Linkblogging and apologies

I’ve posted practically nothing for the last week, for which I apologise. Unfortunately, my wife came down with the ‘flu a few days ago, and then just as she was getting over it she kindly gave it to me, so I first had to look after her then had to look after myself.

(Annoyingly, this one affected my stomach, so I couldn’t just get rid of it with massive amounts of vitamin C as I normally do.)

I’m going to try to get the Big Finish A Week up tonight if I can stay awake, and should have a review of Warren Ellis’ new ‘graphic novella’ up tomorrow. If you really want to read good stuff, though, Bot’swana Beast and pillock are hammering away like mad in the comments to the ‘Second Coming’ post. I’ll post my thoughts on *that* tomorrow, too, as a separate post rather than comments. Sorry for being a bit crap.

Anyway, linkage:

The Mindless Ones sum up Judge Dredd In One Panel .

Kevin Church on Grant Morrison and David Mamet.

Pillock on Iron Man, Ghostface Killa and Paul McCartney . (I agree totally about McCartney, BTW, and think his mid-70s, let’s-have-twenty-melodies-per-song-and-forget-the-lyrics-making-sense period is well overdue for serious reappraisal).

Jennie Rigg on statistics .

Mark Steel on how the current recession is all poor people’s fault. (Incidentally, Steel’s latest book and show is his best yet…)

And Jenn Dolari is requesting webcomic people take part in the transgender day of remembrance . Sadly, trans people are one group against whom it is not only socially acceptable to discriminate but actively encouraged. Stonewall have even nominated Julie Bindel as journalist of the year . This is a woman who seems obsessed to the point of monomania with the idea that transsexuals are some sort of weird fifth column wanting to become women so they can destroy feminism, yet she’s given regular space to spout her batty views in the pages of a ‘respectable’ ‘liberal’ newspaper.

I don’t pretend to understand transsexuality even slightly, but the social acceptability of attacks on transpeople horrifies me, for two reasons. The first reason is that intellectually, I simply think it’s nobody’s fucking business what anyone does to his, her or its body, or how anyone chooses to dress, or anything else that doesn’t directly impact on anyone else’s well-being. I’ve been the subject of enough low-level aggression for how I choose to look over the years – and I could prevent that by having a shave and a haircut and maybe losing a few pounds – that bullying people for being different annoys me on a very visceral level.

And secondly, I know enough transpeople (I can name, right now off the top of my head, at least five transpeople I count as friends or have counted as friends in the past, including a couple with whom I’ve been very close – and that’s assuming all my other friends were born the same gender they present as, as I don’t tend to ask people if they’re trans unless they bring the subject up… ) that I know that no-one would go through the shit they go through on a daily, or sometimes even hourly, basis – let alone the physical and financial trauma of the actual operation unless they had a very, very deep need to do so. I may not understand that need, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Writing that, BTW, brought to mind a great short story I read years ago, A Lonely Impulse by the great Roz Kaveney. She wrote it as part of the anthology, Temps, she co-edited with Neil Gaiman in the late 80s, a sort of Justice-League-meets-Yes-Minister thing about superpowered people working for a government bureaucracy, but in this case it’s very clearly a metaphor for the treatment of transwomen by ‘feminists’ of Bindel’s ilk, at least in part (Roz is trans herself). I just discovered it’s up on her website, and I think everyone should read it.

Linkblogging for 24/10/08

I *will* be joining in the conversation in that interview post tomorrow… I’ve just been rushed off my feet…

Debi Linton writes about her experiences of ADD.

That reminds me to link to something I meant to link to a while back – . This is a very strange site that some of you will find fascinating and others will find appaling. It’s someone who started out trying to teach people how to think like a computer programmer, then tried figuring out *why* computer programmers think as they do, then applied that reasoning to other areas of science. As he gets further and further from his area of expertise, he eventually creates a Grand Unified Theory with nothing to actually support it except his own hypotheses – and like all such, it seems to me more than a little twisted – but I like reading people throw out ideas, even insane ones, and the stuff at the beginning (where he knows what he’s talking about) is actually pretty dead-on…

Support the right of unions to expel BNP members.

Another celebrity comes out for Obama

And Marc Singer has a very interesting review of All-Star Superman

A Big Finish A Week 12 – Medicinal Purposes

Robert Ross’ Medicinal Purposes is a story about which I am definitely in two minds. On the one hand, it’s definitely an above-average story for Big Finish; on the other it has many of the worst features of the new series.

Just to clarify, I’m not talking there about David Tennant, who appears in this story but not as the Doctor, but about the plot and moral tone. The plot is quite simple really – the Doctor and Evelyn arrive in Edinburgh at the time of the Burke and Hare murders. There they discover that Dr Robert Knox, the anatomist who bought the bodies from the two, is actually a time traveller who has put Edinburgh into a time loop, replaying the murders over and over for an audience of interstellar voyeurs.

This is pretty much the template for all the nuWho time-travel episodes – the Doctor and companion go back to meet Famous Historical Personages, and discover a Sinister SciFi Plot – as it appears the producers of the current show do not trust the audiences to have even a 1066 And All That level knowledge of history (The Girl In The Fireplace was a particular low in this regard, not only having TennantDoctor fall in love with the execrable Mme de Pompadour , but then having Rose ‘explain’ her to Mickey as being ‘like Camilla’, which is equally insulting to the late French parasite, the current wife of the Prince of Wales, and the entire audience).

