Saturday, October 30, 2004

Happy Halloween

Halloween in Northern Ireland isn't necessarily the same as anywhere else. Here the words "trick or treat" evoke the Greysteel Massacre, when loyalist killers used the anonymity Halloween provides to walk into the Rising Sun pub and randomly kill seven people, all civilian, both catholic and protestant. As such, when local taxi drivers in my hometown are warned by the police that there is an anonymous threat against one of their number, they walk out on strike en masse.

So, I spent the night indoors, just me, a bottle of a great New Zealand Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend, a steady stream of knee-high trick-or-treaters (unarmed) and the remote control.

Things I've learned staying in tonight? Someone at the helm of BBC 3's LITTLE BRITAIN is a big fan of cult TV (tonight's episode featured Tom Baker from DOCTOR WHO, Paul Darrow from BLAKE'S 7, and Anthony Head from BUFFTY THE DRAGON SLAYER).

Tony Head has also shown up recently in SPOOKS, of course, as did the Emperor himself, Ian McDiarmid, a couple of weeks ago. He played a barely concealed Dr David Kelly analogue, with a Michael Parkinson-style Yorkshire accent. Can't imagine it being his real accent, though. However, tonight's SPOOKS seemed to feature no STAR WARS escapees. Although Kenny Baker may have been lurking inside a bin, unnoticed.

Also, I've just seen the video for "Hunted by a Freak" by Mogwai, on MTV2's tribute to John Peel, and found it unexpectedly devastating. Damn. I'll be dreaming of little pixellated cartoon animals falling to their deaths all night now.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Ah, its just starting.

The Newsnight Review is starting on BBC2 right now. I love it, its like comfort food for the deeply hidden intellectual trapped inside my boorish exterior. I call him Jeckyll. Or to be precise, I call him "Shut up Jeckyll, I'm trying to watch GRANADA MEN AND MOTORS!"

But, oh for once, to tune in and see Grant Morrison or Alan Moore sitting opposite Tom Paulin, rather than Mark Kermode or Ian Rankin. And, anyone's got to be a better representative of the low arts than Stuart flippin' Maconie.

Go on, BBC! You know you want to!

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Like a hundred thousand other people...

I've been buying the Brian Azzarello/Jim Lee run on the DC comic series SUPERMAN. I've explained elsewhere why I haven't liked this character for a long time (two words - John Byrne, but in saying so, I'm probably being a bit too easy on Mike Carlin), but my deep affection for the works of the man called The Azz meant I started buying this. Recently, his storyline has been coming in for a lot of criticism in the always vocal online community. For a rundown on the debate, try here.

I've found every issue at least intriguing enough to keep buying it. The slow release of what exactly is going on doesn't strike me as "padding", but as maybe the whole point of the exercise. The reader is supposed to be confused, and disoriented, like Azz's Superman is. I'm prepared to not stand in judgement until the entire series is over, but so far, so good.

My problems with the book are the same as my usual problems with any Jim Lee comic - for all his flashy technique, his faces aren't capable of a wide variety of expession (which is why the series is striking some as one note: look, Superman is sad! Look, Superman is angry!), and I'm not sure he has a great eye for anatomy: even his incidental characters are built like brick shithouses. Every man, whether they're a Kryptonian, a surgeon, a mercenary or a priest, has the same superheroic physique, even Jimmy Olsen looks as dashing as any Justice Leaguer; and every woman has the same unrealistic Malibu Stacey big tits/no waist combo. A delicately nuanced script is being trampled over by a sledgehammer-subtle artist, albeit a very popular one. The result was always going to be unsatisfactory.

This was always a mismatch of collaborators, however its a real shame that all the flak for all this storyline's failings seems to be aimed at Azzarello. Surely, there's an artist drawing superhero comics who could have provided the nuanced character acting the script requires, and the box-office pulling power to return Superman to the top of the comic charts (there's a little light bulb in my head right now flashing "Dave Gibbons! Frank Quitely!")?

