Saturday, March 28, 2020

Isolation reading: Red Birds



Red Birds
by Mohammed Hanif

Any other novel, a jet fighter pilot who goes down in enemy territory, and is trapped in a small community deep in an incredibly hostile desert, and has to rely on friendly locals to keep him alive, would probably have that pilot be the main character of the story.

But in Mohammed Hanif's terrific Red Birds, that pilot is just a jerk, little more than comic relief, wearily tolerated by the people he had been dropping bombs on earlier. They're just trying to get through life with a minimum of high ordnance firepower falling on their heads, and trying to get a job at the mysterious bunker just outside their settlement. They don't care about the politics, they just need to put some food on the table.

Because the people who do cause this misery are buffoons, never questioning the decisions that leave them stranded in the desert, far from home, with nobody showing much interest in coming to get them. And they deserve all the disinterest they receive.

Instead, it's those people on the ground that really matter, trying to make a buck anyway they can, feeling guilty about lashing out at their dog, trying to move on from a life at barely sustenance level, and doing whatever it takes to get there. And if that means they have to throw a few scraps at some dumb pilot, that's what they'll do.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Isolation reading: It Would Be Night In Caracas



It Would Be Night In Caracas
By Karina Sainz Borgo

The recent and massive impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus have left a hell of a lot of us wondering how we'd survive if society totally collapsed, and looking sideways as the grocery shelves becoming increasingly empty with people stocking up on goods to stay inside.

Of course, even in the modern age, there are plenty of people all around the world who have lived through this scenario before, and the main character in It Would Be Night In Caracas is definitely one of those people, trying to get by in Venezuela as society falls apart around her.

The book really succeeds by never really getting into the politics behind the collapse, even though it's responsible for the whole mess. Instead it focuses on one woman's story and the logistics of making sure you have enough food and shelter to get through the week, and the way she holds it together, even as thugs take over her flat and steal and befoul all her treasured belongings

In the end, some sheer luck - courtesy of an unfortunately deceased neighbour - gets her to safety, and it's the ultimate lesson the book has to impart about surviving a societal collapse: just get out, any way you can, and take any luck you can.

That's not much comfort when the whole world is in the same boat, but It Would Be Night In Caracas gives the reader enough tips of how to get through this situation, any way we all can.
 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Isolation reading: The Yid



The Yid
By Paul Goldberg

The USSR had a shit of a time in World War II, and the people who came out the other side were tough as hell - survivors with the skills to survive in impossible situations. And when the secret police come knocking on actor Solomon Shimonovich Levinson's door as part of a Stalin-initiated pogrom against the Jewish people, they discover just how tough they can be.

Solomon's mission to stop Stalin and the despot's ultimate demise is a lot more theatrical than the grubby, petty death seen in the recent Death Of Stalin movie, but there is a real poetry in that theatricality, with a group of vengeful Jews making sure the dear leader goes out with a suitable ritual.

The crew who come together to plot the assassination are, at first appearances, a bunch of bickering old harmless Jews, but their arguments are sometimes centuries old, and their passion of righteousness runs just as deep and long.

It's a sideways look at a historical event, and while it's just a little too perfect to be realistic, it's a hell of a ride.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Isolation reading: My Sister, the Serial Killer



My Sister, the Serial Killer 
by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Almost all the books in this tiny book club of mine have been insights into cultures and countries I have very little familiarity with, which is a lot of the point of the whole thing - I'll never learn anything if I don't learn from people I've never connected with. But some of them take place on the other side of the world, and still offer painfully familiar themes. Life is like that.

My Sister, the Serial Killer is ultimately a little hollow, and doesn't offer a lot of surprises - it does just what it says in the title, with a main character living in Nigeria and struggling with the fact that her witty, glamorous sister keeps killing people, and has now been linked to enough deaths to qualify as a serial killer. But it also captures a certain bond between sisters, where they can be jealous and angry and bitter with each other, but will still stick by each other and never betray the other, no matter what.

The setting might be far outside anything I've ever experienced in real life, and it might be a part of the world I'll never get to, but that sort of bond is universal. Family always comes first, no matter where or how you live.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Isolation reading: A Horse Walks Into A Bar



A Horse Walks Into A Bar
By David Grossman

A decent hook for a meaty short story is expanded out into novella length, and just about holds it all together, right until the end.

Dovaleh G, a scumbag stand-up, goes hard out on stage in a small Israeli town, and that's all that happens. His target is one particular member of the audience who he has a deep connection to, and the entire book chronicles the events on stage.

There are still plenty of flash-backs to get the reader out of the increasingly stuffy and increasingly deserted comedy club, (although it turns out there are more connections with audience members than is immediately obvious), and the setting is mean to have a stifling quality, trying to suffocate the reader beneath stale stage smoke and self-loathing.

It's a hook that is just clever enough to be irritating, but also really smashes into its high concept with relish. At the start of the story, Dovaleh comes across just as irritating and smug as you'd think, but as the layers are peeled away, there is a real human - who has suffered real pain - in there.

Some comedians claim stand-up routines are the best therapy in the world, but that kind of connection with your audience can be more than pure narcissism. And while it might be a long show to sit through, it's almost worth the sore butt.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Isolation reading: The Aosawa Murders


I've been doing a one-person book club for a couple of years now, and it's been remarkably rewarding. Every month, I head to the local bookstore, and buy a novel I've never heard of by somebody I've never read before, based purely on what the back cover blurb says, in a desperate bid to go outside my comfort zone. This has led to me reading an alarming number of books about slightly autistic women in menial jobs, but I've also read so many books by people who aren't white, English-speaking men, which can only be a good thing.

And now that so much of the world is in self isolation, or at least taking part in some kind of social distancing, I figured it was a good time to recommend a few new things to read, based on this experience. If you're culturally trapped for the next couple of weeks, here's 14 books that could be worth your time, starting with....


The Aosawa Murders 
By Riku Onda

A murder mystery told decades after the horrific event, where a crowd of people, including young children, were horribly murdered with poison wine, saki and soft drinks at a family gathering, The Aosawa Murders is also one of those murder mysteries where there won't be any clear answers by the end, and no clear culprit, but you'd have to be actively not paying attention not to work out what's going on.

Told in a series of interviews with an unseen and silent author, the plot unfolds like an origami swan being slowly pulled apart, and little details regarding visits to the local second hand bookstores become key to understanding what's really going on.

It's delicately told and sometimes a little frustrating, when characters disappear when they've told their story, just as you're becoming invested in their point of view.

But even with all the horror and obtuseness, the novel never forgets how one event can still be ripping people apart years later, and can have a permanent taste as bitter as poison.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Massive Attacking around town




All these years later, and there is still nothing that beats listening to Unfinished Symphony on headphones while walking around an urban environment.

There are still millions and millions of good tunes for beating your feet on the street, but nothing comes as close to sheer bloody perfection as the Massive Attack tune. Nothing at all.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

When bloopers were funny



I'm old enough to remember when bloopers from TV shows and movies were just good for a laugh, and weren't a symbol for everything that's wrong in the world and proves that the film-makers were incompetent and had contempt for their audiences and should never be allowed near a camera again.

Good times!

