I haven’t listened to Radio One for an hour’s stretch – actually, nearly ninety minutes – since I can’t remember which decade. Long, long ago, I decided that it was not offering anything desirable to a man of my generation and that it was no longer playing any music aimed at someone like me.
This afternoon, after doing a mini-shift to pay back the time allowed me on Friday evening, I went straight round the corner to the Barbers, where I had to wait over an hour just to get into the chair.
An hour of Radio One, of somebody called Greg James. An hour of nothing but dance music, barring one quasi-rock song, with varying degrees of tune to it, but not what you’d call music, not really, it’s just noise. An hour of being my mother and father, except that I was aware I was thinking exactly the same things they thought fifty years ago, and that I was not saying them aloud.
But I was thinking them loudly.
Never again. I’ll have to find another Barbers, for reasons other than the music I hasten to add, though it is a factor. I don’t want to replay the past that much, certainly not the bits where I have to move over to the other side of the ride.
There are a number of reasons why American Gothic was cancelled after only one season, and I’ll be getting to those further down the line. But I wonder if, underlying them, there wasn’t a certain degree of queasiness at the depths into which the show could sink. There’s a lousiness to Sheriff Lucas Buck, a festering sickness to his machinations. Gary Cole was doing an incredibly good job in letting both aspects of Buck – the external, hail-fellow-well-met, town benefactor and the evil bastard – show simultaneously.
American Gothic is about corruption. It’s about trying to corrupt the decency of a ten year old boy, to turn him as evil, ruthless and conscienceless as his biological father, a man who acts not only out of the desire to do everything he wants to do, but who appears to wish to taint everything and everyone around him, just for the unholy pleasure of him.
I take it back, that’s a phenomenal performance by Cole, and to achieve it it requires some bloody good writing, and a willingness to put sick and twisted situations into play, in a subterranean manner, by implication rather than direct showing.
‘Dead to the World’ was a multi-strand episode, spinning three stories across each other effortlessly. It began with a flashback, ten years, to Deputy Buck picking up his girlfriend, Nurse Holly Gallagher, for the hospital, late at night. Holly G has stolen a file for Lucas, on a new baby, Caleb Temple. Unfortunately for her, she realises just why Buck has been so interested in this baby that has nothing to do with him. She also gets mad at how she’s been manipulated and promises to expose Buck, tell all of Trinity about him. So he drives her car off the bridge, into the river.
That’s confident story-telling for you. There’s no mystery here, the episode makes plain what it’s about. Except in one respect.
We move to Caleb next. He and his best friend Boone are practicing archery for the contest at the fair. Both are using pretty basic equipment, both are good but Boone’s better. Which is where Sheriff Buck steps in. Caleb doesn’t want anything to do with him, he’s naturally suspicious of the man, finds him creepy and a little bit oily in his constant attempts to insinuate himself into Caleb’s life (it’s one realistic flaw in Buck that he, like many people, doesn’t quite know how to talk to children: he comes over as ever so slightly patronising).
Buck’s determined that Caleb will win. He taunts him into killing a crow, which Caleb instantly regrets, he replaces Caleb’s bow with a lightweight, deluxe model, he sets out to drive a wedge between him and Boone. In the end it fails: Caleb wants to win, as does Boone, but the latter innocently as good, and if young Chris Fennell isn’t as good as Lucas Black, he’s still good enough to sell that as natural.
So Caleb, in mid-contest, hands back Lucas’s gear. He can still win it with a bull’s eye off his last shot, but falls short. Boone wins, Buck’s frustrated, the boys are still mates.
The third element of this episode centres upon Deputy Ben Healy. He’s out visiting a family. The implication of domestic violence is laid out immediately, though she’s too scared to confirm it. Or maybe there’s another reason. It’s allowed to slip out in passing but this isn’t any ordinary family: cabinet-maker Waylon Flood is second husband to Barbara Joy, and stepfather to Benji. Ben is Benji’s father.
Waylon’s one of these upfront bastards, a junior league Lucas Buck without the breadth of evil. He’s a nasty, stinking, small-minded little brute, throws his fists around, petty tyrant and always super-confident that he is right and ain’t no-one gonna mess with him. Ben’s not out for a fight but he still gets kicked in the balls, smacked in the face and punched in the stomach.
Ben’s determined to handle this himself, especially after Dr Matt warns him of the psychological damage this could all do to Benji, growing up with this as his role model. Ben rejects Buck’s offer to help and confronts Waylon again in his workshop, openly accusing him of cowardice, prepared to fight. But Waylon backs down. Ben isn’t aware but Buck has pulled up outside. Waylon starts to sweat, promises there won’t be no further trouble. Damn right there won’t. Believing he’s made his point, Ben leaves. Waylon’s still trembling. Buck returns, looks at Waylon. He backs off, stumbles, brings down a heap of stacked wood, knocks him off balance. His arm falls onto the bandsaw…
The speed with which it’s done is another American Gothic trademark. The show’s masterful at the slow creation of tension and the abrupt crash that jerks the viewer out of their seat.
But the main strand tonight is all about Gail, and all about Holly G. Miss Emory is still investigating Caleb’s birth and his Mama’s suicide and visits the Gallagher home to speak to her old schoolfriend, the attending nurse. Only then does she learn that Holly is dead, from ten years past, from mum Janice, a fluttery sort of woman, a beautician, selling makeovers, make yourself perfect.
The Sheriff confirms the details of the tragedy. Despite copious efforts with divers, the body was never found. Gail promptly heads for the bridge, hires two guys to help her. The diver finds the car immediately, only fifteen feet down, and T.J. (a fine bit of continuity from last week) winches it up. There’s no body inside. And the driver’s seat is set too far back for Holly to have reached the pedals…
Janice is taking Gail’s attempts to find out just what happened as an attack on her. And for good reason. By a slightly dodgy contrivance, Gail discovers Janice is paying for a Sanatorium: Holly G is alive. And well, in body, but not in mind. She doesn’t recognise Gail is concerned only about if her boyfriend is there. Her boyfriend is: Lucas Buck appears out of nowhere yet again. Four minutes without oxygen has led to brain damage. Holly G lives, but all her abilities, all the potential her mother worshipped in her, is dead, and Janice can’t bear to see what’s not perfection.
