Saturday, 29 November 2008

Bat Rant

Warning: This blog contains spoilers for the current "Batman: RIP" storyline. If you don't want to know the end, look away now...

Ever since I started reading American comics*, I've mainly been a DC boy. No, that's not some admission of sexual preferences, just a way of saying that I preferred one of the major comics publishers to the others - DC (home of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman) to Marvel (where Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Hulk roam). That's not to say that I didn't read any Marvel comics - the X-Men have always been a favourite - but DC appealed more. The one I first started reading was The Flash, oddly enough, as there was a cheap and cheesy TV version on at the time but, as soon as discovered The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison**, Batman became the comic of choice for me. Now, after nearly 16 years of reading, have I come to the end of the road?

There's been some publicity about the character recently. You may even have read reports that he has been killed off. Well, having read the issue in question, I'd have to say that reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated - and not for the first time. Every few years, I guess in an attempt to reinvigorate the character, the suggestion rises that Bruce Wayne will no longer be Batman. Anticipation is built, a temporary change occurs and everything returns to normal after a little while (usually accompanied by the phrase "it's time to get back to basics"). This time, it felt like they were really going for it. The storyline was entitled "Batman: RIP". Statements emerged claiming that, by the end of the story, Bruce Wayne would be dead or retired for good. It would permanently change the status quo. Nothing would ever be the same. Etcetera, etcetera.

So this week, the final part rolls around. Articles start appearing on news sites:- "End of the road for Batman". I studiously avoid them all, not wishing to spoil it for myself. I pick up the issue yesterday. I actually read it in the shop - first time I've ever done that, I must admit***. I get to the end. Bruce Wayne's on top of a helicopter out over the water. It explodes. All that's found is his cape.

What? That's it? From that we're genuinely supposed to believe that he's dead or that he's given up? The word anti-climax doesn't even begin to describe it. And now the back-tracking begins. Quote today from the head of DC comics:- "He's not dead, though he'll definitely be gone for a while. Batman and Bruce Wayne have been here long before me and they'll be around long after me."

Right, so it's just another story, then? Great. To be fair, it's been a decent enough storyline - full of the usual joys and flaws of Grant Morrison's writing (he likes to throw a lot of ideas at the wall - not all of them stick but they are at least pretty much all bizarre). It's just another example of the marketing machine twisting something out of proportion into something it's not. But they've been doing this for years. In fact, when I started reading Batman comics, it was at the beginning of storyline in which Bruce Wayne quit as Batman after breaking his back and another man took over for over a year (before executing a triumphant return, naturally). Maybe that's part of it - a feeling of coming round full circle ("hang on, isn't this where I got on in the first place?"). Maybe it's the lack of balls displayed in not actually doing something radical. Marvel killed off Captain America a few years ago and he's still dead (in fact, it's vastly improved his comic, to be honest). This feels like the ultimate cop-out, spending months telling us he's going to change forever, only to have him kind of vanish for a bit with the promise he'll be back later on.

Does this mean the end of my Batman reading career? In all likelihood, probably not. Like any good addict, not matter how bad it is, I'm still in there for my next fix. I mean, what if next time, it really does get good? Yeah, I know, I'm a hopeless case...

* Til I hit my teenage years, it was pretty much just the staunchly British 2000 AD and Judge Dredd for me. Tally ho!

**Both part of the influence on the most recent Batman films, I'd say. Go check 'em out, they're good stuff and definitely not comics for kids.

***Don't worry, I still bought it, I'm not a free-loading reader.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Dum De Dum, Dum De Dum, Dum De Dum, Diddly Dum

If I'd been relatively more aware of time and space, dimensionally speaking, I'd have posted this blog three days ago on his actual birthday. But I wasn't. So I didn't. And here it is now instead. Today's blog carries with it a warning - if you are not of an extremely geeky disposition then this may not be the blog for you. Consider yourself warned...

