Friday, December 29, 2006

Free Form Comments

Say whatever you want here -- self-promotion, anonymous criticism, questions, requests to be added to links, random thoughts, brag about Christmas presents you got, whatever.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Comics Out 28 December 2006

Comics Out this week: Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men 19 and Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker and David Aja's The Immortal Iron Fist 2. I will review something tonight in the comments, once I have read them.
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Plus a great bonus: Casanova #1 -- THE WHOLE ISSUE -- is up at Newsarama to read for free; so if you have heard me go on and on and haven't got the book, check it out. Subsequent issues don't get significantly better or worse -- the first issue is a good representation of the book as a whole, a good way to judge if it is for you or not.

Review. Discuss. Recommend.

EDIT (4:31 Dec 28): Brad Metzler and Ed Benes's Justice League of America 5 is also out today: I got thrown -- in this topsy-turvy world of All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, Planetary, and the Ultimates -- by an issue coming out only two weeks after the previous one.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Grant Morrison’s New X-Men 114 (Part One of Two)

After Monday’s post some folks suggested I look closely at Grant Morrison’s whole New X-Men run. It seems like a good idea since it is such a mixed bag, the best and the worst art I have seen, an ambitious failure by a writer I am completely familiar with. I don’t know how well this will go or how long it will go on for before it busts or gets boring, but I am going to try, as often as I can, to give each issue its due. Here is my review of issue 114, the first part of E for Extinction.

With the new title, the freshly designed reversible logo, and an eerie, badass cover including newly designed and unbelievably hip uniforms New X-Men 114 announces loudly its commitment to shaking up the status quo. Everyone is fantastically tall and lanky, like runway models (Quitely characters don’t often look this thin). Inside Xavier will say of Cassandra Nova “are these words from the future?” and Morrison’s aim is to make the whole book feel like an artifact from a future time.

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Turn the page and you get hit with a wonderful two page spread that economically introduces the whole X-Men concept to the kinds of new readers Morrison was after (see my earlier post on Morrison’s New X-Men and Cool -- just hit the New X-Men tag): Mutants will replace humans as humans replaced the Neanderthals. If you already know the concept your attention will be held by the bizarre and wonderful Cassandra Nova, a herald of a dark future who (in a design stroke of evil genius) wears a pith helmet and matching attire – she will kill mutants as the British upper class killed elephants in Africa on Safari.

Turn the page again, and you get hit with an even better two page spread. Each main character gets an extreme close up highlighting a unique detail: Cyclops’s visor, Jean’s surgically precise telekinesis, Emma Frost’s high collar, the Beast’s cat eyes and glasses, Wolverine’s claws emerging (you can see small drops of blood flying, a detail that was removed from the poster version), and Xavier’s weird eyes, gleaming with one red and one blue X-Men logo, his dream. Even the font for the title card looks good.

This is part one of two because I want to keep posts bite size. More next time. Future reviews will be one post per issue; because a discussion of the first issue has to take into account all the new designs, it is a double post.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

From John Ashbery's "Soonest Mended" (Commonplace Book)

Don't worry about the meaning of this passage at first. Just read it out loud a few times and listen for the rhythms, and the vowels, and the subtle shifts in tone. It seems quite goofy (brushing teeth?), and then the last four lines punch through your defenses making you feel sentimental and hopeful and sad without having any idea what was just said.
And you see, both of us were right, though nothing
Has somehow come to nothing; the avatars
Of our conforming to the rules and living
Around the home have made -- well, in a sense, "good citizens" of us,
Brushing the teeth and all that, and learning to accept
The charity of the hard moments as they are doled out,
For this is action, this not being sure, this careless
Preparing, sowing the seeds crooked in the furrow,
Making ready to forget, and always coming back
To the mooring of starting out, that day so long ago.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Free Form Comments

Free form comments. Self-promotion, suggestions, anonymous criticism, any random thing you think we should know about.

Got a new blog, Powerword, from a friend of mine and his buddies (link to the right). The first post was a topic I wish I had thought to bring up myself: the debate Astronauts vs. Cavemen, featured in the season 5 episode of Angel where Illyria first appears. The genius of the debate is the total lack of context -- are the cavemen here? are the astronauts there? do the astronauts have weapons or their ship? -- so that the debate becomes, in large part, about imagining contexts. The genius of Whedon is how he opens the episode after the debate has been introduced -- characters at various points around the office, occupied with other duties, keep cycling back to it as an unfinished topic, keep thinking about variations to add in or ask about. And without spoiling the episode -- a very good one written by Whedon himself -- Whedon, of course, leverages this geek debate to establish the theme of his story; this nerd debate comes back in a heartbreaking way at the end.

