Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Lost in the library: My Alcoholic Escape From Reality

Young people love to get drunk and fucked up. Their bodies can take the hangovers and it's easy to get around the anxiety of being a grown-up when they let you go into bars.

But there is always a choice about leaving that part of your life behind you. Maybe those hangovers are getting a bit rough, maybe you just don't like the person you are when you get smashed every week, maybe you just get sick of it.

And if you carry on that lifestyle, you won't get far, and all the peers and old drinking buddies I once had - the ones who carried on with that lifestyle and kept going - are now fucking dying in their 40s as their internal organs slowly shut down after decades of alcoholic poisoning.

Nagata Kabi is a super cute Japanese comic artist who I have nothing in common with, but there is a universal truth in getting fucking wasted that shines through. Her cartoons are delicate lined, but the story is heavy with young person anxiety, and how easy it is to get through it with beer and saki.

And in this book, she's right at that point where she could end up a full lush, and will be dead before she's 50, or she makes some lifestyle changes that will keep her going for a long, long time. 

It looks cute as fuck, but isn't afraid to show the squalidness and the sickness of it all, and also offer some way out of it. It's not an easy road, and it's not an easy choice for anybody, especially when you're sharing it all with the world in diary comics. I can only hope Nagata finds the escape into reality of the comic page a decent substitute for the alcoholic one.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Lost in the library: Acts of Vengeance

The local library was closed by a lockdown for four months, but I kept ordering all the latest comic book nonsense - all the superhero crossovers I'd never pay for, the latest piece of brilliance from Jason, a ridiculous amount of essay and history comics, and anything with John Constantine in it - and now they've all come in at once and I'm reading three trade paperbacks a day.

Most of them are barely more than a bored flick-through, just to see what the Fantastic Four are up to these days - same old shit, apparently - and some of them take a lot longer. But you can find unexpected patterns in reading these things this way.

Take the weirdly formless Acts of Vengeance crossover that Marvel put out in the late 80s. After the dud philosophizing of Secret Wars II - which could have been something if anybody else than dear Al Milgrom was drawing it - Marvel went in big on Acts of Vengeance as the eighties closed, a major Avengers-focused crossover that pulled in everyone.

The big idea was that all the really big supervillains would team up and take on the heroes they wouldn't usually face. It has its moments, like the Red Skull getting owned by Magneto who won't have anything to do with the Nazi scum and there was an action figure pleasure in pitting Iron Man's usual foes against Spider-Man.

But after reading the entire thing in the collected editions, it's notable how much it needs the spine of a core mini-series. There is a lot wrong with crossover mania, but you do need something for it all to revolve around, or the central plot of the whole thing becomes lost in Cloak and Dagger spin-offs.

It's spread all over the place, across so many comics, but there is no difference between the key texts and the vague tie-ins. With the recent collection of the whole thing across three different books, it makes even less sense, because it's all wrapped up in one corner of the universe, and then the Mandarin is still blasting away at Jubilee in another. It only really makes sense in a wrap-up that was annual filler in one of the titles, and even then, it just barely holds together.

Marvel will put out half a dozen big crossovers a year now across its various titles, and most of them have the spine. Acts of Vengeance shoots its load all over the place, instead of focusing on a suitably sized target.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

None more zen than Mifune

God give me the zen calm of the great Toshiro Mifune in the part in Rashomon where he's been caught, and is resigned to his fate and probably thinks he deserves it. And as the court hears part of the case against him, he stares up at the sky, soaking in the experience of life for a little bit longer, before they inevitably have his neck. There is still some harsh, barking laughter to come before that end, but that look up into the infinite is eternal

The only thing cooler than that is the way he scratches himself in the afternoon heat before the shit goes down.

That's the main thing I always remember from Rashomon. Other people might remember other things.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Give your eyes to Kyle

My oldest mate Kyle had a video channel where he talks about the comic books that he buys and loves with a beautiful and casual enthusiasm that always warms my cold dark heart.

He's super keen to get up to 1000 subscribers to his channel, and has been painfully short of the target for a while now, so if you do that sort of thing, and have some basic human decency in you, give him a subscribe.

It's the decent thing to do. He also won't stop telling you how great Carlos Ezquerra was, and that's always good for the soul.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Derek Riggs and his truly fine Iron Maiden art

I've been to the fuckin' Louvre and couple of MOMAs and I spent three hours in a slow-moving line to see Michelangelo's David in Florence and it was worth every fuckin' second, but there is also a sneaky part of me that think that Derek Riggs' Eddie the Head artwork for Iron Maiden is the finest art in the whole world. They definitely look the best on t-shirts.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Cobra Commander's greatest enemy isn't GI Joe, it's a 2-year-old girl

My two-year-old discovered the old lockbox the other day, and she's going to make me pay for it. It's the one made by my grandfather that currently houses all the still-complete action figures I have left in the world. She's not at an age where she'll try to eat them now, but I fear some of still them won't survive the experience.