It’s done better here though – partly because the plot is tighter than the average nuWho story and actually makes sense as a plot (with one big exception I’ll come to shortly) but also because of an exceptionally strong set of performances by the main cast (the bit parts are, of course, all hammed-up ‘och aye the noo’ bad accents). Colin Baker and Maggie Stables give their usual superb performances as the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn. By this point Evelyn’s character had been thoroughly thought-out, and Stables’ performance as the character throughout this series is as naturalistic a performance as I’ve ever heard, complementing Colin Baker’s hamminess perfectly, and creating a character for whom I actually feel rather more affection than many real people I know. I’m quite amazed Stables isn’t a much better-known actor than she is.

Leslie Philips is also excellent as Dr Knox, who is portrayed in a way that appears quite consistent with the real man. And while I’ve never liked David Tennant’s performance in nuWho, he’s very good in the role of Daft Jamie, one of Burke & Hare’s victims and one of the main characters in this story – possibly he’s better because he’s using an accent closer to his real one. One small criticism though – his performance is *very* reminiscent of Mickey from The League Of Gentlemen, possibly as a nod to Mark Gattis, the actor who played that role, who has also written and performed in several Big Finish audios.

However, the characterisation of The Doctor is hopelessly inconsistent in this story. To start with, he’s completely amoral, justifying the murders because the ends justify the means (there’s some waffle about how that’s not what he’s really saying, followed by him saying exactly that) and actually wanting to shake hands with Burke & Hare and congratulate them. He then *teams up with someone he knows to be a future victim*, without telling her this, to set time right, before then trying to save people anyway. While individual lines and scenes work – you can imagine the Doctor behaving very callously if necessary, just as you can of course imagine him showing compassion and trying to save people – as a whole, it’s an inconsistent view of the character, one in which he has no real moral centre and no underlying guiding set of principles, just a set of whims and justifications for moving from one plot point to another.

In this, the character is like the Doctor of nuWho, who is completely devoid of personality, just a set of tics and ‘quirks’ that can be moved from plot point to plot point (or, increasingly, special effect to plotless special effect) without regard to consistency or characterisation.

At the end, of course, all the characters who we know are going to be murdered are – the Doctor tries to save Daft Jamie, but a rather-clumsy subplot involving an alien virus means that he would die anyway, so he’s sent back to his place in history.

And the sentence above points to my other real problem with this story – I used the word ‘characters’, but of course these were not characters invented for a science fiction story, but real, living human beings. While I understand there’s a long tradition of using true historical crimes as the basis for grand guignol or gothic melodrama, I find it more than a little distasteful to use the actual deaths of actual people as a source of cheap entertainment. I suspect the writer is aware of this – hence the alien voyeurs – but it isn’t really dealt with properly. And while I know the events were a long, long time ago, it still feels slightly unpleasant to me.

Of course, I think that’s probably just me. No doubt if the human race and civilisation survive that long, in a hundred years the equivalent of Doctor Who will involve an investigation into why both the Moors Murderers and Harold Shipman lived in Hyde, with it being the result of some diabolical alien force or other. There’ll probably be a joke about “…and the greatest monster of all – Timmy Mallet!” which will get a laugh out of two people in the audience obsessed with late-20th-century trivia.

I’ve been rather too hard on this story here, probably because the faults are more interesting to talk about than the good points. It’s actually a pretty good, spooky little story with some very effective moments. But it does leave a little bit of a nasty aftertaste.

BFAW tomorrow

I’ll be reviewing Medicinal Purposes tomorrow. I’ve been exhausted for a couple of days and just not had the time to write. I’ve re-listened to this one, but not got the energy to write about it. I’ll also be taking part in the conversation in the comments to the post below from tomorrow…

Interblog Circle Jerk: The Second Coming

As some of you will remember, a couple of weeks back I was interviewed by the rather wonderful comic blog The Mindless Ones , and we’ve decided to follow that up with them coming over here and being interviewed by me. The results are below, and if you find this interesting, we’ve decided to do one final post of this nature, but this time answering questions posed in the comments to this thread. So if you want to feed the narcissism of a bunch of bloggers by pretending our opinions are important, ask anything below…

My questions are in bold, as are the names of each of the Mindless Ones…

I’m not actually sure if this is an interview with you as an individual or with ‘the mindless ones’ as a group, by the way, so you can take any of this either way….

Bot’swana Beast: The gang’s all here, Andrew – I’ll sort of lead off and the busters will chip in, and ultimately some coherent picture will arrive? Yeah. We’re all thrilled to have a collective ego massage.

I’m interested in the difference between being a solo blogger and blogging as a group. You (the Mindless Ones) are all quite identifiable as individual writers, but at the same time there’s definitely a shared style and aesthetic there. To what extent is that deliberate – how much of the way you write is guided by the fact that you’re writing on that site, and with those other people?

BB: God, I wrote two posts on my solo blog in 2004 and promptly gave up. I think you have to have enormous discipline to do it yourself (AH – hah!), which I absolutely don’t, otherwise I might achieve something, ever/be dangerous.

