Thursday, August 31, 2023

Deciding on the best Ennis

The ongoing mission to put more of my comics into storage hit a significant bump last week, when I slammed straight into the Ennis comics, and I had to decide how much Garth I needed for the next couple of years. 

I've been reading Ennis comics since he was a goddamn teenager, and have a sizable chunk of his output. And I'm obviously keeping the best close by, because I never know when I want to Hitman, or feel the nostalgic burn of the Preacher, or even take a glimpse at the bottomless void inside the human soul that is his Punisher Max comics.

But I've also grown an unnerving fondness for the most unloved of his comics, the dopiest shit he writes, and I don't know how much of that is going into storage. I never know when I might need A Train Called Love or Dicks.

These comics never seem to get much love, but there is always something appealing to me about the stories that embrace the dumbest sense of humour, like Ennis clearly relishes doing. His dopey comics are almost always punching up, while occasionally slapping sideways, and sometimes lean so heavily into ironic stereotypes that they come out the other side, but I dunno. He still makes me laugh.. 

Dicks is still the most puerile, silly and offensive he's ever done, and yeah, that's the point of the whole thing. If you're going to have a wanker, it might as well be the biggest wanker in the whole world.

It's been there since the start. The man himself might vigorously denounce Time Flight, but the bit in the first episode where the Nazi guard blurts out 'When Will I Be Famous', and then goes straight faced stone dead, that shit still cracks me up.

I still like his mean and moody War Stories - the 'come fight a gurkha!' part in his recent Lion And The Eagle series was as good as anything he's ever written - but maybe I need more dumb humour in my life, not less. Maybe I shouldn't be locking away those laffs into storage. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Asteroid City: I still don't understand the play

I fucking loved Asteroid City, and even though most of the characters are stuck in place to an existential degree, I still feel it has that potent Anderson sense of speed, with plot and backstory rapidly flying by, to the point of gorgeous absurdity.

That said, I honestly can't believe nobody went up that bridge to nowhere and flew off the end. That really felt like a missed opportunity.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Mission Impossible v Twister: Style always wins

I've been to the movie theatre half a dozen times in the past couple of months, and my faintly beating cinematic heart is stoked by that. That heart's fierce burning to see as many movies in the theater as humanly possible really shined when I was 21, and I know it was at its brightest then, because that's when Twister and the first Mission Impossible came out.

I saw each film more than half a dozen times in the winter of 1996. They weren't the only movies that I saw more times than I should - there was, unfortunately, lots of Escape from LA - but these other two blockbusters came out at the same time, and when I was at my deepest in my movie obsession, they were both playing at the multiplex just down the road.

Look, I had loads of disposable income and free time, and I just wanted to spend vast amounts of both at the cinema. It was just so easy to fall into the habit.

So I saw both of these movies half a dozen times each, and I was getting bored of Twister's tricks by the third or fourth time (I still went, because what else was I gonna do, get a life?), but I never got sick of the tension of the raid on the CIA headquarters, or the madness of the train sequence.

Even at such a young age, I was always a DePalma kid. I just dug his moviemaking balls. Why not have extreme close-ups and zooms and split screens and everything? What use was being a filmmaker if you didn't try all the tricks, and come up with some new ones of your own?

I'm still hugely impressed with his slick and mean early 90s work like Raising Cain and Carlito's Way, and it made perfect sense to me that he'd be rebooting the dusty old MI template.

(Carlito got no love at the time, but its critical reputation has grown over the years, once you get past Viggo's outrageous accent. But holy shit, I've always thought that ambush in the pool hall is a top 10 movie scene, and nobody does sadness in the rain like Pacino.)

So Mission Impossible just had more style, had more slickness to it. Twister the sure hand of a solid director in Jan de Bont, an immensely charming cast - Paxton should have had way more leading roles -  and had a lot of new special effects that still actually hold up pretty well, but it was the stodgiest story of reunited loves and the pains of hubris.

While Mission Impossible was about jumping off an exploding helicopter onto the back of a speeding high speed train inside a cramped tunnel, and despite all the tricks and twists, it was only really ever about that.

They're still talking about a Twister sequel, and that might happen, but it's not surprise that there have been seven MIs and one Twister. I could see that coming in the dark Dunedin winter of 1996.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Mickey's spaceship was always parked up in my head

Nobody can remember everything, and most of the things that go through the slush pile in our heads roll right out again. Ask me what I had for dinner last week, and I might remember some fucking tasty enchiladas that I made one night, but that's about it.

And then there are also parts of the brain that retain stuff for decades and decades, without ever really knowing it, until it's there in your face.

I've had tens of thousands of books and comics and magazines flow through my possession. It's constantly surprising to me how I remember owning, and I can still remember exact panels from comics I haven't read in 20 years, and I'm obviously quite distraught that all this incredible brainpower was put into, I dunno, cancer research or some shit.

