Wednesday, July 31, 2019

MEDIA DIARY, FEATURING 'THE BOYS' AND A BUNCH OF COMICS

Welcome to my latest Media Diary.  Today, we'll begin with TV, and a series I just binge-watched from beginning to end. Here it is!


THE BOYS
Amazon Prime

Based on the cult Garth Ennis/Darick Robertson comic book series, The Boys is about an on again, off again clandestine team of deep cover agents whose job is, ostensibly, to keep a tight leash on the nation’s growing community of superheroes. These “supes”, as the Boys refer to them, are mostly affiliated with Vought-American, a vastly powerful private corporation that has its tentacles wrapped around everything from pharmaceuticals and defense contracts to movie production and a 24-hour news channel.

All of Vought’s disparate entities operate behind a ruthlessly enforced, corporation-wide, culturally “conservative” facade, infused with the sort of pseudo-populist, phony Christian “friendly fascism” with real-world echoes that should be all too familiar to anyone whose powers of perception are superior to those of the average jar of mayonnaise.

The Boys consist of Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), the hot-headed, foul-mouthed leader, Frenchie, the weapons expert, Mother’s Milk, whom the others look up to as being the most pure-hearted, the Female (of the Species), who is a deadly dangerous, psychologically damaged young South Asian mute who was drugged by Vought as part of a treacherous plan to [NO SPOILERS FROM ME], and Wee Hughie, who longs for revenge against A-Train, a speedster supe (and member of the World’s Greatest Superhero Team, The Seven) who, while freaking out on a dose of the specialist supe pharmaceutical Compound V (as opposed to Compound W, America’s most popular wart removal system), ran straight through his girlfriend, accidentally exploding her like a water balloon full of blood and guts.

Meanwhile, The Seven are also important characters who get a lot of screen time in their own right, particularly team leader The Homelander, sort of a psycho-fascist cross between Superman and Captain America. There’s also the newest member of The Seven, the relatively innocent and swiftly disenchanted Starlight, who coincidentally—some might say a little too coincidentally—becomes Wee Hughie’s friend and love interest after a chance encounter in a park.

I have long been a fan of the comic book The Boys. It’s an intriguing concept—one that was tried a few years before, with far less recognition and far fewer laughs, with the 11-issue run of the DC series Stormwatch: Team Achilles (a series of which I appear to be the sole surviving fan)—and the Amazon studios version of The Boys feels like an unmitigated success to me, even if it isn’t slavishly faithful to the comics.

However, where the series truly excels, even exceeds expectations, is in how it takes the comic book’s portrayal of the prevailing political climate of illegitimate Preznit Dubya’s post-9/11, post-T.H.E.U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T.A.C.T., post-Shock-and-Awe America—the often justified paranoia and distrust engendered by all those no-bid multi-billion-dollar contracts and unaccountable mercenaries murdering carloads of innocent Iraqis and the phony rescue narrative cooked up around “kidnapped” soldier Jessica Lynch and the very suspicious “friendly fire” death of former NFL’er Pat Tillman, all of which led to the rapid rise of conspiracy theorizing as America’s new favorite pastime—and updating it for the even more horrific, post-reality, anti-truth, proof-allergic, New Fascist International(e) America, full of brainwashed, Bizzaro World, “alt”-media sheeple who think that repeating their favorite paranoid, raging, Pizzagating Q-tard Youtuber’s rants verbatim proves that they’re independent, original thinkers who “do their own research”, all of which are hallmarks of the even more illegitimate Reality TV criminal/traitor Preznit Donald Trump’s ongoing pornocratic kakistocracy.

Anyhoo, I binge-watched all eight episodes of The Boys in one day, and the entire series just flew by. Oh, and just for the record, I’m totally ready for Season Two, and hope they’ve already begun to film it, because Season One ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. RECOMMENDED!

***

And now, it's time for COMICS!

INHUMANS #1, 2, 4
Marvel Comics
Writers: Pacheco/Marin, Artist Jose Ladronn

Roughly three years ago, I asked the lovely folks at The Beguiling (my favorite comic book and art book specialty shoppe) to keep an eye out for a relatively rare, not-so-popular 4-issue miniseries, published in 2000, featuring Marvel Comics' THE INHUMANS. I wanted it for the art more than anything, an intriguing mix of European sensibilities (especially on the covers and splash pages) with a kind of George Perez style, economical, no nonsense approach towards propelling the narrative, punctuated with the occasional bravura action set-piece.

Well, this week, they found me three of the four issues (1, 2 and 4, as seen above)... and they let me have them for three bucks a pop! Talk about tenacity! Talk about a deal! Talk about customer service! Thanks, guys, I truly appreciate it.


MARVELS: EPILOGUE
Marvel Comics
Story: Kurt Busiek and Various, Art: Alex Ross and Various

I thought we were all done with Marvel Comics' reprint of their groundbreaking, Alex Ross painted miniseries MARVELS, but it looks like they decided to cap things off with an all-new epilogue, featuring another fully painted tale, set long after the finale of the original series' last issue.

The second half of this issue is jam-packed with cool extras that any fan of the series, the X-Men, Alex Ross or pretty much anything that has anything to do with Marvel Comics is going to want to have in their collection. And if you've held off buying this reprint series because you already have it as original copies and/or one of the collected volumes, you're at least going to want to have this issue to add alongside it, for completion's sake.


HOUSE OF X #1
Marvel Comics
Story: Johnathan Hickman, Art: Pepe Larraz

Well now, this is interesting. In the late 70's/early 80's, the Uncanny X-Men were front and center as part of Marvel Comics' resurgence into the forefront of comic book readers' and superhero fans' hearts and minds. They certainly played a big part in bringing yours truly back to the rack, thanks to their combination of spectacular heroics and diverse roster of characters, from the flamboyance of Nightcrawler to the grimdark heaviness of Wolverine, and from the softhearted powerhouse of Colossus to the relatable teen-aged angst of Kitty Pryde.

This was actually the tail end of the X-Men's heyday, after the awesome heights of the Claremont/Byrne era and before the descent into 90's cash grab proliferation of new X-titles (all featuring Wolverine of course) with their multi-cover foil variant #1 "collector's editions" (with print-runs in the millions, which actually made them the exact opposite of collectible). Personally, I haven't picked up an X-Men book in ages, with the only exceptions being Morrison/Quitely's New X-Men and Whedon/Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men.

Until now.

The hype around House of X (and its sister title, Powers of X) has just been so potent—with Marvel taking the unprecedented step of putting all its other X-titles on hold until these two series are completed—I couldn’t help but get sucked in. So I picked up the first issue, and now that I’ve just finished reading it… I don’t know how I feel about it. Surely that’s what the creators were going for?

First things first, for everyone who complains about how mainstream comics are too “politically correct” these days, House of X works as a pretty bracing corrective. This is a title that, with only one issue under its belt, has explored more politically incendiary and philosophically touchy areas than you’ll find in a week of the average 24-hour news channel’s programming. And the ambiguity of it all can be downright disturbing.

I don’t want to spoil things for anyone, but if you buy comics and you’ve ever had any interest in Marvel’s treatment of the whole mutant-as-metaphor issue, then you should definitely at least pick up this #1 and read it, then decide whether you want to keep up with these series. They’ll be coming at us fast and thick from this point on, with a new issue of either House of X or Powers of X being produced every week until September. Again, I’d love to know what y’all think, down in the comments section. I know it’s a pain to register, but come on, man… I want some COMMENTS!

SILVER SURFER: BLACK #2 (of 5)
Marvel Comics
Story: Donny Cates, Art: Tradd Moore

Wow. With the first issue of this five-issue mini (reviewed in this blog last month), Cates and Moore knocked it right out of the park, past the parking lot, over the interstate, and into parts unknown. If anything, the second issue of this series tops the first in every way possible. 