On the shared aesthetic, for me, I came up on message boards, specifically Barbelith with these guys (and a couple others) and I think learned, and/or shared, an aesthetic – a quite specifically, I think, British comics-of-the-fantastical aesthetic with them. Brendan McCarthy is probably a, or even the, central figure and I found out about him through the board. It’s one that – I dunno, to me, I read amy or bobsy or Zom or TBMD and I incorporate it into my perspective, it’s quite organic and probably a bit more live now than within the confines of a board. I think we shape one another? Which is not to say we are un(i)mind, and I’ve a couple arguments with Zom, quibbles with amy to attest to that right on the site.

Zom: Like Bot’swana Beast I can’t imagine blogging solo. Mindless Ones has had its fallow periods, and from time to time people’s motivation has slumped – but as far as I can see it’s always been the team aspect that has pulled us through.

On the shared aesthetic, I think this ties into Bobsy and I’s initial vision for the blog, which was conceived as both a kind of action oriented social network. The thing is, we’re friends first and collaborators second – some of us have known each other, literally, for decades – and even (the majority of) the newer relationships can be counted in years. Now that we’re all old bastards with jobs and families and responsibilities, now that atomisation has thoroughly set in, we were looking for a way to keep those relationships strong, Mindless Ones gives us an opportunity to do that in the wake of Barbelith’s slow and steady implosion.

So yeah, we share an aesthetic because we’re mates, basically.

AmyPoodle: Like Botswana, I think I’d be useless at a solo blog, at least right now. I just don’t read enough comics. And I especially don’t read enough superhero comics. Most of them fail to offer me much in the way of thrills at all.

The shared aesthetic thing’s interesting. Broadly, yes, we have similar tastes, but I think in terms of writing style, there’s actually two camps. The first, the more balanced, perhaps *precise*, type represented by Beast, Lactus and Zom, and the second, looser, more instinctive and subjective mode represented by Bobsy, Botswana and myself. The former bloggers have a kind of neatness – a clarity – to their work that I can only ever dream of attaining, and those of us in the other group, well, I like to think that we’re more, umm, idiosyncratic and inspirational. Don’t understand me too quickly: by ‘inspirational’ I don’t mean we literally inspire more readers than the rest of them, just that we *feel* our way more – our writing process is less structured and based more heavily on inspiration and revelation than intellectual rigour.

I hope no one’s insulted by this schematic – it’s pretty flexible to be sure – because I thoroughly admire everyone’s contributions, and I think that together we really make for a site with a varied tone. I love Jog, Tucker Stone and so many others, but it’s nice that Mindless Ones enjoys a plethora of rantings and it’s hard to say what you’re going to get next. If I’m honest, I really want to go more out there than I have previously. I’m still in the habit of constructing my posts like arguments, when ideally.. Look, I’m much more interested in the kind of anti-criticism represented by music sites like 20jazzfunkgreats, where you don’t so much find reviews, but stories, impressionistic, perhaps slightly pretentious, responses to the music. Tangential narratives that somehow intersect with the tunes, but only in that they’re playing on the car stereo at the time… Nuneaton Savage, being one of their contributors, nailed it with his Bede post.

I want to write about comics like that, I guess, and somehow knowing Zom’s always going to go for a more rounded, reasonable approach affords me the ability to go slightly overboard. So, yeah, from my point of view group blogs are slightly more freeing.

The Beast Must Die: Well, for the most part I do ‘Terminus’ for Mindless Ones. Getting one done for every Wednesday takes up a lot of my blogtime, so I tend to leave the writing more to the rest of the gang – and thankfully they’re all fucking brilliant. I’ve done a few pieces on things that aren’t covered by the others. I love Morrison’s work as much as Poodle or anyone, but I just don’t have as much to say about it. Shit like ‘Badger’ and ‘Ambush Bug’ I can bang on about for hours however. I want to do some stuff on some Manga I like, such as Taiyo Matsumoto’s work, or Otomo’s amazing ‘Domu’.

Like myself you describe yourself [this was specifically aimed towards BB, who had said this] as a rationalist, but you also seem very attracted to comics writers who are clearly not rationalists in the Richard Dawkins ‘let’s kill all the religious people’ sense (which has never appeared very rational to me) – have your ideas and way of thinking about the world been affected at all by reading the work of people like Morrison or Moore who see the world in a more mystical way, but who can still rationalise it? (Mine certainly have, although part of the reason I prefer Morrison to Moore – while still thinking Moore is ‘better’ – is that Morrison’s magick is more based in science than Moore’s – I find even pseudo-science makes these things easier to swallow).

BB: I’m a rationalist as a default position, as a way to not feel slightly mentally unwell, Bertrand Russell talks about ‘something something public neutral objects’ which is just a groundline for the real but also – I kind of wish I had an experience that forced me to drastically reassess the way the world worked, my ontology (these things become self-confirming). Or do I? It’d probably be quite upsetting. I used to take a reasonable amount of drugs, and I still cling to the narcotised belief that the – you know – the love and empathy I felt on E, or the elaborate, labyrinthine entertainments I’d make up for myself when I was stoned… that they’re somehow real? Or not invalidated?

