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“Choke! Gasp!” Not A Podcast! A Sort Of Smörgåsbord! Look, It’s Free. Okay?!?

John Kane

Hey now, hey now, hey now, now! I hear there’s no podcast this week because Gentle Jeff is blowing up balloons and Glamorous Graeme is helping out by asking him how that there balloon blowing up stuff is going!  It’s a skip week is what I’m saying. Dry your eyes, o child of woe, for I have written about some stuff I bought with my own money and read with my own eyes. Yes, Superman’s in it. A bit.

Oh, I will make you miss Jeff and Graeme, I will make you hunger for them..!

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(Panel by Steve Ditko & Len Wein from THE DEMON in The Fatal Finale, Detective Comics #485, 1979, DC Comics)

BANG! And we’re off!

54
By Wu Ming

Translated from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside
William Heinemann Ltd, 640pp.
(2005)

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Being the first words you’ll read:
‘Postwar means nothing.
What fools called ‘peace’ simply meant moving away from the front.
Fools defended peace by supporting the armed wings of money.
Beyond the next dune the clashes continued...”

This is the slightly disappointing second novel by Wu Ming who are an Italian collective of writers with a, to my eyes, somewhat Socialist bent. I guess they like to kneecap any possible success as they write under the name Wu Ming nowadays rather than the name Luther Blisset; which name adorned the cover of their first, very successful, novel Q. If you wanted to read a sort of James Ellroy American Confidential take on The Reformation then Q‘s your (very good) book. If you want to read a book about that time America got all in a snit about tea or something and turned their backs on the truly magical and sublime people of Britain then Manituana‘s your book. I haven’t finished that one yet but it is quite fascinating, particularly as, so far, it is treating the British as the good guys which is a novel tack to take. I mean, not even we think we were the good guys in that one. (Don’t tell the Yanks though, they’ll just go on about it. Lovely people, though.) 54 attempts to illustrate the neglected landscape of European Socialism following Stalin’s death together with the spread of organised crime and the cancerous spread of the then nascent technology of TV. Sadly as impressively ambitious as it was 54 never really gelled for me, although it was always at least entertaining, and never more so than in the excellent chapters in which Cary Grant goes on a covert mission to scope out Tito’s intentions. They are really, really good at capturing Cary Grant’s Cary Grantiness so that brings it up to GOOD!

Speaking of Cary Grant, does anyone else remember that time in the ’80s when Gil Kane drew ACTION COMICS and Marv Wolfman wrote Clark Kent just like Cary Grant?

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(Panel by Gil Kane & Marv Wolfman from ACTION COMICS #546, 1983, DC Comics)

Totally Cary Grant! Kudos Marv Wolfman!

THE SENSE OF AN ENDING
By Julian Barnes
Jonathan Cape, 150 pp.
(2011)

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Being the first words you’ll read:
I remember, in no particular order:
 – a shiny inner wrist;
 – steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;
 – gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house;

A stately paced shaggy dog story where the plot creaks under the weight of Barnes’ beautifully observed evocation of a time and, perhaps, a kind of person now lost in history. So effective is Barne’s precise and poised prose in evoking the humdrum human of the recently deceased past that the whole thing runs the risk of, to anyone who isn’t British,  seeming like some alternate world. The book beautifully undermines the idiocy that The Past was Better by gently and only allusively revealing ways we self servingly corrupt, and in our turn are corrupted, by memory. The polite manners and sedate delicacy often latched upon as defining post-war Britain  are revealed as merely a thin coating of anaglypta over the usual seedy world and all the lovely ways we find to hurt each other. This is how people lived, but. more tellingly, it’s how people remember themselves as having lived. All the restraint concerning matters of courting will no doubt be particularly opaque to a generation which, The Internet shows me, believes a romantic encounter should end with the man naked and apparently so enraged that he appears to be attempting to tear off his own cock and fling it in the upturned face of a kneeling woman who looks like she recently lost a fight with a teacup full of wallpaper paste. Kids today! Unlike modern mating rituals this book was VERY GOOD!

LIONEL ASBO: STATE OF ENGLAND
By Martin Amis
Jonathan Cape, 288 pp.
(2012)

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Being the first words you will read (errors intentional):
“Dear Jennavieve,
I’m having an affair with an older woman. Shes’ a lady of some sophistication, and makes a refreshing change from the teen agers I know (like Alektra for example, or Chanel.) The sex is fantastic and I think I’m in love. But ther’es one very serious complication and i’ts this; shes’ my Gran!

I was going to do a whole thing about how editors don’t even edit books properly never mind comics anymore, because this book has the occasional jarring slip that suggests Martin Amis isn’t entirely au-fait with the world outside his window. Things like the prominence given to studying for O-Levels when O-Levels no longer exist. And then The Tories only announce they are bringing them back! Coming soon because you demanded it: poor houses, indentured servitude, cholera, drought de seignior, rickets and powdered wigs. Martin Amis has been at pains to point out that the publication of his latest book isn’t a fond fuck you very much to the country he’s just left in order to live in someplace called America. This one, as in most Late Amis (Late because he’s in his sixth decade, so enfant terrible, my arse), is a bit wobbly; the hideously repellent balanced with the cloyingly sentimental to not entirely satisfactory effect but then, not entirely unsatisfactory effect either. As in Any Amis the prose is just blinding, pal. That’s the real reason for cracking an Amis and he doesn’t disappoint here. He’s mainly concerned with putting the case forward for education as a more viable form of self improvement than, y’know, becoming famous for fucking nothing in point of fact. Safe and well trod ground that may be but it does allow him to dust off his spats and tip his boater for a series of comedic showstoppers involving a Jordan manqué. For non-British visitors; a Jordan is like a Kardashian but without the classiness or self respect. Excitingly a Jordan sells more books than a Martin Amis, despite the fact Jordan doesn’t even write them. It’s not a secret either. She’s a brand see so that’s okay. That’s where all your branding gets you. Branding’s what they used to do to cattle. And even cattle had the sense to struggle. Cows, there, I’m mainly talking about cows, horses too but mainly cows. When people who say “brand” without an inadvertent bit of sick slipping out and down their lost and hopeless face dream do they dream of beige formica? I’m not talking about ants there, either. Lost you now, haven’t I? Branding. Christ, I’m going to have a little sit down now and collect myself. Branding. Christ. What? Oh, the book’s GOOD!

Blimey, sounds like that silly sod wants to get a grip! While we’re waiting for the lithium to kick in what we need is a page of Superman from ACTION COMICS. This is written by Marv Wolfman and drawn (ILLUMINATED!) by Gil Kane. It’s a lovely page, a real sweet piece of storytelling and extraordinarily educational about how to slap down images on paper and give them power and purpose. I like to pretend this is a complete story called “Just A Man.

So, without any further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Marv Wolfman and Mr. Gil Kane will now present…”Just A Man.” Please remain seated until the performance has ended.

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(Page by Gil Kane & Marv Wolfman from ACTION COMICS #544, 1983, DC Comics)
You didn’t like that? Geddouda heah, ya bum! Y’heah me! G’wan!

SAVAGES
By Don Winslow
Arrow, 320 pp.
(2011)

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Being the first words you’ll read:
“Fuck you.”

Yes, that takes up a whole page and is indicative of the fact that Winslow does a whole heck of a lot of fiffing and faffing around with the prose as usual. Sometimes he seems keen to find the sparest prose of all; where words have to be hefted and weighed in the mind to glean their true cargo of meaning; a slow and meditative process counter to the break neck reading speed their staccato brevity encourages. James Ellroy would usually get thrown in round about  here thanks to the magnificently uncompromising White Jazz but that’s only because he’s (nominally) crime too. Really it’s Richard Christian Matheson who’s the guy who already perfected this method (see Dystopia). Of course having made such an arrogant declaration I am suddenly clammy with the almost certain knowledge that there’s probably someone else who did it even earlier.  Someone I haven’t even read! Winslow’s eruptions of inventiveness allow Savages to drop straight into screen play mode at times. As sophisticated as this no doubt is, were I to understand why it occurs, it is certainly awfully convenient. Because, oh, it seems this is soon to be a motion picture presentation. This explains the  chummy high-five to Oliver “The Hand” Stone.

