Friday, December 29, 2006

Free Form Comments

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

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Comics Out 28 December 2006

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

Review. Discuss. Recommend.

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

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

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

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

Friday, December 22, 2006

Free Form Comments

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

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

I'm a caveman guy, myself.

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

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Brad Winderbaum's Satacracy 88: Episode Five

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Comics Out 20 December 2006

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

John Ashbery Titles (Commonplace Book)

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

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

Monday, December 18, 2006

Morrison’s New X-Men and Cool

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

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

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

Friday, December 15, 2006

Free Form Comments

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

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

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

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Complex Genres

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Comics Out 13 December 2006

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

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

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

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

Monday, December 11, 2006

Kill Bill: The Class

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

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

Friday, December 08, 2006

Free Form Comments

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Nietzsche on Hamlet (Commonplace Book)

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Comics Out 6 December 2006

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sorkin is Back, Mostly

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

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

Monday, December 04, 2006

3 random things

A Kurt Vonnegut quote:

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


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

Spell Check Lit Crit

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

Friday, December 01, 2006

Free Form Comments

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

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

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day

Thomas Pynchon's first new novel in nine years, Against the Day, came out just a few days ago, on November 21st. I love Thomas Pynchon. When I was in college I read everything he wrote: Gravity's Rainbow and Mason and Dixon remain my two favorite novels.

But my life has changed in the last nine years -- I now have bills, and a better social life, and a lot of different interests (including this blog), whereas, once, all I did was read books. I like poetry and music and TV and movies and comics, in part, I realized, because they are bite size -- two-and-a-half hours is brushing the maximum length I want an aesthetic experience to last in a single sitting these days, and even then it better be Kill Bill volume 2.

I just stood in the bookstore, holding this nearly 1100 page novel (which got a bad review in the New Yorker, by the way) and thinking to myself incredulously (and paraphrasing George Costanza at the bank trying to get a jar of change turned into bills and being told he has to roll them himself before the bank will accept them) should I quit my job?

Have I become a philistine?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Comics Out 29 November 2006

Two small books out this week:

1. The new issue of X-Men: I only get because Chris Bachalo is my favorite comic book artist. I have no idea if the book is any good; I am just mesmerized by the pictures. If I ever write a comic book this is the guy I want drawing it. Every day I wish there were more issues of Steampunk.

2. The Immortal Iron Fist, written by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction. Obviously, my obsession with Casanova has me picking up everything with Fraction's name near it; like the Punisher, this one just snuck up on me. I don't know what to expect.

Brubaker, I know almost nothing about except that his Sleeper was very dull (using Alan Moore's brilliant Tao from Wildcats was a bad idea -- if you can't write for a genius, don't have one as a character); I thought about getting his Authority run, but flipping through it in the store -- hoping I would see something that would make me make up my mind -- I read a bit where the Midnighter is ruler of a harsh future distopia where small offences like littering are punishable by death: that is boring, and I put it back.

I will review one or both of these in more detail tonight in the comments.

Nothing in the news jumped out at me this week. Review, Recommend, Discuss.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ron Padgett's "Haiku" and "Nothing in that Drawer" (Commonplace Book)

First: five syllables
Second: seven syllables
Third: five syllables

"Nothing in that Drawer"

[What follows is Ron Padgett's fourteen line poem, not a typo]:
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Casanova review at Guttergeek

Ping got me to read Casanova a while back and the only articulate thing I said was that it was the best comic book ever. People around here have asked me to clarify, and I have put them off because I was waiting for a my review of the series to go up on another site. Now it is up at a place called Here is the first paragraph: click on it to go to the review (This paragraph only appears on the main Guttergeek page and not on the review page, where the link will take you, so you might want to read the paragraph before you click on it).
Casanova is written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Gabriel Bá. It is a book in the Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. mode, sci-fi meets James Bond. At the time of this writing, only five issues have been published. Each is done in only three colours: black, white and sage green. Each issue has sixteen pages of story, with no advertisements, followed by five pages of “DVD-extra”-style notes in a loose essay format. Each issue, after the first, uses the inside cover for a helpful “Previously in Casanova” section. The covers are stylish and simple; the back cover gives a preview of next month’s cover. The first four issues were so much fun to read I fell down on my knees and denounced God.

Brad counselled me not to use this blog to just link to stuff I wrote elsewhere without adding something new, so let me say three quick things about issues 5, which have further solidified me in the thought that this is the best comic book ever.

(1) How did Grant Morrison fail to come up with the fantastic phrase "Bongload of evolution"?

(2) Casanova 5 has my new favorite example of synaesthesia: "Listen to how the light strikes [his mind]. Its tempo is solely its own." (Synaesthesia is a poetic device, used famously by Wordsworth in "Tintern Abbey", where terms for one kind of sense impression are used to describe another, for example "sharp sound" or "loud colors").

(3) There is also a weird little Robert Frost allusion, when Casanova's captor says of his futuristic prison "You're in a space that isn't really a space." Frost's "Directive" (his best and most tricky poem) reads
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.
The road there, if you'll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost...

The allusion is important because Frost is leading the reader to a goblet of which you can "Drink and be whole again beyond confusion," which is something like what Casanova is up to; its insanely convoluted plot "only has at heart your getting lost."

