Up for t’Cup: 1912 – 1921

The Khaki Cup Final

Years of change. The biggest of all was the Great War, causing the FA Cup to be suspended for four seasons, but when Football resumed its place in post-War society, it too would undergo drastic change, moving towards the game as we would know it for most of the rest of the Century.
There was no sign of any of the changes that were to come when the Cup moved into its fifth decade. Barnsley, defeated two years earlier by Newcastle United, reached their second Final and this time won the Cup, although they again needed a Replay, and actually lifted the trophy considerably nearer to home, in Sheffield, at Bramall Lane.
This was the third successive Final to go to a Replay, which led to some Press rumblings, exactly as it did when the same thing occurred in the 1980s. Neither side played well, though you have to feel sympathetic towards West Brom who, due to a series of postponements from early in the League season, had to play seven games in ten days, one of those between the Final and its replay. Even then, Barnsley’s winner came with only two minutes of extra-time remaining, and with it presumably the prospect of a Second Replay. Only one Final has been decided at a later point than this game.
Barnsley also became the third Second Division team to lift the Cup. The gate, at the Crystal Palace, was 54,000. The fluctuating nature of crowds at the Final, which was still on a pay-at-the-gate basis, was re-emphasised the following season, when Aston Villa again attracted a six-figure gate, a new record of just under 122,000. Only one other Final has attracted more.
Villa’s single goal victory over first-time Finalists Sunderland saw them draw level with Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers as five times Cup-winners. This came despite having a penalty saved with the game still goalless. That event would not be repeated for seventy-five years.
There would be one more season where the Cup remained unaffected. There were still two Preliminary Rounds, still five Qualifying Rounds, still four Rounds Proper. There was still the uneven division of byes among the forty League teams, and still the extensive extension of byes into the First Round Proper extended to non-League clubs, in theory inferior of status to the Second Division.
Not all of these byes went to the Southern League. The 1913/14 season saw one such place handed to an amateur club, London Caledonians, a club composed almost exclusively of Scots exiled to the capital. The amateurs played in, had been founders in 1905 of the Isthmian League, senior among a group of similarly Hellenic-titled Leagues based in London and the Home Counties, staunchly defending the amateur principal. London Caledonians would fold in 1939, but the Isthmian League would remain resolutely amateur until the distinction was abolished in 1970, and beyond, and the League persists today, long better known by its sponsors, as the Rymans League.
Burnley won that last pre-war Cup, the last to be played at the Crystal Palace, beating fellow first-time Finalists Liverpool by the only goal. It would take Liverpool over fifty years to finally win the Cup.
On 28 July, 1914, what became known as the Great War and, decades after, the First World War was declared, before either the Football League or FA Cup seasons had begun. That the season was allowed to be started, and was played out in full, demonstrated the relative lack of seriousness with which the War initially taken. By the time of the Final in April, the situation changed. The Final was moved from London to Old Trafford, Manchester, to avoid disruption to travel in and around London. The choice of venue was unfair to the losing Finalists, Chelsea, who had already had to travel to Blackburn for semi-final, but the War had not been over by Xmas and grim years were ahead. The game was won 3-0 by Sheffield United, and has gone down in history as the Khaki Cup Final, reflecting the number of men in battledress among the crowd. That crowd numbered less than 50,000 (travel restrictions, mobilisation). There has never been a Cup Final gate that low since.
Chelsea would finally win the Cup fifty-five years later, ironically at Old Trafford again. The last Cup, before all sport was suspended for the duration, the FA Cup set to one side, and professionalism temporarily banned, had seen entrants rise sufficiently for there again to be need of a Sixth Qualifying Round.
It’s an interesting point to question whether football, and sport should have been suspended as it was. True, local matches still took place, but organised football was shut down completely, unlike during the Second World war, where regionalised War-time Leagues and Cups abounded. Though the war in the trenches had already settled down to the grim torture of four years, there was no realistic threat of the hostilities extending to Britain. It was the ongoing jingoistic attitude to the War that prevailed. White feathers were still being handed out to able-bodied men in the street, mostly by women who were completely ignorant of what they were demanding. To play football was unpatriotic. Whilst men at the Front pleaded for the game to carry on, to give them something to look forward to when home, in England the Press was scathing, public meetings called for the game to cease and Football was branded as the single most powerful reason why yooung men were not signing-up. That it might have been morale-boosting, as was recognised in World War 2, never entered anyone’s heads.
The War ended on 11 November 1918, the forty-seventh anniversary of the Cup’s first ever round, far too late for any organised football that season. Things returned to normal the following year, with the same format in place, in both League and Cup. Sheffield United handed back the trophy after holding it for five years, in time for Aston Villa to beat Huddersfield Town by a single, extra-time goal, at the Cup’s new, short-lived home of Stamford Bridge. It was thus fortunate that Villa had defeated Chelsea in the semi-final.
Villa’s victory meant that they had won the Cup for a sixth time, a new record that saw them move past Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers. They would hold, singly and jointly, the record for most wins for sixty-one years, a record unlikely ever to be beaten.
But elsewhere, the Football League had ambitions to expand, and in the summer of 1920, it re-structured itself. It had already expanded itself to two Divisions of twenty-two each the year after the War (with Arsenal securing a First Division place despite having finished the last pre-war season fifth in Division 2: this feat was achieved through bribery, as was later admitted. Arsenal have never left the top level since). Now, however, it added a Third Division, of twenty-two clubs, by simply absorbing the entire Southern League First Division, en masse.
As a consequence, the Cup underwent a change. Its format was retained, but the two Preliminary and Six Qualifying Rounds now produce a total of twelve survivors to join fifty-two of the now sixty-four League Clubs. Nine Third Division sides entered at the First Round Proper, the other thirteen in the Qualifying Rounds. As did Second Division Leeds United, a club a year old, formed from the ashes of the pre-War Leeds City, forcibly disbanded by the FA for illegal war-time payments to players. As the Club had only one year’s existence, in the Midland League, before being elected directly into the Second Division, they had to start from the First Qualifying Round.
The Cup was won by Tottenham Hotspur, by now a League club. It was the first time the Cup had come to London since Spurs’ previous victory, exactly twenty years ago.
The modern structure of the FA Cup was almost in place now. Though the system of byes into later stages was still complex and partial, the Rounds were there. All it would need would be to convert the last two Qualifying Rounds into the first two Proper Rounds, which would happen in the next decade, to reach the present format, and the League’s great expansion, over the last season of its fifth decade and the first of its sixth would create the conditions for the competition we know to finally be attained.

