What I thought of And Then Emily Was Gone #2

Thoughts about #1.

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Issue 2 of this fascinating detective/mystery/horror series has this synopsis from the titles website:

The skin-crawling horror saga continues! On the re
mote island of Merksay, Hellinger and Fiona cross paths with the highly eccentric locals in their search for Emily, unaware that they are being hunted. What secrets lie in Merksay’s dark hidden places? And more importantly…what’s in the box?

What indeed, is in the box? That’s not revealed from the start as the issue begins with the hitman from the first issue getting a new job and then it’s back on the island of Merksay settling into their new home on the island.

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You’ll have to buy the comic to find out what’s in the box, but it’s suitably weird and quite, quite creepy. In fact the entire comic is suitably weird and quite creepy, thanks mainly to the splendid art and the script which at times does force the weirdness just a tad, but most of the time is actually very good. Everyone in the comic is mental, but there’s a real Twin Peaks feel about the islanders on Merksay and this is a good thing as it keeps the reader unnerved.

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There’s so much to appreciate in And Then Emily Was Gone. In a market where new comics are either superheroes, or tedious sub Game of Thrones fantasy stories, this stands out as a cut above the rest dashed with some serious originality. The art by Iain Laurie really is the massive draw for this comic as it really is like very little being published in mainstream comics.

The entire thing is wonderful. It’s an engaging, creepy story that will make you want to come back for the next issue and I certainly will be back to find out more about the mysteries of Merksay.

What I thought of Pop #1

popPop, the new comic from Dark Horse Comics, has a brilliant idea at it’s heart.

What if the world’s pop stars and celebrities were literally products, grown by the world’s wealthiest (and most depraved) minds—and one of them escaped?

 

Written by Curt Pires (who sounds like a player Arsenal should have signed in 2001), drawn by Jason Copeland and with a fantastically designed cover by Dylan Todd, Pop stands out from not just the reams of TV and film tie-ins Dark Horse pump out, but in this week’s new comics.

The idea of disposable pop stars isn’t new, and Pires wisely decides to drop that Andy Warhol line in early to get it out the way. In fact it’s dropped in the third panel of page one and it’s a smart move, and yes, the comic opens with a dig at the horror that is Simon Cowell and his programmes like X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent.

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Fame is transient, so the idea that pop stars are grown is a fun idea, but the concept is so simple and understandable in 2014, that’s there’s no messing about as the comic belts right into the story. Elle Ray is the new pop star to be grown and she’s vanished from a guided tour by some mysterious investors.

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Once free, Elle Ray runs into Coop, a suicidal comic and record shop owner (with my own history, I can identify with this) and the pair hide from the attempts to find Elle Ray, by the mysterious smoking man, and this leads the comic to venture into satirical waters with certain pop stars getting very short shrift…

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Pop is great fun. It’s a romp that doesn’t get tiring that attacks people who need attacking, and it’s a thriller along with it. It’s not going to change the face of comics, but then again it’s a comic about pop stars and the transience of what pop stardom is, so it’s somewhat fitting that’s it’s such a bit of passing fun.

The first issue is in shops or can be downloaded from Dark Horse here.

About that Milo Manara Spider Woman cover…..

Milo Manara is an Italian comic artist who has been drawing comics for decades best known for what the middle class would call erotica and the rest of us call porn. Nothing wrong with porn and Manara draws it exceptionally well in works like Click!, but for me, his finest work is Indian Summer, a truly spectacular work of art, as well as soft porn. After 40 years in comics you’d have to be really, really, really bloody daft not to know what you’ll get with Manara who isn’t shy about what he draws.

So Marvel Comics decided to get Manara to draw one of the covers for their new Spider Woman comic and well, it looks like this.

