Saturday, February 28, 2009

TV This Week: LOST, BSG, 24, Dollhouse

[I usually put this up on Friday afternoons, which is dumb since both Dollhouse and BSG are on Friday nights -- I end up reviewing BSG six days after I watched it, and by the time people read it they have already seen the episode past the one I reviewed. That said, I still have not seen Dollhouse, but I do not like that show (although I will watch the first six).]

LOST 5.7: The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham. Last week I said Lost finally got its groove back, which is to say I felt the show generally returned to the quality level I thought it should have. This episode was better than that -- this will probably join my list of favorite Lost episodes along with The Constant and the opening of season two, for that scene between Ben and Locke alone, and the opening and closing beats -- "I remember dying" and "that's the man who killed me" -- were spot on. Locke visits everyone and just bluntly tells them they should go back and they refuse -- that is not the most interesting thing in the world but it is not supposed to be. Locke is a believer in destiny, he believes he is the instrument by which the island will get these people back -- and he is right -- but his having no effect only serves to make him feel like he is not special, as Jack tells him. It moves him closer to suicide which is figured as being the natural result of his sense of destiny taken away, but it also the destiny that was foretold for him. It is great how it works on two levels like that. The cold open was also good -- last week I said this would return us to some of the things that made season one great but everything would movie faster, and indeed it does as the new folks have already found a Dharma station. And you have to love Frank for landing that plan on the runway from season 3. That was a nice understated call back to him being an awesome pilot, and the bit in season four when Miles says "where did you crash the helicopter" and Miles says "what do you mean? I landed it safely right over there." It is weird to think that there are as many episodes left in the fifth season of Lost now as there were of BSG total in January. Shorter seasons was an awesome idea.

BSG: Deadlock (4.5.6) AND Someone to Watch Over Me (4.5.7). The miscarriage of Six's baby was one of the dumbest things I have seen on TV in a while -- I do not watch Mexican soap operas but I imagine that they have scenes where the split second the husband wavers in his love for his pregnant wife she looses the baby, because they have literalized the idea that babies need love to survive. Love and procreation for the robots have always been a thing on this show from season one when Helo and whats-her-8 had sex on that planet they got stranded on. And it makes sense because you have to explain why the robots don't just make rape camps or something like that facility that Kara found -- you want the stories to have a human side. But the miscarriage was just painfully literal, and it also felt like -- as with the Chief's baby -- the writers found themselves in a corner and just wanted to get the hell out -- Tigh knocks up Six is a great story beat but they do not actually want to follow up on it in a show where the Cylons and Humans need each other. Not to mention that actual love between Tigh and Six was not very well established -- it just sort of arose suddenly. That said, the interactions between the Final Five Cylon family were awesome, and Ellen's horror at the quasi incest Tigh committed and her manipulation of him and six was amazing and we handled by all the actors. It was especially important because it felt like when Ellen came back she was this super-scientist and not Ellen anymore. But the best part of the episode was dealing with how much Tigh loves Bill, including realizing that Liam is derived from William (Bill) which was something I never noticed before. THe scene between them at the end when Tigh tells him they lost the baby - that is what BSG has always been about -- powerful acting and surprisingly moving scenes. I have not seen love between two older men handled so well since Jed and Leo on West Wing. I have been reading a book that argues that female homosocial relationships are on a continuum with female homosexual relationships but that between men there is this massive break in that continuum. This episode was a counter-example to that thesis I think. Oh, and I said this in my twitter feed but I am saying it again here: Baltar has no character arc, he just plays this unconnected roles at the whims of the writers: Judas, scientist, president, communist dissident, Jesus, Bin Ladin. I do not know who he is at all at this point.

The more recent episode promised to tell us about the secret of Kara and the trial, for treason, of Boomer. I thought the former looked interesting while the second looked dumb but I had that backwards. This show always reminds us that the mythology comes second. The Kara plot seems straightforward -- It is pretty easy to tell that dude is a ghost or whatever from the moment you see him, and it seems like we are heading into something like Kara is the daughter of that deleted artist Cylon (#7) or something. I am glad to see the music coming back, and I should not have expected to see big reveals about her here. The Boomer plot on the other hand was the best kind of film noir -- the snake in the grass woman who worms her way in, convinces this guy who loves her to kill for her and break her out, at which point she has sex with someone else's husband while the wife is forced to watch tied up and bleeding, then steals her baby and leaves while fucking up where they live and in the end the guy confronts the empty illusion that caused him to betray everyone. That was straight up awesome. This show seems a little wonky in these final episodes but that might just be because the show has failed to tell me about a drive toward a final goal -- if I did not know there were only three episodes left I would assume we were very much still in the middle of things, perhaps at the very beginning of the last season. So a lot of my odd feelings will ride on how well they stick the landing.

Dollhouse (1.2) I am sticking with this for six episodes, whatever happens. This episode was better but still not great. Whedon learned from Lost the value of a flashback, and the Alpha material was great and scary. But the second that guy took out his bow I said "He just wants to hunt The Most Dangerous Game of All" and I was totally right. Ironically the thing that bothers me most about the show is that I do not buy Dushku as the dumb doll in the house -- the acting there just seems off, like a kid pretending to be dumb, rather than like a kid, which is what it should be I think.

24. 24 got better this week. It is still dumb, but at least knows where you expect it to go (they loose the only lead to a mole in the building) and go somewhere else -- conspiracy over, Dubaku, genuinely in love with the girl, out of the picture. Of course we have more obvious terrorism coming but you have to admire at least the speed of this episode.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Three Years

The Blog has been up for three years today. You can read the first post by CLICKING HERE. Thanks to everyone, especially Jason Powell and Scott for helping me keep this place alive, and thanks to everyone for visiting, and commenting and guest-blogging.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #200

[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“The Trial of Magneto”

Early in Uncanny #200, the judge presiding over the eponymous trial rules that the charges against Magneto be “restricted to those specifications which occurred after Magneto’s ‘resurrection’” in Uncanny X-Men #104, his first appearance under Claremont’s pen. This is the author’s quite shrewd use of continuity to make the character entirely his. It’s right there now, in black and white: Everything Magneto did before Claremont wrote him doesn’t count.

As Claremont’s greatest achievement as writer of the X-Men, Magneto always manages to stand out as a dynamic and arresting character, even if the rest of the goings on aren’t necessarily up to snuff. (See “God Loves, Man Kills” for the most extreme example of this phenomenon.) Here, Claremont places Magneto in the rather staid milieu that is the courtroom drama. The resulting goings-on are predictably bland, although Claremont’s casting of “Sir James Jaspers” as prosecuting attorney is a fun Easter egg for Alan Moore fans. (Jaspers is a super-villain -- a mutant posing as a normal human being -- in Moore’s “Captain Britain” comic published in the UK circa 1982.)

Magneto, however, again seems better than the story he appears in. His testimony toward the end of the comic is the most entertaining part, particularly the explanation for why he no longer seeks world conquest: “I thought I could impose sanity from above – through conquest,” he explains to the humans on the bench, “but there are too many of you. So, I decided I must try another way.” That’s a great line, and a far more credible motivation than the idea of him suddenly seeing the light. Indeed, Magneto’s evolution from issue 150 (wherein he was portrayed as a pure villain until the final few pages) to now has been steady and controlled. Xavier’s entrusting the entire school to him seems somewhat abrupt as it occurs in this issue, but considered in a larger context that includes Magneto’s appearances in “Secret Wars,” “God Loves, Man Kills” and New Mutants, it is a perfectly logical next step.

As mentioned in the previous issue, Claremont is deliberately shifting the series’ political alignment – revolutionaries like Magneto are sympathetic; backward-looking conservatives like Scott are played quite the opposite. During a cutaway in this issue to Madelyne, stuck in the mansion alone and pregnant, we find out that Scott hasn’t called her since his arrival in Paris. “Others have phoned,” we are told by her thought balloons. “Ororo, Nightcrawler – and Kitty almost every day, bless her!” Claremont is laying the groundwork for X-Factor #1 (to be published in two months’ time), which will destroy Scott entirely when it depicts him abandoning his wife and newborn son to reunite with a resurrected Jean. That’s the ultimate moment of ruination, but Claremont’s use of him here is almost as bad: That Scott doesn’t call his pregnant wife is downright reprehensible. The author has complained about X-Factor ruining Scott as a hero, but his work here makes Claremont himself culpable as well. Claremont writes Cyclops as an asshole, both in this issue and the next. (There is, amazingly, a large contingent of X-Men aficionados who fervently defend Scott’s behavior in Uncanny #’s 200 and 201, and in subsequent issues of X-Factor, via any number of laughable, ridiculous arguments. I’m tempted to wonder whether that speaks to the high level of sexism among much of comic book fandom.)

At any rate, as with the previous issue, there is once again a sense of Claremont using Magneto and Cyclops to deliberately flag up the paradigm shift that he is attempting with the series: Magneto, the consummate Silver Age villain, becomes a hero, and Cyclops – the only remaining Silver Age X-Man besides Xavier – is explicitly a “real jerk.”

The anomalous variable in the equation is Xavier himself, a Silver Age character who has transcended the conservative, assimilatory stance he once held. As he did in Uncanny 193 when he let the Hellions go free, Xavier once again eschews operating within the bounds of conventional law. He asks Magneto to take over his place at the school because to do so “will stand as a far nobler monument – and better safeguard to mutantkind – than [Magneto’s] martyrdom at this trial.”

As the three characters who appear both in the original X-Men #1 and here in #200, Xavier, Cyclops, and Magneto are the crucial triumvirate for expressing the series’ political shift, with the former being the mutable axis around which the latter two shift positions entirely.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Free Form Comments

Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticisms (which can be anonymous), surveys, introductions if you have never commented before, personal news, self-promotion, requests to be added to the blog roll and so on. If I forget, remind me. Remember these comments can be directed at all the readers, not just me.

