Friday, 14 January 2011

Black-Eared Bolt

Preface: Should you not have grown up worshipping at the altar of American comic books, you may find the following material easier to follow if I can trouble you to do a little preliminary viewing:

At the very least, knowing the name of Thor's first foes may come in handy at some future quiz night. No? Oh suit yourself.

Now, a lot of comic heads will cite legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as true fonts of imagination. Men of raw originality who created some of the most iconic characters in comic books from nothing but their own dreamstuff and mindgasm. Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men... Lee and Kirby crafted a 20th century pantheon of costumed demi-gods such as the world had never seen before.

Or had they?

Recently evidence has come to light which casts the reputation of these trailblazing imagineers into doubt. Evidence which is as compelling as it is indisputable. Prepare to have your preconceptions flicked sharply with a wet towel...

Let's start with this case study. In 1965, Lee and Kirby wrote and drew Fantastic Four issue #45, in which we met a strange race of beings who lived hidden from mankind in their incredible city of Attilan, high in the Himalayas. Each member of that secretive society had their own unique super-power, some of them barely human in appearance. They were... The Inhumans:

The Inhumans were led by the regal Black Bolt, whose powerful voice could lay waste to skyscrapers with but a single syllable. Thus he remained ever-silent, preferring to communicate indirectly, through the members of his royal family, Medusa of the living tresses, Karnak the shatterer, Gorgon of the thunderous tread, Triton the amphibian and Lockjaw the uh... giant teleporting bulldog. Yeah.

Anyway, I was struck by the similarity between Black Bolt and another popular fictional character, seemingly mute, possessed of uncanny magical powers and attended by a weird extended family of inhuman creatures. Here he is, with some of his friends:

Yes, the similarities are incredible aren't they? Too close perhaps for mere coincidence. Now let's look at the rest of the cast of The Sooty Show:

Sooty's simpering panda girlfriend Soo is an obvious match for Medusa, the excitable Sweep is a dead ringer for Karnak with his funny dome-shaped head, gruff Butch is a perfect Gorgon, Kipper is the other girl so she must be Crystal, and the sinister snake Ramsbottom must be Triton as he's the only one left. Unless you count that little kiddie version of Sooty in the school uniform, who's probably called Spanky or Zipper or something. Maybe he's Lockjaw. No, Butch would have to be Lockjaw coz they're both dogs, so Spanky would have to be Gorgon. Or something like that. Oh, I don't know. But you get the idea.

Anyway, it's compelling darn evidence and no mistake. And here's the shocking twist - Sooty predates The Inhumans by some 17 years! Which would make Lee and Kirby dirty plagiarists who ripped off Harry Corbett's lovable glove puppets and thought they'd get away with it by sticking them in skintight ziggy-zaggy costumes and sticking an inexplicable tuning fork on their main character's forehead. Look at this damning early draft of Jack Kirby's artwork, before Marvel comics' lawyers insisted he redraw 'Black-Eared Bolt':

Well I'm here to tell you that the revelation may be coming some 45 years late, and 50% of the suspects may have sadly passed beyond the veil, but Sootygate is but the tip of the iceberg at the House of Ideas. Which would make it a very big house, I suppose. Maybe the iceberg is sort of underneath the house. I dunno.

Let's look briefly at some other test cases and see if you agree with me. In each instance, I propose to demonstrate incontrovertibly that iconic characters from Marvel comics, and in some cases their competitors at DC, are actually thinly disguised ripoffs of much-loved British childrens' television shows.

Right, so Rainbow is the obvious inspiration for the mythical rainbow bridge linking the world of men to Asgard, the home of the Norse gods, which makes Bungle and his friends all prototypical Asgardians from The Mighty Thor. Bungle is obviously the noble thunder god himself, his dull mate Geoffrey would be Balder the brave, the sneering Zippy just has to be wily Loki the lord of mischief, leaving girly mega-lashed George in the role of the goddess Sif.

And Rod, Jane and Freddy are the Warriors Three. Simple.

Moving over to DC, we note that the super-escape artist Mister Miracle, with his brightly coloured clothing and irrepressible spirit, is nothing but Basil Brush in human form. And his sidekick Oberon is just Mr Rodney/Derek/Roy/Billy/whatever with mutton chops. We also see in Basil's deerstalker and manic laughter the gestating forms of both Detective Chimp and The Creeper.

