Friday 31 December 2010

And if you should cheat this coming year, cheat only death

It's the end of the year and it's that time when we look back and take stock in a desperate attempt to fill our blogs with something other than recounting Christmas drinking tales that for me pretty much amount to little more than my mates banging on about how great Portland Bill/Trapdoor was and some really ill-advised pash, followed by sickness of the lethargic headache variety that requires rest and lots of fluids in a time when younger relatives make themselves known for pretty much all the day and water pipes across the country are nuked by the Big Freeze - you know what we should do, Northern Ireland? We should totally pay for this service. I mean like an actual separate charge on top of what we already pay the council in ground rent, rates, breathing tax etc. I know that there has never been a single instance - ever - of public services improving after being privatised, and in fact exactly the opposite is true to the extent that suggesting otherwise is effectively a lie, but I think that this time, despite all evidence to the contrary and not a single indication that this will be any exception that we should privatise Northern Ireland's water supply and then pay companies vastly inflated fees for the privilege of barely receiving what is enshrined in law as a human right.

Anyhoo, I have a shockingly bad memory at the best of times and hungover/ill as I am, there's little to no chance of a comprehensive overview of the past 365 days, so instead you can have the only review of the year that counts to any sane person:

2010 - A YEAR IN BEARS as best I can recall

Defenders 1.10 "Nevada v. Dennis" in which the attractive sister of Jim Belushi's legal nemesis needs a lawyer "with experience of capital cases" to save Otis the bear from lethal injection when he not unreasonably mauls the shit out of a drunk who storms the Las Vegas stage where Otis is working. Before Jim can get close to the attractive sister in order to have sexual intercourse with her compassion, independent spirit and intelligence, he must first win Otis' approval, which he does (off-screen, sadly), and Otis keeps onlookers at bay while Jim takes Attractive Sister of Nemesis into the woods to give her a damn good talking to about Nevada's animal welfare laws.

I have spoken of Defenders in the past, it is basically an antidote to Law And Order or The Whole Truth in that it is an entertainment meant to pass the time rather than a Freudian insight into the writer's issues with the world from which they have insulated themselves but can still catch Tweets about in order to have fodder for their next hate-filled reactionary story about how women who had an abortion in their youth are clearly evil at their core or something equally misanthropic, one-sided and juvenile. Adding a bear to Defenders' trashy mix is like adding icing on top of a cake that's already made of icing, but having a sub-plot that centers on how crazy mountain men who sell guns - probably to criminals - with the serial numbers filed off are actual human beings capable of love rather than 2-dimensional straw men? It's like the writers live in a world without hate, the lucky bastards.
We don't get anything in the way of on-screen mauling, but we do at least see the aftermath, so that's something, at least:

When it's you vs bear, that's what you get, bitch.

Nancy Drew and the Demon of River Heights:

I have spoken of this one before, being an early scene in the first of PaperKutz' Nancy Drew series - a barely functional marriage of blunt scripting and unpolished artwork that puts coloured character sketches on top of screen grabs of Sketchup models and just sort of assumes that this equates as a graphic novel - and it stands out for sheer audacity in trying to take a shortcut in showing Nancy as less of a traditional girly even though it's probably the focus on her feminine side that made her popular in the first place when other female detectives went the route of ballbusting and fell into obscurity, possibly because their approach was a little too masculine and male readers don't traditionally take to female leads. Within the first twenty pages Nancy straight-up mugs a grizzly and I dunno if I'm buying it, as I'm reading my way through the Nancy Drew books and she does spend a lot of time imperiled to the point that if she was going to fight anyone it would arguably be the many and nameless thugs encountered upon her travels who are actively chasing her and for all she knows are rapists, while a grizzly will straight-up murder you and floss its teeth with your spine if you tick it off but otherwise will look for reasons to ignore you, making Nancy's behavior just plain odd, not least because even leaving aside her supposed detective's eye for detail, she's in the woods around her home town and would hopefully know basic procedure regarding imminent mauling, which I am reasonably certain is less "defeat the bear with martial arts" and more "shoot it or run like fuck: there is no plan c."
Possibly, like me, Nancy had recently saw the masterpiece that is Karate Bear Fighter - which is excatly what it says on the tin - and got inspired by Sonny Chiba's success in a human vs bear equation:

He-Man and She-Ra: The Secret of the Sword

which is super-gay like I wasn't really expecting. I expected it to be trashy and maybe a guilty pleasure, but when She-Ra uses her love power to make friends with vicious wood-dwelling animals including a razor-toothed space bear of some description, it barely registers next to stuff like the horrific tragedy kept from Adam since he was a child (that his twin sister was kidnapped and murdered), or the barely-an-undertone-and-more-an-actual-part-of-the-script subtext of incestuous sexual attraction between He-Man and She-Ra which can only be discounted by admitting that He-Man is clearly a homosexual and sister or not She-Ra is still female.