I will save a discussion of issue 6 for a future blog.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Free Form Comments

Random comments -- anything you want to say, including shameless self promotion (feel free to advertise your blog here), go.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Comics Out 22 November 2006

Out this week:

Runaways 22: I continue to read this story as mere preparation for Joss Whedon taking the thing over in a few months, which I think will be fantastic. God Bless Joss Whedon and everything he stands for.

Wonder Woman 3: pop, fluffy fun, but not enough of any of those things. I would not really recommend it. Like Morrison's Batman, it would make a great animated thing for a younger audience (like Morrison's Batman the art is fun and cartoon like), but to me it feels thin.

Punisher War Journal #1: I myself was surprised to be picking up a Punisher comic book, much less a Civil War tie in, but this one is written by Casanova genius Matt Fraction, so I had no choice. It's kind of fun but the tone seems to me -- and I don't know the character very well -- a bit off, a bit imported from Casanova (and Casanova is very much unlike the Punisher, I would have thought). Stuff such as the caption box with a arrow that read "This is me" felt not so much like the Punisher. But I like Fraction and will probably read more of this. Just a note: If you pick it up, the copy with the black and white cover is not just a variant cover -- the whole issue is black and white, which surprised me (and annoyed me) when I went to read it.

Casanova #6: my big Casanova review should be online soon (so the guys who are going to publish it have told me), and I can't just do a short thing on this one issue, so let me reiterate my main point. Casanova is my favorite comic book of all time, and this issue further solidifies me in this thought. READ CASANOVA. IT WILL KNOCK YOU OUT.

In the news: Mitch has an article on Comic Geek Speak at Silver Bullet, Alan Moore will be on the Simpsons (as the owner of a cool comic book store and a rival to comic book guy), and Mark Miller had a great, huge, interview at Newsarama. Also just put up today on Newsarama -- Joss Whedon talks Buffy season 8 comics.

With Thanksgiving I won't blog until Monday, but will leave a free for all comment post up over the weekend.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

From Perry Meisel's The Cowboy and the Dandy (Commonplace Book)

Rock and roll is the crossing of the cowboy and the dandy. If you grew up on Westerns and Sherlock Holmes, your destiny was rock and roll. And if the outwardness and aggression of the cowboy had a historical counterpart, it was, not surprisingly in retrospect, the inwardness and languor of the dandy. Dandy foppishness relieves and controls what strength there is in cowboy panache. Each leavens the other. You can see both at play in the semiotics as well as the music of rock and roll. Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, Prince -- all balance in a single style the cowboy's strength, the dandy's charm; the cowboy's rage, the dandy's melancholia. Like Elvis before him, Dylan, too, combines country with urban -- a double lineage of Woody Guthrie and white folk on the one hand and Muddy Waters and the blues on the other. With their cowboy boots and dandy scarves, how like Oscar Wilde in Colorado [where he visited once] both Dylan and Elvis are! Simply put, the blend of cowboy and dandy is suddenly unavoidable in rock and roll. Group monikers like Guns 'N Roses or the Sex Pistols [or Iron Butterfly] only formalize what is already at play in the prehistory of a discourse so overdetermined as to produce both the Beatle boot and an extended meditation on the leopard-skin pillbox hat.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ellis and Ennis's dumb sense of humor

Does anyone find Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis's sense of humor dumb? These guys have occasionally given us works of tremendous power -- Ellis has the first fourteen issues of Planetary to claim as his own, and Ennis wrote Punisher: The End, which is the definitive Frank Castle story, the only Punisher story anyone will ever need; that perfect comic book is written from a deep understanding of that character and takes the internal logic of the book as far as it will go (which is what you want to do when imagining what the last Punisher comic book would look like).

But on the whole these guys get sunk, most often in my opinion, by a sense of humor that's half gallows humor and half Monty Python. Ellis's Desolation Jones is a fairly unremarkable drug infused update of the Big Sleep (I only bought it for the J.H. Williams art, which is great as always); what seems to keep Ellis's attention -- though not mine -- is that the story begins as a search for "Hitler's lost porn," porn Hitler himself starred in. Ellis clearly thinks that is really funny and finds as many times as possible to bring it up in the story. Ennis, in a similar vein, will go nuts for adding something such as chicken-fucking to a story.

These guys think those details are hilarious and every time I am moved to object I stop myself because they, and their fans, make me feel like a prude. It's not, let me be clear, that I find any joke about Hitler to be in poor taste because of the Holocaust, and it's not that I am so deeply repulsed by the mention of chicken fucking that can't laugh at a joke on the subject. It just that the jokes themselves don't seem that funny to me. My concern is that Preacher is a great comic book, but that, because I just think the humor is juvenile I was bored stiff by the third trade and never went farther. What do you think?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Beta Blogger: Labels

I have upgraded this blog to beta. The address stays the same but we get some new features. I have not really looked into the new features, except one: labels. All the posts have labels now, so if you just want to see all the commonplace book entries, or you just want to see all the posts about popular culture other than comics, just hit the label at the bottom of the post in that category and there you go. Let me know if you see any problems.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Free Form Comments

You want to say something? Click on comments and say it. Anonymous personal attacks, suggestions, requests to have your blog added to my blog roll, complains, self-promotion, fun links, questions, whatever. This is a dumping ground for all "off topic" comments. Go.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Donald Barthelme's Review of Superman III

Donald Barthelme is a very weird short story writer very active in the 60s and 70s. I have quoted him already in a commonplace book entry, where you can get a feel for his bizarre prose. He also likes outlandish gimmicks -- in the middle of his novel Snow White there is a quiz/survey, with questions like "3. Have you understood, in reading to this point, that Paul is the prince-figure? Yes ( ) No ( )" and "5. In the further development of the story, would you like more emotion ( ) or less emotion ( )?" which is hilarious because you of course have no choice, the novel is already written (our lives having been already written is actually the theme of the novel).

