Monday, 30 July 2012

Books: Special Forces

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Special Forces
By Kyle Baker
2009





Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


Is the War in Iraq still a thing that's going on?

According to the wikipedia page (which offers the following synonyms: "The Occupation of Iraq", "The Second Gulf War" (or as me and my friends sometimes refered to it: "GW2"), and "Operation Iraqi Freedom" (that ones from the United States military obviously)) it ended in December 2011 - but - I dunno - I mean: I checked the wikipedia just to get a few facts in order to help plump this out and was kinda surprised to see that it had been given an official end date [1]: it kinda feels like it never ended and it's just going to keep on going forever - always there as a backdrop to our lives and sometime to skip over when it shows up on the news ("Latest estimates say that casualties may be up to..." click) [2]

But the main question that everyone's dying to answer is - when is there going to be a definitive GW2 movie? I guess since Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker won all those Oscars in 2010 and seemed to settle things once and for all [3] - but: well - I guess I must have been one of the few humans on the planet that didn't think it was all that (I mean - yeah - I liked the slow motion explosions - but the whole troubled-tough-guy-with-a-death-wish thing as been done before and been done a lot better - and I'm always a little bit "gimme something new" so yeah). But come on - Vietnam had loads and loads and loads of great movies made about it (you wanna list? Because you can email me and I'll give you a list) and World War 2 isn't too shabby when it comes to all the stuff people have made about it (plus - you know: the best book (aka my favourite book) ever written: Joseph Heller's Catch 22 [4]). And yet with GW2 we have a conflict that's longer than - what? - both of them put together? (I dunno - can't be bothered to check the dates and do the math - but still - it's been a pretty long war/occupation/conflict - right?) and so far all everything we've been given has seemed a little bit - I dunno - poorly made and disappointing (hell - maybe that's on purpose - and it's like a meta-comment on the war/occupation/conflict itself? But then again - maybe not). When one of the best films you've got was actually made before the war even started (that would be David O. Russell's Three Kings - which isn't perfect - but is still kinda entertaining) then you know that something's wrong. And apart from The Hurt Locker - what have you got? Jarhead? Please. Green Zone? (That was Jason Bourne goes to Baghdad and was supposed to be a breakout hit - but hell - I'm surprised it anyone has actually seen it) and then - what? I dunno. Just a bunch of trash.

Of course - yeah - I sympathise with the argument that - come on - how are you supposed to tell a story that sums up an entire war/occupation/conflict? Isn't that like saying - how comes no one's made a definitive film about - summertime? Or sandwiches? Or some other neblous concept? And I guess that's about right - but then I read Special Forces and I realised that people have been looking for their definitives in the wrong medium and that sometimes - there are stories that can encompass big ideas - and (what's more) make it look kinda easy.

Written and drawn by Kyle Baker who previously I'd only known through his book Why I Hate Saturn [5] and Truth: Red, White and Black (which I don't think I've actually read all the way through - but have been meaning to give it another go and do a write-up on here - because - you know - it seems sorta prestigious and stuff) my hopes weren't really that high for this book when I first picked it up. As recommended by Tam (thanks Tam!) I was hoping it was going to show me a good time - but due to my previous encounters with Mr Baker - I was kinda expecting something a little bit more "refined" and "smart" (which I'll admit now my brain kinda tends to translate as "dull" and "boring" and etc - "thought-provoking"? = "sleep-inducing"; "sophisticated" = "so what?" ; "asks questions" = "why am I watching this?" and so on) but then - well.

For the first few pages - this book comes on like it wants to be join the same sorta club as the more mature Garth Ennis war stories stuff (Battlefields and - erm - well - War Stories): the gritty underside of life as a troop: you know - compromises and bitter truths and all that stuff and how life in the military isn't anything like how it is in the movies. And then. Well: there's a page of our main character - Felony - lying in around in a state of almost-undress that would make Lara Croft balk (I can imagine her offering the advice: "You need to have a little bit of self-respect and wear something a little less skimpy.") and I started to think - either this guy is a bit of pervet or maybe this book isn't what I was expecting (in fact - if we're being honest - it was much more the former than the latter that was going through my mind: and seeing how I'd prefer not to spend my time oogling drawings of women in sexy poses (yeah - as hard as that may be to believe) I was almost ready to give up) and then - with a slow creeping realisation (and I mean this as a big compliment) I started to realise that this is just the type of comic book that Frank Miller would love (in fact I could almost imagine that he wrote and drew it - if he wasn't spending his time on dross like Holy Terror [6]).

In fact - it's proof of this book's specialness in that - what would constitute a mistep for other books - in manages to utilize as a strength. It's super obvious that Kyle Baker has lots of drawing style talents - and yet - there's patches of this book where it looks a lot like he uses computer generated models: and not in a fancy way like Futurama - but more in a cheap and nasty dirty style that (and this is the only parallel that comes close) reminds me of the long running football cartoons in The Mirror and The Sun (Scorer? And: (will have to google this): Striker [7]): if you've never had the misfortune to know what I'm talking about - it's like looking at mannequins as rendered by an 8-bit computer: and just makes everything look fake and artifical in a really disgusting sort of way (so that it feels like if you touched it - you hand would come away sticky [8]). But yeah - for whatever reasons: it suits the tone and style of the story really well and kinda makes things feel like they're degarding at the same time as - well - I don't wanna spoil it - so I'll let you read it and find out for yourself.  

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[1] I double-checked the source and got this Timeline from Reuters which makes for some pretty depressing reading: "Almost 4,500 U.S. troops have been killed since 2003." - and well I guess we all know that's only the tip of a really bloody iceberg.

[2] I think that is supposed to be the obligatory part (that following everyone else who's ever written about the Iraq War ever) I talk about how I remember watching all that Shock and Awe stuff on the TV and eating popcorn with my friends: but then I realised just how much of a cliché that would be - and so decided that I would spare you all - so be thankful.

[3] It's best not to get me started on how little I rate The Oscars or - well - the idea of award shows in general. Let's just say that I don't think that they're anything like the final word (or - hell - even the first - or anything inbetween - gah) about whether or not a film (or book or piece of music or whatever) is worth paying attention to.

[4] Altho - man - I don't know if I could recommend the follow-up to that: Something Happened. Which took me about six months to finally get through and was a trying to swim through porridge. Like - imagine if Radiohead had followed Ok Computer with an album of half-hour jazz freakouts instead of - you know: Kid A (which despite it's rep is still an album with songs on it - so quit your complainings already).

[5] Which came out all the way back in 1990 (which at this point is practically prehistroic) and like I said back then it didn't exactly blow me away (my exact words were: "a  little bit meh" - ha!).

[6] In fact - having written that I realised that Special Forces is - in a roundabout sort of way exactly the sort of book that Holy Terror should have been and if someone had swapped the titles before they were published then people would have been proclaiming Frank Miller's return to form.  

[7] And - wow - don't those names just overflow with limitless imagination? (And - god: just looking at The Striker wikipedia page makes me feel unclean: not only was it in The Sun but it also appeared in that bastion of taste and decency: Nuts magazine. Also: I didn't realise it was possible for a newspaper comic strip about a football player to have a political alignment - but it proudly flaunts the fact that it was "Right wing" between the date it was founded and the day it ceased publication - I wonder what's replaced it? Adventures of a Racist TV Personality maybe? I dunno).

[8] And speaking of Frank Miller - if you dig the style of this book then I very much recommend his Dark Knight Returns sequel: The Dark Knight Strikes Again (which - by the way - is absolutely mega).

