Sunday, 24 April 2011

I Think It Starts With An A

Something that’s struck me recently whilst reading the comments sections of online sports reports is the astonishing lack of literacy skills among a certain section of the fanbase. One club in particular has supporters whose ability to turn a clumsy and ill-informed phrase would shame even a Daily Mail journalist, and that club is, as if the question needed asking, Arsenal.

I shall be reproducing the more outstanding of these efforts here from time to time, in the same spirit that may perhaps compel a primary school teacher to single out an especially recalcitrant pupil; it’s for their own good.

First, from the Independent on Sunday’s comments re the Spurs/WBA game, from a Sid Vicious:

Spurs are a club in serious crisis thats 1 poxy win now from there last 10 games which is a shocking and scary statistic its no wonder Harry Redknapp is fighting to keep his job with reports coming out that he has lost the dressing room many of the players dont see eye to eye with him after the sisgusting and shambolic way he treated Lennon at the Real Madrid first leg game by trying to blame his own player and scapegoat him only to back track later its why there was emrgency meetings held at the Lane last night by Daniel Levy and the board at what is going on in that Spurs dressing room whatch this space

Fascinating. Never mind the lack of apostrophes or the mis-spelling of ‘their’; those two are common mistakes made by even the sanest of commentors. Concentrate instead firstly on the fact that there is absolutely no punctuation in the entire comment barring the terminating ellipse, a lack which focuses the attention on the chaotic state of Mr Vicious’ mental (and I use the word ‘mental’ with great care) processes.

Secondly, concentrate  on the neologisms Mr Vicious so kindly coins for us: ‘sisgusting’, which I believe is defined as ‘an act which causes nausea among female siblings’; ‘whatch’ is, according to my IED[1], either ‘a roof covering made of unidentifiable materials’ or ‘an unreliable timepiece’.

Thirdly, this stunning example of sentence construction: why there was emrgency meetings held at the Lane last night by Daniel Levy and the board at what is going on in that Spurs dressing room. At what is going on’? Not ‘About what is going on’ or ‘about the troubles’. Follow this up with ‘in that Spurs dressing room’ – yes, that Spurs dressing room, not the other one, not the real one but the very special Spurs dressing room inside Mr. Vicious’ head – and the impression abides that either Mr. Vicious has a very strong West Country accent or he is a very very silly man indeed.

Finally, we must ask: from where exactly is Mr Vicious obtaining his information? Has he a small recording device surreptitiously placed down Jermaine Defoe’s shorts or concealed in Benoit Assou-Ekotto's hair? Or is he taking the names from the back of the players’ shirts and re-arranging the letters, Bible Code-style, to come up with his bizarre accusations? 

I have, in the name of scientific and literary research, performed a similar analysis on the Tottenham team’s current most-revered player’s name and I must report that my result is quite different to Mr Vicious’.

The anagram of ‘Gareth Bale’ anagram surely sums up the player's loyalty to the team far more concisely than any contract ever could. It translates to ‘Bagel Heart’.

[1] Improvised Extemporary Dictionary

Monday, 18 April 2011

WIP (2)

Busy busy busy, no time for this lark right now, so here's the first chapter of a children's story.

