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Posts Tagged ‘Flesh’

I know, it’s probably a little bit late for the whole New Year resolution thing – but I’ve only got back to my own place today after spending time with family for the holidays, so now feels like the logical time to think about what (if anything) I want to change for 2013.

I did a lot of thinking about this on the train home today – partly, if we’re honest, because my inimitable father drove over my foot while dropping me off at the station, and this helped to take my mind off the discomfort in my toes. I’ve gone back and forth over whether or not to share some of these ideas via the blog, to be honest, because there are obviously pros and cons involved. To wit:

PROs:

  • It would add a bit of colour to a blog which usually goes on and on and on about the same three or four topics.
  • Having gone public (well, sort of) I will feel more incentivised to actually stick to my guns and do the things I talk about.

CONs:

  • Some of these ideas are really stupid and/or petty and I would look foolish for making such a fuss about them.
  • When I fail to stick to my guns and all my good intentions lapse after a week I would feel even more reproachful towards myself than I would’ve done anyway.

Ah, what the hell, I decided to go with it anyway, because every bit of motivation is useful, after all.

navelgazer

And so: in no particular order, what I am hoping to do, or do differently, in 2013, on the blog and elsewhere.

1. Look at moving my career on. I always thought that after getting the DELTA I would be happy to coast along for a year or so and not worry about professional stuff. However, six months later I find I am restive, and increasingly aware that my long-term ambitions are not really achieveable with the company I currently do most of my work for. Also, it would be nice to get all my books, etc, out of storage (it’ll be five years this summer) and I can’t do that until I’m making enough to be able to have my own place.

2. Actually play some WFB. I bought the 8th Edition rulebook on the day of release in 2010 but haven’t played a single game – my last WFB outing was, I think, in February or March 2006. I suppose I want a change from 40K as much as anything. This will, of course, involve finishing a WFB army, so this is what I’m going to look at doing in the short term.

3. Write more, and with more variety. Whether this means aiming for a thousand words a day of any kind, or something else, I don’t know. In all honesty I’m really talking about fiction as opposed to endless Doctor Who waffle and film reviews. Not sure how this will work – although I’d like to have another crack at ScriptFrenzy in April. In a proper spirit of working on something which will never, ever get made I think I will have a go at writing the movie version of Flesh (an obscure 1970s SF-horror comic strip to which I don’t have the rights).

4. Waste less time playing games over the internet. This is fairly self-explanatory.

5. Not always have the TV on as a source of background noise. Use Radio 3 instead. Being the solitary individual that I am, it’s nice not to live in dead silence when I’m at home, but at the same time there’s something to be said for not being a passive consumer of TV (or anything else – at least Radio 3 is likely to be more intellectually challenging).

6. Sleep more.  One thing I’ve noticed over the last 18 months is that if I have to work the 9am slot at work for more than a month straight I tend to get sick from sheer exhaustion, because going to bed at 10.30 simply doesn’t suit the way my brain is wired: I end up shaving five or ten minutes off my eight hours every night which ultimately leaves me tired out and prey to any passing bug. More self-discipline required when it comes to bedtimes.

7. Write about different kinds of old film. I have nearly a dozen Kurosawas on DVD, none of which I’ve touched yet. There’s a pile of other movies next to the TV I’ve had for over a year, none of which I’ve written about – LoveFilm is really to blame for this. (I have suspended my subscription for the time being.) I watched a bunch more 50s B-movies last summer, which I was mostly too busy to properly review, and there are still lots of Hammer movies I’ve not properly looked at.

You know, normally I’m not one of those people who finishes every single post with a ‘how about you? What’s your strongest memory of [insert topic here]? Do you have any tips on how to [insert challenging activity here]?’ Maybe this is why I only have 35 followers after two and a bit years of operation. Hey ho. Yet I am almost moved to enquire – reader (yes, this means you), you are probably here for the film reviews (that, or morbid fascination) – exactly what lured you in? The new stuff? The backlog from the 2000s? The 50s SF? The Hammer horror? The Jason Statham? What do you like to read about?

