Nam 10I don’t generally care for war stories. Maybe it’s because my parents were never able to pass up any random war film showing on TV when I was growing up, but I have next to no interest in war films, TV programmes, games and comics. Except, over the last few years, Vietnam ones. I’m not sure what I find so interesting about the conflict – perhaps the moral complexity of what was a largely futile and pointless war, possibly the almost wholesale rejection of typical jingoistic military story tropes.

One of the first comics to deal with Vietnam in any series way was, well, actually, GI Joe, which had it as part of Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow and Stalker’s backstory. GI Joe under Larry Hama always had a very no-nonsense approach to the military. Sure, these were people fighting guys in steel masks and snake costumes, but the Joes always felt like real people and real soldiers. Fairly cynical ones, admittedly, but real. Flashbacks scenes to Vietnam in GI Joe never trivialised the conflict, treating it with more dignity than you’d expect from a comic existing to hock toys.

It was this directly that led to the launch of The Nam in 1987, a series designed to take Hama’s down-to-earth, no heroes style from GI Joe and apply it to a real conflict. With Hama as editor and Vietnam vet Doug Murray writing, The Nam was a monthly series that followed one squad in the ‘Nam in real time (every issue was set a month after the last), from January 1966 onwards. It promised to follow the war from the perspective of a typical soldier, or lots of them over time, giving a clear look at the conflict as it was on the ground.

Nam 1There were a lot of clever aspects to this set-up. Having the book run in real time meant the avoidance of “comic book time” – months slipping away spent on one story, timelines always sliding and juddering. Reading the comic as it was published meant that a character’s stay in country took as long to read as it did to ‘happen’. This is especially crucial in the first dozen or so issues, as we follow Ed Marks, the series’ first main character, a fresh-faced, naïve, young draftee sent over as a private. The weird world of the Vietnam war is introduced to the reader through Marks, we learn as he learns, we grow as he grows, we mourn as he mourns.

The comic follows Marks as he grows if not into a man, then at least a vet, but introduces a host of other interesting characters along the way. The real main character of The Nam isn’t Marks though, but the squad itself. The real time gimmick and grounded approach means that there’s a high turn-over in characters. Some finish their tours and go home, some get injured, some die, some suffer worse. The Nam doesn’t always make you care about each individual character, some are just hi-and-dies, others left in the background with little to do, but you care about the squad as a whole, even as it changes and morphs, which, to me at least, seems rather the point.

The realistic turnover means that by issue 30, there’s not a single character left in the series from those first issues, but it’s done in such an organic way, and there are enough endearing characters, that you care for the current bunch as much as you did for the first or second or whatever. Older characters, such as Ed Marks, are occasionally seen again back in ‘the world’, giving glimpses of how the war was seen from the outside and how vets adjusted to life back in the States.

Nam 3The Nam was pretty successful when it launched. The first issue outsold everything else Marvel put out that month. It beat out Platoon for an award from a Vietnam veteran’s association. Its issues were reprinted in a black and white magazine format for a number of years.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t to last. By #40, original editor Larry Hama, who had moved onto be a ‘consultant’ after the first year or so, was gone. Around the same time, the series became the victim of one of comics longest lived, most perfidious villains: editorial interference.

Editorial interference has reared its head many times. Even as far back as Marvel’s silver age glory days, Roy Thomas suffered it on Avengers, when Stan Lee would demand that the team not use certain characters, only be so big and even arbitrarily demand that there be a new character added to the team and that he be an android (leading to the creation of the Vision). Editorial interference is what gave us 90s X-Men comics that made no sense, filled with sub-plots that would never be explained. It gave us Spider-Man’s Clone Saga, a years long clusterfuck that even Marvel took the piss out of by publishing a comic mocking the fact that they had no idea how to end it.

In The Nam‘s case, it seems editor Don Daley, didn’t like the title as it was at all. Why was it in real time? Why were there no super-heroes? Has any editor ever before so completely missed the point of a comic? Now free of Hama’s restraining hand, he makes changes.

Nam 2The Nam #41 features Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. They’re right there on the cover and feature inside. A blatant attempt to attract sales from Marvel’s usual audience, writer Doug Murray doesn’t get enough credit for making this issue work better than it should have. Despite the moans for literally years later in the comic’s letters page (the issue even gets dissed in the farewell editorial column in the last issue), #41 isn’t too bad. The scenes with the Avengers’ Big Three are naïve and simplistic, more like a 50s DC comic than even a silver age Marvel one. But that’s entirely the point. These sections are the imaginings of two soldiers, both of whom likely hadn’t read a comic since the 50s, daydreaming about what it would be like if super-heroes existed. In a move literally straight out a Superman comic, the Avengers capture North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh and deliver him, cowed, to the Paris Peace Conferences, certain that will end the war. The soldiers, Sgt Mike ‘Ice’ Phillips and Sgt Martini, scoff at the idea. There’s no such thing as real heroes, Ice decides, as he boards a chopper to leave the Nam and reluctantly return to the World, blissfully unaware that his own men consider him a hero.

