Another week, another Filthy pre-view. Last Friday I spent a bit of time thinking out loud about the different approaches I might take with the cover for the print edition of this book.  This week I mostly find myself thinking that I’m going to need to tweak this piece a little to account for the current debate about these (stupid) anti-porn laws.

I don’t have enough time to re-write the relevant parts of this post today, but rest assured that it’s on my mind and that it will be on the page come April.

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I should note at this stage, possibly far too late, that I do not write any of this in a state of horrified tabloid panic.  With regards to real world pornography, I am attempting to stay cognisant of Andrea Dworkin’s description of porn as “technologized prostitution” and I have written about pornography in the context of Michael Bay movies in an attempting to take onboard Dworkin’s comment that “The dirty little secret of the left-wing pornography industry is not sex but commerce”.  I do not propose here to make moral judgements about those who star in adult movies any more than I wish to tell any sex worker what their life and profession is all about – those who labour in both fields can give  undoubtedly give a better account of the varied and complex circumstances in and around their work than I could hope to.  Instead, I wish to focus on the conditions in which hardcore movies are created, and the effects of their reception.

I find myself entranced by an unfinished series of essays written  by UK politics blogger Tom Gann in which he proposed a left wing critique of pornography that re-framed the legal debate not in terms of the (laudable) liberal defence of whatever activities grown adults chose to take part in, but in terms of the means of production: 

Max Hardcore boasts of his innovations, “Positions like pile driver, where I would gape the girls asses wide open, and provide a clear view for the camera… I also created the technique of cumming in a girl’s ass, having her squeeze it out into a glass, and then chuck the load down…  A little later, I started pissing down their throats several times during a scene, often causing them to vomit uncontrollably while still reaming their throats.” It seems unclear whether the current legislation would necessarily cover any of this…

Against capitalism’s inversion, the point cannot made enough, all these things are being done to a real woman. Capital’s inversions and bashful concealments of production underpin the argument that the thing (the pornographic image, speech) must be protected even, or rather especially, against the existence destroyed to produce it…

These conditions did not exist as part of the production of The Filth, so their importance here is as a point of reference.  Tex Porneau does not exist as an unfathomable phantom that Morrison and Weston have dredged from the void.  His actions are an extrapolation of the processes by which entertainment is produced for our consumption, and the style in which it is processed for delivery.  If the ridiculousness of Porneau’s schemes strikes us as being over the top, perhaps we should reflect on the way that Michael Bay’s movies use real world violence and technology as a starting point for their own otherworldly fantasies.  

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Frank Quitely, Grant Morrison and Nathan Fairbairn – Multiversity: Pax Americana #1

It’s here that our story begins:  in pieces.  Many, many authors have shot at this target and missed, preferring not to recognize that in truth this is what we really know, and what we really believe, about the forces that create and shape our lives — preferring not to see that what science and philosophy describe is the branch from which our lives’ dramas depend, and not just convenient intellectual set-dressing for them.

We should remember that murder mysteries are always just local expressions, of a grander philosophical struggle — someone is killing capes, and who’s next?  Well, after the scientists the answer is, we are:  as the stunning profusion of interlinked symbols that fills Pax Americana’s pages ceaselessly intimates to us the unavoidability of that final, bitter realization of entropy.  War, and death, and chaos…

…Or, what is perhaps worse:  not chaos, at all, but order.

An implacable order, that we can’t resist.  A pattern we’re trapped in, that we can’t see.

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As was noted in the comments to the previous entry in this series, the analysis of sex provided in that section of  The Function of The Filth wasn’t particularly attentive to the mechanics of The Filth as a comic.

I’m working to take some of those criticisms on-board while redrafting this chapter for print, and I’m confident that the finished result will go baws deep on the question of quite how narcissistic Greg’s fantasy sex scene is, and how little he and Boy/Miami/Nil enjoy it.  As I explained at the time, the second preview was the weakest standalone section because it was most obviously written with the hope of getting elsewhere – this doesn’t excuse the weaknesses of the section as it stands, but it does put the weight of expectation on this preview!

