The Feast From The East: Tales From The Cosmic Casbah

Something To Read With Relish

And Tempt The Taste Buds… 

SinbadThe dream I had, Rachid, this is all part of it somehow! We’ve been brought here by some mysterious force. Is it not written that a wise man will try to realise his dream, to follow it?” 

Rachid: “Some say it is through dreams that Allah speaks to mortal man… Captain! He who walks on fire will burn his feet…” 

The being “spontaneously generated” in a cave on a remote island, many parsecs off the Arabian coast. Seafarers discovered that stranger and brought him to Baghdad where he described in intricate detail th countless worlds to be found beyond our own, before the Caliph assured him that none of these realms could surpass the beauty of his own land and the glory of Allah.

This is the synopsis for Theologus Autodidactus, written by Ibn Al-Nafis, dating from as early as the 13th century is believed (in some quarters) to be the earliest precursor of science fiction, although its curious contents lean more towards science-fantasy. 

The notion of Middle Eastern Science Fiction seems so unlikely, compounded by the view that science and the proliferation of (new) ideas conflict with the principles of Islamic ideology. And yet there is so much more to this surprisingly burgeoning scene than it looks. The recent successful SF and Fantasy Book Festival held in Abu Dhabi highlighted what this unexpected region has to offer – most notably:

Iraq+100, a groundbreaking SF anthology that poses an intriguing challenge to contemporary Iraqi writers:

What might your home city look like in the year 2103 – exactly 100 years after the disastrous American and British-led invasion of Iraq?

And now there is the English translation of Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi. 

From the rubble-strewn streets of US-occupied Baghdad, Hadi the junk dealer collects human body parts and stitches them together in order to make the government grant them the proper burial they deserve. However, the corpse goes missing; soon, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, leading to reports of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. 

Hmm, not my cup of (cardamom) tea, this, but interesting to see how arguably the most famous classic SF/horror theme has inspired a uniquely – not to mention unlikely – Middle Eastern variation.

“Two tablets brought forth to the light, yet a third remains from sight.

“A final place must still be found, a place that lies deep below the ground…” – The Oracle Of All Knowledge. 

Once upon a time, shortly after we moved to my childhood home, my parents let out our upstairs rooms to students attending the local university. The vast majority of them hailed from the Middle East. So, fortunately, from a very young age, yours truly grasped the opportunity to savour the music, language, art, aromas, rugs and – Allah be praised! – delicacies of distant domains. 

Thus, fuelling my imagination by gawping at various awesome adventures such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and – ah! ‘im again – The Golden Voyage of Sinbad; and much later, stopping at nothing to acquire my own ornate antiquarian hardback edition of Tales From The Arabian Nights (translated and annotated by Richard F. Burton – the definitive rendering) (1888) – plus acquiring a degree in Near Eastern Archaeology – Brad was all set to trample all over such esteemed sites as Babylon, Nippur, Lagash and Umm Dabaghiyah (umm-what?!)… until…

Mum beseeched me not to go, fearing an escalation in tensions and violence in that region – ultimately, in sheer disbelief, yours truly witnessed/read about the vandalism and destruction of Iraqi cultural heritage (during 2003-04) from the relative quiet and safety of Bangkok instead…

To accentuate this scheherazade for the senses, there will be light sprinklings of the more exotic platters that nestle deep within the jukebox @ Brad Manor – all by the same combo who accompanied me on the streets of Manhattan, kept me occupied during those looong hours waiting at Middle Eastern airports, and inspired me to write both fiction and non-fiction during the Pre-Bradscribe Era @ a lovely seaside retreat on the Gulf of Thailand… 

“Flashing swords, leaping bandits, holy magic, bloodthirsty monsters, and sumptuous cuisine… what more do you want me to do, draw you a map? Read this thing” – Scott Lynch. 

Throne Of The Crescent Moon (first published in 2012) is a lush fantasy set in an alternate medieval Middle East. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, the last real ghul hunter of Dhamsawatt, King of Cities, Jewel of Abassen is aching to retire – presumably to spend lazy days relaxing with copious cups of cardamom tea –  but a new threat of ghuls: zombie-like beings reanimated by evil sorcery, more fearsome than any he has ever encountered, brings him back into this rather unusual fray.

Before setting out wholeheartedly to acquire a copy, my heart sank upon recalling my persistent – almost legendary – inability to track down any potentially groovy novel that comes to my attention.

And yet!

Before you can say: “Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel,” the very tome of which we speak managed to reach my grubby mitts, for a hardback copy indeed lay in wait at my nearest library!

The book itself has received rave reviews and its author, Saladin Ahmed happens to be the very same Saladin Ahmed who contributed to the recent Star Wars Canto Bight anthology compendium and – my minions inform me – is now writing Spider-Man! So far, it is proving to be an engrossing read; like one reviewer remarks, it plays in your mind rather like a Ray Harryhausen fantasy – high praise inseed! 

And why does the premise sound so intoxicating? 

Because it seems exactly like the sort of Arabesque swashbuckling fantasy adventure that Brad would write. Come to think of it, not so long ago, he DID attempt such a saga, whilst living near the beach a few years back – inspired by my study of ancient seafaring.

Accounts by Arab writers of exotic eastern lands can be dated as far back as the mid-9th century CE. The earliest existing text: the Akhbar al-Sin wa’l-Hind (unfortunately anonymous) compiles stories from merchants who told of uncharted islands rife with pirates, troglodytes, headhunters and “beasts” more fantastic than anything Magizoologist Newt Scamander encountered! 

More crucially, this is where we first obtained those fantastical tales of Sinbad, that adventurous sailor who had to brave evil sorcerers, giant crabs and whatnot WITHOUT the comfort of cardamom tea…! 

“He’s awake and listening to us. Sly little rascal. But royalty has need of slyness. And if he’s really the Kwisatz Haderach… well… Sleep well, you sly little rascal. Tomorrow you’ll need all your faculties to meet my gom jabbar” – Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam.

Well, bless my Chicken Arabiatta!

It is difficult to discuss this material without acknowledging the HUGE impact of Frank Herbert’s Dune. 

Exuding more pertinent geopolitical resonances in the 21st century than it ever could have managed on its initial publication in 1965, Herbert drew inspiration from the Bedou way of life, to create an elaborate desert culture: the Fremen, native inhabitants of the planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. 

For possibly the first time, numerous examples of Middle Eastern terminology filterted into Western literature. In their jihad against House Harkonnen, the Fremen launch razzia raids, wear aba and bourka robes, fear a “devil” named “Shaitan” and so on.

Please click here for an expanded study of this landmark work, winner of both Hugo and Nebula Awards, and praised by Arthur C. Clarke for its “depth of characterisation and the extraordinary detail of the world it creates. I know nothing comparable to it except The Lord Of The Rings.”

“Is that the end… of all the races and civilizations, and the dreams of the world, to be able to leave a few stones buried beneath the sands, to tell the Dark that we were here?” – Niun.

Another SF series profoundly influenced by Middle Eastern themes came in the eclectic form of the Faded Sun Trilogy by C.J. Cherryh.

Set in the Alliance-Union universeKesrith, Shon’Jir and Kutath each chronicle the Mri-Wars in this coming-of-age saga of Niun, the plucky protagonist.

The first volume begins with the Regul having just concluded a forty-year war with humanity. As part of the peace, they are ceding the desert world of Kesrith to humanity. However, they have neglected to inform its inhabitants, the Mri, who have served them as mercenaries for over two thousand years. These mercenaries have been nearly exterminated in these wars, and young Niun is one of the few remaining warriors. When the Regul seek to double-cross his people, he and his sister Melein, the last of the priestly Sen caste, form an uneasy alliance with the human Sten Duncan to rescue a holy relic that may hold the key to the Mri’s survival.

Despite being shortlisted for the Nebula Award in 1978 and the Hugo Award in 1979, this – and its two successors – are among the most elusive SF series to track down in print!

Time to set sail – for “every voyage has its own flavour”further east, beyond the Pillars of Hercules, across the azure Maha Thalassa towards the enchanted shores of what Persian seafarers called: “Al-Hind”…

“Mighty Kali. Mightier than thou am I. Make obeisance to me…! Dance. Dance for me!” – Khoura. 

