Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Books: The Death Ray


The Death Ray
By Daniel Clowes

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Daniel Clowes is a guy who's best known for serving up slice-of-life stuff with an extra helping of misery and grief (served cold). If you've heard of him - it's most likely for his breakthrough crossover hit Ghost World which - yeah - was a movie starring blah blah blah...

But - hey - what's this? Is that a superhero brandishing some kind of cosmic ray-gun on the cover there? Does this mean that Clowes has finally sold out? Is he making a late career dash for the mainstream? For someone who's always made a habit out of rolling his eyes at the idea that comics were only ever about costumes and capes this seems a little unexpected - like finding out that Jim Jarmusch's next film is going to be CGI robots fighting Batman or something [1]. I mean - there's a moment in his last book (I think it was his book anyway - but whatever) Wilson where the title character is sitting in the back of a taxi and when the driver asks: "So. Have you seen the Dark Knight?" Wilson responds: "Isn't it a kid's movie?" [2] and the feeling (from this reader anyone) is that Clowes (at that point) is on Wilson's side...

Death Ray starts with a scene that feels like Wilson all over again: there's a guy called Andy out walking his dog - picking up poop - and making bitter judgements on those who have wronged him (speaking of his ex-wives he says: "Neither of them was worth a damn. Just a couple of whores out to drain a man of his money and vigor."): hell for a second there it was all so familar that I thought that maybe I was reading a Wilson sequel. But - no. Like I've said: this is much more superhero-tastic.

I can't remember where I read it - but when I was fluttering around the internet reading the things people had written about The Bulletproof Coffin by David Hine and Shaky Kane someone said something to the effect that Death Ray and The Bulletproof Coffin were the only two superhero books that approaching the idea of superheroes in a properly adult way and something blah blah blah Watchmen sucks or something [3]. Actually - no wait - sorry that's not quite fair. Let me try again: I guess the point that they were tying to make it that most every superhero book out there treats superheroes purely as escapist entertainment (I mean - that's what they are - (and it's a bit like getting prissy that toys are just things that you can play with) but let's not get into all that now yeah?): and that Death Ray and Bulletproof Coffin were the only books that really got into the psychological realism of what superheroes are all about (I mean this could all be completely wrong but what the hey right?). Of course in terms of my expectations I thought that Death Ray was going to be all close-up sweaty realism - with uncomfortable close-ups of people being punched in the face (and the caption reading something like: "Hey readers - watch out: beacuse like violence is bad yeah?"). Thankfully tho (I mean - I guess not if you're a fan of sweaty violence - but hey you can always get that sort of thing elsewhere if you really want...) Death Ray isn't really into that sort of brutal physical bodily fluids type of violence - more the sort of violence that happens inside people's minds and the various way that sort of stuff can manifest itself - in a way that's not really that explosive: but is much more sickening for it's lack of effect and the way that sometimes even tho we do stuff that might be kinda big and tramatic - the world doesn't always reciprocate: and so sometimes - well - sometimes stuff just disappears (you know: like with the finality of death and things like that [4]).

Of course - because it's Daniel Clowes: throughout all of this - it never gives the reader a chance to get off the hook: and even tho it generally does a Reservoir-Dogs-style-swerve away from all the bloody stuff that doesn't mean that the language isn't doing it's best to try and make an impact (I think that my favourite line of the whole book is: "It was like my entire body got a giant boner.").

And - well - maybe it's because I only recently reread Kick Ass (which I guess is the primary text (or whatever) of "superheroes for real" nowadays) but I really liked the way that Death Ray upends the cliché of there always being a supervillain showing up to fight the main guy who gets all the superpowers. So that was cool. Plus - the way Daniel Clowes takes his whole schizophrenic artistic style that he used in Wilson (and maybe his other books as far as I know - Ice Haven maybe? [5]) and really makes it sing. So it doesn't seem like he has a short attention span or is just showing off (altho it's like his different moods of drawing are really that dissimilar from each other - so it's pretty rubbish showing off - but - hey - ok: whatevers): he actually makes everything feel integrated: so that a change in styles means a change in the way that he's telling the story: and - at points: it all gets pretty complex (the Comics Journal (see that Death-Ray Discussion Forum link below) only half-jokingly calls: "first-person past-tense textual narration (delivered from the future) with third-person past-tense visual narration."): even tho it doesn't really take any effort to read or understand.

So yeah: full of the all the sort of bile and vemon that you'd want from a Daniel Clowes feature (the heroe's catchphrase isn't quite "With great power comes great responsibility" in fact it's more like: "How the hell does one man stand against 4 billion assholes.") with a dressing of spandex and masks as well. So something for the whole family to enjoy then. Excellent.

[1] I mean - I know that this goes without saying: but - hell - that would be a film that I would pay money to go see: so - erm - Hollywood? Could you make it happen please please please?

[2] I'm simplifying it a little. But if you want to read it: it's here

[3] I really wish I could remember where I saw it: because obviously this would make a lot more sense if I could just link to it. But - for once - I'm going to restrain myself from going back to see if I can find it (if anyone knows what I'm talking about and where it is then please send me the link or tell me where it was!)

[4] Yeah - I know that maybe this all just sounds unreasonable woolly. But I'm hoping that those of you who've read it will know (maybe) what I'm talking about?

[5] That's not a Daniel Clowes book that we currently have in stock here at Islington: so I can't really say for sure what it's like... (Sorry). 

Links: Icon Sequential Review: With Great Power Comes Something or Other: Daniel Clowes’s The Death-Ray,  The Comics Journal: The Death-Ray Discussion Forum.

Further reading: Wilson, The Bulletproof Coffin, David Boring, Kick-Ass, Kinetic, Flex Mentallo, RaslWatchmen, I Never Liked You, Black Hole, #$@&!: The Official Lloyd Llewellyn Collection.  

Profiles: Daniel Clowes.

All comments welcome.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Books: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 03


Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 03
Written by John Wagner and Pat Mills
Art by Mike McMahon, Ron Smith, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, Brendan McCarthy, Garry Leach, Ian Gibson, John Cooper and Barry Mitchell

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

This has grown into a bit of a Mega-post: so - you ready?

("You don't look ready").

Me? Well: yeah - I guess I've hated Alex Garland for a long, long time. I mean - I know that maybe "hate" is a strong word to use: but then again - I take my pop culture consumption very seriously and I don't like it when something gives me  indigestion - or makes me sick (so what the hey: "hate" it is!)

My first exposure I guess was The Beach (book - not the film). I'm pretty sure that I didn't read it when it first came out (back in 1996) but I remember hearing lots about and the rave reviews that came with it ("[Garland is a] natural-born storyteller" who "combines an unlikely group of influences - Heart of Darkness, Vietnam War movies, Lord of the Flies, the Super Mario Bros. video game - into ... ambitious, propulsive fiction." ... "A Lord of the Flies for Generation X" ... "Generation X's first great novel" ...“A furiously intelligent first novel … a book that moves with the kind of speed and grace many older writers can only day-dream about”): and - damn - this was when I was just a teenager so if this was a book that was appearing on my radar all the way back then: well - then I guess it must have been making lots of waves.

I can't remember what made me pick it up and read the stupid thing a few years after that... (Maybe it was the release of the Danny Boyle film or something? Although so scarred was I by the book that I didn't actually get around to watching that until a few years ago [1]) - but when I did: well - I liked the start, and yeah I thought the concept was kinda groovy (apparently backpacking being a big thing back then - but then I guess there's some clichés that never go out of fashion [2]: so hey - kudos to him for spotting that little gap in the market and writing something so zeitgeisty etc) but - oh boy - that ending. Maybe my sights were set too high - but I was left feeling personally wounded by the way it just sorta fizzled out completely - like a balloon with a hernia slowly bleeding to death: to say it was disappointing is a understatement: it's more accurate to say that it left me feeling really sad: like I'd made a new friend who then turned out to be a thief. Getting to the end of the Beach was like opening my wallet and noticing that Alex Garland had stolen my last tenner.

(But wait - what the hell has all this got to do with Judge Dredd? I can hear the less media-savvy of you say: just hang in there guys - I'm getting to it...)

Since that point I thought that I'd do well to steer clear of Alex Garland so that I wouldn't get hurt again. And - I mean - it's simple right? Just don't pick up any of his books: how hard can it be? Except - it wasn't that easy. Because of 28 Days Later.

