Monday, 27 July 2015

Secret Wars: Marvel's Ultimate Crossover Bloatfest reviewed

Reworked splash from Mike Zeck's Secret Wars art, 1984
So, I've dipped into Marvel's current Ultimate Crossover Bloatfest, which for those of you who dwell outwith the worlds of comics is a several months long publishing event, affecting upwards of 40 regular comic books, with one mega-storyline directly or indirectly affecting characters big, small, forgotten or best-forgotten. This sort of thing's been going on since the mid-80s with the original Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars and - over the vibrational garden fence - DC comics' Crisis On Infinite Earths. The latest offering from the house of ideas is, confusing to greyhairs such as myself, also called Secret Wars. Or possibly Battleworlds. Or Warzones. It is... a mixed bag.

Essentially the 'in-game' background is this: all the different dimensions/worlds/alternate Earths were disappearing (probably an anti-matter wave or something), until only a couple remained, the classic mainstream Marvel Earth (also known as Earth-616, and a no-prize for the first person to correctly tell me where that designation first appeared) and the more recent Ultimate Earth (or Earth-reboot).

What's he sitting on? A tree?
Dried porridge? The Thing?
Some cosmic jiggery-pokery ensues (I don't know exactly what coz I didn't get whichever comic it happened in, but I'm hoping for a giant Kirby tuning fork), and a single planet Earth emerges. Except that it isn't really Earth at all - it's a patchwork collection of realms known collectively as Battleworld (again, confusingly like the original Secret Wars), all ruled over by Doctor Doom, who now wears white and is God, or at least a god, to quote Phil Connors. Why he didn't rename it Doomworld escapes me, as that is exactly what he would do. I suspect the Secret Wars/Batttleworld concept was set in stone before the DoomGod thing was.

Each realm/kingdom is ruled over by a different baron; often another villain (e.g. Baron Sinister and his Bar Sinister; I assume it's a really evil mutant pub) but not always (Sgt Fury rules the craply-named Europix in some sort of never-ending World War Two).  Nothing particular new in that - we've seen the 'villains carve up the planet for themselves' before, in Old Man Logan, the Ultimate line of comics, and Age of Apocalypse. Many of the realms hark back to particular comic events in Marvel history; Days of Future Past, Planet Hulk, Infinity Gauntlet etc. Consequently there are multiple Hulks wandering around, endless Wolverines (wasn't it ever thus) and - oddly - a planet-wise police force made up only of Thors (including frog Thor in a lab-coat - yay!).

The real-world commercial reason for the event is probably a) giant big crossovers sell and b) it's high time that the printed Marvel Universe more closely resembled the hugely popular meganaut that is the cinematic version (or MCU as we bores call it). And they're probably right. Much as I love the established mainstream Marvel continuity, which has - more or less - survived unscathed through the decades since Stan and Jack dreamt up Fantastic Four #1 back in 1961, it seems odd that the comics do not reflect the burgeoning MCU, which itself owes much of its look and feel to Mark Millar's reimagined version of the Avengers, The Ultimates.

Back when comics were fun, mutter mumble
With the exception of the odd movie tie-in comic, to my knowledge only the ongoing Iron Man series in any way resembles the on-screen version (though, shorn of Robert Downey Jnr's snarky charisma, Matt Fraction's paper depiction of Tony Stark is naught but an irritating tool, and isn't helped by endless tedious storylines involving corporate shenanigans and 'reinventing the scientific paradigm'. Yawn. Gimme the classic David Michelenie/Bob Layton era any day: Iron Man vs two dozen villains on Justin Hammer's floating island! Shellhead and Doom go back to Camelot! The Titanium Man crashes a Rodney Dangerfield gig!).

So, to Battleworld. Or possibly Secret Wars. Or Warzones. I picked up a bunch of issues this weekend at the ever-pleasant Orbital Comics in London, where I had a delightful chat with the chap at the till about Fables. The comics I selected were all either issues #2 or #3, so I was coming in slightly late to the story. Still and all, comics are published in serial form, and should be expected to make some kind of sense to readers who haven't been there from the beginning.

