And there was Tom Hardy reading another story for cbeebies which is always quite magical. And this…
Maybe not quite as amusing or coherent a collection as 2016, but pretty all right…
Luke Cage: Hero for Hire — I loved these, much prefer Luke Cage to Black Panther though I am not sure why… But maybe I am. My adopted home ground may have been South Central LA not NY, but these are the gritty streets, the hustlers, the African American and Spanish-speaking mix, the dirty cops, the unfair prison rap that you can never come out from under, the community clinic hanging on by the skin of its teeth that I know and love… and I know it’s still almost all white writers, but there’s inker Billy Graham and he had a shot or two.
Look at this opening cover. Maybe I love Luke Cage because it is as much (or maybe more) noir than superhero comic, look at the elements up in this mix:
Straight out of (prison) hell to Harlem… Of course, it’s no surprise that I should think this is more like noir, because they make it hard to miss. There are all kinds of references, Luke’s just another PI, right?
There’s a homage to Dashiell Hammett in The Claws of Lionfang from Graham and Engelhardt, and a hint to what they’re kind of trying to do, but not too hard given Luke’s doing some of that ‘unromantic’ footwork, but it’s all to find a dude who can control giant cats with his mind:
There’s lot’s of this colourful language, like the writers can finally liberate themselves a little…
You gotta love Luke’s reactions to the superhero world too…
I loved this issue. Doom assumes he has to hire a black man to find escaped slave robots who have also disguised themselves as black so they can better hide themselves after they have fled? A creaky setup, but there are some fucking layers here. Reminds me too, of that crazy quote from Ross Macdonald’s The Ivory Grin:
“I think you said she was a Negro”
“I have no race prejudice–”
“I don’t mean that. Black girls are unfindable in this city. I’ve tried.”
— Lew Archer to client
There are these moment when the distance between worlds crystallizes into just a few words, the off-hand commonsensical acknowledgment of just what a segregated society white folks have created, but treat as just the way of things.
Billy Graham comes more to the fore in Retribution, where he is co-scripter and artist. A side story, one of many, showing Luke Cage just can’t stop himself from helping people in trouble, and in this case the victims are the construction workers destroying condemned tenements for ‘yet another round of urban renewal’, and finding themselves trapped (like the tenants once were? are still?).
See, you’re just not going to find references to urban renewal in the Fantastic Four or the other story lines, not like this. I know I shouldn’t be surprised at the world reflected here in such ways, yet still I am. Something about this black superhero allows things to be seen that are usually ignored completely. Then and now. They are suddenly part of the script, a sudden awareness of another reality.
Of course, the city in these stories plays its traditional role in the American consciousness — dangerous and dirty, home to criminals and those on the run. Still, it’s refreshing to see an ex-prison guard referred to in such terms, who’s the criminal now?
This guard advertises to find a job for himself in the personals? Almost makes you nostalgic….Check out these homemade costumes as well, they are pretty awesome…
Back to Rich Man: Iron Man — Power Man: Thief. George Tuska artist, Graham inker, Len Wein writer. And the moment Luke Cage becomes Luke Cage (Black) Power Man. A little Black Power never goes amiss. Sadly he also starts calling people sugar.
Of course in this world you can’t just take on a name like Power Man and think you won’t get challenged by the last dude who had that name already. This is from The Killer With My Name — Tony Isabella with assist from Len Wein, drawn Ron Wilson, inked V Colletta — check out those middle panels:
You can see, though, that they keep switching the team around, not like Black Panther who got a solid run at a consistent identity.
On to Essentials Book 2 – My old favourite flowery comic book philosopher, from the Black Panther in fact, Don McGregor writes some deep thoughts in Look What They’ve Done To Our Lives Ma!:
But in later issues the writing starts shifting around, as does Luke’s character. He is more and more violent, thinks less and less, then thinks more… they’re reaching to figure out what to do with him, so there’s Chicago storylines from Marv Wolfman as editor/plot and Ed Hannigan guest scripter, with Mace — just another vet who didn’t get the help with his PTSD that he needed:
Luke running around trying to foil some harebrained scheme. And still succeeding with the ladies…
I don’t know why these panels make me laugh at loud, but they do. By the end of the volume it’s C. Claremont and Tuska
My favourite issue will be in a separate post — good old Mace starts up a gated community in the middle of nowhere and they try to blow up the Greyhound Bus Luke is on because it comes too close to their territory… I can’t even begin to describe how interesting that set up is to someone working on race and geography. Jaw dropping really. So I’ll keep that separate. It’s been interesting watching Cage change, get reimagined, first to be kinder, then to be more physical — though in truth all he knows to do is just go smashing in no matter what the odds.
I love it.
Sadly at the end he teams up with Iron Fist.
