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New Escapist Column! On How “Arkham City” Uses the Language of Video Games to Make the Player Feel Like Batman…

I published a new piece at The Escapist earleir this week. As part of a Patreon goal, I will be playing through the video game of The Last of Us for the website, but to warm up, I decided to take up playing some video games that I remember from my own childhood: the Arkham games.

Replaying Batman: Arkham City, I was taken at how well the game uses the narrative structures unique to video games to immerse the player in the world and the psychology of the Caped Crusader, beyond what is possible in comics, film or television. The game places the player in an artifical countdown, and gives them sets of competing objectives, forcing them to decide what to prioritise and how best to respond to the immediate crisis as the situation keeps escalating around them. It’s an approach that manages to make Gotham feel like a real and living place, with the Dark Knight caught in the middle of it.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On The Sincere Nerdery of James Gunn and Peter Safran’s DC Slate…

I published a new piece at The Escapist last month. With new creative heads James Gunn and Peter Safran announcing their slate of upcoming DC films, it seemed worth taking account of a production schedule that includes oddities like The Creature Commandos, The Authority and Swamp Thing.

In modern pop culture, “fannishness” is worn as a badge of honour. Producers and writers will often give interviews stressing their sincere affection for the source material with which they are working. However, these adaptations are often superficial or shallow, drawing on surface level details from the rich tapestry of these very old properties. What makes Gunn and Safran’s slate so appealing, even if it may never actually materialise, is that it genuinely feels like the work of enthusiastic and hardcore fans with a deepset and long-standing appreciation for the source material, complete with deep cuts.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Podcast! The X-Cast – Topps Comics #1 (“Not to Be Opened Until X-Mas” / “A Dismemberance of Things Past”)

I’ve been thrilled to guest on The X-Cast over the past few years, and have really enjoyed digging into The X-Files with the guests and hosts. However, this is particularly thrilling, because it’s particularly geeky. The wonderful Tony Black asked me join him for a discussion of the first two stories published by Topps comics, Not to Be Opened Until X-Mas and A Dismemberance of Things Past, written by Stefan Petrucha and illustrated by Charlie Adlard.

I have made no secret of my long-standing affection for these comics. I think that they are probably among the very best licensed comic books ever published. So it was a delight to be asked to talk about them, and to get to geek out with Tony about these stories. There’s a lot of fun stuff here, including context about the comics industry in the nineties and the question of what was possible in a monthly tie-in to a weekly television series.

You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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New Podcast! The Time is Now – Millennium in Comics (“Immaculate” & “Mini-Series”)

I’ve been really honoured to be a recurring guest on The Time is Now across its coverage of Millennium, a vastly underrated and under-appreciated television series. The podcast has finished its coverage of the show, but I was thrilled to join Tony Black for a discussion of the tie-in comic books published after the show finished up.

To be fair, it seems like Millennium only really came back as an extension of IDW’s management of the larger X-Files brand, as the publisher tried to figure out if the market would support an X-Files-adjacent comic book as hype built around the franchise’s return to television. Still, the results were interesting and worth discussing on their own merits, an effort to bring Frank Black and the Millennium Group into the twenty-first century.

As ever, you can listen directly to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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New Escapist Column! On Zack Snyder’s DCEU as a Joyride Through Comic Book History…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League last week, it seemed like a good opportunity to dig into the movie’s portrayal of Superman.

One of the more interesting aspects of Snyder’s work on Man of Steel, Batman v.s Superman and Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the sense in which it offers a capsule account of a certain stretch of comic book history, effectively dramatising the characters’ journey from the “dark ‘n’ gritty” comics inspired by Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns to the more aggressively and pointedly reconstructionist work of Grant Morrison on stories like Justice League or Final Crisis.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

“… is Ra’s Al Ghul immortal?” Denny O’Neil, and Reflecting on a Bronze Age Batman Villain…

Denny O’Neil passed away last week, at the age of 81.

