Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Following Doctor Who through time and space

Doctor Who turned 53 years old last week.

Happy birthday, Doctor! Thanks for always being there.

The night that Doctor Who came back, after 15 years off the television, I was all set to watch it when I got a phone call from work. I was the police and emergency services reporter on the local paper, and there had been a major crash on the only road out of town, and I had to head out to see the mess. So I started the video working (they weren't dead yet), and went out, just as the show started.

I didn't get home for five hours. I went out with Derek the photographer, and just as we were about to head back into town, the paramedics looking after one of the injured victims asked me to jump in the ambulance and help, because they needed somebody to hold the poor bugger's arm on the drive to the hospital.

Of course I helped out, because I'm not a bloody monster. And I got stuck out by the hospital after being rightfully kicked out of the ER, and it took me bloody ages to get home. But even though I didn't get to see the return of the best television show ever - something I'd be waiting so many years for - for a few more hours, I consoled myself with the smug notion that I'd done my best to do what the Doctor would do.

What would the Doctor do? It's a question I've been asking my whole life, and the answer is always the right one.

Doctor Who was 12 years old by the time I was born, and was already four Doctors in, so it's always been there. It was the best programme ever when I was 8, and when I was 26, and now that I'm 41.

There has never been any question about it. You can tell any kind of story in Doctor Who, and it can be funny or terrifying or silly or serious or hopeful, and sometimes it's all these things at once. It's constantly reinventing itself, proud of its own history, and generally solves its storytelling dilemmas with intelligence and compassion, instead of brute force. That's worth a century of wobbly sets.

The first encounter was probably Destiny of the Daleks, sometime around 1980, because I have a very clear memory of sitting on my Dad's knee and watching Tom Baker stumble around a quarry. I was also deeply scarred by the Leisure Hive, with the bit where some berk gets his limbs ripped off, the eternal horror of the elderly Tom Baker, and the ludicrously long and strangely creepy pan along the beach at the very start of the episode.

I was only five, and still so confused, because I couldn't figure out who that other Doctor I somehow saw that other time? The one with the white hair and the dinosaurs? There were only two television stations, so he must have been the TV One Doctor, and the curly guy was TV2. That made me sense.

It took me years and years to figure this all out, and get it all straight.

I'm still figuring it all out now, and still watching the new stuff, and it's no wonder that this kind of stupid obsession over a kids TV show from the UK has stapled itself onto the events in my life. Places and times and people in my life, all connected by a dumb television show.

That's why the Pertwee era smells of a mid-1980s Friday night down the TAB, and the First Doctor is irrevocably tied to boozy, druggy nights in the 1990s, because that's when all the old stuff really became available on video. Even the big 50th celebrations of just a few years ago are already cemented in that part of my life.

I can remember where I was in 2012, when Asylum Of The Daleks first played on UK TV, because I was actually in the country when it aired, and I can remember where I was the Friday night in 1984 when they started playing all the old stuff on telly, starting with the immortal Patrick Troughton in The Mind Robber. I have to go to a stupid school play, and I end up bonded with this other dorky kid in my class called Kyle over the fact that we're missing it.

Me and Kyle are still best mates. He sent me the latest issue of DWM just the other day, and I sent him some New Mutants annuals that I got cheap at the last convention I got to.  He usually buys the Doctor Who toys and the magazines, I get the fancy books and other weird ephemera. It's more of a shared collection now, which works out surprisingly well.

Years and years later, they finally catch up with Sylvester McCoy on local TV, but it's all over. When they wander off at the end of Survival with a wonderfully twee sign-off, there were still vague promises that there would be more to come, but they proved predictably hollow.

But it's not like Doctor Who ever goes away, and all through my 20s, it's still the best thing ever - I'm still heavily into the mag, and all the old stuff is coming out on video, and I have an embarrassingly huge crush on the New Adventure novels that still hasn't gone away.

Even so, when it comes back, there is almost nothing more exciting in the world. At the same time it returns, I hook up with the lovely wife, and that's slightly more important. But only slightly.

But then, just as it's about to start, I have to go do my job, and just as I'm about to get away, someone asks of my help, and I've got no choice about that. The Doctor wouldn't hesitate, and I shouldn't either.

