Archive for July, 2013

Strange Adventures

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

SA

SA


Strange Adventures – I didn’t know anything about this when I got it, thinking it likely to be a strange adventure, not about a boring space knight called Adam Strange. Oh well, live and learn.

The art is great, the story a bit of a challenge to understand, but once again we get an unlikely alliance new canadian meds between a Thanos-like “mad god” character (here he’s called “Synnar”), who has seen his power swapped with another “paranormal” called “The Weird”, who’s not equipped to possess omnipotence (we heard this once before in the Infinity Gauntlet, when Thanos’ tortured granddaughter Nebula snatches the gauntlet and becomes all-powerful); yes, a bit of ideas-recycling going on here, but the mood of this piece is quite different from others in that is it not all about muscular posing and cosmic battles, but a bit of plotting and counter-plotting and mystery solving, with Starlin challenging the reader a bit to understand exactly what is going on; Starlin always writes complicated stories, and this one is told in the fairly complicated DC editing style. Overall, it’s fairly satisfying, and Synnar certainly looks cool.

Ironically, Adam Strange is the less interesting hero of the story – that would have to be The Comet, who is a bit of a Han Solo-like ruffian who also has a talking bulldog sidekick and a one-eyed Gamora-like mercenary girlfriend called… Eye. He has run-ins with underworld characters, while Strange has run-ins with his loving wife and brother-in-law; he even takes time to worry about his daughter’s plush toy… oh well. There’s a strange sub-plot where a wizard tries to teleport Hawkman into his chamber – when that spell is ruined by an underling, the underling is sent to personally snatch the Hawkman… but he ends up snatching Bizarro instead to make him part of the Aberrant Six, some kind of new super team (!?!?!?). And so a character from the conventional DC world gets pulled into the picture (kind of like how Superman himself got pulled into Starlin’s “Death Of The New Gods”).

The plot of the story is that The Weird, with his new powers, is absorbing all of reality Galactus-like, sucking entire stars out of reality (meaning that they don’t exist, and never have existed, when he blots them out entirely from existence). Weird, right? Or maybe just… the Weird. Or just… aberrant. The most interesting part of the story is when Comet and Strange get invited to wander around in The Weird’s psyche, and go into all of his little mental compartmentalized… compartments.

And yes, the art is really great, handled ably by the exquisite Manuel Garcia, with Starlin himself taking over for short sections (they have a similar style). The architecture of the cities and spaceships is laid out broadly, the design of spacecraft is cool, the panels interact in interesting ways, and mobs of aliens are lovingly depicted. There’s also a cool passage drawn in inky style by Rafael Albuquerque that concerns some Bizarro adventure with a kryptonite-gloved shark-creature assassin that’s living in a Matrix-like virtual reality.

Of course, Starlin (who abuses the word “decimate”) sometimes can’t resist the temptation to purple the prose:

Hardcore Station: celebrity is universal. Even this satellite boasts individuals who are famous solely for being famous. Most reach this lofty state merely by being exceedingly rich. Maya Glaxar is such a creature, having outlasted a wealthy husband four times her age. She now sits on the board of directors of a dozen of this space sector’s largest corporations. When she feels like it. Lavish parties, sex scandals and obscenely extravagant shopping sprees once placed her high on the list of the universe’s most beautiful people. But times and priorities change. Today she’s all business.

She takes a hit out on Bizarro (we never find out why) and looks very hot indeed. We never see her again. Next.

Lady Styx also makes an appearance; not sure what she’s really about, even though she blathers her life story to a companion for no apparent reason other than that we (the readers) are there to listen in. And… how does she fit in?

I’m not sure if there’s a collection of Strange Adventures 2, so this one is a bit of a one-off that was all about the formation of the Aberrant Six, that doesn’t actually allow our group of merry pranksters to embark on and complete their mission/raison d’être (talk about a drawn-out story!!!); it comes to an unsatisfying “conclusion” – rather, it’s more like it was discontinued mid-story; Strange Adventures can easily be missed. Goodbye.

The Rolling Stones, Let’s Spend The Night Together

Saturday, July 13th, 2013
LSTNT

LSTNT

The Rolling Stones, Let’s Spend The Night Together – A great DVD of 24 Stones classics, filmed in 1981, it was also one of Hal Ashby’s last films (the bearded wild man him self appears in a backstage scene halfway through the movie). The film starts off at a stadium show in the afternoon, filmed at the Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona (13 December 1981), before later on moving into the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey (filmed 5–6 November 1981). I came into this film with fairly low expectations, but it blew me away – in this video Mick is about the same age as I am now, and he’s in amazing shape; he pulls off a great show – the whole band does!

But not everything’s perfect, and the movie is a bit slow starting off – for starters, the opening scenes feel a bit odd, as the song is a bit jarringly studio-sounding, and there’s a non-live feel to it, like it’s been performed in a small empty room with some crowd noises mixed in. We get a nice behind-stage view of Charlie’s bald spot (what happened to it more recently – wig?). Great ariel shot, balloons rising. Mick’s kneepads look quite horrible. Ian Stewart on piano, only four years before he died. Bill Wyman in shell suit (and later in a pastel yellow suit – ewwww!!!). Random backstage shots edited in during some numbers. Mick snarling to Ron about time. Ron’s make-up people do their thing. During the afternoon gig, we get to see edited in goofy shots from the evening gig. Keith looks like a poor man’s Bruce Springsteen at times, he later comes out in these magnificent bare-chested ripped shirts – wow! Mick plays a Gibson SG on some songs (and also an Ovation), using it mostly as a prop rather than actually playing significant (and distinguishable) guitar parts; no big deal, though, he makes great use of it as a prop, and “(Just My Imagination) Running Away With Me” is really awesome!! Funny to see Bill shaking his head at Mick’s guitar antics (me too).