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This caused a kerfuffle and a half, mainly it seems from people who’d never heard of Manara and quickly labelled him a misogynistic pervert, but seeing as Manara isn’t a misogynist, and is clearly a bit of an old pervert, that was only partly true. The Mary Sue tried to critique Manara’s work, but unlike the rightful critiques of the terrible Teen Titans cover that ended up with some fans threatening women with rape, this was clearly not the problem of the artist, but whomever had thought ‘oh, you know what, let’s get Milo Manara to draw this because he’ll be subtle”. To be fair though, this is a pose several male characters have been in, but then again they never were drawn by the leading erotic artist working in comics over the last four decades.

Now the moment Manara was announced to draw a variant cover people’s Spidey Sense should have been tingling but clearly Marvel quite literally didn’t give a toss as they’ve got the publicity they wanted, and that people have given them. Yes, it’s a tad sexist, but Manara is unapologetic (as seen in this translated interview from Italy that the Beat reprint) which isn’t half surprising when you consider he really has been doing this for longer than most of the people criticising him have been alive.

Manara does raise some interesting points about how the Americans deal with sex, censorship and how erotic art (soft porn) is seen but his comment about ” I just want to make something seductive that provides five minutes of relaxation.’ which is probably a euphemism for wanking, though he does later say ”But I do not think a design like the one on the cover of Spider-Woman could have masturbatory consequences”, which is hard to believe to be honest. If it is, it’s refreshingly honest in a tale where few people are actually being honest here. There’s a sense of faux outrage at Manara which detracts from the real problem which is someone at Marvel thought there’d be a load of nice publicity from the fallout.

It’s the cynicism of Marvel’s decision here that drowns out some of the more self righteous criticisms of Manara’s work, which to be fair, is pretty awful in this cover. Marvel knew they’d create a furor and people are falling for it so that any intelligent debate is being drowned out. Should Marvel have got Manara to draw a cover? Yes, why not. Should he have drawn something so obviously right out of a jazz mag? Yes, why not. Should Marvel have guided him? Yes, they should. Are Marvel heartless cynics pandering to a load of one-handed readers? Yes they are.  Is that wrong? In this context, yes, it probably is.

Where does it go from here? I dunno. There needs to be a debate but it’s going to get a bit sticky and messy, but while middle aged men with poor social skills run marketing departments (and having worked in marketing I can testify to this) in comic companies then this will go on, and on, and on…..

A vote for Scottish Independence is the only sensible option

It’s the second and final Scottish independence debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling tonight to be shown live on the BBC, which means those of us who live outside of Scotland won’t be at the mercy of STV Player as we were last time.

With just a few weeks left of campaign from both sides before the referendum this could help undecided voters make their decision. As a Scot living in England this could well also be the time when people here suddenly realise what’s at stake as an independent Scotland would change everything. Up until recently the general impression I’ve got from speaking to people about it ranges from a general contempt for the idea of Scottish independence (oh, Scotland’s too small anyhow), to ignorance of the issue as they think it’s about UKIP/BNP style xenophobia (oh, it’s because they hate the English isn’t it?) which often results in long conversations trying to explaining that over 400,000 English born people live in Scotland and this is about the idea that countries should have self determination to be truly democratic.

However the most annoying is the ”but it’s all about emotion isn’t it?’, which assumes the people of Scotland are just spotty teenagers kicking out against a hard, but loving parent. There’s little actual serious discussion but there is an increasing coming to terms that not only might it happen, but actually it might be something that works. The dawning of this is why there’s now such a focus on the currency side of the debate (as the Bank of England was nationalised in 1946, Scotland’s share of the pound’s assets would have to be returned which is why the BoE isn’t ruling out a currency union) as if it’s something the Yes side are confused about, but their position was made very clear in the White Paper which makes it clear Scotland can use Sterling just as Ireland did, and other countries did when gaining their independence.

There are things that the Yes campaign need to make clearer, and some of their number are playing on the Braveheart nonsense, while attacks on social media on Better Together supporters like J.K Rowling is pointless and helps only Better Together. This isn’t to say that Better Together are angels. They’re not, but it doesn’t help the debate to make the same sort of mistakes Better Together are.

