Tuesday, 27 October 2009

S4C is Rubbish!

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Welsh language telly is rubbish. Take the Eisteddfod for example. I've seen several attempts by Welsh youth TV to dress the Eisteddfod up as a sort of Glastonbury-esque festival of coolness, but it remains what it always was. Old men in dresses taking themselves far too seriously while young people with horrible fixed rictus grins spout poetry that they don't understand.
As for the rest of Welsh language telly, don't get me started. Aging 'comedians' doing stand up routines about bus passes for their ancient audiences! Crappy rip offs of crappy English programmes that are even crappier than the crappy programmes they're ripping off! Pobl Y piggin' Cwm! The thing that bugs me most about Welsh language telly though is their inexplicable obsession with Teddy Boys.
When I was a lad I was occasionally forced by my teachers to watch Welsh kids programmes as homework. Watching Welsh dubbed episodes of the Smurfs and Voltron wasn't so bad, but what I really objected to was being forced to watch the antics of our very own Timmy Mallet, Jiw! Jiw! Jeifin Jenkins. Jenkins was a teddy boy who got up to all sorts of 'hilarious' hi-jinks. He was often accompanied by a fat teddy boy played by Fatty Lewis out of Twin Town. As a young boy growing up in Wales in the eighties, why the flip was I expected to appreciate and identify with this ridiculous stereotype from a bygone era. You can just imagine the S4C meeting.....

"Hey its 1987, what are the kids into these days?"

"Well, kids liked rock and roll when I was young, I can't imagine times have changed that much. Anyway I've got this killer bus pass routine to run past you."

The sad thing is that teddy boys still dominate S4C's line-up. Brian Hibbard is still in bloody everything, steadfastly refusing to change his 1950's haircut no matter what the role requires and Bryn Fon is still boring everyone to death with his bland, generic 'roc a rol' music. I'm pretty sure there's even a teddy boy sheep in Meeees for God's sake! WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH THE TEDDY BOYS!!!!?????
S4C has recently gone absolutely beyond parody. It's as if the whole line up of programming is one big sketch from some idiotic BBC4 comedy. I present to you Exhibit A. Fferm Ffactor. That's right, you read that correctly. Fferm Ffactor. That's X-Factor for farmers. There's nothing I can add to that. A lazy rip-off of an English language format with farmers added in to the mix. That sums up S4C for you. It's as if the controllers of S4C were deliberately trying to make the channel as piss-poor as possible in some Mel Brooks-ian scam to sabotage the channel and abscond with the money. However I suspect the truth is that their hands are tied. If they put on anything that has the slightest whiff of originality or quality then they risk alienating their core audience of farmers and primary school teachers. And, of course Teddy Boys.


Looking back on this post, the tone is disrespectful and flippant, so I'm sorry about that. My views have softened somewhat in the past few years, especially now that I'm living away from Wales and miss it terribly.

I still stand by some of my views regarding the quality of Welsh language telly, particularly the S4C I grew up with in the '80s & 90s, which I think was very poor. I also think the Eisteddfod could do a bit more to extend to other Welsh people that feeling of excitement and community that I'm told regular visitors experience.

But I should have made clear that I am in no way against the idea of Welsh language TV or the Eisteddfod.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

God is ill!

Morrissey is in hospital! Get well soon you wonderful bloody genius.


Sunday, 18 October 2009

Lex Luthor has Sex with the Parasite!

If you're a Superman fan chances are you've heard of Grant Morrison, Tom Peyer, Mark Millar and Mark Waid's failed Superman 2000 pitch. By the late '90s DC were looking for a new direction for the Superman books and along came the aforementioned gentlemen with a mind blowing pitch. For the full details of the pitch I recommend the blogs of Timothy Callaghan and Chad Nevett, but the pitch basically amounted to a return to Silver Age greatness for the character. The emphasis would have been taken off '90s style soap opera, his marriage to Lois would have been wiped out and Lexcorp would have only represented a tiny fraction of Lex Luthor's criminal plots. Superman's powers would have been amped back up to planet juggling levels and we would have seen more of an aloof alien and less of the regular Joe that John Byrne had introduced us to.

Ultimately the pitch was rejected and Morrison wound up using loads of the Superman 2000 ideas in his brilliant All Star Superman series. DC played it safe with a slightly-less-new direction helmed by Jeph Loeb, Joe Kelly, Joe Casey and Mark Schultz. Superman was still married to Lois, Luthor was still a corrupt businessman and crazy, off-the-wall Silver Age style Super concepts took a back seat to the usual soap-operatics. The biggest development of this era was Lex Luthor getting voted President of the United States. This was a brilliant idea that, in my opinion, got swallowed up in the sprawling mess that was Our Worlds at War, a massive alien invasion crossover stemming from the Super-books. I own the two trade paperback collections of this story and I've read them at least four times but I'm buggered if I can remember what happens in them. The story jumps around all over the place until eventually Superman has a big punch up in space. I think Wonder Woman's mum kicks the bucket and there's some sweet Mike Wieringo art at some point, and that's it. Trust me, it's not good.

With all this in mind you might think the only logical course of action for a Superman fan would be to shake your fist at the heavens and curse God that you weren't born in a parallel universe where the brilliant ideas and concepts of the Superman 2000 pitch weren't just limited to All Star Superman and Waid, Morrison, Millar and Peyer had been given free reign over Kal El's fate. That's exactly what I was doing until the other day when I suddenly remembered that before Our Worlds At War, Loeb, Kelly, Schultz and Casey's run was pretty bloody great. I was struck by this realisation when, on a whim, I purchased a couple of trade paperback collections of their run and remembered that when I originally read these stories over ten years ago, before I knew anything about Superman 2000, I had really, really enjoyed them. The two trades were 'Til Death Do Us Part and Critical Condition and I heartily recommend them to any Superman fans.Here's the plot. Spoilers ahead. In 'Til Death Do Us Part the Kent/Lane marriage is on the rocks and Clark's sleeping on the couch. Clark spends a lot of time avoiding his problems in Smallville, during which time he does a little bonding on the Kent farm with his young clone, Superboy. Eventually he begins desperately trying to build bridges with Lois but her bitchy behaviour continues unabashed, and culminates with a late night liason with (gasp!) Lex Luthor! While this marital strife unfolds Superman's also coming down with a nasty cold which has the unexplained side effect of rendering him unable to shave. It turns out in the end that Lois has been replaced by the shape-shifting Parasite who has a big punch up with Supes and eventually dies of whatever mysterious ailment is plaguing Superman.

Yes. You read that right. Lex Luthor has sex with the Parasite!!!!!!

The awesomeness continues in the next book Critical Condition. Superman is frantically searching for the real Lois, all the while fighting his ever worsening mystery sickness. Meanwhile Luthor has his Amazonian, ninja sidekicks, Hope and Mercy also searching for Lois, all in a bid to distract him from the grief of having traded his infant daughter to Brainiac in exchange for control over the futuristic technology that has swept over Metroplois. This chapter of the story has a lovely/gross bit where Hope and Mercy convince a Lexcop scientist that he is mistaken in his discovery of Luthor DNA in the corpse of the Parasite. Ewwww! Luthor spunk! Eventually Superman enlists the aid of his pal, Batman in the search for Lois and there's some truly touching scenes between the two heroes....

Superman (green and knackered): "Bruce...Lois is...Lois is..."

Batman (picking up his friend and supporting his weight):
"I know. Don't worry. We'll find her."

Awwww, it's like Sam and Frodo.

Superman objects to Batman referring to Lois as the victim until Batman explains the reason for his aloofness during a case.

Batman (in an angry whisper): "The wet pulp sprayed across immaculate marble stairs is an abstract puzzle to cracked. It cannot be a 52 year old lawyer who picked the wrong night to be brave....A bruised body no bigger than my forearm cannot..it cannot be a child....You can't do what I do and see people. Not while the case is open. Never. Because if they are, I can't see anything else. Only when the case is closed are they honored, mourned, reviled. Only then are they people. Do you understand?"

It's great stuff as you can see. The bit where they find Lois is even more touching. Batman slumps into a corner, thanking God in relief, and Superman falls into Lois' arms telling her he never doubted that Batman would find her and that she's beautiful, before slipping into a death-like coma.

There then follows a four part story where Superboy, Supergirl and Steel get shrunk down by the Atom and sent into Superman's body to seek out and destroy the Kryptonite nano-bot that's causing all the bother. The 'Fantastic Voyage' storyline is a sci-fi cliche but it's a highly enjoyable and entertaining one that I never get sick of. Just look at 'Inner Space' or the episode of The Brave and the Bold cartoon entitled 'Journey to the Centre of the Bat!'. It's a cliche, but a good 'un. The star of this story is Superboy, who bravely hides the fact that he has lost his powers in order to be chosen for this journey into Superman's guts. He's the one who manages to clobber the nano-bot with a dirty great big laser gun and is prepared to use that gun to sacrifice himself rather than be a danger to Superman when he re-grows to normal size. This story is proof that Superboy was a great character even before Geoff Johns got a hold of him in 'Teen Titans' and 'Adventure Comics'. As if that all didn't sound awesome enough, Deathstroke the Terminator is in it too!

I'm so glad I picked up these two trades. As a comics fan it's easy to grumble that comics aren't how they should be and they should have done this or they should have done that. These two trades reminded me that as great as Superman 2000 would have been, what we got was pretty great too. Who knows, in some parallel universe there may be some disgruntled fan complaining that, yeah, Superman 2000 was okay, but Loeb, Kelly, Schultz and Casey would have had Luthor shagging the Parasite.

Monday, 12 October 2009

I love this truculent old bugger with all my heart.

Nothing to say about comics today. I've had a very angst filled week and as a result spent Saturday night getting reacquainted with the only thing in life worth caring about besides comics, Morrissey. Here's the great man on Top of the Pops performing a track from his 1997 album Maladjusted and clearly being the best thing the '90s have ever seen. Along with Southpaw Grammar, Maladjusted is among the Moz albums that everyone either forgets about or takes the piss out of. They are both very much the "Aquaman" of Morrissey albums, massively misunderstood and massively underrated. Both of these albums were re-released this year. Alas, Aquaman only returned in zombie form.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Madam Fatal Returns

Imagine the following as a movie pitch. An actor's daughter is kidnapped by a crime boss, an incident that leads to the death of the actor's wife. The actor uses his acting talents to infiltrate a community ruled by the crime boss responsible. The actor spends eight years becoming a part of the community and he's never discovered because he's disguised as an old lady! Eventually the actor manages to get close enough to the boss to force a confrontation, a confrontation that leads to the death of the boss before he can reveal the whereabouts of the missing daughter. The actor therefore decides to continue his gender-bending charade to fight crime and injustice until the day he finds his daughter. Also, the actor owns a Shakespeare quoting parrot called Hamlet. I don't know about you but if this was a film I'd watch it!

This was the plot of the first appearance of Madam Fatal, the world's first cross dressing superhero. Fatal debuted in Crack Comics #1 in May, 1940 and lasted all the way until issue 22 in March, 1942. DC Comics acquired the rights to the character but so far have only made reference to the character twice. Needless to say Fatal has failed to set the comics world on fire, although I'm at a loss to see why not. Type the characters name into Google and you'll find a plethora of bloggers and internet wits taking the piss.
But to me it's comic book gold. Superheroes in capes and tights are ten a penny. In a medium dominated by characters that, let's face it, can be kind of same-y, it's a shame that when a character comes along that's truly unique all we can do is mock.

Madam Fatal's foes constantly underestimated the seemingly feeble old biddy they saw before them. As a result they were constantly taken by surprise when Fatal used the full force of a man in the peak of physical perfection to twat them with her cane.
Don't get me wrong, the original Quality Comics stories don't exactly stand up alongside Maus or Watchmen. But I feel there's a lot of potential in the character that has never been fully exploited. All that may change in the future of course. James Robinson is the acclaimed writer of DC's The Golden Age and Starman, the current writer of Justice League of America and the author of the only two DC references to Fatal. I recently implored Mr Robinson through the medium of Twitter to bring the character back. He was kind enough to reply and assured me that "I do have plans for him/her. Bear with me." Hardly the comic book scoop of the century but it made me happy and Madam Fatal's return is something that I'm looking forward to reading.