Monday, December 27, 2010

Newsarama has become an Attack Site

Popular comics news site Newsarama is giving out free search redirect viruses for Christmas. Very annoying and still after multiple anti-virus and anti-spyware program scans undetectable. On the plus side I found a Firefox Add-On called NoRedirect that seems to get AROUND the problem but doesn't solve it. I'll keep updating my various virus and spyware programs and hoping that eventually an update will solve it.

For now, I'm removing Newsarama from this site's links and heartily advising people to avoid the site.  I'm sure it's not intentional, maybe its just their ad server, but you know what?  I don't care.  A quick search of 'Newsarama, virus' brings up multiple recent hits of people reporting the same thing.  I used their contact form to advise their site administrator of the problem hours ago.  No response.

They have a responsibility to their readers to be a lot more careful, and if they can't find the problem they should shut down until they can.

Please share this news widely.

UPDATE: Well they managed to kill my computer stone dead and to date have never responded to my email to the site administrator.  Thanks a lot Newsarama.  Please choke on dick. 

If you use Firefox and you haven't already installed the NoScript addon I highly recommend it - its the first thing I'm adding when I'm able to get a new computer.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Swipe File

The infamous 'Nowhere to Run to' DJ from the classic street gang on the run action movie 'The Warriors'

Misty Knight, coordinating superheroes on assignment in 'Heroes for Hire #1' from Marvel Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning art by Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessy

Not so much a swipe as a tribute, and a nifty one.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The First Horror Movie

It's short, not quite thirteen minutes.  It's stagy and melodramatic.  The effects are crude, though surprisingly effective and the film stock is very degraded.

But put yourself in the mind of somebody in 1910.  Maybe you've seen a couple of the new short silent film reels, maybe you've never seen moving pictures at all.

You're ushered into a dark room and watch in horror as a grotesque monster is born out of a steaming cauldron.  A backwards immolation as the figure forms out of burned meat.  And then a shaggy monstrous creature, not even remotely human stalks its appalled creator.

It must have seemed apocalyptic.

Edison Frankenstein - 1910:

Some history.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ingrid Pitt RIP

Ingrid Pit died at age 73 in her South London home.  The actress, a concentration camp survivor and horror movie scream queen of the 60's was best know for such shockingly sexy Hammer Horror epics as Countess DraculaThe Vampire Lovers, the subversive horror classic The Wicker Man and a couple serials of the classic Doctor Who series, most notably as the Queen of Atlantis in 'The Time Monster'.

Unlike some scream queens who've voiced discomfort with their horror movie infamy, Pitt quite enjoyed her sexy, predatory image and liked playing the baddies.

Pick up and put on The Vampire Lovers some time and raise a glass of the red stuff to one of the premiere scream queens.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Grandville Mon Amour

Grandville Mon Amour
by Bryan Talbot
Dark Horse Books

This one I picked up because I saw the promotion.  I've always liked Bryan Talbot's stuff, going back to a DC deluxe painted miniseries called The Nazz.  A fevered story of ancient Hindu meditation techniques and superpowers.  Then there's Luther Arkwright, an SF adventure with dirigibles and alternate universes inspired by Moorecock's Eternal Champion cycle and my favorite One Bad Rat, a thoughtful story about child abuse filtered through the imagery of Beatrix Potter.  I already mentioned his geographical history Alice in Sunderland yesterday.

Grandville Mon Amour is the second volume in Talbot's Steampunk, anthropomorphic animals, Holmesian mystery adventure series.  Yes, walking talking  'funny animals' but in a serious and dramatic adventure story.  Eventually you just roll with it and go with the story - and then in one scene there are suddenly two human characters, two petty criminals derisively referred to as dough-boys and then never mentioned again.  Its a vertiginous moment that had the effect of making me focus in on the whole different animals playing different characters thing again.  The 'dough-faces' were introduced in Grandville, the first book in the series as a rare type of hairless chimp treated as second class citizens by all the other talking animals.

An artist as skilled and experienced as Bryan Talbot doesn't create effects and reactions like that in his readers by accident, which made me think about the anthropomorphic style itself.  The most well known examples are the comics we read as little kids.  Donal Duck and Mickey Mouse, comics based on animation characters but expanding their lives into houses and histories.  Comics that encompassed a range from short simple humour stories to movie serial style high adventure, the best and best known by master story-teller Carl Barks.

Bringing a more adult take to funny animal universes allows an artist to capture the childhood resonance the style brings to then subvert that resonance to more adult aims.  Robert Crumb explored our darkest sexual impulses and neuroses through the intercession of cheerfully stylized funny animal strips, In Maus, Art Spiegleman illustrated the Holocaust and his own tortured relationship with his death camp survivor father with the Jews presented as mice and the Nazis as cats.

Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics discussed how a very simple, cartoony design, particularly of faces encourages identification with the reader because its the same way our brains are wired to perceive our own faces.  When juxtaposed with a very detailed and hyper-realistic external world a lot of perceptual buttons get pushed whether the reader realizes they are or not.

By suddenly dropping human characters into an anthropomorphic animal story with no fanfare or explanation Talbot subverts a style already designed to subvert our expectations.   Always nice when that happens.
But I might have missed this book if I hadn't seen the sneak peek published in British comics magazine Comic Heroes in their regular Sidekicks compilation and the clever promotional trailer created for the book available on Youtube.  I suspect we will see more and more of these, as done well they're an excellent way to highlight the tone and feel of a book to the audience its meant for.


