Thursday, 19 April 2018

How I learned to accept that Morrissey is a twat



'Miserable Lie' was the song where it all clicked for me.

On previous attempts to appreciate the Smiths I had found them morose and impenetrable. But one evening in 1997 I decided to give their first album a go and by the third track I was completely hooked. Everything great about the Smiths and their singer Morrissey is present in 'Miserable Lie'. It starts off slow and mournful and then suddenly transforms into a melodramatic and self-deprecating teenage diary entry about being really terrible at having it off, sang in falsetto. It's a very silly song and I love it.

After that I got all the other Smiths albums and found the same mixture of camp, wit, melodrama, self-deprecation, and sincerity. I loved Johnny Marr's music but it was Morrissey's voice, lyrics, and persona that really drew me to the band. It's not hard to see why songs about misery and loneliness and being really terrible at having it off would appeal to a teenager, but lots of bands offer that. Morrissey delivered it all in a unique, over the top way that echoed how huge these things seem to a teenager while at the same time acknowledging how ridiculous it all was.

Another aspect of Morrissey that appealed to me was his honesty. He was unapologetically a pop star, but he was doing it his way. Even with all the imitators that followed him he was still like no other pop star around. And if occasionally he had said some problematic stuff in interviews, well, that's what happens when you're uncompromising. If you speak what's on your mind without dressing it up to protect your image like all the other pop stars then occasionally you're going to say some things that get you into trouble.

In 1999 I saw Morrissey live for the first time. It was a couple of years after his poorly received album, Maladjusted (which I loved) and he was in between record contracts. I was in the first year of University at Swansea and I couldn't find anybody to go with me, so I went on my own. When I bought the ticket in a local record shop about a month in advance I asked the girl behind the counter if there were any tickets left and she laughed, "yeah, a few". On the night of the gig I got a taxi from the Student Village to the Brangwyn Hall and the taxi driver said "Morrissey? He's an old has-been isn't he?"

Brangwyn Hall was only half full, but everybody there was completely devoted to him. Morrissey opened with 'You're Gonna Need Someone On Your Side' and he swished and cracked the microphone lead like a bullwhip. At one point he threw his West Ham United t-shirt into the crowd and two men gripped on to either end of it in a sweaty tug-of-war, neither one willing to let the precious memento go, until Morrissey himself had to intervene. He also threw a banana into the crowd and a few years later I befriended the girl who had caught it. She kept it in her freezer for two years until a power cut defrosted it and turned it to mush. He finished the night with an encore of the Smiths' 'Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me'. Every single person in the audience knew every lyric to every song.

Before Morrissey came on that night a group of 'lads' behind me had been chanting "WE LOVE YOU MOZZA, WE DO". They spotted an Asian teenager in front of me who was standing by himself and they began to chant over my head  "IT'S BRUCIE LEE! WE LOVE YOU BRUCIE! WE DO!" I remember rolling my eyes and thinking that this must be an example of the racist contingent of Morrissey fandom that I'd heard something about. I did nothing to help the teen. Halfway through the set the teen ran onto the stage and hugged Morrissey, whispering desperately in his ear as the bouncers dragged him away.

After that gig I went from being a fan to a devoted disciple of Morrissey. Throughout my teenage years a combination of being bullied, a desperation to be liked, and my own cruelty had turned me into the most craven, weaselly kind of bully. During my time at University I had begun to deal with the great shame I felt for my behaviour and I spent most of my time ruminating on my deeds and hating myself. In retrospect it's no wonder I became obsessed with a man who seemed to apologise for nothing.

I hated the NME but would buy it every time it had the smallest paragraph about Morrissey, even if it was slagging him off. I learned about how the NME had turned on Morrissey and accused him of racism. During conversations about him I would say things like "if you actually listen to the lyrics of  'National Front Disco' you'll hear that while he may be singing from the perspective of a would be member of a fascist party, he's not actually signalling any approval of the song's protagonist's choices." I never mentioned the songs 'Bengali in Platforms' or 'Asian Rut' much.

With the release of You Are The Quarry in 2004 Morrissey was popular once again. He seemed to have made friends with the NME, and there was a documentary about him on TV narrated by Christopher Eccleston where he had tea with Nancy Sinatra and Alan Bennett. It became easier to ignore the odd "dodgy" song and all the videos with skinheads in them. I still listened to the Smiths and Morrissey every day. I bought bootleg videos of his concerts and downloaded B-Sides and Morrissey covers of Bowie songs over Limewire. I became a vegetarian for two years.

