Uncollected Thoughts: The Sandman s01 e01 – Sleep of the Just

As the time grew nearer to Netflix’s television adaptation of Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg’s The Sandman, my determination to avoid spoilers grew more and more difficult. The series has been the object of furious debate across all the comics websites I still peruse, most notably in fans objection to the casting of certain roles, especially that of Lucifer. No, we did not want Tom bloody Evans playing the part, and for good reason, but his fans shrieked loudly.

With the exception of a handful of photos showing the most prominent members of the cast in their roles, and countlress quotes by Neil Gaiman concealing his exasperation at the limited tolerance of an audience whose response to change is to stick their fingers so far into their ears and eyes that they meet without need of witches talons, I made it to the starting line pretty much intact.

Of course, I had not forgotten the very biggest spoiler of them all, which was reading issue 1 way back in 1989: issue 1 and every succeeding issue, swapping out for the first edition Graphic Novel versions as they appeared. month after month after month. There would be changes – the colour blind casting for one – and details that would be added or subtracted, creating or breaking new or old connections. But this was Neil Gaiman, and given the effort he put into bringing in Good Omens as close to the book as possible, was there really any chance that he would not do the same with this?

So it all unfolded, calm, austere, strange, not quite almost dream-like, but in a stately fashion befitting the imprisonment of Dream, of the Endless, for over a century (an updated detail: it was seventy years in the comic but the comic was thirty years ago), until his release, until his return to his ruined realm and his determination to rebuild and restore.

I’m not going to go into any detail. If you aren’t smart enough to want to watch this already, nothing I can say will cure this lack in you. The Sandman is quintuple wow, unbelievable in the best Kate Bush mode. The whole ten episodes dropped at once but there’s no way I can binge something like this. Two episodes a day, maybe, with at least six hours grace in between, maybe that much, is about all I can take. And if there doesn’t turn out to be one episode that immediately inserts itself alongside ‘Fall-out’, ‘If-Then-Else’ and ‘The Return Chapter Eight’ I shall be astounded.

P.S. The Guardian‘s review of the whole series, which I am now free to read, suggests there is going to be exactly that and I know which issue they’re talking about. If they can catch that, prepare to have your head blown off!

The End. Maybe.

Once upon a time I was a little boy in East Manchester who read comics, which made me completely undistinguished. I collected them and read them and discovered football and music at different times and I stopped collecting them and reading them, which also made me completely undistinguished. Then, one early evening in the second term of the first year at University, an unlikely combination of unconnected events started me reading and collecting them again.

This phase lasted all my life from then on, eighteen months short of fifty years. There will be those who challenge the use of the word in this context, but that interest in comics coming from an adult does qualify as a distinguishing factor, even if it’s only really been in the last decade or so I’ve felt able to admit it in public.

But fifty years is a long time and things change all the time. Remarkably, throughout all the changes I underwent and comics underwent, we managed to keep enough in common to remain associated. Until the COVID pandemic started in 2020. Amongst its many effects on life was closing the comics shops. Some shops were allowed to take telephone orders and hand out purchases to customers outside the door: Manchester’s Forbidden Planet were not among those. For a full twelve months it remained shut and I was cut off from the series I was then collecting.

I still had the DVD runs I’d been picking up, old series I had neglected aand overlooked and now could explore and enjoy. And I did. So much fun. And so much innocence. Not a word you can use about contemporary comics without a horse-laugh. The end result was that when the closure was rescinded, on 13 April 2021, I had come to a conclusion. At the age of 65, I joked, I had finally grown out of comics.

There were still series I was collecting. I would finish those off. One of them I waited for the Graphic Novel Collection rather than buy the single issues. The other two were both written by Tom King. Strange Adventures, a terrible disappointment, finished in December 2021 and I sold it on eBay only for the Buyer to claim non-delivery.

That left Batman/Catwoman. The only comic between me and the end. A monthly comic with, supposedly, a skip month during which a special would be published, drawm by another artist. But, due also to COVID and restricted paper availability, schedules have been shot to shite. A series that should also have concluded in December 2021 has dragged on, its last two issues having taken six months to appear.

But today I have received issue 12. The series is over and so are my comic collecting days. The delay has been so extended that any trace of regret at terminating an enthusiasm that has lasted practically my whole life (and which was indirectly responsible for my meeting my wife and leading to the best ever days of my life) has dried up and blown away. The prevailing emotion is, So What?

