Film 2020: Back to the Future Part III

And thus the trilogy concludes, with the admonitory words that Time Travel is a menace, too dangerous to meddle with, the comprehensive destruction of the means by which it can be accomplished, the supposed end to predestination and the appearance of the slickest Time Machine of the entire Trilogy. I’ve got to say that there’s a mixed message or two going on in there.

Part III, which as I said last week was written and, mostly, filmed back-to-back with Part II, is generally regarded as a success which, as the end of the story, is only to be expected. It’s yet another good fun movie, slick and professional, effective and thrilling, but there’s practically nothing of it that isn’t referenced from other films and media.

The film starts with a reprise of the closing moments of Part II, to where Doc Brown faints, then it picks up in a surprisingly slow and draggy introduction. We read more of Doc 1985’s letter, written in 1885 when he has become a blacksmith. He’s concealed the DeLorean for Marty and Doc 1955 to discover it and return Marty to 1985. He tells them explicitly not to ‘rescue’ him: he is happy where he is.

Unfortunately, Marty and Doc 1955 discover an old tombstone, for Emmet Brown, shot in the back by Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen, erected by his beloved Clara. Date of death, six days after Doc’s letter. So Marty goes back to 1885 to warn Doc and take him Back to the Future.

So the third film returns to the same story goal as the first. It also gets to indulge itself by playing Cowboys and Indians.

What is it with this enthusiasm for recreating the Western? It reminded me of the episode ‘Living in Harmony’ of The Prisoner. It was apparently Michael J Fox’s suggestion but everybody wanted in on it. It’s one of the great American film traditions, but hell’s bells, it’s such a cliche! Turning something into a Western, as opposed to setting out to make a Western from the start is an immediate nosedive into the cheap and predictable, and the film doesn’t leave a stone unturned in its pursuit of the inevitable.

Nor can Zemeckis and Gale restrain themselves from more split-screen antics as Marty once again has to play other members of his family, this time his great-great grandfather, the Irish-born Seamus McFly (complete with Lea Thompson, downgraded to a very minor cameo as great-great grandmother Maggie). Given how the McFly family seems to be producing absolutely identical male members down the centuries, one of the McFlys has got to be spreading his genetic material very close to home).

Fox and Christopher Lloyd are still as effective as ever in their double act, but Zemeckis at least breaks the mould by introducing a third player to the act, in the form of Mary Steenburgen as the newly-arriving town schoolmarm, Clara Clayton. She and Doc fall in love instantly when he saves her from falling to her death in a ravine, and he breaks both their hearts when he tells her he’s from the future and is returning there.

Even this isn’t original: Steenburgen was chosen for the part because she’d already played the role before, in the 1979 film Time after Time, where she’d been a 20th century woman falling in love with a 19th century time traveller (H.G. Wells, incidentally) and travelling back to his time. That she’s now playing a 19th century woman falling in love with a 20th century time traveller and planning to travel back to his time makes no significant difference.

And after repeating one of its own tropes (Tannen getting covered in manure) the film sets up another Western cliche for its finale. This one’s taken from Buster Keaton’s The General, the Western train, complete with cow-catcher, supercharged with Doc’s special fuel so that it can push the DeLorean up to 88mph. Except that Clara’s caught the engine, she and Doc are trying to clamber along it, at risk of falling off and all on a tight deadline as the unfinished bridge rapidly nears…

This film really is a manufactured thing, contructed out of other people’s ideas.

Anyway, Marty winds up in 1985, dressed for 1855, in a depowered DeLorean that’s immediately smashed to pieces by a 1985 train: no more Time Machine, exactly as Doc intended to do had he not been left behind with Clara and the hoverboard. Cue a thirty-second cameo from the rest of the family, back to normal (normal here meaning the changed normal of the end of the first normal, not the original normal of the start of that film, instead of the changed changed ‘normal’ of mid Part 2).

Marty goes to collect Jennifer, who’s still asleep on her porch, left out of the story. She’s had a horrible dream… or was it a dream? Marty evidently levels with her because next thing he’s driving her back to the scene, with a rather perfunctory diversion where he’s accused of being chicken over entering into a car race. Marty has, however, learned not to be so stupid, so he doesn’t crash and damage his guitar-playing hand.

And no sooner do they reach the smashed DeLorean than Doc turns up again, having rebuilt the Time Machine as a sleek, polished, all-black Western steam engine, in which he’s travelling with his wife, Clara, and their son Jules and Verne. And, despite the presence of a Time Machine before their very eyes, Doc is insistent that Marty and Jennifer have no future except the one they make: nothing is written, anything can happen.

Nice thought but, after nearly five hours of filming, inconsistent to the max, not to mention intellectually moronic. If time is a continuum along which one can shift their temporal position, the future does not cease to exist simply because you choose not to visit it. Or is this a subtle expression of the Zen philosophy of if a tree falls in a forest and no-one is there to witness it, does it make a noise?

Nah, it’s not subtle.

