Is it really two years since we lost the most lovely Petite Puss, my darling little Dizzy? I miss you draping yourself over my shoulder and purring right into my ear, little kitty.
This review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog:
Matt Fraction and David Aja
“Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, became the greatest sharp-shooter known to man. He then joined the Avengers. This is what he does when he’s not being an Avenger. That’s all you need to know.” From the introduction.
Oh, where to start with Matt Fraction and David Aja’s superb, rollicking ride of a superhero series? I’ve never been a huge Hawkeye fan, but FPI Glasgow’s Nicola raved about this so much on our blog that I picked up the first couple of issues. And I am glad I did, I liked it; in fact I liked it so much it made my annual Best of the Year list (and some of our other Best Of posters picked it too).I love when someone puts you on to something unexpectedly good, something you’d probably never have picked up otherwise – I mean that’s why we all love to talk about our favourite comics and books, after all, share the love of them, hopefully spread it around.
This is Clint Barton’s life when he’s not busy being an Avenger and saving the world as Hawkeye. This is Clint the guy who lives in an old apartment block, talks to his neighbours (and tries to help them out although he often messes up in the most endearing fashion), who know who he is (even if some keep calling him “that Hawkguy” by mistake). And even outside of his epic Avengers role Clint seems to continually walk into trouble, be it relationships (Kate Bishop is almost like an apprentice to him, except numerous times she proves to be as good as him and has to rescue Clint, while the will-they, won’t-they chemistry between them is superb leading to some cracking inter-personal scenes between the pair), the mystery women that breeze in and out of his life (and bed, always with some sort of I-knew-it-was-too-good-to-be-true consequences, of course), tracksuit wearing, Mini driving Russian mafia goons, secret video files and more.
And along the way there is the day to day stuff; Clint trying to be ‘normal’ (whatever that is), helping neighbours move stuff, attempting to sort out cable problems for another neighbour and her kids after buying the block (to fend off a greedy landlord who attempted to screw his neighbours over – not every victory is won by a battle, sometimes lots of cash works well too, fortunately Clint is very rich), trying to take care of a homeless dog, unpack his own belongings (including, in one great sequence, a bewildering array of ‘trick’ arrows that Aja & Fraction then gleefully give him an excuse to use) and organise his apartment to be like a regular place a regular person would live in. And throughout often sparking off Kate, who is more than a match for him, be it in the middle of action or on a high society bash stake out.
“Keep your eyes open. Keep it casual. Casual. Casual. Nice and…”
“Casual. Casual. Super casual.”
“You know there’s nothing casual about a guy muttering ‘casual’ to himself over and over again, right?”
And all his good intentions always end up in some sort of unintended action (including a brilliant car chase that partakes of both The Italian Job and Bullit). Or his mixing with the neighbours on the roof on a nice day, barbecue, some beers, relaxing, being a regular guy, not just an Avenger as he keeps telling is neighbours – right up until a huge shadow falls over them all and they look up to see a massive SHIELD vessel floating over the roof, ropes drop out, black-garbed action men rapel down, grab Clint without so much as a by your leave and pull him straight up into the air for an urgent mission, while the nonplussed neighbours look on with an “I told you he was a big Avenger guy” expression, a wonderfully deadpan comedy moment.
Yes, it is clever writing, with some smart takes on the superhero genre and what they do when they’re not saving the world and battling supervillains. It has sassy dialogue, superb characterisation, humour, romance, drama, sex, car chases, diving out of buildings, falling into pools, saving ‘orphaned’ dogs, pulling mad stunts, all of them depicted with great art that walks the fine line between realistic and cartoony (right down to an old style Hawkeye mask placed over Clint’s naughty bits when he has to dive naked from bed when hoods machine gun it! A lovely, cheeky nod and wink to the audience).
It has all of those elements, but what elevates it from good to brilliant is that in addition to those Hawkeye is purely and simply fun. Huge, enormous, your own floating bar in your very own pool staffed by monkey butlers fun. And dammit, we like the gritty stuff, the dark stuff, the autobio stuff and the serious, heavy, introspective stuff that the medium can deliver so well, but sometimes a comic read should just be darned good fun. And this is about the best fun you can have with your clothes on, one of the best reads in comics right now. If you’ve not been picking up the issues over the last few months then do yourself a favour and grab this first collection.
