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.


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.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Neil Peart's rad...

I know absolutely nothing about the work of Neal Peart, but I still mourned his recent passing, 'cos Zero said he was cool.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Watchmen: That darn elephant

I think I generally liked the new Watchmen for the same reasons every else liked it (unless they weren't watching it because they didn't want to be scabs, which I can understand) - because it featured some superb acting and an excellent score; and because sometimes it was gloriously bugfuck weird and sometimes achingly human; and because the entire Hooded Justice thing did what good retcons are supposed to do, and added an additional layer of depth to the original work without eating away at that original work.

But I really, really liked it because it was one of those shows where the lovely wife and I would start watching an episode, and I'd say something like 'well, Doctor Manhattan is really the elephant in the room in this whole series' before he showed up, and then that episode starts with a picture of an elephant, and then later in the episode there is an actual elephant lying in a room.

That kind of synchronicity is priceless.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Legion of Super-Heroes: I have no idea what is going on (and I love it)

Even though I am frequently lost when reading modern superhero comics, because they're all tying into some big mega-arc that I don't give a shit about, I like my Legion of Super Hero comics to be confusing as hell. Which is working out well, because there is a lot about the current comic that is confusing as hell.

I've read a few reviews by Legion fans of the new book by Brian Bendis and Ryan Sook who are totally lost by the first few issues, and I can't blame them. A lot of characters appear without a proper introduction, often looking completely different from earlier versions of the character, and there are no allowances for the audience to catch up, because the banter is more important.

I sprocking love it, especially with Sook's slick, rounded and colourful artwork. I love that complexity of a massive cast, where everybody gets a line or two, but there is no room for everybody to get some big emotional moment. Every other comic is full of that kind of shallow characterisation, it's genuinely interesting to have one where that isn't a huge concern. You just have to go with it.

I wasn't a fan of the most recent version of the Legion before the current one, which was a continuation of the same team that premiered in the 1950s, but was determined not to do anything really new with them. The new Bendis/Sook series is going in directions I can't predict, and that's fine by me.

This isn't likely to create a whole lot of new fans, but the biggest problem with any Legion of Super Hero comic is that there is no good jumping on point, even the inevitable reboots are informed and overshadowed by the comic's long and convoluted history, so has to be some kind of literary masochism to start reading Legion of Super Hero comics.

So it's not surprising to me that I'm digging it so much, because the Five Years Later Legion is one of my favourite versions, and it literally took me decades to work out what the heck was going on there. I can't wait to see where Bendis is going with the new incarnation, once he's displaying more than a snarky line or two. It probably won't go anywhere, because a lot of Bendis' team comics ever do, but this journey into the 31st century is good enough, that I don't care about the destination. I just have to go with it.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Best Viewmaster ever: The Incredible Hulk

Back before the internet, back before even video came along, when we couldn't find the book or comic adaptions, we made do with View-Masters.

Cardboard and circular reels with tiny bits of film in stereo, and you slotted them into the viewing device, and got to see some weirdly intimate pictures. They could be about nature, or featuring a comic character, or providing the plot of a movie, but there were hundreds of the damn things. When my Mum felt guilty about missing the new Herbie movie at the Majestic Theatre, she bought me the Herbie Goes Bananas reels, and that more than made up for it.

There was a strange optical illusion, with a small area of black space between the eyeball and the projected image, so it almost looked like you were sitting in a massive space, like an movie theatre with all the seats ripped out. And there was no sound of course, just the sound of your own breathing as you looked inside the contraption.

We had dozens, but my absolute favourite was one featuring the Incredible Hulk, and not just because there was something genuinely gross and disturbing about the way the Absorbing Man's skin cracked in the climax of the story. It was because it also made great use of the stereo-vision and did something excellent when poor old Bruce Banner changed into the Hulk - it put normal skin colouring in one of the tiny bits of film, and green skin colouring in the matching one, so the transformation was some kind of whirling colour, where it was both and neither at the same time.

You can't see that effect in the full story below, (pictures taken from the long defunct Viewmaster 3D blog) but it blew my tiny kid mind, and I looked at those images thousands of times. I hadn't seen them in decades until I found them on that blog the other day, but they're incredibly familar, and looking at them now takes me back to that silent, tiny and empty movie theatre in front of my eyes.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

New Scream! at the store

Scream! - the horror version of 2000ad - only lasted for 15 glorious weeks back in 1984, but I was at absolutely the right age to fall totally in love with the comic, and that short run has always been one of my favourite publicationss ever. There haven't been many other comic buying experiences that were as thrilling as finding a new Scream comic at the local dairy.

And all these years later, it's still possible to drop into the local newsagents and find an unexpected new issue on the shelves, and that makes me happier than Ghastly McNasty getting a facial.

