Friday 28 January 2011

Randomiser VIII

The long-lost Randomiser returns for a new year of psychologically scary excursions into the dark recesses of my alleged "mind".

Randomness 1:
Searching through endless piles of bank statements, bills, final demands etc. for my latest MOT certificate ( didn't find it ) I came across a scrap of paper with a list of strange names in my handwriting. I've got no idea who these people are/were/should be, but they sound like the coolest mobsters from Groovetown: Whiskey Stretton, Hugo Delaney, Clarence Diamond, Midnight Anderson and Sergio Majestic. If any of these people are reading this I've never heard of any of you and I certainly don't know where that black suitcase full of used fivers went to.....

Randomness 2:
I'm obviously a very strange aardvaark but I'm constantly fascinated by those "word verification" words that pop up in the Comment section on Blogger. My latest fave is "exismsma", possibly some kind of consciousness-expanding psychedelic mixed with baby food.....

Randomness 3:
Ah, Firefly.....

Randomness 4:
From The Department Of Insanity: Sophie and I went into ye olde phone shoppe yesterday to hopefully sort out the lack of signal on her mobile phone. The guy behind the counter had to ring a helpdesk, but he had to make the call from inside the stock cupboard because he couldn't get a signal on his phone. Thank you Tesco, every little helps.....

Soundtrack: loadsa old skool Hip Hop from Public Enemy, Eric B and Rakim, Full Force, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash etc. etc.

Thursday 27 January 2011

Lewis Carroll


’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Lewis Carroll ( the Revd. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson )
27th January 1832 - 14th January 1898

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Rocks / Sucks

Isn't it amazing how, in this age of hyper-fast global communication and interaction, we can boil all our theories, thoughts and opinions down to two words:
something either "rocks" or "sucks".

The above Human Torch pin-up page, in all its joyous, Silver Age innocence clearly rocks...

Whilst ( and I'm obliged to yell SPOILER ALERT! at this point ) the following definitely sucks...

..... big time.....

Yep, those lovely people at Marvel have decided in their wisdom that Johnny Storm must die and the Fantastic Four must become Three. All in the name of relevance, of course. Nothing to do with cheap sales gimmicks. Hell no.

FF writer Jonathan Hickman had this to say to Newsarama:

Hickman: I think the FF had a systematic problem in that some of the ideals the book represented, and the way they are portrayed by many, many writers and even in society, feel outdated and maybe overly simplistic. Our readers are smarter than they’ve ever been, they’ve read more pop culture and we consume so much entertainment. They’re just so much more sophisticated than they used to be, than any of us were when we were kids reading the book. Back in the day, you read “Days of Future Past” or something like that, it was so Earth-shattering that somebody wrote that story. Now if you do a time-travel story, people know all the intricacies of all the time–travel stories. It has to be so much more sophisticated. So the thematic stuff of the FF, it’s not outdated, but the presentation of it was. What we’re doing is inverting what they do on Mad Men, where they take a show about nostalgia and they inject modernity into it. We’re doing the opposite. We’re taking modernity and we’re injecting nostalgia into it, and then we’re going to stick all of that back inside the Marvel Universe, and therefore make it relevant.

It’s a bit of an experiment. I feel like it’s working, and we’ll see where we go from here.

Personally, even though I'm sad to see him go, I'm looking forward to the inevitable return of the Human Torch as much as I would look forward to a napalm enema. Because I know it'll never be done as well as this:

On a totally different subject, something that Rocks!!

Big Audio Dynamite are reforming!

Mick Jones' post-Clash Rock/Hip Hop/Reggae outfit were one of my favourite bands of the '80s/'90s but I never got to see them live. Hopefully now I'll get that chance.
"Duck you suckers!"

Monday 24 January 2011

Favourite Vocalists

There seem to be a lot of music memes doing the rounds at the moment. I've just done this one on Facebook and thought it might be fun to post it here too. Any comments, lists, outrageous claims etc. are welcome.....

The rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen vocalists that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. *And in no particular order*.

John Lydon ( Sex Pistols / PiL )

Joe Strummer ( The Clash )

John Lennon

Paul McCartney

Bob Marley

Bruce Springsteen

Otis Redding

David Bowie

Richard Manuel ( The Band )

Levon Helm ( The Band )

James Hetfield ( Metallica )

Robert Plant ( Led Zeppelin )

Bob Mould ( Husker Du )

Black Francis ( Pixies )

Wayne Coyne ( Flaming Lips )

Some very obvious choices there :-)

I've just realised I haven't listed any rappers, so I'll cheat and mention these:



Chuck D ( Public Enemy )

Here are a couple more lists from Dez and Geof - Check 'em out!

