Ghost Days

I’ve turned into a ghost again, at work. I’m sitting at my desk, doing my job, and everyone and everything is buzzing around me, but it isn’t involving me. No-one is talking to me, no-one is addressing me, I feel insubstantial, invisible. I am a ghost again.

I’m going through one of those spells where I’m sleeping hard and heavily and not waking until about 9.20 – 9.30am. Maybe it’s the winter and the dark mornings but it’s a complete contrast to the days of waking at early light, between 6.00 and 7.00am, and having no more sleep left in me.

So I’m not exactly positive, outgoing, forcing myself into people’s consciousness. Low energy, the draining effects of customers who are quite willing to come over like self-centred pricks to someone who’s here to help them. And the cycle perpetuates itself.


Read This

I’ve given up taking the Guardian now, following the horrific re-design. The paper’s long rightwards drift has troubled me for years and the re-design is finally the catalyst.

I still look at things online. I have always enjoyed her columns, even when they’re about her specialist subject, fashion.

Lots of people disagree with her. Today, she’s written about Roman Polanski, and Hollywood’s attitude to him in the awareness that he is a convicted and admitted child-rapist. Nobody’s disagreeing with her now.

Read this.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e05/6 – Favors the Bold/Sacrifice of Angels


So the six-part (seven, if you count the final episode of season 5) Dominion War arc concluded with a two-parter of its own, and with the expected victory for the Federation in the re-taking of Deep Space Nine. This was originally intended to take a single episode, but the sheer profusion of events requiring to be covered forced its expansion, and the sheer volume of guest stars to accommodate.

Both parts were excellent, but I’m not sure if the first part, ‘Favors the Bold’, wasn’t the better of the two. Though the double-episode structure meant that it was all build-up and no resolution, after the relatively innocuous open (the Defiant acting as a decoy to attract Jem’Hadar ships to be destroyed by it and the Rotaran), the episode started on the edge, and remained on the edge throughout.

The Federation are losing the War, and morale is falling at the constantly defensive stance. The Federation needs to go on the attack and Sisko has drawn up a plan: the retaking of DS9, and regaining control of the Wormhole.

Meanwhile, on DS9, Rom is still in the cells. He’s been declared a terrorist against the Dominion and there is only one sentence: execution. Kira can’t get Weyoun to change his mind, Ziya can’t get her father, Gul Dukat, to change his mind either. Leeta and Quark are trying to encourage Rom: Quark promises he will get him out, and that’s before Leeta agrees to run the dabo wheel for two years for free.

But Rom is adamant that he is unimportant. He should not be rescued. The anti-graviton beam must be sabotaged before it can neutralise the minefield on the Wormhole. Billions of lives depend on the War. Quark must take over from him. Though Quark refuses, it’s only because he’s afraid. He’s not being Quark, not being Ferengi, he’s taking everything seriously and it’s strange but I like him better here than I ever have before.

Meanwhile, Odo has been closeted with the Female Changeling for three days, not that he’s been aware of time. They’ve been communing, both via the Great Link – which is slowly beginning to addict Odo – and the way solids do (wipes mind of image thus produced). In every way except actively, he’s gone over to the other side. Kira can’t even get in to see him.

Next, Demar, still knocking back the booze like it’s going out of fashion, lets on to Quark that the mines will be swept within the week, Quark gets this out to Sisko via Morn, and the Federation attack has to go ahead without delay: without half the planned fleets, and without the Klingons. Oh, and with Ensign Nog, who gets a promotion from Cadet!

I hadn’t immediately realised this was going to be a two-parter, though as we got into the last five minutes or so, this became obvious. The Fleet is on its way. Sisko’s back in the Captain’s chair on the Defiant. O’Brien and Bashir are trading lines from The Charge of the Light Brigade, much to Nog’s consternation, and the Dominion fleet comes up ahead: 1254 ships, outnumbering the Federation more than two to one. Let battle commence.

The title of the second episode filled me with foreboding from the outset, a foreboding that was realised, though strictly speaking it related to a different kind of sacrifice.

With the Fleet now engaged in battle, the Cardassian/Dominion War counsel, Dukat, Demar, Weyoun and the Female Changeling, takes the entirely sensible decision to arrest the Resistance: Kira, Jake and Leeta are hauled in for questioning, but once Dukat has achieved the victory he’s so delightedly anticipating, everyone’s going to be for the chop.

Sisko’s battle plan is to concentrate fire on the Cardassian ships, hoping to provoke them into the kid of direct response that will break the formation, leaving a hole the Defiant et al can punch through. Dukat recognises this and orders the necessary ships to break, intending to create a trap: Bashir recognises the tactic. But it’s all they’ve got, they’ve got to go for it.

With the aid of a timely arrival of a Klingon fleet under Martok and Worf, the Defiant breaks through, alone, and barrels towards DS9. But the time until when the mines will be eradicated is getting tight. Quark and Zyal break the Resistance out of the cells. Odo puts the agonising appeal of the Link aside to ensure Kira is not killed. She and Rom feverishly work at dsabling the station’s weapons array and succeed. There’s only a second in it. But it’s not the cliche second that saves the day. It’s a second late. The mines are cleared, a Dominion fleet of 2800 ships starts through the Wormhole and Sisko, knowing it’s suicide for everyone but having no other alternatives, takes the Defiant into the Wormhole to face them. Alone.

