Sunday, November 25, 2007

X-Axis comments thread - 25 November 2007

This week, "Messiah Complex" continues in New X-Men; DC launches Batman and the Outsiders but chooses not to explain what the book is acutally about; and Dark Horse launches The Scream by Peter David and Bart Sears, but shhhh, it's a secret.

- And while I'm at it, here's some more or less random videos from YouTube and stuff that's shown up on the music channels lately. None of these is even approaching "new", but so what?

The New Pornographers, "The Laws Have Changed." Seems to be the result of a bet to see how many choruses they can fit into one song.

The Decembrists, "16 Military Wives." Not the subtlest video ever made, but I think it works.

Erasure's "Am I Right?" Not one of their better remembered singles, but I've always liked it.

Girls Aloud, "Biology." This is a strange mutant thing masquerading as a pop song. It's three unrelated pieces of music stuck together, it has no obvious verse-chorus-verse structure, and the (presumably intentional) clumsy choreography is mystifying. I can't make up my mind whether it's good or just a mistake.


Flicking through the music channels on Sky, I was reminded of one of the more curious facts of pop music: Madness were one hit wonders in America. "Our House" made the Billboard top 10 in 1983, and aside from that, they ever made any impact on the American mind.

Okay, technically they weren't quite one hit wonders. One of their other singles scraped the lower reaches of the US top 40. But still, this won't do. Madness were fantastic, although they were easily mistaken for a novelty act - something that always led people to underrate the music. Fortunately, thanks to YouTube, I can illustrate that point.

Here's the thing you have to understand about Madness videos. We're going back over 25 years with most of these. Music video was in its infancy. There were a lot of dreary performance videos. There were a lot of cheap performance videos. In the eighties, there were a lot of people wearing very silly clothes while the vision mixer experimented with his new toys. Madness, on the other hand, chose an option that still works for low-budget video-makers today - cram as much stuff as possible on the screen, have fun, and if it looks cheap, who cares? When their careers took off and they were able to spend more money, they seem to have spent it on More Stuff instead of polishing the production values.

This is excellent and to be commended. If it made them look like a novelty act, so what? That's what good pop music is about. They write great three-minute songs and they entertain you, first and foremost. This stuff DOES look dated, if only because major labels today would insist on higher production values. But it doesn't look much like other videos from the time.

"One Step Beyond", admittedly, is kind of a novelty record. This is their second single from 1979, and it shows. It's a ska instrumental, which is the root of everything that follows. The video is a bunch of kids bouncing around to their new record.

Okay, it's not a GREAT video. Still, indie bands are still making videos like that today. Not many of them were making videos like that in 1979.

Their next single, though, was a real step up. This is "My Girl", in which Suggs plaintively explains his distress at falling out with his girlfriend over the question of whether they should go and see a film, or alternatively stay in to watch the telly. It's a love song with all the usual sentimental drivel stripped away and replaced with something from planet earth. It's fantastic.

As for the video, we've got the band miming to the song and that's about it. But soon enough, you start getting stuff like this.

"Baggy Trousers" has never really been one of my favourite Madness songs, and to be honest, it's here mainly to bridge a gap from the early ones. Still, most people in Britain think it's a classic, so it might as well be here. And besides, we've now got a flying saxophone player, which is a great use of record company money.

"It Must Be Love" was the other Madness single that made the American charts. It's actually a cover version of a Labi Siffre song, and for some reason, YouTube doesn't have an embeddable versin of it, hence the link. It's a classic, though.

"Cardiac Arrest" is a lesser known Madness songs - it didn't even make the top 10 in the UK, perhaps because of the ropey middle eight and the fact that most record buyers aren't too bothered about the fate of stressed businessmen. I've always had a soft spot for this one, though.

The follow-up is a piece of genius. "House of Fun" is a song about buying condoms at the age of 16 (the age of consent in the UK), a subject that ought to have disqualified them from kids TV back in 1982. But by going completely nuts with the video, and never QUITE mentioning the subject directly, they somehow got away with it.

