alexsarll: (magnus)
So: DC have just relaunched their entire comics line. As part of a bold and/or desperate attempt to draw in new readers, a fictional world with a publication history stretching back to 1938 just began again from scratch*. Last month's Action Comics was issue 904; this month, like all their other comics, it resets to issue 1. The sense of a vast and complex, and in places beautiful, sandcastle erased by the tide is, of course, a little melancholy. But the advantage to this is that, whereas 1938's Action Comics 1 might have been the birthplace of Superman (and through him a concept - the superhero - which gave the West gods again after two millennia of a pallid Nazarene death cult) wasn't actually very good. Superman's creators, Siegel and Shuster, were pioneers, not professionals. 2011's Action Comics 1, on the other hand, is by Grant Morrison - visionary, comics scholar, and mad brilliant bastard. Unlike me, he likes the original Action Comics 1 - but he still retools it, makes something fit for modern purpose, compresses its kineticism and ambiguities down into something bright and shiny and *now*. This is Superman not as establishment superhero, a statuesque head of the superheroic pantheon, but as the bold young Horus-figure, the upsetter, the radical who takes down corrupt businessmen (just like Superman did back in the thirties, before being smoothed down). Whether this energy will last, I don't know, but the first issue is definitely the way to begin.

The rest of the relaunch...well, obviously I'm not buying all 52 titles, because some of them looked like guaranteed stinkers, and plenty more like strictly the sort of generic superheroics which I'll read from the library but wouldn't want cluttering the place up. Of the ones I have picked up, some of them don't seem to be bothering with the reboot angle very much no spoilers, but the ramble obligatory for any blog with comics content continues herein )In summary: I still have no idea what the Hell DC think they're doing, but they have managed to get five good comics out of it so far, which was more than they've managed any time in recent memory. So...yay?

*Well, sort of. This is part of what makes the entire enterprise even more puzzling - some of the events of the past 73 years of comics, already reset and tweaked multiple times, are still part of the universe's history. But we don't know which ones. And the in-story explanation for the reset means there are big, complicated, not-new-reader-friendly machinations behind the scenes, linking all the different comics to varying degrees. Which, again, is not really the way to win over a possible new reader who just saw The Dark Knight and wants to read a Batman comic.

Early bird

Jun. 23rd, 2011 08:07 am
alexsarll: (Default)
Interesting Bright Club for June, on 'Science and the Media'. Not all of the acts had that much to do with the ostensible theme (plenty, including Strawberry and Cream, just went for innuendo-going-on-outright-filth, not that there's anything wrong with that), but those who did, the tech journalists...the self-disgust was palpable. They don't enjoy producing the reports which annoy Ben Goldacre any more than Ben Goldacre enjoys reading them. I doubt the editors and picture editors enjoy demanding them, either. It's just another of those messed-up Wire-style systems which screws everybody without anyone even enjoying the process. Which obviously we should have known in the first place, but the confirmation is welcome nonetheless. My other recent night out raised questions of its own: how can Jonny Cola, who has grown into a pretty good frontman, be so atrocious at karaoke? Why does a performance poet who looks like the poet in question does think that his work will in any way be enhanced by nudity? And why must the St Aloysius close when, based on my three visits there, it is a home to such reliably surreal entertainments?

I've started watching Castle, even though it isn't very good. A bestselling crime writer helps the cops investigate crime? Exactly the sort of 'high'-concept tosh the US networks churn out all the time. But when the writer is played by Nathan Fillion...yes, I'd rather he were still making Firefly. From interviews I've seen, so would he - he says he'd buy the rights if he won the state lottery and fund production himself. But, alas, he is not. So if we want to see him on screen, Castle is what we've got. And the bastard's charming enough that he can make me overlook everything I don't like about the show (which is pretty much everything else, especially the James Patterson cameo as himself) and keep going. Though I may just be saying that because at times Fillion seems to be auditioning for the role of me. Hell, I'd give him the job.
Because man cannot live by imported US crime dramas on Five alone, even though the summer schedulers seem to think otherwise, I also continued with my project of watching all the surviving Who I've not seen. This time: the surprisingly good Enlightenment, probably the most eerily Sapphire & Steel the show has ever been. Though I say that having only watched the special edition, which uses new CGI and cuts about 20 minutes from the running time - and you don't feel you've missed anything in those minutes, because old Who stories can be added to that long list of things which, though great, no one ever wished longer. As for what Eighties special effects made of the haunting central image of sailing ships racing majestically through space, I dread to think.

