Sunday, 8 July 2018

Steve Ditko

The major news events of this weekend may include the football World Cup, Wimbledon and London Pride but, for me, the most significant news was the sad passing of comic book legend Steve Ditko. There are countless excellent tributes to the great man on t'internet to which I can add very little, so I thought I'd post just a few Ditko images from my collection starting, of course, with his most famous co-creation, the Amazing Spider-Man.

These two early Spidey covers are among my favourites, showcasing indelible images of our wall-crawling hero fighting some of his idiosyncratic Silver Age foes. Both of these comics are a bit wrecked ( which is how I could afford to buy them! ) but that just adds to their charm for me. I love the "Spidey in darkness" image of the first cover and the instantly-recognisable Ditko cityscape and vile villain of the second. ASM #9 is the oldest Spider-Man comic I own and is a treasured possession, taped-spine and all!

Of course, Sturdy Steve's other most famous character was Stephen Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts and this issue of Strange Tales was Ditko's swan-song on the title and also featured his only cover. And what a great cover! The mind-bending, psychedelic adventures of Doctor Strange in Ditko's surreal worlds often come across as a four-colour waking dream and this image of Doc encountering the enigmatic Eternity is a splendid example.

Of course, Ditko worked for many comics publishers throughout his career, creating supernatural stories and the mighty Captain Atom for Charlton, as well as various jobs for Warren, Atlas, Pacific and Eclipse. After jumping ship from Marvel in 1968 he dreamed up some outlandish characters for the usually staid and conservative DC Comics, including The Hawk & The Dove and the outrageous chap above, The Creeper. This weird-looking misfit never set the super hero scene on fire but was a fine example of Ditko's bizarre character designs.

And, speaking of bizarre characters, during a later stint with DC in the 1970s he created the short-lived Shade The Changing Man series, packed full of his trademarked surrealism and dimension-hopping adventure. In many ways it was an attempt to recreate his 1960s weirdness which could only seem out-dated ( although the distorted architecture on the cover above seems to prefigure the likes of Inception... ) but it was fun while it lasted. And it gave us pages like the one below...

The fiercely independent and legendarily reclusive Ditko became an avid proponent of the objectivist philosophy of the likes of Ayn Rand and devoted decades to expounding these moralistic, black-or-white theories in self-published comics such as Mr. A. ( I've got a copy of that somewhere but haven't managed to dig it out. ) These almost hysterical Libertarian tracts were virtually unreadable but often the great man's sublime style shone through the tub-thumping...

Steve Ditko was indeed a unique talent whose imagination made the world a better and weirder place. He will be sadly missed.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Happy Birthday America!

Dear America,

Whilst you're living through Trumpocalypse Now! it's always worth remembering that your great country has been better, can be better, will be better than this. Have a great 4th of July!

Love and best wishes for a brighter, saner, more tolerant future for us all,
Your friends across the Pond x

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

2001: A Space Odyssey ( 1968 / 1978 / 2018 )

Last night James and I went to a rare screening of Stanley Kubrick's 1968 science fiction masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. This 50th anniversary re-release featured a lovely, if not quite perfect, print of the film and was presented as originally intended, with overture and intermission included. ( It's certainly the first movie I've seen since the 1970s with an intermission! )

I first saw 2001 on its 10th anniversary re-release back in 1978 with my dad, Pete, and my mate Adrian, so it was quite a strange experience to see it again forty years later with my own son. I'll always remember Pete turning to the 11-year old me during the intermission and more or less saying "So, what's actually happening in this film?" Luckily ( or maybe not, in a spoiler-y sense ) I'd already read the Marvel Treasury Edition adaptation by Jack Kirby so I had a head start...

It was great to see 2001 on a big screen again. Both James and I are very familiar with the movie but seeing it like this just brought home all the amazing attention to detail that Kubrick worked into the story, and the ground-breaking special effects still stand up in this age of photo-realistic CGI. The famous "star gate" sequence still looks stunning, with its psychedelic evocation of multiple realities rushing past, and really should be seen on the big screen as the film-makers intended.

There have been many pretenders over the years ( Chris Nolan's Interstellar springs to mind ) but 2001: A Space Odyssey is still The Ultimate Trip...

Monday, 28 May 2018

Fabulous at 50!

Kylie Minogue is... 50 today? How is that even possible??? Anyway, she still looks absolutely amazing as this picture shows. Happy Birthday Kylie!

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Comics! New Comics! Action, Captain America and The Prisoner!

If there's one thing I don't do much of these days it's write posts on this 'ere blog. And if there's another thing I don't do much of these days it's buy new comics. What if I combined these two things I don't do much of these days into one thing? And put that thing here on t'internet for your perusal? Let's try it...

Yesterday I visited my ( sort of ) local comic shop, Proud Lion in Cheltenham  -  with my usual impeccable timing, only a week after Free Comic Book Day. I was after one comic in particular ( which I'll come to later ) but I managed to pick up another couple which looked interesting.

First up is Action Comics #1000, a landmark issue for the Man of Steel in his 80th anniversary year. There are a few variant covers out there, including a strangely sub-par one from Jim Steranko, but the only copy left in the shop sported the regular edition cover by Jim Lee. And I think it's a pretty fine illustration of the Last Son of Krypton, back in his iconic costume, red trunks and all. Unfortunately the contents are rather a mixed bag. There are nine separate short stories ( although "stories" is stretching the point ) which all pay homage in one way or another to the career of Earth's mightiest mortal. Even though there are some creators represented here with excellent track records with this character ( Dan Jurgens, Marv Wolfman, Curt Swan ) most of these short vignettes fall flat, being stuffed with often trite moralising, and mostly going nowhere very interesting. But there are lots of pretty pictures...

A far more satisfying landmark issue comes courtesy of Mark Waid, Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson as the Star-Spangled Avenger reaches his 700th issue. ( I'm trusting Marvel and DC to have accurately worked out all this numbering, considering both characters have had various "first issues" and reboots over the years. ) As well as being an anniversary issue this is also the concluding part of a continuing storyline where Captain America has been catapulted into a near-future, Dystopian America ( yes, even more Dystopian than the one that exists in 2018 ) where he is trying to protect the crumbling Republic from various enemies both from within and without. Waid is at his dependable best, crafting a fast-moving adventure which tests Cap to his limits, mentally and physically, while Samnee proves yet again that he's one of the foremost stylists in the business with his wonderfully retro-yet-fresh artwork:
There's also a strange 10-page back up story which Waid has cobbled together from various Bronze Age Cap comics and added his own dialogue. It doesn't really hang together but it's nice to see the Jack Kirby / Frank Giacoia artwork. All in all, Captain America #700 works far better as an anniversary comic than Action #1000 because the main story is so engrossing and the tribute to the character grows organically from that...

And, saving the best for last, we have the brand new Titan Comics adaptation of The Prisoner by Pete Milligan and Colin ( friend of TGW-S ) Lorimer. ( Yep, this is the comic that prompted my journey to Proud Lion ) This modern-day updating of the 1960s spy-fi mind-bender sees an M15 agent on the run from his own side after a disastrous mission in the Middle East. Inevitably his luck runs out and, in an echo of the very first Prisoner episode, he is gassed in his London ( not so ) safe house, only to awaken in the mysterious Village.
Pete Milligan is an idiosyncratic writer, a creator of many surreal and intriguing comic book worlds who is the perfect author to chronicle the story of the new Number Six. And Colin Lorimer is a wonderful choice of artist  -  there's an enjoyable tension between his gritty, contemporary style and the psychedelic / Pop Art leanings of the original show which seem to bleed into the modern setting. It will be interesting to see how many of the McGoohan / Markstein creations will appear in this 21st-century nightmare...
This is The Prisoner retooled for the Information Age where the Village seems to be an autonomous state, obtaining information from its "guests" by "mental fracking" ( ouch! ) while also carrying out bizarre crimes in the outside world. The surface has barely been scratched in this first story and I'm looking forward to uncovering more of this world where no-one dares trust anyone else.
Be seeing you...

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Dreadzone at the Gloucester Guildhall

Just over a week ago I went to my first gig of the year  -  I'm such a slacker!  -  the mighty Dreadzone at Gloucester's Guildhall. Dreadzone are a band that have been around for donkeys' years ( how long IS a donkey's year? ), a firm favourite on the festival circuit, but a band whose path I'd never crossed until now. I decided it was time to do something about that and I dragged Borrowed Time superstars Glenn and Cliff along with me to join in the fun...
Although the venue wasn't exactly sold out the crowd were seemingly all rabid Dreadzone fans, apart from about half a dozen newbies ( us included ), and the band went down a storm. Their music, a righteous mash-up of reggae, dub and rave, was an upbeat treat for dancing feet and a sunshine-filled tonic for those brought down by this seemingly endless Winter. With the legendary Leo Williams on bass and two fine vocalists in Earl 16 and the chair-bound but still energetic MC Spee, the front-line of the band was pretty damn impressive, spreading the good vibes around the Guildhall. Propulsive drumming and a heady mix of keyboards and samples made up the bedrock of the sound, forging some mighty grooves. Standout songs were Rise Up, a towering anthem to protest and positivity, and '90s chart hit Little Britain  -  the only song of theirs I knew previously.
A great gig to belatedly start off the year... even though I got showered with beer at one point and some random girl told me I should be moving around more (!)  -  gotta love Gloucester audiences!
It was good to be at the Guildhall again after so long  -  amazingly I didn't go to a single gig at my favourite venue last year. And that's probably the first time that's happened since it opened in 1988! Over the last year the venue has put on a rash of tribute bands instead of "real" bands so there's been very little to tempt me through their doors. Tribute bands have their place, I suppose, and are probably more likely to get punters into the place, but for an arts venue to schedule so many of them seems wrong. Hopefully the Guildhall will redress the balance in their 30th anniversary year and this Dreadzone gig is the start of the tide turning...

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

An interesting Twitter conversation about dragons

Simon BartonTweet text


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