Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review: Secret Invasion

Secret Invasion Secret Invasion by Brian Michael Bendis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's obviously a huge task to establish, narrate, and then wrap up a cohesive narrative in a single graphic novel, when that narrative has been the basis of a massive, company-wide story line that has run for a significant amount of time over a wide range of titles. Even so, this feels truncated and somehow lightweight. It breezes across all the major story points without given any weight or time to anything, leaving the result feeling like a series of random team-ups punching on without any coherence or consequence. Characters act without logic, turning points breeze past without any importance, and the climactic solution, when it arrives, pretty much happens within two panels, isn't explained our expanded upon, and leaves the reader wondering what the whole point of anything was. The whole thing is tied together with Bendis' usual character weaknesses-- everybody is witty, snappy, and ultimately, sounds exactly the same as everybody else. The whole thing is fun, in a kind of guest-star-of-the-week kind of way, but for the climax of a major story line, it all feels rather inconsequential.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Review: The Murder Of Nellie Duffy

The Murder Of Nellie Duffy The Murder Of Nellie Duffy by Stephanie Bennett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An intriguing examination of a notorious Northern Queensland murder in the early years of the 20th Century, which picks apart the various personalities at the remote cattle station at which it happened, as well as the gross incompetency of the police and the possible interference on the part of the powerful meat company that owned the property. The insight into the treatment of women and Aborigines of the time is stark, and at times confronting. Narrated as a straight retelling of the known facts, it presents a compelling mosaic of the attitudes and culture of the time.

Bennett's style is slightly messy, and doesn't do quite enough to keep all the players on the board, so that when certain names crop up late in the narrative it takes too long to recall how they fit into the story. The book is further weakened by Bennett's predilection for speculating on motives and reasons, often spinning narrative chains with little more than supposition to go on. The second to last chapter, where she presents her own theory as to the murderer and the reasons for their actions, is gossamer-thin and weakens the book considerably.

Had she avoided the conceit of her own imagination, and simply laid out all the pieces of what is an engrossing mystery in its own right, this would have been a much stronger and more compelling read. As it is, it slips towards the 'amateur historian' style of writing, and is merely a good book when it could have been a must-read.

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Friday, February 02, 2018

Review: Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler's Defeat

Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler's Defeat Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler's Defeat by Giles Milton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Absolutely fascinating insight into the formation, development, and successes of a typically British endeavour: a disparate collection of professional soldiers, backyard garage boffins, Oxbridge Mafia types and gentlemen of ill-repute who were drawn together to create the definite rule book and arsenal of sabotage, assassination, and guerrilla warfare.

Milton draws on multiple sources to provide a comprehensive and seamless narrative, including the campaign of obstruction that was waged against the department by members of the military hierarchy, particularly Air Command. The result is an intricate and compelling account of a hidden war that defied the known rules and brought enormous success to the Allied cause, as well as the complex and unusual personalities who drove it. Fantastic stuff.


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Friday, January 19, 2018

Review: Justice League of America: Power & Glory

Justice League of America: Power & Glory Justice League of America: Power & Glory by Bryan Hitch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Superman is a religiously-gullible rube, The Flash is an idiot, Green Lantern is a morose quitter, and once again the JLA is confronted by an impossible to beat antagonist, only to defeat it by a combination of mysterious, one-time only outsider assistance and because-the-narrative-requires it. And yet, Hitch manages to make everything progress so smoothly and at such a pace that it all seems to work, and you find yourself happily swept up in it all. The wheels fall off towards the end, as the narrative begins to creak under the weight of the spiralling absurdity and lack of logic, but it's still enjoyable, and the kind of slick escapism that is perfect for a lazy afternoon on the sofa.

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Review: JSA: The Golden Age

JSA: The Golden Age JSA: The Golden Age by James Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gorgeous artwork, a beautiful balance between superheroic nostalgia and historic paranoia, and plenty of over-the-top revelations that carry the whiff of the best of 1950s B-grade monster movies, all delivered with a straight face and a perfectly balanced respect for, and love of, the various elements. A wonderful volume for the geekiest of JSA fans, those with a memory of the-way-comics-used-to-be, and those who enjoy a finely balanced combination of artwork and narrative.

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Monday, January 08, 2018

Review: Writers on Writing

Writers on Writing Writers on Writing by James Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An absorbing and educational collection with writers from the 2000 Adelaide Festival of Arts. The majority of advice within is on-point and sensible, even 17 years after the fact, and most of it is delivered with a refreshing lack of pompousness and self-aggrandizement. A worthy addition to any writer's shelf, and valuable for simply dropping in and out of or ploughing right through. Inspirational and essential.