And I still remember all the Little Golden Books I had when I was five years old. For such tiny and thin books, they were always hugely popular. I still remembered things like the Sesame Street ones, and have been more than happy to introduce the next generation to the joys of Big Bird's Big Red Book and Grover's eternal quest to avoid the Monster At The End Of This Book. (The four-year-old is also particularly fond of a couple of Star Wars and Star Treks ones I got.)

But I thought I had completely forgotten the one where Mickey Mouse builds a spaceship and soars into the stars, until I saw it on the shelf at Auckland's best second hand bookstore.

And while the details of the book meant nothing to me now, the thickly painted pictures of Mickey and Donald heading into the infinite were deeply familiar.

Somewhere, deep inside my head, there was retained the image of this spaceship being wheeled out of a barn, or the Beagle Boys getting up to mischief in the vacuum of space. It was all so familiar.

Even after all the booze I drank and all the dope I smoked, even after hitting my head repeatedly over the decades. Even after cramming in the details of a million other comic panels, and book illustrations, and all sorts of other nonsense, there was still a part that retained these images, for no good purpose.

Maybe it is just a pile of sludge in our ears, fooling itself into some kind of consciousness, but it is truly remarkable how some things stick, all through the years, without you ever knowing.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Who was Who in the DC Universe: Old school is the best school (part 2 of 2)

Art by Ty Templeton

Art by Norm Breyfogle

Art by Ken Hooper

Art by John Higgins

Art by Jim Aparo

Art by Hilary Barta

Jim Aparo should have done a lot more Mr Miracle - the few times he appeared in Brave and the Bold were just not enough - and judging by this and the few covers he did for Swampy back when absolutely nobody was reading it, John Higgins should definitely have done way more Swamp Thing. That one was a fucking no-brainer.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

She's practising the clarinet!

It's not fair. The kid picks up a figure of the Baroness in all her tight leather and evil hotness and declares 'Mum!'; and the only action figure I ever got compared to by my progeny was Miles fucking Mayhem from the MASK toys.

Thanks, young 'uns.

Friday, August 25, 2023

The headphones put me in the Floyd hole

I'm always a bit surprised when I go into any kind of tech store, and see the amount and variety of headphones they have on offer. But I shouldn't really be, because having your entertainments blasted directly into your earholes remains the one of the most immersive experiences you can have with art.

You don't need any kind of VR kit to give you an overload of sensation, just put on some headphones, crank up the sounds and close your eyes.

Right about the time I started taking music really, really seriously - like we all do when we're in your early teens and grasping for some kind of identity to call our own - I was into Pink Floyd. They were terminally uncool at the time and were for many years afterwards, (I disavowed my Floyd love for years until I got over myself,) but they will always be my first great musical love.

So after having my mind totally fucking blown by The Wall, I made sure that the first time I dived headfirst into Wish You Were Here, it was under optimum conditions. I got hold of a cheap vinyl copy - fuckin' nobody was buying LPs in the late eighties, so you could easily pick up classic albums for less than five bucks - put it on our shitty little stereo system, and put on my headphones.

The headphones I used were cheap crap from the local store, but they dragged me all the way into a Floyd hole that I've never really come out of.

I think it was that chortle that seems to come from right behind your ear, just as the lyrics for Shine On You Crazy diamond kicked in. I genuinely thought there was somebody behind me when I heard it, and felt the real power of true immersion.

It was just so easy to block out the whole fucking world, and just groove on the awesome thrill of music, where everything in the universe fades into nothingness next to the charge of the next chord change.

(This immersion is also part of the reason I also get so much more emotional watching films on planes, with the dialogue , music and sound effects bouncing around in your head.)

For years after that LP experience, I didn't go anywhere without the walkman and the headphones, and had that soundtrack to my mundane life blasting away. I don't do it so much when walking around anymore, and tend to listen to podcasts in one ear, with more interaction with the world. 

This isn't just because I'm trying to heed the lessons Kurt Vonnegut once taught about going to buy an envelope, but because I live in a big city with crazy drivers who you really do need to keep an ear out for.

But every now and then, when I've got some time and space to really and truly relax, nothing beats just putting on those headphones, playing some fave music and going inside my head again. It can be a happy place in there.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Kill your heroes, and love the superposition

There a bit towards the end of From Hell, in the Dance of the Gull Catchers epilogue, when writer Alan Moore admits that it doesn't matter who Jack The Ripper is. Because he's a super-position, far bigger than the physical space of the actual murderer.

This is always forefront in my mind when another personal hero turns out to be just another arsehole - when it turns out that a writer I admire is a selfish, narcissistic fuckwit, or a director turns out to be fully abusive.

It used to be so disappointing, and I would be crushed when somebody I'd so admired had feet of shit. And it's a major reason why I don't have many heroes anymore, because I finally figured out that they're all human beings.

Humans, even the greatest of us, can still be mean and spiteful, or you could just catch them in a really bad mood. They can say inappropriate things at the exact wrong time, and support people and ideals who are morally repugnant.

