Sunday, May 31, 2020

People who know less than me

I love talking to people who know less about a subject than I do. I love telling them about new things, and seeing how they interpret things without all the baggage I bring to it. I listened to a bunch of newbies talking about Love and Rockets comics on a podcast the other day, and they saw things in the comics I had never considered before. Their fresh perspective was intoxicating.

It's vital to hear the point of views of peoples of different cultures and genders and everything, especially if they're just discovering new things, because they see what you can't. Nerd gate-keeping is horrendous, and you doing yourself a harm by refusing the opinion of people who are just figuring out things for themselves.

People who know less than me about things are people I want to talk to.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

People who know more than me

I love talking to people who know more about a subject than I do. I love it when they make me feel like a rube because I don't know shit about decent European comics, or the phenomenal cinema of Western Africa, and I use that shame to go out and make myself better. You find the best stuff in life by following trusted opinions.
I'm not scared of experts, and deeply value the judgement of competent people. I don't know everything in the whole world, and I don't think I ever will, but it's the trying that matters.

People who know more than me about things are people I want to talk to.

Friday, May 29, 2020

The only Invisibles quote that ever really matters

For better or worse, The Invisibles comic book was a big part of my life, but if you asked me to name a quote from the final issue, I'm 100% sure the first one that would spring to mind is: 'MY ARSE WAS BLOODY VANDALIZED, MAGOO!'

I don't know what it's on about, or if it's a quote from something else, or why that's the one that stuck in my head. But there it is, all the same.

We don't pick the quotes that stick in our heads, the quotes that stick in our heads pick us.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Legion: Music is everything

Portraying an onscreen psychic battle - two telepathic minds trying overpower the other - isn't easy. So many films and television settle for the combatants clutching their heads as the screen goes a bit wobbly, or having blasts of light coming from the forehead and hitting the other person in the face like a punch.

Legion, the television series based on the X-Men character, did a lot of things a bit differently. And while there was still some serious face-screwing and some heavy emoting when the mind-games began, the show also used music as a terrific metaphor for the telepathic carnage.

It used the thudding beat and soaring woodwinds of Bolero to lay down a mind-trap -

- had mental warfare in the form of dance-offs -

- and rap-battles -

- and saw a great evil defeated through maternal love and the power of Pink Floyd -

Each scene was stylish and intense, but the use of music was truly inspired, because music can convey deep feelings without using words. It make you feel truths in ways that language is too clumsy to do. In a battle of minds, it's the groove and the beat and the soul that matters, in all the best ways.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The slow rot of the zombie movie

These people are not having a good time

I used to love zombie films above all other forms of cinema. Forget your kitchen sink neo-realism or modern blockbuster entertainment, Dawn of the Dead is still one of the best films of all time. I watched every cheap and gross Italian zombie film my local video stores had in the 1980s and it was very, very bad for me.

So I was fully on-board when there was a post-millenial surge in zombie fiction. I got all the in-jokes in Shaun of the Dead, and thought 28 Days Later was a smart extrapolation of the genre, and the early use of digital camera set a whole new aesthetic.

But the rot started to set in around the time of the Dawn of the Dead remake, not just because the undead were running around all over the show (I didn't have that problem with the same thing in 28 Days Later, because they weren't dead in that one, but running zombies has always struck me as a weird arrogance of the now), but because everything was so obvious, and loud, and over-paced.

The state of zombie films has only gotten worse since then, and there are literally too many cheap pieces of crap to keep track of - including some that take further shits on the names of Romero's original great trilogy. Romero himself came back to the shuffling dead to diminishing returns, with dull characters shooting dull found footage and ghouls on horseback. And while The Walking Dead was okay for a while - any dull episode was usually redeemed by some brilliant piece of action - it disappeared up its own decomposing arse a long time ago.

I haven't seen a new zombie film in years now, and it's been a long time since anything has truly scared me like those earlier films did. They're all flash and bluster and the most obvious of metaphors, with jump scares instead of the slow and terrifying plod of the ravenous dead.

And, frankly, I just don't want to be associated with the kind of hardcore fan who has laid claim to the zombie film. It's grosser than a Fulci eye-gouging the way a certain kind of zombie movie fan craves the apocalypse, aching for that freedom of a destroyed society, ignoring the sheer fucking horror of it all.

They always think they'll be Woody Harrelson in Zombieland, not one of the actual shuffling dead, smug in their arrogance that they would be the survivors if the apocalypse did come, because they'd watched a few movies. The ranks of zombie-movie fans riddled with QAnon fucktards who think they can sit back and 'enjoy the show', because nothing could ever actually happens to them, or religious zealots who think the book of Revelations is a goddamn guidebook, not a warning.