In a town not far from your town, on a street a lot like your street, there are three houses, just the same. The first house has a red door and there are flowers growing in some window boxes at the front. The second house has a blue door and there’s a little wooden fence along the front. And the third house has a green front door and there’s a wall along the front, just high enough to sit on without your feet touching the ground. 
Olly lives in the house with the red door. He lives there with his mum and his dad, and a cat called Monty. Monty is a ginger cat. 
Will lives in the house with the green door. He lives there with his Mum. Will’s dad had to go away a long time ago, but Will hopes he’ll come back one day. 
Who lives in the house with the blue door? Nobody lives there. Not yet. There’s a sign on the house that tells people they could live there if they want to, but nobody’s wanted to. Not yet. Maybe soon. 
There isn’t another house next to the one with the green front door. Instead, there’s a park. If you walk through the park, past the swings and the big square of grass where grown-ups play a really big game of marbles, and past the little house where the park-keeper keeps his mower and his rakes, there’s a school. 
It’s the school that Olly and Will go to. They’re not in the same class but they like to walk to school together, and they like to walk home together. So that’s what they do. Every morning, Olly says goodbye to his Mum or to his Dad, because sometimes his Mum gets him ready and sometimes his Dad does. When it’s time, he walks out his house and turns left. He walks past the window boxes with the flowers growing in them and past the house where nobody lives. Then he reaches Will’s house. 
Sometimes Will is waiting for Olly. Sometimes Olly has to wait for Will. Most of the time, though, Olly just rings the bell at Will’s house and sits on the wall outside, with his feet not quite touching the ground. One day, Olly thinks to himself, I’ll be tall enough for my feet to touch the ground when I sit on the wall. Then we’ll see. Oh yes we will. 
This morning, Olly doesn’t have to wait for Will because Will is already at his front gate. Will’s Mum looks at Will and says to him:
“William, your shirt should be tucked in and your tie should be straight. Look at Oliver, he’s put his tie on lovely, he has.”
Will gets a bit miffed at this. He thinks ties shouldn’t have to be straight all the time because if they were, there’d be no wonky ties for people to put straight, and then what else would they have to moan about? But Will just says ‘Alright, Mum.” Then his Mum gives him a little kiss on the top of his head, just to make him feel a bit squirmy in front of Olly. 
Then they go through the park gates and begin the walk to school. 
There’s a path in the park. It runs all the way around the outside. Will and Olly walk from the park gates to their school, which is on the far side of the park. When they’re quite close to school - close enough to see the head teacher standing outside, for instance, or close enough to not be able to change their minds about going and run back home and pretend to be ill instead - they see someone else. 
They see this someone every day, at the same time and in the same place. And here she comes, looking really really happy like she does every day, She looks really really happy because she really is really really happy. She’s really really happy all the time. 
This is Lucy.
Will and Olly see her skipping along, and they see her ponytail bouncing up and down - even her ponytail is happy - and they smile, because seeing her makes them happy too. Maybe not as happy as she is. But happier than before, and happier than before is always better than sadder than before. 
“Hello Will!” says Lucy.
“Hello Lucy!” says Will.
“Hello Olly!” says Lucy.
“Hello Lucy!” says Olly. 
“Hello School!” says Lucy.
“Lucy?” says Olly. “The school can’t talk.”
“I knows that!” says Lucy, and she laughs at Olly. “Everybody knows that! I’m not stupid, ams I?”
“No, Lucy. I suppose you’re not.” says Will. 
And they all walk past the head teacher and go to school.
Now, this is where you expect to be told all about what they did at school that day. This is where you expect to be told about their lessons and their teachers (one of whom is very nice, and one of whom is rather horrible, but maybe we’ll meet them later). This is where you expect to be told all about what they had for lunch, and the game of Who’s The Sheep they played at breaktime, and about how Peter Lightbody did something silly in Science and had to go home for a bath. 
But that isn’t going to happen. 
Because something far more important was going on back in the street where Will and Olly live. 
And we really should go and find out about that. 

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

MY SUMMER PROJECT (or: Hoe Hoe Hoe) part one

I am not by nature a gardening man. I have a small plot outside my back door, approximately twenty feet by fifteen. Since taking over this house my gardening efforts have been restricted to a six-monthly opening of the back door, through which I emerge with a watering can full of triple-strength Weedol. I apply this liberally to anything that may have the potential to grow. Six weeks later everything that usually turns green has instead become a fetching dried brown. Job done.

This last few weeks, with time on my hands and the sun shining unnaturally and preternaturally early in the year, I have decided it would be nice to have somewhere pleasant to sit in the evenings with something cold to drink and something improving to read, both to be comsumed while reclining on a sun-dappled wooden bench or similar.

So I have put aside my life-long aversion to spade and hoe, and made a start on transforming my plot, which up until now I have graced with the phrase ‘natural ecosystem’, into such an oasis.
This work will involve (and this is by no means an exhaustive itinery) the following:

  • Cutting down four grotesquely overgrown rose bushes
  • Lifting a dozen or two foot-square concrete paving slabs
  • Digging up and disposing of the root system of previously-listed rose bushes, and also that of some nondescript annual-flowering bush thing that the cat likes to sit under
  • Digging and levelling the entire plot
  • Disposing of all of the above, plus a great heap of domestic rubbish that occupies the west side of the garden, consisting of old electric fans, a dead vacuum cleaner, a dreadfully unfashionable plastic picnic set that currently gathers rainwater and is used by previously-mentioned cat as a watering hole, eight or nine plastic bags containing detritus from a previous fitting of a new boiler, some form of plastic riddle (the gardening implement, not the puzzle), an ancient and rusted ironing board, approximately twelve square yards of mouldy carpet that probably harbours several generations of mice, and a section of modular sofa that once sat in my living room along with a number of similar items until the Great Sofa Putsch of 2009 when they were ousted by the enormous over-cushioned item that now houses my lazy backside of an evening, and is used by previously-mentioned cat as a sunning spot and scratching post, leading to said sofa now resembling something hauled out of an Afghanistan target zone.
  • Demolishing and disposing of a one cubic yard capacity concrete cola bunker, though this may escape its fate and, through judicious drilling of its walls and the introduction of internal platforms, grilles, etc be transformed into a post-modern barbecue.
  • Covering the denuded ground with sand, then:
  • Covering this with a selection of small stones, gravel, pebbles, etc, to transform the plot into a tiny Zen paradise.
  • Radical pruning of equally overgrown holly tree before branches intrude any further into upper windows of not only my house, but house next door and possibly house on opposite side of street.
  • Potentially introducing a small area for the growing of garden herbs. This may not happen as it will simply introduce an element of continuing work into the equation, and the whole point of this game is to have something that requires even less effort than the watering-can full of triple-strength Weedol.
  • There's even a little bin to put your
    fag ends into
  • Keeping previously-mentioned very large (thirty-four inches nose to tail at full stretch), very black, very inquisitive (he currently has his head stuck in the top of previously-mentioned coal bunker, attempting and failing to swipe something from the interior) cat from eating anything that may have been doused with triple-strength Weedol in a pre-emptive strike against guerrilla plant growth.

This will not be an easy job. It will in fact be a bloody hard job. In fact it’s sheer sodding madness. However, plans have been drawn up, jobs have been scheduled, garden clearance chappies have been researched (two hundred notes for six cubic yards of crap? Bloody Nora and other expressions of shock), materials have been costed.

So far one bush - the moggy-shelterer -  has been dug up in two days-worth of frantic shovelling, forking and axe-wielding. The first of the rose bushes has been attacked and has yielded its root system, which in turn is offering resistance and refusing to allow full extraction.

All of the planned work is to be done on a schedule that insists on completion either by mid-June or until I get fed up, throw in the towel and go back to the old watering can, whichever is the sooner.

I intend to be sipping on a chilled Becks Blue in my lovely new garden by the time the next heatwave strikes.

But right now it’s bloody raining and I have a Louise Wener book to get my teeth into, given the absence of Louise Wener herself to perform said act upon.

Updates will follow.

Over and out. 

Friday, 8 April 2011

ATLAS (SHRUGS) part four: By The Time I Get To...

Concluding a series of reviews of the revived Atlas Comics line...

The question that has to be faced is this: is it possible to give these new Atlas books a fair trial? Maybe it is, for a far younger person than myself, one who has no memory of the originals and who therefore has no expectations. For me, and for anybody else with any experience of the originals, I think it’s near impossible to be objective.

Having said that, the time that’s passed since the first Atlas run has afforded a distancing effect. Reading these first issues has been, for the most part, like picking up a genuinely new range of books, with neither baggage nor anticipation. Or, put another way: it’s not been like picking up the first post-Morrison Doom Patrol or the first post-Moore Miracleman.

It pains me, then, that I’m heading into another less-than-glowing review, this time of Phoenix. But from an objective standpoint, a less-than-glowing review is what the book deserves: it’s another less-than-satisfactory comicbook in a field of millions. There’s substandard crap all over the place now, not just in comics but as an everyday part of life, seemingly to be expected and accepted with a resigned shrug and no hope of seeing anything becoming better.

Maybe the problem is that the originals just got on with it, the way that 70s comics had to do. The first issue of a new series had to encompass an origin, a fight scene, a cliff-hanger to drag you back for the next part. Now, what with decompression and ‘writing for the trade’, a typical comicbook is just one small slice of a longer story and as such has licence to drag on for as long as the book makes money. Sometimes this is a good thing: a story that needs room to breathe and explore its theme or its characters should be allowed to do so. However, the other side of that coin is that far too many comics tend to take that freedom and turn it into a reason to expand what ought to be an eight-page story into a six-issue epic during which a great deal of not-a-lot goes on.

But anyway.

