Monday, August 31, 2009

Comment Pull Quotes: Retelling Classics, and Line in the Sand Movies

[Two very good comments that got buried this week that I want to draw attention to again (I never should have lost track of comment pull quotes: that was a great feature, and exactly what this place is all about)].

Streebo wrote

Since there are no free form comments as yet - I thought I would pose this question to the blog. What is your opinion on the retelling or refashioning of classic stories?

I ask this because Rob Zombie's Halloween II was released this weekend. It is a follow up to his remake of the John Carpenter classic Halloween. Horror fans roundly criticized Zombie's Halloween remake before it was ever released - simply because it was a remake. They never gave it a chance to stand on it's own merits.

Most horror fans' arguments against Zombie's film started and ended with the fact that it was a remake of a classic - and it was not an exact copy of said classic. They were insulted by the fact that the film had an entirely different tone and aesthetic to it than John Carpenter's film. Terrence McKenna said it best, that the only obligation a work of art has is to be self-interesting.

I think perhaps I'm more accepting of remakes because of my training as a comic fan. We are used to our heroes being refashioned every three years. I think there was a question in there somewhere.

[A VERY good point. At least one difference is tradition: without a tradition people are just not willing to accept it. Once we get to the 5th Halloween reboot maybe people will be more forgiving, because there are good examples of good reboots in the past. Morrison's X-Men only makes sense if you also look back at Giant Size X-Men or whatever, but Rob Zombie has no reboot precursor or whatever.]

TelosandContext wrote

Inglorious Basterds is a new entry on my list of "line in the sand" films. If you don't like this movie, you stand on the other side of the line with THEM.

[What are the films a love for which creates a Us vs Them mentality? I have still not thought through this myself, but I like the idea that this is a category of film. (Although when I admitted I found Duck Soup to be not that funny many people called me a THEM and stopped reading this blog altogether after sending nasty notes so maybe it is not such a good idea: I repeat: MAYBE I WAS JUST HAVING A BAD DAY! THESE THINGS HAPPEN! MAYBE IF I WATCHED IT WITH YOU!).]

Mister Miracle #7

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods. I make a very brief comment below.]

Apokolips Trap!!

After witnessing the transfer of the infant Scott Free from New Genesis to Apokolips in The Pact!, Kirby now begins the story of Free’s return to confront his tormentors. Under the guise of Mr. Miracle, Free becomes a symbol of rebellion who cuts a swatch through the forces of Apokolips with the help of his brash friend, Big Barda. Although Miracle is captured at the close of the issue, there has been a catharsis for the character; something much needed in order for him to move forward.

The issue opens on Apokolips, where the new crop of youth are being processed for Granny Goodness’ camps. The latest version os Apokolips’ jack-booted thugs are called the Harrasers. Dressed in blue, they bark orders at the children and beat them with a club if they fall out of line. They immediately recall the police brutality seen on college campuses during anti-war protests of the late 60’s and early 70’s. We’re also introduced to the Harasser who was held culpable for Scott Free’s first escape many years back. Although a common writing tool, this personal connection to Free’s torment will make his upcoming romp through Apokolips even more satisfying.

The scenery shifts to Earth where Free and Barda are saying goodbye to Oberon in their own ways. Oberon is heartbroken to have his new friends returning to a horror world he only knows through the villains who originate from it. After pretending not to care, Barda bends down to hug the little guy in a surprisingly touching moment. Barda tunes her Mega Rod to their destination and in a flash, they’re back on Apokolips. The thin plan they have to bluff on Barda’s past authority falls apart very quickly. Barda then becomes quite big, hurling insults at the troops left and right as she pulls down a stone tower and kicks in a vehicle for them to travel in.

The next page is an interlude from the action where Kirby continues to dance around the true nature of anti-life. The panels depicts the guards of Apokolips while the narration explains that although these mindless soldiers are devoid of life, it is unauthentic because it is manufactured. It isn’t the true anti-life which Darkseid hopes to ensnare. The anti-life that Sonny Sumo utilized was also deemed phony by Darkseid. I’m cannot tell if there’s a true version Kirby still wants to unviel, or if the equation is just a MacGuffin to move the story forward.

By the next page, we’re back to Barda and Miracle who have just been zapped out of the car they hijacked by the newest Apokolips character, Kanto. Kanto’s appearance gives you most of what you need to know about the character. His foppish hat, ruffled collar and purple robes are indicative of his aristocratic behavior, despite being the weapons master for Darkseid. He uses Barda’s own weapon to subdue her (something that will no doubt infuriate her) while his guards truss up Miracle. The death trap de jour is a firing squad, with Mr. Miracle on a moving metronome in front of a bullseye. Even the metronome, which keeps pace in music, keeps to Kanto’s cultured methods. After several misfires, they connect with a bomb cluster which leaves a large fibroid cocoon in it’s wake. This is a personal air bag for Mr. Miracle, and Kanto takes much delight in the gadgetry. Miracle is then trussed up by the legs and dragged by a chopper until he sends and electrical current through the chain that fries the bike. Kanto pushes Barda’s mega rod to Miracle’s temple and an odd game of wills ensues. Miracle proclaims Kanto will not kill him because he is merely an artist of weapons and that this type of work isn’t suited for a gentleman like Kanto. Kanto responds with the theory that Miracle is obsessed with death, and that death by him would be much quicker and painless than it will be at the hands of Granny Goodness. A mutual respect blossoms between the two and Kanto allows Barda and Miracle to head toward Granny’s location. Coming full circle, we agin see the Harrasers abusing the new recruits however this time they’re interrupted by Miracle and Barda. Miracle zeros in on Hoogin, the Harraser seen earlier and gives him what can only be described at a classic Kirby punch. Despite the mask, Hoogin knows it his his greatest failure that has come back to haunt him. Miracle forces Hoogin to contact Granny who orders Barda to be returned to the female barracks and Miracle to be sent section zero, where he will have to escape a trap made for the gods.

Final Musings

- After just seeing Inglorious Basterds, I got a Col. Hans Landa vibe from Kanto. Both are cultured gentleman who have a special talents and are willing to join an evil reich in order to practice their talents

-The getup Granny is wearing at the end is hilarious. She looks like the Wolf dressed up as granny waiting for little red riding hood

- The final page teases the “trap for the gods” and the image is something Batman readers should be familiar with. It’s the Lump, folks. The same Play-Doh looking creature that over took Bruce Wayne’s mind and gave him the mental adventure seen in Batman Last rites (Batman #682-683). This was the reason for Batman’s disappearance between Final crisis 2-6 as explained by a flow chart at DC panels and subsequent interviews with Morrison. Finding the Lump here again raised my ire at the whole R.I.P - Final Crisis debacle. First, is you’re explaining a story through flow charts, your boat is already sunk. Like the old proverb, if you have to explain the joke, it ain’t funny. Second, I’m pretty sure the Lump was last seen in these Mr. Miracle issues. This again leads me to suggest that Final Crisis was a mislabeled series. The least DC could have done is promoted these Kirby omnibus’ in anticipation of Morrison’s story. Sorry, rant over.

-The backup stories about young Scott Free continue. In this one he shows of his prowess with aero discs. They’re harmless, but don’t have too much substance.

[I was also very confused by the anti-life thing. Does someone want to make the point that there is a good reason for this? Or is it just messy writing and we are fine with that because Jack Kirby is Jack Kirby? And Batman: RIP was some nonsense, but it seems like nonsense connected to this: I feel like Morrison thought I was all innocent fun hype in the Kirby vein -- The DEATH of BATMAN! Is the Bad Guy SATAN or BRUCE WAYNE or BOTH? WHO KNOWS! ITS ALL IN GOOD FUN. But I still felt let down by the non-resolution to a story that was hyped as a resolution of at least SOME sort (knowing that these things never really get resolved, you can still resolve a RUN).]

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Twin Peaks, Season 2 Episode 16 (or episode 23)

By Jill Duffy, girl reporter

I think what bothers me most about the second season of Twin Peaks is how 80 percent of the episodes are pretty much soap opera drama crap. The openers are often, but not uniformly, strong in some way, be they terrifying or intriguing, and punctuated with a wry humor. Sometimes the humor almost reminds me of Monty Python in that it doesn’t really make sense, but it’s the absurdity and uncomfortable-ness that make it funny.

Then the all through the middle of the show, who cares what’s happening? For example, I can’t even follow all the ins and outs of what’s happening with Thomas Eckhardt, Josie, Andrew Packard, Catherine, and so on and so forth. I don’t know who is evil anymore (though at the end of this episode, I do!).

There’s ongoing drama with James and Donna. Do they really love each other? “Why doesn’t he love me more?” she always seems to be thinking. What is her problem? I have since gone and found pictures of Lara Flynn Boyle in the present day, and let’s just say it’s not pretty. Seeing how she turned out, I keep now reading an undercurrent of desperation in her, even as a character. I guess the strain between Donna and James is supposed to be sad and sappy, but it’s not. Let’s move on.

Ben Horne was evil, then he went crazy, and now he’s a different sort of crazy, a reformed-crazy crazy, like a born-again hippie. He now wants to save weasels, which is also a way for him to sabotage the Ghostwood development project.

But then, at the end of the show, more stuff happens in that Josie-Catherine-Andrew-Truman debacle and the next thing you know, Josie is possessed by Bob and when the show ends, she is trapped in wood.

I assure you, there are no typos in that previous sentence. Josie becomes a prisoner of wood, like felled trees made into furniture. Yeah… What?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Best Latter Day Simpsons Moments

by Scott

[Scott takes a look at some of the best latter day Simpsons moments. Scott is not kidding -- his Simpsons Memory is kind of frightening. I add in some of my own along the way].

People have been lamenting the decline in quality of The Simpsons for over a decade and, while Seasons 3-8 are almost universally accepted as the show’s ‘golden age,’ people have been bemoaning its gradual decline since the 9th season (most point to that season’s ‘Principal and the Pauper’ as the first crack in the show's quality). I personally feel the show remained at it’s peak at least through the 10th and most of the 11th seasons. Having just purchased season 12 on DVD, you definitely get a sense that the show was not quite what it used to be. But what are you gonna do? The Simpsons has sort of passed that point of ‘just being a show’ and has now pretty much become an institution. What else are you going to watch Sundays at 8? I imagine it would kind of be like the funny pages not having Peanuts.

In the show's defense, it has never tried to be anything else or follow trends set by other popular cartoon shows: it doesn’t load itself with the random pop-culture references of Family Guy (think about how much of the ‘humor’ of Family Guy is just you recognizing some obscure pop-culture reference from your youth) or crassly (but always intelligently) overstepping boundaries like South Park. Also, while I don’t find myself laughing as much as I used to, the show can still deliver a great zinger or even the occasional all-around solid episode. In fact, some episodes are so good that, if you were unaware of what season you were watching, you might assume that you were watching a long-forgotten episode from somewhere in the show’s golden age.

So, I propose a challenge of sorts: What are some of your favorite latter day Simpsons moments or episodes? Any episode or moment after season 8 is fair game and bonus points if you can think of some from the last five years or so.

Here are a few of mine (I’ll list Season and Episode titles when I can remember them… as Geoff knows my encyclopedic knowledge of the show really only applies to it’s first 10 seasons or so):

Season 9

“Lisa The Skeptic”

This one is pretty well known; an archeological dig finds what appears to be the skeleton of an angel. Lisa, of course, refuses to believe. Because of this episode, whenever I hear “This is the End” I always want to say “The End of High Prices!”

“The Joy of Sect”

Homer joins the Movementarians. “Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Leader!”

Season 10

“Mayored to the Mob”

After becoming the Mayor’s bodyguard, Homer discovers the mobsters are supplying the school with rat milk; the image of hundreds of rats hooked up to tiny milking machines is one of the most disturbingly hilarious images in the show’s history.

Season 11

“Missionary Impossible”

Homer becomes a missionary. This of course gave us the classic line “But I don’t even believe in Jeebus!”… I also really like the part where, in the absence of beer, Homer resorts to licking toads…

“Behind the Laughter”

A Behind the Music style ‘expose’ of the family.

[This one has a great parody of VH1's Behind the Music's overwrought writing style, something along the lines of "but would the olive branch Homer was extending be accepted, or torn apart by woodpeckers of mistrust?" and "They were on a wing and a prayer, but wing was on fire and the prayers were answered ... by Satan." Oh, and at one point they go to commercial break on "But would this be the end of the Simpsons? No. No it would not." These are especially funny as they actually have the narrator from Behind the Music, I think. -- Geoff]

Season 12


It is discovered that Homer’s stupidity is the result of a Crayon being lodged in his brain, after having it removed Homer attains the whopping IQ of 105 but, unable to be happy as the result of his newfound intelligence, has the crayon shoved BACK into his brain.

“Worst. Episode. Ever.”

After Comic Book Guy has a heart attack, Bart and Milhouse are left in charge of The Android's Dungeon. The two get into a fight after Milhouse orders 1000 copies of Biclops, “The World’s First Superhero with Glasses” (published by Lenscrafters!) and discover Comic Book Guy’s secret stash of Bootlegged Videos including ‘Gotfather III: Good Version.” (Interestingly, when I watched Godfather III for the first time I could not take it seriously since Joe Mantengna’s voice in the movie was EXACTLY the same as the voice he uses for Fat Tony on the Simpsons) This episode also has a great Ralph Wiggum line when, after wondering into the ‘adult section’ he exclaims, “Everybody’s Hugging!” [That is a great line.]

Season 13

“Treehouse of Horror XII”

Two great moments here: 1) Yoda officiating at the wedding of a Leprechaun and a Gypsy. 2) After not studying his homework in a Harry Potter parody, Bart creates a half-man/half-frog abomination which prompts Mrs. Krebaple to say “Lisa is casting spells at a tenth grade level, YOU have sinned against nature”

“Homer the Moe”

Homer opens his own bar out of his garage and, when guest stars REM learn that they have been tricked into playing there, Michael Stipe breaks a bottle and advances on Homer only to be stopped by Mike Mills saying, “No Michael, it’s not the REM way!” [I also like Homer singing "It's The End of the World as You Know It" with his own nonsense lyrics, the last one leading to the chorus is That's right, Flanders, I'm TALKING BOUT YOU!"]

“Weekend at Burnsies”

While the final act featuring Homer and Smithers pretending that a presumed dead Mr. Burns is still alive (thus the title) is pretty weak, the first two acts which feature a story in which Homer is prescribed medical marijuana are probably some of the funniest moments the show has seen in the last 10 years. My favorite: Homer ask Flanders, “Could Jesus heat a burrito so hot that not even he could eat it?” [Is this the one where Otto says "They call them fingers but I never seen them fing. Oh. Wait. There they go."]

Season 19

“That 90’s Show”

We get a glimpse of Marge’s ‘College Days’ in the bygone era of the ‘90s. There was a line in the episode that went something like “All penis shaped objects are oppressive”

And, there was a moment from a couple of years back that I can’t remember the anything else about the episode other than Bart is sent to a psychiatrist. At one point while he’s on the couch he says something like, “Last night I had a dream that I was part of a cartoon family and our show became the key to the success of a TV channel that would go on to be the cornerstone of a media empire that would include a cable news channel that was nothing more than a mouthpiece for the far right”

I’m sure I could think of a lot more… but I’ll leave that up to you guys.

[The only other one I can thing of right now off the top of my head is the one where Homer become part of a private security force or something, and at one point says something to Marge about how this is the most rewarding off all the jobs he has had: and then proceeds into a long list of the ABSURD number of jobs he has had since the show began.]

[I am also a big fan of the flashback episode that shows Homer and Marge kissing at camp when they were kids. We see all the cast when they were young and get little jokes like Selma starting smoking or whatever. At one point Moe gets a prank call and gets really angry about it, then calmly turns to the camera and says "Aaaaaand that's the origin of THAT!" which has become my perennial short hand for lazy "origin" easter eggs -- as in the Wolverine movie, where they felt the need to explain where the got the motorcycle jacket and bike from. Cause you can't just have a jacket without there being a story behind it about how this old couple had a son who died...]

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Gods #7

by Andy Bentley

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods -- and this is perhaps the most famous issue. I was recently called a Kirbyist/Millerist so you can see why I love it. I make a brief comment below.]

“The Pact!”

Backstory. It is a crucial part of the soap opera that is modern day superheroes. The backstory of The Fourth World has been slowly trickling out in the opening prologues of each title but “The Pact” is the issue where the levee breaks. Whether Kirby was saving this jewel in his back pocket or suddenly hit a patch of inspiration is hard to determine. What is apparent, is the passion and precision with which the story is told. A story that will fuel many artistic efforts in the years that follow.

The story opens on text from Kirby (akin to the text that began the series in the first issue) that explains the nature of New Genesis and Apokolips are dictated by the Atoms of Balduur and the evil of a sorceress, respectively. There has been a time of peace between the planets which is about to end. It begins with a couple sitting in a field, very much in love. A string of flowers and a dove behind them reinforce the emotions. Their nature can be gleamed by their appearances. Izaya wears a warrior’s garb while his wife Avia wears a blue outfit similar to a dove (war and peace). Their bliss is quickly interrupted by a horde from Apokolips, lead by the infamous Steppenwolf, leader of the troops of Apokolips. Izaya and Steppenwolf have it out in the traditional superhero way, except for an oddity in the form of a shadowed figure who looms in the distance. Izaya breaks through the troop and appears to have Steppenwolf dead to rights until Avia interrupts. Steppenwolf wheels around and fires a fatal radion bolt murdering her. Izaya barely has time to react before a mechanical golden hand knocks him unconscious. The next page reveals that the shadowed figure is in fact Darkseid, nephew of Steppenwolf, who struck Izaya with a construct from his “good friend” Desaad. And that’s just the prologue.

With the peace totem of Avia destroyed, the two worlds fall into war once again. The bombers from New Genesis drop belly buster bombs not unlike what planes would have been dropping during WW2. Could the old gods war be analogous to WW1 with this war mimicking WW2? In a bunker below, Darkseid and family are having a mafia style strategic meeting over dinner. The Don is Darkseid’s mother, Queen Heggra, who is unhappy with how the war is faring and blames her brother, Steppenwolf. Darkseid seizes this opportunity by unveiling the X-element to the table. The X-element is destined to be the source for Boom Tube technology and it’s potential is not lost upon the witnesses. The scene abruptly shifts as Metron of New Genesis appears out of thin air in front of the table. The mystery of Metron deepens with every appearance and this one is no different. This Metron of the past is manic and desperate to have the X-element to finish the construction of his mobius chair. Darkseid hands over the element, but only after humbling Metron and forcing him to share his innovations.

The effects of the X-element are seen as giant dragon ships teleport to the surface of New Genesis, burning anything in their path. Steppenwolf follows, with his demon pack in tow when he’s suddenly knocked off his saddle by a burst of energy. He looks up to see Izaya the Inheritor, alive and well, ready to exact revenge for Avia’s murder. Avia destroys Steppenwolf with his cosmic staff which causes the the forces of Apokolips to retreat. Once again, Metron appears and he and Izaya agree that Darkseid is the true reason behind this bloodshed. At that moment, planetoids sent by Darkseid begin to rain upon New Genesis. A montage of war fills the next page. Wild Kirby inventions like techno cosmic machines rain space junk on New Genesis while giant biological mutations attack merely by treading upon the land. Even Mammoth suns are transformed into cosmic lasers. Kirby builds a crescendo of violence upwards and outwards in imagination and scale until we return to see Izaya who literally wears the cosmos upon his shoulders. Despondent, Izaya wanders through the devastated lands of New Genesis, ruminating on what may remain of his soul. He casts his armor and weapon towards the gaining winds and shouts to the heavens, yet still continues to wander until he encounters a wall. A rectangular slab in the middle on nowhere. He calls to it, demanding to know what exactly is the inheritance of Izaya the Inheritor? An answer is given, in the form of a flaming hand which scrolls “THE SOURCE” in flames.