In many modern comics, and Secret Wars is no exception to this, an effort has been made to bring newcomers up to date with the story by means of a single page recap, often with teeny-tiny headshots of the the main characters. This technique recently reached its nadir with Jonathan Hickman writing the Avengers (I forget which flavour), with literally dozens of character headshots peppering the recap page, like a Legion Of Superheroes yearbook. But more of Mr Hickman's influence later.

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Here's what I issues I read, why I picked them off the shelf, and what I thought of them:

Secret Wars #3 (of 8)

Never tire of Alex Ross' Spidey
Why I picked it up: It has a groovy Alex Ross cover - a split screen with half of Reed Richards and a bunch o' heroes (both Spideys, Ladythor etc) on one side, and some dude in silly hat with a bunch of villains on the other. For all Ross' genius at painting likenesses of comic characters, the headshot of Maximus (who some call mad) is unintentionally hilarious - he looks like Jim Carrey about to do a Jimmy Hill impression.

The other villains include forgettable Hickman dweebs with daft two-part names like Corvus Glaive, Midnight Swan and my least/best favourite, Proxima Midnight, or Five To Twelve as I like to call her.

What I thought of it: Eh. This series is the main spine of the entire Secret Wars event, so it necessarily must hop about from realm to realm. And it does so with the usual lack of characterisation that is a Hickman trademark - only grieving, shell-shocked Reed and a babbling Miles Morales (Ultimate Spidey) display anything like a personality; everyone else just delivers stentorian globs of dialogue with all the charm of a broomstick.

It also seemed to be a bit of a breather between issues as there was an awful lot of chat and very little action, apart from a spaceship opening up to reveal a bunch of 'pre-Crisis' survivors, which was nicely done. I also liked the hidden Isle of Agamotto.

Nice artwork from Esad Ribic, though the shot of Doom's face, whilst disturbing, doesn't seem horrific enough - it looks like he could have dispensed with the metal face mask and got away with a cyclist's scarf over his nose all these years.

The Korvac Saga  #2
Sadly no Starhawk/Aleta body-swapping

Why I picked it up: As a youngster, I loved the original Korvac Saga in the Avengers, in which the team must first discover why their team-mates keep disappearing to (spoiler: it's the Collector, 'saving' them from Korvac), and then must team-up with the original Guardians of the Galaxy (from the 30th century, you know) to battle a near omnipotent godlike being called Michael Korvac, who seems content to quietly rule the world from his nice house in Forest Hills. This issue's cover depicts a bunch of second-string Avengers (Wonder Man, Moondragon, the original Captain Mar-Vell, Jocasta) and the original Guardians mixing it up.

What I thought of it: Competently written by Dan Abnett, with decentish - almost John Romita Jnr like - artwork from Otto Schmidt. It turns out that Korvac is running a realm in Battleworld called Forest Hills (a nice callback) and is playing host to a diplomatic visit from Wonder Man and his Avenger bodyguards from the realm of Holy Wood (ahahaha).

Not really very much of interest here. Some people spontaneously monster out and there is some fighting and some talking. Korvac isn't wearing his t-shirt and shorts, nor does he ever glow yellow and purple with Cosmic Power. Also Wonder Man's personality doesn't seem to match any of his previous incarnations; not the indecisive hesitant hero wannabe of the early years or the solid hero of the 90s solo series. Nice to see the original future Guardians of the Galaxy though.

Ultimate End #3
Ultimate Cap has more stars and pouches
than Mainstream Cap, but less head-wings.

Why I picked it up:
It has a nice cover of mainstream Spidey and Ultimate Cap.

