Thursday, 25 July 2013

Death's Head: Volume 2

When I was about ten or eleven, Death's Head was about as cool as it got.  He started off life as a robotic bounty hun.....wait, no - freelance peacekeeping operative - in the wonderful Transformers comic of the time.  Before Michael Bay ruined everything.  He wasn't a Transformer himself and so was gloriously amoral in the manichean world of Autobots and Decepticons.  He had a shiny metal tusked skull for a face, an array of medieval weapons instead of a right hand, and a bizarre speech pattern possibly modelled on the Australian interrogative intonation, yes?  Death's Head was a total badass and I loved him.

Perhaps predictably this collection is a big disappointment.  And I can't really blame the rose tinted spectacles of nostalgia, because Death's Head still rocks hard when portrayed by his Transformers co-creators Geoff Senior and Simon Furman.  But in too many of the stories here, he's been shoehorned in as a unwelcome and pointless special guest.  I rather liked his first non-Transformers appearance, which was with Doctor Who.  He's a Marvel UK creation, so it keeps the British thing going, plus it's such an unlikely combination it kind of works.  But She Hulk?  The Fantastic Four?  Iron Man of 2020?  You can feel a once beloved antihero become increasingly pointless as this volume progresses.  It's also a sad reflection on the state of Marvel in the 90s.  These comics for the most part are pretty damn shoddy.

Obviously, he's been killed off and brought back several times, but no-one really cares any more.  Back in the day this robot was a legend.  He killed Shockwave for heaven's sake - possibly the single coolest Transformer ever.  In his defence he was being mind controlled at the time, which meant he wasn't even paid.  Bad for business, yes?

Here's an amusing rundown of his various adventures for the very geekiest among you

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

More humourism from this guy.  This collection's largely about the absurdities of domestic life, kicking cigarettes in Japan , buying a skeleton and annoying airplane passengers.

It's another top notch series of essays which are funny, perceptive and best when the author reads to a live audience so you really appreciate his sense of comic timing.  There just wouldn't seem much point reading this on paper.  It's been a few weeks since I've finished this, but I remember a good essay about his pet spider, another one about putting album covers over the windows to keep songbirds away and a great story about a nasty old woman he somehow befriends.  Coming through many of the pieces though is the clear and very sweet adoration he has for his boyfriend Hugh.  They way he tells it, Hugh could do a lot better.....

Anyway, not much else to say.  I guess if you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you'll like.  This must be why critics look down on comedy.  I did have a look on google to see if I could jog my memory, but instead I found this review -

"Well it is descriptional tail of False and total obscure Faults and fancy's of a psycotic gay man of the world. It despicates a abscure seen of the Gay population that is quite obtrusive to the adverage viewer."

Now, if understand correctly, this is just unfair.  Me Talk Pretty One Day is much more focused on Sedaris' sexuality. If anything, this collection shows just how domesticated and sexually unadventurous he is.  Definitely a one guy gay guy.  Unless this very fact is the "abscure seen" referred to.  The description of him as a "psycotic gay man of the world" is admittedly a little more accurate, especially if you're an annoying air passenger.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries

With his faux innocence and deadpan reactions to his often deeply weird subject matter, it's hard not to think of Jon Ronson as the Louis Theroux of the written word.  A comparison which is brought up in this collection of essays by pop pervert Jonathan King, who probably wishes Theroux had done a programme on him instead, just so he'd have been back on telly...

The man who brought us Paloma Blanca is just one of a dizzying array of freaks and (a few) normal people Ronson meets in this book.  It starts strongly with a look at the cult-like phenonenon of Deal or No Deal.  His interactions with Noel Edmonds and the contestants are hilarious - especially one man compared by Noel to a "funeral director" who becomes desperate to show the host that he really is positive and happy, and so deserving of the blessings of the cosmos.  They're all deeply paranoid that "the banker" is keeping a close watch on them all.  The truth is predictable, but still faintly sinister.

There's a priceless interview with the Insane Clown Posse, who managed to keep the fact they were secret evangelical Christians from their fans for years.  It seems they managed this by being complete idiots.  And no, they still don't know how magnets work.  He visits an alien abduction convention with none other than Robbie Williams, who seems relatively sane in this company.  And there's a fascinating look through the archives of Stanley Kubrick, whose attention to detail was even more bonkers than I'd ever thought.

I also loved the seminar retreat with Paul McKenna and his mentor, the crazy father of neurolinguistic programming Richard Bandler, who comes across as pretty scary and genuinely unhinged.  Despite that, Ronson says the NPL McKenna did on him actually worked - something of a first in the long line of cults and pseudosciences he's spent years looking into.  More typical is the deeply unpleasant and cynical "psychic" Sylvia Browne, who's made a fortune making up stories for parents whose children have been abducted, and who appears to hand out good or bad news from beyond the veil depending on her mercurial mood swings.  Nasty piece of work.

I really rate Ronson as a journalist.  He's got an eye for the bizarre story no-one else has spotted, he's not afraid to do the legwork and the truth really does seem to be more important than the story.  Yes, he can stitch up his subjects, but (as with Theroux) he merely gives them enough rope to hang themselves.  Also, he's very likeable.  He reads the audiobook himself, and on more than one occassion clearly has to stop himself laughing.  Most of all, there's his sense of humanity.  Ronson's always looking for the good in people, and he's certainly not judgemental, but even in his choice of subject matter it's obvious that, under that diffident Welsh Mr Muscle demeanour, there's a keen sense of right and wrong.