Friday, July 31, 2020

So that's how Batman broke his back

I was reading the monthly Batman comics as they led up to the Knightfall saga in the early 90s, but because I lived on the edge of the world, I missed some of the crucial issues - one of the first disappointments caused by Key Issues syndrome. I got the first couple of chapters and the big-ass Batman #500, where Azrael became the Bat, but never actually read the issue where the Batman's back was actually broken.

And even though that one of panel of Bats going over Bane's knee has been reprinted a thousand times, I only finally read that fateful issue last week, in the Tales From the Dark Multiverse hardcover collection that DC recently put out.

And it's surprising how little fight there actually is in it. At least the Batman in Dark Knight Rises puts up a few kicks and punches before Bane breaks him. But the 1990s Batman - who is far more fallible than the current version - is an absolute mess. He spends far more time thinking about the various exhausting battles than landing any blows, and the entire issue is Bane just kicking the fucking shit out of him. At least Superman took Doomsday out with his final blow, Batman just takes it.

Batman is a lot harder, and a lot less human, these days, and if they were telling this story in 2020, he'd put up more of a fight, or have some kind of contingency plan, (even if it all goes wrong). To see him just pummeled like this is actually awful. Who knew one of Batman's greatest battles could be so painful to watch?

Thursday, July 30, 2020

I don't need no key issues

My best mate has gone through a comic surge in recent years that is kinda breathtaking. We both grew up reading British weeklies and graduated to X-Men comics at the same time. He kept up with all things X, and has now almost achieved one impossible goal of getting all of the original X-Men comics - he's only 11 away from the lot - and is now fixated on key issues of many, many other titles.

I say good luck to him, and he's certainly picked up some blinders after making a lot of US mates on YouTube in the past five years. But I also say fuck the whole concept of key issues - as always, I just want to read the bloody things, not invest in the fuckers.

There's no denying that key issues of certain comic books can be a decent investment, and the drive to collect the first appearance of someone familiar from the movies will almost always pay off. If you have the first Spider-Man, it's going to be worth more than any first appearance of any other Spider-character.

But sometimes the whole idea of first appearances gets a bit ridiculous - despite my local comic shop's hopeful note, I seriously don't believe that Swamp Thing #50 is the first appearance of the Justice League Dark, and I powerfully don't care if a cameo counts. 

But now there is a weird drive to artificially create key issues with new characters, hyping them up as the Next Big Thing, even if they're just a tired rehash of the same old ideas. The big comic book companies used to be overflowing with all new concepts and characters, throwing a whole bunch of ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks, now they're just slamming Hulk and Wolverine together and calling it a day.

I seriously don't care about the Joker's new girlfriend, and tehn I couldn't get the new Legion of Super Hero comics because it got snapped up on the hype for some new Green Lantern bullshit. Being unable to find an issue of a comic, six issues into the run, because some YouTuber said it was a hot book, is a great excuse to stop buying it altogethe. So that worked out well.

I used to tell my loved ones that my comics weren't just boxes of paper under my bed, they were investments, because I was trying to explain the obsession with all things comic book and everyone understood the money side of things.

But it's never been about the money, and when the obsession with key issues just gets in the way of actually the reading the things, it's not paying off for anybody. Unless they've got the first appearance of Wolverine or some shit.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The lovely shelving of Skara Brae

Sometimes I think I spend far too much time looking at the big bookcase in the living room, wondering how all the books go together and how it all looks and flows, but then I remember seeing the shelves in the petrified village of Skara Brae, and seeing how people actually lived thousands and thousands of years ago, and seeing that they while that had bedding areas and hallways and all that stuff you'd expect, they also had nice shelving units to put up their knick knacks.

The idea of putting our pretty things on our shelves to admire and look at is as old as humanity, and making the bookshelf look nice is part of who we have all always been. I don't think I'm spending enough time looking at it, we've always been looking at it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

How conspiracy theories work: The man with the umbrella

There has been a lot written about conspiracy theories in recent years, especially when there is an incredibly strong argument that they've made the world objectively worse in the past decade, but nothing so efficiently sums up the psychology behind them like the story of the man with the umbrella at the Kennedy assassination.

The question was asked for years - what was he doing? On a sunny November day in Dallas, there was a man seen opening an umbrella just before the bullets started flying. It was such a strange thing to do, there had to be an explanation, and it had to be connected to the assassination.

And then it turned out that there was an explanation, and it was just weird and mundane enough to be true, and had absolutely nothing to do with any conspiracy to murder of the President. The man with the umbrella was making some kind of point about the Kennedy family's appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s, with umbrellas seen as a obvious metaphor for political cowardice.

That symbolism faded over the years, but that's what the man was doing. He wasn't signalling that it was time for a second gunman to shoot, or to send a coded message to his Communist handlers. He was making a statement, but the statement got lost in the noise.

