Sunday, March 31, 2024

This is a house of Sienkiewicz: Gotham never looked so good

It is an absolute goddamn crime that almost all of Bill Sienkiewicz's covers over the past decade have been variant covers, only appearing on a comparative handful of published comics before thrown in the back of a trade paperback with 20 other pages of Batman looking grim on a gargoyle. These things of beauty should be made more available to all people everywhere.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

The silent liker

I do believe the only way to handle any kind of social media presence is an extremely proactive block policy, combined with a general desire to shut the fuck up about anything. 

I'm just happy being a silent liker, quietly approving of other peoples' content, without creating any of my own. You don't have to comment on everything, you can just like stuff and be happy. It's really easy, and even the dumb algorithms that keep feeding me Nazi shit should be able to figure that out.

If you have to say something, get yourself a self-sustaining monologue on a daily blog, that's what all the sane people do.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Pulp is joyous, even in Hardcore

Jarvis Cocker was going through some shit when Pulp recorded 'This Is Hardcore'. He and the rest of his mates in the band had spent long years trying to be popstars with actual artistic depth, and then they suddenly were, and what then?

What then?

Once you've done a transcendent Glastonbury show, and wriggled your arse in the direction of Michael Jackson (which still might be the most effectively political thing Cocker has ever done), where do you go from there?

You go to This Is Hardcore, the best album of late Britpop, a solid chunk of bloody genius. And Jarvis and crew have discovered that it's grim when you find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The whole album is dripping with it - the forced nature of partying hard, the sordid shit of the lead song, the sheer what's-it-all-about of The Fear, the inevitability of getting old and dying, and there's nothing you can do about it. 

And that's how it's been remembered ever since - Common People was the moment when all the good drugs really kicked in, and This Is Hardcore is the hangover. Great fucking songs, but also a bit of a downer.

That's not how I remember it, not when the album lifts to new levels with Glory Days and The Day After The Revolution - songs that are still full on anxiety, uncertainty and the rage of those who have been lied to, but also finding something worthwhile in this strange and beautiful life. Now that we decided not to die after all, you can grove on the thrilling and propulsive music taking you through the day.

Going out on a high.

Well, as long as you don't have the extended edition, which ends with the portentous orchestral version of This Is Hardcore. Might as well pack it in, if that's how it goes.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Goodbye, Readers Book Exchange

This shop was my favourite bookshop in the whole world, and it closed for good today. It had been around for nearly 60 years, opening when The Beatles were still a thing, outlasting the USSR and surviving well into the 21st century, but its day is done. The Reader's Book Exchange in Timaru, just down from the Majestic Theatre, is no more.

I thought it was going to shut down months ago, and got abnormally emotional about it in the back room, but I got to go there a couple more times in the past few weeks, buying a few of Mick Herron's books, a little bit of Snoopy, a collection of science fiction short stories by an author I'd never heard of before, and an old book about disasters which was far and away my favourite non-fiction book in my primary school library when I was 8. That all seemed pretty apt.

The book selection got thinner and thinner as the years went on, but every time I was in town for the past decade or two, I'd make some time to bound up the concrete steps and have a browse, at least walking out with a Michael Moorcock paperback or something. 

It was my place. It always was. My Nana Smith, who passed away 24 years ago, worked there on and off for many years, and encouraged my reading to a wonderful degree, largely forming the nerd I am today. If she hadn't worked there, I wouldn't be doing this blog, or read thousands and thousands of wonderful comic books over the years. 

This is where I got the Unknown Soldier comics that I used to learn to read, the best issue of the Uncanny X-Men ever (#138) and the 2000ad cover where you see who Old Ben from Harry 20 on the High Rock really was. I got the thoroughly excellent Robocop novelization from there, and regularly bought Exploits of Spider-Man mags in the 90s. I still have issues of Hulk and Unexpected and Legion of Super-Heroes that I bought decades ago.

It'll probably turn into a vape shop, but it'll always be the best second-hand bookshop there ever was to me.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Coming off your bike at the end of the world

I've never been a motorcycle reader, and it's not just because everyone I know who is a regular rider has come off it at some stage and done themselves a horrific injury.

It's because I will always remember the parts in The Stand where people come off motorbikes and really fucked themselves up. And the mundanity of those injuries, in a world where the ambulance is never going to come again, just made it all the worse.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

What's in the box?

Nothing feeds the desperate desire to see what happens next in a comic book quite like a weekly schedule, so it's no surprise that 2000ad has had me frothing for the next prog for decades now. 

