Saturday, July 31, 2010

Baby Hedgehogs

Baby hedgehogs are very small. You can hold them in your hand. They look a bit like toys.


Monday, July 26, 2010

v/a "Deutsche Elektronische Musik"

This is that Soul Jazz compilation of (mostly West) German electronic and avant-garde rock music from the 1970s and thereabouts. It takes great pains not to refer to this stuff by the usual Krautrock moniker, saying that that was just an offensive term invented by the British music press and never really adopted by the German musicians (notwithstanding Julian Cope's claim that kraut is a German slang for marijuana). Anyway, this is deadly stuff, with lots of great tunes from the like of Cluster, Amon Düül II (no Amon Düül I, sadly, or perhaps not), Deuter, Neu!, Can, Faust, and so on.

There is also text situating this experimental music scene in the context of the wider youth revolt occurring in Germany in the late 1960s and 1970s. It maybe does not say anything that a student of that period of German history would not already know, but it is a good way of showing that the scene did not appear out of a void. It also maybe goes some way towards explaining the stories everyone had about the time the RAF were hiding out in their commune.

The music itself runs the gamut from wibbly electronic to the kind of Neu! motorik that to many defines the Krautrock sound. I was struck, though, by the amount of hippy folkie-sounding tunes on this – many of these tracks would not sound out of place on one of those Early Morning Hush style collections of English folk music.

I recommend this record highly to anyone who is not over-familiar with this scene and would like to get an overview of it. I cannot really see how any such person could be disappointed with this collection. I know some of my hipster friends have scoffed at this collection saying that everyone would already have all these tunes; I fear they are not its target audience.

One final thing – this is great music to listen to on headphones while walking around town. A lot of the songs have a strong driving beat to them, so the disc makes you feel like you are some big West German hippy stomping around confronting established bourgeois notions of behaviour.

image source

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Group Doueh "Treeg Salaam"

Another rare Sublime Frequencies single artist release, this time from the Western Saharan sensations. In the vaguest conceptual terms they are not unlike Omar Souleyman, playing a music that manages to take traditional forms and radically update them with modern instrumentation. But the actual music is very different, with Group Doueh being heavily based around the electric guitar.

It has become rather commonplace recently to describe the odder ends of non-Western music as being somehow akin to the more avant garde reaches of our music. In Group Doueh's case, this seems more apt than with some others. The combination of the wacka wacka guitar virtuosity, the slightly random keyboard notes, the blissed out vocals, and the dog-rough production values here lend it all a strangely forward thinking vibe, for all that this is seems to basically be party music for the people of the embattled Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.

I suppose Group Doueh bear some resemblance, in its guitar orientation, to the likes of Tinariwen from nearby* Mali. But Tinariwen, with their high production values and general slickness, seems almost like bloated prog rockers compared to Group Doueh**. If the Malians are Rush, then Group Doueh are Sonic Youth. But of course, they would not care for the comparison – as far as I can make out, in their own culture, they are not avant garde weirdoes, just people making tunes for parties. Or maybe they are more like the makers of gnaoua music in southern Morocco, making music that is meant to transport the listener into other realms of awareness. It certainly has that effect on me.

* Only a couple of thousand miles away

** That said, it is not acceptable to criticise Tinariwen, as they are awesome in their own way.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Film: "The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans"

This Werner Herzog directed film features Nicolas Cage playing the titular cop on the edge, a detective with the New Orleans Police Department who, thanks to chronic back pain, has found himself lumbered with a serious addiction to prescription pain killers and anything else he can get his hands on. He also seems quite happy to sexually exploit random members of the public, especially if he can also shake them down for drøgs to fuel his habit.