And here is the ending that, for many people, was a letdown, and in a way it was, because all deus ex machina endings are, by definition, a cheat upon drama, but this ending was integral to the entire Deep Space Nine arc. Because Sisko is the Emissary. And the Emissary was taken to the place of the Prophets, against his will, and there told that he is not allowed to die, not allowed to end the game. He rants and raves, demands to be returned, challenges the Prophets that, if they are Gods, they owe a duty to their children. We’re a long way from the Emissary’s complete scepticism and discomfort at his role.

And the Prophets return him, and they use their powers to sweep away, without trace, the entire Dominion Fleet. Deus ex machina, and with real deus’s who exist within the overarching storyline. You can see why people thought it weak, thought it a cheat. Is it a cheat to build just the very thing into your five-years-long-so-far story? I don’t have an answer to that. But I didn’t feel cheated on an emotional level.

But there will be a price for intervention. Sisko, who has declared his intention of building a home on Bajor, will not know peace. And before then, there will be another sacrifice.

When the Defiant emerges from the Wormhole alone there is a general consternation on DS9 and an immediate decision to head for the lifeboats, Female Changelings first. Dukat can’t believe it. They’d won. They’d won. How could this have happened?

It’s everybody out, but Dukat won’t leave without Ziyal. He’s already half-crazed, which is worsened when she refuses to leave with him. Here is her home. she is not a true Cardassian. Though she loved him, she has acted against him, freeing Kira and the rest. And Demar, who has heard all this, draws his gun and cuts her down. Dukat goes over the edge.

So Sisko and co return to DS9, to a hero’s welcome. Everyone’s there to meet them, except Kira, who’s in the infirmary with Ziya. When he hears this, Garak heads straight there. Kira informs him that Ziya loved him. Garak’s response is deeply sad: he says that he knew, but he could never understand why. Now, he never will.

Dukat is still in DS9, collapsed into madness. He is sobbing his forgiveness of Ziya, of others. He returns Sisko’s baseball, tells him he forgives him too. It is a sober moment in the middle of victory.

To be honest, I am already wondering about what happens next. I know the subject of the next episode, but it is what the series does from episode eight onwards that concerns me. The Dominion have not been defeated. They have not given up their war or their plan. The Wormhole is still there: are the Prophets going to wipe out every Dominion ship that tries to go through it?

I really hope we don’t go back to the kind of individual stories that have dominated earlier series. Things have changed irreversibly and that would be a total letdown.

However, it’s a case of waiting for future episodes to come round on schedule. I will wait and see.

Film 2018: The Third Man

I have what I like to think of as a modestly eclectic film DVD collection. I like no one type of film, but I do have some categories. So far, we have had a sub-titled French film, a cult classic and an animation, so it seemed appropriate to close out the month with a classic Forties Black and White.

I chose The Third Man because I wanted a serious film, not a comedy. There are so many things which make this legendary film what it is, a near perfect example of what can no longer be done in cinema. Though it’s set in Vienna, and the Vienna of its year of production, 1949, making full use of the bombed out city, its ruins’ cleared grounds, its brokenness, though it stars two Americans and an Italian, in addition to Trevor Howard, though the city itself deserves a credit as a leading player, it is still a British film, and regarded as one of the very best we have ever produced.

And that shows it the film’s sense of restraint, it’s careful underplaying. There is much opportunity for melodrama, indeed the film’s story reeks of it, but director Carol Reed marshalls his cast into a naturalistic performance that echoes the sense of weariness, the post-War malaise, the overriding feeling that something once valued has gone out of the world, and that it is the time of the crooked, the selfish, the villainous, against which resistance is ultimately futile, because of the sheer volume of tarnished living that it faces.

My first exposure to The Third Man was, unusually, in print. The screenplay is by the noted novelist, Graham Greene, who prepared by writing a novella, to get right the atmosphere of seediness, decay and foolish romanticism. This was never meant to be published but was released as part of a Complete Works series, in which form I borrowed it from the Library. It is, curiously enough, the only Graham Greene I have ever read.

The film changes several things: originally, the ‘hero’ is Englishman Rollo Martins, who becomes American pulp western writer, Holly Martins when layed by Joseph Cotton, and Harry Lime, the villain, is also English. It is narrated by Major Calloway (Howard), and the ending is different, over which Greene had a major disagreement with Reed, and lost. Later, he agreed that Reed was completely right.

The Third Man is couched as a mystery. Holly Martins arrives in Vienna at the summoning of is lifeling friend, Harry Lime, who has offered the broke pulp writer a job. However, only hours before, Lime has been killed in a road accident outside his building. Martins attends his funeral, as do the beautiful Anna Schmidt, Lime’s actress lover, and Major Calloway, of International Police Headquarters, who is glad to see the back of Lime, a racketeer and black marketer.

Martins, who is as much a frustrated romantic, a white knight, as any of his western heroes, refuses to believe Calloway, indeed dismisses as unimportant anything Lime might have done, and determines to stay in Vienna to clear his friend’s name. And his amateur enquiries turn up person after person who advise him to leave Vienna, not to get involved in what is not his business. All of which make Martins the more determined to stay, especially as there appear to be discrepancies in the story. Lime was killed by a truck driven by his own driver, whilst with two friends, and certified dead by his own Doctor, arriving moments later. Did he die immediately or leave multiple messages for his friends? Was he carried to the sidewalk by two men, or three?