Friday, March 20, 2020

My baby don't mess around



Since becoming new parents, the lovely wife and I have had a lot of time to read and watch stuff. We always thought we'd be flat out, and plenty of other parents told us that we'd have no time to ourselves. But there are hours and hours where the new human just wants to sit on you, and you can't move, so you might as well catch up on the binge watching and reading.

It's easy enough to read a book or bash through a long comic run - I'm currently getting in deep on reading all of Scott McCloud's Zot for the first time - but there is some guilt about watching the telly. It's not like the little one cares, she has shown absolutely no interest in anything happening on the TV screen in the corner of the room, so I've swallowed that 'I'm-the-worst-parent-ever' guilt and watched things that are hugely inappropriate for somebody so young, including entire seasons of Breaking Bad and Vikings.

She doesn't care. She doesn't flinch at the gunshots and calls for a shield wall, and just isn't looking at or listening to the massive amounts of sex and violence and profanity behind her. There are probably a lot of parenting experts that would tell us that she is subconsciously sucking it all up into her tiny brain, but she looks pretty bloody asleep to me. She ain't sucking anything up.

But I know it can't last. As soon as the baby shows any real interest in the events on the telly, we are going to have to stop that. She still likes to sleep on us a lot, but once she's taking it in and repeating what she hears, we'll have to watch safe, g-rated fare.

It can't be far away. The other day, she showed a surprising amount of interest in the classic Outkast tune Hey Ya when it came up on the TV, and was actually watching Andre 3000 do his thing on the video. She was into it, rather than her father's hopeless gyrations, which usually cracks a grin or two.

So I'll just get the R-rated stuff in while I can, because I know that once we're past this sweet spot of baby ignorance, I won't be watching those kind of things in the daytime for a long, long while.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Video games can be good for you



Growing up, I was constantly being told that video games were bad for me. All those flickering lights and beeping noises were obviously harmful. I should have been out there playing sports in the sun, getting skin cancer from the hole in the ozone layer and my head kicked in at the bottom of a scrum on the rugby field.

And sure, the main places I could actually play games - long before every home had a console of their own - were incredibly dodgy places where there was the odd stabbing. My local was down the back of Lester's fish and chip shop in Temuka, and while Lester did some fuckin' great chips, it wasn't a place where the good kids hung out after school.

But video games weren't all bad, and the vast amount of time I spent blasting away at spaceships wasn't totally wasted. There were some good points about them too.

After all, they kept us out of trouble. We weren't doing too much dodgy shit when we were just trying to get to level three on Rastan. And we didn't spend money on booze or drugs or anything like that, not when we needed all the spare change we could get to get them into the machines.

And playing video games cemented great friendships, just as any sport or pastime can do. Trying to beat each other's high score, or straight up taking on your mates in a pixelated wrestling ring was enormously fun, and I met people who I am still friends with, years later.

And on a personal and entirely unscientific level, I'm convinced that all that time playing those games means my hand-eye coordination and spatial orientation is off the charts. I don't have any proof for this, but my reaction times were honed to a fine point by hours and hours of playing Doom and Tomb Raider, and I'm certain that has something to do with the fact that I've never had a car accident in my life.

There are still those fears about video games going around, and sometimes they have some basis in fact - like anything, gaming should be done in moderation, and if you spend your entire life doing nothing but playing video games, it's probably going to fuck you up.

But it turned out that all those adults who used to tell me I was wasting my life playing video games were pretty much full of shit. I turned out okay.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Figuring out the absolute best time to sell



Slowly selling off the flabby edges of my vast and unruly comic collection has taught me a lot of valuable lessons about the commerce of the whole thing, but one of the first things I learned was that if it's a comic that is about to be adapted for a movie or television show, it's all about the timing.

So I've got a few issues of the Eternals to get rid of - a few random issues from the original Jack Kirby run and a full set of the Gaiman/Romita Jr limited series from the mid-2000s. They're in the growing pile of stuff to be sold off, but I'm not ready to put them up on the local online auction site yet, because you've gotta wait for the enthusiasm to peak.

It's no use offering them up when the news of the movie first came out - even with the first hints of buzz and the photos showing off the astonishing new abs of Kumail Nanjiani - nobody really gives a damn about the whole Eternals thing just yet.

And it could be a bust if you wait until it's been completed and thrown out there in the world, and turns out to be a complete turd (although to be fair, none of the Marvel films have really reached that level of awfulness, even if some of their TV shows have). Interest in the whole thing can die off incredibly suddenly, and you're stuck with comics that reek with the stench of the failed movie.

There's always the chance something will go a bit Walking Dead, where the main peak of interest in the whole concept was a good three or four years after it came out, but when you look at the sheer number of adaptions being pumped out, that's definitely an anomaly.

No, the peak time is definitely in that sweet spot between the time the first trailer drops, and the premiere date. If the trailer builds up enough buzz, it might be worth waiting until just before the movie comes out, but anywhere in that time is golden.

So I'm hanging out for that first Eternals trailer, not because I give a shit about Ikaris and Sersi and all the rest, but because I can sharpen up the comic collection a bit. It's going to be rough getting rid of the Kirby - it always is - but I'll be able to find a collected edition at the library easily enough. And the 2000s series is just taking up space. All I need is that anticipation which I can feed off.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

No such thing as a cursed movie



There's a new documentary TV show coming out that promises to expose the horror of 'cursed movies', and how some films have a higher-than-average number of deaths and tragedies associated with them. And the documentary makers have their work cut out for them, because arguing that certain movies have a metaphysical shadow hanging over them remains one of the dumbest fucking arguments in the history of cinema.

It doesn't help that they're always looking at the usual suspects, and are focusing on exactly the films you'd think they would - all the big devil possession and ghost films that often dwell on the darkest side of humanity. They never do these kinds of things about Pretty Woman or Toy Story or The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, it's always the ones that have some kind of horrific or theological bent, as if curses were a real fucking thing.

It's somewhat curious that so many of these movies are about the devil - if Satan is actually a real thing, wouldn't the lord of darkness be thrilled to get some free publicity?

Ultimately, it's all a matter of publicity. Scary movies for years have played up stories of people fainting or throwing up or going into seizures and speaking in tongues at screenings, and while that's certainly a thing that has happened, they're usually painfully rare cases.

It's actually pretty fucking tasteless when you're talking about real tragedy - real lives have been lost and destroyed, and implying that it's all part of some curse because they chose to do a particular movie is an insult to the victims and their families.

After all, these films have so many people involved, there is always going to be some bad luck involved. Even the lowest budget can have dozens of people involved, and the biggest blockbusters have thousands, as anybody who has sat through the credits for some lame sting can attest to.

There is always going to be a film where more than the usual number of tragedies occur, and anybody convinced that making a horror movie is more dangerous than any other kind of film might be getting a bit too close to the fiction.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Not like the other Constantines



In the long publishing history of the original Hellblazer comic, there are only two runs that I've ever really been interested in - the Ennis stories, which remind me of a drunken past; and the Milligan issues that close out the series.

Almost everything in between, including some longer spells by various writers, leave me cold. Warren Ellis started off strong, until he told Vertigo to go fuck itself, and the other eras are a decidedly mixed bag. The Jenkins, Diggle and Carey comics were perfectly fine, but not that exciting, while the Azzarello and Mina stories were straight-up awful.

