Saturday, 22 April 2017

DMZ Book 5: The Hidden War (#23-28)

"You have not. Made. A. Mistake" - Soames

DMZ is a story of what happens when America is plunged into a second civil war and the two sides come to a halt at Manhattan which has been declared a dmemilitarised zone and both sides observe a ceasefire while the citizens still trapped there after the disasterous evacuation at the start of the war attempt to carry on and survive best they can.  We've been following the story of Matty Roth, a former newbie journalist, he's been embedded in the DMZ for two years making friends and following the big and small stories.  However in this book we step away from him and explore the lives of various DMZ inhabitants, some of whom we have already met, in a series of one-shots called "Decade Later",  "Amina", "Wilson", "Kelly", "Random Fire" and "Soames".  Brian Wood is still the writer but there are a few different artists working here, regular artist Riccardo Burchielli is joined by Danuel Zezeuj and Nathan Fox.  So without further ado let's explore The Hidden War.

DECADE LATER: We start with a grafitti artist known as "Decade Later", or Decade for short with a friend in the DMZ running and avoiding fire to collect a box full of spray paints.  "Before you ask, yeah, it was worth the risk" he thinks. as he sprays the number ten in a circle and arrow.
Decade Later makes his mark.
We then flashback to the start of the war, he is being beaten up by one of the neighbourhood militia for being a "fucking fag artist".  He thinks that he grew up with them and they havn't realised how "stupid and pointless all this is".

Decade: "Whatever happens, even if it's full-on war, the city will still be there when it's over.  You can't kill a city...I don't want to die. I'm not finished yet".

We then flashback to "way before the war".  A young Decade, not known by that handle yet is discussing the train times and the fact he has a plan for them.

He and a fellow artist spray some art, Decade's friend wants to know why he only sprays messages not art.  Decade says he wants people to look out of the window and be affected by his messages on the subconcious level.   He wants to leave behind "some kind of knowledge".  It's not about claiming territory, he wants his messages to make sense in the future.  His friend says he needs a tag, Decade says he'll work on it.

We then return to the present, Decade has painted another message and then goes and attends a "War party".  A group of people have gathered on a rooftop and are boozing away.  A woman says to Decade that she is lucky to be in his presence.  Her older brother worshipped him, "you're one of the few working artists from the old school".  Decade says sometimes he feels like a jackass doing what he does, but she says it matters to her.

Then she exposes a breast and asks for his autograph.  He signs it and they kiss, and she asks him "you got something else to do right now that's as fun as this?"  While they kiss he thinks:

Decade: "I've been living tense for so long.  This fucking war's been wearing me down for so long.  The adrenaline doesm't hit me like it should, or the buzz from creating something new... nothing. She's still young enough to get excited about life and she helps me to remember."

Flashback to before the war and he's on the run but gets caught by the cops and beaten. Present day Decade thinks it was life and the risks you took, "in this for life".
Decade works on his masterpiece.
We then see him before the war working on top of the parked up subway trains, he wanted to leave his mark for the future.  In the present he's on bed with the woman he met at the party. He tells her he painted train roofs, it took years.  It was like a puzzle, painting in squares and matching the numbers up, "eventually the big picture comes together".  He didn't just want to paint a mural on one train but on all the trains.

Later he's accosted by the same militia as before, they tell him he should be grateful to them for keeping the neighbourhood safe for him to draw. They tell him he's getting old and might not ever come around to their way of thinking.  One puts a gun to a bored looking Decade's head then suddenly a U.S. army chopper drops a gas grenade on them and he gets picked up by the soldiers as a suspected militia member.  Naked in a cell he thinks:

Decade: "That was it.  I don't have decades anymore.  And I'll never get a chance to finish it. The project.  The big picture".

He's being choppered out of the DMZ, he has a hood over his head. When he is told they are flying over Queens he pleads to have his hood taken off and the soldier grants his request.
His ultimate artpiece.
He looks down and sees all the trains parked up in the trainyard and painted across them, perfectly lined up, in huge letters is the word "MINE". Decade smiles and thinks to himself, "my decades are over... but this was enough.  Bam".  And that brings his chapter to an end.

AMINA:  Amina is a returning character from Book 3, groomed to be a suicide bomber, Matty saved her but left her bereft of purpose and living aimlessly on the streets. We join her wearing ragged clothes and no shoes in a high rise apartment where a similarly attired woman called Tina with a baby asks "did you get it?"  She says "something happened."
Amina and the King of Soundview.
As she picks glass out of her feet she thinks about how she is going to go back out and do something for the "King of Soundview".  While she was out looking for food the King and his goons confronted her saying he'd never seen her round there before.  He tells her he wants "runners" and if she works she'll eat. Left with no choice she will work for him.