She's really into the Princess Leia action figures that my sister had, and they're pretty robust for 40+-year things, but her favourites are the most delicate, even though they are clad in their battle armour. 

Of all the GI Joe action figures I bought in the 1980s - and there was a fucking tonne of them - the only two that survive relatively intact today are the Cobra Commander in Battle Armor figure and a Techno-Viper. So of course they're the ones she wants to play with. 

Not the half-dozen Iron Man figures I got at a toy store that was closing down in the late-2000s, not the cheap GI Joes that came out for one of those awful movies. She only wants to play with the ones I have an unhealthy emotional attachment to. 

We got history, man. GI Joe stunted my growth. In 1987 I was 12 and ready to give up on childish toys after years of the limited playability of the Star Wars figures, and then the Cobra Commander was the most amazing action figure I'd ever seen in my entire life when I got it, and I was all about GI Joe for the next couple of years.

And the Techno-Viper, which I got a couple of weeks after that first one, has a scraped chest where I ran him across the edge of a swimming pool in the summer of 1989; the thumbs came off soon afterwards; and his foot is melted from when I got stoned and pushed it against an iron bar heater in the first flat I ever lived in. I know it's sad, but it's still true - my life is encoded in the Techno-Viper's scars.

As chipped and faded as it is, I think it's the bright colours of their painted armor that the kid likes the most. Or maybe the way they rattle around when she shakes them. Whatever it is, they've lasted 30+ years, and they might not last much longer. But the death of toys is inevitable, and if they have to go, they can go out in a blaze of little kid glory. Yo Joe.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

No more Wednesdays

One weird and very particular disappoint from DC comics in the past decade is that there haven't been any more Wednesday Comics, because the one series they did do was so flipping great. 

It was full of fun stories and magnificent art on a giant canvas. They didn't have a 100 percent hit rate, but that doesn't matter with an anthology that still gave the world so much big art from Kubert and Gibbons and Pope and Baker and Stelfreeze and Kerschl.

I didn't even need the nostalgia effect of the old-school adventure strip - I never had comic pages like that in any of the newspapers I ever read, you were lucky if you got some Peanuts with your Footrot Flats. But any kind of format that offers something different to the usual tiny and flimsy pamphlet is always welcome, and the best Wednesday Comic strips were a gorgeous spread across that huge page.

The stories are timeless, but the paper isn't. The physical copies I got off the shelves when it was released have aged a lot in the 12 years. They're already going a particular shade of yellow, but they're as pretty as ever. I just really, really wish there was more of them. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

We've all turned a little Pink

Everyone has had to go through some kind of lockdown time in the past couple of years, stuck inside your house for the greater good. No wonder it's so much easier to sympathies with Bob Geldof's Pink in the movie version of The Wall, with the same walls closing in and you can't go out, because you've got nowhere to fly to.

It has really felt that way sometimes and it's okay to admit it. We're not all rock stars strung out on hard drugs in the hotel room, tearing it apart and cutting our nipples off, but there is a part of us that feels that same way about being stuck in this place.

Humans haven't changed that much since the film was produced, and do need to get out. We can all go a little crazy, binging on old war movies and organising your little cell in your own grand design. You don't need to go full fascist in your head like Pink does, but there is nothing wrong with a little bit of self pity. It would be weird if you didn't feel that way sometimes.

The coronavirus is still fucking out there, but we can all get jabbed up and go out and break down that mental wall a little bit.  I think I'll abandon the Pink way of thinking and go for Flex Mentallo's advice to just get out of the house instead. It seems like a better deal all around.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Mysteries inside the grab-bag

They were a proper gateway drug, coming in little plastic bags and offering up thrills that could be endlessly chased.  I haven't seen them around for years, but they used to be everywhere. They would show up in corner stores, and in supermarkets and and toy stores and service stations and cafes. I don't know who put them together or where they came from, but they really were everywhere

It would a bag of 3-5 comics, all packed together in semi-tight plastic, stapled at the top, often with a cheap piece of cardboard holding them together. Sometimes they would be all DC or all Marvel, but other times they were a mix of all sorts of American comics. Remaindered and unwanted copies, flogged off in bulk, and filling shelves all over the goddamn world.

