The Usual Brechtian Nonsense

All-Star Superman #1

I love you, Grant Morrison.

currently playing: Saint Etienne – Finisterre

Bwa-ha-ha-ha

I’d rather jack than Fleetwood Mac.

As previously mentioned on this blog and elsewhere, the world of superhero comics is a confusing one. Especially since every summer, MILLIONS WILL DIE. It's a little like hurricane season but with giant robots and holes in the space-time continuum (and no, Polyfilla doesn't work, sadly). This year? Well, EVERYTHING YOU KNEW ABOUT THE MARVEL UNIVERSE IS WRONG! Again. But this time they mean it, as after Marvel is finished with their imaginary world dreamt up by The Scarlet Witch Which Is A Bit Different From The Alternate World Where Professor X Died Or The One That Franklin Richards Made When All The Heroes Were Killed By Professor X Who'd Gone A Bit Bonkers' story, they're coming back with Decimation, a title that conjures up all sorts of fun images. The rumour is that in the 'new' Marvel Universe, there won't be quite so many mutants around. So lotsa people gonna die.

It's all DC's fault, of course. Twenty years ago, they released a series, which really did change everything, and everybody has been copying it since. You see, Superman, Batman, and a few other DC heroes debuted in the 1930s, but by the end of the 1940s, superhero comics weren't selling in big numbers anymore. Most of the titles faded as both Marvel and DC (or Timely and National, as they were known then) moved into romance, horror, and true crime genres. In 1955, though, that all changed, as the Flash was reintroduced and heralded a new age of superhero stories. But the new Flash wasn't the same as the old one. This Flash was Barry Allen, a police scientist who gained speed powers after being involved in a chemical accident (and some lightning). He took up the name of Flash, because he remembered reading about the adventures of the original Flash (Jay Garrick) during the 1940s.

So far, so good. New versions of other characters followed, eventually leading to the comic Justice League of America, which comprised all of DC's big heroes; Flash, Green Lantern, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and many others. Then came the slight wrinkle - after all, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman had been going since the 1940s - how come they hadn't aged?

The correct answer, I suppose, is 'who cares?', but that's not how DC decided to answer the question. Instead, in Flash #123, Barry Allen travelled to an alternate Earth, the one that contained the 'real' Jay Garrick. In Justice League #21-22, this was explored further, revealing that in this other Earth, known as Earth-2, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and others fought in WWII, whereas in the proper Earth (Earth-1), they had started their adventures after the war.

Simple, eh? And then it got very complicated. There was an Earth-3, filled with evil duplicates of the Justice League and a good Lex Luthor, Earth-X, where the Germans won WWII, Earth-S, the home of Captain Marvel, and Earth-Prime, which was supposed to be the real world (although given that it was ravaged by nuclear war, let's hope not). The fun thing for writers was that you could use the older age of Earth-2 characters to write stories that you couldn't do with the Earth-1 ones (who were always set in the here and now); for example, the Huntress was originally an Earth-2 character, and her name was then Helena Wayne, being the daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle.

By 1985, it was a mess. People kept jumping between universes, and it was a major headache for both the writers and readers to keep everything straight. So, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of DC Comics, Marv Wolfman came up with a proposal to streamline the DC Universe in a 12-part mini-series called Crisis On Infinite Earths. It's one of the goofy things that I love about superhero comics; sure it'd be much easier just to restart everybody at issue #1, and not even mention what's gone before, but no, we have to have a huge event to explain a new editorial mandate.

The plot of Crisis was simple: a big bad guy (the Anti-Monitor) is wiping out universes. In the first ten pages, an unnamed Earth and Earth-3 are completely destroyed - this series has the highest body count of, well, pretty much anything ever (Infinite Earths, remember?). The heroes from the remaining universes band together to save what's left. They succeed, but at a high price: Barry Allen is killed when he destroys one of the Anti-Monitor's machines, and Supergirl is completely erased from history (both Flash and Supergirl weren't selling well). The series ends with just one Earth, which has elements of all the old ones, but has a new history. Simple!

Except...well, it would have worked, if the comics had truly started again from scratch. But most of them didn't, leaving some readers clueless about which stories 'happened' and which didn't (again, it mostly doesn't matter, but some people like to know these things). Then there was the Legion of Superheroes, who screwed everything up. You see, the Legion was a group of teenagers from the far future, who came back in time to visit Superboy and Supergirl, taking them back to their time to have lots of fabulous adventures. But in the new timeline, Supergirl didn't exist, and Clark Kent didn't get his powers until much later - there never was a Superboy. This completely wrecked the Legion's origin, and was fixed by a pocket universe, the Time Trapper, another alternate world ruled by the sorcery of Mordru, and finally replacing the lost pair with the Daxmaites Mon-El and Laurel Gand.