Time passes, and the war is finally ended in a pact. A pact that sends the first born of Darkseid and Izaya to one another as adopted sons. Their identities? Scott Free (Izaya’s boy) and Orion (Darkseid’s progeny). Scott is sent to Granny’s camp to endure the torture we’ve seen in the back pages of the Mr. Miracle while an older Orion arrives on New Genesis, ready to strike like a cornered dog. The first man Orion encounters is an older Izaya, who now goes by the name, Highfather. Highfather subdues Orion by showing authority, but also calling for peace. An uneasy truce is made and the readers are left to fill in the blanks until the present day.

This is the type of material that earns the distinction The Fourth Wold garners from it’s fans. There is war, and no doubt Izaya’s remorse stems from Kirby’s war experience. There is mythology, culled from religions and fables and it feels like a cumulation of Jack’s comic book work. There’s even a bit of Shakespeare thrown in for good measure. But the result is something entirely new due to Kirby’s imagination. Almost every panel is dynamic and as vivid as 4 color printing could offer. New gadgets and creatures turn up on every turn of the page and I was never bored by the dialog. But the most important factor is the backstory. Now I care about Highfather and his mission. His struggles and sacrifices have made me emotionally invested. Before this, he was just some old wizard type of character. To know that Metron was once as mercurial and emotional as his New God brethren has me yearning for more explanation. The story of Darkseid’s rise to power was also interesting, but his character was already well fleshed out before this issue. The reveal of the identities of the sons was telegraphed early on, yet now I anticipate the two meeting their biological fathers even more. The source wall continues to be an eerie entity which intrigues me as does the mention of the uni-friend who is attached to it in some way. Kirby has set the stage for quite the main event, the question is whether it will be waiting for me in that final Omnibus.

Final musings:

Izaya, a New God, shouts to the heavens for an answer, something us mere mortals tend to do. It would appear that even the New Gods have deities they worship.

Izaya evokes Charlton Heston’s Moses during his trek to the source wall. Both wield a staff and bring back answers from the divine on a stone tablet,

Darkseid’s incongruity in appearance with the rest of the family makes me think Steppenwolf and his sister were created for this issue and the family connection was not thought out in advance.

One nerdy tidbit was the bombs were dropped to eliminate the fire pits on Apokolips which power it’s machinery. I always wondered what their purpose was.

Metron’s appearance is out of thin air, not unlike David Bowie’s character Agent Philip Jefferies in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Blog posting synergy, Jill Duffy!

[I always thought it was weird that Darkseid HAS a backstory. Morrison's "DARKSEID IS" seems about right to me. In my imagination he has always been the one true evil in the DCU. The idea that he was young, or took orders, or had a mom just never seemed right to me, although I agree with everyone that this issue is one of the very best comics ever.]

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

X-Men Annual #12b

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue analysis of Claremont's X-Men, continuing to school the hell out of us all.]

“I Want My X-Men”

Teamed once again with the artist of Ann Nocenti’s “Longshot” miniseries, Claremont uses the b-side of the 1988 annual to again revisit that story’s bizarre, quasi-satirical universe and its ruler -- the corpulent, superhuman media mogul Mojo. The story, despite its brevity, is as bloated as its antagonist with meta-fictional observations about the state of the X-Men franchise in 1988.

We open with Mojo recounting the ending of the previous year’s crossover, “Fall of the Mutants” – his long synopsis regularly interspersed with Charles Schultz-esque interjections of “AUGH!” Is Claremont making fun at his own convoluted storylines – or perhaps, many readers’ frustrated reactions to them?
More to the point, Claremont here is mocking the ongoing commercialization of the X-Men, casting Mojo as Marvel Comics (or its shareholders, perhaps) who are more concerned with the profit potential of the characters than they are with the actual stories. Matters become particularly blatant when Claremont pulls himself (along with Adams, Orzechowski, and – presumably – Bob Harras) into the storyline. The comic-book version of Claremont (unnamed, except as “Chris” in a jokey editorial caption one page later) berates Mojo/Marvel thusly: “I warned you – I said, go for quality, not quantity -- but nnnNOO, you just had to keep exploit —” [he’s cut off when Mojo magically shrinks Claremont’s head into that of a cartoon baby]. Three years before the fact, Claremont is correctly predicting this argument (X-Men as creative property vs. commercial one) coming to a “head,” and Claremont losing against his monolithically powerful opponent.

From there, we proceed to a sequence in which Mojo creates one X-Men spinoff after another. Note that in 1988, the amount of X-Men spinoffs could still be counted on one hand. Though the writing was on the wall, the franchise was still relatively contained, and would not proliferate to absurd levels until the 1990s, soon after Claremont quit in frustration. Though he portrays himself as martyr in “I Want My X-Men” (albeit a whiny one), the fact is that Claremont – with this story – correctly sees where the franchise is heading. In the images of Mojo as he magically whips up one spin-off team after another – throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks – we see the future of the X-Men: a franchise that has become the victim of its own “excess success.” Once the hottest thing in comics, the X-Men line is now a bloated parody of itself, as Marvel overstuffs the shelves with “... X-Men after X-Men. Mutants without end ... skinny X-Men, fat X-Men, giant X-Men, tiny X-Men, musical X-Men, dancing X-Men, X-Men fish, X-Men insects, chimps in X-men costumes, X-Men mimes ... midget X-Men, X-Men made of straw or brick or mint chocolate ice cream! Each group of X-Men more boring, more tiresome, more ... malodorous ... than the one before ...”

Claremont saw it coming, all along.

Monday, August 24, 2009

An Open Letter to David Denby, Keith Phipps and Dana Stevens in response to their Inglourious Basterds Reviews (spoilers))

The New Yorker

Dear David Denby,

In discussing the way Inglourious Basterds invokes film and filmmakers -- Goebbles, the Art Deco theatre, the cinemaphile characters (including actors and actresses, theatre owners and projectionists, and critics) and the Basterds themselves ("A kind of Jewish Dirty Dozen") you write, "Tarantino has gone past his usual practice of decorating his movies with homages to others. This time, he has pulled the film-archive door shut behind him -- there's hardly a flash of light indicating that the world exists outside of a nutbrain fable."

I don't understand why creating what Tolkien called a "secondary world" should be such a problem. I understand that that is a different project from trying to make a film "about something" (rather than a film that "is that something itself"); I fail to see why the former is necessarily better than the latter. I am also puzzled why of all people a film critic should be so bothered by a film that is soaked in films. It seems to cater to those of us that love film. Also: there are so many plays about plays for example, including Midsummer Night's Dream -- are they all deficient on principle as well?

I say this without conceding that this is what Inglourious Basterds is doing. When you say that "there's hardly a flash of light indicating that the world exists outside of a nutbrain fable" you seem also to mean that Tarantino's film is empty because it focuses on film and not on say, real world issues. But isn't film PART of the real world, and so when Tarantino "pulls the film-archive door shut behind him" and begins to comment on the vault -- don't we all have access to that vault through netflix? And don't you and I especially, as people who care enough to write about films, care especially for this very subject? If you got access to a great vault of films wouldn't you be excited? Tell people about it? Get people excited about what you found in there? Isn't that sort of what Tarantino does (especially in Kill Bill)? Isn't at least a small part of what Tarantino is doing is going after those Oscar grabs like The Reader that humanize Nazi's? Isn't he responding to the real world when he tells the audience, and the people who make and enjoy those films, "A Nazi ain't got no humanity. He needs to be DE-stroyed." Agree or disagree with the sentiment, I think it is unfair to make it seem like he is just in his own fantasy land here.

You write "Whether the Basterds are Tarantino's ideal of an all American killing team, or his parody of one, is hard to know. Very little in Basterds is meant to be taken straight, but the movie isn't farce either. It's lodged in an uneasy nowheresville between counterfactual pop wish fulfillment and trashy exploitation, between exuberant nonsense and cinema scholasticism.... The cinema it seems is both innocent and heroic; it creates great art and it will end the war."

I think comic book fans are faster to get what Tarantino is doing, partly because comic books go to a lot of trouble to create a kind of detailed secondary world (and fans help with that project) and also because the characters inside walk that line you describe: The Silver Surfer and Beta Ray Bill for example, or Kirby's New Gods could be described equally as ideals or parodies. The difference in communities is that comic book fans don't see this as an "uneasy nowhere" -- there is a energizing dissonance, a sense that anything could happen and be somehow justified aesthetically. "Exuberant Nonsense" is a great phrase and I wish you meant it in a complementary way, as Blake did when he said "Exuberance is Beauty" or the critic Stephen Booth did when he described the best poetry as "Precious nonsense." (I know there is a good quote somewhere from Auden about poetry being nonsense, but I am not going to look for it now).

And there are many films that make great claims for art, and I am sure you do not dislike them or mock them for that reason.

You write "Tarantino is mucking about with a tragic moment of history. Chaplin and Lubitsch played with Nazi's too, but they worked as farceurs, using comedy to warn of tragedy; they didn't carve up Nazi's using horror-film flourishes."

The other thing comic book fans know is that Nazis make great villains, and always have. I suppose it is sad to think that comics and other pulps (including the recent Nazi Zombie film Dead Snow) are held in such low regard that this is the first time I am seeing someone really chase after using Nazis as villains. Hellboy, with it's Nazi-Satanists, was probably beneath mention. How do you feel about their use in something like Indiana Jones, I wonder? Tarantino is obviously edgy, but that movie was pure family adventure fun. The comparison to Chaplin and Lubitsch seems unfair in part because it stacks the deck against Tarantino -- he comes too late in history to warn. Thankfully, he knows how to make the most out of coming late in the day -- by learning from and remixing all the movies Chaplin and Lubitsch missed out on, what with their being dead.

You write, "Tarantino's hyper-violent narrative reveals merely that he still dreams like a teen-ager."

Well, fair enough, I guess. That is an easy swipe because New Yorker readers are a demographic all ready to look down on teenagers. And what with spending 800 Million on Transformers 2 (which I did not see to be fair, but will when the commentary comes out), fine, yes, teenagers. But in taking Tarantino to task for the cliche of Hans Landa ("The role may be a cliche but Waltz is brilliant in it" -- and why isn't that enough?) you ought to avoid cliches yourself. "Those darn Kids!" We should do better than that. Teenagers have a lot to be ashamed of but what wouldn't you give for the teenage energy and enthusiasm Tarantino displays. He LOVES things. And he wants to TELL you about them. Where exactly would film be without a little wish fulfillment? Even the most critically acclaimed grim existentialist drama's fulfill the pessimists wish to be right about how the world really is.

You write "The film is skillfully made but, but it's too silly to be enjoyed, even as a joke. Tarantino may think he is doing Jews a favor by launching this revenge fantasy (in the burning theatre, working class Jewish boys pump Hitler and Goring full of lead), but I somehow doubt that the gesture will be appreciated. Tarantino has become an embarrassment."

"Too silly to be enjoyed." Try taking that out of context for a minute and looking at it. Do you really believe that something can be "too silly to be enjoyed." If I believed that I would be concerned what it said about me as a person. Combined with the crack about teenagers, you present yourself as sort of humorless, which is surely not what you intend (especially since you present yourself as ready for a lighthearted romp when you positively review Julie and Julia along side Inglourous Basterds under heading "Americans in Paris").

To call out Tarantino as an embarrassment fails on a couple of levels. The main one is that you reveal yourself to be writing something other than a movie review -- this is a kind of moral criticism, which is sort of outside of your scope, or at the most auxillary to your scope. You have to engage the film in its own terms first, which you seems largely unable to do for Tarantino (though you do do it for Waltz).

But I have to say that the real embarrassment is the New Yorker. Many weeks ago in an issue I cannot locate Anthony Lane (I believe) reviewed Watchmen. I am going by memory here, but he clearly disliked it about as much as you disliked this, and was also unwilling to engage it on its own terms (he laments the lack of comedy and lightheartedness for example, not noticing Moore's wry joke that a character named "The Comedian" is thrown to his death at the opening). Now I enjoyed Watchmen, but it was hardly a favorite movie of mine -- as Inglourious Basterds is. Regardless of my feeling about this I still cannot understand the mean-spiritedness of both you and Lane striking at these films that you did not enjoy by SPOILING THE ENDING FOR YOUR READERS. The New Yorker was kind enough to print a letter to the editor in regards to Lane's spoiler, but you followed up not too long after by telling everyone that the film ends with Roth shooting Hitler and Goring, the shock that the 152 minute movie builds towards. This seems to be a betrayal of the principles of your job, when even if you did not know better before, The New Yorker brought to you attention with that letter to the editor.

I would like to submit myself as a candidate for your replacement at the New Yorker. I have written two books, hold a doctorate, and have learned (just recently) not to use words like "farceur" and "idiot de la cinematheque" to bludgeon readers into submission.

The AV Club (Keith Phipps)

Dear Keith Phipps,

You write, "Inglourious Basterds is a film years in the making and hours in the watching, but it seems designed to inspire mere minutes of reflection. ... its moments of greatness—and there are more than a couple—feel weirdly disconnected, stuck in a movie that doesn’t know how to put them together, or find a good way to move from one to the next."

I actually don't want to get into this opinion of yours too much. I think that the stylistic clashing is part of the fun, but like noise music I can concede that it is an acquired taste. The thing that really bugs me is that your site gave the movie a B-, when you gave Crank 2 an A. I thought it was wonderful that the AV Club responded to a complaint along these lines so reasonably. But I have to feel that by the AV Club's own criteria described in that article Inglourious Basterds deserved better. Surely, for example, Tarantino was AWARE that his movie was stylistically uneven, what with the kind of random narration to name one case. The question is did the film succeed on its own terms, and I think that it really did.

The thing is Kieth Phipps, I really don't have a problem with you. It is just that your publication makes me feel OLD, as the New Yorker makes me feel young (in the worst way). I am 30 years old and I find that my values corespond neither to the New Yorker (which I always unconciously assumed was up ahead, waiting for me) or to the AV Club, which I have been reading for years. I don't know what to do with claims like in the Terminator Salvation review where the 3rd Terminator movie was referred to in passing as "adequate" rather than say "risible" -- and that was YOU writing that review. You gave Terminator Salvation a B-, the same grade you gave Inglourious Basterds. Would you like to reconsider, seeing those grades side by side like that?


Dear Dana Stevens,

I would like to answer a question of yours.

"But Tarantino's signature nastiness and his juvenile delight in shocking the audience undercut the movie's larger purpose. Which is what, again? Watching someone get beaten to death with a baseball bat, or having a swastika carved into their flesh in tight closeup, is sickening whether the victim is a Nazi or not. In the scenes where the bloodthirsty Basterds (one of whom is played by Eli Roth, the director of the ultra-sadistic Hostel movies and a friend of Tarantino's) perpetrate these exploits, are we supposed to be cheering them on? Is the best way to work through the atrocities of the 20th century really to dream up ironically apt punishments for the long-dead torturers?"


(I really wanted the word yes to be my only comment here, but I cannot stop myself, now that I am on a roll).

Dante, for example, did it when he dreamed up ironic punishments for history's greatest villains.

It is a basic film tenant that you set up tension, then resolve it, as for example, when you have a bad guy, and then you punish them. Basic but reliable. Nazi's are the worst of the worst -- but even if you had never heard of them, Tarantino himself has demonstrated, just in the context of his film, what monsters they are. So yes, when terrible things happen to them we cheer. It is just an illusion, but I am sure you have cheered on illusions before, when you knew it was not real. If a magician sawed a woman in half then put her back together the fact that you know she is not being hurt -- but that she looks like she is -- is part of the fun. It is significantly more kind than say people who watch certain stunts and sports and HOPE someone gets hurt for real.

Also in Slate

Dear Dennis Lim

You wrote

Inglourious Basterds addresses head-on many of the standard anti-Tarantino criticisms. You say he makes movies that are just about movies? You think they present violence without a context? Luring the elite of the Third Reich to an Art Deco cinematheque in Nazi-occupied Paris, Basterds gleefully uses film history to turn the tables on world history; its context is nothing less than the worst atrocity of the 20th century. This only seems to have further infuriated Tarantino's detractors, some of whom are appalled that this terminal adolescent would dare to indulge his notorious penchant for vengeful wish fulfillment on such sensitive and sacrosanct material.

Needless to say, Tarantino's movie shares little common ground with—and, indeed, is probably a direct response to—your typical Holocaust drama. It has no interest in somber commemoration, and it refuses to deny the very real satisfactions of revenge. Like all of Tarantino's films, Inglourious Basterds is about its maker's crazy faith in movies, in their ability to create a parallel universe. His films have always implicitly insisted that movies are an alternative to real life, and with Inglourious Basterds, for the first time, he has done something at once preposterous and poignant: He takes that maxim at face value and creates his own counterfactual history. It may not be his masterpiece, but for sheer chutzpah, it will be hard to top.



Geoff Klock

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Season 4

by Mitch [I make a brief comment below]

Despite the Buffy meme’s persistent infiltration of nearly every aspect of my life, I managed to avoid watching it until now, nearly ten years after it began. Thus far – I am currently four discs into Season Five – it is largely just as good as, sometimes much better than, and intermittently not as good as the common opinion suggests. The first thing I said to everyone is that I feel like I missed a good opportunity by not watching the show when it was on the air and when I was synchronously going through high school and college. The equation of adolescent melodrama with the supernatural usually fits perfectly, because most teenagers feel things on a supernatural level. Recall how many times you said outlandish things like, “I will love you forever and ever until the end of time” or “Go to Hell” as a teenager and suddenly you realize what creator Joss Whedon is up to. Here Buffy Summers gets a boyfriend who is actually immortal. Here, Buffy can actually send people to Hell. It’s under the library in her high school. The collision of genre and theme brings out the best in both aspects of the show – the paranormal material and the high school melodrama. However, in the midst of the Fourth Season, the show’s mission statement seems to change.

Most people cite Season Four as the beginning of the end for Buffy, but THIS is my favorite season so far, huge glaring flaws and all. Geoff once said to me that the fourth season lacks a strong villain. I agree and disagree. The Initiative is introduced during Buffy’s first year at college – a fraternity that is actually a cover for a military demon hunting assault force. Buffy’s bitchy psychology teacher, Professor Walsh, heads up the program and is willing to make moral compromises for the greater good, like purposely sending Buffy on a suicide mission. Eventually, we learn that the Initiative has built this Frankenstein super-soldier named Adam, who unfortunately becomes the main villain. Geoff is right; this guy and his “What is my purpose?” shtick is totally lame. Really, he should have only been a powerful henchman for the more human, more interesting villain the Season missed out on – Professor Walsh – who was regrettably done away with pretty quickly. Whedon says in commentaries that the overarching Initiative story of Season Four is meant to seem like a long crossover with another TV show. This is a perfect summing up for this season, because instead of playing with genre, like the first three seasons, Season Four plays with the television medium. In the Season Three episode “The Zeppo,” we see – or rather, don’t see – a typical Buffy adventure from Xander’s perspective, and as a result we miss the climactic battle. “The Zeppo” foretells Whendon’s new interest in form over subject matter, perhaps feeling that the high school/supernatural metaphor has run its course. “Pangs,” for instance, was marketed as the first crossover with the Angel show, but in it Buffy and Angel never actually interact – as Jane Espenson says in the special features, it’s a crossover Buffy isn’t even aware of. And of course there is the surreal, nightmarish and brilliant “Hush,” which is eighty percent silent. You see what I mean here, a silent episode is only fun if you think about what normal TV tools – like dialogue – Whedon must give up to make that work. And it’s hard to enjoy the “Pangs” non-crossover concept, without considering what normally happens in a typical crossover. Even minor plot elements or throwaway episodes in the season mirror stick with this, like in “Something Blue,” where two characters who normally hate each other are made to fall deeply in love for one episode, or “A New Man,” where a character turns into a demon. “This Year’s Girl” and “Who am I?” are totally rife with stock TV plot points and devices. Buffy and Faith switch bodies a la “Freaky Friday,” allegedly for character development purposes, but really, I surmise, to let the actresses have fun playing each other. (The way Sarah Michelle Gellar lampoons Eliza Dushku’s shoulder roll thing is hysterical.) As if that’s not enough, the whole cliffhanger hinges on Faith’s “catchphrase,” for which she is ridiculed earlier in the episode. It’s hard not to love the audacious “Superstar” the most, though, for suddenly upgrading a minor character from previous seasons to a major character. Jonathan from “Earshot” all of a sudden appears in the opening credit sequence, seems to have been close friends with everybody forever, and is a total badass – all without any explanation. Of course, it all unravels later, but that initial disorientation lampoons when characters are actually added or removed from a show like this… I’m thinking of the uncle in “Land of the Lost” or Darren in “Bewitched.” “Restless,” the season’s last episode, is a formally abstract and quiet epilogue that foreshadows the Fifth Season, but not in a “Picard has become a Borg and what will they do” way. So overall, Season Four was conceptually awesome, even if the Initiative story was a little bungled.

Season Five, however, has missed just about every mark, starting with the unimaginative Dracula appearance (Really? No reinvention at all?). I don’t even know what to say about Buffy’s sudden sister Dawn, who is at best a retread of the “Superstar” idea, and at worst exactly what “Superstar” was making fun of. Part of the problem, I think, is illustrated by the fact that four discs into Season Five, Whedon has only written/directed one episode. I’m definitely in for the long haul though and I know that there are fun things like Dark Willow and the musical episode (which I have already seen out of context) in the future. For now, I maintain a cautious sense of optimism about where everything is going.

[It is interesting to think that the Buffy/Angel crossover seems like a precursor to Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers, another crossover where the characters do not meet. I have already mentioned on this blog (though I cannot find where) about Morrison's Silent Issue owing to Hush, and his Vimanarama being very Whedon-esque, right after Whedon took over his X-Men run.]

[I will also defend Buffy vs Dracula (and also Dawn, who grows on me). Just like the Zeppo, Pangs, and Superstar, Buffy vs Dracula involves a total reversal of expectations, a radical shift in focus. Dracula, in the hands of a lesser writer, would have been the final villain in season 7 or something and the whole thing would have played out a lot more like the unfortunate Blade: Trinity. At the bare minimum you expect some kind of ramp up, or serious consequence to his appearance (like, say, he kills a lot of people)-- but no, Dracula just SHOWS UP. You have to admire Whedon for turning his source material into a pretty sly joke, just as he did in the Zeppo.]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

District 9 and Blomkamp

[New guest blogger Charlie discusses District 9 and Blomkamp. I am pretty on the fence about seeing this movie, especially since last weekend was Ponyo and this weekend is Inglourious Basterds. I just need a space to open up -- or I may wait for the DVD on this one. UPDATE: now with video that fits and working links (my bad)]

Not to give away the ending, but this is less a review of District 9 than it is a hearty endorsement. It's really only the things that I like that drive me to write about them and I do so riding a wave of exultation, hoping that it will sweep up everyone around me. Why do I care about you schmucks, you say? What is it that makes me want you to enjoy what I have enjoyed? That's a good question. My effusiveness might surprise you if you ever met me in person – in general, I'm really quite a grump. It's an interesting phenomena and I'd like to explore it, but I've taken my on-topic pills and am committed to the task at hand.

So, knowing as you do now that I'm attempting to drive you to see this movie, what, you ask, is my carrot? As adverse to spoilers as I am, instead of discussing the merits of District 9 itself I'd like you to consider this to be an introduction to director Neill Blomkamp. This is his first feature film and his existing body of works is not very extensive, but it includes a few commercials that you may have seen, amongst them this “fuck you, Michael Bay ” from 2005:

Of the commercials and shorts that he's done, all are science fiction and all but one (series) are set on a present-day styled earth. The exception, a series of shorts based on the video game Halo, takes a violent setting in a far distant future and a story about a super-soldier single handedly devastating an evil alien force and does not make it all about flashy rayguns and fancy effects. What we have instead is something closer to a war movie, something more about confusion and frantic motion and pain than it is about fantastic technology. There are imaginary weapons and vehicles, yes, and yet despite these and the big hairy aliens, there's very little in these shorts really feels foreign.

This is all three of the shorts, cut together:

Not that there's anything wrong with flashy rayguns, you'd never catch me committing some heresy against Star Wars, but it isn't all that science fiction can be and, more than anything else, what Blomkamp's works feel like is a refresher - a reminder that breaking out of reality's confines doesn't have to mean taking the focus away from humans acting human.

So why would Blomkamp be doing Halo shorts anyway? Peter Jackson had recruited him to direct the Halo movie, a big-budgeted affair bound to be aggressively promoted, on the strength of the work that he had done independently. The shorts cover a portion of the events that take place between Halo 2 and Halo 3 and were partly a promotion for the third game - the final short came out on Sept. 24th, 2007, just before Halo 3's release on Sept. 25th. The other function of the shorts was an attempt to sell the movie to the studios, Fox and Universal, who had originally signed on to distribute the film but had balked, citing Blomkamp's inexperience with a project of that scope as the reason. Speculation says that the larger part of it, however, was the terms of the deal demanded by Microsoft. Regardless of the reason, the Halo movie was ultimately canceled, leaving Peter Jackson and Neill Blomkamp together but with no movie to produce.

Oh fate, you know just what I like.

So what did the two of them do? They decided to take one of Blomkamp's shorts and turn it into a movie. If you're still on the fence about District 9, I suggest that you watch Alive in Joburg instead of the trailer. The short is representative of both the subject matter and Blomkamp's style, while being entertaining in its own right and essentially spoiler free.

I've been trying to avoid discussing the movie itself, but I'm going to allow myself just a little bit here: Alive in Joburg is a low budget short with surprisingly decent but still obviously low budget effects. District 9 is a low (lowish - $30M) budget movie with a massive amount of special effects, 90% of the scenes contain CG aliens, and they're flawless. The aliens are gritty and dirty and belong to their environments so completely that it didn't occur to me to be impressed until after the movie was over. It becomes ever more difficult to justify legislation made to protect the expensive special effects orgy when something like this comes along and so vividly demonstrates that in losing the blockbuster we wouldn't actually lose anything at all.


The other difference with the short and the only significant spoiler that I'm going to give you: You may be saying to yourself, “Gee, that's all well and good but I'm not really up for a boring documentary.” Only a small portion of District 9 is done in a documentary style - the bulk of the movie is a narrative with appropriately compelling characters.


So that's my pitch. There are more shorts, however: I think that Tempbot is pretty charming, albeit sorta one-trick. He's done some music videos as well. If you're interested, this is a fairly complete list.

One last thing that I'll say about the movie - respect the R rating. Most of his stuff is family-friendly and Alive in Joburg is pretty innocuous, but this isn't.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jimmy Olsen #146

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

“Homo Disasterous”

There’s little to be said of this Jimmy Olsen title that hasn’t already been said. Olsen has once again been mutated, this time regressing into a powerful prehistoric man. We see him resisting and destroying throughout the issue, all the while grunting and howling. His destruction ultimately causes the Factory to explode, but not before Jimmy and the Newsboys leap through the shrink ray to return them safe and sound at full size. The cover image depicts Superman taking on the cro-magnum Jimmy, however that never occurs in this issue. Superman is only briefly glimpsed watching Dubbilex’s mental powers and ruminating over the influence of the New Genesis/Apokolips battle’s effect on Earth. The only significant scene involved the other Newsboys being dragged into an atomic furnace, which resembles a large oven. Above them are human bodies being trafficked in tubes. This scene is reminiscent of the horrors the Third Reich unleashed on the Jewish population. Symian and Mokkari then become the fabled mad scientists that worked for Hitler’s army. The issue actually resembles an earlier issue where the two scientists unleashed a mindless and powerful Jimmy Olsen clone. Kirby took the Jimmy Olsen book as a favor to DC and by now seems to have lost interest in the title. The next New Gods issue looks pretty great so stay tuned.

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

X-Men Annual #12a

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. Sorry for getting this one out late today, but I got tied up with life off of the computer.]


By 1988, Claremont has been writing Uncanny X-Men for so long that he now is in the position of collaborating on the series with people who originally encountered his work as a fan, rather than as a pro. Indeed, ’88 is the year in which the editorial responsibilities for Uncanny passed to Bob Harras -- an avowed fan of the Claremont/Byrne run of nearly a decade earlier. Harras’ rein was, by all accounts, much tighter than that of Nocenti or Simonson, much to Claremont’s frustration. (Ironically, this quality made Harras professionally akin to Roger Stern, the man who oversaw much of the Claremont/Byrne X-Men issues.)

In “Comics Creators on X-Men,” Harras is explicit about why he and Claremont butted heads almost from the start – the latter’s desire to continually mutate the X-Men concept was firmly at odds with Harras’ traditionalism. (An early manifestation of Harras’ holding the Byrne-era X-Men sacrosanct is notable in Classic X-Men, which ceased -- practically overnight -- to break up any of the Byrne material with interstitial pages once Harras got full control.) Harras seems to have been as stuck under the shadow of Claremont/Byrne as Claremont and Byrne themselves were – during the early half of their run – under that of Neal Adams.

By the same token, Claremont may also have been getting a little nostalgic himself for the “glory days” of his collaborations with John Byrne, having revisited them himself for the sake of the Classic X-Men reprints.

All of which helps to account for the a-side story in X-Men Annual #12, which sees Claremont teaming with Art Adams for a return to the Savage Land. Inked by Bob Wiacek, Adams’ work here is clean, bright and dynamic, very much recalling Byrne and Austin during the “Sun God” story of Uncanny 115-116 (published in 1978, a full decade earlier). The story – despite the disingenuous cover trappings that claim it’s part of Marvel’s 1988 “Evolutionary War” crossover – is an explicit sequel to the Garokk/Sun God material, reprising key story beats (and even specific images) and allowing Claremont to redeem certain moments from that earlier work. Thus, Storm saves Garokk from his fatal fall this time around, and Garokk himself uses his power to save the Savage Land rather than – as was his goal the first time around – to destroy it. This must have immensely gratified whatever part of Harras was still a fanboy for Claremont/Byrne X-Men.

Claremont, meanwhile, clearly enjoys the opportunity to make “Resurrection” also a sequel to his recent John Bolton collaborations. For example, thanks to a cannily deployed sci-fi cliché involving time moving differently in other dimensions, we get to see the long-term ramifications here of Colossus’ sexual liaison with Nereel in Classic #21b – they have a son! We also see the return of M’rin from Classic #22b, with dialogue that suggests there is an as-yet-unrevealed Storm/M’rin story that takes place during Ororo’s “punk” phase. X-Men Annual #12 may revel quite a bit in its nostalgia for the franchise’s creative peak, but Claremont is also, shrewdly, using it to cement his more recent (and far less celebrated) contributions to the canon.

Note also the subtle parallelism at work involving Piotr Rasputin’s son: The boy, also called Peter, has – in a sense – aged artificially, having spent years in another dimension where time moves differently, so that he is already an adolescent even though (in Marvel Time), he should only be one or two years old. This is, of course, very similar to what happened to Illyana in Uncanny #160 and the Magik miniseries; apparently, artificial aging runs in the Rasputin family.

Meanwhile, as a superhero story, “Resurrection” bounces along excitingly from start to finish. Its opening sequence – featuring some nice Claremontian turns of phrase (e.g., “Lightning splits the sky – strobe-splashing midnight brighter than noon”) and some slipped-under-the-Comics-Code allusions to Longshot and Alison having just fucked – sets a thrilling and vigorous tone, which Adams and Wiacek carry breathlessly through to the battle with Terminus.

(The Terminus fight hearkens back to Byrne as well, its “Round 1/Round 2” construction so evocative of the “X-Men vs. Magneto” two-parter in Uncanny 112/113 or the “Proteus” arc in issues 126-128.)

Claremont even slips a bit back under Neal Adams’ shadow too, sneaking in a cameo by Adams’ “Savage Land mutates” (from X-Men #’s 62-63). Claremont will import these creatures into the main series too, a year later, in issues 249-250.
All in all, the Annual sees Claremont working at cross-purposes with the main series, which at this point is still attempting something newer, stranger and more discomfiting with Silvestri and Green. But he gets away with it, because the story itself is so charming – the work of a seasoned veteran of old-school superheroics, brimming with confidence and teamed with a young artist whose style is as sleekly futuristic as Byrne and Austin’s seemed ten years earlier.

(The successful synthesis of this old/new sensibility is given an emblem on the story’s final page: the “X” embedded in an eight-pointed star, which readers saw Madelyne designing in Uncanny #232.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Forever People #7

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

“I’ll Find You in Yesterday”

The opening prologue to Fourth World titles is usually where the reader gains more insight into the larger saga and this issue is a fine example. High father is holding a meeting with the Council of the Young to discuss the fate of the Forever People. Notice not a council of elders, but rather a council of youth. Kirby affirms his hope for the youth of the US nation by depicting the trust New Genesis has in their children. Metron is also present for this meeting which is taking place in a spanning cathedral hall which Kirby illustrates beautifully. The debate is whether High father should intervene and rescue the time trapped Forever People who have disobeyed him by taking on Darkseid himself. The youth believe the Forever People must be saved, and High Father agrees.

The Forever People have been split into three different war time periods which reinforce the themes which punctuates the Fourth World Saga. Moonrider and Beautiful Dreamer are in Ford theater moments before Lincon’s assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. Vykin has been transported into a camp of Spanish conquistadors in early America, and Big Bear has come upon the Romans pull out from Ancient Britain. All these example reinforce Glorious Godfrey’s theory from several issues ago that war is always within man’s heart. Each of the Forever People find ways to assimilate into their surroundings and are soon returned to the current time with the aid of High Father. He has moved to the chamber of regeneration and has conjured up alpha bullets which will reverse the damage done by Darkseid’s omega sanction. The use of the term bullets to describe this effect is puzzling given New Genesis’ stance on violence.

In the present time, Serifan is making his last stand against Godfrey and his justifiers. The Wiz Wagon and his cosmic cartridges help even the score. The justifiers return with a weapon that ignites an avalanche above Serifan. Before he is crushed, an Alpha bullet finds his way to the space cowboy and zaps him to current day Japan. There, he learns that Sonny Summo was blasted back to Feudal Japan by Darkseid’s beams and was allowed to live a life more appropriate to Sonny’s demeanor. The mother box Sonny used to harness the life equation has been kept by a sect of people who await the return of a Forever Person. With Mother Box in hand, Serifan walks off with hope because High Father has shown them compassion.

This issue along with the forward by Glen David Gould prove to me that Kirby really didn’t have that much of a plan, but rather a notebook full of ideas. Gould theorizes that the clunky dialog does serve a unintended purpose of slowing the reader down to look and think about the material being presented. I’m reading these at a critical level so I’m already at a slower pace. Gould also theorizes that Kirby had post traumatic stress disorder from his service in the army and that he was probably working these feeling out (unconsciously or not) through the Fourth World. Many argue that Will Eisner did some of his best work on “The Spirit” post war as well. I agree the war shaped Kirby’s work tremendously as did the counter culture movement and the rise of evangelism.

Final Musings

The Fate on Sonny is fitting to the character, however it makes me feel as if the Anti-life reveal several issues ago is being swept under the carpet.

The vignettes with the Forever People in the past weren’t of much consequence (Spoiler, they don’t stop Booth from assassinating President Lincoln) however they prove how versatile Kirby can be illustrating several time periods.

The alpha beams did seem too convenient. I wonder if this is how DC plans to ultimately return Bruce Wayne to present time.

Lonar: He’s back! However the story lacks the thick mood that the first Lonar tale had. It features an encounter with a younger Orion who is even less level headed than the current one. Lonar’s horse becomes spooked by Orion which labors a fact we already know: Orion’s bad news.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Twin Peaks, Season 2 Episode 15 (or episode 22)

By Jill Duffy, girl reporter [Continuing her episode by episode look at Twin Peaks. I make a brief comment below.]

Diane Keaton directed this episode. She positions a lot of her shots to look through doors, doorways, windows, and other real-world frames. I can point to a couple of movies that use this trope, American Beauty for instance, but here, I’m not sure what the point of it is.

In at least one shot, the camerawork adds levity. Two people are seen talking somewhat heatedly, on the other side of a entryway where a swinging door continues to swings full tilt throughout their conversation.

I wonder who added the humor to Twin Peaks. Was it the writers? The episode director? Frost and Lynch? Was it the actors suggesting flourishes for their characters? Here, I’m pretty sure Diane Keaton is playing around with her direction, almost exercising herself as a director by trying to incorporate humor through direction alone. She lays down the funny stuff in tandem with serious and dark, audio, dialogue, and action.

She also uses a good amount of theatrical music, including an aria.

Albert returns, which always revives my interest in watching. One of the notable things about Twin Peaks’ sense of humor is the number and variety of ridiculously odd characters, like Albert, Pete, and Cooper.

Windom Earle is a sociopath, and we’re supposed to ponder whether Leo, who is now in Windom’s charge and is being brutally and sadistically beat by his captor, is getting what he deserves. The flip side would be to say that no one deserves this kind of treatment despite his previous actions in life. For me, I don’t care enough about Leo to think too long or too hard about this. What Leo suffers is traumatic, but I don’t have a close enough connection to his to care. He’s not a real person in my eyes. He’s a soap opera character, and who cares what a soap opera character suffers? I guess in a way, once Leo is established as a monster (both in how he treats Shelly and then more literally when he becomes “Franken-Leo,” as Bobby calls him), our ability to feel empathy for him is minimized.

Audrey, for once, isn’t in over her head. She’s actually in control and ready to take on her father’s estate now that he’s incapacitated, even though Jerry starts to make a grab for it. This is a refreshing change of pace for the younger female characters on the show, who sometimes seems to be taking on more than they can handle, and then clearly are taking on more than they can handle. Laura Palmer would have been someone who fit this bill, and the lesson we learn from her is that getting in over your head, or playing with fire, leads to death.

That’s not quite the same for the older female characters, or at least not for Catherine. In this episode, Catherine invites Thomas Eckhart, who supposedly killed her brother Andrew (though he’s really alive) to dinner, with Josie there in a demeaning French maid outfit to serve them. The scene reminds me of the movie Clue in that it has a completely staged air to it. Maybe that’s just more of Keaton’s direction, drawing out the over-the-top nature that’s become a signature of the show’s subplots.

[I have only the dimmest memory of this episode, but when you mention Diane Keaton and using the door as a frame for a shot, I cannot help but think of her in the doorway at the end of the first Godfather. The female characters taking charge thing is doubly interesting in this context, since Keaton herself is a woman taking charge (any other female directors on Twin Peaks? Lynch's daughter?). And David Lynch, for what it is worth, is all about weird doorways to other spaces that are right next to our own - most dramatically in Inland Empire, where a simple door literally takes you to this completely different reality. I don't know what to do with any of that, but there you go.]

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Claremont vs Morrison and Whedon in X-Men Forever (Spoilers))

Chris Claremont's X-Men Forever #5 was the conclusion to his first X-Men Forever story arc (though, as Claremont is wont to do, it does not really feel like much of a conclusion). X-Men Forever picks up exactly where Claremont left off in 1991 with X-Men 3, pretending nothing every happened in the meantime -- sort of.

Obviously a lot happened in the intervening 17 years, but a lot of folks claimed -- in a bit of an exaggeration -- that Morrison was the first person to make them exciting again in his high profile New X-Men run. (I myself was always a big fan of the four month alternate universe Age of Apocalypse, but that may have just been because I was too young to know better). In a search for a successor, Marvel went to Joss Whedon to pick up where Morrison left off. In a much less high profile movie Warren Ellis picked up Whedon with a little story called "Ghost Boxes," about parallel universe invading -- the whole thing was mostly forgettable, as to my eye it looked like Ellis had this story in a drawer, and sort of shoehorned the X-Men into it. And in the larger Marvel Universe Wolverine became one of the most ubiquitous characters in comics, on both the Avengers, X-Men, and X-Force (as well as his solo title) and has two "kids" with similar claw powers as well.

Claremont is going to pretend all this -- and more -- never happened in his X-Men Forever run, except I feel him responding to these writers everywhere, making his run more like Ultimate X-Men: a riff on what we know happened in mainstream continuity.

In mainstream continuity Wolverine is ubiquitous. In X-Men Forever he is killed almost immediately, (on a book that is surely going to be flirting with cancellation since it is for such a niche audience, so many comic book readers not being able to read when X-Men 3 came out).

In mainstream continuity Wolverine has a daughter who has two claws instead of Wolverine's 3. In X-Men Forever Kitty Pryde (who always had a kind of daughter-father relationship with Wolverine anyway) literally gets one of his claws.

In mainstream continuity Storm (in Warren Ellis's run) decided she was fine with being a killer -- actually signed off on genocide. In X-Men forever Storm is split into two people at least one of which looks to be a killer, the other an innocent.

In mainstream continuity Psylock turned out to be two people: the new Ninja Psylock was installed and then out of nowhere, the old version reappears. (I don't remember how all that got resolved, or what started it in the first place). In X-Men Forever de-aged Storm, thought to have become the new one, turns out to be a separate person as well.

In Claremont's original run there is a famous image of Wolverine in the sewers of the Hellfire club saying "now its my turn." Whedon revised this image by putting Shadowcat in this same pose and situation. In X-Men Forever, Claremont sort of tries to bring it back by having Sabertooth reenact the same pose with a similar line, while at the same time having Shadowcat takes Wolverine's place in another way with this new claw.

Morrison's first story really played hard into the Mutants are the next step of evolution, and went so far as to say humanity was dying off due to a genetic trigger. In X-Men Forever, Claremont reverses this suddenly declaring that mutants are NOT the next step in evolution and are dying out do to a similar kind of internal trigger, burning out young because of their powers (The explanation does not make a lot of sense to me as it is based on the argument that there are no mutants over 60, but this seems to be more that mutants are a sort of recent development).

X-Men stories have played around with alternate time-lines, timelines that were eventually reset. Claremont's title is set in a kind of pocket-continuity, but you get the feeling he is figuring everyone else's stories as continuity to be reset so the universe can be put back the way it should have been, just as it was in Age of Apocalypse and Here Comes Tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 12, 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.

Jimmy Olsen #145

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods. I make a brief comment about pop culture from generations past at the bottom.]


When we last left Jimmy and the Newsies, they were investigating a report of the Loch Ness monster. As we open the issue, the boys have discovered many more mythical creatures are housed in the legendary Scottland Yard. A Griffen, a Chimera and a Unicorn are all on display as well as a beast that has been dubbed “Angry Charlie” by the authorities. The rumored source of all these monsters is another mythic entity, Brigadoom. The boys decide to split up to investigate. Everyone except Jimmy and Scrapper take to the seas again to hunt for the scottish fairy tale city. The bulk of the story involves Jimmy and Scrapper getting shrunken down by compressor waves to about the size of an ant and discovering the source of this mischief is not Brigadoom, but instead the Evil Factory. Yes the same evil factory we saw in the beginning of Kirby’s tenure has moved to Scotland and shrunk in size. After entering the building, the boys are zapped by Mokkari and Symian and Jimmy is brought to their lab for direct experimentation. Jimmy appears to have a appealing genetic code to these two, as they’ve experimented with Jimmy’s DNA in previous issues. Scrapper, however, is of no use to them and is jettisoned off to a genetically manipulated lizard (translation: dinosaur). Antics ensue.

Meanwhile, the remaining Newsies again encounter the Lock Ness creature and cause him to retreat with the help of some mini-shock missiles. The boys pursue him into the previously seen compressor waves which miniaturizes them as well as the monster. They then find themselves inside the Evil Factory in the pen where the monster is kept. Antics.... ensue.

The Superman ‘B’ story is only allotted two pages and has the same number of reveals. We discover Dubbilex, creation of the Life project’s genetic manipulation, has mental powers including telekinesis and limited telepathy. This allows him to detain the San Diego Five String Mob, the group of musicians that caused the collapse of the Cosmic Carousel. It also allows him to sense Superman’s shock and awe when he recognizes the boom tube the band uses to escape. Of course, Superman does not pursue, because that would give me the story I actually want to read. *ahem* No antics ensue.

There’s not much else to report on. The final page reveals Jimmy has once again gone under a transformation (one that has left him with He-Man hair) and no doubt the next issue will involve his buddies curing him. The art is capable, but nothing noteworthy. The story is certainly eccentric, but not thought provoking. However, this issue marks the end of the 2nd Kirby Omnibus which does warrant a review.

The 2nd Omnibus makes it clear that Kirby’s Fourth World tale is going to be hit or miss for me up until the end. Even removing the Jimmy Olsen title from the equation, I’ve been disappointed by formulaic plot structure and lack of forward momentum to the overall saga. However, I have enjoyed the subtext, especially in “The Forever People” and “Glory Boat” is currently my favorite piece of work Kirby has ever generated. My thoughts return to my pledge to look at the work as objectively as possible, which is difficult to maintain. I have seen Darkseid’s invasion of Earth reinterpreted and each time it becomes more streamlined and modernized. So even though this is the source material, it often reads like treading water. Yet I cannot deny Kirby’s creativity and willingness to take risks. My interpretation is also altered by the fact that I’ve read every issue Kirby released in chronological order. This is the standard today for major crossovers like Dark Reign and Blackest Night, but when these issues were on newsstands, most kids probably just bought whatever they could afford or what was available.

Although I cannot experience many of these characters an concepts as new ideas, these comics reveal their origins which gives me a more robust understanding. I will continue into the back half of this saga, with adjusted expectations and a critical eye.

[I have to agree here, and I feel this way about a lot of pop culture from generations past (and I also feel bad about it, especially when you read people like Grant Morrison who seem to experience it so freshly). With a few super-classic exceptions (I just saw Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and forgot how much I loved it) I can find it hard to get into the head space not to be just a little distanced by the fact that, as Bentley mentions, I am used to a more streamlined story -- even though I can see, on an intellectual level how VITAL all this Kirby is. I think The Pact and Glory Boat and the Death of Terrible Turpin are the ones where this distance is closed, but they can't all be like that.]

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #234

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run. This is a particularly good entry, as we see a lot of stuff coming together here that has been building for a long time.]

“Glory Day”

One of the advantages of Claremont’s spiraling writing style, wherein storylines are suddenly dropped midway through only to be picked up months or even years later, is that every so often it allows him the advantage of a certain kind of surprise. After the cliffhanger involving S’ym at the end of Uncanny #231, readers surely expected that it would be a good half-year, at least, before he showed up in the series again. Instead, shockingly, he returns after only two issues’ absence, revealed as the manipulator behind Madelyne’s disturbing nightmare of the previous month. What we get now is the birth of the “Goblin Queen” persona, a surprising reversal that was – to some degree – an arbitrary choice by Claremont. Something had to be done to absolve Cyclops, so he – possibly brainstorming with Louise Simonson – decided to turn Maddie into a supervillain.
Yet for all that this narrative swerve happened unnaturally – shaped more by editorial concerns than creative ones – it is crazily brilliant in its own way. First of all, Madelyne’s willingness to trade away integrity in exchange for power has a precedent in Claremont’s long-running X-Men narrative: we saw this character trait before in “X-Men/Alpha Flight: The Gift.” Also, Madelyne’s corruption by S’ym mirrors Phoenix’s by Jason Wyngarde (which occurred almost exactly 100 issues before this one, and which—in an oblique way — was beginning again contemporaneously with the present issue, in the b-side of Classic X-Men #24).

Indeed, when Maddie first appeared, the tease was that she might be Dark Phoenix reincarnated. In that original “From the Ashes” arc, it was all revealed to be a feint by Wyngarde, yet now it turns out to have been true all along. Madelyne is a proxy for Jean Grey, and since Jean was corrupted by evil, it is only natural for her successor to go down that same road. Like the Corsair-and-Kate/Cyclops-and-Jean connection that occurred with Phoenix’s death (another story turn shaped by editorial mandate outside of Claremont’s creative vision), or the Scott-and-Maddie/Alex-and-Lorna parallel from issue 219, this is another wonderful example of a classically elegant parallelism occurring serendipitously over the course of Claremont’s sustained serial narrative.

