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On the train into work today (I ride the D-train daily) - I encountered a nasty little situation that left a terrible taste in my mouth.

I got onto a different carriage today, as the doors towards where I usually sit were pretty crowded and I was hoping to get a seat. I managed that and I sat down, pulled out a script I'm working on and began to edit it, minding my own business. Not long into the journey, a young man began talking on his cell-phone (we weren't underground yet) - and I noticed the person opposite me, a tall man reading a book - stirring and swearing. Eventually he said something to the man on the phone (I'm not sure what - I didn't catch it, but the tone seemed rude) and the guy on the call put his phone away and stood by my side of the train.

No one likes it when someone pulls out a cell and obnoxiously yells into it like 'HI! YEAH, ON A TRAIN', etc, but this wasn't one of those cases. The kid on the phone seemed polite enough - he was just calling someone to finalize plans or something like that.

I noticed that the tall man with the book opposite had some colourful earplugs in - that caught my attention because Alice mentioned to me recently that the Subway can turn you deaf so some people have taken to plugging their ears to prevent that. Initially I thought this might be the case, but in the end - I think the bloke just didn't like noise.

So a little time passed and then a woman and a man stepped onto the train and stood nearby the book-man. The woman was quietly talking about something and almost instantly the book-man started to stir and wince and curse again. Eventually - very audibly he said to the woman that there were four people reading and she really should shut up.

The woman replied, quite reasonably I thought - that she had every right to speak on the subway - and that - after all, it's not a library. So she went on talking.

The Book-Man slammed his book loudly and started saying 'FUCKING BITCH', for all to hear.

Around now I put my things away and started paying attention - because I had an inkling that things might turn nasty. And they kind of did. The book man stood up and grabbed hold of the pole that the talking-woman was holding onto. He kept stepping closer to her, trying to get in her space. He then began taking side-steps - to lightly shove her asside and coughing in her general direction. The woman told him he was being rude and he claimed that he had every right to stand there. She said that no one gave him permission to touch her (as at this point his arm was pressed right up against her shoulder. I thought it ironic that he would pick on a woman who was a couple of feet shorter than him - and not the man who had also been talking to the woman. The man she was with didn't seem to be doing much to help her, aside from muttering protests.

Events like this scare me - because they make me feel like I have to do something. I hate doing anything. It's not like I enjoy getting involved, but I feel like I morally can't justify not getting involved, you know? Having grown-up in a city where on numerous occasions - I have been attacked, bullied and belittled - and my wife, Alice - has also encountered utter atrocities on the subway as recent as a couple of months ago. No one has stepped in. I know that the world I want to live in is one where people offer one another support when they see these kinds of things take place - so I try to go against the gut feeling that tells me to put my head down and ignore everything.

I said; 'Excuse me sir, don't you think this is all a bit unnecessary?'

Smiling, he turned his attention to me and with more respect than he'd shown the woman, the man leaned towards me and restated his argument that four people had been reading and she'd interrupted them.

'And two people are still reading now - you're the one interrupting them, by starting an argument with this lady, creating this kind of a scene - slamming a book and swearing.'

He told me that she'd lost the moral high-ground when she'd overlooked other people by making noise when people were trying to read. He was acting as though we were allies - because I'd also been reading on the train.

I told him; 'This is a subway. People are going to talk, people are going to read. We all have to deal with that.'

Before we were really finished - the train stopped, some people stepped out, emptying some chairs - and the woman sat down in a chair by me - as the book man returned to his seat. She thanked me for trying and made some comment about him being an arsehole. I just rolled my eyes. I know I did very little, but I feel like - if anything at all - I distracted his attention from her and perhaps prevented things from escalating.

The Book-Man was quiet from then on, but when my stop was about to roll around - I noticed that the woman was now alone - her man-friend had gotten off the train at an earlier stop. I said; 'I don't want to sound strange or anything, but my stop is coming up - I can stay on the train if you feel you need assistance.'

She told me her stop was next too and shook her head. She seemed okay, possibly a little shaken up, but okay. before the train stopped I explained that my wife had recently been in a subway incident and I felt the need to offer support where it might be needed - in case I seemed like a perv or something.

Little events like this remind me that world peace is an extremely unlikely goal. We'll never achieve it, because there are the selfish, the opportunistic, the violent and the downright evil - all of whom seem to just want to shit all over everyone else. Picking on the smaller people who happen to get in their way somehow. I think that the very best we can do is try not to follow that shitty example - and create our own.