Maybe zombie films are just something you grow out of, and those who don't are destined to be stuck in that rotting herd, hungry for flesh, but never going anywhere. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Never getting around to Crumb

There are so many great comic books in the world, and so many great creators, it can take a while to get to things. Some corners of the comic world - especially in the non-English circles - are a complete mystery to me There hasn't been a day in the past 40 years when I haven't read some kind of comic book, and I still feel  ridiculously uninformed about a huge amount of comics.

And Robert Crumb's work is definitely a huge blind spot. By the time I got old enough not to be freaked out by his comics, I never could find his books anywhere. I saw the Crumb movie when it came out, and I read a few of his comics - the Kafka book he illustrated was absolutely terrific, the Short History Of America is straight-up brilliant, he did the best Phillip K Dick comic strip ever and his Book of Genesis from a few years back was lovely. But I just don't think I'm ever going to be taking that deep dive into his work.

It's not just that it's problematic as fuck, although that hardly helps. It's just that I'm not that interested in a lot of the things he has written about. The weird sex might have been truly transgressive back in the 1970s, but now feels forced and obvious, and the same goes for his greater points about modern society. I get that his comics about Bigfoot fucking dudes in the ass is a great big metaphor for the ills of civilization, but I still just don't want to read stories about fuckin' Bigfoot.

It's not the art - that has been consistently beautiful for decades. His detailed scratchiness and big curvy lines are always gorgeous, and the caricatures and portraits he does of friends and strangers can be hauntingly beautiful. I thought that would be enough to pull me finally into the orbit of Crumb, but I'd still rather read a Mark Millar comic.

I'll still read some of his comics, but I can't see myself ever getting into the whole thing. Life's too short and there's too much else to do.

Monday, May 25, 2020

I came in with Superman and his big green rock

While I might not have been going to the movies much lately, but I've been in love with going to the movies since 1979, when I went to see the first Superman movie with my teenage cousin Maria. It's the first movie I ever remember seeing in the cinema. I was four, and there might have been films that I'd gone to before then, but Superman was the one that still sticks in my mind, four decades later.

I remember going to see it, and remember sitting in the mighty Majestic Theatre before it started, but there are only two things I actually can recall from the film. One was the swooshing credits in the opening scene, which were incredibly impressive, and - for some reason - the bit where young Clark finds the glowing green crystal under the shed on the Kent farm.

It wasn't the super-tense helicopter scene, or the bit with time turning backwards, or the truly transcendent moment when Superman flies above the world and drifts away with one of the greatest shit-eating grins in all of cinema. It's the bit where he finds the neon rock under the wooden floorboards.

When I rewatched the film years later, and saw how long the opening credits went on for, I wasn't surprised how that part had stuck in my mind for so long. But I have no idea why the glowing green crystal burned itself into my head.

Who ever knows what kids are ever going to remember? Or how it sets them up for life?

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Fast food snobs are the worst

I've eaten hugely expensive meals, and happily hoovered up michelen star meals, mainly following the lovely wife into the world of gourmet food, but I still can't stand fast food snobbery.

When New Zealand went without all kinds of fast food for more than month, people were desperate for a burger or a pizza or anything they didn't have to make themselves. Unsurprisingly, there were long lines at the local McDonalds when they opened up again.

Unfortunately, it was just as unsurprising that so many people couldn't resist getting up on their fucking high horse and telling everybody who could listen that they shouldn't be eating fast food and global conglomerates were evil and don't people know the packaging tastes better than the food and blah blah fucking blah.

It's the dumbest fucking thing to be a snob about, judging people for what they eat. It's all right if you don't like it, nobody is forcing you to eat it, but there is no reason to be an arsehole to everybody else who just wants the grease and convenience. It's been a hard fucking year, and a hamburger won't fill the void all this pain has caused, but it might fuckin' help.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Flatting with the Shallow Grave crew

It was somewhere in the 1990s and I had just left home and was looking for my first flat when Shallow Grave came out, and it was smart and stylish and thrilling, and was centred around the kind of place I was dreaming about.

Sure, the people who actually lived in that place were terrible people, but they had a great living space, and walls painted in sharp colours, and there was decent food and wine, and that's the kind of flat I desperately wanted to live in.

Of course, I was a 20-year-old little shit working menial jobs, and the places that were in my price and social range were small and beige, where they weren't covered in mold and sagging posters. And they were all filled with weirdos who weren't as slick and charming as Ewan McGregor's Alex, or as smart and willful as Kerry Fox's Juliet, or as solid and dependable as Christopher Eccleston's David.

