Tag Archives: comics

Slices of home life prove that Spider-man should be a Spider-dad.

Spider-man Should be Spider-Dad

I wrote, recently and perhaps too passionately, about how important Spider-man’s marriage was to me. It was an argument that hinged on responsibility, for yourself and your spouse, and I said “a marriage is a near-perfect symbol for Spider-man”. There was just one reason I had to add a qualifier to perfection: the recent Renew Your Vows storyline has shown me that Spider-man should be more than just married; Spider-man should be Spider-dad.

There’s spoilers ahead for issue one of this storyline.

If we’re talking about responsibility, what greater responsibility is there than parenthood? A child needs your guidance, protection, support, care. If you don’t provide it, who will? And if Spider-man is the everyman, the hero, the moral heart who can tackle the complicated moral questions, then Spider-dad makes perfect sense. Because if getting married changes the way you view the world, having a child irrevocably and catastrophically upends it. A simplistic Spider-man fights the good fight, always and without question. But Spider-dad has a new priority: his child. Can he fight the good fight and be a good father at the same time?

Renew Your Vows takes, what I think is, the right approach: Spider-dad puts his child above all else. So, to protect his daughter, Spider-dad abandons the Avengers, kills Venom, and hangs up his tights while a super-villain takes over the world. He has no choice. Helping the Avengers means his daughter is unprotected from Venom. And Venom swears he won’t stop until his daughter is dead. And going solo against the super-dictator likely means his daughter won’t have a father anymore.

In his own words, Spider-dad “learned what trumps great power: an even greater responsibility.”

Sadly Renew Your Vows isn’t a new status quo. It’s essentially a What-If? tale, an alternate reality, and so it’s very brief. I’d love to see a longer, slower take on Spider-dad. We’ve got bunches of heroes with few to no ties, who can charge into a battle without a care save, perhaps, a sense of self-preservation. But there are hardly any parent superheroes. Picture this:

Spider-dad has to pick up his daughter from school so she’s not left walking dangerous streets alone. But he’s interrupting a bank heist. So he has to let the crooks escape.

Full-time work, heroics, and late night feeds means Spider-dad is getting even less sleep than usual. Now he’s getting sloppy and making mistakes.

Being a Spider-baby is making his daughter ill. Contemporary medicine can’t help. But a super villain has a cure, and blackmails Spider-dad into doing a few jobs for him.

I called Spider-man the moral heart of the Marvel universe. And, at first glance, the moral heart can’t let crooks escape (they’ll hurt someone else), can’t get sloppy (someone could get hurt), and certainly can’t be an errand boy for a super villain. But I don’t want to compromise Spider-man. He should always try to do the right thing. But a moral heart, as I mentioned before, sometimes has to tackle complicated questions. And Spider-dad could ask, and maybe answer, a beautifully complicated question:

“Can anything I do be wrong if I’m doing it for my daughter?”

I want to read that comic. I want Spider-dad.

Spider-dad, Spider-dad,
Does whatever a daddy can,
Diaper change, midnight feeds,
Morally uncertain deeds,
Hey man, here comes the Spider-dad.

See? Now you want Spider-dad too.

Spider-man's marriage to Mary Jane was ended in a deal with the devil.

Spider-man’s Marriage Was the Most Important Thing in Comics

“I wasn’t going to buy Renew Your Vows,” I told my wife. “But I couldn’t resist seeing a married Spider-man again.” To which she said, “Why’s that?” “Spider-man’s marriage,” says I, “was the most important thing in comics.” To which, unsurprisingly, she replied, “What?”

Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada ended Spider-man’s marriage to Mary-Jane Watson back in 2007. There was no divorce, no death. Quesada wiped it from history, so that it never happened. Such a thing is commonly called a retcon, and comics are full of them. But I believe this is the biggest, and the worst, retcon of them all. Because of two aspects of his character, Spider-man’s marriage was the most important thing in comics.