They would be full of the most random stuff, and that was such a plus. I got one for the Uncanny X-Men #219 that was on the outside, but also got the unexpected last chapter of Batman: Year One with it - and it was my first ever exposure to Frank Miller's dark knight. The X-Men comic is long gone, but it must have made an impression because I could remember the issue number without looking it up, and because the bit where they actually consider killing Havok is the weirdest fucking thing.

I've still got that issue of Batman, and still remember how beautifully confusing it was, and how much that Mazzucchelli dude could do with so little.

I also remember how infuriating it was when the plastic was too tight, and you couldn't quite see what was lurking on the inside. The comic they put on the outside was a gimmee, but if you really wanted bang for your buck, you didn't want to get stuck with Star Comics or Harvey book or something. I spent so much time bending them in just the right way to see what was lurking on the inside, so that I got at least two decent comics out of the three.

One thing I can't quite recall is when I last saw comics for sale like this. Sometimes you see them at comic specialty shops, doing that sort of thing in some retro way, but haven't seen them out in the wild in the general stores, not like they used to, not since the direct market swallowed up everything.

But I have to wonder how many discovered new and intriguing comics through the three issue grab bag, and how many other people tried something they would never try because it came free with a new Superman comic.

This is how the gateway works. That's how they get you.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Possibility is a private party to which I'm no longer invited

My lovely and kind wife likes to often quote this gorgeous sketch from the Armando Iannucci show in my general direction, which she thinks is never not funny.

I'm actually four years part the age when I become useless to society. I need a small beer.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

All I want to do is read stories about the worst people

Fitting more reading time into my life isn't easy at the best of times, but the libraries just reopened, and I picked up 16 books the other day, so I got to work it out.

It should be okay. Two of the books are the new Simon Hanselmann thing and the one of the new Bob lee Swagger novels - and I fucking love how nasty Hanselmann's comics are, and also have a dire addiction to sniper porn - so I'll be taking every fucking moment I can get to spend some time with them.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Dancing with Jarvis in the front room

I really shouldn't be surprised that the two-year-old's favourite song in the entire world is this Jarvis banger from last year, which she demands to hear at least once a day. It always gets her bum moving.

I'm probably a bad parent and should be feeding her proper kids music - there are certainly plenty of options - but she likes big beats and thumping bass, just like her old man, so we have regular dance parties around the house. And I'm just letting the kid like what she likes, and what can I say? She likes the Cocker.

I think it's mainly the dancing. It's a terrific tune, zapping the zeitgeist with a punchy hook and the faint smell of complete despair that we're all familiar with, but it's the video with Jarvis getting down that appeals to young and old.

The man can still kick like no other pop star, and he's still doing it in neon silhouette, all around the living room.

The kid's tastes are usually more age-appropriate - Sarah and Duck is hands down her favourite TV show, which is good, because Sarah and Duck is fucking great. I'm just saying that there is room for some Common People in her life.

At least it's not the fucking Wiggles.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Never a Commando kid

Even though I'm a big old dirty pacifist who would be overjoyed if all the guns in the world just went in the fucking sea, I have a deep fondness for the intensity of war comics, because I'm a human being and human beings are contradictory motherfuckers.

I love a good Sgt Rock and the masked misadventures of the Unknown Soldier are part of my comic DNA. The EC war comics remain absolutely devastating, and I read every single war story that Garth Ennis ever writes (and keep them some of them forever, largely depending on the art). Charley's War is one of the greatest comics ever created. 

Most of the best war comics are heavily anti-war, and recognise the absurdity of killing men in the name of uncaring ideology and aloof power. They focus on the poor bastard at the sharp end of conflict and the terrible things they do just to survive. Which is probably why I never had much time for Commando. 

As a kid, I would read any comic, just for the fix. I read and reread my sister's girls comic annuals as much as my own, would eat up some Archie or Buster or whatever. But Commando comics - which are fucking everywhere - were always the absolute last result .When there was literally nothing else, there was always some flimsy Commando thing to read.

And they were insanely popular. I know people who have sizable collections, but have never read any other comic, and there have now been 5000 issues of the damned thing. I still read enough that most of the German language phrases I know are the expletives that Nazi scum scream as they are machine gunned to death, but I barely touched the edges of the comic's long history.

Maybe I missed out on some good stuff - Ian Kennedy did a heap of them and he's a bloody genius - but it always felt like Commando just didn't have that extra edge of those other comics. The stories were always flat, the art was largely functionary and there wasn't enough meat on the narrative bones.

Worst of all, they never really seemed to question the horror of war, or how fucking ridiculous it was. Most Commando stories feature hard-jawed men doing what men gotta do, and any death or carnage is just fuel for more revenge. There was more outright celebration of war, and I just can't get behind that.