If you understood even half of the previous paragraph, then I feel for you. And I hope you feel for me.

Ten years later, and some of the continuity wrinkles were just too big to ignore, so there was another big story, this time called Zero Hour. Hal Jordan, Green Lantern, went a bit loony after his home city was destroyed as a result of an alien invasion, and decided he was going to fix things. By recreating the multiverse (it's possible that the aging Jordan was chosen to represent the older fans who were rather upset about Crisis), and giving everybody a lovely little paradise to live in. His plan failed, but he did reboot the universe, allowing editors to decree that certain stories never happened, and fixing the Legion Problem by starting it over from scratch (like they probably should have done back in 1985.

And now, ten years on, we're here again; DC's big event for this year is Infinite Crisis, another story that promises to change everything. The run-up to the story involves rape, mindwipes, TINY FOOTPRINTS ON THE BRAIN, the Batbooks continuing to suck, Superman having his throat ripped open by Wonder Woman's tiara, and the General Death of Fun (and all of Giffen/DeMatteis’s JLI characters). I think that they're trying to get us to welcome the reboot by making the current universe such a miserable place. And, as mentioned at the top of the post, Marvel is also having its first reboot this year as well (Marvel didn't reuse too many 1940s superheroes during its 1960s boom, so its managed to hold off a reboot for longer, but these days, the origins of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, and many others are tied a little too tightly to the Cold War)

There you go, a handy guide to the Crisis and why superhero comics are rather complicated, but one mystery remains - why is Power Girl's costume like that?

U2?

I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier.

(Send Ken to sensitivity training! He’ll love that!)

currently playing: A Camp – Song for the Leftovers

Calling Dr. Mabuse

Why does it hurt when my heart misses the beat?

(Aside: SOS Titanic. Now, admittedly, as it’s the same event, I’m sure that some crossover was inevitable, but I swear, Cameron stole several shots from that for use in Titanic. But in this version, David Warner lives!)

currently playing: Propaganda – Dr Mabuse (12”)

Okay...

I’m guessing that we’re all now thinking that Patricia Cornwell is obsessed with Jack The Ripper…

currently playing: Kenickie – Lights Out In A Provincial Town

Does This Mean I Have To Get Up On Saturdays?

From No Rock & Roll Fun and Sweeping The Nation: Lauren Laverne to host CD:UK (some other people as well, but do they count? I think not, although will it be the first time two former musicians hosted a music programme since Mark & Lard’s all-too-brief residence on TOTP?). I’ve been re-reading some old NMEs in the past few days (as part of the Britpop nostalgia which is going around; and indeed, my copy of Slight Return has gone missing), and the best possible CD:UK line-up would be to drag Emmy-Kate from university, Marie from the PR firm she works at, and just let the trio run free for an hour.

It’d last three weeks, but it’d be glorious.

currently playing: Orange Juice – Rip It Up

Okay, America, You Can Have Ricky Gervais. Please.

The Pussycat Dolls - “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was raw like me?” Is there a problem with cooked women in the west coast at the moment?

The Go! Team — Bottle Rocket 2005

There are many reasons why a band chooses to re-record a song. Sometimes, there’s a change in line-up, sometimes the original may fall foul of sampling rules, and well, sometimes I guess a band thinks it can do better. I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that this new version of Bottle Rocket is mainly down to the first two reasons. According to rumours, Thunder, Lightning, Strike is being held back from release in America until Sony/CBS can clear all the samples it uses. So a new version of Bottle Rocket is, perhaps, a little suspect (and maybe a sign that we should stock up on the UK version to sell to our overseas friends). But it can also be explained by reason two.; as far as I can make out (and yes, I should have perhaps asked about this when I interviewed them a while back), the original version was made before Ninja joined the group, so it features a different vocal. So it’s fairly reasonable to remake the track in the image of the band before they are given a big push by their new record company.

But does it work? Ah, not quite. The wonderful thing about The Go! Team is that their songs sound so compressed; tinny delights packed close together with no room to breathe. As soon as Bottle Rocket 2005 (as the hip cats, er, probably won’t be calling it) begins, you can tell the difference immediately - there’s so much space; it’s like they’ve blown the song up with a pump. It’s not bad, but the jump outside of Ian P’s bedroom has hurt it a little (strangely, Ninja’s version sounds better live).