I consider Spider-man the everyman of Marvel heroes. Amongst an A-list roster of billionaires, super-soldiers and gods, Spider-man is a regular New Yorker who got bit by a spider. Like us, Spider-man struggles to make ends meet, to find a work/life balance, to take care of his loved ones, to just make his life work already. Readers can empathise with Spider-man in ways they can’t empathise with other characters. And nothing proves that more than how Marvel positioned him during the Civil War debate: torn between both sides, just like the readership was.

In the Breakout storyline, there’s an enormous battle in a prison filled with super villains. And the next day, Captain America visits Peter Parker and says, “You didn’t take the day off? You went right from last night to work?” And Peter replies, “Kids need a teacher.” This, to me, is proof positive that Spider-man is the moral heart of the Marvel universe. Captain America is a close second. But it’s easy for a super-soldier to say and do the right thing. He lives for the fight. But Spider-man has to fight the good fight, and then he has to scrape together what’s left and go to work. Teach kids. Put food on the table. And that takes much more heart and much more resolve.

Now here’s where Spider-man’s marriage is important to his character.

Some people think Spider-man’s core is the unacknowledged, awkward, wise-cracking teenager. I believe Spider-man grew into his core when he got older, wiser, and married. Everyone knows Spider-man’s motto is “with great power comes great responsibility”. And I’ve never felt so responsible as I did the day I got married. I became responsible for two people: my wife and myself. I had to provide for her, keep her happy and safe, and I had to look after myself in order to fulfill those duties. A marriage requires responsibility, morality, a hero and an everyman all at once. A marriage is a near-perfect symbol for Spider-man.

Of course, you can be responsible for a partner without marrying them. That said, you can end things with a partner, but you have to divorce a spouse. And I don’t think Spider-man could contemplate divorce, as a character or as a property of a enormous American company. So if Spider-man’s married, it’s a very different kettle of fish. It’s responsibility that he can’t walk away from.

So when Spider-man did, in fact, walk away from his marriage, he walked away from that responsibility. Gave up his core. It sent a clear message: a moral heart does not grow or change. Its understanding cannot evolve. A teenager’s idealistic, binary morality is right. A tempered, matured, complicated morality is wrong.

And this undoes Marvel in three ways.

It makes the universe shallow. It removes a nuance of his character and makes the superheroes just a little more interchangeable. There’s one less thing differentiating a guy in spandex with superpowers from the others.

It undermines Spider-man. By giving up his marriage, his purity of heart is blemished. No matter the good he does, he will always be the man who did a deal with the devil.

This undermines the Marvel universe. Spider-man’s stained moral heart undermines other characters when they continue to look at him the same way (because the reader knows he’s not the same). And, not only is the moral heart stained, but it is simplified. It damages their ability to tell stories where right and wrong aren’t clear-cut, because their moral heart willingly gave up on complicated morality in favour of a simplistic one.

I didn’t stop buying comics after Spider-man’s marriage was dissolved. But it wasn’t the same anymore. Comics felt hollow. Lacking. I’d seen dozens of reboots and retcons. But now they had proven a willingness to get a new-issue-one moment by disregarding decades of character and story. When DC announced the New 52, I didn’t have the will or the heart to go through it again. I was done.

Perhaps Spider-man’s marriage wasn’t the most important thing in comics. Perhaps Spider-man’s marriage was just my most important thing in comics. And they retconned it away. That’s why I couldn’t pass on Renew Your Vows; it’s chance to see a married Spider-man again, yes. But it’s also a chance to pretend comics don’t get retconned and erased and reworked over and over.

But it turns out Renew Your Vows contains something even more important than Spider-man’s marriage. But more on that next time.

Title card to the Netflix/Marvel series Daredevil.

Writing Lessons from Daredevil

I was burnt twice by the Daredevil film. I watched the theatrical cut and hated it. Then, a few years later, I kept hearing the director’s cut was so much better. So I bought a copy. And hated that too. So I was understandably reticent to watch the new Daredevil series on Netflix. But it’s fantastic, and a writer can’t go far wrong in studying it.

Watch out for spoilers skulking in the alleyways.

