Tuesday, June 25, 2019
I used to dream I could fly, like Superman or Zenith, and could soar over the clouds. Sometimes I had real trouble just hovering a few feet off the ground, and sometimes I'd take high to the sky.
I don't really dream of that anymore, but I do often have dreams where I'm Speedball, falling down to earth, and then bouncing off the ground like a hyper-rubber ball, leaping off tall shit and rebounding around city streets, ricocheting through the urban landscape.
I don't know what my brain is trying to tell me here - Freud thought flying was a metaphor for sex, but he thought everything was a metaphor for sex, so bouncing probably means I need to masturbate more often or something.
It's fucking fun, whatever it means. Speedball had the best power.
Monday, June 24, 2019
I made a few hundred bucks by offloading some generally average comic books at a market day over the weekend, and then totally undid all my good work by buying a bloody big box of Groo comics.
They were stunningly cheap, and included issues going back to the earliest Pacific days. but the lovely wife rightfully pointed out that I'd completely missed the point of going to this thing to get rid of some comics. I had to activate the Sergio Clause - of course I was going there to thin out the collection and make some room in our rapidly shrinking house-space, and of course I wasn't going to add to the pile, unless there were a bunch of Sergio Aragones comics, because everyone needs more Sergio Aragones comics in their life.
Luckily, my pal Nik was there and was able to confirm that the Sergio Clause is a real thing, so I think I got away with it this time.
Sunday, June 23, 2019
Saturday, June 22, 2019
Friday, June 21, 2019
I used to think Shayne Carter was the coolest motherfucker alive when I saw him around in Dunedin in the mid-90s, scowling into a southerly wind on George Street, blasting his guitar in solo gigs at the Empire, or bitching with Roy at Records Records. I had just left home and never had the guts to go up and tell him how much I loved the Straitjacket Fits, but he looked like he had it going on.
I've been reading his new biography about his relationship with music, the people it has brought him into contact with and the places he's traveled to for performances, and it's fucking excellent. Carter's sly wit is everywhere, and it's constantly laugh-out-loud funny, from his recollections of getting into drunken feuds with other musicians to the brilliant revelation of what his favourite record was when he was 10.
But he has also shown that so much of that cool aloofness was a defensive front, and he was just as much a mess as any of us, especially after the tragic death of his best mate in a dumb train accident. Even as he's out there trying to conquer the world with his shredding guitar licks, he's miserable and worried that everything he does is not worth the effort.
I can't speak for how he feels about his work, but Carter has created some incandescently great music with the Fits and the Doublehappys and Dimmer, and he's left behind a legacy in NZ music that is unmatched. To find out that he's just as screwed up as anybody else doesn't tarnish that at all, it makes his riffs soar even higher, to know he's finding his own way out of that misery.
I just wish I had bothered to tell him how much his work meant to me all those years ago. He might just have sneered at me, but the coolest of us could still always use a kind word or two.
Thursday, June 20, 2019
Mainstream superheroes are trapped in never-ending cycles of reboot and rebirth, so there is always something appealing about an actual ending, when somebody tries to put their last word on a character, especially if they've been working on them for a while. The desire for a full stop - the last, definitive story, an epilogue to all that has come before - is strong, even as the next issue of Batman comes out next month.
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have created a butt-tonne of Batman comics in the past few years, and have said just about all they have to say with the character, but they're getting in one last shot with the current Last Knight On Earth story.
And after one issue, they've already nailed one of the best things about this type of story, and are throwing everything into the mix. There are goofy puns, super-science and existential dread. The story starts on the mean streets of Gotham, gets in some classic Batman-in-the-asylum stuff, has Alfred making one last plea and a Joker in a bowl, before Bats even gets his suit on and heads out into a dark, dusty future.
It's not really doing anything new, but is happily divorced from the main continuity, which has become so polluted. And it's as gorgeous as anything else Capullo has done with the character, which sparkles beneath the neon colors that have worked so well on his Bat-comics ,giving life to the end of the world.
And, best of all, it has nothing to lose, and anything could happen from here. There have been dozens of 'proper endings' to the Batman saga, but there is always room for one more.
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
When I'm drifting off to sleep at night, I always think about the stories I would like to tell one day, and the way I'd tell them, and how I'd always be trying to capture something honest and exciting.
And the image that always, always pops up in my head, for no goddamn reason I can ever figure, is Big Arnold grabbing Jamie Lee Curtis' hand as the limo she's in goes off the bridge at high speed in True Lies.
It's like that's all I ever want to see, ever.
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
There were 24 minutes of advertisements before a movie at my local cinema recently. The film was close to three hours long, and adding nearly half an hour was a bit fucking much.
It's particularly galling when it costs so damn much to go the movies in the first place - it's becoming a real luxury - and you're such a captive audience that you can't get away. You can skip past the endless Grammerly ads on Youtube, or go and make a cup of tea while broadcast TV tries to sell you shit, but in the cinema, you're stuck in your seat and just have to put up with it.
At the very least, they could have cut out the two ads telling me to buy really fast cars, and then they wouldn't have had to have the two road safety ads telling me to slow down. They all cancelled each other out, so what's the fucking point?
