The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (Books 2019, 24)

The final volume of Moore’s League stories, and, he says, his final work in the comics medium. If so, it’s not a bad closer.

It occurs to me that a significant portion of his comics output has been built on the work of others. Nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it could be said to be true of all literature, maybe all art. Moore’s use is more frequent than most, though: The Watchmen characters based on those from old Charlton Comics; Marvelman/Miracleman a revival of Mick Anglo’s creation; Promothea digging into mythology and fiction, as I wrote very positively about last year; and so on.

In the League it’s at its most explicit. The main characters are Mina Murray from Dracula, Virginia Woolfe’s Orlando, and Alan Quatermain from H Rider Haggard’s novels (although he isn’t in this volume). Even the subtitle of this one is from Shakespeare.

There is, as I say, nothing wrong with any of that. It’s like sampling in music: it doesn’t matter that you’re using part of an earlier creation; what matters is what you do with it.

And what Moore and O’Neil do with everything here is pretty spectacular. I won’t go into any detail, but suffice it to say that pretty much all the threads from the earlier volumes are tied up, and everything is over at the end. Everything. Well, not everything everything. Not quite.

I wouldn’t start here, though: go back to the beginning if you want to read any of these. Read them all.


Watchmen on TV

I succumbed. As I suggested I might.

It felt a little grubby, going to the NowTV site and setting up an account. As you know, Sky TV and I have a history. Or maybe an anti-history, insofar as I am anti everything that their former owner stands for. But the key word is “former.” With Comcast now owning it, I can feel a little better about giving them my time and possibly some money.

Still, though: grubby.

But what’s worse, as a viewing experience, is that their app is the worst video-playback app I’ve ever used. It’s fine at all the basics; it even has a ten-second jump back and forward feature, which is good. But! It completely fails at subtitles.

Now, in this era — this platinum age of television — subtitles are often an essential part of viewing. And that isn’t true just due to my age, because my kids, who are young adults, are at least as likely as us olds to want them on. Mumblecore actors are to blame. Or maybe bad sound on our TV. Or a combination. Doesn’t matter. We watch with subtitles on a lot of the time, and I wanted them on for Watchmen.

But NowTV — in its Mac app, at least — just can’t handle them properly. They either freeze, so you get the same sentence stuck on the screen for five minutes; or they just get out of sync. Sometimes they rush through minutes of text at a time, as if trying to catch up. In the end I turned them off.

But I watched one episode on my iPad, and the subtitles were fine there. So I guess it is the actual Mac app. The Mac plugged into the telly is an old one. A nine-year-old MacBook Pro, in fact. I’m impressed that it’s still working, though I did upgrade it at one point.

Anyway, that can’t be the reason it’s bad, because I’ve also tried it on my 2017 MBP, with exactly the same results.

But what about the programme?

It’s a sequel to the comic, set around thirty years later. I found the first episode kind of annoying, though I’m not quite sure why. Too much of it set in the past, maybe? But as we’ve got to know the characters and things have moved along, it’s definitely interesting. I’ve watched the first five episodes so far. Up to which point it’s kind of a cop show with an unusual background. Cops go masked so that criminals can’t identify them. Criminals go masked too, of course, specifically in Rorscach-style black and white masks.

And there’s a mysterious old guy who puts on plays reenacting the origin of Doctor Manhattan. You’ll have guesses about who he is, if you know the source material. Well, one guess.

I like the way they’ve built on the comic, and are weaving the backstory in. Though I think it must be extremely confusing for anyone who hasn’t read the novel, or at least seen the movie.

My main question (apart from the obvious ones, like what’s going on with Veidt?) is: why is Laurie using her father’s surname? It doesn’t make sense to me that she’d call herself Blake, instead of Juspeczyck.

Oh, and whatever happened to Dan Dreiberg? I want to see some Nite owl action. Something that looked a lot like the Owlship appeared in the first episode, so maybe he’ll turn up. As, I imagine, will Doctor Manhattan.