 

“One of the five best SF novels ever written” – George R. R. Martin.

Why shouldn’t India have its own panoply of science fiction tales?

Delve into the wondrous textures of Hindu mythology and it will not take you long to discover bizarre accounts of gods striking out of glistening cities in the clouds, charging across the sky in “celestial chariots” firing bolts of lightning against inhuman enemies…

So it comes as no surprise that Roger Zelazny drew extensively upon such myths to produce one of the SF greats: Lord of Light. 

A distant world where gods walk as men, but wield vast and hidden powers. Are they truly immortal? Who are these gods? Their names include Brahma, Kali, Krishna and also he who was called Buddha, the Lord of Light, but who now prefers to be known simply as Sam. 

Although it has not ascended to Dune-like heights of literary adulation and popularity, Zelazny’s masterpiece is richly-conceived and plotted, and still widely-regarded by those who know as a richly-crafted work, its curious yet compelling non-linear narrative lauded by other top contemporary SF authors.

Your foreign correspondent here will endeavour to surge through this classic right now (for the unpteenth time) aided by a set of lamb biryani, with a bowl of naan chips, baked with cumin, coriander and kalonji seeds, (seasoned with Kashmiri spices and coconut – the way Brad likes ’em!) – and a cup of cardamom tea, of course

Love, light and peace.

 

“There is that about them which repels… The trident of Shiva cuts a path through everything. But no matter how much he destroys, we raise up more against him. So he stands like a statue, uncreating storms we will not let end” – Tree Of Green Fire. 

“You pace the deck like a caged beast; for one who enjoys the hashish you should be more at peace…” – Sinbad.

 

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Tales Of Sprained Deltoids: Throwback Thorsday!

By Order Of Odin – FIVE Ishs Of The Mighty Thor – What Sayest Thou?! 

They are brave, Vizier… braver than any gods before them, or any who will come after, I think. Would that I could sail with them… but Asgard holds me… ‘Twas not so long ago my son and I were enemies sworn. I hope that I have not sent him to such a terror… with enmity still burning in his breast. ‘Twould be too great an irony for this elder god’s mind to bear” – Odin. 

Heimdall’s Eyes! 

Why, Brad wouldst hath flown atwixt the fiery jaws of Fafnir the Dragon isself if ‘twould ensure the completion of another blogpost!!

But nay. 

For the last three months now, trying to describe the joys of Bronze Age comics (commonly referring to those ishs published between 1970-1985) has proved to be an unnecessarily difficult chore. Amass some suitably groovy ishs and discuss their merits: how could such an innocent task be so… troublesome? 

Only the God of Thunder – one of my all-time favourite Marvel characters – could lure me out of this annoying phase of inactivity. Gladly, a copy of The Mighty Thor was snapped up back in the day, and one of the objectives of my recent Bronze Age expeditions involved searching for as many back ishs of this title, as possible!

Enjoying the God of Thunder’s scene-stealing turn in Avengers: Age Of Ultron the other week, and my copy of Thor: Ragnarok (for the umpteenth time!) this past week reminded me how, not so long ago, the idea of a study based solely on those exceptional ishs of The Mighty Thor – all dating from the ’70s (of course!) – would be fun to compile. Besides, such great ishs doth lie in easy reach, for they can be – and yea! Verily, are – read and reread, and never become tiresome.  

So, from whence do we begin?!

Rereading #218, with its bold and suitably heroic splash page (see above!) provides tne ideal point with which to commence this scintillating journey through Asgardian awesomeness.

 

Tana Nile: “Silas, beware! We’ve fallen afoul of the mutant class – the underground dwellers of Rigel, creatures deformed both in body… and mind!” 

Silas Grant: “I can see that, lass… Tell me now what I’m to do about it! They’re all around us!”

The Mighty Thor #218 (December 1973) turned out to be SO EPIC that it’s very title: “Where Pass The Black Stars There Also Passes… Death!” did not appear until a special double (explosive) spread across pages 16-17. 

By The Golden Gates Of The Eternal Realm! 

The five Black Stars are among the deadliest threats to be witnessed in the Marvel Universe. Ever.

Gerry Conway is on top form here.

‘Pon Odin’s orders, doughty vessel: Starjammer carries Odinson and his faithful companions: Balder, Sif, a Rigellian woman named  Tana Nile, and curiously, a Midgardian sea captain by the name of Silas Grant, to the planet Rigel, only to find it abandoned. The Colonizers – billions of them crammed into a gargantuan fleet, hurtling across the stars – are fleeing the threat of the  Black Stars, which ultimately consume their planet in full graphic – and irresistible – John-Buscema-detail! 

For those itchin’ to seek out Classic Thor, this ish – with that striking cover produced by Rich Buckler – provides an excellent point at which to jump in. Why, page 18 on its own is absolutely frameworthy: 

“Even as we speak, the menace of the Black Stars grows more ominous... their terror greater with each passing second… Look… and tremble at a sight few gods have lived to describe… a vision which staggers the very imagination! The Black Stars… each three times the size of Jupiter…” – The Grand Commissioner. 

 

Grombar: “I say thee, young warrior… make the best of matters here! Verily, to dwell in dark Valhalla be not as tragic as thou dost think! After a time, thou shalt come to accept things for what they are. Mayhap thou shalt come to enjoy them!” 

ThorAccept this madness, old one? Enjoy it? Thor doth say thee- – Nay! I say thee- – nay! NAY!! A thousand times do I say thee- – 

NAY!!”

You know Brad: once he starts droning on (and on) about Odinson, Hela: the Goddess of Death won’t be far behind.

#251 To Hela And Back! (September 1976) did not reach my grubby paws until shortly after publishing this Post about her:

Despite not making a dramatic entrance until page 26(!) there is still plenty of thrills to savour amid these grim proceedings. Part of the “If Asgard Should Perish” storyline, Thor confronts the Vizier concerning the missing Odin’s whereabouts. Vizier tells him that he has scanned everywhere, except the Dimension of Death, because he cannot see into it. Thor decides to ride there to look for his father.

Once there, Thor is confronted by the legions of Einherjar. The God of Thunder sees a shadowy figure that looks like Odin. He fights his way to him, only to find it is Grombar, not Odin. 

Hela lets Thor leave her realm untouched. 

The late Len Wein took over script-duty from #242 (December 1973), thus establishing one of the classic tenures of the Bronze Age. 

“Aye, Harokin… he is free to continue his quest for his missing father! When the Goddess of Death doth come at last to claim the mighty Thor, ’twill be on her terms… and in her own good time!” – Hela. 

 

“If ’tis action thou dost seek, friend Thor, methinks thou hast found all thou couldst desire! A great alien vessel hath swooped silently up behind us… discharging a heavily-armed band of angry-visaged beings!” – Hogun. 

Strangely enough, the Avengers #191 not only introduced me to the Grey Gargoyle – who swiftly, and surprisingly, trounced Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! – but briefly referred back to The Mighty Thor #258 If The Stars Be Made Of Stone! (April 1977). Most grateful for the tip, ‘cos this tale – part of the “Quest For Odin” story arc – is such a swashbucklin’ cosmic caper of the highest order!

Riding the spaceways aboard the incomparable Starjammer, our heroes are set upon by a pirate vessel, its animal-headed crew led by the Grey Gargoyle. 

Captured aind shackled, our heroes are banished to “work” in th furnace room, but there is such a delicious twist in this ere tale! Again, created by those indomitable co-auteurs of awesomeness: Len Wein and John Buscema, you can find this very ish invariably atop the nearest comics pile @ my gaff. 

When setting out to accumulate the Bradscribe Collection just over two years ago, this was exactly the sort of cosmic classic yours truly set out to find.

The continuation of this particular adventure in #259 is – no surprise -equally splendid!

Fee-Lon: “Considering the way he is decimating our forces, only your invincible touch of stone can hope to defeat him! Or… are you perhaps afraid of this Thor?”