And, of course, you could always head to 15 Albums for more music witterings.....

Thursday 20 January 2011

Friday 14 January 2011

Songs of 2010

It's way more than fashionably late, I know, but here are my favourite songs from the year some of us called "Twenty-ten", some of us called "Two-thousand-and-ten", and none of us called "Two Zero One Zero".

Female singers kicked all kinds of arse yet again this year, led by the phenomenal Rihanna with:
Love The Way You Lie / Te Amo / Only Girl ( In The World ) / Who's That Chick?
see also:
All The Lovers by Kylie Minogue
Mama Do / Gravity by Pixie Lott
Starry Eyed / Your Song by Ellie Goulding
Raise Your Glass by P!nk
Acapella by Kelis
Telephone by Lady Gaga ( see below for amazing headwear! ) and Beyonce

I mean, which male artists ( outside of Hip Hop ) can compete with these chart-conquering goddesses? Justin Beiber? Enrique Iglesias? Excuse me while I laugh/throw up.....

Well, OK, there were only two male artists that came anywhere near the top of my list in 2010:

The awesome Cee Lo Green with the ubiquitous Forget You

and another artist adopting/adapting the trappings of sweet Soul music:

Plan B ( or his jailbird alter-ego, Strickland Banks, in his nice suit as seen below ) with his Soul/Hip Hop collisions
She Said / Stay Too Long / Love Goes Down

And it was a great year for UK Hip Hop/grime/urban/whatever the hell it's called this week:

Pass Out / Miami To Ibiza by Tinie Tempah ( a good rapper but not so hot on spelling... )
I Need You Tonight / Just Be Good To Green by Professor Green
You've Got The Dirtee Love by Florence and Dizee Rascal
Dirty Disco by Dizee again
Until You Were Gone by Chipmunk and Esmee Denters
Runaway by Devlin and Yasmin

As with 2009, not a great year for Rock, but the stand-out British band for me was Biffy Clyro with their album, Only Revolutions, featuring colossal tunes, huge riffs and very strange lyrics. Best songs:
Bubbles / Mountains / Many Of Horror ( and bollocks to Matt "X Factor puppet" Cardle! )

And from across the Pond came:
American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem
Drunk Girls by LCD Soundsystem
Na Na Na / Bulletproof Heart by My Chemical Romance
Ready To Start by The Arcade Fire

For those quieter moments:
Islands by The xx
Ivy & Gold by Bombay Bicycle Club
Devil's Spoke by Laura Marling
The Cave / Roll Away Your Stone by Mumford & Sons

As ever, there's probably loads I've left out, due to encroaching senility. Expect updates after I've woken up in the middle of the night shouting "Twat! You forgot about....."

Thursday 13 January 2011

Bond Babes: Olga

To celebrate the fantastic news that MGM have finally sorted their financial problems out and another James Bond movie will soon be under way, here are some totally gratuitous pics of the beautiful Olga Kurylenko, star of 2008's Quantum Of Solace.

This is in no way a cheap attempt to equal the pageviews of

Oh, no.....

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Satanic Terror

A big, blood-stained "hello" ( or even "aaaarrrgghhh!!!" ) to new Follower, Jason, the evil genius behind the supremely NSFW blog and comic Fukitor. His work reminds me in all its graphic, non-PC insanity of the Underground Comics greats Greg Irons, Robert Williams and S. Clay Wilson, so here's some of Mr. Wilson's
( relatively tame ) work.....

For those of a nervous disposition, Fukitor is strong, gory, tongue-in-cheek ( or tongue-ripped-out-through-cheek ) stuff.....
you have been warned.....

Saturday 8 January 2011

Steranko Saturdays: Nick Fury, Agent Of SHIELD

As this is the final Steranko Saturday, I'm going to leave you with a treat: all the covers and some interior pages from the Jaunty One's short 1968 run on Nick Fury, Agent Of SHIELD.

Issue One - "Who Is Scorpio?"
The first appearance of Fury's nemesis, the mysterious Scorpio. Behind a none-more-'60s cover, with its allusions to spy-games and intrigue, we find Steranko at the top of his game, producing dazzling artwork, like the following evocation of high speed and danger.....

And this exciting, kinetic double-page splash, showing the "indestructible Nick Fury" facing down Scorpio for the first time.....

