Tag Archives: film

A Grim Fairy Tale

Famous Emma Watson lookalike Richard Dawkins made some comments this week on the subject of children being told fairy tales at a young age, remarking that it is “pernicious…to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism.” Dawkins believes that children should be taught the importance of rational thought and scientific rigour, though he later clarified that such stories probably encourage critical thinking, and thus aren’t particularly harmful.

The idea of a fairy tale bereft of its supernatural elements, and instead rooted in boring old everyday life, is an intriguing one. Have you ever wondered how some of our most beloved fantasy characters would cope within the stringent boundaries of our existential reality? Me neither, but sure we’re here now so let’s find out…

~

The following account is transcribed from the official report of a detective, who has asked to remain anonymous. It is believed that the author of these extracts retired shortly after the experience, due to the traumatic nature of the events and the psychological repercussions that were suffered in the aftermath.

It was early that morning that I received a tip-off from an anonymous caller about the house deep in the woods. It was an old woman’s voice, harsh and raspy. She kept referring to the cottage as a ‘den of vice’, insisting that her step-daughter was involved in some ‘weird shit’ over there. It was hard to make out anything else amongst the maniacal cackling. I thought she sounded unhinged but protocol dictated that I had to check it out anyway, so off I went.

As I drove through the woods I recalled that there had been a number of unusual incidents there in recent years that I had heard about from colleagues: the simpleton who was convinced his goose was laying golden eggs; the poor young schizophrenic kid who broke his neck climbing a beanstalk; and of course the awful episode of the brother and sister being lured to that pervert’s house made entirely of sweets.

I pulled up in front of the house and got out to have a look around. It looked dilapidated and gloomy, as if it was deserted. The windows were blacked out on the inside, which filled me with an odd sense of dread. I went back to the car and took my revolver out of the glove compartment, holstering it at my side. I knocked a few times on the front door but there was no answer. When I tried the handle it gave way with an eerie, drawn-out creak.

The sordid scene that greeted me upon entering the cottage is still burnt into my mind. The acrid smell of filth and squalor was almost overpowering. There were seven small cages lined up against the wall, filled with soiled rags and torn bedding. In the middle of the floor was a giant trough, with a few morsels of foul-smelling food lying rotting in the dank heat of the room. There was a bucket in one corner that I dared not approach due to the hideous odour emanating from it.

This pig-pen, as it appeared to me to be, took up the entire ground floor of the cottage, with a rickety staircase in one corner leading upstairs. I went up the stairs and opened the door at the top, and stood in shock at what I found there. It was an opulently furnished bedroom, clean and in perfect order. The giant four-poster bed took up most of the room, and a giant chest stood at the foot of the bed. I pulled the lid open to find that it was full almost to the brim with gleaming white diamonds.

It was at this point that I heard a commotion from outside the house, and dashed downstairs to see what it was. When I looked out the front door I saw seven small figures walking towards the house. Their faces and clothes were filthy and their feet were chained together as they marched in unison. They carried tools and chanted sombrely, over and over again,

“Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s home from work we go.”

When the lead figure saw me he stopped dead, dropping his spade and the bag he was carrying. Great chunks of white diamond spilled out of the bag and onto the ground in front of his grimy bare feet. They began to shriek in horror as they scrambled to gather the precious gems. They cried out in anguished voices,

“Her diamonds, her diamonds. We must bring her diamonds. She is the fairest of them all.”

I approached them and told them I just wanted to help, but after collecting the diamonds they dashed into the house. When I went in I found them cowering in a corner. I’ve never seen such a collection of obviously traumatised and troubled individuals. One had a manic grin fixed on his face even as he trembled with fear; another hid his face from me completely and appeared on the verge of a panic attack; one of them even suffered a violent bout of sneezing and lay convulsing on the floor as his friend, obviously suffering stress-induced narcolepsy, collapsed and began to snore loudly.

Only one of them appeared to have his mental faculties intact, and I began to question him. He told me that he was a doctor who had happened upon the cottage one day on his way to give a young girl in a coma her monthly check-up. The one all the papers were calling Sleeping Beauty. He said he had been taken in by “her”, but wouldn’t give me a name. When I asked who she was, the others began to screech in panicked voices,

“She is the fairest of them all.”

Just then I heard the creak of the front door as a shadow passed over the quivering figures crouched before me. I turned to see a striking young woman standing in the doorway, wearing an immaculate blue and yellow dress, and covered in swathes of sparkling jewellery. The dwarfs shielded their eyes and continued to shriek their sorrowful refrain. The woman fixed me with a steely glare, and before I could say anything, took something out of her pocket and held it up.

“A visitor,” she said in a flat tone, “isn’t that nice. Would you like an apple…detective?”

Her eyes had flitted down to see the badge on my belt, and the last word was delivered with an icy venom. In her outstretched hand was a shiny red apple, and fixed on her porcelain face was a wide smile.

“No thank you, miss. I need to know just what the hell is going on here. These men are clearly being mistreated and…”

“It’s a shame,” she interrupted me as she looked me up and down, “that you’re so tall, detective. You’re not really to my taste.”

A fleeting look of disgust crossed her face as she spoke.

“I’m afraid I don’t have time for this detective. It’s getting near their bedtime.”

At this the dwarfs scrambled to their feet and began to strip off their dirty rags as they climbed the stairs. They chanted sadly,

“Bedtime. Bedtime. She is the fairest of them all. Diamonds…”

I turned around to the woman as I reached for my gun.

“Just what kind of sick shit are you…”

Before I could finish I was struck in the face with the canvas bag of diamonds and my legs buckled beneath me. She moved quickly and kicked the gun out of my hand. I grabbed her ankle and pulled her to the ground. Warm blood gushed from my temple and clouded my vision as we struggled on the wooden floor. She bit and clawed at me, and I could hear the frenzied jabbering of the dwarfs from the staircase. Suddenly a loud click echoed through the room and we both stopped wrestling to turn to the staircase.

The doctor stood at the foot of the stairs, half-naked and covered in grime, still chained to his fellow slaves. His hands trembled as he held the gun pointed squarely at the head of the young woman. The others continued to recite their twisted lament.

“She is the fairest of them all. She is the fairest of them all. She is the fair-”

A deafening bang brought the chanting to an abrupt halt as the dead weight of the woman landed on my chest, her glassy eye staring into mine as blood spurted from where the other had been.

“Not anymore she’s fucking not,” whispered the doctor as he dropped the gun. It clattered to the floor and he collapsed in a sobbing heap among the others.

I pushed the corpse off me and stumbled to my feet, taking out my phone to call for backup. I sat on the stairs with them and waited with them for what seemed like an eternity, until eventually I heard the sirens and saw the lights seeping in through the blackened windows. I sat there with them as they whimpered and screamed, and I held them. Just held them. I didn’t know what else to do.

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She, Robot

“I’m different from you. This doesn’t make me love you any less. It actually makes me love even more.”

Samantha the Operating System, ‘Her’, Spike Jonze, 2013

“Boomer was a good MARCBOT. Those goddamn Mahdi Army scum took him from this world far too early.”

red_one_foxtrot commenting on Reddit, 2013

~

Mike Powell awoke blurry-eyed to a dimly lit room that was almost unbearably hot. Grunting disagreeably, he rolled over and peeled the sheet from his torso. It was heavy with sweat.

“Jesus, how fucking hot is it?” he asked hoarsely of the dark room.

“It is thirty-seven degrees Celsius. Good morning Mike.”

It was a female voice, soft yet remote. He glanced at the figure seated by his bed.