And then we’re given a perfect example of just how effective Lucas Buck can be. Confronted with Gail’s accusations, and especially that he was driving, he conducts his own version of Show Not Tell. He drives Gail’s car to the bridge, to demonstrate. We immediately fear he’s going to try to disappear her too, but no, Buck’s more subtle than that. He knows the road so well he could drive it blind, and closes his eyes. He starts to go faster, telling Gail about how he broke up with Holly G that night, how she couldn’t take it, how she grabbed at the wheel and he lost control.
Just like a panicky Gail is grabbing at the wheel. On the bridge, the car slews. But this time Buck brakes before going through the fence. Leaving Gail with a perfect cover story she cannot counter. Not to mention a forceful kiss from the Sheriff.
Janice’s refusal to accept her damaged daughter is a final nasty touch in an episode of nasty touches. Gail tries to break through Janice’s shell, remind her that her daughter is alive, and would rather be home, but Janice’s fear surrounds her, she backs away.
Which makes the little scene that almost closes out the episode all the more effective in stinging the audience’s heart. Janice has brought Holly G home to her own room. Holly’s in her nurse’s uniform, Janice is reading to her from a text book, three vital signs. She names two, asks Holly G to give her the third. Smiling happily, Holly says, “Lucas Buck.” After a moment of immobility, Janice beamingly replies, “That’s right, blood pressure.” And she folds her arms round her dughter, telling her that she’s perfect.
And it is perfect. It’s a small moment, there in the dark, a miniature suggestion that it might be possible to get people to be brave, to now allow themselves to fall into the shallow courses Lucas Buck has dug for them. No more than that, not spelled out, for us to read for ourselves.
In contrast to the final scene, Buck in a hot tub, Selena teasing him with hot candlewax. Buck genuinely can’t understand why Caleb rejected the chance to be a winner. Stupid game. It’s not over, it’s along way from over.
Where there are four DC Universe TV shows appearing on the same network, you’re going to get crossovers, especially as three of those shows are practically incestuous to begin with, having spun-off each other.
Last year, the crossover was spread over four consecutive nights, with each of the shows retaining their own identity and concerns for the most part against the background of invasion by distinctly unconvincing CGI aliens. It was fun, but most of that came in the last part, when everybody got together for a mass superhero brawl.
This year, it went a whole lot better. Firstly, the four-parter was stripped over only two nights, in blocks of two hours (for which Arrow shot forward three days),which maintained the momentum far more successfully, and secondly it went out under its own title, Crisis on Earth-X, and played as a distinct, four part mini-series, which worked fantastically.
The title alone had a nostalgic ring for veterans like me. Ever since the first JLA/JSA team-up back in 1963, Crisis has been the DC got-to title for big events. And Crisis on Earth-X is personally significant to me because that was the title of Justice League of America 107, all those years ago, my gateway back into reading comics.
The mini-series borrowed the same principle but built its story upon a colossal twist. This further forward in time, their Hitler has died (in 1994) and a new Fuhrer is in charge, supported by a female General. The Fuhrer is an expert archer with a mainly green leather costume, the General is a superstrong, flying, blonde-tressed Aryan type: yes, it’s the Earth-X Oliver Queen and Kara Danvers Queen – his wife!
And supporting this unlovely pair of versions, we have the Reverse-Flash, still wearing Harrison Wells’ face and, if we don’t have enough allusions to early series, another expert Archer called Prometheus, under whose mask is… Colin Donnell, aka Tommy Merlin.
The main thrust of the story is that Super-X-girl is dying due to some form of radiation poisoning and needs a new heart – that of Kara Danvers. As she’s going to be on Earth-1, attending Barry and Iris’s wedding, our villains bust in on the ceremony (does anyone have any objections? Pouf: Minister is vapourised).
The wisdom of trying this on just when the Church is crammed packed with the superheroes of four whole series may be questionable but not to Green-X-Arrow: in fact, the show is heavy with speeches, from him, from Super-X-girl and even from poor Tommy (before he chucks a cyanide capsule down his throat after being captured) wholeheartedly espousing Fascist ideology, and despising the heroes and, by extension, all the other 52 worlds of the Multiverse, as weak, deserving only of serving their betters.
It’s horribly contemporary, though nobody makes that connection outside the audience, and the F-word is never used, though Nazi is bandied around with comfortable ease. But this strength through purity, contempt for the weak, the poor, the non-Aryans: tell me that doesn’t ring a bell with a lot of what we see around us.
I particularly liked the way that each show abandoned its individual identity in favour of the four episodes going out as Crisis on Earth-X. This was particularly welcome in the case of Supergirl, which I’ve given up watching.
Generally, there was a common core cast of the principals and a couple of essential supporting characters, with the other supporting players having only relatively limited roles, in passing. For instance, Kara brought her sister Alex with her to the big wedding (whereupon Alex copped off with Sarah Lance at the rehearsal), and Oliver Queen brought Felicity.
The Flash got the best of it, but then the story was mainly taking place in Central City and was built around Barry and Iris’s wedding, so having the full cast play through was pretty much a given. And whilst only Sarah, Mick, Jax and Professor Stein went to the wedding, the positioning of Legends of Tomorrow as the close-out show again ensured the rest of the Legends got a good look-in too.
There were more than a couple of surprises along the way. Russell Tovey turned up for the back half as a Concentration Camp victim on Earth-X, imprisoned for being gay but, as advertised, he’s also a superhero, the solar-powered The Ray. Though the Ray is actually from Earth-1, once the whole thing was done, he went back to Earth-X to continue the good fight, but his lover (from Earth-X) decided to stay on Earth-1 for a bit. His lover was captain Cold, the Earth-X version, Wentworth Miller enjoying subtly camping things up as ‘Leo’ Snart, his interactions with Dominic Purcell a total delight.
And despite the vapourised Minster, Barry and Iris did get married at the end. They’d had the ceremony, all they needed was the Licenced Minister, so Barry speed-snatched John Diggle out of Star City.