I mean, that's just perfect. That's pop music.

"Wings of a Dove" is a fantastic song that doesn't get played nearly as often as it deserves. This is what happens when you give Madness money to make a video: they blow it on chucking stuff out of an aeroplane. Quite right too.

The later Madness singles, when they started to sober up a bit, aren't as fondly remembered. Given their image, the band had a lot of trouble trying to drag their audience into adulthood, and eventually gave up the struggle. I'll leave things off with "Michael Caine", from their penultimate album "Keep Moving." It's a good song, but it's not as instant as the earlier stuff. If anything, it actually sounds more like the Divine Comedy.

That's from 1984, by the way, and I'd say it's an unusually good video for the time.

Anyhow, Madness. A great pop band. I can't really understand how any country (and America wasn't the only one) managed to get "Our House" and yet not want the rest of their records, but there you go. At least the British always loved them.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

X-Axis comments thread - 18 November 2007

This week: X-Factor continues the "Messiah Complex" storyline, Captain Marvel's comeback miniseries tries to undo the damage from Civil War: The Return, and Aaron Alexovitch completes the first wave of Minx digests with Kimmie66.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Survivor Series 2007

Survivor Series is notionally one of the big shows of the year, although in practice it's increasingly become just another show. When it started back in 1987, the assumption was that a PPV needed a theme. Survivor Series was based entirely around ten-man elimination tag team matches.

This certainly made it different, but it's also a bit of a nightmare for the company. Ten wrestlers per match gets through the roster at a terrifying rate. It's very hard to fill a card with sixty wrestlers that people will pay to see. So in recent years, the tag matches have been relegated to a token throwback match, while the rest of the show proceeds like any other PPV.

It's an odd show this year. They've promoted the show with adverts featuring Edge, but he isn't scheduled to wrestle. He's still out with an injury. Perhaps they expected him to be back in time when they filmed the advert. As it is, he hasn't shown his face at all - and with Chris Jericho due back on Monday, it's highly unlikely that Edge is going to show up on Sunday without prior warning. They'll want to promote his return properly.

Instead, we have a set of matches which are frankly rather light on storyline and context, but could still be good in the ring.

1. WWE Championship: Randy Orton v Shawn Michaels. Last month, you may recall, was Cyber Sunday, in which the title challengers were selected by online vote. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Shawn Michaels won the vote, and the match ended when Orton was DQ'd for a low blow. But the normal rule is that titles only change hands by pinfall or submission, so Orton retained his title despite losing the match. Hence, this rematch.

Now, the thrust of the story suggests Michaels is probably winning here. He's just returned from months rehabbing an injury, for which Orton is (in storyline) supposed to be responsible. He's out for revenge, and he's significantly higher up the pecking order than Orton. Orton, on the other hand, has been booked as a weak champion and hasn't been a focal point of the show. He's looking decidedly transitional at this point. So I'm thinking that Michaels wins the title.

For some unfathomable reason, the WWE has chosen to add some convoluted stipulations to this match: Michaels will be disqualified if he tries to use his normal finishing move (er, why?), but for this match, Orton can lose the title on a disqualification. It's hard to imagine anyone buying the show because of those stipulations. ("Ooh, Shawn Michaels could win the world title on a technicality! I must buy this show!") But they won't bring down the quality of the match significantly.

2. World Heavyweight Title: Batista v. The Undertaker. This is a Hell in the Cell match, conventionally billed as Undertaker's speciality (even though he actually tends to lose them). Basically, it's a cage match with some extra space at ringside, and without the rule that you can win by escaping. But they've built it up as an important match over the years, and they've finally trained the audience out of expecting to see the suicidal stunts that were associated with it in the late nineties. So Batista and the Undertaker will have a glorified cage match, and it'll probably be good stuff.

