Friday, December 31, 2010

There's Still Room For Writers

The strip I drew for the first issue of Rol Hirst's anthology comic PJANG! is now available to view free online. Not only that, but the far superior strips drawn by Tony McGee and Andrew Cheverton are also available for your viewing pleasure.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Year in Review

This won't be one of those best-albums-films-books posts, because I lack the capabilities to be a music enthusiast -- although I have developed a liking for Crystal Castles -- and I've spent most of the year trying to get through Don Quixote, so I've not had much time for anything else. I did see quite a few films -- including some new ones for once! -- and I'll be a dissenting voice in saying that I didn't think Inception was nearly as good or clever as everyone seems to think it was, and Scott Pilgrim was miles better.

Instead I'm going to have a whinge, in the manner of Mr Phill Hall.

2010 started for me with one of those big life-changing events, and not one of the good ones, either. It's not something I feel ready to talk about in detail, but it's fair to say that I've spent the rest of the year trying to recover, with limited success. Some days are good and I feel quite normal, but others are a proper struggle and I wonder if I'm right in the head. I suspect I may have acquired a touch of depression in there, but it's hard to tell if it's that or if I'm just being a stick-in-the-mud.

So there's that millstone, but it's not all been bad. As I hinted at above, I've been to the cinema more often this year than I think I ever have before, in part due to a good friend who's a bit of a film buff -- and who seems to love everything he sees, which is quite charming -- and who often requires company. It's a simple thing, and it seems absurd and more than a little embarrassing to talk about going to the cinema with a friend as a highlight of the year, but it's surprising how sometimes even that can feel like I'm doing something special, and it becomes quite cheering as a result.

The other highlight -- and it's entirely possible that I'm being naive and optimistic in my estimation here -- is that my art seems to be taking off. I still look at the stuff I draw and hate it almost as soon as I put the pen down, but people seem to like it, and I've been kept busy doing something I love. I received a big commission in the summer, to illustrate an entire book, including covers, but the client seems to have disappeared. On a happier and more productive note, I've been contributing art to Fight On! on a regular basis, did a few pieces for a Dungeons & Dragons product, and have contributed to a book of fictional gods for release in 2011. That said, comics are my first love in terms of art, and while I continue to battle against writers' block on my own projects, Rol has been keeping me fed with scripts for his anthology title PJANG! That doesn't seem like a lot now that I put it down in words, but it's been keeping me busy. I may be forgetting some details somewhere.

That's pretty much it for my year. With the ConDemNation cutting public sector spending, my job has got worse over the year and will likely continue to spiral downwards in 2011, but that's the thing I do for money and I try not to let it invade the rest of my life, the important bit, which is all that stuff up there. So 2010 has been a bit of a mixed bag, with one big howitzer of a bad turn throwing everything else akimbo, but I wonder if, in the end, I haven't made an extra effort to make the most of the good stuff as a way of dealing with the bad stuff. If so, I think it's worked.

So to all three-and-a-half people who read this blog, I hope you have a happy 2011!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

PJANG! #5

Rol has just published the fifth issue of his not-The Jock-and-not-Escape Committee-but-still-quite-good comic-for-misanthropes PJANG! and the latest issue has a story drawn by myself. It's not all bad news though, as it also features a story drawn by Paul Rainey. You can order a copy for the bargain basement price of £1.75 by clicking on the image below.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fluxalle

Fluxalle, the petty god of corroded cookware and brewing gone bad. For James Maliszewski's upcoming Petty Gods book:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cover Me!

I have been contributing art to the gaming magazine Fight On! for a while now -- I think it's been two years -- but so far it's been internal illustrations only. I'd never even considered doing a cover, in part because I'd not been struck by a good idea for one, and also because I didn't consider myself in the same league as the usual cover artists:





They're working on the eleventh issue right now, and the editor put out an open call for a cover image. The subject is to be something from the Runequest game, and one of the suggestions was the Crimson Bat, which is a kind of massive chiropteran Godzilla, flapping about and destroying everything in its path.

I can imagine it would be quite easy to come up with an epic bit of fantasy artwork to illustrate such a creature, but another quite different image sprang to mind instead. As I mentioned above, I've not had an idea push its way forward like that before, so I've gone with it.

While all the pieces above are very good, they're also all of a stock, illustrative fantasy style, and what occurred to me was something more "designy", iconic and abstract:


What I have in mind for the title and text is for it to go somewhere near the bottom, and to be plain white and unobtrusive, making the cover as a whole rather stark and simple.

The editor is unsure. He likes the image, but thinks the readership might respond in the negative, so he's not sure about making it the cover.

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Dearest Hollywood

I can't think of any films which would have been improved by being filmed in 3D.

I can think of a whole host of films which would have been improved by better writing.

I trust you can work out the rest.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chainsaw-A-Go-Go!

I'm not going to do one of those top ten horror films posts, mainly because it would be Halloween at #1 and everything else jostling for second-place.

