Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Star Ache

If they could bottle up and create energy from pure adolescent longing, the feelings I had when I saw these kinds of ads for Star Wars toys in Marvel and DC comics could power a star destroyer

I didn't have a chance of getting my hands on them, not down on the arse end of the world. Almost none of these toys showed up in my local toy shops. We counted ourselves lucky to get a Walrus Man, and couldn't dream of a stormtrooper. These things might as well be actual spaceships, for all the rarity around my parts.

Star Wars toys are everywhere now, but I'm not seven anymore either. Still, the lingering feelings could probably jumpstart a landspeeder.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Deadwood: You're here with friends

As much as anybody, I know that lists of the top 50 movies/tv/novels/comic/songs/whatever are designed to provoke debate and argument. Everyone brings their own subjective views to them and you'll never please everybody all of the time. But when a local media outlet did a list of the top 50 television shows made by HBO, and none of them were Deadwood, I could only assume it was some kind of clerical error.

I'll patiently listen to anybody who says that The Newsroom is a great TV show, (they're wrong), but even the very best of the shows on that list rarely reach the joys of this moment in Deadwood where the dying Reverend Smith is struck down by a monstrous ailment that he worries is threatening his immortal soul, only to be assured of friendship and compaionship, with the simplest of declarations. Such a moment of grace, such compassion, such beauty. 

(Also, my wife firmly believes that the bit where Alma's scumbag father tells Bullock that if he's going to take his swing, he best do it - and then Seth beats the living shit out of him and declares that anybody else who puts her in jeopardy should expect the same -  is the sexiest thing that ever fucking happened in the world. I love it too, and she might be right, but my favourite bit in that scene is Ricky Jay's immortal 'gentlemen, watch the felt')


Monday, November 28, 2022

Alex Ross: Look at this photograph

After years of browsing the magazine racks in all the bookstores, I'd trained my brain well to look for the sharp lines and bright colours of comic book covers by the early 90s. Almost everything has gone digital these days, and mag sales have fallen through the floor, but once upon a time there used to be hundreds and hundreds of regular magazines showing up at the local stores.

The comics would always be lumped in with the lifestyle mags and the car magazines and cooking recipe things that I profoundly did not care about, but it was never hard to find the comics tucked away in one corner. The flimsy things never produced the profits worthy of the space and would be shoved down with all the other kids stuff.

But there I was in 1992, seeing if there was anything new besides the latest issue of the Red Dwarf Smegazine at the local branch of Paper Plus, and was about to walk away when I realised that there was a picture of Spider-Man on the magazine behind the boring old Beano.

It turned out to be the first issue of Hero Illustrated that I ever found. A Wizard knock-off, I saw Hero long before I ever saw an issue of the original mag, and it blew my freakin' mind. I never grew up with magazines about comics - no Comics Buyers Guide, no Journal, no nothing - I got most of my comic news from the Bullpen Bulletins, or by seeing what titles had vanished from the subscription forms.

But this chunk of magazine was just saturated in news and reviews and interviews. It was the place where I first found out about Bone or got told to read the Robinson/Smith Golden Age story. Even the much derided price guide was indispensable in a pre-internet age, just for finding out when Morrison started on Doom Patrol.

I fucking loved that magazine - and still have it today - and right from the start I was glad that my eyes hadn't just slid right over that photo on the cover. And then it took me hours to realise that it wasn't a photo - I'd  just thought that it was another one of those attempts to capture superheroes in photos, I just thought it was some kind goofy fumetti shit.

It was stunning to realise it was a painting, and that it was so damn realistic. On any kind of close inspection it was obviously a painting, but even as I snatched it up off the shelves, I thought it was real

I've read and enjoyed all of Ross' work since. Marvels was just the comic I needed when I moved far away from home, and Kingdom Come was the sharp end of DC 90s. I thought his Uncle Sam thing was terrific, and even those big tabloid schmaltz fests had weight to them. I haven't had a chance to see the new FF book he's done yet, but I like the different style and the garish colour on the little I've seen.

And sure, there is always going to be a part of me that thinks it really does all look like some kind of goofy fumetti shit, I still remember that small shock of realising what his art really was, and how satisfying it was. And how much beautiful information about the four-colour funnies that lurked beneath those paints.

Sunday, November 27, 2022


That feeling, man, that feeling of sitting in the cinema waiting to see something great, there's nothing that ever beats that. It was true when I was five and it was true when I was 27 and wrote this nonsense and it's true now.



    He’s eighteen… 

    The entrance is near, and there’s just one last obstacle. He so close he can feel the air currents shift as they swirl through the doors, but he can’t relax yet. He needs to concentrate; he needs to deal with it. Jacob Skin needs to give his ticket to the usher, or she won’t let him into the movie theatre.

    Momentary mind scream as he can’t find his ticket, quickly stifled when he realizes Kay’s got them, and she hasn’t come back from the toilet yet. She’s only been gone ten minutes. Skin’s known her his entire life. He knows where her priorities are. He knows he needs to sit down and wait; she’s going to be a while yet.

    No hurry, as he slumps down into a nearby seat, hiding back behind the large pot plant the cinema had been kind enough to place there. It won’t start for another fifteen minutes and Kay’s never late. Best to just chill out and watch the people wander past. With the faint smell of hot butter lingering in the air, he watches two men peer at a beautifully designed poster for a coming attraction, the taller one leaning in closer to read the credits written in thin, pale lettering.

    Skin scans the lobby of the cinema. It’s one of the older theatres, long ago built to hide a depression that didn’t really exist. Nearly fifty and the ornate decorations are starting to show their age, but the plush crimson carpet has been recently replaced, and the sense of history & nostalgia that coats the building covers over any other flaws.

