06 March 2005

British super heroes and stuff

Warren Ellis is my third most favorite snarky British comic book writer. Which may sound like faint praise, but I like comic books a lot, almost all of the ones I like are written by snarky Brits, and my first and second most favorite snarky British comic book writers are Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, so the competition is fierce.

I should warn you that you may not want to click that link to his web site. Ellis has a very sick mind.

He also has a complicated love-hate relationship with superheroes, the elephant in comics' living room. F'rinstance, his book Planetary is based on the premise what if the genre kitch of the 20th Century all really happened? --- Godzilla and James Bond and Hong Kong ghost cops with a gun in each hand and the 50 Foot Woman, all well-kept secrets. The villains are superheroes, the Fantastic Four. He has a scene in which the pulp heroes of the '30s --- Doc Savage, the Shadow, Tarzan, and so forth --- duke it out with the Justice League of America --- Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and their pals. Doc Savage is the sole survivor, and Ellis is winking at us. Wouldn't it have been better that way?

Well, as readers of this blog know, I have great affection for superheroes, so I'm not sure.

Anyway, Ellis just posted a couple of great little essays about two all-time great British super heroes, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond.

He praises my man Jeremy Brett for being the greatest actor to take on Holmes' mantle.

Jeremy Brett found his way into his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes by giving the original stories the first close reading they’d had by an actor in many years. He found this line: "Holmes wriggled with pleasure in his chair." And that was it. He was in. His pale, spidery, twitchy and explosive Holmes made everyone before him look stupid.
Holmes was not charming. Holmes was a prick, frankly. A colossal misanthrope with a fair amount of gynephobia, immensely arrogant, ripping the piss out of Scotland Yard’s detectives, not averse to telling a policeman that his head may as well be a large ornament, and generally fucking with anyone who crosses his path. Holmes would not be a pleasant dinner companion.
And he confesses a strange desire to make a Bond movie himself, though for inspiration, like Jeremy Brett, he wants to turn back to the novels.
The books are notably less spectacular and far more low-key than the films. Dr No was a crazed guano millionaire and had no nuclear missiles, spaceship-eaters or any of the good stuff we associate with Bond Villains. Tiger Tanaka’s great test of Bond was making him compose a naff haiku. It’s often quite bland stuff, great long travelogues and pages describing banquets and furniture. In the guts of it, though, is Bond as a scarred man with clear psychological damage, often on the edge of being removed from service by M on mental health grounds. It’s made stridently obvious that being on the 00 detail of the Secret Service is a job that fucks you up.

Bond is not a superman. He prevails because he is quite simply nastier and more determined to wreak utter bloody havoc than the next guy.

It gets you thinking. Many of my favorite fictional characters are pretty unpleasant people. What's up with that?

Anyway, Ellis has more interesting things to say on these subjects. And the digressions are cool too: in one of the essays (I won't say which) he makes this nasty, profound little observation about the medium of film.

Film ... curiously, cannot survive without taking on works from other media. As Coppola, himself a collapsed writer of original works, said, "[Even Scorcese] needs that perfect book."
Not quite true: you have, say, Truffaut at the high end or George Romero at the low end, making truly novel cinematic creations. And film can feed on itself, films borrowing from other films. But it is strangely close to true, and I don't know why.

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