Saturday, December 31, 2005

review of the year

I hate lists. I hate all those Channel 4 list shows. I hate Nick Hornby. I hate the fact that all magazines and newspapers forego real journalism at this time of year to become page after page of sodding lists. Fuck that. So, in no particular order, my cultural highlights of the comic book year have been:

1. SHAOLIN COWBOY #2. Fucking genius. An amazing combination of throwaway, inconsequential ideas being lavished with the most amazing, fetishized, laboured over, artwork (by Geof Darrow, natch). It should come across as a waste of time, but some crazy alchemy happens, and it all clicks.

2. HIP FLASK: MYSTERY CITY. Pity it takes the amazing Ladronn all year to draw one issue of this stuff. Really reminded me of the intoxicating possibilities the artform possesses. Like a spin back to 1986 to meet the real me, before I was replaced by that android.

3. SOLO from DC Comics, but #3, #5 & #7 especially (the Paul Pope, Darwyn Cooke and Mike Allred issues). A reminder that the work of the right editor can be as visionary as that of the creator. If only every editor languishing in the big two would show the taste and integrity of Mark Chiarello.

4. HELLBOY: THE ISLAND (#2 especially). Seeing new pages by Mike Mignola is becoming a rarer and rarer treat, so it's great that when the master does deign us with new material, that it's so retina-burningly fantastic.

5. SEVEN SOLDIERS. Every man and his dog is listing the amazing #0 (art by J. H. Williams III) as their highlight of the year, and it was great. But my favourite single issue of the whole endevour so far was THE MANHATTAN GUARDIAN #4 (art by Cameron Stewart). It was the key issue in really giving me a clue as to what shape this whole mega-series was going to take. Grant Morrison's had a great year all round, WE3 could have fit in here, as only #1 appeared in 2004, and that first issue of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN got the old "I'm too old to be enjoying a superhero comic, but what the hell" nerves tingling, too.

(Honourable mentions: SWALLOW #1, the art mag from IDW, DESOLATION JONES #1 by Warren Ellis and J.H. Williams III - that man again, plus the only comic this year I've emailed to recommend to anyone I know with a Hugo Award. And I've been wracking my brains trying to think of a standout Marvel comic to prove I'm not a total snob: got it - the four issues of the MARVEL MONSTERS fifth week event. Buy the hardcover, and send a message to the editorial team over there that you're not interested in the vainglorious, thud-and-blunder, crossovers they seem to be addicted to. And yes, I've sent this to press early so I can spend all tomorrow in the pub.)

Friday, December 30, 2005

Things I learnt from the internet, pt 1

Tonight, I learnt from that Kevin Smith has a big bald patch you can only see from behind, which is why he's always photographed from the front, the side or in a baseball cap. I also learnt that the other members of the Miramax Mafia (Tarantino, Rodriquez) seem to like the way the movie's shaping up (or else they're really good at blowing smoke up your ass). And finally, I learnt that Kyle Gass has another band he plays in, TRAINWRECK, presumably while he's hanging out waiting for Jack Black to finish underwhelming Monkey movies. As a general rule, they can be found here.
Again, I'm not one for geeky crap like buying action figures,
but isn't that Hooper X the cutest little thing you've ever seen?

Thursday, December 29, 2005


I'm not that widely read in science fiction. I'm well-versed in Mike Moorcock's work, obviously, but I'm also au fait enough with Philip K. Dick's back catalogue to know when something's "phildickian". For example: I'd watch THE MATRIX for the first time and go "hey, that's a bit UBIK". So finally (it's only been out in English for, what, nearly two years?), the library service got round to buying Emmanuel Carrere's biography of Phil Dick, I AM ALIVE AND YOU ARE DEAD: A JOURNEY INTO THE MIND OF PHILIP K. DICK.

The subtitle is really the important bit: Carrere is a novelist by trade, and the book is pretty much a work of fiction, stringing the elements of biographical fact into a (yes, phildickian), novel about the guy's supposedly deranged mental processes. I'd go so far to say that the nominal subject of this book is no more really Phil Dick than the character Horselover Fat is, in the (brilliant) VALIS. Instead, Carrere works hard to fulfill his agenda of making Dick's personal history fit with the subject matter of his books, sometimes with more success than others.