Issue Two: "So Shall Ye Reap... Death!"
The title sounds more like one of Stan Lee's than Steranko's, doesn't it? And, unfortunately, that's all I can say for issue 2, except for noting how Kirby-esque the villain looks on the cover, because it's the one Steranko Fury I've never read. ( Face goes red with embarrassment. A bit like Scorpio's. )

Issue Three: "Dark Moon Rise, Hell Hound Kill!"
Fury goes Gothic as he investigates a Baskerville-like curse in the Scottish Highlands. A totally unusual environment for our hard-bitten superspy, but a chance for Steranko to let rip with some creepy, atmospheric artwork. And what a beautiful cover!

Unfortunately, this was the issue ( for me, anyway ) where Steranko's story-telling ability began to desert him. The plot is wrapped up hurriedly with some clumsy exposition, almost as though it was a two-part story that had been truncated, and Steranko commits the cardinal narrative sin of telling you what has happened instead of showing you. On the plus side, we do get some wonderful scenes like this blue-hued beauty:

Issue Four: "And Now It Begins..."
It's the beginning of the end for Steranko's run on the Fury strip, as Roy Thomas and Frank Springer produce a fill-in issue, and a recap of SHIELD's origin story, at that! Even though it's competently done I wouldn't have been too impressed if I'd picked this up back in 1968, expecting more new and dizzying concepts and characters. Still, we do get this glorious, op-art cover.....

Issue Five: "Whatever Happened To Scorpio?"
A tour de force from the master, back on form after issue 3. Our SHIELD director once again confronts Scorpio who, seeking revenge, impersonates Fury and takes his place in the spy organisation to plot an elaborate death trap.....

Steranko's artwork is at its most psychedelic here, especially when Scorpio is hunting Fury ( as seen below ) or when Nick is cast into the "room of a thousand and one traps" and must escape a surreal landscape of death. And the cover ( above! ) is a Bond-esque knockout! To counterbalance all this colour and spectacle there is a lovely domestic scene between Fury and Val, and a wistful final panel as Scorpio is seemingly consigned to a watery grave, while a haunted Nick Fury looks on pensively. Scorpio's identity is revealed to Fury, but not to the reader, so it will be many years before fans discover that Fury's greatest enemy is his own, embittered brother.
As you can probably tell I like this issue a lot :-)
Unfortunately, it turned out to be Steranko's swan song on the comic, but there were still a couple of covers to come.....

Issue Six - "Doom Must Fall!" by Thomas and Springer
The "spacesuit" cover, Steranko's wonderful homage to the late, great Wally Wood and his EC Comics work.....

Issue Seven - "Hours Of Madness, Day Of Death" by Archie Goodwin and Frank Springer
The last of Steranko's covers for the regular SHIELD comic, although he did return for some reprint issues in later years. A creepily surreal illustration of Fury being chased through a Dali-esque landscape ( there's a lot of "-esque"s in this post! ) reminiscent of this page from Captain America no. 111.

And that's it for these irregular Steranko Saturdays. I hope you enjoyed them but it's time for a change now. I'm sure some of the Jaunty One's work will appear on this ol' blog again at some point, but not for a while.
However, if you're still hungry for ground-breaking, psychedelic, pop-art goodness, check out some of these guys who have featured Steranko awesomeness too:

Heroes all!

Tuesday 4 January 2011


Just a quick mention for Bristol's Excelsior comic shop. I discovered it by chance yesterday and was impressed. Very friendly staff, a nice selection of comics and other stuff, and a handy location near Cabot Circus and the motorway. And the main thing is, they're an independent shop, providing an alternative to the omnipresent Forbidden Planet chain.
Good luck to 'em!

I only bought the issue of The Jack Kirby Collector above - was on a budget and short on time - but I'll definitely have to go back.....

Sunday 2 January 2011

Reading update: Books 2010

It's that time again! Yep, time to dredge up my literary favourites from the last year from the dark recesses of my memory. As ever, these are books I read in 2010, not books that were published in 2010 - being a cheapskate I very rarely buy new books :-)

I re-read a few old favourites this year, mostly for the SFX Book Club. I reviewed a few of those and some appeared in the Book Club section in the pages of SFX itself, as well as this 'ere blog:

Life During Wartime by Lucius Shepard
Lord Of Light by Roger Zelazny

I also re-read
The Fountains Of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke.
Probably Clarke's last great novel, Fountains is a fascinating account of the building of a great space-elevator, situated on a fictionalised version of Sri Lanka, known as Taprobane. As well as the thrilling adventures of Clarke's archetypal science-hero, Vannevar Morgan, the story also flashes back hundreds of years through the history of the island's kings and religious leaders, giving us the other element that often balances out Arthur C.'s science: mysticism. Good, old-fashioned SF fun.