“Kate, I thought we agreed to speak in American. And you know it creeps me out when you watch me sleep.”

“You’re not asleep, Mike. You’re awake. And the United States adopted the Celsius scale in late 2017 after a…”

Mike cut her short with a flapping palm as he wiped his eyes with his other hand.

“Yeah, yeah, alright. Quit your yapping.”

After showering Mike returned to his bunk to get dressed. Most of the others were up and about, the room now buzzing with a muted chatter. As he laced his boots his eyes fell on the bed next to his, its sheets fresh and crisp, undisturbed by sleep. He had liked Murphy. Not the brightest, but a good kid. There were rumours he hadn’t come out too badly from the raid, just a nick in the shoulder. That he was discharged due to what the docs called ‘emotional distress’. That his bot had taken one in the head and that was why he charged the outpost like a lunatic. Just rumours, Powell thought to himself as he made his way to the canteen. Kate followed behind him.

“How are you feeling Mike?”

“I’m just fine Kate. I’m eating.”

There was a short pause.

“You’re not worried about today’s mission? It’s perfectly…”

He cut her off, “I’ve been on plenty of ‘em Kate, and I’m still here. Like I said, I’m fine.”

Another pause.

“Okay Mike. I’m going to go for my tune-up before we leave. I’ll be back shortly.”

He didn’t respond. Kate got up and walked towards the exit. A few other bots were heading that way too. Mike finished his meagre breakfast and left the table.

There were approximately two thousand troops in Camp Obama, the largest US navy camp in Djibouti, and one of the largest in Eastern Africa. Three hundred of these were classed as special operations servicemen. The other two hundred and ninety-nine of these had bots just like Kate. The Synthetic Humanoid Engine had been in service for three years now. It was listed in official Armed Forces literature as ‘equipment’, and in its current incarnation took the form of a female android. The men responded better to female bots. It was equipped with an array of weapons, and its AI was unlike anything that had been seen before. President Winfrey had described the SHE as ‘the greatest military breakthrough since the AK-47.’

Kate was Mike’s second. He had only had his first for a month when a roadside bomb in Kandahar had hit the jeep he was travelling in. It had taken eight hours of surgery to remove the shrapnel from his back and arms. He hadn’t named his first, but by the time he was back in service and was issued a second, the directive was to assign your bot a name. The psychs had informed the top brass that it was ‘conducive to developing a trust system’. Mike had a soft spot for Katharine Hepburn movies, and when he was greeted upon his arrival for duty at Camp Obama by his very own ‘African Queen’ protectress, he thought it was appropriate.

Mike left the camp at midday with his unit, each man flanked in the back of the truck by his bot. Some chatted idly to them: checked on the weather and the sports results back home, had e-mails and Facebook posts read out, that kind of thing. Mike sat quietly, sweating through his fatigues under the Kevlar vest. He winced as the bumps in the road jarred his lower back. The dull pain that had been with him since Kandahar was worse than usual today. He closed his eyes and blocked out the fluttering voices of the bots. His mind drifted back to a training exercise from the academy. They had been split into teams and had to disassemble a live bot. It was supposed to convey the idea to the men that the SHE was just nuts and bolts. Just a machine.

The Captain calmly recapped the orders as the truck neared its objective. There was a camp a few miles to the east. Satellites had picked up possible insurgent activity there, but this had to be confirmed by ground troops before a strike could be authorised. The plan was to head to a nearby ridge and scope out the camp from afar. All fairly routine. The truck slowed to a crawl as it climbed the hill leading to the ridge.

The Cap turned to his bot,

“Satellite pick up anything new, Lucy?”

The bot hesitated as its neural pathways shimmered behind its faceplate.

“Nothing new from HQ, Sir. We are a go for mission.”

The Captain nodded as the truck slowed to a stop.

“Alright ladies, let’s make this quick. In and out and home in time fo-”

A deafening explosion ripped through the truck before he could finish. Mike was thrown to the floor as gleaming rays of sunshine flooded in through a smoking hole where the Captain had been sitting. Wiping his face, Mike’s hand came away soaked in the Cap’s blood. Lucy’s limp, headless body lay writhing and twitching across his legs. The rocket had turned the front half of the truck into a mangled wreck of body parts and circuitry. Gunfire sprayed the panels of the truck, filling the air with miniscule cylinders of sunlight. Mike felt a flashing pain in his leg, and as he turned to crawl towards the back of the truck he felt himself being lifted off the floor. A split second later he was barrelled out of the back and thrown roughly behind a jagged rock, the dense air loaded with the sound of bullets striking metal.

Before he had time to register what had happened, a figure landed with a thud beside him, its back to the rock. He turned to see Kate’s half-melted faceplate, her eyes as still and lifeless as ever. Her body was covered with dents and small holes.

“I can’t walk. My leg…” he started to say. Kate said nothing, but stood and lifted him over her shoulder. She sprinted away from the truck, a hail of bullets shadowing her down the hill that they had rolled up just moments before. Mike, his leg bleeding freely and his head being jolted violently, just had time to look back and survey the scene of the wrecked, flaming truck and the scattered bodies of his comrades, before he lost consciousness.

When Mike woke up the first thing he was aware of was how much his leg, and his head, hurt. The second thing he realised was that he was outside, and it was dark. Clusters of brilliant white stars came slowly into view as he blinked groggily.

“Where am I?” he just about managed to whisper, his own voice barely recognisable.

A soft reply came from above his head,

“You are seventeen point three miles from Camp Obama, Mike. It is currently ten thirty-one p.m.”

He looked up to see a twisted face in the moonlight, its blinking lights now clearly visible, its body leaking fluid.

“What happened to the rest…”

“Mike, we don’t have much time. I’ve done what I can with your leg but you’ll bleed out before long. There are still insurgents looking for us, and I’m too badly damaged to carry you back.”

He glanced down at his thigh to see a blood-soaked shirt wrapped tightly around it. His head felt light and he was having difficulty focusing his eyes.

“Can you call…get a chopper…”

“My communication system has been damaged, I can’t contact the base.”

Mike laughed softly to himself, delirious with pain and fatigue.

“Well that’s that, then. We can’t be taken alive, so you know what to…”

“Mike, I’m going back alone. They’ll send a chopper.”

Mike’s vision was becoming blurry again.

“It’s too far. You’ll never…” he trailed off.

Kate crouched beside him and put her hand on his chest.

“The chopper will be here, Mike. Just stay alive.”

His breath was shallow as he looked up at her.

“I never told you about my first.”

“No, you didn’t. But I’ve read the file.”

Mike stared at the crescent moon that lit the arid landscape, his eyelids quivering.

“Docs said she saved me. Rolled herself right around me in a millisecond and took the brunt of the blast.”

“She did her job, Mike.”

He reached out and took her hand, riddled with bullet holes and covered in an oily residue.

“I blamed her” he said, and laughed again. He fixed his eyes on the flickering lights that shone from beneath her gnarled visage. His grip became limp as his eyes began to close.

“I blamed her” he whispered again, but Kate didn’t hear him. She was sprinting noiselessly across the sand, her feet kicking up mounds of gold that shimmered under the light of the waxing moon.

~

When Mike woke he couldn’t open his eyes to the white light that seemed to envelop him. He felt as if he were floating through the air. Slowly he came to his senses, as a white-coated figure approached him.

“Good afternoon, Lieutenant. Good to have you back.”

Mike looked down at his leg, relieved to find it was still there.

“Chopper got to you just in time Sir. You were pretty close.”

Mike’s throat burned as he tried to speak, his voice a harsh croak, “Kate?”

