Tuesday, 28 February 2017

PATRIOTS DAY: FRONT ROW AND BEYOND

I was on BBC Radio 4's Front Row a week ago discussing Patriots Day. It was my usual four-minute exercise in speed talking, in which Samira Ahmed raises great questions but we don't get to toss them back and forth as we ought to. You can find the show on Iplayer here, it's the lead item. Just before we went on, Samira asked the booth whether she should say 'Pay-triots Day' or 'Pat-riots Day'. I laughed and said the holiday commemorates the start of a war America fought to allow us to say Pay-triots. And so it was said.

As I suggested on the programme (note the British spelling!)Patriots Day is an odd mix of docudrama and thriller which sometimes works on each level, but doesn't quite seem to work completely as an amalgam. It's at times quite moving, and at times quite exciting, but it drifts in and out of focus. I thought the docudrama played best when it was acted; oddly enough the opening shots of the Boston Marathon don't really convey the atmosphere of community which marks the race. 

Similarly in the first coda to the film, when they show the ceremony at Fenway Park at which Red Sox star David Ortiz (ironically in the current Trumpian immigration crisis, a Dominican) says 'this is our fucking city', doesn't carry the impact it did in Boston. It might better have been reconstructed for the benefit of people who don't understand the importance of Ortiz to his adopted city. But the second coda, showing what happened to the victims and responders, is genuinely touching.

In a similar vein, the most moving scene in the film comes when, after Mark Wahlberg's fiery cop has complained about the eight-year victim whose body has to be left on the street where he died. Later, after everyone has cleared off, there is a shot of the body, with a state trooper who's been left to stand guard over it. It's a hugely powerful image. Still later, when they come for the body, the trooper salutes, which may be emotional overkill.

This docudrama is combined with an action movie with Wahlberg at its core (note the variant poster selling just this image). His character, unlike most of the others, is a construct, and it requires an opening sequence to establish his 'bad boy' status within the police department, his injury which he works through on the job, and, inadvertently, how short he really is (when he's breaking down a door they catch him next to two non-actor sized cops). Wahlberg is good in his role, because it is a classic Wahlberg part, but his presence is so awkward that during the Watertown shootout the film keeps cutting to him driving there, an uncessary distraction from the action.

This is the third fact-based movie for Wahlberg and director Peter Berg. As it happened I had seen Deepwater Horizon, the second, on an airplane to Houston for the Super Bowl not long before seeing Patriots Day. Having also recently watched Sully, it seemed like a new sub-genre of what you might call Joe the Plumber movies, in which first responders can be the cavalry riding to the rescue, if not the centre of the films. Deepwater is a slighter film than Patriots Day; its structure, like Sully's, grows from the battle against the corporate villains, and the pyrotechnics dominate the action. Wahlberg is, however, better in this film: he seems to play better with a sympathetic lead (Kurt Russell) to play off.

In reality though, Wahlberg seems there because it is a Boston movie (and how will he ever live down leaving that Super Bowl game with the football Patriots down 28-3 in the third quarter?). There are all the usual Boston tropes: especially the obvious accents and Red Sox; which is a theme between Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensey, the wounded couple, throughout. Kevin Bacon playing the FBI chief, might have walked out of his role in Mystic River; the MIT flirtation seems right out of Good Will Hunting; the hospital scenes out of ER. At least we were spared Cheers bar, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

What works best in the film is the actual suspense and action. Waiting for the bombs which we know will explode to actually explode is the Hitchockian definition of suspense. The carjacking scene, with Jimmy O Yang terrific as the young Chinese who is taken. The shootout in Watertown is a tour de force, not least because of the real amateur hour feel to it. And some of the set pieces, like Wahlberg walking through the mockup of the crime scene to try and retrace the bombers' steps, are brilliant. All of it is leavened by humorous one-liners, not quite at Die Hard level but more effective because they don't come from the star.

There's another dichotomy at play here. Bacon, who is excellent, and John Goodman, who is just as good as the police commissioner, are realists who understand what labeling the attack terrorism will mean. When the politicians come aboard, we can almost see authoritarianism come to the fore: the lockdown of Watertown and environs is presented as if it were martial law; in reality it was only a request, one which the population followed gladly. And the quick trigger fingers of the police, which nearly killed the second suspect as he lay cowering inside a boat, should be frightening. The Tsarnev brothers seem to be as they were described to me by my cousins in Cambridge, whose kids knew them from high school; the younger, surviving brother Dzhokar a slacker of sort; the older, Tamerlan, the bitter, angry one. It was a bit off-putting that the actor playing Tamerlan, Themo Melikidze, looks so much like Elijah Wood playing a musclebound Frodo.

