Burton & Swinburne

A quick post before I rush off to supervise a mock lecture session with two new law lecturers. I was on-leave for most of last week. It was a much needed break because my wife was undergoing a crisis at work – thankfully, she’s back at work today after all the wrangling and heart-aching experiences. Other than that, I got to show up for the Open Day at my kids’ school to collect their report books.

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On a whim, I decided to get back to reading a bit of history this morning. Picked up Tim Jeal’s Explorers of the Nile from my library. Anyway, one thing led to another and I found myself also picking up two of Mark Hodder’s novels – The Curious Case of the Clockwork-Man and Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon. The single thread that ran through all of the above is the endlessly interesting character of Sir Richard Francis Burton. The 19th century explorer, swordsman, writer, womaniser, translator, sexual experimenter and spy remains as intriguing as a real historical figure as he is a ready-made fictional character (for instance, in the novels by Hodder above and also by Philip Jose Farmer).

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I’m looking forward to devouring these books over this weekend (yes, it’s another overseas trip for law lectures) and I’ll be reviewing them once I’m done. In the meantime, check out PDF fascimiles of Richard Burton’s writings at burtoniana.org and the complete Burton translation of The Thousand Nights and A Night (aka Arabian Nights).

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Secret Agent Corrigan

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I just had lunch with a friend in KLCC. Picked up a collection of Plato’s Dialogues and the 2nd volume of IDW’s collected reprints of Secret Agent Corrigan/X9 by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson. I’m a huge fan of IDW’s efforts to bring together the best of American comics and the 5-volume series collecting the entire run of Secret Agent Corrigan/X9 strips from 1967 to 1980 is one of the stellar examples of what can be achieved in the daily newspaper comic strip format (note: Goodwin and Williamson left the strip in 1980 to work on the Star Wars daily strip).

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What you need to know: Phil Corrigan aka Secret Agent X9 was created by pulp legend Dashiell Hammett (who gave us The Maltese Falcon) and legendary illustrator Alex Raymond (who gave us Flash Gordon). Corrigan was a no-nonsense FBI agent who was married to the love-of-his-life, Wilda, and had James Bond-like adventures in exotic locales all over the world. Ironically, the strip was generally lacklustre despite having the big name creators attached to it. It wasn’t until Archie Goodwin took over writing the strip with illustrator Al Williamson (who worked best in the Alex Raymond style of illustration) that the strip came alive.

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I first came to know Al Williamson’s art in the old Marvel Star Wars comics. When I was a kid, the Williamson comics were pure magic. It was the first time that I felt how holding a comic was like having a movie in my hands. As for Goodwin, I first became a fan of his when he became the editor of Marvel’s EPIC line of books and wrote the Wolverine-Nick Fury graphic novel, The Scorpio Connection (with Howard Chaykin). Later on, I discovered Goodwin’s writings for the horror magazines published by Warren in the 1970’s – chiefly, his contributions to the growth of the vampire-mythos in Vampirella. Up to this day, nobody writes Vampirella like Archie Goodwin. He single-handedly fleshed out the character and her larger mythology by adding a lover (Adam Van Helsing), a disapproving elder (Conrad Van Helsing), a friend/partner (Pendragon) and a host of villains (Dracula, the Blood Red Queen of Hearts, the followers of Chaos, etc.). Still later, a friend gave me a copy of the Manhunter: Special Edition tradepaperback by Goodwin and Walt Simonson (note: Manhunter’s special Interpol filecode was 007X9 – a combination of Bond and Corrigan’s codes). Needless to say, when I finally found the Corrigan/X9 books a couple of months ago, I snapped up the first volume immediately.