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Sunday, January 07, 2018

Review: The Best American Mystery Stories 2011

The Best American Mystery Stories 2011 The Best American Mystery Stories 2011 by Harlan Coben
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fantastic collection of crime stories, running the gamut from hard-boiled to cozy, from urban to rural, and from the humorous to the downright chilling.


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Friday, January 05, 2018

Review: Green Lanterns, Volume 2: The Phantom Lantern

Green Lanterns, Volume 2: The Phantom Lantern Green Lanterns, Volume 2: The Phantom Lantern by Sam Humphries
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good, solid Green Lantern story, clearly identifying enemies on two fronts and leavening the action with crisp dialogue and lightly-handled interactions between the main and supporting characters. The character arc of the titular antagonist makes for a potentially worthwhile addition to the Lantern Rogues Gallery, and deals directly-- and in a more effective way-- with the question that consumes the rookie Green Lanterns Baz and Cruz: what if you give everything you have to the cause, and it still just isn't good enough?

Two GNs in, and my main quibble with this series remains: I still struggle to see what the point of creating 2 new GNs *is*, particularly as Baz and Cruz remain little more than an assemblage of tics without any real sense of a character arc. Perhaps they'll grow into something extraordinary and ground-breaking. Right now, the writing and plotting far exceeds the characters themselves.

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Review: The Who's Who of British Crime: In the Twentieth Century

The Who's Who of British Crime: In the Twentieth Century The Who's Who of British Crime: In the Twentieth Century by Jim Morris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Short entries, as befits a Who's Who, with length seemingly determined not so much by notoriety or impact as how easily available the source text was. The writing style is variable, indicating a slapdash approach or weak editing of a manuscript collated over an extended period of time, and there are numerous lapses in both language and viewpoint-- Morris strays regularly from a factual detail to engage in philosophical moralising of the man-at-the-end-of-the-bar variety.

Handy as a quick flick-through book in support of other, meatier texts, but not an essential part of any bookshelf by a long way.

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Friday, December 01, 2017

GOODBYE, GOODBYE, WE'RE LEAVING NOW, TATTY-BYE

The final days of the 18 Month Plan (tm) are now in full effect, and one of the things I need to accomplish to make our new adventure work is to simplify things as much as possible.



So, after nearly 15 years, and over 1650 posts, it's time to close the Battersblog. For the last year or so, I've been slowly moving operations over to my website at The Batthaim, and all my new posts will appear there from now on.


If you've been following me here for any length of time, my thanks, and I look forward to seeing you at The Batthaim for wine and nibblies. If this is your first visit here, feel free to look around and join us when you can.


Feel free to catch up at my Facebook and Instagram pages. And if you'd like to splash out a dollar or ten per month to help me continue to create art, and you're attracted by the thought of receiving exclusive stories, cartoon art, critiques writing exercises, and more, you might like to check out my Patreon page.


Either way, goodnight Battersblogians. On to the Batthaim.




Friday, November 24, 2017

WELL NOW, THIS WHOLE 18 MONTH PLAN THING IS GETTING EXCITING

I've uploaded the first exclusive, Patron-only, 500 word story to my Patreon page. Resurrection is a nasty little tale of betrayal, and revenge, with a lesson: if you're going to hurt someone, be very sure of just whom you're hurting. And the only place you'll read it is on my Patreon page.

Come February, all patrons pledging $2 or more will receive an exclusive story every month.
The page will feature 7 tiers of rewards, ranging from patron-only journal entries, to free stories, cartoons, the power to choose subjects for '5 for Friday' posts, writing exercises, WIP excerpts, and manuscript assessments (and more).

Check out Patreon to learn more about this arts patronage program. My page will officially launch in the last week of January. Isn't it all *terribly* exciting?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY 'AS BEEN UP T' PIT



I can't think of a single reason why I would have drawn this. Offered purely for a sense of completism. (It's a word: shut up)


0217



"And in return, Management will commit to not shouting out 'Suckah!' in a (?) voice every time we pass a staff member in the corridors."

Friday, November 17, 2017

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: SERIAL KILLER SONGS

It's no great secret that I'm fascinated by murder. My bookcases are filled with True Crime books. My DVD collection is riddled with thrillers and biopics about infamous killers. I've written plenty of stories involving nasty people doing nasty things to people nastily.