It was my friend’s birthday last week and instead of trying to think up an idea for a present I decided to treat her and take her to the relatively new Patisserie Valerie in Edinburgh. I pass it regularly on the way to work and it has such a glorious display of pastries and cakes that you feel as if you are gaining weight just looking at the window:
She hadn’t been in there since it opened so it seemed like a good excuse for a nice birthday treat, plus as I told Mel cakes eaten for birthday celebrations contain no fat or calories, that’s a true (made up) scientific fact. I had the chocolate mousse you can see on the left in this pic (complete with a small profiterole on the top – decorate your cake with another, smaller cake! I like their thinking) and a huge mocha:
With displays like this you can see why so many passers-by, locals and tourists alike, stop to gawp in the patisserie’s window:
How fantastic does this cake look? My darling cookie cat Cassie would have gone crazy if she saw this, that kitty loved a bit of pastry or cake. Never worked out where she developed her taste for them, she didn’t care for them when younger but by middle age she was a furry demon for them, if I came home with several bags of heavy groceries she would mieow loudly and unneringly go straight to the bag that had the parcel from the bakery in it. She would have loved this. Anyway, we had a good cakey treat then a nice wander around some of the art galleries afterwards, which as both of us have been dealing with ill relatives a lot recently was a nice, relaxing way to spend a day off and something the pair of us haven’t had time to do lately.
This review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog.
Nine Lines of Metro
Seven Days in Berlin
Neil Slorance, Pipe Down
I know Zainab had mentioned Glasgow-based Neil Slorance’s Seven Days in Berlin on the blog before, but browsing in Glasgow recently I picked up both that work and the preceding Nine Lines of Metro mini comics and took an instant liking to them; I rarely ignore my instinct when I get a good vibe on a new work, even when I know little of it, because that instinct usually always points me to some good reading, and so it proved again. Both comics are rather charming, autobiographical short works detailing a couple of trips abroad by Neil to Spain and Germany respectively.
In Nine Lines of Metro Neil goes to visit his friend Morv, who is living with her sister, sister’s husband and their kids in Barcelona for a wee break after a rough time back home, and also to catch up with his old chum. It begins like a gentle travelogue, Neil arriving in Spain, meeting his friends, going exploring (using the metro system, whence comes the title, although he notes he later found out there were actually more metro lines than he thought, oops!) and having fun. Being Barcelona he naturally ends up taking in works by Picasso and Gaudi, wandering the narrow streets of the city’s oldest quarters.
So far so good – there’s nothing overly remarkable, but it is a gentle, good-natured short comic, in a nice, simple style for the most past, and not so very different from many other short comics about trips to different places. But for me Nine Lines started to become a bit more different and find it’s emotional feet towards the end, when Neil and Morv come across an outdoor concert by accident and stay to listen. Smoking a pipe he attracts the attention of a German visitor, Toben, and the two of them are soon chatting away in a friendly manner, when he is introduced to one of Toben’s companions, Lisa. There’s a nice feeling of him relaxing, all troubles forgotten, sitting in a warm country with old and new friends, listening to music, content, happy. And then as he and Lisa spend more time together their hands find each other’s hands, and Neil captures the emotions of that magical moment of first physical and spiritual contact with another person rather wonderfully, I felt, that simple pleasure of mutual touch “all of a sudden I had someone’s hand to hold.” Simple, unfussy but so wonderfully, humanly warm.
