The Fall Season: Supergirl


Why does every TV superhero’s costume have to be fourteen shades darker than the comics?

There’s been a bit of a wait for this latest addition to the superhero TV genre, with most the rest of the shows three-to-four weeks into the season, but Supergirl is now officially with us and the pilot, though far from flawless, suggests this is going to be an enjoyable series.

It was familiar territory to begin with: the pilot escaped about five months ago and I watched it then and enjoyed it first time round. I haven’t compared the two in detail, but the official broadcast version seems to have added no more than the title card and the credits. So, how did it play?

For one thing, not only does this show have a female lead – which is going out on a limb in itself – but it’s a female-dominated cast. As well as Melissa Benoist, who knocks it out of the park for three-quarters of the episode, both as Kara Danvers and Supergirl, there’s Chyler Leigh as her adoptive sister Alex – a DEO operative and xenobiologist – and Callista Flockhart having the calm-centred, still-faced time of her life as media Mogul Cat Grant.

The producers have played about a bit with the backstory: Kara starts off aged 13, following her baby cousin Kal-El to Earth to act as his protector but by a twist of fate delayed en route for 24 years, by which time baby Kal was a baby no longer and certainly not in need of protection.

The still 13 year old Kara, robbed of her purpose, is adopted by the Danvers (a touching cameo and the promise of a recurring role, the parts being played by Helen (Supergirl) Slater and Dean (Superman) Cain) and despite an ardent desire to help others, had foresworn the use of her powers only to climb the ladder as far as hapless, put-upon, slightly geeky, slightly ditzy PA to the bitchy Ms Grant.

(Actually, for all she’s attempting to look and act a bit dowdy, a bit naive, overgrown schoolgirl, Benoist looks utterly charming and delightful. By the end, when her confidence has grown a bit, she’s progressed from unfashionable tops and pants to a quite sleek, cream dress, and looks a lot less interesting.)

The story gets kick-started when a National City plane carrying sister Alex starts to circle the city with two engines on fire. Kara, who’s just been bummed out on a date with a cheap sleazebag, reminds herself how to fly and hauls up into the sky to guide the plane safely down to a splash landing on the river.

The way this is handled is definitely influenced by The Flash, though Kara’s sheer delight at the adrenaline rush of using her powers at long last is the show’s own making. It’s clear that an underlying lightness of spirit will buoy up the show, though there’s also enough serious shit revealed to ensure a constant struggle lies ahead.

This unfolds in two principle areas. Firstly, there’s the aforementioned DEO, or Department of Extranormal Operations, a covert Governmennt organisation set-up after the Man of Steel first appeared, to protect Earth against alien invasion. It’s run by Hank Henshaw (aka, in the comics, the Cyborg Superman, a Reed Richards analogue and deep-dyed villain) who doesn’t trust any aliens. He’s played by David Harewood and he’s a bit of a cliche thus far, not to mention one that sounds almost exactly like David (Diggle) Ramsey on Arrow.

The other is the handy dandy source of special effects fights for the season to come. This is Fort Razz, a piece of Krypton that survived the planet’s total destruction completely intact, and which somehow, conveniently, got pulled to Earth in the wake of Kara’s own craft. Fort Razz was Krypton’s version of a prison for psychotic madmen (and women), all of whom have superpowers on Earth. They’ve been underground for a decade but now they’re starting to plot something.

It’s by far and away the weakest part of the set-up, even if their leader, the General (Zod?) turns out to be Kara’s auntie from Krypton, sister of mother Allura and, since Laura Bernanti is playing both, presumably her twin.

It’s the weakest because it’s a cheap cliche, though the pilot did run it close in what, hopefully, will be a bad turn restricted only to this episode. Big sister Alex, before her DEO affiliation was revealed, did try to stomp hard on Kara’s moment of glory, feeding her the old ‘for your own protection’ line. And when Kara ignored her and got collected by the DEO, Alex was still at it, undermining her sister, belittling her, to the point that Kara did indeed decide she was crap at this and gave up.

