Sunday, December 17, 2017

Judge Dredd: The final mission of the Apocalypse Squad



It's one of the great moments in the 40-year history of Judge Dredd. On a desperate mission to save his own city from annihilation during the Apocalypse War, Dredd launches a retaliatory strike against the Sov aggressors that totally wipes out East Meg-One. He slaughters half a billion people without hesitation, cutting off all pleas for mercy with a curt 'request denied!' before pushing the button.

It's a moment of high drama, shows that Dredd is a totally double-hard bastard, and a deeply satisfactory way to end the gigantic Block Mania/ Apocalypse War storyline. The Sovs picked a fight with the toughest judges on the planet, and inevitably paid the ultimate price. As always, Dredd is harsh, but fair, (but mainly harsh).

But one of the great things about a story that has been running continuously for decades is that big events like this aren't just endlessly rebooted, recycled and retold; instead they have repercussions and consequences that echo down the years, and only get stronger as they build upon each other over the decades.

Judge Dredd's decision to wipe out East Meg One has had plenty of those repercussions, which have taken years to play out. Sov survivors of the war have been on a constant quest for revenge for their destroyed city, cropping up again and again, just when you think they are finally done and dusted. It all ultimately culminated in the Day of Chaos, where the Sovs finally win, and may have finally crippled the great Mega City One.

And even now, after all these years, Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner has plenty to say about this particular aspect of Dredd's story. His recent War Buds storyline in 2000ad, with beautifully chunky artwork by Dan Cornwell, went back to see what happened to the men who joined Dredd on that fateful mission, and found they were still struggling with what they did in the name of Mega City justice.

Dredd always took responsibility for the destruction himself, and has always been strong enough to handle the burden. He has always been certain it was the only way to save his beloved Mega-City One, and has shrugged off any doubts with his usual habit of tight boots. He carried on, and endured, just as he always does.

But Dredd is too iconic to be an actual human being, and War Buds revealed the men who made up the numbers of his Apocalypse Squad had been paying the personal cost of this heinously murderous act for most of their lives. Aside from Dredd's main allies like Hershey and Anderson, who have been a constant presence in the strip over the years, none of them are judges anymore, and none of them have really learned to live with what they have done.

The medic who went on the mission suffered the most, with a total mental breakdown, and the War Buds story saw his former comrades trying to save him from an ignoble end through euthanasia. The ex-judges have some brief, tiny moments of pride and dignity left, but it doesn't go well for anybody, and ends in farce, blood and encubement. 

The moral authority behind Dredd's actions in the war have always been ambiguous - the question of who started the cycle of aggression and retaliation has been raised several times, and right from the start it's been notable that Dredd kills 500,000 people in East Meg One to save 400,000 from his own city. On pure logic and numbers, his actions are more monstrous, no matter how square his jaw is.

Nobody knows this better than the people who were in the room when Dredd pushed the button, and who then flew over the smouldering crater that was once a vibrant Sov city. The horror of nuclear destruction may have been their only path to victory in the Apocalypse War, but that doesn't make it any less horrific.

It made for a cool moment, back in the day, but the climax of the Apocalypse War is still destroying lives, all these years later.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A long time ago...


I like Star Wars. I like it a lot.

Always Star Wars
Originally posted May 4, 2014

When I was a kid in the mid-to-late eighties, my Dad would let me go down to the video shop and rent something out for the family. He knew I could be trusted to get something that everybody could watch, I knew I couldn't get anything too horrific or adult. A bit of exploitation cinema could sometimes have something for the whole family, but the safer, the better.

The only instruction he ever gave me was that I could get whatever I wanted, but I was not - under any circumstances – to get one of the Star Wars films.

He had to tell me every time. And he was right to do so, because if he didn't, I definitely would be coming back with some Star Wars and an excuse that there was nothing else. Even though I'd seen all of the films many times, I wanted to watch it over and over and over and over again, and I had to be restrained for my own good.


I was eight when Return Of The Jedi came out, so that was me: hooked for life. At that age, the Star Wars films weren't just movies – they were absolute phenomenon.

And it didn't feel like a weird little obsession, like some of the comics and TV I liked – everybody was into Star Wars. It seeped into the culture like nothing else before, and nothing since. Star Wars was a Big Deal, and everybody was into it.

