Saturday, 20 September 2008

Beware -- Cosmic Architect At Work!

The Eternals #1-2
('The Day of The Gods' and 'The Celestials')

Written and drawn by Jack Kirby; Inked by John Verpoorten; Lettered by Gaspar and John Costanza; Coloured by Glynis Wein; Consulting Editor - Marv Woolfman

If you're the kind of person who comes to Jack Kirby comics looking for an abundance of bizarre, reality-defying designs, The Eternals is exactly the comic you're looking for. The first four pages of the series are full of monolithic sci-fi images and very little else, or "outer space technology translated in terms of mythology", as one character puts it. And man does Kirby ever want you to notice how big it all is.

This highlights a potential problem with this series -- there are huge blocks of clumsy exposition strewn across a series of almost abstract vistas, and the personalities involved aren't as instantly well-defined and compelling as those in, say, Kirby's Fourth World comics. But you know what? I love The Eternals, and I love the first two issues precisely because they're so unrelentingly cosmic.

These issues almost reads like a remake of Kirby's first Galactus story in the Fantastic Four, minus Stan Lee's contributions. Which is to say that instead of being a sci-fi soap opera that goes cosmic, it's a monumental and godlike story in which a couple of tiny human figures stop by to shout at the architecture. That description might sound dismissive, but it's certainly not supposed to be -- indeed, I think that this form if perfect for the (thoroughly inhuman) story Kirby's telling! Now, while we're enthusing over Kirby's unknowable grandeur, let's not dismiss his collaborations with Lee either. There's definitely something to be said for the interplay between Lee's chatty, humanised dialogue and Kirby's wonderfully inhuman Galactus, but that's not what I want to focus on today.
Instead, what I want to focus on is this:

Brilliant, ain't it? You've really got to physically see it as a two page spread to get the full impact, but this image gives you the general idea, in the same way that a hissy live recording kinda lets you know how a band sounds live. Those chunky lines that can only really be described as being "Kirby-esque"... the way they zig-zag their way into a series of unlikely shapes, harsh angles that block out the exact point where genre work becomes hyper-personal self-expression... yeah, this is the good stuff. Of course, as Zadie Smith once said, if you want to express yourself you can always go outside and ring a bell. So what else is going on here? What's Kirby actually achieving by drawing in a style that's so thoroughly his own? Quite simply he's making all of this sci-fi sturm and drang seem new again. Specifics of character and plot will become more important as the series continues, but here Kirby seems content to make sure basic set-up announces itself as powerfully as possible. That set-up in brief: alien gods came to Earth and influenced the creation of three forms of life -- the unchanging Eternals, the ever-evolving villainous Deviants, and (of course) those frisky inbetweeners in the human race.
Or, to prove that old cliche about pictures being worth many words:

And what does Kirby want to do with this premise? Well, he brings back the gods (the Celestials) with a view to having them judge the whole damn. How's that going to sustain an ongoing (if never properly resolved!) comic book series? Wait and see, true believer. For now, with these first two issues, all you can really be sure of is that the whole thing scary and exiting and totally beyond our ken. Which is to say that it is ridiculously, unquestionably, Kirby-esque.

Oh, yeah:

And did I mention that it's huge?
These comics are like a doorway into some of the world's biggest, most unweildy, mega-structures. All the madness Grant Morrison summons up through harsh cuts, unlikely juxtapositions and wordy weirdness? Man has to leave so many notes cos he only draws the blueprints. Kirby? Now there was a dude who could build these bizarre constructs with his own hands.

Random Quote of the Day

Yeah, I'm glad we got out of the house, cos South Park's good but it's no dog with balloon...

Pixies -- 'Gigantic'

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

"I'd love to call it an imposition"

My friend Scott on the limitless potential for Arrested Development/Sopranos fan fic:
Tobias auditions for a role in Cleaver, the slasher flick produced by Christopher, and ends up playing a role based on Patsy Parisi. Lindsay tries to have an affair with Chris, and when George finds out about Chris/Tony's construction connections he tries to get Michael to butter them up. Gob tries to get a gig at one of Tony's private functions. Naturally there's a Meadow/George-Michael/Maeby/AJ/Steve Holt thing. Just think of the fun of a George Senior/Uncle June scene. Oh, and Steve Holt turns out to be Janice's missing son. This shit writes itself.
And to think, this madness came out of a high-faluting conversation about how both shows were all about privilege, personal stasis and the modern family unit! I think I like where Scott ended up a lot better.