Saturday, November 20, 2010


From Bryan Talbot, who just released the second chapter of his Steampunk, 'funny animal', Holmesian mystery adventure 'Grandville Mon Amour', which I'll be reviewing soon.

This delightful interpretation of Jabberwocky by Lewis Carrol comes from Alice in Sunderland, a compulsively fascinating work of geographical history merged with fiction much like Alan Moore's experiments in From Hell and Voice of Fire to create a four dimensional architecture to a sense of place.  Moore did it in From Hell to London and with his home town of Northampton in Voice of Fire, Talbot does it for his hometown of Sunderland with a special emphasis on Sunderland native son Lewis Carrol.

And here's Terry Gilliam's take, a grittier, more medieval interpretation.  It's long, but try to stick with it to the introduction of the Jabberwocky himself, the giant puppetry prototypes of the practical effect monstrosities of Gilliam's dystopian classic Brazil.  I know that by every objective standard the flashy CGI Jabberwocky of Tim Burton's Alice is more impressive but this creaky giant puppet made of wood and fabric fills me with joy.

The Wolf with the Red Roses

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Top 100 Horror Movies

Top 100 Horror Movies
IDW/Fantastic Press
Written by Gary Gerani
Introduction by Roger Corman

I approached this one with caution and skepticism.  Invariably these kind of 'best of' books are so subjective as to be one step up from vanity projects, overly weighted to recent movies and suffering from unforgivable exclusions.

But Gerani has created a list that had me nodding my head at almost every page.  Almost every pick and its ranking made sense.  These aren't necessarily the 100 best horror films, but Gerani makes a good argument for them being the most important ones.

OK, no true genre fan could pick up a book like this without at least a couple fierce nit-picks.   The author justifies the absence of John Carpenter's The Thing because it will be in his planned follow up Top 100 Science Fiction Movies.  I would quibble that while yes, Romero's original Night of the Living Dead certainly belongs on the list, the original Dawn of the Dead does too.  It's the platonic ideal and all time classic of the zombie genre and any list of great horror movies has to include it.

Plus if you're going with a Tim Burton film, I would pick the Hammer Horror worshiping Sleepy Hollow, a more artistically successful and quintessential horror film than the entertainingly gory but overly stylized musical Sweeney Todd.

The production is excellent and while the art selected will be familiar to any fan of Famous Monsters of Film Land or indeed any genre productions its an atmospheric graphic collection nonetheless.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Batman in Turnabout Intruder

For some reason Batman The Brave and the Bold decided to adapt the last, and what most people consider the weakest episode of classic Star Trek, Turnabout Intruder except they called it The Criss Cross Conspiracy.

Batman's decidedly effeminate, not to put too fine a point on it flaming demeanor makes Batgirl and Nightwing wonder what's up with that?

What's up is that failed thrill seeking super heroine Batwoman, forced out of the crime fighting business by having her identity exposed by the Riddler, seeks revenge on the world by using black magic to swap bodies with Batman.  There's a lot of twisted sexual politics in the story as she believes that there is a double standard for male and female crime-fighters and only in Batman's body can she have the freedom of power and male authority.  Which brings us to Turnabout Intruder...

Same idea.  One of the many embittered former conquests of Captain Kirk possesses his body in order to get the power and freedom of a male star-ship captain.  Misogyny is implicit in the script and explicit in Shatner's campy, over the top ranting and prancing performance.  All hysteria, all the time.

Ultimately Brave and the Bold makes this story work, sort of,  in a way that Trek doesn't.  Maybe it says something that this story only works as a half hour cartoon rather than a live action drama.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rhymin' and Crimin'

Hip Hop and crime movies have been a match made in hell since the earliest days of old school rap but Masterpieces like Boyz in the Hood and New Jack City  have slowly been supplanted by limited vanity projects and barely watchable straight to video dreck.

There have been a few authentic masterpieces that advanced both the crime film genre and the artistic boundaries of Hip Hop as well.  Today we'll look at two gems, lesser known except among the cognoscenti.
"I think you know that there's no such thing as an American anymore. No Hispanics, no Japanese, no blacks, no whites, no nothing. It's just rich people and poor people. The three of us are all rich, so we're on the same side"

Deep Cover released in 1992 is an overlooked oddity that never really got the audience it deserved.  With a theme of tortured moral ambiguity and the existential terror of ethical compromise it also features a brilliantly appropo old school Dr Dre soundtrack and the introduction of a rapper known then as Snoop Doggy Dogg on the title track

Laurence Fishburne is the hero and poetic narrator, a fiercely straight edge cop compensating for the childhood pain of watching his drug addicted father gunned down on Christmas day with an iron self control.  A sleazy DEA agent tells him his 'criminal personality type' makes him perfect for undercover work and reluctantly at first he sets himself up as a drug dealer to bring down a cocaine network that traces back to a South American politician.

The neo-blaxploitation stylized film-making of Bill Duke (A Rage in Harlem) builds and maintains a dark atmosphere of moral dread as Fishburne's character hooks up with a corrupt lawyer played with edgy intensity by Jeff Goldblum, a successful family man with a yearning need for a gangsta lifestyle, who want's his cake and eat it too.