Kieron's Comic, Brontë's Book

One of the comics I read is Kieron Gillen’s1 Die, which is about a group of people who get sucked into a fantasy world. The world is based on a role-playing game — or at least, it seems to be at first. The other night I started the latest issue, 9. Unexpectedly — but not surprisingly — Charlotte Brontë turned up as a character (or maybe not, but let’s run with it). The story was about how she and her siblings had created complex fantasy worlds in part as stories for their toy soldiers. And maybe the world of Die is based in part on those.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I woke the next day to hear on the radio news that a tiny book — “no bigger than a matchbox” — written by Charlotte, was being auctioned in France. It is filled with stories of the fantasy worlds created by her and her siblings.

The book has been bought by the Brontë Society. It will be kept in the Brontë Parsonage Museum, where it was created.

Two completely unrelated events, of course, but interesting how things collide.


  1. He seems not to have website of his own, bizarrely, but he has a Tumblr, and a newsletter

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (Books 2019, 21)

I like to reread this from time to time, and right now I’m considering watching the TV version that’s currently on. It’s HBO, which means Sky over here, which would traditionally have ruled it out on ethical grounds. But times and corporate ownerships have changed. The Murdochs no longer own Sky TV, so I can let myself watch it.

But then we have the other ethical question, about Watchmen in particular. Which is to say, since Alan Moore feels that he was cheated by DC over the ownership of the creative work, and repudiates all derivative works, shouldn’t we avoid them too? I saw the movie version, but I didn’t get the Before Watchmen spin-offs.

Well, it’s been a long time; Moore and Gibbons must have known what they were signing up for, even if things didn’t go quite as they expected. I recall seeing Moore at a convention in Glasgow in 1985 or 86, where he said, “DC are utter vermin.” Yet he went on to work with them often after that.

Plus, I’m already reading Doomsday Clock, which brings the Watchmen universe into the DC multiverse, so personally, that ship has sailed.

How does the story stand up today? It’s still excellent, I would say. With the obvious weakness of the ending. Though thinking about that, what’s weak is how preposterous Veidt’s plan is. Accepting that, that part of the story is well executed.

It’s still one of my favourite comics.


Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassady (Books 2019, 5)

An iPad showing the cover of the first 'Planetary' collection, on a wooden floor, alongside an ocarina

You’ve probably wondered what’s happened to my reading lately. Truth is, I have several things on the go, some or all of which I’ll finish eventually.

Meanwhile, here’s the latest of my reading of Warren’s superhero-type things. It’s pretty good: better than Stormwatch, which I wrote about last year, or The Authority, which for some reason I didn’t. The latter group make a guest appearance here. Multiverse-crossing, and all that.

Not the best thing I’ve read, but not bad.


Stormwatch by Warren Ellis, Tom Raney and Bryan Hitch (Books 2018, 30)

I don’t always include all comic-type things here. No particular reason why, except maybe that they sometimes feel too short and not substantial enough. I probably wouldn’t have included this, except that it conveniently gets my total for the year to thirty.

It’s a post-Watchmen story of superheroes handled in a vaguely realist fashion. At least in the sense that there’s some consideration of politics. Stormwatch is a UN body, an emergency response team. It has its base in a satellite, and superhuman beings who are tasked with dealing with incursions from other worlds, or other, nefarious, super-powered beings. The US is usually antagonistic to it, because of its UN status.

It’s not bad, but honestly not much to write home about.


Injection Vols 1-3 by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire (Books 2018, 10)

This is a great story about how some people have to fix things in the aftermath of something they did that may change the world fundamentally, if not destroy it. With that description it sounds very similar to Ellis’s earlier webcomic (with Paul Duffield), Freak Angels.

Which is a fair enough assessment, though the triggering event in this case is a combination of AI, the internet, and old magic; as opposed to the psychic powers in the older work. Ellis has deeply embedded the “start late” advice often given to aspiring authors. Both of the works under discussion, and some of his others, start long after the events that set their plots in motion.