Not to be outdone, having rather loudly turned down his proposal in part 1, because she did not want to get married, Felicity had a sudden change of heart, and got Dig to tie her and Ollie’s knot too. Aww!
But there was one thing I didn’t expect, not in itself but especially not in a more or less self-contained mini-series with only a minor degree of relevance to each show’s ongoing plotlines. I rigorously avoid spoilers, so I have had no idea where the Legends plot of Professor Stein and Jax trying to separate themselves as Firestorm, to enable the former to return to his wife, daughter and grandson, was going to lead. Was Victor Garber leaving? He is the first name in the credits, after all.
So the cliffhanger for part 3 was that he and Jax had separated to speed up what needed to be done to get everyone home to Earth-1, but they were all being attacked by machine-gunning Nazis, and Stein made a run for the lever he needed to pull, and was shot. In the back.
In the final episode, he made the final effort and pulled the lever, but at the cost of another bullet. So he was rushed back to the medbay on the Waverider, and his physical suffering fed back to Jax, but it rapidly became very clear, that Martin Stein should be dead from his wounds, that he would be if he wasn’t sustaining himself on Jax’s life-force, and that Jax would die alongside him. So Stein refused to drag Jax in with him. And he died.
It was a shock and it was felt by everyone. Next week’s Legends is the Fall Finale and I’m eager to see where they go with this now: I mean, Stein could ‘survive’ as a ghostly voice in Jax’s ear, as Firestorm, or maybe Franz Drameh is out of the series two, and depending on the reaction to Russell Tovey, I’m guessing on the Ray joining the Legends before the season is over.
But this was really a surprise, even if it did turn the last part into Two Weddings and a Funeral (I’m sorry, but the producers were angling for that, obviously).
Speaking of Supergirl, I didn’t see anything to suggest I’m missing anything, and with the exception of Sarah helping Alex get over her separation from Maggie (and I don’t mean by that that her… head was turned by a lesbian one night stand, you filthy-minded sods), there was nothing to do with ongoing continuity there: Kara/Melissa Benoist was in it for the mini-series story only, and thank the TV Gods for that.
So, a palpable hit by being almost purely superhero geek from start to finish. Keep this format for 2018 and, as one who has recently watched Justice League on the big screen, take a bloody big dose of Crisis and inject into everyone who will have anything to do with the sequel: this is how you do it, you pompous bastards!
With the season ending coming up fairly soon, and the momentous events planned for it, it was about time for a reminder of the political background against which the series has been operating since mid-season. There’s a war approaching, but we’ve been carrying on as if everything were normal for so long that the viewers needed a jab in the bum.
Thus there was a lot of exposition-heavy dialogue at the start of this episode, designed to bring the audience up to speed. There’s nothing new, except that the Maquis have been more or less wiped out, but at least we know where we stand.
But this is merely an adjunct to the real purpose of this episode, which was to complete the story of Michael Eddington: former Starfleet security chief on DS9, traitor to the Federation, Maquis leader, Federation prisoner.
An intercepted message from a Maquis remnant to ‘Michael’, refers to 30 cloaked missiles, fired at Cardassia as an act of revenge: like the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, this is the first domino: an inevitable sequence of events will ensue, leading to total, Quadrant vs Quadrant war.
Sisko’s not having it, not on his watch. ‘Michael’, to him and everyone except one slightly dopey member of the audience, is obviously our man Eddington, and Sisko is determined to get him out of his cell and co-operating on stopping these missiles, whether he wants to or not.
Eddington doesn’t care. The one thing he was loyal to, that he believed in, his life’s goal, is dead and buried. If the Federation is about to go down in flames, he’s content to burn with it. Even when manacled and on board Sisko’s runabout, en route to the Badlands, he’s maintaining this nihilistic attitude, though when Sisko forces him to the helm whilst they’re under attack by two Jem’Hadar ships, he combines his Starfleet and Maquis training to get them out of there safely.
Much of the middle of the show is, effectively, a war of words, a battle of ideologies. If it’s meant as a final definition of Eddington’s character, then it fails: the man emerges as much an enigma as ever. But, unless we can come to a conclusion about whether the Maquis cause was good or bad, we will never decide to our satisfaction on whether Eddington was hero or villain or, more accurately, the precise balance between the two which was the real situation.
Instead, we get considerably more genuine insight into Sisko, a creature of ego, from Eddington, which I personally found pretty acute.
Our unlikely war buddies eventually track down the ‘launch site’ to fog-shrouded Athos IV, where they land. The place is crawling with Jem’Hadar,through whom they have to fight their way. Eddington, by now, ha had ample opportunities to shoot Sisko in the back, but has refrained from doing so because he knows one thing that Sisko doesn’t: it’s a con.
A great big, booming, impudent con. There is no lunch site, there are no missiles, war will not start today. Instead, it’s been a carefully planned ruse, to manipulate Sisko into freeing Eddington and bringing him here, to rescue a Maquis band that includes Eddington’s wife, Rebecca, and escape to start again.
At least there’s no War, not yet anyway. So Sisko does the humanitarian thing and co-operates. But the Jem’Hadar are the fly in the ointment. They weren’t meant to be here, they’re the tail-end of the chase. Sisko and Eddington form a rearguard as the others, including Rebecca, are sent on ahead. Straightway we know, and almost immediately Eddington is wounded, enough so that he has to stay behind, whilst Sisko gets the Wagon Train through… A glorious death in a lost cause, and who’s to say Michael Eddington wouldn’t have wanted it that way.
Yes, of course it’s a cliche ending, but perhaps because Eddington, to the end, was never quite defined, never pinned down and anatomised in full, it works. The man died for his beliefs, died to protect his wife: there is always something inherently noble about that.
Though it served as a necessary reminder of the political background, the episode’s real purpose was to end this thread, not just Eddington but the Maquis. It was felt that there were too many unresolved stories heading towards season 6, and one of them had to be seen off, and buried. The rest was lagniappe.
There was a B-story and an essentially comic one, about Nog establishing respect from the Klingons whilst he’s working security, but it was really not worth interrupting the A-story for, so I’m going to ignore it.