    There’s nearly a hundred people scattered about, with all the stereotypes on display. An earnest young woman with short red hair frowns as she reads the Camus book she never leaves home without. A group of children, their show over, waiting for their ride, unreliable parents always later than they think, waiting for the inevitable questions, already chewing up the imagery in their heads, already trying to make sense of it all. Three men in cheap jeans and expensive tee shirts, tossing back the popcorn, still half-pissed from the night before.

     “Jacob?” says Kay, stepping right into his field of vision, blocking the flow of imagery with an incredible smile that wipes out Skin’s heart for the ninth time today. “You ready?”

     “Sure,” shrugs Skin, glancing at his watch and unsurprised to find he’s been zoned out for longer than he’d realized. After all, Skin wasn’t entirely sure what day it was.

     “What day is it, anyway?” he mumbles, standing up on unsteady legs as Kay leads him toward the entrance. “Monday?”

     “Idiot,” says Kay, not looking back as she passes their tickets over to the usher, who waves them both through with true courtesy.

     Skin follows her, stepping into the darkness of the theatre. He stumbles forward, desperately trying to blink away the gloom. Glancing over to his right as they make their way toward the screen, he can just make out figures sitting in the dark, but he can’t tell how many there are.

     He has no idea how many are staring at him.

     “Oi, Jacob,” hisses Kay. “Over here, dickhead.”

     Her caustic tones dampen his paranoia a little, but not enough to wonder why he’s walking with inordinately long steps. Breathing deeply, he stumbles down between empty seats and crashes down on the seat next to Kay, already taking her coat off and settling down. Third row, somewhere in the middle. Same as always.

     Silent exaltation as he closes his eyes and thanks the Gods. He’s made it. Never mind the bollocks at the door. It had been too long since he’d heard about this film. It’d been so long to wait. Teenage desolation left him convinced he’d be dead long before the premiere, but he’d made it, against all odds. Now he was here.

     He leans over to tell Kay of his triumph, but decides against it at the last moment and sits back, ignoring her curious stare. Leaning back, he concentrates on the blank screen directly in front of them; it’s ashen surface glowing faintly in the dark. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Kay about to say something, but she pulls back.

     Scratching the back of his neck, Skin tries to make out what the voice inside his head is saying. It’s been whispering away since early this morning, but he hasn’t been able to make out the words. But now, sitting in the expectant hush of the theatre, the pop music being piped in through the cinema’s speakers too dull to acknowledge, the voice is coming through loud and proud. And it’s insulting him.

     You stupid fuck, it says to him in a harsh whisper which seems to be coming from just in front of his right ear. Too young to know anything. You haven’t been through the Bone Gate and been hyper-realized. You don’t know what the end of time smells like. You haven’t played the Engram Game. Christ, you don’t even know what happens to Kay on her nineteenth birthday.

     “Fuck you,” snarls Skin automatically, ignoring the strange glance Kay is giving him again. The voice cuts out straight away, and Skin slumps further into the seat, trying to hide inside his own clothes.

     “Are you okay?” asks Kay, rubbing his shoulder.

     Smiling weakly, Skin nods. “I’m fine. Not enough sleep last night, you know?”

     That’s good enough for Kay, and slipping her hand into his, she sits back and watches the screen, waiting for the first flicker of action. Squeezing her hand tightly, Skin’s mind races as he tries to think of a way of telling her how much she means to him, but there are no words.

     So he sits back and waits in silence.

     Nine rows back, Kyle turns to Max and tries to steal some of his popcorn. “So what does happen to Kay on her nineteenth birthday anyway?”

     “It’s really simple,” answers Max, scowling as he slaps away Kyle’s hand. “She makes a deal with a minor anthrologicalectoplasmic entity to stay young, but it all goes horribly wrong. She ends up stuck in a time fluke every year on her birthday, at five fifty five in the morning. When she’s in the fluke time appears to stop for her, and doesn’t start up again for nearly a thousand years. She can’t interact with anybody or anything when she’s in this state. It’s just like Mon-El, only on an annual basis. By the time she turns twenty-seven she’s really over nine thousand years old, the vast majority of the time without any kind of contact whatsoever, and she has to keep ditching inessential memories or she’ll lose her mind completely. In the end, she can only remember her love for Skin, and everything else is irrelevant. That’s why she keeps changing her name. She can’t remember it. She knows it starts with a ‘K’, but she can’t remember it.”

     “Who’s Mon-El?” asked Kyle.

     “It’s ‘Legion Of Super Heroes’, you arsehole.”

     “Oh. Yeah, but wouldn’t Skin notice?”

     “No,” sighs Max. “He’s thick as pig shit. He doesn’t find out for many, many years. He just thinks she changes her name to be kinky.”

     “Jesus. That’s pretty fucked up.”

     “I know,” says Max, suddenly sick of his popcorn and offering it to Kyle. “But you try getting all that crap into this story.”

     “Huh… Don’t you think you’re taking this fourth wall thing a bit far?”

     “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

     Fighting the strange, sudden urge to turn around, Skin covers his head with his hands and breathes deeply in through his fingers. Anticipation is building by the second, and all he has to do is sit here and take it. The first adverts kick in, but Skin isn’t listening, the sound of his own breath deafening in his ears.

    He’d had to smoke a fat one out in the car park on his own, with Kay on her current Straight Edge vibe, and it was really starting to kick in now. After a day of heavy lifting, his muscles were finally starting to relax, tiny aches unknotting and fading away. His head felt bigger, and now, sitting in the dark, he feels safe and secure.