Kill the Status Quo

Not the band. Daredevil made it clear pretty early on that it had no interest in setting up a long-running status quo. It started with a secret identity, an unnamed and unseen crime kingpin, and a host of allies and foes. I fully expected the kingpin to be revealed in the series finale, with Murdock having to fight through his underlings first. I fully expected the series to spend plenty of time showing us Murdock’s efforts to keep his identity a secret before revealing to any other characters. And I fully expected the kingpin to remain in his seat of power for many series.

But, in short order, the series blew Murdock’s identity to his best friend Foggy, named Wilson Fisk and then brought him onscreen, and then started working through the allies and foes in a string of deaths. It threw me off balance and kept me wondering just what would happen next. Anyone seemed like fair game. Nothing seemed sacred. And I loved it.

Keep the Mystery

Matt Murdock is blinded as a boy, but somehow his other senses are heightened to an incredible level. He can feel air currents, taste nails from across the room, hear heartbeats. He can, in effect, see. He can do some incredible things, and Daredevil does an excellent job of explaining Matt’s abilities. It left me in awe of what he can do and wondering what his world must be like.

But one episode tried to give us a visual representation of how Matt ‘sees’; his “world on fire”. It was a pin to the balloon of mystery, proof positive that some things are best left to the reader’s imagination. It’s not that theirs is better than ours; it’s that they’ll enjoy the numerous possibilities rather than being locked into the one we decide to give them.

Don’t Let Old Ideas Hobble You

Daredevil took a slow walk from vigilante to superhero. It called Matt “the man in the mask” and “the devil of Hell’s Kitchen”. And he wore a simple, plain outfit and a mask. It’s only in the series finale that he wears a costume and gets the name “Daredevil”. But the truth is the name doesn’t fit the show. The show is a gritty, brutal, emotive thing. The name sounds like a circus act. And whilst Matt’s desire for armour made sense for a man on the receiving end of some brutal beatings, a costume isn’t something that fits with his character. He’s not trying to be a symbol like Batman. If anything, he was doing his best to work in secret.

Sometimes it’s tempting to hold onto old ideas. You might really love them. They might even be the genesis of the entire story. But if the story has evolved, don’t hang onto something that doesn’t work anymore.

Love Makes a Villain Loveable

It would have been easy to have Wilson Fisk as evil. A kingpin of crime, concerned with power and money. But Daredevil made him more than that. He has a tragic backstory, yes. He has a mission that differs from Matt Murdock’s only in the execution. And he thinks of his right-hand man as his friend.

But the real moment that makes you secretly love him? His love for a woman. It’s a normal, fierce, romantic love that makes Fisk human. Vulnerable. But it doesn’t undermine him at all. He’s still violent and ruthless. But he’s also loyal, protective, emotional. Rather than a two-dimensional villain, he’s a three-dimensional character. Fisk is one of the primary reasons Daredevil is so good.

What did you think of Daredevil? Is there anything I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

Marvel have given Mjolnir to a new, female Thor.

Is a Female Thor a Good Idea?

Here’s something new: Asgardian god and Chris Hemsworth lookalike Thor is being replaced by a woman.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is a first for comics. Not that Thor is getting replaced; when you go on holiday someone fills in for you and superheroes are no exception. Iron Man, Spider-man, even Superman. And Batman’s given up the cowl so many times the Batcave has a revolving door. But all of these temporary replacements have been of the same gender; no woman ever stepped into Batman’s shoes. I think this is a great story opportunity and I might have to pick up an issue. That said, I’m not convinced this is such a big step.

That sentiment wasn’t helped by another Marvel announcement, just a day later, that Sam Wilson, a black character, will also take over as Captain America. Another minority (as comics defines them, i.e. anything other than white male) gets a turn in the limelight. Two in as many days. It would be easy to accuse Marvel of tokenism, of shouting “look, we’ve got women and black guys in our comics!” until they’ve got our money. Then they can bring back the old white guys.

Because the status quo is king in comics. Man-Thor and Steve Rogers will come back sooner or later and these two characters will be relegated back to second string.

But here’s the thing: this is still a positive move.