The Grey Gargoyle: “I advise you to hold your rebellious tongue, Fee-Lon… unless, of course, you wish to feel my touch yourself!”

 

Thor“Stand ye DOWN, base villain! Stand ye down from this throne… whilst thou still canst WALK!”  

Loki: “Tsk tsk. I see thy temper hath not yet mellowed, my brother. And I had so hoped thou wouldst take my good fortune well.”

Know ye this:

by the time we reach The Mighty Thor #264, Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me! (October 1977) the sprawling quest (story arc) for the long-missing Odin All-Father at last is over!

Bone-weary but unbowed, the Thunder-God and his stalwart companions return to Asgard only to find that Loki: God of Mischief, Lord of Tricksters – and (by the Norn!) Thor’s own half-brother! – hath usurped the Golden Throne!  

Come ON! 

If we’re going to have Hela in this Post, then we’ve always got space for her malevolent Dad.

Big John Buscema had already departed this title, but the ever-reliable Walt Simonson took up the pencils. His style is very impressive; here, his rendering of Loki is devilishly distinctive. Fortunately for us, Len stayed to handle some supercool scripts; ultimately, this ish provides rollicking good fun. 

All the while Thor and his companions had endured cosmic capers aboard the Starjammer, the Enchantress and Executioner plotted wicked deeds in Asgard. This ish proves no exception – they steal the sleeping form of Odin. While a couple of unruly Storm Giants take up Thor’s thunderous time, the Warriors Three: dashing Fandral, grim Hogun and the voluminous Volstagg, must rescue the All-Father from the evil duo.

Thor bursts into the Throne Room to confront Loki, but the mischievous one vanishes: “leaving only the bitter stench of brimstone behind, as befits him!” 

In a dramatic final one-page panel, who else but The Destroyer comes crashing through the wall!

Below, it reads: Next Issue: When Falls The God Of Thunder…!

And don’t forget the small print: “Thou shalt be here, right?”

Volstagg: “…When we find them, thou shalt see why Volstagg’s mere presence makes women swoon and brave men quake with fear…! Pfah! Thine enchantments are no match for mine own fabled battle prowess!” 

Enchantress: “Away thou over-stuffed mutton-sack! Thine awesome girth doth threaten to squeeze the very breath from me!” 

 

Iron Man: “…That leaves us only… Project 13!”

The Beast: “My sweet stars and garters! The Doomsday Device?! Isn’t that a little extreme, Shellhead?”

Nick Fury: “I’m with ya, Fuzzy! The way I heard it, that gizmo can waste this whole blamed planet if anythin’ goes wrong!” 

You know when people say that Cap America: Civil War is a more superior Avengers movie than Age Of Ultron? 

Well, one thing is for sure: 

The Mighty Thor #271 Like A Diamond In The Sky (May 1978) is a whole lot better than some Avengers ishs produced around this time. What an irresistible cover, featuring The Vision, Scarlet Witch, The Beast and Thor and Iron Man fighting side-by-awesome-side.

AND special guest star: Nick Fury!

The Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is another of my all-time fave characters, and to see him ponse about displaying his trademark badassery amidst the hallowed pages of Bronze Age Thor provides my own morsel of comic book heaven. 

Fantastic scenario, this:

The Thunder-God and Shellhead transport inside FAUST th super-machine but are repelled by its multiple defences. It warns our dynamic duo that it has absorbed the contents and properties of the chest that was stolen by Stilt-Man – aha! Been wondering when that particular bounder would put his treacherous, albeit extended, foot in it! – and, if they attack, it will fire a laser designed to obliterate New York. Against Thor’s protestations, Iron Man attacks anyway. The laser blast disperses harmlessly in the sky and FAUST begins to self-destruct. Easy-peasy, Shellhead explains. Thor’s lightning changed the properties of the chest, so that when FAUST absorbed it, it unwittingly altered its own structure into a fragile state. 

This ish is notable for being Len Wein’s last ish as a writer of this series. In the closing panel, as Thor soars into the sky above NY City, a billboard can clearly be seen in the background with the text:

“So long, Len – good luck!”

Thor: “Praise be to Odin! IRON MAN DOTH LIVE!” 

Iron Man: “You’d better believe it, Asgardian… if you can call this living! Hang on a second, while I discharge the excess energy your little transfusion fed into my armor… and then the two of us can start taking this place apart!!” 

Praise be to the late, great Len Wein.

These ishs offer a deliciously deft masterclass in how to craft top swashbuckling SF mixed with Norse goodness. And lo! He even cleft the chaff in twain! It has been an absolute pleasure over these last few months getting to know – at lasthis wondrous way with words. 

When Thor: Ragnarok director: Taika Waititi remarked how his main aim entailed capturing the the spirit of Thor’s “cosmic adventures from the ’70s,” these are probably among the very ishs from which he drew inspiration.

Yea, that, dear reader, wrappeth up this intriguing screed for the nonce. Verily, methinks Brad hath got thy mojo back!

And Fafnir can wait!

FOR ASGARD!!

 

“The gates of Hel are filled with the screams of his victims! 

“But not the screams of the dead, of course. No, no… wounded screams… mainly whimpering, a great deal of complaining and tales of sprained deltoids and… gout” – Thor.

 

The Daze Of High Adventure: Getting Back Into The Fantasy Genre After All These Years

I Think I’m Quite Ready For Another Adventure…

‘1st Rough In Tavern’: “The hunchback will have something to say about this!” 

And to think this blog supposedly concentrates mainly on science fiction…!

Well, firstly, some classic science-fantasy (tales of far-future lands where no/minimal technology exists) novels have come my way and, somehow, my reading preferences have veered – harmlessly enough – towards full-blown fantasy.  

Notepads at the ready – here they come:  

David Farland – The Runelords 1: The Sum Of All Men 

Robert E. Howard – Conan The Indomitable

Michael Moorcock – Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress

James Silke – Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer 1: Prisoner of the Horned Helmet (below)

“They came out of the sunblasted desert. Tiny dark specks wagging a tail of billowing dust at the yellow sky. Occasionally they glittered metallically… It was a mounted detachment. Nine riders with crossbows in their saddle holsters and sheathed swords, quivers and daggers riding their belts… The Kitzakk Horde…”

It’s amazing when you consider the quite impressive number of SF authors who dabbled in fantasy themes and managed to create some distinguished masterworks in the genre. Awaiting my attention is: Roger Zelazny – The Hand Of Oberon And a classic so monumental (not disclosing the author/title ‘cos it’s going to be a surprise!) will feature here in its own Post very soon! 😉

By Crom!

Carrying out spring-cleaning (while icy blizzards still surge past outside!) this doughty adventurer has uncovered notes and scraps of rough drafts pertaining to my stab (parry? thrust?) at a fantasy epic. 

Initially concocted in 1986, at the height of my immersion in Fighting Fantasy, Scabrous Face – still reckon that sounds awesome! – tells:

The saga of Malcolan, demonic Overlord of the Coarselands. 

Having led his Doragar Horde on a merciless and unstoppable sweep through the Western Lands, he decides to acquire what he has lacked throughout his reign of terror: a queen. 

He conquers one particular kingdom just to seize the king’s daughter – the most beautiful maiden throughout all the realms. But, before being slain, the Grand Mage: Gaspar places a curse on the Overlord. His son is weak and sickly; branded “Scabrous Face” by the crestfallen demon, he banishes the child to the wastelands… 

Malcolan is gradually subdued by unknown afflictions; as his health deteriorates, so the power of his dominion crumbles. 

Eighteen years later, a mysterious hero emerges. With his bold band of bahadurs (“fighters”), he marches straight towards the Overlord’s fortress to restore peace and order to their world… 

The original names do not appear here as they have been changed countless times over the years. After three decades, reading that very first draft again, it is not only… interesting, but forsooth! It’s a tad embarrassing…

Consisting only of the Overlord’s invasion of that kingdom (then known by a completely different name), these frantic scribblings form nothing but turgid – and repetitive – gory hack-an’-slashfest! Turns out that teenage Brad happened to be a far more bloodthirsty lil dweeb than anyone had ever expected… 

My epic consisted of  endless battles because it was completely male-orientated – obviously, an attraction to girls had yet to materialise.

