Monday, July 31, 2023

Meeting famous people is brilliant

Getting into journalism was the smartest thing I ever did. That decision led to me meeting my wife and having a family, while travelling the world and seeing some sights. The actual job hasn't been all bad either - I've worked with astonishingly smart and talented writers and editors and am proud to call many of them my friends.

And even though I do kinda hate to admit it, I'm as much a starfucker as anybody, and fucking love how this job has given me the chance to meet and talk with some incredibly famous folk.

Look, I grew up in a town of 3000 people, and it was a big fucking deal when John Hawkesby came to town with Its In the Bag - everyone was insanely jealous of Jeff Hughes because he got a two second shot in the taping. And I still remember how excited my exceptionally cool mate got about seeing somebody from Shortland Street in Echo Records in Dunedin in 1994.

For almost all of my career, I've worked in daily hard news, but have still been given the opportunity to talk to loads of famous people, including tonnes of local musicians and a few actors that you would have heard of, and I've been in the same room as several incredibly notable film directing heroes.

I also almost walked into the back of somebody who has played both Judge Dredd and Dr McCoy and he gave me the filthiest look back which still makes me laugh out loud when I think about it.

The biggest deal for me was when I got to talk to two Doctor Whos - one current and one my absolute all-time favourite - and sit down opposite the current companion for a proper one-on-one. 

And despite my historically bad habit of putting my foot in my mouth. It's surprisingly easy not to be a dick in these situations. I never asked for a selfie, even when I desperately, desperately wanted to, because that would have broken the professional contract, and I ain't got much, but I've got my pride.

The weirdest thing about running into famous people is that it's never really a surprise. Sometimes I'll run into a Game of Thrones actor in the elevator at work, or Richard E Grant in the car park, and they would be so familiar that I only end up saying 'good morning', like they're a regular neighbour out on the morning ramblings.

Celebrities can be strange creatures - we see examples of that every day - and they're really not like us. But sometimes they can also just be people you see around town, and should always be treated accordingly.

(My wife worked for the local version of the TV Guide for a while and got to speak to so many more famous people than me, including another Doctor Who, and she says the best of them was easily Bryan Cranston.)

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Who was Who in the DC Universe: Love live the Legion! (part 3 of 3)

Art by Colleen Doran and Al Gordon

Art by Craig Hamilton and Tony Harris

Art by Esteban Maroto

Art by Keith Giffen and Al Gordon

Art by Michael T Gilbert

Art by Val Semieks and Jose Marzan Jr

I've been consistent and genuine with my admiration for both Element Lad and Colleen Doran, but how about Prince Evillo's pants? They're sprocking amazing.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

The keys are in my hand!

I don't know if this is just normal, but I always have to check things a dozen times before I leave the house, or I'll be thinking about it all fucking day. 

I have to repeatedly make sure all the windows are shut; and I have to keep checking that my wallet and my phone and other such sundries are on me; and I have to make a conscious effort to ensure I did lock the door, and didn't just wander off in my usual haze and leave the house unlocked.

So every time - every single time - I lock the front door in the house, I consciously think 'the keys in my hand' before I pulled the door closed, and I always flash to the part in Fight Club where Edward Norton realises that if Tyler Durden has a gun, then the gun is really in his hands.

The one time I didn't think about that, I did fucking lock those keys inside and that became a whole mission. So I think I'll stick with thinking about that wonderful look on Norton's face, that one when he works out what really is in his hand, before I ever pull the door shut.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Surprising superheroics at 3am

One of the local TV stations has this weird habit of playing DC animation movies from the past decade at three o'clock in the morning. They must have been picked up in a bulk deal or something, because the movies are the very definition of filler - they're surrounded by infomercials and don't even have any advertisements, just promos for the channel's other shows.

It almost makes sense that they're only on in the post-midnight hours, because they certainly ain't for kids. They lean heavily on DC's reliance on genuinely shocking brutality, the bright primary colours of their costumes staining red with the gushing blood of severed limbs.

Some of these films really go for it - the Fatal Five don't just break into a scientific station to get what they want, they casually murder dozens of people with absolute indifference - but as a longtime comic nerd, I'm fascinated that these things even exist.

I mean, I'm not fascinated enough to actually buy the DVDs these movies were produced for, but I'll watch them when they are part of the broadcast, with deep and arcane DC lore flickering on the TV in the early hours.

I've seen a lot of the ones based on established comics - if only to see how they fuck up The Killing Joke, the Dark Knight Returns or All Star Superman - but I'm astounded by the sheer number these things there are out there, with movies about the JSA, or my old mate John Constantine, or Richard bloody Dragon. There's been dozens of them in the past decade.