The delay though has had some unfortunate side-effects. It has taken so long to get to this point that Astro City is fast approaching its return, and one special already exists that I could have bought more than a month ago. No worries: for those extremely few comics I still want to read, I will no longer buy the floppies, I will wait for the Graphic Novels. I did that with Azzarello and Risso’s final Moonshine: it didn’t kill me and I didn’t end up buying it twice which, on a pension now, is a pertinent point.

But, damn you King and Mann, you have dragged this out so fucking long that not only has it damaged the story, but you have given Marvel the chance to announce that Miracleman is coming back, and not just that but Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham are finishing off the story they were forced to abandon thirty years before. And considering that I have all the published reprinted issues so far in comic book form, and Marvel’s prices for the GNs were extortionate to begin with and two of them fetch three figures a time now, waiting for the GNs is not an option.

So The End is not The End after all. It is The End but there’s a contingent coda consisting of twelve more single issues to get to The End End, and that I find hard to forgive.


In the days of the Space Gods: Jack Kirby’s The Eternals


Though I was there when it was coming out, and have had plenty of time since, it’s taken me until now to look at Jack Kirby’s The Eternals. Back in the late Seventies, I was still reading almost exclusively DC titles, and not even the tail-ends of Kirby’s brutally-undermined period with the company. I had managed to collect some of Kirby’s Fourth World titles, and looked upon The Eternals as potentially following that up thematically, but somehow was repelled from what I saw.
What’s more, the Chariots of the Gods riff that was built into the series put me off terminally: I am no follower of Erich von Daniken and, when the opportunity came to read Chariots of the Gods? for free, concluded very rapidly that if von Daniken were to tell me that the sun was shining, I would go out in raincoat and umbrella.
Almost fifty years have passed since then. I did read the Roy Thomas/Mark Gruenwald sequence in Thor that wrapped up the dangling plots left when The Eternals was cancelled after nineteen issues, though since this was Roy Thomas it was dry as dust and deeply uninspiring. I have Neil Gaiman’s reboot from the 2000s because it’s Neil Gaiman, but it’s nothing more than an incomplete set-up for all that.
And now I’ve gone for the original series, to satisfy my own curiosity, and for everything that’s been said about it, and how flawed it’s been suggested it was, I thought it was great! There was a power and a sweep to the story that was awesome, with Kirby operating on a more than human scale lit with its own lunatic fire. And for the first thirteen issues, it barrelled along in its own oxygen-saturated atmosphere, telling its tale of the Space Gods.
Then, in issue 14, it hit not so much the buffers as a cliff-face.


Let me explain in a bit more detail.
The series opens with two archaeologists, Dr Daniel Damien and his beautiful blonde daughter and assistant, Margo, uncovering a lost Incan Temple with the invaluable aid of their infallible guide, Ike Harris. Dr Damien doesn’t know what it is he’s found but Ike – or rather Ikaris – knows only too well what it is because he is looking for it. It is a Temple of the Space Gods, and its re-discovery triggers their recall (shades of Arthur C. Clarke’s Monolith in 2001 which Kirby also adapted). And the Space Gods are the Celestials.
Because the first Host of the Celestials seeded Earth with life, three separate strands. Not merely humans, but also Deviants, whose DNA is unstable, turning out different, mostly monstrous beings in every generation, and Eternals, immortal, near perfect beings, each with great but different powers, who throughput human history have often been mistaken for Gods.
The Celestials, who arrive within a single issue, are the fourth Host. And the Fourth Host analyse, investigate and ultimately judge if the fruits of their seedings are worthy. If they are not…
So there it is. The Celestials are effectively the enemy. Their judging will take fifty years – so by Kirby’s original reckoning we’ve got just four left – and if it is negative, there is a code imprinted on the thumb of their chief, Arishem the Judge that will destroy the planet completely.
Yet though the Celestials are a threat to all our existence, they are also unknowable and unjudgeable. They are helmeted, and silent humanoid figures about 2,000 feet tall, and despite their being a mid-Seventies creation, Kirby invests them with a sense of awesomeness, of massive strength and inhuman motivation that left me unable to see them properly as the threat to existence that they were. It was a combination of unimaginable power that completely obliterated any notion of effective resistance, and a majestic dominance that created the impression of infallibility: that if in 2026 The Celestials found Earth unworthy, then we would deserve that verdict.

Marvel Comics
So Earth’s other two people had to come out of hiding to face the forthcoming music. The Deviants, who had once built a plant-wide Empire based upon Lemuria and Mu before it was brought down by the second Host, sinking both lands and, of course, Atlantis, sought the opportunity to benefit themselves: their war leader Kro sought to turn humanity against the Celestials by impersonating Space-devils, including The Devil, horns and all, returned from space intent on destruction, but the Eternals preferred to work with, and for humanity, and, so far as they were allowed to, also the Deviants.
Though the series never got anywhere near an even arguable point, I read the Eternals’ aim as being to unite the planet so that it would then be found worthy.
In the meantime, Kirby tore along at 100mph, the storyline not pausing, nor breaking down into arcs or adventures. It was one thing after another. New Eternals appeared at the run. As well as Ikaris, with his strength and near-invulnerability, and ability to fly (which he, and the rest of the Eternals described as levitating), there was Ajak, the everlasting, Makkari, the speedster, Great Zuras, prime among the Eternals, his daughter Thena, the warrior, Sersi, irreverent and party-loving, and Sprite, the permanently eleven year old maker of mischief.
And what made it all so brilliant, in my eyes so long after, is that it was entirely of itself. It was published by Marvel Comics, but it was not of it. Save for the appearance of three Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., none of whom were of any significance within the organisation, there was no point of contact with the Marvel Universe. No cross-overs, no influence of any kind over the rest of the comics.
How could it be otherwise? How could a race of 2,000 feet tall Space Gods be part of the Marvel Universe without every single title then and for fifty years later being about nothing else? The series could be, and was, pure Kirby.


But everybody hated it, and that everybody included a lot of Marvel’s staff. For one thing, there was the principle that Marvel should not publish a single comic book that did not take place within the Marvel Universe, for another there was the sense that this was just a pale knock-off of the Fourth World titles at DC (which it is certainly not except in the most superficial sense), and what’s more the comics industry has always attracted a great number of small-minded, petty jealous people, full of childish resentment, only able to look at someone like Jack Kirby with hatred and resentment, desiring only the chance to tear him down to their level and seeing it now.
Overall, though, I think it was the sheer strangeness of Kirby’s creation that repelled. It was not part of the Marvel Universe because what it was was alien and did not connect to it. And I think that for 1976, when there were essentially only two types of comics, Marvel and DC, there was no place for something like this to be accepted or understood, not at least to the extent that it could be understood.
So I assume that sales were bad, and Kirby was pressed to connect to the Marvel Universe for in issue 14, suddenly the Celestials disappear, and the Eternals find themselves spending the next three issues fighting a ‘Cosmic Hulk’. Not the ‘real’ Incredible Hulk but rather a robot Hulk infused with cosmic power. At a stroke, everything was trashed, to no long term benefit.
I am not quite sure how this storyline was resolved: on my DVD, issue 17 is incomplete and unreadable. When things resume, Ikaris finds kimself facing the treacherous Eternal, Druig, who is trying to kill the Celestials by poisoning. The end of that two-parter was the end.
So the series did not go far and, like the Fourth World, it’s plot-lines were left unresolved. But as it would have taken fifty years to resolve the story, and as there was really only one plot, it was only to be expected.


Unlike the Fourth World, Kirby never returned, indeed never could have returned to the Eternals. He left Marvel over his refusal to sign their new ‘Work-for-Hire’ contracts which, unlike the deals that DC were able to do, were never rescinded in any way, not under Jim Shooter, or anyone. And after 1994 he and that infinitely creative mind were lost to us for good.
A brief look at The Eternals (and The Celestials) Wikipedia pages shows that Marvel has not been slow to feed Kirby’s creations to the dogs to come up with a complex back history that is far too convoluted – naturally – to be remotely readable or believable, not a single syllable of which is applicable to Kirby’s vision of his creations. No writers are mentioned, presumably to avoid embarrassing the talentless bastards (and I am not entirely certain I would exempt Neil Gaiman from that category, in respect of the Celestials at any rate.)
No, Kirby’s Eternals took me by the scruff of the neck and shook me until my brains rattled, Mine may, once again, be a minority opinion, but by God I found it brilliant! Until the arrival of ‘Cosmic Hulk’. Yeesh.

Good Omens: e06 – The Very Last Day of the Rest of their Lives

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And so it ends.

Much as I like Good Omens, and much as I enjoy watching it, and much as the acting throughout is superb, even down to the youngsters playing the youngsters, on a critical level I’m still concerned about how Neil Gaiman structured the adaptation. Clearly, in part because it was his book and in honour of his friend and co-author, the late Terry Pratchett, he has stayed as faithful to the book, and has put in as much of it as was humanly possible, but this has led to his losing sight of that age-old stricture, that a book and a tv series are two entirely different things demanding different approaches. In giving us so much of the one Gaiman has, I regret saying, given us so much less of the other.

