Thursday, February 28, 2019

Fun with Banshee

I did a fierce binge on Banshee recently, because I do shift work and needed something to watch to wind down after work, long after the lovely wife had gone to bed. It was fun.

But whenever I did watch it when she was around, she would always walk in on a moment of monstrous violence, with somebody getting an anvil in the head or a knife to the throat, or decapitated by a skidding truck, and she would always ask me what the hell I was watching.

She never seemed to walk in on the endless scenes of the main character angsting over his unlikely role as sheriff, or ALL the awful Amish politics. It was just the grossest parts. Her timing was impeccable, really.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Up on the walls

I was banned from putting up any posters or pin-ups on my bedroom walls for most of my teenage years, and for good cause too. I was only allowed to have things like Mum's creepy old angels painting hanging up there, because I destroyed the wallpaper at one of the rentals we were living in. I'd used sticky tape to cover one bedroom wall with 2000ad covers and pin-ups and all the wallpaper was ripped when it came down.

By the time I left home I was allowed the odd Nightmare on Elm Street or Spider-Man poster, but things got out of control in my first few flats in the mid-90s. I would cover every single inch of my bedrooms with posters, pin-ups, covers, trading cards and cool pictures cut out of a Previews comic catalogue.

Some flats, this mad collage of anything vaguely interesting from movies, TV or comics would spread out into the communal living areas, tainting the whole place with my rampart dorkiness. There would be bits from John Woo movies, or Vertigo mini-posters, or Withnail and I stills, or Batman comic covers, or endless Star Wars bullshit across those walls. The back of the bedroom door would host entire trading card collections, and the hallway was full of movie star pin-ups from some 1960s magazines I found at the op shop.

It dropped off after a couple of years - sometimes literally - because it was just too much fucking work, keeping all this shit up and under control, replacing the stuff that was bleached out by the sun, finding room for the gorgeous Eraserhead and Blade Runner posters that came with Empire magazine. In the end, there were fewer and fewer things on the walls, and by the time I moved in with the lovely wife 14 years ago, there was only the odd poster or two.

These days, the walls are full of tasteful art by our mates, and little paintings and prints that we picked up overseas. Some of the stuff that was part of the '90s collage - including some Ralph MacQuarrie prints and flyers for things like The Usual Suspects and Man Bites Dog went into the bin last week, and it was about time too, they were all getting a bit ragged.

But I wish I'd bothered to take a photo of the collage at its peak, when it overwhelmed the room and flat. It really was a remarkable sight, and the pinnacle of my nerdiness.

Monday, February 25, 2019

All about taking a deep dive

So much pop-culture criticism is so superficial, barely scratching the surface, and I’m just as bad as anyone. But I do love a decent deep dive into one particular movie or book, wringing out absolutely everything that can be said about it

Right now, all I want to listen to on the long walk home after work every night is the One Heat Minute podcast by Blake Howard, which is going through Michael Mann’s brilliant movie minute by minute, and doing an episode for every single one of its two hours and fifty minutes. It’s up to minute 115, and while I thought the joke would wear thin, there is more than enough in the movie to discuss for more than a hundred hours.

In this kind of deep dive, everything gets covered -  the acting, the themes, the production design, the music, the facial hair, the everything – and Howard and his fellow podcast hosts turn over every rock in the movie and see what’s underneath.

It’s not a surprise that a movie like Heat can stand this kind of scrutiny, because it’s a fucking excellent film that is complicated and complex enough to merit that focus.  But you can do it with almost anything, if you have the will to follow through. Right now, TV’s original bad boy critic Sean T Collins is promising to do an essay on Patrick Swayze classic Road House every day in 2019, and he’s almost two months into it and hasn’t come close running out of things to say about that huge slice of American cheese. Turns out, there is a lot to talk about, from Sam Elliott’s magnificent hair to the standard of henchmen in the film to the ARE YOU KIDDING? guy.

I’m not saying that everything actually deserves this kind of inspection, there are plenty of movies that have nothing to say beyond the fact that they exist. But it’s always a pleasure to take that kind of deep dive on something that really deserves it, and seeing what comes to the surface.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Rammstein in the rain

It was one of the last Big Day Out music festivals in Auckland, and we weren't that bothered about seeing Rammstein, but it had been a miserable rainy day, and we had time to kill until Iggy Pop came out, so why not?

And even though every song basically still sounds the same to me, they were magnificent. The stage show was off the charts, with so much fiery pyrotechnics that they literally burned the rain away. And, even though we were a good 30m away from the stage, our eyebrows as well.