The films weren't even on video when I first fell into a life-long Star Wars obsession, (and nobody I knew even had a video player until I was nine), but there was regular re-releasing of the films at the cinema, and all those wonderful toys and books and records and tee-shirts.

I hungered for Star Wars action figures with a fierce, narrow-eyed passion that I've never really matched since, and the cool ones like the Stormtrooper or Boba Fett never got down to my town, down on the arse end of the world, but I still snapped up every Hoth Soldier #2 and Captain Fabulous, the Big Gay Bespin Pilot I could find.

I still have some of them today, but most of them have had their arms and legs snapped off. The ones that are in the best condition are the Princess Leia figures, because I didn't play them to death like the cool C-3P0 and Darth Vader figures. They were girl's toys and I was a little boy, and little boys are sexist little shits who never want to play with girls' toys.


The Return of the Jedi bubblegum card set was the first major collection I ever put together and actually completed, and it taught me valuable life lessons about negotiation and compromise that all kids should learn. I read every issue of the Marvel Comics series I could find, and even though my critical facilities were still working themselves out, I knew the comic reached a peak with those Goodwin/Williamson issues that it would never match again.

I got the Star Wars calenders every year, and seared the storybook adaptations – the ones with the lavish photos - into my brain. I had an Empire Strikes Back cap that I wouldn't take off my head for two years, until it literally fell apart. I read every magazine article about future plans for the movies, and believed every word I read about the 18-part plan, and that Boba Fett was really Leia's mum.

And all my friends and schoolmates were as obsessed as I was. We were all Star Wars kids. Everyone was.


Because those movies – those first three films released between 1977 and 1983 – were sheer bloody perfection.

I eventually had all three films on lovely, lovely video tape, and I ended up taking them for granted for so many years. I just watched them this week for the first time in years, and they're still so beautiful.

There is a tactile reality to these films - the crazy creatures and impossible technology and awesome architecture were grounded in worlds of dust, ruffled hair, scuffed boots and hurt feelings.  The Star Wars films were based around some goofy concepts, but they were always taken dead seriously – a beguiling mix that has also proved successful for Marvel movies in the past decade.

They were all George Lucas' vision, but they were brought to life by a small army of extremely talented trades and craftspeople, with a large number of essential collaborators, including Ben Burtt and his marvellous sound team, John Williams and his ear for thrilling bombast, and Ralph Mcquarrie and the blazing alchemy he poured into his paintings.

They all created this world of pure excitement, and unmatched thrills. A universe of charming rogues and fast-paced action, with some of the sharpest action editing ever attempted in film, changing the whole grammar of the blockbuster film.


And they changed everything, and were so addictive, because they were so much fun. There were parts that were so incredibly exciting it was almost unbearable – the moment in the first film where Han Solo and Chewbacca fly in out of the sun to save Luke at the end of all things is still ridiculously powerful, the speeder bike chase in the Jedi is still too fast to quite follow, and there is some real energetic brutality in the final moments of the fight between Luke and Vader on Cloud City.

All that backstory was fascinating, and I had my own ideas about what the Clone Wars were all about, just like everybody else. And the characters were drawn in such broad strokes that it was impossible to resist falling into their trials and tribulations.

But Star Wars was infinitely re-watchable because of those great set-pieces – I could never get sick of the sphincter tightening flight through the asteroid field in Empire, the leap across the chasm in the first film is a fantastic bit of daredeviling and I'm never quite certain that Lando and the Falcon crew are getting out of that exploding Death Star in time.


So that was it – I never got over how much I loved those films. I might not need to watch them every day anymore, and I might have even gone a couple of years without watching them, but that fondness never died.

I still followed the saga into comics and novels, although I bailed out of the Expanded Universe after half a dozen books, and lost all interest in the comics once Cam Kennedy finished up. I saw all of the re-released movies at the cinema in the late nineties, and that was during my biggest drinking days, and I was drunk as fuck when I saw the horrible new effects, so I didn't mind their intrusion that much.

And then the prequels came along, and I enjoyed every single one of them, because there was always the odd set-piece or scene that still shined – the podrace in the Phantom Menace is a masterclass in editing, and the various lightsaber battles were terrifically thrilling.