Errol Morris did a terrific little documentary film on this for the NY Times back in 2011, and a decade later, after years and years of having to constantly block loved ones on social media because they won't fucking shut up about 9/11, that film remains one of the best ways to defuse any conspiracy thought.

The truth isn't always hidden by some vast conspiracy, it's usually just human beings doing things for strange, or flawed, or just plain human reasons. Sometimes life is just as mundane as it is strange and people do fucked up things, and you'll never be able to predict them, because they're just boring and bizarre enough to be true.

Sometimes there isn't a vast cabal out to change the course of history, sometimes there's just some dude with an umbrella, making some vague point. That vagueness allows conspiracies theories to sneak in and fester, but life just works out that way.

Monday, July 27, 2020

I only go to the comic shop for the kilo sales now

The comic book business has - like most of the world - been massively fucked over by 2020, and with shops in lockdown, and product coming out on a seriously random basis, I've barely stepped foot in a comic store in months.

But since New Zealand is run by grown-ups, we're now allowed to go out and be in crowds of people without worrying about catching something that will make us choke up our lungs. We can go to music gigs, and we can go to sporting events, and we can go to the comic shop when they have a kilo sale.

One of my local stores has been doing it for years now. They've given up on the weekly grind of new comics after getting sick of getting screwed around by the distributor, and now focus on the collector market. They buy up big collections in bulk for key issues, and end up with tonnes of old comics they don't really need.

So every couple of months, they do a kilo sale, where boxes of these old comics are put up for sale. They end up costing $20 a kilo, which usually works out at about a buck each. And there is some surprisingly good stuff in there, if you're not too bothered by the quality.

I've loaded up on 70s and 80s Star Trek comics and Avengers and Teen Titans and Doctor Who comics and issues of goddamn Quasar, all of which I'll end up selling again in the next year, but at least I get to read them first. I look for the sorts of things that you can't get easily from the library, and that makes them even easier to sell in the end.

Every now and then, you find some Strange Days by Milligan/Ewins/McCarthy - or a couple of Shade The ChangIng Man issues you need, but I also just like to load up on comics that would have blown my fucking mind if I'd owned them when I was 12 years old.

But I missed them, and now I churn through them at high speed and pass them on, because they're rubbish and fun and deeply, deeply comforting.

For bulk comic goodness, you just can't go wrong when your childhood dreams are sold off by weight.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Why I dig the Affleck

Not everybody is a Ben Affleck fan, and I can totally understand that, but he's one of my favourite modern actors for a very simple reason.

He is usually a conventionally good looking dude, especially with his jaw set and mouth closed, and he's another lantern-chinned hero in the grandest old school traditions of Hollywood. But then he opens his mouth and smiles, and holy shit, it's the creepiest damn '90s frat boy leer in all of cinema.

His best roles make full use of these two halves of Affleck, and combined, make him a terrific presence on the screen. It means his attempts to play the bland hero type are always a little bit doomed, but when he's trying to play the creep behind that grimace, he's exceptional.

There's certainly an argument that Casey Affleck is an even better actor - if only for the way he pulls off the scene in Good Will Hunting where he wanks into a baseball glove -  but he doesn't have brother Ben's statuesque juxtaposition.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

True Romance: You're not going to impress anybody with Sleepwalker, Clarence

A local cinema reopened after months of closure with a screening of True Romance, and the theatre was absolutely packed out because you can do that in New Zealand now. I went with my pal Nik, and it was an excellent way to get back into going to the movies.

It also helped that it's a film that I have a visceral reaction to, because it came out when I was 19, and I love True Romance almost as much as my first born. It was fascinating to see what had aged well - the craziest bits - and which hadn't - Clarence's 'a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do' routine really plays badly, but not as badly as Alabma's casual racism towards Persians. (Fun fact, appalled by that racism, Patricia Arquette used a different ethnicity, race, or nationality for each take, because she wanted to be equally offensive to all people.)

But so many scenes and so much of the acting is just immaculate, with Tony Scott at the top of his game, riffing on the Tarantino script with his own well-honed slickness. There's only two things that still really bug me, after watching this film a hundred times, and that's the posters in the expensive framing that are in Dick and Floyd's place, and that fucking comic book.

If Clarence is really trying to tell a woman about how comics are full of "great stories, great characters and beautiful artwork", while telling some half-remembered story about Nick Fury and a magic ring, he probably shouldn't be flicking through a comic that has Deathlok and Sleepwalker in it.

It's 1993, dude. At least show the girl some Sandman or something.

Friday, July 24, 2020

The impossible widescreen

Even though streaming services still sometimes struggle with the concept, it's so much easier to see films as they're meant to be seen - in the proper ratio and everything, with televisions specifically designed for the widescreen experience. But it doesn't feel that long ago that the only way you could watch movies was in dreaded pan and scan, with the composition shot to hell and key information sliced off the sides.

