The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Archive for the ‘comics’ Category

Technically This Means I Have Nowhere to Sleep…

Posted by BigWords on March 15, 2020

Wow, things went sideways really quickly. So the whole of Europe is, basically, in hibernation until the virus blows over – which would be awesome if I wasn’t desperate to get out in the sand and start work. Getting people to follow me to Spain was a big ask, even without everything else that is going on, and it now seems that I’ll be without a full crew or, more worryingly, my cast.

Which is a pain.

I’m thinking that things escalating thanks to the Corona virus might have something to do with me – every time I try and do something the universe goes all out in trying to fuck me over, so when I attempt my most ambitious project to date…

Yes, the ego. Insufferable, isn’t it?

There are so many reasons that I shouldn’t be happy.

Firstly, there now looks to be very little in the way of cast or crew from Italy, France, or Spain available for the foreseeable future, which is an enormous pressure on an already tight schedule. I have neither the time nor the inclination to rush around securing alternative people, given that so much of the planning was built around three people who are no longer in the running at all. I’m not sure if this is a minor or massive delay as yet, and holding out hope that things get back to normal as soon as possible is my current strategy.

And if I haven’t mentioned it before I really, really dislike lugging a giant bloody camera around. I need a camera operator.

Then there’s the fact that I don’t have access to a vehicle, which was a setback I didn’t see coming. This is one of those problems which, if I could stop freaking out (which had led to my right eye flaring up in protest), would likely be a fixable issue, but at the moment there’s no way around it.

And the amount of money I’m dropping on getting everything together is, quite frankly, obscene. This is the biggie – the single most terrifying, insurmountable, overwhelming aspect of the entire plan. Once the money is gone I’m going to have to bust my ass or figure out what else I’m willing to sell. At present I am of the mindset that it is preferable to sell a kidney rather than any of the comics or books.

I can’t rely on selling more stuff to fund things, and I’m not sure that I can sell more – the British comics are not going to go (they are earmarked for many, many things which require their presence in future), and I can’t imagine getting rid of any of my vintage SF books. They took a ridiculous amount of hunting down, and so few of them regularly come up for sale that I would never be able to rebuild the collection.

Without the footage in hand by the end of the year I’m not sure how things will go.

But…

I. Can’t. Stop. Smiling.

There are moments I catch myself in a reflection and am reminded of Gwynplaine, yet I can’t help myself – there is currently a mountain of stuff I need to sort through properly and pack neater for transportation – I ordered most of this a while back and had put it all to the back of my mind. A significant portion of the costumes are here, a few trinkets and ornamentation, and a lot of equipment – it was all waiting for me at the post office, which explains the pile of “sorry we missed you” cards.

I still haven’t got a bone flute, the bullroarers, or all the fake furs which are going to be needed, but the amount of items to have already been shipped is slightly staggering.

I’m not used to such efficiency.

That bone flute, which needs to be present by the start of shooting no matter what, is giving me problems. Porcelain replicas look awful in comparison to actual bone, and the thought of having to sculpt and paint a prop is giving me the shivers – that, right there, would be at least two or three weeks work, if not more, to get it looking completely right. Then there’s the larger instruments (including a particularly difficult-to-describe horn I want made to look like an antler), which are going to take a lot of money throwing to get right.

Finding people to create things not in general use for thousands of years is a pain.

I’ve been hunting through various strange and obscure corners of the internet looking for people who have non-standard fabrics in an attempt to get some of the costumes rounded out, but that’s proving to be as frustrating as everything else. Mammoth-fur wraps, for example, aren’t a thing. Not even close to being a thing. I’m fairly certain that someone, at some point, has attempted to recreate what they would look like, but all of the photographs, and the ones mocked up for museums, aren’t doing it for me.

Costumes are incredibly important to get right, and nothing can appear on-screen which remotely looks modern. I’m keeping as far from the look of 1981’s Caveman as possible.

Already acquired in preparation is:

  • A monitor that was on offer, and so beautiful I couldn’t help myself. One of the most expensive items, but which can be calibrated to reproduce exactly the footage fed into it. As I’m not completely sold on using digital after the last week’s fiasco, and as the temptation to shoot on film is so strong, this input might be from a small secondary camera, or for use shooting inserts.
  • Old glass lenses, some still having yellowing stickers attached from when they were originally bought / last used. I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to use as much traditional things as possible – looking specifically at the way some all-time classics were shot – and I’ve noticed the lenses in behind-the-scenes footage. Even if I only get to use them with some incidental footage they will be worth it.
  • Awesome headphones which, I’m sad to say, cost about the same as my laptop.
  • A clapperboard – and seriously, when did these get so damn expensive? It was one of the items I wanted to get quickly, so I wouldn’t overlook it in the rush, and goddamn, is it ever the most expensive thing per square inch. For its size it is remarkably loud, and the LED letters are certainly attractive, but I’ve questioned how much it is really worth since dropping coin on it.
  • A light meter. Actually there are two, as I decided the first was good enough when I saw it, and it didn’t cost too much money (a concern that isn’t going to disappear), but then saw an amazing one that I couldn’t pass up. It looks like it belongs in a SF film, and it feels more comfortable in my hand – the slight expense incurred here is worth it.
  • A tripod. I’m not completely convinced it’s suitable – I nevertheless picked it up because it was old extending tripod with really neat little feet, probably from the fifties or sixties. It looks slightly underwhelming, and there’s serious doubt in my mind as to its ability to take the weight of a full camera rig, but it was so adorable (and somehow sad looking) that I had to buy it. I’ll find a use for it.
  • A bounce board I was gifted from a lovely chap who shot a bunch of fan films back in the day, and who has since upgraded much of his equipment. Free stuff is better than nothing, and I’m not going to pass up anything at the moment.
  • Three cases in which all the equipment needs to be crammed. These were sized according to space aboard the yacht I had expected to be available, although at present the cases are holding a disturbing number of books. The shipping cost was a lot more than anticipated though, which makes them decidedly not a bargain.

There is also a weird wooden handle in the box that the filters arrived in, and I’m not completely certain what it is for, but it is with the rest of the equipment at the moment. Actually, there are a few things which are a slight mystery to me, though I’m trusting that all of the things I’ve decided might be important will come in handy, so I’m not going to start culling them from the equipment list as yet. I’m certain that once things get rolling they will find their role.

There’s also a small stack of folders so I can organize everything obsessively up until the last moment. And stationary. Lots and lots of stationary, because. C’mon, who doesn’t love reams of paper, shiny new pencils, gel pens, and note paper?

I don’t know, for sure, how much that little stack came to, but it seemed like I needed it given how much planning and information dissemination was on the cards.

