Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Number One, #5

I deliver this missive from Murcia, Espana. I should be holidaying but I love you guys too much and I've missed two hott new Number Ones already. Here are some words on them.

#1. Roll Deep - Green Light
Just wholesomely rubbish enough to work, I think. The central metaphor strained to breaking point ("Stop/Take a Look, left and right/Is it clear for me to go?"), a video which is just the various differing-values-of-ridiculous members (my favourite? Either the guy with the shades and top-knot, or the guy who looks like a chubby Jon Tickle) in front of block colours, genuine road signs, and the occasional shot of an actual traffic light.

I'm hardly desperate for the opportunity to dance to this, but I probably wouldn't change stations if it came on the radio. It is, if I'm being completely honest, the kind of song I guiltily catch myself enjoying in the shower before realising I've been singing along for the last two minutes without noticing.

#1. Taio Cruz - Dynamite
Meanwhile, something about this is more insidious and lazy. I briefly considered just cut-and-pasting an old review for one of the other generic-R&B Number Ones, but I'm wearing that particular rant a bit thin, I think (in conversation moreso: the words generic and R&B having been sighed so frequently recently that I'm starting to get a little self-conscious about it).

So I'll try instead to point out what makes this particular selection so offensive to my tastes in an easy-to-read point-by-point style:
-Repeating 'throw my hands up/ayo' in a way that caters to the lowest-common dancefloor denominator and has absolutely nothing to do with the song.
-The phrase "I'm wearing all my favourite brands". Humanity as it currently exists has been proved obsolete; please welcome Homo Nikeus, the very pinnacle of capitalism's long evolution process.
-Being yet another song about what precisely the protagonist plans to do in the club.
-Using autotuned vocals in a way that adds precisely nothing to the qualities of the music except sounding a bit weird. Except, oh, guess what: it sounds completely unsurprising given that approximately twenty-three thousand* songs have used this particular.
-Actually, scratch that first criticism. The song isn't actually about anything, is it? It doesn't even have the usual novelty hook, or twist on the formula and instead chooses to be a series of small semi-coherent collections of words on the general theme of being in the club. More terrible dynamite/explosive analogies next time, please.
-Somehow managing to make its presentation of girls in the video more leery and touching-yourself-behind-a-reflective-screen than the current par for music videos.
-Ending on a completely unearned self-congratulating applause when, in fact, the sound of someone miming putting a gun to their head would be much more apt.

Two mediocre-to-poor Number Ones, anyway. Roll on this week's hot pick, selected entirely at random by the atrophying twitch-reflexes of the discerning music-buying public.

*Values accurate to the nearest twenty-three-thousand.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Grounded: Why Superman Has To Walk

I don't know if you know (frankly, I'm not sure why you would) but recently the Superman comics reached the 700 mark. They took the opportunitity to begin not only a new story, but a new direction for Superman. He would be walking the length of the USA to reconnect with its people. Walking. As in, on foot.

The idea has been pretty thoroughly mocked. And rightfully so: it's a bit stupid, really, like the time Captain America gave up on Civil War because he was out of touch with the modern American man. It's been pointed out that the writer, J. Michael Straczynski, has done a very similar idea with his last three major iconic-superhero stories, bringing Thor and Wonder Woman to ground so he can get a handle on them.

Thing is, it also kind of makes sense.
Superstroll
Superman is a power fantasy figure. He was designed by two fanboy kids, from not-well-off immigrant backgrounds, as their protector. Superman is the genie in the bottle of guys like them, the bespectacled awkward working-class guy. He is the purest example of superhero as Metaphor.

I have to admit that these thoughts are all tangled with the fact I finally read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay this summer, and Shuster and Siegel have become stand-ins for those two characters in my head. 'Escapism' is a word I am trying to avoid.*

Meanwhile: It's a fairly accepted maxim that good Superman stories are thin on the ground these days. If it weren't for Morrison - more on him later - I believe it would go 'noone's written a great Superman story for decades'. The last film was a wreck. The big touchstones are 'imaginary stories' (aren't they all) which rework Superman (Red Son: as a Commie, Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow: as a disappeared legend).

