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Nov 12

House to Astonish Episode 168

Posted on Monday, November 12, 2018 by Al in Podcast

To quote Jeremy Piven in Grosse Point Blank: “Ten years! Ten years. Ten YEEEEARS!”.

Yes, it’s our tenth anniversary episode, where we remember Anthea Bell, laugh for quite a long time about Writer X and the “revelation” of his identity, and chat briefly about Vault Comics’ new YA line (in particular, about Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover’s Wrassle Castle), before going into extended examinations/rambles/digressions about The Green Lantern and Lost Light, and once again raid the playbook of excellent videogame podcast Bitsocket as we play Is It Canon?. We’ve also got messages from some of our friends in the comics podcasting world, and the audio from the SILENCE! To Astonish panel which took place at Thought Bubble in September, featuring Gary Lactus and the Beast Must Die of SILENCE! and an all-star line-up of guests (John McCrea, Matthew Rosenberg, Sam Humphries and Babs Tarr). All this plus Wolverine through an Instagram filter, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall with a .44 Magnum, door-to-door podcast flyering and the comic creator you tell children fairy tales about to frighten them into being good.

The podcast is here, or here on Mixcloud, or available via the embedded player below. Let us know what you think in the comments, via email, on Twitter or on our Facebook fan page. And hey, there has literally never been a better time to buy one of our great t-shirts from our Redbubble store!

We wouldn’t have made it ten years without the support of our listeners, who are brilliant (that’s you!), so we wanted to take a moment just to say thanks – if you’ve been with us ten years or started with this episode, thank you so much for listening, it really does mean the absolute world to us.

On a more sombre note – this podcast was recorded on Friday, before the desperately sad news broke of Stan Lee’s death. We will talk more about Stan on the next episode, but in the meantime we’ll keep enjoying and appreciating everything he worked so hard to make possible.

Bring on the comments

  1. Diana says:

    Been following Paul since the days of X-Axis – congratulations on the anniversary!

  2. Brian says:

    Count me as another of Paul’s readers from back around 2001 (I found him online when starting up Morrison’s run after having not read the X-Men since around 1994, looking to catch up on what had been going on in the books). I’ve been enjoying this podcast since Day One!

    I do have to admit that, given your record of late, I swung over here as soon as I saw the Stan Lee news to see if a HtA had appeared as usual upon the death of a comics luminary…

  3. Taibak says:

    No foil cover?

    But seriously – congrats! Been enjoying the reviews since the iambic pentameter takedown of Chuck Austen’s ridiculous Romeo and Juliet story.

  4. Voord 99 says:


    I’ve been listening since the beginning as well, having, like others, started reading Paul’s work at the X-Axis on Usenet and then following him to this when it started.

    In fact, there’s a decent chance that this was the very first podcast I ever listened to, although after so many years I can’t be completely sure. But it was definitely one of the two first ones.

  5. Moo says:

    Congrats on ten years, Paul and Al! Keep it up!

    I think I may be in denial about Stan Lee. Part of me is convinced his death won’t stick and that Marvel’s going to bring him back someday.

  6. Scott says:

    Repeating what others have said, I’ve been following Paul since the X-Axis, and this was the first podcast I ever listened to. Congratulations on ten years (which makes me feel all my 41 years), and thanks so much for the continued efforts!

    Now I have to actually listen to the anniversary podcast…

  7. Zachary Adams says:

    It seems appropriate that the 10th anniversary episode would include a review of the final Lost Light, since your review of MTMTE #1 was what got me to buy that issue and got me emotionally invested in Transformers for the first time in a decade. Whatever comes next, I hope it’s even remotely as good. Congratulations on your decade, guys.

  8. Walter Lawson says:

    I think Archie Goodwin had a hand in creating the first dozen or so Transformers bios, before Budiansky got involved. Optimus Prime is a Goodwin name, or so I’ve heard.