I haven't had flatmates in 16 years now, but there's still a part of me that would love to live in a great flat like that. I probably could have done without all that murder and death that took place in the Shallow Grave place, but no flat is ever perfect, and I've probably had worse flatmates.

Friday, May 22, 2020

No rush for the Terminator anymore

There aren't going to be any movies in the theatre for anybody for a while yet, but that hasn't made much difference to me, and I've finally learned a little bit of cinema patience.

I used to go to the cinema at least two or three times a week, and would see anything, anytime, but I haven't been to the movies much lately, mainly due to newfound parenthood. Apart from one brief 72-hour burst a few months ago, where I saw 1917, the new Star Wars and Knives Out all at once, it's been a film drought, and those three movies were legitimately half the films I've seen in the cinema in the past nine months.

And once I broke that habit of going to the theatre, I found it easier and easier to just hold off, even on films I'm fairly keen to see.

I haven't bothered seeing Jojo Rabbit, even though I think Taika Waititi's films have always been brilliant, I still haven't seen Joker (although I was never really that keen, to be honest), and never bothered with the new Terminator - the first in that series that I haven't seen on the big screen.

I do genuinely think the best way to see movies is in the theatre, with the giant screen and the sound booming across a vast interior and the crowd reacting in real time. There has never been any kind of home set-up that can match that thrill. And I'm still keen as fuck to see the new James Bond at the movies, because I'm always keen as fuck for the new James Bond.

But life is so busy, and there are other priorities, and I've finally learned to wait for the latest movies. They'll still be there, whenever I'm ready.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Missing the commute

I was fortunate enough to keep working during the local coronavirus lockdown, and even though I had the equipment to work at home, I just couldn't trust the internet at home and have just been driving to and from work every day.

It was all very convenient, especially when the roads were so empty, but I did genuinely miss the commute, because that's when I get a lot of my reading done. It's half an hour where I don't have to worry about work, or the child, or anything in between, I just have to sit and read.

To get to work, I usually walk, or take public transport. It's a 45-minute walk and while I usually use that time for catching up on podcasts, I'm still a fiend for getting some reading in on the move, getting through entire magazines and comic book trade paperbacks as I wander through the suburbs. And if I do have to take the bus, that's at least 25 minutes of nothing to do but read.

That's when I've been reading the vast majority of my books of the month over the past few years, or get through another in my ongoing and long-term mission to read all of the Dr Who New Adventures in order for the first time, (I'm now up to #11, only another 50 or so to go but, unfortunately, The Pit is coming up next).

Life is so fucking hectic that sometimes it feels like you've got to grab any chance to switch off and dive into some fiction. The long commute might be a scourge of modern life, but it's also a brilliant chance to get some reading in. What else would I do with the time?

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Baird's Bookshop was the best bookshop

At least 10 percent of the comics I still own have the price in New Zealand dollars, scrawled on the front in ballpoint pen by a particular bookshop owner many, many years ago. There's even still a couple where I tried to use Twink to blank out the prices in a dire attempt to clean them up in the early nineties, but there are still dozens and dozens of them that still have that 1980s price.

That's because my primary source of the vast majority of my comics for many years was a small bookshop in a tiny town on the arse end of the world, and thank goodness for Baird's Bookshop in Temuka, because it was a vital part of my comic book life.

The comics would always arrive every Tuesday, several months after they had gone out on shelves in the rest of the world. There was absolutely no direct market stuff, and the price written on the cover, but it was much better than nothing.

It's the place where I got 2000ad for seven years straight, and every issue of Excalibur, right up until it became a comic shop-only deal. Every week there would be at least half a dozen issues of various things, and while it could get maddeningly random - the first issue of the Legion of Super-Heroes spin-off Legionnaires appeared, but nothing after #1 - it was a reasonably good source for regular issues of the X-Men or Captain America or Adventures of Superman.

They were all returnable, and the unsold comics would disappear after a month, but sometimes the comics would stick around and could sit there for years, and I remember seeing one of the very last reprint comics put out by Federal Comics - an Australian publisher who were everywhere in the Antipodes in the 1980s - still sitting there, well into the nineties.

I had a lot of respect for Mr Baird, the bookshop owner, and he delivered the goods for many years. When I went though a regrettable and thoroughly shameful phase of shoplifting comics as a teenager, I never stole anything from him, and it wasn't just because the comics were on a shelf right in front of the counter, or because my big sister was good friends with his daughter (it was a very small town). I just could never jeopardise that arrangement.

