It’s been something of a strange couple of weeks, which has ranged from various incidents, both little and large.  From a suddenly positive change in job security, to a negative change in job security, to discovering a co-worker dropped dead at the weekend, to the dropping of The Zero Theorem into cinemas.

Mister Attack caught a sneaky glimpse up the skirt of the abyss, and it made him feel…

Über #0-10, by Kieron Gillen, Caanan White, Joseph Silver, Kurt Hathaway and Digicore Studios

Kieron Gillen let the mask slip a little at the start, when he positioned this comic as the anti-ASS, as a refutation of Superman’s central place in 20th Century history, in a spiel designed to mark Über out as being a comic free of the sort of self-commentary that defines so many modern superhero comics.  “It’s probably the least ironic book I’ve ever written,” he said:

It has nothing to say about superhero comics. In fact, its utter negation of that genre-criticism may be the closest it comes to commentary. I’ve read many books which seem to labour under the delusion that the conception of Superman was the most important moment in the 1930s. This isn’t one of them.  My only interest is in how I can use this genre’s conceit to create metaphors to explores aspects of WW2…

This comment, buried as it was in the mix of metatextual soul searching and historical gamesmanship of Über #0′s backmatter, provides the key to understanding the uncanny dynamics of this comic.  In attempting to ward off irony and meta-commentary, Gillen negated any possibility of this comic escaping the superhero meta-conversation. Which, it turns out, is actually quite fitting in the end.  Carefully researched as Über might be, with everything from troop movements to weather conditions having been taken into account, this WW2 with superheroes fantasy is still a superhero fantasy, and as such it manages the odd trick of destroying both history and genre conventions and reinforcing them at the same time.

In contrast to the carefully composed alternate reality of All Star Superman – with its suggestion of a world where greed, imperialism and mortal panic exist but are never the only options – Gillen and White present an alt-modernity in which the foundational horrors of the mid 20th Century era are all there but louder.

A little less Stalingrad, a lot more Wahammer 40K.

The funny thing about a Mercedes 770 is

Wow, all that German dialogue was annoying, wasn’t it? As an experiment in formalist pass-agging, it’s classic Moore of course, but my German reading is max schrecklich so I had to scurry off to the internet for a translation and- OH!

…Yeah fair play, you got me there you bearded, crabby old bastard. There I go, running off to lean on the old god’s hippocampus again, without even an editorial assistant to do it for me! Genius. I think a lot of people don’t pick up on the humour in Alan Moore’s work, actually?

Handled the French and most of the English bits OK though, so, y’know, integrity there. Feel like the word ‘hypocrite’ should make an appearance now, though we don’t really need it… hold on to the first four letters of it though, because we’ll be using them for real in a minute.

This arrived in the comic shop with much less fanfare than your average doodlebug, but as soon as Gary sent up the siren I goosestepped down the hill to fetch it quicksmart. Got it home and more or less enjoyed it – it was straightforward, no-nonsense/lots of nonsense, pretty much alright.

Except for the Xmen stuff, the so-and-so superhero is married to so-and-so superhero’s cousin’s brother-in-law stuff, I could do without all that. These Victorian superheroes with big cars – like, their big car is the superpower – they’d died out quite naturally by the middle of the last century, which was OK. Bringing them back, trying to give them a dignity and relevance beyond their sell by -  just can’t really see why this is any less wank than any other variety of steampunk: Dave McKean and Jeremy Clarkson polishing the cogs on their beaver hats, compulsively checking their gold atomic pocket watches.

There’s the copyright issues (old and new) of course, but the James Bond, shit the Harry Potter workarounds for that were more elegant and welcome: Forcing an alternative contemporaneity into the template, deliberately not using characters from the pop lit of the day embuggers the entire LOEG scheme. The world isn’t a reflection of the popular imagination of the era under examination, it’s just another partial and arbitrary superhero playground where everything is up for fudging.