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At that time, I was on a James Bond addiction. My kids and I watched and re-watched every Bond movie ever made. Then I proceeded to read and re-read all the Fleming novels (along with pastiche novels by Sebastian Faulks, Jeffrey Deaver and most recently, William Boyd). Then I discovered the excellent Bond comic strips and devoured them as well. Once I was done with all that, I thought that I would never find anything else that gave me the same enjoyment. Thank the comic deities, I discovered the Corrigan/X9 books and the first book gave me hours of bliss reading the down-to-earth, no-nonsense toughguy stories of Secret Agent Corrigan, his wife Wilda and countless other gorgeous damsels-in-distress (not to mention deadly femme fatales) – of course, Williamson’s special gift in rendering the beauty of the female form made each strip extra special. It has been said that the duo of Goodwin-Williamson gave us haiku in each comic strip panel and this is not an exaggeration. Their work flows very naturally – Goodwin was said to have specially tailored his writing to Williamson’s strengths. While none of the stories can be considered great whether in terms of plot or scripting, they should be appreciated for what they were – workaday stories churned out by two creators at the top of their game. Even their worst stories were at least readable (as any panel drawn by Williamson is a reward on its own).

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The stories collected in the first volume are:

  • “Between special assignments, Phil stays busy with regular routine …” Marina, a scientist on an important project, tires of the security precautions for her and decides to go into town to enjoy the freedom of American life that she envied before defecting. This accidentally allows her to miss a kidnap attempt by Magnus’ gang, but they eventually find her and nab her at a carnival. Corrigan and Daley discover her whereabouts in time to save her.
  • “With Magnus and his men in custody …” When evidence in separate incidents ties fugitives Cole and Burke to the Republic of Solera, Corrigan assumes the identify of Burke to investigate. In Solera, Corrigan discovers that, instead of a refuge for fugitives, it is actually a slave labor camp for mining gold run by Adrienne Widdoe. She uses the money conned out of guys on the run to finance the operation and forces them to work in her mines with the aide of Drumm, the local police captain. Widdoe’s rejections of Drumm’s affections leads to an opening for Corrigan to escape and break up the operation.
  • “Returning to the U.S., Phil Corrigan resumes his regular duties…” In poor health, deported ex-syndicate boss Joe Falcon decides to cooperate with the F.B.I. so his daughter, Cheryl, can return to the U.S. He dies of a heart attack before Corrigan can arrive, but leaves a key to Cheryl for a deposit box with his records. Corrigan and Cheryl head to Switzerland to get the key, but two syndicate men learn of the key and try to stop them.
  • “As Corrigan returns from Europe, new events are taking place in the U.S. …” Trusted key personnel are suddenly wrecking their own projects. Phil and Wilda visit an exclusive vacation resort where a scientist had spent a week prior to committing the most recent case of sabotage. While there, Phil recognizes Ernst Lazlo, a famous biochemist, checking in. When Lazlo disappears, Phil discovers the brainwashing system used by Mrs. Murkley and her sons that is the cause of the string of sabotage cases.
  • “Phil Corrigan receives a new assignment…” Susan’s husband is kidnapped to force her to wear a recording device at an important missile conference.
  • “In the Middle East a meeting takes place.” Bradley and Vivian intend to smuggle guns to a warlike tribe in Jhahran, using Vivian’s role as an assistant to an archeologist as cover for the shipments. But Corrigan arrives and breaks up the gunrunning scheme.
  • “Returning from overseas, Phil settles back into his regular routine…” Clegg Trask controls the small town of Eagle Bend, which is used as a quiet place for big-time syndicate get-togethers. Retired F.B.I. agent Dan Page runs a newspaper there and telegrams Phil that he needs help. When Phil arrives, he discovers Dan has been critically injured in a car accident and his newspaper office has been burned down. Phil gets no cooperation until he meets Trask’s neglected girlfriend Debbie. Together, they get the town to rise up and stop Trask’s operation.
  • “Back on the job, Corrigan attends a briefing …” Corrigan tracks down a leak of top-secret documents until it leads to the head of the spy ring, Ilsa Flint, who smuggles the documents out of the country between the canvas layers of paintings from her art gallery.
  • “Phil is called to the State Department …” Princess Sophia is about to be crowned Queen of Alpsberg, but doesn’t know who to trust in her politically unstable country. She requests Phil’s services via the State Department since he had recovered a stolen tiara during a previous visit to the U.S. Phil helps stop a plot to have the Princess replaced in the coronation by an actress with an uncanny resemblance to the Princess.
  • “Returning to regular duty, Phil follows up a call …” Madame Lei intends to use Phil in order to prove that she is worthy of heading the American spy network. She temporarily captures him, but Phil foils her plans to exchange him for a captured agent. Millicent Murkley threatens to talk to the F.B.I. unless The Leader arranges to break her out of prison. Her go-between helps fake her death and when she is revived outside of prison she hides out temporarily in her reluctant daughter’s farmhouse. But Corrigan discovers the deception.
  • “A luxury liner steams across the Atlantic …” A submarine is kidnapping technicians and stealing materials necessary to build a long-range missile. After releasing a cover story that Corrigan is a top missile man, Phil is placed on a cruise ship as bait for the submarine. As hoped, he is kidnapped by the submarine crew and taken to the secret missile base. A homing device in Phil’s cigarette case leads the Navy to base.

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The stories collected in the second volume are:

  • “Prince Kasim” Corrigan’s wife Wilda is kidnapped by Prince Kasim of the Middle Eastern nation of Turistan to be his wife as he ascends to the throne.
  • “Byron Jagger” Spy novelist Jagger tries to goose sales of his book by faking attempts on his life and saying they’re the work of Cain, a notorious spy thought dead who Jagger claims is still alive. Turns out Jagger is correct, and Cain decides to silence the writer for real.
  • “Clete Bowman” Bowman decides to give up his failed acting career for a shot at real money by becoming a courier for an espionage ring trafficking in stolen defense plans.
  • “Gorstrom” Big game hunter and syndicate bigwig Gorstrom hunts the biggest game of all on his private Caribbean island – Phil Corrigan, who is playing bodyguard to government witness Karen Holt.
  • “Charlene Amberson” Rich girl Amberson arranges her own kidnapping to score some cash to run away with the guy her father disapproves of. The ruse turns deadly when the couple’s cohort decides to make the kidnapping real.
  • “Jonas Branveldt” Corrigan heads to the South American jungle of Arumba to find the notes of presumed-dead Dr. Branveldt who made a discovery that could make atomic weapons obsolete. What he finds is a very much alive Branveldt along with a lost valley unchanged since the Mesozoic era filled with danger – and dinosaurs! Exceedingly entertaining story with page after page of bravura Williamson art.
  • “Doctor Seven” Corrigan meets recurring enemy Dr. Seven and his henchwoman Lushan for the first time as our FBI guy gets loaned out to the CIA to track down US space satellites knocked out of orbit and brought to the nation of Kalipur.
  • “R. Barcroft Baxter” Movie producer Baxter seeks to undermine Galaxy Studios head Kay Stirling in order to take over the company and run it as a syndicate-controlled enterprise.
  • “General Drax” Corrigan is assigned to bodyguard Drax, the dictator of Balkania under threat of assassination, as he prepares to address the United Nations.
  • “Jonas Garth” Corrigan heads to the African nation of Ukhari on the trail of Jonas Garth, a treasure hunter who is wanted for murder back in the States.
  • “Doctor Seven Returns” Blamed for Corrigan’s defeat of Dr. Seven, Lushan trades information about Seven’s next scheme for Corrigan’s protection.

Dracula Untold – Full Trailer

Luke Evans stars as Vlad in this upcoming movie exploring the origin of Dracula. I’m really, really looking forward to this one. Evans has been very impressive in everything from Immortals to The Three Musketeers to The Fast & The Furious 6. If the trailer is to be believed, he’ll do great as the legendary Undead Count as well. In fact, if Marvel Comics is serious about filming a Dr Strange movie, they should nab Luke Evans for the role immediately.

Aerobic Girls and Storms in Hong Kong

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Over the weekend, I finally finished watching the TVB series, Never Dance Alone (aka M Club) with my wife and kids. It’s about secondary school days in the 1980’s, friendship, loyalty, living one’s dream, aerobics and Alan Tam songs. Lovely series featuring some really talented young actresses and the comeback of 80’s/90’s stars such as Carman Lee, Flora Chan, Fiona Yuen, Loretta Lee (calling herself “Rachel” these days), Elvina Kong and Gloria Yip. This is one of the more enjoyable offerings from TVB in recent years. It’s really good to see a heartwarming series about friendship, dance and music.

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Also managed to catch Z-Storm for the 2nd time with my wife at TGV Sunway Pyramid last Thursday. When I saw it the first time, I thought that the film worked only as a recruitment documentary for the ICAC. Then I saw it again and realised that it was a very good film about hedge funds, the independence of the ICAC (despite political pressures), the importance of check-and-balance mechanisms for public bodies entrusted with powers of arrest/detention/prosecution, the accountability of individual officials, and how corruption can affect our daily lives in deadly ways (the scene with Louis Koo’s wife dying in the collapsing elevator really drives home the point). Highly recommended – was glad that we picked this one over the new Transformers film.

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With Z-Storm, I finally finished watching all three Storm-titled HK films. The other two were Firestorm (starring Andy Lau and Gordon Lam) and The White Storm (with Louis Koo, Sean Lau and Nick Cheung).

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All three films share a similar theme – HK being threatened by criminal masterminds (Madoff-type investment schemes in Z-Storm, drugs in White Storm and terrorist-styled robbers in Firestorm). While Central HK was partly destroyed in Firestorm, HK largely survived intact in all three films (which is not really surprising since HK managed to survive the attack of kaiju monsters in Pacific Rim and evil transformer robots in the latest Transformers: Age of Extinction, right?).

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Another thing all three films had in common: veteran actor Lo Hoi Pang was very prominent in them all. It’s a wonder that the 72-year old actor can still deliver excellent performances every single time. I grew up with him as a comedian/singer/actor in numerous TV variety shows. In the three Storm films, he varies between crime victim, money-laundering accountant and Khun Sa-styled drug lord (with bad hairdo).

Lastly, the White Storm also featured a remixed version of the themesong from the 1978 Luk Siu Fung TV series. My kids are pretty addicted to the song (originally sung by Adam Cheng) and they’ve been singing it ever since. You can listen to it in the video below:

Who Shot The Watcher?

First post in a little more than two months. Quick recap – I completed all my lectures on time for the LLB exams in May/June. As a result, I was a little overworked and was really under the weather for a couple of weeks. Had to cancel one Contract Law lecture in May (and had another lecturer stand in for me). All in all, I’ve largely recovered and have since gone back to work. I’m also thankful for the additional time with my family over the past two months.

Anyway, I’m back to posting today after reading the first six issues of the new Fantastic Four comic by James Robinson and Leonard Kirk along with the first five issues (#0-4) of the Original Sin miniseries by Jason Aaron and Mike Deodato (the “zero issue” was by Mark Waid and Jim Cheung).Over the past 5-6 years, I mostly get my comic book fix via hardcover and tradepaperback collections. Therefore, it was very refreshing to pick up some ‘floppies’ again and read them back-to-back with my daughter, Moira, yesterday afternoon. There was that sense of expectation and we found ourselves gasping for breath at the cliffhanger endings. Then we spent the next couple of hours trying to solve the mystery of who murdered Uatu the Watcher. (*** Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read the comics, stop reading this post. ***)

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For the benefit of the three or four individuals who have not been checking out Diamond’s Previews or any comics-related site online, Original Sin is the latest event from Marvel Comics. The plot resembles Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis over at DC a couple of years back – i.e. a superhero murder mystery (which really shouldn’t work since superheroes die all the time and are resurrected soon after). Despite the ludicrous nature of the plot, Jason Aaron manages to hold the thing together (with superbly dynamic artwork by Mike Deodato) and even throws in some necessary humour and misdirection along the way. Long story short – Uatu the Watcher has been murdered – apparently killed by some gamma-irradiated bullet fired by some mysterious killer who also decided to ‘harvest’ the Watcher’s eyes for good measure. The body was discovered by Captain America, Black Widow, Wolverine and Nick Fury. Soon after, several teams set out to investigate the murder – Dr Strange teamed up with the Punisher; Moon Knight teamed up with Gamora (daughter of Thanos) and Bucky (Winter Soldier); and the Black Panther teamed up with Emma Frost and Ant-Man (Scott Lang). It then appeared that a Z-list super-villain (how is this guy even ‘super’?), The Orb, had gotten hold of one of Uatu’s eyeballs and detonated it in front of several superheroes and civilians (exposing some hidden secret sins to those present – and allowing Marvel to tie-in a gazillion books to this event miniseries).

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The shocks came in issues 3 and 4 where Winter Soldier shot and decapitated Nick Fury (yes, you read that right). Then he used the decapitated head of Fury as a weapon against Gamora and a dozen other superheroes before the real Nick Fury shows up. Apparently, the dead Fury was a Life Model Decoy (LMD). Another surprise: Nick Fury is really, really old and wrinkled. Also, he decides to surround himself with LMDs of younger versions of himself (which is really creepy when you think about it).

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All in all, we’re halfway through the miniseries and it’s still really difficult to guess at who is really behind the whole shebang. My guess is that the Black Panther and Dr Strange may be the ones behind it all (but I’m ready to be proven wrong after reading the upcoming four issues). It’s unlikely to be Nick Fury or the Winter Soldier – the misdirections are too obvious, although it’s equally obvious that they have something to hide as well.

Finally, one of the biggest treats in reading this series is the appearance of the Mindless Ones (superbly rendered by Mike Deodato, I must add). I remember reading about them in the old Lee-Ditko Dr Strange books as a kid and they were pretty scary. I mean, they managed to scare Dormammu even. We even have one of the Mindless Ones using the Ultimate Nullifier (yes, it’s that nifty gizmo that Reed Richards used to scare off Galactus the first time) to blow off his own brains! So there you have it – crazy decapitations, eyeball-stealing, brain-nullifying and LMDs… plus a superhero murder mystery to boot. What’s not to like about this insane comic?

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Stars and Stripes

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I’m back in the airport lounge. It seems that I do most of my blogging while waiting for flights. I was here two weeks ago actually but I was simply too tired to write anything. In fact, the past two weeks have been really hectic for me. Firstly, my flight back home on 31 March 2014 was delayed by close to four hours because of a hailstorm. I was trapped with more than 200 passengers in the unmoving plane for the whole time. The only good thing that came out of it was that I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and when the plane finally took off, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Yes, I managed to catch both Peter Jackson films back-to-back. Thing was, I also read the original novel during the same weekend in between the Public Law revision classes that I taught. The strange experience was sufficient to turn me into a Hobbit-fan for life. On reaching Malaysia, I picked up The Annotated Hobbit and two critical collection of essays. Also got my son to read The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. Our dinner time conversations now revolve around the history of the Eldar, the coming of Melkor (or Morgoth), and the journeys of Earendil. The saying remains true – Tolkien is hobbit-forming!

Other than the short detours of the imagination to Middle Earth, I spent the past two weeks teaching from 10am to 10:30pm nearly every day. Work is crazy during the revision sessions. I hope to have more free time once the students are shipped off for their LLB examinations in the month of May. Last year, during the same period, I suffered from such a horrible sore-throat that I lost my voice and had to rest for a week. Add in the countless student scripts for marking and the many hours of student consultations, I was about to throw in the towel and collapse in exhaustion over the past several days. Thankfully, I completed my final classes on Friday evening and had a day of rest yesterday. Today, I made a one-day trip overseas for the LLB Info Session in the University (where I had to deliver a 30-minute lecture). I’m really, really looking forward to the next two days of rest and family time. My colleagues are already teasing me about how I’m a stranger to my wife and kids after being away from home so frequently. Even when I’m back in Malaysia, I work 12-hour days so it’s really so hard to have some time to see my family when they’re awake.

The other highlight of the past two weeks was that I got to catch Captain America: Winter Soldier in the cinema with my wife on our date night. Truth was, my wife and kids have already seen the film during my last overseas trip. I told them not to wait for me. However, it was so good to have my wife accompany me for the film. We had so much to discuss during and after the movie. Did it capture the feel of the original stories by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting? Well, in some ways I actually feel that the film was even better. In fact, the Marvel films have all been fantastic in the ways that they tie into each other and build upon what came before. Time was, the only way to experience this sense of continuity and character development was by reading the monthly titles. Now, Marvel Studios are telling the stories of the Stan Lee, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby characters even better than the monthly books. I can talk about this film forever (but I’ll be boarding my flight in a bit). It was playing on my mind so much over the week that, despite my insane teaching hours, I managed to squeeze in some hours yesterday to catch the first five episodes of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with my family. Agent Phil Coulson, Agent Maria Hill and, of course, Director Nick Fury already feel like family. The new characters created for the TV such as Ward, Melinda May, Skye and the two nerdy scientists are all very likable and I’m looking forward to catching several more episodes of the show with my family over the next two days.

The Black Mirror

blackmirror_gordonI’m back in the airport VIP lounge. Just completed 3 days of Company Law revision lectures and I’m waiting for my flight home. My last post was two weeks ago and I wrote about the missing Malaysian airlines plane (MH370). Sadly, the plane is still missing and relatives of the passengers are getting distraught over the lack of progress in the search for the missing plane. The latest update is that some object (believed to be debris from the plane) has been spotted over the Indian Ocean – south west of Perth, Australia. However, efforts to search for said objects over the past two days have been disappointing and it does not look like the efforts will improve with the impending cyclone in the area. Furthermore, the area identified by satellite is approximately the size of Europe, to begin with! Aside from all the unsolved mysteries and the myriad speculations (ranging from terror hijackers to technical failure to a ploy by the Opposition to topple the Malaysian government to, the latest, a fire caused by batteries brought on board the cargo area), the whole thing got really embarrassing when some witch doctors turned up in KLIA juggling coconuts and going on ‘trips’ via a ‘flying carpet’ to locate the missing plane. How such a fiasco could have been allowed to take place is beyond all rationality – resulting in not a bit of unwelcome comedy in the face of a terrible tragedy.

Anyway, I was thankful for the 10 days or so that I was back home with my family last week. Got to spend some time with my family and we even got to catch the entire first season of HBO’s True Detective starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as troubled cops on a case involving serial killing hillbillies and small town religion, occult rituals and politics. This really is Matthew McConaughey’s year. Aside from his Oscar win, he delivered probably the most intriguing performance for an extremely complex nihilistic-yet-in-need-of-companionship character ever on television. The true ingredient for the success, however, is traceable to the singleness of vision of creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto, who was able to channel all his love for literature, comic books and The Twilight Zone into a tight and taut suspense series. Here’s hoping for more good stuff to come in the upcoming seasons. The worrisome thing about a great new series is that it will end up going the same route as Heroes – where after a cracklingly good first season, the show ended up going downhill from the second season onwards. A lot of that had to do with unrealistic expectations – both from viewers expecting something even more mind-blowing in the follow up season, and from the writers of the show trying to up the ante in order to meet those unrealistic expectations. Of course, in the case of Heroes, the creators of the show could always blame it all on the Screen Writers’ strike at the time that cut the second season by half; after which the show fizzled off and lost its momentum. Anyhow, if Pizzolatto simply maintains what he does best – i.e. great characterisation in a relatable story playing on our darkest fears – Season Two of the show should be a winner as well.

Another really good experience I had was reading Scott Snyder’s Batman: The Black Mirror in hardcover over the past two days. I was actually not expecting to finish the whole book in between my lectures and student consultation sessions. However, the book was unputdownable! Finished the whole thing in two sittings. Truth is, I heard about Snyder’s original run on Detective Comics in 2011 (just prior to the universe-level reboot of DC’s New 52) several years back. Many people were calling it the greatest Batman story ever told – with some even elevating it to the status once reserved for the works by  Miller, Morrison and Moore. Well, I’ve long known about Snyder’s status as a wordsmith and even followed his run on the relaunched New 52 Batman series. While there were some intriguing elements in his Court of Owls arcs, I didn’t think that his writing was good enough to be elevated to the upper echelon of Bat-writers in history.

