Posts Tagged ‘X-Men’

Pat Mills and Anti-Racism and Anti-Nazism in British and American Comics

September 22, 2017

This week I’ve put up a number of articles about a couple of interviews I’ve found on YouTube with the long-time British comics creator, Pat Mills. Mills was one of the recidivist offenders, who revitalized a moribund British comics industry in the 1970s with a succession of groundbreaking new magazines the war comic, Battle, Action, and, of course, the mighty 2000AD. Mills is of Irish heritage and distinctly left-wing, so that his sympathies are always with the poor and the persecuted against the establishment, and there was more than a little element of subversion in his strips. Judge Dredd from the first was meant to be a symbol of the Fascistic elements in modern American policing, and J.D. is as much villain as he is hero. The mutant heroes of the Strontium Dog strip are second-class citizens in a future Britain which barely tolerates them. They can only live in ghettoes, and the only work they can do by law is bounty hunting. It’s an explicit comment on racism and anti-Semitism. Nemesis the Warlock was a similar attack on religious bigotry, set as it was in a devastated Earth of the far future, ruled by Tomas de Torquemada and his terminators. They were a military order of warriors, who had whipped up fear and hatred of intelligent aliens and embarked on a series of holy wars to exterminate them across the Galaxy. This was partly based on the medieval inquisition in Roman Catholic Europe, with elements of modern Fascism. For example, the robes adopted by the Terminators recalled Ku Klux Klan costumes.

Comics at the time were increasingly focused on the issue of racism and persecution, particularly in the case of Marvel Comic’s X-Men. The mutants in this strip, like those of Johnny Alpha’s nuclear-scarred Britain, were also persecuted. One of the recurring villains in the strip were the Sentinels, a race of giant robots created to hunt down and kill robots by the stock mad scientist in the belief that this would preserve humanity from the threat to their survival the super-powered mutants – Homo Superior – represented. Another of Mighty Marvel’s villains was the Hate Monger, dedicated to whipping up bigotry and strife. This character also wore a costume based on the Klan, and was revealed as Hitler, or a clone of him.

The American comics industry was founded by German Jews, who brought with them their former homeland’s tradition of telling a story through a series of pictures derived from Wilhelm Busch. I think many of them had also seen combat fighting against Nazism in the army during the War. It’s therefore not hard to see in strips such as the X-Men a metaphorical treatment of the persecution of the Jewish people, as well as other outsider groups. As well as being a metaphor for racism, the X-Men also had an large following of gay young people, possibly because the social hostility shown in the strips towards its mutant heroes mirrored their own experiences as marginalized outsiders.

And concerns over the threat of Fascism were also seen in other British comics. The British version of the Captain Britain strip, written by Dave Thorpe and then Alan Moore, was set in an alternative Britain in which a deranged, mutant aristocrat, Mad Jim Jaspers, had created a biomechanical creature to hunt down and exterminate all mutants. At the same time, he had encouraged a Fascist dictatorship to seize power, which then began the process of persecuting and exterminating mutants.

This was succeeded by Moore’s V for Vendetta in the adult comic, Warrior, which featured an anonymous guerilla, V, fighting a personal war against the Fascist authorities of a near-future Britain. It was filmed with Hugo Weaving as ‘V’, Natalie Portman as his companion, Evie, with Stephen Fry as a gay TV host and John Hurt as the dictator. Moore himself dislikes the movie, partly because the contract he signed with the studio meant that the character is now their property. But it is a powerful film, which accurately shows certain aspects of Nazism, such as the use of concentration camp inmates for medical experimentation.

Pat Mills also says in the interviews I posted about earlier this week that the strip Charley’s War was subversive in that it was anti-war strip in a war comic. Mills is disappointed by the way the strip wasn’t included in an exhibition on comics and subversion, and notes that in this, the centenary years of the First World War, there seems to be a deliberate policy amongst the British broadcasters of not showing anything with an anti-war content, such as Blackadder Goes Forth. Radio 4 have made shows about the great stage play and film, Oh, What a Lovely War!, but it wasn’t that long ago that Michael Gove, the Tory minister for education, opened his mouth to say that children were getting an entirely wrong view of the War based on Blackadder. Mike naturally wrote a very sharp reply to that piece of nonsense.