(#41 also contains another member of the squad who’s just seen John Wayne’s The Green Berets recounting everything that’s wrong with it, which is fair enough – I’d be slating plenty of movies if they trivialised a war I was in and had the platform).

Putting the Avengers into The Nam was a stupid idea and it’s a credit to Murray that it worked at all. Despite the immediate backlash from the readers though, it marked the beginning of the end for The Nam as it originally was. Within months, The Nam is almost irreparably broken by editorial. For whatever reason, #45 features a fill-in from Chuck Dixon. Instead of continuing the tale of the 23rd Brigade in 1969, it jumps ahead a year to 1970 and has two of the squad (though unnamed and presumably only included by series artist Wayne Vansant) in a bar listening to war stories from other soldiers. This isn’t exactly something new for The Nam – Murray had a few issues where a visiting character would tell a story, but it was always framed from the 23rd Brigade and set into the timeline. This is ignored here and would continue to be in future issues.

Dixon returns for more fill-in issues shortly, each focusing on a unit of the US Marines, again in 1970. Dixon, one of the best Batman writers ever, is no Doug Murray though. It’s hard to care about most of these new squads, not least because of the feeling that they’ve needlessly displaced ‘our’ boys in the 23rd. His stories stray more towards the ‘daring night raid against the Nazi stronghold’ Commando end of the war story spectrum than the cynical realism of Murray, robbing The Nam of its magic. It’s months before we see the 23rd again, months in which tours should have ended, soldiers should have gone home or reupped, maybe died or been injured, but we don’t know, because we don’t see them.

The death of one of Dixon's marines is less meaningful given they're all new characters.

The death of one of Dixon’s marines is less meaningful given they’re all new characters.

Murray returns in #49, and although we see the 23rd again, they’re not the focus. Instead, we get a first for The Nam – a true multi-part story. Three issues are spent on a not terribly brilliant story, drawn by Herb Trimpe, focusing on a romance between a helicopter pilot and a red cross worker. It feels overblown, like something Murray would have weaved into the fabric of his usual stories before the series broke and certainly not something worth three issues. This turns out to be the end of Murray’s run on The Nam and it’s a less than spectacular farewell.

Immediately after this, Marvel puts a bullet in what The Nam had been with #52: The Punisher Invades The Nam.

The letters page in the previous issues describes this as ‘stepping out of the regular Nam continuity and ever-so-gingerly into the Marvel Universe’, rather than ‘a complete selling out by editorial and marketing’. Ok, so using the Punisher does kind of make sense. Frank Castle was, for years, a Vietnam vet (until the aforementioned comic book time made that impossible), so having him turn up, pre-Punisher as A.N.Other soldier isn’t too much of a stretch. But it’s a complete cash-grab, designed to tie into the Punisher’s bizarrely high popularity at the time, when he was carrying at least two solo series. Again, although it’s a terrible concept, a writer like Murray could have made it work, as he did #41. Instead, the issue is written by Roger Salick and is just another Punisher comic. The grounded realism of The Nam is abandoned for some ludicrous story about Frank Castle being brought in to take out an elite Viet Cong sniper. He even ends up painting a skull onto his chest, in a not-too-subtle case of foreshadowing.

Super subtle, yo.

Super subtle, yo.

After this, Chuck Dixon becomes the regular writer on The Nam and it turns into a schlocky, mediocre war comic. His first story as regular writer is The Death of Joe Hallen, an “epic” so grand it requires five issues. This is mentioned in the final issue’s farewell editorial as a high point of the series, but it is not.

The first issue is decent enough, following marine Joe Hallen as he returns home from the Nam and finds he can’t adjust. A lot of this is down to Hallen being an asshole, though. I’m not sure if that’s deliberate on Dixon’s part, but the “you can’t go home again” narrative is hard to swallow when your sympathy for the main character ebbs away page after page. Unable to readjust, Hallen rejoins the Marines, being assigned to a recon squad in the Nam. He immediately clashes with his gunnery sergeant and it’s clear they don’t like each other. Improbable hijinks ensue, as they get involved in a twisty-turny not-quite-CIA off the books mission. Managing to return to their base, Hallen is distraught when the gunnery sergeant is killed by friendly fire. The final issue sees Hallen going on a whirlwind three day tour of the South East Asian theatre to find the marine responsible and exact his revenge. It’s all straight out of a second rate action movie. Suddenly, The Nam has gone from being Band of Brothers to Commando (the Schwarzenegger one).

