Monday, January 30, 2006

We've made a horrible miscalculation. It's time to intervene.

Infinite Crisis #1 - 3

I'm guessing that not many readers of this blog are members of the Illuminati, the ultra-secret global conspiracy hellbent on directing the history of the world for its own diabolic purposes. However I am, which is why I spend most of my evenings ensconced in the library of an exclusive London gentlemen's club with Kofi Annan, Peter Mandelson and Boxcar Willie, plotting the downfall of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus.

Now the one thing which really irks us Illuminatis (or "Loomies", as we call ourselves), is novice members like spotty newcomer David Cameron who haven't committed to memory all 86 Books of our Secret Gospels. Anyone who hasn't attained at least the 55th degree of the Inner Circle is, frankly, a ignoramus thicko who should be serving cappuchinos in the canteen.

Which segues me nicely into Infinite Crisis, the greatest comic book event of the next millennium, a series so wilfully, gloriously obscure that a reader unversed in DC lore experiences a sensation similar to being headbutted across the nose by an "H-E-A-R-T-S" singing hooligan from Wester Hailes. Painful, and yet somehow leaving you with the feeling that you deserve it.

The first issue should be preserved in aspic as a study of how to make a reader feel unwelcome. Shovel dozens of characters in there, don't introduce them, don't even name them, up the portentousness quotient to "flatulent", mix in some dubious astronomical observations ("this storm just swallowed the neighboring galaxy", "For the first time in history, Oa is no longer at the center of the universe") and you're happily cruising down the Incomprehensibility Highway.

My particular favourite in this blizzard of weirdness is the character of Uncle Sam. No, not a national symbol or a metaphor for American power, but an actual living, walking Uncle Sam. "He claims to have bested Paul Bunyan in Armwrestling and outplanted Johnny Appleseed in the orchards of Washington". But that's nothing: I personally seduced King Arthur's wife and beat Robin Hood at darts in the snug lounge of the Swan and Smallpox in Alfreton.

Anyway, Sam and his unnamed band of heroes get butchered by an unnamed band of villains for unknown reasons, providing Infinite Crisis with its own Women In Refrigerators moment, touched with just a wee smidgen of disturbing sexual imagery.

Sigmund Freud himself would find nothing remotely
sexual about the death of this young lady

Meanwhile, Uncle Sam ends up bleeding in a puddle, political in the sense that superpowers tend to need to see themselves as victims, though not exactly the Putney Debates in terms of subtlety of thought.

Middle eastern ruler bops one on American national
symbol while unnecessarily disrespecting democratic

By the end of it, we have no less than five people running round in Superman outfits, something calculated to give us Clone Saga veterans post-traumatic flashbacks. And "The world needs a Superboy" may well be the most contestable statement in the history of literature.

So by the end of Infinite Crisis #1 I was just utterly baffled. Which is why I got down on my knees and wept real tears in #2 when the writers took the time to explain something about what was going on. A four and a half page summary provided more useful information than the other twenty or thirty Infinite Crisis tie-ins had managed. Though the fact that I was still reading by this point, rather than having given up bewildered, probably owes more to blog writing than any intrinsic value to the story.

Anyway, there's an Earth-1 and an Earth-2, and Earth-1 is ruined because Wonder Woman snapped someone's neck like a twiglet and one of the Supermen wants to swap Earth-1 for Earth-2 and Batman's going to stop him. Why Superman thinks getting rid of Earth-1 isn't exactly the same as planet-level genocide, and where Earth-2 has been hiding in the meantime are questions I haven't exactly figured out. Now Wonder Woman killing someone who was evidently asking for it isn't such a great crime in my books, but we're assured that Earth-2 is a much more pleasant place than Earth-1. Does that mean they missed out on some of the world's other less heart-warming moments, like the Holocaust and Black Death? Or is Earth-1 just being given a bad press so they can justify utterly jumbling up the DC Universe again?

And by issue #3 everyone is running around like Corporal Jones shouting "Don't panic". There is a portrayal of a genuine atmosphere of malice here, but the shouty, overwrought over-reactions left me thinking the entire cast needed hosing down.

So this is a cosmology story, and obviously this cosmology is a bit ridiculous, but so is Marvel's, but that doesn't mean the story can't be fun. And maybe it is enjoyable for the initiated, but with my limited knowledge of the DC Universe, I simply can't judge. It's an inward-looking, dedicated hard-core-fans-only story. It leaves the casual reader feeling ignorant and foolish, which are not typically the reactions you would want to inspire.