(all Finals prior to the First World War played at Crystal Palace, all post-War at Stamford Bridge, unless otherwise stated)

1911/12 Barnsley 0 West Bromwich Albion 0 (aet)
R: Barnsley 1 West Bromwich Albion 0 (aet) (Bramall Lane, Sheffield)
1912/13 Aston Villa 1 Sunderland 0
1913/14 Burnley 1 Liverpool 0
1914/15 Sheffield United 3 Chelsea 0 (Old Trafford, Manchester)
1919/20 Aston Villa 1 Huddersfield Town  (aet)
1920/21 Tottenham Hotspur 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0

The fifth decade was reduced to only six Finals, with eleven different finalists. Only Aston Villa appeared twice, setting a new record of six wins, overtaking Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers. Five clubs appeared in their first Final, though only Burnley would lift the trophy. The other four clubs would all go on to win the Cup in the future, though Liverpool would have to wait another half-century before they could add their name to the Roll of Honour. Besides Burnley, only Barnsley were first-time winners, the latter the third Second Division club to achieve this: neither team has won the Cup since.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine s01 e19 – “Duet”

No Deep Space Nine recap last week, thanks to the demands of real life, but this has given me extra time to think about ‘Duet’, the penultimate episode of season 1 and, barring something exceptional from the finale, the finest episode of the season.

‘Duet’ is described in Wikipedia as a ‘bottle’ episode, a term I’d never come across before. It originated in relation to the original Star Trek, though the phenomenon existed before: it’s a shorthand for ‘ship-in-a-bottle’, coined by the cast to describe those low-budget episodes that confined themselves to just the cast and existing sets.