But then you have also to accommodate the back half of the Manichaean expanse a bit too, that just like the Clown at Midnight everyone IS laughing at you… I tried magick a little bit when I was also trying drugs, just the sigils from the DisInfo video, and it kinda works but it’s, really, all it does is alter your sense of causality and probably works less than it does. But you just ignore that at the time. What’s the Morrison metric? ‘Life+significance=magick’? Who wants an insignificant life? But then, there’s aspects if you hypercharge them, you’re going to get sort of manic-depressive bits round the edges.

The Filth is probably, artistically, his best comic and has the best pseudoscience, explained in a broad Glasgow accent in #9 (nae bother fur the likesay me) – mitochondria; honestly, you can explain anything with mitochondria, they use it to rationalise the Force in Star Wars which is about as unsciencey a sci-fi as there be. I’ll still believe anything’s possible, though.

AP: I prefer Morrison too. I just think it’s difficult to convey a sense of Magic – real rabbit out the hat stuff – if you’re as ordered and grounded as Moore is. You rarely get those explosions of weird numinousity with his stuff – the delicious strangeness. You’d never get something as demented and wonderful as the Batman of Zur En Arrh, for instance. Morrison’s stuff is more like listening to a piece of music, Moore’s is like ploughing through a brilliantly conceived and executed, but slightly beardy, magical grimoire. Ultimately, like you, I know they’re equally good but in different ways – it’s just a preference I have. In the end I think you could map both writer’s differences across the different authorial camps of Mindless Ones. Not that we’re half as good as those guys, but I know which of the two’s writing style chimes more succinctly with my own.

I never claimed that I was a rationalist, but I think day to day its healthier to perform as one. I’m attracted to the occulty guys for two reasons: firstly because Zom and I had a similar upbringing to Morrison in that we were both introduced to some pretty hardcore magic(k) and mysticism from a really early age, and were reading Herman Hesse, Robert Anton Wilson, D T Suzuki, Idries Shah and the rest by our early teens, and secondly, because if you’re interested in the cracks in the world, hopefully, if you’re any good at your job, your work will necessarily exhibit more in the way of formal experimentation than other writer’s stuff – something that’s certainly true in the case of Morrison and Moore.

So in spite of the fact that I get more cynical and doubting Thomas-y as I get older, I was drawn to these comics precisely because I was never that rational to begin with, and I think I’m still pretty shit at acting the part now. And of course my world view’s been affected by their output. It would be boring of me to waffle too much about that now though – I was pretty stoned at the time and constructing some fairly elaborate thought palaces for myself.

Zom: I have a lot of time for rationalism and reasoning generally; Bad Science is not only one of my favourite blogs, I also feel duty bound to impart the wisdom found there to all of my chums (thank me later, guys). I have a first degree in Philosophy and while I’ve forgotten virtually everything that’s worth knowing about the subject, I still value good, solid logical thinking very highly indeed. That said, I also think that intuition, imagination and (what has come to be called) emotional intelligence are hugely important for an enormous number of reasons. Moore and Morrison are the only two mainstream comic writers who seem to display an excess of all three on a consistent basis, which means stories that glitter with wonder, and, well… I suppose I think that wonder is a key driver behind much good rational enquiry. I know it is for me, at least.

There’s also the fact that Morrison (more so than Moore although Moore is undoubtedly my favourite comic book writer – just ahead of Daniel Clowes who is just millimetres ahead of Morrison) – like David Lynch, another creator who is willing to throw rationality out the window where necessary, is so good at bending my head into new shapes. I don’t mean the banal stuff, the attempts to wow with pseudo-scientific info-bombs, but in the way he sculpts stories, the way he constantly surprises me. Being startled is just so hugely inspirational, so catalytic, so aesthetically beautiful, if that makes any sense. It disappoints me that so few people seem to get this from his work – that even many people who would describe themselves as fans see his work as a kind of list of kewl ideas and short term thrills.

About the Prismatic Age (and I’m doing a LOT of posts about that over the next few weeks – I’m working on one at the moment now) don’t you think it’s interesting that Morrison (and to an extent Waid) has managed to ‘infect’ the DC universe with the ‘prismatic’ style? Seven Soldiers seems to me the epitome of that, but 52 and now Final Crisis have got Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka – two of the most stolid and dull storytellers in comics – pulled into that style, and made it the de facto ‘house style’ for successful DC crossovers… Seven Soldiers is now the way DC does ‘big’, and that’s a remarkable change in a very short time.

BB: I deliberately avoided 7S in the Prismatic piece because, to me, it seems more like a logical next step in corporate superheroics beyond the expanse of consolidation that has taken, is taking place- certainly 52 cottoned a few ideas from it structurally, the modular storytelling interspersed throughout rather than segmented, and ‘forced’ me into buying 52 comics when I’d’ve been quite happy with just a year of Morrison on Doc Magnus and Animal Man, just bringing through second- and lower- rankers. I think we could come back to this, because as a piece, I actually feel quite stupid reading people’s responses to it, which seem more far-ranging than the basic tenet of everyone writing superheroes sure has wrote an awful lot of iterations of them recently. Which Geoff Johns certainly has, in Green Lantern, holy shit. Rucka, I’m not so sure – he’s gone for cementing his particular favourites, Montoya & Allen, into the DCU by having them acquire legacy mantles.

