Thursday, March 4, 2021

Late night TV of the 1980s, when all the world has gone to bed



My lovely parents gave up on active parenting by the time I was a teenager, and let me go to bed when I wanted, as long as I still got to school when I was supposed to. God bless them, but I took huge advantage of this lack of control and would stay up late almost every night, long after the rest of the household had gone to bed.

I would always pay for it the next morning, struggling out from under the sheets when the alarm went off, but I got hooked on the shitty late night TV of the 1980s, and still have a huge fondness for those programmes that kept me up so late.

They were just slightly more sophisticated that the primetime, and just a little bit adult. Shows like Wolf and The Hitchhiker and Wiseguy were ideal for the quiet of late night, when it felt like there was nobody else in the world. 

I'm not a lunatic, I haven't watched any of these things in 30+ years, and highly doubt they would hold up in any way, shape or form. But at a time when we only had two channels in this country, they were ideal.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Havok and Wolverine: Mutant boys never looked so good

Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown is a pretty standard x-story of the 1980s at its heart. Written by Louise and Water Simonson, who were already more than comfortable in that world, it's got crazy action scenes and a femme fatale and vows of vengeance and a big villain who engorges himself on the chaos.

But it's also got staggeringly beautiful artwork by Muth and Williams. There is a hazy, dreamy atmosphere and languid storytelling, taking the time for wide, expansive establishing shots of impossible landscapes in between the globetrotting.

Making Havok look like James Dean does go a bit far sometime, but when he unleashes his plasma fury, it's a blinding blur. And Wolverine had never looked so good, and has rarely since. Even with the ostentatious hair, he's a raging feral, and a hunter with a head to the ground, and a dingy superspy in a dirty singlet, striking new poses and new ways of movement, as he swims through layers of thick paints.

 If all superhero comics looked like this, it would be a better world.










Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Sacco's captions keep things moving



The journalist comics of Joe Sacco are dense and detailed by design, getting across a tonne of information with absolute efficiency, without ever losing the human heart of the story he is telling.

It's a lot to take in, but there is a slightly unusual effect caused by the way the captions are rarely straight and parallel. They often bend around people and landscapes, and match their movements, rolling through the scene with total momentum.

It might just be a symptom of Sacco's underground comix roots, because the freewheeling ethos of floating captions with odd angles has been there for decades. 

But it also makes it so much easier to read, especially in something like recent effort Paying The Land, where he is getting so much across, and there are so many people to keep track of, and fascinating new histories to absorb. Keeping it as straight and rigid as a block of text in a textbook would make it so much harder to get through.

 And it's something that is uniquely comics, impossible to replicate in any other medium. Keeping it lively with something that can only be done with pen and ink and the skills of an artistic master - it's what comics are all about.

Monday, March 1, 2021

The best music in the world came out of this alarm clock


The best music I ever heard in my life came out of the tiniest speakers, on the alarm clock that woke me up every morning for school.

Like every other kid in the world ever, I was such a fucking snob about the weirdest shit, and the only entertainment that mattered to me were things with a story, as if narrative was the only thing that was important in life. Comics and movies and TV shows. I always had plenty for music, and the radio was always on, but it was something to listen to while doing other things, never an end to itself.

But music was a thing that I saw teenagers everywhere get into, so I did the practical thing and when my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas in 1987, I wanted the tape player with an alarm clock. And that was fine for a little while, until my mates Shaun and Steven game me some Pink Floyd tapes to listen to and they blew my freaking little mind.

Soon I was thrashing other tapes on that miniscule player - Sgt Peppers, a Faith No More, some Cure and at least three Queen albums. But Pink Floyd was the thing, taking me to another world of sensory overload.

Music means the most to the young. Oh sure, as an adult, you can appreciate the shit out of things, and have deep knowledge, but you don't shape your whole personality around it like you do when you're a teenager.

I got a proper stereo system a couple of Christmasses later, and the alarm clock was lost forever. It wasn't missed, it was an absolute bitch to set the times on the thing, and the stereo would be playing every moment I had, and I didn't even have to be doing anything else while listening. The music was the thing.

