December 27th, 2019

train, tintin, leuven

"Superheroes Never Die. Comics and Jewish Memories" exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Belgium

So, I went to the "Superheroes Never Die. Comics and Jewish Memories" exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Belgium yesterday. It was as good as I had hoped, linking the origins of the American comics tradition with the authors' experience of immigration and integration.

There is a particularly interesting moment from 1940 when Superman, taking Adolf Hitler captive, threatens him with "a strictly non-Aryan sock on your jaw".

It was also a bit chilling to see America's knowledge of Belgium in the first world war reflected in a comic of 1914.

There is lots of lovely art.

Also, Batman and Robin now have competition.

You have plenty of time to catch it - it's on until 26 April (my birthday). It's at Rue des Minimes 21, just off the Grand Sablon.


My tweets


The monuments of Laeken cemetery, especially those by Ernest Salu

The other half of yesterday's trip was to inspect Laeken cemetery in northwestern Brussels. There is a cluster of spectacular monuments close to the church by one or other of the three generations of sculptor who shared the name Ernest Salu; the founder of the line lived from 1846-1923 and started his funerary business in the 1870s; his son lived 1885-1980 and I think must have been responsible for the best of the monuments; and the last Ernest Salu lived 1909-1987, clsoing the business in the 1980s more than a century after his grandfather had started it.

The jewel in the collection is this amazing monument to Max Pelgrims, son of the industrialist Eugène Pelgrims, killed in action at the age of 24 in the early days of the First World War (defending Aarschot, not so far from here).
It seems that Eugène Pelgrims and his wife Léonie Dailly had no other children. He survived Max by thirteen years; Léonie outlived him by another twenty.

There are a number of mourning bronze ladies, decorously draped acrodd the tombstones. My favourite is this lady commenorating Jules Denis and his wife Marie Devos. I have not been able to identify them (there is a Jules Denis who was active as an architect in Brussels in the 1880s, but that is too early).  He was 47 when he died in 1919; possibly a victiom of the great flu epidemic, or of war injuries? She lived another 44 years without him.

I didn't note the dates for this lady mourning the Duco-Netels family (of whom I was unable to discover anything else) but she's clearly a bit more Art Deco from the style of the letters, so perhaps about ten years after the Denis-Devos tomb. Unlike most of the others, she is standing up thoughtfully.

General Storms, a leader of the brutal colonial enterprise in the Congo, was already familiar to me from his statue in the Sqaure de Meeûs around the corner from my office. This is a nice framing of what must surely be another Salu bronze.

What is this lady looking at?

It's not just the resting place of the D'Haeyere family; she's also right next door to one of the genuine castings of Rodin's The Thinker. Art collector Jef Dillen bought it in 1927, after the city of Paris decided that it didn't fit in front of the Pantheon. He ended up underneath it eight years later (he died in 1935).

Back to the Salu sculptures again. This woman with outstretched arms commemorates the Belgian composer and musician Jules-Emile Strauwen. (I've enhanced the picture to get the colours properly.)

And a very early Salu sculpture in marble commemorates another musician, the great pianist Marie Pleyel (I love the claws under the casket). Liszt and Berlioz were in love with her, Chopin dedicated Nocturnes to her, but she married Mr Pleyel instead; his family made the pianos on which they all depended. The marriage didn't last, but she lived on and rests here. She dies in 1875, so must have been one of the first Ernest Salu's very early customers.

Finally, here's a carved tree with the title "Cycle of Life and Death", by the contemporary sculptor Anton Klijnsmit. I'm giving you details of the two figures, presumably Life and Death respectively.

Our tactical mistake was to visit on a Thursday rather than a Saturday or Sunday, when the former workshop of the three Ernest Salus is open to the public. Something to do on a future free weekend.
doctor who

Revelation of the Daleks: novelisations by Eric Saward and Jon Preddle

Second to fifth paragraphs of third chapter of Eric Saward's novelisation:
'You were mistaken,' said Grigory.
Natasha tugged at the body-bag. 'Unwrap him.'
'Are you sure you want to see this?'
'There is no other way of proving he's actually here.'
Second paragraph of third chapter of Jon Preddle's novelisation:
Grigory took a hand-scanner from his case and held it over the shrouded body. The scanner sounded a loud beep as it registered a humanoid form.
The very last of the Old Who stories to receive official novelisation treatment, Revelation of the Daleks has now been written up by its author, Eric Saward, a mere thirty-four years after its first broadcast. Fannish imagination will always fill a vacuum, and as I did with Resurrection of the Daleks a couple of months ago, I read it along with the unofficial novelisation (this time by Jon Preddle) from 1992.

