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View From The Brig(gs) Episode 6: Return Of The Ennui

Hi, Crazy-Gang. And, welcome to this week’s “Penned-So-Randomly-It’s-As-If-I’m-Rolling-Dice” go-round of everything that tickles my cerebellum.

I’ve had an exhausting rollercoaster of a week.

Unfortunately, I can’t really talk about much of it.

For most people, a movie is something that opens on a Friday night, that maybe they saw a trailer for in the weeks prior to its release. The Geek Fraternity knows that there’s a bit more to get to that point: namely, months and years of work and (often) anguish behind the scenes.

There’s good stuff, too. Gary Kurtz and myself had some “interesting” developments this week on “PANZER 88”, and hopefully you’ll be reading the positive sides of this in the entertainment business trades in the weeks ahead.

It’s just irritating that so much of this is shrouded in legality, and requires ink to dry on pages before we can blab.

Argh!

LET’S START ON THE GOGGLEBOX…
The BBC are airing little interstitials this week for the return of “Doctor Who” in a couple of days.

They’ve got this tease down to an art form now and please don’t stone me if I say it’s invariably more exciting than when the majority of the actual episodes are aired.

Given this is the 50th Anniversary, and the show has even made the cover of the U.S. “Entertainment Weekly” magazine, I’m expecting great things of the 50th Special (while simultaneously bracing myself for a crashing disappointment.)  Even Peter Jackson (about whom you’ll only hear me say lovely things: not the least because they’re true, and also because he’s being wonderfully supportive of my movie “PANZER 88”) appears in “EW”, to tease us with the promise that he’d direct an episode for free. (As he remarked to me in New Zealand when I was similarly pledging my fealty to the venerable show: “Ah, well. We love our Doctor Who!”)

The Beeb (those guys again) last week aired the first episode of its new Zombie show, “In The Flesh”. I knew nothing about this show’s existence until days after the transmission, and was surprised they’d sneaked this out with precious little fanfare.

Largely centered around the viewpoint of young “Partially Deceased Syndrome” survivor Kieren Walker, the show deals with the aftermath of a zombie outbreak in Britain (although there’s still some afflicted, oh-so-Britishl-ly called “Rotters” here, trudging around in rural pockets). A “cure” of sorts has been found for those infected, and regular injections of a government supplied drug revert them back to a mental state that roughly resembles their pre-infection selves, with the exception of violent and bloody “dream” flashback snatches. Restored to their somewhat-trepidatious families, the rehabilitated (like David Bowie in “The Man Who Fell To Earth”) now tint their whitened skin with flesh colored mousse (although from the result, it’s such poor stuff, they’d be better off buying bulkloads of St Tropez bronzer from their local supermarket!), and using colored contact lenses to mask their now-albino eyes.

Naturally, there’s the usual kind of “we don’t want their sort around here” community mistrust, while factions of disaffected back-from-the dead youth are using a drug called ‘Blue Oblivion’, which gives them instances of…well: I guess we’ll find out exactly what in future episodes. Although the show has the de-rigeur gory “Walking Dead” lurid prosthetics (although, honestly, nowhere near as good), it serves more as an allegory for bigotry and minority prejudice.

The second episode wasn’t quite as “zombie-riffic” as the first, and certainly seemed to change gears in tone a little bit. If you’re from a small town (like me) and got out early, you might recognize the themes on display here, chiefly those about the few who went off and made something of themselves in the real world, as opposed to those who were stuck behind. There’s an interesting new “girlfriend” character for Kieren, who is delightfully batty. (If you’ve never seen a rehabilitated zombie take a shrieking ride in a fairground Ghost Train ride, this is your big chance.)

The show boasts an interesting take, and it’s a worthy addition to this particular horror sub-genre, so it’s going to keep me watching.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN
With “The Hobbit” out on Blu-Ray this week, I rewatched it for a second time in the comfort of my own home. I played a tiny role in supporting the movie happening: if you go search YouTube, you’ll find some videos of the time I spent in New Zealand, including Weta Workshop’s Richard Taylor and myself marching side-by-side on the Wellington parliament!

In all honesty, seeing it in regular 2-D was a far more enjoyable experience, as I didn’t enjoy the distracting 48fps 3-D theatrical presentation (which I saw on my birthday!). This time around, the home 2-D experience, ironically, was a more immersive performance for me, and I was able to concentrate more on the humor and characterization and found myself following the action sequences more clearly. A considerably more fun second viewing, and now I’m very much looking forward to “Desolation Of Smaug”…

As I’m doing this little movie about Germans in 1944, I’m currently doing a lot of prep on this era. Besides which I’m British, and as we spent a lot of time getting pounded into oblivion by those guys during WWII, we kinda grow up in Limeyland having this time period assimilated into us by osmosis. (I had a literary agent once in Hollywood, who complained I packed too much historical detail in my scripts. “I’m not stoopid!”, he complained/explained; “I mean, I studied World War Two at University!” “Yeah, you and every British 10 year old…”, I thought quietly to myself.)