So far, so much pulp cliche, even down to Calloway’s ongoing exasperation at Martins’ interference. But Calloway isn’t some Chandler-esque corrupt cop, however much Martins wants to paint him as such. He’s a decent man who knows that Martins is wrong-headed, that he is ignorant, that he is blinded by his loyalty to his old friend.

And even before Calloway begins to open up Martins’ eyes for him, to give him free reign with the Lime file, to show that Lime is trading in black market penicillin, and is responsible for death and worse, Martins is falling deeper, coming to love Anna Schmidt.

Who wouldn’t? She’s a sweet, anxious, lovely-looking woman (Alida Valli, billed her as simply Valli, born a Baroness of an Austro-Hungarian family) who’s know in trouble with the authorities. The passport that identifies her as Austrian is a forgery, procured by Harry: in truth she is Czech, and as such falls under Russian authority, and will be repatriated once she is in their hands. Anna is lost at Harry’s death, as detached and weary as the stricken Vienna, a woman alone in need of assistance. Of course Holly falls for her. But Anna loves Harry, still. He is the only one for her.

And whilst all these standard ingredients are being combined to produce a familiar story, we are constantly being jerked out of it by Reed. There is the unfamiliarity of Vienna, emphasised continually by Austrian speech, untranslated (when Anna’s lodgings are raided by the police there is a splenetic response by her horrified landlady, rich in the shame of the police being in a house like hers, not a word of which I understand, but the whole sense of which I get), and by Reed’s constant intercutting of faces in close-shot, real faces, curious onlookers, looming before our eyes, their dead eyes looking in on what is happening.

But the point of The Third Man is to overturn all that. Harry Lime is guilty of everything they say of him, Holly Martins’ quest is as foolish as Major Calloway thinks it, and Harry Lime is not dead: he never has been.

Vienna is already a part of this film, but the scene of revelation brings the city into its sharpest focus. A drunk Holly, coming as close as he ever can to entertaining Anna, but at the same time realising how far he is from her heart, leaves her apartment in the dark of night, odd, harsh shadows filing the street like dark matter. A man hides in a doorway. Holly challenges him, expectinh some watcher, some spy trailing him. But Anna’s cat and a stray light from the window of a Viennese angry at Holly disturbing the night, reveals Orson Welles, Harry Lime, with a self-satisfied smirk.

Lime runs, his exaggerated shadow pumping elbows and knees against the wall of a curving street, and disappears into thin air in a deserted square. Or rather much thicker air: a disbelieving Caloway starts to believe once he sees the access to the Vienna sewers.

By now, the story has attained the elegant inevitability of a classic tragedy, though tragedy is supposed to be about the fall of a great man and there is nothing great about Harry Lime. He comes out of hiding to meet and talk with Holly on the famous Wiener Risenrad, the gigantic ferris wheel. Lime is smooth, cynical, callous, keeps addressing Holly impersonally but quasi-intimately as ‘old man’. He speaks of how easy it would be for him to kill Holly. He is still willing to cut Holly in, and will meet him any time, anywhere, without the Police.

And there’s that famous line about Switzerland and the cuckoo-clock, supplied by Welles himself, when the scene needed another few words for timing. Not original, not actually accurate, but a self-illuminating moment.

Martins has seen enough. In return for Major Calloway getting Anna out, safe and free, he will lead Lime into a trap. But Anna won’t go. She knows Lime is alive. She knows everything he’s done and she cares no more than he does, when set against her love for him. More than anything, however, she will not be the price for his betrayal. She tears up her new Passport, lets the train leave.

For a moment, Martins’ old romanticism returns. He can’t turn Lime in, wants to leave, now. En route to the airport, Calloway plays dirty one last time, a stopover at the children’s ward, the ones who ‘survived’ Lime’s watered-down penicillin. We don’t see them, we see the nuns, and Calloway, and Martins looking from cradle to cradle. That won’t ever happen in film again, where there is nothing too terrible, too wrenching to be seen. Really, we don’t need to see damaged children, we only need to hear how Joseph Cotton has Holly Martins say, “Ok, you win,”, but no-one will ever take that much of our hearts and imagination on trust, and we are the poorer for it.

So the trap is set up. Figures hide in the dark, An old man, with a stick, selling balloons in the night, with an ancient, gentle dignity that is all he retains, reminds us of the world we are observing. Anna enters the cafe to denounce Holly. When Harry comes to the back door, she warns him off.

There is a chase, across bomb-sites, through streets, into the sewers, the famous climax. Martins follows Calloway and the stolid, reliable Sergeant Paine (Bernard Lee), the right hand man who reads and enjoys Martins’ books. Lime twists and turns, he runs and jumps, he hides and dives, but the operation is too big, too detailed. All escapes are closed off. Inevitably, he crosses paths with Martins. Paine sees the danger, tries to protect the amateur, and is shot and killed by Lime. Calloway shoots and wounds Lime, who crawls away. Still the white knight, the lone gunman, the Oklahoma Kid, Holly takes Paine’s gun. Lime has found a stair but he is too weak to lift the grating. Calloway yells for Martins to kill Lime, he’s too dangerous, don’t take chances. Harry is anything but. He can either be taken or killed. He nods, once.

