Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Grim Tales and Nightmares of Frank Candiloro

This is a difficult review for me to write. Not because I did not enjoy Frank Candiloro's books - in this instance Thicker Than Water and Behind The Crooked Cross - which both are interesting, well told stories with a lot of heart. No, the problem I have is that whenever I think about Candiloro's work all I want to do is invent elaborate descriptions for his art-style. His work has a monolithic quality, like a corroded Incan mosaic, which is both unique and very captivating. These tales are therefore elevated into a darker, more forbidding form, where innocence is not an end in itself, but vulnerable and at risk of being snuffed out. 

Thicker Than Water by Frank Candiloro

Firstly Thicker Than Water is quite clearly a dark fairy tale, with its family of cannibals living in a shack in the middle of a lake, preying on anyone who wanders into the surrounding forest. Mother and her son Hansen are cruel monsters, their sadism captured by the lyrical narration employed by Caniloro - 

Leading this motley crew was dear ol' Mother
who specialises in delicious treats
But as you dwell further
and peel away the flesh
You'll find that her boys' taste is for a different kind of meat!

Which concludes on a chilling sight of a host of limbs and torsos hanging from chains. However, the other member of this brood, brother Gunnar, is confused by the thought of taking lives. He is an innocent soul, but monstrous to look at, his face never clearly shown save for a gaping maw that Mother shoves meat into. When it comes time for him to hunt he is given an animal skull mask, becoming truly monstrous, and travels out to the forest with Hansen to find dinner. 

Thicker Than Water Frank Candiloro Hansen Gunnar

Reading Thicker Than Water the first impression I had was that if Margo Lanagan ever wants to produce a graphic novel based on Tender Morsels, Candiloro is definitely the person for the job. Both works mine the idea of fairy tales carrying within them a host of libidinous and violent subtexts - and both mix horror and humour admirably. Thicker Than Water with its poetic language and brutal imagery meshes together disparate elements wonderfully. The scene between Gunnar and a child in the forest is strongly reminiscent of James Whale's sequence when The Monster has a fatal encounter with a young girl by a lake.

Behind The Crooked Cross by Frank Candiloro

Behind The Crooked Cross also has strong horror elements, although in this case the real-life horror of the Holocaust outstrips the worst imaginings of the mentally tortured Matylda, who endures tragedy after tragedy and almost loses her mind completely, only to be captured by the Nazis. The story opens with her awaiting her execution and then travels back to happier times, although as the years pass misfortune is continually visited upon her family. Matylda becomes obsessed with death and dying. There is even a single panel of her drawing what she imagines Death would look like, which as it turns out is not entirely different from Thicker Than Water's Gunnar. When the war begins, and her lover Lukas is called to serve in the army, the ensuing destruction of Wieluń drives her over the edge. She has visions of monsters and demons, as well as dead family members.

Weirdly I found myself reminded of two Roman Polanski films, as if they had somehow become stitched together - Repulsion with Catherine Deneuve and The Pianist. That is intended as a compliment, as Behind The Crooked Cross thankfully does not cheapen the horror of WW2 - the notion of Marvel supervillain Magneto using the Holocaust to justify his actions still strikes me as a fundamentally misconceived notion - and instead captures the poignancy of the lives lost  due to the conflict. 

Behind the Crooked Cross Frank Candiloro war

Both books contain disturbing content, but once again it is the art which truly astonishes, appearing fresh and challenging on the comic book page. I cannot think of anyone else in comics producing a similar visual style - in fact the closest I can come to a comparison is Otto Dix, particularly his painting Sturmtruppe geht unter Gas vor.

I cannot wait to see what Mr Candiloro serves up next. For more information, and the chance to get your own mitts on these fascinating books, check out the chap's website.

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Saturday, 29 September 2012

13 Bullets by David Wellington

"When I slapped you, you were ready to bring me up on charges. And you would have been in the right. But you didn't. Instead you came with me. That means you're in the right place," he told her. 

US Marshal James Arkeley is a man with a single mission in life. To prove an ancient, dessicated vampire is still a threat to the world at large, binding weaker minds to her will and even creating fresh new vampires to bring her sustenance. Unfortunately a court order prevents Arkeley from exacting his revenge against the creature, having witnessed one of her loyal undead vassals tear through an entire SWAT team, his partner and any other people that happened to be in the vicinity. It was only through sheer luck that Arkeley himself survived, but he has been left a man obsessed. 

When police inspector Laura Caxton attracts the attention of a newly made vampire - largely assumed by the general public to be extinct with the exception of the court-protected mummified Malvern - Arkeley recruits the young woman to become his new partner. As a mentor Arkeley is remorseless, deliberately placing the two of them at risk in order to draw out their prey. This makes for an unusual reversal of the experienced cop with a rookie hothead partner - instead Caxton tries to reign him in during his more reckless escapades, while at the same time desperately trying to earn his approval. At a certain point in the novel, when she is at her absolute lowest ebb and near to death, Caxton even conjures up a version of Arkeley as a ghostly advisor to keep her morale up.

It some becomes clear that the vampires are more than just opportune pursuers of her, with her lover Deanna at risk. As the bodycount escalates and the rule of law is enforced against them, Caxton and the determined Arkeley risk everything to contain this deadly conspiracy. 

While Wellington does introduce some interesting ideas - the notion of vampires not propagating wildly because their eventual aged state causes them to recruit more carefully, as their sired broods are needed to care for them, as well as these versions enduring a rather disgusting regeneration process every day - there was a lot of potential here. The notion of Arkeley being doubted not because people don't believe in vampires, but because they're a protected species, feels not fully developed. A richer execution would have spent more time developing the reasons behind this set of circumstances - as it is it feels incredibly arbitrary. The media and the courts appear to have forgotten that one vampire tore through dozens of people in a single night before Arkeley managed to get the better of it. Chapters also end on an episodic note, that deadens whatever momentum is meant to be carrying the story forward. Given that the entire plot is founded on such an unlikely premise, this is particularly problematic. 