Even now, I'm still desperate to see how the latest Sinister Dexter turns out, just as much as I needed to see how Zenith was going to get out of the existentially dark hole it was digging in its final storyline, or how Day of Chaos was going to end. (Badly, for absolutely everybody, it turned out.)

And that weekly dose was never more thrill-powered than twice in one beautiful year, when I absolutely had to know what was in Kano's black box, and who was going to win Supersurf 10.

The first run of Bad Company by Milligan, Ewins and McCarthy was a blast, bringing the incredible clichés of the British war comic into a literal new world, full of killer robots, pitiless alien foes and war zombies. And the mystery of what the lead character Kano was carrying around in a black box - enough to kill anybody who tried to open it - was the ultimate plot point of the series, and there was a whole goddamn week after Danny, Mac and Mad Tommy opened it before we also got to see inside.

My mate Kyle got the issue first, and brought it into school the next day, and I still remember waiting for it on the long driveway leading up to H-block. The revelation was, of course, perfect. Of course that's what was in the box.

Almost exactly a year later, and I'm bunking off school early this time, because I have to see if Chopper is going to win Supersurf.

Like all good young nerds, I didn't really are about sports, but I was deeply invested in Supersurf 10, and can also remember reading the end of the race in front of the rack at Temuka Stationery, and being absolutely floored by the result.

Chopper was the best -  the greatest wallscrawler Mega City-One had ever seen, and the protagonist in one of the first Dredd stories where the title character is objectively a dick. He had, of course, won  Supersurf 7 with one of the most amazing feats in fictional sports, going backwards against MC-1's heavy traffic, carrying his great rival who had been mortally injured. 

And when he returned, it was in the latest mega-epic, with weeks and weeks of the Oz storyline devoted to Chopper making it to Australia. Once all the foolishness with the Judda was sorted out, with the unfortunate loss of Uluru, the race was on, stretching out for long pages of high velocity action on antigravity surfboards.

And then he lost, because shit happens, and a loudmouth Aussie was proclaimed the best in the world, and it wasn't fair.

But then again, what is? This was a good time in life to learn that type of lesson.

Chopper came back for the breathtaking carnage of Supersurf 11, and is still hanging around in the skies. Even Kano and crew have been back in recent years, for more trippy military mayhem. But nothing compares to those long seven days, a lifetime ago.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Boba Fett in the peas (and other lost treasures)

Every time I've opened a bag of frozen peas in the past 40 years - and I really do mean ever single time, and I really fuckin' love peas - there has been the smallest part of me that still hopes to see a Boba Fett action figure in there.

Sometimes you lose some mundane possession, and it ruins your day and you never forget it. I still mourn the loss of my first great pair of sunglasses, which I left them behind at a screening of Heavenly Creatures at the Hoyts 8 on Moorhouse Ave in Christchurch, in the shadow of the Port Hills where the terrible events of that movie took place, and that was in 1994. Hell, I still kick myself for leaving  a prized soccer ball at the playground out at the Waipopo Huts, a decade earlier.

It's stupid, because all these things are replaceable, but it's still annoying, and sad. I really liked that soccer ball, man.

The things I hated losing most as a kid were my Star Wars action figures, because I coveted all I could. The good stuff never made it as far as my part of the world, but I still got a few.  The only Luke I ever had was in his Hoth outfit, but I still had a Walrus Man. They were relatively expensive, and I might only get two or three figures a year, so appreciated what I could.

One of the biggest disasters was when I was six or seven, and somehow thought my C-3PO and Death Star Droid would have a great time swishing around in the toilet bowl when I flushed it, but they just fucking disappeared, and were gone forever. That was a life lesson.

They were gone, and even though I spent the next few days looking in all the drains, I knew they were gone forever. But I never gave up on the Boba Fett I lost. 

He was accidentally flung into a field of peas next to Morrison Park on the edges of Timaru, sometime in the early 80s. Me and my mates spent ages looking for him in the pea plants, but he somehow vanished.

I was absolutely gutted - they were valuable as hell,  because you only very rarely saw anything as cool as a Boba Fett figure around here, we all would have killed for a stormtrooper of Vader figure, and you know what, it only just occurred to me that one of the other kids who helped me look for it probably palmed it for themselves.

Son of a bitch.

Still, I convinced myself that maybe it would get harvested and end up in a bag of peas somewhere, I'd read stories about people finding lost wedding rings in the fish guts, so it didn't seem that implausible. Maybe there was a Boba in the peas.

