Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Year in Dredd

It has been another rough and tough year for Judge Joe Dredd and his beloved Mega City-One in the pages of 2000ad and the Dredd Megazine. The ongoing effects of the most recent mega-catastrophe continue to cripple both the character and the city, and the future is anything but certain.

But as grim as the setting is getting in the aftermath of the Day Of Chaos disaster - with haunted and rotting city blocks full of abandoned corpses, and the city teetering on the edge of total collapse – the actual long-form storytelling of Judge Dredd remains an absolute pleasure, with quietly powerful payoffs to decades of plot-work mixing easily with truly absurd action spectaculars, and moments of achingly simple wisdom.

Almost 40 years after he first co-created the character, John Wagner is still the absolute master at writing Dredd, with a number of great stories throughout the year that have benefitted from his keen eye for detail, dark humour and long-term thinking. But, as ever, there have also been a number of other writers adding to the Dredd tapestry in 2015, all building up the bigger story.

These included Michael Carroll, whose Blood of Emeralds with Colin MacNeil was a straight piece of Irish conspiracy, tackling the vaguely offensive stereotypes of previous Irish Dredd stories with a new serious determination; and Ian Edgington, who showed just how thin the judges were getting on the ground in the short, sharp Ghost Town with Dave Taylor.

In the Megazine, Al Ewing and Ben Willsher got up to some good true crime business with The Cop, while Gordon Rennie and Carlos Ezquerra went back out into the Cursed Earth for some social commentary and bloody big gunfights in El Maldito, with a story with satirical bite that was also another good example of Dredd being a double-hard bastard who you really shouldn’t try to kill.

Notably, until a late flurry, there were less of the done-in-one short stories this year -  the six-page morality plays that have played a large part in building up Dredd’s world were rare, and even the short-term fillers were often two or three episodes long. This does result in richer, deeper stories, but also loses a bit of the efficient spark of the strip.

The best non-Wagner Dredd of the year was undoubtedly Williams and Flint’s Titan/Enceladus stories, where the city coming under attack from a group of pissed-off ex-judges – some with legitimate grievances – returning to Earth as psycho-killer ice monsters to get their revenge.

It was a story that showed how physically weak the city was getting, but also how it was dropping into depths of moral ambiguity that offered no easy answers, and then ended with Dredd riding to face the baddies on a horse.

The long, sad story of ex-Judge Aimee Nixon came to a pretty abrupt end in the final pages of Enceladus, but her story ended a while ago. All the rage that Henry Flint splashed across the page in this last blast of vengeance was just epilogue.

But when it comes to Dredd and his world, nobody captures it like John Wagner, and he contributions remain the highest standard.

Part of the charm is his ability to check in on some old characters. He can lead off with a rollicking Dark Judges storyline, with all the awful puns, crazy action sequences and a small mountain of dead bodies you would expect (and some gorgeous art from Greg Staples that was worth the wait), and PJ Maybe returned, and managed to make more of an impact with his absence in the story, with a Maybe-sized hole in the middle of the narrative, hidden away from the reader as much as the judges (a new way of presenting this old villain).

And part of the charm of Wagner’s stuff is that they don’t always hit the mark – the five-part Breaking Bud managing to be completely forgettable, despite artist Richard Elson’s best efforts.

But when they do hit the mark, they hit it drokking hard. Just when everything is feeling cosy and safe, Wagner will hit you with a sucker punch of a story like The Beating, where Dredd really comes off as the true fascist he has always been accused of being, beating a man to death for talking back to him. It’s an unnerving read, as Dredd refuses to apologise for what he has done and is subject to public outrage, only to fake a cop-out towards the end.

It leaves the reader wondering just who they were supporting all this time, and then, after this strangely nasty story has been running for several weeks, it wraps up with a tiny coda where Dredd turns out to be doing it for the greater good.

