Sunday, 21 November 2010

And as our energies mix and begin to multiply, everyday situations, they start to simplify. So things will never be the same between you and I, we intertwined our life forces and now we're unified.

A couple of days ago, it was either very late at night or really early in the morning, and I just couldn't find any sleep whatsoever. It wasn't even like I wasn't feeling tired, because I was, but something weighed me down and prevented me from drifting off to slumber land. There was a weird kind of energy in me, and I didn't even know where it was coming from. After all, I had been feeling pretty much lethargic for the past few weekssomething that served only to compound the onset of my misanthropic feelings even further. But something deep within me stirred, and it moved me to get out of bed around seven-ish in the morning.
I felt like doing something. What, I did not know yet, but I had to leave, to get out of the house, to go for a walk, find solitude, the perfect kind of solitude that allows you to think unfettered of all other things, I had to roam, to wander, to drift for a while...
And, as I left home, I suddenly realized that there was no other place I could go to to find that loneliness, but Sintra.
So I walked down the short distance from my place to the train station, grabbed a can of coke to help keep me awake, and hopped on the first train to Sintra.
The trip in itself was unremarkable; indeed, in spaces it made me feel like I was a sort of fish swimming against the current, for all the huddled masses went past me in the other direction.
I got there around eight-thirty in the morning, I guess, and started to make my way towards the historical centre – from there, I knew the path that would take me onwards and upwards, until I finally reached my intended goal – The Moorish castle.
Once upon the village centre, I pondered for a while whether or not I should grab something to eat, seeing as I had a lengthy trek in front of me. In truth, and as I considered the options before me, I did not actually feel hungry enough to eat right then, so I decided against it, knowing even then that later on I might come to regret it.

Brushing away those thoughts, I started my long way to the castle. After a few minutes walking, I started on the path proper, and up and up and up I went. Walking slowly, taking in the green scenery that all around me lay, I started to feel a lightness of spirit I was aching for. Still on I walked, up hills full of craggy monolithic rocks at either side, here and there a branch reaching out to me and caressing me with its yellowing leaves.

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

After maybe close to an hour's walking, and I was walking very slowly, I started to find the signs that indicated the path towards the castle. My heart rejoiced at this – In all honesty, it had been an age since I had been in Sintra all by myself, and this was doing me a world of good. I knew that something was coming my way, and accepting it, I felt all the stronger for it.
Soon I found myself near a road that split in two; I followed the path that took to the castle, walking ever slower those last few yards towards the gate. In a few minutes, there I was.
I confess, I didn't even think of certain things before starting my way; you know, stupid, small things like : what time does the castle open its gates? Do you have to pay to get in? Stuff like that.
So it came as no surprise, really, that once I got there I found the gates to be still closed, and a sign indicating that the ticket office was located inside the castle.
That meant that I had to wait some fifteen minutes or so before the gates actually opened, and before I learned how much I'd have to pay to get in. I walked back down the path for a few yards, and took a closer look to some archaeological work going on in the area : there were some captioned photos near the digs, and they showed some ancient graves that had been recently uncovered, as well as a centuries old church that yielded valuable information hitherto not very well known.
I took some pictures of the place, went up a few steps to the top of a small turret, and sat down in its weathered crenellations for a few minutes. Soon thereafter, I went down the dozen or so steps, almost falling down in the process. They were covered with moss, and were deadly slippery. I'll wager that anyone who tumbles down those steps will come away with a cracked skull.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

As I made my way back towards the gates, in order to wait out the last few minutes before they were opened, I saw that there were two young kitties lazing in the early morning sun. Swiftly, but quietly I approached them, tried to pet them, but to no avail – the kitties were slippery as an eel, and wanted nothing to do with me.
Undeterred, I picked up a mossy twig, and started to tease the kitties with it. At this, they sprang to attention and became quite playful. For a few minutes I played with them, until they finally got bored of my prodding them, and then proceeded to groom themselves, and engaging in playful cat fights with each other.
While I stood staring at the young cats, a couple of voices from a distance heralded the coming of the people who'd open the gates and give me all the information I needed. Sure enough, within a few minutes I was being told that indeed, there was a five Euros fee that I had to pay in order to get in.
I had no cash on me, only my debit card, and naturally, they had no means there of accepting a payment of that kind. Even so, I would not have paid the fee, even if I had cash on me. I can understand why they charge the fee, but I did not agree with it. Feigning interest in purchasing a ticket, I asked if there was another booth where I could pay with my card. I was informed that if I was to go back down the path for a couple hundred yards and back to where the two roads divided, if I took the road on the left hand path, I'd eventually come across another booth right next to the entrance to the Pena Palace. I nodded, and made my way to that very spot.
All in all, I had not seen a living soul during my trek, until I talked to these guys, and the only other people I saw there was a guy and a girl, that because of the gear they were carrying, looked for all intents and purposes like a news crew. They made their way past me, and we did not spare each other a second glance.

At last I found myself on a conventional road, black cobblestones glistening with dewy drops that cascaded from the trees, and in yet another booth there I saw another cat. This one came running towards me as soon as I caught its attention, and I spent a few minutes there playing with it. I got the feeling the poor cat was somewhat neglected, because it purred so at my petting, and flopped down on the floor, belly up, for me to stroke it... the cat just seemed to be positively melting on account of my caressing.
I took this time to catch my breath, before I set out again. Bidding farewell to the fancy cat, I started on the way to the palace, and I was struck by sudden inspiration. If I wasn't to go, as I had originally intended, to the Moorish castle, then I could go to the High Cross. As I walked towards the Palace's entrance, I checked a map that detailed where I was and how far I was from the High Cross... I judged it to be a fair distance from where I stood, and asked a girl in the ticket office if she knew of a way to get that there. She told me that the only way she knew of was to go through the palace itself, but I'd have to buy a ticket to get in. Not wanting to do that, even though the admission fee to the Palace was more than well worth it, for it is a thing of beauty, both the palace and its lush gardens, I walked away, thinking that my feet would be enough to take me to where I wanted to go.
Down, further down, and still downhill I walked for a number of minutes, until once more I found myself having to decide between two paths. I took the one to the left; this time I decided to adopt a brisker pace, and soon I found myself amidst a thicket of trees, and branches. As I moved ever deeper into the forest, the at one time wide path I was on started to narrow and the branches tugged fiercely at my jacket. Looking forward, I saw that there was no clear path ahead, and turned around. Doing so, I took yet another approach this time; fallen and yellowed leaves cracked underfoot, and the soil, wet still from the previous night, was mushy in some places, which made the walking a more difficult effort. I reached yet another dead-end; that is to say, there was a path, sort of, but I judged it to be less than ideally secure, and I turned back again. I climbed through some rocks, and soon I was near the original path where the roads had divided after walking down from the palace. But I was on a higher footing, and walked alongside an ancient bit of wall that formed a secondary path, but it ultimately led nowhere. Weaving back to the fork in the road, I went up a very steep hill to my right side, and very soon I found myself in a grove where the trees and the foliage seemed to thicken menacingly. From either side, bramble and black briar thorns worked at my shins, alder boughs snaked down forlornly from high above, and just as it seemed to be closing in on me, threatening to overtake me, to make me one of their own forever more, it gave way to a sudden opening.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Striking the path before me, thereupon I saw myself in a clearing where golden sunlight filtered through the canopies, slanting down through the leaves, bathing me in its radiance – in this tranquil place, I sat down for a few moments, in perfect solitude. All around me there was silence, silence only broken by tweets of birdsong, and the buzzsong of insects that flew lazily by. Mulchy as the ground was, I still managed to find a dry enough place amongst the leaves, and I lay down for a a number of minutes. I took in the green hues that clad my surroundings, and, closing my eyes, I fell downwards into the earth, in a communion of will and spirit.
Down where the leaves remained untrodden, and where the very earth remained unperturbed, I lingered in a sacred and silent repose, wishing that it would be unending, and that my end there would ever remain unspoken.
These nihilistic notions that were taking hold of me somewhat spurred me back to life, and brushing myself of the dirt and leaves that now clung to me, I again started to walk.
Thinking myself to be still quite distant from the High Cross, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my wanderings had taken me to Saint Euphemia. Distant from the High Cross, yes, but then, once there, I decided to not go any further, and stay there.
Immediately, memories of the last time I had been there came rushing to my mind; seven years had passed since then, and I was such a different person back then, that the mere remembrance of my former self made me question whether or not he had ever been real or not. I don't recall what it felt like being that other me, and I don't think I liked the person I was back then that much. Still, on the other hand, I can see how very much together I actually was – in a sense I was a much more adult person, with more clear-cut definitions of responsibility.
I brushed away those memories, and climbed the gentle slope that took me to Saint Euphemia's cross – there the view turned to the sprawling cities rising in the distance, threatening to engulf the sea of green that encircled them. Behind me, and to both my sides, wilderness ran almost without check, and leaning against the cross, I allowed myself to wander for a bit.

I realized then and there that those memories I had thought of minutes earlier were, in the end, inescapable to me. Not because of who I was and who I was with, but because that one night was like a beacon of light in the otherwise gloomy life I had back then... that night I spent there with people who, for a while, were very close to me, was, in a sense, magical – and that was because of how spontaneous and natural everything had been, as opposed to how forced I felt my previous failed attempts at happiness were. The great thing is that I found myself feeling happy with myself, at the time, hoping for the future, looking at what might come with a different point of view. That was not to last, though, but at least I was happy for a while.
These memories that raced through my head served as a catalyst for something that, I guess, needed to happen. Wearied as I was from not having slept, and after walking for hours, I just gave up on what was holding me back, and I let it all out. I think I was in dire need of a good, long cry – things haven't been particularly good for me, and for a long time I'd been feeling like I needed to vent somehow... so I took that opportunity to cleanse my soul.
After having spent a good while lost in my thoughts, I began to feel a certain chill creeping over me; I had forgotten how prone to sudden and fell chills Sintra really is. Adjusting the collar of my jacket, I got up and took a final glance at the scenery : to the west, dark clouds gathering, sure to bring down rain with them. A storm, for certain, was coming this way, and I decided it was time to go back.
This time round, instead of going back through the same paths that I had initially taken, I took a different route down to the town – shortly after I started to regret it, for it was a great deal less picturesque than I had envisioned, and the uneven roads sought to hurt my feet. Eventually, and after a great deal of walking I finally started to see some signs of civilization. Not feeling quite sure where I was, and which way would take me faster down to the train station, I had to ask for directions. This man tells me to walk straight ahead for a few minutes, and then I'd reach a very famous local restaurant. After that I'd have to take my first right, walk down for about a hundred yards or so, and then I'd be really close to the station itself. Only thing is, after nearly forty-five minutes walking, I was still no closer to the train station... a hundred yards, indeed!
In time I did arrive at the train station, and had to wait an excrutiatingly long twenty minutes before the train came... I was feeling so tired and hungry, all I wanted was to go to bed and sleep until the following day... when the train came, I hopped aboard it, closed my eyes, and opened them only when it reached its final destination.
It was time to go home, to shower, to grab something to eat, and then to rest. I don't know how, but I managed to stay awake for a few hours more, but then my body just gave up on me and crashed... I slept soundly until midnight or so, remained awake for a couple of hours, and drifted off to sleep until midday the following day.
On the horizon, where seas meet clouds, a scenery shimmers beyond reality.
I woke up feeling rested, if somewhat spent. That lightness I had felt in Sintra lingered over me still, and that, in a really strange way, made me have a really good day at work yesterday – the first good day I've had here in a long, long time.
It's amazing how much letting go of things can help you, how much it can heal you. A part of me feels completely rejuvenated, with renewed vigour for what lies ahead. If this is a thing that'll last; I know not. I care only that for the moment, I am at ease.
There is one irony that does not escape me, though : this is something that I wanted to have done with you in September, and the fact that we did not, considering all that had happened, serves well to illustrate the story of us. But the place is still there, and those paths can still be walked anew.
I hope one day you will come to walk them, too.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Avengers Assemble!

As most of those who read my musings in my blogs, erstwhile or extant, I have a long-running love for that which is considered by many to be the ninth art. Truth is, I have always loved comics, and not just because of the pretty pictures… very early on I found myself acknowledging and responding to stories of a certain bent, stories that seemed to hint at more than just a number of spandex-wearing heroes hooking up every month to defeat the menace to the earth du jour.  No, I started to see that, indeed, these writers were trying to make the characters they wrote more and more human, and humane too. Above all, they were characters that, and in a very real sense, you could relate to. So I grew up reading the stories of happy-go-lucky Peter Parker and his alter ego, the Amazing Spider-Man. The ever misunderstood Bruce Banner and the curse his other half represented – the Incredible Hulk. The greatest outcasts in the world, and their mutant misadventures – the Uncanny X-Men. The first family of the Marvel Universe and their cosmic exploits – the Fantastic Four. But the ones I liked the best? Oh man, those were the Invincible Iron Man, the Mighty Thor, and the Sentinel of Liberty himself – Captain America. These three… they were (and are) the holy trinity, the big three, the best and the brightest in the Marvel Universe… and when, as a child, I discovered that these paragons of virtue banded together and founded the Mighty Avengers, my mind near went mad with excitement. I still recall that the very first story I read with the Avengers was the famous ‘Kree- Skrull War’, written by Roy Thomas and with the amazing Neal Adams delivering his typically lavish pencils. I was introduced to a slew of other legendary Avengers – the Lion of Olympus, Hercules! The greatest Marksman on earth, Hawkeye! The android Vision! The mutant Scarlet Witch, with her hex powers, and her brother the marauding speedster Quicksilver! The ingenious Hank Pym, and his many personas : Ant-Man, Giant-Man, and later on, Yellowjacket, as well as his wife, the tiny – but always fashion conscious – Wasp.
They were the ones I first got to know when I was a child, and those that formed such a huge part of the mythos… but always, one question lingered inside me… what mighty and portentous event could have happened that brought these heroes together? Could there really have happened something so horrendous that it required the intervention of these heroes in order to contain it?

Avengers Assemble!
                                  Avengers V1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

The answer to my question was answered in a reprint of the very first few issues of the original comic, and I saw with my own eyes the menace that loomed over the world, the threat that promised doom and disaster should it go unchecked. Loki, the Norse god of mischief, plotted to wreak havoc on earth; he sought nothing more than wanton destruction and misrule.
All this happened unbeknownst to our heroes; they lived and fought their many battles, but always the outcome was never in doubt. Their days, filled with strife though they were, were also days of an age of innocence.
Eventually, though, signs of a nameless force began to be felt, and it soon became apparent that there was more to the seemingly senseless rampages of the Incredible Hulk, and that there was a hidden hand, operating in secrecy, behind all the mayhem. Surely such a menace would be too much for any one of these heroes?
And lo! There came a day, unlike any other day, when Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were united against a common threat, to fight the foes no single super- hero could withstand. On that day, the Avengers were born!
During those halcyon days of the '60's, many legendary tales were crafted by the stellar team-up of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and , with time, a number of other writers and artists picked up the reins, and took the mighty Avengers to distant worlds and places. And, as with everything, there came a time, and then yet again every so often, where the old order changeth, and new characters, some of them with less than ideal backgrounds, became Avengers, and by doing so, became forces for good in their own right.
I followed The Avengers religiously thorughout the '80's, reading Brazilian reprints with stories originally published in the '70's, eventually catching up with what was being published stateside. It was, for me and for the characters, a golden age : they had people like Steve Englehart, Roger Stern, the awesome George Pérez,  Jim Shooter, John Buscema and Steve Epting chronicling their exploits, and oh, what menaces  and allies they'd encounter along the way : Thanos the Mad Titan! Korvac! The Red Ronin! Marcus, son of Immortus! The Guardians of the Galaxy, heroes from a thousand years away! The Elements of Doom! The Celestial Madonna, Mantis! The Masters of Evil! The Squadron Supreme!
These were moments of absolute joy for me, when I'd spend countless hours reading those adventures, moments wherein I'd fancy myself the Thunder God or the Sentinel of Liberty at times, while at others I imagined I was the Golden Avenger or the Expert Marksman.
But then... then something happened : the '90's. I have already written – at some length – about how generally bad the '90's were for comics; in an attempt to make them 'harder' and more 'realistic', our once shining paragons of virtue all took a turn for the dark, becoming grimmer, grittier... And our beloved heroes were not the exception to the rule : for the betterv part of the decade, the once mighty franchise became a shadow of itself; the stories were poorly written, and the art, in most cases, sub-par. It seemed as though the very concept of The Avengers was tainted, and not even the likes of Mark Waid could fix it... and then, things got even worse : the 'Heroes Reborn' debacle, wherein Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, two of the Image masterminds, saw fit to 'update' our heroes for a new era. Lee took 'Fantastic Four' and 'Iron Man' under his wing, and Liefeld took over 'Captain America' and 'Avengers'. The tenure lasted for about ten issues, until they were given over to Jim Lee to finish the run.
These few issues of Cap and Avengers much maligned amongst fans of the titles, and rightly so. They almost destroyed the very concepts of the books, drove fans away by the thousands, and failed even to garner new fans in number enough to actually break even. Marvel had dropped the ball here, and they knew they'd have to do something special in order to win back the fans of old, bring in new fans, and recapture the magic of what once was The Avengers.

                                                  Avengers V2 by Rob Liefeld and Jim Valentino
A new Golden Age
                                                Avengers V3 by Kurt Busiek and George Pérez

And so they did. They brought in the team of Kurt Busiek and George Pérez as writer and artist, respectively. And what Busiek did was nothing sort of astonishing : by going back to basics, he managed to bring about the best in all the characters, and in the first arc alone, pretty much everyone who's ever been an Avenger assembled together, once more to fight that menace that no single hero could withstand. Along with Pérez's superb pencils (he'll always be the ultimate Avengers artist for me), they ushered in a new era for these men and women, who truly were Earth's mightiest heroes. Their long run ended after fifty issues, and maybe a year or so later, it was time for Busiek to leave the title, only to be replaced by a young Geoff Johns, who had a memorable but woefully short run in the title.
In between, Busiek still graced us with the best Avengers stories ever : 'Ultron unleashed', and with the aid of Roger Stern, 'Avengers Forever', drawn by the great Carlos Pacheco. This story is the very definition of 'Epic'. He also did the mini 'Avengers Two' with Mark Bagley, and with the same artist launched the revolutionary 'Thunderbolts'; the fact that it endures still to this day is testament to his genius.
But after Johns left, things took a turn for the strange. He was replaced by Chuck Austen, a man who was no stranger to controversy, and he also had a short run there, not highly regarded by many fans, but one I enjoyed nonetheless. The departure of Johns was indeed a huge blow for the franchise, who was banking on him to continue the work of Busiek, but Johns opted for a long term exclusive with DC, and Marvel had to settle for something more temporary while they sought out for the  perfect writer.

And that came in the form of another young, up-and-coming, hotshot writer, Brian Michael Bendis.
Bendis, who'd made a name himself writing indy classics like 'Torso', 'Jinx', and 'A.K.A. Goldfish', was riding high on the success of his first Marvel hit, 'Ultimate Spider-Man', was not, at first sight, someone who'd be considered a natural fit for the book. But apparently, he had a plan. A long term plan, at that, with the Avengers at their core, but whose outcome would be felt throughout the entirety of the Marvel Universe.
And the first part of that plan? To destroy the Avengers. And it would be one of their own to do just that.

                                                 Avengers v3 #500 by BMB and David Finch
That's exactly what he did – he disassembled the mighty Avengers, in an arc of the same name. His approach was radically different than anyone who'd ever been there before, and while it might have put some longtime readers off by his choices, he brought in many more. His goal was to redefine what the Avengers are and what they mean for a new generation, while never losing sight of what they have meant to the generations before. During this first arc, and what would eventually turn out to be the last arc of the Avengers proper for a number of years, he began seeding his masterplan... one that would come to bear fruits years hence.
So what comes after all the destruction and grief he put these heroes through? A rebirth, of sorts. He and superstar to be artist David Finch brought us the New Avengers, with an all-new line-up, a different mission statement, and a new-found purpose. In were perennial favourites like Wolverine and Spider-Man, Luke Cage and Spider-Woman, with new faces like Ronin, Echo and Doctor Voodoo would eventually join the ranks. It was during the first few arcs that the readers begin to see what the plan was all about : as always, that ever-present menace too great to be faced individually reared its ugly head... and when it did, it promised to bring something an awful lot darker with it...
But before we got there, they'd have to go through many crucibles and hardships, much pain and heartache... and never more so than during 'House of M', a crossover with the X-Men, that sought to take care once and for all of the Scarlet Witch situation, responsible for, and literally so, the chaos that befell the team during the Disassembled arc.
'House of M' worked better as a concept rather than its execution, but it brought with it a new paradigm for mutantdom : where once there were millions, a mere 198 remained now. And the Avengers had to deal with the outcome of what had transpired. Tragedy soon struck again during the events of 'Civil War', an event that caused a massive division between the heroes of the MU : after the publicity seeking New Warriors accidentally cause the death of hundres of innocent bystanders, a law is put in motion to register the so-called superheroes; the reasoning behind this was if you own a gun, you'd have to register it, so it stood to reason that if you were a walking weapon of mass destruction, then it would make perfect sense that you'd have to be fully trained and registered in order to be out on the streets fighting the good fight.
Now, what this did, it created a schism between the heroes of the MU, dividing those who were pro-registration against those who opposed it fiercely.
How this affected the Avengers was that, by the end of it, factions from each side had their own team, and this, coupled with the supposed assassination of Captain America, led to some pretty dark times for the MU in general.
On one side, we had an officially sanctioned team, The Mighty Avengers, whereas on the other side we had a team on the run, hounded and persecuted by those who once were more than mere allies... they were steadfast friends, brothers in arms. This New Avengers team reflected a more urban side of the MU, as seen by both the roster and the type of stories BMB decided to tell.
But they'd soon learn that there were greater menaces at large, as well as some others that had yet to reveal themselves... soon they'd all know.

                                                New Avengers V1 by BMB and David Finch

A Secret Invasion leads to a Dark Reign

Secret Invasion
by BMB and Leinil Francis Yu
And so it was that the larger piece of BMB's plan for the Avengers began to be revealed. Ancillary titles like Thunderbolts, Young Avengers, and Secret War provided further clues as to what was bound to happen, and when both sides were least prepared, the villainous Skrulls, who had been plotting their sweet revenge since the events depicted in the mini Avengers : The Illuminatti, revealed themselves to be in control of certain key figures in the MU, having effectively infiltrated every layer of society. With this reveal, which caught all parties unawares, a massive fight for the planet took place in the pages of the event called Secret Invasion, that ended in such a manner as to, for all intents and purposes, cause a massive paradigm shift in the MU.

Tony Stark, the Iron Man, who rose to the rank of S.H.I.E.L.D. Director after Civil War, swiftly fell from grace after the Skrull invasion, only to be replaced by the wrong man, who was in the right place at the right time : the notorious Norman Osborn, once presumed dead, and maniac alter ego of the Green Goblin.
Dark Avengers
by BMB and Mike Deodato Jr.
And thus, with the rise to power of the psychotic Norman Osborn, jewfro and all, heralded a very dark time for the MU in general, and the Avengers in particular... in a spectacular reversal, the Mighty Avengers team (or a different incarnation thereof) became part of the opposition to the dark status quo that took hold of the MU, while the New Avengers team remained ever at large, but still trying to unseat the new overseer of the fates of the free peoples.
Osborn, meanwhile, crafted an Avengers team of his own, dubbed the Dark Avengers, which was comprised of characters with colourful, troubled and very violent pasts. The villains Moonstone, Daken, Bullseye, and Venom became Ms. Marvel, Wolverine, Hawkeye and Spider-Man, and Joe Q. Public was none the wiser as to who they actually were. Together with the God of War Ares, Marvel Boy, The Sentry and Osborn himself as Iron Patriot, this disaster in the making spread as much terror throughout the world as they did peace...
It was in this series that BMB perhaps shined more during his run in the Avengers up until then.
There was a time were his stories in New Avengers, entertaining though they were, seemed to be going nowhere, and his short run in The Mighty Avengers had some pretty neat superheroics, but in Dark Avengers? There he let loose all his creative juices, and to get into the hearts and minds of so many fragmented psyches meant for hugely entertaining amounts of bloodshed and violence, allusions to all kinds of sexual trysts between members of the team, and deep psychological insights of characters who'd been only barely explored before.
As the series title indicated, it reflected the dark times the MU was facing, and our man Norman decided to make them darker. Whoever did not comply with his edicts was instantly branded a traitor.
To make matters worse, he'd created a cabal of the most powerful in MU villaindom : Namor, Dr. Doom, the White Queen, Loki, and the upstart The Hood. For a common man, (at least as he was perceived by these perfidious characters), to approach them and put them in a position of being glorified vassals was nothing short of an effrontery without measure, but he had a secret weapon at his beck and call in order to hold sway over them. Doom himself felt the fury of this secret weapon firsthand.
With this power behind him, and with Loki whispering at his ear, matters that were bad enough to begin with, soon took a turn for the worse, as the ranks of villains in the MU began to organize themselves, and with a carte blanche from Osborn, director of H.A.M.M.E.R., began going after the heroes themselves.
And when things couldn't possibly get any worse, when there might have still remained a glimmer of hope, a new disaster strikes the heartland of the MU.

Asgard under Siege

by BMB and Olivier Coipel
The mighty city of Asgard, home of the Aesir – the Norse gods of old – lay floating above the small and tranquil city of Broxton, Oklahoma. An easy peace was soon struck between its inhabitants and the returned gods.
Elsewhere, the God of mischief Loki plotted to bring down the great city, and added further poison to Osborn's evil mind.
After gaining control of the MU's criminal underground, and having effectively held much of the U.S. in a grip of terror, Osborn set his sights on loftier ambitions : the destruction of Asgard, and if that meant deicide on a large scale, then so be it.
But how to do it, when the public's opinion was in favour of the Golden Realm? Here the dastardly hands of Loki began their pernicious work.
Volstagg the Voluminous, Aesir born, a God amongst men, a meber of the fabled Warriors Three, found himself at the epicentre of yet another cataclysmic event, one that would lead to a number of innocent bystanders dying, and that would set the invasion of Asgard in motion.
In due time, and soon enough, the armies under Osborn's control amassed at the very borders of the golden city of Asgard. His Dark Avengers beside him, the destruction of Asgard began in earnest. Man turned against the Gods themselves, and the outcome was never in question, even with the Mighty Thor battling for Asgard, the man with the power of a million exploding suns, the Sentry finally succeeded in bringing down legendary Asgard... and with its fall, so too something began to change in the MU.
The Avengers rallied under one single banner, and the returned Steve Rogers assumed the mantle of leadership once more, and something that had not happened in an age finally came to pass : the Big Three assembled with the Avengers once again. Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America, aided and abetted by a number of other Avengers, both present and past, put aside their differences to fight back the Osborn menace for good and all.
Ultimately, the Sentry's dark half – The Void – manifested itself, and it proved to be a mighty foe indeed. It took the combined effort of the Avengers Resistance and the Shadow Initiative to bring it down, and with a flurry of thunderbolts, Thor eventually kills the gestalt entity that was The Sentry/The Void.
In the aftermath of this, Norman Osborn fell from grace, and his H.A.M.M.E.R gave way to S.H.I.E.L.D once more. The darkness seemed to be fading at long last, and the dark age that had been dominant of late heralded a return to a new age of heroes.

The Heroic age – A new Golden age for the Avengers?

New Avengers V2
by BMB and Stuart Immonen
Avengers V4
by BMB and JRJr
And with the end of Dark Reign, came the Heroic Age, and so with it, brand new Avengers titles : out went Dark Avengers, Avengers : The Initiative, The Mighty Avengers, and New Avengers finished its first volume.
New titles include the second volume of New Avengers (by BMB and Stuart Immonen), the fourth volume of Avengers (by BMB and John Romita Jr.), Secret Avengers (by Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato Jr.) and Avengers Academy (by Christos N. Gage and Mike McKone), as well as a number of other peripheral titles.
These titles all reflect a different viewpoint of what being an Avenger is all about, sometimes leading to radically new interpretations of the concept : in Secret Avengers, the noirish and cover fell imbued by writer Brubaker and so deftly illustrated my Deodato Jr. Shows a seedier, darker corner of the MU... on earth and beyond, dealing with matters both mortal and godly. It is rather closely tied to events that Brubaker is chronicling in his tenure as Captain America writer, and has pretty much the same feel. In New Avengers, BMB is going for that urban feel yet again, a place where he seems to excel, but this time round, he'd bringing a good dose of epic to go with it. In Avengers proper, you have the good old-fashioned superheroics, with the mightiest of Avengers teams standing as the greatest force for good the MU can muster.
This is, by far, the best the Avengers have been under BMB. Here, and for the first time, he truly lets his considerable imagination run wild, bringing an undeniable sense of wonder and dread to the pages of the title. Of course, it being illustrated by the mighty John Romita Jr, makes it as epic as it's ever been. The greatest strength in this title is the return, at long last, to the very roots of the concept; it's not just fighting the menace du jour, it's really about assembling to fight the menace that no single hero can withstand. And here, here BMB delivers  in spades, even successfully tying the first arc to the awesome  Next Avengers animated movie, introducing its characters to the Avengers lore, while setting up a huge slew of mysteries that are destined to shape what the franchise will be for the foreseeable future.

Secret Avengers
by Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato Jr
But the breakout hit of the lot? Avengers Academy by Gage and McKone. Much as I am loving this current volume of the Avengers, there's something about Avengers Academy that gives it an edge over Avengers V4.
I'm tempted to say that it's ultimately due to Christos N. Gage's scripting – he is just as good as BMB when it comes to ideas, but is his superior in actually writing the stories. Featuring a cast largely comprised of brand new characters, as well as some old staples, Gage has a gift for getting the characters down pat. The sheer premise of the title – that these young heroes could be the next generation of Avengers – is turned on its head by the reveal that in fact, the reason (or one of the reasons...) why they are being trained and monitored is because they have the potential to be the greatest menaces the MU will face in the future. Artist McKone delivers the best art in his storied career, and month in, month out, this is the Avengers book that I look forward to the most.

Avengers Academy
by Christos N. Gage and Mike McKone
But not only in comics can we find the Avengers... recently, a new animated series began airing, and by Jove, this time they got it right! And I say 'this time' because years ago there was a rather forgettable Avengers series, and that fact seemed to hang over this new series, weighing it down even before it premiered.

However, the series absolutely rocks. It's The Avengers as we know it, everyone's there. Thor. Cap. Iron Man. Giant Man. The Wasp. And The Hulk. Yes, they did something that I figured ought to have been done many, many years ago : the green behemoth should have joined the ranks of the Avengers once more, he who was a founding member.
But there's also Hawkeye, Wonder Man, Black Panther, and so many more of Marvel's characters... it's an absolute joy to watch this series.

And, on the horizon, is the culmination of one of my lifelong dreams : The Avengers movie.
After it was first teased in the first Iron Man movie, with furher hints in The Incredible Hulk, and with Iron Man 2 seeding even more plants, upcoming movies featuring Thor and Captain America will lay the path for the 2012 release of the Avengers movie, as directed by the legendary Joss Whedon.
With Chris Evans as Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk, Robert Downey Jr. As Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, this movie has the potential to set the standard for widescreen epic action movies. 

It's going to be a long time until 2012, but hey, there's still the Cap and Thor movies to make the wait more bearable.
All in all, this is an awesome time to be an Avengers fan : the titles are the best they've been in years, the ancillary titles featuring the main characters are excellent as well, there's a bloody good animated series on TV right now, and a number of cinematic endeavours to satisfy even the most die-hard of fanboys.
Here's to the assembled ranks of the Avengers!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Birth of the three

I do apologise for the lack of updates here -- many a thing these past few weeks have conspired to keep me from writing here, and to top it all off, this week I got really sick, and just wasn't in the mood to write. Well, here, at least.
I am, though, in the process of finishing a comics related post, that should be finished sometime around next week. I needed to check a couple of things first, before I rounded it off, and since I did just that this very morning, I can now proceed to finishing it. Soon.
Other than that, (and even when/while I'm playing the addictive Plants vs. Zombies...) I've been doing a lot of thinking. Yes, it's that time again, where I must reassess my situation, consider what's essential to me and what isn't, so I can move forward from here. There have been a few projects that are nearing completion, one of which will be finished on the 29th, its first phase at least. Then in December, I guess, it's on to phase two.
Random thoughts swirling inside my head pertain to the influence that Metal has had in my writing. Not so much the sound itself, but because of both the mythic quality to certain genres and the poetic nature of the writings of some of my favourite lyricists.
That being said, there's also something to be said about the imagery invoked therein, and of the mood so deftly established by the choicest of words. It comes as no surprise then, that, and on an emotional level -- the kind of primal and visceral emotions -- I feel so drawn to it. It's an instinct that I cannot fight, and I find myself writing all the better when I choose to embrace that instinct, rather than struggling against it.
At the moment, I am writing three different stories : a ghost story with a rather unique twist, (at least in the sense that I have never heard of a story like it), which is to be called 'Until the light takes us', from Burzum's 'Hvis lyset tar oss', and a documentary of the same name about the Norwegian Black Metal movement from the early 90's; then, two other stories relating to 'One Nation' : 'Gilraen', a prequel set many thousands of years in the past, and in the second world. The name itself comes from Tolkien, though I'm guessing I heard it first in maybe a Blind Guardian album or something like that, and 'The story of the Three Sons of Seven', a sister story to 'One Nation' detailing the story of -- you guessed it -- the deadly trio that is set to be one of the main antagonists in my story. Originally, and way back when, when the story that was to become 'One Nation' was nothing more than a pitch I was working on to try and sell to Marvel Comics, which was really an Avengers story leading to an Invaders series, I was toying with the idea of making Taskmaster the ultimate badass villain he should be. But then, and as years passed, that story began to change, and I eventually merged it with another idea I was working on --  an end of days type superhero story with all kinds of religious imagery thrown in. That meant I had to run with it, and create my own characters. Well, one of the first to come to me was actually something that was pretty much the dark side of the mirror to a Captain America type character, someone who'd been experimented upon, someone who was but a number in a series of experiments to try and develop the ultimate super-soldier. Yes, I am well aware of the Wolverine/Weapon X parallels, but this is actually something different... I wanted my character to be both parts Taskmaster and Bullseye, and thus 'Seven' was born.
Somewhere along the way, though, and after he had caused all kinds of havoc and carnage, something (which I can't reveal here) happens to Seven, and the ultimate killing machine is finally taken down. The trouble is that the evil bastard had sired three children, and each of them had inherited one of his unique deadly traits... and now, the Three Sons of Seven are coming for revenge, and no one will be able to stop them once on their path.
I took the name, but it has actually nothing to do with the concept thereof, from Orphaned Land's magnificent 'Mabool - The Story of the Three Sons of Seven'.
More updates soon!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

My mind has changed my body's frame, but God I like it.

Phonogram : The Singles Club 07

I guess I may have touched lightly upon the wonderful Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie series ´Phonogram’ and its sequel, ‘The Singles Club’ a few months ago in a post I wrote about  MSP’S ‘The Holy Bible’. Now, and as I re-read both volumes in their entirety, I cannot help but feel awed by the sheer brilliance that is issue 07 of ‘The Singles Club’, called ‘Wolf Like Me’.
Now, one of the things that I have always looked for in a comic is a way to actually work songs into the story, without it sounding and looking way too contrived. Rather than adapting a song into story form, I was looking for stories that took something from a song, and then ran with it. Maybe, and I’m not too sure here, the earliest examples of this was way back in the ‘80’s, in the Grant Morrison penned ‘Animal Man’, wherein I recognized a lot of stuff from the likes of Peter Murphy, and others. ‘Sandman’, too, used the power of music to add to the story. So it comes as no surprise whatsoever that most of my musings include music in some form – ’36 songs’ was a prime example of that, as was ‘How it ends’, though they were, at their core, prose efforts only. I had an inkling of an idea, very early on, that the story that would become ‘How it ends’, when it was still called something else that for the life of me I can´t rightly what – though ‘Two more years’ sound very likely –, would work best as a visual story , but that never came through, for whatever reason. I then tinkered a bit with the idea of commissioning some illustrations from some folk I know, but that went nowhere, too.
Hell, even now, as I write my Untitled Ghost Story, I find myself interweaving lots of stuff from my Metal Years into the story – and it increasingly looks like the story’s name itself will come from that darker side as well.
But fuck, whenever I read P:TSC 07 now, I just want to a) not write anymore or b) write even more so I can achieve this level of mastery over the visual part of storytelling. It varies, really – I’ve read it some ten times alone today, and It always affects me in a different way. So the reason why I’ve read it so many times today alone is quite simply – it’s a largely visual issue, with sparse dialogue, and at that only in the first and last couple of pages. What words there are besides those, though, are pictorial and/or pertinent to the title track that lends its name to the story, ‘Wolf Like Me’ from TV on The Radio. All the rest – the words, the images, and the spaces in between, well… they are nothing short of a storytelling tour de force. On the one hand, you have Gillen, who for my money is one of the most gifted new writers – he always makes me wanting to read more of his stuff – ,and who’s someone who clearly knows what works visually and what doesn’t. For my part, thinking visually does not come easily, and a writer that does so with such aplomb, is always worthy of praise. But all those virtues are as naught if you’re paired with (or impaired by) a less than apt artist, with nothing less than a complete mastery of the storytelling techniques required to make a largely silent story work, and work so well.
Fortunately, though, he had McKelvie, who delivers all that in spades. Not only does he pull off the wonderful feat of making the characters seem all too real – especially during Kid With Knife’s altercation with the chavs – he also wields with such precision the skill to endow each character with his or her own specific nuances; their faces and expressions so finely formed and honed, their physical language, the way they are themselves beyond the shadow of any doubt… it’s staggering, really.
See, what it is really, is that comics amount to a combination of different languages to form a whole : on one hand, you have what´s written, and therein you find what´s written for the artist to interpret and what´s written for you to read. Artwise, there is the language of story-telling, and the physicality of making 2D characters come to life, and when those two languages come together, something else is born, something not bound or constrained by budget limitations or by the whims of an actor/director – you get an unique art form that does, and especially when done well, what no other form of art can do.
And even though what Gillen and McKelvie do here is no strictly **re-inventing** the silent story format, or coming up with a clever way of making it work, they excel in combining their skills with the idea of music – insofar as the intent was that selfsame, and the outcome, and for me at least, was the presence of the songs right inside my mind just as I read the issues. And `Wolf Like Me’, the song and the story, what they managed to do is nothing short of laudable – to imbue the spirit of the song in the story they crafted, to make it come to life in such a way as to make both song and story nigh on indivisible from each other, that´s the work of a master right there.
I mean, reading the story, and following the path that Kid With Knife chose that night, and seeing that look on his eyes – that primal, visceral, sexual look that my very eyes had so many times before – easily you can see why the song becomes the story, literally and figuratively.
Each of the sixteen pages that make up for the story are perfectly plotted, illustrated, and when they need to, dialogued as well. Every beat is pitch perfect, every picture spot on, and that conspires to give you the ultimate entertainment. As Kid With Knife himself answered the question he was being asked, - ‘Was… was that some kind of magic?’ – ‘I don´t know. You tell me.’

Saturday, 14 August 2010


What means the Manji?
Protection against evil! The source of infinite virtue!
Listen well… The Manji is the sign of all enlightened Bodhisattva, radiating the heavenly light of Dharma truth from the breast of the virtuous and majestic Kongo Manji. Manji, also Kaimaen, destroyer of evil. With the hundred thousand lights, the Bodhisattva Asangra illuminates the world of those who follow the Buddha. Likewise, upon the breast of the virtuous and majestic Dharma–Kaya Bodhisattva, Manji extinguishes heavenly light, revealing in an instant the hundred thousand wisdoms and virtues to all Bhodisattvva.
Assassin of the way of demons… at one with the Rikudo Shisho, the six paths and the four lives! Surely you know the Jizo Bodhisattva of the six paths… speak!
First, Yo-Tenka Jizo, Bodhisattva of Tendo, the way of Heaven! Bearing in his left hand the Nyoi Hoso jewel of Dharma truth, and making with his right the Seppo Mudra of the Dharma.
Second, the Bodhisattva of Jindo, the way of Man, Hokoo Jizo! In his left, a Shajuko pilgrim’ staff, with his right the Mudra of Yogan, prayers granted!
Third, the Bodhisattva of Shurado, way of Slaughter, Kongodo Jizo, the flag of  Kongo diamond truth on his left, with his right the Semui Mudra, virtue to the masses!
Fourth, the Bodhisattva of Chikushodo, way of the Beast, Kongohi Jizo! In his left, the Shakujo staff,  with his right the Mudra of Inse!
Fifth, the Bodhisattva of Kigado, way of Starvation, Kongoho Jizo! In his left, the Hokshu jewel, with his right, the Mudra of Manna, Kanro!
Last, the Bodhisattva of Jigokudo, the way of hell, Kongogan Jizo! The Kaenmado in his left, while with the right hand upon right ankle, he signs the Mudra of Joben, hope fulfilled!
In short : The way of Heaven, the way of Man, the way of Slaughter, the way of the Beast, the way of Starvation, the way of Hell. The Bodhisattva manifestations of the six ways! The Bodhisattva of those who live in Meifumado in pursuit of their quest.                                                                                                                                                                               

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Oh woe is me...

I am thoroughly gutted. After going through three (that’s right, three) new pc’s in six days, and on the verge of having to go for a fourth one, light dawned on me and I started to see that one of my favourite programs ever might actually be causing the computers to crash. Yes, Total Commander does not seem to be compatible with my Windows 7 enabled laptops. It is a sad day indeed…

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Friday, 28 May 2010

Live together or die alone.

The ending to 'Lost' was something that I was, in a sense, expecting. It's the logical ending, and it's a great thing indeed that most of the mysteries - old and new alike - remained unanswered. I was indeed expecting, on an emotional level, a punch to the gut. How mistaken I was to expect that. What I got was something akin to an eight-hit combo that left me in tears a number of times, especially the Jin & Sun bits, as well as Charlie & Claire's. And then there's the ending itself - I saw the episode twice, and both times I got a different idea of what the ending actually means. The highest kudos must be given to the writers who worked on the six seasons, but for my money, none are more deserving than the writing team of Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse; by far, the best episodes in every season were the ones they wrote.
So there it is, six incredible, sometimes mind-bending, seasons later, it'a fond farewell I bid to 'Lost'. For now, at least. Sometime in the next six to twelve months I expect to see the entirety of the thing again, and when I do that, I'll be able to write a few lines about the series.

[As a bonus, here's a clip with the alternate endings to the series, as written by Lindelof and Cuse.]