And then, a few weeks ago, I found this alarm clock with a tape player in a charity shop and it's the best 10 bucks I've spent in ages. Not just because I was keen to find a tape player to figure out the mix tapes, but because it's the exact same model as the one I had when I was 12. It makes the same weird derp noise when it gets turned off and setting the times is still a hell of a thing, and the sound of the tunes on those mix tapes coming out of that minuscule speaker are as tinny as ever.

There are many, many tapes to get through and figure out what is worth keeping, and when it comes to finding out what music works best, you can't beat the original source.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Free will is an illusion, so let's party



If time is an immutable solid and all of reality exists in all moments simultaneously, just like all those Vertigo comics in the 1990s kept telling me, then it means that free will is an utter illusion, and we just do what we have always done, with every single action buried in eternity, unable to change. 

If that's the case, then we might as well fill that time with things that make that eternal now as pleasant and invigorating and stimulating as possible.

That's what we always do.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Twilight Zone doesn't sound like that


Although I'd seen plenty of the various reboot series, I'd never really watched any of the original Twilight Zone episodes. Of course I knew most of the twists of the most famous stories, because they'd become ingrained in general pop culture, but not the actual episodes as they were first produced all those years ago

I'm slowly filling in that gap now, and even if the twists are easy to predict after years and years of rip-offs and pastiches and outright remakes, they're still charming. They're still clever enough to be interesting, and there are so many episodes that there are more than a few that still manage to surprise with their twists and turns.

But the most surprising thing in the theme music - that classic doodoodoodoo chant that is always so recognizable - wasn't there for the first season. Instead, the original theme by the immortal Bernard Herrmann is a dreamy, meandering affair that doesn't have the short, sharp shock of the more famous theme.

It still works, especially when Rod Serling is still finding his creative feet with the earliest episodes, and everything is more up in the air. But I'm still looking forward to that spinechilling call out into the Twilight Zone.

Friday, February 26, 2021

The Dreaming is too easy to fix



Every time they try to squeeze more out of Neil Gaiman's Sandman concepts, they almost inevitably begin with something dreadful threatening the titular realm itself. But when it can be rebuilt with something as insubstantial as a whisper or a prayer, it doesn't really have much of an impact. 

It's literally an immaterial setting built on magic and imagination, and can be thought back into proper place.

Few of Gaiman's Sandman stories really dealt with a threat to the Dreaming itself, and those that did were always the dullest, because he always seemed to understand that it could never really be threatened. So he instead focused on ordinary people getting sucked into Dream's worlds, and either emerging triumphant, or not at all. 

But the constant attempts to capture Gaiman's magic are always doomed from the start, because trying to make the reader worry about a place that isn't a place, and inhabitants that can be reborn as easily as their surroundings, is as realistic as a dream of flying.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Today I am Seto Thargo



I didn't really think it would take more than four decades to get every issue of the galaxy's greatest comic when I first started reading 2000ad regularly back in the 1980s, but that's how long it took. 

The earlist issue I remember ever owning is #152, with the Fiends of the Eastern Front making a terrifying debut, which my Nana Smith got for me off the shelves when I was five. I would read the odd issue over the next couple of years, and geeked out with my mates over the cover of #302, with Old Ben's android face revealed, but I was mainly about the slick and polished American comic books at that age.

I started getting 2000ad every week with #381, when I was nine, and it wasn't any one thing that got me hooked on thrillpower. It was just that gorgeous combination of prime Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Rogue Trooper and Halo Jones, and that was enough. Hooked for life.

Or at least until the mid-90s, when after so much thrills, there were several years of substandard progs that had me abandoning it altogether. I didn't get it for another eight years, until Wagner came back to do some amazing Dredd stories, and Nikolai Dante stole the show. 2000ad was not as ubiquitous as it once was, and it took me another decade to find all those issues I missed in that eight-year break. I found them at comic shops and second hand bookstores in Christchurch and Dublin and Sydney and New York and Dunedin, and slowly filled in that gap.


I still get 2000ad every week now, a regular purchase for almost 20 years straight, getting it right off the shelves at the nearest newsagent. I still always read it in the street, because I always need all the thrillpower I can get. They still miss a few issues a year, because getting it to the arse end of the world invariably results in leakage (and because Brexit is fucking up everything getting out of the UK), but I can still fill these gaps easily by getting them straight from the source.