Weird editing – there’s at least one scene, involving a frisbee landing on the deck near Mick’s feet, reused in the film, and then at another point we see Mick being strapped into his Ovation guitar at stage right and in the next frame immediately he’s singing and playing (it’s at 35:00). What’s missing in between? During “Time Is On My Side” we get images of the young Stones, as well as strange political images, and the weird WTF Nazi costume dress stuff (as we see below). Strange! Mick dons an ugly shoulder-padded blazer, double yuck!! There’s another time capture montage during “Going To A Go-Go” when we see the Meadowlands stage being built, with its weird turntable so that the whole stage can rotate to face all four sides of the place through the course of the gig. Nice touch, great design, must have been a strange effect, though (they had wanted to do something similar at Woodstock, actually, it didn’t work out). Great version of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, with great sound – we even hear the pop of Mick removing his mic from the mic clip on his mic stand!! There’s another weird montage during “She’s So Cold”. Mick does a weird crotch wash at 59:30, and an awful lot of mincing throughout. Hmmm… at one point Keith takes a relatively fresh cig that he’s already smoking and throws it on the ground. “Let It Bleed” is full of gag reel shots of Bill and Charlie (the rhythm section), like an off-sync Rolling Stones gag reel. During “Honkey Tonk Women”, out come 100 honkey tonk women, including Gerry Hall!! Wow!!! Ron’s daughter in there too?? Bobby Keys finally shows up near the end, in “Brown Sugar”. During “Jumping Jack Flash” Mick moves around by cherry picker. During encore of “Satisfaction” they release a million balloons from the ceiling, they bounce around the stage, Ron blasts some of them with his mouth-held cigarette. Nice shots of Mick draped in US/UK flag, other endings and finales from various evenings are then also spliced in.

Altogether a really fantastic visual document – just love it!!

This showed up in a montage of the band. WTF??

WTF??? This shows up during the 'Time Is On My Side' montage

WTF??? This shows up during the ‘Time Is On My Side’ montage

Here are some shots from the show – great images of Keith and Mick!!

Rock 'n' roll!

Rock ‘n’ roll!

Rock 'n' roll!

Rock ‘n’ roll!

Rock 'n' roll!

Rock ‘n’ roll!

Hal Ashby??

Hal Ashby??

Rock 'n' Roll!!

Rock ‘n’ Roll!!

Rock 'n' Roll!!

Rock ‘n’ Roll!!

The Infinity Gauntlet

Saturday, July 13th, 2013
IG

IG

The Infinity Gauntlet – Yet another cosmic Jim Starlin tale of a near-god gaining omnipotence through some gadget (if it’s not the “cosmic cube”, then it’s the “infinity gauntlet”), battling the strongest beings in the universe (Galactus, the Celestials, the Silver Surfer, Thor, Cloak… wait – Cloak?!?), ultimately coming to some conclusion (and several other Gauntlet-sequels).

The tale starts off with Thanos and Mephisto hanging out on some galactic plane, Mephisto is kissing up to him. Great. Thanos has reached omnipotence and he’s still out to charm Death, and builds several tactics for flirting with his cold, cold beloved. There’s some crazy explanation that this is all at Death’s bidding, but that explanation is abandoned in the first chapter. Great. So all of the heroes in the universe unite against Thanos, but led by Doctor Strange, the Silver Surfer, and Warlock.

Wait, Warlock? Isn’t he trapped inside a soul gem, one of the six that form the Infinity Gauntlet itself? Well… no, not exactly; sensing a date with destiny, Warlock engineers that he, Pip and Gamora come into the picture at one point, being weirdly reborn from the reanimated corpses of some hick New Jersey lowlifes. Strange. But it’s nice to see the golden god returned to the land of the living, weird incubator and all. Doctor Doom shows up, but he doesn’t do much (ditto for Drax the Destroyer, who sort of swarms about before being instantly defeated, more than once); Quasar (whoever he is), does even less. Yes, it’s a very strange throw-everything-into-the-mix-and-see-what-works sort of approach. We even get to see Terraxis the Terrible, a sort of female Thanos, who doesn’t do much (except for beheading Iron Man) until she, too, is expended. She really only came into the picture to make Death jealous (as if that was ever going to happen). Great.

There are some strange plot twists – Mephisto convinces Thanos that he can win greater favor with Death by giving himself a handicap, before he realises how stupid that is and gets rid of Mephisto. He takes on all of the cosmit entities (the Living Tribunal, the useless Stranger, Eternity), and is put in his place by Warlock’s crazy hissy fit (“A man always seeking ultitmate power and losing it as soon as he attains it! why? Because deep in his soul he knows he is not worthy of it”). Great!

From his galactic fascist throne, Thanos plots the destruction of the universe (or at least several thousand sun systems), while also tormenting his granddaughter Nebula, who he’s turned into a putrid living corpse (not sure who Nebula is, but she’s later to develop a grand role in all of this). Eros (Starfox – Thanos’ brother) is also horribly tortured, but he’s seemingly less important – I know, it’s all crazy. Of course, there’s also the thing that Starlin does where he kills everybody off, only to bring them all back again (it was an alternate reality folded backwards into itself, then zapped with a ray that makes everything go back to the pre-destruction time – NOOOOO!!!!!). It’s great action, and the turn-about at the end is really great, as is the slieght-of-hand that stops it from going all wrong yet again. Nice plot twists, great storytelling, and fantastic and freaky misadventures. Love it!!

