The sticky issue of Scottish Independence and Rangers fans

There’s a very interesting article at Wings Over Scotland about Rangers fans and how some of them are openly not only supporting a Unionist position (which isn’t a problem), but doing so based upon an unquestioning belief structure.

This excerpt from the piece is central to the problem.

Beliefs are strange things. A belief is armoured. For whatever reason, a belief is like a locked file on a shelf. It sits in our brain waiting to be accessed at a time when the pertaining subject matter comes into conversation. When that happens, the file comes off the shelf, the dust is blown away, and a whole set of opinions can be accessed and broadcast without complication.

As such, beliefs become hard-wired and established, more tenacious than a simple idea. The stronger the belief, the bigger the file. The older the belief, the more important the file. Belief, dogma, belonging and tradition all lock arms and conspire to prevent the brain from thinking. “Things should stay just as they are because that’s what I believe – I don’t need to talk about it. I don’t want to.”

Even when the belief is detrimental to the wellbeing of the individual or group, it often persists. Immense harm can come from belief. Religious or sectarian conflicts persist because people cannot change their belief. Class privilege, racism, sexism, and more all endure because people’s beliefs resist being updated for the modern age.

Taking a bad belief apart is painful. People are reluctant to even try. We all recognise this behaviour. We even have a caricature for it – putting one’s fingers in one’s ears and shouting “la la la la”.

This isn’t to say all Rangers fans are hardwired sectarian bigots. They’re not and I know people who support the team for footballing reasons, but a large number are and here’s the problem. They’re supporting the Unionist position because that’s what makes them comfortable and the one thing everyone agrees on is the idea of an independent Scotland is making people uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. People are scared, naturally of change, while others are, naturally, wanting to be shaken out of their comfort zone.

Supporting an independent Scotland means however that you break the current system and build something new from it, while the fear of change is too much for those sectarian Rangers fans clinging onto long lost memories. This after all would mean the end of the Union and the end of what certain bigots within Rangers cling to, and this would mean, hopefully, people drop an outmoded bigotry which doesn’t belong in Scotland in the 21st Century.

So I hope those decent Rangers fans weigh up the options based upon what they want to vote based upon anything but sectarian hatred.This doesn’t mean Celtic fans get a pass for those who also preach hate via their own sectarianism as this is a chance to rid Scotland of the undying hatred of some Old Firm fans who want to cling onto what’s made the West of Scotland and in particular, Glasgow, seem like a throwback to worse days.

What I thought of Doctor Who: Into the Dalek

Thoughts about Deep Breath.

Episode two or series 8 of the 21st century version of Doctor Who, Into the Dalek,  sees the return of the Daleks. Again. Every single series since the programme returned has seen the Daleks pop up over and over again to the point where they’ve went from incredibly effective monsters to cartoon baddies who are incredibly easily defeated. It’s worth noting that in the seven years Tom Baker played the Doctor, he faced off against the Daleks only twice. In short, the Daleks are now seriously overused, but the BBC need them to sell toys. Lots and lots and lots of toys. So the Daleks are back in what appears to be Stephen Moffat’s homage to Fantastic Voyage.

This is also the second of two episodes directed by proper film director Ben Wheatley who does really work wonders with what is becoming a noticeable decrease in budget from previous years. It’s also the first full episode with the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, not running around in the traditional post-regeneration mess. This is the new Doctor in full flow and so it’s an important episode because the audience is going to really start to decide whether it likes or dislikes Capaldi so the use of the Daleks so early is probably seen as a safe bet to help give the new Doctor a little boost in the ratings, and seeing as ITV’s popular shitefest The X Factor is back, it needs to keep the momentum going.

Into the Dalek is essentially nu-Who looking back and doing it well. The plot is basically that of Fantastic Voyage as mentioned, and this is even referenced in a line of dialogue, but for those of old bastards it’s also The Invisible Enemy, a serial from Tom Baker’s era. The story is basically the Doctor and companions get miniaturised and go into a captured Dalek who is the prisoner of some humans at some undetermined point in the future. This Dalek however is ‘good’ as it’s seen the birth of a star which has taught it the lesson that life prevails regardless of how many stars the Dalek Empire snuffs out.

Of course the Doctor finds what’s causing this in the Dalek (an internal radiation leak), seals it and this changes the Dalek back to the murdering psychopath we’re all used to which means the rest of the episode if spent trying to stop the Dalek, or indeed, try to make it ‘good’ again. In the course of this we find out more about Capaldi’s Doctor and he’s not nice, simple and heroic like Matt Smith’s or David Tennant’s. He’s very alien and very callous when it comes to human life being sacrificed when it needs to be, or at least until Clara slaps him in the face and gives him a serious bollocking. This Doctor has shades of Hartnell, with a lot of Tom and Colin Baker with a little bit of Pertwee. It’s quite brave of Capaldi (who I assume is helping guide the characterisation) to play a Doctor who isn’t just a grumpy old man, but almost sociopathic at times before flipping into childlike wonder at the universe. He’s not especially heroic so far, and in fact there’s a serious ambiguity around him hence the ‘am I a good man Clara‘ line.

And this brings me to Clara and Jenna Coleman. When she was started she was essentially a blow up doll who jumped around looking pretty at the side of Matt Smith. There was nothing to her, but now there is and Coleman is called upon to act, which she does very well. Clara is now the audience surrogate so it’s important she develops otherwise Capaldi’s Doctor is stillborn, so it’s good to say she’s becoming a fully formed female character. Somewhat of a first since Moffat took over.

This episode also sees the introduction of Danny Pink, a new character who is intended to be the boyfriend of Clara. He’s an ex-solider clearly suffering from PTSD, and apart from looking like Andros Townsend, he’s an interesting character so far. The fact he’s an ex-soldier is going to be obviously important after the end of this episode when the Doctor refuses to let one of the future soldiers join him as she’s a soldier. Make no mistake, this isn’t the easy to love Doctor of Tennant or Smith, this is harder and about as hard as you’ll see for something which is still a children’s/family programme for a Saturday teatime slot.

The plot is thin but this is about the new Doctor coming to terms with who he is and what he’s done, plus the intention he has to make things good, and better. The fact that he doesn’t create a good Dalek, but leaves the future humans with a Dalek who hates other Daleks because it’s looked into the soul of the Doctor to see his hatred for that race (yes, the Doctor is racist) and decided to kill them all. He’s failed from the very start of this regeneration. There’s no great victory even though he’s tried to be a ‘good man’.

Into the Dalek is a fine episode. Short on plot but it’s all about the characters. The direction is splendid and it’s nice to see Michael Smiley pop up in what is basically a cameo role. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is developing nicely, and the mystery of Missy is nicely developing without being too intrusive. In fact so far, this series is free of the messy storytelling of the previous two, and the lack of jump cuts every five minutes lets characters develop. It’s interesting to see this Doctor grow along with Clara. The problems are the thin plot, and the fact that the spaceship this is set on looks like a disused office in Cardiff because, well, it probably is. No matter how good a director you have, they can’t hide things like that.

Any criticisms though as small. This is a fine episode which sets this series up nicely and it has to be said, it’s nice to actually enjoy Doctor Who telling stories simply again.

Next week, Robin Hood?

It would have been Jack Kirby’s 97th birthday today

Last year I wrote a blog about what would have been Jack Kirby’s 96th birthday and I don’t have much more to add to that.

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But I do have a few things really. Since last year I’m chuffed to see much, much more mainstream media attention on Kirby, his work and although it’s in relation to the fact his work is being adapted to films such as the recent Guardians of the Galaxy (Groot, Celestials, Kree, Ronan are all Kirby creations)  it’s nice to see a creative genius like Kirby getting the attention he deserves. With a film of his Ant Man character coming out next year, they’ll be even more attention on the cultural debt we all owe Kirby.

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It’s a pity it’s after his death but I firmly believe that had Kirby been recognised for the talent he was, then he’d have been a figure like Andy Warhol and revered by mainstream art critics as opposed to a bunch of kids who loved how he made worlds come to life in work like Thor.

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Kirby was influential and most people don’t even know how much he created work which is a part of their lives, so in the build up to what will have been his 100th birthday we’ve got a chance to get that right. See, we were kids but we knew genius when we saw it. Now we’re grown up it’s our way of paying back and giving respect not only to Kirby, but those who worked with him and his family, including his granddaughter who runs the wonderful Kirby4Heroes campaign to help disadvantaged comic creators  in the US.

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Kirby would take an idea, use it and move onto another idea. This is fairly common and today creators do exactly the same and use an idea until they’ve milked it dry but Kirby would use ideas in a few panels, and then move on to more and more and more. His imagination was seemingly endless. So cheers for the fun and happy birthday!

 

 

 

What I thought of Bodies #2

Thoughts about #1.

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Bodies #2 starts the time-displaced murder mystery in the Victorian era with Inspector Hillinghead being propositioned by a ten year old boy for sex. As starts to a comic go, this seriously attracts the attention and I imagine possibly has parallels with current sexual abuse scandals, but it’s an arresting way to start the second issue.

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It’s a much better second issue than the first which I was a bit cagey on, which is mainly due to how the writer Si Spencer spins the mystery of the time jumping corpse more than just a Doctor Who plot. He also builds up the characters though the weakest link is the future London scenes which still feel like they’re too forced.

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Bodies is a nicely developing comic, though it could be better if it avoided reading like a Guardian editorial in it’s 2014 scenes which does somewhat detract from it’s portrayal of a female British Muslim character as a person as opposed to a political statement. The mystery Spencer is building up over the different time periods is what’s selling this comic as it is ultimately a story about a detective trying to solve a murder, albeit one across multiple time periods. The pacing is such that you want to find out what happens and for the time being, the faults this comic has isn’t getting in the way too much of the mystery at the heart of the comic and I do want to see what happens next issue.

 

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…..