Actually, this brings to mind a discussion from the playground many moons ago where basically we couldn't decide if Orko was a bummer because he didn't have anything under his magic robes to have sex with (or recieve sex in), but it never occurred to us that he still had hands and a working mouth (he did eat stuff after all) and so could still sexually contribute.
Truely they were more innocent times.

Shako: Snack Attack:

drawn by an imbecile, but full of sub-zero bear-on-man carnage as only the lovable, mass-murdering ursine scamp Shako can deliver like he's not even trying. Set at some indeterminate point during Shako's original run, it's clearly taking place after he's made the CIA death-list, as the first thing the grizzled security guard does upon seeing Shako bite someone's torso off is run like hell, while the second thing he does is admit to himself that running will only make things worse.
Writer and fellow Northern Irelander Richmond Clements can at least rest easy knowing he pretty much nailed the basics there.

The Cleveland Show:

for some reason hated where stablemates American Dad and Family Guy get a free pass, I took to The Cleveland Show initially because it had a talking bear in it, but also because it relied less on pop-cultural references and random segues referencing things that exist in lieu of scripted jokes, and more on traditional sitcom staples like structured plots resolved through something other than the viewers' knowledge of the quirks of one of the show's broad characters.
But to repeat: I have no idea why the cartoon more or less identical to two others is seen as the weak link, as the only real difference that I can put my finger on is the fact that The Cleveland Show is about a working class black family while the other two are about middle class whitey. My favorite Family Guy character is Peter's Latino housemaid - way to speak to your audience, Mr McFarlane! Because finding a good housemaid is a problem everyone can relate to.

Black Dynamite: In which the best CIA agent the CIA ever had teamed up with a bear so badass it was still outfoxing CIA honkies from beyond the grave:

Mr Sandman:

in which my niece tried her hand at writing and drawing her own comics after discovering what her uncle did with his spare time.
I blame myself for this one.

Essentially, Mr Sandman is the is the Child's Play-esque story of a murderous teddy bear who breaks into charity shops and waits to be sold to someone so that he can murder them and their entire family in their sleep, and what makes the whole thing so fantastic is that there aren't any frantically-scrawled pages depicting murders as might be expected from any normal child, just depictions of Mr Sandman going about his business in secret.

I would actually pay money to read this if it was a real comic.

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare:

in which the already awesome Red Dead Redemption takes things up a notch for add-on content by having the player stalking the resurrected villains he took vengeance upon during the course of the original game, and as an afterthought has some undead wildlife for you to contend with including the obligatory zombear. Yes, a bear which is also a zombie, losing points in terms of awesomeness only because zombies are this year's vampires in that they are utterly played out and now devoid of any kind of menace.
But still: zombear.

Furry vengeance:

A film about animals waging war on humanity that features not a single bear-instigated mauling to death of any human, not even the slimy businessman played by SeƱor/Mister Chang from Community, otherwise known as Ken Jeong, an actor I quite like seeing in comedies even if he's chosen the Lance Henrikson route of appearing in just about anything that'll have him and as a consequence usually being the best thing about it (even if that's not saying much).
T'is not a great film, but has a bear on a golf cart.

And that's pretty much all that comes to my muddled mind on this new year's eve, so foggied is it with lethargy that for the first time in my admittedly poor memory I'm going to give the traditional celebrations a miss and get into my bed instead, so at least I can say that this new year will be unique among all the others yet still better than that one I spent in that nightclub just around the corner from Belfast City Hall whose name escapes me, which is just amazing given what an overpriced, unfriendly, tatty, and yet paradoxically still pretentious shithole it was. Remembering the name will bug me something rotten, I think...

Good luck and see you in the new year, which I hope will be a happy one for you and yours - or as they say in Star Wars "Athbliain faoi mhaise duit!"

Tuesday 21 December 2010

So long, suckers

Catching up with my colouring can mean only one thing: I have absolutely everything else I need to draw finished and my 'to do' list is clear!

Is it fuck.

I'm doodling away at less concentration-demanding arty activities because I'm either hungover or in the process of getting drunk when I've gone near the pc this last couple of weeks, so it's that time of year again when I bid an adieu to daily posts until my rampant drinking probl- I mean my hectic social and networking schedule allows me to return to a more sober daily routine - no point doing a daily work blog if I'm not getting any work done, after all.
Until that happy day when I can stop drinking because that's the day I long for even if must be through the sweet release of death, I wish you all the very best of the season and hope the new year finds you well.