I'm a caveman guy, myself.

On an unrelated topic (this is free form comments, after all) if you know of any freelance writing or speaking I could do let me know; I am always looking for ways to get extra cash (however paltry) while beefing up my resume and doing what I like to do anyway.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Brad Winderbaum's Satacracy 88: Episode Five

The fifth episode of Brad Winderbaum's Satacracy 88 is up at Check it out now (link on the right), vote, then come back here for the commentary.

The opening flashback is wonderfully natural, like a real home movie, and it juxtaposes nicely with the crazy sci-fi scene we transition to. (Those fireworks -- and fireworks herald events we bring video-cameras to -- were put in digitally, a nice touch). The flashback also anchors us emotionally to the choice Angela will be faced with at the end -- he seems like such a nice guy she should go get him back. Brad and Diahnna Nicole Baxter (remember the lead actress is also the co-writer) do well to remind us who he is again at the beginning of the episode to lock in the choice at the end. The casting of Loyce Baxter (Diahnna's real life mother and a first time actress here) makes Lois instantly sympathetic, and a genuine rival for the audience (notice she is introduced in the same way Angela is -- at the cutting board).

We also get a pair of Tarantino allusions; the action shifts suddenly from black and white to color, just as it does in the big battle at the end of Kill Bill volume 1 (and once again it is a woman who is at the center of the action). The band-aid on the back of the neck cannot help but recall Marcellus Wallace's mysterious band aid on the back of the neck in Pulp Fiction. There were those at the time, I recall, who imagined that his soul had been extracted from the back of his neck -- some kind of mythology I am not familiar with -- and that was what was in the case he wanted back so badly; here it is Martin's whole self that can be extracted in this manner.

Jonathan Dinerstein's score is dead-on throughout, and the special effect with Zim hopping after Angela and Calloway could not be better with more money -- it's perfect. The streaking lights were also well done.

The choice at the end is a different kind of choice than we have seen before: armed with more knowledge about these characters and the world in which they live it is less of a choice about what direction we think the show should go and more of a choice about what kind of episode we are most eager for.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Comics Out 20 December 2006

The only thing I will be getting this week is the new issue of Testament (I can't believe how few comics I have gotten in the last three weeks); the only thing that I noticed in comics news this week was this great poster Famke Janssen did for PETA (the full article is here).

Famke Janssen - Be an Angel for Animals AdAs usual, review, recommend, and discuss this weeks comics and comics news. And just to do one more list for fun (since again this is a slow week) here are my top ten favorite comic book characters, in no particular order:

1. Fantomex
2. Tao (from Alan Moore's Wildcats)
3. Batman
4. Hellboy
5. Lex Luthor
6. Mr. Fantastic
7. Prometheus (from Morrison's JLA)
8. Jean Grey
9. The Incredible Hulk
10. The Silver Surfer

I liked everyone's contributions to lists in the last two weeks: if you are up to it try this one. I will be working on the first part of what may become my issue-by-issue analysis of Grant Morrison's New X-Men.

EDIT (added Dec 20 2006 at 12:33pm): Two things I stupidly forgot:
1. Jean Grey is out and the Maxx is in.
2. Go see the new episode of Satacracy 88 at (link on the right). The blog about it will be up tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

John Ashbery Titles (Commonplace Book)

John Ashbery can title a poem like no man's business. I thought I would list a few of my favorites, in no particular order:

When I Saw the Invidious Flare
Novelty Love Trot
Flow Chart
Girls on the Run
As One Put Drunk into the Packet Boat
The One thing That Can Save America
Finnish Rhapsody
Unreleased Movie
Letters I Did or Did Not Get
And Some Were Playing Cards, and Some were Playing Dice
But What is the Reader to Make of This?
Around the Rough and Rugged Rocks the Ragged Rascal Rudely Ran
Purists Will Object
37 Haiku
Proust's Questionarie
Whatever it is, Wherever You Are
Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape
The Variorum Edition
Theme Park Days
View of Delft
As Umbrellas Follow Rain
Oh Evenings
Get me Rewrite
Redeemed Area
They Don't Just Go Away, Either
Amnesia Goes to the Ball
Poem on Several Occasions
Your Name Here