Amina: "The war was miles away.  But living here was no less a battleground.  They fight with fear and intimidation.  The targets are your self-respect, identity and safety.  And they make you complicit, right off the bat.  That's the leverage.  I witness this guy take a life, and he's gotta put me hip deep in his shit".

She's told to take something to a man and he'll give her something in return to be brought back to the King. He tells her "eyes on the door numbers.  Not in the bag, right?"

She thinks back to when she slept with Matty, he told her the only rules she needs to follow are the ones she sets herself.  With one life to live, the "question is how you choose to live it". He told her her destiny was hers to control, "blah blah blah" she thinks bitterly.  He talked for hours like it was all so easy, "like he wasn't every bit as trapped by it as I was".

She disobeys King's orders and looks in the bag to find many bundles of cash.   She is briefly paralysed by her thoughts.  Why her?  Does King want her dead? What's in room 178?  Who's Len?  Is this a test?  Is it all of the above?  Should she take the money and she and Tina buy their way downtown, "grow vegetables on our roof and turn fashionable? See Matty Roth's face everywhere I look?"

Amina: "If it's not the King, it'll be just another man I'm paying protection dues to. Who might decide that, yeah, maybe I'm clean enough. Pure enough.  Or naive enough.  Or maybe not worth enough of anything at all."

She runs to where Tina and the baby is and hands her some of the cash, telling her to take it and hide it.  She won't be coming back, forget her face, forget she existed, "it'll make the lie easier."

She leaves and carries on to where she's been told to go, as she walks she thinks how the DMZ is a great leveller of people, no one cares what colour you are there.  She thinks back to when she was a kid and after the towers fell, "you were your colour... and whatever baggage that came along with it".   She remembers how no one would sit next to her on the subway once travel in New York started up again and she was worried that "any second I must drop dead."
One of many unhappy memories for Amina.
After the war started, the enemy was mostly white and spoke English even class distinctions seemed silly when they were all picking through rubbish for food.  Her and her friends formed communities uptown away from the hot zones. The war was mainly in the south and they avoided bombs coming down on them while they slept.  She remembers when she was about to set off the bomb strapped to her and how Matty stopped her.  Then she remembers seeing Matty kissing Kelly and how used she felt.

Back in the present, she arrives at room 178.  But her contact Len is dead.  A man, Danzinger from Book 3, is waiting there for her who seems to know her, although she doesn't know who he is.  He checks the bag of money and says "Barbaro's really making something of himself since he went A.W.O.L". She asks if he means The King and he tells her yes, the man is a "twisted, degenerate fuck" who was a member of the Free States Army up until a few weeks ago.

Apparently Barbaro saw more opportunities as a wannabe ghetto player who sends waifs to run his errands.  He doesn't know what the money was for, Len had nothing of value on him. He hands Amina a gun, to shoot the King with.  Danzinger was planning to do it, but if he's expecting Amina to come back she may was well do it, "you better not fucking miss."
Danzinger gives Amina her orders.
He tells her it has three bullets but if she tried to shoot him she wouldn't have the ammo to fight her way past the people Danzinger came in with.  "Welcome to the shit Amina" he says, "the war's just come to the Bronx".  Amina can only think she's "complicit.  Hip deep. Expendable enough" and that brings her chapter to an end.

WILSON: Wilson is another familiar character.  An aged Chinese-American mob boss who is good friends with Matty and has provided a useful sounding board for him in prior volumes. It's pouring with rain as Wilson and one of his "grandsons" go and meet with a woman called Sheila Chang who has a baby boy with her, Wilson's son.

She asks for help, but Wilson says they had an agreement, if he helps her he has to help everyone.  He gives them his card and tells her to call him when the boy is twelve, "I can use him then".  He has people positioned around the buildings to watch her and the man who told him about her and the child is to keep his mouth shut.
Wilson is inspired.
We flashback to Chinatown before the war.  Wilson thinks how he was a low level Triad who peaked a decade earlier.  He was eating in a restaurant when the war came to Manhattan and he was caught up in a huge bombing.   This inspired him to shoot his superiors as the bombing showed him what real players do.

Wilson: "The audacity.  The manipulation of the media.  The... bluntness of it all.  The fearlessness. I'm not a gangster.  This war is going to be gangster".

We then see him organising the protection of Chinatown as war officially begins.  He has a message for the other inhabitants of the DMZ.  "No rules. No manifestos.  No websites.  Only one message: leave us alone".  They are not part of New York, no one fights in their name, "you don't represent us. And you'll never take us by force.  You can't own us. But try if you want."