ALSO. You can use this space to re-ask me questions you asked me before that I failed to answer because I was too busy.

AND you can use this space to comment on posts that are old enough that no one is reading the comments threads anymore.

You do not have to have a blogger account or gmail account to post a comment -- you can write a comment, write your name at the bottom of your comment like an e mail, and then post using the "anonymous" option.

WRITING FOR THIS BLOG. If I see a big free form comment that deserves more attention, I will pull it and make it its own post, with a label on the post and on the sidebar that will always link to all the posts you write for this blog. I am always looking for reviews of games, tv, movies, music and books.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jason Powell on X-Men Annual #9

[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“There’s No Place Like Home”

Continuing from the rousing cliffhanger at the end of the epic New Mutants Special Edition #1, “There’s No Place Like Home” claims – on its gorgeously designed title page – to be an X-Men story “guest-starring the New Mutants.” In fact, it’s the opposite. Storm is a key player in the proceedings, but the rest of the X-Men are the supporting act here; the New Mutants have center stage.

As in part one of the two-part “Home” saga, there’s an incredible sense of sweep and scope to these pages. Claremont, Adams and letterer Orzechowski remain to give the story an aesthetic consistency, but are joined this by a different colorist, Petra Scotese, and a lineup of three inkers that includes Adams himself.

Among the most significant scenes in this issue is, first and foremost, Madelyne’s premonition after the X-Men disappear from Earth. “Oh, Lord,” she says. “Why all of a sudden am I so afraid I’ll never see him ... we’ll never be happy together, ever again?!” It’s dramatic license on Claremont’s part, the author preparing readers for the imminent X-Factor #1, in which Cyclops abandons Madelyne for the newly resurrected Jean Grey. In terms of strict plot logic, there’s no reason Madelyne should somehow sense what’s coming, but her prescience is thematically appropriate for a story set mostly in a land of ancient mythology. The story’s sense of sweep makes the story work in defiance of prosaic logic at any rate, and it is quite dramatic. Meanwhile, Art Adams shrewdly undercuts any potential emotional overkill by including Lockheed in the same panel, a cute little purple dragon wagging his paw in good-bye at the departure of Kitty and the others.

Petra Scotese’s colors aren’t as brilliant (in the less hyperbolic sense of the word) as the work of Christie Scheele in “Home Is Where the Heart Is,” but her palette nonetheless yields some gorgeous visuals, particularly her liberal use of pink in Amara’s fantasy sequence early on. Later, Scotese uses the same shade of pink to color Amara herself, suggesting that she is becoming less and less real.

With so many immensely talented professionals all working at such an unrelentingly creative pitch, the amount of clever details and ingenious moments is too high; an individual cataloguing of each one would become tedious. (Storm takes up the Thor hammer! Warlock becomes the starship Enterprise!)

So let me just point out that X-Men Annual #9 makes one of the best uses of inter-title continuity I’ve experienced as a reader. The story makes several allusions to going-on depicted in contemporaneous issues of Thor, but they are woven in with such economical precision that readers never feel as if they’re missing information, or that only part of the story is contained here. The references are placed just so – just enough information to know why it’s important, never so much that we feel like we have to buy Thor issues to figure it all out.

In terms of the broader scope of Claremont’s X-Men canon, the “Home” two-parter (later collected with X-Men/Alpha Flight in a large, beautifully packaged TPB called “Asgardian Wars”), X-Men Annual #9 is significant mainly for its suggestion – most rigorously espoused by the New Mutants character Sunspot – that perhaps mutants belong on Asgard, where there powers allow them to fit in rather than be outcasts. If the X-Men and New Mutants represent “the other,” than why not relocate to an entire world populated with “others”? Sunspot is, in effect, arguing a separationist philosophy, but not much is really put into the metaphor. Wolverine accuses Bobby of cowardice, and the force of Logan’s personality seems enough to make the younger man re-think his position. Ultimately, there is very little here that contributes in an essential way to the X-Men canon (the repercussions of the story are felt much more deeply in subsequent New Mutants issues).

It really is all about fun. Sure, Bobby’s controversial politics don’t get proper time devoted to them, but it’s still a rousing moment when, only a few pages after having been awed by Wolverine, he answers the question of his and his fellow mutants’ identity with, “We’re Professor Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters – bub! Want to make something of it?!”

Geoff, if the Morrison/McGuiness JLA: Classified comics are your quintessential example of great superhero comics, then this and the New Mutants Special Edition are mine. Action, drama, comedy, pathos -- and the starship Enterprise vs. rock trolls. I could ask for nothing more.

Monday, February 23, 2009

U2's No Line On the Horizon (inital reaction)

by Scott

Typically I am very respectful of the sacredness of a new album; I usually wait until I have bought the actual physical object and am holding it in my hands before I listen to it on my CD walkman (my preferred format for premiering a new disc) but my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to give a full listen to U2's new album No Line On the Horizon as they are currently streaming the full ablum on their myspace.

Here are my thoughts so far,

After two albums of playing it safe and making with the anthems and straightforward rockers, U2 have made their most ambitious album in over a decade. In fact, this is probably their most 'experimental' album since 1993's Zooropa. Sonically, No Line has a lot in common with Zooropa; the tempos are slower the bass and drums more prevalent and both owe a debt to techno, trip-hop and electronica but whereas Zooropa sought to actively avoid sounding anything like what people had come to expect from U2... or even a rock band for that matter... No Line gives us plenty of Edge's tradmark guitar chimes (and his more recently perfected crunch). By no means is this an 'easy' album. There aren't a lot of straightforward anthems or singles, the lead off single "Get On Your Boots" is a great example in that it doesn't have a proper chorus... Instead it gives us a refrain of "You don't know how beautiful you are" that sounds more like a pre-chorus, it builds us up for a soaring follow up that never really comes. In fact, it seems as thought the musical bit that should have been the chorus is used instead as a coda. There are exceptions, of course, "I'll Go Crazy if I don't go Crazy Toinight" is an out and out pop song that has almost Prince-like vibe to it; the band's answer to "Let's Go Crazy" perhaps?

Lyrics are, typically, the last thing that hit me about an album and Bono has had his share of chringe-worthy lyrics over the years but a line that went something like "I'm running down a train like the stations of the cross" from the gospel tinged "Moment of Surrender" imediately caught my attention as being pretty good.

There are a lot of surprises here, not the least of which is the Zepplin-esque guitar groove of "Stand Up Comedy". It seems that, while the last two U2 albums put together a good collection of tunes, with No Line the band are attempting to create something that is intended to viewed as a cohesive whole where the sum is greater than the parts (something I fell they accomplished, almost by accident, on the last two albums, particularly All That You Can't Leave Behind). I like what I've heard so far... I'm still not sure if I love it. It is definitely an album that requires digestion.

I'll let you know more once I've had the opportunity to listen on my Walkman.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Super Late Reviews: Deadwood, Gran Torino, Coraline

There is no requirement for me to be timely in my reviewery.

Coraline. The third act becomes a silly videogame, losing entirely the psychological aspect of the story, but Terry Hatcher is amazing and terrifying as the voice of the mother: she captures well the bored housewife, the seductive caretaker, and the evil witch really well. The real reason -- and I think almost the only reason -- to see Coraline is just for the cool 3D visuals and this weird hand-crafted diaoroama world. There is a woman whose job it is to knit these sweaters for the characters to wear.

Gran Torino. Weirdly, this reminded me of Enchanted, that movie in which Amy Adams crosses over from the fairy tale world into modern day New York: the point of the movie should be in the clash between worlds, but the filmmakers end up making New York a lot like a fairy tale world and in the end the lead actress is the only reason to see the film. Gran Torino is supposed to take Eastwood's Spaghetti Western character and drop him into the modern world and Eastwood is thoroughly amazing to watch him in total control of this personae he has mastered over the years. But in the end he is surrounded by a lot of bad acting, especially from his Tuesdays with Morie kid who blow a crucial scene, and the end of the story is far too pat -- as, if not more, simplistic than the Westerns. It has a very short story quality.

Deadwood. I just finished Deadwood season three and had some thoughts on the way it ended. Obviously Hearst/Major Dad is going to get away -- otherwise how is he going to have newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (one of the last lines on Deadwood is G Hearst telling Merrik he is going to start a newspaper of his own), who will be a big source for Citizen Kane, and eventually produce dog show winner kidnap victim Patty Hearst. But even given that the conflict with Hearst had more in common with man versus nature than man versus man. They are not trying to best Hearst, or even hurt him a little or withhold what he is looking for. He gets Alma's claim and leaves unharmed. Trixie shoots him, though not badly; to save her there is a conflict about killing another perfectly nice hooker, who they can pass off as Hearst's shooter to satisfy his bloodlust. I thought for a moment the story about be about how Al wont just kill this poor girl who did nothing wrong, how he will reveal more of the moral side he has that we occasionally see hints of. But no -- he kills her. The people of Deadwood do what they can to survive the storm that is George Hearst, and they do. It was a different ending that the bloodspray I wanted, but it makes a kind of sense on another level was well. When Wild Bill Hickock died Brad described it to me as the end of an era, the end of the old West and the passing of the baton. The new era is the super-capitalism of Hearst (I do not know what the right word is here to describe him; I never write about economic systems and do not have the vocab for it; ) -- the distanced bureaucracy where you do not kill with your hands, as Al does, but you hire other people to kill for you, let other people run your businesses (like Cy). The people of Deadwood survive, but will we? In some weird way I feel like there is some continuity between Deadwood, The Sopranos, and the Wire -- as if somehow they are all connected: The Greek from the Wire is an inheritor of George Hearst, and Tony Soprano can trace a line from Al.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Satisfying Resolutions to Long Term Mysteries

Thinking about Lost and BSG this week. Describe a long term mystery -- longer than a two hour movie -- that had a satisfying conclusion.