They might have changed in recent years - I still see issues in the local newsagents - but I checked out on this never-ending conflict a long time ago.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Do it in your head, only in your head


I'll be seeing the new Bond film and the latest Marvel nonsense and that Dune thing and that Alan Moore thing the week the cinemas open again around here, but I'm really don't know about seeing the new Leo Carax.

On the one hand, it's a fucking Leo Carax film and he's a goddamn movie master, creating films of astonishing depth and imagination, reveling in the widest possibilities of cinema, with some of the world's best actors breaking open their hearts on the dirty streets of the world, all framed in glorious colour with perfect choreography.

But it's also a film about a edgy comedian, and that is literally the last person I give a fuck about right now.

Maybe I'll just watch that goddamn accordion scene over and over for two hours instead. It's probably better all round.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Kubrick gave you everything

YouTube has made the world a shittier place by giving unmitigated fuckheads a platform to spew their hateful garbage, but I stay away from all that by using it almost entirely to watch music clips and video essays about cool shit.

You still have to stay away from a huge amount of things - like fuckin' Star Wars videos - because they're not healthy for anybody. But that's okay, because there are 10,000 hours of batshit Kubrick theories - the ones that find meaning and patterns in the most random nonsense.

Sometimes, like the one above, there is actually enough evidence to sound convincing. I know it's bullshit, I know you can read anything to it, but it can be a lot of fun looking for new patterns in old favourites.

They can still get too serious, and there are a lot that genuinely believe that Kubrick littered his films with moon landing stuff because he felt guilty about fooling the world, and they can get a bit fucking desperate and intense.

But most of it is harmless, and offers more questions than they answer, and there is some beauty in that. When he wasn't being an abusive shit to his cast-members, Kubrick would fill his movies with all these clues to mysteries that have no answers, just to have people still asking these questions, 20 years after he merged with the infinite.

No doubt most of this was unintentional. That some tiny piece of set dressing that unlocks everything was just some dumb set dressing, and that a continuity error with a chair might be part of a deliberate attempt to unsettle audience 

And just look hard enough at the world, and you'll see the five and two diamonds thing everywhere. It doesn't mean shit, other than the real magic is happening in the brain that sees a pattern. And if anyone was going to make movies like this, it was Kubrick. There is so much going on in his films, on emotional, technical and metaphysical levels, that this kind of talk was always inevitable.

But discussion of a work that opens it up is so much more fun than the usual good/bad dynamic of movie talk. I'm off to check out 2001's horror of the void.

Monday, November 15, 2021

All about the art

The older I get, the more I just like the pretty pictures.

When it came to comic books, I always thought I was follower of writers - it just seemed more logical that if you liked that kind of story, the writer was likely to offer up more. But all the regular comic books I still get in 2021 have just one thing in common - I'm really just getting them for the art.

As a kid, I was gorging on the golden age of British artists, with regular Bolland, Ezquerra, McMahon, Gibbons and a dozen other brilliant people. But when I came of age in the late eighties and nineties, and started looking at the writer's name in the credit box, I was devouring everything by Alan Moore and Grant Morrison I could, getting all their regular titles, hunting down obscure limited series and side projects, eating it all up.

And it was like that for years, I would buy the vast majority of my new comics based on who the writer was, and there were a good two dozen writers who all fit the criteria. I still always appreciated good art, but there were only a few who I bought 100% for the art (and it was usually something that involved an X-men related artist like Alan Davis or Art Adams).

Hellboy was a real game-changer, the first series I followed where I cared far more about the art than the story. I got into it right at the point where the whole story was drifting into a world of glorious abstract nonsense, where the mood was more important than the plot.

The other big game changer were the dozen or so comics, all by favourite writers, that were published by Avatar with eye-gougingly bad art, and convinced me that maybe I didn't need to read everything those dudes ever wrote.


Now I've reached the point where all the regular comics I buy now are based purely on the art, because I've never cared for the writers.

So I'm getting things like Decorum, even though I've never really been a Hickman boy. And even though I've been getting it fairly regularly for the past year, I couldn't tell you much about the plot or characters or anything like.

But the art by Mike Huddleston is absolutely jaw-dropping, with alien vistas of outstanding beauty, sliced up by the hard lines of human contact. The conflict of sketchy humanity and alien worlds drenched in digital paint is outstanding.

I've already talked about the stunning work Tommy Lee Edwards is doing on Jupiter's Legacy, and while I still admire Mark Millar's eagerness to hideously murder his main characters, it's all about the Edwards. Some fill-in art in the most recent issue maintained the dayglo superhero palette, but just wasn't the same, and it's good to see Edwards is back for the next.

