Costumes in historical media: how much do they matter?

BBC One Musketeers in uniform, on horseback

Does costume matter in historical media? Quite possibly, but you can get too hung up on the details. Last week the Telegraph made this very point when it queried the wardrobe of the BBC’s War and Peace six-parter.

War and Peace cast

Outfits are perhaps one of the most important parts of any historical drama. Certainly more important than the scenery, they ground the story by convincing you that the characters themselves accept the truth of the situation they are in.

Witcher Soldiers

No-one in their right minds would dress like this today. The fact that a character in the film/game/show/whatever is, and is acting like it’s totally normal, reinforces the historical setting.

We don’t even need to push it that far. Most people are a bit rusty when it comes to the history of clothing. They won’t know which exact dyes, fabrics and fashions were popular at each particular setting. And it’s likely that media studios count on this in order to cut corners.

On the other hand, could also push this idea to it’s logical conclusion, and argue that costume can convince us to accept a counter-factual story, when we know that the reality would be different.

300 Soldiers Outfits

I have previously blogged about how the Spartans of ‘300’ would, in reality, have worn much more armour. In Frank Miller’s original comic book, the boys in red were full-frontal naked – in reflection of the way Greeks depicted their heroes. The tiny brown thongs were likely introduced to get the film past modern movie censors.

One of the more pertinent points made by the Telegraph was that historical media often reflects the era it was produced, as much as the time it is set. This might be through production values, design, or fashion. I swear mullets have ruined several films for me…

robin-hood-prince-of-thieves-mullet

The experts are always going to be frustrated by costumes in historical media. This is because they will notice tiny details that are all wrong. And there will always be tiny details.

That said, if anyone else tries to dress Victorian ladies in purple KKK robes, I am going to be very upset.

Things we did to history in 2015

So, another year on, and more of our past lovingly screwed with. It’s time for our annual rundown of the 12 things you most enjoyed reading about this year.

#12 Swords in films

Even in sci-fi, we cannot get away from the fact that swords are popular in Hollywood. Too popular. On the battlefields of medieval Europe the sword was a bit of a niche weapon. So why is it so popular now? I dig a little deeper!

highlander swords

#11 Men and Gods; why Greek myths rock!

I ain’t saying that Greek myths are the best stories. It’s just that, in many cases, they are. I sat down with a mixed bag of DVDs and some popcorn, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Now I want Henry Cavill to be the next Bond.

immortals-battle

#10 Time Team vs Restoration Man

When it comes to historical documentary programming, you can’t escape the fact that Channel 4 can put out a belter. With suspense, drama, and (occasionally) utter catastrophe, both Time Team and Restoration Man follow this trend. But which is better?

Time Team Vs Restoration Man

#9 A quiet word with New Byzantine designer Andrew Gould

Over in the US, there is a fantastic architectural design studio called New Byzantine. They are doing really cool things to revive colonial architecture, and give the States some style. I interview designer Andrew Gould.

otranto house
The Otranto House was what first caught my attention. Look how awesome it is!

#8 Five actors who can’t keep away from history

If you watch historical TV shows, films, and the like, you may have noticed that a few faces keep cropping up. I went through a top five regulars to look out for, and the kind of things you can catch them in.

The-Duchess

#7 Classical swag

Sometimes I just see something awesome that I have to share with you. This was one of those occasions. Red figure converse anyone?

Ancient Greek Converse

#6 Why horned helmets are the best thing to have never happened to the Vikings

Were it not for the horned helmets, Vikings would probably be best known for their love of looting monasteries. But somewhere along the line (looking at you, Wagner), someone thought they weren’t interesting enough and added some extra details. Now they are best known for something that wasn’t true.

Playmobil's Viking
Playmobil’s Viking

#5 Why Blackbeard was never the big bad

Blackbeard was a pirate captain, but he lived in an era when the best pirate captains had seats in the house of lords. I look at some better candidates for top villain of the seas. And come to the conclusion that, whoever they were, they were probably Welsh.

Blackbeard

#4 What’s wrong with Wolf Hall?