Morrissey would continue to give interviews and in each one there would be something that stood out. Ill informed comments about immigration, or a dig at the Chinese. Over time "he says the odd dodgy thing" became "I don't agree with anything he says but I love him", which eventually became "I try and separate the art from the artist." By the time World Peace Is None Of Your Business came out in 2014 I had decided that there was Morrissey the man, who was immature, ignorant, and out of touch with the real world, and there was Morrissey the fictitious pop star persona, who had spoken to me through his music as a teen and who I still loved. This was enough for a while, even in 2016, when he hailed the loathsome Nigel Farage and George Galloway as "liberal educators".

And then came May 2017, when Morrissey used the Manchester Arena bomb attack as an opportunity to deliver a racist dog whistle rant on Facebook that earned him the approval of far-right bastards of note, Paul Joseph Watson and Milo Yiannopoulos. This was followed a few months later by an interview in which he gave a victim blaming defence of Kevin Spacey, who had been facing allegations of sexual abuse. I realised that I was embarassed to be known as a Morrissey fan. He wasn't just a man whose politics differed from my own. I had a picture of a racist and an abuse apologist above my desk at work and I was suddenly mortified.

I am not judging anybody who can still separate the art from the artist. I wish I still could. I would love to be able to still listen to 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out', 'Reel Around The Fountain', 'Bigmouth Strikes Again', 'Rusholme Ruffians', 'Why Don't You Find Out For Yourself', 'Trouble Loves Me', 'Late Night Maudlin Street', 'I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday', and the rest without getting angry at myself. I probably will again some day.

But for now, I'm not angry at myself because I listened to and loved the music of someone with problematic views. I'm angry because the one thing I can't accuse Morrissey of is deceiving anyone. After all, one of the things that first drew me to him was his honesty. Morrissey has always told us who he is. I deceived myself about who he is.

A miserable lie.

Friday, 30 March 2018

The Grim and Gritty Movie Committee - Episode Two: Josh Trank's Fantastic Four


It's the second episode of The Grim and Gritty Movie Committee, the podcast where two men who have been chained together for over 30 years by a mutual love of superheroes discuss superhero films.

This time me and Madeley discuss the film literally nobody liked except me, Josh Trank's Fantastic Four. Find out what I could possibly find to like about it, and if Madeley agrees with me.

It can be found on iTunes

And Soundcloud:

UPDATE: We've fixed the sound so the musical interludes won't make your ears bleed!


Please listen, share, comment, and subscribe!

Also, follow us on Twitter! 




Monday, 26 March 2018

All the Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies from Worst to Best

Recently on Facebook, Duy Tano of the Comics Cube listed his overall ranking of every movie in the MCU based on his personal enjoyment rather than objective quality. He also challenged his followers to do the same. How could I resist?


18. Thor: The Dark World
There's still lots to admire about this film (mainly Hiddleston and Hemsworth), but the drama of the finale is undermined by the humour, Christopher Eccleston is buried under make up and given very little to work with, and honestly, it's a little bit dull.

17. Avengers: Age of Ultron
I really enjoyed Tony Stark's continuing character development, and James Spader is always fun, but the Vision is farted into life fully formed, and Ultron's motives are sketchy. This is probably the only MCU film that fails at juggling multiple characters and plot threads at the same time.

16. Doctor Strange
This film has a great cast and is pretty enjoyable overall, but it suffers from a weak villain and Strange's education in the mystic arts seems rushed.

15. Ant-Man
Like Doctor Strange this film feels quite slight when compared to other MCU films, but there's something about it that's made me watch it multiple times since seeing it in the cinema. I think it's all down to how much I love Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas.

14. Guardians of the Galaxy
This film did extremely well to make me care about a bunch of characters that I couldn't give two shits about in the comics. It's loads of fun, and if it wasn't for the fact that it's got one of the most boring villains in the MCU then it would be higher up this list.

13. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
GOTG2 is lots of hilarious fun and unlike the first Guardians film it has a superb baddie in Kurt Russell's Ego the Living Planet. It's a mark of the quality of this film, and of Marvel Studios as a whole, that they could spin off a film about the original, more obscure Guardians (Starhawk, Martniex etc), and everyone would go and watch it, and probably love it, including me.

12. Thor
This film really feels like a Jack Kirby comic brought to life, and it gave us the MCU's greatest villain, Tom Hiddleston's Loki. Thor made the MCU a much bigger, more fantastic place and it would probably be a lot higher if I were a bigger fan of Thor as a character.