The real framing of the film is more basic than that. There is a fantastic scene where Khandi Alexander, as an FBI interrogator, enters in a hijab to question Tamerlan's wife. The battle between Alexander and Melissa Benoist, as Katharine, is chillingly brilliant, with both actresses flipping their characters' personalities. Alexander's always been undervalued; Benoist is someone to watch. But the moment points to the film's underlying theme: it is 'our' values against 'theirs'.

We have seen how Tamerlan can't be bothered to get milk for his infant son; how Dzhokar gets the wrong milk. This contrasts with JK Simmons, as a Watertown police sergeant (see yet another variant poster, part of a series themed 'True...'), going to Dunkin Donuts to get coffee for his invalid wife. Tamerlan threatens to kill his younger brother; Wahlberg shares brotherly faith in the good of people with his fellow officer. He is beside himself because he asked his wife to deliver a knee brace to the starting line; Tamerlan is abusive to his wife. Yet in the interrogation, Katherine, who has adopted Islam, refuses to turn on her husband, whom she had kissed affectionately when she realised he was the bomber. They worship death; we abhor it is the message. It's one which is reinforced by music that signals good and bad like silent movie accompaniment; although its belied by the camera work by Tobias Schliessler, which is especially good in setting human moods for action scenes.

I suspect this will be seen in different ways by different audiences: those who know Boston, those who know America, and those who don't. I suspect it will work best for the first of that group, but while a mixed bag, it has a lot to offer all three. But the overlying image is not so much 'Boston Strong' pace David Oritz, but America Strong because it's True Faith. See yet another poster for confirmation of that. 

Monday, 27 February 2017

BOB'S BACK PAGES (BEFORE THE NOBEL PRIZE): MY BOB DYLAN HEADPRESS ARTICLE

I wrote this piece more than 15 years ago; it appeared in Headpress 18, which was published in January 2002. I came across it the other day, and wished I had remembered it around the time Bob was given the Nobel Prize, and I kept thinking about 'dogs run free/why not we' as the sub-atomic kernel of a literary conflagration. I probably wrote this quite a bit earlier than its publication, and last year I wrote about the Free Trade Hall performance on its 50th Anniversary, you can link to that article here. But I like the way this piece, which I believe started as a simple review of the Andy Gill book, moved, so here it is again. I don't believe I'd heard the official Columbia release of the concert when I wrote this, internal evidence would agree with that, so I've amended it slightly to include my hearing of it...

BOB'S BACK PAGES

The apotheosis of Bob Dylan really grew out of the period where he electrified his music, and in the process, legitimized for rock music the sort of lyrical content that folk music had carried. Even though Dylan had already produced major electric hits by 1966, and in LA groups like the Byrds were already doing Beatlized interpretations of his songs, the sense of betrayal felt by his fans of the old era was still palpable at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, on May 17 1966.
The tape of that show is probably the most famous bootleg of all time, and because the original tapes were somehow mis-identified, has always been known as the Albert Hall tape. It has been available for some time in an allegedly Italian pressing with the odd title of Guitars Kissing And The Contemporary Fix. It was supposedly dubbed from the same master tapes as Columbia’s official 'bootleg' release three years later, which retains the old, misleading title. Columbia declined to send a review copy of that official release to Headpress. You’ll have to ask them why. You would assume that they have remastered the tapes beyond what the bootleg offers, but the differences are not huge. There's a bit more of The Band audible more clearly on the electric disc (of the two disc set). Of course, now that the official release is out, the bootleg is a sort of pirate disc, and it would be very wrong of me to suggest that you search the bootleg out and deny Sony their rightful legal share of your money, because Sony’s deep love of the music and concern for Dylan’s loyal listeners deserves to be rewarded fully. And coincidentally, the disc is released for in time for Christmas too, only thirty years too late.
Whichever disc you hear, as I recounted in my review of Greil Marcus' Invisible Republic in Headpress 16, this is an extraordinary set. It marks the point where 'rock n roll' music was finally transmuted into 'rock', for better or worse. This is where it starts to transcend the pop traditions, top 40 boundaries, and even, for a short while, the control of the hustlers and conmen who handled the money. It also marks the beginning of a divide in pop music, roughly between black and white, coinciding with the move from AM top 40 radio into album-oriented FM radio.

The two disc packages begin with Dylan’s acoustic set, the Woody Guthrie Bob already shifting into something else. The second disc, with the group that would become The Band (apart from Mickey Jones here replacing Levon Helm on drums) is a revelation. It’s not just the booing from the crowd, the voice that yells “Judas”, to which Dylan replies “I don’t believe you, you're a liar” and tells the band to “Play fucking loud”. Dylan was used to this by now. At Newport in 1965 Pete Seeger had tried to cut the cables bringing power to his instruments. Al Kooper was so shook up after the crowd reaction at Forest Hills, NY (virtually Kooper’s backyard) that he quit Dylan’s band. So too did Helm, who was depressed by the constant booing.

But as Don Pennebaker’s film of Dylan’s 65 tour of Britain showed, Dylan didn’t really care. Or, as the Free Trade Hall showed, he’d adopted an attitude to deal with it. It's incredible to watch his surreal snideness in mocking the press who interview him, and painful to follow his constant disparagement of the “British Dylan”, Donovan. Pennebaker gets great footage of manager Albert Grossman in action, conning the BBC, and also a series of really creepy-crawly shots of groupie-extraordinaire Bob Neuwirth. Although everyone, including Joan Baez, seems happy to bask in Dylan’s reflected shadow, Neuwirth is more like one of those guys who carries the heavyweight champion’s belt to the ring. “Yeah champ, you got it, you the man champ, whatever you say boss.” When he starts dissing the soon to be dumped Baez, you actually start feeling sorry for her.
All of this is covered in Andy Gill’s My Back Pages. This is a useful reference book, but suffers from an anoraky tendency to miss the forest while concentrating on the trees, like a hippie on a trip studying every vein in that groovy leaf. Gill’s source interviews, especially with Al Kooper, have provided him with great material, but it isn’t distributed evenly: it’s as if the book had been finished before all the interviewing could be done, and of course Dylan himself is only here second-hand.
Fortunately, Gill is strongest in the period we’re concerned with here, the 65-66 transformation. Like an old folkie, it’s also very thorough on the early folk albums. But it tails off quickly after Highway 61 Revisited with the albums from Blonde On Blonde through Nashville Skyline getting progressively shorter shrift, which is a particular shame because The Basement Tapes and John Wesley Harding. I wonder occasionally about Gill’s instinctive knowledge of Americana: the Bill Lee who played bass on Dylan sessions is Spike Lee’s father, which is a cool piece of trivia. When Dylan sings “his pointy shoes and his bells” he may be singing about a jester’s costume, and he may also be talking about sharply pointed Cuban-heeled shoes and flared trousers, known as bell-bottoms in America, and often “bells” in 60s jargon. That sort of nit-picking isn’t the point. Gill cares deeply about this music, and it shows throughout. Who knows what the 52 page CD booklet in the Columbia release is like, but if you didn’t behave legally and buy the official release, this book would surely make up for that loss.
The official Dylan tribute concert is old news by now, but it has been broadcast recently in the UK on VH1. It’s sad. Al Kooper gets to sit in with John Mellancamp, whose backup singers do a full Vegas assassination of “Like A Rolling Stone” while Kooper does his organ bits in anonymous obscurity. Kris Kristofferson reads off an autocue stuff written by the same kind of guys who write the intros to the Oscar ceremonies, which is no surprise since the 'musical director' comes from Saturday Night Life and prances around in centre stage but never seems to mete a solo to Steve Cropper.  The weirdest moment comes when Sinead O'Connor tries to face down a New York crowd, and they send her backstage crying.
There are a few good points. Richie Havens seems to have lost nothing in 30 years, and Tracy Chapman seems a bit like Havens’ reborn. But apart from Booker T & the MGs, the only people who appear to be enjoying themselves are Eric Clapton, who does a brilliant job as a sort of chairman of the board, and, in sharp contrast to Clapton’s executive sleekness, Neil Young, who bounds around the stage like a kid set free by Dylan’s 60s brilliance. The Band is represented by the 1992 version, with Jim Weider on guitar and no Robbie Robertson, nor Richard Manuel, who was dead, but Garth's on accordion and Levon is back playing mandolin. When Dylan himself appears, you realise how many great epitaphs he’s already written. “I Shall Be Released” (sung at Richard funeral), “Knockin on Heaven’s Door”, “Forever Young”and yes, "My Back Pages'.  You wish it were true. Bob’s own performance is a letdown; I couldn’t help but feel we were hearing that same sort of mumbling he used to put off the crowds back in 1966 after they'd booed him. Thirty years on, and that’s what it’s come to.



MY BACK PAGES: Classic Bob Dylan 1962-69
Andy Gill
Carlton Books, 144pp, £14.99 (1998)

THE “ROYAL ALBERT HALL” CONCERT 1966
Bob Dylan & the Hawks
Sony/Columbia CD 1998

GUITARS KISSING AND THE CONTEMPORARY FIX
Bob Dylan & the Hawks
Bootleg CD (no label) 1995

THE BOB DYLAN 30th ANNIVERSARY TRIBUTE CONCERT (1992)
VH1

DONT LOOK BACK (1967)
a film directed by DA Pennebacker

Saturday, 25 February 2017

TACTICAL PERIODISATION & SPORTING APPRECIATION: My Lost NFLUK Column

Note: I wrote this Thursday for the resumption of my off-season Friday Monthly Tight End column at nfluk.com. After filing, though, I was told that the off-season column wouldn't be needed for the website; though I will be back with my weekly picks of all the games once the season begins. It was a shame, because the column was timely, given last Saturday's Guardian article, Tuesday's European Champions League match, and my being on Talksport2's Tuesday NFL programme. So I'm posting it here, for you gridiron fans, and you non-gridiron fans...


Earlier this week, someone at @nfluk tweeted the following: “This ManCity v AS Monaco game is nearly as good as SBLI.”(That's Super Bowl 51, not Savings Bank Life Insurance, or China's Super Bowl Li, to you uninitiated.)

Pretty much accurate, and totally innocuous, you'd think. I didn't see the tweet until after the match ended but I responded then that Monaco had turned into the Atlanta Falcons of the ECL: unable to change their high-speed all-out attack mode when they needed to. After I finished my radio show, I happened to look at the responses to the original tweet. I should not have been surprised that many of them were harsh attacks on American football, the old 'sissies wearing pads' and 'action stopping' arguments I've been hearing for 40 years.

It's hard to understand such antipathy, apart from the fact that twitter is twitter, and British sport is tribal in nature, but I've always tried to appreciate sports for their own strong points, and frankly, that isn't hard to do. I've done it on air with guys like Martin Johnson, Brian Moore and Martin O'Neill, having constructive discussion about the ways sports can learn from each other. It's helped me gain a lot more insight into American football as well as rugby and football (or the sports the English call rugger and soccer).

Coincidentally, Nat Coombs and I had discussed just that on Talksport's NFL show the same night. We'd actually been watching the Man City-Monaco match before the show aired, but we had already planned to talk about the concept of 'tactical periodisation', following an excellent Guardian article by Gerard Meagher about Eddie Jones and England rugby. It's a concept Jones borrowed from football, where its most celebrated adherent is Jose Mourinho, and Jones got it from Alberto Mendez, and then from Pep Guardiola. It's about integrating skills, fitness, and what they call 'tactical and mental awareness' (ie: the stuff English football mostly ignored for many decades, in favour of 'luck' and 'bottle') in specific and often high-speed training. As Jones put it, 'everything is done in preparation for the game and in order to be tactically aware'.

Doesn't that remind you of someone in the NFL? Wasn't that on display in the Super Bowl? Do you remember when I wrote on nfluk.com immediately after the Super Bowl about New England and 'situational football'?

The Patriots are famously one of the few teams who will alter their game plans, on both sides of the ball, week in and week out, trying to fine tune their skills to the opposition's. We saw it in the Super Bowl, where the Falcons' offense seemed to be unstoppable for much of the game, but ground to a halt in the final quarter. When you look deeper you discover Atlanta converted only one of eight third downs in the game, and that was on a penalty. Their offense, for all its drive, was depending on big plays; they scored only three touchdowns; many of us figured if they were held under 30 the Pats could win. And at halftime, apparently, the Pats realised they were indeed moving the ball themselves, they just had to eliminate mistakes from their game, and force them from the other side. Recall Wales missing touch on a crucial clearance from their own 22 against England: England had not one but three of their 'best footballers': Ford, Farrell and Daly already back for the kick; Daly scored the winning try untouched.

This combination of the players recognising the tactical situation and the preparation to take advantage of it is the epitome of what New England do, and many teams don't. Think of Gostkowski's coffin-corner kickoffs in the second half. Watch the 'Do Your Job' video about Super Bowl 49, where the Pats prepared for the pass play Butler intercepted. Or where Belichick preached situational football with your back to the goal, and you want to draw the defense offside, which they did, and avoided the safety while giving Brady room for the kneel.

Jones also talked about what he'd learned from the sport Aussies call soccer. The games are similar, he said, because 'you always want to move the ball into space.' This was a key in the Super Bowl. The Falcons game plan was aimed at taking away the space in the middle of the field where the Pats like to cross receivers. They varied their coverage, playing some 'robber' looks hidden behind their cover-one; one such was the pick six. But New England switched toward sidelines-heavy routes in the fourth quarter, counting on the extra half-step gained on lone defenders. Brady's pass to Amendola early in OT, a long-out thrown into space before Amendola had even made his cut, was one of the best throws of the season. It reminded me too that Bill Belichick had done something similar to Buffalo when the Giants beat them in the Super Bowl; in the second half he took away Jim Kelly's successful pass routes, and Kelly never was able to adjust.

Under Jones this season England has rallied to snatch wins over France and Wales. Part of this, of course, is due to their depth of talent; in the Pats' case the talent level may not be at as high a level, but down the depth chart less talented players execute their specific roles. England also rotate their big guys through, situationally more than just for rest. I was fascinated to hear Jones say that they have a system which measures the time it takes their players to get up off the ground; that explained to me why they would sub out some of their more successful guys, especially on the front row, in the second half. Much as I dislike the increasing computerization of modern sport, it is significant in rugby, which has gone from no substitutes to almost wholesale substitution in the time I've followed it. Substitution was once upon a time one of the things partisan critics said they hated about American sport in general (along with a plethora of other things Britain has adopted from us Yanks, to wit: all-seater stadia, squad numbers, names on jerseys, football on Sundays or Monday nights instead of 3pm Saturday etc ad infinitum) but as I said, there is always something to be learned. And I'm always surprised when people can't, or won't because they don't want to, learn it.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

THE REAL JANE ROE: MY GUARDIAN OBIT OF NORMA MC CORVEY

My obituary of Norma McCorvey, the woman who was Jane Roe in Roe v Wade, is online at the Guardian. You can link to it here; it should be in the paper tomorrow. I wrote it quickly this morning, but what is online is pretty much as I wrote it, apart from the paper's weird style rules which for some reason refuse to capitalize things like Supreme Court (I once had a huge but ultimately futile argument with them trying to point out the difference between North America and north America).

Her life story is the stuff of a TV movie. She met Woody McCorvey when she was still only 15. She drank, like her mother, and did drugs, which her mother said was the real reason, rather than her dislike of Norma's professed lesbianism, that she took her grandaughter and adopted her. In fact, in a Vanity Fair interview, she said it was her disapproval of her daughter's entire, bi-sexual, love life.

It is hard to believe that, at five months pregnant, she really felt her lawyers could win her an abortion; she must have known the case was going forward as a test. It is hard not to sympathize with her feeling used, as she seems to have been through much of her life, but at least her lawyers kept her anonymity, and I found it to her great credit that she stepped out of the shadows to work with advising pregnant women on their choices.

Her conversion to anti-abortion, in retrospect, does not seem so strange. She had stood in front of 300,000 people in Washington, sharing a platform with Gloria Steinem and the like, but she was just Jane Roe to that crowd. Part of the appeal of her conversion had to be the opportunity to be at the centre of the stage as herself. I have no doubt that she was being used for her notoriety; you only have to read the message of sympathy from Father Pavone, which can't resist stating the movement's message, to get a sense of that. But there was another side to her conversion; her former partner, Connie Gonzalez, told Vanity Fair that Norma was a 'phony'. She had left Connie after 35 years, partly because she'd renounced lesbianism and partly because Gonzalez had suffered a stroke. Gonzalez stayed in their house as McCorvey moved on to her new life as an anti-abortion activist; Gonzalez gave Vanity Fair all of McCorvey's papers left behind to help with their article. 

It's a fascinating story, and I used that final quote because I thought it caught the essence of her life: she was just someone who was caught up in events, not even aware necessarily of what was happening around her, and it was that sense that probably spurred her into her later action. Given that Roe v Wade seems under fire yet again, and abortion rights are shrinking all the time. Given that the new Justice is likely to be Mr. Gorsuch, a Trump nominee 'acceptable' to the Christian right, that fire may at long last prove fatal. 

I mentioned that Henry Wade was the Dallas DA who worked on the JFK assassination; Wade did prosecute Jack Ruby for killing Oswald. Wade is best known for saying in his late-night press conference that Oswald was a member of the Free Cuba Committe. That was corrected from the crowd,  someone saying 'Fair Play for Cuba Committee'. That someone was Jack Ruby.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

THE SUPER BOWL & POLITICS: TRIUMPHALISM TRUMPING FOOTBALL

I've written a piece for the London Review of Books' LRB Blog on the possibilities of political statements overtaking America's annual display of triumphalism, the Super Bowl. Its been edited a bit to make it simpler for a non-America, non-football audience to follow, and a bit about triumphalism and the Later Roman Empire is gone too....perhaps I'll post the original here in a while....

In the meantime, you can link to it here.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

WHO KNOWS WHAT EVIL? THE SHADOW, THE FIRE OF CREATION, THE CONFIDENCE MAN & DONALD TRUMP

I was interested to read an interview in the New Yorker the other day with Philip Roth. Judith Thurman asked him about The Plot Against America in the context of Donald Trump's presidency, but he told the interviewer this:

"Trump is just a con artist. The relevant book about Trump’s American forebear is Herman Melville’s ‘The Confidence-Man,’ the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel—Melville’s last—that could just as well have been called ‘The Art of the Scam."

The Confidence Man is one of the three greatest American novels, alongside Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby (you can argue the order however you want), in part because it reveals that essential part of the American character, the one Whitman said contains multitudes. Roth was deadly accurate in identifying our Grabber in Chief with Melville's character, but the brief mention reminded me of another identification I made many years ago, with a later fictional character.

It was partly coincidental, because I happened to pull out my copy of The Confidence Man to see if I could find a quote to use in what turned into a 55pp American Studies paper on The Shadow, and I realised that the cover of that Signet edition was drawn by the same artist who'd drawn the covers of the Bantam re-issues of the early Shadow pulp novels. Sandy Kossin had sensed the same inner violence, energy, and darkness in the two characters (Kossin did a lot of lighter material, there's a nice article about him by Drew Friedman; Kossin drew the cover for his father, Bruce Jay Friedman's novel Steambath).

The Shadow is the great creation of the pulp magazines in the 1930s, who spawned the famed radio show with Orson Welles intoning 'who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men...the Shadow knows!', and ran from 1931 to 1949, some 325 novels, 283 of which were written by Walter Gibson (as Maxwell Grant) who for about 15 years turned out two a month. As I said, I wrote this paper, putting the Shadow in the context of the times, of psychology, of literature, and indeed of popular culture. When the Alex Baldwin movie came out I wrote a big piece about the character for The Independent, half of which appeared as a sidebar and the other half as part of the critic's review. But I still follow the character, occasionally read another reprint of a pulp novel, and was very pleasantly surprised by the latest comic book adapatation, a novel called The Fire Of Creation, written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Aaron Campbell.

It's a period piece, as it should be, set in 1938, with war clouds hovering, and actual war with the Japanese in China. It opens with a mass murder on the New York docks, and proceeds to China where, in Indiana Jones fashion, The Shadow joins the fight on the right side. Which is also interesting, because the story begins with another massacre too, of Chinese during the Japanese invasion, and the Shadow himself reminds us that he also knows what he calls 'the greater game'. Ironically, that is also how the story ends, with the greater game engulfing a key villain.

Ennis' Shadow is fairly true to the basic pulp character, although he's adapted some of the characteristics which were added on radio. But he's very true to the mood, not only of the character himself, or as his alter-ego Lamont Cranston, but the mood of the times. There's a dark apocalyptic tone to the whole story, and apocalypse is exactly the sort of setting in which The Shadow should thrive. Campbell's art emphasizes this; at times it's moody, at times explosive, and once or twice stunning in its emotional impact. He uses layout and shadows perfectly, and there are an extraordinary set of covers, especially by Alex Ross and a host of other artists, which draw on the original Shadow pulps, by the likes of George Rozen. They are included in a bonus section which also contains the first 22 pages of Ennis script: it's always eye-opening to see how visual good comics writing can be. Of course there are elements of melodrama to the story, but this is the comics, and it's based on a pulp, and it is true to that spirit, and fascinating fun.

The Shadow: The Fire Of Creation
by Garth Ennis and Aaron Campbell
Dynamite, 2012, $19.99, ISBN 1606903616