Fudge, fudge like:

Fudge! Wouldn’t it have been more dramatic for Broad Arrow Jack to have run out of ammo at that point, instead of throwing his guns away? His death becomes entirely his own fault, borne of an internal flaw (sadism – specifically sadism against women in this, the only instance we have to go on, but let’s not because ooh contentious) that comes out of nowhere without illuminating theme, plot or character at all, merely shows itself as invasive and undisguised storytelling, ruddy great fudgey ringed fingerprints all over it.

Fudge! She just happens to blow up that nearby area of town at just that exact moment?

Fudge! Kevin O’Neill already always does German expressionism – it’s redundant and underwhelming when he does it here.

Fudge! The sleepers shot the robot because she just happened to shoot Caligari at exactly the right point of his very convenient sentence? That’s not good, that’s just fudge, man – please stop getting all this fudge on the rather few pages of my comic, what I paid ten pounds for.

This review will end shortly. Before it does, if you could imagine Alan Moore’s face crudely photoshopped over Peter Lorre’s and mine over all the faces of the jurors in the old distillery? It’d save a few minutes, thanks.

And finally, you’ll be glad to hear, the last bit- Always have a bit of a callback in your Alan Moore reviews, it’s clever. HYPO, remember? The last comic read before this one (Saturday afternoon, Rudgate Ruby Mild, lovely stuff) was The Hypo by Noah van Sciver. It does very interesting things with history and fiction indeed, and features a frighteningly potent depiction of mental illness, and you’d be better off spending the money you’d otherwise spend on Roses of Berlin on this.

Moore and Morrison

Happier times: Moore and an already thinning Morrison, pictured together in 1982

They’re already here. In fact, they’ve been here since you were a child. What, you don’t remember?  Go have a look at your old photograph album — see those unfamiliar figures in the background?  Have they always been there, teaching you, getting you ready for a new world, a world with a different religion?

I know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t some dull UKIP propaganda piece, with the fear of Empire blowback writ painfully small and self-regarding  – there’s something stranger, more familiar, more plausible going on here.

Anyway, this isn’t some grand sci-fi conspiracy theory or allegory: it feels more like the sort of weird dream that might just be worth sharing, a rapidly decaying memory with little bits of understanding peaking in through the slim cracks in the darkness. Everything looks static, undisturbed, but something’s broken, something’s wrong at home, something’s wrong with her. Time keeps on slipping, and similar looking scenes can hold terrible differences if you catch them in the right light.

When are you going to come home?

When are you really going to come home?

A thought occurs to me as I drag my sickly drunk head back to Glasgow from the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds: aren’t DECADENCE comics all a bit super-boyish in the end?

My throat too hoarse to speak with due to Saturday night shouting and Sunday con hustle, my brain so detached from its immediate environment that at one point I have to croak at Mister Attack to ask if we are in fact going backwards, the only thing I am able to do properly is comics.  And so, I read through Lando’s Olympic Games, taking in page after page of landscapes that look as bare and arid as my larynx feels, squinting at the characters in survival suits, loving every second of it but questioning myself all the same.

“He’s just ridiculously on, isn’t he?” Mister Attack says.

I wince my agreement and keep on flicking.

It’s the survival suits that give me pause.  As I shift out of Olympic Games and into a couple of comics by Stathis Tsemberlidis, Neptune’s Fungi and Epicurean Paradox, my drunken brain starts to worry that the spacesuits are emblematic of an attempt to build a stylish fictional identity, a barrier between person and world.  My earlier thoughts about this aesthetic being “super-boyish” already seems glib and reductive to me, even if I can see where this thought came from.  Something about the collision of cool influences, the sense that you’re reading the works of people who read only right comics from France and Japan, combined with a knee-jerk panic that aesthetics this good must in some way be suspect.

Where did I get the idea that comics could be cool?  That they could communicate with the world while seeming at ease in it?  From Brandon Graham, maybe, or perhaps just from The Internet.

Why would an encounter with these values provoke scrutiny? Perhaps because these comics do not reflect the values associated with my own formative experiences of the medium, bound up as they are with alt-comics and (sub-)superhero stories that mirror my own awkward, convoluted brand of self-reflection a little bit too clearly.

