Happy Burns Night

Today is Burns Night where fellow Scots, new Scots and anyone inclined, celebrates the writings and life of Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s most famous poet. Many a haggis will be cruelly ripped from their mountain homes and slaughtered for our delight but it is for the man Burns that we do this.

Tonight raise a dram and insert a form of steaming haggis and tatties in your mouth in celebration of the man himself and enjoy one of his best works!

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The real effects of toxic fan culture

Twenty years ago there was a new Star Wars film; the first for 15 years. The Phantom Menace was eagerly anticipated, as you may well imagine and indeed, news programmes at the time focused on how much people were looking forward to it.

In the film was a character completely animated by computer based off the performance of Ahmed Best. Jar Jar Binks was going to be the character to bring in a generation of younger fans, as well as being the main provider of the film’s comic relief. It was at the time an amazing break.

Then the internet kicked in.

In 1999 the internet wasn’t as it was now. It was still in the Wild West phase as it was growing but still somewhat regulated as social media was years away so most people were either blogging, or posting on forums to give the world their opinions. There was also Angelfire sites, but we’ll move on swiftly from those.

The backlash against Jar Jar wasn’t instant from  what I remember. It was a slow burn as fans realised that actually, the film was pretty poor and a mess. It was more of a slow rumble as fans turned on Jar Jar, with some turning on Best himself as if it was his responsibility that George Lucas cocked it up. By the end of 99 as we entered a new millennium, Jar Jar, and Best, were figures of fun and mockery of a scale and ferocity all too asimilar to the fan outrages that happen almost daily today. Thing is there’s a real world consequence of this as Best makes clear in the following video.

That’s right, a man nearly killed himself because he acted in a film and fans (A section of them at least) tore him down bit by bit for shits and giggles. There’s a section of fans who could not give a fuck about the human consequences because the backlash became more than just a laugh as it turned into institutionalised bullying.

Fast forward to 2019. This sort of this is happening daily. on a scale that we couldn’t imagine in 1999 and we’re seeing it get worse as Comics/Gamergate types target people in order to destroy their careers, even lives. Words have real world consequences and perhaps in order to create a better, kinder world we should learn the lesson of Ahmed Best and try to make things better than worse?

How good does the Resident Evil 2 remake look?

Back in the 90’s when I first got a Playstation I’d play Resident Evil 2 til my thumbs bled. The load screen became imprinted upon my eyes.

A remake was announced a while back. Would it even capture anything of what wasn’t just a game, but a crucial part of culture for those of us of a certain age who invested so much of our time into the game.

Well, just look at this!

Roll on January.

Go read my UKCAC piece in Fanscene #2

I’ve written a number of UKCAC pieces on my blog here. One of them has been slightly adapted for the second issue of the splendid fanzine, Fanscene.

The 50th anniversary mentioned is of the first British comic convention in Birmingham in 1968 which essentially spawned not just the British fan scene, but also the British comics industry. Every year since 1968 there’s been at least one large convention held in the UK,  sometimes these events were thrown together in the last minute, or in the case of today there’s at least a dozen or so large conventions with hundreds of smaller cons of varying quality filling up a busy calender but there’s no way this would exist were it not for the work done in the 50 years since that first con.

So, download the magazine here and enjoy what is a smashing good read.

Losing Harlan Ellison

I have a Harlan Ellison story. Lots and lots of people who’ve been in, or are fans of, comics, SF, fantasy or just fans of his writing have a story. I’ve told mine before but here it is again. In 1985 at a SF convention in Glasgow, Ellison was guest of honour and was having great fun pissing off and entertaining all the right people because even as a young lad somewhat awestruck at being even in the same city as one of his heroes, I could see that Ellison danced the line between genius and arsehole easily. One minute he’s be amiable and chatty, the next he’d be annoyed and angry but he’d never compromise himself. His comments about writers getting paid show this.

So back to the story. I was working a dealers table selling comics and Ellison came in to have a shufty at our stuff. He picked a few things up and much to everyone’s surprise knew more about British comics than I’d have suspected. I was wearing a Marvelman badge, and spinning off the conversation from Warrior, Ellison asked if we had any for sale which we didn’t. He then asked if he could have mine. I eventually gave him it because this was my hero and I didn’t want to disappoint.

Ellison later came over to me in the bar, offered to get a drink and we ended up chatting about how great Dreamscape was. Indeed, it still is.

Ellison then had to move on with his small entourage but I was a happy lad as he’d signed a copy of The Glass Teat which is one of the greatest books of criticism ever published.  That book is something that influenced why I started this blog, and in fact it wasn’t until Ellison’s death I realised how much he’d shaped me growing up.

See, that wee story I have is something I’ve pulled out often over the years because it is a great wee story. The part of the story I usually miss out is when Ellison talked about not compromising which is something I don’t think Ellison did once in his life which led him to do great things, not to mention some awful things.

But that idea that someone can’t compromise because once you do it then becomes a game as to how far you’ll go without fully compromising yourself. I can’t remember when I did start compromising and although my life was better in some ways, a wee part of me was dead.

I’ll miss Ellison not being around. I’ll miss not being able to see if there’s a new soundbite  that I can use to help me sum up current events, and with current events being horrible I think we’ve lost a guide at a bad time.We’ll still have his mountain of work but we’ve lost a voice who could be good or bad, arrogant and uncompromising but always had something worthwhile to say. There will never be another like him.

Goodbye and thanks for whatever small lessons you’ve given me. I’m going to watch Dreamscape later and wallow in the memories of 1985.

Frost and Clough

I love old TV celebrity interviews from the 1970’s and 1980’s mainly because they take their time and guests are not shilling their latest film/book/TV series/etc (most of the time) but are on chat shows to discuss their careers, or something massive that they’ve been involved in.

In 1974 Brian Clough had been sacked from Leeds United after 44 days, which later became the core of David Peace’s quite brilliant, but controversial book, The Damned United, later made into a splendid film with Michael Sheen who also played David Frost in the also splendid Frost/Nixon. In 74 the top interviewer was  David Frost, then still young, and still in touch with his journalistic roots who when given Clough as a subject to interview used all his skills to coax a remarkable half hour or so where both men are clearly the intellectual equal of each other but to watch them talk at a time when Clough was in theory at his lowest, is just stunning television.

After this both men hit their greatest achievements with Frost become a global television icon and Clough the best football manager in the world which makes this interview a joy to watch knowing what was just hanging over the horizon for them.

Enjoy…

What I thought of Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War in just a few days has made more money in it’s opening weekend than any other film ever. It hasn’t even opened in China yet and that’s the biggest market for films on the planet, so it’ll be a safe bet to say this is probably going to be the biggest film of all time and indeed, everything about this film is gargantuan. Just look at the cast and count the number of genuine A List stars who could open a film on their name alone. Do it, because the number is around the 20 mark plus (even including folk like Idris Elba who is in it for just a few minutes) you’ve got all the rapidly rising stars like Tom Holland, Karen Gillan and Chadwick Boseman so real the end figure is around 30 A List stars.

It could have been like a classic film like It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World with stars popping up to show their face before vanishing but the Russo brothers hold it all together to the extent where as a film it works as a narrative not to mention a massive cultural event so that even if you’ve not seen a Marvel film at the cinema, you’re aware of the characters through osmosis or having seen Iron Man or The Avengers on any of their multiple TV broadcasts.

So what about the film? I’ve done a few brief points but after the banner there be spoilers so you’ve been warned.

Infinity War is all about Thanos getting the infinity stones ASAP before anyone can mobilise against him. Once in possession of the stones he;ll then kill half the population of the universe in order to create a cosmic balance so there’s enough resources for the surviving population, who of course, will be in thrall to Thanos. In his wake the assembled heroes of the Marvel Universe try to stop him. There’s the plot. It isn’t complex and there’s a reason for that; the scale of the film is so huge that having anything more complex would break the back of the film so nice and simple.

This does not make Infinity War simplistic. Far from it, as at one point there’s so many plot threads (Thanos hunting down the gems, Iron Man, Dr Strange and Spider Man, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, Groot and Rocket Raccoon, Captain America’s Secret Avengers who draws in the rest of the US based Avengers and Wakanda where most of the characters converge for the film’s final battle)  that making things complicated isn’t needed. We get the sense of urgency in the first ten minutes where Thanos and his Black Order have massacred the Asgardians left over from the events of Thor: Ragnarok, and this includes Idris Elba’s Heimdall, and more shockingly Loki as played by Tom Hiddleston in a way more brutally vicious than I expected from a 12A. Add to this Thanos torturing Thor as well as beating the living shite out of the Hulk. The film does not fuck around so you’re quickly caught up in a sense of urgency as well as understanding just how powerful, not to mention evil, Thanos is.

