What’s it like to be a Red?: Was it something I said?

Blimey. No sooner do I publicly drop my season-long support for Beleagured David Moyes than the news breaks that the poor sod is going to get the push. If I’d known I had power like that…

Actually, it’s not happened yet, though the world and his little dog Toto is convinced that it’s only a matter of formalities. Everybody’s got the same story, suggesting either an ‘official’ Club leak, or one very busy source, but nobody, least of all Mr Moyes, is going around denying it.

But, unless it’s all some elaborate – and extremely satisfying – scam, set up to expose the footbll press for the scumbag vultures they’ve been all season (which would only work if Moyes were suddenly to do a phoenix-from-the-flames impersonation of Alex Ferguson circa 1999) it’s a done deal.

The word is Giggs as caretaker manager, so we know who’ll be first name on the teamsheet for the last threegames, or however many it takes to get him his record-preserving goal that cements him as the only player in the whole of human history to score in 22 consecutive Premiership seasons (actually, 21 is way more than anyone else is ever going to do, but it is a kind of bummer if you drop the ball at the last hurdle, as a comprehensively mixed metaphor would have it).

Sorry, Davey lad. It was a mistake, on everybody’s part. At least you’ve got a colossal pay-off coming your way. And if it was because of anything I said…

Squeaky Bum Time: Easter Monday and how!

Oh my goodness, that was squeaky bum time for real! I was at Gigg Lane for what may yet be the last game FC United of Manchester plays there (until they return as the Visitors) and what an experience that was. A goal down inside sixty seconds, a second from an atrocious defensive mix-up, playing with the same disjointedness and ineptness as MUFC yesterday and looking as likely to make a comeback as David Moyes’ men.

But Karl Marginson’s team have got more to them.First, leading scorer, and Supporter’s Player of the Season, Tom Greaves rammed the ball home after 65 minutes, and ten minutes later, Mike Norton (he who scored that winner at Rochdale) punted the ball in to level it, and then would you believe it, virtually on the tick of half-time, sub Greg Daniels rose to head in a corner and 3,056 of us went bananas at the win.

But it’s all down to the last weekend, and the last round of games. Needless to say, Chorley (1st) and Fylde (3rd) also won, comfortably, 4-0 and 5-0 respectively, the latter giving Fylde a G-D advantage of two goals over FC.

So it’s Chorley 94 points, FC 93 and Fylde 90. FC go away to 14th place Barwell, Fylde entertain 10th place King’s Lynn Town and Chorley visit Buxton – the team that put a crimp in our late season run of wins – who are 13th. Well, they owe us, so now’s the time to deliver.

Whatever anyone else does next Saturday, FC have got to deliver a win. If that happens, the worst that can happen is 2nd place: a home Play-Off semi-final against Ashon United (again) on Tuesday 29 April and, hopefully, a home Final on Saturday week (when I’m off duty and can go again) against the winners of Fylde or Witton.

If we slip up at Barwell, a draw will still secure 2nd but a defat might let Fylde in to push us down to 3rd. That would mean a home semi-final against Witton, but the Play-Off final would only be at home if Ashton beat Fylde: otherwise its the seasiders who will enjoy home asvantage.

But if Chorley slip up, if they so much as only draw at Buxton, an FC win would take the title, would mean automatic promotion, would mean the Skrill Conference North next season. The dream is still on. I just hope that, next Saturday, I’m not on an inbound call when the results flash up…

What’s it like to be a Red?: Crossing Over

Ok, I give in. I’ve been loyal all season, I’ve been patient. I’ve tolerated what has been happening at Manchester United, because I’ve long expected it, because I’ve been convinced that our success of the last three seasons has been based on the ability of Sir Alex Ferguson to conjure results out of a squad that, in so many areas, has just not been good enough.

I’ve backed David Moyes for many reasons. Because I trusted Ferguson’s judgement in choosing a manager to build upon what we had. Because I believed that, given proper time and the chance to build his own side, he could succeed. Because I wasn’t the kind of shallow fan who started screaming the moment we struggled for the first time. Because I didn’t believe we were entitled to be top of the pile forever. Because the mighty and blatant anti-Moyes, anti-United agenda of the press, decided upon before the season started and continued by blatant lies and fact-twisting, got right up my nose. Because United don’t turn on their managers like that, don’t tip them overboard at the first sign of trouble.

Like I said, I’ve been loyal. And now I’ve crossed over. Now I’m giving up and adding my voice to the chorus of Moyes out.

The catalyst was, naturally, this afternoon’s game away to Everton, which ended in a 2-0 victory for the Merseysiders, and which could have ended double that score without United having any grounds for complaint.