I don't wanna spend all my time going through all this movie stuff before we get to Dredd: but this feels sorta necessary (I'm hoping that by the time I get to the end of this I'll feel some-sort of closure or something which - well - seems unlikely - but what the hey right?): 28 Days Later seemed like exactly my sort of film. I wasn't / I'm not the biggest Danny Boyle fan in the word [3] but - oh my god - a zombie film? I freaking love zombie films: and this was all the way back when nobody made zombie films (which of course - has all changed now [4]) and - oh my lord: this was a zombie film set in London which just made it all seem a thousand times better (come on: who doesn't want to see their hometown depicted as a savage post-apocalyptic zombie-filled wasteland?). So - yeah. Come opening day I was sat right at the front - popcorn in one hand - cold drink in the other all ready to be wowed. And - oh my god - that opening [5]: Cillian Murphy walking around Oxford Street, Westminster Bridge, that upturned red bus: not to mention the - is that? is that? is that Godspeed You Black Emperor!? playing on the soundtrack? (I think that might have been the exact moment that my mind split apart in two). I'm not sure if I realised before I entered the cinema that 28 Days was written by Alex Garland but at that point - oh boy - I don't know if I would have cared either way - the rush (and yeah it was a rush) was so intense and pure that I don't think I would have cared if someone told me that the script was written by Adolf freaking Hitler.

I mean I guess you could say that it couldn't last - and that with a start that great it's just the law of gravity that means that things are going to take a dip. But no. It's not that. It's that that as soon as Cillian Murphy starts meeting up with people the whole film falls apart like a cake that's been taken out of the oven too quickly... (I think that's the right metaphor - truth be told: I'm not that hot when it comes to baking) and all that's left is a sticky unappetizing mess - full of half-done George Romero steals and a bunch of people running around a house like they're in a Scooby Doo episode (sigh) [6].

28 Days left me feeling ultra bitter and even more determined never to trust Alex Garland again. As far as I was concerned he now owed me time wasted for his novel and his stupid zombie film. But hey at least I knew enough now to make sure that I wouldn't be fooled again...


Because - few years after that came Sunshine. A film whose last part is so awful that even Quentin Tarantino (who loves every film ever made) think's it's poo [7]. From the trailer [8], to the concept (bunch of astronauts fly directly into the sun) sounded like the kind of slightly berserk / slightly existential science-fiction concept that tends to form the type of movies that normally end up getting all the way under my skin [9]: and oh my god - wow: those first - what? 40? 50 minutes? The film is just totally, brilliantly sublime. That John Murphy soundtrack [10] that whole "What can you see?" to that ever-constant yellow glow that just bathes the whole film in this gorgeous yellow light so that everyone watching knows exactly why Searle spends all his time immersing himself in the light: it's great, great, great. And then: blam with no warning - the whole film nose-dives and switches from - one of the best science-fiction films ever made ever - into something approaching an embarrassment ("Oh god - yeah - Sunshine? Erm. I'd rather not talk about it - if that's ok?"). And of all the times Alex Garland has let me down (three and counting) that one hurt the most. I guess because his game in the first part was so on (come on Alex - you can do this - you can do this) that when the ball got dropped (I mean - shooting your bad guy with a blurry camera filter (or whatever): I mean - really? Really? I get all the deep reasons you thought you had - but it's like watching a sixth formers idea of doing something smart: and (for me) it just totally sinks the whole film [11]).  

Wow: this is getting pretty long. Ok - no matter - stay with it, stay with it. Because this is when we get to the point that I've trying to get to (struggle struggle struggle - and wham): the Dredd film. (Yeah boy).

I mean - like I think I've said - the inspiration for this whole writing up on the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files comes from the Dredd film. I saw it coming down the tubes and all the pre-publicity and stuff and I thought that I'd use it as an excuse to go through all the stories that I'd already read and haven't read and blah blah blah - I mean - the comics are always good for a laugh right?

But as for the film itself - well yeah. To be frank: I wasn't expecting anything good. All the signs looked like they were pointing to "bad." The director - Pete Travis - was (according to his wikipedia page) a TV director who had directed an episode of The Bill here (The Bill? Yawn) - two episodes of Cold Feet there and was the one responsible for the immensely forgettable Vantage Point (starring Jack from Lost!) [12]. Plus - Dredd doesn't really seem like a concept that would translate well to screen (I mean - like everyone else has already said: when it comes to character he's a bit of a void). And yeah - (the reasons why should be more than evident by now) there were those four words that send a shiver down my spine: "Screenplay by Alex Garland" (brrrr!) [13] and the little synopsis that came out - what? - made it sound like complete rubbish [14]: I mean - "Slo-Mo"? That just sounds like Brass Eye [15]. I mean - I guess it says something that I paid so much attention to it's development. But it seemed more like rubber-necking at a slow motion (or should I say "slo-mo"?) car crash. I mean - all the signs pointed to terrible and I guess I just wanted to know - how terrible. You know?

But - hell: last week me and my friends wanted something to do. My literary flatmate wanted to go to the cinema in order to see something to boast his spirits and what the hell - Dredd was showing. That very day I had read a review from Drew McWeeny (who I mostly tend to side with) who had praised it as: "a grimy hyper-violent faithful take on the comic icon", "Stylish and bloody" "Dredd 3D should give genre fans a thrill." [16]. I agreed to come along but only under duress and whining and complaining the whole way there ("So let me tell you all the reasons that this film is going to be totally awful.") and sharing my favourite Dredd stories that the film should have been based around (and yeah: The Graveyard shift was mentioned I'll admit it). And then we get to the cinema: and - it turns out that it's a little bit cheaper than what I feared. And it turns out that they're showing it on the main screen. And in 3-D. And - why did I not notice this before? - on the big white cinema sign outside above the doors (does that have a special name that I just don't know about?) next to Dredd it says "18." (Wow - I can't even remember the last time I went to see a film that was rated 18: especially not what is essentially a superhero comic-book film - nearly all of which tend to be rated on the baby end of the spectrum: The Dark Knight? The Dark Knight Rises? Iron Man? All rated: PG-13).

But still: when the lights went down - I readied myself for the worst: because this film was gonna stink - right?

Well - no. And this: All of this blah blah blah is to say: I was wrong. And going through all this Alex Garland history is my way of saying: hey Alex - you know what? You've finally managed to make something good. I didn't think you had it in you - but you've finally made something that I could bring myself (hell - want to) watch again. Well done. And seeing how I feel (in a roundabout sorta way) I've been a little bit harsh to the Dredd film (I think in the notes to the Complete Case Files 07 post I made a few snarky comments) I thought I would use this space to champion it because (damn) it's been lot much of a long time since I went to the cinema and had a good time and so I'm very much about championing the good stuff (and - hey - life should be about championing the good stuff - I mean - that's why we're all here: right?)

So yeah: Dredd (let's just ignore that 3-D thing yeah? [17]): let's talk Dredd.

It starts just like the Stallone version (at least I think so: it's been 17 years (oh my god) since that came out and I've never bothered to rewatch it since that first crushing disappointment in the cinema - so this is a pretty old memory yeah?): shot of the Mega City One from the Cursed Earth with a moody voice-over spelling everything out. I mean - I get why they did it: but it's not a good sign... And then. Well: I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of the entire film and as usually like with how I try and write about the books: I'm not going to spoil all the plot points (so don't worry if you haven't seen it yet - this should be safe to read): but then you get your first look of Mega City One proper and - I'll admit - I was (well) stunned.

Because even if you've never read a Judge Dredd comic I'm pretty sure that you probably still know how Mega City One is supposed to look - right? Hundreds and thousands of City Blocks piled on top of each other as far as the eye can see: think Blade Runner or the Fifth Element: only more blocked in and much (much) more crazy. And in fact - if you think back to the Stallone Dredd: that's pretty much the only thing they got right: a never-ending megatropolis fall of flying cars and garish neon advertisements [18]. Yeah - well: the 2012 version of Dredd obviously wasn't paying attention: because their Mega City One is: better. Much better. With less of the "Mega" but much more of the "City." What the film absolutely nails is the basic idea that cities don't every radically change: but rather - are built up - bit by bit by bit over and around the city that's already there. Mega City One in the comics has always been rather cartoony (I mean - it depends who's drawing it true - but even at the most realistic Arther Ranson-end of things (see: Judge Anderson: Satan below if you're interested in that sort of thing) - it's always future future future and grey City Blocks and things. When I first saw the trailer to Dredd [19] and it's aerial-view of the city I just assumed that it was because the movie was going to suck: instead of buildings upon buildings - it was like looking at a graveyard: empty spaces with isolated markers sticking out from the ground here and there - in a very un-cluttered, un-Mega City-like way [20]. But then: why assume that there isn't enough room for the new and the old? In the comics (urg: I hate that phrase: "In the comics" but still) i think (?) the idea is that Mega City One is built upon the ruins of the old cities: there was a big war and so they just decided to lay concrete over it all and start again. And altho this idea has a lot going for it - namely it's appeal to that deep-seated human urge about fresh starts and blank states and stuff (I'm thinking about that bit in Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: "Blank Is Beautiful: Three Decades of Erasing and Remaking the World" and all that [21]) - it's also massively unrealistic: an unobtainable ideal and yeah I know it's science-fiction and stuff (and so really only one small step away from fantasy): but - hell - things ususally tend to get more interesting when you start to subject it to a little dose of reality. Which is exactly what the Dredd film does: giving us a future city that still has lots and lots of traces and features and buildings of the old - which for me: is just all kinds of brilliant and puts the film into a reality that feels much closer to home than I thought it could get and kinda makes the comic books (which up until this point seemed to be a sort of unquestionable authority that could accept no deviations lest the critic be excommunicated) seem - well - kinda comic booky.Because - yeah: stating the totally obvious: the future is going to look a lot like the present. If someone from 1970 were suddenly transported into now - yeah they'd be amazed by ipods and the youtubes - but walking down the street I don't think that their eyeballs would hemorrhage at the sheer futureness of it all: it all (basically) just looks the same you know?