     Safe behind the wall of ultra-rays bursting out of his head, his brain takes another step up and his thoughts start to come apart like snowflakes on a hot summer’s day. The simplest sentence is deconstructed before it gets any further than the frontal lobes, and the simple running commentary of his actions falls apart, the narrative descending into stream of consciousness, just like all the cool kids do.

     His thoughts might be smeared across his mind like cheap butter, but he’s still hanging out for the film. Still waiting, still waiting. Charged up, waiting to feel something, anything. Hoping for one of those moments, hoping for a spark of the beautiful, hoping against hope for a touch of the divine.

     Coming on in the unlikeliest of places, in the strangest of stories, but welcomed all the same. Offered to the viewer, a point where it all comes together, when deeper emotions are touched by the simplest of gestures, touched by the little things.

     An act of honor, a sight unseen, an act of rebellion, a gesture of defiance. A piece of music that scars the soul, a camera shot that shows us the world. The unexpected twist, the sudden revelation. A silent stare, a rousing speech. Events that carry extra weight with the easiest of triggers. Hope, loyalty, willpower, love, forgiveness, all the usual suspects.

     “Am I making any sense?” snaps Skin, turning to the camera and spitting into the lens. “It’s another one of those feelings, one of those things you just can’t put into words. A feeling that’s bigger than everything, and just as hard to articulate. A base emotion, a glimpse into what it’s all about. Hope for the future, man. Do you know what I mean?”

     “Did you say something?” says Kay, tapping Skin lightly on the shoulder and waking him up out of his trance. Blinking furiously, Skin wipes away the mess in his mind and starts over.

     Smiling sedately, his eyelids barely open, he answers. “I didn’t say anything.”

     Kay smiles, her face fading as the lights dim before the start of the film. She leans over and gently kisses him on the cheek before leaning back and staring up at the screen.

     Skin wants to follow her gaze, wants to look up. But he can’t. He knows he’s blown his wad too early, and his expectations for the film he’s about to watch have turned on themselves and self-destructed. Hype and love for the source material has pushed him as far as he’s going to go, and he doesn’t want to go over the edge. The film has no power over him, he has no interest.

     The movie is about to start, but Skin is already staring at the exit.

The End


Saturday, November 26, 2022

Great kickings in comics: Lois Lane edition

* Previously, on great kickings in comics

I was raised on the fine comic book adventures published in the Superman Family by DC in the early 80s, and they taught me how to be honest and decent and brave, and that there was nothing sexier in this world than Lois Lane kicking the shit out of some thug with her six inch heels ,especially when it was drawn by the criminally underappreciated Bob Oksner.

The second hottest thing in the world is when she would go out dressed up in her black burglar outfit to break into some dodgy company and get the scoop. 

Jeez louise, Lois.

Friday, November 25, 2022

The morning session at the cinema

It doesn't happen much anymore, because life has other priorities at this stage of things, but one of the great tiny pleasures of my life is going to see a movie at the theatre in a morning show, before the afternoon even gets going, and having the whole day to think about it afterwards

In the 90s, I did it all the time. When I first moved out of home and was unemployed on the dole, I would go to the cheap matinee sessions for most of the films I watched. I saw The Shawshank Redemption in an empty cinema on a Wednesday afternoon, (although I remember how nobody wanted to see it, so it probably would have been just as empty on a Friday night), and could sob loudly over Andy Dufresne's journey to freedom like a goddamn mug.

Sometime in 1996, I get an unexpected day off work the week that 12 Monkeys has opened up, and I go to the 10.30 screening, and come out of it into the noon sun with all the emotions in the world brewing over, stunned by the optimism that can still be found after the end of all things.

Me and my mate Anthony drove from Timaru to Christchurch to see Pulp Fiction in the very first showing at the Hoyts 8 on Moorhouse, and have time to see four other films ,including a nother go at the Pulp before we head home.

That cinema  complex is gone now, a victim of the 2011 earthquakes, and was usually a favourite late night place. But I also saw Heavenly Creatures there one early Saturday, and then went hiking in those exact same hills where the murder actually happened afterwards, and when I got there, the strangeness of it all was overwhelmed by the irritation when I discovered that I'd left the best sunglasses I'd ever had in my life in the cinema, and I never saw them again.

Going to movies early in the day is like eating breakfast at night - just slightly wrong and weirdly tasty. But it's also so much more relaxed, if you can find the time. And while I'm glad to get to any movie I can these days, I miss the morning session.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

We don't need to know what Judge Dredd is thinking

I'm been reading Judge Dredd comics ever since I was 5-years-old, and collect almost all the Dredd comics I can get, even when the Megazine went through some truly dodgy periods. (Although I don't get any of the American versions, because even I have my limits.) 

You can tell any kind of story in a Judge Dredd comic, and that has certainly been part of its long appeal. But while I still gave those American versions of the character a go before rejecting them like the mega snob I am, there is one thing I can not abide and will not touch, and that's Dredd in prose.

I hated every single short story they wrote when it was filler in the old annuals and yearbooks, and I've never been tempted by the many books written over the years. There were a few novels in the 90s that didn't really go anywhere, the odd one-off like the Dredd vs Death book to tie into the game (which I still feel guilty about accidentally shoplifting 20 years ago), and a tonne of e-books, novellas and printed omnibus version in the past decade.

They are often created by writers who have done some marvellous comics work with the character, and often have a good idea or two.They tell tales set at interesting points in Dredd's timeline and no doubt give some new insights into the world of Judge Joe Dredd.