The doctor looked puzzled for a moment, then smiled.

“Ah yes, your bot. We couldn’t believe she made it to the base. Nearly twenty miles, and most of her systems had completely crashed. It’s a miracle she made it.”

Mike shifted in the bed and lifted his head, his body still lethargic and weak.

“She…she made it?” he asked breathlessly.

The doctor’s smile faltered a little.

“Well, she made it here with your co-ordinates, but the damage was…well, you know…” he trailed off.

Mike lay back on the pillow and stared at the ceiling.

“Can I…see her?”

The doctor fidgeted with his clipboard.

“Well, I’m afraid she’s been…dismantled at this stage Lieutenant.”

He offered a weak smile.

“Well, you get some rest Sir. You’ve earned it. You’ll be issued with a new bot when you’re up and about, don’t you worry.”

As the doctor floated away across the room, Mike slowly turned his head to stare out the window. The midday sun shone down remorselessly from a cloudless sky, the dunes in the distance obscured by the shimmering haze of the desert heat. As his heavy eyelids closed and he drifted into a deep sleep, Mike wondered to himself exactly how hot it was today.


New Year’s Devolutions

As another year draws to a close we are left to look back on the events of the last twelve months, and assess their impact on our lives. Unfortunately, however, due to my reliance on modern technology, I have no memory whatsoever of anything that happened before yesterday. Therefore, until we manage to invent some sort of collated, easily accessible database of news through which we can record our history as it unfolds, any attempt at such reflection is pointless.

Instead, I will attempt to predict what may lie in store for the duration of our next revolution around the sun, which conveniently gives me even more scope for absurd exaggeration and crude humour. To that end, here follows a synopsis of what we can expect in the year 2014…

To domestic affairs first, as Ireland continues its upward trajectory out of the doldrums of recession. Normality returns in increments as shoddily built apartments are bought by the thousand, helicopters are dusted off to head down to the Galway Races, and solicitors start snorting cocaine before midday again.

In politics, Enda Kenny finally gives in to pressure to reform the Seanad, and appoints David Norris to take charge of the transition. Unfortunately, Norris chooses to make no changes whatsoever to the political structures or powers of the upper house, deciding instead to use millions of euro of taxpayers’ money to build an exact replica of an Ancient Roman Senate chamber, complete with annexed bath house, and opulently furnished in marble and gold leaf. The Taoiseach defends the developments by arguing that attendance in the house is at a record high average of 11%, a vast improvement on previous years.

Unfortunately for many of our émigrés, next year will also see Australia suffer a severe economic crash akin to the one that sent them there. Thousands of young Irish people are left floundering in a sweltering, barren wasteland, with no employment and no money to get home. As the last remaining Aussies leave their shores en masse to seek bar work in London, our hapless emigrants are left to fend for themselves in the desolate wilderness. Rule of law breaks down and society devolves into a post-apocalyptic nightmare, like Mad Max with more swearing and Offaly jerseys.

In the US, troublesome Republicans once again force a shutdown of the government, which lasts for over six months. The leadership claims it is due to Obama’s wish to implement stricter gun laws, but House insiders maintain it is predominantly a backlash to the dryness of the muffins in the Congress cafeteria. The country is thrown into chaos as millions are denied access to essential services. A deal is eventually brokered after military cutbacks contribute to a worrying breach in security in an army base in Kandahar, in which an enemy missile lands inside the perimeter. After eliminating the insurgents responsible, the missile turns out to be a football that had come from a nearby playing field, but military intelligence verifies that the deceased 12-year old boys were ‘a lot more terrorist-y than they looked.’

More revelations are forthcoming in 2014 from Edward Snowden regarding NSA monitoring of internet communications. In a somewhat tragic twist, it emerges that an entire subsection of intelligence operatives, who had been tasked with examining comments on YouTube to seek potential terrorists, take their own lives in what seems like a ritual mass suicide by self-immolation. NSA chiefs announce their grief and shock over the lost lives, especially since the group had just started their first day on the project.

In Britain, police continue to crack down on abusive behaviour on social networking sites. This policy reaches its zenith when a student is imprisoned for three months for calling Harry Styles a ‘gobshite’ on Twitter. When the presiding magistrate orders everyone who retweeted the offending message to be given the same sentence, thousands of hardened criminals are released onto the streets to make room for the hordes of potty-mouthed youngsters. This results in an unprecedented crime wave sweeping across the country, which the government announces is ‘probably something to do with immigrants.’ The Daily Mail takes a different approach and blames the situation on Ed Miliband’s dad.

In international news, North Korea follows China’s example by expanding their space program. They spend months ferrying men and supplies to the moon, much to the concern of the international community. When it is revealed that Kim Jong-un has built an enormous moonbase, fears grow over what kind of terrible weapon he might unleash. This alarm is soon allayed, however, when it transpires that Kim was simply remaking the movie Moonraker, starring himself as James Bond, and featuring Dennis Rodman as Jaws.

The winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, take place in February under the shadow of a decree from President Putin that absolutely no gay behaviour will be tolerated. Secret police are stationed around the ground to enforce the law, with security particularly heavy in the figure skating arena for some reason. Putin himself projects his usual uber-macho image by appearing at the games naked, save for the pelt of a bear that he had killed that morning, which he had come upon in the wild and hadn’t been tranquilised in any way, shape or form.

However, events take an unexpected turn at the speed skating track, when Putin’s attention is turned to a young Finnish athlete named Matthias. The Russian premier feels a strange sensation stirring in him as he watches the young man glide over the ice, his golden hair radiant, his enormous quadriceps rippling with every stride. To the alarm of his aides, Putin suddenly rushes onto the track, but trips on his bear suit and falls crashing to the ice. As he rises to his knees, a strong arm appears to help him up, and he finds himself gazing upon a set of chiselled Nordic features. Matthias lifts him into his arms and embraces him, and as the strains of Up Where We Belong begin to play over the PA system, the pair exit the arena to the cacophonous cheers of the assembled masses, and disappear into the setting sun.

Technology giant Apple’s reputation takes a hit next year after it is discovered that its iPhone 6, and its iPad Extra Mini Micro, are in fact the same device. Their PR troubles continue later in the year as a 16-year old worker in one of the company’s Beijing factories hacks the official Apple Twitter account. His strongly worded criticisms of working practices and his uploaded selfie of the effects of an unfortunate smelting accident are Tweeted for the world to see. Unfortunately for him, his revelations are overshadowed by the release of the iPad Pico, a tablet roughly the same size as a postage stamp, which is later revealed to be simply an actual stamp designed to look like a tablet.

Social media continues in the new year in its quest to rid the world of unuttered thoughts, comfortable silences and the last remaining semblances of privacy. Google introduces a controversial new app in which a drone follows the user’s daily movements and updates their Facebook status and Twitter feed accordingly, with observations like ‘Sarah has just been dumped and appears inconsolable’, ‘Paul is masturbating over a fire he just started’, and ‘Sally is bleeding profusely from a head wound caused by my malfunctioning gears’.

As collective attention spans continue to plummet, the fad of six-second long Vines becomes passé. They are replaced by Stems, videos lasting just one second. The most popular of the year is of a 2-year old child from Kansas saying the word ‘jam’ in an adorable fashion, which is shared by millions. The child is later mentioned in Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, which prompts knowing laughter and warm applause from the crowd, followed by an eighteen-minute chant of ‘USA, USA’.

New varieties of the ubiquitous selfie become popular with the babbling, androgynous masses that populate the trendiest corners of the internet, where they smear digital pictograms of the tedious minutiae of their lives across social networking sites, and heap scorn on those of us born before 1994 that still use words like ‘trendiest’. These include the ‘elfie’, a festive self-portrait, the ‘farewellfie’, an inappropriate picture taken at the service of a deceased relative, and the ‘continental shelfie’, photos taken in the shallow waters of the glacially eroded coastal plains of continental land masses. Okay, that last one doesn’t really become that popular.

In Hollywood news, the most anticipated film of the year, the third instalment of The Hobbit, is delayed as director Peter Jackson falls ill during filming. The only director available to take the reins at short notice is Michael Bay, who selflessly offers his services. Upon its release, many critics question the wisdom of Bay’s changes to the original script, including casting Samuel L. Jackson as Gandalf, replacing the eagles with a fleet of Chinook helicopters, and even contriving an entirely new female elven character called Tauriel to spice up proceedings. Well actually, that was Jackson, but it was Bay who decided she should be played by Eddie Murphy in drag as the film’s comic relief.

Most of the criticism, however, centres on the movie’s antagonist, Smaug Mohammed Smaug, who is portrayed as an Islamic oligarch who uses his obscene wealth to arm a sinister band of Yemeni terrorists. The film’s denouement sees the dragon and his insurgent colleagues consumed in the hellfires of US Army drones remotely piloted by a ragtag bunch of wisecracking dwarf grunts, who are all played by Robert Downey Jr. Empire magazine gives the film five stars, their review simply consisting of the words ‘high-octane action’ repeated seven hundred times, followed by an exclamation mark.

In the world of music, Miley Cyrus continues her crusade against subtlety with her new single, Dark Room Full of Middle-Aged Men. The raunchy video becomes a viral phenomenon, and gives rise to a new dance craze among adolescent girls the world over, affectionately called ‘the Miley’. This is much like the Macarena, except with less smiling, and more penetration using household objects. Twitter is abuzz for months with trending topics like ‘doing the Miley’, ‘My tongue is a feminist too’, and ‘late night emergency room visit’.

In hip-hop news, Kanye West releases an experimental 3-hour long album featuring the sounds of his infant child’s bowel movements, set to a snappy bassline from a little-known 1970s adult movie about a Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon who falls in love with a sassy waitress named LaQuanza. It sells eighteen million copies, and is hailed by music critics as ‘the seminal post-racial artwork of this, or any, millennium’.

So ends my forecast for the year 2014. Some of these things may come to pass; some will not; some may even look tame when reflected in the reality that comes to meet us. The future is a puzzling thing; no less a man than George Orwell had a great fear of it, which manifested itself in his works. This sense of foreboding is nowhere better illustrated than in an achingly bleak line from 1984: ‘If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.’

While I don’t think I’ve quite reached the depths of Orwellian cynicism just yet, it must be said that the pain in my face seems to be increasing exponentially with each passing year. Happy New Year you shower of bastards.


The Bruce and Clark Expedition

The last decade or so has seen comic book culture pervade Hollywood’s every intimate crevice, in a fashion not unlike a sentient mass of locusts that take it upon themselves to permeate a cornfield, an allegorical biblical tale, or a locust convention. It is as if the town were bitten by a giant spider, which instead of bestowing super powers upon it, instead infused it with an irrepressible zeal for explosions, sequels, repetition, explosions, and sequels. And repetition. With the subtlety of the hammer of Thor himself, and all the panache of a Chris Hemsworth facial expression, Disney and Warner Brothers have taken turns to beat us over the head with their revamped versions of comic book superheroes.

Some of these films have been fantastic; the best of them usually combining a darker, more contemporary spin on the original character, with a self-effacing sense of humour that gives due respect to the source material – a sort of referential reverence that never strays into outright parody. Unfortunately though, for every Dark Knight there is a Daredevil lurking in the shadows. Or perhaps in plain sight; it’s not as if he’d know the difference. And in recent years, the balance in the comic book movie multiverse has definitively shifted not towards Christopher Nolan’s Yin, but rather headfirst into Ben Affleck’s Yang (ooh, matron).

Like any creature in the midst of its death throes, this leviathan is currently preoccupied with firing desperate parting salvos in a brave attempt to delay the inevitable. The latest of these is a mooted sequel to the recent commercially successful but much- (and somewhat unfairly) maligned Man of Steel, set for a 2015 release. The big news is that it will see Henry Cavill’s Superman cross paths with DC’s other marquee attraction, Batman. With anticipation already feverishly high, one does not envy the burden placed on the shoulders of Zack Snyder to revitalise an ailing mini-industry with his impending blockbuster.

What kind of dynamic can we expect between the two heroes? Will they overcome their moral, political and sartorial differences and become fast friends? Will Lex Luthor loudly ridicule them for being a pair of tights-wearing orphan homosexuals? Well, two years is too long to wait to answer these questions, so here’s an account of what we might expect to see…

~

Bruce Wayne closed his eyes as he lay back into the luxurious bubble bath Alfred had drawn for him. His body was bruised from his night’s work, and he could not remember the last time he took some time to himself to unwind. As the soothing tones of Strauss’ Die Fledermaus overture filled Wayne Manor’s opulent bathroom, Bruce felt himself drifting off to sleep.

The sound of the doorbell woke Wayne from his snooze with a jolt. As he wondered who could be calling at this late hour, he tentatively lifted himself out of the bath and wrapped a towel around his waist. When he reached the landing he looked down to find Alfred inside the front door, accompanied by a gigantic figure that Bruce had no difficulty recognising.

‘Mister Kent to see you, Sir.’

‘Thank you Alfred,’ he replied after a pause. The butler headed for the kitchen, leaving the two men staring fixedly at each other in silence. Bruce’s visitor narrowed his eyes as he looked up the staircase.

‘Is that a bat on your towel?’

Bruce clenched his teeth and replied with a snarl,

‘Is that a giant S on your suitcase?’

‘It’s not an S,’ Clark retorted. ‘It means hope.’

‘Funny way of spelling hope,’ Bruce muttered to himself as he walked down the stairs towards his guest.

‘You know I have super hearing?’

‘Yeah I found that out at Wonder Woman’s Christmas party.’

‘It’s not my fault I couldn’t sleep with you and her going at-’

‘Okay, I’m not having this conversation again. Come on, I need a drink.’

The two sat by the fire in the study, Clark sipping from a glass of lemonade as Bruce nursed a tumbler of whiskey. Kent squirmed as he tried to fit his giant torso comfortably into the armchair.

‘Will you be careful you big lump?’

‘This chair is impossibly small.’

‘Just take it easy, everything in here is an antique.’

‘What about that Nintendo Wii?’

‘That’s…Alfred’s,’ Bruce replied curtly.

‘That must be his Wii dance mat in the cupboard then.’

‘Look, did you just come here to show off your silly little powers or is there a point to this visit?’

Clark set down his glass and sighed deeply,

‘Look, I’m sorry to bother you so late Bruce but…I was wondering if I could stay for a few days. I…kind of got evicted today.’

‘Evicted? Don’t you live in some giant igloo somewhere? The Fortress of Platitude or something?’

‘Solitude. Yeah…that melted. You know, climate change and all that. I’ve been living in an apartment for a few months now.’

‘What did you do, break all their antique armchairs?’

Clark glowered at him, ‘No, I…burnt the building down.’

‘You did what?’

‘I know, I know. I was tired, my microwave was broken, I tried to cook one of those ready meal things with my heat vision…next thing I know the place is covered in goose fat and the walls are on fire.’

‘Christ, Clark.’

‘The worst part is I was supposed to be doing Celebrity Masterchef next week. Fat chance now.’