  9. Col_Fury says:

    Chalk me up as another one who’s been around since the X-Axis (sorry Usenet; I found this place while Paul was still active with the Marvel Chronology Project), and have been listening to House since the start.

    Here’s to another astonishing ten years!

  10. Joshua Corum says:

    Do you still post the show to Stitcher?

  11. Psycho Andy says:

    Ahoy, ahoy, from across the pond! I have ALSO been following since the beginning (and The Congrats on ten years, fellas. My employment has been as shaky as the American economy over the last decade, but it’s been nice to have House to Astonish as a (mostly) constant once that time. Thank you for the education and entertainment over the last ten years!

    ‘Til All Are One!

  12. Martin Smith says:

    Congrats on 10 years and here’s to 100 [sic] more!

    I quite enjoyed Ultimate Adventures too. I’ve still got a copy of the trade, signed by Duncan Fegredo (which he didn’t seem all that thrilled to see, if I’m honest).

    It’s really fun to go back and read Yoshida-san’s interviews from the time. Trying to promote the 00s Age of Apocalypse revival saying he was a really big fan of the original, claiming it was hugely popular in Japan, for instance.

    I think Tex Stetson was an alias used by a killer in Sandman Mystery Theatre. A Texan guy in New York to get revenge, so called him Stetson and is appalled no-one realises it’s a fake name.

    The thing that lost me with the New 52 was, as a trade-waiter, they delayed the paperback releases for most titles by about a year for the silly little HCs. And a load of the early titles that I had interest in were either canned or given to Rob Liefeld before the first trade even came out.

    @Walter: Prime was named by Denny O’Neil.

  13. SanityOrMadness says:

    Breaking into the congratulations for a moment… is this episode really quiet for anyone else, in the literal low-volume sense of the word? I’ve got volume maxed, earbuds shoved in and I’m still missing bits.

  14. Al says:

    @Everyone – thanks so much for all the congratulations!

    @Joshua – we don’t post it manually (and haven’t ever done so) – Stitcher just pulls from our RSS feed. If it takes a while to show up there (as it frequently does) that’s an issue on Stitcher’s end that we can’t do anything about, sadly.

    @Sanity – yeah, apologies for that. Setting the sound balance on this episode was a nightmare – the “in-studio” bits had to be less loud because a couple of the drop-ins and moments in the StA panel were topping right out in a way that I wasn’t able to fix after several hours of working on it. It’s far from perfect but it was the best I was able to achieve on that front, unfortunately. Hope it doesn’t spoil it for you too much.

  15. “As for the big question – is it Howard Mackie – I reserve judgment at this stage. For the most part the dialogue doesn’t quite sound like his, and the plot’s rather more coherent than he usually achieves. On the other hand, clunking elements like the two goths who are obviously preparing to shoot up their school (of which the less said the better) and closing lines like “You are in for the ride of your life” do have the ring of Howard Mackie to them. If it’s him, though, it’s the best thing he’s done in years, so that’s a sign of hope.” – from Paul’s 2001 review of Brotherhood #1.

  16. SanityOrMadness says:


    Yeah, I just got to a PC and had a look in Audacity, and the champagne cork pop clips out and could have been reduced in volume, and there’s a loud pop at 54:33, during one of the drop-ins (which would have been best cut), but apart from those two bits there’s 6.17 dB of headroom to the *peak* of the remainder (and more for big chunks – the Lost Light discussion tops out at around -10 dB). Which is why it’s so quiet.

    What I would suggest is looking in something like Audacity for isolated moments like that which mess up the normalising, or having a look at the (free) Conversations Network Levelator, which auto-balances voice levels (although you’d want to do that before adding the theme music). Because, yeah, since I don’t listen in quiet rooms, and don’t have noise-cancelling headphones, it did spoil it for me a bit being quite so hard to hear 🙁

  17. Chris V says:

    Brotherhood started out having some decent moments (along with the dodgy bits that Paul pointed out in the review).
    It was nearly a career high-point for Mackie….for about two issues.
    The series went completely off the rails, and was much more believable as a work of Howard Mackie, after those first couple of issues.

