Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Reading log - Q2 2012

Well, what a few months! For those who don’t know, I moved house on 7 March and found myself at the centre of one of those yuppie nightmare movies like The Pit where a likeable upwardly mobile couple buy a ‘fixer upper’ in a nice neighbourhood and then slowly go mad as the money-eating problems build up. The final scene is a comic denouement where the house ends up a smoking ruin, but the couple have learned to value the important things in life rather than money.

I guess we must still be in act three because say the house is still standing and I still believe money is pretty damn important. In fact, I’d say I think it’s more or less half as much again as important as I did before I started. And I’m still assuming this is a comedy farce and that the final act won’t involve an Indian graveyard.

This has rather taken time and energy away from my usual pursuits. Nonetheless, the commute to work and the minutes between bed and sleep have allowed me some reading time and I’ve done a little writing too.

After the jump, I'll be talking briefly about The Invisibles by Grant Morrison and various artists and Neonomicon by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows, and then in more depth about:

DC Showcase All Star Comics by Paul Levitz, Joe Staton and others
DC Showcase All Star Squadron by Roy Thomas
The Inifinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin, George Perez and Ron Lim
The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
The Great Beast: The Life and Magic of Aleister Crowley by John Symonds
I, The Jury by Mike Hammer

In between everything else that’s been going on, I read and wrote about two interesting comics, one an important cult classic and one important to me and my own reading history.

The first is The Invisibles, by Grant Morrison and co, which I read in graphic novel collections between March and June. I’ve not much to add to the blog entry I wrote about it but what a trip, what wonderful barrier-pushing work of technicolour pop cult abandon!

The other was Neonomicon, by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows. Again, I don’t have much to add to what I’ve written (at great length!) about this already. It’s certainly one that’s generated some divergent opinion and I don’t think anyone but Moore could get away with a story quite like this.

Otherwise in comics, I’ve been reading just the usual super bollocks. For bedside reading I read two DC Showcase editions highlighting their obscure Earth-2 stories opf the 70s and 80s: All Star Comics, a short-lived Earth-2 Justice Society revival from the 70s, and All Star Squadron, featuring ‘updated’ tales of what the Earth-2 heroes got up to in World War 2. This was a fab bit of nostalgia for me as All Star Squadron was the first DC comic I read regularly in the 80s (before discovering Swamp Thing and the proto-Vertigo scene) and I later followed the early issues of Infinity Inc with similar enthusiasm.

Before this, I’d only encountered DC through the reprint comics we got in New Zealand when I was a kid, 60 pages of late silver-age reprints in glorious black and white for twenty-five cents. Occasionally these Golden Age reprints would show up – Dr Fate or Hour Man or (most puzzling of all!) the original Green Lantern involved in some (to my eye) crudely drawn adventure. I was intrigued to see more of these odd heroes and their world where time had moved on and the first generation of heroes, Batman and Superman, were now old men.

It was too cool a concept to last, of course, because you can’t have two versions of Superman running around especially when the neighbours have such a nice well-organised continuity that started neatly in the 60s and still ran more-or-less according to schedule in the 1980s, if you assumed it started slightly in the future and you accepted that we were gradually catching up with it. Thus the Crisis on Infinite Earths and the end, more or less, of anything interesting about DC continuity.

Marvel, of course, thirty years later, now find themselves in a more or less a similar situation, and you’ve got to wonder if Spider-Man meets Ultimate Spider-Man isn’t a Flash of Two Earths moment that’s going see Marvel have their own Crisis in a half a decade or so.

I hadn’t read the All Star Comics versions before. These are solid 70s fare from Paul Levitz and Gerry Conway, illustrated mostly by Joe Staton with assistance from Rick Buckler and – amazingly – Wally Wood. The Golden Age heroes are updated into mildly rowing angsty types of the mild sort that featured in the main stream back then with the twist that they have kids and relatives who’ve taken up the cape as they’ve gotten older. It’s similar in style, I guess to The Avengers of that era, but the generational issues give the soapier aspects a little more to play with than Marvel ever had.