But the Milligan comics didn't feel like anything else, and provide an excellent capstone to that particular John Constantine. There is still somebody with that name running around in DC Comics, but it's not the same person.
 
With beautiful, gritty art by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Simon Bisley, Milligan's comics are far less episodic than previous Constantine tales, building up to tell one long story of John's final adventures before the reboot. Milligan's wicked humour, as sharp as Constantine's tongue, shines through on the stories, but the stories are more grounded in a grimy reality than usual, even with world trips and small apocalypses and demon attacks.

The biggest move was making Constantine a married man, hooking up with a strong, independent woman who was also half his age, which the character was mercilessly ridiculed about. But Epiphany more than held her own against her new husband, proving just as tough and merciless when needed, but also providing a unique perspective that her older and jaded lover couldn't even consider. Constantine's wider family were also an integral part of the whole thing, especially his long-suffering niece Gemma, with a new nephew (who may actually now be the same Constantine who has been running around with superheroes for the past decade) taking up the family curses.

There were still werewolves and suicide bridges and Shade the Changing Man and a final page that posed a lot more questions than it answered, but under the discipline needed in work-for-hire on a corporately-owned character, (see also his fucking fantastic Batman comics with Jim Aparo in the very early 90s), Milligan delivers the goods, with a brilliant end for a brilliant character.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

All I want is everything



All I want in my entertainment is an idiosyncratic style, some emotional or physical intensity and a degree of intellectual rigour.

I can take the intensity with the style, and leave out the smart stuff; or you can mix the intellectual with the stylistic. But you always got to have a good look, or it's all for nothing.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Happy ever after with Alan Moore


Me, when somebody promises to do a deep dive into the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Tempest comic, the final work Alan Moore is doing in comics, and a reasonably effective summation of the writer's lifetime of themes:


Me, when that deep dive doesn't just moan about the fact that nobody can get all the references, like every other bloody review always does, as if that mattered:


Me, when instead, most of that deep dive is taken up with looking at the way Tempest is mocking Grant Morrison, both the most boring and obvious thing you could read in Moore's work, and something that actually isn't even fucking in there:


Friday, March 13, 2020

Who needed Love and Rockets anyway?


"The Hernandez brothers appear to be trapped in a literary time warp. The time is 1968. Comics at the time were still squeaky clean; faithful followers of the Comics Code. An outlet was needed for creative people who didn't fit in the mainstream; for stories that didn't conform to the orthodoxy imposed by the code.

"The underground comic filled this void. With a few notable exceptions, they were rather crude and poorly executed; but even so they were a refreshing alternative to the norm. Love and Rockets seems to be firmly rooted in the underground tradition.

"There's just one problem with this. The time and need for undergrounds has come and gone, just as the social upheaval which spawned them has subsided. Even as women no longer need to burn their bras just to get our attention, so too do comics no longer need a separate movement to espouse alternate views and lifestyles."

I've read a tonne of reviews of Love and Rockets over the past 30 years, but the one this excerpt is from - written by R A Jones and published in Amazing Heroes #48 in 1984, just a few years into the Los Bros' long comic career - has always stuck with me.

Partly because it's a rare review of the comic that is less that effusive in its praise, but also because it's a little bit incredible that Jones thinks it's all a bit pointless, because there's nothing more to be said about alternate lifestyles after the undergrounds of the 1970s said it all.

That's certainly a perspective. It's an unfortunate one one that is unfathomably wrong in hindsight, but it's a perspective.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

I still need the broadcast



The world might be fully embracing the ease of the streaming video, but there is something about broadcast television that I crave, and that's why I'll never make the full switch to the new paradigm.

Even though I edit a national news website all day long, I still watch the news every night on the telly, and there is something weirdly comforting about watching something at the same time as other people, even if you have no idea who or where they are.

It's also the immediacy and intimacy of the broadcast that I need, and it gives me a weird sense of community when people are talking to me live through the TV. When we're all in our own bubbles, I'll take that community where I can get it, no matter how lame it is.

And when I watch DVDs or streams or Youtube videos on the laptop, I don't have that feeling at all. I  feel strangely alone, like I'm not sharing anything with anybody.

I know this is an anachronistic attitude, but I still love that connection. When we're watching broadcast TV, we're all in it together.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Reading on the move



We all walk around with half our attention on our phones and devices, and there are plenty of hilarious videos of people doing real injury to themselves by walking into things when they should be paying attention to the world around them.

I'm as guilty of this as anybody, but at least I've been ahead of the curve for years, because I've spent the vast majority of my life reading on the move.

When I was a young kid at primary school, home was a couple of kilometers away. At that age, it was an interminably long and boring walk through dull suburbia, and, more importantly, it had a big impact on the amount of time I could spend reading books and comics all day. So it only seemed logical to read my books on the long walk home every day.

And I got the hang of it really quickly, and found that if you held the book at the right angle, you could see a couple of meters ahead, and as long as a small part of your brain was devoted to making sure you weren't walking into a wall or out onto the road, you could chug along at a decent speed while filling the head.

I read books and comics and magazines for years like this, and occasionally got some shit for it from friends, family and random people on the street, but I didn't care. I was getting in some reading time, that was all that mattered.

Later in life, I even found a way to read while riding a bicycle, because I was on a 10-km stretch from work to home on a road with literally two slight bends on it and very little traffic, and I could set up a a book on the handlebars and read as I rode. My Uncle Ron busted me one afternoon, and he brought it up every time I saw him until the day he died. But I wasn't shamed by that either, except for the fact I was reading one of William Shatner's TekWars book when he saw me.

I don't read and walk as often as I did when I was younger, although the ritual of reading a weekly 2000ad on the street immediately after buying it hasn't changed. I've still got a long walk home after work every day - about four times as long as that after school trek - but now I usually listen to podcasts or music while power-walking home.

But at least I've become bloody good at reading texts or messages or checking the cricket score or fucking about on Twitter, when I do that while walking on the street, and I don't have to worry about appearing on one of those hilarious videos. Not when I've had so much practice.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Wasted on Fight Club



Cameron Stewart is a terrific comic artist, and has spent a lot of time recently doing work on Fight Club comic, which is a terrible shame, because the comic is really, really awful.

Driven by some lingering affection for the original book and movie, I got the first sequel and it had a pleasant anything-goes attitude for a while there, but unfortunately, where it went was right up its own arse.

By the end, Chuck Pahulniak is suggesting that anybody who read the original Fight Club book was incredibly obsessed with it, or incredibly opposed to it - there was just no room for most people, who just found it okay - and the second comic series, which recently wrapped up, was just offensively dull.

It's a terrible shame that it's so unreadable, because Stewart's art is amazing. It's as clear and energetic as it ever was, and he's doing some really incredible stuff with panel subversion, and there are some freaky sense-of-depth effects and some playful and lively character work.

But good art only goes so far, and it only goes as far as Pahulniak's ego allows it. I can only hope that Stewart got a decent payday (maybe there are more of those obsessives than I assume), because nobody else is really getting anything out of it.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Young Ones and the ghost flatmate



Ever since I first fell head over heels in love with the Young Ones TV show, I've watched every episode at least a hundred times each. I know the dialogue backwards, I'm familair with the lyrics to every song performed in every episode, and the way Vivian smashes Rik and Neil over the head with a cricket bat will always be strangely comforting.