Oh, Iron Fist.
I might write about that essentials Vol. 1, I read them because Luke Cage comes in at the end…I also like the women in those stories I confess.
I might write too about the new Luke Cage series. I enjoyed them immensely, though I’m a little bit conflicted about some things maybe.
Anyway, to end with a little salute to Billy Graham.
When we can’t wait…but sometimes we must
A year ago we traveled to Hamburg, and in looking for what to read to learn more about the town I stumbled across the extraordinary book by E.T.A. Hoffman (1766-1822): The Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr. Hoffman was a splendid author of books filled with horror and fantasy you see, and he created a character, a musician, called Kreisler who was a favourite of both Schumann and Brahms (who did grow up in Hamburg). I wrote more about the romantic ideals of genius and music here, based on the chapters about the enigmatic Kreisler found within The Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr. The tomcat, however — whose autobiography sits ensconced within the Kreisler manuscript given the cat recycled the papers for his own purposes — Murr himself I saved for later. Because at almost the same time I started reading Hoffman, I received as a gift Sōseki’s I am a Cat, a rather wonderful coincidence. It did take me a year to get through the second — a novel read just before going bed and put aside during my many travels and travails of 2016. But having some overlap between the two was rather wonderful, as they share similar views of just what a cat might say when it is granted the ability to write and use them in similar ways to satirise human society. From Murr’s own introduction to his work:
With the confidence and peace of mind native to true genius, I lay my life story before the world, so that the reader may learn how to educate himself to be a great tomcat, may recognize the full extent of my excellence, may love, value, honour and admire me — and worship me a little.
— Berlin, May 18–
Above all I loved the playfulness of the language, the mockery of the romantic sublime:
My new friendship had made a deep impression on me, so that as I sat in sun or shade, on the roof or under the stove, I thought of nothing, reflected on nothing, dreamed of nothing, was aware of nothing but poodle, poodle, poodle! I thereby gained great insight into the innermost essence of poodlishness which dawned upon me in brilliant colours, and the profound work mentioned above, to wit, Thought and Intuition, or Cat and Dog, was born of this perception.
He’s quite an author, Murr, reflecting on the purpose of life, the limitations of friendship, and of course, love:
‘I have made inquiries,’ continued Kitty, ‘into your circumstances, and learnt that you were called Murr and that as you lived with a very kindly man, you enjoyed not only an extremely handsome competence but every other comfort of life, comforts you could well share with a pretty wife. Oh yes, I love you very much, dear Murr!’
Poor Murr, she would, of course, betray him. It is a brilliant counterpoint, however, to the grand tragedy of the figure of Kreisler and the aristocrats surrounding him.
Sōseki Natsume (1867-1916) wrote a different sort of book, more focused on the banal philosophies of an eccentric band of friends centered around the middle-aged figure of teacher of English literature (just like Sōseki). It, too, mocks the characters and the mores and fashions of the times fairly remorselessly as they are related through a feline indifference.
Nor does it fail to highlight the self-esteem and self-centredness of cats:
However, by virtue of felinity, I can, better than all such bookmen, make myself invisible. To do what no one else can do is, of course, delightful. That I alone should know the inner workings of the Goldfield household is better than if nobody should know. Though I cannot pass my knowledge on, it is still cause for delight that I may make the Goldfields conscious that someone knows their secrets. In the light of this succession of delights, I boldly dare to believe my brain is delightful as well. (103)
every evening he makes a point of going to bed with a book which he does not read. Sometimes he makes a positive beast of himself and shuffles in with three or four boos tucked under his arms. For several days until a little while ago, it was his nightly practice to tote in Webster’s whacking great dictionary. I suppose this behavior reflects some kind of psychological ailment. (154)
And who should it be but our old friend Beauchamp Blowlamp. With his arrival the entire cast of the eccentrics who haunt my master’s house was gathered on stage. Lest that should sound ungracious, perhaps I could better emphasize that sufficient eccentrics are gathered to keep a cat amused… (213)
But still, I know that what I love most is the absurd voice of the cat. This, I confess, made me laugh out loud:
Postponing my sea bathing to some later date, I have anyway decided to make a start on some sort of exercise. In this enlightened twentieth century, any failure to take exercise is likely to be interpreted as a sign of pauperdom. … [a long list of absurd cat activities] … Perhaps my most interesting exercise is jumping suddenly from behind onto the children’s backs. However, unless I am extremely careful about the method and timing of such exploits, the penalties involved can be uncommonly painful. Indeed, I derive so very little pleasure from having my head stuffed deep in a paperbag that I only risk this splendid exercise three times, at most, in a month. … Yet another form of exercise is clawing the covers of books. (225-6)
Stuffing a cat’s head into a paper bag! Rare punishment indeed. In these pages there is a mockery of fashion, nudity, masculinity, marriage, neighbour rivalries, love, wealth, ambition, the exploits of school children at the neighboring school and more. Through it all the cat remains above looking down, supercilious:
If we don’t watch out, even cats may find their individualities developing along the lethal crushing pattern forecast for these two-legged loons. It’s an appalling prospect. Depression weighs upon me. Perhaps a sip of Sampei’s beer would cheer me up. (467)
There is even a delightful tribute to Hoffman:
I have always thought myself unique in my knowledge of mankind, but I was recently much surprised to meet another cat, some German mog called Kater Murr, who suddenly turned up and started sounding off in a very high-falutin’ manner on my own special subject. … If such a feline culture-hero was already demonstrating superior cat skills so long as a century ago, perhaps a good-for-nothing specimen like me has already outlived its purpose and should no more delay its retirement into nothingness. (467)
But this foreshadows the — in retrospect the only possible and maybe rather funny — ending, which I found so horrifying to read I do wish I had not read it at all, only read about it. Which is why this sort-of spoiler is here, in case you are thinking of reading it yourself. It’s not a book of dramatic arc so this hardly ruins any of it.