Surprisingly, the wife got a bit obsessed with their Teutonic chunk after we saw their show, and got all their albums afterwards. I saw the flames, but I didn't see that coming.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Losing the Millar for good

While clearing out the back cupboard in the spare room the other day, I found some print-outs of a bunch of columns that Mark Millar wrote for the CBR site in the early 1990s. I don't know why I had them, or why I had kept hold of them, but there they were.

And I actually thought about holding onto them, because I've always been weirdly attached to the writer's work, and because these columns don't seem to exist online anymore. They were lost, along with a lot of other great writing, during one of the comic site's periodic reboots, with hundreds of thousands of words flushed down the digital toilet.

We all thought the digital revolution would be a great way to archive things like columns over the years, but it turned out that it was just so much easier for everything to eventually disappear into the ether. In the end, it's so much easier to read printed fanzines from 1982 than it is to read something published online 20 years later, and if I got rid of these print-outs of Millar's column, I'd probably never read them again.

But then I actually read the columns and they were terrible, full of brash, boring arrogance and post-Loaded homophobia masquerading as banter, and I binned the lot. Pop cultural history is all well and good, but a lot of it is still completely worthless.

There is something good in digital footprints ultimately being so transient - I'm certainly glad there is no sign of the embarrassingly try-hard anti-Watchmen screed I put online in 1997 anywhere left on the web - and it's not like Millar has kept quiet since. All that old stuff can go now.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Tell it like it is, Ellsworth

“I may have fucked up my life flatter than hammered shit, but I stand here before you today beholden to no human cocksucker.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Format matters: Not enough abominable omnibi

A good comic book omnibus is hard to beat, and they’re usually big enough to beat your enemies to death with them too. Of all the formats a comic can come in – monthly pamphlets, prestige-format one-offs, or digital files flying through the air – there is such chunky satisfaction in a decent-sized omnibus.

A trade paperback doesn't do it any more, not in this day of decompressed comics. And some of them are so slim – just four or five issues long – that you can end up with more than a dozen collections really quickly. The constant reboots hardly help.

But an omnibus – a trade paperback that collects three or more regular collections, with a soft cover and decent price tag – helps make it less of a mission to keep track of it all. My first ever omnibus was a collection of Asterix books, with four or five of the perennial albums put in one place.

And I still get them now. I've finally got all the Charley’s War comics in one place (and it took me weeks to get through it all). I've also recently been getting some of the Hellboy and BPRD books in their chunkiest, cheapest editions, and still have a few of the Essential and Showcase cheaparse collections on the shelves, although that particular format seems to have dried up now.

Creators like Robert Kirkman have got a lot out of the big-ass format, with his long-form comics The Walking Dead and Invincible collected into big damn editions. They can get quite pricy when you've got more than 30 issues collected in one place, but you also get more bang for your buck on a page by page basis.

I wish there were more. I would totally get something like Rick Geary’s murder stories if they were all collected in one fat volume, and would love a massive and cheap collection of Jason Aaron's Thor comics, because I lost track of that one three reboots ago. There's always a place for a thick omnibus for things like this, even if they take up a shit-load of room on the shelf.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The algorithm is so fucking stupid

I had to give up reading non-fiction books about the immediate future for mankind, because all the writers had an ideological hard-on for the algorithm, convinced it was going to run anything and everything in our lives, and that always sounds like pure horseshit.

While they pointed to studies showing Facebook knew more about people than their own friends and colleagues, there's the stink of confirmation bias, because they're dealing with people who gave Facebook everything. Like most people, I threw up a couple of pics, occasionally like something and have gradually used it less and less, and I've always found the social media platform has just got better and better at showing me exactly all the shit I'm not interested in.

Meanwhile, YouTube does seem to have got the idea that I'm not interested in alt-right fuckheadery, and unlike a lot of other poor folk, I somehow have managed to avoid that cesspool completely. But the ads it serves up are laughably off-point - I don't ever need to see another advertisement for Grammarly, because I'm a professional editor who gets paid to sort out grammar for other people, I'm never going to fucking pay for a robot to do it.

There might be a singularity coming when an AI reaches god-like perfection and is able to predict our every thought and desire, but we're not there yet. The algorithm is too stupid.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Somewhere in space and time...

Somewhere in Europe in the 1970s, somebody is listening to a ringing tone down the other end of the telephone line, and probably has no idea that it's being recorded onto the end of Life On Mars, and definitely has no idea that people will be hearing that telephone ring and ring for as long as human beings exist in this universe.