Monday 20 December 2010

Someday you gonna get bitch-slapped and I'm not gonna do a thing to stop it

Watching: Caravan of Courage - I'm pretty sure all the kids I knew when I was young thought the Ewoks were okay and were even into the cartoon show (and Droids), so I can probably attribute all the hate aimed in their direction to be a kind of embarrassed overreaction to being so easily manipulated at a young age in much the same way many a grown man is disproportionately hostile about being emotionally donkey-punched by the end of the Futurama episode Jurassic Bark (and if you have not seen it and don't know how it ends, follow that link at your own risk). Caravan of Courage is a great kids' movie with scary bits and little children playing with Ewoks and getting on just swell despite the fact that they are furry alien cannibals. Of course, maybe objections stemmed from the lack of 'hard science fiction' to proceedings that the movie should have taken from it's parent film about a magic space knight fighting the Green Cross Code man alongside Indiana Jones, but this is a kids' film and on that level it's perfectly fine.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Alright, I want you to go outside, take off those helmets and dig your own graves with them

I have no idea why I was Farscape sketching today, but you can't argue with something filling a post-shaped hole, finished or not. Anyway, that up there's supposed to be the goth lass.

Tomorrow: better filler. Possibly.

I can't understand what the devil he's saying, but you know, there's a lot of movement and it's bright and colorful, it keeps my attention

Yes, it is so snowy here in Cookstown that I thought I'd take a photo and use the snowfall and local mountains as backdrop and texture layers on a sketch of something snow-themed and it almost works, as though there are many things wrong with the picture, offhand I'd say the greatest of its problems is that it is not a picture of Shako. Clearly the shin-deep snow has addled my mind to the point I can no longer get my priorities straight.

Watching: Hawaii Five-0 - man I love trashy tv, I am such a fucking snob that I think James 'Spike From Buffy' Marsters' Irish accent is pure entertainment. Luckily I am absolutely right, and hearing actual human beings say lines like "Get mie ma money or yorr man gohs bum!" is why I have a television that does more than play videogames that train me to be a better sociopath.
Lost Girl - also trash, but that's no reason not to be entertained. It does suffer from the slight flaw of the main character - supposedly a sexually-irresistible succubus - not being as hot as her comedy sidekick, but otherwise watching it is like being maced, except your mouth's open and instead of mace it's beer or something. Complete fluff that barely holds together from one moment to the next, but y'know, the alternative is staring at the wall, and the wall doesn't move, my mind wanders - I prefer Lost Girl.
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency - which follows the recent spate of live-action adaptations of Terry Pratchett works in feeding a newly-emergent genre of humourous novels adapted into television shows that don't actually have any jokes. Added to which Gently himself has changed from the pudgy, bespectacled subcontinental Asian in the novels to something teenage girls and Daily Mail readers(1) will find more palatable. Believe it or not, the BBC actually broadcast this:

which is actually more Freudian than it is funny.

(1) I imagine the overlap here is much larger than I suspect it to be.

Friday 17 December 2010

This match will determine once and for all which nation is the greatest on earth - Mexico or Portugal!

Tried a new method of working: quick but unsatisfyingly sketchy, so that's the end of that. Haha I'm so anal and OCD and I take forever and that's why I drink and oh dear I have made myself sad.

Christmas telly doesn't seem too appealing, apart from the occasional oddity like the Dirk Gently telly show made by the dude behind juvenile C4 offering Misfits - and as a mix I can't decide if that sounds awesome or horrific - and the latest remake of MR James' "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come To You" just to help reinforce that the BBC's creative bankruptcy is alive and well and thoroughly middle class. The latter has John Hurt so at least there's that element of it that shall be reliable, though in fairness, it needs to be pointed out that Hurt also starred in V For Vendetta, a movie whose gutless political agenda allows the word 'gay' to be reclaimed as a pejorative term, and his presence - while always welcome - is no guarantee of a product's quality. Well, sometimes...
Anyhoo, I'd be lying if I said I shan't be watching the latest version, though if you have thirty minutes spare, you could do worse than check out the original:

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Santa's wife has an eating disorder because he can have any woman he wants and she knows it

I'm sure that the few regular readers who check in now and then to find a screen grab of Vista crashing yet again probably think I have the same few screen grabs and just rotate them every now and then for the purpose of a running joke, but I'm really not...

That one's fresh from the oven.

Gordon Bennet, but I hate doing these talky sitting-around scenes as my visual continuity is terrible at best, and when you add distant shots of characters to the mix, facial likenesses take a blow to the nuts. GAAAH!