Monday, December 18, 2006

Morrison’s New X-Men and Cool

As Morrison himself said in a recent interview, fans hated his New X-Men run when he was doing it, but now it has become a classic, with its own giant omnibus format. I am often surprised how often people tell me it is so good (and again, for the record, I love all the issues drawn by Quitely and Bachalo and am fond of how the thing wraps up; also, Fantomex is my favorite superhero of all time). I want to add one point to my earlier statements on why the series, as a whole, is a failure. Here is Morrison in the New X-Men manifesto, his plan for the series printed in the back of the first New X-Men trade:
We need to make the book COOL again. The movie has already done most of the work for us and there are MILLIONS of new potential readers out there for the taking: including women who slavered over Hugh Jackman and who should be able to pick up this book and get the same sexy thrills from the comic book character. We need to get X-MEN back in the news again, in the cool magazines and on TV. We need to recapture the college and hipster audience.
Five issues in the thing is being drawn by IGOR KORDEY.

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Just from the standpoint of the artwork, New X-Men is not cool, no women will be slavering over this “sexy” image of Wolverine, no hipsters are getting thrills from this. I actually don't hate Kordey; I think he created an interesting, very physical texture on Cable, which he was drawing around the same time as New X-Men -- Cable was in South America, I think, and Kordey was a good choice for muddy jungle warfare.
Cable: The Shining Path
He just doesn't do sexy, or cool. And he was doing a rush job on New X-Men, which made it worse, but he was never going to be good on that book.

You can argue that New X-Men changed direction, and should not be judged from Morrison’s statement in the manifesto. But I think Morrison’s statements are quite good; that's exactly what I want from a comic book. It's Igor Kordey drawing New X-Men that is bad. I think the book never recovered from this very early and massive betrayal of the concept it was designed to support, a central idea that occasionally flickers back, in Fantomex, for example, and in Bachalo. Ultimately, this violent tonal and thematic shift broke the book, at least for me.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Free Form Comments

It's the dumping ground for all off topic comments -- complain, self-promote, bring up off the wall things to talk about, ask to be added to the blog roll, whatever.

For my part this week I wanted to draw attention to a website I am sure everyone already knows about, but for some reason I just found it myself this week. It's called Project Rooftop. I don't care about the Halloween-style costume contest that is currently up; the main point of the site is to showcase artists who redesign the costumes of traditional superheroes. For example, here is Jamie McKelvie's Wonder Woman from April 26th:

Should be Joss Whedon's Wonder Woman, no? Anyway, the site quite cool, and there isn't that much there, which means you can see everything in a few minutes. What I like about it is the way it combines superhero material with fashion magazine ideas -- these are importantly not character redesigns, they are costume redesigns. And one of the rules is that you cannot put the character's name in the image, so you can redesign, but not to the point where you can no longer recognize the character, which is excellent. I like people who try to make superheros stylish and cool, cause they should be both. This is a step in the right direction.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Complex Genres

Because I am interested in genre and influence people often ask me what my favorite one is, if they don’t just assume it is superhero comics. But actually my favorite stories are stories that do one of three things (1) combine genres (Firefly, Marvel Zombies, Dark City, Brick), (2) reinvent genres (Punch Drunk Love and the screwball comedy, Sopranos and the Mob Movie, Seinfeld and the sitcom, Watchmen and the superhero comic book), or (3) Transume a host of genres under a single heading (Kill Bill, Planetary 1-14, Casanova, Samurai Jack). I need more stuff in these categories for my Kill Bill Class. Give me your four best in any category (1, 2, or 3).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Comics Out 13 December 2006

The only thing I saw coming out this week was Metzler's JLA #4. In the news (at Newsarama) Ultimates 13 is finished and will be out shortly and Joss Whedon was on Fanboy Radio (at Newsarama you can read the recap). With the empty space, I thought I would try a riff on last week's top ten list; I had fun reading what everyone came up with -- try your hand at one of these:

Least Favorite Comic Books of All Time (right at this moment, in no particular order)

1. Planetary 26 (I already posted about this)
2. Igor Kordey’s New X-Men issues (I will post on this soon)
3. 52 1 - 14 (I already posted about this)
4. Skrull Kill Krew (Grant Morrison and Mark Millar? Really?)
5. Tomorrow Stories (Alan Moore wallowing in nostalgia)
6. Spawn-Wildcats Crossover (Alan Moore selling out horribly)
7. Ruins (Warren Ellis being pointlessly bleak and no fun)
8. Orbiter (Warren Ellis being unpersuasive, lame, and cheesy)
9. The last Sin City arc (with the Navy Seal artist who refuses to compromise his art by drawing breasts)
10. X3 (not a comic book, but I don’t care, that movie sucked and I already wrote a review of it)