The biggest single factor was that this was Everton, the club David Moyes managed for 11 years, successfully so given their current status and their limited financial resources in comparison to the Premiership’s leading teams. It was Past vs Present, a team still solidly comprised of the players Moyes bought or brought through, versus a team still solidly the creation of Alex Ferguson, with only one Moyes-introduced player in the fourteen that featured.

Moyes’ team are now under the control of a manager whose track record in the League involved taking a Premiership club into relegation, albeit just after winning the FA Cup. Ferguson’s team are now under the control of David Moyes. Everton were, by far, the more committed, enthusiastic, disciplined, tactically aware, faster (mentally and physically) and determined team on the pitch. United dominated possession, but in safe areas, with no penetration into scoring positions, let alone actual shots. They played an intricate, sometimes elegant, short passing game that, no matter how quickly the ball was laid-off, made forward progress a slow motion affair, giving Everton ample time to build a defensive formation that offered no gaps through which passes might be made.

Not that it would have been any different had there been any gaps, since for the first hour United played without a striker. They were supposed to have Wayne Rooney in that role, but Rooney is having no truck with that kind of fucking nonsense. No matter how well Mata and Kagawa performed, building intricate little triangles, finding spaces close to the penalty area, they had no-one to pass the ball to, because Rooney lacked any sense of discipline, continually wandering all over the field, getting in their way but primarily leaving them with no-one to pass the ball to!

Only when Hernandez came on as a substitute did United finally have a striker looking for the ball in front of goal. Then, with twenty minutes left, two goals behind and in need of scoring soon if there were to be any prospect of saving something from the game, Moyes introduced a second striker, Danny Wellbeck, but insisted on him playing on the right wing, and not getting anywhere near goal.

Add to that such things as allowing Nani to remain on the field for an hour when he had long since proved that the only aspect of his once considerable skills that he still possesses is that which sees him tumble artistically to the ground and take himself out of play for minutes on end whilst he sulks that the referee hasn’t bought it.

Yet Rooney was allowed to remain on the pitch for all its overlong 90 minutes, despite the fact that he was never where he ought to be and in fact was everywhere else, that he lost the ball to an Everton player every single time he tried to take it past him, that he squandered United’s only two serious chances of scoring, the first by simply not trying to shoot but gyrating mindlesly in the hope he would create space when he had miserably failed to do so before that point in the match, and the other, far too late in the game to matter, by simply not being smart enough to kick the ball past the keeper instead of against him.

I did not believe at any time that United had any chance of scoring, not if the game were continuing yet, the floodlights switched off, the Everton team blinded and United playing in infra-red night vision goggles. Moyes does not know what to do. He has never known what to do. And he has yoked our future to the over-inflated ego and the self-indulgent mindset of the World’s worst World Class Player I have ever known.

So make room for me, I’ve come across. Moyes out, preferably on the back of Rooney. We would have been far better off going for Roberto Martinez ourselves: hell, it’s looking like a bad idea not to have at least considered Tony Pulis.

And it’s now only a matter of time before Liverpool win the League. We went 26 years without, 1967 to 1993, and it has long been my insistence that Liverpool HAD to go at least 27. For it to have got to 24, to have got so close and slipped in under the wire, and for it to be in this season will be the ultimate dagger-through-the-heart pain, no matter how dulled I am to things now.

Squeaky Bum Time: Easter Saturday update

Yesssss!!!!!!!!  Get in there!!!!!!!

It’s been a good day for FC United of Manchester. Despite conceding a 3rd minute goal at Stamford, the Reds fought back to a 3-2 win, keeping them well in the hunt on 90 points with two to play. Better yet, leaders Chorley could only manage a 1-1 draw at Whitby Town, cutting the gap at the top to only one point, and third place AFC Fylde – same points, same goal-difference, fewer goals – were beaten 2-1 at home by Grantham Town, to keep them on 87 points. The only other top 4 winners were Worksop Town, who also pulled out a 3-2 win, at home to Blyth Spartans.

So, Chorley 91 points from 44, FC United 90 from 44, Fylde and Worksop 87 from 44, with Fylde the better goal difference (and FC having scored their 100th League goal of the season with the first goal today, and are now the second highest scorers after Witton).

I still can’t honestly see Chorley dropping points against Marine on Monday, whilst we’ll have a handful with Ashton United (although their win and Skelmersdale’s defeat have guaranteed their Play-Off place, unless Skem can turn around a 20 goal GD advantage in their last two games). But, provided we don’t blow that game, which, being at Gigg Lane, I plan to attend, that should guarantee 2nd place, and pole position for the Play-Offs.

And then it’s all down to what happens seven days from now…

Squeaky squeaky.