I do have super-positions that I admire though, beyond the frailties of human complexity. The ideals they pass on, the way they see the world at its best, away from the mess of their last divorce, or the way they turned into a deadbeat dad.

I wouldn't ever want to be a superposition myself, it's not exactly aspirational. Because for all the complexities of it, it's still just the shadow of the intricacies found within every human soul.

Still, if Tom fucking Hanks turns out to be an actual dirtbag, I am giving up on life.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

I never get sick of this

Empire Magazine, on a set visit for a forthcoming blockbuster: You might think that the director is a hack, but their new movie/TV show promises a worthy look at an important issue, full of diversity and representation without being patronizing, while still delivering giant thrills and emotional highs that can only be found on the altar of the screen, and points to a bright and glorious future.

Empire Magazine's review of the same movie, two months later: Kinda lame. Three stars. 

(It's almost as funny as the long-running gag where they promise that maybe this video game adaption will be the one that's actually good, and it never, ever is. No, not even The Last Of Us.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

It's mild clobbering time

I never saw the Fantastic Four at their best, because I always came to the comic at the worst times. Some of it just ain't my fault - Kirby left the comic years before I was born, so I was never going to see it in its prime - but whenever I ended reading it for months at a time, it wasn't the greatest.

There were snatches of brilliance in the comics I saw in the local stores, like the three issues with Art Adams, or the few John Byrne issues I could get my hands on (it was weirdly hard to find in my area). Byrne's comics - once seen as the pinnacle of non-Kirby FF - now seem clumsy, overwrought and frequently baffling, but still have plenty of vigor and charm, and I could only wish I read them as new, monthly issues.

No, the only time I bought more than three issues of FF in a row was when Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan were in charge of the World's Greatest Comic Magazine.

Their long run in the early and mid 1990s were not great comics, full of cliche and empty bombast. Far from being the standard bearer for the Marvel Universe, the book shamelessly chased after contemporary trends - there is an unfortunate attempt to sex Sue Richards up with a very revealing costume that was so clumsy people are still making fun of it today, and I do still wonder if they ever played up the connection to Nathaniel Richards and Cable any further, stab their eyes. 

But it also had a pleasantly retro vibe, with DeFalco channeling the verbosity and unnecessary complexity of the 70s and mixing it with the eternal stodginess of Ryan's art. Ryan always felt a little unappreciated - some of the first vicious comments about a particular artist on a particular book that I ever saw online were complaining about Ryan's work on The Flash in his post-FF career - but his figurework and anatomy were always pleasingly consistent, at a time when none of the cool kids cared about shit like that.

I came into their FF not long after this team started, lured in by a New Warriors guest appearance, and bought it for a good couple of years. And maybe those comics don't hold up so well now, but I was rarely actually disappointed by any of their comics I got at the time. Even the most average Fantastic Four comics can have their charms.

Monday, August 21, 2023

I'm still a teenage soda junkie

In all our travels around the world, I have very few regrets about the places I've been. But one major one is that when we went to New Orleans for four days, I only discovered the Rocket Fizz pop and candy store on the final afternoon.

It was everything I always dreamed about on all my travels - a living museum to the carbonated beverage, with all sorts of flavours to try out. I got a six pack of sodas with chocolate and bacon flavourings. I even got a bubble gum flavour one and I hate bubble-gum flavour, but it had a They Live label, so I had to get it.

It's my one real vice in life these days, a love of soft drinks. I only drink booze at funerals and haven't smoked since I was 22. I don't drink coffee or tea or any kind of hot drink, really, and will take the sugar and caffeine hit where I can get it.

There's nothing wrong with a cold Cola-Cola, but I always like the crazy flavours and usually regret getting them and wish I'd got a coke instead, but at least I tried.

And the flavours can linger for years, when I find a local shop selling the Fanta with the Fruit Twist flavour, I have to get it, because it always tastes of central London to me, and I ain't getting back to London anytime soon, so I'll take what I can get.

The absolute worst soda I ever had overseas was some kind of sour green apple thing we tried when we passed through Pisa, in the shadow of the leaning tower. It was rancid. The best was probably the combined effect of the creaming sodas I drank while visiting the northwestern parts of the US, which made me a creaming soda fan for life.

I don't go for any diet soda, because it always feel like the aspartame is sticking to my soul. 

Back home, in everyday life, I have had some issues. I used to go through litres of the stuff when I was younger, even the threat of getting fillings from the school dental nurse wasn't enough to slow me down. (And it really was a fucking threat - I don't think local schools have in-house dental nurses anymore, but there were legitimate reasons why we always called it the murder house.)

I've weaned myself off the soft drinks several times, (and saw some slightly impressive weight loss every time I did), but now I'm a stay at home dad for most of the week, and need some kind of soda hit to get through the day. I'll take my vices where I can get 'em.

And sometimes I'll just think about that soda store in New Orleans, and how much I'd like to get back there. I ate some of the best food in my life in that city when we visited, but I could have drunk way more.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Who was Who in the DC Universe: Old school is the best school (part 1 of 2)

Art by Tom Grummett and Al Vey

Art by Mike Grell

Art by José Luis García-López

Art by Joe Phillips and Karl Story

Art by Jerry Ordway

Art by Greg LaRocque and Jose Marzan Jr

I genuinely hate how many lightning effects are used any time the Flash goes for a quick jog these days. Give me the clean lines for supersonic motion anytime.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

I'd give anything to see those old comic shops again

I literally dream about old comic shops that I went to when I was younger, places that were so massively exciting to me when I was a teenager that they're still bubbling up from the unconsciousness even now.

I would give anything to see photos of them - of the first one I ever went to, opposite the Dunedin railway station; or the one on the corner of Cashel Mall in Christchurch, because those were the places that were the most amazing things in the world to me at the time. But now I can't even find their names.

At least I've got the pic of Bag End Books up above. That was my local for five years in the mid-90s and I spent so much time there, I'm sure I can my ghost hanging around that middle shelf, looking for the latest Love and Rockets.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Return of the giant face

There have been a lot of words about how the success of the Barbie/Oppenheimer thing is showing that cinema is back (which is very fucking premature, especially with the righteous strike action going on), and all I know is that I've seen the appeal of going to the movie theatre on the giant faces, emoting on a screen bigger than my house.

There's been two giant faces in two films particular recently, which have both smashed the lure of cinema right over my thick skull.

One of them was Casey Affleck, who barely gets more than a single scene in Oppenheimer, and somehow standing out in a massive film jammed with outrageous acting talent.

His small scene is so full of quiet menace and unease, and it's all there, in Imaxified glory. When he appears with that slightly quavering voice, and the dubious execution of the classic Affleck shit-eating grin, it's all in service of the absolute fucking murder in his eyes.

The nuclear explosions and sub-atomic blasts were great, but Affleck's preference on the fucking big screen down the road was the real spectacle.

The other one was in the most unlikely of places - because while Mission Impossible also delivered on the thrills, Hayley Atwell was fucking great, and turned out to be more than just a long line of striking brunettes to fall into the orbit of the IMF.

There's a scene towards the end, during the train drama, where she's absolutely 100% about to get killed, and then Ethan solves in the most, well, impossible manner. Which is all fun and games, but the part where Ethan finally gets to her and asks if she's okay is just brilliant. 

Because for a jet-setting master thief, she reacts like an actual human being, and it's all there on her face - the fear, the relief, the humour, the tension, all right there.

I don't care how big your television is, the full immersion of the cinema can bring the slightest moments home, just as they can bring the bombast. That'll get me in the theatre seat, every time.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Facebook cartoons are the worst cartoons

Even though I know it always makes me sound like a right tosser, but I can't stop myself from scoffing  at futurist articles and books that are all about how the algorithm will rule our lives. Because, man, Facebook's algorithm has had me as a captive audience for 15 years now, and it doesn't know me at all.

It's getting progressively worse, and if there is any kind of AI behind these decisions, it's dumb as shit and getting dumber. I have no interest in car repairs or home DIY, but that's what it keeps suggesting to me. I vigorously block all the joke Star Wars pages that are still bitching about Rey, but they're like cockroaches and keep coming back. 

And I might have reached my breaking point over the friggin' cartoons. Maybe it's because I belong to a couple of comic book groups, but my Facebook timeline is inundated with tonnes and tonnes of "recommended" cartoons

And they're all, without exception, absolutely fucking terrible. If they're lucky, they're just clumsy and dull, telling ancient jokes with terribly bland art. But a lot of them are the kind of sexist, racist garbage that was last acceptable in 1955.

All with the most generic of cartooning, with no style or substance, thin-lined and static. Some of them have even started latching onto names that are slight variations of the great Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons, which are still eternally funny, and certainly better than the crap in my newsfeed.

I take my cartoons seriously and I weep that the carefully curated funny pages of the past have now morphed into this ocean of shit, with endless mother-in-law jokes and desert island gags that would have been laughed out of the Mad Magazine offices (and not in a good way).

The quality control on these things is dire/non existent, and these cheap attempts at laffs are actively making the world a worse place.

Facebook shambles on, and I'll still check in once a week, just to find out which of my cousins has become a grandparent (they have 'em young in my fam), but for a site that it all about the user experience, it's giving me nothing else worth chasing.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Four years!

I've been an actual goddamn parent for four years now - me? with my reputation? - and one thing I have learned is this: comic books are the best artistic medium that has ever existed, and I have spent so much time and money on them over the years. And if my daughter wanted to rip up every bloody comic in the world, I'd serve them up to her on a golden platter.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Venture Bros and Giles: Wouldn't have a clue

The Venture Bros has come to an end, and while I still love the whole thing dearly, I also don't mind admitting that I am completely and totally lost when it comes to the big plot. All the machinations of the Guild of Calamitous Intent, all the deep lore about the original Doc Venture's team, I've seen all the episodes at least a couple of times each, and I still don't follow most of it.

But I don't let general bafflement get in the way of a good time. I learned that lesson a long, long time ago, and I learned it thanks to Giles.

My Nana Smith is most responsible for my comics fixation, she fed me some of the greatest comics of the 70s when she worked in a second hand bookstore that is still there, (although not long for this world).

But while she happily encouraged my reading of all sorts of comics at a very young age, she never had many around her house. Except for the Giles books - she always had loads of Giles books.

Giles is one of the quintessentially English cartoonists, a highly detailed line serving a wicked sense of humour. His massive single panels, taking up a whole page of every collection, packed with character and incident.

And these books were at least a decade old, and were full of commentary on topical events in the UK, so I had absolutely no idea what was going on in them because I didn't understand the political scandals and global trade figures that fueled the jokes.

But they were still funny as hell, largely because of their glimpses of life that felt very familiar - the characters in Giles looked like my relatives, from the philosophical Dad who just wants a tiny slice of peace and quiet, to the anarchic energy of the battleaxe Grandmother and the posse of impish children.

Who cares who the Chancellor of the Exchequer was, when you've got those kind of characters, getting up to all sorts of mischief? Even as a little kid, that shit was hilarious.

And now, decades and decades later, that kind of general bafflement works for the Ventures too.

Never mind about the long, convoluted continuity, and how some things just don't make any sense. Some plot threads - like the identity of the twins' mum - have been unraveling forever, but I never really cared about any of that.

It was the weirdos and freaks pulled into it - clones, henchmen and Brocks. HELPers and Brick Frogs. The way Doctor Girlfriend always sticks up for the Monarch and genuinely loves him, baboon blood and all, and the way mad scientists and discarded sidekicks could form new families out of the ruins of their lives. Who cares what The Orb actually was?

Still, while it might be all over now, I would still take a whole series about Gary. I could always follow Gary's story.

Monday, August 14, 2023

My stolen books still bring me shame

There was a good 12 months as a teenager where I went through a stage of being an incorrigible shoplifter, and I'm still deeply ashamed about it. I never got caught, although I came fucking close a couple of times.  I would only ever steal comic books because they cost so fucking much, and I was desperate for a four-colour fix. 

I still know each and every one I didn't pay for, and I notice them when I see them today, buried in the last box of Marvel I still have. They might look like any other issue of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe '89 Edition, but their pages are stained with guilt I can still see, as my obsession with comics outpaced the extremely limited funds I had as a 15-year-old.

They burn in my collection, the ones I've held onto. The things I took without permission, when I was so young and so dumb, I still see them today, and know I don't deserve to have them.

The poor fucking shopkeepers who were just trying to earn a living. Most of them are gone now, eaten up by big chain bookstores, which were eaten up by nothing. While they were still there, I always went back to the stores I stole stuff from, years later, and bought anything I could from them, and I paid them back for my young thievery many times over.

There are still some books - and a couple of toys - in this house where I'm typing this that are expressly not mine, borrowed many years ago and picked up from small libraries and never returned. The actual owners obviously deserve to get them back, and even though I always remember who they actually belong to, I haven't seen some of those people in decades.

Some of them have been on my bookshelf for more than 20 years, are they mine now? Were they ever?

I gave them a good home, at least. Entire generations are growing up happy in the knowledge that they don't really own anything, because when they buy movies that can be instantly deleted from personal digital libraries, but I still have a lot of shit to call mine. I'm just shamed by how I acquired some of it.

Shame is very underrated in 2023 - I remain constantly distraught at the number of people who will lie and cheat and screw people over, and then just roll away like it ain't nothing. CEOs making hundreds of millions of dollars and lecturing us all about tightening their belts, public figures making public statements they know are barefaced lies, and then just going on with their lives like it ain't no thing. Endless corruption and grift.

All that going on in he world, I can't even steal a book, without feeling like a total shit for fucking decades. I just still feel bad about it. You'd have to be totally shameless not to.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Who was Who in the DC Universe: Who rules the world? (part 2 of 2)

Art by Dusty Abell and John Beatty

Art by Eric Shanower

Art by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubinstein

Art by Steve Bove and Keith Wilson

Dolphin was the dream of a girlfriend you never actually had, and while Madame Xanadu was always more intriguingly mysterious, nobody rocked the fishnets like Zatanna. I still miss this Supergirl, and I don't care if she really was a protoplasmic blob.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Burning down the house

We're starting to see images of unstoppable and endless wildfires across the world on the news now, instead of where they should be - in a montage at the start of a Snake Pliskin movie, telling us how the whole world has turned to shit. 

I think we should note this as often as possible.

You'd hope we'd reached the point - when extremely vast areas of the entire fucking world are on fucking fire and the fucking temperature of the fucking sea is actually approaching boiling point - that any climate change deniers would fuck all the way off, but they're still sticking around and are as loud as ever. Some people just really want to see the whole world burn, but we must not give in to those maniacs.


Friday, August 11, 2023

Metropolis: An open invitation to your heart

Like all good movie nerds, I go through odd phases of getting into silent era cinema, and finding new thrills in the oldest of cinema. 

But the only silent films I've seen multiple times are the horrors and the fantastical. I'll ride and die for the painted shadows in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, and will drop everything for a bit of Nosferatu in the night.

And the one I've seen the most is undoubtedly Metropolis, Frtiz Langs' masterpiece, but I'm not sure if that really counts, because the only version I have seen is the one by Giorgio Moroder from 1981, with the bitching pop soundtrack featuring Freddie Mercury, Adam Ant, Bonnie Tyler  and Pat Benatar.

Purists would obviously sneer that Moroder's version is far from the true version, and while a lot of the music has inevitably dated, it's still my preferred method to indulge in some Metropolis.

I just think it's deliciously sacrilegious to fuck with the classics like that, and nobody is going to love all your needle drops, so just go with it.

It does always leave me with the wish that more modern pop stars would start doing new soundtracks to accompany silent masterpieces. Get Wet Leg to do some songs for a Harold Lloyd film, or Drake doing a soundtrack for Sunrise, or Sharon Van Etten on Intolerance. Find something new for everybody.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

52 and the MCU

I don't know how it happened, but I somehow recently ended up reading a significant chunk of the 52 comics, the weekly series published by DC from 2006 or so, and written by Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid and Geoff Johns.

And they were fine enough comics, even if they've been rebooted at least twice since then - not even 20 years old and already a relic of a bygone age. But when it comes to the storytelling on display, what they really reminded me of was the Marvel movies.

The 52 writers were some of the best superhero writers of their time, with real individual strengths that they were bringing to the table. And at that time there were plenty of interview where the writers all compared it to being in a band, but ultimately the comics felt a lot flatter without that unique perspective of the single writer.

TV shows can have their writers rooms and make that work, but for short form narratives, writing by committee is never really as satisfying, with no single viewpoint, no personality. (And we're not even touching on the possibilities of AI scriptwriting in this, because that it pure anti-art, and can get in the fucking sea.)

Comics are obviously a collaborative medium, the beauty often lies in the synergy between writer and artists (not to mention the rest of the team). But the more people sticking their fingers in the writing, the less attractive it is.

And the Marvel films feel like this - they always have their designated writers and get out some nice lines and even occasional moments of real human connection, but always buried under the many, many notes holding the script together. It's all about that big picture, and any individual points it makes are almost by accident.

It all comes out fine. Nothing actually awful, but nothing brilliant, and that's the valley where 52 rolled in and showed the way. Perfectly competent and nothing too awful, but nothing great either. Just fine.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Why do you ask?

My entire stance on the abortion issue (and by extension, most issues) has always been most eloquently expressed with the happy desperation in this piece of art by Gilbert Hernandez, from the back cover of Love and Rockets #37, published in February 1992.

Pro choice! Always!

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

The joy of complete discomfort

As a long-term Cronenberg freak, it took me far too long to get around to Crimes of the Future, and I only got to see it last week. But it was worth the wait, because it was so uncomfortable I still feel like it's needling me somewhere in the neck, and it feels good, man..

It was so completely and unapologetically discomforting, in multiple ways. It's not that the eating chair Viggo has to use is made out of plastic bone, it's that it's twitching and spasming in the most awkward way. It's not just dealing with dead kids who might not be human because they eat too much plastic, it's cutting them open and letting you see inside. It's those fucking beds.

The wholesale display of terrible new organs in the human body is bad enough, but it's also the way Viggo Mortensen's Saul Tenser can't even speak without choking and gagging and coughing, as his body mutates in unforeseen ways.

My lovely wife understands me better than anybody else in this world, but she still doesn't understand why you'd even bother watching that would make you feel mentally uncomfortable, or physically queasy. Why would you put yourself through that?

But even beyond the ubiquitous intellectual vigour of a Cronenberg screenplay, even beyond the strange compassions he finds at the edge of human experience, even beyond the pitch-dark humour of his films, there is always something invigorating about a movie that can get any kind of genuine reaction out of you. Even the grossest of reactions is preferable to the apathy generated by so many other films.

This spirit of safe transgression has to be worth celebrating, and always worth seeking out. What makes us uncomfortable can only make us stronger, if we make even the smallest effort to understand and empathise with it..

Just don't ever ask me to sit in that fucking chair. Jesus fucking Christ, what an ergonomic nightmare.

Monday, August 7, 2023

The Justice League got me driving to freedom

It was sometime in 1992 and I was 17 and at my peak nerd stage. Mum and Dad were up in Christchurch for a darts tournament and would be at the Cosmopolitan Club all day. I had just got my full drivers license and was allowed to borrow the car, and I had some cash from my first ever job picking asparagus. 

Holy fucking shit, I had never felt such freedom, and I was going to indulge in it by getting as many Justice League comics as humanly possible.

It was my first time driving in the city, and I was very concerned by the number of roundabouts in the city, but it turned out to be an absolute piece of piss. And I was in fucking heaven, man, because I wanted to go to all the comic and book stores.

Comics used to be everywhere when I was growing up - you could find them in every dairy, in every bookstore, in most supermarkets and some cafes; and every bookstore in the country has some weirdly unique mix. And while I was desperate to check them all out, my parents rightly did not have time for all the nonsense, and we would drive on by places I knew were stacked with four colour brilliance.  

For my entire life, I'd been at the whim of parents and uncles, and couldn't just stop the car to look at an interesting display in the window of an open bookstore, and had to let it roll by.

I'm not saying getting the opportunity to stop wherever the fuck I wanted was the main reason for getting my drivers licence as soon as humanly possible, but it was certainly a factor.

Once I was driving, I primarily used my newfound freedom to go over the other side of town and buy the comics I knew would show up at random stores. But now I was in a town with an actual comic shop, and second hand stores all over the city, stuffed with all sorts of comic goodness.

There was a lot of things going on in my life around then, like girls and liquor and other grown-up pursuits. But you could have that and still be fantastically huge nerd who found the joys of absolute freedom by driving around town and getting as many of the Justice League International comics as I could, and finding almost all the Adam Hughes issues in that one day.

Once I was in full employment a few months later, I didn't need to wait for Mum and Dad, and could go up to Christchurch any weekend I wanted. And I would come back with a back seat full of comics - I soon hunted down the last of the Justice League I needed (although it would take some years before I got all of the Europe).

I would drop hundreds on Love and Rockets and Hellblazer back issues at Comics Compulsion, while David's Book Store had the best selection of back issues in town - I got a first printing of The Killing Joke for an exorbitant twenty bucks in the mid-90s. (Dave's still hanging in there, way out on the edge of town now and with a meager selection of comics, but he's still there, man.)

It was always an absolute fucking delight, my nerdy mates would pack out the car, visit our other friends in town and hit the bookshops, and eat bread rolls on the banks of the Avon, before catching a couple of movies and heading back the same day, laden with geeky shit.

And I could stop anywhere I wanted, I could go anywhere. My scope, at that time, was severely limited, but it never felt more open. Christchurch is still a pimple of the arse end of the world, but it was everything for a while.

My tastes have calcified somewhat over the years, and Christchurch isn't the big city I thought of it was. It barely has any bookstores left. But I still find myself driving on the same old streets whenever I'm in town, getting a cheap thrill of nostalgia for cheap freedom, even if there's no comics at the end of them.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Who was Who in the DC Universe: Who rules the world? (part 1 of 2)

Art by Adam Hughes and Karl Story
Art by Brian Steelfreeze
Art by Chris Bachalo
Art by Curt Swan and Brett Breeding

Maxima would show you the wonders of the universe and then probably cut your head off at the end of it; Catwoman would lead you on a merry chase around town before stealing your underwear and leaving you naked in Times Square; and Barda would own you and you would not deserve it. Kathy would obviously be the best choice to go on a road trip with.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

I still don't need any longboxes

I've spent the past few weeks boxing up hundreds of comics and putting them into storage, ad it's all getting a bit emotional, but I'm still slightly baffled by the fact that I've never owned an actual comic book box.

No long boxes, not short boxes, nothing ever designed specifically for comics. For years, I've just stacked them up in banana boxes, but now I buy new boxes from the local storage place, because I can fit almost 300 2000ad progs in one of those fuckers.

Still, it feels strange that I've shelled out vast amounts of my disposable income on tens of thousands of comics, and almost nothing on the best way to store them. What an absolute cheaparse.

Friday, August 4, 2023

When they said repent, I wonder what they meant

I went through a heavy soundtrack phase for a while in the mid-90s. I bought tonnes of them on tape and CD, and have very big feelings about the soundtracks of that era. 

And not just all the usual suspects - everyone was listening to the Pulp Fiction and Forest Gump soundtracks, and I'm surely not the only poor bastard out walking around the deserted city after midnight listening to the Twin Peaks albums - but things like the tapes for In the Name of the Father and Mystery Train can still stir big emotions in me.

But when it comes to a ratio of how much I loved the movie, compared to the soundtrack it spawned, it was Natural Born Killers all the way. I still thought it was a terrific film, and while it may now seem shrill and overwrought, it was a splendid piss-take of media saturation and the reactions to mass murder. Mickey and Mallory are terrible, terrible people, but Oliver Stone's insistence in going so far over the top that he was in the fuckin' stratosphere is still incredibly charming.

And the Trent Reznor-produced soundtrack was an absolute revelation, far more groundbreaking and innovative than the movie it was supporting.

With songs blurring into each other, and snatches of dialogue and sounds from the film filtering through, it felt like a proper fucking concept album, more like Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds narrative than a traditional soundtrack.

Going through the whole album felt like a goddamn journey, especially when the songs were an incredible curation, with the full throated Leonard Cohen, the immortal Shitlist, a dose of Cowboy Junkies, some deep hip-hop beats, and one of those Bob Dylan ballads that just crushes your heart.

Then you'd get Robert Downey Jr butting in with the most outrageous Australian accent in cinema, or the cop crying about his partner dying while getting his bear claw pastry, or some extended indigenous chanting building to a bloody peak.

The main characters in Natural Born Killers were, to put it bluntly, total fucking meatheads and their murderous rampage has no redeeming factors. Other than the absolutely brilliant music used to soundtrack their nihilism, of course, and it still feels like a shotgun blast to the soul.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Blockbusters left running on the spot

I honestly think that truly great action choreography is the greatest thing in all cinema. There is nothing better in movies than a really intense, brutal and stylish action scene. Whether it's fist fights, car chases or epic battles, that's where the basic thrills of cinema lie.

And after more than a century of terrific actions scenes, with breathtakingly dangerous stunts and propulsive narratives, there are still amazing action films being shot every year, and it's starting to look like there really isn't any limit to what you can do with the human body for the art of cinema. (Tom Cruise might find it for us, one day.)

But for all that, there are also worrying amounts of my least favourite type of action, and that's a sequence where main characters are running away from a large amount of falling digital debris or massive CGI monsters on the rampage.

When the characters aren't engaging with the action, and just madly running through an impossible barrage, only surviving through sheer luck rather than any agency of their own.

So many big blockbusters resort to this mad scramble and they all look the same, full of close calls and near-misses. And even when these scenes have no weight or gravity to them, so many big films fall into their influence.

These scenes are part of the deafening noise of the Transformers series, and you expect that kind of thing from Michael Bay, but even something like the second chapter of Stephen King's It really lost its cool when the creepy clown turned into a giant spider monster that runs around after the heroes scrambling for cover.

These scenes always look very expensive and time-consuming, and nearly every film could do without them. They sometimes look impressive, but they're always running in the same spot. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

This is my life now: The Carol Burnett one!

Okay, so parenting is just full of surprises, but having the three-year-old look at me very, very seriously and say "No dad, the Carl Burnett one!" was somehow completely not shocking.

She only knows the wonderful Ms Burnett from a Scooby Doo cartoon, but it's nice to see the versatile entertainer find a grip in the latest generation.

She also thinks Malcolm McDowell is the bee's knees, thanks to the Scooby gang - which means we'll have to have the Malcolm McDowell talk one day, and that won't be awkward at all.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Ultimate Invasion and the deflation of the bang for buck

The number of monthly comics I order at my local comic store is incredibly anemic at the moment - the most regular thing I get is Back Issue Magazine (which somehow sometimes comes out three times a month, and then I won't see one for ages).

I want to try new things, and I always like to read one new monthly superhero comic, but I don't have anything like that at the moment. Just a few short limited series, destined to end in the near future.

So even though I'm one of those pricks who has more fun picking holes in Jonathan Hickman comics than they do actually reading them, I'll follow Bryan Hitch almost anywhere (his fights are always brilliantly clumsy, but Venom was a step too far), and have weird nostalgia for the Ultimate era, and then I saw #1 of Ultimate Invasion at the local store and thought I'd have a look and it cost more than $20 and fuuuuck that.

Comics have always been more expensive in this part of the world, and I have a clear memory of raging at a letter in X-Men which was complaining about the new 75 cent cost, when I was paying $3 for the same thing in local money. Exchange rates and sheer distance means every comic was precious.

So the fact that they are usually about three times cover price makes you more discerning, and when something comes out that is properly expensive, it has to be worth it.

But I can't justify paying more than $20 for 1/6 of a story, no matter how much I love it when Hitch has characters fucking lay into each other. The whole thing will cost north of $100 by the time it's done, or I could just wait six months and get it from the library for free. The maths just don't add up for a quick fix.

The slow evaporation of my pull list has certainly been accelerated by the fact that most regular comics are more than $10, and very rarely provide $5 of thrills. Even my beloved 2000ad sailed over that ten dollar mark a year or so ago, although it's not like I'm going to give that up now. Squaxx Dek Thargo for life. 

Hell, even Back Issue is a $30 magazine now, and I don't know if I need to be spending that much to read about the adventures of frickin' Ka-Zar. I'll keep getting it because I want to support my local store in some way, and there's fuck all bang for my buck in the regular series.

I know the issue of the price of these things is an extreme case when you're living on the edge of the world, but I've slowly grown accustomed to paying so much more than my American cousins. It's just that there are limits, and more than $20 for one issue is right over the fuckin' edge.