And then there's comics. Oh, comics. I love you, but you're getting me down. I bought three new comics yesterday, and bear in mind these were not just random, flailing picks, but carefully chosen on the basis of the writers' past work. Well, two of them were. The one I pretty much suspected was going to be dreadful was Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing. The title's a hint, isn't it? But it features the return of John Constantine to the mainstream DC universe, where he originated but from which he has spent many years separated by editorial fiat. And that's the problem here - it's not a comic which seems driven by a story the writer needed to tell, but by editorial - or maybe, worse, branding. Even since the preview DC had in almost all of their comics last month, details have changed, dialogue and art been altered to bring in different characters, and that is very seldom a good sign. And the writer charged with handling this exercise, Jonathan Vankin, comes in with this weird Ray Winstone-meets-Dick van Dyke speech style for Constantine. It is, in short, hideous, and does not bode well for DC's forthcoming universe-wide relaunch, which again looks to be an editorial decision at best. And in the wake of which all the other DC titles are winding down with stories which feel all the more pointless for looking likely to be erased from continuity in three months. Though Paul Cornell's current Superman tale felt pretty bloody pointless even without that looming. You may know Paul Cornell from his many fine Doctor Who stories, or 'Father's Day', but he's also done some very good comics. Having spent a year handling Action Comics (the original Superman comic) without Superman, he'd told an excellent little epic in which Lex Luthor wandered the DC world, meeting its other great villains, in pursuit of the power with which to rival Superman. Except then Superman came back in for the conclusion in issue 900, and everything fell apart, and now we've got a story in which Superman and his brand extensions are fighting the boring nineties villain Doomsday (back then he killed Superman - guess what, it didn't stick) and *his* new brand-extension clones. This is the sort of comic which makes people give up on comics.
And then, away from DC, there's Ultimate Spider-Man, which Brian Michael Bendis has been writing for 160 issues (plus various little spin-offs). And aside from occasional blips, he's kept it interesting that whole time. His alternate take on Peter Parker is still in his teens and, fundamentally, is less of a slappable schmuck than the classic take. Bad things happen to him, he makes bad decisions like teenagers do, but he never seems quite the self-sabotaging arse that the classic and film versions of the character usually do. But now...Can you spoiler a story called The Death of Spider-Man? )
alexsarll: (crest)
Had a startlingly punctual appointment at the doctor's yesterday - but then I was the first patient, so while they could (and did) open the doors ten minutes late, there was little further opportunity for delays. So I had time to go for a wander in the afternoon sun while I gave the George Pringle album its first listen on headphones. Which is where it belongs, really, because these aren't so much songs as diary entries to music, and having them drift through your head like a sudden but structured burst of telepathy while you come across a discarded French horn case, or a rat in comedy 'iz ded nao' pose, or a doormat by a brick wall in such perfect alignment that you have to stop and knock, just in case - that's perfect. I wasn't sure how her Buffalo Bar show in the evening would compare, whether she'd even work lie, but at oleast I was finally going to get chance to find out.
Except she cancelled because she was ill. The first time this year I was going to attend a gig where none of the acts are people I know, and this happens. You just can't trust strangers, can you? So we say in Highbury Fields drinking cans and laughing at dogs instead. Which, again, seems more like a George Pringle song than attending a George Pringle gig could.

Watched No Distance Left To Run, the Blur documentary. It makes for quite the horrifying contrast seeing Damon as he was next to Damon now, whereas time has been strangely kind to Dave who seems finally to have grown into his face. Alex remains the best, obviously, while Graham Coxon will only ever be a pale imitation of the Rock Profile Graham Coxon (he starts 2:40 in).

I recalled Hollywoodland getting fairly good reviews in general, and for me it had the extra attractions of being awash with Deadwood alumni, and being about Superman. I've never seen George Reeves as Superman in the old serials, and don't really want to, but a film about the man who played the Man of Steel and his suicide (or was it?)...I expected something like Steven Seagle's It's A Bird, an autobiographical curio about being asked to write Superman and how that affected his live, and a meditation on the character. There are moments of that - in the best scene, Ben Affleck as Reeves is making a public appearance as Superman and has to talk down a kid who wants to shoot him (it'll bounce off, right?) without dropping the act. Too much of the film, though, is the standard LA noir which I've seen before and better from Chinatown to James Ellroy.
alexsarll: (Default)
Hurrah, the calendar and the climate are both agreed: it's Spring! Which after a week and weekend of that incessant, spirit-sapping, confining-to-quarters rain, is very much what I need. And this evening I get to walk through Stroud Green proper - which is always at its best on Spring evenings and Autumn mornings - because it is on my way to a very handily placed talk on Xanadu by John Man.

The weekend: busy. Friday was Bou Tea then Poptimism then the first Cheeze & Whine, which surprised me by being how clubs used to be, ie strangers coming - but then actually dancing and getting into it and flirting with your mates. Because as much as I like the sprawling, overlapping webs in which I often move, sometimes it's refreshing to have an evening that's a bit more...exogamous? Then back to TOTP Towers where apparently I spent an hour shouting about Menswear, then fell asleep. Sounds like me. I also insisted that [ profile] xandratheblue read All-Star Superman. She was not the weekend's only victim, either. Since I've mentioned it, that goes for all of you too. It's not that Superman is necessarily dull, it's just that until this nobody had ever done him right before.
On Saturday I was essentially ruined. I staggered out for drinks and then a party but was present in body more than mind; by the end of it I was so shattered that I took the lazy and profligate decision to get the bus back even though I was only in Seven Sisters. Poor show. Sunday saw me recovered, ish, just in time to get messed up on Space Raiders and cans at SF Film Day. Iron Man is still as good as I thought it was, Blade Runner gets better every time I see it even if the Final Cut is barely any different to the Director's, and the Star Trek prequel/reboot was a lot better than I expected given I hate Star Trek. I was only really interested in watching it for Simon Pegg, who was of course excellent, but Karl Urban as McCoy was possibly even better, and I love how they get around the problem of prequels by establishing early on that the actions of the film have altered the timeline - hence, jeopardy is restored.
Then we finished up with some crazy-ass Justice League set on Apokolips which meant explaining Jack Kirby to people in between giggling about Highfather 'communing with the Source'.
alexsarll: (crest)
Another fine Don't Stop Moving on Saturday, even if our hostess [ profile] angelv was too unwell to make it, poor thing. Between the weather outside (if you hadn't noticed, it's a bit nippy) and the Camden Head's tendency to be a bit of a sweatbox I didn't know what best to wear, so ended up with the open-shirt-over-T-shirt look for the first time in ages. A lot of that about these past few days; I also went sledging for the first time in I don't know how long on Friday. I'd gone in search of a sledge on Snow Day 2009 but everywhere which might have sold one was shut on account of the snow, and I can't recall any other opportunities since I've been in London, so it could easily have been a decade. Went down to Richmond Park which always seems quite hilly, but when you specifically want a slope they suddenly prove elusive. We found one in the end, though, and one marked by a ramp constructed at the top to help get that little extra speed at the beginning which makes all the difference between 'OK' and 'GERONIMO!' Oh, I've missed it. But with the way the climate's going, I doubt I'll have to wait so long again, even if by this time next decade we will probably be using the carcasses of rival tribes instead.
With the light glittering off the snow - that unearthly orange when the sun's overhead, shifting purply-pink as it sinks to the horizon - and the parakeets brilliant green against the white background, it went some way to redeem the book I'd taken for the trip, JG Ballard's The Crystal World. Which is only the second novel I've read of his, and has all the problems of the other, Crash. He's a brilliant maker of settings or images - here, a flaw in time which has resulted in a spreading area within the African jungle becoming "that enchanted world, where by day fantastic birds fly through the petrified forest and jewelled crocodiles glitter like heraldic salamanders on the banks of the crystalline rivers". But then he doesn't quite know what to do with them so we get these rather blank characters being pointedly ambiguous as they wander around trying to show the settings to best advantage. Worse, he then starts to tell, not show, as he explains the schematic by which they're driven: "for a man so uncertain of his real nature, you can be very calculating"; "Outside this forest everything seems polarized, does it not, divided into black and white? Wait until you reach the trees, Doctor - there, perhaps, these things will be reconciled for you". Because the crystals make everything all rainbow instead, DO YOU SEE?

