with a pun that would make a good name for something, you have to follow through and create that thing, no matter what. Here is an example of that rule in glorious action:

These men are the real heroes.

Which brings us to Beating Panels, which is what I call it when I read some new comics and have some thoughts about them.

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Beating Panels #0

There’s apparently a rule that if you think up the perfect punning name for something, you have to create it. It’s the only possible explanation for this:

When I realised “Beating Panels” would be a good name for a comic book blog, I had to follow through. It’s the law. Plus, Colin Smith can’t cover everything by himself. So here is what I read this week and what I thought about it.

 

Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1

J. Michael Straczynski, Andy Kubert (DC)

You can see why DC thought Watchmen prequels were a good idea. Watchmen has so many flashbacks it’s basically pregnant with backstory, so why not go back to witness the moment of insemination? That is a terrible metaphor, I’m sorry, but as it happens it’s also a terrible idea.

Nite Owl #1 shows us young Dan Dreiberg becoming the superhero we all know and chuckle at the impotence of in Watchmen. There he’s a middle-aged schlub, a doofus in an owl costume who surprises us with his competence. Seeing young Nite Owl Batmanning it up undercuts that in an odd way.

We also see Dreiberg meeting Rorschach for the first time. Writing a broken character with hidden trauma on the verge of becoming an existential black hole like Rorschach would be a challenge. Or you could just have him say “Hurm” twice per page.

Even Charles Dickens would say this is over-reliance on a vocal tic in place of characterisation. If Dickens travelled through time to read bad superhero comics, that is.

FF #19

Jonathan Hickman, Gabriel Hernandez Walta (Marvel)

FF is not Marvel’s guide to which comics artists you should follow on Twitter (@mckelvie). It’s a Fantastic Four spin-off about the adventures of Reed Richards and Sue Storm’s genius super-kids, Valeria and Franklin, and their class of super-kid buddies. It dovetails with the regular Fantastic Four comic, showing what crazy hijinx the kids get into while, for instance, their parents are busy saving the fictional African nation of Wakanda. 

The hijinx include finding a dead body.

Because FF is the kind of comic that tells kids’ stories for an audience largely consisting of childless thirtysomethings who watch Adventure Time (i.e. me), it does this odd thing where it combines the innocence of children’s fiction with grown-up elements that only maybe Roald Dahl would get away with. It’s probably best not to dwell on that too much because FF is fun from beginning to end, and it’s not like The Hunger Games was only consumed by Authentic Young Adults so maybe we should just admit that the tropes of kids’ stories have a strong appeal for adults who like literary slumming.

Like readers of superhero comics.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Century: 2009

Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf/Knockabout)

When The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen started it was about the protagonists of various Victorian-era fictions teaming up to battle villains from Victorian-era fiction – people like Dr Jekyll and the Invisible Man going up against Fu Manchu. It was a solid pulp adventure riddled with clever references to its sources.

From that beginning, it’s become an extrapolation of an entire history of Earth populated by characters from works of fiction. Now we’re up to the year 2009 in that universe, so there are cute bits of news in the background like President Palmer (from 24) blaming the recession on the Bartlett administration (from The West Wing), but promising that his taskforce will solve this problem the same way they solve every problem – in 24 hours. Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It shows up as well.

That’s just background detail, though. The actual story spends most of its time with old members of the League who’ve outlived their stories – Mina Harker from Dracula and Allan Quatermain from King Solomon’s Mines, both having drunk from the fountain of youth, accompanied by Orlando the gender-flipping immortal from Virginia Woolf’s book of the same name. Each League story after the first has followed a similar pattern, with a shrinking cast of out-of-time characters realising that the problems of each strange new era are ones they’re not equipped for.

I’m getting a bit sick of it.

To completely spoil the ending – because the Independent, Entertainment Weekly and a dozen other places have beat me to it, though stop here if you don’t want to know – the villain of Century: 2009 is Harry Potter, who is also the antichrist. He’s defeated by Mary Poppins, who is if not God then certainly a god. That is really, honestly, what happens in this book.

If you didn’t know Captain Nemo from 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, when you read the first volume of League you got to know him because he was right there in page after riveting page. But Potter and Poppins as they’re used here aren’t characters, they’re plot devices. If you’re not already invested in these specific interpretations of them – if you didn’t notice that Mary Poppins came from the sky and had limitless, reality-altering powers and think a stoner-ish, “Hey, what if…” – then this ending to Century will seem like a daft deux ex machina.

If you are the right kind of reader, I can see the appeal. Jess Nevins and the Mindless Ones are already annotating and dissecting it, because there’s certainly a lot here for the trainspotter. And if this was a buddy comedy about Malcolm Tucker and Josh Lyman, I’d probably be right there with them.

Watchmen Babies #1

So I did it. I read the first issue of Before Watchmen: Minutemen.

Is it terrible?

It’s framed as the reminiscences of Hollis Mason as he tries to write the epilogue for his autobiography, Under the Hood, reliving his past and that of his vigilante buddies in the Minutemen one more time. He’s trying to find an ending to their story. Of course, he won’t find that ending because it hasn’t happened yet. It’s in another book, one by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

Basically, this is some of the interstitial bits of Watchmen rewritten, an illustrated version of the chapters of Mason’s autobiography that were inserted at the end of each issue. Mason’s narration assumes he’s talking to someone who has already read that stuff, which is an odd way to think, assuming that I’m right in reading this as his thoughts and not more of his book.

