Sunday, March 31, 2019

A death in Dredd

Death doesn't mean anything in comics anymore, they say. The average comic book reader is too jaded and cynical to fall for that, they say

They say that, but it's been revealed that a key character in Judge Dredd - one of the longest-running serial narratives in modern entertainment - is slowly dying. And it's someone whose story I've been following since I was six, through some incredible ups and downs, and frankly, I got pretty fucking emotional about it.

There have been some absolute brilliant Judge Dredd stories in the past couple of years, especially things like Rob Williams and Henry Flint's recent Small House epic, but Dredd is still John Wagner's story. He conveys the news of the character's fatal illness in a devastatingly offhand manner, just like it happens in real life. Especially when this character has always been thought as one of the younger Judges, certainly younger than Dredd himself, and is dying of some alien disease, instead of going out in a blaze of glory.

Dredd's world is a dangerous one - the population of Mega-City One has been periodically culled in mass death events, and even his best mates haven't been safe, ever since Giant turned his back on Orlock. But some things, and some people, have been a constant, and it's not going to be the same story without them.

You can't blame readers of something like the X-men for getting jaded and cynical about the deaths of major characters. But dead is dead in Dredd's world, with very, very few exceptions, like Mean Machine or Judge Death. And this is one time when a Judge won't be coming back from the Long Walk.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Cliffhangers shouldn't be this hard

For periodcial publications that have been permanently in print for nearly a century, it's still astounding how bad so many monthly superhero comic creators are at giving the readers a decent cliffhanger. Putting the main characters in an impossible situtation is the best way to get people coming back again and again, but so many Marvel and DC comics end with a standard story beat, without any real thought for inticing a reader to come back to see how the situation is resolved.

It's a little depressing how much of them rely on introducing a character or small plot development on the final page, showing something that might even be seen on the cover. The entire premise of a story isn't a great way to end a first issue, but it happens all the bloody time.

There are still some writers out there who come up with a good cliffhanger - Gail Simone has always been good at giving the reader a good hook for the next issue, Mark Waid's superhero comics often hinge on an impossible dilemma that requires an exceptionally clever resolution, and as much as I find Brian K Vaughn's work boring as shit, he can definitely bring it on the jaw-dropping cliffhanger front.

But when a TV sitcom like The Good Place puts them all to shame, with its last-second stings that leave a mass audience gagging for the next episode, superhero comics need to lift their game on the cliffhanger front, or nobody is going to be left waiting for the next month, because everything has fallen off a cliff.

Friday, March 29, 2019

"I'm sure we all feel that he exploded too young."

I know writers who use subtext, and they're all cowards.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

"Home, where my love lies waiting."

You don't have to be a great singer to sing your way home. You'll still find the way.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Where did you go?

I have an awful theory about where the current season of Fleabag is going, but I don't want to spoil it for anyone. Not when it's the best show on television right now.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

"The moon belongs to everyone."

Characters in very serious period dramas don't usually get to go out with a song and a dance and a wink, but Bert Cooper was no ordinary character. And it's such a beautiful way to wave goodbye to the long and entertaining career of Robert Morse, who can still do a mean little shoeless shuffle, even at the end of all things.

Monday, March 25, 2019

"I see angels, angels in this very room."

In which a man of science finally admits that there is more to life and the universe than which can be found in his textbooks and test-tubes, and that the world is so much stranger and unexplainable than he could ever understand. And that the only way to break a cycle of endless birth, death and re-birth is to change everything he has ever believed in, and take a leap of faith.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Something to do with death

Finding out what the 'long cold dark' really was on the final page of the Punisher story of the same name by Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov is one of the biggest gutpunches Ennis has ever delivered in his long writing career. It's not a fancy way of talking about the oblivion of death, it's talking about the Punisher's life.

I can only assume all those motherfuckers who use the Punisher logo  - for their crossfit ads, or etched into combat gear, or painted onto the hood of a moronic muscle car - know that the symbol they're adopting features a main character who has a void where his life should be, an unending hate that will never end, and can only lead to a violent death, and he's aware of it, and can see a life beyond all that which he can never reach because he is trapped in an impossible and hollow pursuit.