The bookshop is long gone now, replaced by a bargain bin shop years ago. The last thing I ever bought from there was an issue of 2000ad sometime in 2002, and the store faded away not long after that. But I'll never forget that ongoing thrill of walking in the door every Tuesday, because every week there was always some comic goodness waiting inside.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The comics of Richard Sala: Spooky, nasty and totally cute

I've had the extreme fortune of browsing through the stacks at the famed City Lights Books in San Francisco twice, checking out the books in a vital part of the city where the beats once ruled, but the only book I actually bought from that shop was a Richard Sala comic.

Sala passed away last week and was still producing some terrific comics, right until the end. For the past few years, he was regularly posting serialised comics on his blog, before collecting them in books, and getting a dash of new Sala art every week was always a delight.

His earliest stuff was crude and dark and mean, but his later works always looked colourful and bright, with people who had cute button eyes and noses and curvy limbs. And then terrible things would happen to them, and monsters would start stabbing them in those cute little faces, and the bleakness would shine through.

Sometimes the carnage was totally justified, with fat cats meeting richly-deserved ends, and sometimes he just liked to have innocents stumble into the horror. But it was all done with a wink and a grin, and was always eminently readable.

I'm still checking his blog every day, just like I have been for the past five years, vainly hoping that it's all just another cruel joke, and that he has more art to show off. At least I've still got the books that I got from City Lights and other bookstores, all over the world. There is always a place for Richard Sala on my bookshelves, because I'll always love that nasty cuteness.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Starting with a Thriller

In years to come, when my young daughter is all grown up and reading her own type of comics on some kind of computer made out of water and good intentions, she'll ask me what was her first ever comic book was, and I'll tell her proudly it was the first issue of Thriller, the 1980s DC comic by Robert Loren Fleming and Trevor Von Eeden.

Anybody who has no idea what that comic is about is not going to get an explanation here, because Thriller has a lot going on, but I can tell her that she thought that bright pink cover was the bomb, and the heavy paper and heavy colours inside the book were all she wanted to touch and examine and rip to fucking shreds.

It was in my pile of things to sell, but I'll never get rid of it now. Partly because she fucking destroyed that comic - ripped it to bits and chewed on its innards. She still stared at the pages intently, and it proved useful when she got grumpy at life, because it was an oddly calming experience for the young one. The comic lasted in mint condition for nearly 40 years, but it couldn't survive an eight-month old.

So I can't sell it, because nobody is going to buy it in that kind of condition, but also because it's the first I ever really gave to the baby. She's always been reaching for them as I read them, but I like to keep my comics in generally one piece, so I'm always pulling them away. And then she went for the Thriller, and I let her have her way with it. It only seemed fair.

I've always been a totally sentimental piece of shit, but it's not like that is going to go away as both me and the baby get older, and this poor demolished comic is the ultimate symbol of that.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Miracleman Apocrypha: It's more than my job's worth, innit?

By the end of Alan Moore's run on Miracleman, the world had been transformed into a new super-utopia, with new beings building a whole new world on the ashes of a destroyed London. It showed  that the impact of superheroes on the real world would be profound and severe, but could also create a world of wonders.

Which is all well and good, but somebody has to still clean the bloody toilets, don't they?

Miracleman: Apocrypha was a three-issue series put out in the dying days of Eclipse Comics, giving a variety of creators the opportunity to tell stories in that world. And most of them are ponderous and pretentious, as they try to ride on Moore's coat-tails

But the second issue also had The Janitor, by Dick Foreman and Alan Smith, which was anything but ponderous. It's all about the poor bugger who has to clean up the palace of the new world, sweeping up around the anti-matter portals and shining up the massive nipples on the gold statues that coat its edifice.

Humanity might be ascended, and nobody ever needs to work, but some people still like to have the routine, like to have a bit of purpose, and are happy with the small miracle of seeing a regular caron the road, and won't fall for the charms of the evil Anti-Janitor, hiding away behind its dimensional gateway.

Sometimes, when everybody else literally has their head in the clouds, the man on the ground still has something to say. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Wasteland: It's weird down here!

Of all the strange comics DC published in the 1980s - and there was an admirable amount of them - Wasteland was the strangest. Writers John Ostrander and Del Close would tell short stories of creepy horror, or vaguely autobiographical stories of Close's life, or just anything that took their fancy. It sometimes went to bizarre places, but it always looked good, with gorgeous art by the likes of David Lloyd, Joe Orlando and George Freeman.

