The Brown Wedge

28
May 04

Essential Daredevil volume 2 by Stan Lee and Gene Colan

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Essential Daredevil volume 2 by Stan Lee and Gene Colan

This is mainly worth having for Colan’s lovely art. He doesn’t do the most dynamic and powerful action scenes, but he draws beautifully, and the quiet scenes are an absolute joy – although the inking in here is pretty undistinguished, so if what you want is great Colan art, you’re better off going for Essential Tomb Of Dracula 1+2, where he is mostly inked by the wonderful Tom Palmer.

But Daredevil is an interesting case study when assessing Stan Lee. Pretty much all of his other major work is with the world’s greatest superhero artists, who were also writers; Colan wasn’t a writer, so Lee is left to his own devices here, having to create all of the storylines and villains and so on all by himself. The stories here are pretty weak, especially the long-running one where Matt creates a groovy twin brother for himself to cover his secret identity – and no one ever seems to ask why Matt and Mike Murdock are never seen together. But an even more emphatic difference between this and Spidey, the Fantastic Four and so on is in DD’s foes. While the Ditko and especially Kirby titles got a great, memorable villain, who has stayed a major character for forty years, pretty much every other issue, Daredevil fought the feeblest and most unimaginative series of enemies any major comic has ever seen: Leapfrog (a man in a frog costume who can jump high), Frog-Man (another frog suit, less jumping, more swimming), Ape-Man (gorilla suit, strong), Cat-Man (cat suit, agile), Bird-Man (bird suit, flies), the Owl (looks a bit owly, also flies), the Matador (he’s a matador)… I’m not making these up. Stilt-Man (he has stilts) was probably the best of the megalame bunch, bar the odd second-rater borrowed from other superheroes (Mr Hyde, the Cobra, the Beetle, Trapster, Electro), and a dreadful Dr Doom tale, which shows how little grasp Lee has of this great character.

It’s impossible to read this and believe that Lee had anything much to do with creating all those great FF (etc.) tales and characters. Having said all this, the style is here, and I think that was a very important factor in Marvel’s success, all the groovy, palsy, swinging language that he added to all their titles, giving a consistency and a feel like nothing before them, making an audience feel special and part of it all. This contribution shouldn’t be understated – but it’s hard to stay balanced when Lee claims so much credit that plainly isn’t his.

White Apples by Jonathan Carroll

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White Apples by Jonathan Carroll

He’s an odd writer. I like his ghost stories, none of which seem quite like any other stories I’ve ever read, as if there is an endless series of different ways of handling this old genre. But are these variations much worth having? I’m not sure. The story this time is full of cosmic nonsense that seems vague and rather pointless, and it seemed a bit pleased with itself with all its ‘God is the cosmic mosaic’ wittering. Also, it builds up dangers well, then pulls rabbits out of hats to dispel them in rather lame ways.

The characters are good, fresh and mostly likeable, as is most of the writing (though he does write the odd rotten, clumsy sentence, and mystifyingly leaves them in), but the praise he gets seems a little out of proportion. One review compares him to Raymond Carver on acid, that tiredest modern critical trope, and Carver is surely in a very different league. I like him, and will keep reading him, but I really can’t see that he is as special as many people claim.

it’s true because it’s funny (= sad obv)

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it’s true because it’s funny (= sad obv)

mainly i’m trying NOT to read bought-media commentary abt the east london warehouse artfire cz i. i have no doubt that abt 95% of it (pro OR con) will be more annoying and lamer even than the music reviews at amazon (even), and ii. the place i work had significant archival storage (non-YBA/non-conceptual) in the same building, which means that a woman that everyone likes – and who i pass in the corridor every other day – just saw her LIFE’s curatorial work go up in smoke

so i expect what follows has already been said plenty of times: but duchamp simply pointed out that this fire and this post and what you just said to yrself in response to this post are also all “art works”… how “good” they variously are to be explored by the conversation that follows (ie no one’s contribution, cheap OR pricey, and no one’s judgment, idiot OR EXPERT is intrinsically unworthy of notice)

I used to vaguely agree

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I used to vaguely agree with the notion that you didn’t actually need to see conceptual art; it was the concept that mattered. Then I did go and see some and of course I realised how wrong I’d been. A lot of Young British Art (& other art, but it’s YBA that’s sadly in the headlines this week) does operate from what seems to me a juvenile impulse, but not the ‘desire to shock’ some critics parrot. What seems to animate conceptualists is what animated me when I started off on some elaborate doodle in a boring lesson – “what would it look like if…?”. If I join up these dots or make this pattern; if Damien Hirst slices a cow in half. We can imagine half a cow, or a giant anatomical toy, but there’s a childlike delight in actually seeing these things, and I’d guess that’s what animates a lot of artists and a lot of art lovers. I don’t think that sense of gosh-wow wonder is the only thing art can achieve now, and maybe it isn’t the highest thing it can do, but it is a good thing to do.

26
May 04

Authors you’re too old to read at 34 (part 2) Virginia Andrews

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Authors you’re too old to read at 34 (part 2)
Virginia Andrews

I Love Books has been tossing around the notion of re-reading, reflecting changes of taste and how the reader’s judgement alters throughout the years. In the middle of the discussion, in swept the 80’s gothic fiction writer, Virginia Andrews (latterly marketed as VC Andrews for reasons I’ll explain). Forthright opinions followed, an impression of slight shame emerged. These, apparently were books of their time, relegated to charity shops once teenage turned to twenties.

When I was a 15 year old casual, I liked nothing better than to read Virginia Andrews as I poured Slush Puppies down my Pringle jumper. Even the hard kids at school couldn’t resist and would read a quick chapter between fights. Flowers in the Attic was the catalyst, followed by several sequels, a prequel and a fairly successful movie. You knew what you were getting with Virginia; families with skeletons in every closet and a final third of twists and spins. And of course, incest. Let’s cut to the chase, nearly every story contained some inter-sibling sex. And she didn’t shun the descriptive side. This wasn’t Jane Austen sex, all he brushed her arm and nine months later Abigail was born, but the real thing, albeit with a gothic touch; all manhoods and exhilarating sensations.

I reread Flowers just last week. And in retrospect, I wish I left it where it lay (on the shelf in my teenage bedroom, by the Altered Images poster). The phrasing is odd to say the least, Good Golly Day! being a common expression of surprise. Several characters are no more than cardboard cut-outs and the children speak well beyond their years.

The fascinating thing to throw in the mix is Virginia herself. Every year another book is released, embossed cover, entwined roses, aunt shagging storyline. Virginia herself would be amused. She died in 1986. Subsequent books have been carefully worded, “based on the original drafts” became “sourced from the original plotline” as the years passed and Virginia’s death proved no barrier to further publication. The truth came out eventually, step forward horror fiction writer Andrew Neiderman. A bloke! Authorised by the Andrews estate to “continue the story-telling genius of VC Andrews”.

I watched a girl reading the latest VC Andrews cliffhanger on the bus the other day, pupils wide, fully absorbed. It was titled Willow of Fate or somesuch. She glanced up as the bus braked and looked bewildered, then bundled her book into a bag and begged the driver to let her off; her stop, I guess, some distance back. He refused (correctly, as we were clinging to a busy roundabout) and she left in a huff at the next stop. I watched her disappear back down the road, reading as she walked.

25
May 04

The curse of “Of course”.

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The curse of “Of course”. The urge to write “of course” during an essay or a piece is one which comes out of pure arrogance. It is suggesting that you know something that everyone knows, appealing to the intelligence of the reader and hence shaming them when your obscure fact does not leap out at them. “Of course” is needless, pointless as an appelation – and hubris. It also has a much better chance at flaggin up an error, as in this case from the Judith Hawley review of Armand Marie Leroi’s Mutants in the Guardian Review this Saturday.

In a highly quotable dictum in this thought-provoking and aphoristic book, Armand Leroi declares: “We are all mutants. But some of us are more mutant than others.” The expression recalls, of course, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four…

Of course I make this kind of error all the time.

21
May 04

TICK TOCK

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TICK TOCK

20
May 04

The theory is that every Jules Verne book can be summarised by its title.

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The theory is that every Jules Verne book can be summarised by its title. Thus in Around The World In 80 Days, the world is traversed in the time limit suggested. Journey To The Centre Of The Earth described the trip perfectly. And guess how long is spent in a balloon in Five Weeks In A Balloon?

Which makes the title of A Fantasy Of Doctor Ox a touch disappointing. It is tricky to work out what this fantasy actually is from the title alone. Luckily it is not too much bother to read the whole thing as it rocks in at under eighty pages, and even as a short story the basic idea seems stretched. We have the Flemish town of Quiquendone which in some form of poor satire is a dull and slow town. No-one ever argues, no-one ever rushes, musical performances regularly take four times longer than they should. But things change when the good Dr Ox fits some new pipes for a gas powered lighting. Suddenly the towns passions are inflamed, arguments start, punch-ups ensue and they almost go to war. What is the secret?

The secret is no secret due to Verne’s literalist turn of phrase. Yes it may be unclear what the mysterious Dr Ox has been pumping through the pipes, until you consider his assistant. Name: Ygene. Hmm, this isn’t a twist that was well hidden is it. Verne has discovered that if people breath pure oxygen they get a bit giddy. He still had not discovered at this point that if you want to tell a good story, you don’t give characters stupid names which give the bloody twist away.

19
May 04

The Scar – China Mieville

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The Scar – China Mieville

I’d been meaning to try Mieville for a while, due to recommendations and reviews. Weirdly, I found the book pretty different from what the critics has led me to expect. The first one inside the cover has the Telegraph claiming that his fantasy world is “utterly coherent”, and this is nonsense, and pointless as praise. You can see any number of coherent fantasy worlds in the genre, and they are almost all completely dull. Mieville ties this sprawling complex of ideas together pretty well, but it doesn’t fully cohere – but then again, I don’t think the real world does. Also, although he writes very well, I really don’t think the prose is as gorgeous as say M. John Harrison, another writer in that same low-tech SF/fantasy territory.

It’s the ideas and their interaction that appeals a lot. Who could resist this, one of the main climaxes: the floating pirate city at the heart of this tale has tamed a gargantuan sea monster, miles long; a spy has stolen secrets and a magic idol from a bunch of monstrous sea creatures; these creatures come to get it back, and team up with a gang of vampires to attack the pirates, whose defence is led by the most charismatic creation in this book, a martial arts master armed with a sword that kind of embodies quantum possibilities. How can you not get excited about a book bringing all this together? Who else has brought us vampires plus sea monsters versus pirates plus a martial artist? What more could you want? Actually there is much more – ancient magics and superscience, mosquito women and cactus men and all sorts.

He structures this long novel (about 800 pages) superbly too, building up plot after plot to terrific climaxes, introducing new characters and ideas throughout, all with energy and skill. It’s an exciting novel all the way through, full of intelligence and adventure and thrills – the delicate weaving of themes and motifs (scars and communication in particular) is beautifully done. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be one of my favourite writers.

Fundacio Miro and other Barcelona notes

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Fundacio Miro and other Barcelona notes

One major point about this excellent museum: don’t think you can walk up there from the nearest metro station – it’s a long way up. Anyway, it restructured Miro in my mind: this has some magnificent late work with bold lines with the humour of Klee, an extraordinary fabric hanging, and several featuring drips and splatters and other excellent attempts to grapple with the American abstract expressionists. And it’s not just Miro work: there is quite a lot by other people, the highlight of which for me is Alexander Calder’s fountain (more of a cascade and a mobile really) with mercury instead of water.

The Museu Picasso is mostly disappointing, very weak through his peak years, but there are a bunch of lovely late ceramics that really made me smile. Otherwise in Barcelona, leaving aside all the obvious Gaudi highlights which are as wonderful as their reputation, the thing that pleased me most was in the very attractive gothic church (the cathedral is impressive with very pretty cloisters, but not much is different from what you’ll see in a hundred other such places) of Santa Maria del Mar, which has many conventional stained glass windows, then suddenly one abstract one, an extraordinarily lovely piece in blue with white and red, allegedly about Saint Pancras (presumably a saint rather than a train station). I bought a postcard of this, but it doesn’t credit an artist, and I don’t know the techniques used, but they clearly aren’t traditional.