Squeaky Bum Time

The disastrous season Manchester United have had has left me in the highly unusual situation of having nothing to care about at the end of the season. The last time this happened was the nearly-forgotten season of 1990/91, the penultimate season of the old Football League, when United, despite improving dramatically from the year before’s 13th place and the threat of relegation for most of the season – and you call 7th a disaster? – only finished 6th, a place behind the Bitter Blues for the first time in over a decade, and the last time until their last lick goal-difference miracle in 2012.

Of course, it wasn’t a truly bleak season, since the Reds were heading off to Rotterdam, and a rendezvous with Barcelona in the European Cup-Winners Cup Final, and Sparky’s two goals, and Sunbed’s goal-line clearance in the 89th minute.

This year though, there’s nowt to look forward to except my fervent prayer that anyone – and I even include the Bitters in this – win the Premiership except Liverpool.

But let’s leave that contentious, and potentially highly painful, topic and remind ourselves that football goes on in other realms than the artificial world of the Premiership.

Every now and then I’ve been bringing you bulletins about life at the bottom of the Evo Stik Northern Premier League Premier Division and the embarrassing/horrifying/amusing (delete to taste) experiences of Droylsden FC, long since condemned to relegation to First Division North (level 8 of the Pyramid, and the lowest level at which the club has played in its existence). It’s been car crash fascination with the Bloods, who are firmly in the Bust cycle of the Boom that peaked with their solitary year in the Conference Premier Division.

But most of the time my eyes have been directed much further up the table, of FC United of Manchester, the team formed by and for fans of Manchester United who found the 2005 takeover of the Old Trafford club one piece of commercialisation too far. FC was created as a Friendly Society, a members club that cannot be sold, and which exists to remind us of the old values of football, the joy of backing your own, and the true place of football at the heart of a community.

Needless to say, FC’s existence has always been controversial, but the comparatively massive level of its support enabled the club to get off to a flying start, with three years of unrelieved promotion getting them into the Northern Premier League Premier Division as early as 2008/9. The club has always been competitive at this level, and indeed has been the losing Play-Off Finalist in each of the last three seasons (the cruellest blow coming in 2012, when the Club lost 1-0 to Bradford Park Avenue, the goal coming in the last minute of extra-time).

This year, the club has spent virtually all its ime in the top half of the 24 tean Division, flirting with the fringe of the Play-Off places, until the beginning of February, when FC started a run of 12 consecutive League victories, that took them to the top of the table, in direct competition with Chorley for the League title, and automatic promotion.

Throughout this period, FC had the advantage both of games in hand on Chorley, and a superior goal-difference. And beating Chorley 1-0 away was a massive boost to FC’s ambitions. That is, until Droylsden took an unexpected hand in the destination of the title. Their 13-1 crash at Chorley reversed the goal-difference advantage, giving Chorkey a lead that, in practical terms, was unassailable. It was like their having an extra point: even if FC won their remaining game in hand, and drew level on points, Chorley’s goal difference would keep them ahead.

Unfortunately, FC’s streak ran out. The return game at Gigg Lane was almost a disaster, with Chorley taking a 2-0 lead, until a dramatic two goals in three minutes, very late on, brought FC back to claim a point. Then FC were beaten at home last Saturday by perennial bogies, Buxton, though they bounced back to win their game in hand, trouncing Grantham 3-0.

So: it’s Easter weekend. ThePemiership may have forgotten old traditions that favoured the fans, but they’re alive in the Evo-Stik League: there are full programmes on Easter Saturday and Easter Monday, and the final round of games is six days later, Saturday 16 April. It’ll all be known then: who goes up, who goes into the Play-Offs. It might well be over for FC United by theend of Monday.

Currently, Chorley top the table with 90 points and a G-D of 62. FC are second, on 87 points and a G-D of 51. AFCFylde are also still contenders, also on 87 points with a G-D of 51, but FC are placed above them having scored 9 goals to Fylde’s 90. Technically, the title is not beyond fourth place Witton Albion (84 points, G-D 34, and the League’s highest tally of goals, 116) but realistically, they should be looked on as a threat to second place.

Tomorrow, Chorley are away to 12th place Whitby Town, and on Monday at home to 20th place Marine, still in danger of filling the last relegation place. FC are at 15th place Stamford tomorrow, and entertain 5th place Ashton United on Monday. Fylde host 16th place Grantham Town on Saturday and visit 6th place Skelmersdale United on Monday, whilst Witton go to 14th place Barwell tomorrow and face 7th place Rushall Olympic at home on Monday.

To be honest, short of miracles, I can’t see Chorley dropping points in either of their games, especially not on Easter Monday, which puts the onus on FC to win both games. I mean, they know that anyway, it’s got to be three-out-of-three, whatever Chorley do, but if FC drop a point this weekend – and the Ashton game is going to be tough, since they’ll be desperate to maintain their Play-Off place – then the title is gone.