Nevertheless, despite these multiple flaws, I still enjoyed Back to the Future Part III, but I’m very glad they stopped there: I’d have hated to see a Part IV given the paucity of imagination on dispay here


Michael Angelis, Boy from the Black Stuff, R.I.P.

How are some things forgotten?

I’ve just turned from the Guardian website and a short piece on the death of Michael Angelis, aged 71. They credit him as the narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine. They reference his career by reference to roles in GBH, The Liver Birds, and Auf Weidersehn Pet. They mention soaps and such that he’s been in.

But not a mention of his greatest role, as Chrissy in Alan Bleasedale’s Boys from the Black Stuff.

Yes, I know that was nearly forty years ago, produced in and about the effects of Thatcher’s first Great Recession, but there isn’t a line or a grimace in that film that isn’t equally as applicable now.

Some parts are a ticket to immortality. Chrissy was one of them. Michael Angelis brought a wealth of emotion to it, and it is his monument, his legacy. And a newspaper supposedly of the left can’t even mention it.

Rest in peace, Michael, you were bloody good.

When Luck was a Lady

Brenda Banks and Lady Luck

Never say ‘complete’. I have further wanderings in the Golden Age to come, with several others of DC’s old titles, but before that, I am going off-reservation a little with a look at the life of Klaus Nordling’s Lady Luck, aka society girl Brenda Banks.
This series is distinct from others I have gone through in two ways. Firstly, although most of the stories are taken from Smash Comics, published by Quality Comics, the series originally appeared in, and was reprinted from The Spirit Section, the informal title for a 16-page weekly comic book tabloid insert distributed as part of twenty American Sunday newspapers.
The Spirit Section was dominated by The Spirit, of course, with two four page features to round it off, Bob Powell’s ‘Mr Mystic’ and, from 1940, Lady Luck. Eisner created and designed the veiled crimefighter and wrote the first two stories before turning the feature over to Dick French to write for artist Chuck Mazoujian. The feature was later taken over by Nicholas Viscardi (better known later as Nick Cardy), all working under the house name Ford Davis. Script and art was taken over in 1942 by Klaus Nordling, who signed his own name to the series. The series was cancelled in 1946 but was only absent for two months until brought back for seven months by Fred Schwab.
So immediately we’re looking at a character created to entertain a more adult audience, a newspaper audience that would likely not let their children read comic books but which would allow them to access the ‘Sunday Funnies’.
The other difference is that, with the exception of some very late seven and eleven page stories created by Nordling for Quality Comics at the very end of her career, Lady Luck only ever appeared in four page stories. And four pagers impose a certain limited style on a character.
So far as I am aware, no origin story was ever written. Irish-American Society girl Brenda Banks, a beautiful young blonde whose father owned a very successful mine, just appeared fully-formed as non-powered crime-fighter Lady Luck, an intelligent, wide-awake, athletic young woman with a well-developed talent for judo and the odd telling punch. As Lady Luck, Brenda wore a short-sleeved, knee-length green dress with a wide hem, a short, waist-length cape, a flat-crowned, wide-brimmed hat, and gloves of the same shade (the gloves had four-leaf clover designs on their back and in the beginning, the Lady’s hat was hung round the brim with luck symbols).

A close-up

And if you thought Denny Colt’s blue domino mask was an insufficient disguise, Brenda Banks relied on a gauzy pale-green veil ‘concealing’ her nose, mouth and jaw: hey, if Clark Kent gets away with it with glasses and a kiss-curl, who are we to question Miss Banks’ methods?
Unlike previous DVD-Roms I’ve enjoyed, my Lady Luck concentrates upon the one feature. There are no whole issues of Smash Comics with characters like Eisner’s self-rip-off, Midnight, to read, just Lady Luck. The DVD-Rom contains just five files, the first of which holds one Nordling story from the First American Series Lady Luck book published in the Eighties and the rest Nordling stories from Smash. There’s no real continuity between stories – at four pages there’s no room for it – though some tales are clearly set out in sequence.
The Lady has a surprisingly large supporting cast. These include her oversized chauffeur, Peecolo, who talks in an ethnic Italian, another occasional assistant, the jockey-sized Pinky, and her father’s Swedish maid Helga, all of whom know her double-identity, and the weedy impoverished European aristocrat Count DiChange, forever seeking to propose to either Brenda (for her money) or Lady Luck (for her veiled beauty – hey, there’s no veil across those legs) but somehow never getting the chance.
Later on, the Count gets identified as Raoul and is trusted with Brenda’s alter-ego.
There are of course others, especially among the Police and the women’s auxilliary Lady Luck Brigade, who frequently see both Brenda’s identities, but somehow no-one ever twigs, not even in one adventure where she operates without hat or veil.
The first of the files contains exclusively Nordling stories. As I said, they’re all four pages long, which doesn’t really allow for discussion of any single story or stories. But the stories are fun and indeed frequently amusing. Nordling’s art is clear and simple, realistic in so far as Lady Luck is concerned, but bordering on cartoon caricature with almost everybody else. He’s less detailed than Eisner but he adopts a similar approach to naturalistic body positioning within the determined comic.
As these stories were being created during the Second World War, the hostilities, and the threats of both German and Japanese take up a considerable portion of Lady Luck’s time, alongside the criminals she so regularly foils. A couple of times, her dual-identity is threatened with exposure, necessitating complex plans to throw the would be exposer off the trail, especially the persistent ‘Colonel’ Smath.