It somehow lasted 18 issues, but they saved some of the most batshit weirdness for the final issue. Beneath a stunningly tasteless cover from Bill Wray, it's a full-length story that starts with the return of a dead detective - last seen in an earlier issue, looking on bemused with a bullet hole in his head as the world blew up around him - and skewing into a semi-sequel to a story about the creators trying to figure out how to staple the comic into a typical DC crossover.

It's an incredibly bizarre comic, even for Wasteland, summing up everything that was attractive about this idiosyncratic title. Despite my pathetic efforts, it can't be summed up with an easy synopsis, and the insanity must be seen for itself. When so many comics follow an easy formula, and entire storylines can be easily predicted, right from the start, Wastelqand deserves some credit for never being that predictable, and for going to places other comic creators would never think to go.

The final story doesn't make any sense, of course, but Wasteland never had any interest in making sense, and maintained that philosophy until the very end. Making sense never mattered so little.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Hate: See anything you like?

I was just slightly too young for the heyday of early 90s alternative comics, and was far more interested in the New Warriors and Justice League when comics like Eightball and Yummy Fur were at their prime.

So when I finally got to Hate, the comic had already moved on from the Seattle days, and #17 - the first one I ever got - Buddy and Lisa were in New Jersey, and moving their on with their lives

Even though I was new to the scene, I couldn't help seeing that Peter Bagge was getting the usual bullshit from those who told him he'd sold out by going colour with the comic and settling the characters into domesticity, instead of focusing on Stinky and his efforts to manage a hip young band in the rainy mists of Seattle.

But this issue, with Buddy heading back to Seattle to sort his shit out before heading back to the East Coast forever is always the pure Hate to me. That's where I came in, and all the Seattle stuff was prologue. Besides, the colour Hate comics has stronger connections to the earlier Bardley stores in Neat Stuff, and there was some deep resonance of Buddy back in that crushing suburbia, after trying to escape it into the world of plaid and grunge and over-priced coffee.

That's the real Hate, right there.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

All-New X-Men: The whole story of Eva Bell

The Bendis era of the X-Men came to an end five years ago now, and the franchise have moved on in new directions. The time-displaced original team have been returned to their proper place, and the new mutants Bendis introduced during that period have been absorbed into the greater mutant tapestry, and the X-Men go on.

If those comics deserve to be remembered for anything, it should be the brilliant art, with the likes of Stuart Immonen and Chris Bachalo ensuring the X-comics have rarely looked prettier at any other time this century, but those new mutants also deserve to be remembered for the new textures they brought to the massive mutant tapestry.

And Eva Bell, the Australian mutant with the ability to mess around with time, was the best of them. Not just because she had the best hair and a terrific attitude to all the mutant madness, but because she had a life beyond the endless conflict between homo sapiens and homo superior, and tragically lost it all.

In one issue of Bendis' Uncanny X-men, she disappears from the story for a few pages, and comes back obviously changed - that hair has grown out, for one - and isn't the same person, carrying an extra weight that she refuses to talk about, and which she forbids the team telepaths from divulging. It was a small mystery in among the many subplots Bendis was juggling at the time, but in a pair of annuals released some time later, her story was finally told, with art from Andrea Sorrentino.

She's been to the future and lived a life of her own, getting married and having a child, and then it's all taken away from her. It doesn't really mesh with the greater theories of how time travel works in the Marvel multiverse, but it's still a tragic twist of fate, and Eva's life is ripped apart by it before she's dumped back where she started.

There has been plenty said about how Bendis left a lot of threads hanging when he left, but Eva's story is a perfect little note inside all that noise. She's now just another mutant in the giant Hickman masterplan, showing up for crowd scenes and plot devices, but that's okay. We've already seen the whole story of Eva of Eva Bell, or at least the bits that really matter.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Ministry of Space: You made us monsters

It's not the dark secret behind the funding of the Ministry of Space that really shocks in the final issue of this comic, it's a sign on the wall in the every last panel.

The Ministry of Space, produced with great care and respect by Warren Ellis and Chris Weston in the early 2000s, is the origin story for the world of Dan Dare, where space is ruled by the stiff upper lip of English culture. But it also shows that you don't build a space empire without some darkness, and that darkness really seeps in during the final moments.

The space programme is funded by stolen Holocaust gold, with England soaring into the stars on the backs of murdered millions. That's actually not much of a shock in the end, there have been enough dark hints about the source of the funding throughout the story, and the money was always coming from a dark place.

But then there's that sign at the end, showing that while humanity has reached the stars, it's still mired in inequalities and bigotry, and that all those hopes for a golden future will still be dragged down by these most human of prejudices.