Sunday, February 17, 2019


The bit early in the Aquaman movie where Black Manta finishes brutally murdering a bunch of innocent sailors, and then turns around and has a big and painfully clumsy 'I love you Dad!' moment is the most Geoff Johns thing I've ever seen on a cinema screen.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off

Even though he is one of the worst human beings in all of fiction, I like to watch videos of Malcolm Tucker insulting people – using weapons-grade profanity with extreme prejudice - to relax. I just find it enormously calming.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Drunk History: Get the beers out

My sense of humour has always skewed towards the British sense of witty irony and slapstick pantomime – I could never watch a single episode of Saturday Night Live, but have devoured things like Monty Python, Father Ted, Red Dwarf and The Young Ones over the years.

So I was truly surprised by how bloody awful Drunk History UK is. Just unwatchably awful. The original US version is far funnier, and I could watch it all day long, because it's fucking funny and fucking informative. But the UK spin-off is just painful to sit through.

It’s partly because the British don’t have the American’s secret weapon in Derek Waters, who always gets the best out of people who are completely shit-faced, keeping them at ease and on target with their wild stories. But it’s mainly because the drunk Brits just shout a lot, instead of getting all zen on it. They're just really loud and annoying drunks. Shit, maybe all British comedy has been this loud and shrill all along, and I just haven't really noticed.

I’m a little scared to go back and check now.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Nobody wins when you dance with dragons

One of my favourite things about devouring George RR Martin’s Westeros books is the mad analysing and philosophising that always follows. I finished Fire and Blood in a week and spent a long, long time afterwards watching all the videos and reading all the essays and listening to all the podcasts that were fiercely deconstructing all the new data. It’s bliss.

But one thing I have no time for is anybody trying to convince me who the good guys and bad guys in the Dance of the Dragons were. They’re all bad and awful. That’s the point.

It’s always comforting to have a story where one side is obviously evil, and the other is obviously good. There is plenty of that in the larger Song Of Ice and Fire, with noble families that are all honourable and loyal, and freaking ice zombies who want to murder everyone on the other side.

But that’s not the story of Dance of the Dragons, and there are characters who are noble and honest and true on both sides, just as there are characters who are treacherous, vile and batshit crazy on both sides. If anything, the real villain is the system of monarchy itself, which encourages the convoluted nightmare of succession, and the horror that it unleashes in the hearts of men and women with giant fucking dragons.

I will read anything that is ever written about Patchface’s moist mutterings, but any type of logical gymnastics needed to feel like the good guys won this dance are just a waste of time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Here comes Captain Apache!

Captain Apache is your standard acid western, full of sweaty psychedelia, as buckets of blood are spilled in the dust, and everybody has to stop at some point and take some drugs to find out what it all really means, man.

But the trippiest thing about the movie has to be Lee Van Cleef's full head of hair.

He was a gorgeous bald man, but giving him a fringe throws off his whole face. It looks squashed and stretched, his weird grin given an even more sinister edge. That was a face and head to be shown off, not hidden beneath thatch.

The second trippiest thing is Apache's baller coat, with its massive woolly lapels and leather tassels. Old Lee looked weird with hair, but he was rocking that jacket.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

I'm getting the Screams out again

For six glorious months in the mid-80s, Scream was the greatest comic that ever existed. The new Halloween specials they put out now might not be quite so mind-meltingly brilliant - even with Frazer Irving doing The 13th Floor - but I'll take what I can get.

At the very least, I'm getting the original 15 issues out again this weekend. These chills and thrills never get old.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Raiders of the Lost Abs

The second Indiana Jones might be the least-loved entry in the original trilogy, but nobody could possibly argue that we reached Peak Harrison Ford in that moment when Indy is on the rope ladder, with death coming in on both sides, and he raises the sword of his head.

Hot damn!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

It's an anti-Miracle

It still grates how much Marvel fucked up their handling of the Miracleman comics.

After finally securing the rights, they pissed away the goodwill with endless reprints of the cheesy 50s strips that nobody really cares about, and inflated reprints of the neat 1980s stuff, clogged down with backmatter and unrealistic expectations.

And then they pulled the plug altogether, just after they solicited a new issue from Gaiman and Buckingham for the first time in decades like a total tease, because nobody cared about the property at all.