However, the relationship between Arkeley and Caxton is very disturbing, as he effectively traumatises her into doing what he wants. This is then later followed by an psychic assault from a vampire on Caxton that is repeatedly described as rape. Apparently Arkeley himself experienced something similar, although in his case the mental 'penetration' was not as deep. Such a plot-device - rape as a character defining moment - employed in such a fantastical way  - psychic rape - is entirely unnecessary. Star Trek was a chief offender in this weird use of the idea of mental violation - see for example this scene from The Undiscovered Country - and the sublimating of the idea of rape in this manner is no less disturbing than the actual depiction of rape. Arguably it is worse, because the assault is rendered as something else, and therefore somehow 'not rape'. Vampirism already carries within itself as an allegory the notion of coercion - Wellington also has Caxton discover she is particularly suggestible to vampiric influence ie she is mentally weak - so to further emphasize this in such a callous way feels offhand, insensitive. 

The opening sequence of Arkeley finding himself in the middle of a massacre, being kidnapped and dragged underwater like Beowulf, only to win out by ripping out his attacker's heart - and all of this supposedly related in a police report lacking the expected dry language - is far too much to convey in twelve pages! There was no tension, no suspense, just a rapid sequence of events with gory descriptions that eventually becomes deadening. For that then to be followed by Caxton's unlikely psychic rape, as well as some voyeuristic flirting between her and another woman - her own partner is never more than a burden from the beginning of the book to the end - leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Very disappointing. 

13 Bullets David Wellington



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Friday, 28 September 2012

Beardy And The Geek: Winter City The Aussie Book That Gives Us Chills

Having ranted and raved about Winter City for months now, Ryan and Emmet speak to the book's creator Patrick Purcell.

The lads discuss the origins of this thrilling new Aussie comic that's grabbed everyone's attention and the creative team of the Purcell Brothers - Carl and Patrick - on story/script, Pablo Verdugo Muñoz on pencils and David Aravena Riquelme. It is very encouraging to see a project like this get off the ground, with geography no barrier thanks to online communication and good planning yielding fantastic results.

Get on board the Winter City experience, because what we are witnessing here is a new comic epic emerge, with a story that touches on vengeance, madness and corruption.

Winter City 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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Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Tontine Link-A-Lot #17

The end of another week brings with it the opportunity for linkage! So let's get stuck in.

First off this essay by New Yorker film critic David Denby, published in The New Republic - Has Hollywood Murdered the Movies. Personally I found the argument presented here extremely problematic, not to mention long-winded. For one Denby makes reference to the fascinating film history by David Thomson The Whole Equation, as an account of Hollywood's presumably long-vanished Golden Age, a reminder of how far down into commercialism the current culture in American cinema has fallen. Except of course Thomson also goes out of his way to describe how Hollywood is rooted in cut-throat business practices, with the emergent art-form of the American cinema the product of astute commercial nous and pragmatic storytellers. It is certainly a point of view that is worth investigating, but to essentially conclude that cinema is being 'ruined' by the division between high and low art seems not terribly astute.

One of the reasons I started The Momus Report was to make clear that divisions between high and pop culture are not especially qualitative. To my mind, you like what you like, and it is that passion that is important.

To illustrate my point, here's an unkillable fourth-wall collapsing mercenary mashed up with Kubrick's formalist masterpiece The Shining, courtesy of artist Marco D'Alfonso.

Deadpool The Shining Marco D'Alfonso Mash up
http://www.m7781.com/2012/09/deadpool-in-shining.html
It's been a couple of months and I'm still really enjoying The Secret World. However, there've been a number of rumours about Funcom that are not terribly flattering and already the 'free to play' vultures are circling in the message forums. This article by Jef Reahard at Joystiq tackles the naysayers and it is well worth a read.

Very excited at the proposed line-up for this year's Graphic Festival at the Sydney Opera House in November. Check it out here. This is a very creative, and excellent, celebration of the medium of comics, that doesn't rely on needless hype or product placement, instead presenting some of the best artists in the field in a whole different light.

Speaking of which, Edgar Wright's Ant-Man footage has still not been released to the public, but this lovely chap took a stab at recreating it. Enjoy.



See I'd watch that in a heartbeat. It's kind of terrifying how a film-maker can make a character as poorly treated as Ant-Man fascinating with a simple test-reel.

Midnight, Mass been made into a television show? Why the hell didn't this happen years ago! Think a supernatural version of Heart to Heart, this was a charming comic from the mind of John Rozum that was extremely underrated, but had such a native appeal I am still baffled it did not do better (also, Outlaw Nation - two great comics that deserve more love). Should this come to fruition, I will be very happy.

Spoilers for Game of Thrones!



"She has dragons! SHE HAS DRAGONS!"

Love it. Dedicated to all those George R.R. Martin fans who have ever had to close a book of his mid-read and curse his name for tugging on the ol' heart strings. 

That's it for this week folks, enjoy your weekend.

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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

I have a question for The Wolverine...

Oh hi Hugh. Yeah, listen, just a quick note of concern here, but tell me this and tell me more - are you trying to be Ong Bak? Because you look like you're trying to be Ong Bak.

The Wolverine Hugh Jackman


Healing factor or no, I reckon Tony Jaa could still kick your arse. As for that clip - Capoeira  versus Muay Thai, two flavours that go great together.

The Wolverine is due out in 2013 and can only improve on Wolverine: Origins

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Monday, 24 September 2012

A Baker Street Dozen of Sherlocks

Kate Beaton's excellent Hark, A Vagrant has a wonderful series of sketches featuring an increasingly frustrated John Watson, faced with adaptation decay following decades of film, television and literary homages.


I have to admit I felt a bit nervous about BBC's return to the trough with Sherlock - I needn't have worried. The series proved to be a loving tribute to the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories, with the modern setting playing off the strengths of the iconic tales surprisingly well. At its most basic, the adventures of the Baker Street detective have played with the nature of the partnership. Beaton notes that Watson is often turned into a buffoon in order to emphasize the intelligence of his partner, but the more interesting adaptations instead play up the friendship between the two men, how they compliment each other intellectually.