In 1983 Barthelme wrote a piece for the New Yorker called "Earth Angel," a review of Superman III. He wrote it up as a question and answer thing, even though he was writing both sides of the dialog. It's quite fun -- especially in its parody of academic talk and Whedon-esque shifts of tone. Since virtually no one has read it, I thought I would print some samples from it here, pointing out what makes it so great. It begins like this:
Q: Do we really need a Superman III?
A: Clearly not.
Q: Yet it's here. Must be a response to something, some kind of need...
A: Financial exigencies undiscussable on the plane of the cultural slash aesthetic.
Q: To which we shall stalwartly adhere. Would you like to be able to fly?
A: I have always wanted to fly. In the air.
Q: A basic human yearn. To fly.
A: A conquering of dailyness. Whoosh!
The redundancy of "In the air" is quite funny, as is the shift from academic buzzwords to goofy childlike enthusiasm. I also quote like that "slash" is written out as a word, emphasizing how awkwardly professors speak: you would have to say "slash" to use the phrase "plane of the cultural/aesthetic" out loud.

On the subject of the women in the film we get:
A: The O'Toole is a high school inamorata of old Clark's, from back home in Smallville.
Q: Might the O'Toole's qualities be further commented upon?
A: Freshness. Simplicity. American beauty. Believability. Directness. A certain sexual smolder not entirely disguised by ricky-tick Smallville couture.
The conversation is smart, but they both go juvenile, calling her "the" because her name is a noun. "Ricky-tick" and "couture" in the same sentence is a classic Barthelme kind of thing. He knows how to find the humor in mixing very different vocabularies.

Wonderfully, after all the silliness, the review ends suddenly with a nice detail noticed:
Q: Is Superman III, then, the finest of the Superfilms, in your view?
A: Perhaps the second-finest.
Q: And the first-finest?
A: The first, I think. Or perhaps the second.
Q: You think the first might be the first-finest and the second also might be the first-finest?
A: When Clark Kent goes back to Smallville for his high school reunion, at which he re-encounters the grand O'Toole, the music playing, at one point, is "Earth Angel." I liked that a lot.
The way A avoids getting into another round of wordplay with Q by blurting forth this heartfelt observation is quite sweet and remarkable, I thought. You can find the whole review in Not-Knowing: The Essays and Interviews of Donald Barthelme.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Comics Out 15 November 2006

Whedon and Cassaday's penultimate Astonishing X-Men arc concludes, Civil War 5 is out, and so is Testament 12. Also Grant Morrison has an interview about Seven Soldiers up at Newsarama, and it was announced more clearly today that his Batman run will be interrupted for four issues by a new creative team next month. I will add to this post later today with more detailed thoughts. For now: review, recommend, discuss.*

*[added 12 hours later: I have put a little one-paragraph review of Astonishing X-Men 18 in the comments section, so I don't spoil anything on the main page; in a week I will move it up here.]

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Speech from Warren Ellis's Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. (Commonplace Book)

This is a great send up of hyper-masculine psycho "heroes": H.A.T.E. stands for Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort:
Thirty? You look like a bag of dried buttskin. I'm older'n you. I'm ninety years old. You know how I look so pretty? I take drugs. Special H.A.T.E. drugs. Life-extending drugs. H.A.T.E. has the best drugs. Because H.A.T.E. loves me. And I love H.A.T.E. Every day of my horrible drug-extended terrorist-fighting life. Every day I smoke two hundred cigarettes and one hundred cigars and drink a bottle of whiskey and three bottles of wine with dinner. And dinner is meat. Raw meat. The cook serves me an entire animal and I fight it bare-handed and tear off what I want and eat it and have the rest burried. In New Jersey! For H.A.T.E.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Studio 60, Episode 8: No no. No. No.

The eighth episode of Studio 60 just ended ("Nevada Day part 2"). The seventh episode had some of the old Sorkin kick to it, and much of the eighth had some good stuff (Bradley Whitford, for example, was quite funny in just about every shot, even when he had nothing to say). But the whole thing resolved into a joke where the big bad boss finally locates his moral compass and rants against the big money Chinese client he is supposed to grab, defending the cast of Studio 60 as honorable even though it will cost him probably billions of dollars. The joke? It's all a misunderstanding because the Chinese guy's daughter made a gross translation error, a conclusion worthy, perhaps, of an episode of Just Shoot Me, or something equally wretched.