And as usual: recommend, review, and discuss comics out and comics news this week.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

From Peter Gay's Freud: A Life for Our Time (Commonplace Book)

Only Felix Deutsch accompanied Freud, and he did not stay through the operation; it was as though by treating the matter as a bagatelle he could wish away Freud's cancer. But something went terribly wrong on the operating table; Freud bled heavily both during and after the procedure and was made to lie down on a cot "in a tiny room in a ward of the hospital since no other room was available." His only company was another patient, whom Anna Freud later described as a "nice, friendly" retarded dwarf.

The dwarf, in fact, may well have saved Freud's life. Martha and Anna Freud had been asked to bring some necessities to the hospital, since Freud might have to spend the night. At lunchtime, no visitors were allowed in the ward, and they were sent home with the assurance that his condition was satisfactory. But when they came back in the early afternoon they discovered that in their absence he had suffered at attack of copious bleeding. He had wrung for help, but the bell was out of order, so Freud, who was unable to make himself heard, was helpless. Fortunately, the dwarf rushed out to get the nurse, and with some difficulty the bleeding was brought under control.
[What knocks me out about this true story is the combination of how much it sounds like a David Lynch episode and how much of Lynch Freud unlocks: for example, Freud would immediately understand the famously unnerving Blue Velvet scene where Kyle MacLachlan hides in the closet and watches Denis Hopper breath Nitrous Oxide from a canister while saying angrily "Don't look at me" and stuffing Isabella Rossillini's mouth with velvet -- it is a child's limited attempt to grasp what he has seen after he walks in on his parents having sex ("why was daddy breathing like that? why was he saying those things? why was mommy's voice muffled?"). I am sure Lynch's famous dwarfs do not come from this story, but it is an interesting idea nevertheless.]

Monday, December 11, 2006

Kill Bill: The Class

I am teaching a class this semester (at LAGCC) on Kill Bill. It’s a guided research paper class, and I get to pick the topic. What I am going to do is show Kill Bill, discuss it, and then spend a good chunk of the class lecturing on it. The students get to pick a popular genre connected, even if very marginally, to Kill Bill: the western, samurai, kung-fu, science fiction (Ellie, you will remember, dies in a parody of her character from Blade Runner), revenge tragedy, superhero, grindhouse. The students, possibly in groups (I have not yet worked that out), have to experience their chosen genre across time – seeing at least three examples from three distinct historical periods; they have to find articles on their genre and compose a paper describing they ways in which the genre has shifted, they ways in which latter works (works they chose) respond to earlier ones. I will be lecturing on the ways in which works in a genre respond to their history, something I have been writing about for years. I am going to guide them toward films that are allusions in Kill Bill, and then, at the end, they will all hand in their papers and present their conclusions on how the history of their genres flow into Tarantino’s big movie.

Fun class, yeah? I will let you know how it goes, and take suggestions. Currently I am looking for good books on film genre -- I have quite a bit at the house, but I am looking for something comprehensive for students, either a big book for all of us, or a series of books on each genre for each group. I am looking for something with clarity and scope and trying to avoid French philosophical and psychoanalytic jargon. Weigh in.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Free Form Comments

Free form comments: say whatever you like here. It's your blog too. Two things from me.

1. Trans-fat. I have not been following the whole Trans-fat thing (I don't really keep up with the news, and so I don't even have a right to complain; if you have a link to a very comprehensive article, feel free to give it to me). But I do understand that Trans-fat is bad for you and will be banned in New York restaurants. What I don't understand is why the very few sources I have looked at don't seem at all bothered by this very fast jump from unhealthy to illegal. I do lots of unhealthy stuff. I drink a lot of Pepsi. Will that soon be illegal? I sometimes go to bed late and get up early, not getting enough sleep. Will that soon be illegal? A lot of the dairy isle is filled with tasteless fat free options; eventually, will that be the only option? I get that obesity is a national health issue; but I am not obese and I should be able to get chicken fried the old fashioned way if I want. I don't see why more people are not bothered by this.