I enjoyed these stories much more than All Star Squadron, I have to say. The latter seemed a little corny and clumsy by comparison, partly perhaps from sticking a little closely to the form of its 1940s inspirations and partly perhaps a bit of the old Roy Thomas ‘magic’. The collection also suffers from the absence of several issues of a JLA/modern JSA/All Star Squadron crossover. This is very annoying – would it really have been too much bother to include the extra couple of comics to complete this story?

Pamphlet-wise I’ve also been continuing with The Avengers and Fantastic Four. For reasons of inertia, more or less, I’ve followed Avengers vs X-Men, which is about as bollocksy as super-bollocks gets.  It’s an efficient money eater, I guess and Lou’s been interested, at least, furthering my goal of blighting his life by turning him into a comics fan.

Marvel are talking about a New 52-style soft reboot – Marvel NOW – that fills me with dread. It’s the logic of the jumping-on point, that old marketing shuffle in the desperate attempt to get new readers and get a leverage from the movies – it was ever thus! But a jumping-on point is also a jumping off point. With money becoming an issue in a way it wasn’t six months ago, maybe I should be thinking about comics aside for a while. Even so, I AM looking forward to Hickman’s Avengers, so I think I’m going to stick with that at least.

There’s always trades and I bought the Infinity Gauntlet in May as I was in the mood for some top-level cosmic Marvel super bollocks after the brilliance of The Avengers Movie. It certainly delivered, and there’s more retro excitement to be had: Marvel Essentials Warlock is released at the beginning of September... and yes, I do have a copy on pre-order.

Judging from Goodreads, I’ve read only three prose books this quarter – The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitgerald, I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane and The Great Beast: The Life and Magic of Aliester Crowley. It’s a small but eclectic mix, I guess.

Suitably, I found The Great Beast in a trunk of books left in the basement of the new place by the previous opwners. It was mostly paper back junk but there were a few interesting odds and ends, of which this was one. It’s an in-depth account of the Crowley’s doings with a lot of interesting detail about his magickal practices.

To my cynical eye, it seems that much of Crowley’s pursuit of magick was chiefly intended to forever put off having to work for a living. He spent his whole life busily doing something that absolved him from ever having to do something where his abilities might genuinely be tested. This allowed him to – more or less – piss his life away in the pub and indulge his baser instincts in the name of an elevated spiritual mission that no one else could understand. He depended on the largess of others to get by and was well served by a combination of good luck and charisma as there was always someone on hand to fall for his bullshit and buy the next round.

Like the greatest charlatans, he also managed to convince himself of his his crack pot tales most of the time. He convinced himself he had a magical destiny to transform the world. He convinced himself he was in love with the various women that he exploited and abused. He convinced himself he was a German sympathiser in during the First World War in America, and afterwards convinced himself with just as much certainty that he was secretly undermining the German war effort on behalf of British Intelligence.

Syomnds is a pretty credulous chronicler of Crowley’s antics, but even he can’t take him seriously the whole time. Those moments when the façade cracks – when passion fades and doubt creeps into his diary entries – are the most interesting bits to me, a coming together of all the conflicts in his life: The Great Best against the expectations of the bourgeois world, the Magister Therion against former lovers and allies and Crowley the rationalist against himself.

The Blue Flower was a one from the writers’ group book swap at Christmas. It’s a quietly literary novel about the early life of an 18th century German romantic poet Friedrich Leopold Baron von Hadenberg.

Yeah, I know, but it’s not like that at al. It’s very enjoyable with an appealingly light touch and arch approach. Everything was done with such brevity it kind of melted in the mouth leaving a deceptively subtle yet long-lasting flavour. I still find myself pondering the meaning of Friedrich’s unfinished tale ‘The Blue Flower’. I’m pretty sure the author was getting at something to do with TB. I recall being told or reading somewhere that the title is a euphemism for TB, and it hangs over his true-love Sophie for most of the book before she has to endure gradual and grisly death. We learn in the afterword that most of the young cast died from it at a depressingly young age.

