The Big Goosebumps Re-read #10: The Ghost Next Door (R.L. Stine, 1993)

ghostnextdoor-1In a previous post entitled “My Reading Journey“, I mentioned my complete set of the original Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. Well, when taking them all out for a quick photograph for that post, I decided it might be fun to re-visit them all with adult eyes. There’s only 62 to get through…

I’ve slacked off on these reviews just recently but never fear because I am back on track and, at last, breaking into double digits with book number ten in the Goosebumps series. I have to admit that I might possibly have stalled on re-reading these books purely because The Ghost Next Door was never really a highlight for me and so I suppose I wasn’t that enthusiastic about getting through it. I can’t say that I’ve changed my mind now that I HAVE got it done but The Ghost Next Door was definitely an interesting read because it simply doesn’t feel like a proper Goosebumps book.

The Blurb

Hannah’s really fed up with the summer so far – all her friends are away and she’s stuck with her little twin brothers for company. Great.

But now that Danny has moved in next door maybe she will have some fun, after all. Danny’s pretty weird, though, he’s so pale – ghostly pale – and he keeps disappearing…

Hannah wants some answers. Somehow, she’s going to find out for sure. Could Danny be…the ghost next door?

Hannah Fairchild is a twelve year-old girl living in the small, quiet town of Greenwood Falls. She’s home for the summer and bored (as so many kids in these books are…) but perhaps things will look up now that Danny – also twelve – has just moved in next door. That basic intro aside, this girl be crazy! The book starts with Hannah waking up from a horrible nightmare about being trapped in her bedroom as her house burns down around her. Her unrealistically joyful reaction to realising that this was just a dream is priceless…

Boring.
But today, Hannah climbed out of bed with a smile on her face.
She was alive!
Her house hadn’t burned down.

Er…okay? Anyway, Hannah quickly becomes convinced that something isn’t right about Danny. He vanishes without warning for instance. Also, he apparently attends the same school as Hannah but she hasn’t seen him around nor has she heard of his friends. Between these items and a few other small pieces of “evidence”, Hannah arrives at the only possible conclusion: Danny MUST be a ghost.

I’m going to cut straight to it here and drop some spoilers so don’t read on if you don’t want this children’s horror book from 1993 spoiled…

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The book essentially attempts to lead you along with Hannah and her conclusion that Danny is a ghost. You even wait for false scares to give way to the truth sooner or later. However, the actual plot twist arrives around three-quarters of the way in: it’s Hannah that’s a ghost, not Danny. You see, she and her family were killed in a house fire five years ago hence the dream that she has at the beginning of the book. It also explains why some of the townspeople seem to not hear her when she calls out to them and also why she isn’t familiar with Danny’s friends. She’s existing in the present as a ghost but also sort-of in the past.

Unfortunately, I found that it was a fairly easy to twist to predict. I genuinely didn’t remember anything about The Ghost Next Door prior to this revisit but even so, I worked the truth out long before Hannah did.

I also mentioned in this review’s opening that this book doesn’t really feel like a Goosebumps book. It isn’t scary at all and I didn’t feel the horror vibes. In fact, it almost feels like a mystery book for young readers where a group of pre-pubescent kids try to solve a local mystery. In this case, Hannah is attempting to solve the mystery of Danny. The end-of-chapter suspense doesn’t come in the form of false scares but rather the drama of the town as Hannah tries to stop Danny and his friends from getting in serious trouble.

There is a supernatural boogeyman in the form of a mysterious black shadow with glowing red eyes that chases Hannah several times. This is ultimately revealed to be Danny’s ghost who is waiting for him to die so it can take his place (wrap your head around that).

The finale is also not really a Goosebumps conclusion. It’s more like a sad farewell as Hannah appears to leave the mortal realm behind.

“Come back, Hannah,” her mother whispered. “Come back to us now.”
Hannah could feel herself floating now. And as she flated, she gazed down – her last look at earth.
“I can see him, Mum,” she said excitedly, brushing the tears off her cheeks. “I can see Danny. In his room. But the light is getting faint. So faint.”
“Hannah, come back. Come back to us,” her mother whispered, calling her home.
“Danny – remember me!” Hannah cried as Danny’s face appeared clearly in the misty grey.
Could he hear her?
Could he hear her calling to him?
She hoped so.

