Asking the Dust (and not getting a very sensible reply…)

I’m coming to the end of another burst of subbing at IPC. Sometimes, it’s rather guiltily like being paid to twiddle your thumbs for most of the day, but this time things have been relatively intense. It’s lots of very detailed, very precise work that does get extremely wearing after a while. It’s well-paid, though, and generally making sure that I’ll be able to stick to my plan of shutting down on Thursday and concentrating on very little other than the novel. It also gets me out of the house, and gives a bit of shape to the week, which is sometimes a very welcome occurrence. It’s just a little frustrating working on listings pages- mainly because all it takes is a few schedule changes and suddenly everything you’ve done for the past hour is completely irrelevant. I get on well with everybody here, though, and I’d far prefer doing this on the basis of when I need to, rather than subbing all the time, getting lots of money, and very probably losing the will to live in the bargain (which, according to Revenge of the Sith, is all you need to do in order to actually drop dead…)

Saw ASK THE DUST last night- a literary adaptation that seemed to be the typical thirties-set “blinkered writer sets out to learn about life, but gets MORE THAN HE BARGAINED FOR!!!”, with lots of metaphorical gubbins about the relationship between America and Mexico, the idea of the Melting Pot, and Los Angeles itself. It’s one of those romances that are beautifully written, very well acted and yet without the spark that makes you care about what happens to these people. Despite the best efforts of Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek, the mixture of aggression, passion and compulsion in the central relationship never actually works- it always feels very arch, very structured, and very metaphorical without ever feeling real. Bizarrely, the stuff around the relationship is far more interesting- Donald Sutherland proves exactly how good he can be in a small role as a sozzled denizen of the hotel where Farrel is staying, and there’s a short relationship between Farrell and a sad-eyed, strangely crazed and ultimately tragic woman called Vera (played by an actress called Idina Menzel) that actually has more subtlety, spark and genuine interest than anything that happens between Farrell and Hayek. It’s rather a disappointment when she gets killed in an Earthquake… On top of this, there’s the classic melodramatic touch of having your lovers reach a place of peace and bliss away from the world where everything seems perfect… and suddenly, the girl starts coughing every so often. Yes, it’s the classic “Moulin Rouge” effect (Farrell is even a writer, just to make it even better), and soon Hayek is dying of TB in as photogenic a manner as possible. There’s beautiful photography from Caleb Deschanel and it’s all gorgeously made, but despite some fantastic dialogue, I really couldn’t wait for it to end. (How very cynical and unromantic of me…)

Being ridiculously short of money (and habitually steering clear of buying comics in favour of graphic novel collections, anyway) I was leafing through the latest issue of INFINITE CRISIS in a comicshop just to find out what ridiculous things are happening in the current cataclysmic hysterically overcomplicated DC Universe crossover series, and there was one moment that really made me stop and think “Whaaaat?” Basically, it’s a sequence where a supervillain called the Psycho Pirate (Hmmm…) is killed rather brutally by another character called Black Adam (and they wonder why superhero comics have a bad reputation?). It should also be pointed out that the Psycho Pirate wears a funky golden mask that enables him to alter people’s emotions. What happens in the scene is pretty gross- Black Adam rams two fingers into the Psycho Pirate’s eyes (with corresponding splats of blood)- and in the next frame, he’s pushed the mask all the way through the Psycho Pirate’s head with the result that, quite naturally, the Psycho Pirate’s head explodes in a gigantic splatter of blood and brains. Just to make this absolutely clear- this isn’t played subtly, done in silhouette or anything to tone it down whatsoever. It’s blunt, nasty, and full frontal, and done simply to shock, which I found a bit sad. Having grown up with 2000AD, I’ve seen plenty of hilariously excessive violence- and yet it always works best when there’s a certain point, or when it’s handled a certain way. When it’s just being thrown into what is essentially a big, silly spandex and superpowers saga in order to make it seem “grittier” and “more real”, it’s exactly the kind of post-Dark Knight and post-Watchmen bollocks that has made certain comics very difficult to read. It’s aiming everything at gore-hungry fanboys who didn’t think The Authority was hardcore enough, rather than remembering that we need different styles and things aimed at different ages. It’s like the daft, silly teen mermaid movie AQUAMARINE that I saw last week- which was actually a lot more fun than I expected. It’s not particularly amazing, it’s predictable and there’s a whole load of awful sea-related puns- and yet, it does the job that it sets out to do, which is to tell an appealing story for 11-14 year old girls. Saying that all entertainment should be ‘sophisticated’ and ‘multi-layered’, appealing to every audience, forgets that there’s actually something to be said about stuff that’s aimed purely at kids. And, I guess, that’s what annoyed me about INFINITE CRISIS- that it should be something that kids can enjoy without indulging in utterly gratuitous gore, instead of something that’s only going to appeal to people with a PHD in DC Universe continuity.

Another reason why I didn’t like that was simply because the Psycho Pirate turns up in a wonderful Grant Morrison comic called Animal Man, is used really well and imaginatively (he’s the only character who remembers the continuity-shifting events of Infinite Crisis’ predecessor, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and as a result tries to bring back all the alternate Earths wiped out in the Crisis and lead the characters on a rebellion off the comic page into our reality- trippy, trippy stuff…) and written out well. And suddenly, he’s back for no apparent reason, and being used in an obscure piece of retro continuity and meeting a gory, pointless death. It’s like with the Doom Patrol- which, under Grant Morrison’s stewardship, was a beautifully strange Dadaist riot of a comic, and yet the characters then were shifted around, ignored, and finally rebooted in a totally different version. I hate it when they do that, because the loose, strange continuity of the DC Universe was one of its finest traits- the fact that in the same universe as Batman and Superman, we had weird stuff like Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, Hellblazer, Animal Man- hell, even The Sandman actually takes place in the DC Universe (hence appearences from Mr Miracle, The Martian Manhunter, and even Superman and Batman in “The Wake”). It was a great way of leaping from one world to another, with all these wonderful interconnections- and yet now, with Vertigo, and all the other transformations, it feels terribly homogeonised, smaller, and far less interesting. This is probably the main reason I don’t buy comics anymore- because there’s nothing that’s really seduced me into spending my money.

Of course, the third volume of Leage of Extraordinary Gentlemen is coming out soon, but that’s a different story…

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