Thus we come to Harry Lime’s second funeral, same grave, same priest. Even the same mourners, in Anna and Holly. Calloway gives Martins a lift, to his plane. They drive past Anna, determinedly walking away. Martins asks to be let out, to wait for her. Calloway knows what is to come but leaves him there anyway. Holly waits by the side of the screen/avenue, as Anna walks along its centre until she draws level with him, and walks on, towards and past the camera. Martins lights a cigarette, throws the match down in dejection.

In Greene’s novella, she listens to him, leaving the door open. Reed and David Selnick, who had provided Cotton and Welles, refused the happy ending as artificial, and by heavens they were right, as Greene later acknowledged, whole-heartedly.

Thus The Third Man. I haven’t mentioned the photography, its use of angles, its contrast between light and deep shadow that makes every image a patchwork, so much hidden, so much exposed. For years, his aficionados have claimed that Welles undertook large parts of the direction, encouraged by hints from Welles that he later, properly, dispelled, but it’s true that the film could not exist as it does without Citizen Kane and its look.

And there is the famous soundtrack, composed and played by one man and one instrument, the hitherto unknown Anton Karas, discovered by Reed playing in a Viennese Heuriger, or wine-bar, and catapulted to a world-wide fame he never wanted or enjoyed. Karas’s soundtrack is the indelible sound of Vienna, and his ‘Harry Lime Theme’ an astonishing world-wide best seller.

A brilliant film deserving of all its reputation, a seemingly conventional murder mystery turned on its head and exploded, a story about the conflict between love, loyalty and duty to things bigger than yourself, a portrait of a time and place that we respond to with a misdirected romanticism of our own, even as, on the surface, we hope it will never come again, though a part of us wants to walk those streets and cast our own shadows, greater than ourselves, without dying for it in a sewer, whose smell is sweeter than our own crimes.


Dan Dare at Titan Comics: He Who Dares

The first in the latest attempt to revive Dan Dare for the present day is now with us in it’s entirety and it’s time to assess its success. As with the generally successful 2007 Virgin Comics effort, it’s in standard American comic book format, this time from Titan Comics, and the first four-issue mini-series leads only to a sort of cliffhanger and a little ‘End of Book One’ box. More is therefore intended, subject to the commercial success of the four issues to date, and the inevitable collection already billed for April.

It’s hard to assess what is no more than an introduction: it’s a bit like trying to come to an opinion on Lord of the Rings after the end of Chapter Two of ‘The Fellowship of the Rings’. And I am one of those who are fiercely protective of Dan Dare, who will not at heart accept anything that is not directly based in Frank Hampson’s work, his world and its exceptional parameters.

I was surprised at myself for being willing to accept the Virgin Comics version, as a kind of left-handed, Earth-2 version of the character. That was the work of Garth Ennis and Gary Erskine, the latter enough of a photo-realist as an artist to make a worthy attempt. The Titan version echoes the last in selecting a writer, in Peter Milligan, who is also an iconoclast that you wouldn’t expect to see writing the Pilot of the Future, and drawn by Italian artist Alberto Foche, in a sketchy, cartoony style that pays no homage to Hampson’s world.

Nor does Milligan pay too much attention to the past. We have Dan, of course, and Digby, Professor Peabody and Sir Hubert and, of course, the Mekon, but this time we do not have a Prime Minister mocked up to represent Theresa May selling Earth out to the Treens. Instead, we start with the Mekon actually being elected President of Earth (via mind control, but not entirely mind control). Dan starts the series in flashback form as a terrorist, exposing electoral fraud and getting the Mekon sent to rehab on the Moon.

And, would you believe it, it takes!

Dan’s the only one who really believes it, despite the ever-mounting evidence that it’s real. Everyone else, including his two constant companions, Digby (reinvented as an engineering expert) and the Professor, and especially Sir Hubert believe that it’s nothing but a long con. But Dan is determined to believe, and events mount up that support his faith. He even makes a best friend and ever-helpful consultant out of the erstwhile green monster.

There’s just one drawback so far as Dan is concerned: the removal of the Mekon has turned Earth into a peaceful paradise for the first time ever, and Dan’s bored. Bored enough to pray for some kind of threat to Sol System, just so he can be ‘Dan Dare’ again.

Which of course he gets. In the form of an ancient, massive Treen ship, an Empress class, entering the System, en route for Earth, and pausing on the way to completely obliterate Triton, a moon of Neptune. Dan goes out to meet it with Digs (yeuch) and Peabody in a re-designed ‘Anastasia’  and ends up teeming up with Au Taween, a sexy blue-skinned alien with a mad-on for Treens and no respect for Earthmen, who gets right up Peabody’s nose.

With long-distance assistance from, yes, the Mekon, the Empress ship is brought back to Earth for examination. By the mind best equipped to understand it, namely, you got it, the Mekon. This triggers Au Taween’s see-a-Treen, kill-a-Treen reflex and when Dan tries to prevent her, she nonchalantly decides to shoot through him. Except that the Mekon buts him out of the way, takes the shot himself, and dies.

Straight up: laserbeam through the chest, cooked Greenie.

Dan’s the only one to seriously mourn, though being Dan he tries to save Au Taween from execution for her cold-blooded murder. At least it’s proved his point: the Mekon had reformed. The greatest force of evil in the Galaxy found good within himself and embraced it. The only thing that eventually saves Au Taween is that, despite everything, the Mekon isn’t actually dead, just in some form of self-induced cryogenic suspended animation whilst he repaired himself.

So, all’s well that ends well. Au Taween departs, leaving Dan wedded to his duty to Earth, but longing to go with her.