All those awkward questions about power and state, and members of the law acting outside their range, and it’s actually a gag – Dredd is having a conversation that only he can hear. That takes some balls, especially when it’s riffing on the real-life tragedies of homicidal law enforcement officers.

But the best moment in Dredd came late in the year, as Wagner and MacNeil did something remarkable with the America storyline in the pages of the Megazine.

Terror Rising is another story in the long-running saga of the fight for democracy in Dredd’s world, going all the way back to the early years of the strip. The questions of freedom in Dredd’s world came to a head in the America saga back in the early nineties, where the fight turned really bloody and nasty, and soon escalated into Total War, a group that was happy to incinerate hundreds of thousands of its fellow citizens to give it a vote.

Total War were always outright arseholes and murderous fanatics, but the movement also created one of the greatest characters in the whole Judge Dredd saga – Judge Beeny, a young woman who first appeared as the infant child of a democratic fanatic and her loser lover, and grown into a good, honest judge who might just be the best hope for the future of the whole city.

Benny has grown up in real time, and has spent a few years on the hard streets of Mega City One, toughened up by the horror of Chaos Day, while never losing her fierce and independent ideas about justice and freedom in the future city.

At the end of Terror Rising, after just a few years on the streets, Beeny is quietly admitted into the leading Council of Five. And it’s all handed so matter of factly, but this is a seismic change in Dredd’s world – a woman who is almost literally the child of fascism and democracy takes the best of both worlds, and creates something new.

Dredd can’t change the world, old Stoney Face is too rigid to change the law, but he has slowly, painfully bent it in the name of fairness over the years. When he pushes too hard, and makes the radical suggestion that mutants are people too, it snaps back, but Beeny is a new generation, with new ideas.

The rest of the story is about the final failures of Total War, both practically and ideologically. The last hardcore cells of the group are quietly wiped out by the judges, leaving nothing but a bloody scorecard.

Wagner is laying down some proper wisdom in his silly little comic strip – you can’t change the world with sudden acts of violence, because trying to provoke a reaction like that just gets you slapped down. But a lot of pressure over time can get results, if you have the will and drive to see it through to the end, no matter the consequences.

This is something that could only be done in a story that has run in real time for decades, and is the kind of growth never find in an American comic book, stuck in the eternal amber of the status quo.
This story has been brewing for years and years and years, and it’s now paid off wonderfully.

It’s even a tiny victory for poor Ami, the first victim of this story, way back in the first America story, as her ideas about freedom filter through into the next generation.

And it's not over yet. This kind of societal change is hard and tough, but Dredd and Beeny are as hard and tough as they come, and they can take on the challenge.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Cleaning up after the fanwank

Whenever things get really geeky – like, really fucking dorky – in a long-running comic or TV show or film series, there will always be some wanker piping up to go on and on about fan service, and it will always been done with a sneer.

I've been listening to a lot of dorky podcasts about Doctor Who and Star Wars and comic books and horror movies lately, and one complaint keeps coming up again and again – that the creators of something have gone too far with in-joke references and have fallen into the mire of fan wank.

This usually means throwing out a bunch of arcane references, or addressing some particular issue or debate in that particular nerd community, usually in some throwaway manner. It might please a lot of fans of a work or creator, while also alienating a whole bunch of others, with a significant minority left to complain about it.

But it's not that bad. Not really. It might sound awfully clever to go on and on about this sort of thing, as if the complainant is above the tawdry masses, more than just a fan. But I don't mind admitting that I dig it.

Firstly, as a fan of all sorts of nerdy bullshit, I have to say I sorta liked being serviced. I love the strange little references to obtuse things, or call-backs to the weirdest damn miniature. When the latest series of Doctor Who doubled down on all that ultra-nerdy Gallifrey stuff, I ate it up. I ate it all up.

