Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Empire holds the line

I do like giving Empire magazine a lot of shit, mainly because of the unwarranted entitlement I've built up after buying it every month since 1993, and it's personally cutting when it's a bit disappointing. But it also means I have to give it proper respect when it delivers the goods, and the past few months have been fucking great.

I was 100% behind the actors and writers in their recent strike against the Hollywood system, because the Hollywood system is completely fucked, and the people who actually create the good stuff deserve far more the rewards. But you can already feel the brakes going hard on the flow of movie and TV product, and we haven't already felt the full effects of that yet.

And yet, without the massive influx of cinematic content, Empire has filled its pages with quality - highlighting a lot of films that are pretty fucking far from blockbusters, along with some some fascinating slices of movie history. Retrospectives on some deadset classics, and full articles on some of the weird shit behind the scenes of history, like the dude who did the electronics for Universal horrors, or Jimmy the fucking Raven.

Excellent stuff, even if the Marvel love still grates a bit. Might keep getting it for another 30 years.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Bob's book club: Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

* Spoilers for the ending of Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

My regular one person book club is still a thing, and the novels I grab at random at the start of each month are still pretty fucking rewarding. 

I got the usual temporal kicks from This Is How You Win The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, only to discover two days after I finished it that everybody else in the world had already read it; I really enjoyed the use of character perspectives in Rumaan Alam's Leave The World Behind; and thought the delicate structure and very Australian humour of Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson was outstanding.

In my relentless bid to find things outside my usual comfort zone, I've also found myself following weird trends, and have been reading multiple books about women going through emotional dilemmas that have strange elements of supernatural shapeshifting. I got Bunny by Mona Awad because it looked like a Heathers-type thing, and then became something else entirely and tapped into some very modern themes of alienation and creating artifical personalities and people, while also having a couple of cracking twists.

But my favourite random novel of the past six months is easily Rachel Yoder's Nightbitch, which I thought was tremendous.

It's an outrageously funny book - the part with the squirrel chase is the funniest thing I've read in a long time - and it might be about a woman who is turning into a dog, or might just be going howlingly mad, and it really doesn't matter, because she's growing weird hairs and digging up rotting rabbits in the back garden either way.

But the thing I appreciated most is that the main character's journey into doggydom feels like it is going to end with an admonishment, or some kind of punishment or humiliation for the main character, and it just doesn't do that at all. I've become so used to books making moral stands, no matter how oblique, and to get one that says that this all this weird shit is fine, and it all works out for the best, is actually refreshing.

Maybe I'm just a sucker for a happy ending.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Always wanted the Treasury

I used to ache for the Treasury comics, those gorgeously huge comic books that the big comic companies put out in the 1970s. I only ever saw them in ads, because these special editions never, ever made it to my corner of the globe. All we got was those gorgeous promos.

The ones promising big crossovers between Spider-Man and Superman were the ones I craved the most, and I've still never see an affordable copy out in the wild. I did get to read the Batman/Hulk one, but only in a smaller, black and white version that a local reprint company churned out (José Luis García-López's art was still absolutely dynamic in this weakened form, and his Bats will always be the definitive version in my mind.)

Over the years, I've managed to pick up issues here and there, some Legion of Super-Heroes, and some Avengers and Dr Strange things. My pal Nik recently gave me the Fortress of Solitude one, with Superman's hideout never looking better, and I got the Captain America Bicentennial Battles one in Sydney for 10 bucks, and sometimes I think that's the only Treasury I ever really need.

Only sometimes, though. I would still do anything for one of those team-ups, or the Superman/Muhammad Ali spectacular, or Kirby's 2001, without paying upwards of a hundred bucks for the thing. And even at those prices, it's so fucking tempting.

Because man, that ache ate away for so long, for so many years, that it's still hard to fill now. I've always envied my American brothers and sisters who could just grab it off the shelf, or just order this shit with five bucks and a SASE if it never appeared at their 7-11. Local reprints were as good as it got, and none of them were ever as gigantic as these treasured things. 

I still feel an echo of those childhood cravings when I see there is another one of those chunky Artist Editions, with some of the greatest comic art ever produced showcased in beautiful oversized editions. I can even order them myself myself these days, and have been severely tempted by some of the Bolland or O'Neill or McMahon books that have come out.

But the tyranny of distance always holds me back, because even if I could justify the $200+ in local money the actual book costs, I can't do that half again in postage it wil lcost to ship it to the arse end of the world.

Maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better, but maybe that's a good thing. When you can't always get what you want, you can learn to love the absence, and that enthusiasm for something you will probably never own. Without the thing itself, the thrill can still be found.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Walt Simonson's Star Wars (part 1 of 2)

While most Star Wars comics don't usually do a lot for me, there have still been some phenomenal comic book artists working on the saga every now and then, from the eternal Al Williamson to the always wonderful Cam Kennedy.

But there's a part of me that always thinks the Walt Simonson and Tom Palmer art team on the Marvel comic in the early 80s is the best of all Star Wars comics. There's only a dozen or so issues, but each one kicks off with a blinder of a splash page, featuring some spacecraft blasting through the void, or some character wrestling with a huge dilemma, and even after all the Star Wars saturation of recent years, I'm always happy to highlight some of my favourites from that galaxy far, far away....

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Twister when you're naked

I watched Twister the other night, and while I saw it a million times back in the day, I hadn't watched it in years now. And it holds up pretty well - the first shot in the present day is some excruciatingly bad CGI of a satellite in space, but the actual tornado effects still look pretty good. Plus, it's got a blinder of a cast - it might be the first thing I ever saw Philip Seymour Hoffman in, and Paxton should have been given more Cary Grant roles.

And I can buy the way our heroes survive the final storm, even if there is really no chance they could actually survive it in real life, no matter how deep those pipes go. But what I really want to know is how they go through that and remain fully clothed by the end - people caught in actual storms are always having their clothes torn from their bodies from their nature, but their mid-90s khakis are barely ripped.

I know it's because a big, fun family blockbuster of the 90s, but the film really would have been improve if it ended with Paxton and Helen Hunt in the nude, surrounded by the debris of the storm

I just got to know where they get their trouser belts.....

Friday, November 24, 2023

The Twin Peaks variety hour

There's been a lot written about Twin Peaks The Return in the past half decade, because there is a lot to write about - what all that Judy stuff means; what does evil Cooper really want; and where the hell is Audrey anyway? 

But one thing that is often overlooked is that all through the series, Lynch is devoted to delivering a solid hour of entertainment, because there is always a kick ass musical segment, played out in full.

The use of music throughout the show is some of Lynch's best - the Otis Redding song playing as Ed and Norma is an all-time great needle drop - but the performances at the Roadhouse are consistently amazing, with trusted performances by undisputed greats like the Nine Inch Nails and Sharon Van Etten, and loads of great synth pop from the Chromatics and Au Revoir Simone. 

Even James, still doing his pissy little love song after all these years, brings something to the table.

The world could always use more dramas that peel open the heart of the human condition and holler into the vast existential they find below, but that doesn't mean you can't also have a good time on the dance floor.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Doctor Who: Still the best television show ever

The absolute best television show in the entire history of humanity turns 60 today, and I honestly can't wait to see what Russell T Davies comes up with next, but I'm here for the ride.

I once came up with three reasons why Doctor Who is the greatest fiction in the history of everything. But that was too easy, and didn’t cover all the little things that I love about the show – the weird jokes and tiny inflections – and also didn’t deal with the big, epic moments of life, and death, and cups of tea.

So here are 101 more reasons why Doctor Who is the greatest fiction in the history of everything:

1. That thudding, pumping and otherworldly theme music. It’s not just a fantastic tune, it’s a beautiful metaphor for the whole damn thing.

2. The no-space in The Mind Robber and Warriors’ Gate.

3. All of the Doctor’s mates flying the TARDIS together and towing the Earth back to its proper place in the universe at the climax of Journey’s End.

4. The show’s charmingly desperate need for cliff-hangers, which often saw individual episodes end on nonsensical notes. There might be fewer multi-part stories now, but it’s a tradition that has been proudly carried on to the new series.

5. The Special Weapons Dalek, and the way the other Daleks look at it as an abomination.

6. The Ninth Doctor takes Blon Fel Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen out for dinner in Cardiff.

7. The unnecessarily long pan across the dead beach at the start of The Leisure Hive.

8. Zoe Herriot in that spangly catsuit.

9. Zoe’s brains, especially on the occasions when she was actually smarter than the Doctor, and that was even sexier than the catsuit.

10. Ace’s bombs.

11. The moment when you discover what the object is that is getting everybody so hot and bothered in Lawrence Miles Alien Bodies, and the fact that it’s just one of dozens of times when everything about Doctor Who changes forever.

12. The thrill of the montage of all the Doctors at the climax of The Eleventh Hour, and the way the new ‘un walks right through them, straight into the role.

13. The mystery faces of the Doctor that appear during the mind duel of The Brain Of Morbius, and the fact that every serious Who fan has their own serious ideas about what it all means.