‘Bottle’ episodes are budget-preserving exercises, low-cost affairs with minimal (if any) guest stars, filmed solely on the regular set(s), that help free up the season budget to facilitate the more high-power, effects-intensive episodes such as season finales. They sound like filler episodes, and some of them are, but they can also be some of a season’s best episodes, forcing the writers to concentrate upon character to a greater depth than is usually possible in better-funded stories. ‘Duet’ is a brilliant example of this.

I make a point of not researching any episodes of DS9 before watching, trying to come to them as fresh as if I am watching the first transmission. Only afterwards do I look into them, and I was encouraged to find that ‘Duet’ was generally acclaimed as the best episode of season 1, and one of the best overall, so it wasn’t just me.

That this was to be an episode with a string theme was immediately clear when the open made no attempt to misdirect as to the story. DS9 is hailed by an incoming ship seeking medical aid for a passenger suffering from Kalla-Nohra, in need of medication. The only known cases of Kalla-Nohra are among survivors of a mining accident at the Bajoran Forced Labour Camp at Gallitap, during the Cardassian Occupation, a camp liberated twelve years ago, in conditions of horror, by Major Kira’s Resistance Group. Survivors are Bajoran heroes, and Kira wishes to meet this one. The shock is that this patient is a Cardassian: Kira promptly has him arrested as a war criminal.

Thus begins the exploration of a puzzle with several depths, as the reality of the prisoner and his true background goes through several stages, changing each time. It’s also a psychological exploration of both the Major and her prisoner. We know her to be angry, filled with hatred of the Cardassian, the oppressor, the ruthless dictator, and we know how passionate she is, and how hot-headed. Kira sees her prisoner as not merely an enemy but also a butcher, who she is determined to bring to justice, or at least execution.

But the Cardassian, who gives his name as Aamon Marritza, pleads innocence: he has never been to Gallitap, was a Filing Clerk, is a Military Instructor (in filing) and doesn’t even have Kalla-Nohra.

Some of these claims are exploded easily (Marritza does have Kolla-Nohra, he was at Gallitap) but the rest of it seems provable. Marritza switches his story, admits to being at Gallitap, but only as a Filing Clerk, innocent of everything except shutting his ears to the slaughter.

The parallel with Nazi Concentration Camps is obvious and intentional. What Kira saw has fueled her fury, her determination to see Marritza face execution. When Sisko attempts to remove her as head of the Investigation, she insists she can be professional, though her ever-escalating anger against the Cardassian suggests otherwise to the audience.

So to what extent, on this latest version of his story, is Marritza guilty? I’d have liked to have seen the episode grapple a little more with this aspect, though it is an impossible point on which to come to a conclusion.  If you work in a charnel-house, even if all you do is routine, innocuous work that does not involve you in killing, beating or torturing others, are you still guilty of their crimes? You have assisted in running the institution, you have helped such things to happen, you have made them easier, perhaps even possible. Can you really shuck off all guilt?

Kira and Marritza represent the opposite poles of this argument. They state their positions but they do not debate, and the next stage of the story overtakes and makes redundant the question without anything more than this brief airing.

What changes things is the arrival of the only known photo of Marritza at Gallitap. This conclusively proves that the prisoner is lying about his identity: he is not Aamon Marritza, but rather Gul Darh’eel, the camp commander, the Butcher of Gallitap.

Once the prisoner is outed, his attitude changes completely. He boasts of his role, glorifies in the slaughter he supervised, proclaims himself a hero of Cardassia. To him, the Bajorans are as nothing, useless, spineless, fit only to be ground under and exterminated. They are not even an indirect threat to the Cardassians, merely a planet of resources that the Empire wanted, and was ‘defending’ itself by taking in such a brutal, inhuman manner.

He becomes the voice of fascism, self-righteous and contemptuous, shouting Major Kira down. The echo of Nazism is blatant, as is the blatant attempt to lower Kira and the Bajorans to their own level, because they too killed civilians.

It’s ugly and angry, and Kira is almost overwhelmed by Gul Darh’eel’s arrogance. But during his rant, he lets slip reference to her and her membership of the resistance band that liberated the camp. Kira is too emotionally involved, but it is Odo who queries this bit of detail that Darh’eel should not know.

