Monday, November 27, 2023

The amazing world

 I'm sorry to hear that Mike has died. Mike as in Mike's Amazing World of Comics, that is. The long-established, universally loved and admired, comic cataloguing website. It's been my first go-to site for any obscure superhero comic trivia I might be interested in for longer than I can remember.

I then spent a heck of a long time searching the internet to try to find Mike's surname, because I knew I knew it at one point but couldn't remember it now - I'd almost decided he kept it a secret from everyone and I'd never known it at all, finding him universally referred to just as "Mike" by everyone mourning his loss. I did find it in the end, but it seems to be the done thing not to mention it, so I'll just leave it as RIP Mike. A true hero of the comic nerd universe.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

It was pretty good, really

Yes, and that's high praise, compared to the last ten years of Doctor Who. I won't spoil it, but I'd advise everyone reading this to watch the new episode. Although I have to ask - what's with David Tennant's hair? 

But in all fairness, I was worried that even "bring back Russell T Davies and David Tennant and Catherine Tate and write a story based on a classic comic" wouldn't be a solution to the decade of badly misguided attempts to make Doctor Who, so I was prepared to be disappointed. But actually, it was pretty cool. Let's see if they can use this as a template for the future!

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Best ending ever

 For want of anything more productive to do with my time, I've been re-watching my way through the entire run of Regular Show for the last few months. And really, there could never be a more perfect ending to a series than the final montage. I defy anyone to watch this without a tear in their eye...

Well, possibly you do need to know something about the characters and settings to get the full effect, but even so, I'm sure everyone finds it impossibly beautiful, right?

I feel it's also worth pointing out that Hi-Five Ghost is my absolute favourite character (closely followed by Eileen and Rigby), which might say something about how I see my role in life as being that of a sidekick. Now, I'm aware that there are people in the world - quite a lot of them, indeed - who don't think of me in that way at all, and would think it downright weird if I say I've always been a smaller best friend to some or other larger and more dominant personality, floating alongside them and high-fiving where appropriate, but I still do feel that that's the position I always automatically slide into at every opportunity, and certainly the kind of character in a well-written show like Regular Show who I'll always most empathise with. It's really got me thinking about how realistic my self-perception actually is...

See, what other comedy cartoon show can give you a tear-jerking finale and a healthy dose of psychoanalytical prompting? It's genius, I tell you.

Friday, November 17, 2023

The sensational debut of a supervillain

 It's 1993, Wolverine is a very cool character in the coolest Marvel comics, his arch-enemy Sabretooth is also extremely cool, and the market is absolutely flooded with new characters who are trying to be just as cool as them. It helps if your name sounds a bit like "wolf", definitely. So how could this new character fail, with a cover like this?

Aardwolf. A name that just screams "picked up the book of animals of the world, turned to entry number 2 and stopped looking." He was probably doomed to failure from the start. But Aardwolf's background is Madripoor (the Asian island nation chock-full of evil businessmen who are also crimelords, where Wolverine spends a lot of time), so the cover decides to stress not only how much like Sabretooth he is, but also that he's like a famous businessman. Donald Trump. Yes, that's not going to look at all silly, thirty years down the line.

The cover of Night Thrasher #3 is drawn by Javier Saltares, who was supposed to be the regular artist of the series, but inside it's a fill-in story pencilled by Ken Lashley and Fred Haynes, and inked by six different people, taking a few pages each to get it done by the deadline. The letters page tells us that David Boller and Don Hudson will be drawing the next issue, and Saltares will return to his regular role with #5. Hudson isn't actually credited on #4, but Saltares does come back for #5, only to disappear once more, and for good. Boller became the regular penciller after that.

The writer, though, was Fabian Nicieza, and you'd think he must have had something to do with creating Aardwolf. But he cheerfully acknowledges that it's a funny kind of thing for an Asian crimelord to call himself, having him explain that it's a childhood nickname, and "a hyena-like mammal which feeds mostly on termites and insect larvae, would you believe?" He tries to justify it by saying he kills termites like Night Thrasher (who of course also has a silly name that's had a lot of jokes made about it over the years, but Nicieza isn't to blame for that one - Tom DeFalco thought it up), but it sounds more than a little forced.

And speaking of silly names, Aardwolf's real name is Chon Li. I mean, seriously? Street Fighter II was a very big deal by the time Aardwolf made his debut! Chun Li, busty female street fighter, was a name on the lips of everyone in the target audience of comics like Night Thrasher. How could Nicieza, or whoever, not have heard about her?

To cap it all, Aardwolf is completely the wrong colours on that cover. Inside the comic, he's got grey skin and dark red hair. He's also rather lost among a lot of other rather better characters, and he is never seen again after Night Thrasher #4 (though he ends the story still a businessman/crimelord in Madripoor). Donald Trump had more staying power.

PS The letters page in Night Thrasher is titled "Talk - or I'll gladly break your jaw" after a famous line of his. Other people suggested "Nocturnal Submissions", but Marvel decided against it.

PPS Would you believe there's another Aardwolf in the Marvel Universe? He's part of the "Hyena Clan" who showed up in a Fantastic Four story involving the Black Panther, in 2012. He also hasn't become a supervillain sensation, but at least he lives within a thousand miles or so of actual aardwolves. 

Saturday, November 11, 2023

If you're in Sheffield train station...

... take a look at the new shiny stainless steel (what else?) commemorative plaque under an arch of poppies! The plaque was unveiled yesterday by the Deputy Lord Lieutenant, accompanied by a whole lot of speeches, exhortations, prayers and Last Posts. It was actually a remarkably big spectacle for such an obscure family as the Pridmores; I never thought I'd see the like.

But then, if there's one thing our family specialises in, it's quantity rather than quality (though of course we've got abundant supplies of that, too). And yesterday's event was a great opportunity for a rare gathering of our branch of the family tree - the four soldiers' little brother Sydney's eighteen grandchildren and their various descendants couldn't all make it yesterday, but an impressively big chunk of us did! It was quite a day, all in all.

Friday, November 03, 2023

Mind sports updates

 I did indeed get knocked out in the first round of the Microsoft Excel World Championship at the weekend, but as I told you, I was drawn against the sixth seed, and now that the dust has settled after yesterday's third and fourth rounds, he's one of the eight Excel masters who are going to Las Vegas for the grand final in December!

And I still think it's a great achievement to get to the round of 128 two years in a row, but I'll need to buckle down and get good at this if I'm going to become official world champion in the years to come - preferably before more talented Excellers find out that the competition exists! So that's my resolution for the next year or so, anyway.

Meanwhile, if you remember that thing I used to be world champion at before the more talented memorisers found out that it exists (but still want to read a really rather good article about how the whole memory principle works and be inspired by it to start taking part yourself), check out this interview with Katie Kermode!

I like the repeated namechecks of the Ben System - that's something that hasn't gone away, even though Katie (like all really good memory masters) has given it her own individual twist and would be fully justified in calling it the Katie System instead. Modern-day memorisers are less inclined to name things after themselves these days.

And moving on to the mind sport I've never been anywhere near the world's best at, but still very much enjoy anyway, the World Othello Championship is happening in Rome right now!

After seven of thirteen rounds, it's still all to play for! See, one of these days I might still be world champion at othello too - I'm just waiting for all the really great othellists to forget that the competition exists.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Halloween - the most important annual festival in a world where adults rule

 I promised, a while ago, to tell my blog-readers all about the coolest dream I had as a child. And no amount of apathy from my loyal readers will stop me fulfilling this promise, don't you worry! Now, I don't remember what year I had this dream, but from internal evidence it must have been around this time of year, probably late October. One major date-indicator is that the new season of television programmes always started in September, and this dream must have been heavily inspired by the kind of children's drama series on BBC or ITV that would always start with the new season and run for six weeks or so. It's really not the kind of thing I could have dreamed up all by myself, though I can't remember a direct source for the story.

A description of this dream will need a lot of explanatory notes, so be prepared for some lengthy analysis.

The premise of the dream, which I think was just understood rather than directly narrated, is that adults have taken over the country or the world, and treat children as slaves - this involves the children all wearing handcuffs.

'Country' and 'world' were essentially the same thing to me at a young age; I don't know if the dream specified which it was that the grown-ups had taken over. Nor does the fact that adults already rule the world seem to have bothered me - really, 'parents' or 'teachers' taking over would have made more sense, but it was a more general 'adult' seizing of power I was dreaming about.

The story started with our hero (me) in a newsagent's with my mother - me in handcuffs, looking at the new year's annuals on the shelves, and being excited to see that they not only had the ones with the next year's date, but also the year after's. My mother asked which of the two Beano Books I wanted; I said I'd rather have both, and she said I could only have one.

This scene's intention was apparently to demonstrate how horrifically cruel the adults are to their innocent children. I apparently can't imagine anything more evil than only getting one Beano Book when two were available. That the adults are still required to buy things like comic annuals for children is an unshakable rule throughout this dream. 'My mother' in this dream didn't resemble my real mother at all; I'm thinking blonde hair and glasses, and get vibes of 'TV actress' from her. The comic annuals in Britain come out in September/October and have the following year's date on them - so if I dreamed this in 1986, the Beano Books would have been dated 1987 and 1988.

I don't recall if there was any transition from that scene to the next, but now we're in Woolworths in Boston, at the back of the store where the photo booth was. I have to get my picture taken. My mother gives me the coins to put into the slot - lots of different coins, all with old-money names which she tells me one at a time. One of the names was along the lines of "a jack o'nickel".

Pre-decimal money (which became obsolete in 1971) is obviously something that grown-ups would want to restore if they took power. The coins all did have unusual names, which adults would talk about to the mystification of 1980s children. This is exactly the kind of thing that would have been on a kids-versus-adults TV show, although again I don't remember one that did it.

Sensing an opportunity for escape, since I'd be alone and unsupervised in the photo booth, I cunningly said that I wouldn't be able to put the coins in the slot wearing handcuffs, and so my mother unlocked and removed them. I immediately made a run for it, racing down to the front end of the store, grabbing either a tin of beans or a pot of yoghurt from a shelf and giving it to a pair of handcuffed children (an older girl and younger boy).

The front part of Woolworths, near the till, was where the sweets were sold. There might possibly have been yoghurt there, but not beans. Nor would a tin of beans have been likely to be in my subconscious mind, probably explaining the confusion if I'd seen a similar scene with beans involved.

The girl was unimpressed by my heroic act, saying that it wasn't much help to them. I replied something, and ran out the front doors to continue my crusade.

A streetwise girl, the same age or a bit older, would routinely feature in TV shows with a male child protagonist. This one might seem to have a point, but in the dream I felt she was being unfairly ungrateful. I have no idea what I said to her, but I hope it put her in her place. I'm sure she would have made a reappearance later in the saga.

There might be a missing scene here, because the next thing I remember I'm outside the back entrance to Woolworths, at night, and looking at the sky above the shop, where fireworks are exploding. "Of course!" I thought to myself. "Halloween! The grown-ups' favourite special occasion, because it doesn't require them to spend money on children!"

To get to that location I would have had to go a long way around or back through the shop I'd just left. At that point I woke up, sadly. But clearly the point was that I would do something to resolve the whole situation at Halloween, the biggest event in the evil adults' calendar. Obviously I'm conflating Halloween (October 31st) with Bonfire Night (November 5th), which is when we have fireworks, but they're so close together it's quite understandable. We didn't do much for Halloween where I came from - trick-or-treating was an American thing that hadn't quite made its way over here yet. There was usually a Halloween party and a costume competition, but in our neighbourhood it was understood that costumes should be hand-made rather than store-bought (and thus in my mind didn't cost the adults any money). Halloween being a non-present-giving festival obviously means it's a cheap event for evil grown-ups.

Really, words don't do the sheer coolness of this dream justice. I just wish I knew exactly how much was my own invention and how much was just cribbed from something I'd seen on TV before bedtime...