I wrote a blog about what’s wrong with women in comics in which I said that comics are rightly called juvenile and backwards until they give women the respect they deserve. Since then we’ve heard David Goyer, the screenwriter behind The Dark Knight and Man of Steel, calling She-Hulk a porn star and a male power/sex fantasy. We’ve also seen the Internet pour vitriol on Janelle Asselin for criticising the hyper-sexualised teenager on the cover to Teen Titans #1. I was beginning to think there wasn’t much hope for comics.

But even if this is tokenism, and even if it only lasts, say, six months, two of the three core members of the Avengers aren’t white guys. That’s six months of representation, six months of diversity, six months of different perspectives for comics readers.

A lot of commentators have been saying it would have been better to create new heroes than hijack existing ones. That has to be a long-term goal, but let’s not overlook the power in a six-month gimmick. When it’s all over everything will look the same as it always did. But the publicity can draw in new readers that might have previously been put off by the white male spandex brigade. And, hopefully, Marvel will have shown existing readers that a female Thor is just as good as a male Thor.

And readers will have shown Marvel that there’s an appetite for “minority” superheroes that can be fed with new, permanent characters.

What do you think of the female Thor? Is it tokenism, a waste of time, or can’t you wait for the first issue? Let me know in the comments.

What’s Wrong with Women in Comics?

So DC Comics are mired in controversy once again. This time they’ve posted an open call for new artists and given them a page to illustrate. Harmless enough, except that they’re asking their prospective artists to draw Harley Quinn, female villain, naked and about to commit suicide.

You can imagine how the Internet reacted to that one.

Me, I’m entirely unsurprised. This is the comics company that recently hired Orson Scott Card, a writer so homophobic he’s touted revolution as the answer to legalised gay marriage. This is the comics company that banned creators from ever showing Batwoman’s gay marriage on panel. Hell, this is the comics company that gave rise to the Women In Refrigerators trope.

Comics have a bad reputation when it comes to women and it’s not hard to see why. Walk into any comics store and you won’t see many superheroines with their own series. And what superheroines you will see won’t be dressed for a warm day. (But check out Michael Lee Lunsford’s superheroine costume redesigns; you’ll realise how daft the “real” costumes look after seeing his take on them!)

A lot of people will argue that this is all fine. That superheroes wear daft costumes too. That heroes of both genders are idealised to the extreme. That it’s just comic books. And hey, Harley Quinn is insane. She probably would get naked and try to kill herself.

This latter argument holds weight with me. Harley is one patient short of an asylum. Getting into the tub and dropping a hair dryer into it doesn’t strike me as too out of character for her.

But this panel can’t exist in a vacuum. While men can be anything but women must be sexy, while men get costumes that cover their what-nots but women go chilly, and while men aren’t being put into refrigerators naked into tubs with hair dryers, DC can’t be so unaware as to think that this image is okay.

I’ve been reading comics for years and there’s always been talk of comics as an art form, of trying to get the mainstream to take comics seriously. Some people say comics have finally made it because of the success of films like The Dark Knight and Avengers.

I say that film studios have figured out that superheroes make for good action movies. In the meantime, the mainstream can call comics juvenile and backwards as long as DC refuse to treat anyone other than straight, white men with the respect they deserve.

What do you think? Are women still getting the short end of the stick? Or am I making a whole lot of noise over nothing? Let me know in the comments.

(Don’t forget I’ve written a superhero short story of my own. The Homeless Hero is out now!)

How Iron Man 3 Got Extremis Wrong

I couldn’t love Iron Man until Warren Ellis came along. Until that point, Marvel didn’t seem to know what to do with him. He lacked a spark, so he was just a guy in a suit. Then Warren Ellis wrote his Extremis storyline. And I loved Iron Man.

Now if you haven’t seen Iron Man 3, look away now. In fact, drop everything and go see it.

To everyone else: wasn’t it a good film? Highlights for me included Tony’s panic attacks, Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin and, as ever, Don Cheadle. Good stuff. But man did they drop the ball with Extremis.

Tony Stark unlocks a door using a chip implanted in his arm. There are people in the world doing this now.I mentioned earlier that Iron Man in the comics lacked a spark. That’s because every superhero character has an identifying core. Captain America’s is patriotism. The Hulk’s is the monster/man, ego/id battle. Iron Man didn’t have one. But Ellis got the premise in five little words: test pilot of the future. Iron Man’s core is cutting edge technology.