Of course, as is the way with such things he’s met her right at the end of his stay in Barcelona and has to leave for home just as he is starting to connect with Lisa. There’s one of those strange little sad-glad scenes as he takes his leave of her and his friends, sad to part but obviously a happier person for having come and stayed with them and for meeting his new friends. But there’s more to this to come in Seven Days in Berlin – Neil keeps in touch with Lisa and eventually takes her up on an invitation to visit her. This is a slightly longer work and starts off with him being very welcome into Lisa’s circle of friends, including Toben – in fact it is Toben’s birthday and he’s invited along, fitting in nicely. He explores the city, as you’d expect, gazing at the architecture, marvelling at the tower by the Alexanderplatz vanishing into the clouds, enjoying the festival of light, when all sorts of major buildings are illuminated in interesting ways (in fact this causes him to divert from his usual small panel sequence to do a two-page splash of the Brandenburg Gate) and suddenly coming across piece of that iconic symbol of division, the Berlin Wall:
Of course while I’m enjoying his recounting of visiting galleries and buildings, and musical spots, the zoo and other cultural and historical parts of Berlin, what I’m really thinking is what’s going on between him and Lisa. And that part is rather lovely and sweet and very natural, unforced, two friends who become a little more than friends but are still aware they live in different countries, mostly speak other languages, where, realistically, can this relationship go? But the pair are sensible and don’t really consider this too much, they simply spend the time they do have together as enjoyably as they possibly can, not a bad philosophy when you know the time you can share together is going to be too damned short. And he handles this in a lovely, open, charming manner, with quite sweet scenes that leave you with a nice, warm feeling inside:
Both connected works are nice, gentle, very enjoyable, good-natured works, the travel lit side of them is fun, although for describing some of the sights perhaps he should use a few larger panels as he did try with his Brandenburg Gate scene in Seven Days and save the smaller sequence of panels for the more intimate, person to person moments, but clearly he’s still trying things out and I’m sure he’ll play more with layout in later works. Of the two the longer Seven Days is more enjoyable and better composed – I felt as if Neil was not just trying to say more in this comic than he did in Nine Lines, I felt he was relaxing a bit (perhaps the result of two good trips!) and giving himself more space to breathe as an artist in the latter book. And both, especially Seven Days, are very satisfying on an emotional level – there’s a charming, brief romance and chance connection formed and an acceptance of it, of taking something nice when it comes into your life even if for a short while, because you know that even when you part and have to return home you take a part of that experience and person and the feelings the two of you created together with you, still inside, making you a different, hopefully better person. Sweet, honest and very charming works.
The Scotsman Steps, the enclosed stone staircase leading from just in front of the old Scotsman newspaper building (now a hotel and restaurant as the paper moved to new premises by the Parliament several years ago) down to Market Street below North Bridge, were little used for many years as they were neglected, steps worn and often used by vagrants as a toilet (not pleasant to walk down). Now cleaned up and restored, boasting some lovely stonework and this view from top across North Bridge and the valley that divides the Old and New Towns (where the railway is today) towards the great bulk of what is now the posh Balmoral hotel, but which originally was the North British, a massive hotel built for the then new railways and their travellers. Good to be back in Edinburgh again, I missed the views the city gives me like this:
It’s been months since I last posted here; sad to say the blog was just one part of my normal life I slowly withdrew from over the weeks and months – even my own bookgroup I set up years ago and other regular activities just slowly stopped, I had neither the energy or desire to take part in them or anything else. It was a bad several months ending an awful year, frankly, and left me emotionally exhausted. Lost a couple of friends, lost the second of my lovely furry companions, my darling old kitty Cassie (leaving the flat feeling terribly empty) and there was the constant worry as we waited for a date for dad’s much needed heart surgery. And when that finally came in mid November it didn’t go as smoothly as planned, not by a long shot. A five hour or so operation, delicate, complex but still relatively routine for the specialist cardiac surgeons, two or three days in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), couple of weeks in the general ward then home to recuperate over a few months as you build up your strength again.
That is how it normally goes, but there’s always the one in so many thousand where it doesn’t work so well. And after all our stress and strain over the last year and worrying and hospital visits and waiting for surgery and fretting about it didn’t we get the short straw, just because obviously it hadn’t been a hard enough time already. More work was needed and my dad was out for a full week before I got to see him so much as barely open an eye, a week of travelling hours back and forth to the other side of the country to the specialist hospital and worrying and waiting before I even got to see him slightly awake. Weeks more before I heard my dad speak to me for the first time in weeks. What would have been mum’s birthday came and went, never an easy emotional time for either of us at any time, under these circumstances that date took a sledgehammer to the morale and had a bad effect on dad too.
