Salem’s Lot (1975) – Adventures in Literature

When it comes to the works of Stephen King, I’m more than familiar. Raised in a home full of Stephen King novels and frequently hearing of how amazing a writer he is. He is almost mythical. I got to meet him once. Granted, it was many years ago on a rare trip of his to England. I remember standing there in the rain, a child of 12, holding out a copy of the latest book my mother had purchased. I guess he took pity on me, still in my school uniform and asking as nicely as I could. To be fair, I think it would have looked pretty bad for him to turn away a kid, even if I was stood outside his car as he was waiting in traffic.

After that, I still hadn’t actually read a King novel. I’d read the first two comic series from Marvel The Dark Tower. Gunslinger Born and The Long Road Home. Both of which are illustrated by the wonderful Jae Lee, plus my copies are happily signed by Robin Furth. I’d attempted to read The Shining once due to my love of the film, but for some reason I never made it past the first chapter. During the year of my master’s course, I tried to read Carrie, and did manage to get half way through it. Though had to stop to focus on studies.

Finally, I have finished my first Stephen King novel. And of course, it had to be Salem’s Lot. I had always thought that the first book of his I would finish would be The Gunslinger. Given its shorter length and world.

Given this was my first experience of King, I wasn’t truly sure what to expect. I was surprised by his natural use of language. How easy it is to just keep going. At first, I wondered why it was taking so long to get to the actual plot. A little inpatient on my part. But when the plot starts to truly move forward, it’s this initial world building and understanding of the characters that makes the story all the more compelling. Of course, the character of Ben Mears will be important, but even an inconsequential seeming police officer met in the early chapters, Perkins Gillespie. Appears in the end and gives his take on what’s happening and his own knowledge of the situation. All the added detail of the other residents of Eva Miller’s boarding house may seem unimportant or just there to fill out the novel but getting to know them in normality makes their fates seem all the more striking. Most evidently seen with Eva Miller, her lodger ‘Weasel’, their long-ago relationship, and their eventual fate. While background details at first, their interaction with Weasel ultimately praying on Eva is all the more horrifying by how deeply personal it feels.

Once again Stoker’s novel Dracula comes into play. It would be interesting to find a good modern-day vampire novel that doesn’t at least mention it. Like Neville in I am Legend, our heroes in Salem’s Lot look to the book as a blue print for how to deal with the situation. Though other books are included. But it’s notable that at times, our heroes liken themselves to the characters of the book. For instance, calling the bed ridden English teacher, Matt Burke, their own Abraham Van Helsing. However, with these comparisons to Dracula, some of our expectations are subverted. Such as Susan maybe being the Mina of our story. Instead her fate is more that of Lucy Westonra.

The novel’s opening, with it’s vague description of the two characters is very affective. While the novel is slow, we know that at some point two characters will make it out of what ever will happen, only to have to go back. It will be interesting to see how the film addresses this, as a use of language can easily hide their identities. While showing it on screen is far more on the nose.

What’s interesting about the novel inverts my expectation of coming to a small town and finding something horrifying. Instead, it’s something that comes to the village while we are there. It’s small and doesn’t add up to much, but it adds a lot to my own experience.

While not something I would consider as overly horrifying or even scary. The novel is deeply enjoyable. Watching how more modern-day protagonists act when confronted with a vampiric threat. In Dracula, it’s technology and a look towards the future that allows the heroes to take on the vampire threat. As where in Salem’s Lot, technology and modern thinking has made it difficult for the characters to except that something they don’t fully understand is happening.

Well-defined characters, and a great plot. I’m glad this was my first King novel. Possibly the next in the King library to tackle will be Pet Sematary. Though something different next I think.

Next stop on the literary adventure: A Game of Thrones and The Castle of Otranto.

  • David, P., Furth, R. & Lee, J. (2007) Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born. Marvel Comics: New York.
  • David, P., Furth, R. & Lee, J. (2008) Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Long Road Home. Marvel Comics: New York.
  • King, S. (1974) Doubleday: New York.
  • King, S. (1975) Salem’s Lot. Doubleday: New York
  • King, S. (1977) The Shining. Doubleday: New York
  • King, S. (1982) The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. Grant: New Hampshire.
  • King, S. (1983) Pet Sematary. Doubleday: New York
  • Martin, G. R. R. (1996) A Game of Thrones. Bantam Spectra: New York
  • Matheson, R. (1954) I am Legend. Gold Medal Books: New York.
  • Stoker, B. (1897) Constable & Robinson: London.
  • Walpole, H. (1764) The Castle of Otranto. Oxford University Press: New York
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Dark Nights Metal (2018)

Hugely advertised and widely praised, it was difficult to resist Dark Nights Metal. I had planned not to pick this up until the collected volume was out. Every little taste in adverts and social media just kept tempting me. If the storyline hadn’t come out during an intensely busy period of work, I’d have likely brought every single issue of this and had to suffer the gap in between parts. However, with the deluxe volume of the main story in hand, and a little time free, it’s finally time.

Dark Nights Metal is a story that could only come from the team work of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. Though while it’s written by Snyder, there are moments that feel more driven by Capullo. Particularly more musically driven moments. However, this being mixed with Snyder’s horror inclinations, this could be considered the ultimate collaboration between the two. A mixture of otherworldly horrors from another dimension, twisted versions of Batman and the Justice League. All blended together with hard rock iconography, a guitar playing Robin and Superboy with Alfred on drums.