The result is we cannot have a Sherlock without a Watson anymore. What do we do about two Holmeses though?

That's exactly what we are faced with now though, with CBS launching their own modern update Elementary this week in the States. Jonny Lee Miller has donned the scarf, which added an additional frisson of rivalry between the two productions when it emerged he sought Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch's blessing - which was not forthcoming.

To make an especially awkward situation even more so, the two worked together on stage as part of Danny Boyle's Frankenstein.  In a wonderfully significant decision by Boyle, he had the two actors exchange roles each night.



Of course it gets weirder when Mr David Mitchell and Robert Webb enter the proceedings. During the first season of their sketch comedy show That Mitchell And Webb Look the lads produced a story about two actors so wrapped up in their egos, when both are cast as Holmes and Watson in a stage production, they insist on switching roles with each performance - and resort to increasingly aggressive acts of public violence.

So far Miller and Cumberbatch have not taken to fighting each other, but this feels weirdly prophetic. Here's the sketch itself - enjoy folks.




Elementary premieres September 27 on CBS.

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Friday, 21 September 2012

Beardy And The Geek: Space Pyrates, not from a galaxy far far away

Space Pyrates is a fun, manic, sf comedy Aussie webcomic, sprung from the minds of Caitlin Major and Matthew K. Hoddy. Riffing cleverly on a number of different sources, from Star Wars to Adventure Time, the series follow two affable protagonists who simply fall into adventures and treat life like a never-ending video game.

They also have an impressive Samuel L. Jackson movie collection.


Caitlin and Matthew talk to the lads about their webcomic, the work involved, adventures in film-making and the Aussie convention scene.



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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Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Tontine Link-A-Lot #16

It's Friiiii-daaaay! Time for linkage.

First up...



Now I understand folks are upset because The Hobbit itself is such a wee book, and Jackson has gone and built a trilogy around it. In his defence though, this is in effect his last chance to visit Middle Earth, as the Tolkien Estate holds the rights to the rest of the Oxford Don's writings. So given that there will be events added from the various appendices published in The Lord of the Rings but not figuring in the narrative itself - this is a backdoor method of Jackson getting as much content into these films as possible without touching on copyrighted material. It's an interesting approach and I believe a worthy one, from a completionist angle.

Gosh I hope this film does well. That Richard Armitage certainly grabs the attention as Thorin, doesn't he?

Some months ago I told you about my friend Kat and how she took inspiration from a complaint from a relative about her 'authorial style' to come up with the campaign 'Writes like a Slut'. Kat's a lovely person, and immensely supportive, so I try to return the favour for all the traffic she's sent my way on different blogging projects. Right now she is running a competition for a Writes like a Slut Tank top - all in order to promote inter-blog communion (see communion is a much nicer word that promiscuous....dammit, I've just thought of ten jokes I can't ever say). For more information look here, have a read, and drop Kat a line.

Jaysis, if Mitt Romney didn't exist, we'd have to invent him. Although I think folks should be grateful - he has let the cat out of the bag somewhat. As it happens this interesting tumblr has come to the conclusion that Mitt and a certain Bluth have a lot in common -

Mitt Romney Lucille Bluth tumblr

You lucky, lucky people. There's still one week to avail of Top Shelf's very generous discount sale on titles. Check it out here -  I fancy a copy of Box Office Poison by Alex Robinson myself. There's loads more at the link though, including some classic Alan Moore comics and spoken word recordings.

Gentleman and scholar Ed Allen, who can also be found on twitter at @edinflames, has joined Comic Bastards as a contributor. I'm a great admirer of Ed's and am sure he'll make a fine contribution to the team at the site.

The wonderful H. Caldwell Tanner takes the time to give Game of Thrones fans a few tips on how to communicate its appeal to others in this week's How to Describe...

H. Caldwell Tanner How To Describe Game of Thrones



I'd also like to say thanks to the excellent Antipodean comics site Pikitia Press, for giving Ryan and myself a shout out about our podcast. It's a great site and one I'm going to be using as a resource more regularly.

ARGH! Half-Life withdrawal has well and truly set in. The occasional mod's all well and good, but where's the next title in the series. Well to tide us over here's a Head Crab....dancing.....it's like someone took the Alien bit with a long-suffering John Hurt from Spaceballs and married it to the Young Frankenstein Ritz routine (well it is the same bloke who did both...).



See now I just want to go and play Half-Life 2 again and try to leave Father Grigori more ammo this time.

Read this and never think about Pac-Man the same again.

Now read this from The Tearoom of Despair, and weep, because while alternate universe Alan Moore still becomes an ornery fecker, it does imply that we could have had much finer comics. 

Here's a story, courtesy of Boing Boing, that I find simply baffling

This piece 'Who Killed My Sister' is credited to Victor Roscetti and I absolutely love it. 

Victor Roscetti Who Killed My Sister Wizard of Oz Doctor Who



Till next time folks.



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Wednesday, 19 September 2012

We're gonna have more fun and be less weird than the first two years combined - Community Season 3 DVD

What Community excels at is identifying the increasingly common trend of nerd humour in popular culture today, the insecurities and social hang-ups that come with it, but then depicting this as essentially positive. As a show it is funny, is full of layered characters (not to mention a talented cast.....except for Chevy), it is absurd and clever enough to know not to be obnoxious. This season has a number of highlights, but my favourite moment is the end of Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps when Abed Nadir, whom in any other program would be a unsympathetic freak or a pathetic joke, is shown to be the heart of the show. 

Community season 3 dvd Australian release

This is also a show that feels ideally suited for home viewing, as so many episodes are packed with references that reveal themselves after multiple viewing (cf - the Beetlejuice gag, three years to set up a second-long sight gag). Time will only tell if these three seasons will prove Dan Harmon's storytelling instincts were correct - either way we have the makings of a great boxset developing. 