Monday, June 17, 2019
As uncool as it always sounds, Vertigo comics really did change everything for me. I was 17 when they launched and absolute primed for stylish, pretentious and fucking weird comics, and Vertigo certainly provided all of that, and more.
I was getting at least one Vertigo comic every month for the first 10 years of the imprint, although I've only bought the odd one-shot for years now. They've still been putting out a lot of quality comics, but few of them really appeal that much to me, probably because I haven't been 17 in a long, long time now.
There have been many attempts to give the line a push, and I always hoped more of their comics would catch on, although they never really did. The entire imprint never really got over its Sandman fetish, and while it had plenty of big hits like Preacher and 100 Bullets and Fables and Y The Last Man to keep things ticking over, Sandman always hung over it and there have been countless attempts to recapture that magic, including one in the past year.
Now there is a lot of chatter that Vertigo may soon be shut down by its corporate overlords, who only see the bottom line, and can't understand why they don't own so many of the properties they publish. It would be sad to see it go, not just because of my own personal history down Vertigo way, but for all those other stylish, pretentious and fucking weird 17-year-olds, who might need stories that make them feel less alone in this cold, cruel world. It always worked for me.
Sunday, June 16, 2019
Most comic readers have favourite writers and artists, and follow them from title to title, because they know seeing a certain creator involved is a guarantee of certain quality.
Most people don't follow inkers as much. There has always some fine embellishers in the industry - including Wally Wood, who brought polish; Terry Austin, who bought shine; and Kyle Baker, who made everybody look like Kyle Baker (which a very good thing).
But in the 1990s there was another inker whose name was always worth following, and that was the great Dick Giordano. It wasn't because of his actual artwork, which was always super solid and reliable, but because the man had definite taste, and if he thought a comic was worth inking, it was worth reading.
Dick G was a company man to the end, and an editor who had a profound impact on mainstream comics. But he always kept one hand on his brush, and he would frequently pop up as the inker on various Batman projects, or on James Robin's Starman book, or inking up Steve Yeowell's work on The Invisibles.
None of these assignments had much in common, other than they were published by DC, but seeing Giornado's name meant it was usually worthwhile, because he thought it was worthwhile. He passed away in 2010, but I'll always trust his taste.
Saturday, June 15, 2019
There's a terrific bit in last year's Friedkin Uncut documentary, where the legendary director is talking about a scene he shot in The French Connection, and how somebody pointed out that the camera crew had accidentally been caught in the reflection of a car window, and that he was told they might have to shoot it again in some way that would avoid that reflection, and Billy Friedkin - who knows a thing or two about movies - said there was no need to redo it, because anybody who got hung up on how the faintest of reflections shattered their suspension of disbelief were not fully engaging with his movie, so who gives a shit about that?
If he tried to pull that today, Billy would undoubtedly be slammed as "lazy" and "incompetent", but he's still 100% right. If your enjoyment of the French Connection - including one of the objectively greatest car chases ever - is destroyed by a reflection, you're not really watching his movie, and he doesn't need to cater to you.
Friday, June 14, 2019
Thursday, June 13, 2019
Henry was always so square and decent, even when he played the most dastardly of villains, Peter looked like the kind of hippy that got into investment banking in the 1980s and now spends all day talking about how bad a capital gains tax is, and Jane never really focused all that wild energy.
Bridget was the best of them. She was genuinely luminous on screen, and drifted through movies like it was the easiest thing in the world. She had all the best attributes of the rest of her famous clan, but was sleeker, with a sharper edge - when she burned somebody with a harsh word, you could feel the heat.
She ruled the 90s, and hasn't made a film since 2002. You gotta respect that.
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
The wife and I had the incredible good fortune to see Sharon Van Etten play with her full band last week, and she was fucking transcendent. Most of the songs were from her most recent album, which added acres of synth to her gloriously sparse sound, and that was fine by us, especially when she would lift them to new heights with a committed vocal performance on stage.
She also had most excellent trousers.
Tuesday, June 11, 2019
There is something in us that craves closure, in both our lives and fictions. We know we never really get it, that it's a lie we tell ourselves so that we can start over again, and that real life is far too complex for that kind of triviality. We are all informed and shaped by our past, and putting nice big full stops on it isn't fooling anybody.
The Deadwood television series famously lacked any sense of closure, no matter how apt it was that the series ended with Al on his knees, cleaning up the blood of an innocent, and sneering at the idea of telling someone 'something pretty'. There was unfinished business, especially with the most public of promises that further movies were coming. Nobody thought it would take 13 years, but they got there in the end.
The new movie leaves plenty of plot threads dangling - it's unlikely the Leviathan Hearst will take the latest indignities without some form of murderous rebuke, and his kind ultimately win, with the capitalistic giants of the 20th century following in his footsteps. Deadwood was always the most optimistic series about the American Dream, showing how a bunch of freaks and malcontents create a civilization out of the mud and blood, but the tyrants who will rob them blind are also being born in their midst.
But there is some sense of closure, with old scores settled and grievances aired, and positions of love and loyalty made clear.