So, finding out recently that there was actually a fifth flatmate after all, hidden in the background of every episode in the first season, was more than a little surprising, and actually quite creepy.

In my defense, I mostly watched the show on video tape, recorded off a TV screening in the very early nineties, so the appearances of that fifth flatmate were often hidden in the sludgey quality of the video format and the fuzz of an analogue transmission. I saw a couple of the appearances of the flatmate, with the long hair hanging over the face, but never realised they were there in every episode.

And there is something quite unsettling about it. The Young One's brand of surreal humour often left things feeling unreal, with the manic events happening on a strange level far from the real world, and the idea that there was a flatmate that was more ghost than person fits into that.

The creators of the show have refused to acknowledge that the fifth flatmate was even a thing, which adds to the unreality of it all, but that long-haired apparition is now as real as any of them. They never said much, but they were always there.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Becoming a parent means becoming a cliche



Me, before I was a parent, watching The French Connection: Holy shit! They nearly hit that pram in that car chase! What a remarkable piece of film-making, capturing the chaos and stress of a high-speed pursuit through the streets of a major city like no other movie ever has! Sure, they didn't get permission to clear the streets and just went for it, but when the result is one of the all time great car chases, you have to admire their passion!

Me, after I became a parent, watching The French Connection: Holy shit! They nearly hit that pram in that car chase! What a bunch of irresponsible fucking arseholes!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

I've swallowed enough microchips and shit them back out again to make a computer




Spy is way better than it should be, and Melissa McCarthy sells the hell out of the lead role, but Jason Statham is an all time favourite character - a splendid mix of bluster, ignorance, competence and misplaced confidence. Most white male supporting characters don't deserve their own spin-off, but I would always be down for a full Rick Ford movie.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Swamp Thing's happy ending



There have been a shitload of Swamp Thing comics since Alan Moore finished up his hugely influential run on the character back in 1987, including several reboots and revamps from a large number of extremely different creators.

But after reading that original run in one go recently, and coming to an end where Swampy and Abbe head off and live on a giant lily pad in the swamp, I've found it surprisingly easy to ignore absolutely everything else that has happened to the character in the past 33 years

There were some good comics over those years - I have a particular soft spot for Rick Veitch's aborted run, and for the stories by a young Mark Millar that closed out that long run (humanity being saved by a reformed Arcane might be illogical and sentimental as hell, but always worked for me) - but it's also just as easy to write it all off as a fever dream, and that the comic came to an end with the characters living happily after, all those years ago. All the craziness and reboots and re-incorporation into the world of super-heroes just didn't happen.

You can do this with almost any comic, especially when the continuous publication of many characters sees their status quo constantly shredded. Just choose a place to end it, and you can do it. It's really easy. Maybe Spider-Man finished for you when Ditko first left, or maybe you can end it with Dan Slott's recent epic-length run. How many more Spider-Man comics do you need anyway?

The mainstream comic book industry is pathologically allergic to an absolute full stop, but the brilliance of that punctuation is that you can put it anywhere you choose. And I choose to end Swamp Thing there.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Good people make the best stories



Although we seemed to be currently trapped in a dark and cynical world, I have an optimist's hope for the future, and that people are generally decent and good. That arseholes will get exposed for the arseholes they are, and get the treatment they deserve.

This is something that is not always expressed well in our fictions, where writers' obsessions with conflict mean people have to be dicks to each other in order to clash, but there are some small rays of hope out there.

Like the stoner delivery service it features, High Maintenance can be rambling and unfocused, but also has moments that remind you why people live in cramped mega-cities, where there are odd moments of unexpected community. There are still dicks and idiots, but people generally get along. And get really, really high. (Whether this is correlation or causation is for bigger brains than mine.)

Across the Atlantic, the films of Shane Meadows also get super dark, from 24/7's regrettable violence to the absolutely broken people of The Virtues, but also crucially recognise that there is light and laughter around the kitchen sink. There is genuine joy as people live from meager paycheck to meager paycheck, but they are still genuinely kind and thoughtful people, who may sometimes get out of their depth, but can always rely on each other.

Maybe I've just lucked out in real life, because my friends and family are all basically good people, nobody has ever really got into trouble, or caused much for other people, but they're still as windswept and interesting as anybody. And while I like a good roaring rampage of revenge as much as the next dork, it's nice to see that joyous realism reflected on our screens, every now and then.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Indiana Jones and the foley of Doom



The Indiana Jones films had great punch-ups and epic car chases and outrageous whip action, and one of the things it did better than any other movie out there was the sound effects. From the very first film, the sound team - including the legendary Ben Burtt - did exceptional work with the soundscape that helped create the hyper-real world of evil nazis and awesomely powerful artifacts.

The punches sounded meaty and loaded, and the gunshots were thick and powerful. Combined with Harrison Ford's moans and grunts as he put his body through the wringer, it all sounded so much more alive and real than the cheap, tinny sounds of its action contemporaries.

The visuals through all three movies (we don't talk about the Last Crusade) are great and all, but the Indiana Jones films skated a thin line between preposterous action and realistic reactions, and the only way to make that totally immersive was to have sound crew give everything a bit of oomph, bang and boom. And lots of it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The wife and I and Buffy



The lovely wife and I have been a couple for 15 years, and she absolutely did not enter that relationship as a nerd. Even though she was a Roswell fan, she didn't give a damn about Star Wars or Doctor who or anything. She still really doesn't and humours me most of the time, but she also doesn't mind the odd dose of geek shit.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer was the first win, back in 2006 or so. She wasn't really watching it, but I was doing a big re-watch, and she got sucked in. We watched the whole series together, and still both have a huge fondness for it.

We don't talk about Buffy that much anymore, because some of it hasn't aged well, and that awful flat lighting that makes everything look so 20th-century is genuinely hard to get into, especially when we've all got eyes that have become used to prestige TV. But it was really fucking good, with lots of kick-ass fighting, good lines, aching continuity, surprising twists and all that jazz. It was an excellent introduction to full-on monster genre fiction, and we both will always have a fondness for it because of that.

After that, she went to Star Trek movies and watched Battlestar Galactica and had a good time, mainly because she doesn't give a damn about the big picture. We still have our own interests and cultural obsessions, but she's 100% nerdier than she was when we met.

And it was all thanks to Buffy, who got the ball running. She watched a lot of it again recently, but got stuck halfway through the sixth season, because it all got too depressing and dark, and she's probably going to leave it there. That's okay, Buffy already got us where we are.

Monday, March 2, 2020

The biggest story ever told



The toys were too expensive when I was a kid in the 1980s, that was the main problem. By the time they got to this part of the world, the costs had sky-rocketed. A single action figure might be a month's worth of pocket money, and forget about ever affording any of the vehicles or other accessories.

There wasn't even a guarantee that figures would show up at all - I never saw a stormtrooper or Darth Vader until I was 15, although there were plenty of bloody ewoks. So you had to make up your own story with the figures I got, and all the ones I had a a kid - usually Star Wars and GI Joe figures, 9.5cm tall, which was easily the best size for detail and playability - all got merged into a new story about an alternate world where World War 2 never ended, but built up over decades into an endless and huge war between two giant mega-states.