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Links: Comic Book Resources Interview

Further reading: War Stories, Battlefields, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Hard Boiled, Elektra: Assassin, Why I Hate Saturn

All comments welcome.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Books: Sebastian O

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Sebastian O
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Steve Yeowell
2004




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


I'm not a fan of The Smiths but I'm pretty sure that Morrissey's three-years in the making autobiography (out Dec 2012 - just in time for Christmas) is going to be amazing [1]. But - however good it gets - sad to say: it's not going to be a comic book science-fiction action adventure steampunk romp: and the reason for that is because if Morrissey did write a comic book science-fiction action adventure romp it would be Sebastian O and - well - Grant Morrison has already beaten him to it. (Wait - did Grant Morrison have a cat called Morrissey or am I think of Russell Brand? [2])

For any 2000AD fans out there - you may already know Sebastian O by his other name: Devlin Waugh ("Noel Coward as played by Arnold Schwarzenegger!" = no doubt some future distant cousin of his? [3]): but those of you who are already feeling a but lost and have no idea what I'm talking about (so soon?) let me put it this way: Sebastain O (the lead character of this slender little bombshell of a book) is a quintessential action hero protagionist except instead of making do with a dirty white wifebeater vest as is typical (particulary of the North American variety) Sebastian (as you can probably guess from that delighful first name) positivily insists upon being properly turned out and artfully composed: because if you do have to fight evil, take on the bad guys (or maybe just forward your own agenda - whatever): you should ensure to make sure that you look splendid, smell fragrant and be constantly ready with a quip sharpened to deadly perfection. When he first appears - (and was this just a fluke?) he looks a little like The Divine Comedy's (the band not the book) Neil Hannon [4] (who's a bit of a dandy himself - so that's all good in terms of thematic appropriateness) and it's non-stop all the way to the ending (which has a suddenness to it that is comparable to the way pavements suddenly appear when you've jumped off the top of a skyscraper): that (and this makes a change to the usual muddled madness that Morrison normally likes to bring to his conclusions) is understandable, makes sense and - actually I think this may be the best way to describe it - it kinda feels like getting to the end of a really good joke.

Originally published as a 3 issue series (which I think is as small as you can get and still be published in book form - unless you know: you pad it out with "bonus content" (see: Neil Gaiman's Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?)) Sebastian is a short, sharp shock of a comic constantly racing to it's next explosive encounter. With maybe one of the best introductions ever (written by Morrison himself): a time-line of notable events that lets you right away what you're dealing with (I'm actually tempted to quote the whole thing in full - but you'll just have to settle for this: Using the nom de plume "Sebastian O," he embezzles school funds to publish Hymns to Myself, a scandalous collection of poetry, with themes including suicide, sickness, hypochondria, putrefaction, live burial, spectres, madness, the love of Jesus and John, diabolism and dandyism. His proposals for the school Nativity Play offers scenes in which the headmaster and staff engage in "symbolic"  coprophilla, bestiality and transvestism, only to be devoured by pupils following a four-hour cannibal orgy "culminating in a Black Mass." - and if you like the sound of that - then you're love the rest of the book). 

This might be strange - but a good way for you to understand what this book is like (maybe?) - but in my head - I always associate this book with We3 and Vimanarama - I think it's because I took them all out from my local library around the same time (which was a few years I think before I started working for Islington) and seeing how they were all three self-contained, kinda assessable, non-superhero Grant Morrison comics I've always just assumed that he wrote them around the same time (I don't think that can be true tho - checking the dates Sebastian O is 2004, We3 is 2005 and Vimanarama is 2006): but there's a spiritual connectedness that always leads me to group them together in my head - like they're three stories that Grant Morrison just wanted to get off his chest without any real higher aspirations than to entertain [5]. 

Plus - of course - I must mention the Steve Yeowell artwork. A guy that most people I guess would know from The Invisibles (he's the one who did the artwork for the first volume - with all that stuff of Jack Frost running around and throwing petrol bombs) - but for me - he's a longtime 2000AD steward (oops - sorry - I meant "stalwart" - ha!) who's done stuff on Judge Dredd, Nikolai Dante, Red Razors (with Mark Millar) and - most notably - Zenith (a superhero series with Grant Morrison that - so far at least - has never been reprinted: but is supposed to be totally amazing) [6]. I think quite a few times on this blog I've described an artist as drawing in a Steve-Yeowelly-sorta-way: because (for me) he's the source on the kind of art-style that's pure and clean and to the point without a single wasted line and (for some reason I couldn't say why) I always think of his stuff as being kind of pencilly. And he's always taking his chance to draw really, really tall building and lots of spires and churches and that sort of thing.

Delightful.

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[1] "I'm really not that interesting, so I don't know why I've written so much," Moz admitted in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Front Row. "I have been through the whole life. I just wonder if 660 pages are too much for people to bear. And then I sit down and think, well, are six pages too much for people to bear? I really don't know. [It's] baffling."

[2] Oh - It's Russell Brand. Still - great name for a cat. 

[3] Ha- and at a time - (see: Delvin Waugh: Red Tide) - also drawn by Steve Yeowell - who obviouly is doing his best try to kick-start the rise of action men with dandyist-inclincations and won't stop until there's a blockbuster movie starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson wearing a frilly collar and delivering Oscar Wilde style bon mot's as he blow away the bad guys (hey - we can all live in hope right?) 

[4] Best known for I guess for The National Express and the theme for Father Ted?

[5] Altho the amount of times I've heard about a We3 movie being made (I think it's still in development hell - but hey - who knows - maybe one day?) plus with all his corporate shilling for DC, the introduction to Seven Soldiers where he sounds like he's a marketing manager (I can't remember the exact quotes - but I'm sure he talks bit about making things multi-platform and branding and synergy and stuff like that) and his 18 Days project (where he talks in the same kinda way) and - well - Dinosaurs vs. Aliens - I guess it's a bit naive to think of Grant Morrison has just a humble storyteller with no sense of the wider picture.

[6] And - ha - oops - (happy accident) - a character that has been described - more than once as the answer to the question: what if Morrissey had superpowers? And - oooh - the coincidences spread - (altho I guess this is just what you get when you're googling stuff) but according to an interview Grant Morrison did (Writers on Comic Scriptwriting, Mark Salisbury) he actually based himself on Mozzer back when he was starting out quote: "Back in the eighties, when I was doing Zenith, the persona I had then was Morrisey: he slags everybody off, he’s really clever, all that Oscar Wilde stuff. So I kept saying cruel things about everybody in comics. No one else had ever done that before and it made me famous, but it was a horrible way to get famous." So - there you go.

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Links: Doctor Fantastiques Review, Page 45 Review.

Further reading: The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, The InvisiblesVimanarama, We3, The Umbrella Academy.

Profiles: Grant Morrison.

All comments welcome.

Events: Islington Comic Forum 2012/08

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The Islington Comic Forum is a big table full of comic books with a bunch of people seemingly selected from a United Colours of Benetton advert (there's no such thing as an average member) sitting around and discussing/arguing/sharing their thoughts and ideas about one of the most exciting and diverse mediums on the planet (nowadays if you're talking about something that's just "all about superheroes" my first guess is you're talking about films - but whatever). It's a little bit more chaotic than a book club but with the same sort of relaxed and open friendly atmosphere: all presided over by an excitable librarian (that would be me) who has pretty much read every comic book out there (even the terrible ones) and is willing to tell you where you're going wrong with whatever you're reading (and is most happy when people disagree with him). If you're curious as to what sort of books we discuss - then take a look around this blog - every book here has been included at one point or another. And if you want to know what sort of things we talk about: - well - it's never really that properly thought out but we touch upon everything from the best way to construct a story, to how far genre limits can go all the way to if Frank Miller was right about who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman. Oh (and I think this is the best bit) you can take all books home. 

There's also a book of the month (so that at least we can all talk about something we've all read). This month it's: Ultimate Comics: Death of Spider-Man by Brian Michael BendisIf you get a chance please read it. You can reserve yourself a copy here. (For those of you that don't get the chance - don't worry - you can still come and join in with the discussions).

The next one is: Tuesday the 28th of August / 6:00pm to 7:30pm in the Upstairs Hall at North Library Manor Gardens N7 6JX. Here is a map. Come and join us. All welcome. 

For more information (or if you have any questions and/or would like to be added to our email list: we send out a reminder a week before with a list of the books that are going to be available) you can email us here

All comments welcome.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Books: Superman: Secret Identity

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Superman: Secret Identity
Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by Stuart Immonen
2004




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


So - my friend Laura sent me an email asking me if I could recommend her any Superman comics. Because - apparently - she wanted to read a comic - but didn't want to anything that was too high-minded and full of itself (and I guess most of the time if you ask a comic geek what comic they could recommend nine times out of ten they'll just say Watchmen [1]) and - well - kinda wanted something Superman flavoured (quote: "I like Superman though. I like the films and I liked the New Adventures. And I don't like Batman (although I do like the batman films, I just think in principle, superman should be better"). I looked at what Superman entries I had posted on the blog (because - hey - any excuse to plug it right?) and was - I dunno - a bit disappointed to see that so far I'd only made two [2]. And then - (maybe this is what subconsciously promoted Laura to ask? You know - cultural osmosis and all that? Or - maybe just a successful victim of an underground brand awareness thingie-o-stuff?) - a few days later came two trailers for Zack Snyder's Man of Steel movie (in two exciting flavors! Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe [3]).