Something else I'd not done for a long time: watch South Park. My parents had insisted I should watch Imaginationland, then forgot, but [ profile] xandratheblue obliged and...yes, it's still hilarious. And you can still defend it as satire if you're embarrassed about laughing at silly stuff. Calling it 'shocking' is a cliche, but one thing did shock me - all the copyrighted characters running around. Totoro, Snarf, a bunch of DC heroes...for sure, there are satire exemptions in the US, but I've read a ton of US-published satires of the Justice League which still had to use analogues of Flash, Superman and Wonder Woman, not the real (or real imaginary) things.
(And I've since seen an EDF ad for some new eco-tariff which not only uses Superman, but gets in footage from what looks to be every film and TV incarnation of the character. For a big name I could understand it, but EDF?)

A Facebook friend has directed me to a way around Spotify's invite process; obviously, as I have an account I can't confirm it still works,but I offer it in the hope it does. The great thing about Spotify is that now you can listen to albums you wouldn't even have bothered stealing. Consider The Kinks' ill-adised rock opera Soap Opera, a rather clunking satire on the celebrity machine. As a product of one of the great bands of the sixties (it's basically between them, the Stones and the Zombies for the crown), I want to hear it. But, given how much better stuff they made, and how much great music other people made, and how much my heart is already pledged elsewhere, then realistically, within a hundred-year span, I'm only going to want to listen to Soap Opera a handful of times. Is it really worth having it sat on my hard drive all the rest of that time? Nope. And this way, Ray Davies may eventually see thruppence ha'penny from my listens, and I wish him well of it.
alexsarll: (Default)
"New romantic dark electro post-punk discotheque" Black Plastic returns tonight, after far too long away, and if you're not at Latitude/San Diego/Nuisance, I strongly recommend it. I am certainly in the mood for a dance right now; sometimes even the more assured among us feel everything getting on top of one rather, especially when looking at the bank balance and realising, actually, one is a bit skint. There couldn't have been a better time for Entourage to turn up as a reminder of the crucial mindset: "Something will turn up. It always does." Now, I'm just waiting for my own equivalent to Vince's 'phonecall from Scorsese. There's a couple of jobs I've applied for which look pretty good, but since it's only the pay I object to with this unemployment business, rather than the hours, that Euromillions rollover would go down even better.

Finsbury Park station is having some 'improvement' works on the entrance I normally use, not to do anything practical, just to better the 'ambience'.
Which means getting to the Tube takes me another couple of minutes.
Which means I find it harder to avoid the sort of locals with whom I don't want to associate - couple of days ago there was a bad transvestite (at least, I hope she was a bad transvestite) pushing a wheelchair full of clothes while periodically blowing a whistle, and if I wanted that kind of Royston Vasey crap, I could have stayed in Derby.
Which also means I have to pass the Annoying Billboards. When the Christian Party were campaigning in the elections (and thank heavens that even if the Nazis got in, these scum didn't - they have nearly two millennia extra experience in persecuting Jews and gays), my nearest billboard for them was here. Recently, it's had a tourist board ad with the slogan "everything that makes Mexico magical remains the same" over a picture of an Aztec temple. So, you're saying that Mexico still has human sacrifice? Think I'll pass, thanks. And now, it's ads for one of those religious revival meetings. Though at least it's the one called Dominion. I have no idea whether this differs theologically from any of the similar enterprises, but I first became aware of it coming home the day after a B Movie night at which we'd been dancing to the Sisters song of the same name in an environment guaranteed to blow any evangelical's tiny little mind.
Supposedly the Wells Terrace entrance will be finished by 'mid-July'. Well, I make it mid-July and it doesn't look ready yet.
Elsewhere in the city, Oxford Street is starting to alarm me. There are ever fewer real shops there, ever more fly-by-night places one would expect somewhere far less salubrious, yet still the crowds graze it on some kind of retail autopilot. I was only there to engage in my own little spot of vulture capitalism, checking out Borders which is closing down and promising that everything is half price. Except that everything in certain sections - SF and comics among them - has already been shipped off to surviving branches. Really not the spirit of the thing, is it? Still, afterwards, in Bloomsbury and already half-cut, as one of the second hand shops packed away the outside tables, I was just in time to pluck out an Olaf Stapledon and a Baron Corvo of which I'd never even seen either in the flesh before. Literary acquisition urge cheaply sated, and in a far more civilised environment too.

