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The Full Lid
26th June 2020

Hello everyone, welcome to the end of the month and The Lid That Is Full!

This, my friends, is your weekly chunk of pop culture enthusiasm, career notes, reviews and anything else that I've enjoyed this week. Like a chain letter but without the terrifying implications of supernatural vengeance. So yay!

You'll also find interstitial sections between the bigger stories. This week, its a series of posters by Sebastian B (@lil_nan), a fantastic fan artists, re-imagining the posters for contemporary classics of horror and YA. You can, and should, find Z on Instagram and Patreon here.
 

Editor's note: This week has been A Lot in the genre space and has impacted the normal amount of time and attention available for editing TFL. Please forgive any over-sites that may have slipped past.


So, that's the plan. Let's open the lid.
 

Contents

Beneath the Rising
Shadow Service
My Expendables Fever Dream
The Department of Esoteric Sonic Goods?!
Signal Boost
Signing Off / Playing Out

Beneath The Rising


The planes missed the towers on 9/11. HIV and Alzheimer's can be cured. Johnny is a teenage genius who has changed the world. Her best friend Nick stacks shelves and falls asleep on the sofa.

Welcome to Beneath the Rising. Something is coming.

There are three books happening at once here, a fictional harmony that only builds as Mohamed raises the stakes, the jokes and the horror. They accomplish narratives I've never seen before, and they do it very well.

The first is straightforward: a riff on cosmic horror which, by my lights, stays more faithful to the core concepts and jettisons all the toxic waste surrounding HPL. Horror's Massively Racist Asshole Grandpa gets a namecheck but it's all he gets, just one part of a bigger picture that encompasses ancient myth, quantum theory and the exact sort of secret academic societies that meant I stayed up late watching every episode of Poltergeist: The Legacy when I was younger. Mohamed measures each step of the apocalypse with one part science and one part horror, using the struggle between them as a means of ratcheting tension and highlighting character.

Here we see horror used the best way, in service to character and to draw us in deeper. So much so that Mohamed uses several sections where a character's viewpoint is curdled to put us on the wrong side of the street right along with them. Her ancient deities are insidious, crafty, ambush predators, not the monolithic one-note-atrocities mythos fiction is often buried under. These monsters know where you live. They know how you think. And they know how to hack that.

The second story is the exact sort of double act I will always cross the street for. Johnny is an erratic genius taken to the Nth degree, a brilliant young woman painfully aware of both what she can't -- and must -- do, handcuffed to the controls of her brainship and still grinning like it's the best rollercoaster in the world. She is an incredible character, monstrous one second, heroic the next. The Doctor would approve. And probably be a little intimidated. Johnny's genius is nuclear in power and quantum in focus, she really can fix anything given the chance. Much of the book is about what happens when that chance begins to slip away.

But it's Nick who you'll remember. Indo-Guyanese Canadian, Nick is always painfully aware he's the wrong color, the wrong size and standing just to the right of genius. He cares for his extended family, reminds Johnny when to eat every now and then and has absolutely no idea how he feels about her. Or rather, he does and the awful certainty of those feelings drive the final third of the book. Nick is a good man in a bad place, whose best friend is both far more and far less than he wishes she could be. He's our handle on the world and a more instantly liable one I have yet to meet. Laconic, good-natured and painfully aware of what's happening, Nick is the sort of person you want by your side when the world's ending even if he's not entirely sure he wants to be there himself. Nick would have cocktails with Voltron's Hunk and The Magnus Archive's Martin Blackwood.

But it's the third story here that hits me where I live. Nick and Johnny, we find out, bonded over a horrific event in their shared childhoods. They carry literal and figurative scars from it, and their coping strategies define who they are and how they move through the world. Their resulting near co-dependency becomes a focus of the books' final act in a way I didn't see coming, and which lands with startling emotional weight.

Underneath the fantastic jokes, the superb world-building, and the mounting sense of doom, these two kids are painfully aware they're just that: two kids. Versus the end of the world. It's neither fair nor right, but it's all they have. So off they go. Bravery and terror, cowardice and hatred, love and determination, all coming to a head at the end of the world.