The animation is generally inoffensive, completely lacking in the kind of textured art the original work has, but they're pleasant and functional enough. They're also always less than 90 minutes long, which is just the right length for a superhero movie, and have some deep cuts - I think there was a Kent bloody Shakespeare reference in the last one I watched.

But I think the thing I like most about them is that they take place in strange continuities -  sometimes they feel like the heirs to the wonderful Justice League cartoons of the early 2000s, other times they're whole new timelines, and sometimes it's perpetually the 70s, but none of that really matters ,and nobody gets too hung up on it.

Because if you are the type of person watching superhero cartoons that play at 3am in the morning, you don't want anything too complicated, or tto taxing. A few super-punches, some goofy cameos and some plots that are faster than The Flash is all you really need.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Too much real life in the graphic novel section

When comics really started showing up in bookstores back in the 80s and 90s, they were just full of absolute brilliance - the best books, of the highest quality. And while the big mainstream publishers still tried to pass off half a dozen issues of Spider-Man as a graphic novel, they hadn't flooded the marketplace, so the great stuff really stood out.

And I can't help but feel that things have devolved on this front, even with the best stores showing the best of intentions. There are still shelves devoted to graphic novels in all good bookstores, but it all seems a little thin.

My local regular bookstore is full of excellent stock, and I've happily bought books from there for years. I get my one-person book club from there every month, but apart from the more recent Luther Arkwright misadventure and a book about a pinhead, I've never really got anything from its graphic novel collection.

They will still stock solid works like Kate Beaton's most excellent Ducks, but sometimes it feels like the really interesting stuff is getting slowly pushed out by acres of bland non-fiction and biographical books important people in history.

Comics are an easy sell for non-fiction, because it's the best medium to learn anything, but as much effort goes into nailing down the facts, the art is often completely perfunctory. No dynamism, no style, just thin-lined sparseness, the vast sweep of time relegated to the simplest of shapes, and figures stuck in the stiffest of lines.

I want to like these books, I like learning about history and the comics form is a great way to do it, but when half of the production is treated as a secondary form, they can just be a weird chore to read, and slightly patronizing.

There have been some wonderful bios in the comic field by artists with distinctive styles, and interesting storytelling chops - far too many to mention here - but sometimes it feels like it's just easy publishers cashing in on the fad. But I need art to come with some distinctive style, even when it's about the real world.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Flip it, Spidey

Film nerds always like to blather on about the 180-degree rule like it's some big fucking revelation or something, when my Nana could have recognised how that people on the left of the screen should stay on the left when it cuts back to them.

But sometimes you get someone like a young John Romita Jr having a crack at that sacred cow, and producing a banger of a comic cover like Amazing Spider-Man 233.

Yeah, it flips the observer right around, but so fucking what? It's a cover I remember seeing at 8 and I never, ever forgot it. It's expertly balanced, and Tarantula looks like a total tool getting ka-powed in the face like that. Fuck the rules, as a comic cover, it's absolute dynamite.


Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Star Trek Strange New Worlds: All the cliches, all the fun

I could never pick a side when it came to the dumbest of nerd turf battles - I just liked Star Wars and Star Trek equally. I thought they were both terrific in their own ways. They were both neat.

But that changed fairly recently, and most of it is the fault of a retro Star Trek series, which is finding new depths in the most familiar of stories.

For a bright, modern and shiny version of Trek, Strange New Worlds is hitting all the cliches of the overall saga and the current season is leaning into it so hard, it can't be a coincidence.

The whole season started with a crew going just a little bit rogue and stealing a starship, then there was the trial episode where somebody has to convince a tribunal that they're a goddamn human being; a time travel episode back to contemporary society; one story where everybody loses their memories, but that just allows their true natures to come out; and one where a shuttle/transporter accident has weird biological side-effects on a main character.

And it's still funnier, smarter and more human than any Trek in years. It shows that the framework you hang your stories on don't matter, it's what you do with it. Plots that have been are proven rock solid can still be infused with emotional warmth and philosophizing on the nature of friendship and help.

It's all delivered by a spectacularly charming cast - a grand version of Spock who is as deeply logical and astute as ever, but learning of the benefits of emotional range, and can drink blood wine with enemies; a doctor who is truly kind and compassionate, while also being a stone-cold killer if there is no other option; a Nurse Chapel who is so much more than just a crush; and a bridge crew who fly into the infinite with passion.

And Pike, who probably is the best captain in the whole damn thing. Always rigid for doing the right thing, even if it's not the legal thing, but also sleek and hilarious - Anson Mount's entire physical performance during Spock's engagement ceremony should be taught in acting skills for eons.

And this sense of life and openness and sheer fucking optimism feels so much more attractive to me right now than Star Wars, where even the best shows and movies are all about killing more people on the other side until you win. When Star Trek goes to war - and they are setting one up in STW from the first episode - it doesn't shy away from these things, but when it does find warmth in the void of space and the oldest of stories, it's better than anything.