The OMAC Project, summaries, and spoilers

The title of this post, please note is "The OMAC Project, summaries, and spoilers" not " The OMAC Project: summaries and spoilers." I will be talking about the concept of spoilers, not spoiling the story of the OMAC Project (which was surely spoiled by bad writing, bad art, and a horrifically mangled structure, which I will talk about).

I bought Identity Crisis because Joss Whedon wrote the intro -- I was right in the middle of watching the complete Buffy and Angel box sets and figured if it was good enough for Whedon it was good enough for me. It wasn't great, but as I have said before, Metzler has a unique dexterity for handling a large cast, which is why I am now getting his JLA run. I got Infinite Crisis a few weeks ago, out of guilt. It was a total mess, but I still kind of enjoyed it in a guilty pleasure kind of way; I wouldn't recommend it to anyone as a good book, but I have to admit I had fun reading it.

One of the things I liked about Infinite Crisis was the totally ridiculous structure that led into it. Identity Crisis was a murder mystery. In the course of that mystery a secret, unrelated to the murder, got revealed. That secret set into motion the OMAC Project, a five issue miniseries roughly centered on Batman and led into Infinite Crisis. Five other miniseries led into Infinite Crisis as well: Day of Vengeance (about magic), Rann-Thanagar War (about dudes in space), Villains United (about the bad guys), JLA: Crisis of Conscience, and Superman: Infinite Crisis. (Forgive me, those of you to whom this is old news). I just like how nuts that is, so I picked up the OMAC Project just to see what one of the lead-ins looked like.

Here's the thing: the five issue OMAC Project miniseries had to be interrupted, in the trade, by the fourth part of a four-part plot that ran through three Superman books and concluded in Wonder Woman, so you could follow the whole thing. Not good planning, obviously. Before the trade jumps into this Wonder Woman book it stops to summarize the first three parts, so you can follow the fourth, so you can understand the OMAC Project miniseries. This is what struck me: reading the summaries was exactly as interesting as reading the trade I was holding in my hands.

People have remarked, not necessarily kindly, that I am too dramatic in my reviews. But in my thinking, either a book has a unique quality and so it must be read (Steampunk), or it is so bad it has to be experienced to be believed (X3), or it is a book like this, which you can easily capture in a summary. And if you can summarize it and it is exactly as good as reading it, then it is crap, and should be cast aside. I think for a lot of folks books like the OMAC project are mediocre; for me it is horrible.

This is, by the way, why I am not that touchy about spoilers. While I understand wanting to be surprised by twists, and how that surprise is part of the experience which is lesser without it, I also know that if revealing the end spoils the story then it was not a good story to begin with. Most of us knew who killed Janet Leigh in the shower and why before we saw Psycho and we knew what "rosebud" meant before the end of Citizen Kane. And we watched and liked those movies anyway because they are good movies. When spoilers come up about contemporary stuff I just put myself in the position of someone from the next generation watching a classic for the first time, who is expected to know the end already because the thing is so famous and so good.

Except for LOST. Spoil LOST and I will hunt you down.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Free Form Comments

Comment on any topic in the comments thread for this post: anonymous criticisms, self-promotion, announcements, topic suggestions, whatever.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Brad Winderbaum's Satacracy 88: Episode Four

The fourth Episode of Brad Winderbaum's Satacracy 88 is out today, another five minute story that continues to open this world up. If you have not seen it, go to, or click on the link in the right bar, or click on the thumbnail on yesterday's post. Then vote, then come back here.

The episode begins with a still black-and-white image of Angela and Zim (we will remember his photograph from the last episode) -- it turns out they know each other, they are friends, or at least colleagues. Brad does a great job introducing a conflict at the end of last episode (bring me this guy's hand), then starting by bringing the conflict up a notch (this is a guy she knows personally). A quick flashback establishes the other side of the conflict: she told him, if she fell under Carter's control, to kill her, and now Carter has sent her after him. The decision at the end revolves around the realization that he may not do what she told him to, and that may be the best thing for her. Complicating things is Angela's double life: at the club she is aware she is a serious, tough assassin, but in the car, on the way to get Zim that personae is not visible (actress Diahnna Nicole Baxter does great job with the two roles). Zim is trying to get her more violent side to emerge, for reasons we are not aware of.

Once again -- and as it should be -- the sold story structure allows all the little details to shine. Angela has flaking make-up at the club in the flashback as Zim as flaking make-up at the club in the present -- one of my favorite details from Civil War is how the costumes have wear and tear, it gives the thing a sense of lived in reality. Plus Susan, the series girly-girl, applies the make-up, which is nice. Zim's bright red shirt stands out (he is, after all, the target) and it is emphasized by the matching red drink straws and the red button that is Angela's weapon. We transition from the flashback to the present by focusing on Calloway's hooded face, watching then and now -- the lighting lets us know something has changed.

Brad also lifts from good sources. The secret club you can teleport to from an alleyway with a password is from the final two season of Buffy (though the password was not "the universe exploded from the primal atom", a surprising cosmic mouthful), and Ariel does a move right out of Nightcrawler's Oval Office battle in X2, combining fighting and teleporting in the most useful way possible. [The fact the Brad has not seen the final two seasons of Buffy is another question to address, but these ideas trickle down and I am sure Whedon was not the first person to make the hidden club door a mystical secret rather than a social one].