One possible reason? Nowadays, the average comics reader doesn't have much to fear.
Superwave
The geek is king. We sit atop culture, defining the newest trends. We're able to snobbily say, huh, you've only just heard of Scott Pilgrim? like the indie-gurus of yesteryear. And, as all those Bam! Pow! headlines will tell you, they're not even kids anymore. There are no bullies to fear, at least no more than their average fellow man has.

Ladies and gentlemen, the metaphor at the heart of Superman has been spent. We don't need him anymore.

Grant Morrison did the best possible version of the Kryptonian Super-Jesus for the modern age in All-Star Superman, taking the idea to its logical extreme, as Morrison is wont to do, and painting him as just that: an outer-space saviour for the entire world, never faltering in his love. But that can only be done for so long and so, as the Superman serials roll on and on and on towards the next one thousand issues, writers have to make do with what's left.
ASSuperman
In this case, Straczynski has chosen 'he's one of us'. The jocks are no better than us, anymore, and Superman is no better than the Common Man. Looking from the outside, testing with one foot, we can see that the metaphor bends a little under strain, but holds. To go further, I need to examine the Metaphor in its natural habitat: Issues #700 to 702 of Superman.

The metaphor, and the couple of ways JMS chooses to bend it, are fascinating. The line between Clark Kent and Superman is blurred - Clark Kent casually chats on the phone, as Superman strolls down a street. Superman, the old immigrant, asks new migrants: "Could you possibly have picked a worse time to immigrate here illegally?" Clearly, it was different when he did it. Or is he drawing a line between him and his past?

The Superman iconography is testing the waters, trying to reinvent himself so he can remain a successful icon in the modern world.
Superman 701
Elsewhere, though, it's business as usual. Superman gives a lot of speeches, without really saying much about the metaphor, or himself, or the ideas behind the story. They seem to work their magic on the people Kal El meets, though, who are consistently inspired by his presence.

Which comes off a little cheesy, particularly when he helps the skinny little kid who wants to play basketball. It's predictable, but does return to the idea of Superman as liberator of the weak geek (in this case, the geek who wants to, and successfully manages to, integrate into normality.)

Meanwhile, there's some disturbing 'fighting for over here, over there can look out for itself' rhetoric from Superman, which seems a bit contradictory both with the character - it's the kind of thing that makes sense out of the mouth of Daredevil or Batman, overcome men doing what they can for their slice of land but not an all-powerful alien who has come to save us all - and the message of these comics. An attempt to tie it back into that idea, that 'there' can become 'here' only compounds the issue.

It's all a bit confused. The life of the everyman isn't below Superman - he's happy to clear out a stockroom to pay for a steak sandwich** - but he's also treated reverentially by both the public and the text. His opinion is treated differently to that of the man on the street, he's the only guy who can stop a girl from suicide (which might sound familiar to anyone who's read All-Star, where it actually makes 100% sense).
SM_702_cover_solicits
I think it's an attempt to bring human concerns and stories back to Superman, but only manages it in a temporary, revolving supporting cast. Not in the big man himself, or even his human friends. Straczynski takes a genuinely interesting idea, but one that requires following through straight and clear. Here, he muddles it and interesting ideas fail to translate into interesting comics.

And you have to be reading as a meta-fictional thing, a setting I can really only tune my brain to because of the unholy amount of Morrison interviews (and our good friend the Diegetic Panelisation guy) I've been consuming, and I'm not sure it's intentional on the part of Straczynski. For example: when a woman slaps Superman right at the opening of the story, telling him he hasn't there for her dead husband, is that a rejection of the Protector of All Earth interpretation of Superman? Or just a convenient plot device to get Superman feeling outdated, and onto the road?