I got another Boba Fett a few years later, who was terribly melted in a fireworks incident, and then another figure that I picked up in the 90s, and still have today. I can get all sorts of Boba Fetts from the local stores now - and have been sorely tempted by one based on the eternal art of Cam Kennedy - but I still take a peek inside every damn bag of peas I open.

I drove past the pea field the other day, and it's just a curtain factory now, and I would like to say I won't be wondering if Boba Fett will turn up in a curtain somewhere, but that would be a lie.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Building time in the Twilight Zone: 'Maybe we're the fiction'

Like everyone else who has ever lived, I don't really know how the world works, although the idea that we're all the hologram generated by a four-dimensional block of solid spacetime always sound right to me.

But I can not shake the feeling that the world is created by dudes with blank blue faces who build everything in time, minute by minute, just like that episode from the 80s Twilight Zone. 

I have felt guilty about walking down back alleys that those poor bastards all had to build from scratch just because I wandered down there, but it keeps them busy for the rest of eternity, I guess.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Skrillex and Maiden on the desert road

What music do you play in the desert? When you're driving through those wide empty spaces, where nobody else is around and there is just the glorious nothing everywhere, and you just need something loud to fill that void, what do you listen to?

Anything you want! Who cares?

So you bet your arse that I played music that would get me sneered at by all the cool people when I was barrelling down the Desert Road through the middle of the North Island recently. Nobody cares about Skrillex anymore, but dubstep will never die! And while Iron Maiden are clearly still a lot cooler, they are still raging dorks, and playing Rime of the Ancient Mariner at top volume is rarely acceptable in polite society.

Things are different out on the road, out in the nothing.

Thank goodness we had a Queens of the Stone Age album when we went though the American desert, because nothing sounds better in that slab of the world. We only had that and OK Computer for hundreds of miles, but even the most familiar Radiohead sounded new again in the desert sunset. The colours, man.

I did spend a lot of time in the Mongolian desert listening to Last Christmas on the tour driver's one cassette tape, and I figures that gives me a pass on playing Whamageddon for the rest of the century.

The desert doesn't care about you. If you disrespect it, it will chew you up and spit you out. But you can also throw all the terrible - and great - music into it, and it will eat it all up. Go hard.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

The taste of four-colour dust in the back of my throat

My comics do not live in bags, because I want to read them. I know this means they are more easily damaged, and rapidly lose their value, but I'm not into comics for the money. I'm here for the thrills.

Even comics that were published in the 60s and 70s are out there in th eopen air. They've survived decades of other owners,circling around collections and second hand stores, but they probably won't survive me.

But I might not survivethem, because every time I get stuck into an old comic ,I come away with weeping eyes and a sore throat, and it's not because of that sweet old Gil Kane art.

I've always had a dust allergy, so that's got to be a lot of it, and some of these things were printed on newsprint 50 ago. They're literally flaking away every time I read them, micro pieces of paper floating right up my sinuses.

I'm not going to read these comics any less, they're worth a little eye-ache. But the older they get, the more they exude, and the older I get, the more I feel it.

This has been another post that probably has some kind of moral or metaphor hiding in there somewhere, but fucked if I know what it is.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Trotting into the void

I had two deeply existential dreams recently about getting caught up in extradimensional voids, falling into an endless abyss, and when I woke up, I was heavily freaked out and then I realised that I had extradimensional dimensional portals on the brain because I'd seen them in something I'd watched recently.

And it wasn't anything cool like a Lovecraft adaption or anything like that. No, it was episode of My Little Pony. Don't worry, the unicorn could fly, so everybody who fell into the abyss was okay.

This is my life now.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Phil's Tarzan did not fuck around

After many, many years of searching, I finally got copies of Philip Jose Farmer's Lord of the Trees/The Mad Goblin books - the two sequels to A Feast Unknown - and got stuck into them. And it was so goddamn delightful how much Farmer gets right to the fucking point.

I read A Feast Unknown at the perfect time in my life, wand adored the cock-crossing pulp epic, featuring thinly-veiled version of Tarzan and Doc Savage battling it out against the machinations of The Nine, the secret rulers of the world.

And while Farmer's books are reasonably easy to find, it has taken me forever to find the Doc Savage Caliban one. This has always been the way - I actually have four copies of Lord of the Trees, because I keep seeing different versions of it and buying it just in case. (I also have three different copies of the Tarzan biography, but still would do anything for the Doc Savage one.)

So now that I had both sequels, I finally got to crack into them, and I absolutely adore the way that Farmer does not fuck around in any way. 