Anyway, Rol said:
Since it was banned in the UK as a video nasty throughout my youth, I expected to be disappointed by [The Texas Chainsaw Massacre] when I finally saw it. Disappointed, I was not. Disturbed, I was. Not by the expected scenes of chainsaw torture - which turned out to be mercifully few and actually quite restrained - but instead by the scene at the dinner table where Grandpa's corpse starts sucking the girls finger and she screams... and screams... and screams... and screams.


I was expecting something horrendous, so when my film buff mate Chris got his hands on a grainy VHS copy from some former colony -- this was a couple of years before the ban was lifted -- we sat and watched with high expectations; after all, it had to be banned for a reason, right?

It wasn't horrible in the slightest. Rather, it was quite silly, and I found myself laughing throughout. The bit Rol describes, where the family are trying to get the emaciated almost-corpse grandpa to bash the girl's head in with a mallet, but he keeps dropping the hammer because it's too heavy for his withered hands, struck me as pure slapstick. The way the kids casually leave their wheelchair-bound friend to be hacked up with the titular tool had to be a joke, surely. And of course the whole thing was a blatant Scooby Doo pastiche, complete with a camper van full of kids investigating a mystery and the monster being the man from the local meat-packing factory wearing a mask. All they were missing was the dog.

For years I considered the film a failure, all hype and no substance. Friends reported that they found it just as scary and disturbing as its reputation suggests, so I started to wonder if I'd missed something. Then, in the third episode of A History of Horror, Mark Gatiss interviewed director Tobe Hooper, who confirmed that the film is, in fact, supposed to be funny. Probably not the silly laugh-fest I still see it as, but not the gruelling nihilistic shocker it's been characterised as, either.

I feel more well-inclined to the film now, so I think I'd like to see it again, to see if it's still as funny as I remember.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A History of Horror

Back in my wayward youth, the BBC did a series called Clive Barker's A to Z of Horror; I don't remember much about the series at all, but I liked it enough to pick up the accompanying book, which seemed to have been written mainly by Stephen Jones rather than Barker himself. I read that book cover to cover umpteen times, although I've long since lost my copy.

Anyway, I was reminded of Barker's series -- or rather the book -- as I watched Mark Gatiss' A History of Horror over the past couple of weeks, although I think I will likely remember more of Gatiss' series in years to come. Part of this is because he's an engaging host, and I could watch him talk about his favourite films and talk to their directors for hours. Part of it is because Gatiss and I seem to share much of the same likes and dislikes when it comes to horror cinema, but I think the best thing about the series is the honest enthusiasm Gatiss brings to the subject. While Barker was little more than a host, there is a definite sense that the project is more personal for Gatiss, as we see him travel to the locations of the films, speak in person with the directors, and so on. While he does wander into dry theory now and then, for the most part A History of Horror is about Mark Gatiss telling the viewer why he loves these films, and a number of times throughout the series he reminds us that it's not an exhaustive and scholarly list -- it's A, not The -- but simply him explaining to us why he owns the DVDs he does.

At only three episodes -- Barker got six back in 1997 -- it could have been longer, and one wonders just how long Gatiss spent in conversation with John Carpenter or Tobe Hooper and why we didn't get to see more. The third and final episode seemed rushed, more or less stopping at Halloween, missing out stuff like American Werewolf in London and skipping over the wave of Japanese horror, the subsequent wave of Spanish horror, and so on. All in all though, A History of Horror was a brilliant bit of telly, and I eagerly await news of an accompanying book...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Is It Safe?

I am not a huge fan of dentists at the best of times. I'm not sure why this is, but it may have to do with the butcher who gave me a bunch of unnecessary fillings -- including in wisdom teeth which should have been pulled -- without anaesthesia. I've managed to talk myself down from full-scale terror, but I'm still not comfortable in a dentist's surgery.

I went to a new dentist today and I was fine until the woman before me fled from the chair in a panic after the dentist tired to give her a filling when she was in for a check up. It turned out that she and her sister had appointments at the same time and had been sent to the wrong rooms. An easy mistake to make, but it wasn't doing my anxiety any good, and it just got worse when they sorted it out and the sister who was supposed to be getting a filling started screaming as the drill went in.

When my turn came, I was in the shocked pale-faced silence of one being led to the gallows, but it turned out I was fine and just needed to floss a bit more. I was sure I would need some kind of work done, so I was half annoyed that this wasn't the case, and half relieved.

Now that some hours have passed, I'm leaning more towards the relieved.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pixar Ruined Everything, Part Umpteen

I just watched Kung Fu Panda. It's not half bad, truth be told. The action sequences are very well done, and it's often beautiful, but even so, the whole thing is in that generic 3D style that has become dominant ever since Pixar came on to the scene.

And that's a terrible shame, because it opens with this:



I find it depressing that the US animation industry is in such a state that something like this is relegated to a dream sequence in a film, before we're right back to the boring old soulless cgi.