But the stories were hampered by tedious plots and grating comedic relief, and were often over-busy and over-thought. I lost most of my faith in the Star Wars story sometime around the asteroid belt scene in Attack In The Clones, a replication of the Empire chase scene, with none of the thrills, just busy visuals and a grating score.

There is still the odd spark of genius in the past ten years of Star Wars, especially in Genndy Tartakovsky's fantastic Clone Wars shorts, and the new films are sparking some interest again, but the fondness shows no sign of blossoming into a proper obsession again.


Still, I'll always be a Wars Boy. I also like Star Trek, but it's a Beatles and the Stones thing – you can love both but if you really had to choose, there should only be one answer. Trek is sexy and optimistic, but Wars is always the first choice.

Star Wars has always been the first choice.

Monday, December 11, 2017

This marriage is getting dorkier by the day



The lovely wife and I celebrated our 11th marriage anniversary last week, which means we've been living together in a house or flat on our own for about 13 years. Frankly, I'm baffled that we get invited anywhere as a couple anymore, because our conversation is just full of in-jokes and dumb TV show quotes, and we're the only people who know what the fuck we're talking about.

We were at a family barbecue last night, and couldn't resist throwing out a couple of quotes from Archer, and trying to do Tom Hardy's 'I have a use for you' from Taboo, even though nobody else had seen those shows. We just did it to make ourselves happy.

And if we're not doing that, we're boorishly going on about some travel that we did together, casually dropping some reference to the toilet situation in Mongolia or the goofiness of the reindeer in Lapland, even though nobody else could have any idea what we're on about. We're just awful like that.

We have some very different tastes - she's a Say Yes To The Dress fan, I'm more Storage Wars; she has a fatal weakness for period romances, I like my horror to be as gory and intense as inhumanly possible. But we also like a lot of the same stuff, and share a very general sense of humour, so we end up watching a lot of things together. We both like watching - and quoting from - things like South Park, Family Guy and Robot Chicken, although I'm the only one feeling stupidly guilty about it. The Simpsons is still the best at providing a quote for all occasions.

She never used to be this dorky. She'd never seen an episode of Doctor Who until we got married, and I started her on the soft stuff like Buffy, before getting her hooked on some serious nerdy shit like the Venture Bros. Now, quotes from all these TV shows and movies we watch together get stuck in our conversation, and we'll end up wondering how the singer of Depeche Mode could be so straight, or why the Crash Test Dummies make the best funeral music.

And if that's not enough, we're constantly tossing Malcolm Tucker insults at each other, and share the wit and wisdom of Scott Adkins' Boyka (especially the 'this is not punishment, this is training' line from Undisputed 2). Several favourite lines from The Wire regularly crop up, but must sound awful out of context, so we tend to keep those ones to ourselves at home.

After all, this shit doesn't even count the ultra-nauseating language we use around each other when we're alone, which should under no circumstances be shared with anybody. Pet names, and whispered secrets. (I once accidentally sent one of these terms of affection to a co-worker in an email he'd accidentally been CCed on, and I still pray to God every day that he doesn't remember it.)

In more than a decade together, she's changed me for the better - I dress better, I eat better, I am better. In return, I've made her considerably nerdier - during a recent stopover at a comic shop in Oslo, she bought something, while I walked out empty handed, and that's the first time that's ever happened.

But the most obvious example of this dorkcafication is in this secret code of half-remembered quotes and shared experiences. It's only going to get worse over the coming years, but sharing my life with this gorgeous, smart and capable woman is the great joy of my existence, and she's always going to be the only one I can talk to in this way. Eleven years is just the beginning.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Twin Peaks - The Final Dossier: The Official Handbook Of The Twin Peaks Universe (Deluxe Edition)



David Lynch is largely seen as the primary creator behind Twin Peaks. This is partly because he directed so much of it; partly because everything on the original show turned to crap when he wasn't around; and partly because the recent return to TV didn't just feel like a Twin Peaks revival, it felt like a thematic and literal sequel to all of his movies, from Eraserhead to Inland Empire.

But Mark Frost's contribution as co-creator should never be ignored. Some of the weirdest stuff in the entire history of Twin Peaks - which is usually immediately credited to Lynch - has come straight from Frost's brain. Agent Dale Cooper is often seen as a straight-up version of Lynch in his youth, but his steely, zen determination to do the right thing is also a fair reflection of Frost.

