Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Oh it hurts, how it hurts

It's not the presence of my Australian niece, visiting for the first time in seven years, that's stopping me blogging. It's not the product I have to deliver by the end of August. It's not even my moving my business from our spare room to its new ...ahem... corporate headquarters.

It's the World Cup. I just can't take my eyes off it. I even watched Switzerland - Ukraine. It was actually even more tedious than you're probably imagining.

Make it stop. And while you're at it, make England stop. They play worse hoofball than Nigel Worthington has instilled in our Norwich team. Led, incidentally, by our inspirational captain, Andy Hooves, who is completely fearless apart from the nagging worry that one day he will be devoured by a lion set loose by an enraged bulletin board poster.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Work, damn you, work

Mustn't blog.
Mustn't blog.
Mustn't blog.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Should I use my powers for good or evil?

Ooh, I just can't decide...

Monday, June 12, 2006

So what do you do with Iron Man?

Iron Man was the character most affected by Stan Lee's early flirtation with right wing politics. Lee gave Tony Stark a set of personality attributes so dislikeable that I can't understand how they could have been thought of as heroic. Consider:

He was an arms manufacturer. Given he had to make a suit of electronic armour, it did make sense to have Tony Stark work in one of the most morally-dubious professions, but it was the Cold War and early Vietnam which made this choice possible. Arms manufacturers were patriotic heroes fully signed up to the fight against godless Communism and not, say, professional murderers.

He was an industrialist. Subtly different, he was running a company which, when environmentalism gained ground as a political force, would clearly have some questions to answer about pollution and its contribution to global warming.

He was stinking rich. Never the most lovable attribute, and not one to make you feel especially sympathetic when he was having emotional difficulties bedding his secretary.

He was a womaniser. I suppose Stan Lee must have had the now ultra-sleazy playboy caricature in mind when he gave Stark his reputation for seduction. Apparently this was admired in the early sixties, but it's now more likely to be regarded as a sign of a pathological hatred of women.

These negative attributes are perhaps the reason why Iron Man has flip-flopped so much over the years. Numerous writers have struggled with this character who
Doppelgaenger cruelly but accurately describes as "the lame drunk Marvel one". While Iron Man could be heroic, writers adopted strange contortions in order to redeem Tony Stark.

First to go was the arms manufacturing. Stark had a fit of conscience, and got out of the killing business. At one point, he became a leader of the opposition in his own company, trying to stop nasty board members from pitching Stark International back into its old ways. Believable? Hardly.

Once pollution became an issue in the early seventies, we had a very strange story where Stark had a meeting with fellow industrialists where he tried to persuade them to adopt environmentalism after Namor had caused a major incident by smashing a polluting oceanic outlet pipe. I was left wondering why Stark didn't put his own house in order rather than talking to other companies. Not to mention his habit of jetting off for a party in Monte Carlo every time a writer was looking for a story introduction.

Therapy culture became big in the 1970s and, in one of the most convincing plotlines Marvel ever came up with, Stark became an alcoholic, simultaneous resisting both S.H.I.E.L.D. plans to take over Stark International (back into the arms' business, obviously) and the allure of a bottle of 18 year old McTickle's Glenseizure Scotch Malt. He also met Bethany Cabe, the only woman Stark ever looked vaguely like settling down with. Womanising just never became unacceptable enough to change that part of Stark's behaviour.

In the eighties, after an endless second battle with the bottle, Stark (having unconvincingly and carelessly managed to lose all of his old multi-billion dollar corporation) headed off to California to start a new, exciting, dynamic company up. This was a quite successful attempt to make Stark's business activities look exciting, dot.com a decade early, but was somewhat marred by the worst mullet ever to appear in four-colour format.

In the nineties, well, Marvel had a corporate nervous breakdown and nothing made sense any more. Two words: Teen Tony.

After an amazing escape from cancellation, Iron Man settled down into a pleasant mediocrity, but nothing amounted to much until after 9/11. In a brave-but-foolish plotline, Stark became Defence Secretary (Americans, please forgive me if I can't remember his exact title) in Bush's administration, making the startling and unlikely promise that his technology could stop anyone ever dying in war. Disingenuously brushing aside the question of how he could hold such a position without being an ideologically committed neocon, we, and the writers, were left to puzzle out how Stark could be a full-time politician and Iron Man simultaneously.

All this fascinating silliness ended with the Disassembled storyline, when Iron Man was handed over to Warren Ellis and Adi Granov on the understanding that they would produce an issue without fail every single blue moon. By the time an uninspired relaunch had petered out, Marvel, in its Civil War storyline, is again starting to make good use of Stark, as they show him for what he is: a ruthless businessman who, if his interests are threatened, will suck up to the powers-that-be until he runs out of slurp. Despite the alarming sight of Peter Parker becoming Tony Stark's mini-me, it's the best portrayal of Stark in years. Pity it's taking place in the Avengers, and not Iron Man.