So no creepy twist or anything like that. Just this decidedly out-of-place ascension to the afterlife. These last two pages really summarise the strange tone of this book and mark it out as a black sheep in the Goosebumps series. I wouldn’t say that this shift made for an enjoyable read because it isn’t what a reader of horror fiction would want from a Goosebumps book. That said, it was definitely unique and totally unexpected.

The Cover

I never understood this cover as a kid because it looked like an angel with some sort of holy light behind them. Not especially horror-themed! But now I see that this was the artist’s interpretation of Hannah with the flames from the house fire in the background. I think said artist may have taken the “short hair” description a little too far because she looks like a boy with a punk ‘do’.

The incredibly dated bit

Not much but Hannah communicates with her friend Janey (who is at summer camp) by writing letters and wondering why there aren’t any replies. Spoilers: you’re five years too late Hannah. That aside, it would all be text messages, Whatsapp or even Skype in 2019. Bring back the art of letter writing!

The nostalgia rating

Does not really wanting to read it because I recalled the book being a bit ‘meh’ count?

Up Next: The Haunted Mask

Oil prices are rising but who will suffer?

The man in the street of course. Not the politicians who are fueling (no pun intended) the latest potential oil crisis. I think Linkin Park nailed it when they used this line in the song “Hands Held High”:

When you can’t put gas in your tank
These fuckers are laughing their way
To the bank and cashing their check

Yes, it’s the ongoing Yemen/Saudi Arabia/Iran/USA crisis that you may have seen in the news. Saudi oil refineries were hit by drone strikes that caused significant damage, with the knock-on effect being that global oil supplies have been cut by 5% and prices are going to go up at the pumps. Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attacks while the US has pointed the finger at current global sparring partner, Iran. Obviously, Iran has denied any involvement despite the US allegedly having evidence to prove that the drones came from there and not Yemen.

In short, it’s you and I who will have to pay the price when fuel prices rise. If we’re lucky, that’s all that will happen. The worst case scenario is that fuel stations run out or have intermittent supplies – a situation that could well become reality should the Saudi facilities suffer further attacks and consequent damage. Then we really will feel the squeeze. It’s been approximately ten years since the last such shortage hit us here in the UK and that time, it was down to a national blockade and industrial striking. Prices soared and pumps ran dry as motorists had to endure miserable queues, fraying tempers and the not knowing when you would next be able to fill up.

A very sneaky and convenient thing happened when the shortage was finally resolved though. Prices went back down but NOT all the way down to where they were before the blockade began. If the price hike was due to the shortage then there’s no reason why the price couldn’t have returned to where it had been. Clearly, the oil giants saw the opportunity to sneak a permanent increase through while customers were just relieved to be able to get fuel again and at a lower price.

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[Source]
If I were to put on my conspiracy hat, I might even suggest that the whole thing was orchestrated on purpose to get that price increase through when there was no other justifiable reason to do so…

But back to current affairs, this latest strain on our wallets will be the direct result of world leaders once again waving their dicks about and playing power games, heedless of how the ordinary people will feel the impact of their supreme arrogance. The situation is of course complicated and I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on what is happening but I’ll try and summarise.

  • The Houthi rebels fighting for control of Yemen are backed by Iran
  • Their opponents – the overthrown Yemenese government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi – are continuing to fight back, backed by multiple Sunni Arab states.
  • Saudi Arabia are the principle backer of Mr Hadi’s government and the Saudis are, of course, aligned with the US who supply them arms.

So the core battle on the ground is a war between two different religious factors. But the far more dangerous aspect of Yemen’s war is the proxy war between outside states that overshadows the original conflict. As a predominately Shia country, Iran is of course going to support the Houthi rebels, especially when it means gaining greater influence in the region. Iran’s enemies – the Saudis – aren’t interested in that happening in the slightest and so they are naturally attempting to restore President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s government, get rid of the Houthis and prevent Iranian influence from creeping into a neighbouring state.