We see an incident where he was caught in a bomb blast while out in the open trading some money.  He was wearing a bullet proof vest which caught all the shrapnel.  He stood and showed he was the "great immortal leader." The bomb should have killed him if he hadn't seen it coming, "heh.  Gangster".
Wilson survives another bombing.
Then we see what he was up to on Day 204 when one hundred and ninety-eight peace protestors were massacred by a squad of U.S. army troops.  He was hosting a banquet and refused to get involved.  Summers pass, winters are endured, he gets richer and finally is able to buy a tank.

Wilson: "I'd say it was the American Dream.  But we were never American.  America's boring anyway.  Boring itself to death."

We then see him sitting on a roof bemoaning how bored of the war he's getting.  Then he spots Matty through his binoculars and is curious as to who he is.  Zee is with him and tells him he should steer clear of Chinatown, and to not try and enter unless he's desperate for a bullet between his eyes.

We close this chapter with Wilson alone thinking how the strongest army will win the war, and while the meek might inherit the earth, "when all of this is said and done... I'm gonna own this city".
Wilson makes his plans.
KELLY:  Kelly Connolly is another returning character. She is a journalist who works for the Independent World News network and hooked up romantically with Matty a few times and helped him break the Trustwell scandal detailed in Book 3.  We open with Matty holding her dead body lying in a pool of blood. He has officially identified her corpse for the benefit of the U.S. soldiers who take her remains away.  One of them says to Matty, "Your friend is already long gone... what that is Mr. Roth, is just another corpse on the street".

We flashback to two days earlier.   She is hiding along with a U.S. soldier while under fire by snipers as they work their way through "the corridor of death".  As we see her out in the field we get Matty's thoughts on her, that she was fearless but not reckless.  She thought out everything first, potential risks explored and assessed.
Kelly Connolly and Matty.
We see her and Matty sleeping together, he thinks "if she was using me I preferred not to know.  Or even think about it, to be honest.  And I shouldn't have even cared if she was.  But I did care".  Back in the field she is taking photos of U.S. army soldiers, then she hears a kid crying.  She takes a photo of him them turns and walks away from him without a word, much to the disgust of the soldiers with her.

Matty narrates that she won an award with that photo and also caught a lot of shit about it to the extent she thought it was the worst mistake of her life.

Matty: "I'm not sure she would have ever forgiven herself for leaving the child there.  But all that came later.  In that moment, she was just doing her job".

She later asks Matty is she is a horrible person?  When he says no, she says "wrong answer" and tells him to "come back tomorrow. Or next week, next month, next year. Whatever".
Objectivity taken too far?
Back in the present, Kelly and the soldiers come under fire from a helicopter, one of the soldiers has his limbs blown off.  But oddly Kelly drops her press badge and camera and walks out into the open.  We don't see her final moment of death but that's when she died.

Flashback to when she came to see Matty at Jamal's camp after breaking the Trustwell story with him.  She and Zee discuss Matty having slept with Amina.

Kelly: "People need to find their intimacies when and where they can, Zee, especially in a place like this.  People are here one day and then they're not.  It's all too uncertain and fleeting to be stubborn.  You just end up sabotaging yourself that way".

Zee is dubious, but Kelly says she believes that completely.  Matty tries talking to her and tells him they don't need each other anymore and walks away.  Matty thinks how he couldn't find the words to say to her it had stopped being about need for him a long time ago.
Kelly commits suicide.
Back in the present, Matty is informed of her death by a co-worker at IWN. She had specific instructions on what was to be done with her after her death.  He tries not to think about why she was so sure she'd die in the DMZ.  Her body is put on a small boat and Matty fires a flare gun into it setting the boat and her body ablaze in a Viking funeral.  The dead is sent onto their journey to the next life, "we live in a world of fire and death and funerals.  But Kelly made us feel alive". End of chapter.

RANDOM FIRE: A new character this time, a club kid called Random Fire, or R.F. for short.  He wakes from a nightmare and as he gets ready for the night he is told it's calm and clear out and his flatmate wishes him good luck.  He runs through the nighttime streets and finds a hatch which leads to an underground nightclub.  Unfortunately he won't be Deejaying tonight as he's been bumped for a celebrity DJ called Grendel who is from Tokyo.
Club kid Random Fire.
He sulks at a table and when a woman comes up to him and asks him what's the matter he says "fuck Grendel". She says he should be careful what he says, Grendel's security is all over the club, that's why there is more white faces than usual, they're Trustwell people.  She recognises them because she used to be Trustwell herself, although she wasn't involved in anything to do with the scandal exposed in book 3.

R.F. asks why she's telling him this and she whispers that she needs a pissed off person to help her tonight.  Trustwell security do one thing and that's maintain the status quo.  R.F. says they keep the lid on "just enough to keep us all jumpy so we'll want you around still".

