Sunday TV Viewing

I’m just having a nice, quiet Sunday afternoon here, chillin’, sitting at my computer and watching some TV. Sunday is always good for sci-fi films on UK television, and today has been no exception.

I’ve just spent the past few hours watching the movie adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust (2007). I’ve got the novel and the graphic novel, but have only ever managed to catch bits ‘n’ pieces of the film before. Well, I caught it all today, and it wasn’t bad. Not bad at all. Quite humorous in parts, and less mainstream fantasy than the likes of Lord of the Rings, which suits me fine.

The two leads, Claire Danes and Charlie Cox, as love interests Yvaine and Tristan, were pretty good, as was Mark Strong as the nasty bad guy Prince Septimus. But the best of the lot were Michelle Pfeiffer as the evil witch Lamia, and Robert de Niro as the hilariously camp Captain Shakespeare. He was brilliant, and absolutely stole the show for me.

At the moment, I’m watching The Incredible Hulk (2008) on ITV2, whilst right now, over on Channel 5, is the very weird Zathura (2005), by the same guys who brought us Jumanji (1995). And that will be followed when it finishes by The Fifth Element (1997). Non-stop sci-fi film goodness, on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Choices, choices. It’s a pity that there aren’t several of me, so that I could watch them all at the same time in different rooms. 🙂

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In the Beginning… My Earliest Days on the Internet (Part One)

I’ve been online for a long time now, almost twenty years, in fact. My love affair with the internet started when I first came online on Christmas morning, December 1995, and has continued ever since. I can now barely remember what life was like before the internet, and it’s so much part of my daily existence nowadays that I simply couldn’t picture how my life would be without it.

Back in those days, the internet had been up and running for a while, but the World Wide Web was still in its infancy, and only a relatively few people were brave enough to venture out into the “wilds” of the Web, using nothing but one of the primitive web browsers available at the time. Besides, that early on in the Web’s existence, there weren’t really very many good websites out there anyway. So most of the fledgling web denizens tended to hang out in the safe online enclaves provided by the large commercial online services such as AOL, CompuServe and GEnie, which dominated the internet during its first couple of decades. And it was on CompuServe, otherwise known as CIS (CompuServe Information Service) that I was to spend my first few years on the internet.

In the heyday of CompuServe and AOL, every UK household used to get AOL and CompuServe CDs regularly in the mail. They bred like rabbits! I had dozens of them lying around the house, so many that I was never short of beer mats. 🙂 Early on Christmas morning, I unpacked my latest, most anticipated Christmas present, a shiny new US Robotics Sportster 28.8k modem, connected it to the computer, popped a CompuServe CD in the drive, and I was off and running. I was about to enter the online world for the very first time.

I was a huge Doctor Who, Babylon 5 and Star Trek fan at that time (I still am), so the very first thing I did after joining CompuServe was to become a member of the SFMEDIA forum, a busy, bustling community full of nice, friendly sci-fi geeks, who all just happened to love the same kind of television series and films that I did. After living my entire life in almost complete isolation from other sci-fi fans, I was now in geek heaven. I had literally thousands of like-minded geeks to converse with online every single day. I made my first posting in the Babylon 5 section of SFMEDIA at 4.55am on Christmas morning, and never looked back.

As I was also a big fan of written SF, I moved on to join the SFLIT forum a day or two later, and I liked that forum even better than SFMEDIA. Then, after a few weeks finding my feet in the two SF forums, and as I was also a comics fan, I joined the COMICS & ANIMATION forum, then the SCIENCE forum, the SPACE forum, the HISTORY forum, and quite a few others. But it was the SFMEDIA, SFLIT and COMICS & ANIMATION forums which always remained my main hang-outs, my central “base of operations”, so to speak. From 1995, up until about 2002, my entire online existence, both on CompuServe and elsewhere revolved around those three forums.

These were the days before everyone and their dog had their own webpage/website, when anyone who was anybody had a presence on CompuServe. Big companies like IBM, Microsoft, Lotus and Borland had their own communities there, and ran their online business from CompuServe. Many of the big SF authors and fandom figures hung out on SFLIT (Mike Resnick, Ray Feist, Catherine Asaro, David Gerrold, Jeff Carver, Gardner Dozois, Jon Stith, Dave Truesdale and many others come to mind), the likes of Joe Straczynski (yeah, JMS himself) hung out on SFMEDIA, and Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Steve Gerber and many other big comics writers and artists hung out on COMICS & ANIMATION.