Comics scholars more erudite than me can argue about which specific artists have influenced Lando, Stathis and co, and armchair psychiatrists can deal with my issues at some later date – in this moment, my bleary brain is only capable of tracking where the lines on my face are going, rather than where they come from.

Thankfully, the view of the future they provide is expansive.

In the comic book Jupiter’s Legacy by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely the shitty dialogue surges out of the characters’ mouths like a well oiled machine…

Jupiter’s Legacy #1-3, by Marky “Mark” Millar, Frank Quitely and Pete Doherty

Forgive me for the somewhat less than timely review, but fuck me – three issues in this is still a startlingly uninteresting book, from pig (Millar) to lipstick (Quitely) and beyond (???).

It should go without saying that this response is merely a product of the reaction between the lines on the page and those etched into my long-suffering brain, but that in no way makes this a good or even halfway entertaining comic.  So while it’s true that both Millar and Quitely have thwarted all expectations here by failing to irritate and innovate respectively, the only real problem experience poses for Jupiter’s Chegacy is that a lifetime of reading and watching stories will train you to spot a tired duffer like this miles off.

Familiarity itself isn’t the issue here, per se: the old power/responsibility theme could easily survive yet another regeneration, and there’s no reason why a story about the famous children of rich superheroes couldn’t be made timely and interesting. It’s the old world vs. the new, the people who made the world vs. those who have to limit in it, and surely that’s an easy sell in this post moneygeddon landscape?   The problem, at least so far as this cynical critic is concerned, is more that no one involved in this comic seems particularly interested in how they’re saying anything:

Page after page of dialogue mounts up to little effect, with passionate arguments sitting on the page like undeveloped notes from the plot breakdown, lacking either the vanity of realism or the courage of true artifice.  This is a comic full of gestures, which would be forgivable if we were dealing with the mangled mitts and marvelous manifestations of Ditko-era Doctor Strange. Instead, Jupiter’s Children nods absently towards a half-busy suburban street in the daylight, hoping that you’ll find something interesting there and mistake dumb luck for careful planning.

In the spirit of increased generosity, I won’t pretend that there’s no value to be found in this book…

Iron Man 3
Dir. by Kiss Kiss, starring Bang Bang, written by the pretty drones of north america

It’s important to remember that everything that happens in this film takes place while Tony Stark is trapped in the wormhole in The Avengers.  All of that talk about demons in the opening voice-over?   Not metaphorical.   This is the story of a man whose self has been shattered, trying to work out which shards to save and which ones to cast away.  That’s why none of the characters feel real, except from Tony – they’re all figments, fragments of his essence, their nature and actions defined purely by the gaps in his form.

Having touched heaven, Our Hero sees the way back down to Earth, and realises that it’s angels and demons all the way down:

The kid represents true self love, while Pepper represents tough self love, and having embraced these twin fictions and annihilated his monstrous reflections Stark is free to imagine himself to be healed.

The movie?   Oh, it’s a decent enough post-Iron Man action movie, better than the second film, probably just about as good as the first, and if you find yourself wondering how a movie that gleefully burlesques the absurdity of The War Against Terror (lol TWAT!  lol foreigns!   shout outs to Ben Kingsley!) can also rel on the redemptive power of drones for its ending, just watch old Droney Starks as he swans off into the sunset, wrapped in his latest and most impressive invention – a suit of armour made out of a microscopically thin layer of lies.  That should tell you everything you need to know.

Much Ado About Nothing

Dir. by Captain America, starring your special friends, adapted for the screen by the reanimated head of William Shakespeare

Joss Whedon and co’s Much Ado About Nothing is a goofy, enjoyable movie that’s made just that little big bit sexier by the absence of what you might call Mouse Muscle.  Don’t get me wrong, Whedon organised all of the Mouse Muscle at his disposal well in The Avengers – he even managed to keep yon blockheeded cock who plays Hawkeye out the way for the most part! - but it was always clear who and what was being serviced.