Batista retained the title last month and (with a bit of fudging) they're claiming that this puts him 1-1 in title matches against Undertaker, hence the tie-break match. The first match was back in the spring, if you're wondering. That's about the size of the storyline here. They're the two biggest stars on Smackdown, even though they're both babyfaces, and they're going to fight again.

I think Batista retains here. Edge is due back shortly and he has a ready-made feud with Undertaker, but none with Batista. So it makes more sense for him to fight Undertaker first and then move on to fight Batista for the belt.

3. ECW World Heavyweight Title: CM Punk v. John Morrison v. The Miz. Last month, they offered the audience a choice - CM Punk could defend the C-show championship against Morrison, the Miz or Big Daddy V. It was blindingly obvious that they wanted us to vote for the monstrously obese Big Daddy V, so it came as something of a surprise (at least to the company) when he came in last, and the Miz - who was only on the ballot to pad it out - won the title shot. From the look of it, nobody had really planned for this eventuality, as Miz dutifully emerged for the match without the girls who normally flank him during his entrance, and then had a very obviously improvised match with Punk, complete with lengthy stretches of elementary wrestling while they tried to figure out what they were going to do next. It was better than the live crowd gave it credit for, but it still wasn't a high point of either man's career.

Anyway, the WWE has apparently taken the hint that nobody wants to see Big Daddy V in this spot, so we're now getting a three-way match with Miz, who's fine within limits, and Morrison, who's generally rather good. These three should have a decent match between them. Miz and Morrison have been feuding on the side, but in a bizarre last-minue twist, they showed up on Smackdown on Friday and won the WWE Tag Titles from Matt Hardy and MVP - also an odd-couple tag team, which suggests the Smackdown writers are running a bit low on ideas by doing the same gimmick twice in a row.

There's no way on earth that Miz should win this match; nobody really buys him as a main eventer. Morrison is a definite possibility, because his previous title reign only ended because he was suspended under the drug policy. I suspect, though, that CM Punk will probably retain; the tag titles should keep Morrison and Miz busy for the moment. And if one of the bad guys wins, then you've got a heel champion, so what do you do with Big Daddy V? (Unless you abandon his push altogether.)

4. World Tag Team Titles: Lance Cade & Trevor Murdoch v. Hardcore Holly & Cody Rhodes. This match was announced on Heat, of all places. Since Heat only airs on international television (and on the WWE website, but you have to hunt for it), you can tell it's not a high priority for anyone.

Cody Rhodes is the rookie son of 1980s wrestler Dusty Rhodes, and the idea is that grizzled veteran Holly has taken him under his wing. Cade and Murdoch, the Raw tag champs, are kind of drifting around waiting for a clear challenger to emerge. They seem to be heading towards a break-up angle based on Murdoch starting a relationship with Mickie James. None of these storylines intersect in the slightest, and these teams have no especially good reason to be fighting - aside from the fact that the good guys want the title, of course. So I'd have the champs retain by cheating, to set up for a rematch down the line.

5. Elimination match: Triple H, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Rey Mysterio & Kane v. Umaga, Mr Kennedy, Finlay, MVP & Big Daddy V. This is the obligatory elimination match - two teams drawn from all three rosters, with Triple H and Umaga as captains. There's no storyline here and nothing at stake, so it's just an elimination match as a gimmick. As usual, they've taken characters who are already feuding with one another and assigned them to opposite teams, but it's really a holding pattern in all of their storylines.

Most of the wrestlers in this match are very good, and the ones who aren't can be easily disguised in a ten-man elimination, so I'm fairly confident that this will be fun. Matt Hardy did a big injury angle on Smackdown on Friday, but they've said nothing about pulling him from the match, so presumably he's going to give us a display of heroic limping. Big Daddy V was the only one of the ten who didn't appear on TV this week to promote the match, although his manager Matt Striker did turn up to announce that he had flu. I have no idea what's going on there. If he doesn't show - well, frankly, any replacement is likely to be a step up.

