Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Archie And The B52s.

Oh Happy day, heres a wee treat to chase away the Storm Dennis Blues. This comic was released this week and can be found in stores of quality and distinction the world over. The lovely Archie and company meet the even lovelier B52s. Just look at this cheeky cover, a cool reprise of the first album cover.
            Go on, Cheer yourself up and treat yourself. You are going to encounter some bright new friends, reconnect with some older ones you may not have seen for a while and have a few laughs along the way.
            Not a blast of nostalgia but a trove of new fun memories.
            Heres my pic fromm an old sketchbook of the legendary Ricky Wilson, who left the stage far too early but will never be forgotten by anyone who loves great guitar playing and unforgettable songs. For years I have heard the B52s described as one of the worlds greatest party bands and there is absolutely no denying the truth of that but I have always felt they were just one of the greatest bands. Whatever the alchemy is that makes a great band these men and women had it and in all likelihood still do.

One Shot Hero.

After one spends a lifetime, quite literally, reading comic books, thousands of them over the decades, one occasionally loses track of where one first read a story. Yet details persist,a stirring heroism, striking visuals that lift one way beyond the medium that birthed them. i often find myself wondering where I first came across a great yarn, did I read something first time around or catch it in a reprint or an anthology or graphic novel collection. Some of those stories imprint vividly and it is hard to distinguish whether I have read or possibly dreamed of the details.
            Here is an example. I remembered reading a Legion Of Superheroes story. Way, way back in the day. Seventies Belfast to be exact. It was a story that involved some one attempting to join the legion and going through an audition process. I remembered a masked figure attempting to impress a gallery of Legionnaires that he had what it takes to become one of their team, that he had what it took to be a hero. I even remembered he had very tight red form fitting  trunks that alone would have guaranteed him a seat at the table if he had been asking me to join my gang. His bum had been tangoed.
            Yet he did not get in, could not meet the exacting criteria for becoming a member of the Legion. The Legion puts great stead in singularity. Having a set of abilities or powers that bring uniqueness to the table. Each member possessed of a set of skills that serves to also identify them them, ie; Element Lad, Karate Kid, Lightning Lad,Shadow Lass, cosmic boy, etc. his special power, though considerable, could not be demonstrated and then put away again for later use. I remember thinking "Would not want to be judged by them, I have nothing special going for me." Its a common enough thing among boys of the age I was then.
             Anyway, by the end of the story he had proved them wrong. Not only demonstrated he had heroic qualities in spades but also  demonstrated a most singular power. Tragically singular in the most important respect. I remembered reading this story but not where. I knew it was a back up story, or at the very least was inside another title. For the longest time I thought it was most likely in one of the legendary 100 pagers of that period. So many archival DC stories I would not have otherwise read had it not been for them and a bunch of them remain high up on my long list of best read comics ever.
             The comic recently came my way again and I thought "Ah, there you are! The Superboy story was entitled The Rock N' Roll Riddle. How did I forget that? I thought to myself. A good enough yarn in its own right but it was the back up Legion Of Superheroes story with its themes of heroic self-sacrifice that really echoed through the corridors of my memory house...
             And off course the mighty buns of steel our hero displayed in the title panel of the story.
             "The One-Shot Hero."


Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Gareth Roberts; A Season Of Musts.

..just a follow up on the previous post. Some rambly thoughts with regard to Gareth Roberts and his fantastic contribution to a much loved period of Doctor Who history. That second season for Romanna when she regenerated from the lovely Mary Tamm into the just as lovely Lalla ward. Gareth Roberts wrote three novels for classic Doctor Who BBC books which were in time adapted into three hugely entertaining Big Finish audio adventures. Absolutely Doctor Who at its very best, written with charm, wit, imagination and high adventure, proper High Church and respect to him as a writer. It has always felt so much like a continuation of that season and truly felt like what might have gone on between Horns Of The Nimon and The Leisure Hive. I always felt that the Doctor, Romanna and K9 had got up to so much between when we saw them in the last story of that season, even more than the un-transmitted story Shada, which we had learnt so much about thanks to Doctor Who magazine, the invaluable resource in pre-internet days. Later restored with a Who-like regenration into a partially animated story finding its place in the existing continuity...if a little later than intended.
             The three novels are just so beautifully written. With vast ideas playing out with the charm of P G Wodehouse combined with the unrestrained imagination of Douglas Adams. Exciting, funny and insightful. Written so skillfully I did indeed sigh at his ability to translate into novel story form everything I liked about a television series I loved. I read and reread a few times over the years until the incidents in the books became so familiar to me they felt as though they were playing out in my mind theater. Then Big Finish stepped up bringing all their considerable resources to bear on that same material translating the stories into the best Doctor Who tales never transmitted.
            The restored Shada sits comfortably on a shelf close to them and thanks to Gareth Roberts we have been gifted an idea which became a book which became an audio adventure which combined became a joy.
             The Well Mannered War ends with what for me was one of the most breathless and exciting moments ever to flow from the Big Finish canon. The past catches up with The Doctor, Romanna and K9 and almost breaking the fourth wall in a stunning moment of theatricality our heroes take a leap into the impossible and the improbable to show the spirit of The doctor is indomitable...

Shada Novel.

Every now and again I have done the odd, probably very odd, sketch based on a scene from the Doctor Who story Shada. Gareth Roberts did a lovely adaption of the original Douglas Adams script and I have been gradually turning my copy of his book into an illustrated edition, not unlike the original run of Target novelizations from back in the day.
           Some people would probably think this is damaging a perfectly fine copy of a perfectly formed book but its just a bit of fun. And anyway, I own my books they do not own me.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Joan Hickson's Ms Marple.

While looking for a cover shot for Open Casket online I came across this lovely art-deco rendering of Joan Hickson as Ms Jane Marple.Just loved this piece of art and did so want others to see and appreciate it. Joan Hickson was probably my favorite onscreen interpretation of the character. Her hawk like vision, the tiny movements of her head as she listened or observed all that went on about her. Not so much a wise old owl as a bird of prey perched to swoop.She brought an edge to the character that most likely is not to be found anywhere in Agatha Christie's writing. She always looked to me as though she truly understood the complexities and contradictions of human nature. observing with a scientific precision, not always judging but certainly understanding.
              Whatever, just wished to share a vision that perhaps might come in under everyone's radar.
              The kind of thing she was attuned to.

Brave New World.

"How beauteous is mankind! O brave new world, that has such people in it!" so said Miranda, daughter of the sorcerer Prospero, in William Shakespeare's final play The Tempest. Miranda's splendid observation is said in awe and innocence. Having been raised in a form of splendid isolation herself she views that which is new and original to her as beauteous, unaffected by a worldly pessimism or distrust of the unfamiliar, she rushes towards things which are new to her. Which makes me wonder the context Aldous Huxley uses the title, is there a degree of sarcasm at play? It is Miranda's lack of worldliness that leads her to speak her feelings out loud. I do not believe for  a second that Aldous Huxley viewed the world of then and the possible now as a beauteous thing. And while I have no doubt that Aldous Huxley did see things in a prescient fashion, I cannot fathom what in that vision he would herald as a thing of beauty.
            I have gone a lifetime without reading Brave New World but have always been familiar with the details of the book, how much of it was viewed as cultural prescience and how the author was celebrated and even championed as a visionary. Between Huxley and Orwell it is difficult to say who was credited as the most visionary. Well, not exactly true, Orwell has always been referenced through out my life and the wider culture than few other writers. Not really a joyous thing really given how dystopian both men's visions were.yet, that is the rich vein that runs through the undergallery, the deep core, of speculative writing. It is a rich vein of world building but who would want to live there? And I have no doubt that many would believe we are already there...
             Originally published in 1932, this must have seemed beyond the heights of decadence to most readers of the era. Some of the ideas still have the power to unsettle. Not even the ideas which are perhaps bullet pointed with that very intention, though it is difficult for me to interpret which of the concepts contained within were intended as such. Some of the peripheral events in it, so casually dropped into the narrative, a chiaroscuro morality at play, cringe inducing for the reader, as though the monstrous propositions are not too upsetting as the details are scathing. But they are there, lurking on the fringes of the central narrative. Its a sort of retro science shaowplay, using light and distance to obscure horrors, imbedding them as the normal state of play in this future dystopia, but again I stress, they are there. No amount of Soma, the wonder drug of the novel which enables the general population to float lazily in their pathetically grateful somnambulate existence would be enough to blind me to the daily horrors of this Brave New World.
              I would like to believe so, would like to hope so.
              It should perhaps be noted here Prospero's response to his daughters statement.
              "Tis New To Thee..."

Closed Casket.

Sophie Hannah's second novel starring Hercule Poirot, following the hugely successful Monogram Murders she wrote five or six years ago.Read that first book and thoroughly enjoyed it so i did not hesitate when I came across Closed Casket on a recent book haunt. Such a nice looking book too, with a suitably tasteful jacket design, very art-deco in a nicely understated way.
            Sophie Hannah is a very successful writer in the field of psychological thrillers and has also comfortably adapted to the Agatha Christie narrative sleight of hand, and her use of tropes to cloak the mystery paths she leads us, the reader, down. Agatha Christie elevated this form of character red herring to an art form, perhaps even adapting it as her literary modus operandi, certainly her tools of the trade.
             In this novel Poirot is reunited with Inspector Edward Catchpole of Scotland Yard whom we met in that first book. This time their meeting takes place at a luxurious mansion in the country , at the home of a very rich children's mystery writer, who is most reminiscent of another real world writer; Enid Blyton. One of the only other British writers who could equal Agatha Christie in terms of quantity of books sold. Sounds a bit more meta than it comes across in the novel. The stage is set; an isolated  group of smarmy swarthy suspicious wealthy people are gathered for a celebration that ends with a corpse. It is how the hoi poloi used to spend all their evenings in the country, with food, drink and a brutal murder. And this is a pretty brutal murder with a head so badly beaten only the lower jaw is recognisable as being that of one of the guests. And so the game is afoot...
             Like the first book I would suggest to the reader; listen properly. Which is to say give those little grey cells a bit of exercise. There are a few interesting twists and turns despite it being something of a fast read. I found myself looking forward to the moments Edward Cathpole and Hercule Poirot got together to share insights and notes. Only two books in and I have really warmed to Edward Catchpole. He is written as a good detective who has the potential to become a great detective.
            Catchpole of Scotland Yard.
            Works for me.