Tuesday, 28 April 2009

£1.15

The coffee machine in my work's canteen does not want to tell you what it vends. There's no indication of what sort of coffee it contains, what blend, what brand, or what bean. It's probably seriously pissed off about the fact that it dispenses some sort of coffee being contextually implicit. This machine is playing its cards close to its chest, and I can respect that.

But it nevertheless offers us options. It offers us buttons. Here are the four buttons on the coffee machine in my work's canteen...

  1. Black Coffee
  2. Fair-Trade Black Coffee
  3. White Coffee
  4. Fair-Trade White Coffee
Right, so, lets say we want white coffee. We've no information as to whose white coffee, nothing to tie us to an existing brand-loyalty or expectation of a particular flavour. We've no choice to make except whether we want our coffee to be Fair-Trade or not. What's going to sway our decsion?

Well, it's probably going to be the price, isn't it?

So here's the price of a cup of White Coffee from the machine... £1.15.

And here's the price of a cup of Fair-Trade White Coffee from the machine... £1.15.

And here's the question I've been struggling to get my head round all day...


WHAT SORT OF A BASTARD PRESSES THE 'WHITE COFFEE' BUTTON?

It's just a direct and uncomplicated choice..."Are you a bastard? Click Y for 'Yes', Click N for 'No'."

The 'White Coffee' button offers you nothing! It offers you no assurance of a familiar taste and it offers you no saving of cash! What can anyone gain from pressing the white coffee button?

Then it became obvious. What we've got in this unique scenario (so unique it sounds like I've invented it as some sort of allegory, but no, it's TWUE!) is such a simple choice between pressing a button that says, "I would like some of my £1.15 to go to the poor impoverished bastards who grew this stuff" and a button that says "I would like all of my £1.15 to go to the greedy bastards who're exploiting them" that there's no reason for that button to be there except to give people an oppertunity to do something wrong.

And that's its genius.

Because I work in a hospital. Hospitals are full of oppertunities to do things that are very wrong. They're full of physically vulnerable patients, emotionally vulnerable relatives, onnerous responsibilities and staff who're either exhausted, bitter or jaded. There's a very real desire to do wrong seething away in the heads and hearts of a lot of people in a position to do something horribly, monstrously wrong. So they've been given a saftely valve. They've been given a trivial, daily evil they can commit. They've been given a button.

One day this week I shall sit in the canteen and count how many press 'White Coffee' button, and I shall feel safer for knowing that many Harold Shipmans have been averted.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

These things are fun for the person writing them.

It's the second part of my Bat-Chronology! Rejoice in that news.

The Story so Far -

In the first installment we deduced that the timeline offered by DC Editorial at their San Deigo panel was a bumper basket of bollocks. This didn't take much deducing since it involved Batman recovering from a helicopter crash before it happened.

We also discovered that, no matter how tidy it would be to have all of the tie-ins in which Gotham goes mental over Bruce's apparent death occur after Final Crisis, and thus refer to the same apparent death, a fair chunk of them simply have to happen inbetween RIP and FC and refer to a different apparent death.

So we ended up with this...

PART ONE - BATMAN BEATS THE DEVIL.
  • Detective Comics #846-50 ('Heart of Hush')
  • Batman #676-8 ('RIP' parts 1-3)
  • Robin #175-6
  • Batman #679-681 ('RIP' parts 4-6)
PART TWO - BATMAN'S MISSING FOR A BIT AND EVERYONE OVER-REACTS.
  • Batman and the Outsiders #11-14
  • Nightwing #147-151 ('The Great Leap') - concurrent with early chapters of 'Search for a Hero'
  • Robin #177-82 ('Search for a Hero')
  • Dectective #851, Batman #684 ('The Last Days of Gotham') - concurrent with later chapters of 'Search for a Hero'
PART THREE - BATMAN KILLS GOD.
  • That flashback sequence from #683
  • Final Crisis #1-4
  • Batman #682-3
  • Final Crisis #5-7
PART FOUR - BATMAN APPEARS DEAD FOR A BIT AND EVERYONE OVER-REACTS.
  • Nightwing #152-3
  • Detective #852, Batman #685 ('Reconstruction/Catspaw')


What I'm up to in this post is a little tidy-up to take us up to the start of Battle for the Cowl, which I'll do in one big lump once that's all over.

