I woke up one morning and had a dream... Could I own every single issue of Detective Comics, Batman and all of the other subtitles in the Gotham universe?
Insane? Stupid? Inspired?
This can only end in obsession and financial chaos.

Friday, 30 December 2011

The EVIL of Pence Variants

So as promised, here is my Ebay story.

I received this in the post and I was a tad upset. Like furiously upset.

Advertised as a 'Fine' condition comic book and had a picture that was nothing like what you see here. Thing was I paid £20 for what was photographed as a Fine condition Daredevil #168 Cent Variant. I eagerly waited for over two weeks for this thing to arrive in a diabolically shoddy, second hand 'Play.com' envelope. Upon opening the envelope it slowly dawned on me that I had been screwed over... Condition wasn't that great, and something worse...

You see, I suffered the biggest problem us British American comic book collectors have to deal with: the Accursed Pence/Cent Variant Switcheroo.

I had decided pretty early on in collecting comics, that if I was going to collect comic books, and especially the proper Key books, then these comic books must be Cent variants. The reason, I justified, is that these are American comic books, and to feel truly genuine they need to have American currency values on the cover. Sad I know, but that's my rule and I have to stick to it. And I am not alone in the UK in upholding this rule.

I have discovered over the years that the Pence Variant is a dominant feature of the UK direct market certainly around 1981, I'm pretty sure that there are others eras earlier than this, but this is the one that is proving extremely problematic for me. And for those wondering, from what I can tell the ONLY difference between a Cent edition and a Pence edition is the actual price denomination (there are no British adverts to take the place of 'X-Rey Spex' adverts!). For me, it just looks wrong.

There's also a monetary value at play here also. Take Iron Man #129 'Demon In The Bottle' issue, you can pick up a high grade, pence variant copy of this book for a couple of quid (and it looks great in frame near your wine rack), but to buy this as a Cent variant in the same condition is treble that. And this is the apex of my rage at Daredevil 168, and the reason I think I got shafted by the seller, who (and this doesn't feel too harsh) either MISLED me into thinking what I was buying was what I was buying. Or upon discovering that his REAL DD#168 didn't make the price he thought it ought too, switched it to the lesser valued variant. And hoped I wouldn't notice.

How this relates to the Batman Quest is this: I'm going to have to bite the bullet and go directly Stateside to pick up a lot of early 1980's Batman. As this is the time where the problematic pence variants appear in the local, UK market. In short, I think it will be really hard to get hold of a cent copy of Detective Comics 505 in the UK than I thought it would originally be. Which kind of sucks in one way.

Or it means that a holiday is called for.

I properly threw my toys of the pram over my Daredevil #168. The seller had the gall to claim that as he was a 'comic dealer' (which his eBay feedback didn't support, although he has sold some Mint copies of 'Pirate' and 'Private' to a bloke in Germany) he would regularly use 'stock photo's', and that this was simply a mish-take, rather than a misdirection. Of course he disputed the condition, which is, as always, totally subjective but after nearly a month and daily emails, I got my money back.

Truthfully, I had to get my money back, by being a totally belligerent and gratuitous pain in the arse.

So beware people. If you have think something is too good to be true, it probably is.

Beware of the Evils of the Pence Variant.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Holy First Appearances!!!

With the new Dark Knight film causing many fanboys to froth their pants about Bane. I think that its time we had a new Holy First Appearance! And invoking my personal favourite comment about the latest Dark Knight Rises image on the web. Inspired genius Gotham Spoilers, inspired genius...

So Vengeance of Bane #1

Bane probably was created by (and this comes from the sometimes dodgy Wikipedia) by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench and the Graham Nolan. Bane was a character dreamt up to actually do something important.

Like Breaking The Bat important.

This was way before Batman became R.I.P, in 1993, the 'Knightfall' plans were afoot to break Batman's back. This would then cause Bruce Wayne to surrender the mantle to another new, unknown character, Jean-Paul Valley, Azrael.

For a while before 'Knightfall' the key Batman writers were slowly putting the foundations down in slow measured ways. The nasty drug Venom (imagine super-strength Anabolic Steroids combined with the addictiveness of Heroin) was introduced into the official canon in a 'Legends of the Dark Knight' story arc called, unsurprisingly, 'Venom'.

Elsewhere, Azrael was unleashed in a four parter by Denny O'Neill and Joe Quesada (that's some creative parentage isn't it?).

