Sunday, 31 October 2010

My Monsters - part 1 - The Vampire

I've been planning a series of blogs all about my favourite monsters for a while now, but for one reason or another, it kept getting put off. But then Halloween rolled around. That seems as good a reason as any other to get this Monster jam going! And where better to start than my personal favourite, the vampire.

Now, before we get started, I need to specify something here. When I say "vampire", I don't mean the kind of mewling, pathetic, emo bitch of a shampire as portrayed in Twilight and its ilk. No, I mean the evil, blood-sucking fiend who would think nothing of tearing your throat out and drinking down your life's blood in a heartbeat.

I remember, as a child, the vampire was the first monster which truly terrified me. At that young age, I couldn't realy pin down why a vampire was so much more scary to me than, say, a zombie or Frankenstein's Creature, but looking back now, it seems obvious. Of all the monsters out there, the ones haunting our nightmares and sending a shiver down our spine, the vampire was the most human.

Like many people, my introduction to the vampire came through the most famous one of all, Count Dracula, when I can't have been much more than five or six. My cousin had a ladybird childrens book which told a version of the story (heavily edited, of course), and it fascinated me. When it was read to my cousin and I, we were told to cover our eyes if one of the pictures scared us, or to ask that we stop if we reached a point which was too much for us. I couldn't take my eyes off it. I was scared, yes, but I was also completely engrossed. Not by the story though. That would come many years later. No, rather, it was Dracula himself, this vampire creature, which had caught my attention. Had anyone asked me even five minutes after the book had been read to me what had actually happened, I couldn't have told them. I had the attention span of a small, sugar filled child who was wearing a towel around his neck as a cape. Dracula though, he was there. And he's never really left.

This was a monster who walked like a man, who was intelligent, charming and pure evil. I had nightmares for a while after that, but at the same time, I was intrigued. This feeling only grew with my second encounter with a vampire, as far as I can recall. Once again, the vampire in question was Dracula, only this time, he was on television in one of my favourite programmes. The show in question? Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends.

In the episode The Bride of Dracula, the Count takes a shine to Firestar, hypnotising her into wanting to marry him. Naturally, Spider-Man and Iceman don't take too kindly to this, so follow Dracula to Transylvania in an attempt to rescue her. Of course, Spidey and Iceman succeed, but this episode still left a lasting impression on me. I recognised Dracula as the same character from the book I'd previously encountered him in, and once more, I was both scared of him and intrigued by him. While yes, the characterisation is obviously pitched at kids, moreso than in the Ladybird book, he was still clearly the same character, and still scary to me. Sure, Spider-Man may have beaten him, but it was one of only two episodes which actually made me worried for Spidey (the other had Spidey fighting a creature called the Arachnoid, which I'll actually go into in a later post). Interestingly, those are also the only two episodes of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends which stayed with me right up until I rediscovered the show on DVD last year.

As I continued to grow older, vampires continued to scare and fascinate me in equal measure, and I continued to stumble across them in the books, TV shows and films I enjoyed. One in particular which sticks in my mind was in the very first Fighting Fantasy book I ever played. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain features an encounter with a vampire, which managed to scare me while I was reading it, and it probably didn't help that the vampire killed me that first time out. The scene is accompanied by an image, but not of the vampire, just of a crypt filled with coffins. The rest of the scene was left up completely to the readers imagination, and this particular reader, even at that age, had a pretty vivid one. I probably wasn't helped by the following passage, which came if you lost the fight with the creature:-

"As you approach, he rises from his coffin, spreads his cloak and takes you under it. Your last living memory is a flash of pain as his sharp teeth sink into your neck. You should never have let yourself make eye-contact with a VAMPIRE!"

Damn right I shouldn't!

So, the vampire scared me, and did so for a good long while. It was the fear that lingered after all the other childhood fears I had (and I was a wuss of a child, so there were a few) were gone. I'm not sure exactly when the fear subsided, but the fascination stayed. Here is a creature who used to be human, who has power, immortality and, seemingly, a hedonistic lifestyle which we all crave. But it's also an animal, filled with a savagery and bloodlust second to none. The switch between to two can come frighteningly quickly too. Witness the scene in The Lost Boys where the vampires attack the revellers by the campfire. The vamps go from normal looking to animal in a matter of seconds before tearing their victims apart and drinking their blood, in a visceral scene which, if your not expecting it in a film which has largely been played for laughs so far, can surprise you.