What I thought of it:
Good stuff from writer Brian Michael Bendis doing what he does best, cracking dialogue from characters he loves. Rather splendidly, it was only on the second read-through that I noticed all the Ultimate characters speak in sentence case, while ALL THE MAINSTREAM CHARACTERS SPEAK IN CAPS. Marvellous. They do they same thing in the main Secret Wars series. Once I figured that out, it made the Bruce/Doc Green and Punisher/Punisher interaction a lot more comprehensible, though I couldn't figure out why Doc Green loses his silly beard and goes pink when he Hulks out (even more). And the Punisher on Punisher scene was a bit daft.

The mainstream Wrecking Crew wondering where all the 'kiddie superheroes' had come from (the Ultimate comics line having somewhat younger characters) was a nice touch.

Continuity-wise, I think the Ultimate End storyline is supposed to take place before all the other Secret Wars comics. I think. Can't figure out where it fits in - with both the Spideys and Doc Green also appearing in other SW comics in vastly different circumstances, and beards.

Planet Hulk #3
Ohhhh - I've just noticed the big jaws! Doh.

Why I picked it up:
The cover is a great birds-eye shot of a barbaric Captain America accompanied by his 'warbound' partner Devil Dinosaur. Devil Dinosaur! Yay! Sadly he does not display the Gary Busey-like choppers of his original Kirby incarnation, but still: Cap and a red tyrannosaur together, trekking across some sort of Hulk-themed Cursed Earth. I'm so there.

What I thought of it:
S'alright. Turns out they're also accompanied by Doc Green, the slightly silly Bruce-with-goggles version of the Hulk. They're on a quest/mission across 'Greenland' to either rescue Bucky or kill the 'red king', who I assume is Red Hulk. There's plenty of action, a lot of walking/talking and oodles of greenies from a sort of down and out Maestro-Hulk to a bunch of Mad Max tribal Hulks.

Not much to it, but like another SW series Weirdworld (Conan expy Arkon treks across a... well, weird world), it does what it says on the tin. There's also a slightly homoerotic flashback between Cap and Bucky, though that could be just me unconsciously indulging in a bit of 'shipping.

Squadron Sinister 2
If only the Four could save the world

Why I picked it up:
I have always loved the Squadron in both its Sinister and Supreme models (even though the Supreme Power series went on for too long). So a series focussing on the evil Marvel version of the Justice League is most attractive, especially as they appear here in their classic 60s/70s guises. But the real selling point for me was the Frightful Four front and centre on the cover!

Though they are traditionally seen as something of a joke threat for the Fantastic Four, I have come to love the Wizard, Sandman, Trapster and Medusa ever since they played a crucial role in a long running Marvel Superheroes campaign I ran called Seconds.

What I thought of it:
Pretty good, though as with any series where the villains are the protagonists, the writer needs to work hard to make them interesting, if not sympathetic. A challenge that I think Marc Guggenheim falls short of here: Hyperion and Warrior Woman (not Power Princess?) are casual brutes, Whizzer a bit of a nobody, Dr Spectrum has no character at all, and Nighthawk is a downright sadist. John Ostrander's Suicide Squad managed the trick by making at least a couple of the central villains enjoyable, whether it was snarky Captain Boomerang, self-destructive Deadshot or the troubled Enchantress. Here, they are all just nasty tools.

But! It does contain the Frightful Four, though sadly not for long. I would have preferred to see them get a few more licks in, especially with the ultra-smart Wizard leading them. Secondly, of all the SW comics I picked up, this does the best to convey the idea that this truly is a battle world, with neighbouring realms going to war and invading all over the place.

And what a hoot some of those realms are! We have Sgt Fury's World War Two zone (massively outclassed by the invading Frightful Four and Squadron Sinister), featuring long-forgotten characters like Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders, and the even more obscure Combat Kelly and his Deadly Dozen! Then there's a page featuring heroes from the original New Universe, before it got a cynical Warren Ellis makeover; Starbrand, Spitfire, Merc, even Kickers Inc - they're all here. Splendid.

* * *

All in all, a mixed bag. There's a whole bunch of other Secret Wars titles out that I haven't yet glanced at - Where Monsters Dwell, Future Imperfect, 1872, X-Men '92, Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders...