Take this final episode. It’s the crunch, its Armageddon, the world is about to be destroyed by all-out, all-country nuclear war. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are gathered. The Antichrist has only to say the word. Four children aged eleven, an ineffectual angel and a sneaky but equally ineffectual devil, a mad Witchfinder and an ageing lady of discipline and fake medium, one professional descendent and one absolute nerd are gathered against them. As dear old much much-missed Terry would have pointed out, million to one chances come up nine times out of ten.

Of course they’re going to win. Not only would we not have a book, or series, if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have anyone to read it afterwards. The fun is in the unlikelihood of how, most especially the notion of absolute power NOT going to the head of William Brown, I’m sorry, Adam Young.

But it’s over and done with so quickly, not even a full third of the way into the episode. Even Satan, an effects-laden cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch that’s waaay too short, doesn’t hold things up for long. And then we have the aftermaths.

In the book, these are nicely balanced. Pratchett and Gaiman wrote these not too short nor too long: Agnes Nutter’s sequel book of prophecies arrives with Anathema and Newton, who have settled into being a couple with no demonstrations and Newton persuades his girlfriend to burn it, Sergeant Shadwell and Madame Tracey settle into being a pair with admirable economy (and the best joke functions perfectly by being implied in print instead of having to be blunted by being spoken out loud on air), Crowley and Aziraphale find themselves back where they were, and the book ends in a literally poetic, and poignant moment, on Adam Young, former Antichrist, now an enigma, slouching towards… Tadfield. To be born as, what?

On screen these feel stretched out. And the episode is certainly stretched out as Gaiman chooses to import a lost scene, written but excluded from the book (or perhaps for its mooted but never written sequel, ‘668: The Neighbour of the Beast’, another one to check out of Lucien’s Library). This deals with Crowley and Aziraphale’s aftermath with their respective sides, unhappy about having their respective intentions thwarted, and seeking to effect consequences. No, I’m not going to reveal how our faithful central pair escape their fateful destructions, with the aid of Agnes’ last prophecy, and yes, the scene is wonderful, bright, intelligent and with that close connection to reality and logic that is the hallmark of the best fantastic schemes: not only could it happen but it would, given the premises on which the book is anchored.

I just question adding it to the series and extending the aftermath sequence to positively Lord of the Rings proportions. And I regret it switching the focus of these final sequences. This, ironically, is an example of Gaiman being only too television oriented: you have to feed the stars. So instead of the poetic and enigmatic, and let’s not forget poignant ending on Adam Young, we end on Aziraphale and Crowley, the superb Michael Sheen and David Tennant, and Gaiman’s pal Tori Amos singing ‘A Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square’, to concretize a nice little footnote-aside that is better as the brevity of a footnote, for its precision and conciseness.

imdb has references to a potential sequel series being put into abeyance by the COVID crisis and I’d watch that but I wonder what Gaiman would have to do to top this, and how he’d have to wriggle out of a final ending next time. The trouble with a sequel to this story is that I cannot imagine it happening without going down one of two disturbing routes, either to play for comedy and a more trivial storyline, which would be flatly unequal, or else accept the inevitable darkening of the drama and squeeze the comedy out.

But there’s a reason why Gaiman is a world famous best-selling author and I’m a blogger: he could make it work. If he can, I’d love to see it. The book is still better though.

Good Omens: s05 – The Doomsday Option

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Now all roads were running together to the East to meet the coming of the War, wrote Tolkien in The Return of the King and, save for the fact that Oxfordshire lies west of London, it goes for the penultimate episode of Good Omens as well. Though Neil Gaiman took a lot of trouble to keep all the narrative strands spinning in as many disparate corners as he could, there was no question about it: everything was now leading to one place only, and that was Armageddon.

Considering how much of this section of the book had to be left out to prevent it flying apart under its own centripetal force – I really did regret the excision of the Four Other Bikers of the Apocalypse – there was still a lot of territory to cover. There’s Aziraphale, unexpectedly discorporated anf having to improvise by possessing the body of Madame Tracey, albeit on a purely co-operative basis, of course, and Crowley going hell-for-leather in a car on fire, the only instance of weak CGI in the series, let alone the episode, there’s Anathema and Newton, having hung out between episodes and now concentrating on the urgent matter at hand, and there’s Adam Young, Antichrist, doing the one thing unexpected of him, the one thing you thought was beyond even his red-flashing-eyed power: being human.