Concurrently, plenty of influential material (both writing and art) cowld be acquired monthly: Warlock served as the official Fighting Fantasy magazine, while White Dwarf concentrated on role-playing games. This cover (in particular (below) had a profound effect – the hero of my fantasy epic is based on that ferocious wolf-pelt-clad fella. 

The music with which to accompany this Post comes from one of my fantasy favs: CONAN! (Not that recent poor remake starring The Sub-Mariner, but the original 1982 classic with Arnie). Basil Poledouris must have been a wizard… 

Never mind the dodgy title of the second track – it is one of the most mesmerising pieces of movie music.

And as for this theme tune: Anvil Of Crom, Brad refuses to gallop into the local village without it: 

 

Treasures are not won by care and forethought but by swift slaying and reckless attack” – Michael Moorcock.

In 1979, while The Black Hole bewitched me with its laser battles, The Black Knight taught me how to wield a broadsword.

No conflict between sci-fi and fantasy. Not in my mind. Both genres played a substantial part in – how shall we say – my formative years…

During the mid-’80s, Fighting Fantasy became my obsession. Unable to find anyone willing to delve into role-playing games with me, Fighting Fantasy proved to be the perfect outlet for lone adventurers. Each book, written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, contained a total of 400 numbered sections. YOU had to pick up clues; solve riddles; outwit traps; fight orcs, trolls, et al; navigate mazes and dungeons, etc. by choosing which section to Turn To.

“All you need is a dice and a pencil.”

Even devised some of my own Figjting Fantasy adventures…

Might write about them at some point, but there’s a LOT of stuff in that cabinet to sift through before they are uncovered…

Subotai: “We’re thieves! Ha! Like yourself. Come to climb the tower.

Valeria: “You don’t even have a rope! Ha! Two fools who laugh at death. Do you know what horrors lie beyond that wall?”

Conan: “No.”

Valeria: “Then you go first…” 

“I will allow you to live as long as you serve me. Betray me, and I will joyfully send you back to rot in hell” – Titus Cromwell.

At University, by far my most intriguing area of research concentrated on the art, numismatics and history of the Parthians and the Saka (the Indo-Persian name for the Scythian nomad warriors of the Eurasian steppes.) They not only directly inspired Tolkien’s Horselords of Rohan, but sparked a new and refreshing etymological and anthropological framework with which to reinvigorate my fiction.

Instantly fell in love with the mellifluous Old Persian language, and decided to rename my characters with some of these more evocative words. For instance, the name of Kulbahar (Old Persian, meaning: “like a rose in spring”) was bestowed upon the kingdom, while the ill-fated princess has come to be known as Ziba-Eszta (OP: “beautiful star”). 

But just as renewed enthusiasm filtered into my writing, that spark almost vanished. 

What could have cleft my fervour for fantasy in twain forever had to be this annoying repetition of the same old standard tropes: the indestructible (always white male) hero…

And those ever-so-noble elves… 

We have sat waiting like this many times before. Sometimes I tire… of the fighting and killing. At night, I can hear the call of my race. They wait for me. When I join them, we will be forgotten” – Crow.

During the ’80s, countless fantasy movies were rented – some were cheap and cheerful cheezy classics; a great deal more twerned out to be agonisingly atrocious…  

Hawk The Slayer (1981) is let down by an embarrassingly miniscule budget, but it holds personal importance as it provided my very first taste of a sword and sorcery film at the cinema. In particular, the elf: Crow (see above) captivated my imagination and set me on a lifelong fascination with all-things-elvish. 

Naturally, my fantasy novel just HAD TO HAVE its fair share of elfkind, but avoiding the overdone stereotypical connotations of this race proved quite a challenge. Notably, my most prominent Silver Forest archer: Delanian has evolved to become quite unlike any other elf you have ever seen… 

Itching to tell you more about this nonchalant supporting player, but, you know: spoilers! 😉

And those other tropes? The mischievous Goblins; the grumpy Dwarfs; the malevolent Orcs…

It occurred to me that a radical rethink of these other races is required by all fantasy writers to keep the genre fresh and original. In fact, from the very beginning, Orcs would play no part at all in my work. Instead, my massive unputdownable compendium of Fighting Fantasy Monsters: Out Of The Pit (1986) offered me an exciting alternative in the form of the Doragar. 

Described as a sorcerous interbreed between Orcs and Trolls, these berserkers fight tougher on the battlefield and work faster in the ore mines than their Orc cousins. Equipped with spiked armour and huge serrated weapons, the task is unto me to “bring them to life.”

“I don’t hate ALL men, Grandmaster…” – Red Sonja.  

“Over a year ago I was first introduced to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) but the more I have played it the more concerned I have become about the presentation of women with it,”  wrote a disgruntled (Miss) S.A. Carbery in a letter published in WD#70 (October 1985).

“The whole fabric of the pseudo-mediaeval games appears male-orientated. The female fantasy characters encountered (the few that show up) seem more likely to be serving wenches or prostitutes. 

I nearly brained my Dungeon Master when he told me the rules of choosing to play a female character and the restraint of not being able to attain the maximum strength of 18 – unless I was a Half-Orc. Not exactly a fair rule…

“Illustrations within WD involving over the top females verge upon soft porn. I will NOT  be fobbed off with excuses of historic nostalgia that women have been portrayed like this in pulp fantasy since 1920. RPGs could be very educational and highly entertaining. I think it is a great shame considering… that so few women seem to be involved and playing them. 

“Surely now it is time for change?”

From that moment on, such changes were implemented in my fiction – female characters would play more decisive roles. More specifically, the seemingly-endless Game Of Thongs trend of subservient female representation in the fantasy genre (alluded to by Miss Carbery) seemed at odds with the intelligent, headstrong and assertive young women who were rejecting me on an almost-weekly basis…

So when this fantasy novel received a belated revision during the Summer of 1990, the first – and most significant – alterations came in the addition of a number of female characters.

Over a decade ago, to try and quell the sheer monotony of my job in Southeast Asia, during one of my regular Yuletide return trips to the UKthe dust was wiped off my fantasy fiction file and various vital notes taken back with me to the tropics…

After finishing my job, greater concentration could be afforded to my writing and – oh yes –  this project in particular. TWO dramatic changes were made: the addition of an extra female character who – you’ll be pleased to learn – has been promoted to main protagonist; while the other major revision proved equally pivotal: a new and improved title. 

The enchanting Old Persian term: Vindahfarnah translates as “Righteous Ruler” – this encapsulates perfectly the core theme of the story!  

Alas, Malcolan’s fate came to another abrupt halt in 2013 due to – strangely enough! – the instigation of this blog. 

On this site, you may yet be treated/subjected to an excerpt from this sprawling epic 🙂

But now…

Once more, Brad must ride with his bahadurs to defend what was, and the dream of what could be…

Evil Witch: “Where is Deathstalker?!” 

Deathstalker: “Somebody lookin’ fer me?” 

Princess: “You came back?!”

Deathstalker: “By popular demand!”

Princess:Dayethstalker…? Is that your first name or your last name…?” 

Deathstalker:Grrr…

 

“Don’t Delay, Book Today!”: The Entertainer Is Back in Town!

2ooth Post!!

The Entertainer Blogger Award comes to me from the talented and entertaining

Danica @ Living A Beautiful Life Thank You, Danica!

“You mean old books?”

“Stories written before space travel but about space travel.”

“How could there have been stories about space travel before-“

“The writers,” Pris said, “made it up…” – Philip K. Dick.

Having succumbed to a particularly debilitating bout of Scribe’s Fever a few months ago, it was truly a delightnay, a blessing – to be presented with this particular Award. 

The Entertainer Blogger Award recognizes bloggers who are funny, inspiring and most of all, entertaining. This special Post – also marking my 4th Blogiversary! – happens to appear in the same week that this blog hit the 30,000 views mark. 

Yes, yes, this is a BIG brouhaha for me – it makes me want to dance on the beach; shout in the local library. Feel so high, wanna touch the sky etc. etc. 