Fylde also have one ‘easy’ and one ‘hard’ game this weekend, but Skelmersdae are a different propisition to Ashton: they were contesting the title themselves until about six weeks ago, since when a results freefall has left them at risk of missing even the Play-Offs: anything less than matching Fylde’s record sees FC drop to third.

And the consequences of dropping out of second are serious. FC are guaranteed a Play-Off place already, but second is imperative as this will ensure home advantage in both semi-final and final, which FC have never had before, usually creeping in in 5th.

I haven’t minded FC’s years in the Evo-Stik Premier. The club needed to consolidate, to establish itself, rather than skyrocket too far too fast. But three years of PlayOff Final disappointment is at least one too many, and the time is ready to take that next step up in level, especially with FC United on course to start the 2014/15 season in their own grouns, the under-construction Broadhurst Park, in Moston, closer to Manchester United’s roots as Newton Heath.

It’s squeaky bum time, as a former Manchester United manager once put it. This may all seem remote to you, and of no imprtance whatsoever, but having had years of experience in Non-League football, I can assure you that the passions are the same, the stakes as important, and the disappointments as crushing. Manchester United have nothing left to play for, but FC United of Manchester have everything to play for, even if the reward is ‘only’ to move to within two levels of the Football League.

‘I don’t care about Rio/he don’t care about me/all we care about/is watching FC’.

A Universe in one Comic Book: Astro City (Vol. 3)# 11

I dunno.

Astro City‘s been back for almost a year now, and I’ve been waiting/wanting to catch fire over it, like I used to do, and it just isn’t happening. And issues like this aren’t going to do it for me, in fact they act as quite the opposite.

“The Sorceror’s Assistant” (giveaway reference to Dukas and Mickey Mouse) introduces the Silver Adept, greatest Good magician in all the Conjoined Worlds: strongest, busiest, most in demand and most disorganised. Her name’s Kim, by the way, and she’s a bit of a party girl on the sly. The Silver Adept used to base herself on Vancouver Island but, attracted by a ‘Silver Harmonic’ in Astro City, a ‘void’ to be filled, she’s moved to Astro City (if she’s talking about the Silver Agent, she’s not reacted that fast, given that he was executed forty years ago).

But, hey, the story’s not about the Silver Adept, or her world, or her magics, or about anything she does, or how she copes, of course it’s not about her. It’s about Raitha McCann instead. And who is Raitha when she’s at home? Why, she’s the Adept’s Executive Assistant, her PA, her Secretary.

Now there isn’t another superhero comic series would give us a story about this behind-the-scenes, what-it’s-really-like-to-live-in-a-superhero’s- world story. Only Astro City, which is an integral part of why we love the series. Only we don’t really need another one, and especially one that has no new insight, no unthought of corner, no new perspective on the effect the existence of superpowered characters has upon the world about them. Because this story adds nothing we haven’t already read.

Basically, Raitha McCann acts like a good PA to her over-committed boss. And that’s it. She answers e-mails, collects the post, packs her boss off where she should be going and juggles her schedule. Just when this day-in-the-life is well-established, there’s a crisis, at exactly the moment you expect Busiek to throw in a crisis to liven up the story, and Raitha solves this too. I’m sorry, Kurt, you’re still the only one doing this kind of thing, but now they’re starting to turn into a cliche in themselves.

There’s lots of interesting things in this issue, but the problem is that they’re all part of the background colour, not so much Kim the magic girl herself, but the realms in which she operates, but they’re the very things Busiek won’t expand upon. We’re only allowed to read a story about a glorified secretary, who is so resolutely blase about all the fantastic things going on about her that her major concern is getting off on time with her friends to go to their group Pottery Exhibition.

I’m sorry, this one’s a clunker, from start to finish. Which leaves me with a conundrum. I do not want to go around bad-mouthing Astro City month in, month out. I want to like it, I want to praise it, but I’m nowhere near getting out of it what I want to praise. Next month marks a year back in action. It also marks the first story not to be drawn by Brent Anderson, as Graham Nolan pencils and inks a non-fill-in. I’ll blog that, but afterwards I’m suspending this feature, unless and until I see the series meeting my expectations at last. It’s not like Salamander, I’m not enjoying ripping into this, and anyway Busiek’s not producing anything remotely so piss-takeworthy where I can have fun.

Over to you, Mr Busiek.

