Nearly twenty years ago, in March 1991, a new weekly anthology comic called TOXIC! hit newsagents shelves in Britain. Created by the leading creative lights of 2000AD – Pat Mills, John Wagner, Mick McMahon and Alan Grant – TOXIC! was designed to be the primary rival to that august publication. Moreover, it was determinedly and gleefully crafted to be a source of edgy and irreverent comics, upping the levels of violence, swearing and sex that Mills, who spearheaded the publication, felt were lacking in 2000AD at the time. Most memorably, TOXIC! was headlined by Pat Mills’ wonderful (and criminally-underrated) anti-superhero satire MARSHAL LAW – one of my all-time favourite comics – and also John Wagner’s THE BOGIE MAN, about a delusional Glaswegian mental patient who thinks he’s Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon.
I was sixteen when TOXIC! first appeared and it totally hit the spot. I adored it and read it religiously every week – as did my friends, thanks to my parents sending it to me at my boarding school in Suffolk – and remember feeling distinctly downcast when it folded late that year, due to a mixture of declining sales, strips not appearing regularly and creators not getting paid. Despite being a failure, TOXIC! still possessed the notable credit of proving that a full-colour weekly comic could be done and, indeed, 2000AD adapted accordingly as a result.
Fast forward to 2010 and we have the latest attempt at pushing edgy and irreverent comics in to the mainstream, with the arrestingly-titled “CLiNT” – think about it – produced by writer Mark Millar and Titan Magazines. Ever the connoisseur of hyperbole, Millar grandly claimed that “This is The Eagle for the 21st Century!” and, having read the debut issue, I can only respond to that pearl of wisdom with: you bloody wish, old boy. No, no: the truth is that CLiNT is essentially TOXIC! resurrected.
This is by no means a bad thing.
If Millar and co wanted to reach an audience of mid-teens to mid-20’s, then they’ve done a great job. It’s slickly designed and will fit perfectly alongside other titles in a WH Smith’s Entertainment section, although, as such, the cover (see above) is rather generic and blatantly synergistic, capitalising on lads mags and the imminent home video release of KICK-ASS, no doubt. What would have been wrong with utilising some actual comics art? It’s almost as if there’s some shame and trepidation about proclaiming what the magazine actually is…[note the “WARNING: CONTAINS COMICS” tab in the corner].
As for the strips themselves: well, it goes without saying that this is The Mark Millar Show Featuring His Celebrity Mates. Millar, I must say, has always been a mixed bag for me: I’m a big admirer of his Superman-as-Russian RED SON – a great tale – but there’s no getting around the fact that his brand of heavily sardonic, sweary, ultra-violent storytelling is only territory that has been well-trod by the esteemed likes of Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis before him. Still, that clearly hasn’t impeded the man’s popularity.
To give CLiNT some exclusivity, it’s the first place where you can read his sequel to the hugely popular KICK ASS – the highly successful screen version of which reaches home video next week, by the way – again drawn by John Romita Jr. The eight-page offering, a brutal training session between the clearly-not-retired Hit Girl and Kick Ass is a fun little taster which indicates that it’ll be no different to its predecessor. Millar also offers a reprint of NEMESIS, his resoundingly-OTT and gruesome supervillain series which provides precisely the kind of overblown, cinematic carnage that teens will love over its 23 pages – from a man being obliterated by a Japanese bullet train in gory detail to the US Presidential jet being forced to land in the middle of a city, killing hundreds. Nice.
Yet, that’s just horses for courses for Millar. The real quality here comes from TURF, Jonathan Ross’ first – and very good – comics effort, which mixes Prohibition-era gangsters with vampires and aliens. With engaging and atmospheric art from Tommy Lee Edwards, it’s a fine centrepiece for CLiNT and, really, should have been the cover hook. It’s easy to be snarky about Ross – after all, you’d probably look rather self-satisfied if your career allowed you to do all the fanboy-nirvana activities his does – but this isn’t an amateur stab at comics writing: he’s clearly got chops and his lifelong appreciation of comics has given him an innate understanding of the medium’s narrative demands. If there’s one reason to keep reading CLiNT, this is it.
The same cannot be said, however, for comedian Frankie Boyle’s “effort”, REXCORP, which is negligible at best. I love Boyle’s work as a comedian – he raises creative abuse in to an artform – but he’s no comics writer, his presence in CLiNT – here as contributor and cover star – is clearly to shore up lads mag audiences, much like the features material which peppers this first issue. The Top 10 Hot TV Mums is pure NUTS fodder – even if I do wholeheartedly agree with the results – with the features on voice-over artists for Hollywood stars, serial killer Charles Manson and an interview with comedian Jimmy Carr similarly ticking the lads mag criteria. That said, I did love the fully-clothed platinum-blonde pin up with her legs spread (“Deeply Moral Babes – Overdressed Porn for The Religious Right”)… very funny.
There’s also some really artless controversy-baiting: I know celeb Q and A’s are just puff pieces but does Christopher Mintz-Plasse – who plays Red Mist in the screen adaptation of KICK-ASS which is due on home video next week, by the way – really need to be asked “Would you rather kill a baby and no one would ever know, or a pensioner and everyone would know?” I’m no stern moralist – and have a very dark sense of humour – but that’s not even funny.
The one thing that was abundantly clear to me while reading CLiNT #1 is that I am certainly not the target audience – and I think Millar’s aim of fully harnessing the 16-30 age band is pushing it – but I am in touch with my inner child enough to know that, were I in my mid-to-late teens, the prime age for the superhero material that dominates here – I’d find much to enjoy in CLiNT – no doubt about it. It’s certainly different – it’s a comics magazine – and it’s been crafted with some canny marketing (even if the pimping of KICK-ASS is sledgehammer-subtle – by the way, the DVD is released… oh, you get it.) and a concerted attempt to corral various magazine audiences in its favour. Beyond that, it deserves respect for its attempt to bring comics back to the mainstream marketplace, which remains a bloody tricky thing to do.
It’s a decent start, but with some refinement – and perhaps some favouring of homegrown comics talent instead of eagerly pandering to the cult of celebrity – CLiNT could end up truly kicking ass…