But there were other strips in Battle, which also rose out of the mass of the usual gung-ho stories of courageous British squaddies winning against brutal and stupid Germans, and which did shock with their realism. Darkie’s Mob, which was about a mysterious commander, who takes over a failing British unit trapped behind Japanese lines in Burma was one of these. Another I remember which particularly shocked me was a short piece in Battle, in which British soldiers are fighting their way through Germany. I think it was a stand-alone strip, rather than part of a continuing storyline. The story ended when the squaddies reach a group of emaciated figures standing behind barbed wire, the inmates of one of the death camps. This was clearly about the Holocaust, and what it was really like, rather than the usual glamorous war stories, and I remember being shocked by the starved bodies of the inmates. As I doubtless was supposed to.

Battle, Action, 2000AD and Warrior were part of a trend that had emerged in American comics in the late 1960s, when they turned from simple escapism to dealing with real issues – such as racism and feminism. British comics up to the launch of Battle and Action had tended to avoid explicit politics, and in some cases had actually been very racist. And this tradition of commenting and attacking racism and bigotry continues in American comics today, and in 2000AD, now sadly nearly all that’s remaining of the British comics industry.

These are the type of strips, which Mike and I grew up reading, along with so many others of our age group. And they reflected the very real anxieties of the time. Left-wingers were worried about the rise of Maggie Thatcher, her links to the hard right and the violence and political threat posed by the BNP/NF. In the original comic strip version of V for Vendetta, the Fascists seize power in Britain after devastating nuclear war between America and the Soviet Union over the crisis in Poland. To many of us, the threat of nuclear annihilation in Maggie’s and Reagan’s New Cold War was only too real.

In his talk to the Socialist Workers’ Party, Mills reads out a letter he received from the CEO of a school, a former punk, who states that everything he learned about Fascism, he got from Judge Dredd; everything about racism, from Strontium Dog, and everything about feminism from Halo Jones. And he now considered it the most subversive thing he could do was to help produce open-minded, critical young people. And it isn’t just racism. When Thatcher tried to criminalise positive teaching of homosexuality in school – that it is perfectly natural – the British comics industry responded with the anti-homophobia anthology AWRGH!, whose initials stood for Artists and Writers Against Rampant Government Homophobia. Comics in the 1980s and ’90s sold much more than they do now, and so they made a very large number of young people aware and alert to these issues. It partly explains why British society has broadly become more tolerant, despite continuing bigotry in some areas. Like the right-wing of the Tories and UKIP.

This is also why I found Mills’ story of how the Board of Deputies of British Jews complained about a story in Crisis utterly amazing. Crisis was another adult comic, which dealt explicitly with contemporary issues of western imperialism, the power of the multinationals and the exploitation of the Developing World. The comic had featured a story about the beating of a Palestinian protester in Gaza, based on a real event told to Mills by a Palestinian. The Board complained because the lad’s broken body, left lying in the road, looked to them a bit like a swastika. As Mills himself said, it wasn’t there because comics creators aren’t that clever. But I was left amazed at the thought that anybody could accuse anyone in mainstream British comics at the time of racism or anti-Semitism, given how radical and anti-racist so many of them were.

It’s also why the accusation by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism earlier this year against Mike is so outrageous. I’ve blogged before in Mike’s defence pointing out that he very definitely is not racist and not anti-Semitic, having both Black and Jewish friends and participating at College in a performance commemorating the victims of the Shoah. Mike read these comics, with the anti-racist and anti-bigotry message which they strove to impart to their readers. I realize that no doubt there were many people who read them, without really taking the anti-racist, anti-bigotry subtext onboard, but even so many people in the comics milieu were and are liberal in their attitudes towards tolerance of minority and marginalized groups.

But the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the rest of the Zionist lobby have no qualms about smearing genuine anti-racists, and people who have written about and denounced anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and persecution, like Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone and Tony Greenstein. And there is the real danger that by doing so, not only will they libel and smear decent people, but trivialize real anti-Semitism in doing so.

I’ve blogged earlier this evening about the fine job Richard Coughlan did in producing his videos debunking Holocaust denial. But British and American comics and their creators, like Pat Mills, Alan Moore and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the creators of the X-Men, and that strip’s writers and artists since, have also contributed greatly to attacking racism and bigotry in the strips they produced.