* * *
'The King of Pop has Dropped'

Last night on the train home from the city, we were in a tunnel and my friend Ken whipped out his mobile phone for some reason. He read out a text-message that must have been on his phone for some time (no signal down there) - 'The king of pop has dropped'. He found this rather cryptic and confusing. I read it and then translated it in my mind. I said the words; 'Michael Jackson is dead?' that didn't sound right.

'That is correct,' piped up a nearby couger-looking woman whom Alice had commented seemed to be staring at me during our prior discussions about comics and baby-punks. We were all a little shocked that the news hadn't reached us. We're all net-savvy and work in fairly gossipy jobs, after all. Alice also keeps up with 'Oh No They Didn't' and 'Perez Hilton', so usually - I hear this kind of thing second hand through here. Weird. It was almost nine o'clock by that point.

The Couger-looking-woman then proceded to repeatedly offer her opinion on the matter. That it was 'one less paedophile in the world'. Slowly, I responded 'that's one way of looking at it maybe,' and she replied 'it's the only way of looking at it,' and left the train in a waft of sickly knock-off perfume.

Maybe he was a paedophile, I don't rightly know. I wouldn't want to argue that he wasn't or was - I'm not in possession of all the facts. Neither are most people who like to join the paedo-witch-hunt these days. Whatever the case - I've never been much of an MJ fan - and I do think he was a creepy guy who should probably have been monitored around children for the simple fact that his mental condition was, by all accounts, rather questionable.

Whatever the case with him may have been, I always saw him as a rather tragic figure who was more to be pitied than scorned. A relatively young death seems like a tragic end to a pretty tragic existence.

So we went on to talk about other recent deaths. Ken told me about a pain-in-the-arse midtown customer who seemed also to suffer from certain cognitive ailments - a strange old man by the name of Frank who recently died rather suddenly. No explanation seems to have been given, just that he wouldn't be picking his comics up on account of his being afflicted by a chronic case of... well - death.

Now because he was a rude pain in the arse, I made a few jokes at his expense. I guess it's another kind of tragic tale though. He was a strange old guy who must have lead a difficult life.  EVERYTHING seemed to piss him right off - and nobody seemed like him. Tragic.

Then we talked about Mitch's dad. Another recent tragedy.

And Alice has had her father on her mind a lot lately. Another very sad tale from last year... it's been so hard for her to deal with and I wish I could make it easier somehow, but there's just no magic button you can use to take the pain away.

Other ghosts from my past are floating through my mind too. My nan, my granddad, my friend Tom - another friend of the family who committed suicide (we think) and his poor wife who died of lung cancer.

Numerous pets. People say they're just animals, but you really love them.

In the end - it's hard to see a bright side to all the senseless dying, but the only way I can get it straight in my head is like this;

Whether we like it or not - we're all going to die. Some of us will avoid it for as long as possible, fewer of us will embrace it. Some people seem to go too soon, and others seem to last too long. Some of us are going to live until our dying day knowing that there's so much more we could achieve, whereas others will feel like they ran out of things to do long before they even retire and wile away the days in front of television sets - 'waiting for god'. We all die, we all know it's coming. It never seems fair - when it's someone you love - even though it happens to everyone at some time. It's scary too, in a way - who knows what comes after? Some people like to pretend they know, others think they really do know - we all have ideas, but no one truly knows for sure.

But death defines life.

If we didn't ever die, what would be the point of existing in the first place? How can your life make a statement if you know you'll go on living forever. More's the point, why bother doing anything at all? When you get right down to it, all life really is, is a game of survival. Accross the board, in all animals, in all creatures. It's best to not think about the end. Just live it and try to enjoy it and try to leave a message for people to remember.

A friend of mine recently offered a slice of Buddhist philosophy that I greatly appreciated hearing. To paraphrase a more elegant original phrasing; she basically said that peoples' lives are like waves in the ocean, each one is unique and diverse and beautiful - but all waves come and go. We are to comfort ourselves in the knowledge that we're all waves that are part of a much larger ocean. Little lives that are all part of Life.
We're all part of something bigger.

There's your meaning of life right there.

Bill and Ted would offer us the equally useful alternative - 'be excelent to one another.'
* * *
I've tried to encourage responses to my reviews and entries in the past - and I'd like to use Kryptonrays to inspire discussion and the free exchange of opinions on comics.

