Sunday, 29 April 2012

Senior Moment (First in a Continuing Series)

Not cycled much in the last few weeks, mainly owing to  laziness/weather /recalcitrance combo; glued to sofa, watching snooker, eating muesli.

Did go out, one time. Got rained on, heavily.  Ran over  thorn twig, got double puncture. Went to Halfords, bought new inner tubes; upmarket, latex-filled, self-repairing jobs. Best part of twenty quid for pair.

Left Halfords, nipped into Sainsburys for few things. Had made list of things on phone, so was popping phone in and out of phone’s usual home in left back pocket during consultative action.

Left Sainsburys, loaded with bags. Walked down High Road towards bus station in new downpour. Far enough down the road for it to be a bleeding nuisance, realised expensive inner tubes were still sat on the bloody till.

Returned to Sainsburys. Saw bag of tubes, picked it up over head of poor cow presently using that particular self-service till, waved at the bloke monitoring till so as to communicate in broken semaphore why charging in and, seemingly, stealing some other bugger’s shopping. Must happen, surely? Stealth gang disguised as shifty Eastern European types, rush in, lift bags, leg out again? Possibly not. Possibly just paranoia at re-entering supermarket with full bags. Maybe looked like reverse shopper, taking in full bags, putting items back on shelves, leaving empty-handed..


Buttoning coat against cold/wind, made automatic left-buttock-slapping, sub-Asda Price movement to check continued position of phone.

Phone not there.

Felt stomach flip gently as “oh fuck pocket’s been picked’ thought tah-dahs into front of mind. Some bastard has seen phone in hand as shopping list, has noted position of phone in left back pocket, has half-inched phone as bastards do.

Tapped left front pocket. Phone safe in there. Felt idiotic. Kept walking towards bus station.

Realised that during ‘oh fuck’ moment, had earphones in and had been listening to music played through phone.

Got on bus. Watched rain. Shook head. 

Monday, 23 April 2012

Oh, How The Ghost Of You Clings...

(In which I shall invite the wrath of a great many people, some of whom will secretly agree with me)

I don’t really care about Before Watchmen. From a reader point of view I’m curious. From a fanboy point of view I’m happy to see new material from Darwyn Cooke. From a retailer point of view it’s just another comicbook to guess the numbers on.

I think everybody made up their minds about the project as soon as it stopped being a collection of rumours and started to be a collection of actual objects, even if those objects were not actual actual objects but a series of announcements.

The most violent consumer reaction against the project came from a customer who went into a fully-fledged rant against it, considered the entire thing an affront to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, but who went ahead and ordered the full run nonetheless. This same customer won’t read any of DC’s relaunched titles because they’re not Exactly How He Wants Comics To Be, and who when we were having the Sky/anti-Sky conversation claimed that Sky was a necessity because Sky shows Homeland. Homeland is, in the UK, shown on Channel Four, a terrestrial, free-to-air commercial channel. So that kind of shows you where he’s at.

The most common consumer reaction was, at first, ‘I’ll wait until it comes out’, a kind of bet-hedging that gave the best of all worlds: neither supporting nor castigating the project and allowing the received‘cool’ option of being a bit snotty about it, while leaving the door wide open for fangasm at a later date. As the deadline for placing orders grew closer, the most common reaction has become that people either pre-order, place it on their pull-lists, or ask, almost side-of-the-mouth, as if enquiring after black market sausages or artistic photographic studies, ‘You’ll be getting plenty of them in, won’t you?’ I can see why this happens.

What I don’t quite get – although I understand the arguments being put forward – is why some people find the concept of Before Watchmen so utterly repugnant.

Sequels happen. Sequels especially happen to corporate properties. And that’s what Watchmen was, and is. It was a work that was created under a specific contract, the terms of which, we believe (because we haven’t seen it)[1], allowed a reversion to the creators after a certain time and under certain conditions.

Well, that didn’t happen. It did happen, to Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey and Phil Winslade with their Monolith series for DC, and it happened with Arcudi and Mahnke’s Major Bummer, so we know it does happen. I’m led to believe it may happen with Tomasi, Champagne, Snejbjerg and Samnee’s The Mighty[2]. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with a couple of those, given that Monolith has to be cut up or re-done to remove all traces of a major DC-owned character from a story arc that takes up roughly a quarter of the run, and The Mighty has to account for a change in creative personnel half way through.

But the long and the short of it is that we know the reversion clause – even if the reversion clause as it stands today is not exactly the same reversion clause in the Watchmen contract, which it may or may not be -  isn’t solely there as a sop to creators and it isn’t a clause that’s there only because the publishers know it’ll never actually come into play.

That’s an important point, as it shows that DC were, at one point, willing to give the property up. The fact that Watchmen became what it became is academic. At the time the contracts were signed, its success or otherwise was purely hypothetical. It was Schrodinger’s Comicbook.