Up until the late nineties, it was ridiculously hard to find widescreen on video, it was all formatted for square TVs, which could seriously mess up the film experience.  But you could never convince people that the black bands weren't stopping them from seeing everything, when the exact opposite was true. When film studios were asked why everything had to be in a square format, they consistently put up this argument, deciding to eviscerate their strongest movies instead of fighting that ignorance.

So I coveted and snapped up every widescreen movie that ever showed up, every copy of the Wild Bunch or Unforgiven or Speed that would show up at the local chain bookstore was gratefully received. The only copy of True Romance that I could get in widescreen came with Cantonese subtitles, but that was worth it for the right ratio.

Sometimes it would be an absolute revelation, finding out how much pan and scanning cut out. When I finally saw Die Hard, I also finally saw how much danger Al was in when he first enters the Nakatomi Plaza, with the wider ratio revealing that one of the best henchmen in cinema is waiting right around the corner, gun ready to fire.

In all changed when DVDs came along, and TVs got a lot bigger, and you could see the whole thing at a decent size, in crisp quality, and most releases came out looking at the universe intended.

That's carried over to streaming services, for the most part. The ratio problem is still not sorted, even now, and there still issues with aspect ratios that can drive people crazy, and watching something as simple as the Simpsons as its meant to be seen turned out to be hard.

But even most TV shows are given that cinematic ratio now, and the idea that those dreaded black bars aren't cutting things off is largely overcome. It just shouldn't have been this bloody hard to see these things the way they were made to be seen.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

We've always been this awful

Nerds - in all kinds of fandom - can be fucking awful human beings. Social misfits trying to make everybody as miserable as them, using the excuse of geekdom, and the terrible idea that they're the real victims in their latest deluded fantasy. There's some fucking awful racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia going on every day in the nerd communities, and it's goddamn 20-fucking-20. We should be past this shit by now.

It feels like a modern thing, but it's always been there. It spreads a lot easier on social media than any device ever invented by humanity, and the anonymity of the internet give some shitheads extra reach, but there is no golden age of nerdhood. We've always been this awful.

Just look at old fanzines and professional magazines, full of terrible people with terrible opinions. Letters pages full of bile, and columns full of rage about unimportant bullshit, and desperate attempts to be childishly edgy by shitting on other people. This isn't a new phenomena.

At least we're gone that point were all sorts of prejudice are officially frowned on. Even if it's officially still all over the fucking place, some people can still face consequences for being gigantic fucktards. (Cancel culture is not a thing - you are still perfectly allowed to be a fucking arsehole, but other people are also perfectly allowed to call you a fucking arsehole for it, and decide that they want nothing to do with your arseholeness.)

But there are still sub-societies that thrive and live on as cesspits of shitty hate, and to see the odious ethics and small-minded hypocrisy of things like Gamergate spread into wider culture is deeply depressing. At least when nerds used to weaponize their own persecution to persecute others used to keep it in the fanzines and sub-cultures they inhabited, instead of spraying it all over the place. We've always been this awful, but we should be better than that now.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Die Hard: Hench for life

Die Hard rules for so many reasons - inspiring a new generation of action movie by welding the disaster film onto the action flick, and giving us a hero who wasn't afraid to show his more vulnerable side as he picked giant shards of glass out of his feet. It's more than three decades old now, but it's timelessly exciting, and it helps that it has one of the best group of henchmen ever seen in action movies.

There are a few forgettable faces in Hans Gruber's crew - including several meatheads with plain dark hair - but for the most part, the henchmen were instantly recognisable. There was the Def Leppard reject, the Huey Lewis clone, the black tech genius and the mighty Al Leong. There was the curly mullet dude, the ape with the ponytail, and the none-more-blonde Karl and Tony.

This didn't just have the effect of making them a bit more human - the bit with Leong and the chocolate bar is an all-time great moment - it also made the film easier to follow, and the stakes were always clear. You could tick them off as McLane dispatched each of the murderous scumbags. Even now, when I haven't seen Die Hard in ages, I can easily remember the fates of every one of them.

So many groups of henchmen in modern action movies are just hard men - mercenaries in the same outfit of hoodies and dark leather jackets, or sharp-suited heavies. But to keep the stakes real and a breeze to follow, Die Hard shows the way.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

No need to explain Ms Marvel

The Captain Marvel movie was fine, just like all the Marvel movies, but the daughters of a workmate  loved it to bits, so I gave them a nice copy of Ms Marvel #1 from 1977 that I had. I have no idea where I even got it from, and had no emotional attachment to it at all (there are a couple of later Ms Marvel comics that Deathbird were, however, the very first Marvel comics I ever remember reading, and I'm holding onto them for life).

I probably could have made a quick and dirty fifty bucks off it - especially when it's surprisingly easy to unload old comics these days -  but fuck it. Sometimes comics just go where there are supposed to go.

