If you can tell a lie when all about you
Demand the truth and nothing less from you;
If you can break the trust that was placed in you,
And do this with no shred of conscience too;
If you can make the desperate who are waiting
For vital kit that might just save their lives,
Wait long weeks more through your prevaricating,
And shift the fault away from your own lies;
If you can make your dream of power your master
And serve it with no other earthly aim;
If you can mete out chaos and disaster
And always make a scapegoat take the blame;
If you can bear to hear the lies you’ve spoken
Puffed by the press to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the hopes and dreams of others, broken,
And use all men and women as mere tools;
If you can simulate concern for others
When all the while you could not give a toss;
And gamble with the lives of fathers, mothers
And never turn a hair about their loss;
If you can kill the heart and soul within you
And carry on long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to you: ‘Hold on!’
If you can get the Murdoch press to love you,
So that its hacks lend you the common touch,
Then neither foes nor two-faced friends can hurt you,
And you’ll be free to get away with much;
If you can fill each TV airtime minute
With bullshit and not care it’s overdone,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be PM, my son!
I’ve said before that sometimes you can come to a piece of music, or a band, at the wrong time, when you are not ready for what they have to offer, and it’s only years later, if you’re lucky enough to get the chance, to hear them again and this time understand what they’re doing. This was very much the case with Pere Ubu, Cleveland’s finest export, and the world’s foremost and possibly only proponents of the avant-garage.
I started listening to John Peel’s evening show in January 1978, the best part of a year after I could have discovered it when I was growing enthused by the rawness and directness of punk and new wave.
Peely, of course, was the first one to spot Pere Ubu, who’d been making waves in 1977 with their 12″ five-track EP, Datapanik in the Year Zero (lots of American bands then and later, R.E.M. included, started their career with a 12″ five-track EP, all for the same reason: they couldn’t afford the studio time for a full album). I heard tracks from it and thought it incomprehensible. The same went for the first album, later that year, The Modern Dance. As for its follow-up, Dub-Housing, that didn’t even sound like anything I’d heard from them before and after that I shut my ears.
Jump forward to 1985. I work in Manchester City Centre, with easy access to things like the Virgin Megastore at lunch. One midweek morning, I decide that I fancy buying an album. But which one? After some thought, I come down to an either/or between The Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut album, or Pere Ubu’s The Modern Dance. I haven’t gone on for much longer before realising that, at the age of not-quite thirty, I was making a life-changing decision.
The real choice wasn’t between two records, but between the past and the future. Ever since I started listening to pop and ever since, my natural attraction was to the new: what’s next? Always what’s next. The JAMC was what’s next. Pere Ubu was what I’d jumped past. They were an unexperienced corner, a gap in the story. If I chose The Modern Dance, I was really signalling that I was not prepared any longer to go in search of what was next, that I was set to now fill in the story, paint out the holes.
What did I buy? Well, it turned out to be The Cocteau Twins. The JAMC album wasn’t released until the next week, the Ubu was long since deleted. But I had decided, and it would have been Pere Ubu.
Why, you may be meaning to ask, was I even thinking of Pere Ubu in 1985? The band didn’t even exist any longer, having split after five albums and multiple line-up changes. They were of no relevance to 1985 whatsoever.
The answer was the song we’re listening to here. Someone, and it might not necessarily have been Peely, it may have been our then-Stockport based pirate radio station, KFM, had played “Final Solution”. In fact, I’m sure it was KFM because the reception wasn’t all that wonderful. I had got to the radio cassette recorder before half the long intro had run, and I wanted to know more. Like the Age of Chance’s ‘Kiss’, my ears were being blown apart and remade in a new form. Pere Ubu were post-punk before there was even punk to be post.
This song dates from 1976. Let me say that again. 1976. Can you seriously believe that? It begins with a bass guitar, playing a solid, unvarying note in a tempo that the entire song will use. It’s joined by the drums and a lead guitar, played by Peter Laughner, who would die within a year of recording this, playing a complex, growling filigree, and by Allen Ravenstine’s synthesizer, not playing music of a kind that differed only in sound and texture from an organ or an electric piano but rather sound, pure abstract sound shimmering, hammering: industrial.
The solo ends. Bass and drums lockstep and move forward implacably. David Thomas, Ubu’s lead singer and the only member to be there from start to finish, enters. His voice is raucous, growly, squeaky. He is like no-one you’ve heard before. He sings/intones/chants lines of apocalyptic teenage angst, deliberately OTT. The girls won’t touch me, he protests, but Thomas’s enunciation is so intentionally vague that you can’t be certain if it’s because he’s got a misdirection or a missed erection. Either way, he also complains that living at night isn’t helping his complexion. Social infection and insurrection are the other rhymes in this first verse.