But there is another conflict taking place that is having a direct influence on the war in Yemen – the cold war between Iran and the US. Donald Trump continues to throw stones in glass houses as he takes a hardline stance with Iran which I’m sure some of Trump’s supporters and right-wing types appreciate. Don’t fuck with ‘murica! Of course, there is the irony of the President being robust with a country that he has called the world’s number one “state of terror”…the same President who was about to have peace talks with the Taliban, on US soil no less. Unbelievable.

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[Source]
However you view Trump’s stance on dealing with countries like Iran, the facts still speak for themselves. Since tearing up the nuclear deal and ramping up the sanctions on Tehran, Iran has become increasingly hostile. They have resumed enriching uranium and breached the previously imposed limit as defined by the nuclear deal. They have been accused of sabotaging oil tankers in the region and have seized others. All of this will have unfavourable effects on ordinary people when oil supply lines are disrupted.

Between this and Trump’s other actions on the world stage, he is causing a lot of chaos and conflict. It’s almost as if he is moving through a jungle and using a stick to prod tarantulas and snakes. Prod them enough and they will strike back but what else can you expect? Iran has its back to the wall – its economy suffocating beneath the weight of sanctions – so what else does anybody expect them to do? Simply keel over and do what an outside state demands them to? Would you expect the US to do that?

I’m not defending Iran because they are in no way innocent in all of this but this is yet another instance of a nuclear-equipped country telling another country that they aren’t allowed nuclear weapons. It’s double-standards of the highest order and you can see why the likes of Iran and North Korea don’t take too kindly to US and European insistence that they don’t create nuclear weapons of their own. America isn’t the shining defender of justice and liberty that it likes to portray itself as because, at the end of the day, their administration’s involvement in proxy wars and meddling in foreign spheres of influence is only ever to gain or maintain input on the global sphere of influence.

It should also be said that while we will be bitching and moaning about fuel prices, the real suffering is taking place in Yemen where innocent people are being killed and their lives utterly destroyed as religious conflict and foreign policy translates into constant airstrikes and the savage destruction of their home. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to live in such conditions. So perhaps spare a thought for them next time you are feeling irate about have to spend a few more pounds to put petrol in your comfy German executive saloon.

Ms Monopoly is bullshit

The classic Monopoly game lets players collect $200 when they pass “Go.” Under the rules of Ms. Monopoly, male players will still get the usual $200, but women will receive $240, reversing the real-life pay gap between men and women in the workplace.

Head in Hands

Where can I begin with this? Well, I feel that I must open by saying that I didn’t really want to talk about Ms. Monopoly at all. I didn’t really want to add a few more drops of combustible fossil fuel to the fires of outrage that have no doubt swept across socal media, leaving charred remains behind.

But it’s just such a dumb, unhelpful concept to come out of Hasbro’s offices.

First of all though, let’s look at the positive elements of Ms. Monopoly. As per all special editions of the classic property-trading board game, the standard board has been shaken up with different things to buy.

“From inventions like WiFi to chocolate chip cookies, solar heating and modern shapewear, Ms. Monopoly celebrates everything from scientific advancements to everyday accessories — all created by women,” Hasbro said in a news release on Tuesday.

I mean, okay – why not? At least women AND men can potentially learn something here. For example, I didn’t know that the likes of WiFi and solar heating were invented by women. It’s always good to be more informed.

Secondly, as part of the game’s launch, Hasbro donated the total sum of £16,668 ($20,580) to three young female inventors of the future who already have some great inventions in the pipeline that would certainly benefit us all.

    • Sophia Wang (16) from Connecticut, USA – invented a device that can pre-emptively detect sinkholes. The device is apparently already 93% complete.

 

  • Gitanjali Rao (13) from Denver, USA – put together an invention to test drinking water for lead, to be used by individuals for instant results.
  • Ava Canney (16) from Ireland – invented a spectrometer that measures the levels of dye in sweets and soft drinks.

Excellent. Brilliant. Fantastic.

So it’s too bad that these undeniably positive bits, of what should have been another Monopoly special edition, have been wrapped up in such a badly-executed package that also aims to land a seat on a feminist train destined for Pay Gap City. I have no problem with feminism as long as it doesn’t cross that line and start wearing camo-print attire. I have no doubt that some hardcore feminists would see that as toxic masculinity and say, “huh, you’re ACTING like you support feminism but only as long as it stays within your pre-conceived boundaries.”