Beneath the Rising is a burly longform debut from an author who is clearly just getting warmed up. The sequel has just been announced and I'm first in line. Because if the world is ending again? There's no better company to be in.

Beneath the Rising is available now. A Broken Darkness will be released in March 2021.
You can, and should, follow Premee on Twitter here.

Ari Aster's exuberantly terrifying Hereditary is a descent into very personal and very actual hells. It's deliberately and broad-spectrum troubling, but if you can stomach it there's a lot to think about. All of which is elegantly coded in here. The treehouse with its awful, awful light. The nesting metaphor, the ambiguity... All of it in the movie and all of it very much here.

Shadow Service

 

Editor's note: spoilers


John Constantine owes Gina Meyers fifty quid. You can tell -- from the moment you meet her in the opening pages of Cavan Scott's gloriously rain-slicked new comic series -- that London's favorite mage is in over his head again and Gina's pulled him out. A witch turned PI, Gina is a walking collection of bad childhood memories and Words of Power in a good jacket, smart shoes and a bag big enough to hold a nail gun. Down these mean streets, a lonely witch must walk and you better stay the fuck out of her way, sunshine.

This is FUN.

Scott's script has that neat combination all good crime stories do of equal parts freeform action and rigid deductive thinking. The best moments here are Gina using her abilities to do her job, including the nailgun in a creatively nasty moment that's still making me smile. She's tired, thoroughly pissed off and out of her depth. But she's also neither an an idiot nor a victim. Gina fights her own demons every time she faces someone else's and you can't help but root for her as a result.

Plus, nailgun.

And Edwin. This is Edwin.
You remember that Archimedes quote? 'Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world'?

Give me a smartarse rat familiar and the sense of something moving under the surface of London and I'm all the way there. Scott's script does all this and more, cleverly introducing Gina, her world, the price she pays, and what she doesn't know, delivering them into a premise-upending final scene. So much so in fact that the one note that played as slightly tropey and annoying to me becomes a feature I want to know more about instead of a bug I can't stand inside.

All of this is, as is always the case with comics, a team sport. Corin M. Howell is a co-creator along with Scott and captures the streets of London and the many different body shapes of its inhabitants brilliantly. Triona Farrell's colours are excellent too, giving the book a sense of place even as the locations shift. Finally, Andworld Design's letters handle everything from Words of Power to rat jokes with the same aplomb, all wrapped up in top notch design work from Tim Daniel.

Clever, funny, horrific, assured and just getting started, Shadow Service debuts on 19th August. Final Order Cutoff is the 27th of July so between then and now go to your local comic shop (which you can find here) and place an order for it. Gina will thank you. Odds are, so will John Constantine. He just needs a bit more time to get the money together...

Aster's second big release is an exercise in barely contained panic and sustained, escalating horror. Florence Pugh does astonishing work and the visual design of the movie is a puzzle that you can't help but de-code even as you know it'll lead somewhere awful. Like Hereditary, it's hard to love and easy to respect, and equally impossible to look away. I especially love how Z's taken the portal from the movie and mixed it with the ending, balancing the rebirth myth at the movie's core with the bloody, temporarily cathartic reality of it's finale.
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My Expendables Fever Dream


Earlier this month I rewatched the flexiest movie trilogy to ever skip leg day. The Expendables starts Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, and Randy Couture as exciting drawings of themselves made by teenage boys. They're an elite mercenary unit dropped into impossible jobs to get the job done, knowing full well that not all of them may make it out.

SPOILER: Like 1.5 team members die in the entire trilogy.

Anyway, Stallone plays Barney, team leader and pilot. Statham plays Lee Christmas, the Coach Z to his Strong Bad ('I'm a blade maaaaan!') and also clearly the love of his life. Dolph Lundgren plays Gunnar Hansen, a substance abusing giant who is briefly evil, is sort of shot and killed and gets better. Terry Crews plays Hale Caesar (Hold), the team's heavy weapons specialist. Jet Li plays Ying Yang (HOLD) the team's infiltration and close combat specialist. Randy Couture plays Toll Road (NOW!), the team's Randy Couture.