Ho hum.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Quickie Film Reviews: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

CLiNT #1

Long-time readers will know that I have little love for Mark Millar. He dragged himself up to being a fairly strong writer circa 1999-2000, but since then it's been all empty bluster and superficial shock tactics, as he swaggers around the comics world like some kind of rock star, rather than a ginger bloke from Coatbridge. On the other hand, this swagger brings with it a rampant enthusiasm for comics, and one which appears utterly genuine, even if some of the things he actually says on the subject are rather less so. If someone is going to try to rejuvenate the moribund boys' comics anthology, then it should be someone with this almost berserker level of energy; much as I tend to dislike his comics, I can't think of many better personalities to have as figurehead for a project such as CLiNT.

More here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Quickie Film Reviews: Inception (2010)

Christopher Nolan would like you to know that he liked Dark City just as much, if not more than the Wachowskis did.

Christopher Nolan would also like you to know that he likes On Her Majesty's Secret Service best of all the Bond films.

Christopher Nolan needs a script editor.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Elementary

From this week's Radio Times, on the BBC's new Sherlock Holmes series:

Some viewers will recoil from the very idea of BBC1 updating Conan Doyle's characters to modern London, with [...] a Dr Watson who fought in Afghanistan.

From Wikipedia, on Conan Doyle's Watson:

In the debut Holmes story A Study in Scarlet (published in 1888), Watson, as the narrator, tells us that he had received his medical degree from the University of London in 1878, and had subsequently gone for training as an Army surgeon. He then joined British forces in India, saw service in Afghanistan...


So, in fact, not an update at all. Sigh.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Not Ready

There's a new X-Box 360 out, it seems. They call it the "slim", after the PS2, but it doesn't look much different to me. Anyway, the advert tells us that it has a hard drive, wireless connectivity, and is "ready for Kinect", Micro$hite's more-subtle-than-Sony-but-not-by-much attempt to jump on the Wii bandwagon.

One reason the Wii has succeeded is because Nintendo have reached out beyond video game fandom. Their adverts show actors pretending to be real people, playing the games with their families, and showing how the games work. Simple. Micro$hite's advert doesn't even say what Kinect is, let alone show it in action; I know because I do follow some gaming news sites, but the audience they want to poach from Nintendo are not going to be avid readers of video game journalism.

(Never mind the suggestion that being "ready for Kinect" suggests that Kinect itself is not ready.)

Just showing pictures of the machine, with no indication of what it does, is no good at all. Those weird adverts from a couple of years ago with the drooling idiots with holes in their heads were better than this. But then this is the company who gave their machine a name with no meaning whatsoever, so marketing is obviously not a strong point.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

KO!



I cannot understand why this is a PS3/X360 exclusive. There's nothing in there that the Wii cannot do, and given all the Nintendo references in the original books, it's baffling that Nintendo has been left out.

I've been avoiding getting a PS3, but this is pushing me closer.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Anti Intellectualism

I realised two things today: one, that I get a real buzz from talking about "highbrow" subjects like philosophy, science and history, and two, that I'm terrified of talking about these subjects. They're not related; it's not the same kind of excitement/fear you might get from a rollercoaster, for example. No, I get all excited to be talking about this stuff, but then from somewhere comes this fear that I don't really know what I'm talking about, and the people with whom I'm having this conversation are going to know, and it's all going to come to an embarrassing end.

This has all come up because we've got a temp in my office. Ostensibly, I'm her boss, but not only is she a bit older than me, and something in me thinks that authority and age should be proportional, but she's got a PhD and a fierce intelligence, and I feel like some kind of charlatan. She told me yesterday how she worked in shops until her late twenties, decided enough was enough and got herself a string of degrees, and that got me thinking about how I left my degree behind almost ten years ago. This then developed into a conversation about my interest in philosophy, her interest in history, and it all got a bit indulgent and BBC Fourish, but then I started worrying about just how knowledgeable and clever I was, and I clammed up.

I also became quite aware that I was having a conversation, in broad daylight, in front of a room full of people, about the political and social effects of the English Civil War, in particular the change in role for the landed classes, and it made me feel like a right pretentious twit.

So yeah, that was a good day.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Oncoming Storm

From the synopsis of the finale of the current Doctor Who series:

"There was a goblin. Or a trickster, or a warrior. A nameless, terrible thing, soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies. The most feared being in all the cosmos. Nothing could stop it, or hold it, or reason with it - one day it would just drop out of the sky and tear down your world."

The implication is that this is one of the goodies talking about the big villain of the series, but that rather describes the Doctor himself, does it not?

Monday, May 24, 2010

It's a Kraken

China Miéville clearly quite likes Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, or perhaps he thinks it's deeply flawed. Either way, Kraken marks the second time, after the excellent Un Lun Dun, that he's tried to write his own version of Gaiman's story, but this attempt is rather less successful than the first.


The characters are the weakest I've yet seen from Miéville. His protagonist goes from undefined nobody to undefined hero, his "sidekick" remains fuzzy and indistinct throughout, and there's an attempt to introduce a secondary protagonist who more or less does nothing except wander around the edges of the story failing to get involved until she's kidnapped near the end. Oh, SPOILER, sorry. We get characters who turn out to be quite important to the plot but who we don't really get to know in any meaningful way, so their contributions seem hollow. Likewise we get characters (the same one, sort of, but to say more would be a spoiler) who are important up to a certain point, but then just sort of fade away into the background for no apparent reason. The most memorable character is a police-officer-cum-witch who is notable for her inventive swearing and little else. It's a bit of a vague mess, and the cast could have done with a bit of trimming, to allow more room to develop the rest.