Many more informed and articulate individuals have written at length about the writer and editor’s contribution to comic books as a medium. In practical terms, Denny O’Neil was a crucial figure in the evolution of Batman, one of the medium’s most enduring characters. During the seventies, he served as a stepping stone between the bright and chirpy “New Look” of the sixties and Frank Miller’s gritty reinvention of the eighties. He also served as editor of the line during the nineties, overseeing beloved events like Knightfall and No Man’s Land.

This is to say nothing of O’Neil’s larger contributions to comic books. During the seventies, he served as the conscience of mainstream comics, reinjecting the sort of politics that had been largely missing since the earliest days of Action Comics and Superman. With runs on Justice League and Green Lantern/Green Arrow, O’Neil sought to engage the iconic DC superheroes with contemporary America. It was often clumsy, but it was always powerful. This is without getting into O’Neil’s hugely influential runs on books like Iron Man or The Question.

However, this week was also the fifteenth anniversary of the release of Batman Begins. This was a hugely influential superhero film, kicking off what might be considered the genre’s crowning accomplishment. Christopher Nolan’s film is heavily indebted to O’Neil, with O’Neil’s comic The Man Who Falls serving as a touchstone for the film’s approach to Bruce Wayne. However, the film was also notable for offering the first live action interpretation of one of O’Neil’s most sizable additions to the Batman mythos: Ra’s Al Ghul.

Batman has one of the most crowded and iconic rogues’ galleries in comics, packed to the brim with recognisable faces: the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, the Mad Hatter, the Scarecrow, Mister Freeze, Clayface. It’s a crowded field. Writers and artists are constantly trying to add to that, to add their own new characters to the mix. Very few actually catch on, with arguably only Bane and Harley Quinn managing to reach the top tier within the last thirty years. This makes Ra’s Al Ghul all the more impressive.

In the past few years, Ra’s Al Ghul has been cemented as an essential part of the Batman mythos. Both Arrow and Gotham featured the character as a major antagonist, anchoring season-long arcs, played by Mathew Nable and Alexander Siddig. (Liam Neeson reportedly even considered reprising the role for Arrow, even if he couldn’t make the schedule work.) The character has also been a staple of animated adaptations, going back to Batman: The Animated Series and continuing through Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Young Justice and Beware the Batman.

Ra’s Al Ghul has become such a fundamental part of the larger Batman universe that it is hard to imagine it ever existed without him. Nevertheless, he stands as one of the enduring creative legacies of writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams, who first introduced him to the Caped Crusader in the early seventies. In hindsight, as with Bane, it’s easy to see why Ra’s Al Ghul has endured in the way that he has. He fills an important gap in the larger Batman mythos. However, it was the genius of O’Neil and Adams to recognise that gap in the first place.

That’s what makes the character so fantastic. Despite being a relatively late addition to the Dark Knight’s collection of foes, he seems like he always belonged there.

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Re-“Born Again”: Daredevil, Season Three, and the Limits of Textual Fidelity…

One of the more interesting aspects of the modern boom in geek culture is the increased emphasis on textual fidelity.

Much has been written about the high volume of adaptations, sequels, remakes and reboots that dominate contemporary popular culture. The trend is strong, even among this year’s prestige releases. A Star is Born is the third remake of the film, and there are many more stories besides. First Man is a story that covers well-worn ground, a modern American myth, albeit from a unique perspective. Suspiria is a remake of a beloved cult classic. Widows is an adaptation of a British television series. If Beale Street Could Talk… is taken from a James Baldwin novel.

However, it is also very revealing that so many modern adaptations of beloved properties are very much fixated on the idea of fidelity. “Faithfulness” has become a watchword for these adaptations, not just in terms of easter eggs, but in terms of basic construction. In its own way, this may perhaps be an extension of the emphasis on comic books and graphic novels as a key inspiration for modern blockbusters. Given how many comic book artists also work as storyboard artists in film, it is tempting to treat the source material as a storyboard, to adapt a panel into a still image.