Tough. Deal with it. As far as I am concerned, toxic feminism needs checking just as much as toxic masculinity. Isn’t the whole point to strive towards equality?

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[Source]
And that’s where Ms. Monopoly’s $40 per-tour-of-the-board advantage in the favour of women torpedoes the entire product’s credibility. The playing field hasn’t been levelled nor has equality been achieved. In fact, a gender advantage has been handed out and the realm of double-standards breached. Isn’t it ironic to be accepting the kinds of advantages that you have been (rightfully) rallying against for so many years? These kind of things simply don’t help the cause and only serve to aggravate anybody with common sense.

Because I don’t recall the classic version of Monopoly being weighted in the favour of men. Unless I missed the edition where women are only entitled to 160 bucks for passing “Go” and must play the game in their underwear for the viewing pleasure of the male participants.

But, as a man, am I outraged about the existence of Ms. Monopoly? No. It’s just a stupid product that doesn’t contribute anything to the end goal of equality. The other important thing to remember is that products like this are devised by companies BECAUSE they will generate news items and explosive Twitter debates. Hasbro couldn’t ask for better publicity or for a more effective marketing campaign that needs little financial input on their part. All they had to do was drop a few press releases and images, sit back in the boardroom and watch the internet light up. In short, to get worked-up about products like this is to play directly into corporate hands – irresponsible corporate hands who are going to make a lot of money out of dividing our society just a little more as some of us fall into the Us vs Them trap. Granted, it’s mostly the extreme fringes that engage in virtual slanging matches but it’s also the extreme fringe types that shout the loudest and give positive causes bad names.

As already outlined, Ms. Monopoly does have some good stuff going for it but I see Hasbro and their savvy marketing.

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[Source]
My final thoughts are going to be on the game of Monopoly in general. I’ve long since found it incredibly strange that we enjoy playing this game. It’s a game based on the very same capitalist greed and social oppression that most of us absolutely resent and moan about on a daily basis. We’ve all been there: clinging onto a few low-tier properties, desperately hanging on to our last few bank notes while one player crushes us all with streets loaded with hotels. Perhaps you’ve also played with variations on the official rules where players can take out bank loans to stave off Game Over.

Sounds familiar, right? Like coming home from a long, tiring day at a minimum-wage job where you’ve been bitched at by men in suits who drive big cars and ensure that they stay at the top and grind everybody below them into dust in order to save a few pennies or squeeze an extra few cents out of the profit margin. Paying taxes and running the rat race just to keep the debt collectors at bay and food in your family’s mouths. Trying not to lose vital sleep over credit card statements or loan repayments.

Monopoly as a game is fun while everybody is on a level playing field. As soon as one player gains that significant advantage though, the fun stops. Neither Monopoly or its real-life counterpart discriminate based on gender. Both men and women feel the squeeze as those at the top live the high life and The System locks millions into a thankless machine of servitude. Many will escape of course, through hard work or being in the right place at the right time but, through pure circumstance, a vastly larger number won’t.

I guess we must be a masochistic race; playing a ‘fun’ board game based on our own suffering…for entertainment. Perhaps it is best not to over-think these things!

Brexit of Thrones

If you’ve ever read any of my previous posts on the shitshow that is Brexit then you may be familiar with the way I’ve described this catastrophe of a process as a rubbish version of Game of Thrones. Minus the attractive ladies and dragons of course. Unless I’ve missed a key day of news, neither of those things are happening down at Westminster.

But Brexit has everything else that makes George R.R. Martin’s books and HBO’s TV adaptation so enthralling:

Political back-stabbing
Defections
Individuals using events to further their own agenda/careers
The struggle for power taking precedence over what’s important for the country
The populance being split apart with a growing “Us vs Them” environment
Wars of words with neighbouring countries

So what exactly is my point with all of this? I’m not actually sure but at least my half-assed attitude is more solidified than the rapidly-shifting events here in the UK that continue to flabbergast us. You honestly couldn’t write this shit. Each morning’s fresh batch of headlines bring something else that chips away at any belief I have in our leadership. This is a considerable achievement given that my current faith in our political elite would be represented with a negative number were I to use a percentage-based metric.