Now (ok): just to talk briefly about that trailer - oh my god - it looks so much like a Terrence Malick film it's almost unbelievable. And unbelievable for two reasons: one - because we all know it's a Zack Synder film and - well - Zack Synder (love him or hate him [4]) is no Terrence Malick and two - (seeing how - I would have thought - the whole point of a trailer (or teaser - whatever) is to give you a sense of what the film is going to be like) - it's unbelievable that they would make a Superman film where you'd only get little glimpses of him up in the sky and the rest is hazy childhood memories and men - erm - doing stuff on fishing boats (?).

But - gosh darn it - what it did make me think - is yeah - I would like to see Terrence Malick make a Superman film that wasn't fights and explosions - but that dealt more with characters and emotions and the meaning of power as well as taking in the bitter pains of existence and the cost of morality (ideally with an Explosions in the Sky soundtrack - if you please). And then I remembered - and watch how I expertly tie all these strands together (like so): there is already a comic book that does all these things: Superman: Secret Identity.

Now - normally my aversion to spoilers means that I don't even like to give away the premise of a book because I figure that books (and films) are always best when you can go into them completely fresh and let it unfold in it's own time and in it's own way - but in this case I'll make a small exception with the hope that it'll sound so enticing that you have no choice but to give the book a go: Secret Identity is set in a whole that's just like ours. Superman exists in the same way he does here - he's a worldwide icon and everyone's heard of him - but he's just a character and no more solid than Micky Mouse or Ronald McDonald. In the small town of Smallville there's a young teenage boy called Clark Kent who looks just like - well - Clark Kent and who's life is non-stop teasing and jokes about his namesake until one day he discovers... well.

Of course I realise that this sounds like something that Charlie Kaufman would make up - but overall it feels - well - like something Frank Capra would have devised. There's no trace of meta-story style wackinesses - it's more humble, quiet and a little bit gentle you know - like a  Terrence Malick film. 

The thing that's weird about reading this book is that with the original Superman - well - myth (can you think of a better word? "Story" just doesn't seem to properly cover it) - is that it's something that practically everyone - no: wait - screw that - everyone on the planet can relate to and understand - it's the perfect, unbeatable power fantasy - and everything else since (that would be the entire superhero genre) is basically just tweaks on that first (super) idea: the main metaphor or feeling (or whatever) behind Secret Identity seems to be nowhere near as relatable as the Superman one - rather than "hey - wouldn't it be great to be really powerful?" the drive is instead: "hey - wouldn't it be great/strange/sad if you were mocked for being what you secretly were?" Like - if everyone laughed at you because you weren't a god - but then (Ha! Little do they know!): you actually were a god (hell - it's even hard to try and describe it in a straight forward way which I guess just proves my point about what a strange concept it is for a book) [5]. But then - thinking it through - I guess everyone has been laughed at and mocked for their dreams ("When I grow up I wanna be Superman!") - and everyone knows the sorts of frustrations that can bring (and - hey - just be thankful I'm not going to drop you into the dark and twisted heart of my oh-so-tortured psyche yeah?) and so following the story of someone who is ridiculed despite actually having god-like powers - well - isn't that something we can all feel and relate to? But - hell - maybe I'm being too cynical? And maybe it's not as calculated as all this (and reading it through - it sure doesn't feel calculated - it just feels like reading something written by someone who just had a story that they really wanted to tell - which - let's face it: is the best type of story to hear).

Like Kevin Costner says in smoky voice-over in the Man of Steel trailer: "You're not just anyone." And that's something - oh the unbelievable irony! - that we'd all like to (already do?) believe.  

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[1] Which - I dunno - is that a good idea or bad idea (ha)? I mean - good - because yeah - Watchmen is great - and can show the newbies that comics can be "serious" and blah blah blah. But also: maybe a bit bad because - it helps if you read around a bit and maybe get a sense of what superhero comics are before you read something that deconstructs them so thoroughly (but then - doesn't everyone know what superhero comics are like anyway through the mighty and mysterious power of cultural osmosis? And - in order to get the full effect of Watchmen wouldn't you have to go back and live in 1986 again? And wouldn't all this stuff be better said on the post I've already written about Watchmen? I dunno).

[2] All Star Superman and Red Son - which - yeah - are the best two Superman comics out there - but (and I cringed a little when I looked back over them) - both of which are really poorly underwritten (at some point soon I promise I'll go back and bump them up a bit). 

[3] Whose name I can't hear without also involuntarily adding "You've got dead ears mate." 

[4] And I'll admit - I still don't know quite what to think of him. That Watchmen film aside (urg) - I did quite like the opening 10 minutes and the credits sequence of his Dawn of the Dead remake and his 300 (as lung-headed as it was) sure did look pretty. In fact - what I was hoping from Man of Steel was that same kind of "This. Is. Sparta!" energy and over-the-topness testosterone energy ("This. Is. Metropolis!") : like the way Frank Miller tends to portray Superman: Schwarzenegger-style bugling muscles. So less "ah shucks" boy-scout-ness (which is how America usually likes it think of itself) and more "Don't mess me" Rambo-in-a-cape (which is usually more how it tends to come across). But then - well - I guess when it comes to dreams of power - people like to think of themselves as not going crazy and megalomaniacal but more using it wisely and benevolently in order to be nice and do good (at the risk of getting all Zizeky about this: it's like the point of the fantasy would be that you would have so much power that you wouldn't even need to use it or - rather - make any vulgar displays of it): but - hey - whatever

[5] And - in fact - another way to think of it would be that it's Superman - but with the persecution complex turned waaaaaay up. (Because - hey - it's the 21st Century - and we're all victims nowadays - so just being Clark Kent isn't enough damn it). 

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Links: The Comics Reporter ReviewComics Worth Reading Review


All comments welcome. 

Artists: Chris Weston

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Chris Weston
1 January 1969
Rinteln, West Germany










I know Chris "Spaceboy" Wilson from his time way back on 2000AD and I reckon it was love at first sight. There was a vividness to his artwork that smacked my eyes like a kiss and since that first hit I've been a devoted fan and reckon I would read pretty much anything he decided to put his good name to. Plus (good for me!) the sort of stuff he loves to draw intersects perfectly with my own pre-occupations: Superheroes, Lovecraftian monsters (with plenty of teeth and tentacles) and - of course - talking monkeys (naturally). Plus - I've gotta say: I didn't know what he looked like before - but after searching for a photo to put on this entry I've gotta say I was pleasantly surprised to find that he looks just like a character from one of his pictures (something to do with the shape of his head I think).  

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Links: Official website, Mindless Ones Interview.

Selected works: Lucifer, The Invisibles, The AuthorityThe Filth, War Stories, Ministry of SpaceFantastic Four: First Family, The Twelve

All comments welcome.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Books: The Avengers: The New Avengers (2005 - 2010)

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The New Avengers
Vol 1: Breakout
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Finch and Danny Miki
2005



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

The New Avengers
Vol 2: Sentry
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Steve McNiven and Mark Morales
2006



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

The New Avengers
Vol 3: Secrets and Lies
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Finch, Frank Cho and Rick Mays
2006




Sorry. This item is currently unavailable from Islington libraries.
If you would like to order a copy you can do so: here.
The New Avengers
Vol 4: The Collective
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Steve McNiven and Mike Deodato
2007




Sorry. This item is currently unavailable from Islington libraries.
If you would like to order a copy you can do so: here.
The New Avengers
Vol 5: Civil War
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Howard Chaykin, Pasqual Ferry, Olivier Coipel, Leinil Francis Yu and Jim Cheung
2007


Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/
The New Avengers
Vol 6: Revolution
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev and Leinil Francis Yu
2007



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

The New Avengers
Vol 7: The Trust
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Leinil Francis Yu
2008




Sorry. This item is currently unavailable from Islington libraries.
If you would like to order a copy you can do so: here.
The New Avengers
Vol 8: Secret Invasion Book 1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Michael Gaydos, David Mack, Jim Cheung and Billy Tan
2009



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

The New Avengers
Vol 9: Secret Invasion Book 2
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Billy Tan, Jim Cheung and Michael Gaydos
2009



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/
The New Avengers
Vol 10: Power
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Billy Tan
2009