Hearst is rejected by the community he always felt above, stamped into the road by a mob led by Jane and the eternal Garret Dillahunt. (It is always an absolute pleasure to see that many, many people looked like Dillahunt in the old west, and they all had their own tragic backstories and destines). Seth is tempted to return to old ways, but stands with his family, as is right and proper, and Sol and Trixie get their own happy ending, and new starts. Even Jane and Joanie prop up each other enough for final declarations of support, and General Samuel Fields meets his maker with dignity and wisdom. And Al Swearengen, in a majestic and epic performance by McShane, gets in a last line that is even more graceful and cutting than the last time.
It was overwhelming to watch Deadwood again after all these years, to drop into that world. And while total closure can be an impossible dream, it is more than enough to visit with old friends again, and see how they are faring.The years have not been kind for some, and others are holding up surprisingly well. That's more than we can ever hope for.
Monday, June 10, 2019
It's very hard to ever really recommend James Ellroy books to anybody - they're full of the most reprehensible characters, doing the most awful things imaginable. Mass murder, racist killings, blackmail and general nastiness on an industrial scale, performed by people who never sleep and get by on massive amounts of Benzedrine and self-loathing.
This Storm, his new book, is no exception, and while that weird after-taste of Blood's A Rover crazy last act still lingers, this is vintage Ellroy. A few pages in and Doctor Hideo Ashida - a Japanese-American in LA around the days of Pearl Harbour, surviving on a delicate balance of extreme competence, good connections and absolute intensity - is performing field autopsies on more than a dozen of his countrymen on the beach where they were recently murdered and dumped, shutting up the local cracker cops when he splits open skulls to dig out the bullets without hesitation or fear.
And Dr Ashida's journey is just one of many in this sprawling text, bashing up against an amazing, charming and unobtainable redhead who starts the book by accidentally killing two kids, and the devil himself, Sergeant Dudley Smith, part of a huge cast of characters that range from low-lifes to real scumbags.
I still can't recommend this to anybody I know - the style and substance of Ellroy's books is always going to rub most people the wrong way - but this intensity of vision and execution can be addictive. I certainly always get my fix.
Sunday, June 9, 2019
I was at an independent comic artist convention last weekend, and it was fucking amazing - I walked around like a slack-jawed idiot, awed by the quality of the artwork being produced in this country. There were dozens of artists and the standard was sky high, there were so many beautiful mini-comics and prints and posters and clothing and figurines. And most of it was of absolutely no interest to me, with way too many pastel unicorns and wide-eyed elves on magical quests.
Which is bloody fantastic, as far as I'm concerned. As a forty-something year old white dude, there is too much art that feels like it is being made just for me, and all that stuff I'm not interested in brings some real diversity and colour to the comics medium and industry, which is badly needed and greatly appreciated. Bring it all on, and the stuff the kids like absolutely should be completely baffling to me, because it's theirs, not mine.
That's how I feel with modern Spider-Man comics. I haven't bought a regular issue of Spider-Man since the 20th century, and while I still roughly follow his adventures through the collections at the local library, and watch the movies, we swung our separate way a long time ago.
That's okay. The best Spider-Man is the Spider-Man who existed when you are 9-years-old, and that's a long time ago for me. While a character like Batman is eternal, I got off the tired wheel of Spidey's endless 'power and responsibility' trip a long time ago, and leave him for the kids who still adore his wisecracks and the way he hurtles through the New York sky.
Spider-Man was there for me when I needed him, but he there is for somebody else now. I just got to get out of the way and let everybody else have their fun.
Saturday, June 8, 2019
The last Spider-Man comic I ever regularly bought wasn't even a real American one. It was a British reprint comic in the mid-90s, and it was enormously satisfying and value for money.
The Spidey adventures had been split between several different titles for years, and it was impossible to keep track of them all when I never lived anywhere near a comic shop. I'd spent years getting a third of storylines, and making do with that.
But The Exploits of Spider-Man reprinted recent Amazing, Spectacular and Web comics, while also fitting in some more Ditko, Spider-Man 2099 and... well... Motormouth. Not every one can be a winner.
Each issue was dense with Spidey action, with the art splashed across a larger magazine size, while keeping the colouring that so many other similar reprints lacked. Each issue offered up dozens and dozens of pages of spider-action, and I could actually follow storylines as they were intended to be read, instead of piecemeal over years. And there was a free poster in every issue, at one stage featuring classic Marvel covers that hung on my walls for years after I stopped getting the comic.
Spider-Man is always better in huge chunks of comics. Even with the Motormouth.
Friday, June 7, 2019
There was a moment there, just before Todd McFarlane came in and took things in wriggly new directions, when the Spider-Man comics got a bit weird and creepy and smelly.
With DC getting a lot of mileage by piling complexity onto Batman, Marvel made a few stabs at the idea in the late 1980s, with a couple of moody graphic novels, and storylines in the main comic book that were a radical departure from the straightforward superheroics of the past decade.
It wasn't just the Kraven's Last Hunt storyline, which was dripping in dank atmosphere and existential tension, it was things like the slow drugged nightmare of Ann Nocenti's Life In The Mad Dog Ward, with ethereal art by Cindy Martin.