But then I've never understood Jim Lee's position as one of the great big Sacred Cows of American comic art. He's an astute businessman, and a fine publisher (his imprint WILDSTORM have spent the last few years defining the mainstream), but as a penciller, I find his work frankly annoying and try and avoid it. But then, I'm happy and secure in the knowledge that I'm a cranky old reactionary flying in the face of popular opinion. Jim Lee and Superman is a great fit, but I wouldn't have bought it: Jim Lee, Superman, and Brian Azzarello isn't, but I am buying it. Let's face it: A encore of the HUSH team of Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee on Superman would have sold by the bucketload. Mark Waid and Jim Lee might have hit it out of the park. Grant Morrison and Jim Lee certainly would have.

I'm buying it for The Azz. God bless'im for taking on the biggest poisoned chalice in the comics industry and producing work that is, at least, interesting, and which may even turn out to be great. He mightn't produce a definitive version of Superman, but I wouldn't put it past him to write the definitive Lex Luthor in the near future. Now wouldn't that seem more up his street?

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

One thing I love about my job... that sometimes they buy me books. Okay, not only for me, I do have to give them back, but when a nice new book arrives with my name on the routing slip, that's kinda what it feels like. The book buying system for our library board is actually so damn slow and cumbersome (book buying by committee!) that I tend to only request books I don't mind waiting for. If I really want it, I'll just buy it from Amazon.

Anyway, last week I got David Belbin's THE EBAY BOOK (nothing special, didn't teach me anything I haven't already learnt from a few years eBaying). Today I got Chuck Palahniuk's newie, a collection of jounalism called NONFICTION. I say newie, I think I originally requested it in August (told you they're slow). I've only thumbed through it, but so far, so good. Palahniuk writes well in the short form anyway, as any reader of his Dahlesque talltale GUTS will tell you.  I was unimpressed by Palahniuk's last couple of novels, which seemed to me to be comparitively* unsuccessful dips into genre writing, so hopefully taking another break from fiction will have recharged the great man's batteries.

*A good writer's lesser works are still always worth reading, if only for a point of comparison.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Holy shit, John Peel's dead!

Wow. I can't believe it. It seems totally inconceivable to think of the music industry without him. I can't think of one figure, in any media, in any country, that was as singularly important as a tastemaker than him. This will leave a huge hole in the very fabric of the nation.

I need a drink.

To John Peel, may God rest him and keep him.

Monday, October 25, 2004

One, One, One, Wonderful

I'm listening to Brian Wilson's SMILE for the first time, right now!

It SO fucken rocks, dudes! Why didn't anyone tell me?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

God it seems like it took forever, but...

I finally managed to see all of the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. I loved the original as a kid (my big two heroes as a six year old were Han Solo and Starbuck), so I was worried about how this would turn out. There seemed to be a lot of seemingly random tinkering - characters have changed genders, races, ages; and the design classic Cylons went from being impassive Centurions to BLADE RUNNEResque sexy androids.

I did, however, have a modicum of faith in RONALD D MOORE, the show runner, who was responsible for most of the best STAR TREK of the modern era. And, yes, I loved it. It took a long time establishing its cast, didn't rush to start the inevitable action, and many may have gave up during its first half, believing it to be too ponderous. But taking this time to provide background for these characters, who you may have thought you already knew from before, worked. I believed in the cast, and in their relationships. So when their universe went to hell in a handcart, I cared. While the original was comparatively quite a light and breezy show about killer robots chasing humanity into extinction, the new GALACTICA treats this dark precept in the suitably adult fashion it deserves. With its dark sets, handheld camera work, and uncommunicative characters fighting to contain their emotions, the TV show it reminded me of most was actually NYPD BLUE, rather than any genre show antecedent.

Maybe I'm just sci-fi starved after the cancellation of the great muppet spacesoap FARSCAPE and the short-lived but brilliant space-western FIREFLY (and the sad, progressive decline of TREK), but I thought this new, grimmer, paranoid GALACTICA rocked. Here's hoping the ongoing series, now started on Monday nights on Sky One, can maintain these high standards.

**UPDATE 15/11/'04**
Seen four episodes of the ongoing series: so far, so damned good.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Oh, and while a theme is developing...

I see that the role of SUPERMAN has been cast for the new version currently in pre-production. Its some kid I've never heard of. Brandon Routh.