I could also do without Miéville's strange and recurring tendency towards baiting his audience; this time he has a go at fans, Star Trek in particular, but the intent is clear, and he also throws in a couple of jabs at those who may have thought that a novel about cultists of a squid god might, just might, have some connection to HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu. In interviews, Miéville says that these swipes are affectionate, but they do seem rather bitter and unnecessary in the text. Then again, I get the feeling that a lot of his fanbase probably don't think of themselves as readers of fantasy, so these little nods probably empower their distended snootiness glands.

Miéville's biggest flaw remains that he is better at creating worlds than he is telling stories. His Bas-Lag series (there are three books so far, but it's not a trilogy) offers a look into a fascinating fantasy world, quite different from your bog-standard post-Tolkien elves-and-dwarves faff, but while The Scar presented a rollicking pulp pastiche and is easily his best book yet, Iron Council was a bunch of ideas looking for a plot, and Perdido Street Station was somewhere in between. Kraken is set in modern-day London rather than Bas-Lag, but the same problems remain, and it hovers somewhere in the middle of that scale.

I'm going to lose some of you here, but Kraken rather feels like Miéville's campaign setting for his personal modern magic role-playing game, just as his Bas-Lag books often seemed like primers for a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting. There is a plot here, and it's quite clever in places, but it seems like it is really only there to link together the writer's ideas, which in fairness are also very clever. It still makes for an enjoyable read, but not entirely a satisfying one, unless you're looking for ideas to pinch for your Unknown Armies game.

(I'm done with the excessive geekery now; normal people can resume reading at this point.)

Kraken is not a bad book, and it's miles better than Iron Council, but it's not great either. Un Lun Dun may have been for kids, but it was a much more enjoyable read than this occult thriller which forgets to thrill.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Real Heroes Stand Around Doing Nothing

For the first time in I think over a year, I've reviewed an Avengers comic:

Up to now, my general opinion of Brian Michael Bendis's superhero comics work has been that he has no idea how to write superhero comics--which one might consider a significant flaw unless, of course, one happened to be a Marvel editor. He can't write action scenes, and he can't put together a plot--both of which are fairly important to the genre. Less important is the ability to write limp pastiches of Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet screenplays, and yet that's what we've had over the past few years.

More, along with a somewhat more positive counterpoint, here.

Sound and Fury

Every year, Brighton does its Festival, complete with Edinburgh-emulating Fringe, and every year I think about being all cultural and going along, because it would be silly not to take advantage of such an event. Yet I never do.

It's not well-known, but I'm a bit of a Shakespeare fan. I don't go on about it; you won't see me quoting his plays (except up there, obviously), and you won't get me slipping apostrophes into words which are doing quite well enough without them. I do appreciate a good bit of Bardology though, and my favourite one of all is Macbeth (Hot potato! Off his drawers! Puck will make amends!); it turns out that there are two different versions of the Scottish Play on at the Festival.

One looks like this:



















And the other looks like this:







Guess which one I chose?

The Pantaloons performed their version out in the park, in the bright, warm sunshine, and I was worried that the setting would completely ruin the mood of the play, which to me is all blasted heaths and rain and mud and various other grim and gritty sundries (yes, I thought this even based on the bright colours and facepaint you see in the image above), but it all turned out well. The performances were strong, and it really is a very good play, so I was soon sucked in and could ignore the lovely summer's day. I even managed to ignore the stoned heckler.

The Pantaloons did the entire play with only five actors, making use of minor costume changes to distinguish characters ("Banquo wears glasses, Macduff wears a hat"), and a small number of props to create settings. It was modernised to a degree, with Banquo's (SPOILER) murder taking place on a train, and everyone wielding revolvers while clad in Philip Marlowe style hats and coats, but the language was kept close to the text. The only exception to this was the Porter, recast as a curlers-and-rolling-pin "Aunt Fanny", who spoke directly to the audience in a pantomime fashion, and in more modern speech; this worked quite well, and since the original character serves as a bit of light relief anyway, the shift in tone was not jarring.

Best of all was that the show was completely free and open to all. The Pantaloons' mission statement is to bring plays like Macbeth to a wider audience, and to do that, they do not charge entry. They're also not funded through any source, so I don't know how long they can keep going, but I hope they do. There's a list of upcoming dates at their site.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Politics = Comedy

While Channel 4 brought in Jimmy Carr to make the world a little bit worse with every word that staggered from his stupid face, the BBC's election coverage turned out to be full of presumably unintentional comedy gems. Here are some of my favourites.

"Where is Lembit Opik? Has he been killed?"

"You're not ruling out the possibility of getting into bed with Peter Mandelson?" - Jeremy Paxman, in front of Peter Mandelson.