I'm sure they all know that.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

That's some greasy shit

The lovely wife, two minutes after we finished watching The Greasy Strangler: I can't believe we watched that crap. There was nothing worthwhile in that movie, and I'm offended that I spent time watching it.

* two weeks later*

The lovely wife: No, I'M a hootie tootie disco cutie! YOU'RE a bullshit artist!

Friday, March 22, 2019

Everything is awful, I'm just going to watch some Red Dwarf for a while

A week ago, there was a cowardly and cruel attack on the beautiful people attending prayers at two mosques in my old home town of Christchurch, and it's been an appalling and devastating and nasty week for the whole country, no matter how many vigils are held, or how many guns are banned.

I'm a home page editor for one of the country's news sites, and I've been deep into this story since the first awful reports started coming out on Friday afternoon. It's fucking rough, and while I have to walk away from the desk every now and then to catch a breath, I just can't start bawling at the desk. It's awkward and uncomfortable for all concerned, and is a serious impediment to getting the news out on time.

I saved most of it till I got home. Everyone has to deal with this kind of thing in their own way, and after all day in it on Friday, I had to get some escapist thrills and emotional manipulation into me, so I went through some old episodes of Red Dwarf before the brain calmed down enough to let me get to bed.

I use entertainments to get it all out, and in the past week have been bawling at the end of the latest Star Trek, or getting set off by the chorus of Bright Phoebus. I used The Leftovers to get through some profound grief last year and watching new Fleabag every week leaves me an emotional wreck, in all the best possible ways.

Every day I see people on the internet getting upset by their entrainments, and I just think they're doing it so wrong. They're here to help, and if they're really making you feel worse, you really need to try something else.

I'm going back to work now and pretending to be all professional and shit, but then I'm coming home to watch some Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. It's the only way I know how.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

No more late Cerebus

It's a year of cleaning out the comic collection a bit, and I think I've reached the point where I've finally decided I don't need the last half of Cerebus The Aardvark anymore.

I've been collecting the comic for a couple of decades now. I was far too late to get into it at its prime, and have always been playing catch-up. I've been getting two-thirds of the 300-issue series through discount boxes and back issue bins since the 1990s, and I'm nearly there now, but I finally got to the point where I just don't need anything past #150.

I kept getting it even when Dave Sim got uncomfortably and offensively weird, because the art and design was always so gorgeous, and it was genuinely fascinating to see where Sim was going, even if it was a place I didn't really want to visit. But there's just too much of it, I'm and moving on. I thought about cutting it back even further to the 112/113 double issues, because that was just such a natural endpoint to the whole Church and State thing, but had to hold on to the Melmoth stuff - it's still a stately and graceful interpretation of the last days of Oscar Wilde.

(I also have to hold onto #186, where – after years of farting in his sleep – Sim really shit the bed, ideologically speaking. It's such a car crash to watch, and was the only issue of the comic I think I bought brand-new, so I gotta keep it. For posterity's sake, and just to marvel at it.)

Of course, I could have ditched the whole lot, and still might some day, but that art and that design is so beautiful, and the first half of the comic is complex and gripping and adventurous and metaphysical and troubling in all the right ways. It's still dozens and dozens of comics, but I just don't need that back half to enjoy them as much.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Golden Age of Newman

Finding Kim Newman novels used to be such a damned chore. While I stumbled across the first Anno Dracula book in the local library and found all the Jack Yeovil novels with unusual ease, I had to order in The Bloody Red Baron in from the UK back in the 1990s, and it took me years and years to find a copy of Life's Lottery.

I came to Newman's work through his movie criticsm and fell deeply in love with the pop culture phantasmagoria of his stories. Joyful genre mash-ups with heart of their own, and loads of good jokes (a James Bond analogue transforming from Connery to Moore; Biggles versus giant vampire bats; Popeye the vampire needing the iron in the spinach to survive).  

Now the rest of the world has caught up with Newman's sweet spot of pastiche, Titan Books has been slamming out the Newman in recent years, with new versions of the entire Anno Dracula series, collections of long-out-of-print stories and new novels on a fairly annual basis.