Whereupon Alex immediately switched 180 degrees, became all ‘you can do it girl!’ and sisterly support, which came out of virtual nowhere. Left to itself, it would have been just another cliche moment, tiresome but not unexpected, but it had ladled onto it all Alex’s repressed sibling rivalry, about the star of the family being immediately outshone by the ‘new baby’.

It stood out as in total contrast to the rest of the show, to the primarily upbeat atmosphere, and came close to sinking the episode right there.

However, we got through that moment intact, and ready for stronger and more confident displays in weeks to come.

Can’t leave the show without mentioning the two remaining cast members. Mehcad Brooks plays Jimmy, no sorry, James Olsen, expanding his horizons and keeping a friendly eye on the little cousin of his pal in blue (apart from the one mention upfront, the script works overtime to avoid saying the word Superman: that must be one helluva rights issue), and not incidentally jacking up her hormone levels a tad or two.

And Jeremy Jordan plays co-worker Winn, conspiracy theorist, computer wizz, designer of singularly inappropriate Supergirl costumes, confidante and admirer of the geeky Kara before she revealed herself as being more than just a coffee-supplier to the Boss Lady.

It’s not until I turned to the cast list that I discovered Winn’s full name is Winslow Schott. Winslow has been around the Superman universe since 1943 as the super-villain, the Toyman. Hmmm.

Take all in all, Supergirl looks good and looks as if it could get better, especially if it keeps to the Flash end of the spectrum. Melissa Benoist is perfect for the part and she certainly fits the costume which, apart from the above knee-length red cavalier boots, sticks to the classic format. I’ll stick with this one.

We’re on our way to Wembley…


Broadhurst Park, Moston

Well, here’s a thing.

Five years ago, FC United of Manchester, in only their third season in the FA Cup, reached the First Round Proper for the first time. As I have written elsewhere, the Red Rebels were drawn away to Rochdale, a tie that was an eerie echo of my previous FA Cup experiences with Droylsden who, on only their second foray into the Cup proper, had played – and won – at Rochdale in the First Round.

FC United won that tie, but were knocked out in a Second Round replay by Brighton & Hove Albion, the then League One leaders and the highest ranking team in the competition. But they couldn’t beat us at home.

At the weekend, FC played away in the Fourth Qualifying Round to Sporting Khalsa of the West Midland League, three levels down. They win, 3-1, to reach the First Round Proper for the first time since Rochdale.

Once again, the eerie hand of coincidence strikes, for who should they have drawn that once again looms large in Droylsden’s FA Cup history but Chesterfield (read here).

The bastard of it is, from my point of view, that the tie is to be played on Saturday November 7, at home. November 7 is a working weekend for me. I’m not even back in work for another two days to see if there’s a faint chance of there being enough capacity to get that Saturday off.

But, bloody hell, how many times is my personal history going to shadow FC United in the Cup?