Whether you like it or not, the entire Before Watchmen argument comes down to contracts. When the project was offered to him and Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore was, despite his growing reputation, still only a medium-sized name, and even that purely within the niche market that is comics. It had been only a short time before that he’d been cleaning toilets to make ends meet. Ask anybody who’s making a living in a creative industry and they’ll tell you that it’s ugly, demanding, exhausting, and so much better than whatever they were doing before.

Chances are  - and I’m obviously speculating here - that Moore grabbed the contract that was offered with both hands and signed it without having it properly analysed by a dedicated contract lawyer. If anything, I’m surprised that Dave Gibbons, who had been in the industry for a long time beforehand, didn’t insist on a full evaluation of the contract before signing. But sign it they did. .

Yes, it was foolish of them. Yes, there may be a moral argument that DC Comics/Entertainment should make some form of retroactive change to the contract. But that’s all it is; an argument. Not an imperative, not an obligation. Just an argument about whether or not a corporation should consider morals to be more important than a valuable property, and frankly, expecting a corporation to consider morals is like expecting a polecat to wear a condom.

That’s what I can’t understand about those who consider Before Watchmen to be odious or repugnant. All I can ask them is this: Did you honestly expect anything different? And frankly, aren’t there more important things to be angry about?

I’m not saying that Moore and Gibbons (although Gibbons seems to be more accepting of the situation than Moore) are wrong to be angry about the sequels. I’m not saying that anybody is wrong to hold a negative opinion of the sequels. What I am saying is that there’s absolutely nothing that will change the situation. All you can do, if you don’t want a Watchmen sequel, is refuse to buy it.

Now, some people have drawn a parallel between Moore and Gibbons’ contract and the one that Marvel expected Jack Kirby to sign in order to get a small amount of his original art returned to him.

No. There is no parallel. Moore and Gibbons’ contract was as, as far as we know because we haven’t seen it, a standard industry contract. Kirby’s contract differed in that Marvel treated Kirby like a dog. The contract they offered was unreasonable to the point of cruelty, and no sane person would have touched it. Also, Kirby’s contract was drawn up at a time when the publisher held the upper hand in all matters; reprint rates were low if they existed at all, creators were seen as nothing more than disposable temps to hire and fire at will. Today’s creators, no matter how much they may complain about corporate policy or editorial fiats, have a great deal more power and a great deal more flexibility than at any previous time.

What certainly hasn’t changed, and never will change, is that a publisher will not give up a thing of value, or the potential of a thing of value, unless it has no choice. DC will never relinquish its contractual grasp on Watchmen. If the Before Watchmen titles are successful, they will spawn more of the same. Some of these may be produced by creative personnel of the calibre working on the initial books; it’s pretty much odds-on that they won’t. Costs will be cut, diminishing returns will set in, and a few years from now any further Before Watchmen titles will be given the creative consideration shown to the lowest-selling game tie-in.

Counter-intuitive though it may seem, that’s one of the few crumbs of comfort that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons can take from this, if comfort is what they seek, which they quite probably do not. At least, at the very least, Before Watchmen is being produced today, right now, at a time when a small section of the comics industry is populated by people of astounding ability. 

DC have had the option to produce further Watchmen material for many years. For whatever reason, they’ve held off until now. As I’ve said, it means relatively little to me either way that these books are being published. They’ll possibly enhance the original material’s reputation, they possibly won’t. But can you imagine what monstrosities would have come forth if this decision had been made ten years ago? Fifteen?

Which is the perfect cue for a ‘think yourself lucky’ final sentence. This issue, however, isn’t the place for such.

[1] Unless you have, and you’re an entertainment contracts lawyer, in which case you’re entitled to draw whatever conclusion you wish to regarding its legality
[2] Which is a very fine comicbook indeed, and one which you should read in collection regardless of publisher. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

No Teddy Bears, Though

Last night myself and DP had planned to go and see Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters, the critically-acclaimed tale of violence and betrayal amongst Scandinavian recruitment consultants, but other things got in the way of us making the trip to the out-of-the-way cinema where that was showing, so we had to stay local.

We ended up seeing Cabin In The Woods, which I’d confused with Cabin In The Sky (look it up, IMDBers!) so the entire experience was something different to what I’d expected.

If you’ve not seen CitW, don’t worry: I’m not going to give away anything here. Anything even vaguely spoilery will go into a footnote so you can ignore it if you like. Face it, you probably know everything about the plot already. What I’m going to say is: go and see it. I need somebody to argue about it with.

DP loved it, and for eighty per cent of the time, so did I. Now, I’m not a big horror buff, mainly because I am a weed and a wet, but I do know of certain genre conventions. So when you’re sitting watching a ‘horror’ film, waiting for the first shock, and that first shock is delivered by the title card, you know you’re watching something unusual. But it’s a Joss Whedon film, so the undermining of convention is a given.

My problem with CitW is that it should have stopped at a certain point; a point which would have delivered a satisfying ‘oh no, and after all they’ve been through’ reaction[1]. In fact, I thought that was the end, and was reaching for my coat, but the damn thing continued. Having said that, what followed from that point was quite astonishingly bizarre.