Phoenix is a workmanlike comicbook. It’s written by Jim Kruger and it’s co-written by Brenden Deneen who is one of Atlas’ co-publishers. So if anything, Phoenix should be the book that most reflects the publisher’s ambition for the line.

Well, if that’s the case, I’m bailing right now. All I can see in this book is a story that goes nowhere, tin-ear dialogue, and art, by Dean Zachary, which goes with the word ‘amateurish’ better than William goes with Kate. There are panels in this book where the protagonist seems to have one leg a good ten inches shorter than the other. Characters spout exposition like bad soap opera. Heads and limbs join torsos at anatomically impossible junctions. As mentioned before, the Editor-in-Chief of the Atlas books is Mike Grell. Imagine, then, some of Grell’s work – let’s say The Longbow Hunters – lightboxed or badly copied, then equally badly shaded and painted. That’s what Phoenix looks like.

It's actually Interlac for 'Golf Sale'
And the design, my good lord the design; the original Phoenix get-up wasn’t exactly Tom Ford, but this new… thing…takes what would have been a perfectly serviceable bodysuit which could easily handle a little detailing, and smothers it in half-arsed alien symbols which must be an absolute bastard to draw. it’s straight out of the George Perez School of Over-Designed Costumes (there’s a reason why Perez’s Nightwing design was soon simplified down – all that excessive detailing would drive any other artist batshit in seconds).

I’ll tell you what Phoenix puts me in mind of: it’s the comicbook equivalent of an uninterested shop assistant. It doesn’t say “Good Morning” when you walk in, it doesn’t ask if it can help you (or maintain a discreet distance until you’re ready to be helped).  It doesn’t recommend anything to you. It stands there, it has no interest in you as a consumer, you as a person, you as somebody who ultimately pays its wages. It has no purpose except to get to the end of the working day and pick up its money.

And that’s how the Atlas books feel. They just want to get through their 22 or so pages, with little or no imperative to do anything other fulfil than their most basic job description. They’re just enough material to fill a void. You? You expect entertainment? You expect some form of commitment to you as a reader? No. You’re just in its way. You’re just stopping it from doing what it wants to do, which is to become a multi-media intellectual property.

Good luck with Phoenix in that regard; of all the Atlas books, the Phoenix concept – man gets stuck in alien bodysuit, gains amazing abilities, fights aliens (or crime, injustice, uppity socialists, whatever) – is the one that could most easily be transferred to another medium. Whether Phoenix makes that transfer depends, I suppose, on how successful Green Lantern turns out to be as a movie.

In the meantime, Phoenix just sits there, lacking any interest or anything of interest. Well, I expect more. I demand more.  And until I can see that something more, I’ll be leaving Phoenix – and the rest of the Atlas line - well alone. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

ATLAS (SHRUGS) part three: In Sheep's Clothing

Continuing a brief series of reviews of the revived Atlas Comics line...

Wulf 1: I sat looking at the cover to Wulf (add ‘the Barbarian’ if you wish) for some time before hitting on why I found it as pleasing as I did. It certainly wasn’t the artwork on the cover, which was another mildly amateurish action shot (Seriously. Take a look and ask yourself: where are the hero’s feet? Where does his right leg join his body? That policeman in the lower left: where does his left arm begin?).

Then it struck me: it was the logo. And it pleased me because the logo on the new Wulf book is, near as dammit, the logo from the old Wulf book. No drop shadow, and a bit of extra Photoshop effect trickery, but the old logo nonetheless. I can’t find out who drew up that original logo, but I’d take a flyer on it being Gaspar Saladino. The keeping of the old logo grants the new book a little borrowed bonhomie; of the three new titles, Wulf  has more of an emotional link to the originals.

Getting past the cover, we see that this is written by Steve Niles, who had a major hit both in comcs and film with 30 Days Of Night, which were both pretty impressive. There are a lot of wordless sequences in Wulf, but that doesn’t mean Niles hasn’t put the work in. What he’s produced is remarkably gory; the antagonist makes himself known by clapping his own head in a kind of bonce-only iron maiden, and pretty soon that’s neatly cut in two by Wulf himself. Somehow the bad guy - who goes by the name of Sanjon, which we know because of some astonishly stilted dialogue between him and Wulf (“I think you’ve spilled enough blood today. Don’t you…Sanjon?” “No. No I don’t…Wulf”) - jumps into a puddle that magics him from his native Generic Doomed World to present day New York, then Wulf has a go at following but slips back, dragging with him another old Atlas character, Lomax NYPD.  And that’s about it for the first issue.