Part of what fascinates me about the vampire is the mythology behind it. There was a time when, thanks to all sorts of diseases and conditions which are easliy cured today, people genuinely believed in vampires, and most of the vampire lore used in fiction today sprung out of ideas and beliefs which people actually had in the dark ages, which were later popularised as part of the fiction by Bram Stoker and others. Many of these simply boil down to the idea that you should avoid evil, for example, the whole "never invite a vampire into your home" rule could also sensibly be applied to many things: thieves, murderers, devils, Jehovah's witnesses, Anne Widdecombe... I could go on. But, so tied to the vampire is it, that there's now this idea that a vampire physically can't enter a home, or at least has no power within, without being invited. That said, Let The Right One In had a very interesting take on this. I won't spoil it here, as I know a lot of people haven't seen it, but I'm hoping this is something they keep in the remake, Let Me In.

Also, the religious iconography repelling vampires is something which has also applied to many other monsters and demons throughout literature and popular culture, but again, it's so tied to the vampire these days. There are interesting takes on it though. Some stories have it that it's only the cross the vampire fears, and that it's just that: a fear. There are others though where the cross actually hurts the vampire physically, such as the Hammer series of Dracula films (Brides of Dracula in particular features an ingenious use of a windmill to create a crucifix which kills its antagonist, Baron Meinster) or the vampires of Joss Whedon's Buffyverse. However, a more interesting take on it is the idea that any religious iconography will repel a vampire, but only if the person wielding it has faith in the religion it represents. This was best illustrated, bizarrely, in X-Men Annual #6, in which the X-Men fought, yes, him again, Dracula. At one point, Wolverine creates a makeshift crucifix using his claws, but, since Logan ain't exactly the religious type, it has absolutely no effect on Dracula. However, when Kitty Pryde, a practicing Jew, brandishes the Star of David at the big-daddy vamp, he shrinks back in fear. I can't find many more examples of this particular idea, but if I'm honest, it's the one which makes most sense to me. Why would a crucifix work for someone who doesn't believe in God?

For the most part, these days, the vampire has had his fangs pulled out. Twilight has seen to that, with it's sparkly-glowy bullshit vampires, though in fairness, some of the blame must lie with Anne Rice and, loathe as I am to speak out against my master, Joss Whedon, who popularised the idea of good vampires. It doesn't matter how well Whedon did it, how good his stories were, it still put that idea out there for others to latch onto. But there was a time when the vampire was, arguably, the king of the monsters, the most evil and feared of them all. The scary vamps are still out there, they're just not doing the business at the moment. I have no doubt though that there will come a time when people are bored of the nice, fluffy pet vampires and want the evil bastards back again. But until they do, here's a list of some of my favourite vampire stories to finish with:-

Dracula by Bram Stoker
Stoker's Dracula (Marvel comics adaptation)
Vault of the Vampire (Fighting Fantasy book)
Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett
Salem's Lot by Stephen King
30 Days of Night
Captain Britain: Vampire Nation

Dracula (Universal version)
Horror of Dracula (Hammer version)
Brides of Dracula
Dracula: Prince of Darkness
Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Angel
From Dusk 'Til Dawn
The Lost Boys
Shadow of the Vampire
That one episode of Diagnosis Murder

To be continued...

Thursday, 21 October 2010


Please note, this blog isn't my usual light-hearted discussion of geeky stuff. It's one of my more personal, self-centered pieces. You have been warned.

Chances are, if you're reading this, you're doing so because you follow me on Twitter and clicked on a link I posted there. If that's the case, then there's also a fairly strong chance that you're aware that I didn't have the best start to the week. However, you will also have seen that I was determined that, as of Wednesday, my week was going to improve drastically.

It's strange, but I feel that it both has and hasn't. I'm feeling vaguely philosophical about things right now, and I'm both relieved and upset about other things.

So, yesterday morning I was awoken by a message from my dad informing me that my Grandma had suffered a nasty accident and was in hospital awaiting surgery. Unfortunately, since my Grandma is my Grandad's primary carer, this meant that my Grandad would have to go into a care home, at least temporarily. I didn't really have any more information yesterday, just a text from my Dad telling me that they were both as okay as can be expected, and he'd call me today.

I got the call today while I was at work, and I was terrified. I didn't want to answer it, didn't want to speak to Dad, just in case. But answer it I did. Thankfully, both my grandparents are okay. To a point. I mean, Grandma's had her whole hip replaced and needs to stay in hospital for a while, with a recovery period that can't be predicted. Grandad, meanwhile, has to stay in the home indefinitely. He doesn't want to be there, but we don't have a choice. Grandad's in his late eighties and... well, it's hard. When you speak to someone you care about, and they can't remember their own address or birthday... It's not something I've experienced before.

I'm worried about both my grandparents. There's a chance Grandma won't ever recover enough to be able to look after Grandad again, meaning... well, I don't really know what that means yet, and I'd rather not think about it. All I know is, for a while at least, they're both going to be on their own, and that's not a nice thought. At all. Oh, yes, they'll have family visitors, but my grandparents rely on each other in a way you only really see except in people of that generation any more. They won't admit that they need help (bit of a failing in my family, as my dad, my sister and I are all the same), but I want to give it to them. I hate that I'm so far away from them right now, and I feel awful for both of them.

But, you know what? It could've been a lot worse. I'm twenty-eight years old, and I still have all four of my grandparents. I know that's a rare thing, and I'm incredibly thankful for that. My dad's parents may be getting on, and yes, certainly right now, it's not easy, but they're still here. And my mum's parents are fit as fiddles. Fiddles which go down the gym and lift weights on a regular basis. I've had nearly three decades with them in my life, and that's awesome. I have some amazing memories of all my grandparents, and I love them all dearly.

I'm lucky, and I know it. I've never lost anyone close to me. Yes, I've known people who died, but never family or one of my close friends. We lost my pet cat, Verity, when I was fifteen, and you know, I still miss her. Incidentally, owning Verity convinced me that cats were intelligent creatures. Boy, Caliban blew that theory apart! But I digress. When the only creature you love that you've lost in close to three decades is your cat, well, yeah, I'm damn lucky.

So while, yes, I'm worried and upset for my grandparents, I'm also in a place right now where I'm feeling pretty good. I've been reminded that, as much as things sometimes suck, and as much as life may throw some shit at you, it can be far, far worse. I've got a lot I can be thankful for in my life, and no matter what happens, I always will do. The good stuff's happened. There's more to come, I'm sure, but whatever else, the past is always there.

Sometimes things suck. No doubt they will do again. But at the end of the day, I'm a very lucky man. I just need to try and remember that.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Write Up of a Read Through part 2

I am knackered! Honestly, I'm not sure why, but sitting there listening to people read my script out loud was really tiring. Maybe I was so nervous beforehand that I used up that much energy, or maybe those two lines I delivered really took it out of me, but whatever the reason, I just want to lie down in a darkened room with a bottle of whiskey and listen to Dark Side of the Moon.

Tiredness aside though, this afternoon's read through of More Than This, the film script I've been working on for a while now, went really well. Everyone went for it, getting into their roles and delivering their lines wonderfully. It was good to hear others interpretations of my characters without me giving them any direction beforehand. It's changed how I hear a couple of the characters in my head, for the better, while two in particular were read out exactly as I had imagined them, which is also a good thing. As a matter of fact, if I do manage to get this thing made in the near future, I'm seriously considering offering a couple of those parts to the people who read them this afternoon.

Just before I go any further, I want to give a massive shout out to my readers. First of all, Bernt, who came along saying he didn't want to read a part, so I made him read the directions, meaning he had more to read out than anyone else! Poor guy. I should buy him a drink. As for the characters, Ricky, Carew, Lowri, Ana, Andy and Alex, thank you guys so much. I owe you all big time for this one. And also, thanks to Nicki, who came along and didn't read, but was a useful gauge for how an audience might react.

I know what you want to know though. Did anyone cock up any lines? Yes. Within the first couple of pages. Sigh. And the fool who choked first? That'd be me. I had two lines. I wrote them. I screwed up the first one. There's a reason I haven't acted for years!

During the read through itself, the first thing which I noticed was also the thing I was possibly most worried about. The guys seemed to find it funny. This was such a relief to me. More Than This is supposed to be a comedy, but I hadn't found it funny for a while. I figured this may simply be because I was too close to it, but I also had that nagging doubt that, maybe, it just wasn't funny. But no, everyone laughed at it, and everyone enjoyed it. Sure, some of that comes with the delivery, but a lot of it does come from the words, and it seems that I wrote some humorous words. Phew.

Another thing I was worried about going in was the dialogue. I was worried some of it was quite clunky, and wouldn't flow naturally. And some of it was, but not nearly as much as I expected. In fact, and while they didn't know it, this was one of the nicest compliments I've ever been paid, the guys loved the dialogue. I pride myself on my ability to write dialogue. I think I'm good at getting an ear for how characters should sound and what they would say, while also getting it to flow and sound natural. The thing is, you know what they say about pride. I was genuinely terrified that maybe it was just me that thought that. Sure, both Drew and Joe have complimented some of the dialogue I wrote for Stiffs, but what if that was a fluke? What if I wasn't nearly as good as I thought? So to get that validation from the guys was huge for me, not just in my confidence in More Than This as a script, but in my own abilities as a writer. Yes, like I said, some of the dialogue doesn't quite work yet, but it's not a final draft. There's more to come. And anyway, I think part of that is related to the next point...