Monday, July 24, 2023

The cringe lasts forever

The older I get, the more I forget a lot of very basic things things. I recently had a lot of trouble remembering the address of a house I lived in for a whole year in the late 2000s. I couldn't even find the fucking thing on a map, until a friend helped me out. And if you asked me what I had for dinner two nights ago, you'd get the mother of all blank stares.

But the stupid shit I said and did when I was a whole lot younger lingers in the head forever. The cringe never fades, no matter how old and senile I'm getting.

The mid-90s are a bit of a haze - after moving out of home, I was getting blazed every day and shitfaced drunk three times a week. I hold onto memories through the places I lived in, the jobs I had and the endless pop culture I consumed at the time, but there are entire months there that are just a blur of young foolishness.

And yet, I can't forget so much of the embarrassing bullshit I spouted at the time. And there was a lot of it - nobody else has an opinion quite like somebody in their early twenties, an equal measure of certainty and utter obliviousness.  

The stupid things I remember so well weren't hurtful or mean, thank goodness. They were just dumb shit that made me look stupid. But I remember them all, man.

All the times I foisted my dumb theories about the dumbest movies on my poor friends and family, who really didn't give a shit about Hammer horror movies, but still listened patiently to 30-minute lectures on how they were the great movie studios. All the times I made some dumb Monty Python or Withnail and I quote while chatting up a girl in the nightclubs, and seeing their eyes justifiably glaze over.

I'd only seen one Fellini film and still had all the opinions in the world about the filmmaker, along with a desperate need to share them with many uninterested parties. I'd get stupid drunk after work on a Friday and blub to my flatmates about seeing that same cloud from The Invisibles in Queenstown. 

Fucking hell, what a wanker.

And then I was going online, saying the most enormous bullshit, and can still recall with devastating clarity the absolutely awful timing of a Radiohead lyric that I posted in a SOI Hyperchat room in 1997, or the time Gail Simone put me in my place after another ill-timed joke in the CBR chat.

In this regard, I feel sorry for kids today -  by which I consider anyone under the age of 40 - and the way you poor bastards have had to deal with this shit at that age, the internet was only just getting stuck into cultuer at that time, and thank goodness digital stuff doesn't last.

Because we're all young and dumb once, and say the stupidest shit, and that shit clings to your brain forever.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Who Was Who in the DC Universe: Long live the Legion (part 2 of 3)

Universo by Paris Cullins and Jim Fern
Reep Daggle by Tom Artis and Al Gordon
Stealth by Keith Giffen and George Pratt
Dirk Morgana by Colleen Doran and Al Gordon
Furball by Bart Sears and Mark Pennington

Damn, DC. I woulda bought a hundred issues of a Sun Boy comic by Colleen Doran.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

No way, Indy. No way.

Everyone is still always going on about that fucking fridge in the Crystal Skull movie, but I heard the sound the audience made in the first packed Temple of Doom screening I saw back in 1984 - a noise of absolute complete incredulity, with the whole audience deciding that the part where the racing mine cart goes flying over a gap in the track, only to land exactly on the rails on the other side, was just a step too far.

It wasn't the 'let's jump out of a plane in an inflatable life-raft and somehow survive', which the audience bought for some reason, it was that part in the mine cart chase. Suspension of disbelief can only go so far.

Nobody bought that moment. And after that impossibility, of course a fridge will protect you from a nuclear blast.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Obscure movies and odd treasures: The brilliant moments when you realise you don't know shit

When I see a magazine promising me a list of the 101 Greatest Films I've Never Seen, I usually don't expect very much. They're usually full of things like the early films of the notably unknown Martin Scorcese, or are breathless about films I saw in a multiplex in the 90s.

But when Sight and Sound does it, like it did in an issue a few months ago, it really is 101 films I haven't heard about. Its list - an off-shot of its perennial Greatest Movies Ever that it does every decade - really is films of the unknown. 

It's fucking intoxicating. Of the 100 films it listed, I've only heard of 20 or so, and have only ever seen half a dozen of them. There's great films from all over the world, from the masterpieces from Africa to the groundbreaking genius in Indian cinema. The films that are pure abstract art, conveying complex themes and messages that are more universal than any dialogue.

I'm always absolutely fizzing to get out of my comfort zone, and desperate to see something like the guerilla documentary Czech Dream; or the unnerving chills of The Halfway House, or the sheer artful power of Quick Billy.

There is some concern that the only film I'm actually really familiar with on this list is Bad Boy Bubby, because holy god, you don't forget that film once you've seen it, but we'll let that go. (Good boy, Bubby.)

