As I watch through the entire history of Saturday Night Live, every time I get to the end of a season of Saturday Night Live, I feel the desire to write up my thoughts on it. This is the first time I’ve actually got around to doing so, if you’re wondering why the first of these is about the show’s 19th season. So here are some highly subjective thoughts on the 1993/94 season of Saturday Night Live, an ocean and two decades removed. Read the rest of this entry »

Guardians of the Galaxy is out next month and is shaping up to be Marvel’s most inventive and exciting film yet. Yes, more exciting than Avengers. I would join in the chorus of saying it’s risky, but as a die-hard fan of Abnett and Lanning’s Guardians of the Galaxy, I have faith that, if it’s adapted the source material well, this film will be just as fun. (Although I still have great reservations about Dave Bautista as Drax and am rueing that Jason Momoa wasn’t won over for the role).

Inevitably, the film has had to pare down the comic’s sprawling team line-up, so there are a lot of Guardians that won’t be showing up. Here then is a guide to those cut Guardians, so you can brush up on them and impress your friends* with your obscure knowledge.

* Bore the internet Read the rest of this entry »

Looney Tunes Golden CompleteBack in the days of VHS, the idea of releasing an entire TV series on home video was ludicrous, the kind of thing saved only for shows with dedicated, hardcore audiences (Star Trek for instance) or that were insanely popular (such as Friends). Even when DVD came along, with its bigger volume of storage at a smaller size, it took a while for studios to get the idea that releasing everything was feasible. Many shows, like The Simpsons, made their first foray into DVD by still doing the ‘Best Of’ sets they’d done on VHS. It was a relatively slow process, as packaging became more efficient and DVDs cheaper to produce, that saw shows being fully collected across single disc volumes, half-seasons, full season boxsets and now even full series boxsets. Just the other week I bought all of Stargate SG-1 for less than £40 in a box barely bigger than the season 2 boxset that came out 15 years ago.

(Which isn’t even as impressive as the bookcase that used to be entirely filled by VHS copies of Friends seasons 1-6 now holding all ten season plus a hell of a lot more). Read the rest of this entry »

The name of this article is borrowed from a DC comics special in the 70s, where material already made for cancelled comics was dumped in a one-off special. This article isn’t about that. Instead it’s possibly the first in a series looking at unsuccessful comics that have moved on to the great spinner rack in the sky and why they failed. Today we look at The Order, from 2007, by Matt Fraction and Barry Kitson.

The Order was a spin off from Marvel’s big Civil War event in 2006 and was designed to be a showcase for the 50 States Initiative, where every US state got a local super hero team. In this case, the Order are based in California. The book was set up prominently in Civil War itself, however right out of the gate it was crippled. The team and the book was intended to be called The Champions, after the LA based super team of the 70s that starred Hercules amongst others. However Marvel didn’t realise that they’d lost the Champions trademark decades again through disuse and that an RPG publisher had picked it up. Initially they seemed to ignore this problem and it was only last minute that the book and team were renamed. You can see the alterations in the team’s costumes – originally they all had a big c logo that was discreetly turned into a sort of O/sort of target.

OrderEvolution

From Champions to The Order

There are two big ideas for the team. The first is that the members only get their super powers for a year,  a result of artificially creating them with nano stuff. It’s like Strikeforce Morituri in the Marvel Universe, just with less death. The book tries to sell a reality show angle to this set up – ordinary people becoming super heroes – but nothing comes of it really, presumably because it ignores the fact that all super heroes are ordinary people at first.
The other big idea is that the team structure is based on the pantheon of Greek gods, with each member assigned the position of a god or goddess. This is a terrible idea. It muddies up the introduction of the team members (more on that later) by telling us their real name, their code name and what position in the pantheon they have. I assume this is another hangover from the Champions name, but it makes no sense. While the Greek gods all had individual jobs or areas of speciality, they weren’t a cohesive unit. It’d be like taking Christian patron saints as the blueprint for a sports team. So someone is Hephaestus – what the hell is that supposed to mean in this or any other context?
Getting to know the team is also hampered by Fraction trying the first issue bait & switch gimmick of replacing half the cast after issue one. Not only does this undermine the Civil War set up/connection even further, its a waste of some good concepts (Avona and her talking AI sword for instance). It doubles the amount of new characters the reader meets though, deluging them with introductions and makes it hard to care about anyone.