This was the year that Wolf Hall came to our screens. It was big, it was bold, it wasn’t very bright. But that’s what you get when you film by ambient candlelight. It was a good series, but there were a couple of things that need to be straightened out before we get another one.

Wolf Hall
That classic blank face we saw so much of.

#3 The Musketeers and their place in history television

We love the Musketeers. It’s so cheesy. The bad guys are bad, the good guys are good. No-one important gets shanked on a whim (curse you GRRM)! Does it deserve a place in historical media though? That’s for you to decide.

BBC One Musketeers in uniform, on horseback

#2 A reality TV show set #10000BC

A weird one, Channel 5 decided to dabble in the trend for reality TV  survival shows. The premise; a mix of people would be sent to live in a prehistoric camp. Shit went down.

10000BC

#1 A quiet word with @SPQRBlues

The most popular blog this year was our interview with Carol Burrell, AKA Klio, the author and artist of the SPQR Blues webcomic. The series has just had a successful Kickstarter campaign, and should eventually be available as an IRL thing. Check it out!

SPQR Vesuvius

A Quiet Word With: Roman Webcomic Author @spqrblues

Roman Cartoon

This week we’re lucky enough to have an interview with Carol Burrell, AKA Klio, the very talented lady behind the SPQR Blues webcomic.

History Mine: Without spoiling your plotline too much, would you consider SPQR Blues to be counter-factual, or straight historical fiction?

Klio: There’s very little in it that couldn’t have happened. Occasionally people show up in places other than where they’re believed to have been at the time, but in the historical record there’s an awful lot of “his whereabouts for the next five months are unclear, but he must have been in Rome in December because he poisoned his cousin during the Saturnalia party.”

There’s a little timeline compression once our hero Felix gets to Herculaneum, so events happen over the course of a year that probably took three years in reality (if you squint, it still works out). One thing I think separates it from straight-up historical fiction is that, although most characters are based on real people, the main viewpoint is about Felix, who is entirely made up.

SPQR OldBut even he is based on an unnamed person found at Herculaneum. The really counter-factual part is the story he gives about his ancestry, and then how the historical figures react to it. Could it have happened? It gets a “plausible.” Pretenders showed up all the time, so there’s precedent. I hope that’s not too much of a spoiler!

HM: When you set your story in the shadow of Vesuvius, it’s a bit of a Chekov’s Gun. I’ve said similar things before about setting a film on the Titanic. Why did you choose this setting?

K: SUCH a big gun. Chekhov’s cannon. The fact that anything set near Vesuvius takes place in a running hourglass adds automatic urgency–when will it erupt? who will escape? will the kitten be rescued? In my early teens we studied an ancient lawsuit involving a girl named Petronia Iusta who lived in Herculaneum, and I became fascinated by how the city is a time capsule (and Pompeii too of course). We know so much about ordinary people as individuals with names and jobs and homes and comfy chairs.

It became much more interesting than the usual course of learning about emperors and assassinations and wars and epic poetry, which ignores the main substance of a culture’s life (and incidentally almost always cuts out the women’s experiences). I started tinkering with characters, and two things happened along the way: September 2001 and August 2005. I believe modern Americans and ancient Romans have a lot in common in their mindsets and motivations. It occurred to me to contrast the ancient response to a shattering disaster with the modern one. All those things rolled into one another and propelled an idea that had already been percolating.

spqr blues NewHM: I know there has been a lot of speculation about what the title refers to, and you have stated that it refers to the city watchmen, but I wondered whether it might also be a reference to NYPD Blues, The New York Police Department. Is that true?

K: Yes! I grew up surrounded by that culture through my father and his friends. Guys in blue who seemed very big and impressive (and loud-cussing, and hard-drinking, and sometimes a little crazy, and loyal). It was an easy theme to fall into. The title was an offhand joke, but ended up influencing the story a lot.

HM: Did you originally intend this to be a cop story?