Because there is just so much more to see, so much more out there, and I can spend the rest of my life catching up with all the masterpieces I've missed. It's always a good use of time.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

How to really break Batman

It really was a good idea at the time. After years of a semi-broken Batman, with his fucked back and self-doubts about his place in the world, Grant Morrison turned the bat into the ultra-competent figure of rough justice, with a plan for everything 

And he did it straight away, without any messing about, with Bruce Wayne demolishing a group of White Martians who couldn't believe they were being undone by a mere mortal. This one moment, early in the JLA run, had a massive immediate impact and set the standard for a truly 21st century Batman. 

Morrison made the Justice League the biggest, baddest superhero team in the multiverse, and nobody wanted to drop that ball when he finished his run on the DC series. The comic needed to stay big and epic and clever, with simple hooks played out to ultimate results.

So when Morrison moved on, it was perfectly logical to take that idea to the obvious conclusion, where the man with a plan for everything would clearly have something in place to deal with his meta-powered teammates if they went bad.

And that's what they did in The Tower of Babel storyline that writer Mark Waid did with Howard Porter - the artist staying on to smooth the transition. And it's a good story, while also forever ruining Batman as a team player.

Once you've admitted you've gone to considerable effort to beat the shit out of your best friends, they're never going to trust you again. Not fully. They might admit to the logic, but that kind of willful action means you can never really be sure if he's ever going to have your back.

He can only ever be the scowling mentor, not the trusted teammate, and attempts to rehabilitate this image haven't really taken, even with multiple reboots of the entire universe. Batman will always be that kind of dickhead, and that's how you really break him.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Bob Brown never got no respect

He died a long, long time ago, but I always felt Bob Brown never got any real respect as a comic book artist. He got into the business during the Golden Age, but I only really saw the work he did for Marvel and DC at the very end of his career - Batman comics full of unexpected warmth, and Avengers issues with tonnes of well-composed action.

But he was one of those artists who felt like a vital link between the stodginess of classic Sliver Age and the more dynamic modern art style of the likes of Neal Adams, Jim Aparo and Nick Cardy. He didn't really get what those kids were doing - he would be totally bamboozled by the direction comic art has taken since the 1980s - but his work was always just totally quality.

Was it the name? So nondescript, so easy to slip out of the mind. As somebody named Bob Smith, I feel his pain, and find it easy to acknowledge how hard it could be to stand out. Absolute genius might overcome that kind on bland anonymity, and while Bob Brown came close to that on occasion, it obviously wasn't quite enough.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Even a witchfinder can have a happy ending

WARNING: this post contains severe spoilers for the end of Koshchei in Hell, the Hellboy universe in general, and the seemingly ultimate fate of the mighty Sir Edward Grey.

It always seemed a bit unfair for Sir Edward Grey, the premium occult investigator of the Victorian age in the Hellboy universe created by Mike Mignola and friends. After a lifetime of service, he becomes a literal shadow of himself, a form-less and ruined shade of a man.

He's still hanging in there, still dispensing advice and offering any help he can, but he is a ghost bound by arcane magic, and knows his fate.

But then, right at the end of the recent Koshchei In Hell series by Mignola and Ben Stenbeck, there is a little grace note for old Sir Edward. The series is more about the the redemption of the title vampire, but there is room for something else.

Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder, is given new form and an old role as the protector of England, in all its forms. No mere wraith, but a reborn man of vim and vigour.

There are a lot of Hellboy mini-series rolling down the line at the moment, even after the world literally ended in the final pages of BPRD. I genuinely can't keep track of them all, so I just get the ones that Mignola writes solo, because that seems to be the heart of the saga.

And I found this tiny moment at the end of this series to be a lovely note, especially after Sir Ed had just accepted that he was no longer a man, but a creature of Hell.

In a series about the absolutely inevitable end of the world, but there are these touches of grace and hope and light. Even as the world burns, it reforms. And England remains as a magical place, cut off from the rest of the world, but it still always needs a protector.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Four storeys of books was always the attraction

Although I've lived in Auckland for 16 years now, I never visited the biggest city in the country until the 21st century. I never saw town without the Sky Tower, and can barely get my head around the way the motorways gutted whole communities in the 50s and 60s.

I didn't know much about the city before I came here, other than the names of sports grounds and concert venues, but I knew one thing - my mate Kaz had told me about a bookshop in the middle of town that had four full levels of books and I had to check that shit out.

It was just a Borders, so it didn't really have anything esoteric at all, but that was the kind of bookstore that I thought didn't exist anymore in the new century, so full of so much stuff, there were bound to be treasures in there.

When we first decided to move here, it was an obvious choice because it's where my wife is from and where all her family live, but the promises of a massive bookstore also hooked me in. I wanted to live in a town with multiple comic shops, and dozens of cinemas, and  four-storey bookshops. After growing up in a town of 3000 souls - (which still managed to deliver a wonderful oasis or two) - it was nerdvana.