There’s also the assumption it’s a debate of equals, when in fact Yes is a grassroots campaign that’s mobilised people drawing upon the support of people not just born in Scotland, but people who believe in democracy and that a country should be free to succeed or fail on it’s own without what Westminster decides, which these days, is for the benefit of London and the South East. The No campaign counts the entire UK establishment in it’s ranks so you’ve got some very strange bedfellows indeed as on one hand you have the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems showing there’s nothing separating them, sitting alongside the Orange Order, The Daily Mail, UKIP, The Guardian, The Telegraph, and a whole bunch of people and organisations acting in the interest of maintaining the status quo, The assumption and declarations they make say the Union has been of huge benefit to Scotland and in 2014 onward, it will continue to be.

Except it clearly isn’t. This isn’t to say Scotland hasn’t benefited from the Union. It has, but try telling someone in a shitty tenement in Possil that the Union is going to help them when they see billions of pounds worth of investment piling into London and the South East, while Scotland gets scraps back from what it pays in. There’s those on the Better Together side playing the ‘well, if you work hard, it’ll come” but with the majority of working families working hard and still being in poverty, it’s bloody obvious the system is broken not to mention, weighted for the very wealthy in an unequal society.

Better Together are telling you there’s a crock of gold at the end of the rainbow if you just stick with them then it’ll be alright, even though the evidence of the last 40 years says it won’t be. So the one thing you have to ask yourself if you are considering voting No is who exactly is going to be Better Together? It’s not going to be the working class and the unemployed, of the doctor or nurse working in a privitised NHS. With the Tories looking to further privatise the NHS, and Labour just being a slightly less evil version of the Tories, Scotland faces a problem with NHS funding under the Barnett Formula, so the truth is the only way to prevent an Americanised healthcare system is by voting for independence.

However with the entire establishment weighing in against independence which includes civil servants being advised how to vote, there’s still a lot of ground the Yes campaign has to do to make up ground. It can do that by highlighting how an independent Scotland can ditch austerity and create a more egalitarian society along the lines of the Scandinavian countries. Only today it was revealed that councils in the poorer areas are getting the worst cuts,  so that Scotland and the poorer parts of the UK aren’t seeing the benefits of a Union which is now serving the wealthy. It’s telling that a number of high profile Better Together supporters are very wealthy and while it’s simplistic to paint this as poorer people will vote Yes and wealthy No, there’s a line drawn between people who have benefited from the status quo and those who have too, but they want to look forward and ensure others also benefit.

It’s galling to see Better Together supporters on the Tory and Labour benches say that ‘Britain is broken’, but at the same time they present a picture of a shiny, happy Britain to the voters of Scotland that’s a sham. There’s no vision of Britain after a No vote, which incidentally, would also mean a shake up because if some of the rhetoric is to be believed, in the event of a No vote there are some in the establishment who will be looking to inflict some sort of ‘punishment’ upon Scotland and with some whipping up xenophobia against Scots for easy votes, then there’s a clearly uncertain future within the Union, not to mention a promise that Labour and the Tories will drag the UK further down this hateful neo-liberal path it’s trodden for too long.

The Yes campaign at least presents positive visions. A country unhindered by the sucking pit of London, and with power centres already well spread across Scotland (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen) the future can be bright. Yes, it will be a leap of faith but when you’ve been beaten, battered, dismissed, and called too small, too poor, and too stupid to make your own choices then the only logical option is to proves the bastards wrong. Some of those promoting the benefits of the Union suffer from some form of the Dunning-Kruger effect and they don’t see that the UK isn’t working. An independent Scotland sitting to the north and east of a diminished UK showing a workable socially democratic alternative to the Westminster system scared the living shite out of Cameron, Milliband, Clegg and all those others who benefit from the system weighted for the very few. My hope is that once people here in England, Wales and Northern Ireland see an example, they’ll demand more and change will come.

