Beloved cartoon superhero of the early '80's Danger Mouse, the greatest superhero in the world, has returned to our screens in a triumphant reboot. The fun started on CBBC on Monday. I'm delighted to report that London retains her starring role.
The opening episode set the tone beautifully, using many London landmarks both old and new. Indeed the montage of London buildings kicked off the blizzard of daft gags that were the trademark of the original cartoons way back when. We saw The Gherkin, City Hall, the Tennis Racket…
…and The House of Cards…
Who doesn't love a wisecrack at the expense of modern architecture?
I blogged about the original Danger Mouse earlier in this series – click HERE to catch up with that post – in a post about Sherlock Holmes-flavoured cartoons. (Alongside DM I looked at Daffy Duck and Porky Pig as Holmes and Watson.)
There are two big changes in the new-look DM: The Sherlock references are gone, with James Bond much more to the fore. And the production values are much MUCH higher.
The original Danger Mouse was created on a shoestring budget and had a pleasingly ramshackle feel to the collage backgrounds. In the original a white polar landscape was often deployed as a cost-cutting exercise. Similarly, there were a great many "Hey! Who put the lights out?" scenes – again, no colours, only black with eyeballs blinking away. One could always recognise Danger Mouse even in a black out: he wore an eye patch so only one eye was blinking. Necessity is the mother of great comic invention!
Glad to see that budgetary restraints featured as a running gag in episode one.
Best of all, the galloping theme song remains intact, albeit with an up-to-date drum track, over the breathless opening credits.
The opening credits are worthy of special mention with the highly-stylised London landmarks flashing by in a chase sequence reminiscent of James Bond in The World Is Not Enough. And our favourite running theme on The Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London pops up yet again. Remember Spiderman was at it, putting Big Ben & Tower Bridge on the same page…
When I was nine years old I saw the movie Planet of the Apes on the telly. The final scene stays with me to this day…
Having escaped slavery in the world of the apes, marooned astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston, sans shirt of course) drops to his knees before the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, and bellows: "We finally really did it ... You Maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!"
Just remembering the scene – stark, un-scored – brings back the chills of the nightmares it created for weeks afterward. That was the stuff that sleepless nights were made of in a Shadow-of-The-Bomb childhood back in the 70's.
The scene haunts me yet. But I hadn't thought of it in a while. Not, that is, until I popped into Orbital Comics recently and saw this…
Suddenly I was nine again. The heart-stopping cover image brought those childhood nightmares roaring back.
There's a lot going on this powerful cover. The colour of the sky makes me think of that famous Churchill legend, his comment, upon seeing the southern sky aglow on the night of the Crystal Palace fire in 1936: "It is the end of an age."
The statue of Boudicca at the north end of Westminster Bridge is first broken, then dwarfed and finally usurped by the Übermensch superhuman fighting machine as she holds the Union Flag like a souvenir atop County Hall.
Über is written by Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Daniel Gete. It is a World War Two alternative history, envisaging a stalemate in May 1945 when the Nazis develop a new secret weapon, the Übermen. It is both a dark subversion of the superhero and a thoroughly gripping thriller.
I've visited Über already on this tour. Regular readers will remember that its explicit wartime subject matter created a quandary for this blogger. On the day I sat down to cover it, back in January, the first rumblings of the Charlie Hebdo atrocity in Paris began to filter through (catch up with the post HERE).
The landmark chosen for the cover of this comic book (episode 27, the last in the first cycle of the Über story) underpins one of our running themes in this virtual tour: if you want to set your location as London, draw Big Ben as your centrepiece. We've now visited that famous clock with The Fantastic Four, Deadpool AND Spiderman, Scooby Doo and not one but THREE Disney films.
I'd love to have been party to the process that ended in Big Ben chosen for the cover. Did they consider St Paul's Cathedral? Would St Paul's have worked? It comes to mind because of Churchill's oft-cited remark during the worst days of the Blitz, "At all costs St Paul's must be saved."
It would have made a nice historic chime but, ultimately, Wren's cathedral is probably too redolent of the Capitol building in Washington D.C to "read", especially for North American readers.
That Big Ben represents parliament and power makes it a natural choice for this cover. If you want to show an emasculated Britain, then snap-off its most powerful symbol of democracy. It's a masterful piece of graphic storytelling and typical of the Über narrative so far.
This talk of emasculation reminds me of another piece of WWII mythology: it is said that, had Hitler emerged victorious, he planned to remove Nelson's column from Trafalgar Square and plant it at the heart of Albert Speer's new Berlin. True or not, you don't have to be a Freudian genius to see the symbolism in that one.
Trafalgar Square and other Westminster locations featured the last time we posted about Über in this series (catch up with that post HERE). Über will return to comic book stores in 2016. And while I'll miss the London locations - the next part of the tale moves to the United States – I'll look forward to following its harrowing narrative.
The collected Über Vol 5 will be published in November this year.
Panel No. 23: Putney Bridge & Rivers of London
I've crossed a lot of bridges in this series so far. Tower Bridge in particular is much-loved by cartoon and comic book artists. It featured in my earlier posts on Spiderman and Deadpool from Marvel comics.
That grand old structure is part of the instant visual grammar of London, as discussed in those earlier posts.
But aside from location, what is it about comic book artists and the bridges of London?
First and foremost, the dramatic potential of a bridge is undeniable: it can be the beginning of a quest or a homecoming.
Then there's bridge as metaphor, a monument to mankind's flimsy conceit that water has been conquered. Which brings us back to drama once more with the ever-present prospect of being driven from the bridge by forces beyond your control. Did he fall… or was he pushed?
In the context at hand, it's important not to forget perspective. Those talented individuals who draw our comic books just love to rub our merely mortal noses in the vanishing point!
The choice of bridge is also revealing. Like a great London Walks guide, the cartoon artist who wants to root her/his story in true London won't just scrawl Tower Bridge shaped like some Gothic hashtag and add the caption "Tower Bridge". The best ones go off the beaten track.
In our series so far I've also crossed the Archway Bridge known to locals as "suicide bridge", a perfect location for the supernatural hipsters of London in The Vinyl Underground. Workaday London Bridge is used vividly to illustrate alternative lifestyles in the glorious Metroland. And Battersea Bridge adds a subtle, dowdy, Len Deighton-style flourish to the otherwise Ian Fleming-ish world of spy thriller Velvet.
I have bridges on my mind because I've just picked up issue no.1 of Rivers of London down at Orbital Comics…
The action opens at Putney Bridge…
As a story it's been around for a while now – Ben Aaranovich's original novel was published back in 2011 and met with great critical praise. In its pages we join the adventures of Peter Grant, a young police officer who works in the small division of the Metropolitan Police that deals with magic and the supernatural. The book is woven with London myth and lore and is perfect for comic book adaptation.
Mr Aaronovitch shares the writing credit on this version of his tale with Andrew Cartmel (a prolific writer who once worked as a Doctor Who script editor), with art by Lee Sullivan (Doctor Who magazine). The comic book also features a wonderful appendix addressing the history of Putney, opening with the memorable line about this riverside neighbourhood being "deeply confused about whether it's cutting-edge trendy or just ridiculously suburban". Nicely done.
With the tale so deeply embedded in the legend of London, I'll probably return to this comic book later in our series (at the moment I'm updating this little "blog walking tour" about once-a-month) but in the meantime I'm anticipating that Rivers of London could well take the place of Über (which is going on sabbatical) as my new fave non-superhero comic book.