Monday, August 31, 2020

Hail Eclipso!

Feeling an awkward and powerful emotional attachment to a comic book is bad enough when it's actually a good comic, full of gorgeous art and poetic writing. When you have that kind of deep connection with the first issue of Eclipso: The Darkness Within, you've probably got a problem.

Like everything else in this weird universe we all somehow exit in, it's all about the context. That issue of the comic book came out the exact month I left school and started looking for a job, and that's a pretty big fuckin' time in anybody's life. I was 17 and a complete DC comics freak and I wanted that first issue of Eclipso so bad, and it was sitting on the bookshelf taunting me at Baird's Bookshop, and I didn't have any fucking money.

It was a $8.95 issue in my part of the world, twice the cost of an X-Men or New Warriors comic, and you didn't get a lot of DC comics in my ton, so I had to grab what I could get, even if I was never really into the bulbous waviness of Bart Sears' art, and even if it didn't come with the free plastic black diamond that others got.

So I said to hell with college or university - the idea of more school was just too much - and went and got a job at a literal fat factory. It was a shitty, smelly and hot job, but the very first thing I ever did with my first proper paycheck was go get a TV aerial so we could get season three of Star Trek The Next Generation, and the second thing I bought was that Eclipso comic.

So I've had that issue for years, and I keep putting it in the pile to be sold off, and then I keep putting it back with the other DC crossovers in the box under the bed. I even managed to pry away the Final Night crossover from 1997 - which has all sorts of other emotional resonance - in the last decent purge, but I can't lose the Eclipso.

I don't have any of the annuals that actually tell the Eclipso story anymore - I once had at least a dozen of them, including all the Superman ones, but sold them all off long ago. But a symbolic comic like the first one I bought as a working stiff is still sticking around.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Jose Luis Garcia Lopez's definitive Batman

Everyone's got their own definitive version of the Batman - it might be Brian Bolland's crisp caped crusader; or you could be old school and accept no other Batman than a Dick Sprang Batman; or you might be all about the forward thrust of a Neal Adams dark knight. You might even, God help you, think Jim Lee's Batman is the greatest of all time. All views on this matter are equally valid

I would usually say it's Jim Aparo's Batman that is the only real Batman, for both the sheer amount he did and the sheer brilliance of it all. But sometimes I think really do think Jose Luis Garcia Lopez's Bats is the absolute apex. (Mind you, it's arguable that Lopez's version of any superhero is the definitive version, because he really was that good.) 

He didn't do a hell of a lot of Batman, but the Batman v Hulk crossover he drew showcases just how good he is - that stern look of an angry Batman, the power of his physical movements, and the terrific way the cape went around his shoulders, that's how I always think of Batman.

He does a pretty mean Hulk, as well....

Friday, August 28, 2020

Nobody can cover Neil

Even though the endless use of slow versions of old pop songs has become a total joke with their ubiquity in movie trailers, it hasn't diminished my thirst for a great cover song. Many of my favourite tunes are reinterpretations of old classics, given new life and new meaning with a different 

I dig it when Johnny Dowd gives old Rolling Stones tune a makeover, think Johnny cash's final albums are some of the very best things he ever did, and there are a million great covers of Dolly Parton's songs. For a year or so I listened to almost nothing but reinterpretations of Pink Floyd songs, of all shapes and sizes, and I genuinely think Nirvana's unplugged version of Man Who Sold The World is transcendentally great.

But the only cover versions I have no time for are Neil Young songs. I've seen Young twice and both times were magical - one more than the other for my lovely wife - and his high and thin delivery is so ideally suited for the tunes he writes, that any attempt to add something new to them never works. 

There have been a hundred different Hearts of Gold, and none of them ever have the same magic without Young, often reducing it to cheesy schmaltz. And there have been untold reinventions of Hey Hey My My, and they just don't don't have that juxtaposition between Young's delivery and his crunching guitar sound.

He's a great songwriter who writes great songs, no wonder everybody wants to have a crack at them. But some things are just perfect first time, and don't require any do-overs.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Blocking fuckwits for fun and profit


Maybe there are just more dickheads on social media than ever before, or maybe my tolerance levels for hateful bullshit have plunged to new levels in this hellfire year of 2020. But whatever the reason, I have been blocking the shit out of a buttload of people on my feeds over the past few months, far more than at any time in the past.

It's always been easy enough to ditch the racists and bigots, any transphobia or sexism or anything like that has always been easily stamped out with a minimum of fuss. But now I have no time for a whole lot of things - misinformation spreaders, any people who advocate for economies over lives, any calling for war and oppression of their fellow man, anybody whose first inclination is to shake an angry fist instead of offering the helping hand.