And the store was open late and it was always buzzing, and was a good place to meet up before going to the Imax cinema next door. For a while there, it sold an abnormal amount of comic books, but they were also abnormally priced, and no issue of Action Comics was worth $16.95 in 2009.

Of course it didn't last, as everyone went for the digital ephemera. Some of those comic shops shriveled up, and the four-storey Borders disappeared a decade or so ago, as even the biggest bookstores in the world can dry up and blow away in the retail wind. 

I used to fill that emptiness where all those levels of print used to live in my heart by going overseas, where I could still find giant bookstores. The wife and I went to the Barnes and Noble in Honolulu before we hit the beach, and we spent several terrific hours in Powells in Portland on my last day in my 30s.

But there is no travel in our life right now and I really wish there was still a giant bookstore there. The site turned into a Carls Jr, and then into nothing, and that whole complex has become spookily empty, (my mate Chris Schulz has done a terrific series of stories about the weird destruction of the thriving central city complex.)

I guess I just still want to live in a town with a giant bookstore like that again. I always will.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Who was Who in the DC Universe: Long live the Legion (part 1 of 3)

Legion of Super-Heroes by Chris Sprouse and Al Gordon
Vril Dox by Barry Kitson
Jo Nah by Dan Jurgens and Al Gordon
Devlin O'Ryan by Jason Pearson
Kent Shakespeare by Chris Sprouse and Al Gordon
Ayla Ranzz by Steve Lightle

Grife, I still miss the v4 Legion so hard sometimes...

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Scott Adkins is considerably braver than you

I always thought he was utterly fearless for the excellent things he has done with his body for the art of action cinema, but Scott Adkins going on the extremely cine-literate The Movies That Made me podcast and unironically and unreservedly professing his love for Snatched, the Goldie Hawn/Amy Schumer comedy for 2017.

Most of the nerds they ask about comedies on that podcast go for the obvious brilliance of Month Python or The Apartment or something, and there is no mistaking their brilliance. But brother, repping for Goldie takes more guts than a hundred flying dropkicks to the face.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Arseholes assemble: All of Guy's gangsters in one place

Guy Ritchie's most recent films are decent enough, but I find them somewhat impersonal and lacking in the kind of surprisingly sharp humour he does so well. I can wait for them to pop up on the TV, or to fill in a couple of hours of a flight, but I won't seek them out. Because while there is always a solid chance of some proper entertainment, it all feels a little inconsequential. 

But I will always turn out for one of his London gangster films, because I sincerely love that shit. All the capers, all the bluster, all the poetic irony. A-grade stars doing outrageous accents. The way they end up making some strong points about the shape of London and the surrounding country, and how it has changed in a new and uncaring millennium, all mixed it with some absolutely gratuitous violence. I eat it all up.

And while I know it's very unlikely we'll ever see the promised sequel to RocknRolla, the one thing I hope is that one day Ritchie does a total Avengers and piles all the characters into the same film for one last victory lap.

Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, RocknRolla and The Gentlemen all obviously take place in the same city, all just around the corner from each other, so there is bound to be some crossover.

So why not give us English Bob getting to slow dance with Mickey the Pikey; or identical cousins Bacon and Turkish having to deal with getting blackmailed by Hugh Grant's Fletcher. The sons of Bullet Tooth Tony and Big Chris going on a proper mission together. Colin Farrell's Coach doing a favour for Mark Strong's Archy. Hell, get Andree 3000's Avi from Revolver into the mix.

It would be super self-indulgent, but Ritchie's sheer cheek at constantly indulging himself is a large appeal of his films. Why the fuck not?

Thursday, July 13, 2023

SNL was never my bag

While I love watching documentaries about the history of comedy - people talking very seriously about very silly stuff is always a kick - I always glaze over for large sections of any such documentaries produced in America, because I just never gave a damn about Saturday Night Live. 

It's obvious what the show inspired, but it has meant nothing to me. While New Zealand has always sucked up content from other parts of the world, SNL has never been on local, and was certainly no institution around here. It was just a weird thing that would pop up in a Spider-Man comic every now and then, just another American joke I could never really understand.

In-jokes about American culture were an issue for me a lot when I was growing up with US comic books. Still are, to be honest.

I still knew all the stars that the show produced, because they fucking ruled the cinema screen when I was a kid. You couldn't avoid films from Bill Murray, John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd and Chevy Chase; and Jane Curtin was on TV every Tuesday night in the excellent Kate and Allie.

And while I will always ride or die for Wayne's World, I also thought The Blues Brothers was always the best film from anybody in that crew, with all that fine music and even finer motorcar destruction. 