TV this week: LOST, BSG, 24

LOST. Finally, Lost gets its groove back, and in the most obvious way possible -- a return to what made it good in the first place. People crashed on a mysterious island where they do not know what is going on (why is Jin in a Dharma suit? What year is it?), Each person has a mysterious past (Why did Kate change her mind? How did Locke end up dead? What made Hurley return and why did he bring a guitar, why was Sayid in handcuffs and why was he being taken to Guam, why is Ben beaten and bloody, and who is the stewardess and the arab guy on the plane?). We will learn about the island and these people's past together -- alternating in many episodes, I imagine, between the past in LA and the present on the island. Except this time around we ALREADY care about these characters because we are in the middle of the story, and I expect answers will come faster this time than they did in season one. I had originally been annoyed that they were going to get back so quickly -- I thought the story would be "Season 5: the story of how they got back and what happened while they were gone" with the last shot being of them arriving again, followed by "Season Six: what they had to do when they arrived." This is better though. Of special interest in this episode is the deeply weird structural game being played with the characters -- Locke is the new Christian Shepard (the guy in the coffin, same shoes), Hurley is the new Charlie (the guy with the guitar), Sayid is the new Kate (escorted in handcuffs), Ben is the new Locke (physically damaged), and KATE (here is my theory) is the new CLAIRE -- I am betting she got pregnant when she slept with Jack before the left, as that will also play into the long term story about how the island kills pregnant women. Plus there is a weird little symmetry -- the actor who plays the Arab guy, his real name is Said, and he played a torturer in the wonderful and underrated Three Kings, so I guess he is the new Said. I also adore the look of anything Dharma builds -- that hatch in LA is fantastic, and Ben saying "My mother taught me" and "who cares?" made my day. The "Who cares" line, about the other passengers, was especially good because it tells you about him as a character, while also making us complicit with him -- we DON'T care about them because we know they are incidental characters. Anyway, it is VERY good to have LOST back.

BSG. The question this week is did you mind the fact that BSG broke the famous rule of Show, Don't Tell? I highly recommend Neil's reading of this week's BSG, which I thought was well put -- the show is really just messing with us, and as someone who loved the end of the Sopranos I am totally fine with it. The four episodes of personal conflict followed by one massive mythology info-dump serves to remind the audience -- and the audience always needs reminding -- that we are here for stories about people first and long term mysteries second. Though I am sensitive to the complaint that this week's episode was a little to Black Box Theatre, all the exposition was framed by a major conflict where the person talking was threatened with death, and regardless of what you want to say about the theoretical problems, I was on the edge of my seat wanting to hear more. And in the end the show did a great job setting up Brother Cavil as this Miltonic villain of the rest of the show. But the show was not error free: that Anders memories was triggered by a bullet seems ridiculously contrived
and I have to admit that, just as I did when it turned out Earth was all Cylons, my primary reaction to the news was more confused than impressed because I cannot keep all the history straight in my head.

24. Foolishness. There is one season of 24 and every season just remakes the template. Here -- the mole and the regular citizen who agrees to go along with a bad guy for Jack and it all goes wrong -- and that was already done THIS SEASON.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jason Powell on New Mutants Special #1

[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“Home Is Where the Heart Is”

This 64-page comic – together with its companion story, “There’s No Place Like Home,” published in X-Men Annual #9 – demonstrates Claremont at the peak of his powers. A cold, bold plunge into the fantasy genre taken for the sheer fun of it, the “Home” cycle, particularly this first half, is a triumph of sequential storytelling. Ann Nocenti once again earns her chops as an editor; she’s got every member of the creative cast working not only at peak efficiency, but seemingly in telepathic unison. The various design elements – layout, line, color, letters – complement each other so well, it’s almost hard to believe that so many different people were involved. The clarity of expression and continuity of design are breathtaking.

Claremont’s writing, as he tracks the nine members of the New Mutants through separate adventures in Asgard that gradually merge, is epic in tone and scope but still tightly plotted. The story’s overriding gimmick is clever and fun, depicting each member of the cast as he or she struggles through a different fantasy milieu: Danielle among the Valkyries, Amara among the Faeries, Sam among the Dwarfs, Bobby among warriors, Illyana in the clutches of the Enchantress, etc.

Penciller Arthur Adams is able to change moods on a dime, and the story bounces from melodramatic to comic to creepy with effortless ease – there’s a new twist with each turn of a new page. Working with classic X-inker Terry Austin, Adams has a style that must have seemed shockingly new to superhero readers in 1985. The artist’s work here, along with his equally striking work on the contemporaneous Longshot miniseries, is pretty much the origin of the style that will eventually be associated with Image artists such as Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and Whilce Poracio (Portacio inked the Longshot miniseries). Adams is, much like George Perez, incredibly detail-oriented, but his work is also far more kinetic than Perez’s, and Adams’ details always contribute to the storytelling (as opposed to Perez, whose tendency to cram is often distracting). Example: the cheeky detail on Page 42 (only obliquely commented on in Claremont’s text), wherein a beautiful female Dwarf seems to goose Sam, much to his embarrassment, or Adams’ amusing choice to cast one of the giants in the Rahne sequence as Martin Short’s Ed Grimley. (Claremont throws an “I must say” into the dialogue to complete the effect, and the resulting effect is rather Dave Sim-esque.)

Regular X-Men colorist Glynis Oliver isn’t present for this issue, and instead the colors are handled by Christie Scheele, who turns in phenomenally vibrant work – particularly nice is the striking reddish-brown coat on Wolfsbane, complemented by the bright green used for her eyes. Tom Orzechowski teams with his apparent second-in-command Lois Buhalis on letters, and their work is as slick and as bold as everyone else’s – I love Buhalis’ increasingly large “Uhnff!”’s for Sunspot on page 40.

All these elements combine for a boisterously exciting yet well-controlled story whose inevitable climax – all nine characters unite to take down the villain – comes together expertly, in a rush of pure narrative adrenaline. This is superhero comics as they ought to be – sheer, effervescent fun.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Greatest Hits Albums: Are they Only for Housewives and Little Girls

by Scott

Of course there are many aspects of music geekery/elitism that can be found in this sketch but I am going to focus on my favorite line: "Greatest Hits Albums are for Housewives and Little Girls!" To many a music geek, if you a true fan of the music of an artist, then you would buy the albums and listen to them as ‘originally intended.’ In theory this kind of makes sense and I, of course, own all the albums of my most favorite artists but a good greatest hits package can serve as an economic and convenient way to ‘test the waters’ so to speak. In fact, in the pre-iPod age, I would often purchase greatest hits packages from my favorite artist, even though I already owned all the albums, because it was a convenient way to have all the best songs on a single disc (and, fortunately, most of my favorite bands were also nice enough to release special editions that would usually include an entire disc of unreleased material so that I would get a little something new along with the old).

Despite the greatest hits package being seen as a sort of cheat, a musical cliff notes if you will, a well made collection is often just as good as any album. Rolling Stone even included a handful of these in its 500 greatest albums of all time.

And, when you think about it, Changesbowie does kind of work as an album in its own right. They can also be invaluable tools for collecting the music of an artist whose best tunes were made before the dominance of the album; Chuck Berry’s The Great Twenty-Eight and Elvis’s Sun Sessions are prime examples of this.

Here are few of my favorite examples of superior greatest hits albums:

The Clash- The Story Of The Clash

This serves as proof that not all greatest hits albums by the same artist are created equal. I have since upgraded to The Essential Clash (I generally find the Essential collections put out by Sony/Columbia to be pretty good career overviews) and, while Essential does have more songs, it is assembled (as most of these collections are) in chronological order. Story didn’t list the songs chronologically, I can’t recollect if there was any real rhyme or reason to the track listing but, what I do remember, is that it gave you a much greater variety in your listening experience when listening to the album straight through (As I’m typing this I’m realizing that I can assemble the very album that I am speaking of from The Essential collection and listen to it in that order if I so desire… digital music rocks!)

The Ramones- Hey Ho! Let’s Go! The Anthology

The Ramones are a band that are tailor made for the Greatest Hits package: they write short songs and, as a result, you can fit a LOT of their songs onto a couple of discs. This set, totaling nearly 60 songs in all, spans the bands entire career and, the first disc, contains at least 7 or 8 songs from the band’s all-important first three albums while the rest of the collection manages to do a pretty darned good job of hitting the highlights from the rest of their catalogue.

REM …And I Feel Fine: The Best of the IRS Years

This was the last hits package that I purchased from a favorite artist (a few months before I got my first iPod). First of all, I found this to be invaluable since REM’s back catalogue is in desperate need of re-mastering (or is it? Look for an upcoming post I’m working on about sound quality). Like Story of the Clash this album doesn’t place the tracks in chronological order but in a more fitting order that maximizes the variety and flow of the overall experience. Still, they chose to open the set with “Begin the Begin”; “Radio Free Europe”, while adhering to a chronological format, is a much better opening track (the deluxe version offers some even ‘deeper cuts’ of the band’s favorite songs as well as some great rarities and live tracks and the far superior ‘Hib-Tone Single Version’ of “Radio Free Europe”)

The Police- The Police

I consider the police to be pretty high up on my list of favorite artist yet this ‘best of’ collection is all I really need. Since the Police released only five albums, most of which are represented by several songs here (all but two tracks from Synchronicity are included), it manages to give pretty comprehensive overview of the band’s career. Also, the songs flow together and work quite well as a unified whole. This may have been released mainly to coincide with the band’s reunion tour, but it still works! (also, the sound quality is awesome and far superior to their previous hits package Every Breath You Take: The Classics, a classic ‘hits’ package in its own right.)