We should be lucky that they haven't spliced him into an Avengers comic yet (in the same way DC shows no shame in slotting Promethea into a Justice League book). It's bound to happen sooner or later, even if nobody wants that. We just want the Silver Age.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The State and the Majestic

When I was growing up in Timaru in the 1980s, there were two cinemas showing all the latest movies, and while I’ve been to many, many other theatres all over the world since, you never forget your first ones.

(There was a third – the Regent – but it closed up just before I was born. While the abandoned theatre was there for years afterwards and I got to explore it when it was used as for furniture storage for a department store I worked at, but it got demolished over a decade ago.)

The State also disappeared decades ago, but it was there when I was a kid. My admittedly dodgy memory is that it was the cinema that played all the big blockbusters, so you went there to see the latest Star Wars or Star Trek II or Legend of the Lone Ranger. The cinema eventually got sucked up into a strip mall which is now full of ghost shops in the middle of town.

The Majestic lasted a bit longer. It got its share of blockbusters – my earliest ever movie memory is seeing Superman there with my cousins – but it mainly had a weird mix of serious adult fare and absolute shlock. I wasn’t interested in the serious stuff, but I definitely saw things like the Village People movie and Spies Like Us there. It was also the first place I ever saw a movie at night, instead of a midday matinee, and I can still remember the thrill of seeing the night sky after walking out of the Terence Hill/Bud Spencer masterpiece Who Finds A Friend Finds A Treasure.

By the early nineties, just when my obsession with all things cinema reached its peak, the Majestic was still there, and I went to everything they showed - including Romper Stomper, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Speed – multiple times. It was soon replaced by a small multiplex somewhere else in town, and the foyer of the Majestic was turned into a video store for a long while, until it went the way of all the other video stores.

Weirdly, the thing I miss most from these old theatres isn’t the lingering smell of popcorn and Tangy Fruits (best lollies ever), or the intermissions, or the single tickets, it’s the sound. These theatres were vast, open spaces (or at least, they felt like that way to a kid), and the sound would bounce and reverberate off the walls, giving movie dialogue, music and sound effects a strange echo effect that has been wiped out by multiplex perfection.

Sometimes I’ll check out an old cinema somewhere that I’ve never been to before, and I’ll catch that echo again. It’s the best feeling, taking me all the way back to the earliest films I ever enjoyed at the theatre. Nothing beats the feeling of your first cinemas, and there will always be a place in my movie-loving soul for the State and the Majestic.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Reaching out

I've never read a Jack Reacher book in my life, but last night I had one of those weird dreams where you somehow manage to read a whole book, and it was a Jack Reacher book where he rolled into town and – after some initial suspicion – it turned out there was no big criminal conspiracy with links to a shadowy military-industrial outfit, and everybody was just really nice and good to each other, and Reacher spent the whole book going for long walks and having nice dinner with people.

It was lovely. I wonder if they're really like that.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

If Gary has given up….

After reading a whole lot of old issues of The Comics Journal recently, it was genuinely a bit sad to see that Gary Groth didn’t have that much to say after the death of Stan Lee.

Once upon a time, all it would take would someone like Bill Mantlo to say something snide at the Comic-Con urinal, and Groth would devote seven pages of the Journal to a polemic about how Mantlo's comment represents the dire state of comics, and he certainly had plenty to say about Stan Lee’s place in modern culture over the years.

But after The Man passed away late last year, all we got from Groth was 500 words (including two sizable quotes), with some vague ideas about Lee’s legacy, and that was it.

That’s obviously Groth’s prerogative, and after spending so much of his life beating his head against the mainstream perception of comics, you can’t blame him for being completely bloody sick of it all. He doesn’t moan about anything like he used to, and in an age when long, rage-fuelled rants have been replaced by 140-character snark and putdowns, that’s to be expected.

But after reading all those old TCJ issues, it’s a shame to see that beautifully fiery rhetoric that once filled pages and pages of the magazine has been doused. It’s as necessary as it ever was. How are we going to build something new if there isn't anybody to burn all the old shit down?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Venture this!

"I get it. I suddenly get it! You're children!"

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

I must do this thing

The lovely wife and I have accidentally been watching a lot of films lately about men who have a life-long obsession that is so powerful it ultimately destroys their lives and the lives of everybody around them.

My only crippling life-long obsession is to collect a complete set of 2000ad progs – I only need 37 more, all from the first two years – so I don’t think this will destroy everything that is good in life.

I might get a couple of paper cuts, and may strain myself moving them all around, but that’s probably about it. The lovely wife might not always approve of all these comics cluttering up the joint, but she knows it won't ruin our lives.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Green Lantern: Nothing will ever be the same again!