Sisko successfully pressurises Gul Dukat to release Darh’eel’s records, which confirm two rather significant facts. First, that Darh’eel was on Cardassia, accepting an award, the day of the accident, so couldn’t have contracted Kalla-Nohra. The second is that he’s been dead for six years, and Gul Dukat attended his funeral.

All it takes is for Doctor Bashir to confirm, from the prisoner’s medical records, that he has been taking medical supplements to to support cosmetic derma-surgery five years ago. And records demonstrate that the prisoner deliberately took a ship that would take him to DS9, where he had already determined that Major Kira was stationed… The prisoner is, and always has been, exactly what he claimed at the outset: Aamon Marritza.

By now thoroughly puzzled, Kira interrogates Marritza one last time, confronting him with the truth. At first, Marritza blusters, tries to continue his bluff. He rants and raves about the greatness of Darh’eel, about how his regret was only that he left any Bajorans at all alive, but when he turns on Marritza, dubbing him a nothing, a weakling, a coward who couldn’t bear the sreams and cowered under his bunk trying to shut them out, he breaks down, sobbing, sobbing with memories, with self-hatred at having done and been able to do nothing to save them, and at the collapse of his plan.

Marritza had turned himself into Darh’eel in order to be captured, to be tried and executed. He had planned to create a great show trial, to have Cardassia humiliated before the eyes of the Quadrant, as the only way to force change upon the Empire, to take on himself responsibility that was never his responsibility to bear.

Kira is bemused, but her understanding of Marritza’s position, and her respect for his intentions breaks through her instinctive hatred of Cardassians. She releases him, respecting him more than ever before. She intends to see him return to his life. Cardassia needs people who see as he does. It will be slower that way.

But it will be even slower. A Bajoran drunk, full of the kind of hatred for Cardassians that Kira has held until this moment, jumps out at Marritza, stabbing him in the back and killing him. The shocked Kira asks why: the drunk speaks of his hate and that’s enough. No, she says, no, it’s not.

In it’s Kira-centric story, the episode reminded me most strongly of “Progress”, for episodes earlier, which I slated. That was also a two-hander, but whereas Brian Keith failed to impress me in the slightest, with a hollow, folksy performance, Harris Yulin, despite looking physically similar in age and body, and using some of the same tactics, was extraordinarily good, and it wasn’t just the far better, far stronger writing.

The story was also stronger for its intelligent borrowing of Robert Shaw’s The Man in the Glass Booth, in which the same basic situation was presented in its more direct form, as a Jewish Camp Survivor kidnapped to Israel to face trial as a Commandant from the same camp, who has engineered the trial by falsifying records to throw suspicion on himself. I only know the story through its Wikipedia entry (and a throwaway paragraph in one of Clive James’ compilations of his Observer television columns, so I don’t know how far the parallel extends, nor how apposite Shaw’s character’s plans, but I do know that the basic idea was beautifully and fully-effectively rendered here.

Overall, a true success, made possible only by this being a ‘bottle’ episode.