The characters. The central trio, in particular, seemed to go down pretty well, in terms of their overall characters and arcs within the story, such as they are. Some of the other minor characters also seemed popular, which was gratifying. It's always good to know you can create memorable characters that people like. That said, there are two characters who are pretty key to the film as a whole, both of whom need developing. One of these, I already knew about. He's in there as little more than a plot point at the moment, and as he's written currently, there's something about him which doesn't make much sense (yes, I'm trying to write this spoiler free). But that just confirmed something I was already aware of. The other one, I wasn't so aware of going into the reading, but when it was pointed out to me afterwards, I really had to agree. Both these characters need some work, and arguably, it's some of their dialogue which is the weakest in the script. I reckon if I can work these characters out in the next draft, then the dialogue may come with them.

The swearing? Staying in. In fact, I may add more. The massively geeky references? Going nowhere. People loved them. There was also a suggestion regarding a certain act of violence in the script which I, personally, loved. So that'll be going in.

This has been a really postive and incredibly useful experience. I've been given a lot of stuff I can use for More Than This version 5.0, and I'm looking forward to cracking on with it. My episodes of Supermarket Matters for Mark and co-writing Stiffs with Drew and Joe are the priorities for now, because these have more or less definite deadlines, and leave others reliant on me turning work in. I love writing these projects, and think I'm also not doing a half bad job on them. But much as I love them, More Than This is something else to me. It's something entirely my own and, for a number of reasons, it's also a deeply personal script, and to know I'm on the right track with it is immensely gratifying. I'm gonna try and do little bits on the next draft here and there, but the big push will probably come in the new year, with an eye to maybe shooting it (and I can't stress how much emphasis I need to put on that maybe) in the spring/summer of 2011.

And ya know what? Beyond the feedback and validation, it was actually just fun to sit down with some people and read a script.

Once again, thank you guys. So, wanna do it again for the next draft?

Friday, 15 October 2010

Write Up of a Read Through part 1

Remember when I took a dance class? That was crazy, eh? Well, you may also remember that I did a write up of my thoughts and apprehension beforehand, followed by a write up of how decidedly average I was afterwards.

I'm doing that again. No, not the dance class!

If you've known me a while, then at some point over the last few years, you've probably heard me mention More Than This, a film script I've been working on for a fair old while now. It's gone through four and a half drafts (half because the last one wasn't a full rewrite), and it needs at least one more before I even consider starting to look at getting the thing made. However, I decided that, before I begin the next rewrite, I really need to hear the thing. Read out loud. By someone other than me.

I've tried for a while now to get a group of people together who'd be willing to read More Than This version 4.5 out loud, and it kept falling through, for a number of reasons. But finally, tomorrow afternoon, thanks to a few incredibly generous people who are willing and able, the read through is finally going ahead.

This is a good thing, and I'm very much looking forward to it. It's going to give me a chance to work out which scenes are working, which ones aren't, which lines need rewriting, which ones are real clunkers that should just go, which ones are actually genius... you get the idea. It's something that, as a writer, you can't always tell until you hear something read out loud. A line which you may love may well turn out to be awful when you finally come to hear it. Conversely, a line you thought was worse than George Lucas writing romantic dialogue may turn out to be one of the best lines in the thing.

The problem is, much as I'm looking forward to it, there's also that little seed of doubt, planted in the back of my mind, whispering to me "The whole thing's going to be shit." Now, a fortnight or so ago, I did read the script again. I didn't like it. At all. I hadn't read it for months, and coming back to it with fresh eyes, I really thought it was bad. Nowhere near ready for others to read out loud without me being mercilessly torn to pieces and told never to write anything ever again. They might even cove me in barbecue sauce and feed me to some fire ants they just happened to bring with them.

Thankfully, a couple of friends who had also read it told me I was being stupid. They were right. In preparation for the read through tomorrow, I read it again last night, and I didn't hate it. It wasn't bad at all. Some of it, in fact, really works. I'm quietly confident about tomorrow, that my readers will enjoy at least bits of it, and will be able to point out to me where I have gone wrong with it and help me work out how to improve it.

The thing is, when I first conceived More Than This, it was (and still is, I suppose) semi-autobiographical. Not the situations the characters find themselves in (although the main character does have a crazy ex who shows up, though toned down from real life), but certainly where the lead is emotionally is where I was when I started writing it. Of course, that was a few years ago, and I'm not there any more, so maybe I'm not quite so plugged into the way my lead is feeling and thinking, and really, I don't know him at all and oh my sweet hairy Odin, the whole thing's going to be shit and here come the fire ants again!

See, the paranoia always creeps back in.

In all seriousness, I am nervous about tomorrow. I can't help it. I'm a writer, and we writers are, by our very natures, a paranoid bunch. Or, is that just me? Anyway, we're never happy with what we've written, and of we had our way, we'd tinker forever. And the first time people read something, we panic. And that's where I am now. But while I am nervous, I'm also excited. These characters have been with me for ages, and finally, tomorrow, after a fashion, they'll finally be speaking to me.

It's going to be an interesting experience. It's been a while since people read out one of my scripts, and the first time it was more than a ten page piece. I'll write up afterwards about how it goes, and my thoughts about where my script is and where it's going, but for now, let's call it a healthy mix of conflicting emotions.

Also, just before I go, once again a huge thank you to the people who have given up their Saturday afternoon to read the words of a hack! I genuinely love you all!

Of course, I can't handle criticism, so that'll change tomorrow.

Monday, 4 October 2010

When Comics Go Lame

Comics are awesome. But not always. Sometimes, they're lame. Totally lame. Lamer than a lot of other things. I'm gonna run through a few examples of the lameness comics can produce here, focussing on the superhero comics released by Marvel and DC, 'cos they're responsible for a lot of lame, and I know them best.

And I'm not just talking shit costumes, like the issues of Avengers in which Hawkeye wore a skirt.

I'm not even just talking shit characters, though there have been plenty. Rather, I'm talking about storylines, plot points, moments or entire comics which have just been... well, lame. Anyway, on with the list.

1. "I Have Clones"

Back in the seventies, a couple of years after Marvel killed Spider-Man's girlfriend, Gwen Stacey, in a really rather shocking story for the time, they seemingly brought her back. Of course, it turned out to not be the original Gwen, but a clone created by the Jackal, otherwise known as Professor Miles Warren. Warren had been a teacher of Gwen's at university who had fallen in love with her. Unable to let go, and blaming Spider-Man for Gwen's death, Warren hatched a scheme which would bring Gwen back to him (after a fashion) and lead to the death of Spider-Man. The plot culminated in a battle between Spider-Man, and a second Spider-Man which Warren had cloned from Spidey's DNA. At the end of the fight, one of the Spider-Men was seemingly dead, and the Gwen clone left to start her life over. And that was it. Or so everyone thought.
In the nineties, Marvel brought the Spider-Clone back. He hadn't actually died at all, and had in fact spent the last five years wandering America until, hearing that Aunt May was dying, he returned to New York. Thus began the Clone Saga. The original idea was that the storyline would only last six issues or so, and would once more end with a battle between Spider-Man and his clone. Things didn't quite go to plan, and the Clone Saga ended up lasting years. Inspired by how well Knightfall had sold over in DC's Batman books, Marvel decided to string the Clone Saga out. The Jackal came back. The Spider-Clone took the name Ben Reilly and began fighting crime as the Scarlet Spider. Gwen Stacey's clone came back. Two other spider-clones were introduced in Kaine and Spidercide. Doctor Octopus was killed off. Aunt May died of natural causes. Mary Jane revealed she was pregnant. And then, the biggest shock of all, we found out that Peter Parker, the man who had been Spider-Man for the last twenty years or so in our time (five years in Marvel time) was revealed to in fact be the clone. Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider, was the original Peter Parker, the original Spider-Man. He had lost the fight to his clone after all! Soon after, Peter lost his powers, and Ben became the one, true Spider-Man!
Quite naturally, this didn't go down too well with the fans. It wasn't too long before Peter's powers returned, and oh, whoops, the whole thing (which had been going on for a good four or five years remember), was suddenly a massively convoluted revenge scheme cooked up by none other than Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin! Who had also been dead the last twenty years. But it was okay, because look, Peter was the original Spider-Man after all and Ben was the clone. See, Marvel said, we fixed it!
Only they didn't. The Spider-Man books didn't recover for years. Osborn was back, but they couldn't decide what to do with him. When it was later revealed that Aunt May was actually alive, and the woman who died had been an actress, hired by Osborn and genetically altered to look like May Parker, things seemed at their worst. Marvel did the only thing they really could. They rebooted the Spider-Man books with new issue #1's. Only thing is, they gave them to John Byrne, who proceeded to, almost unbelievably, tell even worse stories for the next couple of years. It was only when J. Michael Straczynski came aboard as writer, and promptly jettisoned most of what had happened over the last ten years that things improved, and did so dramatically.
It was a dark time to be a Spider-Man fan, and all because of the Clone Saga.

2. "Argh, my hand!"

Aquaman, as a character, often comes in for a lot of stick. It's largely because of his powers. He can... Um... Talk to fish and control them. Okay, so he's also super strong and the king of Atlantis, but mainly, it's the talking to fish thing. DC revamped the character in the early nineties, giving him a harder edged look and attitude. This included the character losing one of his hands and havin it replaced with a hook. Those who watched the Justice League cartoon from a few years ago may remember the really quite awesome way they did this. Aquaman and his son are chained to a rock which is sliding towards a pool of lava. In order to try and save the life of his infant child, Aquaman attempts to cut through the chains, but to no avail. So instead, he hacks off his own hand. It's a brilliant moment, showing just what lengths a parent will go to in order to save their child.
That ain't how it happened in the comics. Aquaman had his hand eaten. By piranha. You know, fish. The creatures he's supposed to have command of. He didn't think to just, oh, I don't know, tell them to stop eating his hand! Sigh. Nice one DC.

3. Crossing Over

"So, here's my idea. You know Iron Man? One of our most popular heroes, founding member of the Avengers and all round good guy? What if he's actually been working for Immortus for years, kills a load of Avengers, and then dies so we can replace him with a teenage version of himself?"
At that point, had I been an editor at Marvel, I would've said "Leave. Before we have you forcibly removed." However, what actually happened was something along the lines of "Hmmm, not bad, but I don't think it ruins the Avengers quite enough. What else you got?"
The response "Um.... I could turn the Wasp into an actual freakish bug creature?"
And that's exactly what happened during The Crossing, one of the worst stories in the history of the Avengers. Thank Odin that barely five issues later, Onslaught happened and effectively wiped out everything that happened in the Crossing. Tony Stark, the proper one, was back, Wasp was human again and all was well with the world.

4. The Death of Batman. Wait, he's fine. Oh, no he isn't.

Grant Morrison used to be an awesome writer. His run on JLA was epic, and showed he got the characters better than many other writers. His takes on Batman and Superman were especially good. Witness this moment in JLA issue #3. The Hyperclan, the bad guys of the storyline, have taken the Justice Leagure captive. This is a team that includes Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lanten and the Flash. And they're all taken down. Except Batman. No matter, think the Hyperclan, we all have powers comparable to Superman, what harm can Batman do? Then one of them A-Mortal, goes missing. Protek, the leader of the Hyperclan, say's the following:
"This is insane! We must have a communications failure! A-Mortal's playing some kind of stupid joke! Batman! Batman!"
We then cut to a different panel, in which we hear Protek saying "He's only a man!" The focus of the panel isn't Protek though. It's a close up of Superman's face. And the Man of Steel is, well, it can only be described as smirking. Not only does this one moment sum up the relationship between Superman and Batman wonderfully, it also clearly demonstrates one thing above all others. Even without superpowers, Batman is one of the most dangerous men on the planet.
Morrison's run on JLA was filled with moments like this, where you knew he just got these characters and could write them blind. So it was incredibly exciting when Morrison was announced as the writer on Batman. Knowing what he'd done with Batman in the JLA, surely his take on the character's solo exploits was going to be something special. And it was. At first.
But something soon became obvious. Morrison had gone crazy. He'd always been a little out there with his ideas, but now he'd gone truly batshit (sorry) crazy. Morrison cooked up a storyline called Batman RIP, which... well, it's hard to describe because it made very little sense, but it ended with the death of Batman. Only it didn't, because Batman showed up alive and well later that same month in Final Crisis, a huge cosmic event book being written by, yes, Grant Morrison. Final Crisis made even less sense than Batman RIP, so Batman, who was dead, showing up and no one reacting to it didn't actually seem that incongruous. Until, at the end of Final Crisis, he died. Again. This time killed by Darkseid. Only he wasn't dead, he was sent back in time, or to an alternate reality, or both, or... honestly, who knows? It was a mess. But I think the thing which sums it up best is the following statement. In the space of a few months, DC killed Batman off twice. And nobody cared.

5. No, It's Fine, There's No Gravity

A few years ago, I started buying the Incredible Hulk on a monthly basis. It wasn't a title I'd really been picking up, but Peter David, the man who wrote the Hulk for years and years, and told some of the definitive stories about the character, was returning to the book. This was a big deal, and I wanted to see what he would do with it. He left after twelve issues, and I intended to leave with him. But I didn't, because this was followed by a seminal run from Greg Pak, which included Planet Hulk and World War Hulk, two stories I thoroughly enjoyed. After this, it was announced that Jeph Loeb was going to be writing Hulk. Anyone who's read Loeb's Batman work, or his Marvel "colour" books (Daredevil: Yellow, Hulk: Grey and Spider-Man: Blue), as well as his Superman/Batman team-up book, knew this was something to get excited about.
I dropped the Hulk after the fifth issue of his run. Loeb had lost it. He introduced Red Hulk, a malevolent, cunning Hulk who wasn't Bruce Banner, and who instead of getting stronger as he got angrier, gave off more radiation. The Red Hulk rampaged through the Marvel universe, taking down the Abomination, She-Hulk, Iron Man, and even ol' Green Skin himself, the original Hulk. The problem was, it was really badly written. Everyone was out of character, and the dialogue was awful. This couldn't have been the same Jeph Loeb, could it?
The biggest insult came in issue #5, when Red Hulk fought Thor. Some things you need to know about Thor. First, he's one of my favourite characters, and has been for years. Second, he's normally strong enough to go toe to toe with the Hulk anyway, and at this point he was also wielding the Odin Force, which increased his already considerable power by a significant amount. Third, only Thor can lift his hammer. It's nothing to do with strength, but an enchantment on Mjolnir which means that, well, only Thor (or someone else worthy) could lift it. Surely Red Hulk was going to get his arse kicked!
No. He wasn't. Now, had he beaten Thor by being crafty, outsmarting the thunder god, I could've accepted it. But no. Red Hulk threw him into space. Then, because there was no gravity, lifted up Mjolnir and beat the shit out of him. I'm sorry, but no. Just because there's no gravity doesn't mean you can break the hard and fast rules of the last forty years of Thor comics! The hammer is magic. It's enchanted. Gravity isn't going to change that. Thor was treated like a rag doll for the Red Hulk's amusement. It was an insult to Thor fans everywhere. I haven't bought a Hulk book since.