The Grand Tour of the Lakes: Stage One – East to South


Windermere from a low level

Back in those dim, distant days when my only knowledge of the Lake District came from family holidays, we would occasionally be tripped up by rainy days. At first, these would only occur on Fridays, which meant the almost traditional drive north, over Dunmail Raise, to wander around Keswick, slickered up in raincoats, before it cleared after lunch and we would park for a couple of hours by the Derwent, down the valley.
A couple of times, however, the rains would come on other days of the week, and on one memorable occasion, my family gave way to my ceaseless clamour to see Lakes I had not previously visited, and we went driving. At first, it would be the old familiar route via the Wycham Valley to the coast, and Ravenglass, as if for Wasdale or Eskdale. But instead, we followed the coast further north, as far as Egremont, and then turned off towards Cold Fell, and the moors to Ennerdale, and beyond that to Loweswater and the Buttermere Valley and, to my astonishment, given how my Uncle guarded his car, over Honister Pass and down into Borrowdale.
I remember this for being my first sightings of Ennerdale Water, Loweswater, Crummock Water and Buttermere, and the efforts my Uncle made to find temporary stopping places that enabled me to take black and white photos of these new Lakes.
This was long ago, and in the years following, I have driven all these roads, and seen these Lakes and Valleys several times over. But I never did the Grand Tour for myself. The days were usually too good not to be walking, and those days when the fells were impossible were so bad for rain and cloud that the Tour would have been no more than driving for the sake of it, with little to see.
For the past six years I have not had access to a car, and once you are reliant on public transport to reach the Lakes, let alone navigate about it when you are there, the Western Lakes and these valleys that face the Irish Sea are far beyond the possibility of visit.
That doesn’t deprive me of the memories, and when fortunes and mobility change for the better, one of the first things I have promised myself is to spend a day doing the Grand Tour. I’ve thought about it many times, and I’ve devised it so that, in a single day, it’s possible to see thirteen of the traditionally Sixteen Lakes, without much backing, filling and contrivance.
I’ve mentioned before that my family used to confine themselves almost exclusively to the south west quarter of Lakeland, from Grasmere round to Wasdale. I’ve always been much more cosmopolitan, splitting my holidays between Ambleside and Keswick when it came to bases, and making sure of going everywhere I could. So many sights of which my family deprived themselves, and I don’t just mean the fells I’ve climbed.
Our tour, my Tour, goes round in a circle. The whole point of a circular tour is that you can join it at any point on its circumference, but my instincts always lead me to start and finish in Ambleside. On the other hand, whilst I tend to the opposite in horseshoe walks, the Grand Tour progresses gloriously clockwise.
Remember, there’s thirteen Lakes to be collected, and the first of these, Windermere, appears almost immediately. On the Coniston road, less than a half mile out of Ambleside, the trees thin to reveal a long vista down the Lake, almost to the islands opposite Bowness. I’ve never seen this view without a forest of white masts and sails.

Elterwater – the Lake that will one day vanish

I’ve probably travelled the Ambleside – Coniston road more often than any other in the Lakes, passenger and driver, enough to be familiar with every bend and bump in the road, enough to drive it in ten foot visibility fog if I needed to. So I know that when the road passes the mouth of Great Langdale, crosses Skelwith Bridge and begins to climb through the trees, that as soon as it emerges into the open, Elterwater is visible below in the lower valley. It’s hard to see, both because the lake has shrunk considerably in my lifetime, from a small, tarn sized lake with facing promontories, to three connected pools that, within the next fifty years, will no doubt seize up and disappear.
It’s also very difficult for a driver to see it, since it lies downhill at a backwards angle on the right, so it’s sensible to pull into the first layby on the other side of the road and get out for a proper look.
Next stop is Coniston, entering the Village from the north. It’s far too early in the day to stop, but at this point I want to backtrack and refer to an alternate start to the route, that sacrifices the distant glimpse of Elterwater for a much more up front encounter with pastoral Esthwaite Water.
Personally, Esthwaite Water has never done anything for me. It’s a secluded Lake that lies among fields and hedges rather than on the fringe of the hill country, and it is the hill country that always enthrals me. Whilst it’s not far away in miles, nor obscure of access, Esthwaite feels as if it is much further away from the fells than it actually is. Bringing it into the walk involves sidestepping the familiar Ambleside-Coniston road entirely, in favour of the road to Waterhead and Bowness.
This has its advantages in extended and more intimate views of the upper half of Windermere, including the classic view of the Langdale Pikes, always looking much closer than they are in real geography. On the other hand, this approach risks considerable delays, both in driving through Bowness Bay and crossing the Lake on the ferry. Especially if you pull up on the Bowness shore just in time to see the boat cranking away on its chains on the slow journey towards the western shore, with the return journey yet to come.