And the bass and the drums drive onwards. Thomas’s Mom has thrown him out until he gets some pants that fit, and she just don’t approve of his strange kind of wit. Just who is this we’re locked in here with? Do we really want to be here with him? Guitar and synthesizer surround everything, enclosing Thomas in a cage as his voice rises to a howl, they’ll make him take a cure, but he don’t need a cure, and the band come in like a gang backing up one of their own who’s threatened, don’t need a cure, don’t need a cure, don’t need a cure I need a Final Solution.
Here we’re wavering on the edge of something extreme. Final Solution has a connotation, maybe it has only a single meaning and it’s one you toy with referring to at your peril, but this sound is an unforgiving advance and the kid’s in a world of his own where perspective is all to hell, and in his own head it’s all so extreme.
And it’s that bass and the drums, and Laughner showers a stunning, chiming solo before Thomas expands his universe of solipsistic anguish, with guitars that sound like a nuclear destruction (at which the sound stops, for an unheard beat, before we escalate yet more), the kid crying that he’s a victim of natural selection (it’s not my fault) and talking obliquely of suicide, Thomas drawing all the energy into his personal maelstrom and the gang shout you down again don’t need a cure don’t need a cure…
Then the bass takes over as a lead instrument, heavy-handed and threatening, until Thomas starts to repeat just the word Solution, in growing desperation, against a background of sweet, harmonious ‘ooohs’ from the gang, until Laughner starts one last, extended, astonishing solo, the guitar creeping up the scale, the sound growing almost edgier until you’re almost screaming for the tension to come to an end, and Laughner chops things down and Thomas screams ‘Solution!’ into the heart of the song and you wonder how anything’s going to end a thing that’s gained so much momentum, until the drums abruptly quit and bass and guitar wind down to a stop in a few shirt but satisfying notes. Oh my God.
This is a song that unmakes and remakes its listeners. The world you leave to hear this song is not the world to which you return when its five minutes(only five minutes?) ends. It is both destroyer and creator, yet it can be returned to again and again, and listened to mesmerically, as Laughner’s guitar works through those three solos, as Ravenstine’s synths create an unwordly yet concrete world, as Thomas’s voice grows in both power and anguish…
Eventually, I got The Modern Dance when it first became available on CD, in a limited issue edition. I never did buy The Jesus and Mary Chain. As far as I’m concerned, I came out ahead.
Very well then, I confess, I was wrong. It is possible to place Isabelle Huppert front and centre in a film and it be tiresome, dull, shapeless and boring. And for her to be completely unconvincing in it.
What then is so wrong with Comedy of Innocence that I should commit such apostacy? A simple answer would be all of it, but that’s hardly satisfactory. Though a clue may be had from the Wikipedia synopsis of the story, which describes Huppert as Ariane and Charles Berling as Serge as being husband and wife and parents of Camille (Nils Hugon), with Denis Polydades as Pierre, Serge’s brother, despite Ariane frequently introducing Serge as her brother and Pierre very clearly referred to as Camille’s father. That such a colossal blunder could be made is not an indicator of clarity.
What, basically, is the story? Camille, whose ninth birthday is being celebrated at the start of the film, suddenly announces that Ariane is not his real mother, that he’s been staying with her too long and wants to go back to his true mother. This is Isabella (Jeanne Balibar), a somewhat detached woman living in a rougher part of Paris, who lost her own son, Paul, two years earlier to drowning. Camille/Paul recognises her immediately, and she him. Ariane… well, that’s where a synopsis breaks down. Ariane lets things develop, as if she’s not totally sure of her grounds in the face of the obvious affinity between her son and his ‘mother’, to the extent that she moves Isbella into her own home, and virtually agrees to share the boy with her.
The middle of the film is an endless succession of scenes with no real progression and no discernible development, until Isabella, having been unofficially commmitted to an asylum under Serge’s direction, runs away with Paul/Camille. Even this leaves Ariane virtually inert and hopeless until Alexandre, Camille’s previously thought to be imaginary friend, turns up as a junior league deus ex machina with all the film videocassettes Camille’s been accumulating throughout the film, which show Isabella grooming him to accept her as his real mother, the re-incarnate of her Paul.
Yes, crazy bitch, I know. This finally spurs Ariane into action, though the news that a Theatre Director of her acquaintance has been killed in a car accident causes her more overt emotion. She traces Isabella and Camille only for the other woman to claim it hadn’t worked out, she was bringing Camille back to Ariane, he’s chosen her as his real mother. Oh, and by the way it wasn’t really her fault.
Which is then demonstrated when Ariane goes back to the videocassettes and, just as she’d only previously picked out at random the ones in which Isabella grooms Camille, now she watches the ones she’d randomly missed out, in which Camille picks out and grooms Isabella to groom him.
See, there was nothing fantastic or supernatural about any of it, just the massive and complex manipulation by an eight year old boy of a number of adults of greater life-experience, intelligence and emotional nous than him, not one molecule of which any of them uses. I’d wanted to watch a film that didn’t deal with the fantastic but this film didn’t touch earth anywhere in its 98 minutes.