In 2013, a year after the big 50th, they fly me to bloody Australia to talk to the new Doctor for work. The job that delayed that first Eccleston episode, is now letting me talk to the actual current Doctor, and that's a big win for pure karma.
While I'm there, I make a dumb joke in front of Peter Capaldi about how incredibly excellent he is, and he laughs, and holy shit, what a world. How did this even happen?

It's been a long year since the last new episode of new Doctor Who, and there is still a month to go. It's been a shit of a year for almost everybody, but we've all got to keep calm and carry on.

What would the Doctor do?

He would always try to find the solution, and always try to help, and always try never to be cruel. There are worse role models a kid can have. Happy birthday, Doctor Who.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Comics will still break your heart: Another interview with Dylan Horrocks

It's been another week of weird, awkward busyness, so there is no new post here, because when something has to give in real life, it's usually the blog.

In the meantime, check out this radio interview that my work did with Kiwi comic treasure Dylan Horrocks that came out last week, because Horrocks is the best:

'I think of the image and the words as one language' - Dylan Horrocks on RNZ

For more Horrocks, there is this interview I did a couple of years ago for Sam and the Magic Pen. You can never have too much Horrocks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A murdering Batman ain't a real Batman

All the political uncertainty and undisguised hatred of Planet Trump, on top of the usual fear and loathing of the modern age, has been getting a bit much lately, so I tried to get away from this mundane world for a while by giving the Batman Versus Superman: Dawn Of Glowering movie another shot.

Because no matter how grim and gritty this real world actually gets, some Batman usually helps. Batman stories are iconoclastic escapism at their very best, and the sight of Bruce Wayne stomping on some punk's head usually lifts the spirits.

He didn't help this time, because of all the murdering he did. I know it's already a cliche, but I just can't get past the murdering. Because Batman doesn't kill.

The recent release of the extended version of this movie put to rest any fears that it was unfairly treated on its initial release. Even with the story heavily padded out with all those extraneous details, it was still total bullshit.

There were just so many levels of dumbness to the film, and it was a tonal mess from start to finish, and the biggest example of the stupidity of it all was the sight of Batman casually killing all the punks that got in his way. The filmmaker’s argument that these unfortunate henchmen were all victims of their own weaponry was a little undone by the fact that Batman was still shooting at them with bloody big machine guns.

The Batman concept is open to a wide variety of interpretations – you can tell gritty, street-level noir tales, or ripping science-fiction at the far edge of the universe. But having him kill people isn’t just another interpretation of that vision, it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the whole damn concept, a terrible failure of imagination and little more than a dumb kid’s idea of cool.

Batman is better than you. It’s a hard fact to face up to, but things will go a lot easier for everybody if we just acknowledge this from the start. Batman is a better person than you can ever be – he’s stronger, tougher and has superhuman levels of emotional depth.

And the fact that he doesn’t kill is another part of it. He might maim and cripple the very worst rapists and murderers, but he still takes that moral high ground, and never passes the ultimate sentence. When you dress up as a flying rodent, it's hard to pull off that kind of moral authority, but one of the great things about fictional characters like Batman is that they ares always on the verge of utter fascism, but never quite step over the line, and judging who lives and who dies is a step far too far.

Besides, he can always think of a better way - mindless slaughter of the bad guys is the most boring solution to the problem, with no imagination, and no charm. Outsmarting the villains is always more fun than that.

After all, Batman is fictional as fuck. Death is horrifically permanent in the world we live in, and really is the ultimate awful silencer and punishment, but it almost means nothing in the revolving-door afterlife of the DC universe, where any character can be easily brought back to life. With the endless rebooting of this universe, they don't even have to come up with an excuse - long-dead characters can just reappear in a new skin after a few years.

But Batman is a logical creature, and knows that killing people won't get him very far, not in a fictional universe where the afterlife is an indisputable fact. He has hung out with the Phantom Stranger enough to figure that shit out.

If the Bat ever snapped, and ripped Joker's heart out, he's just sending that twisted, sick soul straight to hell, where he's just going to come back with demonic powers, and devilish allies. That's not going to help anybody.