Bruce drained his glass and rose from his chair.

‘You can stay as long as you need to Clark. Come on, you can sleep in Robin’s room.’

‘He’s not here?’

‘No, he’s off following One Direction on their tour around Europe.’

Kent looked at him quizzically.

‘Yeah, I know. Don’t get me started.’

‘Thanks, Bruce.’

Wayne grunted in response and walked towards the door.

‘Oh and don’t touch his mineral collection. When people touch his minerals he goes-‘

‘Batshit crazy?’ interjected Clark with a wry smile.

‘You know I could think of a few other things that S could stand for.’

~

When Bruce entered the kitchen the next morning he found Clark preparing an omelette for breakfast.

‘Morning roomie,’ Kent chimed.

‘Don’t call me that,’ Bruce replied flatly as he sat at the table.

‘You break those eggs yourself? I’m surprised the house is still standing.’

Clark cast him a withering look.

‘Silly me, I thought the Joker was behind bars, but here he is in the flesh.’

‘Christ, don’t talk to me about that maniac. He still writes, you know. Last week he sent me one of his shits in the post.’

‘Good lord.’

‘I know. Not to mention all the other crazies he brought crawling out of the woodwork.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘This card was left at a crime scene last week, have a look and see what you think.’

Clark peered down at the card Bruce slid across the table. It had a question mark on one side, and an almost unintelligible scrawl on the other. Clark read the words aloud, ‘What grows smaller every time you use it?’

‘That’s a bit vague, isn’t it?’

‘Tell me about it. The last few nights I’ve gone to soap producers, pencil manufacturers, tyre yards, candlemakers…’

‘Not to mention pretty much all liquids,’ added Clark. ‘And foods. Cosmetics, toiletries, I mean it could be nearly anything.’

‘Yeah I know. It really is a terrible riddle. Still, it’s the only lead I have. I’m going out tonight to check out the giant eraser factory downtown.’

‘I’ll go with you Bruce, I’m dying for a bit of action. It seems like all I’ve been doing recently is rescuing kittens, freeing people handcuffed to radiators, that kind of thing. I could do with a bit of supervillainy for a change.’

‘What about Luthor?’

‘He disappeared a few months ago after that failed attempt to steal the Taj Mahal.’

‘He’s nothing if not ambitious, that man.’

After nightfall the two heroes made their way to the Batcave. They changed into their suits, Clark waiting impatiently as Bruce put the finishing touches to his black eye shadow. Moments later the roar of the Batmobile’s engine shattered the silence of the still evening, as the pair sped towards town.

‘It’s a bit cramped in here isn’t it?’

‘We don’t all have the luxury of flight, Clark.’

Kent frowned pensively.

‘Why is your symbol a bat then? Surely it should be something a bit more sedentary. How about a panda? You’ve got the eyes down already.’

Wayne ignored Clark, who continued to fidget distractedly.

‘What does this button do?’

‘Don’t!’

Clark looked on in amazement as the entire back seat of the vehicle was transformed. A plush velvet couch revolved into view, accompanied by an ice-bucket and an expensive-looking bottle of champagne. The lights dimmed to a soft, golden hue, and the unmistakeably smooth voice of Al Green reverberated around the car’s interior.

‘Eh…you know Bruce, I like you as a friend and fellow superhero, but…’

‘Don’t even start,’ growled a seething Wayne, pressing the button again as the car reverted to its original layout.

‘This is where I have to do most of my…entertaining. Alfred doesn’t like me bringing girls home since those two hookers stole the Caravaggios from the drawing room last year.’

A few minutes later they arrived at the entrance to the factory, and got out to have a look around.

‘I’ll fly around and see if anything’s happening,’ said Clark.

‘Right, I’ll see if I can get inside.’

Bruce made his way to the back entrance, a rusty door that was bolted and padlocked. It only took him seconds to unpick the lock, and he pulled the door back to reveal the pitch black interior of the building. Just as he stepped inside, a cloud of gas appeared with a hiss and enveloped him. Bruce slumped to the ground, trying to call for help, but to no avail. His head hit the cold concrete floor, and he faded into unconsciousness.

~

When Bruce opened his eyes his vision was blurred. His head was pounding and it took a moment to regain his bearings. He looked down to see that he had been chained to the inner wall of the building. He pulled at his shackles with all his strength, but to no avail. To his right he noticed Clark, who had been similarly fastened. He appeared to be conscious, though his head was bowed, and he looked groggy.

‘Clark,’ he whispered. ‘Come on, break your chains.’

Kent was unresponsive. It was then that Bruce noticed a small green crystal hung on the wall just above his friend’s head. His heart sank as he realised what it was.

‘Well, I see you finally solved my riddle,’ came a high-pitched voice from the darkness, as a tall, gangly figure loomed into view.

Bruce surveyed the madman with contempt.

‘Yeah, it was a real head-scratcher. So you’ve just been sitting around here all week waiting fo-’

‘Silence!’ he shrieked, a look of anguish contorting his sunken features.

‘Let’s strike a deal, fellas,’ he continued, a frenzied smile crossing his lips.

‘Solve my next riddle, and I’ll let you walk away right now.’

Wayne glanced warily at Clark as the Riddler spoke in verse,

‘This two-headed beast is black and blue,

Its night of sleuthing gone askew.’

Bruce responded immediately.

‘Well…that’s us obviously.’

The Riddler’s manic grin slipped from his face.

‘So we can go now?’

‘I’m afraid not,’ boomed a voice from the shadows.

A hunched figure stepped forward into the light, his hairless dome gleaming above the evil visage that was twisted with malevolence. He turned to the Riddler,

‘Edward, we really need to talk about your villain persona. These riddles are just ridiculous.’

‘Oh really, Lex?’ he responded, his voice becoming louder and more agitated.

‘I suppose I’ll just tell my mother I don’t want the question mark onesie that she spent a whole weekend making for me?’

Lex sighed in frustration and turned to his prisoners.

Bruce calmly met his sinister gaze.

‘Cute pet,’ he quipped.

Lex smiled scornfully in response.

‘Simply a means to an end. And now that I have you two under control, that end is looking pretty close.’

Lex retreated to a control panel and flipped some switches. The building lit up instantly, revealing an enormous contraption that looked like a giant antenna of some kind. It began to emit a powerful humming noise, as if it was powering up.

‘You see,’ Lex continued, ‘I’ve been dabbling in software development. A week ago I released an app so fiendishly addictive that every smartphone user in the world has downloaded it. And now I’ll activate the signal I hid in the coding, rendering every one of them a mindless automaton, ready to do my bidding.’

Wayne scoffed at this declaration.

‘You can’t possibly have created something that addictive.’

‘Oh no? I used the most complex algorithm known to man to calculate each variable. It uses data from every meme on the internet to ensure maximum effectiveness.’

‘So what is it?’ asked Bruce.

‘Well, it’s basically just Angry Birds. Except instead of birds and pigs, you throw tiny Nicolas Cage heads at those minions from Despicable Me.’

Wayne’s eyes widened in shock as he imagined the millions of people enthralled by such a prospect.

The Riddler perked up. ‘Ooh, that sounds like fun. Can I play?

Lex ignored him and went on.

‘I’ll have an army at my disposal to…’

‘To overthrow the world’s governments,’ finished Bruce, shaking his head disconsolately.

‘What? No, I don’t want some stuffy office job ruling over billions of cretins. I’m going to have them steal the Taj Mahal for me.’

Bruce stared at him in disbelief.

‘You really have your heart set on that, don’t you?’

Lex cackled to himself as he moved his hand over the console and prepared to turn on the antenna.

A deafening crash echoed throughout the building, as suddenly scores of men in FBI jackets streamed in through the entrances, and rappelled down from the ceiling. Within an instant dozens of guns were trained on Lex. His face etched with fury as he raised his hands, Luthor turned to his accomplice.

‘You idiot. Did you send the feds one of your stupid little non-riddles?’

‘No, I swear I didn’t. I was going to, but I couldn’t think of anything that rhymes with Taj Mahal.’

An officer stepped forward from the crowd and addressed Lex,

‘It’s the NSA you have to thank, Luthor. They intercepted an e-mail sent by you to your mother, in which you explained your plot in painstaking detail.’

‘You damned tyrants!’ Lex screamed as he and the Riddler were taken away. ‘Don’t you see what you’ve become? All I wanted was the Taj Mahal!’

The officer turned to Bruce and Clark as they were being cut from their chains.

‘Well, another terrorist cell safely disposed of. Thanks for your help, guys.’

Bruce frowned. ‘Eh, well I don’t think they really qualify as a terr-’

‘Yep,’ the officer continued as he walked away, ‘a good day for freedom.’

~

Bruce opened the door to Robin’s room to see Clark sitting up in bed, looking like his usual self again. He sat by the bedside.

‘Feeling better?’

‘Yeah, thanks.’

‘Well, take your time. With those two off the streets, I don’t think we’ll have to deal with any more supervillains for quite a while.’

There was a knock at the door, and Alfred entered with a parcel.

‘Excuse me sirs, but this just arrived. The postmark says Arkham Asylum.’

‘Christ,’ exclaimed Bruce, ‘what the hell is that smell?’

‘Give that here, Alfred,’ said Clark, who stood up and took the package. He went to the window, opened it, and pulled his arm back over his shoulder.

~

The astronauts on the International Space Station were going through their daily systems check. A voice crackled in the ear of Lieutenant Chris Johnson as he inspected the communications array.

‘Uh, Chris, radar is showing an unidentified bogey passing by. It should be visible from the east viewing panel. Can you check it out?’

‘Roger, I’m here now, I’ll have a look. Oh Jesus…’

‘What is it?’

‘Well, it’s…hard to say.’

‘Well come on Chris, what the hell is it?’ laughed the astronaut.

‘Is it a bird? Is it a plane?’

‘It’s a box of shit, Frank.’

‘Well I know that Chris, but for the next five months it’s home, so get used to it.’


From Arabia with Love

The much publicised anti-Muslim propaganda film The Innocence of Muslims has led to much bitterness and resentment in the Middle East in recent weeks. Amidst the violent protests and outraged condemnations seen around the Arabic world, reports suggest that a number of Middle Eastern governments have united in a project designed to avenge the offence and humiliation suffered as a result of the film.

Just a few short weeks before the release of Skyfall, the new James Bond movie, indications are that an Islamic version of the popular spy franchise has been hastily readied for release. The plot concerns a lone Muslim agent’s endeavour to stop a maniacal Western autocrat who is hell-bent on the destruction of the Middle East. A draft of the script has been intercepted ahead of the film’s release, and the following is a synopsis of said film, provisionally titled On the Ayatollah’s Secret Service.

The action begins in New York City, the decadent metropolis of the infidel. As the sun sets over the harbour the camera pans across the skyline and centres in on the giant outline of the Statue of Liberty. Clutching a sword in her raised right hand and a map of the Middle East in her left, she stands looking disdainfully eastwards across the ocean as if to say: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, so I can foist my tyrannical regime upon them and take their shit without asking.’

The camera zooms in behind the blank stare of the immense monument, into the hollow interior of the head. A hunched figure sits behind an enormous wooden desk in a spotlit corner of the cavernous lair, scribbling furiously at a piece of paper. The man is Doctor O, an oppressive despot who has risen to become the Commander in Chief of the Western forces. He was kidnapped from his idyllic Muslim home as a child and secretly raised by Richard Nixon and his gay lover Pat. They instilled the hypocritical ideals of the West in his naive consciousness and brought him up to believe he is destined to bring the crushing yoke of democracy to bear on the savage world of Islam.

The camera zooms in once more to show the paper on Doctor O’s desk, which has the words ‘Operation Freedom’ written on it. On the sheet is a crude crayon picture of the prophet Muhammad being hit by a drone in a highly sensitive area, then repeatedly being choked out by Hulk Hogan who intermittently shouts ‘Woo!’ and ‘I am a real American!’ As a fierce thunderstorm moves in across the bay, flashes of lightning illuminate the twisted, hateful face of the Doctor, cackling dementedly to himself into the empty night, the thought of implementing his fiendish plan giving him an enormous trouser snake.

Thousands of miles away agent Jamal Bond sits slumped against the bar gazing mournfully into the bottom of his glass. ‘Another!’ he shouts at the barman, Mo, whose Halal Bar in Baghdad does a tidy trade in non-alcoholic drinks, savoury snacks and effigies of Western leaders.

‘Come on Jamal, seventy-two Virgin Martinis is enough for any man. It’s time you went home.’

‘I’ll tell you when I’ve had…’

The sound of the door creaking open interrupts the conversation as the pair look towards the entrance. A grizzled old man limps into the bar, flanked by two enormous bodyguards. A lifetime of conflict is evident from one look at the man, whose face is covered with burns and scars, his two eyepatches betraying a history of extreme violence.

‘Bond?’ croaks the harsh timbre of the old soldier’s voice.

Jamal jumps up from his seat and salutes as the elderly officer shuffles over to the bar.

‘I’m afraid your vacation is over agent Bond. You must come with me at once.’

‘Eh, he’s over there,’ responds the barman, pointing down the bar to Jamal.

Within minutes Jamal is seated in the back of a car racing through central Baghdad. The old man briefs him as they weave through the traffic, informing him that they’ve intercepted details of an operation that threatens to bring down all the governments of the Middle East.

‘Ah, you mean Twitter? I knew freedom of expression would be the end of us.’

‘No Bond, this is even more serious than that. We believe Doctor O has developed a new kind of drone that will wipe us off the map. You are the only one that can stop him.’

Jamal turns and looks solemnly out the window.

‘Then I must go to America and kill Doctor O.’

A few seconds pass, then the old man leans over and points out the far window,

‘Therefore you must go to America and kill Doctor O.’

Jamal shakes his head,

‘Seriously, how do you still have a job?’

The car pulls up outside the Iraqi Secret Service’s headquarters, cleverly disguised as an empty shopfront advertising feminist literature on sale inside. Jamal heads for the equipment division, known as Qu’Branch, to collect his kit for the mission. When he arrives agent Qu is busy testing a new piece of technology, a school uniform that is resistant to white phosphorus.

Qu brings Bond over to a table where his equipment has been laid out for him.

‘Our intelligence operatives have prepared a disguise that will allow you to fit in with the infidels. You will wear this leather jacket like their legendary Fonzie, and this do-rag with the American flag on it. We have also procured the new iPhone and set up a Facebook account for you. It is essential that you update this hourly with trivial nonsense or they will realise you are not one of them. Just make sure you don’t use the map on it whatever you do.’

Jamal takes his equipment and gets up to leave.

‘Oh and take this for the plane journey,’ says Qu, handing him a book.

‘Our intel shows that all the American men are reading it. Good luck agent Bond.’

The guard at the passport desk of JFK International Airport motions to the top of the queue, ‘Next please.’ His bored expression turns to a look of mild bemusement as the man approaches the booth. He places his passport on the desk and smiles vacantly at the guard.

