The greatest comic books of all time. Seriously.

The comic book medium has had lots of highs in its nearly 100-year history. We’ve had Maus, Watchmen, Love and Rockets, Sandman, and much, much more. 

But if I had to choose one comic book to send to Mars as the true pinnacle of the comic art form, I’d pick the adventures of Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane. 

Superman was so darned popular in the 1950s and 1960s that even second-bananas got their spin-off titles. Hence we have Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen and Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane, which both managed respectable 100+ issue runs up into the 1970s.

For me, these comics are the pure crack cocaine all other comics aspire to. They’re the pop-art manic energy of Jack Kirby wrapped in suburban clothing, they’re everything Grant Morrison has homaged throughout his career. 

The insanely goofy adventures of Lois and Jimmy typically follow one pattern – hapless Jimmy and Lois get into far-out trouble, and their pal Superman has to rescue them. But in this simple pattern a world of utter insanity is kept. Jimmy Olsen becomes a werewolf, a giant Turtle-Man, a human flamethrower, a Bizarro version of himself. Lois Lane becomes a witch, a mermaid, even a black woman in a misguided attempt at relevance in the early 1970s. 


I’d argue these lowly spin-off comics in some ways serve Superman even better than his own solo adventures did – there’s rarely a fistfight or a cosmic clash, and instead the world’s most powerful superhero is often pictured as a kind of benign goofball god constantly at the beck and call of his irritating friends. 

There’s something very primal about these adventures, which all take place in a Daily Planet newspaper that seems to have about five staff, where human bodies are twisted like putty and genies, aliens and magic potions are around every corner, but everything will be back to normal by the end of the story. 

These comics are a product of their time – Lois is too often portrayed as a scheming meddler with marriage to a man (usually Superman) the only thing on her mind; but by the same token Jimmy Olsen is a gibbering goon who’s constantly getting himself into trouble as well. Yet I’d take a single Jimmy Olsen comic with their endless invention and amiable good cheer over a dozen of comic books’ latest attempts to strip-mine their past and reinvent the wheel. 

You’ll never, ever see a Jimmy Olsen movie that captures a tenth of the insanity and colour of these comics. And that’s why they’re quite possibly the peak of the comic book form. 

They are us, New Zealand.

IMG_5346.jpgWhat do we do when the worst happens?

This isn’t New Zealand, they said when the news broke.

Of course, it is, because it happened here. 

It can happen anywhere. It’s happened in almost every town I’ve lived in at one point or another, now. But New Zealand is seen as a haven, a too-good-to-be-true Hobbiton in the eyes of the world, a fantasy which often ignores our very real problems.

But it shouldn’t happen here. Our country has never, ever had a mass shooting of the kind that claimed 49 lives so far in the Christchurch mosques, people who were born in New Zealand, people who came to New Zealand from all over the world to find better lives. Having lived here nearly 13 years now, I can say that this is a kind, open-hearted nation for the most part. “They are us,” said our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and they are.

IMG_5357.jpgA few thousand of us came together in Aotea Square in downtown Auckland today to mourn in the hot sun, to show these racist white supremacist shitheads out there that we are better than them. 

I fear that the internet has reached its final singularity as the world’s greatest propagator of hate speech, a never-stopping infernal engine that amplifies, accelerates and agitates all that is the very worst about the human spirit. I wish I knew what to do about it. 

What do we do when the worst happens? I haven’t a bloody clue, to be honest, but I know that gathering with a thousand or two other people who cheer New Zealand’s swirling, ever-changing diversity and who understand there’s room on this planet for all kinds of races and creeds made me feel a little better, if only for a moment or two. 

In defence of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

1308227299001_5810993950001_5810990937001-vsReal talk: I liked Bohemian Rhapsody quite a lot. 

Is is the Best Picture of 2018? Hardly – I’d pick BlackKklansman or possibly The Favourite over it any day.

But in this era where there’s often no shades of grey in debate, Rhapsody sure has come under an awful lot of fire by the critical class – who are probably spitting bullets that it won four Academy Awards (more than any other movie this year) and has grossed US$214 million, becoming the biggest biopic of all time. 

“Rhapsody” isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s a rousing entertainment that superbly speaks to the American Dream, circa 2019 – which is, simply, getting famous. Every other person wants to be a star, whether it’s on Instagram or YouTube, and Freddie Mercury’s story hits a chord with them. Farrokh Bulsara, a native of Zanzibar, reinvented himself as a star. 

I remember Freddie Mercury’s death, in 1991, which seems a million years ago now. I’d never have thought we’d still be talking about him quite so much in 2019, but when he died, there was an outpouring of Queen tributes and the songs were inescapable (thank you, Wayne’s World). Mercury’s AIDS-related death at just 45 is a key reason for the ongoing posthumous fame – there’s few more inescapable storylines that run through the annals of rock history than dying young. 

queenQueen are a band critics loved to hate. “Lyrically, Queen’s songs manage to be pretentious and irrelevant,” The New York Times wrote in 1978. Rolling Stone’s Dave Marsh actually called them “the first truly fascist rock band,” which, wow, is not a piece of criticism that’s aged well. 

I wouldn’t call Queen my favourite band by any means, but I appreciate a lot of their work, their raucous anthems and their sprawling eclecticism. Queen didn’t take themselves that seriously – an awful lot of their songs sound like band in-jokes – but they hit on one of the key qualities for rock’n’roll success, the marriage of the sublime and the absurd. There’s few songs more ridiculous than “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but dammit if Mercury’s aching solo verses don’t get me every time. 

Bohemian Rhapsody, penned by Kiwi screenwriter Anthony McCarten, has come under fire for historically fudging the facts. No, Mercury didn’t tell the band he had AIDS before Live Aid. No, the band didn’t break up before that concert. But I’d argue that the biopic as a genre has never been about 100% historical accuracy – look at Amadeus, another Oscar-winning musical which portrayed Mozart and Salieri as mortal enemies, which they weren’t in real life. The biopic tells a story, using history, but it isn’t history. 

McCarten’s screenplay does what it can with Mercury’s complicated sexuality – Mary Austin was indeed the ‘love of his life,’ but Mercury was also gay. He also was extremely private and didn’t reveal his AIDS diagnosis until the day before he died, so the movie’s sometimes cagey take on his private life echoes Mercury’s own.

I wouldn’t argue that Bohemian Rhapsody is fundamentally flawed because it stretches facts, like most other biopics have. There’s a divide in watching it between the head and the heart. My head saw some pretty darned clunky lines and a lot of Rock Movie 101 cliches, but my gut was swayed by Queen’s absurdly catchy songs, Rami Malek’s outstanding performance and that go-for-broke Live Aid show climax which is every fame-chaser’s dream of acceptance. 

PRY8WA-920x584It’s a very simple story of a band that came from nothing and made it big, which has its DNA all over every single reality TV show millions watch every single week. Rhapsody works for many because it speaks to the weirdos and the oddballs, to that dream of getting famous. Everybody wants to be something. It’s no wonder it’s a global hit. 

Look at me, who they once called the gay “Paki” boy with funny teeth, with thousands screaming my name.

Look at me. Aren’t I beautiful? Don’t you want to be me?