Death is not the same final sanction it is here in the real world, and applying that logic to the worlds of magic lassos and power rings is just dumb. Even if your morals are as hard as Sgt Rock, there is just no argument for it.

A hardcore Batman, slicing down his enemies with vicious mercilessness, is little more than a 12-year-old’s idea of what’s cool. I know, because I was a snotty 12-year-old once, and I wanted my Batman to be the meanest, toughest Batman ever, and glorified in his casual attitude to death.

When #572 of Detective Comics came out in 1987, it was a big 50th anniversary issue, involving some wacky Sherlock Holmes-inspired adventures. And in one of the opening scenes, in a lovely Alan Davis drawn sequence, Batman and Robin lay into some scum with their usual gusto, and then someone pulls a machine gun, but Batman is okay, because he shoves the goon he is pounding in the way, to take the bullets for him.

I still remember being super-impressed as an adolescent, because I was sure this showed that these things weren't for kids any more. They were for me! They were serious business.

Now it just feels horribly callous and unimaginative, and more than just a little sadistic. I still wonder about that poor fucker who died to show what a badass eighties Batman was. How many orphans has he created this way, how much longer can he spin out the cycle of violence without even trying rehabilitation. We should be better than that. Batman certainly should be better than that.

Still, outside of the grimmest of '80s Bat-adventures, and the flexibility of Elseworlds or other imaginary stories, the Batman of the comics has usually maintained that strict moral code, always trying to do the right thing when it comes to the sanctity of life.

We're totally ignoring all the bloodthirstiness of the first couple of years of Batman adventures all the way back in the Golden Age, when he was snapping necks and dropping people in acid, because he still wasn't quite Batman yet. It took a while for the comics to truly, properly define the character, it always does, something superhero films always forget.

In the movies, where they keep expecting characters to emerge fully-formed after one origin adventure, it's been a bit more inconsistent. While the excellent Adam West's Batman wouldn't even harm some cute ducks in his movie debut, the Bat-movies of the late eighties and nineties thought nothing of portraying Batman letting hired goons fall to their deaths, or straight-up exploding them to death.

Refreshingly, the Nolan films bucked this trend, (even if Bats really could have saved Ras at the end of the first one). But that moral certainty of Batman the whole goddamn point of The Dark Knight, and the grimmest, darkest and most serious Bat-film ever was still built around the Joker trying to get Batman to snap and take his life, and failing utterly - the only time he actually sounds like he's laughing with real joy is when he is apparently thrown to his doom in the climax.

And then there is the latest incarnation, in the latest and loud movie adventure. Ben Affleck actually makes a terrific Batman when he isn't breaking necks and blowing up flamethrowers.

But the callous disregard for human life doesn't even make sense of the context of the film - when you’re supposed to be shocked by the Bat’s ruthlessness in the ham-fisted dream sequence of an apokalyptic future, it means nothing. The tone is all shouting in an effort to look cool, in both the real world and dreams. Batman uses high explosive weaponry to straight-up murder the mercenaries he is fighting in the present days, so it means nothing when he starts shooting people in the face in the prophetic shit.

I can't really blame the movie studios for trying so hard to please 12-year-old boys at the expense of everybody else, because they are fucking stupid and easy to please with false macho bullshit, with no deeper meaning than 'look how hardcore the Bat is', and they are a significant portion of the total audience.

But Batman is better than that, and a good Bat-story is pure escapism. And we could all use some escapism right now. We could all use a Batman to stomp all the bullshit out of our lives, we just don't need him to stomp the life out of our bullshit.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Mister Wrong

Back in 2001, I got into an argument at a party with a dude named Gary - who I'd never met before - over the appearance of a certain character actor in the British sketch comedy programme The Fast Show.

This dumb argument got unnecessarily heated on both sides, because we were both 100 percent certain we were right. Fortunately, the internet was a thing by then, and we could just look it up in 30 seconds flat, and it turned out I was totally, utterly, completely wrong.

That was fine. I'm often wrong, and have learned to accept it. But convincing everybody else at that party that I wasn't that bothered, and that I was even glad to be so very wrong about The Fast Show, was almost impossible.