CitW isn’t a particularly scary film; it shows its hand very early, and from that point you stop being jumpy about the shocks and start trying to second-guess it. In fact, I was jumpier about the guy in the hi-viz vest who came into the cinema halfway through. I thought he’d spotted our illicit home-made popcorn and was going to call us out on it.

What CitW becomes is a very knowing comedy, where fans of the genre will have a field day. Unfortunately, the entire last quarter of it is so knowing, so replete with references to other films and so desperately over the top that I just wanted to shout “Stop, Joss Whedon! In the name of God, Stop!”  It’s almost as if someone had given a five-year-old a big glass of tartrazine then asked them to plot a horror movie; insanity is piled upon insanity until, just before the end, a Very Famous Actor appears and actually explains the final plot-twist through the medium of Expository Dialogue.

It’s that mad.

It’s also one of the most fun, most thought-provoking films I’ve seen in ages. I could now start on about the subtextual addressing of the audience’s demands, about how the film possibly relates to Hannah Arendt’s most famous quote, or about the fact that Bradley Whitford is the most under-rated actor in the world.

But who has time for that?

[1]  I’m talking about the scene when they’ve breached a certain level and you see exactly what the elevator cage is; the pull-back so you see what’s in the other boxes, with an implication that the two characters would now spend the rest of their lives there, would have been a great last image. 

Saturday, 21 April 2012

It's Not Them, It's You

I got home a few days ago to find a small box on the doorstep.

Inside the box was a meter-kind-of-thing, part of which is a sensor which you clip around your electricity cable, part of which is a display unit that picks up wireless signals from the sensor and converts tiny magnetic pulses into a read-out of your electricity consumption. Or something like that.

We’ve already had one of those for months, and to be honest it’s never given a readout that was anywhere near the harsh reality of the quarterly bill, so that hasn’t been bothered with.

Also inside the box was an egg-timer. When I say egg-timer, I mean a device wherein a quantity of sand or other fine-grained particulate passes from an upper section of a container to another lower section by means of a gravity feed through a constrainment  or bottleneck, the quantity of sand (or other particulate) having been measured to ensure that the transfer will take a set period of time, no more, no less.

This particular device is a shower timer: it’s a flattish egg-timer which has a suction pad on the back so you can whack it on to your bathroom tiles and then, when you next have a shower, set the thing running and attempt to be lathered, shampooed, rinsed off, out of the water and at the towel rack before all of the sand (etc) has trickled through.

The purpose of the thing, apart from giving small children something new to play with (and as children, small or otherwise, are not welcome in this establishment, play will not happen) is that by keeping your shower time to within its limit, you save water and power and thus money.

All quite laudable. If only there wasn’t this Thames Water branding all over the thing.

Thames Water is a formerly public-owned company which, in the period between its privatisation in 1989 until it was sold by its German owners to Kemble Water Limited (which was set up expressly to buy Thames Water and is ultimately owned by McQuarry Holdings, an Australian consortium) in 2006, failed to meet a single Ofwat target for leakage reduction; which still today loses 673 megalitres – that’s 673 million litres of water per day through leakage; which has consistently failed to meet Ofwat demands for increased investment in infrastructure to reduce this leakage; and which is telling me and the rest of the country that, right now, we cannot use a hosepipe because we are in drought even though it’s been raining heavily for the last three days…

…And they’re telling me to cut down my shower time.

However: the shower timer, and the ‘hippos’ that you can put into your cistern (though why waste money? A rock from your back garden or a brick from next door’s decorative wall will do the job just as well and cost a fraction of the plastic models), and any of the other water-saving devices we’re being asked to use in this ‘difficult time’, in tandem with the advertising currently being run by Thames Water which asks us to consider others during this drought, have another purpose.

They’re transferring the onus for water conservation during the drought, and the high level of water wastage, away from the supplier and onto the consumer. If there’s a shortage of water, it’s not Thames Water’s fault because they didn’t spent on infrastructure. It’s not because if they had spent money on infrastructure it would have reduced the amount of lovely profit they could give to their shareholders. Of course it’s not! What kind of fantasy world do you live in, for heaven’s sake? You haven’t been taking showers in less time than Roger Bannister could run a mile. You haven’t been filling half of your bathroom with lumps of petrochemical by-products! So don’t you see it’s all your fault?

And because it’s all your fault, Thames Water can feel entirely justified and incredibly innocent when they use the shortage of water as an excuse to crank up their prices next year. Or sooner. Probably sooner.

There’s one more thing. When I got home on the day the timer arrived, I took a shower. I didn’t rush, nor did I tarry; I just had my usual get-rid-of-the-sweat shower. It took less time than the timer had allocated. But since then, I’ve found myself staying under the spray until the timer runs out. In other words, I’ve increased my shower time, and thus my water consumption per shower, by at least a third.

Ha, Thames Water! Stick that in your pipe (but don’t lose too much of it through leakage, eh?).

Monday, 2 April 2012

When I Am In Charge (5)

All companies that previously were publicly owned and are now privatised, and all public companies that are privatised in future, shall have a board comprised of members elected by the public.

Vote for me, alright?