Esthwaite Water – a lake of trees and fields

Once across the Lake, the road winds through idyllic country lanes, the signposts to Near and Far Sawrey invoking the inevitable associations with the late Mrs Heelis – that’s Beatrix Potter to you – and eventually the alternate routes round Esthwaite Water itself, which is calm, peaceful and beautiful, but it’s a beauty that doesn’t below to the Lakes, a beauty from which ruggedness of any kind is absent. You might as well be down south.
Hawkshead lies at the head of the lake. It’s a very expensive place to visit as cars have been barred all my life, and the car and coach parks have set their prices on the exclusive rights basis, and to be honest, even if this is Midsummer’s day and you’ve set off at sparrowfart, there isn’t enough time to stop off and visit, so continue driving north.
This road leads back to the Ambleside-Coniston road, only a couple of miles outside the village. You could still include Elterwater by doing this, and increase the number of Lakes to fourteen, but it really does mean a bit too much faffing around for something that’s supposed to be a roughly circular tour, so let’s not. Instead, a mile or so north of the village, a road turns off towards Coniston, rising gently to cross the low ridge east of the Lake, and descending in steep bends to round the head of Coniston Water, whilst offering some spectacular views over the lake. From the lake head, follow the road on into the Village from the East, to rejoin the main route.
Which, despite the relatively short distance traveled, is a suitable point to say that Stage One, from East to South, has been completed.

Coniston Water in conditions of calm

Saturday SkandiCrime: Arne Dahl – Requiem


Kerstin Holm

If the BBC want us to take Arne Dahl seriously, then they should not preface it with a trailer for The Bridge 3, and especially not one that was soundtracked by Johnny Cash’s lacerating version of “Hurt”. It’s too blatant a reminder of the exceptional, and even though that part of the trailer that did not consist of flashbacks to Martin’s arrest at the end of The Bridge 2 were nothing more than Sara’s motionless face, sat behind the wheel of a car, staring at the titular Bridge, it contained more dramatic tension than the whole two parts of this week’s Adventures in Crime-Solving with A-Group.

‘Requiem’ started with a bank robbery, with hostages, one of which was Kerstin Holm. The robbers killed two people and escaped via a meticulously planned escape route with 20 million krone and the thing they were actually after, though ‘it’ turned out to be incomplete.

A-Group was set to put its massive collective brainpower to the solving of who, what, why and what the hell ‘it’ was. It was Sweden’s top six cops, plus Paul Hjelm, who you just can’t keep out of it despite his being in a totally different department, versus a total of five people, not all of whom were in the same side.

These baddies amounted to a slightly baby-faced computer whizz, backed by a laid-back older guy with a goatee, who may or may not have been behind everything, two common or garden Russian thugs who were probably ex-KGB (or Ka-Jha-Ba, as the Swedes so inelegantly pronounce it) and were too bloody stupid for words, and a grim-faced, white-haired guy with rimless spectacles who was apparently an American holiday-maker, who shot most of the bad guys at one point or another, without having it away on his toes with ‘it’. Oh, and he never opened his mouth once and still terrified Goatee-guy (maybe he’s got baaaaaaaad breath?). This though Goatee-guy was seriously ex-KGB, and the mysterious boss of a major crime syndicate.

‘It’, for those who managed to stay awake long enough under the relentless tedium, turned out to be thirty-year old plans for the potentially mythical Cold Fusion. Baby-faced technology Professor, who had young Ida gazing up from under lashes and fringe from the moment she first saw him, denied that it would work, but still nipped off with photos of the blueprints and a keen idea of how to use them to make himself incredibly rich.

For those of us assuming we’d be watching a crime drama, there was sad disappointment in all the twists and turns, along domestic cul-de-sacs, as we followed the little melodramas of people’s lives. Will Chavez and Sara’s marriage survive, given that he wants 12 children and she’d rather stick with the one they’ve got, which he can barely handle bringing up anyway? Has Kerstin acted too soon by taking up with Bengt, just because he cares for her deeply, is instinctively supportive and wants to be a father figure to her son? Is Paul still the biggest horse’s ass in Sweden, like he was in  series 1? (Oh yes he is, believe me).

Over two hours, I’d say there was definitely about forty minutes of story if you didn’t want to take things too fast, which was much the same as last week, only the two hours felt much longer. Series 1 was amiably dull, but series 2 is stretching patience that is already paper-thin when it seems likely that three more weeks of this separate us from The Bridge 3.

And it’s not as if the series can raise itself to be decently stupid or offensive so that I can snark it unmercifully.

People, this is going to be a trail…

Murphy Anderson, R.I.P.


