Archive for March, 2009

You’ve finished Watchmen, so what’s next?

Posted in Comics, Film on March 29, 2009 by thebigsmoke

If you frequent bookshops, even only occasionally, you can’t have helped but noticed that it is now obligatory for every single book shop to have a pile of copies of Watchmen in the window, usually flanked by Dave Gibbons’ Watching the Watchmen, Watchmen: The Art of the Film and numerous other spin-offs. I actually saw a copy of a book called Watchmen and Philosophy in Waterstones the other day, which is dumber than Kelly Brook. Boxes of Alan Moore’s other titles are being dusted off and dragged out from storage, and there’s even a new version of the V for Vendetta collection coming out. Nobody bothered to bring out a new version when the movie adaptation of V for Vendetta was released, but things are different now Watchmen has come out. People are reading Watchmen. I’ve actually seen people reading Watchmen on trains. Normal people on their way to work. Reading Watchmen.

Being the most cunning gathering of foxes ever to publish comic books, DC has just launched The idea is to get all those normal people, the non-geeks who have unashamedly read Watchmen in public places, to try other titles.

DC’s suggestions are, naturally enough, all other DC titles. This makes the list of recommendations a bit limited, but it’s not at all bad and there are some good comics listed.

The biggest problem DC has in compiling a list of titles like this is if people are looking for other titles like Watchmen, well, there isn’t anything else like it. Not when it comes right down to it.

I’ve been reading comics a long time and I’m pretty confident in saying nothing else comes close. Sure, there are great comics to be read — you only have to trawl through my previous posts to find a few examples — but not like Watchmen.

One of the things which sets Watchmen apart is how literary it is. Like most good novels, Watchmen is a stand alone narrative, with no sequels or spin-offs; it is not a part of an ongoing comic book series. The writing is rich in meaning, often poetic, always excellent.

There are other consciously literary comics (including a number written by Alan Moore), but Watchmen is also a sort of meta-comic (a comic book about comic books). It carefully deconstructs the medium and in doing so both exposes its flaws and elevates it to something incredibly special. There are other comics which have tried to do the same, but in my opinion nothing which comes close to being as good as Watchmen.

Those casual readers, those sorry little fuckers reading Watchmen without putting in any work in, who haven’t read hundreds of other comics, who don’t have a fucking clue what effect blue Kryptonite has or any of that other crap — those casual readers are going to be very disappointed if they’re looking for something else like Watchmen.

I love the writing on titles like Swamp Thing, Preacher and Animal Man, but for the uninitiated reader they’re probably going to be harder going than the twelve-issue Watchmen. You have to be prepared to wade through some crap and read some lengthy runs to reap the rewards of comics, and frankly I doubt most readers are prepared to go that extra mile.


The Wire

Posted in Television on March 26, 2009 by thebigsmoke

I know I’m late to the party with this one. I’m so late there’s absolutely nothing left to drink, not even a lone can of lager at the back of the fridge or in the bath. Someone’s put on a “chill out” compilation, but shit, it’s being replaced by Portishead’s first album. The guy cuing up Portishead, who has dreadlocks and enjoys snowboarding, has warned me not to go in the downstairs toilet because someone threw up. I should just leave, catch a nightbus home, but fuck it, I might as well wait an hour and jump on a tube.

You may or may not be aware of this, but the first season of The Wire aired way back in 2002 and the fifth and final season finished on HBO just over a year ago. To put that in perspective, About a Boy was in cinemas. About a Boy starred a young Nicholas Hoult. Five years later (2007), he starred in the very first season of Skins.

So I’m late to the party, but I’m not so late as the BBC. As far as my already-stretched metaphor is concerned, the Beeb is still putting on her make-up and hasn’t even called a taxi yet. That’s right, because The Wire is fantastic television, no doubt about it, but the BBC is just about to start showing the first season of The Wire, and with a good degree of hype. Surely it’s the responsibility of the BBC to pick up on groundbreaking drama as it happens. Airing it this late in the game is more of a slap in the face to license payers, I think much more so than if they ignored it completely. Airing it now (and promoting it) is admitting it’s a good show, which they think people will be interested in, but they were way too out of touch to pick it up seven years ago.

Does the show deserve the attention now, so long after it first aired? Well, yes, of course, but you all know that, right? You’ve seen it on DVD just like I have. Like everybody has.

Once I got past D’Angelo Barksdale’s uncanny resemblance to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, I quickly grew to love the intricate jigsaw puzzle of a show. The Wire is a heavyweight contender for the title of best cop show ever, no question about it. Hell, you could just splice together all of Omar’s scenes, in any particular order, and you’d have an award winning show right there.


Posted in Television on March 21, 2009 by thebigsmoke

“She fucked you up good, didn’t she? Nobody hits me over the head with a rock. Loser.” — Emily

A lot of the storylines in Skins are the sort of storylines you might find in any soap, but in Skins there’s usually a scene in which someone mistakenly takes a massive amount of drugs. Rest assured, as soon as someone starts cooking anything in an episode of Skins, someone else will pull out a huge bag of MDMA and pour it into the mixture. I for one would like to see this approach to scripting used in other shows, like 24 or The Wire perhaps.

It’s quite easy to poke fun, but the drama in Skins is actually quite superb; head and shoulders above most stuff on British television. Honestly, I absolutely love watching the show and never shy away from telling people how great it is. However, I am sometimes inclined to call it a guilty pleasure, which is a shame. The scripting is so good and it’s such an enjoyable show, so why should it be a guilty pleasure? Why should I feel any need to justify watching it? It’s because, usually, when I mention watching the show, I get a surprised response. The general consensus seems to be Skins is a television show for kids and it’s precisely this which causes me to be on the defensive.