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Videos from the Protests Against the DSEI Arms Fair in London

September 15, 2017

Hat tip to Michelle for sending me these.

This week there’s been a massive international arms fair in London, in which the international ‘defence and security’ industry, otherwise known as the merchants of death, have been trying to flog their murderous wares to a range of governments, from the democratic through the autocratic to the just plain despotic. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said he’d like to stop them, but has no powers to. The arms fair is conducted with the full support of Britain’s MOD and the intelligence services, who have and will step in to stop anything that looks like it might prevent Britain’s arms manufactures from selling their products to just about every evil butcher around the world, including the Saudis.

As the local authorities are unable to stop the fair, so ordinary people have stepped in to make their feelings about it known and raise awareness of its horrors. There has been a protest staged against the fair outside it for the past week. And they’ve produced several videos about the protests, and some of the issues surrounding the fair and the general arms industry.

War, the Pentagon and Hollywood Propaganda

The short video below, titled ‘Art and Militarism’ on YouTube, talks about the way the Pentagon has worked with Hollywood on blockbuster movies to promote the American military and the arms industry. These films have included the James Bond epics, Zero Dark 30, and X-Men. As part of this process of collaboration, the Pentagon is able to check and alter the scripts. With many of these movies the military’s aim has been to show off their equipment, and encourage recruitment. Top Gun was made with the collaboration of the American Navy, who saw it very much as a recruiting video. And it worked. There was a massive surge of young men wishing to fly combat aircraft, but they went into the USAF rather than the navy.

Art and Supervillains against the Arms Fair

This is another short video, which shows some of the artists, scholars and ordinary protesters in costume. One of the speakers makes the point that academics don’t usually get out of their classrooms much, but this time they have come down to make their voices heard. He also talks about the way the artists have also supported the protest with some of their works attacking the arms industry.

The video also includes some of the demonstrators marching in costume, including men dressed as Donald Trump and Tony Blair. There is also a young guy in a Dalek, flanked by another bloke dressed as a cyberman. This chap has a sign satirizing the whole fair by pretending to be about the loss of Dalek jobs. The arms industry and its agents and officials are making Daleks unemployed by killing men, women and children themselves. Later on in the video you see the man inside the Dalek costume forced by the rozzers to come out of it. And as this is the 21st century surveillance state, the police are also recording the proceedings.

Trailer for Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant

December 26, 2016

Looking through YouTube on Christmas Day, I found a trailer for the next instalment in the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant. Directed by Ridley Scott, this follows on from his not-quite Alien prequel, Prometheus, which came out in four years ago in 2012. The blurb for this runs

Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with ALIEN: COVENANT, a new chapter in his groundbreaking ALIEN franchise. The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape.

Directed by Ridley Scott

Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollet, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby.

The trailer shows the Covenant landing, and a scene with one of the David robots, played by Michael Fassbender. On landing, one of the crew steps on a bizarre set of bulbs, which releases some kind of spore. There is also a proper Alien egg hatching, ready to birth a facehugger. The sequence begins with one of the female characters refusing to let one of the other women out of room with a man, who is clearly in the agonies of some kind of transformation, or the eruption of an Alien from their body. It ends with two lovers in a shower having their tender moment interrupted by an Alien attack.

According to the YouTube page, it opens on May 19th.

This is another movie that I’m looking forward to, along with the sequel to another of Scott’s SF masterpieces, Blade Runner 2049.

The Alien has now become one of the classic Hollywood monsters, alongside the Predator, and older creatures like the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolfman. Several critics have pointed out that Alien was basically a ‘B’ movie, but treated like a Hollywood main feature. I’d say that this was a fair statement. The basic story – alien gets on board spaceship to run amok killing the crew – was the storyline of another, very definite ‘B’ movie of the 1950s or ’60s. The same critic remarked that it could have – and very nearly did – come from Roger Corman, the great director responsible for churning out any number of them. Fortunately, Dan O’Bannon, the script writer, objected and the studio found Ridley Scott instead. What elevated the movie far above it’s ‘B’ movie plot were its stylish direction by Scott, its superb special effects and the way its script broke a number of conventions and gender stereotypes. It was one of the first SF movies to have a strong female lead in Ripley. Another critic has pointed out that as well as breaking gender stereotypes, Ripley also broke another Hollywood convention in that she was basically a hard, by-the-book character. These types usually die before the end of the movie, but not before they perform some noble gesture that shows they’re OK really. Ripley goes by the book, and doesn’t want to let Kane in to infect the ship with whatever attacked him. She’s right, but it’s a hard attitude, and she’s overridden by Ash, who appears to be acting from simple compassion. The reality is otherwise, and, as everyone whose watched or heard of the film knows, carnage ensues. But Ripley survives to the end, and finally beats the monster.