The Beatles- 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 (aka The Red and Blue Albums)

These collections were my introduction to the Beatles; the former was owned on CD, the latter on cassette. Sure, a complete Beatles collection kind of renders them obsolete and songs like “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “A Day In The Life” are probably best heard as part of the original album but the combination of their biggest hits with the best album tracks makes for an invaluable introduction to the ‘Fab Four.’

It is pretty doubtful if collections like these will survive the digital music age but in their day they provided an invaluable service to the frugal music consumer.

Free Form Comments

Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticisms (which can be anonymous), surveys, introductions if you have never commented before, personal news, self-promotion, requests to be added to the blog roll and so on. If I forget, remind me. Remember these comments can be directed at all the readers, not just me.

ALSO. You can use this space to re-ask me questions you asked me before that I failed to answer because I was too busy.

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You do not have to have a blogger account or gmail account to post a comment -- you can write a comment, write your name at the bottom of your comment like an e mail, and then post using the "anonymous" option.

WRITING FOR THIS BLOG. If I see a big free form comment that deserves more attention, I will pull it and make it its own post, with a label on the post and on the sidebar that will always link to all the posts you write for this blog. I am always looking for reviews of games, tv, movies, music and books.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #199

[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“The Spiral Path”

Besides being an advertisement for the contemporaneous Longshot miniseries (drawn by Arthur Adams and written by X-Men editor Ann Nocenti), the title of this issue also alludes to the odd vicissitudes of the serial narrative. Particularly in comic books like X-Men, with a history decades long, it’s often the case that story ideas, themes and plot twists tend to recur in a perpetual but uneven cycle.

We see a lot of evidence of that phenomenon in Uncanny #199, which features the return of Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, recurring villains who themselves are a “twist” on other recurring villains – the original Lee/Kirby brotherhood formed by Magneto.

The Brotherhood return here because that’s what villains do in serial superhero narrative – yet now they work for the U.S. government and they are out to capture Magneto, the founder of their precursors, who in his first appearance in 1963 attacked a U.S. government installation. As Mystique points out, her and her team’s defection to the “good side” is not without precedent: Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, charter members of the 1960s Brotherhood, defected to the Avengers very quickly after their first appearance.

Meanwhile, Cyclops – written out of the comic over a year ago – has been called back to the team. The story opens with him, the original X-Man, practicing in the Danger Room, like so many times before.

Jean Grey became Phoenix almost a decade ago. Now her daughter becomes Phoenix, in a scene whose fiery bombast (followed by a collapse) recalls the original transformation by Jean in 1976. There are familiar story turns occurring left, right and center.

Yet matters are not so symmetric that any of these plot points can be said to be coming full circle. Rather, events are proceeding along “The Spiral Path.” Things are the same, but also different. Magneto, of course, is the most significant anomaly. A one-dimensional villain for much of his narrative existence, here we have his most profoundly sympathetic portrayal yet to appear on-panel. Placing him at the National Holocaust Memorial with Kitty, his fellow Jew among the X-Men cast, is striking in its own right. The subsequent revelation that Magneto “saved many” people at Auschwitz is even bolder. Claremont is endowing Magneto with a level of dimensionality that no character in Uncanny X-Men (and few in mainstream superhero comics in general) has ever had before.

As with Rachel fighting the Black Queen or Rogue fighting the psyche of Carol Danvers, when Magneto is attacked by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – now ironically dubbed Freedom Force – it is a superhero metaphor. He is facing the crimes of his own past (having founded the original Brotherhood), as manifested in comic-book style. Magneto’s willingness to give himself up to the government has a narrative precursor in Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men: specifically when Wolverine gave himself up to Alpha Flight. But while that was just a superhero story for its own sake, here there is genuine psychological weight behind Magneto’s decision. It is noteworthy that his surrender is not because he recognizes the authority of the establishment. (“Words and titles have never impressed me,” he tells Mystique, “nor do I accept the dominion of any nation over my person.”) Instead, it is about facing up to his personal demons, as personified in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

As for the Brotherhood themselves, the fact that Mystique sells out to the establishment is another example of Claremont upending the politics of the X-Men’s premise. Back in X-Men #1, it was the X-Men who went out to capture Magneto. The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants were the revolutionaries, while the X-Men, as pointed out by Neil Shyminski (quoting Julian Darius), were “explicitly counter-revolutionary.” (Back in the Lee/Kirby days, it was the title characters – or the narrative captions – that branded their opponents “evil mutants.” Magneto just referred them as his “brotherhood” or his “band.”)

Now, however, the Brotherhood are aligned with the establishment. The X-Men are outlaws, fighting to defend the revolutionary Magneto from being persecuted at the government’s hands. Note also that the only Silver Age X-Man to appear on panel in this issue is Cyclops, and he ends up being the mouthpiece for the X-Men’s now out-of-date conservatism. “I know Magneto says he’s reformed, but I don’t believe it!” he declares, and in context seems entirely square for holding such a morally absolutist point of view. The times, they are a-changin’.

Monday, February 16, 2009

30 Rock this week

30 Rock has been more than a little lame this season, but there was a great line that made me laugh out loud this week. Here is the scene, about 30 seconds long (I just now discovered Hulu lets you edit episodes into clips to embed in this crazy intuitive manner -- AWESOME.)

And here is what you need to know to get the joke -- Baldwin is referencing his role in Aaron Sorkin's Malice.

I love it when TV rewards me for watching too much TV by telling me I am special for getting a joke maybe some people missed. (There is no emoticon to tell you what tone of voice that should be in, so I will just tell you it is some kind of light self-deprecating irony)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dollhouse (Spoilers)

I am a pretty solid Joss Whedon fan having seen all of Buffy, Angel and Firefly. But Whedon got on my nerves with his continuation of Buffy and Angel in comics form; that was more of a "ok, this is not for me anymore." Dr. Horrible had some choice lines ("Give my regards to St. Peter ... or you know, whoever has his job in hell") but I was also not crazy about it, and especially the depressing ending. But I could see why people might like it, and I who can have anything but praise for Nathan Fillion and the NPH. Dollhouse just kind of straight up sucked, except for a few small moments.

It is being compared to Alias, and the comparison does it no favors. To Alias -- to the idea of a show that revolves around dressing up a hot girl in various outfits and kicking stuff -- it adds in all this subtext about abused girls, and themes about memory and identity. Which is to say -- the show makes the audience feel bad for ogling the girl, and offers philosophy when I want ass kicking. Plus, for reasons I cannot explain, for me at least, Dushku lacks the charm I thought Jennifer Garner had on Alias -- but that is surely is almost entirely the result of my personal taste in cute girls. I like Garner's sticky-outie-ears and her tough jaw line. I don't know. I cannot fault Dushku as an actress since Garner is not exactly amazing.

The main plot was uninteresting, and turned on this HUGE coincidence -- that the source of the imprinted personality was coincidentally abused by the guy who stole the girl in this mission. Coincidence is lazy writing.

Whedon also seems determined for mainstream success on this and so is getting rid of his trademark twee dialogue and jokes, -- I get why (he can overdo it) but I still miss them. I cannot believe someone did not come into the bathroom when Helo from Battlestar was interrogating that guy at the urinal. Whedon let the opportunity go without a joke, a signal to the audience. His dialogue did not get him a large audience but at least he satisfied his fans -- my fear is this whitewashed stuff will satisfy no one: or worse, it will, and this will just be one of those shows that is on for a long time, and kind of sucks. In any case, I liked that, for good or bad, you could hear his voice in a show, the way you can hear Mamet or Sorkin. Now you can't anymore.

Most importantly Whedon failed to explain why the Dollhouse was necessary. The objection occured to him, and so he put the scene where the FBI guys ask the Helo why someone would order a girl imprinted with the memories of a hostage negotiator when they could just hire a negotiater, and the answer -- rich people just want MORE -- was unsatisfying. The whole notion of this Dollhouse with these programable girls seems needlessly complicated. By definition, none of the girls do anything someone outside of the Dollhouse can do, since it is outside of the Dollhouse they get the imprints. (Where they get the imprints may be a good part of the larger mythology, if I watch for that long).

Another detail that felt off to me -- the whole place looks liek a day spa, so why is the evil science room where they electrocute the girls with painful needles in a room with translucent windows on every side overlooking the main room so everyone can see the Frankenstein lights and just walk up and open the translucent window door whenever they want? You don't want to put that in a basement or something? Or at least get an opaque door and a chain lock?

The only moments that rang right with me was the line at the beginning where she says "Have you every tried to clean a slate -- you can always still read what used to be there." That is a good point and it is sort of etymologically sound: Tabula Rasa is usually translated as "Blank Slate" but "scraped slate" is closer and you CAN still read what used to be there as Derrida and Co pointed out. I also thought the bit at the end with the freaky naked guy who is looking for Dushku was good -- it reminded me of those evil blue hand dudes from Firefly. That was pretty intense.

I am not sure if I will watch more of this show. It depends on how bored I am, and if I hear that magic sentence from someone I trust -- "The first episode was weak but it got way better after that."

Friday, February 13, 2009

LOST, BSG, 24 this week

24. This show is dumb and I am not reviewing it anymore, especially as Sara talked about it yesterday. Don't get me wrong: I am still going to watch it. The scene where the FBI agent has the baby was pretty good, as she looks really conflicted about what she is going to do next -- but at the end of the day this is just a guilty pleasure and kind of beneath comment. Except, as Sara pointed out, I CANNOT BELIEVE Dubaku left the side of the kidnaped first gentleman while threatening the president of the United States to deal with some nonsense with his waitress girlfriend.