I also delved back into my collection for.....
Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock
This was a novel I'd only read once, over 20( ! ) years ago, and had always promised myself I would read again. ( The SFX Book Club gave me that excuse..... but I missed the deadline by one day. Prat. ) Anyway, Holdstock's earthy but enchanting fantasy proved to be just as exciting, page-turning and romantic as I remembered it to be. And the last page still makes me cry. I'm not really a great fantasy fan, especially in these days when bookshops are seemingly full of bloated, sub-Tolkien trilogies, but Holdstock mines a deep, rich seam of myths and archetypes here, and his creation of the "mythago" is surely one of the great genre inventions of recent times.

To move on to new ( to me ) books I discovered a whole new science fiction universe in:
Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
A dizzying plunge into adventure and Big SF Concepts, I reviewed it here, and recommend it for a glimpse into a universe almost as compelling as that of The Culture.

And, heading into the mainstream ( whatever that is ) we come to:

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
This sombre romance of the American Civil War swept me along in its vivid evocation of love, loss and longing in desperate times. The story alternates between the twin narratives of the deserter Inman's long road home from the war, and his sweetheart Ada's attempts to keep herself and her farm going whilst enduring grinding poverty. Not exactly a barrel of laughs but totally convincing in its nineteenth-century milieu, with some hauntingly beautiful passages describing the landscapes and seasons of the Old South. ( I couldn't get The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down out of my head as I read this book..... )

A History Of The World In 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes
A funny but philosophical collection of stories and essays on the subjects of history, love, loss, evolution and religion. Recurring motifs of shipwrecks, voyages and floods flow through the book as Barnes' sly, witty voice reflects on the triumphs and follies of mankind, and tells some good jokes in the process.

Death In Venice by Thomas Mann.
Probably the book that disappointed me the most this year. I knew that the story itself was slight - author hangs around Venice, obsesses about a young boy, reflects on his life, sickens and dies - but I had expected something more. It is obviously well-written
( or well-translated ) but the classical allusions are mostly lost on me and I found it all a bit cold and uninvolving.

For a total change of pace:

The Penguin Book Of Modern Humour ( ed. Alan Coren )
A wide-ranging 1982 collection of humorous short stories and novel extracts, from the savage wit of Clive James and S.J. Perelman, through the absurdities of Woody Allen and Joseph Heller, to the perfectly-constructed vignettes of Damon Runyan and Ring Lardner. More hits than misses and an introduction to many authors I'd never read before.

Some non-fiction to finish:

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Often seen as the first great non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood is Capote's unflinching look at the infamous 1959 murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas and the subsequent capture, trial and executions of the murderers. The insight into the senseless murders and the sad, pathetic lives of the killers themselves is grim, but compelling, reading. I don't go in for "True Crime" books, as they usually seem squalid and sensationalising, but Capote's firm style and detailed knowledge of the case ( as well as the book's reputation ) made this an exception. It was worth reading, but hardly "enjoyable" and I'll probably never read it again.....

Invisible Republic by Greil Marcus
Baffling but brilliant, this is Marcus' treatise on Bob Dylan and the Band's Basement Tapes, a collection of rough 'n' ready hymns to the "old, weird America" that the modern world was steadily eroding. Using Dylan's oblique, bawdy and hilarious songs as a springboard, Marcus shoots off at tangents to discuss American history, culture and myths, in a dense and challenging book that I'll have to revisit again and again to fully understand.

Bill Hicks - Love All The People
This seemingly un-authored book ( not even an editor is credited ) is a collection of stand-up routines, letters and prose by the late, great, sadly-missed Bill Hicks. Although repetitive ( we see the evolution of Hicks' routines, so many lines are repeated ) this book is a treasure-trove of iconoclastic, scabrous humour. Bill Hicks was one of the most challenging, angry and troubled comedians of his day, but also one whose love for the human race equalled his hatred for their "leaders". He was on a mission of enlightenment and didn't mind if he pissed a few people off in the process. And he did. Gloriously.
"I am a misanthropic humanist. It's a weird conflict when you are your own bete-noire. Do I like people? They're great in theory."

Aaaaaand finally:
I'm currently reading
The Steep Approach To Garbadale by Iain Banks
Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg

Phew! That's all for now.....

Saturday 1 January 2011

Steranko Saturdays: Strange Tales

Well, I had to get there eventually: my favourite Jim Steranko strip - Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD.