One of the questions asked as part of this Award intrigued me:

What is your favourite book?

Thus, these last few evenings have been spent, deep within the cosy and cushty confines of the Sanctum Sanctorum @ Brad Manor, perchance to pour over the VAST array of books that one has accumulated across four decades and determineonce and for all – which of them proved to be The Life-Changers… 

“A room without books is like a body without a soul” – Marcus Tullius Cicero.

The most amazing SF novels to inspire me will – no doubt – feature here @ some point. Probably in two parts. Or even three… 

For this Post, we will – whole-heartedly – concentrate on the NON-fiction cabinet of my book collection. Selecting just FIVE titles proved to be quite a perplexing beard-scratcher in itself.

Without further ado, welcome to Brad’s Books 

Hmm, sounds like a vintage secondhand tome emporium, lost down some leafy English lane. No doubt such an establishment would look very much like the inside of his head: small, cramped, and full of dust and good reads. 

Aah, can see it now:  rather surly-looking fat Persian cat sits in the window, nestled on a comfy, leather-bound edition of How To Spot A Creep From A Distance.

A sign on the door reads: Come In, We Are Awesome!

“I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re sceptical” – Arthur C. Clarke. 

The first book that springs to mind is the tome that helped get me mixed up in SF in the first place – the joy of The Space Warriors has already been praised elsewhere, but then, it IS fiction, so instead, let me draw your attention to that other hefty tome snapped up around 1979/80: Alien Creatures, by Richard Siegel and J-C Suares. 

It is one of those books that could appeal at once to a moppet like me and an intellectual like my father. Its in-depth history of SF cinema came with such an incredibly stuffy, hi-brow text for such a small boy to ingest, (read it and appreciated it only fairly recently, in fact) – my immediate attention was especially drawn to the rare stills from the Flash Gordon RKO serials (repeated every morning during the school holidays back then) and Ray Harryhausen filmography then my main obsession.

In addition, it contained conceptual art by Ralph McQuarrie and “exclusive stills” of a space opera – from the director of American Grafitti – that had only appeared in cinemas that past Summer…

While that unexpected smash went on to transform big-budget moviemaking – and the whole course of science fiction (for the better?), Alien Creatures set the standard for what my bookshelves – back then: clean, sturdy and reputable keepers of knowledge – should come to expect… 

“Enticing, imaginative, readable, iridescent” – New York Times.

What’s that?

Want to read a book telling the story of how fifteen billion years of cosmic evolution transformed matter and life into consciousness?

Ha! Got just the thing – Cosmos by Carl Sagan admittedly, we were hooked by the ground-breaking TV series in 1980. In such a rare moment, the medium of television actually fulfilled its remit of offering an educational and entertaining programme.

In this bold project, here was someone – Dr. Carl Sagan – prepared to discuss the mysteries of the universe in a captivating and uncomplicated way. Not only did his book instil in me a wonder of science and a zest for all-things-cosmic, it taught me the value of questioning anything and everything (much to my teachers’ annoyance)…

And there are half a dozen groovy quotes accompanying each chapter, so when my blog came to fruition, one automatically assumed that quotes were obligatory – ha!

“The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be” – Carl Sagan.   

“Sh! We hear a rustling in the greenery and a soft sound of running feet. This is Procompsognathus, an early meat-eating dinosaur. But how small it is!”  

Every boy should have a book on dinosaurs, so Dinosaurs And Other Prehistoric Reptiles by Jane Werner Watson became my go-to – published in 1978, and it shows. The sauropods had to “stay in swamps to keep their massive bulk upright.” Moreover, the advances and discoveries made in palaeontology since this book’s publication are quite considerable. 

However, what sets this tome apart from all the rest is the INCREDIBLE artwork by Rudolph F. Zallinger. 

The wonder of this book lies in its staggering timeline. Along the bottom of each page, a yellow, numbered box represents a million yrs; a tiny illo shows which major type of dinosaur roamed Pangaea at that time. While each chapter describes the (pre)history of these palaeontological marvels – from the emergence of fish onto land to the final members of the Cretaceous Period – that timeline works in reverse. 

To put this gargantuan chronology into perspective, we homo sapiens barely make it halfway across the first page, while the dinosaurs hold sway throughout the majority of the book’s fifty pages…

Interestingly, the last (first?) beast to be featured is the fish-like Eusthenopteron that swam around 290 million years ago. The otherwise empty timeline terminates at 293 million years BC… 

“Down along the sunny shore, Tyrant Lizard finds the hunting better. He can walk fairly fast on his two legs on dry land. But he does not like to get too close to the water…”

“Science Fiction: still for some of us the most marvellous subject – or at least the second most marvellous subject. ‘The glory, jest and riddle of the world’ – at once abominable and abysmal in so many of its manifestations, and yet, in its best, the voice nearest to our inner voice” – Brian W. Aldiss (1925 – 2017). 

Now, where would this blog be without The Science Fiction Source Book?! 

Acquired during a Withdrawn Stock sale @ the local library, this veritable encyclopaedia of science fiction, first published in 1984 – edited by David Wingrove, with a Foreword by Brian W. Aldiss – represents, arguably, the best thirty-five pence ever spent. 

Following an introductory decade by decade Brief History of SF, there are sections discussing the sub-genres of SF; various small features describing the Art of Writing contributed by a whole host of leading writers; and a considerable A-Z Consumers’ Guide: listing authors from Edwin A. Abbott to Roger Zelazny.  

It has flown with me between three countries, in my travel bag, nestled next to both my writing journals, a copy of either Scientific Enquirer or The Economist, and whatever novel piqued my interest at that time. 

Even now, as this Post is prepared on my Dashboard, the Source Book lies in easy reach…

“The strength of Maisel’s approach to his grand theme lies precisely in its breadth… it is generously illustrated with diagrams, maps and graphs… both scholarly and accessible to non-specialists; indeed it is a tour de force” – David R. Harris, Director, Institute of Archaeology, London. 

Twenty years ago this quarter, mu Ancient History abd Archaeology degree @ The University Of Manchester began.

When the Unconditional Offer arrived through the post, my parents were so delighted. And relieved. My freelance journalism career had come to an abrupt, unforeseen halt the year before so my life needed a dramatic upturn. The next letter to come from Manchester felt like a dream – it contained a READING LIST!! 

Deep joy. 

Thus ensued a (mostly) satisfying book-hunt. At the Top Of The List – and deservedly so when recalling it in hindsight – was: The Emergence Of Civilization by Charles Keith Maisels.

Integrating Archaeology, Ecology and Textual History to produce a new Anthropological perspective, it charts the rise from hunter/gathering – through farming and advances in social complexity – to the rise of city-states in the ancient Near East.

Now, you’d think that a textbook with such chapters as:

“The relationship of demography and technology to social structure,”

“Is agriculture the outcome of technological discoveries?” 

and – whisper it – “The ecology of the Zagrosian Arc,”

would make for trying and tiresome studying, but no!

Far from it!

It proved to be endlessly fascinating, responsible for helping me to produce some of my most successful essays. My interest was, however, not all it managed to absorb…

One day, somebody accidentally sat on my backpack (don’t ask), thereby squashing my daily banana onto this academic behemoth. All three page edges remain cursed by dark, frightful – but fruity – stains. But for months the sweet essence of banana lingered.

Lo, every book tells its own story… 

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life” – Mark Twain. 

THANK YOU SO MUCH to each, and everyone of you, who have Liked and Commented on my various movies, comics, books, science and fiction gubbins.

Brad is a humble wordsmith, but is nothing without YOUR appreciation.

CHEERS!!

There is a lot more cool stuff yet to come. Promise!

And who does Brad Nominate for this Award?

Well, automatically, YOU who are reading this! (If you want to do an Entertainer Blogger post let me know and you will receive the full set of questions!)

By the way, this Post could not finish without a special shout-out to the Best Book Blogger In The Blogosphere, who can read a novel AND post its review faster than Brad can eat a burritothat’s some considerable talent right there…

Think she might be absolutely thrilled to see this: 🙂

“A book is a fragile creature, it suffers the wear of time, it fears rodents, the elements and clumsy hands. So the librarian protects the books not only against mankind but also against nature and devotes his/her life to this war with the forces of oblivion” – Umberto Eco.