BSG. Though I am partly sympathetic to complaints that this show had ten episodes to go and spent three of them going around in a circle, I really liked the mutiny plot, and liked especially that it had nothing to do with the mythology. The acting on this show is always superb and that, to my mind, lets them get away with lots -- Roslin yelling at at the crew of BSG saying she is coming for them was pretty well awesome. The deaths of Zarek and Gaeda were great and the fact that this was so close to the end adds the sense that anybody could die at any time -- a plot like this really takes advantage of the structure of the series.

LOST. I am going to continue to complain here, but it should be understood that my complaints should be read in the context of the fact that there is really nothing this show could do to prevent me from seeing it all the way to the end -- only 29 episodes to go until the end of the series, if you can believe it. This episode had some good moments, especially involving Locke in the well. But I need a clearer sense of the goals -- it was very weird when Ben brought some of the group to Mrs Hawking and she basically said that this was not enough people but let's get started anyway. I mean probably while she is getting ready Ben will have to get the remaining three, but it did not feel right as the ending beat since so much had been put on getting them all back and the same time. I was interested in the Rousseau plot, but it did not tell us more than we already knew from Rousseau's narration when we first met her. And Charlotte's death felt forced -- like she had a story in season 4, then the writers strike hit, so she just blurted out all this stuff and promptly died. To make matters worse, it looks like the island skipping around is going to get stabilized sooner rather than later -- I assumed it would take all season for the Oceanic Six to get back to the island, but now it looks like it might only be a few episodes. I really wanted to see more where the time skips would take us -- though this last is not quite fair as it might survive in some other form in the back half of this season. And I still do not have any idea what they are all supposed to do when they get there -- and I just want one clue. This is where I could use an old fashioned flash-forward to build my interest.

Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

by Scott

[My comic book store sold out of this one so unfortunately I do not get to weigh in on this. Sorry.]

I enjoyed this issue. I like Andy Kubert's art, had he drawn the entire Morrison run I probably would have payed much more attention. I like how, here, he evokes different eras/interpretations of Batman characters by subtle changes, not only in costume design but also in the architecture of the city. Another great, yet subtle, bit of this is when we see the Joker, when he is paired with Harley Quinn at the funeral, takes on an appearance similar to the dini/Timm animated series (note the pointed nose and the hair).

The paralell to Robin Hood in the Catwoman story is interesting, however, It's not part of the Robin Hood myth I'm familiar with. I'm sure Gaiman probably is though. Anybody else?

I like how in "The Gentleman's Gentleman's Tale", Alfred takes on the role of a very different sort of 'enabler' This story also has a very subtle callback to Moore's "Whatever happenned to the Man of Tommorrow" when Bruce says "Even if there never WAS a Batman I'm still Batman." In effect saying, "even if Batman doesn't really exist, he is Bruce Wayne and he DOES exist in the realm of this fantasty world" which is not all that different from Moore's admission at the beginning of "Whatever Happenned to the Man of Tommorrow" that "This is an imaginary story... but then alll stories are imaginary stories" Gaiman is also playing with the idea, seeing as how Batman dies at the end of each of the stories so far, that while, yes, Batman is dead in THIS story (i.e. the mainstream DCU) that he lives on as Batman in 'other stories' (movies, cartoons, Batman Confidential etc.). In a way, as Gaiman is eulogizing him, he is also confirming his immortality.

I'm reminded of something Geoff wrote about The Dark Knight Returns that Miller attempted "to make sense of fifty years of Batman continuity." Now that I think about it, Miller didn't try to 'make sense of it' so much as he distilled it down to its essential parts; Morrison and Gaiman, however, in their stories DO attempt to make sense of all the continuity and different versions of the character that have appeared over the years. Thus far, Gaiman seems to be more successful in the endevour and, seeing as how HIS version is only two issues, more effecient.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Haters Can't Be Stopped

by Sara

I was just called a hater yesterday, and I agreed wholeheartedly. I wasn't called that out of anger either. It was out of affection and I believe perhaps a bit out of admiration, for I hate pretty much everything with a glee I hope is rather endearing.

It came up because we watched Before Sunset (Richard Linklater's 2004 sequel to Before Sunrise 9 years after the original screened) in class and I just hate Ethan Hawke. Just so, so much. And I feel he's only gotten douchier with age. Also, he has way too many teeth. The movie is rather twee, and exceedingly white. Two fairly problem-free white people whining to one another about how they're too old to be romantics anymore. la la la. Anyhoodle, I said as much in class when asked by the prof what our response to the movie was (the first words out of my mouth were Ethan Hawke is a giant Douche). I sort of sank into a wonderful reverie of hate on Le Hawke and his pretentious awfulness and how annoying a movie about other people complaining that they didn't have enough sex with one another really was, and when I came out of it one of my friends said "wow, you're really a hater." See, compliment!

Today I would like to talk about my hate of 24. I hate 24 because it's boring. Jack will eventually save us all, earning the grudging admiration of the Government, then next season they'll want to jail his ass for all the rules he broke saving them the season before. Sprinkle in some torture, a female Jack Bauer (known in my house as Jackquella), a computer geek or two, and a bad guy who can slip through any police blockade BY TAKING A BUS until such time as we have to wrap this whole thing up, et voila, 24. Yawn. Snooze. This season they're adding "human interest" story lines or whatever to make it more personal. Giving your big bad terrorist a girlfriend who doesn't yet know he's a terrorist? Not exactly a stroke of brilliance nor a story line that will have on the edge of my seat. So far I've fallen asleep to every 24 I've watched.

Seriously though? The President of the United States cannot get through the block that the terrorist calls her on (I call him the terrorist because I cannot remember his name on the show. It's the guy from Sengala -- which Geoff thought was a real African country btw.) HOWEVER, the WHEEL-CHAIR bound (way to play on our sympathies 24 peeps) sister of this guy's waitress girlfriend from his double life, SHE can fucking find the number no problem. Anyway, I have to go work out now, this hater rush is too much.

[FOR A MOMENT, I may have become confused by the sheer dumb-ness of 24 and thought FOR A MOMENT Sengala was a real place, but at least I remember the bad guys name is DUBAKU.]

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #198

[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“LifeDeath: From the Heart of Darkness”

According to his intro to this story in his X-Men Visionaries volume, Chris Claremont intended this to be the middle part of a “LifeDeath” trilogy with artist Barry Windsor-Smith, but was never able to get it together with Windsor-Smith for the concluding chapter.

That explains the rather opaque final page of this story, wherein Storm decides (a bit arrogantly) that she is “a bridge, not simply between old ways and new, but races as well – between humanity and its mutant children!” This is actually an intriguing idea, and very evocatively phrased by Claremont. What it means on a practical level is a mystery.

It’s possibly worth noting that in New Mutants 32, published within two weeks of Uncanny #198, two members of the eponymous team travel back in time to ancient Egypt, where they meet a telepathic sorceress who is identical to Ororo, and claims -- after reading the New Mutants’ minds and seeing the image of Storm in their thoughts -- to be Storm’s grandmother “many times removed.”

There are also scattered references circa issues 187-193 (not to mention in Claremont’s Magik miniseries) to Ororo having some magic in her blood. Perhaps the final chapter of “LifeDeath” would have drawn all these strands together and made some sense of it all. As it is, the idea was never really explored after Uncanny X-Men #198. The franchise was about to go in other directions, with Claremont having – generally speaking – less control over matters. (He writes of having learned about Jim Shooter’s plans to resurrect Jean Grey during the same dinner at which he, Windsor-Smith and Ann Nocenti plotted issue 198). Storm’s “destiny” as revealed here can be chalked up to something lost in the shuffle.

With an ending obscured by opaque writing, this entire issue seems somehow lacking. The page in which Storm denounces her earlier, “Goddess” incarnation as “a sham” is interesting – almost a tacit ret-conning of her original, “classic” characterization as deliberate artifice on Ororo’s part. That has some interesting implications. But when the story becomes about an African village, it begins to feel forced. Claremont seems to make a fetish out of delineating the culture’s customs, history, problems, etc., rather than attempting to frame this material inside an engaging narrative.

Barry Windsor-Smith’s art in Uncanny #198 (he handles not only pencils and inks but colors as well) is always gorgeous and, at times, absolutely transcendent. Inspired by his collaborator, Claremont’s writing is equal in ambition, but ultimately falls short of Windsor-Smith’s standard.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds Trailer


Free Form Comments

Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticisms (which can be anonymous), surveys, introductions if you have never commented before, personal news, self-promotion, requests to be added to the blog roll and so on. If I forget, remind me. Remember these comments can be directed at all the readers, not just me.

ALSO. You can use this space to re-ask me questions you asked me before that I failed to answer because I was too busy.

AND you can use this space to comment on posts that are old enough that no one is reading the comments threads anymore.

You do not have to have a blogger account or gmail account to post a comment -- you can write a comment, write your name at the bottom of your comment like an e mail, and then post using the "anonymous" option.

WRITING FOR THIS BLOG. If I see a big free form comment that deserves more attention, I will pull it and make it its own post, with a label on the post and on the sidebar that will always link to all the posts you write for this blog. I am always looking for reviews of games, tv, movies, music and books.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Blackmail Scene from Dark Knight

This is such a great scene -- not only for the Dark Knight but for the whole Batman canon -- because it explains why all those people over the years who must have guessed that Batman was Bruce Wayne never did anything with the knowledge.

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #197

[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“To Save Arcade?!?”