Apart from that: what else does the film get right? Well - Karl Urban is spot-on as Joe Dredd. I mean - even if in the end it ammounts to nothing more than a Clint Eastwood impression: it's a really good Clint Eastwood impression and he stands there and growls in all the right ways (but I'm a bit of a Karl Urban fan after his spot-on DeForest Kelley impression in that Star Trek film: "Don't pander to me, kid. One tiny crack in the hull and our blood boils in thirteen seconds. Solar flare might crop up, cook us in our seats. And wait'll you're sitting pretty with a case of Andorian shingles, see if you're still so relaxed when your eyeballs are bleeding. Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence." (man - I could watch that scene all day)). Olivia Thirlby does lots of good doe-eyed stuff as Anderson (and in another case of going better than the comics: there's a big show-stopping physic-power scene that goes strange and deep in a way that none of the Anderson stuff I've ever read ever seems to come close to (normally it's just her touching her head in a James McAvoy Charles Xavier-type way [22]). But in terms of the pretending people: Lena Headey wins for her Heath-Ledger-as-the-Joker levels of insanity and violence crackling around inside her eyes (too bad they didn't give her more to do: so could have won like awards and stuff)

Also good is how it's just so supercrazyultraviolent. I mean - this is the Dredd that my teenager self would wanted to see back in 1995: there's blood spilling out of the screen: over the edge of the black bars of the bottom even and lots of smashing and crushing and perps getting judged (and oh my god - is that - is that white phosphorus? Wow. That's hardcore). Plus (and this is just me I know) there's just something that's innately pleasurable about slow helicopter shots of giant buildings - especially when they're doing big mechanical things and slowly rolling things into place (someone make a relaxation tape of space shuttle doors closing and those big space shuttle carrier things rolling around please): and - more things I like - there's just so many great images of dirty motorways stretching out into the distance and giant starscapers: grids and lines my inner-Kubrick kept letting out little sighs of joy. And balancing all that against the small-scaliness of it all being set in the same location gave it that pleasingly claustrophobic feeling that you normally get from John Carpenter films (hell: maybe The Graveshift wasn't the ideal model after all? I dunno): so best of both worlds!

And the soundtrack - oh boy - I absolutely adore the soundtrack. I mean - I'm sure I'll get sick of it sooner or later - but I've been listening to it none stop since I saw the film. Paul Leonard-Morgan is my new soundtrack crush dude. It's like John Carpenter's moody synths decided to learn how to play guitars and brought in a evil gorilla to play the drums while they all listened to Cliff Martinez's Contagion and Drive Soundtracks I mean yeah: it's perfect [23].

Hell: I even loved the bikes [24]: they looked like refugees from an 80s action film: like Robocop or Escape from New York (in fact that's a good way to describe the whole film: a mutant 80s action film - grim as hell and as mean as Dredd himself).

In terms of source-material faithfulness and getting the comics right and all that baloney: well technically Anderson's badge should have been only half-finished and the respirators should have dropped from the helmet (although there's an obvious reason why that didn't happen) and since when did people in Mega City One say "Motherfucker?" (would a "Drokk" or a "Grud" been too much to ask? We are living in a post Battlestar Galactica world after all you fraks) and was it libel-laws of something that meant that you couldn't give the City Blocks their more familar-sounding names (Peach Trees? [25]): but that sorta stuff was more than made-up for the geeky graffiti shout-outs to Chopper and Kenny Who? (yeah - I think when I saw that second one I may have let out an involuntary "squee!").

Lots of the reviews I read made mention of another film that came out this year called The Raid [26]: and while Dredd's later release means that it's kinda being touted as being the Raid's little sister (summing up the media narrative it's basically: "The Raid is the best thing ever! Dredd isn't as good - but it's still alright") but allow me to blow a big fat raspberry in that direction. Mainly just to say: The Raid ain't all that. I mean - I'm obviously not in the target audience seeing how I've never really been into fighting films (sorry - "martial arts")  but godamnit - just in how it's structured: keeping the audience on it's toes from start to end and never taking it's foot of the tension pedal (that's a thing right?) - I'd take Dredd over The Raid any day of the week (The Raid starts off well - but then just sorta gets really predictable really quickly and by the end you can tell who's going to win which fight - and the climax made it seem - well: like an episode of The Bill (The Bill? Yawn) or something).

It wasn't a 100% perfect film - and there's a few points where it does fall into predictability and outrageous coincidences (with one moment in particular relying on an architectural feature that seems outlandish even by Mega City standards): but I struggle to remember the last time I had such a great time at the cinema: I cheered at the end. I didn't mean to - but it happened. 

I mean I know that I could have just summed all of that up by saying: that new Dredd film? Yeah - I liked it. But hell: I'm kinda falling out of the habit of doing things the easy way. So yeah - when (please when) the sequel comes out: I'll be first in line. (Please can we have a sequel soon please please please? And you know what? You can even get Alex Garland to write it: it seems like he's finally found his niche).

(Pause for breath)

Now. Of course if this was just a blog of random thoughts or whatever I could just leave things there. Happy with the fact that I'd managed to write more than just a single solitary paragraph (didn't anyone ever tell you? Writing about comics and stuff is hard): but this is the Islington Comic Forum blog and so we have to maintain at least an air of respectability and talk about the stuff we're supposed to talk about - that is: comics. And so - rather than just leaving this now as a Dredd review and all my hang-ups about Alex Garland let's try and link this up with an actual Judge Dredd book (how's that sound? That ok?)

So: after seeing the Dredd film I was well up for some Judge Dredd comic action. Because that how it works right? You see the film and then after you get that strange urge to read the book: even tho (no duh) the book is nothing like the film but the only reason you're bothering to read the book is to capture some of the same feeling and excitement you got from the film: it's like you really enjoyed (stupid metaphor alert) an apple sweet (like a fruit pastille or something) and so you decide to eat an apple in order to get the same sort of sensation: it's pretty pointless and is only going to leave you feeling unfulfilled but then - hey - that's like the story of all of our lives - right? (Right?).

The book I came up with was this: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 03 which - at the time of writing is the earliest example of Dredd currently available in Islington (maybe someone could order Complete Case Files 01 and 02 so that I can finally get to read the first part of The Cursed Earth please?) and - well - yeah: after the hard-bitten dirty futurism of the Dredd movie: it was a bit of a trip encountering such an embryonic-version of the future law man. Towards the start there's the first instance of a concept that I used to love when I was a kid - Future Shock! (or "futsie" as they call it) - but (oh the irony) reading this - I got Past Future Shock (I need a better name - but you get the point right?): reading a version of the future that now (mostly) seems out of date.

You think I'm exaggerating?

Well the first story reveals the hitherto unknown fact (to this reader at least) that Judge Dredd has a niece. For this reader - who was expecting some more of the violent carnage that he got from the Dredd film (hell - who knows I reasoned: maybe the early stories were extra gritty and they had to tone it down as things went on?). But no - instead I got Dredd pushing Vienna (Vienna?) on the swings while she screams: "Swing me again Uncle Joe!" and dialogue that seemed more like it comes from a Mad Magazine parody: "You don't kiss me and hug me very much but I know that's just your way. I love you Uncle Joe! You're my daddy now!" I mean - I thought this was great - but it wasn't really what I was expecting. (I ordered strawberry - and hey this is chocolate! kinda thing) [27].

And there's a lot more of that sort of slightly mawkish slightly childish slightly lame (yeah - I said it) happening again and again: there's Monty the Guinea pig and a talking cat and later - Henry Ford - the smart mouthed talking horse, there's the suggestion that drinking Tyrannosaur blood can turn you into a weredinosaur (what the?) - and (oh yes) Walter - Dredd's lisping roboservant ("As Walter Wemember, there was a wobbey at the cwedit bank that day.") who's - well - a bit mincy (not that there's anything wrong with that obviously). But it's pretty obvious in point that this is the kinda stuff that was written for children back in the 1970s rather than - well - late twenty-sometimes in the 21st Century (that would be me of course): and I was really feeling the disconnect between what was on the page and the Paul Leonard-Morgan Dredd soundtrack playing in my ears.