As soon as this Post goes out, no doubt another half-dozen life-changing titles will spring to mind.

Ah well…

For the moment, this insightful, perhaps interesting dare one say it – entertaining – Post looks groovy enough.

Doesn’t it?

As for the Book With The Greatest Title Of All Time – it didn’t take long at all to work that one out: 😉

“Books are a uniquely portable magic” – Stephen King.

keep-calm-and-read-a-book

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them” – Ray Bradbury.

 

“The Female Man”: Issues Of Gender And Feminism In SF

Hey Man, The Future Is Female…

“After reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s work, I began to think about how women could explore alternate biologies and societies for their benefit. That’s the sign of good science fiction” – Marge Piercy.  

“The enormous appeal of science fiction is the ability to change just one or two small variables and see what could happen,” says writer Marge Piercy, whose 1976 novel: Woman On The Edge Of Time has become a feminist SF classic. “Up until [The Left Hand Of Darkness (1969)] most science fiction had assumed binary gender throughout the universe. She writes of a world where gender is irrelevant and sexuality completely fluid…” 

Aeons ago, when Brad was… oh, about that high, there was an easy peasy way to tell the difference between boys and girls: 

boys loved sci-fi –girls did not = it was that simple.

Nowadays, of course, such a statement sounds so trite and patronising… not to mention simple-minded. Encouragingly, more than ever before, there is active female participation in science fiction, whether it be reading novels or comics, or – better still – producing a new wave of critically-and-commercially-acclaimed material. 

As this Post will show, not only has the number of female SF writers grown, but the genre has always had a healthy history of influential female involvement.

Recalling those longlost schooldays, it would now appear that those attempts by girls to run off with our Star Wars figures signified concerted efforts to break barriers and expectations and try to infiltrate this exotic-looking Boy’s Club. Back then, of course, the very notion of ACTUALLY TALKING TO GIRLS about comics, spaceships, transdimensional engineering and the inner workings of

Mennotor 430 Neural Inhibitors seemed so… far out – as unlikely as…

as BBC’s Doctor Who ever changing into a woman…

“I wish my successor, whoever he or she might be, the best of luck… I think it might be quite nice to have a woman…” – Tom Baker.

Having established that the Doctors could transmogrify into another aspect of this particular character, then there was no real limit to the number of Doctors or the sex of the Doctors,” remarked Patrick Troughton, the second actor to play this particular character (between 1966-69).

In July, the biggest SF news happened to be the announcement of the next regen(d)eration of Gallifrey’s most famous Time Lord; this year’s Christmas special will mark the debut of Jodie Whittaker – the first woman to portray the Doctor since the series began in 1963. There came a point during the most recent season in which the current Doctor (played by lifelong-Whovian Peter Capaldi) explains – to his gobsmacked companion – how his race long ago transcended the whole gender-thing, and you think – aha! – better prepare for something pretty unprecedented here… 

When avidly watching the series back in the early ’80s, this boy – who constructed his own sonic screwdriver, used his own wardrobe as his TARDIS, and brought Teddy Edwards along as his own companion (aah bless!) – would have baulked at the prospect of having an actress in the titular role; now, of course, that prospect is in keeping with the fresh and innovative nature of the show and should be warmly welcomed.     

But Jodie will need a truly exceptional writer to make her tenure work…

On the threshold of making SF TV history, Whittaker said she felt “beyond excited to begin” reinvigorating the BBC’s longest-running SF series. Certainly, Verity Lambert – the producer responsible for bringing Doctor Who to television screens in 1963, would have been absolutely delighted with this news…

“[The Female Man is] a wonderfully inventive novel – this interplanetary exploration of feminist inner space, this sophisticated, playful fantasy book is, of course, all about reality” – Phyllis Chester.   

“You simply can’t underplay how ground-breaking it was,” remarked Yasmin Khan – advisor to the “Into the Unknown: A Journey Thro Science Fiction,” a major exhibition held in London this past summer – referring to Sultana’s Dream, written as early as 1905, in Bengal, by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (then aged just 25). “Raised in an upper-class Muslim family, she was denied a social education, like many women at that time.” 

Appalled by the social injustice inflicted on women, she created “Ladyland”: a technologically advanced matriarchy where women monopolize all freedoms, while men are secluded in the “madana,” a play on the Urdu word zenana (women’s quarters).

Imagined futures, and speculative concepts – the very styff on which science fiction has always thrived – should be enhanced and enriched by adding female perspectives.

The Female Man by Joanna Russ is a principal go-to game-changer in feminist SF, conducting a powerful and uncompromising critique, both of society and the patriarchal framework of sci-fi itself. Her writing offers “strong, witty female protagonists whose understanding supersedes the status games and repressive obsessions that occupy the other characters, often representatives of far-future societies that parody our own.”

Apart from confronting issues of genger and sexuality, as far as publishers were concerned, the matter of the author’s sex – and her sexual orientation – were considered a hindrance at that time. Nevertheless, the novel helped to begin tear down boundaries not just in SF, but in women’s literature in general. 

Its status as an all-time masterpiece has been recognised by Gollancz who fortunately included in their SF Masterworks series. Thus, unlike the other titles mentioned here, The Female Man CAN be found in my local library… 

“Traditionally, people turn to science fiction in times of political crisis.”

Cue The Handmaid’s Tale (1986) by Margaret Atwood, a dystopian noveland now Emmy-award-winning TV serialso timely and monumental, it deserves its own blog post…

“I’m a pessimist if I’m not careful, a feminist, a Black… an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive” – Octavia Butler.

“Considered one of the most creative, unique, and innovative science fiction writers of her generation,” is how feminist scholar Professor Rebecca Hankins describes Octavia Butler (1947-2006) – one of a scant number of African-American writers working in this genre. “Never one to sugar coat our existence, Butler’s writing always centres on women as independent, fierce, and unapologetic heroines.”

Her work also helped eradicate the genre’s entrenched science fiction image as “male, pale and stale.” She created a shape-shifting, gender-fluid creature in Wild Seed; a post-apocalyptic mute in Dawn; and the determined daughter in the Patternist series.

Therefore (one abhors having to admit this), because she does not fit the white male norm expected in the genre, this explains precisely why this SF “aficionado” has been deprived of all knowledge pertaining to this marvellous talent for so long. Moreover, it is a crying shame that her gender and ethnicity have proved a hindrance to her seemingly-deserved exalted status among the SF hierarchy. 

As for actually getting round to reading her masterworks? 

Well, not yet… 

It comes as no shock to learn that her books are unavailable in the half-dozen public libraries near me…

You want Arthur C. Clarke? 

He’s right here. 

Itching for Philip K. Dick? 

He’s over there. 

Do they have Isaac Asimov?

Are you kidding me? A whole shelf is devoted to his sizeable back catalogue…

Dread to ask the librarians if they stock ANY Octavia Butler:

“Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t have him…”

“Her works are an ongoing inspiration,” Professor Hankins continued: “…not only to black women writers, but to all of us to push the boundaries and imagine new fairer worlds.”

“Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen” – Margaret Atwood.

And while we’re on the subject of gender, you may be delighted to learn that – in the spirit of these enlightened fluid and flexible times – Brad will be changing gender as well. Henceforth, address all e-mails/Comments to Angelina.

Seriously though, an increasing number of media work is geared towards women writing exclusively for an all-female readership. Look at the subjects requested: history, psychology, sociologynothing gender normative about them. Nonetheless, in order to get more work in the online 21st century environment, this is the measure one must take to ensure a steady supply of cake in one’s larder…

*

Finally, let’s finish on an amusing – and thoroughly English – note.

That legend of prime-time evening entertainment: Kenny Everett provided the very first time this bunny saw any man in drag. They must have had a marvellous time making these shows – the production crew couldn’t help but laugh.

There are no SF-related vids here, but there may never come a more appropriate opportunity to show this classic sketch.

