Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Third World War: Aware of the debt

I didn't learn about the desperate issue of third world debt and the way it cripples the economies of many people around the globe from a newspaper or TV report, I learned all about it from a comic book.

When 2000ad announced in the late eighties that it was trying to get a chunk of the mature readers market with its new Crisis comic, the Third World War strip by Pat Mills and Carlos Ezquerra was a major part of it, and the advertisements made it look like a typical testosterone fest - one image of the strip's adverts featured meathead Gary kicking in a door, and wouldn't have looked out of place in Judge Dredd.

But it soon turned out to be something very different from the usual 2000ad fare - Mills was always a proud social justice advocate, and Third World War saw him get stuck into the incredibly damaging policies of the world's great capitalist powers, and how they took a giant shit over the rest of the world.

It was still science fiction, extrapolating out the worst case scenario, but it was all based on Mills' typically thorough research. A timeline at the start of each story would show how the world got to the state it was in, and seamlessly extrapolated out into Mills' fiction.

Mills' anger at the way these poor people were being treated was right there on the page, and it wasn't hard to share it, and soon had the feeling that somebody should probably be fucking doing something about it. Some people have, and Bob Geldof gave the world another reminder about these crippling debt obligations with his Live8 concerts show, but it still hasn't gone away.

Third World War eventually went far beyond this look at South America, and brought the war back to the homefront. It eventually petered out with the eco-terrorism thrills of Finn in the regular 2000ad, but those first few issues of Crisis taught me more about the dangers of hyper-capitalism than a dozen textbooks.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Matrix: Coming out of nowhere

Even though it was the dank and dark 1990s, there was still an internet and movie sites full of the latest news about all the geekiest shit, but The Matrix really did come out of nowhere.

There was the odd mention in Empire magazine, in their annual preview of the coming movies, but it was just a vague mention that the creators of Bound - a decent enough lesbian noir - were teaming with Keanu Reeves on some sci-fi thing, and that was it, until that first trailer dropped.

Me and my mates were watching the rugby on TV when it came on in an ad break, and we had no fucking idea what we had just seen. We were all primed for Star Wars Episode 1 - the trailer for that had come out months before - but nobody was looking out for this new thing. And then we saw that ad, and it was all we wanted to see.

And it just looked so fucking cool, all that leather and kung fu and gunplay and a premise that looked genuinely intriguing, and wasn't crippled by the unrealistic expectations put on the new Star Wars (the Matrix films would have to deal with that for the inevitable sequels).

There hasn't really been a trailer like that since. There have been ones that were just as stylish and exciting, but we all knew they were coming. Nothing came out of the blue, not like The Matrix did.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Moore humour: Tactical thermonuclear weaponry is a guy's best friend

It's probably because I first came in to Alan Moore's comic work with his quick and witty DR and Quinch, but I have always thought as Moore as a comedic writer first and foremost.

His work always expanded out into seriousness - even in those early days he took on things like Skizz and Halo Jones with a straight face - but it was always the laffs that got me hooked on his stuff, with his mixing of sheer absurdity, clever concepts and killer one-liners enough to make me a fan for life.

I understand how those whose first exposure to his comics were Watchmen, or Swamp Thing, or From Hell don't feel this way, and I can also understand how they can even feel that his wittier comics are lesser works, (which is more a culture problem than a specific Moore problem - films comedies can say some pretty fucking profound things in between the gags, but still get shut out of major awards because they're not self-important enough). But I always thought his comics were some of the funniest I ever read.

This even leeched through to the many and various interviews, and I always found the big proclamations he made to be hugely tongue in cheek and self deprecating more than anything. Sure, he might be insulting everything and anything you believe in, but this was the guy who gave us 'Mind The Oranges, Marlon'.

His comics can be scary and tense, but always done with a wink, right up to the end. I always thought things like the League of Extraordinary comics were hilarious, and self-deprecating, and Moore certainly played it that way a lot of the time. There can be depth hidden in the jokes, and that doesn't mean those jokes can't be funny.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Bolland's Joker: The grin, the chin and the madness

While his Judge Dredd covers will always be the best judge Dredd covers, Brian Bolland was born to draw the Joker. The Killing Joke hasn't held up that well as a story, but art is still perfect, even if they keep messing aorund the gloriously garish colouring. The madness of Bolland's Joker is unsurpassed, just on the right side of caricature, and on the right side of lunacy.

I'll take one Bolland Joker over a dozen standalone movies featuring the character. Any day.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Nobody told us how to pronounce Xavier

One of the side-effects of growing up on comic books in a country and culture that is pretty fucking far from anybody else in the world is that me and my mates were constantly mispronouncing the names of our favourite creators and characters.

We would see their names written down in stark ink on paper, but that didn't give us a clue how to pronounce any of them. The late, great Carlos Ezquerra might have been a favourite artist of all time, but I didn't have a clue how to say his name properly until an ex-Tharg was helpful enough to explain it to me, and me and my best mate Kyle genuinely thought the founder of the X-Men was named Professor Echs-ver for many, many years.

