Strange Ways, Here We Come: Marvel’s Dr Strange and his psychedelic secrets

Strange Ways, Here We Come: Marvel’s Dr Strange and his psychedelic secrets
From LSD to Ayn Rand to Satanism, the roots of Marvel’s latest superstar are a tangle of the American unconscious. John Naughton elevates to the astral plane to investigate. 

“Open Your Mind,” advises the trailer to the forthcoming movie of Doctor Strange. “Change Your Reality”, it adds, as cityscapes fold in on one another Inception-style and the titular Marvel comic-book hero – made flesh in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch – opens the doors of perception and inspects his new, deceptively spacious surroundings.

Though he’s had to bide his time patiently to take his place on the big screen in the new Marvel Comics Universe, behind the likes of Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America and the rest, Doctor Strange arrives on the big screen this month and expectations are, well, high.

Because from his very earliest appearances in July 1963 in the pages of Strange Tales #110, Doctor Strange, with his cosmic wanderings across astral planes, protecting Earth from dark forces often only with his mind, has been intimately linked to LSD and the counterculture.

Since that time, he has been reimagined successfully by writers such as Roger Stern and most recently, Brian K. Vaughan in the excellent one-shot, The Oath. But most comic book aficionados would agree that there have been two iterations of the Sorcerer Supreme that stand out above the rest. The first was the original run, drawn by his creator, the enigmatic, reclusive, comic book genius, Steve Ditko and the second was during an intense period of creativity at Marvel in the early 70s when writer Steve Englehart and artist Frank Brunner took over his story. Continue reading “Strange Ways, Here We Come: Marvel’s Dr Strange and his psychedelic secrets”

Nothing is real: We’ve turned the 1960s into an empty fantasy

Nothing is real: We’ve turned the 1960s into an empty fantasy
The V&A’s latest mega-exhibition You Say You Want A Revolution? promises the last word in ’60s nostalgia… again. But to Paul Du Noyer, a 1960s with only gilded youths and radical-chic celebrities is no 1960s at all. 

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In 1966 there were two great cultural revolutions getting under way. One was in China, where its figurehead was Chairman Mao and the aim was to purge the nation of lingering capitalist tendencies. The other took place in the affluent west: its unofficial figureheads were probably The Beatles and the aims were various. But getting laid, getting high and having a damned good time were top of most people’s list.

In both revolutions, youth led the charge. China’s Red Guards were paramilitary students who forged a violent upheaval that caused untold havoc and horrific casualties. In the West, there were some campus riots and the odd demo, but our collective memory is of a nice psychedelic wonderland. There were agit-prop trimmings, but hardly anyone died. More people changed their style of trousers than their ideological outlook.

And yet, even in the West, the effect of those years is still felt, and still debated. What really happened in the late 1960s? Was our society deeply transformed in some way? And if so, for better or for worse?

This is where the V&A’s latest blockbuster exhibition comes in. You Say You Want A Revolution? takes its title from The Beatles’ 1968 song ‘Revolution’ and the question mark is important. Did people literally want a revolution? Or just to throw the biggest party in history? Even John Lennon wasn’t sure, and he wrote the bloody song. Continue reading “Nothing is real: We’ve turned the 1960s into an empty fantasy”

ALIENS AT 30: Inside the War on Bugs

ALIENS AT 30: Inside the War on Bugs
It’s Viet Nam in space, a proto-feminist battle royale, and the most relentless sci-fi action movie ever made – and it came out in the UK exactly 30 years ago, on 29 August 1986. IAN NATHAN discovers how only a single-minded obsessive at war with his colleagues could incubate Aliens.

They thought he was completely out of his mind. The young director wanted to build a 12-foot Alien with room inside for two puppeteers to operate the arms and legs. He’d even done a sketch to show how. Now he proposed a test. So his effects team constructed a fibreglass mould with a foam head and body and covered it in black bin bags. They then carted it out to the car park and slung it from a crane. As it bobbed it up down, the director was there with a camera shouting instructions. It may have been rudimentary, but that bin-bag monstrosity actually looked pretty cool. This director’s ideas always seemed to work. And this was his plan to out-do a classic. Continue reading “ALIENS AT 30: Inside the War on Bugs”

ACTION: How Britain’s most brutal comic laid the real ’70s bare

ACTION: How Britain’s most brutal comic laid the real ’70s bare
AGGRO! In the long, hot summer of 1976, ACTION comic’s blood-crazed sharks, spy thugs and football yobs warped young minds across Britain. Creator Pat Mills tells JOHN NAUGHTON about the comic The Sun called the Sevenpenny Nightmare.

In the recent trend for publishing books based around specific years, no-one has yet laid claim to 1976. Like visitors strolling past a boss-eyed mongrel at Battersea Dogs’ Home, prospective authors have failed to see the appeal of a year that began with 15 people murdered in Northern Ireland before the Christmas decorations came down and continued in grindingly grim fashion with front pages dominated by endless tales of industrial aggro or Cod and Cold War stand-offs. Civil war raged in Angola and bombs exploded throughout London. Is this the MPLA, is this the IRA? Yes, on both counts, Johnny.