Pursuing Christopher Priest: The Space Machine

I’m not a fan of H. G. Wells, indeed I’ve read very little of his work, though I am aware of how influential he was in shaping the very early parameters of SF. The War of the Worlds has to be one of the most widely read and referenced books of all time, with The Time Machine close on its heels. I may have read the latter at School, I know I have read, and not particularly enjoyed, The Invisible Man.
Christopher Priest is, however, a great fan of Wells, and since 2006 has been the Vice-President of the International H. G. Wells Society. Wells makes an appearance in The Adjacent, in one of its early sections. And in 1976, Priest published an impeccably Wellsian SF novel, The Space Machine, in which he effectively and affectionately interwove the two classic novels into a single continuum, giving his characters an ongoing adventurous role in the background of the two books, and having them meet Wells again in the climax.
I can’t comment on the effectiveness of Priest’s pastiche, except to say that the flavour it conveyed was consistent and recognisably archaic. It certainly came over effectively to me, and most commentary on the book does applaud his ability to incarnate Wells’ voice and style. The only criticisms I have seen suggest that Priest did not go far enough, that he did not bring a more modern sensibility to subvert the effects he was counterfeiting, and that he was entirely too respectful of Wells. What did they expect of him?
The Space Machine is narrated to us by Edward Turnbull, who introduces himself as a commercial traveller in leather goods, with a special interest in a product of his own conception, devices that he describes as Visibility Protection Masks (Edward is not good on naming things, we fear). In short, they are motoring goggles, which Edward hopes to promote to those who are taking up these new-fangled motor cars. It is 1893, as fans of The Time Machine will understand.
Edward learns, to his considerable surprise that there is a lady commercial traveller staying (under strict chaperonage by the lady proprietor) at his commercial hotel in Skipton. Whereas other reps are much taken by the thought of Miss Amelia Fitzgibbon for reasons that I fear are not honourable, Edward is more fascinated by the fair Amelia (and indeed she is fair) being the special representative of Sir William Reynolds, the inventor of repute, and a motoring enthusiast.
Eager for an introduction that might lead, via Miss Fitzgibbon to Sir William’s patronage, Edward contrives a meeting that leads to the perilous situation of him being closeted with Miss Fitzgibbon in her bedroom. Nothing untoward arises – Edward is much too respectful of Miss Fitzgibbons for that, and indeed it is she who is freer of her conduct with him, without ever overstepping the bounds of physical contact – but he still gets slung out on his ear before breakfast. At least he has an invitation to contact Amelia at Richmond House, the home of Sir William.
Wellsians will, by now, be well aware of the direction Priest is travelling. Sir William is the un-named Time Traveller of The Time Machine and Edward is about to join Miss Fitzgibbon in the unexplored back-story of that novel, in the same way that Thursday Next keeps dropping into famous literature in Jasper Fforde’s series. For Amelia is aware of the Time Machine, and happy to take Edward on a trip in it, so that he will believe.
Their destination is 1903, which will have Wellsians nodding sagely again. The Time Machine travels in Time but not Space, set to return to its starting point on an automatic three-minute reset. Unfortunately, three minutes is enough for Edward to see Amelia, of whom he is already inordinately fond, burning to death in 1903. In attempting to avoid returning to her history, he upsets the controls of the Time Machine, delivering the pair to an unknown and foreign place, where they are tipped out and stranded beyond the point of auto-return.
They have, of course, been transported spacially to Mars, a Mars of tall, thin, spindly humans oppressed and used as cattle by tentacled monsters that use hundred foot high, three-legged war machines to travel around, and who are constructing great cannons to fire projectiles. In short, our heroes have been transferred into the back-story of The War of the Worlds.
Edward and Amelia survive no little time in this strange society, maintaining their Victorian appearances, and as much of their Victorian clothing as they can. Nor, despite their enforced reliance upon each other, as the only people either can speak to, does Amelia permit any liberties to be taken, not that Edward is especially pressing with them. He is in love. Amelia is not to be lead to any admissions on that score.
It’s only when they’re re-united after six months separation, when Edward has learned that the Martian masters are killable, and Amelia is building a rebel alliance among the Martian humans, that their feelings for one another – and the certainty that they will never see Earth and its standards again – lead to warm expression of a kind over which Edward draws a modest blanket.
But hope is re-kindled. Edward and Amelia realise that the Martian monsters plan to invade Earth and smuggle themselves aboard the first projectile, hoping to warn their home planet. Unfortunately, they don’t reckon with nine further projectiles being fired, at 24 hour intervals, in their wake.
Thus begins The War of the Worlds in earnest. I’m assuming that Priest is faithful to its events, whilst keeping Edward and Amelia – running around in their underwear – to the fore of his story and the rear of Wells’s. As I said above, whilst trying to reach Sir William’s home (where, alas, the Time Traveller has disappeared ten years earlier) they witness England’s helplessness before the vicious, brutal, enslaving invader and bump into a bare-chested man, a philosopher, a writer (Sir William’s biographer too), whose name is Wells. He is in exactly the situation of the un-named narrator of his own novel.
By now, this joyous romp wants only an ending in which the trio can strike back at the invaders until the end of Wells’ novel can be reached. This involves a massive departure from the approach of the story thus far, which has stealthily added plausible detail to behind-the-scenes scenes. Priest now has Wells construct a crude but working Time Machine, assisted by blueprints that Amelia can fortuitously lay her hands on, which the trip use as a Space Machine. The new machine is, literally, a flying bedstead that, when in attenuated form in the Time Dimension, is invisible and undetectable to the Martians, enabling our heroes to bomb the machines to buggery.
In the end, though, Earth vanquishes the invasion simply by being inimical. It’s soils, its atmosphere, even the blood of its own humans will not sustain the monsters. Victory is achieved, and Mr Wells goes off to find his wife in Leatherhead. Edward and Amelia wait for the humans to come back. Of course, now they are back on Earth, they have resumed proper clothing – outer as well as under – and have stopped shagging each other enthusiastically, but Amelia has allowed herself to admit to loving Edward,so we can assume wedding bells and screwing with propriety will feature in the foreseeable future.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, though it was a lot more fun of first reading. On a second, I was far more conscious of its (deliberate) stiffness and its length. Priest takes a very long time to build things up on Mars, especially after being relatively brisk in the Time Machine section, and the book does become a little wearying after a while. And you do rather have to like H. G. Wells to appreciate it.
Ultimately, it never rises above the level of a pastiche. Priest is in too much respect of Wells to seriously play around with him (and now says he couldn’t never repeat the exercise since he could no longer approach the idea unself-consciously). Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable exercise and the ingenuity with which Priest marries the two tales is natural and unforced. It’s certainly worth reading once but, unless you are a committed Wellsian, perhaps not often thereafter.