Although there’s no need to splash out as yet, I’ve also been looking at top-of-the-range computers on which to edit everything, and which I can utilize in the FX process – it will be a few months before I need to make a decision on how I’ll approach this, but I desperately need to upgrade this computer already. Having only had it for the blink of the eye it is already starting to show signs of not being up to the task of coping with me. The bottom corner of the track pad is slightly warped, and there is a slight depression on a few keys.

But… the stuff – the amassed “things needed for the film.”

That’s taking up a lot of room.

The stuff is taking up a lot of room, and even adding italics to that sentence doesn’t do justice to how much space it is consuming. I only realized this when I took everything out of their boxes and had a look-see at what I actually had. There would be more room if I had been able to keep my curiosity at bay and left them as they were packed, but this is me – I had to check out everything to see if the deliveries were right. It is all good, as far as an initial inspection goes, though there was no room to move once it was all spread out.

Until I hit on an ingenious solution.

The bedroom – or, at any rate, the room which had a bed in it – is now the equipment store and clothes department for the film. It is scary crazy how many things I need for this, and there are two outstanding items that are going to require careful consideration on storage, or else I’ll run out of space completely. I’m not sure how to proceed from here, but there are a couple of solutions which aren’t horrendously expensive: either I get another storage space to keep everything in, or I get a little office space somewhere. There’s bound to be a few units available.

I am holding back on the traditional storage unit option given how much everything has cost me so far. There’s insurance to consider as well, and I haven’t got back in touch to clarify any conditions which might be in the small print. I may not be allowed to let some of this out of sight…

For the foreseeable future I’m sleeping on the floor.

Don’t ask me how I’m going to shoot a film without a complete cast and crew – I haven’t planned this out again, minus all those absent due to various restrictions which might or might not be in place – but I’m damned if I’m going to let things fall apart completely. I can always use the equipment for other (smaller) shoots.

I’ll likely get hell for suggesting this, and it is admittedly a very dark notion, but…

This is the perfect time to grab a camera and get stock footage of deserted streets and businesses. There are precious few times when these shots can be accomplished sans a large crew asking people to stay back for a moment when the footage is being captured, and as long as there are abandoned areas already present I can see no problem making good of what is available.

Yes, I’m probably slipping towards the dark side there…

Simultaneously with other plans, I’ve begun putting together the basis for sound design with a ridiculous list of do’s and dont’s. Building off all my complaints with what others are doing, or have done (I contend that 13 Eerie was ruined by poor music choices), I’m taking control of as much of this as I can without spending a fortune. At some point I’m going to need to get in a studio, but for now I’m content to do things in a decidedly low-fi manner. It merely needs to be “good enough” until I have footage.

The other extreme from 13 Eerie is what Nolan has been playing around with, mixing down sounds and speech to an impenetrable level – subtlety is better than bombast, and having every utterance audible (and each sound distinct yet not overbearing) is the only approach which would appeal to my perfectionist tendencies. It is a tad harsh to state this but the movement away from proper music to digitally generated tracks is one of the worst things to happen to music in the history of music.

Digitally created soundtracks are bloody awful. There, I said it. Where are the sweeping melodies, the softly rising and falling themes, and the heart?

A great deal of what I am doing has never been done before, which is the most exciting aspect of the entire process. I’m getting to break new ground. One specific problem I’ve noticed with music described as being Paleolithic is that there are sounds which would never have been achievable with the tools at hand forty-something thousand years ago. I can completely understand the need for people to use digital tools in creating (not recreating) sounds from prehistory, but synth has a distinct feel which interrupts my enjoyment of these tracks. By using only sounds that can be justified, a different nature to the soundtrack will evolve naturally.

And I’m completely ignoring all modern music theory – there is a beautiful Japanese logic, wherein music should conform to breath rather than beats, which feels better. There are other things I’m adopting as I work through this, mostly listening to various old recordings of peoples whose contact with the modern world were limited. I’ve noticed that most mainstream tracks seem to promote a more meditative, relaxing nature, but this gives me a whole world of problems – that calming sound isn’t what would spontaneously occur.

There’s a crazy-old CD of Native American tracks (probably manufactured in the late eighties or early 90s) which I picked up on my wanderings. A plain jewel case, with the CD only containing the name of tracks, as simplistic a packaging as I have ever seen. Despite looking like a cheap knock-off, it always sounded far fresher, more vibrant, and really alive when compared to the beautifully packaged, high-value releases such as Sacred Spirit. There are numerous shouts, overlapping chants, random noises, and laughter mixed in, and that makes it far, far more realistic than the smoothed out, clean, and ultimately rather disappointing, studio-bound material.

Chaos, and unpredictability, must be built into the sound of a world before civilization took root. It only popped into mind in the last couple of weeks, but any music needs to include the sound of wildlife in the background. It’ll likely need the crackling and popping of a fire in the sound mix as well.

I have started painting the poster (which is massively presumptuous, but which is a relatively free step on this journey) although the specific tone is hard to judge. Too funny and it looks like a knockabout comedy (which it isn’t), too dramatic and it looks like Quest for Fire (which is so isn’t), too scary and it looks like another fantasy knock-off of Conan (which… okay I’ll allow that to stand). I can’t paint any facial features in, as that’s still a question mark, but I can at least try to figure out the layering of costumes with this.

And I’m writing the novelization (technically an adaptation of the script at this point), which is another leap of faith.

Because budget isn’t a concern I’m going to reinstate a couple of things omitted from other versions, streamlining it in places where the visual-led story elements don’t make sense, and generally making it slightly deeper – things which can’t be done on film, like really getting into the characters’ heads, is the main requirement. While it is tempting to include a massive lecture on the reams and reams of research done in preparing the script I’m doing my best to restrain myself.

Maybe a ‘Making Of’ book would be another way to make some money out of this… At least it would be cheap therapy.

When I decided I wanted to do this I concluded that the film should be released before my 45th birthday as a statement. Mostly “I’m still alive,” which is an awful statement. I need a better one, but lack of sleep and all the stress is making me slightly (okay, massively) useless at the… brain use. Uh… Cognitivation. No, ratiocination.

Thinking – “thinking” was the word I was thinking of.

It makes sense that this would be a later release, rather than falling in the first quarter, so September or October 2022 would be about right – as the nights are still warm enough, when a stoner comedy with hints of dark fantasy would be most appreciated.

That hopefully gives me enough time to get everything up and running in the allotted time. It isn’t a brilliant strategy to work back from an unknown date two years hence, but as long as that is at the back of my mind I have the momentum to keep pushing through all of the delays, external forces, and obviously the mistakes I’ll inevitably make.