Because it doesn't really do any harm. Fan service rarely actually overtakes a plot, it's just something added on, and what's so wrong about that? It might solve some niggle, answer some crazy little question that has been smouldering away for years, fixing an itch that has been impossible to scratch. Or it might just be a reminder of something cool, usually in some quietly affectionate way.

Doctor Who is particularly good at providing sudden answers to questions that were asked years and years ago, but it's also there in the latest massively successful installment of the Star Wars saga, and in anything else that has got some history to it.

And that can feel so good. It might drive some fans crazy, when their own ideas about what is really going on is totally rejected, or they might get easily distracted by such trivia, but there is nothing wrong with making a joke about the UNIT years, or throwing some stray Steve Englehart reference into the new Captain America film. It makes me laugh.

There is also a lot of concern over how fan service makes things more confusing for the fair-weather fan, or the person who has just tuned in. This hypothetical civilian, scared off by daft asides and the silly idea that there might be more to a story, than what is being presented at this point of time.

Which is a bit strange, because anybody reading a Spider-Man comic for the first time is going to be aware that there have been other comics in the past, and that its a part of an ongoing saga that has been steadily unfolding for decades. For the majority of readers, there has always been a past to come to grips with.

And it's these hints at a larger pattern that can prove most tantalising and intriguing. A stray reference can lead to obsession, if the story is interesting enough. The idea that there is more, more, always more to discover can be intoxicating.

But the biggest issue with the complaining about fan service is that it makes some awfully broad assumptions about just who a fan is.

After all, in this glorious sci-fi year of 2015, we're all nerds. Things like Star Wars and Game of Thrones aren't geek culture – they're just plain old culture, for better or worse. Eleventy billion people went to see the new Star Wars this week, and friends of mine who haven't been to the cinema in years have made the trip.

The geek has inherited the earth, filling movie screens with childhood icons, and when that weird holographic chess set from the original movie pops up in the new film, it does taste of the “remember when this was cool?”, but that can be some sweet stuff.

When you're pleasing Star wars fans by having Han Solo do some cool shit, you're pleasing everybody, because everybody likes seeing Han Solo do some cool shit. Even my mum likes seeing Han Solo do some cool shit. This isn't fan service. It's audience service.

Mind you, it is slightly hilarious that a younger generation already rejecting the dorkiness of their immediate elders – there are a hell of a lot of twenty-something who take a weary pride in the fact they've never seen a Star Wars film, and are far more interested in talking about sports than what Joss Whedon is up to next.

Which is only to be expected, but people loudly moaning that they're really not into a thing that everybody else in the world is into can get really, really fucking boring, really, really quickly. Being a contrarian about every damn thing might be good for shits and giggles, but inevitably descends into dullness.

Still, for goodness' sake, if you're not into that sort of thing, if fan service drives you wild with its pointlessness, don't have anything to do with it. There are plenty of other fine entertainments that tell easy, done-in-one stories that aren't full of moments, scenes and dialogue that are homages, or pastiches, or outright rip-offs,

My favourite art is full of weird, pointless asides, so the fact that these little call-backs and moments of unabashed continuity are so unnecessary doesn't bother me, and even delight. I'm easily pleased.

Fan wank can be distracting as hell and can really get to you, but only if you let it. The rest of us can enjoy it for what it is, and leave it at that.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Star Wars: Step away from the internet

Just like everybody else in the whole damn world, I’m a long, long-time Star Wars fan, so I was delighted to attend the New Zealand premiere of the new film last night.

It’s very good, and hugely entertaining, and comes very close to choking on the ‘Hey, remember that cool thing? Wasn’t it cool?’, but its puppy-dog eagerness to please everybody is kinda charming.

It has a couple of big ‘Star Wars will never be the same again!’ moments, which will all be common knowledge this time next week, but remain great little mysteries for the first few days, so I’m not going anywhere near that. But the film is great fun, and rocks along, and it’s one of those movies that is enormous fun in the cinema, but starts falling apart as soon as you leave the theatre.