Watching: Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, about which it must be said that even the theme tune is terrible. Don't get me wrong, on the surface it's a step up from the mid-90s X-Men and Spider-Man 'toons Marvel had out there, but it's also a step back from the amiable outrageousness of the superhero concept to cast them as a glorified lynch mob tracking down costumed criminals and changing them from colourful adventurers with kooky nemeses to dour fascists imposing their will on the world as an unelected collective representing their own broadly-defined version of 'justice', which is not undermined at all by having someone who claims to be the deity of a bunch of thieving, murderous rapists on the team alongside government black ops agents and a billionaire arms manufacturer who makes no secret of the fact that he's disarming people who have not paid him for their technology - technology he does not share with the world even when it is of benefit to mankind to do so.
It's a more serious affair than previous Marvel animated efforts and on that front it can be commended for moving with the times, but then again, 'the times' means catching up with DC's animated efforts like Teen Titans, Justice league, Batman, Superman, and to be honest, it doesn't actually catch up with them, and Batman: The Animated Series was 20 years ago.
So basically it's fine if you don't expect much or mind that the Hulk for some reason has an emo haircut and wears eyeshadow. There's lots of punching and shouting and furrowed brows and things blow up and everyone takes things very seriously. That's progress, I guess, but if it's a step on a path that eventually leads to a place in which humans can never again create the likes of this:

I wonder why they even bothered.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

I think what this political allegory needs is the ending from "Amigos! Amigos! Amigos!"

Sometimes I wonder if my opinion on shows that I like is correct in any objective way, and then The Defenders does an episode where Jim Belushi defends a bear on death row and I realise that (1) I am absolutely correct in liking it and (2) I really do need to visit Las Vegas one day, because if you can get a bear lawyer there, that place is officially fucking awesome.

And as for the last two comics on my arbitrary list:

9 - Detective Comics 629
My relationship with the work of Peter Milligan is thankfully one defined by the highs of Human Target and X-Force rather than whatever his X-Men run was (and years after the experience I'm still not sure), but his quirky take on the craziness of Batman's world yielded some storytelling gems like Dark Knight Dark City, Identity Crisis, and Detective Comics 629's Hungry Grass, a neat little X-Files-inspired tale of a killer's homocide method that utilises the ghosts of Irish potato famine victims to commit geographically-specific murders. Trust me, it makes sense in context, though what doesn't make sense is why it hasn't been collected with other Milligan tales and sold to those comics fans who want to read outre tales of Batman rather than yet another thickeared rationale for him to be punching 1990s ninjas or post-millenial suited gangsters. It is a good comic from an oddly overlooked run of great stories from Milligan on one of DC's flagship properties.

10 - Hitman 34
I don't have much to say about this one except that knowing Garth Ennis likes Superman like I do makes me less sad than I might otherwise be. It's a tale where Superman is reminded again that he can't save everyone even though this is a lesson he learns in virtually every other story in which he appears and yet still he's saddened because he's a thoroughly decent human being and every life lost is a cause for sadness.

Monday 13 December 2010

Seeya Christmas Eve, ya judgmental bitch

Continuing the pretty uncomprehensive list I made in 60 seconds of good superhero comics off the top of my head after reading Colin Smith's commendable post on his own blog and bearing in mind Zoids totally counts because it appeared in the comic "Spider-Man and Zoids"...

7 - V For Vendetta
The first thing I took from this book the first time I read it was that V was not the man from Room 5 and was more likely Valerie from the letters Evey read during her time in captivity, and there's not much to prove that reading wrong given Moore's playfulness when it comes to the 'true' identity of his main characters in everything from Superman and Swamp Thing to Promethea and Tom Strong - I'm also still not convinced that V's dialogue is not pre-recorded or piped through a radio from the occasional comment made about 'his' voice in the text and the general all-purposeness of his responses in some instances, so bloody maddeningly open to interpretation is so much of the text of this angry and wonderful tome that I read in collected form long after the original saw serialisation in the vaunted pages of the UK's Warrior anthology.
Moore's instinctive hate of the controlling and reductive mindset drips off every page and the story carries itself forward on a tide of righteous rebellion against the then (early 1980s) science-fiction-y idea that cameras would be placed everywhere and a heavy state response to phantom terrorists would be used to cow the population of a post-nuclear war Britain. The only things Moore seems to have got wrong was that there wasn't a war and we don't have a superhero running about (unless you count the film, which can only really be enjoyed as a campy superhero movie), and he also reckons that nuclear war isn't survivable, either, but Fallout 3 would never lie to me - post-apocalyptia is gonna be pretty sweet. Except for the Deathclaws and the Cazadores, obviously.

8 - Detective Comics 608-609
Alan Grant's superb run - alongside his frequent artistic collaborator Norm Breyfogle - in the Batman titles yielded the two-parter Anarky, an aquisition of V (from V For Vendetta) transplanted into batman's world as a conscientious anarchist dedicated to the less-popular idea of anarchy as a state in which individuals accept personal culpability for themselves and others rather than that espoused by the character currently appearing in Red Robin - a chap in a cloak who shouts at his tv a lot and likes things to break. The character used to be quite good, however, and this origin tale is a good indicator of why, and if you happen to accidentally read the issues that come before or after it you won't be doing yourself any hardship either, as Grant/Breyfogle's run remains the last time Batman had a consistent tone and personality for more than a few months, a trick even Grant Morrison hasn't managed, though to be fair he's had to wrangle status quo shake-ups every six months while Grant/Breyfogle were largely left alone to produce some fine superhero comic books that shockingly still go uncollected while the utterly, utterly awful City of Crime is given the trade treatment.