So how about you... yes YOU! How about you suggest a book for me to add to my reading list. Either a monthly title or a graphic novel.

Try to sell it to me with your reply and maybe I'll review it when I'm done.

REGARDS!

-M

* * *
I'm a little late on the bandwagon, but I just got around to reading the fantastic new Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.

I love books where a writer manages to re-invent a concept by turning the dynamic we're used to entirely upside-down.

That's Comics 101. Stan-lee did it in the sixties when he put the 'human' into 'super-human' and Alan Moore did it in the eighties with Miracle man and Swamp Thing. The method is so well-recognized that when Moore appeared on the Simpsons in a recent season, he said this of Springfield's top-selling comic character - Radioactive Man:

'You like that I turned him into a heroin addicted Jazz critic who's not radioactive?'

That's the ticket. That's what makes us take notice, it's tried and tested - and no one rocks it quite like Morrison.
 
So the question is; what can you change about one of the best known comic characters in the world that won't destroy what makes him great?  The answer is; you do what very few people would dare do.

Batman is a dark and brooding character - we all know this. 'The Dark Knight'. Robin is a splash of boyish enthusiasm in his dark world - Batman's opposite.

What Morrison has set up in his previous run on RIP is a complete reversal of what we know about Batman and Robin. 'Killing off' Bruce Wayne and replacing him with a former Robin (Dick Grayson), and introducing Bruce's son Damien as a new, dark Robin, we seem to now have a more jovial Batman and a borderline psychopathic Robin. In this first issue alone, Damien is shown acting much more like Batman than the new Batman, whereas Dick Grayson is more or less the same old Robin, now in Bats clothing.

If I were working for Batman, I'm not sure this is a move I'd ever dare to take (not that editorial would ever let me, I'm sure) - and I know many other writers would agree that it's a serious gamble... but seeing it in play?

Awesome. It just works.

I haven't steadily picked up Batman in a while - but I do not intend to miss one issue of this new series. Morrison and Quitely are bringing their A-Game, igniting the old franchise with the magical flame that made All-Star Superman and those early Morrison issues of New-X-Men so special.

If you're on a high from reading the new Batman and Robin issue and can't wait a month for some more Morrison/Quitely goodness, pick up either of the two books I just mentioned - or the hugely underrated JLA: Earth 2 - which is equally as good - and features a super-powered dominatrix Lois Lane who uses Jimmy Olson as her sub.
* * *
I love the MOCCA comic con.

I've never even been to the museum, but I've been to the con for the last three years running.

As far as comic conventions go - there's nothing particularly unique in terms of what's on display... I mean, none of it bad - but I feel like it's a lot of the same stuff I saw at Artist's Alley at New York Comic-Con earlier this year.

What MOCCA's got that other conventions lack though - it's far more intimate. You can get face time with the creators, make new friends, socially network with people in and out of the biz - or reconnect with people you haven't seen in a while... it's really quite a strange feeling.

We had a fantastic time this weekend catching up with people for dinner and karaoke-ing - the first night in front of a live band - and the second in one of the usual venues we tend to frequent.

Although I did wake up almost lacking the ability to talk this morning.

Thanks to everyone who spend time with us this weekend, you all made it a special and unforgettable experience.



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Wolverine is a fantastic character.

I didn’t see the movie. The trailers were enough to suggest that I’m perhaps not in the target audience for that film. I realize how unusual this statement must sound – if a self-confessed comic-book obsessive who dedicates time and effort to writing reviews in a home-made Livejournal with a tongue-twister for a name doesn’t think a movie about one of the most recognizable comic-book characters in the world was made for people like him to watch – then who the hell is it for? Well, everybody else by the looks of things – Hollywood made its changes to appeal to the wider masses and to kids. I know I’m just going to sit through it watching Deadpool and Gambit jump around looking cool in bullet-time – and all I’ll be thinking about is what might have been.

That’s fine by me though, I really don’t mind - because I’ve got my comics.

Ever since those X-Men issues where Wolverine made his post-Hulk debut thirty-odd years back, he’s been one of the most striking, interesting characters in the X-Corner of the Marvel U. The one that readers wish they could be – tough, cool and he takes shit from no one.

However – three decades has taken its toll on old Logan – and the character has slowly but surely started to become a parody of himself. A character who used to be portrayed as quietly intelligent, Wolverine would occasionally reveal a new skill in the long list of different disciplines he was versed in that we were given to believe somehow tied into his mysterious past. More recently- he has been reduced to a string of beer jokes and become a character whose defining characteristic seems to be that he will grow back from anything, no matter how heavily mutilated he might be.