While compiling this Post, it was heartening to learn that Billy Connolly is due to receive a knighthood. 

Well, huzzah! Arise, Sir Billy!

Or should that be Dame…?

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming: The Bradscribe Review

Watch Out! The Amazing Spoiler-Man Can Do Whatever A Spoiler Can!

Let’s Face It: Brad Is The Last In The Universe To See (And Review) This Blockbuster –

Let’s Discuss This (OK, Geek-Out) Like Sensible MCU Fans… WOO-HOO! LET’S DO THIS!

“One of the reasons it’s called Homecoming is because it feels right that Spider-Man can finally inhabit the full Marvel world from which he came” – Kevin Feige. 

“Can’t you just be a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man?” Tony Stark remarks to our boy blunder: Peter Parker during Spider-Man: Homecoming – the latest entry in the phenomenal MCU franchise. By the time that underwhelming Spider-Man 3 appeared ten years ago, the franchise had become less-than-friendly, and that significantly less-than-Amazing Andrew Garfield double-ill was certainly not welcome in my neighbourhood…

Although Tom Holland (the British stage actor who excelled on London’s West End in the Billy Elliott musical) proved to be a brilliant – albeit brief – success in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, when news broke of yet another Spidey-flick it regrettably triggered my Reboot Allergy. So, not surprisingly, my reaction to Homecoming was not exactly welcoming…

However(!), the first Reviews turned out to be overwhelmingly positive; moreover, the premise of “Ferris Bueller with added webbing” clinched it for me. Besides, Marvel Studio’s uncanny knack of blowing our socks off in the wildest, most unexpected ways looks unstoppable right now.

Glad to see a Spidey movie not bogged down by any of that “with-great-power-comes-great-pretzels” malarkey from the Raimi/McGuire era. It is with tremendous joy – and relief! – that Director Jon Watts and his crew have succeeded at putting together a FUN and marvel(KABOOM!)ous time at your local popcorn parlour.

Quite simply, THIS is how a really Amazing Spider-Man movie should look like!

“You need to stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders” – May Parker.

“You got to get better at this part of the job…”

One factor that will be unanimously agreed is the casting of Tom Holland. Having hoofed it on the West End, he brings the required agility to do all (well, most) of his Spider-stunts. Yep, he operates in that “little grey area” pretty well!

Also, Tom Holland is – quite easily – the best big screen Peter Parker, portraying the awkward, mixed-up teen slouching along the corridors of Diversity High so well, but fairly early on, it becomes apparent that he gabbles too fast. When he gets together with best buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon), their exchanges, consisting of frantic whispering at some points, almost become unintelligible. Really liked his Extreme Interrogation voice – part of me wanted that through all the suited-up scenes! Seriously though, Holland has such a distinctive voice – surely anyone who comes into contact with Spider-Man would suss that it’s that doofus Peter Parker…? 

Apparently, it has been a long-touted aim of Head Honcho Kevin Feige to one day cross a MCU movie with a John Hughes comedy. And here it is! See Michelle (Zendaya)? That’s Ally Sheedy right there! A team of SIX writers is enough to doom any movie, but they managed to produce an entertaining package. However, the 80s vibe is not as fully realised as it could be; extra high school scenes should have been developed, especially with Michelle: an instantly endearing quirky gal who deserved additional funny lines; the script is not as sophisticated as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or The Breakfast Club. 

Peter Parker: “But I’m nothing without this suit.”
Tony Stark: “If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it.”

The rich, the powerful, like Stark, they don’t care about us! The world’s changed boys – time we changed too!” – Adrian Toomes. 

There is another awesome reason that helped push me into watching this, and that is the Vulture, played by Michael Keaton. “Fuck! They put him in a cape too?!” 😉

Rightfully enjoying a renaissance in his onscreen career, it’s a wonder that Keaton agreed to be in this at all: his third stint as a winged comic book character. Immediately, he instils a sense of menace that has otherwise been lacking from MCU villainy recently. The most extraordinary aspect regarding Adrian Toomes is how ordinary he is – an everyday guy just as frustrated and put-upon like the best of us; not only does Keaton convince, Toomes is so relatable. When Peter comes to pick up his date, you could feel a huge shudder of shock from fellow moviegoers as her father answered the door…

In his short and tender life, Brad has endured some very trying struggles, but… please, NEVER leave me alone in a car with Michael Keaton. EVER…

Not only has the “world changed,” but one quintessential element is curiously absent. Although we are mercifully spared the (exhausted) origins story, there are NO spider-senses(!) on display neither. Admittedly, this True Believer was never a big fan of that red and blue Spider-suit (it chafes me nipples), and my access to Spidey’s original comic books proved somewhat limited, but ask me to offer just one of the webhead’s defining traits and it would have to be those spider-senses.

Did the writers discard this trait intentionally?! With great reboots come great alterations? Not convinced. And certainly not chuffed that we were denied even a single tingle…

Watching Peter failing to come to terms with his new suit (voiced by Jennifer Connelly?!) is fairly amusing, and may be appreciated by this hi-tech generation (who probably ordered/paid for their popcorn via smartphone) but just shows how contentious the wilful tampering with a well-established character can be – it just doesn’t make (spider) sense. Honestly, Homecoming could have ended up with only 3 stars because of this…

Anyway, to emphasise what a shared Universe this is, having Tony Stark as the coolest – and richest – mentor an enhanced juve could have added such a groovy touch. Undeniably, the scenes that Holland and Downey Jr – ha ha, yes! – share together are among this film’s highlights.

And, oh yes, “Garry” 😉 is a blast as ever!

There is something else that would make required viewing: As prep for the role – to get a feel for American high school life – Tom (who is now 21!) posed as a student for three days – the teachers and fellow students had NO IDEA. Would love to see their faces as they watch this in the cinema and realise that that kid (soon to be a mega-star – and deservedly so!) had mingled amongst them that week…!

There were a number of LOL scenesperhaps not as many as this reviewer would have preferred; Ned, obviously, got a few chuckles (is there any other reason for his part in this?), but Aunt Hottie got the biggest roar in the auditorium during that instant-classic closing shot. In a single frame, Tom Holland’s startled expression here encapsulates the sheer entertainment value of this latest MCU triumph – it’s priceless.

 

BRADSCRIBE VERDICT: How many more of these? 😉

Tom Holland: “That’s amazing! I thought he would take a huge amount of persuading… but Rob [Downey Jr.] said yes. He loved being here – he was like a happy little kid on set.”

Tony Stark: “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that…” 

 

Rantin’ And Killraven: What’s HOT On The Bronze Age Comics IN Pile

Madre De Dios! More Mighty Marvel Mayhem!

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“A quest… You humans love quests and epics… romantic notions… absurdities which clutter your lives and distort your base realities!” – The High Overlord.  

NIX OLYMPIA VOLCANO, MARS – DECEMBER 2019

“He had touched the blade of grass… and it turned to red Martian dust beneath his hands. The sand shifts through his fingers now, and Killraven knows for a certainty that the desert he kneels upon is located on the planet Mars. 

“He is alone with that truth – and the truth is staggering!”

But what is truly staggering is that how a comic entitled: War Of The Worlds featuring Wellsian Martians (on giant tortoiseback, by gad!), alien vistas and high adventure on the Fourth Rock From The Sun with a Terran hero bestriding the russet landscape sportin’ thigh-high boots could turn (on?!) out to be so…

disappointing. 

Killraven: ha! Now there’s a name ta die for!

Isn’t it…?

With the right creative team, this should have developed into a hit – at least a cult classic, but no… 

As a fan of all things Martian, hopes that #36 (May 1976) would be a joy to behold were running high, until the reaction was so low. No prizes for guessing that this title was cancelled after only 30+ ishs…

Anyway! Welcome back to the weird wonderful world of Bradscribe – apologies for the delay since the last Post, but things have been hectic around here.

Once more unto the back issue boxes, dear friends!