11. The Incredible Hulk
I've always felt that this film has been seriously underrated. Okay, so Mark Ruffalo ended up giving us a more interesting take on Bruce Banner, but Edward Norton is still pretty great, William Hurt is a brilliant General Ross, and I've always felt it's a shame that Liv Tyler hasn't been seen in the MCU since. The Abomination's a bit boring, but overall the film successfully combines the tone of the comic and the 70s TV series. Like the TV series the focus is on Banner's life on the run, but we still get to see Hulk throw tanks around.

10. Black Panther
This film shows us a world like nothing we've seen in the MCU before. Everything looks amazing and every character feels rich and multi-layered. Killmonger is definitely one of the most interesting villains in the MCU, to the point where it's almost hard to think of him as a villain. The humour is all in perfect balance with the action and the drama. I could have done with more of Andy Serkis' Klaue though, but only'cos I'm a sucker for an OTT baddie.

9. Iron Man 2
I know I'm going to get in trouble for putting this film above Black Panther, and you're right, objectively Black Panther is better. But I just can't get enough of Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark. Iron Man 2 continues Stark's character development and introduces loads of really fun characters. It's also the first film to really start to open up the MCU into the huge, diverse place it is today. All this and Garry Shandling too.

8. Thor Ragnarok
This is the funniest Marvel film of the lot. The comic timing of the entire cast is spot on and the action is epic. Literally my only complaint is that *SPOILERS* the Warriors Three are taken out so casually and brutally. But having said that, their deaths do serve to hammer home what an evil shit Cate Blanchet's Hela really is.

7. Captain America: Civil War
The fact that this film furthers Tony Stark's story would have ensured that it got in my Top Ten, even it didn't also feature Black Panther, Giant Man and Spidey. Despite being visually unimpressive Zemo is one of the MCU's most interesting villains and I also enjoyed how much Hawkeye felt like his comic book counterpart in this film. My favourite thing about Civil War however is how, like the comic on which it's based, it manages to make both Cap and Tony's points of view "right". Everyone picks a side watching this film, but you're asked to genuinely think about which side you're picking.

6. Captain America: The First Avenger 
This has to be one of the best superhero origin movies ever, it manages to encapsulate everything great about Cap so perfectly. Also, every single cast member is a joy to watch. I never would have imagined in a million years that Peggy Carter would end up being one of my favourite on-screen Marvel characters. Watching Cap winning the respect of Tommy Lee Jones is just wonderful, and I wish they'd bring Hugo Weaving's Red Skull back, he was so good.

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This is a top class action film with a '70s conspiracy thriller vibe to it, and Cap's attempts to reach Bucky give it a real emotional hook. The film also uses the characters of Cap and Nick Fury to say some pretty interesting things about where America is today. The fight scene in the lift and the way the filmmakers have realised Arnim Zola are both strokes of genius. Objectively this is probably the best Marvel film.

4. The Avengers
This film is such a remarkable achievement. It juggles all those diverse characters and strong personalities and does them all justice (except maybe Hawkeye, but who cares). It furthers every characters' personal story arc. It tells a compelling and coherent story in its own right. It's full of witty, quotable dialogue. It even manages to include everything on the fanboy-wish-list (e.g. Hulk vs Thor!!!). I've watched this film so many times and I don't think I'll ever get tired of it.

3. Iron Man 3
This is one of the few Marvel Studios films that feels like they let the director really just be themselves and make their kind of film. As a result this is an amazing Shane Black film as well as an amazing Marvel film. Tony's character continues to grow and the way the film deals with the emotional consequences of The Avengers is intelligent, compelling, and unique. Where else have we ever seen a superhero suffering panic attacks after fighting aliens? It's such a plausible and human reaction for a character to have to the way the MCU has grown since the first Iron Man film. The way the film uses the idea of the Mandarin as an amalgam of all America's worst fears is as hilarious as it is clever. But the best thing about the film is the way *SPOILERS* Guy Pearce's villain actually ended up being the MCU's take on the Melter!


2. Spider-Man Homecoming
I was very apprehensive about this film. Due to the high school setting I was worried that Tom Holland's Peter Parker would end up being more like Miles Morales in his characterisation. I love Miles, but he needs his own film one day, and if they're going to have Peter Parker in a film then he needs to actually be Peter Parker. I needn't have worried, Peter's character is more spot-on in this than he ever was in the Macguire and Garfield films. The main difference between Peter and Miles is that Miles is inexperienced but inherently noble, whereas Peter is a bit of an arsehole. Don't get me wrong, Peter's a really good guy, but he's also capable of selfishness, arrogance, and hot-headedness. What makes him a hero is that no matter how he screws up he always picks himself up, takes responsibility and in the end, does the right thing. This film captured that beautifully. On top of that it's very funny, it feels like a great high school film as well as great superhero film, and Michael Keaton is absolutely fantastic. His Vulture is scary, but also sympathetic and likeable.