And I hate them all. I hate the way they fill in the small details that didn't need to be filled in. The way they have to describe all the details of life in Mega-City One, instead of seeing it for yourself in the art. I hate the way that writers who are restrained by the terse nature of the regular Dredd shit get to overwrite the shit out of everything.

But mainly I don't like getting inside the head of a judge. I particularly don't want to get inside Dredd's head, and have no interest in wondering what thoughts are behind that the implacable visor

It just feels wrong. It feels as wrong when someone who lacks the skill of o-creator John Wagner (which is pretty much everybody else in the world) gives him too many introspective captions in the strip. We don't need to know what Dredd is thinking, unless he's wondering what bullet to use on a scumbag perp.

I can go for the Dredd movies, because they have the same sense of comics, where you only get what you see and hear coming from the characters, and they don't have to pad out pages describing how the garbage grinders in Mega City One work (and considering how many perps somehow end up in them, doesn't really deal with why there really aren't better safety standards).

It's the dream of the modern entertainment corporate, to have a character or property that can translate to multiple mediums, but sometimes a character is only at their best in the original context, and Dredd really does belong to the comics.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Payback: I knew I'd seen that ass before

While it definitely has its moments of pulp charm, Payback is far from the best movie based on one of Richard Stark's Parker books. But by God, Gregg Henry might be the nastiest piece of shit in any of the films.

There's a bit where poor old David Paymer is telling him what a badass this 'Porter' guy looks like, and Henry gives me such a repellent look, of brutal entitlement and meanness, like he ain't no pushover himself. (He ain't, but he's also a shitweasel.)

Henry often played the dickhead, but is just so repulsive in this film, right up until he gets shot in the face. He gets off lightly. What an asshole.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Bored of the best ever

There's an increasingly irritating tendency to give in to all the hype, to really buy into the bullshit, and confidently declare that some new piece of entertainment is the greatest thing in the history of forever. Or that it's the biggest pile of shit ever created. Nothing in-between - it's always got to be the best, or nothing at all.

It's understandable we all want to think we live in the most fascinating of all times, and that the entertainment we consume is the biggest and bets ever, and don't really recognise that so much of the current culture is purely disposable, and that vast swathes of it are just okay.

Sporting events have been doing it for decades, and promising that their games and matches and races are the most amazing thing to happen, and sometimes they even deliver the greatest spectacle on the planet, because things like that can happen in the unpredictable world of high-impact sports.

At the movies, it's genuinely hard to figure out the worthy from the over-hyped, especially when the experience of any film is going to be so subjective. The Marvel movies are the best example of this, where new films are endlessly praised as the best thing ever, or panned as the worst possible outcome, when the inexorable truth is the films are fine, just fine.

It's weird to meet people who revere them, just as much as it's off-putting to met somebody who won't go on about how much they're all because they're all okay. That's all.

There are still great things out there that Stan Lee never dreamed of, and sometimes you can watch something that just blows you away, but mos of the time it's all just hype, it's all part of the game, it's all a bit tedious.

The worst part is that it does drown out those things that are genuinely great, because they are out there. They may really be the greatest thing we've all ever seen, but how much can you trust a crowd that falls loudly for every new Scream movie. 

And I still believe that anybody who says some big new Hollywood thing is the worst movie ever made, because I've seen Curse of the Cannibal Confederates, and that's a low, low bar to tumble over.

It's everywhere in culture now (although I'm not sure if this is part of the nerd culture bleeding through and infecting the mainstream, like the entitlement and tribalism you see everywhere these days), and it's harder to convince anybody that it's okay that some things are just fine. They don't have to be the most amazing thing in the history of forever, sometimes pretty good is good enough.

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy: I still think digital watches are pretty neat

Douglas Adams would have an excellent metaphor for the way his writing affected me when I first read the Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy when I was 10. He would say that his writing hit my brain with the force of a mailbag full of drunken salamanders or something.

But nobody can ever quite write like Douglas Adams did, and he hasn't been with us for a long, long time now to do it, so I'll just have to say that reading Hitch-Hikers at an extremely impressionable age was one of the very best things to ever happen to me.

Before the book, my first exposure to the worlds of Douglas Adams were sometime in the early 80s, when a local radio station was playing the original Hitch-Hikers Guide To the Galaxy radio show, and only caught a bit of it.

I didn't understand a bloody thing. I couldn't figure out why that guy could Zaphod had two heads, or even what a pan galactic gargle blaster. It was a scary and atmospheric and echoed around my young brain for a while, until I stumbled across the first book.

A family friend let me borrow it, the paperback with the running colours that told you nothing about the wit and pleasure that lay within. I promised I've give it back to them, but I never did, and I still feel a bit guilty about it, even as the book still sits in a pride of place at the top shelf of my best bookcase in the living room

But everyone should go through a Douglas Adams phase, it's good for you. Even if only for the wonderful, wonderful writing, which made fun of the dullest dullards, finding metaphors for the human condition in the endless spaceways of the universe.

The high absurdity of the adventures always balanced out by the dour common sense of Arthur Dent, who might be the hero of the story, but doesn't really do anything, just swept along by the silliness. (At least he had some common decency. Arthur doesn't force his ways of thinking on the people he meets out there - unless you count his many terrible attempts to teaching the locals to brew a cup of tea, he just goes with the flow.)

And Adams would never be happy with just one bit of silliness, there were always more layers to it.The description of how to fly is good enough (throw yourself ant the ground, but just kind of miss it), but to then be whacked in the small of a back by a floating party as you soar through the air is just perfect. Cricket isn't just a dull thing the English foisted on the world, but a symbol of the most awful and destructive war the universe has ever known, because of course it does.