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

The New Avengers
Vol 11: Search for the Sorcerer Supreme
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Billy Tan and Chris Bachalo
2009



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
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The New Avengers
Vol 12: Powerloss
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Stuart Immonen
2010



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
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The New Avengers
Siege
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Stuart Immonen, Mike Mayhew, Marko Djurdjevic and Bryan Hitch
2010



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


I realise that there must be some people out there that read all these Marvel books in order and get each issue as it's released and etc etc - but the idea just seems so kinda alien to me: like training yourself up in a strange form of martial art - where the dedication in out in spending - well - your time and money - and making sure you buy each thing at the right moment so that the story builds up naturally - rather than doing what I do - which is just splurging out on reading the trades when your local library finally decides to catch up. Before the comic book forum I was worse - and if I couldn't find anything to read - I did sometimes used to just grab random things off the shelf- paying no heed at all to what volume number something was (something which seems almost - how do I say this? - unethical almost to me now): but then that might have been before I realised (and - oh - what a glorious day that was!) that I could reserve books that weren't in the same branch as me and get them sent over to where I was. But yeah - even having said that - I tend to read things in series - so: all of Daredevil and then all of Ultimate Fantastic Four and then all of Ultimate Spider-Man and then all of The Invincible Iron Man and then all of etc. And seeing how most of the time (in the Marvel Universe or the Marvel Ultimate Universe or whatever) these stories all kind of hit upon each other and cross-over in different ways - there's a strong feeling of Déjà vu that hang over everything. I mean - I've read House of M and Civil War and bits of Secret Invasion and Dark Reign and Siege (what can I say? I was curious and wanted to see what all the fuss was about) [1].

The Avengers I always kinda stayed away from (well - at least I thought I'd stayed away from them - reading these books I discovered that for three or four of them - I was actually re-reading) because it seemed like too much of a stuff - and (probably more importantly) Islington doesn't have all of the volumes - and most of the time I hate to read stuff with bits missing (because - hey - if you're gonna do something - do it properly - right?): but - then - well: when The Avengers movie came out - I thought - I know I'll get a big stack of Avengers comics because people will want to take them out right? (and like I've often said: the point of the Islington Comic Forum beyond how nice it is to meet people and talk about things and all that - is to get people to borrow as much stuff as possible) and - hey - it's Michael Bendis - so I know that it's good and I'm not just fostering rubbish on to people. But I didn't expect that I was going to bother to read the damn things.

But then - well - Malcolm (one of my comic book regular favourites) took them out and returned them the next session with a big grin on his face - and I was like "Oh - are they worth reading then?" and he was all: "Yeah - man - they're really good." And so - 12 issues later - here we are.  

Before I took the books Malcolm told me three things: One: all the Characters sound the same (which I guess turned out to be kinda true - not wasn't something that I actively noticed: and hey - if you're reading or watching something under the watch of someone with a certain style and sensibility - I think that's almost a given and not really a problem of any real kind. It's like with - say: Joss Whedon, Quentin Tarantino and Aaron Sorkin: you could say that mostly - all of them write characters that sound the same [2]: but damn it - maybe that's just the price you pay for something that's a little - well - distinctive). Two: Bendis can't write black people (but - hey - come on: Luke Cage is supposed to be a superhero version of Shaft - right? No?) and Three. There's a really great issue which is composed entirely of Nick Fury [3] speaking to his wife (this one turned out not to be true: maybe it happens in The Mighty Avengers instead? Oh well).

So: Vol 1 starts off like it's all gonna be some major long-running epic: there's a prison breakout - a big bunch of evil people get loose and The Avengers (dur dur dur!) get back together in order to sort things out. So far - so obvious right? It's like Pokémon: gotta catch 'em all! and so on. But then - sometime around Vol 5 when it gets to all that Marvel Civil War stuff - it kinda collapses into self-contained short stories. - which get better and better and indeed it's where Bendis' real strengths start to shine tho (little character work stuff that most of time deals with some little ramification of superhero life that never normally gets remarked upon or side-steps the obvious clichés to bring you something that cuts a lot deeper) - in fact there's a story in Secret Invasion Book 2 involving Reed Richards that works really well: and had the hairs on the back of my neck crackling with tension. I guess it's kinda like watching a TV show that starts off with the formulaic stuff in it's first session before it starts to mutate into new forms and working out all the ways it can subvert your expectations (not to mention having lots of episodes where all the entertainment comes from watching the characters (who you've come to know so well) just sitting around and just talking to each other (and if there's anything that Bendis' likes - it's people talking)).

And the short story stuff definitely works much better than the big team going on adventures in strange lands stuff as the one thing that kept striking me was the weird sense of - I dunno - distance: it's not the main characters books - so when the main stuff happens to the characters you dont really know why (eg what are the reasons why Spider-Man's costume keeps changing? And - oh - Captain America is dead now?) - but also: when it comes to the Big Marvel Events (Civil War, Secret Invasion) a lot of the main stuff also happens elsewhere - so lot's of massive events will happen and you're just see the reactions of what happens afterwards (it's like - the characters all arrive on December 8th at Pearl Harbour [4] and are - like - "omg - what happened?") and so you'll need to start paying more and more attention to that "Previously in New Avengers" bit at the start. 

Also - I very much like how Bendis is always mentioning how things smell (Loki speaking of Earth: "I find this entire realm has an odd odor" / Spider-Man fighting ninjas of The Hand: "Boy, I don't know what you hand ninjas use in your laundry... but you guys smell like a garden of lilacs. It's really quite lovely." "You ever get a whiff of Doctor Doom?" "Oh I know! He hasn't washed that green cape of his since the Kree-Skrull War." / "Do we have to wear our costumes for this thing today? Mine smells of dead ninja." "Mine smells like symbiote." "Oh, that's what that is."

Across all 12 volumes the artwork (for my tastes at least) is constantly top-notch with only a few dropped balls (#39 is done by David Mack - who is normally amazing - but urgh - I don't know what the inker did - but here it looks clumpy and awful) - with my personal favourite being Billy Tan (but that might just be a side effect of the stories he gets to draw all being so compelling - especially love the guy that breaks into mess with Tony Stark). And - ok - for all the clichés that get played with - there is still lots of fights and lots and lots of fight scene banter - but - goddamn - it's good banter - so what the hey right?

I'm glad that I took the time to read them - and mostly - it was time well spent - but for anyone who wants a proper thrill - I'd point you in the direction of Bendis' epic Ultimate Spider-Man run: which for my money was much more consistently entertaining and - gosh darn it - kinda a billion times more fun (because - as every good comic book fan knows - if you spend your time with Peter Parker - you're gonna leave with a smile on your face): plus - with the Ultimate Universe - there's less constraints and more space for Bendis - well - to do whatever the hell he wants. And as good as The Avengers stuff is - it's still corporate comics and so by it's very nature can only do much and push things only so far. I mean - yeah - at the end of Vol 10: Bendis lift a trick from the Grant Morrison playbook and has a different artist draw each page (and surprisingly - this actually works pretty well (unlike say - the end of The Invisibles - *shudder*)) - and also: Vol 2 (which is one of those ones that I had read before but hadn't remembered until I started reading it again) which gets trippy and strange in a very appealing way: and does some wicked meta-fiction gymnastics (that Grant Morrison influence again - I wonder if Bendis is a fan?) and the Steve McNiven artwork is very tasty (and really reminds me of Kilian Plunkett who did the art for a great nasty little alien comic called Aliens: Labyrinth [5]: which we don't have - but if anyone is curious - you should order it: Aliens Omnibus Volume 3!). Oh - and special mention to the double-reference (referencing something referencing something else) when Luke Cage says:: "Doctor Strange is out walking the Earth like Caine in Kung Fu."[6])

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[1] And for those of you that have no idea what I'm referring to these are all the names of the big Marvel Summer Events where all their characters cross-over and then find some excuse to have a big massive fight (because everyone loves a good ruck - right?).

[2] If you're looking for proof of that then I'll recommend this video of Sorkinisms - A Supercut ("This video is a tribute to the work of Aaron Sorkin: the recycled dialogue, recurring phrases, and familiar plot lines. This is not intended as a critique but rather a playful excursion through Sorkin's wonderful world of words.")

[3] I've gotta say: after reading all the Ultimate books - I've gotta say - it sure is strange seeing Nick Fury as - you know - a white guy.

