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March 2015

Review Round-up: More than Words

I'm always a fan of thinking about the value of books - the properties that they have, over and above containing stories about dragons - that make them objects of interest.

We spotted a few oddities at the Victoria & Albert over the weekend, and I thought they were excellent examples of books that still communicated a theme or story, but did so in non-traditional ways... yet while still being physical objects made (mostly) of paper.

Mishka Henner's Astronomical (2011) is simply one of the most beautiful objects I've ever seen, book or otherwise. It is composed of 12 volumes - 6,000 total pages - and was created as a limited edition of 130. Each page is a single photograph, spanning 1 million kilometres, and the complete set encompasses the entire Solar System - the Sun to Pluto. The design is stunning. A staggering encapsulation of astronomical scale - and the loneliness/insignificance/beauty of our place in the universe. And all done as a conventionally-formatted book.

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The Joy of the Soundtrack: Misfits, Nashville and American Horror Story

Nashville

I’m a big fan of television show soundtracks.

Not scores - I find those fairly boring, personally - but I love a well soundtracked TV show and find that it adds an excellent layer to the narrative. There are many, many TV shows with fantastic soundtracks - here are two that stand out in my TV-watching experience over the last few years. Well, and I may mention a third - although I don’t mind admitting that it is a bit of a sneaky indulgence that probably just deserves its own post.

Misfits

This British show started off with some of the best, most fun episodes I’d seen on TV in a while. The first series was just 6 episodes and that was the worst thing about it - that there just wasn’t enough of it. The show did go on for another few seasons, but let’s never, ever even mention 4 and 5, ‘kay?

So what happens when a group of delinquents in South London who are just starting community service for various crimes are hit by a freak electrical storm and gain strange powers? Do you really think they’ll become superheroes? They’re not ‘good’ people - they’re all here because they’ve done something wrong, so who is to say they’ll then use their powers for good? And, anyway, haven’t we had enough of using your powers for good? And I don’t mean in the super-villain sense, just in the "oh shit, but how can I use what I’ve got to fix my life" sense. You know, ordinary petty criminals with selfish desires - they’re just like you and me, really.

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Everywhere Else & Whatnot

MuppetJim Henson teaching how to make your own Muppet, from 1969.

Go make your thing, even if you have no idea how to get started, even if you have no idea where it will take you. My bet is it’ll be somewhere pretty great. That’s true even if this particular thing doesn’t quite work out. At the very, very least, it’ll teach you something that will help you make the next thing, and the thing after that, and so on and so on, until you’re standing atop a giant glorious pile of things the world has never seen before — some broke and busted, others pure gold, all wholly yours. - Becky Chambers

Buzzfeed's Hayley Campbell shares what she learned from her years working in a comic book shop.

10,000 works of street art, online with Google. The navigation is a little odd (maybe not Maps for everything, perhaps?) but worth exploring.

Nielsen says that online book shopping overtook in-store book shopping for the first time ever. The opening lines - that book sales are up 4% are actually hiding more disturbing news, buried later in the article: "Despite the rise in overall book spending, volume sales were down compared to previous years." Bookstores themselves seem propped up by "children's books, impulse buys and the gift market." Is that the future of bookselling? (Or, actually, the present?!)

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One Comic from the future of the past

Halo JonesThis time, the One Comic team has gone all the way back to 1984 in order to go forward to 2000AD.

That's a convoluted way of saying that we look at Prog 376 of 2000AD, featuring the first appearance of Halo Jones, Judge Dredd locking up some perps, Strontium Dog on The Planet of the Scots and the truly shockingest of Future Shocks*.

Listen below or get it on your podcast app of choice. Go on: you know you want to.

 *One of these statements is a lie.


Friday Five: Discworld's 5 Best Supporting Characters

Graeme Neill is a journalist who has been blogging his complete Discworld read at the brilliantly named Pratchett Job. He can also be found tweeting geek ephemera @gnei11. With no further ado, here's Graeme and five of his friends...


Feet-of-clay-2The warmth of tributes to Terry Pratchett’s passing - from Neil Gaiman’s sadness at the death of a friend to Nick Harkaway’s exploration of his comedic chops - showed just how loved he was. Broadly ignored by critics and awards, Pratchett was content to write deeply intelligent, complex and hilarious novels that sold and were adored in their millions. I’m sure he coped.