When I handed it over, I had to explain that it wasn't actually the first Carol Danvers comic, it was just her first solo series. And then I had to resist the urge to explain that the original Captain Marvel was a white dude from Kree who would switch places in space and time with Rick Jones and then later die from cancer, and he was replaced with the excellent Monica Rambeau, who brought eighties super-science to her time in the Avengers (which might have led to some digression over Nextwave), and that Carol Danvers only made the Captain Marvel identity hers in the past 10 years, when Marvel had the suddenly bright idea to have women write a woman's adventures, then I wondered if I should make a digression into the current Ms Marvel, and how she is one of Marvel's very best characters of the past decade, but decided that it would be hard enough explaining how Carol Danvers became Binary for a while, or how there is a part of her that still lives in Rogue's head, or her Warbird the Drunk phase, or that whole business with Avengers #200, (which is some seriously repugnant shit), or that there was another actual Captain Marvel from the 1940s who has his own complicated history and would spark a whole other world of digressions, because this stuff gets complicated

And then I figured, nobody needs to know all that shit. I don't know why I know all that shit. But if the girls who got the comic want to find this shit out for themselves, I'm not going to ruin it with some old man explaining. it's way more fun to follow it on your own.

Monday, July 20, 2020

On the Liberator with the mutoids, falling through the universe

I don't know how old I was, but the second oldest dream I ever having can remember having definitely took place after I saw Blake's 7 for the first time. Because I'm on the Liberator, the spaceship from the TV show, but it's broken somehow, and we're falling through the universe, as if there is gravity out there in the nothing. And the spaceship is creaking and moaning and we're all doomed as we fall through forever, because we don't have Blake, or Avon, or even Villa to save us. They've all been replaced by mutoids.

The mutoids were shocktroopers used by the Federation, the ultimate villain in the British '70s series. Under the Federation, all dissent is crushed - the series starts with the title character getting framed as a child abuser - and they maintain their fierce grip on this corner of the galaxy with legions of troopers and more specialized mutoids. They're people who have had their minds wiped and gone through some kind of physical modification, (made only creepier by the vagueness of that process) turning into robotic and emotionless science vampires, dependent on a blood serum to function. They pilot the spaceships used their laser guns to gun down anybody their superior orders them to, and had these fucking weird gooey headpieces.

And apart from a few early appearances, the Mutoids are entirely female, which was never really explained, except as a shortcut for showing the unthinking misogyny of a fascist space empire - any women who speak out against the system have their personalities erased, and their bodies turned into brute force cannon fodder for the war machine.

As a kid, I wasn't really that familiar with the deeper implications and metaphors for a patriarchal privilege that the story implied, all I knew is that those blank eyed ladies were terrifying, and they weren't going to save me when we were falling through the universe together, because they were the bad guys, and doomed.

I still think about that dream a lot.

The first dream I can ever remember involves a fish tank at school breaking and unleashing sharks through the classrooms. That was probably inspired by Jaws, or at least the incredibly few clips I'd seen of the film, and was just a metaphor for not wanting to get eaten by a shark.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Warrior: Forward into the future

Warrior tried so hard to be an indispensable comic, but it still only managed a couple of dozen issues before dying out. It might have been the bullshit from Marvel, demanding the rights to a name for a character that somebody else came up with first (and then, decades later, owning the character and still refusing him to go by his original, superior name), and it might just have been so hard to hold onto creators offered more freedom and cash across the Atlantic, and it might just have been flagging sales. Whatever the reason, it was gone after #26

They're strange beasts - the final few issues - V For Vendetta remains a cornerstone, but Marvelman is lost in that legal mire and doesn't appear for quite a few issues before the end. There is an early Grant Morrison story that went exactly nowhere, and lots of other filler. While these include some terrific interviews with artists that get deep into their craft and influences, there is a hint of desperation to the final issues, even as the editorial pages still promise a bight future.

Of course, some of the stories continued, with both V for Vendetta and Moore's era on Marvelman coming to natural conclusions with other publishers. Mysa and Axel Pressbutton made the jump to American comics, although that didn't last long - and almost all of the creators were only just starting on the paths to long, productive careers.

The most obvious successor to Warrior is A1, where the mighty Gray Leach and his mates published new Warpsmith and Bojeffires comics, and got the best of British comic talents to let loose in six short (and endlessly reprinted) issues.

There might not have been the day-glo anarchy of Deadline without Warrior, which defined comics in a whole new way, a decade down the line, and 2000ad might not have eaten up Warrior in the way it devoured Starlord and Tornado, but it certainly followed Warrior's example.

That influence lasts so much longer than the actual comic, and the original hunger that drove Warrior in the first place doesn't go away, and wasn't confined to the British Isles. There is a direct line from Warrior to the birth of Vertigo comics, 10 years down the line, with similar motivations, and some fiamiliar names in the credits.