The film does not just follow the lieutenant as he aimlessly trawls through the crescent city trying to sate his appetites. Instead, he finds himself investigating a rather nasty gang-related murder case. In broad terms, the plot follows a police-procedural trajectory, except that the cop at the centre of the case is a raving lunatic (c.f. when the cops are on a stake-out and he starts complaining about all the iguanas running around them, to quizzical stares from his colleagues, or when he interrupts his high class prostitute girlfriend's work saying "Have you got any coke left? I took what I thought was cocaine but it turned out to be heroin, and I'm due at work in half an hour"; why is my life not more like this?) At the same time, he is conflicted – he seems determined to hunt down the murderers, and away from his struggles with his own dark urges he is capable of real tenderness and warm human interaction.

Nicolas Cage's performance here has been justly praised – suddenly we have been given back underground film actor Cage, a man whose presence in a film marked it out as having a certain eccentric quality. Top marks. But Herzog also extracts great performances from the other principals. I was particularly struck by comic genius Jennifer Coolidge in a rare straight rule as the cop's father's drink sodden wife, but they are all great. At the same time, the real star here is Werner Herzog himself.

And finally, what is the link between this film and Abel Ferrara's banned-in-Ireland Bad Lieutenant? From something I read Herzog saying, it seems like the studio had brought out Ferrara's film, owning the name, and they reckoned that throwing a similar title onto Herzog's own film about an out-control-cop would generate a bit of media buzz. Which, I suppose, it has. I find myself wondering now whether there could a series of Bad Lieutenant films, all made by different film auteurs. This could be the future of cinema – I'm really looking forward to the Tarantino, Coen Brothers, and Merchant-Ivory versions.

One final thought – the bad lieutenant's more bestial behaviour is arguably driven by his trouble with back pain. Yet I myself am, as I write, suffering from (admittedly mild) back pain and am self medicating with a dangerous booze cocktail*. Now, is there any danger that I could turn into some kind of crazed maniac? Is there any possibility of Werner Herzog making a film about me called something like Bad Civil Servant – Port of Call Kildare Street?

image source

* But don't worry guys, I can handle it… I'm not drinking vodka out of saucers yet.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hailu Mergia and the Wallias "Hailu Mergia"

At least I think that's what it is called and that's whom it is by. This is a burn of some Ethio-jazz sent to me by [redacted]. I think in a zine written for Frank's APA he might have said that it involved some Mulatu Astatqé action. It certainly sounds not unlike his stuff on Éthiopiques 4, so if you have heard that you will have an idea of what is on here – the kind of appealing music you get at sophisticated Addis Ababa nightclubs where well-dressed people go to dance the night away.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Film: "A Wednesday"

The other film I saw in the Indian Film Festival of Ireland was A Wednesday. It is a completely different kettle of fish, being a straight thriller with no song and dance routines. Its framing device is Mumbai's retiring police commissioner thinking back on his most difficult case, one so sensitive that it has no file and does not officially exist. Then it is flashback time. The plot involves this mysterious guy who has planted a load of bombs around the city. He is threatening to explode them unless a group Islamic extremist terrorists are brought from jail to a certain disused air base, presumably from there to be flown off to Pakistan (most of the terrorists are former agents of the ISI, Pakistan's notoriously dodgo intelligence service).

The film starts off normally enough, following the usual routes you expect in this kind of film. So you get lots of people running around, lots of shouting down telephones, lots of racing against the clock to track down leads and so on. But then it undergoes a bit of a twisteroo – it turns out that the bomber is not planning to free the terrorists, but to kill them. He reveals himself to be just some ordinary guy who has had enough of these terrorist scum and all that due process crap that allows them lengthy trials and then prison sentences, when everyone knows that what they really need is instant justice. Rather disturbingly, the film endorses this fascistic worldview – to placate the bomber, the police commissioner orders his men to murder a terrorist, and the film ends with him shaking the bomber's hand.