Harmon's firing is something of an unavoidable elephant in the room, as from the very first episode the season the threat of being cancelled is raised. In-universe this is represented as Greendale Community College having their finances severely drained by a renegotiated charter with an air-conditioning repair school, led by a particularly game John Goodman as Vice Dean Laybourne (appearing with an out of character pony-tail, he gruffly comments "I'm going through some stuff right now").  Initially appearing as a direct antagonist to the barely competent Greendale administrator Dean Pelton (Jim Rash, still riding high after *that* Oscars appearance), Laybourne's oddly specific educational annex is revealed to be at the head of a vast Masonic conspiracy that underpins human civilization itself - and he has decided Troy Barness (the magnetic Donald Glover) is to be its messiah. In any other show this would be a jumping the shark moment. In Community, it's just another subplot to whimsically unravel. 

Out of a very talented cast, Glover is a star in the making, effortlessly charismatic but also refreshingly goofball. The show's odd tangents are a perfect foil for his mannerisms, as the disappointing Mystery Team hinted the actor's manic onscreen persona requires an ensemble able to keep up with him. Glover and Danny Pudi's rap in the episode inspired by the show's rivalry with Glee is proof that he has found one. That same episode also gave us one of the best moments from Alison Brie on the show - her Betty Boop tribute on 'how to understand Christmas'. 

Community Annie's Christmas song

Other highlights include the wonderful Ken Burns parody Pillows and Blankets, complete with Keith David narration; the Hugo-nominated Remedial Chaos Theory, which upped the ante on sf concepts on what is nominally a sitcom; Basic Lupine Urology for its Law and Order pastiche; and Digital Estate Planning, featuring a tribute to classic Nintendo games sure to send viewers of a certain age into throes of nostalgia. Also we have the writers of Community to thank for Inspector Space Time, which has resulted in an, uh, 'original' Untitled Web Series spin-off.

The dvd comes with a host of commentaries and some very funny out-takes. These folks obviously have as much fun making the show as its fans have watching. I hope the fourth season keeps the momentum going, because I have really come to love these characters. 

Also I want Shirley's 'He Is Risen' baking apron with a bread cross. Get on it NBC.

Community Abed Nadir Some flies are too awesome for the wall

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Monday, 17 September 2012

Marvel Comics, Movies and Posters

Two recent promotional announcements for forthcoming Marvel comic titles caught my eye - which given the nature of the preview images, is mission accomplished for the publisher. 

Firstly Avengers Arena which features a host of younger superheroes and villains being forced to fight it out for the entertainment of the duplicitous Arcade. Given that capturing heroes and trapping them in overly elaborate death-traps is his entire schtick, perhaps there's no surprise there. The chosen characters are significant however, as given the collapsing Marvel timeline - fifty years plus of publishing history contracted into a decade at most of fictional biographies - younger superhumans tend to be more expendable, as they have less of a market share than the likes of perpetual adolescent Spider-Man, or the timelost Captain America.

Which is why the cover is actually quite chilling - and familiar to fans of Kinji Fukasaku's blood-soaked satire Battle Royale.

Battle Royale Avengers Arena Marvel NOW


Except this version does not feature Beat Takeshi - you suffer by comparison Marvel!

This launch follows on from the recent Marvel NOW! campaign, which happen to resemble movie teasers featuring one word teasers hinting at the characters being revived by individual creative teams. The symbolism is important, it implies Marvel are confident that their IP includes a host of iconic figures that will bring the punters running. Or at least that's the suggestion.

Compare -

Marvel NOW Iron Man Kieron Gillen Greg Land



to the poster for the Gareth Edwards revamp of a certain giant lizard -

Gareth Edwards Godzilla poster teaser


Maybe the successes of Avengers and its tie-in franchises have gone to the company's head. If it works for films, it should work for comics appears to be the logic. Nothing new there, comics have often sourced popular film concepts for their stories. The Battle Royale reference, with press releases mentioning Hunger Games but trying to sit on the fence by making a more overt connection to the Japanese cult hit with the cover image. Another example then popped up with a revamp of X-Force -

The Usual Suspects Cable and X-Force

I particularly like that Cable is somehow the Marvel analogue for Gabriel Byrne.

The publisher knows their business and developing these concepts for films is evidently a far more profitable avenue for them to pursue than relying on the Direct Market. Yet these two covers, and the teaser promotions, run the risk of the company's product seeming entirely derivative of movies. The logic is clear. The comic line needs to refresh itself continually for the sake of prospective cinema audiences, who would be alienated by the requirement for near-Talmudic knowledge of decades of continuity. Instead the prospective cinema-goer can walk into a store right after Avengers 2 and pick up a comic with content that closely resembles the film for a change.

Plus if the books should happen to feature premises familiar to fans of cult films like Battle Royale and The Usual Suspects, well all the better.

But do they really have to be so obvious about it?

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Sunday, 16 September 2012

Muirhouse is off to La-La-Land!

Last month I wrote here about the screening of a new Aussie horror film Muirhouse. I have been holding out hopes that this indie with an interesting premise - set a fictional supernatural film in the 'found footage' genre within a reportedly haunted house, the Monte Cristo estate in Junee, New South Wales  - will bust out and surprise audiences. 

In August the folks behind the film, including director Tanzeal Rahim, screened the film for the people of Junee - 

‘It was an amazing night’ Rahim is quoted as saying in a press statement, ‘it was always our intention to showcase the film to the residents of Junee as a thank you for hosting the cast and crew during filming.  We were so thrilled with the reaction from the residents who turned out in droves for the screening with standing room only! I am personally grateful that with the support of the Junee Council and the Trustees of The Athenium we were able to hold this event’.

I was quite touched by the story about the screening, because it showed the recognition of acknowledging the importance of the locals who had to live alongside the frenetic activity of film-making. However, while the local focus makes for a lovely story, Muirhouse will shortly be drawing attention on the international scene, as this week came the announcement that Monster Pictures has picked up the film for distribution. This follows the film being picked for this year's Shriekfest in LA, having previously screened at Marche du Film in Cannes, and the Fright Night Film Festival in Louisville. 