It can be a very effective device. We get to know characters who already know each other, and the past events are revealed gradually, through conversation and flashbacks. And the fact that the protagonists don’t at first fully understand what they did means that we learn along with them.

This is great, but the only frustrating thing is that these three volumes — comprising fifteen issues of the comic — are to date all that there is. I don’t know if they plan to continue it, but the last issue came out in November, and the story is far from over. Googling has not so far revealed the answer to this.

Recommended, though.


Bizarre Romance by Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell (Books 2018, 9)

The book that I got at the British Library event last week. It’s short stories by Niffenegger, illustrated and/or converted into comics by Campbell. Some of them very good, and the collection as a whole is well worth a look.

Themes include cats, angels, fairies, and more. Worth a look.


The Audrey and Eddie Show

I went to a thing at the British Library. It was an author event with Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell. They’ve made a book together. And, it turns out, they’re married. To each other, that is.

I had no idea that this was the case. Who’s in charge of telling me about things? Cos they’re falling down on the job.

Not that there’s any reason why I should know, of course. They’re both creators whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past, but that’s all.

Anyway, this was the standard sort of author talk/interview thing, led by a guy who didn’t introduce himself, but according to the event page was “international comics expert, and man at the crossroads, Paul Gravett“.1

It was all very good. I bought the book, Bizarre Romance. Looks like it’ll be fun. I didn’t stay for the signing, because I’m not that bothered about autographs. And I couldn’t think of any questions at the Q&A, which is also normal.

Interestingly (and maybe this is already common knowledge too) Niffenegger is writing a sequel to The Time Traveller’s Wife2 to be called The Other Husband.


  1. Oh, OK, he published Escape magazine. I used to get that sometimes. ↩︎

  2. I insist on spelling the title correctly. ↩︎


All the Things in the World

Do you ever look around and think how amazing everything is? How it all got there? And I’m not talking about the grandeur of nature, the glory of the universe, and all that. I’m talking about all the human-made stuff.

I have often found myself in the middle of a city, or looking out of a train window at a bridge or power station, and thought, “Wow: people built this. Just ordinary people, like me, actually made all this.”

Look at ancient buildings and you realise that they used to do it without the help of modern machinery, too.

And then think about the infrastructure that’s carrying these words from where I’m typing them to where you’re reading them. Hundreds of miles of fibre and copper cables across the country. Thousands of miles of undersea cables. Satellites, and the rockets to launch them.

We’re pretty amazing sometimes, us humans.

Like I say, I’ve often thought about this kind of thing. But today, while not at work because I’m a bit under the weather 1 I had a slightly different version of it.

I had a sudden, overwhelming sense of how much cultural work we have created. Specifically stories and TV and films. Though in fact it was comics that really triggered it.

As I say, I’m not at my best, so I wanted something simple. I ended up reading a bunch of comics on Marvel Unlimited. And no matter how many I could read in a day, I could only make the tiniest of scratches in the surface.

And in TV, Netflix seem to have a new original series or two coming out every week.

It’s not all great, of course. But just think of all those people, writing away, acting, filming. Making things.


  1. I have a vague memory of someone in a film or TV programme mis-saying that as “beneath the weather,” but I can’t think who, or where. I kind of want it to be Josie in Twin Peaks, but I’m not sure. ↩︎


The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman and others (Books 2016, 12)

Gaiman returns to the character and story that made him famous (and wins the graphic story Hugo award by doing so).

This is a prequel to the original story. In that, you’ll recall (or if you don’t you should go and read them), Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, starts by being captured by a wizard as he returns exhausted from an earlier adventure.

This is that earlier adventure. And it’s right up there with the rest of the Sandman stories. Highly recommended.


Sally Heathcote, Suffragette by Mary M Talbot, Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot (Books 2016, 10)

After Mary & Bryan’s biography/autobiography hybrid about Mary herself and James Joyce’s daughter, they added another collaborator to write this fictional life story about a woman at the heart of the suffragette movement. Compelling, moving, and educational. What more could you want?