Well, shucks, here we go again, there’s gonna be a Wedding! Bread and circuses are once again being served to the proletariat, as hard and heavy as the Press and TVF can shovel it down their throats, as welcome relief/calculated distraction from the state of this dismal country and the even more dismal state of its so-called Government. As I seem to remember David Byrne once saying, same as it ever was.
Now don’t get me wrong. Insofar as this involves a young man and a young woman who are in love and who wish to marry and spend their lives together, then good luck to them, I’ll wish them well. But as I know neither of the couples, in the same way that I do not know either of John Smith or Alison Jones who also announced their engagement today, I do not feel any need to know about it, and especially not any of the details.
But I’m going to be bombarded with them from now until next spring, aren’t I? No matter how reclusive I am, how hermit-like I have become, I am destined to know more about the bloody thing than any sane human being could want to know, short of going on strike and camping out in Loughrigg Cave for the duration. If it wasn’t so effing cold at the moment, I would be tempted.
The thing is, I have been here before, I have form for this. Like any person of my generation, we have walked the walk multiple times.
The first one was Anne and Mark in 1973. I really don’t remember the roots of my aversion to the Royal Family and the sycophancy that we’re supposed to display towards them, but it firmly was in place by that time. I was three days past my eighteenth birthday, I was at University, it was a Wednesday, and I remember that detail because we had no lectures, ever, on Wednesday afternoon, so I headed home, let myself in, shouted a hello to those in the lounge, glued to the affair, and bounded upstairs, not to come down until everything was long since over.
This got me in trouble from my mother, not because of my deliberate insult to the Royal Family, which was already firmly established and accepted as just one of the many ways in which her elder child was irredeemably weird. No, I got into trouble, and on this occasion rightly so, because she had earlier that day driven across to Hulme to collect my Nanna, her mother, to enable her to watch the Wedding in colour.
In my urge to have nothing to do with proceedings, I did not even pop my head round the door to say hello to Nanna, though in my marginal defence, I was not called when Mam left to take her home. This one I acknowledge, and am ashamed about. On the other hand, I have no regrets about boycotting the event.
The next one was the biggie, Chas and Di in 1981, the source of the New Sycophancy that is with us to today, having survived the wobble induced by Diana’s death. This time, avoiding the television broadcast brought no complaints from my mother, and I pushed off into Manchester, on the bus, which was still running despite the country having come to a standstill for the nuptials of the Heir to the Throne. I mean, this was the big one, patriotism-wise, the necessary first step towards ensuring the continuation of the Line (actually, it’s legally necessary for Heirs to be borne within wedlock).
Frankly, the only thing I genuinely do remember about the day was going with a mate to an evening festival, eating lots of sausage barms and feeling completely out of place among people who had loved the day and been seriously enthralled about everything. It felt very lonely.
Next one was Andrew and Fergie, which takes us to 1986. There was no shutting the country down for the day on this occasion, which was a Wednesday again. I had plans for this one. I was working for a big firm, in the centre of Manchester. Everybody knew me, and understood where I came from, especially when it came to my antic sense of humour, so I was looking forward for weeks in advance to a morning of stomping up and down the corridor and roaring out “Vive la Republique!” and “A la Lanterne!”.
I got shafted. About three weeks before the Glorious Day, I was approached by the Partners in Manchester. An Articled Clerk was qualifying in London and leaving, but his successor wasn’t able to start for one month. London desperately needed someone to fill in, to manage and run down his workload so that the replacement could start with a clean desk: I was asked to be that rescuer.
I wasn’t being asked because I was the best Assistant Solicitor we had but because I was the most flexible. Everybody else had houses (and mortgages) and would have found a shift to London incredibly difficult to manage. I would travel to London on Monday morning, return Friday evening (at the firm’s expense), and during the week I would live in a small flat above the office, which was usually provided for the benefit of partners who wanted to stay overnight to go the the Theatre, the Opera or a Show. All my food would be found for me (even if I nipped out for a KFC in the evening, provided I kept the receipt) and I was paid a London Allowance of £100.00 per week on top of my regular salary.
Plus one of my Manchester partners privately warned me that if there wasn’t enough work for me to do, I should have a private word with him and he’d get me pulled out.
The only time there was not really work to do was the last week, by which time I’d got the workload down to three files, and was exhausting myself badgering the same three opposite numbers every day, for updates. I never did get those files done, but my efforts were still very much appreciated, and I got on well with all those Londoners down there for the month I was intruded into their working lives.
The problem was, exactly in the middle of my London exile, on the Wednesday of the third week, was the Royal Wedding. Taking place in the very city where I was currently temporarily resident. I had some of the secretaries coming up to me, willing to slip upstairs to my little room (with its bed), not because of a sudden overwhelming lust for my Mancunian body (as if) but because they assumed I would have been supplied with a TV (the firm weren’t going to buy one, no matter how small and cheap for one month’s use) and they could catch glimpses of the proceedings.
Now there were one or two of them, and I don’t just mean the ones of my age, who I would have prepared to bear with some of the ceremony if we were sat on my bed, but that was no go.
And sadly, so was my plan to roar Republican slogans half the day. I didn’t know them well enough to know if they knew me well enough to take my intended sloganeering in the spirit in which it was intended, namely, that I meant every word of it, but, well, it was only Martin being Martin, ignore him.
Actually, that’s the last one I can remember having any significance. Anne and her second, the one we never hear anything of, Chas and Camilla, these were all quiet affairs as befits divorcees trying again. Eddy and thingummybob was also quiet I think (I can’t bear the idea of looking it up to see if there was massive public fuss and I’ve just forgotten about it completely).
Of course, William and Kate-with-the-bum-everyone-slathered-over-except-me was another big deal, but that didn’t take place until 2011, and as I no longer had a television by that time, ignoring it wasn’t anything like as big a deal. And the same will go for Harry the ginger and Meaghan. Indeed, by this point, I’ve forgotten just how many Royal Weddings I’ve ignored down the last forty-odd years. It’s no longer a protest, but a force of habit.
Still, at least I get the chance to flex old muscles again. It’s an ill wind that blows no Republican any good.