Thankfully, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven arrived to save the day. Their run on Wolverine started about a year ago – entitled ‘Old Man Logan’ - in which Wolvie is given the Dark Knight treatment. The reader is propelled several decades into the future of the Marvel Universe, only to find that Wolverine has become a pacifist family man with a new troubled past concerning practically every Marvel character you can think of.

Millar at once masterfully turns Wolverine’s character upside down – and at the same time takes him back to his roots. He gives Wolverine back the mystery that once defined his character – yet he takes away Logan’s will to fight – his unstoppable pluck. All that is left of Wolverine is a shell of the man he used to be, he won’t fight, he won’t even pop his claws to threaten – even his once seemingly all-powerful healing factor seems to have diminished to the point that it can take him days to heal from a heavy beating.

Much like another brilliant book by Millar (and the always awesome J.G. Jones) – Wanted, Old Man Logan is set in a world where the heroes lost – and the world is owned and run by the Super-Villains. Unlike Wanted however, OML approaches the concept from another angle; for instance, the reader knows that so long as ol’ James Howlett is around – even if he’s not calling himself Wolverine anymore and even if his healing factor can’t seem to heal his broken spirit – then there’s hope for the good guys.

What I also found rather striking is that Millar starts the tale in a part of the USA that is now run by the Hulk and She-Hulk’s incredibly inbred grandchildren (that’s right, the Hulk Cousins did the nasty). This is an obvious allusion to Logan’s character origins in an issue of the Incredible Hulk – and I like it.

In Old Man Logan, Wolverine now works a farm in Hulk-Land and the Hulks beat the hell out of him regularly for rent money. You see him take a beating right there in the first issue. You see Wolverine stand there and take a beating. Wolverine… Somehow that makes him all the more compelling to read about.

What could have broken him so bad?

It’s so good, but I’m not telling you.

What I will tell you to whet your appetites - is that the whole Marvel Universe is given a dark and disturbing makeover to fit in with Millar’s brilliant futuristic Dystopia. Nothing is what it seems – or what you would expect it to be. Hawkeye is now blind and very possibly a drug smuggler, all the X-Men are apparently long dead, Venom… well he has to be seen to be believed – and perhaps my favourite of all – the arc-enemy of the Avengers – the psychopathic killing machine Ultron - is now actually a friendly, hard-working family man raising Hawkeye’s psychotic daughter, who also happens to be Spider-Man’s Granddaughter and calls herself ‘Spider-Bitch’.

Furthermore, there’s a fantastic sense of Geography in the book. In the first part of the story (and every subsequent part) you’re given a map charting Logan’s journey. Written across it you find bizarrely familiar names that hint at what will be seen in later issues. There are lots of fantastically imaginative little ideas scattered across that map - sometimes you only see these things in passing, but that’s enough to suggest the horrible fate that befell all of your favourite characters.

The whole story thus far has been expertly rendered by McNiven’s careful hand, with beautiful colours to compliment every panel. You don’t just get a good story here, every time a new issue is released, you hold a work of art in your covetous, geeky hands.

This is not a book for all ages. I think it skims by on a T+ rating frankly, it is clearly written for the adult fans. There are numerous adult references, some ‘language’ and that’s not to mention a great deal of no-holds barred gory violence – very little of which is directly influenced by the titular character…

We readers are all eagerly awaiting the final part, which is due to arrive some time in the God-Knows-When – in annual form. Everything up until now has been immensely satisfying – Millar will not let us down.

If you’re a Wolverine fan – hell even a Marvel fan, if you’re an Ultimates fan, a Wanted fan, if you liked Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, if you like familiar heroes done right – then this is unmissable.

TTFN

-M
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I know I only posted a review two days ago - but I've read something else recently that caught my attention. Another hidden gem of the 'never heard of it' variety that managed to be better than many of the things I have heard of - and hear far too much about.

I'm referring to The Coffin by Phil Hester and Mike Huddleston.



I'm not sure exactly where it came from - probably from the same friend who feeds most of my comic-addiction needs, but nevertheless; I found it in a stack of graphic novels on my living room floor (actually, I only think there's a living room floor under all of the comics, but for all I know - there might just be more comics, going down and down, deep underground twisting and turning until they meet the rest of my collection back home in England...), I was drawn in by the intriguing dark, realistic, colourless art style - and the book's seemingly pulp inspired cover.