Patience by Daniel Clowes (Books 2016, 5)

As I said, I ordered this right off the back of reading the review. I read it almost as soon as it arrived, and then read it again. It's a fast read, being a graphic novel, and being a timey-wimey story you want to read it again to see how it twists.

It’s really good. Every bit as good as the review suggested – if not quite as good as the blurb suggested.

I’m not going to say much more about it, as almost anything would be spoilers. A time-travel love story. Totes excellent.

ETA: It would help if I could actually spell the title!


Patience

"Would you go anywhere near a book described on its back cover as ‘a cosmic timewarp deathtrip to the primordial infinite of everlasting love’?", begins this Guardian review of Patience by Daniel Clowes.

What other answer could there be but, “Hell, yeah!”? My copy arrived today.


PC

Panel 3 just nails the whole “SJW” nonsense.

Source: Brostitutional Rights - Scenes From A Multiverse


Netflix: because your DVDS are allll the way over there

So true.

“Netflix: because your DVDS are allll the way over there”.


Dotter of her Father's Eyes by Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot (Books 2014, 12)

Excellent graphic novel; part Mary’s autobiography, part the biography of Lucia Joyce, who was James Joyce’s daughter. Mary’s father, who was distant and borderline abusive, was a noted Joyce scholar.

Well worth a look if you enjoy comics. The “graphic biography,” if you will, is a little-used form.


Hackney's latest piece of gentrification: comics

Dreyfuss cafe and Raygun Comics, Hackney The latest in Hackney's gentrification: we have a comics shop

The latest step in Hackney’s gentrification. Dreyfus café has been open for a while, but just a few weeks ago we got a new arrival next to it: a comics shop, by the delightful name of Raygun.


Why Devilgate?

I always expect people to ask me about my use of the handle devilgate, but they almost never do. But an old friend did recently, and I wrote him the answer, and I think it belongs here.

So sit back and relax, and I’ll fill you in on the whole story.

You’re familiar with the origin story of the comics character Daredevil, I assume? Well it’s almost exactly like that, except with less radioactive material/eye interaction, blindness and skintight costumes. But with added rock ‘n’ roll.

So, back around the time I was in primary 4 or 5 (age 9-10), Suzi Quatro, as I’m sure you know, had a song called ‘Devilgate Drive’ (or so I thought for decades; I was telling a colleague at work this story a few years back and we looked for it on Spotify, and couldn’t find it; until we split it into two words: ‘Devil Gate Drive'; somehow much less satisfying). I didn’t actually know the song back then, but some of my classmates did, and started calling me ‘Devilgate’, precisely because I was decidedly non-devilish (or so I assume). I was seen as a bit of a goody-goody, because a) my Mum was a teacher, and b) I was a bit of a goody-goody.

As nicknames go, it was a lot better than it could have been. I remember once another kid asking me what it meant, and I said, “Devilgate: the gate full of the devil.” Which is kind of embarrassing, but considering how goody-goody I actually was (altar boy, and all that), it’s surprising that I wasn’t more bothered by the diabolical nature. Perhaps further evidence that all children are naturally without belief, until and unless they’re indoctrinated into having some: I probably didn’t really believe in the devil.

Anyway, spin forward a few years and I got online and was looking for a handle somewhere – Slashdot might have been where I first used it, and I was just trying to find out whether you can find the creation date of your Slashdot user ID, but it seems you can’t. I have a vague feeling, actually, that I used it somewhere else first, but I can’t imagine where that might be.

Anyway, having established it, it became my go-to handle. Wherever there’s a web service, if there’s a devilgate (or Devilgate: I see that I capitalised it back in the Slashdot days), it’ll almost certainly be me. Except for eBay, where I’m devilgate_real, because some bampot had nicked my name by the time I got there.