Lines blur, loyalty is tested and Fishburne's narration gets more and more lyrical and intense.  Some amazing dramatic set pieces, tight wire over the top performances and thoughtful political and philosophical speculation make this a film you can watch multiple times and find something new every time.

"It is a good viewpoint to see the world as a dream. When you have something like a nightmare, you will wake up and tell yourself that it was only a dream. It is said that the world we live in is not a bit different from this."

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai from 2001 is a masterpiece of slow burn suspense and dramatic artifice.  Director Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man, Down by Law) never makes the same movie twice, artistically and musically he always stretches boundaries with his films.

Ghost Dog takes the martial arts movie fantasy world of Wu Tang Clan alum RZA who does the soundtrack and tells a darkly lyrical story about the power to choose the world we inhabit.

The hero played with sleepy eyed intensity by Forest Whitaker is either a crazy assassin who lives on a roof top with pigeons and kills people for the Mafia, or he is a dedicated warrior, committed body and soul to the melancholy death worshiping code of the ancient samurai as laid out in the classic 17th century Japanese text Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai. Quotes by Whitaker from the book are interspersed throughout the film and are offered as a mournful poetic counterpoint to the ambiguity of the main character.  He serves an unworthy gangster master who once saved his life, a moment of essential defining purity for Ghost Dog, but a casual throwaway whim on the part of the gangster.

There's a lot of sly humor, Ghost Dog's best friends are a Haitian Ice Cream salesman, and most of their translated conversations consist of  good natured misunderstanding; "I'm sorry, I don't speak English" in response to "I'm sorry I don't speak French" and a little girl waiting for the book that will change her life. The elderly fading mobsters offer the most laughs, ancient Italian Mafiosi obsessed with old school rap and cowboys and Indians.

The theme is simple.  Your identity, your code, your very reality is what you choose it to be, and just because you live in modern day New York doesn't mean you can't choose to be a Samurai living by an ancient code of honor.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sleeping Through the End

The Walking Dead hasn't even officially aired yet and already some commentators are sniffing that the opening seems awfully similar to the opening of 28 Days Later.

This is, of course, true.

In 28 Days Later bike courier Jim, in hospital with a head injury from a car meets bike courier accident wakes up out of a coma to find the hospital and seemingly all of London are completely abandoned. Death and destruction are everywhere, and ultimately it turns out that ravening hordes of horribly transformed normal people are slavering for his blood.

In The Walking Dead (Both comic book and TV series) Rick, a police officer in hospital after being critically injured in a shoot out wakes up out of a coma to find the hospital and seemingly all of his home town are completely abandoned. Death and destruction are everywhere, and ultimately it turns out that ravening hordes of horribly transformed normal people are slavering for his blood.

So yeah, kind of similar.

But what the nitpickers don't realize is that 'sleeping through the apocalypse' is actually a recurring trope that has appeared many times.  In fact 28 Days Later was specifically referencing the classic John Wyndham novel turned multiple movie and TV adaptions The Day of the Triffids

The hero Bill Mason, is in hospital getting treatment for an eye injury that has temporarily blinded him.  So his eyes are covered with bandages when almost everyone else raptly watches a bizarre meteor shower that lights up the skies all over the world.  The next morning everyone who did is permanently blind while Mason can see as soon as he takes off his bandages.  His awakening in hospital surrounded by the terrified newly blind and stalked by horrific monsters is strongly reflected in the first quarter of 28 Days Later.

Ultimately the sleeping through the apocalypse trope is useful to writers because it allows them to plunge directly into the post apocalyptic action without having to explicate the apocalypse itself.  Plus the audience is introduced to the new reality at the same time as the hero is, encouraging identification with his baffled terror.

Other examples range from the Twilight Zone classic episode 'Time Enough at Last', the short lived Gene Roddenberry series Genesis II, the zombie move Night of the Comet and too many other examples to count.

Worry about the similarities between 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead if you want - or you could just enjoy a great thrilling zombie series on the small screen every week.

I know which option I'm picking.

UPDATE: Heh.  AMC aren't too worried about the comparison.  They ran 28 Days Later right after the repeat performance of the premiere episode on Friday Nov 5.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Planet Vancouver

I love how every fantasy or science fiction show on TV lately is a long game of 'Spot the Vancouver landmark'.

No that isn't the headquarters of alternate dimension Fringe Division, it's the downtown Vancouver Public Library.

It's futuristic, neoclassical coliseum look has naturally, also been glimpsed in Battlestar Galactica and Caprica helping make that Greco-Roman mytho link of the stories part of the visual tone of the shows.  Other examples of the glassy modernistic architecture of Vancouver like the UBC Museum of Anthropology also appear regularly.

Lots of back alleys, stretches of lonely highway and beachfront broodiness in Supernatural are familiar to anyone who's ever spent any time on the lower mainland - and just the constant gray sky light and unrelenting rain in recent episodes of Caprica and whole seasons of the X Files are pure British Columbia. 

It's enough to get all misty for the town I grew up in.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions Review

Just finished my first run-through (X-Box 360 version.) and its entertaining enough that I'll probably play it again.