  18. Chris J says:

    Paul and Al, congrats on 10 years of this. Every so often I re-read those X-Axis reviews from what, 20+ years ago? I don’t even read X-books but I still read these.

    Lost Light ending was bittersweet, but its best years were behind it. I guess it remains to be seen how great the rest of the end of “IDW G1” is.

  19. Al says:

    @Sanity I’ll bear that in mind for future.

  20. Paul says:

    Thanks to everyone for the congratulations!

    And yes, Brotherhood started out okay before going off the rails – as best I remember, anyway. For some strange reason it hasn’t made it to Marvel Unlimited yet (though they did post a bunch of Mutant X issues this week…)

  21. Médard says:

    Congratulations guys! And thank you for the reviews and wonderful podcast over the years.
    I’m also one of the people that has been following Paul from The X-Axis. Keep up the good work and here’s to many more years of reviews and podcasts!

  22. Moo says:

    I’ve been following Paul for close to an hour. Been keeping about three to four car lengths of distance between us so he doesn’t realize he’s being tailed.

  23. Jerry Ray says:

    Count me in as another one who started reading Paul’s reviews on Usenet back in the day, and started listening to the podcast on day 1! It always makes my day (and my commute) better when a new episode hits – thanks for doing this, and keep on going!

  24. Martin Smith says:

    Paul, the Mutant X issues turned up on Unlimited because they’ve actually released a tpb of it. Hard to fathom why but it’ll be interesting to see sales figures for it.

  25. Thomas says:

    Guys congrats! I started with the x-axis and listened from the beginning also. Thinking back to those days I had to listen via my browser because I didn’t own any form of player.

    It’s been a great time!

  26. ANDREW says:

    Congratulations on the anniversary guys. I still remember the day the first one came out and listening to it back then. Still awesome today.

    Count me in as another longtime reader of Paul’s dating back to the Usenet/X-Axis days.

    As for this week’s episode – I couldn’t have agreed with you more RE what happened at Marvel post Secret Wars. The comics were so deeply underwhelming and the whole line felt hugely directionless.

  27. Jerry Ray says:

    Loved the line during the panel about building a gate out of Cerebus comics because “they’re hard to get through.”

    The prerecorded well-wishes, unfortunately, played like a litany of “people I don’t want to listen to,” but did serve to flag up just how listenable and enjoyable Al and Paul are. For whatever reason, I find most other comics podcasts to be insufferable.

    My opinions on Hickman’s comics and Secret Wars in particular are, if anything, even more negative. I found his interminable Avengers run to be about as exciting as reading a flow chart. Hundreds of dollars worth of comics where, like, the universe was destroyed and it still felt like nothing happened.

    Secret Wars was a fine “jumping off” point for long-term readers. I dropped a lot of books and didn’t pick them back up, although with the double shipping on stuff I do read, a return to publishing too many miniseries, and generally flooding the market with stuff that has no chance to survive, my comics budget has crept back up again.

  28. ron says:

    I remember the first 11 issues of Mutant X were fun enough, but at issue 12 it took a wrong turn and just got worse as it went on.

  29. mark coale says:

    No discussion of Jemas era Marvel is complete without mentioning Trouble.

  30. mark coale says:

    Theres no need to make Hal into Dirty Harry when you have Guy Gardner around.

    Someday, I need to have Al back on the pod to discuss why we so fundamentally disagree about Hal Jordan (and to a lesser extent Barry Allen). 😉

  31. Dave says:

    I’m always surprised that MTMTE / Lost Light don’t get compared to Red Dwarf. The TF comics are like peak Dwarf, but with obviously much better plotting.
    Having said that, the one main criticism I have now at the end is that the main quest turned out to be a bit of a nothing.
    I also think the relationships would have been just as emotional – maybe even moreso – if they hadn’t become so overt as the series went on.
    I’ve read a fair bit of complaining about Roberts’ writing way beyond mine in TF fandom, though, which I’m amazed by. I’d be picking up any more mainstream book he did next.
    Similarly, Lawrence’s art has been talked about as a big step down from MTMTE’s, while I thought it was still really good.
    Now I’ve just got to read the Unicron stuff, but I’m pretty sure I’ve already read the better send-off.