Once the novel is done and dusted I’m going to start penciling the comic. No need to tackle everything at once …then I can work out the script for an audio adaptation, plan out a fun little game based on the characters, and see if there is anything else I can knock out in anticipation of this being moderately successful.

Posted in comics, Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Status Update: The British Comic-Book Database

Posted by BigWords on February 7, 2020

There’s no easy way to say this, but I think I rooted the Database. Everything was fine when I confined myself to comics, but that wasn’t nearly clear nor informative enough – there were massive gaps in what was presented and the information didn’t entirely make sense without context. This isn’t a problem confined to my efforts, as every comic database online suffers from the same problem. In an attempt to plug this data gap, albeit an unadvised one, I began adding in information required internally (rather than, as Wikipedia and others do, by providing reference links), which meant the size began increasing dramatically.

To look at where things stand right now you need to understand the way it was put together – firstly, everything was hand-coded. This wasn’t, in retrospect, the brightest idea, but it afforded me complete control of what appeared on each page. Where something needed clarification it was possible to add that material to the page. Mostly my interjections were of a linking nature, passing people forward to more comprehensive pages, but sometimes there were factual points which needed to be made.

Anyone who knows anything about British comics will understand the intrinsic ties to popular culture and sporting achievements, though those who are only familiar with US titles might be a tad bewildered at the complexity of something like this.

Take sports comics, for instance – there were interviews with sportspeople (each of whom needed a page to list their appearances in comics), there were league table “ladders” (which required that year’s positions to be noted, along with pages for each team), and a multitude of pin-ups, posters, and other miscellaneous items which had to be appropriately linked and indexed. By the time I hit the original Eagle, and had to do lists of the cutaways – with pages for each machine – and the reprints (ye gods, the reprint index…) the number of pages had become astronomical.

At last count the Database was circling the 45 million page count, and so tightly interconnected that MAMP crashes while navigating more than three or four pages deep. This isn’t (I think) a problem with MAMP as much as it has to do with the unecessary complexity of the Database itself. Everything has a .php extension, therefore I can’t read the contents without either using MAMP or opening them in a text editor, so progress is painfully slow in every way possible. I hate myself a little right now.

What is really needed is something to hold it all together on the back end, while preserving the ability to include additional information where needed.

Even a moderately useful iteration is going to require thousands of hours of tweaking to ensure stability and comprehensiveness, which I would rather not take on right now. See, the Database hemorrhages money. It sucks up finances like there is no tomorrow, and investing time and money is something like that is, at present, on the list of Very Bad Things to do. I can’t justify the headache and financial committment without at least a modicum of income from it, and keeping it free of advertising has always been a priority.

I did tell everyone to download it when they had the opportunity, so you can’t blame me for not having a copy to hand.

Now, as to its return…

There’s a plan in place to restore all that information, but with a far wider scope than anything you could possibly imagine. That’s why the page count has bloated, and why it has been so long offline. It won’t be specifically about comics, though everything that was originally present will be included (and more), although I’m going to be requiring some more people to take care of the other factors – simply adding in all the films which were covered in Look-In and Eagle were enough to give me a headache, so being comprehensive – and including things which are, at present, almost entirely absent from the historical record – is a concern.

I’m not anticipating the restoration to be in any way easy – which would, lets face it, be really boring – and there are things which I’m not entirely certain can be done at present without uncovering a trove of information that has been elusive to date. The missing information is really rather specialized, and is likely going to take some time to gather the people who have this to hand, but on the off-chance that anyone has documentation which can corroborate the information that is – at present – indexed with lots of question marks peppering the text:

  • The first casualty of motorsport. The German count (or duke, or something), on whom I have absolutely nothing to go on, as whatever information is to be had seems to be offline. Idealy there would be a death certificate, though in lieu of that any documentation about the race – flyers, posters, a programme, anything – would be appreciated. Information on pre-F1 races in general would be wonderful to have, as almost every site I’ve looked at has a miserable time trying to deal with these. There are a couple of indexes which would be especially improved with this.
  • The MPAA certification list. There’s some headway on this, though only the first three thousand or so films have proper referencing. Unfortunately I still don’t have anywhere near a complete run of either Radio Fun nor Film Fun, so the question remains as to which films were adapted, mentioned, advertised, or spoofed. There isn’t, as far as I can tell, any kind of list anywhere which has an index of every film to appear in comics, so I want to plug that gap.
  • Likewise, a list of theatrical productions 1860-c.1920, and which were given space in proto-comics and magazines with comic strips. You can only imagine how difficult this one is…
  • Music lists. Everything mentioned post-c.1961 isn’t too difficult to deal with, but there are some comics which have what I initially thought to simply be jokey refrains, which then turned out to be lines from music of the period. Ugh. I sorta regret that that I don’t have any shellac, but… then I would need something to play them on. And then I would want something to play cylinders on. And it would escalate. You can see how this is another aspect of the Very Bad Thing I mentioned, right? Well, old music is something of a nightmare to get right, especially as I have no idea where to begin with some of it. Sheet music, in particular, is a complete monstrosity to deal with. I’m pretty certain that I would get a lot more understanding of the text pieces in Ally Sloper if the theatrical and sheet music lists were done.
  • Any television lists which have more information than is presently online. Specifically the earliest shows, broadcast live, which are so under-represented that it is difficult to see what is being talked about – were the condensed Shakespeare adaptations in the early years taken from specially-modified scripts, or were they the edited Victorian texts before the material was put back together again? And which plays – tantalizingly incomplete in most records, including IMDB – comprised series blocks?
  • Military figures. This is a whole section that is pretty much empty. For people who are wondering… Back in the day there used to be Real Life Stories which ran in a number of publications, adapting the lives of notable individuals in strip format – the lists of these people were easy(ish) to put together, as the comics had just enough information to start with, but getting more details on their lives… Not so much. The big names – Churchill, Rommell, and the like – were a piece of cake, but some kid mentioned in dispatches from the Boer War? No birth or death certificate, no contemporary account of their life, no photographs… For a while I was under the impression that at least a handful of these were heavily fictionalized, but I’ve tracked down most of the mentions in the Times to corroborate at least some of the information.
  • Sports in general. Cricket is a beautiful game to watch, but the rules seem to be written in Klingon. Or Kzinti, actually, as there are Klingon dictionaries which can make sense of the more obtuse terms. And football… I have no idea what is happening half the time, and amuse myself by imagining the ball to be one of those giant bombs in 1940s serials painted to look like a ball. So getting the facts on early football history is something of an impossibility when I’m not sure what is important and what isn’t. The indexes for Tiger and Roy of the Rovers is incomplete without an understanding of where the sport was at the time those strips were written, and it would make a lot of the text pices less difficult to follow.
  • The list of books featured in various and sundry recommended reading pieces (notably from Eagle, Look-In, and early 2000 A.D.) weren’t bad, but some of the books – especially the cash-in stuff which had a worrying tendency to appear and disappear overnight in the eighties – are giving me trouble. I’ve never seen some of the books online (eBay, whilst great for some things, is a pain when searching for a specific edition), and there are at least a few dozen titles the descriptions of which I have left as a couple of lines of question marks in exasperation. Any of the _____ Joke Book releases (it seems to be a line, but don’t quote me on that) are still proving elusive, and even a handful of relatively high profile books – at the time – are impossible to sort through properly.
  • Newspapers. Just… newspapers in general. Anyone? I thought that it would be a good idea (well, it seemed like it at the time) to sort through the paperback collections of strips and link them back to their initial appearances, but man, is that ever a pain in the ass. Adding to the problems, The Daily Sketch has strips which don’t appear to have been collected in any way, nor are some of the artists credited. When they are credited, they are usually given some acronym, alias, or merely their initials. Oh what fun and joy. A handful have been (tentatively) identified by style, mentions in biographies, or guesswork, but anything pre-1910 (or thereabouts) are beyond my reach. Anyone who appeared in Punch, Judy, or other publications, seem to be better represented in the historical record, but the others are a mystery.