Warlock and the Silver Surfer chill out inside a soul gem and meld souls, Nebula attains cosmic power, all of the heroes get amnesia, and Thanos goes into a freaky, ironic semi-retirement. Awww…

While the plotting by Jim Starlin leaves much to be desired at times, the art by George Perez is flawless. Love it all!!

Plainsunset, Songs For The Emotionally Wounded

Saturday, July 13th, 2013
PSlsftew

PSlsftew

Plainsunset, Songs For The Emotionally Wounded – A few years ago I got the first Plainsunset album, Runaway, which had been released in 1999, and enjoyed it as a collection of good, raw, fun pop punk, with groovy tunes like “Cindy Crawford” and “Runaway”. This, their second album, released in 2001 (and then re-issued with acoustic bonus songs in 2007) is a slick vehicle with some relatively weak “driving punk” exercises, followed up by un-exciting acoustic demos. It took a while for me to warm up to it, but as I listen to it more and more, I do find a bit more of the soul behind the production, gimmicks, and borrowed production values.

Opening song “We’re Not In” has all of the groovy sounds of a slick pop punk number (the drumming, while snazzy, seems to be a bit off), and it speeds up and becomes a pretty decent bopper with (mostly) the right chops, it sounds very familiar, having been informed by a steady diet of NOFX and Weezer. Second song “Immature” is a confessional love song, it keeps the pace high enough, and has some good technical moments, like the groovy guitar effects “solo”, but it’s also fairly lazy until the rock-out ending. “Priorities” may have some Fugazi-style screaming, but it’s also a pretty mild-mannered pop song, with some “I saw the way you looked at him and I kept it deep inside” lyrics that would make for a pretty cliched young-punks-out-of-love rock video. “Find A Way” has some groovy strumming and kind of soars nicely, the best song on the album so far, despite wishy-washy lyrics (“I said I’m sorry” x3). “Boy Band” sounds way a lot like Nirvana’s version of “Molly’s Lips”. This is a good thing, because it shows them finally getting crazy, “I will be in a boy band and get away with it, I’ll write a book about it”. Okay – nice.. nice-ish, at least. “Talk About It” has a thin-sounding bass-driven chorus that sounds quite wrong, and since it has nothing to distinguish it in the rest of the song (other than a nice guitar sound in the brief spells when there’s guitar), I’ll suppose that they just had bad advice on this one. “Love Songs For The Emotionally Wounded” is a guitar arpeggio-driven ballad that sounds like something from Bobby Vinton, or something. Yes, a song that takes itself seriously, even if I can’t… which then jumps into a song simply called “Plainsunset” which is very hard driving, melodious punk that really sounds great – the band saved the best for last.

In the next number, a 15-minute untitled “hidden” track, they have five minutes of silence, followed by a minute of found sounds edited together to sound like a stroll across the radio dial, then the song starts up – first off, it’s actually a live version of “Find A Way” (the crowd is right into it, which is cool), then a bit more radio dial fussing before it gets into a strong version of “Runaway”, from their first album. “Children (Acoustic)” is a pretty little song, and then “Find A Way” sounds pretty okay as a chilled out acoustic song.” The last time is “New Time. The Epilogue (Acoustic)”, is a pretty nice little song, with guitar, piano, some background singing. A cool demo for a chilled-out song.

The Mighty Thor – Blood and Thunder

Saturday, July 13th, 2013
TBAT

TBAT

The Mighty Thor – Blood and Thunder – A long, very drawn out tale of Thor, insane, battling Sif, Beta Ray Bill and the Silver Surfer, intent on destroying Asgard and the universe. He doesn’t actually destroy anything, though, and in the meantime there are some zany adventures with trolls and all sorts of other insanity. In the end it’s all psychological, and when we learn that the reason for Thor’s insanity goes back to his attachment to Dr Donald Blake, we must wonder… why now, after so many years? The story actually picks up mid-point (meaning that it doesn’t bother to show Thor going off the deep end, just presents him as already crazy), and ends with a cliffhanger of sorts, so it’s not self-contained at all – a bit dissatisfying; there’s also a mish-mash of storylines given that the story spans a number of titles (Thor, The Warlock Chronicles, Warlock and the Infinity Watch, The Silver Surfer). The Silver Surfer is nearly useless in all this, despite his grand “I AM THE SILVER SURFER” statementizing; actually, there’s a lot of awful prose in the book:

Doctor Strange: I must apologise for your rude reception. Wong is out for he evening and I was lost in my studies. I’m afraid my house’s defenses perceived you as trespassers and acted accordingly. I imagine I must also apologize for the tea. Wong prides himself on his private blend, but I’ve never been able to work any kitchen magic myself. I hope it’s at least drinkable?
Silver Surfer: It’s fine, Stephen, truly. THough I am probably no judge.

Thor: Prepare to pay for your criminal effrontery, mortal!

Criminal effrontery? Sheesh!!!

In addition to its more familiar characters, there’s also a strange (and strangely ineffectual) black superhero called Maxam – not sure what he’s all about, and the ever-present Pip and Gamora. Nice to see them, even if they don’t do much. They’re there when Maxam gets into a weird bar brawl with racist cowboys (why?).