One other lesson this film offers is that you do not ever want to find yourself on the wrong side of the Mumbai police force. Beating the shite out of suspects to extract information seems to be a standard operating procedure.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

North Sound "Jazz Wolf"

What could be better than the sound of wild wolves howling laid over jazz? Sadly, many things are better than this. The wolves pull off their part of the bargain, howling away very atmospherically, but the jazz is pretty poor – tenth rate nicey jazz with a dreadful drum machine accompaniment. Drum machines, with their unbending rhythm, surely have no place in jazz - unless, like the Nazis, you are trying to create a form of jazz to which an army can march.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions "Bavarian Fruit Bread"

Recently I suggested that Hope Sandoval might be better enjoyed in the comfort of your living room, on record, rather than in a concert environment. I think now that maybe what you actually want is for her to come round and play a concert in your living room. If she could bring some smack with her the bob would really be your uncle.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Film: "Kal Ho Na Ho"

They were having an Indian film festival in the Swan Cinema. I made it to all of two films. First up there was Kal Ho Na Ho, an all-singing all-dancing Bollywooder like mama used to make. This one is set in New York, among the Indian immigrant community. The main character is this young woman called Naina - stunningly attractive, for all that she is presented as being a bit frumpy and over serious. The film follows her as she battles with family and romantic problems – will her evil witch of a grandmother ever stop blaming her daughter-in-law (Naina's mother) for Naina's father's suicide, and will said grandmother ever stop persecuting Naina's adopted younger sister? Will the café that Naina's mother runs with her sporty older lady friend be saved from bankruptcy? Will Naina make the right choice between the two men in her life – her fellow MBA student Rohit or swanky newcomer Amaan?

These questions are all answered, albeit after a lot of singing and dancing. Two of the more striking musical numbers are Amaan singing a Bollywood version of 'Pretty Woman' in a New York street (with everyone joining in, natch) or the much later song-and-dance off between Rohit's Gujarati family and the other Punjabi characters. Gujarati v. Punjabi rivalry seems to be a bit of a theme in this film, albeit one that largely went over my head, as I am not really clued in to the stereotypes. Gujaratis seem to be a bit brash, while Punjabis… er… are not so brash?

Do not think, though, that the film being a musical means that it is all light colours and happiness. It does look early on that it is going to be like a Jane Austen adaptation, in that the resolution comes from pairing off the boys and girls in acceptable happy combinations. Sadly, no. A bit of a transition sets in just before the intermission, where the audience receives a shocking revelation about one of the key characters. Thereafter regret and heartbreak become key aspects of the story, and it turns into a bit of a tearjerker, for all that things end well enough for most of the characters. Maybe I am a big softie, but I found the resolution of the Naina family plotline surprisingly affecting.

Anyway, I recommend this film highly. The song and dance routines are amazing, the comedy stuff is actually funny, and the editing and suchlike is very inventive. I keep expecting Bollywood films to be somewhat amateurish, perhaps out of borderline latent racism on my part, but any I have seen have displayed the highest production values. Watching this film makes me wonder why the West stopped making musicals.

image source

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Monday, July 19, 2010

"The Private Confessions and Memoirs of a Justified Sinner" by James Hogg

In case you have not guessed, I read this book for classic book club.

This 1830 novel is one of many 19th century novels that are hailed as a forerunner to the modern novel. It gives us such modernist delights as a split narrative, an unreliable narrator, a profoundly dislikeable protagonist, and a plot that retains ambiguity right to the end. For all that, the book is also of its time in its gothic nature and sense of religious doom. The book purports to contain the memoirs of one Robert Wringham, a man born in late 17th century Scotland, together with an introduction and commentary by an unnamed editor. The editor begins by telling us some facts about the life of Mr Wringham that can be objectively determined, with Wringham's own narrative casting these events in an entirely new light.

The book hangs heavily on the Calvinist idea of predestination. In the most hard-line version of this doctrine, God chose a small minority of people for salvation, not on the basis that they were righteous and morally upright, but more or less at random. These Elect – the chosen of God – are predestined for Heaven, while the rest of us are damned. Nothing anyone does can change their destiny – no matter how righteously one chosen for damnation behaves, he is still doomed to the fiery pit of Hell, while the Elect will sit at God's right hand no matter what sins they commit.