Bringing this post back to the original analogy, I have genuinely often thought, “fuck Game of Thrones. It has nothing on Brexit.” If Brexit was all entirely fictional and dramatised as a book then it would be one hell of an addictive page-turner, brimming with plots, counter-plots and end-of-chapter shocks that turn everything upside-down.

As I’ve already said, so much has happened since Boris Johnson ascended to the Iron Throne armchair in No.10, Downing Street. Therefore, it’s incredibly difficult to summarise the current situation – especially given that this crap has been selling papers since 2016 – but I will try to put it in layman’s terms…

Parliament is currently on shutdown because Boris Johnson asked the Queen for permission to do so. This is known as being “Prorogued”. During this time, MP’s may not enter Westminster and no parliamentary business may take place. Prorogation has historically been used by Monarchs in Britain to prevent parliament from interfering with their plans. In the modern era (where Monarchs are figureheads and don’t wield their theoretical power), prorogation is usually reserved for bringing parliamentary sessions to an end.

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Is Boris Johnson our version of Donald Trump? The similarities are striking and I’m not just talking about the hair…[Source]
However, opposing MP’s were planning to try and pass new legislation which would prevent the Prime Minister from taking the UK out of Europe without a trade deal if one hasn’t been agreed on by October 31st. The “No Deal” option is seen as the riskiest option which could send economic shockwaves throughout the country but Boris Johnson has repeatedly made clear that he is going to get Brexit done by the 31st of October, whether a deal with the EU has been successfully negotiated or not. No request for an extension – just leave and get Brexit over the finish line.

The Queen granted Johnson’s request to prorogue parliament and it is widely accepted that he chose to do this in order to shut down parliamentary business as soon as possible and give the opposition much less time to pass their legislation.

The legislation WAS passed, however. Johnson’s Conservative government held a majority in parliament by the slimmest of slim margins – just one seat. Unfortunately for him, an MP defected to the Liberal Democrats thus torpedoing the Conservatives’ majority. The opposition was therefore able to band together, take control of parliamentary business and get their legislation through after winning a vote in the Commons.

This is where the shit really hit the fan and Westminster became the scene for raging slanging matches between Boris Johnson and the divisive Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Furthermore, Johnson decided to expel all of the Conservative MP’s from his own party who had rebelled and sided with the opposition when it came to voting on the legislation that would make No Deal illegal (or at least very difficult to pull off).

The fallout is still happening, even as parliament is prorogued and Westminster lies dormant, despite that fast-approaching October 31st deadline.

A No Deal “worst case scenario” preparation document that speaks of potential food/medicine shortages and civil unrest was leaked and forced to be publicised. Jeremy Corbyn has been as indecisive and flaky as usual, saying he wants a General Election, then that he doesn’t, then deciding that he does after all. The Brexit Party has proposed some form of possible alliance with Johnson’s Conservative party if it means getting Brexit over the line. MP’s are resigning and switching teams all over the place. The public is sick of the whole damn thing.

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All the shouting and thinly-veiled insults may be amusing to watch but they haven’t gotten us anywhere since 2016. [Source]
I don’t know where all of this is going to end, nor would I be confident in making any sort of prediction. I do, however, think that the government is teetering on the verge of a cataclysmic implosion and might not see out the year. I also think that the next elected government has a high chance of being either a hard-right or hard-left party, due to the fact that so many people are absolutely fed up of politicians by this point and so millions of mainstream, centre-ground voters may simply avoid the ballot box.

One thing’s for sure though: as in Game of Thrones, it’s politicians and the rich elite that stand to gain from this mess while the common folk suffer as usual. They will certainly be able to weather any economic storm. Either way, they are playing a dangerous game and prioritising their own egos and party agendas. Is it really all about doing right by the country or is it about exploiting a weakness in the government and getting their foot in the door of No.10?

We should never have been given this vote in the first place but – staying on theme – it was a pledge in David Cameron’s manifesto. He promised to deliver a vote on the UK’s membership of the EU if he was elected. In other words, he offered the necessary treats to get voted into No.10, probably (wrongly) assuming that the British public would never actually vote to leave. And when we did? He immediately stepped down as Prime Minister and washed his hands of the problem – proof, if needed, that Brexit is simply the result of politicians chasing power and trying to further their own careers.