The Cobra Commander in battle armour figure became a lead fighter in the war, and the various GI Joes toys that also came in faceless armour made up his team, repurposed into new roles. Though not that much - the tech-viper figure (the only one I still have complete, even if his foot got slightly melted by a firecracker in the early 90s) was always the tech dude, and Snake-Eyes was always the stealthy ninja part of the squad. A Borg figure from Star Trek was... well, the Borg really, but there were some variations - ruggedly handsome characters like Hawk and Duke were standard bad guys, and an action figure of the queen from Aliens became an erudite genetic abomination who just wanted to be friends with everyone.

The story got bigger and bigger and bigger as I played with the characters in ways they were never intended. There was a long-running storyline involving a giant house - that always looked just like the house I was living in at the time - that had to be defended in the ultimate siege battle, and my home town got overtaken in a huge epic invasion story that got rehashed and retold a thousand times over - I still can't go past a particular sports field without recalling the concentration camp it got turned into in my head. 

The story changed and mutated over years (at one point, ending the war and sending all the characters off into space on new missions), and there were odd retcons as figures got broken or lost or rebuilt, and replaced by new ones. The story was never linear, and went back over origins and noble deaths and everything in between again and again over a decade or so.

Then I became a teenager, and the action figures became one childish thing that faded away in favour of girls and music and booze and all that shit.

But sometimes....

Sometimes I find the old toys, and I'm a 45-year-old playing around with his old men, and all that story comes back, and I'm there with those soldiers in that endless war again. That story isn't a huge concern in my life anymore, but it's still alive.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

When Star Trek had to go back to Vulcan



Even after all these years, I'm still a bit impressed by the way they tied the DC Star Trek comics in the mid 1980s back into the movies between the third and fourth films. Even though the movies were directly connected, the comics had gone through three years of adventures, but still somehow ended with an injured Spock on Vulcan, and the rest of the Enterprise crew boarding a Klingon ship to go home. They had to twist the shit out of their story to get there, but they got there.

None of it is canon now, and all those stories - a terrific Mirror Universe story and Captain Spock's doomed adventures with the USS Surak - have fallen down a continuity wormhole, but there is still a part of me that regards those Treks as real as anything else. After all, they still fit inbetween the movies.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Shambling through the philosophy on the Walking Dead



The Walking Dead was always at its strongest - in both comic and TV show - when it dealt with the desperate logistics of surviving a world where the dead were getting up and killing the survivors.

But when it becomes a story about what philosophy and ethos is best for a post-zombie society, it starts to fall apart faster than a rotting corpse in the sun, because the philosophies it puts forward are always so fucking stupid, and usually some variation on 'might makes right, and you have to be cruel to survive', and never really anything else.

It's almost enough to make you wish George Romero had never stumbled into the idea that zombies could be a metaphor for anything, and giving zombies that extra shallow level of complexity, when it always leads to this awful and shallow philosophising.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Goodnight Kiwi, (and so to bed)




Whenever I find it hard to sleep, all I have to do is watch the above Goodnight Kiwi video - which ran for nearly 20 years on New Zealand TV - and it instantly makes me drowsy. Not because of that groovy, lounge-lizard version of Hine e Hine, or even because of the quiet, subdued animation. It makes me drowsy because that little clip is still telling me that the day is finished, and it's time to go to bed, because there is no more telly.

The idea of all-night TV was a totally foreign concept when I was a kid. There were only two TV stations in NZ until 1990, both part of the public broadcaster, and when the Goodnight Kiwi clip came on, usually just before midnight, it was followed by nothing, until TV started up again in the morning (although Breakfast TV was also a foreign concept).

When I was a teenager, and staying up as late as I could, that would generally mean the end of the day, and it was time for bed. You could always stay up later and watch a video, but when a beloved cartoon icon is settling down for the night, it makes sense to join him and his cat in slumber. 

That blessed closedown of the broadcast was eventually replaced by the cash grab of terrible, terrible infomercials, and night-owls and other insomniacs could watch awful steak-knife demonstrations all night long.

A screen full of nothing was better than that, and also brought some much needed closure to the day. When it feels like life is hectic and never-ending, there was something soothing about the nothingness that followed the full-stop of this little cartoon. It was time to recharge, and start up again tomorrow.

Goodnight, Kiwi. Goodnight everybody.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Sexy as X



It's probably a total coincidence that it was being published at the same time I was going through puberty, but the 1980s Australian era of the X-Men really was the sexiest ever.

Claremont's X-Men comics were always horny as hell, especially when the dominatrix vibes and sexy lingerie of the Hellfire Club got involved - but there was something about the eight team members all hanging out in an abandoned town in the outback that made everything so much sexier.

It helped that the eight core team-members at the time had something for everybody- there was a pop star bringing her own bright lights; a southern belle who couldn't be touched; a member of the cold English nobility who could read your darkest thoughts; and a true African goddess. And on the male side, there was the big bloke who's actually a sensitive artist; an impressively restrained energy blaster stuck in the shadow of his big brother; the up-for-anything four-fingered plaything from another dimension, and the rough and tumble of the ultimate Canucklehead. There really was something for everyone.

And looking back at those comics now, it seems blindingly obvious that they are all gay as hell. If mutants are the next evolution, it make sense that they wouldn't be bound by boring old heterosexual norms, (as seen with the current X-books' idea that Scott, Jean and Logan are shacking up as a long-term threesome), and there was definitely a lot of swinging going on down under.

Between the fights against the Reavers and the Brood and institutionalised prejudice, there is no doubt the X-team of the time were filling in their days with the odd orgy, while Longshot and Colossus were spooning in the cold Antipodean nights. Storm was always up for anything, and 
Wolverine and Havok were definitely getting down to business in between panels when they go off on their Meltdown spin-off.

Astonishingly, the team didn't even have two of the sexiest X-men ever in those days, with the cute charms of Kitty Pryde and the devilish raconteuring of Nightcrawler shuffled off to England (the dripping sexuality of Excalibur was just as hot).

But while the Comics Code and the general homophobia of the 1980s meant they were playing it safe on the surface in the main X-Men book, and only showing the chaste romances between men and women, you don't have to dig very deep to see things were getting a lot more fluid. They're the next stage of human evolution, after all, and that's always going to be terrifically queer.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Doctor who: Sorry about the maid



The new series of Doctor Who - the second with the excellent Jodie Whittiker in the lead role - has been a great improvement over her first. It's still weirdly clumsy and awfully blunt, but at least it's showing some of the ambition that was so sadly lacking in the first, especially with Jo Martin's gloriously impossible Doctor turning up.

But that storytelling clumsiness is still a big issue - the Doctor's turning away from Graham when he talked about his deepest fears was bizarre, and they way she is just constantly giving up seems like it really needs to pay off somehow.

And last week's story - where the TARDIS crew hang out with the Shelleys and Lord Byron on the weekend Mary had the idea for Frankenstein - really hit a sour note with its casual approach to death. Doctor Who has always been saturated in carnage, and the overacting deaths have long been a feature of the show, full of crazy screaming and writhing. And 'The Haunting of Villa Diodati' is no exception, with several poor serving staff meeting a gruesome fate at the hands of a renegade Cyberman.

