Friday, 27 March 2009

Top 5 things written by Alan Moore

Continuing the comics theme. Alan Moore is a genius and I was lucky enough to be reading comics at a time when he was at his peak. He changed the face of comic book writing and spearheaded the British invasion of Marvel and DC. In the words of Pop Will Eat Itself - "Alan Moore knows the score".

1. Captain Britain (Marvel UK) Art: Alan Davis
In the early 80's Marvel UK, an imprint that had previously existed to reproduce Marvel US stories for the British weekly market, began producing original material. Alan Moore took over writing duties from Dave Thorpe and turned Captain Britain into the first truly great UK based title. Initially published in "Marvel Superheroes" Moore's stories were so popular Marvel created the new "Daredevils" title (which also featured the excellent noir-esque "Night Raven" text stories) to showcase his talents. Illustrated by Alan Davis, Captain Britain was an easy introduction to the world of Moore. On the face of it a standard comic-book superhero story but with the sort of sub-plots and hidden meaning that went deeper and darker than anything I read before.

2. V for Vendetta (Quality Comics) Art: David Lloyd
Dez Skinn was the man responsible for transforming Marvel UK and when he fell out with the Marvel hierarchy he began his own Quality Comics imprint. Warrior was the flagship title and in it's 26 issue lifespan it became home for the best and most original UK comic creations. Originally published in black and white with art by Dave Lloyd, V offered a dystopian view of Britain under the rule of a fascist party with echoes of Nazi Germany and Orwell's "1984". Warrior ceased publication before the story had finished and DC eventually republished and completed the story in colour for the US market.

3. Watchmen (DC Comics) Art: Dave Gibbons
Following his successful run on "Swamp Thing" Moore was given the chance to produce his own limited series. "Watchmen" was the moment when comics really broke into the mainstream. A story told from more than one viewpoint with a non-linear plot that redefined what comics could do. An alternative history of the United States where superheroes had existed since the 40's and were now considered part of the establishment.

4. The Ballad of Halo Jones (Fleetway) Art: Ian Gibson
My memories are kind of hazy now but I'm pretty sure my earliest contact with Moore was through 2000AD. "Future Shocks" and "Time Twisters" were one-off stories, a sort of sci-fi "Tales of the Unexpected". These were followed by "D.R. and Quinch" the time travelling miscreants who brought a touch of humour to "the Galaxy's greatest comic". Halo Jones was a more serious story chronicling the female lead's journey from teenage runaway to interstellar soldier. A radically different tale from anything else published in 2000AD, or anywhere else at the time.

5. Marvelman (Quality Comics) Art: Garry Leach/Alan Davis
Another "Warrior" story. Moore took a character, originally created by Mick Anglo in 1954, that had not been seen since the early 60's and transformed him into a contemporary hero. Initially unaware of his superhero past he struggles to overcome chronic migraines and dreams of his previous life. He eventually rediscovers his power and embarks on a search for the truth behind his loss of memory and the people responsible.

Crikey. That reads like a potted history of early 80's comics. Sorry, I'll try to be wittier and more concise next week.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Top 5 Movies based on comics

I'm getting needlessly excited about the release of the Watchmen movie. Most of the superhero films I saw as a kid were major disappointments. The technology wasn't capable of coping with the most basic of powers, the plot lines and acting were rarely good enough to compensate. Hollywood also concentrated most of it's early financial backing on DC characters and I was a Marvel fan. Nowadays, in an echo of the golden age of comics, Marvel characters are claiming the limelight.

1. Sin City (2005) dir: Frank Miller/Robert Rodriguez
A visually stunning movie that perfectly captures the tone and feel of Frank Miller's original comic. Tarantino and Rodriguez know how to film pulp fiction and the addition of creator Frank Miller as a director also paid dividends. I don't think it's possible to create a closer version of the original material as they achieved with Sin City.

2. Iron Man (2008) dir: Jon Favreau
It doesn't get bogged down in having to explain what the comic was all about yet manages to capture all the important elements of the story. Iron Man was never my favourite Marvel title and that might have let me enjoy the film without spotting all the irritating mistakes. Not that I think they made any. Robert Downey Jr is the perfect Tony Stark and the plot manages to explain his transformation into Iron Man without slowing the pace of the film. Favreau is already lined up to direct a sequel but what I'm really excited about is The Avengers movie which is expected to follow it.

3. Spider-man (2002) dir: Sam Raimi
I think this was the film that showed Hollywood it was possible to create a "comic book" movie that was a good film and not just a cash in. My memory had this out before X-men but it seems I'm wrong about that. Raimi gets everything right including the casting of Tobey Maguire as the awkward and fallible Peter Parker. Spider-man 2 maintains the quality and possibly benefits from not having to deal with the origin story but for me the original edges it.

4. X-men (2000) dir: Bryan Singer
It's not perfect but Singer gets more things right than he gets wrong. Possibly higher placed than it would be if I didn't love the original X-Men comics so much. Wolverine is a fantastic character but he's dominated the sequels to the detriment of the rest of the cast. This film gets the balance just about right and benefits from focusing on a smaller group of superheroes.

5. Batman Returns (1992) dir: Tim Burton
My favourite Batman film. Burton gave the studio what they wanted with "Batman" (1989) then got to make the film he wanted with this film. Keaton isn't perfect as Bruce Wayne but Danny DeVito's Penguin more than made up for that. I considered "The Dark Knight" in this spot but (and this might be a symptom of getting old) felt it a lacked some subtlety in it's story telling. Too many guns and explosions which didn't really evoke the feel of the original Frank Miller story.


Friday, 13 March 2009

Top 5 Mr Men

Roger Hargreaves stumbled across the perfect formula for children's bed time reading. They're quick to read, easy to follow and colourful to look at. They're timeless too. I had them read to me as a kid and now read them to my children who enjoy them as much as I did. If I ever become a grandad I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the process happen again. A mention also for Arthur Lowe who narrated the TV series. His was the perfect voice for the style of story and the voice I hear in my head (and occasionally try to emulate) when reading the stories out loud.






Friday, 6 March 2009

Top 5 Most Played Songs on my iPod

Something a bit different this week to celebrate the completion of a musical challenge I began back in August 2008. I've now listened to all 3512 songs on my iPod in alphabetical order of song title. It was like a massive shuffle with absolutely no repeats. I'm pleased that for the most part I enjoyed every song and there were only a few albums I felt the need to remove having finished. These then are the songs that I have played more than any other.

1. "Neighbourhood #3: Power Out" Arcade Fire (37)

2. "I Will Follow You Into The Dark" Death Cab For Cutie (25)

3. "Going Missing" Maximo Park (24)

4. "Hold Me In The River" Brakes (22)

5. "The Lowest Bitter" Les Savy Fav (21)

Which is all embarrassingly indie-centric. I guess these all come from albums I have really loved in the last couple of years. The Arcade Fire would have claimed a clean sweep, with tracks from "Funeral", had I not restricted each artist to one song. I'm looking forward to adding some new music to the Pod and having a free choice in what to play.