Eric Roberts, Jean Claude Van Damme and Mel Gibson play basically the same villain every time, patiently waiting for Barney to very VERY kill them and then run away from something as it explodes. Also there are occasionally women! Only two of which make it clear the only thing stopping them from jumping Barney is the worry he'd sprain something and one of whom is Charisma Carpenter, visibly astonished at being given even less to do than she was in her last season on Angel.

As a franchise they are the living definition of here for a good time, not a long time. Stitched across the three there's a decent amount of an interesting action franchise briefly surfacing, gasping for air and screaming for help before someone decides that maybe there should be another montage. They've been successful enough to spawn a trapped-in-development hell all-woman spin of called The Expendabelles (because of course it is), a fourth movie which will be Terry Crews-less because the producer doesn't believe being groped is a big deal and The Expendables: A Christmas Story in which I choose to believe Lee Christmas will return to Albert Square to help out his old mum and deliver the single most terrifying Christmas dinner in human history.

But the Expendables are in trouble. Big, franchise ending trouble. The aforementioned Avi Lerner issue means Terry Crews, one of the two emergency charisma life jackets in the cast, is not returning. The Expendabelles began as an-all female kickass specops team and eventually turned into '...but when does Rebel Wilson do the bikini show which is hilarious because she's large and all large people are funny?' nonsense. Here are the receipts. The terrible, terrible receipts. Only A Christmas Story looks set to go ahead and is penciled in to shoot this year. Which, it being 2020, means next year. Probably. Maybe?

So have the Expendables flown their last ageing plane into their last uranium mine? Has Arnie delivered his last painful cameo? Will Nicholas Cage be denied the chance to play Hunter Grimlenson, his rumoured character?

THE ANSWER TO ALL THESE QUESTIONS IS NO! BECAUSE I AM HERE TO SAVE THE DAY!
So here's what you do. You have the standard set up for an Expendables movie. Han Solo is angry at them! They need to infiltrate a tiny country that's somehow both Cuba and Russian simultaneously! There is banter and the murder of COUNTLESS extras! They're ex-filtrating as fast as their manly chests will carry them, Barney and Lee bickering like the old married couple they aren't quite. 

Anyway they get to the choppa and... it blows up. Out of nowhere, a masked team of operators pin them down. They're fast, they're mean, they're brutal. They're... oddly familiar...

Pinned down, outgunned, the Expendables are in trouble until the gunfire stops and a voice echoes across the battlefield.

'Step forward, Barney.'

He is met by his counterpart: same height, the same build. They stare each other down as the voice begins talking about what it feels like to die and be reborn.

'I want that for you, Barney. I want that for all of you.'

The masked soldier in front of Barney takes his mask off and...

Barney reacts in horror and before he can move, he's shot in the chest, catapulted backwards by the velocity of the round. We see him scream, gasp for breath and die.

Roll opening credits.

SIX MONTHS LATER


The newbies from Expendables 3 lead a raid to rescue the team. They've got Wesley Snipes' Doc with them, Ronda Rousey's acting has really improved. It's a good time! We even learn that Barney, while clinically dead, was healed by their mysterious captors. But he still won't talk about what he saw.

Anyway, there's lots of opportunity for hilarious japery involving Hale and Lee having hair and the grey in everyone's beards and OH HAHAHAHA THE PASSAGE OF LINEAR TIME AND ENTROPY HAHAHAHA and so on.

On the way out, the rookies explain the team have been active the whole time. Their plane, their rep, everything has been taken by the squad that brought them down. The Expendables, now, are a masked force of evil, working for the highest bidder and doing the exact opposite of the work they're best known for. Tool's in jail and has faked turning states evidence to distract Mr. Church and Mr. Drummer from their manhunt. 

The Expendables, it seems, are officially Expendable.

Just as this is explained they're attacked. The newbies stay behind to buy the original team some time and we see them in the worst spot as we leave. Barney looks super, SUPER sad.

In a freighter (perhaps the one we see them liberate way back in the first movie, continuity!) the team regroup and demand answers. Barney has refused to talk about the men in the masks but now they have nothing BUT time. 