Similarly, all the reporters asking if his walking trip is a result of Red Kryptonite or "a secret mission" or "about magic", could be a rejection of the Silver Age approach to Superman, with the wacky adventures, or it could be Straczynski the grumpy old man (it's the second of two 'darn media' scenes in two issues).

And then, at the end (spoilers!) in comes Batman, and you have to wonder: how does this fit? And when am I going to give up trying to work that out?

Flash chattin

*Nevertheless, it would be supervillain-evil of me not to credit, and point you towards But I must give credit to the stunning passage that made me fall in love with that book, and shapes much of my reasoning here:
"Josef was one of those unfortunate boys who become escape artists not to prove the superior machinary of their bodies against outlandish contrivances and the laws of physics, but for dangerously metaphorical reasons."
**Mmm. Steak sammich...

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Number One, #4

Today being Thursday, I realise this is ridiculously delayed, for a combination of good personal reasons and a less professional but nonetheless all-pervading dread of this week's song. But if this has any chance of being the semi-regular feature I want it to be, I have to finish it before next week's. Which hopefully won't be delayed.

Flo Rida - The Club Can't Handle Me (feat. David Guetta)
A week or so ago, young Miles came to me - I am, after all, a doctor of Pitchforkism, just as I am a doctor of love - with a problem. This song, Club Can't Handle Me by Flo Rida and David Guetta, two artists whose previous music he had no love for him, it worked for him.

So I listened to it, and found I was not suffering from the same affliction. It's not as obnoxious as I remembered, as I reluctantly gave up my LCD Soundsystem and typed in those words into Spotify's search bar, huffing like the petulant indie-child I am.

It is, dare I say it, actually a little fun, and I can see why it would make sense for someone, but that person is not me. Except for the bit at the beginning, where Flo (presumably this is how we are to refer to this ridiculously monickered gentleman) shouts out to his track companion "I see you D. Guetta, let's get 'em". This bit is solid gold.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Scott Pilgrimfest, Vol 1: vs. Miles vs. Finest Hour

So, it's the Summer of Scott. The comic's final chapter dropped a few weeks ago, the movie hype machine crushes all in its path, and I'm addicted to the Plumtree song that gave Mr Pilgrim his name. So, I've reacted in that particularly Alex Spencer way, which is to think of four or five things I can write on the topic as the SoS (as absolutely no-one is calling it) unfolds. First, a simple review of Vol. 6, the final chapter. Or it would be, had I not decided two heads - two sexy, messy-haired heads - would be better than one and asked LookiMakeMusic's very own Miles 'Davis' Bradley.

Finest Hour sliver
A perfect segue about me fighting through the last level of Mario Galaxy 2 is interrupted and wasted. The conversation is peppered with synchronicities, then talking over each other, then silence. But, hey, you've used IM before, you know the ropes. Spoilers of pretty much all of Scott Pilgrim follow. Also: some salty language, due to Miles being a very naughty man, and Scott Pilgrim being a bit of, no other word for it, a dick. A quick trim of the fat, a few bits added to make more sense/make me look better, and I present the results...