Saturday ScandiCrime: Trapped – Parts 3 & 4

An old friend and a new

As if proof were needed after the first two episodes, a second week establishes that Trapped is more than worthy to follow in the footsteps of The Killing and The Bridge. Like the former, this Icelandic series is as much concerned with the consequences of crime, the often long-standing consequences on the survivors. Though it wouldn’t surprise me to see it ultimately rolled into the overarching plot that you can just feel is rising to the surface, Dagny’s death in the fish factory fire seven years ago is still playing itself out across a lot of the characters, including Andri, the Chief of Police in the snow-bound port of Sigjusfjordur.

To begin with, episode 3 very quickly wraps up the dangling threads of last week. The girls (Andri’s daughters) find Maggi, the little boy, in the snowstorm. Agnes (Andri’s estranged wife) finds them. Andri finds them all and brings them in out of the cold. Come the morning – and that place is stunning to look at in daylight – he and Hinrika release Aesgir from the police cell and go looking for the missing Lithuanian tracker, who has crashed the stolen police car and broken his fool neck.

This is a very handy bit of deck-clearing  for a cool, quiet Sunday-set episode, which gently shifts the plot forward in a couple of gentle directions. First, Aesgir – who is now set up as Sigjusfjordur’s resident Police geek – identifies the photos of the stolen torso as having been uploaded from Hjortur’s phone: you know, Hjortur, Dagny’s partner in sex, drugs, but not death.

Hjortur is immediately brought in, which the entire town seems to regard as only to be expected, and which Eirikur, Dagny’s Dad, Andri’s father-in-law and the one member of the familiy who is still unable to live with her loss, sees as justice. His anger towards Hjortur, a part of which washes towards eldest granddaughter, Johanna, who has spoken kindly to and of Hjortur, disrupts the family’s otherwise still Sunday.

Whilst Eirikur is fulminating about Hjortur, Andri is questioning him over the photos, including those of Johanna. Now it’s become personal. Andri persists in talking to Hjortur, even after he’s ordered to keep his beard out of things by Reykjavik, whilst Hjortur’s sullenness and inability to explain even to himself why he has taken them slowly grows into an admission of deep loss. He was badly burned trying to save Dagny, was dragged outside by some unknown person. He thinks of her every day, believes he should have died with her. Seeing Johanna makes him feel as if Dagny is still alive.

It’s slow, but it’s painful, but brilliantly played as it is, it’s nothing to the scene in episode 4 when Andri brings Eirikur to Hjortur’s room. Eirikur has never spoken to the boy before, never forgiven, not even for one second, but he begins his own healing by talking of his baby girl. Hjortur, though silent, struggles to keep his self-control, reliving Dagny’s existence in Eirikur’s every word about her, as the two come to some sort of understanding without words that both have suffered crippling losses.