So the Four Bikers ride to Tadfield Airbase and kickstart the end of the World – now a mere 17 minutes hence – whilst the opposing forces gather. Adam’s supposed to meet his friends here, his new friends. But instead he brings his old friends with him, his real friends. I’m here, he calls. And we go into the credit sequence in disbelief that already 52 minutes have passed, because we sure didn’t notice them going by…

Good Omens: e04 – Saturday Morning Funtime

good omens

Adapting any book for film or television automatically requires simplification. Themes are altered, characters reduced, emphasis shifted towards those things that visual representation does better. Sometimes, though, a television series offers the opportunity to expand. Sometimes it demands it, requiring transitional scenes that can be sped through on the page. What Neil Gaiman has done, on many occasions, is to concretize parts of the book that existed merely as comic asides: footnotes a la Pratchett.

There’s a perfect example in the open to episode 4, as Gaiman and Amazon go to a lot of time and trouble and expense, not to mention the CGI, to animate the near throwaway paragraph where Atlantis rises from the ocean depths. It’s a direct transition from the previous episode. which ended with Adam Young – the Antichrist, you may recall – under the influence of Anathema Device’s New Age concerns, dreaming away an entire Nuclear Power Plant, and this is his raising Atlantis.

It’s fun, and very well-made, but I think he and Pratchett got it right first time, since the joke works well as a quick, clipped, absurdist sting, setting up and smacking you with its punchline and clearing out of the way for the next gag. Here, it’s spectacular, but inevitably slow. The camera has to linger to make it worthwhile.

There are other examples that are more important in that they directly impinge on the story: the UFO landing and the message of Cosmic Peace delivered to Newton Pulsifer that blows it thanks to some very poor acting by the Alien Leader, and the Tibetan pair digging a secret tunnel and causing Pulsifer’s Reliant Robin to crash outside Anathema’s cottage. They have to be done but in each case, the concretization doesn’t completely work because the book version is more compact and the series has to convert things into real-time, not reading-time.

On the other hand, since time is now at a bit of a premium, our Delivery Driver has to summon the two remaining Horsemen, Pollution and Death. And you can guess just how he has to attract the latter’s intention. So before this happens, Gaiman throws in a scene early on Saturday morning, in his bedroom. The Driver’s wife, Maud, an ordinary middle-aged woman in a garish orange nightie, doesn’t want him to go. She’d rather he came back to bed, It’s nothing sexy. It’s just an understated scene demonstarting the love and commitment between two people, who you wouldn’t look at twice in the streets, but who together make up a pair, committed to one another, for whom love-making is every bit as vital as it is for the handsome and the virile, yet is just one of many ways in which they share their lives together. And which is about to stop dead.

This concretization expands wonderfully on the implications in the book. Death describes the Driver’s demise as ‘leaving early to avoid the rush’, but it’s a foreshadowing of what’s actually at stake here, an understable and touching microcosm represzenting the macrocosm that is at the end of this story but which is simply too much to imagine or take seriously. This we can, and do, take seriously.

We’re now in the back half of the series and, more importantly, it’s Saturday, the day of Armageddon, so not much time left. Crowley and Aziraphale are still not working together, a combination of the Angel’s genuine concerns about the propriety of working with the Demon and the total contrast between their attitudes to where they are. Crowley has given up hope, it’s all useless, Armageddon is going to happen and nothing, least of all the pair of them, will stop it. Aziraphale, on the other hand, is still blessed with the belief that everything can be resolved without all this nasty destroy-the-Earth-and-everybody-upon-it business, if only everybody would just sit down and discuss it sensibly, over a nice cup of tea and some thinly-sliced sandwiches. Cut diagonally.

It’s just not going to hapen. Things are coming to a head. Wars have been stigmatised as merely the end product of economic competition, which is basically blinding yourself to the truth: that often they are just what happens when people reach the point of not being able to tolerate the sight of each other. All the Angels in Heaven and Devils in Hell, except one on each side, are set upon War. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing if we weren’t stuck in the bloody middle. And it’s going to be bloody alright.

Because the focus of it all is an 11 year old boy who happens to be the Son of the Devil, the Antichrist, etc. Adam Young, leader of the Them, a Just William mischief-maker for no better reason than that he’s 11, and his friends Pepper, Wensleydale and Brian are 11, and they live in an idyllic land that Adam has, subconsciously, made into the perfect children’s book playground, and he’s the World Champion at filling up the endless hours with the best games, to keep boredom at a distance.