Even Vertigo has faded away now, and has joined Warrior in oblivion, but that hunger for smart, beautiful comics is never sated, and there will always be ambitions to follow in their footsteps.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Warrior: The duff stuff

It's guaranteed that not every strip in any anthology comic is going to be a winner, and Warrior had its fair share of stinkers. They often featured beautiful art that was lumbered with incomprehensible or outright incompetent storytelling. Trying to reach outside your grasp should always be commended, but you also shouldn't be too shocked when you fall short.

So for every slice of Marvelman gold, there was Dez Skinn's interminable Big Ben spin-off, which wasted the talents of a young Will Simpson. For every Laser Eraser comic that hit the mark, there was an episode of Madman that was impossible to follow.

And there were still those desperate attempts to impress - Shandor started out strong, but collapsed into unintelligibility, and Steve Parkhouse's The Spiral Path got similarly lost, even as the artist settled into his distinctive loose style.

There were also a lot of cheap euro reprints, re-dialogued for English, but still utterly baffling. These padded out the page count, but Warrior was not the first - and was most certainly not the last - British anthology comic to show signs of a forthcoming demise with these kinds of reprints. It's never a good sign when the quality starts to slip.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Warrior: Father Shandor kills the dead

Father Shandor started as a non-nonsense monster killer, a priest with a sharp hunting eye and an absolute hatred for the monsters who prey on humanity. His first appearance was as the rough and tough Andrew Keir in Hammer's Dracula Prince of Darkness, brutally staking Barbara Shelley and making sure Dracula sank beneath the ice.

While there were no more further cinematic adventures for the good Father, he had a surprising second life as a demon killer in the House Of Hammer - Dez Skinn's earlier publication, and sixteen years after dispatching Dracula, he had more new adventures in almost every issue of Warrior.

Written by Steve Moore - who seemed to write every second strip in Warrior - the series had, for the most part, some gorgeously gloomy art by John Bolton, who would later go on to do some behind-the-scenes X-adventures in Classic X-Men. Bolton's early black and white art is moody as hell - sometimes literally - selling the horror with every panel and unrelentingly haunting.

The story took Shandor far from the Transylvanian roots, into other worlds and dimensions and states of being, and then dumps him back on Earth with a terrible touch of death. Shandor was always doomed in his defence against the darkest of magic, inevitably tainted by the demonic arts.

Shandor needed this flights of fancy, because it was one of the creakiest premises in the comic, it needed to go to new palaces. (It certainly didn't need an origin for Klove, Dracula's minion in Prince of Darkness, explaining how a man could fall prey to such evil, but got one anyway.) A holdout from a slightly earlier era in British comics, and a righteous fury from an earlier age, Shandor ended up in strange new places, making him an easy fit among the other Warriors.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Warrior: Har! It the way I tell 'em!

Alan Moore's comedy comics have always been incredibly under-rated, and always seen as a footnote to the serious comics about realistic superheroes, swamp monsters and Jack The Ripper, but nonsense like The Bojeffries Saga can still stand up a lot stronger than some of that grave and weighty work.

The Bojeffries Saga appeared a dozen issues into Warrior, smashing the eternal melodrama of 'it's grim up north' into fantastical horror, less magic realism and more kitchen sink weird tales. A household of werewolves, vampires and various other monsters facing off against real modern horrors, like paying the rent and going to a work dinner.

And like all the Warrior strips, it had exactly the right artist - Steve Parkhouse had earlier had a sharper, more detailed line, but that flamed out with mystical combat series The Spiral Path, and his Bojeffries comics have always had a scratchier and more goofy quality to them. Parkhouse was able to let loose on this strange terrace house with its garden that exists in two places at once, and the Grandfather in the Shed who has become a bit too hyper-evolved..

The comedy means the story has dated a little better than many of its contemporaries - the jokes might be old, but they're still funny if you're seeing them for the first time - and the working-class setting meant it can sometimes be alarmingly prescient years later. In one chapter of the Saga, police officers are called and find a werewolf chewing down on a tablecloth, and instantly beat up and arrest the nearest Black man, making a date for the next white supremist meeting on the way out the door. The humour of the moment is only sharpened by the tragic recognition that things haven't changed that much in the past 40 years.

The Bojeffries are normal, dull folk, who happen to be supernatural monsters with weird mental abilities and gross powers. Their story would spill out beyond Warrior, and there was even a 21st century update, where the whole family has sold out and ends up trapped in reality TV version of their own lives. Because some things never change, and some jokes never get old. They might just rot a bit, is all.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Warrior: The beauty of Leach

Warrior could be all over the place - and nobody could really agree on the relative merits and qualities of individual stories - but one thing is absolutely clear: Garry Leach's art on Marvelman and Warpsmith is fucking amazing.

Leach's art was smooth and dynamic, and had all the gloss in the world. His firgure work was as consistent as Brian Bolland's, but had a flexibility that Bolland could only dream of. His
Marvelman wouuld shine and his dark inks just fell into the other-wordly Warpsmith comics.