I have to concede, sites like MySpace and Bebo are no doubt plastered with promotional pictures, video clips and comments about the show. I can’t even begin to argue the show doesn’t appeal to teenagers, but I think it’s good enough in it’s own right to be recognised as such and appreciated by people over the eighteen.

It’s hard to keep the acting of a high standard in a show with so many young, inexperienced actors, but the cast of Skins does a pretty good job usually. The kids are quite rightly the stars of the show, but there’s a steady conveyer belt of established British acting and comedy talent lending support in the parent and teacher roles.

The show’s outrageousness is a great big in-joke, the joke being that as soon as you let yourself be outraged you’ve shown yourself up as out of touch. It reminds me of Bill Grundy’s infamous interview with the Sex Pistols, during which he managed to demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of youth in general and the punk movement in particular.

The action in Skins is an exaggerated version of teenage life, but at its core it feels quite real to me. I know as soon as I begin to analyse it I’ll sound past it, that you don’t need to analyse it if you’re a teenager because it will appeal on a very basic level. For me, though, the appeal is more nostalgic, because I think Skins captures the arrogant belief of each generation that it’s tapped into something superior to anything which came before. Discovering sex, drugs and nu rave is an exhilerating time and I remember it fondly (okay, not the nu rave bit, but you catch my drift). See, I told you it would make me sound past it. It could be worse, though, because at least I’m not so past it I’ve forgotten what it was like.

I leave you with the brilliant trailer for the brilliant third season, now almost finished (embedding is sadly disabled, but you can click on the video to take you to the trailer on YouTube). Channel 4 wisely fucked the original cast off to the world of adulthood and kept the casting fresh.

Greybeard and the writing style of Brian Aldiss

Posted in Books on March 19, 2009 by thebigsmoke

A while back, I posted a short commentary on Aldiss’ brilliant Hothouse. Apparently, I was a few small steps ahead of the publishing world, because Penguin Modern Classics has just reprinted it and I even saw it in Waterstones’ “Hidden Gems” section.

More recently, I picked up Aldiss’ Greybeard hoping for more out there sci-fi wackiness. I bought my copy for a pittance on eBay, which I have found is really a great way to buy obscure and underrated books. Greybeard isn’t as interesting as Hothouse, but it’s a pretty solid read nonetheless. It has a similar premise to the movie Children of Men, but takes the idea further. The pace of the book is a little slow, unfortunately, and some of the chapters feel superfluous, but there are some fine episodes.

I’ve read what are generally considered to be Aldiss’ finest books and have noticed some common themes. If you want to write engaging, fun, but dated science fiction like Aldiss’, you could follow these steps:

  • Make your hero male, but give him a female companion;
  • Your hero should be naive or even ignorant, yet curious and basically intelligent;
  • Send him on a journey through the strange landscape of a primative world;
  • Except make it so that the primative world is actually the Earth of the future;
  • Introduce mysterious creatures which appear to pose a threat;
  • The twist is these mysterious creatures are actually humans of the future.

Drag Me To Hell

Posted in Film on March 15, 2009 by thebigsmoke

Looks like someone had a quiet word with Sam Raimi, told him to stop screwing up the Spider-Man franchise and get back to what he does best. I for one am glad, because Drag Me To Hell looks to be terrific stuff.

Saturday morning, it’s time for The Watchmen!

Posted in Comics, Film on March 13, 2009 by thebigsmoke

Who watched The Watchmen?

Posted in Comics, Film on March 13, 2009 by thebigsmoke

I did, so I’m going to write this while it’s all still reasonably fresh in my memory. If you read my previous comments on the movie you might expect a scathing review. Sorry to disappoint, but it wasn’t all that bad. In fact, it was pretty good, all things considered.

The choice to use lesser known actors and actresses was a good one, and there were some great performances. I did particularly enjoy Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian was also pretty impressive.

I don’t think it’s unfair to say Snyder is a heavy-handed director. I liked some of the classic rock tracks that adorned the soundtrack (certainly more than the Smashing Pumpkins track used in the first trailer), but some of the music was too recognisable and dominated a little too much. Similarly, I don’t think of myself as someone who shys away from sex and violence in movies, but there were some pretty gratuitous scenes in The Watchmen and I thought it was unnecessary. Yes, the action in the comic was great, and most of it translates pretty well, but some of the Snyder’s flourishes detracted. Also, he seemed to concentrate on the wrong things, making some bits excessively gory then leaving scenes where perhaps being more explicit would have added something.

I’m torn about the ending, because on the one hand I always thought the ending in the comic was slightly bizarre; without giving too much away, it was something which could only ever really work in a comic. On the other hand, the new ending felt a bit flat and lacked the doom-laden piz-zazz of the original twist.

All in all, The Watchmen was a good movie. It’s certainly the best adaptation of Alan Moore’s work thus far, but that’s essentially because it’s the most faithful; it’s certainly not because of Zack Snyder’s directorial interpretation. In fact, the bits which were innovative sometimes misfired and generally lacked the intelligence of the bits scripted by Alan Moore.

Maybe this viewpoint means I am a huge geek (probably), but I feel like okay, Zack Snyder isn’t exactly an intelligent director, but obviously you can’t go too wrong if you just stick to the source material. I hope other directors take notice, because comics do not get shown even half the respect which novels do when it comes to adaption.

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