Miles: Do you want to do some scene setting before we get going? Because I want the world to know that I am eating some really pretty bad "Hairy Bikers" brand lemon-flavoured crisps. And that directly to my right is a copy of Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and the new Stars record.
Alex: I am on a family dining room table. I have just made some pretty frickin' gourmet orange/pineapple squash.
...So, Miles, which Scott Pilgrim character do you fancy most?
Miles: I don’t know any more. Probably Ramona. But Knives has "come of age" in book six and is finally dressing like a human being, so that helps.
Which Scott Pilgrim character do you fancy most post book six, Alex?
Alex: Kim Pine. Obv. She is my grumpy freckled Dreamgirl.
Miles: Ah, this was the first book where I liked Kim. And I'm not sure if that's me. Or if it's Kim getting nicer with age. But up until now I have hated, HATED, the fans who wanted Kim and Scott to end up together. After this one, I can certainly see where they were coming from.
Alex: Interestingly, this was the first book I liked Knives (that much). Relevantly: "no longer a child in the eyes of the law", right? That was the moment I started diggin' on this book
jaccuseMiles: I think mine: "J'Accuse - French".
Alex: Oh, that was brilliant, actually. Did you think this was a particularly funny book, as Scott Pilgrims go?
Miles: Relevant: I had the longest and most serious relationship of my life break up a little while before the book came out and in the time between that and me reading it for the first time, I behaved somewhat poorly for a bit, so it'd be fair to say that the whole thing kind of emotionally beat the shit out of me. But in between the crying and "oh God, me too" moments, I laughed and giggled a LOT.
I'd say it's one of the funniest, if not the funniest.
Alex: It's definitely funnier than Vol. 5, aka 'The One Where Everything Goes A Bit Wrong'.
Miles: It's important to be a dick sometimes so you can relate to popular works of narrative art.
Alex: I think that was my only issue with Finest Hour, actually: I don't have much relatable experience (5 being a lot closer to certain bones).
Miles: See, your problem is you've never been a dick.
Alex:I think Phonogram did all the 'I have a cock/have been a cock' lessons for me and made me, annoyingly, a better person before I got to notch up any experience in it.
Miles: Whereas for me with the first series of Phonogram I was busy being virginal, yearny and theoretical and for the second series of Phonogram was I being happily monogamous and pleasant.
[a moment of spooky synchronicity follows]
Miles: So it turns out the entire series was a moralist lesson in being nice.
Alex: So... Scott Pilgrim: is the pivotal message Don't Be A Dick?
Miles: Well, maybe. Or perhaps it's more like: When you have been a dick, it is important to recognise you have been a dick and not run from it. Or, as the Dali Lama says, "When you lose, don't lose the lesson".
Alex: Which is what makes Scott the good guy, and Gideon the baddie?
Miles: In the end, yes. There's been a fair bit of talk about the sympathetic/unsympatheticness of Scott in the build up to the film's release. And it's interesting to me how people react to him differently. And the running joke with the MemoryCam in book six adresses the matter in a manner that is laugh-out-loud funny but always followed by that moment of "Oh, yeah..." And you wonder if you should have cheering for this guy in those moments.
Alex: (Memory Cam is the most perfect part of the book. Probably the series.)
WHUD
Miles: Although you know what I think the best gut-punch is? The end of the Scott/Envy exchange that very, very quickly cuts to the heart of the matter of the way that relationships end and the... I don't know, the many different ways they are interpretted from the inside and out - "I remember you breaking my heart." The feeling is somewhat mutual." Having read everything leading up to that with Scott painting it as straightforward ‘Envy became terrible!’ that bit's absolutely mind blowing in a quiet, sad way
Alex: You say different people react differently, right? So, for you, how is Scott?
Miles: I think he means well, I think he's perhaps a bit too... in thrall to pretty girls. He is a dick to Knives at the start, and The Lisa Miller Incident is... he does not look good. But I'd say that makes him human rather than actively a dick. A little oblivious, a little selfish at times but basically a reasonable dude?
Alex: Ok, then I shall come in with my cutting question. Which is: do you find Scott relatable?
Miles: Yes. Sure. I mean, not that I've directly been in situations like the Knives and Lisa things. But I understand the feelings there.
Alex: See, I kinda feel like, with Scott, it’s like: you understand there's a gap between the stuff he does and who he is. And that line works as long as you can think 'wow, he is a bit me'. And that’s why we can forgive a character who is essentially a dick, right? So Scott needs to be a bit universally relatable for the book to work.
