Ever wondered what happens to the donations people make to the poor box in the Irish courts system? I sent in a freedom of information request to the Courts Service asking that question.
Civil War isn’t really sure what the conflict is about, only that it’s an excuse for fighting (Widow v Hawkeye, Ant-Man v Ironman, Spidey v pretty much everyone), and at the end of the day, it doesn’t do much except serve as a stealth origin story for Black Panther and a Peter Parker reboot.
This is a pity, because there’s a big unexplored idea at the heart of Civil War. Following Age of Ultron, governments want to register superheroes. There’s a very brief debate early in the film, where Tony Stark puts the case for oversight, and Steve Rogers argues for freedom.
Meanwhile, in a cramped television corner of the MCU, Agents of SHIELD has to acknowledge the events in the latest Captain America. And while its outlook could have been just as Americacentric as Civil War, maybe using the film to riff on gun control politics, it managed to surprise, with a brief Agent Coulson riffs on the dangers that begin when somebody in a government office starts making lists of people to watch.
In an era where privacy rights are a matter of international tension, from Snowden to EU data protection, Civil War feels like a lost opportunity.
The disconnect between Official Ireland and the rest of the population has rarely been highlighted as effectively as during the past ten days.
The early Easter, barely a week after St Patrick’s Day, marks the contrast between the 1916 anniversary parade in Dublin this morning and the multiple parades around the country on 17 March. Dublin earlier today was locked down, as only invited guests were allowed onto O’Connell Street to watch as uniformed ranks marched past. It looked great on the television, but it didn’t look like fun.
Compare that to the informal, sometimes chaotic, but always joyful parades which took place last week not just in cities like Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, but in virtually every town and village in Ireland, featuring everything from kids wearing their local GAA colours to Macnas-inspired giant puppets. Parade floats showcased everything from Patrick himself (snakes optional) to satirical political commentary (I spotted more than one living doirama of Joan Burton in a canoe).
And tractors. Tractors as far as the eye can see, from lovingly preserved vintage Fergusons to state-of-the-art John Deeres.
Official Ireland celebrates itself at Easter. But the people celebrate their Irishness on 17 March.
I’m not really a comic book guy. I’m a story guy with a strong Sci-Fi interest.
I didn’t follow comics as a kid, outside 200AD and Dredd. Instead I picked up a comic here and there, inbetween reading the collected Asimov stories, or Ursula K Le Guin and Philip K Dick in the school library. And a lot of Harlan Ellison for some reason. And more recently, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.
Yet every where I look, when I find TV that looks interesting, a lot of it is comics. Or comics inspired. Daredevil. Powers. Bitten. Supergirl. Walking Dead. iZombie. Agents of SHIELD. Jessica Jones. Granted, some stories interesting than others.
Some stories feel “comicky”, even if not comics-based. Heroes was deliberately built on comic book tropes. Heroes Reborn. Supernatural. Orphan Black. Z Nation. Bitten. Grimm.
Some stories are brilliantly executed. Z Nation manages to take the best of Asylum Films production values (fast, cheap, not taking itself too seriously), and use them to create a story that is the exact opposite of the Walking Dead, yet eminently watchable. Tatiana Maslany’s acting range – one actor playing several distinct characters, each realised as an individual – makes Orphan Black compelling every season.
Some stories decay quickly. Sleepy Hollow became formulaic very fast. The third season has a villain I don’t care about. Tom Mison intoning dramatically can only take you so far.
And some I missed, because there’s only so many hours to watch screens, I’m still playing catch-up with Arrow. I have yet to watch any of Gotham. But maybe that’s something in me. Origin stories are frequently the most boring part of a superhero’s story, and The Phantom Menace has made me very wary of all prequels.
Besides, let’s face it. The best Batman is Lego Batman. He captures the essence, “I’m dark, Or grey. Dark grey.”
Comics are two dimensional. Literally. And because of that, I harbour a regular bias against comic characters, who are as two dimensional as the format in which they appear. But as more of my leisure entertainment is rooted in comics, that bias is challenged more and more.
That is to say, more of my entertainment seems to be rooted in comic book characters. I rarely read actual comics, but much of the movie and television I watch is dominated by comic book characters.
But so far at least, only the American characters are making it to the screen (even if sometimes written or heavily influenced by British authors like Alan Moore.)
And I quite like them.
But I don’t know most of the comics. Sure, everyone knows Superman, Batman, Spiderman, the Hulk and Captain America. And I suppose most people know the Flash, the Hulk, Iron Man. But Hawkman? Ant-Man? The talking racoon?