She says he's right, but she's ex-Trustwell as they purged all the native New Yorkers from the workforce before the reconstruction began, "they didn't want no one getting emotional on the job while they tore the city apart".  But now she needs R.F's help.  She says ask why Grendel is coming here now, when he has that answer add Trustwell to the equation and "hit enter.  See what the answer is."
Random Fire and Ingrid.
So he looks around and finds out Grendel is doing a live webcast worldwide, with a quickly released official bootleg.  "Live from the DMZ.  Webcast.  Promotions.  Album release. Bonus tracks.  Does he not get that people die here?"  He spins because it makes him feel good, the club is an escape from the horror above.  It never crossed his mind to get paid, "this is my family". 

R.F: "But at that moment I felt completely disconected from the rest of the world.  What do that think is going on in this city?  Do they think about it?  Does anyone care?  Do we even make the news anymore?  Or will our struggle be summed up in a tag line on the cover of a CD somewhere?"

He returns to the woman and tells her he's angry and ready to "kill some motherfuckers". She introduces herself as Ingrid, she's seen him spin before and likes him.  She's here to save the club, show respect to the city and screw over her former employers.  R.F. says he's with her, before realising "wait... save the club?"

She tells him that the plan Trustwell have is to attack the club while Grendel is performing live, and having him escape would make him even hotter than he is now.  Outside Trustwell are gathering while Grendel says how cool it all is.  They go to plant something in the bathroom but Ingrid is there pretending to be clueless, catching them off guard she disables them and taks their guns.

R.F. goes up to meet Grendel who hugs him and whispers to him, "I need this, please... please just let me have this".  He asks R.F. to introduce him and R.F. takes to the mike and yells for everyone to get out.  People won't move and tell him to "shut the hell up!  Turn the music back on!"  He pleads with them, and then Ingrid fires on the Trustwell security. 
Ingrid dies taking out Trustwell.
Everyone starts to clear out and a Trustwell security member holds a gun to R.F's head.  But someone holds a gun to his head and tells R.F to get losts.  With the club empty of patrons, a mortally injured Trustwell soldier detonates a grenade.  R.F. turns to see the blast and thinks how he'll remember Ingrid's pride in herself and her city and "fuck anyone who tries to take that away".  End of chapter.

SOAMES:  Our final story is about Soames, who we met in Book 1, an A.W.O.L soldier who has, along with many others, become the ghosts that haunt Central Park. They have covered over the zoo there and created a self sustaining eco-system underthe ground they pulled in over the top.  This is the story of how he came that place.

We start with the revelation that he was a member of the Free States Army, as they have arrived in New Jersey he's been getting an earful of what they believe in.

Soames: "What they believe in is hate. Never been round so many pissed off rednecks in all my life, and that's saying something considering where I come from.  I signed up outta love.  For my country, the land of free men.  Laugh if you want. 'cuz what's not to love".

The Hudson river was full of bodies when they got there, the air was like poison.   The only way was forward, into the belly of the beast.  "But my path was not with these men.  It never was" and we see him jump off the boat he was travelling on and swims to land.  For four days he's unconcious with the disease he picked up from the water and when he wakes up he can't stop vomiting.
Soames escapes via the contaminated river.
He thinks techincally he's a turncoat, but the men back in New Jersey were "ignorant sons of bitches couldn't see past tomorrow". He makes slow progress through the warzone thinking "people live here?" He rises up to take a shot and sees a deer through his scope. A bullet grazes his head and has a vison of masses of deer skeletons which he ends up lying in the middle of.

He wakes up to find a couple of people trying to rob him.  He stands and finds a flyer aimed at Free Staters, with instructions on how to defect to the USA.  "I didn't think I'd need a goddamn ticket to get in" he thinks.

Soames: "What was I even doing?  I felt like I was drifting... not only was I in a land between nations, but that I was in a certain state of being, trapped between life and death".

He is jumped by some militia who asks who he is, "a friend!"  They try and shoot him anyway, but are out of ammo and run away. "Why do I gotta belong to one side or the other?" he thinks. He spots some birds and thinks they have the right idea flying above the mess.  He keeps forging on towards Brooklyn wondering if it'll be any better, he left the Free States to be "rid of ignorants, polluters and murderers".  Will the USA be any different?

