When the Wind Blows

“What’s the use of worrying? It never was worthwhile. So, Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag -And smile, smile, smile.”

Jim Bloggs singing to his wife Hilda

The Berlin Wall fell 31 years ago—the conclusion to a long and brutal struggle. It marked the end of an conflict that twisted the world for 42 years—dominating public policy, spending, and aggression, all the while casting the shadow of nuclear proliferation across the entire globe. Now, in all honesty, I had to look up when the Cold War started, and more significantly, when the Berlin Wall fell—and while there may be many out there who do know these dates, I would venture a guess that my experience is probably more normative than any historian would be happy with; but, for my own generation, and probably well before me, the Cold War is a fixed piece of history—not personal, but a story we read in a history book. It is equivalent to reading about the symptoms of cancer from a textbook, as opposed to having that personal relationship with a loved one or friend fighting for their life. One is impersonal/dispassionate, the other incredibly emotionally charged. It almost feels experientially as if the purported words of a top world leader of the mid-twentieth century ring true: “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of one million is a statistic.”

Raymond Briggs, a British author and illustrator, is most famous for his children’s books, such as The Snowman. However, despite rising to fame related to his works for children, in 1982 he published the adult graphic novel When the Wind Blows. This novel stands in a unique place for fiction -humanizing an era that is often relegated to clinical analysis and anti-Vietnam diatribes. Set during the Cold War, the novel follows Jim and Hilda Bloggs, an elderly couple living in England. They have a single son, residing in the city, but are otherwise unattached and enjoying the retired life. Life is normal, that is until the USSR launches a nuclear assault on the West, spiraling England, and the Bloggs, into an apocalyptic unknown. Now, When the Wind Blows is unquestionably a critique of the effects of nuclear escalation and government bungling, but not in an angry or overly political way. Unlike the majority of media put out during the Cold War decades which relied on anger and fear as the primary emotions to drive change (give Black Sabbath’s classic song “War Pigs” a listen sometime), Briggs relies on pure, everyday, normal, humanity to drive his point home. As Jim and Hilda navigate a post-fallout reality, the reader is shown the little ways that they care for one another, fuss over each other, and love one another, even as the world around them is crumbling. Raymond’s time as a children’s illustrator really shines on these pages, combining his simple and pure illustrations with the broken and sobering subject-matter gives the panels an emotionally haunting quality that is unique and powerful.

When the Wind Blows is not a ‘happy’ story; in fact, it is the most beautifully tragic graphic novel I have ever read. Raymond did his homework whenever writing the 40 some-odd pages the story spans, and his depictions of such things as disaster preparedness, radiation sickness, and deprivation are eerily accurate and emotionally haunting when painted in his unique art style. However, the most impactful aspects of the story are easily the main protagonists Jim and Hilda: their interactions, and gentle, loving, ‘normalness’. Tragedy and destruction were not new in 1982 when Raymond Briggs published his book, and they are no stranger today either, but what When the Wind Blows forces us to remember is that catastrophe is never just a number -every number has faces behind it. If we forget that, then we agree with Josef Stalin that “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of one million is a statistic.”

A New Sound for the Day

Whenever I discover a new album or group they tend to take up hours worth of listening time over the first weeks after discovery. Following are a few of the groups who have recently made it onto my repeat playlist:

  1. Lish Starshine and the Spirit Animals. Based out of Shreveport, Louisiana, they blend a beautiful classic rock sound with great vocals. Their music is energetic, upbeat, and is enjoyable to listen too while performing a variety of activities.

2. A Hill to Die Upon. Based out of Illinois, this black/death metal band creates songs that are dark, intriguing, and hauntingly beautiful. Given their genre, the style will not appeal to all audiences (harsh vocals), but the style is befitting of the subject matter (e.g. two of my favorite songs of theirs are “Oh Death” and “Satan Speaks”).

3. Lumsk. Hearkening from Norway, this folk metal band features clean Scandinavian vocals, interesting instruments (including pipe organ), and mythically inspired lyrics. The group has produced three albums with the newest one being more rock/pop than metal; however, all three albums feature strong folk elements that create beautiful and fascinating soundscapes.

 

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Going into the sequel Avengers film I had mixed expectations. On the one hand was the consideration that superhero movie sequels, with the exception of the Chris Nolan films, have almost endemically been worse than the original. Also, balancing multiple superheroes in one movie can prove tricky, and although Marvel pulled it off well in the first film, could they do it again? Read on to discover how Marvel did in this continuation of their franchise.avengers__age_of_ultron_by_mrskanda-d7scq92

Story

While enjoyable, the Avengers: Age of Ultron plotline is remarkably similar to the first film’s in many respects. Most of the same characters are present, and the movie follows the same path as the first by showing how the Avengers are broken up by internal strife and then re-unite at the end with a common goal. However, beyond these high-level similarities, there are some interesting twists: Hawkeye, who was largely eye candy in the first film and had no real depth as a character, is fleshed out more in this film (more than anyone else for that matter), and we gain insight into who he is and his relationship with Natasha Romanoff. Also, a romance subplot between two major characters adds some unforseen plot and character situations. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are very interesting, and have some of the most complex motivations of any of the characters.

Overall, while the story bears many similarities to the first film, the plot is different enough to be enjoyable and also fleshes out the character of Hawkeye who takes a more prominent role in this film than in previous, and also introduces two new players to the scene.

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-Official-Trailer
Witty one-liner anyone?

Entertainment Value

From the perspective of the theatre setting the movie was very enjoyable. Much like the first film, the movie offers big screen eye candy and massive battle scenes. If the film could be summed up in one sentence it would probably be: a continuous sequence of battles punctuated by witty one liners. And I’m not kidding about the one-liners, they are everwhere. The one-liners are so copious it is like Marvel took the idea of adding humor and multiplied it times ten. This humor works in the film for the most part. However, Ultron also cracks some one-liners, and this hurt the seriousness of his character. After all, what kind of artificial intelligence villain bent on world destruction would be cracking jokes?

Conclusion

If you can catch it in theatres the latest Avengers film is definitely worth seeing thanks to its cinematic battles and wittiness. However, the lack of original plot or character depth will prevent the film from ever making its way onto my super hero movie shelf with the Nolan Batman trilogy, latest X-men movies, and the Netflix Daredevil series.