Upon cracking it open and reading only a few pages, I found the writing to be as deliciously dark as the artwork - and an immensely satisfying read. The Coffin is a self contained story (which I do like to see) and is essentially yet another look at the superhero design from another interesting and previously unseen viewpoint.

The story revolves around an apathetic man of science named Dr. Ashar Ahmad who creates an Iron-Man-looking suit, or 'Coffin', that kills whoever wears it and traps the soul of the wearer at the point of death. The Coffin's deceased inhabitant can go on living within this horrific shell indefinitely, unless a leak is sprung through which their soul could escape. Essentially, if you climb into one of those shells, you die - and are condemned to go on living as a corpse in a box, possibly forever.

Dr. Ahmad believes in souls - in a clinical scientific way, but he is not a spiritual man - and doesn't understand the soul's significance until he himself becomes trapped in one of the Coffins. His world is soon turned upside down by the realization that bad people may in fact go to hell when they die - and that he may in fact be a despicable person - who deserves no less than that harsh and painful punishment.

The Antagonist, Mr. Heller, is quite frankly, a brilliantly evil character. An ancient business man who has survived well into his second century by harvesting the organs of his unsuspecting employees to replace his old dying parts. An investor in Ashar's work with the Coffins, he'll stop at nothing until he gets exactly what he thinks he is owed.

This is essentially a familiar tale of redemption, beautifully retold - with wonderfully diverse, eerily realistic artwork. It's packed with excitingly surreal imagery, which my wife was quick to point out; may well have been inspired by Japanese Manga. The writing pleasingly amalgamates heavily spiritual tones with a strong science fiction setting in a way we rarely see, making it a unique and a quite frankly - remarkable read.

If you like thought-provoking comics like Watchmen, Planetary, Swamp Thing, All-Star Superman, or if you took my advice on Kinetic a few months back and enjoyed that - then this could well be the book for you.

Go on! Read something different!

That's all for now.

TTFN.

-M

* * *
It’s been a little while since I posted an entry (unless you count the cat that looked like the Juggernaut) – but I feel the need to write about a great book that I only just discovered: Bang! Tango.

About a week ago - I was hanging out at my friend's office and I saw some dynamic looking artwork on his computer screen - I read the title; 'Bang Tango'? Never heard of it. Apparently - I shouldn't be surprised - it's one of DC Vertigo's lowest sellers, sadly. Still - the artwork drew me in - and so I asked him about it.

My friend wouldn't tell me what Bang! Tango was about - just that it was good, that he'd give me all the issues thus far (there have been four) and that I had to read it. No question – I just had to read it.

I tried to get a sense of the premise, asking more questions and getting no genuine answers. It felt a little like he was dodging the subject, or like he found it difficult to put into words.

In the end, I took the comics home and started to read it.

Hmph.

To begin with - Issue One seemed a little typical of the Vertigo books I don't often read.

I did like the art (by Adrian Sibar), the gaudy colour palette and design of the whole thing - which reminded me strongly of the Filth for some reason - and the pencils took me back to the nineties. Back then the most important thing someone really seemed to need to be an artist in comics - was to look like they really enjoyed what they were doing. Sibar genuinely succeeds in doing just that – and the enthusiasm rubs off on the reader.

It was the writing I wasn't sure about. There was a violent, over-sexed Hit-Man named Vin – who essentially has two girls fighting over him. The trademark Vertigo quirk seemed to be that the Hit-Man also danced the tango - and he was trying to leave his troubled, criminal past behind him to pursue his dream of being a professional dancer.

Girl one of the two fighting for his attention, Mel - she represents the life he's trying to lead now, safe and legal. To begin with, he seems to be happy enough in that world – even though you quickly get the idea that it’s all a comfortable lie.

Whereas girl two - Autumn comes straight from the troubled world he's escaping - and she brings the unwanted, sexy excitement right back into his life.

I guess that all wasn't exactly bad - but it didn't really grab me - I felt like I'd heard the story before – or some variation of it...

Until the last page of that issue –suddenly it got very bizarre and pretty damn interesting…

I understood why my friend couldn't really explain the title to me. It falls squarely into the category of 'indescribable' - at least, not in a few small sentences - and not without giving away the first big twist in the story.