He's a scummy man

Every time I see his preening, self-loving face on television I feel like tipping off the tabloids.

He's a celebrity chef now, though when I knew of him, way back when, he was just a chef. A scummy chef. The type of chef who would betray his wife by having an affair and then pressurise his mistress into having an abortion. The mistress, clearly not an innocent party herself, was a purely-platonic friend of mine. It was a nasty business.

I wouldn't tell the tabloids, obviously. She would suffer far more than him, and, if spun correctly, he could even come out of it looking like a smouldering sex god, so to speak. Which he's not. He's a scummy man, and I object to his irritating face popping up unexpectedly in my living room and fawning interviews with him dropping on my doormat. I just object to it.

She's not my friend any more, by the way. My purely-platonic friend froze me out once I fell in love with another woman. There's a Julia Roberts plot in all of this somewhere...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Three posts about Gumilyov part three

Agamemnon's Warrior

It was several years before I had the slightest idea what Gumilyov might have been thinking about when he wrote this one.

A strange and fearful question
Oppresses my uncertain soul:
How can you live when the son of Atreus has died,
Has died on a bed of roses?

Why, I wondered, would Agamemnon's warrior have even the slightest difficulty outliving his king? Granted, Gumilyov was a monarchist (not exactly my favourite political philosophy), but surely the whole point of monarchy is that "the king is dead, long live the king"?

It was only once I needed to think about such matters that I noticed the similarity between kingship and fatherhood, and wondered if the grief that the warrior feels is for the loss of his father. Kings get replaced. Fathers don't.

My father had all the medical knowledge you might expect from a working class Gateshead lad, and an implacable (and possibly inheritable) stubbornness. As he developed prostate problems, his reaction was not to think about his problems, not to seek a doctor, and to refuse any offer of help.

What was needed was someone to tell him, probably using medium levels of swearing, that he was a stupid bastard who was going to die and leave my mother widowed. An appeal to chivalry would probably have shocked him to the doctor's and this whole sad business could have been avoided.

This conversation, which we never had, ranks #1 on my all-time list of things I wished I'd said (anyone who doesn't have regrets about anything hasn't, in my opinion, made enough mistakes yet - just wait), and the reason we never had it comes back to fatherhood and kingship.

All that we dreamed of always and everywhere
Our longing and fears
All was reflected, like in clear water
In his calm eyes

Children look up to their fathers, and I had never shaken the habit of trusting more in my father's judgment than my own. He had in the previous ten years been right many more times than I had. At thirty, I deferred to his opinion, even when I knew he was wrong, and said nothing.

Ineffable power lived in his muscles
A saga - in the curve of his knees
He was beautiful, like a cloud
The golden lord of Mycenae.

By the time he took himself to hospital he was almost dead and, though he survived, his kidneys were damaged and his bladder ruined. He lived his last few years in misery.

And by inviting my mother - against her instincts and my father's wishes - to visit me in Scotland, I ensured that he was utterly alone when he had his stroke. He smashed up some rooms, defecated on the floor and collapsed on his bedroom carpet, to be found a day later when my mother got the Fire Brigade to break into our house.

As drove up from Luton Airport through a weird electric storm with Britney Spears' wretched One More Time on continual loop in my brain, it struck me that there was no longer any need to rush. That my father had died. Without wanting to sound like a senseless filly again, I was right. He had died in hospital a few minutes earlier.

Later, at four in the morning and completely unable to sleep, it seemed strange that, of all the nights in my life, I should be living this one. The one where I was without my father for the first time.

Who am I? A fragment of ancient wrongs
A javelin, fallen in the grass
The leader of nations, the Atreid, is dead
While I, a nobody, am alive.

You survive these things: grief has a long half-life, but it isn't forever. After seven years, I try not to concentrate on his last day, though I fear the unresolvable horror, of never knowing how much he experienced, the absolute absence of consolation, has sunk into the bloodstream of my family. I do not feel primarily responsible for his death - any dispassionate analysis shows that my father had many chances to let the Health Service help him, including at the very end, when he could have dialled 999. But to do so would have been again the grain of a lifetime spent avoiding doctors. My father was a fool.

Even so, there's plenty of secondary responsibility to go round, and I now see how Agamemnon's warrior could have felt this way:

The clear waters of deep lakes beckon me
The dawn looks on with reproach
It's hard, hard to bear the shame
Of living, after losing your king