A splash page

In general, the page limitation keeps everything brief and brisk, and certainly Nordling can get a far more entertaining story out of four pages that Green Arrow and Aquaman ever got out of six, but it’s true to say that he miscalculates several times and has to chop stories a bit confusingly short. There were one or two stories where I was left wondering what was supposed to have happened, and the first ‘Colonel’ Smath story ended without an ending, as if there were supposed to be extra pages to complete it.
I’ve said previously that most Golden Age comedy strips don’t amuse me, ‘Scribbly’ honourably excepted. I should also have excepted The Spirit from that generalisation and the same goes for Lady Luck, which had me giggly at its effervescent presentation many times. And I’d like to mention that that in 154 pages, there wasn’t the slightest suggestion from anyone, least of all the Police, that the Lady shouldn’t be doing this because she was a broad. In the 1940s, no less.
The second file contained a further few four pagers from Smash Comics but was mainly comprised of the five issues of Lady Luck. This was a continuation of Smash, picking up its numbering after its cancellation with issue 85, for five more issues entirely devoted to the Lady in Green. These were brand new adventures created by Nordling, consisting of seven to eleven pages, but the surprise was that, though Nordling kept to the same formula, the extra space took the pace way down, encouraged some stories to get too complicated and was fatal to the laughter.
The art was still of the same quality and you’d happily look at both Brenda and the Lady, but nothing could match the antic idiosyncrasy of the classic four page short.
The third file goes back to the beginning of the series, reprinted from actual ‘Spirit Sections’. It’s credited to ‘Ford Davis’, and it’s a horse of a different colour to the classic Nordling period. Lady Luck’s costume is subtly different, including a tight, wrap-around jacket and a longer cape, extending down to her pert bottom, but the biggest difference is that the Lady wears no veil to blur her features, and several people do comment upon her strong resemblance to heiress Brenda Banks.
More importantly, the element of humour is missing. This Lady Luck may well be bright and effervescent but she and her stories are quite serious, even after Viscardi introduces Peecolo, courtesy of Brenda’s parents return from a long holiday that’s enabled her to operate freely, without concern for her comings and goings from home.
The first couple of available stories show her coming up against the Police in the form of Chief ‘Handsome’ Hardy Moore and Sergeant Feeny. To them, she’s an outlaw, presumably because she’s a vigilante, whereas she never does anything crooked, just breaks the rules to bring in crooks and save people.
Almost immediately, Lady Luck goes globe-trotting, endless exotic adventures abroad, usually involving her having to swim for it once a week, albeit with no detrimental affect on her hair. Scripter French manages to fit his stories into four brief pages without strain: indeed, he could have wrapped several of them up in three without being too simplistic.
Art-wise, there’s none of Nordling’s tendencies towards Eisnerian cartooning: characters stay within ordinary human form and Brenda/the Lady are drawn in a slightly attenuated fashion that emphasises their slimness and height.
As America enters the War, Brenda’s father Bruce is sent to south America for his Government. His daughter accompanies him, as does Lady Luck (‘gosh, you do look like Brenda Banks!’) who gets appointed head of security!

The penultimate issue

It’s not until the fourth file, again taken from original Sunday pages, that Klaus Nordling arrives to partner ‘Ford Davis’ on 22 March 1942 and so does Lady Luck’s veil. And Nordling’s semi-comic approach is there fully-formed, in a first panel claiming that this page is secret and is not to be read. The difference is delightful. Admittedly, there’s some overlap with the Smash Comics reprints and the stories are by no means continuous – Nordling’s debut sees Brenda Banks ‘killed’ and Lady Luck wondering how to take advantage of the possibilities, but the next story is three months later, so no, I don’t know.
The final file was more from the Sundays, but only as far as very early 1946, short of Lady Luck’s cancellation, and nothing from Fred Schwab’s coda-like run. A pity, it would have been good to have a representative from every stage of the series.
So not a conventional kind of look, with reference to any stories, because the character doesn’t suit that kind of approach. Nor has Lady Luck been revived at any time after the Forties, except for a one-off appearance, at the hands of Geoff Johns, which I wouldn’t wish on any innocent character, in a one-off Phantom Stranger issue during the New 52, in which she became of supernatural character. No, I say, no, you blackguard!
No, reading these stories as they accumulated, I thought I’d like to see Lady Luck as a TV series, period-set to enable the grotesques to appear without getting too heavy, and some level-headed actress to play Brenda Banks and Lady Luck dead-straight. If they could capture Nordling’s tone, it could be terribly fun, like Tales of the Gold Monkey always was. Lady Luck may well be a forgotten and minor character of the Golden Age, but she’s a lot less deserving of that oblivion than many others of the time.