The story is drawn by a whole bunch of artists, most of whom are very good at drawing over-muscular superheroes blasting stuff, and are not-so-bad at drawing statuesque Kirbyesque Norse gods (in particular Odin, of course, and his outrageous shoulder pieces and amazing carved gauntlets). Drax the Destroyer, here a babbling idiot (although he does play a mean sax), is particularly muscle-bound (and, likewise, also totally ineffectual). Some of the panels look like block prints, many of them are childish and overly-boldly inked, or Crayola-coloured, infused with a coarse weirdness.

But it goes both ways too – Moondragon is looking mighty sexy for a bald lady, with that strange cleaved body suit of hers. Love it!

It’s hard to describe, but this is all really bizarre stuff!! Tom Grindberg, in the Warlock and the Infinity Watch title, does a great job drawing some weird, moody, Mike Mignola-like work, and also introducing Count Abyss, in his desolate hell with his strange one-eyed vixen Maya (they don’t have a part in this story, sadly, theirs probably picks up in later issues), strange god-trolls, and a great battle between Warlock and Thor; we don’t see too much of them. Thor is eventually captured, with the help of Thanos, Doctor Strange and the Infinity Watch, there’s some mucking about in Asgard, a battle royale on the rainbow bridge Bifrost, strange loving scenes between Beta Ray Bill and Sif; yes, Thanos fights it out with Thor, and Odin, and does well. All right – Thanos!! There are freaky adventures in Thor’s astral plane, which is revisited in the end with a grand finale father-son-temptress duke-em-out. Not really worth the read, though.

The Death Of The New Gods

Saturday, July 13th, 2013
DOTNG

DOTNG

The Death Of The New Gods, by Jim Starlin – This interesting DC comic revisits the world of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, the powerful beings of New Genesis and Apokolips, who are engaged in eternal war. It begins, Watchmen-like, with the mystery of “who is killing the New Gods off one-by-one, and why?” The book also includes a bit of Jimmy Olson and the Newsboy Legion (a tribute, perhaps, since they were there at the start of the New Gods tales), and they’re thankfully not to be seen throughout the rest of the tale. Great. Mister Miracle (the bizzarely-named Scott Free) and his wife (!!!) Big Barda jaunting around beating up thugs. Ah, those happy times – Barda is early to fall (while Scott Free is checking his email), and Free becomes a brooding Starlin-esque maniac. Nice. Too bad he’s also kind of annoying in his sulkiness – the world of the New Gods is ending, Scott, stop being so self-involved! He even changes his circus colours to “dark hues”, which “more fit these times”. O-kaaaaaay…

Superman decides to hang around and solve the mystery of these murders, and witnesses the weird transformation of Mister Miracle, while also having a silly fight with Orion. O-kaaaaaay… There are nutty encounters at The Wall, we learn about Darkseid and Scott’s varying control of the anti-life equation (which turns Scott into some sort of goofy, corny sparkle-monster), the death of Mantis and Kalibak in battle with Superman and Orion, the end of the Forever People (boooo!!!! I like the Forever People!!!!!). There’s Odin, Zeus and Jupiter (?!?), a freaky battle between Scott Free (as Anti-Life Equation Man), Superman and Orion, and the spectacular end of Orion. Wow – silliness and majesty in the same few pages. There’s the Source, there’s Metron, and all sorts of freakiness as the New Gods die. Talk about a cleaning house exercise! I wonder if Jack Kirby would have enjoyed this – the New Gods were always fighting each other to the death, without anyone really dying, and there were always so many stories, it all just seemed limitless. But perhaps a decision was made somewhere that there was this extra franchise lying around, that DC really just had one franchise too many. Bye bye New Gods. It’s a sad way for them to go. At least we hadn’t gotten attached to the heroes in The Watchmen – would DC have done this to The Justice League, or Marvel to The Avengers?

Of course, they’re not really dead, and a few things are left unresolved – the Source, the New New Genesis/Apokalips, Darkseid himself, and the real fate of Orion. And… what about the rest of the New Gods? Are they gone forever… really gone forever?

The book is full of great art – two-page spreads of the blissful New Genesis life, broad scenes of the hellish world of Apokalips, full depictions of atom-smashing battles, . Some scenes take on a vague Jack Kirby-ness, especially when recounting the history of the New Gods, and then others are just plain crazy, messy, dimension-spanning destruction. There’s also the wild scenes that I won’t mention that show the ultimate re-creation of the world of the New Gods that’s actually quite cool.

Ultimately, while the book is fairly silly (when it isn’t simply dark and overly-gloomy), it has a few redeeming points, mostly at the big-picture level – it also has some pretty amazing artwork! Nice one.

the Complete Chronicles of Conan

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013
TCCOC

TCCOC

the Complete Chronicles of Conan, by Robert E Howard – I have read several Conan comics, from the classic Barry Windsor-Smith Marvel comics to the gorgeous recent explicit Dark Horse line. It’s all good. But I always felt it was a shame that I’d never read the original Robert E Howard stories. I finally got my chance to give the stories a try when I found this gorgeous 900-page tome of all 21 of the original Conan stories, along with two poems (the classic “Cimmeria”, and “the Hour of the Dragon”, an intro to the novel of the same name), and three drafts, a synopsis (“the Hall of the Dead”), and a fragment (“the Hand of Nergal”). The collection also contains “The Hyborean Age”, a pseudo-history by Robert E Howard, that traces the lost Hyborean Ages through their various developments from Conan’s lost primordial age of barbarians, to the modern barbarians and the birth of civilization.