Matthew Perpetua steps up with a correction: "Okay, but we know who Steve Holt’s mother is; we see Eve Holt in the yearbook."

Damn, he's right! The overall idea still does pleasant things to my head, though. Like, can't you just imagine Lindsay flirting with a hideously addled Christopher, completely oblivious to the fact that he's high? Or, like I said over in Matthew's comments, think about what happens when Gob try to impress Tony's boys with his charming banter. What, so they're going to whack the guy in the £100,000 dollar suit? Come On!

Roots Manuva -- 'Buff Nuff'

Warning: this post contains several lax opinions I'll probably regret tomorrow!

So, 'Buff Nuff' -- is this goofy party jam Roots' 'Dance Wiv Me'/'Wearing My Rolex'? Well, maybe. Like those songs it sees a normally hyper-conflicted UK MC play it for laughs, but unlike those songs there's little chance of it bothering the top ten. Cos for all that it's silly and conspicuously carefree, it's still every bit as incongruous, slimy and weird as its ice-cream themed video. Which is good -- sometimes it's fun to listen to music that doesn't quite fit in anywhere.

What amuses me here is that Roots' measured, almost mathematically precise delivery means that his particular brand of combative/playfully self-doubting rhetoric can easily fit into a classic banger. See, for example, the legendary 'Witness (1 Hope)':

Now both Dizzee and Wiley are capable of rhyming on top of party tunes, and while I don't think either of their recent successes are their best work, both of those hits certainly get people moving in a club. For this listener, however, both grime MCs are at their best when they're almost tripping over themselves in an attempt to justify or explain themselves. Of course, the frantic delivery this style requires wouldn't really work in the context of a big pop tune, which is why I'm more interested in 'I Luv U' or 'My Mistakes' than 'Dance Wiv Me' or 'Wearing My Rolex'.

What about Roots Manuva then? Where does he fit in here? Well... he doesn't. Every track on his new album, Slime & Reason, has a far stronger melodic throughline than your average hip-hop number, but as a set of songs it still makes for pretty relentless listening. Roots is constantly questioning his own self-worth, bigging himself up on one verse only to cut himself down on the next. Sometimes he seems to find redemption in the choruses ('Let The Spirit'), but as often or not they only express a sort of battered acceptance ('The Show Must Go On') so you can't rely on the hooks to save you. Plus there's also the fact that the pleasure of the verses is so often in the specific verbal or sonic details. Which leaves Roots as a beautiful oddity, a strong songwriter whose work is nevertheless a bit too gloomy and intensive to easily gain true mass appeal. But hey, fuck it! The music's still good and the words are still strong, so let's just hope he keeps on going.

Anyway, that's enough of that. Need to stop typing before my words get too slimy. Mmmmmm.... slime.

Coming soon: a brief post on the first two issues of The Eternals (Kirby version), the fifth part of my series on The Filth, and maybe a wee link post if I can get my thoughts together.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Roads? Where She's Going She Won't Need Roads.

Marnie Stern -- This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That

I cannot be all these things to you/It's true” she sings, that oddly childlike voice straining to be heard over the electric crackle of ‘Transformer’. You’d almost say she makes it sound easy as she finds gaps in the noise in which to shout "The future is yours, so fill this part in", but nothing sounds easy on a Marnie Stern record. These twelve tracks are science experiments, attempts to understand the rush of new guitar knowledge that Stern discovered on her debut album. As such, there are fewer ecstatic revelations here, but listen to the way that obtuse guitar fragments joyously fail to cohere on ‘Shea Stadium’ or layer into something both dense and brittle in ‘Clone Cycle’ and tell me what you hear. Are these vain displays of virtuosity or acts of self-creation in sound? Album closer 'The Devil Is In The Details' answers this question in a typically giddy fashion, with Stern offering herself up to the world and letting it see her change from moment to moment, guitar line to guitar line. "The devil is in the details/If you are ready" she sings, and she's right. How can Marnie Stern be everything to you? She doesn’t seem sure, but she’s ready to try if you're willing to keep up. Soon Stern will be invincible, a chimerical machine made out of layered vocals and art rock histrionics, but right now it’s thrilling to hear her struggle to master the strange energies she’s unleashed.

(Thanks to Sean and Matthew for the hook up! Image stolen from Rachel Warner Photography.)