I don't have to go hunting for them anymore, and I'm always up for new Newman. They're the most consistently entertaining novels I ever have the fortune to read, and I can't wait for the next chapter.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Not you.

As sad as it might sound, Doctor Frank-N-Furter really did teach me a lot in this life about letting people be themselves, and that it’s nothing to be frightened about.

And the way he tells Janet that he didn’t make Rocky for her is something I’ll hold on to forever. Sure, he's a crazy mad scientist from outer space, but let him have his thing.

Monday, March 18, 2019

BPRD: A grim, inevitable armageddon

There are only a couple more issues of BPRD left, bringing the entire Hellboy saga to a definitive end, and things are looking pretty fucking grim right now.

The Hell On Earth ended on a note of quiet optimism, but it was a false spring, and the apocalypse that has been promised since the start of the entire series is actually here. There have been plenty of glimpses of the future since the first Hellboy stories, and many ancient prophecies about the future of mankind being underground, but it's still shocking to see everything collapse so absolutely.

Monsters walk the earth, and there is no place for humans. CNN has gone off the air forever, the BPRD airship has crashed and any hope resides in the few survivors that can get to any safe haven under the earth. This was always going to happen, but it's still a sombre note that this time has finally come.

There are still those last few issues, and there might be some massive fake-out, and maybe Hellboy and Abe and Liz will save the fucking day after all, and everything is going to be okay, but it's not looking good.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Casino: The trailer is better than the movie

I have legitimately had that line ‘I can’t make it any clearer, Sam. I would just GET OUT.’ bouncing around in in my head at least once a week for the past 25 years.

Friday, March 15, 2019

I'm here, Huckleberry

Michael Biehn always brings a professional intensity to all of his roles, and is the anchor around the action in Terminator and Aliens, without ever overwhelming the lead character's story.

But his best piece of acting comes towards the end of Tombstone, in his final showdown. He's expecting Kurt Russell's Wyatt Earp to show up, and Biehn's Ringo knows he can take him, because he's got inside his head, but then Doc fucking Holiday appears, and Ringo knows he hasn't got a chance against him.

And there is just the edge of fear in Ringo's eyes, which he covers up with bravado, and then he tries to give his best death stare, but you know he's fucked. And he knows he's fucked, but he's committing to it anyway.

Combined with his grotesque staggering and stumbling after he is shot in the head, it's a moment that only Biehn could have pulled off. In a stunning ensemble cast, including Russell, Paxton, Kilmer and Elliott, Biehn's final scene in the film shows he stands with the best.

Val Kilmer is pretty fucking badass in that scene too.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Rock and roll all night with the Bride

It was 1990 and I was 15 and it was the first night I ever stayed up until dawn. I'd been watching the latest Royal Rumble wrestling bash, but it really kicked off with Bride of Frankenstein. It was the late-night Friday Frights movie on TV2, and when it finished it was close to two in the morning, I watch the Goodnight Kiwi close-out, but I didn't feel tired at all, so I just kept watching video tapes until the sun came up.

I watched Robocop, because that was my absolute #1 go-to movie at that age, and I watched the 80s adaption of George R R Martin's Nightflyers, which I can't remember anything about, except a scene where somebody gets sucked out into space. I have a long-running and unlikely phobia of getting sucked out into space.

Back in the real world, the sun was coming up. My Dad got up early, saw that I'd been up all night, and said I was a bloody idiot. My Dad was right about a lot of things.

I stayed up all night a hundred times over the next decade and a half - watching movies or partying it up or flicking between music videos or roaming the hills between towns or speeding off my tits or playing video games or doing all of it at once - but I never forgot what I saw that first time.

I've only stayed up all night two or three times in the past 20 years. I'm not that stupid anymore.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Burying the President forever

Sometimes this world feels destined for destruction, and we're all doomed and being driven to the precipice by the greed, avarice and short-sightedness of our fellow man, and nothing is ever going to strop it.

But then I remember that the current President of the United States of America will have to be buried in a top-secret location, hidden away for all time, because generations to come are going to be pissing on his grave. So there's that, at least.

Monday, March 11, 2019

X can still be sexy sometimes (especially with a bald head involved)

My undying adolescent obsessing for all things X-Men died off fairly easily in the end, killed off by the endless trash that flowed out of Marvel after Claremont left. Other than the usual spurt of Morrison, I haven't really bought any X-Men comics for decades.

I've managed to keep up with the soap operatics of the whole thing – largely through my oldest mate Kyle, who still gets the Uncanny X-Men every month – but interest has steadily declined, to the point that right now, without looking it up, I have no idea if Cyclops is alive or not, or even how he died in the first place.

But I've still got a lot of time for Brian Bendis' run on the title from a few years ago, even though it was full of the various Bendis issues – there was a lot of waffling and padding, huge amounts of plot threads that went absolutely nowhere, clever-clever dialogue that just went on and on, and a massive anti-climactic feel to the whole thing.

And yet, while I didn't get any of these comics when they were coming out, I still buy those issues when I see them going cheap, and nearly have a full set of his Uncanny and All-New comics, (which is easy, because they're a fairly limited run). And it's mainly because they're so bloody beautiful.

Bendis – for all his faults – is a hugely successful comic writer because he always attracts some of the best artistic talent. Like Mark Millar, a contemporary, his stories can be thin as ice, but the visuals he gives the artists to draw attract the very best talent, and his X-Men comics have art from scorching talents like Immonen, Bachalo, Irving, Asrar and many, many others. Who cares where the story goes when it looks this good?
Some of his new Superman comics feel a bit off because they are so much in the DC house style of 13th-generation Jim Lee rip-offs, jarring against his usual techniques and goals. His artistic collaborators need to be shiny and solid, and his X-buddies brought plenty of that to their work.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Easter time is for all time

Every year, I am surrounded by people bitching and moaning that Easter-related products are going on sale too early, and how it's such a bloody travesty. Well, I'm all in favour of chocolate and hot cross buns and pure fuckin' happiness, so the sooner Easter starts the better, as far as I'm concerned.

I think Easter season should start in June.

Christmas should just be a two-week blast at the end of the year, though. Society can only handle so much tinsel and goodwill to all men.

Friday, March 8, 2019

My favourite Ditko

This is my all-time favourite Steve Ditko panel - the velocity of the superheroes smashing in from either side, ready to collide with the hapless Beetle, who has all the time in the world to see the hurt coming down on him. Sheer bloody perfection.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Beastie Boys Book: They still got it going on

There are two obvious ghosts hovering over the recent Beastie Boys book. One is the tragedy of Adam Yauch's early death, and the surviving Beasties barely get through a page of this huge book without dealing with that grief, something they do with love and humour.

The other thing haunting their long career is their own youthful stupidity. We were all young and dumb once, but most of us didn't do it in front of millions of people, and they can't just sweep it under the carpet like the rest of us.

And to their credit, they own up to it all as they tell the story of making music as young men in 1980s New York. They don't absolve themselves of the deeply shitty way they kicked Kate Schellenbach out of the band, and they know that while they were desperately trying to be ironic when they played beer-swilling meathead frat boys, anybody who plays that role becomes that role to most people watching them.

Still, they've constantly apologised for their shitty treatment of women, and of their lyrics and language that could be heavily sexist and unthinkingly homophobic. At some point they move on, and so should we.

It's a massive book, but it isn’t a daunting process getting through it, even though it’s hundreds of pages long. Like their music, the writing from Mike D and Adam H is free-wheeling and witty and introspective and funny as fuck. Brief interjections from famous friends, including a Major Writer or two, try to capture that same tone and fail completely, and show something else their writing has in common with their tunes - it looks so easy to do it, but it ain't.

They’re just really good at telling anecdotes and stories about some crazy fucking times in their lives, and are always honest about facing up to their own stupidity and ignorance, and that makes it one of the few music memoirs worth spending time with.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Jason in the water

All the cool cine-kids I knew used to rave about the hand coming out of the ground at the end of Carrie, but for sheer visceral shock value, Jason coming out of the lake at the end of the first Friday the 13th always gave me the shits way more. It's a jump moment that is often imitated, but never beaten.