Aussies will get a chance to see the film at its November 8 premiere in Melbourne. 



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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Genndy Tartakovsky on Clone Wars

I am considering coining a new phrase - 'getting Lucased'. It means the post-release continual fiddling with a published work. So Hayden Christensen is now in Return of the Jedi. Thanks to the Special Editions, Billy Dee Williams is not the only black man in the galaxy - there, look, there's a chap passing by in the background on Tatooine! To my mind though one of the more galling, although comparatively less commented upon changes to the internally complex Star Wars canon is the unusual eclipsing of Genndy Tartakovky's work on the Clone Wars animated series. 

Star Wars Clone Wars Genndy Tartakovsky

Mike Ryan interviewed animator Tartakovsky for the Huffington Post and it is well worth a read. Ostensibly promoting his feature film Hotel Transylvania, Ryan took the opportunity to ask about the 'rebooting' of Clone Wars by Lucasfilm, effectively erasing the earlier show from the records. Tartakovsky is admirably upfront and not especially bitter about it. One aspect of Lucas' predilection for re-editing and re-writing his franchise as he sees fit is that it is, after all, his to do with as he pleases. This is the source of a lot of consternation understandably, but given that he can do what he wants, why shouldn't he? I myself will probably edit this blog post several times over the next few days. Are there many other film-makers or creators generally who would not seize the opportunity to revisit and update past works?

Yeah. I mean, you know, of course it bothers me. But, you know, it's George's characters. It's his world and he has to do what he has to do. And the new ones are totally inspired by what we did: A lot of the same character designs and stuff. [from the Huffington Post article]

Of course whenever I have the opportunity to talk about Star Wars I always make a point of mentioning Tartakovksy's cartoon series. I honestly believe it to be one of the best things to have been released with the Star Wars name on it. It is a fun series, with inventive action and great character development. The episode focusing on a squad of clones is a particular highlight - until Tartakovsky they were literally cannon fodder. With Kiwi accents. It was weird.

Star Wars Clone Wars Clone Troopers Genndy Tartakovsky
What's more though Clone Wars almost single-handedly managed to redeem the prequels. The films themselves - The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith - are staggered oddly, with each taking place years apart. Looking back on the storyline now if feels like a failed attempt to sketch out a very broad canvas representing Lucas' fantasy land, taken over by trade disputes, embargoes, and manipulative politicians who literally are evil! I remember the first appearance of General Grievous, the terribly named but compellingly characterized villainous cyborg who made a habit of killing Jedi. In Revenge of the Sith the audience is treated to a rip-roaring fight scene between the villain and Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi, that was apparently storyboarded by Steven Spielberg. It is oddly uninteresting. 
Star Wars Clone Wars General Grievous
 
Whereas in the Clone Wars, Tartakovksy introduces the character as this unstoppable, malevolent presence, who we witness hunting down a group of these supernaturally empowered (I'm ignoring the whole Midiclorians stuff, sorry) warriors. Yes one of them resembles Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, but that's an example of how the animated show used slapstick humour as a valve for the building tension (as it happens, things don't go so well for Jedi Shaggy). The difference between the two depictions of the same character are quite stark.

Tartakovsky also took the premise of Samuel L. Jackson with superpowers - and made it awesome!



I suppose after that the eventual death scene Lucas had plotted for Mace Windu must have seemed extremely anticlimactic. Tartakovsky took the solemn and aloof character from the films and turned him into Samurai Jack. With a light sabre and magic.

Ultimately while I respect Lucas' desire to perfect his own vision, I do not see why it is not possible for Star Wars to become the broad church it clearly is. This question of 'what is canon' is suffocating. Ryan and I reviewed Tom Taylor's Darth Maul: Death Sentence recently, which features the presumably dead Sith alive and well, slaughtering his merry way across the surface of an alien planet. It is comics after all - death is cheap there, but it shows there is no reason why other creators cannot take established facets of the canon and turning them on their head. Maul is too good a character to be left unused. John Ostrander's most recent series, also for Dark Horse comics, was Agent of the Empire and when I had the opportunity to interview him I queried him about a certain familiar aspect of the story -

The pitch was “James Bond meets Star Wars”. There’s a great deal of overlap between the two – similar tropes. Exotic locales, sexy females, charismatic main character(s), gadgets, big time villains, chases and so on. So I didn’t have to introduce them; they’re already part of Star Wars.

Star Wars Agent of the Empire John Ostrander Stephane Roux Dark Horse

That to me is the correct approach, introducing elements - or refining already present aspects of the franchise - to reflect its adaptability. So I really cannot fathom why Tartakovsky in particular should be singled out, having provided such sterling work.

And given the announcement of Star War Detours from the lads behind Robot Chicken, I am really confused now!




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Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Mall by S.L. Grey

It's definitely the same store the kid had wanted to check out, although I don't remember it being called Time Suckers. Who ever came up with that name needs to be fired and quickly. The shutters are up, and as I get closer I can make out the outline of the Lara Croft cut-out in the window. But there's something...different about her. Lara Croft's knowing pout is gone in favour of a traumatised, shell-shocked expression, there's a bruise blooming over her left eye, and her long hair looks to be matted with blood. Her thighs in those too-short shorts are pitted with cellulite; her braless breasts sag noticeably. I can't imagine many schoolboys wanking over this version. Could it be some sort of clever in-joke?

I remember reading the above and chuckling to myself as this is meant to indicate the character has entered some weird alternate world where Lara Croft is an abused figure - but only months ago  news broke about a new game in the franchise, with an interview indicating the developers had made the character more vulnerable, more of a victim, than the original. S.L. Grey - the author is in fact a composite entity of two South African writers Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg - no doubt intended for this passage to act as a dig at the over-sexualised gaming icon, but as it happens truth is stranger than fiction.