Miles: Well, put it this way - I think I'm more Scott than I am any other character in the book
Alex: Me too. And I know at least one other person who thinks Scott was, like, unconsciously modelled on them. I think this might be the Key to Scott Pilgrim. Because he's set up as Just Like Us, he has a definite leeway for getting away with some horrific, subtly so, but horrific behaviour.
Miles: But it's also nice, hell, identity/personality-affirming when he comes around and Does The Right Thing.
Scott Wallpaper
Miles: I think Scott's obliviousness is his quality I most identify with. Speaking of which,
how do you feel about Steven Stills's ending?
Alex: I was a bit ‘eh, cheap’ at first. But then you go back and Knives laughing at Scott saying she likes Steven Stills, and how he's spending all that time producing the album in the last book... and it makes a lot of sense. Both in terms of narrative and to do it that way, given that you're right along with Scott. Who is - as always – clueless. O’Malley pulls this double illusion, where you start out thinking Scott’s the greatest guy, and basically believe everything he does. He’s clueless about himself, even. And then this one is all about picking that apart.
Miles: Absolutely. You never feel manipulated, through the revelations in Book Six, even when it turns out you literally have been. It just... it makes sense that we have been sat with Scott and he hasn't realised any of this shit. And now he's being forced to and so are we.
Also: if this is the book where Kim* and Knives become nice human beings, it's also the book where you realise that Wallace is not entirely harmless.
Alex: Yeah. Dude. I love me some Wallace Wells but he is nasty in this.
Wallace Wells
Miles: This is the first book where the Big Bad is actually really properly present. How did you find him, Alex?
Alex: Gideon was kind of exactly what he was set up to be, wasn't he? I mean, I thought he'd turn out to be not that too bad a guy. But the kicker came in how similar he is to Scott, instead. Also: 31 years old? Ew
Miles: That was unexpected and a little odd. It definitely helps creep-up the depiction of Gideon and Ramona's first meeting.
Alex: Although, how hypocritical is that? Given our hero is the Sketchy-Ass 24-year-old,
Miles: You're right, and maybe that's intentional, perhaps you're supposed to double take and consider the Scott/Knives thing in light of that. Oh: "But it was horrible for everyone. Including you" = brilliant.
Alex: (some quick maths suggests it is the exact same age gap as between Scott & Knives).
Miles: I love the thing about him accidentally forming the League when drunk on the internet. I FEEL YOU, GIDEON.
Alex: I loved how real and ... almost throwaway that was. Like: The central high concept of the series? Yeah, that's not really much of a thing.
Scott bed
Miles: I like how it felt very much as if Bryan was really completely comfortable with his universe on this one. Five was, in places, kind of maybe a bit of a crawl. But this has the same constant forward motion of 4. Well. Once Scott finally gets off the couch.
Alex: Confession: I still don't really get the head-glow/subspace highway thing.
Miles: I got the vague jist. Something to do with Gideon doing evil magic resulting in Scott having the issues with his past and then Ramona having her ... thing ... with the ... glow?
But, I felt that was probably me being dumb rather than the writing being bad.
Alex: No, I think that's one place where it fell down a bit.
Miles: But by that point you're won over and go along with it.
Alex: Yeah… I just can’t help wanting to know for narrative reasons (the glowy heads being one of the series’ major mysteries) but then, moreso, to grasp the Metaphor behind it.
Miles: Mm. Minus points for ‘vagueness re: magic' then.
Scott Nom Nom Nom
Alex: I feel like we’re entering Final Comments territory.
Miles: It's really, really good. The whole series is essential, but I realise that for me, it's half of the package of stuff I'd give people to explain what the inside of my head is like. So I was never going to be dissapointed by the ending. But I still totally wasn't.
It's funny and moving and brilliant and the ending that the series deserves. And now I am so stoked for the movie that I might explode. If I did, Alex would get my record collection and a +3 bonus to "Grief". (+2? I'm not sure how much you like me. Maybe only +2*)
Alex:I think it didn't rock my brain the way I maybe hoped it to, but I've never been one for endings. I wish I had more dick-experience to fully appreciate it, but it was exactly the ending the series deserved (even if I didn't get to live out my marrying-Kim-Pine-and-growing-old-together fantasy).
I think this is the point where we do a RATING: AWESOME gag, right?
Miles: Well, yes. Except I'd go RATING: PERFECT ... RELATIVELY PERFECT.
Alex: (‘cause nothing in life's fully perfect. See: Important Life Lessons of Scott Pilgrim.)
Miles: Well. Define ‘fully perfect’?
Alex: Your mom.


*Kim was never anything but the greatest human being. Miles is just silly.
**It would be +3, Miles.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Number One, #3

I am doing this, for the first time, before knowing the result. The chart unfolds before us. Ooh, exciting, eh? So, in the meantime, let's catch up on the missed weeks of hott Number One Hits. Looking at what I've missed, I see I'm going to hate myself for doing this...

FOUR WEEKS AGO
Katy Perry - California Gurls
Again. One time too many, by my reckoning. Was it even still sunny?
perr1
THREE WEEKS AGO
The Club is Alive - JLS
What exactly keeps the pop-Frankenstein that is JLS alive baffles me. What sustenance feeds this monster? The hearts of young gullible girls, and mid-twenties girls who should know better, snatched late at night? When it lifts - argh - it lifts its shirt, to show what lies beneath, is the correct response not to be repulsed?

The Club is Alive is a perfect example of this shambling undead mess. Look how it masquerades as one of us, so desperate to convince us it is 'Alive' at it assembles itself from a set of below-adequate parts. A weird The Sound of Music sample, as shown to be pop-poison by Gwen Stefani not all that long ago. Bargain-bin electro-effects, cheap tinny synths and melting voices. The refrain "you can be the DJ, I can be the dancefloor/you can get up on me" which apart from its failings to make any sense as an analogy, doesn't even sound snappy. 1, 2, 3, bleeding 4...

You question which element, exactly, came first and was considered good enough to have a song built around it. This is not just poorly reanimated pop, it is the Tesco Value Frankenstein, a sellotaped-together selection of dull, unattractive parts that do not add up to a whole.

(The chart countdown reveals that it won't be this
All Time Low song that makes #1. Phew.)

TWO WEEKS AGO

Airplanes - B.o.B. (feat. Hayley Williams)
So, if M.I.A. is Maya, this guy is Bob? That's just not good enough for pop music. Fittingly, neither is this.

Which is where I could finish. It's certainly not as deserving of my ire as JLS, being a moderately good song. Bringing in mediocre female rock vocals in actually hurts the song, which when Bob's flow gets going - apart from the annoying tendency to drop at the end of a line - has a certain urgency to it. But the chorus sounds like generic R&B trying to do Evanescence and, that being the bit we've all heard over and over for the last month, makes this song's ubiquity ... a bit hurtful, really. Did we not learn the first time, people?

(And it's not Eminem which ... I'm actually a bit gutted about. I haven't had chance to take any of the new Eminem stuff apart yet, and I am hungry to do so. Know this, Mr Mathers: I continue to be Very Disappointed in you.)
Yolanda-Be-Cool
ONE WEEK AGO
We No Speak Americano - Yolanda Be Cool vs D-Cup
This is more like it. Summer novelty hit which I can't actually quite get my head round. It's like - along with that Stereo Love song - an attempt to reclaim the viral europop people used to bring back in their heads and their mouths from holidays on the Mediterrenean and have to find on tape back at home, if only to inoculate themselves. Where that song takes a pure retro route, however, this one is that phenomenon described to a DJ of five years in the future, whose record collection only stretches as far back as this January.

It bends, flexes, plays with the raw materials in its metallic paws. It is an effortless Number One. I am congratulating it more than I probably actually like it as a song, because it is a Pop Hit Designed Only For Chart Domination and it is only proper and right that this was achieved.

And we return, just in time for the announcement of This Week's Official UK Chart Number One. And it is...