And Adam Young has just stared at an image of the Devil in Anathema Device’s cottage. He may not have had the least instruction or inkling as to who he is and what he can do but he’s still the trigger for Armageddon and, matephorically he’s started ticking. Adam is taking control of the world, starting with the rest of the Them, and he’s terrifying them. With an 11 year old’s zeal he’s going to wipe the world clean and re-start it with all the games that an 11 year old mind can conceive, free from anything constraining him or them from doing whatever they want whenever they want it. Adam’s so lost in himself he can’t see that he’s doing the exact oposite to his friends, who are left with no option but to do whatever Adam wants whenever Adam wants it. When he removes their mouths so that they cannot even say they disagree it’s a moment of utter horror, all the more forceful for its relevance to a world in which one political party is doing everything it can to stifle even the most inefectual opposition to its actions.

It’s also a moment in which trust is irrevocably breached. This is a story, and things will change, but I for one could never again give the remotest amount of trust to a ‘friend’ who forced that on me.

So it’s begun. Not only are Crowley and Aziraphale out on their own, without support, but their respective sides have begun to suspect them of collaboration with the enemy. Which is, to be fair, true. Aziraphale finsally reaches as high as he’s going to get, the Matatron, the Word of God, Derek Jacobi’s floating and talking head. The rot goes all the way to the top. He’s going to have to ally himself with Crowley, because there is no-one else on his side. Which is when the misunderstanding Witchfinder-Sergeant Shadwell intervenes, performing an on-the-fly exorcism that results in Aizraphale stepping over a line he shouldn’t have, and discorporating. And his bookshop catching fire.

Things aren’t looking very hopeful, are they?

Good Omens: e03 – Hard Times

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It was once again noticeable that the third part of Good Omens began by diverting away from the mechanics of the plot, the onwards progression to the end of everything, or tomorrow as the episode’s final image firmly indicated. But you can hardly call it a tangent when the pre-credits sequence actually lasted slightly longer than half the show. An obtuse angle?

Either way, what we got was a ton of material only a tiny bit of which – the Voice of God asking the Angel Aziraphale where his flaming sword is, last seen as a footnote about an unusual edition of the Bible – actually came from the book, whilst all the rest was about the slowly developing relationship between the Angel and the Demon throughout many different historical settings and producing the ‘Arrangement’ that prevails today. It was astonishingly long but, unlikle episode 2, didn’t feel as if it was delaying out getting back into the swing of things because, firstly, it was incredibly entertaining and I just love seeing Michael Sheen playing Aziraphale, and secondly because it all went to buttressing and building.

Atr the end of the day, you’re asking us to accept that an Angel and a Demon – once but no longer identical creatures of God’s devising – are working together and any residual doubts as to the credibility of that notion were well and truly dispelled.

The other half of the episode, called the plot, sees Aziraphale try to divert the War only to discover his side wants it to happen come what may, fall out with Crowley over working together when they so obviously have nothing in common but a like for the Earth where it is and the desire to keep it that way, both call in their private army of secret operatives, namely Sergeant Shadwell and Private Pulsifer, and Adam Young (an Antichrist) meet Anathema Device and become overwhelmed by New Age philosophy, resulting in something extremely odd happening to a Nuclear Power Station.

This is a hard series to write about, principally because it’s very good.

Good Omens: e02 – The Book

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Good Omens is very much a discursive book. It builds slowly, it follows diverse paths, it has multiple criss-cross elements that havbe no seming relation to one another but which we know are tributaries that will eventually come together into one major river of story. You can do that in books. It’s a lot harder in television, especially when you’re dealing with an exaggerated reality that exceeds normal expectations. There’s a a lot of it about in episode 2.

Last week’s opening episode was mainly linear, keeping everything going in a straight line so that the audience knew what they were getting: Armageddon and an Antichrist who comes over as a less sullen Just William. With the train on the tracks, episode 2 decided to devote large parts of its running time to the branch lines, and a whole horde of new characters we didn’t get to in the opening episode.

First up was a plot reminder. The Angels Gabriel and Sandalphon visit Aziraphale’s Soho bookshop to check all is well, and make a holy show of themselves in ‘fooling’ the simple humans into accepting them as material beings, whilst Hastur and Ligur (I do so relish Ned Dennehy’s performance and look as Hastur!) replace a Breakfast Show hosting pair to demand the same of Crowley: neither angel nor demon admit they’ve absolutely no bloody idea where the Antichrist is.

