League of Extraordinary Literary Self-Indulgence, part I

I came to comics fairly late. Of course I read the odd Asterix, Tintin and Disney comicbook when I was a kid, but I never really read those adolescent fantasies with guys in tights and big-breasted caped beauties fighting dastardly villains when not moping about their lovelives.

When I was 26, I went to Glasgow for a few months. Being a literature nerd, one of my favourite pastimes was to go to Waterstone’s (or, on my most nerdy days, Forbidden Planet), grab a book or five, sit down on one of the couches and read. That’s when I came across Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. I’d heard of it before, and I’d read Gaiman’s Smoke & Mirrors and Good Omens, the novel he’d written with Terry Pratchett. I’d always wanted to check out Sandman, but since I wasn’t into comics… I didn’t. Until Glasgow.

Smoke & Mirrors

And there, within the space of one or two days, I got hooked on Gaiman’s mythopoetic world. (Yes, I’ve always wanted to use the word “mythopoetic”. Now I have. Life suddenly feels empty.) And I started to think, “Hmm. Maybe there’s something about them there comics after all.”

Shortly after I started looking for other comic book authors of similar renown as Gaiman. Names like Mike Mignola came up, or Daniel Clowes, or (of course) Will Eisner. But the name that came up most insistently was Alan Moore. And the titles that were mentioned were Swamp Thing, From Hell, V for Vendetta and Watchmen. So I got started on From Hell, not knowing what to expect – and got hooked. Yup, the book grabbed me pretty much like a sharp hook to my belly, pulling my insides out. But metaphorically. And in a good way.

Ahem. Anyway, after reading V for Vendetta and then Watchmen (rather unsettling, as I read it just after 9/11), I knew that Moore was my kind of writer.

From Hell

 Next: Top 10, Promethea… and the League.

P.S.: Here’s a little bonus, at no additional charge, for the Neil Gaiman fans among you:

Blue, extraordinary and oh so pulpy

Sorry, guys… Not enough sleep and no coffee make this guy uncreative. I could write something about today’s episode of Six Feet Under (“The Silence”), but then, something about its ending made me feel all blue.

Nate and Maggie

Or should I write about League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier today? Well, considering that the annotations file on that one is more than 50’000 words long, I think that my review should wait until I’ve had more sleep.

The Black Dossier

So… should I write about Pulp Fiction, which I watched again yesterday, for the first time after years? Thing is, so much has already been written about Pulp Fiction, so I think I’ll just leave it at saying that the film is as fresh and as cool as it was back then (has Samuel L. Jackson ever been cooler?). And here’s a little something to keep you happy ’till the next blog entry:

Look at the size of those eyebrows!

It’s dangerous to go back to the things you enjoyed as a kid after decades, because chances are that you’ll want to tear out your eyes and lobotomise yourself rather than know that, boy, did you have crap taste when you were young!

Going back and watching the ’50s version of 20’000 Leagues Under the Sea isn’t nearly as bad as it could be. There’s still a lot in the film that works: many of the special effects, if not up to scratch nowadays, still have a certain realism, so that the film still looks pretty damn good. This is helped by the underwater scenes and the colour art direction which won an Academy Award. (Makes you wonder what other Academy Awards they gave back then – Best Racist Caricature in a Motion Picture? Best Gratuitous Use of a ‘Funny’ Seal Sidekick? Best Repeated Underwater Performance of Toccata & Fugue As Bach Never Wrote It?) The film’s atmosphere is still cool, and the kid in me still thinks it’d be fun to be on the Nautilus, at least if that Nemo guy stays off the organ playing for a few hours.

At the same time, I never noticed just how clunky the dialogues and much of the acting were. Not that I expect Dostoevsky from a Jules Vernes adventure movie, nor did I think, “This film could do with more Lee Strasberg-type performances…” But at times you wonder whether Richard Fleischer ever bothered  to direct his cast. I know that Peter Lorre can do better, as can Kirk Douglas… and James Mason mainly works due to his eyebrows and his snobbish British accent, which makes lines like “I am not what is called a civilized man, Professor.” quite funny – you expect him to follow this with, “Now let us have a snifter of brandy and read some Shakespeare, shall we?”

And the trained seal and that insufferable “Whale of a Tale” song are evil, I tells ya! Eeevil!

P.S.: Speaking of Captain Nemo, perhaps I should take a day or two to write a blog entry on Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. Very little Nemo in that one, though… Shame.