So anyway, if you want to learn more about Dick and his work, this book's hard to beat, mainly because it offers handy little potted versions of his novels scattered throughout, like a more fleshed out version of the tiny Pocket Essentials Guide To Philip K. Dick by Andrew Butler that helped me work out what to read and what to avoid in the guy's voluminous back catalogue a few years ago. Carrere's (or his translator's) style reads effortlessly, making this a slick read through what could have been a sticky subject (see also: mental breakdowns, transcendental experiences, a lifetime of hilariously casual misogyny). Plus, it made me want to go out and read a couple of Dick's works I'd managed to miss before, which is a good sign.

(Again, also: I love it when I'm heavy on the parentheses - that used to be my style, man.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

This makes me sick! BOO!!

I loved SIN CITY (the movie) as much as the next man. But the one thing that pissed me off about it? That Jessica Alba was allowed to disrespect the source material so thoroughly and keep her clothes on. Every Frank Miller fan knows that in the books Nancy is topless in just about every panel in every issue she's appeared in. Damn you Alba and your stupid no-nudity clause, damn you to hell!

So when I saw this being linked to in a banner ad on a news site, you could guess how annoyed I was: this whole Nancy-keeping-her-kit-on trend has gone too far and must be stopped! Too far, I say!

Monday, December 26, 2005

New Year's Resolution

My first new year's resolution this year is... (and there'll be a few more over the next couple of weeks, I'm sure) is to turn the comments back on here at the blog.

Coming, as I did, from a (shit) print journalism background, I went into this blogging lark with comparatively little desire to get feedback from my readers. Hell, if they really wanted to get in touch, my email address was always over at my Blogger profile. In my first couple of weeks of blogging, some STAR WARS fans, incensed at my claim that I didn't really mind the tinkering George Lucas did with the original trilogy on his special editions, really started to get me nervous about the whole notion of leaving comments.

But hell, since then I've loosened up. As my Favourites folders on my browser starts to fill up with more and more blogs, and I realise that not everyone out there is a spammer ready to go to war over Greedo shooting first, I've decided to go ahead and switch 'em back on. Plus, the anti-paranoia medicine is starting to really kick in now.

It feels good. Like an agoraphobic managing to walk out his front door for the first time in a year.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

DOCTOR WHO: The Christmas invasion

A couple of thoughts: it looks like, though this actor is a slighter physical presence compared to Christopher Eccleston, that David Tennant is going to be the more swashbuckling, intimidating Doctor Who. Good.

And secondly, loved the THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK homage. Followed by the HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY reference. Which'll probably piss off the old school Whovians. Also good. Oh, and the continuing great design work. Those Santa masks, like Victorian toys. The Alien ship and The Sycorax themselves who were very Bryan Hitch. All this, and the clips fom the upcoming second series, have me hankering for more, as soon as possible. Cool.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

I Guinness

Pardon the lack of any posting of any real significance over the last few, and next few days. I'm in the middle of a massive alco-bender. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Hardy perennial

Comic Book Galaxy's review of the year.

Good stuff. Even when I don't agree with it.

Monday, December 19, 2005

fanboy boasting

I just got a christmas card from Brendan McCarthy!

Did you get a christmas card from Brendan McCarthy?

No? That's what I thought.

Oh, and here's the front cover of the crappy christmas card I've been sending out this week. It's shite-tastic!

Finally got round to reading...

...Peter Biskind's EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS. The guy is as kick-ass a prose stylist as he is a journo. Cop a load of this bit of evocative metaphorage: "money was the solvent that dissolved the tissue of the '70s like acid on flesh". Great stuff.

But on the other hand, it does thoroughly spoil the illusion of Hollywood, leaving you wondering instead how any movie, even the cheapest, the worst hack job, gets made. I hate to generalise, but they're all nuts over there. Writers, directors, producers, actors. Psychotic, raving maniacs. Drugged up, perma-pissed, knife-wielding, gun-toting head cases. And that's just the nice ones.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Some other blogs you might like...

I was googling the great Brandon "RAGNAR" Johnson's nom de plume this morning, looking to see if his latest books are any nearer publication. He's one of my favourite vector art illustrators, and I'm horribly jealous of his talent. And bingo! I've discovered he's got a blog, called SYMPTOMATICA. Ch-ch-ch-check it, check it out. In the immortal words of The Beastie Boys.