1. Iron Man
I've always loved Tony Stark as a character, and in Robert Downey Jr. we have possibly the most perfectly cast lead in a superhero franchise since Christopher Reeve first put his red cape on. I often see people online talking as if  Downey Jr's performance was a complete reinvention of the character. I see people saying "Downey Jr is just playing himself". Well, Downey Jr may very well be playing himself, but as far as I'm concerned he's definitely playing the Tony Stark that Stan Lee, David Michelinie, Denny O' Neil, and Kurt Busiek wrote too. Everything I loved about Stark in the Iron Man comics I grew up with is here, brought to life.

Even if this film hadn't spawned one of the most successful Hollywood franchises ever, a revival in the popularity of the superhero genre that shows no signs of abating, and an unprecedented shared cinematic superhero universe, I would still love it to bits. It's a story of a selfish person becoming a hero, something that speaks to everyone. The cast are perfect, the story's perfect, the dialogue's perfect, and I can watch it again and again and again. But like all great films it also tells us a lot about the time and context in which it was made. It represents the USA stopping and taking a long hard think about who it wants to be, and its role in the world in the 21st Century. America's identity crisis has grown more dramatic since 2008, and it's still trying to figure itself out today, just like Tony Stark.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

MYTH TELLER 1: The Terrible Secret of King March

I've recently began a storytelling project with my pal Hannah Berg. It's called Myth Teller and we're hoping to deliver myths and legends from around the world, told on Youtube, for audiences of all, ages, on a fairly regular basis. Here's episode one, based on the old Welsh legend of King March ap Meirchion of Lleyn. If you enjoy it please feel free to share wherever you can.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Brian Michael Bendis writing Superman

Ivan Reis
Former superstar Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis will begin writing Superman comics this year. According to DC Comics' press release,
Bendis’ first DC story will be with fan-favorite artist Jim Lee in ACTION COMICS #1000 (on sale April 18), but this is only the beginning when it comes to his relationship with Krypton’s Last Son. On May 30, Bendis debuts MAN OF STEEL, a six-issue weekly miniseries. Featuring six interconnected covers by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, this series will shake up the classic story of Krypton’s final days and Kal-El’s path to becoming an iconic hero, introducing a new villain that knows a terrifying secret behind the destruction of Superman’s homeworld. Bendis’ story will feature an incredible lineup of artistic firepower, including Ivan Reis, Evan “Doc” Shaner, Ryan Sook, Kevin Maguire, Adam Hughes and Jason Fabok. A prelude to MAN OF STEEL by Bendis and artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez will be available on May 2, in the DC NATION #0 preview sampler.
This July, more fireworks are in store for fans with not one, but two Superman-themed titles, both written by Bendis. July 11debuts SUPERMAN #1, with art by Ivan Reis. The conclusion of MAN OF STEEL will leave both fans and Superman reeling, and the debut story arc will dive deeper into its consequences, building on popularity already generated by co-writer Peter J. Tomasi and co-writer/artist Pat Gleason. On July 25, ACTION COMICS resumes with issue #1001; with art by Gleason, Bendis will deliver stories that are more character-focused, introduce new characters (both heroes and villains) and spotlight more of Clark Kent and his role at the Daily Planet. ACTION will also take a closer look at how the actions of Superman impact the DC Universe.
I'm generally a fan of Bendis' work but I must admit I've become increasingly bored and frustrated with his recent work. At Marvel his writing has become a bit predictable, and his main flaws as a writer are particularly prevalent. For example, he's always been stronger at character and dialogue than story, but his plots on books like Spider-man and Infamous Iron Man have been especially slow moving and meandering of late. As far as I'm concerned Bendis' move to DC Comics couldn't have come at a better time. Hopefully the change will reinvigorate him and we'll see him on top form again.

I cannot emphasise enough what a gift for character and dialogue Bendis has. Having said that, if certain characters don't interest him we can expect to see them written out of character, or even completely ignored. He's very good at creating new characters, so I think we'll see him bring in new cast members rather than resurrect old ones. Bendis will leave the Superman myth a richer place than he found it. I think his talent at writing very human, grounded people living through fantastical events will mean we'll get some great Daily Planet related stuff.

If you're unfamiliar with his work I recommend his Miles Morales Ultimate Spider-man stuff. Miles and his supporting cast are probably Bendis' greatest creations as far as I'm concerned.

In 2016 somebody used Tumblr to ask Bendis what he would like to write at DC Comics. Among other things he said a "VERY back to original basics" Superman. Is that what we'll get? What does that even mean?

We're about to find out.

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