"Let's isolate Scotland." -BBC presenter Jeremy Vine.

"The Queen is like Heineken lager; she reaches the parts others cannot reach." - a BBC political analyst.

"An asteroid has hit Lembit Opik!"

"Whatever type of Walls sausage is contrived by this great experiment, the dominant ingredient has got to be conservatism; the meat in the sausage has got to be Conservative." - Boris Johnson.

"The Queen can only be activated at certain times." - the "Heineken" analyst again.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spades

Look, I'm no supporter of Gordon Brown, but if someone's whinging about "students" and "immigrants" ruining Britain, then guess what? Perhaps that person is indeed a bigot. That's not to excuse Brown, but let's not all act like he went mental and started insulting her for no reason.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mass Debate

This whole leaders' debate thing is silly.

First of all, it either shows or encourages a wilful ignorance of our electoral system. I can't be certain that the people who run ITV and Sky know how it works, but I'd have thought that the broadcaster with its own dedicated Parliament channel might be able to figure it out. A debate between the party leaders is all well and good, but the thing is, I'm not a constituent of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Witney, or Sheffield Hallam, so I'm not voting for any of these men, even if I wanted to. It's about policy, not personality; this isn't America.

(And what the heck is Sky doing showing one of these debates anyway, when they don't have nationwide coverage?)

The greater idiocy in all of this, perhaps, is the perpetuation of this nonsense about these debates being the first of their kind, as if there hasn't been at least one a week televised since at least 2000.

If the British people do not understand the electoral process, and it appears as if this is the case, then it's up to the public service broadcasters to educate them, not perpetuate the ignorance. Otherwise, this will be America.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What Kind of Hole?

I seriously doubt I'll vote for Labour this time around, but I have to give Gordon Brown credit for his response to David Cameron unveiling the Tory manifesto:
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said there was a "complete hole" in the Conservatives' plans.

Well played, Mr Brown, well played.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dalek Attack!

When the BBC announced that there was going to be a new series of Doctor Who games, I was a bit concerned, as I'm worried that they're spreading the franchise too thin as it is, but also because of this:



From reading this article, it seems as if the games are in safe hands. Not only is Steven Moffat involved, but he also seems to understand the video game medium. Even better is the news that the games are being developed by the creator of the brilliant Beneath a Steel Sky. If the new games are half as good as that old classic, then we might be in store for one of the first decent TV/film-to-game adaptations.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

They Still Cancelled It, Though...

Marvel "proudly" congratulates the creative team of the cancelled Captain Britain and MI: 13, which has nothing to do with the comic receiving a Hugo Award nomination, despite Marvel's best attempts to kill it, no, not at all.

Still, the company is putting two issues of the title up for free online, at the above link, so that's something. Even if the Marvel digital comics interface is horrible and unworkable.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

A Kick-Ass Review in Two Parts, Part the Second

Well, it's not a slavish imitation of the book, that's for sure. On the whole, Kick-Ass the movie is less bitter and nihilistic than its parent, and as such, loses some of the dark humour of the original, such as the sad revelation of Big Daddy's true origin. There is still a distinct irreverent edge to the film's approach to superheroics, but on the whole it is a much more traditional type of superhero story than its inspiration. The minor but jarring fantastical elements of the Millar/Romita comic are exaggerated in the film, and many of the genre tropes Millar is explicit in rejecting are brought back into the fold here (although to elaborate would be spoiling things a bit), all of which distance it even further from that original what-if-superheroes-were-real concept, but in the end make for a more successful, if conventional, story than Millar's between-two-stools approach.

Millar's pacing problems are ironed out by screenwriter Jane Goldman, but she introduces some new ones of her own, completely scuppering the revelation of Red Mist's true identity for no apparent reason at all, and introducing Big Daddy and Hit-Girl far too early on, which only adds to the general impression that it's their film, and sidelining Kick-Ass somewhat. The changes to the house fire scene also have a knock-on effect, taking a significant moment of true heroism away from Kick-Ass so that when he later makes that crucial decision to be a real hero, despite his limitations, it seems to come as a result of the influence of the father-daughter team, rather than something from within himself.

On the other hand, the Big-Daddy/Hit-Girl relationship perhaps deserves to steal the limelight, as the pair are developed further than in the comics, and benefit from fine performances from the two actors. Everyone's talking about Chloe Moretz as deadly little Miho Hit-Girl, but for me it is Nicolas Cage who impresses, delivering his strongest performance in years, and showing that he is at his best when playing someone who's a few slates short of a picnic. His exaggerated Adam West impersonation is joyful, although it is a shame that they sanded off most of the nutty Republican edge of the character (Big Daddy, not Adam West). It is also disappointing that similar attention was not paid to the relationship between Kick-Ass and his father, squandering one of the only bits of character development in Millar's original work, and further flattening the protagonist, making him seem less compelling than the supporting characters.