So, the things I need to slot in today are... Robin #183, Batman and the Outsiders Special #1, Outsiders #15-17 and Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Can't see anything that might be ambiguous there.

Starting with Robin #183, then we've references back to everything that's been going on in Gotham's RIP/Last Rites issues, but no references to Final Crisis. Gang Wars - worth mentioning, the End of the World - not so much. Taken with Tim's expectation that Bruce will be back, an expectation that's more reasonable if you've seen a big splash than if you've seen a charred corpse, then this might suggest we're still in the post-RIP/pre-FC interregnum. But were're not. This issue is explictly set after Alfred's "taken over the Outsiders", which happens in Batman and the Outsiders Special #1 and that issue does directly reference FC when it has has Black Lightning monologuing about its apocalyptic goings-on.

Batman and the Outsiders Special #1, hereafter known as Why Didn't They Just Make This One Batman and the Outsiders #15?, occurs "a predetermined length of time" after Batman's 'death', but an unspecified one. We might as well just stick to publication order and have it take place after the Faces of Evil thingy.

The new Outsiders' first mission, which begins in Outsiders #15, picks up directly from the end of Why Didn't They Just Make This One Batman and the Outsiders #15?. So until a reason presents itself in the four issues yet to be published, I'm going to assume for now that the arc which runs from #15-20 ('The Deep') takes place immediately after the special. This fits nicely with the fact that this Outsiders team is established before Battle for the Cowl: Man-Bat, but nevertheless four issues is a long time in comics, so this placement remains very provisional. Teatime Brutality Inc. accepts no responsibility for any distress caused should I later decide it goes later.

Right, what's left?

Well, it'd obviously be a travesty of limitation and reduction to misread Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? in order to fit it into continuity. So let's do exactly that. Sorry, Neil. Love ya, but if you're going to do a summation of all the different takes on the Batman Myth in the middle of someone elses' more extensive and insightful summation of all the different takes on the Batman Myth then the big fish noms the little one.

Caped Crusader depicts an 'essential' or Platonic Batman dying and being reborn in endless variations of his own life.

'The Omega Sanction' is established in Seven Soldiers as being a cycle of death and rebirth that sees its victim condemned to endless variations on his own life. Batman falls foul of the Omega Sanction in Final Crisis.

While Gaiman probably intends Caped Crusader to be 'continuity-transcendent', and while that's undoubtedly the best way to read the story on its own terms, putting Gaiman and Morrison's cycles of multiple Bat-lives together is irresistible in a project like this.

Actually, something rather pleasing happens when you let yourself pretend that Gaiman and Morrison are purposefully telling the same story. What makes the Omega Sanction a hell is that each life is increasingly without hope. But what makes Batman Batman, according to Gaiman, is that he never gives up. The single trait that makes this reincarnating self a consistent, self -identical, A=A, self is its refusal to surrender hope. So it's logically impossible to reincarnate Batman in a spiral of increasingly hopeless lives, as if the hope doesn't carry over then it's not Batman you're reincarnating. Fun, fun, fun.

So in it goes, as an FC coda, whether it likes it or not.

Couple of other things I'm going to stick in on this update are Superman Beyond (since FC's unreadable without it, and since the "selfless act...meet hate crime" synthesis sets up the logic by which Batman's able to kill Darkseid) and DCU#0. That issue doesn't really occur at any fixed point in a chronology, what with it showing Barry Allen condensing down from union with all space-time, but I'm bunging it in before RIP, since that's where its most Bat-relevant scene goes.

Here's how it looks...

PART ONE - BATMAN BEATS THE DEVIL.
  • DCU #0
  • Detective Comics #846-50 ('Heart of Hush')
  • Batman #676-8 ('RIP' parts 1-3)
  • Robin #175-6
  • Batman #679-681 ('RIP' parts 4-6)
PART TWO - BATMAN'S MISSING FOR A BIT AND EVERYONE OVER-REACTS.
  • Batman and the Outsiders #11-14
  • Nightwing #147-151 ('The Great Leap') - concurrent with early chapters of 'Search for a Hero'
  • Robin #177-82 ('Search for a Hero')
  • Dectective #851, Batman #684 ('The Last Days of Gotham') - concurrent with later chapters of 'Search for a Hero'
PART THREE - BATMAN KILLS GOD.
  • That flashback sequence from #683
  • Final Crisis #1-3
  • Superman Beyond #1-2
  • Final Crisis #4
  • Batman #682-3
  • Final Crisis #5-7
PART FOUR - WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER?
  • Batman #686
  • Detective Comics #853
PART FIVE - BATMAN APPEARS DEAD FOR A BIT AND EVERYONE OVER-REACTS.
  • Nightwing #152-3
  • Detective #852, Batman #685 ('Reconstruction/Catspaw')
  • Batman and the Outsiders Special #1
  • The Outsiders #15-20 ('The Deep') - provisional placement.
  • Robin #183
PART SIX - EVERYONE BATTLES OVER CAWL, A TRADITIONAL WELSH LAMB AND LEEK STEW.
  • Coming Soon.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

My third consecutive post about SeaGuy

Not that I've anything more to say about it. Other than perhaps how interesting it is as a companion piece to Irredeemable. In one you've got heroes robbed of their powers by a methodical attack on self-esteem, in the other you've got heroes robbed of their morality by the random grinding down of self-esteem by This Cruel World and... NO! I've nothing more to say about it.

Just thought I'd link to a commentary done proper, to Marty being typically generous about mine, and to to another interesting post of Marty's which seems very SeaGuy-relevant.

One thing that occured to me while reading it is that most dystopian/dystopian-ish SF does seem to fall on either side of a divide about whether or not it's Evil Government that'll steal our liberties or Evil Corporations that'll steal our liberties. But there's a broad agreement about the fact that some manner of Evil Bastards will steal our liberties, and there's a broad agreement in populist SF that you then tell the same sort of story about how bad this is.

Them political grids what you can do, the ones you can fold diagonally to PROVE that Thatcher is the exact opposite of Ghandi, well... the standard SF 'dark future' seems much more concerned with the social authority/liberty axis than it does with the economic left/right axis, which it almost treats as fungible.

That's interesting since that's more or less the opposite way round from how we all seem to think when we're considering the present. In HollywoodLaserGunTomorrow then we must heroically fight for our freedoms and it doesn't matter terribly much whether it was Big Government or McEvilCorp that half-inched 'em. In the here and now we're all crazy tribal about whether we identify as being right or left wing, and almost entirely indifferent to massive erosions of our civil liberties.

Except when surrendering our liberties means that some bunch of people we're not sure about lose thiers. We like that. Or when we we're giving up concrete, specific, real freedoms in order to better safeguard something undefined and rhetorical called FREEDOM. We like that too.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

I sense the Loco Man is very near

Second bit of SeaGuy thoughtstream, continued from previous post...

"Everyone knows the world's made of science and history"


Forget Morrison versus Moore, the Morrison versus Morrison feud begins here!
New Morrison hearts the secular rationalism that'd endorse this, but Morrison Classic still reckons all myths are TWUE! Who will win?

Inevitable Spoiler: They'll be synthesised in some way.

"I'm Flyin'!"

Anybody read the curious afterword Mozza's done for Irredeemable #1? In amongst the wildest hyperbole since his endorsement of The Umbrella Academy he draws an analogy between the events in the comic and the effect on writers' self-esteem of Internet criticism. Those of us who disliked Final Crisis had better make our peace and tell our families we love them.

"Some poor unfortunate just...stops being happy."

The perfect Doctor Who co-text to this issue is The Happiness Patrol. There's so much in that story that would fit perfectly into SeaGuy's world. Fifi, Trevor Sigma, the Kandyman, Priscilla P and the rest of them are practically part of SeaGuy's world already. It's got such a similar narative logic and, for this middle mini, a similar theme.

The perfect musical accompaniment to this issue is any Smiths album you might chose. I'm thinking Meat is Murder myself.

But despite this I can't get 3AM Eternal out of my head while reading it. Just because I know the mini that follows this is called SeaGuy Eternal and I'm extremely suggestable. And old.

Speaking of "just because", the peacock coughing up a clock in this panel is exactly the sort of randomness/symbolism I'm talking about when I talk about the "Should I be interpreting this or not?" panic that SeaGuy engenders. If it is right to call this book surreal, and I think it probably is, then it's surreal in the way Magritte is.

"I don't want to eat any more tuna sandwiches, doctor... please"

Feels like a callback to the "Hell of a way to join the ranks of the carnivorous" scene from The Filth. Which I hope and pray will someday get out of my head.

"This research proves there are no such things as fish..."


SeaGuy might seem a comic as mad as the doctors think SeaGuy is, but I'm increasingly convinced that it's what superhero comics look like in the 2009 where the industry isn't crazy.

Accessible but challenging, self-contained but richly intertextual, imaginative but disciplined.

In the sane 2009, the one where truly psychopathic books like Battle for the Cowl: Man-Bat or Bomb Queen V don't exist, then the racks are filled with superhero comics that're just like SeaGuy (whilst also being totally different).

"I'm a sane, educated man and I, too, saw the fish!"

Should SeaGuy: The Movie ever hit cinemas, the audience will stuggle not to join in with the clapping.

Friday, 3 April 2009

The Chewy Deserts of the Plasticine Era

It's a SeaGuy thoughtstream!

Not annotations, or a review or anything that takes work. Just some bobbins that went through my noggin while reading it.

It's all spoilers and that.

"I feel terrible"

One of the things that makes SeaGuy a challenge to navigate through is that it's a mix of the symbollic and the "Just 'cos." The skeleton of Claudette on the first page obviously stands for the skeleton of a different fish altogether, but take something like...I dunno, the smoking Moai from the last mini. I don't think we're 'meant' to wiki Polynesian religious practises and apply the weight of the reference to the text, and I don't think we'd get much out of it if we did.

It's a little like what I was talking about with regard to Lynch films the other day - the unease they create by not letting the viewer know which absurd elements they should be trying to interpret as Clooos, and which they should just be going with as visual music.

I mention this here because in Slaves of Mickey Eye the art has picked up a similar uncertainty of interpretability. Stewart's style has changed. Some of this is deliberately significant...

"You can see Cameron’s drawn his features a little sharper. He looks a little more adult. You can see his cheekbones. It’s about a guy learning who he is and trying to figure out his place in the world [...] you’ll see how it all starts to patch together, how the child-like elements of the first book actually mean something. It’s almost like growing up" (Mozza, CBR)

...so should we be reading all of the style changes as significant?

If newly sharp features means thematic adolesence, then does the thick, thick inking thats appeared around every discrete object mean there's now a greater conceptual separation between the world and its contents? Does She-Beard's much more cartoony new look mean that her object status within the story causes her to become progressively less defined as the guy with subject status aquires cheekbones?

Or is all this just because it's about five years since Stewart last drew this world, his style's moved on and that's all there is to it?

"B-B-Beakeye Unlike"

More obvious symbolism...but again to concepts within the story. It's almost as if SeaGuy works like some sort of partially closed system. All the individual symbols are in reference to other things going on inside SeaGuy, but when put together they build a story that derives its meaning from being a metaphor for stuff outside itself. Which makes it a total inversion of Morrison's Batman, which hoards its meaning internally but generates it by hoovering up symbols from eighty years' worth of Batnonsense.

This idea doesn't entirely stand up - we all know why Mickey Eye is called 'Mickey' - but I think it's the general tendency. Though all this goes right out the window if I decide that the butterfly is the one from Watchmen #11. I might.

"Don' Go SeaGuy. Not without your pal."

Six pages in and I feel creeped out and close to heartbroken. This is going well.

"For you shall this day have neither! Nor shall any man who fails to best me first in open combat!"

I love how She-Beard's extended the logic of the first mini. There she could only give her virginity to a man who defeated her in combat, here she's further constrained in that she can't pay rent unless defeated.

"Why is death playing chess here on the street corner anyway? Shouldn't you be way more important?"

MorrisseySeaGuy is questioning all the random Whimsey that RupertTheBearSeaGuy just went with! And once he does...it's dragged away. Don't worry, it comes back in adulthood.

There's very little 'invention' going on in this issue, come to think of it. Most of it is SeaGuy walking around the world of the first mini asking himself, "How did I ever think this is normal?"

"Mumble mumble spacetime mumble nonsense mumble"

Grant's "I am whatever you say I am" to the Internets?

"Say, I'd like you to meet Prof Silvan Niltoid"

Is this, Anti-Dad excluded, the SeaGuy verse's only expy?
Though like the Hoaxer in Flex Mentallo, he seems a hybrid of a Morrison Fiction Suit and a hypertimeline of a DCU villain.

"Ah, you're admiring my brainbow, I see. Can't say I blame you"

Hanibal Tabu admired the brainbow...


"No, just ... no ... [...]
Really, "Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye" #1? If you read the first series, this will make no sense. If you've never heard of the first series, this will make no sense. Like walking into a foreign film without subtitles, just ... wow, no. Even with that one good panel about the brainbow ... still, no."

Makes you wonder why he read it really. It can't have been out of any sense of professional obligation as given the nature of his reviews he can't belive that he owed the world these particular "no"s and "..."s . And it can't have been with any expectation that he might enjoy the book as "By Grant Morrison" is a synonym for "Is a Shite Comic" in his idiom.

Patsy Walker: Hellcat earned a "No, just...no..." by being "Like Grant Morrison"


Mighty Avengers #21 earned a "No, just...no..." because "it was almost as if this issue was written by Grant Morrison."

So why would he expect a book that actually was written by Grant Morrison to be worth his time?

"Who needs heroes when life's perfect?"

THE DAY GOOD WON!

Chopra, at that panel he did with Mozza at San Deigo last year, came out with this...

"If you had only creativity and evolution, you would have no universe," he said. "If you had only destructive forces, the universe would dissipate into a black hole." Chopra clarified, "you need the tension between the two forces."
[...]
He said the message of the superhero is "keep winning, but don't win."


Interesting that Morrison went with exactly the image of the universe falling into a black hole for THE DAY EVIL WON, but that before that he'd established the world of SeaGuy as having its Final Crisis as the breaking of the "keep winning, but don't win" rule.

Good has won, and it's just as ruinous.
Or has it? And or is it?

"What did they tell you about who actually won that big war between good and evil they're always telling you about?"

If either side did Finally win, would you be able to tell the difference?

And is it a problem that the Francis Fukuyama-esque 'End of History' that we saw in the first mini isn't quite as credible in 2009? Back in 2004 there were serious, intelligent grown-ups who really did think that global capitalism really had reached a point where it offered a stable, self-maintaining endpoint to idelogical development. That we'd cracked it, could leave the system running and just enjoy the spectacle as it expanded to fill the world then chugged along nicely forever. I'm not sure that's quite so tenable right now.

This week someone asked one of the G20 rioters why they were so angry. They said it was because they'd spent all thier lives fighting capitalism, and then it just went and ended itself.

Bit of an exaggeration, of course. There's plenty of life left it in, but...the Mickey-Eye hegemony was terrifying in the first mini because there was all too easy to imagine that humanity's story really did END there in the theme park. Nowadays, not so much. Is this going to be an obstacle for the SeaGuy trilogy, which was all plotted out back in 2004 and has been postponed until now, or might it end up helping it?

Part Two tomorrow.