It's the perfect note to end on -  after Weston's glorious spacecraft soar into the cosmos, and we see gardens on Mars and cities on the Moon, there is still something to bring you down to Earth.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Dicks: Here I am, whinin' on

A lot of comic writers and artists are embarrassed by their earliest efforts, but few of them hate them as gleefully as Garth Ennis does.

Ennis was still a teenager when he broke into comics with Troubled Souls. With watercolour art from John Mcrea, it's a comic about the troubles in Ireland and a young man caught up in the middle of it. And while it wasn't as bad as Ennis now makes out - there is a nice bit where the two main characters put aside all their differences over a pint or two, and sets the template for 90 percent of everything Ennis tries to say in his comics -  it was definitely clumsy and overwrought and tried way too hard.

Ennis ended up writing a Judge Dredd story just to get the rights back to the comic, to ensure it would never be reprinted, and he also wanted the rights so he could get Dougie and Ivor, the main characters in his irreverent Dicks comics. As much as he hates Troubled Souls, he loves these bloody idjits, and made his feelings about his earliest work clear in the 2014 Dicks series To The End Of Time.

There, Dougie and Ivor, who are blundering through the cosmos in a time machine, smash into Tom, the main character from Troubled Souls, right at the start of his story, and smear his bloody guts all over their time machine. After opening that issue with a page of Ennis ripping into his own earlier writing style, he literally rips into the main character, and even takes a literary dump on the ending of the story by implying that Tom was fucked anyway, because he fell off a boat and drowned 10 seconds after Troubled Souls ended.

To see someone take a gleeful shit on their own comics history is always good for a laugh, and while you would have to hunt down an ancient copy of Troubled Souls to ever read it again, Ennis makes it clear that you probably shouldn't fuckin' bother.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Flash: It's too late

Most decent superhero comics have the moment when the hero realises they can't save everybody, and have to make some hard choices about who they rescue from crime and disaster.

For Wally West - the one, true Flash - that moment came in Flash #91 in 1994, by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo. Wally is trying to outrun some recent failures, and pushes his speed to new levels by reciting Johnny Quick's speed formula, only to push himself so fast the whole world comes to a stop.

He's joined in this still and silent world by Max Mercury, who gives him a typical Max Mercury lesson, and shows that no matter how fast Wally pushes himself, he can't be everywhere at once. It's nicely illustrated when Max shows Wally the victim of a car crash still frozen in the impact, but already lost. It doesn't matter how fast he is, Wally can't be everywhere at once.

Superheroes always have their limitations, and have to learn to live with them, or they'll be useless - or even worse, become totalitarian monsters. Under Waid's direction, Wally West was always learning, always pushing himself to become better, and this moment of hubris-bursting is one of the best.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Star Trek: We respect each other's minds!

Marvel had the right to publish Star Trek comics in the short period before the first and second movies, before DC got the license, but their comics have dated a lot more than their distinguished competition's efforts have, because they're just so cramped.

Marvel's version of Star Trek was still full of bonkers ideas, and #12 has Janice Rand marrying an energy ball in a pyramid and heading off to the void between galaxies with him (unsurprisingly, it doesn't end well for anybody).

There is certainly some ambition there, and the Marvel era did have some great artists on the book, including the likes of Dave Cockrum and Gil Kane. But it's also so cramped, and so overwritten, and so typical for Marvel style of the period, where the captions and dialogue overloaded the art, as the scriptwriters grasp for profundity with some very big writing, which comes at the unfortunate expense of the visuals.

When DC got their hands on the Enterprise and its crew, the comics had more great art, usually from the criminally under-rated Tom Sutton, but it was also so much more open and inviting. Star Trek might be set in the vacuum of space, but it turns out it still needs a lot of room to breathe.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

American Splendour Transatlantic Comics: My daily teatime anxiety

Harvey Pekar famously said comics were the best medium to tell stories in, because they were just words and pictures, and you could do anything with words and pictures.

Of course, this led to a lot of smartarses pointing out that despite the vast possibilities of the comic medium, Harvey did a lot of stories that were extremely limited in scope. There were mostly drawn from his own ordinary and dull life, and while he could go anywhere in his comics, he often just stayed in the hallways of the veterans hospital where he worked.

But he also could do things like this single issue, mostly made up of a letter from British artist Colin Warneford, explaining how his life with autism worked, and how he dealt with the crippling social anxiety. Warneford, who also illustrates the comic with a detailed and groovy line, sees comics as a way to fully articulate all the things he's trying to say without tripping over his own thoughts, and does so admirably in this comic.

Transatlantic Comics was published more than 20 years ago, but is still as honest and true as ever, and just as vital - autistic people still get a lot of grief for the way they interact with the rest of society, and could still use a lot less judgement and a lot more understanding.