One of the things I saw this week was a 1999 documentary called “Television Under The Swastika”. It may come as a surprise, but the BBC had a television service operating out of London in the 1930s. When World War II broke out in ’39, fearing the Nazis might either hack the signal and use it as a propaganda tool, or use it as a homing signal for enemy bombers, Auntie Beeb showed a final Mickey Mouse cartoon (yes, honestly), and then our screens went black for 7 years.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, the goose-stepping loons continued to broadcast indoctrination to the populace (prior to this most famously, the 1936 Olympics), and this fascinating documentary shows precisely what was inflicted on their masses during the war years. Unlike the avuncular and rather embarrassed-looking fellows the BBC had as frontmen in Britain, the German “elite” that made it onto their small screens really are a rogues’ gallery of fervent nerdy slimeballs and lunatics that need to be seen to be disbelieved. From pompous weirdos singing SS recruiting songs, to a rather scary young fraulein warbling “Strength Through Joy” dating tunes, through to blatant anti-Semitism (one astonishing transmission by a terrifying Nazi anchorman warns of individuals sent to “concert camps to sing for their supper”, which rather puts paid to the lie the masses were ignorant of such things), this documentary shows a lesser known facet of Hitler’s brainwashing machine.



Back in Geek-land, another documentary I saw was last years’s “A Liar’s Autobiography”, a weirdly surreal animated biopic (14 different animation studios apparently contributed 17 different animation styles) about the life of Monty Python member Graham Chapman, who died of tonsil cancer in 1989. Read by Chapman from his memoirs, and also featuring the voices of Cleese, Gilliam, Jones, and Palin, it’s a very meandering affair, and (if you’re sensitive about that kind of thing) there’s a lot of scenes depicting an animated Chapman having sex with members of both genders. I was a little disappointed by it, although stylistically the documentary’s an interesting watch.

BETWEEN BOUND PAGES OF DEAD WOOD
Mr Kurtz and myself have a Facebook page for “PANZER 88” (Oh, did I not mention that? https://www.facebook.com/Panzer88Movie), and every once in a while on there somebody remarks on a Graham Masterton book from 1979, called “The Devils Of D-Day”. I’ve not read much from this Edinburgh-born author; he penned “The Manitou” (which was made as a slightly daffy movie with a cult following and Tony Curtis overacting), and must be the only horror writer I can think of with a legitimate sideline of sex instruction manuals (according to Wikipedia, 27 at last count) to his name.

I remember seeing this pulp cover title on the newsstand racks as a kid, just as I was getting into spooky stuff with “Alien”, and since so many have recommended this to me I thought I’d give it a once-over. At 180 pages, it’s a slender read. I was honestly hoping for a bit more WW2 action, but the plot line’s anchored in present day (1979) France, where an American discovers (and fairly stupidly unleashes) one of a Cabal of demons deliberately entombed by American forces in World War 2 within one of their rusting tanks.

There are a couple of demonic possession scenes typical of books and movies from the ’70s, and it all comes to a head with a demonic battle in a grand London house. The characters behave in oddly mystifying ways, and the fairly thin plot doesn’t have too many complications, but the final sturm-und-drang showdown is at least an enjoyable finale. I don’t know that I’d recommend it, as it’s a little plot-lite, and I like my books to have a bit more meat on their bones. Having read it now though, I can say quite happily it resembles nothing we’re doing in our movie in any way at all…

Last time around, I mentioned I was going to get to Karen Traviss’ 2009 “Star Wars” Clone Commando book “501”, her follow-up to the disappointing “Order 66”. If I hadn’t previously remarked that it was on my reading list, I likely wouldn’t waste any more key-presses for a review. It was a real chore to get through, bogged down in even more yawn-inducing Mandalorian nonsense than “66” was, often causing it to resemble a bad soap opera.

Only one small scene stuck out, involving the post Jedi-slaughter troopers being sent out on what’s eventually a wild goose-chase involving a kid with a stolen lightsabre. And, that’s it.

This was the last of Traviss’ “Star Wars” books: according to Wikipedia, “Traviss has since parted from Del Rey for creative differences.” On the basis of this effort, it was a merciful parting. A shame, as her early books in the series were very good indeed.

