Thursday, 30 August 2012

Beardy And The Geek: Darren Close, Killeroo and OzComics

This week Emmet and Ryan from Geek of Oz interview Darren Close, creator of Killeroo and founder of the wonderful OzComics Facebook community page for aspiring comic artists.

In this week's podcast Darren talks about entering the industry, the origins of Killeroo and a very special opportunity for anyone wanting to be a part of a project involving the famous cranky marsupial. Pay close attention to Killeroo.com and facebook.com/ozcomics for more details over the next 24 hours.

UPDATE: Details of the Gangwars Anthology and how to submit are now up!

Then Emmet gets all embarrassed about his contribution to OzComics - a script challenge featuring The Incredible Hulk. His entry can be seen here and the fifteen illustrations from members of the community here.



As always you can follow Emmet and Ryan on Twitter - @emmetoc_ and @GeekOfOz, and listen to the podcast on iTunes. We'd love to hear from you.



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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Avengers Reassembled & Item 47 Blu-ray/DVD Review

Watching The Avengers at home was a genuine litmus test for me, as this would be the third time I had seen the film, and given my gushing review following a midnight screening some months back, an opportunity to reassess.

The Avengers Blu-ray Marvel Studios Joss Whedon

This remains an entertaining and enjoyable film, but my immediate impression is that the sense of scale and spectacle that swept up audiences in the final third of the theatrical release loses a lot of its potency outside of the cinema. The destruction of New York is still uncomfortably reminiscent of televised scenes from the aftermath of 9/11, which packs an emotional wallop because here we have superheroes fighting on behalf of the ordinary citizens frozen in fear as the invaders smash through buildings, but on the smaller screen the balance is thrown off slightly. Instead the impression is that while thousands of lives are being lost, we are being directed to pay attention to the gaudily dressed superheroes pulling off various entertaining stunts and making quips in the heat of battle. 

When Peter Jackson had Orlando Bloom's elf archer (name-checked in The Avengers funnily enough) do something similar - improvising with an arrow to stab an opponent, or singlehandedly taking on an elephantine monster's crew - the comedy and action played out entertainingly because the stakes were not as high as in The Avengers. These events were taking place on a battlefield, or in a deep mine. When Captain America and Iron Man execute a move familiar to fans of the Marvel Ultimate Alliance video game, it's a crowd-pleaser - but if you take a moment to consider what you are watching, is there a concern that innocent lives are being slaughtered during all this showboating?

The Avengers alternate opening 9/11

Of course the script is clever enough to have Captain America recognize that the Avengers themselves are a useful distraction, keeping the aliens attention on them and not the terrified New Yorkers. 

What is fascinating about the blu-ray is the reveal of the deleted scenes that would have acknowledged the massive lost of life that will occur from the very first moments of the film. It also gives a complete and compelling character arc to Agent Maria Hill, played by Cobie Smulders. We learn she is a prospective threat to Samuel L. Jackson's master manipulator Nick Fury, who is playing a dangerous long-game by 'assembling' the Avengers - through either coercion or command - in order to convince extraterrestrial enemies that the Earth can defend itself. In doing so, he may be directly responsible for the loss of life in New York. This shifts our understanding of the action of the film considerably - and makes Hill a far more interesting presence, with the actor's increasingly concerned frown throughout the film seeming more ominous. Hill's interview bookends the film, and by its conclusion her opinion of Fury seems to have changed, but knowing from the very beginning just how high the stakes were in this battle between the team assembled and the army of Loki would have altered the sense of drama felt during the climactic battle. 


To compare to Peter Jackson's Extended Editions of The Lord of the Rings once more - something of a benchmark where these matters are concerned - home versions of these blockbuster films benefit more from the reintegration of intimate scenes. Whedon's one-take shot of the Avengers taking on the Chitauri threat and holding their own is incredible still. But the sequence of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) wandering bewildered around a transformed New York, complete with a Stan Lee cameo, is such a great collection of scenes it is unfortunate the decision was not made to bring it back into the film, instead of being left as a deleted scene. The small screen is where we can revisit these experiences we enjoyed so much in the cinema and perhaps rediscover them in a new light. The Avengers remains thrilling, quick on its feet and extremely well put together - but it is also a more thoughtful comic book film than most that have come before and that should be celebrated. 

Also I could see Chris Evans' foundation make-up. Thanks hi-def! 

The Avengers Item 47 Lizzy Caplan Jesse Bradford

Item 47 is a great continuation of the 'Agent Coulson' shorts that joined up the several franchises Marvel Studios positioned to build momentum for The Avengers. We briefly have a moment of reflection by colleagues of the deceased agent - I still maintain Clark Gregg's character is in fact an LMD and thanks to Tony Stark's offhand remark (to him no less!) the concept of artificial humans is now canon - before the plot kicks in. Two lovers on the run have found a discarded weapon from the Chitauri invasion and discovered how to use it. Benny (Jesse Bradford) intuited what whole R&D departments of SHIELD have failed to figure out, but unfortunately he and girlfriend Claire (Lizzy Caplan - yet another Freaks and Geeks alumnus) have decided to use the weapon to rob a series of banks across the country. 

What follows is a mixture of Run Lola Run and They Live, with the assigned Agent Sitwell's orders to 'neutralize' the couple sounding quite threatening. What is interesting about SHIELD in the films is how they are portrayed as a more benevolent version of 'the Men in Black'. Coulson for example leads the teams that seizes all of Jane Foster's equipment in Thor, but he is also very polite about it and gives her a blank cheque to pay for any losses. Later when her connection to Asgard is seen to be useful, he hires her. The films continue to hedge their bets as to where SHIELD lies on the moral horizon - yes they defend the Earth, but they also invest in weapons of mass destruction, although Fury may have been stalling on that one - and Item 47 continues to underline how the organisation chooses to bend the law when it suits itself. It is a fun short and I hope to see the characters in further tie-in episodes. 

@Mrs_OC pointed out that Bradford was in Hackers, and here he 'hacks' an alien weapon. Meta-humour? 

The culmination of years of easter-egg references, cameo appearances, the hard-working Clark Gregg's efforts and Joss Whedon's master plan, The Avengers is a terrific film that impressively offers lots of food for thought. Bring on the sequel (and maybe Guardians of the Galaxy?).