There’s more, but of an increasingly niche nature.

Would you believe that this was meant to be an easy project?

I’m looking at this as a long-term prospect, rather than something which needs to be ready ASAP. Having a plan in place to get x amount done in a specific timeframe is difficult without knowing what information is lacking, and… Well, the dominos will fall where they fall.

As an addendum, because it has been mentioned in passing, there are two add-ons to the site which I started without much thought as to their complexity – a dangerous thing, indeed. I kicked off a list of novels based on comics and comic strips here on WordPress (with more than a little gnashing of teeth), but soon discovered a trove of international efforts which had gone unrecognized.

But that wasn’t enough. One must also consider the records, computer games, radio shows, television series, films…

An area which, in the past decade or so, has exploded. I’m getting through that list slowly, but there are things in those categories which a) have never been translated into English, b) have never officially been released outside their country of origin, c) are hellishly expensive to acquire, and d) are not guaranteed to work on the equipment I have to hand. Which is all, frankly, par for the course. I don’t expect things to be too simple, but damn, the universe loves kicking me in the balls and laughing.

The other, slightly related, project, is perhaps more commercially-minded and would likely be the starting point for a relaunch of the Database as a whole: a comprehensive index of British magazines.

Now, hold on a moment there – isn’t that more difficult than the list of comics? Well… Maybe. I’m not sure where I’m going with it, but it is easier to pick up bound collections of magazines by year (the 70s version of the Movie partwork, computer game magazines, even the likes of Photoplay) than it is comics. Not sure what to do with this, in all honesty, but it is on the list of current projects. And there are enough connections with comics, especially regards creators and characters, that it won’t be too difficult to marry the projects in future.

I’ve already made some headway finding actual release dates for a number of magazines (rather than what is written on their covers), and I anticipate this being a relatively straightfoward piece to put together compared with other subjects – the credits are already in place, for the most part, and the high print runs for most titles are going to make tracking down missing issues less troublesome.

However… There had to be a glitch it there somewhere, didn’t there? It is getting to be annoying looking for generic titles when there are other magazines (largely irrelevant to this task) which share the same name. Doubly so when the title shares its name with things that are way, way out of the scope of any of my lists, or are plain impossible to find. Now!, the replacement for Look-In, is one such title that is beginning to make me annoyed. It should be a title that is available in sufficient quantities, but there’s little to zilch about it online. And no, the music compilation albums aren’t connected in any way as far as I know.

I’m ignoring zines for the moment as there seems to be renewed interest in them, though it would be nice to see soemthing better sourced and referenced available.

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The 2020 Project

Posted by BigWords on January 30, 2020

Hello darlings.

Sorry, that’s a bit Tom Hardy, isn’t it?

Well, I have a (somewhat) stable internet connection, some time free over the next few months (though not as much as I would like), and a hankering to do something ridiculous and experimental. The subject matter isn’t really suitable for this blog – albeit a creative endeavour, it falls outwith the scope of what is already here – so… a new blog, and a big project.

Exciting, isn’t it?

Everything else will be picked up in time, as nothing is forgotten, but right now you will have to wait. Things kick off next Saturday, though you are going to have to be patient. And, beccause I’m in that kind of mood, you are going to get things at the end of the process. Who doesn’t love free stuff? Not only that, there will be plenty of brain candy along the way.

There will be a few caveats regarding the freebies, but nothing which ought to dampen your enthusiasm. Keep a look out for the next post, where more morsels of information will be parcelled out.

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And Thanks To Some Awesome People…

Posted by BigWords on August 16, 2013

The British Comics Database is now pretty.

Mostly. There is still some tinkering to be done, but everyone seems happy with it at the moment, and I don’t have time to oversee things as I should.

Seriously, seriously awesome people.

I don’t often say this, and I know that I should, but the folks who are willing to spend time on my insane projects without questioning my sanity make me feel less conscious about the fact that so many of the things I had intended to spend the year doing have gone rather pear shaped.

As things stand, the website not being a mess is the sole achievement of the year.

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The Black Terror: Roundup 1

Posted by BigWords on May 24, 2013

So, you may be wondering – if this all fell together so easily, why am I not doing anything with the character? Well, because others are still working with The Black Terror. They may not be using the character to his full potential, and – in all likelihood – there will never be a proper exploitation of all the things that make him so interesting, but that doesn’t matter. I can’t play with the character while there are stories published elsewhere. One of the main elements that makes me excited about a property is being out there on the sidelines of what people are doing, taking characters in new directions and ignoring the (often insipid) popular movements. Maybe there’s room for a comic-book title featuring the character which is less mainstream, but as long as he is appearing elsewhere I won’t be involved in the character.

This example isn’t a particularly unique insight into how I patchwork a grand story together from thin material, and I could have done an equally in-depth piece on The Lady In Red, or even Robin Hood (if anyone is using the character, please get the historic “great forest” feeling in there somewhere), but it shows how a great story can be told about even minor characters. When I have expressed dissatisfaction with the stories which I have been reading, it is mainly because people aren’t being either as bold or as intuitive in their extrapolation of characters as they should be. I want the wild and intelligent elements to come to the forefront, and be played with – I need more intelligent material to pore over than many people are willing to write. It is neither difficult nor time consuming.