Having now read the main series for Dark Nights Metal, I am glad that I am already a DC fan. There were a lot of threads running through the story that were allusions or references to older stories. The more obvious ones are those of Snyder’s previous stories. The Court of Owls and Endgame in particular. But it also extends to things such as Grant Morrison’s Batman run, Final Crisis, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and nods to Elseworld stories. The map from Multiversity is also included, though I am unsure how much the book is referenced here as I have not read it yet. I am unsure weather or not the book is worth reading honestly. Aside from here, I rarely hear anything of it.

In parts, Dark Nights Metal feels like a culmination of threads Snyder set up, pulled together with a few smaller details. So, the story at least feels as though it has a purpose and not just something thrown together for two celebrated creators. It flows well, and while there are some convoluted or almost ‘Deus-Ex-Machina’ moments, it’s still a very enjoyable read.

While the event was largely promoted as largely a Batman story. Batman comes off as more of a MacGuffin than the stories hero. It’s him that connects all the Nightmare Batmen (obviously). He needs to take in the last metal to open the portal. He has a connection to the dark god Barbatos. But once their goal is complete, and the darkness has been allowed to infect this world. The story largely shifts to Superman, Wonder Woman and Kendra. Batman doesn’t seem to play a major role again until the final issue. I suspect this is actually expanded upon in the tie-in media.

There is a lovely moment with Bruce and Clark discussing the real purpose of the Bat-signal. That it’s not just to make people aware that the Batman is on patrol, or that he is needed. But that’s really there to shine a light in the darkness. It’s a lovely moment at a bleak part of the story.

There are a few moments in the early issues, where the editors seem to want to butt into the story. While it does start off as helpful and amusing, first explaining much older references, it later feels intrusive. Thankfully this stops about half way through. This could have been used to greater effect if it had been stretched out more sparingly. Though the note of calling a shaggy, unshaven and beaten Nightwing, Jon Snow is rather amusing.  These comedic editor notes, as well as the occasional joke does lighten the tones at times. Weather or not this is a good thing will depend largely on your own preference and expectations.

Interesting and fun though wrapped in a bleak wrapper. Worth the read, though diving into some of DCs past and definitely the tie-in material will greatly improve the experience.

  • Morrison, G., Jones, J. G. & Mahnke, D. (2008) Final Crisis. DC Comics: Burbank.
  • Morrison, G. Et. al. (2015) The Multiversity. DC Comics: Burbank.
  • Snyder, S. & Capullo, G. (2012) Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls. DC Comics: Burbank.
  • Snyder, S. & Capullo, G. (2015) The Joker: Endgame. DC Comics: Burbank
  • Snyder, S. & Capullo, G. (2018) Dark Knights Metal. DC Comics: Burbank.

Dracula (1897) and I am Legend (1954) – Adventures in Literature

Current efforts to better educate myself in the world of literature have led me to explore all the books I either missed, have always meant to read, or never finished. Several of these are books that were issued to read in high school, but went to class B rather than my own. We got Much Ado About Nothing, they got the more traditional Romeo and Juliet. They got Frankenstein, we got Jane Eyre. Etc. Basically, they had all the fun. Though we got Lord of the Flies.

The majority of this undertaking has come through the use of audiobooks while I work, though with prose copies on hand to re-read certain sections either for clarification or just to refresh my memory. What I have greatly enjoyed about this exercise so far, is how the use of audio books have made some of the more mundane acts of life more bearable. Manual labour, exercising, cleaning, etc. Really takes the edge off of a dull day.

Choosing a book is perhaps the hardest. I started with a list and the more I thought, the longer it became. In the end, there was only one clear choice. DRACULA!

I love vampire movies. Though I have never bothered to sit through the Twilight collection. In 2016, I acted as the projectionist for the University of Hertfordshire’s second film season. Bloodlust, a season dedicated to Vampires in cinema, curated by Danny Graydon. And while I thought I knew the story of Dracula, partly through movies and partly through a vague memory of reading it. I found myself wrong. In my mind, and through cultural osmosis, I had concocted an image in my mind of a bloody horror story. Complete with a monstrous man who grew young, and a trio of female vampires by his side. What I came to understand however, was a story surrounding how far men will go for the people they love. The tenacity of human will and the monstrosities of what we don’t understand.

In fact, I was shocked to find that the novel Dracula was more faithfully retold, though updated, in 1985s Fright Night than it is in 1931’s Dracula! Though granted, most film incarnations seem to portray a more handsome Dracula than that of the novel.

The method in which the novel is told, is through the lens of various storytellers. Made up of letters, diaries, recordings and newspaper clippings. Following the work Mina does in the middle of the novel, you could even say that the novel is the product of Mina organising everyone’s notes to help them better understand the circumstances and events going on. This style of storytelling does make you feel like you are in each of the characters shoes. That the change in language and perspective for each makes you feel like you get a greater sense of what is really going on. In fact, the only perspective that seems to be missing is Dracula himself. Though I imagine that at some point someone has attempted it. Probably in some attempt to make Dracula the far more sympathetic figure.

The novel begins with Jonathan Harker, working on behalf of a solicitor firm, traveling to meet a man in Transylvania who has just bought a property in London. Along the way, as strangers find out where he is going, they start acting strangely. Praying for him. Giving him food laced with garlic, a cross to wear around his neck. When he reaches his destination, he is faced with the old count known as Dracula. He’s pleasant, makes Jonathan dinner and gives him a place to sleep stay during his visit. But keeps him captive for far longer than intended. Any letters Jonathan can send, the Count reads. The only secrets Jonathan can keep for himself are the ones he writes in his journal. The one we are reading. Only kept secret by the fact that the Count can’t read short hand. The Count even has Jonathan write letters dictating that he is on his way back, and one that states that he will be home soon, even though he is still locked away in the castle. While in the Count’s captive, Jonathan finds oddities such as a lack of servants and mirrors. A trio of seductive but aggressive woman, and a lack of escape.