What made the film worse was that there simply was no idea of a story to it in the sense of a development that could be completed, to one degree or another, to present a conclusion. The longer the film went on, the longer and longer it seemed to go along, as if the Director was struggling to find somewhere to bring things to an end whilst being unable to let go of things.
The film was directed and co-written by Chilean exile Raul Ruiz, who has indicated that it is, in some form, an analogy for the disappeared children of his country, but any level on which that was a part of the film was inaccessible to me.
So, for the first time I have bought a DVD that stars Isabella Huppert and I will not keep it. Such things demonstrate the breadth of life and the shattering of certainty, wich is a more interesting story than anything I’ve watched this morning.
According to their house ads, DC’s Showcase, which debuted in 1956, was a response to their reader’s demands for new characters and new stories. In one sense, that was true, except that Showcase existed because the readers weren’t buying whatever new characters the company put out and, by feeding these through a try-out title, DC could massively cut their extensive losses.
And Showcase worked: the Barry Allen Flash, the Hal Jordan Green Lantern, Challengers of the unknown, Lois Lane; the list is magnificent.
But Showcase appeared on a bi-monthly basis, six time a year. With most of its features getting two and three-issue runs, there was something of a clog in the system. So, in issue 25, in 1959, The Brave and the Bold was given a new remit, to become ‘Showcase junior’. New characters, new stories would be tested here as well.
And, given that B&B‘s bi-monthly schedule was the opposite of Showcase‘s, that gave us new experiments every month of the year.
Robert Kanigher had replaced Whitney Ellsworth in issue 23. He’d started by making the Viking Prince the sole character, though whether this was to run through the existing stories without wasting any, or a silent preview of the new direction, I do not know. What I do know is that B&B‘s first subjects were a Kanigher creation. These were the original Suicide Squad.
One thing to note quickly is that, as soon as he became editor, Kanigher changed the logo on the cover. Previously, the design, housed in a banner, dominated in the usual manner, but from issue 23, Kanigher had it drastically reduced in size, to emphasize the subject logo: the Viking Prince, not the Suicide Squad, etc.
The original Suicide Squad bears very little resemblance to their present day successors, only the overall idea that Task Force X carries out suicide missions. All I knew of them before came from Darwyn Cooke’s brilliant The New Frontier (really one of the best things DC’s published this century). The group consist of ex-Air Force pilot and war veteran Rick Flag, the team leader, Flight-medic Karin Grace, physicist Jesse Bright and Astronomer Dr (Hugh) Evans. All four were survivors of terrible incidents in which the dying told them to ‘carry on for us’, placing them under an immense burden that prevented Flag from giving way and making love to Karin, who loved him: they had a duty to both the dead and the living that came first, besides Jesse and Dr Evans were also crazy in love with her and it might affect team morale. Were we in any doubt about this being written by Bob Kanigher?
Actually, the mental diversions everybody has to relate these repetitious incidents clogs down the opening story, where the Squad fight and eventually defeat a mutating monster by turning it into a frozen satellite circling Earth, whilst leaving themselves trapped in a space rocket almost 90,000,000 miles away from the planet, and all without any of the men so much as even loosening their ties (an odd pre-echo of their fate in The New Frontier).
There were two stories in issue 26, the first bringing Task Force X back to Earth whilst shrinking them so that they accidentally discover and destroy an enemy atomic sub-base about to fire missiles run by the only country (unnamed but they use a wolf insignia) that dare attack America, and of course destroy it. If the synopsis sounds off, don’t worry, the full story is one of Kanigher’s freewheeling, make it up as I go along disasters that clunks from the moment the team discovers their rocket comes equipped with a box of matches in case the power goes out (I am not making this up), not to mention engineering collisions with meteorites to increase their speed (nor that): sheesh!
After that, the back-up story is merely silly about a giant serpent emerging out of the metro in Paris that can only be destroyed by putting a plastic bag over its head, whilst both stories are filled with Karin’s obsession with getting Flag to pull her knickers down and his stone-faced refusal to even think about it, which puts me in mind of Kanigher’s treatment of Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor. Suicide Squad did not get its own title.
They got a third shot, a book-length story again, similarly wasted on another monster, this time emerging from a lake As you would, the monster goes for Karin first, and she spends most of the story in a strapless black swimsuit that manages to look unflattering.
The Suicide Squad would get a second try-out later. In fact, in total only four would-be series would appear in this phase of Brave and Bold, of whom two only would get series, the second through no thanks to B&B. Coming up next was the one unqualified success the title produced.
Of course I mean the Justice League of America, issues 28-30, written by Gardner Fox, drawn by Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs, with Julius Schwartz taking over the editorial chair for the next duration. I really don’t need to say anything about these three issues because we all know what happened. That this was intended to be a revival of the Justice Society of America except that Schwartz always thought that Society was a bad name for a team fighting heroes, so changed it to League. That in the Roll Call for the first story, J’onn J’onzz was named as John Jones. And that in his usual manner Schwartz opened up a lettercol and in issue 30 dealt with: the Justice Society, why Green Arrow or any of the teen sidekicks weren’t members (not enough space), why Superman and Batman didn’t feature as much (they’re absolutely everywhere else so we’ll play up the others – no mention of Mort Weisinger prowling with an axe) and why not team the teen sidekicks up as the Junior Justice League (we’re thinking about it, but they thought about it for a long time).
‘Normal’ B&B service resumed with issue 31, this time featuring Cave Carson – Adventures INSIDE EARTH. For this Jack Schiff took up editing, assisted by Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan, but the result was just another monster romp, in fact two of them. Cave Carson (clean-shaven unlike more recent depictions of him) goes investigating underground in the Mighty Mole (a souped-up hot limo with a laser to cut through stone instead of a super-borer) alongside Christie Madison and Bulldozer Smith.
Essentially, this was another attempt to rip off the dynamics of Jack Kirby’s Challengers of the Unknown, another twist on Sea Devils and Rip Hunter, Time Master. On the strength of the first story, by France Herron and Bruno Premiani, it was one too many trips to the well. Neither of the other two issues offered anything better, though Premiani was immediately replaced by an unfamiliar artist with a much more jagged style (and issue 32 contained a plug for the JLA’s own magazine, so the wait wasn’t at all long). Underground civilizations planning to invade the surface, aliens using giant metal robots to invade the surface (with Christie reduced to a cameo appearance): imagination was not a feature.
So to the first highlight of this phase. I speak of Hawkman, edited by Julius Schwartz, written by Gardner Fox, drawn by Joe Kubert, three gorgeous issues that, unfortunately not unaccountably, flopped.
Hawkman was the fourth of Schwartz’s moves to revive Golden Age heroes and if goodwill counted, he was going to be a shoo-in. Gardner Fox wrote a long letter about the creation of both original character. Leading fan Roy Thomas virtually pleaded for the old upper-and-lower beak helmet, and Joe Kubert wrote to express his delight at returning to the Feathered Fury. The middle issue followed the pattern of having two stories but that was repeated for the final issue, no 36, instead of another book-lengther.
Why didn’t Hawkman take off the way Flash and Green Lantern had? His stories were more wide-ranging and imaginative than the Suicide Squad and Cave Carson (no monsters in sight), and Kubert’ art was stunning: lyrical, elegant, varying his angles. But that was the problem. Kubert was good and very good, but his style, which had been mostly used in the war stories, no longer suited superheroes. There was a house-style at DC, rounded, clear, touched with blandness, and Kubert looked nothing like that.
For issues 37-39, it was back to Kanigher and the Suicide Squad, ‘By Popular Demand’ (if there had been popular demand they’d have been in their own mag, not Brave & Bold). It was exactly the same nonsense. In the first story, the Squad’s been disbanded for no reason except to have it recalled to battle the menace of intelligent dinosaurs – who have the power to turn green sweaters black by breathing on them – invading from a parallel Earth via Karin’s paintings. That Karin has a talent for painting isn’t discovered until the second story, which is mission 4 to the first run’s missions 1 to 3, notable for being the one in which I recognised the stupidity of sending an athletic woman out to run, jump and hurl herself about flexibility in a 1960 tight-fitting below-the-knee skirt. Madness.
This last three part run was more of the same with no real difference, linked by an unusual obsession with dinosaurs in each comic not to mention the lovely Karin’s desire (which eventually came true in The New Frontier) to get into deadly situations so she can die with him (I suppose that when the man you love refuses to even kiss you, let alone help you out of your too-tight-to-fight skirt it’s some consolation.)
It was time for Cave Carson to have another try, though this was limited to only two issues. The stories were the same cheap garbage – monster, monster, monster, bloody monster – but with the appeal of Joe Kubert giving us something to look at it. And not even Joe on issue 41 but someone trying to ape his style in a more deliberately cartoonish manner.
Meanwhile, Julius Schwartz wasn’t giving up on Hawkman so easily, bring him back for issues 42-44, but without making any significant changes to the approach. The first story took the hawks back to Thanagar, related how Katar and Shayera first met, and saw Hawkman be awarded the wings on his helmet he’s worn ever since.
The Hawks got back to Midway City next issue, much to the delight of Mavis Trent, to face down some old Thanagarian enemies, but this second run was no better at persuading the readers to buy Hawkman in enough copies. Meanwhile, via Showcase, Schwartz had had far more success in getting the new Atom into his own book. It would take only four issues of Murphy Anderson art in Mystery in Space to work that trick.
But this phase was nearly at an end. To close out the try-out spell, Brave & Bold devoted five issues to ‘Strange Sports Stories’, something you can’t imagine being intended as a possible comic in it’s own right.Only four of the issues were accessible off my DVD but I don’t mind that much. The theme is mixing sports and science fiction together and I think that if I’d known it had ben done before, I probably wouldn’t have dared write my Tempus Fugitive. There really is no such thing as an original idea, and this one is so oddball, it’s almost impossible to describe.
But that was the end of it. With issue 50, The Brave and the Bold was once again re-purposed. We’ll look at that era next time.
I know we used to hate Leeds United, and we still do, but I have to mark the loss of another to this bloody COVID-19. The hard man of Leeds – and to stand out in that team of hard men, you had to be HARD – Norman Hunter has died aged 76.
He may have been a bastard – and he was their bastard, not ours – but Norman Hunter is unforgettable, and long after all of us who were fans during his prime have passed on and only old clips on YouTube remain, he will still be a legend.
Lou Grant‘s fourth season started with a curveball. There’s a slightly unsettled atmosphere to begin with, with a new and slightky fussier re-recrding of the theme music and then the rearrangement of the City Room, to accomodate newer and bigger VDU’s (Visual Display Units, forerunners of desktop computers).
Everyone’s going home. With Marion away, Charlie wants Lou to join him for dinner and the selection of a chain saw. But the Night Editor, Hugh Kendall, is late again. Donovan won’t stay, because he did that last night. It’s up to Lou to fill in, which he has to do all night as Kendall has brken his collar-bone.
So it’s change-of-pace time as Lou interacts with the night staff.
This gives the guest stars a good run at things. There’s Richard Erdmann as Hal Hennecker, the man who knows what he’s doing, who doesn’t need Lou’s directing and general bullishness the way the regulars do, who’s dry and straight and utterly brilliant. There’s David Paymer as Roy Scobel, a younger, more laconic character who firstly sounds like a goofball but who works quickly and efficiently all night.
There’s Millie Slavin as Corinne Piantadosi (spelling?), revealed as the paper’s gossip clumnist, ‘The Insider’, all ornate dress and language, wonderfully camping things up as a story breaks that requires her knowledge of la creme de la creme, there’s a brief but very effective appearance by Alexandra Johnson as Kim, from the IT department, even Scotty, the night copy kid (Charles Bloom) is effectivey eager.
Though there are offshoot stories to keep both Mrs Pynchon and Charlie in the episode, despite not being on the spot, and Animal and Billie wander in, the show sets up to let the guests be at the centre.
(There is no Rossi in this or the next episode as Robert Walden had gone on strike for a salary raise: he’s in the credits, he’s named in the show but he ain’t here.)
Instead of the show’s usual concern with sociological subjects, the episode marries its character work with a procedural, as a breaking story starts to grow in detail and angle. A well-known yacht is reported as sinking, a simple enough subject that builds into elements of illegal gambling and probable drug-smuggling throughout the night, with the dry Hal ding most of the writing and cutting short Lou’s intentions with a simple, “I got it.”
I’d have liked to have seen more of this other side of the Trib in future episodes but of course this was purely a one-off. We’re going back to the limitations of the prime-time television series on 1980, when things are still pre-Hill Street Blues, and there is a mighty gulf between regular cast and the extended but primarily invisible network that supports them.
Though if Robert Walden hadn’t caved, I could see one of the three reporters, most probably Roy, being set up as his long-term replacement.
This kind of thing was an odd selection for the opening episode of a series, and it does niggle slightly that after three full seasons of the regulars doing everything twenty-four seven, they suddenly go home and other people take over, but I liked it. I’m here let’s carry on.
Still more of the same only different, but it would be fair to agree that, very slowly, the overall story is starting to gather something of a shape to it.
Thus far, it’s been an accumulation of mysteries, plates that are set up to spin and then left running whilst Zelazny rushes around new scenes, setting more plates into motion. Merlin is constantly failing to make much sense of what is going on, constantly having thoughts he doesn’t explain, constantly getting nowhere, leaving any overall story to turn and turn in a widening gyre.
There’s not much sign of this changing at first in Sign of Chaos. Merlin and Luke are hanging out at the bar with all the Lewis Carroll characters, including a Bandersnatch, a Jabberwocky and, rather more immediate to Roger Zelazny, a Fire Angel, a very destructive Chaos creature.
What they are on, jointly, is a bad trip. Luke’s attacked the Keep of the Four Worlds, been beaten and captured and subdued by having some LSD dropped on him. The Bar is his trip but it’s powerful enough to drag Merlin in with it. Using the Logrus against the Bandersnatch clears enough of his head to start escaping. He kills the Fire Angel with the Vorpal Sword, has to abandon Luke until his acid wears off, and Trumps out, not to Amber but to Chaos: his elder ‘brother’ Mandor (son of Dara’s husband by an earlier marriage).
Mandor is an intelligent, highly-composed Machiavellian figure with a soft spot for Merlin. He’s prepared to spirit his ‘brother’ off to a secret place to chill out for a couple of years until this all blows out, ‘this’ being a sudden bout of succession fever, with Swayvill, King of Chaos, looking finally likely to die and all manner of poisonings etc going on as everyone shifts for position.
And as Prince Sawall has formally adopted Merlin, whilst he’s been gone, Merlin is in the line now, another reason for Jurt to hate him, because he becomes higher in the succession.
Their conversation is interrupted by a Trump call for Merlin from Fiona, calling Merlin to Corwin’s Pattern. She includes Mandor in the invitation: the pair intrigue one another. Merlin admits to lying about being unable to walk this Pattern and still refuses to, arguing with Fiona over her anxiety that it is responsible for increasing the number and nature of Shadow stoms. Merlin’s case is favoured when Mandor eliminates one persistent storm, which is under external control, by amplifying it with ultimate Chaos via the Logrus.
They go off to investigate further. Merlin trumps back to Amber to catch up on sleep. He learns how to release Jasra from her spell before seeking food, in company with Queen Vialle, Cousin Martin (now a punk rocker of stereotypical appearance, ten years late) and Aunt Llewella. Random has departed for Kashfa, Jasra and Luke’s home, following the death of its ruler and Random succeeding in getting his candidate accepted. A trade treaty, bringing Kashfa into the Golden Circle of trade with Amber, is to be completed, all of which will head off Jasra’s return.
The meal is interrupted by the premature arrival of the Prime Minister of Begma, Kashfa’s local rival and an existing Golden Circle country, arriving with two daughters, Nayda and Coral, plus staff. Merlin, though no diplomat, is roped in to greet them and fend off importunate questions. Nayda resembles her father but Coral looks completely different. She attracts Merlin, and the attraction appears to be mutual.
Ahead of the State Banquet, Merlin shows Coral around Amber, taking her down to the beach along the stairway on Kolvir that Corwin and Bleys scaled in Nine Princes. Coral is intelligent, pleasant company, so much so that Merlin assumes she is the latest manifestation of the spirit, whatever it is, that possesses people and follows him. In this, he’s wrong, though his spell to drive out possessions comes in handy in foiling another attempt by Jurt to ambush him. Jurt is allied to Mask, current holder of the Keep of the Four Worlds.
Merlin has already told Coral that he knows what she is, leading her to assume he means her real secret. What that is only comes out when she gets him to take her to see the Pattern and she sets foot on it: Coral is a daughter of Oberon, via an affair he had with her mother. She walks the pattern, commands it to send her wherever she ought to go and vanishes with no means of communication other than Merlin’s Trump. Her disappearance is likely to cause a diplomatic incident.
Before that, Luke contacts Merlin to offer a deal. He has ended his vendetta after Caine and wants to settle with Amber to get Jasra freed. He proposes a deal whereby Mask and Jurt are cleared out of the Keep and Jasra retakes it. Some urgency is required, since the Keep contains the Fount of Power, a super-energising, dehumanising source that was responsible for Brand’s unusual powers: keeping Jurt from bathing in it is very important.
Merlin thinks this over throughout the Banquet, at which he is subjected to the earnest attentions of Nayda, offering him her personal contacts to set up a free and guaranteed assassination of anyone bothering him. Like her sister, but less appealing, she also seems eager to get something going between them, and not just because marriages into the Amber Royal Family can advantage small countries.
Vialle interrupts the Banquet, summoning Merlin to a Counsel of War. Dalt is present, threatening attack on Amber but willing to withdraw if Luke and Jasra are handed over to him as prisoners. Julian and Benedict are ready in force to wipe him out but Vialle wishes to avoid death for anyone. Merlin summons Luke by Trump to consult with Vialle, who places him under her personal protection.
Luke offers to parley with Dalt to secure agreement. Merlin goes with him to ensure that Julian doesn’t act on his own vendetta. Luke and Dalt agree on a fistfight, the loser to be taken as prisoner. Dalt knocks him out and withdraws: Merlin realises it has all been a complex set-up by Luke.
As agreed, Merlin visits Nayda’s quarters after the meal. After some preliminary kissing, he gets down to brass tacks with her. She is the possessing entity. He draws a Trump for Coral, contacts her in total darkness, but loses the connection quickly. It and Luke are blocked thereafter. Merlin is contacted by Mandor and brings him into Amber. Mandor recognises the creature possessing Nayda as a ty’iga. It is charged with protecting Merlin but can’t say by who in front of him, only to Mandor alone, and he won’t tell.
(Given that the book makes much of being a multitude of interlocking puzzles in which nobody’s motives have been established, even when their identities have been, this question is just one of many but it’s such a damned obvious solution that it’s disappointing that Merlin can’t even come up with one guess.)
There’s another complication: the ty’iga took possession of Nayda at the end of a serious illness, so serious that Nayda had just died. It can’t be forced from the woman’s body right now: Merlin is already on the hook for one daughter’s disappearance…
Mandor agrees to aid Merlin. They awaken Jasra, negotiate her assistance in attacking the Keep, which she only agrees to after she gets to hear Nayda’s story.
Leaving Nayda behind, under a paralysing spell, the trio attack the Keep. Jurt appears to have at least partially bathed in the Fount of Power. Merlin gets close enough to Mask to drive a dagger into ‘his’ kidney, but Jurt Trumps both away to safety. Before he does, Mask’s mask comes off. Merlin recognises him. Mask is his supposedly dead ex-girlfriend, Julia…
Once again, it’s a cliffhanger ending, but this time of a different order, a revelation of information essential to the overall story, such the endings to Sign of the Unicorn and The Hand of Oberon in the Corwin Cycle. For the first time, we can perhaps begin to see the outline of an overarching story, into which the multiple elements we’ve bounced around might combine organically.
What are the main elements of the story so far? Someone is trying to kill Merlin; originally it was his cousin Rinaldo, who prefers Luke, then his mother, Jasra, and now it appears to be his half-brother Jurt – who hates him for no better reason than that he’s half-Amber – working in collusion with Merlin’s former girlfriend who he confused by taking her on a shadowwalk without explaining.
Someone has sent a Chaos entity that can transfer from body to body to protect Merlin: from Chaos, protection imperative, can’t guess who it might be.
Amber may face attack from differing forces, led by some combination of Luke, Jasra and/or Dalt.
Four more children of Oberon have been brought into the picture, two male, two female, two newcomers, two pre-existing but not previously mentioned.
Corwin hasn’t been seen since the end of his Cycle and Merlin has invented a sentient Shadow computer he calls Ghostwheel.
It’s not much to show for three books. But it’s only to be expected in that Corwin was a directed character, with a purpose: to take Amber’s throne at first, then to save it from a clear, present and equal danger. Merlin is completely undirected. He is passive, with no goal in sight, and is bounced continually from pillar to post by the actions of multiple others, with individual aims he still can hardly begin to work out.
The Merlin Cycle is a very flat cycle, spinning in place and progressing only laterally. With two more books to go, can it be redeemed?
Despite the changed circumstances under which our Gang of Four (plus one) are operating, the fourth season is sticking to its traditional early arc: nothing to heavy, nothing too serialised, Number of the Week teritory with little nods here and there as to how things are going to shape up.
‘Wingman’ was a relaxed and funny episode which saw the team split into two to follow separate paths. It began with a superb little scene where Detectives ‘Riley’ and Fusco pursue a drugs suspect at full pelt through New York streets, only for ‘Riley’ to lose patience, climb a sightseers open top bus and down the suspect from one hundred yards: kneecap only, of course.
This gets the boys into hot water with the new Captain Moreno (Monique Gabriela Curnen) who doesn’t like ‘Riley’ kneecapping people indiscriminately, with even Fusco reading John the Riot Act over how he has to behave now he’s Police.
Enter the new Number, Andre Cooper (Ryan O’Nan, a name with a peculiarly apt relation to Andre’s job). Andre, a former longshoreman, or docker to us Brits, is a professional relationship consultant or, if we want to be crude and mocking about it, a pick-up artist. Andre prefers the professional aspect. He’s not out to show guys how to con women into one-night-stands but to educate social incompetents into men who women can genuinely be interested in.
So they feed him Fusco.
It’s a riot alright, with the two trading lines like they’re in a weekly sitcom, but there’s a serious side as Andre quit his job not long after there was a murder at the docks, following the disappearance of a container holding an arms shipment. Victim. Or Perpetrator?
Meanwhile, John’s learning how to be a good detective and turn away the wrath of Captain Moreno, who’s nicotine-patching like crazy and cranky with it. Using the info he can get via the underground set-up, he’s pinpointing perps and getting confessions like crazy. The Captain is pleased and favours him with a slightly concerned smile.
Double meanwhile, ‘Professor Whistler’ is approached by Miss Groves, who, on behalf of the Machine he no longer trusts or listens to directly, seeks his assistance on a mission. Wht mission that is, not even Root knows yet, receiving her information on a not so much Need to Know basis as a When You need to Know. Harold describes it as a Wild Goose Chase, Root as a Scavenger Hunt.
And it’s a scary one. It’s all about buying an Anti-Tank Missile, just minutes before the cops bust the dealers, and shopping it, via a series of contacts, to a Latvian Mob. Harold is supposd to be ‘Mr Egret’, a quasi-mythical figure amongst arms dealers, and it’s beautifully hilarious how, when challenged to be Mr Egret at no notice whatsoever Michael Emerson transforms Harold into a dark and intense man of few and ordinary words that are nevertheless shit scary: who would imagine the menace you can get into ‘Yes, I would mind’.
But Harold can’t maintain it. It’s like the Senator, the line he cannot cross. He cannot put this weapon into the Mob’s hands and he says so at the most inconvenient moment. Fortunately, as Root says, the Machine knows Harold well enough to have anticipated this. It’s another variation of the Frodo Principle: she just pulls out her two guns (where does she keep them, given that Amy Acker is tall and slim, wearing pretty tight clothing and doesn’t bulge except where she should?) and kneecaps all four.
Result: access to one storage unit complwete with a) all the munitions you could want and b) two very big canvas bags stuffed with a sizeable proportion of all the money you could want to spend, given that harold is cut off from his fortune. The Machine is trying to make things better for him.
Back at Fusco and his wingman, the ruth is coming out. Andre is Victim, not Perp. He knows about the ‘disappearance’ of the arms shipment (is this the same one?) and of the murder carried out to cover it up. That’s why he quit the docks, but his loyalty to his old comrades has led him to refuse to testify. Unfortunately, his old comrades don’t believe that and, just as Fusco is getting the hang of talking to women, the pair are kidnapped and tied up in a container to die of heat-stroke or drowning.
Shaw, who has been acting as Fusco’s other, and more cynical wingman, is going after him to the rescue. Reese can’t, because Detective Riley has a fiery Captain watching him. He’s got a murder to clear up though, in true PoI fashion, it turns out by be the same one, enabling ‘Riley’ to come out with the absolutely brilliant line that he’s solved three murders today and didn’t want Fusco to die before he could brag about it!
All’s well that ends well. The Captain is pleased with ‘Riley’, though she’d still like to blame him for four knee-capped Latvian mobsters. Fusco is pleased with his partner, who’s on a steep but effective learning curve, and even more pleased to have a date with an attractive woman. Finch is thinking hard, but meanwhile they’re all in funds again…
And for future reference, there’s a passing remark about a gang boss named Dominic.
All in all, not one of your heaviest episodes but a fine distraction nevertheless, and a perfect demonstration of the way the show is adapting itself, and its audience, to the new rules. It’s re-building its world exactly as it had to do three seasons ago, in order to create the platform on which a larger edifice will be constructed. We will see that soon enough.
In August 1975, I had my first week away with my mates and my last week away with my family in a spell of three weeks. If you’re wondering if the former had anything to do with the latter, you’ve got it exactly right.
I have a vivid memory of talking with a couple of girls we were trying to impress in Blackpool, about 10cc’s classic, “I’m not in love” (they were my favourite band of the time). It’s vivid and unmistakable and also completely false since “I’m not in love” had been a number 1 in June. Memory is a strange place and it’s rules are not as ours.
But this song was definitely number 1, for a single week, in this period. For those too young to remember, because for reasons I will shortly go into it isn’t going to get much play now or ever, “Barbados” was a light and lazy reggae song, full of Caribbean atmosphere, swinging along loosely to a bubbly tune and an infectious chorus. It also offered sound effects and ‘atmosphere’, a spoken word introduction in a West Indian accent from ‘Captain Tobias Wilcock’, pilot for Coconut Airways, as well as lyrics about not wanting to be a bus driver all (my) life and living in Brixton Town.
The single was a quick charter, entering at 13 and reaching number 1 two weeks later. There was just one problem. Typically Tropical weren’t West Indian, they were two white (actually Welsh) record engineers.
Now the term ‘cultural appropriation’ wasn’t around in 1975, but the word ‘racist’ was, and there were plenty of people prepared to use it in relation to this song. And there isn’t much room, if any, to withstand it.
The least you can say is that the record was incredibly condescending. It was using stereotypes, both in mock-accents and its depiction of West Indians as bus-drivers, all things easily identifiable by the less-thinking of whites. And in the era of Bob Marley ascending to world prominence (1975 was also the year “No Woman, No Cry” first reached the top 30), there were definite authenticity issues.
On the other hand, it got lots of airplay on Radio 1, because it was a lightweight, singalong song, and the summer of 1975 was one of the good, hot ones, only overlooked because it was followed immediately by the great Drought Summer of 1976, and it was a perfect summer song if you ignored the race stuff, which Radio 1, of course, did. With the honourable exception of Johnnie Walker, there wasn’t a daytime DJ would have noticed if you’d tattooed it all over their face during a supermarket opening.
It takes an effort to shut my ears to it, but I liked the single then and I like it still, as a sound, as a melody, as a piece of fun that will always be associated with summer and those two very different holidays. I think it’s fair to say that the racist stuff was innocent rather than malicious, but that’s never been much of an excuse. After all, I was innocent then, but I can’t call that as a defence in 2020.
Funnily enough, there was another white cod-reggae no 1 a few years later, from the aforementioned 10cc, by then reduced to 5cc, with “Dreadlock Holiday”. They were intelligent enough to know what they were doing, and the song was much more directly offensive, featuring Jamaican rudeboys, threats of mugging and a seriously condescending chorus of ‘I don’t like cricket, I love it’.
At least Typically Tropical were affectionate in their cultural appropriation.
Those younger than 45 will more likely be familiar with “Barbados” in its up-dated form, as “I’m going to Ibiza”, a number 1 hit for the Vengaboys, which is a perfect example of degeneration all in itself. According to a comment noted against a YouTube video, from one of the engineers working on the track who contributed to the shouted ‘whoas’, these were lifted directly for the Vengaboy version, so everyone who did that has now sung on two no. 1 hits.