Nam 7Dixon sticks with his Marine stories for a while, eventually taking one of the squadmates of Joe Hallen, Speed, and making him something of a main character. Speed gets drawn into special operations, where he’s teamed with one Mike ‘Ice’ Philips. Except, it’s not really Ice at all. Sure, he’s got the nickname, the look and the backstory, but Ice is now suddenly a Lieutenant with a different surname. Charitably, you could read this as him having re-enlisted under a false name (his new surname is Eisemann) and somehow getting a commission while out there, but I think it’s more likely Dixon and his editors just got it wrong, as later issues would throw out more glaring mistakes.

Nam 6

#NotMyIce

Dixon continues on his sub-Commando run, concluding with another three part Punisher story, even more OTT than the last, until #70, when Don Lomax takes over. Lomax is an indie comics creator from back when indie comics were actually independent and rarely profitable. His most well known work is a series called Vietnam Journal, which follows a war reporter across Vietnam. It’s no surprise then that his run on The Nam brings back Ed Marks, now a junior war correspondent, and follows him as he chases stories across the Nam.

Nam 8The series settles back into a more stable time-frame, though still in comic book, in 1972, following the messy, ebbing end to the war. Marks meets up with various different soldiers, going on missions with them, but also hearing stories from them from earlier in the war.

One aspect of The Nam that was lost when Murray left was that it was actually surprisingly educational. As a Brit, I don’t know the ins and outs, the timeline of the Vietnam war particularly. Following it month to month with 23rd Brigade helped make the war accessible, easier to follow. Dixon’s run assumed a certain familiarity with Vietnam, so that it could then just tell lurid stories in it. Lomax’s run also requires a certain familiarity with the Nam, as it tells more in-depth stories about it. Jumping to 1972 without having followed 69-71 closely is jarring and at times overwhelming, like skipping from the second Harry Potter novel to the last and wondering why it’s suddenly got so dark.

Lomax’s run is, it sounds odd to say, quite melancholy. There’s a lot of troops sitting around in the twilight talking. Series artist Wayne Vansant’s artwork has matured quite a lot by this point and along with more complex colouring work, it’s often hauntingly beautiful. But there’s a certain dryness to these issues, Marks doesn’t quite feel like Marks (but then, we’ve not seen him in about four years) and in all it feels like a different book (say, Vietnam Journal) masquerading under the same name. The Nam‘s now gone from Band of Brothers to Commando to The World At War.

Along with Ed Marks’ war correspondence, Lomax throws in occasional back-up stories set stateside, following the series’ original platoon sergeant Polkow. Now a police sergeant in Washington DC, he improbably meets up with former squad-mate and his replacement, Rob Little, also living in DC. The coincidences don’t stop there though, as they work out that Rob’s drug-dealing brother was just killed by their corrupt former top sergeant, Tarver.

Nam 9Now, there are two things wrong with this. First is that it’s a huge stack of coincidences piled on top of each other to make that story work. Second is that the story actively ignores events from as far back as issue 26 to get this going. Tarver was arrested early on in the series for corruption. Lomax’s story has it that he got the charges against him dropped, was stationed in Hawaii and then disappeared, apparently to become a drug kingpin in DC. But earlier issues not only showed Tarver having been disciplined, demoted and stationed in the Philippines (#26), but also later, at the tail end of Murray’s run, having worked his way back up to top sergeant and being reassigned to the 23rd brigade in Nam. It’s a glaring continuity error, one I drop solely at the feet of the series’ editor, Don Daley, still there chugging away on the book he ruined.

The Nam ends with #84 and it’s hard not to see it as something of a mercy-killing, especially as there was another Punisher three-parter due (released after as an oversized special). Although Lomax’s run was interesting, certainly an improvement on Dixon’s, it never reached the heights of Murray’s run. It’s incredibly aggravating seeing a comic as lauded, as important as The Nam get ruined by disinterested editors, even 25 years down the line. The first 45 issues or so still stand-up as an excellent, successful experiment in how to recount a war in a serialised comic.

Issues 1-30 of The Nam are available in trade paperback.

Spoilers through The Flash season 1 and Arrow season 3.

While the film department of DC Warner Bros continues to stagger blindly through the sepia murk of Zack Snyder’s directorial ‘vision’, quickly trying to cobble together a shared universe to rival Marvel’s, its TV department has been steadily doing much better work.

No-one is more surprised by this than me. When Arrow started a few years back, I immediately dismissed it. The Green Arrow has never, in my opinion, been a particularly compelling character and I couldn’t see how a TV show of it would work. Eventually, I got over myself and gave the show a go, finding it surprisingly enjoyable. It makes no qualms about essentially being TV’s Batman, which is fine, as the Green Arrow has always been a bit of a Batman rip-off.