Lou Grant: s04 e07 – Streets

She is in this episode…

For entirely different reasons, this was another poor episode, failing on its lack of anything but an earnest liberal concern about its topic, which was the Ghetto.

It began with two deaths. A white police officer stops a loose-limbed, cool-jiving black man that he knows, after saving him from being knocked down in the street. Thee black guy runs, the white officer gives chase. They run round a corner, out of sight, we hear shots, the officer is dead. The Police corner Benny Jordan in a tenement building, he tries to shoot his way out, he gets killed.

It’s the set-up for a cliched story about Police racism, but to give the show credit it aimed 180 degrees away. The officer was a good guy, straight, popular, well-liked in the ghetto. Jordan was a screw-up, a doper, an ex-pimp, but two thousand people turned up at his funeral, as opposed to the hundred or so for Officer Stewart.

That’s your story. But it’s not a story, it’s a study. This is your Ghetto, and the episode rigidly avoided anything amounting to judgement and adhered solely to representing both sides of the story side-by-side – literally in terms of the paper’s eventual coverage – and walking away softly to allow you to make up your mind as to exactly where the wrongs and the rights stood.

Forty years ago, I’d like to think there was a chance that a substantial part of the audience would have taken the array of opinions to heart and tried to apply a balancing act. In 2020, I fear only that the udiences minds would see only what they had conditioned itself to see.

For that wishy-washiness alone the episode was always going to fail, but it compounded its failings by introducing two other story elements that served only to confuse the issue beyond hope of being taken seriously. Firstly, Rossi is assigned to Officer Stewart’s story and he takes guest star Carl Franklin, as black report Milt Chamberlain, along with him. The two take opposing viewpoints: Rossi is his usual jerk self, using Milt as hisshielld to get to the potentially more extreme members of the community, whilst Milt feels he’s just atoken, and that Rossi just isn’t getting it.

It may have been intended to reflect the black-white conflict in miniature but all it did was get in the way of the story’s real points by reducing it to a personal squabble, which could and of course did get resolved with improbable speed the moment the two participants realised they were both on the side of the story: I may plotz.

Of even more peripheral concern was Charlie Hume’s return from the latest newspaper seminar, burbling about demographics and interfaces and launching a new News-Lite section called Tempo to plumb depths in shallownesspreviously uncovered. Lou objects in his crusty manner. Charlie doesn’t want three reporters and a photographer working on a depressing but relevant story the readers don’t want to hear about.

But of course he reverses himself completely in an instant, without any explanation except the implied one of being won over by the power of the story, just in time for the end. Cue feeble joke and feeeze-frame to close on, and forget, permanently if you’re lucky.

The show can still pull out strong episodes, even in its fourth season, and whilst it’s a very long time since I last saw something I remembered from so far back, I never saw either of the last two seasons so there won’t be any more of those. I’m taking on trust that it will go back to doing better: don’t let me down.

Under a Different Tree entirely: Sam Young’s ‘Little Light’

A few years ago, a chance word posted on a private social forum re-awoke my love for Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club series of my childhood in East and South Manchester, and restored an enthusiasm that has seen me re-purchase the entire series (including the only one I never read before), as well as other of Saville’s books.
At the outset, I kick-started my memory by researching the Internet, though there was less information about the things I wanted to know than I expected would be available.
I was also surprised to discover that a ‘new’ Lone Pine novel, or rather a ‘Lone Pine Club’ book for adults, had been published in 2006, a book titled Little Light, written by Sam Young. Very little information was available for it, but it was self-evidently unauthorised, and I got the impression that it was very much frowned-up on, though I can’t find any such reference on-line now.
What little that seemed to be available about it was that it began with the arrival in Rye for the first time of newly-weds Jonathan and Penelope Warrender…
Whether it was good, bad or indifferent, it piqued my curiosity. However, it also appeared to be rare and fetching something like £40 a copy, and whilst I’m better able to afford items like that now, it would have to be a very important book to make me pay a sum like that.
On the other hand, an immaculate condition copy reduced to £8.75 on eBay, was practically irresistible. So what merits does a piece of ‘fan-fiction’ about a Lone Pine Club’s worth of adults have to an ardent fan of the originals?
For a relatively slim book, of just over 200 compact pages, there’s a lot to be said. Young’s stated intention was to write a Lone Pine adventure concerning adult versions of our friends in a world where they have never met before but form instant and lasting friendships as they deal with a criminal plot of more adult scope and consequences. Things are not quite that simple, however. Jon and Penny, David and Peter, Tom and Jenny: these are our cast. There is no place for the Morton Twins, nor for Harriet Sparrow, not even by way of passing reference. Indeed, there is no suggestion that the David Morton of this book has any siblings.
The villains are the ones you might expect: Les and Valerie Dale, formerly husband and wife, and Val’s (real) aunt, Emma Ballinger, and there are substantial roles for a James Wilson who is involved with the press, a Fred Vasson who is near enough the same person in a different role and an unexpected Ned Stacey. And there are minor cameos from Albert Sparrow, Henry Carter and Arlette Duchelle.
But there is no Gay Dolphin Hotel, no Seven Gates Farm or Barton Beach and whilst Ingles’ Farm is where it ought to be, the nearby Mortons live at Briarsholt, which is Witchend in all but name, and I wonder why Young didn’t or couldn’t use that name when the casting of Jon, Penny, David, Peter, Tom and Jenny collectively would be more than enough for any successful copyright suit by Malcolm Saville’s literary heir, it being another 32 years before the Lone Piners pass into the Public Domain.
As for the plot, it traverses familiar Saville ground. The object of the hunt, the ‘Little Light’, is a diamond stolen in the late Nineteenth Century, the story being turned up by the loathsome Les Dale, who enlists his shortly-to-be ex-wife Valerie in turning up a clue to its possible whereabouts at Powlden House in Rye, the first home for that newly-wed late-twenties couple, Jonathan and Penelope Warrender, who become neighbours of the avuncular Mr Vasson.