Because Lord of the Trees starts with (not really) Tarzan getting blown out of the sky, surviving a high altitude fall into the ocean, fighting some sharks, swimming several miles to shore, finding the remains of his family's home, getting attacked by highly skilled mercenaries, killing a bunch of them, fighting some hunting dogs, getting napalmed, bringing down helicopters with a small catapult and then getting captured, and that's just the first 20 pages.

After years - decades! - of decompressed comics, telling a short story in long pages, and current trends of TV series getting multiple episodes to get to any kind of fucking point, it's still an absolute thrill to get something that is totally designed to pack as much as possible into a few thousand words.

The rest of the book has almost as much incident, but never underestimate the power of starting with a bang.

Monday, March 18, 2024

This is my life again: Library limitations

I joined the Timaru Library when I was five years old and it was the most amazing place I'd ever seen. That's where I could find the Hardy Boys books I hadn't read, and I haunted the D section, looking for them, as well as Terrance Dicks' Doctor Who books.

They also had Gerry Davis' Doctor Who and the Cybermen (aka The Moonbase) in that area, the second Doctor Who book I ever read after the incomparable Dalek Invasion of Earth, and there was plenty of new material from the imaginary Franklin W Dixon.

If course I signed back up the first week back in town. That's what I always do when I move to a new town, but it's fair to say a population of less than 30k can't compete with a library system built for 1.5 million people, and I've been spoiled by them big city collections.

For years I have used the library to keep up on all the fun in modern superheroics, all the main X-Men and Batman and Spider-Man and Justice League comics, and all the different versions of Daredevil. Entire series like Once and Future, or all the latest Image series. All the obvious blockbuster smart comics from Clowes or Beaton or whoever. And it didn't cost me a cent, because sometimes civilization works.

But now my new llbrary doesn't have that kind of budget, and I quickly drained the interesting stuff from the new shelves. It was pleasingly random, and I managed to catch up on DC and Marvel comics from a decade or so ago - Paul Cornell's Superman comics, and the Gotham Central stuff.

So instead of getting dozens and dozens of brand new books from the graphic novel section every year, I have to spend the next 12 months making do with what I can get.

But I keep finding that in an age of unending choice, it's actually refreshing to have some restrictions, and not have access to everything, all of the time.

It's forced me into sections of the library  I don't usually haunt. I have to cast a net wider than the usueal graphic novels, books about films and the shelves of new releases at the front door. and then I stumble across things like a biography of Colin Wilson, who might have been a great young existentialist, but will always be the dude from The Unexplained magazine to me

This has happened before - I picked the Timaru Library dry of all the obvious stuff in the first quarter century of my life, and before I fucked off to the big city, I was literally looking for th o ldest spines I could find on the shelves, trying to find some forgotten masterpiece. (I mainly just ended up with a lot of great Graham Greene books.) 

And even without the regular dosage of library books, I still get my comic fix, because I brought boxes of old faves with me, and it's a good chance to read things like the Nemo books from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or that last brilliant Luther Arkwright book, or a big chunk of prestige format beauties.

So I still get my kicks by taking the time to browse the library and getting what I can, and I wouldn't mind finding some more of those forgotten masterpieces, lurking on the shelves.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

This is a house of Sienkiewicz: The devil, the gangster and the assassin

I genuinely think the great Bill Sienkiewicz is one of the top three comic book cover artists of the past 40 years - capable of scratchy vitality, mad humour, blurred beauty and unworldly hues.

I had the vague idea that I could spotlight every single cover he has done here at the Tearoom of Despair, but there are about a thousand of them, so I'll settle for a mere 131 of my favourites, to share with you all over the next few weeks. 

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Two things about Rick and Morty

I have two things to say about Rick And Morty, and two things only:

1) I actually like it a lot, and think it's funny and smart and more human than it has any right to be, but I don't talk about the show on this blog ever because the hardcore fans are the just the fucking worst. I've been eyebrows deep in Doctor Who fandom since I was a child, and have seen the most toxic traits displayed in discussions of the Power of Kroll, but fuck me, these guys are next level

2)  I also can not ever watch it just before I go to bed, because then I have deeply frustrating dreams about how I'd rewrite all the episodes that I just really enjoyed. This has happened multiple times and I really wish it would stop. 

Friday, March 15, 2024

Who did this jigsaw?

I invested way too much time recently into doing this giant 1500-piece jigsaw last week. It was actually quite easy, as far as 1500-piece jigsaws go, because those costumes in those glorious primary colours are seared into my fuckin' soul. I just wish I knew who did the art.

There's no credit anywhere on the box, and I can't find anything about it online, (but that might just be because Google is just really fucking useless these days), and that credit has been bugging the shit out of me, even as I spent hours solving the puzzle, piece by piece.