There's also this, which is probably a better indicator of who's coming. Picture from ET.com

There’s also this, which is probably a better indicator of who’s coming. Picture from ET.com

Similarly, I’ve been pleasantly proved wrong about the quality of Arrow’s companion show The Flash. The Flash is another character I don’t have much time for. As an ensemble member of the Justice League, he’s fine, but his solo stories have always struck me as nonsensically ludicrous, even by super-hero standards, relying on inane pseudo-science born of the 50s. The TV show however, has been great; a lighter, brighter counter-point to Arrow. It’s also, in a looser way, the Superman to Arrow’s Batman. It’s got more of a science-fiction bent, largely takes place in daylight, has bright, colourful villains and the Flash has a bevy of (slightly more plausibly executed here on TV) super-powers.

Both shows have done well to organically grow a shared universe. The Flash was set up in season 2 of Arrow, the first season of The Flash introduced a pretty good version of Firestorm (though he seems to be absent his elemental powers and just have fiery body parts) and Arrow season 3 introduced The Atom, who, while endearingly portrayed by Brandon Routh, has thus far been too much of a third rate Iron Man (though that’s due to change).

That’s four-sevenths of a traditional, if fairly B-List, Justice League already, even if you ignore fringe/sidekick characters like Huntress, Wildcat, Arsenal and Black Canary, who, yes, is technically a Justice Leaguer, but does anyone really like Laurel in Arrow? No. No they don’t. (#NotMyCanary)

So who’s next? Who else can and will the CW (henceforth DCWB) bring into the DCTVU?

Hawkgirl

HawkgirlThis one is a given, as she’s already been cast and is due to appear in the slightly underwhelming looking DC Legends mini-series (and you get a look at her in the finale of Flash, sans-costume). Hawkgirl is a solid choice – she’s about the same level as the Green Arrow, Firestorm and Atom in the ranking of who in the Justice League people actually care about. She also branches out into a different area of origin: magic, or at least mysticism. Hawkgirl is, usually/sometimes (it’s far too complicated to go into fully), the reincarnation of an Egyptian pharaoh’s wife, which opens the door to more in the way of magic – something we’ve not seen so far in the DCTVU beyond a few minor elements of the League of Assassins. Usually, this is also tied up with Hawkman, but it seems perfectly fair to pare that back for now (or completely) and just focus on Hawkgirl.

But Hawkgirl makes sense on another level, and that’s as an analogue to Wonder Woman to complete the TV-equivalent of DC’s usual Trinity. It’s highly unlikely we’ll see Wonder Woman appear in the TV universe given her upcoming film appearances (and you have to wonder how long The Flash is for this world with a movie on the way), so having a different superheroine to complete the Trinity, already made of two stand-ins, makes sense. Hawkgirl is similar to Wonder Woman in the ties to ancient and Otherly civilisations – Wonder Woman to Thyrmiscera and thus ancient Greece, Hawkgirl to ancient Egypt and possibly Thanagar – as well as being something of an outsider. Plus, they can both fly and that’s sort of the level you also need to work on here.

Likelihood: Certainty

Green Lantern

Green LanternThis is an interesting one. On paper, Green Lantern seems like a no-brainer. He’s been hot in the comics over the last ten years or so, is solidly B-list with Flash and has visually interesting powers. He also opens up the possibility of expanded space stories, another untapped area for the DCTVU.

The problem with this is twofold though and they’re both movie related. First is the universally panned film from a couple of years back, starring a miscast Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, which has probably burned the mainstream perception of the character heavily. By the time it does recover, well, there’s another movie on the way, which’ll have nothing to do with the TV shows.

Nonetheless, there’s already been build-up towards GL in the TVU. Ferris Air, the company Hal works for, has been mentioned a few times and Flash’s penultimate episode, Rogue Air, went so far as to mention a missing test pilot. Hmm, I wonder who that could be.

Frankly, I think that’s a bit of a mistake. Hal is inevitably going to be the movie GL, so I would have gone with someone else, as there have been plenty of different Green Lanterns to pick from. I would have tapped into the confusion/disgust of so many people who grew up with the 00s Justice League cartoon that were confused to find Green Lantern was white for the Reynolds film and instead gone with Jon Stewart. He adds more racial diversity, he’s a more interesting character than Hal and it avoids conflict with the movies.

Likelihood: Pretty high.

Starman

starmanThe most popular Starman is Jack Knight, son of the original Starman of the 30s and a very non-traditional hero from the 90s. Too cool for school, Jack is a reluctant hero with tattoos, a goatee and a leather jacket. He’s press-ganged into the role after the death of his brother and ends up protecting his home of Opal City with a “cosmic rod”, which fires energy blasts and lets him fly.