There’s a lot of stuff I won’t touch. I dislike the thought of writing something just because it is popular at the moment. I could do a helluva vampire novel, but what’s the point? There’s already too many mediocre attempts at Twilight-lite fiction, and by adding to the considerable number of titles muddying the genre I would merely be committing the same literary necrophilia as those who I am irritated by. Playing follow-the-leader is fine for children, but for authors it is a sign of desperation and lack of strength. Standing clear of the traffic already clogging up genres is the only way for people to grow as writers, and avoiding any confusion is paramount to establishing that most important of credentials – originality. I know people are gonna be headdesking at that word, as there is nothing truly original left, but having a degree of originality in the writing is different to plot.

I scratched the notion of doing something with Black Terror rather quickly, so I never got to the point where I had a page-by-page breakdown, and had I managed to quell the feeling that I was stepping on the work being done with the character elsewhere I would have created a tighter focus on the conspiracy drawing him to The Spider (or his niece, as she will have that name by the 1940s). The problems inherent in bringing any character back from the public domain are that they aren’t controllable – others have the ability to go ahead and use the characters in any way they see fit, and there is no right or wrong in their use. There might be entirely uninteresting uses, but those aren’t “wrong” per se. Just not to my taste.

There’s a lot of characters which I have a passing interest in the future of. Most of them are in the public domain, and freely available for use, though it is a hard sell convincing myself to tackle them when there are others utilizing them. One of the most neglected Golden Age areas is the Egyptian characters. This bleeds into the pulps as well, infusing the magnificent discoveries with a sense of wonder, mystery and horror. The use of Egyptian heroes (Ibis and Kalkor in comics, right through to low-budget films) have always felt as if they were slightly underdeveloped. I’ll go so far as to make note that modern comics don’t have a grasp on just how much there is still to be done. Hawkman, long an Egyptian-tinged hero, never felt as if he was truly connected to anything approaching reality.

For anyone writing characters tied to Egypt of the 40s, reading Montet’s 1958 record of his expedition is pretty much essential background research. And as for the lighter depictions of WWII – really, are people sitting down with a DVD of Saving Private Ryan and claiming to have done the necessary historical research? Yes, I may be overstating just how irritated I am with much of the comics on the market right now, and there are good things appearing, but there seems to be too many light and breezy versions of history which are presented as having some validity when they merely reprise what has gone before. Like anything else, this results in lowered fidelity with each removal from the source material.

Although it should be obvious, I have no intention of writing for DC or Marvel. I know most people would be desperate to get their hands on those characters, but the quality of the writing – overall – has been rather low from what I have read, and I would feel bad if people following the adventures of a character were subjected to one of the intermittent crossovers through anything I did. There hasn’t been a worthwhile one since the original Crisis back in the 80s, with each money-grabbing, poorly plotted mess becoming more and more irrelevant to the mainstream. Mainstream readers don’t care about superheroes, and they care even less for stories built on the continuity snarls of superheroes.

For a while now I have been concentrating on developing and building up material for my own titles, but… Yeah. This hasn’t been a good couple of years. There will be a proper something appearing at some point which will go some way to answering what has been happening with that material, but it is a ways off just yet. And it won’t be the kind of things that you can go get anywhere else.

Having laid all that out, I think I have covered everything I set out to do. Time to leave this via a nice, relaxing piece of music…

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The Black Terror, Part Three

Posted by BigWords on May 23, 2013

Back to the Skull & Crossbones… Man, that is so full of potential. And it opens in to a lot of things that can add depth to the character. It was while sketching out a basic timeline that I realized that I could strengthen the ties back and forth between the stitched together elements. Going back to the Herbert West story, and the explosion that aborts the experiments on Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, D.S.O., I had another feverish moment of canon-welding. There’s a funky character called Phantom Raider Of The Sky whose visuals and history fit the tone and mood which I was going for. And it fitted with the general theme of the characters being bound by events from the past, unable to escape the consequences of actions taken by others.

By incorporating other characters using the logo, I was able to form a timeline – John Perry of the Daily Clarion running a series of stories which seem to be using the Terror image, but it is Black Fury; a Japanese assassin of The Black Dragon Society trying to dirty Benton’s name; the actor Perry Knight appearing in a play in town… With the increasing appearance of the skull and crossbones surrounding Benton, it was also a way to increase his discomfort about having a secret identity, and the thought that someone might have discovered his role as Black Terror could be used to rack up the tension. It also led to a way to get other old properties tied into the continuity. Of course, having the plot set up through happy coincidences and conspiracy theories wasn’t enough. The basic reality of the character outside the fantasy has to be right for verisimilitude.

There are a few essential posts for anyone writing chemists working in a drugstore in the forties. There are not one, not two, but three posts which Sarah Sundin has written that are essential to capturing the atmosphere of the era. It was reading those posts that I realized I needed to show Benton in the white outfit (and that hat) which held so great an era-appropriate tinge. Nobody has really caught the forties flavor of the character, and it is stuff like the uniform which helps. Small details. I was reading books on vintage automobiles for something else a few years back, though I don’t have those to hand. Irrespective, there are places to get a feeling about the cars in play at the opening of WWII

One of the things which attracted me to the character was the political edge about the character. One of the foes was Alderman Peters, lining his pocket and providing shoddy constructions, then there was the fact that his girlfriend worked for the mayor – it was a milieu almost built for a heady mix of corruption and political shenanigans. There isn’t another character from the forties so readily adaptable into a clever, in-depth examination of the ways that the war impacted on life. Even the throwaway element of his professor turning to crime for funds due to his research being appropriated for the war effort was strong enough to drag in some other character moments. It had the potential to be the forties version of The Wire if handled correctly.

When I talk about being able to see the connections which exist under the surface of a story, it is all this stuff I am talking about. It isn’t difficult to whip up something so complex and intelligent in a couple of days. I mentioned that there was a need for something more personal in the character – the original comics present a remarkably solitary figure despite friends – and it was in family that the character would face his greatest fears. He needed a brother. There’s a film which has slipped into the public domain that felt like the work of a divine hand, a narrative that tied itself into the character so well that there was little choice other than to accept Charles Benton as Robert’s erstwhile brother.

And the serum in that film is soooo right.

So, with all the pieces of the puzzle falling into place remarkably easy, it was time to address those guns. I am not adverse to characters wielding firearms, and in stories which take place in a pulpy, film noir world, there needs to be at least one scene where a character empties a revolver. But all the time? It gets too similar and tired, and there isn’t a link to the character’s other moments – with being a chemist, I had the notion that there might be more to the use of knockout gas or something… Small vials of milky liquid thrown at enemies rather than gunplay also fits with the attention paid to pugilistic tradition. This, in turn, keeps the character fresh and interesting when paired with characters who are more closely associated with carrying firearms.