‘Howdy partner.’

The guard looks him up and down. He’s wearing a glittery stars and stripes tank top with a moth-eaten leather jacket, a pair of ludicrously tight denim cut-offs, and a pair of brown leather cowboy boots. He has a do-rag on his head but it isn’t tied and keeps blowing off as he stands in front of the desk. The guard glances at his passport.

‘Your name is Chuck?’

‘Yessir.’

‘Chuck Berry?’

‘Yessiree, named after my granddaddy. Good to be back in the ol’ US of A, yessir.’

The guard glances at the book in the man’s hand, the bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey.

‘Yessir I loves this here book. Almost as good as that there Salman Rushdie. I don’t wish him a painful death at all, no sir.’

The guard takes one last look at him and waves him on. Jamal takes his passport and heads for the exit, breathing a sigh of relief that his disguise worked. As he departs he could swear that he hears the guard mutter under his breath, ‘God damn queers.’

Jamal gets into a taxi and heads for the city. All around him he recognises the stench of Western corruption and debauchery. Women walk the streets with their faces and midriffs shamelessly exposed. Jews disguised as businessmen huddle together on Wall Street, no doubt plotting the downfall of the Arabic world. Television screens flaunt America’s famous homosexuals like Ryan Seacrest, Tom Cruise and Joe Biden.

After arriving at his hotel Jamal changes into his tuxedo and heads for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Doctor O is scheduled to give a speech there this evening at the opening of an exhibit. When he arrives he wanders around and mingles with the other guests. He is mostly disgusted by these elitist Western snobs, although he does have an enlightening conversation with Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum, with whom he discovers he has a lot in common. He also notices quite a few famous paintings that he’s nearly sure he saw hanging in Saddam’s palace back in the glory days, that Saddam told him he had personally painted. These thieving Americans have no shame, he thought to himself.

Eventually Doctor O rises to make his speech. Jamal disdainfully surveys his target from the back of the room, and makes sporadic farting noises in an attempt to distract him. He feels a vibration in his pocket and his ring-tone plays loudly, a recording of Tariq Aziz doing Suspicious Minds at the Christmas party a few years ago. He checks his phone and sees a Facebook message from his superiors:

‘Operation Freedom is a go for tomorrow. Intercept and eliminate target tonight at all costs and stop drone from being fired. End transmission. Oh and have a look at the YouTube video I embedded. It’s a dog miaowing like a cat! LOL!’

After viewing the hilarious video Jamal waits until the end of the speech, then follows Doctor O and his entourage as they leave the museum.

After following the Doctor’s limousine in a cab, Jamal finds himself at the foot of the statue of Liberty. The front entrance is heavily guarded so he scales the statue in order to reach the head. Slipping in a window, he sees Doctor O standing at a control panel in the centre of the room.

‘I’ve been expecting you Mister Bond,’ says the Doctor, turning to face him.

Jamal takes out his pistol and aims it at him.

‘It’s over Doctor, step away from that panel.’

The Doctor holds his finger tantalisingly over a giant red button.

‘We’ve been dabbling in chemical warfare for a long time agent Bond, and we’ve finally perfected in drone form a weapon of unimaginable power.’

‘What are you talking about you maniac?’

‘Isn’t it obvious? What do you hate most, Jamal? What would tear the Middle East apart like no amount of explosive tonnage ever could?’

Bond’s face slowly becomes transfixed with horror.

‘You don’t mean…’

‘Oh yes,’ replies the Doctor, grinning smugly, ‘a gay bomb.’

With that remark Doctor O slams his fist on the button as Jamal fires a volley of shots in his direction. The Doctor scampers down a stairway, and with the rumbling of a missile being prepared for launch clearly audible nearby, Bond follows him down into the darkness.

Jamal finds himself in the main foyer area, a circular room lined with all the flags of the world. Suddenly Doctor O leaps up and hurls the New Zealand flag across the room, narrowly missing Bond’s head and knocking his gun across the floor out of his reach. He reaches for the Australian flag, then the British one, launching them with a venomous, consuming anger at Jamal, who ducks for cover beneath a table

‘Damn minnows can’t get the job done,’ mutters the Doctor to himself as he picks up the US flag and begins to run towards Bond. Jamal notices he is crouching beside the flag of his motherland, Iraq. With the thoughts and prayers of the millions across the Arabic world on his shoulders, and a steely determination in his eyes, he grasps his destiny with both hands and turns just as Doctor O comes flying through the air to finish him off. A piercing scream echoes around the dark chamber as the evil dictator is fatally impaled. His face contorts horribly as he takes his last breath, and collapses into a heap. The flag of his country, held aloft in his arms, along with its pride and avarice, its sins and its self-importance, its delusions of splendour and greatness, comes crashing down on top of him, and all is silent.

Jamal races back up to the control room and hits the Abort button on the panel. He runs out to the observation deck just in time to see the giant drone explode in the sky above the city. As the chemical weapon is dispersed into the air above New York, Bond begins to feel very strange. He looks up in amazement at the burning wreckage of the missile crashing into the sea like an enormous shooting star. The sparkling residue illuminates the entire skyline of the city for a brief second, then flickers and fades slowly into darkness.

‘Fabulous,’ Jamal whispers into the cool night air, ‘just fabulous.’


We Don’t Need Another (Super)Hero

The long-awaited superhero blockbuster The Avengers was finally released this past week after years of media hype, much fanboy salivating, and a series of extended trailers posing as movies in their own right, such as the fairly decent Thor, the tedious Captain America: The First Avenger, and the downright lamentable Iron Man 2.

The movie will no doubt run along somewhat predictable lines: The makeshift team of mercurial heroes are thrown together; sparks fly; personalities clash; Scarlett Johansson flashes some side-boob; Robert Downey Jr. arches an eyebrow and makes a pithy remark; Samuel L. Jackson sends his driver to collect his cheque. All very banal and utterly unsurprising.

What audiences need is an entirely new kind of superhero film, one removed from the tired clichés and overused tropes of the black hole of originality that is the Marvel Universe. Perhaps one set in Ireland, against the backdrop of our economic woe, could be the answer…

The film opens with a sweeping panorama of a ravaged, decrepit Dublin ten years in the future. The once prosperous city, now known as AvivaPolis, has crumbled under the weight of insurmountable debt, massive unemployment, and the closure of that savage little doughnut stall on O’Connell Street. Gigantic toxic banks line the streets, their colossal smokestacks spewing waste high into the grey, lifeless air as they burn the carcasses of household charge withholders in order to turn their remains into miniature European flags.

Cash-for-gold shops stretch as far as the eye can see, interspersed with the makeshift tenements of the legions of citizens who have been evicted from their homes. Their crude dwellings are thrown together using anything that can be found: mountains of now useless 2 Euro coins, posters pleading for a ‘Yes’ vote in the 27th referendum on the austerity package, old issues of the Evening Herald full of pictures of food so people could remember what it looked like.

Towering above all of this misery and desolation lies an enormous glass dome perched on top of the Spire, the headquarters of the evil Troika, a trio of ruthless oligarchs who rule the city with an iron fist. The fist itself is kept out in the RDS and is taken out on special occasions to crush dissidents and small animals, so as to keep people in check. Some say that the Troika escaped from a two-dimensional floating prison in space and came to Earth to conquer it. Others maintain that this is just the plot of Superman II and that the Troika are in fact from mainland Europe.