This is what I wrote when I first watched Revelation of the Daleks in 2007:
When I expressed the view that none of the Sixth Doctor stories was any good at all, redfiona99, londonkds, loveandgarbage and wwhyte all recommended I try Revelation of the Daleks (with mild dissent from iainjcoleman and altariel). The Dynamic Doctor Who Rankings page currently has Revelation of the Daleks at a princely 51st out of 200 stories ranked, better by far than any other Sixth Doctor story - The Two Doctors is now at 100th place, and Vengeance on Varos at 102nd, while The Twin Dilemma has rather surprisingly been shifted from last place in the list by Daleks In Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks, presumably by voters who have not actually seen The Twin Dilemma themselves.

I realised that I'm a bit out of phase with Davros' history - I have seen Genesis of the Daleks many times, and was then rather baffled by Remembrance of the Daleks (which is this month's pick on who_watchers), but have not seen either Destiny of the Daleks or Resurrection of the Daleks. I'm also not well up on the Sixth Doctor generally - I think I saw The Twin Dilemma, Vengeance on Varos and The Two Doctors when first broadcast, and this is the first of his stories I have watched since. (I must add the standard rider - "but the audio adventures are so much better" - because on the whole they are, especially the ones with companion Evelyn Smythe.)

I don't think it matters. This is almost a 1985 version of the more recent "Doctor-lite" episodes, with him and Peri not really there much, and Davros playing a role which is incomprehensible given his past and future as we know it. If you can overlook the huge plot flaw of Davros feeding the entire galaxy with the corpses of a few rich people, it's very well done, with various different factions of characters motivated for different reasons. In fact it's odd to consider that this was a time when, despite the generally lousy production values, really big names wanted to appear on Doctor Who - here we have Alexei Sayle, Eleanor Bron, Clive Swift (Hyacinth's husband in Keeping Up Appearances), and William Gaunt (who I can't remember seeing in anything else, but he is very good here). Shame about Jenny Tomasin but you can't have everything.

So, basically, I liked this - not a great story, but at least a good one, and definitely under-rated.
And this is what I wrote when I rewatched it in 2011:
I do agree with those who see Revelation of the Daleks as one of the best Sixth Doctor stories. It is full of fun stuff to watch - the Kara/Vogel interaction, the Jobel / Tasambeker relationship, Grigory and Natasha, and of course the DJ. And the fundamentals of the plot are fairly sound by the standards of this period of Who; it is the first time, I think, that we have seen the Daleks attempting to propagate their race by converting humans, though Terry Nation had hinted at this in one of the Dalek Annuals. It is a bit odd that the Doctor and Peri are present for so little of the action, and someone less kind than me would say that that is one of the story's strengths.
And on first reading the Jon Preddle novelisation in 2008, I wrote this:
This is the last of the New Zealand fan-produced novelisations (apart from the one of City of Death which I haven't yet got hold of). Preddle says in his introduction that there are two ways of doing these books, the right way and the Terrance Dicks way, and he is conscious of having gone for the latter option. This isn't really fair on Terrance Dicks, who is a more than competent writer when on form, or indeed to Preddle himself, who has turned in quite a reasonable adaptation of what was a decent enough story to begin with, with extra characterisation of the Happy Repose setup (and unhampered by one particular rather weak performance).
Unlike Resurrection of the Daleks, I felt sufficient confident in my memory of the TV story to feel that I could judge the novels without rewatching it again. (Also, I was busy watching Blake's 7.) Here, for a quick comparison of the two styles, are the two versions of the cliffhanger:
Saward Preddle
It was then Peri saw the statue of the Doctor starting to oscillate. At first, she thought it was a hallucination, but on closer examination she saw it was definitely sliding, swinging, swaying.
'Doctor!' she called desperately, but again he didn't hear her.
The sculpture was now on the verge of toppling.
'Doctor! Look at the statue! It's moving!'
Still the unhearing Time Lord remained transfixed.
The statue was now tilting further forward.
The massive stone rolled forward and under the effects of gravity collapsed onto the Time Lord.
It was sad that such a beautifully carved piece of stone had been turned into a weapon of death.
Then she blinked. Had the statue moved? No, surely not. Probably just the reflection of the sun in the pond. But as she looked again, she could see that the tall stone was moving... it was tipping over - and the Doctor was standing right in its path!

‘Doctor! Look out - the statue!’ she shouted.

Her cries brought the Time Lord back to reality. He looked up to see his stone twin looming over him like an angel of death. He held up his hands to protect himself, but it was too late.

With a loud crash, the stone doppelganger claimed its victim...
Neither of these is Great Literature, but on the other hand this is a better, more coherent story than Resurrection of the Daleks (even if the plot is basically resolved by killing almost all of the other characters) and these are therefore both better novels for it. Saward for once has dialled down his writing style, and cranked up his concentration on character and giving his fictional world a bit more in-universe context, to the point that this is actually a pretty readable book. Preddle’s earlier work is also a decent effort, without the depth that Saward brings to it but perhaps a bit more emotional empathy. These are for completists only, but not too embarrassing. You can get the Saward novelisation here, and the Preddle version here.