Then again, for me the pleasure of this undertaking has always been in the writing, not actually being read – although without the possibility of the latter, I’ve always found it hard to justify the former – Stephen King’s comment on ‘quacking into the void’ comes to mind. If the massed (ha) ranks of NCJG followers rise up and cry ‘For God’s sake lay off the Babylon 5 retrospective, and we don’t like Japanese movies either’ I think it is highly unlikely I will pay any attention to this. Sorry.

8. Actually write some proper Doctor Who reviews. (As opposed to gut reactions to new episodes, lengthy analyses of aspects of the whole show, or trots through the fictional universe.) I’ve kind of been dancing around this idea – in 2001 and 2002 I spent virtually a whole year watching as much of the series as I could lay my hands on, in chronological order, writing about the stories as I went along (one such piece eventually made it into Outside In: 160 New Perspectives on 160 Classic Doctor Who Stories by 160 Writers from ATB Publishing (ISBN 9780988221000), available to buy now, folks – at least I assume it is, my comp copy hasn’t turned up yet).

That was a major undertaking – a very rewarding one, nevertheless – and I’m wary of just repeating myself. However, this is the golden anniversary year, so if not now, then when? So I am working on a way of writing about Doctor Who stories in proper detail that will hopefully be fulfilling for me and rewarding for readers. Look for them around the 23rd of each month.

Eight not-quite-resolutions is enough for one year, I would say. Pop back in December, when I will feel obliged to see how well I did (or more likely just pretend this post never happened).

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As someone who’s had an unhealthy interest in prehistoric beasties for over thirty years, there seemed to be something almost providential in the BBC launching its latest CGI extravaganza epic within days of the release of the collected edition of the Flesh strips from 2000AD. Both bulge at the seams with dinosaurs and their ilk, and while the TV show was a lot more respectable and aspired to educate, Flesh is concerned with nothing more than disreputable thrills and is generally a lot more fun.

Flesh surely owes some sort of debt to the movie Valley of Gwangi in that both originated from what’s essentially the same pitch: cowboys versus dinosaurs! But rather than being a lost world story, Flesh ups the SF quotient by sending the humans back to the Cretaceous to take on the dinos on their own turf. They’re there to ranch the herbivorous dinosaurs so they can be slaughtered and their meat transported to the 23rd century (where all the indigenous food animals have been wiped out). Not only is this threatening the dinosaurs with extinction, it’s removing the food supply of the local predators, who waste no time in supplementing their diets with human flesh…

Creator Pat Mills describes Flesh as ‘a metaphorical story whose symbolism could apply to any number of scenarios’, which probably makes it sound grander than it really deserves. The backers of this venture into time-travelling butchery are venal and gluttonous caricatures, the supposed protagonists are wafer-thin cutouts, and the wider ethics and ramifications of the concept are not really explored. (A prescient touch of allegory, given that this strip first appeared in 1977, is that the cowboy in charge of the doomed venture is named Reagan.) It’s very clear from early on that the writers are just itching to get to the scenes of the capitalist exploiters of the downtrodden dinos getting their gory just desserts.

There is always something odd about a story where the villain is the most vivid and memorable character, and for ‘odd’ you can substitute ‘extremely weird indeed’ when that villain is an ageing female tyrannosaurus rex. This is Old One Eye, the ‘hag queen’ of her species who’s gone on to achieve a certain legendary status both in her own right and as matriarch of a dynasty of tyrannosaur miscreants causing trouble in other 2000AD strips (a clone of her son once nearly ate Judge Dredd, for instance). Old One Eye doesn’t get any dialogue, obviously, but we are permitted access to the workings of her mind through a series of feverishly intense captions that do a lot to create the atmosphere of the story.

To be honest, well before the end, Book One of Flesh has abandoned both the cowboys-vs-dinosaurs motif and most of its narrative coherence in favour of lurid horror and gleeful carnage – tyrannosaurs and deinonynchii besieging the time-travelling interlopers I can buy, but with the appearance on the scene of giant spiders it’s difficult to shake the impression it’s all getting a bit silly and overblown. The conclusion of the series is also slightly off-kilter – there’s one very short episode to wrap up the main plot followed by an off-at-a-tangent epilogue, for one thing, but more seriously the story either loses the courage of its convictions or gets severely muzzled by the censors of the day – anyone expecting the promise of the series to be delivered by the main characters getting gobbled up by the carnosaurs is in for a disappointment.