Anyway, two amazing books by cats. Seems that cats offer a good mirror through which to observe ourselves.
I’m in Wales. More distant, more opposite to the desert would be hard to find. And yet.
I sat alone tonight in the pub’s bow window to eat dinner, lucky enough to be able to hear the sea crashing underneath music and talk and footsteps and the clinking of glasses and cutlery. The sea’s sounding cut through all of it, a piece of the unfathomable wild to set us in our place. I was thinking that in my escape to farming in the spring and summer of last year, I found countryside and isolation, but little wildness. It is what I missed. Nothing of the fierceness, the everyday life and death, the beauty, the grandeur of the impossibly big. Its impossibility part of its nature, part of what changes you in becoming a tiny inconsequential part of it, and in that stretching just as far and wide and deep. So much of England is tamed, though I would never deny the wildness lies beneath and often comes through. But it is glimpses and glimmers, almost nostalgic.
The sound of waves. The immensity of ocean. Happiness as the desert brings me happiness. Tonight always at bottom the darkness, and the sound of waves.
On top the chattering of the maybe-twenty-somethings at the table next to me, a natural switch into Welsh. Talking about women to start, I am almost sure, there was that kind of laughter and rueful defense. But not the whole evening. We have Spanglish, I have no word to call upon for Wenglish, Engwelsh. Mostly Welsh, but ‘Fucking concrete walls’, I caught, other words and phrases here and there.
That makes me happy too, that Welsh should be surviving here. Being bilingual is a gift, the more words we have to communicate, the more differences in the structures in which we think, the better.
Above the waves, the Welsh, a song on the radio:
Sixpence None the Richer, Kiss Me. I first heard this in the late nineties, entering my second year in LA. Maybe it’s the year it came out? The year my friend Jenny started work at CARECEN with me, this was her roommate Kristen’s favourite song for a while. There were four of them, Jesuit volunteers — my time at CARECEN was marked by their year-long terms there. Jenny’s year I got along best with the whole crew of them, they were all young like me, trying to find love and life in LA. I left downtown’s salsa and rock en español clubs with them to stare at wannabe actors and Hollywood hipsters in the impossibly cool bars on Sunset Strip and in Los Feliz. With them I went to dance with UCLA students in far away Westwood, heard the Dave Matthews Band and other similar kinds of tunes for the first time. I preferred cumbias and rock en español. But still, it was something. Their apartment is where I escaped to when the crazy women threw a rock through my window and started screaming she was going to kill me. I slept on their couch, after watching three hours of BBC’s Pride and Prejudice while they were all asleep. So it this song and Colin Firth I associate with Jenny and that LA year.
Funny to hear it here, as a background to completely different lives, experiences, languages. I thought about how our identities are intertwined with songs like this one, how funny that each of us could have such different stories. Or complete indifference. Regardless, a toast to my old friends, to good memories.
As I finished off my pint of Ancient Warrior — not for the faint hearted or the Strongbow drinker, and possibly the partial inspiration for this — Liverpool began playing Southampton. I miss soccer too. Southampton had more heart, put in more effort, but Liverpool had the skills. They have those moments where everything becomes effortless, you watch it with every pass pitch perfect and that shot that hits the back of the net.
I miss those moments when you are somehow completely, perfectly connected as a team. You know exactly where everyone is, you feel it, you are moving together, and the ball is collectively yours. Effortlessly you pass it from one to the other, it can’t miss. When it is your turn, you hit the sweet spot. It never lasts for too long, especially with amateurs like us, but damn. Magic. When I see it embodied in play I feel it all again, the only reason to watch professional football.