Jack is the acerbic, cynical voice a TV Justice League would need. Someone sitting on the sidelines pouring scorn on the super-serious Arrow and naively earnest Flash, while ultimately swallowing his pride to help save the day.

Starman is a less of a long-shot than you might think. Opal City was name-checked in an episode of Arrow, mentioned as the location of a metahuman on the day the particle accelerator exploded in Central City (meaning he couldn’t have got his powers the same way as all the other metahumans seen so far). This could well just be an off-hand mention (with metahumans naturally gaining powers perhaps) or it could be the seed of discovering another, less public event, in Opal City that created metahumans, perhaps involving the Knight family.

Likelihood: Minimal, but don’t discount it.

Booster Gold

Booster GoldThe Flash finale features a time-sphere, the clear plexiglass bubble used by Rip Hunter to travel in time. This will be followed up by appearances from Hunter himself in Legends. But what if there’s more to come from this? Because there’s someone else that’s made frequent use of time-travelling spheres: Booster Gold.

A failed athlete from a few centuries in the future, Michael Jon Carter stole a time machine, a sentient robot assistant and a load of super-tech to travel back in time and become a super-hero with a difference. Booster Gold, the world’s first corporate-sponsored super-hero. Well, it was the 80s. Later, Booster became something of an undercover time cop, keeping up his oafish façade to hide his real work of keeping the timeline running.

That role seems to be covered by Cockney Rip Hunter, but there’s mileage in the commercially minded super-hero angle. So far the heroes of the DCTVU are secretive, borderline fugitives. Having one that’s keen to deal with the media and make a bit of scratch doing product endorsements would shake things up a bit.

Likelihood: Quite low.

Cyborg

CyborgOh, they fucking shove Cyborg in everything now.

Likelihood: High

Resurrection Man

Resurrection ManWe’re beyond the realms of me predicting things now and into just a wishlist, but bear with me.

Resurrection Man is Mitch Shelley, an amnesiac drifter who’s pretty handy at dying. Every time Mitch is killed though, he’s quickly brought back to life by ‘tektites’ in his bloodstream and given a new super-power (usually a reaction to his last death, eg. Burnt to death, resurrected with pyrokinesis). Every death also gives Mitch a glimpse into his missing memories, helping him to piece together who, what and why he is.

Resurrection Man is an odyssey character, a man on a meandering quest, waylaid by misunderstandings, the need to help people and frequent deaths. He would make for an excellent recurring guest star across the spread of TVU, carrying with him his own sub-plots and mysteries that can tie in to whatever’s going on with the host show around the time.

It’s not going to happen though. Resurrection Man sold moderately well in a 90s solo series, but was quickly relegated to a footnote in DC history. I was amazed when it was resurrected for the New 52, but it barely lasted the year there. To get on TV would be pushing that luck too far.

Likelihood: Stone dead.

Spider Verse Cover

Spider-Verse, by the Spider First XI.

Considering how closed off the concept of Spider-Man is (loner orphan Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider, gets powers, most people he loves die horribly – you may be familiar with it), it’s amazing how much franchising there’s been over the years. There’s Spider-Man, his two clones, about four Spider-Women, some Spider-Girls (including his daughter from an alternate future), the Spider-Man of 2099, a team of teenagers using his four temporary IDs from when he was wanted for murder, foreign adaptations like Spider-Man: India and, of course, Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham (aka comic’s greatest literary achievement).

Plenty of characters already, then, with which to make a big multiversal cross-over. Spider-Verse goes not just one better, but dozens better, by throwing in loads of new Spider-Men, Spider-Women and even Spider-Monkeys all teaming up to stop a dimension hopping family of villains who feed off the special ‘spider totems’ imbued within them all. But with that many Spider-People, surely Spider-Verse runs the risk of being very confusing? Yes. Yes it does. Read the rest of this entry »

Genuinely one of the best costume designs of the 90s.

Genuinely one of the best costume designs of the 90s. Cover by Brian Stelfreeze.

For years, DC’s collections department was considered the crème de la crème of the comics as books market. It’s not a reputation that was particularly well earned though, just sort of given as default. 15-20 years ago, Marvel and Image were just putting out the odd collection, with no particular rhyme or reason. DC at least regularly put out trade paperbacks, some even in series and with matching trade dress.

The thing is, they weren’t particularly great collections. Issues would often be arbitrarily missed, covers stripped and shoved at the back if you were lucky, issues would often be trimmed to the bare minimum necessary, random parts of series would be released with no follow up and the paper stock would tan as easily as a vampire in Ibiza. They were serviceable, if nothing else.