Having notable media figures like this all in one place, interacting directly with fans and other members in the forums every single day, made CompuServe an absolutely incredible place to be back in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

To Be Continued…

Marvel Gets Their Man – The End of the Great Marvelman Rights Saga?

So Marvel Comics have bought the rights to the classic Marvelman character (known as Miracleman in the US) from original creator Mick Anglo? Interesting. Very interesting. Given the rather “colourful” legal history between Marvel and the folks who worked on Marvelman/Miracleman throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s, if the situation wasn’t so ironic, it would be hilarious. That Marvel would’ve ended up the saviours of Marvelman? I can barely believe it myself.

The classic Alan Moore reinterpretation of the original 1950’s Marvelman first appeared in the famous British monthly comic Warrior back in 1982, and was later reprinted and continued as Miracleman (I’ve always greatly preferred the original name “Marvelman” over “Miracleman”) by Eclipse Comics. It is my all-time favourite superhero strip, by a huge margin. I also rate the Neil Gaiman version which continued on directly from Moore’s version very highly, if, perhaps, not quite so highly as Moore’s.

Coming at a time when the Bronze Age (which I had been a huge fan of) at Marvel and DC was starting to seriously run out of steam, Marvelman was the precursor to a new breed of superhero comic. It was the first of its kind, and started a storm which was to change the entire comics landscape during the ’80s, leading directly to classics such as the Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns. We didn’t know that at the time, of course, although it all seems so obvious now, but everything is always 20/20 in hindsight. But after being raised since childhood on a diet of classic British comics and Silver and Bronze Age Marvel’s and DC’s, all I knew at the time was that Marvelman was absolutely mind-blowingly incredible, and I had never seen anything like it before.

I have all the issues of the original Warrior, and it didn’t just contain Marvelman, but also a few other classic strips, including another all-time favourite written by Alan Moore, the original V for Vendetta. I liked V for Vendetta a lot, but Marvelman was by far my favourite. I distinctly recall my anger, rage and total disbelief when the strip was dropped from Warrior after about twenty issues, due to the legal wrangling with Marvel over the name. I was absolutely livid. The best superhero strip I had ever read, cut short due to petty legal squabbles.

When Warrior folded a half a dozen issues later, and I saw that mainstream comics had nothing left of quality to offer (or, rather, nothing to offer ME), I dropped out of comics in disgust for over a decade. I didn’t find out until many years later that Eclipse Comics had reprinted and continued the Marvelman story, now rechristened Miracleman (due again to continued legal wrangling with Marvel), during my time away from comics.

I came back into comics full-time again around 1997 or so, and I’ve spent the years since tracking down the Eclipse series, and now have the entire 24-issue run, with the exception of the classic Miracleman -vs- Kid Miracleman finale in Issue 15. I also have the 3-issue Apocrypha mini-series, and the Apocrypha trade paperback, plus two of the four collected trade paperbacks of the main series. The original collected editions haven’t been available for years now, and collectors are paying exorbitant prices for them. The trade paperbacks frequently go for £70-£80 or higher on ebay.co.uk, where, at this very moment, a hardcover of Book 1, A Dream of Flying, is asking for a Buy It Now price of £175, and the hardcover of Book 2, The Red King Syndrome, an incredible Buy It Now price of £375. As much as I love Marvelman/Miracleman, I wouldn’t pay these ridiculous prices for them, particularly since I already have the entire run (bar one) of the Eclipse series.

Eclipse went bust in 1994, and, since that time, Marvelman/Miracleman has remained in limbo, the focus of one of the longest running, most complicated, and bitter legal conflicts over character rights in the comics world. This dispute got even worse when Todd McFarlane acquired the rights to the bankrupt Eclipse properties in 1996, and it has dragged on, year after year. The issue of who owned the rights to which part of the character has always been a muddied minefield, with so many different individuals involved in the matter, each claiming to own a share – Quality Communications/Dez SkinnAlan MooreNeil GaimanGarry LeachAlan DavisMark BuckinghamTodd McFarlane, and the original creator, Mick Anglo (dunno if I missed anyone – like I said, it’s a really confusing mess). It got so bad that for years most of us were none the wiser as to who really owned what.