These comics ran in the regular Amazing Spider-Man, and were probably a bit too upsetting for the traditional Spidey fan. McFarlane's art was just a couple of months away, and would be more to the kids' liking.
You can still do just about any kind of story with Spider-Man, and many have over the years. There have been comics like Tangled Webs, which gave creators such as Rucka, Risso, Cooke, Bone, McKeever and Mahfood free reign. Kaare Andrews made good ol' Pete Parker a sour cancer-machine in one comic, while Bagge took Peter all the way down Objectivism Street.
But these are always special projects now, usually outside the main continuity. For a while there, the future of the character was really looking at how fucking creepy a man with spider powers could be, but he always goes back to swinging in the light.
Thursday, June 6, 2019
Years and years after Bendis slotted him into the Avengers, I still don't buy Spider-Man as a member of the team. He's always there to help out - he was the one who cracked the the soul gem and released Adam Warlock to sentence Thanos to his first un-life during one of the great Avengers battles - but he's a solo guy through and through.
Spider-Man should always be doing his own thing, and not getting tied down into team dynamics, he's too fucking busy just trying to pay the rent to deal with that stuff. And while he skirts around the edges of many teams over the years - ever since he tried to get in on the FF action in Amazing Spider-Man #1 - he's got his own neighbourhood to take of.
There is nothing wrong with being a solo artist instead of a band. Some acts just work better this way. Spider-Man is always down for the team-up, but let him do his own thing.
Wednesday, June 5, 2019
I used to own hundreds and hundreds of Spider-Man comics and now I have about 30. The ones that are left are, unsurprisingly, the ones that came out when I was a little kid.
I remember how groovy Spider-Man was, when he had wide-ranging adventures in glorious primary colours, and those are the only Spider-Man comics I still want. There have been many fine Spidey comics since, but none that I've ever felt I had to hold onto, not like the 70s version.
Poor Gwen dies so the Green Goblin has to go too, Denny O’Neill and Frank Miller do a Spider-Man/Dr Strange team-up that is still creepy and awfully funny, the regular comics have some Captain Britain, Man Thing, Fantastic Four and Punisher action with terrific Byrne and Andru art, and the classic Saturday Night Live cast being really, really silly.
I'm in the middle of another purge, and the Spider-Man comics from this era that I still have aren't going anywhere. I could never give these away. They're all I ever want in Spider-Man.
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
It's been homaged and ripped off more than a dozen times and it never gets old: Spider-Man is trapped beneath a huge piece of machinery, while waters pours down, and he just needs to get the hell up.
It keeps coming back over and over again because it is so incredibly effective. It's the periodical moment where Spidey gives in to weakness for just a split second, before rallying to lift the world off his shoulders, and go and punch the fuckin' Vulture or somebody. It happens reasonably often, as the always-observant Douglas Wolk has noted.
But nothing beats the original Ditko version. Not just because it's so superbly paced, and not just because it's a rare buff-as-heck Spider-Man from the artist. It's the water.
The waterisn't just dripping down on Peter Parker's head, it's flowing with weight and volume, pooling on his head and cascading over his arms. Ditko's water looks just as heavy as that machinery, and is a vital ingredient of the scene. Ditko could draw anything, from weird surreal hell dimensions to the best fingers in comics, but nobody can make water as heavy as Steve.
Monday, June 3, 2019
The creation myth behind Spider-Man is elusive and contradictory, and always will be, because the main people involved all had a different idea of what 'created by' meant, and they're all dead now, so it's never going to get settled.
Stan Lee was always happy to give Steve Ditko his dues as co-creator, but held firm to his half of that credit, sticking to his claim that he'd had the original idea of a man with the powers of a spider, and that had to count for something.
Ditko, who always liked to see in black and white, was equally clear - he'd come up with everything you'd really associate with Spider-Man, and while Stan might have provided some small part ofthe inspiration, he could hardly be called a co-creator.
(And somewhere in a comic heaven, Kirby is putting down his cigar and pencils and getting his dukes in, making sure everybody knows he had some say in the design.)
They could never agree on who was the creator, because they had a different definition of what a creator was, and they were completely incompatible. They were both utterly right, and both utterly wrong. It's a heck of a contradiction to hang on the real life origin of Spider-Man, but everybody knows that old Webhead has proven amazingly resilient.
Sunday, June 2, 2019
Saturday, June 1, 2019
The new Doctor Who might be lacking a bit of ambition, but there's 50+ years of other stuff to enjoy. I've been doing a rewatch of the whole series for the past couple of years, going through every episode, right from the start. It's been an enormous amount of fun.
I got all the way to the Colin Baker era but got stuck on the Rani story, and haven't been able to get to the second part of that story, not when there are documentaries about the Wu-Tang Clan and the dark side of professional wrestling to watch instead.
I know I will power through it soon, finish off the Baker and shoot through the McCoy. I got through the Savages, I can get through this.
I tried, but I didn't get very far into the Big Finish audios, which seems to be the primary form of new Doctor Who stories these days, with dozens of plays and dramas produced every year.
I bought a bunch a few years ago, when they had a special deal, and after getting through the ones that were universally seen as the best, I still haven't listened to them all, and the few I did have never really stuck in the mind, despite all that praise.