It wasn’t long before the publication of Uncanny #197 that writer-artist John Byrne made a nastily unprofessional point of ret-conning an earlier use of Dr. Doom by Chris Claremont. Fantastic Four #258 stated categorically that the Dr. Doom who appeared in Uncanny X-Men #145-147 was a “Doombot.” That little nose-thumbing explains the bulk of “To Save Arcade?!?”, largely devoted to a giant hoax by Arcade (who also appeared in Uncanny #’s 145-147) involving another Dr. Doom who again turns out to be a fake.

It appears to be a big joke on John Byrne’s petulant possessiveness of Dr. Doom as a Fantastic Four character. (Byrne couldn’t stand seeing the villain appearing in other comics acting “out of character.”) The appearance of X-Men robots (“X-bots”) created by Arcade – and the multiple comments about how they are so much like the “real” X-Men – are presumably part of the same gag. Claremont is jokingly giving himself the same back-door to explain away other writers’ use of the X-Men. If they ever act out of character, Arcade can show up and say they were actually X-bots.

Since so much of the issue is dedicated to a not-terribly-funny inside joke, the only interesting moments to be found here occur on the fringes of the comic. The one-page Scott/Madelyne scene, for example, is very well written. Scott professing his fear at entering a new phase of his life as a “family man” feels very genuine and sympathetic – this being before it turns into something horrible thanks to the miserable early issues of X-Factor (from which we are still roughly six months away).

Colossus’ guilt-ridden dream that opens the issue is similarly affecting. Overall, Claremont is a bit too dependent on dream sequences laden with overwrought imagery. Certainly the Colossus sequence is quite wrought, but it manages not to go too far. It’s a neat bit of symbolism, for example, that the Kitty section of the dream alludes to the Brood saga, when Peter first refused Kitty’s sexual advance. And the Illyana bit that goes all the way back to Giant-Sized X-Men #1 is shrewd as well.

It’s interesting that both Colossus and Cyclops are shown dealing with psychological insecurities related to their masculinity. Colossus laments that he was unable to save “his” women (Kitty, Illyana and the female healer from Secret Wars, Zsaji). Cyclops fears permanently abandoning his role as the X-Men’s alpha male in order to devote himself full-time to being a husband and father. If there is an overarching theme to “To Save Arcade?!?”, it is the examination of male sexual psychology. Within that schema, Arcade’s ridiculous plot – as revealed at the end of the issue – has a strange kind of resonance. Every birthday, he arranges a duel to test whether he’s still as potent as ever. It is always against Miss Locke, his female counterpart – Arcade wants to test whether he is still man enough to beat the woman in his life. And their duels are always explicitly to the death; so the day in which he can’t beat a woman is the day Arcade will die.

Looked at through this lens, even Claremont’s extended joke about John Byrne has its place, demonstrating something about the psychology of the men outside the comics as well. Claremont and Byrne have egos as sensitive as those of Arcade, Cyclops and Colossus, and they treat any misuse or insult to the characters in their custody as an attack on themselves as well.

Monday, February 09, 2009

David Savran's Taking It Like A Man

David Savran's Taking It Like A Man: White Masculinity, Masochism and Contemporary American Culture argues that reflexive masochism -- in which you essentially torture yourself -- is the essence of how white masculinity is defined in contemporary culture. He argues that in film "heroes remonstrate against a culture made uneasy by traditional machismo by proclaiming themselves victims, by turning violence upon themselves and so demonstrating their implacable toughness, their ability to savor their self inflicted wounds." I was not sure what I thought about that, and then I saw this:

David Savran sort of wins.

Is the Album Dead?

by Scott

In a recent interview with the Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune, Billy Corgan stated that The Smashing Pumpkins would no longer make albums in order to concentrate their attentions on singles, “The listening patterns have changed, so why are we killing ourselves to do albums, to create balance, and do the arty track to set up the single? It's done."

As CD sales plummet year after year, I keep hearing that ‘the Album is dead.’ However, just because more people are getting their music digitally, does that mean that a solid collection of tunes no longer has value? I mean, you can download the whole album just as easily as you can a single track… so why the shift? Maybe it’s because the iPod age has made ‘shuffling’ easier than ever and so having a bunch of good songs from many different artist at you fingertips is far easier than it used to be; you don’t even have to make a mix CD, you just point, click and drag it into your playlist.

But does that make a group of songs that work together as a collective whole any less valuable? In fact, some of my favorite releases of the past year are albums where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts: Viva La Vida, 808 and Heartbreak, Chinese Democracy….

Is there any reason why singles and albums can’t co-exist separately as they once did in the 60s? If anything, I think the reason that albums haven’t been doing as well is because fewer artist are trying to make really good albums; they’re all concentrating on the single. Personally, I think that if you make a solid album, people will listen. That’s not to say that the more casual music fan still won’t prefer the single but the single has always been the preferred format for the casual music fan. The only difference is that, now, it’s easier (and more economically sound) than ever for them to avoid buying the whole album just to get the song (s) they want.

Thoughts on this?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Top 5 first tracks on an album

By Scott

My top 5 first tracks on an album:

5. Runnin' With The Devil- Van Halen Van Halen I
4. Where The Streets Have No Name- U2 The Joshua Tree
3. Thunder Road- Bruce Springsteen Born To Run
2. Welcome To The Jungle- Guns N' Roses Appetite For Destruction
1. Baba O'Reily- The Who Who's Next


5. Casanova Soundtrack -- MIA's Paper Planes
4. Heritic Pride -- Sax Rhomer # 1 by the Mountain Goats
3. LCD Soundsystem 45:33 -- which is totally cheating since the album is one long track
2. Bone Thugs N Harmony -- Flomotion
1. 8 Diagrams by the Wu Tang Clan

TV and Comics This Week (LOST, BSG, 24)

BSG. This mutiny plot is clearly going to last at least one more episode, which means that the remaining 6 episodes -- 4 hours -- are going to have to 1. feature the final showdown between our guys and the bad Cylons led by Al from Quantum Leap, 2. find a home for everybody, and 3. explain a very complex mythology involving Ellen Tigh, Starbuck, "the secret of the opera house" and how the Cylons lived on earth 2000 years ago even though they are also with us now. Thats a lot to get done, but at least every moment should be exciting. For right now I am really enjoying the fact that BSG is committed to telling stories about people, even though everyone wants the big mythology addressed. The mutiny is being handled well and it is nice to see Starbuck with something heroic to do -- nice bit of gender reversal with her shooting the guy who had Lee at knife point. It was also nice seeing Adama fighting side by side with Tigh and just generally being active. The show does a good job of knowing everything feels more important and anything can change and anyone can die with only 7 episodes to go. 

LOST. I still basically love Lost but right now watching Deadwood on DVD and the final BSG episodes have kind of eclipsed it. I am not as into the show as I used to be, even now that we are 25% of the way through the season, for no reason I can exactly describe. I remain a little detached. I will continue to say that I am baffled as to why it was necessary to lie to the world to keep the people on the island safe. Brad pointed out that the thing with Aaron and the lawyer seemed like a bit of a waste of time, and I agree. Most of the off island stuff does not really have my attention yet. I still adore the group on the island and I love the device of flashing to some other time to learn the history of the island and shake everything up on the drop of a dime -- I love that maybe the Indian plan crashed on the island in the FUTURE for example. With a jungle island, you could even make it the far future without too much set design. That said, it was hardly a surprise the Rousseau plot would make a return -- the actress playing the young Rousseau by the way is breathtakingly beautiful and has been in hardly anything -- though I was surprised by the return of Jin. Not impressed exactly, but genuinely surprised. It gives Sun a reason to return. I am not sure I needed such a long shot of Sawyer seeing Aaron be born, except for thematic reasons. I like the show, and look forward to new episodes without being exactly impressed by anything other than structural decisions thus far into season five. The nosebleed thing does not seem like enough of a problem at this point for one thing. 

24. This show has always been pretty dumb and a lot of the time that was part of its charm. But our big bad -- who just killed hundreds of people -- getting away from a paramilitary team by taking a bus and then seeing his waitress girlfriend who he promised to have dinner with later today even though he has tons of secret president threatening terrorism to do is kind of a whole other level of dumb. Like Jack Tripper dumb. Like I should seriously stop watching this show but I probably won't because I am an idiot dumb. Can you imagine -- there must have been a moment that 24 could not have shown in which Dubaku is waiting for the bus to arrive with a bunch of old DC ladies. Having to sneak out of dinner to be a terrorist without his girlfriend noticing -- that's gonna be some shenanigans. 

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Avatar Live Action Casting

This is old -- almost nothing on this blog is timely -- but I thought I would put it up anyway. Brad sent me THIS LINK, and Brad and HCDuvall sent me THIS ONE.

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #196

[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“What Was That?”

Thanks to the free flow of ideas and threads moving back and forth between Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants – not to mention Jim Shooter’s compulsive need to dip his pen into the ink, giving the X-Men and Magneto key roles in his action-figure-tie-in-turned-vanity-project Secret Wars – it’s probably hard to track the evolution of Magneto if one is only reading Uncanny and nothing else. He shows up in Uncanny #196 as the friend of Charles Xavier and lover of Lee Forrester with a distinct lack of explanation. Here’s how it got to that point [deep breath] ...

After Magneto becoming repentant at the end of Uncanny #150, he next appeared in the quasi-canonical X-Men graphic novel “God Loves, Man Kills,” which showed him working with the X-Men against an anti-mutant bigot. He next appeared in Jim Shooter’s first Secret Wars series -- a simple-minded comic book in which heroes fight villains for twelve issues for the edification of a cosmic, all-powerful being called The Beyonder. In Secret Wars, Magneto works on the X-Men’s side once again, at Xavier’s behest.

Magneto’s chronology then picks up in an ongoing New Mutants subplot that for a long time does not intersect that series’ main narrative. Crashing into the ocean after the destruction of Asteroid M, he is rescued by Cyclops’ ex-girlfriend Lee Forrester, and the two return to his base in the Bermuda Triangle. Magneto’s past with Magda is alluded to – we are given the impression that perhaps Lee reminds him a bit of how much he misses certain more human luxuries: friends, lovers, etc. He and Lee become both the former and the latter over the course of a few months, at which point Magneto is contacted by Professor X. Weaker than ever since his mugging, Charles sends Magneto to gather both the X-Men and the New Mutants to help Captain America against the Beyonder. The storyline crosses over into the first issue of the depressingly bad Secret Wars II, which sees Magneto once again working with the X-Men.

That brings us, finally, to Uncanny #196. At this point, we’re only four months away from Claremont’s most severe status-quo change yet, wherein Xavier departs the series entirely and Magneto takes his place as an X-Man and as the New Mutants’ new teacher. Surprising as the move is, there is a narrative precedent, and Claremont even reminds us of it here: Rachel points out to Rogue midway through the issue that in the “Days of Future Past” dystopia, Magneto was an ally of the X-Men. Recall that Byrne even drew the character in a wheelchair for that story, making his status as a replacement-Xavier quite clear.

A scene between Magneto and Rachel was inevitable. Granted, when “Days of Future Past” was originally published, it’s unlikely that Claremont knew then that Magneto’s presence in the concentration camp would be thematically prescient. His new back-story for Magneto wasn’t conceived until Cockrum replaced Byrne as artist on the series. The serendipitous resonance that resulted, however, in the decision to make Magneto a Holocaust survivor certainly can’t be ignored now. When Rachel goes mad in the face of pure hate and bigotry, only to be talked down by the newly rehabilitated Magneto, there is a fascinating psychological parallelism at work. Essentially, both characters have the same origin: Having endured death camps in their youth, each is inclined toward extremism to prevent another Holocaust. When Claremont depicts Rachel’s fit of rage toward the end of “What Was That?”, the reader is invited to consider that Magneto must have had a moment like this too, prior to becoming a villain. (Later, Claremont would show us that exact scene, in the brilliant “Fire in the Night” from Classic X-Men #12.)

Since Magneto’s origin is tied to a real historical tragedy and Rachel’s to a fictional one, the latter character cannot possibly bear the same sense of psychological weight. On a meta-narrative level, Magneto’s maturity and wisdom in the face of Rachel’s naivety parallels the fact that a superhero comic book can never fully bear the weight of reality.

True, the allusions to the Holocaust that occur in X-Men can and do give a sense of gravitas to the storyline; Claremont’s Magneto emerges as the author’s single most psychologically complex creation. But for all that, it is still just a comic book. It can never pretend, with its four-color fictions, to speak to the realities of racism, hatred and bigotry as experienced by actual victims and survivors.

This is why “God Loves, Man Kills” – with its audacious and awkward use of the word “nigger” to somehow prove the hurtfulness of the imagined epithet “mutie” – is such a failure. Ironically, issue 196 once again features Kitty throwing the “N word” in a black person’s face. It’s fascinating that this inflammatory slur appears for the first time in an X-Men story since “God Loves, Man Kills” in the exact same issue that contains a metatextual acknowledgement of the Uncanny X-Men series’ limitations in speaking to racial experience. This is perhaps Claremont’s tacit acknowledgement that “God Loves, Man Kills” was a wrong-headed and immature work.

It’s also significant that it is Kitty who keeps slinging the offensive word around. She’s the youngest member of the team (Claremont makes a point of reminding us she’s 15 one page after she uses the epithet), and therefore the least likely to recognize the full implications of using such loaded language, even in an ironic context that attempts to make an unsubtle point about how “words like that” can be “hurtful.”

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Day Flight: Rome to New York: Mama Mia and, ugh, Speed Racer.

by Sara

Ok, both these movies were really really bad. I mean, I thought Sex and Stereotyping in the City was bad. That ain't got nothing on what I sat through on the flight home. Which was actually smooth and pleasantand I actually had a very tasty lunch and was feeling quite happy. That feeling was later crapped all over by the Wachowski Bros (those loveable scamps). Anyway.

Mama Mia - I start with this movie because I am not sure I am going to watch anything else at this point but need to watch something and, y'know, my mom liked it. Also, I LOOOOOVE me some ABBA. I do. I can't deny it. You can't hate something that fun. You can't. You can't stop your feet tapping or yourself from singing along, especially to Dancing Queen, I DEFY you to try. So yes, every time they broke into song - which was approximately every 15 - 20 seconds - I did find myself kind of smiling. Except for when they sang the two or three songs I was unfamiliar with. I think one was actually written by the ABBA fellas for the movie (or bway show). Those songs weren't any good anyway...

Honestly, this movie is not even really what I'd call a "movie." It's the "most serious and important actress in the world," Meryl
Streep, hanging out in Greece with some not-as-famous-nor-as-good-actors, all singing ABBA songs, looking like they are a bit drunk, and having a blast. This movie was made for moms and grandmothers and it succeeds. The plot (there's a plot. there really shouldn't be. they should just walk around this island and then occasionally break out in to ABBA song and dance numbers, it would've been better...) is convoluted and sometimes I think they forgot it all together, then kind of remembered, then forgot again. Former James Bond Pierce Brosnan I THINK was trying to do an American Accent. I think. it was hard to tell. He wasn't using his regular accent, well, not the whole time. And in the beginning I think we were told he's American. But, Bond is def not 'Merican and it shows. Also, he can't sing. he SHOULDN'T sing, actually, but he did sing which was unfortunate. Solos even. And if that wasn't him that was singing, whomever they dubbed in also shouldn't sing. As for good bits other than the music, I will cop to thinking it was hilarious seeing a doughy, half naked Colin Firth proclaim to be gay and grab a super euro trash Greek boy up in an "embrace." Also, seeing him, Bond, and that guy from the pirate movies and The Glass House... whashisface...AH stellan skaaaaaaarsgaaaaaaaaaaard, in spangly tight unitards with big-ass flared bottoms and platform shoes at the end of the movie. They do a bit at the end with just the leads where they are all on some stage in ridiculous 70's jumpsuits and they sing and dance to two ABBA numbers. But, I mean THAT is what a movie about ABBA music should be. Why weren't they dressed like that the whole time??? End notes: I hated that I couldn't sing along to this movie. The rest really was unmemorable, except the location. Note-to-self: go to Greece, also, remember to rip my copy of ABBA Gold to my ipod when I get home.

Up Next: The Most Awful Movie Of All Time; AKA -- Speed Racer

Firstly: I don't care if you liked the Matrix sequels. They were awful, you are wrong and you can tell me all the reasons why I am wrong til you're blue in the face but you'd still be wrong and I am right. They sucked. The Wachowskis proved they can't really make movies, and that the first Matrix was some sort of random fluke. Those movies also proved that they think they are really smart and deep and philosophical and shit. What is funny is that they are the opposite. Ok, so we're on the same page, those last two Matrix movies were horse crap. You know what's kind of worse? Speed Racer. This. Movie. Was. TERRIBLE. Like, I knew it was going to be terrible going in, but I was without choices and also I was kind of curious. I had read the reviews, I had listened to my friend who saw it on shrooms and who swore to me that itwas really a fantastic movie but you had to be tripping your ass off first. I can tell you that a) why would you need or want chemical alteration to watch this? If I had been tripping than I think what I would have experienced would be an awful movie without bells and whistles and shiny psychedelic colors to distract me. Cos they would cancel each other out. Where's the fun in that? and b) this movie was just like a cataclysm of bad. I have no problems with shiny colors. Yes, they gave me a headache in this instance, but y'know, the acting was just so dismal (side note: why did they hire a crash test dummy for the romantic lead? was a 2x4 unavailable?). I have been on a hate-fest with Christina Ricci ever since she lost way too much weight, and stopped starring in things like the Ice Storm and Buffalo 66 and started, well, starring in suckage. Here she barely registers as a living breathing person. She's sort of a cardboard cut out that is stuck into most every scene, sort of like a "find the Ricci" game. She occasionally said stuff, which really she shouldn't have, cos actually speaking was more detrimental than just standing there staring vacantly. This movie wasn't really about "girl power" if y'know what I mean. But anyway, it was clear that she wasn't really important. So we'll just move on. Kind of cute haircut tho, and it makes me long for short hair again.

Oh, poor Dan from Roseanne. Remember how awesome he was in the Big Lebowski? and pretty much every Coen bros movie they put him in? DanDanDan. Not every writer-director duo who are brothers are the Coen brothers. I know it's hard to keep straight. (Side Note: Also, keep in mind you might also want to avoid working with the Farrelly bros as well.) Yes this is tricky. Yes, there are too many writer-director brother teams in Hollywood. But, I think you can do it. I met you once and you were kind of scary but also very funny and very nice. You have a daughter whom you love. If you really really do love her, you wouldn't have done this to her so please promise me, and her, you won't ever be in a movie like this again. If she ever asks you why you starred in this horrible movie, tell her the truth. You owed some guys some money and it was either be in Speed Racer or have your fingers broken.