And then, after multiple occasions on which he could have escaped, multiple actions aiding Earth, even saving his most hated enemy’s life (more than once), the Mekon hops it. He’d been fooling Dan all along. For explanations, see book two, whenever.

On the proviso that I’m going to treat this as something like the Earth-4 Dan Dare (Earth-3 was an Earth where everything was similar but opposite, meaning it’s Dan would have to be a villain), I shall continue into Book Two, assuming it ever appears. This isn’t Dan Dare, not as I know him, but it isn’t like those 2000AD and New Eagle versions that may possibly have been halfway decent SF adventure series if they hadn’t had the Dare name hung on them, but which had no relation or relevance to Dan Dare himself. This isn’t a story, not yet. It’s an Introduction, a Prelude. It’s too bloody short, nothing really happens and it hasn’t got anything remotely resembling an ending: it’s all set-up and no shoot-out (I actually had a different metaphor in mind then, but I’d rather not use that one).

As for Foche’s art, it’s inoffensive and that’s about all you can say about it. Dan’s got his eyebrows, Dig’s plump, Peabody’s a woman, Sir Hubert’s older than everyone else and the Mekon’s got a big head, but in no other respect does he try to draw anyone who looks like the original (Peabody’s blonde, for pete’s sake!)

So, a cautious C+ is all I’m giving it. Try it by all means. But set your expectations low. It’s better than the Grant Morrison one, but so’s mould on cheese.


Doomsday Clock 3

Dear G*d, are there no depths to which Geoff Johns will not sink in his determination to shit all over Watchmen and Alan Moore?

To date, Doomsday Clock has had the minimal decency to confine its trespass into the Watchmen story to the marginally-acceptable aftermath of those long-established events. That is, at least, some form of fair game, leaving the original story intact and unchanged. But issue 3, continuing directly from the previous cliffhanger that has Eddie Blake, the Comedian, stepping out of the shadows, now jumps directly into torturing the Watchmen story into a different shape.

It now appears that Edward Blake didn’t actually die in Watchmen 1. No matter that that was the primary incident, the start of the story, a development fundamental to the entire series, Johns has waved it away. Never happened. Didn’t die. All of Watchmen is now, supposedly, based on a lie.

Johns’ construct is that everything from Veidt breaking into Blake’s apartment to Blake going out of the window and hurtling thirty floors head first did still happen, but that instead of crashing onto the city sidewalk, Blake found himself miraculously plunging into the bay, courtesy of Dr Manhattan.

Of course, this immediately brings up a few dozen questions. Like: where did the dead, head-smashed-in-from-falling-thirty-floors body come from, howcum they didn’t identify as being someone other than Eddie Blake, hang about they had a funeral for him, what was Eddie doing for the month of the story whilst the world was going to hell in a handbasket, why, and who the fuck Geoff Johns thinks he is?

I can’t say that I await the answers with any enthusiasm, but there had better be answers, though given that it’s now been announced that Doomsday Clock will skip two months after issue 4, and then go bi-monthly, p

Once this revelation is dropped on us, Blake and Veidt have a fight, Ozy throws himself out of the window and survives the fall, but only with injuries that put him in hospital, and the whole things takes eight bloody bloated pages to move us on about six inches, if that.

Elsewhere, Batman and the new, young, black Roscharch, aka Reggie (we still don’t know who he is but he was old enough to be driving a car the day Veidt’s ‘alien’ manifested so I’m assuming he will turn out to be the son on Malcolm, Rorscharch’s Prison Psychiatrist: how banal) have a weird conversation. Reggie gives Wayne Walter Kovacs’ journal to read (how did he get that back? It was last seen in the offices of The New Frontiersman). Wayne puts him up in the Manor overnight, Alfred makes him pancakes, then Batman pretends to be leading him to Dr Manhattan, but it’s only a trick to get him into a cell at Arkham. Whatever happened to knocking him out, or doping him in his sleep, if you want to imprison him? Why this ridiculous charade? Could it be to demonstrate how stupid and easily tricked the Watchmen characters are, how superior the DC ones are?

Equally elsewhere, our Punch and Jewellee-manque pair, Mime and Marionette, visit a bar to get a drink. It’s on Joker turf and the crew don’t take kindly to Joker-esque make-up. So our psychotic pair kill them all brutally (Mime’s weapons aren’t imaginary, they’re invisible), and decide to go after whoever this Joker is anyway. Uh-oh, I foresee trouble!

So far, this pair are as pointless as they see themselves being. They are also marginally acceptable, being a new creation that has no bearing whatsoever on the original story and thus to that extent inoffensive, but all they are so far is one more attempt to drag Watchmen down to the playground level of the DC Universe.

To re-state the point I made last issue, Watchmen was conceived as a hermetically-sealed, complete story, in which superheroics/costumed adventures were to be approached in a manner that was different to the orthodox/classical/traditional approach that held sway in all DC’s other titles. It was meant to be different. Johns is erasing that difference, making it just the same as all the rest.

This vividly reminds me of something. I was a much more avid reader of superhero comics back in the late Eighties/early Nineties, among them the George Perez-led revival of Wonder Woman and Gary Cohn and Dan Mishkin’s goofy, hyper-kinetic Blue Devil. These were two very different series who had in common that the central character was treated unconventionally. Wonder Woman was the outsider, a holy innocent, who existed only as Diana of Themyscira and Wonder Woman, the two being interchangeable. Dan Cassidy was a Hollywood stuntman/special FX guy who got fixed in his Blue Devil suit and would really rather get out.