So the narative drive this week is set upon finding him, except that it’s not being done with any urgency and without any great plan, and in the meantime, enter the following: Agnes Nutter, a Lancashire Witch (Josie Lawrence) to be burned by Witchfinder General Thou-Shalt-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer (Jack Whitehall): the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, War, aka National Weekly News War Correspondent Carmine Zuigiber (Mireille Enos), and an outsourced summoner, a delivery driver (Simon Merrells): profesional descendent Anathema Device (Adria Arjona), carrying the only copy of the #nice and Accurate Propheies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, dressed from head to toe to wrist in heavy, faintly archaic, form-concealing clothes, the way Melanie Safka always did: professional failure Newton Pulsifer, who’s ‘not good with computers’ (Jack Whitehall again, of course): Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell (Michael McKean with a Scottish accent that keeps nipping back up to the Highlands, leaving him floundering) and his landlady, Madame Tracey (Miranda Richardson, still looking pretty good). That’s a lot of characters to take care of in one go, and they need time which detracts from Aziraphale and Crowley’s presence and kee[ps us from getting to the Them, the Antichrist’s little gang, until well down the running time.

And Gaiman does insist on keeping as much of his and Pratchett’s amusing little asides as he possibly can, like the wyt Crowley talks to his plants.

These are all well and good in the book: in the book they’re more than good, they’re hilarious. But this is the difference between books and television/film. In any kind of decent television series I’m eager for this kind of multiple strand approach, setting up theaudience to guess, and red herrings are fair game. But I didn’t think it worked here. That’s because, after setting things up, and that reminder of what this story is all about, the episode went all over the place, at some length, to avoid taking the next step. When are we going to get on with it was the prevailing response.

Which leads us to the matter of the writing. Thgis is very much Neil Gaiman’s project. It adapts a book of which he is the co-author and it is driven by the desire to do seriously right by his co-author and his very dear friend, the late Terry Pratchett – is it really six years? On the one hand, the teleplay writer knows and understands the material and can be alert to it and its nuances in a way no-one else can. On the other, how detached can he become? How distanced can he be to carry out the essential task of the adapter, which is to reconstruct the book in a medium alien to the original work?

Episode 2 shows Gaiman to be perhaps a bit too determined to get in as much of Good Omens as he can, which isn’t necessarily the best thing to do.

Mind you, I had fun with it. And we’ve four more episodes in which to draw things together even tighter.

Good Omens: e01 – In the Beginning

Sometimes, a bit of fun is what you want, without necessarily the scope for too much serious thinking. You can have a bit too much serious thinking, and not always enough fun. Not that Good Omens is necessarily a case for leaving out serious thinking, nothing that comes from the word processor of Terry Pratchett can be entirely free from that, and this Neil Gaiman bloke isn’t exactly behind the door for that kind of business, what with his ‘There is room for things to mean more than they literally mean.’

I got ‘Good Omens’ the book as soon as it went into paperback. My battered old paperback, much read, in fact as recently as the week before last, is signed by both authors. I love it to bits. Well, not every bit of it. There’s this line, early on, where the demon Crowley, listing his demonic feats in causing horror and confusion on Earth, states that ‘he was particularly proud of Manchester’. I’m bound to resent that.

Adaptations of any of Terry Pratchett’s work, and I’m not slighting Gaiman here by putting Pratchett in the frame, are exceedingly difficult to make successfully. Partly that’s because the worlds he writes in are fantasies, impossible to reproduce as live action, or indeed visually at all, without an extremely expensive special effects budget, but primarily because the humour in the books is skewed to the narrative, not to mention the footnotes. The characters don’t say the funny lines, the author does. Getting those lines on screen, in any kind of convincing form, is the real difficulty, because putting them into someone’s mouth to say onscreen is next to impossible to do without it sounding like the character is reading the narrative.

Fortunately for all concerned, the adaptation, and the screenplay, is being done by Neil Gaiman himself, and more than authorial pride is involved here because Neil was doing this in tribute to Terry, his friend, his much-missed friend, with a ferocious determination to do right by him. Gaiman knows the book. What’s more, he knows what wasn’t in the book, and how much of that to fold in. And he is key to visualising what happens on the page and putting it on the screen, backed with a very expensive special effects budget where necessary, in a way that both dazles and satisfies every reader’s internal vision of what’s going on.

The mini-series is by far and away the most recent tv series I’ve blogged other than live. It appeared in 2019, when I watched it weekly, and I watched it again when I bought the DVD. I would expect most readers of this blog to be familiar with book or series or both but for those who are not aware of it, a short background is necessary. Good Omens is about Armageddon, the coming of the Antichrist and the final bettle betwen Heaven and Hell. It is also a comedy. This is brought about primarily by the principals, Aziraphale (Michael Sheen), an Angel, and Crowley (David Tennant), a Demon.