Jon and Penny are clearly Young’s favourites, dominating the first third of the book, But at a party hosted by Henry Carter to celebrate his engagement to Arlette Duchelle, Penny makes instant friends with a tall, simple, beautiful out-of-place feeling blonde with the unlikely name of Peter, and she and John invite Peter and her husband David to sleep at their home overnight. David and Peter live at Briarsholt in Shropshire, but are house-sitting David’s parents in London.
Penny is led into a trap set in London by Dale, who wants the clue to the whereabouts of the ‘Little Light’. Having taken Peter for company, the Dales capture both women and show that they’re prepared to be violent, as in actual physical violence. Penny creates a distraction that enables Peter to run, though she suffers a serious beating from Les in consequence. Peter is at risk of assault and rape by two football hooligans until they’re beaten up by an even bigger football hooligan – he’s from the East End, see – who’s also a tabloid journalist. This is James Wilson, and he helps find Penny.
Penny recovers physically from the beating but has her spirit crushed. In order to help her recuperate, the Mortons invite the Warrenders to stay at Briarsholt and meet their friends and neighbours, Tom Ingles and Jenny Harman. Technically, this pair are still engaged, they just never got round to marrying after Jenny got pregnant with their five year old daughter Daisy. Tom and Jenny live with Ned Stacey in what we are meant to infer is a menage a trois.
Meanwhile, the search for the ‘Little Light’ has also moved to Shropshire as identified by Ballinger and it turns out that the stolen diamond was buried in the roots of a pine tree above Briarsholt: yes, that one. Les’s start at digging it out is interrupted by Daisy’s arrival in her secret place where she takes it away.
As a result, Daisy is kidnapped to be exchanged for the diamond, to be brought by Penny alone. Once he’s got the diamond, the vicious Les intends to beat Penny even more severely again, this time including rape, just cos he hates her guts, except that Wilson saves her, administers a kicking and supplies the twist in the tale, before disappearing into the night because he’s fallen in (genuine) love with Mrs Warrender but she loves Jon…
So: characters, and plot. But is it any good?
Well, the synopsis, out of which I’ve left a number of details clearly dear to Young’s heart, is sufficiently Saville-esque so far as the adventure is concerned, and it does combine the two stock plots: searching for a hidden treasure and foiling a criminal gang. And we’ve already seen that this time the violence goes beyond a clumsy fist-fight. Penny is badly beaten by Dale, and half-stripped at the same time, and though she quickly dispels Jon’s fears of sexual assault, she goes through a period of post-assault trauma that relates to sexual expression (out of which she is snapped, with implausible rapidity and unconvincing completeness by Daisy singing their (and Young’s) favourite song).
And when she is threatened with worse, with the attack already started, James Wilson smashes Dale’s head in with a rock, near killing him.
But an adult story consists not merely of violence but sex. Do the Lone Piners have sex? Oh, you betcha. Young can’t resist bringing it up. Penny’s carnal enthusiasm for Jon. Peter’s prim and restrained exterior that doesn’t conceal a willingness to experiment (David has to replace a broken antique footstool, fnar, fnar). And aside from the Ingles-Harman-Stacey household set-up, it’s pretty much implied that Jenny isn’t averse to experimentation and has her eyes on David for the future (that’s if she hasn’t already), whilst Mr Morton is clearly enthused by the sight of Penny, despite the vast difference in bust-line – Penny does make it plain that she doesn’t bother with bras because she’s got nothing to go into them… Yes, Lone Piners have sex, but it’s isn’t quite the kind happy, able couples in their late twenties enjoy as of nature but something to be shoved under our noses a bit, look, see.
They also smoke, or at least Penny does from time to time, and Young can’t resist slipping in a reference at Henry’s party to suggest it isn’t only good, wholesome nicotine, as we get to hear the tail-end of Penny demonstrating to two sixteen year olds how to build a spliff.