It sounds so much funnier when I say it

Continuing a countdown of great superhero comics, I remember having to stop myself from including on the basis of simple variety Kamen Rider Hibiki, which was 2005's iteration of the long-running (and since ruined, in my opinion) Kamen Rider franchise that Japan's Toei began in the 1970s in response to Marvel's Spider-Man and which included comics, a live action tv series, videogames, movies, novels...

Whereas traditionally the series would revolve around the exploits of a teenage pretty-boy, Hibiki revolved instead around Asumu, a young boy who discovers the previously-unseen world of the Kamen Riders - a group of secret demon hunters who thanklessly and tirelessly vanquish leftovers from mythic times - when he takes thirty-something failure-in-life Hibiki as his unlikely mentor. Hibiki is a failure by the standards of Japanese society, being as he is unemployed, without children, an education, a trade, and is even unable to drive (the Kamen Rider franchise usually centers around fantastic motorcycles) - he is in every way unsuitable as a role model, yet Asumu for some reason takes to him as a replacement for his own absentee father, much to the amusement of Hibiki, who refuses to speak Asumu's name and refers forever to him merely as 'boy'. It's essentially a coming of age tale that could be told nowhere but Japan being as so much of it is told in cultural nuance, but many of its themes resonate beyond that and make a show with more heart than I've seen in western superhero equivalents.

Anyway - to the blog-filler!

5 - Batman Year One
In which Batman does not live solely to be grim and gritty as following tales would suggest, he lives instead as a means to inspire hope even as he uses fear to do so, with Gotham here represented as a city without either and so condemned to exist as a drap purgatory.
Jim Gordon moves on from being a joke of a copper to the kind of hard fucker you'd need for a city whose criminal population practice terrorist atrocities on a regular basis and a costumed nutjob dispensing random beatings seems like the only sane response. It's very 1980s, and Mazzucchelli captures a timeless picture of poverty and resigned despair in his portrayal of Gotham as some sort of sprawling Eastern European city that acts as a perfect setting for Miller's usual tropes and prevents them from becoming quite as crass as they might otherwise have been with a more traditionally-inclined draughtsman.

6 - The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man
I may have mentioned in the past once or fifteen times that I do not like Spider-Man the character, but there are some great stories based around him and his world and this is one of them, because - and I shan't spoil the specifics for you if you have not read it - you can read it as Spidey crying because he cannot grow beyond the juvenile character his franchise needs at its core. He can get married for decades at a time and it won't stick, he can become a father and it won't stick, he can become an educator and improve the world rather than drag it down to fistfights between petulant man-children and it still will not stick. Even when nobody is buying his books but thirtysomething men who actually have families of their own, he will forever regress to the character of a mooching bully sooner or later and meeting someone who will never get the chance to fulfill any of the promise of youth that he will never see fulfilled in his own life breaks his heart even when murders by the dozen do not.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Absence of evidence is the most damning proof of all, my friend

And a couple more great superhero comics from the list:

3 - Animal Man #5 The Coyote Gospel: A cartoon character escapes from the plane of reality where his suffering is little more than amusement for his sadistic and godlike creator and presumably an unseen audience somewhere, and if that's not a commentary on the post-Frank Miller Daredevil era of the spectacle of misery that began to pervade comics of all stripes, I don't know what is.

There's no happy ending to be had but the message is far from a hateful one, as Morrison gives us the positive notion that while even the most harmless of entertainments can contribute to the idea of pain as an amusement, we're still pretty decent at heart and can sympathise even for fictional creations when we let ourselves.

4 - Superman - For the Man Who Has Everything - or 'the one where the immigrant realises there was a reason he left his home and came to America in the first place' story. In a delusional state induced by old foe Mongul, Superman is tricked into living the life he might have had if Krypton hadn't exploded, and far from being the romanticised notion he has of the place (thanks to comics writers in the Golden and Silver Ages making it a utopia), it's actually not all that.
It's a simple and effective analogy that trancends the USA-centric ideals that Superman supposedly represents, and naturally the Americans had to go and ruin it with a poor cartoon adaptation that eliminated the immigration subtext entirely to make room for the explosions and soundbite moments.

The problem with the above scenario is, of course, the idea that anyone would give a crap about Aquaman.

