Friday, April 28, 2017

Guarding a Galaxy without the LOLs

The new Guardian of the Galaxy movie opened earlier this week around these parts, which was nice, (even if it would be a lot bloody nicer if we weren’t still waiting weeks to get John Wick Chapter Two and Get Out). The lovely wife and I went along on a lazy Tuesday afternoon, and had a terrific time.

It gets a bit bogged down, with daft family strife dragging down the cosmic splendor. But like the first film in this series, there are some dazzling colours, some neat character beats and, most importantly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It gets a lot of mileage out of baby Groot’s giant eyes, and the stark literalism of Drax the Destroyer, and has arguably the best Stan Lee cameo yet.

There will be no further spoilers here, but rest assured, whenever the film is going for a reaction out of the audience, it is usually chasing the laughs, even during the biggest climactic moments of the movie.

This focus on one-liners, fake-outs and outright slapstick will undoubtedly appeal to a huge audience. The slightly unexpected success of the first Guardians of the Galaxy film was largely thanks to a sense of easy humour that was evident from the first teaser. There were plenty of film journalists writing it up as Marvel's riskiest move at the time, but I saw no risk in the cinema where I saw that first trailer.

Now, everybody knows what they're going to get from a new GotG film. There are the usual plot twists and turns, but you know the style, the mood and the vibe before you even step into the theatre.

These kinds of comfort film are extremely popular, and this is why the Fast & Furious and Transformers films still rack up boffo box office, without ever saying anything new. Those audiences know what they are going to get - giant incomprehensible metal things smashing each other, and robots in disguise.

But while that tone of levity and laughs will please most of the GotGv2 audience, it’s unlikely to be as popular with the hardcore nerds. Partly because there were two young dorks in Captain America and Batman tee-shirts sitting next to me who scoffed at every dumb joke in the movie, when everybody else was laughing. It would have been annoying as hell, except they kept doing it, and it became just as funny as anything else.

If there is one thing I've learned as a life-long dork, it's that this lot are not famous for their sense of humour, but that doesn't mean they can't be funny.

There is an extremely fine line between good-natured humour and outright silliness, and silliness is nerd kryptonite.

It's easy to see things from the geek perspective - many of us grow up fearing that other people aren’t taking our precious stupid shit as seriously as we do, and therefore, only the serious things matter and are important.

But most of us also grow out of this at some point - if somebody doesn't like the crap we're into, that's their fucking problem. But as the dork life has overtaken mainstream culture, this invariably leads to more and more damned souls moaning that we aren't treating their precious super-cliches and spaceships seriously enough.

And this invariably leads the nerd hive mind to the usual dumb consensus: if it ain't serious, it doesn't matter.

This has been going on for a while. For years, it was generally agreed that the worst Doctor Who, without question, was The Gunslingers, a First Doctor adventure where the TARDIS crew rough it up with events around the the OK Corral.

It wasn’t just because it stuck a dusty old western into the clean world of Doctor Who, it's because the whole story was light, with daft jokes and comic misunderstandings. It wasn't a serious, important story like The Dalek Masterplan or The Sensorites.

Then people actually got to see the episodes, years down the line, and many found that lighter touch genuinely charming, and the reputation has risen a little, although many hardcore fans will still scowl at the story's inability to show proper respect for a programme about a madman in a blue box that travels in time and space.

(Although it should be noted that other early Who stories with a lighter touch, such as The Romans and The Myth-Makers, generated generally fond feelings, so maybe it really was the genre pollution in this case.)

For the American equivalent, there is, as always, Batman.

Kids adore the sixties Batman TV show because it's silly and campy, adolescents despise it because it's silly and campy, and adults love it again because it's silly and campy. I know that's how it certainly worked for me.

Batman hasn't been silly or campy in any medium for a long time now, and has been a world of gritted teeth and rooftop angsting since the 1980s. Any attempts to lighten things up, such as the various Batman '66 comics, barely get any attention, while forthcoming stories are promising more darkness and more metal, because that's what the nerds demand. Batman used to dig the day, now he barely ever steps out of the shadows.

And it’s just so fucking childish. Only dumb kids think everything has to be grim and gritty all the time, and that anything else is barely worth discussing.

Because it's also so boring - who wants to watch a movie of absurd creatures scowling at each other until their grimaces fall off? Movie trailers that promise ultra-serious takes on the goofiest fuckin' concepts just make the film they're promoting look ultra-tedious.

And despite the perspective of many, that focus is not even realistic – life is full of humour.