In the wake of seeing that for the first time when I was 12, I got to see my first Saturday Night Live, when a tape of The Best of John Belushi showed up a the local video store. But when we got it out for some family fun, it was embarrassing to watch. Just incredibly unfunny, and none of us could figure out why the hell was Belushi was fucking around so much in a bee costume.

SNL certainly didn't need my approval to become an absolute institution, and has produced comic talents of enormous stature and humour. But sometimes I still stumble across a Twin Peaks skit or something on YouTube, and I just don't get it, in any way. 

All the comedians who show up on those documentaries and profess their love are obviously speaking from the heart, and that love is real and I wish I could feel the same. But Saturday Night Live just doesn't mean anything to me.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

This is the simulation!

So the other day I'm doing an early shift at work for the first time in years, and coming into town, I get a glimpse of the sky opening up and that freaky green computer code from the Matrix appearing in the heavens.

It took me two seconds to realise it was just the Sky Tower, all lit up in green lights that were the only thing I could see through the fog, but I had some very big thoughts about the nature of reality in that two seconds.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Going on a Long Walk

I dig the automobile, and the freedom and thrills it can give you, I love the way planes can take me to places I'd only ever dreamed about, and there is nothing more fun than riding a bicycle down, a long, steep grade. But when it comes to travel preferences, I'm a walker.

I love the walk. I like that it takes longer and you get the chance to really think about things. I love the way it gets the blood pumping, and that you're not reliant on anything other than your own endurance. I've walked 20 kays to get home in the middle of the night (which always became morning again), over hills and down railway lines, pissed out of my brain; and when I was young and unemployed, it cost nothing to wander across town to go sit at the beach.

I get in at least one decent walk every day, and always feel better for it. It's undoubtedly good for you, and just looks far more relaxing than all those joggers, going round and round and round.

So I always thought thought I'd do great at The Long Walk. Written before he even got stuck into Carrie and later published under the Richard Bachman name, Stephen King's novella is terrifically brutal. It's a simple plot (but like all King, it's all about the characters): teenage boys take part in the kind of brutal competition you only get in a totalitarian future - you walk and walk and keep on walking, and if you give up walking, they fucking murder you. The one left standing gets their heart's desire.

I read that book in the 80s collection of Bachman novels when I was 14, and thought I'd finally found the one competition I could do well in. I'm not fast, but when I get into the zone, I could walk forever, man. I could take anyone on.

But I read it again recently and realised I would just be one of the faceless boys who dies in the periphery of the story, because it's clearer than ever that some kind of mental fortitude was way more important than the endurance.

I doubt - and obviously hope! - that I never have to display that kind of fortitude, which makes me a first class wimp. But if you want to go for a walk sometime, this wimp could still outpace you. Probably.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Mothmen and missing girls: When the mysteries were just down the road

When I first heard about the mothman, I thought he was just down the road, and I was sure I could hear him flying overhead on quiet winter nights.

I first read about the whole mothman thing in a kids book about creepy cryptoids which I found in the Temuka Primary School library in the mid-1980s. That's where I first heard of the strange events that plagued the area around Point Pleasant 20 years earlier. I soaked it all in - the weird phone calls, the bridge collapse, the sightings of the beast itself. It was a deeply eerie story, and some of it might even be true.

But the one thing that somehow scrambled my nine-year-old brain was that the book didn't actually say it happened in the US, and I thought it was a misprint and it was talking Pleasant Point, a small town about 15 kilometers away from where I lived.

Pleasant Point is a tiny town with a big steam engine. One of my best mates comes from there and she turned out okay. My cousin Donald used to live there and got arrested for crucifying himself on election day in 1984 (he's the artistic sheep of the family); and it used to have the best adventure playground in South Canterbury. It was was also the only place within driving distance I could get Avengers comics at one point (and they were Bob Harris Avengers comics, for Christ's sake).

What it doesn't have is a creepy creature spooking up the joint. But to this bemused kid, the mothman was real, and just down the road.

It seemed quite plausible that it could ride high on the nor' wester that howls above the Canterbury plains, and soar high above my town. And if I went outside in the night, I might see those deep red eyes looking back at me.

When I found out Point Pleasant was in West frickin' Virginia, it was a bit crushing, and the world seemed a bit farther away.

I lived on the arse end of the world, and places like New York or London were as far away as Asgard or Gotham City, but you always think you're at the centre of the universe when you're a kid. I even got excited when a cinema called the Majestic showed up in a Morbius comic. I was amazed that the living vampire was passing through my home town, because there definitely weren't any other movie theatres called the Majestic in the world.

And not far from Pleasant Point, there is a place by the Opihi River called Hanging Rock and while it often offered a decent swimming hole, I never wanted to go there either, because I'd also heard about the group of schoolgirls that vanished during a picnic there. 