6. Beth Phoenix, Jillian Hall, Melina, Victoria & Layla v. Mickie James, Kelly Kelly, Michelle McCool, Torrie Wilson & Maria. The obligatory women's match. Mercifully, this is not an elimination match. Only about half of these women can really wrestle, and four of them are on the heel team. On the babyface side, only Mickie James can really be expected to carry a match, and clearly that's what she'll have to do.

It'll be short, and Beth Phoenix will pin someone to continue the theme that she's a dominant women's champion. Next.

7. Hornswoggle v The Great Khali. Hornswoggle is a midget wrestler pretending to be a leprechaun, who was inexplicably revealed as Vince McMahon's son when the steroid suspensions forced the first choice, Mr Kennedy, off TV. This was a bit of a ratings disaster, as fans had actually been getting into the "Who is Vince's long lost son?" storyline, and weren't best pleased when the pay-off was a comedy angle involving a midget. This isn't the fault of Hornswoggle himself - Dylan Postl is a perfectly good performer, as novelty acts go. But nobody really wants to see him in major storylines.

For no immediately obvious reason, Hornswoggle is going to fight the seven foot giant Khali. Nobody seems to know where this is heading or why it's on PPV. If past form is anything to go by, it will be an embarrassingly overlong comedy segment, leading to some sort of massacre. (I can't believe they'd destroy Khali's mystique by having a midget pin him, so it's a safe bet he's winning.) I suspect this is heading towards Khali annihilating the little guy and either writing him out entirely, or leading to a segment on TV where Vince outs him as a fake, thus re-opening the original plot. But even in the best case scenario, I can't imagine there's going to be anything in this match which wouldn't be more at home on free TV.

Worth buying? Actually, yes - all of these should be decent aside from the comedy segment and the women. Admittedly, those matches will probably be dire. But I've got fairly high hopes for the rest of it.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

X-Axis comments thread - 11 November 2007

- Goodness, it's been a while since I posted anything at length here. There'll be more this week, honest.

- Meanwhile: this week on the X-Axis, Astonishing X-Men reaches the penultimate issue of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's run; Uncanny X-Men continues the "Messiah Complex" crossover; and Silver Surfer: In Thy Name gets reviewed because it was the only new series of the week. It's not bad at all, though.

- Watching the US writer's strike from afar, I'm intrigued to see that American strikes still work on the basis of other union members refusing to cross picket lines, and talk of permanently expelling people from a closed-shop arrangement if they don't honour the strike. To British eyes, this is all a weird pre-Thatcherite throwback, and the sort of thing they still do in France. It's very odd to see this sort of thing cropping up in America, of all places. Perhaps it reflects the fact that American unions haven't had the same tradition of militancy that made Thatcher want to take them on. Feels weird, anyway.

- Lions for Lambs has apparently bombed at the US box office, according to Deadline Hollywood Daily, which prompts a load of right-wing commenters to declare that this clearly shows Hollywood is out of touch with what the market wants - i.e., drooling patriotic nonsense.

Actually, they're probably right that that sort of movie would do better, but they're missing something more fundamental. Iraq is a very divisive issue in America. Why would you go and see a broadly anti-war film full of people talking about how terrible it all is? If you support the war, it doesn't exactly sound like a great night out. And if you oppose the war, it's still basically an evening of celluloid-assisted autoflagellation. It's hardly surprising that mass audiences don't want to watch this stuff. To make them pay to see miserably depressing movies about political subjects, you have to pitch them as Important Cultural Moments along the lines of Schindler's List. But the Iraq war is probably too divisive for that to work.

I wonder whether Hollywood is really able to deal with a topic as divisive as this, when anything you say is guaranteed to alienate half the population of America from the word go. It's a lose-lose proposition, if your movie has to haul in the viewers at the end of the day.

Monday, November 05, 2007

X-Axis comments thread - 4 November 2007

This week, New X-Men finally completes the build-up to "Messiah Complex", just in time for X-Men: Messiah Complex #1 to hit the shelves. And a look at the launch week for DC's Zudacomics website.