There's always room for more beauty in my life, and while looking for something else - anything else - to help out the good folk at my local comic book store, I went for the new Human Target. I've been deeply unmoved by almost everything Tom King has done, and some of it gets downright irritating, but none of that matters when you've got Greg Smallworld's sense of colour and design.

There's nothing really more to it than I like to look at pretty pictures, and these comics have just enough plot to hang all that beauty on, and that's all I want in life.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

You can't kill Ivar The Boneless!

After many seasons of carnage, all the battles in Vikings bleed into each other for a while - all those shield walls and arrow attacks - but holy shit, Ivar the Boneless staunching out 50 motherfuckers, keeping them back long enough for backup to arrive, is as good as that show ever got.  

Ivar is a sneaky evil murdering little shit, but you got to respect his game.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

We should always listen to Vonnegut

Every now and then I'll come across a short Kurt Vonnegut quote, and it will make me want to read everything he ever wrote all over again, because he could sum up something true and universal in just a few perfect words.

Usually, it's the one about how you've got to be kind, babies, which is the best goddamn philosophy I've ever heard.  But this week it's this one from Mother Night - 

 "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” 

- which feels more real in an age of social media than ever before. 

I miss you, Mr Vonnegut. Thanks for all the words.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Eternals in a modern murk

I still can't go to the movies, because there is some idea around here that it's not worth people dying to do that, and that's just fine by me. But if I could, one of the first things I'd be seeing is the new Eternals, because I'm a basic bitch who embarrasses the shit out of his film nerd mates by thinking the Marvel films are all fine.

It hasn't got a lot of great reviews, but even a lot of the negative takes often make a point of saying how well-lit the film is, with golden hour sunbeams and vast natural landscapes.

Which sounds like fun, but they're also usually accompanied by this picture, which doesn't really make their case, because this is not flattering lighting for anybody concerned.

All those gorgeous colourful costumes on fantastic bodies look drab on a nothing background. There's no difference between the sky and the ocean, a dull sandy ground. 

The Marvel movies always go for the realism, really going deep on the 'how would this actually look in the real world' , and that has usually paid off for them. But doing that for space gods with chiseled hair and eye lasers is asking for some kind of trouble.

I haven't seen the movie, but I'll still try to get there, lockdowns and children allowing. And maybe all the promo stuff is just bullshit and it actually gets proper psychedelic and colourful and I should drink a big cup of shut the fuck up.

But if this is the best face they're going to offer before the film goes out, they could do better than showing this shit sandwich of an image and telling me it's a juicy steak made of light.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The perilous price of post

The world has changed a lot since the SSAE issue was a thing, and we're a lot more connected and everything is much more accessible than ever - but I still live on a island nation that is very fucking far from the rest of the world, and getting comic books here will always be hellishly expensive.

After an endless tyranny of distance, the internet opened up the world to Aotearoa more than 20 years ago. And while that means that many of my friends and neighbours have turn into barbarians when they minds got poisoned by the rot of social media, it also means I can bid on ebay auctions for old annuals I never saw and order direct from US comic shops and get any 2000ads I miss direct from the source (and I've been missing a lot lately). So it ain't all bad.

But there's no escaping that sheer distance and there are great deals for things all over the world which are no damn good to me, because the post is still a goddamn nightmare.

The actual book I'm after might be going ridiculously cheap, for just a couple of bucks, but those gains are wiped out by when the post often reaches $50 - I just saw a Judge Dredd annual I desperately need for $10, which sounded great, and $89 in postage, which wasn't so great.

I know this is for the slickest, most reliable postage there is, but I don't care if it arrives next week, and will happily pay for snail mail. It might take months, but that's fine. I'm not going anywhere. This pandemic teaches us all some bloody patience.

Because it's not just the cost that is an issue, it's the time. A lot of things I've been keen for have got stuck offshore, the local bookstore told me tonnes of books are sitting just off the coast in container ships, as the global shipping industry has a huge brainfart

So now I'm more than 20 issues behind the UK on 2000ad (usually it's about 10 weeks delay), my subscription copies of Empire magazine arrive at startlingly odd intervals, and things show up at the comic shop whenever.

It's not going to get any better, anytime soon. The raw materials are going up in price, the shipping costs are getting bigger, and places like the US have cut back on a lot of overseas postage altogether.