These are so far from Obama’s tears in his final speech, from Trump’s press conference and golden showers, from Coretta Scott King’s 1986 denunciations of a racist Jefferson Sessions even now going through confirmation hearings, from an NHS so destroyed by Tory cuts the red cross is stepping in, from Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico and every other place where people struggle against violence and fear… I suppose such moments of wildness, moments of fond memory, moments of perfect cooperation are the things that help keep us as whole as we can be. I suppose struggle makes up some of the rest.
New Year’s was golden this year, spent at home in Tucson with Mark and Dan, Mum and Julie. We had my favourite soup and biscuits and pumpkin pie and wines still and sparkling. We talked through the new year and then Mum and Julie left the three of us still talking until late late.
Our last night was golden too. We bought mum a record player for Christmas, and so sat around playing old records. Some of them are mine, bought in LA years and years ago, the others we aren’t quite sure where they came from. I remember buying the songs of the Grand Ole Opry (the amazing Dolly Parton singing Mule Skinner Blues), but did I buy Don Williams (Amanda is one of my mum’s all time favourite songs, whether Waylon’s or Don’s — possibly because she too decided not to become a gentleman’s wife) and Jimmie Rodgers (In the Jailhouse Now) and Eddie Arnold (oh man, Cattle call, amazing)? There were three polka records, they must have been Ricki’s, she lived with us for a while but long before we knew her she owned a Polka bar in Chicago. She told me once she left because the mob requested the use of her basement. Those were pretty terrible, well, the one we listened to. Yet at the same time they sounded so much like the Mexican music I am more familiar with and do like, I couldn’t quite say why I prefer it, I kind of want to puzzle how they connect. I’d have to listen to the old Polish records more I guess. Then a couple of old falling apart albums that must, must have belonged to my grandfather I think, and come when my grandmother came to live with us. Ancient foxtrots. La Marseillaise. Tchaikovsky.
I can’t remember what else, but it’s been a long time since I just sat around and listened to things, almost all of them a surprise.
Family and walks in the desert and good food and sitting around talking and lots of reading, music, Rogue 1, El Corral, roadtripping and dreams of gardening in space…the days I will remember. The haven that still remains for us, which I am so thankful for in this world where that remains for so few.
I took pictures of the best covers, but lost my phone on the flight home. Gone too are the pictures of the Tucson Botanical gardens, cacti, the hommage to Frida and Diego’s Casa Azul, me and mum being a two headed butterfly.
I took no pictures in Nogales, where everything has changed. It was almost empty, making people less anonymous in the streets. Tourists now too afraid to come here. The wall is not as big as Tijuana’s I don’t think, but still too big, rust red, dividing people from their people, animals from their habitat, water from its dispersion, migratory birds from their pathways and often their lives. Most of the little shops I remember have closed down, and it is weird to miss the tourists but you can see how much harder life is in people’s faces. It is weird to miss the hordes of kids selling chiclets, but I know their absence isn’t because kids and their families are no longer driven by poverty to make some extra money, but because there is no one to be generous. I wonder how they survive now. There are four casinos that give free meals to get people in the door, the shop owner I was talking too said it with anger, because people eat and then gamble away their money because there is no hope of anything else. There are more pharmacies than I could believe possible, though that’s the reason we were down there I confess, I had forgotten my prescription. I suppose business will pick up more once the Republicans have succeeded dismantling Obamacare, we have a tradition of buying medicine in Mexico. Dental care. Glasses. Another shop owner (from him we bought tiles) pulled out his wallet to show us ticket stubs from the Tucson Convention Centre going back to the 70s. For some reason the only one I can remember now is Deep Purple.
I finally bought a ceramic parrot, the kind I have wanted since the first time we ever went to Nogales, decades I have wanted one. Now I want two more, so they hang from my ceiling like they still do in one or two remaining stores, a glad cascade of wild colour uncaged.
I have settled for colour and reminders of warmth and home instead of gambling I suppose.
Last year was so bleak, I had to sit and reflect on it in a blog for Verso, and it hurt to do it. 2017 doesn’t look much better. Still the struggle goes on, I’ll be part of it from Manchester now, have to find the best way to plug in and do what I can though all I feel is tired. Have to finish my book rewrites. Have to write more articles. Have to finish book one of the trilogy I have in mind and a little on paper. Want to read so much more. Have to find a little more hope that words can have any impact at all, or marches, or letters, or protests. Have to exercise, eat better. Have to get to know Manchester. Have to fill into my new job, find my new directions. Have to stay in touch better, respond more quickly to emails.
Have to spend more time with the people I love.
Those are the times that are golden.