It used to be a lot easier before the internet. You could pretend to be an expert on all sorts of bullshit, and nobody would call you on it, because they didn't have instant access to the sum total of human knowledge (or wikipedia, at least) sitting on their phones.

As long as you sounded like you knew what you were talking about, you could get away with any kind of crap, and if I was certain myself that the lead actress in that low-budget late-eighties haunted spaceship movie was that actress from Night Court, it wasn't hard to convince others. I didn’t know what I was fucking talking about, but I sounded like I did, which was good enough.

This whole era of misinformation came to an end with things like the IMDB and Google, and while that has made me look a lot dumber than I used to, the nice thing about these sites is that you didn't need to clutter up the brain with remembering what actor has been in what film anymore, because you could outsource all that useless knowledge to the web.

We all became experts, but even though we've got all that access to knowledge, we're still only human. We're still going to get things wrong. I'm always going to get things wrong.

I'm still mixing up actors and creators on books and TV and films and comics, especially if they've got slightly similar names. I can be awfully ignorant, and jump to the wrong conclusions on the smallest amount of misinformation. I’m still finding out that deeply held bits of trivia that I've always taken for granted - and repeated - were based on bullshit, or malicious lies.

I have steadfast opinions about the worthiness of worthless comics like the Nth Man, or Mark Millar books, that I'm never going to give up. There is always a weird bit of pride in having the wrong opinion about something, but it’s still fucking wrong.

I have a job where any mistakes I make are instantly viewed by thousands and thousands of people online, and I still fuck up the odd headline, and just totally screwed up a photo caption half an hour ago. (Fortunately, as good as I am at fucking up, I’m even better at fixing it quickly, so that’s something.)

I misjudge, underestimate and exaggerate. I get confused and baffled by the complexity of this world of ours, on a daily fucking basis. I'm trying my best, but it's probably not good enough. I’m just wrong, or mistaken, or a bit fucking useless, all the time.

I'm also getting it totally wrong in my predictions about where my entertainments are going, wondering out loud what's going to happen next in Game Of Thrones, or what the the mid-credits sting of the new Marvel film will be about, with nothing to back it up, or any inside information at all.

It's even gone down on record, on this blog, with my foolish predictions there for all the world to see. There was that time I was convinced Doctor Who was heading to a point where Amy and Rory were going to start a new race of Time Lords, or the post where I theorized that that the Watchmen movie might be a harbinger of a new way of hyper-kinetic storytelling (or even that it might be any fucking good.)

Look upon my prophesies, mortals, and laugh your fucking arses off, because I usually don't have the faintest fucking idea what I'm talking about.

It's always a bit embarrassing when you get called on a fuck up you have made. It's a burning shame every single time, and we feel stupid and contagious.

But so what? Once you realise that you're always going to be wrong about everything, it’s not that big a deal, and it’s certainly not worth crying over. I always like the sound of the Socratic thing, of knowing that you know nothing, and that this is the first step of learning anything. That sounds about right.

There is certainly still a place for experts in this world, and one of the disturbing trends in modern society is a distrust of people who actually know what they are talking about, to the point where scientists are mocked for their presentation of facts. But genuine expert opinion should always be considered. (It’s just unfortunate that my main form of expertise in this life is the standard of 2000ad artists, which doesn't help anybody).

But we can still own our fuck-ups, because if we just shovel it all to the back of the closet of secret shame, we’re never going to learn anything. We’re so fucking worried about how stupid we look, we end up becoming even dumber, because we’re too busy being embarrassed to learn where we went wrong.

I don’t mind looking like an idiot, if I learn something new and fascinating out of it, like who really played the repressed farmer on the Fast Show.. I still feel like a total dumbarse when I’m wrong about anything, but it’s not worth getting angry about. Otherwise I’ll be angry all the fucking time, and that’s no fun.

We’re so hyper-individualised in this ultra-connected 21st century, and our image is everything. But it only makes you more human to display your flaws. You only look and feel stupid for a little while, then you become a better person..