That’s something Jon Favreau realised. His Iron Man films were grounded in tech, almost obsessed with it. But Iron Man was created fifty years ago. Today we’re building exoskeleton suits that aren’t miles away from Iron Man.

So Ellis gave us Extremis. The storyline gives us a Tony Stark whose Iron Man suit is reaching its limits. It’s become heavy and slow. And when Iron Man battles an Extremis-enhanced man, he gets his tin can handed to him.

What does he do? He’s outdated, antiquated and broken. So he upgrades. He installs Extremis into himself. Iron Man becomes a techno-biological upgrade to Tony Stark. He is the test pilot of the future. He is Iron Man.

Extremis put the technology in Tony Stark's body, making him Iron Man inside and out.Extremis puts Iron Man beyond today’s science. It lets Tony mentally interface with any wireless technology. It lets him power the suit by thought. It lets him control multiple suits and call them to him. Sound familiar? Barring the first, this is all the ending of Iron Man 3, isn’t it? Only Tony can’t do those things. He has to ask JARVIS to do them.

I like JARVIS. Great idea and I love Paul Bettany’s performance. But JARVIS overshadows Tony; Tony can stay in bed and send JARVIS instead. You can tell Shane Black knew that because he broke JARVIS for a huge portion of the film. JARVIS makes Tony, as a character, weak and redundant. When a computer can fly the Iron Man suit, it makes the notion of a human pilot outdated. Antiquated. Broken.

An Extremis-enhanced Tony Stark could have remedied that and given us Iron Man: test pilot of the future. But where Warren Ellis used Extremis to update Iron Man to 2.0, Shane Black used it to make monsters. And we got Iron Man 1.4. Incremental update.

Am I right? Or am I wrong? Leave a comment, I’m interested to hear what you think.

Should Orson Scott Card Write Superman?

DC have recently announced that their latest Superman title, Adventures of Superman, will be written by Orson Scott Card. Card is perhaps best known for his Ender’s Game series and for his two volume run on Ultimate Iron Man. He is also vocally homophobic. Cue the Internet outrage.

At the time of writing over 11,000 people have signed a petition to have DC give the boot to Card. Some comic stores are even boycotting Card’s Superman comic. I don’t dispute that Card’s views are anything from misguided to disgusting. But can we not separate the creator from his content?

Ender’s Game is a great book. So are the sequels (although they can get a little preachy) and I recommend them to every SF reader. They are clearly written by a talented writer. I own the book and I enjoy the book but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything Card believes in.

Similarly, can’t DC pay for Card’s work without condoning his views? The argument behind the petitions and boycotts is that DC shouldn’t be associating itself with hateful people. But if I can buy Ender’s Game without condoning homophobia, can’t DC buy Card’s comic work without being associated with his views?

On the flip side, of course, DC wouldn’t hire an outspoken racist. And, putting aside how women are often drawn in comics, they probably wouldn’t hire an outspoken sexist either. Although Frank Miller’s work might make you think twice about that one. But given that they wouldn’t permit racists and sexists on their staff, why will they permit homophobes? And should they?

Freedom of speech means you get to say the most appalling things and not be punished for it. So it doesn’t make sense to not hire someone for having views other than your own. I believe the problem comes when those views make it into the work. To bring up Frank Miller again, his work is filled with misogyny and that should have been unacceptable to DC. Will Card fill his Superman comic with his anti-gay bias? It’s unlikely. But if he did, that would be the time for DC to drop him like a hot rock. Not before.

Despite having written that last paragraph, I still feel uneasy about DC’s decision. I can’t quite put my finger on why. But I think, logically, that’s the right answer: separate the content from the creator and enjoy it until their objectionable views taint it.

I’m just not sure if I feel that’s the right answer. Which might be why so many people are upset about this.

Update: This story just won’t go away. All the controversy around Card has led the artist he was due to work with, Chris Sprouse, to quit. But is Sprouse standing up for what he believes in or is he letting the issues get in the art?