We soldiered on, Christmas, New Year and my birthday on Hogmanay came and went and were depressing, sad, empty non events, dad still very ill and in intensive care after weeks of care, me pretty much on my own. A friend was kind enough to give me a lift through on Christmas Day so I could visit him, relatives visiting him dropped me off at the family home where I spent a miserable five or six hours on my own in an empty house waiting on my return lift back with my friend. I’ve never been in our family home alone at Christmas, it was terribly upsetting and with everything else going on it pitched me further into a very dark place. Thank goodness for calls from others like my wider family to cheer me up as I sat at home alone. Oh, wait, no there wasn’t a single bloody call. Not a one. Just because Christmas Day hadn’t been miserable and lonely enough already. And the dark thoughts swarmed around – get used to it, this is probably how Christmas will be when you are older. That time of year can be hard for a lot of folk and this time it really broke me; a similarly miserable birthday and New Year added to it. Really felt like giving up, but had to keep going.
Eventually by mid January my dad was well enough (barely) to go home and fortunately as I work mostly online I could take my laptop and work from back home – not ideal but do-able on a short term, so I moved back home to Smallsville for the best part of a month, worked as best I could trying to do a full work day from home while helping dad as best I could, doing the housework, cooking, shopping, talking to health folks, arguing with one particular batch of bloody idiots who demanded he come in for regular tests when he could barely make it down the stairs. Was pretty bloody tired out by all of this, but worth it as dad improved hugely, from being very tired and unable to do much to being able to do more, do stuff for himself, get around, got his appetite back and as his strength returned his morale got so much better, it was good to see after the long, long bloody road we had to stagger down. Could have used a good long break after all those months, especially as I had no real holiday for the last year – I had one week off for the Film Fest in June as usual but on the first day dad was taken into hospital with his heart attack, so that wasn’t much of a break as I was back and forth to hospital (still got to see a few of the films but my heart wasn’t in it) and I saved most of my remaining holiday days for when the surgery happened knowing I’d need them, but with the much longer stay I used up far more than I thought I would.
Back home in Edinburgh and slowly trying to get myself back into my regular life – months have gone past since I last went to my own book group so I’m planning to get back starting with this month’s upcoming meeting, and go and enjoy the regular Edinburgh Literary Salon, already been back to my first event at the Tales of One City readings, felt nice to get back to going to functions and events and talks again, even got friend who has similarly been running back and forth from Edinburgh to Glasgow to help with ill relatives out for her birthday (took her to the new patisserie on the Bridges for a treat, delicious, then a nice wander round the galleries too). Hopefully we continue on the upward curve this year, I think we bloody deserve it. May even start thinking about visiting the cat rescue folk at some point and see about taking in some new kitties. Let’s see …
During the epic Voyager missions, after one of those innovative little mechanical explorers had finished with its primary mission to give us our most astonishing close up encounters with the most distant worlds in our solar system in a detail that Galileo and Copernicus could never have dreamed possible, it was re-tasked and reprogrammed to turn around to look back into our solar system from the cold, dark edge of our own little stellar neighbourhood. The late, great Carl Sagan was one of those who campaigned for this to happen – no small feat given the codes to reprogramme the distant probe would take hours to reach it even travelling at the light speed of radio waves, so far was it from home now, and there was no true scientific knowledge to be gained from this move.
Sagan, however, always understood that science has to appeal to both the heart as well as the head, emotion and intellect, and be able to make everyone grasp why it was important to us. The spacecraft was turned and took what is now known as the family portrait, a view of most of the planets in our solar system, a perspective no-one in the entire history of humanity had ever beheld before, a real “going where no-one had gone before” moment. In that family portrait is a pale, blue dot, not even an entire pixel in size – our world, the Earth. As Sagan put it, everything any of us has ever known, every person we have read of, every person who built a monument we’ve gazed at, everyone we have ever loved and all those who came before them, right back to the emergence of our ancestors out of ancient Africa’s cradle to start out human journey, every one of them, peasant and king alike, lived on that tiny dot. Joel Somerfield’s animation is very short but celebrates that moment, using the words of Sagan, a moment when emotion and science, heart and intellect, gave our species a new perspective on the majesty of creation and our own place in it, just a tiny mote floating in the glow of the sun, miniscule in astronomical terms, fragile, but never, ever unimportant, but a wonder in a sea of wonders, a haven of spectacularly diverse life. Our home.