Theatre Nights: The Hourman

Sandman Mystery Theatre  29-32. Dramatis personae: Matt Wagner (plotter), Steven T. Seagle (scripter), Guy Davis (artist).
The curtain rises, the stage lights glow into life, an expectant audience hushes, its chatter diminished to a mere mumble.
The Hourman represents a change in direction for the Mystery Theatre. All the plays thus far in this season have, in true pulp noir manner, named themselves luridly for the villain. For the first time, the subject of the latest play is another hero.
Yes, against all expectations, the Mystery Theatre addresses itself ro the first time to the world forthcoming, to the era of superheroes, of people doing things that the hitherto strict reality of the Theatre has been utterly inimical to. Wagner and Seagle have teased hints here and there to Ted (Wildcat) Grant and Dr Charles (Dr Mid-Nite) McNider, and there will be future teases, but this story is directly concerned with the actual appearance of one of the Sandman’s future Justice Society colleagues, his fellow Adventure Comics alumnus, the Hourman.
The result is, despite the presence of the requisite thuggishness and brutality, despite the look at the underbelly of New York life, despite another instance of the casual, unthinking racism that pervaded that world, an oddly buoyant and upbeat story.
In part this is because Wesley and Dian have reconciled their differences, and have enjoyed ‘several weeks’ of delight in each other (by day as well as by night), during which Wesley’s prophetic dreams have been few, mild and unfocussed, thus removing the presence of the Sandman from their equation, in part it is the season, the story starting on Christmas Eve and climaxing on New Year’s Eve 1938, and in part because the story spends so much of its time in following Rex ‘Tick Tock’ Tyler, the ‘Man of the Hour’, who is an altogether more zestful and forceful crimefighter, enjoying the battle without suffering the kind of torments that drive the Sandman.
And, of course, this ‘superhero’ is genuinely super, which, until now, we faithful Theatre-goers would have sworn was a genuine impossibility in the world so lovingly detailed by Messrs Wagner, Seagle and especially Davis. Yet, without the slightest sense of strain or artificiality, reality expands to encompass Tyler’s more-than-human strength, speed and resilience.
Once again, to compensate, the villain of the piece is no mastermind or flamboyant obsessive. His name is Lennie, and in a disturbing (and ultimately irritating) echo of Dave Sim’s Cerebus, Lennie refers to Lennie as Lennie on every occasion that Lennie’s views, opinions, suspicions, paranoias and hatreds arise: Lennie has obviously never encountered the word ‘I’.
Lennie is the boss of the Breezy Boys, a cheap gang so named because they congregate at Breezy’s Pool Hall. Lennie is, quite frankly, thick as pigshit, and hates getting told what to do, especially when it’s by somebody who knows more than him, a category that clearly encompasses pretty near everybody, especially the Hood (a man wearing a sackcloth hood, rather than any great mastermind) who is hiring the Breezy Boys to pull a New Year’s Eve job.
But it’s the Breezy Boys who pull in the Man of the Hour, a tall, dark-haired, dark-glassed man in a trenchcoat with its collar pulled up around his face. We hear of him before we see him: on Christmas Day, Humphries (whose daughter Etta has been delayed, sailing from England) points out the Man’s newspaper ad, offering personal services to those in need of assistance.
Wesley, who hasn’t been dreaming for several weeks whilst he and Dian have been enjoying a wonderful time, is amused at the idea of another like him advertising, which neatly sets up the atmosphere for the aforesaid Man, even though his involvement is to try to keep the unemployed Jerry Kenton from falling in with the Breezy Boys.
The Man’s responding to a letter from Jerry’s desperate wife, who has two kids and no money, not to mention a significant drunk on most days. The playwrights don’t shrink from depicting a far-from-storybook marriage: cheap tenement, domestic violence, shrieking kids and paying the rent with blow-jobs, but it’s significant that the moment the Man intervenes, and Jerry gets the worst of it off Lennie (who humiliates Jerry by forcing him to provide a blow-job of his own on Lennie), his wife defends the hapless weakling against his supposed saviour.
But all of this sordid but real portrayal is but a backcloth to the sheer insouciance of the Man of the Hour facing the Breezy Boys down. From the pool cue that shatters itself rather than the Man’s head, to the poolball he crushes in his fist, the fight is unequal, and the Man’s delight in his own strength and invulnerability tides us through the implausible scene and leaves us convinced that the unreality of superpowers can be a true component of the Mystery Theatre.
Longer term readers know the Man of the Hour to be Rex Tyler, so we’re far from surprised to see Wesley Dodds being hunted as an investor by Alexander Bannermain of Bannermain Chemicals, who puts pressure on Wes and Dian (whose name he can never remember) to attend the New Year’s Eve Beaux Art and costume ball. Bannermain introduces Dodds to his head of Research, Rex Tyler, from whom Wes will soon seek ‘internal information’.