Five Titles That Will Change Your Opinion of Comics

Last week I had a bit of a rant about how comic books were no good and needed to buck their ideas up. So, to balance the scales, I present to you my Top Five Comics You Should Read Because They’re Really Quite Good You KnowTM.

Dream, drawn here by John Watkiss, is the title character of Neil Gaiman's epic Sandman series1. Sandman (Neil Gamain, various)

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was always going to earn top billing. It ostensibly tells the story of Dream, the titular Sandman, who is the personification of dreams. Gaiman populates his world with so many other characters and stories that he ends up telling a story about the power of dreams and of stories themselves. Stories can range from a convention for serial killers, though the eccentric (and historically accurate) Emperor Norton of the United States to Lucifer giving up his role as the devil. By making his character an immortal embodiment of dreaming, Gaiman gave himself the freedom to tell stories in the present and the past, involving fictional characters as well as figures such as Shakespeare and Marco Polo. This breadth and the depth that Gaiman wrote with kept the series fresh and exciting throughout. Sandman introduced me to comics and is an example of the medium at its best.

Hugo Weaving played V in the film adaptation of V for Vendetta. I kept expecting him to mention Mr Anderson...2. V for Vendetta (Alan Moore, David Lloyd)

A lot of people would put Alan Moore in their top five except they would probably pick Watchmen. V for Vendetta, I feel, is the better choice. It’s set in (what is now) an alternative past ruled by a fascist conservative government and tells the story of Evey Hammond and how she becomes involved with the terrorist V. I wonder if this would ever be published now as V is not only a sympathetic character but, ostensibly, the hero. It’s not always that simple, though, as while the anarchist V seeks to bring down a cruel and brutal fascist government, he does so by blowing things up and killing people. This is not a black and white tale. Yet the shades of grey elevate this to a thought-provoking morality tale. I guarantee that when you read the end, you won’t be certain is Evey has made the right decision. V for Vendetta is the Guardian’s reading club book of the month and happily labelling it smart, relevant and other flattering terms. They’re not wrong.

Humberto Ramos' beautiful artwork combines with Paul Jenkin's deft writing to produce the wonderful Revelations from Dark Horse3. Revelations (Paul Jenkins, Humberto
Ramos)

Dan Brown done right. Charlie Northern is an English detective and a lapsed Catholic who gets drawn into a suicide at the Vatican only, of course, it’s not a suicide. Secret cults, death and treachery abound, all punctuated by Charlie swearing at his cigarettes. Jenkins writes a brilliant character in Charlie Northern, grounding the spectacular tale in stubborn disbelief and brusque but touching honesty. And special mention goes to Humberto Ramos’s art; it’s just beautiful.

Superman: Red Son puts Batman in a bad-ass furry hat.4. Superman: Red Son (Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Kilian Plunkett)

I’ve written about this title already but I’m happy to recommend it briefly again. Mainstream superhero comics are full of ‘what-if?’ stories but this one is by far and away the best, asking “what if Superman grew up in Soviet Russia?”. Instead of making Superman a pantomime villain, Millar weaves a complicated in which Superman becomes well-intentioned but misguided, rewriting DC history to include a brilliant touch; Batman in a ushanka.

Art Spiegelman writes a harrowing tale of a Holocaust survivor in his graphic novel Maus5. Maus (Art Spiegelman)

Maus appears so far down the list because it seemed too obvious. Comics tend to be about super-powered men beating up other super-powered men, and you can’t get further from that than a Holocaust survivor’s story. Maus, too, has become so readily accepted by mainstream literature that it doesn’t feel much like a comic anymore; it doesn’t carry that social stigma, the furtive nature that comes of being knocked by the establishment. But there’s a very good reason for this: Maus is art, through and through, making masterful use of the comic medium to tell a serious story in a way that prose alone could not. Don’t get put off by the harrowing and depressing elements of Spiegelman’s tale; this is a book that you need to read, even if you never touch a comic ever again.

How to Make Comics Good

So I mentioned recently that I cancelled all my comic subscriptions and I picked up the last batch the other day. Aside from dropping six nerd points and losing 50 XP, why have I decided to forsake the four-colour kingdom? It’s simple really: they’re juvenile nonsense and they don’t respect the reader.