It may be that I’m being unduly harsh, as there were 0 issues of the initial offerings and there’s a strong chance that Generic Doomed World and its inhabitants, and the mystic puddle, not to mention the Fringe from Grim Ghost, were explained more fully therein. I think, though, that a recap may have been a good idea for those of us who didn’t see those preambles .

Nat Jones’ art is perfectly serviceable, with the reservation that at times his composition can be a bit off – on the opening splash there’s a shot of Wulf manfully riding out on a horse, but the placement of his shield make sit look as though he’s on some weird horse/wheelchair hybrid. In fact, that shot gave me entirely the wrong impression of what Wulf would be about; for a while I thought it would concern a world filled with bizarre primitive animal/machine cyborgs, jousting for control of a sort of Dark Narnia.

On the whole, this is the best-looking of the Atlas books, though it’s so unremittingly dark. There isn’t a panel that isn’t all moody shadows or close-ups of manly men with teeth so gritted they could pass as a clear road in a snowfall.

So, that’s Wulf, nee Wulf The Barbarian. As the issue ends with a splash panel of Wulf brandishing a sword in the face of Lomax NYPD’s gun, there’s a good chance the second issue will open with Wulf getting his brains blown out, which if nothing else would be an original way to continue the series.

We may see.

Next: Phoenix. 

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Eight Days Later

Last Saturday; The Big March, the March For An Alternative, the march where, depending on which estimate you believe, as many as 300,000 people gathered and made their voices heard as one, screaming at the top of their lungs that our government, the rulers we didn’t ask for, is wrong.

Wrong about the direction it’s taking our country in. Wrong about the scale and scope of the spending cuts they’re making. Wrong about their choice of tax cuts and who should be receiving those cuts. Wrong in targeting the most vulnerable members of our society. Wrong in following economic doctrine that will push us into harder and harder times until we face a situation unseen here in over eighty years.

It was a good march. Nobody can ever know exactly how many people joined in, and it may end up like the first Sex Pistols gig or the Brixton Riots; if everybody who claimed to be there had actually been there, it would have been the greatest concentration of humanity in one place since the Black Hole of Calcutta. We’ll never know.

We all know now that the later part of the day was marred and scarred by the actions of a handful of idiots who despite having good intentions went about things in a stupid and juvenile manner. Most of these were there specifically to cause trouble, to gain attention, to show off. Most of these were no more than kids. There are rumours that there were agents provocateur in the small splinter groups that caused the damage. There are rumours that some of the violence was encouraged by a certain news-gathering association. We’ll never know.

All I know is that for eight or so glorious hours, I marched alongside a handful of friends and a countless number of strangers, strangers who felt like they’d been there all my life, strangers with the same feelings as mine, the same deep conviction that we can have a better society than the one we’re being headed toward. Not necessarily left-wingers, not even socialists, certainly not communists. If you’d taken a straw poll on Saturday you’d have seen a great proportion of disenchanted Liberal Democrat voters, a great proportion of disgruntled Labour voters and a good share of Conservative voters who have very quickly become appalled at what their party is doing.

I know that at one point I talked to my old friend Phill Hall, who’d come down from Northampton just for this march and who was doggedly following his union banner despite having to walk with a stick and despite the pain he was in. I told Phill, as we approached Hungerford Bridge with its thunderous trains and its overshadowing Eye, that no matter where I go in this world, no matter how estranged from it I feel - and there are times when my usual world-weariness and cynicism tip over into disgust and hate, and times when this is too much for even me to bear with fortitude – when I come out from Embankment station and I walk along that narrow strip of wood and metal towards  the South Bank, that’s when I feel the world getting more at ease. That’s when I feel at home. That’s when I know that this city is where I came from and where I belong, and no matter what, I always will feel that way about her.

Last Saturday, standing at the north end of Hungerford, looking east and seeing the march trailing back, out of sight, beyond the bend in the river, then looking ahead to the west and seeing that same trail continuing up around Westminster and again out of sight, that enormous crush of people at their best, demonstrating their displeasure and anger not just against the policies that affect them directly but against what they see as genuine injustice against those less fortunate than themselves. That was real humanity.