And, of course, what really made the monster one of the classics was its unique quality and the dark beauty of its realization by Swiss Surrealist H.R. Giger. The Alien’s two-stage life cycle – facehugger and then the monster itself, is genuinely alien. It isn’t like anything on Earth. Its gestation inside humans is based on the ichneumon moth, which lays its eggs in captive caterpillars. These serve as living larders as the developing larvae hatch and eat their host from the inside. It plays on the fear of parasitism, and was intended by the writer and director to make the men in the audience afraid of rape and a malign pregnancy, rather than women.

And when it finally emerges and develops, the monster itself does not look like anything on Earth. The film was before CGI and a little before animatronics, so it really was another ‘man in a rubber suit’. However, it’s design was so unique that it didn’t look like one. It was both cadaverously thin, like a spindly, distorted human corpse, but with an insect carapace. It also had a tongue with its own mouth and set of teeth, and appeared to lack any kind of external sense organs. There are no eyes or ears that you can see. Finally, there are the strange tubes emerging from its back.

Stylistically, it was one of the biomechanical creatures that formed Giger’s oeuvre. These were a disturbing mixture of the biological and mechanical, so that organically derived shapes had the shapes of, and acted like, machines. The Alien was so uniquely strange and disturbing, that it’s influenced the design of other malignant beings from space since then. The aliens in Independence Day show Giger’s influence, as did the ‘Sleazoids’ in an X-Men storyline of about the same time, and the Cythrons and their armour in the Slaine strip in 2000 AD, for those comic fans of a certain age.

There’s also supposed to be an Alien 5 in production, which will apparently see the return of Ripley, Newt and the surviving Space Marine from James Cameron’s Aliens. I don’t know much about this, however.

The Alien franchise is now 3 1/2 decades old, and like Hammer Horror’s Dracula, or Star Wars, doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping. From the trailer it looks like the latest instalment could be well worth going to, if you’re a fan of what Mark Kermode has called ‘gribbly monsters.’

Alan Moore’s ‘The Stars My Degredation’

October 27, 2016

Yesterday I put up a piece reporting the sad death of British comics legend Steve Dillon, along with his obituary from the I newspaper, and a link to the Nick Fury strip he drew for Hulk comic right at the very beginning of his professional career in comics, which can be read over at the Bronze Age Blog. Amongst the other gems from the Bronze Age of Comics – the 70s and 80s is one of the strips Alan Moore created for the music newspaper, Sounds. Written and drawn by Moore under the monicker, Curt Vile, this was The Stars My Degradation, and ran in the magazine from 1980 to 1983. This was about the space adventures of Dempster Dingbunger, and featured such characters as Three-Eyes McGurk and his Death Planet Commandos, Nekriline, who was literally dead, Laser Eraser, the deadly galactic female assassin, and the psychotic cyborg, Axel Pressbutton. Laser Eraser and Pressbutton were later to get their own strip in the British adult comic, Warrior. The strip there, if I remember correctly, was drawn by Steve Moore, no relation to Alan, under the pseudonym Pedro Henry. Moore was another stalwart of the British comics industry, and closely involved with the Fortean Times, the magazine of the weird and bizarre.

The strip’s title, The Stars My Degradation, seems to me to be a satirical nod to Alfred Bester’s classic, The Stars My Destination, also known as Tiger, Tiger. It was one of the pieces Moore created very early in his career, just before he broke into mainstream comics and became the massive legend he is today with V For Vendetta and Watchmen. Pete Dorree notes that the strip was nihilistic and satirical. In the example he gives, Moore spoofs the New X-Men, created by Chris Claremont and Johnny Byrne. Here’s the link. Enjoy!

http://bronzeageofblogs.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/alan%20moore