The film is packed with great action sequences, particularly towards the end, although the early fight between Kick-Ass and the guys-who-aren't-Puerto-Rican (because you can have a little girl say rude words, and you can show all sorts of gore and violence in close detail, but woe betide you mention the nationality of some muggers, or portray Republicans in a bad light...cripes) doesn't work quite as well as it does in the comics, with less of a sense of the protagonist actually pulling off a victory, something which is important to show at that stage in the narrative. There's a very effective strobe-lit combat sequence later on in the film, and director Matthew Vaughn clearly has a better idea of when to use techniques like slow-motion than certain of his peers; the fights in Kick-Ass are head-and-shoulders above those of Watchmen, while often achieving the savage beauty for which that latter film strained. The soundtrack is strong too, a good mix of songs and score which complements the action, and never seems bolted on in order to sell an album.

All in all, Kick-Ass is loud and silly and stupid in places, and makes some unfortunate errors here and there, but on the whole improves on the source material by throwing away its pretensions of realism and going just a little bit nuts. It's more Kill Bill than Unbreakable, is not quite as good as either, but still great fun. I would give Kick-Ass a Moviewatch eight out of ten!

(The film also gets points for referencing Scott Pilgrim, because Scott Pilgrim is ace.)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Kick-Ass Review in Two Parts, Part the First

Mark Millar doesn't do subtlety. It's one of his recurring problems, which is why he's better on big silly stuff like that brilliant twelve-part Wolverine story he did with John Romita Jr. So you'd think that something with a name like Kick-Ass would be right up his alley; however, like his Civil War, here he attempts to merge the big stupid stuff with proper writing like what grown-ups do, and ends up with a confused mess.

This isn't about the film; I'm seeing that tomorrow, but the reviews have been positive enough that I thought about having another look at the source material. I'd avoided it the first time around because Millar's writing was becoming less and less to my tastes, too predictable and reliant on shock moments; there's a definite rhythm to his work, with every issue ending on a full-page splash, and everything else relegated to connecting matter, just bubbling along from one dramatic moment to another (I can't call them cliffhangers, because there's no tension; they're more like a musical crescendo, except without the quality implied in using foreign words). At least with the Accursed Bendis, you can't predict where the splash pages are going to be, so they often do come as a surprise change of pace from the endless pages of meaningless dialogue, but with Millar, it's like clockwork. I don't recall it being quite so bad on The Authority, so the habit must have developed sometime during his run on The Ultimates.

Anyway, that's all present and correct in Kick-Ass, so structurally, it's as poor as most of his recent work, but it's the failings elsewhere which make me wonder why this series is so venerated. Is it really the ultraviolence and swearing which turns on the fans? If so, then perhaps Millar is making a far better point with this comic than I give him credit for; there's nothing here that you haven't seen in umpteen other superhero comics, but the addition of heaps of gore and swearing, and the occasional breast, have made this somehow more special. I suppose that there's a possibility that this is the point of the story, and that Millar is pre-emptively poking fun at the very fans who would gravitate towards the comic for those reasons, an extension perhaps of that infamous last page of Wanted. Given Millar's usual blundering approach to the fine art of making a point, however, I doubt it.

When Marvel announced their MAX imprint, there was much speculation about whether we'd just see superhero comics full of gratuitous violence, swearing and nudity, and we did see a bit of that, but not as much as expected. That is what we get in Kick-Ass, alas; I'm no prude, but the key difference is that MAX had people like Garth Ennis, who can do gratuitous, but is a good enough writer to also give everything some kind of meaning. Ennis can do this in his sleep; think of how messy, profane and violent Preacher was, and how we laughed at Arseface, or Starr getting his bits chewed off by a dog, but then remember how satisfying the plot was, and how touching the relationships were. The closest Millar gets to that is in the relationship between the protagonist and his father, but there's too little of it to make much impact. There's also a scene in the middle somewhere, concerning a house fire, where Millar almost touches on a bit of significant character development for the Red Mist supporting character, and then squanders it completely.

(This reminds me that I need to get out my Preacher books and reread the lot. In fact, everyone should read them. Not my copies. Get your own.)

I expected such weakness from Millar, but what properly disappointed me was the absence of the much-vaunted realism. One of the selling points was that this was a superhero comic without superheroes, that it was about a normal guy dressing up in a costume and trying to fight real crime, with real consequences, and there is potential in that idea. There is some of that in the first couple of chapters, but then we get the silly Hollywood gangsters, and the whole thing gets torpedoed when deadly little Miho Hit-Girl turns up, all ninja swords and precise-to-the-nearest-molecule decapitations. If you're going to throw in a fantasy element, why not just go the whole hog and give her superpowers? Again, it's a sign of Millar's lack of discipline as a writer, an inability to step back and see if what he's created actually works. This is, of course, what editors are for, but Marvel's editors have been somewhat lax for years now. Oddly enough, the ending doesn't rankle in the same way; it's the same idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy we saw in Unbreakable (still Shyamalan's only good film, and a good example of how to make the "mundande superhero" concept work), and it makes much more sense than Hit-Girl.