Audio adventures are just not my thing.
No, I was always a New Adventures kid, and got a little bit too emotionally attached to them in the 1990s for a while. They're still the biggest and most obvious influence on the direction of the TV show since 2005, and I still like them a lot.
I only came in halfway through, so it took me years and years to get all the books, and now that I have them all, I've started reading the series in order since the beginning. It's taken me almost a year to get seven books down, but I'm still steadily getting through them. Having two books of Ace roaming a surreal landscape in search of a missing Doctor was a mistake, even with two extremely talented writers involved, but there is enough variety to keep things going.
They're very, very 90s, with writers a bit too enamored with cyberpunk, and full of earnest attempts to Mean Something, but at the stage I'm at, they're starting to do things with the Doctor Who concept that had never been done before, giving the concept and characters new depths unmatched by any other version of the Doctor. That's what really keeps me going.
Friday, May 31, 2019
I ripped the shit out of the cover of a favourite Legion of Super Heroes comic the other day. I was careless as I was hauling boxes around, and the comic suffered for it.
It's my own fault. I liberated them all from their plastic bags last year, so they're just sitting in cardboard boxes, and I'm always going through them to refine the collection and find more stuff to read or sell. I throw them into jagged piles and roll them up and leave them lying on the floor like a fucking slob.
It breaks the collector's heart in me, but the soft sentimentalist below that level likes comics all the more, the more damage they get. It gives them a bit of character, a bit of life. I still like to see a pristine object, and comics do look sexy as hell in mylar or slabbed containers, but I'm not interested in owning those kind of comics.
Let somebody else be a proper archivist, I'll just ruin it for everybody.
Thursday, May 30, 2019
I hate it hate it hate it when a sequel opens with the main characters from the previous films getting unceremoniously killed off, wiping out everything they did in the previous movie for cheap shock thrills, (Or because they couldn't get the lead actor back for another film.).
I hated it when they did it in Maniac Cop 2, and I hated it when they did it in Alien 3. I hate it when they did it in Friday the 13th Part Two, and I really, really hated it when they did it in the bloody ewoks movies.
I don't care about the sequels after that pointy, because they've already lost. And everything they did in the original was for nothing, tarnishing the original with unwarranted pessimism. That's just playing dirty.
Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Tuesday, May 28, 2019
I somehow never figured out what happened to the whole teenaged Tony Stark storyline from the 1990s. I have a weird feeling it was explained in an annual somewhere, but I missed it entirely.
It might be the first time I genuinely didn't give a damn about the fate of an important comic character. It's where I realised the Marvel Universe - which I had been roughly able to follow for years - was too big and wide to ever really follow anymore. If I didn't care about Iron Man, I didn't care about anything anymore.
Maybe Teen Tony is just sulking alone in his room, forever and ever.
Monday, May 27, 2019
Evan Dorkin is always unflinchingly honest about how rough it can be to be a comic creator in this fucked-up industry, and I'm completely baffled why he has to scrape together projects to pay his fucking bills, instead of getting all the money in the world. His comics are so funny and so full of life, it's inconceivable to me that publishers have lost money on recent collected editions. What is wrong with everyone?
Dorkin's comics are consistently excellent - mainstream things like World's Finest, Bill & Ted and Beasts of Burden are remorselessly entertaining, and his Milk and Cheese, Eltingville Club and various Dork comics have an absolute free-wheeling and razor-sharp nature that ensures his cartoons are seething with vitality. Some of them are so deeply personal it hurts to read them, and they all offer substantial rewards, in their own ways.
This should be enough to make Dorkin a comic legend, but he's still somewhere on the margins of the culture. He might be happiest there, but it would be nice if his massive body of great comics paid a living wage.
Maybe he never got the hardcore nerds on board because so much of the funny cuts so close to the bone, you can see the marow. Nerds hate themselves as much as anyone, but they don't need a smartarse to rub their faces in it.
Maybe it's just because people are fucking stupid.
I have a pathological aversion to owning comic books in multiple forms, if I upsize to a trade or hardback or other collection, I get rid of the individual issues I had first. But I have multiple versions of Dork and Milk and Cheese, and I gladly snapped up recent hardbacks. You should too. Everybody should.
Sunday, May 26, 2019
Saturday, May 25, 2019
I always have the feeling I was watching a TV programme that was just a bit too old for me when I saw the Kenny Everett Video Show in the mid-1980s, but all that blood when poor old Reg Prescott cuts off his fingers with manic cheeriness was necessary. It just made everything so much funnier.
Friday, May 24, 2019
The first time I ever really noticed how weird it was to have 'Stan Lee Presents' above the title of every single Marvel comic was when it was up there on the title page of Uncanny X-Men #233. It's the second part of a Brood storyline which is notable for being extremely bloody - people are constantly getting gutted and broken, with the X-Men team using the final sanction to stop an alien infiltration.
It just seemed weird to have Stan's name up there, when it's such not a Stan story. There is no simple moralising with pleasant fisticuffs - this is dark as hell, with innocent people impregnated with alien eggs that take over their soul.