But then: just as I was getting ready to maybe think about setting it aside and trying out something else I started to get more of what I wanted: Bleak predictions of the future: "By the early 22nd Century only 13% of the population of Mega City One had work... Humans, too long used to working, could  not adjust to the huge increase in leisure time." (And reading that as someone who is just about to start working with self-service machines (it's the future!) - well: it touched a delicate spot). Horrific plagues of mutant spiders. Killer Hippies (Father Earth - who's like the yin to Dredd's punk yang). And that delicious evil sense of humour that the British tend to do so well in the form of Sob Story's [28] greatest hit: Otto Sump "Yeah, I know all about ugly... I've had eight face changes and still I look like this! The Doc says I'm deep-down ugly, the kind they can't get out." Plus lots of hard-bitten action: "First try the special cocktail I've mixed for you Molotov!" (Woop!) not to mention the first appearance of Judge Death and - wouldn't you know it - Judge Cassandra Anderson (who is way more more ditzy than her later incarnations) and a peek inside the Hall of Justice that makes it look like they've been stealing furniture from the set of Dr Strangelove... (and - wow: it turns out that Brian Bolland has always been an amazing artist: damn him).

But yeah: I guess that's it (at least that's all I can bring myself to write). But what? Is there some kind of moral here? Something I can say to wrap this all up in a tidy little bow? 


Not that I can think of anyhow [29].

So - instead I've leave you with these wise words from Judge Minty: "When you get old you start getting strange notions... like maybe people aren't so bad, maybe if we treat 'em with kindness, the good in them will come out! I guess that's when it's time to quit."

[1] I don't remember that much about it - but my abiding thought was that it was much, much better than the book (which hey - couldn't have been that hard - right?).

[2] "And then I chundered everywhere" etc.

[3] Shallow Grave = Yes. Trainspotting = Yes.A Life Less Ordinary = I don't think I ever saw (think the 2000AD adaptation put me off - because boy was that stinky). The Beach = Yeah. Ok. 28 Days Later = Well... Millions = Not bad. But it's like something that would on ITV on a Saturday evening (maybe that's just because James Nesbitt is in it - but whatever). Sunshine = Well... Slumdog Millionaire = I mean - yeah. It' ok. But it's not a film that I've ever gonna really wanna watch again - you know what I mean? 127 Hours = Haven't seen. But I don't know if I could stomach a whole film that was wall-to-wall James Franco (sorry dude: you're just way too annoying).

[4] I could pick on any film at this point to illustrate the fact that maybe the zombie film market is a little bit more - well - saturated this days: but - hell - let's go with Cockneys vs. Zombies: "A bunch of east-enders fight their way out of a zombie-infested London, led by an unlikely gang of amateur bank robbers and foul-mouthed plucky pensioners." No. I'm not making that up: and also (hell) who knows? Maybe it'll actually prove to be pretty good? I mean: who knows?

[5] Which you can enjoy here. Repeat after me: "Hello!?" "HELLO!?" (I mean - it's like someone took my main childhood daydream and just plastered it across a screen).

[6] 28 Weeks Later? Well - that's a whole different story (a story that goes: I frigging love that film).

[7] See: here. ("Space exploration mediation"? Don't try saying that with your mouth full).

[8] Which you can watch here. (That music at the start is Six By Seven's Another Love Song - which is a band that I used to think represented the absolute pinnacle of epic brutalist guitar rock (hell - whatever - still do) and that music at the end? Lux Aeterna obviously).

[9] See also: bunch of scientists go and talk to super-intelligent ants (Phase IV), scientists uses drugs and sensory deprivation tanks in order to themselves regress genetically (Altered States) and a team of scientists fight against a super-bug from outer space (The Andromeda Strain). Obviously I have somesorta deep seated obsession with science-fiction films about scientists - but hey - I guess that's my problem right?

[10] YUM: I want to be buried to this music please. Or - hell - not buried. Fired into the sun. Yes.

[11] And - hell - the know what? Maybe that's not even Alex Garland's fault. Maybe it's Danny Boyle calling all the shots and making all the decisions (he is the director after all). But - still. The problems seem like they stem from the script and (plus he's got previous with The Beach) and so I'm a-gonna blame Garland. Sorry dude.

[12] And I do mean "forgettable" seeing as how I've watched it and all I remember is something about an ambulance flipping over (?) and lots of weak sauce Rashomon-style window dressing that never really seemed to add up to anything more than just a gimmick.

[13] Which leaves out the gossip that Pete Travis was actually replaced by Alex Garland in the post-production process so that when the film came out it was going to credit Garland as the director. (Which just seems sorta crazy to me - but then I guess I don't work in the film business (I work in a library)).

[14] "The future America is an irradiated waste land. On its East Coast, running from Boston to Washington DC, lies Mega City One- a vast, violent metropolis where criminals rule the chaotic streets. The only force of order lies with the urban cops called “Judges” who possess the combined powers of judge, jury and instant executioner. Known and feared throughout the city, Dredd (Karl Urban) is the ultimate Judge, challenged with ridding the city of its latest scourge – a dangerous drug epidemic that has users of “Slo-Mo” experiencing reality at a fraction of its normal speed. During a routine day on the job, Dredd is assigned to train and evaluate Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a rookie with powerful psychic abilities thanks to a genetic mutation. A heinous crime calls them to a neighborhood where fellow Judges rarely dare to venture – a 200 story vertical slum controlled by prostitute-turned-drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and her ruthless clan. When they capture one of the clan’s inner circle, Ma-Ma overtakes the compound’s control center and wages a dirty, vicious war against the Judges that proves she will stop at nothing to protect her empire. With the body count climbing and no way out, Dredd and Anderson must confront the odds and engage in the relentless battle for their survival. The endlessly inventive mind of writer Alex Garland and director Pete Travis bring DREDD to life as a futuristic neo-noir action film. Filmed in 3D with stunning slow motion photography sequences, the film returns the celebrated character to the dark, visceral incarnation from John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s revered comic strip." Problems: That name "Ma-Ma." (I mean - why?) And having Dredd just go up against one villain and the idea of Slo-Mo. It just made it sound like a big slice of cheese-cake when want I wanted was a raw slice of beef - you know? And then (although I guess this came later) the fact that they decided to name it: Dredd 3-D. Seriously? I mean - unlike some - I don't have a problem with 3-D. But when you decide to stick it into the title - it just makes it seem disposable and cheap. And what are they going to call the sequel: Dredd 3-D 2? (Yuck).

[15] The Horrors of Cake! (Noel Edmonds: "What is Cake? Well, it has an active ingredient which is a dangerous psychoactive compound known as dimesmeric andersonphosphate. It stimulates the part of the brain called Shatner's Bassoon. And that's the bit of the brain that deals with time perception. So, a second feels like a month. Well, it almost sounds like fun...unless you're the Prague schoolboy who walked out into the street straight in front of a tram. He thought he'd got a month to cross the street.") And I mean - yeah - obviously the reason for Slo-Mo is to do lots of bullet-time style action (all of which in the film is absolutely-completely-gorgeous) - but it just seemed kinda obvious and easy or something and a - well - a whole lot of yawn (I dunno).

[16] You can read the full review: here: (sample: "Ultimately, your reaction to "Dredd 3D" will depend on your tolerance for an almost breathtaking level of graphic violence.")

[17] Although: hot damn - this film certainly had some nice 3-D action going on. Totally keeping with it's ever so-slightly exploitation film feeling.

[18] I tried to find a clip of it online and found that someone has actually uploaded the full movie. Watched the first five minutes and - holy cow - is that James Earl Jones doing the opening narration? And did how blatantly Marvel steal that opening let's show all the pages of the comics flicking past really quickly thing? And: wow - now I can see why the film was such a massive let-down: in those first 5 minutes they get everything just right: the use of the proper old school Judge Dredd font, those marching drums give it the right atmosphere, nice slow introduction to the city - that pan up that keeps going up and up and up: and Mega City One looks just like it's supposed to (nice use of the Lady Liberty there - (no Statue of Judgement tho - sad face)): and oh boy - so many actors with so many great names: Armand Assante! Jürgen Prochnow! Balthazar Getty! (That doesn't actually add to the quality of the film - I know: but I just wanted to point it out). I mean - if you just saw that - you could easily imagine that this was going to be the most faithful film adaptation of all time... (hysterical fanboy voice: "and then Stallone had to ruin it all by taking his helmet off!" And - oops - oh yeah: and the rest of the film sucked to). Credit where it's due tho: it does have a totally awesome trailer. (That music? It's Jerry Goldsmith: sadly not used in the film: something about him having scheduling conflicts or something and not having enough time to score the film: oh well).