This is where it becomes obvious where the first chapter of The Function of The Filth is going, so hopefully this chapter will strike you as having a somewhat… meatier taste and consistency to it.  If not, please send your complaints to the usual address!

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When we see Greg in his home, he tends to be either looking at porn (“Hear Caroline scream as Mike shoves his eleven inch dick… in her dad”), watching the news (“Thousands dead… mourning continues”), or pining after his cat (“You look after yourself and eat your special dinner up”).  In fact, in one scene in the first issue he combines these three activities into one page’s worth of fun, taking care of his needs on the couch before clearing up his cat’s shit, all to the soundtrack of distant tragedy.  This combination hints at the unkempt, exhausted, low level squalor in which Greg exists, but it also serves to carefully unite the crude, screaming brutality of modern news stories with that of hardcore pornography rather neatly.

This is crucially important to The Filth, because while – as we have seen – traditionally commercialised violence and sexual fantasy are surrealised and made unstable by Morrison and Weston throughout The Filth, their combination in the form of  hardcore pornography receives a different treatment altogether.  The theme of sexual brutalisation is present from that first image onwards, even in its Weston-diluted form, but it becomes increasingly inescapable for all the artist’s self-censorship.  The fleshy peak of this aspect of the series pokes up through the binding in the two-part storyline that fills the fifth and six issues of the comic, ‘pornomancer’ and ‘the world of anders klimakks’.  If The Filth is a desperate fantasy, then this is the point where the dream takes on a life of its own; if it’s all ‘real’, then this is where we get a glimpse of the bigger, grubbier picture.

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In last week’s instalment of THE FUNCTION OF THE FILTH, we skipped straight to the “violence” part of the equation.  This time round, we’re dealing with sex, because sex is always important in this sort of story.

This sort of story?  Well, try not to stop me if you’ve heard this one before!

There’s this guy who wakes up from his mundane life to discover he’s really a disturbingly important human being – maybe the most disturbingly important human being – rather than just another boring arsehole with bad hair. Inevitably, he’s a little incredulous about the whole thing to begin with, but as one world crumbles away he soon starts to find himself more at home in his new reality – and it’s almost always his new reality, whatever complications may arise further down the line. 

This detail tends to narrow down the rest of the possibilities of the story so that at least one attractive woman will usually be involved – the idea of “normal” being what it is, can you think of a better way to ensure that the transition from the “real” world to another, more overdetermined world goes well?  Cosmic purpose on its own isn’t enough: if the switch over is to be successful then the deal must be sealed with flesh.  For this price, plus teleological extras, our hero finds it within himself to be all that he can be.

This story is called The Matrix, or maybe Star Wars, or maybe even Wanted. For all their differences, these stories are all equally at home in the pages of comics and on cinema screens, in visual media where they can best present the  dreams of their audience back to them as a dressing up kit, a series of moves or tools or attitudes that can be easily copped and used to remake the world. These stories represent the transformation of dreams into merchandising, and as such their tropes are as easy to critique as they are hard to resist .

But did I say we would be talking about sex instead of violence this time?  Yeah… let’s do that!

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Fresh from Thought Bubble 2014, it’s the one chapter preview of THE FUNCTION OF THE FILTH, my forever delayed book on Grant Morrison and Chris Weston’s best comic, The Filth, to be serialised in five posts corresponding to the five positions of The Hand!

CLICK HERE TO PEEL BACK THE MONITOR SCREEN AND PLAY WITH THE GOOPY MONSTER UNDERNEATH

Enter the Multiversity

July 29th, 2014

A brief thought on Grant Morrison’s work that I might disown in the morning…

While hyping his upcoming Multiversity mini series for DC (at least half a decade in the making, and from the sound of it pages are still being done), Morrison has made reference to the Stan Lee method, in which the comic makes the reader an accomplice in the story.