Robyn — Robotboy

It’s this year’s Annie! Just look at the similarities! Five letters in their name! Both from Scandinavian countries! The blogs are fawning over them! And an almost-equal record of setting the charts on fire! (check charts: hmm, not even smouldering)

And, just like Annie, it’s a bit of a shame, as Robyn’s album, Robyn (boo, you could have gone for a pun, dear! Annie did and it got her, um, well, okay, you might have a point) is full of great songs drawn from the New Pop school, stopping off to pick up some sass from Missy Elliot and flick dirt in Gwen Stefani’s face (Konichiwa Bitches anybody?). The album limps a little at the end; finishing with four ballads is probably something to be avoided in most circumstances, even if Bum Like You and Eclipse are rather splendid. Abby has already waxed lyrical about the double-timed cello in Be Mine, so I’ll point out this track, about the oh-so-common problem of a death-dealing robot running out of power far away from home. No, really. The moment of genius in this piano and strings ballad? That’ll be the first verse, as Roybn sings ‘find your co-ordinates home’, at which point ‘home’ breaks off from the verse, looping and repeating over the rest of the song. Makes you just want to give it a big hug.

Erm. Moving on…

The Shortwave Set — Is it Any Wonder

Common descriptions of The Shortwave Set include ‘Saint Etienne if they started playing in the 1880s’ and ‘Fairly splendid, Jeeves’. Despite that, their album The Debt Collection is an enjoyable British take on the Avalanches/Go! Team/Plus Tech! Squeeze Box style. Annoyingly, Is It Any Wonder reminds me of someone, but I just can’t remember who. Anyway, pleasant and mellow; just the right thing for a sunny day. Let me know when one turns up.

Scarlet — Independent Love Song

“Oooooh! I’llll shoooooww yooooouu hooow too taaake meeeee! Goooo dooown, goooo dooown!”

Wonderful meta-pop, and anyone who says otherwise is dead inside. Dead. Inside.

currently playing: Robyn – Be Mine!

Oh...

A pox on Tyler James’s house, then, I feel…

currently playing: Joy Division – Disorder

GIGGLE…GIGGLE…GIGGLE

As I promised - Japanese school girls.

Suicide Club

Jisatsu Sakuru (Suicide Club) is a manga adaptation of a 2003 film with the same name. Having said that, it has very little in common with that film, except for the opening scene: a group of schoolgirls, holding hands, jumping into an oncoming train. The story follows Saya, the sole survivor of the accident, and her best friend, Kyoko, who begins to get suspicious about the company Saya is keeping.

Somewhat unusually for manga, it’s only one volume long, so can be read very quickly (although the last few pages are somewhat…uncomfortable). It hasn’t been officially translated yet, but you can get hold of a fan-translation here (a warning: it’s definitely not for children). If, for some reason, you’re in the mood for an unsettling story involving teenage suicide, well, it’s your lucky day!

Also enjoying Viz’s Short Cuts Vol. 1 at the moment. It’s been around for a while (as you can tell by the Western right-to-left layout of the official translation), but I’ve only just come across it. Manga has a fairly well-deserved reputation of having stories that take place across 30+ 200 page books, but here, a tale is doing extremely well if it gets to a third page. It’s a funny send-up of the clichéd handling of, er, schoolgirls in the manga scene (look, I swear, this post didn’t start out as dodgy as it’s turning out).

In cartoon news, Bonnie and I have discovered The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, currently showing on the Cartoon Network. Billy and Mandy are typical children, winning a bet with the Grim Reaper, and as a consequence, he’s their Best Friend Forever. The Grim Reaper also appears to be Jamaican. Series Three began on Sunday, and since then we’ve had a spider that insists Billy is his dad, an Evil Tricycle from an alternate Pittsburgh (complete with bad British accents), Billy racking up thousands of years of bad luck in a mirror shot, and Grim’s body becoming a supermodel. It’s insane and very amusing…

Tomorrow…music!

currently playing: Robyn – Robotboy

Doooo Dooo Doo Doo

I do have an entry planned involving Japanese schoolgirls and mass suicides, but that’s later - this is now:

Stars are playing a concert at the Garage in London on September 7th. Anybody fancy going?

currently playing: Robyn – Konichiwa Bitches