[4] For anyone who doesn't know their American History - Pearl Habour (or "Pearl Habor" if you're from the states (but does mean that - seeing how it's a place "Pearl Habour" is spelling it wrong? Gah)) - took place on December 7th. Obviously now I think of it - a clearer example would have been to say it's like a bunch of people turning up on September 12th in New York and going  "omg - what happened?"- but I didn't want to come across as being - you know - insensitive 

[5] Oh - and checking the artists tabs on the side of this blog - also Superman: Red Son. How about that?

[6] In fact - it's so good - he does it twice. Ha! 

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Links: The M0vie Blog Review Vol 1 - 4 / Vol 5 - 8 / Vol 9 - 12 / Siege.

Further reading: The Avengers: The Avengers (2011 - 2012), Ultimate Spider-Man, Daredevil, House of M, Civil War, The Avengers: The New Avengers: Illuminati, Spider-Woman: Origin, Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters / Caged Angels, Dark Reign, Siege.

Profiles: Brian Michael Bendis.

All comments welcome.

Books: Are You My Mother?

________________________________________________________________________________

Are You My Mother? 
By Alison Bechdel
2012





Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
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Everyone likes at least one M.I.A. song right? Paper Planes? Galang? Amazon? Ok - whatever. The point is her first album - Arular - takes its title from the political code name employed by M.I.A.'s father, Arul Pragasam [1] while her second album - Kala - is named after her mum (and blah blah - both albums apparently reflect each parent's life and the themes permutate the music blah blah blah): well - it seems like Alison Bechdel's thoughts run in much the same way - after produced her long-running strip Dykes to Watch Out For for over 20 years she finally branched out into "proper" graphic-novel-dom with her critically acclaimed book Fun Home back in 2006 which mainly dealt with her recollections of her father - Bruce Bechdel and so - now comes Are You My Mother? which - well - you work it out...

So instead of writing about her Dad she's writing about her Mum - when I first found out that's what the pitch was I kinda shrugged. I mean - you see little glimpses of her Mum in Fun Home - but there was nothing in those glances that made it seem like she deserved or needed (or whatever the word is) her own complete book - I mean - yeah - she was an actress and there were some unfulfilled dreams and everything but - well (and I guess this isn't surprising when you read a book where her relationship with her Dad is literally the whole story) but it seemed like - her relationship with her Dad was her whole story and that her Mum was just the other person that happened to be around [2].

But that's an error. In fact - while Fun Home was a (still kinda daunting) 240 pages Are You My Mother? (do I have to put in that question mark every time? I guess so...) is  289 pages (which damnit isn't as impressive as I thought it would be before I checked the page lengths but I guess the point I wanted to make is that it feels somehow much longer and more expansive - like I thought it was going to be 350 pages or something like that). Instead of blues and greens this time Bechdel is using reds and pinks and browns (I don't know how much to read into that - maybe it's because - her issues with her Dad were more subdued and simmering - while with her Mum - it's more all more alive and lively or something - or hell: maybe she just liked the way it looked?).  The other notable change for me - is that while Fun Home (as good as it is) came across in parts as being a little bit - well - pretentious (not that I have anything against long words - but damn she sure used a lot of long words) - Are You My Mother is a bit more relaxed about the language it uses [3] and doesn't feel like it has to struggle so much to put on a show and be - well - ostentatious about things [4]. Plus (altho this is left unsaid - but gives the whole book a lingering feeling of illicit electricity): writing about someone who's dead is much easier than writing about someone who's still living - and yeah - her ongoing relationship with her mother (and her mother's reactions to the things she writes - Fun Home and Are You My Mother?) gives the book a pulse and feeling of danger that wasn't in Fun Home. The past book was more a clinical autopsy - while this is more like surgery undertaken when the patient is still wide awake.  

Still - apart from all that - what's the book about? What's it like?

Well... let me try and explain with some examples (hold on): I think I've already mentioned on his blog that there was a time way back when - when I used to work in a mental hospital library and (because there was nothing else to do) I spent a big fat dollop of time there playing around on the internet and one of the things I found there was a brilliant music webzine (is that still what we're calling them?) called Stylus Magazine (now since defunct: (wipes away tear)) and - particularly a writer called Nick Southall - who was amazing [5]. The thing that I used to love about him (and if I'd seen that he'd written a new review - I'd wait until I'd made a cup of tea and had some biscuits before I read him - seeing how it was like - you know - a proper treat and all that) is that when he reviewed an album - he wouldn't just go - this is a band who are like this and this is their PR bumpf and this track is good and sounds like this - this other track is alright and blah yadda etc - but rather he would - I dunno what the best way to say this is - but he would make a connection with something in his own life or with a particular thought or something that would illuminate things in some way and make them - gah - make stuff meaningful or whatever (I'm sorry - I'm English - so of course it's very difficult for me to try and write in a sincere way about things which are important to me and touch me in a dopey emotional way - it's just not in my nature - stiff upper lip and all that: tally ho!). And so - even if he was writing about a band that I had never heard of or an album that I never intended to listen to or whatever [6] - it would still be totally worth reading [7]. And the thing I took from that and what I've tried to do - in a very slipshod way admittedly - is to write about the books on this blog in such a way that - if someone was so inclined - they could still read the things I've written about all these bloody comic books - and still get something out of it - even if they had never read them or never planned to read them or whatever (something I've failed to do much more than I've managed to do - but still) [8].      

To try and cash this out: what this means and what I'm trying to say is that: if you're going to properly review something (or whatever other word you want to substitue for "review" - "analyse" "talk" "understand") then - well - there's this sort of equation that you need to fill in: you can't just describe the thing (so: as we're talking about comic books: that would be just to say: this is the writer, this is the artists - this is the plot - and I give it 8 marks out of 10) but rather: you've got to (if you want to make what you're writing "good" or (hopefully hopefully: even if it's a bit much to ask for) "meaningful") fill in the space of your reaction - and describe what it links up to - or what associations it draws up and all that (in fact - maybe just read [8] seeing how Mr Southall says it all much better than me: even if he is talking about music).  With me so far? Well - for Alison Bechdel who - well (no duh) - isn't writing a blog but a book - and who isn't writing about something that someone else has created (an album or a comic or whatever) but well - not to put too fine of a point on it - but someone who created her that little equation is squared and blown up to the power of infinity: as in order for her to try and describe who or what or how (whichever option you want) her mum is - she also needs to also try and describe her reaction to that as well (otherwises it's just boring old describing - and no one wants that [9]) and so: who and what and how she is which - well - obviously - only leads to a dizzying recursive loop [10]. (Not that that's the only recursive loop in town: Taking about her mum (and the fact that she throws away her journals) Bechdel says it feels "as if she is comparing her own selflessness to my self-absorption. But of course that's just evidence of my self-absorption." - oh boy). So - in trying to a get a hold of and pin down her mum - she also has to try and understand and pin down herself. Does that make sense? 

And if it sounds like I'm making too much of all of this - I'll mention here that the book is evenly divided between her mum and her therapy (in fact: a good alternative title would have been: Are You My Therapist?)  and that the journey of the whole book is - in a sense - to reach a some sort of an understanding of both her mum and herself. And like she says: "Analysis is in no hurry to get to the bottom of things. Therapy is usually a shorter term proposition, more focused on symptom relief."[11]: which doubles as a secret manifesto for the book itself - it's not just there to make you (or her) feel better - it's more about churning things around and seeing what floats to the top - and then taking those things and matching them with other things: there's one point where she gets a letter from her mum where she says: "Patterns are my existence. Everything has significance. Everything must fit. It's enough to drive you crazy." (To which Bechdel responds in her narration by saying: "This search for meaningful patterns may very well be crazy, but to be enlisted with her in it thrills me. "Why do you and I do that?" I am carrying on her mission.") This is pretty much the crux of the whole book - indeed (if you were so disposed to say so - altho it does sound a bit much) the crux of human existence - looking for patterns and making order where there isn't any [12]. 