Guardians of the Galaxy Marvel Studios 2014

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Monday, 27 August 2012

Best of the 2012 Caped Comics Brigade

I have been thinking about what comics I have most enjoyed this year - and yes, it is weird to be doing so on the cusp of September. Here's what I am wondering though. Reading superhero comics is so dependent on our understanding of decades of story tropes. For some it is a habitual act - see for example Rob Liefeld's meltdown on Twitter over the weekend when he attacked Scott Snyder for supposedly taking credit for the success of Batman, a title fans will buy regardless. Despite his wrongheaded ravings, the fellow kind of has a point. This is problematic in critical terms, because after all it is difficult to attempt to introduce new concepts into the market when they have to compete with franchises supported by decades of history.

When I sit down to compose a list of books from 2012 I believe to be the best, how many will be superhero comics? How many entries will be chosen because they impressed me on the basis of their own merits, the shock of the new grabbing my attention instead of just another  cape book with a new lick of paint. I read comics because I enjoy the medium, but sometimes I cannot help but feel slightly embarrassed by the manner in which superhero stories have flooded the market. Still I can't deny that I do like the odd bout of superhumans punching each other repetitively.

Below are some individual comics issues, or new series, that have impressed me this past year. Notably there is a mixture of titles here that are not all from DC or Marvel. I think there is something significant in that, as these smaller publishers are producing books that take the notion of the superhero and actually place it in relatively new situations - or at the very least less hindered by dreaded continuity. Honourable mentions should go to David Liss for his excellent period comic Mystery Men and The Shadow by Garth Ennis. I am also looking forward to reviewing The Absolutes, a new comic by my mate Seth Jacob which from a cursory reading falls somewhere between Marvelman and Cla$$war. Go have a gander and decide for yourselves.

Action Comics #9 Grant Morrison & Gene Ha

Action Comics #9 Gene Ha Grant Morrison

Morrison's latest take on the Man of Steel, so soon after All Star Superman, has at times felt like a work bound by contractual obligation, the fag-end of his notion of Superman as a messianic figure for a modern mythology. This issue seems at times inspired by the protracted legal wranglings between DC and the Siegel and Shuster heirs over the property. Certainly lines such as "We can't take it any further on our own. Guys, they'll steal the idea if we don't sell it," and the resulting bastardisation of the superman dream do have the semblance of pointed strikes against the treatment of the character. Commentators were also baited with the image of an 'Obama-esque' Superman, which in turn could be considered a comment on the hoarding of the 'geek' President by dozens of titles, as well as the disappointment experienced by voters towards the resultant administration. I do love the joke of Luthor repeatedly proclaiming he is not a racist for hating this Superman, while the two continue their pointless conflict. This issue is just rife with associations and great fun.

America's Got Powers Jonathan Ross and Bryan Hitch

America's Got Powers #3 Jonathan Ross Bryan Hitch

I am baffled as to why more people are not reading this. We have Hitch doing his thing with celebrity cameos - David Tennant and Sarah Palin appear - but also capturing the chaos of superhumans on the rampage in a stadium, fighting to the death for the entertainment of spectators. Then there's Ross' plot, an example of having your cake and eating it too, mocking the excesses of superhero comic violence, while at the same time celebrating it on an incredible scale. The callousness of the media circus, with hosts cracking bad jokes as teens pummel each other in the dirt, reminds of that classic of trash cinema Deathrace 2000.

Ah Grace Pander, what a character name.

Captain Marvel #2 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Dexter Soy

Captain Marvel Carol Danvers Kelly Sue DeConnick

I loved this issue, mainly because it discarded the convoluted past of Carol Danvers - assorted incidents of faux-feminism, alcoholism and being sexually assaulted by her own offspring (I am not making that up) - beginning a new chapter in the character's life. DeConnick wisely dispensed with the laboured business of the legacy of 'Captain Marvel' in the first issue, given the half a dozen characters who have held the title to keep the trademark active for the namesake publisher. At the same time a different notion of legacy was introduced, that of Danvers' relationship to wartime airwomen. I have been fascinated with the history of the WRAF for a number of years, so this was a welcome development. We then have Carol launched into her own adventure, meeting an all-female version of the Howling Commandos after she is transported backwards in time. That final panel comes with the line "Let's rewrite some history, shall we?" and this book feels like a long overdue corrective to a long period of neglect. Well worth your time.

Harbinger by Joshua Dysart and Khari Evans

Harbinger #1 Valiant Comics

The Summer of Valiant is well and truly up and away. While Archer and Armstrong has its charms - although I think Van Lente is in danger of laying it on a bit thick with the nudge-nudge wink-wink satire - and Bloodshot is an intelligent iteration of the 'brainwashed mercenary' comics trope, I keep coming back to Harbinger for its flawed characters, shocking moments and a gripping sense of powerful adolescents lashing out at the world around them. The X-Men could never be written like this.

Hero Worship by Zak Penn, Scott Murphy and Michael Dipascale

Hero Worship Avatar

Jaysis - do my eyes deceive me or is this an Avatar book without zombies and/or Cthulhu beasties? In fact, could this well be the most interesting take on comic book fanboys for many a year? It's possible. Penn and Murphy's story has a devoted superhero fan Adam discover he has somehow become empowered with the same ability as superhuman celeb Zenith, whose heroism is obsessively recorded by smartphone-wielding rubberneckers and a dedicated media team. The second issue is out on the shelves this week, and features a chilling scene with marketers discussing how best to deal with Adam's ethnicity in the public arena - can an Asian superhero be as lucrative for them as Zenith? This is very promising stuff and possibly my favourite debut of the year.

The Hypernaturals by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Brad Walker

The Hypernaturals Boom! Studios

DnA get cosmic. We know this. Here they take their various digressions into science fiction and superhero comics, shove it all in a blender and flick the on switch. Like Hero Worship and America's Got Powers we also see the theme of superhumans as celebrities here. I think a pattern is emerging in these reviews. But these battles are not staged, these defenders of humanity are fighting genuine threats - and in the first issue encounter an old foe who brutally tears the team apart. With only retired and disgraced members struck off the books left to take a stand, as well as two green recruits rush through training, the threat feels real, the characters' desperation is compelling and the ideas pop off the page. DnA have done it again.

The Ray by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Jamal Igle

The Ray DC Comics Jamal Igle Justin Gray Jimmy Palmiotti

This wee miniseries came courtesy of the *other* great comic book partnership, Gray and Palmiotti, whose book All Star Western is one of the highlights of the current crop of DC titles. The Ray by contrast with the grim violence of Jonah Hex, featured an upbeat and charming protagonist, dating problems, imaginative displays of power, and a fantastic villain who appears to owe a bit to Lamberto Bava's Demons. Just great fun and that final hook for a Freedom Fighters revamp has left me hanging on for a few months now - put me out of my misery DC!

