Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #228

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right or the labels below.]

“Deadly Games”

The end of Uncanny #227 promised that this issue would introduce the X-Men’s new status quo “down under.” However -- presumably due to Silvestri succumbing to deadline pressure -- we get a fill-in, set in the recent past (set between issues 220 and 221).

Right down to its generic title, “Deadly Games” reads in every way like a rush job. The plot seems rather fussily conceived – a Russian super-soldier turned KGB operative turned CIA asset turned Columbian drug lord? – and a few story details don’t quite gel.

Rick Leonardi and Terry Austin turn in decent work, though I’m reminded of Geoff’s disappointment at seeing the work of Igor Kordey in New X-Men when he wanted and expected more Frank Quitely. Kordey and Leonardi are both talented artists – and each is good at his characteristically messy/ugly style -- but they’re hardly stand-ins for “pop sexy.”

It’s not Claremont’s worst effort. And at a stretch, it could arguably be seen as a continuity patch that – in a vague, tangential way -- explains whatever became of the “Russian super-soldier” plot idea that Claremont introduced on the final page of Uncanny #194. By the same token, Henry Peter Gyrich was written out of the series at around that same time, so “Deadly Games” shows us what he’s been up to as well.

So, what we have here is a reasonably entertaining Wolverine/Dazzler duo story with competent art and entertaining dialogue, and which obliquely caps off a few dangling loose ends from a few years ago.

It’s certainly decent enough on its own terms, but lightweight compared to the intensity of the issues that preceded it – and, for that matter, the one about to follow.

Monday, June 29, 2009

An Open Letter To Pixar

by Sara

[Just for point of reference, Sara had this problem TWO Pixar movies ago, and they did not change since then. Here is what she had to say about UP]

Last night I saw Pixar's latest: "Up." As per usual it was not only beautifully crafted - making use of the 3D technology subtely with just a few moments that pop instead of over doing it - had a fully realized universe, with a rich and quirky character designs and colors that sang. Also, as per usual, the story was wonderfully made: heart-breaking, funny, bittersweet. They are getting better and better with crafting a story for children that does not pander, that is adult, but handled so that even the smallest viewers can follow. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Pixar, and I could go on and on about how well-done UP was, all the new elements they used without being flashy (male senior citzens as both the hero AND the villian? an overweight asian little boy whose weight and race are neither the subjects of jokes nor bludgeoning "messages," excellent both) and how I sobbed through many parts as my heartstrings were gently tugged. But I will stop here, everyone has either already seen and experienced these for themselves, or has read the many many reviews.

What I need to do now is plead. Please, Mr. Lasseter, please please please. At this point you and your company have made 10 films now some better than others, but all strikingly creative in their own way. and every last one of them focuses on a male protagonist, in some cases there are more than one protagonist, both male (Monster's Inc.). In the numerous worlds you've created and explored for us with along with your fellow men -- Brad Bird, Peter Docter, Andrew Stanton -- you've taken us from an anthill to a racetrack, from the toybox to a world populated by fantastic monsters and off into outer-space. Each time you give us something rich and wonderful but why can you do all that but not ever give us a female lead? it is not that females are lacking in Pixar's creations - there's jesse from Toy Story, mother and daughter in The Incredibles, and countless other girlfriends, wives, love interests. But they are given NOTHING to do. Even EVE, my favorite of all the Pixar characters, is just another 2-D rendering of a female: after strong introduction she spends the remainder of the movie running after and helping our male lead. (also, it is a bit shameful that in her introduction she is something at first to be feared and then to be conquered. not the most progressive view of womanhood...) Mr. Lasster you know your audiences are little boys AND LITTLE GIRLS. men AND WOMEN. We are here too. Just as we can identify with a Woody or a Carl, my husband would have no problems identifying with a story centered around Jesse (and not in the - oh look who needs rescuing type of way, either) and so would my brother, my father, my grandfather and my little nephew. As for Up: Ellie was a strong, brave little girl who grows up to get killed off in usual Disney format - kill the woman or make her disappear. Why couldn't Russell be an asian american LITTLE GIRL? not only would it mirror little ellie, and give her a future: in her generation little girls didn't often get the chance to be anything other than housewives, but in the 21st century there are many places and clubs for a funny tom boy to belong to, and a little female would have been a much sweeter character to form a bond with Carl, aching for his lost little ellie, and a much better foil. So why the hell doesn't she exist? It saddens and hurts me, that I company of talented artists and story tellers that I love as much as Pixar prevents me from loving them whole-heartedly. I am more than just a partner to my own creative quirky male spouse. I have adventures, thoughts, experiences of my own. As the other billion females on this planet. Please, give us something to do. Please tell our story too. I know I'll be written off as just another feminist woman having problems where there aren't any, except there are. Mr. Docter, your own little girl provided the voice of ellie. I'm sure you love her, I'm sure you find her to be fascinating, hilarious, curious and that you love her with all your heart. Don't you want her to go to your movies and find herself up there on screen as the main character? By that I mean, a female lead that gets the whole story arch and isn't reduced to either a photo on the wall or the support system for yet another boy? Unless your highest hopes for her are that she finds a nice boy to marry, which I highly doubt, why aren't you giving her that when you can? These things DO matter, and will to her as much as they do to me. I know this company was created by and is largely run by men, but that is not an excuse. If Miyazaki can make heartbreakingly beautiful stories centered around strong little girls and young adult women - movies that my male friends love just as much as I do - why can't you? For a better written, sweeter take on this please see Peter Sagal's letter after viewing "Horton Hears a Who."

Andy Bentley on Jack Kirby's New Gods: Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #141

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods. For more in this series, see the labels at the bottom or the toolbar on the right.]

“Will the real Don Rickles Panic?”

I didn’t mince words about last issue’s bizarre appearance of a Don Rickles twin. It was a useless side step from the main event the jokes fell flat. Which is why it was such a surprise when I found myself smiling at the conclusion of the issue. The real Rickles brand of humor won me over and the action became so silly, I gave up worrying about Darkseid and ended up just having fun.

The heroes have been divided and conquered with Clark ‘Superman’ Kent trapped in a ship en route to Apokolips while Jimmy, Goody and the Guardian have been poisoned on Earth with pyro-granulate, a fictitious element that will burn them alive within the hour. Clark’s story is the shorter of the two, but certainly promising with his introduction to Lightray, the young New God featured in the main New Gods title. Lightray explains his powers and explains to the lost earth man that Apokolips is not a desired destination. Clark agrees and takes the suggested Boom Tube off the ship. Superman actually seeing both New Genesis and Apoklips increases the connection between Kirby’s titles and also takes a step closer to Superman being involved in the main battle between Earth and Apokolips.

The resolution of the two Rickles begins with Guardian deciding to tail Manheim’s vehicle in search of a cure while Goody and Jimmy, make their way back to the planet for assistance. One must assume the Daily Planet has a full staff of caretakers with all the disasters that surround it. Although only a few panels, Kirby illustrates the Guardian’s leaps and tumbles across the buildings with with dexterity and ease. His subsequent battle with Manheim and his goons is effective but cluttered. The characters almost seem too big for the panels they inhabit.

The issue truly shines in the confrontation between Goddy and Don Rickles with Jimmy and Edge playing the straight men. The whole setup is still absurd, but it’s absurd on a “Muppet Show” level of surreal chaos which allowed my suspension of disbelief. It also turns out Kirby did have a good ear for Rickles’ pattern of humor as he dishes out insults left and right to the planet staff. The subway scene that proceeds all this is a well executed sitcom gag on the level of a Dick Van Dyke Show. The chaos builds to a crescendo as Jimmy and Goody start on fire in Edge’s office and Edge gathers his wits and tosses Don Rickles out for safety. Don, assuming he’s seen it all, sits down only to see the Guardian burst through the window and run into Edge’s office. Rickle’s reactions are spot on and hilarious as he throws up his hands in a sign of defeat. The antidote the Guardian provided neutralizes the pyro-granulate and all parties breathe a sigh of relief. Until Clark Kent arrives on a Boom Tube, which causes Don Rickles to be asked to be taken to the nuthouse.

Not much else I can add to that, other than to cue the Looney Tunes final credit drum: ‘that’s all, folks’

Next issue, vampires. See you then.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Twin Peaks, Season 2, Episode 8 (or episode 15)

By Jill Duffy

[Jill Duffy continues her episode by episode look at Twin Peaks. For more in this series see the labels at the bottom or the toolbar on the right.]

The same horrific screaming, moaning, dull thuds, and low music that marked the murder scene from the previous episode, bring us right back to that mood of terror in this episode. We see the Palmer house at night, with a few windows lit up. But it’s really the audio reminding us of what has happened.

Then it’s morning and we are zooming out from photographs of Laura. We hear thudding again, but this time it’s just golf balls as Leland chips them from a patch of Astroturf inside his living room. When Leland looks in the mirror, he still sees Bob. His golf bag contains sheet plastic and a bloody hand and hair, so we know that Maddy’s body is inside. Leland stuffs the golf bag in the trunk of his car, lowers the top of the convertible, and drives off.