Fraction doesn’t do well selling his characters to the reader, relying more on telling than showing. Each issue has a different character do an “interview to camera” about their life story and motivation, which is incredibly clunky. It’s a gimmick from another medium that rarely translates well to comics and reads like Fraction’s been watching The Office too much. It’s used as a crutch to not have to put much characterisation into the story – we should learn about characters through their dialogue and actions in the plot, or through their internal narrative. Having them answer a load of probing questions to an unseen interviewer is crap. (Which is not to say that it never works in comics – Abnett and Lanning’s Guardians of the Galaxy did something similar, the difference there is that all of the team take part in each issue and they’re all talking about the story, not just themselves). The one member per issue pacing means that it takes ages to get to know anything about most of the cast. The awfully named Heavy is pretty much a blank slate til his interview in #9, the penultimate of the series.

Totally-Not-Britney-Spears Aralune.

Totally-Not-Britney-Spears Aralune wastes panels.

But then, it really feels that by the end of the series, no-one cares any more. Fraction begins to rush through the reveal of the series’ main antagonists and their aims, casually offs most of them and then steams ahead into perhaps the most uninvolving riot ever written. Characters learn information they can’t have known – the team learn that the mysterious government man in sunglasses plaguing them is “the Man from SHADOW” without being told. They then also start using his name, again without finding it out or being told – and everything just starts to feel half-hearted, not least the art.

The series’ main artist is Barry Kitson, who’s been a solid B list name artist for a few decades now. I’m never entirely sure why, because although Kitson has a good design sense (not particularly evident for most of the cast of The Order though, it has to be said), he’s an incredibly inconsistent artist. His work can change radically between panels, let alone pages, and yet through it all his characters only have about three faces between them. I think it’s possibly down to the amount of inkers on his work, as no matter the series, he always seems to end up with about six on the go at any one time. This is possibly because he runs late very late and the pages have to be inked simultaneously by different inkers – I can’t say for certain – but that would explain why about half the series has fill-in art where Kitson provides only the breakdowns for other artists to pencil out. This gets especially bad for the last few issues, where all the cast end up looking off-model and thoroughly generic.

Mulholland, one of the few interesting characters, despite the LA obsession at the root of her powers.

Mulholland, one of the few interesting characters, despite the LA obsession at the root of her powers.

In interviews, Fraction has said that The Order wasn’t cancelled but rather he chose to end it when he did. Quote the wiki: “I chose to end it. Marvel allowed me to choose to leave the stage, rather than to continue on in a state in which I felt was compromised and decidedly unawesome.” Which does sound a bit like Marvel were looking to end it or change it drastically anyway. Fraction would quickly move on to writing Invincible Iron Man and looking back at The Order, that makes perfect sense. The Order was continually living in the shadow of Iron Man. The group’s totally-not-Oracle figure is Pepper Potts, Iron Man’s former secretary; the team’s leader, Hank Hellrung, played Iron Man on TV and is quite similar to him in many respects and the big villain turns out to be Ezekiel Stane, the son of Iron Man old villain Obadiah Stane. This was all presumably to build to a theme about the whole team existing on the whim of Tony Stark, but in reading it just makes the whole endeavour feel like a waste of time. The book is about a group of heroes that even the villain doesn’t even really give two shits about, using them as pawns to mess with someone else entirely. If the primary antagonist doesn’t care, why should the reader?

Henry Hellrung talking head (click to embiggen)

Henry Hellrung talking head (click to embiggen)

Fraction’s bailing on the series means he was able to salvage a lot of the half-baked ideas thrown into it. Pepper’s role as a sort of super-human would be expanded upon in Invincible Iron Man, Stane would show up there as well, with a better written scheme. The Order’s PR gury, Kate Kildare would show up in Fraction’s X-Men run, which would also see the team moving to San Francisco, as teased for the Order.

The Order frankly ends up being a bit of a waste of time for all involved. It’s really a dry run for Fraction’s other Marvel series and while there are a few good characters, or at least concepts, waiting to break out in here (the afore-mentioned Avona, the team rebel Mulholland Black and the slightly over-burdened Veda) they’re dragged down by poor story-telling and thin characterisation (which is to say nothing of the icky relationship that springs up between the faux-Britney Spear shapeshifter, Aralune, and the paraplegic, mecha suit wearing army vet, Supernaut, after the latter wears the former as a suit of armour). Most of the characters’ powers aren’t explained for ages and the only character to really get much attention is Hllrung, who is just “Not Iron Man” and therefore not as interesting. Fraction seems more interested in telling you how awesome LA and California are rather than the characters, which is pretty annoying. Every issue starts with three different quotes from literature of notable people, which feels incredibly pretentious (I find even one quote used to start a story off irritating, so three every issue is unbearable).