In recent years, the legal situation seems to have been resolved, with the courts settling in favour of original Marvelman creator, Mick Anglo. Despite the grumblings of Todd McFarlane, it’s emerged that Quality Communications had never owned the rights to Marvelman in the first place, and that they still resided with Anglo, which make’s all the other creators’ claims to ownership of the character null and void. Considering the legal quagmire over rights that the character has been mired down in for years, now that they’ve been bought up by Marvel, we might just see an end to the endless legal wrangling that has kept Marvelman in limbo for so long.

That is, unless Todd McFarlane somehow manages to kick up a legal fuss of some kind, if he has any legal legs left to stand on. I would assume that any trademark rights he may own, if any, relate only to the Eclipse character Miracleman, not the original Marvelman. But even with Marvel buying the rights to the character from Mick Anglo, the legal situation still isn’t completely crystal-clear. They might have the rights to the 1950’s/1960’s version, but what about the 1980’s Moore/Gaiman version, which is the real jewel in the crown? We do know that Marvel has been discussing plans for the character and its stories with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Alan Davis and Mark Buckingham. I guess we’ll just have to wait to find out exactly what they’ve agreed on.

However Marvel may decide to revitalize Marvelman, I’m just hoping that they do the character justice, and don’t make a complete mess of it. I would dearly love to see Alan Moore revisit his best-ever (in my opinion) creation, but that seems highly unlikely. It would also be great to see Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham get to finish their original run on the comic, completing the trilogy of stories that they were in the thick of, and closing out the unfinished Silver Age, and the final Dark Age sequences that they were working on when Eclipse went to the wall. The fact that they had at least another full issue (or more) completed (but never published) before Eclipse went bust has kept hard-core fans chomping at the bit for years to see this unfinished work. And I’m one of those hard-core fans. The hardest of the hard.

But if none of the above happens, and if they were to start from a completely clean slate, Marvel really would need to bring out their big guns for their new acquisition, given the importance of the character, and put together a massive creative team to give it their best shot. A writer of the caliber of Joe StraczynskiWarren EllisKurt Busiek, Mark MillarGrant Morrison (now THAT would be ironic, considering the slating he gave Moore over Marvelman back in the day), would be an absolute must. Absolutely no second stringers or hacks – this revival has the importance and potential to be one of the biggest events of the decade, so don’t fumble the ball, Marvel, please. Pick a top-notch writer and pair him with an artist of equal standing, and make sure they stay on the strip. Avoid the instability of creative teams constantly chopping and changing, something which would surely guarantee the failure of the new title.

Whatever happens with Marvel, the current situation has to be better than the stalemate the character has been trapped in for fifteen years. Even if they make a total disaster of their new version (and fingers crossed that they don’t), I’m really hoping that we will, at last, be able to get regular reissues of the classic 1980’s strips in trade paperback or hardcover. I’d dearly love to see a huge hardcover omnibus edition with the entire Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman run, plus the Apocrypha mini-series and other bits ‘n’ pieces thrown in as extras. And, who knows, maybe, somewhere down the line, even reprints of the original Mick Anglo strips. Please, please, please. Here’s hoping.

That is, unless Toddy or some other gremlin doesn’t manage to throw yet another spanner in the works, re-starting the old legal merry-go-round and consigning our hero to limbo once again. For all fans of Marvelman, I really, really hope not. Let’s have this fantastic, ground-breaking character back in circulation again. A generation of comic fans – all but the most determined collectors – have been deprived of one of the greatest superhero strips of all time. It’s well beyond time for him to be back in the public eye again, receiving the recognition and adulation that he so richly deserves.

Marvelman deserves to be up there with The Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Dark Knight Returns, and the other 1980’s mega-classics of the comics medium. He’s the equal of any of them, and, in my opinion, the best of the lot.

Classic Comics – Miracleman (Eclipse Comics)

Some very nice comics arrived from Ebay.co.uk today. A bunch of Miracleman comics, from the classic Eclipse Comics series. Issues 12, 14 , 22, 23, and Miracleman: Apocrypha #3 (of 3), to be exact. Leaves me just #’s 11, 13, 15 and 24 of the main series to complete the entire run. I was outbid on #24 at the last second (with the previously winning bid from me sitting at £21), something that I was rather pissed off about (to put it very mildly).

This series is a much sought after classic title. And the asking prices reflect that. Certain individual issues will pop up regularly at £30 or more – I expect the hotly demanded #’s 15 and 24 to cost me a pretty packet at some point. The four trade paperbacks of the main series – A Dream of Flying, The Red King Syndrome, Olympus and The Golden Age (there is also a fifth, covering the Miracleman: Apocrypha 3-part mini-series) – go for exorbitant prices (and only cover up to #22 of the 24 parts).