An independent Scotland can help those who’ve been in poverty for generations. It can create jobs. It can make things equal. It won’t be easy and there will be hard, hard times, plus an independent Scotland has to ensure success is spread all over, and this includes the Shetland and Orkney Islands right down to the Borders. Nobody should be left behind. Push that message and paint that vision alongside the vision of a UK in perpetual austerity, working families in poverty and the wealthy becoming even more powerful and Yes should find that push they need.

So, the people of Scotland. All of you be you Scots, English, Welsh, Irish or wherever. If you have a vote, use it and think not of the fear of change, but the fear of things staying the same. Things cannot remain as they are, and you have the power to change things. Use it on the 18th of September and give Scotland a chance to become an example for the rest of the UK to follow.

Overstreets World of Comics-Comic book documentary from 1993

This is a cracking find. Overstreet’s World of Comics is a documentary based around the San Diego Comic Convention in 1993 and details the world of comics as they were in those days just before the great comics bubble of the early 90’s went POP! It’s a fascinating watch to see how people thought that comics were going to be a huge investment for the future, and that comics coming from the likes of Valiant were massive investments. They weren’t. The entire market went down the toilet and a number of the companies featured in this film like Topps, went under, and companies like Marvel nearly went bankrupt.

What is striking is how comic focused San Diego was then as opposed to the big pop culture event it is. It’s about the medium of comics and there’s a lovely bit in the film about Golden Age artists like Murphy Anderson, a history of EC Comics, as well as a great interview with Jack Kirby, the man who built the house that Marvel are now exploiting for their films like The Avengers and Captain America.  It is however, Todd McFarlane who hogs a lot of time on the film because at that time Spawn was the biggest selling comic in the world, selling around a half a million to a million copies on average per issue. There’s a certain sad irony looking back at this seeing McFarlane talk with such idealism; something that vanished when the money started flooding in.

The film does have some amazingly tacky music running through it that makes it feel like a health and safety training video you see on the first day of a new job, If you can ignore that then this is a great bit of archive, if only to see Stan Lee say with a straight face that he hates taking from what other people have done….

What I thought of Doctor Who: Deep Breath

Matt Smith was not a bad Doctor contrary to what some say. He did however suffer from some truly awful scripts, and his second series was frankly, a total bloody mess as the series showrunner (an awful American thing which doesn’t really work in the world of British television) pumped out one half arsed script which involved Smith’s Doctor standing around looking puzzled as all the characters Moffat seemed more invested in (Rory, Amy, River Song) pushed the programme along. Smith’s last series was better, but after an ok first series, and a pretty terrible second, he never had the chance he deserved.

This wasn’t to say Smith didn’t have some great scripts. The Doctor’s Wife and Vincent and the Doctor are splendid but most of the time Smith had to wade through some of the most awful twee nonsense and no more so in his final story, The Time of the Doctor, a story which took plotlines and developments which had been built up for three or four years and resolved in a sentence. It was a huge disappointment after the surprisingly good 50th anniversary episode.

So when Smith came to the end of his run, it seemed like a good point to reboot the programme as it has done so many times over the years, but Moffat was still in charge albeit with the BBC taking a more guiding hand to ensure they get a full series a year and of course a new Doctor in the shape of Peter Capaldi. Casting Capaldi was an instant declaration that things would change from the tone Moffat established during Smith’s run, but what exactly has changed in Capaldi’s first episode? After all the hints from the trailers are that there will be a massive change in tone?

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Well Moffat has got a proper film director to direct it in the shape of Ben Wheatley. Wheatley is the director of the astonishing A Field in England which is one of the best films of this decade. The script however is still by Moffat, and in fact, the majority of this series is going to have Moffat scripts which is worrying based upon the evidence of the last couple of series. There’s also heavy use of the Paternoster Gang; fan favourites who are in serious danger of being overused, but clearly Moffat is trying to make things as safe as possible for all those fans still moaning about the casting of Capaldi as ‘too old’ , or an ‘old white guy’. Doctor Who now isn’t just a children’s programme & enjoyed by fans of different generations, but it’s a multi million pound moneymaking machine for the BBC popular around the planet, and with the BBC suffering from budget cuts and various scandals, they need something safe and secure.