The latest issue of top zombie despairathon The Walking Dead also contains, at no extra charge, the whole first issue of Chew. In spite of the name, Chew is nothing to do with zombies. You know all those 'cop with gimmick' shows on TV? It's one of those, about a cop who can psychically understand the complete history of anything he eats. Also, there's a moderately amusing satire of the war on drugs in that it's set in a USA where chicken has been banned - except supposedly on account of bird flu, which now looks like total topicality fail. It's moderately amusing. It's by two guys whose names mean nothing to me. And yet it's apparently selling like hot cakes, even to people who are not regular comics readers. And I genuinely have no idea why.
In a different way, DC's Wednesday Comics is a weird one. It's the size of a normal comic when you buy it, but then folds out to broadsheet size - and it's printed on newspaper. I think it's meant to be reminiscent of the 'funny pages' from US papers of yore, but given the closest I ever got to that was the Funday Times, it's a bit lost on me. Still, some of it is charmingly nostalgic stuff, fifties Silver Age stylings without being as badly written - the Supergirl and Green Lantern strips are charming, but best of the bunch is Neil Gaiman returning to the Metamorpho family, albeit with a much lighter touch than we saw in Sandman. Problem is, if this is also aimed at lapsed comics readers, the Superman and Batman strips are real misfires - and the latter is on the front cover. Brian Azzarello has demonstrated before that, while he is quite well aware of the ways in which Batman is a typical noir protagonist, he does not grasp the ways in which Batman differs from them. Same here, and in something otherwise so all-ages, the (admittedly mild) swearing really jars. In the Superman story by no-mark John Arcudi, meanwhile, we get a page in which Superman doesn't do anything super, and then Batman dismissively tells him to get some "super-prozac".
alexsarll: (bernard)
Theory: neckties were not an echo of the Roman soldier's neck-rag in the past, but a precursor of earphone leads in the future. Which is why the period of their die-off coincides so closely with the gradual arrival of that for which they played John the Baptist.

Friday: to the Wilmington, where you must not step past the green pillar with your drink because of 'Residents'. No, not in the sense that eyeball-headed monsters will get you. Well, I don't think so. This in spite of the fact that the other side of the same residential block is a square solely occupied by teenage girls getting raucously drunk in a manner which would doubtless provoke an appalled Skins reference if the papers got hold of it. The other risk of being outside is that you get girls at that stage where you genuinely can't tell if they're mixed-race or just really overdid the fake tan trying to get you along to Venus 'nightclub' (and it shouldn't need saying, but that's arguably NSFW). Do they really get much success touting for that outside indie gigs?
The band bringing the drums were late, and aren't quite cute enough to make up for the lack of songs. Because of their lateness, no soundchecks: [ profile] myfirstkitchen and her Maffickers are having monitor trouble but sound fine in the crowd. However, Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring seem to suffer, their usual magic tragically absent on a day when our hearts were full of spring. I decide that although I ought to check out headliners Cats on Fire, particularly now I've finally got it straight in my head that they aren't middle-class student wankers Cats in Paris (three of the top 10 Google results for that phrase lead you to blogs written by people I know called Steve), this is not the time, and hightail it to the Noble, where the Addlestones is now 10p more expensive, and tastes soapy.
Saturday: [ profile] fugitivemotel's engagement party. The transition from the glorious, barely-even-evening sun of the walk down to the gentle gloom of the bar leaves me feeling suddenly sleepy, and I initially worry that the rape jokes are not giving his fiancee the best impression of his friends, but by evening's end we're siding with her in an argument, which should count for a lot.
Sunday: join the second half of a genteel Soho pub crawl compered by [ profile] my_name_is_anna. Well, I think it's genteel, but I'm only half as drunk as the rest of them. Soho really is horrifically gentrified these days though, isn't it? Then up to the Noble again. Pints still priced too high, but no longer soapy. That's something.

Neil Gaiman's 'Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?' concluded perfectly; in spite of the title, I was reminded less of Alan Moore's 'Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?' than of the afterlife metaphysics his next novel, Jerusalem will apparently propose. One imperfection, though - you know those 'Got milk?' ads? There's one in here with Chris Brown, talking about how "the protein helps build muscle". Muscle you can use for beating your girlfriend Rihanna black and blue, for instance. Given some of the daft things DC have censored at the last minute (Superman with a beer, for instance) you'd think this could have been pulled.
At the other end of the Gaiman/Batman axis, I finally found in the library the first volume of Mark Waid's The Brave and the Bold, not as Bat-centric as the old title - and like most Waid it's good, undemanding superhero fun. Which makes a mockery of DC editorial's claims that Vertigo and the DC Universe are separate by having a plot turning around the Book of Destiny, and even a scene with Supergirl and Lobo meeting him in his garden. Next time John Constantine gets left out of a big mystical crossover, they're going to need a new excuse.
It's also the first time I've seen more than a couple of panels of the new Blue Beetle, but he seems like a nice kid, and if he was always this entertaining I can understand why people are upset about his title getting cancelled.
Over at Marvel, Apparitions and Ultraviolet writer Joe Ahearne spins off from Mark Millar's Fantastic Four and spoilers the end of his Wolverine in Fantastic Force, whose backmatter has something rather more interesting than the usual set of sketches - a first draft of the script, from comparison of which with the final issue we can see exactly how much a writer new to comics gets smacked around by editorial and told no, you cannot use that character, or have this one doing that. Worth a look even if you have no direct interest in the comic itself, though that's not bad.
alexsarll: (bernard)
I find myself worrying that Charlie Brooker might be the new Bill Hicks - ie, awesome, and usually right, but too easily quoted in too many situations in a way which makes the over-quoter seem a bit of a prick. And I'm as guilty of this as anyone, and I think maybe I need to scale it back a bit. Except why did this revelation hit me in the same week he returns to our TV screens? Ah, my timing.

Philipp Blom's The Vertigo Years aims to overturn the idea that the first 14 years of the twentieth century were a peaceful, if shadowed, idyll, the last days of the old world before the wars and revolutions made the modern world. Like most history with an agenda, the hand is overplayed, but if only as a counterbalance, it's a valuable take on how much was as new and strange and unsettling a hundred years ago as whatever's causing the latest panic now. More than the old 'how very similar then was to now' trick, though, it was little details which caught my attention. Wooden ships of the line, Trafalgar-style, when would you think the last of those was launched by the Royal Navy? 1879. The creator of Bambi also wrote p0rn (I'm surprised that didn't somehow make it into Lost Girls, though the Rite of Spring riot is here in detail). The borders between 'a very long time ago' and 'a long time ago', in other words, are as permeable as those between 'the old days' and 'I remember when'. Oh, and while I knew the Belgians had been utter gits in the Congo, I had no idea the death toll was ten million. Hitler gets all the press, but he doesn't even have the twentieth century's second highest total for genocide by a European ruler. Lightweight.