I was lefty with impression of great sadness. At these young energetic lives snuffed out more or less at random. The characters aren’t especially wise or magnificent, and this adds to the poingancy. It undermines the romatic notions embodied by Friedrich – these aren’t noble heroes dying spledidly; it’s instead a mundane world of mundane tragedy much like our.

I read the I, The Jury because I found a cheap Kindle edition and was interested to see how this famous hard-boiled writer of the fifties measured up against Chandler and Hammett. Not that well, as it turns out.

It was cheesey and stupidly macho, and the denouement was barely up to the standard of Chandler at his worst. There were some arresting passages but they are  like being barked at by one of those frightening men one sometimes meets at parties or among a group of friends when everyone’s a bit drunk who suddenly thinks it’s clever to elevate misogyny to a level of mental illness.

Mum says that when she was a girl in the 50s this was one of the books that got passed around under desks at school and was considered incredibly naughty. It’s a little risque, I guess, but it’s a very old fashioned morality play, far less amoral than the jaded worlds of Marlow or the Continental Op. Mike Hammer hates fruits and won’t touch the object of his affections before marriage, because he can’t think of her as that sort of gal. The plot is about drugs though, and he does spend a lot of time admiring women’s attribute through their clothes in a state of permanent frustrated arousal. It’s a historical curiosity, but not one I can say I enjoyed.

Three books seems like a particularly rubbish effort, but I’ve read a lot of comics over the quarter, including sixty or so issues of The Invisibles. I think in the next quarter I’m going to concentrate a little more on prose to ensure this year’s reading record doesn’t look too anaemic.


  1. The Mike Hammer novels are nuts. They'd be a great parody of hard-boiled detective stories if it wasn't so obvious that Spillane is serious. You remind me that I must track down that 60s film where Spillane himself plays Mike Hammer, though.

    You'll be pleased to know that I recently bought a paperback copy of "Panoptica", so it's in the reading pile.

    At the cinema for Batman the other day I caught the trailer for the upcoming Judge Dredd film - where should I start in reading the comics before I see it?

  2. Hooray! I hope you enjoy Panoptica!

    There was the 80s sitcom 'Sledge Hammer' that was more a parody of Dirty Harry, but the name at least implied that Mike Hammer was in target. I've heard of that SPillane film, too. From the little I know about him, he sounds a bit deranged, an impression that I, the Jury did nothing to dispell.

    Ah, that old chestnut, where to start with Dredd!

    My own prejudice suggests starting with the Case Files volumes and reading them in order, stoppping somewhere around vol 5 or six. For a long time Dredd was a vehicle for a mix of SF satire of the 70s stylee (think Soylent Green, Logans Run etc) and gung-ho boy's adventure stories. The two elements come together in early 'epics' like The Cursed Earth', 'The Judge Child' and 'Judge Cal'. IMO, the 'great' era is defined by the artwork of Brian Bolland, (although there were a number of fantastic artists working on it in those days, incl Mick McMahon, Ron SMith and - of course - Carlos Ezquerra at his height, who created the whole look).

    Sometime towards the end of the 80s (around the time of The Judge Dredd Megazine) it fell prey to a problem that afflicts a great many long-running series and became, increasingly, about itself. In addition, I think it began to take its usual flip and silly satire a little too seriously. 'America', for example, has laways seemed a little adolescent to me. (In fairness, I think I'm very much in the minority here.)

    Speaking of minority views, I also think the first 20 mins or half an hour of the Stallone movie isn't too bad, and there are some good bits later on, too (the Angel Gang is pretty much spot on).

    This is quite a handsome volume collecting a grab-bag of Dredd strips from many eras.

    It has the whole of America, but only excerpts of stories like The Cursed Earth and The Judge Child. It's hard back, though, with good colour repro and a decent price. There's a similar 'Best of 2000AD' volume, NB.


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