John Romita Junior is about the only redeeming feature of the book, again turning in excellent artwork. One could argue that given the "realistic" concept, a more photo-referenced art style may have been a better choice, but there's always been something very "normal" about the way Romita draws the world, a visual consistency which gives the whole thing a verisimilitude which an artist like Alex Ross or (argh) Greg Land would struggle in vain to produce. So I'm pleased for him that the project has been such a success, as it seems to have translated to the kind of high-profile jobs over at Marvel proper which he should have been doing all along (he's the artist on the upcoming Avengers title, which is written by the Accursed Bendis, so I'll be giving it a miss, but I was this close).

Anyway, so there you go. Kick-Ass doesn't. As I mentioned above, the film has been getting decent reviews, so we'll see how it compares.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Love Song for a Time Lord

Sod Lady Gaga ripping off Tarantino and Japanese TV, this is better:

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Love Your Auntie

The BBC has been under fire of late, with the most recent example being the planned cutbacks to their internet services, along with the axing of Asian Network and 6 Music.

It's easy to moan about the BBC, about the licence fee, or about how output seems to be getting cheaper and more superficial, but I think we take the Beeb for granted. Spend some time in the US, for example, and you'll find you miss the public service output of the BBC. You'll miss the approach to news. And yes, you'll miss the lack of adverts, but what you'll also notice is the lack of corporate interference, and the subsequent honesty, in programming.

It's not perfect. There's a lot of shite on the BBC, but it's mainly the light entertainment stuff, and light entertainment is always rubbish. But then I watch things like last night's brilliant, intelligent and honest Wonders of the Solar System, and I become deathly afraid of what the predatory Rupert Murdoch, and his puppets in the incoming Tory government, have planned for this great, and it is great, institution.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Anyone Want These?

Action Comics #775
Amazing Spider-Man #519-524
The Authority #17
The Authority: Devil's Night
The Authority vs Lobo: Jingle Hell
Avengers v3 #24
Avengers United (UK) #6, 13, 16-18
Batman Legends (UK) #1
Binary #2,4
Birds of Prey #19
Buckaroo Banzai Preview
Captain Marvel (2000) #11, (2002) #1
The Chase #1
Civil War: Opening Shot Sketchbook
Cla$$war #1
The Coffin #1-2
Conan (Dark Horse) #0, 11-12
Crimson (TPB) v1-2
Darkstalkers #6a
Death Jr TPB
Defenders (2001) #2, 12
Dragonball #4.3
Edge (TPB) v1-7
El Arsenal: Unknown Enemy #1
Essential X-Men (UK) #79-80, 84
The Establishment #1-2
Fantastic Four v3 #42-45
Flight (Free Comic Book Day preview)
Forge (TPB) v1, 3-7
Forgotten Realms: Exile #1-3 (complete set)
Forgotten Realms: Sojourn #1
Generation X #75
The Gray Area #1
Harry Johnson #1-2
Image First (first issues of various Image series, collected into one book) v1
Invincible #55
Killraven (2002) #1
Knights of Pendragon #14-16
Last Shot #2
Legion of Super Heroes (1998) #102
Marville #1
Middle Man #1
Midnight Nation #8
The Monarchy #1
Motor Mayhem One Shot
My Name is Bruce One Shot
New Avengers #8-13, 31
PVP #0
Randy O'Donnell is the M@n #3
Red Sonja (Dynamite comics) #0
Revelations #2
Rising Stars #5
Runes of Ragnan #1
Scars Sampler
Seven Soldiers #0
Seven Soldiers: The Manhattan Guardian #1
Shidima #0a
Shock Rockets #1-3
Spawn: Transformation TPB (#31-36, not in good condition)
Spawn #112
Spawn: The Dark Ages #13
Spider-Man: Marvel Knights #1
Star Wars Tales FCBD One Shot
Strange Girl #4
Thundercats (2002) #1
Transmetropolitan #32
Truth: Red, White and Black #1 (water damaged, but perfectly readable)
Ultimate Adventures #1
Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #11
Ultimates #1
Ultimates 2 #4
Ultimate X-Men (FCBD) #1
Uncanny X-Men #228
Vertigo Pop! London #1
Warlands #3
Way of the Rat (FCBD) #1
Wildcats v3.0 #19
Wildstorm Summer Special
X-Force #110-115
XIII #1
X-Men #166
X-Men: The Movie #1
X-Treme X-Men #1-3
Ultimate Nightmare #1-5 (complete set)

Unless otherwise noted, these are all in pretty good condition, having only been read once or twice. I'm mainly interested in getting rid of them, so if you want to pay, you can, but I do ask for you to cover postage at least, which may be expensive if you want lots of them and live in a far away land.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Top Ten Comic Costumes

I meant to do this ages ago, when Nige did it, but I forgot, and Rol has since reminded me. So here goes, again in no particular order:

10. Advanced Idea Mechanics
Hydra's goons get proper supervillain costumes. The Hand's ninjas all get pyjamas in which to go and get beaten up by Daredevil. AIM though, they get to wear, well, what they wear to work. I love that it's just their work uniform, no fuss, no frills, like they walked out of the factory and straight into a brawl with Captain America.