Obviously it's great news that Grant Morrison is back with Frank Quitely for (some of) the new Batman & Robin comic, and that he's getting to continue with Seaguy and do a Multiverse book and various other bits and pieces. But..."I’ve just been doing an Earth Four book, which is the Charlton characters but I’ve decided to write it like “Watchmen.” [laughs] So it’s written backwards and sideways and filled with all kinds of symbolism". It was obvious from the first time we glimpsed Earth Four in 52 that it was very much a Dark Charlton world, playing up the Watchmen correspondences; they even showed Peacemaker in a window as a nod to the exit of his analogue, the Comedian. I assumed that world would be used in passing for the sort of third-stringer-written continuity frottage that makes up so much of DC's output - it may have cropped up in Countdown for all I know, and that was very much the sort of place where I assumed it would stay. Morrison's use of a multiversal Captain Atom as a Dr Manhattan piss-take in Superman Beyond...well, it was one of the weakest things in there, but it was forgivable. A whole series, though? Morrison is the second best comics writer in the world. Moore has pretty much departed comics. Is it not about time that Morrison got over the anxiety of influence?
(In arguably related news, I swear our team could have done better at the pub quiz last night had it not been for the distractingly cute girl two tables over with a copy and a badge of Watchmen)

Last week I was asked to write something about my journey, and it turned out rather well, so in the parlance of Nu-Facebook, I thought I might 'share': Stroud Green )
alexsarll: (crest)
Finally saw the hilarious Superbad on Friday; I loved it, though being shown it by a female friend I could see that her amusement was purer, in that it wasn't tempered with that terrible recognition anyone who's ever been a teenage boy must feel. Mentioning it to [ profile] augstone later, he thought I was asking if he'd seen Superman; I wasn't, but if his secret identity were McLovin instead of Clark Kent, wouldn't that be glorious? Also on Friday night: got lost in Emirates, impersonated a chessboard, saw Sex Tourists/Doe Face Lilian/The Firm. As is traditional on Holloway Road love-ins, the roster also included one band I didn't know; as is traditional, they were pants, ie so pants that even being pretty girls in knee-length socks covering 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' couldn't save them. Let's hope tradition stops before the Gaff burns down, though.
Saturday and Sunday also fun, but Monday...that Monday was overacting. It hammered its point home with a scenery-chewing excess of Mondayness. I did not approve.

Glen David Gold's Carter Beats The Devil was, quite deservedly if unusually, a success both with the general public and with people I know. His follow-up has been delayed and delayed, but should finally be with us this year. Except, just like various bands have had exclusive distribution deals with various chains (mainly in the States), in the UK Waterstone's get Sunnyside in July, and everyone else has to wait 'til Autumn. What makes this even stranger - that's the hardback, ie the prestige edition aimed at people who have money to spare and really can't wait for the book. Which comes out in the US in May, and can be pre-ordered from for $17.79. That's not quite the bargain it would have been two years ago, but if you're into the book enough to get a hardback in July, for about the same price you can get one in May instead. So what do Waterstone's and the UK publishers get out of this, except for winding up other booksellers?

Comics links: have a bunch of Grant Morrison rarities, including Batman and Superman text stories from 1986 - two decades before he got to do definitive runs in the main titles - and Alan Moore interviewed on the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Obama, and his grimoire-in-progress:
"We want it to be a lot of fun and we also want it to be exactly like the way you would have imagined a book to magic to be when you were a small child and had first heard of such things."
As someone who has attempted to read Crowley, that sounds like just what Doctor Dee ordered.

I'd been looking forward to Tin Man, a reimagining of The Wizard of Oz starring Alan Cumming, Callum Keith Rennie and lovely, lovely Zooey Deschanel. Not only was I disappointed, but I don't even have much to add to USA Today's disappointment when they say that "Ambitious and intriguing though it may be, Tin Man is simply too long, too grim and too determined to impose a Lord of the Rings universe-saving quest on top of a simpler, gentler story." It perhaps doesn't help that Alan Moore so recently finished showing how you could reinvent that story to a darker end, so long as you had a point, rather than just mashing together various fashionable SF and fantasy tropes into a world with no thematic consistency or resonance, much less plausibility.
alexsarll: (Default)
My worry reflex keeps trying to creep up on me at the moment, and I have to batter it down with reminders that life is pretty good right now. This weekend, for instance - found a new pub for weekends which I'm not even mentioning online in case Neil Morrissey is watching. Went to Don't Stop Moving where as well as all the pop you could want, These Animal Me's 'Speeed King' got an airing. And then yesterday...well, apparently that was the heaviest snow for 18 years. Certainly it was my best snow day since about then, the only contender being the time at school where it was the rest of us stick the sixth form in all-out snowball war around the whole grounds. We made a snowmonkey! With breasts! Who went to heaven! And then a snow Caesar! And I was totally the most dangerous snowballer, because I have the biggest hands! Happy times. Glorious times.