His name won’t mean anything to you unless you’re a comic book fan, and maybe not then if you only started during the last twenty years and weren’t interested in the history of the field. Murphy Anderson, who has died aged 89, was one of my favourite artists during the Sixties, a comsummate professional, with a smooth, clear line, consistently excellent as penciller, inker or cover artist.

Anderson was part of Julius Schwartz’s little ‘stable’ throughout that part of the Sixties that saw the return of the superhero after a decade in the doldrums. He was in constant demand from Schwartz to ink the likes of Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane, and later Curt Swan, when Schwartz added Superman to his roster.

Anderson was also a penciller on Adam Strange, the space hopping Archaeologist who became the Defender of the Planet Rann. He was the artist who converted the revived  Hawkman from a flop to the star of his own four-year running series, and it was he who drew those wonderful, though commercially unavailing Golden Age revivals that I adored so much.

He was never an innovative artist, but he was a steady, reliable, and clear artist who told a story in a traditional fashion, with crisp panels unfolding infallibly. And he could draw bloody good redheads, which is why there’s a drawing of Hawkgirl up top.

Rest well, Mr Anderson, and thank you for all the fun and excitement you brought to me.

Worth seeing again.

Dan Dare: Green Nemesis


Having lived the dream of practically every Dan Dare fan who’s ever lived in writing a new story that had been drawn by two ‘real’ Eagle artists, Rod Barzilay got what he’d originally wanted: the chance to write a true ‘epic’ adventures, a story that would last forty episodes, and of course feature the Mekon as the protagonist.
Green Nemesis follows directly on from The Phoenix Mission, as a reconstituted Marco Polo expedition returns to the Sargasso to resume the original expedition and, this time, investigate Professor Peabody’s theory that the whole thing has been created by the destruction of the Red Moon. Given that the Prof’s theory centres upon the Moon and the Sea having been powered by a small and manipulable Black Hole, it’s hardly a surprise that it attracts the attention of Earth’s most implacable enemy.
I have to be honest and say that, enjoyable as it is, Green Nemesis is nothing like as successful as its predecessor. In part this is, unavoidably, due to the inconsistency of the art. Don Harley had agreed to continue drawing the revival, but upon the same conditions as before: that it should be fitted in around his other, ‘professional’ commitments. For something that involved nineteen pages, and which had an indefinite deadline, that was perfectly workable.
But Green Nemesis not only demanded eighty pages of work, it had a real deadline. Spaceship Away was published three times a year and it set out to publish three episodes of the story each issue. That meant eighteen pages a year. Barzilay had temporised when Harley had not yet made up his mind, contacting latter-day Dan Dare artist David Pugh to produce a splendid first page, but that still left seventy-nine, and Harley is no longer young.
Inevitably, things had to give. Barzilay had already been contacted by artist/writer Tim Booth, whose own new Dan Dare story, The Gates of Eden (coming up next) had started appearing in Spaceship Away. Booth was a natural choice to assist Harley in completing one page, and frequency was reduced to two episodes per issues.
But even at this rate, Green Nemesis was proving too time-consuming. When it became clear Harley would not be able to fit enough pages into his schedule, Booth was the obvious replacement. For a time, the art would alternate between the pair, as Harley was considered the number one choice, but eventually Booth took over the story completely (in parallel to The Gates of Eden, which he was also writing) until the story was done.
This artistic muddle did not help Green Nemesis one little bit, but the story was in any event a much less coherent affair from the outset. I said about The Phoenix Mission that Barzilay had, understandably, tried to cram too much into too little space. But now he had the space to justify the extended cast he’d devised, he made the mistake of dividing the story into too many strands.
