Monday, 30 December 2013


THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER is a favourite comic character of ours, especially in the way that his adventures encompass both war and horror, with a little bit of pseudoscience thrown in. We never learn The Unknown Soldiers name, we never see what he originally looks like, we are only ever party to the tattered, featureless physiognomy hard earned in war. 

His origin is fairly straightforward: while fighting in the Pacific with his brother, a grenade landed in their foxhole. His brother smothered the blast and was killed; the Unknown Soldier survived, but had his face torn from his head. Just before his death, his brother had talked about how ‘one guy, in the right place at the right time’ could alter the tide of war. After recovering, The Unknown Soldier volunteers to be that ‘one guy’, and the US Army accept his offer, sending him on perilous, vitally important missions where his survival is doubtful, but his potential impact enormous. 

With no face of his own anymore, The Unknown Soldier is a master of disguise, able to wear a variety of high-tech masks to aid his undercover work. His ravaged features, normally covered with bandages, bother him under the latex, so he is forever scratching a persistent itch, so, even wearing somebody else’s face, he is constantly reminded of the terrible state of his own, a constant physical discomfort to add to the mental stress of his high pressure do or die missions. 

But The Unknown Soldier prevails: he wins; he survives; he overcomes. He blows up the weird prototype weapons, he assassinates the enemy General, he saves the civilians, he rescues the hostages. He kills hundreds of people, perhaps thousands. There are no medals for The Unknown Soldier, however, no parades. He doesn’t exist, so how can there be? 

A thread of awful melancholy runs through the stories, especially as it's clear that The Unknown Soldier doesn’t care if he lives or dies, but, while he is around, he just wants to keep hitting the enemy as hard as he can. The stories sometimes fall foul of the American tendency to overplay their involvement in parts of the war (inventing invasions of Britain so that The Unknown Soldier can save us, for instance), but then these are American comics, for American audiences, so that can be forgiven. They are also fantasies, dark, strange fantasies of a clandestine war fought by seemingly indestructible men with no purpose other than to fight, to kill: what else can they do with faces like that? 

In the final issue of the original story arc, The Unknown Soldier discovers that the Nazis have developed a vampire octopus codenamed Nosferatu that they intend to unleash upon the allied forces approaching Berlin*. He impersonates Hitler to countermand the order, then meets the Fuhrer face to face. They fight, and our hero shoots Hitler in the head and kills him. The Unknown Soldier then arranges it to look like suicide, thereby ending the War in Europe. 

On the way home, he saves a little girl’s life by throwing himself on a grenade, just as his brother had done four years previously, and dies. Or does he? Well, no, as he crops up again and again in the DC Universe in years to come, although never explicitly so. 

The character has latterly been ‘reimagined’ as an immortal being, an eternal warrior, and, most recently, as a battle scarred Ugandan freedom fighter. The Unknown Soldier we knew and loved and felt sorry for is no longer that ‘one guy’, merely one aspect of a universal concept.

* This is only marginally weirder than some of the Nazi's actual last ditch schemes to stave off defeat. 

Friday, 27 December 2013


Ancient Civilisations were savage, terrifying things, weren't they? In fact, we're sometimes GLAD they were lost.

Take this imposing gateway in Crete, for instance. These stone horns surmounted the palace of Minos and represented the souls of sacrificed bulls. They are symbols of blood and fear and death, and, gateway or not, we're not going in.  

A Mycenaean death mask, modelled from gold and a picture of Stan Laurel.

A Cretan Snake Goddess. She looks angry. And deadly. Oh, and she's suffered a 'wardrobe malfunction' - a nip slip, in modern parlance, and she's going to kill you for noticing.

Another death mask, purported to be Agamemnon, i.e. Sean Connery in 'Time Bandits'.

Our records indicate that we do actually have a copy of 'Lost Worlds, Volume 1' in our archive but, embarrassingly, we can't find it.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013


It's someone's birthday, apparently, so we are all expected to eat our own body weight in crystallised fruits and watch a two part 'Countryfile' special. 

Happily, we are able to present an alternative - archive footage of the 1974 Christmas 'Top Of The Pops' featuring a performance of the best selling record of that year, 'Rub My Tummy' by the astonishing Zenda Jacks

If you recall, this is the show which culminated in Dave Lee Travis being arrested live on camera, frogmarched out of the studio and then summarily executed by machine gun in the Blue Peter Garden. Happy days.

Merry whatnot to you all, and here's to a very happy, safe and contented whatever the hell next year is. 

Friday, 20 December 2013


WARNING: This post contains spoilers. Actually, it will completely ruin the pilot episode of ‘Night Gallery’ for you. That said, you should have watched it before, it is forty three years old, after all. 

‘Night Gallery’ is an unusual programme, perhaps because it is so amazingly varied in quality and tone, to the extent that even the stories are different lengths. A portmanteau loosely based around the paintings in a rather creepy exhibition, the series veers between the essential and the inconsequential, the brilliant and the disastrous, the deadly doomy and the cringingly facetious. The slightly out of kilter feel enhances the experience rather than detracts from it, helping the audience overlook the fact that there are some real duds amongst the stories, especially the ones played for laughs. 

Creator, writer and host Rod Serling, saddled with a somewhat cumbersome toupee, seems shifty and ill at ease as he does his short but grandiloquent introductions, as if the crepuscular ambience of the gallery space is getting to him a bit or, more likely, because he knows that, although his name is above the title, this isn’t exactly his finest hour, despite the cracking theme tune. 

Whereas ‘
The Twilight Zone’ dealt in mystery and whimsy and the offbeat and uncanny, ‘Night Gallery’ specialises in dread and death, greed and murder. The earlier show also occasionally offered its protagonists a chance of redemption, a second chance, but there are no generally no such reprieves in ‘Night Gallery’: everybody gets fucked, forever. 

Setting the stall out early, the pilot feature tells three grim, downbeat tales of genuine horror. In the first, degenerate hipster waistrel Roddy McDowall murders his rich Uncle in order to inherit his fortune, only to be haunted by a painting which seems to show his Uncle preparing to return from the grave to take his revenge*. 

After McDowall dies falling down the stairs in a state of hysteria, it becomes apparent that it has all been a scam by the long-suffering Butler (his name is Porterfoy, a name that McDowall pronounces as if it has four syllables) who, as part of the small print of the will, is left with the house and the fortune – and the painting, which now shows McDowall rising from the grave…  


The second story in the pilot episode is called ‘Eyes’, and it's one of the bleakest, blackest twenty five minutes in television history. Oh, and it has great, wobbly synth music. 

Somewhat flashily directed by Steven Spielberg, the story is about blind millionairess Joan Crawford, who pays deadbeat gambler Tom Bosley nine thousand dollars for his eyes (for his eyes!), even though it will only give her 11-12 hours of sight (this is the hardest part to take). Bosley owes money (nine grand – so he won’t even make a profit!) to some heavy people, and seemingly has no choice, even though he says ‘I’ll lay you five to one that twenty four hours after you make me blind I’m gonna wanna cut my throat, and I'll lay even money I’ll do it’. After the operation, we never hear of him again. 

To Crawford, Bosley’s eyes (and his very existence) are disposable items, like one a day contact lenses. She cannot hope for an operation to permanently restore her sight, so, instead, she will mutilate a man for half a day’s worth of second hand vision. She’s a monster, but she's loaded – and Bosley needs the money - more, it seems, than he needs the rest of his life. 

Later, once Crawford has her new, temporary eyes, she sits impatiently in her penthouse and waits for the time when she can remove the bandages. She has surrounded herself with things that she wants to look at, a visual scrapbook that she wants to take back with her once the darkness descends again. 

Here it all gets a bit silly, however, as her unveiling coincides with a city wide power cut, so she spends most of her eye time blundering around in the dark, sure that the operation has gone wrong. 

When the sun starts to come up, Crawford realises she can see after all, so rushes to the window to watch the new day dawn. Staring directly at the sun immediately frazzles her optic nerves, of course, so she smashes the window in frustration then promptly falls out of it, silly cow. It's a cautionary tale for anyone thinking of cutting someone else's eyes out for their own gratification, i.e. don't do it.


The third story is equally cheery, featuring a scarred Nazi war criminal living in Venezuela. He has survived the War and, so far, escaped retribution for his many terrible crimes, but his life is one of sweat and fear and disgust. He exists, no more. 

His only respite is going to the local museum and standing for hours in front of an impressionistic landscape painting featuring a half-seen fisherman and wishing that he could live in the peaceful but enigmatic scene. 

When the Nazi hunters finally catch up with him, he runs to the gallery and wills himself into what he thinks is 'his' painting. Amazingly, it works, except that the curators have had a bit of a move around, and the picture he has been absorbed into is a crucifixion, which now bears his anguished, agonised, moustachioed face - FOR ALL ETERNITY

It is perhaps redolent of the mood of the American public of the time that they loved the doom and gloom and nihilism and damnation they were offered and demanded more, and we’ll come back to the subsequent three series at a later date. In the meantime, however, as the usually loquacious Rod rather curtly says at the end of the show…

* 'The Graveyard' has a few components from M.R James' 'The Mezzotint' in it but, if you're going to write ghost stories, ripping off James is par for the course.

Thursday, 19 December 2013


‘Sky’ is such an unsettling, weird, pagan sci fi ghost train ride of a programme that it’s sometimes hard to believe that it ever existed or, incredibly, that it was created for kids. 