Its certainly the best Spiderman game yet,  but fans of the character and gaming know that isn't saying much.  Over all its a solid playing experience and a lot of fun.  After the problematic open world approach led to frustrating game-play in the last few Spiderman games, Shattered Dimensions goes for a linear A-B-C style of sequential play that can become repetitive: Chase villain boss, defeat henchmen, rescue civilians and escort them to safety (bleh.), fight Big Boss, fight Big Boss again, rinse and repeat.  The thumb controls close up combat system in the level finales works intermittently, sometimes a nice change sometimes frustrating and annoying. 

Thankfully the level by level shifting between the four different Spidermen and their unique design and game-play elements help keep the game fresh.  There's an over-arcing storyline about Mysterio and a shattered mystical tablet that Madam Web contacts alternate dimension versions of Spiderman to retrieve, battling a villain for every piece.  Its basically just a framework for one boss fight after another.
Amazing Spiderman captures the colour and line art style of the comic books, 2099 is flashy and high tech with fun free fall combat sequences but occasionally blurry neon heavy backgrounds.  Ultimate just seems like Amazing but with the black symbiote costume and none of the dialogue heavy character elements that make the Ultimate comics unique and Noir has the best ... well, noirish design work.

However the shadow of the bat hangs heavily over the game there's no doubt about it.  Like most people I think Batman: Arkham Asylum was the greatest superhero game ever made and clearly so did the designers of Shattered Dimensions.  In game mechanics, fighting style and whole levels the influence sometimes crosses over into outright imitation.  In Noir Spiderman in particular the hide in the shadows and perform silent take-downs mode is almost embarrassingly similar to what dedicated Arkham inmates are used to.  Spiderman's spider sense vision is virtually identical to Arkham's Detective Vision and the final boss battle with Mysterio felt exactly like one of the hallucinatory encounters with Scarecrow scuttling from one shadowy fragment of reality to another until you get close enough to defeat the god like villain with the spotlight and the hallucinogen theme.

But this is quibbling.  The game captures the fun Spiderman quip heavy comic book action and the voice acting - particularly Neil Patrick Harris racking up another comic book character for his collection - is uniformly excellent.  Just speed-playing and finishing the story would take about nine or ten hours.  Actively seeking out all the level challenges and collecting every upgrade takes a few hours longer.

Either way it's worth the price of admission.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Comics Reviews Sept 13: 'For the Record...'

Batman and Robin #14 Grant Morrison writing and Frazier Irving's lushly organic art, produced entirely on computer which I've dribbled over here before.  This is THE Batman book right now as far as I'm concerned.  Neal Adams berserk Odyssey is Batman to readers of a certain age, David Finch's Dark Knight will doubtless be a contender as will Grant Morrison's upcoming International series.

Right now though Batman and Robin is where the fireworks are going off, both in the heightened hyper-compressed storytelling and archetypal imagery Morrison does when he's doing superheros and Irving's spectacularly beautiful art glowing on the page like fluorescent rot.

If you're a Batman fan and you aren't getting this book, you're missing out.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Comics Reviews - Sept. 4

Recently a minor fuss hit the comics field as a scathing critique of modern comic book writing by an industry professional made the rounds.  The piece expresses disappointment in the current 'sprawling and inconsistent patchwork of murky, angry, shock-value events'  So this week we'll look at some of the bright spots in a field slipping back into some very bad habits from the 90's I thought creators had sworn off.  It's appropriate that we begin with a book by the writer widely assumed to be the anonymous author of the name withheld note, Kurt Busiek.

Astro City Special
Silver Agent #2 of 2

If you get a sense of Déjà vu from this issue, yes in the last several months both Captain America and Batman also went skipping across time after seeming to be killed, touching lives down through the years until returning to their own time to face their destiny.  Considering the lead time a comic needs, its likely all three story-lines were in production simultaneously.

Silver Agent is a character in Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson's long running Astro City series.  A tribute to the comic book superhero that with it's sprawling observation of a classic comic book universe has as its conceit the goal of putting the 'human' in the superhuman.

Silver Agent is Astro City's Captain America analogue.  There are also Superman, Fantastic Four and Batman analogues in the series - not so much imitations of these characters but iconic archetypes who play the same roles in the Astro City Universe as their avatars do in the Marvel or DC universes.

Silver Agent is brave, steadfast and true, and those attributes aren't mocked with a clumsy Dudley Do Right satire as so many hacks would doubtless portray basic goodness.  Busiek takes on the far more challenging writer's task of making heroism and self sacrifice in pursuit of an ideal a fully realized and seriously considered display of human choice.  Silver Agent chooses his fate with his eyes open and without regrets to protect an ideal he's seen and decided is worth any cost to protect.

Busiek and Anderson explicate the moral essence of self sacrificing love in the context of the comic book superhero as perfectly as you're ever going to see it.

I Am An Avenger
#1 of 5

Surrounded by frankly uninspired filler in one of the 3000 different Avengers related tie in titles published this month, is one of the most emotionally resonant stories published in a superhero comic that I've seen in a long time.

The Books of the Iron Fist written by Duane Swiercynski and beautifully illustrated by Jason Latour, fakes out the casual reader with an obligatory page and half opener with the classic muggers confronting the hero in his civilian wear motif and then a comfortably genre sounding title before becoming a story about a man and woman sitting on the floor after a breakup sadly splitting up their bookshelf.