I was only 12 years old when this came out, but that was old enough to finally figure out Stan was just a figurehead. He still zapped out the odd Soapbox screed, but he probably hadn't even read the comics that came out under his name, and the man behind the curtain had fucked off to Hollywood to sell his vision on the big screen.
Stan got the last laugh, those movie dreams improbably paid off into a multi-billion dollar franchise, and becoming a household name with those endless cameos. His most successful creation was always 'Stan Lee', and he probably didn't even know who the Brood were.
Thursday, May 23, 2019
Jeff and Graeme's Wait, What? podcast has been essential listening for years, but their new Drokk! podcast - which is taking a long, long look at the ongoing and growing genius of the Judge Dredd comic strip - is already the best podcast they've ever done, as far as I'm concerned.
Go, listen. They're only a few episodes in, but they've already cranked through the original clumsy stories, the world-building of the Cursed Earth, the day the Law Died and the crucial year three stories that established Mega City One as the main character of the story. They've got so far to go, but this podcast captures the thrill of going through this strange, weird and intense epic with your best friends, who have plenty of good shit to say on the subject.
Wednesday, May 22, 2019
There's a nine-year age gap between myself and the lovely wife, and it's not that bad most of the time. We generally like the same movies and TV shows and music, which makes life so much easier. But sometimes, the gap feels like forever, and never more so when we're talking about Nirvana.
Me and my mates were all in our late teens when Nirvana exploded everywhere, so we were primed for those screeching guitars, primal screams and achingly delicate melodies that the band bought with them. They made all the hair metal bands and pop wannabes look like a joke, and were infinitely accessible to anyone who felt like an outcast (i.e. every young person in the world).
I wish I could claim that I was the first of my friends to get into it, but it was Anthony who heard them first, with Smells like Teen Spirit cranking out late at night on a rock radio station we could only just pick up from Christchurch. He was raving about them for weeks before any of us got a copy of their tape, and then we all pretended we had heard of them first.
Everybody lied about being into them since the Bleach days, everybody hated Pat Smear's smug grin on the Unplugged set, and everybody was fucking shattered when Kurt died. It was a universal.
The wife doesn't get that. She likes Nirvana in the same way she likes Led Zeppelin, or the Ramones, or The Beatles - as a band that was before her time. She doesn't understand, and quite right, too. Every musical generation is about nine years long, and she has her own thing. My generation will still be here, thrashing Nirvana till we die.
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
There is a particular kind of queasiness for when you're reading a book written by a favourite film director, talking about their life and their deep and thoughtful relationship with cinema, and you're only three pages in and they're already moaning about how political correctness is ruining everything.
I'm sure the Germans have an exact word for that feeling.
Monday, May 20, 2019
Nobody ever seems to admit to watching Family Guy, because it's crude and tasteless and fucking stupid, and sometimes sends a baffling political message, but somehow the show stumbles on.
There is a lot to criticise about it, and the easiest one is that sometimes it's just pretty fucking lame, but one of the most boring slams of the show is that it's bad comedy anyway, because the cutaways and jokes are so random and don't add anything to the story, according to some very clever people who read an interview with the South Park guys once
I almost just want to watch every episode just to piss off these arsehole comedy snobs. As if there is only one way of making people laugh, and that slapstick and non sequitur gags aren't as worthy as story-based laffs, and that surreal gags that have no connection to reality or the sacred plot of a story are just not funny.
That condemns a fuck-ton of great comedy over the decades, so screw that shit. There's all sorts of funny, and anyone who gets judgemental on somebody's else dumbarse humour is no fun at all.
Sunday, May 19, 2019
After the future faded away, Matt Wagner inevitably went back to Hunter Rose. The original Grendel was dead before the dawn of the saga, but there were still plenty of stories to tell about the murderous rascal, mostly in stark black, white and red.
Rose featured in dozens of little vignettes, and even took on a Shadow or two. The Grendel story all came full circle in the Behold The Devil, where Hunter Rose has a vision of the future he will inspire, and the massive, sprawling and twisted legacy he leaves behind.
Hilariously, he rejects it all, because it makes him less unique, but Hunter shouldn't have been too bothered, he'll always been one of a kind, no matter how many legions who follow in his wake.
There hasn't been much Grendel since then - Wagner has been busy on licensed properties and Mage in the years since. But he's finished up his other long-running story in recent months, with Kevin Matchstick finally figuring out what's really important in life, and it could be time to take another walk on the dark side.
After all, the devil never goes out of style.
Saturday, May 18, 2019
The second face-off between Grendel and Batman isn't as intricate or detailed as the first, swapping plot complexity for thudding, propulsive action. Batman is still engaged in an ideological battle with a cold, implacable foe, but there's a lot more guns and motorcycle chases in the sequel.
And it's a physical battle Batman just can't win - he has just as much iron will and grim determination as any devil, but the Grendel Prime is an unstoppable solar-powered cyborg from the far future who can't be stopped, even if you get his brain into a jar.
But Batman has something no Grendel ever had: a sense of hope for the future, and it's that bright beacon that undoes Prime at the end, with ultimate sidekick Robin making the crucial shot at the crucial time. Something Grendel could never calculate on is the unwavering aim of innocent righteousness, and he is undone.