That said, the titular mall is a very strange place indeed. While on the surface it is just another hive of bored employees, self-important security guards and idle shoppers, another more disturbing place co-exists within the same place and during one night Rhoda and Dan cross over by accident. While she is meant to be babysitting a young boy for a friend, Rhoda leaves her charge alone to score drugs. When she returns the child has vanished, and the security are not interested in helping an overly aggressive black woman who appears to be tweaking on coke. Panicking Rhoda escapes and hides in the mall after closing to try and find the boy. Instead she meets Dan, a disaffected book shop wageslave, whom she blames for not telling the security guards about the child she was with. Problem is when the guards interviewed him they asked if the boy Rhoda said accompanied her to the mall was the same skin colour as her, which he denied, unwittingly confirming suspicions that she is deluded. Pulling a knife on Dan, Rhoda forces him to help her find the kid and together they venture down into the bowels of the complex assuming the boy is wandering around in the staff areas. 

Instead something shifts, and the two find themselves in a labyrinthine series of tunnels and unending stairways. Believing that they have somehow found themselves in an incomplete additional level to the store Dan tries to navigate the suddenly unfamiliar halls, whereas Rhoda is half-convinced her drug-addled mind has given up the ghost. Then they hear the sound of something, a huge beast, breathing in the darkness behind them. Also someone seems to be watching them and texting abusive and mocking messages.

The chase sequences increasingly hint at the weirdness of this underworld Dan and Rhoda have found themselves in, but when they finally emerge from the basement hell, they find everything changed. Shoppers are a widely revered set of empty-headed consumers that each bear self-inflicted wounds; the workers are literally chained to their stations; and then there's 'Management' the strange force behind the running of the mall, as well as the authors of the unusual text messages. 

Much like Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens, the collaborators behind S.L. Grey have chosen to tell a story from the individual points of view of its two principals. Eventually Dan and Rhoda grow to trust each other, but it is entertaining to read their initial fear and resentment towards one another. Rhoda sees the middle class white boy as a pathetic loser, whereas he believes she is little more than a junkie, shocked to hear her later speak in a cut-glass English accent indicating a more complex past. The authors also doff their hat to Romero's Dawn of the Dead, an acknowledgement that 'consumer culture is bad, m'kay' is not an entirely original trope in horror fiction. 

Where this book becomes interesting is in its citing on the simmering social tensions, mirrored in the alternate-Mall when Dan and Rhoda are routinely referred to as 'browns' and condescended to by the other shoppers and staff. Body fetishism is also parodied by the enthusiastic self-mutilation of the shoppers. That the horrors paraded in this other place should elicit both disgust and fascination in the two characters does a decent job in capturing the empty-satisfactions of consumerism (and is neatly reminiscent of Clive Barker's original notion of the Cenobites). 

This book's greatest strength is its interplay of ideas. The characters are not particularly likable, but you grow to sympathize with them. The nihilistic tone of the story can be a mite depressing - as any escape is no real escape at all - but the overall work succeeds at illustrating its themes.

The Mall S.L. Grey



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Sunday, 9 September 2012

"....Corrupts Absolutely" - The Absolutes by Seth Jacob and Robert Rath

We are the Absolutes

We are watching you.

Try to play nice.

In the interest of full disclosure I happen to know Seth Jacob, having worked with him on another website. He has always impressed me as a passionate and ambitious writer - another example of his work is his novel Gnosis 5 - with a sincere enthusiasm for contemporary comics. With The Absolutes, collaborating with Robert Rath, Jacob has produced a book that has superhero books in its DNA. 

To be honest, I feel it is a special treat to read a book written by a mate.  

The Absolutes #1 Seth Jacob, Robert Rath
From Moore's Marvelman, to Ellis' The Authority, Mark Millar's The Ultimates to Rob Williams' Cla$$war, superhero fans have been confronted with the central incongruity of the genre - why would these individuals with such amazing powers preserve the status quo? This is why there has traditionally been an insistence on patriotism - Truth, Justice and the American Way - or simpler notions of basic human decency, such as Uncle Ben's maxim about personal responsibility. 

Take these tissue-thin moral guidelines away - and remember we are talking about masked vigilantes who use superhuman violence to settle their issues - and we are left with a collection of modern-day gods in waiting. 

It is no coincidence that Siegel and Shuster originally conceived a powerful villain before settling on their most famous creation.

Siegel and Shuster's original Superman concept Ubermensch

Mr Jupiter is very much the modern Greek god, his cape buckled in the ancient style, lightning bolts decorating his costume. He also uses his introductory scene to school President Barack Obama on the finer points of international relations live on television. As leader of The Absolutes he has declared the team above the law. They have decided that the nations of the world have become too dangerous to rule the world - so they are going to do it for them. Jupiter himself notes that if it were not for the unusual rule that 'metahumans' as he terms them, not involve themselves in war they could have caught Osama bin Laden within days. Over the course of this first storyline the Absolutes step up their campaign of preventative war, with world leaders thrown into a panic. 

The Absolutes Barack Obama
Jacob has a little fun at the expense of the long-reviled enemy of American comics Fredric Wertham - Sequart Films are releasing an interesting documentary on the man soon - by making the 'Secretary of Metahuman Defense' a namesake. For the benefit of readers, and the perplexed President, he introduces the other members of The Absolutes. Private Might is a Captain America analogue of sorts; Madam Meta inherited her powers directly from Jupiter, much like how Marvel Family shared the power of Shazam; Nirvana is a mentally unstable young women with the power to reassemble molecules with her mind, and as such is noted by Wertham as one of the more dangerous members of the team; Hypersonic is a tribute perhaps to Mark Waid's concept of The Flash as an omnipresent crime-fighting force from Kingdom Come; and then there is the mysterious seeming monster known as The Great Clout, who by the end of this issue is revealed to be hiding a unusual double identity. While the intentions of The Absolutes appear to be pure, it is clear that only Jupiter's charisma and leadership keeps all the conflicting personalities in check - remove him, and they become a collection of human weapons of mass destruction with no direction. 