It's an absolute tragedy that comics lost Leach to advertising, and that other than some gorgeous inks - he gave John McCrea's some new depth in his Hitman comics - he really hasn't done much since the 1980s. Despite the few pages he ever produced, Leach is an absolute comic legend, and we were lucky to get what we did.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Warrior: Press the button

In the early issues of Warrior, there is a clear favourite for the readers. There is obviously a lot of love for the Alan Moore stories, but judging by the letters page, there is an easy winner - it's Laser Eraser and Pressbutton all the way. But that love didn't really last.

Written by the mysterious Pedro Henry - who turned out to be the extremely non-mysterious Steve Moore - it featured sharp art from Steve Dillon in a sprawling universe in the far-future. Sci-fi mega-assassin Mysta Mistralis and incredibly violent cyborg Axel Pressbutton get into a lot of sexy shenanigans among the stars, and while the stories never really held together, (and could be just plain mean), they were certainly never predictable.

You can bet Steve Moore's brother-from-another-mother Alan Moore contributed a few ideas for kicks when they smoked spliffs together, because Alan was there at the start, writing and drawing the misadventures of Pressbutton for a huge audience in mainstream music mag Sounds. His Kurt Vile work would be more suited for Zap Comix than something you would find in 2000ad, but the enthusiasm for Axel and his vicious chopper carried on into Warrior.

Steve Moore's stories were usually more fantastical and metaphysical than this effort, but the writer obviously relished the chance to fill the duo's adventures with weird sex and sudden death. While that certainly got a lot of readers excited, it was undoubtedly Dillon's art that was primarily responsible for the early raves. It had a hard edge that was eventually buffed out by endless boring Wolverine comics, with art so sharp you could cut your face on it, and the young Dillon went full-tilt on his design and action staging, while never forgetting to keep the story full of cute faces.

And yet, while Pressbutton got those raves, it quickly faded away after a brief foray into original American stories. While Marvelman and V For Vendetta are still in print today, there hasn't been an Axel Pressbutton comic since a spirited effort in the early 90s with Martin Emond. The deadly duo's adventures were short and sharp, but the thrill only lasted about as long as the orgasms sparked by Axel's button.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Warrior: Feeding a hunger for the new

When British comic anthology Warrior started publishing in the early 80s, it set out to feed a hunger for something new and sophisticated in the local comic scene. And while the black and white comic magazine didn't last much more than a couple of dozen issues, that hunger never went away.

It was a hunger that saw readers latch onto Marvelman as a 'super-heroes done right' - which was sorely needed 20 years after the Fantastic Four debuted - and those readers were desperately keen for the sex and violence of strips like Laser Eraser and Pressbutton. Publisher Dez Skinn's eagerness to tap into this new enthusiasm lead to a bunch of clumsy comics, but even those duff stories are trying so hard, it's hard to hold it against them.
In fact, there is a palpable relief in the earlier letter columns of the comic - that somebody is trying to break away from the stale ideas that permeated many comics - and even those letters that slag off the actual efforts give Skinn and crew credit for giving it a go in the first place.

It helped that Warrior had a strong creator line-up, right from the start, which was certainly aided by giving them ownership of the comics they created. In those days, this was still seen as the path to comics excellence, before it all faded away when Image came along and had all the rights and still just did the same old shit as everyone else, only 69% more extreme.

The mainstream American comic publishers were stagnating at the time, and the thirst for something new wasn't confined to the UK. And while Warrior flared and burned out fairly quickly, it was one of the first signs that the 1980s were going to be a transforming time for comics, in a way that has never really been matched since.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Great: It's a fucking conundrum

The Great has had some of the best shit-talking on television in recent days, but Nicholas Hoult's performance as Peter The Not That Great is next level.

His blind certainty that he's a perfect ruler, combined with his unthinking sadism and absolute power, make him an absolute horror of a person to be around (and incredibly dangerous), but I could watch Peter being that horrible all day long.   

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Gangs of London: Die Hard in a Welsh farmhouse

There's not a lot of action going on in the movie theatre right now, and most action films have gone straight to streaming for the past several years, even before the coronavirus pushed us all out of the cinema. But the gunfight in a Welsh farmhouse in the Gangs of London blew me away.

The self-contained episode, part of co-creator Gareth Evans' intense TV series, features a fight between a Danish murder squad and a group of travellers who just won't die, no matter how many times they're perforated with high velocity shrapnel, (and also happen to be in a farmhouse that is loaded with ammunition).

And as you'd expect from the director of The Raid movies, it's excellent - expertly choreographed, phenomenally intense and incredibly bloody, with bodies caught in an explosion literally falling apart in ultra slow motion. It's an insanely over the top sequence, with the invaders blowing in the roof and coming in blasting, with the interior of the farmhouse soon full of chaos and bloodshed.