They made me do a first-take review straight afterwards, and my fevered (and totally spoiler-free) rantings went online here, (although my colleague Dan Slevin’s review is way, way better). I wish I had mentioned how surprisingly brutal it was at times, and how much I loved the three main new characters, especially Rey, but you get that.

I’ll leave it at that, but if you are not seeing the film for a few days yet, I implore you to step away from the internet, and shut yourself away from that part of the world. A total media blackout sounds like a bit of nightmare, but can be pretty bloody refreshing. You won’t regret it.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Wonder girls, shadow cats and magpies

I've been a news journalist for more than 10 years now, and whenever anybody asks me why I was attracted by the trade, I joke that I got into it meet girls. I love being a journalist, and I can even be quite good at it sometimes, because you get to do crazy shit and meet awesome people. But I'm really only half joking about the girls.

Journalism attracts lots of smart, literate and creative women, who are strong enough to stand up for themselves and pushy enough to get a good story. I would be lying if I said it wasn't a huge attraction of the business and, amazingly, it fucking worked, and I met my divine wife on the first day of journalism school, and we've been married nine years this week.

I've always been about the strong and smart women, ever since Karen Fox toasted me on a multiplication test at Highfield School when I was nine years old. And it certainly applied to the female characters I liked best in my comic books. They might not have been real, but I adored them all the same.

My first comic book crush was definitely Wonder Girl. Long before puberty ever came knocking, I thought Donna Troy was the bee's knees.

This was sparked largely by one of the early Best Of DC Digest from 1981, which was my first exposure to the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans, with an all-new Infantino-drawn story bringing Aqualad back into the fold, and some groovy sixties adventures, drawn by Neal Adams, Nick Cardy and Gil Kane. I read that thing a million times as a kid, and thought Wonder Girl was the best.

I still don't really know why, but Wonder Girl was always my favourite Teen Titans. She rocked that red jumpsuit, was the physically strongest person on the team, and was the team's conscience and voice for compassion. 

Comics were mainly all about the boys in the early eighties, and there weren't really a lot of great female characters. There was always Wonder Woman, but she was just a bit too chiselled and remote – Donna Troy was a cool young woman with a mean right hook and a caring smile, who loved to dance.

It didn't last, because adolescent crushes never do. Donna went off and married some wanker with curly hair and a beard, and she stopped wearing that awesome scarlet outfit, and – most importantly – her entire history got screwed around.

She was a continuity nightmare from the start – she only existed based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what the original wonder Girl stories were – and she got messed around so much, I honestly lost track of the character. I still love her look, and have a lot of affection for the character, but I honestly couldn't tell you if she even exists in the current DC universe.

Donna was the first female character I really, really liked, but she wasn't the last, not by a long shot. By the time I got to my early teenage years, it was obvious that the coolest girl in all comics was definitely Kitty Pryde.

How could any 13-year-old ever be immune to her charms? She was the spunkiest character in the Uncanny X-Men, a comic that worshiped at the altar of spunky women. She was a serious nerd, but she always stood up o the bullies, even if she could be heartbreakingly nervous about it all.

Kitty wasn't afraid to call Professor X a jerk, and was always self aware of how bratty she could be. She could be insecure and shy and more than a little silly, but always strong.

By the time she joined Excalibur in the late eighties, she was nearly the perfect girl. She was tough, and resolute, and sometimes she was horribly out of her depth, but didn't let that stop her. Kitty was a part time ninja and full time geek, who could break your fingers with her eyebrow, but would rather beat your score on a video game.

Unfortunately, comic book time does not progress as fast as real world time. While I turned 15 at the same time Kitty did, she is now half my age. I haven't wanted to be Kitty Pryde's boyfriend for years, because that would be creepy and weird.

I'd still like to hang out and play video games with her, though...

In the end, Kitty's adventures were just too crazy to identify with, and she was just a bit too awesome, and when it came to unabashed affection for comic book characters, things needed to be a bit more real. No wonder I fell so hard for Maggie in Jaime Hernadez's Love and Rockets comics.

Maggie Chascarillo is an achingly beautiful character, and while she started working on rocket mechanics and dodging military coups with awkward aplomb, she was also laden with real emotions and feelings.

Jaime's eternally fluid line certainly helped with Maggie's charms, but there was that strength, and those smarts again. Maggie wasn't the sort of girl who became a space ninja like Kitty, or a demi-goddess like Donna, but she was somebody you desperately wanted to keep in touch with, right throughout her life.

Even better, Maggie has aged in a way Wonder Girl or Shadowcat never could. Maggie is now in her forties in the latest round of Love and Rockets, and as beautiful as ever.

She still has that self-awareness about her lot in life, but is a lot tougher than she ever gives herself credit for. She's seen glimpses of the darkness of the world, and has walked with graveyard ghosts, but remains beautifully true to herself, through all the ups and downs.

Hopey was super cute, especially when she was causing trouble, but Maggie's life is an epic ballad of modern life. She's settled down with Ray now, which is the best possible outcome, but she is real enough to still garner plenty of affection.

But still, even that is a youthful indulgence, because I fell in love with Maggie during the blinding summer of 1994, when I was 18-years-old, and things have moved on since then. I still love to see what she is doing, but it's like checking in on an old, dear friend.

Because when I met the lovely wife on the first day of our journalism course, all priorities changed, and when I told her I loved her a year later, I didn't need to be so emotionally invested in a comic book character. I had enough real joy to deal with.

A comic book crush is harmless enough, but it's even better when you can find such traits in the real world.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

No time for computer games

All the computer games I play now are 10 years old. It's not just because I gave up serious gaming in 2005, it just always takes me 10 years to catch up with what's cool in the world of video games.

And it takes me that long to afford them – I would never pay eighty bucks for a game, but I'll happily stump up twenty when it had come down in price. My comic habit is expensive enough to soak up much of my disposable income, and most of my rapidly-dwindling time on this planet.

Ten years ago is about the time my video game habits shifted quite sharply, because that's what happens with life. It gets in the way of the games.

Like all true dorks, I had a youth that was saturated in video games. We had some Atari knock-off thing when I was a kid in the early eighties, and later spent a vast amount of my teenage years in seedy video game parlours. I still get all weak at the knees when I think about playing Black Dragon again.

And when I first went flatting, me and my mates seriously invested in the N64 and the first few Playstation machines, and after a few all night sessions of games, weed and meat pies, we all became grand masters at early generation console titles like Doom, Goldeneye, Jonah Lomu Rugby, Tomb Raider, Gran Turismo and the first couple of Grand Theft Auto and Resident Evil titles.

I could still play some of those games in my sleep. I still know how to get a GOURANGA out of an original GTA rampage, or where not to step when running down those endless Resident Evil corridors, so I don't get eaten by rotten corpses and gigantic crocodiles.

And there were plenty of weird, one-off games, like Exhumed and Serious Sam, which I got hooked on just because they were there. I was usually always one for the shoot-em-ups, going on horrendous rampages in self-contained universes, but I was always up for a wrestling tournament, or the odd racing game.

And then I grew out of flatting, and I haven't had a console in the house since 2001, although I periodically borrow one for a weekend of GTA awesomeness.

This was only right and proper, because it's perfectly acceptable to waste your youth on these things, but if you're still spending all your time on video games in your thirties, your priorities are getting screwed. That's when things like family and career and all that rubbish take up more and more time.

The timing of all this means I missed out on the whole MMORG thing, never really getting into the shared universe ideal. It did look like a lot of fun, but again, I just couldn't devote the time to it. Not when there was a wife to woo, and so many comics to read. I could only play games for a couple of hours a week, so there was no time to explore these new digital worlds, or team up with other players for big missions. I'd just let 'em all down.

For the past decade, my video game playing has been largely reduced to a few old and cheap PC games, and even if I aren't putting in the hard yards, I still waste plenty of time on them to this day.

I got a bit obsessive on the first Arkham Asylum game this time last year, because it was great for doing crazy shit with some mad mashing of the controls, before I figured out how far I could get with more detailed take-downs. I damn near cracked that game, getting up to a 98% completion, although ultimate frustration at my inability to crack the three batarangs on that impossible Shock And Awe Extreme level weaned me off it in the end.

But the real deal for me has always been the strategy games, ever since I played Dune on my mate's computer, all the way back in the pre-console days. I got hooked on Command and Conquer, a long, long time ago, and have played some form of the series at least once a week for almost my entire adult life.

I'm still playing the ones from a decade ago, instead of moving on to more sophisticated versions, but I'm not quite ready to upgrade first. There is this one level that I keep playing over and over, because I can't quite get it right.

I play it over and over and over and over again, perfecting strategies instead of sorting out new ones. Making hundreds of tiny tactical decisions, making sure I have got everything in optimal position, before a mad rush to wipe out the enemy.

Even after years of trying, the missions I play are the ones I can't always win. It's no fun unless I still stand a chance of losing, and I often do, about a fifth of the time. It's that possibility of losing, and the necessity of excellence, that still has me cranking up a new shot at the old mission every few days.

(It's no coincidence that my favourite sporting team – the All Blacks - has also maintained that 80 percent winning record as a professional team. Sure, they cruised through the recent World Cup, but they could have lost at any point, and sometimes they still do, and it's still a little tragic when it does. But wining all the time is boring. There has got to be something at stake.)

Of course, the simplest games are the most addictive, and I learned a long time ago when playing those 'tennis' games on my Atari knock-off for hours and hours in my parent's garage. I'm still learning that lesson today, because I just can't stop playing Spider Solitaire, and have been playing a hand almost every day for the past 13 years.

It's easily the best of all the computer card games, a bit more complex, a bit harder than the others. Again, there is the possibility of losing, and it's taken me years and years to get up to a 85% winning rate – which I am secretly massively proud of, even if it was usually with prodigious use of the CTRL-Z shortcut. There are still some hands that I just can not turn into victories, and they can drive me fucking crazy, but it's that challenge that makes it so addictive.

So as well as cranking up the Spider Solitaire, and I'm seriously thinking about a new Command and Conquer, and I usually can borrow a console from somewhere and have a thick weekend of it, about once a year, where I try out something new, and see what the new GTA looks like.

And I still play some of the old games – a good mates still has a working N64 and we rock out the Goldeneye multi-player every few weeks ago, and we're both so fucking good at it, that we're incredibly even. The graphics are blocky as shit, but the gameplay is smooth, and I still remember where all the body armour is stashed away, (and I still remember that that's how you win).

I'm not putting in as many hours as I used to, I missed out on a lot of cool shit, and it's taking me so long to catch up with the best game. My life isn't ruled by video games like it once was, but I still like to play the old favourites, and there is always time for a few rounds of something new.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Good night, Mr Fantastic

The most conspicuous – if unsurprising – omission in Marvel Comic's latest round of relaunches was the Fantastic Four. After more than fifty years of continuous publication, there will be no monthly Fantastic Four comic in the new year.

It really is a muted end to an era – the Fantastic Four launched the whole Marvel Universe on the back of Lee and Kirby's stellar decade of comics, and it's always been there, through thick and thin. It hasn't really been able to live up to the World's Greatest Comic Magazine' for most of the time its current readership have been alive, but it was a constant presence, even as just a bedrock symbol of the company's identity.

But it's still hard to worry too much about its disappearance. We all know the Fantastic Four will, after all, inevitably return as a team one day. Just because there is no Fantastic Four right now doesn't mean there never will be again. And it could use the break.