That of course takes us neatly onto Basil's dark counterpart Emu, who must surely be the ur-form of the New God Orion - ever struggling with his savage nature. Hull is clearly Highfather whose steady hand stays Emu's bestial fury.

And if that isn't enough to convince you that some of the greatest creations in comicdom are nothing but pale mockeries of older myths, just examine this beloved tale of a saggy old Lord of Dreams:

It hardly needs spelling out does it? Neil Gaiman's cast of the Sandman, those archetypes of the human experience known as The Endless, are nothing but the cast of Bagpuss dressed up for the artsy 'comics are for adults' crowd.

Consider: the sandman Morpheus, whose realm is that of dreams, is so clearly Bagpuss that it's not even funny. The dour Despair is none other than Professor Yaffle, that carved wooden bookend in the shape of a woodpecker. Seductive, androgynous Desire is none other than the collective form of those tricksome mice on the mouse organ  pandering to the unwary's deepest needs, even going so far as to perpetrate the infamous Chocolate Biscuit Scam. Smiling pale-faced Death is a ringer for Madeleine the doll, and Destiny with his chained books of secrets is actually Gabriel the toad and his banjo of visions. That just leaves insane Delirium as the clearly disturbed Emily. Destruction is of course not present, though I strongly suspect he is the Hamish:

Why yes, I do have a lot of free time on my hands. Why do you ask?

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Shite Critter Fight

Hello. Carrying on from my last contribution, we shall again be looking at that weird rectangular item in the corner of your living room.

Television, it really is the drug of the nation, isn't it? Or is that the potent marijuana derivative skunk? I always get them mixed up. Tch.

Any road up, I have been musing just now on the genre of made-for-TV movies that I like to call Shite Critter Fights, such as the well-known Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus or the excellent Dinocroc vs Supergator:

This is in no way related to the fact that I have been 'working from home' with the Horror Channel on in the background for the last two days. Oh no. You'd be a fool and a communist to suggest so.

Keen observers will have noticed that these films do tend to follow a definite formula. I won't bother to outline how the plots start, as nobody ever actually watches these things from the beginning - we just happen across them halfway through as we're flicking around the channels trying to avoid Murder She Wrote and Everyone Loves Raymond.

But there are common elements. These include:

  • Sort of Hawaiian foresty setting, like the film crew have snuck onto the Lost set at the weekend.
  • Budget-friendly cast of about 5 people.
  • Two enormous CGI animals (often reptiles, possibly because scales are so much easier to do than fur).
  • Unshaven rough bloke with a gun, given to shooting at enormous CGI animal (off-screen).
  • Hot chick in a tight black vest. She will often be a doctor / scientist / anthropolologist.
  • Back-up rough blokes and hot chicks, given to pointing at enormous CGI animal (off-screen) and getting eaten/swatted by a tail (off-screen).
  • Seventy minutes of waffle and running around before we get to the money shot of the two enormous CGI animals hissing and biting at each other. Oh, how they tease us.

That's basically how they all work, though I do recommend Boa vs Python for its trangressive inter-serpent sex sub-plot. Challenging:

Now, it occurs to me that we in Britain are woefully under-represented in these cinematic gems. Or rather our noble native fauna is. So, to redress this shocking imbalance, I have put together a proposal for a number of homegrown Shite Critter Fights to be developed by the BBC. I mean, they can do Walking With Monsters and all those Attenborough Refuses To Retire Even Though He Talks Like He's Had A Stroke series, so this should be a doddle. It'll knock the pants off Springwatch. Check it:

  • Megafox vs Starbadger
  • Duckzilla vs King Coot
  • Voleociraptor vs Dinoshrew
  • Slayworm vs Grossnake
  • Terrorgoose vs Cyberswan

I was going to spend the rest of the evening trawling Google Images for likely wildlife pictures to mash up into movie posters with Photoshop Elements, but even I have a life. Besides, Cobra vs Komodo is on later.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

And Now On Ocelot TV…

Long-time correspondents will be aware of my many proposed additions to your nightly televisual offerings, such as the reality shows Celebrity Surgeon and Fuck Island, and so I am pleased to offer you a preview of just some of the programme proposals I have recently submitted to the major networks for development. Brace yourself – some of them are a bit Chris Morrissy, if you get my drift…

First up, the reality shows. You can never have enough of these, as a brief flick through the Radio Times will hammer home to you:

Touch The Coma Girl, a spectacular live 24-hour event in which members of the public, desperate for much-needed organ transplants, must remain in constant physical contact with a brain-dead road accident victim in otherwise excellent health.