With delicacy, understatement and real feeling, the end of a relationship is shown with more real quiet drama than a thousand of the shouty, weepy monologues that the comics medium usually presents as its idea of human interaction.  It's a fractal snapshot of a story that unfold like a geometric flower from every word, every sad glance.  Eight pages that have more human feeling than any other ten comics you'll read this year.

Meanwhile in Brightest Day #9...

Oh, who gives a rat's ass?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Comic Reviews - Aug 8

Batman Odyssey #2
Neal Adams

For those asking why they don't make comics like they used to - here's proof that they sometimes still do, and economically, its also a demonstration of why they generally don't.

Neal Adams is one of the most respected 'super realist' artists in comics - arguably the wellspring for the whole densely illustrative, heavily detailed style that dominates the super hero genre.  The Renaissance of the Batman character as a dark, brooding avenger of the night taken deadly seriously was Neal Adams 1970's run on the book with Denny O'Neil on the scripts.  It's no coincidence that Batman Begins, the dark hyper-realist first Batman movie by director Christopher Nolan used Ras Al Ghul, the international terrorist they created in that run as the villain.

But Adams is writing as well as drawing this new series himself and Batman Odyssey combines his super dense, packed to the gutters art with utterly berserk almost stream of consciousness writing that is less a comic book than page after page of smacks to the face.  The dialogue is a bizarre mix of non-sequiters, verbatim incoherent stuttering (“Huh? What... I can’t hear you... guy... look? Huh? What? Why?”  - I'm not kidding that's a real line of dialogue in this book.) and one vertiginously odd sequence where Batman interrupts a fight scene in order to slam a thug up against a wall and give him an impromptu science lecture on the explosive properties of hydrogen. 


If I'm not being clear enough, I loved this comic with an unreasoning joy even while being completely befuddled by it.  As incomprehensible, over packed and just plain nuts as it is, it's also enormous fun and very pretty eye candy.  Fashion designers have a term 'Hot Mess' to describe an ensemble that by any reasonable critical standard is a disaster (It's ironic that this issue includes a literal train wreck) but is still too much fun to look at to dismiss.

izombie #4

This super fun go-go boot monster comic continues and just keeps getting better.  Starring Gwen Dylan, a morose zombie girl who is able to think and look alive only by chowing down on brains, izombie is just a heck of a lot of fun with ghosts, werewolves, vampires and mummies  exuberantly thrown into the mix in every issue.

With issue #4, Roberson and Allred offer a cohesive 'rules for the undead' structure to explain every kind of monster we meet in this book.  It's internally consistent and satisfying, but wasn't entirely necessary.  I was quite willing to accept that the characters live in a world with zombies, vampires and were-terriers without needing a theological under-pinning for them but for the rules junkies there's a satisfyingly complete set here.

In this issue the monster hunters are circling and avoiding them will doubtless soon become part of Gwen's nights - equally doubtless is the heavily telegraphed love triangle lurking between Gwen, the smooth talking mummy who explains the world of the supernatural to her and the rakish monster hunter character staking vampires in alleys.  There's nothing particularly groundbreaking or innovative here, but its an appealing enough production that there doesn't really need to be.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

No gum shall escape my sight

Is it just me or does the upcoming Green Lantern movie have an easy advertising tie-in pick up right out of the gate?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Comics Reviews - Aug 1

The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective
by Patrick Rosenkranz
Fantagraphics Books

Canada's revered and preeminent artist of the underground comix era, Rand Holmes contrasted a beautiful Wally Wood inspired illustrative style with subject matter lauding outlaws and scofflaws like his hippie hero Harold Hedd and glorying in the humiliation and downfall of authority figures.  His beautifully rendered brush stroke could throb with paranoia or add a density and panache to hilariously scatological funny animal epics.

This book serves double duty as a biography and a collected edition of the bulk of Holmes' creative output in comix, covers and later painted work including the complete hippie high adventure epics Wings over Tijuana and Hitler's Cocaine (Think the Freak Bros. epic Mexican Odyssey but with a real world gloss to the druggy antics.) along with a frank appraisal of the unconventional life of a hippie dropout contrasted with a painstaking craftsmanship.  Recommended.

Hotwire: Deep Cut
Written and illustrated by Steve Pugh
Radical Comics

Continuing the character and story he co-created with Warren Ellis in Requiem for the Dead, Pugh brings us the continuing adventures of Alice Hotwire a police exorcist in a future where ghosts are a powerful and dangerous electromagnetic phenomenon requiring high technology to fight.

The art is beautiful and the story retains the inventiveness of Ellis with perhaps a little less of the horrible cynical bastard pose that is his trademark.

Still enough of a futuristic Ghostbusters with a hungover bad attitude to make a very entertaining read.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tom Waits gets his Mojo on

Brits make the best music magazines and Mojo is one of the best of the best.

Now, to celebrate their 200th issue they've given big chunks of the magazine to Tom Waits to edit with articles about Harry Belafonte and Ray Charles and an interview by Tom Waits of Hank Williams III and they let him pick the soundtrack of the issue's free CD.