The League, back when things were happy (in a dysfunctional way)

Twins 2: Starring Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen

I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a bit longer ’till I start going on at great length about the films that didn’t click for me. You have my sympathy, though; it can’t be easy waiting even longer for something that highly anticipated… (On a related note: Amazon recently sent off my copy of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, according to the Moore-man “not my best comic ever, not the best comic ever, but the best thing ever. Better than the Roman civilisation, penicillin, […] the human nervous system. Better than creation. Better than the big bang. It’s quite good.” Sounds like something to look forward to.)

Anyway, the reason for today’s delay is this:

(Note: I’m afraid the YouTube video is in Spanish – here’s a link to the English video.)

While it’s probably a bit too precious for its own good, it’s still an amazingly well done advert. But what really throws me every time I see (and hear) Martin Scorsese is just how much he looks and sounds like an Italian-American, less neurotic though just as fidgety Woody Allen. And they both love New York.


Twins, separated at birth? Or are they actually the same person – i.e. Woody had better acting skills than we’d thought, and he’s been working on his Brooklyn accent? My guess is that this is just another one of those Hollywood mysteries that will never be solved. Like Ben Affleck’s success. Or William Shatner’s hair.

Spooky, huh?

It happened at the movies… (1)

In the past year I haven’t really been to the cinema nearly as often as I would have liked to, for several reasons. All in all, this year somehow seems to have happened without me. I did catch a handful of movies that stayed with me, though, and they were all by directors whose work I’ve liked a lot in the past: David Fincher, Danny Boyle, Michael Scorsese and Christopher Nolan. Here’s the first of them:


Let’s get this out of the way: I like Alien 3. In many ways I like it better than Aliens; the latter is a great ride, but beneath its well-oiled craft it isn’t that different from many other ‘80s action movies, leaving gender politics aside for the moment. Most of the characters are broadly drawn cartoons. That’s okay, they don’t need to be anything else for the purpose of the film, but while it’s a fun film, it’s not an interesting film. It’s not an uncomfortable film. Alien, by comparison, has left its mark on many an impressionable filmgoer. Like its titular creature, it’s highly efficient, it’s vicious, and it gets inside you in unpleasant ways. At its best, Alien 3 also has that effect. It may be the most unsettling of the Alien movies. I’m certain that if it had followed directly from Ridley Scott’s nightmare rather than James Cameron’s rollercoaster, it would have been better received.

David Fincher is a highly talented formalist. His films are meticulously crafted and tightly controlled. Most of them are also rather show-offy. Especially Fight Club has a somewhat adolescent quality, wanting to impress you in spite of its fashionable nihilism: “Look at me! Not that I care, though.” It’s just a tad too infatuated with itself.

Zodiac is just as intricately crafted, but it doesn’t need to show off. In spite of its impressive running time, it’s a lean film that is immensely well made, and it impressed me all the more for not having to remind me again and again how well it is made. It is also an eminently frustrating film – it is about frustration, and it’s frustrating for the audience. The serial killer genre thrives on some sort of closure: at its most generic, it provides you with a neat ending, where the killer is caught (and, ideally, killed by the film’s hero). If it’s minimally clever, it’ll give you some sort of twist: it wasn’t actually John Smith after all who skinned all those women – it was Frank Jones, in the pantry, with the serrated knife! Zodiac instead doesn’t satisfy its protagonists’ obsession, nor ours: we don’t learn who the killer is. We only get a maybe. And since the suspect is dead, chances are we’ll never know for certain. Fincher’s film denies us a neat, comforting conclusion, so Robert Graysmith’s obsession isn’t validated in the end. All we’re left with is loose ends. Fincher’s Seven was already loathe to serve up a neat ending, but by comparison, it’s practically “… and they lived happily ever after.” The bad guy may win after a fashion, but he dies. We know he was the killer. In Zodiac, what we’re left with is an irresolvable question mark.

By the way, if you liked the film, you may want to check out Alan Moore’s comic From Hell. Do not confuse it with its film version, since the movie does something very different. Once you’ve read From Hell (it’ll take you a while, since it’s one big book), read the second appendix, also presented as a comic. It makes for an ideal companion piece to Zodiac.

From Hell

Also, look out for the continuation of this series in two or three days. In the meantime, we return you to our regular programme. Read you tomorrow.