Aziraphale was originally the Angel with a Flaming Sword who guarded the gates to the Garden of Eden, who gave his flaming sword to Adam and Eve when they were expelled because, well, there are beasts out there, it’s going to rain and she’s already expecting. And Crowley was the Snake who tempted Eve because he was told to get up there and cause some trouble, but who’s a bit worried about why God made it so easy.

The point is that this pair of opposites have been on Earth ever since, some 6,000 years of tempting and thwarting. They’ve been the only consistent face either sees and they’ve become sort-of friends, each having been among humans for so long that they’ve more in common with each other than with either respective Head Office.

These are the pair who get involved when the Plan unfolds. Satan’s child, the Antichrist, is brought to Earth eleven years ago. Crowley delivers it to the Nuns’ Hospital where it will be switched for the American Ambassador’s new baby.  He would rather not get involved, and his wish to distance himself as fast as he can combines with the unfortunate coincidence of another, this time English and utterly ordinary couple turning up with her contractions every four minutes and a Chattering Satanic Nun who’s a bit of an airhead. The baby switch ends up being a threeway, and you can guess who gets the Adversary (hint: it’s not the Ambassador).

The big problem is that, in their entirely separate ways, Crowley and Aziraphale like the Earth. Neither wishes to see it end in eleven year’s time. So they work together to frustrate Armageddon…

As the title indicates, this episode is about setting all of this up, as well as our two principal characters. Gaiman makes a superb job of parcelling out information sensibly and intelligently, and he gets round the problem of animating narrative by limiting the use of dialogue, keeping these bits brief and as natural as they can be (not everywhere but at this sort of thing a 90% success rate is damned good) but mainly by hiving the job over to a voiceover narrative (by Frances McDormand) as the voice of God.

She’s good. The whole cast are good. Jon Hamm as the Angel Gabriel and Nick Offerman as the Ambassador, appearing by iPad, are perfect in cameo roles. And in his brief appearance at the end as Adam Young, the Antichrist, Sam Taylor Buck gives a brief but wonderfuly naturalistic show.

But the series stands and falls on Aziraphale and Crowley. David Tennant as Crowley is a given. I mean, David Tennant, demon, you’re wrapped up. It’s Michael Sheen who has the infinitely harder job, playing an Angel who’s basically, just, well, Good. How do you play that? Good and innocence – or as much as is left after 6,000 years of human beings – we’re just talking bland aren’t we? Nothing to work with. And he’s brilliant, bringing to the role a degree of effeteness that comes over as otherworldly as opposed to faintly gay, coupled to an underlying worry. Aziraphale is in earnest, but under everything he does he’s not entirely certain he’s doing the right thing. It’s a brilliant performance.

I look forward to more. Next wek, the story really starts. It’s Wednesday afternoon. The World Ends on Saturday.

Uncollected Thoughts: Good Omens – part 1

I’m not used to this Netflix all-at-once bit yet (and yes, I do know this isn’t Netflix but Amazon Prime and the BBC, but it’s the same idea), and I don’t have another five lots of fifty minutes stretching out in front of me right now, but I have just watched  the first episode of Good Omens, the TV series of the brilliant book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, by Neil Gaiman, and I am here to tell you that it’s ok, you can watch it without thinking it’s vastly inferior to the book, and in fact you can enjoy it, and you can laugh at it. No, make that: you will laugh at it.

This was only to be expected, though I was going more along the linesof hoped for, because it’s adapted by Gaiman himself, wanting to do the very best by his friend, it has an all-star cast starting with David Tennant and Crowley and Michael Sheen as Aziraphale, andit’s  had enough money thrown at it to fill up a whole chain of gravel pits, but even so you have to wait and see for yourself.

Teennant is all wonderfully laid-back and with-it, but it’s Sheen who has the harder task because Aziraphale is supposed to be an angel, also somewhat unwordly, definitely unrealistic, and it’s so much easier to do bad because then you have positive traits to work with, whereas good is ethereal and altogether bland, especially when you’re tying to be funny with it, but Sheen is as good as can be, rather like Ryan Giggs running at a packed Arsenal defence.

As for the adaptation, given how much of the book’s humour is in its narration (and its footnotes), it’s awe-inspiring just how closely Gaiman manages to adhere to the exact plot, keeping scenes focused and brief without the sense of anything being rushed or pared down or letting you start to drift off and remember what’s been left out.

No, take it from me, this is one that works, at least up to End of Part 1, and I’m confident it won’t all fall apart, despite the lukewarm reviews that have appeared this week. And I speak as one of the ones who’s owned Good Omens since it came out, who’s read it a dozen times, who’s inordinately pleased that they left out that line about Manchester, and who can safely and defiantly say that for this series the Omens are decidedly Good.