Overview is a stunning short film from the Planetary Collective, celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the famous “Blue Marble” photograph (taken by Apollo 17, see above) by talking with astronauts about the ‘overview effect’ – the change in perspective many of them experience when they get to do something that all the thousands of years of humans before the 1960s could never do: see the world from space. I’ve been a space geek since I was a very young boy, happy with a NASA costume and toy helmet, box for a ‘spaceship’ and imagination, and I’ve heard a number of astronauts and cosmonauts talk about this experience, about how viewing the world from above the clouds changes their perspective forever on how astonishing our world is, how remarkably beautiful yet fragile, how everything and everyone is interconnected… The imagery is beautiful…
Now this is fascinating, at least to those like me who find mythology and folklore compelling – recorded at Skepticon 5 Deborah Hyde (editor of Skeptic magazine) gives an absorbing – and often quite witty too – talk on the werewolf in in European society (via BoingBoing):
Many nursery rhymes have been passed down for generations, but in our modern, wired-up, interconnected age where youngsters are more savvy to trends and tech than ever, perhaps many of them are losing their relevance to contemporary children, so we need to modernise them a little:
Pat a cake, pat a cake, baker man, bake me a low-fat, high fibre muffin, as fast as you can (and a skinny latte to go with it, please)
Little Jack Horner, sat in his corner, thinking when I grow up I will be a famous paleontologist
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, then called Injury Lawyers For You and sued someone to cover his own clumsiness
Mary had a little lamb, it used to send out her email spam
Old Mother Hubbard, went to the cupboard, then decided it was more convenient to order her grocery shopping online
There was an old lady, who lived in a shoe, because the mean bailed-out bankers wouldn’t give her a mortgage
Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie, his high-fat sedentary lifestyle made him die
Jack and Jill went up the hill, as part of their daily cardiovascular exercise programme (didn’t want to end up like Georgie)
Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, which she had assembled herself from an Ikea flatpack using an Allen key
This isn’t just any half a pound of tuppenny rice and half a pound of treacle, this is M&S tuppenny rice and treacle
Based on the novel by Anne Rice, adapted by Ashley Marie Witter
I’ll start by confessing straight up that Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire is one of my favourite novels. Originally published in the mid 70s it has sold in the millions and spawned a connected series, the Vampire Chronicles as well as a beautifully shot film by the very fine Neil Jordan. It is also one of the most influential novels in the vampire literary cannon, arguably as important to the genre in the 20th century as Stoker’s Dracula was to the 19th; both books are landmarks in the genre. I’ve re-read it several times over the years and in fact re-read it again just a few weeks before this adaptation arrived on my desk. It isn’t the first time the Vampire Chronicles have been adapted to the comics medium – I still have some of the Innovation comics adaptations in my collection (see here). However this is not a straightforward comics interpretation – instead Ashley Marie Witter has taken the original tale, which saw the 200 year old vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac narrating his life story to a young reporter, from his mortal life in the late 1700s plantation near New Orleans to the present day, and retold it, but this time from the perspective of one of the most singular characters in the novel – and indeed in all of vampire literature – the child vampire Claudia.
