Sunday 18 February 2024

Steranko Sunday: X-Men 51

Long-time readers of this 'ere blog ( pauses for hysterical laughter at the thought of such mythical creatures ) may remember I used to produce a semi-regular feature here called Steranko Saturdays, devoted to the works of that comic book maverick, Jim Steranko. In the spirit of that long-lost series, I thought I'd do a quick post about a recent acquisition: X-Men 51 ( December 1969 ), the second issue of the Jaunty One's brief, two-part stint on the mag. So, it's Steranko. On a Sunday.
To be honest, this comic was never going to win any awards. The lead strip, a 15-page story featuring the X-Men facing off against their mortal enemy, Magneto, and his army of henchmen, is a bit of a mess. Arnold Drake's script features a lot of "down with the kids", late-1960s groovy dialogue, which is often painfully over the top, but also has much heavy lifting to do as Steranko's story-telling powers seem to have deserted him, frequently leaving the dialogue and captions to fill in the blanks. This is the continuation of the previous issue's introduction of Lorna Dane's alter-ego, Polaris, who starred on the iconic cover of issue no. 50 but gets lost in the mix this time. There's a lot of mutant-on-mutant action ( spicy! ) and a minimum of coherence. Steranko's artwork itself has its moments ( he draws a foxy Marvel Girl! ) but the scratchy inking by John Tartaglione lessens its impact.
The back-up strip is another in the series of untold origins of our merry mutants, this time a Beast story by Drake, Tartaglione and long-term X-Men penciller Werner Roth. Average super hero fare which looks staid when up against the Steranko work, even if it's one of Steranko's weaker efforts for Marvel.
I've not been too complimentary about this comic, but it's still good fun and the cover is wonderful: this is what most attracted me, as I've always loved it, and I used to have a black and white copy of it stuck on my bedroom wall when I was a kid. Typically for a Marvel comic, the cover depicts a scene that doesn't actually happen in the issue, but it's a terrifically moody and atmospheric slice of Steranko goodness.

I bought this issue ( graded at VG, cost £20 ) from the amazing Out Of This World in the fair city of Worcester. I'd meant to visit this shop for quite some time and finally got round to it last weekend. The shop is a real Aladdin's cave of Silver and Bronze Age treasures and I could have easily spent hundreds of pounds in there... luckily, I reigned it in and just picked up this one comic, but I'll have to get back there for another look when funds allow. The owner, Gary, is a friendly guy, very knowledgeable about comics, and we had a lovely long chat, until Sarah arrived and reminded me I should have met her in Costa 10 minutes ago. Oops! Comic fans, eh?

Thursday 8 February 2024

Christopher Priest

I was sad to hear recently that the great science fiction author, Christopher Priest, has passed away at the age of 80. Priest was one of my favourite writers and his haunting, deceptively complex novels had a profound impact on me.

His novels were disturbing, chilly views into unreliable realities: always technically brilliant, always thought-provoking. Priest made his name as a science fiction author with such novels as Fugue For A Darkening Island and Inverted World, but his fiction quickly moved on to become uncategorisable, nearer to the "mainstream" ( whatever that is ) but, paradoxically, further away from standard literary fiction with its seemingly-endless supply of navel-gazing. Priest's characters always seemed trapped in hostile landscapes, puzzles and mental mazes, always searching for meaning which proved to be slippery and contradictory.

While this all sounds a bit dry, Priest's coolly deliberate prose allowed his characters' emotional states to slowly work out on the page, especially more so in recent novels like The Separation and The Adjacent. Recurring themes of magic, illusions, split / double personalities and, above all, the unreliability of perception gave his stories an eerie, fable-like quality. At the same time, he was unafraid to tackle such current issues as terrorism, climate change and xenophobia, grounding the fantastic in our own uncertain world. The term "slipstream" could almost have been coined specifically for his illusive, allusive work.

I don't think Christopher Priest has ever received the praise and attention he really deserved, probably because of the very nature of his work, but there are certainly a lot of fans who have enjoyed puzzling over his intriguing fiction. His passing is a great loss to the literary world, but I'll leave the last words to his partner, Nina Allan:

Chris’s physical presence may have left us, but as readers we are lucky: a writer’s soul is immortal, instantly present and accessible through the stories, essays, criticism and novels they have left for us to find. As I said to Chris many times these past weeks and months, in this most important and essential of ways, he will always be with us. The work goes on.