In the intervening years, all comics publishers have upped their games, including DC, to a degree. Beyond their gargantuan Absolutes, they’ve hardly been the gold standard, with many of their early problems not going away. Lately, DC have decided to delve into their previously lightly mined back catalogue and sort out some of the poorly collected titles of yesteryear. Yesteryear being the 90s.

Nightwing’s solo series had a few trades published through the early 00s, but they were afflicted by most of the problems from above. This is the first in a redux series, that promises to do it right. As such, it’s worth splitting this review into two section: the material and the collection.

I think we've finally found the inspiration for that Coldplay song.

I think we’ve finally found the inspiration for that Coldplay song. Dixon/McDaniel.

The Material

Do I need to explain who Nightwing is? If not, skip to the next paragraph. If you don’t know, Nightwing is Batman’s original sidekick Robin but, as the Daily Mail would say, all grown up. Too old for Robin, but not Batman, he’s become his own man with his own identity.

Nightwing Land 2

O’Neil/Land.

Bludhaven starts not with the start of Nightwing’s long running solo series, but with the mini series that preceded it a year or so before. This dry run is by the odd couple creative team of Denny O’Neil and Greg Land. O’Neil is a celebrated writer who’s been in the industry since the 70s, who is regarded as one of the best Batman writers ever and a cherished, long-time editor of the line. Greg Land is an oddly successful artist who produces incredibly artificial art, most of which is traced from pornography. This mini-series is a bit of a departure for both of them.

It’s worth bearing in mind this was created in the mid-90s, during the height of the ‘extreme’ days of Image’s dominance of the market. As such, O’Neil’s writing feels very much like it’s trying to emulate that. Dick Grayson’s narration is clipped and blunt, more so than feels right for the character. It’s almost entirely devoid of the warmth that is essential to differentiating Nightwing from Batman. The story involves Nightwing soul-searching about his place in life, getting a much better costume and then travelling abroad to investigate a fresh lead into the death of his parents. What’s that? You thought the death of the Graysons was wrapped up years earlier? Well, yes it was. Much of the story ends up being a less than thrilling detour into a narrative cul-de-sac.

Land’s work is also riddled with 90s cliché. Under his pencil, Dick has a physique to rival the Hulk and a ponytail that defies all physics and taste. Weirdly though, this is from Land’s best period as an artist (or the cusp of it, at least). There’s far less obvious tracing and the story-telling is much improved than his modern work, presumably because he was having to think about it more while drawing it from scratch.

Nightwing Land 1

O’Neil/Land

 

The main series, sees a different creative team take over, but not all the problems go away. The big improvement Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel bring is moving Nightwing to Bludhaven (hence the title) Gotham’s corrupt neighbour. It’s a bit of a hard sell pitching a city that’s more corrupt and irredeemable than Gotham, given the decades of stories about how awful Gotham is, but Dixon largely manages to pull it off. Giving Nightwing his own series makes a lot of sense compared to keeping him in Gotham as the mini series broadly did. It gives him a chance to spread his wings and work independently as a character from Batman.

Art by Scott McDaniel.

Dixon/McDaniel

It also allows for a ripe bit of world-building. DC isn’t short on fictional cities, but this presented a great opportunity to create a new city almost from the ground up. Robinson and Harris had this opportunity on Starman and used it to create one of the most vibrant and distinct comics cities ever with Opal City. Nightwing doesn’t quite manage the same with Bludhaven.

You can see Dixon trying, as he sends Dick across various parts of the city during the course of these eight issues, but unfortunately McDaniel isn’t up to it. McDaniel’s art is pretty hard to follow at times, striving more for stylistic sizzle than story-telling steak. There is little sense of space to his work, especially the action scenes, which means you never really get a good feel for Bludhaven as a city.

McDaniel’s art isn’t helped by the cutting edge mid-90s computer colouring, which is frequently incredibly garish. Strip away the glossy colours though and you’ve got fundamental shortfalls in the colouring that have afflicted comics for decades – lots of block colouring that manages to push important visual information into the background, confusing the read.

So the art isn’t brilliant, but there is a glimmer of hope there. You can see McDaniel’s art improving with every issue, so there’s an upward trend. The benefit of this redux situation is that I’ve read a few later issues of Nightwing and know that the art improves immensely as other artist come on (including Greg Land in his all too brief patch of being fairly good), so it’s looking up, generally.

Dixon/McDaniel

Dixon/McDaniel

This is a bit of a rough start to Nightwing, but one with promise. There’s a long term game plan at work here, as Dixon sends Nightwing blind into an entirely new city with a power structure he doesn’t understand and little to no support network. It’s nice take on the typical Batman set-up. Bruce was always a native of Gotham, so knew the city intimately, whereas Dick is still finding his way around Bludhaven. Batman quickly gained an ally in Commissioner Gordon, an honest cop quickly in a position of influence, while Nightwing is forced to work with a police lieutenant he doesn’t trust, under the gaze of a corrupt police chief. Combined with the mystery identity of Bludhaven’s new crime lord, there’s a lot to compensate you for the rough opening mini and the underwhelming art.

