Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Batman Live: review, photos & programme

Let's start with the good- the programme for Batman Live cost £15 and was worth it. High quality stuff with lots of information about the production, commentaries from Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, set photos, rehearsal photos, activity pack and a lot more:

Embossed cut-out cover

The handsome Mr Lee

Batmobile blueprints

Activity book and 3D glasses

I'd been looking forward to see Batman Live ever since my friend bought me tickets for my birthday, but I went into it having worked  four consecutive 6-7 o'clock shifts at work and then had to take the train up to Manchester to see it. My enthusiasm was pretty much drained.

The good: The production has and is still being advertsied as a family show and it was genuinely fantastic to see lots of little boys and girls all dressed up in their capes and cowls. The show begins with the famous scene in Crime Alley, the night on which Bruce loses his parents (their shooting is off-stage, heard but not seen). The use of a large bat-shaped screen (see photos below) to establish time and place, and this was very effective. It also meant that though the murder of Bruce's parents wasn't shown on stage, the screen displayed 'softer' comic panels of Thomas and Martha Wayne looking shocked and fearful and then prone on the floor, helping to move the narrative along.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Of comics, probability and God

When you're trying out a lot of new books, it's inevitable that you're going to get some dud stories. Two that I disliked recently were City of Others and Fallen Angel. The former features your run of the mill un-feeling psychopath who stumbles upon a war between vampires and a death-dodoging evil scientist. The mythology of vampires is something that just doesn't appeal to me, so the book was a no-go.

Fallen Angel is about a city called Bete Noire, a realm which can only by accessed by two kinds of people- those who are searching for a certain something and those put there by God. One of these is the Fallen Angel herself, so-called because she over-stepped the boundaries of her remit and interfered in the merry, free-will led lives of men. Now, I like reading books with religious themes- I'm religious myself so I'm always curious to see how different people interpret the many, many themes and ideologies presented. Yet I'm struck by how similiar the treatment of God in relation to his creation is.

For example, in Fallen Angel, when Jude asks the big question,

And the answer? 'The Boss wants out.. . the creation of Earth, and the creatures that crawl on it, was supposed to be his crowning acheivment. . the capper for an existence that goes back longer than you can comprehend. The sum of of all He'd learned. His 'final exam' and once everything wa stabalisied. . once He was sure that mankind could walk on it's own two legs. . He was going to sink into the sweet surrender of nothingness.' Yes folks, God is sick and tired of us and wants out, but we just won't let him go, 'praying to him, asking for things, like children hitting Dad up for money.' And that's not all, so desperate is He to wean Mankind off the teat, 'he's been using  tough love for centuries now. Sending disaster upon disaster, one act after another, hoping that you'll stop venerating him . . that you'll leave him the hell alone so he can move on.'

It sounds like I'm offended and I'm absolutely not. I do however think that a) the idea of God 'leaving' is unoriginal and b) attributing him with human charcteristics just doesn't work. I'm going to be a bit backwards and address part b first. Whether you're religious or not, there are pre-conceptions that you attach to the notion of God- all-seeing, all-knowing etc and perhaps it is these that get in the way of me accepting certain ideas. It's a struggle to apply to God, even as a character, the attributes that the narrative asks. Isn't God the one who has only to command 'Be.' and it is?  And yet, he can't allow mankind to come to it's natural end or administer some other godly solution, because that would be admitting defeat and he is too proud to do that.  Like some erstwhile 20-something at the end of an affair, God just wants to move on

The nature -and the beauty- of the idea of God is that despite having centuries of myth, philosophy and fable connected to it, it is essentially unknowable, which is what allows  thousands of people to have thousands of different interpretations of  it. Creatively, it's a gold-mine- the equivalent of a blank slate with hundreds of wells to draw from, but there are no fresh ideas presented here, or any old ones challeneged in new or meaningful ways. God is well, God,  and 'humanising' him doesn't really work; the whole point of him is to be beyond human thought and comprehension. Obviously it's fairly crucial to have a relatibilty factor, and this is something Mike Carey does to great effect in his Sandman spin-off series Lucifer.

Michael addresses the angels in Lucifer
The devil is arguably the ultimate figure when it comes to theological 'human interest' access points; once a favoured angel, bought down by the sin of pride, who goes on to rebel and seek vengance against God and mankind. These are all very familiar and  relatable emotions and actions. Ever since Milton, the devil has become an increasingly accessible, romantic and even, heroic figure. By making Lucifer his eponymous hero, Carey provides the reader with a character who is neither human nor of divinty, which makes him a perfect conduit for both. Over the course of 11 volumes, he deals with the questions of creation, creater and created with originality, elegance, depth and intelligence. 
Preacher: the angels tell Jesse God has gone on a road trip.
Recently, I read the first volume of Garth Ennis' s Preacher and was somewhat surprised to see it headed in apparently the same direction, albeit in a very Garth Ennis manner. In the first volume, the heavenly host are in disarray as a crisis has risen but God has abandoned them to discover himself on road trip of Earth. It was a good book, but I don't know whether I should bother with the rest of the series if it's going to tread the same narrative path- if anyone has read them and could let me know, I would be very grateful.

In conclusion, (I feel like I've been writing an essay) I suppose as someone with 'faith' the ridiculousness of the idea of God's abandonment to me, simply highlights to others the fantastical notion of his existence. Lakum deenukum waliya deen. Which brings us quite neatly (yes, neatly, thank you) full circle to Jude's big question.  
Mike Carey's God: I'm sure there's some appropriate reference here, but all I get is Fat Controller.

*Apologies for rubbish scanning, still attempting to get to grips with it.*

Do not read: Smokin' Seventeen

Janet Evanovich used to be one of my favorite authors. You know those books which have quotes on the cover from random 'celebrity' person you've never heard of telling you they actually LAUGHED OUT LOUD(!) whilst reading that little slice of literary heaven? I never used to think it true, but I actually did laugh out loud at Evanovich's books. It is always a  diffiicult task to maintain quality when writing a series- you want to retain the elements that you thought worked and somehow incorporate them into a new and original plot. Evanovich has reached the point where she is busily trying to shoehorn various characters and regurgitate set pieces to the absolute detriment of the narrative. A glaring lack of character development and no progression with ongoing narrative strands. I skim read the whole book, it was that awful- sadly, the cut-off point for me I'm afraid.

Quiver Review

Let me start by saying that the only guise I have come close to liking Green Arrow in, was Justin Hartley's portrayal of him in Smallville, and that was mianly due to Justin Hartley looking the way he does and the fact that he was written (as many people pointed out) as Batman-lite.

One of the main reasons I enjoyed Quiver was that Kevin Smith took all the characteristics of Green Arrow that make him so dated- his politics, his speech, his whole look, and put them in a context where they work. The story picks up ten years after Green Arrow died whilst stopping his best friend destroy the world. A stupid old man decideds to walk through an alley at night and is attacked by thugs, who are in turn scared off by the visage below:

 Truth be told, I don't know who the OAP was more terrified of. After a bath and a shave, Olly (for that is who this appears to be) gets back to his crime-fighting duties, much to the shock of his friends and family- none of whom had read a superhero comic before, and had simply presumed him dead the past decade. It isn't long before the JLA teleport him up to the Watchtower and proceed to alternate between gazing at him in wonder and over-enthusiaistically embracing him.

When they gingerly query Olly about his death and subsequent  re-appearance, he is stumped and denies ever having bit the bullet. At which point, the world's premier superheroes all kind of go 'oh' and look at each other, with no-one seeming to have an idea how to determine wether this is indeed Oliver Queen, and if so, what happened to him. Fortunately, Bats, never one to be overcome by either sentiment or shock, is on hand to knock him unconscious and drag him to the Batcave to subject him to various tests and an interrogation.

If wordy is good enough for Bats, it's good enough for me.

Without giving away anymore of the plot, I must say I enoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. Mainly because it had Batman stealing the show once again, and also featured other members of the league- including an atrociously drawn Superman. Another positive facet of this book was that the plot was actually one that could be followed; it's both complex and clear and the motives and reasons behind Green Arrow's second coming are in keeping with his and Hal Jordan's characters and their relationship. And I'm going to come out and say it- it deals with themes of loss, regret and redemption in a comendably even handed, intelligent manner.

I still don't love Green Arrow, for me the only reason he worked here was because he'd been transported into the future, so to speak, but this was worth the read. To conclude: obligatory Bats being a very cool dick panel-

I thank you.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Currently reading

So much to read, so very little time. It's all light stuff, can't handle anything that may require concentration at the moment-

The Tragical Comdey of Mr Punch by Neil Gaiman, Baby's in Black by Arne Bellestorf, Forgetless by Nick Spencer

The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton, The Travels of Lady 'Bulldog' Burton by Sandi Toksvig and Killing God by Kevin Brooks

Classics Corner: The Wasp Factory

Yes, classics corner. It isn't really. What it is is an excuse to post this old review I did while at uni of Iain Banks's Wasp Factory. I was clearing out some paperwork and came across it. It's always weird looking back at pieces you wrote ages ago, the writing just seems very stilted and amateurish. And so wordy. I do consider The Wasp Factory to be a genuine classic- if you haven't read it, don't let my cloddish review put you off- it's fantastic and you should give it a go. We were given it to read for A-level and it was just something I immediately loved, unlike other 'literary' texts which are held in high esteem but are dense and unaccessible (whattup Peter Carey). Review below:

Iain Banks's Wasp Factory is a modern day gothic horror novel. It contains all the codes and conventions one expects of gothic writing, in that it carries an atmosphere of morbidity and dread, it is peopled by stereotypical charcters-the good, the wicked, the insane, the evil and the victims, and that the humour- where employed- is deliciously black. The gothic aims to explore the dark side of human nature; the deep desires and urges, the appetites and drives that society needs to suppress. By placing his central character and protagonist on an isolated island, Banks gives him the opprtunity and berth to do just that. However, through the medium of gothic, Banks deals with issues such as identity, paternity and normailty, and the more modern and topical issues of gentic engineering and sexuality. By using an adolescent as his protagonist and choosing to deal with such up-to-date issues, Banks succeeds in creating a novel which is a hybrid of gothic and modern day morality tale. It also boasts a fantastic last sentence clanger of a twist which leaves the reader reeling.

The novel, written in the first person perspective, begins as a narrative reminisence by am adolescent, 16 year old Frank Cauldhame, describing his childhood and all that remains of it, whilst gradually and subtly slipping into a depiction of contemporary events as it develops. Frank, with his obssessive cleaning rituals and macabre sacrificing of animals, seems to distinctly unbalanced, aview that appears to be unshakably proven in the carelessly off-hand way in which he discusses his murderous past, 'Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different reasons than I'd diposed of Blyth, and then a year fater that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim. That's my score to date. Three, I haven't killed anybody for years, and don't intend to ever again.' Frank's descriptions of events such as killings, is both direct and matter of fact. The calm and detahced form underscores the very mundanity of evil which Banks is writing about. This madness, juxtaposed against Frank's 'normal' side- as seen when going out drinking with his friend Jamie- provides a somehat contradictory image of Bank's central character.

Iain Banks
It is a convention of gothic novels to initiate the reader into a world of mystery and darkness and Banks does this by revealing very little, very slowly about Frank, his life and the reasons he is the way he is. Much of the first half of the novel then, is slightly cryptic as Frank refers to incidents and events without explanation, thus leaving the reader in the dark. Is Frank a by-product of society's prejudices, judgements and ignorance,. coupled with his father's meddling with nature, or is he just quite simply insane? Certianly his thoughts are lucid, succint and incredibly intelligent. Frank's obssession with ritual and the form of things is used by Banks as a way of dealing with his own sceptical views on organised religion. The Wasp Factory of the title is a sadistic killing machine Frank has devised for the purposes of divination. He also has a series of 'Sacrifice Poles' erected on the dunes of the island on which he and his father live; attached to the poles are the dismembered corpses of the creatures which he has killed during the course of his day-to-day activities. The Sacrifice Poles are both talismanically protective and divinatory in intent.

Ostensibly, though, this is a political novel wrapped in the form of a horrific bildungsroman. It was written during the bleaker days of the Thatcherite reinvention of Britain as a corporate plc. Banks, an acute writer, explores the situation with a caustic eye. the first paragraph of chapter four makes the political dimension to the novel explicit: 'Often I've thought of myself a s a state; a country or, at the very least, a city. It used to seem to me that the different ways I felt sometimes baout ideas, courses of action and so on were like the differing political moods that countries go through.'

The novel orients itself around the nature and abuse of power and trust- in this case parental power and trust. Banks is saying individuals have the capacity of self-deception and the decption of Frank by his father is a central theme. This is accentuated in the wonderful final chapter of the book when new facts come to light, overthrowing most of what has previously been said, and the reader is forced to completely re-assess the opinions formed about the narrator.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Batman: Year One animated film trailer

A trailer for the animated film of Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzuccchelli has been released (thanks Zahid for the heads up). Found it rather amusing how Batman sounds like a bad impersonation of Christian Bale. I don't really see the point in straight adaptations of comics- yes, Under the Hood and Public Enemies were good, but for me they didn't do anything that the comics didn't do better, but, without being arsey, that may be because I prefer literature as a medium over film.  I suppose it's about reaching new audiences etc.

Big, fat and hard

Oh, and in colour too, as is my preference. I've been trying out a lot of different books lately (many of which turned out to be pants) so opted to buy some -how to put it- higher callibre stuff.

I love thick books, means the goodness is going to last longer.

Lunch breaks are better with Batman

I am moving libraries as part of the big shake up and one of my lovely colleagues got me this as a leaving present:

All very retro with the metal and the design, no?

She even filled it with two of my favourite things- white chocolate and  Encona extra hot chilli sauce. But not together. Unless you're that way inclined. Thanks, P :)

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Countdown to Batman Live

17 days until Batman Live.
Very excited.

Have been forced to read Quiver and also want to review Elephantmen, so I will try to post in the meantime, I promise.