I think the likes of Tyrion Lannister and Littlefinger would be in their element here…

Comic Book Review: Ultimate Spiderman Vol.1 – Power and Responsibility (Marvel, 2001)

USM-1Year: 2001
Format: Trade Paperback, collecting Ultimate Spiderman #1-7 (2000)
Writer(s): Brian Michael Bendis, Bill Jemas
Artist(s): Mark Bagley (pencils), Art Thibert, Dan Panosian (inks), Steve Buccellato, Marie Javins, Colorgraphix & JC (colours)
ISBN: 0-7851-0786

“With great power comes great responsibility.” In 1963, these prophetic words launched one of the most successful and recognisable characters of the 20th Century…Spider-Man! The powers granted bookish Peter Parker by a radioactive spider have fueled the imagination of fans worldwide for nearly 40 years. With the dawning of a new age, however, comes a hero for a new millenium…Ultimate Spiderman!

Updating Spider-Man for the 21st Century was no easy task, and it took the brilliant minds of Bill Jemas and Brian Michael Bendis to do just that. With the artistic talents of Mark Bagley and Art Thibert breathing new life into this legendary mythos, Spider-Man has reasserted himself as one of the most popular characters in the world!

When Marvel first established the ‘Ultimate’ line of comics, it was a genius move. Rather than take the controversial move to reboot the entire Marvel universe from scratch and bin decades of existing canon (as DC would later do with their New 52 series), the Ultimate comics had their own separate universe, giving Marvel the opportunity re-introduce all of their popular characters for a younger generation. It meant that the characters fans knew and loved could be drastically revamped to be a bit grittier, more realistic and more “with the times”.

The Ultimate universe still feels fresh and new to me but in reality, it’s now on the verge of being twenty friggin’ years-old. Holy shit – where has that time gone? I haven’t kept up with where its at now but I imagine that it too – like the ‘main’ universe – is drowning in its own baggage and backstory.

It should come as no surprise that Spider-Man was the first character (alongside the X-Men) to be revamped and launch the Ultimate line. Marvel absolutely did the job too, re-telling the character’s origin story in an up-to-date, more believable fashion while remaining faithful to the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko source material from the 60’s. Peter Parker is still a shy, bullied high school student for example. He still gets bitten by a radioactive spider and Uncle Ben is still killed by a burglar but not before reminding his nephew that, with great power comes great responsibility.

The difference with Ultimate Spider-Man, however, is that the pacing of Peter’s transformation into Spider-Man is so much more realistic (well…as realistic as the whole shebang can be) rather than being rushed through in a single issue. It takes Peter the first five issues to even begin to get used to his new powers, for example, with Uncle Ben making it until the end of issue four. Furthermore, Spider-Man doesn’t battle his first supervillain until the sixth and seventh issues.

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[Source]
It allows the human side of Peter and the supporting cast to shine through as much as the fantastical superhero action. We see Peter gradually come out of his shell then turn into a bit of an entitled asshole before being brought back down to earth when Uncle B is offed by a burglar that he could have previously stopped but didn’t because it wasn’t his problem. But we also see how Flash Thompson (and his new jock side-kick, Kong) make Peter’s life a misery at school and we can empathise with Peter fighting back even while he’s burning his relationship with Aunt May and Uncle Ben. We see the tentative, awkward attraction between Peter and Mary-Jane. In short, Marvel really nailed teenage/high-school life of the time and made the character much more relevant to younger readers who wouldn’t have been able to relate so easily to the 1960’s original. The premise is the same but the language and culture in Amazing Spider-Man #1 was so outdated by then.

While Peter struggles to come to terms with his new abilities, survive school and maintain relationships at home, Norman Osborn is working on his ‘Oz’ formula and keeping a beady eye on the results of Peter’s accident which occured when his class toured his facilities. Right from the off, Osborn knows who Peter is and sees through the costume. Frustrated with investors – and seeing how Peter’s physical abilities were enhanced by the spider bite – Norman injects himself with the Oz formula. A major lab disaster follows and the Green Goblin is born out of the flames and death.