I suppose you’d have to say that in the Eighties, I was one of those for whom Alan Moore was God, at least when it came to writing comic books. I discovered him on, simultaneously, Marvelman and V for Vendetta, in Warrior no. 1, and gleefully followed him to DC Comics, where he rapidly became the first superhero writer. And why not? Even in an eight-page back-up, Moore had the priceless gift of being able to see angles upon stories, situations, sensations that no-one had previously thought to look for, let alone discovered, but once seen seemed entirely inevitable. Every Moore story seemed to unpick and re-make the Universe, a piece at a time. Dialogue, captions, notions: no doubt Marv Wolfman summed it up for a lot of people when he said, “if he could plot as well, we’d have to gang up and kill him.”
All this culminated in Watchmen. The official story was that, once DC acquired the rights to the Charlton heroes, Managing Editor Dick Giordano invited Moore to come up with a treatment for them. Giordano, who, as editor at Charlton in the Sixties, had shepherded most of these characters onto the page was looking for something to introduce this group en masse into the DC Universe. Moore, seeing that there was only one genuine superhero among the lot, saw something different.
Moore saw the opportunity for a deconstructivist superhero series. With the exception of Captain Atom, nobody really had any powers. They were human. Conceiving his idea as, initially, a murder mystery – who killed The Peacemaker? – Moore wanted to directly address the notion of ordinary humans who put on bright costumes and went out into the streets to fight crime, hand to hand. When it came down to it, why would someone do that? How would they do that?
It wasn’t until a couple of issues had been carefully devised that Moore, who by now had Dave Gibbons attached to draw, saw the even bigger, and more fundamental question: if people did things like that, what would it do to society? And if there really was a superhuman, in the middle of the Cold War, what would he do to the world?
Reportedly, Giordano blenched at what Moore had done to his babies. In practical terms, DC hadn’t paid out for all these rights just for one use, which was all they would be getting, so Moore was asked to go away and revise his story to utilise newly created characters. This was, on one level, a good thing: Moore and Gibbons could archetypalise their protagonists, emphasising this approach’s universality, whilst using the shadow of Blue Beetle, The Question et al. to equip the likes of Nite Owl, Rorschach etc. with shadow backgrounds.
Watchmen was a massive success. It was different in many respects, deliberately so, heavily, almost obsessively designed and hyper-detailed, and alongside Frank Miller’s contemporaneous The Dark Knight Returns, was massively and misguidedly influential, ushering in the grim’n’gritty era.
It was also be be collected as a Graphic Novel, to be published on book publishing terms: once it was out of print and not in publication for two years, the rights would revert to Moore and Gibbons.
No-one expected just how successful it would be, or that it would still be in print and still selling over thirty years later. That had never happened in comics before. The rights never reverted. Moore has always regarded this as a betrayal, and it was a part of the cocktail events that led to his refusal to work again for or with DC.
Legally, DC were within their rights: the book sold and sold, it made profits for them year or year, who was going to be stupid enough to withdraw it? But this was the letter of the agreement, not the spirit, an unforeseen outcome that worked to their advantage. It would have made more sense to have re-negotiated with Moore and Gibbons retrospectively, to revise the contract in a way that reflected what had actually happened. But DC Comics were, and are, a commercial company. Why should they give away any part of their goldmine when they didn’t have to? And this was the company that had already tried to rip-off Moore and Gibbons by classifying a successful set of spin-off badges as ‘Promotional Material’ instead of ‘Merchandising’ so they could deny the creators the royalties.
Moore withdrew from DC permanently. It’s cost him a lot of money, which has got up the noses of those people, many of whom being comic book fans, who, never being prepared to sacrifice anything to principle, have attacked Moore for determinedly living by his ethics, no matter the cost.
One thing that can be placed to DC’s credit, or rather that of President Paul Levitz, has been the refusal to countenance spin-offs. Levitz, who entered the industry as a writer, though he was always primarily a businessman, refused to allow any proposals to use the Watchmen characters that did not mean Moore and Gibbons. It was not so much a door held open as one perpetually resting against the jamb, but Levitz insisted upon it. Whilst he was in charge, the Watchmen characters would not be used by anybody else, even though at all times DC had the legal right to do so.
But Levitz would not last forever. DC’s management was restructured in the 2000s and he stepped down. The company fell under the creative control of Managing Editor Dan DiDio and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. Johns certainly was one of DC’s most popular writers, though I have never rated him as highly as his general reputation would demand: DiDio I know more from the many decisions heavily criticised in the fan websites I follow in preference to actually following the DC Universe.
In 2010, DiDio, free of Levitz, decided he was not bound by any questions of morality or ethics, and initiated a series of spin-offs under the overall title of Before Watchmen. It was incredibly controversial. Debate raged between those who saw it as a breach of the sanctity, the book publishing sanctity that had always been afforded to Moore and Gibbons’ creation, and those who saw nothing wrong on any level with letting other writers and artists play with the characters. It’d be cool. We want more Rorschach, more Dr Manhattan, etc.
I sided with the former. The latter represents the age-old comicbook position that the character, not the creator, is what makes a comic good. It’s backwards-looking. To me, it’s no different than, say, Rob Wilkins deciding to write the 42nd Discworld novel. I know he wouldn’t but that, to me, is the level of sanctity demanded.
Although the creators included people whose work I would otherwise be eager to read, I was among those who boycotted Before Watchmen. I have not, nor will I ever read any part of it.
I’m laying this out because, tomorrow (as I write this section) I am going to breach that strict ethical stance, and I want the chance to consider my position before I do.
Five years ago, when DC rebooted their Universe for the fifth time, I wrote a lengthy piece about why I wasn’t going with them. The New 52 Universe was a radical departure that threw out all sense of history and legacy. It was controversial, a lot of it was crap, and last year, DC initiated a line-wide reboot-that-was-not-a-reboot in the form of DC Rebirth.
The underlying structure of Rebirth is the concept that someone, with the deliberate intent of weakening the DC Universe, stole ten years out of it. From the first, it was heavily implied that this had been done by Dr Manhattan. For a very long time, the mysterious and manipulative figure of Mr Oz in Supernan’s titles was expected to be revealed as Ozymandias, from Watchmen, though in the end it was another and even more major character return.