K: Yes, again. A sort of a cop soap opera. Man with a secret arrives in a town with its own mystery. “Who wants to kill Petronia Iusta?” And “Will she be consigned to life as a slave?” And “Will the cop get the dame?” And then, “Whodunnit?” Noir and actiony and with lots of stabby escapades. Other elements got stirred into the plot pot (the conflict between Felix and his Jewish relatives, that new religious cult, crisscrossed love stories). Once the comic got started, it wanted to be something different than I originally thought it was going to be.

SPQR VesuviusHM: How do you research a series like this?

K: Everywhere I can! I studied Latin in high school and Greek and Classical Studies after, so I had that background in knowing where to find reliable resources. I keep up on what’s available in scholarly books through things like the Bryn Mawr Classical Review; and I go to original sources whenever possible–eyewitnesses, the poets and playwrights who wrote social commentary, early historians (taken with a grain of salt, but their spin is part of the fun).

Since Herculaneum and Pompeii are preserved, you can look at what was actually there. I’m sure I get things wrong, either from a gap in research or from eliding over details when I don’t feel like drawing all the pleats in a tunic, but when I’m revved up I’ll pull out a couple of books, look at frescoes, and study statues if I want to make sure everybody is wearing plausible sandals.

spqr blues new ladiesHM: Possibly related, where does the inspiration come from?

K: Along with the Petronia Iusta case, from my overall love of Romans, and from studying every scrap I could find about Marcus Antonius and his family. Two branches of my family are Italian, so I was already tilted in that direction. Plus, I was getting frustrated by the pop-culture “ancient Rome” being taken as how things really were by some political pundits (whose names and cable network I’ve forgotten), so I have to give them part of the credit for making me pick up a pen.

I love sword-&-sandals movies, shows like Xena, gladiator time-travel romance novels, but those are for fun. Richard Burton and Victor Mature swooning over Jean Simmons looks pretty and there’s exciting music during the chariot races–give me Cinemascope and Technicolor and I’ll be happy all day. But I wanted to create something that has more to it. Also, alas, no gladiators.

HM: Are there any Roman practices that you enjoy exposing for your readers?

K: Showing the nitty gritty of the daily grind. I have no qualms about drawing a toilet. Showing that people thousands of years ago got on with things in a kind of modern-feeling way–doing the laundry and scrubbing pans and sending birthday notes and filling out bureaucratic forms in triplicate. I wanted to show that ancient people had deep and meaningful spiritual and moral beliefs, that their religious conviction was more than fancy temples and marble statues and names in a mythology book. That women worked around the restrictions placed on them. That “Antony and Cleopatra” may not be what we think it is.

The political pundits I mentioned before were, for some weird reason, holding up Rome as an example of how western culture has never allowed gay marriage; part of the comic is about what it meant to be gay in a society that on the one hand worships “traditional” marriage, and yet on the other hand was perfectly fine with what we would consider a modern definition of homosexuality and de-facto same-sex marriage as long as people behaved otherwise “respectably.” The time period also reflects on the conflict in the Middle East–the hero’s frustration that all the awful things done there were supposed to end the problems. So…there’s a lot going on.

SPQR Trajan

HM: What’s with the bears?

K: Gotta love bears. They’re fierce, protective of their own, and deceptively cuddly-looking. Before I started SPQR Blues, I did a one-shot comic of a “police officer” in Herculaneum pondering how to get a cow down from on top of an arch. Vesuvius blows up, problem solved. I recreated the scene in SPQR Blues, and a bear seemed more likely to have made it up an arch. Readers liked the bear, asked when it would show up again, somewhere along the line it acquired a name (Sweetums), and there were many requests (stern demands) that Sweetums survive the eruption. Plus I’m so horrified by the idea of bear-baiting as entertainment that I agreed that the comic could use a bear hero who wins in the end.

Thanks very much Klio for taking the time to talk to us! Please go and check out SPQR Blues for yourselves. If you like it, please feel free to support it via Patreon.

Things We Did To History In 2014

Dracula Untold

This was the year I started this blog and, looking at how popular it has been, I think it was a good time to do so. 2014 has been a very interesting year for history. We really won’t just let it stay in the past. We insist on bringing it up again and again, and we don’t mind distorting it for our own entertainment. With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to run down the top 12 posts of the last year for your consumption.

#12 American food in Lord of the Rings

This February blog argued that, if Middle Earth is supposed to be set in prehistoric Europe, the tomatoes, potatoes and pumpkins are completely out of place. What’s more, strictly speaking, it probably should be cannabis they are smoking, not tobacco.

Radagast the Brown gets high
If ‘Old Toby’ was really just tobacco, would it have this affect?

#11 Counterfactual histories are *so* hot right now

When it comes to history in popular culture, counterfactual histories (which did not happen, and would’ve changed the course of history if they had) are pretty damn popular. Don’t be surprised if we revisit this topic later. Hat tip to Alternate History for linking to this article.

Assassin's Creed I's Altair
Assassin’s Creed I’s Altair

#10 Chatting with Brick to the Past

2014 has also been the year of the Lego brick, with the franchise releasing a major blockbuster this year. In much the same spirit, I had a conversation with James Pegrum, who specialises in building historical Lego models. Since that conversation, he has set up a group, called Brick to the Past, and they go from strength to strength.

I’m a firestarter by James Pegrum
I’m a firestarter – courtesy of James Pegrum – the Great Fire of London begins

#9 Interviewing Mr Happle Tea: Scott Maynard

We are very lucky to have spoken to a large number of creative history fans this year. One man who embodies this trait is Scott Maynard, the illustrator behind the Happle Tea web comic. If you’re into crude humour and interesting historical facts, this is the place for you.

Horus gets The Talk
With a back-story like this, who needs childhood trauma?

#8 The time that cinema forgot

As someone who is interested in film and history, I can’t help but notice that some time periods just don’t get the same kind of coverage that others do. In this blog, I got all analytical and worked out exactly *how* neglected those periods are. Verdict? There’s plenty of scope for more films throughout our earlier history, but that imbalance isn’t likely to be fixed any time soon.

graph showing that recent history is far more popular as a film subject than older topics
Prehistory is particularly neglected

#7 Historical Honey tells us what historical figures would be doing now

Bored with modern celebrities? The lovely Historical Honey gave us a guest blog about what the heroes and villains of our past would get up to if they were around today. Would they slink to the shadows? Or are they more likely to grab the limelight, ever the attention grabber? What do you think?

What would Lucezia Borgia be doing now?
Is this what Lucezia Borgia would be doing now?

#6 Anne Boleyn is my spirit animal

One thing that I definitely needed to address this year is just why Anne Boleyn is so popular with the world of web historians. Because she is. If historians anywhere need a figurehead, this woman is, apparently, the one to go for. Thanks again to Historical Honey for the inspiration.

Anne Boleyn
Natalie Portman’s Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl

#5 Profiling the most influential wizard in the modern age

Alan Moore is, primarily, a graphic novelist. But he’s also a wizard, and a cult icon, and he really doesn’t like it when people get taken advantage of. So when he cropped up in the news twice in one week, in historically-related areas, I figured it was only fair we had a look at him, and why he matters.

This is Alan Moore in 2009. He's speaking at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, but I like to think he's rolling his lucky D20. Published under Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 2.0, courtesy of Matt Bidulph https://www.flickr.com/people/51035707449@N01
This is Alan Moore in 2009. He’s speaking at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, but I like to think he’s rolling his lucky D20. Published under Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 2.0, courtesy of Matt Bidulph https://www.flickr.com/people/51035707449@N01

#4 Vampires; what history wouldn’t say if it could speak

If there’s one vaguely-historical thing the public loves, it’s vampires. They’ve got that whole neck-nibbling thing going on. What with them being immortal, any film, TV series, or game that features them could quite justifiably see itself heading into the past at some point. But how helpful are vampires as a medium for history?

Dracula Untold
Dracula as he probably never looked

#3 That time I interviewed a YouTube sensation

Epic Rap Battles of History is an important part of modern culture, inasmuch as it teaches young people about important historical figures through the medium of confrontational music and aggressive posturing. With that in mind, I felt it was only appropriate to get one of the show’s creators in to discuss the hows and whys of the show.

 

#2 Someone we should all know more about

Janine Spendlove is a high school history teacher/US Marine/pilot/published author/mother/historical cosplayer. While all of those things are pretty impressive, and combined they’re are totally awesome, it was that last one that particularly interested us. We had a chat with the woman behind the outfits to find out how she does it.

Janine's Wonder Woman costume
Janine’s Wonder Woman costume

#1 When feminist satire ruled history

By far my most popular blog this year has been the time I interviewed Erin and Morag from Manfeels Park. The web comic combines quotes from actual comment threads and combines them with art from Jane Austen films, to highlight just how silly they are. Further comment threads ensue.

Mansplaining Manfeels Park
Real-world comments, in the mouths of Jane Austen characters

And that’s about it. It has been a busy first year for History Mine, and of course, we’ll be back next year. I’d like to end by giving further nods to people like Jamie (of History Behind Game of Thrones) and Kelly (of The Archaeology of Tomb Raider) for their support. Happy New Year everybody!

Europeans reinvent historical art

There have been a few really interesting galleries on viral sites over the last week or so. It seems that photographers from a number of different European nations have been thinking about novel ways to re-imagine historical art. Since there seems to be a bit of a trend going on, I thought it might be interesting to share some of my favourites here:

First up is Swiss Italian, Christian Tagliavini, whose photos recreate the angular weirdness of Renaissance paintings, but with photo-realism.

Christian Tagliavini’s Renaissance portraits in Berlin

Or there’s French photographer, Léo Caillard, who thought that  some of the worlds greatest classical sculptures could use an update for the modern era.

Léo Caillard’s re-imagined Jesus

And finally, there’s French photographer Sacha Goldberger, who felt that Snow White would’ve been better if she’d had bunny familiars with ruffs.

I’m a sucker for a bunny in a ruff.

Of course, if you like it when people put a historical spin on a modern thing, you might like this interview with retro-cosplayer Janine Spendlove, or this one, with ‘Shakespeare’s Star Wars’ writer Ian Doescher.

A Quiet Word With: Web Comic @happletea Creator Scott Maynard

If you haven’t heard of it, Happle Tea is one of the best web comics around. It is the work of artist Scott Maynard, and I thought it was high time we had a word with him. Here it is for your viewing pleasure:

Muses

History Mine: Why does history particularly appeal to you as a subject? Is it something that lends itself to web comics?

Scott Maynard: I think it can lend itself very well to web comics. History and, particularly, mythology, may not be the best way to attract notice on the internet but they are pretty timeless topics. Where topics like pop culture and video games may be more exciting or seem more relevant in the moment, history is at the heart of everything we do today. Writers and artists draw a ton of inspiration from the past and it’s said that there are no truly new stories. Being familiar with history and mythology opens your eyes to a secret world of amazing content that is both entertaining and enlightening and I think for those reasons, these topics can make for excellent comics.

Thoth

HM: How do you research each strip?

SM: I utilize a ton of reference materials! I have books on a lot of different mythological topics, I’ve read through a lot of the major works on the subject, and I’m always reading more! It can be a little bit difficult to recall everything I’ve read, seeing as I read very widely but somewhat shallowly on particular regions, but it’s easy to grab a book and refresh my memory. My favorite reference book is The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. It doesn’t work so great as a primary source when writing the blog post articles, but it’s great for quickly refreshing my memory or browsing through for comic topics!

HM: I notice that a few particular eras (Vikings, Ancient Egypt) tend to crop up quite a lot. What attracts you to these periods?

SM: Norse, Egyptian, Greek, and Biblical mythologies are definitely the big four for me, the main draw being that they’re very accessible to a lot of people, especially in the “Western World”. Though folks may not have read the source materials, they usually at least have some passing knowledge of the topics through school, pop culture, friends/family, and church. Norse, Greek, and Egyptian mythologies are particularly great because (like I mentioned above) they are the source for a lot of our stories today and thus they still have a lot of relevance. It’s surprising to think that we could have so much in common with people from so long ago, but that’s what makes these topics so intriguing.

Viking Court

HM: Where do you take inspiration from?

SM: The Muses, obviously! haha But seriously, I’m inspired by all sorts of things. My inspiration for sharing mythology is to show where so much of culture today springs from, to make the historical relevant again by trying to show, clearly, the connections between the people of the past and ourselves today. By understanding the past, we can better know the present. Making comics has always been about relating to people, sharing ideas, and trying to entertain and brighten peoples’ days while also hopefully educating them a bit as well. It’s also been a process of education for myself, both artistically and on the subject of mythology. I think that life is about growth and making comics and writing blog posts is also about growing with my readers.

HM: In what ways is history relevant in the modern age?

SM: There are oh so many ways! History, in general, defines the present, thus understanding where things were helps us to clarify where they are today. This can be examined in a geographical, political, or cultural context. For instance, without some knowledge of the history of the Middle East, the conflicts and struggles of modern day Israel would seem absolutely bizarre to us today. Though most of ancient mythology may not be of particular importance to modern political issues, it does give us some insight into the cultural history of world and give us a little bit of understanding of our fellow inhabitants of the earth.

New Testament

HM: You include a detailed explanation with every strip. How did this come about? Are you worried that it’s too much of an in-joke?

SM: Initially, the blog post started as a simple way to interact with readers, but it ended up growing into a major facet of operating the site. I often make comics about the popular view of particular mythological topics, not necessarily about the way the topic is presented in source materials. Having the blog post allows me to clarify what source materials might say VS what people today might believe. It also allows me to expand on topics covered in strips when I do use source materials for a joke. I try not to make comics on subjects that are too arcane, so I don’t usually feel like people need to read the blog post in order to get the comic’s joke. In general, it’s a tool I try to use to inform people about the strip’s topic and expand on it.

The Talk

HM: Do you have favourite historical characters?

SM: I absolutely love Zeus, I think that’s become pretty apparent to my readers. He’s such a widely known figure and, in particular, his sexual appetite has been a major source of humor. I could do strips about Zeus every day! Aside from him, I love Thor, Buddha, Jesus, Sun Wukong, and Seth.

HM: Why the humungous zips?

SM: Haha! I started doing that as a way to push the character design of Lil K a bit more. I thought it would be funny and a defining feature if he had a gigantic zipper, but all it ended up doing was hampering the character acting! Unfortunately, the zipper has not made an appearance in some time. It was sent to a farm upstate where it could roam free in the fields.

Lil K

If you haven’t checked it out yet, now is definitely the time to go and have a read of Happle Tea. The comic also has a linked Patreon account, so if you’ve really enjoyed it, why not say so with warm, incorporeal cash? Finally, don’t forget to check out some of the interviews we’ve conducted with other insanely creative people.

Four fantasies that owe something to history

A few weeks ago I gave a nod to the History Behind Game of Thrones blog in my article about counterfactual histories. In that article I reiterated a point made by the blog itself, which is that it is possible to see the whole series as George RR Martin’s experimental tinkering with history. If history’s rumours really happened, how would that’ve played out?

And this is a theme that definitely bears thinking about. Because, while fantasy might be utterly absurd and largely drawn from imaginations, it is also grounded in the real history of our own world. So here we go:

#1: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is all the weirdness of our anthropological past

Like many other great fantasy authors, Pratchett is a student of history. In The Science of Discworld, it is explained that the Discworld works in a similar way to our own except that, instead of the fundamental laws of science, the Discworld has fundamental laws of magic. Therefore, if people once believed something existed in our world, it probably does exist in the Discworld, and is minding its own business thankyou very much.

#2 Tolkien’s Middle Earth is all the complexity of our linguistic past

JRR Tolkien was fascinated by language and linguistics, and spoke (and, more importantly as far we’re concerned, wrote in) a number of different languages, to varying levels of fluency. Languages were his bag. One of his many Elvish languages was based on Latin, by way of Finnish, Welsh, English, and Greek. And that’s not even abnormal. It’s just par for the course, baby!

The Elvish inscription from JRR Tolkein's Lord of the Rings

#3 The Warhammer world is all the madness of our aggressive past

As a younger man, I was a massive fan of Warhammer. There is a vast mythology to the games which goes beyond any other series I’ve come across. The ultimate focus of it is on the aggressive jostling of different races of creatures and peoples. Warhammer is about fighting, and each race has its own style. The Empire, for example, is based on C14th German Landknecht culture. The colourful Lizardmen, by contrast, inhabit a continent that looks suspiciously like South America, and behave a lot like Mesoamerican civilisations.

Warhammer world looks like historical maps of Earth

#4 Robert E Howard’s Conan is all the brutality of our lawless past

While the other series on this list capture the broader sweep of history, Conan is all about one guy. Moreover, it is about the struggles between the powerful and the powerless. Conan, despite his heroic stature, is a powerless man. He is forever having people he cares about torn away from him. There is no higher power for him to appeal to. In many ways, he embodies ‘barbaric’ tribal prehistory, where an individual could either trust to primal gods, or take fate into their own hands. Conan doesn’t love battle, it is his last resort.

Conan the Reluctant Hero

There  are other fantasy series, but these are the cream of the crop, and all of them owe something to real world history.

Why the Avengers belong in the Dark Ages

Ok, that title is pretty confrontational, so I’m going to dive right into this. The six core members of the Avengers (as depicted in the record breaking film) are Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. Reading between the lines, their signature attributes are; a shield, armour, a hammer, big muscles, a female body, and a longbow.

Captain America versus ThorThese things have been around for donkeys’ years. Sure, you can add caveats; they have gadgets and gizmos, Black Widow packs a pistol, Iron Man’s suits are powered by advanced power sources, and use an AI OS. Two of them can fly, and a third can apparently jump really, really far. The Avengers don’t really belong in this century. Kick them back a millenia, strip them of those caveats, and they will feel a lot more at home.

In fact, the same sort of thing can be said for Guardians of the Galaxy. In that squad, two individuals use bladed weapons, and a third uses his tree-fists(?). The bad guy waltzes around with another war hammer. It’s almost like Marvel doesn’t think the toughest people in the universe would want to use guns. The most relevant weapon in that movie was Yondu’s yaka arrow, which he controlled with the pitch of his whistle.

In The Avengers flick, the most interesting weapon was shot, what, once?

Seriously, just arm your planes with these bad boys; no Avengers needed.

Of course the real reason why there are so many brute force weapons in this squad is because the comic book industry thrives on physical combat. Gunfights tend to end quickly. But when you’ve spent many pages building protagonists and antagonists up, the real test of who is the toughest will come in a mud-wrestle to the death. And there will be many fake deaths.

Alan Moore – Writer; Shaman; Guardian of History

This week, all kinds of hell were raised when Northampton Borough Council tried to auction off an Egyptian statuette that had been donated to the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, and a boycott began against the new Hercules movie. In both cases, Alan Moore was a vocal figure; denouncing the shadowy figure of The Man, and calling Him out. But who the hell is Alan Moore, and why should we care?

This is Alan Moore. He’s speaking at the UK Institute of Contemporary Arts in 2009, but I like to think he’s rolling his lucky D20 in 1980.
Published under CC BY-SA 2.0 licence, courtesy of Matt Biddulph

In the context of the news stories, it is important to note that Moore is one of Northampton’s most famous sons. He is known for his work as a comic book/graphic novel writer. ‘V for Vendetta’? That was his idea. ‘Watchmen’ too. Also ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’, and so on. FYI, he really hates the film adaptations of his work, and refuses to watch some of them. He’s also a wizard, and has written books on the subject. He’s also a pagan, and an anarchist, and lived with two wives for a bit, but none of this is important. What is important is that he only really surfaces when he is riled. Personally, I wouldn’t get him riled if I was you. He knows more about Cthulu than you do. Right now, he is riled. Let’s have a look at what has got him into this state.

Selling off the treasures

I’ll be honest, I can’t completely see what all the fuss is about here. The Northampton Museum and Art Gallery is trying to raise money to build a new wing, and in order to do so, it is auctioning off a single part of its collection. The item in question is a statuette of Sekhemka, a royal inspector of scribes during the fifth dynasty. It was given to the museum as a private donation, so they do own it. But there are museums that simply cannot afford to store all of the artefacts they receive, much less display them. Alan Moore’s objection seems to be based on the fact that he has donated some of his own possessions to the museum, and that he doesn’t like the idea that they could just be flogged off by the council with little-to-no notice.

Maybe it’s a fair point; if you give someone a present, there is an expectation that they won’t re-gift it. If an artefact is donated to a museum, there is an assumption that they won’t just flog it off to raise more money. But Moore has displayed this kind of naivety before. When he sold off the film rights for some of his graphic novels, he claims that he had no expectation that they would actually be turned into movies. So maybe Moore should have been a bit wiser to the ugly realities of the world. His graphic novels have no problem depicting the darker side of life, but it seems to be something he doesn’t expect IRL.

But he’s not the only one who’s got beef here. Arts Council England has also piped up. The Arts Council has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Museum over the last couple of years. I guess if I’d given someone that much I would be pretty pissed that they had flogged one thing and raised over ten times that amount. But it also turns out that this contravenes some of their stricter ethical guidelines to do with preserving the past for future generations. So the Arts Council are now looking at retracting the museum’s accreditation, which would mean that it would receive fewer grants in future and have to sell more stuff; spiral of destruction etc. etc.

But the sale is also now being challenged by the Antiquities Ministry of Egypt. TBH, if this challenge is anything like any of the related cases, where countries try to reclaim ancient objects that were removed centuries ago, then I don’t hold out a lot of hope. If Sekhemka wants to go home, he’s going to have to hope for an Egyptian-sympathetic bidder to beat the odds. However, all this attention won’t be doing the museum any good. The loss of accreditation could be devastating, and altruistic rivals with positive uses for Arts Council grants will gladly oust the Northampton Museum from the queue. The dread lord works in mysterious ways.

Boycotting Hercules

Confusingly, there are three Hercules films coming out this year. The Legend of Hercules has already come out, and Hercules Reborn will be out in Hungary later this year. Neither stars anyone I’ve ever heard of, and both look like a poor man’s rehash of all the more memorable swords-and-sandals blockbusters of the century. This seems to happen a lot in Hollywood but, ultimately, they aren’t important. The one we’re talking about is just Hercules, but it’s an adaptation of the comic book ‘Hercules: The Thracian Wars’, which was written by Steve Moore, who is a friend, but not a relation, of Alan Moore. He was also one of the founders of the Fortean Times, so he was a pretty cool bloke.

If you want all the salacious dirt, check out the Bleeding Cool interview with Alan, but to cut a long story short, Steve got screwed over by the industry, and didn’t get a penny from the movie. He wasn’t happy about that, but accepted that the screwing-over was legally sound, and simply asked to have his name removed from the film. Except he had a terminal illness and has since passed away. However, when the obituaries started pouring in, the film’s marketing people took notice, and started trying to use it to drum up attention for the film. Real classy, guys. Oh, and then they claimed that it was the film that was paying for his medical care during the last few years of his life. Despite the fact that that wasn’t a true fact in any way. And that’s why Alan is trying to raise a boycott of the film.

Steve Moore’s name is used prominently in the poster.

I couldn’t find any of the obituaries that really stretch that last point, and they may have been taken down by now. However, most of the news stories abut Steve do mention the upcoming film and the posters all seem to use Moore’s name. This post particularly seems to sum up the hype. So I can definitely see Alan’s point on this one. I had half considered going to see this movie. It does have some really good actors in it, even if they are only going to be people for The Rock to fight/hate/rescue/watch die etc. But really, I could probably save the inevitable £12 it will cost to get into the film and buy myself three or four very nice pints of beer instead, and that will be just as memorable.

Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.