AP: I think it’s entirely predictable that the better writer should have an effect on the lesser writers around him, especially if they’re friends. I know that I exist in a perpetual state of jealousy with regards to the writers I like (including all of my fellow bloggers), and that if I was working for DC I’d be ripping off Morrison too. How could you not really, when the airwaves are so jammed full of him? When something’s a good idea, there’s no denying it, and Morrison’s full of good ideas. It’s depressing reading John’s and co..’s work because it feels like Grant-lite without the really special ingredient that makes his books so exciting. The prevalence of the prismatic meme is just one example amongst many of people riffing on more interesting work…

That said, it is very interesting in and of itself, but better minds than mine have commented on this already, and the only thing I feel I’d like to add to the commentary is to flag up the joyous toyboxishness of it. It satisfies the part of you that stared at Batman in his purple yellow and red outfit in Gamleys and wondered about the stories attached to it… I think there’s something of commodification in there, but I’m sorry – I can’t really formulate anything coherent or sensible to say about it right now. Maybe Bots already has – I can’t remember.

I’d question that idea that Seven Soldiers is really the way DC ‘does big’, however. It’s one of the ways. Infinite Crisis was another…..

TBMD: Not much to add except that I think ‘Seven Soldiers’ is probably my favourite of Morrison’s recent work. A totally fractal, brilliant read. A new way to do the epic, for sure, but also an immensely satisfying hybrid of so many pulp genres – horror, westerns, sci-fi, romance…just fucking genius. And it really paid to buy the individual issues rather than the trades. You can literally read those comics in any order and it all still gels brilliantly. And Issue #1, alongside Brendan McCarthy’s issue of SOLO, is THE template for nu-psychedelic superheroing.

Have you been reading Ambush Bug? What do you think? I thought the first issue was amazing, the latter two less so, but there’s some interesting stuff in there.

BB: I haven’t, Giffen’s a figure that’s kind of passed me by, although the 4th Letter (I think?) stuff on it has been hella entertaining; Dan/The Beast Must Die has for sure so I’ll leave it to him to expand here.

TBMD: I’ve been reading Ambush Bug. I’m a huge fun of Irwin, and Keith Giffen in general. I think he almost single handedly energised the DCU in the mid to late 80’s, and it’s a real shame he gets turd work like ‘Reign In Hell’ at the moment. When I was first getting into American comics his Justice League made a huge impression on me. The soapy plots and constant wisecracks mixed up with superheroics just worked wonderfully – it was like M*A*S*H for the spandex set.

Ambush Bug is just one of the greatest characters – I love his taboo-busting fourth wall-breaking shtick, and the free-form looniness never fails to cheer me up. I know there’s been a bit of grousing about the new mini, but I’m pleased to have it around, poking holes in the increasingly dour and sadistic DCU. I guess it could go further, be meaner or what have you…but I’m loving it. I also recently grabbed a few issues of ‘The Heckler’, and that is the bees bollocks – Giffen’s art is perfect, and it’s one of the most surreal mainstream comics to have ever been published. I think its cancellation was a real blow to Giffen – up until that point he was turning shit to gold wherever he went. It’s no surprise that ‘The Heckler’ died though – it arrived just as the grotesquely pumped up Image era was ushered in.

I honestly think there should be more ‘funny’ supercomics out there. I loved some of the stories in the ‘Bizarro Comics’ anthologies – Bob Fingerman and Evan Dorkin turned in a brilliant Metal Men story that basically got to the heart of the characters in a way that Duncan Rouleau’s beautiful but crazily convoluted recent mini kind of failed to. I’d happily read those two doing an ongoing. Superheroes are a malleable brilliant form to tell all sorts of different stories, and it’s a shame so many comics resort to the same tiresome linear cause-and-effect narratives, and juvenile angst-porn.

A thought I had about the difference between US and UK readers, on a subject we were talking about before – the archetypal US comic creator is Stan Lee, the archetypal UK one is John Wagner. Once you know that, you’ve pretty much got the differences sorted.

BB: I was never, and I feel rather treasonous admitting this – I’ve glommed the culture, that much of a 2000AD head as a child, it scared me, and Wagner, Mills and Grant are bit before my time in any case; I like Mills, and don’t care really at all for the other two. Kinda hoary – is Alan Grant the one runs a sort of dork festival in Scotland, some wee town? I think so. I went to it once, as a keen 13-14y.o. tabletop gamer but it was pretty boring. I guess I can see the distinction better in either Lee and Wagner’s most famous (co-)creations, Spider-Man and Judge Dredd… anyone else want to weigh in here?

AP: I don’t have much to add to that one. Everyone tries to reduce it to 2000AD, I suppose, which is basically on the money, but what about those other comics I was reading as a child – The Beano, Scream…. Oink? I think it all made a massive impact in that it wasn’t just superheroes, superheroes, superheroes… The American books had the most glamour, but arguably they didn’t get half as interesting until the British guys swooped in and got to bring all that other shit to bear on a more far reaching canvass. There’s something septic about the superhero writer – see Geoff Johns – who doesn’t seem able to talk about anything else, and just doesn’t appear to be influenced by anything else.

TBMD: I’m a Mills acolyte – he fucking invented it all. 2000AD raised me. I met him recently, and told him that Hookjaw scared the piss out of me as a kid. He seemed pleased. Wagner writes Dredd so perfectly…his synergy with that particular character is jaw-dropping. He makes it seem effortless.

I think we should talk more about Morrison’s idea of making the DCU sentient as well (while bearing in mind that neither blog is just a ‘Grant Morrison blog’) because I think it’s one of the Big Ideas that’s going ignored at the moment. In particular, I think that fantastic fiction is a way of us exploring the limits of the possible by figuring out what’s impossible – exploring nearby areas in phase space – and so Morrison’s talk about superheroes as being the future evolutionary path of humanity isn’t as daft as it sounds. I think he’s trying – in a cargo cult sort of way – to merge the real and fictional worlds (essentially the same project as Moore’s undertaking, actually) and I think it could have very interesting results in the comics.

BB: We are pretty heavily skewed toward Morrison because, I guess, he’s by far the most interesting and meaty writer in mainstream Western comics. My approach to thinking about it (it being the living fiction) is quite different, although I think that précis does cover to some extent what amypoodle was talking about in the Candy floss Horizons Forever post – I actually had to look up cargo cult, but yes, in a way there is much wonder to aspire to in Moore and Morrison’s fictospheres, they’re essentially optimists, where I think something like the Authority is a pessimistic take. So’s Watchmen?

I think if superpeople existed, now, it would be horrible, you’d be utterly cowed by them. I can cope quite well with the Olympics, you know, but beyond that – ugh. I think about it in a – I suppose it’s a magickal way, I guess – in that things like when Zatanna looks out at you, and requests your help, and I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t immediately compelled to touch the surface of the DC Universe as apparently many others were; this is, as the script says, something that occurs in different time and place here, continually, probably okay, spiking around the time of the issue’s original release but… it’s the notion of two-dimensional creatures whose simultaneity is completely subjective from our perspective, read in a bedroom in Dundee in June 2007, a garret in Manila a year later, outdoors in Vancouver next year, in who don’t experience space or identity in anything like the same fashion we do, partly because they’re, you know, trademarks but because they iterate. It’s maybe all a bit like the Nanoman and Minimiss bit in Flex Mentallo where they themselves are the building blocks of a… something? Replacement universe? An interface?

AP: It already has had very interesting results in the comics. I guess it all depends on if you believe magic *works*, which I guess I do, or at least that webs of synchronicity happen. I find this whole area very difficult to talk about, actually. Sometimes a text seems to extend its tendrils into your life in such a way that you feel the complexity its accruing has allowed it to break the fourth wall and, I don’t know, act on the world outside it. I’m at a loss to say what this means, other than a deeper, more personal involvement in the work for the reader. Obviously our fictions will always be the source of so many of our new ideas and technologies – a la the Filth – and perhaps Morrison’s work offers some fabulous treasures in that regard, but he’s not the only writer who’ll be trawled for fresh inspiration. Although the superhero is becoming quite a dominant idea culturally at the mo’, so….

If any comic universe becomes sentient I want it to be the DCU. Then I can leave London and move to Gotham. Or maybe Keystone City. I imagine Keystone City is one fucking weird city to live in.

Finally, something I thought would be fun – I’ll name three comic characters who I don’t think very much of and you do a one or two paragraph pitch for how you’d do a comic revamping them and making them interesting. I’ll name Cyborg from the Teen Titans, Judge Hershey and Geo-Force…

BB: I’ll hand this to our resident Rogue Reviewers, I think – I’m terrible at even engaging with these kind of questions…

Zom: Jesus… Ummm… right, okay, the difficulty for me is that I spend a great deal of time indeed thinking about my Rogue’s Reviews (hence the lack of any new ones of late – although there are some in the pipeline, oh yes!). Not only that, but I don’t really set out to challenge myself in this way, in that the characters I want to review speak to me on some level – it’s as if they show me where to go. What I’m trying to say is that the brand of constructive and creative criticism that lies behind our Rogue’s Reviews isn’t something I can easily turn off and on. Hmm… that said, Cyborg… I don’t know much about Vic Sage (it is Vic Sage, isn’t it?) but I can see a potential *in*.

I tend to start with how a character makes me feel, rather than worry too much about their personality*, and Cyborg makes me think of gleaming chrome and hot sticky nights, of red corvettes with firebirds on the bonnet – technology as fetish. I mean, that’s one kinky outfit. Yeah, I think I could go somewhere with that. Hershey, fuck, that’s hard. There’s something so pared down and iconic about Mega City One and its inhabitants, it tricky to tease out a seam, but I’m sure there must be something. Nah, I got nothing right now, but, like Arnie, I’ll be back. Geoforce=nope

* seriously, I’ve said it before and I don’t mind saying it again, being overly concerned with character is limiting and problematic particularly when you’re writing ongoing comics and/or engaging with the mythic landscape of superheroes – that said, it does have a place

AP: I can’t do that. Hershey’s schtick is that she’s the *emotional* judge, isn’t it? Geo-force? Cyborg? I haven’t read the Outsiders or the Teen Titans since I was a batmite.

Zom: The “emotional one”, eh? That sounds about right. It’s kind of ghastly, isn’t it? A woman: the emotional one. But I suppose it makes sense to have a judge that’s driven by emotion in that it plays off against Dredd’s ironfisted dedication to the law. With that in mind you could play Hershey as the embodiment of the tragedy of MC1, the loss of beauty and hope and something worth calling civilisation. The Blade runner aesthetic springs to mind here, all rain soaked neon and starless, the endless rampways of the city smothering the sky.

Seems to me that the ultimate Hershey story, the one that would work best with her both as a character and as an icon, would have to revolve around her coming round to Dredd’s way of being (“being” definitely not “thinking”) – the horrid inevitability of it. Oh, and the Long Walk! Shit, every judge’s story should end in the Long Walk, but it would work particularly well for Hershey. Perhaps she finds herself again her old age and goes off to carry the fire into the Cursed Earth. Like the Man in The Road, but with a fucking Lawmaster, Lawgiver, and the gleaming steel of a judge’s soul. Christ, it’s giving me shivers of pleasure just thinking about it. Why can’t I write this stuff? So, yeah, Hershey rocks.

BB: Yeah, if no-one wants to do Geo-force I can just do some bunk expressing my utter contempt for him and, primarily, Dan Jurgens/Brad Meltzer who love him so by going the Ellis sisterfucker route.

Zom: Perhaps she finds herself again ******in****** her old age and goes off to carry the fire into the Cursed Earth. Yeah, give Meltzer and Jurgens a slagging by way of Geoforce!

Bobsy: Geo-Force

Can I have it so his name is Geoff Orce? Great! He’s the king of some Eastern Europey country, isn’t he? That’s how I’d play it I think – he’s the actioneering king of a country where the aristocracy have superpowers. As the grounded, rich, dependable, hanging-wit-Batman manifestation of Earth, he’s the King, and there are other members of the Royal family, or perhaps Ministers of State, who also have elemental-ish powers – so some guy with water-morphing powers is in there as the Minister of Water or Fire Man being the minister of Energy. Be fun maybe to tie that into Animal Man/Swamp Thing elemental shit too..

Underneath that you’ve got like the proles who don’t have superpowers, except maybe some who’re like bastard descendants of olde kings and whatnot. The Geo-Forcians also have a caste of Batman style non-superpowered types who are busy fomenting civil war and that… Yeah, I dunno, obviously.

All I really know about him is he’s a king and flies buy shooting lasers, from his fingers, into the ground… It’s hard enough liking superhero comics without having people like Geo Force around. I mean, how amazingly brilliant is the Geo Force comic going to have to be before I feel comfortable buying it? Very very. I can just about get away with leaving Batman or Xmen comics around without being sneered at by friends or casual visitors, but how the fuck are you going to explain a GeoForce comic, cast nonchalantly on the coffee table?


He’s a cyborg, a hybrid, so like a centaur or something: Imagine his shiny metal torso poking out the hood of a smokn’ hot sports car, with the Titans in the back, heading off for some brilliant superpowered road trip. He’s got this humble, hanging with his friends kind of personality, constantly pulled this way and that by the emotional attributes embodied by his spare part add-ons. So as a sports car he is brash, fun, but also a cocky prick. Some days, instead of legs, he has like a F15 fighterplane (man, sometimes I wish I could draw), when he is fast and cool but also emotionally distant, and given to bombing inhabited villages. He doesn’t really want to be a big hero, but neither does he just want to be his friends’ talking van. He has baddies (by their baddies shall you know them) called Upload, who is basically a guy who’s put his whole mind online and pops up with new bodies every so often, ten-lane tanks or city-size car-crushers that can fly; and Monoculture, who is a quivering mansize amoeboid lump of silicon jelly that can shape shift, represents the utter cutting edge of machine consciousness, and is a right nasty twat.


Bye-bye Barb: So Dredd is like simultaneously so many things – the most famous guy in the city or the world, the top celebrity, lawman, soldier, arbiter, icon. And his moral certitude and habit of always being right inevitably brings him into conflict with his superiors, which is why he’s killed so many of them. Hershey can’t compete with that, she’s just a politician now, and her position, her need to look after the city-as-a-whole, leads her to maybe, in the name of Realpolitik and for all the best reasons, fuck with another megacity, break The Law in some tiny way, and Dredd just can’t have that.

Sorry, that’s way Dark Age, Girls-in-the-Fridge of me, isn’t it? I dunno – Dredd is the only fixed point, everyone else is expendable (except maybe Anderson, but she’s not around much) and having his protege as the Chief Judge is just too easy for him. He needs to rub up against the brass, question the role the Judges play in the regulation of the City and the world, lose his safety blanket, get back to Durty Harry septuagenarian maverick type (Judge McCain). Maybe she can buy it heroically, defending the city against the Legion of Dark Judges. But buy it she must.

Cyborg’s the only one I’d want to tackle. He’s the hardbody hero at the heart of the Titans, and the Titans are THE premier disco-era superteam. I’m fascinated by them, man. I’ve read approximately fuck all of their actual comics, but in my head they hang about in a tower block shaped like a ‘T’ sniffing poppers, dropping speed, fucking, fighting and being tortured by Deathstroke. All to a pulsating Giorgio Moroder soundtrack.

Zom: Oh, definitely with a disco vibe. Whatever’s done with the Titans has to have a disco vibe.