And just in case you're thinking - well - surely we could have got all this from just reading a book (a proper one - with no pictures) [13]? The I should say that this is all entwined perfectly with the pictures. In fact - special mention must go to the one part where your attention gets directed to three different places at once - the image of the scene - plus an unseen voice coming from inside - plus the narration covering both of those with insights from Donald Winnicott (a major player): having your consciousness sliced over in three ways is a strange experience - like trying to rub your belly and pat your head at the same time. I mean - it's thematically linked to all the other stuff - but it's still a virtuoso performance (and pretty cool). Plus - and I'm gonna struggle to get this down - so - apologises - but one of the thoughts that struck me as I read this was her now almost trademark (she does it a lot in Fun Home too) use of interspersing the images with parts of highlighted text [14] from letters from her mum and the work of Donald Winnicott, Virginia Woolf, Sigmund Freud, etc. Of course mostly this just shows how attached she is to the written word (and like I said before - it makes sense that she gets a lot of love from the literati seeing how indebted she is to novels and stuff) but the thing that I noticed is how - even tho she's writing what is - still essentially a book (you know - it has pages and stuff) - when she quotes from other people - it feels like she has the upper hand. That she can show you the world in three dimensions - while typical novelists can only give you the words. I'm not trying to say that comics are better than novels here (because - hey - that's silly and is a bit like trying to compare apples and oranges [15] and blah blah blah) but that Bechdel by placing one inside the other manages to kinda caption off the stronger text ("stronger" in that: in our culture thus far - Virginia Woolf means much more and has more - I dunno - import - than a mere comic book (with the exception of maybe Watchmen? [16])) and so manages to stay in charge. If I saw the same thing happening in a novel (with bits of the text from other books inserted inbetween the lines the author had written) the line of demarcation would be (obviously) much less clear and it would be harder to shift the feeling that you were reading something that had been - well - cut and pasted. But Bechdel (and it helps that she actually draws each letter so that we're not just looking at text - but a picture of text - but then - lordy - what's the difference right? "This is not a pipe" and all that [17]) manages to assert a sort of authorial dominance by subsuming other people's words into her comic book world. 

It's not a perfect book. Reading it the first time round (and who knows maybe my mind will change the next time I read it?) I thought that the ending was a little - well - unsatisfying. Especially compared to the way Fun Home wrapped up in an almost symphonic fashion (with different variations of ideas building on top of each other: the closet comparison I can think of in how it made me feel is (however wanky this may be) that track on Brian Eno's Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks album An Ending (Ascent) [18]) - but then it's easier to achieve some small sense of - well - let's use the appropriate term - closure - with a dead person than someone who you're continuing to have a relationship with (also - and I mean this in a good way - it really felt like it was a book that could have gone on forever - and so probably any ending was always going to feel a little abrupt - like wrapping something in a box and putting a bow on it - even tho it's still growing and changing shape). But for anyone interested in - well - making connections and trying to understand (is this too much? I dunno) how life works - then this is a book that you should check out. Gloria Steinem (on the back cover) [19] describes it (and I love this) as "...sort of like a comic book by Virginia Woolf"or The Guardian (even better!) call her: "a sort of lesbian Woody Allen." But however you want to phrase it: this is the real deal. Not just entertainment - but in it's own strange, awkward way: enlightenment (or as close as we're likely to get). 

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[1] This is great: "After she returned to the UK, aged 10, Maya heard nothing from her dad, until she summoned him back into her life by calling her first album Arular. "I thought that if he Googled himself, he'd get my LP and then he'd get in touch." The tactic worked, but their relationship is still fraught." (from this article)

[2] And this is all kinda flipped in Are You My Mother - as we only see little tiny glimpses of her father - which is kinda strange: like seeing a ghost from a TV show on another channel - and I wouldn't be surprised if anyone who read this book first would think - gosh - how on earth could she write a whole book about him?

[3] Altho to say that Are You My Mother? is a bit more relaxed about language seeing how - in a sense - it's all about language (Er-zatz or Er-zatz?) and the stresses it can cause (communication and the lack of it: blah blah blah) - but hell - hopefully you know what I mean. 

[4] Well - at the start at least - before it starts going into the psychological jargon (and I'll admit that I had to look up "Cathexis" - and if you don't know what that is - I'd say that you should too). But then it's not pretentious if you're using the long words because you need to - rather than just showing off (maybe you should look up the definition of pretentious if you don't know what I'm talking about... ha!)

[5] In fact - is still amazing and blogs under the name Sick Mouthy (Read him! he's very very good).

[6] And hmmmm - what is the right criteria here? Do people only read reviews of things they love or of things they hate or what? I tend to try and read everything so I'm not best placed to say.

[7] And hell - as we're talking about that kind of thing - can I link you to Pitchfork's review of At the Drive-In's Relationship of Command (quote: "The following is a partial transcript from the third and final debate between Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush and Democratic Candidate Al Gore.") (And if you're wondering why Pitchfork is no longer that good then you should read this n+1 article by Richard Beck: 5.4 Pitchfork, 1995–present (Personally I would have called it 6.8 - but whatever).

[8] Which was going to be the point where I quoted some Nick Southall. One of the lines that has really stuck with me over the years was one from his take on Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to The Head: "They don’t smack so much of the bedroom to me as the kitchen, people half-sighing as they dry the dishes and wait for their pasta to boil, rather than frantically, desperately miserable adolescents cursing their own birth." But then reading over the review again - I realise that he makes some remarks which are pretty pertinent here: "There is a weight of responsibility to the music writer, then, to account for themselves. I don’t think it’s acceptable (in most circumstances) to simply say “I like something” or “I dislike something”; I think you owe it to the people reading to extrapolate on why you feel the way you do, to help them hear a record the way you do so they can get something out of it too. And sometimes you owe it to yourself (and the readers) to explain something, to capture an idea, to draw links between things, to try and contribute holistic lines to the huge Venn/spider diagram of our culture. It’s not about just being a buying guide, about trying to offer a definitive statement, an objective truth (no such thing exists) about a record. It’s about trying to capture the feelings and thoughts that make you love a song or a hook or a turn of phrase or a sound. And it’s also about giving reasons why not when you can. And that’s what I’m doing now. Too often a review is written quickly, too often a record isn’t given time, because the barrage of stuff (asked for and unasked for) is too much, and sometimes one simply wants to listen to music because one loves it and not because one has to deal with it."

[9] That would just be a book that went: My Mum is a nice lady. She used to do acting in the plays. She liked to wear the pretty dresses. etc (Spoken in a voice like a child reading their homework out loud in front of the class - you know - like The Streets). And - oh god - can you imagine how boring that would be? In fact - you don't really need to. My literary flatmate (the one who likes to read the books that don't have any pictures in (ha - what a chump)) asked me what it was that I was writing. And I was like: oh it's called Are You My Mother? it's like a memoir and stuff - and he was like - oh: are you writing about how much you hate it? He's just started to read this blog (and in fact - he even helped me out a bit by pointing out bits where I've said stuff that I didn't mean to - so thanks literary flatmate!) and he recently read the thing I wrote about Make Me A Woman by Vanessa Davis which - yeah - I totally hated. And his take on the whole thing is kinda similar to mine (even tho he hasn't read Make Me A Woman or Are You My Mother? or Fun Home or Blankets or any comic memoir really) in that - well - who would want to read a memoir? It's just someone recounting bits of their life - and who wants to spend their time reading that? And I guess that's the point of why I've writing all this and what I'm trying to get at - it's that Are You My Mother? is not just a memoir and is not just recounting moments in her life - it's more like someone using the bits of their life as fuel to talk about other things. To use a life (her life, her mum's life) as a starting point - and then taking things from there. In fact there's a bit in the book where she says this almost overtly when speaking to her mother she says: "Yeah, but don't you think that... that if you write minutely and rigorously  enough about your own life... you can, you know, transcend your particular self." And man at this point (to steal a move from the book): I still can't work out how to get A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius in here - but I just want to say - that that was the first book that showed me (I read it soon after it first came out - and yeah - I think a part of that was something to do with it's amazing title) that people speaking about their lives didn't have to be boring and - in fact - could create some of the best writing out there. But - then yeah - no duh. 

[10] Oh - and saying that just makes me want to go and reread Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid again. But that's another story (and not a comic book - so probably not something I'll ever really get around to writing about - ho hum).

[11] And speaking of Analysis and Therapy - ladies and gentlemen I give you: Dr. Tobias Funke.

[12] Here's a cool word that I've just discovered: "Pareidolia". "A psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon or the Moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse.The word comes from the Greek words para (παρά, "beside, alongside, instead") in this context meaning something faulty, wrong, instead of; and the noun eidōlon (εἴδωλον "image, form, shape") the diminutive of eidos. Pareidolia is a type of apophenia." (see here for more).