Fast forward to Friday evening (two days ago). After dinner, I dropped by the local bookstore just before starting my lecture. Saw a copy of The Black Mirror in hardcover. Are you familiar with the feeling (not really unique among bibliophiles, I was told) where you feel like you are destined to have an epiphany-filled encounter with a book? Well, there I was – staring at the book on the shelves. I was actually pretty short of cash as pay day is still a week away. But then, as is the lot (curse?) of bibliophiles the world over, you know you just gotta have it! I gave in to the hunger within, plunked down my wad of dollar bills on the cashier counter and ran out of the store with the book in my hands before I could change my mind.

All in all, it turned out to be the best Batman story that I have ever read. In fact, it is also the best Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon and Jim Gordon story that I have ever read. Heck, it is probably the best serial killer story that I have ever encountered in any medium (even exceeding my enjoyment of the above-mentioned HBO True Detective series). The book doesn’t just belong among the Miller-Morrison-Moore level, it is actually way above what those comic book demigods have accomplished with Batman. Firstly, like the HBO series, the whole thing was the vision of one single writer – the inestimable Scott Snyder. Secondly, like the HBO series also, the writer’s vision was masterfully brought to life by two masters of the craft – in this case, the artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla. Thirdly, the storyline is anchored on the two main character (Dick Grayson as Batman and Commissioner Jim Gordon) on the trail of a horrific serial killer. Fourthly, instead of just giving us a simplistic tale of crime, Snyder (like Pizzolatto above) gave us a disturbing and claustrophobic meditation on the effects of being sucked into the darkness of a locality – here, it is Gotham City; just like how Pizzolatto mythologised Louisiana in the above HBO series. Finally, the lead characters survived the ordeal (over about a dozen issues that read even better in a collected edition) but both Dick and Jim realised that they’ve just stared into a distorted reflection (in the serial killer, who has personal ties to them both) representing the darkest aspects of their psyches.

Without spoiling anything, let my just conclude by saying that, as a long-time Batman fan who has read hundreds (if not thousands) of Bat-tales over the decades, this has been the most rewarding and emotionally-wrenching experience with a Batman comic in a very, very long time. Remember reading Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns for the first time and finding your world turning upside down by the experience? Or remember the first encounter with the insanely twisted Arkham Asylum in Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s seminal graphic novel back in the day? Snyder’s The Black Mirror is like that. A book that delicately balances the warmest and most hopeful character nuances with a sickeningly dark and psychologically scarring plot. Here’s hoping that Snyder will hit this standard again with his ongoing work on the Batman series. In fact, I’m tempted (and not a bit worried) about picking up his subsequent work. Will they measure up? Am I succumbing to unrealistic expectations? Arrgh! The agony of always having to measure up to past glories.

Speaking of ‘past glories’, this is a particular pressure that I apply chiefly to myself. I’m constantly trying to top my previous performances as a law lecturer by communicating in a clearer way, making my teaching materials more relevant to the needs of the students, and holding their attention longer than before. At the end of my previous Law of Trusts revision lectures earlier this month, the entire class gave me a thundering ovation. Today, upon the conclusion of my Company Law revision lecture, quite a number of students came up on stage for a photo-session with me. Yes, I am humbled and honoured by their heartfelt outpouring of thanks and appreciation. My colleagues will probably tease me even more (if they’re reading this) and remind me that I don’t have students – I have fans! Well, I sure hope that I can continue exceeding my own expectations and continuing to do better the next time.

Aside from that, I think it’s also important to know when to bow out and not to overstay my welcome. Everyone has a limit – once a person arrives at that point, it’ll all be downhill from then onwards. As mentioned above, Heroes went on for three more tortuous seasons (and, even as I’m posting this, is geared for a comeback with a new re-launch of the TV series). In comic book terms, this is called the Cap-Wolf phase. Legendary Captain America writer, the late Mark Gruenwald, stayed on the title for more than a decade. He is today remembered fondly for his many wonderful Cap issues. However, every single time the Gruenwald-run is brought up in discussions, people also end up talking about the embarrassment of his Captain-America-as-a-werewolf tale. My prayer and hope is that I will know when I’ve drawn the last bit of inspiration from my own internal well and know how to bow out gracefully before I enter into my personal Cap-Wolf phase.