More handy reminders that the BBC isn't *just* for winding up tabloids and the scum who read them in the shape of The Old Guys and Moses Jones. The former I watched because it was conceived by Peep Show's Bain & Armstrong, and I was put off when the credits revealed that it wasn't actually written by them - was the writer their Chibnall equivalent? Nor did the laugh track augur well. But while it's undoubtedly a broader style of comedy than Peep Show - cf the lead roles going to Trigger and the guy from Keeping Up Appearances, with Jane Asher as the neighbour and Jen from The IT Crowd as the daughter - it's still a recognisable relative, wallowing in toxic male companionship and hilariously awkward moments. Moses Jones is a cop show which, let's be honest, I'm mainly watching because the Eleventh Doctor is the sidekick. Worryingly, so far he really hasn't done much. But Shaun Parkes is excellent as ever in the lead role, while the supporting cast for their journey into crime and ritual sacrifice in London's Ugandan community includes Kareem Said from Oz, Suzie Torchwood and a bunch of very good African actors I don't recognise. I'm finding it all distinctly reminiscent of The Vinyl Underground but a) it's still pretty good and b) frankly, not many people will experience this problem.

Recent dreams:
- In a manner reminiscent of Movember, loads of my friends were growing Hitler 'taches to mark his birthday. This was intended ironically, or as reclamation, or something, but it still felt like poor taste to me. Everyone else just thought I was being a spoilsport.
- Superman was our mate, and I went for a drink with him at the Salisbury because he was feeling a bit listless after the events of Final Crisis.


Jan. 23rd, 2009 05:41 pm
alexsarll: (magnus)
I'm surprised more hasn't been made of Mick Harvey leaving the Bad Seeds. Mick's been working with Nick since The Boys Next Door, and I've always wondered how much of what we think of as Cave is in fact Harvey, particularly when listening to Harvey's other projects. I suppose now we get to find out.

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond's second issue confirms that this is the comic Final Crisis should have been. Yes, Grant Morrison is reusing his old tropes again - breaking the fourth wall, Limbo, the self-evolving hyperstory, creators trapped in creation - but here there's a manic, fizzing joy and ingenuity I'm not getting from the parent Rock of Ages reprise. Some great 3D sequences, too - though should you happen, as I did, to look out of the window with your glasses still on, it brings a real moment of Crisis terror - RED SKIES!
Elsewhere in comics, Bendis' Dark Avengers may not have any lines to equal the best of Warren Ellis' Thunderbolts run, but in so far as it's taking that series' concept - Marvel's biggest bastards given the keys to the kingdom - to the next level, I'm very much interested. Thunderbolts, meanwhile, has gone deeper and darker under Andy Diggle, and this issue includes a considerably more substantial Barack Obama appearance than that meaningless fluff-piece of a Spider-Man back-up strip, albeit to considerably less fanfare.

Have been left with a nagging sensation that I've not used my leisure to best advantage this week, to the extent that I started getting quite angry with myself/the world and had to go wander the British Museum for a while to calm down. Silly, really - even aside from the nebulous business of Seeing Nice People, I've watched another Losey/Pinter/Bogarde masterpiece, Accident; seen the Soft Close-Ups and Mr Solo; and made a reasonably good start on Ulysses, so it's not as if I'm flicking myself off to Trisha just yet.

I know list articles are intrinsically pointless, and I know they're designed to provoke quibbling, so I'm not going to get up in arms about the omissions from the Guardian's Novels You Must Read, or the times where they've chosen a book which isn't the author's best. And I should be glad, I suppose, that one of the seven sections was science fiction and fantasy. But since when was Kavalier & Clay, The Man Who Was Thursday or The Wasp Factory science fiction or fantasy? They may not be dull enough to be literary fiction, but none of them takes place in a world that is not the consensus version of this one - except in so far as they are not true. If we say that the fictional comics in Chabon's book make it an alternate world, then so does the fictional MP in The Line of Beauty, and down that line every book bar the most tiresomely domestic becomes SF. Which would amuse me at least a little, it's true, but is patently nonsense.
alexsarll: (crest)
Why do people scurry? I've been noticing it a lot in these cold, foggy nights - people see me looming out of the haze, and they start scurrying - hunch shoulders, head down, pace uneasily quickened. Scurrying never helped anyone. I mean, I used to work with a guy who did it really badly, even in the office in the daytime, and even though I quite liked him and have never done anything of the sort in my life, I still had to clamp down on an atavistic reflex which wanted to mug him. And this guy was forever getting mugged, assaulted and what-have-you, to a degree which would be baffling if it weren't for the way he walked. Seriously, if you want to take evasive action - cross the road, speed up, whatever - then fine. In many circumstances, it might be the sensible thing to do. But for heavens' sake, do it with your head held high and your spine straight, because the minute you start scurrying, you look like prey. And if whoever's looming out of the fog is a predator, they will notice that, and you will have become one more contributor to the ranks of self-fulfilling prophecies.
(And not that I should have to say this, but this verges on certain sensitive issues so for the sake of clarity - no, this is not to even remotely absolve the predators and no, this is not to say that walking (apparently) unafraid is an entirely infallible strategy for avoiding harm. But it does work a lot better than scurrying)

Over-rated Fables scribe Bill Willingham has written a piece opposing grim'n'gritty 'superhero decadence', and arguing that ' the superhero genre should be “different, better, with higher standards, loftier ideals and a more virtuous — more American — point of view.”' Cue applauding comments from the sort of charmers who object to foreigners and non-white superheroes, or have plain creepy thoughts about Lois Lane, which for all Willingham's noted right-wing politics, is possibly not quite what he was getting at. More to the point, just as this C-lister is claiming that his own Elementals was one of the comics which kicked off the darker trend - a claim I've never seen from anyone but him - he's now acting as though he's the first to object to the trend, a trend he presents as still at its height through highly selective quoting of recent comics and films. Alan Moore - who alongside Frank Miller and maybe Howard Chaykin, *actually* started grim and gritty - has been saying for years that it got silly, that comics have had enough solve and now need a little coagula (or as the less alchemical* might put it, enough deconstruction and now need some reconstruction). Grant Morrison has been arguing something similar since at least Flex Mentallo, whose final issue was meant to be taking us past the Dark Age and into the Neon Age; you could argue that Final Crisis shows a funny way of going about this agenda, but All Star Superman was as purestrain heroic as the Superman comics Willingham seems to want, even if it was perhaps a little lacking in USA! USA! jingoism for his tastes.