It’s a bit weird, for a murder mystery/soap opera/nighttime TV drama for the audience to both know and not know what has happened without the detectives knowing. We know that Leland-as-Bob killed Maddy, though no one else even knows yet that she’s missing much less dead. We know, or at least very strongly suspect, that Leland-as-Bob killed Laura, too, though Cooper and Truman are on the wrong trail entirely, trying to coax a confession out of Benjamin Horne. And yet, there may be something more about Horne that we don’t know, that perhaps he was complicit in Laura’s murder in some way.
If you haven’t seen the show in 20 years, since it first aired, I can absolutely see how easy it would be to wipe from memory about 60 percent of the show. It’s easy, and in fact better, to remember Leland’s sinister possessor, Maddy’s murder scene, Cooper’s foray into the other world, and the one-armed man and his cryptic poems. I can see having a moment of “Oh, yeah! I kind of remember that,” when being reminded of Lucy and Andy’s comic love story, Catherine’s feigned death and return as the stereotypical Chinese man, Pete’s quirky manner of speech, and Nadine, who has a kind of amnesia that has propelled her back 20 years so that she’s reliving things like cheerleader tryouts. But you’ve probably forgotten Norma’s mother coming to visit and how Bobby tries to blackmail Horne and Lucy’s sister, Gwen. You might have also forgotten just how explicit Lynch and Frost are in getting the viewers to understand that Bob is Leland. We see the Leland recognize Bob has himself in the mirror multiple times, and on top of that, we are told several times and in several ways that Bob killed Laura. It leaves nothing to interpretation.

This episode ends with the discovery of Maddy’s body, wrapped in plastic, just as Laura’s was. I almost think the season and series could end here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Watchmen Trailer

Nearly a year ago I was asked to write a comics piece as part of this magazine that was launching. Writing about the recently released Watchmen trailer seemed ideal. But then the magazine launch got pushed back and pushed back until this thing I wrote was no longer relevant (there was a minute where maybe I was going to revise it into something that would be relevant but at some point it just got too old). Here I am with a free Thursday slot and no requirement to be relevant -- I already talked about the ending of the Sopranos years after it happened here, and posted videos long after they made rotations on the internet. So here is this thing I wrote about Watchmen, in all of its 2008 the-trailer-just-came-out glory.

Watchmen is a comics masterpiece certainly, a literary masterpiece probably. It cannot be adapted for the screen because, as a masterpiece, it fully uses its medium and any adaptation is necessarily going to pervert that. It certainly cannot be adapted for film because it would require a huge budget AND a protagonist like the Night Owl who is overweight and more than a little sad. Blockbusters can do many things, but they cannot have unattractive people – or even reasonable looking people -- in leading roles. And yet it will be out in theatres March 9th.

Director Zack Synder’s earlier work on 300 does not provide much hope: as an adaptation it is claustrophobically faithful, a faith that ironically turns the unleashed stylistic evolution of Frank Miller’s original comic book into frozen, uninspiring videogame CGI. Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons has said he is pleased adaptation, but one look at the color palate of the film – dark and rich where the comic book is intentionally washed out – tells you immediately that this is not Watchmen.

And yet. The Watchmen trailer, released in front of Dark Knight, is absolutely hypnotic. Watchmen cannot be adapted, but the Watchmen film might succeed in its own right.

Watchmen is a densely allusive comic book. The first Night Owl began fighting crime in 1939. It is no coincidence that this is the year of the first Batman comic. Comic book audiences are very knowledgeable, and can be expected to pick up on that. Film-goers cannot. The audience for the film to make money must be so large that they cannot even be expected to have read a single comic book. And yet the trailer confirms that the allusive quality of the comic book will not be lost.

Ozymandius’s outfit is clearly inspired by the S and M gear of Shumacher’s Batman – to the point of replicating the famous “bat nipples” that have become emblematic of that movie’s critical failure. The comic book cannot give Rorshach a voice, but the trailer has given him a smart one: Christian Bale’s annoying Batman growl, that we will hear in just a moment, when the Dark Knight begins.

The Smashing Pumpkins song “The End is the Beginning is the End” was released on the Batman and Robin soundtrack and was commissioned with the film in mind: Corgan said, “I wasn't talking about myself or trying to represent the Smashing Pumpkins. I was trying to represent Batman.” When the song was released on a compilation, three other versions were included, including one called “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning,” which was sadder and had different lyrics. It is this song that appears on the Watchmen trailer.

The trailer alone draws on comic book movies the way Alan Moore’s original draws on comic books. And the fact that the Smashing Pumpkins song – whose listener traffic is up 2636% on Last.fm – is a remix is exactly right: Moore’s original comic book is not just a grab-bag of references, it is a revisionary work that takes comic book history – often alluding to a chain of elements that have changed across time -- and twists it into a new whole, remixes it. “And now the kingdom comes” is an obvious enough lyric, but it also cannot help but remind those in the know of one of Watchmen’s primary inheritors. And like Moore’s Watchmen the trailer draws often on those aspects of superhero film history that have failed, hopefully because like Watchmen, its aim is to correct, to guide, to revise. The trailer’s assertion that Snyder is a “visionary” director is absurd, but if he can be re-visionary he will succeed beyond measure.

And the effect of the trailer for movie audiences is analogous to the effect of the comic book. There is something immensely disturbing about the way that UFO looking thing – as Night Owl’s ship must appear to someone that does not know what it is – rising out of the water at night in front of the Twin Towers to the opening lyrics of the song: “Send a heartbeat to the void that cries through you.” That “void” is an angst-y dramatic – blockbuster-y – way of capturing what Moore’s comic book is all about: the fullness of the superhero genre emptied out into something far more human. In the trailer this appears as a superhero funeral, involvement in the Vietnam war, an electric blue man appearing in cafeteria, someone with super-strength punching a mantelpiece, and protesters. As the song continues we do “relive the pictures that have come to pass” but just as Moore’s comic book does, the building blocks of a superhero universe appear as something “strange” (the repeated word on which the song ends). “The world is lost and blown and we are flesh and blood” has to appear as something different in a blockbuster than in a comic book (where being merely flesh and blood often means being quite pathetic and small), but the elements are there. The horror of “the world will look up and shout ‘save us.’ And I’ll whisper ‘no’” appears freshly, surrounded by a theater of people trying to reconcile the line – the trailer’s only alongside “God help us” -- with the superhero imagery, warped though it may be.

The Watchmen trailer inspires cautious optimism because it indicates that someone over there understands how the comic works, and is actually thinking that through for the screen.

(Thanks to Mich Montgomery for bringing the bat-nipples to my attention, David Fiore for the statistic on the song, and Brad Winderbaum for letting me know where the song originally appeared).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Andy Bentley on Jack Kirby's New Gods: New Gods 4

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right or the labels below.]

“The O’Ryan Gang and the Deep Six!”

The roulette wheel has spun back around to the main New Gods title and Kirby continues the precedent he’s set for the plotting: prologue in or around New Genesis that that sets up Orion’s adventures on Earth. This prologue includes Metron giving a young scholar a real life history lesson by way of his mobius chair. Mysterious in nature, Metron shows up briefly, says little and then does something cool. You might consider him the Boba Fett of the New Gods. Metron is showing a young boy from New Genesis life on a primitive planet where cave men and lizard men battle with primitive weapons. The contrast between this savage land and New Genesis illustrates the evolutionary potential for man as a species. The boy’s questions on time and mortality leads them back to High-father who confirms that even New Gods can die on this plane of existence.

High-Father’s answer seamlessly leads to the actions on Earth where a New God, Seagrin, has in fact left this mortal coil. Orion and his detective buddy Lincoln have arrived on the dock where Seagrin’s lifeless body lies. Orion makes no effort to mask his or Seagrin’s origins as he shouts to the heavens about Seagrin’s valor, curses his enemies and speaks of mother box. The police have no time to question these strange proclamations as the dock bursts into flames, giving Seagrin a version of a Viking funeral. In a nice tie to the past issue, the new Black racer soars above the flames to help guide Seagrin’s spirit towards the source, the New Gods version of heaven. As the Racer reverts to his human host, Darkseid watches from a secluded alley. This full page panel of Darkseid is only there for a key plot element: Darkseid has a device that’s blocking all mother boxes from Apokolyptian activity on Earth.

Back at Lincoln’s apartment, Orion’s followers have once again gathered and are again proclaiming their names and personalities. I understand the need to acquaint the reader with these characters, but Kirby doesn’t even attempt to mask it. The scene lead to my first laugh out loud moment in this series when I read “and me, young but cool, Havey Lockman!”. Orion enters the room and explains that his mother box has been crippled and deduces that Intergang must be behind it. The plan is for Orion and his people to pose as a rival gang looking to move in on Intergang’s territory. The plan moves smoothly with Orion and Lincoln putting a scare into Intergang member Snaky, and then tailing him to the hideout. There, Claudia acts as a damsel in distress in order to douse the guards with sleeping gas. This sequence of events feels more at home in a 50’s crime novel especially considering the suits and hats Intergang wears. Mr. Lanza finds their leader, County Boy, about to punish Snaky for his ineptitude. Country boy is just a non powered mob guy with a themed oufit, similar to the Spider-man thugs, The Enforcers. Lanza belittles the operation in order for Country Boy to show his hand and reveal the device jamming mother box. This is the signal for Orion and his astro force to roar in and destroy the device while his crew to takes out the remaining Intergang members. With the device out of commission, mother box picks up on one of the Deep Six, a marine themed group of Apokolyptians who were referenced several issues prior. Orion is determined as ever and races out towards the ocean to find Slig, the leader of the group who has the power over Aquatic life some what similar to Aquaman. Orion disposes of the animals Slig sends but then gazes out of the panel in horror at the threat which the Deep Six have kept secret. The reader is left with one word, Spawn.

Final Musings

The reveal that New Gods can die is a bit spoiled by the recent Countdown-Death of New Gods-Final Crisis debacle. Surprised Morrison didn’t lift the flames at death as he is often a stickler for details

- Mother Box almost sat out almost the entire issue which helped the plot.

- Last post, I wrote of my reinvestment in the Kirby material and my vow to keep these comics in context. Shortly after writing this, I had an interesting encounter with a coworker who discovered my blog. He said he read these comics as they were released and confirmed the intense level of anticipation for Kirby’s work at DC. He then informed me that even to readers in that time period, Kirby’s dialog and characters were a bit hokey and dated. This was something I was unaware of. It leads me to believe that my perspective on his work is not as warped by time as I originally expected.