TODAY
NeYo - Beautiful Monster

The radio announcement that convinced me I had to return to this idea, right now, was that the three possibilities for a number one were NeYo, Flo Rida and Tinchy Stryder. The way they meld into a generic internet-R&B-superstar-name-generator mush. It's the names, for one. I forgot to add the name on first posting, and I genuinely had to check which one it was. I can't tell them apart even by their ridiculous monickers, and the music - of course - doesn't help.

The Worst Bit:
The lyrics, in the opening particularly, are delivered slowly enough to be actively painful. The My-First-Metaphor, the obvious rhymes, are so easy to spot you'd have to be politely looking away not to notice.
The Best Bit:
There are '90s videogame noises which build, chopping, under the song at various points. There's one bit where it actually sounds like it's building to strobing lasers and , but it doesn't go anywhere more than a slightly louder repetition of the chorus. But for one moment, there's a thrilling promise.

...I'm almost upset I used up my Frankenstein's monster analogy on JLS, but maybe it would have been too obvious, given the title. It really does sound like one of the parts that was found at the roadside and stitched together for that monstrosity, though. But here's the thing: while it was never going to reach the Gaga One, the pop-deity its title oh-so-subtly invokes, Beautiful Monster doesn't even have the balls to be as terrible as JLS' beast.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The Alan Moore Effect

Last week, Alan Moore released a comic. This is A Big Deal in comicdom, at least to a certain section of people. Alan Moore is the man who wrote Watchmen, V For Vendetta, and did a lot of pretty revolutionary stuff in the world of sequential man-punching-man art. It's like ... a new Prince release in pop-world, let's say.*

And so its fitting that the particulars of this latest work are a little strange. Moore eschewed the traditional Big Two publishers long ago so it perhaps shouldn't be so big a surprise that this is coming out through Avatar Comics, a pretty small creator-orientated publisher. But, as traditional Big Important Comics release methods go, it's about as conventional as Prince giving away his new album with The Daily Mirror.** It's not getting reviewed in a lot of the mainstream places, there's no real marketing push. It is an event only to people who decide to let it be an event. Which is unusual enough in the world of comics.

But what's more unusual, what really seems to have taken people by surprise, is the actual content of this, Alan Moore's (apparently) Final Comic. Which, oh yeah, we should probably start referring to by name as the comic itself actually matters, a bit: Neonomicon.
NeonomiconLogo

What is actually unusual about Neonomicon is quite how usual it all is.

Neonomicon*** is a supernatural-horror police-procedural. CSI crossed with Lovecraft; the fantastic grounded in the earthy. Which is a nice premise. But, given this is a man who is deified for his unthreading of comic conventions and masterful interweaving of new narrative techniques, it's hardly innovative. It's told very straight. There's no particular cleverness, no obvious Mooreisms to speak of. Unless, of course, you're hip to the theory of 'Diegetic Panelisation'.****

The relevant video is here, which I found through Rich Johnston's Bleeding Cool. Its presentation is ridiculous: all sweeping Inception score and "I don't know about you, but that scares me", post-Matrix ponderousness and naughty, naughty swears.

Not to give much away, I don't put much stock in the Diegetic Panelisation theory. Okay, let's break this down. Like in panels.

-The idea is that Moore is drawing our attention, very subtly, to the artificial nature of his story. This comic is a comic. He does this, mostly, through his uses of panels and gutters. As the video wisely does, I shall steal from Scott McCloud at this point:
Panels
Moore's repeated use of a four-panel layout is suggested as a kind of primer to the game we're meant to be playing. The thing is, this isn't stuck to that slavishly, or even broken at key moments to emphasise the point. Definitely not enough that it stands out, the four-panel 'widescreen' approach being a fairly common part of modern comics.

