Archive for the Television Category

52 Book Pick up: April update!

Posted in Books, Film, Television on April 30, 2013 by thebigsmoke

I don’t think I’m going to finish another book before the end of the month, so here’s my April update.

18. The Rat On Fire by George V. Higgins


Higgins has probably always been best known for The Friends of Eddie Coyle, although he also wrote Cogan’s Trade, on which last year’s Killing Them Softly was based.  Higgins’ stories are told mostly through different exchanges; meetings between the main characters, who discuss what has happened and what it means.  There are long passages of dialogue.

Although I am familiar with his work, this is the first proper book of his that I have read.  I found it to be a good, entertaining read, if not exactly action-packed.

19. Seduction Of The Innocent by Max Allan Collins


I did’t realise until I began reading that this is the third part in a trilogy of books from this prolific crime writer.  This book, like the earlier two, focusses on Jack and Maggie Starr, an unlikely pair of detective-cum-comic book publishers.  Collins has dabbled with comics in his other work (most notably Road to Perdition and Dick Tracy), so the mix of comic book history and murder mystery in Seduction of the Innocent is not so unusual as it might seem at first.

Each book in the short series revolves a dramatised version of a real life event in comic book history.  The focus in this one is the backclash against the comic book industry in the wake of publications by  Dr Fredric Wertham durig the 1940s.  Under pressure, the industry began regulating itself and the Comic Code was born.

To me at least the history is fascinating, so I enjoyed Collins’ alternate version of events set against a whodunnit.  How could I not enjoy this?  It’s a well-written amalgam of things I love.  My only major criticism is that, fascinating as the history was, the whodunnit was clunky and the outcome far too predictable.  Still, this was definitely good enough that I want to read the earlier parts of the trilogy now.

20. Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets by David Simon


I only managed a measly four books this month and Homicide is the reason why.  This tome took a little over two weeks for me to read, leaving me with half a month to read anything else.  Still, it was totally worth it and this is book of the month for me.

Although it was written in the late 1980s, the book only really became popular in the last decade.  The author, David Simon, is creator of the phenomenal hit TV show The Wire.  As you can see from the cover above, Homicide has more recently been promoted as a sort of addendum to The Wire.  Consequently, it’s been rediscovered by readers and critics alike, who have come to it with a new kind of appreciation.

However, Homicide is a journalistic work, written when Simon was working for the Baltimore Sun.  He spent a year with the Baltimore’s Homicide Unit and then catalogued the investigations which he witnessed first hand.  Although the events described are all real, the book reads like fiction.  Even writing this short review I have to keep stopping myself from saying it was “based on” or “inspired by” true life, because Homicide is not a novel.

It is, however, a spellbinding snapshot of the stranger-than-fiction process of murder investigation.  Simon’s writing is thoughtful and it’s his reflections on the bigger picture which allow you to see the germ of the ideas which were later explored in The Wire.  This one definitely deserves its critical acclaim.

21. The Blackbird by Richard Stark


The third of the four Grofield novels by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake).  I thought the second was a little off piste when I read it in a couple of months back, but this one was way off.

I always loved the Grofield character in the Parker novels, but in The Blackbird he’s shoehorned into a James Bond-style role that just doesn’t quite work.  Better than readable, but this one simply missed the mark for me.


Cool stuff I want, Part 100,000,011: Cactus Jack T-Shirt

Posted in Stuff, Television on January 25, 2013 by thebigsmoke

Bang, bang! This entry may or may not fall into the category of “cool”, depending on how you feel about wrestling. I am unashamedly a big fan of Mick Foley (A.K.A. Cactus Jack, Dude Love and Mankind) both in the wresling ring and out. I am currently enjoying his first autobiography, Have a Nice Day (I have already read the second, Foley is Good) and it’s making me want to wear one of these t-shirts. I might even get a red flannel shirt to go with it and take to wearing it all the time. Here’s the get-up in action:

And some of Foley’s wrestling highlights, for you poor, poor uninitiated:

5 comics which should be adapted and 5 comics that shouldn’t

Posted in Comics, Film, Television on January 7, 2013 by thebigsmoke

Arguably we need more comic book adaptations like we need more TV shows about the Kardashians, but I’m going to plough on regardless.

Although comic books have been relentlessly mined for ideas by Hollywood, there are still some books and characters which have yet to be fully exploited.  With this in mind, here are five which I think would lend themselves to great television or movie adaptations and five which wouldn’t.

Comics which should be adapted:

5. Daredevil


I struggled with number 5 on this list and I know, I know; there was already a Daredevil movie.  However, it was terrible, despite the fact that to me Daredevil seems well-suited for movie adaptation.  Although his powers are fantastical, there has always been a serious quality to the character which could translate well to live action.  Frank Miller’s ‘Man Without Fear’ and ‘Born Again’ story arcs need further attention.