A Mummy For Matthew, in which a young boy with severe behavioural problems is placed with a different foster family every week. In the first episode, Matthew meets recovering heroin addict Janette and her on-again/off-again boyfriend Garry. Will Matthew form that crucial bond with his ‘mummy of the week’ or will the presence of Garry’s boisterous Staffordshire terrier Moatie trigger one of his seizures? Next week, Matthew is introduced to needy fund manager Lorraine and her adopted son Ishmael, a former Rwandan boy soldier.

Inmate, Outmate, in which members of the public voluntarily trade places with patients from Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital, to see who copes better. In week one, accounts adviser and father of three Chris submits to a programme of electro-convulsive therapy and pig tranquillisers, whilst delusional sociopath Ewan takes Chris’ family to the local garden centre, with unpredictable results…

Fame Battalion, in which a selection of former soap stars, barely literate sportsmen, disgraced politicians and reality whores are taken through the gruelling process of basic training by the Royal Anglian Regiment, before shipping out for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. In week three, the stars are tasked with policing a known hotbed of insurgents some 20 miles from the nearest support, if they are to earn enough stars for a fresh supply of ammunition and clean water. Watch out for Coleen Rooney’s hilarious attempts to conduct a perilous house-to-house search with only a dysentery-stricken Joe Pasquale for back-up.

Dancing With Tears In Their Eyes, in which a group of people with terminal illnesses compete in the intense world of ballroom dancing. Each week, we follow them through the highs and lows of learning new steps, bonding with their professional partners, undergoing chemo and periodically expiring in mid-tango. As a panel of bitter old choreographers, rampant egomaniacs, preposterous euro-twats and Dr Hilary Jones pronounce judgement on the performances of the increasingly gaunt and hollow-eyed contestants, we give you the audience the opportunity to vote which will receive a much needed ‘stay of execution’ in a hospice to rebalance their meds, and which will be forced to literally ‘dance till they drop’.

The Madrassa, in which a selection of disaffected youths, credulous buffoons and religious nutbags attend a hardline Islamic education camp somewhere in western Pakistan. In week two, former wiccan Becky is beaten for not lowering her eyes before the men, and Kieran, now Jabalah, studies the processional route of the forthcoming Royal Wedding.

Next, some new additions to the already saturated quiz-show market…

The Vanilla Quiz – 30 minutes of questions fired directly at the viewer, delivered by an unseen voiceover. No rounds, no bonuses, no contestants, no prizes. The only concession to tension is a heartbeat-style sound effect, played in the background, which gradually increases in tempo and speed as the end of the quiz approaches. Viewers like me, irritated by the ‘thinking aloud’ padding of Eggheads or the embarrassing ‘getting to know you’ bits in Mastermind, will welcome the introduction of 100% uncut quizzage.

The Slightly Different Quiz – basically the same as Fifteen To One or The Weakest Link, but whenever someone gets a question wrong, the contestant to the left must slap them full in the face. In the final head-to-head round, the quizmaster, armed with a dead halibut, stands directly in front of the two finalists, delivering a teeth-loosening two-hander for every wrong answer. The winner gets to take the fish home. A TV must for clever clogs, sadists and anglers everywhere.

Just to switch over to the wireless for a moment, here’s my idea for a disappointing 6:30pm Radio 4 situation comedy series. It’s called It Takes Two To Quango. It probably revolves around the chalk-and-cheese relationship between two dull and unoriginal sub-Yes Minister characters. It will feature otherwise reputable actors unwisely choosing to perform the sort of light comedy that should have been compassionately euthanized in the 80’s.

And finally, inspired by our recent New Year’s hols in the West Country, here is my latest drama submission for your approval: Jessie Wallace plays a single mum struggling to survive as Devon’s least likely call-girl. It’s called Westward Ho’. I think it will do well in the prestigious Doc Martin slot.

Happy viewing.