I loved Pratchett as a teen before stupidly putting him to one side for ‘Grown Up’ books. For the past six months I have been making up for my teenage idiocy by reading the Discworld from the start and writing about each book in publication order here. Because Pratchett was the line that links my childhood reading with what I love as an adult. It was time I started looking at that.

There is a myriad of things to love about Discworld but among the best is how it feels like a real place. Even his supporting characters are written with a care and attention that demonstrates his strength as a writer. By way of tribute to Pratchett and his Discworld, I want to put the spotlight on my favourite background players.

1. Cheery Littlebottom

First on the list is easy. It’s CSI: Ankh-Morpork. Cheery is a dwarven forensic expert first seen in Feet of Clay, a character we quickly learn is a woman. Female dwarves have beards and adhere to masculine cultural rules. Sex is, well, confusing. Cheery’s exploration of her femininity, experimenting with heels, make-up and jewellery, could be played for quite offensive laughs.

Pratchett is much better than that. Why Feet of Clay is an amazing book, one of his best, is that it’s about acts of rebellion, from the golem who cannot cope with gaining its own agency and murders as a result, to Vimes, Captain of the City Watch, who refuses to let his butler shave him. Through Cheery looking to break the gender roles dictated to her and the emotional and societal difficulties she faces in doing so, Pratchett humanises the golem’s own struggle and makes the book that much more complex and better as a consequence.

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The Scully Effect: My Life in The X-Files

The-X-FilesThe X-Files, huh? That show people watched like twenty years ago? Who cares? I do, that's who. Now sit down and shut up while I explain important things to you.

Last week the internet exploded with joy when the long-circulating rumour that The X-Files would be getting a new season 13 years after it went off the air, was confirmed. Well, much of the internet exploded with joy. Some of the internet exploded with skepticism (‘It’ll just suck!’) and bits of it exploded with confusion (‘they’re making a television show about that stupid movie from a couple of years ago?’)

Well, gather round, folks, because I'm here to tell you why you should not just care that the X-Files are back, but should get really excited. I was there when it all began, loved the show from the beginning, and have a lot of opinions so I'm  more qualified than anyone else on the entire internet to tell you this stuff. 

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Pygmalia: Watch and Ward by Henry James

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on twitter @molly_the_tanz. I’m woefully under-read in comics specifically, but any and all recommendations are welcome!

This month’s entry is not only our first novel, but our first audience suggestion! Back in January, BenjaminJB mentioned Henry James’ 1871 novel Watch and Ward contained a wife-training element, and boy howdy yes it does. Thanks, BenjaminJB! I think.

Like last month, Watch and Ward doesn’t directly reference the Pygmalion myth… but it is in many ways a flattering, and even romantic treatment of Thomas Day, real-life Pygmalion wannabe, so we’re going with it.

Watch and Ward (published in 1878) - Written by Henry James (later disowned by him)Watch and Ward (1871)

I’ve never read Henry James before, so Watch and Ward served as my introduction to his writing… which is interesting, because apparently James at least partially disowned this novel later in life. It does read like an early novel, and its being written for serialized publication in The Atlantic Monthly makes for a necessarily episodic feel to the action, though not in a particularly good way.

Watch and Ward is the story of Roger Lawrence, a well-to-do dandy who wants nothing more than to marry a nice lady and settle down happily. He settles his affections on a young lady, Miss Morton, even though it’s obvious she doesn’t love him, which she shows by declining his advances on several occasions. Proto-Nice Guy that Roger surely is, he tries one final time, only to depart, humiliated, after she reveals she is engaged to someone way richer (and presumably less soppy) than Roger. Nice guys finish last, am I right, my fellow MRAS? Anyways, after this Roger “would now, he declared, cast his lot with pure reason. He had tried love and faith, but they would none of him.”

It’s important to note that Roger is at this point currently staying in a hotel in town—and before he even goes out to call on Miss Morton, a seedy man in the lobby tries to touch him for one hundred dollars. When Roger declines the man’s desperate pleas, he declares if Roger doesn’t help him, he will “slit his throat.” Roger doesn’t believe the threat, and dismisses the fellow.

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Review Round-up: Hawkeye, Red One, Giant Days & More

DetailA few highlights from the last month that you should still be able to get from your local comic shop or via publisher apps and Comixology.

These are deliberately new starts and jumping-on points. If you knew the stuff I waded through to bring you these picks… 

Hawkeye #1 (Marvel Comics): In one week, writer Jeff Lemire had both this and his Image series Descender released. It was a good week for both Jeff Lemire and the people who read comics. The new Hawkeye series actually launched before the end of the Matt Fraction/David Aja run, which has been delayed beyond belief. Lemire’s take on the series, working with artist Ramon Perez, is a conscious exploration of the Hawkeye identity, not just a story of Clint Barton, so in that respect they’re building on the previous run’s inclusion of Kate Bishop and Clint’s brother Barney. The opening story is split between a present day caper for Kate and Clint and flashbacks to the Barton brothers’ childhood, each of which Perez depicts in an utterly different style, both of which work extremely well. The issue one Skottie Young variant cover is a thing of beauty, and on the basis of this package the new Hawkeye is full of promise.

Descender #1 (Image): As noted above, this is Lemire’s other big new launch this month and another winner. A fairly hard-sci fi tale of alien incursion, robotics and a young boy/robot called Tim who could be in a lot of trouble, Descender carries echoes of a lot of other fiction but still manages to feel fresh and interesting. Lemire and artist collaborator Dustin Nguyen achieve a significant amount of worldbuilding through action rather than info-dump, and set up Tim well enough that his peril in the first cliffhanger feels properly worrying. The invading aliens, despite inescapably reminding the reader of Marvel’s Celestials, are properly awesome and utterly enigmatic. I really don’t know where Descender is going, which is part of the reason I like it.

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Fiction: "The Conquest of America" by Cleveland Moffett

Conquest of America

The purpose of this story is to give an idea of what might happen to America, being defenceless as at present, if she should be attacked, say at the close of the great European war, by a mighty and victorious power like Germany. It is a plea for military preparedness in the United States. (Cleveland Moffett, 1916)

"The Germans are in the streets!"

What followed was still more terrifying. Somewhere at the back of [Madison Square] Garden, a piercing whistle cut the air - evidently a signal - and suddenly we found ourselves facing a ghastly tragedy, and were made to realise the resistless superiority of a small body of disciplined troops over a disorganised multitude.

"Fertig! Los! Hup!" shouted a loud voice (it was a man with a megaphone) in the first gallery opposite the platform. Every face in that tremendous throng turned at once in the direction of the stranger's voice. And before the immense audience knew what was happening, five hundred German soldiers, armed with pistols and repeating rifles, had sprung to life, alert and formidable, at vantage-points all over the Garden. Two hundred, with weapons ready, guarded the platform and the Committee of Public Safety. And, in little groups of threes and fives, back to back, around the iron columns that rose through the galleries, stood three hundred more with flashing barrels levelled at the crowds.

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Films of High Adventure: Waterworld

WaterwoldThe Film: Waterworld (1995)

Responsibility Roundup: We usually start this section with the director and writer or writers, but real talk here, we all know there’s only one person to blame for this turkey of the sea, and that’s Kevin Costner. Not only does he “act” in the film, but he reportedly sunk millions of his own money into the film as producer and backseat-directed the whole damn thing. Tempting though it surely is to hold Costner fully accountable, we must nevertheless give credit where credit is due to the rest of the cast and crew—after all, there’s plenty of guilt to spread around.

Kevin Reynolds directed, though he really should have known better after working with Costner on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The script was apparently re-written three dozen times, but final credit went to David Twohy of the Chronicles of Riddick franchise and a dude named Peter Rader whose sole previous credit was a mid-nineties remake of Escape to Witch Mountain. Joss Whedon allegedly did some last minute rewrites, and the movie’s certainly bad enough to make this sound plausible. Supporting roles by Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet, Easy Rider, and the Super Mario Bros. movie), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Basic Instinct, Big Love), a bunch of character actors, a youngish Jack Black, and Tina Majorino (Veronica Mars) as the kid.

Quote: “Nothing’s free in Waterworld.”

Alternate quote: “Well, I'll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy. You know, he’s like a turd that won’t flush.”

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