Too serious about comics.

Roger Langridge

Best Comics of 2010: Thor: The Mighty Avenger

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It feels weird putting a comic that I’ve only just got around to catching up on, and that I haven’t yet actually read all the extant issues of, into the bracket of the top ten comics of the year – but the fact that I am doing so sums up just how Thor: The Mighty Avenger has leapt into my affections, being as it is the most beautifully charming, wondrous, good-hearted and downright likeable comic I’ve read since… well, probably since All-Star Superman. Yeah.

I suspect the reason I hadn’t bothered getting around to it yet – despite the intense critical acclaim afforded to it – is that Thor books simply don’t come onto my radar (except for the brief period of time in which they’re written by Kieron Gillen). I’ve just never had any great interest in the character, which would also explain why the trailer for the upcoming movie doesn’t excite me a huge amount. Dismissing Thor: The Mighty Avenger as just another Thor-related book to be ignored was foolishness in the extreme, though – a point I really should have been aware of simply due to the presence of the great Roger Langridge as writer.

Nevertheless, it’s taken news of its impending cancellation and the general sobbing and hand-wringing that this has brought from the sort of corners of comics reading that did the same when Captain Britain and S.W.O.R.D. met the same fate (i.e. the corners that have good taste) to inspire me to finally get around to check it out (particularly with the knowledge that any TPBs that might ever emerge are probably six months or so away), and so I’ve managed to get hold of a few of the issues. And by gum, I wish I’d been reading it from the start. It’s delightful. It’s exactly the sort of comic you want to hold up to people to show them that comics are actually still capable of being fun, all-reader-friendly, character-driven, intelligent and witty stories about brightly-coloured heroes. I’d honestly put it in the same bracket as Pixar, Aardman and early-era Simpsons in that, although it doesn’t match their epoch-defining genius quality, it really does effortlessly appeal to and cater for an audience of just about any age or level.

Although ostensibly a retelling of the “classic” Thor origin, the book takes liberties not just with plot and detail (most notably, beefing up the role of Jane Foster and also giving her an entirely different career), but with the overall tone – and where it succeeds is that it isn’t really the story of Thor being cast out of Asgard and finding his way as a superhero on Earth. Instead, it’s the story of Thor, who happens to have been cast out of Asgard (although his history before reaching Earth is pretty much irrelevant to the story being told), meeting a woman who shows him all the wonder and beauty of a world he finds a strange and bewildering lesser prospect than his own. It’s a romance, in other words – a romance with punching and jokes and Ant Man, sure, but a romance all the same. And it’s lovely. The characterisation is the real key – this take on Thor, the likeable bewildered lost soul, is the most appealing I’ve seen, while Jane is nothing short of adorable. You wind up rooting simply for these characters to succeed in finding each other, because they’re so darned lovely. And the book is frequently (like you’d expect anything less from Langridge) very, very funny – most notably in issue #4, which not only features Volstagg, but also has a take on Captain Britain that’s every bit as funny as anything Cornell did (“Oh, it’s okay, [Brian's] Captain Britain.” “What?” “He thinks his friends don’t know, but he’s terrible at keeping a secret, so we pretend we don’t notice.”)

It’s a triumph visually, too – it’s odd seeing something only written by Langridge rather than drawn by him as well, but it’s absolutely the right decision as his cartoony style simply wouldn’t fit this. But having only known Chris Samnee for doing a passable Peter Snejbjerg impression on The Mighty, he’s a revelation here – with gorgeous, clean, mock-retro work that’s in a similar ballpark to the sort of thing Marcos Martin’s been doing on Spider-Man. A lush, vibrant colouring job from the ever-brilliant Matt Wilson simply rounds out the package – the whole thing is bright, and pretty, and energetic, without ever having the tacky and garish sort of look you might expect from such old-fashioned, straight-down-the-line superheroics.

That it’s only ever going to be a comic of 2010 – one final issue next month aside – is a great tragedy, but I’m glad I got the chance to discover it when I did, even belatedly. It’s frustrating that Marvel keep on taking a punt on series like this with such dazzlingly inventive and pure-of-heart craft behind them, and that the comics-buying public just don’t take to them – but hopefully the critical acclaim afforded to this and others of its ilk will prevent them from thinking twice about taking such chances in the future.

UK Web & Mini Comix Thing 2009

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To my eternal discredit, I’ve never been very good at showing up to small press events and supporting up-and-coming indie creators – but when one takes place a short bus ride away from my flat, and I’ve been paid the preceding week, I really have no excuse whatsoever. And so it was that I found myself on a D6 to Mile End on Saturday for the 2009 UK Web & Mini Comix Thing, hoping to pick up a few exciting odds and ends and discover some new writers and artists to enjoy.

Of course, the first thing I did upon arriving was to head over immediately to the table of a writer/artist that I already knew rather well – certified Friend Of Comics Daily Marc Ellerby was there, launching – excitedly – not one, but two brand new books exclusively at the event before their general release online. Volume three of Ellerbisms was of course an exciting prospect – having already followed the strips online, it was clear that this would be the best volume yet (complete with cameo appearance from Superstardom’s Jamie McKelvie), with the increased prominence given to the life of Marc’s girlfriend Anna (to the extent that the cover blurb describes the book as being about both their lives rather than just his) adding a new dimension to the series, and the “bonus material” of the pull-out hourly mini comic a neat touch – but the real Ellerby news was the launch of his new mini, Chloe Noonan : Monster Hunter. A short story designed to help push the planned graphic novel to potential publishers, it’s an absolute joy that sees Ellerby moving out of his comfort zone somewhat. There’s action – although not quite as much as the title would suggest, as both Ellerby and his characters are keen to push that this isn’t just a Buffy knockoff, and is as much about going to fight monsters as actually fighting them – and a somewhat different art style to go with it, with a lot more use of heavy lines and black than in the likes of Love the Way You Love. And in getting to string something he’s written out over more than a couple of pages for once, we see that Ellerby is actually a pretty damned good storyteller, with some lovely stylistic tricks. Complete with some genuinely laugh-worthy moments and an awe-inspiring moment of music referencing, Chloe Noonan is a terrific introduction to the character and concept, and a full series can’t come soon enough.

My next couple of purchases were both bought on recommendation, but were both worthwhile ones. Adam Cadwell‘s The Everyday is a diary comic along similar lines to Ellerbisms (the two have even engaged in crossover), and I was faced with a choice of three volumes to try out – I went for volume three because of its utterly lovely cover, and was glad I did, as it not only featured a strip set in Crosby Village (my hometown, fact fans), but also one where Cadwell can’t stop himself from nitpicking at a lovely text message from a girl that doesn’t hyphenate “Spider-Man”. Cadwell’s strips might not be as frequently laugh-out-loud funny as Ellerby’s (although they have their moments), but his art is nothing short of fantastic, and already he’s someone I’d really like to see get a lot more exposure (he’s already done a pin-up for Phonogram and worked with Ellerby on Love the Way You Love – but further recognition must surely be forthcoming). It’s an impressively up-to-date collection, too – the final strip is actually the most recent one featured on Adam’s website, and is dated 18th March.

Chris Doherty‘s Video Nasties was another “I’ll give one issue a try and see what I think” job, but I came away from it wishing I’d gone for at least the second as well – it’s an ongoing narrative rather than a series of strips, and it’s an intriguing little story about high school kids making a documentary about former students that once went missing. The first issue is fairly straight down-the-line, but I’ve seen enough in the way of pages/panels from later in the series to suggest that it all gets rather more sinister. It’s generally a good-looking comic, but what really struck me about it was the quality of the dialogue, in the way that it pretty accurately captures the vocal mannerisms of British teenagers without it seeming forced. It’s effective in setting up the book’s “world”, and helps you buy into it. Although not a huge amount happens in the first issue, enough about it hooked me in that I’m eager to carry on with it.

man on fire dvdrip download Unfortunately, I have to admit that just about everything I bought at the event was overshadowed by my final purchase, thanks to the fact that Roger Langridge had a table there. Langridge is, of course, already known to me – fellow CDer Julian is a huge fan, and while I’ve not read as much of his work as I’d like, I’ve seen enough (including an absolutely wonderful Doctor Who strip) to suggest that he’s a particularly rare talent. I picked up issue one of volume two of his Eisner-nominated Fred the Clown, and it’s truly magnificent. It’s some of the finest tragicomedy I’ve read in a long time, and his meticulous artwork is often laugh-out-loud funny simply in and of itself. He also very kindly let me have two of his uber-mini productions – Henry Plib’s Got Two and Frankenstein Meets Shirly Temple – for the price of one, and both are fairly entertaining in their own way, but Fred the Clown is nothing short of a masterpiece.

I’d also been hoping to pick up the Jump Leads anthology (written by Red Dwarf fandom compatriot Ben Paddon), but a shipping crisis had put paid to their actually having anything to sell (although interest in the book from punters was pleasingly still healthy) – we’ll have a review of it on here at some point, though, when I get hold of one. I did, though, take the opportunity to pick up the show’s anthology, themed around “Mars”, although it’s a shame both that none of the people I bought stuff by made an appearance in it, and that I didn’t have a chance to read it before stalking the tables, as I might have got more hints on books worth checking out. As you’d expect, it’s a mixed bag, but strips by Reckless Youth, Andrew Livesy and Arthur Goodman all made me chuckle and marked out their creators as worth checking out in future.

All in all, while not a massive haul (hey, these things ain’t free, y’know), I was particularly pleased with my selection, with not a dud among them. All the works mentioned are very worthy of your time, and as a demonstration of the fact that I should really be heading along to more of these things and spending more money at them, it was spot on. Marvellous!

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