Those with interests not best served by social responsibility; those who would rather we stay indoors and swallow the pap we’re served; those who make fortunes from others misfortunes; they immediately tried to put us in our place. The Home Secretary wasted no time to tell us how misguided we were and how our protests would make no difference. The papers next day gave lip service to the peaceful majority – or completely ignored it - while filling their front pages with photographs of the rioters who attacked Piccadilly (the Queen’s grocer! The temerity of these people!).

And I’ll admit that the evening and the morning following brought a comedown worse than any drug; a feeling that all of Saturday’s joyous optimism and fellowship, of shaking hands with unexpectedly-seen old faces and hugging unexpectedly-found new friends, had all been for nothing in the face of 200 idiot rioters and a government owned by big business.

But I can’t forget the faces of those 300,000 people. Nor the noise they made, ear-splitting but brim-filled with peace. Nor the shattered but exhilarated bodies making their way home at every station. And especially not the looks we gave each other, wordless but so very clear, the looks that said “We have done something today not done for years before, and we will not be ignored.”

And that, allied with the feel of my city beneath me, tells me that this argument is far from over. 

ATLAS (SHRUGS): part two: It's Grim, and not just Up North

Full disclosure: one of the three co-publishers of the new Atlas line, also its letterer and designer, is an old friend of mine. Not a ‘round each other’s houses’ friend, but certainly a ‘stop when we see each other and catch up on life’ friend.

Which doesn’t mean his books are getting an easy ride. Or a hard one. I have my integrity.

I’ll give them this; Atlas have spent a few quid on these new books. Not exactly Fillet Steak and Cristal money, but certainly a bit more than Double Cheeseburger Value Meal money. There’s nice heavy covers on the outsides and nice glossy paper on the insides. And there are recognisable creative names in the credits. Again, not Morrison or Johns or the other heavy hitters of today, but men who have a steady body of work behind them. The Editor-In-Chief is Mike Grell, for pete’s sake.

So how have they done?

Not all that well, to be honest.

I mean, a round of applause to them for even attempting to launch an entire new line in these straightened times when even the major publishers have trouble keeping a single new title alive for more than six months. Unfortunately, the quality of the new Atlas books isn’t of a high enough level to keep readers on board. That’s a depressing thing to have to say, but it’s how things are in the modern market, a market where below-par books (and more than a few above-par books) disappear quicker than an unwary stroller across Morecambe Bay.

Let's start with:

The Grim Ghost 1:  I’ll admit I had no idea who Stephen Susco is, but a quick Google told me he’s a scriptwriter who wrote the Grudge films which starred Sarah Michelle Gellar. Tony Isabella wrote the original Grim Ghost series, so between them they should be able to turn out a half-decent comicbook. And yes, this is the best of the three launch titles as far as writing goes; the premise isn’t a radical re-tooling of the original but instead adds to it in order to update. We have a POV character – Michael - who enables the handy first-person captions which in turn enable enormous amounts of exposition to be put across without the requirement of a character standing there spouting it and slowing things down.

Unfortunately, Michael’s captions come over as lifeless (which may for all I know be a deliberate choice, given that the character is dead) and over-expository. There’s no idea that he’s in any way involved in the events; given that he’s new to the ‘being dead’ game you’d expect him to be more skittish, more gobsmacked at what goes on. Instead, he just drones on about what Matthew (the eponymous Ghost) said and what Matthew did and wow Matthew's just soooo great, with the additions of a little bit of whining about himself and a brief interlude with an old man which just sits there, taking up a page. Maybe it’ll be important later in the story. Certainly doesn’t seem to be now.

Speech is pretty much old-style comicbook dialogue (“My name is Matthew Dunsinane and I hate to break it to you… but you’re dead!” Damn, does that mean I’m going to miss next week’s Glee? “Can you believe it, Amy? A baby girl! We’re parents!” Does she not know this? Was she comatose during the entire pregnancy and labour? Or are you just incredibly patronising - more so than I am?).

The biggest question is: What the hell happened to Kelley Jones? His art style has always been a little unusual, with its exaggerated drapery and dramatic compositions, and let’s not forget that Jones was the man who put yard-long ears on Batman’s mask and gave us the Amazing Anorexic Deadman. But here, it seems that any quirks have been knocked out of the art - presumably by a heavy-handed art director -  and if it’s the case that the house style is considered to carry more weight than individual style, why give the job to someone with such a distinct look to their work?