It's obviously a tonne of José Luis García-López in there, he's the definitive DC superhero artist of that era, literally setting the style for the entire company. But then I swear there is some deadset Dave Gibbons, and other parts that are unmistakably George Pérez (especially in the hair). But there are also a couple of faces with a definite Kevin Maguire vibe.  

Is it just one artist, aping all the greats? Is it a vast confluence of them all, the ultimate ideal of DC superhero art of the late bronze age?. 

It's going to bug me a lot longer than it took to do the puzzle. Some parts of it, like the Parademon, or Starfire's hair - which is 100 percent Pérez - were easy to figure out. An artist's line can be the real puzzle. 

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Shazam was just mean

There has been a shit-tonne of talk about the box-office failures of recent superhero movies, but there are loads of reasons why nobody gave a fuck about the new Aquaman movie or that Madame Web thing. Movies, like life, are quite complex.

There's obvious aspects like the actors acting like absolute arses in real life, or the rush job on CGI worlds giving everybody a fucking headache. I still maintain that the primary reason for the recent failures is that people want to see something new at the movies, not the same old shit over and over, and if you can properly deliver on that, your work is mostly done. 

But you can also attribute it to the actual shittiness of the product, because movies that leave a bad taste in the mouth never, ever generate word of mouth, and when I finally saw the latest Shazam film, it didn't take me long to see why nobody was talking about it.

It wasn't just the extremely irritating thing where grown-ass actors playing teenagers act like freaking toddlers, or even the distasteful sight of Helen freakin' Mirren getting punched by a young white man, 

it was the way it was also just straight up mean - picking up DC's irritating DC habit of killing off vast amounts of innocent people to show that things are really, really dire.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods looks like a kid-friendly movie all the way, but a room full of museum goers are turned to fragile stone at the start, and only acknowledged once again - dozens of people, children, young lovers, they all need to be shuffled into the maw of death to raise the stakes.

Later on in the film, it's almost like it's making fun of its own meanness, with one innocent bystander narrowly avoiding a spiky death by centimetres, only to be immediately stabbed in the back by a giant scorpion monster and casually tossed through a shopfront. Tough luck, lady, but how else will these teenagers learn about responsibility and stuff if they don't have your blood on their hands?

There is always pathos in tragedy, but leaving behind a huge body count just feels mean, and if we all just want to see something new in big, goofy superhero films, there's nothing new in mean.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Doonesbury at birth

I've been told that you can see your fortune if you look back at the Doonesbury cartoons that ran the week you were born. 

I think it works. It's better than any horoscope I ever read.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Sinister Dexter: That was Downlode

After 40-plus years of weekly publication, 2000ad still has a distinct ratio of two great comic strips, two okay strips and one outright stinker. And Sinister Dexter has almost always been one of the okays.

Created and still written by Dan Abnett, it's been a continuous story running for three decades now, and lots has happened - trips to outer space, several long-running gang wars, multiple deaths and rebirths for the main characters, one decent fake-out with the Malone, and endless short stories about life and death in Downlode.

It's a comic that has always had a problem with the fact that the main characters were basically smug jerks, hitmen who insist on a code that they break whenever it suits them, and despite all their many misadventures, they largely stayed the same smug jerks all the way through.

And yet, somehow, the current direction it is taking is genuinely fascinating, and its latest iteration is the thing I'm looking most forward to in the Galaxy's Greatest Comic.

Abnett has written thousands of pages for 2000ad, but has had an unexpectedly incredible run over the past few years. Lawless with Phil Winslade, The Out with Mark Harrison, and the incomparable Brink have all been absolutely brilliant. Brink might be the best thing he's ever done, and he has done a lot (we're not even going to touch on the Warhammer here).

So it was with some disappointment when it turned out Azimuth - a new series set in a vast and weird society literally built on digital data exchanges - was actually the latest version of Sinister Dexter, with the surviving (for now) half of the duo suddenly rolling to town.

But it's also become the most interesting phase in the entire saga. For the first time in years, Sinister Dexter comic is properly surprising, and who knows where it is going? It's also amazingly well designed and drawn by Tazio Bettin, with actual stakes and mysteries, while taking the most modern ideas about an AI's impact on the world and going completely batshit crazy with it.

And then, the last episode in the annual Christmas special came with another kicker of a twist, a truly unexpected turn that still feels obvious, as the world of the ex-Downlode crashes into another long-running 2000ad icon.

Same old hitmen, brand new world, whole new thing. Abnett knows what he is doing.