Rebellion has been publishing a bunch of different specials over the past couple of years, raiding the IPC vaults and dusting off some of the intellectual property they find in there. There have been a couple of 'Scream and Misty' specials which included the reboot of the classic 'The 13th Floor' strip, where Max the building computer drops miscreants off on a 13th Floor that doesn't exist and blows their fucking minds out, covering it all up with the aid of hypnotised tenants. While it lacked the original grimy beauty of Jose Ortiz's work, the new stories did have some trippy Frazer Irving freak-outs, which is always welcome.

That revived strip has now carried on into its own special issue, and that's what I found on the shelves last week. The new story - written by Guy Adams, who has been doing some fairly interesting stuff for 2000ad recently - doesn't have quite the same impact as the doses of comic horror did when I was 9-years-old, but what could?

There are more artists in the longer story, and some of them clash painfully with each other, but that's kind of the point when Max is giving everybody their own individual vision of hell. And Adams takes the concept out of the tower block to smash it into the world outside the front doors, so this is no ending for Max and his social justice experiments.

It might be another 30+ years before there are more Scream comics, but that's okay. Now I just gotta keep an eye out for the new Action special...

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Videos with your fuel

When we got our first video player in 1984, there weren't any video stores in town, which wasn't that surprising because it was a town of 3000 people. The golden age of the video - long since faded - was still to come, and even that small town would have a couple of dedicated stores, but for the first few years, most of the movies I saw came from the same place that sold us our petrol.

There were three service stations in town that also offered video tapes, and it was through them that I first saw the Terminator, (after failing to sneak into the film as a 10-year-old), and my very first Sergio Leone, and the immortal They Call Me Bruce? and absolutely everything starring Stallone and Van Damme. It was where I stared at the back cover of the Dawn of the Dead cassette, too freaked out by the horror on the packaging, and where I would get Return of the Jedi out again and again if nobody told me specifically not to.

Those petrol stations had everything you need for a good night out for a 10-year-old - videos, chocolate and lots and lots of soft drink. They would even hire out a primitive 1980s video game console, which featured 200 games, and at least a solid six or seven were actually worth playing. It was everything you could want, if you could scrape a few bucks together.

The videos soon moved out of the service stations and into the stores, and then the stores faded away over the years to become functionally extinct now. The only ways to hire out physical movies in town are the redbox vending machines, which offer a couple of dozen new films to rent.

And some of those redboxes are showing up at the local service station, which feels fitting. Even all these years later, I still associate movies with the smell of petrol and rubber, because that's where you went to get them.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Clyde Fans: The big picture

Clyde Fans is a monumental piece of comics, with Canadian cartoonist Seth literally taking decades to produce the story. It's as thoughtful and emotional and funny and beautiful as anything else the artist has done in his long career. His line is as thick and certain as ever, and his stories have a quiet dignity that can be totally addictive.

But after reading the entire collected book recently, I'm still getting my head around the whole thing, and it's because I've been consistently misunderstanding the point of the whole comic for years now.

While it has taken a long time to create, the comic has been coming out on a fairly regular basis, with chapters unveiled in issues of his Palookaville comic, and in collections of the first chapters. And it has been, to be honest, pretty fucking miserable. The imagined lives of the main characters have seemed wasteful and dull, and there didn't seem to be much of a point beyond the mundane meandering.

But then, in that final section, it becomes something else entirely. Simon's wasted trip, where his social anxieties chronically undermine his ambition to be a salesman as good as his brother, has a transcendent climax that casts the rest of a book in a new light, something larger and more human than anything suggested by the dusty offices and thoughtlessly rude comments that fill the earlier chapters.

There are certainly arguments to be made that Seth is finding justification in stagnation, that he is finding a moral purity in a nostalgia that can overtake your life, that it's okay to hide away from the world in your dark room.

And yet, it's also much wider than that perspective, showing that even the lives of people who are only remembered in yellowing sales slips and pictures on the wall of an abandoned shop have hidden depths. This monumental work is heartfelt and alive, even if it has taken years to get to the point.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

I really am so fucking dumb: Q the music

I've read almost every single issue of Q Magazine since the early nineties, and it still remains one of my primary sources of articles and reviews and news about new music, even if nobody ever needs another cover story about the Gallagher brothers for as long as humanity endures (and even if they seem to be going out of their way to make their cover subjects look as dorky as possible. I mean, look at that cover above! Lewis Capaldi has made a fuck-tonne of money with his image of total nerdiness, but how the fuck do you make Stormzy look like a giant geek?)

So that means it's only taken me nearly 30 years to realise what the magazines title actually means, and that's a shit pun on the phrase 'cue the music'. I literally never gave the title any thought, and thought it was just called Q to look cool. 

I'm just so fucking stupid, how have I not died yet?

Saturday, February 1, 2020

I am so fucking dumb: Now why try and test, the Rebel INS?

After years and years of listening to the Wu-Tang Clan, right up to and including the latest projects like Czarface, I only just realised that the Rebel INS was actually Inspectah Deck all along, and it felt just like the time I realised Prez from The Wire was the elevator boy in the Hudsucker Proxy.

Sometimes I feel too stupid to live.