Fair enough, but if you're going to hire a guy that young to play Kal El, why not just cast that guy out of SMALLVILLE? Its good, its popular, so your movie will have a core fanbase to build on, and has a great cast of sexy principals already in place. Plus, with all those cheap-as-chips TV actors as your cast, all the money you save goes to pay for the special effects. And really, that's what the downfall of the old Superman movies was: when the comicbook Superman can push planets out of orbit, what's the big wow about him struggling to stop a runaway train?

Monday, October 18, 2004

And, as if by magic...

So, shortly after I say that comics should be more wary of the attentions of the movie industry, VIZ announces that it's dropping THE FAT SLAGS due to the, by all accounts, dire movie adaptation.

Bad movies kill good comics, I tells ya. So, lets count the fatalities: FRITZ THE CAT, HOWARD THE DUCK, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, TANK GIRL, BARB WIRE, and now THE FAT SLAGS. It took 10 years for THE PUNISHER to recover from its first crap adaptation. 2000AD lost all its hipster cache in the UK after the JUDGE DREDD film, and was lucky to survive. If THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN continues into a book three, it'll be because every film critic worth his salt pointed out that the source comic was far superior to the dreary movie.

Selling a movie option might make you a fast buck in the short term, but a bad movie will make its parent comic unmarketable in the future. For god's sake, stop selling your children into captivity!

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Irish blogger working on another crazy theory, news at ten.

So, I've been thinking lately about why the comics around today aren't as good as the comics of my youth. Or is it just me judging them with rose coloured glasses? This has recently came to a head when reading an interview with current do-no-wrong fan favourite author Mark Millar.

While boasting to the great Alan Davis Doane about the success of his Millarworld series of indie comics, he disingenuously described WANTED as his "little shot at an indie-crime comic". This isn't strictly true. Before this comic debuted, it was being hyped (by Millar) as "WATCHMEN for supervillains". He's basically saying "wow, I'd have been happy if this book had sold in the same ball-park as 100 BULLETS, but gee, it sold X-MEN numbers instead", but clearly the book isn't a little indie-crime story, its a big supervillain story. Its characters are all analogues for classic DC Comics supervillains. Millar is an astute businessman, and a great self-publicist. But, so far, WANTED doesn't stand up to comparisons to either WATCHMEN or even 100 BULLETS artistically. Sure, it's entertaining. But it just doesn't resonate, despite a rather desperate attempt to ape the tone of Chuck Palahniuk's generation-defining FIGHT CLUB.

I don't begrudge Millar his success. The more popular comics are, the happier I am. I love the medium, and wish it was the mainstream artform in the Anglophone world that it is in France and Japan. I enjoy his work tremendously. His best comics (his run on THE AUTHORITY, THE ULTIMATES, and WANTED) are all rollicking thrill park rides. His RED SON was, by default, the best SUPERMAN comic since WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MAN OF TOMORROW? (mainly because after this last blast of silver-age glory, DC allowed John Byrne to turn Superman into a boring yuppie, and remove all the sci-fi whimsy from his mythos).

The thing is, I enjoy them while realising their inferiority to the comics I was reading as a teenager. This therefore, leaves me feeling a little bit regretful and guilty afterwards. Millar, and others of his generation of comicbook writers, principally Warren Ellis and Brian Bendis, seem to believe writing for comics is essentially the same as writing a screenplay. In doing so, Millar and Ellis have removed everything novelistic from their comics, reducing them to event movie spectacle and bluster. They share the weaknesses of event movies, too, often foregoing characterisation for glib quotable dialogue. They seem embarrassed to use much of the vernacular comics have developed for themselves, such as thought balloons (which, though currently perceived as corny, permit comics to utilize interior monologue) or sound effects (which again, though perceived by some as corny, are visually bold, and instantly publicly recognizable as a fundamental stylistic trait of comics, thanks to the Adam West BATMAN, like it or loathe it).