6. Demonic Daddy Issues

Chuck Austen's run on Uncanny X-Men, the flagship title for Marvel's merry mutants, is, quite possibly, the worst in history. There were some good ideas, to be fair, such as bringing in Northstar or reforming the Juggernaut, but there was also mutant prostitute, Stacy X, and, the absolute nadir of his run, The Draco.
It had been known for a while that Nightcrawler, one of the more popular X-Men, was the son of Mystique. That explained the blue colour and the yellow eyes. Well, Austen revealed that his father was the demon Azazel. Okay, you know what, that we can accept. Nightcrawler looks fairly demonic, and when he teleports leaves the smell of brimstone behind him. But wait, it gets better. Nightcrawler wasn't Azazel's only progeny. Azazel had fathered dozens of mutants, all of whom had teleporting abilities. Yes, it's getting a bit silly now.
Why did he do this? Well, Azazel was trapped in a hell dimension you see, and needed the power of multiple teleporters to create a portal that would allow him to free himself. But where to get these teleporters? Of course, he'll leave the dimension he's trapped in and father them, so that they can open the portal which will free him from the dimension. You know, the dimension he's trapped in but he can leave freely any time he wants to father another teleporter. Yeah. Nice one Chuck. Clearly put a lot of thought into that one.

7. The Dark Knight Strikes Out

In the eighties, Frank Miller was a rising star responsible for comics which would come to be seen as some of the best the industry had ever seen. Batman: Year One and his run on Daredevil are both incredible works, and his seminal The Dark Knight Returns, featuring an aged Batman in a dystopian future vision of Gotham City is up there with Watchmen as one of the best examples of not just a superhero story, but one of the best comics of all time.
So when it was announced that Miller was writing and drawing a sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, fanboys went wild. I don't think they've ever been so disappointed. The Dark Knight Strikes Again (or DK2) was a mess. None of the characters featured within were treated with respect, including Batman who actually approves murder and shows utter contempt for Dick Grayson, the first Robin. It's sexist, misogynistic, nonsensical crap. Batman maybe a borderline psychopath, but the important thing is that he never steps over the line. Miller ignores this, having Batman sprint over the line cackling like a mad man. It's almost an insult, especially considering how good the aforementioned Dark Knight Returns was, and still is.
Miller followed this up with All Star Batman and Robin, which he says is set in the same continuity as the two Dark Knight books. It's even worse than DK2, featuring a Batman who torments a young Robin, gets turned on by beating up criminals and utters the now immortal line "I'm the goddamn Batman".
I don't think any other creator has fallen quite so far as Frank Miller in the history of the medium.

8. The Punishing Angel

Everyone's favourite psycho gun-toting vigilante died once. Now, the Punisher, however you cut it, is a mass murderer. Yes, his victims were all nasty people, but he wasn't going to Heaven. The Punisher dies, he's destined for the other, slightly warmer place. But no, that didn't happen. Instead, I shit you not, the Punisher was recruited by Heaven to become a sort of avenging angel, who wielded angelic shotguns and... no, I'm sorry, I have to stop. It's too shit.

9. He Did What to the Poor Kitty?

Roy Harper used to be a really interesting character. Formerly known as Speedy, Green Arrow's sidekick, Roy eventually became a drug addict, then fathered a daughter with the supervillain Cheshire. Roy cleaned his act up and became Arsenal, gaining respect in the superhero community and leading the Titans. Eventually, he followed in his mentors footsteps and joined the Justice League as Red Arrow. All of this was awesome.
So quite why DC felt the need to ruin him is beyond me. First, Prometheus hacked off his arm. Then they killed his daughter, causing him to turn back to drugs. An encounter with Cheshire ends with Roy practically raping her, and then, in what can only be seen as the ultimate crime in the current climate, Roy kills a kitten. For no reason. It's a moment which has become infamous in only a few months since it happened. How DC let this happen to one of their best loved characters is beyond me. It was badly written, sensationlist crap, which all happened because DC had messed up one of their best villains in the first place. Yes, bring back the Prometheus who was so awesome when Grant Morrison created him in JLA, but you don't have to fuck up another character to even it out.