Whilst the majority of post-Hampson stories had focussed upon Dan and Digby only, with very few and brief tangents into what other characters might be doing, Dan’s creator had never been averse to maintaining parallel tracks, centred upon multiple characters. Barzilay attempts to extend this approach, but is too ambitious. Counting the Mekon himself, there are four separate, interweaving, principle tracks in the body of the story, only two of which (Dan and Dig, the Professor and Uncle Ivor) feature major characters.
There are simply too many things going on, featuring unknown or minor characters for smooth reading. At three (or two) episodes every four months, I found the story sprawling and confusing, and reading the whole thing in a concentrated Spaceship Away session was little better. Only when I deliberately set out to read Green Nemesis as a whole, ignoring everything else, could I get a grasp of its structure, and follow the individual threads with understanding.
Leaving aside the complicated structure of the story, Barzilay continues to be ambitious in filling in elements of a coherent Dan Dare universe. He ventures towards a slightly more feminist milieu by bringing in another woman scientist, in the form of the Theron Katoona Kalon, granddaughter of the Theron President. President Kalon is missing, presumed dead, since the Treen Holocaust, and the Mekon spends a great deal of time trying to capture Katoona, including trying to tempt her to surrender by revealing that her grandfather lives, in suspended animation, like Dan’s friends.
That the President’s whereabouts on Venus are discovered off-screen, relieving Katoona of her emotional struggle, is a bit of a cop-out.
Barzilay had already, in The Phoenix Mission, introduced Dennis Steeper’s conception of the Union Wars that keep Red Tharl and Saturn out of the way for many years, and in Green Nemesis he goes one better, off his own bat, introducing into the derelict ships of the Sargasso the craft on which the late dictator, Vora, entered the Solar System, itself powered by two balanced suns that, together with the Sargasso’s black hole, threatens to destroy everybody before the job is done.
I’d like to like Green Nemesis better than I do, and whilst I wouldn’t hesitate to criticise, say, Eric Eden over his writing of an adventure, I’m loathe to do the same with Rod Barzilay. He’s not a professional writer. He’s a fan like me, and, more importantly, he’s done something that I don’t believe I could have done, and written no less than two whole Dan Dare stories. And he was candid on more than one occasion in Spaceship Away about the very flaws I’ve identified and where he’d gone wrong. I’ve no doubt that, given the chance of a re-write, he’d have done a much better job.
But whilst I think that Green Nemesis was flawed, confused and difficult to follow, which is a failing of Barzilay’s plotting, on the other hand, except in minor respects, his actual scripting is solid, his dialogue not just believable but believable in the mouths of characters we tell ourselves we know as intimately as our own family, and when I read Green Nemesis, I believe that I am reading Dan Dare, the Pilot of the Future.
Being aware of The Phoenix Mission when writing The Report of the Cryptos Commission, Denis Steeper included both that and Green Nemesis in the index of Dan’s adventures. Indeed, he went further, completing a trilogy with Ghosts of the Sargasso, a story that remains to be told. Rod Barzilay has retired from Spaceship Away and writing Dan Dare stories, but I’ve still got a hankering to see what the final part contains: presumably, it would encompass examination of the spherical spaceship that is the progenitor of the Tempus Frangit
One point remains to be considered. Both these stories are what, in the American comics industry, would be called “retcons” (a contraction of retroactive continuity). The stories have been fitted in between The Ship That Lived and The Phantom Fleet, though they’ve been used in large part to colour in large swathes of the unknown background to stories up to that point.
There’s only one piece of blatant foreshadowing, near the end, when ‘Friday’ MacFarlane decides that all this racketing around in danger is too much for him and he’s going to put in for a transfer to the Moon Run – where we see him one final time in the first week of The Phantom Fleet.
But there’s a bigger issue to think of. In the official saga, there is no sign of the Mekon between The Ship That Lived (where everybody but Digby thinks he’s dead) and The Solid-space Mystery where Dan and Digby both react in shock to his appearance, exclaiming that he’s dead. Green Nemesis is at least consistent in leaving our heroes thinking that the Mekon to be dead again when the Spacelab blows up.
A foolish consistency is not always the hobgoblin of little minds.