He comes face to face with a U.S. army patrol who tell him to lay his weapon on the ground when suddenly a herd of deer come running past, "hahaha beautiful!" says Soames.  The soldiers tell him to come to them, but a joyful Soames says "no thanks! I'm good! I'm staying here" and he turns away and walks with the deer, bringing his chapter and this volume to a close.
Soames is inpired to take a third option.
Moving the focus away from Matty for a while was an excellent idea, although inevitably we get to see how interacting with him changed things for Amina, still trapped in terrible choices and Kelly, a guilt ridden deathseeker who wouldn't let love get in the way of bringing her life to an end on her own terms.  It's also interesting seeing the backstory of various characters and how the war affected them, from Decade finding a way to make his mark in spectacular fashion and Wilson using the giddy atmosphere kicked up by the outbreak of war to kill his superiors and take control of Chinatown where he has made a great success of keeping the place safe for his people despite his somewhat questionable methods.  R.F's story shows Trustwell is still up to no good in the DMZ, resulting in the destruction of a place where people went to avoid that kind of static.  Probably the most touching story to me is Soame's as he realises almost right away he made a mistake joining the FSA and has a spiritual experience with the animals of the DMZ that gave him a firm purpose in life away from either side of the war. Amina's tale is probably the saddest, no matter what she tries to do she can never catch a break and her past with Trustwell catches up with her in the form of Danzingers ultimatum.  Still she has enough kindness left in her to risk her life giving her friend money for a chance at a better life.  As ever the writing is sharp, perceptive and humane and the art superb, Danuel Zezelj's work on Wilson's story which is almost chiascuro-like is especially worthy of praise. We'll be back with Matty again in the next volume in a few days time.


  1. I like these little 'below decks' interludes. It helps with that idea that 'that there's a world outside the window'. That is to say that the story doesn't exist just in the perception of the main protagonist. Things are still going on even when they're not around. Also it fleshes out the bit players. Makes them more than just NPCs or living props.

    I liked the graffiti story. Especially the 'caper' element, when you finally find out what all the cryptic planning was about. I'd be intrigued to try something like that in real life. There's a thing some pilots do now when they're in holding patterns. They fly in a way that the tracking plotter shows a picture. Unsurprisingly cocks are a popular choice. I did find myself having a bit of Chopper nostalgia. Wonder if that's why this particular vignette was my favourite?

    Speaking of which, I really like the artwork because it very much reminds me of Crisis.

    Poor Amina isn't getting much of a break. But real life doesn't always have happy endings so it's a realistically poignant tale.

    I like Wilson. I have a bit of a soft spot for Triads because of certain work experiences. Again he's very authentic. I would have liked maybe to see a Snakehead presence. But perhaps that's diverting from the fundamental theme.

    The disco story for some reason brought to mind both Cabaret and Casablanca. But I'm almost certainly reading too much into that!

    Overall then a nice little breather. The main plot is a bit relentless. Obviously that's a consequence of only showing the interesting stuff thats occurred over the years. Can make one a bit breathless though so it's nice every now and then to take time out and smell the napalm.

  2. You're right about the grafitti episode feeling like Crisis, actually quite a bit of DMZ reminds me of when the strip Third World War when it came home to the UK and started chronicling the dystopia Britain had fallen into.

    I don't think your reading too much about the disco story feeling like Cabaret, it's the same feeling that people are still going to find a way to enjoy themselves no matter how shitty the political situation.

    Now I'm curious as to your dealings with Triads! I like Wilson to. You know I'm a big fan of East Asian cinema so I have a tonne of Triad films, I definitely get where he's coming from.

    And Amina's life still sucks, but I like how we got some follow up with her, showing Matty's influence isn't always to the positive.

    You're right that this works as a nice breather episode. The big story is about to kick into a higher gear from the next volume onwards like you said it's nice to take some time out and find out how various people carry on with their lives in the DMZ.

  3. I don't have any exciting stories about the Triads; it's just that they're so nice to work for. I first encountered them when a colleague asked me to represent one of his regular clients on a drink drive. He was like the nicest bloke ever. Now unusually for drink drive clients he didn't make any excuses. He said he'd been drinking with some friends and took a risk, so entirety his own fault. I told him that in that case he should save himself some cash and just self represent. But he wanted me to. So I let the clerk know it'd be a guilty plea and got on first. I told the court exactly what he'd told me. The bench said it was so refreshing to hear someone take responsibility that they just gave him the minimum possible sentence. Afterwards my chap invited me, and any friends I cared to bring along, out for a meal. I invited my mate who'd referred the case. That's when he told me the guy was head of the London triads, and that they owned all the restaurants. Had a lovely time. Some of my friends did stuff for them in Hong Kong (English barristers have rights of audience there, yey imperialism!). They always got put up in the nicest hotels, got told they could bring any family and at the end of the case, regardless of result, they'd always get a nice present. One of my mates ended up with thus beautiful jade horse. Must have cost a packet. Or been swiped from a museum. But it's that cliché about politeness and charm, and actually helping their communities. Unlike a lot of organised crime types they genuinely live up to the hype. Contrast with the Snakeheads. Theyre hardcore gangsters. Wouldn't even talk to us when we got asked to represent them.