The optimist in me would like to think there's enough of a spread, both in characters and genres something there for most comic readers, and maybe even draw in new readers.

What do you think of Secret Wars so far? Lemme know.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Through a Glass Darely: Ministry of Space

I contributed a couple of articles to online magazine Journey Planet, for their Dan Dare issue - #22 - in May 2015. Note the pretentious yet clumsy title, as I strive for genuine comics-bore authenticity.

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“MINISTRY OF SPACE is a fantasy - but I don’t think it’s an exclusively British fantasy. It wasn’t important to me that Britain went to the moon. It was important that people went to the moon. I don’t care what accent they speak or what colour they are. Making the world of Dan Dare real was my way into the story. But I think the story itself has universal currency. We’re all stuck down here together. But the way out has costs. Was it worth destroying the great human enterprise of exploration just to score political points? That’s what happened. What cost could be borne? Freezing Britain’s social condition in to an eternal 1953? Killing allies? Taking gold stolen from the mouths of corpses?”

Warren Ellis’ Afterword in the Ministry of Space collected volume (Image, 2005)

If you were browsing a comic shop around May 2001, your eye might have been caught by a striking cover of three aeroplanes soaring above the clouds; two were WWII-era Spitfires whilst the third was a larger 1950s-ish aircraft which had more than a hint of Chuck Yeager’s sound barrier-breaking Bell X-1, only this particular bird was decked out with the red, white and blue insignia of something called the Royal Space Force. The cover was of Image comics’ Ministry of Space issue #1, by writer Warren Ellis, artist Chris Weston and colourist Laura Depuy.

Ministry of Space (MoS) is a beautifully conceived and lovingly executed alternate-history of space travel. The ‘what if’ in question being ‘What if the British, and not the Americans, claimed the Nazi rocket scientists after the Word War Two, and went on to dominate space?” In three issues (the first two published in 2001, the last an agonising 3 years later in 2004), MoS crafts a plausible timeline of events, starting in the dying days of the war with an act of bravado and brutality that sets the underlying tone for the entire story of a British space programme that could have been.

At its heart is the fictional John Dashwood, an aptly-named former Hurricane pilot and Battle of Britain veteran. Dashwood is a magnificent bastard, a visionary monster who drives his country’s space programme forward at breakneck speed with relentless determination and self-belief. There are elements of real-life RAF ace Douglas Bader to him (and not just because of his ‘tin legs’) as well as Colonel Dare of course (Ellis was inspired to create MoS when he came across an old copy of the Dan Dare collection The Man From Nowhere in his attic).

But Dashwood is much more than Dare with a Robert Donat moustache, or in his later years Sir Hubert Guest with spectacles. Nor is he simply the Evil Spock version of Dan. For the fifty-plus years that the story covers, he is the heart (if not the soul) of the Ministry of Space, a programme that not only puts Britain head and shoulders above both the Americans and Russians in the race to the Moon and beyond, but affects the country itself in numerous other political and social arenas, from rationing to the Suez crisis to the extended life expectancy of the British Empire. He does terrible things in his pursuit of his dream, but also performs magnificent acts of personal bravery along the way. Like a lot of real-life pioneers he is a monstrous hero, and in MoS a compelling protagonist.

Here then, is a brief timeline of Ministry of Space, somewhat redacted to avoid a major plot spoiler.

  • 1945 - History takes a left turn when the American Operation Paperclip is gazumped by the RAF’s Air Commodore John Dashwood. Dr Wernher von Braun and his German rocket science team are spirited away to Britain from under the noses of the Americans. The US Army extraction troops are killed when the Peenemunde rocket science base is flattened by Bomber Command.
  • 1946 - Britain breaks the sound barrier.
  • 1948 - Victory, the world’s first artificial satellite is shot into orbit. It broadcasts ‘God save the King’ in Morse Code.
  • 1950 - Britain pioneers manned spaceflight with the rocketplane Britannia. Rather than a space capsule, Britannia has a reinforced, pressurized cabin and a leather seat. Dashwood, wearing his old pilot’s jacket, becomes the first man in space, but he loses his legs when Britannia crashlands. Dashwood is knighted for his services to the Empire.
  • 1953-56 - The Churchill space station is constructed.
  • 1957 - The National Service Act 1948 is not abolished, and instead now includes service in the ‘The Royal Space Force’.
  • 1960 - The Union flag is planted on the Moon. It is claimed in the name of Queen Elizabeth II and the British Empire.
  • 1969 - An RSF fleet of nuclear-engine rockets establishes a colonial base on Mars.
  • 1969-2001 - Britain’s space stations and colonies on the Moon and Mars thrive, with mining operations in the Asteroid Belt. Certain irregularities concerning the original source of the budget for Sir John Dashwood’s ambitious space programme come to light.

So that’s the bones of the story; what of the look and feel? For my money, a series like this stands and falls on its art. It needs a certain sort of artist to bring the real-life aircraft and fictional space vehicles to life with equal authenticity. In his afterword, Ellis says that British artist Chris Weston was his only choice for MoS. Weston had already made his name for 2000AD and DC comics, and was a former apprentice to the legendary Don Lawrence of Trigan Empire fame. From Spitfires and Hurricanes to the experimental rocketplane Britannia, the Arthur C Clarke-inspired Churchill space station and massed might of the Martian exploratory fleet, Weston’s renditions of the ministry’s spacecraft are beautifully plausible-looking products of an alternate 20th century technology, like 1950s and 60s diagrams from Eagle comic itself or Look and Learn. Only in a single splash page in issue #3, a shot of young boys in shorts wearing heli-packs hovering over an alternate 1960s London, do the visuals of MoS stray into whimsy (this page looking a little of place, as if it has sneaked in from an issue of Alan Moore’s Tom Strong).

Laura Depuy’s sterling work as colourist is awash with bright sky blues, intense golden white rocket blasts, RAF serge deep blues, star-speckled spacescapes, grey lunar terrain and eerie Martian reds and oranges. Everything has a clean, bright feel, like paintings from an old Ladybird book.

Ellis himself, a self-confessed space nut, demonstrates that he has the write stuff when it comes to space race stories, peppering MoS with dialogue between Dashwood and (the never named) Dr Wernher von Braun that drips with aeronautic authenticity, as they argue over the pros and cons of three-stage launches, chemical engines, nuclear motors and space station construction. Ellis’ dialogue sparkles in this story, with the ever-quotable Dashwood - putting himself in the pilot’s seat for Britain’s maiden manned flight into orbit - getting all the best lines:

“Orbital-1 will go up in 1950. It will be a plane that can be flown. We’re not in the business of catapulting potatoes over the horizon. And I will be flying her.
And I want the bloody cabin reinforced and pressurised! I am not going to space wrapped in tinfoil! I’m an English airman and I want to wear my bloody jacket and sit in a decent leather chair!”

MoS, issue #1

The series isn’t perfect. The overall plot itself is fairly light, using an ageing Dashwood in 2001 confronting his past as the skeleton for the flashbacks from 1945 to the present day. The individual episodes from each year are in themselves excellent vignettes, but the over-arching plot such as it is, is a little bland: old Dashwood gets into a spaceship, ponders the past, then argues with some people in a space station, the end. 

And there is a somewhat heavy-handed final panel which unsubtly hits the reader in the face with one of the book’s underlying themes, that being that the price Britain paid for its space supremacy was social stagnation and discrimination. Likewise, the shock revelation regarding the funding for Dashwood’s ‘black budget’ seems to have been added to the story only to further confirm him as a terrible monster. Both storytelling elements feel like leftovers from overly-earnest, politically critical comics of the 80s and 90s and might have been better served with a lighter touch.

