Sunday, 31 October 2010

Poem: The aftermath

It's a while since I have posted a poem, but I hope you enjoy it - please let me know how you found it.


As I look at the frightened creature sweltering in my hand
I realise some would call it an insect.

There are words to describe that kind of folly.
As alive as I am, as on edge, as apprehensive, as difficult:
As anxious for the other, we peer across a divide
filled with nothing.


As every desire peaks, each word sticks
in the back of my overburdened skull.
We agree to write the vocals in our gaze.

There’s a look that comes from within,
isn’t there? –I say, and screw up my eyes, small.

But it sighs.


The being will stare on and on
as if reading my quandary in the wind.
Certain as a heartbeat in its own mind.


What will follow?
One of us will be stung, or crushed,
will fling the other away, will exult.

Maybe, after all,
neither of us is being genuine.
Maybe it is more than an insect
and scorns my blundering eyes
Maybe it'll never tell what it knows.

But I thought there was something
There in the gaze.

© Richard Townrow

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Green Lantern: Secret Origin review

If you didn’t know already, comics involving Green Lantern are going to take over the world when the new film comes out next year, but if they are anything like Secret Origin and the rest of writer Geoff Johns’ series we are in for an exhilarating ride. This volume actually works well as a standalone story, catching us up with some defining moments in pilot Hal Jordan’s life: how he grew up enraged at the needless death of his father, how he was called to become a member of the Green Lantern Corps when a dying alien crash-landed during a mysterious fact-finding mission (building interestingly on a 1980s Green Lantern Corps story by Alan Moore), and how this led to his first meeting with the powerful Sinestro.

Here’s the best news: It’s from the writer/artist team that brought us the superlative re-launch Green Lantern: Rebirth a few years ago – yes, the one with the eye-popping art (and the return of Hal Jordan from, uh, wherever the hell he was). Secret Origin continues that quality with more jazzy, cinematic art from Ivan Reis, which bursts off the page, in what is, once again, a personal story: Yes, there’s even room here to find out a little more about Hal, in some well-realised moments where he comes close to destroying his own personal life by cutting off his family, perhaps provoking us to consider what obligations we have to those around us – and this is all wrapped up in the intrigue of the wider fate of the Green Lantern Corps.

Writer Geoff Johns effortlessly updates the character’s past by delving into Hal’s relationships with his family and co-workers, and purists will note he tweaks a few things here and there – mainly by upping the action. Johns even takes the opportunity to sow the seeds of a new threat which appeared in the huge comics event Blackest Night recently. And, considering Sinestro’s villain status in the current DCU, it’s fascinating to see him teaching Hal the ropes as they take on various perverse evils – enemies which seem to be linked through a chain of events to that noble, dying alien.

Although fans might wonder why superstar writer Johns is spending so much time on the past, this story is one that deserves to be so expertly updated. If you’re a fan of superheroes you’ll lap this one up.

(You can pick this up monthly now in a UK Collector's Edition magazine from Titan called "DC Universe Presents". It's bundled with the Geoff Johns' 2010 re-launch of the Flash and also a classic JLA story called Earth 2 from one of my favourite writers, Grant Morrison. Seeing Batman meet his parallel universe counterpart is a highlight. If this doesn't tempt you, nothing will!)

Monday, 11 October 2010

Book Review: Super Sad True Love Story

How can I describe what has been one of the most true-to-life, craziness-of-life-encompassing reading experiences I’ve read for a while in a short post like this? How can I describe this American disaster novel whose flavour of George Orwell’s 1984 is mixed with probable future medical elitism to create a world where the rich and young aim to live forever, to achieve nothing much, and death is feared and hated, and where America’s myth that they are special is totally deconstructed and spat upon by the rest of the world? How can I describe what is a totally over-the-top look at the world today and yet also a scary prediction of the world to come?

Perhaps we can use the title.

Super Sad True Love Story is not always focused on its own “love story”. Somewhat like the lyrics of White Blank Page by Mumford and Sons, our gormless protagonist Lenny Abramov wants to follow his Eunice Park “with his whole life” while she “desires his attentions” but often “denies his affections”. Warning: There is a LOT of explicitly-described sex, but, contrasting this, as Lenny tries to win Eunice, actual love is weak and doesn’t always last the run, only a kind of dependency is achieved – healthy or unhealthy depending on your point of view.

Perhaps this love story can best be described as the struggle between real affections and the forces which efficiently and seemingly inevitably defeat and repress them. Whether it’s the desire to help the people classed as Low Net Worth Individuals who are casually gunned down in Central Park, New York, or the desire to live for something worthwhile, the characters are teased with answers only for a nightmarish reality to break in on them. It is pure satire, laced with some fleeting observations about how we run from what we can’t cope with, how we settle for less than what is right, and end up contributing to the problem. It is certainly “sad”.

So how “true” is this strange work of fiction?
Well, while one shooting takes place, only across the city, Lenny describes the sentiments in a crowded bar of people: “We absorbed the Images and as a group of like-incomed people felt the short bursts of existential fear (…) Finally the fear and the empathy was replaced by a different knowledge. The knowledge that it wouldn’t happen to us. That what we were witnessing was not terrorism. That we were of good stock. That these bullets would discriminate” (p.155, Granta Books edition). These words, like much of the novel, eerily hold up a mirror to affluent Western society and how we can be totally disconnected from other people’s pain and injustice, even if it is happening close to us.

The language is eccentric and brilliant, at times joyful, as in one early section in which Lenny tells his diary he will live forever, his whole hope rooted in this goal, his drive to share the world with Eunice, despite the futility of the collapsing America around him:
“I just have to be good and I have to believe in myself. I just have to stay off the trans fats and the hooch. I just have to drink plenty of green tea and alkalinized water and submit my genome to the right people. I will need to re-grow my melting liver, replace the entire circulatory system with “smart blood” and find somewhere safe and warm (but not too warm) to while away the angry seasons and the holocausts. And when the earth expires, as it surely must, I will leave it for a new earth, greener still but with fewer allergens; and in the flowering of my own intelligence some 10³² years hence, when our universe decides to fold in on itself, my personality will jump through a black hole and surf into a dimension of unthinkable wonders, where the thing that sustained me on Earth 1.0 – tortelli lucchese, pistachio ice cream, the early works of the Velvet Underground, [sexual reference] – will seem as laughable and infantile as building blocks, baby formula, a game of ‘Simon says do this’” (p.3-4).
This is the new religion, at least for Lenny, who sets himself to believe in something, at times somewhat desperately. This is a world where everything is screwed – family relationships are full of abuse, churches are large, recruiting people to meaningless surface changes of behaviour without dealing with people’s real problems (the opposite of what I believe true Christian communities should be), the ineffectual and bullied US government uses a version of Orwell’s “double speak” to deny their own citizens of their human rights with their own implicit consent, and friendships are about one-upmanship while the young prey on the old. Above all, the inane and useless reigns, and is used, while (we can guess from various clues) political powers get to pursue their unknown agendas behind the scenes. Could this be a world we are in danger of becoming, a world in love with itself and distracting itself from what’s really important? A world of conflicting agendas and power games, a world without any ultimate hope, clinging on to what it can get where it can get it, where good democratic relations are impossible? A world where other people are reduced to a series of ratings about what they can give me? Where we have forgotten people’s inherent worth altogether?