I read all the Hitch-Hikers books multiple times (although not the post Adams ones, because they prove how incredibly difficult it is to maintain that tone), have rewatched his Dr Who episodes a lot, and followed Dirk Gently on his quietly philosophical adventures. The first Neil Gaiman thing I ever read was his book about Hitch-Hikers.

The Hitch-Hiker books have aged spectacularly well, no doubt due to a vein of humour that isn't 100% cringe in the 21st century, another small impossibility Adams pulled off before breakfast. The original radio series is more timeless than the 80s TV show (although the use of that theme song is immortal), and even the maligned 2005 film has some lovely moments.

But I will always just be so glad to stumble across these books at just the right time in my life. When you're 10-years-old, and starting to figure out how the world works and how you fit into it, a worldview that incorprates insanely clever writing, a bit of total ridiculousness, a truckload of disrepect for blind authority and some deep humanity is just what you need. even if we do all get blown up right at the start.

Sunday, November 20, 2022


This was written in 2004, which only makes it nearly 20 years ago. It was just before I got my shit together, but I still feel Lipstick Shit sometimes.

    One two three, one two three.....


     "It all fell down at the end. We thought we'd made it, we thought we'd won, but it was all just another one of his fucking illusions. We can't be blamed for that. It's not our fault. I mean, if he controls our perception, how can he not be a magician? How could we handle that? How could we be expected to handle that?"

     "No. It wasn't good enough."

     "We did our best."

     "Not good enough."





     He doesn't really stand a chance and he knows it, but he doesn't want to die. Not just yet. He's still got so much to do and he's damned if he's going down to these bastards.
    But here, standing on the roof of the Car With No Name, (currently running a little over twice the speed limit through the deserted city streets), Doctor Skin is having a little trouble staying on his feet. He knows he needs to regain his balance if he really does want to survive the next few seconds, and he's not sure he's up for it.

     "I can't die now," he moans as the first ninja leaps onto the roof beside him. "I haven't seen the new 'Star Wars' film yet."

     The assassin facing off against him takes no notice of the inane babbling like the consummate professional he is. He doesn't hesitate in going for Skin's eyes, irreparable damage on the agenda.

     Skin's having none of that, and kicks the fucker in the bollocks. The ninja's eyes roll up into his skull and he falls off the car, coming to rest in the gutter, lying among fresh vomit and old McDonalds wrappers.

     "Bloody hell!" cries Skin as the car takes a corner at high speed, missing an extraordinarily well placed telephone pole by centimetres. Skin nearly comes off the roof himself, and only remains by lying flat and gripping the windows with fierce terror. "Take it easy, baby!"

     "Sorry," says Katherine, putting both hands back on the wheel. Her fingers are still greasy from the KFC she's trying to eat, and she braces the steering wheel against her knees and licks her hands clean, tossing the remains of her meal out the window. Chicken bones and cold fries scatter the landscape, and a colony of extremely nasty fire ants living by a fire hydrant dine on the scraps for weeks.
    Life goes on, in the most unexpected ways.

    "You're not taking this seriously enough," says Lipstick Shit, sitting in the passenger seat, her body language screaming disgust and infamy. "You still think this is a game, don't you?"

     "Fuck off," snarls Katherine, removing the Shit from the world with a complicated series of belief/denial mind strategies. She takes her eyes off the road for an instant to rummage around inside the glove department. Determined not to conform to stereotypes she suppresses a natural squeal of delight when she finds what she's looking for and passes it out the window to her partner on the roof.

     "What the hell?" he moans, holding the staple gun up. "What am I supposed to do with this?"

     "It's full of adamantium staples," yells Katherine, reaching over to turn the volume on the stereo all the way up. "It's the best I can do, and I can do no more."

     He's got a witty retort saved up for this very moment, but he doesn't get the chance to use it, with the explosion of noise coming from the speakers. The music is one of Katherine's mixes, an amalgamation of the hardest tunes in their sizeable LP collection. AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Sticky Filth, Andrew WK, some Sabbath, a little Led Zep and some early Iggy, it's all here, all at the same time. It's not good, but it is very, very noisy.

     Skin shrugs, grateful all the same, and he staples his left boot to the roof of the car. It ruins the leather, but centres him, and he's ready for anything now.

     Luck is still going his way, as Skin finishes just in time to see ninjas falling from the sky like a Frank Miller wet dream. Doctor Skin lifts his chin, whispers an old prayer to the setting sun, and stands his ground.

     The first ninja lands, and his eagerness is his undoing. With seconds to go until the mass is upon him Skin takes his time with this one, stapling his hands and feet together and tossing him into a passing mailbox. It's all too easy and Skin throws the staple gun away, ready to fight fairly.

     The ninjas fall on him, and Skin fights back with hands, head and one foot, kicking, punching and headbutting anything in range. Katherine starts swaying the car from side to side, and while Skin isn't sure if she's trying to help or not, he uses it to his full advantage, throwing ninjas off onto the pavement with a bare minimum of effort.

     And then the deluge stops, and the car speeds quietly through the city street, the broken bodies of the last assassins receding away into the distance. Skin scowls as he sees the small tear in the sleeve of his jacket, but is pleased to discover he got through it with no more than cuts and bruises.

     Skin squats down into the lotus position and nearly snaps his foot off before remembering the stapled footwear. Taking his boot off and finally getting comfortable, he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He'd like to think he's through the worst of it, but a lifetime of TV, film, comics and video games have taught him to expect some kind of climax.

     And when it comes, he isn't surprised by how sexy it is.