So far, so Doctor Who, but then it goes on to say that some lives are more important than others, and that a poet's life is worth more than the working class stiffs who serve them, and that really grated. While the idea that 'words matter' is a strong one, they still don't matter as much as an innocent human life, and the victims are just as worthy of saving as somebody who was a famous writer.

Never mind that it overlooks that maybe the serving staff has subtle ways of influencing hat happened to the Great People around them, which may be lost - who's to say Mary Shelley wasn't affected by the loss of her nanny to put her off writing anything else - but the idea that their lives aren't as important as a poet's, that their experiences have no value, is just cold.

There was a recent case in our local justice system, where a drunk driver got off without a conviction because he wrote a song about the experience, and I had a similar reaction to that. It doesn't matter how good your song, or your poetry, or your paintings are, you shouldn't get preferential treatment in the justice system because of it.

And just because you're not one of the priveleged few whose art will be remembered in years to come, it doesn't mean you're not worth saving. The Doctor should know that, better than anybody.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Last of the Mohicans: Beyond the battlefield




Historical battle scenes in the biggest movies usually go for the huge visuals, and spectacle over everything, which invariably means you have two masses of heavily armed blokes charging into each other's faces and hacking away the arms and legs of the other side until only one is left standing.

But one of the best battle scenes ever put on film breaks all of those rules. It comes a fair way into Michael Mann's 1992 adaption of Last of the Mohicans, when the retreating English army is attacked by Mugua's warriors along a grassy road as they flee a surrendered fort. It's a sudden, bloody affair in the green wilds of a young America.

And it's not a big historically important battle that decides the status of nations. It's just a skirmish in the grand scheme of things. Nobody is changing history or anything like that, and it's something that would only feature as a footnote in any textbooks

But the personal stakes are as high as they get for the participants, with Magua's massive war party out for vengeance, and their English counterparts just fighting to survive. And the staging of the whole thing is superb, with a quiet, strange opening - a lone warrior coming out of nowhere and disappearing again - before suddenly exploding into mass carnage.

And as crazy as things get, you never lose the main characters, who aren't there to win the battle, or even really take sides. Their English comrades have turned on them for daring to suggest that family is more important that country, and they have no love for Magua's people, they just want to survive.

So instead of charging at the enemy, they travel through the battle at a side angle, with the relentless efficiency of the movement of Hawkeye, Chingachgook and Uncas translated across the chaos of the open battlefield. They're just focused on their goal, and taking down any fool that gets in their way.

And the confusion of the opening stages carries through to an undecided outcome - the main characters all abandon the field of battle to row their way to freedom, and hide under a waterfall to make big speeches about surviving. The skirmish ends somewhere far in the background of the main story.

But none of that matters, because the fighting is so personal, and so focused on these few warriors and women, caught up in the havoc of history. That makes it so much bigger than the biggest army maneuvers, and more thrilling than a thousand cavalry charges.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Comics in the mail



In 40+ years of comic buying, and 20+ years of a raging internet, I've rarely bought my comics online. It just always felt so easy, like it was cheating somehow, because how can you appreciate something that took no effort to get? Besides, I also always wanted to support my local stores, because no ease or convenience matches the fun of interacting with actual people.

But in a desperate bid to complete some comic runs that I've been after for years - and in some cases, decades - about once a year I do a small buy of a dozen or so comics from an online retailer based in the States, and get them shipped over.

This year's lot arrived last week, and it was so satisfying to fill the inevitable holes in the collection. After years of stumbling across random issues here and there, I was able to get the last few issues of Dylan Horrock's Pickle, (although I'm still missing the 'lost' issue he finally published last year); and Peter Milligan's Hellblazer comics (the last John Constantine comics ever published, as far as I care);  and the early Cerebus comics I've been after since forever (giving up on the second half of that 300-issue run was a great decision); even that one issue of the Superman: Panic in the Sky comic that had been a hole in that storyline since 1992 (I have no excuse for this, other than I freakin' love that story); and the last two BPRD comics I needed and one of the three Hellboy comics I'm trying to find (I should've just waited for the omnibi); and an issue of the Wagner/Grant/Kennedy Outcasts comics from the late eighties (an entire series I have never seen anywhere in real life).

Getting them in the mail is cool, and while it's still not quite as satisfying as finding them in the local shop, closing off the search for those specific runs - when I live in a country where back issues are very, very hard to find - felt pretty damn good.

And there is always more - there are always a few issues of Shade The Chnaging Man or DC Comics Presents I'm after, and I still cannot, for the life of me, find that one issue of the last Mage series from Matt Wagner. Seriously, #4 isn't anywhere. Maybe it'll show up when I do next year's lot.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Rik and Ade




I swear, I miss Rik Mayall every damn day

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Thanks, Amazon



It's really great how Amazon came along, and people in this country started buying all their books from there, and all the local independent bookstores closed down because people were giving their money to a giant overseas corporation that doesn't pay any bloody taxes, and now Amazon is refusing to deliver anything here because they can't be fucked working out how to deal with a goods and services tax, and now you can't get books anywhere, and I feel guilty about it because I ordered five books through Amazon in the past 10 years, (and they were all Kim Newman books) but nobody else seems to feel any guilt at all.

Great.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Why Meg was the best part of the White Stripes



Jack White hasn't stayed out of the spotlight much since the White Stripes first blew up two decades ago. After the end of the band, he has produced a whole lot more music, both on his own and with his mates, and a lot of it has been bloody good.

We don't hear so much about Meg these days, except in innumerable 'where is she now' bullshit articles. But it should be never be forgotten that she was an incredibly vital part of the band's success, offering a solid, thumping counterpart to Jack's flights of guitar fancy, and that was essential to the success of the duo.

Meg White was not a technically proficient drummer. She was no Bonham, or Moon, or even a Ringo, but she was as essential to the White Stripes as any of them were to their bands. That plodding thud might not have been perfect, but it could thud forever. It wasn't just an important counterbalance to Jake losing his goddamned mind on nearly every song, it was an indispensable part of the band's charm, that DIY punk aesthetic. It didn't have to be good, it just had to be alive.

The choice to step away from the drumkit, at least in public, is definitely Meg's choice to make, but it's so easy to miss her contribution to that sound, and wish there was more of it.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Hellblazing down the pub



I'm only a few years younger than Garth Ennis, and when he took over Hellblazer at a disgustingly young age in the early 1990s, I was only just behind him. And after enjoying his work in Crisis and 2000ad, I loved his John Constantine, in a way I never did before or since.

Ennis' Constantine was a complete bastard, whose use of magic was more subtle than it looked (it's always total cringe to see stories with him firing bolts of magical wank energy out of his fingers), and the writer was out to impress with his first big American comic, throwing in loads of gore and daft jokes and young man philosophizing.

It was also one of the first grown up comics I was able to get regularly, and while those comics haven't aged all that well - and the age of the writer has become more painfully obvious - they're still a lot of fun.

Alan Moore said Ennis could be great writer if he ever got out of the bloody pub, but that focus on socializing outside the usual apocalypses also had a huge impact on this particular reader, because I was also at that age where you go to the pub all the fucking time.