Not because of an interest in investing, but because the moment Wes meets Rex, the Sandman’s dreams return, with Rex at their centre.
Interestingly, Davis doesn’t draw any of the several dreams that push Wes onwards. Instead, Wes relates these to Dian in words. There is a subtle reason for this: Dian is happy and content, in love and fulfilled, but despite that her feelings about the Sandman are still far from resolved. Davis hints at this with some subtle expressions on Miss Belmont’s face as Wes relates dreams: there is an underlying revulsion there.
Whilst Wes pursues Rex Tyler, whilst the weakling Jerry pursues the immediate security of Lennie’s circle, whilst Rex pursues the rush of his physical abilities, Dian begins to wake from her private dream of happiness. Catherine Van Der Meer, from The Tarantula, reappears, recovering from her traumas, to remind Dian that she has gone too deep within herself. She chides herself for not having been to the United Way in weeks, for forgetting her diary, forgetting her eventual career.
And Wes’s obsession with his dream-driven role dominates his conversations with her. Again, it’s cued more by expressions than in her inner dialogue, but Dian is starting to become uncomfortable at being automatically second fiddle, though she represses it come the Beaux Art Ball, even though she’s clearly only of concern as the Sandman’s assistant, not as Wesley Dodds’ love on New Year’s Eve. After all,there’s a threat that the famous Bannermain necklace will be stolen.
Though not even the Sandman knows yet that murder is also planned, not to be carried out by the clearly homicidal Lennie, but rather by a hired assassin: the Face.
So the story, and the year of 1938, culminates on New Year’s Eve. Though Dian has planned a matching pair of costumes for then, Wes’s absorption in his investigation has cost him the time for the fitting to be made so he has to find an ad hoc costume that clashes horribly with his fair companion. Needless to say, in a glorious in-joke, it also clashes with any aesthetic sense, being an acrobat’s costume in yellow-and-purple: yes, the Sandman’s second 1940s costume, a superhero skintight which looks like nothing o Earth on dumpy, short-sighted Wesley Dodds.
And Wesley’s disguise as the actual Sandman is quickly penetrated by Tyler who, inspired by the Sandman’s mask, and having decided to contract his soubriquet to Hourman, has sewn his own acrobat’s costume, in black and yellow (overlaid by colourist Richard Hornung’s prevailing sepia tint to lend an added plausibility to the sight).
Despite the Sandman’s sniffiness about working strictly alone, the two costumed heroes agree to cover each other’s back, which leads to a classic rooftop finale of multiple double-crossings and a final, seemingly fatal fall for Lennie and the Hourman, who has taken a shotgun blast to the chest. The Hood is dead, Lennie dies, the Face is captured, and in an epilogue page, Dodds and Tyler – who clearly like each other despite their wildly different backgrounds, temperaments and approaches – share a beer whilst Tyler confirms he’s giving up being Hourman whilst he learns a lot more about Miraclo and its effects.
All in all, The Hourman is a cheerful, indeed upbeat story, despite its quotient of death and violence. And it opens a door into the fantastic that the Theatre will begin to enter, always with its feet firmly anchored to reality. More figures from DC’s history will appear in the next run of plays.
And Wagner/Seagle also have their eye to the ebb and flow of life. Etta Humphries appears briefly (I am sorry, but the name strikes a false note with me as an English girl clearly born in the early 1910s), though she will have a part to play in eventual course, as do the seemingly trivial Darrigo brothers, Shelley and Fabio, backers of Bannermain with shady money, pulp publishers arguing about where their market may next go. Will heroes be the next thing? And in what way will they be influenced by the sight of a man in a yellow-and-purple, masked acrobat’s costume.
It’s not just the extension of the in-joke that it here appears to be.
So 1938 ends on an unexpectedly light-hearted note. Many would see the introduction of a superhero – at one point, Tyler effortlessly runs ahead of a car, even though it’s running at 40mph – as a betrayal of the intent of the Mystery Theatre and its depiction of real times. As Sandman Mystery Theatre was published by DC’s Vertigo imprint, a separate division committed to publishing anything but superheroes, I can’t see the move as representing commercial pressure to increase sales, but rather the recognition that, if time was going to pass, the age when superheroes started to appear would soon arrive.
It would not dominate the Mystery Theatre. But it would return.
The lights dim. The curtain falls. The actors retreat beyond the proscenium arch, to await their next call to performance, in a play entitled The Python.
Break a leg.