It may be true I am building a bubble around me, and I'm just creating a huge echo chamber of people who believe the same things I do and repeat my opinions back to me. Maybe I am missing something by not engaging with people with morally odious views, because I'll never understand them if I just ignore them.

Maybe so, but at least it's a bubble that's not full of arseholes, stinking up the place with their areshole opinions. I can live with that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Omen: Not really suitable for younger viewers


It takes me a while sometimes, so it only occurs to me now, with a child of my own to worry about, that I probably should not have been watching The Omen when I was a kid.

My parents were very young when they had me and my two sisters, and looking back, they were clearly making it up as they went along. They did a pretty good job in the end - all their kids have turned out to be okay human beings - but there are times I doubt their full credentials. 

Especially with the things they let us watch. I was generally allowed to watch age-appropriate movies and television, but things would sip through, like an episode of Hammer House of Horror which was deeply traumatizing, or the trailer for Dawn of the Dead which suddenly popped up at the start of other rented videotapes.

And yet, even though Dad refused to let me watch more than 10 minutes of Beverly Hills Cop when I was 12 because of the incredible and prolific profanity, I was watching the first couple of Omen films well before I turned 10, even though they were full of exceptionally gory deaths and some deeply troubling black magik music that still burns the soul.

The weird thing is that these films never gave me nightmares - the deaths were so operatic and over the top, it was like watching a cartoon, especially with the extensive use of bloodied dummies and fake bodies. While I have, at times, been awfully nervous when I've been near a truck carrying panes of glass or in any elevator anywhere, the bouncing decapitated head of David Warner or the elevator dissection were more hilarious than terrifying.

And the films were so simple - whenever anybody crossed Damien in any way, that music would kick in, and something very slight and innocuous would happen, with mortal repercussions. Like the Final destination films years later, it became a game to see how things would go wrong, and how they would lead to gory awfulness.

So maybe I should not have been watching those films, but I honestly don't think they did me any harm. If anything, they've taught me to have a healthy respect for things like thin ice, or sinister ravens, or picking on the anti-Christ. Those are some good lessons to learn.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

X-Girls and their awful futures


There was something weirdly sad about this cover for an X-Men First Class comic from a dozen years ago, with the dynamic artwork of Roger Cruz loaded down with some unexpected melancholia by the weight and history of the Marvel Universe.

There's just something about the way these incredibly cool and groovy young women, so full of life and fire and potential, are going to go through so much shit over the next few years, with all sorts of death and pain and tragedy falling down upon them. They're all heroes, through and through, but will lose children and lovers and their own lives in the years to come, going through hell at the hands of their (mostly male) creators.

They are all absolute queens, and they all deserved better.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Looking for the divine

This is my most basic confession: I've never been the religious type. After being raised in a totally non-religious household, I've never been much for joining any kind of movement, as admirable as many of their practices and goals may be. 

There's just too many rules made up by people who lived and died centuries and centuries ago, too many inevitably human contradictions, too many fuckheads using smug religious ideals to spread unnecessary fear and hate.

But this doesn't mean I'm not looking for the divine where I can find it. It doesn't mean I don't crave some spirituality in my life.

And sometimes I do find it - as cheesy as it is, I do hear it in my little girl's laugh, and see it in the smile of a total stranger. I do find it everywhere in beauty of this this glorious, magnificent world we live on, and I do sometimes catch glimpses of it when I have visited some of the actual holiest places on the planet.

And maybe I'm just the shallowest motherfucker on the planet, but I also sometimes I find it in the movies, and in cartoons, and good tunes. That connection that stories can bring to you, making you aware that you're not the only person to think and react that way, and that there are people out there who believe the same fundamental truths that you do. 

And sometimes stories can just be so intensely moving that they start touching deeper parts of the soul, and telling you that there is more than this base material existence. Something more.

I don't know the meaning of life, but the search is the thing. While I might not ever find it, sometimes I see glimpses of it in comic books.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Baby's first year of trading cards

The comics don't last long when my daughter gets her grubby little hands on them, but she's also really into some of my old trading cards that I bought in the early 90s and held onto for no good reason, and that's a win for everybody.
Their heavy stock and smaller size means they last a lot longer than the comics, they get a bit bent when she goes on massive rants while holding up a Spawn and a Flash Thompson, but they're also pretty durable. Especially the Nightwing, Ash and Gen 13 chromium cards. 

Still, she has utterly destroyed a dinosaur from the Jurassic Park movie trading card set, and ate a significant amount of a Vicki Vale card from the 1989 series 2 Batman cards, and has slobbered on a 2000ad card with some Clint Langley Slaine that is disintegrating faster than a skull caved in by Brainbiter.