The rest of the series has its moments - Sope Dirisu is fucking amazing as the main character, showing his soul as he caves in heads - but the farmhouse shootout is the highlight, and the best action scene of this strange, isolated year.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Always think I've got the Bug

I loved Ambush Bug from the first Bug comic I ever read - it might require an encyclopedic knowledge of decades of DC bullshit to get all the jokes, but Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming always showed a pleasing desire to bite the hand that fed them, and really crank up the entire absurdity of superhero stories.

I came in with the Nothing Special, published in the 1990s when comics took themselves very seriously indeed, and never looked back. I got the mini-series and the one-offs years ago, and the last series and its interminable Dan DiDio jokes. And I keep thinking I've got almost all the earliest appearances in early 1980s comics like Action Comics and DC Comics Presents, but then I keep finding more, because that bloody Bug kept popping up everywhere for a few years there.

I just got another one the other day, and even though it's only an eight-page story, it's full of the usual dumb jokes. I'm pretty sure there is an issue of Supergirl out there somewhere, and that's all I need to fully catch the Bug, but who knows?

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Catching up on Benny

Professor Bernice Summerfield is one of the greatest Dr Who creations to never appear on the TV show, an intelligent, strong-willed and hard-drinking woman who has saved the entire bloody universe several times, and raged all over time and space.

After reading the first couple of Benny stories recently, as part of a foolhardy quest to get through all of the 90s New Adventures books, I tried to catch up on what the character has been up to over the years. And I just couldn't keep up, even with just the summaries that could be found online.

I could keep in touch of Benny's misadventures through all of time and space while the novels - both the Doctor Who and Benny solo stories - were still being published by Virgin. But that all finished 20 years ago and there has been a metric shit-tonne of Benny adventures since then.

There are endless audio adventures and full-length novels and short story collections. I got the idea that the good professor had saved the universe several times, had hung around with the Doctor's brother and even palled around with an alternate universe version of the big man himself. But even the most basic wiki entries on Benny's adventures are so complicated and tangled, it's impossible to keep up.

It's just so much content, for a sub-genre of a sub-genre of a sub-genre. There's obviously a market for the New Adventures of Benny, otherwise they wouldn't keep making them. (And she is a cracking character.) But I can barely keep track of Doctor Who - and am completely fucking lost trying to follow what happens in the audio stories - let along this significant slice of that mad, sprawling universe.

I'll keep reading the adventures of Professor Summerfield in those original New Adventures, for at least the next few years, but I'll barely touch on her latest adventures. There's just too much.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Inform yourself before you wreck yourself

So naming and shaming people who literally never feel shame about their shameful acts is an absolute exercise in futility, and it's looking like the idea that people just need to be thoroughly informed about the truth to understand complex issues is another great fallacy.

Because you can slap people over the head with facts, and there is more information being produced ever second than at any other time in human history, but society is more ill informed than ever.

There's so much trash news - scaremongering, conspiracy bullshit, dull opinion, etc fucking etc - and so many people appear willing to believe it.

I've worked with newsreaders who read bulletins of cold, hard facts every hour, and then try to get the rest of the newsroom to do a story about how interesting QAnon fuckery is - 'it's the biggest story you've never heard of!'. They literally didn't believe the facts they read out at the top of the hour, and railed against the MSM , while being in the middle of it.

This kind of thing is impossible to argue against, because they'll tell you that they've done the research, and watched fifty thousand bone-ignorant videos on YouTube, and they just want you to bite, because they're stupid and mean.

I do the best I can, working at a public broadcaster and getting the news as straight as possible, but sometimes it feels a little hopeless when even the newsreader on the other side of the newsroom is scoffing at your words.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

They can't all be the best comic ever

Through the local library, I've been getting a lot of trades from the big comic book publishers, catching up on old favourites and trying some new stuff. And while there is some pleasant variety, they often have one thing in common - their covers are over-run with worthless garbage quotes, telling everybody how great the comic is.

Modern comic book design is already so cluttered and busy, but they some still find room for absolutely worthless quotes, from websites that nobody goes to unless, they want effusive and insubstantial praise for everything. There is so much enthusiasm for comics that are teeth-grindingly average, you can get a quote from anyone.

When the back of the Watchmen book had quotes from the New York Times and shit, that might have convinced somebody to stump up for the book, but is anyone really convinced by a quote from that the latest Warlord reboot is any good.

Does that really work? Do these things make anybody buy them? Or are the quotes just there so that the creative and editorial teams feel good at night?

Speaking as somebody who is still quite chuffed at getting a quote on the back of a DVD, they don't even offer the quote-generators a name-check, they're just credited to the website, and who can remember which writer wrote which piece of insincere flattery.

It's part of the insecurity of comics - that feeling that the medium doesn't deserve a seat at the literary table, and have to constantly brag about how great they are, to get any attention.

At least when prose novels do it, they use organizations you've heard of, or authors with big audiences, but these quotes mean nothing, and just show off how self-conscious comic books still get.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Addicted to those old streets

During the Covid lockdown, when we couldn't go anywhere or do anything, I got weirdly hooked on looking at pics of the streets, shops and houses of old home towns I grew up in, especially from the times when I was that kid.