It may not technically have been cancelled, but ending The Order was definitely the right move.

The Order by Matt Fraction on Amazon

By all accounts, giant turtle tasted spectacular, so a turtle pizza is an appetising prospect.

By all accounts, giant turtle tasted spectacular, so a turtle pizza is an appetising prospect.

I’m going to assume for the sake of brevity and not-insulting-your-intelligence that you’re aware of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This comic from IDW collects the original Mirage Studios TMNT series, complete with new colouring-in, in a sumptuous hardcover. Sort of. Read the rest of this entry »

GI Joe Complete Cover AniI’m a sucker for big hardcover comics, but when IDW announced, right after releasing the 15th and final volume of GI Joe Classic, that they would be re-releasing the entire series in hardcovers, I wasn’t interested. Mainly, because I was a bit pissed off. IDW’s Classic GI Joe trades, reprinting and carrying on from the five Marvel ones, were fine. Ok, so the line-art reproduction was pretty fuzzy in some volumes, but it wasn’t terrible. And Special Missions was separated off into its own trades, but hey, it was a separate series anyway. Yes and the Yearbooks were all excluded and collected into a separate volume, filled with repeated material from the main series, but god damn it, I’d already bought 15 books and they were fine! To come out and replace them immediately after they’d all been released was pretty crappy.

Eventually though, I capitulated. There are two reasons for this. 1) My paperback copies, especially those first five Marvel ones, were getting fairly worn out. 2) These Complete Collection hardcovers promise to do everything right. Read the rest of this entry »

Valkyrie's not actually jumping - her boob-plates are levitating her.

Cover by Art Adams

Big event comics have been a staple at Marvel again for a decade now and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about them it’s this: they’re generally pretty crap. From House of M to Secret Invasion to Siege, most event comics just don’t fulfil the hype and the few exceptions tend to be the smaller ones (such as Marvel’s cosmic Annihilation cycle). Not touching event mini series with a ten foot bargepole (which never gets to touch anything these days) means that spin-off and tie-in series to these events are doubly damned. A tie-in from an existing title, I can deal with, but a series that exists only to support an event? No thanks.

Which brings us to Fear Itself: The Fearless, a spin-off maxi series to Marvel event series Fear Itself. For a few reasons, I broke my rule and put down hard cash (well, my debit card actually) to give this a go.

Hey, everyone makes mistakes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Deadpool CoverWhen a new creative team moves onto a long-running comic book, they tend to do one of two things. Option 1 is to respectfully continue the themes, plot threads and style of the previous creative team, making a seamless transition into their own material that keeps existing readers happy and hooked. Option 2 is to just make a completely fresh start, ditching most of the previous run and almost resetting the character(s) back to zero.

Although Option 1 generally sounds like the best choice, Option 2 can often be exactly what a comic needs, especially after a particularly toxic run. It’s exactly what Deadpool needed and thanks to Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn, it’s exactly what he got. Read the rest of this entry »

Collected Editions are fantastic. They look better on shelves, they don’t require annoying bags and boards for storage and they’re sold by proper shops in a normal manner instead of the frankly sort-of broken Diamond Previews system used by comic shops. The other great thing is that it makes reading older comics convenient and affordable, removing the need to trawl longboxes for mouldy, decaying back issues.

Well, in theory. The problem is, there’s an unspoken commitment from the publisher to the consumer when reprinting old series. Namely, that they’ll do the whole thing. Unfortunately, in practice, this is routinely broken and there are now several comic series only partly reprinted in collected editions, with seemingly no more instalments on the way. Here’s a (highly subjective) run down of the series that really need some publishing love. Read the rest of this entry »

Just a reminder that the Cynic’s Survival Guide To Disney Animated Classics has been separated off into its own site: CynicsSurvivalGuide.com. New entries are still being added weekly, just over there and not here and all the existing entries are over there as well.  So be sure to update your bookmarks, likes and whatnot.