And the letter columns of both titles featured a stream of letters from fans praising this individual approach, calling it refreshing and new, and eagerly suggesting that it would be even better if it were exactly like all the rest.

Whether he is consciously aware of it, Geoff Johns comes across as someone who desperately wants Watchmen to be exactly like all the rest, the things he knows and is comfortable with, and he will do anything he can to make them just as ordinary.

Outside of the firstly Watchmenworld stuff, there’s a bit of a teaser going on. Firstly, we’re continuing to get more of these supposed old film noir Nathaniel Dusk movies (with a belated nod to writer Don McGregor, but only in the pseudo-Watchmen stuff at the back). This may or may not be the present series’ nod to ‘Tales of the Black Freighter’, but it’s also used to introduce an elderly man in a nursing home, who may not be in possession of all his marbles. His name is Thunder. Johnny Thunder.

And there are references in the back material to John Law and Libby Lawrence in relation to the ‘Nathaniel Dusk’ movies. Are we going to see Doomsday Clock used as a springboard to finally reintroduce the real Justice Society of America into the DC Universe?!

Of course we fucking are, and it may be the only worthwhile thing about this benighted heap of shit but it’s a high price to pay, no matter how much my favourites they still are.

Lastly, I mentioned last time my ignorance about the ‘current continuity’ of protest on the DC Earth over the suggestion that all our favourite superhumans are actually an American military creation. Some further re-reading identifies that Doomsday Clock is supposed to have no crossovers because it’s happening in the DC Universe’s future: that the rest of the Universe will only catch up to this series at the same time it ends. So, there you go. We know what’s coming up then. If and when Doomsday Clock limps to its finishing line.

I don’t foresee any future left for me and them by then.

UPDATE: Doomsday Clock has already gone bi-monthly, with issue 4 not scheduled until the end of March. Given how long they had to prepare for this, it’s a bit bloody feeble, especially at Watchmen‘s only delay was an additional three weeks for issue 12.

Yesterday and Today

Yesterday was one of those days. Before you spend too much time on what category of ‘those days’ it was, I am talking about when, long before it is over, you aware that the only thing you can do is just to get to its end. Yes, I am run down. I am still unable to shift the cold that I have been carrying since the week before Xmas, which has seen me off work twice and fretting about my Absence Record. And thanks to having had my Working Sunday, yesterday was also my ninth shift in ten days.

But it was also one of those days that offer no relief from the grind, from Openreach Engineers who don’t turn up when they should, to customers who demand you do things you’ve already told them are impossible to do, to Managers who are never there when their authority is needed, to systems that tell you what steps to take (and for once you agree with them) then refuse to allow you to raise that resolution, to senior technical experts who are not there to help you get round this.

All you can do is get to the end. And this was Wednesday, the day I get out at 7.00pm, not 9.00pm, when the supermarket is still open, and more importantly so is the chippy, and you eat and you try to relax, but the head doesn’t work, it can’t focus on anything for as much as ten minutes at a time, and you end up grinding through YouTube videos because they don’t last so long that you can’t last with them.

Until midnight, when, counter-intuitively, you then start to transfer e-mailed sequences into the current Working Draft, blending sequences into a continuous scene, writing brief bridges, until it’s 12.40 am, and when you turn out the light, your head won’t shut down, so you end up reading more from Ursula Le Guin’s Orsinian Tales (the expanded version of which, containing the novel, Malafrena, and all the later stories and songs, you bought off Amazon that night) until your brain twitches enough to suggest sleep.

A  Working Sunday is followed by Thursday off which, when there’s enough Availability, is followed by Friday Holiday. But I had plans for today.

First, a Doctor’s Appointment about this bloody cold/cough/sore throat/whatever it may mutate into next. The problem was that, on Tuesday they told me it was 10.40 but yesterday, the text confirmation was 11.40. I phoned as soon as I woke: 11.40.

That enabled me to watch this week’s The Flash. I’d acquired it last night, but after last week’s debacle I was reluctant to watch it. But it was better than last week, and for more reasons than the return of Corinne Behrer as Prank. Ms Behrer played Prank, the henchwoman to Mark Hammill’s Trickster, in the 1990 series, looking more than fine in her multi-coloured leotard, and twenty-seven years on she still looked hot to me, and wonderfully, gigglily kooky and homicidal: she can return whenever she wants.

But not enough time for Thursday’s episode of American Gothic, not yet. The big reveal: I watch and blog one week, but the post appears the next, making sure that I never have any scheduling issues. There will be no non-post next Thursday.

Because my Doctor’s lies on the 203 bus route which is, as I have previously mentioned, the most unreliable bus service in the whole of Greater Manchester. In my paranoia about lateness, I reached the surgery at 11.20. I planned to go on from there and had put Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven in my bag to read on the bus.

My Doctor is good, very good. He doesn’t abide by the ten minute appointment slot, but gives me the time I need. He does that with everybody. It’s been getting much better recently, but today was a reversion to old times: I finally got in to see him at 1.10, having finished The Lathe of Heaven. Of course it’s frustrating, but I’m not a hypocrite, I can’t begrudge other patients receiving the level of care I get, no matter how it inconveniences me.

What I got was; anti-biotics to shift the bloody cold; an increase in dosage for one of my diabetes medication, because my bloodsugar’s up a little bit; and ibuprofen gel for the erratic muscle pain I’ve been getting in the upper back ribs this past four weeks – on both sides!

The prescription is e-mailed to the Pharmacy next door. I follow it, but the new Pharmacist is due for an appointment with the Doctor himself, meaning he has to close up, meaning nowhere for me to hang around out of the rain. So I said I’d return, walked back to the main road and got the bus into Manchester for my monthly visit to Forbidden Planet.

Usually, I would do this on a Saturday, this coming Saturday, but I was feeling impatient to get at Doomsday Clock 3, before I learned to much about it, so I could rip it to shreds in a very-shortly forthcoming blog. And I had a third stop that would, in a back-handed way, be more convenient to make on the way back from Manchester.

Before Forbidden Planet, I slipped into both the big Oxfam shop and Vinyl Exchange. In the latter, I found a 7 disc DVD box set of Victoria Wood at the BBC: all of As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques, Presents, Pat & Margaret, and stuff I’ve never seen, for £14; I get paid tomorrow. Then Planet, with the month’s titles, as the latest Astro City collection’s now in softback so I nabbed that too.

I also put in an order for a comic coming up later this year: Action comics 1,000. It’s the 1,000th Anniversary of Superman’s debut. It’s a ‘comic’ but it’s going to be published as a 384p hardback book, including a never-published Jerry Siegel/Joe Schuster story from, they reckon, 1942. It’s a landmark: the first comic to reach its 1,000th issue. Imagine that for a disposable, ephemeral things. Alright, it’s taken 80 years to get there, but that’s 80 years: 80 years of consistent publication. I figure I’d better buy it when it arrives rather than pay the inflated price eBay will no doubt exact.

And if I don’t want to keep it, why, there’s eBay!

I came home last night to a red card: my eBay acquisition of two Luck of the Legion collections undelivered because a signature was required. So from Manchester, I tool a 197 back, to get to the Collections Office in Heaton Mersey. Yes, it was a long way round, and a long ride, the 197 being one of those buses that go all round the houses and take forever to do so: it certainly stopped forever on Stockport Road, on the Longsight/Levenshulme border. But it meant not back-tracking and doubling over my tracks. And, amazingly, there was no queue: I mean, no queue. One lady, being served. No being stuck outside the office, inching forward in the rain.

That completed all my planned tasks, but it was early enough and light enough so back to the 203 I went, not to return home but to travel onwards further, to the Fir Tree and the Pharmacy and my latest prescription and then backtracking for home. From leaving the house at about 10.55 to returning at 5.20, I’d spent a bloody big proportion of that time doing nothing, in the waiting room or on the bus.

But it was so much more relaxing than yesterday, because it involved the feeling of doing something. It didn’t matter that none of these achievements were significant to anyone but myself, nor that they involved wasting vastly more periods of time tan the actual achievements, they were things that were done, that had outcomes I can see, and they were done under no pressure.

And day is done. Time for a vegetarian pizza to go into the oven, and the unwinding to go on. Yesterday and today. As different as yesterday and today. I have reading to do, and more writing. And another coffee won’t go amiss.

American Gothic e13: To Hell and Back

Redemption does not come easy

Another out-of-order episode (should have appeared after ‘Strong Arm of the Law’) which, to an orderly mind like mine is decidedly niggling, ‘To Hell and Back’ provides some much needed attention for Dr Matt Crower.

After playing such a substantial role in the opening three-parter, Dr Matt has drifted very much into the background, playing a minimal role, not exact;y assisted by Jake Weber’s laid-back, lo-energy performance. I have the advantage of knowing what’s coming, and not too far ahead, and over the past several weeks I’ve been aware of the growing reasons for it.

What this episode is about, plot-wise, is a determined effort by Sheriff Lucas Buck to get rid of both an obstacle in his pursuit of custody of Caleb and a thorn in his side generally. Even before the series began, Buck and Doctor Matt have been antagonists: the Doc is a Yankee, a Northerner in the South (though only Lucas seems to make this distinction), an educated man (who Buck sarcastically nicknames ‘Harvard’) and, most importantly, the outsider who hasn’t grown up in Buck’s system of control and refuses to be absorbed in it.

But the Sheriff’s whole powerbase is built upon weakness – in the episode where Merly came back, she called him a spoiler and said that that was where his strength came from – and Dr Matt comes with a built-in weakness. He is a former alcoholic who, three years ago, killed his wife and daughter through driving drunk.

Matt’s life is one of sorrow, regret, self-loathing and emptiness. He works because he has nothing else to do, he works because it is his penance for what he has done. But underneath everything and behind everything is the loss for which he is responsible, and the ache for the impossible dream of being able to change it all.

In one of the most callous acts he’s done so far, Buck primes the pump by recreating Dr Matt’s story. A woman at a Hospital Fund-Raising Social talks to Dr Matt about her embarrassing drunk of a husband and says she’ll drive him home. Next thing, the car has crashed, she’s in critical. Matt stays with her, confessing to himself he has nowhere to go. He begins to have visions: that she is his wife, Lily, that a wheelchair-bound little girl is his daughter Claire. The episode cleverly does not involve himself in how these are happening: we assume Lucas’s supernatural influence but the truth is that stress, fatigue and guilt are all capable of inducing such a situation.

The woman, Doreen, flat-lines and dies. The husband, Chester, banged-up and bloody, but intact and still drunk, is charged with vehicular manslaughter. He protests that Lucas told him to drive, told him he was the Man, he was alright. A purely unrelated death by car crash, to get to Matt’s demons.

The pressure Lucas applies also involves Selena. Matt’s in a bar, listening to the blues, drinking… club soda. She tries to get under his skin, ease him into sharing her drink, but he hands it back. But that only leads to a nighttime confrontation with Lucas Buck: a straight offer, accompanied by a bottle of vodka: Matt can go back, change things, and gain what he most wants, Oblivion. And Lucas gets Matt, who he claims he’s starting to like, out of his hair. Matt takes the tiniest sip.

And is back in the car, sober, with Lily and Claire. He has his chance. He’s sober, he can change things. But you can never change things, or if you do, you cannot change their course. Again, the episode is marvelously subtle through deliberate ambiguity. Matt may not be drunk but he’s confused. He has no memories. Whether the unfamiliarity of things is down to an alcoholic black-out then, or because he is genuinely changing things, or because his pain has obliterated the other pains of the time, again we have to imagine.

But Lily is leaving him. They’re driving to her mother’s. She thinks he’s drunk – Lucas’s vodka bottle is in his pocket. She won’t and can’t believe he’ll change, she hopes he can for his sake, but she stopped loving him a long time ago. Even if he saves their lives his marriage is gone. She throws him out of the car, drives off alone. And crashes.

So: did Matt change anything, only for the universe to reassert itself and produce the same end by a different means? Or is this what happened all along, and the truth has now forced its way into his head? We’ll never know.

Buck thinks he’s won, that Matt is destroyed and will leave, voiding his contract renewal at the Hospital. But Matt arrives, late and disheveled, but sober. Lucas has reneged on the promise of Oblivion: he changed his mind. Matt is now determined to get Buck. We also learn, as if in passing, that he pleaded nolo contendre (no contest) to his charge of Vehicular Manslaughter (it’s a kind of non-guilty guilty plea, not available in English Law). It would be justified in a case where Matt was innocent of killing his family, but morally responsible.

I’ve not mentioned Caleb thus far,though he is part of this episode. After a cameo at the Social, Caleb is spun off into a low-key B story where, spurred on by Boone and little Rose, he gets curiously fearful of next door neighbour, the aged Mr Emmett, who he suspects of burying dead bodies in his ‘punkin patch’.

The truth, once Caleb takes his ever-more mature and serious attitude to responsibility, is almost trivial. Emmett’s dog, Omar, has died, and it is he for whom Emmett has dug a grave at night, big enough that he not be cooped up, and he over whom he roared his grief in the night.

Then the episode takes a massive, uncharacteristic and utterly effective veer into gross sentimentality. Merly appears to Caleb, with an old, heavy, panting black and white dog at her side, who runs over to and lies down beside Emmett, though he is oblivious to it. It’s completely gratuitous, but as an antidote to the individual hell we’ve been watching, it’s definitely tear-jerking.

And it’s a set-up to its companion. In his dream/vision/re-enactment, Matt was given a love-letter from his daughter Claire, which she tucked into his jacket pocket. Now, having survived the ordeal, in a manner that echoes the ending of A Matter of Life and Death, that letter is in his pocket. It’s a gift in itself, a gift of love and faith. Matt finds himself in front of the wheelchair girl again, still sullen, hurt, miserable. He drops to his haunches, squats in front of her, and smiles, broadly, confidently. She looks at him, and slowly breaks out into a smile of her own.

Poor Doctor Matt. An episode like this was surely meant to be, should have been, a renewal of the character, a kick-start into a more pro-active role, deserved of a character placed third in the cast list. But we’ve already seen that it didn’t. Soon, we’ll see what happened next.


Fifty Years After The Prisoner

Titan Comics have announced a publication date for the first issue of their new comics series of Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner. The series – apparently open-ended – will debut on April 25, written by Peter Milligan, who’s smart enough to maybe pull it off, and drawn by Colin Lorimer, about whom I know nothing (a quick Google art search suggests he might also pull it off).

I’ll be there to but it and here to comment about it. I’m not exactly looking forward to it: the only other Prisoner comics series was an unmitigated disaster. And it is neither McGoohan himself nor 1967.

But we’ll see when the time comes. At least I’ll be fairer to it than I ever will to Doomsday Clock

Mark E. Smith R.I.P.

Oh dear g*d, not another one, so soon? I’ve barely begun to mourn Ursula Le Guin, and now the man who was the Fall? Please tell me this is not going to turn into another of those years, there’s still a week of January left.

I was never a lifelong Fall fan. There was a time, from ‘Perverted by Language’ through to ‘I am Kurious  Oranj’, and I still have ‘The Wonderful and Frightening World of…’. I saw them live twice, once at Salford University where they opened with a ten minute plus version of ‘Bremen Nacht’ that was about seven minutes too long for a song I’d never heard before, and I was in a shitty mood to start with, but then they did a version of ‘There’s a Ghost in my House’ that blew the recorded version out of the ocean, and played a stormingly physical set that rescued my entire evening.

Mark E. Smith. You didn’t have to agree with him, you certainly didn’t have to like him, because he didn’t give a shit either way, he was just himself, so absolutely bloody rude, arrogant, uncaring and normal. He was like Manchester rolled up into one skinny, wrinkled, unconcerned body.

The place won’t be the same without him, the bastard.