Visually, it’s even more gorgeous, with Moore’s over-the-top character designs and the fluid kinetics of his action scenes bringing Cates’ outrageously bravura ideas and notions to ultra-vivid life. This book is thrilling in the way that only superhero comics, at their absolute, rule-breaking best, can be. 

If you’re not already on board with this mini—which I suspect will come to be recognized as the single greatest Silver Surfer book ever, bar none, by the time it’s through—what the Christ are you waiting for?! An engraved invitation?! Buy this book! And get a hold of the first issue, now, before it becomes a collector’s item!


LITTLE BIRD #5 (of 5)
Image Comics
Story: Darcy Van Poelgeest, Art: Ian Bertram

From the first issue of this five-issue miniseries, I have made no secret of my love for Little Bird. The story, the artwork, the characters, the world-building, all of it. Now, as the series comes to its climax, although my admiration is undimmed, I can’t help but feel that all the disparate strands were singled up just a little too swiftly, leaving a certain level of uncertainty and confusion in its wake. 

Don’t get me wrong… it’s still well worth owning, sharing, and recommending. And yes, it still stands as the best comic book miniseries that I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a year or so. I’m also probably going to have to go back and read the entire series in one sit-down session to pick up on some of the details that I may have forgotten that would make my reading of the series finale more rewarding. I just find it’s kind of a wasted opportunity to have Little Bird finish out on what on first read seems like sort of a serious downer note. 

But who knows? Maybe I set my expectations too high. Or maybe my first read is somewhat of a mis-read. Please let me know what you all thought of the book, down in the comments section. Anyway, this still counts as a big time RECOMMEND from me. You’ll want to have this series in your collection. Also, the preview for Poelgeest and Bertram’s next offering—Precious Metals—looks pretty great, too.

Monday, July 22, 2019

MEDIA DIARY ~ JULY 22, 2019

Sorry it's been so long since my last Media Diary. I've been busy with personal stuff lately. Anyway, this blog post is to let y'all know that I've begun reading Black Wings of Cthulhu volume 5, and I'll be reviewing each story on an individual basis, a few at a time, over the next few diary entries. So let's get started, shall we?

***


BLACK WINGS OF CTHULHU 5
Twenty New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror, Edited by S.T. Joshi

“Plenty of Irem”, by Johnathan Thomas ~ Set in modern day Kingsport, the protagonist has decided to get a feel for the town before beginning his job as a “capital campaign manager and PR troubleshooter at Kingsport Community College” (formerly Kingsport Freemason’s College) on the morrow.

While checking out one of its ancient cemeteries, he spots an old barn type building with a sign identifying it as the “Mugford Museum of Quaint Kingsport”, and decides to investigate. Once inside, he finds the place empty of people, with just a few mannequins in colonial dress and a container with a hand-written sign requesting a donation of $10.

Feeling the place must not get too many visitors, he pays double out of pity, only to be surprised when one of the mannequins turns out to be Eldred Mugford, proprietor and museum guide, who thanks the protagonist profusely for his “liberality” and proceeds to interrogate him, in an oddly buzzing voice, about his familial background on both sides. Then, after forcing his guest to partake of a “jonnnycake” (or journeycake), he leads him down to the basement—hewn out of solid black granite—where the exhibits are kept.

Here is where the author lets his imagination (and the fruits of his arcane research) blossom into something truly beautiful, bordering on crackpot genius, for the exhibits are all chock-a-block with legitimate lashings of weird history. Among the items on display are “the formal sable tiara of the grandmaster of the furrier’s guild in Norumbega” and an elaborately scrimshawed “demon’s baby tooth from the Himalayan caves descending to the ghost-infested citadel of Agartha”. Borges would have loved it.

The other exhibits in this underground showroom are stranger still, as is, increasingly, the behavior of his guide, causing the protagonist to fear for his safety with increasing alarm. When it comes to the story’s ultimate revelation of a vision from beyond, Thomas’s writing style is effective and, when called for, terrifying.

This story has everything you could want from weird fiction: otherworldly creatures, inexplicable dark visions, mysteries beyond understanding, and even a diabolical mannequin or three. A truly excellent Lovecraftian tale.

“Diary of a Sane Man”, by Nicole Cushing ~ This intriguing short narrative takes the form of a diary charting the rapid descent into madness that befalls a loving husband and father of two after he takes a nasty slip and suffers head injury during a moonlit winter’s walk. Or was he really primed to lose his grip on reality from the start? And is that even what happens to him? After all, who are we to judge his shifting perspective on life, as described in this story? It can hardly be described as inaccurate, what with its firm grounding in evolutionary theory. A smart and captivating story that rewards multiple reads, and is short enough to justify them. Another excellent entry.

“The Woman in the Attic”, by Robert H. Waugh ~ This collection’s third first-person entry in a row, and its second that takes the form of a diary, “The Woman in the Attic” is an alternative, ostensibly feminist re-telling of the story of Abigail “Nabby” Gardener, the doomed housewife from the equally doomed family in HP Lovecraft’s legendary novella, “The Colour Out of Space”. An intriguing literary exercise that takes just a few too many unnecessary liberties with the original for my tastes, it nevertheless features some emotionally resonant passages relating to the status of women in the all-too-recent past (who were, in many ways, women in attics). However, if you’re a man trying to write a story in a feminist vein, maybe don’t have your main character have sexual congress with a space rock? Just a thought. The story remains a decent offering, despite my minor quibbles.

***
TELEVISION


LIMMY’S SHOW ~ Have you seen this bonkers sketch show from Scottish comedian Brian Limmond yet? It first aired on Scottish BBC about eight years ago, and lasted three seasons. Every single episode is currently available on Youtube (you can start with the first episode of the first series, above), as well as on Netflix in a bunch of countries (I'm watching it in Canada).

However, viewer beware! Due to some music rights issues, almost every single episode of Limmy's Show features missing or shortened skits! I’ve actually gone to the trouble of cataloging all these missing skits on the episodes' respective Youtube pages (see comments from Mark Thibodeau), but if anyone expresses further interest, I’ll post those corrections here, too. 

Anyway, I’m addicted to this damned show, as I’ve never encountered a sense of humor quite like Limmy’s before… at least, not on television shows, or in the movies or anything. He truly appears to suffer from some of the same mental illness issues that I do, which makes his show utterly relatable. Maybe you’ll find it as engrossing as yer old pal Jerky does!

COMING SOON…

I’m currently in the midst of reading Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump, for which I will be creating a reader’s guide in the very near future… something not quite as in depth as my concordances for, say, In the Dust of This Planet, or Season of the Witch, but which will nevertheless contain all the most important information contained within this book, distilled down to a single blog post. In fact, the reason why I’m reading this book is because it serves as background research for my ongoing project, which I’ve been working on for over two years now. It's about my theory regarding the New Fascist International(e) conspiracy I keep harping on over at the Daily Dirt Diaspora blog. So keep your eyes peeled here, and at the DDD, for more updates, soon!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

MEDIA DIARY ~ JUNE 29 to JULY 2, 2019

First up for today's Media Diary? Movies!


XX ~ Two thirds of a hardcore porno? Nah. XX is a horror anthology featuring four short films, all directed by women, hence the XX—as in double-X chromosomes—of the title. The brainchild of former Rue Morgue Editor in Chief Jovanka Vuckovic (who also directs “The Box”, which is the first, and best, short, based on a Jack Ketchum short story), XX works fairly well, with two good shorts (“The Box” and Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son”), two mediocre ones (“The Birthday Party” and “Don’t Fall”), and some really beautiful Brothers Quay style animated interstitials. Ultimately, I think this would make a good TV or extended film series, and I would definitely watch more, as there is undeniably something unique and intriguing about the female perspective on horror.