Barney tells them the awful truth.: the masked man is Joseph Ross, his brother. The other founder of the Expendables, left for dead on their first mission. Barney Ross, the man who leaves no man behind, left him behind.

The team are stunned. Lee is murderously angry but aware this is a family thing. Through Stathamically gritted teeth he asks what they're going to do.

Barney stares into the middle distance for a long, long time. Then he says.

'Get me a phone.'

SMASH CUT


To The Hague (continuity!), where Angela Bassett, playing Mallory Ross, ace attorney, is conducting a war crime tribunal. The phone rings, the one with a skull on the case, the phone that hasn't rung in years. She's rattled but she's a pro. Finishes the hearing, takes the call:

'What do you need, Barnabas?'
'...help.'

She closes her eyes, complicated emotions across her face.

In short order, we that Barney founded the Expendables with his brother Joseph, best friend Conrad Stonebanks and his then wife, Mallory Ross. Mallory, a WestPoint grad unable to rise past Captain due to endemic sexism shifted to JAG and left Barney, disgusted at the dark road he was heading down. But she did her fair share of field operations and still has the contacts.

The plan is simple: assemble a team, rearm the original Expendables and clear their names. 

Also kill a bunch of extras obvs.

Mallory assembles an elite force including:
  • Rhianna as Rhianna. Okay, okay, we can give her a character. Cora Parker, cyber warfare specialist who has a cousin in New York who knows the Ocean family...
  • Jessica Henwick as Rebecca Hamm, deep range scout and survival expert.
  • Indie wrestler Viper as Moira 'Megaton' Kinney, close quarters combat specialist and metalhead.
  • Cleopatra Coleman as Ox, softly spoken transport specialist. The Ox stands for 'Nitrous Oxide'...

Barney's team are picked up and the two groups bond. Mallory is clearly impressed by how well Barney works with younger people after the events of the last movie (continuity!) and warms to her ex's plight. She explains that she's been building intel on the impostors, never believed they were really Barney and Co, and has worked out where they're next going to hit: the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet. They're going after an eclipse vault hidden on one of the ships, a treasure trove of... well... treasure the CIA use to fund their awful work.

Barney and Mallory lead their teams into battle and clash with the Expendevils (this series has a character called Toll Road. LET ME HAVE THIS.). They discover the awful truth; the 'new' Expendables?

ARE PLAYED BY THE TEAM'S STUNT DOUBLES!

I AM BECOME META, DESTROYER OF WORLDS!

The Evil team get the dead drop, and while it's close this time the CIA show up and attack the wrong team. Which is better than funding a fascist regime but not by much.

There's a montage of sad country rock as our characters lick their wounds. Expendable? No. Outclassed? Definitely. 

Then, Cora comes through. The dead drop contained details of a holdout nuke in London, one constructed by the US embassy in the event of World War III (it was widely believed this happened in Washington during the Cold War. Seriously.), now scheduled for demolition. If Joseph gets his hands on it, he can blow the city into atoms and blame it on the US, killing millions and shattering the Western World forever.

They're outgunned. Outmanned. Outnumbered. Outplanned.

But they're the Expendables. They saddle up.
One last time.
Again. 

There's an ENORMOUS three way fight in London! The CIA arrive, having rescued the rookies! Trench arrives! Everyone who's ever been in one of these movies and doesn't die arrives! Angela Bassett fights someone on top of an exploding cable car! Someone makes a fat gag and Hale and Moira both put him through the ground! Barney and his brother hit each other a LOT!

Then the demolition charges go off! The 02 is coming down around their ears and Trench and the CIA help evacuate the building. Mallory waits at the door, watches as Barney and Joseph turn and run. The floor collapses and Joseph falls. Barney grabs him and his brother looks up and yells

'WHY?!'

and Stallone does that one piece of acting he does a decade and says 'Because no one's expendable.' And then we see Lee hanging onto Barney, Mallory hanging onto Lee and all the others human chaining out the door to get the big lumps of meat clear before it comes down and-

We cut to black.