Here’s the man himself, making some typically bold claims for his adoption of this technique in Multiversity #7, Ultra Comics:

I’ve used a lot of hypnotic induction. There’s an old trick that Stan Lee used to do — it was quite popular at Marvel — of the comic talking to you. I took that and this thing, and I think we’ve actually created the world’s first actual superhuman being, which you’ll see how it works when you read this comic. Then the world’s first super human being on this earth has to fight the most malignant entity. So the bad guys in Multiversity who are attacking the entire multiversal structure are also attacking the real world, and this comic is their only way through right now. So it becomes the reader versus the bad guy on the page. I think it’s actually quite scary, this thing. It scared me!

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Prismism

July 28th, 2014

With Grant Morrison’s Multiversity finally on the (candyfloss)horizon, he’s been doing some interviews in support of the book on The Comics Internet. You remember The Comics Internet, right? That place you used to go to discuss comics after you got sick of chopping up old issues of Wizard and randomly inserting snippets of inane commentary underneath pictures of classic (#classic) alt comics in TCJ, but before you resorted to gnomic twitter commentary and/or listening to a seemingly endless supply of podcasts while wanking/doing your housework/riding the bus?

The topic of the Prismatic Age of comics came up during one of these press adventures, with only a little bit of prompting from the interviewer from Comics Alliance:

Grant Morrison: Unlike Seven Soldiers… that was a lot more modular. This one is more of relay race, that was the structure we built because each universe is reading the comic books from the previous universe, and that’s how they learn about the threat, basically. It’s more like a chain. It doesn’t have the same intricate jigsaw pattern as Seven Soldiers. It’s quite linear, this one. I wanted to do something quite linear and simple and everyone could “get” this time. This one is for people who’ve never read DC before but want to get into this gigantic maelstrom of characters and versions of characters; the prismatic world of DC.

Comics Alliance: They call it the “prismatic age.”

GM: Yeah!

As long time Mindless readers will already know, this term originated in a couple of posts by our own Botswana Beast.  Good little virus that it is, the idea of The Prismatic Age has infected comics fans and academics alike, and if you’ve so far managed to avoid contagion, I’d recommend you do what all the cool kids were doing six years ago and expose yourself to the Bottie Beast!

Here’s a pre-amble, in which BB talks useless taxonomy in A Hall of Mirrors!

And here’s the main event, in which The Prismatic Age is… well, if not born, then at least recognised for what it was!

A tasty wee taster, just to get you started:

The ideology of the Prismatic Age, what it insistently moves toward, is that all parts are active, all of the time. While not necessarily visible monthly, nor are they hidden or overwritten – this was the notion of Hypertime, never fully realised but approached in the much-loathed-for-rule-breaking Kingdom. Summary of all incarnations, a distillate. This is partly what I find so terribly aggravating about the PopMatters piece that set me on this path many moons ago, apart from its attempts to cloak in inscrutable terminology a daft enthusiasm for two largely consequenceless and really quite markedly shit event-books from last year, is the lack of understanding of either superheroes or, really, the postmodernism it touts. Postmodernism is largely about (oh-ho-ho, I am going to tell you what postmodernism is “largely about” on a comics blog,) textually, shifting loci on a subject, a lack of definitiveness in portrayals and readings – to read Civil War(!!) as somehow having achieved a permanent destabilisation of the superhero archetype because it wasn’t about a binary black & white bone of contention?! No: that ship had long since sailed, it was a pirate ship in a comic read by an African-American child beside a fire hydrant, and the sole difference was that it was big duopoly franchise comic events that were dealing, ham-fistedly of course, with the supposed issues: none of which were terribly worldly, one of which was sort of, if you squinted, slightly topical. Boring, kneejerk Dark Age scions, really – Civil War literally ordains the Keene Act, for Rao’s sake! The spirit of this age seems to me throughout to have been essentially one of recapitulation and of remixing, in this case 2006 remixed 1986 badly – but this is also how you end up with Batmite as a Jungian portent of impending demise.

Check back tomorrow from more Multiversity pre-amble, because apparently I quite like The Comics Internet, when I remember that it still exists!