I still need A Dream of Flying and Olympus, but the high asking prices for the trade paperbacks have forced me to concentrate on the original comics instead. In a way, this is preferable, as the original comics are worth more anyway – the trade paperbacks only have artificially inflated prices only because of the fact that the series is unlikely to be reprinted anytime soon due to the complicated legal situation surrounding the creators rights. But I’d definitely like to get the other two tpbs, eventually (and at the right price), as this series is structured to fit four “books”, and are extremely collectible in this format.

I don’t usually pay this kind of inflated collector’s prices for comics – I have better things to do with my money – but, for a series like Miracleman (originally known as Marvelman, an infinitely better title, at least in my opinion), it’s well worth paying out over the odds. The original modern incarnation of Marvelman first appeared as a black and white strip in the classic British comic, Warrior, at the start of the 1980s. It was written by a then relatively unknown Alan Moore (later an equally relatively unknown Neil Gaiman – this comic has some serious creator pedigree) and drawn by Garry Leach (later Alan Davis and others), and totally redefined the stagnant superhero genre. It blew me away. It was, and remains, my favourite superhero strip of all time. By a huge margin. When you rate something as highly as that, you’ll pay what it takes to get it.

I’ve been following the Gaiman vs McFarlane legal squabble over Miracleman copyrights with interest. Apparently Gaiman says that issue 25 was mostly completed before Eclipse went under, and that he’d get it finished, and the Miracleman story finally wrapped up, if the legal situation ever gets resolved in his favour.

Lets hope that’s how it turns out, and sooner rather than later.

Eternals by Neil Gaiman and John Romita, Jr.

I tend not to follow modern mainstream Marvel or DC comics at all these days. With the exceptions of the various collections of Silver and Bronze Age material and the occasional, very rare, collection of modern material by authors that I like (Ed Brubakker, Warren Ellis, Mark Waid, Mark Millar, Kurt Busiek, James Robinson and a few others), they do absolutely nothing for me. Compared to the glory days of the Silver and Bronze Ages, the quality of new comics output by both companies is generally absolutely abysmal these days.

But every once in a while they do come out with something worthwhile, something a little different, like a brand-new kind of superhero story, or a high quality reimagining of an old one. One of the better “reboots” of a classic superhero comic that I’ve read in recent years was Eternals, a seven-part mini series produced by Marvel Comics, written by Neil Gaiman, and with art by John Romita, Jr.

This is a reimagining of Jack Kirby’s old Eternals title from the 1970s and early 1980s, and elevates what was really a second or third rate (although fun) Bronze Age Marvel series to true “classic” status. Although the original was an interesting enough series in its own right (and I myself almost always prefer the originals over reboots), in my opinion, Kirby was well past his best when he worked on it, and it showed.

I know that the purists will be screaming “BLASPHEMY!!” from the roof-tops at these comments, but I cannot emphasize just by how much this modern, “Gaiman-ized” version of the Eternals completely blows the original out of the water. Gaiman takes the original concepts and story and runs with it all, creating a fresh new look at the original, a more adult (in the good sense) story, and great characters. What else would you expect from Neil Gaiman?. All of the original characters, both protagonists and antagonists, get a real make-over in this new version.

The Deviants, in particular, are given the expert Gaiman treatment. These were the one-dimensional, bad-guy cannon-fodder in the original series. Now they’ve been fleshed out, made more three-dimensional, and given a lot more depth, darkness and outright menace. The two lead Deviant antagonists are a nasty team altogether, obviously modelled on Vandemar and Croup, Gaiman’s own creations, the two vicious assassins in his classic novel Neverwhere. These two are by far my favourite characters in the entire story.

Romita’s excellent art also sets off Gaiman’s writing perfectly, and the series was published in a number of variant covers (most by Romita) that all collectors will want to grab. I usually am NOT a fan of the multiple “variant cover” nonsense, but I made a point of grabbing most of these, because the Romita covers are so good.

I won’t spoil things by revealing details of the story itself. Just go buy it. The series was collected in both hardcover and trade paperback. I bought both, and I’d definitely recommend grabbing a copy of the trade paperback, at least. I’d say that anyone who is not a hardcore original Kirby Eternals “purist” should enjoy this one.