I know it's a pitifully petty thing to worry about during a global health emergency that has caused misery for millions, but it's the petty shit that helps us get through the heavy shit. And when we're more connected than ever before, money and time still keep a lot of things painfully out of reach.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Shaun of the Dead: There they are

In all the enthusiasm and charm of Shaun of the Dead, so many of the gigs zip past, like the part where Simon Pegg is looking through the letterbox of his tiny, shitty little flat into the outside world, and he sees no zombies, declares it all clear, then looks slightly to the right and there is a whole fuck-tonne of them.

It's a tiny moment in the movie, quickly shooting by, but it's a great little joke that could only work in movies, using the perspective of the camera to comic effect, and balanced out by the quiet absurdity of Pegg's delivery. 

Eager to please in their first real movie, Edgar Wright and his chums never failed to use the opportunity to get in a quick gag in Shaun of the Dead, and getting a decent one out of the usual 'checking if the way is clear' is some kind of mad genius.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

DC Death Metal: Lost without the notes

Superhero comics used to come loaded with footnotes, especially once they built up enough fans who were desperate to know the last time Batman met Sgt Rock. Editors seemed to relish the chance to point the reader in the right direction, and maybe even get in a joke if they could, usually at the creative talent's expense.

But they faded out of fashion at about the same time as thought balloons popped, too childish for the new generation of very serious comic book fans, another reminder of how inherently dopey superhero comics can be.

Which can be a hell of a shame, because I really needed them when I tried reading the DC's Death Metal event comic in collected form recently, and got totally lost without that kind of literary signpost.

The main story, which represented the apex of Scott Snyder's cosmic DC ideas, was easy enough to get in one big collected book, but there were also a bunch of other random tie-ins published in three other books, some of which were characterization filler, and some of which was vital to the overall plot.

It's not easy to keep track of these things - the superhero universes have built up such grand continuities that keeping on top of it all is, more than ever, a fool's errand. But just reading Death Metal in this way is deeply confusing, just as a story. Things build up to big moments that you never actually see and we cut to the aftermath, characters come and go behind the scenes and there is a tremendous amount of telling, rather than showing.

It was all over the place, and a more forgiving reader might appreciate it as some kind of non-linear tale, but it's mainly just confusing. The main characters go off into the big final battle that will kill them all, and three hundred pages later in a different book, they're all hanging out and telling each other they're family before they head off to their doom. But there is no guide, no explanation and certainly no footnotes to tell you where you are going.

It turned out to be a deeply unsatisfying way to follow the story. It might have worked in weekly installments, but collected like this, it's just nonsensical. It might have made a little more sense with some direction, even if the footnotes look corny as heck.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Blind spot of the dead

As I've got older and more and more people have access to the sum total of human knowledge on their fuckin' phones, my geek game has been shamed, over and over. Half-remembered facts and movie stills burned in the brain were no match for the fact power of the mighty IMDB.

And now that I've seen how much other people in the world care about the same dorky shit I do, I've come to the galling conclusion that I'm not at a real horror nerd, just a fairweather fan who likes all the obvious gory shit.

Because I somehow became the kind of geek who can give a reasonable account of what happens in, say, the Spanish Blind Dead ghoul films, without actually ever seeing any of them.

Growing up, I might have been the only kid in town I knew who could tell the obvious difference between John and Sal Buscema, but I had my limits and it's not just because I'm a lazy swine. 

It was just the age I grew up in, the one where things weren't always available. I was obsessed with Hammer horrors for a while, but it was more than a decade before I got to see their first Dracula. There would always be a bit of Fulci or whatever on the shelves at the local video rental places, but you'd be dreaming if you think you'd find a comprehensive collection.

What I did have access to was books - lots of books. Going through every second hand store in town and snapping up anything about horror movies I could find. I always signed up for every library I could in every town I lived in, and would just inhale that information they had between dusty covers.

And now I listen to a lot of podcasts and read a tonne of online essays every month, which shovel in more data and information, and I end up knowing a lot about movies, without having to resort to Wikipedia. I know all about the Tombs of the Blind Dead series - can name a bunch of the actors and directors, could rattle off a brief run-through of all the plots, and have seen enough small clips and trailers over the years to get a handle of the vibe.

But - and this is the fatal part - I don't feel the crushing need to actually see them. I watched Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar the other night, but still haven't seen a semi-classic horror film like the first Blind Dead shocker.

I don't have any excuse - you can find these kinds of films all over the show, no matter how obscure they get. There are a huge amount of them on youtube, and it might take literally seconds to track them down somewhere.

And yet, unless it served right up to me, I'm not likely to go out of my way to see it, because I have to be in a certain frame of mind to dig on grainy and gritty euro-horror, and that frame of mind is sadly rare.