MEANWHILE, IN THE FUNNY PAGES…
Oh, boy. Not only did my delve into “Star Wars” let me down this week, but a LOT of my favorite comic book superheroes were profoundly disappointing also. (In a way, it’s almost a relief, as I don’t have to write here about them and recommend them.) I don’t think I’m going through any great monthly hormonal swing that makes me enjoy them any less (at least, I hope not), but by the same token it’s stretching credulity that so many fail to hit the mark at the same time. I almost want to commission a scientific study and plot graphs and figure out determining factors as to why this might be. (Was there a holiday deadline? Did the authors all perhaps stagger back from some convention with hangovers? Unseemly solar flare activity, maybe?)

In the land of the Merry Marching Marvel Band: Holy Moley! How did I miss the first two pages of Marvel’s wonderful “Age Of Ultron”?

Brian Michael Bendis’ first issue kicked-off in a techno-enshrouded apocalyptic New York, with a ragged Hawkeye searching through the devastation for a captured Avenger, while Issue 2 begins with a disfigured Black Widow discovering a safehouse before switching over to the remaining dispirited Avengers bickering amongst themselves at their hideout.

Although Brian Hitch and Paul Neary’s fantastic artwork leads you to suspect the city was laid to waste decades ago, the story unfolds to reveal only a matter of days or weeks have elapsed since Ultron’s machines literally appeared in a blink and took over. (Ultron enforcers vaporizing stray humans with gleeful “Mars Attacks!” abandon; and a stunning two-page spread of the ruined helicarrier are amongst the visual highlights here.) This is really great fun so far. I can’t wait for the next issue.

Hickman’s “New Avengers #4” was interesting. This is the storyline that has to do with the destruction of multiple Earths across an unstable multiverse, and the Avengers are at odds amongst themselves about what to do. As they dimension jump, they find themselves in a New York where Galactus has assembled his conversion machine. Even though some Earths have to be destroyed in order to stabilize the universe, the Avengers are left in a quandary: do they allow Galactus to destroy the planet and halt universal entropy, or do they intercede because saving the citizens of this world is the right thing to do? This was a smart book, and featured Galactus, which is always a major plus as far as I’m concerned.

Dan Slott’s “Superior Spider-Man #6” really is that: superior. This title’s been a winner from the beginning: in this installment, the Avengers have a concerned pow-wow about what to do with Spider-Man, who seems to be inexplicably out-of-control and brutal. Of course, they don’t know that Peter Parker’s body has been taken over by Otto Octavius. And Otto has his hands full with a pair of costumed pranksters named Screwball and Jester, who broadcast their japes live on the Internet. I am loving what Ock is bringing to “Spider-Man”, and I’m going to be sorry when they eventually put this universe to right.

As I may have mentioned, I have a problem with a lot of “X-Men” titles, as I largely Just Don’t Care. But Bendis’ “All-New X-Men” is amongst the cream of the titles out there. He just gets it oh-so-right. This issue has a fair bit of bickering from the snarky X-Yoof brought to the future from the past to educate them on just where they went wrong.

Immonen and inker Von Grawbadger (is that seriously his name? That’s just awesome) do some seriously lovely artwork here, including a terrific attack by Sentinels, and a one-page love-fest to the Marvel Zombies. Highly recommended.

Lapham, Liu and Pak (gee, they sound like the Triad’s law firm) also do a remarkably good job with “X-Termination #1”. I can’t really go into the plotline much here, because there’s so much colliding of multiple realities, I’ll just be describing every page. Basically, Alternate Universe versions of Nightcrawler and McCoy are on the run from the X-Men, and are in the process of hijacking “The Dreaming Celestial” (yes, one of those humunguous Marvel Universe Guys that gives even Galactus a hard time…also, a great name for a Chinese takeout joint at Comic Con) so that they can return to their own universe. Of course, would this be a comic book if Things Didn”t Go Right? That’s all I’ll say, but you should check this title out, especially if you’re into the “Of Cosmic Import…” stories Marvel does.

Hmm. So, as I’m telling you how much I’m really not into “X-Men” titles, we come to “Savage Wolverine #3”. You’ll hopefully know by now how much I adore Lovecraft (look: I wrote the “Hellboy” movie, that should be a given), so if I mention the very first frame has a fairly obvious Cthulhu looming over a village, before promptly going into backstory about giant robots (another Happy Button for me) beating on the Great Tentacled One (and a cameo from some Innsmouth water-gulpers), you can fill in my squees of happiness.

Wolverine is on an island. There are natives. It’s silly, breezy, and boppy, and the perfect palate cleanser for many of the heavier titles this week. I enjoyed it.

Over in the shadow of the Warner Brothers Water Tower, DC had a small but satisfying clutch of titles this time.

China Mieville’s “Dial H For Hero #10” goes from strength to strength. I like this Cronenberg-esque title, which has snuck up and really grown on me. This issue, the Government try to apprehend our heroes, and we make a big discovery as to the nature of the mysterious Dials that physically change one into superhero…together with a big revelation that all Dials are not created equal (which was an especially nice plot point). There’s a really fresh and wacky mythology coming into play with this comic, and it’s one to look forward to each time.