Only once do we see the influence of a potentially risky source, and that is with the eyeball in the hand. While the pulpy New Age book cover image is a lot of fun, it is easier to sell pulp if you have a big budget (like Lost, with all its 70s tech). A pulpy special effect with a very low budget recalls Saturday afternoon live action adventure shows like Mutant X. Again, it is a fun image (if like me you think pulp is fun), but it lacks the budget to get it across. It's a bit of a silly problem but it is a real one: do pulp on a big budget and it is an interesting stylistic choice; do pulp on a small budget and it's not a choice, it's a limitation.

For the identity of "Lois" we will have to wait until next time.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Comics Out 8 November 2006

1. Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert's fourth issue of Batman is out today and it winds up their first arc. Now, I think, is a good time to judge how we think he is doing. Plus, recommend, comment, and discuss what's out this week and what's in the news (nothing caught my eye).

Here is my preliminary take on Morrison and Kubert's Batman 655-658. We know from interviews Morrison is trying to write against Miller's grim and gritty Batman, which (as far as I know) is still a pretty big force in your regular Batman titles. Morrison wants to revive the 70s "love-god" Batman (his words) and so he draws heavily on 70s comics, like the one where Batman sleeps with Ra's Al Ghul's daughter. The thing is the 70s Batman does not need a revival: those comics are still good reads; the 60s comics he is reviving in All Star Superman need to be revived because we need to be shown again that they are brilliant and surreal and not stupid (I for one thought they were stupid and Morrison has shown me my mistake).

But there is another force making Morrison's Batman totally unnecessary and today I realized what it is: Batman: The Animated Series. Brad actually pointed out the connection when the first issue came out, but now that the first arc is over I am deeply struck by the idea that this 70s revival feels especially stale because this is the Batman of Batman Animated: fun, cool, and a little bit silly ("You didn't know about the rocket"). Morrison's Batman issues act like Batman Animated never happened, just as his X-Men run imagined Ian McKellen's Magneto never happened; he thinks this is a persuasive Batman because he is only thinking of the comics and not of TV just as with his X-Men run he ignored the films. As a result he thinks he has a great Batman comic book but what he has written is a sweet but stale Batman comic book, a very week Morrison comic book, and a great episode of Batman: Animated if he had gotten this script done in 1992.

As my friend Alex pointed out, however, I must admit to liking the exuberance of Ninja Man-Bats -- if you already have a bunch of ninjas, silent and sneaky and deadly, don't you kind of defeat the point if you make them all into hairy screaming crazymonsters who crash through windows?

2. Check out this review of Seven Soldiers #1: I am going to want to talk about this soon, as I don't think the guy is totally wrong. But I do think there is more to be said.

3. Brad Winderbaum's Satacracy 88 episode four is out today on Or click the thumbnail below to watch it on I will post about it tomorrow.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

John Ashbery on John Clare’s Mouse’s Nest (Commonplace Book)

[Mouse’s Nest, the commonplace selection from a week ago] exemplifies what it is in [Clare] that I find endlessly fascinating. Here is Clare on his rounds again, telling us what he has just seen but neglecting to mention why he thinks it ought to interest us or even him. Though it has been likened to Burns, there is no suggestion implicit or otherwise that the sight of this “wee, sleekit, cowrin’, tim’rous beastie” has stirred Clare to reflections on his own unsatisfactory condition or that of mankind in general; there is not even a sign that Clare’s mouse is cowrin’ and tim’rous. Clare just happened by; before he recognized the creature as a mouse, he thought she looked odd and grotesque. Subsequently he saw no reason to revise his estimate and even less to humanize or allegorize her. Instead, after noting that she found her nest again, his attention turns, as the poem is signing off, to the undistinguished landscape. The water is having difficulty making its way over the pebbles. It must be a dry summer. The only hint of grandeur in the closure is the appearance of the cesspools – broad, old, glittering, they have their dignity under the sun, even though most travelers would hurriedly pass them by with pinched noses. And the poem is done. Clare was here – he saw what there was to see and noted it down, then went about the business of idle observation, ready to collect further swatches of nature as casually as one might pick a wildflower, press it between the pages of a book, and forget it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Superman Returns: a rant about story failures

Superman Returns was an uneven movie. Much of it was lame (stupidity about crystals, a boring Lois Lane), and some of it was good (Jimmy Olsen and James Marsden were so good they unbalanced the movie, putting my sympathies with minor characters rather than the main ones, and Lex Luthor had a great first scene). Much of the film chugs along in an uninteresting way -- I already saw the original movies, didn't need a movie that did the same thing the 1980s movies did. I can still rent those movies if I want to. I want something NEW from the new Superman movie. I want more than a pale study of the nostalgias. Characters need to be reinvented from time to time (as Frank Miller reinvented Batman in the Dark Knight Returns). Making Superman's cape darker is not enough. As Brad pointed out to me you can tell how boring the movie is by looking at how each character (with the exception of Lex Luthor) is introduced for the first time in the film. They don't get great introductions because Singer knows we already know them. These are characters we have seen before, so no fanfare -- there they are, doing their usual thing.