Oh, and there's this cat called Ronnie Del Carmen, who occasionally, fleetingly, graces comic books. He was the first of the Bruce Timm school to really develop his own voice, and if you get the chance, hunt down the two ALIENS comics he did for Dark Horse, starring the "bug hunter" Herc, MONDO PEST and MONDO HEAT. Anyhoo, now his dayjob is working for Pixar, and his blog is here: TIRADE.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Great week for 2000AD fans, part II

2000AD #2006 was pretty flawless, too.
Regular readers of this blog know my love of the Kev Walker droid, so I barely need to point out just how cool I find that cover... mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Tharg. Love the way he draws Johnny Alpha's helmet. A bit puritanical, a bit Napoleonic.
The first Judge Dredd story, "Class of '79", illustrated by the lesser-spotted Greg Staples, seems to serve a dual purpose, first as a christmas story, and secondly as a prologue of sorts for "Origins": John Wagner's next big epic, dwelling upon the (largely unstoried) early years of Dredd, pre-prog #1. I'm guessing Andy Helfer's "early Dredd" stories, illustrated by Mike Avon Oeming over at DC, will be fully excised from canon after this. And worra crappy link, 'cus Oeming draws the second Dredd story in the mag, "Straight Eye For The Crooked Guy"! It's just another of those little pop-culture specific parodies that The Toof does now and then, but it's fun (written by Robbie Morrison) and stylish (Oeming is a vastly superior and more confident artist now than when he last essayed Dredd, and it shows - hope he can spare the time to do a couple more like this).

I'm fucking knackered, so I won't go into any further rapturous detail, just insist - if you in any way care about the future of comics in the U.K! - go out and buy this issue. Right now. Oh, and I really liked the first part of Rob Williams & Mark Harrison's The Ten Seconders. If it continues in the vein implied by this first installment, it could turn out to be a cross between Zenith, V For Vendetta, and Roger Zelazny's LORD OF LIGHT. Plus I really liked Harrison's artwork: less of his acclaimed digital manipulation, and more actual drawing, but in a looser, pared-down style: like a cross between Guy Davis and D'Israeli. Groovy.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

How I discovered the power of magic

Okay, so tonight I was Santa for a bunch of Portuguese kids at a Christmas party. It was fun, and I got paid double time for doing it out of hours. I had a bit of a hangover from the work's xmas piss-up the night before, but it was okay. More importantly, I've discovered the amazing shamanistic power of Santa. Or to be precise, the Santa suit. To put it on is to be privy to the amazing changes that come over people in your presence. Obviously children, but not only. The cheapest, tackiest, most ill-fitting Santa suit, on any individual, even the most physically unsuitable, will still give the wearer an incredible (and therefore magical) hold over children. The wearer and the observer join in an unspoken pact, a ritual, to set aside the real, and embrace the mythic qualities the suit possesses. Sure, you say, maybe it was just the Aussie shiraz in my bloodstream (or the Guinness). But if you doubt my words, go out and buy one. Put it on. Feel the power of the Santa suit.

But use it only for good, never for evil. With great power comes great responsibility, as The Man once said.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Great week for 2000AD fans, part 1

As a general rule, magazines are distributed in Northern Ireland a day or so later than the U.K mainland. Bearing that in mind, okay, I picked up the latest copy of Rebellion's JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE (#240). The big meg has been going from strength to strength these last couple of years, and the reprint material that seemed to be in danger of killing it at one point has dwindled down to just 12 pages (of 84, including covers and advertising). And even then, the reprints are now of relevant material (2000AD creator Pat Mills' CHARLEY'S WAR); as opposed to the bad years, when the reprint material always seemed too recent or not particularly well-matched (NECROPOLIS, PREACHER, SIN CITY, HELLBOY, etc). It's a great issue, and it's got me right in the mood for 2000AD's xmas special, prog 2006, due out tomorrow (review to follow towards the weekend, I'd guess).

The meg has managed to hit top form again recently by balancing original strip content with some great text pieces: this issue features a fine and frank interview of Brian Bolland by Joel "Tripwire" Meadows. In fact, the frankness of the megazine's text pieces are quite disarming, such as admitting the debt 2000AD owes its founding fathers such as Bolland, or the editorial mistakes of the past (in Dave Bishop's ongoing history of the 15 year history of the title). On the strength of the first part of his Bolland interview, I'd advocate any commissioning editor at any publisher should hire Joel Meadows to write a definitive history of 2000AD immediately. It's that good.
Though the opinion column section can be hit-or-miss, depending on your level of sympathy with the writer's P.O.V. I thought Jonathan Morris' hatchet job of SPACE 1999 was hilarious, bearing in mind it was a tremendous act of biting the hand that feeds - in the same issue, the megazine is running a competition giving away three boxed sets of the series; Scott Gray's piece on Wally Wood has just about persuaded me to hunt down a copy of Fantagraphics' CANNON reprint. While sometimes disagreeing with individual columnist's tastes, I do believe this "Heatseeker" section is a great addition to the megazine, in the sense of U.K comics being largely short of any ongoing critical context (god, I miss ESCAPE). That was a really ungainly sentence. My sympathies go out to any of my readers who stuck with it to the end.