As Jonathan’s initial journal comes to an end, we switch to the perspective of Mina Murray and Lucy Westonra. Jonathan’s fiancé and her closest friend. While Mina waits for Jonathan’s return, she is staying in Whitby with Lucy. Through letters between the two and diary entries, we come to learn about Lucy’s many suiters, John Stewart, Quincy Morris and Arthur Holmwood. Each of which play a larger part in the novel. We hear of a ship that crashes off the shore of Whitby, one that in reality contains both the Count, and his supplies. How Lucy sleepwalks and once found herself in the graveyard overlooking the sea. Only woken by Mina running after her in the night. How Lucy suddenly falls ill, complete with small marks on her neck. Eventually, Mina hears that Jonathan has been found. He’s recovering in a hospital in Budapest where they are finally married.

While the Harker’s are away, we are introduced to the work of John Stewart who runs a mental institute in London. Conveniently right next door to the property Dracula has bought. As well as learning about one of his strangest patients. Renfield. Correspondence between himself, his friend Abraham Van Helsing and Lucy all lead to her attempted diagnosis and her eventual death. Before seeing her return as a figure that steals away children in the night. As all of our characters unite, compare notes and learn of the Count’s true nature. The party go to any means necessary to drive the Count back out of England, and back to the grave.

The novel is compellingly structured and a fascinating read. Despite the books age, it feels incredibly modern. Even in 2018, I didn’t once question why they didn’t use something that hadn’t existed at the time. It feels grounded and understandable. Things in a regular fantasy/horror novel that would come off as normal to the characters, but abnormal to use, feel just as out of place as they should be.

A better understanding of Dracula’s source novel gave me a better understanding of modern vampire lore. Though it has led me to question where certain tropes have come from. Such as the strong reaction to sunlight. Though if I had to hazard a guess, I would imagine 1922s Nosferatu.

After finally conquering the classic. One that left me hungry for more. It was a struggle to pick the next book to sink my teeth into.

There were a few logical progressions. From one Universal monster to another, I could have tried my hand at the likes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I could have gone to another classic vampire novel, or at least one I’ve heard about multiple times, Interview with the Vampire. I could have continued the horror theme and followed in my mother’s obsession with a Stephen King novel. Instead, I decided to carry on the Vampire motif but chose a book I remembered trying once as a teenager but could not remember why I never finished it. Richard Matheson’s, I am Legend.

I remember seeing a certain Will Smith film over 10 years ago now. One with the same name and a similar plot, though one consisting of Zombies. I thought the film was fine. It was on tv a lot a few years after its release, so I saw it multiple times. But something always seemed to be missing. After finally reading the novel, I have not only found what was missing, but a novel I truly adore.

Unlike the film, the creatures of the novel are ‘vampires’. Or rather infected humans that seem to act like vampires. As someone who has experience working in haematology and still owns multiple books on the subject, I was surprised that a biological approach to vampire lore had never occurred to me. The combination of these factors and a well written, though simple plot, give rise to this fantastic novel.

Fun Fact: The company that initial printed I am Legend, Gold Medal Books, were a division of Fawcett Publication. The same company responsible for Captain Marvel. Or as he is now known, Shazam! Not important, but something I found interesting as I’m now imagine a young Billy Batson suddenly finding himself confronted with a vampire apocalypse. Too scared to speak the magic words. Ending up devoured by the rest of the Captain Marvel family while Tawny the Tiger watches on, hungry for his share.

Our protagonist is Robert Neville. A man who finds himself attacked on a daily basis by vampiric creatures. He’s lost him wife and child. Everyone he knew, and it’s been months since he saw another none infected human. Through the novel, we follow Neville as he battles with depression, alcoholism and self-preservation. Over the years we follow his research as he tries to understand how these creatures even function. Fittingly, reading this after Dracula becomes very appropriate as Neville is studying the book at the beginning. But why do these creatures need blood? Why do they avoid sunlight? What is it about garlic that affects them? Neville, despite his depression, isolation and frustration, actively searches for answers. Going out of his way to find sleeping vampires to get samples, and set up experiments. Neville’s determination and the question of what are these creatures, drive this novel.

Despite Dracula literally providing multiple points of view, it’s possible I am Legend’s ending that gives the greatest example of perspective. The final part of Matheson’s novel up ends what we already knew about Neville’s world. His battle for survival as the last man alive, becomes the monstrous acts of a nearly extinct race.

Despite Dracula’s reputation. I found I am Legend to be the more interesting and compelling book. Granted, this could also come from my own background and interests. But both Dracula and I am Legend are fantastically written novels that compels you to keep going. Both are amazing pieces of Vampire fiction and should be required horror reading.

Up next on my adventures in literature: Salem’s Lot.

  • Bronte, C. (1847) Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. Smith, Elder & Co.: London.
  • Dracula (1931) Film. Directed by Tod Browning. [Blu-ray] Universal Pictures: USA
  • Fright Night (1985) Film. Directed by Tom Holland. [Blu-ray] Colombia Pictures: USA.
  • Golding, W. (1954) Lord of the Flies. Faber and Faber: London.
  • Graydon, D. (2018) Danny Graydon. [Online] Available from: http://www.dannygraydon.com/ [Last Accessed: 13.06.2018]
  • King, S. (1975) Salem’s Lot. Doubleday: New York
  • Matheson, R (1954) I am Legend. Gold Medal Books: New York
  • Nosferatu (1922) Film. Directed by F. W. Murnau. [Blu-Ray] Film Arts Guild: Germany.
  • Rice, A. (1976) Interview with the Vampire. Knopf: New York.
  • Shakespeare, W. (1591 – 1595) Romeo and Juliet. Royal Shakespeare Company: London.
  • Shakespeare, W. (1598 – 1599) Much Ado About Nothing. Royal Shakespeare Company: London
  • Shelley, M. (1818) Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus. Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones: London.
  • Stoker, D. (1897) Constable & Robinson: London.

My Hero Academia: Season Two, Part Two

“For those that are already in love with the world and our students of the U.A. Academy, then this is a must in your collection!”

my-hero-academia-season-2-part-2-limited-edition-blu-raydvd.jpgIn the near future, 80% of the population is born with super human abilities. In a world like this, becoming a superhero is more than just a fever dream. Superheroes are everywhere. Working every day to keep the world safe. They are respected, and idolised, and none is more well-known than All-Might! The symbol of peace. Students all over Japan dream of getting into U.A. Academy, the number one high school for superheroes in training, none more so then Izuku “Deku” Midoriya. Unfortunately for him, despite spending his entire life studying and trying to understand what it truly means to be a hero, Midoriya is one of the 20% born without abilities. Constantly ridiculed by his classmates and those around him for ever thinking he could be a hero, Midoriya still studies hard in hopes of being the first U.A. Academy student without abilities. It’s during a fateful encounter with his idol All-Might, and his own heroism trying to save a classmate, that Midoriya’s life is changed forever.

Based on the manga by Kohei Horikoshi and published in the renowned Weekly Shonen Jump. The same magazine that gave us Dragon Ball, Death Note, Naruto and Haikyuu!!. My Hero Academia found its audience almost immediately, to the point that an anime adaptation was practically inevitable. It’s 13-episode first season exploded in popularity both in its native Japan and oversees thanks to Funimation’s simulcast. And now, coming off the amazing Tournament arc that makes up the first half of season two. Part two is back and in full force with a brand-new release from Funimation!

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After the events of the tournament arc, it’s time for our heroes to go out into the world and get some real-life experience. Something every teenage high schooler either dreads or can’t wait for. Work Experience! But this is no ordinary work experience. Our heroes come face to face with their idols, learn more and more about their industry. Improve themselves in ways they couldn’t imagine, and even comfort a force more powerful then they could imagine. No one ever said work was easy, but when you come face to face with a dreaded, blood thirst serial killer, then you’re really put to the test!

Continuing its stunning animation change, season two, part two looks incredibly! Every punch, spark and movement are punctuated with exquisite detail. Iida in particular continues to benefit from this animation update, not only in the added hand gestures, but in the painful and determined looks upon his face during his arc. It’s clear that returning director Kenji Nagasaki is doing an amazing job.

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This new release of Blu-Rays not only contains all 13 episodes remaining of season two, in both English and Japanese. But includes the San Diego Comic-Con: IGN Interview, Inside the Episode features from Funimation and the textless opening and closing songs.

Season Two, Part Two of My Hero Academia raises the stakes and the enjoyment to even greater levels. Amazing characters, action pact experiences, all time highs, and bitter sweet lows. For those that are already in love with the world and our students of the U.A. Academy, then this is a must in your collection! My Hero Academia: Season Two, Part Two is available for pre-order and due for release June 11th on Blu-ray and DVD.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/My-Hero-Academia-Season-Blu-ray/dp/B07CF6X6ZT/ref=tmm_blu_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Zavvi: https://www.zavvi.com/blu-ray/my-hero-academia-season-2-part-2/11731779.html

Batman Ninja (2018)

The hell did I just watch!?

When originally announced, the idea of a Batman reimagined into a samurai adventure sounded amazing. An all new, almost Elseworld take on the Dark Knight sounded incredible. How would they re-imagine the cast? What would a Batman from Sengoku period Japan be like? Imagine my surprise when the film begins and instead of an Elseworld adventure, we are treated to a time travel experience!

When Batman arrives at Arkham Asylum to stop Flash villain Gorilla Grodd from setting off a deadly machine known as the Quake Engine. The device activates, and Batman finds himself hurdled backwards through time to Sengoku period Japan. Upon arriving, he discovered that not only had he been sent back, but several others had been sent back and been living there for two whole years. He finds himself surrounded by samurai guards wearing Joker masks. Upon escaping, Batman finds himself face to face with Catwoman and Alfred. They explain the situation to him and along the way he finds allies in the time displaced Nightwing, Red Robin, Red Hood and Robin alongside the Bat Clan of ninjas. As they go up against not only Gorilla Grodd and the Joker, but also Poison Ivy, Two Face, Penguin, Harley Quinn and Deathstroke. It’s a battle to return to the future in a time displaced, manic adventure.

The fantastic character designs of Takashi Okazaki are striking and beautiful. Something that seems to come naturally to the creator of Afro Samurai. Figures in this style are sure to be hitting the shelves soon. The films cinematography and choreography make all the more sense when you discover that the films director is Junpei Mizusaki. The man responsible for the bombastic opening sequences for many of the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure series, particularly the fan favourite Stardust Crusaders. Along with Mizusaki, Batman Ninja brings on another JoJo alumni with music composer Yugo Kanno. Unfortunately, this may be one of Kanno’s weakest scores, as the visuals overpower the score to the point of being forgettable.

All the characters feel ripped right out of the comics and help the film feel even more dynamic. With the glaring exception of Damian Wayne/Robin. The film portrays him as a happy-go-lucky and obedient kid just happy to be there. This is not Damian. Damian is a serious assassin in the body of a 10 – 13-year-old boy. The one who would possibly appreciate being stuck in this period of Japan the most. He has his fun moments, and does have a love of animals, but the Robin portrayed here feels like a completely different character.

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The films style is incredibly memorable and striking. Its backgrounds have a glorious hand drawn feel, with the occasional break into a water colour motif. However, the films 3D characters stick out terribly against the background and frequently break into very jerky and unnatural movement.

The film is by no means a serious story. It’s fun for the sake of fun. The characters work well in this new environment with a simple plot that allows the characters to stretch out and just be themselves. Mostly. It’s a bombastic adventure of spectacular proportions that’s not afraid to go over the top or bring out the big guns. The big, mecha, feudal Japan, guns…

Salinger in the Shell – The Intertextuality and Literature of Stand Alone Complex

The Ghost in the Shell franchise has taken many forms in its history. Beginning as a manga series by Masamune Shirow [Shirow.1989-1990], with two sequel books [Shirow.1991-1997] [Shirow.1991-1996]. The property was then adapted into a cult film from director Mamoru Oshii [Oshii.1995]. Since this, the series has expanded to include multiple television series [Kise.2013 – 2015], sequel films [Oshii.2004], and a live action American adaptation [Sanders.2017].

In 2002, the first season in the show Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex [2002-2005: Kamiyama] began airing. A show that has gained critical acclaim and become a cult favourite among the Ghost in the Shell fanbase. Both seasons of the show developed its cast of characters wonderfully, as well as exploring different themes ranging from identity, artificial intelligence, war, profiteering and terrorism. However, the first season draws heavily from literary references. Especially the works of J.D. Salinger. Primarily his novel, The Catcher in the Rye [1951: Salinger].

The novel follows the character of Holden Caulfield as he recounts the few days after leaving his boarding school in Pennsylvania and spends several days walking around New York. We see the world from Holden’s perspective. The people around him, the ‘phonies’ of the world and his overly protective nature of his younger sister. The story is a classic if controversial coming of age story about a young man finding his place.

The first season of Stand Alone Complex however, follows the counter terrorist unit, Section 9. Lead by Major Motoko Kusinagi. As they go up against a terrorist plot thought gone for many years. But as it suddenly rears its head again, Section 9 are deployed in order to stop it before anyone else is hurt. The return of the ‘Laughing Man’ leads to uncovering the many coverups and deceptions of the Japanese Government and health care system.

The logo of the eponymous Laughing Man character of the series, displays a blue smiling face with a portion of text moving around the edge. This text is a quote from the books twenty fifth chapter. “I thought what I’d do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes” [Salinger.1951:178]. The phrase shows up repeatedly in the show, in the episode Portraitz [Kamiyama.2003], one of the main characters, Togusa, while undercover discovers the phrase written on the inside of a telephone box. He repeats the phrase several times through the show, pondering it’s meaning. In the book, the phrase is part of a larger portion discussing Holden’s desire to just get away from everyone and never have to say anything or listen again. The name itself, Laughing Man, comes from the short story of the same name [1953: Salinger]. A story within a story of a boy taken from rich family by the mafia, who becomes horribly disfigured when his parents can’t pay the extortionate ransom. The boy grows to live among the mafia, having to permanently wear a mask to hide what they did. Secretly destroying the mafia’s plans from the inside.

At the end of the season, when the true Laughing Man is confronted about everything that’s come from this. He leaves a red hat at the building’s entrance, that Major Kusanagi eventually brings back to him. While in a different style. The notion of a red hat and the character of Holden does have a connection. In the books third chapter, Holden describes a hat he had bought earlier that day. “I took off my coat and my tie and unbuttoned my shirt collar, and then I put on this hat that I’d bought in New York that morning. It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks. I saw it in the window of this sports store when we got out of the subway, just after I noticed I’d lost all the goddam foils. It only cost me a buck” [Salinger.1951:015]. While the hat that the Laughing Man owns is not a hunting hat. The hunting aspect remains in the character through his actions in the series. Hunting down those he felt had wronged the critically ill by the government’s suppression of information that could have saved lives.

The first time we see the Laughing Man in his civilian identity, he is masquerading as a deaf-mute boy in a hospital. This is also in the episode Portraitz. Through out the episode, as he is quietly wheeled around, he is seen holding a left-handed catchers mitt, something that also appears prominently in the book. “So what I did, I wrote about my brother Allie’s baseball mitt. It was a very descriptive subject. It really was. My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder’s mitt. He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he’d have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at bat. He’s dead now. He got leukaemia and died when we were up in Maine, on July 18,1946” [Salinger.1951:033]. This connection between an ill loved one, and a left-handed catchers mitt is made stronger by the location of the hospital and sick children taking up the majority of the cast for the episode. As the episode ends, he leaves behind the catcher’s mitt for the children, but now with a quote written on the side. Having something written on it being a node to Allie’s habit of writing on the glove. What is actually written on the glove as the Laughing Man leaves, is a corrupted and shortened quote from the books twenty second chapter. “’You know what I’d like to be? I mean if I had my goddam choice?’ ‘What? Stop swearing.’ ‘You know that song “If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye”? I’d like – ‘ ‘it’s “If a body meet a body coming through the rye”!’ old Phoebe said. ‘It’s a poem. By Robert Burns.’ ‘I know it’s a poem by Robert Burns.’ She was right, though. It is ‘if a body meet a body coming through the rye.’ I didn’t know it then, though. ‘I thought it was “if a body catch a body,”’ I said. ‘Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy’” [Salinger.1951:155-156]. This is condensed down to just three lines, “You Know what I’d like to be? I mean if I had my goddam choice, I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all” [Kamiyama.2003].

When the Laughing Man and Major Kusanagi finally meet in the episode Scandal [Kamiyama.2003]. The pair talk about ideology, the events so far, and each of their respective goals. Kusanagi gives the Laughing Man a piece of advice, a quote. This also ties back into the novel, as the same advice is given to Holden by a former teacher of his. “He went over to this desk on the other side of the room, and without sitting down wrote something on a piece of paper. Then he came back and sat down with the paper in his hand. ‘Oddly enough, this wasn’t written by a practicing poet. It was written by a psychoanalyst named Wilhelm Stekel. Here’s what he – Are you still with me?’ ‘Yes, sure I am.’ ‘Here’s what he said: The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.’ He leaned over and handed it to me, and then I thanked him and all and put it in my pocket” [Salinger.1951:169]. While the relationship between the Major and the Laughing Man is different from that of Holden and his teacher. The point of the quote remains.

The ’Laughing Man incident’ is often brought up in the early episodes of the show, and later shown towards the end. The incident involves the Laughing Man taking a public figure hostage and pointing a gun at him, screaming about how it’s not fair. Even bringing him in front of a news camera and telling him to tell the world the truth. In this case, to admit that the government has been suppressing life saving information. The intertextual references to the works of Salinger is perhaps most strongly connected here. Rather than tying it to a book or character, this incident parallels the real-life death of John Lennon. This incident is paralleled again at the end of the show when Togusa takes up this same obsession and briefly considers shooting the same public figure out in the open. Complete with a copy of the book in his jacket pocket.

One episode in particular includes two very unusual references to Salinger’s work. In the Episode Escape From [2002: Kamiyama], an A.I. driven tank known as a Tachikoma escapes from Section 9 and spends the day exploring the city. The curious machine stumbles upon a young girl and ends up helping her as she explores the city trying to find her lost dog. As they travel, the young girl asks the Tachikoma if he know the story of the Secret Goldfish. The story she is referring to comes from the first chapter of The Catcher in the Rye as a story written by Holden’s older brother, D.B. “He used to be just a regular writer, when he was home. He wrote this terrific book of short stories, The Secret Goldfish, in case you never heard of him. The best one in it was ‘The Secret Goldfish.’ It was about this little kid that wouldn’t let anybody look at his goldfish because he’d bought it with his own money. It killed me. Now he’s out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute.” [Salinger.1951:001]. The story she tells the Tachikoma is identical, and is ultimately her way of telling the machine that she knows her dog is dead, but doesn’t want to admit it as they finally arrive at a pet cemetery. Towards the end of the episode, the Tachikoma brings back a device he found during his adventures. When the Major investigates the programming inside, she finds a virtual movie theatre. While she’s exploring a poster can be seen in the background. ‘A Great Day for Banana fish’, a reference to Salinger’s short story A Perfect Day for Banana Fish [1949: Salinger] from his Nine Stories collection. The same collection that contains The Laughing Man story.

A final but subtle reference can be seen in the final episode. As the Major goes to confront the true Laughing Man in the library, her hand moves over the handrail of the stares to reveal that someone has scratched in the words ‘fuck you’. While only a second on screen, this could be a double reference. When going to pick up his younger sister at her school, Holden finds the words ‘Fuck You’ scratched into the banister. He frantically tries to clean it up, hoping his younger sister didn’t see it. But at an earlier part of the book, in a far more pessimistic tone. Holden states, “That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose. Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say “Holden Caulfield” on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it’ll say “Fuck you.” I’m positive, in fact. “[Salinger.1951:183]. The words her in the show appear both right under the Major’s hand, possibly so out of place that she never even noticed it. But also, in a place that should be peaceful. Anger and hatred infecting a place of peace and knowledge.

Salinger’s estate is noticeably protective of his work. With The Catcher in the Rye in particular having no licences for adaptation. [Salerno.2013] However, these intertextual references, not just confined to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, but it in other media, may be the closest we get to a full-fledged adaptation.

 

  • Ghost in the Shell. (1995) Film. Directed by Mamoru Oshii. [Blu-ray] Production I.G.: JPN.
  • Ghost in the Shell. (2017) Film. Directed by Rupert Sanders. [Blu-ray] Paramount Pictures: USA.
  • Ghost in the Shell 2: (2004) Film. Directed by Mamoru Oshii. [Blu-ray] Production I.G.: JPN
  • Ghost in the Shell: (2013 – 2015) OVA. Directed by Kazuchika Kise. [Blu-ray] Production I.G.: JPN.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. (2002 – 2005) Directed by Kenji Kamiyama. [DVD] Production I.G.: JPN.
  • Salinger, J.D. (1951) The Catcher in the Rye. Penguin Books. London: UK.
  • Salinger, J.D. (1949 – 1953) For Esme’ with Love and Squalor and Other Stories. Penguin Books. London: UK.
  • (2013) Film. Directed by Shane Salerno. [DVD] The Weinstein Company: USA.
  • Shirow, M. (1989 – 1990) Ghost in the Shell (Kokaku Kidotai). Kodansha Comics, Tokyo: JPN.
  • Shirow, M. (1991 – 1997) Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface. Kodansha Comics, Tokyo: JPN.
  • Shirow, M. (1991 – 1996) Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human Error Processor. Kodansha Comics, Tokyo: JPN.

Action Comics #1000: A Celebration of 80-years of The Man of Steel

The image of men running in terror. One fleeing from the scene, another on the ground in confusion, and the final running straight towards the audience with a face that can’t seem to comprehend what he’s witnessing. A crimson and yellow sky engulfs the scene while at the centre, the destroyed remains of a 1937 Plymouth hoisted up by a mysterious figure. Clad in blue and red, a flowing cape, boots and trunks, with an emblem across his chest that screams “I am here!”. This is the cover to Action Comics #1. Cover date June 1938 with a copyright date of April 18th. 80 years later we celebrate that mighty figure on the cover with the publication of Action Comics #1000 on April 18th, 2018. That figure:

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Action Comics #1000 brings together ten stories by all-star creators, three pin-ups and an array of glorious variant covers. Celebrating 80 years of THE premier superhero. The talent contained within these 80 pages ranges from industry favourites such as Brian Michael Bendis and Jim Lee, long time Superman creators like Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway, and current staples of the industry including Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason.

From The City That Has Everything:

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The book opens with one of the longer stories “From the City that has Everything”, a title nod to Alan Moore’s famous “For the Man who has Everything” issue. Written and pencilled by long time Superman creator Dan Jurgens. The city of Metropolis throws their own celebration for the Man of Steel. All the while Clark is on edge as he knows of an impending invasion from the Khunds. During the celebrations people come forward on stage to talk about the good Superman has done for them. Some are police officers, others are former criminals who Superman never gave up on. When Daily Planet Editor-in-Chief takes the stand, he tells the crowd:

“When I think of Superman, I think of what they used to say about the best fighters in the World. That they always answered THE BELL. For Those of you who don’t know boxing, answering the bell means that during a fight, in between rounds. When the bell rings, telling the fighters to get off their chairs and FIGHT some more. No matter how beaten and weary they are. They get up and FIGHT.

As Perry continues, Clark realises that something is wrong and that what he’s been tracking with his senses is completely off. As he takes off into the sky, Wonder Woman comes to stop him. Informing him that the threat he has been so worried about has been taken care of by the Justice league, wanting to give him this day off. The league appears on stage along with all the others grateful for the impact he has on all of them.

“Your father is the most understanding man I’ve ever met, Jon. He knows he shares a bond with Metropolis. And That every now and then, in appreciation for all he’s given them. The people get to return the gesture. That’s what makes him Superman.”

Never-Ending Battle:

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From the writer/artist team of Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. “Never-Ending Battle” is a wonderful tribute to the legacy and 80-year history of the character. Framed as Clark telling Lois and Jon about his day and how hard he had to fight just to make it to them in time. An encounter with Vandal Savage has him using time distortion and disruption against Superman. A fantastic plot device that makes full use of it’s premise in order to highlight and celebrate everything from the 1930s, the Elseworld outings and iconic scenes from both Kingdom Come and The Dark Knight Returns, right up to modern day and DC Rebirth.

“I want you to remember an old adage. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Staying true to yourself. Abiding by the morals and ethics ingrained in you by your mom and dad. Along with the lessons you’ll learn in your own life, can pull you through the DARKEST moments. But if even THAT’S not enough. Sometimes pure GUMPTION and WILLPOWER are all you need to get you where you want to go and be with who you want to be with.”

Combined with there 2-year long run on Superman, which saw it’s final issue release on the same day as this. Tomasi and Gleason prove that they know what Superman is and stands for. Gleason’s art is stunning and stylised. Making full use of entire pages rather than shifting to panels.

As Superman’s quest through time and reality comes to an end, we catch up with Superman together with his wife, son and dog Krypto. Calm and happy as the story concludes with a birthday cake. Complete with 80 candles and a lovely message to the Man of Steel from the two authors.

Pin-Up: John Romita Jr.

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 The first of the books pin-up illustrations, John Romita Jr returns to Superman after his run on the New 52 incarnation. Unfortunately, this maybe the weakest of any of the book. His style doesn’t fit the character in the same way it does that of Batman or Wolverine. The composition and framing is wonderful, though the choice of Romita Jr. over someone like Gary Frank or David Finch is a confusing one.

An Enemy Within

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As Super as he is, Superman can’t always be there. What makes it worse is that even when he’s rushing to one disaster, he can hear another. As Superman is on the other side of the world, trying to stop Brainiac’s latest scheme. He can hear it taking effect back in Metropolis. Causing a high school principle to snap and take his students hostage. As Superman is still in Japan, he can hear how the good people of Metropolis take care of the situation. Praising Maggie Sawyer’s strong but compassionate command. Superman’s actions do help as it’s Brainiac’s devices causing the insanity, but the story still uses Superman to praise the hardworking people that keep Metropolis running. Fantastically focused story by Superman veterans Marv Wolfman and Curt Swan.

“You can knock them to their knees and threaten them with any number of tortures, but even against overwhelming odds, they won’t long bow down to any master. Compared to the natives of other worlds, their bodies are fragile. But it always amazes me how strong they can be. And while human passions can be infuriating, their unstoppable will to ultimately do right, even under the threat of danger, is INDOMITABLE. And I’m the one they call SUPERMAN.”

The Car:

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Ever wonder what happened to that car? The one on the cover that started it all. In “The Car” Geoff Johns, Richard Donner and Oliver Coipel explore the driver’s life. As he takes the car into a mechanic, tries to explain what happens and takes a long walk home, only to run into the man who stopped the car. Superman. He tells Superman all about his life. How his father was killed in the war, his mother died when he was thirteen and life in an orphanage was rough. He was stopped by Superman before in the middle of a crime. And yet instead of dragging the man back in, he leaves him with something to think about.

“You’ve had your fair share of knocks. And you can keep knocking the world back like you’ve done. Or you can make a decision. Today. It’s your life Butch. You can fix it, or you can junk it. it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.”

A short but very interesting look at the part of Superman’s first outing we never saw.

The Fifth Season:

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Perhaps the most surprising of all the stories in Action Comics #1000. The team behind American Vampire as well as the iconic Batman writer, Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque give one of the most grounded and heartfelt looks at the relationship if Lex and Superman. Joining the pair in an observatory as Lex explains to Superman, unaware the he truly is the Clark he once knew. The talk about how Lex used to spend his free time in the observatory, trying to send messages to other planets. Wanting to contact intelligent beings. Feeling stuck in this small town and unappreciated. He confides in Superman that on one occasion he made a mistake and didn’t heat up the nitrogen in his experiment. He should have died. Through a change in perspective, we see the reason he didn’t was because Clark had stumbled in and used his heat vision when Lex was looking away. The story of the two of them there as children are wonderful parallels. Lex wanting to make contact due to feeling alone, and Clark possibly there for a similar reason, but instead of comfort, he wanted answers.

From a writer that’s more known for his darker takes, particularly with Wytches and Batman. This story feels so full of heart for them both. A fantastic surprise from a master of horror.

Of Tomorrow:

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A short but bitter sweet tale from the minds of Tom King and Clay Mann. A future where the Earth is degrading. Superman comes back every year to a world that’s almost fire and brimstone, talking to himself about how he needs to stop coming back. That it feels like this is the five billionth visit. That Jon is growing into a fine man. Lois is being kept alive with an eternity formula, though is growing to hate the taste. That ‘they’ would be proud of Jon on Lois, before finally turning away and leaving. Revealing the final resting place of Ma and Pa Kent.

“We’re all Stardust Fallen. And so, we look to the sky. And we wait to be reclaimed. Good-bye, Ma. Good-bye, Pa. And thank you. For everything.”

Clay’s earthy artwork fits the story beautifully but adds a whole new level of depth by drawing his Superman to heavily resemble the late Christopher Reeve. Another fantastic nod to the legacy and history of the character.

Five Minutes:

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Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway prove once again why they are legends when it comes to Superman. “Five Minutes” is a fantastic little day in the life piece of both Clark Kent and Superman. As Perry is shouting over that Clark has five minutes to finish his story while the presses are on hold. Clark hears a disturbance and hurries out of the building. The fantastically energetic and invigorating story shows everything that could possibly happen to him in those five minutes. As he manages to rush back to his desk and finish on time, Perry shouts over that the stories dead and that Clark needs to take Jimmy and go report on Superman’s latest outings.

“The rush! The focus! The fact that I’m helping people – sometimes even SAVING them. Superheroing. Reporting. They’re not so different if you do them right. Man, I love my jobs.”

Though short, it feels like we see the world through Clark’s eyes. How fast paced and to the bone his world can be, and yet just like the Man of Steel himself. We can’t help but love it.

Action Land:

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Perhaps the strangest, and most divisive story in the collection. Paul Dini and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez bring us a roller-coaster amusement park history of Superman. Already a strange concept, but when it’s revealed to be all the doing of Mr. Mxyzptlk, it feels like one big loving send up to the silliness of the silver age and all the fun Superman comics can be. An enjoyable story that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, heightened by Garcia-Lopez’s stunning artwork.

Pin-Up: Walter Simonson

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Industry legend Walt Simonson brings his classic and dynamic take to the Superman in this fantastic pin-up! While the style may not be to everyone’s liking. It’s dynamic and attention grabbing presence is undeniably Simonson.

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet:

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Brad Meltzer and John Cassidy bring up an interesting but heartfelt take on what it feels like to be Superman in an emergency. Flying as fast as he can, he can hear a woman in distress. He can hear the trigger on the gun as he cocks, and he knows that he’s going to get there a second too late. To his surprise, the woman does something that buys him those few seconds he needs. The short story shows not just how Superman inspires others, but how he is inspired by them. Their courage, ingenuity, and bravery. The final moments show how humble Clark is, as Lois is the one to point out that today, “he met a good one”.

Pin-Up: Jorge Jimenez

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The final and strongest of all the pin-ups. Jimenez continues to prove why he is one of this decades best Superman artists. Dynamic, strong, with an overwhelming presence, but completely natural. Embracing even the classically mocked trunks as symbol of strength once more. Jimenez’s use of lighting gives Superman and ethereal presence. A man who has fought for truth, justice and the American way but remains true to who he is. A symbol of hope.

The Truth:

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Finally, the last story in the collection had both the most to prove but brought the least. With art by Jim Lee, who’s style really doesn’t fit the character, and the Superman debut of Brian Michael Bendis, the story acts as a teaser for his upcoming run on both Superman, Action Comics AND his Man of Steel mini-series. The few pages lack substance. The focus should be on this new villain and his final page ‘reveal’. However, the most memorable parts are two women debating about Superman’s trunks, and Supergirl piledriving into the villain. It’s possible that due to this being Bendis’s first outing, this could be a result of nerves or pressure, but let’s hope with time he improves.

 

The companion Deluxe hard cover, Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman, puts Superman’s history on display for the world to see. Action Comics #1000 honours that history. With a mixed array of takes on the character and an all-star creative team, here’s to many more years of the Man of Steel!