Why are you still sitting there reading this instead of running to your nearest magazine dealer?

Monday, July 5, 2010


Roger Ebert recently expressed the view that video games were not - and never could be - 'art'.

He started wishing he'd never brought the subject up in the first place almost immediately.  Endless people pointed out to him that devotees of literature and live theater said the exact same thing when film came along and endless people sent him suggestions of games to try that would prove to him games could be art.

Ebert was learning the central lesson of life online:  Don't feed the trolls because their hunger is savage and unending.  His climbdown came quickly and came down to an admission that he had no right to challenge the artistic legitimacy of video games if he had no intention of playing any. 

The problem comes down to a misunderstanding about the word 'art.'  It isn't a value judgment word, its a category word.  Saying that something is 'art' doesn't mean its good art or high art, just that it falls into the category of creative endeavour.

Of all the definitions and deconstructions of the concept of art that I've seen, Scott McCloud's from his magnum opus Understanding Comics resonates with me the most.

Art is simply any human activity not concerned specifically with survival or reproduction.  Anything we do that is extraneous to these pursuits is art.  

Of course it can be related to those urges, but it's impulse comes from somewhere else altogether.

There's no doubt in my mind that games like Bioshock are art.  With a mix of compelling story-telling, trenchant social commentary and beautiful design, any single component of the game could be considered art on its own - why once it became an interactive experience would it stop being art?

Oh Noes!


Flipping through the channels, ah, Law and Order SVU, always good for a human degradation fix.  Olivia is being all soft spoken and empathic with a grieving widow.  "Can you think of any reason why your husband would have been sodomized with a banana?"

"He was allergic."

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"The Deadliest Night of my Life"

Daredevil #208, 1984.   
Written by Harlan Ellison and Drawn by David Mazzucchelli.  

Two years later Mazzucchelli partnered with Frank Miller on the highly acclaimed Daredevil: Born Again story-line and then on the Batman: Year One epic with a style at once more impressionistic and more realistic, but he was already producing iconic imagery on the book before then.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

You are my Asylum - Alan Moore knows the score

Alan Moore performs at the launch party of his absurdly wonderful magazine project Dodgem Logic.

Every issue is a stuffed to the margins collection of music, culture and humor.  It made the fan headlines recently, when Moore publicly resigned from the New Gorillaz Rock Opera project pointing out that as the band couldn't get their act together to produce a promised 3 page story for his magazine, Moore felt little inclination to make the time to contribute the script and design work for their project. Moore is clearly having more fun with this retro underground newspaper/magazine then he's had in years.  It's a loving evocation of a particular era of rebel press in British counter-culture.  One almost expects to find a double page spread of unspeakable things being done to Andy Pandy.

Moore is one of those rare and wonderful chimera, a lifelong idol and artistic north star who never disappointed or  disillusioned.  With a bibliography full of the greatest texts in the medium Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to name just a few. Fiercely, unbendingly ethical and uncompromisable, he refused movie money, refused to be punked by corporate tools and refused to be bullied artistically.  My Alan Moore shelf sags under the weight of his output, comics that dragged the artform years forward, reinterpretations of heroes and monsters, elegant pornography, rigorous science fiction, social satire and critical analysis.

He's also a practicing ceremonial magician of an idiosyncratic Golden Dawn style but with an eclectic syncreticism of his own devising.  His ultimate exegesis on the subject, The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic is at the top of my wish list of anxiously awaited future projects.

Every issue Of Dodgem Logic includes extras, a CD in issue one featuring the song at the top of this post among other local alternative musicians in Moore's orbit, issue two had an 'insert' comic Astounding Weird Penises, both written and with a rare art job by Alan Moore himself.  The latest, issue three has an old fashioned classic iron on transfer of a plump pin up beauty by Moore's collaborator and lady love Melinda Gebbie.

Moore is able to put this out, in a model perhaps inspired by his early experience with the creative collective the Art Lab, while also producing multimedia extravaganzas and putting on magically transformative spoken word performances in the tunnels under London.

He also knows the score about the ducks.  Little bastards.

Comics Review - July 3

The Death of Dracula
Marvel One Shot

This one-shot is the preview of the big cross-over event of the coming year in the Marvel Universe. Dracula looks completely different from his previously extremely consistent classic model sheet. Evening wear, widows peak and opera cape have been replaced with an albino pony-tale and cheesy fantasy armor.

It's not an improvement, but he isn't in the picture for long. As others have said, its basically a Mafia story. The Godfather gets assassinated and the five families descend into plotting, jockeying for power and open inter vampire clan warfare.

We've never seen this gathering of different clans of vampires before, but its explained it happens once a century, and now that Dracula has been murdered the assembled hosts of the undead have turned their sights on the rest of the Marvel universe. If you were a vampire in a world of unimaginably powerful superheroes, wouldn't you turn them into undead thralls?

The Tomb of Dracula
TPB collecting issues 1-12 of the 70's classic

Doubtless timed to cash in on the big Marvel vampire crossover in the works, a new color reprint delivers the first 12 issues of the Marvel horror classic. It's been reprinted multiple times in the last few years from black and white phone book sized economy editions to deluxe hard cover collections. This is an affordable but attractive middle ground color paperback collection.