The strip content of this issue is practically faultless. John Wagner has been universally praised for the consistent high standard of his Judge Dredd work this year, and I'm not about to be the first dissenting voice. This issue kicks off a multiparter, WARZONE, that's right up my street: I've always loved Dredd stories where he assembles a team of misfits to help him on a mission (see also: THE CURSED EARTH, JUDGE CAL, THE JUDGE CHILD). It's always worthwhile to see the austere Dredd interact with less virtuous (if more sympathetic) types. This story features great art by Northern Ireland's very own P.J. Holden (enter his christmas competition here). The detail on the first splashpage is breathtaking in its Geoff Darrow-esque detail, but what really impresses are the character designs for the misfit unit of mandroids Dredd teams up with (my favourite being Drucker, one part Rogue Trooper to one part M.A.C.H. Zero). Holden draws a mean Dredd, too, but then I'm a sucker for any artist who gives Ol' Stoney Face a super-deformed chin.
Next up, more mutant Scottish nationalism in Alan Grant's YOUNG MIDDENFACE, which I must admit to liking more now that Shaun Thomas is the regular artist. I'd rather have another Dredd-verse strip in the meg than a STRONTIUM DOG spin-off, though. Grant is also battin' up for the next strip, JUDGE ANDERSON with the ever-faultless Arthur Ranson. The strip doesn't really progress the storyline much further, but it sure looks purdy.
After that, it's SHIMURA by Robbie Morrison and Colin Macneil. Shimura and Inaba are two of my favourite aditions to the Dredd mythos native to the Megazine, so this was singing to the choir, too, I'm afraid. Great art again, though I'd have loved to have seen Macneil's Godzilla riff in colour (I still reckon the ongoing editorial desire to cling on to keeping some black and white in 2000AD and The Megazine is some kind of sop to the unholy alliance between the nostalgists and the luddites). Then comes DARREN DEAD by Rob "CLASSWAR" Williams and John Higgins. Higgins is another classic old-hand we don't see enough from, and his work here completes the five-out-of-five batting average for the original strip content in this issue (the outgoing eitor Alan Barnes played a blinder). I'll forgive the atrocius pun, as the strip is a nice commentary on that awful modern disease, the quest for fame for fame's sake, and a well-aimed gag at the new phenomenon that is the "celebrity psychic" (that tit Derek Acorah and his UK LIVING-borne ilk).

Then the reprints: when I was a kid, my cousin Geoff used to keep his stash of BATTLE and ACTION comics hidden in a drawer in his dresser, and we used to treat them like contraband dutch hardcore: I can see why, reading this. CHARLEY'S WAR is brutal, cynical, but brilliant stuff. The reprinted Dredd newspaper strip is just a daft gag, given undue polish by Andy Clarke, who in another dimension is a comics superstar for his Travis Charest-meets-Brian Bolland stylings.

Anyhow, if you haven't bought a copy of the Megazine in a while, give it a go. This 'un was a cracker, worth the money for the Bolland interview alone. John Wagner nails it on his importance to the development of 2000AD when he's quoted to say: "Brian brought depth to Judge Dredd. There was a clarity and strength to his art that no-one else could match. It seemed to glow on 2000AD's bog-paper pages and made Dredd's world more real."
Bravo: he just seemed to sum up my unarticulated childhood feelings towards an old favourite with one insightful statement. And the piece is full of stuff like that. Write that book, Meadows!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Vacuum

Elsewhere, I'm conducting a conversation about Belfast's arts freesheet, THE VACUUM. My point is that, as a general rule, it's boring, pretentious, predictable, and a bit crap. However, I've found one article they've published I kinda enjoyed. But then, it was by Newton Emerson, the talent behind the much-missed Portadown News.