    That GL review was a bit odd. Probably because to me, a noticable lack of modern PC sensibility is usually a plus point. Though worth mentioning for its rarity, I suppose.

  32. Daibhid Ceannaideach says:

    Congratulations, guys!

    My favourite Anthea Bell bit: there’s a scene in Asterix in Britain where a fruit vendor is arguing with a customer, and in the next panel of the French version Obelix says “Why is that man wearing a melon on his head?” which is a pun on the French for bowler hat being chapeau melon. And since that doesn’t work in English, Bell replaced it with the vendor saying “So this melon’s bad, is it?” and the customer replying “Rather, old fruit.” Apparently, when Goscinny heard this he said he wished he’d thought of it himself.

    Your announcement on the identity of Writer X seems to go straight from “At the time people thought it was Howard Mackie” to “Howard Mackie says the reason for this…” without actually passing through “It was indeed Howard Mackie”. I suppose because, well, we all knew it was Howard Mackie.

    My recollection of the DCU immediately prior to the New 52 is that Morrison and Johns weren’t the only ones who were partway through a big story, and everyone else seemed to get told “Well, you’d better wrap it up quick then, hadn’t you?” I can’t recall any specific examples right now, though.

    It’s funny hearing you say Morrison’s GL is a traditional square-jawed hero like Gary Cooper, because I was just reading the other day about how John Wayne thought High Noon was “un-American” because what kind of cowboy hero asks the townsfolk for help and then needs saved by a girl? Admittedly, this says a lot more about John Wayne than it does Gary Cooper.

    (Also, I’ve kind of never got the whole Dull Uncle Hal thing, since I grew up with Mark Waid contrasting Dull Uncle Barry with Uncle Hal Who Really Wants You To Think He’s Cool, and much preferring Dull Uncle Barry.)

    I started listening to this too late; I’ll catch up with the rest of it tomorrow.

  33. Diana says:

    @Paul: Does Mutant X still hold the distinction of being the only X-related title you stopped reviewing for reasons of “This Can’t Possibly Get Any Worse Whoops There It Goes Again”?

  34. Paul says:

    I didn’t stop reviewing it; for a while, I ran the same capsule review for every issue on the grounds that they were all bad in exactly the same way.

    I think the only X-books I’ve ever dropped outright because they were so intolerable were Wolverine Encyclopaedia (which was so bad that Marvel abandoned it after two issues) and Fantomex Max (which was just plain offensive).

  35. SanityOrMadness says:


    What about Ultimate X-Men? ISTR you stopped reviewing that well before it ended.

  36. Kelvin Green says:

    Congratulations on ten years!

  37. kreetrapper says:

    I finally got around to listening to this and also wanted to congratulate you to 10 years of producing my favourite podcast. I’ve been with you from the beginning, having followed Paul from Usenet like so many others. I’m always happy when a new HtA episode shows up in my podcatcher and I’m glad that you still keep finding the time to produce the show, even with all your other obligations. Thanks a lot for all those hours and hours of fun and here’s to many more years of House to Astonish!

    I agree with some of the other commentators, though, that the audio quality was a bit poor this time. I’m not sure if you’ve come across this yet, Al, but maybe you want to look into Auphonic ( It’s a web service that post-processes podcasts and streamlines the audio which is very popular in Germany. And I think you can use it for free, if you stay below a certain limit of use.

  38. Kelvin Green says:

    Oh, and not a mystery writer as such, but I’m still convinced that the “Danger” arc in Astonishing X-Men was ghostwritten — at least partially — by someone other than Joss Whedon. The sudden change in the quality of writing was too jarring.

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