But finding the earliest issues was always the hardest. I lucked out on picking up prog #1 for a dollar once - and #2 with the first appearance of Dredd - only cost me $20, but finding long, solid runs of the very earliest comics was impossible. I had a scattered amount of the first couple of years, but had massive holes that I thought would take me years to finish off.

And then good people help you out, and you're only a few away from a full collection of 2000ad, and then you pay what you need for those few, and then...

I got the last two issues I needed in the post today, and that's it. I have a complete 2200+ run of 2000ad, just like I always wanted, way back when there were only a couple of hundreds issues to find.

Building that kind of collection, in that kind of way, is not recommended for anybody. If you're foolhardy enough to want that kind of mass of comics, (and it is a mass, taking up half a full-szied cupboard in our house) just go online and buy up somebody else's collection. But drokk, it was fun filling in all those gaps.

Now I just gotta find all the Judge Dredd Megazines I keep missing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Judge Death vs Eddie the Head



 Even though everybody knows of the weird condescending  that saw Man Thing and Swamp Thing produced as the same time, and even though I have always been a fan of both Iron Maiden and Judge Dredd, I only just realised that Eddie the Head and Judge Death were created at pretty much the same time, in roughly the same place.

As the UK's skinny punk junkies of the late 1970s begin to decay, these desiccated features were the obvious end result if you took it all the way. Shambling along in undead horror, a rictus grin that screams of our own mortality, Eddie and Death are the symbol of an age that is still to reinvent itself in gaudy neon, and trapped with the rock and roll dead.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The incandescent whites of D'Israeli



After bathing again in the bloody chum that was the recent Hook Jaw reboot in 2000ad, it's only fair and proper to throw some more actual love at the galaxy's greatest comic, and the art by D'Israeli in the Stickleback strip in particular.

Because it really is astonishing - his sharp, angular lines have always given his figures and backgrounds real weight, but everything literally shines as it is bathed in pure white negative space. This incandescent glow is breathtaking.

His colour work is exceptional, and very precise and orderly and proper, but nothing else in English-language comics looks like his black and white comics. He's paid all due credit to the late, great Uruguayan artist Alberto Breccia and his clear influence on his style, but made it unmistakably his own, that dependable line anchoring the literal brilliance.

The last time I was this knocked out by the use of negative space, it was in one of the early Sin City comics, because I just don't know how he does it, or how he gets this amazing effect. I don't want to know, I just want to bask in it, and maybe get a little sunburned.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Another comicshop haul



International travel was a great opportunity to explore new societies, see new sights and check out comic book shops all over the world. Every trip we took for a decade ended with a haul of some kind of comic goodness, even when we were going to Outer Mongolia

Those travelling days are done, for the time being, and in some pathetic sort of compensation, I get a dozen issues every six months or so from Mycomicshop.com. It still feels a little like cheating and the postage remains exorbitant, but if you get enough deals, and just the right amount of comics, it can work out okay.

When you live on the arse end of the world, every key comic is precious, especially when they're so bloody hard to find.

So I end up spending months logged in on the site, with items sitting in the checkout, refining the amount. Sometimes it gets out of control, and sometimes the issues I want disappear or won't get sent to this country (there are many, many Judge Dredd Megazines I've tried to buy from them, but they refuse to send overseas for some reason.) But eventually, I get a good dozen.

It's still such a rush to get them in the mail every six months. This time I got a Comics Journal, and a 2000ad sci-fi special that I bought off the shelves in 1986 and literally read to pieces years ago. Issues of Groo and Hellboy and Shade that I still need to complete runs, and one-offs like a Superman comic that contains a hidden Sixpack story by Garth Ennis. 

There is always a Brave and the Bold comic, and some recent thing - I could not find the last issue of the History of the Marvel Universe with the gorgeous page designs of Javier Rodríguez anywhere in this whole bloody country - and some kind of alt-comics anthology thing (this time it's an Anything Goes, from an age where people actually gave a shit about Dave Sim). I have no excuse for that Justice League from the Detroit era, but I've had the first part of that two-parter since I was 10, and always wanted to see how it tutned out.

