Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Requiem Vampire Knight volume 1: collected gothic perversity from Pat Mills and Olivier Ledroit

Requiem, the most luridly over-the-top, utterly deranged comic book ever published, has finally been collected into a graphic novel for the UK market, having been published in the Francophone world for years.

I’ve written about my love of Requiem before and spent years seeking out old copies of Heavy Metal magazine, the only place you could find the translated version (they always run a new instalment annually around May).

The lack of UK edition until now is shameful, considering Requiem is written by English comics godfather Pat Mills. Mills was the creator of 2000AD and wrote bizarre, visionary and violent comic strips that warped my childhood, like ABC Warriors, Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine and Ro-Busters.

It’s obvious that Requiem allows Mills to explore his rabid obsessions for an adult audience, so all the familiar tropes he explores in 2000AD – magick, reincarnation, religious fanaticism, hypocrisy, imperialism – are turned up to 11 and served with lashings of sex, sado-masochism, ultra-violence and gore.

So what is Requiem about? Put simply, Hell. The primary character is the eponymous Requiem, the reincarnation of Heinrich Augsburg, a Nazi soldier shot on the Eastern Front. Upon his death, he finds himself reborn as a vampire in the infernal world Resurrection.

Everything in Resurrection is perversely reversed, so evil is virtuous and characters grow younger as they age, eventually dwindling to foetuses. The vampires are the elite of the Resurrection social order, reincarnated from particularly monstrous humans. The Emperor Nero, Aleister Crowley, Atilla the Hun and Count Dracula himself are at the pinnacle of society. Their realm is surrounded on all sides by other fiendish nations, so war is never-ending. Which is exactly how the vampires like it, of course.

Tomas de Torquemada is a werewolf; rapists come back as centaurs; weapons scientists are high priests dedicated to burying knowledge; genocidal feminists from the future return as ghoul pirates. In the midst of it all, Requiem grapples with his nature as he attempts to save Rebecca, his Jewish lover who died in the death camps.

Yes, the good return to Resurrection too, born into the bottom end of society as lamiae. Death – as well as life – just isn’t fair.

This premise gives Mills all sorts of ways to amuse himself, as well as giving Ledroit opportunities to create astonishing gothic landscapes and epic battle scenes.

Ultra-dense Mills dialogue, ridiculously delirious art, convoluted plotting and the sheer insanity of the story make Requiem hard to follow at times. I thought I’d understand what the hell was going on better once I found that long-sought-after first episode in Heavy Metal. I was wrong. It was still gloriously bewildering.

Requiem is the ultimate bad trip, the grandest of Grand Guignol. Seek it out and read it, give yourself some gorgeous nightmares.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mad Men, Ambiguity and Transgression

The happy couple

I’ve been thinking a lot about a scene from the second season of Mad Men. It’s not a particularly dramatic, disturbing or funny scene; it doesn’t move the plot forward; yet it is unsettling in its own way. And it demonstrates why Mad Men is such thought provoking television.

It happens in episode 7 of the series. Don and Betty Draper are having a picnic, talking as the kids play. It’s an idyllic scene. Sunshine, pristine countryside and they’ve obviously enjoyed a good spread food-wise. Then, when it’s time to leave, they call the kids, simply shake all their rubbish from the picnic blanket onto the verdant grass and drive off in Don’s shiny new car.

The reason it sticks in the mind is primarily, I think, because there’s something massively transgressive about the Drapers’ wanton littering. It’s shocking to see someone on television doing this, more so than a brutal murder or infidelity.

That’s interesting in itself.

You’re also left pondering whether this is another wry observation on 60s mores (maybe people did give less of a shit about their environment then), whether there’s an ecological subtext (the first disposable nappies are introduced in this episode, as is Don’s new gas-guzzler) or whether it’s meant to make you feel that the Drapers are shits. Perhaps all three.

So, ultimately, it’s the ambiguity of this (literally) throwaway scene that makes you think.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Crowdsourcing the Detectives, Don't Get Cute...

Vic Mackey's guide to sensitive policing

Crowdsourcing (My jaded adman definition: getting gullible people to gather together and do shit for you unpaid) is very popular these days. If you go to Mashable and other social media news sites, you’ll see dozens of examples of how brands have used the concept, turning their punters into productivity/promotional drones.

Now my recent viewing of three Shield boxed sets has given me a great idea. You can have it for free…

A cop in the Shield tells a victim that any crime can be solved, it’s just question of what resources you can afford to throw at it. This gave me the idea of crowdsourcing detective work.

Let’s call it ‘copsourcing’.

Basically you create a site that oursources the mundane aspects of an investigation to eager ghoulish punters, portioning out fragments of evidence via an online hub. This might consist of reviewing a portion of CCTV footage, reviewing phone records or looking over financial statements. You’d get the server to break up the evidence so that the amateur detective wouldn’t be able to identify the case or the name of the suspect.

This started off as a joke during a meeting, but the more I think about it, the more of a good idea it seems. I expect a fat consultant’s fee from the Met very soon…

Friday, September 04, 2009

Would We Fight World War Two Now?

If only I hadn't been papped after that 13th brandy...

There’s a big hoo-ha in historian circles about whether Britain should have fought the Second World War or come to an accommodation with Hitler. Several revisionist historians are arguing that Churchill was, basically, a bit of a twat for keeping us in the conflict, including evangelical Republican Pat Buchanan. The contention is that we would have kept the Empire and Germany and the Soviet Union would have fought themselves to a standstill anyway.

I tend to think that these people are talking bollocks. WW2 was actually the last war where we could genuinely say we were facing an evil that threatened our civilization. But the debate also got me thinking about the social differences between then and now. My question is this: Would the British people now sign up to such a devastating and costly war? Would people now put up with the sacrifices involved?

I would say ‘no’. There are three main reasons.

Firstly, look at the shitstorm in the media kicked up by the death of servicemen in Afghanistan. Can you imagine the outcry the government would face over the death toll of 326,000 servicemen in WW2 (let alone the 62,000 civilian deaths)? We’ve pretty much got used to the idea that war is about us kicking third world arse in a high technology way without expecting casualties on our side. We were rather scared of a few jihadis with homemade bombs. If we faced an enemy with comparable weaponry to out own I think we would shit our collective national pants.

The second reason is that I don’t think our society is capable of unity any more. Everyone’s agenda is fragmented and I don’t think that people swallow the government line as unquestioningly any more. In order to fight a world war you need to mobilize a nation in a very regimented way. To do so you need a centralised media to tell your story consistently. With our multiple media channels, you might be able to sustain that in an initial wave of outrage (The War on Terror anyone?) momentarily, but I guarantee it would dissolve quickly.

My third and final argument is that most people don’t buy the idea of the enemy as an evil abstract collective block any more. I get the impression that the British people saw all Germans as Nazi bastards who deserved what they got for following Hitler. I can’t imagine that we’d wear the carpet-bombing of civilians on a Bomber Harris scale nowadays. We’d see German civilians as innocent individuals and deplore their deaths. During the invasion of Iraq, I guess there are many idiots who saw all Iraqis as worthy of bombing, but the furor over the deaths of civilians in American raids demonstrates that we won’t tolerate civilian deaths in the same way. Hence all the nonsense about ‘precision’ bombing and ‘surgical strikes’ in the discourse of modern military PR. We like the illusion that we only kill combatants. Be hard to maintain that illusion after Dresden, one would imagine.

Of course, all this is pointless conjecture because Churchill’s drinking habits would have been exposed in the News of the World and he’d have had to resign anyway.

In short, if we faced Hitler now, we’d be fucked.