Undoubtedly the highlight of Summer ’16 involved delving into the treasures of Bronze Age comics – that exceedingly special time from c. 1970 (curiously estimated with the debut ish of Conan The Barbarian of all things) up until the mid-’80s (and the death of Jean Grey?) when some exceptional titles were produced. At the most, taking advantage of the opportunity to catch up with some truly remarkable writers and artists; pleasantly acquire previously unknown titles; and dip nostalgically into editions that used to belong in my bedroom but for whatever outlandish reason got lost in the mists of time has transmogrified into an enjoyable and worthwhile venture. 

For me, the Bronze Age happened to be the best period for comic books. Killraven – for all its faults – demonstrates how experimental and innovative Marvel Comics could be during the 1970s.

Here then are some of the special ishs that have accumulated in my specially-reserved box this past few months:

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“The brute still lives! Such ineffable strength and longevity are almost beyond my experience and bear further study at The Project!” – The Hate-Monger.  

“The first rays of the crescent moon found the blood-red pendant grafted to John Jameson’s throat and he becomes a beast: Man-Wolf!”

Yes, yes, we covered that lupine moonbeast here: but that was too long ago, and quite frankly, he deserves more blogspace – for he is an extraordinary character simply never available on the Southern English newsstands of my youth. And it is a pleasure to finally catch up with his stunning series.

From ish #30, Man-Wolf became the sole principal star of Creatures On The Loose, until being cancelled (with ish #37 back in 1975). Ish #35: Wolfquest (May 1975) is – rip-roaring sci-fi action/adventure at its 70s best.

“David Kraft wrote it; George Perez drew it; you get to read it!” says the text on the groovy front page. There is also an ace cameo from Colonel Nick Fury (one of my all-time fave comic book characters) – “Sonuvagun if it ain’t!” – and Dum Dum Dugan! 

As penultimate pages go, this – the death of the Hate-Monger is as awesome and intense as Bronze Age comic art gets – proudly loaded up here (above).

Can’t help thinking what Perez would have done with Killraven…

And there was no way that Col. Fury’s dramatic entrance could not be included here:

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Nick Fury: “Dum Dum, ya big walrus, quit flounderin’ and folla me!”

Dum Dum Dugan: “Fergit it, Nick – I ain’t goin’ nowhere without my blamed Derby!” 

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Thanos: “Would you believe I’m doing all this out of the goodness of my heart?” 

Adam Warlock: “No, for I perceive that you have no heart!”

Like the BA gem listed above, (The Power Of) Warlock was also cancelled in its prime, but Adam, the golden-hued character himself made such an indelible impression on my infant mind.

More tragically, the original series lasted no more than just 15 ishs. Ironically, Warlock – “By Orion!” – has attained hallowed cult status and is extremely difficult to come by; when my sensors did detect odd editions, the going rate seemed ridiculously high. So finding that immortal classic: Warlock #10: How Strange My Destiny (December 1975) (for a thankfully ridiculously low price!) proved to be an exceptional find.

The first part of the acclaimed Magus Saga in which Adam makes an uneasy alliance with notorious bad seed: Thanos in his showdown with the Magus. It also features Gamora (of Guardians of the Galaxy fame!) and Pip The Troll (who – judging from the letters pages – became a sensation among Marvelites far and wide!)

Thanos – and (let’s be honest) even Pip The Troll – would have swept the floor with Killraven…

As Adam realizes with horror: “My mind is a cesspool of corruption that will someday spawn the Magus” – the Magus is Adam Warlock’s future self!

Blimey Charley, what a humdinger! 

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“25,000 armed Black Knights just to kill four unarmed intruders?! The Magus must be cracking up! Wish I had 50,000 instead of a mere 25,000…” – General Egeus. 

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Captain Marvel: “There’s Titan, Drax – it won’t be long now. But why so silent? What are you thinking about?”

Drax The Destroyer: “About how difficult it may be, once our alliance is ended… to kill you!”

Hankering for more galactic thrills, it seemed inevitable that Marvel’s spaceborn “most cosmic superhero of all” – the original Kree warrior: Mar-Vell – would get snapped up.

Eager to find out more, an excellent additional feature of Warlock #10 – an insert in which Captain Marvel explains the background (and threat!) of his arch-enemy: Thanos. Usefully, it noted #s 25-33 as the classic ishs in which the two legendary characters went head-to-head.

Initially, Marvel Spotlight #2 (featuring Captain Marvel) came into my hands fairly early on during this hunting season. However, Pat Broderick’s art style failed to alight the Bradmonitor. Not to be outdone, a chance was taken with Captain Marvel #59 (November 1978). Despite retaining Broderick’s pencils, The Trouble With Titan actually offered a more satisfying look, mainly because of the special guest star appearance by Drax The Destroyer. 

“By the Lost Horns of Hala!”

The outlandish contents involve Mar-Vell and Drax having to rescue Eros and Mentor from being “menaced by what manner of monsters, only the the Great Pama knows!” And trespassing in the domain of Lord Gaea – and having to fight their way through his hordes of Earth-Demons to escape! Written by Doug Moench – always a reliable choice (so why couldn’t he have worked on Killraven…?)

Have already picked up further ishs, but so far, #s 25-33 are proving to be elusive… 

In conclusion, me lovelies, it should be pointed out that – in a sale, just to be on the safe side! – another ish of  Killraven WAS acquired. And lo, Brad The Merciful steps in to grant the underachievers a second chance, but…

Ha! Guess what?

Despite having a fascinating splash page, #35 (March 1976) is bogged down with an even more confusing plot; moreover, he grumbles, the addition of an insipid Martian character and a deranged, scantily-clad woman spouting interminable gibberish does NOT guarantee rewarding reading! 

So, it’s official then: Killraven is PANTS….

Not gonna let this absurdity distort my base realities!

But heck! Let’s not end on a bum-note.

As Confucius used to say: “If you’ve got time for one more cake, you’ve bally well got time for one more comic!”

Hey! Looks like yours truly has got just the right thing: 

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“Alas, Iron Fist, you have my sympathy. No man should be spurned by a beautiful woman and fall in battle on the same day!” – El Aguila.

Last and – well, really! Is anyone nuts enough to say: “least” to Luke Cage’s face?! – we have Marvel’s very own dynamic duo: Power Man and Iron Fist. 

This is such a nifty break from my usual cosmic cravings, and besides, back in the day, one ish did pass through me grubby infant mitts, but Brad‘ll be damned if he can recall the exact one! Never fear, random back ishs have been selected, and are turning out to be an unexpected fab treat!

#65: “An Eagle In The Aerie” (Oct 1980) is great fun. En route to the Aerie (HQ of Heroes For Hire), Luke and Danny are followed by old adversary: El Aguila and – “Santa Maria!” – half the staff of all-female guards have revolted and all three costumed heroes have to defend the Aerie from all-out assault.

El Aguila leaps and bounds suavely through battle, firing bursts of his biologically-generated electricity through his sword while exclaiming: “Believe me, senoritas, doing this hurts my heart as much as it does your lovely bodies.”

Before Luke and Danny can get a word in, the Eagle escapes in a helicopter, but not before smooching the secretary.

Ah, they don’t make masked men of mystery like that any more…

If only Killraven oozed just half the charm of El Aguila…

Been searching for ish #58 (El Aguila’s initial appearance) but – not surprisingly – it is rare and expensive.

Finally, could not resist including this intriguing lil cameo from another Marvel stalwart:

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Iron Fist: “You’re up early, Luke. How did you sleep?” 

Power Man: “Kept dreamin’ ’bout floods an’ tidal waves.”

Iron Fist: “Sorry about the waterbed.”

Originally, this Post began back in September(!), revised in November, but it has taken the last few gruelling days just to finally launch this draft – well, anything really! – into the blogosphere.

Relieved, rather than pleased, to have accomplished some writing again.

Meanwhile, quite a considerable comics collection has amassed here over the past few months – therefore CANNOT WAIT to discuss, in a flurry of forthcoming Posts, the juiciest finds with you!

So, while the world falls apart, this:

cbk

…is where you’ll find me: the “Leisure Hive” @ Brad Manor. 

Happy hunting, True Believers!

You would NOT BELIEVE what you can get for 60 Portions these days…