Oh, and because he’s into boxing, it opens the door for Costigan to make an appearance at some point.

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The Black Terror, Part Two

Posted by BigWords on May 22, 2013

I am not, never have been, and probably never will be a full-blown conspiracy theorist, but I know people who are. It is handy to know such people, as having complex, and contradictory, plots by secret organizations explained is something I never tire of. Honestly, that shit is hilarious. It is all the fault of the Masons, the Bilderbergers and… IDK. Disney. Whatever. But the thought that there could be some agency behind certain events made me think of cool and interesting ways to weave an air of uncertainty through things. Hence the requirement that the ideology of the conspiracy peeps bleed into everything from an early point and get more pronounced as Robert Benton is dragged into the middle of the whole mess. The CIA would not come into existence until 1947, so I started thinking.

The organization started as the OSS in WWII (concurrent with the timeline of the Black Terror), and as I needed a face for the OSS I settled on The Spider’s niece, Silvia Rodney. She linked the voracious information-gathering and the complex manipulation elements together, and I decided to recast her and (post mortem) her uncle as members of an offshoot of a secret society. The skull and crossbones emblem, having a degree of relevance to this, meant I could pepper the number 322 and 42 in various permutations throughout the story. In the use of the chest emblem, even though there was the existing chemistry relevance, the added symbolism that the new threads brought meant I could explore some of that yummy Lovecraftian goodness with good reason.

Having this secret organization funneling research into superpowers, reanimation and other psuedoscientific things seemed highly amusing. And, in my mind anyways, Herbert was somehow still alive after encountering his misbegotten creations – possibly yelling “Nades, Suradis, Maniner” before the undead figures could dismember him. Regardless, the thoughts were flowing about the potion, the heroic persona, and the boxing connections. The most important element of all being the potion, which had felt too contrived and simplistic for a character who was quickly becoming more than a mere superhero in my mind. Transformation sequences in comics, film and literature are ten-a-penny, and normally don’t interest me as much as the question of identity and… well, stories which can be done.

Lets just step back for a moment and look at transformations.

There have been a bazillion transformation sequences in television, on film and in comics – ranging from the fetishistic Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Transformers sequences which lavish attention on shiny, shiny weapons and vehicles, through to… Well, the obvious character. There’s a reason I chose that video to highlight the problems of making a worthwhile transformation sequence. There are any number of examples to choose from, but in looking at The Black Terror’s appearance, there needed to be something extra. There are all kinds of reference material available about the effects of certain compounds on the human body, though this is one area where anything is permitted. Outside the remit of reality, and open to any interpretation, it is the most truly free elements the character permits.

The classic transformation sequence in fiction is rather… bland. Just take a look at the recent Captain America film to see my problems with the traditional form – it is too clean and simple. I like the idea of something more dramatic. I had a two page sequence planned, with thirty panels depicting the veins standing up in Benton’s neck, face reddening, a mad grimace twisting his features. His forearms pulling up in decorticate response as foam comes from his mouth, then twisting his head to one side, jaw clenched, before slumping to the ground. It is here that the big departure from the established continuity was required – I wanted to make Timothy Roland older, maybe in his early twenties. And that let me use the line “No doctors. And don’t tell anyone about the compound. If anyone asks, then… tell them it was formic acid or something.” A nice nod to the original comics, while keeping the horror elements.

Having laid out most of the main elements, there was one lingering problem that kept coming back to me. I hate masks. They are all too easy, and muddy the boundary between the adventure heroes and more stereotypical superheroes. I dislike superheroes, and the inclusion of the mask bothered me. Having established that Benton is a master chemist with access to potentially game-changing compounds, it made sense to make another leap for the sake of drama. There’s an exciting difference between a mask and a “visage of terror” (a line used repeatedly in Weird Tales). The use of chemicals to transform his face into an ashen, horrible image of pure terror – completely unlike his normal face – while in costume was the hook I needed to get into the story.

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The Black Terror, Part One

Posted by BigWords on May 21, 2013

When I point out that I don’t see characters in isolation, it can be rather confusing for those who may not be au fait with the Wold Newton conceit. Accepting that there needs to be examples here, I’ll use the bare bones of the script I had played with at the beginning of December. First though, I have to explain why the character in question was considered. I want to get through this as cleanly as possible, though I may accidentally omit some piece of vital information, and leave some of my research or references obscure. There are a lot of things that I used to flesh out the concept, and even though it is all in files on the computer, most of it is buried in pages and pages of plot and notes on important (to me) details irrelevant to this post. Nudge me if I am being too obscure.

Back when Dynamite Entertainment started getting attention, I was (understandably) excited at the prospect of various characters being brought out of limbo and returned to print. The final products were, unfortunately, not handled to their full potential. No specifics. Just… Disappointing comics, from where I was sitting. That basic problem I highlighted about research was hampering my enjoyment, but more than that, there was a feeling that not enough fun was being had with the main characters. Whatever the final products, the fact that they are willing to explore unconventional characters makes me feel rather warm and fuzzy. Dynamite, in time, might turn out to be the company whose titles I am going to read most of.

Well… Aside from the glorious mayhem Dark Horse publish. I’m always going to have a soft spot for those guys.

So here’s the thing – Black Terror didn’t feel right to me. I had first encountered the character in the Golden Age comics I have been collecting, and it came as a bit of a surprise to see Alan Moore kinda miss the point with his use in Terra Obscura. It wasn’t a bad series, by any means, but it didn’t feel like he had his heart in the reinvention of the character. Then I saw the Dynamite version, and… Oh dear. In the original comics, he states at one point that he didn’t usually use firearms, though he was proficient in their use. I liked that. Something in not routinely using guns felt completely in line with my thoughts on heroes. He didn’t need to be packing heat to defend himself.

Which made me think, for some reason, that boxing might be a sport that he was interested in. It made sense to me that he would have been working out to get his physique, and it fixed a minor plot point that I had been pondering, though it also opened up an explanation for his name – happy coincidences figure a lot in the way I put stories together. Small hooks bring in new ideas, generate plots, character moments and explain relationships. The boxing angle needed another element, and it was when I began looking into his occupation that I got the notion that his “lucky accident” in the lab wasn’t so much of an accident. Then I realized that he needed a family. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Black Terror, originally created by Richard E. Hughes (a very prolific author) and Don Gabrielson, and continued for a while by Patricia Highsmith, was a natural choice for my taste. The skull and crossbones costume, a career in chemistry that lent itself to some interesting and original stories, and a supporting cast which spoke to small town Americana of the early forties. There’s an incredible amount of minor detail present in the original comics, with numerous political angles creeping into the otherwise traditional superhero comic elements. It took me about a year to finally see something in the character that I had missed, though within a day I had the complete origin down in my head, beginning with the most unlikely of moments.