Then we get to the scene where Lex Luthor's goons pound Superman on kryptonite island. (Yeah, it's weird that Superman cannot tell for a while that it is a kryptonite island -- that is a storytelling failure I don't want to talk about right now; I suppose it has something to do with the fact that is is a kind of hybrid kryptonite-crystal thing but the movie does not feel like being clear on this point). The scene is powerful. Kevin Spacey is an uninteresting Lex Luthor for a lot of the movie, channeling Gene Hackman as Routh channels Reeves, but Spacey SHINES in this scene. J. Hoberman, in his review in the Village Voice describes "the cold sexual enjoyment [Luthor] projects watching the weakened Man of Steel being stomped," which is exactly right. Then Luthor, wonderfully not above getting his hands dirty, comes in for the final, up-close and personal stab and it is really horrific. Superman falls. I got choked up, which is impressive during a movie that was not that good. It was just a very good scene. Eventually Superman goes on to foil Luthor's evil plan, and the movie takes a dull turn and goes on for 45 minutes more than it should. At the end Luthor, escaping kryptonite island, gets stranded on a little desert island with Parker Posey. The end.

Luthor wanted beach front property and now he has it, though not in the form he expected. He wanted lots of land and now he is stuck with only a little. Plus he has to put up with Parker Posey being annoying. The screenwriters must have been patting themselves on the back: "Hilarious! Ironic! Classic!" But it is just wrong. That is a punishment appropriate to a comedy character, a buffoon like the bad guy in One Crazy Summer, a guy who is going to shake his fist in the air and yell "Darn those crazy kids!" Superman does not come face to face with Luthor again after Luthor kicks him off the cliff. That is just wrong. Comedy punishment cannot be the end for the guy who tortured and degraded Superman in a quasi-sexual way. The film demands a scene where the nearly indestructible Superman confronts the man who brought him to the edge of death. Do something creative with the scene, fine, but you cannot leave it out. And they did. And they are idiots.

While cleaning my house this weekend for relatives I watched a chunk of View from the Top, the horrifically bad Gweneth Paltrow movie where her highest dream is to become a flight attendant (Mike Myers is the instructor, and Candace Bergen plays her role model). The big bad in the film is Christina Applegate, who -- gasp! -- switches her exam with Paltrow's, damning Paltrow to being a local flight attendant rather than an international one (her dream). Applegate gets to fly to Paris while Paltrow is stuck is Cleveland. Eventually Applegate is caught -- a copy of the test is recovered and all the "i"s are dotted with little hearts, Applegate's "trademark" (as she says). Say what you want about the film, it doesn't forget to have a final confrontation between its main antagonists (a cat-fight), where our hero emerges the winner. How embarrassing is it that, at least on this fairly important point, Superman Returns cannot claim to be a better film than View from the Top?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Quick Housekeeping

A few random blog issues:

[I tried to post this Saturday but blogger went wonkey -- first the post would not take comments, then it vanished altogether. Here it is again].

1. I don't mind off-topic comments to the posts (actually I like them), but this post is an announced free-for-all: if there is something you want to say, something you want to complain about (there is an option to comment anonymously), something you think we should be talking about here, or something you think I should be blogging about, say it. It's your blog too, and we have a very smart people hanging out here.

2. If you are a lurker, become a commenter. I know many more people are reading than commenting, and I have quite a few people that send me emails about posts that would be better as comments. Like I said, we have very smart people here (quite a bit smarter than your average blog audience). And I have no problem, as I hope you have figured out, hearing from smart people who disagree with me.

3. If you have a website or a blog and you want to be added to the list on the right put the address in a comment to this post and I will link to it. Likewise, if you are keeping my blog a secret from people, let folks know it is here. The more people we have hanging out here the better it will be.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Nikki Cox

Married with Children was a hugely popular show during its ten year run (1987-1997), and spawned an unbelievably shameless rip off in 1995, Unhappily Ever After (which ended in 1999). Each character from Married With Children is copied exactly, even the dog (who appears in the latter show as deranged puppet bunny; the dog’s thoughts, often voiced on Married with Children, become Bobcat Goldthwait's talking bunny). Nikki Cox was hired to play the analogue to the Christina Applegate role, the unbelievably sexy older sister (the twist being that Nikki Cox's character was very smart where Kelly Bundy was very dumb).

Nikki Cox is now on the show Las Vegas, but between Unhappily Ever After and Las Vegas she had a short-lived sitcom called Nikki (2000-2002). It’s a predictably terrible show, at the same quality level as Christina Applegate’s post Married with Children sitcom Jesse (1998-2000). But Nikki Cox has an odd quality one imagines escaped the producers of Unhappily Ever After, and could not be properly directed on Nikki (though at least they tried). Nikki Cox a beautiful actress, but a Mary Tyler Moore quality interferes with her obvious sexuality. You can see a good mix of pictures of her here (compare the picture in the upper left to the one in the lower left of the page). Someone like Jessica Simpson is more alluring for being so wholesome, it's part of her appeal. But with Nikki Cox something has gone off the rails and you can see, in the sitcom Nikki, a battle between sexuality and the ghost of Mary Tyler Moore. Like a good Freudian slip, miscasting can reveal a lot about the inner workings of a show, its creators, and the actress in the odd position of having to navigate between two very different kinds of signals.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Comics Out 1 November 2006

1. Comics Out

Justice League of America
#3 by Metzler, Benes and Hope is out today. The first two issues, like Identity Crisis, had a quality I like but cannot quite put my finger on. I tried "architectonic" before but that was not it. I want to say "novelistic" but that is a silly, empty thing to say with Metzler being a novelist and all. Plus "novelistic" is not a word, or shouldn't be. Someone who likes the book should try to find the right word, and tell me what it is.

I am a little confused if Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert's Batman is out today -- it is not listed as coming out on the Midtown site nor at Jim Hanley's but the preview is up at Newsarama and it says it is out today. This issue ends Morrison's first arc and will be a better place to start judging the thing, which has been disappointing so far.

Also out is the softcover version of The Fountain, soon to be a big movie. I was interested in this: can anyone recommend it? And Ping will want me to point out that the new issues of Manifest Eternity and Exterminators are out today, as well.

2. News

Newsarama has some reports about where the Marvel Zombies franchise goes next, including an Army of Darkness crossover, which is a very good idea to add to an already good idea.

And I know this is very late but I just found from Whedonesque that Joss Whedon's "Buffy Season 8" comics, which he will be writing (at least an arc), will be out as early as March and will run more than 20 issues.

3. Planetary

I have added some footnotes to Monday's Planetary rant, to clear up people thinking that I am, you know, stupid or something. I could have spoken more clearly on a detail, but I am still right.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

John Clare’s Mouse’s Nest (Commonplace Book)

I found a ball of grass among the hay
And proged it as I passed and went away
And when I looked I fancied something stirred
And turned agen and hoped to catch the bird
When out an old mouse bolted in the wheat
With all her young ones hanging at her teats
She looked so odd and so grotesque to me
I ran and wondered what the thing could be
And pushed the knapweed bunches where I stood
When the mouse hurried from the crawling brood
The young ones squeaked and when I went away
She found her nest again among the hay
The water oer the pebbles scarce could run
And broad old cesspools glittered in the sun.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Planetary: A rant about story failures

In Planetary 26 we finally see Dowling, for the first time other than in a flashback, after a six year buildup. We have been teased with his weird power, some kind of mind worms ("Everyone who has ever met Dowling probably is Dowling."). We don't get to see his power at all. He scans Elijah for anything dangerous, finds nothing, and hands over all his secrets. (?!) Why he does not scan the Drummer is beyond me. * Then Elijah announces the Drummer handed him a special device that means that no information will work in this area save one kind. That was an awfully powerful magic chip Dowling forgot to scan for. Then Elijah takes a door out and the ground rumbles and the shiftship from issue 4 appears and Dowling and Kim Suskind just fall to their deaths. After six years they die off screen. We get to see their bodies later. In the first few pages of the same issue Elijah just announces that Greene and Leather are dead. All four of the Planetary's main villains die off screen.

In the last quarter of Planetary Ellis established a new theme -- Elijah realizes the Four are just not that big a deal. In the big drug trip issue Elijah learns he must have a bigger purpose than hounding these four people. So on one level the end of the Four in Planetary 26 makes sense -- if they are no big deal their deaths should be no big deal. But I think the narrative demanded a better end for the story's big bad guys, and I don't think theme is a good enough reason to go to the zoo. Planetary 26 is just lazy writing.

It's not the first time: Remember when Wonder Woman was stabbed through the spine in JLA/Planetary and then at the end she was suddenly fine, saved the day, and then the book ended? You know how she survived? I don't either and Ellis does not leave so much as a clue. John Stone had an evil magic red hand in Planetary 25. Do you know what it could do to people? -- I don't either because we never saw it in action. ** You cannot just tell the audience something is scary. You have to show them. You cannot build expectations for the arrival of Greene, then have him "arrive" in broad daylight, suddenly, a threat to no character I have spent time with, and then unceremoniously blast him into space. For that scene to work something needs to be at stake. If I am to take Greene seriously as a threat, I must see him be a threat to a character I care about. Once again, I cannot be told that he is bad news -- I need you to show me that he is bad news. Anything less is lazy writing. That is basic storytelling, and Ellis should know better and I am ticked off about it.

You can tell me I am wrong, but you better back it up with reasons or you are getting yelled at.

[* Added November 1, 2006: People are right to yell at me and tell me there is an explicit reason why Dowling does not scan the Drummer -- in the issue he says he can't because of the Drummer's powers. I should rant more accurately, but I think the point stands: if Dowling can't deal with the Drummer at all he should be smart enough not to come, or have some kind of plan, knowing that the Drummer could be concealing just about anything. My problem is not really about the Drummer it is about Dowling being phenomenally stupid when he is supposed to be the series Big Bad (as they say on Buffy). I apologize for my inaccurate and sloppy hyperbole. ]

** [Added Novemer 1, 2006: Yes, I know the claw is from another comic book like everything in the Planetary is. My point is that before issue 15 Ellis would reinvent these things and now he is just reusing them, relying on old comics to do his work for him in a way that, prior to 15, he did not.]