There is a limit to unstoppable will, if there's nothing human at the heart of it.
Friday, May 17, 2019
Once the Grendel cycle reached its natural conclusion, it left behind a strange and dangerous world, full of war and horror and honour and laser swords. It seemed a shame to waste it, and the Grendel Tales series filled out that world with greater depth and style.
The Grendel Tales series featured stories that could be complex, pretty and slightly dull - Rob Walton's 'Devil's Hammer', 'The Devil My Care' by Terry LaBan and Peter Doherty and 'The Devil In Our Midst' by Steve Seagle and Paul Grist - and they could a pure pulp thrill ride like Pat McEown's Warchild semi-sequel 'Homecoming', or 'Four Devils, One Hell' by James Robinson and Teddy Kristiansen.
Sometimes, they could even be absolutely bloody brilliant, with two fantastic stories by Darko Macan and Edvin Biukovic that featured future wars in the Balkans that ignite out of hatreds and blood feuds that are older than the devil itself, and are well worth seeking out.
It all faded away after Jeffrey Lang and Steve Lieber's 'The Devils's Apprentice' in 1997, and we haven't been back to that future again. A world of Grendels is a dark and nasty place, but it was nice to visit for a while.
Thursday, May 16, 2019
The Grendel story is one of much death and tragedy, but the closest it ever comes to an outright happy ending is at the end of War Child, as the true Grendel heir Jupiter Niklos Assante takes his birthright, and ushers in a new age of power and respect.
But the devil hates happy ever after, and in a timeline published very soon after War Child wrapped up, it reveals the new emperor's reign only lasts 15 years before he his assassinated, and his entire empire crumbles in a century, in the hands of lesser descendants..
In Grendel's world, you have to appreciate the moments of triumph as they happen, because they never last long, before everything burns down again.
Wednesday, May 15, 2019
The Grendel spirit had sprung from Rose's corpse into Spar, and then had a short affair with Li Sung, but where can you go with there? Where can you go with a devil like that?
Wagner had an answer - inspired by Bernie Mireault's idea of the Grendel persona taking over a crowd, rather than an individual - you take over the world, and take the storytelling into strange new places.
The issues of the monthly Grendel comic where months, years and centuries slip by are some of the best of the series - hard to follow at first, but the reward is worth the effort. Dialogue and plot all get heavy mid-80s experimental, telling the story with emojis and other symbols, with circular patterns of sound and fury echoing down the ages.
There are still crooks and liars and thieves and lovers, and banana-powered vampires that live forever, but in the future, everything becomes Grendel.
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
After the death of Hunter Rose, Matt Wagner could have let the Grendel concept lie down and rest, but then it came back as a thoroughly modern affair, with a kickass female pulling on the mask, and the sharpest art in contemporary comics.
Wagner gave up the artistic duties after his first round and has only occasionally returned to fully illustrate his own Grendel stories over the years, and his first real collaborators on the title were Arnold and Jacob Pander,who made sure the comic didn't look like anything else on the stands. Their art is as well-honed as Christine Spar's haircut, all tight angles and jagged panels, with goofy wide eyes only making things more sharp. The colors in the original comics - unfortunately recoloured for other editions - are gorgeously garish and are none more 80s.
The Pander Brothers were there for a year, but pointed the way to a sharp future, with similar jagged edges in the work of follow-up artists Bernie Mireault and John K. Snyder III, and even Wagner's own Grendel art had a similar sharpness (although this might have been due to the heavy Kurtzman influence he was on the time.)
That's how Grendel grew, with individual creators all adding something to Wagner's mix, and influencing the overall taste. And the Pander Brothers' work tastes like razor blades.
Monday, May 13, 2019
Hunter Rose was always the purest embodiment of Matt Wagner's Grendel concept - a creature of crisp style and cold calculation, a man who can strip you apart with his tongue as easily as his electrified fork, and a monster of formidable and indomitable will.
Rose was a gorgeous flower with the sharpest of thorns, and his story was over before the Grendel comic book saga ever really got going. After a brief and permanently unfinished adventure in his own black and white comic in the early eighties, Rose's story was next told in the Devil By The Deed story, a flowery biography of the character's life by an in-story author who would soon take the mask for herself, and ends with the ultimate and original Grendel lying dead on a New York rooftop.
Wagner's story would go to some weird and wonderful places over the next few years, into harsh experimentation with the comic form and forward into a sci-fi future of uncommonly grim detail, but Rose was gone before it really began.
But his shadow and legacy hovers over all, and the spirit of the mad fencer with the devil eyes would end up influencing the entire world, to dramatic and willful effect. Rose's ghost is there as Grendel Prime tries to carve it out of the earth, his skull echoes with his spiteful laughter, and his memory is never dying throughout the world.
And even after taking the concept to the far future, Wagner keeps coming back to Hunter Rose and always has more stories to tell about him. Because while Rose's story was always cut painfully short, the real devil is in the details.
