We’re looking at Brit comic this week, including some of the big names in comics, including Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore.
Neil Gaiman is arguably Britain’s best fantasy author, with masterpieces like American Gods and Stardust under his belt. He has the remarkable ability to transform his magical – and often bizarre – ideas into words and be continually accessible to many different people. It seems that Neil Gaiman can turn his hand to anything and put his own stamp on it – from Doctor Who episodes to comic books.
Marvel 1602 is a masterclass in comic book writing and is utterly enjoyable. It takes place in the middle of a world of political intrigue and dastardly plots and that in itself is intriguing – Gaiman manages to wrangle the Spanish Inquisition as a brilliant part of the story among other historical events. Add popular, well known superheroes? The result is positively brilliant.
The story is wonderful and each character has been written to suit their new historic roles superbly. Doctor Strange is brilliant as Queen Elizabeth’s physician, and Nick Fury as her cunning advisor. It’s completely believable that they might be there, and stories from that period. Including them might exist. Their stories, their new origins, are completely logical, and it’s a testimony to Neil Gaiman’s skill. He can enchant anything he touches – see his prowess in Sandman, too, which truly marked him out as a brilliant comic book writer.
Let me just plunk this down right here and recommend an entire comic book series. John Constantine, the Hellblazer, was originally created for the Swamp Thing comics in the 1980s before transitioning to his own series. Created by Alan Moore and with the first issues of Hellblazer’s series being penned by Jamie Delano for the first 40 issues. So, despite being published by an American publisher, I consider the Hellblazer comics to be about as British as 2000 AD.
A constant tale of redemption, I’ve always been intrigued by the series’ main protagonist John Constantine. He’s rough around the edges and not the kind of person you want to make friends with (‘cause you might just die by doing so) and so damn flawed that he’s a perfect representation of the anti-hero character type. He’s like a P.I. who uses magic, doubled up with a know-it-all attitude that’s similar to the great fictional P.I.s that came before him (think Sherlock and pulp characters), but he’s down to Earth in ways that make him a character you can identify with.
While the original series did conclude with issue 300 back in 2013, it’s definitely worth looking through the back catalogue.
But still standing like the boxer after 24 rounds we have Judge Dredd. Lawman of the Future.
Set in (and now well past) the year 2099 after the third World War in America, democracy died and was replaced by the Justice System. Designed to replace the courts, they are Judge, Jury and Executioner.
So there’s forty years of all these juicy tales of crime and punishment. Even to the point of more mature tales in ‘Megazine’. These are all highly recommended reading for the new comic fan and now available as handy Mega-Collections which collect the stories chronologically (this has proven very useful for me as I missed a lot from the 90’s).
Judge Dredd is a big part of my growing up in comics and the likes of John Wagner have shaped my very perception of storytelling that’s exciting and fun.
So take a step in the big green boots of the Lawman of the future.
You won’t be disappointed.
This might seem like an obvious choice, but there’s a reason why Alan Moore is widely considered to be the greatest comic book writer of all time and Watchmen is usually heralded as his magnum opus. And that reason is because Watchmen is phenomenal.
Presenting a ‘realistic’ depiction of superheroes (which Hollywood has disastrously tried to mimic in recent years), Watchmen is unrelenting and bleak, violent and cruel, but Moore never lets it get too overwhelming, perfectly counteracting the depression of the world by making us invest in the plights of its main characters. And these characters are the reason why Watchmen is as powerful and as timeless as it is. While Watchmen has a lot of things going for it, from Dave Gibbons’ gorgeous artwork to Moore’s paranoia-fuelled world, it is the six main characters, the titular ‘Watchmen’, that keeps us reading. Moore makes us care about their personal tragedies and their small day-to-day victories. He pulls us in to the people behind the masks until we’re utterly gripped by their lives.
Watchmen works because, for all its flashy gadgets and frenetic fight scenes, it’s not a comics about superheroes. There are no heroes in Watchmen. There are no villains either. There are just people (who happen to wear tights and capes) trying to live their lives and make the best of what they’ve got. Unfortunately, this is something Zack Synder’s hollow adaptation failed to realise, instead choosing to pile so much style over substance that the comic’s subtlety and emotion becomes utterly buried.