And it is a good one. Without exposing said plot-twist myself, there's very little I can say about the book that will make you understand just how good it is and why - so permit me to spoil you, just this once:

The second girl I mentioned - the girl named Autumn - Little Miss Exciting from Vincente's troubled past... well - that girl has a penis. Yup. She's a man. As in: born a man, dresses as a woman. As in: the kind of man who has a penis.

It seems like such a small thing really (figuratively speaking) but it changes the book's themes dramatically, turning the series into a challenging, edgy read - all about what it is exactly that defines sexuality and gender - and just how much it should matter.

Fundamentally, it's a story about a man who is haunted by his overwhelming attraction to someone he doesn't want to be attracted to. Vin is someone who is afraid to explore his true emotions for fear that it will change everything he believes he knows about himself.

Often Vin is an un-likeable character - repressed, prone to homophobic outbursts and violence. But genuinely - I think - he is a realistic depiction of a small-minded heterosexual man who might find himself reacting badly to this kind of situation. He's tried all he can to get away and hide from it - but his attraction to Autumn never truly leaves him - even when he is with the first girl, Mel - for whom he seems to hold some measure of genuine affection.

His opposite lead in the book is Autumn, the pre-op transsexual who is so convincing as to fool practically every man she meets into dropping their jaws and gawping at her in awe like teenage boys who have just discovered breasts. You get a genuine sense of tragedy with this character too. She doesn’t seem to have psychological issues with her gender as she knows she’s a woman – she just has one lingering physical issue that she needs an impossible sum of money to take care of.

It’s clear that she cares deeply for Vincente too, even though she can’t be with him – and that his behaviour towards her cuts her deeply - that every time he calls her a ‘faggot’, it’s another dagger through her heart. Like I said – she’s a tragic character.

The Villain of the story is a villain is a fat mob-boss called ‘the Jock’ – a character who brings an element of Garth Ennis style sadism to the tale.

The book reminds me a little of another Vertigo title - American Virgin, in that it isn't frightened to tackle sexuality from multiple viewpoints - although it focuses a little more on one character's unwanted obsessions than on numerous different themes from story to story. The writer (Joe Kelly) takes things slow, and that's okay. He takes the time to weave this odd, gritty plot over the course of a six issue mini, never giving away too much at once - just enough to keep things interesting.

It raises a genuinely intriguing question - and one that not many men want to answer: What would you do if you met your perfect woman, beautiful, interesting - and sexy - only to find that she was – or had been a man? And if that subject matter scares you, you might want to think about it for a while and come up with a good answer for why that may really be.

Think about it as the Godfather, meets the Crying Game, meets… one of those dancing movies I’ve never seen… I’m going to say Dirty Dancing.

Maybe it's a clichéd response – or at least - an overly obvious one, but this book has balls - and if you're a Vertigo reader looking for something a different, something insightful and above all – something that will make you think; then this is the book for you.
* * *
* * *
Went to Coney Island today. Second time in my life.

I think that the first time I went - we were preoccupied or in a hurry - I don't remember, but whatever happened - we didn't take much in, we just ate clams by the sea, looked at the dirty, crowded beach and rode on a dubious roller-coaster. This was over a year ago - before I moved here, I was just visiting.

Today we went again. Coney Island is mostly closed now - it was bought out apparently by some hotels - and more recently a circus that decided to keep some of the creepy, dirty magic alive, albeit in a more corporate and less dirty or magical fashion. However - today they did have some shit open because it's memorial day. The place was bustling, the rides were going, the unhealthy food was on sale and the freaks were doing whatever it is they do that makes the sideshow such an attraction.

(Well, they're apparently not real freaks - mainly art students who dropped out of college to eat fire and nails and other shit they shouldn't ought to.)

My city, my Norwich back in England has its own Coney Island. A little dive off by the sea a short car journey away with rides and fried foods and a hint at a history where god only knows what happens. Great Yarmouth - it's called. It used to just be called Yarmouth until a Queen visited and proclaimed it great. Thereby utilising a little known power of a reigning monarch in Britain - the ability to rename whatever she pleased whenever it took her fancy to do so. It's more frequent than you think. Possibly the same queen once visited a riverside pub in the nearby village of Surlingham where she was served cold ham - all they had on short notice. Now it will forever be known as Coldham Hall. I'm not lying - look it up. What an uppity bitch.

Coney Island isn't great. It has a charm of its own - I suppose - a gritty 'hold-onto-your-wallet' charm associated with creepy circuses everywhere. This creepy circus does, however, manage to be one of the creepiest fucking circuses I've ever seen.