Friday 26 January 2024

First gig of 2024: Dub Catalyst in Bristol

Three weeks ago ( this blog is nothing, if not current! ), Sarah and I went to our first gig of the year, and it was a belter! Our good friend Caz plays trombone for Gloucester's premier Reggae / Dub / Hip Hop outfit Dub Catalyst and we surprised her by turning up at this hot, sweaty gig in good ol' Bristol.     ( Hopefully it was a nice surprise! ) The venue was Mr. Wolf's, a very hip 'n' groovy pub / nightclub in the St Nicholas area of the city. Support came from Yuzu Coulis, a Jazz / Soul three-piece who seemed very talented but whose music was just a little too laid back for my liking. I'd probably see them again but Sarah wasn't bothered. As they weren't the most exciting band to watch, we spent a bit of time catching up with Cazbo before she had to take to the ( extremely tiny ) stage...

Dub Catalyst somehow squeeeezed all ten band members ( including the probably superfluous tambourine player ) into the narrow space allotted them and proceeded to blow the roof off the gaff.

Their music is a red-hot gumbo of reggae/dub/hip hop/jazz groovyness, with positive vibes just beaming out of them. All incredibly talented musicians who clearly love what they do, Dub Catalyst instantly won over Mr. Wolf's clientele with their good-time dance music and mellow energy. Highlights were Coffee ( a hymn to staying caffeinated ) and the epic Return Of The Samurai, with some wonderful "rhyme saying" from rappin' / toastin' frontman JPDL. ( No, I don't know his real name, although Caz just calls him Dave. ) Pretty soon everyone was dancing, with Sarah and I bagging a spot at the front, until it got too hot for her and she had to duck out.

It was a fantastic gig to start the year and we're hoping to see the band again as soon as we can. In fact, only tonight the first bands were announced for this year's Wychwood Festival ( where we had such a great weekend last year ) and Dub Catalyst will be playing at that cool event in the Summer. Get your tickets now!

Tuesday 9 January 2024

Things I didn't blog about in 2023: Awesome Artwork

It's apparently a new year, so of course that means I'll start posting all the stuff I was too lazy or disorganised to post in the last year. I'll start with ( as the blog title implies ) some amazingly awesome artwork. First of all, here's a Pulp-inspired piece by the hugely-talented Mark Reynolds, whose work can be found at Stuff By Mark. He produces some cracking Pop art, drawing on influences from old movie posters and classic songs. And, unlike, many chancers who basically steal "vintage" artwork and reproduce it as their own, Mark is an imaginative, accomplished artist with a keen eye and a dry wit. After the phenomenal Pulp gig in Manchester last Summer, it was a no-brainer for me to buy this limited-edition print and give it to Sarah for her birthday. She loves the song Common People ( and Pulp songs in general ) so she was more than happy with this representation of what is possibly Jarvis Cocker's greatest line. I don't own the artwork below ( unfortunately ) but it's another of Mark's pieces, a cheeky interpretation of Pulp's Disco 2000 as an Archie comic. Isn't it great?

Casting my ancient and twisted mind further back in time, I find myself in balmy Bedford back in September 2023. Here, at the awesome NICE comics con, I bought the lovely warrior woman print below from the equally lovely Liam Sharp...

I bent Liam's ear at some length about his stupendous Starhenge comic, and how I thought it was one of the most fab, groovy and cosmically-aware mags I'd read since the halcyon days of Heavy Metal. He seemed suitably happy with that and we also chatted about his recent move back to Brexit Island after years in the States, and about his old mucker, the late, lamented Steve Dillon...

Bedford's premier comic shop, Close Encounters, was showcasing some of Dillon's original artwork, to coincide with NICE con, which they organise. After leaving the con, I literally had half an hour to spare before meeting Sarah so I hot-footed it ( as best I could at the time, with a dodgy back ) to Close Encounters to check out the awesome artwork. ( Hey! Good name for a blog post! ) The gallery was a real treasure-trove of wonders, featuring iconic pages from 2000 AD, Warrior, Preacher, Doctor Who Weekly ( as was ) plus many more pulsatin' publications. It really showed what a loss to the world the passing of the great Steve Dillon was...

Finally, a completely different style of artwork: a beautiful, Aardman-inspired mural in Bristol, the home of Wallace and Gromit, Morph, Shaun the Sheep etc. etc.

Cracking cheese, Gromit!

Monday 1 January 2024

Happy New Year from The Glass Walking-Stick

Here's wishing you lovely people in the Blogosphere a 2024 filled with peace, love and light x


Related Posts with Thumbnails