It's always such a good insight into the current comic tastes and needs. It's not the same as wandering into a comic hop in Portland or Amsterdm or Inverness, but it'll do for now.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Bob's weekend of hate: The Stand

It feels like such a basic thing to complain about the latest adaption of The Stand, when everybody else who was interested tuned out long ago, but it's was just so immensely disappointing it's hard to let it go.

I read the novel half a dozen  times as a teenager, and it was easily my all time favourite book for at least three or four years. I'm still certain King's books will be read for centuries to come, because he captures life in late 20th Century America like nobody else, even when everything turns to shit.

The new adaption had some pedigree, with some real talents behind and in front of the camera, but it didn't look good from the start, with the focus on Harold bloody Lauder, easily the most irritating arsehole in the entire epic. Making him the main character of the series was a bad idea, but it was also particularly bad timing, since we've reached the point where society as a whole is just sick to fucking death of that kind of dickhead.

And while making your own thing out of King's blueprints is the biggest success for any adaption of the writer's works, the non-linear storytelling was not big or clever. You lost the slow slide towards the apocalypse, followed by the insanely fast tumble over the edge. 

Instead, it was irrationally focsued on the long climb back up to civilization, at the expense of all else. It skips over the insane detail that King had in his story, always showing exactly what people needed and what they had to do to survive the new world. Cutting out tom and Stu's long trek back to the world at the end cut out the heart of their journey, and how much they depend on each other.

This new series had some pretty fucked up ideas about community, messed up all the Vegas stuff with a fatal mistaking of loud and crass for quiet and unsettling, did something with Trashcan Man that still can not be explained in words, and finished with a coda that really needed to be subtitled How Not To Parent In The Post-Apocalypse.

The few bright spots - the visual effect of the blazing ball of divine light at the nuclear showdown really was striking, and Greg Kinnear gave it everything and rose above it all to give Glen Bateman some real life - just made the dreariness of it all even more of a slog. Just dumb and unengaging on all levels, with some really good actors left adrift and directors struggling to get pathos out of the nonsense. 

The end of the world never felt so tedious.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Bob's weekend of hate: Hookjaw



While the Tearoom of Despair is mainly focused on the good stuff in life, because existence is just too short to fixate on the bullshit, there are still some movies, TV shows and comic books that are so intensely irritating they must be highlighted, because they start with a great premise that is then completely fucked up.

I mentioned this late last year, when talking about the most average of 2000ad strips in the past year, but after finishing the strip, it's worth repeating how disappointing the latest Hook Jaw revival was, missing the appeal of the entire concept by stapling it onto some metaphysical malarkey.

Hook Jaw was the simple story of a giant bloody shark that eats any fool that tries to tame it or make money from it. It only ate the stupid, because if you got into the ocean while Hook Jaw is roaming about, you're dumb enough to get chewed up.

But in this story, Hook Jaw is reborn as a ravenous elder god thing, attacking anywhere at the behest of some human arsehole. It's actually a genuinely unsettling idea that a pool or even a puddle could be full of flesh-eating terror, but you don't need to make a giant hungry shark with a fucking hook shoved through its jaw into something metaphysical to make it scary, it's terrifying enough.

It's overcooking the concept, and while you still get the odd moment of Hook Jaw chowing down on idiots foolish enough to fall into the sea - artist Leigh Gallagher brings the gore with relish - Hook Jaw doesn't need to become a mythological figure to be shit-pantingly scary. He's angry enough on his own.

More hate tomorrow: The fuckin' Stand

Friday, February 19, 2021

Inception/Tenet: High concept in real life


In the Chris Nolan films that bend the physics - through the power of dreams or by running backwards in time - there are small moments that at first glance feel like an event is taking place in one of these impossible spaces, but it's actually happening in the real world.

In Inception, there's a part where Leo is trying to get away from mysterious and faceless bad guys, but he gets stuck in a rapidly narrowing alleyway, until he's shoving himself through, painfully slowly, just like a nightmare you can't wake up from. And in Tenet, it's the backwards bungy jump early on in the film, with the charming heroes leaping into the sky and doing something the wrong way round to exhilarating effect.