When most stories were being very good, and telling you that getting drunk was bad and wrong and you should just calm the hell down, Ennis was writing stories that said that sitting around with your mates over a few drinks and talking complete bollocks was actually good, and actually had some merit.

He was riffing on writing by some great alcoholics like Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan, but it was the sort of thing that struck a chord with the young man I was, searching for any kind of connection or community, and you could find that down the pub, if you stepped over the puke and avoided the people fighting on the floor. It was a place where a young adult could go and find comradeship, and loosen up a bit, and when John Constantine was telling how how fucking grand it all was, who was I to argue?

I don't drink much anymore, not because it ever became a problem or a moral issue, I just got fucking sick of the hangovers, and can't lose a whole weekend to feeling like shit. I certainly gave up long before Constantine ever got rebooted back into a character who was more likely to hang out with a Batman than a barman, but reading those Hellblazer comics now reminds me of it all, and takes me back to that perfect pub experience, which I spent a lot of my youth chasing. Your round, John.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Prometha gives me the end of the world shits



Never mind eating cheese before going to bed to avoid the most fucked-up dreams, it's the Promethea that did me in.

I scorched through almost all of Alan Moore's ABC comics recently, mainly as a comic to read while a new human was sleeping on my chest. But after getting through all the Tom Strong and Top 10 and Tomorrow Stories in record time, I got stuck on the Prometha comics. Not because they were a slog to get through or anything - although the journey through the afterlife that fills the middle third of the comic definitely dragged on too long - and not because they were full of complicated ideas that were difficult to get my sleep-deprived head around, but because they were giving me the weirdest fucking nightmares about the end of the world.

Some of them were absolutely terrifying, with aliens announcing that they were going to shoot the planet with a death ray, and leaving us all waiting around for the inevitable carnage; and some of them were relatively sedate, with the world outside the kitchen window fading slowly away. Some of them was just fucking weird, with the world getting overlaid with swimming pools filled with magic idea stuff and dragons that looked like miniature dogs, while endless variations of dead loved ones came back to give me advice about my career and how to deal with oblivion and those fucking swimming pools. And then there was the one where a trailer for a new Need For Speed movie turned into another apocalyptic vision of all the people in the world getting swept by by an invisible force of acceleration and drowned in the ocean.

Even though Prometha's apocalypse was a lot more benign than this - the end of the world just means we all move into a new one - I gave the comic a rest after that, and the dreams have died down a bit (they never really go away), and I'll come back and finish it off soon enough. But I might take a bit slower this time, and I'll probably be reading them in the morning instead.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

A blurb on Boy



Even though I was always convinced it would be a dream to regularly review movies, my career as a part-time film critic only lasted a couple of years. I did some stuff for the local newspaper I started out on, and then bits and pieces for larger publications after that, but I had to quit after a while.

I just found it wasn't as fun as I thought it would be, and I'd spend so much time sitting in the theatre thinking of a clever intro instead of actually watching the movie. I found I just couldn't mix work and hobbies, and resolved to keep them two distinct things, because you don't want to tarnish one with the other. Now I deal with regular hard news in the day job, and save the bullshit for this blog.

But it was fun for a while. Even though a lot of the mid-2000s films were awfully average, I did love to write about movies like Kung Fu Hustle and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and The Lives Of Others and In The Loop, and help expose those kinds of films to people who normally wouldn't be interested.

I've still got some of those reviews filed away in my rapidly yellowing clippings book from my first years as a journo, but none of them are online anymore.

But I still see one tiny piece of criticism all the time, from the one time I had my review used as a promotional blurb, on the back cover of the DVD for Taika Waititi's Boy. While nearly everything has gone streaming, I still see that DVD around all over the place (plus, I live in New Zealand, where everybody is into Taika's stuff), and still see a tiny piece of writing from 10 years ago all the time, and I feel a tiny bit less irrelevant in the world.

It's just a bit stink I never got a copy of the DVD for myself...

Monday, February 17, 2020

Judge Dredd: The Hershey legacy



Spoilers for the absolutely bloody excellent Judge Dredd: Guatemala, by John Wagner and Colin MacNeil, which ran in 2000ad progs 2150-2157...

The Chief Judge is dead, but her daughters survive.

John Wagner is the best comic writer in the business. Decades after he started producing a vast amount of comic scripts, when many of his peers and contemporaries have become stale or irrelevant or just too fucking weird, he is still writing some astonishing comics. Even with a rock-solid group of writers to fill the daily grind of Dredd's world and take it to new places, his occasional Dredd stories are still the very best Dredd stories.

His style for Dredd is so stripped back and efficient, so it's never too overwrought and that just makes the stolid, no-bullshit emotional beats hit even harder. And even as Wagner acknowledges that nobody lasts forever and kills off long-running characters with brutal finality, he also keeps introducing new layers, just like real life does.

Guatemala - his most recent Dredd comic - continues themes on the replacement of humans with robots, themes he has been building up for decades. It begins with the end for one of the biggest supporting characters in the comic, an ending that is so dignified and restrained, it hits so much harder than another death for Batman's butler.

But it's also a story that ends with life winning, in a city where human life means nothing to the robotic despot in charge, and the late Judge Hershey's legacy lives on, in the most unexpected ways.

And when the robot overlords treat human life as nothing more than valuable spare parts they can sell off, Judge Dredd - who has killed more people than anyone else on the planet - is still on their side, and it's genuinely thrilling when the genocidal robots are righteously taken down by the solid fist of Mega-City One.

And while Judge Hershey is gone, two new versions of the character endure. Her previously unknown daughter and granddaughter, created through the young Hershey's act of secret kindness, carry on. They're tough as nails and have been through some shit - a grandson didn't survive the storyline - but they have been saved from a terrible fate, thanks to the dying wishes of the best Chief Judge ever. Life wins.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Overheard at the comic shop



I like people making fun of comic fans bitching and moaning about the shit they love as much as anybody, but this conversation I heard at a recent visit to my local, where a Dad and his five-year-old daughter were marveling at the number of Spider-Man comics on the wall:

KID: They've got lots of Spider-Man comics here.

DAD: Are you Spider-Man?

KID: No!

KID: I'm a vampire!

The girl knew what she liked. Go Kid Dracula! Go!

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Asterix feasts were the best feasts



I've eaten a lot of good food in my life, and enjoyed it tremendously, but none of it ever looked as appetizing as the boars they would chow down at the end of every Asterix story, where the clan gathers together after another adventure around a giant table to celebrate with ale and meat.

Those boars always just looked so bloody good dripping with a golden glaze in the firelight, looking juicy and tender, and eaten with relish by free men and women. Nothing I've ever eaten - not the best Big Mac at four in the morning or the gorgeous ravioli we once ate at a three-star Michelin restaurant in New York - has ever tasted as good as I've always imagined that meat from a village in Gaul, 2000 years ago, tasted like.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Two things I learned from Violator vs Badrock



Violator vs Badrock was a three-issue comic published in 1995 by Image, just before they gave Rob Liefeld the boot. It was written by Alan Moore and pencilled by Brian Denham, and it is not - in any way, shape or form - a memorable comic book.