ALIEN: COVENANT ~ Yeah, I know. It took me an awful long time to catch this flick, which is odd, because I’m one of the few people I know who actually really enjoyed Prometheus, of which Alien: Covenant is a direct—almost too direct—sequel. The performances are all decent, and there are a handful of impressive characterizations strewn among the many anonymous characters who exist only to be xenomorph chow. And of course, it looks pretty great. Unfortunately, the characters make some of the most incredibly stupid decisions I’ve ever seen characters make in a science-fiction horror film. And that’s saying something. Also, the all-CGI xenomorphs are nowhere near as cool as the original, practical creatures from ALIEN and ALIENS, and even the CGI-enhanced practical creatures from ALIEN 3. Also, am I crazy, or were the creature effects a step down from Prometheus? One good thing about this one, though… Scott didn’t choose to make any of the human characters into convenient bad guy stereotypes. All the characters (the ones given stuff to do anyway) are likable and relatable, dumb decisions aside (PUT ON A FUCKING HELMET WHEN YOU’RE ON AN ALIEN PLANET!!!).


ZOMBIELAND ~ Another one it took a long time for me to watch that I finally got around to. I’m pretty much sick and tired of the whole zombie thing by now—and actually have been for, like, a decade or two (I’ve even got witnesses to this fact)—but a likable cast goes a long way with me, and Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Bill Murray are nothing if not likable. It’s funny, cute, relatively exciting, a good ninety-something minutes of time-wasting fun. Certainly not essential, but the sequel is coming out this year (Zombieland Double Tap) so if you’re a fan of the genre, you should probably check it out.

***

And now, this week's comics haul!


THE ANNOTATED MARVELS #1-4
Marvel Comics, writer: Kurt Busiek, artist: Alex Ross

And that's it! All four issues of this marvelous reprint of the gorgeous, trend-setting, ground-breaking, hand-painted mini-series chronicling the Marvel Age from the point of view of the little people who watched from ground level as a new generation of four-color costumed titans duked it out in the name of Good and Evil in the skies and stars above! Especially recommended if you didn't catch this series the first time around in 1994, seeing as it comes complete with a wealth of trivia and background information, including script samples, and a definitive list of the literally hundreds of Easter eggs the creators hid in those handsomely illustrated pages. 


LITTLE BIRD #4
Image Comics, Writer: Darcy Van Poelgeest, artist: Ian Bertram

You all already know how I feel about this wonderful mini-series. With this, the penultimate issue, the creators continue to outdo themselves. All the pieces are set up for the final confrontations and ultimate revelations, and the nature of the mysterious past cataclysm that transformed the world into the nightmare theocracy is poised to be revealed. One month to go for the thrilling conclusion, and I can't hardly wait! 


X-MEN GRAND DESIGN: X-TINCTION #2
Marvel Comics; Writer/Artist: Ed Piskor

Basically the sixth issue of a planned eight issue "grand narrative" of the X-men, Piskor's task was already becoming all but impossible with the last issue. This issue really is a mess, and it's not Piskor's fault at all. He was given the job of creating a gourmet meal out of a dog's breakfast, and it just... doesn't... work. I mean, Cable? Bishop? All that bullshit? The WORST era of X-men ever. I won't be picking up the final two issues, unless they turn out to be something special... which I doubt. Anyway, it'll be good to shrink my pull list and save a few bucks.

***
And, finally for today, a Graphic Novel.


THE FURRY TRAP
by Josh Simmons

Josh Simmons’ The Furry Trap is a beautiful hardcover collection featuring some of the most demented, perverse, vile, and downright disturbing sequential narrative artwork ever committed to paper. Simmons has been producing comics for over a decade now, first gaining attention for his weird and subtle black and white indie one-shot House, and ever since then building a reputation for himself as one of the most uncompromising comics creators at work today.

Collecting most of his short comics from a number of smaller independent anthologies, The Furry Trap serves as a fantastic showcase for Simmons’ mastery of myriad visual styles—from the clean and colorful funny book cartooning of “In a Land of Magic”, to the small, fuzzy, sketchy style of “Night of the Jibblers”—as well as his ability to tell all kinds of tales—from the Freudian nightmare logic of “Cockbone” to the surreal, wordless Apocalypticism of “Jesus Christ”.

Be warned, however… The Furry Trap is definitely NOT for everybody. In fact, I have to wonder about the legality of some of these stories. Simmons isn’t shy about letting his id run rampant via his work, as in, for instance, “In a Land of Magic”, where the protagonist, an elf of some sort, dispatches a villainous warlock and his evil pet dragon first by disemboweling the fire-breathing beast, then paralyzing the warlock with a sharp shot to the neck, after which he… well, there’s no nice way to put this. He rapes the warlock in one of the most vicious displays of sexual sadism I’ve ever seen portrayed in comics. Then there’s “Night of the Jibblers”, where children are murdered horribly just for being overly curious. And finally, the last story of the collection, “Demonwood”, doesn’t actually show any violence, but the story is so chillingly effective and so masterfully structured, it ends up being one of the book’s most disturbing tales, regardless.

If The Furry Trap sounds like something that might appeal to you, and if you think you’ve got what it takes to absorb this level of twisted insanity and walk away with your sense of self intact, then why not head on over to Amazon.com and purchase a copy (using this link of course, so I get a shekel in my begging cup)? The only thing you’ve got to lose is your mind.


Saturday, June 29, 2019

MEDIA DIARY, JUNE 18-28, 2019

I feel like I’m always apologizing for failing to keep up with this media diary in a timely fashion. This has the unfortunate effect that media I wish to comment on—or at least acknowledge having read/seen/taken in—piles up until the pile becomes so big that I put off the task of diarizing it even longer, which only serves to exacerbate the problem and increase my guilt over it all until… well, you get the picture. That’s why today, I’m going to run through some of my more memorable recent media experiences in a rapid and roughshod manner. So let’s begin! 


LIMBO (video game)

There was a time, back in the day, when I would have said that I was a semi-serious gamer. Unreal Tournament was my multiplayer game of choice, and my old roomie Gene and I would regularly work our way up the worldwide rankings, to the point where I often invaded the global Top 1000, and Gene would occasionally tip into the Top 250 (which is kind of a big deal).

Single player-wise, the last games I was officially obsessed with were Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, and The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. I worked my way through all of them, multiple times, picking up all the Easter eggs and seeing as much of the game design as possible for each.

Shortly thereafter, I began suffering from anxiety attacks over how much time I was wasting in front of video screens (and how much weed I was smoking), so I quit. Since then, I’ve occasionally seen games that piqued my interest… but never enough to get me to drop coin on them.

Until last week. That’s when I first laid eyes on some scenes from Limbo in a Facebook group to which I belong that has nothing to do with games. It’s a beautiful, haunting, deceptively simple black-and-white side-scrolling puzzle game created by European indie devs, available on Steam for a very reasonable price. 

So, I bought it. And I played it. And (aside from the fact that it would occasionally cause my computer to crash in a way that I haven’t experienced since Windows 5), I loved it. After eight and a half hours of countless deaths/respawns and increasingly difficult puzzles to solve, I finally reached the conclusion of the game, and the first thing that came to mind as I did, was “That was TOTALLY worth it.” Very much recommended.

***


THE SELLOUT
A Novel by Paul Beatty

I finally finished Paul Beatty’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel, The Sellout, about which I’ve previously stated my belief that it’s even better than the hype campaign behind it has declared. Fortunately, that pretty much holds through all the way to the beautifully (and necessarily) understated denouement and conclusion.

So, what’s it all about, then? Well, it’s about a lot of things. Story-wise, it’s about a fellow named “Bonbon” Me, the novel’s protagonist, and his attempts to a) get his home town, a Los Angeles “agrarian ghetto” named Dickens, put back on the map, and b) reintroduce segregation and slavery in said neighborhood (with shockingly counter-intuitive results).