He's just turned 45 years old but is also somewhere in the region of 900-odd years old. He travels around with assorted young people yet is never investigated by the authorities. He'll save the world and be back in time for tea and we don't even know his real name. He's the Doctor and here are my top reasons why Doctor Who is the brilliantest and everything else is just bobbins (by Nick, aged 6 and a half).

Regeneration - Quite simply, one of the greatest concepts in television ever. Lead actor getting a bit too ill carry on with the role? Well, then why not have him simply change into someone else? He's an alien, they do weird alien things, why not change his body and entire personality? The second part's the key thing. For our generation, used to soap operas recasting characters and forty-odd years of Doctor Who, it's no big deal. But imagine this:- It's 1966. England are doing quite well in the football*. For the last three years, you've been watching a crochety, white haired old man with a tendency to fluff his lines as he gads about the universe with his young friends. Suddenly, he falls down and changes into a younger, dark-haired cheeky cosmic hobo, yet somehow it's the same man. Wha-? It's a brilliant concept for bringing in fresh viewers. Don't like the current Doctor? Well, sit it out for the next couple of years, maybe you'll like the next one.

Blue Box - Of course, it's not just the Doctor that's been knocking around our TV screens for several decades. His one constant companion has been a blue box that's bigger on the inside than... well, we all know the drill with this one. Yes, it's the TARDIS.** Back in the days when I used to work for the Big British Castle, I stumbled across the original TARDIS prop just left lying around in the prop stores. It was old, battered, somehow small-looking, had peeling paint and smelt faintly of cat wee. It was a little bit like seeing a childhood toy lying broken at the side of the road.

Doctor, I've Fallen And I Can't Get Up - There have been many different companions down through the years and they've made their impressions on lecherous dads and impressionable young boys who are starting to work out that girls aren't the enemy. For me, it was Peri (played by Nicola Bryant) and Ace (played by Sophie Aldred) - the less said about Bonnie Langford, the better... Oh, and naturally, Billie Piper in the new series - the less said about Catherine Tate...well, you get the idea with that one.

The Nation's Favourite - Oh sure, its had its times where it's been, shall we say, less than cherished (sounds better than saying generally ridiculed for a year and a half) but it always swings back round to popularity in the end. Four years down the line in the current incarnation and it doesn't show any sign of waning in popularity - the last episode of the last series got it's highest ratings ever and speculation is rife as to who will be the next Doctor once David Tenant hands in his English accent.

Monsters, Monsters, Monsters - Some of them were great, some of them were just an embarrassed extra in a rubbish rubber suit but at least they were always trying to do as much as they could with the minuscule BBC budgets. In the brand shiny new world, of course, the money is not so much of an object and we get some great monsters (anyone who claims they weren't creeped out by the Weeping Angels - statues that creep up on you when you're not looking at them - is talking tosh).Which leads us on to the greatest monsters of them all...

Exterminate - Sure, the Master is a classic arch-enemy, all evil schemes and melodramatic mustache-twiddling. Yes, the Cybermen pack a visual punch when hordes of them take to the streets. OK, so Davros was the one who kick-started it all and is the epitome of the ranting mad scientist. But it's his creations that are the ones that everyone wants to see. They can be much much-ridiculed - pepperpots, sink plungers, getting up stairs*** - but their appeal has endured for forty-five years which means they obviously strike a chord. It does the heart good to know that yet another generation of children are running around playgrounds shouting exterminate at each other. Some things never change...

So there you have it. Doctor Who. Basically it's great. And here's to another 45 years.

* I read about that in a book somewhere

** We all know what this stands for, right? Good, good, just checking...

*** Although I think that last one's done and dusted these days as they fly about all over the place.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Continuing A Theme

Following on from yesterday's blog (with its lazy use of video to fill up space and avoid some actual writing), here's another slice of old school Henson goodness, this time from the pre-Muppet Show days. Most of these are etched permanently into my brain thanks to Sesame Street's heavy use of repetition to get its point across (so it worked on me, then). In no particular order, today's slices of puppety goodness are:-

Ladybug Picnic

Fat Cat Sat Hat

Alligator King


The Martians

I fully expect several people to now spend the rest of the day singing "One two three four five. Six seven eight nine ten. Eleven twelve. (Doo doo doo doo doo, doo-doo doo doo-doo-doo doo doo doo doo.)"