In Praise of Pratchett: The Last Hero


The Last Hero describes itself, on its cover, as ‘A Discword Fable’ and that’s a very good description for it, although the story is as ‘real’ as is anything else concerning this amazingly improbable and impractical creation.
Like Eric, it appeared as an oversized book, illustrated by the new Discworld cover artist, Paul Kidby. Indeed, illustrated is hardly the word, though most people append the adjective profusely. Kidby appears on virtually every page of this story, and is considerably more integrated into the book than was Josh Kirby, in Eric.
By the time The Last Hero appeared, in 2001, Kidby had already been working with Pratchett for several years, starting with the works quickly collected as The Pratchett Portfolio. He doesn’t just add art to the story, he gets deeply into it, and he produces several diagrams that are clearly co-works with the author, and which underpin this fable with lots of structural detail.
The story, which is pretty much a sequel to Interesting Times, is fairly straightforward. Cohen the Barbarian and the Silver Horde, motivated principally by the death of one of their number, Vincent, through choking on a fishbone, have decided to go out in a blaze of glory. They have decided to take fire back to the Gods, in their retreat, Dunmanifestin, at the spire Cori Celesti, at the centre of Discsworld.
The problem is going to be that it won’t just be them going out in a blaze of glory, it will be everyone, up to and including Discworld itself, elephants and turtle as well. Their little firebomb will cancel the Discworld’s magical field, leading to instant… well, instantness.
Something’s got to be done to head them off though, as this is the Silver Horde, who have got to their present age by outliving all their enemies, mostly by use of swords, that’s not going to be easy. The team that’s going to do this consists of Rincewind, as the only person that might be able to talk to Cohen, Leonard of Quirm to design and pilot a craft that can get the expedition to Cori Celesti, and Captain Carrot, to arrest the Horde if need be.
The ‘support’ team for this project therefore consists of the Faculty, directed primarily by the over-bright Ponder Stibbins and a for once out of his league Patrician. Bring ingredients to boil, stir well and pour.
Despite the fact that The Last Hero involves such a manifest and critical danger, it’s still a fairly slight story, written with little more behind it than the urge to have fun and create drama. In large part, that’s because it’s entirely external, to use the terms that I’ve been developing along this series of reviews.
Pratchett never internalises any of his mixed cast, preferring to keep us outside everybody’s head, except in the case of immediate emotions, mainly those of Rincewind (think fear, and flight). This is usually the case with Carrot anyway, as I have observed more than once, but as this book doesn’t include any characters that examine him for us, it renders him into a superficial character who, though an obvious choice for this mission, has nothing to do during the course of it.
The same goes for Leonard, who is Leonard throughout with very little variation on the perpetually brilliant inventor we’ve seen before. However, with no-one around to comment upon his detached perspective and his habit of designing extreme death war machines whilst doodling, again he comes over as something of a still-life.
Only Rincewind receives something of the attention we normally expect.
And, of course, Cohen. The Horde are out for their last ride. Cohen’s tried being Emperor of Agatea, and the Horde have tried living in the lap of luxury but it hasn’t taken. They’re just not trained for it, and the loss of Vincent to a death that they cannot but see as demeaning has fired off some primal anger. The age of heroes is gone, and they can see that, and see just how out of place that makes them. They’re the last ones, and they have no worlds left to conquer, so they’re going to take it out on the Gods themselves for, in some indefinable fashion, doing this to them.
They’ve even dragged a bard along to compose a proper saga about it.
Though the mission team get slightly more of the book, it’s Cohen’s journey, with the final shucking off of barbarian tropes that contains the emotional heart of this Fable. The Horde themselves want to make sure everything’s done properly according to the Code, one last time.
But when the Horde realise that their last time is going to be everybody’s last time, there is a change of heart. There’s got to be a world left behind them, in which sagas can be sung, otherwise there’s no point. So the final charge of the Silver Horde, into myth and legend and, also, the stars in the heavens, is outwards.
The Discworld is safe, and after all, no-one finds any bodies, and they were always difficult to kill. And there is the saga…
It’s a moving end, but it doesn’t disguise the main problem with The Last Hero, which is that it’s too thin. It’s got too little in it, when the truth is that it’s a bigger story than Pratchett wants to pretend, and it lacks the substance it should have had.
On the other hand, it was intended as a showcase for Kidby as well, and Pratchett had a lot of writing going on this year, so it’s understandable. For for me, The Last Hero goes down as a bit of a missed opportunity. It’s good, but it could have been much better.