Meanwhile, a much smaller parallelism is contained in the issue at hand. While Maddie is seduced by a real demon, a preacher named William Conover deludes himself into believing he’s exorcised a fake one -- thanks to a laying-on-of-hands bit with Wolverine that occurs just as the latter’s healing ability neutralizes a Brood egg. Silvestri plays this as a kind of time-lapse-photography version of the first time we saw this, in Cockrum’s Uncanny #162. Then, Wolverine’s battle with the Brood inside him took an entire issue. Now, perhaps because his healing factor has encountered this particular infection already, the whole process transpires over the course of only two pages.

The William Conover character is striking in his own right – Claremont plays with our expectations, giving us another “Reverend William” years after the “God Loves, Man Kills” graphic novel, whose chief antagonist was a violently anti-mutant bigot called Reverend William Stryker. Reversing the typical use of religious figures in mainstream fiction, Claremont now gives us a preacher who is genuinely compassionate. Both in his public persona and behind closed doors, he is explicitly sympathetic to mutant rights. Fascinatingly, the character proves to be – despite his heroic core – utterly susceptible to the sin of pride, convincing himself that he personally is responsible for the affects of Wolverine’s healing factor upon the Brood “demon.” Conover’s naivety even extends toward his wife’s healed arthritis, which he also credits to the grace of God rather than her inhabitation by another Brood embryo.

Finally, on the meta-textual level, it’s rather appropriate that a Brood alien is mistook for a demon just before being excised not only from Logan but from the overall X-Men series. Claremont is thus bringing his extended “Alien”/ “Aliens” homage full circle (the riff having begun with Uncanny X-Men #143, a story titled “Demon”), before ending it.

(Granted, it seems likely this wasn’t meant to be his final Brood story, given that he very pointedly leaves room for a sequel. Yet by the same token, since the whole story functions as a “b-movie” pastiche, the blatant pointing toward a sequel can also be chalked up simply as the concluding beat of the genre exercise.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Twin Peaks, Season 2 Episode 14 (or episode 21)

By Jill Duffy, girl reporter

[Jill Duffy, girl reporter, continues her episode by episode look at Twin Peaks. This is going up on a weird day because I have been away from the internet. Things will return to normal soon.]

Another murder has just occurred in Twin Peaks, and the sheriff and his team are looking for clues and piecing together what happened in the moments before they discovered the body. But this murder is not like the ones that came before it. We in fact don’t care about the guy who died—he’s a vagrant—and we don’t hear much him. Instead, the focus is on the killer: Wyndam Earl.

When Laura was killed, the focus was on her killer, too, but it was also on her with the assumption that only through understanding Laura could we figure out who her murderer was and how he knew her. It was never thought to be a random act of violence with Laura, but for this new dead man, Cooper explains, he was picked at random to be a person with no meaning, just a pawn to sacrifice.

The third scene (there’s a very short second scene in which Audrey provides some set up to what’s happening with her father) is terrifying. Leo awakens and tries to kill Shelly. He fully attacks her, comes at her with an axe, and she tries to defend herself. Bobby shows up outside their house, hears Shelly’s screeches, and is able to come to the rescue and help Shelly, who actually stabs Leo in the leg, which causes him to retreat into the woods.

The scene is nearly five minutes long. Lynch and Frost really draw out horror in Twin Peaks to such an extent that it’s almost unwatchable for me. In most of the movies I watch, there’s a lot of build-up to horror, and it’s the suspense that’s terrifying. In Twin Peaks, we see minutes upon minutes of slow struggles and blood-curdling screams. We get the full effect of how awful a five-minute attack really is.

Wyndam Earl is now the focal point of the show—or rather, the plotline that involves Wyndam Earl, as we have hardly seen the mad man himself—though the other characters are charging onward. James is still living with an older woman, working as her mechanic, and I mostly fast-forward through those scenes. I watched them all in full once, the first time I watched Twin Peaks a few months ago, and at the time I remember groaning every time he or the co-actors in his storyline came on. Dr. Jacoby is observing (and explaining) Ben Horne’s madness. Horne thinks he is the general of the south in the Civil War and is reenacting battles using figurines. Andy is trying to uncover the truth behind little Nicky’s parents’ deaths. Norma, Big Ed, and Nadine are still wrapped up in their love triangle.

Briggs has the other main plotline, but it seems to come and go. I’m actually more interested in his very X-files-like scenario than anything else. The supernatural stuff that went on with Bob had my attention, and now I want to know what supernatural stuff is going on with Major Briggs. I want to know what the secret service knows. I want to know what the White Lodge is all about. But instead of finding out a little bit and opening up new avenues of curiosity, the same few key words keep stringing me along. Someone will mention the White Lodge, but I know as much about it now as I did three or four episodes ago.

Pete is still hilarious, and Catherine is dynamite to watch (and her diction is musical), but they get little screen time in this episode. However, when they do appear, we learn more about Andrew, Catherine’s supposedly dead brother, who is not at all dead. Pete does a good job of being “us,” the audience, asking what happened to Andrew and how Josie and Eckhardt are tied up with them.

When Eckhardt does show up, checking into the Great Northern Hotel, there’s demonic music and his face is shown in sunglasses with a fire reflecting in them—the sign of evil in this show. This is one of those clues and tip-offs that never goes anywhere later. We can only assume that, had the show continued past two seasons, perhaps these and other clues could be pursued and fleshed out later.

What could it have been? What might have happened to keep me interested and push the show forward? How about if someone totally unexpected died, like the Lucy, the pregnant secretary at the sheriff’s? What if Catherine became possessed by Bob? What if Wydam Early seduced Donna or Audrey?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Mister Miracle #6

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at the New Gods. I know the last one went up yesterday, but I want to put these up two a week, and I put something else up Monday. We will return to the regular Monday/Wednesday schedule with these next week. I make a brief comment at the bottom.]

“Funky Flashman”

All great collaborations must come to an end. John Lennon and Paul McCartney called it quits right about the same time Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did and neither of these duos could avoid some bad blood in the aftermath. Lennon and Kirby were by many accounts... feistier than McCartney and Lee and they each took a creative jab at their former partners. Lennon had “How Do You Sleep” and Kirby had Mr. Miracle encounter... the Funky Flashman.

Although Mark Evanier, former Kirby collaborator and current Kirby historian, claims that the character began as a parody of a Marvelmania boss he and Steve Sherman worked under, the final version of Flashman is “Stan the Man” through and through. And it isn’t flattering. Funky Flashman is practically drowning in the seven deadly sins throughout his first appearance. The most vicious moment of character assassination is in the opening prologue where Flashman is impatiently waiting for his monthly stipend from a departed acquaintance. Flashman is living for free in a house granted to him from the same acquaintance, yet he’s let the house fall into a state of dilapidation. At the designated time, the mouth of a blocky, Kirby-drawn statue opens and Flashman sticks his hand into the mouth to pull out his hardly earned cash. As you can tell, we’re beyond subtle at this point.

Funky Flashman's stipend has been waning, so he plans to cash in on the talents of Mister Miracle. Donning a wig and a beard, he meets with Mr. Miracle to interview for the position of his tour manager. Miracle accepts, despite the objections of Big Barda and Oberon to Flashman's demeanor and tactics. The next day, Mr. Miracle performs several of his escape acts much to the delight of Flashman. Flashman asks for Miracle's secret and he reveals the mother box he keeps on his shoulder. From around the corner, the two men see Big Barda and Lashina engaged in a struggle. Lashina is a member of a Apokolips battle troop known as the female furies; one that Barda used to command. Miracle jumps in to help Barda but Lashina vanishes with the power of her phasing circuits. The two realize the female furies have been tracking their whereabouts through the mother box signal. During the skirmish, Flashman decided to leave with the mother box in hand. He takes it back to his residence but cannot make heads or tales of it. He discards the box and decides the grift of Mr. Miracle is too risky. Mother box begins to let out an "eeeeee" sounds which summons all the female furies of Apokolips. Funky cowardly tosses his assistant at the attackers and jumps out the window. His inherited house explodes behind him and Funky Flashman walks off to live another day.

I’ve left out many other highlights from the Flashman (including listening to the sounds of his own voice on a victrola to relax himself) because I think the message is clear: Kirby had issues with Stan. I’m not gonna weigh in on who created what or who’s in right or wrong. Details were sketchy 40 years ago, I doubt they’ve gotten any clearer. My sympathies lean towards Kirby because I’ve never been a fan of the boastful hype machines even if it’s done tongue in cheek. When Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas adopted the “big top Stan Lee” attitude for Marvel PR in the early ’00’s, it took all my willpower not to become an evil internet troll. But I digress. I believe Kirby and Lee did ultimately bury the hatchet to some degree before Kirby’s passing in 1996. Yet this issue remains an interesting moment in comic book history.

Final Musings

-The Female Furies: I was quite familiar with this trio from their several appearances in the DC animated series. When they appeared in first in the Superman Animated Series, I thought they were quite goofy in appearance. Now knowing their origins, they have become acceptable. This is a topic I’d like to cover in detail sometime down the road. Kirby did an interesting reveal of Mad Harriet, the first Fury to attack Barda. Barda can see her attacker yet we can only see the flailing arms of her assailant. The final panel of the page reveals Mad Harriet’s face which exudes madness. Her design is the strongest of the three.

-Big Barda: Continues to be Big. She’s often crouching to fit in panels. She takes a bath for a full page which seems a bit gratuitous. That’s cause it is. Evanier suggested it to Kirby merely cause he wanted to see Barda take a bath.

-Miracle’s motivation: At the conclusion of this issue, Miracle realizes that he can no longer hide from Granny and his former captors. Couple this with the ramping backstory of his escape as a youth and it would appear we’re reaching the climax I’ve been hoping for.

[Notice that when Kirby "failed" to get New Gods to work at DC, Marvel had Starlin show them how it SHOULD have been done at Marvel in the pages of Warlock, which itself hilariously ALSO made fun of editorial staff and witers at Marvel (including Stan Lee, I think). Seven Soldiers also had less specific "editors" like the Time Taylor be the villains -- something about cosmic comics seems to demand making fun of the establishment.]