Happily, primary historical source ‘Look-In’ recorded the details for posterity, along with the frankly incredible reminder that there used to be 14 regional ITV channels. The past is a foreign country, we watch telly differently there.

Nice to see that The Rollers are providing us with their 'History Of Pop'. Next week, Alvin Stardust begins a new six part series called 'The Rise & Fall of The Byzantine Empire'.

Saturday, 14 December 2013


Yet more Leonard Nimoy poetry about thinking of you, and when he will do it.

Will I think of you?
When I remember how I felt
Safe enough with you
To let you see me cry 


From the inside back cover --

'Why this book was written.

To capture amid the whirlpool of life's changes and the onrushing flow of time the eternity of love.

To bridge the painful distance that can separate a lover from his beloved, and fill the aching void of absence with the indestructible reality of love, to create words and images born of love and embodying love in all its wonder and splendour.

That is why this book was written.

It is a book to read. It is a book to share. It is a book to remember always'.


Published in 1974, it's interesting that the cover evokes 'Star Trek' twice, despite the fact that the show had been cancelled five years previously*. The following year, Len wrote his first autobiography, calling it 'I Am Not Spock', which perhaps should have come with the subtitle '...except for promotional purposes'.

Twenty years later, he gave in to it and published a second volume called 'I Am Spock'. Make your mind up, mate.

We're already on with looking at his poetry, but it's worth noting that his 'haunting photography' is nothing of the sort, instead being a jumble of poorly reproduced snaps of steps and trees and railway lines and, of course, his lucky wife of the time, Sandi, whom this slim tome is dedicated to.   

*  Nimoy was still voicing Spock in Star Trek: The Animated Series, however.

Friday, 13 December 2013


One of approximately three million Star Trek spin off novels, this one’s cover makes Spock look like Cher wearing a Beatle wig. The overall effect is not displeasing, which is outrageous. Where do they get off in making it not displeasing? These irresponsible bastards are messing with young geek’s heads at a time when they’re at their most vulnerable and impressionable. 

Listen, kids, be straight, be gay, be bisexual, be bi-curious, be happy, but for fuck’s sake don’t fancy Leonard Nimoy in blusher, because that’s just wrong. Now, while we're at it, some word art...


Will I think of you?

Only when I feel
Warm and wanted

Though once
I felt I was outside
Looking in
Watching the world
Go by

Oh, Leonard Nimoy, your words cut to the very core of human existence. 

Fearlono once felt that he was outside looking in, disconnected, watching the world go by. In actual fact, he was outside looking up, through binoculars, watching the off duty nurses go by from the bathroom to their bedrooms. Not quite the same thing. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013


If you have a boss who doesn't know the first thing about astronomy or physics and instead spends all their time copping off with aliens and robots and junior members of staff, which is really unprofessional, actually, but he gets away with it every time, and all the ideas he presents as his in meetings came from you, and you do all the work for half the pay and none of the credit and don't have time to cop off with anyone and you even had to buy your own coffee at your one to one and all the wiggy bastard said was that you were 'doing okay, really' before moaning about how lonely it was at the top and pushing a load more of his shit onto your desk and then swanning off thinking he's great but without realising that his top is far too tight and lots of people think he's a fat twat - then this is for you.     

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


This is Unmann-Wittering's favourite book cover of all time, ever. He sees it when he closes his eyes.

The Ticket That Exploded is a messed up sci-fi head squeezer - a novel obsessed with alien criminals, mind control, hanging, excrement and language as a 'virus from outer space'. We'd like to make a film of it or, at least, a series of pictures done in coloured crayons. 

This edition was published in 1987, and the graphics are clearly inspired by Blakes 7 as, I'm sure, was William Burroughs himself.   

Sunday, 8 December 2013


There isn't a lot of information out there about Wilburn Burchette, but that seems somehow appropriate under the circumstances. We know that he was born in 1939, that he has a beard, and that his music is made on a higher plane, a shifting trance like state of consciousness in which he is in union with what he describes as the 'Godhead'. 

His albums are super rare, and tread the fine line between New Age and the Occult, between unique visionary art and scary outsider madness. They also have fantastic titles like 'Occult Concert', 'Guitar Grimoire', 'Psychic Meditation Music' and 'Mindstorm'. He's a genius, basically, but he hasn't made an album since 1977. No-one is quite sure why, except Wilburn, but no-one knows where he is. Where are you, Wilburn?  

Here are a couple of tracks from his amazing 1973 record 'Wilburn Burchette Opens The Seven Gates Of Transcendental Consciousness'. He does, too.

Amongst other things, the sleevenotes state that 'now you can experience transcendental consciousness without spending ten years in a Tibetan monastery', which, you have to admit, is a pretty sweet deal.

We're going to have to come back to Wilburn. We're obsessed with him.