The editor's narrative reveals Wringham to have been brought up believing in this doctrine by his mother. Convinced that he is one of the Elect, he seems capable of any action as nothing he does can stop him from entering heaven. He murders his brother, and is later overheard plotting the death of his mother.

Wringham's own narrative, though, is where it really kicks off. Although a committed believer in predestination from the off, and a thoroughly nasty piece of work, it is only when he makes friends with an odd individual calling himself Gil-Martin that starts following the doctrine to its extreme conclusions. Gil-Martin persuades him that as he is one of the Elect, he can do anything without compromising his own salvation. Wringham embarks on a series of ever more ghastly crimes.

Gil-Martin's nature is ambiguous, with his precise status arguably being the key to the book. It is easy to see him as the Devil, using scripture and the reformed church's doctrine to lead Wringham to damnation. His seeming ability to change his shape supports the idea of him as some kind of supernatural agent. Yet he seems also to be a projection of Wringham's will, or of the dark side of his nature. Given how much of Wringham's narrative is fragmentary and semi-delusional, one could slip into seeing Gil-Martin as a product of his imagination, a hallucination conjured up to voice his own dark thoughts. Yet that does not fully work, as the editor's narrative has Wringham's familiar seen with him on two occasions (in different form each time).

As the book continues, Wringham's sense of himself starts to break down. At one point, he describes feeling like he has two selves, but that neither of these are his real self. Later on again, he starts suffering from lapses in memory, with terrible crimes (rape, more murder, matricide) having apparently been committed by him during these blackouts. The reader is again at something of a loss as to what exactly is going on here. Is Wringham committing these crimes and then forgetting them? Is he lying to us when he says he cannot remember them? Is he under some kind of demonic possession? Is Gil-Martin taking on Wringham's form to have him take the blame for terrible acts he has not committed? Hogg leaves these and many other questions open.

In its unwillingness to tie up all the loose ends and explain everything clearly, this book reminds me of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's In A Glass Darkly. Like this book, the stories in Sheridan Le Fanu's volume purport to be papers relating to the investigation of actual events. The inconsistencies and things that remain unresolved resemble the untidy descriptions we get of real events, enhancing the power of the works.

Anyway, this is a most enjoyable book, one that has got me thinking about reading some more gothic novels. Melmoth, The Monk, Vathek, The Saragossa Manuscript, The Castle of Otranto - that lot. You will be relieved to hear that if I ever indulge my desires in this area it will probably be away from Classic Book Club.

Have you read The Private Confessions and Memoirs of a Justified Sinner? What did you think of it?

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

In which I make an important announcement

SIRS! I can reveal that the next book that those of us who are taking part in my society for the reading of classic novels is none other than The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne. Let us have this great work read by the weekend of the 21st and 22nd of August.

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I write like...

On the strength of this:

I write like
Vladimir Nabokov

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

On the strength of this:

I write like
Arthur C. Clarke

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

On the strength of this:

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Omar Souleyman "Jazeera Nights: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria"

Omar Souleyman is this Syrian bloke who mostly plays weddings, though since Sublime Frequencies started releasing compilations of his stuff internationally he has started touring in the West and playing festivals (he is, for instance, on the bill for popular Irish festival the Electric Picnic). His musical style is called dabke, a popular type of music in the Levant associated with an arms-round-shoulders formation line-dance.

What is interesting musically about Souleyman is the way he manages to make music that sounds routed in tradition while also sounding contemporary and (post-)modern. Hearing the music, you can sense its origins in a folk music past, and the musicians do use acoustic instruments on some tracks. At the same time, it sounds very contemporary, with heavy use of synths and programmed beats. In that respect, you could say it is a bit like Algerian Raï, but to my ears it sounds a good bit more melodious. Souleyman himself (physically distinctive with his tache, shades, and keffiyeh) does the vocals, while his partners in crime look after the synths and instruments.