"They're a bit beyond my likes or dislikes, Mister Frodo", as Samwise the Gardener might say on being faced by some mendacious Elven trickery.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Potato = vegetable of satan

If any waiter in the Norfolk area is reading this, the correct answer to

Could I have rice or pasta with my salmon, as potatoes make me projectile vomit?

is not

So would that be roast or boiled?

Thank you.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Chris Claremont is leaving Uncanny X-Men

As the years pass, you wear out the machine of the soul
People say: "He must be put on the shelf,
He's written himself out, it's high time"
There's less and less love, less and less daring
And time is crashing into my forehead
Then time comes for the most terrible of amortizations -
That of the heart and of the soul


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

It's National Gordon Day

Gordon Brown, Tony Blair's brooding sidekick and Prime Minister-in-waiting wants us to have a special "British Day" to celebrate "British history, achievements and culture".

Now I'm not one to whinge about how terrible our history was, despite our monumental achievements in building the trans-Atlantic slave trade and fighting wars with almost everybody, but there are a couple of problems with British Day. One is our innate distrust of shows of patriotism. Hanging flags in your garden, singing national anthems and having communal neighbourhood hug-ins all sounds suspiciously foreign to me.

And the other problem is that we have so many days to choose from.

13 March - Hooliganism Day

With their plastic pitch, ban on away supporters, all-seater stadium and rent-a-gobshite-quote Tory Chairman, Luton Town in the eighties came to epitomise the ruling order in a way unmatched by any other reactionary, right wing figure except Thatch herself. So it was with genuinely mixed feelings that we watched the match against Millwall in 1985 when their ground was demolished by a riotous mob of psychopathic South Londoners.

How do we celebrate it?

Villagers assemble on the green, half dressed like Harry Enfield's character Loadamoney and half as baton-wielding Bedfordshire rozzers. They chase each other around a bit in a flurry of flying plastic seats.

21 May - World Unity Day

In 2003 Britain's position in the world sank to a justified new low as tuneless Scouse duo Jemini were given a total of zero points in the Eurovision Song Contest. Jemini's song Cry baby was flat enough to damage ceiling fixtures and performed with the seductiveness and sensuality of a prisoner being strapped into an electric chair.

How do we celebrate it?

With a singing contest in the local Miners' Welfare Club. Local schoolchildren compete to gain nul points in front of a group of handpicked Latvians making Simon Cowellesque judgements. The winner is the youth who can produce the worst rendition of Cry Baby and get through

Cry, cry, baby
You lied to me, baby
I'll survive without you, baby
Baby, bye, baby, bye-bye

without suffering an existential crisis brought on by a surfeit of banality.

31 August - Mawkish Sentimentality Day

To commemorate the sloaney life and works of injudicious speedster and seatbelt-refusenik Diana Spencer, who departed this world in a storm of whirling cameras, hysterical tributes and nonsensical hyperbole such as "Diana's death has upset me more than my own father's did".

How do we celebrate it?

By covering town squares in expensive bouquets nicked from the local branch of Interflora, pointlessly signing books of condolence, publicly cursing Charles Windsor in Westminster Abbey and spouting nonsensical hyperbole such as "even though we never met, I felt like she was my friend".

22 September - Furore Day

This could actually be any day of the year, as we celebrate our sporadic ability to whip up a mob mentality on almost any subject. This juggernaut of self-righteousness can bring down a lynch mob on the guilty or innocent alike, leaving a dazed trail of coke-snorting supermodels, braindead footballers, Education Ministers, whoring television presenters and the Beastie Boys.

How do we celebrate it?

By eliminating entire species of dangerous dogs and whistling up a mob in Newport to attack a paediatrician on the grounds that it sounds a bit like "paedophile". And by organising puppet shows featuring our Shit-Stirrer-in-Chief, spouse-battering Sun editor Rebekah Wade who symbolically truncheons her husband, TV hard man Ross "Cut it aht, you slag" Kemp, into unconsciousness.

1 December - Sneering Day

We may not make movies or cars anymore, but Britain still leads the world in our ability to sneer. That one-two combination of twitching upper lip and pitiless gaze can only be mastered after years of study in the British state school system. On this day, we remember in 1976 when the Sex Pistols were suckered into saying "fuck" on daytime television by a sleazy looking interviewer called Bill Grundy.

How do we celebrate it?

In silent contemplation, as we wonder whether calling someone a fucking rotter is cool or a bit rubbish.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Reality Blogging Result

The entrants have been running neck and neck all week*, but the phonelines for our one-time only Celebrity Big Blogger challenge are now closed.

Happily, one voter fell for our sucker bait. The non-existent entry was, of course, The potato that snarled. I mean, they can't snarl, can they? Not having appropriate muscles or vocal chords or anything.

That left us with a two way tie between Take Out Baldy, He's Messing Up My Plot and The Greatest Eight-Point Arc Ever Told. I'm going to have to do some background reading before I can do the latter, so our judges awarded the tie-break to...

Take Out Baldy, He's Messing Up My Plot

Stan Lee was good at building balanced teams. The Fantastic Four, for instance, had clear, well defined powers which contrasted and complemented each other. Even if a woman having the power to turn invisible is ever-so-slightly sexist.

But he made a horrible error with the X-Men. The main team were well-chosen. Angel could fly around, which is visually impressive. Beast could bounce around. Marvel girl could lift small objects. Iceman could make snowballs. Cyclops had a powerbeam, making him the most powerful student, but not outrageously. But none of them were in their headmaster's league, the self-proclaimed "Most Powerful Telepath In The Whole World", chuckling Charlie Xavier. He could switch off the head of almost anyone. In a straight fight, he was almost invincible, disabled or not.

And that was then writers on the X-Men started hitting The problem. Why would an uberpowerful grade A telepath send a load of weedy hormonal teenagers to face Magneto and his ilk? Obviously, from a plot point of view, they had to be out there. They had all the action poses and could smash thing up, while Xavier's non-visual meant the only sign of him being in a fight would be a look of concentration on his face. Which, incidentally, is why he and the Shadow King always used to fight on something called the Astral Plane.

So, anyway, how were the writers going to keep Xavier out of the fight? Well, you could make it a test, like GCSEs but with flying cars. Xavier would send his students off to face notorious crypto-fascist buckethead Magneto, they would nearly get murdered, and then he would say, "You fought well, my students, I'm awarding you all B+. Except Bobby who gets a D-."

Obviously, this had the effect of making Xavier look like a callous, pompous fool and ridiculously casual with the lives of his charges. Adding his then-propensity for mindswiping passers-by "to protect our secret", a small amount of thought would quickly reveal that Xavier was a nasty piece of work.

Which makes it quixotic that later writers decided make Xavier's "dream" an important, if ill-defined, cornerstone of the series. This was Xavier the Philosopher, dreaming of a world where mutants and human would live together and cuddle each other. A dream rather like that of Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi, in fact, though neither of those elected to start a school which functioned as a military training academy.

But The Problem remained, and remains still. And through the years, writers have adopted various strategies to solve it

1) Kill him

It's the obvious thing to do, and was done way back. Comic books being comics books, he was brought back (something to do with a doppelganger and an alien invasion - incredulity has mercifully dimmed my memory of the exact details). Usually, resurrections are a bad idea, but there was some point to this, as the series just didn't sparkle without Xavier. He always added something extra.

Currently, he's dead again, but I'm a couple of months behind the rest of the world. He's probably back already.

2) Nobble his telepathy

This has been done a couple of times, and there is some merit to it. Weaken his telepathy, or remove it entirely, and The Problem goes away. But the problem with all power loss stories is that they beg to be resolved by having the powers return, and the writers soon cave in.

3) Hospitalise him

This'll take care of him for a few issues. He once had seven shades of shit kicked out of him by some aggrieved college students. Another time, his body got hijacked by the brood and the Starjammers had to generate a new one. Which led to him being able to walk again, until they wheelchaired him again, but let's not get into that.

4) Fire him into outer space

An intergalactic love affair with a dictatorial space alien kept him out of Claremont's hair for a couple of years. He even started an offworldTraining Academy for Mutant Skrulls. Wonder if it's still going?

5) Put him in chokey

After the Onslaught debacle, the feds imprisoned him. Again, not a bad solution, but the X-Men always scheme and scheme until he gets sprung.

6) Turn him into a bad guy

But that would be Onslaught. Which was simply farcical.

7) Send him on holiday

He spent a while cruising around the Caribbean, if I remember correctly. His recent sojourn in Genosha comes under this category, although Genosha is no longer a top tourist destination.

8) Have him start acting weirdly

At one point, Xavier expelled all the X-Men and retired to his study for several months with only Jean Grey for company. Which was not a bad choice, when you think of the alternatives.

The upshot of all of this is that the Xavier problem is never going to get solved. Even with the upper power levels of the modern X-Men, Xavier is just too powerful to fit in, but his whole Obiwan Kenobi balding mentor routine is just too important to the chemistry of the team for him to be permanently axed. He'll be yoyoing in and out of our lives for years to come.

*in the sense that one vote each is neck and neck

Monday, January 09, 2006

Interactive Special!

Mister Fish Productions, in association with Endemol Television, is proud to present the very latest in interactive blogging technology. Now you, the reader, have the chance to affect the posting on this, your blog.

Yes, for one week only, you can choose the topic of the next entry on this blog. To vote, simply use the mouse on your computer to click on the "comments" link at the end of this entry, and post the letter for the topic YOU want to read on Friday morning.

The topics are:

A - Masterpieces with Crap Endings
B - Take Out Baldy, He's Messing Up My Plot
C - Three Posts About Gumilyov. Part One - The Workman
D - The Potato That Snarled
E - The Greatest Eight-Point Arc Ever Told
F - The Times I Nearly Died

Now some say that the Reality Blog genre is dying on its arse, which is why this contest has a special twist. One of these is just a title I made up. Vote for it, and there'll be no post at all on Friday!

The closing date for votes is midnight on Thursday night, when our host Davina McFloozie will reveal which entry has won, and which others are going to have to leave the Mister Fish Household.

Vote carefully.

Friday, January 06, 2006

2006: The year ahead


Spider-Man: The Other, a storyline with the premise that Peter Parker is dying, finishes in the most dramatic way: Spider-Man dies.

Marvel immediately cancels Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel Knights Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, thirty-six mini-series, the movie Spider-Man 3 and its complete range of Spider-Man merchandising, up to and including children's bedspreads, egg-timers and its exclusive Come Hither, Mary Jane range of men's lingerie.

"Hey, dead means dead at Marvel," says an unrepentant Joe Quesada. "And Spider-Man's old hat now we've got the Sentry."


"Sick puppies" is how Frank Miller describe those critics who see something disturbing in his portrayal of Bruce Wayne in All-Star Robin and Batman the Scary Old Bloke Who Likes To Keep an Eye on Twelve Year Old Boys. Artist Jim Lee is unable to comment as his tongue now permanently hangs out of his mouth, having drawn one too many women in their underwear.


Infinite Crisis reaches its climax amid allegations that it's just a bloated, incomprehensible, cosmologically ridiculous rehash of an old Marv Wolfman plot. DC strikes back by insisting that potential buyers pass a DC continuity entrance exam before being allowed to have a copy. "They should have been paying attention, but they weren't, and now they're going to suffer," says Geoff Johns before a massed army of dedicated, Aquaman T-Shirt-clad fans chanting, "Fuck the mainstream."


The number of mutants in the Marvel Universe, stuck at 198 after the really long House of M crossover, rises to 212 after Joss Whedon resurrects several popular mutants from the early 1980's. Yes, Jean Grey is one of them.


Writer Brian Michael Bendis is rushed to hospital having been completely motionless for fifty-six hours. He is later released after they discover he was just in an extended dramatic pause.


England fans, upset at their side's unexpected 6-1 defeat in the World Cup, respond in traditional fashion by chasing the Trinidad and Tobago around Nuremberg. Writer Gail Simone is unimpressed: "If you want gratuitous violence, you should read Birds of Prey. You'll see more faces smashed up in twelve panels than those jessies managed in a whole evening."


Following extensive internet lobbying campaigns by X-Men fans disappointed at their favourite heroes losing their powers, Marvel relents and allows a number of mutants to return. Within three months there are 1397 mutants, including Illyana Rasputin, Ugly John and Maggott.


Marvel denies it is desperately pillaging its 1970's back catalogue as it announces new series of The Champions: Ice and Feathers, Living Mummy: Bandages of Death, Black Goliath: Glocks in da Hood and Human Fly: Back and Buzzin'.

"We're not scraping the bottom of the barrel yet," says Joe Quesada. "That won't happen till next year's Brother Voodoo meets Werewolf By Night maxi-series.


Michael J Straczyski takes over the writing duties at Daredevil, and starts his traditional reinterpretation of his hero's origin, examining why the radioactive flask chose to crash into Matt Murdock's face and revealing the billy club to be an ancient, profoundly powerful weapon from the Flarg galaxy. Galactus stars.


The latest issue of Spider-Man/Black Cat fails to appear after writer Kevin Smith sleeps in. For the 1286th day running.


Writer Grant Morrison takes over the duties at Cable and Deadpool. The number of mutants rises to 356 million.


Ebenezer Byrne, the grumpiest grump in all London town, experiences an epiphany when he is visited on Christmas Eve by his old partner, Jacob Claremont, and three time-travelling, heavily sarcastic phantasms. Overnight, he learns how to keep Christmas in his heart, not only in December but throughout the year, and becomes the kindliest, gentlest soul in the whole kindly, gentle country. God bless us, everyone.

Sadly, his writing gets even worse.