One of the jokes that the other Mindless Ones have about me is that while I often complain about not having written enough, I’m ridiculously productive (I write two or three books a year, on average). They only make this joke because unlike me, they don’t know Phil Sandifer.

Phil recently released TARDIS Eruditorum vol 4, the fourth volume of his look at every Doctor Who TV story (and many of the books and audios), A Golden Thread, a critical history of Wonder Woman, Last War In Albion Chapter Four, the latest in a series of short ebooks charting the parallel careers of Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, and Flood, a book in the 33 ⅓ series, in which he and co-author S. Alexander Reed look at the classic They Might Be Giants album.

And by recently, I mean in the last two months. He might have released something else since I made that list — I haven’t looked since lunchtime.

Much, though not all, of his work is serialised on www.philipsandifer.com (where I’ll be doing a guest post next week on Final Crisis, incidentally) and readers of Mindless Ones will, I’m sure, find it worth checking out.

Read the interview

If the first volume of Batman Incorporated exploded out of the gloom and propelled the character back towards life, then the second iteration of this latest re-branding was a far different proposition.

Every stage of Morrison’s Batman has followed a similar trajectory, starting off light-hearted and energetic before eventually plunging right back into the overarching mega-plot, and with it, the grand absence that unifies the whole run:

In the previous two iterations this has entailed an increase of complexity, either in the form of the deconstructionist absurdity of Batman RIP or in the twinned conclusions to Batman and Robin and The Return of Bruce Wayne.   Batman Incorporated 2.0 represents a different approach.  This final flourish of Batman comics represents the ultimate reduction of all that had come before, with the stresses of the plot compressing these twelve issues down to the barest element as it plays out to its logical conclusion: a man in a cape punching people in the face forever.

Click here to explore the limits of… THE INK!

Yeah, I know, I thought I was done thinking about this comic too but I took some time out from the Black Bug Room to do a big Action Comics re-read yesterday while my girlfriend was off seeing some movie where James Franco and Sam Raimi turn fine wine into goat piss, and… well, I ended up sending my fellow Mindless an email about they experience, which they’ve bullied me into sharing with you.

I’m not trying to be dramatic here, but in a week where the main topics of conversation in Mindless HQ were largely focussed on Mad Men, male members and the interaction of the two, the sudden focus on reaching out to you lot made me feel a little bit like this:

Have you been on the internet?  There are all these people there, and it’s hard to work out what all of them want, and some of them might not enjoy Gary Lactus’ “Hamm on the bone” jokes as much as I do (seriously though, is Jon Hamm’s penis the exciting new character find of 2013 or what?).

Anyway, enough of that pish, let’s talk about the man who’s…

———————>>>>> FASTER! THAN A SPEEDING BULLET!!!!———————>>>>>

  • The much-anticipated socialist/Bruce Springsteen Superman still fails to fully materialise on a second reading, but this botched manifestation seems weirdly charming this time round.  The appeal and the failure of this approach are both linked to the fact that this isn’t familiar territory for writer Grant Morrison – as any round of interview questions will quickly reveal, our G-Mo doesn’t have the interest in tackling current affairs required to really make a story about idealistic young things sing, but he’s definitely cocking his head in the right direction here.  Taken at face value the idea of “Clark Kent: Blogger” is dull dull dull, but positioning Kent as a Laurie Penny style crossover journalist makes a lot of sense to me.  The appeal of Superman has always been partly bound up in the a romance of modernity, with our ongoing attempts to manage the impossible scale of things, and so it follows that it’s worth updating the idea that he’s a newspaper man, rather than merely preserving it, eh Grant?
  • While Morrison might not quite have nose for a story that his core trio of young journalists share, his efforts aren’t helped by the fact that Rags Morales’ characters can’t act for shit. G-Mo has to take part of the blame for the fact that the interplay between Clark/Jimmy/Lois remains merely promising throughout, but knowing how Morrison tends to rise to his collaborators, I can’t help but feel that he would have given his cast better material if they’d demanded it while they were looking up at him from the pages of the comic itself.