And so when I finally got round to registering my own domain, it was obvious what I’d choose.


The Summer of Rereading, 2: A Culture of Marvel and Miracles

After Iain Banks died I decided it was long past time for a big reread of all his books. Most of the older ones were in the attic, though, so it was a while before I got started.

The books in the attic aren’t terribly well ordered, since they’re just in boxes, and have been moved in and out of them over the years. Also it’s very dusty up there. Not that that affects the order or accessibility of the books; I just say it to try to evoke some sympathy. Poor, poor, pitiful me, sneezing in old clothes while looking through lots and lots of lovely books.

I digress. Sometimes I think its what I do best, actually. One of the non-Banksie things I found was the box containing my copies of MarvelMiracleman, which I hadn’t read for a long, long while. To my shock, an issue was missing. Luckily it was an early one (4, I think), and I also found my Warriors, where it was originally published, so I had all the material. I still prefer it in black & white with the bigger pages, incidentally.

On a theme that will become common, I was surprised at how much I didn’t remember. The whole “Olympus” thing, for example. I thought that was just a passing page or two at the end, but it’s actually woven through the second half of the work. To be honest, I didn’t remember much after the part that was in Warrior apart from Johnny Bates’s carnage in London.

Anyway, it’s still pretty good, but not as good as I remembered. It doesn’t hold up the way Watchmen still does, in my opinion. Also Thatcher appears in it briefly, which is just weird.

To return to my digression, I found various things in the attic that I haven’t read in a long time, so there will doubtless be more rereading ahead. Which is kind of a shame, because as always there are so many new (and old but unread) books to read.

But back to Banksie. I thought of just starting at the beginning and working through them all in order of publication. But I found I didn’t really feel like reading The Wasp Factory at the time, while I did feel like reading some of the SF. So I started with the Culture novels. I thoroughly enjoyed all that I’ve got through so far, and had the mostly-pleasant (but slightly worrying) sense of not being totally familiar with them.

Consider Phlebas: I still find it striking that here in the first Culture novel, if you don’t have any prompting about the Culture, it’s not totally obvious that they’re the good guys. Horza is so well-written, so sympathetic as a viewpoint character, that it’s hard not to support his anti-Culture beliefs. That those beliefs are not really examined (in the time period of the novel, at least) is probably a realistic picture of how most of us go through most of our lives.

The Player of Games: I had remembered this as one I hadn’t liked so much, with its gloomy, spoiled protagonist. Gurgeh is both of those things, but he is also manipulated quite thoroughly by Special Circumstances1, and in the end his life is improved because of it. Which wasn’t their intention (probably); or not their main one, at least. But it does tell us that no matter how good your life is in the Culture, it can still get better. Damn.

Use of Weapons: There’s a game you can play when you’re reading most Culture novels: it is, “What Are Special Circumstances Trying to Achieve This Time?” This is the book with the largest number of distinct chances to play, as we work backwards through Zakalwe’s timeline. A series of grim fragments of conflicts on different worlds, with Zakalwe always there as some kind of general or military advisor. We see him at the end of his engagement each time, and usually at the end of his tether if not the end of a rope.

And the forward-running chapters also have an unresolved special circumstance. But we don’t really care about it, or any of the others. We care about Zakalwe. And about Sma, and the wonderfully-named drone, Skaffen-Amtiskaw; but mainly about Zakalwe. Which is impressive work by Banksie, considering.

But more later.


  1. That’s what they do, after all. ↩︎


Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street, by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson (Books 2008, 17)

Ellis's Spider Jerusalem is a journalist, based on Hunter S Thompson. At the start he is living in seclusion in a cabin in the mountains, but contractual difficulties drive him back to the city for the first time in five years. Shit happens, and he writes about it.

This volume comprises the first three issues of the comic, and it’s pretty good so far. Interesting characterisation, great artwork; I’m keen to see where it goes.