-Harvey Lockman, saying you’re cool doesn’t make it so

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.

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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, June 23, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #227

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right or the labels below.]

“The Belly of the Beast”

Silvestri and Green’s X-Men look cooler with each issue. Check out Colossus on Page 2, panel 3; Wolverine on Page 14, panel 6. Geoff, tell me these aren’t “pop sexy” X-Men!

Once again, Claremont dazzles with his constantly discovering new ways not only to exploit the X-Men’s individual powers, but to combine them in crazy ways. Here’s a breakdown of what goes down during the climactic battle of issue 227: The newly re-powered Storm creating hurricane winds around Roma’s citadel in the sky (which looks uncannily similar to Dr. Manhattan’s glass fortress in Watchmen). Those winds capture the hollow-boned Longshot “like the sail of a kite,” and drag him – with the rest of the X-Men behind him – up to meet the Adversary. From there, Rogue is able to absorb the knowledge and skills of the villain’s host body, Naze, which in turn is pulverized by Colossus (described here, delightfully, as Roma’s “ringer”). Rogue then uses her newly acquired shamanistic talent to create a gateway. Storm blasts the Adversary, now in his true form, mostly through the gateway with her elemental powers, and Havok and Dazzler use their energy beams to keep him at the threshold long enough for Forge to create the spell that will send him all the way through.

The whole thing is beautifully choreographed, and Silvestri and Green’s work is so raw and direct that the entire affair feels like it has the force of nature behind it. As climaxes go, this one is truly exciting. At the peak of his powers, Claremont even finds room among the action for further enrichment of character – in this case, Madelyne Pryor’s surprising last words to Scott before sacrificing her life alongside the X-Men: “Scotty – wherever you are, I wish you all the best. Find our son. Keep him safe. Raise him well. I love you. Goodbye.” Patrick identifies this as one of the more touchingly redemptive moments in Claremont’s entire run. I’m not inclined to disagree.

Also, what a perfect illustration of proper dramatic timing when, just after the X-Men’s souls are hurled into the gateway so as to banish the Adversary, we cut to: Muir Isle, where Nightcrawler has just come out of his coma. How utterly perfect. With consummate skill, Claremont, Silvestri and Green have brought everything together.

This leaves us at last with the epilogue, containing a somewhat facile resurrection. Just like that, Roma brings the X-Men back to life. It makes a little more sense if one has read Alan Moore’s Captain Britain, which featured Roma and Merlin engaging in similar “cheats” at certain key dramatic moments. On its own terms, it certainly seems a bit easy, after all of Destiny’s ranting about the X-Men’s “death in Dallas.”

(Trivia: In Uncanny X-Men #225, in the scene set in Scotland, a young boy comments that Colossus can’t possibly be American because he “does na’ sound a bit like J.R. Ewing.” Then in the X-Men’s guest appearance in Incredible Hulk #340, published a month after Uncanny #225 but set just before, Peter David has Dazzler mock Destiny’s prediction, saying that “If we die in Dallas, maybe it’ll be a dream and we’ll come back in someone’s shower.” Coincidence?)

At any rate, it’s great when Claremont kind of makes fun of the story turn himself, via Logan’s dialogue. To wit:

Wolverine: “Strikes me, Ororo, your ‘Plan Omega’ may have worked after all. If everyone figures us dead ...”

Roma: “You did die, my friend. The instant Forge cast his spell ... your lifelines were broken. What you undergo now is a rebirth.”

Wolverine: “Whatever ...”

Logan points out the truth of the situation. In narrative terms, the X-Men didn’t really die, despite whatever contrivances Claremont attempts to dress it up in via Roma’s double-talk.

(And for anyone confused by the esoteric “Plan Omega” reference, the only other time Storm used that code-phrase for the plan to fake the X-Men’s death was in New Mutants #51. Somewhat amusingly, Claremont was so busy juggling subplots at the time, he probably didn’t even realize he’d neglected to keep the code consistent across titles.)

So, the epilogue is an acknowledged cheat. Apart from that, though, “The Belly of the Beast” is a fantastic climax, not only to a strong storyline, but a particularly strong year for the series. If I had to pick a single year of Claremont’s 16-year run during which he was at the very peak of his artistic powers, I’d go with 1987.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Andy Bentley on Jack Kirby's New Gods: The Forever People #4

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Kirby's New Gods. For more in this series see the tool bar on the right or the labels below.]

The opening forward by Simonson put this series back into perspective and raised my optimism back to the level where I began. By the end of the first volume, my nerves had become raw to the unnecessary dialog and formulaic plot structure of the series, a common syndrome whenever I visit comics from the past. Comic books are an amazing medium which blend images and words to create a visual narrative. They allow artists and writers to create a more personal story than they could in television or film and the experience of reading a comic can be just as personal. Yet comics are still entrenched in their humble beginnings: children’s stories of adventure and humor. In the past, editors ran the production in an assembly line fashion and mandated that characters explained their situations to new or confused readers and that the villain was dealt with by the end of the issue. Jack Kirby in these books is still adhering to many of these comic book staples, yet there is subversive ideas that make these more than just genre fiction. He’s discussing the holocaust, persecution, and the common rights of man in a PG rated superhero narrative. He’s also telling a wide spanning story over several titles in the early 70’s. The X-Men crossovers and Crisis on Infinite Earth are still 15 years away. This doesn’t mean I will ignore the flaws within these books, merely that they must be taken into context. Simonson restored my faith that Kirby does indeed have a purpose and direction he’s heading toward, there are just going to be more bumps along the way than I’m used to.

“The Kingdom of the Damned!”

This issue picks up where the last one left off, with the Forever People captured and placed into Desaad’s twisted version of a WWII concentration camp. Except that this camp isn’t exactly as advertised last issue. On the surface, it looks like a Disneyland attraction for humans. Kirby’s depiction of this faux amusement park is mostly charming with a slight hint of the torment that lies below. Underground, many visitors have been taken prisoner and subjugated to twisted and demeaning torture. The torture is led by Desaad, who is an analog for the infamous German scientists of Hitler’s third reich. Darkseid arrives at the camp and is unamused and uninterested in the details of Desaad’s play land. However Desaad has another experiment which does intrigue his master: the destruction of a Mother Box. The true nature of the mother box is again called into question. Darkseid refers to the destruction as murder and Desaad believes the mother box is screaming in pain as it it bombarded with electro-spikes. The mother box disappears in a cloud of smoke leaving it’s fate, and the presence of a soul, undetermined.

Darkseid soon tires of this and leaves to the surface to walk among the visitors of Happy Land. Here, a key scene between Darkseid and a father and his child is referenced by Simonson in the forward. The child’s innocent and naive eyes are the only ones that see Darkseid is a true terror and not another side attraction in the amusement park. The father has seen the evil that men have done to one another and therefore tries to explain the personification of it which stands before him.

Meanwhile, the FP are treated to a unique form of torment where the torturers are the oblivious patrons of happy land. The cruelest one involves Serifan, the cowboy enthusiast, sitting in a chair with a pedal and a monitor. Serifan can see his compatriot Vykin in the monitor, who is also confined to a chair. However his chair is perpetually rising to place his head above the coaster tracks so it might be ripped off by the incoming roller coaster. Serifan pushes the pedal to save Vykin but realizes he must continue to do so as his chair rises once more.

As the issue draws to a close, the mother box materializes outside Happy Land and into the hands of Sonny Sumo. Little is revealed about Sonny, only that he hears mother boxes’ plea for help and he plans to answer it!

Final Musings

- After a second reading, I believe Happy Land is a veiled reference to the Americans back home that turned a blind eye to the horrors of war, specifically Vietnam.

-Darkseid’s drop in at Desaad’s camp is very reminiscent of the Emperor stopping by Vader’s instrument of destruction, the Death Star, in Return of the Jedi.

-I expect a current writer to take Desaad into SAW levels of torture at some point

-Sonny Sumo marks maybe the 6th Final Crisis character I now have context for

Friday, June 19, 2009

Twin Peaks, Season 2, Episode 7 (or episode 14)

By Jill Duffy

[Jill Duffy, girl reporter, continues her episode by episode look at Twin Peaks. for more in this series see the toolbar on the right or the labels below]

“Woe to the ones who behold the pale horse,” the Log Lady says in her introduction.

I like the opening scene of this show, wherein, from left to right, Hawk, Gordon, Cooper, the one-armed man, Andy, and Truman are all neatly lined up against a wall in the police station, talking. I like the lineup and the long shot it takes to get them all in the frame. Seeing them from this distance gives the sense that they are somehow ordinary people, even though each is anything but normal.

This episode is slightly more stylized than some of the previous ones. For example, after the opening scene, Cooper and Gordon clink coffee cups to end the scene, and the audio put in over it is the echoing sound of a metal sledge hammer hitting a spike. It sounds like prison.

Hawk goes to Harold Smith’s house, lets himself in. There are plants all over the floor, cut, and we see a body hanging in the orchid room. Harold has hanged himself, neatly wrapping up that plot line. And thank goodness. Harold was quickly introduced and just as quickly taken out. Good riddance.

When the sheriff and his crew come over to investigate and take down Harold’s dead body, flash bulbs create an eerie over-exposed effect, lingering with a blue light. Again, it’s all highly stylized.

Maddy—The other Laura

In a scene with Maddy, Leland, and Sarah, the niece tells her aunt and uncle she’s ready to leave. Pictures of Laura are everywhere, all over the house. This is a slow, normal scene, much like the normalcy of that opening lineup shot. Nothing crazy or weird happens. But it has a hard cut ending, which is jarring.

It’s odd that Maddy has been staying with her aunt and uncle since her cousin died, leaving behind her own life for so long that she has become very close with Donna and James. I think this scene is meant to address this flaw, air it, and then move past it, though later, we find out there’s a plot reason to have Maddy preparing to go home.

Shelly, Leo, Bobby—The Odd Couple

Another odd thing, when you think about it, is that Bobby, who is more or less living with Shelly and Leo, is only in high school. So in this episode, the writers take care of that, too. Bobby tells Shelly he can’t keep telling his parents that he’s sleeping over at Mike’s house, and that’s he’s missing economics class at this very moment. Abruptly, to whisk on to a new topic, Leo is stirred from his otherwise comatose state, surprising the bejesus out of Shelly and Bobby. He makes noise, spits, and speaks almost like a parrot: “New shoes.” It’s totally funny. It’s just too bad that Bobby has to be in this scene because Shelly and Leo are great in it, but Bobby is not.

Audrey—Her Father’s Daughter

Audrey confronts her father so directly it’s uncomfortable, saying she knows about all the people at One-Eyed Jack’s and that she was Prudence, the girl wearing the little white mask. Audrey begins questioning her father, as if she were an investigator, about Laura. He admits to sleeping with Laura. And when asked point blank, “Did you kill her?” Horne says, “I loved her.”

Cooper—Voice of Explanation, But Not ‘Reason’

Cooper investigates Laura’s diary that was found in Harold’s place. He dictates into his recorder that Laura did mention Bob and also that Ben Horne has some kind of secret. Then Audrey comes in and tells Cooper that Laura and Horne were sleeping together and that Horne owns One-Eyed Jack’s. Audrey is stuck in the middle and it seems like she doesn’t quite know what she wants to happen next. Cooper tells Truman they need a warrant for the arrest of Benjamin Horne.

(I’m getting to the good stuff. Hang on.)

Horne and Tojamura—It’s Just Business

Tojamura, the stereotypical Chinese man who showed up one day, and Horne have a meeting about Ghostwood. As they are making a business deal, the sheriff, Cooper, Andy, and Hawk barge in and say Horne is wanted for questioning about the death of Laura Palmer. Horne struggles to get away while they cuff him and take him out.

‘The’ Moment Begins

Midway through the episode, at 29:40 on the DVD, we see a record at the end of its play cycle and the Palmer household washed in red light. Sarah is groping her way down the stairs on her belly. Spinning overhead is a ceiling fan, which viewers may remember from the film Fire Walk With Me, too.

Then, the log lady shows up at the sheriff’s office. She says ,”We don’t know what will happen or when, but there are owls at the Roadhouse.”
Cooper: “Something is happening, isn’t it Margaret?”
Log lady: “Yes.”

To draw out the suspense, we’re thrown back into a scene with Tojamura, who lays a big fat kiss on Pete. It is revealed that Tojamura is Catherine! I loved that moment.

Back to Sarah Palmer, still crawling through her house. She looks toward the windows and a white horse appears to her in a spotlight. She faints. We see Leland in just the other room straightening his tie.

At the Roadhouse, that weird blonde chick is singing with a band. It’s sappy and oddly uncomfortable. Donna and James are there. The log lady, Cooper, and Truman show up together. After a while, the performer sings a new song, a slower number. Everybody just watches the performance. To Cooper, the performance disappears and the Giant takes the stage, in the spotlight. With both a sense of urgency and the kind of calm demeanor that comes with acceptance, the Giant annunciates, “It is happening again. It is happening again.”

We cut to Leland, who is watching himself in the mirror. He sees Bob, and we know there is major trouble about to occur, but by golly, you have no idea how awful it’s going to be.

Really, I don’t know how this was every shown on a major television station.

First, it is made very clear that Bob is possessing Leland. Leland-as-Bob puts on surgical gloves. We hear Maddy’s voice, calling, saying it smells like something burning. When she enters the room, Leland-as-Bob goes after Maddy, chasing her manically. It’s slow and real, unlike an action film. There are no fast cuts here. All the movement is labored.

He strangles her, and she’s screaming, until he punches her in the face. She gets loose and runs around the room, trying to get away from him. It cuts between Leland being himself and being Bob. There is a lot of slow motion and the spotlight is on them, bathing them in a stark bluish light. The screaming slows and begins to sound like moaning beasts. Maddy’s teeth have blood all over them. She is shoved onto the couch, and Leland-as-Bob punches her in the face twice. The punches sound like dull thuds, which again is unlike what you would expect in a cinematic fight scene. It’s horrifically real. The scene is still highly stylized, but not how one might expect it to be.

Leland-as-Bob then lifts Maddy and drags her around the room in a dance. He is not a big man, and she is not a tiny girl. We see him heft the weight of a full-grown woman. She chokes and coughs blood. Sarah is still passed out on the floor. Creepy. Leland says Laura’s name a few times. We see Bob, in slow motion again, suck at Maddy’s chin and kiss her neck. Then Leland says you’re going back to Mezula Montana and smashes her, face first, into a glass-framed painting. Maddy collapses and is covered in blood. He holds her bloody finger and using an Xacto knife, places something under the nail. The whole scene is five minutes long, almost to the second. It’s unbearable.

The Giant and Cooper

The Giant fades, the singer and band reappear. The old man who came when Cooper was shot appears. He comes over to Cooper and pats his arm and says, “I’m so sorry.”

The camera moves around to Donna, James, Bobby, the Log lady. Donna begins crying, but we can’t hear it for the song. Cooper looks puzzled and like he’s thinking. Then the credits roll on a red curtain.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What BSG should have learned from Futurama

BSG finale spoilers

In the Futurama episode Godfellas, Bender is catapulted into space, to drift alone. His body ends up supporting a little civilization of creatures, but everything he does goes wrong. When he interferes too much it causes trouble, because he is too powerful and damages whatever he touches: creating wind power with his breath, for example, blows a villagers into space. When he does nothing things get worse -- the civilization debates how best to worship him and devolve into nuclear war. In the end he meets a star system and this is the scene (the quality of this clip is not fantastic, as it is a camera in front of a TV but it is exactly the clip I wanted):

In my blog on the Battlestar Galactica Finale there was a final stray anonymous comment, that came three weeks after the conversation ended, probably by someone who was just looking up reactions to a finale he may have watched a bit late. He said "Why the fuck did any of you even watch this show? It obviously had religious/spiritual overtones through the whole series. I guess some people just want to have shit to complain about when they blog."

That last bit may be true, but what is not right is that "religious/spiritual overtones" means that the show can just explain EVERYTHING with a deus ex machina at the end.

What is shocking about putting the Futurama scene together with the Battlestar Galactica finale is that Futurama is actually doing a pretty good job of suggesting how to think about the role of God in the Universe in which we live every day, in our LIVES. Battlestar Galactica -- a show most of us got together and decided to call "smart television," -- failed to translate Futurama's lesson into the much smaller realm of the TELEVISION SCRIPT. For a while there "god" in Battlestar Galactica had the light touch Futurama says he should -- you really aren't sure he is doing anything at all, especially in a show with advanced technology: the Six that only Baltar can see could be, as the show points out, caused by a chip in his head or even a tumor; the clues to earth could have been left by the earlier civilization. But in the end the show was just like Bender, using too much force to interfere in the little world, blowing our characters around like little toys into the void of space where they would just vanish, like Starbuck, who was CLEARLY an ANGEL for all of season 4.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Andy Bentley on The New Gods 16: Mister Miracle #3

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Kirby's New Gods. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right or the labels below.]

”The Paranoid Pill”

This issue has a great opening that combines Kirby’s sci-fi concepts and unique visual artistry. The narrator poses a tree-in-the-woods-type riddle as a boom tube transfers several blank humanoid forms known as animates into an empty office building. The narrator goes on to suggest that life or existence could merely be energy devoid of form that could inhabit blank bodies such as these animates. The theory becomes reality within the panels as the chosen animate’s face shifts and molds to reveal the alien visage of Dr. Bedlam!

Unfortunately Dr. Bedlam doesn’t live up to this auspicious entrance and by his exit is just another of Darkseid’s flunkies sent to dispose of our rebellious Mr. Miracle. I rather enjoyed Bedlam’s direct approach of just calling Mr. Miracle on the phone in order to do battle. I can’t say I’ve ever seen Dr. Octopus ring Spidey to duke it out. Scott accepts his terms for combat and prepares for the type of mental assault Dr. Bedlam is capable of. Oberon once again asks too many questions and is brought into the action. Kirby fantastically illustrates a wigi board session where mother box conjures up hidden fears. Terrors and nightmares fill the mind of the escape artist and his assistant which drives Oberon dangerously close to passing out. Scott realizes Oberon is not up to the challenge and suits up to face him one on one.

Dr. Bedlam’s plan is a simple one: Mr. Miracle must escape from the top of the Chandler tower which is filled with people that have been infected with Bedlam’s paranoid pill. The use of innocents angers Miracle and he attacks Bedlam only to realize Bedlam is merely inhabiting an animate. Miracle soars past the raving people who believe he is a demon and makes his way to the elevator. His escape from the gunman inside was satisfying as it didn’t rely on a magic power of mother box. The masses become too much to handle and they trap Miracle in a box because, in self serving logic, the comic is about an escape artist. The box is chained, then thrown down the stairwell and the reader is left to wait a month to find out how Miracle will be able to avoid his impending doom!

Final musings:

The animate concept is somewhat similar to the Cylons in the new Battlestar Gallactica
Dr. Bedlam’s visage is very cool and creepy
Dr. Bedlam’s paranoid pill seems quite similar to the Scarecrow’s fear toxin
Miracle has faced his abusive adoptive caretaker in Granny Goodness, and a deviant physician in Dr. Bedlam. What does that make Darkseid and will this family of familiars continue?
Quotes from Mary Howitt’s “Spider and the Fly” and Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” are spoken by Dr. Bedlam and Mr. Miracle respectively.