     "So I had this dream the other night where DC rang me up and told me they wanted me to write 'Planetary'. I don't know why, I've only read the first trade, but they wanted me to write it, all the same. So I thought I better prove myself, and I started to write a short story about The Drummer, but then I found myself in that story, and The Drummer was driving a purple Mitsubishi Evo 7 along this dark highway, and he turned to me and said 'Stranger every year'. Then he started going on about how fantasising was related to head space, but it didn't make any sense, so I woke up. What do you suppose that means?"

     "Uh huh.."

     "Yeah? What do you think?"

    "What the fuck is a Planetary?" 



   It begins as a swarm of large, fat, aerodynamically unsound bumble bees, hovering directly above the car, keeping up the pace. There's millions of the little swine, and Skin gets to his feet, wishing he'd remembered to pack the insect repellent.

     But as the bees dive down towards the car, they transform, altering in the blink of an eye. A cloud of extremely long daggers with esoteric handles fall towards Skin, who waits patently, sure that this isn't the final form.

     He's right again as the daggers fuse together with a flash of purple light. Skin blinks once and looks at the woman standing beside him, her hairstyle, (short, black, bright red streaks), clothes, (leather, plastic, oddly placed metal) and body language, (sullen, sultry, sexy) biting at Skin's soul. The woman smiles and steps toward him, her eyes blazing red.

     "Enter Agent L.O.V.E.," she says, her voice reminding Skin of a rainy Sunday afternoon. She slaps her hands together, and takes a sidestep across the roof of the car. Skin circles with her, leaving nothing to chance, leaving no front exposed.

     "What do you want?" he asks, knowing he probably won't like the answer.

     "Let me in!" cries Agent L.O.V.E., stepping forward suddenly and slamming the flat of her palm against his chest, driving the breath from his body. Skin crumbles to his knees and struggles for air. Agent L.O.V.E. stands over him and grabs him by the throat, pulling him back to his feet. Holding his face to hers, she smiles sweetly. "Let me in. Open your heart and let me in."

     "No entry," says Doctor Skin, his eyes hardening, smashing his elbow into her throat. She drops him, but recovers in an instant, trying to hold onto his arms. He drops b"What is he doing up there?"

     Lipstick Shit is back, different gender, but same sparkling personality, and he laughs at her, cruelly. "Stupid cunt. Don't you recognise the sound of cheating?"

     Katherine screams at full volume, drowning out the imaginary voice of the imaginary person sitting next to her. The Shit departs again, but leaves behind the sick aroma of his presence. Gagging on the smell, Katherine grabs onto the handbrake and pulls up hard.

     The Car With No Name squeals to a halt, spinning around twice and leaving half its tread on the road below. Doctor Skin and Agent L.O.V.E. don't stand a chance, flying off the roof, they tumble onto the road. Skin rolls and eventually lands on his feet, coming to no harm. Agent L.O.V.E. just stops in mid air, and floats around until she's approximately standing straight.

     She drifts towards Skin, holding her hands out in front of her, one curled up into a fist, the other flexing unconsciously. "I don't want to hurt you. I just want in."

     "Who are you?"

     Agent L.O.V.E. looks almost hurt, but quickly covers the expression with another lovely smile. "I'm everything that's good in the world, Jakob."

     "Yeah?" laughs Skin, standing his ground as she drifts closer. "I thought you'd be taller."

    She's nearly reached him now, and Agent L.O.V.E. reaches out for him, only to hurriedly draw back as the air between them is suddenly filled with extremely nasty high calibre bullets.

     "Back off, baby," snarls Katherine, leaning on the bonnet of the car, her gun hanging loosely in her hand, but definitely pointed directly at Agent L.O.V.E. "Or the next one is going right through those perfectly balanced tits of yours."

     Skin looks between the two women, and knows what he has to do. Stepping directly into the line of fire, he holds his hands up. "It's okay, Katherine. It's all right. You mean no harm, yeah?"

     "Yeah," sighs Agent L.O.V.E., a little unnerved by the size of the barrel she's staring down. "Sorry about the antagonism at the start there. It was just foreplay."

     "I know," says Skin.

     "Oh yeah?" says an unsatisfied Katherine. "Then what about the sodding ninjas?"

     Agent L.O.V.E. shrugs, the effect oddly comical when you're floating three feet off the ground. "They weren't mine. I don't know who sent them."

     "I think I do," says Skin darkly, before turning back to his girlfriend. "Katherine. Put the gun away."

     "Oh, for fuck's sake," moans Katherine, leaning further back on the car, hiding the gun in the folds of her jacket and lighting a joint with the other hand in one smooth move. "Make up your bloody mind."

     "I have," whispers Skin. He turns to Agent L.O.V.E. "I'll do what you want."

     "You'll open your heart to me?"

     "Why not?" says the good Doctor.

     "You know how to?"

     "Does he?" snorts Katherine. "He opens his heart for 'Coronation Street'. The poor bastard is always in tears by the end credits."

     Doctor Skin inhales deeply, breathing in Katherine's words and the sentiments and history hiding beneath. He blinks three times, clearing his eyes, and stares up into the sky. The sun is finally setting over the city, the shadows deepening, twilight's vanguard. He closes his eyes and feels the slight breeze on his face and the sly rumble of the city settling down for the night. It's an old situationist trick, but Skin can't be bothered thinking of anything new. Finally opening his eyes, he turns to Agent L.O.V.E. and winks. "Ready when you are."

     Returning the wink, Agent L.O.V.E. dissipates into golden mist and disappears up Skin's nose, the most obvious route through to the soul, fast along the meat highway. Slipping into the cracks in his psyche, she passes the emotional defenses of irony & sarcasm, ignores the mind completely and heads straight for the heart.