[19] This is turning into a proper trailer fest huh? (But - hey - I love trailers - and in some respects they're the only pure art-form left and let's face it: one of the most exciting (if you've never said that you wish you could watch a whole film that felt like a trailer then I don't believe you)). But - yeah - if you haven't seen the Dredd trailer yet - here you go. And - well - ok: since you asked. I think it's one of the worst trailers I've seen since forever: it's one the few (if only?) examples of the film being better than the trailer - normally (and depressingly) it's almost always the other way round... It just makes it look really cheap (that POV shot from the Justice Camera or whatever looks like someone looking through a cheap binocular toy that they got from a happy meal) and all of the images and supposedly "cool" lines just feel really flat (which is mainly due to the fact that - in the film - context is key: and taken out from that - it just seems half-inflated: like someone who's really bad at telling stories trying to sum up the film they saw last night: "And then he said "You look ready" and it was so awesome."). Plus - with that Ma-Ma line: "We could take the whole city" etc. It makes it seem like maybe the film is going to be way more epic that it actually is: Dredd versus someone who's some kind of crazy super-villain - while actually: it's all much more pleasingly low-key, reined in and enclosed than that. Plus (like my literary flatmate pointed out) there's way too much "judging" dialogue: "I am the law" / "Judgement time!" / "the Sentence is Death" etc (I mean - what's next? "Order in the court?" "Has the jury reached a verdict?" "Please rise!" - hell - actually those are pretty good!). But yeah - so - basically - yeah: fails all round. (Oh - and seeing how we've also been doing all the music for stuff - that La Roux song is a Skream remix remix: and that second song? No. That's not Daft Punk's Tron Soundtrack - it's some guy called Danny Cocke doing a very good impression of Daft Punk's Tron Soundtrack)

[20] This is a good picture of it.

[21] I'm not that this is actually relevant but here you go: “Fervent believers in the redemptive powers of shock, the architects of the American-British invasion imagined that their use of force would be so stunning, so overwhelming, that Iraqis would go into a kind of suspended animation…In that window of opportunity, Iraq’s invaders would slip in another set of shocks—these one economic—which would create a model free-market democracy on the blank slate that was post invasion Iraq. But there was no blank slate, only rubble and shattered angry people—who, when they resisted, were blasted with more shocks…Like Cameron, Iraq’s shock doctors can destroy, but they can’t seem to rebuild.” (But - hey - it's a good book: if you get a chance - you should read it: available in your local Islington library!).

[22] Oh my god: have you seen X-Men: First Class? He's like touching his head in that all the damn time. (Next time I watch it - I'm turning it into a drinking game). 

[23] Few notes on the soundtrack: someone's been listening to Justin Bieber 800% Slower (not that that's a bad thing - just saying). And Lockdown and Tick of the Clock (from the Drive Soundtrack) = separated at birth? And - of course - there's the Drokk: Music Inspired by Mega-City One album by Portishead's Geoff Barrow and some guy called Ben Salisbury which was supposed to be the soundtrack before I don't know what happened and it was left "on the cutting room floor" - if you like your science-fiction soundtracks a little bit more sedate and calmed down (and really yeah: they're both good in different ways).

[24] YEAH BABY. (For some reason I can't quite put my finger on - they reminded me of those creepy Star Trek Wheelchairs. Maybe it's the black slopingness of it or something? I dunno).

[25] Apparently it was named after a restaurant when Alex Garland and John Wagner met up. (To me something like "Charlton Heston Block" would have sounded much better - but heigh ho).

[26] Most notably this Empire Review  which went so far as to declare that there were two shadows that fell over the Dredd film: the Dredd film and The Raid: "This wouldn’t be to Dredd’s detriment if The Raid hadn’t a) got there first and b) been the best action film in years. And so, as Dredd and Anderson tiptoe down dark corridors, where danger lurks around every corner, or bullet-bludgeon their way through Ma-Ma’s seemingly endless waves of expendable henchmen, it’s hard not to compare and contrast with Evans’ movie, where similar situations led to action that was vital, insanely violent and full of variety. Dredd retains the extraordinary violence (flesh pierces rippling bare flesh in loving slo-mo, a machine gun reduces a head to a pulp, and bodies spiral through 200 storeys before splatting), but the action is rather more circumspect and workmanlike – there are no dizzying camera moves, no sense of building momentum or mounting danger."

[27] Wow. Twenty-seven footnotes? (Wow). That seems a bit much: but oh well: here's another: what's with the "Dokk?" at the start - I mean - they correct it to "Drokk" two stories later: but it kinda added to the feeling that what I was reading wasn't actually real Dredd...

[28] Sob Story is a television programme which is supposed to be satire (people who go and tv: tell everyone how awful their lives are and then beg for money) - but oh: wouldn't you know it - is now yesterday's news (see: Charlie Brooker's Wanking For Coins article: here. "I liked the phrase "wanking for coins" so much I went on to use it again and again. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to sum up an entire world of low-level employment. Stuck in a dead-end job? Wanking for coins. Obliged to smile at customers? Wanking for coins. Working extra shifts to pay the rent? Wanking for coins.")

[29] Actually - now that I think about it a little bit more - and having read a few more Dredd reviews - a lot of which have said that the film - as good as it is - doesn't quite capture the flavor of the comics: I guess the moral would be: having read such a big fat slice of the comics- there's no possible way that any film could ever hope to contain all the different multitudes of what makes Judge Dredd - Judge Dredd.

Links: Dredd Reckoning ReviewBookgasm ReviewGrovel Review.

Further reading: Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth SagaJudge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 05, Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 06Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 07, Judge Anderson: Satan, Sláine: The Horned God, Nikolai Dante: The Romanov Dynasty, Skizz.

All comments welcome. 

Friday, 14 September 2012

Books: Wolverine: Marvel Universe vs. Wolverine


Marvel Universe vs. Wolverine
Written by Jonathan Maberry
Art by Laurence Campbell

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Pretty much the only reason I'm writing this is due to my completist's heart. I mean - this isn't exactly a great book and it's that one that I don't reckon I'd ever even really pay attention to or even read and actually take to the time to write about (well that just seems silly) - if it wasn't for the fact of Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher. You see: Marvel Universe vs. Wolverine is a sequel / prequel / next installment / (I don't know) whatever of a series [1] that began with Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher [2]: which is a little bit - well - special to me seeing how it was one of the very first times that I kinda cut loose with the stuff that I wrote down on here: so that what was ended up with was more than just "this is a book about blah stuff and you will like it if things" and instead touched (however briefly) on a few wider issues (about other comic book stuff admittedly - but still: it was early days - so give me a break [4]): which basically opened the door inside my head that I didn't have to restrain myself in a little comic-shaped-box [5] and instead could use the books on here to - well - talk about anything I wanted...

So: when I saw this baby sitting on the counter: well - it didn't feel like I had much choice. I just had to read it and - as you can see - I just had to write a little something about it too.

So yeah: it's Wolverine (that's the guy with the claws) taking on lots of other superheroes - and killing them - killing them with his claws. But it's ok that he's killing them - because - they're all zombies (sorry - not zombies: "a new breed of cannibal predator"). And - well - it's pretty much just like it sounds. I know it's kinda harsh to pick on people (and I'm not really picking on him really - so calm down) - but I was looking for some reviews to put in that link section below and the first thing that popped up was a thing [6] by a guy called Chad Allard that's basically little more than: "Oh man - my favourite characters killing other people? Wicked!" - which I'd imagine is pretty much the mindset that the writers were aiming for (Dude! Awesome! Bodacious! etc) [7].

To fill out my sequel / prequel / next installment comments above: the first book - Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher - takes place after the events of this book: but really - you could read them in order you wanted to (and because: well - there's not really that much to either of them). If you asked me which one I prefer (because yeah - people are always asking me stuff like that: "Hey Joel! Of the two Marvel Universe vs. books: which one do you prefer?") I'd tell you to go for The Punisher one. Goran Parlov's art just seems a lot more hardcore somehow (and hell - just compare those covers [8] and tell me which one seems more dangerous-looking (answer: the Punisher one: it's got nice use of dark and lovely greens and I love the red biohazard symbol (it's a good symbol) on Frank Castle's chest - the Wolverine one is just - what - Wolverine crouching on the floor and (this is never a good sign) it's not even a scene that appears in the book: it's just someone who heard the title I thought - great - I'll just draw that)).

Also: while The Punisher version knew (at least at the start) how to play it coy and dispense information gradually and with a certain degree of (in mainstream comics terms at least) finesse: version Wolverine prefers to spell out all the stuff that was left unsaid before. And so while it's nice to see something that comes along to buck the trend of setting the zombie mayhem at a point well past the initial outbreak (if you've seen as many zombie films as I have you'll know it's pretty much always 28 weeks or months later - it's very rarely   it was a beautiful day and then: zombies happened [9]! Which my best guess says is because of stuff like budgets (hey - the end of the world ain't cheap): but - yeah - I guess that's just damning with faint praise and - well - with stuff like Marvel Zombies and everything else: this superheroes/end of the world scenario kinda feels a little bit played out now especially if it's got nothing more to add: version Punisher felt a little bit different because it was one man in a world full of crazy so at least it had a sort of grounded feel to it (I mean - it's all relative but hey): well - this (at points) feels like nothing more than a kid smashing their toys together ("And then Captain America swoops in and saves the day!") but - hey - the most important thing is that at least now I can rest easy that I got some words down about it... Small victories right?

[1] But then: is it a series? How many entries does something need before it constitutes a "series"? Maybe four? Three I guess is just a trilogy.... and two parts is just - I dunno - part one and part two.

[2] And even tho I know that this of interest only to me: it kinda makes my heart feel a little sad that due to the way I've tagged things on here - if it's a book about superheroes then the superheroes name comes first and then after that comes the title of the book (ie "Superhero Name Man: The Superhero Name Man Returns Back!") that means that these two books are going to be forever separated under Wolverine: Marvel Universe vs. Wolverine and Punisher (The): Marvel Universe vs The Punisher [3]: when ideally it would have been cool to have them both lined up next to each other... But hey: what are you gonna do?

[3] And - oh boy - don't even get me started on the whole having "The" in brackets thing - otherwises we're gonna be here all day....

[4] And yes - I do realise that this blog is kinda morphing into a blog about what it's like to write this blog and I do very a little bit (very much) like Dylan Moran doing his "This next song - is all about - me!" bit: but hell - a blog about comics that was just about the comics would be boring.

[5] That's the lesser known sequel to this. Very rare. Hard to get hold of.

[6] It's called "Now available in 2D" and isn't actually all about comics: there's stuff there about Why Patents and Patent Law Sucks and Starbucks Says Bye Bye to Red Bug Dye and all sorts of stuff... But I don't got time to read that stuff Chad (sorry): this is all about the comics!

[7] And yeah yeah - that's kinda doubly harsh especially seeing how all of my early posts on here were (hell: still are a lot of them) nothing more than the same thing of thing: "Hell yeah" is a phrase that I have used on here way way too much - and I'm sure that it's probably irrevocably damaged my comic book reviewing credibility (do people have credibility on the internet?). Still - at least I've managed to mature a little bit: check it out - in the last sentence I used the word "irrevocably"! Go me!

[8] Altho I don't think (I'd have to check to make sure) that Laurence Campbell actually drew the cover to this book - but hell - nevermind: don't let the facts get in the way of a good point...

[9] Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake being a rare exception to that rule (which I guess is why I love those 15 minutes so much - it's just so much fun to watch the world go from normal to completely falling apart in the space of a day...)

Links: Tom Bad Guy Review.

Further reading: The Punisher: Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher, Wolverine: Old Man Logan, Marvel Zombies.

All comments welcome. 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Books: Signal to Noise


Signal to Noise
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Dave McKean

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

On the right hand side of the screen: down past "Artists," past "Authors/Artists," past "Authors," past all those "Books" (334 and counting!), past "Events" - you'll get to "Genre." (There. Do you see it?)

Just between you and me: back when I first started this blog I had high aspirations to create a comics database that cross-referenced everything with everything else: so that you could click from book to book like a superhero jumping from world to world [1]: and so - yeah - towards the start there I did get a little bit carried away with the tagging. Not for me fussy old categories like "Crime" "Fantasy" and "Horror" (altho I did have those too) - nah: I was gonna be a little bit more ambitious [2]: which is how we ended up with Genres such as: "Animals" "Surreal" (which I must admit I have since grown quite attached to: so much so that I now think that every library should have a "surreal" section) "School" (since discontinued) "Growing Up" (also discontinued: I mean hell - talk about vague - pretty much every story out there is about "growing up") "Vigilantes" or "Vigilantism" (sorry: I can't quite recall which one - but it was there because (back when I was being way more precious) I didn't quite think that things like Batman and The Punisher counted as "Superheroes" seeing as they didn't actually have any superpowers - and so I used Vigilantes" or "Vigilantism" to shuffle them off to the side where they wouldn't bother all the Supermen and women - until I realised that maybe (just maybe) I was being a little bit too literal about things...).

Anyway: that sort of willful disregard of normal rhyme and reason is how we ended up with "Apocalyptic" as a genre. I mean - looking back I can see how it came about: Y: The Last Man, Just a Pilgrim, DMZ, Crossed and Wolverine: Old Man Logan are all quite different books - but there's a certain sort of - well - flavor that sits between the Science-Fiction and the Horror that I couldn't quite put into words until I thought : hell "Apocalyptic" is a good word - so why not go with that [3]? Except - well now - "Apocalyptic" means more than just Mad Max style running around and smashing things up. And while most of time we like to conceive of worldwide apocalypses: there's also the personal apocalypse that strikes much closer to home: when it's not about the end of the world - it's just the end of our lifetime: it's just the end of us (like they say in the book: "The world is always ending for someone. It's a good line.")

Signal to Noise has gone through quite a few different iterations since in first appeared: a stage play, a radio play and a even "a possible film project" (altho so far there's still been no sign of it) but at it's core it's all about the various forms the end of the world can take: and how we deal with the idea of impending death. So while it doesn't have all of the same sort of feeling as the other books I've labelled with the "Apocalyptic" tag  (no bands of marauders or fun little survival tactics here I'm afraid): it actually gets much much closer to what apocalypses mean - for societies and for individuals: and the various ways they end up dealing with them [4].

Checking the back cover [7] it's marked as: "Graphic Novel / Literary" and - yeah - it's coming very much from that period in time where if you wanted to write a comic and have it be taken seriously then you very much had to put on a very serious face and try as hard as you could to come across as being - well- yeah - that word: "literary." So there's not much in the way of jokes and there's not many moments of levity: and more characters making remarks like: "We live in a world in which the only utopian visions arrive in commercial breaks" [8] and literally asking the reading questions: "How do you make sense of your life? Signal to noise: What's signal? What's noise?" [9]: and - oh well - not that much in the way of action or people actually doing stuff - it's all interior monologues and fixed shots of X-Rays (with speaking off-camera), sitting in chairs [10] and reading (Reading is good. Writing is good).

Yes - it feels very much like a period piece (that period being the early 1990s when it first came out [11]) almost as if it were written now and Gaiman and McKean were trying their upmost best to write something that summed up that particular moment in time (I was tempted to say that you could very easily imagine some of the characters from BBC's This Life appearing in the background - but checking the dates - This Life didn't happen for a few years afterwards - oh well): there's even bit where someone uses a public telephone box - (hell do those things even still exist ?) - and there's that sorta of dingy squalor slightly-depressive 1990s atmosphere that sorta stuck to everything - as if the 1980s were a giant party and the everything else after was the glum hangover: where everyone is trying to be a little bit grown-up and a little bit more clever than they used to be [12].

And it pulls of the impressive trick of both tapping into that once all-pervasive sense of premillennial dread [13] ("The Year 2000 - the distant future" [14]) and rendering it toothless and a whole lot of fuss about nothing. (That line again (hell - it is a good!): "The world is always ending for someone."). And then at the end - 11. Millennium - (which was especially for the written for release of the radio adapation in 2000 and is included as a sorta bonus little bonus - a final verse of a song that you thought that you knew [15]): it makes this explicit but in a way that doesn't feel shoe-horned in - more like it's just someone making conversation - always really to undermine itself whenever things run the risk of getting too ponderous ("I said that in my interview but they cut it out"): "The impression the documentary gave was that he had predicted millennial doom when in fact he had predicted the opposite: humanity continuing much as before, no grand apocalypse, just a procession of tiny personal apocalypses, one for each of us."

But forget all the fancy words: because in the end it's Dave McKean's bewitching images that will stay with you. The way a audience member will switch from man to a (hawk?) in the blink of an eye, the way that a collar can turn on it's side so that it resembles, an arrow, a beak, a knife or just the simple way that someone waves goodbye to someone as they drive off in a car (slightly crouched down - one hand tucked under the arm). And it never sticks to just one way of composing an image - there's so many lovely effects and beautiful moments - scattered throughout the book - leaping around from one style to the next as the thoughts of Terry Reed flutter around like a butterfly: one of the many highlights (hell - every page is highlight - but yeah) is the layers of photos spread out one on top of another as Inanna leaves down the stairs... [16] and the beautifully haunting constant repetition of images (lots of clocks) - slowly fading in - and slowly fading out into the white.

[1] A little unnecessary Tom Strong reference for you to enjoy there (you're welcome).

[2] If you want me to be a little bit pretentious about it: then it was in order to show the connections between things that maybe people would otherwises maybe overlook. But if you want me to be a little bit more truthful: it was just because it was fun to tag the hell out of stuff.

[3] Even reading the Wikipedia entry for Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction kinda gives me a warm glow inside: "Apocalyptic fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction that is concerned with the end of civilization due to an existential catastrophe such as nuclear warfare, pandemic, extraterrestrial attack, impact event, cybernetic revolt, technological singularity, dysgenics, supernatural phenomena, divine judgement, climate change, resource depletion, or some other general disaster. Post-apocalyptic fiction is set in a world or civilization after such a disaster. The time frame may be immediately after the catastrophe, focusing on the travails or psychology of survivors, or considerably later, often including the theme that the existence of pre-catastrophe civilization has been forgotten (or mythologized). Post-apocalyptic stories often take place in an agrarian, non-technological future world, or a world where only scattered elements of technology remain. There is a considerable degree of blurring between this form of science fiction and that which deals with dystopias.The genres gained in popularity after World War II, when the possibility of global annihilation by nuclear weapons entered the public consciousness. However, recognizable apocalyptic novels have existed at least since the first quarter of the 19th century, when Mary Shelley's The Last Man was published. Furthermore, the subgenres draw on a body of apocalyptic literature, tropes, and interpretations which are millennia old."

[4] Plus - you know - the way that we're all in the process of sifting through the noises our lives generate - trying to find the signal. Well - at least - that what it's supposed to be about (you know - with that title and all) - but all that stuff feels a little like thematic icing that never really properly sinks into what's actually going on. No matter how much the bits in between the chapters may try and squeeze themselves in (from one of Dave McKean's introductions [5]: "Colour copy spreads with random computer-babbled text which some reviewers thought were obscurist rubbish and others thought were the most important parts of the book" (I think I agree with the first group: there's a Roland Barthes quote that hits the nail much too firmly on the head ("Everything has a meaning or nothing has. To put it another way, one could say that art is without noise.") and the rest is just crazy gibberish (although there is one bit which manages to encapsulate things by saying: "Thank you. Yeah. Arty stuff.").

[5] And - oh my god - I have never read a book (comic or no) with so many introductions: Jonathan Carroll [6] - 1992, Dave Dave McKean - June 2000, Neil Gaiman - June 2000, Dave McKean - June 2006, Dave McKean - August 2006 (Dave obviously likes writing introductions).

[6] Jonathan Carroll - I've never heard of this guy before - but according to his website he apparently writes something called "hyper-fiction." His introduction is a little bit worthy - but I guess it was written at a point in time when comics were still something that you had to make excuses for - so I'll allow him. Especially because (talking about comics and graphic novels) he comes up with a prefect little thought: "I wish someone would dig a little deeper and come up with a right name for them." (But I guess we're still waiting...)

[7] But - oh dear - then the back cover gets marked down for the way it plugs Signal to Noise as coming from the creators of The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish and The Wolves in the Wall which - great as they are - are children's books - and - Signal to Noise is anything but. In fact - it would have made more sense if they had referenced Violent Cases or The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch which are much more in the same "Graphic Novel / Literary" category: but - hell - maybe those books aren't as popular (ah well). (But then - hey - at least it isn't as bad as the DVD to Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgetten Dreams which proudly proclaims that it's "From The Director of Bad Lieutenant" which is wrong for two reasons: 1. Bad Lieutenant is actually by Abel Ferrara (yeah - it's that film where Harvey Keitel waves his wang around). 2. The film they're thinking of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (god - I sound like this guy) where Nicolas Cage does pretty much every crazy thing possible except waving his wang around (watch out old ladies!)and: well (stating the obvious) it's very much not the kind of film that is going to appeal to people who like Cave of Forgetten Dreams (and vice versa). One is a thoughful and mediative documentary about the Chauvet Cave in southern France and consists of footage filmed inside the cave as well as interviews with various scientists and historians and the other - well - the other has stuff like this).

[8] Which - hey - is a great quote to put on your tumblr if you're that way inclined.

[9] Side-note: I've always really hated that old hoary cliché that goes: "this is a book / film / album / play / installation / sandwich that asks (or "poses" - whatever) the reader a lot of questions." I guess: it's a silly thing to say and because asking questions is a piss-easy thing to do (as if the only point of - say - Inception is to ask questions about "was it all a dream?"): I mean - I like things that know how to be ambiguous - but most all of the time - the stuff that's really good is more about (if we're sticking with this whole question dynamic) - well - providing answers: even if that answer is - I don't know or: "We made ya 'cause we could."

[10] There's two pages that are devoted to people sitting in chairs - both of which look amazing (the kind of thing you could cut out and frame on your wall).

[11] And - oh my goodness - it was apparently first serialised in The Face - and - well - how much more 90s can you get?

[12] Of course - it's very possible that the 1990s were nothing like that - and this is all just coloured from my own personal remembrances of what it felt like growing up back then. So I dunno - just don't trust anything I say...

[13] Yeah I'm looking at you guys.

[14] And which - you know - might just be my favourite bit of the book. Maybe because I used to have a copy ( that looked more like this) - and so it's just nice to have that extra treat at the end. And I like the different - more abstractly looking style - (there's that great image that greets you when you start of giant heads staring out from a blue background  - that feels like dream-like and half strangely threatening and half kinda calm and blissful) that's less anchored in reality and more like being plugged directly into someone's thoughts: and the black writing in red boxes makes it pop against your eyes in a kinda nicely violent (I dunno) and the voice is spot on too: "A little bit Sufi, a little bit rock & roll"

[15] No - sadly: That's not a quote from the book.

[16] Marcel Duchamp: eat your heart out.

Links: Shelf Abuse Review.

Further reading: Cages, Violent CasesThe Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch, Murder Mysteries, Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days.

Profiles: Neil Gaiman.

All comments welcome.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Events: SWALC VI


Saturday 15 September / 1:30pm - 6:00pm
The Lord Clyde, 340 Essex Road, London N1 3PB

Unbelievably, it's the first anniversary of the Micro-Arts Festival in a pub that is SWALC. No lectures, no panels, no talks, just come and hang out with top established creators and the talent of tomorrow. Live music, short films, Dramatists from all media, comic artists, poets, novelists, designers, directors, producers, all mingling with anyone who fancies chatting to them on a pleasant Saturday afternoon in that most natural of creative environments, an award-winning local boozer. No panels, no lectures, no talks, no formal signing tables - just come and hang out and chat with people about their work. Lots of live music, short films, a free book exchange, a not-so-free bookstall, an amazing raffle to win stuff you just can't get anywhere else... and of course great booze and food (including the best sausage rolls in the country). And it's all absolutely free. Full details: HERE.

Books: Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man (2012)


Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man
Vol 1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Sara Pichelli

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man
Vol 2: Scorpion
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Chris Samnee and Sara Pichelli

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Peter Parker No More! Killed off in (spoiler alert) Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man: Death of Spider-Man everyone's favourite, friendly bespectacled nerd (do we still call 'em that?) bit the dust in 2011 in an (supposedly) final epic confrontation with the Green Goblin: no - this wasn't some cheap publicity stunt (altho it did get quite a lot of press coverage) and no - this wasn't some big fake-out that was going to be reversed a few months down the line ("You thought I was dead? Actually I was just sleeping the whole time!") this was the real deal: dead. For good. No take-backs. Death - for real this time.

Ok - we've been through this before: but let's do it one more time just in case there's anyone who's only just joining us: as much as it's kinda dopey to talk about who's real and who's not when we're dealing with made-up stories (hate to break it to you - but there's no such thing as getting superpowers from radioactive spiders - and according to my sources Stan Lee and Steve Ditko just made the whole thing up) but - yeah (get ready for the metaphysics): the version of Peter Parker that died wasn't actually the "real" original Peter Parker (who is still having merry adventures in mainstream Marvel continuity [1] and - strangely for someone who's been going since 1962 [2] - he doesn't look a day over thirty [3]) rather - the one they killed off was the rebooted Peter Parker from the "Ultimate Marvel" Universe [4]: which means (roughly) to put it in terms that non-comic geeks will understand - they killed off Captain Kirk but the Chris Pine version rather than the William Shatner one or (an even better example - plus - woo - foreshadowing!) they offed the Tobey Maguire version of Spider-Man but kept the Andrew Garfield one alive (does that compute with you? Yes. Good. Ok).

So if the Peter Parker of the Marvel Ultimate Universe (or whatever) is dead - then who's that in the Spider-Man costume? Well - world: meet Miles Morales. Basically: the biggest breath of fresh-air to blow into superhero comics since - well - since forever (and I gotta say I like how Bendis kept the whole both names starting with the same letter thing so beloved by other comic book characters: Peter Parker, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor etc)

There's a story that's been repeated lots and lots around the internet [5] so here's the short version: back when they were looking for the main actor to play Peter Parker in the film that became The Amazing Spider-Man [6]: (a role which we all know by now went to Andrew Garfield) a website called io9 ran an article called: The Last Thing Spider-Man Should be is Another White Guy [7] which basically just asked: "hey - wouldn't it be great if Spider-Man was played be an actor that - well - wasn't just another white guy? And in the comments to that article someone else (named "Rootadoo") uttered seven little words that ended up making a massive impact: "May I suggest one Mr. Donald Glover?" [8]. This lead to an internet storm which resulted in "#Donald4Spiderman" becoming a top 10 trending topic (which erm is apparently a good thing - but I really don't know that much about the twitscape) and resulted in articles in places of esteem like the Washington Post ("Donald Glover may or may not have Spidey sense, but the actor-writer's already proved one thing over the weekend: He definitely has business sense").

But for - our purposes at least - the big upshot of all of this is that in the first episode of the second series of Community ("Anthropology 101" [10]) as an in-joke Donald Glover wore Spider-Man pajamas and Brian Michael Bendis - the guy who's been writing Ultimate Spider-Man since 2001 - saw him and thought: "He looked fantastic!... I saw him in the costume and thought, 'I would like to read that book.'" And - so - Voila!: a brand-new 21st Century Spider-Man - no longer restricted to the same old cookie-cutter paradigm.

Because - well - yeah - ok. Especially in America where (no duh) they kinda have a few hang-ups about race the story has been "OMG: first black Spider-Man!" [11] but things (and these books) are actually much better than that.

Because this is a world where DC made a big announcement that they were gonna make one of their lead superheroes gay [13] and then it turned out that it was some fifth-tier Green Lantern that - even I - who writes on something called the Islington Comic Forum (that is - no duh - all about comics) had never even heard of him [14]: so it is obviously a good thing to have things that make stuff less Caucasian (and hey - we're trying to feel good about things here - so let's not point out that it's still been written by a white guy).  And it's possible that after Peter Parker died Marvel (or the superheroes or whatever) could have just jumped universes or dimensions (which - hey all joking aside - is something that happens quite a bit) and found a new Peter Parker with darker skin [15]: and - from the sounds of things - that would have been greeted in much the same way by the majority of the world ("OMG: First black Spider-Man!"): but you what - that would have been super-lame and super-boring. Because - hey - it's been fifty years: by now I think we've had enough Peter Parker stories to last a lifetime (hell - several lifetimes). But a new Spider-Man? Someone trying to find their way - growing up the shadow of Peter Parker's legacy? Ok - now you've got a hook: now I'm interested.

And bam! Beginning with the myth of Arachne (an intentional reference to the Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark Musical? Oooh - I hope so!) before getting in a few jabs about how the school system in America tends to work ("It's a lottery.") it hits the ground running and dares the reader to try and keep up (does his Uncle look a little like Snoop Dogg when he first appears or is that just me?). Unlike the Amazing Spider-Man film (judging from the posters and the reviews at least) it doesn't go dark and gloomy. In fact - if you wanted me to try and sum up how the writing and art and the mood all hit me: well - it was like popping down to the park on the first day of summer: it feels hopeful and bright and humming all over with a nervous and contagious energy [16].

If superhero comics want to survive (or: to put it another way - if superhero comics want me to read them) then this is exactly the sort of stuff that they need to do (in fact: I'd recommend that these books were given out as compulsory reading to any writer or artist thinking of stepping into the superhero game). It's just a new spin on an old-classic (kid gets superpowers - needs to learn how to deal with them is a story we've already heard a few thousand times already - since - well: the first Spider-Man): but these is refreshing for the way it struggles (how Miles struggles) with what has already happened and who Spider-Man is and what he stood for: it would like if Andrew Garfield had to spend the first half an hour of the Amazing Spider-Man listening to people berate him for not being Tobey Maguire (and - hey - that's a film that I would pay to watch): and - frankly - I wish that there was lots more of just this type of thing. Going forward whilst paying respects to what came before - and (finally) finding a way out of the endless spiral of characters running through the same motions again and again and again.

[1] Which I do - on occasion - try to read: but they just end up making my head hurt.

[2] In fact - yeah - he just celebrated his 50th birthday which is why we have this lovingly written article from David Brothers: 50 Years Later: Growth And Maturity in Amazing Spider-Man 1-50 (which I'd recommend you read even if you've never read a Spider-Man): "In the beginning, Peter Parker was fifteen years old. He was too young for full manhood, but too old to be treated like a child. He was coddled by his family and abused by his peers. He was a beloved nephew and professional wallflower, a bitter bookworm and great student. Then he got bitten by a radioactive spider and everything changed. He became Spiderman first, and then Spider-Man. He grew up, moved out, found friends, discovered love, lost love, found love again, and became a man. The first 50 issues of Amazing Spider-Man chart the growing pains of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee's baby boy, and show us something rare in cape comics: true and gradual growth."

[3] Oh the irony: a character that it once possible to praise as an exemplar of growth and development as been reduced over the time to yet another casualty of comic books permanent arrested development [16].

[4] Which - hey - has been running since 2001 and for a lot of people kinda was the definitive version of Spider-Man (in the same way that there's a whole generation of kids so let's not act like it's not a big thing

[5] Check this video out for the best version - straight from the mouth of Donald Glover himself.

[6] Which I haven't seen. And frankly - I don't want to see. But I'm sure at some point soon (modern blockbuster have this strange sort of hold over me) I will no doubt need up watching. And so (if I ever do) I'll edit this footnote and let you know.

[7] "There is literally no facet of our lives that hasn't been made better by colorblind thinking — our armies are stronger, our sports teams are better, our children are more beautiful — why can't it extend to our on-screen superheroes?"

[8] For those of you that don't know: Donald Glover (nope - no relation to Danny Glover sorry) is a young black male actor who likes to keep himself busy as a writer, comedian, rapper and as one of the stars of an amazing little TV called Community [9].

[9] See: YOU ARE OUT OF FUCKING EXCUSES. HULK COMMAND YOU TO WATCH COMMUNITY… RIGHT NOW for more details about Community if you're one of those poor saps that somehow hasn't yet got around to watching it yet (it's like Spaced crossed with The Simpsons (back when The Simpsons was the best thing on TV) - and yeah even if it does take a few episodes to warm up - (just give it up until Abed starts dressing up as Batman) it's pure priceless TV gold).

[10] "Well Shirley, since you have clearly failed to grasp the central insipid metaphor of those Twilight books you devour, let me explain it to you! Men are monsters who crave young flesh!"

[11] If you wanna get technical about it: Miles is actually half-black and half-Hispanic. But hey - I guess in America it doesn't matter what mixture your parentage is [12] as long as one of your parents is black then that - supposedly - means that you are too. (see: Barack Hussein Obama II - whose Mum was American and in Kansas and all that: but - you know - he's still America's first African American President). But - hey when the news was announced the Daily Mail ran an article that hysterically screamed: Marvel Comics reveals the new Spider Man is black - and he could be gay in the future (whose comments included: "Tell this "Spider Man" we don't want him "coming out" of his lair, at least not until he has untangled himself from his own web of deception!" and "It really seems as if the media and the politicians want to stamp out white people at all costs."): so I guess those kind of details tend to lost a little in the translation...

[12] And speaking frankly - the whole idea of being mixed or half-this and half-that I've always found a little bit - well - silly. Which I guess is due to my own mixed-up family background (my grandma was half-Irish, half-French, granddad was Polish, other grandma German and other granddad Ghanaian - which I guess makes me a somekind of mongrel I guess?)

[13] I mean... I wonder who it could be? Cough!

[14] He's called Alan Scott and if you're interested you should read this: The Failures of DC’s Gay Green Lantern Alan Scott: "Far from being a landmark, Alan Scott’s story has become so tiringly predictable."

[15] I can see it now: "Yo! S'up Aunt May?"

[16] There's even an inadvertent (?) Arrested Development reference ("My Name is Judge").


Further reading: Spider-Man: Down Among The Dead Men / Venomous / The Last Stand, Ultimate Comics: Doomsday, TakioThe Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century.

Profiles: Brian Michael Bendis

All comments welcome.