Harvy Pekar's American Splendour comics could be clumsy, and they could be boring, but they were always, always full of truths.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Lazarus Risen: He was so much more impressive last time

There's something hugely satisfying about the way writer Greg Rucka deal with the Zmey - a monster warrior that has already massacred thousands -  in the creature's rematch with Forever Carlye and Sonja Bittner in the third issue of Lazarus Risen. The last time these pumped-up supersoldiers all faced off against each other, it was carnage and despair, and the rematch promises more of the same for one side or the other.

Instead, the brutish monster is left disorientated and confused, and finally treated as a pathetic creature, destroying his will rather than his body, and regarding him as nothing to worry about, and something to be ignored. They just walk away.

The only disappointment is that Michael Lark - one of the great action artists currently working, with a sense of pacing and blocking out of scenes that is almost unparalleled in American comics - doesn't get to get stuck into the action, but it's worth it for that swerve of the unexpected.

The next issue of the current Lazarus series came out before the whole world shut down, and I could be way off with the way this thing is heading, but it's great way to deal with the Zmey. That's how you deal with this massive metaphor for toxic masculinity - diminish it, don't give it any power, and get on with your life. Walk away and let it eat itself.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Lobo: Talk about disgusting!

The entire American comics scene always seemed a little baffled by what to do with Kevin O'Neill when he came over in the great wave of British comic talent in the 1980s. His skills were so obvious, but was so jaggedly idiosyncratic that he never fit in. And he always went a bit too far with the violence and body horror.

It was just too extreme, and other than a Green Lantern story here and there (which has still somehow influenced the past decade of GL comics), he was usually far more comfortable with things like Marshall Law, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Death Race 2020.

Which is a shame - because after the mighty Simon Bisley - he's the perfect Lobo artist. The best Lobo comics are the most extreme, that lean heavily into the appalling horror and gore of the Main Man's antics, with no level of restraint. And Kevin O'Neill does not deal in restraint.

O'Neill only did a couple of Lobo comics - a one-off that took the merciless piss out of of comic conventions - and #21 of the ongoing Lobo comic, co-starring 1950s favourite Space Cabbie.

And it's unflinchingly disgusting and violent and everything that Lobo comics should be. There's grotesque guts and deeply unsettling architecture and Lobo grinning like a true psychopath and things that literally defy description.
That's our Kev!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Zot!: I think I'll always look young

Scott McLoud's Zot! comic became a lot more interesting when the main characters became earth-bound towards the end of the ongoing series, with the stories becoming deeper than the usual manga-infused madness that dominated the first two-thirds of the comic.

There are two issues in particular - one where one supporting character grapples with her sexuality, and one where the two main characters spend the whole issue discussing their virginity - which got a lot of attention (and some awards) at the time, but they haven't aged all that well, and do come across as more than a little naive and clumsy to a reader in 2020.

But #32, a spotlight on Brandy - a happy-go-lucky character who is always cheerful and optimistic - hits just as hard, 30 years after it was published.

Brandy's life is a lot more complicated than it looks, and she's dealing with genuine hardship that even her very best friends are aware of - they often remark about how she manages to stay so thin, without having any idea it's because she's genuinely malnourished, giving up meals to keep her siblings fed. And when her boyfriend sells his old X-Men comics to fund a memorable date for her, she's just appalled that all that money is being wasted on her, (although as McLoud's wonderful expressions make clear, the chocolate ice-cream does help her feel a tiny bit better).

There are no easy answers for Brandy's predicament, the rent is still due and the food cupboards are still empty at the end of the issue, and her friends are still ignorant to her plight. But it ends on a delightful little note, as the teenager climbs on an empty playground, convinced she'll always look young, because she knows she always has, and that's good enough for now.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

What If...: Do not let this pain you

It sometimes felt like the stories in Marvel's What If... comics were always destined to end badly. After all, you can get away with a tragedy that would never stick in the proper continuity, and when the heroes go on and on and on, it can be a genuine novelty to see them have a tragic ending for once.

But sometimes, things turned out much better for everyone concerned, like in the What If Elektra Had Lived story from #35, written and drawn by Frank Miller.

It's a very Miller comic, and not just because the Watcher is pontificating in the rain in a trenchcoat - the story is heavy on mood and style, rather than plot, and the actual events after Elektra survives her fatal fight with Bullseye is just a few pages long.

But it also has something that you don't often find in Miller's comics, or in What Ifs -  an actual happy ending, with the two lovers heading off into the sunset together. They don't seek vengeance or justice or anything like that, they get to leave the superhero life behind.