Gene Colan has the art duties from the first issue, while the writer changed multiple times until Marv Wolfman stepped in on issue seven beginning a partnership with Colan on the book that lasted seven years. It was the longest running series starring a villain in comics history and deserved it.

The book featured a motley crew of vampire fighters including Frank Drake, one of Dracula's descendants determined to defeat the family curse, Abraham Van Helsing's grand-daughter and in issue ten, a day walking half man half vampire named Blade.

Blade, of course, went on to make Marvel beau-coup movie bucks. Wolfman went to court to try to get a taste of the movie money for creating the character but lost and was largely blackballed in the industry afterward.

It is to be hoped he at least got a share from this latest collected edition of his work.

Captain Swing #2

The long awaited second issue of Warren Ellis' Victorian steam punk electric pirate series is out and reveals that Ellis has created an inter-connected world of his Avatar books. Captain Swing is the ancestor of Doktor Sleepless, while his bold policeman prisoner and possible ally is apparently the great-great grandfather of combat magician William Gravel.

He seems to be treating his Avatar cosmology more like a darker echo of Alan Moore's genre mash up the League of Extraordinary Gentleman than the tedious merger of soap opera and pro wrestling that established superhero universes evoke.

The story itself, is about a crazed but charismatic super-genius turning to elaborate science piracy to try to stop those who would keep magic and scientific miracles in the hands of the elites and follows the themes of his other genre fusion series Planetary. Recommended.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"A smile before you go..."

"A smile before you go..."


“Lucille, you must see how it is. It can’t be a surprise to you that somebody finally got upset.” Corporal Jeffery Mackinnon of the RCMP shifted uncomfortably, the plastic covering on the hard chair crackled along with his movements.

Lucille Nystrom collected colorful little figurines. They covered every flat surface of the neat sitting room. Mackinnon, a big broad shouldered man going just slightly to pot, felt huge and clumsy. He feared that the smallest movement would slaughter porcelain multitudes.

Perhaps Lucille could sense his nervousness. She casually picked up and moved aside a tiny Shetland pony from next to his elbow as she refilled his cup.

“I honestly don’t understand all the fuss. Peter Carr was a remarkably jovial man, always a smile on his face, and that belly laugh! You could hear it across the room.” Lucille sat down lightly, knees together, back straight and fixed Mackinnon with a piercing stare. “Sending him to his reward with a scowl on his face would have been a shame and a sin.”

“Come on Lucille, you didn’t have to put a scowl on his face, but a big toothy grin wasn’t the way to go either.” Mackinnon sipped his tea, controlling a wince. He was a coffee man and to his palate the tea tasted bitter and metallic.

Lucille leaned forward and moved a tiny Collie with a red ball between its paws back from Mackinnon’s end of the coffee table. He felt more self-conscious than ever. Was his awkwardness over the chore that had brought him here so obvious as to make Lucille fear a figurine massacre?

“Corporal, I took over the Nystrom funeral home, this funeral home, when Gary passed away last April. Susan Carr has been the only one to complain about my work since then.” Lucille’s lips were primly pursed but still held the faint half smile that never entirely left them. The trim pretty fifty-eight year old widow was popular in the township. Undertakers were usually shunned, at least a little. Nothing overt but there just the same. Gary Nystrom now, had been a somber, even dour figure. He’d probably have been avoided no matter what his occupation.

But nobody could shun Lucille; that fiercely friendly personality was simply too forceful to resist.

Mackinnon sighed and slurped up more bitter tea. Like everyone else, (Well, maybe excepting Susan Car and a few other offended bereaved these days.) Mackinnon liked Lucille enormously, and he bitterly resented the position he was being forced into.

“Nobody questions how hard you’ve worked since Gary died, but it’s been a hard year and all those smiles… well Susan Carr isn’t the only one who’s been bothered by them, she’s just the first to complain officially.”

It had been a bad year. One of those statistical spikes that looks so innocuous on paper, but in real life means accidents and heart attacks and plain old deaths from old age have chosen to cluster together perversely.

Latham was a small northern town made up of farmers, oilmen and a few townies who ran the stores and worked for the schools and the hospital. The tiny population had done more than its share of mourning. Mackinnon had headed up the three man Mountie detachment for ten years. Every death was like losing family.

Lucille turned that 100-watt smile on him and Mackinnon blinked. “Corporal, death isn’t something to be feared any more than life is. ‘Going to your reward’ isn’t just an expression. It’s the simple joyous truth.” Lucille reached over with the teapot and topped up Mackinnon’s cup. He eyed it mournfully and took a dutiful sip.

Lucille bustled off to the kitchen with the kettle, but not before picking up a tiny china shepherdess from the mantle piece next to Mackinnon’s head and moving it to a bookshelf across the room. Mackinnon felt a drop of sweat slide out from under his hairline and quickly wiped it away.

Thirteen deaths. Thirteen people ‘sent to their rewards’ in the past year, and starting with Gary Nystrom, thirteen people lovingly laid to rest by Lucille Nystrom with wide happy smiles on frozen white faces.

And the nasty, unspoken fact of this little visit was that Mackinnon was going to have to do something about it. If Lucille couldn’t be convinced to stop molding stiff dead flesh into beaming grins then… well she was going to have to stop, that was all there was to it.