The priorities are different in Much Ado About Nothing, a luxurious indulgence in which Whedon services the script, cast and audience equally.  One of those is you, and another is yours, if you want it to be, and it’s hard not to be flattered in such generous company, but let’s not act like everyone has access to the friends and production values that Whedon makes use of here because the lush setting gives lie to that notion.  Whedon’s house is big, and the shadows it casts are long and dark, so by filling this setting with crisp suits and gun holsters and presenting it in black and white, Whedon successfully dresses up this screwball romance in noir clothing.

Amy Acker’s Beatrice is the main draw here, though Fran Kranz deserves props for managing to make top creeper Claudio’s sudden swings from infatuation to rage seem like the product of a genuine (if unstable) consciousness, and the duo of Tom Lenk and Nathon Fillion deliver the shaky comedy double act of Dogberry and Verges with admirably steady hands.  This story is still Beatrice’s if it’s anyone’s though, and Acker plays her like someone whose “merry” manner is a tightrope, a thin line of barbed jibes from which she cannot imagine herself departing. It’s her role to poke fun at the conventions of the compound she lives in, and also to make the violence that underwrites her existence obvious, to draw it back into the foreground when she feels her cousin wronged.  Alexis Denisof’s Benedict might make the transition from striking hero to total goof in record time, but note how quick he is to agree to violence when Beatrice demands it of him and try to remember that this is a movie about what spooks do on their time off.

Of course, having made it explicit that she lives in a world full of merry killers (a grand house that, like this whole project, has been made possible by the brute force of The Mouse and The Fox and other such creatures) Beatrice then allows herself to be tricked into a happy ending.

Ask yourself, in all honesty: would you do any less?

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You might not know it, but you gamble every time you pick up an issue of Dial H: the ink in which this comic is printed contains a rare sort of toxin, exposure to which dials up one of three parallel universes.  Before your eyes make contact with the page, you know that any given episode has a 33.333333333% chance of being: (A) a sloppy pastiche of the Morrison/Case Doom Patrol run, (B) a snazzy pastiche of a good proto-Vertigo comic (like the Morrison/Case Doom Patrol run, for example) or (C) a genuinely effective post Alan Moore/Grant Morrison superhero comic.

If Dial H #12 saw China Mieville, Alberto Ponticelli and co rolling (dialing) the reader into a hopeless tangled version of their own story in which none of the lines (whether in the art, plot or dialogue) connected meaningfully, then issue #13 (which is now only the second most recent issue due to my Mindless incompetence) provided a clear and direct line to the best of all possible worlds(/comics).

Comics being a collaborative medium, Alberto Ponticelli’s pencils tighten up with Mieville’s script, and the unstable environments of issue #12 are forgotten in favour of an information-dense two-layered landscape.  Ably assisted by inker Dan Green and colourists Tanya and Richard Horie, Ponticelli works for maximum accessibility at every turn, framing our regular cast as pedestrian browsers walking through a block in which comics sprawl on every wall, always making sure that we’re able to read over their shoulders:

It might seem strange that an issue that takes a break to recap the plot of the previous few issues should be better than anything being recapped, but Dial H is that rare superhero comic that actively thrives on exposition.  Try to remember that other standout issues in this series have explained where the powers Nelson and co dial up actually come from (#0, #11), and explored the difficulties that arise from contact with unreconstructed racist fantasies (no not Game of Thrones, issue #6):

Dial H is at its best when explains its own mechanics because theme is built into the design of this revamp more clearly than it expressed by any of the action on the page, a quirk (or fault, depending on your tolerance for this sort of thing) that only strengthens the book’s Karen Berger-edited pedigree.

Just think of the many walking tours through authorial interests that characterised that first flush of post-Alan Moore, British invasion comics, all those scary strolls through the green, trips out into blue forgotten worlds, the evening walks that lead you right underneath the Pentagon and straight on into the heart of the American scream…

The walking tour we get in Dial H #13 is made possible by pleasantly mixed metonyms, by a double act made of dual purpose characters, Open Window Man and his new friend, a young boy in a world of chalk.