Monday, March 4, 2019

He's a false Creed!

There's something wrong with a Rocky movie when the giant white trash bad guy from Russia is fighting for something bigger than the American champ, but that's still what happened in the last one.

Michael B Jordan is a fantastic actor, who sells the hell out of his emotional anguish in the movie, always giving it his all, but his character is still living in a gorgeous apartment, with the luminous Tessa Thompson at his side and a baby that is cute as shit (attempts to sell the kid's deafness as a quiet tragedy fall flat). Meanwhile, the Russian bruiser is working in a cement factory and living in a crappy apartment with his broken-down Dad, with a Mum who walked out on him and nobody to cuddle. The poor bastard deserves a break.

And the only emotional beat that really works is on that side of the fight, when Dad throws in the towel, because he knows his son will have to be killed before he gives up. That's even more powerful than the moment when the Rocky theme kicks in and Creed gets his shit together, so something is definitely wrong here.

It certainly undercuts the racial aspect of the overall story - Creed the Younger is still battling with institutional racism as much as any beefy fucker in the ring, but when he's Superman, his natural superiority over everybody doesn't help with any empathy or identification.

Still, while Drago II loses the fight like we all knew he would, he still would've got a massive payday from the effort, and has only just started on a lucrative career, so he should be able to stop working at the cement factory. There's no sad endings here. Everybody still gets paid.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Science fiction horror show

It's the year 2019, which is the go-to for a large number of science fiction futures, and while there are astounding displays of technological prowess every day, I still spend a lot of my time cleaning the trash before it goes to the recycling, where it might get shipped off to Malaysia and illegally burned, poisoning the local environment and harming the people who live there.

I dunno man, I just really thought we'd have this shit sorted by now.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Nobody talks like that

After years of listening to true crime, movie reviews, historical deep dives and general comic talk, I recently tried a couple of fictional podcasts - horror stories which mimicked the form and format of their non-fictional counterparts. And they were uniformly terrible.

They certainly had good, creepy ideas and scenarios behind them, but it was the dialogue that ruined them. After years of the real world version, all the dialogue in the interviews and monologues felt forced and fake. It was all so clearly created and rehearsed and recorded multiple times to get the right take, and while it would be hard to pinpoint the exact wrongness of it all, it's definitely there.

Dialogue isn't the same as real speech, and doesn't have the weird trailing off, slip-ups and repetition that we're all guilty of in our daily talking. When podcasts are nothing but somebody's voices in your ear, it's always going to sound fake if it's not immediate and natural.

Look at the way Alan Moore's poetic dialogue on the comic page sounds fairly awful when transposed word for word by an actor in one of the various adaptations (although a talented actor can sometimes sell the big lines), or the way Tarantino's dialogue always requires a heightened performances, something his regular company of actors generally sell quite well.

But it just didn't work in the podcasts. The dialogue never let you forget that it's all fake, so I'm going back to the real world.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Long live the Legion

Even though the only version that really matters to me is the 5YL crew, it's still weird that DC hasn't published a Legion of Super-Hero comics in years. How hard can it be to get super-kids in the future right?

The editors have made it clear that they're struggling to come up wth a decent hook for a new comic. There have been at least three reboots of the whole thing in the past 20 years, which hasn't helped. Especially when each one eventually ran out of energy, and usually end up regurtitating LOSH stories from years ago in the most generic way possible.

But if they want to take the Legion forward, maybe they should stop with the sprokin' reboots and take things forward. Set up a whole new Legion another thousand years down the line, in the 40th century, where a new generation aren't just competing against the golden age of the 20th century, but the legacy of the original 30th century crew.

Legion comics have been spinning their wheels for years now, continually messed up by timeline shnanigans in the wider DC Universe, and is continually stuck in the pattern of doing the same Earthwar/Mordru/Great Darkness stuff, over and over again. Taking it forward might be the only way to get something new out of it.