An accomplished novelist, Frost also book-ended this year's third season of the show with two publications, one that looked at the weird pseudo-history behind the show, and one that revealed a tonne of information about its strange ultra-present.

Neither of them are absolute essential, but both of them are a lot of fun.

The Secret History book - already discussed here - tied the bizarre events of Twin Peaks and its gateways to other worlds into the esoteric and occult history of the United States, weaving in the most far-out Fortean history with real unsolved mysteries, and trying to explain this mad modern world through the medium of other-dimensional contact.

Despite some incredible revelations, (especially around the town's decrepit newspaper publisher), the book didn't really have much of an impact on the new series, serving as an prelude to all the recent events, few of which even mentioned this mad history.

But The Final Dossier - the second book by Frost that sets out to fill in the blanks - ties a lot more directly into the new show, giving a new perspective on the weirdest events, and answering questions the TV story was never interested in addressing.

And there are loads and loads of revelations - it fills in the fates of Donna and Annie and Leo that were never discussed on the new show, while also offering brief glimpses of the future past that astonishingly bleak ending and of a new, slightly unsure reality where Laura never went inside the railway carriage.

It's fascinating, and addictive reading, filling in so many gaps. It explains what actually happened to Major Briggs and sorts out the difference between a tulpa and a doppelganger. It sorts out its own contradictions, like how Norma's Mom can be both dead in the ground and in the town in 1990, slagging off the decor of the Double R. Even the most inconsequential chapters can be funny as hell, like the vision of Jerry Horne turning an entire mountainside into his personal stereo, and some of it is genuinely moving - reading about Big Ed and Norma is almost as heartwarming as their long-delayed reunion on TV.

But still, despite proclaiming itself as a novel on the cover, it feels more like a reference book than anything else. There is so much information, and so much data, and not much of a plot. It's a lot of fun, but it's so totally inessential. The omissions of information on the show were there for a reason, building that sense of paranoia and confusion that the filmed story thrived upon, and there really isn't any need to explain it all so thoroughly.

Mind you, it might not even be canon. Lynch has famously waved it away as "Mark's version". Only dickheads get too hung about about canon, and this new book definitely falls onto the 'who gives a fuck' side of the equation. It's canon if you want. Or not.

In the meantime, it's one last trip back to the weird and wonderful town of Twin Peaks, and I'm always up for a visit. It might be inconsequential, but the most best things in life usually are.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Prophet: Food of the future makes me sick



The recent Prophet comic series by Brandon Graham and friends was set thousands and thousands of years in the future, in a universe where mankind has become effectively extinct, replaced by strange descendants and hybrids, as immortal superheroes transcend their physical dimensions and endless clones remain stuck in time.

It's a story with so few modern frames of reference that it can be hard to even follow what the hell is going on, a lot of the time. This confusion can only be intentional, because it makes for an intriguing reading experience, and because the creators have obviously put a huge amount of effort into making this world as alien as possible.

The comic is saturated in unknowable thought processes, and bizarre new cultures. There are beings whose very concept can not be fully grasped by human minds, and there is food that looks fucking disgusting.

The few surviving natives of Earth have all evolved into new forms, and new realities, but there are still all sorts of people who have to live in the shit, even if they might have sixteen arms and a gaping hole where their face should be. Whoever they are, they gotta eat to survive, and the nutrition they take in is probably something a modern 21st-century human would never be able to gag down.

Food comes up a lot in science fiction, but it is usually some kind of paste that is meant to taste like roast chicken. That's getting a little weird, but it's not like the food in Prophet, which is awful to look at, let alone put in your mouth and swallow. It's truly alien, in a way few other sci-fi stories never even bother thinking about.

But when the main characters of this space-spanning saga take a break from their galaxy-wide marauding, they are eating food with nauseating tendrils and tentacles, or going past a stall selling meat that looks suspiciously humanoid. If you somehow become immortal, and somehow survive the next few hundred years, you best get used to eating things that would disgust you now.

Food is always changing - you can only imagine what any lady or gentlemen from a scant 200 years ago would make of a McDonalds burger if you slammed it down in frobt of them, and there is no reason that we're going to be eating food that looks anything like our current menus, in even a few short decades. After thousands of years, there will be centuries of new culinary delights, moving further and further away from the food now served up on our plates.