Enough of the literary criticism. What’s cool about Ministry of Space? Here’s a personal list:

  • All of the craft, but especially the Martian fleet - if they did a comic of the classic 1950s Journey Into Space radio series, it would look like this.
  • The Lowlands University shout-out to BBC comedy-drama A Very Peculiar Practice.
  • A V-3 rocket launching from Essex.
  • “…where the bloody hell are my legs?”
  • Spaceships launching to a casual “Chocks away.”
  • The union flag on the Moon.
  • Engineering product placement, from the Rolls Royce orbital shuttle to the lunar Shackleton Rover (complete with Rover badge on the bonnet).
  • Every single page splash.
  • Jodrell Bank and Woomera.
  • The 5-page sequence of the Martian fleet.
  • The Royal Space Force roundel.
  • “You made us monsters.” “I made you great.”

For a three-issue comic series that came out with very little fanfare, MoS punches above its weight when it comes to its legacy, efficiently encapsulating the visuals and themes of an alt-history that fuses 1950s Dan Dare derring-do with The Right Stuff’s rich grounding in science and politics. Its impact on the wider sci-fi/comics/gaming community can be measured by the fact that the oh-so useful term ‘Ministry of Space’ is now used to neatly sum up a certain sort of genre and setting, as if it has been with us as long as British sci-fi mainstays like Quatermass or Journey Into Space.

There is much to love in Ministry of Space, which for all its dark secrets and bloodied hands feels like part love letter to Dan Dare’s stiff upper-lipped pluck, part wish-fulfilment for those who never wanted the sun to go down on the British Empire and part good old-fashioned space fiction.

Tally ho!

Further reading

Planetary (Wildstorm comics), also by Warren Ellis, which also uses an alternate space program (this time a secret US Ares project, with an evil Fantastic Four).
Journey Into Space, by Charles Chilton. The British radio serial from 1953-58. Operation Luna (series 1) and The Red Planet (series2) in particular have a marvellously authentic feel of space exploration, and are wonderfully atmospheric. 
Rockets, Rayguns and Really Nice Tea. British-based live action roleplaying system inspired by Dan Dare, Quatermass and Ministry of Space.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Getting Raw

It is a sad fact that many of my generation, myself included, are unable to get through the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive without gobbing out ‘Get raw with the fever on the dance floor’ halfway through.

The true number of young people who were forever affected by N-Trance’s predatory activities may never be known, but it is hard to deny that remixes, mega-mixes and mash-ups can do lasting harm to both listener and original artist.

Even today, there are many who have no idea that the chorus of Abba’s Voulez Vous does not in fact lead straight into a line from SOS, thanks to proto-mixer Jaap Eggermont’s insidious Stars on 45. I myself once attempted a full system reset by playing nothing but Abba Gold from start to finish on repeat during a long drive to Durham, but the ghost of the insistent clap-machine still haunts every track.

Then there are the thousands, if not millions, who were unwittingly exposed to Jive Bunny in the 80s and 90s, millions who to this day cannot sing the opening line to Let’s Twist Again without stuttering out ‘Come on everybody c-c-come on everybody’. These are old wounds; they have never healed.

When will the authorities wake up and address this shameful legacy of our past? At the very least some sort of truth and reconciliation session is needed. Calling Mirage’s Jack Mix to the witness stand…

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Voyage to the Back of the Cupboard

My morning intake of Rice Krispies was derailed today by an unexpected Voyage to the Back of the Cupboard. There I was, fishing out a cereal bowl (a decent deep one mind, not one of your rubbish shallow plates that they try to pass off as bowls) when I casually tossed a box of tin foil to the back of the cupboard - I admit it, I’m a casual tosser - only to watch it tumble over the back board of said cupboard and disappear down into some hitherto undiscovered country betwixt wood and wall.

Who on earth in their right mind designs kitchen cupboard units with back panels that only reach two-thirds of the way up? I assume the designers must have decided that what their customers really need of a morning is half an hour on their knees retrieving their lost comestibles (I honestly have no idea what a comestible is; something that may comest, I suppose) from the dusty terra incognita of the kitchen netherlands.