10. The Frog of Thunder!

Thor got turned into a frog one time. Actually, that was fucking awesome!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

A Vision of the Future?

(Note: This was written in 2007. Not quite sure what I was on at the time, but it raised a chuckle)

Here's a conversation I imagine I'll be having with my son (who for the purposes of this blog we'll call Paddy Jr) in twenty years time. Is this a frightening vision of the future, or the rantings of a madman?

Paddy Jr: Daddy, my friends in school are telling me there used to be another season. Are they lying?

Paddy: No son. You're friends are right. It was called Summer.

Paddy Jr: Like that chick from Firefly?

Paddy: Er.... yeah.

Paddy Jr: So why did they stop summer?

Paddy: Well son, back in the year 2007, everyone was really looking forward to summer, and we thought, briefly, during May and June, that it was on its way. But it never came. There were floods, and storms, and lightning and enough hail in London-

Paddy Jr: Where dad?

Paddy: Oh, sorry, forgot they renamed it Baytown after Michael Bay, ruler of the world, a few years back. Anyway, enough hail in what was once London that it looked like a blizzard of snow. Once the trees gave up, and started to lose their leaves, it was simply decided to make July the first month of autumn instead.

Paddy Jr: What was summer like Dad?

Paddy: Er... kinda like spring, only a bit warmer.

Paddy Jr: Like in France?

Paddy: Sort of.

Paddy Jr: Wow. Summer. Wish I could've seen it.

Paddy: Me too son. Me too.


Paddy Jr: My friends also told me that you might not be my dad, on account of how mum likes to sleep with the postman and the milkman, sometimes together.

Paddy: Let me tell you another story son. It's all about why your mother is a little whore who wouldn't even let me see you at weekends.

Paddy Jr: Is that why you kidnapped me?

Paddy: Could be son, could be.

Paddy Jr: I wish you didn't drink so much Daddy.

Paddy: Fuck you.

Women, Thy Name Is Mystery

I am a man. No, really, I am. And as a man I can safely say that women are a mystery. No two ways about it, men do not understand women. Oh, we can get close to them. We can become friends, occasionally more, with them, and we can generally come to some kind of understanding of a few particular women, but the gender as a whole? Not a chance.

The flipside to that is, women seem to understand men, but then, and lets be honest here guys, life as a man simply means "do whatever a woman tells you but pretend you were gonna do it anyway".

So why are women so unfathomable to us? What is it that we're missing? Where is the mystery?

Well, a while back, while walking home from work one evening, I think I hit upon it. There was an event in the park which happened to be letting out as I was making my merry way. Cardiff was packed with groups of excited women, some dragging folorn looking men along with them, and why? What was the cause of this? What is the key to understanding women?

Dirty Dancing. Yep, the film with Swayze and some baby you can't put in a corner. There was a showing of it on a big screen in a field, and that was enough for most of the female population of Cardiff to get excited. Women love that fucking movie!

Now, before I get comments from the ladies saying "actually I think you'll find that movie sucks", let me point out that this is a massive generalisation, and I'm fully aware that there are plenty of women who can't stand Dirty Dancing.

But it is only women who like it. There's something about the flick that just makes it impossible for a man to get, and yet nobody can pin point exactly why. I can't think of one man I know, straight, gay or other, who likes it, and that makes it unique in the entire pantheon of movies this world has seen. Can you think of a single other movie which an entire gender shudders at the mention of? Most men have been forced to sit through it by a girlfriend or a sister or a friend at one time or another, and we will inevitably find it to be a distinctly uncomfortable experience. We don't just dislike it, we collectively shrink away from it the way a vampire shuns the daylight, whereas women seem to flock to it like zombies to a warm body.

Name any other so called chick flick and I guarantee I can find you a man who likes it. And there is no film liked only by men. I know plenty of women who love Bond, Star Wars, Die Hard, Lord of the Rings, Batman and movies where Chow Yun Fat kicks people in the head.

No, there is only one movie which makes half of the worlds population furrow their brows in confusion. We don't understand how a man (Swayze) that dances like that and acts like that can possibly be straight, let alone such an object of desire to women the world over. We question the use of the word baby as someone's name. We still haven't got a fucking clue why we can't put Baby in the corner. And we most definitely have not had the time of our lives.

Maybe if we watched it enough times, we could start to come to an understanding of Dirty Dancing, and through understanding Dirty Dancing maybe we could start to understand women. But you're never going to find a man who can sit through it enough times to do so.

And that, my friends, is why women will be a mystery forever.