It's a bit of a glib fucking observation, but if more people were willing to own their mistakes, and learn something from them, instead of trying to hide it all and maintain a facade of fake perfection, this might be a better world to live in.

I'm still screwing up, every day, in small ways and big, and it always goes the same way - Oh shit. Oh dear. Oh well. Self-worth can take a battering when you’re a natural born fuck-up, and it can really get you down, if you let it. Don’t let it. We'll all be much happier that way.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Love and Rockets: Do you know where your children are?

Hello again, you sexy beast.

Love and Rockets has, in its fourth incarnation, returned to its original magazine format. It feels thinner than it used to, but we could probably all lose a little weight, and the content on its pages is just as substantial as ever.

After all, printing and paper technologies have come a long way since the last time Love and Rockets came in at magazine size, back in the 1990s. They don't need to shovel the ink onto scratchy paper to capture the fine line and heavy shadows of Jaime's stories, or to capture all the emotion in Palomar. The art is as crisp as it ever was, the backgrounds are bright white, and the subtleties of body language are just as clear.

So it doesn't feel as chunky as its first volume, but the latest incarnation of this consistently brilliant comic is still full of as much drama, love, comedy, pain, memory and beauty as ever.

Besides, once that slender cover is cracked open, it's an immediate thrill to see the art is back to huge and glorious proportions. Both brothers have never shied away from packing as much as they could onto the page, no matter what the format, but the bigger size is beautiful, and really allows their art to stretch out and breathe.

There was - to be clear - still a hell of a lot of beautiful art in the smaller size of the previous volume, and it could often be used to great effect by these master storytellers: The Love Bunglers had a real claustrophobic and confined tone, squashed down into the smaller page. But these are comics that are born to breathe freely – the bigger the art, the more satisfying the thrill.

Even besides that lovely restored bigness, Love and Rockets always gets a lift from the format change. There is always a nitro blast of new energy in the storytelling, while still building on all that has come before. The new #1 is no exception, and has an easy air of modern cool.

It’s notable that Jaime – the eternal punk – is happy to break with the rhythm of the past few years straight away, by continuing the story started in the last two annual editions. For the past eight years, there have been clear two-issue chapters in each of his Locas comics, but the most recent two-parter, featuring a night of aching reunions and bottomless regrets, slips on through into this new volume.

If there is more to come still, at least this story of the events of a single weekend will be easier to handle when the next slender chapter in this story is just a few short months away, instead of a whole year. It’s much easier to keep things rolling without an annual hiatus.

Still, new volume, new stories, new starts, new characters. Bring it on.

There are some big steps forward in the over-all sagas that the two brothers have been telling for decades now, and there is a bit of the usual goofy shit. It’s mainly from Jamie this time, whose sci-fi characters are ripping off alien penises and healing through the power of vampirism.

This stream of consciousness storytelling has always been a vital part of Love and Rockets, and is always welcome. They're never as thematically rich as the other stories, but are a necessary light counterbalance to all the heaving emotions.

But it’s the bigger pictures that still provide their ongoing sagas with a real punch. Stories that started 30 years ago are still paying off in weird and wonderful ways.

And, as ever, it's all about the ladies. L&R #1 easily vaults over the rigid restrictions of the Bechdal test, and is almost nothing but women and girls who are their own people, hanging out together as friends and family.

The only male to make a real appearance in Jaime's Locas or Tonta stories is a total idiot who pushes the girls around, and the main male characters of this long-running saga are consigned to pictures on the wall, in the background of the cover. This is the girl's story, and they don't need to be defined by the boys. They've got more than enough going on.

The women over in Gilbert's comics are having a rough time of it, but are still strong. The story is moving on, with a number of Fitz's successors appearing as auditions for the next chapyter of this generational saga, (although there will only ever be one Fritz, like there was one Luba, or one Maria, even if they all end up playing the same role).

Seeing Love and Rockets back in magazine format is both comforting and fresh. It's a bit like going back to a school where you went as a kid, and finding that it's not as huge as you always remember, but still a little bit awesome.

But saying Love and Rockets is a little bit awesome is like saying the sky is blue. More than thirty years after it all kicked off, and it's just as sexy as ever.