This version of GG is a monstrous, Hulk-like creature that can generate and hurl explosive fireballs and leap huge distances. The creative team essentially kept him resembling a Goblin (albeit far more muscular and beastly) but swapped the glider for superhuman abilities and the pumpkin bombs for organically-generated fireballs. A tattered purple robe compliments the villain’s green skin and makes him instantly identifiable as the Green Goblin, despite the physique and characterisation being completely different. It’s a fantastic re-imagining in my opinion.

 

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GG looking hench in the Ultimate universe. [Source]
As I’ve already said, the pacing of the origin story is much slower in Ultimate Spider-Man but at the same time, the character development and action trade places every few pages so the story doesn’t ever feel drawn-out for the sake of it.

Plenty of the familiar Spider-Man supporting cast is also re-introduced and revamped in these first issues. The likes of Jameson, Liz Allen, Doctor Octavius Ben Ulrich and Captain Stacey all make minor appearances – for now.

I also have to mention the fantastic artwork by Mark Bagley. His work is so easy on the eye and his characters are always full of personality and visible emotion. The inks are bold and the colours bright, leading to an overall art style that is energetic and pure comic-book without ever stepping into the cartoon or overly-exaggerated territories.

My only criticism is that I couldn’t put this trade paperback down and so it was over all too quickly, leaving me hungry for more. I’ve read Ultimate Spiderman before though, all the way up to the introduction of Silver Sable, so I’m aware of how the plot unfolds, but it’s been so long that this book feels fresh and exciting again. I’m very much looking forward to tracking down the rest of the trades and continuing to re-visit what I consider to be Marvel masterpiece of story-telling and visual eye-candy.

Materialism Update: too many trainers and killer Converse?!?

It’s been some time since I made my post on the affliction of materialism and my desire to move away from it; to cut down on what I own and buy. If you’re expecting some sort of big results on my part then you might be disappointed however. On a positive note, I don’t feel as if I have accrued any more stuff. I’ve sold a hell of a lot of things since that post and managed to offset any new purchases by getting rid of other things. The “one in, one out” philosophy at work.

To give myself a bit more credit, I do feel that I own a little less stuff but because of the way my things are stored, the situation doesn’t look any different visually. I’m going to keep chipping away at this but for today, I’m going to be talking about one specific area of senseless materialism: trainers. Or sneakers if you are reading this in the US of A.

A needlessly excessive collection of footwear is a criticism usually levelled at women but men aren’t immune to this form of fashion consumerism. I have six pairs of trainers which might not seem like a huge deal to some of you but, as far as I am concerned, it’s five pairs too many.

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(excuse the stains on the fronts of the grey Crosshatches – I’d just been scrubbing some brake dust stains from the material and they were still damp)

I didn’t use to be this way at all. One pair of trainers was enough for me. But then I discovered that I enjoyed collecting trainers that caught my eye, specifically bright blue ones as you can see. I didn’t pay full price for any of these, mind. We have a clothes outlet here in the UK called TK Maxx which sells designer brands at a large discount on account of the items being last season’s trends or discontinued lines that other retailers have gotten shot of. There are usually only one or two examples of most things and the stock is often completely different each time you visit which is both an upside and a downside.

I bought most of the trainers in the above picture from TK Maxx at 50% or higher discount versus the RRP which felt like a steal. Of course, I soon realised that it wasn’t really a saving when I didn’t need to spend any money on trainers in the first place. It was reality check time. I asked myself, “what the fuck are you doing?” and placed a ban on buying any new trainers – a ban I have happily stuck to.

Worse still, I was terrified to wear any of these trainers in case they got dirty or damaged – completely contradicting their purpose. I would wear them carefully then feverishly clean them up as soon as I was home, trying to preserve their new-ness. The exception are the battered grey Crosshatches in the bottom-right of the picture. I have replaced the insoles numerous times and even superglued them back together in order to get them to last as long as possible. I didn’t intend for them to ever reach this state but I have to wear something when I leave the house!

I decided that I was set for many years with this stock of trainers. As well as banning myself from buying any more, I have vowed to run them ALL in and make them go the distance, just like the grey Crosshatches (which I’m sure are on death’s door at this point). Time to kill off the obsessive perfectionism while I’m at it! Footwear is meant to be worn, not stored carefully and treated like antique collectables.