Ashley begins the story with a seriously ill Claudia – a beautiful young girl with a doll-like face and golden curls – being brought across by Lestat, the older, dominant vampire who made Louis into his immortal companion. As a shocked Louis watches, Lestat gashes his own wrist and offers it to Claudia, telling her she has to drink to get better from her illness. The human child drinks from Lestat and is transformed into an immortal vampire, endless, unchanging, in an incorruptible body that survives on a diet of human blood each and every night. Lestat has his own motivations for his actions – knowing that Louis is increasingly unhappy living with him he creates Claudia to be their ‘daughter’, her diminutive size and appearance making her as dependent on their support for her survival as any mortal child would be to its parents, locking Louis to him and their lifestyle, effectively forming an immortal, blood-drinking family unit. Realising what he has done calls Lestat a bastard and a fiend, while Lestat merely smiles in satisfaction, “such language in front of your daughter,” he mocks. I’m not your daughter, the little voice pipes up, I’m my mama’s daughter. Not anymore, Lestat informs her, now you are mine and Louis’ daughter…
As obvious and transparent as this gambit is, it works – Louis, the sensitive soul who finds immortal life difficult, wrestling with the morality of his existence, of the need to feed on human beings to sustain immortal life, cannot bring himself to leave with Claudia there, for her to be left only with Lestat to look after her. And so the trio settle into an uneasy family life – as with any family the child learns from both her carers. From Louis she learns an appreciation for the arts and the finer things of human existence, while from Lestat she learns the art of hunting and killing her human prey, something she takes to with great enthusiasm. Louis, the more nurturing of the two, is the one she loves, Lestat less so, but she still pays attention to the lessons he can teach her, until as the years pass she realises that he isn’t prepared to answer some of the deeper questions she starts to formulate, particularly regarding their own existence – why are there vampires, how did they come into existence, which vampire made Lestat and why does he never mention him? He becomes regularly enraged at her questions and when he refuses to explain she decides he simply doesn’t have the knowledge she desires but is reluctant to let her or Louis know, preferring to pretend to have access to secrets about their vampire nature that they may need for their survival.
At this point it becomes clear that she enjoys provoking him over such points and at first it might be easy to see this as the actions of a child. But Claudia, despite her deceptive appearance, is no child – decades have passed since she received the Dark Gift, and while like all vampires her body is forever fixed as it was at the moment of her mortal death, her mind has grown. She is now a mature, experienced woman, realising that while she may be a swift, immortal predator, she is trapped inside this child’s body – forever. She cannot physically grow up and this, along with her growing desire to know why ‘her kind’ exist and the fact that, denied a real childhood, she has grown up with a lack of empathy and human morality (unlike her ‘parents’ she did not have the luxury of experiencing human life for long to ground her for later life), will trigger an explosive, bloody rupture in their artificial family…
There’s much more, but I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t read the original novel (and indeed if you have read it, you may know the major events, but I don’t want to spoil how they come across when viewed from Claudia’s point of view). Ashley handles portraying both Claudia’s childhood innocence and her later knowing, determined adult personality with a deft touch – since her physical body cannot change much of this has to be conveyed through gesture, expression and body language, a task the artist achieves magnificently, moving from beautiful child to cold-hearted, century old immortal killer with the small change of facial expression. In one scene the panels move closer and closer to Claudia’s doll-like face (and indeed despite the decades passing both her fathers still treat her like a beautiful doll), until the perspective zooms into a close up of her eyes, which are the eyes of a predator, of a cat, glowing, shining, luminous – beautiful yet dangerous because you don’t know if the mind behind them is regarding you with amused condescendion or if they are sizing you up as dinner.
Reframing the original events from Claudia’s perspective raises this beyond simple adaptation (not that there is anything wrong with a straight adaptation) and to someone like me who has read the original series it seems kind of fair – the novel of Interview is from the point of view of Louis, the second novel, The Vampire Lestat, allows Lestat to comment on those events from his perspective, but Claudia, until now, didn’t receive such treatment. Ashley’s artwork is absolutely delicious – you may remember quite some time ago I posted a piece of art from the book when it was first announced she was working on it, and it was a gorgeous looking piece of work. Well the finished book is even more beautiful, the artwork mostly sepia-tinted (except for expressive scarlet splashes of blood dripping from fangs, or in blood tears from the eyes, which stand out with the vibrant hue of the blood in the early Hammer films when they were introduced to audiences more used to black and white), and wonderfully delicate and as lush, sensual and decadent as the original novel itself; this is one of those comics works I will find myself going back through again to pore over some of the delicious artwork. The erotic subtext of the original is preserved and, as with the novel, delicately layered through and hinted at rather than too obvious. The book itself is a very handsome small hardback, good stock glossy paper that shows off Ashley’s beautiful artwork to great effect – not just a good read but an attractive addition to your shelves; much recommended.
This review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog