There comes a point in every Mindless gathering where the correct amount of alcohol has finally been consumed for the conversation to turn to Final Crisis, with a special focus on the hastily squandered horror of the fifth issue.  Thankfully, we’ve started to bring friends along to help identify the reason for this boozy recurrence:

Yes, that’s right – the crushing banality of the morning aftermath is rank rotten enough to haunt its own bacchanalian origins, and when it does so it wears Darkseid’s face.  Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The spirit of this wretched, queasy moment inevitably seeps into the comics I buy at Thought Bubble when I try to read them on the train home.  This petty, remorse-tinged meanness tried to curdle my appreciation of the Decadence comics I brought home with me last year, but it struggled to find shelter in their sparsely populated mindscapes. The darkness found a more suitable hiding place in Spandex, Martin Eden’s LGBT-friendly, Brighton based superhero strip.

Like his previous serial adventure The O-Men, Spandex mixes everyday drama and garish unreality with ease. Brother Bobsy mentioned Paul Grist as an obvious reference point when he discussed the collected Spandex on SILENCE! and there’s definitely something to that: like Jack Staff or Mud Man, Spandex is humorous without ever seeming parodic, and it manages to generate a sense of low-budget romance from its seaside drama.  The debt to the X-Men is also undeniable, both in Eden’s commitment to chronicling the adventures of a group of emotionally combustible super-friends, and in his clean, brightly coloured artwork:

I’ve done a pretty decent job of burying my teenage X-Men fandom underneath piles of Eddie Campbell comics, but Spandex made the appeal of this sort of comic obvious to me all over again.  These pages shine with a sense of possibility that the black and white, none-more-indie tones of The O-Men never quite conveyed.  If I was a young bi-guy growing up today, Spandex might just be my favourite comic going, but as it is it serves as a reminder of a time when comics seemed to offer a gateway to a life full of tightly and brightly clothed boy/girls, endless excitement, and maybe the odd scrap in the name of a just cause.

The puritan self-denial runs strong in me, so there’s a heavy temptation to skip over this bit, but to do so would be stupid because come on – this is a sexy comic.  Eden’s scantily clad adventures aren’t as fleshy as the modern X-Men, but this lack of a Hollywood realist finish does not necessarily diminish their appeal.  Eden’s style has the same basic antecedents as many a contemporary X-Men artist (John Byrne’s sci-fi romance; the chic minimalism of Paul Smith), but these references are points of aspiration rather than points of departure for Eden.  This might sound like damning with faint praise, but it’s really not. Eden’s characters are minimally defined, and dressed in scandalously bright, torturously skimpy clothes –  how much that does for you really depends on how much you are willing to, uh, fill in for yourself. 

(It occurs that I’ve spent a few hundred words now trying to provide a slightly less heteronormative paraphrase of Mister Attack’s famous “I stopped reading the X-Men when I discovered that you could look at pictures of girls in spandex on the internet” quote. Unfortunately I can’t seem to match the lad’s directness; Mister Attack was “just being funny” when he made that comment, but he also nailed it in a way I’ve so far failed to do.)

If there’s a downside to Eden’s approach it’s that occasionally the villainous schemes end up feeling more like the sort of thing that should be settled in text messages than on the comic book page: people treat each other badly, grow bitter, seek revenge. Eventually this breaks out into drama and violence, but its never quite so big or bloody as you might have expected it to be.

This fault is so tightly bound up in the comic’s many fine, relatable qualities as to be inseperable from its charm.  It reaches its apex in Spandex #3, a tiny Final Crisis style confrontation with a life stripped of hope, imagination or possibility that is rendered all the more effective for the fact that it is so obviously grounded in the commonplace:

There’s maybe an argument to be made that – like the miserable, graytoned realities that haunted Kay Challis at the end of the Morrison/Case Doom Patrol – this reduction of so many of our daily routines to something momentously bleak is either absurd or faintly insulting.  And yet… at the risk of making a ridiculous generalisation, everyone’s felt like this once, right?  I have, anyway: devoid of hope, trapped by financial limits, like I have somehow allowed myself to become reduced to the functions I perform in order to survive.  

In Spandex, as in the aforementioned Doom Patrol run, the idea of being saved from this sort of intensely localised apocalypse by your friends might sound trite on paper.  In life, however, this fresh jolt of possibility is anything but that, as my fuzz-tongued, post-Thought Bubble incarnation would have been far too quick to tell you for two years running now…

Paul Jon Milne’s Guts Power is similar to Spandex in spirit if not in style.  As in Martin Eden’s comics, the adventure here is a mix of the casual and the fantastic – the setting is “Low Heightz Tower”, in  “Slurkcaldy, En Ecosse”, and at the start of the first issue our hyper-muscled and borderline demonic protagonists have a date with “D.O.L.E.”  There is action in this world, but it’s the sort of action that you might trip across upon affronting the overzealous proprietor of a tourist trap in any Scottish town:

Milne’s style is far less clean cut than Eden’s, if no less sexualized: his provocative muscle monsters bulge out of their clothing, which reshapes their flesh just as surely as the Spandex crew’s outfits accentuates theirs.  There’s no single story in the first four issues of Guts Power that hits me like Spandex #3, but I’m stuck on Milne’s style, on the use of that old fashioned alt-comix grossness not as a mode for outrageous straight white guy funtimes, but as a way to genuinely queer the Sex-Men experience.  

With its tentative dance floor adventures, “Pepto-bawbag particles” and alluringly grotesque cast, Guts Power manages the rare trick of making one man’s whims, stray thoughts and fancies seem like a genuine delight, probably because the combination feels fresh and true; would that the same could be said of all such ventures.

As promoted with remarkable fervour by Laura Sneddon at Thought Bubble 2013, Owen Michael Jonhson and INDIO’s Raygun Roads is a more… explosive use of some of these raw materials.  Like Guts Power, Raygun Roads is an otherworldly fantasy that overspills with distended physicality. Like Guts Power, it’s far less tediously straight than you might expect it to be. Unlike Guts Power, it’s built for immediate impact rather than for a long-term wander:  

Built on a Möbius strip structure that requires you to flip the book in the middle, Raygun Roads is loud and lurid and designed to be played and replayed until you can’t stand it any longer – the colours are all amped up to the colour of Skittlebomb vomit, the dialogue is written in a glam rock Kirby patois, and hell, there’s even an album if you want to listen along as you read!  Alex Hern described the book as being like Flex-Mentallo-for-hair-metal”, and I’ll be fucked if I can improve on that.  If there’s any fault to Raygun Roads it’s that it’s almost all rush – the real world boredom and inertia it reacts against is gestured at and then abstracted almost immediately, which would be fine if the book had the depths of a Kirby opus, but as it is it’s all a bit too Flex, not enough Wally.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still brilliant!  The rush of Thought Bubble is a fine, fine thing, but it wouldn’t make nearly so much sense without the hungover train ride home…


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