Ellis and Millar are both smart cookies, though, and have created ideologies to defend their stylistic bent, chucking words like "widescreen" and "decompression" around to explain their storytelling choices. Ellis's theory of decompression was to adapt the elongated pacing of key visual sequences from manga to the American formatted comic. The reason that this pacing works in manga is that one artist can have an entire studio of assistants allowing him to stretch a few meaningful looks over a dozen pages of a hundred page story, as that manga may sell in its millions. Bryan Hitch taking weeks to draw a similar sequence in a twenty two page comic, on his own, that sells less than two hundred thousand copies, just seems wastefully extravagant by comparison. Bendis contents himself with aping certain stylistic tics of David Mamet, and adapting the ouvre of Steven Bochco and David Milch to superheroes - superhero cops, superhero lawyers, superhero journalists. Ellis, Bendis and Millar have all actively courted the internet to create their own little personality cults, initially to promote their works, but all seem to enjoy a rather sadomasochistic relationship with their more sycophantic followers.

Comics are by their very nature, a hybrid medium. To base your work so clearly on just one media as a source of influence seems downright wasteful. Comics spend far too much time and effort looking to the movie industry for validation. Yet every comicbook these days seems to be written in 4-6 issue "arcs" based on formulaic Hollywood three-act story structures. Often it feels like Marvel Comics especially (and Millar and Bendis have become synonomous with Marvel) is trying to spoonfeed their comics as proto-movie pitches directly to movie producers. No-one has ever proven that a good movie adaptation of a comic has ever boosted sales of that comic, but a bad adaptation can surely kill off the buzz of a good comic like a bullet to the head (TANK GIRL, anyone?). Comics' love affair with the movies seems to be borderline abusive, and all the benefits seem to flow all one-way.

And herein lies my problem with modern comicbook creators compared to the ones of my youth. Alan Moore, Howard Chaykin, Frank Miller, Pete Milligan, Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman all seemed to want to push the medium, to make it open to other influences, to give their work greater depth and texture. Nobody may actually like the term "graphic novel", but these writers were definitely literary. There's a lot of good comics being published at the moment, and there's a belief that the medium is working its way out of the creative and economic hole it found itself in during the mid-to-late nineties. However, for comics to really boom again, there needs to be a run of outstanding achievements in the field like there was from the mid-eighties to the early nineties.

I just don't think that those currently being feted in the industry are destined to provide that breakthrough.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

My next door neighbour

So, there I was at work, reading my local paper (the Tyrone Courier), scanning the "Around The Courts" page. My favourite usually, because I get to see which of my customers are up for daft misdemeanors (my second favourite being the obituaries, 'cus I get to see which of my customers aren't going to get round to returning their overdue books any time soon). I saw that one library user of long standing, who also happens to be the ex of my best mate's missus, was nicked for being drunk and disorderly outside the Women's Aid centre in Cookstown. I'm guessing the sad sack was probably stalking some poor cow (probably an east-European co-worker, if rumour holds up). He was ran out of my town for harassing some, "ahem", young ladies connected to some "local businessmen", a few months ago, and we haven't seen him since.

Now, as I'm laughing my bollocks off at this guy, and how his latest indiscretion has widely publicised his new location, I see a familiar name and address in the story below. My next door neighbour has been held over for assaulting a police officer. Actually, she's been held over on multiple charges: assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, and damaging police property.

You know what? I'd still do her. Maybe I'll bake her a cake with a file in it.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The incredible, rhyme animal

Okay, I didn't spend tonight at a Public Enemy gig. Instead, I went to see Bob Brozman at the Armagh Marketplace Theatre. Now, most people haven't heard of Bob, he's sort of a secret amongst the guitar playing fraternity.

He's a virtuoso, a musician's musician. Normally, when you say that, you see people's eyes glaze over. The term "guitar virtuoso" is synonymous with the fret-wankery of hairy metallers like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, et al. Guys whose idea of stagecraft is to stand in front of a giant fan blowing their mullet back photogenically, while they noisily "explore" the mixolydian mode.

Bob (and after tonight, I feel I can call him "Bob"), is more of a musical anthropologist. An ethno-musicologist, if you will. He travels the world to see how other cultures have adapted the guitar to their traditions, and then he whips out his National steel guitar and starts jamming with them. As such, he has more in common with figures like Jerry Silverman or even David Byrne than Yngwie friggin' Malmsteen. Despite the patronage of the guitar-mag community.