*Speaking of alchemy, I never mentioned anything about Foucault's Pendulum on here, did I? From now on, I'm going to tell every conspiracy theorist I meet to read that book before they try it on with their controlled-demolition-of-Twin-Towers crap. Because even if it doesn't convince them - and part of the dark beauty of a real conspiracy mindset is, nothing will - then 650 pages should buy me a fair period of peace.
alexsarll: (crest)
Since I made it back from Devon and a resurgent cold it's been a delightful haze of parties and pubs (and thank you all for a lovely birthday, it made entering the rather characterless age of 31 a pleasure rather than a puzzle). I love these inbetween days - one of my presents was Intermission, a compilation of solo Go-Betweens tracks from the period of their split, and as well as being lovely anyway, the name and the cold sun outside make it a good fit for right now.

My reservations about that BBC4 series on fantasy have been strengthened now that I've made a start on ER Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, a book to which The Lord of the Rings was compared at its launch. It's at once recognisable as part of the same tradition, and a bizarre vision of an alternate track fantasy could have taken. Not so much in the style - although it makes Tolkien look like a dirty realist at times* - as in how it lays out the toolbox. Eddison does much what Tolkien did to people Middle Earth - he takes the names of spirits from folklore, and then ascribes them to human-like races in his imagined world. But after sixty years of Tolkien-derived fantasy, we're used to elves and dwarves and goblins. Eddison, on the other hand, calls his races witches and demons and imps, and from those names we don't expect solid, human-like races, even if the demons do make the concession of having little horns. There are also the foliots, whose name baffled me entirely until I then also started the deranged encyclopaedia that is The Anatomy of Melancholy and learned accidentally and almost at once that they are visitors to forlorn houses who make strange noises in the night. Except here they're not, they're a rather sappy bunch who live on an island and remind me faintly of the Dutch.

Have fulfilled the first of my definite plans for the life of leisure, with a one-sitting reread of All-Star Superman. Which is at times even more perfect than I remember - I especially like how fractal it gets, with lines like "I always write the Superman headlines before they happen" encompassing the whole - but I remain uncomfortably certain that the Bizarro story didn't need to cover two issues.

Finally got round to seeing The Last King of Scotland, and while I was almost as impressed as I expected to be - the central performances are stunning, Forrest Whitaker possibly even excelling his turn in The Shield (whose first series is a tenner on DVD in the HMV sale, and strongly recommended to anyone feeling a Wire-shaped gap in their viewing) - the ending left a little of a nasty taste in my mouth. Clearly the film is massively engaged with the idea of white exceptionalism, but it still seemed to fall slightly into it at the last.

*'"I like not the dirty face of the Ambassador," said Lord Zigg. "His nose sitteth flat on the face of him as it were a dab of clay, and I can see pat up his nostrils a summer day's journey into his head. If's upper lip bespeak him not a rare spouter of rank fustian, perdition catch me. Were it a finger's breadth longer, a might tuck it into his collar to keep his chin warm of a winter's night."
"I like not the smell of the Ambassador," said Lord Brandoch Daha. And he called for censers and sprinklers of lavender and rose water to purify the chamber, and let open the crystal windows that the breezes of heaven might enter and make all sweet.'
alexsarll: (crest)
In Victoria HMV, there's a box set of all eight Alien and Predator films, including the two crossovers, for £15. It's shelved next to an earlier box set of what were at the time all seven Alien and Predator films, including the crossover. This costs £30. I know Alien vs Predator: Requiem is meant to be bad, but -£15 bad? And how much would a box with neither crossover cost?
(While musing on this, I caught an ad from the corner of my eye at Pimlico station, advertising Doctor Who - the Sylvester McCoy box set. Ooooh, how did I miss that? Turns out it's a Mock the Week ad with a list of 'Presents We Don't Want' or similar. Gits.

A bad week for icons; I have seen plenty of (richly deserved) tributes to Bettie Page and Oliver Postgate, but less about Forrest J Ackerman, superfan, inventor of the term 'sci-fi', honorary lesbian (this one was news to me) and inspiration to everyone from Ray Bradbury through Joe Dante to...well, pick someone cool, they were probably in his thrall. Rest in peace, all three of you.

Bands advertising tours on TV: is this normal? Genuine question, I don't watch much commercial TV these days, but it felt very odd when one of the breaks during the final Devil's Whore* incorporated a plug for Coldplay tickets. So odd, in fact, that it even bypassed the normal outrage I feel whenever reminded of this tour's existence - I am grudgingly prepared to forgive Coldplay's existence, but that they should reduce Girls Aloud and Jay-Z to support acts? Not acceptable.

"Gordon Brown has been called "Superman" in Parliament as the fallout from the prime minister's inadvertent claim to have "saved the world" continues. The Tories have been mocking Mr Brown after his slip of the tongue over the economy at Prime Minister's Questions...But Commons leader Harriet Harman told Tory MPs that she would "rather have Superman as our leader than their leader who is The Joker"."
1) Even by the standards of Parliamentary name-calling, isn't accusing the other side's leader of being a mass-murdering psychopath rather strong? I suppose there's always the remote chance that she appreciates the Grant Morrison perspective on the Joker's personality, whereby he has no essential 'self' and reinvents himself in line with each new circumstance; this would be a pretty good charge to level at Cameron, who has never really managed to articulate a stance or principle beyond 'I'm not the other guy'. Somehow, though, I doubt there's a copy of Arkham Asylum or 'The Clown at Midnight' on Harman's shelves.
2) Equally, I can only conclude that Harman has never read Kingdom Come, in which Superman's failure to confront the Joker with sufficient conviction leads to the death of Lois Lane, Superman's retirement, and the collapse of the superheroic age into carnage and anarchy.
3) At a simpler level, I think most of us would rather have Superman as party leader than The Joker. What her riposte signally fails to grasp is the difference between Superman, and an all-too-human leader who has made a slip of the tongue which looks very like it was as Freudian as it was hubristic.
(That third point is really banal, isn't it? And yet without it, the whole item looked that little bit too abstract/Comic Book Guy. Speaking of comics - I was a little worried about Phonogram series 2 starting with a Pipettes issue, but Seth Bingo's anti-Pipettes rant assuaged all my fears. Great comic, and the launch party wasn't too bad either. Yeah, get me with the schmoozing)