Friday 10 December 2010

Let's not compare salaries or number of sexual partners before we met - these are numbers that will make you sad

Taking a leaf from Colin's blog, ten (well, two of the ten, the others to follow tomorrow) great comic books (according to me) off the top of my head, no embarrassment or shame allowed, merely qualification:

1 - Power Pack #5
- this issue is probably the first time I recall empathising with a female character, and in the traditionally male domain of the superhero comic book of all places. It's an 'epilogue' issue that comes after the origin story and pretty much just pins the button on a few characters with laudable brevity and subtext because... well, I imagine because even now you don't get many comics characters whose whole deal is that puberty is hitting at a really really bad time, and this was 1984...

Even now I have an enduring and unashamed love of Power Pack that probably comes from the fact that until quite late in the day I didn't cotton onto it being a superhero comic, as it's more an example of dark urban fantasy than spandex adventure romp, particularly those issues that crossed over with X-Men event Inferno and painted Marvel NYC as hell on earth long before the demons show up, or the issue that features an extended sequence rendered in what looks like woodcut where, through telepathy, a young boy experiences the slow death by poisoning of a baby dolphin shortly before the rest of the dolphin family follow suit.

I'm probably making this sound horribly grim, and admittedly in places it could be, but it was a largely enthusiastic and joyful comic which broke from a lot of already-tired superheroic tropes in emphasizing a strong familial bond even in the midst of the 'divorce is king' mentality that dominated genre fiction in the 1980s in an attempt to capture a zeitgeist or be mature or whatever that was about. I suppose liked the idea of a functioning family having adventures because it seemed to better define the idea of comics and superheroes as escapist fantasies rather than a slightly glum mirror held up to our own lives - "next issue: Grandpa dies and stays dead. That's life kids!"

2 - Zoids 30-31
Grant Morrison needs to eat just like the rest of us, and to feed himself in the mid-80s he took up the task of chronicling every other episode of Marvel UK's other big 1980s robot wars comic Zoids, which had the misfortune to face a battle with the far more popular Transformers and died a quiet death in a corner somewhere. It was still a great take on the toy line that took the grim premise of robot machines built to fight in arenas outlasting the race that spawned them and then fighting each other to the bitter end in the irradiated crater that used to be a thriving technologically advanced race's homeworld and then for some reason thought this was not grim enough for 8 year old boys.

Now the Zoids were also a galactic blight, and the last survivor of one of the races that they paid an unfriendly visit has come to Zoidstar, the Zoids' last outpost (and original homeworld) and rather suicidally brings an offer of peace to the biggest, baddest, angriest metal bastard he can find.

Needless to say, this 2-part tale does not end well for the cast members that are not called Zoidzilla and it's a bit glum and all very 1980s, but there's heart in the midst of it in how faith and hope are seen to be enduring and universal qualities, and it's nice to see the proto-talent of Morrison stretch its legs with a blunt run around themes he would later revisit in the likes of Invisibles with less economy and more swearing in Northern accents.

We're making a lot of cash with this thing and I need money for bourbon and anime

Reading: Slaughterhouse 5, which I have finally finished after probably a year or so, which is a pretty poor showing for such a short book. My general impression is that of the philistine, wondering "what was that?" and thinking if I was John Lithgow in that film, I'd probably have let those biddies burn all the copies and then just got Lady Chatterly's Lover for the school library instead. See, I'm thinking practically here: kids only did all that 1980s dancing as a prelude to fucking, so if you want to ban dancing among your kids, just get them fucking as quickly as possible. If they're in their bedrooms they can't be getting run over by tractors or whatever was up Lithgow's ass about his dead kid, but worst case scenario is the kids all get pregnant or contract AIDS - either way their social life becomes a lot less hectic and they'll be safe indoors.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

I'd kick a square's ass for you in a minute, Mrs. Rickettes

Oh, Irish kids' TV - nobody does christmas quite like you do!