Along with the slow comic destruction, I'm starting to believe this is an excellent way to get rid of some of the nerd ephemera I've unaccountably held onto for years and years and years. They might not survive very long in these new and tiny hands, but they go out well.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

The endless envy for Saturday morning cartoons

One of the side effects of growing up so far from places like America and the UK is that I would be endlessly fascinated by ads for things I could never see or buy. And the United States looked like paradise, because the full-page ads featured so many toys I'd never see, and they would show for Saturday Morning TV looked incredible - superheroes and science fiction and cartoons and all sorts.

Over here, we got 10 minutes of Thundercats or Dungeons And Dragons on a Saturday morning, surrounded by two hours of dumb live-action kids content, and that was it! That was the kids programming for the week! So the things you could see in those ads that came in the back of Justice League comics, all the from the distant land of America, looked like a dream. 

They promised hours of Super Friends and Daffy Duck and Popeye and Smurfs and a Happy Days time travel cartoon. Loads of Scooby-Doo and Godzilla, a Lone Ranger and Tarzan adventure hour and some apocalyptic thing called Ark II, which looked mind-bogglingly exciting. They had Captain Marvel and Spider-Woman and Plastic Man and Mr T adventures, and they had the Drak Pack.

Time has marched on, and now I could easily find at least some episodes of every one of those programmes on YouTube or some other video platform, and could watch them anytime.

I never do. The actual television can never match the promise of those advertisements. I know Ark II will look cheap and cheesy and an embarrassment to watch, and I bet the Drak Pack wasn't that good anyway. I'll stick with blissful ignorance, and those gorgeous teases.

Friday, August 21, 2020

A Mad future for Star Wars

I first read this Mad parody of the plans for the Star Wars films when it was first published, after Empire Strikes Back and before Return Of The Jedi, and there will always be some part of me that wishes they had actually followed this through in real life.... 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Doctor Who's AHistory: Too much universe for one book

Lance Parkin's AHistory book - a complete fictional history of the universe of Doctor Who - isn't just my ideal desert island book, I think I've been reading it constantly for a couple of decades now as it is.

I've bought every new edition since it was published in the 1990s, and I'm still one behind - the most recent edition from a year or two ago coming out as a three-column set to cover everything. But I've been chewing through the third edition for about a year now, and I'm almost up to the future time.

There is just so much in there, because it covers the whole damn thing - all the television that I've seen, and all the audios that I never could keep track of, and all the comics that I've missed and all the novels I've tried my best to keep on top of. Everywhere the Doctor ever went in his mad ramble in time and space, all the paces he visited and all the people he met.

It's an absolutely bewildering amount of information, and while useful as a reference work, is also a hell of an entertaining read. It can be a bit repetitious, with notes for every time the Doctor mentioned some historical figure he met, or some never-seen adventure that was talked about in passing, but there are strange synchronicities that pop up, and a cumulative effect that establishes the vast breadth and depth of this weird fictional universe, built up over the the decades by hundreds of mad creators.

The appeals of Dcotr Who, and the strange places that the title character goes to, are too big for one book, but Parkin and mates make a brave and admirable effort. Let's see what happens in the future.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Sorry, Wayne

I'm sorry, Wayne Barnes. Shit happens and I should have been a grown up about the 2007 World Cup semi. I still believe that there would have been a different result if literally any other ref on the planet was on the field - a whole half without any penalties was unprecedented - but so it goes.

All the live sport I'm really interested in went over to Pay TV years ago, so I usually miss out on a lot of live games and matches. Sometimes there is a site like cricinfo, or some live blogs that keep you up to date, but most of the time I have to wait for the news to tell me what is going on, like a damn savage.

I tried to follow some live sport on social media and discovered it was useless, because every arsehole on Twitter spends all their time moaning about the bloody ref, like that's the most important part of the game.

It's not. It's just tedious. Every team in every sport gets unfair calls on the playing field, sometimes with massive consequences, that's just part of sport, and part of life. Whining about how unfair it all is just makes you look like a tosser, and it's just boring if everybody is focused on the adjudication.

It's not just sport, it's everything, including entertainment and politics. Everyone a fucking expert, everyone thinks they know more than the professionals, it is all coloured by own allegiances and prejudices. I truly believe that sport is a big fat metaphor for everything, but if all you've got to say is that everything is unfair, that doesn't mean much.

Sorry, Wayne. I didn't mean to be such a dick about it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Consuming the Judge Dredd Megazine (with big delays)

Even though I have spent a considerable proportion of my life getting 2000ad every week, I've only regularly bought the Judge Dredd Megazine twice, and for short periods of time - once in the early 90s, around the second year, especially when Judgement Day was pin-balling between the two titles; and once in the mid 2000s, when they were reprinting Charley's War every month.

This reluctance to become a regular reader of the monthly comic has rarely been due to the actual quality of the comic. From the earliest days of the spin-off, when it had incredible comics like America, to recent years and terrific stories like Lawless, it's been full of thrill-power, with great work by established talents and hot young things.