These mental sounds (kind of like a Middle Eastern Scooter, according to my beloved) are frenetic and infectious. Frankly, they would make any confirmed bachelor consider entering into the holy bonds of matrimony if only it could lead to having Souleyman playing at his wedding.

Has anyone ever heard any Turbofolk music from Serbia and its neighbours? I wonder if, in a weird way, it sounds like this.

image source

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Timmy and Tanya

Timmy is a Hermann’s Tortoise who lives in the Tortoise Sanctuary in St. Austell’s, Cornwall. When he arrived at the sanctuary and was introduced to the other residents, he did not hit it off with them. In fact, the established tortoises bullied Timmy and he had to be separated from them. However, he seemed to be a bit lonely, so he was provided with Tanya to be his friend. Tanya is only a plastic toy tortoise, but Timmy gets on very well with her. He brings her food (and seems untroubled by her not eating it), spends a lot of time nuzzling her, and will only go to bed if Tanya is put into his hut ahead of him.

Timmy is 60 years old, and is one of 450 tortoises in the sanctuary.


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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cat or Seagull?

Pooh is named after a bear, but he is actually a seagull. However, he may think he is a cat. He was adopted by the Grimwood family in Shoreham-By-Sea when he fell down their chimney as a chick. He was brought up with their cats before leaving the home when he learned how to fly.

However, the Grimwoods had not seen the last of Pooh. Each year, he comes back with his lady seagull friend to nest on their roof. While nesting, he drops in every day and helps himself to the cats’ food. The cats' views on this have not been recorded.


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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Classic Book Club: a reminder

Hello members of classic book club, do not forget, you need to have James Hogg's Private Confessions and Memoirs of a Justified Sinner read by next weekend. I suggest that we should meet in the library bar of the Central Hotel at 5.00 pm on Sunday the 18th July. What say you?

EDIT: OK so the plan has changed following discussions, we will actually meet at 8.00 pm on Sunday 18th July, still in the Central Hotel.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

"Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card

This is a post about about a book I read for SF book club. If you are interested in SF book club, come along to the ILAC library at 6.30 pm on the second Tuesday of the month.

Warning: Here be spoilers.

The book's set up is in some respects similar to that of Starship Troopers, with humanity locked into an interminable war with the Buggers - insectoid alien sodomites*. The main character is a small child called Ender Wiggins** who is sent off to the star fleet school for promising youngsters. The high command reckon that, on the basis of his genes and his test scores, he could potentially be turned into the genius commander they need to win the space war. The story then follows Ender as he goes through his training. Much of this focuses on the playing of games, with Card impressively having him play electronic games far beyond on anything on offer when the book was written (in the early 1980s, based on a short story from the previous decade).

As the book goes on, the space war games Ender plays become more and more complex. From playing against the computer, he is now up against the great commander of the previous Bugger wars. He has several of his pals from the school to help him, but the games keep getting harder and harder, with more and more Bugger ships to fight in each battle. The final game seems to be his final test, with various star fleet big wigs coming in to see how he does in a simulated battle where his ships are outnumbered a thousand to one. When he still manages to triumph, he is struck by how the watchers' reactions seem a bit over the top, but then he realises the truth – he was not playing games, he was commanding the actual star fleet. The war is now over because he has exterminated the Buggers. He is thirteen years old and has committed genocide.

That is the book's big twist. I gather that Ender's Game started as a short story, so originally there probably was not more to it than the twist. If that was all there was to the novel then it would be a bit slight, but fortunately there is a good bit more. One whole strand involves Ender's (slightly) older sister and brother. Like him, they are hyper-intelligent, but unlike him they were not deemed suitable for battle school. Back on Earth, they manage to use an analogue of the Internet*** to manipulate world politics.