 

SIX MONTHS LATER


We see Mallory fixing Barney's tie, clearly at a beach wedding. He smiles and thanks her for everything. She chuckles, replies 'Damn right.' and then...

We realise she's giving him away.

They walk down the aisle, the guest list filled out by literally everyone who hasn't been killed in these movies. The camera lingers until, at the last second, it pans up and waiting on the altar is...

Lee Christmas.

Barney smiles, takes his lucky ring off. 'Knew I was saving this for a reason.' Hands it to Lee. Everyone cheers, everyone cries. There is absolutely kissing. There's not really a ceremony but this is a franchise where Barney lands a plane in a uranium mine and none of them are even dented. Just go with it. 

At the reception, Mr and Mr Christmas are asked what their plans are. They announce that the Expendables are expanding into a worldwide organisation and that each of the original team will be a bureau chief. The US office, run by Hale, will field Mallory's unit as its primary squad along with the newbies.

As for them? They're going on honeymoon. if they can just work out which one gets to fly...

The final camera pan is of an ageing seaplane with JUST MARRIED shot into the side. It flies off into the sunset, and then we get fifteen Expendabelles movies before Barney and Lee cameo along with the entire xXx cast, John Wick, Everly and every version of Nikita in Fast and Furious 10. In space.
 

THE END


Robert Eggers' second movie is an exercise in style, tension and the destruction of boundaries that occur in isolation. Also Willem Dafoe may or may not be playing Poseidon. It's a deeply strange, incredibly affecting / affected movie driven by two absolute powerhouse performances and some astonishing photography. I love how Z's captured the otherworldly elements here, the relentless waves, the agony of Pattinson's Thomas Howard and the endless, beautiful, terrifying siren light.

Signal Boost

 

Editor's note: apologies for the jumble sale this week.

  • The amazing C.A.Yates is putting together a new anthology for Fox Spirit Books! It Must Be Love is one of the upcoming books I'm most excited about and you can find full details here.
  • Ana of The Book Smugglers is resuming editing services shortly. Ana is a phenomenally good editor and you can find full details, and testimonials, here.
  • Punk Pride Pixies is the new PWYW (Pay What You Want) RPG from 100thingsilove. All proceeds go to Black Visions and any game that starts with 'It’s a beautiful day in the city, and you are a Punk Pride Pixie.' is already going well. Check it out here.
  • The always fantastic machineiv has a new novel and TTRPG out. Both are set in iHunt, a world where monster hunting meets the gig economy. Think the Ghostbusters but they take Venmo. Find the book here and the RPG here.
  • Rufflejax was a joy to work with on After the War and has a sale going on for her indie games. There's some staggeringly good work in here so go take a look.
  • The one and only Professor Kate Laity's James Bond'ian heroine, Chastity Flame, is on the case.
  • Paul Carroll's Redfox Cards' work is all lovely but the one that's definitely following me home (And probably locking me inside it) has to be the goose...
  • 100thingsilove also recommended the kickstarter for LegendLore. This is a D&D 5E background which has already funded, has great diversity and representation and looks tons of fun.
  • A new Andy Bloor comic is always cause for celebration in this household, as you can see. MI666 looks top spooky fun and is available here.
  • Wonderbox Digital have a new podcast Women Make SF, with @AmyCChambers that's well worth your time.
  • Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is the Ross Brothers' fascinating, form distorting documentary about the final hours of a bar played out against the 2016 Presidential Election. I really want to see this and details of the online premiere are here.
  • Silent Auctions is a free webcomic site that's crammed full of unique work. Acclaimed comic creator and novelist Steve Aylett has a new project there, Love at Crash Gate 27.
  • David Steffen is one of the unsung heroes of genre and also as much of a music video fan as me! Check out his deep dives into them here.
  • Chris Mole's Brigantia, about a pagan goddess struggling to get home from the modern world, is about to go live on Kickstarter for it's second issue.
  • Lee Robson, Bryan Coyle and Bolt-01 bring us The 13th Stone, the exact sort of horror comic I adore.
  • Gary Moloney and Raquel Kusiak have released The Night Before, a PWYW mini comic about a group of stockbrokers on a night none of them will forget...
  • lwilsonbird has just released the fantastic Poison for Beginners, a zine filled with ideas for how to use poison in your RPG as well as 20 unique new poisons.
  • Asa Wheatley's new Kickstarter is imminent. Sagas of the Shield Maiden is described as a 'Viking western' and I can't wait to see it.
  • Curtis Leon Fee's new book, COOLEST FCKING COOL: The Mythical Journey of Hunter Moriarty and the Coolest Fcking Cool is out now and is crammed full of psychic vampires, sentient guns and rock and roll!
  • Ian Hawkins' second audiobook narration, avid A. Gray's Moonflowershas just gone live.
  • Beth Grieveson's new horror comic, Gutterspawn, funded in twelve hours on Kickstarter and looks great. Plus top marks for the discussion on the landing page about the level of Gnarly the book reaches.
  • Jedd Cole's excellent podcast, Inside the Text, continues with a discussion of fiction and morals in the time of the pandemic. Check it out here.
  • So when you have 'Science, Magic & Mystery' in your opening, you have my attention. Hocus Pocus, by Rik Worth, @JordanCollver and @owenwattsdraws not only has that but a deep dive into the science of the supernatural. Oh and magic. The sort of magic I used to do and Richard Wiseman, the final part of the creative team, excels at. This is FUN and you should definitely read it (online for free) and buy the lovely physical copies too.
  • Any horror fan of any stripe needs to be following and reading Gingernuts of Horror. This, the first in their Top 50 of Horror YA, is especially great.
  • Ghost Cop, always welcome in these parts, are back with a magnificently dark, foreboding new single, Hey Mister. Find the video here and the single here.
That's this week's Signal Boost, folks. If you have a project you'd like to see here get in touch.