The Absolutes

What I find most interesting about The Absolutes is how it is deliberately set in a world very close to our own - events such as 9/11, war rhetoric in relation to Iran, the compromised Obama administration - with superheroes lobbed in to the mix to illustrate the theme of how power corrupts. Superheroes are meant to represent hope, an ideal of a higher form of justice. This is why the comparison to gods is made so often. The election of Barack Obama was founded on similar notions of hope. However, the disappointment that followed has as much to do with the fading reality of America as a superpower, as it does the political partisanship that has mired the administration. It is interesting to compare his depiction here to the host of flattering appearances he enjoyed in comics during the time of the first election. Superhero comics themselves have become considerably less hopeful, having discovered there is greater commercial traction in story arcs surrounding in-fighting and personality clashes between would-be heroes. Instead of noble avengers, they are beginning to resemble the lesser of two evils. From Identity Crisis to Civil War, Flashpoint to Avengers vs X-Men, the stories are not so much about fighting for justice, as much as factional conflicts over who gets to come out on top. As Howard Bloom says in The Lucifer Principle

"Justice" is the term used by those on the bottom of the heap who are itching to move up. When these folks refer to "the struggle for justice," they generally mean, "Let's keep fighting until I come out on top." Once the devotees of justice have seated themselves on the uppermost rung of the ladder, they too almost invariably become staunch defenders of "peace."

The Absolutes Madam Meta
Madam Meta disarming a nuclear device
When Kid Marvel went on a rampage in London during Marvelman, John Totleben's artwork depicted nightmarish scenes of dismembered corpses and mass mutilation. When Warren Ellis launched The Authority, hero Jack Hawksmoor routinely punched through human skulls. The moral compass had swung the other way, as now the shock value was to see would-be heroes committing acts of ultraviolence. These were both well written books that had something to say about violence in superhero comics, but they also opened the floodgates on similar depictions which have become routine. With The Absolutes Jacob and Rath focus instead on the threatening idea of a superhuman elite taking matters into their own hands. As heroes they remain ambivalent, but then their argument that nations should not be stockpiling nuclear arsenals is a fair one. What happens if a member of the team should turn though? I guess we're going to have to wait to find out. 

If I had a criticism, it is that the story does feel familiar to me, but the sincerity of the central concept is quite interesting. I feel Jacob has a lot he wants to say with this book about power, and politics, and the nature of contemporary comics, so I am willing to forgive the occasional sense of déjà vu, because I trust that he intends to make a statement. I believe this is his and Rath's debut - correct me if I am wrong lads - and as such it is a remarkably ambitious one. 

This is a smart revisiting of the theme of superhuman morality, a counterpoint to the cynicism of some contemporary comics that revel in violence for violence's sake. If that sounds like your mug of java, drop $2.99 at the online store for your own copy.


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Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Momus Report Podcast - The Hugos are Dead, Long Live the Hugos!

And we're back! After a hiatus, Carol and Emmet return to discuss the results of the Hugo Awards, following on from their earlier episode on the short fiction category.

The Doctor's Wife, Neil Gaiman, Matt Smith, Suranne Jones


Of course the Hugos themselves were not without incident, with the online broadcast of the awards via Ustream interrupted by nefarious copyright infringement 'bots - and right in the middle Neil Gaiman's acceptance speech. CEO Brad Hunstable's apology is also discussed, as well as the nominations process for 2013.



Contact us on Twitter - @emmetoc_ and @irishhatgirl

The Momus Report Podcast is now available on iTunes  

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Asylum of the Daleks - The Doctor is in

The Doctor is back, as are his most popular antagonists the Daleks, the genocidal conquerors that have dogged the Timelord since 1963. Asylum of the Daleks will premiere here in Australia on ABC this evening, however, full credit to the station for broadcasting the episode over its iView service a week ago. It was a decision that resulted in a record breaking 75, 900 downloads overnight. Apparently the ABC are going to continue releasing episodes of this series of Doctor Who online first and it will be very interesting to see how successful they are doing so. Whovians are after all generally a net-savy bunch, so this is a clever promotional effort by the channel.

ABC iView

Asylum of the Daleks opens with a hooded woman expositing in free form verse on the recent history of the Doctor. This brings potential newcomers to the show up to speed, but also sets the stage for the current Who overseer Steven Moffat's stated desire to make this season seem more like a Hollywood blockbuster. The mysterious woman wants the Doctor's help to go on a rescue mission to Skaro, the home-planet of the Daleks. Except of course, there is no rescue mission at all and the hooded woman is herself a husk - a disguised Dalek. The Doctor is captured and transported to the 'Parliament of the Daleks', along with his human Companions Amy and Rory, as added insurance that he will go along with the requests of his abductors.

Doctor Who Asylum of the Daleks Parliament of the Daleks

"Save the Daleks"

Moffat promised a new take on the villainous cyborgs from Skaro, and true to form we do get it here. Their entreaty to the Doctor makes them seem almost vulnerable and of course the very idea of a 'parliament' seems counter-intuitive from what we know about the strictly hierarchical, genocidal species (more on this later). The reason for the Doctor's kidnapping is that the Daleks have learned that a human space ship has crash-landed on a prison planet of theirs, designed to contain a multitude of scarred and demented Daleks. In a twisted example of Dalek thinking, the very mindlessness and unrestrained hatred of these wounded creatures is 'beautiful' to the Parliament, but they still recognize the threat posed by these members of their race should they escape through the same method as the humans arrived - a hole in the forcefield surrounding the planet itself. It seems there's a human survivor as well, a young woman named Oswin (Jenna Louise Coleman), who has been fending off the insane inmates of the 'asylum' for the past year and has managed to hack the communications system itself to transmit Bizet's Carmen, alerting the Daleks to her presence. Cue some coquettish banter between herself and the Doctor, who is charmed by her mentioning that she is trying and failing to make a soufflé, and the heroes are off on the real 'rescue mission'.