What really raises the book up to another level is the sequence from after the Buggers' annihilation, where Ender joins a colony on one of the aliens' former planets. The Buggers were somehow able to sense Ender as the agent of their destruction, and they manage to leave behind a psychic message for him. In a few pages Card throws us this incredible impressionistic picture of a profoundly alien psychology and form of social organisation. Ender learns that the war with the Buggers was a tragic mistake – the Buggers invaded our solar system without realising that humans were sentient, while humanity's genocidal assault on the insectoids took place when the aliens had realised their mistake and decided to leave us alone. Ender finds himself with a preserved but fertile egg of a Bugger queen – it is in his gift to bring the creatures he exterminated back into being.

And that is how the book ends. Has anyone ever read anything else by Card? I notice that he seems to have a lot of books out there with "Ender" in the title, suggesting that he has spent the rest of his career recycling and further exploring the ideas in his most successful book. I am tempted, but I fear that diminishing returns would rapidly set in.

The one thing I never really bought with this book is how young the characters are meant to be. Ender is something like six when the book starts, twelve or thirteen when it ends. But for all that he is meant to be hyper-intelligent yadda yadda yadda, he never really seems like someone that young. The same is true of the other children at Battle School, who all come across as being at least late teens (in fairness, maybe they are? Ender is meant to be younger than they are).

One other thing I had heard about Card is that he is right-wing, or conservative, or whatever reactionary Americans call themselves these days. I was wondering whether this kind of mindset would infect his writing, but I did not see too much sign of it here. The book is ambivalent about the military, rather than revelling in a Heinlein-style Starship Troopers fascism. The book seems to be broadly against genocide and in favour of non-violent solutions to conflict situations, for all that it does not preach at us about the military people who turn Ender into a weapon of mass destruction. Maybe the one thing that puts the book on the not-liberal side of the map is how it treats religion: when the religious backgrounds of characters are mentioned, it is not to scoff at them or to have the usual SF thing of a religion just being a front for some kind of cynical and manipulative clergy.

*they are not actually sodomites.

**a name that could only have been conjured into being by someone called Orson Scott Card.

***Card was writing when the Internet barely existed and the World Wide Web had not yet been conjured into being.

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Friday, July 09, 2010

Somewhat Socialist Realist Uniformed Woman,

Battlefields: Motherland #1 of 3, by Garth Ennis and Russ Braun

Garth Ennis is a bit of a patchy writer. At worst, his output displays a nasty and distasteful edge that anyone of taste and discernment avoids. His work also sails close to the rocks of creepy homophobia. For all that, he is a man of actual talent. In the war comics he has been writing over the last while he seems to have really found a new voice, producing material that escapes from the blind alleys into which his failings sometimes lead him.

Anyway, this one is set on the Russian Front* in the Second World War, just before the Battle of Kursk, and is about a woman fighter pilot, of whom there were surprisingly many in the Soviet air force. In some respects we are in familiar war story territory – she plays by her own rules, lacks the necessary respect for the NKVD political officer, etc. – but it still has a certain pizzazz. There are also some great air combat scenes, and people like me who love accurately drawn pictures of various bits of military hardware (Focke-Wulf 190s! Stuka tankbusters! Yakovlevs!) will find much to enjoy here.

I am hoping that subsequent issues feature the air war aspect of the Armageddon that was Kursk – total thrillpower.

*you can tell this from random letters in the comic's title being backwards.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Grinning Leer of a Black-bearded Pirate

Batman: the Return of Bruce Wayne #3 of 6, by Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette, and Michel Lacombe

I skipped the first two issues of this, thinking it looked like Grant Morrison taking the piss, but over on the internet I read indie pop sensation M.J. Hibbett saying that he liked it so I decided to give it a go. This is the third issue in and I bought it thinking that if I liked it I would go back and get the first two.