(I'd never seen Picnic From Hanging Rock, but I had read about it in the late, great Unexplained magazine, so the fiction got mixed in with my facts.)

Those strange events weren't happening in familair places, but sometimes - just sometimes - it really, really felt like it did.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Who was who in the DC Universe: Comics aren't for kids anymore?

The Chief by Richard Case and Mark McKenna

Death by Mike Drinenberg

Cliff Steele by Richard case

Dorothy Spinner by Richard Case

I... Vampire by Tom Sutton


Saturday, July 8, 2023

A world without Keith


I always thought that it will somehow be a different world when the last Beatle passes away (which probably won't be for a while, because Macca is looking fit as fuck these days), and again when we lose the last Beastie Boy (and fucking-a, Kate Schellenbach counts too). 

But I really didn't expect the world to feel so different after Keith from the Prodigy died in 2019.

Everything went to shit after we lost Keith, man.

Friday, July 7, 2023

This my life now: I have strong opinions about Bluey

I have been watching a lot of Bluey, the story of an Aussie family of very cute dogs. And while it's not by choice, I have still managed to grow some very strong opinions about this kids cartoon.

  • Muffin is the best character in the series, whether she is so tired that she's acting like the drunk from hell, or playing up the part of the grumpy granny - I now have to demand 18 lollies as part of any transaction.
  • My second favourite character is the terriers, because when they ask if you need protecting, it's the most adorable thing in a very adorable show. 
  • Words like Hammerbarn, tickle-crabs and monkeyjocks have now entered everyday usage in our household.
  • I am also grateful for the 'biscuits' and 'cheese and crackers' expletives, because boy, do we have a couple of parrots in the house right now.
  • I do feel a bit useless at my inability to create the kind of in-depth game around the house that you see in the taxi and train episodes. That looks like a tonne of work.
  • The best moments as an adult is when you're watching an episode for the second or third time, and suddenly realise why one of the grown-ups is acting a bit weird, and it's quietly heartbreaking.
  • Sometimes it's great to watch as an adult because it's just awfully clever, like the double narrative at Bingo's birthday party crashing together with an eternal explanation of what Nanas are for; or the episode spent waiting for takeaways (although you will want spring rolls); or the one where when a tiny existential crisis results in Bluey dreaming about her true reality as a cartoon character; or the one where Bingo's fears of growing old metamorphose into dreams about flying through the solar system 
  • (The lovely wife always refers to this one as the Terrance Malick episode, but I always get distracted by how much the music for it sounds like the theme from the Rugby World Cup.)
  • It does give hints, in six minute chunks, on how to be a better parent (you've still always gotta figure out most of it for yourself), but sometimes all you need is to be told you're doing all right, and that this is good enough.
  • And you might have to give up playing rugby for a while, but you can still dream of scoring a good try.
  • Also, the bemused and amused look on Bandit's face when the kids get into a swirling ice-cream dance and waltz around the park is one of the best representations of the joy of parenting I've ever seen anywhere.
  • Unicorse is an absolute legend and a very, very bad influence.
  • They dropped new nine episodes the other week, and it's as good as ever. Rusty giving his kid sister the easy catch in the cricket episode, because that's what truly matters, is really something, mate.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

I know where the cinema of death is - right at the top of the escalators

The buzz wasn't great from the start, but I knew it wasn't a good sign for The Flash when I saw it was playing in cinema seven at the Event Cinemas complex in central Auckland, because that's the cinema of death.

Anything that is playing on that screen is always underperforming. It's right at the top of the weirdly abandoned complex, right in the corner, and sits just a few dozen punters.

And while it's the type of theatre that is fine for some arthouse or mid-brow thriller, they always seem to put some would-be blockbusters, who are searching for a big crowd and failing miserably. And the cinema managers seem to know what they are doing, because that theatre hasn't been half-filled any time I've been there

I've thought of it as this kind of measure ever since I walked in to see Scott Pilgrim Vs The World on opening weekend, and I swear there were fucking tumbleweeds in that theatre. It was a film with an excellent cast and crew that is genuinely enjoyable on multiple levels, but it was clear in that moment that it would struggle to find an audience. (It did find it on the home viewing circuit, but it's always too fuckin' late by then.)

And ever since then, I've seen a bunch of flailing films in that cinema. And while I love a lot of those movies - box office doesn't ever equate to quality - the message is clear. Cinema seven doesn't lie, because that's where the losers go.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Thanos wasn't right about anything

I'll always think the current population of people who are alive is greater than have ever lived before. I  don't care what science says - and they reckon there have been about 70 billion people who have lived, so it's not even close - but that's what I read in the first issue of the Infinity Gauntlet when I was 16, and that's what has stuck in my mind.