So the movies and TV stories need to stand on their own. Superman or Batman comes with goodwill. Viewers know where it’s going, so they’re forgiving. A talking racoon? You’ve got two minutes to make your pitch.
It helps that comics are created for 12 year old boys. They’re simple characterisations. Avenger. Lawgiver. Hero. Simples.
So in a way, it helps if the characters are two dimensional. A simple comic character is a simple pitch.
And sometimes, the story is just simple. And sometimes, simple stories can be very complex.
And sometimes, complexity gets hacked on to an existing template. The X-men evolve into a metaphor for discrimination and equal rights, from concentration camps to US race relations to gay rights.
But even then, the debates are often a case of “here’s a comic book reduction of the argument, now lets fight.”
That was the Marvel Civil War, for example. A debate that acts as a proxy for privacy wars and surveillance, or maybe for gun control, reduced to Tony Stark and Steve Austin exchanging blows, and a neat resolution at the end.
Spoiler alert: The surveillance state won, at least in the print version. That may change on screen, since it’s a Captain America film.
There are comics guys pulling their hair out at that over-simplification, because they followed the Civil War arc in detail. But stories evolve.
When I was a kid, comics were mostly filled with American superheroes, and British war heroes. Superman. Batman. Spiderman. Avengers. Battle. Victor. Warlord. Fireball. Action. For the younger kids, there was the Dandy. Beano. Topper. Whizzer and Chips.
Marvel and DC came in the post from the USA, an intermittent treat from the American cousins. One of the things I read it for was the classifieds, offering such intriguing goods as x-ray glasses and Hostess Twinkies. And sand monkeys. I always wanted sand monkeys.
And No Prizes. I wanted a No Prize.
But the American comics weren’t dependable. I’d get a batch of five Supermans together, then nothing for months. Issues were skipped, so I’d land in the middle of a story, or never find our how an adventure ended. Warlord and Fireball weren’t as exciting, but at least you rarely missed an issue.
Then 2000AD came along. Sci-fi was in short supply outside US sources, and here was an English sci-fi comic. They even noticed Ireland occasionally, first Murphyville and the Irish judges, later the entire Slaine mythos. Though I’m still not sure if that was a breakout moment for Irish culture or just a shameless rip-off of the Ulster cycle to attract the Conan fans.
I read 2000AD for years, but I lost touch with it in college. Every few years, I do a catch up, and read a backlog of Judge Dredd multi-issue stories. Outside Dredd though, I don’t follow 2000AD any more. Every now and then I hear something interesting, like the resurrected Johnny Alpha, but nowadays we’re like Facebook friends who rarely cross paths anymore.
I see enough bad news about the news business (the latest ABC figures, for example) so I thought I’d post these words, from Mr Justice Max Barrett on court reporting and privilege recently, on why court reporting matters.
Court reports are not just of interest to the public; they meet a great public interest. In a liberal democracy that prizes individual freedoms, all branches of government are rightly subject to the scrutiny of an ever-watchful public. Reporters perform an essential role in ensuring that members of the public learn of what is being done in their courts and why… This is so important a task that – except insofar as is necessary to ensure that the right of every citizen to her or his good name is protected and capable of vindication – the media must go relatively unconstrained in their efforts. Our individual freedoms are more fully assured in the collective freedom of journalists to discharge the role so eloquently identified for them by the late President Kennedy, in a speech to the American Newspaper Publishers Association back in 1961, being “not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasise the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply ‘give the public what it wants’ – but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mould, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion”, and, it might be added, not just to report, but to comment.
How come Hollywood can build realistic dinosaur models and CGI spaceships, but the special effects department still can’t recreate realistic puking?
Can someone please do me a director’s cut of Julie And Julia so that it’s just Julia?
When a party tells you its manifesto is “fully costed”, remember they were “fully costed” in 2007 too. Based on property tax revenues.
If someone holds a press conference and photo op, what you’re getting isn’t news, it’s PR.
The Irish swing voter: Someone who says they want Sanders, but in the privacy of the voting booth, goes for Trump.
The Big Lie, Part One: Spout any old bull you like, so long as it panders to the audience’s prejudices. Indulge yourself. Cite bogus studies.
The Big Lie, Part Two: When corrected, do not address your directly. Repeat the lie. Preface with “What the PC brigade won’t tell you is…”
The Big Lie, Part Three: Keep going until the media stop calling your lie a lie, instead referring to “a controversial topic”. Start over.