Plus, they get rid of the stupid ponytail pretty quick.

The Collection

Bludhaven is a very glossy book. The cover is a typical quality glossy cover. The interior pages are incredibly glossy as well, to a surprising degree. I don’t know if it’s just that I’m not used to that on a Nightwing trade, but it felt a little odd. Still, I’ll take it over the newsprint of old editions.

The issue reproduction is pretty good. The credits haven’t been removed or blanked out, as old DC trades would often do, just the copyright indicia, which is for some reason often incorporated into the layout of the page rather than set beneath it as is traditional (and easier to remove). The covers are not only present, but in the right places; huzzah! Trade dress (titles, logo, credits, issue numbers etc) have been removed from all the covers from the ongoing series (but not the mini-series, oddly), which does mean it can get easy to lose track of which issue you’re on.

Weirdly, there’s a contents page at the front of the volume, which adds in all the cover artist credits. It’s a bit pointless though, as there are no page numbers anywhere in this book, so if on the off-chance you do decide that you want to open the book and immediately go to #5 on page 194, you’re either going to have to count your way to it or just flick through the book randomly until you find the title page, which is what you’d have had to do without a contents page anyway.

Dixon/McDaniel

Dixon/McDaniel

There aren’t any extras included here, beyond a sort of introduction to Dick’s backstory written as a diary entry from Oracle. I don’t think that’s new though, given the first line is “if you have stumbled on this file by accident or design, you have five seconds to log off before you are booted, flamed and tagged as roadkill on the information highway”, which is deliciously 90s all over. But the lack of extras isn’t a deal-breaker for 20 year old material.

Overall, this is a fairly promising new start to this run of Nightwing trades and to DC’s slate of redux trades (which currently includes Nightwing, Catwoman, Secret Six, Birds of Prey and Robin). Of course the big asterisk to all this is whether they’ll bother to print the whole series or get bored and give up halfway through, like DC so often do.

Consider this if you liked: This pretty much directly follows on from the Prodigal arc of Batman, included at the end of the newer, thicker editions of Knightfall.

Images courtesy of Comixology.

Buy Nightwing: Bludhaven from Amazon.

Perhaps the only good cover to come from DC's Big Head Month (apart from the Deadpool one).

Perhaps the only good cover to come from DC’s Big Head Month (apart from the Deadpool one).

When you buy a collected edition of a comic, you kind of assume you’re buying, if not the definitive version of the material, at least a superior version than the original monthly issues. That’s not an unfair assumption, right? Just like you’d expect a DVD boxset of your favourite TV show to be of better quality than your aging off-air VHS recordings, a comic book tpb should be better than back issues.

DC Comics don’t quite seem to have grasped this notion.

When the New 52 was announced, its surprise inclusion of a new Resurrection Man series made me very pleased. I love Resurrection Man. An under-rated gem of the 90s, it’s the only ongoing comic series I’ve ever owned entirely in floppies. And given that I greatly dislike monthly comics (and now no longer even buy anything in that format) that’s saying a lot.

With the (ultimately disappointing) new series of Resurrection Man came the news that the original series would be reprinted in tpb form. Thrilled, I quickly eBayed my complete run while it still held some value and then just a mere three years* after it was released, I bought this trade, collecting #1-14.

*I’m terrible at buying things promptly when they come out, even if I love them. I’ve still got barely any of Community on DVD.

This, it turns out, was a mistake.

This collection of Resurrection Man does have better paper than the original comics. And true, there are no ads inside (although part of me is a little disappointed by the lack of pages trying to flog Mortal Kombat 4 and Sprite during its adolescent anti-authority period), but in many respects, it’s completely inferior.

For a start, the covers to each issue have been stripped from their stories and shoved at the back. This really bothers me here, more so than it has elsewhere perhaps. It’s such a pointless endeavour. Resurrection Man is generally an episodic series; even when doing a multi-part story, each issue is paced individually. If it was a series where issue breaks are simply where the writer has run out of pages for that month (like say a Brian Bendis comic) or more of an anthology series (like Usagi Yojimbo) I can maybe see the point in removing the covers, but here it’s simply like removing all the opening titles from a TV series, or chapter headings from a novel. There’s no breathing space between issues, which ruins the reading experience much like Charlie Brooker posits in this old Screenwipe video.