Regular readers of this blog will be expecting me to insert a reference to Earth-2 at some point, but I think a more apposite comparison is with Christopher Priest’s The Separation, in which parallel realities cross and merge with one another.
This is because Young isn’t merely content to write a Lone Pine story featuring the elder members as adults meeting for the first time, but he cannot help salting his adventure with gestures to the original books. There are three points in Little Light where he plays with metafiction and I think that’s definitely two too many.
The first two of these – one early and clumsy, the other a decidedly unwise insertion into the climactic chapter – are of the same order. Running late for their appointment with Fred Vasson over Powlden House, Penny spots the cover of a children’s book being removed from the window of Albert Sparrow’s bookshop. Two of the characters look identical to her and Jon, as well they should be since this is The Gay Dolphin Adventure (Armada version). After some unamusing guff about her misreading the title as ‘The Gay Golfing Adventure’ (oh, hilarity!), she drags Jon off without waiting for Sparrow to confirm that they do indeed look like the characters on the cover, and they have the identical names…
Once might be a manageable in-joke though it’s a contrived one, Saville’s book having no actual bearing on the plot except a garbled comment about the author having had some correspondence with a Charles Flowerdew, but Young compounds this badly. Penny has to go alone with the ‘Little Light’ from the Devil’s Chair on the Stiperstones to what’s clearly intended to be Greystone Cottage. She’s never been there before but isn’t she lucky? There’s a group of Lone Pine fans out on the mountain, one of whom (a real-life person) recognises her, can’t believe she’s called Penny Warrender and sends her in the right direction, but not before pinning a Lone Pine badge on her…
Oh cringe, cringe, cringe. If I knew more Latin, I could play on the classic concept of deus ex machina, for this is certainly no god in this machine. This seriously tempts fate over the reality of Young’s book but any residual credibility it leaves is destroyed at the end.
Daisy’s secret place has been recognised by us all as HQ1, the Lone Pine itself. The ‘Little Light’ has been buried all this time in the tree’s roots. But as a sumptuous feast breaks up, with Ned having taken Daisy home to bed leaving only six once upon a time Lone Piners, Jenny finds something else buried in the little hole. It’s an old sardine tin, setting out the rules of the Lone Pine Club and signed in 1945 in blood by six people who have never met until this year…
Here is where the book delves most deeply into Christopher Priest territory, but not only does it fail in its own right, because the ‘real’ piece of paper would not have had the names of Jenny, Jon and Penny, and would have had Richard and Mary Morton, but by being an in-joke of this size, it overbalances the whole of Little Light, reducing it to what it is, a pale echo of Malcolm Saville’s work, a book he would not and could not have written, a book that is in the end pastiche: not real, never possibly real in the way that the original series is and will always remain.
Before leaving this book behind, I do want to mention that the ‘Little Light’ of the title derives from Daisy Harman’s favourite song, which, from the number of times its lyrics are referenced in passing before we even get to Shropshire, is ‘Summer Breeze’, and patently the Seals & Croft original. It’s a welcome choice, though I go for the 1976 cover by The Isley Brothers which was my favourite record of the year and far ahead of the original.
And whilst ultimately I come down against this book, for all the reasons I’ve given, Sam Young has still done something I couldn’t have done (albeit wouldn’t have tried) and that is to have written a Lone Pine book. If we exclude consideration of whether he should have even tried, he’s still done more than the rest of us put together (though if anyone is now about to draw my attention to a stash of Internet Lone Pine fan fiction, I’d rather you didn’t: the hint that Miss Ballinger may have had sex with Fred Vasson in this is too much for my stomach to cope with…)