14. Nicholas Courtney sneaking into the background of Silver Nemesis.

15. The nudge-nudge, wink-wink cut to black right in the middle of Vengeance on Varos.

16. The fact that it wasn’t the Eighth Doctor that fought in the Time War.
17. “You've touched so many lives, saved so many people. Did you think when your time came you'd really have to do more than just ask?”

18. The whole last ten minutes of The Doctor Dances, but most especially the part where the Doctor gets one good day, and everybody lives. I always hoped Doctor Who would be good when it came back on telly, but I never really expected it to be genuinely great.

19. Bill Nighy’s speech about the ecstatic beauty of Vincent Van Gogh’s art.

20. The way the Third Doctor’s frilly sleeves would flail about when he was laying some kung fu from outer space on some pitiable fool.

21. The bit with the wires in Genesis of the Daleks.

22. The idea that the entire Time War, and all the devastation and death that came from it, all started with that bit with the wires in Genesis of the Daleks.

23.  Romana and the Doctor, punting away in an episode that will never be finished.

24. Ian Chesterton’s tie.

25. Jo Grant’s hair.

26. Peri’s bald cap.

27. Those gross, gross, gross giant maggots in The Green Death.

28. The beautiful structure of the plot of the Dalek Invasion Of Earth. Everything I ever need to know about plotting, I learned from that novelization.

29. The use of ELO in Love and Monsters. And I frigging hate ELO.

30. The Masque of Mandragora. Just that story title. I really like it a lot. I think it’s terrific.

31. The Fugitive Doctor's TARDIS in the ground
32. The suckers on the Zygons.

33. The brains with eyestalks in The Keys of Marinus.

34. That one time Ice Warriors weren’t total dickheads.

35. Abslom Daak, DALEK KILLER!

36. The use of a cricket ball to propel the Doctor through space in Four To Doomsday.

37. The slightly unexpected death of The Third Doctor in Interference.

38. The moment in The Parting Of The Ways when the Ninth Doctor’s hologram is talking around Rose, and then he looks right at her.

39. The massive data dump that occurred when I learned the answer to every single question in the Second Doctor Who Quiz Book from Target, in some mad attempt in 1984 to win a competition for every single Target book published, and I never heard anything about that competition, although I did get a Target badge in the mail, which was just confusing.

40. The First Doctor’s absolute and invincible stubbornness.

41. The Valeyard, and all he promises/threatens.

42. “Oh my God, I’m the tin dog.”

43. The endless running around in Paris in City of Death.

44. The moments where the voices in Midnight go from past to present to future.

45. The fake Sarah Jane’s face falling off in The Android Invasion.

46. The cracking “chap with Wings” in-joke in Paul Cornell’s No Future.

47. Those funky high collars the Time Lords use for their formal duties.

48. "No sir, all 13!"

49. The bit at the start of the Chase where the Doctor and Barbara sunbathe. While fully clothed.

50. Everything about the Time Crash mini-episode, but especially when 10 stops everything to gush about 5.

51. The cup of tea in the Doctor’s hand in the cover scene of The Also People, as he has a natter with some sentiment battle spaceships which have enough firepower to put a hole in the galaxy and are all very, very pissed off.

52. The Doctor’s explanation for how the TARDIS manages to be bigger on the inside at the start of Robots of Death, and Leela’s quite-right statement that it all sounds a bit silly.

53. The tiny, epic conversation between Unstoffe and Binro about the state of the universe in The Ribos Operation, and the look on Binro’s face when he is told he is right about other worlds.

54. The face of the Doctor in the opening credits

55. Vicki’s formal gown in The Crusades.

56. Sarah Jane’s Andy-Pandy outfit in The Hand Of Fear.

57. Tegan’s accent.

58. The ridiculous miming when Donna sees the Doctor again at the Adipose Industries headquarters, and that terrific punchline.

59. "One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.”

60. Sacha Dhawan's Master hiding behind the facade of another IT nerd, and me falling for it yet again.

61. The fact that I’m still not that sure what actually is going on in Ghost Light.
62. The cup of tea that sparks the Tenth Doctor into full action in his first adventure.

63. The Fourth Doctor knocking over the wine goblet in contempt in Warrior’s Gate.

64. The sad fate of Dodo in nineties novels. Soon after reading Man In The Velvet Mask and Who Killed Kennedy, in which she catches a terrible disease and is ruthlessly murdered, I had a vivid dream about the character, which was the saddest goddamn dream I’ve ever had in my life.
65. “There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.”

66. The slow journey through the long decades in Father Time.

67. The weird anti-twist involving the spaceship in Invasion of the Dinosaurs.

68. Any time the Daleks or Cybermen would appear in front of some grand London landmark.

69. The John Simm Master, tapping out the sound of drums on the table in Downing Street, after he’s just murdered everybody else in the room.