    But Wilson does remind me a lot of people I've encountered. His relationship with Matty is completely believable.

  4. That's a really interesting story, thanks for sharing. As I say I'm only really familiar with the Triads via films but they always struck me as being fairly honourable and friendly towards outsiders and people who don't cross them. The Yakuza always come across as a lot scarier, but that maybe because the Japanese are a lot more ashamed of them than the Chinese are of the Triads and that affects media depictions of them.

    Of course it's not all fun, you probably are aware Jackie Chan got on the wrong side of the Triads early in his career and had to make films in Taiwan for a couple of years until his Triad producer/director Lo Wei sorted things out for him, which is why it took so long for Jackie to get away from him.

    I've never heard of the Snakeheads though. Who are they?

  5. We looked a bit at the 'legitamacy' of organised crime outfits during part of my law degree. Oftentimes they did serve a quasi social role. Especially in communities that were not necessarily represented by the actual authorities. Hence the association a lot of the time with migrant populations who were oppressed in their new countries. Of course there's also a parasitical element. But you could say that paying taxes for the police is to an extent a protection racket. It's all quite complex. Bit like the NATO contribution controversy at the moment.

    But in essence the Triads keep themselves to themselves and only operate within the Chinese community. They keep 'civilians' out of it. Hence they stay off the police radar a lot in this country. Of course as Jackie found out, it's not all plain sailing. But I'm sure Frank Sinatra could tell you a thing or two about the Mafia and showbiz. There was also quite a big paramilitary presence in the Irish music scene. But that's all I'm saying about that. ;-)

    As for Snakeheads. Theyre a rival Chinese organisation. But a lot more obviously criminal. They fill a lot of gaps the Triads prefer to stay away from (although there's sometimes conflict). Their big thing is people trafficking. There's sex trade stuff but their main business model is they charge to smuggle someone into a country. That person then works for the gang until the debt is paid off by the person's family back home. That's why they're quite hard to pin down. The police might raid a house where the trafficked persons are being held. But the people doing the guarding were probably themselves the previous batch of clients/victims. It becomes self operating so it's hard to pin anything on the actual controllers behind the scenes. We used to get assigned to represent people arrested but they were too scared or just generally distrustful to even speak to us. A lot of the times we don't even know their names. So we get to represent "Defendant 8a".

    Yakuza are interesting. Never had any dealings. Presumably they do have a presence here, but they seem to keep a low profile. But they're another group that has a complicated quasi legit role. But Japanese culture is pretty complex. All that zaibatsu business stuff. Note that the Japanese foreign intelligence service is run by their equivalent of the department of trade. Economic stuff is their priority (although MI6 also has a commercial/financial role, so its not unique)

    Hmm, you don't hear about Tongs anymore. Wonder what happened to them?

  6. Fascinating, I learned something new today, I wonder why the Snakeheads haven't had any films made about them. Possibly because they mainly operate outside of China? IDK.

    Japanese culture as a whole is ridiculously complex. I do know a few years back there was a huge scandal about the extent the Yakuza had infiltrated government and there has been a raft of legislation passed against them which set them on the back foot. It even goes as far down as saunas and onsens banning anyone with tattoos, (even westerners) because Yakuza always have loads of tattoos and it's harsh because so much socialising and networking is done via naked bodily steaming in Japan!

    As for Tongs, I always wondered the same thing. I did do some looking into it a ways back and it seemed to be that the functions of Tongs got swallowed up by the Triads round about the turn of the 19th-20th century, but I could be way wrong.

  7. A mate has a bit of his finger missing. He did a lot of work in the far east. He had to have a doctor's note explaining it was from an accident with a plasma cutter to show to customs when he flew out there. And he's a westerner.

    Yeah I wondered that about the Tongs. Although the James Bond novels make reference to them. That's not necessarily the height of authenticity though.

    Saunas are very popular with organised crime because it's really hard for informers to wear a wire. Gang tattoos are quite interesting. The FBI keep a big database on them. Part of their 'tools and marks' division. They're literally the people you ask to identify unusual signs at crime scenes or what implement might have made a particular scratch.

    As for a Snakehead film, you know a lot about eastern culture and fiction. Get writing!

  8. Yeah the missing finger thing especially in Japan is a BIG deal. I watched a show about Japanese culture that had a segment on this plastic surgeon woman who makes replacement fingers for ex-Yakuza to slip on the stumps so they can find jobs and live their daily lives without the stigma of being ex-mob attached to them.