This brings us to the end of the 1st Omnibus. A bit of a mixed bag to be sure. Kirby’s art and storytelling are still amazing and should be studied by any aspiring artist. He has a wealth of ideas and characters carried over from years at Marvel and they work with varying results. When Kirby waxes poetic about life, the cosmos, and the evil that men do I’m enjoying every panel. However when he falls into traditional comic book affairs that have no consequences and act on their own internal logic, I’m left wondering why I’m not reading the latest Green Lantern issue. The Fourth World like O’Neil and Adam’s Green Arrow/Green Lantern run of the 70’s is straddling the bridge between modern comics storytelling. Yes the Fourth World is a continuing odyssey, but we’re making too many irrelevant pit-stops. I ache to know more of New Genesis and Apokolips, to see a face off between Orion and Darkseid, to see a full scale assault on Earth with epic battled akin to the Lord of the Rings. Instead the New Gods on Earth are attacked by a new Darkseid minion each issue. Here’s hoping that book two will break that trend.

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.

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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, June 16, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #226

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right or the labels below.]

“Go Tell the Spartans”

As Patrick has already pointed out, the middle chapter of “Fall of the Mutants” – a double-sized issue – sees Claremont tossing out ideas and allusions at a schizophrenically breakneck pace, with almost every turn of the page revealing some new wrinkle. Alan Moore and Grant Morrison are generally the considered the go-to comic book scribes for the “crazy ideas,” but Chris Claremont has his moments as well. Certainly “Go Tell the Spartans” is one of his wilder accomplishments.

Yet for all the mad deployment of imagery, set-pieces and character bits, there is a coherent plot holding it all together, and it’s one of Claremont’s most intriguing: While the Adversary rips Earth to shreds, he’s already got a replacement one set up, and he’s decided to drop Forge and Storm there to infuse it with life. This Native American man and African woman will be the new world’s Adam and Eve, if they so choose. There’s also a neat, psuedo-paradoxical idea introduced in the Forge/Ororo material, wherein Storm realizes she could become the “Goddess” or “Bright Lady” whom she herself has always worshipped -- an idea that seems almost to predict Alan Moore’s twist at the end of “From Hell,” wherein Gull becomes the “Great Architect” he revered throughout his lifetime. (Patrick singles out this detail for attention too, but as something that is “very Invisibles.”)

In a way, Uncanny X-Men #225 doubles as the conclusion to the theoretical “LifeDeath” trilogy, with Storm acknowledging her destiny as a goddess figure before ultimately rejecting it in order to remain faithful to her role as a member of the X-Men. The story also marks, for me, the first time that the Forge/Ororo relationship has made sense, either intellectually or emotionally. There is something very touching in their first scene of the issue, as Forge begs Storm, “Stay BY me.” Silvestri and Green also completely sell me on the silent smile that Ororo gives in response.

Meanwhile, there is also an unexplained time distortion at work, as years pass for Forge and Ororo in their duplicate continuum, while only apparent hours go by for the rest of the X-Men on Earth.

As for Claremont’s conceit that the X-Men are able to finally prove themselves as heroes because – for the first time – their exploits are being videotaped and broadcast worldwide, that strikes me as a little bit pat. (Trivia: Claremont is apparently friends with real-life NPR reporter Neal Conan, hence Conan becoming a character in this story. Even now, 20 years later, Conan is still a voice on National Public Radio. As I write this, I just listened to him yesterday interviewing the author of “The Ten Cent Plague,” a book about comic books.)

Note that much of this issue is also devoted to the idea of the X-Men and Freedom Force becoming allies against a common foe. Old villains become allies in the face of a new, greater threat; another Claremont motif.

If any other member of the X-Men besides Storm stands out in “Go Tell the Spartans,” it is most certainly Colossus, depicted by Claremont as a man who possesses both honor and soulful intelligence. The plot detail of Roma having slipped Peter into this story under the radar is beautifully handled as well, as is Claremont’s use of Psylocke as the woman who at last ferrets out the Roma connection. Since Psylocke and Roma were both imported from the Alan Moore/Alan Davis Captain Britain stories, this is a perfect use of prior continuity.

Along similar lines, Claremont does a fantastic little bit with Dazzler, who was taken down by Super Sabre’s “sonic boom” in the previous issue. Here, we learn that she is simply playing possum. Since her mutant power is to metabolize sound, a sonic assault not only doesn’t hurt her, it actually makes her more powerful. That’s the kind of little detail that makes superhero comics – particularly Claremont’s – so darn much fun.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Andy Bentley on The New Gods 15: Jimmy Olsen #149

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods. For more in the series, see the labels at the bottom or the toolbar on the right. I ask a brief question about superhero comics and humor at the bottom.]

“The Guardian Fights Again!”

1. Pyro-Granulate
2. The space-time continuum
3. Don Rickles!?

All of these things are in this comic book. Well not specifically #3. Don Rickles, the infamous insult comic known as Mr. Warmth is merely referred to. More specifically, his body double Goody Rickles, a researcher at the Daily Planet..... *sigh* I suppose we better start at the beginning.

With the DNAlien debacle behind them, the guests of the Life project decide it’s time to return to Metropolis to investigate Morgan Edge, their number one suspect behind the Evil Factory. The cloned Guardian’s request to visit Metropolis is granted despite an abnormality found in his brain however the junior newsboys are ordered to remain at the project after one of them has developed cold-like symptoms. Possible crippling brain tumor versus a case of the sniffles? You be the judge. So Superman, Jimmy and The Guardian speed past the now abandoned wild area and arrive in Metropolis. Superman takes an alternative route to discretely transform into Clark Kent so he may feign excitement upon Jimmy’s return.

Edge has just returned from his planned escape of last issue's intended nuclear explosion and his secretary brings him up to speed. She explains Jimmy and Clark are demanding a meeting to which Edge denies. Edge then asks how the contract negotiations are going with Don Rickles. The Secretary shares her affection for the real life comic and explains that if Rickles signs there will be 2 Rickles at the broadcasting company. Edge seemingly doesn’t remember that they have a man who works in their research department that shares a face and last name with a famous comedian they are trying to sign. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, doing back-end, armageddon level deals with the leader of Apokolips probably takes up most of his time. As if on cue, Goody Rickles enters, stage left.

The appearance of this Don Rickles doppelgänger is quite a bizarre distraction. He’s clad in the most traditional superhero tights and cape which he was conned into by his fellow coworkers. It’s apparent that the true reason is to give the Rickles analog proper adventuring attire. His disposition is a lighter version of the comedian’s act and his primary motive seems to be to usurp Clark Kent as a Planet reporter. But he’s too close to the real Rickles and the insertion of a real life character into this “DC comics-via-Kirby” world ruins the fantasy. Also I’m at a loss as to why Kirby didn’t use the real Rickles. That’d at least be a cheesy cameo on the level of the Avengers being on Letterman. This just defies all logic unless Rickles was cloned at the Life Project. I used to assume an explanation was forthcoming but after several wide coincidences and unexplained origins, I’m less optimistic.

Edge realizes there’s a way to take care of all his meddling Planet employees and sends them all to investigate a reported UFO landing. This UFO is of course from Apokolips and is triggered to trap it’s passengers between dimensions. Rickles is the first to arrive and becomes incensed when his supposed competition arrives. Clark goes in the UFO to investigate and Rickles mistakenly traps him within and the UFO vanishes into the void. Back on earth, unnamed Apokoliptian goons descend upon Jimmy, The Guardian and Goody. Despite their efforts and some unintended brawling by Goody, the three are captured when Bruno “ugly” Mannheim gets the jump on Olsen. Instead of offing the three as Edge ordered, Mannheim forces a sit down dinner between the four of them. The dinner quickly heads south as Mannheim ignites the table and explains the three have ingested pyro-granulate which will eventually burn them up from the inside. This sequence is an appropriate finish to this bizarre issue. The panel of flames and Mannheim's distorted face looks crude and decidedly not Kirby. It would be more appropriate in an early golden age book. There’s also the last panel which reveals the faux-dinner the three were having was actually taking place in a futuristic winnebago which we’re to assume is Apokoliptean.

Some research yielded the origin of the Rickles appearance: Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman were fiends of Kirby and all three enjoyed the comedy stylings of Don Rickles. Mark and Steve pitched the idea to Kirby that Don Rickles would make a three-panel cameo where he would deliver a trademark comedic insult to the Man of Tomorrow, Superman. However the results were decidedly different. The cameo is indulgent, but Kirby is the King and had nearly free reign on all his titles. This leads to the larger question if increased editorial direction or a collaborator on the level of Stan Lee might have helped improved the Fourth World titles. However that’s a question I cannot answer at this juncture. This issue merely confirms my opinion that the Olsen title is the least focused of the four books and the Rickles appearance ads to it’s bizarre, “throw it on the wall and see what sticks” attitude.

Final Musings

“Kirby’s Fourth World of...” has been added to the title on the cover.
The story’s title, “The Guardian Fights Again!” is quite misleading
Will Kirby come back to the abnormality in the Guardian’s head?
Retraction from my last Jimmy Olsen review, Mannheim is his own character which is represented in Superman: The Animated Series
The less of the Newsboy Legion, the better
pyro-granulate appears to be a piece of fiction
Sending Superman into an unknown piece of time and space is a pretty good tactic. Take note, villains of Metropolis
This is basically my only exposure to Don Rickles other than Letterman appearances

[Wordsworth and Milton were major poets that both lacked a sense of humor. Superhero Comics are a weird place to get jokes off, partly because the genre demands we take somewhat seriously very silly things, including guys flying around in their underwear with the loosest of scientific explanations. The introduction to Final Crisis, for example, describes how hilarious the opening narration is, but that is a kind of self-aware bombast that is very different from trying to put a comedian in your story. (As a side note, a friend of mind pointed out that reviewers sometimes complain about the lack of humor in Watchmen -- but Alan Moore killed a character called The Comedian right there at the opening, so there you go). Warren Ellis's Next Wave is broad comedy, and Matt Fraction is very tongue in cheek -- what are good examples of funny superhero comics?]

Friday, June 12, 2009

X-Men Forever #1

With all the Claremont on this blog, how could we not review X-Men Forever #1? I read it, but having watched everyone talk about other Claremont X-Men issues I have read, I would not presume to take the top spot up here -- I really did want to participate in the Claremont discussion every week but I discovered that reading the whole series once recently has not sensitized me to the kinds of things you guys noticed. So -- let's hear it in the comments (spoilers away): what did you think of Claremont picking up his 17 year run after an 18 year delay?

Twin Peaks, Season 2, Episode 6 (or episode 13)

By Jill Duffy

What’s funny about this episode is that you can easily pick and choose the scenes worth watching. It opens with a lame scene involving Harold Smith, the orchid-grower. In fact, it picks up precisely where the previous episode left off, in Harold’s house with Donna and Maddy scared for their lives, with Harold dripping blood from his face and delivering a little soliloquy. James rushes in to their rescue. Outside, after they’ve all escaped, Donna paws at James in front of Maddy. It’s boring. Who cares? Let’s move on.

I actually found the series of shots during the opening credits to be worth watching, as they set the mood for the later part of the show. We see a pan of trees, then the forest, an owl, and a lineup of motorcycles outside the lodge.

Elsewhere, not only has James rescued Donna and Maddy, but also Cooper has rescued Audrey. Why are all these helpless women being rescued? Even Bobby is trying to rescue Shelly from Leo, an ongoing situation that has become more comic now that Leo is a vegetable. He is 99.9 percent catatonic, and we get all kinds of gags about it, like watching his face fall into a plateful of birthday cake, and Shelly and Bobby sticking a kazoo in his mouth and then making out in front of his lifeless face.
Shelly and Bobby have a plan to scam the insurance company to the tune of $5,000 a month by caring for Leo in this state, but they end up paying so much for his healthcare that they get a measly few hundred dollars a month.

I’ve written before about how Twin Peaks is unafraid to use old school tricks to orient the viewer and remind the audience what’s going on and why, in case you weren’t paying attention. Twin Peaks does this exceptionally well, especially considering all the paranormal and indefinable stuff that David Lynch deals with. The show seems to say, “In case you missed last week’s episode or weren’t paying close attention, here’s a summary of what happened and why.”

This episode has a great example.

Cooper: “Jean Renault was after me.”
Truman: “The man who killed his brother.” [This reads as, “He’s after you because you killed his brother.”]
Cooper: “He planned to kill me and he used Audrey as bait. I went out of my jurisdiction—twice. I violated my professional code, and now Audrey is paying the price.”
Truman: “You got her back. And she’s going to be okay.”
Cooper: “Harry, this isn’t the first time my actions have brought suffering to someone in the name of doing what I had to do. Damn it, I should have known better.”
Truman: “That doesn’t change the fact that she’s here now and not at Jack’s with a needle in her arm.”

So, just in case you missed it, Cooper killed Jacques. Jean and Jacques were brothers. As revenge, Jean wanted to kill Cooper. He kidnapped Audrey and used her for bait to bring Cooper to him in Canada, which is technically out of Cooper’s jurisdiction. Because Cooper cares for Audrey, he left his jurisdiction to rescue her. They all almost got in deep do-do, but everyone is safe now, including Audrey whom, just in case you missed the reference, was drugged while she was at One-Eyed Jack’s.

Other highly watch-able moments include the introduction of Gordon Cole, played by David Lynch. Gordon Cole is Agent Cooper’s supervisor. He wears an old fashioned hearing aid, and he’s got a bunch of gags about not being able to hear, so people are constantly shouting at him, and he is incessantly shouting back. (I wondered if the character was shaped this way because Lynch can’t deliver convincing dialog.)

The final scene, which involves Philip Gerard, the one-armed man, is pretty amazing, and again, it explains with great clarity a lot of the supernatural stuff. On the other hand, this scene is full of riddles. I think that’s what makes it enjoyable to watch. That which is explained is explained totally clearly while that which is not explained is presented in a way that teases the viewer into wanting to know what it means, even if that requires waiting a few episodes. Twin Peaks gives the audience payoff by clarifying all the crazy stuff so that when new and unexplained stuff crops up, we feel pretty sure that it will be explained at some later date.

Anyway, in the final scene, the one-armed man is off his meds. “Mike,” an inhabiting spirit, hosted by Philip Gerard, tells us some information about Bob. “He is Bob, eager for fun. He wears a smile. Everybody run.” And: “Bob requires a human host. He feeds on fear. And pleasures. They are his children.”

Mike, apparently, used to be Bob’s partner in crime, but one day he “saw the face of god and was purified.” Mike changed his mind and decided he wanted to stop Bob. Few people can see Bob’s true face, he tells us, the gifted and the damned. Cooper presses him by asking where Bob is now.

“Bob is at the lodge house made of wood, surrounded by trees. The house is filled with many rooms, each alike, but occupied by many souls, night after night.”

Cooper: “The Great Northern Hotel”

Again, there’s that payoff. The riddle is explained, and we viewers trust that the show will do this over and over. Now, if only we could figure out who really killed Laura Palmer…

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Theatre and Poetry and Fetish

I was having this conversation with my friend a few days ago and thought I would transfer it to the blog. This is a different kind of blog post -- more of a ramble than anything else, thoughts off of the top of my head. I look forward to having all my opinions corrected in the comments, as I fully expect much of this to be just WRONG.

Theatre and poetry used to occupy a central position in the culture. Having lost that position to film and television, they are fetishized -- look, for example, at the sentimental treatment each gets in Slings and Arrows and Dead Poet's Society, just for starters. As much as I wanted to, I never became fully and casually conversant in psychoanalytical theory, but I do remember two things, at least sort of: Freud said the fetish is designed to cover up for something essentially lacking (the ultimate origin of fetish being the child's impression of the mother's castration); and Lacan said a person can be between two deaths, the symbolic and (I think) the real, a point which Slavoj Zizek illustrates by talking about the Looney Toons image of the cat who walks over the cliff but does not fall until he looks down. It seems to me that this is the position of theatre and poetry -- they are fetishized to cover up the fact that their centrality has been cut off, and they are over the cliff but not yet fallen.

I wanted to get tickets for Waiting for Godot but -- oh the irony -- I waited too long. But I did sign up for the theatre defense fund or whatever (TDF) and got this back in an email: ""As a TDF Member, you are part of one of the most educated and committed theatregoing audiences in the world." I don't necessarily deny the accuracy as far as the demographic goes but that is some self-satisfied stuff right there and it is the same kind of stuff I see on the mailings I get to my house about poetry societies I can join if I pay X amount of dollars (these people all found me through work somehow, I am sure of it). I have learned not to flaunt the Oxford D.Phil. in polite society any more -- well at least I try to be less of a jackass about it -- but I feel like with these folks it would be an Aaron Sorkin festival, everyone putting their alma mater into conversation as often as possible (I can tell you off the top of my head where everyone on the West Wing went to grad school, and it was a punishing lesson to learn I should not emulate Sorkin's dialogue in this respect).

T.S. Eliot has played a weird conflicting role in the fetishization (I feel like that should not be a word but spell check claims it is) of poetry and theatre. In pop culture he seems to stand in for poetry, second only to Shakespere (who is sort of beyond all these mortal things): he is quoted at the opening of Showtime's Nurse Jackie (so the reviews tell me), in Southland Tales, and that great TV Warhorse Law and Order (Lenny and I think it is Benjamin Bratt arrest a college professor who is discussing TS Eliot in a graduate class at the moment of his arrest -- one of my favorite moments in popular culture, a kind of "well that is what you get for doing THAT.") T.S. Eliot declaiming the collapse of everything in the Waste Land (not the Wasteland by the way -- even academic books make this mistake) becomes the quotes that shore up the ruins of poetry in the popular imagination. He FEELS like poetry because he is dense and difficult and no fun and so on. Because at the end of the day you can't have a poet like the inimitable Ron Padgett (click the name for a sample) be poetry in the popular imagination -- no one would be able to determine it IS poetry, even though one of the things we want from poetry is to be expanding itself so that people are always not quite sure this is really it. "Did John really write Paradise Lost in ENGLISH? Latin, really, is what you want for an epic." People first reading the Waste Land did not know what it was; ironically it is the most POETRY poetry we now have. Ironically, I feel one of the reasons people fetishize poetry -- by which I mean not really engage it -- is because they long for some kind of spiritual center in literature; once Eliot got that spiritual certainty he started being really bad.

As for theatre, I think the fetish is not only for some kind of centrality, but also for the LIVE aspect in an increasingly technologically mediated world. I do not deny that there is an electricity in the room -- interesting, possibly ironic metaphor -- because there is a GUY on STAGE performing LIVE, but people go MAD for it: Theatre has a lot of basic structural similarities to movies -- people in seats watching a actors enact a story four about 2 hours -- and yet charges 10 times the price tag. Obviously this is a necessity for other reasons, and of course you can find cheaper tickets, but to me it points to some kind of OVERSELLING of the live aspect, a powerful nostalgia for what it means to be LIVE. And there is TS Eliot again -- his poems the inspiration for CATS, which went on forever and -- am I wrong about this -- has no redeeming value whatsoever. And yet theatre has this tremendous abstract power -- the same power poetry has -- because the marginal, once central, now fetishized, now expensive thing MEANS HIGH CULTURE whatever the CONTENT. You get this every time you watch some movie and someone points out sagely that Ian McKellen was actually trained for the STAGE, you know -- as if a) his film roles are somehow his coming down to our world in mortal form and b) that somehow legitimizes his hilariously campy turn in something like the Da Vinci Code.

Someone on Slate I think -- and I may be remembering this wrong -- said when the Wire ended that someone should get all these guys together for a performance of Julius Caesar. At first I though GREAT IDEA, but the more I thought about it the more it seemed mildly insulting, as if some said to Shakespeare "Hamlet was so great you ought to try making frescos," with just the most subtle suggestion that frescos are REAL art.

This is so abstract, and there are of course about a million counter examples. Mitch's Triumph of the Underdog, for example, was a great example of using live theater to really do something that you can't do in another medium -- he was a professor giving a lecture (the performance space was in a school to boot) and we were the audience at that lecture: that was perfect and intimate and smart. I wish I had made it to the live Speed the Plow so I could see whether Piven live was five times better than the recording of Jeff Goldblum I got on iTunes playing the same role, since I think the tickets must have been at least five times the cost. I will be attending more live theatre in the future so we will see.

Comics have a similar position -- once central now marginalized, except now they have this weird position as an idea farm for movies. And I am not sure if I did not like them better before, when no one was paying attention to what they were doing (and so they could do anything -- you can't have gay Batman and Superman analogues in the movies the way you can in the Authority), and comics writers were not using comics to audition for other jobs.

At the end of the day, I care about distinguishing good art from bad art, and these seem like some issues that distort the the faculties of judgement in ways that get on my nerves, so I am trying to keep and eye on them.

And again, the point of this is to start a conversation. I am not married to any of these opinions. I am looking for the comments here to maybe offer a course correction.

Wednesday, June 10, 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.

Andy Bentley on The New Gods 14: New Gods 3

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods]

“Death is the Black Racer!”

This issue opens with a cat and mouse game involving the New God Light-Ray and a new Kirby creation, The Black Racer. Clad in red and blue with a yellow high-collar cape and traditional skis and poles, the Black Racer is one of Kirby’s more quirky designs. He appears African American, a tradition for most spandex types that have the ‘Black’ moniker. Black Racer is a grim reaper of New Gods and his target is Light-Ray for reasons unknown. He appears near omnipotent as he avoids every road block Light-Ray throws at him in order to avoid his touch of death. As the Black Racer is about to terminate the young New God, Metron appears and conjures a Boom Tube to derail this specter of death. Metron scolds Light-Ray for his lack of ingenuity and Light-Ray is left to question where the Black Racer has been sent to.

The scene shifts to Earth as Orion’s friends outfit him with traditional earth garb to help blend in. The exposition dialog rears it’s ugly head again, but it does a half-decent job of bringing the reader up to speed on events prior. As Orion leaves to change clothes, an important aspect of his character is revealed. It’s revealed with Orion talking to himself in an empty room, yet it’s revealed nonetheless. Orion’s hunky visage is merely an illusion conjured by his mother box and in actuality his face has the harsh qualities of one from Apokolips. Kirby has valued truth over the lie throughout the series which could mean Orion is destined to fail. Orion pauses, then emerges to the delight of his followers and proclaims their mission is to seek out and destroy all minions of Darkseid that have invaded Earth.

The Black Racer has been conveniently redirected to Earth in the middle of a shootout in an alley. Sugar-man, an Intergang member who resembles an extra on Shaft, has just shot and killed a man for snitching and is about to kill a witness to this murder. The Black Racer crushes Sugar-Man’s gun, temporarily blinding him in the process. Sugar flees the scene and Black Racer enters the room of the witness, former Sergeant Willie Walker. The reveal of Walker’s background, a former cop who’s bed ridden without the ability to move or speak, sets a new standard for clunky exposition. A more eloquent solution would be a panel or two with Walker’s caretakers discussing his accident and current condition. Regardless, the Black Racer feels a kinsman ship with the former cop and offers him his mantle. Walker is suddenly able to speak and rises from his bed. But now all that remains of his benefactor is dust and armor. As Walker examines the helmet, a cosmic awareness washes over him as he realizes that the former Racer’s host has joined The Source and Walker has become the new Black Racer.

Meanwhile Orion and his detective earth buddy Lincoln have come upon Intergang headquarters where Sugar Man is bandaging his head like a mummy to heal his wounds. The rest of Intergang seems to consist of a ’40’s gangster, a beatnik poet, and Teddy Sevalas. The Gang discusses detonating a bomb from Apokolips and this is Orion’s cue. He burst through the wall with one punch and begins to dismantle Intergang. Sugar Man escapes through the back door with the bomb but the new Black Racer quickly descends upon him. The Racer uses his skii pole to to deactivate the bombs detonation and then trigger its anti-gravity circuits that sends Sugar and his truck racing towards the heavens. This is most decidedly not how the swat team handles a bomb. Orion and Lincoln round up the rest of Intergang and witness the Bomb exploding in the air, presumably killing Sugar Man and marking our first implied death in this series. The Black Racer returns to his hosts home just in time for Walker’s caretakers to see he is safe and sound. The issue closes with an ominous voiceover questioning what’s next for this omnipotent being and his new host.

Final thoughts:

Black Racer: His design and mission borrows from The Silver Surfer (a Kirby creation) and DC’s The Spectre. However The Silver Surfer and Specter’s masters are made quite clear unlike our Racer. Maybe it is The Source, but that seems to simple.
Grant Morrison: The Black Racer takes a human host which we saw many New Gods do in Morrison’s Final Crisis. However in the case of the Black Racer, Morrison seemed to merge him with the the Black Flash, a grim reaper for the speedsters invented by himself and Mark Millar. I’m not sure how appropriate that marriage is after reading the Racer’s 1st appearance and reading Flash Rebirth #2.

Jack Kirby: Is an idea man. The Black Racer was a sketch he had before jumping ship to DC. He makes no effort to explain the Racer’s sudden appearance in this issue or how he fits into the grander scheme. The use of cool toned blues and purple in the city scenes were very effective and his sequential storytelling is still a sight to behold.

[Kirby's total lack of explanation for this character, and more importantly for why this story should come in the third issue of the New Gods when we were in the middle of somethings else -- plus the absurdity of a dude with skis and ski polls as DEATH -- make this one of my favorite issues. More than anything else I have read by Kirby this issue suggests that his imagination is so prolific and crazy that is threatens to overwhelm basic story telling conventions -- a style Grant Morrison has spend a career honing, not least in Final Crisis.]

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #225

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Uncanny X-Men. For more in this series, see the label at the bottom, or the toolbar on the right]

“False Dawn”

As noted earlier, Claremont’s begging and borrowing from other series – such as Longshot and Captain Britain – in order to assemble his new team of X-Men has led to the overall “X” canon becoming a dense field of information. Indeed, the “X” itself now seems like nothing so much as a symbol for how so many different lines – be they character arcs, plotlines or thematic threads – intersect in any given issue.

Here, the density of information becomes particularly noisome, as Claremont brings multiple threads crashing together in genuinely dramatic fashion. First, he liberally borrows both characters and imagery from Alan Moore’s “Jim Jaspers” arc in Captain Britain. In that particular piece – brilliant in its own right – the various characters were represented by pieces on a chessboard, manipulated by Merlin and Roma, the caretakers of reality. All of that is reprised (minus Merlin, whom Moore killed off) in this story, the resulting resonance being quite striking for anyone who’s read the Captain Britain material. Even Claremont’s use of Destiny here – the depiction of her going somewhat mad as she realizes that her timeline is about to reach its terminus – is pinched from a similar bit in Moore’s Captain Britain work involving a precog called Cobweb. (purportedly Claremont originally wanted to use Jim Jaspers for this bit as well, which would have made this almost a carbon copy of Moore’s work. Happily, legal issues pre-empted Claremont’s original intent, leading to the vastly superior idea of bringing the Naze/Forge material to a climax instead.)

We also get a final face-off between the X-Men and Freedom Force, the latter’s membership bolstered by the WWII trio of issues 215-216. That little conflation turns out to be more entertaining than one might expect. The Crimson Commando in particular suddenly seems much cooler in the context of the Brotherhood.

Also, since this is the first X-Men/Brotherhood confrontation since Longshot joined the team, another cross-mythos resonance is struck when Longshot faces off against Spiral. The energy of the two characters’ relationship from the Nocenti/Adams miniseries is deftly woven into Claremont’s already powerful information-field, and further sparks fly.

Still, while so much fun is generated by the various intertextual relationships going on, other bits of “False Dawn” create grins by more visceral means. Surely one of the funniest set-pieces in Claremont’s entire run is the insane visual of the Blob’s crotch zooming toward the reader as he’s dropped from on high to crush Wolverine. Silvestri draws a magnificent Blob, with that code-name seeming more apropos than ever. The dialogue that Claremont gives the Blog just after landing on Logan is hilarious as well: “Don’t fret, X-Men. Li’l fella ain’t croaked. I can feel him wrigglin’.” The ridiculous payoff pages later – Blob grinning in one panel, his eyes bugging out in the next, before he flies straight up into the air, his flight revealing Wolverine with claws extended and smirking smugly – is cartoon-crazy, and Silvestri handles the slapstick perfectly.

And in the very next panel, a prime example of what Marc Caputo calls “the ‘stand up and cheer’ factor,” a delightful component of many a classic action story: that moment when the audience is given exactly what they want, just how they wanted it. Here, it’s the fabulous sequence wherein Colossus -- absent from the series for a year but now finally healed from his “Mutant Massacre” injuries -- appears from out of nowhere (courtesy of Roma and his sister, Illyana). And of course, he’s arrived just in time to pound the Blob into oblivion – all while quoting Monty Python, no less.

Containing an extraordinarily high incidence of thrilling moments in the space of only 23 pages, Uncanny X-Men #225 is a fantastic slice of superhero fiction. At this point, it seems certain that Claremont, Silvestri and Green can do no wrong.
And, trivia: This is Tom Orzechowski’s 100th issue of Uncanny X-Men, a fact coded by Dan Green into the background rubble of the opening Colossus scene. Yet more information packed into the mix. (It’s also Orz’s 61st consecutive issue, the prodigious and talented letterer having not skipped a month since #165 – which is also Paul Smith’s first and the one Joss Whedon considers the most influential.)

Monday, June 08, 2009

Andy Bentley on The New Gods 13: Jimmy Olsen #138

“The Big Boom”

Kirby’s explanatory dialog has been redundant and inconsequential in the past, but in the opening pages of this issue it effectively reminds the reader of the events prior. The Evil Facory’s DNAlien has trapped Superman, Jimmy, and the newsboys in an energy egg and is about to feed off the opposing Life Project’s atomic power plant which will cause far reaching devastation. Kirby conveys the claustrophobic atmosphere inside the egg deftly by drawing a close up of Superman and the boys straining to break beyond the borders of the comic panel which represents the egg. After several attempts to break from their prison (and several lame puns), the boys deduce that the monster made the egg with ‘body electricity’ and therefore a super human like Superman should have the energy to break it. A convenient explanation to be sure, but it allows for a moment Marvel zombies of the 1960’s thought was impossible: Superman channeling the infamous “Kirby crackle”.

As Superman races off towards the DNAlien, the narrative emerges from the underground to focus on Metropolis. There’s a one page discussion between Perry White and Terry Dean about the whereabouts of Jimmy Olsen and the character of Morgan Edge, the man that sent him there. Edge’s sinister qualities are confirmed when he’s tipped off by Intergang about the impending explosion at the Life project and high tails it out of Metropolis via helicopter. Back underground, Mokkari and Simyan complicate matters by hatching all their DNAliens and sending them towards the impending disaster. Things seem bleak until Superman takes his cue from the animal, the lemming. Superman hoists the massive atomic reactor up and tosses it down a test tunnel the project was drilling and all the DNAliens jump in after their food supply. The generation gap rears it’s ugly head again as the boys resent not being part of the action and Superman refers to them as ‘you young people’.

Again the Jimmy Olsen title seems the least consequential to the overall Fourth World story because it lacks the themes Kirby has been wrestling with since he arrived at DC Comics. It was good to see Superman take initiative and save the day, but I hate how he’s just considered a ‘fuddy duddy’ by Jimmy and the Newsboys. To paraphrase Frank Miller, he’s the goddamn Superman. Were kids really identifying with Jimmy and the 1940’s stereotypes that were the Newsboys? One of my favorite aspects of the Fourth World in the Superman animated series was the fact that Superman led earth’s resistance to Darkseid’s attack. I’m left wondering if he’ll ever get out of this Life Project and deal with the incoming threat.

Final Musings

Both the Life Project and the Dahrma initiative (LOST reference) were digging tunnels to harness the earth’s energies in the 1970’s [editor's note: !]

I was dismayed when I realized the black haired woman was Terry Dean and not a Kirby-drawn Lois Lane

I guess we’re to assume Metropolis is somewhat close to the wild area. But it is an atomic blast so who knows.

Bruno Mannheim is the analog Timm and co. used for Morgan Edge in the Superman animated Series

Friday, June 05, 2009

Jill Duffy on Twin Peaks Season 2, Episode 5 (or episode 12)

[Jill Duffy continues her episode by episode look at Twin Peaks. For more in this series see the labels at the bottom or the toolbar on the right.]

We are reminded of the smallness of the town of Twin Peaks when a court case to try Leo Johnson takes place in a saloon. The judge’s table is situated on the music performance stage, and the attorneys are seated below in the audience area.

Horne is as vile as ever, more concerned with following through on business transactions than he is with rescuing his daughter, Audrey, who is being held for ransom by Jean Renault and Blackie. As they discuss their situation and what they will do with Audrey (kill her), Jean says to a slightly hesitant Blackie, “You know, you love a good steak, but you don’t want to know how it got on your plate.” Jean is also conspiring to kill Cooper.

Deputy Andy gets comic relief laughs when he fills in for Lucy as the sheriff’s office admin. The details in the set design make his scenes even more fun to watch. At one point, he is covered in Post-It notes. They are stuck to his shirt everywhere. He looks down at the ink blotter pad covering Lucy’s desk, and it’s filled with childlike scribblings and drawings.

Harold, the shut-in orchid-grower, has a significant role in this episode. When he was first introduced, I had high hopes for his character. I liked the idea of bringing in some other love interest for Donna and Maddy besides James, the dumb hunk. Harold, on the other hand, is literate and very odd, but he fits with the overarching theme of the show by being an unknowable figure, perhaps spiritual, perhaps just a little too reserved—but whatever the case, the point is we don’t know him and every time we learn something about him, it just opens more questions. For example, he’s a recluse, but why? He had a relationship with Laura that may have been sexual in nature, but we don’t really know for sure.

Donna hatches a plan to seduce and distract Harold while Maddy breaks into his home to steal Laura’s secret diary. In the previous episode, Donna was equally cruel to him, luring him outside with the diary, only to have him shake and collapse in a panic attack. As Maddy goes for the diary, Harold catches her, and becomes confrontational with the two girls. His character grows dark, and we realize in this moment just how little we really know of him. “Are you looking for secrets?” he asks them. “Do you know what the ultimate secret is?” He raises a rusty gardening tool. “Do you want to know? Laura did. The secret of knowing who killed you.” Then, instead of attacking them, he tears the rake across his own face.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Comics Out June 3, 2009 (Batman and Robin and Seaguy)

Jason is taking a deserved break with his Claremont posts, going down to once a week before his big push to the end, so I thought I might write about two interesting comics this week in his place.

Batman and Robin 1. There was nothing I disliked about the Morrison and Quitely Batman and Robin issue. but I think the fact that I wanted it to be on the level of All Star Superman 1, the Morrison and Quitely debut on the OTHER most iconic comics character, set the bar too high. I was not crazy about the new Bat-mobile -- Quitely is a design genius (see the We3 armor for example) -- but this did not do it for me. (Nor did Morrison's OTHER new Bat-mobile which debuted a bit into the first part of his Batman run). None of the writing or dialogue really jumped out and grabbed me the way Morrison has in the past, though there is nothing here I would want to call bad. I was not crazy about the Toad villain, the middle of this issue was all talky and set up-y, and I was not crazy about the image of Batman and Robin falling from the car, which I think was meant to be pretty iconic. I missed Jamie Grant, the colorist from All Star Superman (though I think my favorite design thing in the issue was the yellow on the cover which is just so striking when you know Batman covers are almost always built around black, and I love how lanky the two of them are). But Morrison said in interviews that Quitely really explodes next issue and this all felt like set up -- I bet if I got this issue and the next at the same time I would be way more excited. The final two pages, with Pyg, deserve special mention, as they scared the shit out of me -- I cannot remember being so disturbed in a comic book, in spite of the fact that Pyg seems to have quite a lot in common with Morrison's Joker (bloody butcher's smock is very much like the bloody surgical gown, and both are circus characters). The preview also caught my attention -- I like that it looks like Hurt will still be in play, though it seems strange to show him with the keys to Wayne Manor since he already had them, if I am remembering this right. All in all, I know these guys can deliver a hell of a comic book and I think I need to see more of the whole to really get into it. Next month is the month. Quitely drawing the treads of boots is a great touch -- and one that reminds me of Frank Miller, Morrison's great hurdle, and the thing that dragged him down on the earlier Batman issues. Quitely firing on all cylinders is what Morrison needs to get the escape velocity to escape Miller, as he got the velocity to escape Moore's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow in All Star Superman.

Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye 3. Jog, I think it was, argued that the first Seaguy mini was all about Morrison reacting to working on his uneven New X-Men and being controlled by editors and having his changes wiped out of continuity. I feel like this second Seaguy series is about Morrison reacting to his uneven Final Crisis experience -- the mind whacked crowds here, for example, very much recall the anti-life equation crowds of Darkseid, and the "Eye Spy Your Death" stuff feels very much to me like the was DC callously kills of characters like Martian Manhunter and Batman for shock value -- and tells us how it is all such a fun ride, this crazy DCU. Even the way Mickey Eye harvests wishes -- basically just a variation on the earlier Seaguy about how bad corporations control even the imagination -- reminded me of Superman and the wish machine. And She-Beard blowing the horn reminded me of Superman singing to save the day, and the magic horn in Final Crisis 7. And the Mickey Eye hoods like Justifier Helmets (you do seem to do as you are told once they are on). Death as a character, and a flame thrower, and talking animals and beams from eyes, and a mind controlled superhero woman with a sword -- all in Final Crisis and Seaguy both. Even Doc Hero towing the rides reminded me of the Green Lanterns towing the planets. I hope Seaguy continues as a kind of therapy for Morrison, a shadow to his work on iconic titles, where he gets to unload, breathe, revise, comment upon his more visible projects (am I wrong in thinking Seaguy's existence is based on a deal with DC along the lines of "If I do your big thing you let me do Seaguy"?). If the Seaguy in the first series was put back the way he was because Morrison's changes in New X-Men were all being written out of continuity, then here Morrison is feeling stronger about things (and who wouldn't be after All Star Superman) -- Seaguy knows the changes he made are only superficial (Seadog will be replaced; the system remains unchanged) but he is able to resist the temptation to take his place (Morrison as architect of the DCU) AND he gets the girl -- they kiss over the X of cross swords (Morrison's X-Men trouble finally transcended). And new adventures await -- a third Seaguy story, and Batman and Robin. What a pair they might make.