British directors like Shane Meadows and Ben Wheatley (who both always have a place in this Tearoom), have justified putting scenes of dumb humour, and even slapstick, next to emotionally and physically harrowing bits of cinema, and have justified it by pointing that life is full of dumb wise-cracks and jokes and black humour, even in the most appalling circumstances.

That's how human beings work, take out the jokes, and you're left with people who would bore you to death in a five-minute conversation, let alone hold your attention for a 90-minute story.

The unimportance of anything with a sense of humour isn't just limited to geek culture - look at how many comedies are put forward for Best Picture at the Academy Awards every year.

Geeks like to think they have a good sense of humour about themselves because they liked the 1980s Justice League comics, but if that was really true, Evan Dorkin would be a goddamn multi-millionaire (he fuckin’ deserves to be). Instead, they're too busy trying to tell everybody about graphic novels, because they think calling them comic books sounds silly.

But if you're too busy scowling to laugh with the crowd, and too cool to play with others, like those two dorks in the cinema on Tuesday, you'll just end up on your own. That's no joke.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Love and Rockets: The easy cool of Jaime Hernandez

There's a new Love and Rockets, just a few months after the last one, and while the annual format saw a concentrated burst of brilliance in one fat package, it's always good to get a new taste of the Best Comic In The World.

The smaller format means there is a smaller chunk of story, and Love and Rockets Magazine #2 features bite-sized slices of both brothers' ongoing sagas, taking a few steps forward and underlying the slightness of the plotting with a couple of devastating emotional truths. So, same as it ever was, then.

And another thing that hasn't changed is that Jaime's art is absolutely breath-taking. The stories might be short, but the body language, facial expressions and sheer craftwork on display are as huge as ever.

And the energy is still there, in stark black and white, no panel ever feels tired or knocked-off. Whether it's the sweaty thrills of rocking out in a dingy club -

 - or the tensed-up thrills of super-beings getting ready to beat the snot out of each other -  


But his art is still just as powerful in the quiet moments, finding an ocean of conflicted feelings on Maggie's face when she didn't stick in somebody's mind as much as he stuck in hers -

- or having the balls to show a slumped figure in proper dejection, with sexy stomach rolls and all -

Sometimes it's just brilliantly clever, with Jaime giving a heavy dialogue scene some visual pizazz by having one of the characters clamber up a tree in immature frustration, and dangle over the other people - 

- and then reducing the powerful Vivian to a smaller, more unsure figure when contrasted to another character who has got her shit together (or is at least shows a better front of it) -

Don't worry, Viv gets her power back within a couple of pages, with the tree branch of one panel leading the eye in the next right up to a reveal of the character in all her naked glory. Back in charge, kicking ass and taking names -

Jaime has been making this kind of craftwork look effortless for years now, and it's as beautiful as ever. Knowing that there is only a few short months until the next injection of Love and Rockets is a true joy. I look forward to the day.

As long as no giant super-women come crashing through my lounge in the meantime -


Bonus Beto!

Brother Gilbert's art reached a kind of brutal functionality a long, long time ago, and a lot of his art is people standing around talking, but every now and then, he catches the eye with a delicate expression, or by stranding a young girl in the middle of a vast room. Nice one, Beto.

Friday, April 21, 2017

More of Nobby Clark's lost Auckland

The Howe Street Conveniences

The Cook St Market

The International Yoga Centre on Nelson St

Plaza Arcade


The Duck Pond at the Auckland Domain

The ferry buildings

Upper Queen Street

The Higher Thought Temple on Union Street

The Pink Pussy Cat on K Road

The Victoria Street Market

The Grey Lynn Book Exchange

I remain a devoted fan of Auckland cartoonist Nobby Clark's slices of New Zealand life in the 1970s and 80s, and his portrayal of a city that doesn't exist anymore.

I've highlighted examples of his work before, but there is always room for more.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Bolland walks into a bar.

Some unexpected Brian Bolland art, in a story written by John Ostrander and Del Close for Munden's Bar Annual #2.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Brendan McCarthy's Artoons

I still don't understand a lot of Brendan McCarthy's art from the 1980s, like these one-pagers that appeared in the Crisis comic, but their beauty to always easy to grasp.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Wolverine gallery

When Wolverine got his first ongoing comic in the 1980s, it was so fancy they didn't have ads on the back cover, and the back page was given to some hot artist to draw some kind of Logan.

That's still my favourite Barry Windsor-Smith picture of Wolvie, right at the top there.