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Instant Cheerful

There are some things in life that simply cheer you up no matter how tired or how foul a mood you are in. It's completely different for everyone and can vary from the most trivial of things (a favourite song, film or food) to the most important things in the world (family and friends). For me, it's the work of one man that always lifts the spirits and twitches the corners of the mouth upwards in a smiling fashion. I've blogged about him in the past but he's a personal hero so I can't witter on about him enough as far as I'm concerned. It is, of course, Mr Jim Henson and the simple joy he took in his work and his creations never fails to put me in a good mood. He created many different worlds, from Sesame Street to Fraggle Rock, Dark Crystal to Dinosaurs to Labyrinth but, for me, it's always the most famous of his creations that are I love the most. The Muppets. Great, aren't they? How can you not love them? Well, only by having some sort of flint-based object in place of a heart, I would say.

Now, pretty much all Muppet stuff is guaranteed to liven up my day but there's one particular work that stands above the rest. The other day, I was lucky enough to find mp3 copies of the soundtrack for it - I still have the original copy that was bought for me all those tears ago* but, as it's on vinyl and I don't have a record player, that doesn't really help. The sheer act of finding them made me smile - the big cheesy grin as I was listening to them must have been particularly frightening o any passersby. That work is The Muppet Movie and it's been one of my favourite films since... well, as far back as my memory goes.

Why is it great? Well, because of songs like this:-

and also songs like this:-

For me, that's instant cheerful right there, every single time. How about you? Any favourites?

*In fact, we had two copies - one at home and one at Nana and Grandad's so we could listen to it when we were round there.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

In From The Cold

There's a lot of tosh and toot talked about winter and some go so far as to pour scorn and to even pooh-pooh this season of discontent. Well, no more, I say. I'm hear to speak up for this much-maligned time of year and give the chilly arse-end of the year a chance to shine. Here are some reasons why winter is actually quite good really:-

1. The Duvet Coccoon. I find sleeping in summer can be mostly unbearable. It's hot, sweaty, you can't cool down and you have to keep reversing the pillow to find the cool side or, even worse, the less sweat-soaked side. No such trouble in winter. Your bed is a warm and inviting place. A place of peace and comfort which you are loathe to leave. The "just five more minutes" pressing of the snooze button becomes more frequent. It's cold out there. Stay in bed.

2. Warming Up. I find it very hard to stay cool in the summer - particularly when regular use of ridiculously over-crowded public transport is required. Temperature regulation in winter? Much easier. Too cold? Well, then put on a jumper or turn up the heating. Starting to get a bit too warm? Remove the jumper or drop that thermostat. You've got to have a system.

3. Seasonal Cheer. A nice cold pint on a hot day is a thing of beauty, I won't deny that. But there is a definite charm to coming in from the cold to a nice, warm cosy pub and settling down for a night of talking toot and quaffing ales while the elements rage outside.

4. The Possibility Of Snow. OK, for most of you who aren't based in London, snow is very real, happens on a regular basis and can be a right embuggerance if you're trying to get anywhere. But, no matter how much the slightest hint of slightly frozen water completely halts Britain's transport infrastructure, there's still something appealing about the possibility of snow. You can't deny that there's always a small part of you that wants to slap off work for the day and go down the park with your mates for a massive snowball fight, no matter how old you are. However, the likelihood of getting actual real snow that you could make a snowball out of in London is admittedly reasonably slim. Still, it's always a possibility...

In the interest of balance, I will present the case against winter for you to make up your own mind:-

1. Rain is shit.
2. And wind can probably fuck off an' all.

So there you have it. Overwhelming proof that winter is, in fact, alright really if you look at it the right way. Except for the fact that our boiler's packed up so we've got no central heating now that it's actually starting to get cold. Always the way, isn't it? Never bloody works when you actually start to need it. Typical...