70. Derek Jacobi’s switch between the lovely and compassionate Professor Yana and the malevolent and immortal Master.

71. The low chuckle that always announced the totally surprising appearance of Anthony Ainley’s Master.

72. The Roger Delgado Master watching Clangers on a prison television set.

73. The daily singalong between all the souls trapped on New New York’s motorways in Gridlock.

74. The ninth Doctor’s genuine fear at seeing a lone Dalek had survived.

75. The Thirteenth Doctor's braces.

76. The fact that the Doctors rarely get along with each other when they do their big anniversary team-ups.

77. The Eighth Doctor’s perfect shoes.
78. The Ballad Of The Last Chance Saloon. Hardcore Who people often hate any attempt to bring the taste of the musical into their beloved science fiction, but I always dig it.

79. For that matter, I liked  the singing in The Rings of Akhaten, too.

80. The fact that it only took them one episode to realise that Kamelion was a really, really bad idea.

81. The Controller standing up to his tyrannical masters in Day Of The Daleks.

82. Capaldi's 'Hello sweetie'

83. The bit in one of the New Adventures where Benny orders a pint of vodka.

84. The cactus Doctor in Meglos. Rubbish story – fantastic visual.

85. Romana’s desperate, clawing attempts to stop the Movellan bomb going off on Skaro.

86. “Your leader will be angry if you kill me – I’m a genius!”

87. MC Escher’s mad perspectives invade Doctor Who in Castrovalva.

88. Brian’s diligent study of an inert black box in The Power of Three.

89. Any time the Doctor takes an older person along as a companion – sometimes Wilf and Evelyn are my favourite companions ever.

90. The bit in Transit where the Doctor comes barrelling out of an interplanetary travel tube system, and maintains his footing.

91. The trippy matter transportation in The Daleks’ Master Plan.

92. Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart standing up against ultimate evil at the end of Battlefield, without ruffling a hair.

93. The convention-favourite story about the eye patches.

94. The trip to the wrong 1980 in Pyramids of Mars.

95. The skull door appearing in Nyssa’s room in Terminus.

96. The part in ..Ish where the Doctor and Peri forget the name of the TARDIS.

97. The fight between Salamander and the Doctor aboard the TARDIS, and the sheer joy of actually seeing it for the first time.

98. The bit with the cat in The Dying Days.

99. Adric’s death. Most Doctor Who fans are rightfully glad to see the back of the annoying little twerp, but he died when I was eight-years-old, and I was bloody shattered.

100. “Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere the tea’s getting cold.”

101. The TARDIS.

* First published on the Tearoom in November 2013. The list has been updated with a few new favourites. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Welcome to the House of Pain

Somehow, I only just found out that the Otago Highlanders Super Rugby team down in Dunedin put out a cassette tape of their 'Highlanders Song', and blatantly used a Simon Bisley picture of Slaine to sell it. This was back in the 90s and I was living down there at the time, and I still somehow missed it.

Fucking hell, Slaine isn't even fucking Scottish.

Anyway, here's their song, and it's absolutely awful. Slaine would have their heads for it, and wouldn't think them too many:

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Blue Book: Giving the unexplained room to breathe

I've been devouring books about real life encounters of the unexplained since before I could read. I would get freaked out by the pictures of ghosts in the back seat of the car, and the remains left behind after spontaneous human combustions; and was intimately familiar with stories of people bouncing up against something metaphysical and weird.

So I've heard the stories of the great UFO encounters many times before, including the case of Betty and Barney Hill, but the recent Blue Book comics by Michael Avon Oeming and James Tynion IV still managed to find a new way to tell the story of what happened to those people on the dark roads of New Hampshire in 1961.

I only got the book out from the library for the Oeming, and didn't realise it was a non-fiction thing. It looked like another 'hey, here's an idea for a movie!' collections that flood the comic book scene, but its re-telling of an actual event was way more interesting than that.

Comics are the best medium for this kind of story - see the humongous artistic success of The Big Books Of... series that DC put out in the 90s - and their weird mesh of fact, fiction and mad ravings is ideal for the form.

All the details of the Hills' case have been told and retold over and over again, but the focus on that across a complete collection gives the mystery more room to breathe. 

With Oeming's typically atmospheric art, there is a real sense of dread and weirdness. But there is also more of a connection to the people who went through these strange experiences, of a kind not found in all the textbooks that ruthlessly examine their testimonies and evidence.

Something happened to those people on that long drive home, even if it was all taking place inside their heads, and Blue Book makes than more than victims of supernatural happenstance, but real people in a very strange situation.