    You know I watch a lot of crime dramas and they often have the tattoo database in them. One thing I found interesting was Russian gang and prison tattoos having very specific meanings. It does seem that outside of the UK and USA tattoos are mostly associated with criminality still, I know my tats symbolise annoying my mum, :D

    I don't think I could write authoritatively on Eastern culture, but I am interested now in seeing if anyone has done and comic or manga on organised crime. I should get my hunting hat on.

  9. I did a quick Wikipedia on Snakeheads. They've appeared in a few works of fiction, including comics, but they're not a popular villain. I wouldn't worry about authority. It's not like even writers from a particular culture get the facts right, otherwise we'd all live in Downton Abbey.

    Tattoos here can have criminal meanings. You've probably seen 'borstal dots' and not realised. There's also the teardrops and swallows ones. Does seem a bit daft though advertising your criminal affiliations. That's why I always wear tweed and a cravat when I'm on my way back from a post office robbery.

    Russian tattoo culture is a bit fascinating. One of my training mates has a spetsnaz background. Unlike western special forces who are not allowed unit tattoos for obvious reasons, the Russian army is quite big on them. And they all have special meanings. It's like a masonic thing. But real spetsnaz is a sub culture of its own. It's all tied up with Russian Orthodox Church and weird mysticism. It's funny, spetsnaz have a justified rep for being really hardcore but their casual uniform s really camp. Looks like Jean Paul Gautier designed it!

  10. See here for example:

  11. Well I live in the cellar of one of Macclesfield's workers garrets. That's sort of historic right?

    I remember when I got my first tattoo back in 1998, my mum snapped at me "well at least I'll be able to identify you body when they pull it out of a canal". She's hilarious, a real sixties hippy liberal but has a real hate on for tats and body piercings. Hopefully I haven't accidentally tattooed myself with one that symbolises mass murder, like those people who get Chinese sayings that actually read "I'm a dumb white person" and not something spiritually uplifting.

    All I know about spetsnatz is I had that I had to fight a lot of them in the N64 videogame "Goldeneye 007".

  12. I think the preferred term is "garden flat". Cellar sounds like you've been locked down there and they feed you on raw fish heads, like that episode of the Simpsons!

    Yeah, a mate got a tattoo in Japan if what was meant to be his name. Years later a Japanese guy pointed out that whilst it was phonetically correct (it was pronounced like his name) it actually was a type of food. Like having 'boiled asparagus' on his arm. An arty friend did a nice cover up though (notwithstanding us asking the Japanese guy what the symbol for 'wanker' was).

    Our mums would get on. After the Tube bombings my mum's only concern was that I get a 'nice' up to date photo that she could give to the news if I ever got blown up.

    Spetsnaz are pretty cool. A lot of them work in private security now. And of course the Russian Mafia makes good use of them. The general Russian army has a poor rep, but the spetsnaz guys are a genuine elite. Very much on a par with the SAS or SEALs. I suspect in real life a single MI6 agent would be well stuffed.

  13. I like to say I'm a fine wine, covered in dust and lives in a cellar. Although actually it's not like a normal cellar, the house is like a Escher drawing, somehow it has two floors at the front and three floors at the back. So I have a nice door that opens onto the yard rather than having to negotiate steps.

    You know if I found out I had got the name of a type of sushi or something tattooed on me rather than some Buddhist koan I'd tell people all about it, but I'm easily amused like that. Japanese the langauge doesn't really have a concept of profanity, the closest they get is the word "kuso" which literally means "excremant" and is translated to be as mild as "damn" or as rude as "fuck" depending on the context. Now Cantonese, apparently that is a very salty language, I think more than a few clueless tourists have had tattoos that have got them chucked out of a Chinese restaurant back home.

    Sounds like the real Spetsnaz are like playing that bloody game on the highest difficulty level when about two bullets sent poor James spinning to the floor. Games were very unforgiving 20 (!) years ago.

  14. You do make me laugh. I like the idea that you live in an alien geometry. Suits you.

    Yeah, apparently they don't have a word for wanker. Which makes that Vapours song ironic.

    The coolest thing I've seen from spetsnaz training is a thing where they reload their rifles whilst firing a pistol. I'm surprised they even need two shots to take out Bond. They also have weird spring loaded knives. There's a button on the hilt that makes the blade fly out. Of course, being a Fairbairn-Sykes fanboy I still prefer our own classic Commando knife. Ironically I have a knife from Knowell, the company that first produced that knife, but it's a copy of the US Ka-bar that they make for the Israelis. Bit more practical for camping as we rarely encounter sentries.