Worse than this is that the book clearly hasn’t been proof-read before going to press. An early page in issue 2 is of such low resolution that the text is rendered near unreadable. This would have been immediately apparent to anyone who had bothered to check before signing off on the book to print it. There’s also a double-page spread that’s broken across a page break, which is perhaps even damning of the proof-reader’s quick flick through this volume. This collection has been put together with all the care and attention of a Maths teacher forced to cover a PE lesson but more worried about getting his shoes muddy than whether anyone’s actually following the rules of rugby.

This is all hugely disappointing, as the series itself holds up pretty well. It’s certainly better than the very disappointing (and short-lived) revival.

Here we follow the adventures of Mitch Shelley, an amnesiac tramp who, in the middle of a drive-by shooting, discovers he can fly. Unfortunately, he’s not bullet-proof and is killed in the fracas. Luckily for Mitch it turns out he can’t stay dead and he quickly comes back to life, albeit with a different super-power. He also gets a blast of fragments from his missing memory, setting him on a journey of self-discovery and low-key super-vigilantism.

Aesthetically, this comic is very 90s, although thankfully not in the awful, Image house style way. The computer colouring is bold and garish, in a not entirely unpleasant way. The fashion is very of the time as well, with artist Butch Guice managing to make his characters feel like real people. One place the art does fall down though is the inconsistent inking. Guice inks his own work mostly, which still somehow manages to be quite variable, but there’s a rotating set of inkers that pitch in at various times. At its best, it’s scratchy and textured, give a rough feel to the street-level stories (and looks beautiful when uninked for Mitch’s memory bursts). At its worst, the series can seem a bit simple and clean, but still appealing. I do think the book would have benefited from a regular inker being assigned from the off though.

Resurrection Man Page 1

About the only interior scan I can find.

The biggest problem art wise though is that the page lay-outs can often be somewhat confusing, resulting in poor panel flow. This was endemic in comics of the 90s, purged only when the Bryan Hitch cinematic style took prominence around the Millennium, so we can’t fault Resurrection Man for it entirely, but it is a drawback.

Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s stories are solid stuff, though. Mitch is likeable lead character, whose life intersects with an interesting array of supporting types. Recurring villain Hooker is just the right side of the quirky-annoying border, while the glamorous bounty hunting duo the Body Doubles similarly manage to avoid the potential pitfalls open to a pair of sexy bad girl characters. Ok, so the series hinges on Mitch being unusually, well, mortal for a comic book character, dying almost at the drop of a hat. This feels a little incongruous with a world where Batman can get over being crippled with some herbs and stuff, but once you accept it, it’s not a big deal.

What’s particularly impressive is the way Resurrection Man interacts with the rest of the DC universe. The Justice League appear in #2, but Mitch stays in the background, as the book shows the collateral damage usually left unconsidered by a typical bit super-hero battle. The Batman issue gives a nice street level look at Gotham, while the issues starring Garth Ennis’ Hitman are an anarchic take on the typical super-hero team-up formula.

Unfortunately, the positives of the actual comics are largely rendered moot by two things. The production problems in this volume are the most obvious, but the other is the complete lack of a volume 2. As mentioned, this isn’t a particularly prompt review. This collection has been out for a couple of years now and there’s no sign of a second. If you buy this volume, you’ll only be getting half a series. Half a good series, admittedly (and this is probably the better of the two halves) but still only half. One that ends on a cliff-hanger even. It’s been long enough now that it seems likely DC won’t bother with volume 2 (the revived series having been cancelled doesn’t help). Strong sales would have encouraged that, but it also would have suggested the unforgivable production problems are ok, which they aren’t. So really you’re kind of damned if you do and, well, just damned if you do.

Maybe get the back issues?

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

In talking about SNL’s 19th season, I lamented that the show was unable to fully enter the era of its 90s stars, for better or worse, because it was still lingering to some of the stars of its late 80s heyday. Season 20 initially gives the impression of continuing this. Kevin Nealon and Mike Myers represent the last traces of the 80s cast, but it’s quickly clear that for its 20th season SNL has embraced its current crop of homegrown stars like David Spade, Chris Farley and Adam Sandler.

This is not a good thing.

Read the rest of this entry »

In this age of console apps and services, the good old physical peripheral is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. Back in the 80s and 90s, barely a console on the market didn’t have a raft of premium add-ons available for it. Nintendo were the master of this (because Nintendo like money) and have created some truly iconic pieces of plastic tat accessories to go with their consoles, from the NES Zapper to the GameBoy Camera.

Not all of Nintendo’s consoles peripherals are as well remembered though, whether they were successful or not. Here is a look at some of them.

 

Primer: the Nintendo Family Computer (the Japanese NES). Photo from National Videogame Archive

Primer: the Nintendo Family Computer (the Japanese NES).
Photo from National Videogame Archive

Famicom Disk System Read the rest of this entry »

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 »