They're not just cool set pieces, they're thematically tying the insanity of the high concept to the solidity of the real world, while also showing that reality can be just as mental as the sci-fi games.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

It's a Mysterious World


There remains something off-putting and creepy about the Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World TV series in the 1980s, and not just because Clarke still gives off a strong 'intellectual paedo hiding out in the tropics' vibe, long after all those accusations were refuted.

It's the horror movie mood in the show, full of sinister music and hauntingly slow camera zooms, smashing up against the sombre and very British narration. There was decent location work and some strong thematic cohesion.

All I know is that I watch all of these episodes and all these ghosts and monsters and other unexplained phenomena never felt more real.

It is disappointing that many of the things that Clarke and co highlighted in the series turned out to be a total crock - many of the mysterious photos were admitted to be frauds, the Turin Shroud turned out to be a load of crap, and even those sinister crystal skulls which became the default symbol of the series turned out to have extremely prosaic origins.

But just because they're not real doesn't mean they're not scary. That's not how scary shit works.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Stick!



Hey Duggie is excellent kids TV, with big, friendly and simple animation. There are colourful adventures, loads of repetition, a brilliantly short run time, really good voice work, brilliant gags, loads of repetition and lots of happy hugs.

And yet, Slay Duggie still take it to another level. Stick!

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

That's how you sell comic books



In this world of fractured media, I legitimately believe some of the best writing about comics can be found on comics scholar Dogulas Wolk's twitter feed, when he's trying to unload piles of great comics for exceptionally reasonable prices.

Wolk is already saying something with his curation, and the exact titles he puts into each bundle, but he's also telling you why 20 issues of prime 1980s X-books is worth $72 in just a paragraph or two and Wolk sells the shit out of his comics, drilling down to exactly why they're great books and worth your hard-earned bucks. 

It's a skill, getting to the heart of what's ultimately appealing about a silly comic book is harder than it looks. Especially when you've got money riding on it.

Monday, February 15, 2021

My first Kirby love was Mantis



Like a lot of dumb kids, I didn't like Jack Kirby's comics when I first saw them in the 1980s. They were old and chunky and unrefined, and I craved the slicker and more refined work from modern artists, and it took me many, many years to get over it. I obviously think Kirby's stuff is absolutely and mindbogglingly great now, but I wasn't always that way.

In fact, it was an action figure that sold me on Kirby, because it was only in the full dimensions of real life that I saw the power and the glory of Jack's lines.

Most of the Super Powers action figures were the classic Silver/Bronze Age DC look, but a couple of the Fourth World villains were radically redesigned by Kirby and given bold, new life - the Parademon figure became a sharp red nightmare, while the Mantis figure was immediately striking.

I could only find those Super Powers figures at one small toy warehouse that also had a lot of comics I had to have, and you could only ever find a random selection - I never, ever saw a Superman or Batman on the shelves, but there were tonnes of Desaad and Robin and Doctor Fate. And the first one I got was Mantis, without knowing anything about the actual character, because it looked so freaking cool.

A huge armoured figure in eye-searing green, the Mantis design looked fantastic when it was put into the three dimensions of the action figure, unearthly and powerful, the chunky anatomy of Kirby's comic figures given a new flow, with the artist's lines stretching out in new directions. It had vicious claws on the arms, a mean-looking helmet that looked like Darth Vader's ancient ancestor and Mantis' god-level shoulderpads were literally divine (this was the 80s, after all).

There are many ways to get in to Kirby's world and with his work still being strip-mined for multiple billion-dollar franchises, there are plenty of opportunities. Besides, Kirby received some of the only royalties of his extraordinary career for the redesign of his characters for the toy company, so at least the man got paid for my entrance.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Where's the Denzel, Michael?

It's a goddamn mystery why Denzel Washington - who has the best command of movement and motion in modern movies - hasn't been able to use those skills in a Michael Mann film. 

Tony Scott made magnificent use of Washington's prowl, and his ownership of the way he walks through a scene has genuinely elevated films like Training Day and Safe House. But we don't have Tony Scott to dazzle us anymore, and we only need so many Equalizer films.

Mann's movies are all about the momentum of driven men, and it's genuinely baffling why that hasn't intersected with Denzel yet. There's still time. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

A $10 2000ad


2000ad cost 55 cents an issue when I started buying it, somewhere in the early eighties. You got something that was basically printed on bog roll for your money, but you also got golden era 2000ad with stunning regular artwork by Steve Dillon Bryan Talbot, Carlos Ezquerra, Ron Smith and so many more.

The cost of weekly thrillpower has risen steadily since then, and there have been a few price spikes over the years. It just had another one last month, and is now just shy of $10, which feels like some kind of substantial barrier.

It's still the Galaxy's Greatest Comic, and paying more than $10 for a single issue  might give me pause, but I've getting regular doses of thrills since I was a very little Squaxx dek Thargo, I'm hardly going to stop now.

Friday, February 12, 2021

007 on the Rainbow Warrior



Like a lot of kids, I scorched right through a Bond phase, watching all the films in a matter of months, and never really got over it. I'm still buzzing on it, still looking forward to the next one, whenever it gets here. I'm all about the style and the stunts.

There were also a lot of reading of the Ian Fleming books - especially On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which I went through half a dozen times because it was the most balls-out exciting one in the series - and it was easy to deal with the fact that literary Bond was a complete and utter bastard, because real life got there first to confirm it.

When some French fuckheads blew up a Greenpeace boat in Auckland Harbour, killing one dude, because they had the audacity to say that setting off nuclear bombs in fragile Pacific atolls might be a terrible idea, it was some big fucking news in this country. And then there was newspaper headline that told me that  James Bond might have helped blow up that peaceful ship.

It was more complicated than that, once you got past that damning headline, especially because James Bond is a fictional fucking character, but some experts were putting forward the idea that MI6 would certainly help out their continental cousins if they needed to. And it hurts because it's true and all the fun and games of a James Bond movie have a real-world counterpart that is utterly contemptible.

So fuck James Bond and all he stands for. Every movie is a goddamn thrill, but he's a piece of shit and it's always good to see him take a beating or two. Fernando Pereira deserves that, at least.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Kill the triffids



Too many long, hot weekend afternoons wasted on mowing brown lawns and incessant weeding as a teenager means I haven't done any gardening since I left home. I always just lived in apartments, or paid someone else to come in and mow the lawn every couple of weeks, because life is too short to be getting dirty in the garden

But the back yard in our current place was getting seriously overgrown, especially with these really annoying thin vine things, and even though it wasn't a big garden, it was getting well out of control. So I started hacking away at it a little bit, making a bit of space, and then I started hacking a lot, and I've ripped into it for weeks now.

It turned out to be exceptionally therapeutic, you put on a podcast and get stuck into it, and get your hands dirty. The kid likes sitting in the garden and getting her own tiny hands filthy, and it doesn't matter if she tears up a bit of the lawn. It's all got to be scorched.

It helps that some of the plants look like triffids, because that book and TV show scared the fucking shit out of me as a kid and I deadset thought they were a real thing. I'm gonna tear into those fuckers with glee and I know they're not triffids, but I'm still going to wear some thick gloves. I just base my gardening style on the philosophy of Judge Joe Dredd: Get you retaliation in first.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Breaking the back of a book



There is a particular sense of satisfaction in finding the time to just sit down with a book that you've been reading for months and months because it's so dense, and just fucking nailing it, and getting through a fair chunk of it, and breaking the back of the thing. You might not actually finish the book, but you're so close to the end that you're almost there, and that's all an almost greater satisfaction.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The art of Claremont's X-plots



Marvel had refined the use of subplots in ongoing comic titles into an easy formula by the 1970s - plot A took the most space, Plot B would get a page or two before graduating to Plot A, while Plot C might start simmering with a single panel before rolling up the order. Keep doing that every issue, and you'd get the kids coming back, month after month after month. They had to see what happened next.

But nobody did it better than Chris Claremont, who also made it look so easy. Even with the ample plotting aid of his various artists, Claremont had almost complete control of the X-books' direction for 15 years, telling one big long story. He would introduce characters and mystsries, and then drop them for months or even years, before picking them up again. Shenanigans in the Hellfire Club or with the alien Brood or over the US government's registration of mutants - events would be set in motion and then put aside for such a long time, only to suddenly flare back up.

It kept you coming back, again and again, and the longer it took something to pay off, the bigger the thrill. Sometimes it got a bit much, and you had something like the first 10 issues of Excalibur, which set up a lot of plot and questions that Claremont then showed no interest in answering, but you knew you'd get there in the end (Although, with Excalibur, it took Alan Davis' return to the title in the early 90s to really get some answers about what happened to Colin, or what Widget's goddamn deal was).

These long-running plot threads also made Claremont's story feel more like a cohesive whole, even when partnered with a number of spectacular artists, who would send the X-saga spiraling in new directions as Claremont played to their penciling talents. There was a world of difference on the path from Cockrum to Lee, but the same themes and issues that kept coming up kept the story solid.

Some of the other talented writers working under that classic Marvel structure managed to fit in some beautiful character moments in between the relentless plot machinations, and Claremont did this as well, only needing to check in on someone like Nimrod every few months, but giving the story of the ultimate sentinel killer unexpected depth in every brief appearance.

No one could ever follow Claremont on the weird kinky shit he was so obviously infatuated with, and nobody could match his ability to keep you coming back either, but he did it again and again.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Cricket lovers and haters

 

If Jim Jarmursch doesn't get me divorced, the Black Caps might do it one day.

I think it's important that you still have your own interest as a couple. I've been with the love of my life for 15 years now, and I love her more than ever, but we still can't agree on everything. There are movies I love that she abhors, and she watches TV shows that I find morally reprehensible and maddeningly addictive. It's all good - if we all liked the same things, this world would be boring.

So I love cricket, and I love test cricket most of all, all five fucking days of it. It's the perfect background sport when you're getting on with your day, and then suddenly, hours and hours of perseverance can come down to split second timing. I'm still dealing with that dead ball ricocheting off Ben Stokes' bat that unfairly lost the Black Caps the last world cup, but absolutely demolishing Pakistan in the last series still felt good.

She doesn't get any of it, and that's a perfectly valid response. It's not for everyone. She thinks it's staggeringly boring and needlessly complicated and totally ridiculous, and I can't argue with any of that.

But now we've got a little one that I can infect with cricket and take to games and sit and watch during those big moments. The wife might not like it, and will maintain a righteous position as a full-time cricket hater, but we can still outnumber her.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Marshal Law: What a terrible tragedy




I'm a sucker for Marvel's bullshit, but still - every time a Marvel superhero heroically sacrifices their life to save their comrades and the cosmos, I think of Marshall Law, reacting to the pointless carnage when a bunch of gross and super-depraved analogues plummet to their deaths, their bodies breaking into grotesque new angles at the end of Marshal Law Takes Manhattan.

They're not worth wiping off your boots.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Nat's what he reckons: Fuck packet food!


Good food is everything, but I have always been so intimidated by recipe books, with arcane language and exacting standards that I could never quite meet. But I'm always up for trying something new, so I've been watching some cooking videos recommended by my excellent boss, and discovered the best ones are from this beautiful Aussie bogan. 

They're great, and it's not just because Nat speaks my language and makes big, tasty meals that are genuinely sick, it's because he tells you not to sweat the small stuff - he tells you if you can skip complicated steps, and puts bugger-all value in presentation, making it all about the tastiness.

I mean, check out these fucking champions, we made them last week and they were out-fucking standing and produced acres of leftovers:

We've started a tiny tradition of cooking up one of Nat's meals every Sunday, and have had a magic time making macaroni and cheese, carbonara and beef strog. I can't ever go buy packet shit at the supermarket again, or his ghost will haunt me.

Learning something new is always good, especially it's this fuckin' tasty.

Friday, February 5, 2021

We're all turning into Larry Niven


 Larry Niven was breaking genuinely new ground in 1971 with his Man Of Steel, Woman Of Kleenex essay, even if he was only putting down in words the sniggering thoughts in many, many little boys' minds. But so many current criticism and thought about how superheroes work is still mining that ground, 50 years later.

It's everywhere - that smartarse voice, that fucking know-it-all attitude, in nitpicks and sneers. Endlessly pointing out flaws with basic concepts as if nobody had ever thought this before. Snark has no currency, but that just makes it cheap for everyone to use.