It’s flawlessly written, and made all the more heartfelt by the two actors, old and young, and I wish that I thought for one second that British TV could produce something this raw and real, but then I watched the utterly ridiculous Fortitude, didn’t I, so I know we can’t. Yeuch. Bitter taste at even the mention, let’s not profane Trapped by bringing it up again.

Back at the overt plot, the frustrated Andri may not be able to question anyone but he can start a search of the shoreline. The torso may have been pilfered, but there are at least five other sections of the poor victim out there somewhere, and hopefully discoverable.

So Hinrika’s cheerfully dope-smoking hubby goes out on his boat into the fjord, with a diver and comes back with one of those bits. It’s an arm, with part of a jacket, or maybe jeans in the binliner with it. Unfortunately, there’s a bar receipt dated three days ago, before the Ferry arrived: he victim wasn’t on the boat after all.

And neither was the murderer.

The investigation swings into another direction in episode 4, with Trausti in Reykjavik grudgingly allowing Andri to keep plodding on until Forensics can finally get there. The plot, like a rich soup, thickens. Thanks to the all-talented sketch artist Aesgir, the stranded MP Fridrik (who’d drunk the other Bloody Mary on the bar receipt) helps the local team to identify the victim as a local bad boy, not known to have been back in town, whose file has unaccountably disappeared. And Mayor Harfn, ex-Police Chief, is being very dismissive about that fact.

It’s all getting very wierd. Hafrn’s still all for the port scheme, and pressing harbour master Sigurdur to press his recalcitrant Dad to sell up and make everybody rich. Agnes, who’s a Reykjavik lawyer when she’s not trapped in town seems to be asking some awkward questions about how this will actually work out in practice that Hafrn isn’t (he’s to busy insulting, beating and at least semi-raping his wife because she hasn’t got a hot dinner on the table for him).

Sigurdur’s dad hasn’t got much time for his rather weasel-like son (who’s own wife is enthusiastically shagging a toy boy whilst the tourists sheltering at the school are either asleep or playing video games). Apart from his cheerful refusal to countenance change, Gotmundur’s main concerns are skinning, beheading and gutting a dead reindeer onscreen, with no thought had for dubious tummies, not to mention the prospect of an avalanche burying the town once it all warms up a bit.

The Press coerce the victim’s name out of Trausti’s sidekick. On the Ferry, Captain Carlsen (I knew he looked familiar, it’s the superb Bjarne Henriksen, Theis Birk Larsen from The Killing 1, hurrah!) The Captain’s all set to leave now they’re obviously cleared, but his dodgy sidekick is having none of it: not without their cargo of hot Nigerian girls they’re not.

Add in Hinrika’s finding the Lithuanian’s phone and discovering the only two Icelandic numbers he’s called are cheap pay as you go phones. One was bought by the Hotel owner, though he’s denying it flatly (and he’s straight onto his proper phone the moment Hinrika leaves). The other is the old man with the beard and the telescope (and a wheelchair as we also discover this week) who’s spying on Hinrika’s house where Bardur is laughing with the elder Nigerian girl).

Before that conversation can get even more creepy than it already is, an explosion occurs. It’s Godmundur, blowing up a part of the snowscape to stop it enveloping the town. Andri and Sigurdur are trying to stop him but Godmundur knows what he’s doing. Like a firebreak, his artificial avalanche will fall away from the town. He knows what he’s doing. He gets it right. Until another large chunk of snow gets loose, right above Godmundur, Sigurdur and our bear-like hero Andri…

So while we wait for next Saturday night, here’s a shout-out to the principal cast, Olafur Darri Olafsson as Andri, Ilmur Kristjansdottir as Hinrika and Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson as Aesgir. not to mention many fine others too numerous to copy slowly and carefully. Roll on Saturday next.

Theatre Nights: possibility of repeats

During the nearly five year experiment with the New 52, which looks to be coming to an end with the forthcoming not-another-reboot Rebirth, DC Comics have pretty much cancelled Graphic Novel collections of stories from their old Universe(s). However, that might be about to exchange.