From there we’re whisked to New York with quick introductions for Iron Man, Dr. Strange and Spider Man who with a Bruce Banner who can’t change to the Hulk because the Hulk is too scared to face Thanos, this group is thrown into space before ending up on Titan where they eventually meet with the Guardians of the Galaxy to fight Thanos. Meanwhile Thor and his group are off to find a weapon which will kill Thanos, and Cap’s group is in Edinburgh (where there’s a glorious visual gag which the audience I watched it with found hilarious. Then again, most of Scotland seems to appreciate it too) to rescue the Vision and Scarlet Witch, before scooping up even more characters to head to Wakanda where the final scenes take place.

Of course things suffer. The visual effects and CGI are astonishingly good bar one horrible bit of compositing at the end featuring Mark Ruffalo in the Hulkbuster suit that is simply dreadful. The Thor sub-plot drags on a bit, while Captain America and Black Widow does very little indeed as it seems their scenes where the ones trimmed to bring down the running time. I could have done with a bit more from them as was indeed teased in the trailers, but here’s the thing, the trailers have lied to you. The marketing for this film has been exceptional. Throughout all of it, there’s no suggestion that Thanos picks up all the stones, but as we know now, he does and as he cuts through our heroes collecting stones for the Infinity Gauntlet. By the time the third act kicks in and Thanos is punching the fuckity out of Iron Man leaving Tony Stark bleeding, and dying, it becomes clear that what the Russo brothers have done is make Thanos not just the protagonist, but an anti-hero of sorts on a quest. Essentially they subvert a summer blockbuster theme (hero on a quest) so that somewhere deep down you’re actually wanting Thanos to win to see if he does carry out his threat to commit genocide on a universal scale.

And as he rips the last Infinity Gem from the skull of the Vision to complete his quest, we think at the last minute Thor has saved the day, but nope, with a click of his fingers Thanos wins as half the universe is killed including Spider Man, Black Panther and most of the Guardians of the Galaxy.  The film ends with Thanos victorious and our heroes beaten.

The End.

Except that won’t last. The post-credits scene that teases Captain Marvel and the fact there’s a fourth Avengers film in May 2019 tells us that Thanos will lose, not to mention a large chunk of the deaths in Infinity War will be reversed. It’s an ending which shouldn’t work but it is really a testament to the Russo’s that they’ve given us a superhero film with a grim, depressing end that nobody expected that works wonderfully. It’s also an ending that will get more bums on seats through word of mouth. People will come to see this film to see if the stories are true, and they’ll come next May in droves to see how the Avengers and their allies beat Thanos. It terms of driving the sausage machine that are these films the entire strategy and level of planning has to be admired because at the core is a great superhero film.

Now I’ve said this draws from Crisis on Infinite Earths, as that was the first really big crossover event in the modern age of superhero comics as we know it. It worked so well because it managed to give all the characters in it a moment, and when it ripped everything down we knew it’d end with the heroes winning the day. As a template it’s the best out there which makes Ant Man and the Wasp, and Captain Marvel the films we need to see to complete the crossover. Of course the boost it’ll give two films that were going to do ok to well comes into it as well.

The fact is what Marvel/Disney have done is carve their characters into the modern culture of the planet in a decade and sure, things may well decline when Robert Downey Jnr (who has played Iron Man in a film virtually each year of the last decade) and some of the others leave and new heroes replace them. But this is here for the duration in some shape or form and with the Marvel characters Fox owns coming back into the fold there’s a real chance of me sitting here in a decade talking about how Marvel have ruled the pop culture landscape for 20 years.

Which brings me to the point. Infinity War is a massively entertaining film with a bleak ending that does things summer blockbusters aren’t supposed to, and it should make Jim Starlin (the creator of Thanos not to mention the main plotlines) a few swimming pools worth of money, but it’s also a cultural event of the type we only really see on this scale once or twice a decade. It is impossible to split the film off from the culture and vice versa as they feed off each other but this is only half the job.It was obvious all the original Avengers survived Infinity War (along with a new new heroes) for a reason which I’m assuming is to give them a send-off and to pass the torch onto the likes of Black Panther, Captain Marvel, etc. If Marvel can square the circle by delivering not just one, but two massive cinematic and cultural events in a year then their only problem is where do they go from there, and indeed, where do the fans go because how do you top it?

That’ll be answered in May 2019. Til then do go see Infinity War. It is huge in every scale and you’ll leave the cinema entertained even though you’ve watched a film where a genocidal maniac wins. Yes it is manipulative, even cynical but it is massively entertaining and a reminder that cinema can be about the biggest spectacle that can be squeezed on the screen.

Till then time to stick 25% on all my comics featuring Thanos…