But a few months ago, DC announced a twelve-month limited series under the title of Doomsday Clock. It’s heavily implied that this series will lay out the complete background to Rebirth, although it’s also been stated that it will not have cross-overs into the DC Universe. Nearer the time, it was indeed confirmed that this was basically Superman vs Dr Manhattan.
We all know that, in terms of sheer power, and the ways in which it can be applied, Dr Manhattan can wipe the floor with Superman. We also know that Superman will win over him. DC would rock to its veriest foundations if Superman didn’t win.
Ethically, morally, the position is no different. This is a trespass on Moore and Gibbons’ creative rights in Watchmen, and I should boycott it as completely as I have and do Before Watchman. But tomorrow (as I write this section) I am going out to collect and pay for the copy of Doomsday Clock 1 that I reserved almost as soon as I heard of it.
The ethics are the same but the story isn’t. Doomsday Clock is going to be a major story (or that’s how it’s pitched), it’s going to bring the Watchman Universe and the DC Universe together, it’s going to spring surprises, make changes, be significant. It will change the (comics) world.
I’m not necessarily desperate to read that. I never read Flashpoint, which initiated the New 52. I read the original Rebirth issue, but I haven’t read anymore, and I made a profit, selling it on eBay. But despite the hypocrisy it entails, I do feel the need to read Doomsday Clock 1. And maybe the other eleven too. If it’s too crap, or inessential, or I just can’t stomach it, I shall drop the series and turn to eBay again. But I need to know what’s going on.
It came out on Wednesday. I’ve already spent half the week avoiding spoilers, not entirely successfully (I know Rorschach’s back). Usually, it’d be at least another fortnight before I visited Forbidden Planet again, but I can’t keep avoiding the spoilers that long. So, having addressed my hypocrisy and come to no better reason than necessity, the second section of this will be a review of Doomsday Clock 1.
I would seriously wish to loathe it and explain its multiple deficiencies and crassnesses.
Since first learning of Doomsday Clock, I have been deliberately starving my imagination of what it could possibly be. That it’s been a massive commercial success right off the bat went without saying. What it is is a comic that, so far, is so slavishly imitative of its original and yet without an ounce of its point as to question the entire point. But this is only issue 1, and it’s entirely set-up, and not much of that either.
First, however, let me record the ways this is an imitation of Watchmen. There is the nine-panel grid layout on all but one, significant yet confusing page. There is the odd title, ‘This Annihilated Place’, that epitomises the chapter and which comes from a larger, also apposite quote. And there’s the four post-story pages given over to newspaper cuttings filling in details of the intervening period. It’s a copycat, all right.
Until the end, the story takes place in the ‘Watchmen Universe’. Seven years have passed since the end of Watchmen. As hinted at at the end of the series, Robert Redford stood for President in 1988 and was elected. Rorschach’s Journal was indeed published in The New Frontiersman, but was completely ignored. Instead, trailing in the polls, President Redford drops the bombshell on the eve of the Election about Veidt’s trick.
Redford got re-elected and promptly headed straight back to the golf course: the world went to shit. Adrian Veidt, the most influential man on the planet for the last seven years, is now the most wanted man. The EU has collapsed, Russia has invaded Poland and the US has given them four hours to get out. Everything’s broken. Veidt can’t fix it a second time. The only man who can is Dr Manhattan, Jon Osterman. A small team, Ozymandias, Rorschach and The Marionette, plus her unrequested but still present husband, The Mime, has got about three and a half hours to find where Dr Manhattan went, and get him back, with enough breathing space to win.
Now that I put it that way, I can see what a stupid, comic book story it is, all fake, hyped-up apocalypse.
Now there’s a few things about the summary where we’re going to have to track back and fill in some details. Ozymandias is as expected but let’s add in the detail that he’s now got cancer, and the implication is that it’s both fatal and well-developed. Hopefully, this will be more than a plain steal from Moloch, first time round.
Rorschach? But he died, blown to smithereens by Dr Manhattan. This is not Walter Kovacs, however, but rather a new Rorschach, about whom all we know is that he’s black. He’s also a pale imitation, no pun intended. Though he’s clearly meant to be the same bull-goose looney as the original, he’s nothing like so absolute. Not only is he working with Veidt, perpetrator of the biggest crime in human history, but he’s breaking out of prison two criminals.
Actually, he’s only there for the Marionette, aka Erika Manson, but she insists she won’t go without her husband, Marco Maez, the Mime. I mean, first he has to effectively ‘bribe’ her to go by offering her the chance of being reunited with her lost baby son, but he gives in to her insistence on springing her husband. Compared to the real Rorschach, this one’s as flexible as Plastic Man.
Either Johns can’t or doesn’t feel comfortable with writing a character so absolute as the real Rorschach. The fake narrates the issue, except that instead of a Journal, this is in his head, and Johns can’t get anywhere near the genuinely disturbed mindset of Kovacs: he just cannot get the words right.
As for the two new characters, I am incredibly dubious. Apart from her being a vicious psycho, we know nothing about her nor what she does and especially not why Ozy needs her on the Get Dr Manhattan Project. Him, he’s mute, and acts like a mime. His special tools are invisible and intangible. Rorschach’s ‘joke’ about pointing an invisible gun not being funny is exactly that: not funny.
But I’ll wait for more. So far, he’s just a vicious psycho, but if either of them start manifesting superpowers of any kind…
Of course, Doomsday Clock isn’t simply a sequel to Watchmen. It’s supposed to be about some kind of merger, or at least planned relationship between it and the DC (Rebirth) Universe, so there’s a four page coda, introduced by Ozy’s tail-off line about “Wherever (Dr Manhattan)’s retreated to” which sees us transition to the bedroom of Mrs and Mrs Clark Kent.
Clark’s dreaming. It’s Prom Night, and Jonathan and Martha have made him put on a tux and go, even though Pete Ross has asked out Lana Lang. Significantly, this page abandons the nine panel grid for a twelve panel grid, three tiers of four. A shift that is immediately rendered meaningless when the next page – still the dream – reverts to nine panels. On which page a lorry shunts the Kent’s truck into a tree, killing both.
(This, I have had to look up, is current continuity, holding over from the New 52. I will make no comment about it).