Conan stories are alive with wonder and amazement, full-fledged tales of brutality and bloodspilling, with our grim and determined hero facing death without fear and regularly plunging into the unknown at but a whim. They are instantely likeable and immensely readable. Definitely a wild ride that’s well worth it on every occasion. The stories range in length from about 10 pages to over 150, and they are set at different times in Conan’s life, from when he was a teen until when he ruled the land of Aquilonia near the end of his life. Wow! A typical Conan adventure would involve a sorcerer, a brute, a betrayal, a girl, a dungeon, an inhuman beast (or barbarian hordes), and often be set in the unholy ruins of ancient, corrupt, fallen necromantic civilizations; some tales involve nameless evils that are almost Lovecraftian – it was no coincidence that the two authors were friends through many long correspondences – and resurrected sorcerers of long-dead kingdoms. There are also a few witches, also typically timeless, who invariably require human sacrifice to win their youthful good looks, and maybe a vampire or two.

“The Phoenix On The Sword” is the first Conan tale, published in 1932, and it introduces both Conan and Thoth-Amon, his sorcerer nemesis, and depicts King Conan surviving an assassination attempt that involves a hell-beast and four traitors. Great magic, wonderful language. “The Scarlet Citadel” is another tale of King Conan, trapped with his slaughtered armied by a traitorous ally, he’s made prisoner; he escapes from the dungeons, escapes a serpent, frees the wizard Pelias and extracts his revenge. “The Tower Of The Elephant” tells a tale of a young Conan as a thief, infiltrating the unassailable tower and learning the secret of its prisoner, and the heart of the elephant, as well as the evil wizard Yara, who is laid low with the words “Yag-kosha gives you a last gift and a last enchantment”. “Black Colossus” is a tale of the young general Conan, who comes to the aid of princess Yasmela, whose kingdom has come under threat by an awakened wizard and his conquering hordes. It’s a great tale of armies and the deaths of thousands and is great fun to read in all of its fantastic bewilderment. “The Slithering Shadow” is about the wanderer Conan, with his girl Natala, roaming the desert and discovering a city of dreamers who are hunted in their halls by strange magical creatures. “The Pool of the Black One” has Conan joining a pirate gang, killing its master, taking his girl, and exploring an island haunted by demonic slayers of a fantastic cultish civilization; of course, he kills them all and makes his escape with the girl. “Rogues in the House” is a great tale of political intrigue that involves Conan, a nobleman who has fallen out of favour with the court magician/kingmaker, the magician, and a great ape creature that wants to be a magician. Nice stuff. “Shadows in the Moonlight” has the warrior Conan saving the lovely Olivia from brutes, then taking her to another haunted island with a crew of pirates. In “Queen of the Black Coast”, Conan falls in with a crew that is plundered by the queen of the black coast, only he survives – but he fights so savagely that the queen takes him in, makes her his lover, and then goes into the jungle to plunder gems from a haunted castle. Again, they encounter evil magical foes that kill everybody but Conan. Great, Lovecraftian stuff here too, as with “The Slithering Shadow” and “The Pool of the Black One”, but better. “The Devil in Iron” is a crazy tale of a haunted city on a hill where civilised men try to trap the mercenary leader Conan, only to be destroyed themselves (Conan destroys everybody – his clever adversaries, the ancient magicians and everybody else, while also saving the girl). “The People of the Black Circle” has a queen of a cursed kingdom forming an alliance of sorts with Conan, a mercenary leader in the Himalayas, forming and breaking alliances, being betrayed at turns, encountering mercenary magicians, magician hordes, gaining magical hexes and protections, and bringing down an ancient house of black magic, while surviving ambushes and various Mexican standoffs, landslides and avalanches, the works. This story really has it all! “A Witch Shall Be Born” is about a queen being usurped by her twin sister, with General Conan coming to rescue the kingdom from the depraved and corrupt leaders. Hurray for Conan! This is also the story where Conan is crucified in the desert and left for dead. “Jewels of Gwalhur” is a cool tale of the mercenary Conan in deep Africa trying to play kingdoms off against each other as they revive centuries-old traditions in a fortress of ancient magic, Conan rescues a pretty little seductress at the expense of great wealth, meanwhile solving a murder mystery and laying his enemies low. Very nice indeed. A bit of Sherlock Holmes about this one. “Beyond the Black River” has Conan in frontier land, fighting to protect the civilised settlers from the savage Picts, at one point going into the Pictish jungle to assassinate a Pictish necromancer, before retreating to save settlers from a massive onslaught. Nutty stuff. “Shadows in Zamboula” is a minor tale that has Conan coming to a mysterious town where he gets involved in royal intrigues, magic, poisonings, attempted assassination, and strange cannibal rituals. Great ironic ending to this one (in fact, there are two great ironic endings here!!). “Red Nails” is an absolutely insane story of Conan and the lovely red Valeria, a she-devil, escaping to a depraved hidden kingdom in a valley of the tyrannosaurus rex (which Conan and Valreia manage to kill), before stumbling across a ruined city where two nihilistic warring tribes are squatting; our couple become involved in the intrigues, before nearly falling victim to bizarre, traitorous scheming of a creepy ages-old bisexual witch-queen and her lackie king.

“The Hour of the Dragon” is a fantastic tale of King Conan going up against sorcerous and political foes (three traitors raise a 3,000 year-dead necromancer and enlist his aid – a decision they live to regret), losing his kingdom, then gaining it back via the recovery of magical materials. Great chase sequences, and there are plenty of tense moments when it all nearly falls apart, only to be won in a rousing overture – hooray!! “The God in the Bowl” is a very cool barbarian detective tale that involves a thief (Conan), some cops, a politician, and an (absent) necromancer. And a big, nasty monstrous creature. “The Black Stranger” is a nutty tale of primordial politics, Pictish frontier lands, a phantom stranger, forest expeditions, poison, intrigue, barbarian hordes, wild alliances, and a few damsels in distress. Nice. “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” is the short, classic tale of Conan’s battle in the snow with the cruel (and cruelly beautiful) Atali, and her brothers. “By Ymir!” “Drums of Tombalku” is a strange desert tale that hardly involves Conan, but is about a warrior Almaric who knew Conan, who rescues a princess; returning her to her city, he discovers the secret of that horrible settlement – and Conan does appear at some point. “The Vale of Lost Women” is a creepy tale of a woman’s revenge, and her foolish attempts to escape danger without Conan’s help (he rescues her anyway – yay!).

The stories are full of wild and lusty language:

The cat sank into a crouch, and Balthus numbly remembered tales of its appalling ferocity; of how it would spring upon an elephant and drive its sword-ike fangs so deeply into the titan’s skull that they could never be withdrawn, but would keep it nailed to its victim, to die by starvation.

Conan utters his great oaths: ‘”Crom, Ymir and Mitra!” raged Conan. “Gods and devils, could I but reach the fighting, if but to die at the first blow!”‘

Conan knows religion!

“I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom’s realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer’s Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”

Sometimes the conversation gets political:

“You sit on satin and guzzle wine the people sweat for, and talk of divine rights of sovereignty – bah! I climbed out of the abyss of naked barbarism to the throne and in that climb I spilt my blood as freely as I spilt that of others. If either of us has the right to rule men, by Crom, it is I! How have you proved yourself my superior?

“I found Aquilonia in the grip of a pig like you – one who traced his genealogy for a thousand years. The and was torn with the wars of the barons, and the people cried out under suppression and taxation. Today no Aquilonian noble dares maltreat the humblest of my subjects, and the taxes of the people are lighter than anywhere else in the world.

“What of you? Your brother, Almarus, holds the eastern half of your kingdom and defies you. And you, Strabonus, your soldiers are even now besieging castles of a dozen or more rebellious barons. The people of both your kingdoms are crushed into the earth by tyrannous taxes and levies. And you would loot mine – ha! Free my hands and I’ll varnish this floor with your brains!”

I wish that Howard had lived longer and given us more stories like these. Conan is awesome.

The afterword gives some colour on Robert E Howard, his history of publishing, aspects of his peculiar wilderness small-town life, his relationship with his parents (especially his dying mother), his fans, his publishers, the artists who created covers that features Conan (a central aspect to pulp fiction publishing, of course – it was the Frazetta covers that are largely credited with giving Conan a new readership in the 1960s and beyond), and ultimately what drove him to take his own life at age 30.

After writing so many words praising the book, I feel like I should write more. But really, there’s only one word you need for this book: great!!

Pop Yeh Yeh, Psychedelic Rock from Singapore and Malaysia – 1964-1970

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013
PYY

PYY

Pop Yeh Yeh, Psychedelic Rock from Singapore and Malaysia – 1964-1970 – Yes, this is just as cool as you imagine it would be, 26 slabs of very old-sounding psychedelic sounds, mostly sung in Malay, some songs with a distinct Indian feel to them, but all with wild guitar sounds, some cool organ, general grooviness. Yeah! “Budi Bahasa” by Adnan Othman and the Rhythm Boys is slow and grinding, “Kisah Disampang” by M Osman and Orkes Nirwana (love the band names) is slicker and based on a cool guitar riff. “Aku Kechewa” by Roziah Latiff and the Jayhawkers starts off with some beautiful guitar riffing before going into some hauntingly beautiful female vocals. Stunning!! “Oh Teruna” by Fatimah Amin and the Clans picks up where the previous song stops – quickening the pace a notch, with a similarly beautiful female voice. Nice. “Jangan Goda” by Afida Es and the Singlap Boys is cool, funky psychedelia, also with a female lead singer making it extra spicy. “Oh Ya Ya” by Rajah Ahmad and Dengan Dendang Irama is like the title suggests – boppy and happy, this time with male voice and chorus. “Temasah Ria” by M Said and Les Remaja has some seriously distorted fuzz going for it, very cool in an MC5 sort of way!! “Bersiar Siar” by Babians Boys featuring Halipah is a rock number with a little boy singing, with lots of “la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la”, it’s so-so. “Dara” by M Osman and Les Fentones is poppy and breezy. “Syurga Idaman” by Azizah Mohamed and Orkes Nirwana are back with a nice number with a swampy, surfy beat and more little boy vocals. Nicer, maybe a bit Arabic here. “Jauh Pandangan” by Halim “Janda-Ku” Yatim and the Sangam Boys is chanty with chorused singing. “Nelayan Bersampan” by Zaleha Hamid and the Black Cats is a more minimal song, with plenty of emphasis on female voices singing mainly in chorus. “Kasih Tak Sudah” by A Ramlie and the Rhythmn Boys (nice typo) is a cool old rock tune that rambles on and on with sentimental tones.

“Berisiar Di Taman Hiboran” by Salim I & The Wisma has great funky guitar work, and a wailing Middle Eastern voice. Nice. “Bimbang” by A. Rahman Hassan & Orkes Nirwana is a bit gloomier, but has a nice upbeat bridge. “Mula Bertemu” by M Rahmat & The Teruma is a nice rock number, while “Revolusi” by Adnan Othman & The Wanderers goes off on some great organ and fuzz guitar, it’s a roaring rock number. “Ayah.. Kini Ku Bercinta” is a beautiful wailing tune by Nur Azilah & Desa Bersaudara that is particularly haunting. “Kembali Lagi” by A. Halim & De’Fictions is a very cool, driving psychedelic rock song that needs to be heard to be believed – it has it all! “Rindu” by Siti Zaiton & The Twilites is a rare sax-led song that has beautiful female vocals. Nice. “Bertemasha” by Zaleha Hamid & Orkes Zindegi is traditional-sounding Middle Eastern guitar pop that has cheesy children’s laughter in it, but also great long instrumental bits, as well as a bit of sax. The prominent siren-like voice is a bit grating, actually… “Sidia Siapa” by Noor Hamzah & Band Mesra has some cool guitar riffs at the beginning, and some cool male vocals – pure guitar pop, sweet and heavy. “Surat Ku Untuk Mu” by J Sham & The Wanderers starts off with some wedding keyboard and then gets into a low-key little keyboard-driven pop (and that keyboard gets a bit annoying after a while…). “Kan Hilang Nanti” by A. Halim & De’Fictions starts off with some wicked Hendrix-like guitar bending, making it among the more psychedelic numbers here, the song is also a conventional local pop song at heart, with heartful, echoing singing. “Tak Mengapa” by A. Rahman Hassan & Orkes Nirwana is a nice, sombre rock/pop song with cool vocals. “Bintang Pujaan” by Hasnah Haron & The Spiritual 70s is a cool female-led guitar pop song, of the type that we’ve heard a few times so far – it does sound familiar. But it is cool nonetheless. Love!

While there’s only one CD, the packaging is awesome with two fold-out panels full of old pics of Singapore and Malaysia, inserted into the set are also two lovingly-created (if poorly laid out) booklets of about 40 pages. Wow! The first one recounts the history of Pop Yeh Yeh in a long essay by Pop Yeh Yeh scholar Carl M Hamm, who copyrighted his essay in 2012. The essay gives a lot of zeitgeist, also talking about the politics of the era, the connection to Western music (tentative – they got the music and the clothes, but not the attitude, the politics or the outspoken-ness). There are great pics, such as the transistor radios of the time (that often served as amps for the equipment), the bands themselves, era-pieces such as Hofner guitars, Cliff Richard discs, album covers and other memorabilia. There’s a “fast forward to today” section, and a word about the record labels of the day. Then there’s also a whole section for the lyrics of all songs, translated into English. The second booklet runs through bios and histories of every group and recording artist featured in the set, although for some information is scant. Nice!

Naomi Klein, No Logo

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013
NKNL

NKNL

Naomi Klein, No Logo – I read somewhere someone describing Naomi Klein’s deconstruction of Roots, the Canadian branded clothing store, and realised only then that her book, No Logo, was written by a thoughtful, academic Canadian who might give me some interesting Chuck Klosterman-like accounts of that weird Canadian branding phenomenon and its perturbed origins and effects. I, like Klein, remember seeing everyone in my grade six class stamped with the same boring Roots sweaters in the cold months, and the same boring Roots t-shirts in the warm months. I could never figure out what Roots was and why people were so fascinated by it. Five letters, a beaver, and you have a youth uniform. Why?

Klein has written a whole book about brands and brand culture. She relates personal histories and interactions with brands, she relates brand anecdotes, she cites statistics and reads trends into them, she discusses awareness and activism, she hypotheses and emits stern warnings about cultural trends that the unthinking masses follow like sheep. Her book is interesting, her ideas often striking, but ultimately she succumbs too often to an urge to ramble; and having read the same or similar points popping up in various parts of the book strengthens my belief that she could have benefitted greatly from a strong editor who could have trimmed the prose, consolidated the points, and chopped out 30% to 40% of the near-400 pages down to a tidy 250 pages or so.

Not all of her ideas are good, though, and while I cannot prove anything, I am suspicious of some of the conclusions she draws from simple statistics – she seldom sounds credible. The book is re-packaged as a 10th year anniversary edition, but branding and culture has marched on without No Logo – the book is in bad need of an update; there is, after all, nary a mention of Google, Yahoo! or Facebook to be seen, and the obsession with Nike (and especially with its then-CEO Phil Knight) is a bit overbearing. On top of that, many of the numbers are 1997 numbers, giving us a statistical snapshot of the pre-Britney Spears era.

The book often hits the mark: there’s an amusing discussion of Space Jam, Michael Jordan’s co-starring venture with Bugs Bunny, and comments like “Nike had some reservations about the implementation of the movie” over concerns that Jordan’s brand-hopping had sullied his status as a brand vehicle for the shoe-makers. Klein also jumps all over the hollowing out of corporate brand-holding America as a place that no longer actually made stuff but simply owns rights and copyrights, while farming out production so that it could focus on branding and marketing; naturally, this is simplistic, but brands like Nike are easier targets are easier targets than Kelloggs, which really makes Frosted Flakes. Nice. The book is littered with surreal quotes, like David Hill, CEO of Fox Broadcasting, saying that “we are hoping to take the attitude and lifestyle of Fox Sports off the TV and onto men’s backs, creating nation of walking billboards.” Well, I guess Hill is in heaven because his vision has become a reality, for that’s what we’ve become indeed (although it’s not for me, personally…).

Interesting statistics: “1992 was the first year since 1975 when the number of teenagers in America increased.” Forget about marketing Tide and Snuggle, focus on MTV and Nike (and maybe Wal-mart). Sell to status-conscious kids who run in packs. “If you sell to one, you sell to everyone in their class and everyone in the school.” And when Tony Blair re-branded Labour as New Labour, Klein notes that “his is not the Labour Party, but a labor-scented party.” Nice. Of course, not all marketing is to kids, but they’re a big and important demographic. Klein lists weird hip-targetting branding antics, like when Coke and Old Navy launched pirate radio stations (?!?!). Ruminations on Eddie Vedder’s obligation (and failure) to use his cred to make a difference.

When the world’s cameras were turned on Seattle, all we got were a few anti-establishment fork-yous, a handful of overdoses and Kurt Cobain’s suicide. We also got this decade’s most specacular “sellout” – Courtney Love’s awe-inspiring sail from junkie punk queen to high-fashion cover girl in a span of two years. It seemed Courtney had been playing dress-up all along. What was revealing was how little it mattered. Did Love betray some karmic debt she owed to smudged eyeliner? To not caring about anything and shooting up? To being surly to the press? Don’t you need to buy in to something earnestly before you can sell it out cynically?”

There’s a funny anecdote about Spice Girl Posh Spice saying that the Spice Girls “wanted to be a ‘household name’. Like Ajax.” In another freaky anecdote, a school that was engaged in a huge corporate project with Coke – designing Coke’s new marketing campaign – actually suspended some troublemaker who dared to show up to the exercise wearing a Pepsi t-shirt. But Klein sometimes takes it too far, noting that Serbian youths would wear Chicago Bulls caps as they burned American flags (what – all of the kids wore Chicago Bulls caps?). “If we agree on nothing else, virtually everyone knows that Michael Jordan is the best basketball player that ever lived.”

Weird statistics like “The mammoth international temp agency Manpower Temporary Services rivals Wal-Mart as the largest private employer in the US.” But is that internationally, or in the US only?

From time to time her prose gets shrill, bloated and quite ugly:

Corporate censorship has everything to do with the themes of the last two chapters: media and retail companies have inflated to such bloated proportions that simple decisions about what items to stock in a store or what kind of cultural product to commission – decisions quite properly left to the discretion of business owners and culture makers – now have enormous consequences: those who make these choices have the peer to reengineer the cultural landscape.

I get it – controversial artists care enough about Wal-Mart to change his album just for the Wal-Mart buyers, but do we care if shocking album covers are less shocking in some stores? Big deal.

She also lets her thoughts get a bit carried away: “Book superstores, with their plush chairs, faux fireplaces, book clubs and coffee bars, have slowly come to replace libraries and university lecture halls as locales of choice for author readings on the book-tour circuit.” She recounts an absurd story when Michael Moore, at a reading for one of his books, insisted that striking workers get time at his mic. He was shocked when his reading got cancelled. Why? She rages at some companies’ decisions to hire temp workforces. “[Bill] Gates has already converted one-third of [Microsoft's] generalworkforce into temps, and in the Interactive Media Division, where CD-ROMs and Internet products are developed, about half the workers are officially employed by outside ‘payroll agencies,’ who deliver tax-free workers like printer cartridges.” Hmmm… it does suck for people to work temp when they’d rather be full employees, but she discredits herself with the “deliver workers like printer cartridges” bit.

The book is divided into four sections: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs, No Logo (apparently, there was no room in Klein’s heavily over-written tome to add No Future). No Space covers the growth of the brand, No Choice covers the über-permanence of brands through pervasive brand creep, and the creation of mega-brands through mergers and acquisitions. No Jobs gets into the trimming of workforces by mega corporations solely concerned with the health of their brands, and No Logo gets into the resistance against brands and brand culture.

The book is so wordy and repetitive that I really lost steam during No Jobs, and didn’t have the patience for No Logo, so for now this is an incomplete review, given that No Logo is probably the thrust of the book (which she finally gets to after 279 pages of introduction!!), but I didn’t have the patience for nearly 200 pages of that, as she goes through topics like “culture jamming”, reclaiming the streets, the new anti-corproate activism, brand-based campaigns, case studies on Nike and Shell and McDonald’s, the role of students and communities, brand-based politics and consumerism and globalisation.

No sweat! No joke!! No nukes!!! No hope!!!! It’s easy to say no, it’s hard to say yes, Yeah!!

Sigmun, Extended Play MMXII

Monday, July 1st, 2013
Sigmun, Extended Play MMXII

Sigmun, Extended Play MMXII

Sigmun, Extended Play MMXII

I got my Sigmun CD on June 8th, the same day I got the new ((AUMAN)) CD and the day after the new Black Sabbath CD came out, and I have been listening to nothing else ever since. Great music!

A five-track EP with 27 minutes of music on it, the songs all have a great retro feel to them, with some nice grooving, good solos, and some wild falsetto singing. The opening track “Land Of The Living Dead” is beautiful and wild, the band is tight as nuts! “Bones” is a more standard rocker that sort of wails on and on and on. “Valey Of Dream” is a spooky, moody little piece that brings all sorts of focus onto the lead singer’s wonderful voice. But wait, that’s not all – the tune also has a wonderful bass interlude that sort of zooms on and on into the solo, some crazy space travel sound effects, and a wicked jam-out. Nice. “Red Blood Sea” is a bluesy number, a bit Ry Cooder-ish, with slide and blues-drenched vibes. It really works! Final number “Aeriel Chateau” sort of feels a bit Isis-like at the start, with its intricate rhythms and melodies, before getting into some nice mellow singing, which works its way up and up until there’s real rage going on. Fantastic closer, alto the longest song on the album.

Sigmum live at Rocking The Region 2013

Sigmum live at Rocking The Region 2013

Here’s something “Land Of The Living Dead” from their Rockin’ The Region set: