Friday, November 15, 2019

Comic Cuts - 15 November 2019

I had a very interesting day out on Wednesday visiting Rebellion over in Oxford. I was there to chat about doing some work and some interesting ideas were floated. Hopefully further discussion will nail down a few things over the coming weeks, so I'll have some actual news for this column rather than my usual ramblings.

More to come.

We went to see Mitch Benn on Sunday, which has become something of a bi-annual event. I can't recall the first time we saw him, but the first time I reviewed one of his gigs here on Bear Alley was back in 2007, and I don't think that was the first time. The shows have evolved over the years, from the days of Mitch Benn and the Distractions, through solo shows that were chiefly built around albums of random songs, to shows that have a definite theme, e.g. 2014's Mitch Benn is the 37th Beatle, and this year's Ten Songs to Save the World.

Something always seems to happen. We were there for the gig where black balloons drifted down from the roof during the set – a Goth band had been playing the night before and a few helium-filled balloons had gathered in the roof, slowly leaking; we were there for "Fenton", the instant song created the night that the deer-chasing dog went viral (2013), and, arriving early, stood outside in the hammering rain of Storm Clodagh (2015). This year's gig went off like a charm in comparison, even tho' Mitch was running late and we, again, standing in the queue outside as he pulled up and yelled his apologies.

Most of Monday morning was dedicated to chasing up Talk Talk regarding our compensation for the mess they made of transferring us to fibre optic broadband last July (see columns passim). We were out of action for a month and, despite Talk Talk having signed up to an automatic compensation scheme which is laid out on their website, we still haven't been reimbursed for the bills paid, nor the inconvenience suffered. We had already agreed on a sum that covered the latter half of July way back in August, but this was an all-new eighty minute struggle to agree a sum for the two weeks of August which they, at first, refused to cover. I started reading out what was written on their own website and it proved to be a persuasive argument as they suddenly discovered that, yes, it did need to be covered, came up with an offer that I accepted, and they have subsequently confirmed the arrangement in writing.

In between, in my efforts to sort through a lifetime's worth of collecting, I've dragged out some old boxes that have been living under the stairs for a decade, so I'll be posting a few books I've picked up for reference over the years. Some are like new, so keep your eye on my Ebay sales. There are still some nice Biggles paperbacks that I'm selling cheap.

There are Pennyworth spoilers in the review below, so skip to the end if you hate that kind of thing.

I was one of those people who thought Pennyworth was squeezing a franchise too far. The Gotham spin-off nobody asked for and nobody would want.

How wrong I was. I take it all back.

Set in an alternative England, we meet Alfred Pennyworth, a former SAS soldier now working as a bouncer at a London night club. Alfred (Jack Bannon) has hopes of setting up his own private security firm with SAS pals Bazza (Hainsley Lloyd Bennett) and Dave Boy (Ryan Fletcher) and of dating one of the dancers, Esme Winikus (Emma Corrin). He meets Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge), a billionaire operative of the CIA, and Martha Kane (Emma Paetz), an agent of the No Name League, both avowed enemies of The Raven Society. (That Thomas and Martha are the future parents of Bruce Wayne doesn't actually add anything to the show, and, in fact, hinders the "will they, won't they" of their relationship. They will. I rather wish we didn't know.)

The Raven Society is headed by Lord James Harwood (Jason Flemyng), who has his sights on taking over the country, deposing the government and, if necessary, replacing the Queen (Jessica Ellerby) with the "pretender" King, who was forced to leave the country when he married an American divorcee. The parallels to Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson and their sympathies towards the Nazis, and with the rise of a Fascist political party similar to Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts, are plain, but Pennyworth is not simply the 1930s pushed three decades forward. Indeed, things are very different in 1960s London – there are public executions (the last public hanging was in 1868, the last hanging in 1964), armed constables patrol the streets and Jack the Ripper became an East End kingpin whose influence now rests in the hands of John Ripper (Danny Webb).

The battle between The Ravens and the No Name League escalates until Alfred and Dave Boy are independently hired to kill the leaders of the two groups, in what turns into one of the goriest moments in the whole series. It's a bloody show, although thankfully it doesn't dwell too much on the gore bar that one incident.

At the same time the show doesn't pull its punches and is not for kids. Esme is killed in an early episode, driving Alfred's actions for some while in directions you would not expect of a heroic lead character. There are situations that force him to make hard choices between saving his family and saving the nation.

Jack Bannon, a TV regular (Ripper Street, The Loch, Endeavour, Medici, etc.) was clearly asked to put on a Michael Caine accent – more Get Carter than Italian Job – and once you settle in, having Michael Caine in Sixties London again is something to be happy about. The action is dark but there's a certain levity to it, often around the actions of evil Bet Sykes, played with extraordinary relish by Paloma Faith, and her sister Peggy (Polly Walker).

The cast is simply extraordinary, with Anna Chancellor and Sarah Alexander becoming leaders of the two warring factions, Simon Day as a pub landlord, Coronation Street's Ian Puleston-Davies as Alfred's dad, and Felicity Kendall as a jailed mystic.

Although this is an American production, the creator and chief writer, Bruno Heller, is English, as is producer and director Danny Cannon, so there's more than a hint of The Avengers about the show – who else would you accompany to a quiet English village only to find it full of killers if not Steed and Mrs Peel? – and it will be interesting to see where it heads in season two.

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