There followed an enriching thirty minutes pulling off overlapping skirting panels in a precise order that only spatial prodigies the likes of Patrick Bossert (look him up) could master, to then be confronted with the terrifying murky world beneath the cupboards, a land that has not seen (artificial) light for nigh on these fifteen years. And there, resting in the pillowy dust dunes right at the back, lay the box of tin foil

I retrieved the foil and no inconsiderable amount of filth along with it. I also found the following random treasure items:

  • A nail
  • A dead fly
  • A token from a Yorkshire Tea packet (expired)
  • Lumps of concrete that I worry should be holding the floor of the flat together
  • A 3-pin plug (disconnected)
  • A quarter-full bottle of Tesco balsamic vinegar of Modena (expiry Sept 2011)
  • Various mysterious machine parts, either from the oven, a formula one engine or the chameleon circuit of a Type 40 TT unit.

Not exactly attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, but we make our own adventures where we can.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Screen Dumps

In which the Ocelot burbles on about telly and fillums.

The Danger Mouse Paradox

He's terrific.
And another thing, right? Danger Mouse. So we were watching a couple of episodes late last night, and DM and Penfold are hopping off and on the Orient Express and nosing around galleries in Venice. Despite being a (dangerous) mouse and a (frankly useless) hamster, they're clearly of roughly human adult size, or at worst child size.
But, but, they live in a frickin' postbox! Not crammed inside like a couple of mummies spooning in a sarcophagus, but like it's a big red penthouse! And when they fly out in their car on a mission, they leave via a secret exit in the bloody kerbstone! They are clearly actual rodent size at that point, but by the time they arrive at the mission target, they've grown by a factor of 8. What gives? I can only conclude that DM's flying car is also equipped with size-changing Pym Particles - a reference that only a small fraction of the population understands right now (until July 17th).

So assuming that DM and Penfold have access to size-changing technology en route, what does that mean for Baron Greenback, Stiletto and the rest of the villains? We never see them in the postbox, only in the outside world, where they're all human-sized too. Do they shrink and grow, or are they always big? Is Greenback sometimes toad-sized and sometimes human sized? What about Nero, whatever the Cosgrove-Hall he is?
It's this sort of shoddy writing that destroys any willing suspension of disbelief in the greatest secret agent in the world being a one-eyed mouse in a matching turtle neck (or possibly he just has a distressing band of goitres).
Also, even though the eyepatch only conceals his (presumably horrific) blind eye, there's no eyebrow above the patch. Was it burnt off in whatever traumatic incident destroyed his eyeball? Or does he simply shave it off so it doesn't get tangled up in the patch's string?
Next: Why it's always better to be in a team of two in Blockbusters.

Game of Tardisses

I understand that Ahyah Stark is guest-starring in the next series of Dr Who
Here's hoping for more Game of Thrones cameos. Personally I'd like to see the Hound turning up with a chainsword and going Dee-Kay, and Ser Jorah dragging along behind the Doctor, helpfully explaining the local customs of every fricking place they go to.

Han Solo Prequel

"That must be your mama's land-speeder!"
Let the crying out of millions of voices commence.
I very much hope that this Solo solo will give us an insecure teen Han, possibly with a stammer and poor blaster skills. Chewie could have lank fur hanging down over his eyes and an ironic bandolier worn backwards. Also Lando with a Kid'n'Play hi-top fade.
Let the crying out of millions of voices commence.
I've just thought - they could do the entire prequel using footage of Harrison Ford from pre-Star Wars films. All they'd have to do is crop him out of American Graffiti and stick him in a souped-up black hot-pod, hassling other drivers on a Saturday night.

SFX: Now celebrating 20 years of
a tedious SEX gag on the cover

The Bland From UNCLE

Promo shot from the new Man from UNCLE, courtesy of SFX mag.
I hate to pre-judge (who am I kidding - I love it), but don't this pair look like the blandest possible casting choice? Armie Hammer especially looks like he's been given a Fassbender-as-Prometheus-droid makeunder.
I have already recast this film in my head with Jon Hamm and Aaron Paul and find it much more to my liking.