I've loved Podge and Rodge ever since they first showed up on the filler segment between kids' shows called The Den, which is a hefty chunk of broadcasting time to fill since Irish tv station RTE2 transmits roughly 10-12 hours of children's programming each day (if you include Home and Away), and naturally it became clear that not every second of it was being vetted by the network when Dub scumbag (and eventual Irish Eurovision entrant and UNICEF ambassador) Dustin Hoffman (turkey) showed up making comments that made sense to nobody under 20 about his cowboy construction company and string of failed businesses (which included a musical career), followed in due time by Podge, a ventriloquist's dummy owned by Zig (of Zig and Zag fame) who only spoke to Zig when the other presenters were distracted. He would bully Zig and make him steal competition prizes or secretly vandalise the set and pin everything on Zig and the kiddie audience went absolutely bananas trying to convince the presenters of what was going on behind their backs - they were clearly freaked out by the gimmick and it was hilarious to watch their heartfelt pleas being read out by a straight-faced Ray Darcy only to be brushed off with "Now, Zig, you wrote this letter, didn't you?" and then the depressed-to-tears Zig would get into even more trouble.
It's not that it was even that funny, just that it was just so creepy and clearly inappropriate as children's entertainment because the 'joke' was pretty much the same thing every time - Zig getting into shit for something he didn't do and then being bullied into terrified silence as he suffered the wrath of his friends. Eventually, Podge's cover was blown and he turned out to have been created by Ireland's most evil magician, except he was too evil for Ireland's most evil magician and he had to be hidden away, then his twin brother Rodge showed up and they eventually moved on to A Scare At Bedtime (a pun on the Irish television staple A Prayer At Bedtime), a series of short Irish urban legends, bad jokes and horror stories inexplicably broadcast by the po-faced RTE for reasons I will never fathom given the type of shite they usually churn out. They also did the odd special event like New Year's or Halloween, where they hosted such films as Zoltan: Hound of Dracula on the basis that it was shite and all RTE could afford, followed by Sabrina the Teenage Witch: the Movie, because it was after midnight and they intended to masturbate to it.
Nowadays, Podge and Rodge are household names as Ireland's most popular chat show hosts on an occasionally spectacular car crash of a programme that veers wildly between stupid and crude while also somehow trying to keep things vaguely palatable for the average 50-something that represents 90 percent of Irish television's viewers. In theory it's a losing battle, and RTE make no secret they don't understand the enduring appeal - but endure they do and this christmas I shall be watching all 150 episodes of A Scare At Bedtime while I make my way through the seasonal haul of home booze.

I got a good vibe from this place - nice long dinner table, quiet well behaved spiders, graveyard adjacent...

It wouldn't be a weekday without your quirks, Vista.

RrrRRRrrr - on chapter three of a four chapter comic, I can't even recall why it is important to keep the pressure sensitivity turned off while inking but it's too late to stop now, dammit.

Watching: Hawaii Five-0, which is stupid and that's probably why I like it.
Ditto Castle. Nathan Fillion should totally have got that Uncharted leading man gig if Nolan North wasn't even in the running for reasons I can't quite fathom given how many millions the games pulled in, but seriously - Marky fucking Mark to play Nathan Drake? That is just bullshit right there, like.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

It's amazing how I can feel sorry for you and hate you at the same time. I'm sure there's a German word for it.

Dunno what it's like where y'all are, but here in Cookstown, it is snow with a vengeance. No schools, no public transport, all the high street stores shutting their doors... times is biblical and we all gonna die.

Watching: Roots: The Next Generations - there's this bit that's supposed to be meaningful and uplifting where a young man asks his grandfather if he is going to die and the grandfather shows him a tree stump hundreds of years old and where each ring represents the birth of America, the Civil War, the birth of his father, and so on. He then explains that God sees the passing of time as man sees the rings in a tree stump "and when you steps back you don't see no wars or people's lives, you just sees time, year upon year, a time to be born and a time to die and when the time comes, grampa will die" and it is fucking terrifying. No surprise then, that the boy grows up to be a bit of an asshole who wanders about an African village shouting "I found you, Kunta Kinte!" If I did that I'd be shot.
Clone Wars - I have often lamented that there aren't enough cartoon shows that do 2-part stories about banking deregulation and clearly George Lucas agrees with me.
The Walking Dead season finale - well... the pilot was good. Let's just be thankful for that rather than what became of the show in the end.

Saturday 4 December 2010

I have no humourous quotes today, but I would like it known that INTERNET EXPLORER IS JUST AWFUL

No drawing done today thanks to babysitting shenanigans, but I know just what will fill a screen grab-shaped hole - the wonderfully blog-filling review of Darkhawk #1!

Synopsis: In his search for an artifact said to hold great power, the supervillain Hobgoblin has employed New York mobster Phillipe Bazin, who is being investigated by the District Attorney's office with the case overseen by assistant DA Grace Powell, mother of Chris (soon to be Darkhawk) and husband of Mike, a street-weary cop considering retiring from the force in light of the seemingly endless and unwinnable battle against criminality. Though Bazin has threatened the Powell family, Chris leaves the house when he's supposed to be babysitting his 11 year-old twin brothers and they abscond to an abandoned amusement park near the family home, prompting Chris to seek them out and the three are discovered by the mobsters they witness bribing their father. Running from the criminals, Chris comes across a dark amulet which suddenly changes his body into a cyborg fighting machine and he turns on his pursuers, one of whom accidentally kills himself during an attempt to murder Chris. Transforming back to his human body, Chris demands answers from his father but Mike flees the scene. Later, phone threats from Bazin to discontinue her case against him increases the pressure on Grace, and a frustrated Chris returns to the power of the amulet to wage a vendetta upon Bazin under the name Darkhawk.

I'm not saying there is not impoverishment or criminality in the city anymore and I'm sure its natives would resent it if I tried, but even I know that the NYC appearing in Marvel comics is an unrepresentative picture of New York as a level of hell rather than the Guiliani-clensed and gentrified shithole of coffee shops, plastic Irish and irritating caucasian twentysomething sitcom concepts it became in the 1990s. Power Pack had to move to an impoverished Manhattan and this conceit dates the book rather more than references to ET and Star Wars (which were 1980s things we people of the future with our three shells instead of lavatory paper would know nothing about), while Daredevil even now fights crime in Hells Kitchen, or to give it it's proper name locally, Clinton, a high-rent, low-crime, defacto campus village for the Actors School.

On this front alone we can view Darkhawk is a bit of an artifact of a lost age, but there is also Mike Powell (the father of Chris/Darkhawk), a world-weary beat cop of the old school and a bit of a cliche in concept who becomes more than that by failing to die and justify his son's eventual superheroic career as is usually the lot of such characters. Instead of dying, he is exposed as corrupt policeman and instead of a crusade fuelled by his memory, Chris/Darkhawk uses his newfound powers to lash out at percieved injustices in an attempt to find an identity for himself now that he has chosen to abandon his father as a role model, and in this Chris/Darkhawk represents that confused period of adolescence that most people can identify with.
As origins go, this first issue hits a lot of familiar notes for something claiming to embody a new decade/millenium but I suppose if something ain't broke, then don't try to fix it, and this is an origin that has definately got its Spider-Man on, and Spider-Man's origin worked out okay for him in the long run.

Darkhawk's: not so much.

I like Fingeroth's conceit of using the abandoned amusement park's funhouse where Chris' faith in his father is finally broken to represent the underworld stage of the Hero's Journey during which all hope must be lost before the hero can be born anew - in this case literally in a new body.

I also like the humanising touches brought to the backing cast and peripheral characters, particularly the hero's family, who buck the trend in most superhero comics by being both alive and dysfunctional to the point that open aggression is tolerated as horseplay and rivalry between young boys rather than symptomatic of sociopathy as would be the reading of a modern take of such a tale.

This is a cast with a bit of moxie and I like them, particularly Grace, who remains true to her own code of ethics even in the face of Bazin's threats against her.

It's a strength of character that goes all but unnoticed by a Chris still lost in the wake of his father's failure to live up to the ideals he held. There's a scene where Chris is repulsed by the sight of his powerful new body when catching a glimpse of it in a cracked mirror, and I think this is a microcosm of the character's confusion and eventual wrong-headed life path.

By this stage Chris has embraced his power and an 'end justifies the means' mentality and by the book's end, he has betrayed the only untarnished moral code of his family home (Grace's) by indulging in vigilantism, a short-term solution to a long-term problem and one which erodes the very idea of a lawful and ordered society.

The Chris that exists before Darkhawk enters the picture takes his father as his role model and in doing so discards the example set by his mother, Grace, who labors tirelessly, thanklessly and diligently within the slow and grinding cogs of the society machine to see to its smooth working, and to see that it attends to elements like Bazin and his ilk in due course. Grace still believes in the idea of society as a workable entity and it highlights what Chris has lost.

Ever in the background, Grace remains a constant that the confused teenage mind of Chris cannot comprehend as a viable role model either before or after the disappointment of his father's actions become apparent, and nor can he ever do so because he is of a very traditional family unit and has chosen the masculine path. He was always to become his father, yet later when he discards this notion he still chooses the shortcut and compromise of vigilantism just as his father chose the shortcut of bribery. The 'effeminate' route of mediation is not an option - problems are to be confronted and dealt with directly rather than managed by the safeguards put in place by society and Chris will become a man - the only man he has ever really known - whether he knows it or not.

In all, Darkhawk #1 has a lot going on under the traditional Marvel staples that make it look like a knock-off Spider-Man, and I liked this first issue and think it holds up better than it should - although I don't have a problem with some of the narrative tools used (thought balloons, third person narration) that most modern readers of comic books do, and there is the occasional subtext of 'destroying' the old world even as it is from here that events are enabled - the ancient amulet, the anachronistic suited mobsters, the Hobgoblin (from an existing superhero book and post-demonic transformation in the wake of yet another multi-title crossover), the amusement park as the setting for the superhero's origin - that arguably allow the whole work a postmodern charm it perhaps didn't have at the time of its original publication.

You dick, Hobgoblin - that was a cultural treasure!

Watching: It's a Trap! - the latest Star Wars riff from the Family Guy people, and you probably know by that much information alone what you will make of this. Some funny jokes, some references to things that exist, and at least one painfully unfunny pulled-punch sequence where the cast fail to lay into Seth McFarlane in the same way they do Asians, blacks, gays, or even Family Guy cast member Seth Green. Still worth a watch, in my opinion.