Happy David Bowie’s Birthday everybody! Yes, today The Thin White Duke turns 69 years old and also releases a new album, which means that later today I have an album purchase to make. But that’s for the future. What about the present?
I’m coming off an illness that wiped me out for the past few days, so I thought I’d ease into the second full week of 2016 with a brief review of some of the best things that I discovered or rediscovered over the past three weeks.
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Over the break I’ve delved even further into my Hellblazer trade paperbacks and have read nearly all of the Garth Ennis run on the series, and let me just say: it’s still good. One of the things that I love about John Constantine is the malleability of the character, the way he can become what the writer needs him to be by shifting slightly without losing the continuity of being. Ennis was the first writer to do that for an extended run, taking the reigns of the series after the brilliant Jamie Delano’s departure, and he cranks up John’s cynicism and rage without losing any of the character’s humour or heart. Whether he’s introducing Constantine to the King of the Vampires, celebrating his 40th birthday, having him cut a deal with the Devil, or having him fall in love with a beautiful Irish girl, Ennis handles the character with bite and charm. And as this is Hellblazer after all, when things start looking good for our boy John, the table gets flipped and everything crashes down around him. Ennis’ run is probably one of the most accessible jumping-on points for Hellblazer, whether the stories are being illustrated by the underrated Will Simpson or long-time Ellis collaborator Steve Dillon, so starting a 300-issue series from the beginning seems daunting this is a fairly good place to dip one’s toe into.
Anyone interested in the power of story should check out Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox. It’s a challenging read, but rewarding, a non-linear fractured narrative about writers and their stories and the people who inspire them. The book’s three main characters — the writer St. John Fox, his wife Daphne, and his lover/muse/fictional creation Mary Foxe — are more archetypes than individuals, moving between fantasy and realism, modernity and history. It’s like a prose version of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a single theme being reworked and reimagined so different aspects are highlighted. The deeper I got into the book, the more impressed I was with Oyeyemi’s ability to highlight character through the shifts in genre and setting. It’s also a powerful commentary about how men see women, and how men often write women in fiction, as complements to the male ego as opposed to fully realized characters in their own right. It’s a book that benefits from repeated readings, and one that I’ll be returning to many times in the coming years to revisit the characters and see how the story and the themes continue to unfold.
I’m a little late to the party on this next recommendation, but it’s such a good movie it bears repeating: people need to watch John Wick right now. It’s an action movie made for people who love action movies by people who love action movies, with amazing stunts and fight scenes that are beautifully shot. It’s easy to dismiss John Wick, and I know because I did it myself when I first heard about it. But the quality of the film cannot be denied. The film’s cast — including Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe, Michal Nyqvist, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, and John Leguizamo — commit wholeheartedly to what the film demands from them, whether that be quiet character moments or huge backbreaking stunts. And each stunt sequence is concieved, shot, and framed for maximum impact on the audience. The stunts aren’t revolutionary in and of themselves, but how they’re presented is, using deep focus and minimal cutting to heighten the action. I’m not a huge Keanu Reeves fan but after watching John Wick I may have to re-evaluate my position on the man’s body of work. After watching John Wick four or five more times, that is.
I’ve written about Chvrches in this column before, so I’m already a fan, but I just started listening to their 2015 album Every Open Eye and it’s every bit as good as their first album, The Bones of What You Believe. Scottish synthpop that is earnest and emotional and also it has a beat and you can dance to it. My favourite track by far is the bittersweet “High Enough to Carry You Over” but “Clearest Blue” is probably the most representative track of the album as a whole. Hot dang, do I love this group.
There’s something about British adventure comic books from the 1970s and 1980s that just hits me right in the sweet spot. I don’t know if it’s the short bursts of story, six to eight pages per chapter, that makes them seem like little firecrackers, or the cynical tone that so many of those series have thanks to the era’s political climate. Books like Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog and Rogue Trooper, all from 2000 AD, are perfect examples of the kind of story I’m talking about, but so is Alan Moore & Alan Davis’ early 1980s work on Marvel UK’s Captain Britain. When Moore and Davis took over the book they did so mid-story, so they had a little bit of work to do to set the table for their new story, but after a shaky initial few issues they pick up speed and create something really special. Moore’s high-minded stories remind me a little of his Swamp Thing work, but with more of a sci-fi adventure twist, and it’s amazing to see Davis’ art metamorphose from something slightly sketchy but bursting with power to a work that’s self-assured and creative. These stories are funny, terrifying, and exciting at different turns, and underneath it all is that British uneasiness that things are not right beneath the surface. I absolutely loved these stories; they’re under-read and underrated, and work well whether read in short bursts or in one long sitting.
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I think that’ll wrap things up fairly nicely for this week. Until next time, recline and relax and pamper yourself. You deserve it. And if you feel like it, let me know what’s caught your eye lately. I’m always interested in discovering something new. I’ll see you in seven days.