One little sideline that escapes notice is the number of songs in my playlist that are devoted to murderers. Serial killers in particular. The truth is, serial killers may represent the basest and most disturbed corridors of the human psyche, but there is no denying that they are a fascinating sort of maelstrom for an artist to gaze into.

So here are five of my favourite songs about serial killers from the depths of my playlist.

Enjoy.


Five for Friday: Serial Killer Songs


Jack the Ripper-- Screaming Lord Sutch.

Ah, what to say about Screaming Lord Sutch? True English eccentric. Founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. Artist behind the album widely considered the worst album of all time. And the man who turned this obscure Clarence Stacy song into the beginning of his descent into National Treasure status. It's 2 minutes and 50 seconds of horror-psychedelia insanity, as out of tune with the early 1960's England that spawned it as Sutch would remain. But if you love Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, early Genesis, Marilyn Manson...... this is the Big Bang, the dawn of the Universe. It remains delightfully loopy, a schlock-horror masterpiece to be treasured in exactly the way we love 1950s monster movies.






John Wayne Gacy Jr-- Sufjan Stevens

He's the modern-day Donovan for the Bible Belt: a dipsy waif with a voice that trembles somewhere between Tori Amos and Emo Phillips and a catalogue of beautifully orchestrated ballads about the weirdnesses hidden like pearls inside the mundane. And then there's this. Part of Come On, Feel The Illinoise, the second (and final) stop-over in his ill-fated 50 States project-- an ambitious intent to record 50 albums over 50 years, detailing the cultural histories of each American state-- Stevens' gentle delivery and heart-rending intonations almost... almost... do the unthinkable and get you starting to feel...... is that sympathy?...... for this tortured, torturing beast. It is an emotional tour-de-force of bewildering bedevilment.






Night Shift-- Siouxsie and the Banshees

From their insanely good 1981 Juju album, this is the Banshees at their brooding, post-punk best. And at their most confronting-- it's a first-person point of view reference to the Yorkshire Ripper released less than a year after the man himself was finally caught. The music swirls and fractures in time with lyrics that get progressively darker and shattered, all underpinned by one of the most chillingly deadpan refrains in popular music: that robotic repetition of fuck the mothers, kill the others; fuck the others, kill the mothers just gets creepier and creepier every time you listen to it. It's brilliant stuff.






Suffer Little Children-- The Smiths

At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum-- a song from the most emo band of all time, direct from Manchester, expressing the despair and heartbreak left by the crimes that swallowed Manchester, at a time when the killers had yet to fully admit their guilt and provide some release. There's no dancing around the subject here: this is the Smiths directly addressing the Moors Murders. They name names. They remind their audience of the children who were taken. The refuse to dress anything in analogy or innuendo. There's always the risk in a Smiths song that Morrissey's internal drama queen will override the message. Not here. It's direct, it's tragic, and he keeps his vocal performance just the right side of Johnny Ray. Listening now, knowing that the song was released when-- and names-- only 3 of the 5 Moors murder victims were known, gives it that extra tinge of tragedy. It's not for the easily upset.






The Ballad of Charles Whitman-- Kinky Friedman 

Okay, so Whitman was a spree killer, rather than a serial killer. But after all the doom and gloom, I think we need to lighten the mood a wee bit, don't you?

Kinky Friedman is an acquired taste. Think of him as a particularly puckish, bad-taste evil twin of Tom Lehrer, and you're in roughly the right territory. Along with his band, the Texas Jewboys, he's made a career of poking fun at the pomposity and bigotry of the flag-wrapped American Gold Old Boy, usually using his own pompous, flag-wrapped stage persona as the easiest target. And, if you get the joke, he can be fucking hilarious. None so more than here: a darkly black humorous ode to the man who popularised shooting up schools an all-American pastime. The fact that Friedman was a student at the University at the time of the shooting only adds another layer of black to the humour.



Thursday, November 16, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY HAS NOTHING TO APOLOGISE FOR



Da da da da da da daaaaaaaaaa-aaaaaahhhh, JOKE!

Sorry. I'm so, so sorry.


0103

"I'm afraid the problem is simple. You're suffering from premature extermination."

Friday, November 10, 2017

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: 47 NOT OUT















I turn 47 tomorrow. There's no hiding it: I am well and truly middle-aged, and looking down the barrel of being old.



I'm worried about my future. I feel like I've not achieved the things I want to achieve in life, and with a mortgage, a family, and all the responsibilities that come with being a fat, middle-class, hairy man, many of those things are now, realistically, beyond me: I will never fly a fighter jet; I will never be a practicing paleontologist; there's a very real chance I will never join G-Force.