2. Sara Reiss's Blog (link on the right) has some fun posts on cool gifts.

Again: Free form comments. Say whatever you want, on any topic.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Nietzsche on Hamlet (Commonplace Book)

The Dionysian man resembles Hamlet: both have once looked truly into the essence of things, they have gained knowledge, and nausea inhibits action; for their action could not change anything in the eternal nature of things; they feel it to be ridiculous or humiliating that they should be asked to set right a world that is out of joint. Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion: that is the doctrine of Hamlet, not that cheap wisdom of Jack the Dreamer who reflects too much and, as it were, from an excess of possibilities does not get round to action. Not reflection, no -- true knowledge, an insight into the horrible truth, outweighs any motive for action.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Comics Out 6 December 2006

I didn't see anything I will be getting this week, and when I do that I hunt for graphic novels. Is there a graphic novel by that really talented guy who fell of a roof, he did an amazing Green Lantern cover a while ago? I wanted something by him but can't remember much about him (except he fell of a roof and was very very talented). Also nothing struck me in comics news either -- discuss, review, and recommend, especially this week, since I have nothing.

With the space I have today I am going to relate something funny and make a list. The something funny: Dr. Strange 3 is out today, which reminded me that when Brad got Dr. Strange #1 his girlfriend saw the cover and said "so you got a comic book about Liberace?" Nice.

The list. These are not necessarily the most important or the best, but they are my favorite comic books right at this moment; ask me tomorrow and the list will be different. In no particular order:

1. Casanova
2. We3
3. Steampunk
4. Frank Miller's Batman work (all of it: I think it is best appreciated as a unit)
5. JLA Classified 1-3
6. The Authority: "The Nativity" and "Under New Management" pt 1
7. Flex Mentallo
8. Astonishing X-Men: "Torn"
9. All Star Superman
10. Punisher: The End

You will notice there is nothing by Alan Moore there. That surprised me too. But today I am caring about fun, and Watchmen is very very serious. And no other Alan Moore books are leaping out at me, which, again, surprises me too. Feel free to make your own lists, in the comments thread. Remember: top ten favorites (not most important), right at this moment (not for all time), no particular order.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sorkin is Back, Mostly

The Christmas Episode of Studio 60 bought a good chunk of the Sorkin magic back, for the first time in a long time. First of all the Sorkin TEAM is back: we no longer have the lame hit-you-over-the-head artists versus the corporate guys -- everyone, it turns out, is a good guy (which shouldn't work, but Sorkin always makes it work), including Webber and Asner. We have a better screwball couple -- an actually adorable story -- to eclipse the Matt and Harriet thing, which just didn't work, perhaps because Sorkin was too close to it (it is largely autobiographical). Danny falling for a pregnant woman he should, by all rights, hate, is great fun (and Whitford makes it work, with his awkward little kid looks and smacking the desk); big declarations of love while Jordan is wide-eyed and has a mouth full of sandwich is what I was looking for. Hopefully these kinds of scenes will replace the Matt-and-Harriet wet-fish-love-looks-during-Sting-songs scenes. Sorkin also gets his tearjerker, although it has to be admitted that he gets it in the easiest way possible, by milking recent real life tragedy, rather than, say, writing one of those great Sorkin speeches ("They weren't born wanting to do this!"). The Harriet scenes still drag, and the view of the show-within-a-show is still horrendous, but otherwise -- we have a good direction established. I am feeling more confident, and I just thought people would like an update.

[I am moving the usual Tuesday commonplace book entry to Thursday, so this post will be more topical].

Monday, December 04, 2006

3 random things

A Kurt Vonnegut quote:

"Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the universe."


“Basket-case” was an expression used by World War One nurses to refer to those patients who had their legs and arms blown off by shells – they were the patients who had to be carried in baskets around the hospital. Today we use the expression to mean someone who cannot handle themselves emotionally, but it originally derives from a person who could not handle themselves physically. Even though it developed in this century virtually no one knows that the word’s history is quite gruesome. I have not used it since looking it up in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Spell Check Lit Crit

Years ago I was writing a paper on Moby Dick and the computer’s spell check did not recognize the name of the main character, Ishmael. The computer’s only suggestion was “Fishmeal,” which is ironic since Ishmael is one of the only characters in the book who does NOT end up as fishmeal.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Free Form Comments

Say anything you want in the comments to this post: anonymous personal attacks, polite suggestions, things you want to talk about with the folks that show up here, self-promotion, requests to be on the blog-roll, whatever.

For my part, I think everyone should read this summary of a 1960 Superman issue, the funniest thing I have read in ages.