  15. I like to think that makes me like one of HP Lovecraft's protagonists, only I was driven terrifyingly sane instead.

    You know the magazine of Asian Culture I buy called "Neo" has the tagline, "Turning Japanese" on the cover. I did try and point out what that meant, but they shut the forum down a couple of weeks later, ah well. Amuses me anyway.

    I am still dealing with my mental revelation that it's been 20 years since I played Goldeneye 007 so obsessively. If I recall rightly they were somewhat let down by their crappy Soviet era rifles. Whereas Bond James Bond had watch lasers and best of all, the silenced Walther PPK. I say best of all because literally the only way you could make it through most levels without setting off alarms that send waves of infinite pissed off spetsnaz at you was stealth.

  16. I'd like the idea of a Lovecraft protagonist who was totally unphased by all the eldritch horrors. Watched Dog Soldiers again the other night and I love how Spoon just accepts everything instantly.

    "Werewolves? Yeah makes sense to me."

    "You're fucking loving this aren't you?"

    Be cool to see a story where someone meets some tentacles abomination and then just goes "Alright Barry? How's the wife and kids?"

    Have we ever chatted about the man in the high castle? That's the alternative history thing where Japan won the war. It's interesting that the Japanese people in that are obsessed with western pop culture. Must have seemed far fetched when it was written, but now...

    Can't believe goldeneye is that old. For me though everything since 1993 is 'now'.

    In related news malitia inspired me to read up more on that red room thing. Didn't realise there were tons of black widows. Obviously I approve though. I think I've finally found my true calling. Just need to set up a deal with a catsuit manufacturer.

  17. I think I've watched enough horror movies and played enough horror games that if Nyarthalotep put in an appearance in my flat I'd offer it a cup of tea. Also Dog Soldiers is an ace film and one I'm gonna rewatch as soon as I get to the bottom of my not-yet-watched pile.

    I actually don't know much about The Man In The High Castle, it sounds like I need to rectify that. The cultural back and forth between western and Japanese culture is very interesting. I'm currently playing yet another Resident Evil game, a series that is both a western style horror yet also very Japanese is ways I can't easily articulate.

    Malitia really knows so much about Marvel, I know I can Google stuff but I don't want to inadvertently spoil future storylines for myself, so Malitia's extra info is always gratefully received.

  18. I think you and nyarthalotep might work as a sitcom, especially if you also fight crime.

    Japanese western relations are interesting. They're perhaps older than we think. My heroine Edith Garrud set up her dojo because of her connections with Japanese martial artists. Prior to WW2 there was a lot of cross cultural stuff with the US, especially in regards to the military. During the war itself officers on both sides had often trained together. One bit of fallout from that concerns a guy called Billy Mitchell. He was a US Navy officer. He was however a pioneer in aviation. He wrote lots of papers saying the navy should develop jet fighters and fly them from specially adapted ships. Obviously his whacky ideas were laughed out of hand. He also argued aircraft could sink ships. Eventually he was allowed to experiment on an old decommissioned battleship. He did indeed successfully sink it. The navy though considered it a fluke and stated that only battleships could sink ships. He had however invited a delegation from the Japanese navy. They were very interested and asked him lots of further questions about how one might launch a carrier borne air assault against an enemy fleet.

    That's not the weirdest part. He actually drew up a plan showing how pearl harbour could be attacked. But again no one to him seriously. The actual assault was almost identical to the plan but for a half hour difference in the time of the attack.

    Mitchell was actually court martialed for criticising the naval brass for not listening to his warnings (this was prior to the attack). He was subsequently pardoned by Bill Clinton.

    To tie our themes together, have you seen the wind that blows? That's my second fave anime after spirited away. Aerynn reckons I'd like howls moving castle though, so I must catch that someday.

  19. Oh, do you know of Gisele Lagace Btw?

  20. As apparently "kanji" tattoos came up in this conversation I think it's my duty to link this blog:

    (I like writing systems very very much. ^^;)

  21. I don't know about Gisele Lagace. Also that poor guy in the US military, he gets it right and gets a court martialling for his efforts and dones't get pardoned for ages. What is it they say about prophets?

    Malitia: Oh that blog is great, thank you SO much. I shall add it to my bloggu roll when I do my next update :)

  22. Malitia: had some time to have a really good read of the blog and it's given me some genuine LOLs. For some reason the poor person with the tattoo that actually reads "Toilet Demon" had me giggling for a good few minutes and the post on the "Gibberish Asian Font" was very enlightening.

    Now my local tattooist's has a Chinese man working there so I'd generally trust them not to write crap on me, but if I was going to have an East Asian tattoo it would be in South Korean, because that's how I roll. Quick I need to somehow make friends with a South Korean who won't trolololol me when I go to them for advice.