The end of a era

One of the minor inconveniences caused by the current lockdown has been the disruption to my comics collecting. The companies aren’t publishing, the distributors aren’t delivering them, the shops aren’t open and I can’t go into the centre of Manchester to buy them, since I’m not Dominic Cummings.

That this is only a minor inconvenience is largely down to the fact that, after Tom King’s Batman series ended twenty issues prematurely, I’ve been reduced to only two series, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s Moonshine from Image comics, and DC’s unashamedly fun Fantastic Four rip-off, The Terrifics.

But now the industry is tentatively poking its nose out from under the blankets, and it appears that Moonshine 18 and The Terrifics 27 should be appearing very shortly, maybe as early as this week. Which is good in one way, but not in another.

Although Moonshine is telling an ongoing story, it only comes out in mini-series of six issues. No 18 will therefore be the last in this ‘series’ with nothing else due until much later this year, at best.

And to my dismay, I have learned that DC has cancelled The Terrifics from no 30, but that only issue 27 will appear as a paper comic. The last three issues will only be published digitally, and will not appear in print until collected as part of Graphic Novel no 5. GN Vol 3. is not due to appear until September this year, so you can imagine how long that’s going to take.

So the return to publishing is, for me, only a false renaissance. The larger point is that after these two issues have come out, I will have no new comics to buy. The last time that happened to me was a very long time ago. In fact, it was before the landmark purchase of Justice League of America 107, in January 1974, that kick-started the whole thing for me. I haven’t given up on comics after all this time. They are giving up on me.

Not forever. There will be Moonshine ‘season 4’, and Tom King is sequelling his Batman run with a 12 issue Batman and Catwoman series, if that ever appears, given that his successor on Batman appears to be doing the usual overturning of everything King had set up, leaving Batman/Catwoman as a likely  contravener of the new continuity.

It’s been 46 years, and the sudden expectation of an absence is a bit of a shock. Of course I still have those DVD-Roms I’ve been exploring for the last couple of years, but that’s not the same. The wavefront is stopping: I am far from sure where that will leave me.

Person of Interest: s04 e09 – The Devil You Know

Three amigos

If this isn’t an in media res opening then I don’t know one that is. After a brief, ten second recap from Samaritan to place us, the episode gets straight into Martine Rousseau’s exposure of Sameen Shaw’s day job and her intention to resolve it by killing her. This leads to a shoot-out at the cosmetics counter that’s fast, intense and slightly absurd, given such factors as Shaw apparently keeping a machine gun under the counter, two expert markswomen firing dozens of shots at each other without inflicting so much as a scratch, nor even any stray bullets hitting the milling, hysterically frightened clientele or staff.

Am I being facetious? Well, yes I am.  Exciting as this all is, it’s nevertheless a slightly OTT introduction to a phenomenal episode in which this lead takes us into merely a secondary strand in the episode. Shaw steps out the emergency exit to find Root pulling up outside on a motorcycle, intent on getting Shaw back to the subway using the Shadow Map (i.e., the map of all the camera dead zones where they cannot be seen).

With assistance from Fusco, the ladies are making progress until Shaw learns that Reese is handling the latest Number alone, and that a very significant Number. She insists, to the point of threatening their cover, on going to his assistance, despite appeals from Root not to get herself killed because this will devastate people who care about her.

On the other hand, Root then promptly tricks Shaw into dropping her guard whist she stops the furious ex-assassin by injecting her with elephant tranquiliser or something equally effective: Shaw is still asleep by episode end with Reese and Finch a little fearful of waking her.

I’ve dealt with all that first because, despite the clear and obvious danger to Shaw both in media res and in the long term as she now has no identity to go to, not to mention Rousseau and Greer becoming aware that Samaritan has in some fashion been blindspotted, this is a minor strand. Because, as we are well aware from last week’s story, the Number of the Week is Carl Elias, targeted by the increasingly impressive Dominic: it is the Brotherhood’s time.

That Reese and Finch will protect Elias to the fullest extent of their abilities is a given. He’s a gang boss, a villain, a murderer many times over, not a man that, on any ordinary scale, is worth saving. Nor does the loose friendship between him and Team Machine tip the balance far enough. But Elias is The Devil You Know. In relative terms, he is Order and The Brotherhood is Chaos. The collateral damage of gang operations will rise exponentially if Dominic takes over, or should I say when?

For Dominic has planned well, and his move against Elias works. He has infiltrated Elias’s men, flipped an unspecified number of them, deprived him of options and escape routes. We watch the noose tighten in a building Elias has led Reese and his Lieutenant Scarface, or Anthony as we learn is his real name. It’s Elias’s failsafe, containing a safe he doesn’t have quite time to open before the guns bark and Anthony is wounded, captured and beaten. Dominic wants the code, but Anthony is loyal unto death to Elias. It wasn’t just the foreknowledge of how the story played out: even first time I sensed what was coming, that the only knowledge and power the safe contained was under Elias’s control. He only gave the code at Anthony’s insistence, both of them, boys who made friends in a juvenile detention centre that used to occupy this significant building, chosen by Elias, loyal to one another, knowing what the code meant.

Morior Invictus, Anthony said, Death before Defeat, or I Die Undefeated, the last words he spoke before the bomb that was the safe blew out the top two floors of the building and killed everyone there, but not Dominic or his Lieutenant, Linc, who received a warning from Anthony about finding himself in a chair like his.

Reese gets Elias away. He’s still a target but he has his men. And he has another Lieutenant, his accountant, Bruce Moran (James Le Gros). Bruce appeared at the beginning and end, the end revealing that he too came from that same juvenile detention centre, that the two that were Carl and Anthony were a three with Bruce. They were Elias’s friends.

And Elias phones Harold, to thank him for his help. Enrico Colantoni is never less than excellent as Elias, presenting the inevitable weight of the character in his calmness and collectedness. In this episode, he is magnificent, carrying the emotion of the moment, the commiment to his friends and especially that one he is forced to sacrifice for the confusion of his enemies.

And in the final moment he warns Harold Finch, and by extension Reese and Shaw, that he will settle accounts with Dominic, and, letting roughness into his voice for the first time since he was introduced in season 1, warning them that they had better not stand in his way. He too has a Latin tag to speak, though only to himself. Invictus Maneo: I Remain Unbeaten. Death and Life and victory in both.