9. The Avengers' leather jackets
The 90's were a dark time in comics, when many very silly things happened. Superman grew a mullet, Spider-Man got a suit of armour, and the Avengers got leather jackets. Rumour has it that someone at Marvel saw that the X-Men comics were selling shedloads, and decided that it was because of the matching leather jackets they all wore, and so forced the Avengers writers to include similar outfits. Sales did not increase.

Still, ill-advised as they were, there's something charming about the Avengers team jackets. It's a neat way of creating a united team visual while still keeping the individual costumes. See also the nextwave trenchcoats and Jubilee's hipster X-Men parka, the latter of which is now in the possession of one Mr Scott Pilgrim.

8. Darwyn Cooke's Catwoman costume
Not his actual one, obviously. Not that he has one. Well, he might, I don't know what he gets up to in his spare time. Anyway... the reason I like this one is because it's a very clean design with one foot in the pulp forebears of superhero comics, and the other in a more modern style, but which retains some subtle nods to the whole feline schtick. I'm not really one for making superhero costumes more "sensible", but this is one which works.





7. Daredevil's black costume
No, not that one. The one he wore before the hideous yellow outfit, as told in Frank Miller's Man Without Fear miniseries. It's basically a black tracksuit, complete with white trainers, but there's something devil-may-care about that, and after all, DD's blind, so what does he care what he looks like?





6. Doctor Strange
Because it's so, er, strange. There's no unifying design, the colours are all over the place, you've got that weird liver spot pattern on the gloves, the nonsensical shirt logo (is it a bird? An angel?), and the plain leggings, as if they ran out of ideas by the time they got to his waist; it's a visual mess, but because it's Steve Ditko, it's a glorious mess which somehow still works. Strange wore a trenchcoat for a while in the 90's too, but it didn't suit him.

5. Hela
Just look at the design. It's all design. It's got design dripping off it, there's so much design going on. And yet, it's actually quite a simple two-tone thing. Kirby busted out these simple geometric costumes now and then, and they're his best designs by far.





4. Iron Man
It doesn't really matter which one, as they're all great in their own way (except the dodgy Rob Liefeld Heroes Reborn one). My favourites are probably the one from the Byrne era on Avengers, and the "silver centurion" one from just after that.

3. The New Green Goblin
The Ditko design is a classic, make no mistake, but I really like Humberto Ramos' early-2000s revamp, which is actually not really much of a revamp at all, it's just drawn differently. The shirt is gone, but the green chainmail is still there, and the mask is the same, it's all just a bit better in some way I can't properly describe.

2. Robin
I suppose technically this is the Tim Drake costume, although the image is from Teen Titans Go! and it's probably Dick Grayson wearing it there. Anyway, it's a good set of colours, a clean design, and an effective contrast with his mentor's costume, something the more recent angsty versions have forgotten.





1. Spider-Man's black costume
The red and blue is a classic, and rightly so, and as Rol points out, it makes perfect sense in the context of the character's masked wrestler origins. All that said, the black costume looks great. It fits the spider theme perfectly, and for a few years in the 1980's, it made for a striking image unlike any other hero in comics. I know it's all part of the grim-and-gritty movement in the superhero genre of the time, and the costume begat a decade of rubbish symbiote stories (and Spider-Man 3), but it's a great visual.

Honourable Mentions:
I would have picked MODOK, but the iconic image there is not really a costume, more a general character design. Ditto Thor, Hellboy, Death's Head and Rocket Raccoon. I almost picked the Frank Quitely X-Men costume, but it's probably aged worse than the Avengers' jackets. Finally, the Hobgoblin would have been picked if Ramos hadn't beefed up his predecessor's look.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Team B

I have said that this new A-Team film looks a bit like kids playing dress-up, a sort of grown-up version of Son of Rambow. Or perhaps this:



I'm not sure I can tell the difference.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Town

I don't tend to do music posts. I'm not an erudite musichead like Rol; I discovered The Smiths twenty years after the fact, as a particularly embarrassing example. I tend to like stuff no one else does (but not Country, because even I'm not that out of touch), so I don't really feel like I have much to blog about music.

My mate Bob knows a fair bit though, and he's in a band and everything. They've just released a single, which you can buy on iTunes, Amazon, and Napster, apparently, although I had no idea Napster was still going. I quite like it (the song, not Napster), although I think there are better tracks on the upcoming album, and one stonking song that the Reverence haven't recorded for some unfathomable reason, perhaps so that they can release Japanese-exclusive bootleg live albums later on.

Anyway, you can see the video for the song at the band's website, and if you like the song, it's only seventy-nine of your English pence.

It's not Country.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I Pity the Fool



I think the thing which sinks it is Neeson's hair. If they'd cast someone with white hair, it would have been fine, but to dye his white just makes it look like a fan film. There's some suggestion here that it's a disguise, but still.

For some fun, let's see what kind of "A-Team" related puns we can come up with in the comments, before the film comes out, and all the presumably negative reviews are full of them.