Much as I find many elements of the TV adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell irritating (far too many Johns, preposterous Metaluna fairy, long-windedness, horrible orange-and-teal colour tint, Paul Kaye's off-the-peg mystic tramp, the dull, dull Stephen), I cannot get enough of fruity Mr Drawlight rolling his mouth around "Mister NorrrrELL".
I quite like Childermass too, for all his geezery scowling.
And the actual big-ass magical effects are cool, 'specially the sandhorses and the rainships. And Bigby's Giant Muddy Hand.

Oh, and "Do you wish to be shot? Then behave differently" was good too.

Pitch of the Day

Been thinking up movie titles today.
Sweet Christmas!
The best one so far is The Moomin Centipede.
I thank you.

Cage Match

I'm probably far from the first person to say it, but man, Terry Crews would have been perfect to play Luke Cage. A bit too old now, unforch.
I'm sure Mike Colter'll be alright, but Terry Crews is Cage to his toes.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Screen Cleaner and Bat's Wee

Was despatched to Tesco's last night for some - and I quote - 'cheap rum'. Was amused and disturbed in equal parts by the plain label 'Tesco Everyday Value Rum' on offer. This has the tinge of Orwell's Victory Gin to it.
No doubt the epicureans/functional alcoholics/pirates among you are well aware of the concept of 'everyday rum', but to me this feels odd. Like it's a household staple.
"Let's see now... bread, check, milk, check, toilet tissue, check, what else? Oh yes, a ration of grog made from screen cleaner and bat's wee, check. That's the basic shopping done."
Now looking out for Tesco Everyday Value Heroin. Bet you get lots of club card points for that.

My First Superhero

Another article I wrote for online magazine Journey Planet, for their superhero issue - #21 - in April 2015.

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Appearing here with Sword Girl and Bird Nose
I guess that must have been Hulk. OK, the Hulk if you want to be all formal. I suppose he counts as a superhero, since he had his own weekly Marvel comic (black and white UK reprint The Mighty World of Marvel) at the time, but then so did Dracula and Planet of the Apes. In the comics I first read, Hulk stories consisted mainly of him getting shot at by the US Army, causing innocent bystanders to flee in terror and battling equally muscle-bound monsters like Rhino, Abomination, Zzzax (I had to check the spelling) and the excellently-hatted Xemnu the Titan. Hulk didn’t go much for crime-fighting or making the world a better place.

No good reason for using this - I just love the cover

If Hulk did occasionally save the world, it was more as a by-product of him accidentally pulverizing a bad-guy’s doomsday weapon in the middle of their fight, rather than by any conscious intention to do good. This was the era of the ‘Hulk-Smash’ incarnation - a childlike titan who just wanted to be left alone, but yet was continually hunted and hounded (a term used almost every issue) by those that would seek to capture him, revenge themselves on him or simply prove that they could beat him. That latter motivation was inevitably doomed, because, as was often roared by the jade giant himself, ‘HULK IS THE STRONGEST ONE THERE IS!’. Right on, Hulk baby, as his 70s sidekick Jim Wilson might say.

Just leave him alone!
Hulk was a great character for a young reader like me. He wasn’t that complicated - a childlike loner with Unearthly Strength (‘increases to Shift X when he rages’) and not too much back story (in the days before Joe Fixit and Skaar and Doc Green). And he was easier for me to draw than, say, Spider-Man, whose webbed costume always proved to be a challenge. With Hulk, as long as you had a green and a purple crayon, you couldn’t really fail, although in one very early drawing I did of him he appeared to have the face of the late Norman Wisdom.

The best thing about Hulk was his own special Hulk-speak, which consisted of referring to himself only in the third person (a classic comic device; see also Dr Doom) and giving everyone else their own unique Hulk nickname. Thus Spider-Man was ‘BUG MAN’ or more often ‘PUNY BUG MAN’, the Thing was of course ‘ROCK MAN’ and so on. For years I thought that the superhero Valkyrie was called ‘SWORD GIRL’*.