Monday, December 12, 2005

V FOR VENDETTA reviews leaking out

...and they're glowingly positive. However, I'll reserve judgement on this matter because, so far, the reviews have all came from American film geeks. Y'see, I've read one of the early scripts doing the rounds a year or so ago, and the attempts at English vernacular were the worst I've seen in a movie since Disney butchered MARY POPPINS. So, until I've seen a review by a reputable UK source, I can't tell if it is a brave attempt at a political thriller, or merely embarrassing.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Cuter'n all get out

Now, I'm not much of a one for all that "cult of the geek" crap you see in comics fandom, which has codified arrested development (and I'm not talking about the sitcom) into a way of life. But... I'll probably buy this: Suicide Bomber Batman, coming soon from DC Direct! Torn from the pages of one of only three Superman comic books I've found to be artistically worthwhile since the late mid-eighties (RED SON, written by Mark Millar at his most Grant Morrison-esque, the art started by Dave Johnson and finished by Ireland's own man of mystery Killian Plunkett - highly recommended). Great sculpt. Look at his big goofy chin - it's truly like a Dave Johnson image made real!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Richard Pryor, 1940-2005

Y'know what I hate about December? The accelerated death rate, as The Grim Reaper catches up with everyone not fated to make it into the next year. Unfeeling bastard.

Friday, December 09, 2005

why rock'n'roll is better than comic books

Finally got round to buying the CLASH ON BROADWAY boxed set. Two points. I buy this at a time when I'm thinking about another upcoming anniversary of Joe Strummer's death. I know that a certain amount of royalties from buying it will end up going to Strummer's wife and kids. Happy days. But if I went out and rented the DVD of FANTASTIC FOUR, or bought any of the Masterworks hardcovers of the FF, exactly nothing would end up being paid to the Kirby family estate in royalties. Fair? Mais non. Ergo: even record companies are fairer than Marvel Comics. And every one knows record companies are complete cunts.

Point two: after listening to disc three of the set, and given sensible editing, it's apparent The Clash's SANDINISTA! could have been a classic. Cocaine, eh? Really not good for your sense of perspective.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Don't say I didn't give you fair warning.

Happy birthday to me. 29 again. Yay!
So that's me, Tom Waits, the charming Nicole Appleton (well, let's face it, in a fight between Liam Gallagher and me, my money's on... me), Madame Tussaud, Willa Cather, and Noam Chomsky. Great company.

Now where's the postie?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

X-MEN 3 teaser trailer

I was surprised at how much I liked the first X-MEN film when I saw it at the cinema: it really did transport me back in time to when I was a kid loving the Claremont/Byrne/Austin comic so much. But I had my reservations, mainly at turning Magneto into a Bond villain (Mags points giant death ray at world, X-Men stop him, blah blah blah). The second one was better again, but made pretty much the same mistakes (villain points death ray at massed ranks of humanity: oh no, think of the children!).

So X-MEN 3 - what chance does it have, especially with such a dodgy hack at the helm, and the writing team behind such classics as XXX2 and FANTASTIC FOUR (ugh)? Well, if the first finished moving images are anything to go by, it looks pretty much like more of the same. The new guy apes Singer's portentious visual stylings, and what little I could sense of a plot seems to be an all-out war between the philosophies of Xavier and Magneto, with mankind stuck between the opposing forces. Early script leaks that Cyclops karks it seem to be true too, which is daft: the character has always been the book's compass, not Xavier, and certainly not Wolverine. Plus, it should always be Cyclops that offers Jean Grey's Phoenix the hope of redemption. Oh, and I always thought that James Marsden was a pretty neat lookalike for Neal Adams' Scott Summers (always my favourite era of the comic). Kelsey Grammer's Beast looks somewhere between great and kinda dopey, as does Vinnie Jones in the Juggernaut armour, which makes him look like he has big ol' swinging tits. Famke Janssen looks eff-one-tea as a butcher's dog in her underwear, and poor old Halle Berry finally has a decent looking barnet. And loath as I am to let my critical judgement be swayed by the quality of the female talent on show in a movie, I have to add that Rebecca Romijn: hubba-hubba, honk-honk, yowsa! That said, it was impossible to tell if the script has any of the grasp of character that made the first two movies so appealling (and made the occasionally cheesy make-up and visual effects forgiveable), as it seemed intent on establishing and maintaining a bombastic tone.

So, interesting, but I reserve judgement.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

it's official: mourning period over

Normal blogging will now recommence. With a rant. Okay, I loved Bestie as much as any non-Man U supporting Ulsterman can. But if I ever tune the radio to a talkshow, with some halfwit phoning in to suggest he was a wonderful role model for kids, we should name the new national stadium/rename the airport/rename Old Trafford after him/build a giant robot colossus in his likeness that straddles the Irish Sea between Belfast and Manchester/make a movie of his life starring that annoying guy out of the BT adverts/whatever half-baked nonsense they've just thought of, I'll scream like a slapped little girl.

Let's get it in perspective. He was a horrible role model: he was just a nice guy who was truly great at his chosen profession. That said, never forget, he also foreshortened his career by maybe ten years to become a full-time waster. He had his demons, and they won out in the end.