     Riding in on his aura, surfing on yellow & purple waves, she approaches the core of Skin's being. Here in the murky and dubious realm between the real world and everything else, Skin's heart beats a million times a second, the golden light filling Agent L.O.V.E.'s view. All that he is, all that he has to offer, all that he'll ever be is stretched out before her. Without a moments hesitation, she dives right in.

     Dissipating even further, breaking herself down to the lowest common denominator, she really is what she said she was. Everything that's good in the world, everything that makes you laugh and smile, everything that makes life worth living. Agent L.O.V.E. becomes the living personification of it all. All the good people, all the beautiful music, all the wonderful sights, all the dumb stories that still breed affection, the whole f**king lot.

     And then it all goes horribly wrong.


"What if it doesn't mean anything? Jesus, what if it was never meant to mean anything?" 


     "Better than crank!" laughs Doctor Skin, rubbing his nose, the nostrils already red-raw. He's about to say something else when he sneezes suddenly, spraying green mucus and gold dust. The dust rapidly reforms into Agent L.O.V.E., but Katherine doesn't bat an eyelid. She's seen worse.

     "Oh wow," moans Agent L.O.V.E., holding her head in her hands. Skin can't help but notice that her hair has grown six inches in the time she's been gone, but he's too polite to mention it. Besides, Agent L.O.V.E. discourages any conversation with her babbling. "Toooooo fucking much, man. It was so damn dense, it had a gravity all of its own. The bastard nearly had me."

     She tops and looks up at Skin, shaking her head in admiration. "Far out," she continues. "I tried to help you out, Doctor, but I couldn't. Your heart is all full up."

     "Really?" says Skin, genuinely surprised.

     "Yeah. It shouldn't be possible. I've never seen it before. Everybody has an infinite capacity in their hearts, but you've got no more room in there."

     "What can I say?" shrugs Skin, liking the sound of this more and more, and already beginning to see the possibilities. "I love the infinite too."

     "Heh. Well, I know when I'm not needed." Agent L.O.V.E. smiles and turns to Katherine. "See you later, Katie."

     Katherine stares back coldly. "My name is not Katie."

     "I know," says Agent L.O.V.E., turning back to Skin, gives him the thumbs up and nods back towards Katherine. "She takes up the most room. Surprised?"

     "No," says Doctor Skin.

     And then Agent L.O.V.E. vanishes in a cloud of sweet-smelling purple smoke. Skin doesn't see her disappear, but has a vague sensation of something falling, and then she's gone, her last words hanging in the empty air.

     "See you in the Citadel, Jake."

     "Not if I can help it," says Skin through gritted teeth. He walks back towards the car, not surprised to see Katherine already behind the wheel, drumming her fingernails along the top of it. He steps up to the open window and leans in. He's hoping for something a little more continental, but all he gets is a kiss on the cheek.

     "Aw, c'mon," he moans pathetically. "It was strictly platonic, baby."

     Katherine looks up and him, and he nearly loses it when he sees the look in her eyes. "It's okay, Jakob. I know I can trust you. But we haven't got any time."

     She nods back down the dark street, and Skin can see them coming, slipping between the shadows, avoiding the street lights. Ninjas. Hundreds of them and they're coming for Skin.

     "All right," he says with a smile, returning Katherine's quick kiss and jumping up on the roof of the Car With No Name, the engine kicking into life. His adversaries are nearly on them, and Skin steps into the first defensive stance he can remember, his hands already clenched into fists. "Come on then! Come on!"

     They don't stand a chance.


* This has been a Mad Wish presentation. Go away now.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Hey kids! Not quite comics!

Howard Chaykin's Hey Kids Comics! series is a hell of a lot of fun - a razor-sharp look at the history of the American comic book business that would absolutely be 1000 percent better if he just gave all his surrogates their proper names.

It's obvious why he hasn't done it, since many of these people do not come off well. On a legal level, it can hide under satire, and while almost all of the creators whose ghosts appear in these pages are gone, they had plenty of kids and heirs who may be very protective of their legacy.

Chaykin knows that the vast majority of his audience are going to be wondering who the Alex Toth analogue is anyway - is it this asshole, or that asshole? - and there is some obvious amalgamation and invention of certain characters to keep the narrative pumping, but I would give anything for a bootleg version with the real names.

Who cares if it's not true? Most of us are old enough to figure that out when you say it's a exageratted fiction. It's just a shame the creator of Black Kiss is being so tasteful and respectful. That's not why we like him.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Won't watch the Willis

I'm trying to watch 300 films this year and am legitimately running out of things to watch, and will take on anything - hello Notting Hill! - but even I have my limits. And I will not watch a movie with Bruce Willis in it that was made in the past couple of years. 

Willis has been open about the health issues that are making it harder and harder to do what he does best, and it's hard not to see that his dimming star power is being absolutely epxloited by some film-makers.

I'll still watch Die Hard or The Fifth Element or Twelve Monkeys anytime - I just watched the Monkeys again this week and he's fucking magnificent in that film. But in the most recent ones, you can't help but see a blankness where there used to be a spark, you can see the lack of it right there on the screen

Avoiding any Willis film made after 2018 is not such a hard thing to do, not when almost every single one of these films are micro-budgeted action nonsense that is utterly incoherant. It's not just that stupid movies, it's the stench of real and harmful exploitation.

I don't need any more Bruce, and I don't need that kind of Bruce. Willis is leaving a huge body of work behind, and there's always so much to go back for. We'll always have Nakatomi Tower.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Chasing the Tenenbaums

Even for a Wes Anderson film, the dialogue in The Royal Tenenbaums is particularly sparkling, and while 'I don't think you're an asshole, Royal. I just think you're kind of a son of a bitch' will always be my favourite line in any of his films, that one line where Ben Stiller tells his stupid old dad that he's had a rough year, that breaks my heart every single time I see it.