-The game that this sets up, the theory goes, is to establish that long screen-shaped rectangle as our viewing window. This is echoed within the art itself.
NPanels1
This is interesting.
However, spotting panels within panels eventually becomes just that: a game of spot-the-rectangle. A single screen within a panel is interesting. Pointing out how often the art uses (real world examples of) rectangles ignores a dozen obvious criticisms.
NPanels2
This is going too far.
-Even if this is what Moore has chosen to explore, it would actually be a little disappointing. I mean, haven't we all read Grant Morrison by now? Comic characters becoming self-aware, panel borders as physical boundaries, the escape off the page are hardly new ideas. Not to spoil them for anyone, but go and read Flex Mentallo, Animal Man, The Filth... Comparing this to Magritte's fist assertion that this is not a pipe is reaching, to say the least.

And reaching is the recurring theme of this theory. What it all reeks of is desperation. The Great Bearded One is Serious Grown-Up Comic's greatest totem and today, as he semi-rejects the medium, new work by Moore gets sparser and sparser. And then one comes along and it is just so  ... plain. And so the defence mechanisms kick in, antibodies are released, and geekzyme breaks down the work until it fits into the hole deemed fitting.

The thing is, being fair, parts of the theory actually make sense. The 'literary in-joke' comment stuck out even on first reading, some of the panel-within-a-panel stuff actually makes sense (especially in the otherwise arbitrary use of a geodome surrounding the city setting). The graffitied painting that plays a key part in the plot has edges designed to look like a gateway, like those illusions where the graffiti makes it look like the pavement is falling away to reveal what lies beneath, all of which lends credence to the ideas of depth and flatness. Most of all, it makes for an interesting reading of the comic's final, sharpest moment. Which is, as I read it, simply a use of comics' uniquely graphic-but-not-reality images to produce a simple trick, a trompe l'oeil.
amazing-3d-pavement-art-1

I think there's even something to the idea itself: the story does to be headed somewhere. But even if this reading is spot-on, it's hardly 'woah' stuff. A lot of what is pointed to is essentially that Alan Moore knows the form: which should be a surprise to about no-one who has ever studied/analysed comic.

(And I'm a bit of a hypocrite for knocking over-analysis, as this blog is testament to. And faith in a bigger meaning is what kept me clinging to Lost for ever and ever. Meanwhile, I consume everything I can find on Inception - which I didn't even love, that much - and Grant Morrison's Batman stuff.)

Our analyst is clearly talented. There's a lot of good observation in here, from the hand-drawn wobbly borders to the very particular structure of the art. And, hey, it's made me look again at this comic and I've ended up spending most of this post analysing his analysis, rather than breaking down the actual comic. I just think that shows how there's not much to be picked at in the meat of the issue itself.

The other thing is, it's actually possibly more interesting that Moore chose to do this as his last work, a simple story-for-story's sake genre piece, to wash his hands of the reputation he's developed in the world of comics, something he has denounced repeatedly and you can tell he's uncomfortable with. The mind of the logical reader might see a good comic, slightly creepy, an interesting idea or two.

Meanwhile, the mind twisted by a lifetime of entitled comics fanboyism tells us: Daddy's left us, with a great big single-fingered salute to all our hopes and dreams (he told us we could go with him and play major-league baseball forever!) And we're left at home, scrabbling around in what's left and trying to find some meaning. Please, let there be meaning.
neonomicon
*The analogy fits quite well, actually: artist does big work in 80s, becomes Godhead, goes a bit mental, partially disappears only to come back and start renouncing the internet or the films of their work.
**No offence to Avatar Comics meant, here. They deal in doing stuff the other publishers wouldn't dare and for that reason a couple of beloved creators, Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis, seem to have found something of a home there, nestled in Avatar's rafters. They're also publishing Kieron Gillen's new thing, The Heat, so they're generally pretty kewl.
***I am sick of typing this word already. This is Reason #2 I avoided calling it by name till now.
****Oh, no. I hate typing that far more.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

My Beautiful Face, again

I am genuinely honoured to present to you the work of one Jessica 'Hot Lips' Kim, done at my mild nagging that she fills her unemployment with my face. She has opted for an 80's Amiga-game look, if I am not mistaken. This is A) not inaccurate, B) awesome.

Thanks, Jess!

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London, United Kingdom
Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.