No wonder science has so much trouble getting through to some folk. I'm very open to all that, and I'm still convinced that a Jim Starlin comic is more accurate than all the science that has ever lived.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

The speed of Anderson


A new Wes Anderson film is coming out, which means it's time for all the usual bullshit about his films - the painfully predictable dismissal of his style; the claims he is just making the same film over and over again; the complaints about all that crippling tweeness.

There is some truth in all that bile - his films really are twee as fuck - but it's even worse this time, with some absolute smooth brains creating AI nonsense that mash up the pastels and symmetric stillness of his films with other blockbusters.

All of these are ugly as fuck, and just so painfully obvious that you feel a little embarrassed for them. And they miss one of the things I really, really like about Wes Anderson's films, and that's how fucking fast they are.

His movies are full of long, drawn-out fourth-wall breaking gazes into the abyss of the human condition, but they still move, man. They are saturated with so much plot that it requires innovate narrators to keep things going, and if you don't pay attention, you'll soon be left behind.

They pump event after event into the mix, all  elivered at a rapid pace. When Sam sees Suzy in Moonrise Kingdom, he doesn't mess about, he gets right to the crux of the matter -'what kind of bird is she?

And when there is action, it is sudden and brutal and exhilarating as fuck. The Grand Budapest Hotel is full of it, with mad leaps across rooftops and a breathtakingly fast ski-chase. The big emotional zenith of the Royal Tenanbaums comes with the advent of Owen Wilson fuckin' gunning it down the road in his muscle car.  Everyone in Fantastic Mr Fox and Isle of Dogs are fucking fanging it across the screen in staccato movements;  the Whitman brothers are always be racing to catch their train in the Darjeeling Limited; and Bill Murray evens jogs for a step or two in The Life Aquatic, and he barely moves for anybody.

Fuck that AI stillness, and all that fake longing down the fake lens. I'm off to Asteroid city as soon as I'm able, because even if they're all just sitting around a hole in the ground, life is still speeding by them.

Monday, July 3, 2023

When I was a furniture delivery man

One of the best jobs I ever had in my whole life was delivering furniture for the big department store in town. Working on the loading dock was a deeply satisfying way to earn something just above minimum wage - we'd sort out all the inwards goods in the morning, and then spend the afternoon bombing around the neighbourhood, dropping off fridges and sofas.

Me and my mate Gary could have your new washing machine set up, and the old one out of sight, four minutes after we knocked on your door. Sometimes it was a strangely complex and mentally taxing job - you get really, really good at figuring out angles and what can fit around where, and it usually worked. We once got an ancient fridge down a spiral staircase in a house owned by the son of the mighty Arthur Lowe, and we only ever failed to deliver one sofa when we just couldn't make the angles work.

I also got so very good at backing that small delivery truck up some horrendous driveways, and using the wing mirrors to squeeze into impossible spaces - as long as there was a millimetre of space in there, you were sweet.

I fucking loved it, it was just what I needed in life at that time. It was my mid 20s, and I was still not just not sure where I was going in life, and keen to just kick back a bit and let life happen for a while.

Intellectually, I justified it by reading a lot of Bukowski novels, and getting into all those layabouts in the beat generation, all extolling the merits of decent honest labour, and declaring that a working class hero was someone to be.

It's all a con, designed to keep the scum in their place, but I was all right being a little scummy in my scuffed denims and torn workboots. I could still feel some truth in these claims of working class heroics. It was as simple as getting out there and working your arse off and helping people get their shit, and there was something noble in that.

All that hard work, and then going home and getting wasted as fuck on booze and pot every night, because you really did need something to wash away the weird aches of the day.

I never went to university - I was in my first factory at 17 - but I was constantly reading books from the library, draining it dry of all the good stuff, getting stuck into the philosophy sections, giving all the great classic novels a whirl.

It was a lifestyle I could have got trapped in forever, hooning around town in that truck. But of course the bosses fucked me, and I had to go, and went back to a shitty factory job which was fine because the manager there wasn't a dick, and that was genuinely worth giving up those trips in the countryside.

I've been a journalist since 2004, at the ripe old age of 29. and haven't really done much real physical labour since then. I really do feel my age some days, but I still feel I could still do it that job if I had to, even if the department store has long since outsourced that kind of labour. At the very least, I bet I could still set up your washing machine in four minutes.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Who Was Who in the DC Universe: I'm that bad type (part 2 of 2)

Two-Face by Chris Sprouse and Dick Giordano

Scarface and the Ventriloquist by Norm Breyfogle

Vandal Savage by Mike Parobeck and Jose Marzan jr

DeSaad by Keith Giffen and Will Blyberg

Silver Swan by Jill Thompson and George Perez