57 but not 44?

A year ago, just before the semi-finals of the FA Cup, I posted a blog with reference to Wigan Athletic’s potential first ever Final appearance – a tremendous feat for a club that I remember actually winning election to the football League, and bucking a trend in doing so (Wigan were the only Northern club to be elected between 1958 when the Fourth Division was founded and the advent of promotion from the Conference: every other case was a Southern club elected to replace a Northern team).
The point of the piece was that a Wigan would make them no. 56, but it was highly unlikely that they would be no. 43 as well.
The meaning of those numbers was simple: Wigan would indeed set a landmark by becoming the 56th team to reach an FA Cup Final since the world’s oldest trophy was inaugurated in the 1871-72 season, and as we all so thrillingly know, they beat the odds to become only the 43rd team to lift the Cup.
It’s a hell of a coincidence, but the same situation has arisen in 2014.
This year’s FA Cup Finalists are Arsenal, long-standing Premiership giants, with ten FA Cup wins under their belt, just one short of the record held by Manchester United, and Hull City, first-time finalists, the fifty-seventh team to reach the Cup Final, and the potential 44th Winners.
How likely is that? For a start, I reckon that whilst Arsenal are obvious favourites in the same way that Manchester City seemed nailed on last year, they’re not as strong or as evidently superior as the Blues.
For one thing, it is nine years since Arsenal last secured silverware, a period during which they have consistently fallen away when faced with the opportunity to end that increasingly embarrassing run. After all, whilst they reached the Final at the expense of the holders, who are now a Championship side, they did it by coming from behind and even then only securing victory via a penalty shoot-out.
And on the other hand, where Wigan came to Wembley last season distracted by the threat of relegation (which duly came after the stunning conclusion to the Final), Hull, whilst not out of danger yet, look increasingly likely to be secure by the time the game is played.
So: will it happen again?
No-one will know the answer until the day of the game itself, though you can easily imagine which way my sympathies will be swinging, even before we take into account that Hull’s manager is good old Captain Courageous, the ex-Manchester United centre-back, Steve Bruce.
If history has any influence on the matter, Hull may well be in luck. Before Wigan, the last first-time winners were Wimbledon (who are now one of nine FA Cup Winners who no longer exist), but Wimbledon’s improbable win over Liverpool was exactly one year after Coventry City shocked Tottenham Hotspur by winning their first and only Cup.
Two First Time Finalists and Winners in a row has been done before. The Hand of History beckons…

Saturday Eurocrime: update

To my shock and horror, BBC4 is not offering Wales’s latest contribution to Eurocrime television next Saturday, as I predicted. There is no Saturday Eurocrime lined up for Saturday 19 April. Instead, there is a film.

I am hoping that this criminal omission is merely to account for the Easter weekend, and that normal international murder, crime, corruption and excursions into the deeper regions of the human soul will be restored thereafter. But there will be no Saturday Eurocrime post next week.

Maybe I should dig the DVD out and have The Killing 2 marathon?

Saturday Eurocrime: Inspector De Luca 4

Head of Vice

And so our sojourn in mid-century Italy, and its volatile political background,comes to a somewhat indeterminate end with the final Inspector De Luca of four. ‘Via Delle Oche’ adapts the final book of Carlo Lucarelli’s trilogy, in which the theme appears to be that of return, albeit a temporary one. It’s full of old faces, returning characters and the dispersal of people that accompanies the end of an era.

The final story is set in April 1948, almost four years after ‘The Damned Season’. There’s no explanation of what happened to De Luca after his arrest and return to Bologna last week (Lucarelli avoids this in the book, I am given to understand), although it becomes clear that he managed to convince the authorities of the time that he had nothing to do with the shooting of the partisan at the roadblock (or perhaps more accurately, that there was no evidence that he was involved). But De Luca has only just been allowed to rejoin Democratic Italy’s revised Police Force, but only to act as Head of Bologna’s Vice Squad.

How that might have worked out is debatable, but the first person De Luca meets at HQ is good old faithful Pugliese, Watson to his Holmes. Pugliese’s on his way out to a murder and wants the Inspector’s expertise, and anyway it’s appropriate: the man’s died in a brothel, after all.

Perhaps I should point out that at this time, and in Bologna at least, prostitution is legal, albeit under strictly-defined rules. As Head of Vice, De Luca’s role is going to be that of Regulator rather than Investigator, a virtually civil post, not criminal. He’s there, as his Deputy Chief, Dambrogio, points out, to make sure decent citizens don’t get the clap.

However, De Luca is De Luca. He hasn’t changed from the start, and certainly not physically: ten years pass between ‘Unauthorised Investigation’ and ‘Via Delle Oche’ but Achille De Luca looks the same (except for his suit, which, with loving detail, is considerably more shabby in post-War Italy than under the serenity of Il Duce). The dead man is found hanged, which has Pugliese ready to write it off as suicide, until De Luca reconstructs the scene, demonstrating that the dead man is too short to reach down to the stool he supposedly kicked away – or did he leap upwards to thrust his head through the noose?

That’s one characteristic about this final story: it’s full of absurdities and sly quips that had me constantly giggling throughout. Most of these come from poor, put-upon Pugliese, married, about to be a father, devoted to his Inspector but as always wishing to go with the flow and not cause trouble with his superiors. Who are not like De Luca at all.