This is an interesting approach, but one which often overlooks the actual act of adaptation as an art of itself. It is not enough to cobble together a film from a collection of familiar static images, and can occasionally lead to a very surreal and uncomfortable disconnect, with a filmmaker lifting very literally from their inspiration while also making something that bears little resemblance to the source material in any non-visual manner. The third season of Daredevil runs into this problem repeatedly, largely as a muddled attempt to bring Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Born Again to the screen.

Note: This article contains minor spoilers from the third season of Daredevil.

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Adversity in Diversity: Marvel’s Next Generation Heroes…

Much digital ink has already been spilled about the comments that David Gabriel made of the weekend.

Gabriel is the Vice-President of Sales at Marvel, and he was speaking to ICv2 about the company’s underwhelming performance in recent times. The company’s massive “All-New, All-Different” launch in late 2015 appears to have done little to stem the attrition, offering a brief boost that has not halted the decline. Addressing these concerns, Gabriel suggested one very clear reason for the audience’s lack of enthusiasm about these comics. “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there.”

Gabriel’s statement has opened up a new front in the culture wars, drawing attention from a host of high-profile new sources not necessarily known for their history of comic book reporting or their understanding of the medium’s inner workings; The Guardian, The Independent, The Irish Times. In a very strange way, this was seen as real news, in a way that news inside (as opposed to “related to the multimedia franchises of”) the comic book industry rarely is. There was clearly a lot tied up in that interview given by an industry figure to an industry publication.

The reason that this story broke out so strongly is quite simple. This debate is part of a larger debate about representation in popular culture. It emerges in the same climate as the debates about cultural appropriation in Iron Fist and whitewashing in Ghost in the Shell. It arrives at a time when the public at large is increasingly attuned to the need for diversity of representation in media and diversity in talent. It was a story that was surprisingly important to a lot of people who don’t read comic books, because it resonated beyond comic books.

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The X-Files: Season 11 (IDW) (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

The X-Files: Season 11 is a relatively lean beast.

The X-Files: Season 10 seemed to struggle to map out a clear direction or identity for itself. This was most obvious in the context of the comic book’s mythology, as writer Joe Harris and his collaborators frequently found themselves revising and rewriting the mythology from one story to the next. All the elements introduced in Believers were reduced to a footnote in Monica & John. Although Gibson Praise made his first reappearance in the final pages of Believers, the mythology only truly galvinised around him over the course of Elders.


In contrast, The X-Files: Season 11 has a very clear idea of where it is going and room for a minimal amount of distractions along the way. While the art team on Season 10 changed quite frequently, the nine comic book issues that comprise Season 11 are all handled by the core team of writer Joe Harris, penciller Matthew Dow Smith and colourist Jordie Bellaire. There is a consistency and focus to the run that is striking. There is no time for exploration or improvisation. Everything serves its purpose in the context of the story being told.

This is a double-edged sword. While it does reduce the chance of an endearing standalone story like Chitter or Immaculate, it does afford the run a purity and energy that was somewhat lacking as Harris had to revise and rewrite his mythology while the revival miniseries moved closer and closer to public announcement. In some respects, Season 11 feels kind of like the version of The X-Files that some fans wanted when the revival was announced. It is an efficient attempt to resolve dangling plot threads and bring closure to the story being told.


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The X-Files Deviations (IDW) #1 – Being and Time (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

Being and Time is not a good comic book.

There are a number of reasons why the comic doesn’t work, but the simple fact of the matter is that it has an interesting premise but does little of interest with that premise. Nevertheless, there is something quite intriguing the set-up, an “out-of-continuity” tale that offers a glimpse of a parallel universe where Fox Mulder was abducted in the place of his sister Samantha. More to the point, it seems entirely telling that the only supplemental X-Files comic to be published by IDW during the entirety of The X-Files: Season 11 was one entirely outside continuity.

What might have been.

What might have been.

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