Lois wakes because Clark’s screaming and hovering above the bed. She comments that she’s never seen him have a nightmare before. He comments that he never has had one before. The episode title is then revealed as coming from a poem called, appropriately, Ozymandias. Only it’s not the well-known one from Shelley but the contemporaneous effort by his mate Horace Smith (I am not making this up, nor is Johns, though I have learned about Horace and his deservedly lesser known Ozymandias only as a consequence of this quote, and since writing the preceding sentence: I presume there is a point to this wilful obscurity).
So, there we have it. In and off itself, Doomsday Clock serves to convince me that Geoff Johns hasn’t got an original idea in his fucking head. If any of his thousands od dedicated fans read this, they will no doubt seek to howl me down, most likely by accusing Alan Moore of only ever ripping off other people’s characters. This is a far from unfounded accusation, though I would draw a massive distinction between Moore’s genuine ability to bring original viewpoints to superhero comics and other genre, expanding the range of possibilities available to both story and concept, and John’s narrower field of vision which seems limited only to producing slicker, more efficient and violent superhero comics, by strip-searching other people’s creations for things he can then distort way beyond their initial ideas.
Frankly, that’s what Doomsday Clock is to me. Watchmen was created as an inherently unitary idea, with a beginning, middle and end. None of the hordes baying for Alan Moore’s head for the crime of wanting to deny them endless exploitation of the characters can deny that that was what was in the mind of both the creators and the company when the series was commissioned. What Geoff Johns is doing is pissing around in someone else’s flowergarden, and I don’t like that.
Having read issue 1 has freed me up to read those recent reviews etc. One indicates the notion that part of Johns’ purpose in this series is to comment metafictionally on the effect Watchmen had on comics. We’ve all been sadly aware that, down the years, it’s been more a case of writers and artists grabbing onto the ‘grim’n’gritty’ and amping up the blood, rapine and violence: Darkness Uber Alles, and I’ve read a lot of people suggesting that that’s a large part of Geoff Johns’ modus operandi, though I haven’t read enough of his work to comment, and far less a case of looking for the strange, the unusual, the innovative in this world of fictional characters we have available to us.
It’s a sour taste this leaves me with, but I’ll stomach it for now. Come back in about a months time and I’ll rip into issue 2. Or praise it, if praise is due. Don’t count the days, though.
Among the reviews I’ve read so far, which unlike my own have been universally impressed, I’ve read a couple of comments about the metafictional aspect of Doomsday Clock, as an intended commentary on the effect of Watchmen on comics in general.
It’s been suggested that part of Johns’ personal remit is to answer what Watchmen (and The Dark Knight Returns) did in creating the grim’n’gritty era. That he will be showing that the Universe of hope that is the DC universe in its present form is inherently superior to the Universe of cynicism that is the Watchmen Universe.
I hope not, I truly hope not. I’ve already said that I expect Superman to prevail because, as we all know, there’s no way DC are going to allow their most iconic character to come second best to anyone.
But to me, that metafictional intention, if it is correct, is nothing more than the intention to shit, comprehensively, upon Watchmen, long and hard, to diminish and destroy it by proving the orthodox DC Universe to be *better*, with bells, trumpets and whistles all over it.
Watchmen was the product of a particular time, and a particular set of circumstances. It was not meant to show up the DC Universe as inferior, but to offer a different perspective, completely separate and parallel. It wasn’t about anything so petty as who’s stronger, who’s better? Superman and Dr Manhattan didn’t co-exist, never would co-exist, meet or match up against each other, and Watchmen was the better for that.
It sounds to me as if that’s eaten at Geoff Johns, and maybe Dan DiDio until they can’t stand it. Watchmen has to be cut down to size, proved to be second class. Shat on, to put it bluntly. Then it can take its place as nothing more or less that just a facet of the DC Universe.
I’d like to be completely wrong about this, to be proven paranoid and raving. And if that is the case, I will admit it. But I’ll be there all the way, watching, hawk-like, for anything that indicates to me that this is the direction we’re going in. And I won’t mince my words about Johns if this is what is in his mind.
I’m quick to call out the Guardian for Crap Journalism (although I’m thinking of maybe renaming it Crap Above And Beyond The Call Of Everyday Crap Journalism because I let so much of it go), but I try to be equally quick to point out the ones that should be praised, for intelligence, for sensitivity, for just being human in a way we don’t see often enough.
As I anticipated, episode 4 was the starting point for the American Gothic status quo ante: we have an overriding story arc which will be served in gradual steps, hints and foreshadowings, but each episode will contain an individual done-in-one story, which won’t necessarily be about any of the main characters. Except, of course, Sheriff Lucas Buck.
This episode was a particularly evil little affair, twisted in both senses of the word, showing Lucas in operation. It was a tightly drawn plot, as seamless as J.B. Priestley at his playwright finest, not a loose moment, not an angle unaccounted for, and it had a sick and rotten underpinning.
Carter Bowen is Trinity’s Mr Fixit, the scrapyard owner, though most of the work is done by his handyman, T.J. Carter has a wife, Etta, and a ripening daughter, Poppy, 15 years old and busting out all over. We’re led to him by two of our leads: Caleb at night, playing hide and seek with Boone and another schoolmate, Gail in daylight to get her Air Conditioning fixed. There’s a moment where Caleb grins and it’s sheer bloody evil, showing you just what’s at stake, and there’s a moment where Gail recognises her parent’s old car. She’d like to talk to Carter’s ‘boss’, Ward Sutpen, the previous owner of the scrap yard but he’s… unavailable.
Neat little set-ups. And then there’s Sheriff Buck. Wants another girl to …help around the office. Be a …gopher for him. The implication is obvious. Of course, at 15 she’s too young, without parental consent. And Carter owes a favour, of course he does. Purty near everybody owes Lucas a favour. The episode is about learning how favours get owed, and what happens if you refuse to pay them back.
Carter has till midnight. He’s not going to place his little girl in the Sheriff’s hands, no sir. And just after midnight, Etta gets an electric shock that throws her across the room. Buck knows the damage: two hairline fractures in her ankle, a dislocated right hip and a shock to the heart. Exactly Dr Matt’s diagnosis, but delivered hours earlier.