I’ve recently found out that the short-lived 1992 Justice Society of America series, cancelled in controversial circumstances after ten issues, is being collected, but the best news of all is that on 30 June, Sandman Mystery Theatre is being re-collected. And this time Volume 1 collects the first three performances: 12 issues under the same covers.

I have already pre-ordered it.

It’s very early days yet, but if fingers are crossed long enough, we may yet see the remaining uncollected stories made available in GN form. If this is the format of choice, it needs only five more volumes to bring everything together, including Sandman Midnight Theatre.

And maybe we might finally see the seventh and last Crisis on Multiple Earths GN appear. I have an incomplete series just waiting for the chance to get my hands on the last three team-ups.

Incidentally, having just bought the first two Madame Xanadu GNs, I’d like to draw to your attention the appearance our our favourite pair of New York socialites, Dian Belmont and Wesley Dodds in the second of these, ‘Dark Exodus’. It’s a good book in its own right, but spiced with a flavouring of the Golden Age Sandman…

You should know better

What about him?

There’s a charmlessly naive puff-piece in the Guardian today, by someone who should know better. Damien Walter, a writer of SF and other speculative fiction, has used his regular ‘Weird Things’ column to suggest that ex-Marvel editor and writer Stan Lee is the greatest storyteller in history.

This is a response to the newly-published Graphic Novel biography about Lee, written by Peter Davod and drawn by Colleen Doran. Walter waffles on in awe about Lee, giving him sole credit for creation of all Marvel’s major characters who inhabit film and TV today. Here are a couple of quotes:

“For the best part of two decades, through the 1960s and 70s, Lee conceived and scripted the pantheon of superheroes that has made Marvel arguably the most significant shared universe in today’s entertainment landscape.”

“Spider-Man, the X-­Men, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, SHIELD, Daredevil: all of them were created by Stan Lee.”

For the best part of two decades, eh? Through the 70s, eh? Are we talking about the Stan Lee who stood down from the Marvel editorship in 1972 and ceased writing any of its titles? Through the 70s? I mean, don’t get me wrong, Stan Lee was writing for more than two decades, it’s just that to get that, you have to include the entire 50s, in which Stan Lee did not write a single story that anyone remembers.

As for that list of creations, well, let me make a petty quibble first. The X-Men of the movie franchise, indeed the X-Me that have been colossally successful since the late Seventies, are primarily composed of characters with whom Stan Lee had no contact. Cyclops, Professor X, and Jean Grey here and there, yes, these were members of the original X-Men, but the rest? Storm? Wolverine? No.

But this is, as I say, a petty quibble. Stan Lee was indeed writer of the original X-Men, and indeed all of the others on Walter’s list, and many more besides. Where Walter goes wrong, badly wrong, and where someone of Walter’s background would certainly know better than to say, is that Lee was co-creator. With artist Steve Ditko in the case of Spider-Man, and with artist Jack Kirby in the case of everyone else (even Daredevil, though that should more properly be co-credited to artist Bill Everett).

There are some – and Stan Lee is among them – who would dispute the artist’s part in creation. But this is comics: if writers could draw, they wouldn’t have artists drawing their stories, and the situation is further blurred by Lee developing the practice of giving artists a basic plot, more or less an outline, that they would draw, and which he would script, in accordance with the artwork produced.

This is not the place to argue which of Lee-Kirby or Lee-Ditko was the true creator. That’s too complex an argument. However, it is clear beyond all measure that Lee was not solely responsible for the creation of so many characters. There are many stories about the physical creation of stories at Marvel in the 60s that make plain just how often Lee would script a story that had been drawn without him ever having been involved in its creation before receiving the art.

The point is that Walter must know this, yet he has gone ahead and blown smoke up Stan Lee’s ass, in the way Marvel has done for decades, wiping out the contributions of creators such as Kirby and Ditko, when he should know better. If this came from a Guardian journalist without any interest in comics, it would still be ignorant, insulting and stupid, but from Walter it’s disgusting. Shame on him.

Stan Lee was the co-creator of all these characters. He deserves honouring for that. He has reaped the fruits of presenting himself as the sole creator for decades, whilst his colleagues have struggled and suffered. The Big Lie is perpetuated to this day.