But obviously to complete a storyline that is this important you need a proper villain. One that isn't obsessed with riddles, bodycounts, fear or split personalities. A villain that plays the strings and comes into to do a job effectively and efficiently. And that job is simple, if you want to be the Kingpin of Gotham- to rule Gotham- you must break the Bat. And that is where the brilliance of Vengeance of Bane part I works, we get a fully developed character that in 64 pages.

As for Bane's d├ębut storyline introduction, this is his life story as to how Bane has become the man he has. A man raised in a Santa Priscan (a fictitious Latin American right wing dictatorship country) prison because he is to serve the sentence of the crimes of his father. Bane shows cunning and toughness. He gets respect through his brutality. He is then is experimented upon so that he becomes hooked on the drug of Venom.

Also there is a small in-joke at play. An Easter egg, if you will, Bane's henchmen are also introduced: Bird, Trogg, and Zombie. So what you do now, is go to Play.com or Amazon and put a search into their music department these names and experience the world of New York Punk (and here is you're opportunity to learn about the subtleties of the New York Dolls and the Sex Pistols). Legend has it that these were the favourite bands of Grant, Moench and Dixon.

One defining characteristic of Bane is his Mexican wrestling mask. This mask serves less of the need to hide Banes true identity. Nope, it's an efficient way of taking Venom. This drug makes Bane stronger and nastier. Of course, this will become his undoing... but, that's another story. If I'm really reaching I'd argue that the appearance of pro wrestler, Van Vader in the old WCW had an influence in the way that a Mexican masked wrestler could be a giant, nasty rotter as opposed to the traditional lucha-libre high flyer. Coupled to that, I suppose you could argue that pro wrestling is also referenced in this story was released just as the Zahorian/WWF in which steroids and wrestling would be forever linked (and the tragic link between Jeep Swanson and Bane in 'Batman and Robin', could illustrate this point, sadly). However, I would state that the use of the Venom, was more of a statement by the creators about the illicit drug trade, and it's influence upon the criminal underworld at the time. You see, Bane is the inevitable outcome of a government backed narcostate. This is a common theme of Chuck Dixon's work throughout the early nineties whether it be in his Batman or Punisher work.

If I'm honest, it is the Vengeance of Bane Part 2 that pops up a few years after that truly really makes the character whole. Dixon makes Bane a reformed drug addict, but has the refined the way that he operates. Less use of muscle (because Venom, is no longer needed- thus quite a lot of Cold Turkey here), and more brains. Crucially, though he is still a man of haunted by his abusive upbringing, and he has a proper purposefulness to his life. Even then, you can't like him, he's still a bastard.

As a fan of Batman though these titanic events of 'Knightfall' are fascinating. The execution of this storyline is excellent. For me, though, it was the completion of the trilogy 'KnightsEnd', and the psychological breakdown of Az-Bats that hooked me as a fan. But hey-ho.

With the new film on the horizon, and Bane being a crucial component in it, it appears that the Moench/Dixon/Grant era of Batman is finally getting the mainstream recognition that I feel has been long overdue.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Monthly Haul: November

Batman Confidential: 22 to 40
Gotham Knights 29
Harley Quinn #1

Catwoman volume 2: 2+3, all but one issue of the 74-94 run
The Entire Battle for the Cowl sub-series (16 issues)
Batman: Blackgate- Isle of Men
Tec, 785-799, 809-815, 846, 878
Azrael Volume 2: 6-9
Batman Annual 24

Okay, I'll admit it... I've been incredibly slack this month.

Blame the economy...

No really. Due to the closure of American book sellers Borders a local chain of discount booksellers named Bargain Book Time, that seem to be based here in the North West of England, have bought its entire Marvel TPB stock. And I felt obliged to immerse myself with more Hardback books than I know to do with.

Seriously. Can you leave Garth Ennis' 'Welcome Back Frank' Punisher arc for less than a fiver? No, of course you cannot. And it would be criminal to leave a Hardback copy of Leifeld's run on X-Force for £1? Nope! And what about Warren Ellis' forgotten Thor arc? It was frickin cheap!!! And then there was a whole smegload of softcovers that I have always wanted to read but could never justify stumping up the full asking price.

So I veered away from the righteous Gotham City path. Heavily. And as a result, have nothing interesting to say about Batman.

Well that isn't entirely true. I'll have to wait for the Ebay refund to be go through in order to explain an interesting story...