Book Two basically reruns the whole story in a different setting (the Triassic), with a different focus (this time the corporation is fishing, not ranching), a different chief monster (Big Hungry the nothosaur is an inferior replacement for Old One Eye) and no giant spiders (there are giant sea-scorpions instead – looking on the bright side, these actually existed, but the repetition of the plot is surely unforgiveable). The human characters are even blander and more forgettable this time round – a nuisance-villain from Book One reappears alongside a total cipher of a hero, but they’re all just there to go through the motions.

Book Two is redeemed, however, by the stunning art of Italian creator Massimo Belardinelli, whose work graced numerous classic 2000AD stories. Belardinelli’s linework and attention to grotesque detail are a marvel to behold and with his departure two episodes before the end Flesh Book Two goes rapidly to bits.

Had this collected edition limited itself to this vintage material (plus a couple of utterly dispensible supporting strips from annuals and summer specials) it would have been a fun, nostalgic purchase. However the page-count has been boosted by the inclusion of a significant quantity of more recent material. If this meant it was the complete Flesh, that’d be great too – but it isn’t. Mills’ work on the strip from the 90s, along with Dan Abnett’s version, don’t make it into the book.

Instead we get ten episodes of ‘Texas’, what appears to be a close sequel to Book One, superficially taking it back to its conceptual roots. But I use the word ‘superficially’ with precision. It seems to me that the original Flesh is fundamentally about two things – the visual hook of the cowboys-vs-dinos imagery, and the conceptual hook of it being a horror strip about exaggeratedly unpleasant caricature characters being eaten alive by prehistoric monsters – very straightforward exploitation material.

It’s not that ‘Texas’ doesn’t look okay – although James Mackay’s artwork, despite its up-to-date depiction of Cretaceous fauna, is a bit too raw-looking to really be my cup of tea – or that it doesn’t have ideas. It just doesn’t have focus. There’s a new tyrannosaur villain whose exposure to time radiation gives him all sorts of special powers (this is basically a plot device for the benefit of readers troubled by the realisation that ‘normal’ dinosaurs wouldn’t actually be that hard to kill using modern weaponry), some stuff about environmental activism, some lazy stereotyping of religious fundamentalists, a bit of comic book feminism (i.e. you can shoot things and beat people up and still have really attractive breasts), and some satire of people dependent on anti-depressants… all of this stuff is slapped together seemingly at the whim of the writer with no particular point in mind.

Of course, it may all be going somewhere really clever, but there’s no way of knowing from this collection as the ‘Texas’ storyline isn’t concluded. It ends on a fairly muted cliffhanger which didn’t leave me particularly wanting to see what happened next. Mills is obviously aware that 2000AD’s core readership is much older than it used to be, and seems to be trying to make the stories more sophisticated as a result. Whether the dilettante ramble of ‘Texas’ counts as sophisticated I don’t know, but I’m not sure it’s what the audience actually wants even if it is.

Or, to put it another way – the original Flesh is a story which is very difficult to take seriously, which functions on the most lurid and obvious level, which frequently makes virtually no sense at all, and which doesn’t aspire to be anything more than a visually quirky horror strip about dinosaurs. And it’s vivid and involving, and a lot of fun.

The most recent incarnation, on the other hand, bends over backwards to be plausible and character-driven and do sophisticated satire about a range of different topics. It tries so hard to be worth taking seriously that it forgets that it’s a comic strip about cowboys fighting dinosaurs, and being taken seriously probably shouldn’t be an essential part of the game plan anyway. In the end you come away not sure what any of it was really about, nor much caring.

An appropriately-priced reprint of Books One and Two would be a good buy for anyone who enjoys vintage 2000AD strips: the excesses of the story in One and the art in Two should guarantee that. Including ‘Texas’, especially in its incomplete form, and bumping up the price accordingly, makes me hesitate before really recommending this collection to anyone – except on the grounds that the first two thirds of it show what was so great about the early years of 2000AD, and last third demonstrates some of the problems that the comic tends to have today.

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