But it’s also about so much more. It’s about the sense of community and group consciousness and its loss in the swirl of Late Capitalist atomization, which argues, Thatcher-like, that there’s no such thing, and furthermore there never was. It’s about the rapidly fading memory of the Black California experience of the last half of the 20th century. It asks an incredibly difficult and dangerous question: is it possible that being saddled with a somewhat negative identity is at least better than being denied any sense of identity at all?

It’s also about the failures of traditional liberalism and the wanton, contrary stupidity of Black conservatism. It’s about all the ways in which fathers fail sons, men fail women, leaders fail their followers, teachers fail their students… and vice versa. It’s about the simultaneous, paradoxical impossibility-slash-need to forgive the unforgivable sins of America’s unforgettable past. It’s about the problem with history, about which Beatty writes: “we like to think it’s a book – that we can turn the page and move the fuck on. But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on. It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you.” (P.115)

And yet, it’s also one of the funniest goddamn books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, ranking somewhere alongside John Kennedy Tool’s Confederacy of Dunces and Howard Stern’s Miss America as the tiny handful of books that I had to stop reading because I was laughing so hard, tears were blurring my vision. This is thanks in large part to the character of Bonbon’s elderly ward, Hominy Jenkins, former child star and last surviving Little Rascal, whose lifetime of starring in racist Our Gang cartoon shorts have warped his mind to the point where he thinks he’s Bonbon’s slave. Together, the two form a sort of urban Don Quixote and Sancho Panza (Bonbon even eschews motorized vehicles for the most part, choosing to get around town on his trusty horse).

Another great source of comedy is the “Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals” club, led by Black conservative thinker, writer, and TV talk show host Foy Cheshire, who took over the club after the death of his nemesis, Bonbon’s father, who—prior to being gunned down by police a few years previous—was both an experimental psychiatrist and the neighborhood (forgive me) “nigger whisperer”, who was often called in by authorities to talk suicidal Black people down from the ledge, or handle hostage negotiations involving people of color, as some of the more “woke” high-ranking officers realized they didn’t have the proper life experience to commiserate with most of these particular cases.

And really, I’ve only begun to scratch the surface in terms of the treasures this novel offers the reader. Every page of The Sellout contains a dozen or more wry observations in the vein of mid-career Richard Pryor; stuff like: “If you really think about it, the only thing you absolutely never see in car commercials isn’t Jewish people, homosexuals, or urban Negroes, its traffic.” (P.139) And then there’s the extended sequence in which Bonbon applies to a service that finds sister cities the way dating sites do for those looking to be matched up with a significant other. Upon getting a call back, he finds out that Dickens’ “three sister cities in order of compatibility… are Juarez, Chernobyl, and Kinshasa.” (P.146)

The genius of Beatty’s novel feels cumulative, and I’m keenly aware that tiny excerpts aren’t doing the work any justice at all. You’re just going to have to take my word for it that The Sellout is destined to go down as one of the great novels of the 21st century. Or don’t take my word for it. Buy a copy and read it for yourself. Or hell, even go to a library and borrow a copy, if you’re a cheapskate. However you choose to take it in, I promise you won’t regret it.

***


TERRIFIER

What do you get when you take an incredibly low budget, hand it over to an obviously deranged lunatic who spends it all on the special effects for a handful of ridiculously over-the-top murder and torture scenes, all perpetrated by the single most disturbing movie clown in the history of movie clowns? You get Terrifier, a surprisingly effective and deliriously bloody cinematic amuse bouche that’s destined to become a favorite of homicidal shut-ins the world over… your humble reviewer included! It’s on Netflix. Discover it now (but be sure you know how to fully secure your home, first, because if you don’t, it will preoccupy you for however long it takes for you to remedy the problem).


THE PERFECTION

A decent little horror mystery from those cuckoo-kooky Netflix kids, concerning a cult of diabolical… cellists?! Never mind, it actually works and has a number of fun pay-offs… even though the climax is somewhat cheat-y.


AN EVENING WITH BEVERLY LUFF LINN

Two years ago is when I first saw one of my favorite movies of all time: The Greasy Strangler. It’s utterly surreal, stars a cast of nobodies, features an incredible bespoke electronic score, is completely unpredictable, and absolutely unforgettable. I’ll try to explain my love for that film some day, and I likely won’t succeed.

Anyhoo, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn is director Jim Hosking’s follow-up to The Greasy Strangler, and unfortunately, beyond some surface details, it’s nothing like its predecessor. It’s okay I guess, weird and amusing enough to warrant giving it a watch, with three or four solid jokes, the always incandescent Aubrey Plaza at her damaged, frustrated best, and Emile Hirsch as Bruce McCollough circa 1992. 

Top that off with decent, workmanlike performances by Jermaine Clement, Matt Berry and Craig Robinson, a decent third act, an enchanting climactic dance scene, as well as a bunch of familiar faces from The Greasy Strangler (most of whose contributions of silly business sadly fall flat here), and you’ve got An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn.

My admiration for The Greasy Strangler is sufficient that I’m still totally on board for whatever Hoskings comes up with next, but this… this was a bit of a let-down. Anyway. Watch it or not. It’s entirely up to you. 

***

TV SHOWS

I finished watching HBO’s Chernobyl (it’s going to win all the Emmys), two more episodes of the new BBC Victorian police sitcom, Year of the Rabbit, starring Matt Berry (again!), the first season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the first season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadlphia, and a few other shows I can’t recall at the moment. Tomorrow I’ll run down all the comics I’ve read over the last week. Keep watching these pages!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

MEDIA DIARY, MONDAY, JUNE 17, 2019


After finishing Cows last week, I started reading a novel that I've been meaning to read for a while now: Paul Beatty's much-ballyhoo'd satirical take on the Black California experience, The Sellout. I'd heard so much about this book, which was the first novel by an American—not just an African American—to win the prestigious Man Booker Prize, that I figured it couldn’t possibly be as good as its hype. Well, I’m about a hundred pages in, and so far, it’s better. I’ll get into why and how that is, once I’m finished reading it.

***

Right! On to comic books, then. Last Thursday, I had three books waiting for me in my pull file at The Beguiling. First up…


THE INVADERS #6
Marvel Comics
Story: Chip Zdarsky, Art: Carlos Magno

This series started out okay, with decent art and a story with some potential—I was particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of bringing the original, android Human Torch back into Marvel continuity, as I’ve always felt he was criminally underutilized, with a rich, intriguing backstory. However, the first arc, ending this issue, turned out to be seriously underwhelming, with a HUGE amount of build-up (in this title and others) wherein Marvel has been trying to set up Namor as a world-threatening force on the scale of Worldbreaker Hulk (from the World War Hulk storyline), and sorry, but it just ain’t happening.

Sure, Namor’s got the powers to be a real threat, and I can see how it might work on paper. However, as per usual, whenever Marvel tries to outright “heel” the Submariner, he comes across like a surly Eurotrash male model who can barely contain his contempt for the weak and stupid surface dwellers “with their Frankfurter sausages and pathetic inability to breathe underwater” or something. 

For five issues now, Zdarsky has woven a complex, mysterious tale full of espionage, intrigue, and hidden history. He had the Winter Soldier and Captain America engaging in high-risk underwater reconnaissance, but kept whatever they discovered vague and ill-defined because he didn’t want to spoil the surprise of the Big Reveal at the climax. He even went and retconned Namor’s “amnesiac” period, which has been an important part of the narrative carry-over from the Silver Age to the Marvel Age. 

And for what? What was the Big Reveal? I won’t spoil it for you, except to tell you that it involves one small coastal town in the state of Maine… and me removing this title from my pull list. Bottom line? I think this is the fourth attempted Invaders reboot that I’ve had to give up on in the last ten years. I won’t get fooled again. Probably.