BB: Is true; rereading #32 or whatever, the first superhero comic I ever read, and the only issue of the title I’ve ever read… the Titans are sooo fucking discosex.

Linkblogging for 17/10/08

For those who are interested, I’ve received part two of the Mindless Ones interview, which I’ll be posting here tomorrow (it’ll take a little formatting and I’m exhausted tonight). A part three may follow…

In the meantime, a few links. I’ll try not to make this too dominated by the US election, but that’s pretty much all I’ve been thinking about recently. The fact that nearly 50% of people in the US are actually considering voting for McCain (and the polls being close enough that stealing the election is a likelihood) depresses me enormously. However, I’ve been reading tons of stuff at Sadly, No and Firedoglake in particular…

Chris Bird wrote the review of Terry Pratchett’s Nation that I’ve been meaning to write.

Tim at The Hurting has a very interesting new idea for what term we should use for sequential art/graphic novels/bd/…

Language Log have links to some interesting papers on why published research is usually wrong. The remedies advocated by the authors are completely wrong, but the explanation for the problems in most papers is nearer the mark…

Scipio looks at this week’s news in the DCU… intends to be a wiki for mathematics that will formally verify the theorems added. Could be interesting.

And pillock reappraises Ang Lee’s Hulk.

A Big Finish A Week 11 – The Church And The Crown

One style of story that I am very glad Big Finish have revived is the ‘historical’. In the early days of Doctor Who the show was meant, at least in part, to be educational (or so the received wisdom about the show goes), alternating between ‘science-based’ stories and historical ones.

In truth, there was very little educational about the historicals, which owed more to 1066 And All That and Boys-Own adventures than to actual history, but they were fun, and an obvious thing for Doctor Who to do really – after all, the show is about someone who can travel anywhere in time and space.

However, it was perceived that the historicals were unpopular, so they were phased out relatively early on, and never reappeared in the series. Instead, pseudo-historicals took their place, starting from the last Pertwee series, with stories set in the past but the addition of some form of bug-eyed monster (the first of these was The Invasion Of Time which I watched recently after getting the Sontaran box set for my birthday – incidentally, Jennie, you were right, Pertwee *could* be a good Doctor when he was given a good script).

To my mind this was a great loss, as my interest in Doctor Who is not primarily in the genre trappings (although I do like those) but in the character of the Doctor himself. Doctor Who is a uniquely flexible concept for a show and I think it’s a shame that for much of its history there have been a very limited number of plotlines (alien invasion, base under siege, evil mastermind has built a sinister macguffin) recycled over and over.

Thankfully, the people at Big Finish have as good as stated that one of their intentions is to give the later Doctors the scripts they *should* have had (many of the scripts in the last few years of the show were very poor), and so all the audio Doctors, but especially the Fifth, have been given ‘proper’ historicals, usually with specially-created companions. The Sixth Doctor’s companion Evelyn seems to have been created for this purpose, but she’s since become a much more general-purpose companion, but Erimem, the Ancient Egyptian pharaoh played by Caroline Morris who journeys with the Fifth Doctor and Peri, has been used almost exclusively for historical stories.

The Church And The Crown by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright is the first of those (other than Erimem’s introduction in The Eye Of The Scorpion, set in Pharaonic Egypt) and sets up the pattern for most of the other stories featuring her, in that it’s essentially a story of conspiracy, with a few Boys’ Own style rescues thrown in.

The interesting thing about these stories is that while they’re all runaround pulp adventures, with our heroes getting split up and ending up working for different factions, and usually with some evil conspirator planning the whole thing, they’re not afraid to have the characters be motivated by differing ideas along with their desires for personal ambition or revenge on their enemies. This shows most obviously in The Council Of Nicea, which is a rip-roaring theological adventure, but is also apparent here.

The central conflict in The Church And The Crown is that of secular and religious authority, in this case personified by Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu – the story is loosely patterned after The Three Musketeers, but with the added complication of Peri resembling the Queen and being kidnapped in her place by the Queen’s lover, the Duke of Buckingham.

Of course, the ideological conflict isn’t particularly well integrated into the pulp plot – the Duke of Buckingham is plotting a secret invasion of France, which is foiled by the Doctor with the help of Erimem, who persuades the king and the Cardinal’s warring forces to work together. Which would tend to suggest that the authors are advocates of theocracy, if you think about it too much…

But the conflict between Richelieu and Louis is very well-drawn, and we actually have characters whose motives are based on ideological differences rather than personal antipathy – a relatively rare thing in popular fiction of any type.

The performances are less good – this sounds like the actors weren’t given quite enough time to prepare. I usually expect a few dodgy performances from minor characters in Big Finish audio, but even Peter Davison, who usually gives absolutely perfect performances, lets through a couple of line reads that are slightly off (the stresses on the line “I sometimes think that at my age there’s nothing left to discover” don’t quite work in context – I only noticed though because he’s usually so good) in an otherwise good performance. Nicola Bryant is more impressive than normal here, though – playing two roles, she can drop the fake American accent that mars her otherwise good performances as Peri for the role of Queen Anne, and so her actual ability isn’t let down by the accent she’s forced to put on.

The Church And The Crown offers fewer opportunities for discussion than many of the other stories I’ve talked about here, but it’s a very good start to a whole series of historical adventures that are all worth a listen.