*Which was still a bit of a mess, wasn't it? Moments of genuine power eclipsed by the overall sensation of a story whose truncation made it didactic and rushed. Not to mention repetitive, in the way that over four episodes Angelica Fanshawe managed four deaths for four shagpieces. Has anyone yet written a crossover in which she turns out somehow to be an ancestor of Torchwood's Tosh and her Fanny Of Doom? If not - please don't.
alexsarll: (magnus)
Yesterday I was handed a flyer for Czech mail-order brides, "unspoiled by feminism". Which is not just sleazy, but baffling. If you want the loaded and lonely, surely you flyer on Friday night as the City bars are chucking out, or in Knightsbridge tobacconists, not in Victoria on a Wednesday lunchtime?
Then again, this was shortly after I learned that Cardinal Place has a wind consultant called Professor Breeze, so it may just have been one of those days when plausibility goes out the window. Consider also the state of the Comedy that evening, where they had hybrid Hallowe'en/Christmas decorations up - so there's a werewolf menacing the tree, for instance, which has been decked with a string of skulls. I was there to see The Melting Ice Caps, aka Luxembourg's David Shah solo. And that is *solo* as in a one-man show, just him and a backing track (except for the two songs where he's joined by a flipbook wrangler). It can't be easy to stand up there and perform with no band, no instrument, no Dutch courage, not even any of the overacting and performance art techniques you'd get from someone like Simon Bookish, but he does it - stands there and sings his songs, beautiful songs about love and time and making the best of it all. Lovely, if heartbreaking - both for the songs in and of themselves, and that this is happening at half eight in a pub basement, rather than in the grand setting it deserves.
So of course because it's an implausible day, why wouldn't he be followed by a band with Foxy Brown on vocals, a total Shoreditch refugee on rhythm guitar and one of the From Dusk 'Til Dawn vampires on histrionic lead?

Newsarama are running a pretty revealing ten-part interview with Grant Morrison about All-Star Superman, one of the best superhero comics ever. I post this for the fans but seriously, even if you're only a casual/Greatest Hits comics reader, even if you think you don't like Superman, I don't blame you but this is the exception.

I finally remembered to check for an update on the story about the pirates stealing 30 tanks, which has been driven from the news by the small matter of the world's economy falling over and bursting into flames. Apparently:
"United States warships have surrounded the Faina for weeks to prevent the pirates from trying to unload the weapons, and a Russian guided missile frigate is traveling to the area."
It was seized a month ago! If the Russian navy is always this slow, we have so little to worry about from Putin.

For anyone given to complaining about txtspk as part of the decline of modern literacy &c, I give you 1880s emoticons.
alexsarll: (magnus)
...which title I pick not just because the song's been stuck in my head since Saturday's Prom Night, but because the first issue of Grant Morrison's 'Superman Beyond 3D' is the comic I was hoping and expecting Final Crisis would be. Only in one spread does the 3D effect have quite the same mind-twisting force as it did in the Blazing World scenes of Alan Moore's Black Dossier, but even if for the rest of the issue it's just a gimmick then hey, 3D is a pretty cool gimmick. And this...this is what I want from a Grant Morrison Event. Dead worlds! Limbo! Dr Manhattan with the serial numbers filed off! Cross-time lunacy and alternate heroes and giant crashing spaceships and only Superman left to save the day. It's as if Levitzseid has got Grant enchained at the heart of his monstrous engine of destruction, perverting his mighty Morrison powers in the furtherance of DC's Anti-Fun Equation...but Grant's too good to go down without a fight, and so by some ludicrous contrivance freed an aspect of himself to write a good Final Crisis comic.
The second best comic of last week, incidentally, was the conclusion to Book One of Warren Ellis' Doktor Sleepless. Just when I was worried we were getting a Planetary-style loss of focus, it turns out that the mysticism and the techno-evangelism have a perfectly sensible reason for being in the same book. I think we were perhaps meant to come away from the book with the idea that Doktor Sleepless is not the hero after all; personally, I'm backing him all the way.

Speaking of mad science: never mind the cure for cancer - isn't unlocking telomere structure the first step on the road to immortality in the Fall Revolution books?

Finally got round to watching Brokeback Mountain on Sunday - yes, I know, I fail at gay. I was a bit puzzled at first; I was expecting it to be one of those manly American buddy movies where you're thinking guys, just bone already - except then they do. But whether this was intended or not, I really didn't feel any chemistry off them until it happened. Which worked, I think. As did the scenery, obviously; I'm sure if that hadn't been so beautifully, expansively shot then the film would never have been able to cross over to the extent that it did. I wasn't convinced by the flashbacks - I thought they upset a flow which was otherwise brilliantly established - but otherwise, it's just such a well-judged film. Details which don't sit right at first (are the women being deliberately established as deadening forces, in the manner beloved of misogynist homosexuals?) come clear in time: it's not that the women are dead hands, it's that society is. A homophobic rural society especially, but not exclusively; even if Jack and Ennis had settled down somewhere nice and friendly just outside San Francisco, the mere fact of domesticity would mean what they had couldn't stay as pure as it was when it was born up on Brokeback Mountain.
(For another consideration of how uneasily passion sits in a mundane world, consider My Zinc Bed, which features excellent performances from Jonathan Pryce and Paddy Considine, and a rather strange accent from Uma Thurman. Of course, neither of these made me cry a fraction as much as Kiki's Delivery Service; I already know how malformed this world is, it's seeing the contrast of what a decent one would be like which breaks me down)

January 2016



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