Steranko started work on the SHIELD strip with issue 151 of Strange Tales, over Jack Kirby's layouts, but The King soon moved on and Jaunty Jim took the strip to new heights of surreal, outlandish, spy-fi adventure.
But you knew that anyway. This is my history of the Steranko SHIELD.....

Nick Fury was a character that I'd seen popping up in different corners of the Marvel Universe in the early 1970s. ( This was the British Marvel Universe of black and white reprints. It differed from the original MU in many, subtle ways: lack of colour, words like "aluminium" spelt properly, Communist villains given new names and fictional homelands, things like that... )
Fury was, from what I could gather, a two-fisted, unshaven, eye-patch wearing superspy, who would appear in adventures of The Incredible Hulk or the Fantastic Four or Captain America, bark orders at people, wave guns around and then disappear again. I wasn't too impressed with him.

Later, due to the increasingly bizarre chronology of British Marvel reprints, Fury turned up in a solo strip in the equally bizarre "sideways" comic, The Titans. This was the Lee/Kirby Agent Of SHIELD, which introduced me to Hydra, the SHIELD Helicarrier, "Dum Dum" Dugan and co., and the whole Bond/UNCLE-influenced world of Marvel's superspy fraternity. This was all great fun with suitably explosive, gadget-packed artwork by The King and patriotic, corny dialogue by The Man.

But then, towards the end of the strip's run in The Titans, a certain Mr. Steranko showed up. At first his style was constrained by the need to work over Kirby's layouts ( something Lee insisted on for certain artists, so they could pick up the Marvel way of working ) but he soon moved on to handling all the creative duties and the strip blossomed. A whirlwind of new concepts and characters were introduced:
Baron Von Strucker ( a new take on an old character ), Hydra's deadly Dreadnought, the Q-Ray, Hydra Island, Fury's nifty new jumpsuit, the Satan Claw ( see above ).....

And, just when I thought things couldn't get any more exciting, Nick Fury was promoted from The Titans to the debut issue of the UK's own superhero, Captain Britain! And in full colour too!

Fresh from his defeat of the hordes of Hydra, Fury went back to "Spy School" where he met with superspy-babe the Contessa Valentina Allegro De Fontaine ( aka Val ) who promptly knocked him on his behind, and Captain America who embroiled Fury in a multi-issue struggle with the legions of the Yellow Claw. No rest for the wicked!

From this point on, the strip became even bolder and more dynamic. Steranko's panel layouts, use of colour, pacing, and op-art influences went stratospheric. Taking the best of Eisner, Krigstein and Kirby and fusing them with his own psychedelic effects, Steranko created a new approach to the character which really did live up to Stan Lee's aim to "out-Bond Bond and out-UNCLE UNCLE."

And this was probably the height of Steranko's narrative powers. Working to a strict, 10-page episode every month ( chopped in half in weekly instalments for the UK version ) he kept the storyline barrelling along without the self-indulgences of later work.

And, for a creator who is often criticised for weak characterisation, Steranko's cast of characters here are well-defined and distinctive. Fury himself finally gained a past as he mused on childhood days in Hell's Kitchen, or reminisced with Val about people they had lost in wars and spy-games. Val, Clay Quatermain, Laura Brown, "The Gaff", Gabe Jones, "Dum Dum", Jimmy Woo and Suwan all have their roles to play and often give the impression of having life outside those four-colour comic panels.
And, of course, some of them got to appear on an iconic cover.....

Back in the UK Marvelverse, the Captain Britain comic soon lost its expensive colour and became just another b&w mag before it limped on to its demise. Later SHIELD stories ( especially Dark Moon Rise, Hell Hound Kill! ) looked pretty good in monochrome, but I was glad to have read the indomitable SHIELD agent's struggle with the nefarious Yellow Claw in full Steranko-colour!

Of course, in later years, I bought the original version of Fury's adventures in yellowing old copies of Strange Tales - one of the best Silver Age titles, in my opinion, with its roll-call of such fantastic creators as Lee and Kirby, Ditko, Marie Severin, Bill Everett, Dan Adkins, John Buscema etc. etc. And a certain former escape-artist, magician and musician, James Steranko.

( I had intended to wrap up Steranko Saturdays by the end of 2010 but circumstances tripped me up, as usual. So, there will probably be just one more post to come of this irregular series and, if you didn't like this one, I'm afraid you won't like the next one either as it concentrates on Steranko's short-lived Agent Of SHIELD solo title. You have been warned..... )


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