In such a superb episode, I hate to mention a flaw, but the writing slipped into melodrama as Finch relates to the audience that things have changed yet again, with Shaw’s exposure and Elias’s removal: their world has gotten more dangerous. Didn’t need that, we know that it’s getting worse as we go, we don’t need so blatant a needle: how many times so far has it gotten more dangerous? Sometimes you don’t need to cry wolf, especially when you can feel its breath on your neck.

One final thing: some of you may have noticed that Shaw spent most of the episode wearing a clunky, chunky, figure obscuring long jacket. There’s a reason for that. In two weeks time, I’ll explain for you newcomers what that meant: you are on your honour not to look it up.

The Infinite Jukebox: Lou Christie’s ‘Lightnin’ Strikes’

In the months immediately preceding my musical awakening, there were a number of ubiquitous hit singles that even I couldn’t miss hearing. One of these was Lou Christie’s ‘I’m gonna make you mine’ (though I found myself more in favour of its far-less-successful follow-up, ‘She Sold Me Magic’).
In Britain, ‘I’m gonna make you mine’ was a comeback hit for Christie, who’d had a Top 20 hit previously in 1966 with his American No. 1 hit, ‘Lightnin’ Strikes’, which reached no 11. When I heard that, I liked it. I’ve heard it on and off over the decades, enjoyed it when I heard it, never made a point of seeking it out when I didn’t.
A few days before I am writing this, comics writer and historian Mark Evanier, whose blog ( I follow daily, went to see Christie in concert, and even though the man is now in his seventies, he still retains the voice that powers all those characteristic falsettos. Evanier followed that up by linking to several videos of Christie doing this song at different stages of his life, and also a cover version as an example of how not to sing the song.
I like it, what can I say? I clicked on a link, enjoyed a couple of performances, had fun. But what gets me writing this today is that these have been the first time I have really listened to Christie’s lyrics. And oh my God, I cannot believe what he is actually saying!
I’ve spoken many times of the masculinist attitude to love and romance in many brilliant Sixties songs, and ‘Lightnin’ Strikes’ is one blatant example of this. There is an amazing contrast between what Christie sings in the verses, in a normal voice, and what he launches into in the chorus, in his penetratingly high falsetto. Unashamedly as well.
The verses are about Christie telling his girl that she’s his girl, that she’s the one he wants to spend his life with. He wants her to stick around, she’s the girl he will trust to the very end, she’s in his heart all the time, and there’s a chapel in the pines waiting for them round the unquantifiable bend. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
There’s just one little problem. It’s there in the verses when he’s telling her, with a jarring cynicism, that’s she’s old enough to know the makings of a man, and a bit further on, he’s telling her that for the time being, she’s got to live by his rules. And what, pray, are these rules?
Here’s where that falsetto comes in, the one that makes Frankie Valli sound like Melvin Franklin from The Temptations. That she’s got to wait, and she’s got to not object to what he does, which he’s going to do at every possible opportunity, and that is grab every pretty girl he can find.
You see, it’s basically an obligation. He’s not ready to settle down yet, and when he sees lips waiting to be kissed, it’s like an overwhelming compulsion: he can’t stop, he can’t stop, lightnin’ is striking again. And of course this is the Sixties, so whilst he says its kissing, we know it’s not going to be stopping there, if she’s put together fine and she’s readin’ my mind, well, you would, wouldn’t you?
So the girl he loves, the one he wants for always, that he’s asking to stick around and in the meantime be pure as the driven snow, is meant to live happily through his screwing every sexy bint he can get his hands on, the little sluts, and say nothing and do nothing, on the understanding that when he wants to settle down (no matter when that is, how far removed), it’s be with her. And when he does, he’ll make up for all lost time, namely he’ll then start ‘kissing’ her and she can take her place at the bottom of a very long line of notches. Can you spell completely obnoxious double standards?
As it happens, there’s a very timely blog about this song, given that it’s exactly fifty years since this was the American No. 1, which I offer for its suggestion that Christie is hamming it up, going deliberately OTT, and it may be so, though I can’t really accept that myself.
No, we know there was a completely different attitude back then, to how men and women’s approaches to, and stance in relationships differed, but this is a lot too much. Any bloke who tried that on fifty years later would either find himself doubled up in the dustbin, or else confronted with the fact that she was going to shag around just as enthusiastically, and if she met someone a bit more palatable…
Yet without the words, it’s a classic Sixties song, full of life and energy and melody, that nevertheless wouldn’t work as an instrumental. It needs the words, it needs the falsetto to be complete as a song. What a pity the words ended up being so vile.

More Not-Crap

Guardian commentator ItsMidnight in response to the article in the previous post

“Three Rags for the Tory Lords under the Sky
Seven Rites for the City Lords in their halls of Stone
Nine Rules for Mortal Men doomed to die
None for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Westminster where the Shadows lie
Many Rules to rule them all, Some to fine them
Many lies to trick them all and in their darkness bind them”