4. Incognito


This series has a great hook: Zack Overkill is a supervillain in witness protection who finds that his powers are no longer being dampened by the government-issued drugs he’s taking.  After a few good deeds, he finds he has once again brought himself to the attention of the supervillain community against which he testified.  No boring origin story, just a novel idea that draws you in.

3. Iron Fist


The potential for amazing action and fight choreography makes this one obvious to me.  Plus Iron Fist is just really cool, even if he’s not as well-known as the likes of Iron Man or Captain America.  I put the character a little above other notables like Black Panther and Dr Strange in terms of awesome movie potential.

2. Super Crooks


Mark Millar’s stuff lends itself well to movie adaptation (Wanted, Kick Ass).  This is partly because he obviously writes with movie adaptation in mind.  If this is unfair then at the very least I think he visualizes his comics as movies as he’s writing, which gives them a unique dynamic quality.  The first volume of Super Crooks was a great self-contained heist story starring a bunch of second tier supervillains.  With the inclusion of this and Incognito, I am maybe a sucker for stories centred on supervillains; but this one is begging for movie treatment.

1. Y: The Last Man


Ask me to pick my favourite comic book series of all time and Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man is up there.  Literally overnight, every male animal on Earth dies from a mysterious “plague” but for Yorick Brown.  The rest of the series chronicles his heart-rending quest to discover why he was spared and find a way to repopulate the male population.

The success of The Walking Dead TV show there is an appetite for this kind of thing.  Although the two series have several qualities in common, I found Y: The Last Man a better read than TWD, with a more interesting premise.  The series never loses momentum and the ending is completely satisfying.

Comics which shouldn’t be adapted:

5. Nemesis


Another character-owned series from Mark Millar, and there was talk of Tony Scott filming an adaptation before his suicide in 2011.  My objection to it being adapted: it’s just not all that good.  Leave it alone.

4. Luke Cage


The original “Hero for Hire” is one of my favourite characters ever, but there was a time to bring Luke Cage to the big screen and that time was called the 1970s.  Seriously, the comic started as a response to the popularity of blaxploitation films (he even operated out of a cinema on 42nd Street) and that’s the kind of Luke Cage movie I want to see.  Modern-day Cage is sort of dull thanks to Brian Michael Bendis’ treatment.

3. Sandman


I may be slightly prejudiced here, because I’ve never been bowled over by the comics or anything much from Neil Gaiman.  However, Sandman is one of the most popular comic books ever written and has received all kinds of acclaim for its literary pretentions, and I do understand why people heap praise on the comics.  I think the stories work just fine in comics, but try translating it to the screen and you will start to see some cracks.

2. Preacher


Preacher is on a par with Y: The Last Man in terms of picking my favourite comic book series, but these days I have very little interest in seing a movie or television adaptation.  I read Garth Ennis’ proposed movie script and it was horrible, but even without that wake-up call I struggle to see how the gross out humour and extreme violence which defined the comic could make it to the big screen intact.

1. Justice League


The Avengers movie showed that superhero team movies can work, but the Avengers are a different kind of team to the Justice League.  What do I mean?  Well, the Justice League has always been a bit of a clusterfuck.  The truth is Superman is vastly powerful and more capable than most if not all of the rest of the team.  Although as iconic and popular, Batman is completely without special abilities and Christopher Nolan’s trilogy seems to show that as a character in movies he is best suited to a more realistic setting.  I cringe when I imagine Christian Bale’s Batman side by side with costumed heroes like Wonder Woman, Superman and Green Lantern.  It works in the comics, but it’s a stretch to make a live action version at all credible.  I know it looks like a cash cow on paper, but don’t bother, Warner Brothers.

Now that the dust has settled… The Big Smoke at Kapow! Comic Con again

Posted in Books, Comics, Film, Television, Video Games on May 20, 2012 by thebigsmoke

I wrote quite a bit about the Kapow! convention last year, so I figured I may as well put up a few words about this year’s event.

At first I thought it was less popular than last year, but now I’m not so sure. I think maybe it was just better organised, as they used the multiple layers of the Design Centre a little more effectively. The artists (apart from David Lloyd) were not elbow to elbow with the retailers. The queues were managed well and they had a ticketing system for the panels, so there was no chance of queueing up only to be told you wouldn’t be allowed in. I remember queuing to try and see Thor last year was pretty painful, so I’m glad I was spared a repeat of that experience. I still think the Design Centre only semi-works as a venue, but overall they had made some obvious improvements to the planning.

I got to see Nick Frost and meet Jonathan Ross, which was very cool. Wossy was very friendly and patient with my shitty camera phone, so when I eventually get around to reading some of his comics I won’t be able to be anything but nice. Besides, I witnessed his wrestling prowess and am a bit scared of saying anything which might upset him.

Nick Frost was promoting Snow White and the Huntsman, which frankly looks a bit rubbish. Be honest, when was the last time they did one of these fairly tale adaptations and it seemed anything but lame? It might just about be better than the upcoming Jack the Giant Killer, which I thought was some kind of joke at first. That aside, he was pretty entertaining.

Good times then, capped off with lots of excellent food in great company, some drinking, and watching the drama of the Champion’s League final. I can’t write about Kapow! without mentioning the cosplay, and this year it was just as eye-popping as last. Well done to anyone who dressed up and a personal thank you to female Thor and Loki.

Media frenzy

Posted in Books, Comics, Film, Music, Stuff, Television on May 7, 2012 by thebigsmoke

First with all the publicity surrounding SOPA, and now with BitTorrent site The Pirate Bay blocked by many ISPs, a lot has been written recently about file sharing. I don’t delude myself that any contribution I make to the debate will be especially insightful, but there are a few things which have been bugging the hell out of me.

Let’s first put aside all issues surrounding copyright law. I’m not looking for argument about the ethics of file sharing and am willing to accept the simple truth that file sharing copyrighted material is, for the most part, illegal. I think it’s right that artists and publishers should own copyright and receive some form of remuneration when an artistic work is distributed, so really I have no reason to gripe about the law in principle.

What drives me crazy is that publishers have floundered for the better part of a decade to understand the realities of legal downloading and consequently the possibilities. Even now, I think publishers are incapable of applying common sense in the way they market and sell their product.

For example, browsing on Amazon I can see that the first Game of Thrones book is currently selling for £3.86 in paperback. The Kindle edition is £3.99. It’s actually more expensive to buy it for Kindle than it is to own the paperback. It’s a bit of a kick in the teeth if you have already spent between £89 and £149 on your Kindle. I think Kindle editions are cheaper in many cases, but how many books would you have to buy for your Kindle before you actually clawed back the cost of the Kindle itself? And don’t forget there’s no resale value to your Kindle editions. You might be able to put your old books on eBay, but you can’t do that with the books you bought for your Kindle.

Another thing I have noticed with the Kindle is that Amazon currently doesn’t offer a discount on purchasing the Kindle edition with the paperback. If you could get the Kindle edition for an extra 50p or something, it might be tempting to have it in dual formats and switch between the two. Personally, I feel like the digital copy should be thrown in with the paperback, but maybe that’s expecting too much.

I don’t mean to single out Amazon and the Kindle, but it highlights how the value of legal downloads are perhaps slightly inflated. There is a disparity between the cost and what you actually get for your money, because the publishers are disinclined to significantly differentiate between types of media format when it comes to pricing; even though we do as consumers.

It’s not only book publishers which are out of touch. All the major comic book publishers now have apps which allow you to easily access their catalogue and download comic books at will. It is only quite recently that the comic book publishers really got their act together and started shilling their wares in a digital format. For many years before, comic book fans shared scanned copies of popular series and the comic book industry was initially reluctant to counter this piracy in an intelligent manner. Now they have at least started making high quality digital downloads available, but I am struggling to find a good rationale for switching to digital. Yes, I know it’s cheaper. It’s actually also more convenient, because the digital copies take up less space and it’s so easy to pick up the comics you’re interested in, drop titles, and try new things. There’s no reason for you to miss another issue ever again.

However, there’s something very satisfying about leafing through a physical comic book and in owning a set of comics you love. I suppose I am a collector, but owning printed books carries a particular type of appeal for me. Also, again, we should consider resale. Sure, I might save a dollar an issue, but I’m really not saving anything if there’s a good chance I could sell the printed comic for a dollar or more at some point in the future.

I’ve talked about books and comics, but the same issues seem to affect other types of media, like music and movies. You can, for example, download movies via iTunes, but they’re the same price as they are on DVD. Actually, browsing right now, I’ve noticed Source Code is £6, but I paid £5 for it on DVD a few months ago; so I guess in some instances it’s cheaper to just buy things on DVD.

I go through phases of purchasing lots of movies on DVD (and inreasingly also on Blu-ray). I like to purchase things which I might not necessarily watch again and again but which I will be happy to have displayed on my shelves. I like good quality releases from companies which take pride in putting together definitive editions. Many times I find that buying a particular edition is quite expensive and I will really only get a few hours of enjoyment from it, but I don’t mind if it’s something worth supporting.