Niven's article might be the single most referenced and remembered piece of writing from 50 years ago - it's endlessly reprinted and referenced, all these years later. And the central point of Niven's words - that these brash superheroes don't hold up to any kind of real-world scrutiny - is still the default setting for many of those who follow in his footsteps.

It's still funny as fuck, but there are other notes to play.


Thursday, February 4, 2021

Air crash paranoia


I've travelled all over this big, bold and beautiful world of ours, and I'm still as shit-scared of flying as I ever was. It's not just the take-offs and landings with the mysterious bangs and bumps, or the turbulence with the sudden drops and rises, it's the sheer unreality of thinking about what's under your feet when you're cruising over the Pacific Ocean at 30-fucking-thousand feet.

I get over this by just sucking it up and getting on the goddamn plane like a grown-up, but I also find that Air Crash Investigations programmes do help a lot. 

They probably shouldn't, because they always start with everything going wrong, and masses of people being killed in horribly sudden ways. But once you get past that, you get a look at how planes actually work, and the massive amount of things that have to go wrong for an accident to happen. It's almost always a cascade of failures, and the investigation team always work to ensure don't happen twice.

Weird shit still happens, and these things do fall out of the sky on a terrifyingly regular basis. But along with all the statistics that show how safe it actually is, and the unlikelihood of ever dying in a crash, that's how I get back on the plane, and that's what I think of when it drops a 100 feet in 30 seconds during a thunderstorm. 

I just don't think about that first 10 minutes.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Disappointment under the covers

There is a particular sense of disappointment at seeing an absolute gorgeous piece of comics art on front of a mainstream comic book, and then finding something super generic on the inside. 


The reasoning behind it is obvious, the cover grabs the attention and sells the comic more than any story or continuity or anything ever did. They figured this out two days after comic books became a thing - put the best artists on the outside, facing the world and catching the eye, and you're halfway there.

So you get the likes of Gil Kane or Joe Kubert producing stunning bits of art for the covers of Marvel and DC comics in the 1970s, while the vast mass of Bolland art over the years has been confined to his cover work. Who cares what's on the inside when that's how you look up front?

But the difference was most notable when Bill Sienkiewicz's gorgeous art graced the covers for the most generic Marvel titles in the 1980s. Inside it was Marvel By Numbers, but on the outside, Sienkiewicz brought grace and beauty and sharp lines and deep moods and strange new colours. 

 At least his New Mutants comics were generally full of his savage renderings, and now and again you'd get an Elektra: Asassin which was always Full Bill, but I kept getting sucked in by the dreamy energy of the covers he did for Dazzler and What If.. and Rom Space Knight and even the bloody Starriors.

There would be the rare occasion when you'd something like the Lone Wolf and Cub comics that First put out, and you'd get interior work that was just as good, if not better, than Bill's. The generic art inside all those other comics was fine for the times, but there's never been a bigger gulf between expectation and delivery. It might get you in the door, but then leaves you hanging.

For more Sienkiewicz loveliness, check out Benjamin Marra's thorough gallery at NeoText...

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Music lessons 101

Finding good new music can be hard in the absolute ocean of contemporary tunes, but one of the best things about working the weekend shift at New Zealand's public radio station is that my local pop knowledge is going off the fucking charts.

The Music 101 show has been playing on RNZ for years, and I've always enjoyed listening to it while driving around town. But now I have listen to it as part of the job - for content we can highlight on the homepage - and it's been a excellent accidental primer for finding new music. 

I love the old music as much as ever, but I'm also completely terrified of stagnating in my tastes, and am always looking for something new. I have various fucked-up ways of doing this, including watching pop music with the kid and finding out what she likes to dance to; and maintaining a weirdly strict system of listening to the CDs that British music mags put on their cover.

But I can't help the Music 101 stuff from getting through and it's so good. Over the Christmas break, while off work, I ended up listening to a lot of local pop tunes and they were generally excellent. Strong beats, killer melodies and something to say - good music just makes your life better. It just does.

I do have to stop myself from pop-splaining when the lovely wife says she doesn't know who Benee is, because I'll inevitably end up banging on about how vibrant the Gisbourne punk scene is looking, and nobody needs that. But finding new tunes that the kid and I can grove to is absolutely priceless.