Etta will be fine with a bit of rest round the house. Lucas Buck’s fine too, just wants Carter to meet some guy off the bus, take him home until the Sheriff can collect him. So Carter’s down there at 5.30pm, with Poppy. Bright, burgeoning Poppy. T meet the man off the bus: tall, heavy-set, muscled, sleek. Wasn’t due out for several years yet but Lucas pulled some strings. Ward Sutpen.
It doesn’t go down well at the Bowen household, especially notwhen it turns out he’s there to stay for a couple of days. Well, Poppy’s ok with it. He’s stroked her knee in the van, and the sap is rising, and she’s feeling ready to learn a few things. Like, exactly who did Mr Sutpen kill?
Turns out it was the guy who was taking liberties with his daughter. Or so he thought. Shot the wrong guy. Lost his wife, his business, his daughter too. Carter used to be sweet on his daughter, too, before he met Etta, before he bought the business. Owes the Sheriff a favour, remember?
Starting to feel your lip curl a bit at the thought of this story?
Now Ward’s not doing anything to make anyone feel reassured about his intentions towards budding young Poppy, and neither is Poppy, come to that. And when Carter threatens him, Ward quickly demonstrates that Carter ain’t gonna be able to do diddly-squat with his fists, or even a long stick. So, when night falls, when Poppy and ward are whispering across the landing, Carter gets his rifle, sets outside Poppy’s door, intends to set up all night.
And when he awakes from sleep, hearing giggles inside the bedroom, he batters the door open, sees a figure leaning over prone Poppy, in her bed, and blasts with his rifle. But the twist, inevitable in retrospect but I didn’t see it coming, is that it’s not Ward. He’s outside with his case, job done move on, favour paid. It’s Etta.
So Carter is arrested. T.J.’s set to move on, job gone, needs to live. Would like to run his own business, be a Mr Fixit, but doesn’t have the money. On the other hand, a low-interest loan to buy an opportunity that’s just about to come on the market, not to mention a ripening young woman, could be organised by the right kind of Sheriff, out to make things work out for his people. Mind you, that’s a favour that might get called in, one of these days.
I don’t think that story needs any further comment.
Of course, we are not without elements of the overall arc. For Caleb, it’s a Science Fair, with each kid contributing a project from their own resources. Caleb’s interested in weather, violent weather, tornados, but he’s not getting very far with a household blender. Dr Matt offers a book about how and why, Sheriff Buck’s only about winning, as in $40 to buy the makings of a tornado chamber. It’s cheating, but Caleb’s refusal is only initial. Merly doesn’t approve. Neither does Dr Matt, but in a superb example of the intelligence American Gothic credits to its audience, neither of them say anything. They leave Caleb to work it out for himself, indeed to out and disqualify himself just when he looks like winning, only for him to win by explaining the hows and whys.
As for Gail, there’s a flashback to childhood, to Deputy Buck pulling the car over for speeding, of her Mom giving her something to hide in the car. Something that’s still in the car. A little tin box, with a key on a chain inside it. More, obviously, in a later episode.
So there we have it. No wonder I got hooked on this in 1995 or thereabouts. There is something completely rotten at the heart of American Gothic. I look forward to more of it.
Suddenly, the rush is back with us. Rodney Bewes yesterday, David Cassidy today, and I didn’t even mention Jana Novotna, one of the nicest Wimbledon winners there’s ever been, on Monday. It’s like being back in 2016 again.
I confess that David Cassidy was not a favourite of mine in any way. I certainly never liked his music, and this was emphasised by the cover versions he recorded of two of the sweetest pop ballads of the Sixties, The Association’s ‘Cherish’ and The Rascals’s ‘How Can I Be Sure?’, which he took to No. 1 over here.
As a singer, he was one for the little girls. My ex-wife once told me that, at school, it was like tribes: there were the Osmonds, the Jacksons and David Cassidy and you had to take sides, even if you had no real preferences any way. She chose the Osmonds because that was who most of her friends had picked. No, not my thing, even at that semi-nascent stage of my musical development.
But we used to watch The Partridge Family each week, and I didn’t object, so I must have found it funny to some degree, though I expect I’d find it all a hideous experience now, though I’d probably find myself fancying Shirley Jones more than the young Susan Dey if I did.
Jones was Cassidy’s stepmother. His daughter, I have learned today, was Katie Cassidy, of Arrow, though they were estranged.
David Cassidy was never in any sense someone who I cared about, but for all that he’s no less a part of the web of memories that constitute part of my life, and he’s another one down. And I don’t like the way the toll is accelerating again.
I remember The Likely Lads from the Sixties, at first on TV and then on the radio, in adaptations made by James Bolam himself. My memories are brief: only one exchange about the ‘three star’ system – a horribly chauvinistic but absolutely typical concept – that went completely over my head at that tender age.
I also remember Rodney Bewes’ solo vessel, the ITV sitcom, Dear Mother, Love Albert, but here I only really remember that we watched it, and nothing of what we heard or saw.
But I was sixteen in 1972, when the BBC and writers Dick Clement and Ian La Fresnais brought back Whatever happened to the Likely Lads? and it changed the face of British sitcoms in a more subtle way than Steptoe and Son had done a decade before, but no less effectively. Thirteen episodes, a sequence building one upon another, that blended very effective and very real comedy with genuine emotion. As sitcoms go, it all but eliminated the ‘sit’ whilst being so utterly ‘com’ that we all roared along.
A second series wasn’t as focused, and the film was enjoyable but well below the standard set, and then James Bolam fell out with his co-star and refused to speak to him for the rest of their lives. Bewes fell on hard time and unlike Bolam never recovered any of the glory of starring on TV.
And now he’s gone, just a week or so short of his eightieth birthday. But for his falling out with Bolam, Clement and La Fresnais had expressed the wish to return to Bob and Terry, at five year intervals, dipping into lives that were ordinary and real and which they could make funny almost at will, by being no more than reporters of the natural comedy between friends who don’t really have all that much in common.
It never happened: another reason to journey to Earth-2. But a sitcom that ended forty years ago was so good that by itself it would be enough to celebrating the life of Rodney Bewes for.