But even though I haven't read that comic in a decade or two, it has a weirdly special place in my personal history of collecting comic books, because it taught me two very important things:

1. I really didn't need to be a completest

Like all good young comic dorks in the early nineties, I devoured everything Moore wrote, and that worked out pretty well, because his comics were almost always pretty fucking good. They were thoughtful, and a terrific example of craft, and full of innovative action and dialogue and a raging sense of justice, and sometimes they were emotionally crushing.

Violator vs Badrock was none of these things, and was the first time I ever realised that I didn't have to get absolutely everything the writer did, because sometimes he was as human as the rest of us, and just did it for the paycheck,

Now I don't have a complete set of anything by a specific comic creator. I still have my favourites - and Moore is definitely still on that list - but everybody has their off day, and not everything is as essential as it looks. You don't have to get everything, but everything is not worth getting.

2. Art is more important than words

It took me a few years to realise I need good art to properly enjoy a comic, and that this can make up for any kind of deficiencies in the script. Who cares when it looks good?

But for a long time, I was script over anything, following writers instead of artists, and convinced the creator who starts with the initial blankness of the page was the most important part of the process. After all, I would follow quite a few writers from project to project, but just a handful of artists were good enough that I would take a look at any comic they did.

But then there was this comic, where the art was - to put it as charitably as possible - juvenile and amateurish, with female breasts that didn't obey any laws of physics, and it started me thinking that maybe the art actually matters after all.

Now it's reached a stage where I can't deal with bad art, no matter how good the script is, and find that companies like Avatar put out comics by writers I enjoy, but will never red because the art is so repulsive. (I still keep imagining how much I would have liked Providence if had an artist capable of mood or style or anything other than flat, thin exactness.)

You can learn anything from the very worst comics, even if it's showing you how to do it all wrong, and even the dumbest boobfest like Violator vs Badrock can tell you something, or show you the way to go.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Keeping track of time with Tom Hardy



Somebody mocked me the other day for having an actual paper calendar hanging on the wall of the kitchen. They couldn't believe that I needed it, when I can put everything in the planner on my phone. Instead, I was using pens and paper, like some kind of savage. 

But they lose, because I get to keep track of things with a glance on the wall, without having to bring up a screen, and find a power point, and set an alarm. Plus I got the family an unofficial Tom Hardy calendar for the new year, and we get some new Tom Hardy on the wall every month. That makes us the winners.

I like a good calendar, just from a design point of view, but when I went calendar shopping this year, it was bloody awful. Shitty, half-thought out design jobs, uninteresting pictures of endless franchises, and the movie and TV calendars were all half-arsed. There were tonnes of calendars for a lot of things I have fondness for, but they were just too bugfuck ugly.

In the end I had to get Tom Hardy, in a bunch of paparazzi photos over the past few years, because I thought the house could use a positive male role model who is also devastatingly handsome and capable of some extraordinary eye emoting. It's usually a Star Wars or X-Men calendar or something, but this time I went for smoldering intensity instead. I'm not getting that from the day planner in the phone.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Getting it all at the library



The local library has been one of my primary sources of comic book goodness for years and years now, but I always relied on the randomness of what would show up on the shelves. I never put a hold on anything, never got anything put aside. I took my chances, like everybody else.

But after losing track of a lot of things, and after finally making the plunge into figuring out the very basic steps to figure out how to actually put a hold on a book, I've gone a bit fucking overboard with it all.

It means I can order up every single volume of Lone Wolf and Cub, and read the whole thing in an enormously fulfilling go, and can catch up with the latest books by Huizenga and Ware and Seth and loads of other good and proper creators. I've burned through 10 volumes of Giant Days in 10 weeks, and caught up on the disturbing gooeyness of the Immortal Hulk.

But it also means I can order up the new Batman or Amazing Spider-Man or Astro City or Daredevil, and catch up on years of neglect. I can finally read the House of X stuff, after the endless spin-offs scared me away; and the Peter Cannon Thunderbolt that all goes a bit Alec; and the latest Frank Miller Superman comic; and the new Female Furies book.

It's never going to end, and I'm ordering up more books by the day. It's cheaper than buying the things - I've read a thousand bucks in hardbacks and trades in the past couple of months - but I really am taking advantage of these things, and I genuinely feel sorry for the other people who still wait for the shelf copy, swooping in and getting it before it gets to them. It feels a bit like cheating.

Still, that's not going to stop me ordering up all those Jason Aaron Thor comics, now that I've finally figured out the reading order of it all. That's what libraries are for...

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Fumetti freaks me out



The fumetti format has never really caught on in English language comic books, but there have been a few efforts over the years, and when they do, I just can't get into them, because they always strike me as deeply creepy.

They can also be inadvertently hilarious, as the models involved contort themselves into unnatural positions and have their features frozen in painfully unnatural expressions. Photos also bring more realism to deeply unrealistic stories and plots and characters, highlighting the absurdity of it.

But they also feel like stolen moments in time, already lost by the time they get to some kind of publication, and all that unnaturalness can give proceedings a disturbing air.

Maybe it's also because you can see the faces of the people, they're not just something born of pure imagination, brought up by a few lines of an artist's pen. These are actual people with actual lives, frozen into the silence of the comic strip.

The format already suffers from huge limitations, you can do anything with a pen and paper, while setting up the shot of a prefect panel of fumetti might require a huge amount of work. Digital manipulation means it's a lot easier - British artist Clint Langley's style has evolved into a weird digi-fumetti, with faces of real people surprisingly seamlessly plonked on bonkers fantasy - but fumetti still looks weird and sinister to me, and no way to do great comics.

Monday, February 10, 2020

How to have the best time at the movies



A night out at the movies with your best mates is always a good time, but I also used to really like going to films on my own, because you coule just chill out and enjoy the movie. And you didn't have to have a fucking opinion straight away. You could stew on it a bit. Think about it.

But now I am utterly convinced that the best way to see the movies is with lovely wife, and while I  once went and saw Casino Royale on my own on the morning of the day we got married, I don't ever want to see a movie with anybody else.

Partly it's because she respects that you don't always know if you liked a movie or not. Sometimes it's blindingly obvious, but often you have to get that precious thinking time in before coming to a judgment, and she respects that. She like sit and think about it too.

And partly it's because we generally like the same shit - she might go to a romantic comedy with her family, and I'll have to find someone else to go see a horror film with, but our tastes are generally the same.

And partly because she's actually pretty fucking funny, and whispers one-liners into my ear throughout the movie, and most of the time they're actually bloody good.

But it's mainly because she's a lot of fun to go with, because she doesn't give a flying fuck about the canon or the backstory or anything. She has never said a movie or scene tarnishes the legacy of the character, because she just doesn't give a damn about the legacy of the character.

She just wants some kick-ass action, some beautiful shots, a few good jokes and one of her favourite dudes taking his shirt off, (it's okay, there's a lot of them). I couldn't imagine seeing a Marvel movie without her, because she's not me, and she doesn't care about the history of the Infinity Gems, or how Jim Starlin has created something that generates billions of dollars without any real compensation, she just wants to see Captain America beat the shit out of that purple ballbag.

Our movie-going has dropped off in recent due to new parenting, but we can still get a babysitter every now and then. There's literally nobody else on Earth I'd rather go see a film with, and so much better than ever going on my own.