The movie that catapulted Robert Eggers into the spotlight is a dirty finger-nailed descent into the hell of a family of American settlers. Shot through with the same silences and space as Midsommar, the movies share other fascinating and terrifying qualities, like Not the least of which are the intensely strong central performances, here by genre stalwart Anya Taylor-Joy. Clear eyed and unblinking, there's a certainty here that's as horrific as the ambiguity of The Lighthouse. I especially love how Z has placed the fire, rendering it both metaphorical and actual. 

Department of Received Esoteric Sonic Goods?!


This is amazing! Thanks, The Lurking Transmission! Find them on Twitter here!

Signing Off / Playing Out


It has been 84 years since this week started,  and 150,000 years have passed since the start of June. There is only the Sun. The endless Sun. And today, because we needed joy, Taco Bell.

Everything is A Lot All The Time Forever right now. It is exhausting, at times profoundly depressing and absolutely, completely, decades overdue and necessary. If you're in any genre spaces right now odds are you're exhausted. I am. 

Be exhausted. This is very, very hard. Let yourself feel what you need to feel, read, listen, think. If you screw up, own it. I did this week and I owned it and made it right. No one's perfect and no one's expected to be. What is expected of us is to learn and do better next time.

You got this. So do I. We'll get through this.

The Team KennerStuart Instagram has lain horribly fallow as of late, but the Twitters continue to be our eternal window into the dimension of Doomscrollia. Also the lost Social Media expert She-Ra princess!

ANYHOO.

We stream twice weekly on Twitch. Sunday morning is coffee and relaxing video games which, right now is the lovely Concrete Genie. Wednesday night at 10pm BST is Bedtime Stories where I read you something dark and horrifying. Subscribe to the channel to get notifications for other pick-up streams.

This work is produced for free. If you like what you read and are able, please consider dropping something in the tip jar. Thank you :).

Playing us out this week is Tim Capello from The Lost Boys soundtrack, being the sexiest saxophone player who ever saxophone'd. Joel Schumacher, the director of that, Flatliners and some other all-time greats, passed this week. Thank you sir.

If you're wondering if you should make time to watch The Lost Boys? You should.

See you next week folks. This?
is a Full Lid.
Copyright Alasdair Stuart © 2020 -- All rights reserved

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