Of course, this is one of those What Ifs where it actually came true in the end and Elektra did survive, and the story of that is a lot longer and way more complicated than this short tale promises, and is still shuddering along, all these years later.

But it's nice to know that there is a world, somewhere out there, where they do just walk away from the crime and ninjas and the endless violence, and actually find some goddamn peace.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Love and Rockets: It's not your hat

Jaime Hernandez has been building up his Locas saga in various Love and Rockets comics for almost four decades now, and the characters have grown up with the comic, becoming richer and deeper people as they go. The comics have a massive emotional punch because you know these characters, and you know what they've gone through, and you genuinely care about them.

And yet, he's also never been hesitant about introducing new and younger generations, and in recent years has brought in a whole new cast of younger characters, vaguely connected to the overall story. The most forthright of these has been Tonta - a loud, abrasive and hilarious young woman who

But when the two generations smash into each other in the most recent issue of the comic, that loud brashness of youth becomes something genuinely hurtful, and Tonta's brief interaction with Maggie - over a hat - is devastating for the older character, while the younger one walks away without a care in the world.

It all comes back to bite Tonta when she realises the connection between that random woman she accosted on the street and her art teacher, the immortal Ray D, and she realises that she's gone too far. She bails on the at class, and slinks home in shame.

But as somebody who has been following Maggie's story for years, there is only one side to this story, and I'm on Team Maggie all the way. Tonta has been a lot of fun, but she made Maggie cry, and frankly, she can go to hell. Maggie's age and character beats Tonta's youthful vigor and verve any day of the week.

Love and Rockets comics are still the best comics, because they make you care enough about these people that you actually get angry when they're poorly treated, even if it's from a brief exchange over a piece of headwear. That's good comics.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Valachi Papers: This is no Godfather

It's a little mind-bending to see that The Valachi Papers came out the same year as The Godfather. They're superficially similar, with a focus on mafia violence and loyalty that stretches over decades, but couldn't be more different in almost every other way.

The Godfather goes deeper, and is just so much richer in style and theme. It's beautifully shot, while The Valachi Papers is filmed on obvious sets with the flattest of lighting, and while Charles Bronson has always had an incredibly blunt charm, he can't match the gorgeous performances from Pacino, Brando, Cazale, Duvall and Keaton.

Even with James Caan getting riddled by every bullet in creation in The Godfather, The Valachi Papers manages to hold its own when it comes to the violence, and even has a body count that outdoes Coppola's epic. But by all other measures, The Valachi Papers is a minor movie, while its gangster counterpart looks like the future of film. Timing is everything, but it didn't do Bronson's films any favours.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Bourne Ultimatum: All shakes aren't the same

The shaky-cam could be one of the worst thing to happen to action films in the 21st century, used as a lazy short-hand to infer wild chaos, and to cover the hopeless inadequacies of the actors involved, when you can barely see them land a punch.

But it can be very different in the hands of a truly talented director, and it's always a little disappointing to see the Bourne films lumped in with every other film that uses the shakes as a crutch, because all shakes aren't the same. 

When Jason Bourne unloads on some poor fool, there is certainly a lot of chaos, but it's also surprisingly easy to follow when Paul Greengrass gets stuck into it. The camera is all over the place, but it also lingers a split second longer on the vital details that you need to know. And, crucially, there is a huge amount of effort going into the sound design, which also helps makes things immeasurably more coherent.
Nothing really beats the thrill of a locked-off camera taking a step back, and just indulging in the sight of some hardcore action from talented performers. But like any film-making trick, shaking things up can be a powerful tool when used properly.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Killing Them Softly: Now fucking pay me

After the gorgeous transcendence of The Assassination of Jessie James, there was a weird critical disappointment with director Andrew Dominik's follow-up. Killing Them Softly was too obvious, too thin, they all said. And its bleak view of America - as a place that can never be a community - was just a bit too much.

Which is all complete madness, because it's such a good summation of where America was and is heading, full of professional, cold men getting what they can; and other pros who turn out to be painfully incompetent and can't even get out of bed; and complete fuck-ups who try to get what they can, but always screw the pooch.

It's looking better every year, as the country slowly tears itself apart in political fuckery and a complete inability to do anything about its hopeless inequities. Few other films of the past 10 years have captured this feeling like this one, and even though it is set during Obama's first days as President, the sheer helplessness of most of its characters feels like a cross-section of the country in 2020.

Because Cogan's final lines in the film have never felt more painfully true. America is not a community. It's just a business. Now fucking pay him.