The next pair in line to become my “daily” trainers and get properly used will be the Converse All-Stars but I’ve always been wary of wearing these bastards because of the absolutely deadly lack of grip provided by the soles. These have been worn considerably more than any of my flashy blue kicks but even so, they never seem to wear in properly. I frequently find myself sliding on smooth surfaces or slipping on shiny store floors.

all-star-soles
Beware the soles of doooooooom

And as if to prove their vindictive intentions, I’ve slipped over in public for real while wearing these fucking things. It was only a slightly damp, tarmac path on a gentle slope but walking down said path felt like walking on ice. Needless to say, I stacked it and was lucky not to damage my back. Also lucky that not many people saw it!

So it was that I spent my precious time wisely and sat in front of the computer, asking Google, “why do I have no grip when wearing Converse?”. I didn’t expect a proper answer but the internet came up trumps and revealed the reason that Converse All-Stars are a one-way ticket to public humiliation and potential injury. Apparently, the soles are not 100% rubber – they come with a felt coating that doesn’t ever completely disappear and it’s this coating that causes a lack of grip. By reducing the rubber content in the soles, Converse can be imported as “slippers” and avoid a good chunk of import tax! So, to sum up: big name fashion item (that isn’t exactly cheap to buy anyway) is sold by a big name company that exploits a loophole in order to save a few pennies. I’ll put that one under the ‘Why am I not surprised?’ category in my mental filing system.

Destination Unknown

I often like to write about self-development here on this blog and discuss social issues that I think are major problems (such as people failing to take any responsibility for their own actions, for example). I suppose that doing so is one small way in which I attempt to grapple with my own development and problems. Because as much as I can sit here, typing out large posts that foolishly attempt to put the world to rights, I’m still a deeply flawed human being with a stack of my own shit to deal with.

The battle is eternal and it’s certainly true that the greatest opponent a man will ever slug it out with in his lifetime is himself.

So, for this post, I’m going to briefly talk about what I consider to be my greatest personal problem – my ultimate nemesis: direction.

I believe that most of us haven’t got a clue where we’re going in life. Of course, there are exceptions to everything, and I am well aware that there are those who have their shit well and truly together and a cast-iron will to keep forging on towards their goals. These are the individuals that people such as myself look at it in admiration. Not because of their material gain or social status (fuck that) but for their drive and dogged persistance on their quest to get to where they want (or need) to be.

The majority of us live through the same stories however:

  • We knew what we wanted but were denied by circumstance
  • We were forced from our path for financial reasons or inescapable commitments
  • Other people e.g. a new partner changed our life and our priorities
  • We became parents and had to put our dreams on hold
  • We’ve NEVER known what we wanted

I certainly slot into the last scenario. As a child, I never knew what I wanted but that was understandable considering my age. However, I didn’t develop any sort of direction as a teenager or a college student. I took a couple of A-Level courses in college then lost interest mid-way through the second year, probably because I subconsciously realised that I didn’t know WHY I was taking the courses or where I wanted them to get me.

Then I left education and ended up in the retail sector which is where I remain today. In short, I’ve never known what I wanted to do or which direction I should be heading in.

I know I’m not a special case at all. Also, I’m well aware that the majority of us will live average, non-extraordinary lives and that there’s nothing wrong with that.

As long as you are happy of course and feel as if you have a purpose. Can I honestly say that either apply to me? No; I wouldn’t be typing out this blog post otherwise.

Right now, I honestly don’t know where to begin with it all. Asking yourself the big questions and supplying honest answers is one recommended avenue. Here’s one that I concocted which I hoped might trigger some ideas, no matter how faint they might be.

If there were no obstacles – money, self-confidence, personal circumstance etc. – where would you like to be and what would you like to be doing?

My answer?
“I don’t know”

I feel that this has always been my problem. I can’t claim to have a dream that I’ve been denied or a course that I’ve been blown from. I’m just a drifter, living from one day to the next and not in any kind of romantic sense. Obviously, I feel that there are reasons in my past that have compounded this situation and made it worse but I’m not here to tell sob stories or make excuses.

Working on a dream – something to get me motivated and fired up – has become a priority in my mind. By my understanding however, you can’t simply decide on a dream so where one must begin is a bit of a mystery to me.

If anybody has any killer tips or can point me in the direction of some good resources then please, feel free to comment below.