Publishers often quantify the cost of illegal file sharing on the basis that the people who downloaded a particular piece of media would have purchased the DVD or the CD had they been able to get the thing for free. This is of course a fallacy. When people are given access to an infinite amount of media, they become undiscerning. Just because a person will watch a film for free, it does not mean under different circumstances they would choose to pay to see the same thing.

I can’t afford to buy everything I want and often cannot really justify buying things which interest me, but I buy what I can and spend my disposable cash on things like comic books and DVDs. If you made those comic books and DVDs cheaper, I would just spend the same amount of money but buy more of what I like. This is probably true of most people to some degree and I think there’s a sort of equalibrium in which people spend what they are comfortable spending, then they purchase as much as they can within that bracket.

If this is the case, lowering the price of legal downloads might encourage more people to legally download the things they enjoy. If I could purchase back issues for about 50 cents or less (as you often can in comic shops), I would be inclined to purchase and read entire runs just for convenience of not having to track things down. If new comics were significantly cheaper in their digital format (perhaps $1 per issue), I might make the switch with some titles. If I could download a new film for £5 or rent it for £2 or £3, I would do that. Until publishers start thinking in this way and making more of their content easily accessible to people with average incomes, there’s too much incentive for people to stick with physical formats for things they really like and illegally download everything else.

Previously on Space Stallions

Posted in Stuff, Television on February 5, 2012 by thebigsmoke

So, this video from The Animation Workshop was awesome enough to post. I must have watched it a dozen times or so.

I hope someone makes action figures.

Now that the dust has settled… The Big Smoke at Kapow! Comic Con

Posted in Books, Comics, Film, Television, Video Games on April 17, 2011 by thebigsmoke

The Big Smoke spent the majority of last weekend mixing with fellow nerds at Mark Millar’s Kapow! Comic Con, and has since been trying to find time to post up a few pictures and some comments. The convention, held over two days at the Business Design Centre in Islington was a fairly impressive effort, but there was some room for improvement.

Way back when The Big Smoke was just The Little Smoke, he used to frequent the UK Comic Art Conventions held at the University of London. It was a simpler time, when “cosplay” was still called “dressing up”. Comic books, although popular, were not the drivers of popular culture that they are today. When L’il Smoke attended the UK Comic Art Conventions, they consisted primarily of awkward young men, and some genuinely creepy slightly older men, poring over boxes of musty paper.

The last UK Comic Art Convention was held in 1998, and since then the San Diego Comic Con has shown that comic conventions can be big business. As the superhero movie genre has taken off, San Diego has become more and more important as a platform to launch new releases. Superhero movies are aimed at the mainstream and the excitement they generate brings new readers to comic books, which has caused publishers to re-think their strategy. Although the industry still panders to male adolescent fantasies, there has been a shift towards writing titles in a way which will resonate with a broader audience.

Advertised as “an event dedicated to comic books and the films, TV shows and games they inspire”, Kapow! felt like a real attempt to establish a British rival to America’s larger conventions. With sponsorship from IGN, it perhaps felt more corporate than previous British conventions, and it was all simply done on a grander scale. There were bigger stars and events, with consequently more media coverage, and more attendees than ever seen before.

Although the venue was just about big enough to accomodate everything, the Business Design Centre is filled with assorted outlets and agencies that jarred with the spirit of the convention. The line-up of guests was impressive on paper, but a number of them pulled out at the last minutes and there were some embarrasing gaps on the panels. On more than one occassion, The Big Smoke saw Millar trying to keep the crowds entertained by standing in for other guests. In addition, the most exciting events, like the Thor panel, were filled up so quickly that only a minority got to experience the very best that Kapow! had to offer. These gripes aside, there was lots to see and do for fans of more than just Hollywood blockbusters.

Happily, there was an array of stalls offering comics for sale, with lots of bargains to be found. There were also dozens of independent writer/artists pushing their self-published works, and for these individuals The Big Smoke felt considerable pity. For self-publishers, it is near impossible to compete with established creators working for popular titles. Touting indie work at a comic convention has potentially got to be one of the most depressing activities for anybody creative.

The Big Smoke raised a glass to those poor souls on Saturday night, swiftly following it with several more glasses of varying sizes, containing assorted alcoholic beverages. Nursing a terrible hangover on Sunday, and clutching several rare issues of Frank Miller’s Daredevil in his sweating palms, he cast a weary eye over proceedings. He took in the balding Gambit, the paunchy Blue Beetle, and with willpower worthy of the mightiest Green Lanterns, shifted his gaze away from the cleavage of a young lady dressed as Black Cat. It might not have been perfect, the cosplay may have been cringeworthy, but the first Kapow! Comic Con was certainly a lot of fun.

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