So, along with playing slide guitar standards by Robert Johnson and Charlie Patton, Bob (with such a likeable stage presence, it really would be rude to try and be critically objective and refer to him as "Brozman") played traditional music from Papua New Guinea, Trinidad, France, Ireland, West Africa, India, Hawaii, Japan, Madagascar. None of it seemed like a dry lecture, instead all being filtered through his western, blues sensibilities. Instead of being academic, he was humourous, frequently political, and, by turns, bawdy.

I must admit, when I was told I'd been bought a ticket to see this guy, whose work I knew largely by tutorial sessions on the cover-mounted CDs that came with guitar magazines, I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought it could go either way - it might have been the dry lecture I feared it would be. Who'd have thought that a punk-assed guy like me could have enjoyed an extended world music seminar by a bearded lefty intellectual? What a revoltin' development!
I'll never be able to show my face at a Misfits gig again!

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Yeah, but how much could I get for it on eBay?

A few internet movie rumour sites have reported recently that Simon Pegg has been putting his own name forward to play Rorschach in the upcoming version of WATCHMEN currently in early pre-production. Other than the fact that most of the casting rumours for this movie have all skewed too young (these are supposed to be a bunch of grizzled, veteran, retired superheroes after all), Pegg is a good fit. Walter Kovacs is supposed to be an brutalised, ugly little misfit hiding behind a mask, so casting Jude Friggin' Law here would be a bit of a stretch. Law would be a great Ozymandias opposite Pegg, though - the charismatic Adonis who makes Rorschach uncomfortable and tongue-tied just being around him.

My copy of WATCHMEN was signed by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons at UKCAC '88 (or was it '87? I was about 17 at the time, but my memory has been shot to buggery by the last 15 years of hard, hard drinking), by the way. Oh, and Simon Pegg personally answered an e-mail I sent to SFX magazine asking what the music used at the closing of episode seven of series two of SPACED was (I used the pseudonym Doctor Stephen Strange, and gave my address as Westchester, New York, but no-one commented on my Marvel Comics referencing). It was Lemon Jelly, of course.

Does this make me the missing link between WATCHMEN and Simon Pegg that proves he should get the Rorschach gig?

Well, yes, obviously*.

*Only joking. I promise you, my devoted readers, that I'm not some crazed madman trying to insert himself into the history of others, like a minor celebrity-obsessed ZELIG. But I am typing this right now on my laptop outside Angelina Jolie's house. I have a gun, you know.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Read this while humming "The Imperial March"

Spent my afternoon off work skimming the bonus disc in the new STAR WARS trilogy DVD box set.

Its all good stuff. The bonus disc includes plenty of old TV spots and trailers that reveal exactly what the hardcore obsessive who moans about the Special Editions is missing - plenty of dated special effects, dodgy rotoscoping, fuzzy lines around the blue screen and matte shots, etc. Plus, you've gotta love those U.S. voiceover guys with their booming gravelly voices.
Sure the documentaries feature a little too much ass-kissing to be healthy, but they're also loaded with a treasury of unseen footage and backstage access. The disc's anchor-piece EMPIRE OF DREAMS is especially strong on the troubled making of A NEW HOPE and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, but gets progressively weaker towards the end (which I suppose reflects the decline in the source material, too). No-one in the documentaries points out that, whoa, isn't it ironic that the tendency towards over-elaboration, self-congratulation and complacency was the downfall of both Darth Siduous and George Lucas, but there you go.

I make no secret of the fact that I loved the Special Editions when they arrived in 1997. I enjoy the extra eye candy like the expanded Mos Eisley. I can live with Greedo shooting at the same time as Solo. I actually like the extended musical sequence at Jabba's palace, just because it allows extra screentime for Boba Fett. The only thing that really, really gets my goat was the changing of the Cantina Band theme, remaking the jaunty original into a lift-muzak travesty of its former self. The expanded celebration scene may piss some people off as they've shoe-horned Hayden Christensen in beside Alec Guiness, but what pisses me off is seeing Gungans milling about on Naboo. Part of me lived in hope that Anakin, as Vader, would have wiped them all out for fun one lazy sunday afternoon.

Hey, I'll never warm to the Ewoks, but at least their eyes occassionally blink now, which prevents them from being quite as creepy and unconvincing. The little furry bastards.