As a regeneration episode, Deep Breath, follows the now well trodden cliches. A disorientated Doctor, his companion/s looking at him with curiosity, concern and alarm, not to mention very meta comments about what the new actor playing the Doctor looks like. There is a new title sequence and thankfully that horribly pompous version of the theme music has been replaced by something weirder and more electronic, but the most obvious change is that the pace is slower, much much slower so characters don’t just run around like lunatics. People actually stand around having conversations, which does belie the fact there’s a horrible amount of exposition in this episode, but Wheatley’s direction makes it interesting with some very good direction which is at times very avant garde which is what one would expect from the director but may well disorientate some people expecting straightforward action direction  which has been the norm for the past few series.

It’s not just the direction which has changed the tone, it’s the script. Yes, at times it’s a bit too all over the place, not to mention it’s reusing Moffat’s previous ideas, but on the whole it’s the sort of standard that made Moffat’s reputation on the programme. However it does feel a wee bit too staid at times, but with the episode’s focus on Jenna Coleman’s Clara companion it does feel that Moffat is reacting to the criticism that his female characters are bland one-dimensional stereotypes. He’s beefed out Clara in this episode which gives Coleman a chance to show that she can indeed act, but Moffat does only drag Clara up to two dimensions. It is an improvement I suppose.

The main drive of the episode is Capaldi. He quickly makes the role his after the usual scrambled Doctor stuff, and even though Moffat does pander to a section of fans (something this programme is becoming too used to doing even if it’s not good for itself) by having Matt Smith pop up in a cameo to reassure Clara (who is effectively mirroring what Moffat thinks is going to be part of the audiences reaction) that Capaldi is the Doctor and she needs to stick with him. It’s a nice idea but it is pandering not to mention it’s not letting go. I’d have preferred Clara and the Doctor to bond without the reassurance as we’re never sure what Capaldi’s Doctor is going to do (at one point we think he’s left Clara to her death) which after a couple of fairly heroic and reliable Doctors is a refreshing change. Capaldi drags even the most average dialogue in this up and he makes the entire thing seem much, much bigger.

They’ll be a lot of talk about the darker tone that Capaldi brings, which will be new for people used only to the new series, but the Doctor being a bit of a bastard was established by William Hartnell from the start, and traces of that turned up with every other Doctor since, especially Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee who is where Capaldi seems to have drawn some inspiration from. His portrayal though is his own clearly from the off.

Overall Deep Breath is a promising start as it tells a reasonably good story featuring the return of one of the new series monsters which will also serve to ease veiwers into these new waters. People will talk about the interspecies lesbian kiss, and the change in pace but by the end of the episode Capaldi is the centre of the programme as it should be. The episode ends with a tease of what is going to be the series overarching story.  Hopefully it’s not horrendously convoluted as the last two series, but ultimately enjoy this episode for the start of a promising new Doctor and for Peter Capaldi’s lovely performance.

What I thought of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night #1

agirlwalkshomealoneatnightA Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is billed as Iran’s first ‘vampire western’ and this comic version by the film’s writer Ana Lily Amirpour is drawn by Michael DeWeese and it’s bloody wonderful. I’ve never heard of much genre fiction coming from Iran although I’m aware of it’s comics scene.

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The comic tells the story of a lonely vampire in an Iranian city called ‘Bad City’ over one night as she prowls it’s darkened street. The art by DeWeese is wonderfully evocative in its thick blacks, and the writing by Arimpour is of an amazingly high quality that makes me wonder why on earth this release through Comixology isn’t getting more buzz and praise because it’s a lovely little comic and yes, I desperately want to see the film off the back of this comic.

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Yes, some of the art in the second half of the book is iffy at times but it doesn’t detract from a strange little story set in a place most of us in the West know little about. It’s 69 whole pence on Comixology and is worth taking a punt on.