I still might actually get down to it one day. I know that they can never live up to the fever dreams they inspired, and that impossible standard of anybody's imagination, but what ever could?

Sunday, November 7, 2021

We never lost control

Nirvana's performance of The Man Who Sold The World at their Unplugged gig broke my fucking heart. After Cobain's death, it felt like a clarion call out into a cold and dark universe, and those deep bass grooves just held wasted potential, infinite possibilities reduced down to one.

It was one of the most emotional things I had ever heard when I was 19, and I played it so much over the next two decades I thought I'd broke it. When it came on the radio, it didn't bite anymore. It was worse than hating it or getting sick of it, I just stopped giving a shit

But then it came on the CD player while I was driving into work the other day and it turns out I was wrong, and it's just as goddamned heartbreaking as ever. 

That final call out into the universe at the end of the song still sounds so inescapably lonely, but there is an answer and we can actually join together in perfect fucking harmony, if we can talk to creation like that.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

'71: I would be the poor cunt

 It tried really hard to fit in some political nuance among the tension, but '71 - the 2014 film about a soldier left behind in the badlands of Belfast - it fell into cliche and unlikely coincidence.

But I really do believe that the quote about all conflict being nothing more than 'rich cunts telling dumb cunts to kill poor cunts' is some kind of absolute war poetry.

Friday, November 5, 2021

A Star Trek time of life

It's taken more than 105 weeks, watching five episodes every seven days, but I've just finished watching all of the Star Trek shows from the 90s.

That's 526 episodes of Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager. I'd seen 100 percent, 80 percent and 20 percent of each series respectively before this mammoth re-watch, and when one of the local channels started playing a TNG episode every weekday a couple of years ago, it seemed like a good way to really dig into the adventures of Picard and crew.

And when that finished, they then slipped straight into DS9, so it seemed rude not to watch all seven seasons of that, and when that followed with Voyager, I had to give that a go, didn't I? (They aren't going on with Enterprise, but I'm not too worried about that.)

There were some slogs, some nonsense and I never want to see another holodeck episode ever anywhere (the baseball episode of DS9 was the only one that worked), but there were some surprises in there.

The TNG team is always my crew, (my first paycheque went on a TV aerial so we could pick up season 3), but I somehow ended up liking Voyager more than DS9 - it had its share of duff episodes, but didn't have the endless war and Bajoran politics and all those fucking prophecies. There were just more unexpected thrills in the Delta quadrant. And sometimes it all got weirdly emotional, and even duff stories could have moments of real pathos, and when you watch the stories of the same people for months at a time, you do give a shit when they get married, or die, or just move on.

But the past two years of watching Star Trek have also coincided with the first two years of parenthood, and they're always going to be linked, always together. They're hard days, but I've watched the adventures of Starfleet with the kids sleeping on me, or while I've been changing their nappies, or while we eat some chips after Rhyme Time at the library. 

It must be obvious to anybody who has been reading this blog that I have a terrible habit of stapling my memories of real life onto the pop media I consume, and that's just the way I work - I'll always be more fond of the Voyager because of how many I watched at this particular time in my life.

A lot of it blurs together and there are only so many anomalies and warp core breaches you can really handle, but that Star Trek vibe, of all those crews and the way they deal with the final frontier, that's there. I bonded with the new lifeforms over them, and that bond isn't ever going away.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Bond's second unit crew: Nobody does it better

My current home town of Auckland has been in a strict lockdown for a while now, so I haven't been allowed to watch the new James Bond film yet. I literally saw the first Daniel Craig Bond on my wedding day, but I still have to wait for the last.

A global pandemic teaches you some goddamn patience, so I'll see it when I see it. It's been surprisingly easy to dodge most of the spoilers, but I do expect it to be awkwardly mawkish in the way the Craig films have all indulged in. Especially because it's his last - they put out a documentary about it being his final Bond that was one hour of total cringe.

But I don't care about that, because I don't judge Bond films by their plots or their acting or anything like that. I only ever judge them on the second unit work.

It's the crazy stunt work, the action scenes, the fucking injection of adrenaline that comes with every movie. The absolute mad bastards who throw themselves off cliffs and flip cars in ways they shouldn't be flipped. The fight teams that make the punches feel like they land, and the acrobats who fly through the air. The cameraperson who gets rid down to the dirt in a high speed car chase and delivers shots of power and fury.

(It goes without saying that no footage, no matter how spectacular - is worth any actual human pain and suffering, and all this insanity shown on screen must follow strict safety protocols in real life.)

The rest of the film can be as arch or grim or hard boiled as it likes, as long as it's built on a solid foundation of meat and potatoes action filming. And even an objectively bad film like Moonraker has that astonishing parachute fight (and a great villain, and fucking Jaws).