And after all this time when humans are just another lost echo in this vast cosmos, you can bet the new survivors are eating something that looks really damn gross.

The world of Prophet is full of mad little future-shock moments like that, where something as simple as eating can be twisted into something that is just a tiny bit disconcerting and disorientating. You're far in the future now, says that meal.

It all made Prophet one of the most satisfying and challenging science fiction comics of the past decade. It's a great story, if you can stomach it all.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

My Friend Dahmer: The absense at the heart of the story



A frequent complaint about movie adaptions of books and comics is that the cinematic versions don't really get into the heads of their characters, not like the printed versions of the story can. That you can't ever really know a character's real thoughts and motivations when everything is so superficial on film - all surface, no feeling.

But sometimes, you might not actually want to understand the person at the heart of a story, because they're just so horrible, and sometimes, there's not even a real person there anyway.

Derf Backderf's My Friend Dahmer comic is an outstanding work by an incredibly talented creator, who just happened to go to high school with one of the most notorious serial killers of the 20th century. Jeffrey Dahmer raped, murdered and mutilated 17 people between 1978 and 1991, but before all that, he was just the class weirdo, putting on a desperate act to get any sort of attention. Even monsters have to go to high school, and Backderf was there too.

The brilliance of Backderf's book is that he plays it totally straight - he tells it how he remembers, with just a taste of things outside his experience, supplemented with small parts from other sources. Hie comic shows the strange behaviour that would ultimately lead to such horrendous murder, but never really judges the dumb kid who will become a terrible monster.

It's an extremely accessible story - I'm pretty sure it's the only comic book my sister-in-law has read in her entire life - with a unique perspective and Backderf's hilariously stiff and elongated caricatures keep it all from descending into total darkness.

Unsurprisingly, a film version of this story came out this year, to a generally positive reaction, and is a fairly accurate adaption of Backderf's comic, hitting all the right beats.

But it also loses something, by making Dahmer the main character of the story, showing lots of moments where young Jeffrey is staring creepily off into the distance, or closeted away with his roadkill 'experiments', or hanging out in the woods, watching possible future victims jog past, unaware of any danger.

In the book there is really is no proper attempt to understand Dahmer, or offer up some lame explanation for why he did the horrible things he did, while the movie, as well-intentioned as it is, can't help but be a Portrait Of A Serial Killer As A Young Man.

In Backderf's purer version - even with the supplemented material - there is a giant absence around Jeffrey Dahmer, and it can be seen in the way nobody ever does anything about the fact that he's coming to school smashed on vodka, or pretending to throw a fit. Nobody cares, nobody does anything.

That lack of caring about Dahmer and everything he does is one of the most horrific and despairing things about the story, and awfully familiar to anybody who has grown up in modern society. We alll know somebody who could have turned out to be a Dahmer. There was always somebody. Hell, when Backderf hears the news about his former classmate, Dahmer isn't even the first person he thinks of.

Ultimately, fuck Jeffrey Dahmer, who had to slaughter innocent people for his own perverted pleasures, and no amount of low motion walking around to a period-appropriate and tasteful soundtrack is going to change that. He's the void at the heart of the story, and it's everything that happened around him that needs to change if we're going to stop more living nightmares before they get started.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Mr Mamoulian: Being Brian Bolland



British comics artist Brian Bolland has built up a huge audience of loyal fans with his clean, crisp and consistent line, but it's not always so apparent how completely fucking weird his work can get.

His superhero comic covers show a deep love for the Silver Age style, often relying on some goofy premise played absolutely straight, although sometimes they can still end up in some very strange territory. His covers for Vertigo books such as The Invisibles and Animal Man showed a little of the weirdness behind his sharpness, but for the full strangeness of Bolland, you only have to look at his Mr Mamoulian strips.

The strips aren't as immediately eye-catching as, say, his Camelot 3000 work, with that distinctive and detailed sharpness fuzzed up to hell, and far more of a looser style, with the main character scratched into existence on the page. Occasionally, that familiar style will shine through, particularly when one of the attractive female characters in the strip shows up, but it isn't always so obvious that this is the same artist behind the Killing Joke.

This is not a bad thing - the effect is like looking at the 24-hour comics that several creators have taken a crack at, and it's a more immediate, and far more personal, window inside Bolland's thought-processes and feelings. It's certainly more real than his joyful renditions of the Flash or Wonder Woman, (although these certainly have their place).

It's total stream of consciousness storytelling in the Mamoulian strips, following the title character as he sits on park benches, has a cup of tea, or lies awake in existential dread in the middle of the night. Published in a variety of places over the years, and occasionally collected together, it can all appear a bit random and bizarre, but you get to see right inside Bolland's head like nothing else he does.

And, god bless him, it's a strange place in there. There is Bolland's obsessions with beautiful naked women, and bone-deep concerns about how he is objectifying them. Sometimes it gets completely nihilistic, sometimes it features a sizable cast characters all baffled by the complexities of modern life, and sometimes it all gets a bit Francis Bacon.

There is a grim sense of humour beneath all this modern misery, just enough to bring some life to the proceedings, and it runs from sheer slapstick - a mannequin's leg is a frequent prop - to grim irony over how fucked up everything is getting.

His ultra-detailed versions of characters like Judge Death and the Joker set the absolute standard, and that's enough for most of us. But dig a little deeper into the world of Mr Mamoulian, if you want to see the horrified stare behind those frozen grins.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Scream and Scream again!

I'm busy reading the first new Scream comic in decades today, so here's some shamelessly reprinted blogging from 2014, explaining why that's a huge deal for me:

Scream was an incredibly short-lived British weekly comic that came out in 1984. It was a horror comic, in exactly the same way 2000ad was a science fiction comic, and featured many of the same creators, and much of the same dark sense of humour.

It lasted 15 issues.

It might have been killed so quickly because of low sales, but there also seemed to be a general perception that Scream was just a bit too distasteful, especially with its target audience of young boys. It was corrupting the young minds of those nine-year-olds with all that gore and those disgusting monsters and disrespect for authority and grim, death-soaked endings.

That may all be true, but all I know for sure is that I was one of those nine-year-old boys at that time, and I was absolutely gutted when that comic got cancelled. It might have been the worst thing that had ever happened to me.


Because Scream was my first real comic obsession, and the first obsession is always the best.

It was the first comic where I went rabid for every new issue, and couldn't miss a single one without some kind of adolescent meltdown. It was one of the very rare comics that was advertised on New Zealand television, (and may even be the only comic that ever aired on TV, as far as I know), and it was instantly something I could get behind.

I'd been reading 2000ad on and off for a couple of years, but that comic was already well into its 100s by the time I came on board, and there were always weird gaps. There still are. But then I saw the covers for the second and third issues on the telly and I knew here was something where I could get in on the ground floor, right from the start.

It also helped that Scream lived up to the hype, and turned out to be a comic that was full of deeply creepy stories, with some fantastic art.


With all due hindsight, the stories were obviously fairly average, even if some of their more obvious twists and turns still blew my tiny mind.

But Scream had a dark, grimy tone that was largely set by the dark, grimy art. For instance, plot-wise, something like The Dracula File was a standard version of the classic vampire, with Drac making another power play for England. But Eric Bradbury's art looked like it was covered in decaying filth, as the vampire's undead rot spread out into a modern world of bike gangs and MI5 agents. The late, great Jose Ortiz had his own sweaty detailing in the terrified faces of the unfortunate folk who ended up visiting the Thirteenth Floor, and Jesus Redondo's scratchy realism gave the fearsome Uncle Terry in Monster plenty of humanity.

But when it came to really gross and disturbing art, Jim Watson's work for the Tales of The Grave strip was the best. It was the usual Victorian supernatural vengeance kind of thing, but Watson's characters were always these haggard, desiccated soul, with the darkest eyes imaginable. It was another strip that was full of gross death and violent retribution, and it had a graveyard fog curling through its plots.

Watson's art was gloriously horrible, and sometimes it was properly terrifying as a dead man's face loomed out of the gloom, and I lapped it up every week.


There were some nice moments in the scriptwork for Scream's stories – the first episode of Monster was written by Alan Moore, and is an unsettling tale of a boy trapped in an isolated old house, with something in the attack. And a lot of the comics one-off stories had an efficient punch, even if there are a bunch of unfamiliar names in the credits (Which usually means they're more pseudonyms for John Wagner and Alan Grant.)