It’s still recognisably Jones’ art, all dark shadows and off-kilter figurework, though it looks dangerously as if it was knocked out overnight or reworked heavily by an art department. Every female figure in the book seems to have been pasted in after being drawn by an entirely different – and entirely inferior – artist. This is especially jarring on a double-page spread towards the front of the book, where the female figure stands out by virtue of being the only brightly-coloured thing on the page, which emphasises the stylistic dichotomy.

I don’t want to damn this book out of hand. It has possibilities, especially in the Fringe, its not-Heaven, not-Hell setting, reflecting the real world in both physicality and in how its residents interact with others. There’s a good idea in there, and it’d be nice to see it built upon.

This is the real world, though, where Grim Ghost gets the same chance of making an impression as every other book hitting the shelves, and on this showing that chance has been wasted.

But it does have a very nice cover logo.

Next: Phoenix. Or Wulf.

ATLAS (SHRUGS): part one

Some of us are old enough to have been part of the original Atlas Comics readership and frankly, some of us have got rose-tinted lenses in our see-behind glasses.
There’s no arguing that the original Atlas line had some superb creative talent working for it – Ditko, Wood and Chaykin are only the first three that come to mind – but there’s also no arguing that a great deal of the line, in common with a great deal of every other publisher’s line in the 1970s, was pretty much dross.

For all the talent that was toiling away at it, the Atlas line was incredibly restricted in its scope. Editorial mandates no doubt had a lot to do with this – we all know why the line was set up and how important it was to the man in charge that every item published had to be more Marvel than Marvel, and given how Marvel even Marvel was at that time (and how Marvel DC was), it really wasn’t a surprise that the public very quickly decided that having an extra helping of trite superheroics in their comics was a bit like having an extra helping of vomit in their ice cream.
So, the Atlas line went away, and in time it gained the same rosy glow that nostalgia gives to many other slightly sub-par but time-lost things, like Aztec Bars, or Little and Large, or rickets. Grown men waxed lyrical about the merits of Thrilling Adventure Stories and The Destructor, forgetting that these were just two more me-too products at a time when the originals they were aping weren’t exactly breaking new ground either.

For some reason though – probably the fact that those who’d enjoyed the original Atlas line were now well into middle age and therefore getting misty-eyed about everything that, through virtue of not being alive, hadn’t got as paunchy and balding as they had – those old comics started popping up all over the place in the last few years.

The original Grim Ghost
 also had a sideline
modelling knitware
I think the first real blip on the modern radar was an issue of Comic Book Artist that led on the Atlas line. I’ll be honest, I’m not over-fond of CBA. It does a good enough job of dragging up the past and it does spotlight some creators who may not get the due they’re due these days, but on the whole I find it rather superficial and fanboyish in its uncritical yowzering over any old dross that happens to have hit print thirty years ago. Also, its editor’s habit of referring to himself as ‘Ye Ed’ gets right on my tits.

The Atlas issue of CBA wasn’t entirely bad despite its desperate need to remain inoffensive. It featured some quite decent pieces of art which were only improved from being in black and white rather than having garish 70s colours slapped all over them, and it carried a history of the company that revealed what it was really like to work for a comics publisher back then, a history that was only improved by the contributors’ knowledge that as the company was no longer extant they wouldn’t be burning any freelancer bridges by telling the world the unvarnished truth about what went on.

The original Phoenix had
 absolutely no problem with
wearing a light blue jockstrap
Since then, whenever I’ve spent a decent length of time in a comicbook store – by which I mean time measured in weeks rather than hours, time spent actually being a small businessman, which is what I occasionally do when called to do so – I’ve noticed that when copies of Atlas titles turn up, they pretty soon go out again. There’s a demand for them; not a huge one, but it's there. It’s the old ‘buying your youth back’ thing that men (and women) of a certain age do. Atlas comics are bought in the same way that CD reissues of dreadful old prog rock albums are; nobody actively wants to hear an Amon Duul album but owning a copy to replace the one lost in the divorce, or scratched to buggery by inquisitive toddlers, turns the clock back and makes the razorcut pain of impending mortality just a little duller.

It’s inevitable then that somebody should have revived the Atlas characters. It’s also inevitable that one of the resurrection men picking over this particular body should be Richard Emms, and it’s so bloody inevitable you could set your watch by it that Richard should shove copies of the first three new Atlas books into my hands at the last London Comic Mart and say “Here you go Shippy, write a review of those.” 

And that's precisely what I'm going to do.

Next time.