After running non-stop for years, the entire Fantastic Four concept is looking a bit tired. Attempts to refresh the idea for a whole new millennium have been greeted with general apathy, right up to the point of the most recent movie, which managed to make adventurous exploration of an alien dimension look gritty and boring.

There have still been plenty of terrific Fantastic Four comics since the days of Lee and Kirby. Marvel's editors have often hired some of their top creators to have a crack at the title, and there have been lots of fun and ingenious stories, beautifully illustrated by some of the industry's best artists.

And yet, while these stories have their fans, they still never really catch fire. The Fantastic Four might be an absolute-must read for a short while, but only for a while.

It's usually not the creators' fault. Audiences can get bored with certain concepts, especially when every second creative team is keen to take a 'back-to-basics' approach, (which usually means they're copying the first 51 issues of the Lee/Kirby comics), or a loud declaration to go into new frontiers, (which usually mean copying the other 51 Lee/Kirby issues).

By biting the bullet and giving the title a rest, Marvel can now take its time, waiting for the right moment, and the right pitch. The inevitable return will be a major event for Marvel, but if they can come at it with a fresh, new and exciting angle, it could be even more massive.

After all, it works so well in other media. Look at how Star Wars fades away on a relentless onslaught of average spin off novels and comics, only to get everyone excited again when a big new movie comes along.

And it's especially good for stories that have been running for decades. I still maintain that Doctor Who is still the greatest TV show there ever was, is or will be - and the most recent episode, with Capaldi eating up the screen for the full hour, was a stone-cold brilliant episode - but I really haven't been bothered by recent talk of a longer gap until the next season.

They did it for Tennant, with his final year in the role confined to a bunch of one-off specials, and it built up the appetite for each new story, when they were so rare. When you're getting new Doctor Who every year on schedule, a general malaise creeps in. We've seen it all before, and recently, too.

Hell, when Doctor who was taken off the air for 15 long years, with only a McGann interlude in that time, my obsession with the show was at an all-time high, fuelled by video releases of the classic stories, surprisingly meaty issues of Doctor Who Magazine and a mad hunger for the New Adventure novels.

When Doctor Who came back in 2005, better than ever, it was worth the wait. Incredible production values, impassioned performances and sophisticated script-work wiped away all those wilderness years, and restored the programme to full glory.

The Fantastic Four has been running almost exactly as long as Doctor Who has, but hasn't had that kind of gap. It could use it.

It's worked for Marvel already, in the relatively recent past. A while back, sometime around the turn of the century, the Thor comic reached another apocalyptic conclusion, and actually ended this time.

Even though the big man still showed up in Avengers comics and the like, after 40 years of continued adventures, there was no Thor. And Marvel actually managed to restrain itself for a couple of years before bringing him back, to pleasing success.

They could have waited longer, and created an even stronger comic to come back with, because they quickly ran out of ideas again, but it was a great example of the benefits of taking a rest stop.

In fact, the comic that is arguably Marvel's greatest ever was cancelled for a while. The Uncanny X-Men devolved into reprint hell in the early seventies, fading away entirely for a little while before exploding in an all-new team in the hands of of Claremont/Cockrum.

The original X-Men have their charms, but it was only when the gave way to a more international flavour that the comic become something incredible. It was only after they were rested and retooled, that they found success. It's a lesson Marvel learned decades ago, and they're still playing that game.

I do wish Marvel could go all the way, and not feature the Fantastic For themselves in other books, but I know they won't be able to resist putting the Thing in the Guardians of the Galaxy, or team the Human Torch up with Spider-Man.

But there is still a melancholic air around the whole Fantastic Four, and the bitching about rights, poor movie and generally average comics has led to the only possible conclusion. Time to put these characters to bed for a while. Let them rest, and see what they've got to say tomorrow.

Good night, Sue. Good night, Johnny and Ben.

Good night, Mr Fantastic. We'll see you in the morning.