***


X-MEN GRAND DESIGN: X-TINCTION, #1 (of 2)
Marvel Comics
Art/Story by Ed Piskor

Hip-Hop Family Tree indie comics sensation Ed Piskor’s ongoing project aiming to re-tell the entire X-Men saga as one long, continuous narrative has finally reached the point in that team’s storied publishing career where doing so begins to be extremely difficult, considering this was the era when the X-titles began to proliferate, and different writers were being allowed to take different X-teams—just a couple at first, then a small handful, most of which featured Wolverine somehow—in all sorts of divergent, impossible-to-reconcile directions.

It’s also the point at which X-Men became way more of a soap opera than it heretofore had been, with disastrous romantic triangles and star-crossed love stories a-plenty, characters making stupid decisions based on silly reasons, really convenient “magic” popping up whenever it’s needed to close a plot loophole, etc, etc. It was a time, it seemed to me, when longtime series writer Chris Claremont was getting bored of it all. 

Personally, even though it was the X-Men who got me back into collecting comics in the early 80’s, I really dislike this particular, post #200 era of the team. Therefore, I’m probably not the best person to be reviewing it. Here’s a link to a review by a chap who freaking LOVED this era, for those of you who want to know what an enthusiast thinks. 

I’ll be picking up the second issue of this two-parter, regardless (all three of Piskor’s series published so far—Grand Design, Second Genesis, X-Tinction—have been two issues long, as is the planned fourth series), because it’s a good deal for the money, it’s a handy reference guide to the X-Men’s fictional history, and I love the continuity guides contained at the back of each issue. I’m telling you right now though, I have NO IDEA how he’s going to figure out a coherent history for book two of this series, and in particular the planned fourth series. He’s going to have to leave so much out, some fans are bound to be upset. Like, how’s he going to deal with Morrison and Quitely’s New X-Men book? Or Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men?! It’s going to be a logistical nightmare.

***


SILVER SURFER: BLACK #1 (of 5)
Marvel Comics
Story: Donny Cates, Art: Tradd Moore

Wow. Now we’re getting somewhere! Every single element of this beautiful new title is fan-damn-tastic. 

In an editorial note Cates includes at the end of this issue, he talks about being hired to write this title a while back and starting to work on the first issue, only to learn shortly thereafter that Stan Lee had passed away. 

It was no secret, of course, that Stan’s favorite character was the Silver Surfer. He said so many times. Upon hearing of Lee’s death, Cates says he took all the work he’d done to that point and destroyed it. He wanted to start from scratch, and create a story that was worthy of Stan Lee’s legacy, as his own, personal way to honor the man. I have to say, with his partner in art, Tradd Moore, Cates has definitely succeeded in doing just that. 

Silver Surfer: Black is everything a great Silver Surfer story should be; it’s tragic, poetic, heroic, beautiful, kinetic, and its pages are fairly vibrating with the Power Cosmic! As I did with other recent, superlative comics—namely Sobek and Little Bird—as soon as I finished reading this comic, I flipped to page one and read it again. It’s that good. BUY THIS BOOK!!!

***

Okay, so, what other “media” have I been grooving on this week? Well, TV-wise, I watched the third and fourth installments of HBO’s really quite amazing miniseries Chernobyl. Only one episode to go, and I’m at a loss as to where they can go from the end of episode 4. I’ll for sure be watching, anyway.

Across the pond, a new series starring one of my favorite performers, Matt Berry, has launched. Called Year of the Rabbit, it’s a hybrid of police procedurals and sitcoms, set in the Victorian era. Berry plays a brutal, thuggish copper named Rabbit, a London police inspector who looks almost as cruel as he behaves. 

In the first episode, Rabbit and his young rookie sidekick—forced upon him by a stereotypically constipated commanding officer, whose adopted daughter aims to be the first female (and Black) “lady-filth” on the London force—hunt down the murderer of a Parisian show-girl who was shot twice, then dumped into the Thames. East End squalor, full frontal nudity, quasi-Masonic symbolism and a visit with John Merrick, the Elephant Man, ensue, occasionally giving this series the feel of a loose adaptation of the classic Alan Moore graphic novel, From Hell

Anyway, I fuckin’ loved it, and can’t wait for the next episode.

Until next time!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

MEDIA DIARY, MONDAY-FRIDAY, JUNE 3-7, 2019

Hey folks! Sorry I’ve been remiss in keeping up with my reading/media diary. Other responsibilities keep getting in the way. Of course, my absence from these pages doesn’t mean that I haven’t been devouring a steady stream of media—my reviews of all three episodes from the fifth season of Black Mirror are already posted, below—but still, I said I’d try to do daily updates, and once more, alas and alack, I have failed you. Oh well… on to this week’s mini-reviews!
***

COWS
by Matthew Stokoe

A few years back, I decided to try and find—and read—the most horrifying, disgusting, haunting, disturbing, downright traumatizing novel that I could get my hands on. It was part of an exercise, a challenge of sorts that I put to myself as a would-be writer of horror fiction. I wanted to find writing that did for literature what the New French Extremity has done for cinema since the dawning of the new millennium. And then, I wanted to figure out the techniques employed by said author, borrow them, then hone and/or amplify them, all so that I could eventually write my own stories, become a “success de scandale”, make a bundle of money, inspire a devoted cult of followers who would do whatever I ask of them, and ultimately take over the world.

Ambitious, yes, but a boy has to dream.

Anyhoo, one book that kept popping up on lists of deranged texts was Cows, the relatively short (206 pages) 1997 debut novel by British author Matthew Stokoe.

So I ordered it up from Amazon. And I read it. And, yeah… it’s pretty goddamn fucked up.

Cows is about a pathetic guy named Steven who lives with—and despises—his mother, whom he refers to as “the Hagbeast”. Steven also has a beloved pet dog, named Dog, who has to drag his hind legs behind him because of a broken back (the Hagbeast’s doing). The three of them live in an awful, stinking flat on the outskirts of an unnamed industrial city in England, being awful together. Steven believes the Hagbeast has been trying to kill him for his entire life, mostly by purposely feeding him inedible meals, which she always eats right alongside him.

As the novel opens, however, things are looking up for Steven (although this is definitely relative). After getting his hands on a television set, Steven develops a sense of hope and possibility from the way the people on his favorite shows live their lives. Basing his decision to rebuild his life on the examples they provide, Steven decides to become normal.

With that goal in mind, Steven goes out and gets his first job… operating the grinder at a local slaughterhouse/meat processing plant. There, an individual by the name of Cripps takes him under his wing and introduces him to a new philosophy, a new way of seeing the world, of being in the world. It begins with something sacred and transformative… the First Kill.
“These are your future, if you have the courage. They grow them in concrete boxes under ultraviolet light, they feed them on pellets of their own dead. These are urban cows, boy, man-made without mystery, and they have a gift for us far more important than meat or leather. It isn’t a gift they like to give, though. Not at all.” 
“What gift?” 
“The experience of killing. Of blowing out their brains and taking away their most precious thing. It smashes the walls you put around yourself, the walls other people put around you to stop you doing what you want. Do you understand me? The things you would do if there was nothing to stop you. Killing is an act of self-realization, it shows a man the truth of his power. And when you know this, boy, the pettiness they try to shackle us with falls away like shit.” 
Cripps threw his arms out like he was on a cross. 
“Killing frees you to live as you should.”
In short order, with a little help from Cripps (and a pneumatic skull-punch), Steven has performed his first kill… and it works. Cripps’ dangerous advice leads to Steven being reborn in blood as a Man of Action. It even gives him the confidence to engage with Lucy, an upstairs neighbor whom he’s long fancied.

For her part, Lucy mostly cozies up to Steven because she needs someone to help her operate the colonoscope she’s had smuggled out of a nearby hospital in order to prove to herself and others that her medical delusions aren’t just a figment of her imagination. But Steven doesn’t care. He believes that he needs a wife to be normal, like the people on TV, and he’s also confident that he can make Lucy want to be normal as well.

There remains one substantial obstacle to all this normalcy, however… the Hagbeast. Tackling her will be the great challenge of his life, necessitating his initiation into ever-higher degrees in the ultimate Secret Society of Killing, degrees far above anything Cripps can offer him. That’s when Steven turns to a new mentor… the Guernsey. And that’s when things get crazy.

From beginning to end, Cows is monstrous and grotesque. On more than one occasion, I was forced to stop reading, lest I become physically sick. The behaviors portrayed are lunatic. There are graphic, detailed descriptions of animal cruelty on an epic scale, torture, rape, murder, cannibalism, coprophilia, self-harm, suicide, and bestiality.

And yet, despite all that, it’s also surprisingly well written, and serves as an insightful meditation on the negative dialectics of authority and hierarchy. Furthermore, Stokoe’s subsequent novels have gone on to be translated into multiple languages, earn critical plaudits from esteemed peers, and win prestigious international literary awards.

So what are we to make of Cows? Did it live up to the hype? Did I learn anything from it? Will I be able to steal Stokoe’s techniques and bend them to my will in future stories of my own? Maybe. Who knows? Who cares? Probably not enough people to keep this review going any longer. And so, with that, I bid you… COWS!
***


SOBEK
By James Stokoe
Shortbox Comics, 2019

What’s this? Another Stokoe?! Yes, but a different one this time, not Matthew, the insane novelist, but James, the insanely talented comics creator who has brought us such beautiful books as Godzilla in Hell, ALIEN: Dead Orbit, and Orc Stain.

Sobek is a one-off from Short Box, a unique UK comics outfit with a box-based, or seasonal, non-subscription subscription model that I confess to not really understanding. Thankfully, that’s not a problem, seeing as my favorite comics shop, Toronto’s inimitable The Beguiling, has plenty of copies for sale.

Combining gloriously detailed line-work and a gorgeous coloring job on thick and sturdy archive-quality paper, Sobek is a thing of beauty, coming frightfully close to the Platonic Ideal of what every comic book should aspire to be.  I mean, just look at this splash-page!


The story is as simple as it is entertaining. The evil Egyptian god Set has invaded the city of Shedet, of which the benevolent crocodile god Sobek is the legendary protector. Set has taken up resident in Sobek’s temple, so a small group of citizens travel to Sobek’s mystical lair to let him know, and to beseech his aide. Sobek agrees, and they all make their way back down the Nile, where Set and Sobek face off.

The comedy in this book stems mostly from the characterizations, both verbal and visual. Now, I have no idea if Sobek really was the Dude Lebowski of the Egyptian pantheon, but it works out delightfully in this comic. The same goes for Set being portrayed as a cracked-out Wile E. Coyote type.

Bottom line, if you can get your hands on this book, by all means, BUY IT. I've read it through three times now, and I have yet to grow tired of it.

***


OCCULT PRESENCE
By Paqaru, Floating World Comics


The debut, digest-sized monograph by Spanish artist Paqaru, in which he creates paradoxically primitive yet fascinating environments that extend outwards in an almost mathematical way, then populates them with all manner of characters, from predator and prey, masters and slaves, acolytes and penitents, animals, monsters, people and ghosts. Paqaru’s dreamscapes and nightmarish architectures lend themselves surprisingly well to meditative wanderings, and serve as powerful creativity prompts. I would definitely buy a second volume of these artworks, and I’m excited to see what this young artist comes up with next.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

BLACK MIRROR SEASON 5 ~ RACHEL, JACK & ASHLEE TOO


The final episode of Black Mirror Season 5 is “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too”, and it tells the dual tales of Rachel and Jack (Angourie Rice and Madison Davenport)—two sisters who, after the recent death of their mother, have moved with their dad to a new town where making friends has proven difficult—and of globally renowned pop star Ashley O (played with verve and panache by real-life pop star Miley Cyrus), who is surrounded by dangerous people intent on using her and plundering every last possible resource from her mind, body, and spirit.

One such resource is a licensed product that’s a sort of hyper-advanced, desktop Tamagotchi called Ashley Too, each copy of which contains a “cookie”, the mind-replication technology with horrific implications that we were first shown in the film-length special Black Mirror: White Christmas. The difference with this version is that it comes with a cognitive limiter that allows Ashley Too access to only 4 percent of her brain power, which ensures that she simply sings, chats inconsequentially, offers make-over tips and other self-improvement encouragements. This, despite the fact that the real Ashley is an intelligent, troubled young woman who chafes at the restrictions placed upon her and her music by her manager/aunt and other handlers.

Of all the fifth season episodes of Black Mirror, this is the one with the most, and most pertinent, surprise twists. Therefore, I won't go into much more detail about the plot, beyond the set-up as described above. Suffice it to say that a series of ludicrous coincidences lead to superfan Rachel, skeptic Jack, and Ashley O herself (via an "unlocked" version of Ashley Too, due to the fact that the real Ashley O has been drugged into a pharmaceutically-induced coma by her evil manager/aunt) joining forces in a madcap caper that almost feels like a Disney movie for grown-ups.

I’m talking the whole kit and kaboodle, complete with such shenanigans as the girls disguising themselves as pest control workers (their father's trade) in order to gain access to Ashley O's fortress-like home, where they save her from an objectively horrific fate using the old bedpan-to-the-back-of-the-skull trick, followed by the old syringe-full-of-sedative-switcheroo trick.

Then there's a protracted chase scene in a van decorated to look like a giant mouse (talk about on the nose!), with the van and police cars crashing into the arena where Ashley's aunt is giving investors a first look at “Ashley Eternal”, a state-of-the-art hologram show that will make all its investors filthy rich (insert evil bad guys laugh here). Shortly thereafter, Ashley and Jack are playing the kind of heavy rock that both long to perform, while a smiling Rachel looks on, content to observe the people she loves.

And yet, while the episode seems to end on an upbeat note… does it really? Pay particular attention to each character’s final moments and see if you don’t find something about the whole thing to be amiss. Considering what Brooker must surely think of the Disney empire in general, I can’t imagine him ending it any other way.

One last thing about this episode… “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” is positively jam-packed with Easter Eggs from other episodes, even more, probably, than the fourth season episode, “Black Museum”. And this time, the Easter Eggs aren’t even limited to the series. My favorite happens to be the Sugar Ape magazine cover on the wall behind Ashley’s auntie’s desk in the image below. Sugar Ape, of course, was the magazine where Dan “Preacher Man” Ashcroft worked in Charlie Brooker’s first, most incisive, bleeding edge satirical 2005 series, Nathan Barley. The whole thing is available on Youtube (here's the first episode). I urge you to seek it out. You won’t regret it.


BLACK MIRROR SEASON 5 ~ SMITHEREENS


The second episode of Black Mirror's fifth season, "Smithereens", is a relatively straight-forward police procedural with a twist, all wrapped around a central riddle. Chris (in an award-worthy performance by Andrew Scott) has a job providing ride-share services, where he concentrates exclusively on the area surrounding the corporate headquarters for Smithereens, a fictional company meant to stand in for social media giant Facebook.

One day, Chris pulls a gun on one of his passengers, a young man named Jaden (Damson Idris), who appears to be a Smithereens executive. After a series of fuck-ups, Chris and Jaden—who turns out to be an unpaid intern—end up in an open field in the countryside, surrounded by police, negotiators, and snipers with itchy trigger fingers. Chris demands to speak to Smithereens' equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg, Billy Bauer (Topher Grace).

The riddle at the center of all this is... Why? What does Chris hope to achieve by communicating one-on-one with the young billionaire creator of Smithereens?

It turns out the answer to that question is a lot less important than the details that make up this episode's complex procedural narrative, which has a lot to say about the awesome powers that most of us have willingly (if unwittingly) handed over to the handlers of the unaccountable, Panopticon-style social media surveillance structures that have become ubiquitous virtually overnight. This point is hammered home by foundering officials expressing dumbfounded gratitude to Smithereens' C-wing representatives, who keep popping in with offers of such difficult to obtain, proprietary intel as perpetrator photographs and background checks, the ability to eavesdrop on Chris and Jaden, etc.

After an interminable wait, during which Chris frankly displays the patience of a Saint, another serious screw-up forces Bauer's hand, and Chris gets his long-delayed chat. Simultaneously devastating and yet also somehow anti-climactic, this discussion almost seems like an afterthought compared to what precedes it. And then, there’s the final twist of the metaphorical dagger, a joke on the viewer that should leave you inwardly groaning and damning whoever conceived of this shaggy dog coda.

Although it's incredibly well acted, it also caps off the least Black Mirror-like episode of the entire series, in the least Black-Mirror-like way possible.

Apparently, showrunner Charlie Brooker wanted this episode to contain no science-fiction elements, so as not to distract from its message. It's a message that I would dearly love to reveal to you right now, but I refuse to spoil it for you.

Allow me to conclude by offering up this double-rating:

As a random TV drama: 8/10
As an episode of Black Mirror: 4/10

Make of the above what you will.

Friday, June 7, 2019

BLACK MIRROR SEASON 5 ~ STRIKING VIPERS


It's baaack! After a few months' hiatus following the release of the Black Mirror-branded stand-alone film "Bandersnatch", Season 5 has finally arrived with three new episodes, hearkening back to the the show's first two truncated, Channel 4-produced seasons.

Unfortunately, while the six episodes that made up Black Mirror's first two seasons gave us five unforgettable classics and one unfortunate misfire ("The Waldo Moment"), Season 5 brings us three episodes that, while far from unfortunate, aren't likely to inspire much excited, wide-eyed chatter at the proverbial water cooler, either.

Case in point, episode one, "Striking Vipers". This is a story about two former college roomies, Danny (played by Anthony Mackie, aka the MCU's Falcon) and Karl (portrayed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), somewhat accidentally stumbling upon an unadvertised bonus feature of the cutting edge VR tech used in the video game system Karl buys Danny for his birthday.

Basically, it lets players engage in spectacular, better-than-lifelike sex with each other.

Of course, the ability to engage in superhumanly perfect, hyper-addictive, electro-stimulated endorphin/serotonin-squirting brain-sex doesn't exactly work wonders on the romantic lives of Danny and his devoted wife Theo (the wonderful Nicole Beharie), which sucks for them, as they're trying to conceive their second child.

And that's the set-up. The game in this episode is an obvious stand-in for online pornography, and in the Big Picture sense, the destructive potential of porn addiction is one of the avenues explored. Of course, there's more to it than that, but to go into too much detail would be to rob anyone reading this of the pleasures this "Striking Vipers" has to offer... and it has a few. 

For instance, this episode is absolutely refreshing in its portrayal of the Black middle class family experience. I respect that Brooker and company had the balls to let Danny and his family be so... mundane. Mundane and normal. It's also commendable for its sensitive, emotionally mature treatment of the issues that it raises, while never taking the easy way out by failing to acknowledge how fraught and complicated of an issue such things can be for some—indeed, most—of us.

"Striking Vipers" could easily have ended on a bleak, downer note, wallowing in yet another example of our species' increasingly obvious failure to engage in the mutual respect necessary to achieve actual, worthwhile communication. That it doesn't is a blessing, and makes it the best of this season's three middling offerings from Black Mirror.

Monday, June 3, 2019

MEDIA DIARY, SUNDAY JUNE 2, 2019

Today, aside from updating all four of my blogs, some substantially (Daily Dirt Diaspora, this one) and some, less so (Kubrick U, Useless Eater), I watched a couple of movies.


First up, the found footage, supernatural horror flick The Taking of Deborah Logan. You may have read about how this movie suffered from dismal preview audience ratings and was dumped by its distributor, only to be snatched from the bloody jaws of total obscurity upon finding its way to Netflix, where—surprise, surprise!—it found its audience.

All in all, it’s far from a classic, but it is a very effective, if workmanlike, specimen of its genre. And it does have a few elements that push it into the realm of being recommendation worthy.

For one, it’s chock-full of jump scares, which makes it a great date night movie. Also, it’s got some genuinely uncanny moments, guaranteed to inspire chills in all but the most stoic of viewers. And, most importantly, it’s got a legitimately awesome, courageous, balls-to-the-wall performance by the wonderful Jill Larson, who is utterly believable, both as an upper middle class matriarch dealing with the ravages of Alzheimer’s, and as a terrifying hag, possessed by the evil spirit of a serial murderer of children, a practicing black magician who was the town pediatrician way back in the day, before he disappeared off the face of the Earth.

A word of advice: If you’re thinking of watching The Taking of Deborah Logan, please refrain from researching it first. Every article about it seems hell-bent on revealing the best scenes, totally robbing them of their shock value. You’re going to want to go into this one fresh, trust me.


Next up, I watched Vox Lux, a film in which Natalie Portman plays Celeste, a talented, gentle, guileless young girl who gets swept up in the wake of a Columbine-style tragedy and rides it all the way to Lady Gaga-level mega-celebrity status. Jude Law plays the savvy producer who spots her potential early on, and both give career-best performances.

Written and directed by actor-turned-auteur Brady Corbet, who last gave us the magnificent Childhood of a Leader, Vox Lux also serves as the final offering from recently deceased musical genius Scott Walker, who provided powerful, experimental scores for both of Corbet’s films. Willem Dafoe provides sporadic “God’s Eye” narration, reminiscent of Kubrick’s use of this technique in such differing films as The Killing, Dr. Strangelove, and Barry Lyndon.

Vox Lux is nothing if not lofty in its ambitions, exploring as it does such varied topics as the continually evolving nature of celebrity in our surveillance-saturated, post-9/11, social media Panopticon world, as well as the moral issues involved in exploiting tragedy (or, for that matter, other people’s talents) for personal gain. It’s a film that asks what we all owe each other—friends, family, partners, strangers—in terms of responsibility as fellow human beings, being.

The reviews for Vox Lux were befuddlingly mixed for such a substantial, ambitious, and (I would argue) successful work of cinema. I suspect it suffered from comparisons to the widely-lauded A Star is Born. Or perhaps some of the critical ambivalence towards it might have to do with the last act, which definitely represents an extended formal detour from that which it follows. Despite this, Vox Lux is one of the more impressive films that I’ve seen in a long while. However, just as with The Taking of Deborah Logan, the less you know about it going in, the better.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

READING DIARY, SATURDAY JUNE 1, 2019



H.P. LOVECRAFT’S THE HOUND AND OTHER STORIES Adaptation and Artwork by Gou Tanabe

Acclaimed Japanese artist Gou Tanabe is best known in his home country for his straight-forward manga adaptations of literary works by such internationally renowned masters as Anton Checkov and Maxim Gorky. In recent years, he’s applied his ample talents to producing sophisticated, respectful, black and white adaptations of the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, and the results—translated and made available to English speaking markets thanks to the good people at Dark Horse—are nothing short of astonishing.

This volume presents three of Lovecraft’s earlier stories, including one of my personal favorites that often gets overlooked in surveys of the gentleman from Providence’s work: “The Hound”, which is as deliriously decadent a reading experience one is likely to find outside of Huysmans’ late 19th century novels. Indeed, Huysmans even gets name-checked in the original text (which you should listen to here on Youtube).

The first story presented is “The Temple”, a tale of a German U-boat crew who fall prey to a cursed trinket brought aboard their ship by an odd British prisoner. After a mysterious explosion leaves the sub partially immobilized and a mutiny whittles the ship’s crew down to a couple of officers, a deep dive reveals what appears to be the remnants of an ancient civilization carved out of the sea floor. Could it be Atlantis?

The second story is the aforementioned “The Hound”, about two decadent aesthetes whose love of all things morbid has transformed them into a pair of veritable super-Goth grave-robbers. They spend their time looting Europe’s cemeteries for spooky treasure, and reading their flesh-bound copy of the Necronomicon for shits and giggles. That is, until the night they dig up the wrong grave, in the wrong cemetery.

The final story in this collection, “The Nameless City”, is also the shortest. It’s about an Indiana Jones type explorer who comes across the legendary nameless city in the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula, finding a passageway that allows him access to ever deeper and ever larger underground chambers, until he stumbles across evidence of an ancient civilization that was entering its twilight before mankind had even experienced its dawn. And judging by the bas relief and other sculptures they left behind… they were none too pleased about having competition.


Throughout all three stories, Tanabe’s versions are studiously accurate to the original texts, and the artwork is uniformly excellent. My only complaint being the book’s digest size. The small format occasionally makes it difficult to make out what it is, exactly, that we’re being shown. It certainly isn’t a deal-breaker, and it won’t keep me from purchasing others in this series, particularly seeing as the price is quite reasonable, particularly for specialty material such as this.

The last thing I’d like to point out is Tanabe’s excellent attitude about all this. For some artists, adapting Lovecraft can be a bit of a money-grab. But at the end of this book, Tanabe has a special message for his readers, which I will reprint here in its entirety.
A sleepless night. A presence at the door. A whispering, barely heard. An anxiety and fear such as you haven’t felt since you were young. An intuition of primordial death. Lovecraft was a writer who crafted such unknowable darkness—a priest of his own Mythos. I know fear even at the richness of his creativity.

By illustrating his stories, I intend to become an apostle of the gods he made. I do not feel my work is yet complete. The images swell in my mind. “If I draw it like this…” “If I do it this way…” I hear the divine voice, commanding me to continue.

I am blessed that you are reading this. You have my gratitude.

1014, High Summer
Gou Tanabe

Saturday, June 1, 2019

READING DIARY, FRIDAY MAY 31, 2019

This week, yer old pal Jerky did a lot more watching than reading, and the reading he did get around to was mostly of the comic book variety. But all that TV watching wasn’t just an exercise in wasting time in front of the boob tube. I managed to revisit some truly inspirational, quality British programming, like the entire run of the surreal Christopher Morris series JAM, consisting of six nightmare-inducing half-hour episodes, featuring some of the darkest, most disturbing “comedy” ever produced for any medium.

But don’t take my word, or the word of Dangerous Minds for it. The show is currently available in its entirety on Youtube. Here’s an embedded link to the first episode. Watch it, and if you like what you see, the other five episodes are easy to find. But be warned! You will probably find yourself becoming upset at some point, regardless of how jaded you might think yourself to be... and you might not even be able to figure out why, exactly. That's part of JAM's bizarre, one-of-a-kind genius.


Other shows I watched this week include seasons 3 through 5 of Parks and Recreation, and 3 seasons of another, relatively recent cult British comedy show, Toast of London. This series, about misanthropic London stage and screen actor Stephen Toast, became something of a cause celebre after being added to North American Netflix, where it quickly established a dedicated fandom despite its low budget and relatively humble ambitions (which seem to boil down to “be funny”).


Starring the multi-talented Matt Berry and a strong ensemble cast, most of whom play multiple roles throughout the series, Toast of London is the kind of show that somehow manages to reward repeat viewing… or, at least, that’s been my experience. If you haven’t already given Toast of London a look-see, why not watch a couple episodes and see what you make of it? 

***



SMASHED
A STORY COLLECTION
, by Junji Ito

As far as reading goes for this week, despite getting a bunch of work done behind the scenes at Unravelling Genesis, I managed to get through all thirteen stories in Japanese horror manga superstar Junji Ito's most recent collection, Smashed.

Weighing in at over 400 pages of intricately rendered black and white graphic storytelling, this handsome hardcover is a real door stopper, and a great addition to any horror fan's collection. It also happens to be the best of the three Ito short story collections so far translated into English, in terms of story quality.

Ito’s unique take on the supernatural, wherein he devises hauntings and monstrosities that exhibit their own internally consistent form of nightmare logic, is something that needs to be experienced for oneself, as third party descriptions will invariably entail spoiling the fun of discovery. Suffice it to say that, if you’re at all curious about Ito’s short form horror, then Smashed is the collection to start with, as at least half the stories are top notch, and even the minor tales often have something—a unique idea, or a startling image—that makes reading it worthwhile.

“Bloodsucking Darkness” ~ A tale of teen angst, unrequited love, eating disorders, and a novel approach to their treatment that involves vampire bats and surreptitious nocturnal feedings. Great imagery!

Ghosts of Prime Time” ~ One of the collection’s lesser stories, involving two female comedians who gain a following thanks to their control over an army of ghosts that tickle their victims, occasionally to death (which can’t be good for business, come to think of it). Their foil? A brooding young man with no sense of humor, of course.

“Roar” ~ A unique twist on the repeating, ghostly event, in this case a deadly flash flood that haunts a forest valley. The story is interesting, but really, this is mostly an excuse for Ito to indulge his inner nature artist.

“Earthbound” ~ People are suddenly finding themselves paralyzed in awkward poses at the sight of the most traumatic moments from their life. To say anything else about how this story develops would be a disservice to both the author and the reader. An amazing story that would make a great addition to any high school English class textbook.

“Death Row Doorbell” ~ Straight-up creepy story of a death row inmate who is somehow managing to half-haunt the survivors of a deadly gang assault that he lead, which destroyed the lives of a family of five. But if things are this bad now… how bad will it get once the killer is 100% dead?!

“The Mystery of the Haunted House” ~ The first in a three-part suite of interconnected tales about Soichi, a strange man who operates a traveling haunted house attraction that harbors more dark family secrets than you can shake a femur bone at.

“The Mystery of the Haunted house: Soichi’s Version” ~ Part two in Soichi’s saga, wherein his origins are more deeply explored.

“Soichi’s Beloved Pet” ~ A barely-connected third part to the Soichi saga, this time examining a single event that helped make Soichi the monster he would ultimately become.


“In Mirror Valley” ~ Researchers explore twin abandoned towns on either side of a remote forest valley, where the residents pointed mirrors of all shapes and sizes at each other… but why?

“I Don’t Want to Be a Ghost” ~ And you won’t want to be one either, after you read this gruesome tale of afterlife cannibalism! Yes, I know… it sounds insane. Just read it and it will all make sense.

“Library Vision” ~ Edgar Allen Poe meets the first series of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure? Maybe. But probably not. Still, it’s an intriguing Modern Gothic.

“Splendid Shadow Song” ~ The collection’s least interesting entry. Which is too bad, because the idea of being haunted by a song that you can’t get out of your head offers interesting possibilities, and Ito would seem like just the artist to spin gold from such a concept.

“Smashed” ~ They really saved the best for last in this case (and named the entire anthology after it!). A truly shocking, tactile and visceral reading experience about which the less you know going in, the better. I will say, however, that this weird tale about a mysterious, delicious nectar made from the sap of a rare South American tree is the most Lovecraftian of the stories herein collected. I hope someone with balls takes a crack at filming this story, because that, my friends, would be something to see!
PS ~ Fair warning! As with most manga translated from Japanese into English, Junji Ito's Smashed is presented in its original right-to-left format, so as not to compromise the artist's original vision. That means the front cover is on what you or I might consider to be the back cover, and you have to read it back-to-front, and the word balloons run right-to-left instead of left-to-right, like in most comic books.