Susan Sarandon - wtf. no, dude. wtf? were you bored? did you accidentally wander on to the set and they just filmed it? maybe you were high. or perhaps it was a lost bet with your boyfriend Tim Robbins over something very very political and liberal-minded. or perhaps it's all three. Or, perhaps the Wachowskis, those loveable scamps, promised you another Rocky Horror. They lied to you. LIED! I know you don't always star in like the best movies. There was that one where you were an age-ed rock groupie with Goldie "one day my lips will eat my face" Hawn. My mom liked it and you guys are kind of the same age so I get that you occasionally want to make a nod toward your contemporaries who, in their later years have lost their taste. Fine. But this? Unforgivable. You will have to find some way to make it up to me. Perhaps Obama can help you retool your image with a position in his administration. That would help.

ok. Here's an interesting thing: Jack from LOST is TOTES Racer X. I'd know that "gruff but supposed to be also tender, strong and commanding yet slightly vulnerable" voice anywhere. Also that nose. I hate Jack on LOST. Guess what? Hate him here too. I know, there is SO MUCH to hate about this movie. But he gets to be singled out. I don't even hate Ricci or the crash test dummy (imdb tells me his real name is Emile Hirsch. Weird name for a crash test dummy) as much as him. Ugh, even more when he takes off the mask. Can you please STOP it with the bug-eyed thing? Ben is supposed to be bug-eyed and creepy on LOST. We love it. You are supposed to be our hero but all you do is stare bug-eyed in anger or stare bug-eyed supposedly with "love" for kate. Blecch. you are icky. stop being icky. It's even worse when you smile. when you smile it always looks like you're faking it. I have decided that you are a psychopath. I have no sympathy for you, even when you are beardy and addicted to pills and alcohol. so, hah!

the rest of this movie: ok, so there's an annoying way overly precocious little kid who mugs it up so hard i'm afraid he's going to break something. But, I am used to kids like this, they are all over my TV. I know the monkey is there cos it was in the cartoon but honestly, with all the rest goin' on they could've losed the monkey. He was only there for the one scene where he threw his poo (I guess I have to commend the Wachowskis for their restraint. They had a monkey on set the whole time and only shot ONE monkey-throws-his-poo scene?). There are many many seizure-inducing shiny things. And gravity apparently doesn't exist when you drive a car in this world. People have really dumbass names. Occasionally throughout this thing the movie goes "anime." But not in the cool way that Tarrantino did, but in a random, half animated/half live action wha? kind of way. Those scenes contribute greatly to inducing headaches and seizures. The cars are a shiny and brighter and smoother than candy. Y'know, that might be a positive. I like things like that. However, sometimes they show battle damage and sometimes they don't. Whatever, thinking about this film is tiring...I know that fat, creepy villain from somewhere. (IMDB: Roger Allam). I like him, he's overacting and chewing scenery, good. someone should be having fun. everyone else is sort of zonked out. crash test dummy hot lead Hirsch or whatever is having trouble "emoting" which kind of fun to watch at first but I'm getting impatient. This movie is also over long. I shouldn't need more than 72 minutes of this and yet I'm given 135.

Ok, Here's its major (alright, not the only major but I'm tiring out here) downfall - there is like a totes important, totes relevant MESSAGE!!! -- would it be a Wachowski movie if there wasn't some sort of overt MESSAGE? no. no it would not -- so get this, turns out corporations are like bad and stuff. Rich people and CEOs and junk think that cos they have money that they can like, y'know, break rules and rig sports and keep making money and no one will say anything. but that's like SO WRONG! If you really really really believe and can like, um, drive a car really really well (which is far as I can tell means having a semi-sexual relationship with your car, which you've given a gender, pushing your foot down extra hard on the gas pedal occasionally and pushing a button) YOU WILL TOTES PROVE THEM WRONG!!! cos, like, you have heart and heart beats money in rock- paper scissor- money-heart game all the time! YEAH! If only the crash test dummy could've mustered that much enthusiasm...

(random semi-related fact: NASCAR came out of bootlegging. Bootleggers in the south and in Appalachia rigged their cars to go faster and outrun the cops so they wouldn't get caught haulin' booze. Then they started drag racing each other. Then they started racing with rules. And tada - Nascar. it's totally true.)

I hated this movie. I was relieved when it was over. There was a "TWIST ENDING." Racer X is actually speed's disgraced brother (the movie was never terribly clear about why speed's brother (speedier? stickshift? I forget brother of speed racer's name, sorry.) was disgraced in the world of racing. The movie tells us that he apparently crashed a lot. Or made other people crash which was bad. Or rather, when he did it was bad cos I saw lots of people crashing and doing stuff but Speed didn't get in trouble. Ok, he did once but I really honestly could not follow this movie. It somehow had the paradoxical effect of feeling ADD-addled and unfocused, jumping quickly from scene to scene, while also being extremely draggy and taking a long time to get anywhere. Maybe the Wachowskis have special physics-bending directing powers. ANYHOODLE. so speedy there, his brother turns out to be Racer X, right? 'cept Racer X is revealed to be Jack from LOST and jack doesn't look like the brother. Guess what? Turns out, speed's brother (can't remember the brother's official name. stickshift? exhaust pipe:?) had the same surgery that nic cage and john travolta did in Face Off. Except with Jack from LOST's face. But he ends up not telling his family for...reasons...uknown to us all... so boring. so don't care. wever. This is the THIRD time the Watchowski's have wasted my time. I would ask for it and my money back except y'know, I can't. My head is throbbing at this point and so I actually have to switch off the screen and take two advil. I end up dozing a bit from boredom until some sort of breakfasty snack type thing is served. This time my food isn't good. Insult to injury!!!!

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Bruce Springsteen's Working on a Dream

by Scott

Despite the album’s title track being performed at several stops endorsing Barak Obama, Springsteen’s Working On A Dream is his least political album in a decade; in fact, it might be his most personal album since 1987’s Tunnel of Love (or, at least, 1992’s Human Touch). It can definitely be seen as the final part of Springsteen’s ‘Millenial Trilogy’ began with 2002’s The Rising and continued, only 14 months ago, with Magic. But the connection is more musical than lyrical (due, no doubt, in part to all three albums being produced by Brendan O’ Brian). While The Rising gave voice to the country’s post 9-11 confusion and Magic railed against opportunities squandered in Bush’s America, Working On A Dream returns to the kind of epic grandeur and quirky characters that he hasn’t visited in a good three decades.

Magic was the Boss at his tuneful best and saw him craft some of his tightest songs since, at least, Born In The USA (some might even say since Born To Run). With Working on a Dream, he continues along those same lines but accents it with a grandiosity that has been missing from his work since the seventies. No where is that more apparent than on the album opener “Outlaw Pete”; at 8 minutes, it’s the longest song he has recorded in 30 years and, lyrically, it recalls the best of past epics like “Lost in the Flood” and “Jungleland.” It all builds to a brilliant string driven crescendo with Springsteen wailing “can you hear me?” before the titular character rides out blazing through a trail of violins and shrieking guitars.

After a 37 year recording career, Bruce still shows he’s capable of surprises; the distorted blues stomp of “Good Eye” (which, I suspect, might be inspired by the amped up version of “Reason to Believe” that he had been playing on tour last year) and the backwards guitar solo in “Life Itself” are fresh textures added to his already rich palette. And, on one of the album’s highlights, “Surprise, Surprise” we have a rare instance of Springsteen allowing his British invasion influences come to the forefront.

Still, not every track is a homerun. The title track drags, “Tommorrow Never Knows” cops its title from a much better song (a bit of advice, if you’re going to steal a title, steal it from a song that you know won’t be as good as yours) and, maybe, there are a few too many mid-tempo numbers and not enough rockers.

Whenever an artist releases a quickie follow-up to a major release (especially an artist who is usually as slow with his output as Springsteen), I’m always a bit wary; these albums tend to be made up of cast-offs from the previous record or songs written quickly in between rehearsals. These albums tend to best be viewed not so much as albums in their own right as they are a sort of coda to the previous release. Occasionally, an artist will build momentum and take that energy from touring and put it towards building something that does stand as a work unto itself (U2’s Zooropa for instance). Working on A Dream can definitely be categorized in that latter category. I’m still not sure if I like it quite as much as I do Magic (which has become one of my favorite Springsteen albums) but I do know there’s only one person I’ll be rooting for at the Super Bowl this weekend: Bruuuuuuuuce!

[Obviously I failed to put this up before the Superbowl. That said, Scott -- would you care to respond to this Slate analysis of the Superbowl performance?]

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #195

[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“It Was a Dark and Stormy Night ...”

Claremont has nothing but good things to say about Louise Simonson’s work as an editor on Uncanny X-Men, and indeed there are some fantastic issues to be found from the Simonson (then Jones) editorial tenure – the phenomenal Paul Smith run, for example. As a writer, however, Louise Simonson would come to make some terrible contributions to the X-Men franchise when she took over as regular writer of both X-Factor in 1986 and New Mutants in 1987.

Her first blow against the franchise’s integrity occurs right here, however, when the 12th issue of her original creation Power Pack – an altogether too precious series about superhero kids – crosses over into Uncanny X-Men #195.

Since the action mostly takes place in the Morlock tunnels, a grimy milieu that suits the down-and-dirty style of Romita Jr. and Green perfectly, the issue is not a total loss. It’s as lovely to look at as anything by the art team. (Plus, Romita Jr.’s iteration of Power Pack is surprisingly adorable.) Claremont’s writing has a few fun moments as well – the revelation that Shadowcat’s power has increased to the point that she can phase four people plus herself is very cool. Also well handled is Kitty’s embarrassment/pride at Wolverine’s constant deferment to her authority as temporary team leader.

Still, in spite of those pitifully few bright points, this issue ranges in quality from just generally bland to rather awkward and even laughable. There surely is no more embarrassing moment in Wolverine’s history than when he corrects a four-year-old girl for suggesting that Luke Skywalker’s adventures were “fun.” Apparently, Logan is an anal-retentive “Star Wars” geek. Who knew?