[13] Although if that's the way you're feeling - maybe you're reading the wrong blog?

[14] Which created yet another doubling effect through the fact (as you can probably tell from how much stuff I've written down here) that I decided to take this post a little more seriously than I normally do - and so wrote down notes as I read it (look how seriously I'm taking all of this) - so kinda ended up highlighting bits of the book (note: not actually highlighting obviously - goddamn - it's a library book!).

[15] Altho - in my mind - that's a cliche that's now been forever linked in my mind with The Thick of It:
Quote: "It's not my role to have a preference - I sell the apples. If you want me to sell the apples, I'll sell the apples. But if you want me to sell oranges, then I'll go and tell people that the apples, the apples are shit Olly, they're shit - I'll say go on, check out our oranges."

[16] That's a joke. I think. I dunno.

[17] And this would be the point that if you wanna read more about that sort of stuff - you should try out: Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.

[18] Which you may recognise from the following places (deep breath): TV - James May on the Moon - opening sequence / TV - Chris Morris's surreal TV comedy series Jam / TV - American drama Nip/Tuck, in numerous episodes / TV - Ouroboros, an episode of the British comedy series Red Dwarf / TV - Top Gear (Series 7 Episode 3), as the presenters drove supercars to the Millau Viaduct / TV - Top Gear (Series 13 Episode 7), during the final sequence of the series and closing credits as Jeremy drives the Aston Martin Vantage V12 / TV - Dan Cruickshank's documentary Cruickshank on Kew: The Garden That Changed the World / TV - 2010 Party political broadcast by the Liberal Democrats for the United Kingdom general election, 2010 / TV - Home, the final episode of the British comedy/drama series Love Soup / TV advertisement - for the PlayStation 3 / TV advertisement - for the NSPCC Liberal Democrat party political broadcast / Film soundtrack - Drive (2011) / Film soundtrack - Traffic (2000) / Film soundtrack - Ghosts of Cité Soleil (2006) / Film soundtrack - 28 Days Later (2002) / Film soundtrack - Clean (2004) / Game soundtrack - Thief II: The Metal Age, Mission "Trail of Blood" / Cover - Arturo Stalteri, on his 2001 album Cool August Moon / Cartoon - David Firth's cartoon Milkman / Sample - Used in Frou Frou's song "Hear Me Out" from the album Details / Sample - Used in Burial's song "Forgive" from the album Burial / Portion - The song was used by Coldplay in the lead up to the beginning of the first song, Politik, whenever they played live on their A Rush of Blood to the Head Tour. The tune cut out the moment Politik began. / Radio - This American Life - Used in the episode "Prom" broadcast April 29, 2011 (phew).

[19] Altho I will admit I don't exactly know who Gloria Steinem (and neither did my girlfriend when I asked her) - but I'm guessing - she's a famous feminist writer of somekind? (Checking checking: Ha! Yes! "Gloria Marie Steinem (born March 25, 1934) is an American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist who became nationally recognized as a leader of, and media spokeswoman for, the women's liberation movement in the late 1960s and 1970s." - I WIN.)

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Links: The Comics Journal Review, Guardian Review, Open Salon ReviewComic Book Resources Interview, The Comics Journal Article: Six Observations about Alison Bechdel’s Graphic Archive Are You My Mother?.

Further reading: Fun Home, The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For, Couch FictionAsterios Polyp, Habibi, Literary Life.

Profiles: Alison Bechdel.

All comments welcome.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Books: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 07

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Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 07
Writers: John Wagner, Alan Grant
Artists: Jim Baikie, Steve Dillon, Brett Ewins, Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, Cam Kennedy, Kim Raymond, Ron Smith
2007



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


Back when I was young one of my favourite books was The A to Z to Judge Dredd ("from Aaron Aardvark to Zachary Zziiz!") - apparently released to coincide with what is now the first Judge Dredd film - it was a cornucopia [1] of Mega City One facts and titbits that told you everything you ever needed to know - from the names of famous Judges (from the top of my head: Judge Giant, Judge Anderson, Judge Hershey, Judge McGruder (that's the one with the beard), oh  - and Judge Caligula (ha - he was great)), to the locations (Grand Hall of Justice, Resyk, Brit-Cit!), to the trends and crazes (Boinging! And Uncle Ump's Umpty Candy "The sweet that was too good to eat!") and the random characters (Chopper - of course, James Fenemore Snork, Tweak!, Mrs Gunderson, PJ Maybe). What I loved most about it was how all the entries connected up with each other (looking back now I realise that in some respects it was the spiritual forebearer to this blog) and how - even tho it was all fictional - it seemed like it could be real because the level of detail was dizzying: it was a fully worked out Universe that contained a multitude of stories [2] [3]. 

I mean yeah - I also used to buy 2000AD and The Judge Dredd Megazine (plus I managed to scrounge a few back issues (sorry - "progs") here and there): plus I had a few collected editions too (published by Titan - they were called Judge Dredd 1, Judge Dredd 2, Judge Dredd 3 etc - but they weren't actually sequential in the stuff they contained - in fact they were more a wild hodge podge than anything else - like someone had just selected their favourite stories and jammed them all together willy nilly) - so I knew my Dredds and could tell you what all the six settings on Dredd's lawgiver was [4] - but I think it was more the world that I loved than the actual stories themselves - so much so - that it was more that I read the stories just so that I could get a sense of the world that it could only capture in small ammounts - like a cup of water can only ever give you a small part of the sea (ooooh - poetic!). 

So - credentials shown - apart from putting up a thing about the Batman/Judge Dredd Files book - why have I only got around to writing about Old Stoney face now? Well - what with my pernickety nature - I think in the past what I really wanted to do was put up a mega post that collected ALL the Judge Dredd: Complete Cases Files books so that it was all neated stacked up in the same place (and oh man - when I was a kid I used to wish that someone who make a Complete Case Files back (or whatever you want to call it) but assumed that the powers-that-be had somesort of vested interest in making sure that - I dunno - making sure that I couldn't read every Judge Dredd story ever - damn them). But (oh the irony) Islington currently doesn't have the complete set of the Complete Case Files (so far just 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and - strangely - 17 [5]) and - well - I didn't want to embrass anyone by writing about something that had so many missing parts. So - yes - what with the movie coming up - I thought I that I would treat each collection separately and just write about them one individually and - hell - seeing as I was going wild - not even bother to review them in order (I know! I was as shocked as you). 

When I was writing the Batman/Judge Dredd Files post - I said something about how Dredd stories where best when he wasn't the main attraction - but rather was used as a way to explore or understand or - hell - just laugh at - the incorrigible exploits of the various denizens [6] of Mega City One [7]. Which lead me to thinking about the difference between American and British hero pin-ups. In America - with all it's Batmans and Supermans and Spidermans (and that's just the comic books - I could talk films and books and find another 100 examples easy)  - character is key. And if you're telling a story about a hero most of the time you're dealing with their struggles and trails and - eventually (somewhere at the end of the story) - their victories and triumphs and you're telling it all from the perspective inside their heads (like - think any Frank Miller story ever - especially The Dark Knight Returns) because - you know - America is all about it's individuals and all about one person going up against the system and blah blah blah. In England on the other hand - a lot of the time we prefer our heroes to have their interior lives closed off and generally be a little bit unknowable - and in the stories they appear in - the point of it isn't so much whether or not they can summon up somesort of Nietzschen Will to Power (or whatever): but rather how many crazy ideas and bonkers concepts the author can throw into the mix - I thinking of particularly: Dr Who, Sherlock Holmes and - yeah - Judge Dredd [8] [9]. 

But let's stop all this preamble and get to The Complete Case Files 07. What was it like? How good it is? It it worth reading? And all that stuff.

Judge Dredd was one of the first comics that I think I ever read and - as sad as this is to say - looking at the names of the artists within was kinda like looking over the names of old friends (or - if they're artists that I didn't like that much - like looking over the names of people that I went to school with) and so there was a nice nostaglic glow that rushed in as soon as I started reading through these - coupled with the fact - that there were a few stories scattered throughout that I haven't read before (so to continue the school metaphor - it was liking revisiting your old playgrounds and then discovering parts of it that you had never come across before - which I'll tell you: is a nice feeling to have). 

There's no big epics in this collection - no wars or giant battles with extra-dimensional villains - it's all relatively small-scale stuff - a-day-in-the-life type things rather than once-in-a-lifetime stuff which made it a lot easier to acclimatize myself back into how the Big Meg works. So there's a story with werewolves (which - yeah - was a little bit meh) even if it did feature some pretty tasty Steve Dillon artwork (that's the guy who did Preacher): with a whole bunch of strong black and whites and a nice hefty sense of objects (especially the way he draws the Lawmaster), there's a tale called Bob & Carol & Ted & Ringo that's just like Free Willy - if the little boy was a robot and the whale was four dinosaurs [11]. And in fact the thing that comes through the clearest is how elastic the Judge Dredd concept is - you can do horror (The Haunting of Sector House 9), social commentary (The Wreckers) and even sports drama (Requiem for a Heavyweight - which is pretty conventional in the story it tells with lots of familar beats and cliches - yet manages to be wildly entertaining through the fact that instead of telling a story about boxers - it's about fatties (and that's not me being mean - that's the Judge Dredd technical term for them) - plus you know bonus points from the fact that it's done by Carlos Ezquerra who is basically THE Dredd artist (he was the co-creator along with John Wagner)). The only real limits are the fact that each part is only five or six pages long and there's always a gotta be some fights or random destructions (because - hey - the target audience is and always will be teenage boys). But beyond all that there's nice little turns of phrase: "Stow the silver bullets - Bike Cannon!" "Hailstones as big as your stupid heads!" and lots of big ideas (and in Rumble in the Jungle: big machinery) and - the idea that I keep - circling around - the sense of Mega City One as being a real place.

Which brings us to the reason that I choose this particular volume as the first book I wanted to talk about: The Graveyard Shift.
 
Now - I realise that everyone has their favourite Judge Dredd stories and let's face it - there's a lot to choose from (with everything from The Cursed Earth to Necropolis, from America to the Apocalypse War, from The Pit to The Judge Child) but me - the best distillation of everything that is great about Judge Dredd is in the 7 episode mini-epic of The Graveyard Shift. Not only is it the best introduction to the world of Judge Dredd I can think of but it's also the most no-nonsense: it's just Judge Dredd on patrol on one the worst nights of the year - there's no big villain, no big event, no special mission - just a man doing his job and calmy accepting a whole mess of strange and fantastical - erm - stuff. And - obviously - because it's Dredd: imposing the law. From the opening lines ("Night falls on Mega-City One, towering future city in the 22nd Century. On watching bays high above the neon streets, keen-eyed Judges take up position. There will be trouble tonight, there is always trouble on The Graveyard Shift!") to the taut dialogue ("Dredd here. Responding."), the barrage of facts and statistics (""There are now 24 A.R.V.s, 139 Serious Assaults, 5 Murders, 0.09 Classifiable Riots and 230 Traffic Offences every minute.") to the constast use of crazy future lingo ("A.R.V., Meat Wagons, Cubes, 299, Juve Rumbles, Vid-ins, H-Wagons, Rad-Winds, Catch-Wagons, Boingers, Stumm Gas, Conapts, S&S, 59Cs, Citi-Defs, Pat-Wagons, Pedways") it all just feels so realistic and immersive and serious (even in the face of the absurd) [12]. Plus it also has one of the best Judge Dredd action-movie style dialogues (which is up there - for me - with the much more famous: "Gaze into the fist of Dredd!" [13]: Dredd outside on his bike on his radio: "Dredd to Control! Got a robbery in progress, Jeta Sports on Winston. No Assistance Required." Radio chirps back: "Message logged. Catch Wagon on it's way." Interior shot: Dredd's outline visible through the glass: "You creeps! You got 10 second to come out with your hands empty!" The creeps inside turn and look: "Holy Moley! It's Dredd!" They fire back: "BDAMM! PTOWW! BLAM!" Dredd get's on his radio again: "Control - better make that a meat wagon." "What's the body count Dredd?" Close up of Dredd's mouth: "I'll let you know." (cue: ACTION MUSIC). All this praise in despite of the fact that the art is Ron Smith who've never been a particular favourite of mine (I wish I knew how to describe his style - but there's something about his juttering lines and the way his shapes bend (or something) that just leaves me completely cold - and yet for some reason - he always ends up drawing some of the best Dredd stories - including Citizen Snork and Portrait of a Politician - both included here). I mean - it's not the best thing ever - and I don't want to build it up too much - and I think the fact that I first read it when I was just a kid has a lot to do with how much I revere it - but damn it - if I was going to make a Judge Dredd movie - it's the story I would use as a template (Hello? Hollywood? Can you hear me? Why aren't you returning my phone calls?).  

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[1] My - that's a nice word. "Cornucopia." Mmmmmmm

[2] And if that idea sounds appealing then may I recommend a short story called: Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius by Jorge Luis Borges (which is in three different collections: The Garden of Forking Paths, Fictions and Labyrinths). And if you want any more incentive - let me say that Borges is like the M.C. Escher of short stories and reading him will make your life more full in ways you can't quite understand yet. So yeah.

[3] Also: I thought that by now someone who would have had updated The A to Z and made a comprensive Judge Dredd wiki - but all there is this which (at the time of writing) only has 41 measy pages. Rubbish.

[4] Really? You wanna know? Well ok then: Standard Execution, Heat Seeker, Ricochet, Incendiary, Armour Piercing and High-Explosive (in Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg voice: "My favourite").

[5] If you really really really want to help us get the missing books from the series (or if there are any other books you want to read that Islington doesn't currently have in stock) then you should know that you can try and order some copies on this handy little online reservation form.

[6] "Denizens" - another tasty little word.

[7] And if you want a small glimpse of the scale of world-building this series has achieved then have a look at this wikipedia entry for Mega City One (placed  #1 on The Architects Journal list of "comic book cities."!)

[8] And let's just take a minute to reflect uponhow damn peculiar it is that one of England's most famous comic book heroes is an American Policeman. I mean - yeah - a futuristic American Policeman - but still. This from a country that has always had a little bit of a faught relationship with it's authority figures (best recent example: these amazon reviews on the Olympic Mascots Wenlock Policeman Figurine) and seeing how most heroes in our country (Robin Hood) and others (well - all the Batmans and Supermans and Spidermans) tend to operate outside the law - I guess it's just a tesatament to England's perverse sense of the absurd or something (woo - go us).

[9] And just to continue the thought a little further and give one last example: when my girlfriend first saw the cover of this book (and it's oh-so-fetching-shade of pink) she made a comment about how I was always reading books about robots. Of course - being a mean awful boy - I then proceeded to mock her mercilessly for thinking that Judge Dredd was a robot (because - obviously - me knowing so much more about Judge Dredd puts me at a higher social standing than her obviously). And yeah - comparing Judge Dredd - England's version of American's future lawman (and - duh - not a robot) with Robocop - America's version of America's [10] future lawman (who - well - if you want to get technical about it - name aside - also isn't exactly a robot (definition: "A machine resembling a human being and able to replicate certain human movements and functions") but is more strictly speaking a cyborg (definition: "A person whose physical abilities become superhuman by mechanical elements built into the body." and - oh god - I've wasted my life learning the differences between the two and then writing about it in a review of a bloody Judge Dredd comic on the frigging internet - but whatever - let's carry on) - but then I guess Cybocop doesn't have the same ring to it). Point being - in terms of an emotional investment - in the type of stories they tell you're going to end up caring a lot more about Alex Murphy (if we're just talking about the first film - because let's face it - the sequels sucked) then you ever would about Joe Dredd (who's been going for over 30 frigging years).

[10] And - yes - I realise that Paul Verhoeven (the guy who directed Robocop - and also Total Recall and Starship Troopers - so you know - respect is due) is Dutch - but there is a reason that you get 1,220,000 results when you google "American Jesus Robocop" so shut up ok?

[11] Oh - and speaking of Free Willy - if you fancy getting bummed out about something then please read this.

[12] And if you like that kind of crazy-obsessive science-fiction world building then you really should check out Alan Moore's Halo Jones (link below).

[13] See here if you have no idea what I'm talking about.

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Links: Dredd Reckoning Review, 2000AD Review Interview with Alan Grant, Rob Williams and Al Ewing.

Further reading: Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth SagaJudge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 05Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 06Judge Anderson: Satan, The Batman/Judge Dredd Files, The Complete Future Shocks, D.R. and Quinch, Skizz, The Ballad of Halo Jones.

All comments welcome.