Sunday, May 12, 2019
Saturday, May 11, 2019
The very first proper comic book collection I ever saw for sale in a shop was one of the Titan reprints of the ABC Warriors from 2000ad. I saw it in the gaming section of a department store in Dunedin that hasn't existed in 30 years, sandwiched between a surprising amount of first and second generation Dungeons and Dragons modules.
There had always been collections of things like the Asterix and Tintin comics and there were a lot of cheap and cheerful local reprints of all sorts of horror and superhero comics. But almost every regular comic I read was in the single issue format, with just a few pages beneath a flimsy cover.
But this was a bound collection of classic 2000ad by Mills, McMahon and Ezquerra with an eye-wateringly gorgeous McMahon cover, and it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen (especially because it would take years to fill out the 2000ad collection and actually read these stories).
I didn't buy it, because I was 11, and it cost $30 in mid-1980s money, so I might as well have been asking for the moon, and it was gone the next time I visited the city again. I still went back to that department store several times before it closed down, hoping for another hit like that, but it was just all D&D again.
I have so many collected editions now - and a fair few of the Titan reprints - but I never got that ABC Warriors book. It's a prefect ideal of what comic books could (and would) be, and back in 1986, it was the sexiest thing I'd ever seen.
Friday, May 10, 2019
"Of course, the massive sense of entitlement and inability to manage expectations means most of the criticism around the new Thrones has been utter garbage, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's all fucking Mystery Science Theater 3000's fault, which had some proper laughs, but inspired a legion of arseholes to approach all their art in terms of pure snark, leading to the widespread success of shit like CinemaSins, with snide asides and obsessive nit-picking at the forefront, and no mention of theme, or tone, or anything beyond the obsessive need to be the smartarse in the room. And that leaves all the discussion around any art left buried in pissy bullshit."
- I can't stop saying shit like this to people, and I think I'm going to stab myself in the fucking face.
Thursday, May 9, 2019
"Yeah, I know, I see where you're coming from, but all I want is some analysis of the way the last half hour of this huge climactic battle had literally five lines of dialogue, and summed up a sprawling and complex and intense saga with almost no talking, relying on mute characterisation, a thrilling score and outrageous spectacle in a way I've literally never seen on screen before, and all I can find instead is endless 'they put the trench behind the troops! LOL!' takes."
- Another thing I said to a real person abut Games of Thrones today, and I still can't fucking believed my face remains un-stabbed.
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
'Look, all I'm saying is that a story where things get progressively worse and worse, and all hope is finally snuffed out, and it's all getting horrifically awful by the minute or page, and then, when things are at their very darkest, everything turns out okay, and everybody gets to go home again, those are my kind of stories.'
- Something I said to a real person about Game of Thrones today, and for some reason, she didn't stab me in the face for it.
Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Glunklegrumph, slurplurg, snuggle flitch, grungefuthock, oomfslup, flimphlesnook, aargh glumf, eeklphlurge and poofle shnuk.
Sunday, May 5, 2019
When I went back home recently, I had to check to see if the glass display case at the movie theatre which turned into a video store which turned into nothing was still showing posters from the classic viking/alien movie Outlander and Steve Soderburgh's Che, because if they were, it's the longest any movie posters has ever been on display in the city of Timaru, and I fucking love the fact that it's Outlander and Che.
Oh yeah, they're still there. That's brilliant.
Saturday, May 4, 2019
I don't subscribe to the minimalism aesthetic espoused by people like Marie Kondo - I'm here to build my own library, and it's one that is fucking full of joy - but I'm so grateful for what she's doing.
Secondhand bookstores are my favourite kind of stores, and have been slowly dying for decades. A large part of the readership have gone fully digital, while using internet auction sites and charity stores to get rid of their books, bypassing the humble shop completely. Cities that used to have dozens of stores now have just a handful, and the world is a worse place because of this.
And then along came Kondo, and the few stores that remain are suddenly getting these amazing collections of books, as everybody goes through their stuff and gets rid of everything that doesn't mean anything to them. The few shops in town are suddenly full of brilliant books that have been unlocked for the public.
The best bookstore in my town, which narrowly avoided extinction recently by moving into a church building, is heaving with great stuff - I head in there every week and always find something new and fascinating. The shelves housing its comics and graphic novels section is heaving with a huge variety of printed beauty, from mid-80s Marvel fun to some ultra low-press offerings from all over the world.
I still get rid of a lot of my books and comics, just like anybody else, but I still have thousands and thousands of the fuckers because I always judge people by their bookcases, and expect the same in return. And I always come out of Hard To Find Books every week with something, whether it's another weird benefit comic I'd never heard of, or that Archie v Punisher comic I'd always wanted to read, or a bunch of Hellboy that I needed to plug the gaps.
Because you might not want these things cluttering up your precious living space, but they sure as shit give me some joy.
Friday, May 3, 2019
It was only 20 years ago - in the late 90s! - that the idea of a comic convention was so unusual in New Zealand, that they published a tie-in comic with work by Dylan Horrocks, Ant Sang and the immortal Barry Linton:
And for added goodness, the Armageddon 1998 Megazine also featured this short essay by writer Devin Grayson, talking about how shit it is to be constantly pigeon-holed as a female creator (which is just as bloody relevant in 2019 as it was back then):