It has just failed to have a decent cost to story ratio most of the time. The Meg has cost about $20 an issue in this part of the world for the past decade, and when most of it is reprint of things I've already got, I'm not paying that much for new comic pages, especially when the inevitable rules of anthology comics mean a fair amount of those pages aren't any good.

I've still bought the odd issues here and there, especially when the reprint material goes outside the usual 2000ad orbit, or publish a feature-length essay on Nemesis The Warlock, but most of the time I already got the reprinted material in its original form.

Even with this lack of a decent commitment towards the Megazine, I've still manged to collect almost the entire series in back issue format, where they're five bucks or less, because the cost to story benefits balance out. It takes a while, and I usually buy years worth at a time when I see them. But it means but I'm constantly behind by several years -  the most recent bunch I got meas I finally have every issue published in 2013.

This can get confusing when, occasionally, the Meg features a Dredd story has a huge impact on the whole universe, but that kind of crossover is relatively rare, even with the same editor on both titles. Besides, it means every now and then I get a concentrated burst of Dredd's world instead of the piecemeal approach, and that's always drokkin' great.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Disaster on the mind

All kids are morbid in some way, fascinated by the whole concept of death and tragedy and mortality while still trying to get their heads around it, and slowly come to the realisation that they never, ever will. At least that's what I tell myself anyway, when I remember how much I used to be into reading about disasters.

I got out every kind of book that was in the 363.34 non-fiction section of Highfield Primary School, and could reel off stats about natural and man-made disasters to a frankly disturbing degree. There was the big stuff like the Hindenburg and the Titanic sinking, but I was equally fascinated by obscure bridge collapses and strange landslides that nobody ever made movies about them.

But I was always into the ones that they did make movies about, as well. After draining that little corner of the library dry, I was desperate to see movies with massive body counts, especially with the lurid adverts you could find in the back of American comic books. 

I was considered too young for things like the Towering Inferno, where the star-studded cast burned alive or plunged to their deaths, but Earthquake, where they were crushed and drowned, was okay. And I was so fuckin' excited when Mum and Dad let me stay up late and see the Poseidon Adventure, and was absolutely gutted when A Night To Remember played on a Sunday afternoon, but we had to go visit my cousin Maria. (I love my cousin - who took me to my very first movie that I can recall -  very much, but this was even before video tape, so if I missed it, I missed it and it was all her fault, and I pulled an epic sook.)

It might not have been me just being morbid, there might have been some fascination with the way things can go wrong, that adults were fallible to an alarming degree, and it could have monumentally tragic consequences. Its never too early to learn those kinds of lessons.

One day, I was in the library got in a new printing of The Hobbit, wondering if I should get the 50 Great Disasters book and I didn't give a damn about real disasters anymore, because fantasy was much more fun. I still watch Air Crash Investigations (I'm absolutely terrified of flying, and it puts my mind at ease), and I still believe that human beings are capable of creating great calamity through sheer incompetence, but there have been a lot more obsessions since then. And most of them weren't tainted by real world tragedy.


Sunday, August 16, 2020

Baby's first year of comics

Somehow, my daughter is a year old today. She is young, but she has her priorities sorted - while neither walking nor talking properly, she loves her comics, and she loves them to death.

After months of watching me with my nose in these things, she's got some of her own now. There is a lot of yelling and waving of arms whenever she gets her hands on a comic book, especially if it's bright and colorful, but also some careful studying of the page. She'll stare at it intently, and then give him a judgment in the form of more yelling and waving.

Only a little bit of it gets eaten. The covers never last long, and after a few reads they're literally reduced to tatters, but I still miss up my covers all the time, so I can't blame her for that. And I give her the brightest comics in the $1 bin, and we get our dollar's worth, for sure.

Baby's first comic was an issue of Thriller and boy, did she like Trevor Von Eeden's art, especially when it was printed on bright and vibrant baxter paper. I saw #2 in an op shop the other day, so I had to get her that one as well ,and that's well on the way to total destruction. I could never really follow the story, but she's into it. 

I also got an issue of something from Vertigo from 2016 called Art Ops, which I'd never heard of before. But it had some groovy Mike Allred art, which she was very much into. She obviously didn't care for Ron Lim's fill-in art on an early issue of Excalibur as as much as her dad did thirty years ago, and ripped that fucker apart in a day.

She also got her mitts on a cover-less issue of the Avengers from the mid-70s which I'd had for years, and carefully studied the fill-page scene where the Vision saved someone falling by going ultra-dense and dragging is arm down a skyscraper a boss, and then goobered all over Mantis.

Happy birthday, baby! And please stop throwing water on the bookcase full of fancy comics next to the changing table. Your Dad really likes those ones.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The best Road Runner gag

Every Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner gag is absolute gold - an absolutely perfect blend of speed and timing and extreme violence, but if I had to pick my favourite Roadrunner joke, it's easy. 
It's the one that comes 5 minutes and 35 seconds into 'Zipping Along' where Wile E Coyote uses a simple wooden platform to swing a massive wrecking ball at the Road Runner, who stops just as it comes near, and it swings right over and takes the unfortunate coyote out:

It is so utterly perfect, it might just be the greatest few seconds of animation ever.

It's the simplicity of the gag  and the way it is immaculately executed. There is the sudden stop of the targeted bird, the slow and lazy roll of the giant ball's arc, the slumped helplessness of Wile E as he sees it come towards him, and the way it doesn't just smash into the coyote, it goes smoothly right through the platform in a perfect semi-circle, taking him right out.

There were certainly more complicated schemes to nab that Road Runner, but this one little piece of physical is everything that I love about these cartoons. It's only 20 seconds long, but that gag will be getting laughs forever.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Super sounds of the 70s

My mates and I spent a significant portion of our teenage years sneaking a rigger of beer down to the river and sculling it; and then heading back to our place to watch this cheap and crappy VCR collection of music videos from the year 1970. There wasn't much else to do in Temuka in the very early nineties.

We lost that video years and years ago, but I finally tracked down the list of the music videos that featured on that tape, and have managed to recreate it using YouTube. Some of the quality is dodgy as hell, but that's because I tried to find the clip that was used on that collection.

I mean, I had to get that Mungo Jerry clip where singer Ray Dorset looks so fucking mad (look at his eyes!); and that version of Yellow River, because it's got the most vacant drummer in the history of vacant drumming; and that studio performance of Paranoid, for when people in the background keep realising they're in shot; and that shirt on the lead singer of Edison Lighthouse.

This particular collection of songs in this particular order might only mean something to half a dozen people on this planet, but it means a lot to them.

I still call big sideburns 'mungos'.


Thursday, August 13, 2020

A wheelchair for a throne

One of the many, many complaints from the many, many people determined to tell everybody else how bad the final season of Game of Thrones was is all about the ultimate winner of the title game, and got to rule over the kingdoms of Westeros.

It was too arbitrary for many, and just too fucking silly even more. Making the crippled Bran Stark the king of all he surveyed was a terrific symbol for everything that was wrong with the story's end.

If you believed everything on the internet, it was just another little dollop of shit on a giant turd sandwich of a final season for Game of Thrones, but I thought it was a terrific solution to the dilemma of the Westeros monarchy, and not just because of the blatant symbolism of trading a throne made of melted-down iron for a sturdy and sophisticated wheelchair.

After a grieving dragon's destruction of the Iron Throne, reducing it to slag, it couldn't be clearer that the system of hereditary monarchy had to be broken, and something new had to be tried. Nobody would go as far as democracy, but something new.

And giving the throne to someone who has absolutely no interest in ruling, and is little more than a figurehead, was the best way to go. You could certainly do worse than give it to someone that can make final decisions based on cold rationality and certainty because of his access to all of time and space. It'll probably all go to hell in 50 years, but 50 years of peace in the land is a lifetime for many.
Sure, bran has that creepy soul-crushing stare, and the monotone of the truly bored, but the throne is gone and the wheelchair rolls on.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

A new kind of Daredevil: Kesel/Nord's Matt Murdock

Frank Miller almost ruined Daredevil for everybody else in the years that followed his run on the title. There were some quality comics, especially when excellent creators like Ann Nocenti literally took him to hell and back, but the character was shackled to a grim attitude and abject misery, as he faced the hardboiled truths of the noir hero.

So it was an absolute breath of fresh air to read Karl Kesel and Cary Nord's take on old hornhead in the mid 90s. He was still blindly leaping off the tallest towers in New York, but now he was doing it with a smile on his face - something that hadn't really been done with the character in many, many years.

Kesel had been writing some rock-solid Superman and Superboy stories for DC for years, but his Daredevil was another step up, because he was really doing something different with the character. More in line with the original idea, Kesel's lighter Daredevil combined with the wide, clear and deeply expressive art of Cary Nord to show that the devil might be in hell, but can still crack a smile.

There were even jokes, for cripe's sake, including a nice one early on where Matt Murdock has to run off to do some daredeviling, (which is little more than catching up with Spider-Man over lunch and getting all the details on the Spider-clone nonsense) and the three people he is with all know his secret identity, and have to all cover for him.

The mood swing was so extreme that characters in-story asked if this was another sign of a mental breakdown for Matt Murdock, but he is always a man of extremes, and if he's gonna have a good time fighting ill-doers, then he's going to have the best time.

This run only lasted a year or so, and there was a lot more misery down the line, especially when writers like Brian Bendis and Kevin Smith got stuck into him. But there have been hints of that other Daredevil, who hasn't shucked off the weight of his responsibility, but has the strange joy that being a man without fear can bring, doesn't mean the devil can't smile.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Lone star: This kind of Texas

The Texas depicted in 100+ years of cowboy movies is as vast and complex as its landscape, and there's two distinct kinds of modern Texas, and they're both equally true. 

There's the one seen in Blood Simple, which is still as true today as it was when the Coen Brothers made the film in 1984. It's a Texas where everybody is just stumbling around in the dark, and if you're weak, you'll get left behind, or buried in an open field. Secrets can disappear beneath that giant sky, and the world is a confusing and uncaring place, and you better deal with it, or it'll eat you up.

As Visser says right at the very start of the film, in Russia, everyone pulls for everyone else - 'that's the theory, anyway' - but he doesn't know Russia. He knows Texas, and down there, you're on your own.

Then there is the Texas of Lone Star, and while John Sayles' 1996 masterpiece is set just down the road from Blood Simple, it takes place in a whole other world. It's a Texas where nothing stays buried forever, and where family ties are inescapable. It's a Texas where the past is all around you - sometimes just a camera pan away - and the future is there too.

Lone Star is a brilliant film about universal truths - even if you've never set foot in that land and its big, big sky, the story is so fundamentally human that it's recognisable to all. That sense of community and
history which means you're never really on your own.

There are plenty of modern novels and films that offer another view altogether of Texas - the East Texas of Joe R Lansdale's stories is a whole other thing altogether - and they're also equally true. It's a big state, it's got room for multitudes.

Monday, August 10, 2020

The origins of self-loathing: Star Wars toys in the toilet

I was only six or seven years old when I felt proper self loathing for the very first time as a human being, and it was the day I flushed some Star Wars action figures down the toilet.

I just wanted to see what would happen when I put my Walrus Man and Death Star Droid figures into the bowl and flushed it, and I remember assuming they would just float about in the whirlpool. Instead, they completely vanished, never to be seen again. I begged my dad to take apart the entire plumbing system, and desperately checked to see if they had popped out an unconnected drain outside the house, but they were gone forever.

And I just felt so damn stupid. Those figures were my everything, I cared more about them than my comic books or even candy. And they were so expensive and hard to find in my part of the world, and I'd just thrown away two of them like they were nothing. I never got another death Star Droid, but I eventually got another Walrus Man figure, and even though I managed to break one of his arms off soon after getting him, I still have that figure somewhere.

And I'd just flushed them away. What did I think was going to happen? What an idiot!

There have been many, many times in my lifetime when I've felt like the stupidest motherfucker on the planet, when I've said or done something so bonecrushingly dense that I can't believe I'm smart enough to keep breathing. It still happens on a embarrassingly regular basis. It happened this morning.

I remember them all, because that's how human brains work. But I especially remember the first one, when I flushed away my best toys, like a stupid little idiot.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Quitely's Batman: Duck and roll

It's been more than 20 years since I read the Batman: Scottish Connection comic by Alan Grant and Frank Quitely, published by DC somewhere in the 1990s. I've completely forgotten the plot, and the characters, and almost everything else around it.

But I have never, ever forgotten the way Batman launches himself off that wall, tucking himself in as he falls into the empty space.  Whenever anybody else draws Batman comics, I can never figure out why they don't use the human body and the way it can move like Frank Quitely does.

You can do anything with Batman, but you should do this kind of thing more.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

A multi-coloured history

Like most people who saw the green-tinged version of Casablanca in the 1980s, I've always treated colourised versions of old films with extreme caution, and have been happy enough with the glorious tones of pure black and white.

But colorising technology has come so far - they can actually look at a lot of old film, and find information for the proper color encoded in the actual film stock (I don't really understand it, it sounds like magic to me - I read a whole article in Doctor Who Magazine about it, and it all sailed right over my head). And new tech can also mess with the timing of the filmed sequences, smoothing it out and getting rid of the herky-jerky motions of old film, so it can look like it was filmed yesterday.

And I just can't get enough of all the colorised films that you can see now. And not just the World War 2 stuff, where nearly every piece of footage ever shot has been given that kaleidoscopic treatment for new series, but footage from the First World War, and even earlier into the Victorian era, where camera technology was still being figured out.

Looking back at this newly enhanced footage, at people going about their business a century ago, can be absolutely captivating. It's not the same as a recent obsession with looking at old photos of places where I grew up, because this is all about the people in the images, and the lives they once lived.

This footage may look like it was shot yesterday, but these subjects are all long gone. And yet, they're still there on film, looking as real and alive as the people you pass on the street every day.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Sniper porn: A bullet in the right place

I'm a massive pacifist, thanks largely to the comics of Pat Mills, and think that all violence is abhorrent, and that the first to resort to it instantly loses any argument, and that war is a dirty and terrible thing that should never be accepted, condoned or glamorised. But I still love a bit of sniper porn.

I go through a lot of books and movies about snipers, both fictional and non fictional. I love it every time Garth Ennis does another comic about snipers, and I read every single novel Stephen Hunter puts out. There is something about the dedication, professionalism and competence of a great sniper that is always, always interesting.

I don't agree with a lot of Hunter's politics, and the movie reviews he used to write were almost completely diametrically opposite to my own views, but I snap up every single one of his books about the Swagger family and their violent delights.

There's just something about the way the multiple generations of hardcore snipers in Hunter's books go about their business. Like the books themselves, these warriors are efficient and pragmatic, with a notable lack of any kind of bullshit. They don't go in with guns blazing, or set off big explosions for effect, they just put the right bullet in the right place at the right time.
Hunter's books have been adapted for various screens a couple of times, and they never quite work, largely because the simplicity of people like Bob Lee Swagger are overwhelmed by the star power drafted in to play him. But as long as Hunter keeps regularly putting out these books with absolute precision, I'll be reading them. Because war might be hell, but a bullet in the right place can still change the world.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

My first movie library, (as long as it didn't rain)

The first movie library I ever was all movies that I recorded off the TV on blank videotapes. I built it over 12 years, and at its peak, just before DVDs came along and ruined the party for everyone, had a couple of hundred movies stored on big, bulky tapes.
That was the only one to get them. Buying the actual movies was prohibitively expensive, because they went for insane prices. I once got stuck with a huge bill after someone stole Turkey Shoot from my car, and had to cough up $70 for them to get a replacement copy.

Even blank videotapes were expensive - an E-180 tape could set you back $15 in late 1980s money, so it took a few years before I had a decent amount (and the price dropped to $5 a tape in the mid-90s). One of the best Christmas presents I ever got were 10 E-240 tapes - that was 40 hours of video, and I could record so many movies.

It was also so much easier to get two films on one tape. That was just one of the problems - trying to get two 90-minute movies on a three-hour tape took some skill, and usually meant the credits were cut off. I was always just a little bit pleased that I could get both Bill and Ted films on one tape, and still recall the absolute pride I took in editing together a Doctor Who story into one seamless film, especially when it finished literally three seconds before the tape ran out.

There were other issues - relying on analogue broadcast television meant you could end up with all kinds of weird interference; our TV would get these bizarre black bars when it got a little misty. And the general quality of video tape is obscured by nostalgia, it's easy to forget how much the quality could deteriorate when taped.

And you also had to deal with some brutal censorship on free-to-air channels. The copy I had of Robocop from the TV was so ridiculously shredded with all the sex, swearing and violence taken out, that it was one of the very first films I ever bought from a video store ($15 at the Highfield Video store, which closed down more than 15 years ago).

Video tapes have changed into collectibles, but they were once indispensable, and while that collection of hundreds of movies might be long gone, they kept me in movies for a significant part of my life.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The deeply weird death of Iron Fist

We're all used to characters going out in a blaze of glory these days, but Danny Rand's fate in the last issue of Power Man and Iron Fist is strikingly weird, 34 years after it was published.

In the story by Christopher Priest and Mark Bright, Iron Fist doesn't die saving the world or the universe or anything, he is just so exhausted from using his energy to keep a terminally ill boy alive that he doesn't wake up when that boy revives as a huge, super-powered man, who then beats Iron Fist to death while he's asleep, and then disintegrates into nothingness.

It's not surprising that it was so controversial at the time, and possibly why you don't see too many reprints.  Priest admitted that it was a delibrately 'senseless and shocking and completely unforeseen death', because death is often senseless and shocking completely unforeseen. But the callousness of it, and the way it actively doesn't seem to give much of a shit about the characters, who are denied any sense of justice or resolution or closure they might require, is still a little breathtaking

It was weird enough recently seeing Batman go down with barely a fight in that back-breaking episode, but at least he was conscious, and was facing one of his greatest villains. This is just some harsh shit.

The death lasted for about four or five years, until previous Iron Fist artist John Byrne brought him back in his Namor series, so the whole incident has been quietly forgotten (I think there was some kind of super-skrull shenanigans involved), but it still packs a punch. Even if Iron Fist didn't.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Twin Peaks: All those missing minutes

The Twin Peaks movie never had a chance. Generally reviled on release, it's since proven to be one of David Lynch's most enduring and rewarding films. Away from the hype that surrounded the series when it came out, Fire Walk With Me is now seen as a truly horrific and tragic movie, as poor Laura Palmer falls into hell (and then rises again).

Famously, there was a whole movie's worth of footage removed to make the film more accessible. Which pleased exactly nobody- people who didn't like Twin Peaks didn't care because they were never going to see it in the first place, and the people who fell hard for the series were never going to be satisfied when entire subplots and scenes featuring favourite characters were brutally sliced out.

It was never that hard to find out what was missing - one of the very first things I ever did on the internet (after spending four hours downloading the Stargate trailer at the local university's computer lab) was look up a transcription of those script pages. I printed them out, and read them a dozen times over the next couple of decades. I think I've still got them in a box somewhere.

And when those missing minutes did turn up in the past couple of years, I had already envisioned every shot so much, that it was all so familiar. It was as if I'd already seen them as much as I'd seen the movie itself.  A lot of the scenes have something added in the acting and production - and there are a couple of scenes that need some serous ADR and a proper score and some general filmification, but that simple aesthetic of the missing footage predates Lynch's later aesthetic, and can be genuinely haunting.

But those scenes are all so familiar when I see them now, because of that enduring power of the script by Lynch and Robert Engels. They always belonged in the film, and always have.

Monday, August 3, 2020

My mates: Blogs, videos and amoebas

I've been doing this blog for 11 years now regularly, and I have never, ever recommended to anybody I know in real life that they also should do it. It's always been good therapy for me, getting all this rubbish out of my head, but it's definitely not for everybody.

Still, people I know have been doing similar things, and I have to admit that I'm glad this proves me right about everything. This kind of thing really is good for you.

My American/Kiwi pal Nik - who was blogging long before I even thought about it - has started again after a gap of a few years, filling his My Impression Now blog with some scorching hot takes on Harold Lloyd, Bob Dylan and Mr Terrific. He has also been putting up scans of comics he created when he was young and keen, and is promising the first Amoeba Adventures in decades, so the world isn't a total hell hole just yet

My other mate Schulz is also been doing some great posts lately on his own blog, started after all his freelance work dried up. Luckily, his brunch delivery service has taken off, so he can afford to do some writing for free and fun, and is often right about some nerd shit, including why the US Utopia remake looks so awful, the horrors of binging on the Hobbit movies at the cinema, and why the best bits of The Last of Us Part II have nothing to do with zombies.

Even my oldest mate Kyle, who I've known for 35 years, is doing his own thing. He's not a writer, and never really has been, but he's got a YouTube channel with hundreds and hundreds of subscribers where he talks about his favourite comic books, and is far more social with his nerd interactions than I could ever be.

They're all doing their own thing, and doing it well, and I'm more convinced than ever that it's good to get this out of your head and into the world, whether the world asks for it or not.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Why I dig the Green

I'll watch absolutely anything with Eva Green in it - and not just because she's strikingly attractive, with razor sharp features and a voice that could cut through diamonds. It's because she totally commits to a role, whatever it is. She always gives it her all.

It doesn't matter if she's in a lesser Tim Burton, or is playing the first Bond girl of a new era, or going full mental in the remorselessly cheesy Penny Dreadful, or even playing the sexy, sexy villain in a goddamn 300 sequel, she gives it everything she's got.

Disappointingly, it doesn't always feel that way in the TV adaption of The Luminaries, where hew character is restrained and repressed, when she should bulging out of the screen. The show is okay, with some really good bits and some truly naff bits, but if you're letting Eva Green loose on a part, you really need to let her loose. She doesn't do half-arsed.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Seeing your dead loved ones isn't a thing

If there is one cliche in movies or television that I just can't bear to see anymore, it's the moment when a character has a vision of somebody who recently died.

It usually comes towards the end of the story, when the hero sees their mentor/significant other/life partner, and the visions rarely last longer than a few seconds, before they disappear and the mundane world goes on. But putting such a tiny dose of magical realism in grounded narratives always feels false.

Because when you lose someone, you don't get those kind of hallucinations, and it's almost insulting to insist that people do, because grief is all about the absence of that person in your life, and the fact that you will never, ever see them again, outside of your dreams. While you might emotionally feel their presence in your life, and it can come on in the strangest fucking ways, you're never ever going to actually see them across a crowded room, giving you a knowing nod.

(And Marvel movies in particular need to fucking stop with the heroes meeting their dead fathers in an idyllic afterlife, because that's been done to death too.)

It's just about bearable when it's blatantly a fantasy scene - Bert Cooper's magnificent side-shuffle off screen and off the mortal coil in Mad Men is still outrageously good - or part of an overall mythology, like the apparitions seen beneath that magic tree in Gilbert Hernandez's Palomar.

But it's a cliche that has to go. Grief is a universal experience - we all feel it, sooner or later - and that just means people should know better than to trivialise with that knowing nod.