They started getting into the CGI too much in the later Bronsons, and the series suffered. There was an obvious course correction with Casino Royale and the physicality and soaring heights of the opening chase scene, but later films still had moments of confusing nonsense.

And now the Bond films have lost some of their reputation for the greatest stunts in the world to Tom bloody Cruise, who is genuinely doing great things for cinema by strapping himself to the side of a fucking plane. 

But when the real artists of mayhem work with the best craftspeople of film on a Bond film, nobody really does it better.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Tank Girl on acid

The Tank Girl movie always seemed way too self consciously hip to really catch on, but has still built a sizable reputation in the years since, and has come to be seen as something that helped kickstart a particular brand of girl power, one that threw sass at the whole world at the turn of the millennium.

Good for it. The movie actually got a lot of the attitude of Tank Girl and chums right, but while it failed to hoover up the charm of co-creator Jamie Hewlett's excellent art, I thought it was terrific when I first saw it and have had an absolutely massive crush for Naomi Watts ever since.

Then again I was fuckin' peaking on some potent acid when I saw it for that first time, and anything would have been genuinely mind-blowing on that. It was all pretty predictable and I melted into the seat as the swirled down into the apocalypse on screen. I needed one of the truly massive cream buns from the 24 dairy to bring me back to earth after that. Good times!

I'm not saying you need psychedelic drugs to enjoy movies, but sometimes it doesn't hurt.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Can a Shatner become self aware?

While I know I probably should be, I'm really not ashamed of the very short period in my life when I was really, really into William Shatner's Tekwar novels. It didn't last long, and I swiftly moved on to Vonnegut and Heller like all good people. There was just one summer where I was taking what I could get, and all I could get was fucking TekWars.

But nothing Shatner ever wrote was as good as the end of one of his autobiographies, where he goes to have a chat with his old shipmates, and is mortified to discover they all hated his guts, and thought he was an arrogant prima donna who treated them all like shit. Also, he was often just a horrible person, and continues to be so to this day.

Shatner has long been an avuncular and narcissistic presence, but surely he must have known how much he was disliked by a lot of the cast. His bafflement is almost convincing, but that would just make his narcissism even more real.

The novels where they bring Captain Kirk back to life after Generations might have been tempting once, but I haven't read anything by Shatner in 25 years. And yet, I think about that delusion and whether he was fooling anybody. 

I don't even know if I've been fooled, but I still think about that a whole lot more than I think about bloody TekWars, anyway.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Mystery Train and other soundtracks

There I was in the late teens, right at the age when music is the most important thing in the world to you and all your peers, and all I really wanted to listen to was movie soundtracks on the walkman.

My mates would come back from university visits with things like the first stirrings of Britpop - I still remember how baffled I was by Simon's 'girls who are boys who like boys to be girls' song when he tried to explain it - and there I am, listening to the fucking Mystery Train soundtrack as I walk around town

The wife hates Jarmusch, but I've been there for his films since finding the chunky Mystery Train video tape at Video Ezy, sometime in the early 90s. I turned out to be a complete sucker for that effortless cool, that lack of rush, the bright minimalism.

I had to get that soundtrack after that, and got the tape from Warren at Rhino Records, and got heavily into the most laid-back Elvis I ever heard, the soft, fast pulsing of Roy Orbison and the languid strolling of John Lurie's score.

I still went and got sweaty at all sorts of gigs and we all blasted the speakers on the cars we were driving with the latest heavy tunes, but music can be enjoyed in so many different ways, and I was also deeply into walking around town with the walkman, stretching the legs and feeding the head.

And the Mystery Train soundtrack was fucking perfect for walking around town on an Sunday afternoon. That's what the music was created for, to go with the visuals of foreign people on the wide streets of Memphis, and that's what it produced in my real world steps.

After dark, I would burn off all that frustrating adolescent energy with another soundtrack, and the Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me album was often on the headphones - the empty darkness of the world filled with the stuttering bass of The Black Dog Runs At Night, but all that dread was defeated by the inevitable strut of A Real Indication.

I had the soundtracks for In The Name Of The Father, and Flash Gordon, and all the Tarantino movies - Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, True Romance and Natural Born Killers - and they were the perfect intersection in the love for both movies and music, and they were all played hundreds and hundreds of times.

Tapes endure over time, and I still have all of these cassettes. I've got them out of the cupboard and onto the alarm clock tape player. My kids don't seem too impressed, but these tapes will still be here when they're struggling to find their own musical tastes, and I have a few ideas to get them started.