I think it's the freaks. I can't handle that so well because Britain likes to think that its moved beyond sideshows. Instead, we sneakily lock our freaks away in the Big Brother house for ten weeks a year - or treat our celebrities like freaks within the glossy pages of the god-awful Heat Magazine. I think the kind of things that go on at Coney Island might even been illegal at home.

But I walked through the streets with Alice and everywhere I turned there was someone bosting 'four foot long GIANT RAT,' or 'FREAK SNAKE' or 'INCREDIBLE HEADLESS WOMAN'S BODY! (STILL ALIVE)'. That last one struck me the hardest. Not only are we meant to believe that scientists legally separated a woman's head from her body - apparently keeping it alive for twenty days - but that the still living headless body was then somehow appropriated by carneys - and is now paraded in front of slack jawed gawpers, rather than being researched by the top minds in the US and passed from university to university in the vein hope of understanding why this Zombie bitch won't die.

How does she eat? Maybe they feed her bird-seed with an eyedropper through her neck-hole...

Anyway - Alice wanted to show me the sideshow. Lots of people have recommended it. However - we accidentally found ourselves in the animal sideshow - which was - at least at first - rather amusing.

Siamese Turtle - Still alive!
Yeah actually - it was. And it was kind of interesting - it had sort of a split shell shaped kind of like a heart symbol. Two heads, four fins. It was a little thing in a tank.

Five legged Salamander!
This might have been alive - but it sure as hell wasn't moving - and there wasn't a note to proudly exclaim that it hadn't passed on, so I have no idea if it was even real.

STUFFED EL CHUPACABRA! The Mexican Goat sucker. This looked like a tricky piece of taxidermy that could have been any number of other small animals made to look like - well - an unconvincing foot-and-a-half-long - animal thing. Not really impressive - and also it looked nothing like the three foot long skeleton of

EL CHUPACABRA! The Mexican Goat sucker... wait - what? This doesn't look anything like the stuffed one - it's about three feet long, vaguely humanoid with giant eye sockets, like an alien 'Grey', but probably all carved out of one piece of wood. Yeah, I'd say I'm not buying it, but we paid three bucks each at the door - so I guess we already did.

Two Headed Monkey! Look -Don't Touch! This was supposedly pickled - and I guess it was convincing at first glance, but it didn't take long to see that it was another fabrication.

Two Headed Babies! These were actually goats. I didn't look closely enough to see if they were real. Some of them were in pickle jars. Some woman was blocking the display with a pram.

Long Necked Turtles! These were still alive - and I wonder if keeping them that way was at all humane. They were little turtles with shells only a few inches long - and necks around two inches long. The way they dragged their heads around was unnerving - I wondered how they came to be born that way and whether it was as uncomfortable for them as it looked.

Mexican Hairless Dogs! Don't Touch Any of the Animals! They were just dogs. Two little black dogs shivering against the far wall of their enclosure. They looked young and frightened. It hurt to think that this was their reality. That some bastards kept them there as a cheap thrill to tourists because in this part of the world they're a little unusual. Realistically, however - they probably made the most convincing El-Chupacabras.

Two Headed Cow! One full-sized head and one small head on the neck with a mouth! The cow was laying down, looking miserable. It was a soft light brown colour and could have been any other cow. I didn't see the second head. Neither did Alice. It was just sad to see it there.

Worlds Smallest Horse: It was a few feet tall. A little horse, standing and apparently sleeping with its eyes closed. I'm not a vet, but I don't think it was well. Like everything else here - it looked sad.

AMAZING LONG SNAKES! STILL ALIVE! Don't touch the glass! These were normal snakes in a tank.

The whole place stank - both literally and figuratively. Alice and I both felt bad for the animals and left shortly. We skipped the human freaks and went for pizza.

I had a good day all in all, it's good to spend time with my wife and experience new things and try new foods and eat fried Oreos once in a while - but it saddens me to think that animals are treated this way. And this is coming from someone who routinely wears their skin and eats them - so maybe it's hypocritical - but where I'll see them die to feed and clothe me, I'd really rather not see them live to suffer and amuse me.

Coney Island is part of a dying breed of entertainment - and perhaps it's best that we don't fight that. Perhaps we should say goodbye to unsafe rides and animal cruelty and staring at people and things that are either different or pretending to be. Perhaps if we let it go, we'll all be better off.

I don't know. It's something to think about.
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