There's like, a hundred tiny little scenes in all sorts of movies that completely destroy my heart like this - the crack in John Wayne's voice at the end of The Searchers when he tells Debbie he's taking her home; the 2001 star baby looking right out at us at the end of the film; the whole Silencio thing in Mulholland Drive; Jules trying real hard to be the shepherd and not blow Tim Roth's fool head off; the savage farce of the last goodbye in Brief Encounter; Hi's vision of the future at the end of Raising Arizona.

Any time I try to create any kinds of fiction, I chase these moments, the moments of grace and charity and compassion and transcendence and all the best humanity has to offer. There's still room for all the other complexities in life, but some moments get you in the soul, because we've all been there. We're there still..

"I've had a rough year, Dad"

Jesus, Chad. Haven't we all?


Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Decorum: Across the universe

When it comes to comic books, the older I get, the more I just want the nice pictures. I got certainly got Decorum purely for the art, because Mike Huddleston's work is just outstanding.

 There's some kind of story in there about planet killers and sexy assassins, but Huddleston's art is where it's at, man. Alien landscapes with weight and bite, devastating close-ups with emotional heft and the sharpest action scenes, all flying up against alien cultures, food and transport that we literally can't get our minds around.

Even though there have been many, many attempts, I just don't click with Hickman. His ideas are sound, his execution is strong, and I powerfully don't give a shit about any of it. But I am Huddleston for life after this series.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The ongoing exhaustion of too much choice

There are so many streaming services available, along with so many other options for consuming your favourite entertainments, and it's getting fucking exhausting keeping up with it. There is just so much to keep track of, so many choices to make, and sometimes I just want something I don't know I want.

I still dig broadcast TV for the randomness of it, for the ability to turn things on and just get delivered something I never asked for, or chose. I feel weirdly more connected to the world when watching a live broadcast on the TV.

It's not just a television thing, I'm going through another radio phase. I'm not listening to any station in particular, I just love spinning the dial around the 20+ stations available in the local area, and like seeing what stumble upon 

There's enough stations that as soon as one cuts to ads or baying DJs, I can shift up the frequency and find some old banger, or some silky new pop hit.  

(It's also a Twitter thing, where the idiot who bought the company for too much money is now spraying the idea of more curation all over the place, when we all really just want want the randomnesss of the regular feed, from the people you trust, not what your half-arsed algorithm thinks we want.)

It's just exhausting having to choose all the time, just having to decide between the 200 TV shows people have told you that you have to watch. I crave the fine thrills of things that pop up out of the blue.

We don't have streaming in the house anymore, and it's not just because many of those companies are run by total fuckbags, it's because it's too much choice, and it's just too much effort to go through it all. I just want what's on, stop asking me to decide for you.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Posters all over the wall

My bedroom walls used to be covered in movie and music and comic posters, to a veritably unhealthy degree. Every square centimeter was full and there wasn't a space bigger than a trading card anywhere, and it was like this for more than a decade before it became too much work.

Just as I was really figuring out what I really like in life, I wasn't allowed posters on the wall, right through my teenage years. Not ever since I taped a bunch of 2000ad pin-ups to the wall with sticky tape, which ripped the shit out of the wallpaper when I took them down and I got in so much trouble.

After that, I wasn't permitted to put anything up on my walls, and all I had was the creepy framed pictures of angels that had been in our family for decades.

But as I got older, and with some sincere promises, I was allowed to put up some posters - an absolutely wicked Freddy Kruger poster and the Joe Jusko painting of Mary Jane from one of those dubious Marvel Swimsuit Editions.

And when I got out of home and got my own rooms in places where I paid my own goddamn rent and could do what I liked, I lost my fucking mind and covered every bit of space with pop culture bullshit.

Movie posters took up the big space, and I would haunt the local video stores to get that sweet Fearless poster with Jeff Bridges arms outstretched on the edge of the building. There was the ubiquitous Pulp Fiction and Star Wars things, and a gorgeous painted thing for the Bela Lugosi Dracula.

Then there were a lot of A3 sized comic posters. For a while, every issue of the Exploits of Spider-Man - a British reprint thing that somehow showed up at the Readers Book Exchange in Timaru for $4.50 every two weeks - came with an A3 poster of classic Marvel covers, genius pieces of pop art that I hung on the wall for years.(It genuinely blows my mind that my mate Kyle has many of the actual issues that I had on the wall, due to the unlocking of silver age collections in the past decade.)

There would be things taken from the middle of anniversary issues and that came free with the weekly 2000ad. And then I would put trading cards in the final spaces, tiny bits of Legion of Super-Heroes or Spider-Man to give life to the whole room.

It was a fucking shitload of work, but it lasted all the way through my flatting life, with a dozen rooms in a dozen houses getting this kind of treatment. Most of the posters peeled away after I got married, and now we have tasteful and extremely targeted art and fancy pictures of the family on the wall.

But sometimes, I still look around the room, and wonder what it would look like if it had a giant poster of Worf from Star Trek staring back at me. And if I could fit a bunch of the tall Vertigo trading cards in the space above the bookcase.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Matt Wagner's Batman is thick as fuck

Batman has to be fully armoured up in modern comics, and the days where he'd pull on a cloth cowl and head out onto the mean streets of Gotham are long behind him.

But Matt Wagner's Batman is so goddamn solid and dense, even in the spandex, that he doesn't need the armour - his build is his protection, all done to the beefiest of proportions. Just pure meat on bone.