Supurbia by Grace Randolph and Russell Dauterman

Supurbia Grace Randolph Russell Dauterman


Thankfully a new series of Supurbia has been confirmed for the fall, with Randolph's musings on what it is like to be a spouse or loved one of a superhero left behind while the person you care about heads out to fight monsters. This is a book with heart that also does a fine job of throwing curveballs at the reader. Betrayal, tragedy and shock revelations dog these characters, in a story that has enough wit to show how the battles at home can be as dangerous as those in the skies. Great stuff.

Ultimate Comics X-Men by Brian Wood, Paco Medina, Reilly Brown

Ultimate Comics X-Men Brian Wood

The Massive by Wood is a fascinating book, one that is challenging readers with its vision of a global environmental disaster and ideological investigation of violence in a world were civilization has collapsed. This book does not hit the same heights - but by god, Wood has turned the world of the X-Men on its head. Not for shameless shock value or chasing the dragon of the Age of Apocalypse. Instead this storyline takes at face value the notion of mutant rights and an emerging political underground, then sees where it leads. That this should take place during the perennial series story trope of a 'road trip' shows just how cannily the writer has understood the trappings of this franchise. I have not been this interested in an X-Men book in years. 

Uncanny X-Men #14 by Kieron Gillen and Dustin Weaver

Uncanny X-Men Kieron Gillen Dustin Weaver

Much as I admired Kieron Gillen's attempts to invest genuine realpolitik in the lead-up to this year's Marvel Comic conflagration - Avengers vs X-Men - the arrival of Greg Land on the title sent me packing. I cannot stand the man's work, it just gives me the heebee jeebies. But his collaboration with Weaver here is stunning, giving full-vent to Gillen's conception of a unified Sinister, his Victorian dandy look taken to the nth degree, presenting us with an underworld kingdom of his own, peopled entirely by his own clones. However, in a note of sadism so typical of the villain, some of the clones feel a stirring of rebellion against the 'system' and yearn to fight back. The book looks simply stunning - it may well be one of the most beautiful issues of the year - but what's more - I think Gillen just went and summarized the entirety of The Prisoner in one comic book!

There ya go folks, those are my superhero comic picks for 2012. Let me know what you think here, on Facebook or Twitter.

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Sunday, 26 August 2012

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

"Just look at it," I said. "All our lives, it's the only place we've ever been. Everyone we ever knew, or loved was there. And now we're leaving it. Doesn't that make you feel something?"

"Excited," Jesse said. "And sad. But not too sad."

"Definitely not too sad," Harry said. "There was nothing left to do there but get older and die."

"You can still die, you know", I said. "You're are joining the military."

"Yeah, but I'm not going to die old," Harry said. "I'm going to have a second chance to die young and leave a beautiful corpse. It makes up for missing out on it the first time."

Old Man's War has a fascinating central premise. That soldiers with a full life - loved ones, family, long careers - are more willing to fight. Their understanding of what is at stake is far greater. It is interesting, because Scalzi is compared frequently to Robert Heinlein - indeed in this book's afterword he acknowledges the debt - but I found this story to be a fascinating counter to Starship Troopers. More on that later though, first to the plot. 

John Perry has buried his wife and made peace with his son. Now he is shipping out with the Colonial Defense Forces, along with other 75 year old retirees. Each of them believe the CDF has the secret of eternal life, after all why else would they be recruiting elderly citizens to fight in their wars across the universe? Earth is treated effectively like the sticks - whereas sections of humanity have spread outwards, advancing through reverse-engineering alien technology. An incredible surface to atmosphere structure transports Perry and his new friends to the Colonial Station in orbit, a literal beanstalk like the one Jack climbed to enter a fantasy world above the clouds. It is a telling reminder to the earth-bound humans that space is far stranger than they realize - and that they are not ready for it. So the new recruits agree to a period of service in the Colonial armies, that will probably result in their deaths fighting unknowable alien warriors - but even if they survive, they can never return home. In return for the chance to trade up his tired old body, Perry willingly accepts. 

Of course the secret behind the CDF's unique recruitment process is a little more involved, but nevertheless the formerly aged humans are soon off fighting enemies of human expansionism on distant planets. One of the chief charms of the book is the bond formed between Perry and a group of friends on the Colonial Station. The 'Old Farts' as they call themselves, are separated by different assignments, but stay in touch. As the story progresses Perry learns of the manner of the deaths, as one by one the Old Farts are killed on the battlefield, or through some fluke of an alien environment. Having left behind his old life and everyone he knew back home, Perry's world is once again shrinking. His training has turned him into a super soldier, but as before the people he loves are dying and there is nothing he can do. 

Perhaps the most poignant scene in the book is when Perry breaks down while fighting a race of lilliputians on their home planet. He imagines himself trashing their city like an old monster film and is horrified by the senseless killing. It is a testament to Scalzi's talent as a writer that this moment is both absurd and tragic. Throughout the book there are moments of great humour followed by sadness - again, this captures a sense of what it is to grow older and miss the happier times. The theme of the book is executed perfectly in this manner. 

This is where I compare the book to Heinlein, because Scalzi centres his narrative on the characters he introduces, allowing us to get to know the Old Farts well enough for it to hurt when they die. Whereas in Starship Troopers the cast were ciphers, pieces on the board used to illustrate the political ideology of the text. Unlike the worldly 'Old Farts' club, the young men of Heinlein's novel are transformed into a fighting force willing to lie down their lives against the Bug - not to mention slaughter anyone opposing Earth's interests - after a period of exhaustive training that draws inspiration from brutal Spartan survivalism. Not that political allegory, or indeed propaganda, can not be entertaining - if handled well there is no reason why not. It is just that Heinlein was so blatant as to his intent in his space-bound yarn, whereas Scalzi invests Old Man's War with genuine emotion along with the thrills of galactic warfare and superscience.

As a work of science fiction this is intelligent, amusing and heartfelt. As a successor to Heinlein - I honestly think it superior to some of his best work, just in terms of its ambition alone. 

I think I have a new favourite writer. 




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Thursday, 23 August 2012

Beardy and The Geek: Have you crossed Winter City off your List

This week Ryan The Geek of Oz and I chat about Paul Bedford's dark tale The List and Winter City from the minds of the brothers Purcell. Both titles that shock and stun with their use of violence and psychological horror - and both from impressive Australian teams of creators that are on the up and up.

Also Ryan has some news about a very special chance for you to get a trip to New York Comic Con. Don't forget if you're in Melbourne this weekend to check out the Skinny Arse Comics event.