G-Force
"Is he... dressed... as a flamingo?"


I'm also worried that my achievements are all in the past. As I've aged, and responsibilities have multiplied, I've lost space and time for the selfishness that seems to be a requirement of the single-minded pursuit of excellence. It's not like I come from a family of high achievers, either: I can't think of single thing of lasting importance that the generations of my family before me have contributed to the world-- and my Father's side of the family has been traced back over 500 years, so you know, I'm not exactly riding the crest of a wave here.




Henry

Seriously, this is about as good as it gets.


So, with this uncertainty accounted for, and with a determination to rail against the fortunes of wilting capacity, it's time to take stock and consider five things I've done that set me apart from centuries of familial mediocrity. And, given it's my birthday, to lay out a set of markers to keep me moving forward into my onrushing dotage.






Five for Friday: 47 Not Out






Five for the Highlight Reel



1. A Degree of Separation. 

I come from working class stock. Both strings of my family are good, old-fashioned working-class folk. Higher learning, as I was informed in, literally, these words, "is not for people like us". When my father left us in my early teens, he consigned us to genuine hardship. Even with 'free' education, I had to scratch and fight just to finish High School. To then spend three years studying an arts degree with no guaranteed job advantage at the end of it was, depending upon your point of view, an act of extreme self-interest or my first great statement of independence: I was not, no matter what, going to end up breaking my body and mind on the same shop floor as my father.



I spend my professional lives (I have two. Sue me: I'm greedy) surrounded by Masters and Doctors. A mere Graduate Diploma is nothing to these people. But in the context of what I escaped, and what I had to do to get out, this was my first real achievement in life.






2. Don't Applaud, Throw Money

I spent three years, in my early 20s, working as a stand up comedian. I wasn't a great one: indeed, after developing a bad case of the yips in my final 6 months, I wasn't even a good one. But, for a short while, I was a professional performer, pitting my words and talent against a room full of strangers for the right to choose what I ate that week. The lessons I learned-- about brevity, about construction, about pacing and timing and how to work a crowd-- have been invaluable in my professional career. I speak well in public. My writing carries the same voice I was developing on stage. I can use a microphone, a stage, my voice, my presence. I can ad-lib. I can adapt. And I've been a practicing artist ever since: 25 years and counting since I first took to the stage.






3. Let Me Show You My Doodle

For a long time, it was a toss of the coin as to whether I was going to pursue writing or cartooning as my creative career. In my early days, I set out to do both, before my natural economic cowardice took over and I opted to settle into a day job and accept food instead of risk. My drawing skills weren't brilliant in those pre-internet days, where the ability to create and foster your own ongoing webpage was not an option, and selling to magazines required a combination of drafting, writing, and drawing skills that could compete on the open market. But I was working on it, and I was improving: I sold a few, here and there, and it was definitely something I could have pursued.



I was partway through the first semester of a Design diploma when I met the woman who would become my first wife. And I faced a choice: I couldn't manage a day job, a relationship, and two art careers. My writing was slightly more advanced: I dropped the cartooning. But, for a while, I was selling cartoons, and following in the footsteps of some of my artistic heroes. Readers of my Thumbnail Thursday series will know that I still have my sketches, and still value them. And with my upcoming change of circumstance, and the greater freedom to build an audience on the artist's own merits that the internet affords, a return to developing my skills may just be on the cards.


HMVKill
I had my moments. 


4. Take a Town and Change It

I've lived in Rockingham, on and off, since I was 8 years old. There's something about this place: I've never lived anywhere that offers the same combination of beaches, cosmopolitan living, country lifestyle, accessibility to major conurbations (You can reach Perth, Fremantle, Bunbury, and the Darling Ranges all in under an hour), services, and recreation. It's perfectly placed. The Rockingham foreshore is the only North-facing beach south of Way Up North (tm). Rates are reasonable. The City boundaries are 25 kilometres apart, North-South, and something like 15 kilometres West-East.



There's 37 kilometres of coastline, numerous islands and bays and beaches to suit everything from paddling toddlers to diving to sailing to hard-core surfing. Plenty of bushland for horse riding and motor-cross. There are market gardens and art galleries, thrombolites and little penguins. I love this City. It's part of my psyche, and part of my blood. I've moved away three or four times over the years-- and I'm about to do so again-- but I always come back.



And I may be about to leave a job that has soured on me, but I'll do so knowing that, having been responsible for the installation of several pieces of public art among all the things I've done in the last 8 years, I have changed the physical nature of the City in a very real way. Public statuary comes with an expected lifespan-- there are pieces I've placed in front of buildings that have been in constant use since I was a child that have lifespans that ensure they will outlive me.