Robert Benton is a genius. He’s able to put chemicals together to craft elixirs granting him great strength, but we never find out much more about the potion from any of the Nedor comics. I have limited interest in the use of the character in modern titles, and my focus was entirely built around what could be done with the character in a new way, so I purposefully ignored modern material. The question of why this great mind had been sidelined to a small town when he could have been an asset to the war effort bothered me. It was a question which required answering in order to make anything of his life hang together. The answer was boxing. Being a medical student in the thirties couldn’t have been cheap, and the answer was obvious when I started connecting the dots.

There’s that schooling to deal with, though. Where did he study? It was more for a humorous reference than anything else that I decided on Miskatonic University Medical School, but with Herbert West being a former student it felt right. When I had decided on him being reprimanded for attending illegal boxing matches as a medic, thus limiting his employment, it made sense he would end up in a small town rather than in a prestigious position in New York. When I was filling in the background, I also remembered a motto which felt like something that the university would have carved above the entrance to the chemistry wing – “Aureum Seculum Redivivum”. It isn’t often you can do a chemistry joke doubling as a comic book one…

The illegal boxing ring not only tied the character to one of West’s experiments, it also led to me thinking about the name, and the influence of Bill Richmond in his mind. The strength of this let me off the hook a little on the reason for such a dumb name. His love of boxing, and a sense of history would play into nearly everything, though a third element would soon distract me. Adding some Lovecraftian elements and boxing may, to any other writer, have been more than enough fleshing out, but that damn chest emblem needed elaboration. It was too simple to use piracy as a hook, and it left a bad taste in my mouth thinking about such a potentially powerful symbol being wasted. There was something much more powerful to play with right under my nose. An avenue leading straight into the middle of another plot generating idea.

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A Pause For Breath

Posted by BigWords on May 20, 2013

My brain does not work the same way as yours. Let me get that out of the way straight off.

When I read things, my brain is accessing a small network of related material, cross-referencing and indexing away thoughts. There are no stories which exist in isolation, and while it may appear that things are held apart from other properties by limitations, I can see past those constraints and apply a reading that is rather different from popular opinion. As I have been discussing comics, I’ll start there. Continuity, in varying degrees, is a perennial hot topic for readers and writers alike. Most publishers of comics these days have a sense of continuity – both direct and indirect references, jokes, plots arising from continuity…

I’m breaking ranks in a big way here, but I gotta say that continuity, by and large, is something that is more interesting when ignored completely.

There’s a lot more I could say about Flashpoint, or Civil War, or any of the recent – and tiresome – crossovers. You probably don’t need my assistance in seeing how pitiful the attention-grabbing storylines spanning multiple series have become, destroying the flow of individual titles and cramming in all kinds of idiocy. It started well, with the original Crisis, but they have become unwieldy, cumbersome and annoying. It is one of the reasons that I try to avoid superhero comics in favor of… Well, anything and everything that doesn’t have a surfeit of capes and splash panels. Go read everything Eddie Campbell has done. And Bryan Talbot. Hell, for that matter go read Harvey Pekar’s stuff. Genius. And no bloody tie-ins with ludicrous hyperbole.

I don’t need publishers adding details to things when I am more than capable of filling in the blanks myself. My concept of characters varies wildly from the official depictions anyway, so reading the adventures of a character (specifically superheroes, but other types can be included here) I am most likely mentally ticking off all the things wrong with the script. There are degrees of severity to the “mistakes”, though I get most annoyed at simple real-world references that are wildly off the mark. For example, police characters in many comics seem to have been written with Saturday morning cartoons as the main reference point in their construction. Likewise, archaeologists are largely depicted in the same manner as Indiana Jones. That is, with no real attempt at believability.

If you have read this blog before, then you will know that I am a) hesitant to play with other people’s toys, and b) love the public domain. This is not, as it may seem, a contradiction.

Writing characters which are identified with specific companies, or form the output of a specific creator (such as Mr. Monster now being more identified through Michael T. Gilbert than the Golden Age character), seems – to me, anyways – to be rather pointless. It is the reason that I find it incredibly difficult to even think of writing Batman or Spider-Man, for example. When others say that they have a great idea for a story featuring a character from the Big Two, I tend to try not to say anything. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to write for such companies, I just can’t see the attraction of tackling any of the long-runners. They have been around for so long that anything I could add to the narrative has probably already been done. It is time to move past tired and overused characters.

But the public domain? Gods, how I adore the public domain.

Look, you may not realize it, but you probably already own a fairly decent PD collection. You have the complete works of Shakespeare, right? Those plays are in the public domain. And everything Chaucer wrote. But it isn’t all old stuff, which may have difficulty attracting a younger audience, as you can see from my previous post about all the good things that you can legally download, upload, torrent and remix to your heart’s content. Go wild. In fact, I strongly urge you to keep uploading, downloading, torrenting, and remixing that stuff, as the continued exploitation of things which are freely yours to do with as you will keeps them from being taken back by unscrupulous companies. And yes, companies are trying to steal back things from the public domain.

I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t start lashing out at those assholes until I was 100% confident of my ability to be online and tackle them. I’m steering clear of the specifics, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble figuring out those to whom I am referring.

And I think I may have talked myself into writing an ethics post at some point. Add that to the To Do list.

With the Flashpoint read-through and this preamble, I have sufficiently prepared you for what is gonna come next. It is something I seriously considered for all of a week at the end of 2012 before scrubbing my brain and coming to my senses. Before I get into the swing of things, and may get rather involved in the details, I want to make one thing very, very clear – this is not a “look at how clever I am” thing. This isn’t about who is smarter, this is all about the very minimum authors should be doing. This is about how things should be. I want people to consider the titles on sale right now, and how much better they could be had a little more work been done. I’m not singling out people who aren’t living up to their abilities in the posts.

I have made comment about my war on mediocrity, and this is, partially, the outcome.

And thus we are ready for the main event.

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Flashpoint Read-Through, Part Five

Posted by BigWords on May 17, 2013

There’s a few things which this series has reminded me I need to address. Small details which have been horrendously overused in comics over the last decade or so, to the point that the mere use of such hooks instantly makes me hate the story. The most aggravating storytelling device, and one which has outlived its’ usefulness through misuse, is the habit of certain writers hanging the end of a sentence onto the first panel of the page following the dialogue. There’s a perfect example of the sloppy dialogue overlap here, but you can pick up any Superman comic from the late 90s – where this seemed to occur every second page – to see just how pointless and hopeless a stylistic tic it is. I stopped reading a whole bunch of titles around the same time when I continued reading panels which had dialogue continued from the previous page.

Now wait a second – I’m not saying never to do it. That ain’t a “hard and fast” for me. I’m not going to get pissed off and throw a comic across the room through the use of that device, but when it happens all the way through the issue it does make me think twice about picking up the following issue. There are ways to use it properly, such as for dramatic irony, a plot-relevant point, or for an insight into what a character is thinking. Most of the uses I have read have, unfortunately, been of the annoying and stupid variety. My spotty knowledge of recent (well… post-2006) DC Comics history is down to these kind of irritants. When I can almost feel my IQ take a dive while I am reading, then I know it is time to walk away.

As this is the final issue, I can also get another irritant out of the way. Multiple covers. Seriously? People are still stupid enough to go out and buy more than one copy of a comic just because there is a variant cover? What is this – 1993 or something? That kind of crap was one of the reasons people stopped buying comics en masse, leading to a restricted base of readers. It is one of the gimmicks, along with holograms (Spider-Man), die-cut covers (Reign Of The Supermen), comics shot through with bullets, or lasers or whatever (The Protectors), and sundry other moronic decisions (grim and gritty revamps galore) that enabled reporters to laugh at comics with articles with “Biff. Pow. Blamm.” articles. I don’t blame them.

This really is going somewhere. Bear with me.

When I talk of things needing to evolve to meet the demands of an increasingly sophisticated readership, I am specifically thinking of these things holding the form back. These are relics of an entirely pointless, and often desperate, era, and the fact that I have to point this out – in 2013 – is something that appalls me. This should be obvious. People should see cheap and tacky tactics for what they are. Bonding these blatant shows of desperation to DC’s major “event” makes the entire endeavor look like something that is not there so much for the story but for attention. It is difficult to see just how the multiple covers are meant to make this look more attractive to readers given the history of the marketing tool.

Man, I really miss the days when Marvel went bankrupt. At least they had the excuse of being run by a complete idiot to excuse the awful comics.

But I am slipping from the agenda. This is about Flashpoint.

Flashpoint 5: Ad Finem Diei

When I opened this issue the first time I thought that I had accidentally picked up the wrong comic. More than half of the story is filled with Zoom gloating, fighting the Flash, then discovering just how dangerous a war zone is for such antics. But… At no point did I ever get the feeling that they were in the middle of a war zone. The layout is too close on the protagonist and villain, and the random violence surrounding them is diluted to the point of the ongoing (and allegedly escalating) war being irrelevant. I’ve sat through enough footage taken during battles to know that there is no safe place to be when two groups want each other dead. Here, especially towards the sequence where Thomas Wayne shows his usefulness, there is no sense of epic, unholy death and destruction.

Even the return of Kal-El to the battle feels like a cheap way to end the fighting so the story can continue rather than being an organic outcome of earlier events. Back when I mentioned that both Barry and Thomas were really smart people, I may not have made my thoughts on their characterization clear enough, so I’ll add something else here – at no point, EVER, did I believe that they were acting as real people. It is not only a war zone filled with superpowered people having pretty much the worst day in the history of this AU, but there would be all kinds of secondary threats. Red hot pieces of shrapnel flying around, rocks and bricks whizzing past their heads, explosions… The actions of neither man seem to indicate any concern to their safety.

I want this to be over with already. My brain can’t take much more abuse.

When I thought about covering this series in detail, it was to prepare the way for something else, but as an examination (or indictment) of storytelling in the medium it serves its own valuable role. This is not the kind of comic I particularly have an interest in, and the only reason I read it was because it was thrown in free alongside a pile of other comics. There’s something rather sad about that. Has the importance of these crossovers dimmed away to a dull ember? Are the stars aligned just so now, that done-in-one storytelling can make a comeback? It is hard for me, being outside the main readership of DC, to see the point of something drags on endlessly. I like finite stories. I grew up reading comics which didn’t bleed characters dry through overuse.

So, the Cosmic Treadmill. Um. It… Ah. Fuck it. I have tried to word this politely an absurd number of times, and I can’t. It is impossible to take seriously. If you remember how stupid Black Racer looked on his skis, then seeing The Flash on the oversized piece of gym equipment is even more ridiculous. What next? Using a Stannah Stairlift to travel across space? I’m half expecting to turn the page and see a screencap from Monty Python with the word balloon reading “And now for something completely different.” Yes, it is that bad. Worse. It is the “fix” for the problems which Barry has been dealing with since the first issue, though the tension is so diluted by this point as to make anything and everything which follows less than epic.

These types of stories need to be EPIC.

Looking through the Flashpoint page on TV Tropes gives you some indication of just how much the creative team had to play with, and for it all to come down to a guy getting on a treadmill and burning off the coffee and doughnut diet is less than the optimum ending. It is made all the more mystifying by the massive deus ex machina to squeeze three *cough* continuities into one. Which I will relentlessly mock in a moment, but first there is the matter of the magic note to deal with. Restoring time completely obliterates the Flashpoint reality, causing the events to never have happened. But Barry, not being in the least scientifically minded, whips out the note from Bruce’s father as a gift.

It is a little problem, which could have been fixed in dialogue. Though probably more sensitively handled than “Hey Brucie-baby – I met your dead dad, and he sends his regards.” And not only is the mere existence of the note a problem, but… That fourth panel – Bruce, asking “What is it?” *sigh* It is a letter, you idiot. Have you spent that much time in the Batcave that you no longer recognize these small remnants of civilization? The baffling panels are peppered throughout the series, almost as if Geoff Johns was playing a game with his audience to create memes from the panels. The Batman Doesn’t Know What A Letter Is one never really caught on, I guess.

The plot point about the three universes is something that is gonna take a bit of explaining for those who have better things to do than pore over the minutia of comic-book history. It isn’t really three universes. There is a whole bunch of characters from Fawcett, some from Charlton, a handful from Quality and other publishers, folded into the DC chronology at various points. By simplifying to this degree, it would seem that DC is taking credit for the creation of such timeless characters as Captain Marvel, when they shamelessly hounded Fawcett out of business for producing a superior product. Are the Milestone characters still in there somewhere? And the awful !mpact ones? I gave up on both lines of comics.

So that was that.

The DC universe of old ends not with a bang but with a whimper. A pitiful, mewing, “please put me out of my misery” refrain to anyone who can hear.

Flashpoint – the perfect jumping-off point for those who want to spend less money on a Wednesday.

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