——————->>>>> STRONGER THAN A LOCOMOTIVE!!!!!———————>>>>>

  • Morrison and Morales’ other big shared failing is in their coordination of the action scenes throughout the first three quarters of this run. Again, they’re both gunning in the right direction, working hard to emphasise the physical exertion involved in these impossible acts while also plowing right through several moral fundamentals (as the Bottie Beast pointed out way back when, it’s a bit like “okay, so here’s how power effects justice, and here’s why torture is always wrong, and here’s a working definition of realpolitik for you” at the start there), but all of this would feel more vital if there were believable physical bodies and environments involved.  Morales’ line has a certain rugged dynamism to it, but there’s no solidity to his characters and situations – it’s almost as though the world he’s depicting is melted down and reformed between every panel.  Weirdly, this same plasticity works in favour of the climactic arc, in which punches are thrown across dimensions, and headbutts crash right into the face of spacetime.
  • Similar problems haunt the Igor Kordey drawn issues of the New X-Men story ‘Imperial’ and the Philip Tan drawn arc of Batman & Robin, which suggests that Morrison is not inclined to worry about spacial relations in action scenes unless prompted to by his collaborators.  It’s easy to blame the artist for these faults but it seems fair to suggest that Morrison should probably work on this aspect of the collaborative process in order to avoid such disappointing results in the future.

————>>>>> ABLE TO LEAP TALL BUILDINGS IN A SINGLE BOUND!!!!———->>>>>

  • The conclusion to the Braniac plot is the lowest point in the series: honestly, I winked at it above, but can anyone manage enthusiasm for the Saving vs. Collecting theme here?  Yeah, I thought not.  A more committed curmudgeon than Our Grant could have probably made something out of the way the internet allows you to mistake passive curation for participation, but these issues don’t even get that far down dead granddad avenue, so.
  • Lois Lane really gets short-changed in this comic as elsewhere; Mozzer writes a mean Lois, but for whatever reason he tends to write around her most of the time rather than putting her at the centre of the story, where she obviously wants to be.

—————–>>>>> A REGISTERED TRADEMARK OF DC COMICS!!!!—————->>>>>

  • The Beast Must Die’s (second hand?) point about how Morrison has managed to smuggle a lot of the rich weirdness of Superman history back into the camera-blur addled, modern blockbuster world of the New52 is well taken. The fact that Morrison only managed to successfully integrate these queasy fantasy textures to his ALL ACTION ALL THE TIME approach in the last arc is an obvious storytelling fault, but as a no doubt soon to be ignored bit of structural work it’s not half bad: the goofy future kids and extradimensional kids are here, and they’ve adapted to the challenges of their new, frantic landscape well.
  • In a neat inversion of All Star Superman’s pacifist logic, Superman brawls his way through these stories, solving problems with sheer brute force and tenacity until the final arc. This linear approach to problem solving is obviously apropos and it also makes explicit the idea of Superman as a fantasy of impossible force made real. The not-entirely-resolved thematic throughline of Morrison’s run involves matching Superman’s power up against the power of the mob (peep just how often large groups of people intervene in the conflicts in this series), and linking both of those things with the power of journalism, i.e. with the way that narrative power can be converted into ACTUAL POWER.  The suggestion seems to be that wielding the impossible force of “Superman” against the prevailing forces of the world is possible, but requires the contribution of EVERY LAST ONE OF OUR LOYAL READERS, hence the fact that the last story can only be resolved with audience participation.
  • Of course, as I said, none of this is quite (explicitly) resolved in the comic itself, and even when Morrison uses all of his daintiest framing devices in the last arc, it’s not quite enough to disguise the fact that this is 4D flower is blooming in the toxic graveyard world of corporate comics. Issue #18 of this comic hit like a car through the front counter of a book shop, but despite the best efforts of lE laK, nosirroM tnarG, selaroM sgaR and the rest, I never found myself mistaking Action for an argument…