The closest it comes to having something new to say is when background figures from Watchmen like Mothman and the Silhouette are given their own space. For a few pages there it’s actually half-decent, but as soon as Captain Metropolis shows up it becomes wordy and dull.

Then it ends.

Actually, that’s not where it ends. It ends with two pages of a pirate comic. Rather than inserting the pirate comic into the narrative to comment on it as Watchmen does, in Before Watchmen it’s going to be placed at the end of issue of the various miniseries. To get part two you’ll need to read the first issue of the Silk Spectre miniseries, because heaven forbid you read one of these books without reading all of them.

These two pages have nothing to do with the story so far. They’re just two pages that introduce a character, say “I’m on a boat” and then finish. The rest of this issue felt redundant; this is irrelevant.

Is it terrible? Not really. It’s worse than that: it’s boring.

With that out of the way, onto the important stuff. By which I mean the nitpicking.

There are nods toward the formalist cleverness of Watchmen in Minutemen. It opens with a sequence that repeats layouts while depicting different scenes. It has a title written in the gutter between panels. But that title – rather than being a snippet of a quote that’s repeated in full at the end of the issue to propel you back to the start again to reconsider it in the more complete context of everything you’ve seen since then – well, it’s just a title.

And, I hope you’re sitting down when you read this, Watchmen fans, there’s a sound effect.

I know. I know, right? A sound effect. In a Watchmen comic.

I feel faint.

X-Men: Season One

Isn’t it always the way: comics get a bit of media attention, this time thanks to Northstar getting married to his boyfriend, and Marvel can’t turn that interest into new readers because the comics are mired in years of incomprehensible backstory and there’s no easy way in you can recommend  –

Oh, wait.

 

Earlier this year Marvel published a bunch of “Season One” books to reintroduce their characters. The X-Men book, written by Dennis Hopeless and drawn by Jamie McKelvie, shows the original cast going through their early days at Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, only updated all modern-like with laptops and txt-speak and that young-people fashion worn by the young people.

At a brisk pace it throws together the main characters, with narration from Jean Grey, and quickly sets them to doing the things super-powered mutants do: developing love triangles, squabbling, and fighting robots.

After superhero comics have been around for a while they start to use visual shorthand to depict the main characters’ powers because they get drawn so often.  I’ve heard it said – okay, read on a blog – that it’s hard to find images of Cyclops using his eyebeams in the same panel as them hitting something, because nobody’s drawn the full thing for years. It seems like a small thing, but that kind of expectation that everybody reading a book starts out on the same page carries over to every element of the story.

Well, here’s the eyebeams for you.

 

X-Men: Season One is pretty good at depicting teenagers with superpowers. If I could create and control ice, I’d use it to slide down a hallway on an office chair too. I would probably wear more than just shoes, though. Iceman doesn’t seem to have learned an important lesson of being a man yet: shoes and socks come off first. A woman in nothing but her shoes can look hot; a man in nothing but shoes looks like a tool.

The story is a little rushed, as if it’s trying to cram a year’s worth of events into 100 pages, and perhaps it’s anticlimactic because of that, but this is a fine introduction to the comic-book version of these characters. Sure, you could just watch X-Men: First Class instead, but then you’d miss out on seeing Cyclops and Professor X hanging out together in the Danger Room like Troy and Abed in the Dreamatorium.

 

Crammed in the back of X-Men: Season One is the first issue of the relaunched Uncanny X-Men from last year, the one where the team has split in half after relocating to San Francisco and Magneto is a good guy and no new kids have developed mutant powers for years except now they have and Jean Grey is dead and Colossus is bald and Cyclops is dating a woman who is underdressed for a Victoria’s Secret show.

They should hire me to write those catch-up blurbs at the start of each issue.

It’s an immersion directly into the current status quo, almost 40 years of continuity catching up to you like an overstretched rubber band. And it’s actually kind of thrilling.

When I was a kid I read Spider-Man comics for years before I found out about the radioactive spider that gave him his powers. Spider-Man had spider-powers because he was Spider-Man, duh. I only found out Batman’s parents were dead when the movie came out. I was never lost while reading those comics, often by picking up random issues in the middle of stories I didn’t always see the ending of. I just didn’t care. The appeal was what they did and how cool it looked, and why wasn’t a question I ever asked.

So this is a fine introduction to a cast of characters that some people may be interested in being introduced to, but it’s reminded me that these things are basically unnecessary. The reason these occasional bursts of mainstream interest in superheroes haven’t flooded the shops with new readers who stick around isn’t because they can’t find the beginnings of stories, it’s because they don’t want them. Readers of comics tend to think that all it takes is the right book to turn anyone into a fan just like us, but the truth of it is that people who don’t like superhero comics don’t like them because they don’t like them, and that’s that.

Which is okay, because the fact that it’s only us reading books like this doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. But please, somebody tell Iceman to put some pants on or take the shoes off.

 

Astonishing X-Men #51

Chris Sims has a pretty good take on the reaction to this.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that super-hero comics can teach you something. They just can’t teach you to be gay.

What they teach you is that you should use your abilities to help the people around you and make the world a better place rather than just throwing your weight around to be a bully. And they teach you that when the world hates and fears someone just because they’re different, it’s the world that’s wrong.

Although the first thing I did when I saw this cover was spot the floating green guy bottom left and go, “Oh my God, they’re bringing back Doop!”

I really like Doop.