Superhero comic fans can be such fucking rubes sometimes.

In the final pages of the most recent issue of Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp's Green Lantern comic, Hal Jordan does something so out of character that it is genuinely shocking, something that is painfully reminiscent of some of his least reputable law enforcement counterparts in the real world.

But what was even more surprising was some of the reactions to the comic, with reviews, podcasts and social media posts that were deeply concerned about this whole new status quo, and what it says about the whole Green Lantern Corps concept, and what it all means for the future of Hal Jordan.

It doesn't mean fucking anything, because it appears that anyone with a stress headache from their furrowed brow has never read any superhero comic before, let alone a DC superhero comic by a writer who has been doing this for decades. Of course it's not what it appears, of course it's some trick or secret plan or something. They always are. Every time.

There are a thousand covers promising that a superhero has gone over the line and done something irreversible like murder, but the pages within always reveal it to be a fake-out or misunderstanding. The next issue of this comic is due out this week, and it might take a couple of issues to explain what is going on, or Morrison's usual hyper-compressed story will explain everything away instantly.

There's a chance I might be wrong, and Hal Jordan might be headed off into new levels of super-dickdom. But I'm not, because this is what always happens, and always will.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Ron Smith’s Dredd always looked like a superhero to me

It never really felt like Ron Smith’s artwork really got the respect I always thought he deserved, even from fellow 2000ad fans, but his recent passing has shown that I wasn’t the only one to rate it highly.

I always have. When I was devouring new issues of 2000ad during the comic’s golden period in the early 1980s, Smith’s Dredd was always the best Dredd. It took me a while to warm to Ezquerra and McMahon - even though they were clearly always working on another level of brilliance - but Smith’s Dredd comics were always so warm and inviting and energetic.

Whether it was the just-another-night detailing of The Graveyard Shift or the climactic awesomeness of the Judge Child Quest, or the sheer economy of the daily newspaper strip, Smith was always there. He captured the insanity of the city itself, and there were always strange details in his future world, with his pages so full of action and impact. (This was helped by the fact that because Smith famously had an alarm clock set to work on a page of comics for a specific amount of time, and if he got the basics down quickly, he could fill any negative space with crowds or architecture that didn’t look like anything else in comics.)

His figurework could sometimes be awkward and strange, with human bodies contorted by exaggeration, but when it came to Dredd, the character blazed through Smith’s pages like an American superhero, with bulging muscles and firm-footed posing.

But Smith was always one of those artists that I could never be objective about, because I loved it unconditionally from such a young age. Those smooth lines were always so attractive to my unrefined tastes, and probably always will be.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Time for an Iron Woman

Marvel Studios has been incredibly secretive about its plans for its next round of films, once Avengers: Endgame is done. A lot of the A-list cast who have helped make the series such a massive success are moving on to projects with a lot less spandex, and it’s highly likely that some of them will go out with the traditional noble sacrifice.

But one thing seems clear and obvious - if they can’t have Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark doing the Iron Man thing anymore, they should definitely give the armour to Letitia Wright’s Shuri, and build a new film around her.

After appearing in two of the Marvel films, Shuri seems like a natural successor, and not just because she is one of the few characters to match Stark on the intelligence front. It’s also because Wright, like Downey, is an amazingly charming actor and the character has shown extreme wit, style and smarts in her few scenes so far.

It’s also time for Marvel to get on board with more diversification amongst its lead actors. The studio has made a big deal about recently moving away from traditional white male leads, and this is a chance to really put its money where its mouth is.

It would also give the entire Iron Man concept a much-needed jolt of fresh energy. Even with Downey Jr giving it his all, none of the Iron Man films have ever been essential viewing, and the concept was already looking tired by the first sequel. If Stark is going out with a bang, getting an audience excited about another Iron Man film will be a lot easier with Shuri under the armor.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Everything must go

There is a special kind of existential horror that comes creeping in the door when you realise that if you sat down and started reading (or re-reading) every book, novel, comic and magazine you kept in storage around the house, you would not have enough time to finish them all before you died of old age.

I really need to get my shit together, and eat better and do more exercise and all that crap so I can live a bit longer.

Or I could just get rid of some of this shit. I don’t need to hang on to these things, if I’m never going to get there, no matter how pretty they look up on the shelf.

Even though I hope I've still got a few more decades left in me, I think I'll be struggling with this for the rest of my life. Eldritch horrors from beyond the veil don't have anything on this slow sense that we're all running out of time.