American Flagg episodes 1-30 (and special 1), by Howard Chaykin and others (Books 2008, 15)

I came upon these when I was digging out some old comics for my son. These are not for eleven-year-olds, but I realised I hadn't read them in years, and I thought I'd see how they had aged (plus, I remembered next to nothing about the story).

The story is not bad, but not that great. In a post-collapse America, corruption and gang violence are rife, and the government (perhaps all the governments of the world) have left Earth, and are still ruling (or trying to) from Mars. On Earth the law - and to some extent, the peace - is kept by the Plexus Rangers. Or rather, as you eventually realise, the PlexUS Rangers, since there are also PlexUSSR Rangers. The Plex is the overall world government. Or something.

Reuben Flagg was a video star (ie TV or movie: there’s a lot about ‘video’ here, but it’s pretty much all broadcast stuff) on Mars. He played the eponymous ‘Mark Thrust, Sexus Ranger’. But new technology has made actors unnecessary, and he has volunteered as a Plexus Ranger and been sent to Earth, to Chicago.

He is the one (relatively) good man in a corrupt environment, and with the help of a clumsy android, a talking cat, and various women in their underwear, he tries to keep things under control.

Oh yes, the underwear thing: Chaykin is unable, it seems to draw women wearing anything other than basques, stockings and suspenders. No matter what they’re doing, pretty much. There’s nothing like wearing your fetishes on your sleeve, I suppose. Or, you know, lower down.


Lazarus Churchyard: The Final Cut, by Warren Ellis and D'Israeli (Books 2008, 14)

Hmmm, once again I try a Warren Ellis, and find that it's not as good as I expected, or hoped. 'Good', that is, in the sense of 'exciting, dramatic, interesting'. I didn't dislike it, and the story was OK; but it never really caught fire, you know?

Still, it was his debut, so maybe the thing is to try some of his later work (I should also add that, at the time of publishing, if not the time of reading or writing, I am regularly reading and enjoying FreakAngels).

I should probably mention the artwork, not least since I met the artist at Eastercon. It’s similar, actually, in that, while it’s perfectly fine, I kind of hoped it would be better. I couldn’t say that there’s anything wrong with it: you can always tell what’s going on, for example. I think maybe it’s that the style is a bit too cartoonish for the material.

The eponymous Lazarus is four hundred years old, and as far as he knows, immortal and indestructible, by virtue of some large percentage of his body having been replaced with smart plastics. He’s the only one in this condition, though, and he’s not happy about it. The main driver of the plot is his desire to die; or at least, we are led to understand that this will be the main driver. In fact it’s not, and each episode within the overall work has its own antagonism.

There’s a lot of extreme violence and brutality, some interesting ideas, but it’s sadly unmemorable.


Book Notes 20: The Complete Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson

Another old Moore from the 2000 AD days. I've read it before, as three separate volumes, but I totally didn't remember anything about Book 3, in which Halo joins the army. Well, the Space Marines, or whatever you want to call them.

It’s a great story about an ordinary young woman in a very un-ordinary world. Much better than the last one, and very much more than a curiosity: highly recommended.


Book Notes 12: The Last Temptation, by Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli

The last of my three recent graphic borrowings from the library, and the one I expected to like most. But it's a bit lightweight for Gaiman's work, and for my taste.

It’s based on work that Gaiman did with Alice Cooper for a concept album that the latter released in 1994. I didn’t know that people still made concept albums, but there you go.

Also there is one theme in particular that Gaiman was to revisit in American Gods; namely that of the town where children disappear periodically. In American Gods the periodic disappearance (and murder, let’s face it) of the child acts a kind of spell, which protects a town from the encroachment of the rest of the world and the forces of modernity and ‘development’. In this work, there’s no suggestion that the children’s absorption into the ‘Theater of the Real’ brings advantage to anyone other than the the semi-mythical ‘Showman’. Gaiman was perhaps using this work to develop some of the ideas that he would return to later.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but as I say, the work as a whole seems shallow and perhaps incomplete, compared to, say, The Sandman.