"You're going to fire me at a planet? That's your plan? You're going to fire me at a planet and expect me to fix it?"

Doctor Who Matt Smith Jenna Louise Coleman

Of course as this is a Moffat Who script, we are still far from done with the twists. The Ponds, it appears, are now divorced and as Amy and Rory become separated planet-side, the reason for the end of their marriage is only revealed at the end of the episode. Then there is Oswin herself, who is played by an actress not scheduled to join the show until this year's Christmas episode. It also turns out the planet is infested with nanite organisms that transform all organic life into Daleks. To prevent conversion the Doctor and his Companions are given wrist-devices that should shield them from the nanites, except of course said devices are quite easily removed and so there's a risk any one of them could become the enemy - much like the corpses of the humans who crashed on the planet. Finally there's every chance this is all one large, elaborate trap designed to kill the Doctor - who given his insatiable curiousity (cf his speech in The Impossible Planet) is quite happy to go along with it, as he is mystified where Oswin is getting her ingredients for her soufflés from.

Once again, the Doctor's charm tends to hide just how dangerously mischievous he can be. Yes his curiosity is one of his finest traits - as a centuries old immortal it has kept him engaged with events across time and space, leading him to intervene when life is at risk - but since the Russell T. Davies era we have returned again and again to the idea that this trait, combined with his constant loneliness, has led him to place the lives of innocents in danger. His Companions are promised adventure, but at the possible cost of their own lives. Amy 'Geronimo' Pond accepts that risk, is thrilled by it, but Rory is along only for the ride because the love of his life is there on the TARDIS. Now their association with the Doctor has led to them becoming targets of the Daleks. 

Doctor Who Asylum of the Daleks The Doctor and Amy Pond
Throughout the episode Amy herself seems to shown in a poor light. For one it is clear that she moved to divorce Rory, who as he reminds her waited 2,000 years for her emergence from the Pandorica and so has proven how much he loves her.  Amy proceeds to snipe at Rory when they are together. There's also yet another joke about how Scots are bad-tempered as a rule. Even the Doctor seems less interested in her, as he is evidently fascinated with Oswin's genius-level intellect. Having survived for an entire year on a planet of Daleks - her account of her experiences reminded me slightly of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend - she is evidently an extremely gifted individual. Oswin then proceeds to flirt with both the Doctor and Rory while helping them navigate the interior of the asylum. Given that we know the actress is joining the show, was this the start of Karen Gillan's Amy being unceremoniously pushed out of the show, Adric-style?

The depiction of Amy/Oswin has proven problematic for some online commentators reviewing this episode. Another point of criticism was offered by Alyson MacDonald on the Bright Green site, arguing that the very notion of threatening, mentally ill Daleks is offensive. I would strongly recommend reading this piece to anyone interested in the nature of subtext in Who. Back to 'the ladies' though. Amy is introduced taking part in a glamour photo shoot that I initially took to be a dig at Gillan's doing the same (and as fans may remember, she was originally introduced in the show as a kissogram). Oswin jokes about having a bisexual phase and is reassuringly upbeat and cheerful in sharp contrast to the angry Scot. Doctor Who has something of an unfortunate history with casting nubile female for the Companions designed to be 'something for the dads' to ogle while the kids hide behind the couch from the Daleks and crab-aliens. So was Asylum of the Daleks the moment when married and troubled Amy was to be dropped for cute and nonthreatening Oswin? 

Karen Gillan glamour shoot Doctor Who publicity

I think it is important that this discussion is taking place and is a testament to the passion of Who fans, who want it to be a better show than what they perceive it to be, because of its themes of egalitarianism, pacifism and enthusiasm for knowledge. In the immortal words of Craig Ferguson "It's all about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism!"

Moffat is too tricksy to fall into that trap, in my humble opinion, so I saw the contrasting of Oswin and Amy to be an acknowledgement on his part of the difference between the wish-fulfillment girl fantasy and real relationships. Rory's claim - I loved you more obviously, because I waited for you - leaves aside the fact that he was an immortal android at the time dressed as a Roman Centurion. Romantic, certainly. Having any place in a discussion of actual romance between two adults living together - not really. It is a fantasy of romance, a fable and Moffat puts the Ponds through the wringer in this episode in order to confront them with what their being together really means, leaving aside idealized fantasies of a loving family in a suburban home. Yes the final reveal for why they broke up strikes the viewer as odd and a bit shoehorned in there. Sometimes Moffat seems more in love with an idea than concentrating on its execution.

I now believe Asylum of the Daleks was inspired by two notions, with all the plot upheavals endured by its characters constructed just to introduce these humble story points. Firstly the phrase 'Parliament of the Daleks' has a sort of unusual poetry to it, but as I said above feels counter-intuitive. Damn the expense, says Moffat, and puts it in there anyway. Whether it works or not is up to viewers. Secondly we have the idea of the Ponds themselves and how their entire courtship has existed in the shadow of the Doctor, the 'raggedy man' Amy waited for since she met him as a child.

Ultimately I see Asylum as a success, despite its awkward balancing of self-aware meta-humour and thrills. I remain to be convinced that this 'blockbuster' ethos of the new series is a good idea. Classic Who has remained compelling today despite often relying on cheap special effects and budgetary constrained sets. It would be a shame to lose the inventiveness of the early adventures of the Doctor, forced to contend not only with Daleks but the BBC's finances department. 

Allons-y!

Asylum of the Daleks 'blockbuster' poster BBC marketing

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Thursday, 6 September 2012

Beardy And The Geek: They Call Him Mr Bedford!

The man, the legend himself, Mr Bedford, deigned to stop by our humble podcast to talk The List, previously reviewed by the Beardy & The Geek team.

Sadly Ryan could not make the show, but the final interview covers the inspiration for the book, the nature of the collaboration between Bedford, Pop and Bonin over several years - and there's some special news for fans of what the future has in store.

The List, The Son, Paul Bedford, Henry Pop, Tom Bonin




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.

The List Cover, Paul Bedford

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