The List Paul Bedford, Tom Bonin, Henry Pop Winter City Patrick Purcell Carl Purcell Pablo Verdugo Munoz



As always you can follow Emmet and Ryan on Twitter - @emmetoc_ and @GeekOfOz, and listen to the podcast on iTunes. We'd love to hear from you.


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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Interview with Carl Cederström and Peter Fleming, authors of Dead Man Working

The nature of my avocations for the last thirty years has brought me into more than ordinary contact with what would seem an interesting and somewhat singular set of men, of whom as yet nothing that I know of has ever been written:—I mean the law-copyists or scriveners. I have known very many of them, professionally and privately, and if I pleased, could relate divers histories, at which good-natured gentlemen might smile, and sentimental souls might weep. But I waive the biographies of all other scriveners for a few passages in the life of Bartleby, who was a scrivener the strangest I ever saw or heard of.

Bartleby Crispin Glover 2001 Herman Melville
Bartleby was adapted in 2001, starring Crispin Glover
So begins Herman Melville's blackly comical novella, which features hero Bartleby throwing his workplace into chaos with the simple phrase "I would prefer not to." The idea of an employee simply refusing to do the work assigned to him - in an entirely reasonable and calm manner at that - is one that has ensured the continuing long life of Bartleby. Even Mike Judge's 1999 comedy Office Space can be seen as a latter-day echo of Melville's writing, also featuring a protagonist who simply refuses to engage with the nonsense of the contemporary workplace. Another parallel between the two works is the fact that the less rebellious colleagues of Bartleby and Peter Gibbons are obviously atrophied and twisted by the daily drudgery of their lives. 

Which is what makes Dead Man Working by Carl Cederström and Peter Fleming such a welcome clarion call, alerting us to the ways in which capitalist culture has adapted to circumvent the very idea of workplace exploitation as a reality. Instead the threat of unemployment is stressed increasingly so that employees tolerate poor circumstances, or even more shudderingly, they are encouraged to think of their professional lives as fun. This is nothing less than an attack on the possibility of having a life outside of work. "Power in the workplace today is diffuse," Fleming elaborates, "inside us, comes at us from the side as well as above. Under this kind of pressure, we find it hard to switch off, taking the job home with us or worrying about some inane detail. What's more, the boss is just as likely to hate capitalism as much as anybody else - which doesn't make them any less fascist. In fact it seems to give them a license to push 'office fascism' to new heights. Our book tries to figure out what on earth is going on and provide some ways out."

Dead Man Working Carl Cederstrom Peter Fleming
Cederström and Fleming both come from business schools within the UK, which according to the former have recently taken on an oddly academic slant. "[They] have become these rather strange places where all sorts of people with a social science or humanities background have coalesced. We need to thank Lady Thatcher for this. She tried to make all social scientists unemployed and kick them out on the street. She didn't realize that the same people she tried to get rid of were going to end up occupying business schools." Dead Man Working is published by Zero Books and carries the familiar hallmarks of its line. Philosophical source material is peppered with humourous asides and anecdotal reports of the mediocre fulfillment offered by office life. In this fashion the book engages with the issue at hand, but also entertains through its able delivery. 

It's a far way from typical academic discourse and its, to borrow Adorno's line, 'jargon of authenticity' and po-faced musings on very real facets of our existence. "I think the motivation of the book came out of a shared discontent with the parochial academic discourse," says Fleming. "Getting around in academia today means you need to write papers for journals. And this is a very constraining experience, as your hands are tied and you can't always say what you want. The genre demands a certain jargon that almost automatically makes the language sound sterile and dead."

The idea of personal happiness, and the increasing efforts to tie self-worth to what a person does to pay the rent, is dwelled on during the book. Partly this is due to the emphasis on happiness as an ideal generally. Cederström defines it as follows, "The West is obsessed with self-expression, happiness and enjoyment. Sure, these things were popular already in the late 60s and onwards. But now they've become mainstream, and not just what we find among the hippies around San Francisco". This is happiness as an automatic entitlement, intended to justify the unintentional sacrifices made in the name of career progression and upward mobility. Which is why home entertainment is so focused on immediate pleasure, vicarious enjoyment of violence, sex, clichés and slapstick - very much intended to allow the time-poor and tired employee to switch their brain off after a long day in the office. "I think people have always hated their jobs", says Fleming. "So nothing new there. What's happening over the last decades though is a change in ideology. We're now told that your job doesn't have to be boring. Work is fun. Work is a way to be," and he goes on to add perhaps the most sinister aspect of this dynamic, "you can be exactly as you are, because in a corporation you don't have to pretend you're someone else." 

Borg Star Trek The Next Generation
I have achieved Work/Life Balance!
What is perhaps most telling is how the contraction of the middle classes has generalized the experience of ongoing job insecurity - creating a new caste that Cederström describes as 'the precariat' - with the eroding of genuine personal time a sign of the expansion of the working classes. "We don't subscribe to the romanticized image of the middle class promoted by The Economist and others," points out Cederström, "but it's obviously unnerving to see how more and more people can't afford a living, in spite of working all of their waking time. The power of the employers and the decreased rights of workers has turned a substantial part of the Western population, especially the youth, into temporary workers." 

That said, Cederström is not harkening back to a nostalgic vision of the Fordist worker, merely identifying how contemporary alienation has changed, despite the language of resistance remaining frozen. "Class is weird at the moment," agrees Fleming, "objectively it's easy to see in action, we have the capitalist owners, the conservative (and mostly frightened) middle class and the over-stressed working class. But today, all of this doesn't translate into political action very well, not like it used to when we all worked in factories." One of the most distressing passages in the book is the description of suicide management at Apple's Foxconn factories in China and as it happens a story on the company's attempts to assuage public anger at the treatment of these workers landed today. Still this is a circumstance undeniably created by the outsourcing of labour to poorly paid regions for the sake of profitable consumer goods sales.

Mome Tom Kaczynski Fantagraphics Books
Karl Marx, as featured in Tom K's Mome available from Fantagraphics.
What is interesting is how as a text Dead Man Working attempts to slough off the tried and tested rhetoric of Marx to face the mutations in contemporary work culture. "Surely if we hear one more white middle-aged ear-ringed Trotskyite proclaim 'Marx was Right!' again, we will all be violently ill", grouses Fleming. There is a need for a new engagement with the kinds of experience we are faced with in trying to sustain ourselves financially, but not become so over-worked the home becomes nothing more than a place to sleep occasionally. "The real issue is no longer work/life balance", argues Fleming, "because that too has turned out to be a con-job to get more work out of us. It's about collective escape, or more precisely, the collective escape back into life, to live again."



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Tuesday, 21 August 2012

That *other* time Tony Scott and Quentin Tarantino worked together....

....in a very loose sense.

Tony Scott
Source The Daily Mail
 Tony Scott's passing has left colleagues, peers and fans of his work in shock, the tragic circumstances harrowing for all who were familiar with his career in film. It is easy to see the hallmarks of his style in contemporary cinema's action genre - indeed many eulogies that have appeared feel like a roll-call of the most kinetic and nerve-jangling pictures from the last thirty years.

It has also been gratifying to see so many pronouncements of True Romance as one of his best. It marked an early appearance of Tarantino's pop cultural rants in place of dialogue, with exploitation film violence straight from the video store. The film is something of an underrated classic of the 90's, there is the famous cameo from Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer as a spectral Elvis, Bronson Pinchot covered in cocaine and the cute scene in the comic shop between Christian Slater's really, really, ridiculously good looking store attendant and Patricia Arquette as a naieve callgirl.

Just last year Youi insurance here in Australia ran an advert prominently featuring Paul Mason's The Soldier Legacy in a familiar setting.


youi comic shop guy from bryan cawood on Vimeo.

But there was an another meeting of the minds between Scott and Tarantino. Sleep With Me has the director wearing his 'actor' hat and launching into a rant about Top Gun, presenting an amusing slant on the subtext of the film - particularly now given the persistent rumours about star Cruise's sexuality. It is actually a fitting tribute to Scott, that this supposed popcorn film and unofficial airforce recruitment drive should have left such an impact on the maven of B-movies and grindhouse.





Our thoughts are with Scott's family at this terrible time.

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Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Great American Vampire Novel

Bram Stoker's Dracula is a fascinating message in a bottle from a distant era, its concern with the vulnerability of the British Empire and racial miscegenation - is it any wonder the symbol of the vampire is so prominent in racist propaganda - echoing down through the decades since its publication. It is a product of its time, presenting new-fangled technology such as the telegraph as a plot device.

However, in 1929 Carl Laemmle's production of Dracula, based largely on the successful stage play from the time, established the image of the Count in the popular imagination. The cold-hearted aristocrat excited by the sight of blood as portrayed by Bela Lugosi seized the public imagination with the cinematic fangsters since owing more to the Hungarian actor than the fragile Irishman who wrote the original work. 

Bela Lugosi Dracula Tod Browning 1929

Now there's a new literary contender for the title of the essential vampire text. What impresses most about Justin Cronin's novel The Passage is that it not only tells yet another tale about a vampire apocalypse - Van Helsings are too few in fangster fiction these days - with wit and insight, but he has produced a work that alludes in passing to so much of the history of vampires both on screen and in print. The story itself is just before the inevitable outbreak of the undead epidemic - due to a military experiment gone wrong that used death-row inmates as test subjects (never a good idea) - and then skips ahead to a hundred years in the future revealing a broken America. Furthermore certain chapters open with quotes from accounts of this period that have been preserved a further thousand years in the future. In terms of scale and ambition, The Passage is very much an epic read. 

Richard Matheson's I Am Legend

Cronin is of course only the latest American author to tackle the fanged kind. Richard Matheson's I Am Legend not only defined the idea of a vampire apocalypse, but thanks to George Romero taking inspiration from the Vincent Price film adaptation The Last Man On Earth, he can also be credited with the enduring appeal of global zombie epidemics in popular fiction. Two apocalypses for the price of one, that's pretty good. Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite both respectively took the Victorian sublimated sexual subtext of Dracula and explored it in conjunction with present-day mores. Brite's Lost Souls is basically Gregg Araki's The Doom Generation with vampires and for the life of me I have no idea why someone has not handed the director a stack of money to film it. There's yet another contender with David Wellington, who jumped up the ranks with 13 Bullets. Given that his writing career was kickstarted by his use of the internet, it feels oddly appropriate that he should be following on from communications technology enthusiast Stoker. 

Poppy Z. Brite's Lost Souls

 But there are two other American authors impossible to ignore when it come to the topic of vampires - Stephen King and Stephenie Meyer. Both phenomenally successful and both clearly responsible for redefining our understanding of what vampires are. What is surprising is the popular belief that they are diametrically opposed in terms of quality and appeal  - helped in part by King's own statements on the matter. Actually Salem's Lot and Twilight have a number of elements in common. For one they are quintessentially American. The settings are country towns that hide dark secrets. Most striking though is the sourcing of European antagonists. Much has been written about the supposed Mormon subtext of Meyer's books, but the hierarchical Volturi, with their Italian base of aged basilicas and temples, is an overt dig at the Roman Catholic Church. King meanwhile has Barlow and Straker arrives in the small community of Jerusalem's Lot using an antiques business as their front. Not only are they British, reversing the anti-orientalist racism of Stoker's fantasy with the threat of American bloodlines being infected, even their cover smacks of an older world. 

Stephen King The Shining Stephenie Meyer Twilight

There is a curiously petty note in this vilifying of Europe, considering these books were written decades after the United States had already taken its place as a superpower. By contrast Justin Cronin leaves Europe unspoken of. The principal characters encounter surviving members of the US military that suspect the virus escaped the continent wen an attempt was made to seize national assets. Furthermore vampirism does not arrive courtesy of a boat or a plane from the Old World, but is instead discovered in a South American jungle. 

To summarize the plot of The Passage overmuch would spoil its many surprises. The first section of the book is concerned with Agent Wolgast, a heart-broken divorcee who experiences a crisis of conscience during his recruitment of test subjects for the military when he is ordered to track down a young girl named Amy. Prior to this Cronin unravels the tragic, short life of this child and her mother. Their vulnerable family unit endures misfortune after misfortune. How Amy comes to find herself alone and targeted by the secretive military operation to create obedient vampire test subjects, is itself a well-told and emotional plot arc. The fall into mayhem is preordained from the opening pages of Cronin's tale and is centered around the moment of the child being taken, but the opportunity to prevent the inevitable is tantalizingly presented at several points. The bond between Wolgast and Amy, and their fateful road-trip criss-crossing America, makes for a compelling narrative. 

The Passage Justin Cronin

Then the story jumps forward in time, introducing an isolated settlement of humans based in Florida. These people have never known a time without the vampires, which they refer to as 'virals' and much of their understanding of history is completely rudimentary, based on whatever scraps have survived. Amy, now transformed by the experiments conducted by the military, eventually reappears and finds a new guardian in Peter. A young man who doubts himself severely, having lived in the long shadows cast by his adventurer father and brother, his past and character receives as much definition as Amy and Wolgast before him. This is the chief pleasure of Cronin's writing - he takes the time to allow the reader to fully get to know these characters and become invested in their fate. In that sense The Passage is a sincere and compelling summation of the post-Stoker vampire myth, with an abiding sense of horror at the prospect of a shrinking world full of danger. 

When we learn a copy of Tod Browning's Dracula has actually survived this collapse of America, Cronin's tribute to the legacy he has inherited comes full circle. This is a very entertaining and gripping novel, the first of a proposed trilogy. I cannot wait to see where the story goes next.

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Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Tontine Link-A-Lot #14

It's Friday - let's get stuck in to some linkage. 

Bela Lugosi is 52 years dead everyone! Hurm, I feel a song coming on. Here's a nice dedication from Zombie Hamster featuring a selection of posters from the classic Todd Browning film of the Dracula stage play  (what's the deal with the armadillo!) and of course Plan 9 From Outer Space, among others. When I visited Budapest in 2010 - just in time for a volcano to strand me there - I discovered a commemorative bust of the man himself.

Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.



Hero Initiative and Jillian Kirby has a message for you to listen to.

John Barrowman is joining the new DC comic adap for television Arrow! I like to imagine this is how he celebrated.



When I was growing up my chief introduction to reading was a fantastic project known as Story Teller. It was an illustrated magazine series that came with a tape each issue, of an assortment of British actors reading well-known fairy tales, as well as some original children's yarns. Last night I found a website with all the individual stories hosted. It was my madeleine moment. Looking over the familiar names - Brian Blessed, Richard Briers, Joanna Lumley, Tom Baker, as well as Superman's mum Susannah York - it is clear to me why I've always come over with a case of the warm and fuzzies when I hear their voices.

Sean M. Chandler has some advice for aspiring writers - with some very funny howlers in the mix as well.

I am a late convert to Adventure Time, but I love it (also you should check out the new Boom! Studios comic Marceline and the Scream Queens it's great fun). Marlo Meekins has produced this fantastic mash up of Finn and Jake in the style of Robert Crumb.




Just today I got yet another abusive message on my Felicia Day piece. That does make me a wee bit sad. So I was looking for something to cheer me up when I came across this feature on gamer culture from The Mary Sue and how perceptions from outside the bubble differ from the reality. Well worth a read.

That demon DRM strikes again. Don't punish the consumer, folks.


Jaysis. Sir Mix-A-Lot strikes again.



Alan Moore proves once again he's a pretty classy bloke."To just know that as far as you are aware, you have not got a price; that there is not an amount of money large enough to make you compromise even a tiny bit of principle that, as it turned out, would make no practical difference anyway."

Another fellow I have a lot of time for is David Cronenberg, who in this interview calls out superhero films as a stilted form of cinema. The man has a point. His work in horror cinema only achieved what he accomplished precisely because expectations were low. Whereas the likes of Joss Whedon, Christopher Nolan and Bryan Singer are now expected to deliver phenomenal box office successes with each project. So how can a film-maker advance the 'genre' under those circumstances?

This week we also lost Harry Harrison. Coming so soon after the passing of Joe Kubert, it feels like the icons of genre fiction are vanishing from our midst. Christopher Priest has offered up a wonderful eulogy of Harrison's life and career. As I commented on a friend's note following the news, The Stainless Steel Rat sent me down a whole new path in my reading when I was young. You will be missed sir.

Till next time folks.

 

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Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Miracle Inspector by Helen Smith

On the fourth floor, as Lucas walked down the long  corridor towards his office, each brass plaque on each doorway he passed told something about the way London now functioned: Inspector of Cats, Inspector of Hedgerows & Grass Verges, Inspector of Inventions & Gadgets, Inspector of Women & Family Relationships. The departments ranged from the esoteric to the worthy to the downright silly and as he passed the fourth floor toilets, Lucas was amused to recall hearing that the reason there were two sets on every floor, one with urinals, one without, was because women  had once been allocated toilets in every office in London; it seemed ludicrous.

Orwellian is one of those terms that gets needlessly thrown around a lot when it comes to dystopian fiction. Probably because 'Zamyatinesque' is too much of a tongue-twister. As much as Orwell continues to overshadow the literary genre of future societies that have gone a wee bit wrong, I still feel that Aldous Huxley made the more convincing argument. Any ruin of civilization is more likely to come not from universal oppression, but from a mass infantilisation of the privileged.

Helen Smith's novel depicts a future London constrained and frozen by an unexplained catastrophic event in its past, with evidence of a wide-ranging purge of citizens. Women endure a Stepford-esque existence, playing dutiful wives to their husbands. Forced to remain indoors unless accompanied by their husband or visiting a relative, the Department of Women & Family Relationships supposedly spends most of its time investigating the countless claims of unlikely familial relations between women who just want to meet a friend. The tabloid moral crusades of the late 20th century have inspired mass accusations of terrorism or paedophilia. Underground venues put on poetry performances to give vent to the frustration at the injustices suffered, their revolution songs replacing the act of revolt itself.

Lucas, the 'miracle inspector' and his dutiful spouse Angela idly promise to one another that they will escape London for the bucolic freedoms of Cornwall, an impossible destination now that the city itself has been partitioned from the rest of the country. In her braver moments Angela even dreams of an escape to Australia, something of a fabled utopia in this depressed age. Lucas meanwhile has become psychologically ossified by his pointless ministerial role, investigating purported miracles claimed by desperate souls across the city, and his unfulfilling marriage. Presented with no challenge by the obedient and available Angela, Lucas frets internally at feelings of desire for other women. Worrying that he does not yet have a family, he becomes consumed by sexual paranoia.

It is a rich joke that in an utterly patriarchal society, the men should come to indulge in self-destructive behaviour. A family friend of Lucas, the underground poet Jesmond, is his only remaining tie to his parents, but is treated with disdain, a reminder of the decadent past before the collapse. Throughout the book hints are dropped as to the nature of the peculiar form of oppression that persists in London. Jesmond appears to have been a witness to what has occurred, but as Lucas refuses to meet with him resolution is not achieved. Instead Angela comes into possession of the poet's love letters and finds herself transported by descriptions of feelings and acts beyond her understanding of what romance is. 

Language itself has somehow degraded along with the values of this fish bowl metropolis. It is poignant to see Angela's reaction to the emotional content of these writings, not to mention somewhat ironic given that Jesmond's protest lyrics seem to be reworked John Lennon with topical references thrown in.

The pleasures of this book are the means Smith employs to dance around our expectations and its extrapolations from contemporary nanny state idiocies or government infringements on constitutional rights. Lucas and Angela are also both, in their respective ways, incredibly vulnerable. Their lives are reduced to extended acts of mummery, like kids dressed in their parents clothing. This is affecting  and heart-breaking fare, with a sly wit.


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Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Reel Anime 2012!

Growing up in the British Isles in the 80's and 90's (quiet, I'm old), there were a number of trumped up media scandals about the influence of cult properties on vulnerable young minds such as Dungeons and Dragons (apparently a gateway drug for Satanism), video nasties (Paul Hoffman's The Golden Age of Censorship is a great fictional novel, but it does provide an incisive take on how ridiculous the whole debacle was) and then there was Manga.

Tabloids were obsessed with stories about this strange Japanese animation that featured violence, sex, rape and black magic. All an aspiring hack journo needed to do was watch a couple of moments of Urotsukidôji and they had themselves an article. There was a surprising amount of double-think involved in this widespread tarring of anime-style films with the same brush, given that the likes of Ulysses 31 and Voltron were screening on children's television in Britain. Also it has to be said Manga UK courted the publicity these media screeds afforded them, as it ensured waves of adolescent consumers hunting controversial animated violence.

Enter Jonathan Ross.



I remember watching his documentary Manga! and being struck that this was the first time that I had I heard anyone explaining the appeal of Japanese animation without resorting to tabloid ranting about moral corruption. 

In the years since the pendulum has swung in the other direction, and Western appreciation of anime has improved somewhat. Hayao Miyazaki  is widely regarded as a era-defining film-maker. Spirited Away remains one of my favourite films, a beautiful and mythical fable that is eminently watchable. 

So I am delighted to hear that the Reel Anime festival is coming to Oz, showcasing a range of new feature films. The festival starts in a months time on September 13, running until the 26th, at a number of locations around the country. Below I have copied the details of the films in question, as well as screening locations. One line did make me extremely happy - "All films in the REEL ANIME program will screen in original Japanese language with English subtitles."

Excellent - the only way!


Press Release

Showcasing four of the freshest anime feature films this side of Japan, REEL ANIME will screen from September 13 – 26 at the following locations around the country: Dendy Newtown (Sydney), Cinema Nova (Melbourne), Dendy Portside (Brisbane), Dendy Canberra (Canberra), Luna Leederville (Perth), Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas (Adelaide), State Cinema (Hobart), Avoca Beach Picture Theatre (Avoca Beach).

Following the sold-out success of the 2008 and 2010 REEL ANIME showcases, the hand-picked suite of cutting-edge films selected for the 2012 showcase are some of the most highly-anticipated amongst fans, and will have something to offer everyone, including:

FROM UP ON POPPY HILL

From an original story by Hayao Miyazaki, the latest Studio Ghibli film is a high school love story that takes place in the year before the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Yokohama, 1963. As Japan begins to pick itself up from the devastation of the Second World War, the new generation struggles to move towards a prosperous future whilst trying not to lose the essence of their past. The film’s rich and vibrant animation captures the entrancing beauty of Yokohama’s harbour and lush surrounding hillsides and, with a soundtrack that draws inspiration from the finest music of the time, perfectly captures the thrills of young romance and the hope of a new dawn.

STUDIO: STUDIO GHIBLI

DIRECTOR: GORO MIYAZAKI


WOLF CHILDREN

A box office smash in Japan, Wolf Children is the new film from Mamoru Hosoda, the director of previous REEL ANIME favourites, Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

When Hana falls in love, it feels like a fairy tale. She starts a family and produces two beautiful children - Yuki (Snow), a girl, and Ame (Rain), a boy. But the family harbours a secret – their father is a ‘Wolf-Man’, half human and half wolf, and has passed his affliction on to his children. The family try to reside discreetly in a quiet corner of the city, but their joyful life is shattered when their father passes away. To live peacefully, Hana must make the difficult decision to move Yuki and Ame to a small town and surround them with nature.

STUDIO: CHIZU

DIRECTOR: MAMORU HOSODA


BERSERK – THE EGG OF THE KING

Based on Kentaro Miura's bestselling manga series - which has sold over 30 million copies worldwide - Berserk: The Golden Age Arc trilogy takes the franchise into a bold and exciting new direction, with cutting-edge animation, intricately detailed swordplay and a gripping storyline.

An epic action-adventure tale set against a dark, European-inspired medieval fantasy world, Berserk – The Egg of the King follows the story of Guts, a lone mercenary renowned for his ferocity and unmatched in a fight - especially when armed with his imposing sword, a towering blade as tall as he. His destiny is to eventually become ‘The Black Swordsman’ and he will face untold horrors in battle.

STUDIO: STUDIO 4°C

DIRECTOR: TOSHIYUKI KUBOOKA


CHILDREN WHO CHASE LOST VOICES

Visually stunning and emotionally resonant, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is the new film from award-winning filmmaker, Makoto Shinkai (Voices of a Distant Star, 5 Centimetres per Second).

Having lived a lonely life ever since her father’s passing, Asuna spends her days listening to the otherworldly sounds of a crystal radio, left to her as a memento. Exploring the mountains near her home, Asuna is attacked by a strange beast. A mysterious stranger steps in to save her life, however their acquaintance is tragically cut short when the boy is killed. But when Asuna discovers a gateway to another world, she is overjoyed at the prospect of seeing him again. Alongside a band of friends who hold feelings of hope for their lost ones, Asuna undertakes a journey into a land of legends.

STUDIO: COMIX WAVE

THE DIRECTOR: MAKOTO SHINKAI

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Monday, 13 August 2012

Joe Kubert RIP: cowboys, gangsters and soldiers

I had the pleasure of meeting Joe Kubert two years ago at Sydney Supanova. My mate Craig and I had just seen him give a talk on his career in the industry, followed by a q&a session with the attendees. His energy was undeniable, a charisma that captured attention as he commanded the room. When we approached him on the convention floor his manner was a bit more muted. Instead Joe spoke to us in a charming low tone, smiling gently as he happily signed Craig's Tarzan trade. He spoke of the importance of craft, of taking pride in your work. Whether speaking to a room, or just to a manic Irishman taking snaps as he signed our books, Kubert spoke deliberately and with obvious enthusiasm for the business of making comics. 


I was very sad to learn this morning of Joe Kubert's passing. He leaves behind an incredible legacy of work, his influence measured not only through the echoes that ripple out from Sgt. Rock, Tor, Hawkman, The Haunted Tank, but also through the careers of artists that have crossed the threshold of the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. Many of the testimonials that have emerged over the past day have described him as a mentor - and some were very lucky to have received instruction directly from him. 

What I find fascinating about Kubert's comics work is its emphasis on hard-won heroism. While not quite realistic, as often his stories feature plentiful - but well developed - notes of melodrama, the degree of detail is such that his protagonists genuinely look battle-weary and scarred from their experiences, whether they are soldiers battling Nazis in Europe, proud viking warriors, daring cowboys, or winged supermen. His art has substance, weight and grit, which makes the emotional impact of the stories hit home all the harder. The Sgt. Rock catchphrase "Nothin's easy in Easy Company" sums up this approach to these exhausted heroes quite neatly.

In his Jesse James stories, a product of his long-time collaboration with Carmine Infantino, Kubert goes to extraordinary, and sometimes comical, lengths to reclaim the notorious outlaw as a hero. The historical hero's fame rests on his feats as a bank robber, but in Kubert and Infantino's eyes his lawlessness is forced upon him by circumstance, with the proceeds of his crimes supporting impoverished families, a regular Robin Hood of the West.  He defends the honour of lonely maidens, revolts against Yankee outlaws and is a friend to Choctaw Indians. Occasionally he finds himself becoming involved in robberies against his better judgement to protect callow friends looking for easy money. James even encounters an evil doppelganger, and at one point becomes a sheriff! The villains are ugly and cruel, whereas James is a dashing outlaw, whose physical handsomeness causes women to go weak at the knees.

What is interesting is how this heroism is both an expression of the fame of James, and after all the vicarious thrill of reading about an outlaw is the reason for his enduring popularity as an icon, but also a recognition of how history is written by the winners. Perhaps it is too convenient that this former Confederate soldier turned criminal should act in such a moral manner, but the hardship suffered by the poor and victimized people he defends does have an aspect of knowing revisionism to it. The West was not won - it was taken. 


Kubert's 2005 work Jew Gangster also dances with this ambivalent notion of the noble criminal. The son of Polish immigrants, like the artist himself, Ruby rejects the life of back-breaking labour his father has endured and attaches himself to a local heavy known as Monk. Unlike Henry Hill in Scorsese's Goodfellas this novice to the Mob enters the life with his eyes wide open, not seduced by the glitz and glamor as is fawningly presented by the film director. Instead Ruby and his friends watch through an alley window as Monk beats a man to death. Nearby a cop cheats a stall-owner out of the cost of a newspaper. Ruby's father lectures his son when he arrives home late on his wasting of the opportunities his parents have provided, though it is clear to the son that there is little hope for him of breaking out of the cycle of poverty. To these young eyes the money flashed by Monk and his friends represents escape - he gladly signs on to become an errand boy for the mob, and later an active sidekick for the brutal killer, in the hopes of providing for his family. 

Superman is often spoken of as a symbol of hope for children growing up in the Depression. This statement has recently become the spine of Grant Morrison's utopian Supergods. The first thing Ruby does with his ill-gotten gains is buy a copy of Action Comics #1. In Kubert's version of history comics are a luxury that could not be afforded when folks were starving and, in a neat little joke at the expense of the speculation industry, our hero announces that he is going to give his copy to a friend. During his talk at Supanova, Kubert even took a moment to express amazement at how much comics cost in Australia - to think that something so disposable as a comic book should cost ten times what it did when he was growing up today obviously puzzled him. When Ruby is ordered to a meeting in a cinema, Ruby has the good fortune to attend a screening of King Kong, only for Monk to spoil the ending. In a world of savage street crime, union busting and the trading of lives on a balance sheet between rival gangs, there is no room for fantasies. The earnest young teen of the story's opening, staring open-eyed from hiding at an act of savagery, is soon indistinguishable from the thugs in the pool-hall.



Yossel april 19.1943 also contains this theme of the cold comfort of comic book heroes in a time of unending horror. It is a startling work, an alternate history of the life of Kubert himself, where he imagines what might have been if his parents had failed to emigrate to the United States when he was an infant and instead stayed in their hometown of Yzeran in Poland. In his introduction Kubert discusses his own childhood growing up in Brooklyn - 

I started to draw as soon as I was old enough to hold anything that would make a mark. When I was three or four, neighbours would buy boxes of penny chalk for me to draw pictures in the streets. In the gutters, actually. The sidewalks were rough concrete, but the gutters were smooth black macadam. Better than a slate blackboard for chalk.

Natural talent was something Kubert was evidently born with, but he also credits his success to a large degree of luck. So Yossel is the result of his wondering what if circumstances had been different and his family were to have been swept up in the nets of the Reich's purge of Europe. Yossel is a talented young boy whose fondness for American comics has inspired in him a love of adventure and fantasy. He draws pictures of his heroes constantly, hidden away in his attic while his loving parents worry and fret at the news from Germany. One day a Nazi officer arrives and orders the family into the street, carrying what possessions they can, as they are transported with the town's entire Jewish population to the Warsaw Ghetto. The Jews are forced to stay indoors at night under a strict curfew, supposedly for their own protection, and only allowed to work under proscribed circumstances.

Yossel's daydreaming provides an unexpected benefit. He becomes a favourite of Nazi soldiers who see his drawings of Siegel and Shuster's Superman as a vision of their dogmatic Übermensch. A desperate band of revolutionaries encourage Yossel to report back to them what he can learn from the soldiers about their purported 'Final Solution' for the Jews. 

What remains stunning about this work is how the unflinching horror of the Holocaust is coupled with the wild imagination of Yossel. Kubert's chosen style - rough pencil drawings with each page almost resembling an illustrated sheet of butcher's paper - not only conveys the ceaseless invention of the child narrator, but the protagonist becomes an instrument of the comic medium itself. When an event is described to him he immediately begins to draw it compulsively, much like how a flashback would visually transition to the event spoken of. It is an audacious approach by Kubert, once again presenting the seeming of realism, but also a central conceit that is pure fantasy. Yossel even conjures up brief glimpses of Kubert's own work on Hawkman, Enemy Ace, Viking Prince and Tor. Ultimately his artistic genius provides only a brief escape from the suffering of the ghetto, but the message remains clear - but for a small twist of fate, this could have been Kubert's own life. Powerfully told, Yossel is a masterpiece and a fitting tribute to an extraordinary man. 


Joe Kubert not only leaves us with an incredible canon of art, but showed the way for his successors to move forward. The consummate craftsman and teacher, his legacy will endure. 

I am honoured and privileged to have met him.








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