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“Oh my bleddy hand! My bleddy, bleddy hand! BLEDDY! BLEDDY! HELL!”
(Image stolen from pulpinformer.blogspot.co.uk.)

Have you seen The Hand (1980)? It’s that one where shout-fuelled syndicated newspaper cartoonist Michael Caine is angry at his wife and puts his hand out of the car and a truck lops off his hand and he gets a prosthetic hand and his missing hand starts to kill people he doesn’t like, or maybe his hand doesn’t maybe it’s him because he has anger problems and this is called suspense, boo! That one. Most people like it because it is trashy fun,  but I always watch it because I can never remember who did the drawings used as Caine’s artwork. It’s Barry Windsor Smith.  I have written it here where I can come and look at it anytime so I need never have to watch The Hand again. The best thing of all in The Hand is when the hand attacks someone and we see it from the POV of the hand. The POV of the hand. Hand’s don’t have eyes, that’s all I’m saying. Mind you, detached hands don’t crawl around and strangle people either, I guess you win this round, Oliver Stone. I have now written hand so many times it no longer looks right. The Hand is OKAY!, I give it one thumbs up. (This is what you wanted! This is the stuff!)

Nonsensical asides about enjoyable bad horror films aside, I enjoyed Winslow’s language based larks sufficiently to graciously bestow the benefit of the doubt. Yes, he’ll be no doubt pleased to hear that, on the whole, I’ll give him credit for playing with form rather than debit him for lazy assedness. Because what with all the violent sauciness and saucy violence this is some pretty entertaining salad dressing. I mean, book.  This book is about a threesome of young people who are talented, intelligent, violent and just generally youthfully awesome. However, they are undone by their belief that you can run a drugs business like a Ben and Jerry’s eco-hashish outlet. Because it turns out that people involved in the drug business are just not very nice at all. They will put you right in touch with the ecology though, yup, once they’re through with you you’ll definitely be a part of the old ecosystem and no mistake. So, no, Savages isn’t Power of The Dog but it is GOOD!

Apropos of absolutely nothing here’s a rare Alan Moore SWAMP THING piece to finish on:

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(Taken from DC COMICS PRESENTS ANNUAL #3, 1984, DC Comics. SWAMP THING was created by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson. N.B. Len Wein was editor of SWAMP THING when Alan Moore took over so I can only imagine he was okay with Alan Moore writing his creation.  Y’know, in case anyone was wanting to fling that particular pie at Alan Moore.)

And that’s your lot, Buster.  Didn’t we have fun, kids? Did we have a time?. Didn’t we almost have it all?

Hey, no one forced you to read it! Unless they did, in which case I can only apologise for my callous thoughtlessness.

Next time: COMICS!!!

11 Responses to “ “Choke! Gasp!” Not A Podcast! A Sort Of Smörgåsbord! Look, It’s Free. Okay?!? ”

  1. I could read book reviews like these all day! Thank you!

  2. Fine and interesting book reviews, to be sure, but the curatorial eye that resurrected that random Kane page and that smidgen of Moore prose is to be truly cherished. Thanks!

  3. Wait a minute, John, do these books you’re reviewing have some drawrings in them? No?
    Very nice post, and the random insertions of Cary Grant as Superman as done by Wolfman and Kane make me think this was a huge missed opportunity by 40’s Hollywood. Befuddled, harried Clark Kent (a la Grant’s paleontologist character in Bringing Up Baby) always in danger of missing a deadline and being one-upped by Lois Lane (Rosalind Russell perhaps?) without being able to explain himself but hoping to romance her but making an awkward play of it, while secretly being the most awesome guy in the universe? Howard Hawks, I’m blaming you for not figuring this out.
    I’m also happy that I’m not the only one who watched SCTV (which I assume your “My Bleddy Hand” references).
    And apparently I need to read some Richard Christian Matheson rather than just chalking him up to a pleasant bit of nepotism and pulling out Hell House or I Am Legend to reread.

  4. @JRSM: High praise indeed from a book lover such as yourself!

    @BrianMc: Glad you enjoyed them! I was a bit hesitant to just drop random stuff I found of interest in. But, hey, you liked ‘em and that’s what counts!

    @James Woodward: Sorry, no pictures inside but if you get them out of the library chances are high someone will have scribbled a big old cock and balls in the margin. Hey, Howard Hawks’ Superman would have rocked, thanks for thinking that up! I don’t want to make you unhappy but I was just trying to replicate Caine’s odd elocution as I don’t know owt about SCTV. I plead inadvertent plagiarism, m’lud! Well, I surely like RCM but I like his Dad’s I AM LEGEND more. That sure is one fine book.

    Thanks for your continued indulgence everyone!

  5. ‘This is the slightly disappointing second novel by Wu Ming who are an Italian collective of writers with a, to my eyes, somewhat Socialist bent’

    judgeing by your previous posts that means a bit of a communist bent to the rest of us ;)

  6. @Mark Thatcher: Okay, maybe they aren’t the easiest sell to The Land of The Free but Wu Ming have done some good books. Have a go, I promise they won’t pop round without warning and redistribute your wealth. Oh, and give my regards to your mother; thank her for the ’80s! Cheers!

  7. Here Alan Moore was dropping dead babies into swamps way back in 1986, Geoff Johns is innocent!

    I like the capsules, very much. But it isn’t very nice to talk about BWS without putting up scans.

  8. @mateor: Cheers! BWS makes scanners explode but we’ll see what the future brings. I guess Tucker’s late this week, huh? YES, I CAN SEE YOU MATEOR!

  9. Dude! You’ve been killing it every week with your excellent article and now you step your game up with book reviews? Ye cats!

    You read a *ton*! I could not possibly keep up with you. You don’t read easy little page-turners, either. You read the real stuff!

    The only book I can comment on intelligently is “Savages.” I thought it was a fun book. I thought he was lazy with the prose, though. The shame is the movie bears almost no resemblance to the book. So, ShortCut McShortyCut didn’t save himself any time there. But I thought the book was funny and it got me to read a lot about the affects to Navy SEALS after they served in desert wars.

    BTW – You totally got me reading James Elroy after mentioning him in passing a long time ago. I started with the Black Dalhia and his stuff is *awesome*.

  10. @Chris Hero: Oh, you are too, too kind as ever! Despite appearances all these books are entertaining first and foremost. I’m no smarty pants swanning about my ivory tower with my nose in the air! Then again, no, I won’t read Dan Brown shit. Life’s just too short, y’know.

    “ShortCut McShortyCut”,no benefit of the doubt from you, eh? Heh! That’s pretty funny if the film isn’t even like the screenplay bits in the book! Not a good film then? I like how you went on to read further about stuff Winslow brought up in the book. Yeah, he’s good at packaging informed research into pulpily entertaining narrative. I know I’ve learned a lot about drug culture, the real estate business and fire insurance reading his books. And Mexico, which sounds just a delightful place! I’m going out and about today so I’ll probably look for the prequel (The Kings of Cool)while I’ve got a couple of quid on me.

    Hey, glad you like James Ellroy! The Demon Dog is awesome! That reminds me, I want to see that Rampart movie some time. Man, James Ellroy. Always a good time.

    Thanks as ever, sir!

  11. Oliver Stone is CIA.

  12. Oliver Stone is CIA.

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