And while the scripts for most of the Scream stuff were sub-EC horror nonsense, I never actually got to things like Tales From The Crypt until I was a grown adult, and every 'BUT HE WAS THE MONSTER ALL ALONG!' twist was new to me.

 This comic came out thirty years ago now, and I can still remember which corner shops and small supermarkets I got them from, (many of which are still hanging in there). I remember that it was one of the few comics that my Mum liked to read, and it was no problem getting the 55 cents I needed out of her, because she would always read it straight after me. I remember having to properly hunt down number nine and finding it on a trip to Dunedin, and I remember really wondering what editor Ghastly McNasty actually looked like under his hood. (They revealed it after the comic was cancelled. It wasn't that Ghastly.)


And I remember the sinking dread I felt when #16 didn't show up.

 There had been no warning, some stories were in mid-stream, it was just over. It took me a few weeks to realise that Scream had been killed before it had even really got going, and I knew it was all over when a couple of Scream stories were added to the Eagle title that was running at the time.

Even the nine-year-old me knew that's what they always did with dead comics. It was even called Eagle And Scream for a few months, before it was just Eagle again, and even The Thirteenth Floor and Monster were eventually wrapped up.

 Scream did exist in some sort of shambling half-life for a few years, with Scream Holiday Specials coming out every UK summer, but the quality quickly went out the window, and the last one they put out wasn't even called Scream, and that was that.


But that fondness I had for the comic never died, and just last week I bought all 15 issues again, without hesitation. The original 15 comics I bought off the shelves in 1984 had been lost, stolen or just fallen to pieces through overuse, so there was no question about getting them all again.

And they're still clunky, and creepy, and occasionally beautiful. I still love Scream like vampires love blood, (and it is nice to find out I'm not the only one – some other little monster has put all 15 issues up on the web here). My inner nine-year-old is still gutted that there were only 15 issues, but that's still 15 issues of bloody perfection.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Punisher: Don't be like him



The Punisher is a fucking nightmare. A relentless killing machine who has slaughtered thousands of people, and a fanatical gun nut whose mad obsession with revenge goes against everything a decent civilization should aspire to. He's the American dream, gone sour.

Unsurprisingly, there have been a shit-tonne of terrible Punisher comics, ones that try to justify this twisted philosophy, or are too superficial to even consider the possibility. But there have also been some great Punisher comics, and they usually get there by taking one of two paths.

The first is to go over the top and full-on crazy, and embrace the absurdity of this crazy old bastard's unstoppability. Frank Castle works as a total cartoon because anyone who tried to emulate him in real life would last a day and a half before taking a bullet to the face, so turn the dial up to 11 and let him loose. The more outrageous the story gets, the better, and some of the great Punisher comics have been damned outrageous.

The other way to do it is to take it all dead straight, but ensure that the Punisher is totally self-aware, like a character in a Michael Mann film. Those characters often, at first glance, appear to be little more than superficial cliches, but they're all so self-aware of what they are and what they do, they come across as real people.

Sometimes - though not often - Frank Castle sees his reflection in the mirror and recognises himself for what he is. A man whose soul and compassion have been torn away, leaving only the will to continue. A husk of a human being, incapable of feeling or empathy because he has locked it all away. Sometimes, the Punisher sees the long, cold dark night he has made of his life.

He's still not going to change, he's never going to change, his rage burns eternal. But he's not going to lie about the reasons he does what he does, that kind of hypocrisy will only get in the way. He knows what he is and he's not going to stop now.

The latest TV iteration of the character has flirted with both of these aspects to the Punisher. It's gone for the spectacle, while also showing that this is a deeply broken man inside. But it hasn't really embraced any one philosophy, and this kind of ideological cowardice makes for bland storytelling. Shit or get off the pot, show some spine. Tell us who your Frank Castle is - there are extra points if you can come up with a third path to make him a tolerable character.

It's genuinely appalling to see people like law enforcement officers unironically use the Punisher's iconography on their vehicles and uniforms, because they seem to be learning all the wrong lessons from Castle's classroom. He's got so much else to say, if you can hear him over the gunfire.