Neil Gaiman's Sandman, illustrated here by Michael Zulli, is a classic comic book that I would recommend to anyone.Comic fans are right now throwing their mouse across the room and cursing my name. They’re invoking the greats and the classics of the genre. And I won’t argue with them. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, for instance, stands as a perfect example of the type of mature, deep, beautiful pictorial storytelling that comics are capable of. But, alas, comics like that are the exception. But it would be so easy to make that exception the rule. But what’s so bad about comics anyway?

Marvel's Civil War saw Iron Man and Captain America clashing over superhero rights. But was it a story about civil rights or an excuse for a punch-up?

Let’s start with the constant need for violence. Take Marvel’s Civil War as an example. A disaster claims the lives of a school full of children after a typical superhero/supervillain clash. The American public demand that heroes register themselves, undergo training and become accountable for their actions. The story possesses real potential for exploring the value or lack thereof in sacrificing freedom for safety. But, instead, the writers opted to show Iron Man and Captain America beating each other up.

Worse than the wasted opportunities, though, are the retcons. A retcon (retroactive continuity) is a storyline that rewrites the character’s history. Famous retcons include:

• Green Lantern Hal didn’t go insane with grief after his hometown was destroyed; he was just infected by a yellow space bug made of fear.
• After Aunt May is shot, Spider-man chooses to save her life by letting a demon change history so that he never married Mary Jane.
• DC Comics jettisons decades of history to restart every title with a new number one. All so they can make Superman a sulky teenager. Oh and not married to Lois Lane.

Grant Morrison's Final Crisis killed Batman. Except he wasn't dead, just lost in time. But he found his Bat-map, so he's back now.And, of course, the worst sin of all: the revolving door that you and I call death. Superman, Batman, Captain America, Hal Jordan, Hawkeye, Colossus and so many more have died only to come back to life. If someone dies in a comic, they will come back. It’s almost a law of physics.

These problems all have a single cause and fixing that would make comics worth buying. That cause? They don’t end.

All good stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. That allows for growth, for development, whilst cutting out any extraneous nonsense; after all, you’ve only so much space to tell the story, so there’s no room for pages describing the colour of the wallpaper. But comics don’t end. The stories go on and on and on. Writers scrabble to fill pages with anything they can. The easiest filler is a fight. But that gets old fast. The second easiest thing is to kill the character but, hey, they can’t sell Batman for too long without Batman. So back he comes. And, of course, you can actually tell a story, let things grow and change. But a few months later a new writer comes along who didn’t like that change so they change it back. And this happens over and over and over.

A lot of comic writers claim that comics deserve to be taken seriously. They’re wrong. Some do. But most don’t. Not until publishers stop selling issue 576 of Spider-man and start selling proper stories. That doesn’t exclude a man in spandex. But it does include a beginning, a middle, and an end.

It demands it.

Truth, Justice and the Soviet Way

You have to wonder why no-one had thought of it before: what if Superman had landed in Soviet Russia instead of America? In ‘Superman: Red Son’, Mark Millar’s answer is simple: he becomes a champion of communism.

In the hands of another, this could have been a polemic against socialism. But Millar is a Scotsman with no particular axe to grind. What emerges instead is a story of a Superman who can make the world a utopia, but at the cost of choice. Security for the price of freedom. This is a very obvious post-9/11 work, a little too obvious at times, but still an excellent observation of the times.

But social commentary aside, this story stands up because of its protagonist. Superman has long been as American as hot apple pie and a curiously large number of guns in the closet. So you would think making him a Russian would take away everything recognisable from the character. But the best thing about Millar’s story is that Superman, at his core, is the same as he’s always been. All he wants to do is help people. Only, as Stalin’s right hand man and successor, he chooses to do so with both his power and his politics. It takes an interesting idea and turns it into, I believe, a classic graphic novel that sits comfortably in my top ten.

In fact, I think I prefer the Superman as a Soviet. He just seems more believable as a man trying to change the world than a big blue boy scout.