So what happens here? Well as part of the general return of Bruce Wayne storyline running through the Bat-titles*, this sees Wayne somehow travelling back in time to the colonial period, where he finds himself crossing cutlasses with notorious pirate Blackbeard (for no obvious reason given the name Edward Thatch rather than Teach). Yarrr. They explore the mysterious bat-infested caves under what will one day be Wayne Manor, and various strange things happen. It is rather intriguing, but it is a bit unclear as to what is going on – some kind of psychic time travel thing or something? Maybe reading the first two issues would make things fall into place, but knowing Grant Morrison I doubt it.

*Bruce Wayne seems to have not been dead for very long, even by the standards of comics characters and their tendency to resurrect at the drop of a hat.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Worst Comedian In The World

When I was in Cuba I got a bus from Viñales to Havana. For some reason the bus company decided to subject us to a DVD of the worst comedian in the world. He is some American cockfarmer who tells lamer antediluvian jokes and does ventriloquism with puppets. At one point he played that "Could you hear us? We could hear you!!!!" gag on some unfortunate member of the audience who had just come back from the toilet. My research suggests that this joke was already old and tired when the following piece of dialogue appeared in Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona:

Enter Margate.

CLOWN: Good morrow, sir! Tell me, whilst thou wert away, attending to thy business, wert thou able to hear us engaged in our merriment?

MARGATE: Marry, sirrah, I heard you not.

CLOWN: Well sir, we heard thee right well, and thou in stool.

I gather something similar appears in the third tablet of Gilgamesh.

But back to the worst comedian in the world. His politics seemed as conservative as his humour. Homosexuality was something he kept coming back to, with his homophobic "jokes" having a distinct air of protesting too much. Racial stereotyping was another staple of his craft, with one of his puppets being a hilarious blaxploitation African American and another a Cuban. The latter in particular made me marvel at bus company Viazul's entertainment programming policies.

When the excruciating routine ended I felt a great sense of relief, only to have my hopes dashed by another concert recording of his starting up. The horror. Still, I reckoned I could handle it. But you know how it is when you are in a terrible situation – you slip in to thinking that things cannot possibly get any worse, and then they do. Thus it was on this bus of doom. The worst comedian in the world had been chatting away to one of his puppets about suicide bombers (a perennially fertile subject for comedians), when he said to the audience: "You know, there's been a lot of crazy stuff going on in the Middle East lately. I've often wondered what it would be like to talk to one of those suicide bombers… and now we have the chance! So ladies and gentlemen, say hello to Ahmed The Dead Suicide Bomber!"

Fortunately for everyone I was not wearing a bomb belt.

Other passengers found all this hilarious.

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

People firing guns

Commando: Fire!, by Ferg Handley and Macabich

A rare instance of this war picture library title not being set in the Second World War, Fire! features an Austrian artillery company who somehow find themselves caught up in the American Civil War. This is not great, frankly. The Austrians find themselves fighting on the side of the South, which allows for plenty of plucky against-the-odds action, but presenting all the Northerners as cackling villains seems a but odd. The book also fails to give any impression whatsoever as to what the war was about, surely a bit of a missed opportunity.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Red Skull, Charging Heroes

Batman, Doc Savage, The Spirit: First Wave #2, by Brian Azzarello and Rags Morales

I accepted the advice of those who said to stick with this, but it still is not doing it for me. In some respects the teaming up of all these pulpy characters in a retro-1930s setting has a lot going for it, but I keep thinking that I would probably be a lot better off reading original Spirit and Doc Savage stuff.

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Girl Pretty To Left, Rancid Zombie Face To Right

iZombie #1, by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred

This is about a cute girl who is actually a zombie – she has to keep eating brains or she will stop being cute and start being a shambling zombie. And then she eats someone's brain and finds out he was murdered so he decides to find out who killed hm. But to make it all worse, this turns out to be set in some stupid town where every second person is a ghost or a werewolf or a vampire. So not really the thing for me then.

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