Because it’s the same old story: the Police aren’t supposed to investigate certain crimes, certain people. Deputy Chief Dambrogio, a committed Christian Democrat, a hater of the Communists, overrules Pugliese and declares the death a suicide. De Luca, in the face of such opposition, and from a position of vulnerability, refuses to let go.

It’s a fraught time: in four days, Democratic Italy will hold its first post-War Elections. Tension is high. The country is afraid of Revolution. Propaganda is everywhere. Christian Democrats or Communists? God or Stalin? Overendelli, respected leader of a more or less Fascist party, has died. A lot of dirty stuff is going on. Dambrogio is blatantly CD. There are more familiar faces than Pugliese: the Flying Squad includes Guido Leonardi from Sant’Alberto, now a proper Policeman and grateful to De Luca for his mentorship, but still a Communist.

De Luca still doesn’t care. He believes in the Law, and the chance after so many years to serve it one more has re-energised him. Not only is this a slyly funny episode throughout, but Alessandro Preziosi pitches De Luca at a more upbeat level than before. There is no weariness, no vestige of De Luca’s previous reluctance at the battle, he’s out to solve this murder (and the other deaths that follow in its wake), and there’s an almost recklessness to him when, having pieced everything together, he takes his report to the new, post-Election Chief, identifying Dambrogio as an essential part of the cover-up.

Unfortunately for the non-existence of truth and justice in mid-Century Italy, the Christian Democrats have comfortably won the Election, Leonardi is already on his way out of the Police, aiming at politics himself, and the new Chief is Dambrogio.

It’s here that the episode seems to go off the rails. Dambrogio threatens De Luca with the reopening of his case, three years ago: Rasetto is to go on trial and new evidence might ‘appear’. We jump forward three months: Pugliese’s daughter has been born, it’s her Christening, De Luca, all smiles, attends but the photo is interrupted by a call to defend the city against riots: a communist leader has been shot in Parliament, revolution is feared. De Luca manages to beat the crowd to the Fascist HQ, where the late Overendelli’s successor is burning photos – the photos that might have proved De Luca’s case, even now. That De Luca is playing such a role suggests that he has played along.

But that does not seem to be enough. Pugliese has been posted back South, after ten years, and is taking Graziella and Angela home: it’s the last time he will see De Luca. Rasetto’s hearings start today: rather than lay completely low, De Luca has asked to be heard. Whatever happens, he will no longer be a Policeman after this…

There’s one more old face to factor in now, one that I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning before now, despite her being deeply involved in the cover up of the four murders. She and De Luca have clashed throughout. She’s been rude, uncaring, aggressive and seductive, drawing De Luca back into bed with her for the statutory sexual encounter of each episode, although this one is more freighted with meaning than the last couple of weeks. Fortune-teller turned brothel-keeper, and of course whore in her own right, Valeria Suvich is once again face to face with De Luca.

And despite the intense anger the two arouse in each other, despite the brutality he has twice now exerted over her to get the information he needs, Valeria has come to De Luca before he attends his ‘trial’ that we all know will end his career as an investigator and servant of a Law that has allowed itself to become too corrupted to deserve his faithfulness, simply to be there. There’s a hint that, once they are no longer forced to be on different sides, the pair may actually suit each other: having screwed her passionately several times, De Luca asks her out on a dinner date.

But it’s all left to the viewer’s imagination, as is right and proper. A thousand endings may thus be conjured up, at no time or expense, though I’m bound to say that, despite enjoying this series over the last four weeks (and for more reasons than it not being Salamander), I end up feeling like I know far too little about Achille De Luca to even speculate as to what may happen after the final shot.

The series, like the books, has chosen to focus almost exclusively upon De Luca the cop. When he is not in pursuit of the truth, in the face of any kind of institution that wants to protect its people from punishment, we have learned surprisingly little about him. He likes coffee, and he’ll shag the most improbable of women. But that’s it. No outside interests, no family, no background, not even where in Italy he’s from. That side of thing has not been helped by Preziosi’s determined underplaying of the character: even at his most forthright and active this week, nothing has been given away. I can’t imagine where De Luca might go from here because I have no idea where he’s already been.

Still, I’ve been interested in where he’s gone when we’ve travelled together, and the recreation of this period in Italy’s affairs has been worth the time for me. So, whatever you did end up doing, Achille De Luca, and whether you and Valeria got anything going, I wish you well of it. Though I don’t think it’s going to do you any good not having murders to solve.

Next week, the Eurocrime slot rolls forward to, er, Wales, with the (I hope) English language version of a series titled Hinterland, which has been a co-production with S4C, and shown in the Welsh language on that Channel last year. It’s apparently somewhat Scandi-influenced, which can only be to the good, but we’ll talk about episode 1 of that next Sunday, ok?