In Jeff Lemire’s “Animal Man #18”, Buddy Baker’s Animal Man and Swamp Thing both independently zip back through time to each of their key moments in the multi-title “The Rot” storyline, in their last-ditch attempts to prevent the Parliament Of Decay destroying the world.

For Animal Man, his daughter Maxine is about to be killed by William Arcane and his monstrous henchmen in Louisiana. This issue is short on plot twists, but has some good action and punchy writing from Lemire.

I’ve never especially cared for Animal Man, but he’s been a strong character in this run, and the intriguing appearance of a pair of mysterious new characters at the end of this issue (which kinda made me think of a scene cut from Darabont’s movie of “The Mist”) leads me to suspect future issues may not be the disappointment I’d feared.

Over in Snyder’s “Swamp Thing #18” loose ends are similarly tied up as our Mulchy Main Man also travels to the past to rescue Abbey from the clutches of Arcane.

Yep, that’s pretty much all you need to know. Abbey undergoes a “startling metamorphosis” (not much of a spoiler, given the amount of these in an average ST issue!), and we have our Organic Hero all cozily rebooted within the Parliament of Trees and set-up for the next storyline. It was a pleasant issue: if I hadn’t liked it, I wouldn’t be reviewing it. But, like the anecdote of the Proverbial Chinese Meal, half an hour after finishing it, it did leave me wanting more.

The aforementioned “Animal Man” finished its title in this storyline in a (for me) slightly more viscerally satisfying fashion, which is a little bit disappointing for Swampy fans.

I was really on-the-wall about including Brian Azzarello’s “Before Watchmen: Rorschach #4” this week.  Like a couple of the other “Watchmen” titles in this run, this one faltered in its latter issues. I had difficulty believing that our Masked Vigilante would be captured quite so easily by a bunch of (rather boring) punks (half “Saturday Night Fever”, half “Scarface” escapees), and I didn’t much care that Rorschach’s escape from them came about as the result of a pretty convenient Deus-Ex-Machina plot device. The resolution was fine, but this one only just made the cut for me by the skin of its teeth.

“Phantom Stranger” has been a real hit-or-miss title for me, and mostly a miss, but issue 10 got it just right. Didio and DeMatteis take the Stranger to Las Vegas this week to take part in a demonic high stakes card game. There’s a nice balance and interesting supernatural characters here, and Zander Cannon did a lovely splash panel of a gaming table floating in the center of an Escher hallway (which honestly made the issue for me.) Good job, boys.

I’ve been crazy-mad-busy (which sounds a bit like “Murder-Death-Kill” from “Demolition Man”), so I haven’t really been able to delve into the indies much this past two weeks…though I did manage to get to Image’s new title by Kel Symons and Mark A Robinson, “I Love Trouble”.

Disclaimer: this part of the review comes to you courtesy of Briggs’ Sell-Out-O-Rific™, the brand that gives your friends that extra little gleam.

Yes, I need to unburden myself with the admission that Kel is a friend of mine, and in a previous existence was a bona fide Actual Hollywood Executive. Unlike much of that breed of bottom-crawling pondscum, Kel was one of the handful of smart good guys I stayed friends with. Having now given away all his material possessions and pledged his not-inconsiderable storytelling acumen to The Good Of Comics, this title marks his first outing for Image. To be honest, I was a little worried when it came time to cast my beadies over the first four issues: I’ve lost countless friends over my bluntness over their work in the past, and I really, really hoped this wouldn’t suck. For his part, Kel was a good sport and said that he was a big boy and could take the criticism. Well, you’re reading this the same time he is: happily, “I Love Trouble” is breezily good fun.

The plot’s about a girl named Felicia, who in mid-flight on a commercial airliner that just happens to fall apart on an especially bad day, discovers she has the ability to teleport. Before she knows it, her foray into the world of ill-gotten gains attracts the attention of the borderline sleazy Mars corporation, who recruit her to be “exploited by a huge multinational conglomerate with ambiguous ethics.”

If you’re either a movie fan or a sassy hipster chick I think you’re likely to especially love this book, as Kel slips-in sly movie in-jokes, and Felicia herself is a really appealing creation. (Robinson’s smooth full-painted artwork is somewhere between the Chiodo Brothers, and Jason Pearson’s “Body Bags” comic title.) It’s very funny (I particularly liked the training scenes in Issue 3), and I get to keep my friendship with Kel by saying you should really take a look at it. Phew (!)

That’s it for this installment, kiddiwinks.  Klaatu Barada Nikto….

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