Mackinnon had already made a note of the phone number of the Provincial Mortuary Regulatory Board. He really didn’t want to have to call that number.

But he would if he had to. It might be time for Lucille to retire, whether she agreed or not.

Mackinnon could feel the beginnings of a nasty case of heartburn developing behind his sternum. The tea and his own nervousness was making acid bubble and rise.

“Lucille, if you could just make them look peaceful it would make my job a lot easier.”

Lucille came back in from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a tea cloth. “This world doesn’t have enough smiles Jeffery. I’m just trying to bring people a little happiness.”

Mackinnon opened his mouth and a sudden wave of agony rippled through his chest and down his left arm. He gasped and hunched forward around the pain. A sickening spike of nausea uncoiled from his stomach and after three tries Mackinnon managed to swallow down bitter bile through the sudden vice grip that was constricting his chest.

“I am sorry that it hurts Jeffery.” Lucille’s voice was distant and tinny over the throbbing, frantic rush of blood in Mackinnon’s ears. “The Digitalis is the best method I’ve found so far, but there is some pain.”

Mackinnon tried to stand but his legs were made of rubber. “Digi…Digitalis?”

“Just a little something I found on the Internet dear. I grow the Foxglove in my greenhouse for my little projects. Such a pretty cone of little tube flowers! Did you know that when it’s refined it looks exactly like a heart attack and it won’t show up in an autopsy unless the coroner is looking for it? It’s a wonder anyone ever dies of natural causes at all.”

Lucille gently pushed Mackinnon back in the easy chair and briskly lifted each of his eyelids with her thumb. The pupil of the left was noticeably larger than the right. “It won’t be long now, dear.”

Mackinnon was completely numb. Lucille’s smiling face was little more than a pale oval at the end of a dark tunnel. “Wh…wh…why?

Lucille softly stroked Mackinnon’s cheek, smiling that same constant, gentle smile. “I already told you Jeffery. Twenty years with that sullen, miserable man I married taught me one very important lesson.”

“Lucille’s fingers gently traced Mackinnon’s cold, numb lips. Lightly lifting them at the corners.

“There just aren’t enough smiles in the world.”


copyright (c) Cliff Almas

Monday, June 28, 2010

Doctor in the House

Orbital close out the Glastonbury festival with an ecstatic version of the Doctor Who theme with the Doctor himself Matt Smith rocking the synthesizer!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Public Policy, Games Theory and the Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse

Oh sure our leaders and administrators are worrying about trivialities like global warming, simmering warfare, global food shortages and economic uncertainty...but who's planning for the ravening hordes of the hungry dead?

The prestigious journal Foreign Policy fills the dangerous zombie gap in large scale public policy planning and puts some serious wonk time into exploring different strategies for dealing with the hungry dead. they explore differing approaches based on ideology, resources and military strategy.

There are many sources of fear in world politics -- terrorist attacks, natural disasters, climate change, financial panic, nuclear proliferation, ethnic conflict, and so forth. Surveying the cultural zeitgeist, however, it is striking how an unnatural problem has become one of the fastest-growing concerns in international relations. I speak, of course, of zombies.
For our purposes, a zombie is defined as a reanimated being occupying a human corpse,
with a strong desire to eat human flesh -- the kind of ghoul that first appeared in George Romero's 1968 classic,
Night of the LivingDead, and which has been rapidly proliferating in popular culture in recent
years (far upstaging its more passive cousins, the reanimated corpses of traditional West African and Haitian voodoo rituals). Because they can spread across borders and threaten states and civilizations, these zombies should command the attention of scholars and policymakers.

Followers of cold blooded Realpolitik would call for closing the borders and leaving the rest of the world to be over-run by the shambling hordes. Selfish but effective if you don't mind watching the rest of the world get eaten alive. Liberals would band together and cooperate against the zombie threat, a little hippie-dippy perhaps, but ultimately probably the best long term strategy for cooperating against the undead on a global level - see the book World War Z, an Oral History of the Zombie War for the best description of the UN VS the Zombies model. Finally neo-conservatives would probably go out in the world proactively bombing, shooting and presumably torturing the walking dead in the fight against the undead evil-doers. Effective in the short term but the 'You're either with us or you're with the Axis of the Evil Dead' approach would turn off potential allies.
In the end, what I am suggesting is that with careful planning and a consistent approach, the zombie threat can be managed. The purpose of this essay is not to make a policy recommendation or suggest that one approach is superior to another. It is up to the reader to exercise his or her own judgment in determining what to do with this information. Indeed, interested and intelligent students of world politics should use their own brains -- before the zombies do.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Quote of the Day

If the absence of sensation means a living death, then perhaps zombies are merely creatures thrown up by evolution to live in the urban environment.
-Roger Ebert, from his review of Little Murders, 1971

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mark Hamill's Last Laugh

After being associated with the character since the early 90's on the beloved animated version, Mark Hamill announces the upcoming Arkham Asylum 2 will be his final bow as The Joker.

Nothing but respect for Heath Ledger's lacerating, terrifying interpretation of the Joker as a nihilistic urban terrorist, but Hamill owns the role. Both in the Timmverse animated version and the atmospheric Arkham Asylum portrayal his voice IS the Joker for me and a whole generation of fans.

God, I want this game NOW!

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