It's a lot easier now, of course, and it's a piece of cake to now find videos and podcasts where real people say real names out loud. The only excuse for mispronouncing names now is laziness, and the fact I can get incredibly tongue-tied when trying to make proper sounds. That's a me problem, and one I'm trying to get better at. Getting someone's name right is the least I can do.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Going back to the Far Side

The reports that the Far Side cartoon might be making a return is fantastic news. It's always been my favourite one-panel cartoon, ever since I got given one of his books for coming first in sixth-form geography in 1991, (the most useful thing to come out of all that time I had to spend in that class).

Part of the reason it struck such a chord was because Gary Larson has just a fucking bizarre sense of humour. His gags were always full of weird puns, animals being very un-animal, and in-jokes about song titles that I never really got. In fact, there were a lot of his cartoons that sailed way over my head, but the cartooning was always so goofy, I never really minded.

(I have no goddamn idea why the cartoon up above is so funny, but it's easily one of my top five Far Side cartoons. I think it's the 'howdy, howdy, howdy'.)

But the best thing about them was the focus on idiots, from all walks of life. There were powerful idiots, and rich idiots, and idiots in cars, and idiot scientists, and idiot animals, and idiot cavemen and there is always laughs in absolute stupidity. Especially because, crucially, there were never really that mean or nasty. The idiots were all pretty harmless, and there was a zen-like attitude to the morons, blissfully going around their ineptitude with absolute ignorance.

It's a lot harder than it looks, making fun of stupid without being mean about it, but Larson always made it look easy, and I look forward to any trip back to that side of things.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Breaking Bad: Not enough self loathing

Breaking Bad has been topping a lot of recent lists for the best TV of the decade, and while I wouldn't agree with that (Twin Peaks, all the way), a recent rewatch confirmed that it's still fucking good, full of incredible tension and sun-baked madness.

But Walt is a terrible person, and despite a monumental performance from Bryan Cranston, he's still an arrogant shitheel who gets a lot of people killed because of his stupid pride.

Apart from the kicker at the end of the fly episode, when he says how it's all contaminated, Walt never really confronts his own awfulness - convincing himself that he's doing it all for her family - until the final episode, when he finally tells Skylar that he did it for himself. He did it because he was really good at it and he made him feel alive, and it's one of the strongest moments in the series, and the real climax of the whole thing (blasting away the neo-Nazis can't compare to that kind of emotional release).

Modern TV is full of difficult men like Walt, but he was never really self-aware enough to really transcend his own story. He was never a Don Draper - the secret of Mad Men is that no matter how much you hate Don Draper for the terrible things he does, it's nothing compared to how much he loathes himself - Walt was just another arrogant middle-aged white guy.

His ability to get out of deadly dilemmas through lateral thinking and Cranston's portrayal of his various desperation made him a terrific character, but that lack of self loathing prevented him from being a truly great one.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Hitmen are not the threat I thought they would be

It's become an often-repeated joke that we all thought that quicksand would be a much bigger deal in our lives, considering how much it was sucking down characters in the various adventure stories we all grew up on, but I'm also just a little surprised by how much I don't need to worry about hitmen.

I've probably watched or read a couple of hundred stories about hitmen, usually ultra-cool motherfuckers in sharp sunglasses and suits, dealing out death with utter ruthlessness and the barest hint of a smirk. There are series where there are entire underground societies of assassins, with a black economy dealing in the lives of their targets, and strict rules of honour that must never be broken.

And I do love a lot of these stories - the John Wick films are terrific and the mythos they build up around Keanu Reeves' killer of killers is batshit insane enough to be worthwhile; John Woo's movies of intense comradeship were an obvious obsession at an obvious time in my life; and there is still a part of me that is convinced that Hitman is the best thing Garth Ennis will ever write.

But it's all fantasy. Real life hitmen are usually grubby little shits, grey little men who carry out violent deeds for violent bosses, and live a life nobody wants to emulate. Or they're just useless, and keep subcontracting out a job until the final man at the end of the chain tries to fake the whole thing.

Hitmen are dumb murderers, and there are people that kill others for money, but I don't think they're as ubiquitous as all those Chow Yun-fat movies said they were. Thank goodness.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

A Youngblood in every book

I could never throw out my trading cards, even if I never really completed many sets, and they have a second life when I use them as bookmarks in the various things I read. Unfortunately, it also means they gradually disappear, left in books I take back to the library, or in books I sell or give away. They usually only last a few reads before disappearing forever.

That's okay, I've got thousands of the little fuckers, so it's no great loss, although there is some regret in losing some that have original art on them. And some of them defy the odds, and stick around, and are used for years.

I have no memory of ever buying a pack of Youngblood trading cards, but I must've picked one up for cheap years ago, back in the early nineties. They were cheaply produced, using Rob Liefeld art from his various shitty comics and the barest of production values.

And I've been using that one shown up above as a bookmark for years now, and it's still around. Somebody saw me using it the other day, and asked who it was, and I have no earthly idea. Some dickhead in a helmet.

But it's a card I use on a constant basis, and I'd genuinely hate to lose it. It almost went back to the library, buried in the pages of the eighth Lone Wolf and Cub omnibus, the other day, and I only saved it at the last minute. It's not a great piece of art or design, but it's a stellar bookmark. It does the job.