Here's one example. This is Safety Bay Library. It's been a library since 1972, seven years before I arrived. But that sculpture in front of it has only been there for three years.








I visited this library when I was a child. There are children visiting it now who will never know it without the sculpture I've placed there. They'll also never know I existed, but for the rest of their lives, when they picture the library, they'll see the sculpture. I've changed the physical nature of that building for generations. It's a small, secret egotism, but I love this city, and there are parts of it that will be forever changed because I was able to do this. That means something to me that I can't yet articulate. But there it is.






5. The Writing of the Words Down on the Paper

Yeah, so it's a bit obvious: let's be honest, it's the reason why most of us are here, reading all this self-indulgent nonsense. But the writing industry has done so much more for me than enable me to put out bits of paper with my name on them.



I met my beloved Luscious because of writing.



It's taken me to two continents as well as Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, the ACT and (oddly) Parramatta; made me innumerable friends (and critics and people who hate me: *waves*); been my ticket to festivals and conventions in four states. I've been gifted original art works (and a jar of pickles). Been drunk while dressed in nothing more than a "Padme's handmaiden" costume. Danced to a lone bagpiper in an underground LA carpark at 7 in the morning. Lost a shoe to the La Brea tar pits. Practiced forging the signature of a long-dead artist on a footpath with a twice-World Fantasy Award-winner. Launched the works of people I admire. Ridden a Dalek through the foyer of a museum. Experienced camaraderie and collegiate friendship in a way I've never done anywhere else.

Watched friends soar.



Writing has given me a world.







Future Five from the World of Tomorrow

Well, that's the past taken care of. But I plan to be a long time dead (I don't want to have to go through all this again) so here's five things I want to do before the ghosts of future past claim me.


1. Learn to play a musical instrument

When I was a teenager, I scratched together enough money for a cheap guitar and some lessons. I'd managed a few simple songs (I remember one of them was Love Me Tender, but not what the others were). Then, one day I came home from school, and: no guitar! Turned out, my brother had overreached himself, and finally stolen something too big for me not to notice. My loss was his drug money. Kind of kicked the stuffing out of me, to be honest, and I never had the heart to pick the hobby back up.



I've always regretted that loss of heart, particularly as Master 12 has occasionally flirted with taking seriously the guitar he picked up at a garage sale some time back. It's possible that the 18 Month Plan might have to accommodate some Father-Son finger picking.



blackandredcape

This is me. This is who I am, now. 





2. Travel through Europe

There's nothing terribly deep about this. I left England when I was five. I've never been back. I want to see Europe before I die. All those museums. All those famous landmarks. All that history.






3. Exhibit in an art exhibition

As mentioned above, I was just beginning to develop my visual art skills when Real Life (tm) took me in a different direction. I've been playing with Lego (see what I did there?) as an art material for the last couple of years, and have exhibited at a couple of community Lego displays. I'm keen to see if I can marry my various visual interests together and exhibit in a general exhibition.






4. Work for myself

I've long been obsessed with determining my own destiny: a by-product, I think, of striving so hard to raise myself above a family history of willing servitude, as well as certain amount of leave-me-alone-ishness in my character. I have frequent bouts of desperate desire to get off the grid-- to raise my own vegetables, herd wild solar panels, and knit my own yoghurt. With a decade of arts administration behind me, a couple of years away from the traditional work place, and the time and space to set up my own arts consultancy, this might be the put-up-or-shut-up moment I've been looking for.






5. Support a living wage through arts practice

And, ultimately, this is what it's all about. Of all the things I've ever wanted to be-- pilot, paleontologist, football player-- being a full-time artist is the one that has burned most brightly, and for longest.



Writing, consulting, visual art, cartooning, my upcoming Patreon account...... it all adds up to one thing: to create, to contribute to the financial well-being of my family via my creations; to change the sum total of the Universe.



To be an artist would be a fine thing indeed.




Cutey Boy Apr06

This is me. This is who I am, now. 

Thursday, November 09, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY TURNS IT UP TO 11



It took me a few moments to work out what was going on in this one. That's a giant speaker on the right: the guy in front has played a chord, and it's blown his skin right off his skeleton. A perfect example of something that would have looked great when it was fully drawn, if I had the skill, but the thumbnail shows I wouldn't have had the skill to do it.

Stick to writing. Stick to writing.


0017


"We'll take it."