Marching along the streets day and night, clad in black leather uniforms and EU flag capes, are the Siptuplets, the police force of the Troika. Legend has it that the Siptuplets were once part of the proletariat, but were corrupted after years of pay agreements warped their socialist ideals and turned them to the dark side. Their commander, known only as Dr. Joe, is regarded as the Troika’s right-hand man, and is feared even by his own men. He once found one of his subordinates feeding half a cheese sandwich to a duck that had been ejected from his lake for non-payment of a Credit Union loan. He proceeded to beat the man to death with the bird, then beat the bird to death with the cheese sandwich.

In this dark dystopian hinterland, amidst the turmoil and grief that lies over the city like a dense fog made of turmoil and grief, there is but one beacon of hope for the Irish people. He is a shining light who inspires hope in the face of the city’s oppression. A noble insurgent against the forces of economic subjugation. A daring warrior poet who stands resolved to fight for the fiscal independence of every starving man, woman and child that he represents and holds dear. His name, let it be praised, is Shinnerman.

As night falls in AvivaPolis, our intrepid hero may be seen dashing across a darkened rooftop, or perched atop a vacant block of apartments, broodily surveying his domain as he plans his next strike into the heart of the wicked Troika. Grubby-faced children point and call to him as he swoops from building to building. “Oh Shinnerman, where you gonna run to?” they shout. He turns and answers with a low, sonorous growl, “I go to finish what I have begun.” And with that he is gone, leaving just the slightest gleam of light as the price tag on his tricolour cape catches a glint of the waxing moon.

The Shinnerman is always vigilant, always alert, always looking for a way to end the Troika’s reign of terror with the economic policies he has scrawled on the napkins stuffed into the pockets of his Celtic utility belt. He will not rest until he has restored economic independence to the island. He will not retreat until the hordes of homeless are safely returned to their abodes. He will not waver until the Troika is vanquished and his people can go back to spending their social welfare on essentials like cigarettes. The only problem is…he has no idea how to do any of this.

And so Shinnerman recoils once more into the shadows, vowing to return and liberate the city from bondage, just as soon as he’s figured out a few things. In the meantime, however, he’s heading to the chipper, followed by a trip to the bookies. He got a great tip from a taximan the other day for the 3.30 at Doncaster. Shinnerman, away!


The Beginning…?

This week sees the release of the latest in the Twilight series of films, Breaking Dawn – Part 1. Apparently they needed to release the film in two separate parts just so they could fit Robert Pattinson’s chin on screen. Although this latest instalment is undoubtedly an abominable affront to film, the English language, and distinguished fictional vampires such as Nosferatu and Count Duckula, it will inevitably make hundreds of millions of dollars because of the impressionable and easily impressed demographic that it appeals to. In light of this I have decided to write my own movie, utilising all the aspects of modern popular culture that attract these gangs of jabbering tweens like particularly excitable flies to a giant light bulb made of  shirtless vampires and crap dialogue.

In the spirit of Hollywood trailers I will now outline the entire plot for you so that you needn’t even go and see the film. It will be in three parts, although the plot will only take up the first of them; the other two just consist of four hours of my executive producers counting massive piles of money.

Since mythical beings seem to be the protagonists de rigeur these days, my main characters will all be examples of such creatures. Although since vampires and werewolves have been overdone lately, and zombies are old news, this doesn’t leave me with much choice. Therefore, the movie will revolve around Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster, or Harry and Hamish if you prefer. The film’s plot will centre on the pair’s trials and tribulations in vying for the affections of a nubile young unicorn named Penelope who is blessed with an amazing singing voice and a non-threatening Caucasian complexion. Our heroine is played by Dakota Fanning’s unborn sister, who although still a foetus, has been generating a lot of Oscar buzz over the last few months for her incredible performances.

Penelope’s heartrending back-story is a tale of woe worthy of a spot in the final ten of The X Factor. Her parents were killed before she was born in a tragic jetski-related accident. To be precise, a jetski fell off a truck onto them as they were out jogging one day. She then fell in love with a prince who turned out to be a frog, until one day he was captured by an enthusiastic young science teacher and subjected to a gruesome dissection. After mourning him she next fell in love with a frog who turned out to be The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, but his hectic touring schedule meant that the relationship was doomed from the start. After this heartbreak she vowed never to love again, and locked herself away in the top of the tallest tower in the land, never to set eyes on another man as long as she lived. It was only after she threw away the key that she realised the toilet was on the ground floor.

It is at this point that we meet our intrepid heroes, Harry and Hamish, played by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. After hearing the tragic tale of Penelope, both instantly fall in love with her, or possibly just have nothing else to do, and they decide to undertake the perilous journey across Slightly-Right-of-Middle Earth to reach her and rescue her from her self-imposed solitude. Russell Brand appears to them separately in a dream and tells them, amidst much Dickensian hyperbole and fanciful hand gestures, that they must seek the powerful but highly camp wizard, Gandalf the Gay. Only he can help them in their quest to find Penelope.

The pair set off on their journey to reach the exuberant wizard, meeting many strange and wonderful creatures along the way. They defeat the screeching two-headed monster Jedwardius in a breakdancing competition in order to gain the keys of the magical closet from their guardian King Louis of Walshtown. They fight on the side of the Tweeters against the MySpace clans in the legendary Flame Wars. They even meet a particularly dull rock named Gerald, played by Orlando Bloom.

Finally, after following an extremely bright and glittery yellow brick road, they reach the Aquamarine City, home of Gandalf the Gay. The wizard grants them two wishes, since it infringes on copyright to grant three. While arguing over how best to use their wishes, Harry wishes Hamish would hurry up and wish for something, after which Hamish wishes ‘that mincy wizard would stop staring at me like that’. Having inadvertently wasted their wishes and angered Gandalf the Gay, the pair are banished from the City, and fear that all hope of reaching Penelope has been lost.

Harry and Hamish are in the middle of planning a route home that means they don’t have to cross paths with Gerald again when suddenly a ghostly pirate ship appears in the water beside them. Out steps Captain Zack Sparrow, younger brother of Jack, played by Justin Bieber. He offers to take them to Penelope, since he has to stop at Centra on the way home for some ham anyway. The other packet was left open too long in the fridge and it’s gone all weird and hard around the edges. While on the ship, our characters are joined for a triumphal musical number by the entire cast of Glee, except the wheelchair kid because the ship didn’t have a ramp. Pirates are notoriously insensitive to the needs of the differently abled.

Eventually, after the thirty-minute long musical interlude ends with the teacher from Glee riding a porpoise voiced by Gary Barlow into the sunset singing ‘Unchained Melody’, Harry and Hamish arrive at their destination. They come to the foot of the tower and call Penelope’s name until she appears at the window. She looks just as radiant and beautiful as they imagined she would, although Harry remarks that she could have put in a bit of effort, since she’s just wearing a snood and a pair of trackie bottoms. They tell her to throw her hair down so they can climb up but she sensibly notes that this would leave all three of them trapped in the tower, so she just flies down to them instead, leaving Hamish to wonder aloud how a winged unicorn could have been trapped in a room with a large open window in the first place.

As the trio prepare to leave together to start their new life, Penelope asks them how in the world they ever found her.

‘Russell Brand came to us in a dream.’

‘Oh, I think I had the same one. Was he naked by any chance?’

‘Yes,’ says Hamish sombrely. ‘Yes he was.’

Our heroes slowly walk away into the background, and just as the screen is fading to black and the dulcet tones of Gary the porpoise can be heard lilting over the waves, Miley Cyrus flies through the air in a biplane hauling a huge banner that simply says, ‘The End…?’

Let’s hope not. I think I could make a career out of this screenwriting lark.