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.

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Fandom are arseholes

Rose Marie Tran is an actress who played the part of Rose in Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi. Ever since the film came out she has been the subject of sustained, often aggressive, often racist, often misogynist abuse which has caused her to give up her Instagram.

This isn’t the first time Star Wars fans have abused an actor in the series, and it probably isn’t the last. This though has shades of the abuse Leslie Jones got in the wake of the Ghostbusters reboot, not to mention Gamergate, and more recently, Comicsgate.It isn’t a shock to trawl through some of the abuse Tran has received and see some of the names involved with those particular examples of targeted abuse crop here so what’s the point of all this?

Well, those abusing Tran will whine about ‘SJW’s’ and virtue-signalling’ while telling us that film-makers shouldn’t ‘pander to feminism’ while spouting nonsense ripped from the lungs of people like Jordan Peterson, The rhetoric is sometimes dressed in the cod-intellectualism of the ‘alt-right’ but to normal people, it’s just racist, sexist shite from often sad, even unstable people who’ve been groomed and weaponised.

So Tran deletes her Intsagram and the abusers get another small victory. This frankly, is tiring to see people being turned into victims because a section of fandom don’t like them because of their sex or race. There’s a line between criticism and satire with what’s been happening to Tran but what’s so depressing is that these people will move on like locusts to their next victim.

Watching Grindhouse in 2018 is a very different experience than intended

The other night I stuck on my Grindhouse blu-ray. Remember Grindhouse? The 2007 film directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino which set to recreate the old double bills of a certain generations youth?

I love Grindhouse. It isn’t a completely accurate recreation of a 70’s or 80’s double bill, but it tries so hard to recreate it that I can’t help but admire the fact that Rodriguez and Tarantino essentially spent millions of dollars on a niche project which only a handful of people would fully appreciate. Basically it’s an art film with gore, tits and violence and enormous fun.

However throughout the film are reminders this is a Harvey Weinstein film and not only is it horrendously distracting, it’s also a thing that ensures the full 3 hours plus version will remain a niche work. What is odd is looking at the film with the power of hindsight. Rose McGowan should have been a huge name after this but she wasn’t and now we know the reason she never appeared in all the films she was rumoured to appear in after this.

That side, Grindhouse really does stand up brilliantly as a work but watching it today is a different experience to a decade ago when we were a bit less informed…

 

The Predator trailer is a bit underwhelming

I love Predator, it is without doubt one of the most perfect films ever made. Predator 2 is a work of demented genius, and the less said about any film featuring the Predators after that. This autumn sees the release of The Predator, written and directed by Shane Black who helped write the script for the first film and the first trailer, is, well, alright I suppose.

Iron Man 3 is I feel one of Marvel’s best films, and Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang, is just fucking glorious.

But The Predator looks alright and I want it to be much,much more than just alright. Still, this is a first trailer and hopefully the film lives up to the potential of what Black can do.

Comic shops should be stocking these books for Avengers: Infinity War fans

Avengers: Infinity War is packing in cinemas around the planet, and this should be a boom for comic shops around the planet too but after three plus decades in comics I’m betting there’s shops missing tricks because of a mix of not knowing what to do or/and Marvel being rubbish in keeping their work in print.

But if you’ve watched Infinity War and want more big purple Thanos action throbbing on your bookshelves and don’t want to spend the very rapidly increasing prices for back issues (things like Silver Surfer #44 will be selling for around 100 quid by the end of May at this rate, almost doubling its value) so if you want better options try these.

Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin.

This has the first appearance of Thanos from Iron Man #55 (currently selling for the GDP of New Zealand)  as well as Starlin’s excellent Captain Marvel stories. Although the film arm hasn’t used Captain Marvel yet (film coming in January 2019) there’s much in here they have used as a influence.

Warlock by Jim Starlin.

Simply some of the best comics of the 1970’s. Starlin’s Warlock stories had a strange, trippy, even underground feel but the stories which close off the first phase of Thanos stories that feature the Avengers, Warlock, Captain Marvel, Spider Man and the Fantastic Four’s The Thing are the comics that defined the epic cosmic superhero saga. There’s big chunks of these stories DNA in Infinity War.

The Avengers/Defenders War written by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Jim Starlin and drawn mainly by Sal Buscema.

These aren’t just fun superhero comics, they also feature an appearance from Thanos, plus these are the issues which defined the relationship between the Vision and Scarlet Witch.

Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos by Jim Starlin and Ron Lim.

Starlin and Marvel left Thanos in the realm of death for 13 years which is an eternity in superhero comics terms. In 1990 Starlin returned to Marvel and brought Thanos back.

The Infinity Gauntlet/Infinity War/Infinity Crusade by Jim Starlin, George Perez and Ron Lim.

There are multiple versions of all three trade paperbacks, plus hardcovers, plus there’s trades of the associated tie-ins and spin offs but this seems to be the main core of what Marvel are loosely adapting though there’s clearly material from more recent works from the likes of Jonathan Hickman…

And of course Jim Starlin

This is by no means a complete list. I personally think Marvel’s milking of the character in the last few years has produced some dreadful comics, but these are your core books that realistically, as long as Marvel or your distributor has them in print/stock you should have at least one of each to recommend

And if you’re not a retailer and want a reading list then there you go. You should be finished by the time Avengers 4 comes out next May.

 

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…

 

I have seen Avengers: Infinity War and my first thoughts are…

First of all, there’s no spoilers, just comments so you’re safe.

Firstly I hope they’ve made Jim Starlin a multi-millionaire. There’s beats, even large chunks of dialogue from Starlin’s Thanos stories going back 45 years here.

In fact the DNA of Starlin runs deep in this film to the extent Marvel Studios give him his own special credit in the exceptionally long credits you have to sit through to get to the post-credit scene that you have to watch not just because it’s an essential bit of plot for what’s coming next, but because there’s a nice gag.

Overall the film works amazingly well but there are issues that probably will be resolved with a 4hour blu-ray cut.

Thanos is the main character here. The Avengers and their allies are along for the ride.

There’s deaths. Some of them a bit more vicious than I was expecting for a 12A so if you’re bringing small children be warned.

It is enormously entertaining and as for the length, I never checked my watch once in 150 minutes til after a quite brilliant final shot.

The trailers have lied to you. You don’t know what to expect so the less you know about the film the better.

You will have to have seen Captain America: Civil War and Thor: Ragnarok to pick up what’s going on, and yes, the latter film’s post-credits scene

As much as it pulls from Starlin, it owes a debt to Crisis on Infinite Earths. That’ll involve spoilers to explain.

The effects are great but there’s one awful bit of CGI that distracts in a crucial emotional scene.

The big fight between Thanos’s Black Order and the Vision and Scarlet Witch in Edinburgh has lots of little gags that’s only funny if you’re watching this film in Scotland.

More later but if you’ve read superhero comics for any length of time then this is essential viewing but seriously, I hope Jim Starlin goes to bed tonight on a massive bed made of money.