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Action’s most infamous cover, as seen in High-Rise.

Listen closely and you can hear the tectonic plates of post-war political consensus pulling apart as Harold Wilson bailed out, James Callaghan took over and Labour tottered on with a majority as insubstantial as a Hill’s Angel halter top.

Inflation hit 24%, while interest rates ran at 11.5% and the pound dipped below $2. Seven years earlier, the Labour government had produced its white paper entitled In Place Of Strife. In 1976, there didn’t seem to be anything else.

Against this febrile backdrop, a story played out in the world of comic publishing that continues to fascinate to this day. Action – a weekly boys’ comic with a new attitude and a roster of radical characters – debuted a week before Valentine’s Day and was closed down by Bonfire Night. This wasn’t due to lack of popularity; when it shut, the comic was selling 180,000 copies per week. Instead, having attracted questions in the House and outrage in the media, its publishers, IPC, withdrew it “for editorial reconsideration”. Like Jack Nicholson’s Randle McMurphy at the conclusion of that year’s multiple Oscar-winner One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, it re-emerged a shadow of its former self on December 4. The following year IPC applied the metaphorical pillow over the face when it was merged with Battle and five years later, it quietly expired. Continue reading “ACTION: How Britain’s most brutal comic laid the real ’70s bare”

Streamadelica! Radiooo.com is the weird music time machine

Streamadelica! Radiooo.com is the weird music time machine
Tired of being a slave to the algorithm? Try rare, handpicked musical delights from Radiooooo.com. ANDREW HARRISON introduces your next addiction

You know how it is. You’re sailing along the French Riviera with your father in his newly-acquired 1950s classic Renault, savouring the sunshine, the fine red leather seats, the sophisticated interior, and the general chic-ness of the moment. You decide to turn on the vintage dashboard radio… and out tumbles a load of terrible daytime radio rubbish, ruining the ambience with its tinny overproduced racket and bursting your bubble for good.

That’s what happened to Benjamin Moreau, a French DJ and artist, back in 2012. But instead of cursing radio programmers and all their works, he decided to do something about the scourge of music that ruins your day. If a song is the most powerful mnemonic there is, can you summon up moments in time through music? “The idea of a musical machine allowing you to travel not only through space but time as well popped into my mind,” he says. And now it exists as a brilliantly strange, quixotic and compelling digital service called Radiooooo.com (type in as many o’s as you like, it doesn’t really matter). Continue reading “Streamadelica! Radiooo.com is the weird music time machine”

Ten albums to banish from Best Ever lists

Ten albums to banish from Best Ever lists
ROCK’N’ROLL BED-BLOCKERS: The same records keep appearing on every list of Greatest Albums Ever. And we’re sick of them. Which ones should we get rid of? DAVID STUBBS wields the red card…

Time was when lists of the Greatest Rock Albums Of All Time were rare treats. Intrigue would build in advance of these rundowns, to see who’d get to be the second best ever made after ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’. In today’s retro age, these lists are more commonplace, spacefillers, practically fortnightly occurrences.

However, while the bleedin’ obvious selections that invariably top these lists are there for a bleedin’ obvious reason – i.e. they’re bleedin’ brilliant – some seem lazily and thoughtlessly recycled from lists past, their actual worth unexamined. So let’s take a look at ten of the more questionable Best Albums Ever that crop up over and over and over and again. Continue reading “Ten albums to banish from Best Ever lists”

Up Pompeii! David Gilmour meets Pink Floyd fan Mary Beard

Up Pompeii! David Gilmour meets Pink Floyd fan Mary Beard
ARENA SPECIAL: Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour meets classicist and secret Floyd-head Mary Beard in the ruins of Pompeii. LAURA BARTON sees a funny thing happen on the way to the amphitheatre… Pictures: Sarah Lee

“I probably first saw the Pompeiian amphitheatre with Floyd in it,” says Mary Beard. “And I only visited it later. Because back in the day I was quite a Pink Floyd fan.” We are standing in the middle of Pompeii in the blazing sun of a July afternoon, and Beard, famed Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, author of numerous books on ancient Rome, and celebrated host of BBC Two’s Meet The Romans, is granting David Gilmour and his wife, the author Polly Samson, a guided tour of the ruins. Beard is resplendent in snakeskin trainers; Gilmour is in black t-shirt and jeans, a faint sheen blooming across his forehead. “This,” says Beard, brightly, “was the Saffron Walden of the ancient world.”

Over their shoulders, at the far side of the arena, stands a very modern stage, across which black-clad roadies beetle about in the heat trailing cables, testing lights, snares, amplifiers. This evening Gilmour will play here in the amphitheatre as part of a two-night residency. These two shows carry considerable sentimental weight for Gilmour and his fans. In 1971, Pink Floyd famously played here, but with an audience not permitted inside the ancient ruins they performed to an empty arena, the concert filmed and released as the 1972 documentary Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii. Continue reading “Up Pompeii! David Gilmour meets Pink Floyd fan Mary Beard”