It was surprisingly easy to dig up a bunch of general pics of the towns, using Facebook groups and local council databases to find street scenes from the 1980s and beyond. I went through hundreds of pics, looking for how things have changed, and how the towns and cities I know so well have evolved and grown.

But I mainly just do it to see if I can find pictures of the bookshops I used to haunt, to see if they still matched my increasingly spotty memory. I ache to catch a glimpse of the bulging shelves full of comic books and magazines, because those shelves don't exist any more. They're from a time when people used to read something other than their phones, and I'm always looking for a glimpse of it.

As easy as it was to find pictures of the main street, it takes some real effort to find specific photos. There are tonnes of photos of houses that were ripped down to make way for motorways and bypasses, and whole suburbs categorised in detail, but I can't find a single picture of the corner store in Timaru that has the best selection of comics in town, and were the only place you'd ever find Ann Nocenti's Daredevil comics.

It's probably not healthy, wallowing in this kind of nostalgia. Maybe I'm just a coward, trying to hide from the horrors of 2020 in personal nostalgia. These buildings and bookshops are all long gone, lost in the passage of time, and trying to grasp onto them is a flailing attempt to slow the relentless and remorseless march of time. But what isn't?

Sunday, July 5, 2020

A week of lists: 40 things I never, ever get sick of seeing in comic books

1. Every time Gene Colan draws vampires turning into mist.

2. Any time a Chris Ware character falls over their own tongue, causing other people to storm away in disgust.

3. Any time Superman has to use super-ventriloquism to save the day.

4. Tony Broke teaching Ivor Lott a lesson in capitalism.

5. Every time Marshall Law says he is a hero hunter. (He hasn't found one yet.)

6. Every time the Phantom punches some poor sap in the jaw, leaving his skull mark on their face.

7. Seeing Namor trying to woo Sue Storm, and she gently, but firmly, reminds him that he smells of fish.

8. Seeing Red Torando or the Vision gets ripped to pieces, and all their arms and legs are lying around everywhere.

9. Strontium Dog Johnny Alpha using his electronux. Every time.

10. The Lieutenant Marvels.

11. The way Sean Phillips draws guns firing.

12. Any time the Midnighter tells somebody exactly how he is going to kill the shit out of them.

13. All of the full-page intros to DC horror comics of the seventies, with some ghoulish host introducing the comic.

14. The letters page of an American superhero comic, three months after Mick McMahon has done a fill-in issue.

15. Harvey Pekar's awesome 'waddaya gonna do?' shrug.

16. Any time a comic book reaches issue #1000.

17. Itto Ogami's squinting of the eyes.

18. Any story that has a title that starts with "Lo! There shall come...."

19. Spider-Man eating with his mask half-off.

20. Seventies Lana Lang, newscaster extraordinaire, calling people "luv".

21. Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, just hanging out, being mates.

22. Any time a Peter Bagge character freaks the fuck out.

23. Mek-Quake ripping apart some unfortunate droid, while yelling "Big jobs!".

24. Every time a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes gets married.

25. Locas folk having a conversation without saying anything.

26. The sheer honesty of Joe Matt's appalling penny-pinching.

27. Hellboy's smackdown talk as he beats the snot out of something horrible from beyond the veil.

28. Every time Captain Haddock swears.

29. Hunter Rose, chilling out and enjoying a glass of the reddest wine, just after he has spilled several barrel-loads of the other red stuff, under his Grendel face

30. The 'shit just got real' moment in every single Mark Millar comic ever created.

31. Any scene with the Enemy Ace hanging out with his wolf.

32. All Eddie Campbell stories about Danny Grey.

33. Any time Jarvis serves breakfast to the Avengers.

34. Somebody eats one of Swamp Thing's tubers and trips off their fuckin' nut

35. Every single one of the X-Men's "oh no, not again" plane crashes.

36. All the times Concrete's sheer weight breaks a chair, or a table. Or a truck.

37. All the 'something fell' moments in Cerebus The Aardvark.

38. Any glimpse of Uncle Scrooge's poignant past.

39. Every time Ra's Al Ghul calls Batman 'detective'.

40. Every appearance of Arcade's pinball machine of doom.

* This list first appeared in the Tearoom in April 2016. I've taken out a Julius Schwartz reference from the original, because I've since discovered that genial old Julie was actually a complete creep, and that has really taken the shine off his ambush Bug appearances. So I put Johnny Alpha in there instead and everybody wins.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

A week of lists: 14 real ads from a fictional universe

* First appeared in the Tearoom in October 2016 and March 2017. These are all ads from the 1992 Marvel Swimsuit Special and the 1992 Marvel Year In Review, which I still own because they are at my absolutely peaking obsession with all things comic books, back when I was such a horny toe-rag.