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Honda: The Power of Dreams (Impossible Dream)

I saw the full-length version of Honda’s Power of Dreams (Impossible Dream) ad in front of a movie recently, and I was knocked out by it. You can watch it here, on youtube. I know everyone has already praised it already, but I don't mind being late to the party.

It is perfectly simple: a man lip-synchs to Dean Martin’s version of the song “Impossible Dream” (from Man of La Mancha) while riding, in a series, increasingly complex vehicles. In a nicely specific detail, he is not an everyman, but rather a concrete guy with a vaguely 70s look, and he may be a kind of daredevil stunt man. His progress, combined with the song, is a clear but not pedantic way of indicating Honda’s desire to make better and better products. More than an image, it is a plot: the vehicles are increasingly dangerous as well as complex, and the commercial plays with having him crash and burn before we realize that he is saved (by Honda’s ingenuity). What I find most striking about the commercial is the way it revitalizes the song, which has become such a cliché I don’t think I have ever really heard it before. (In the same way, it is very difficult to “hear” Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech; we have heard it so many times that, unless we work hard, it registers as no more than “hey, that’s that famous ‘to be or not to be’ speech"). The song builds in intensity as the plot of the commercial progresses, and, in part because we see him singing, we pay attention to the lyrics, we hear them freshly and feel the progression of the song in a direct way. To revitalize something great that has become dusty: Ellis’s version of the Fantastic Four in Planetary, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman, and a Honda ad. Go figure.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Comics Out 25 October 2006

Four things this week:


Last week had a lot of stuff I was looking forward to: Grant Morrison and Jim Lee's Wildcats #1, Morrison and Gene Ha's Authority #1, and my new favorite book, Cassanova, #5. But this week, two of the most important comic book series come to a kind of end: Morrison and J.H. William III's Seven Soldiers #1 ends one of the best and uniquely ambitious comic book projects ever; and after SIX years Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's Planetary, with the exception of an epilogue, closes.

Planetary was the book that pretty much inspired How to Read Superhero Comics and Why. Before issue 15 it seemed like it was going to be as important as Watchmen. Alas, it was only a great idea for a book, and not a great book, as its slow publishing schedule meant that it continued on after it was really relevant; it was riffing quite heavily on the X-Files and the X-Files ended badly and now feels like something from an age gone by, something very 90s. Remember that there are more issues of Seven Soldiers than there are of Planetary, even though Planetary is six years old and Seven Soldiers began less than two years ago. And Seven Soldiers is better. Ellis and Cassaday clearly lost patience for Planetary -- much of the issues after 15 seemed like a sloppy race to the finish line. (Ellis: "Perhaps Elijah's purpose can be that he saves things! Wait ... I better stop the plot three issues before the climax to show how he saved the Drummer to establish that." Cassaday: "I can reuse a panel of Stone's finger nail gadget from issue 11 in issue 25 if I reverse the image and change the colors!").


Bad news at Newsarama: Morrison's Wildstorm books last week were lackluster, I thought, though the Authority was at least ... interesting (a hybrid of a superhero book and Sphere). Since they both merely establish the status quo they could get great when the status quo changes (as each book claims it will). Unfortunately the status quo on Wildcats won't change for quite some time as issue two won't come out for 5 MONTHS. It has been cancelled and will be re-solicited in January, to be out in March. Whedon's Astonishing X-Men has only been pushed back to November 8.


Also (sort of comics related) November's Wired magazine published 33 short stories of only six words each. Neal Stephenson, who usually writes novels upward of 2500 pages came up with
Tick tock tick tock tick tick.
That's ok, I guess. You will not be surprised who managed to write a great one. Here is Joss Whedon's entry:
Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so.
Hilarious. It's the comma that makes it art.

(Liam forwarded this from a friend who blogged about it).


In other news Mitch has a new article up at Silver Bullet Comics. It's called X-traordinary People: Mary Tyler Moore and the Mutants Explore Pop Psychology, and it looks like fun.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Gerard Manley Hopkins's Spring and Fall (Commonplace Book)

Hopkins, I cannot help but point out, was a fellow Balliol man. In point of fact in his life he never used his middle name. The fact that we know him by the three names today seems to be because of later editors, for some reason. Here is the poem, which has fantastic rhythms:
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With you fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Ethics as Aesthetics: Aaron Sorkin

Last Sorkin post for a while, until I am ready to write about why Studio 60 is not working.

Plato distrusted the arts, because he was concerned that its beautiful illusions would interfere with day-to-day morality. People would be under the illusion that they had access to truth, when they had only fictions. Aaron Sorkin (Sports Night, the first four seasons of West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) is Plato best enemy. On the surface, Sorkin’s characters -- almost all of them, even the bad guys -- appear to be the apotheosis of ethical models in art: loving, strong, smart, deeply principled. Just to name a single example, an entire episode of Sports Night is given over to one of the main characters struggling to choose a charity to donate money to. Sorkin is a genius, one of the greatest living writers in any medium (I would put him alongside Grant Morrison and John Ashbery, and I plan to at some point). But he uses ethics, not as a model, but as an aesthetic device, the way a painter might select a particularly picturesque tree. The only complaints I have heard against Sorkin -- at least until Studio 60 -- boil down to the same objection: he is not realistic. But complaining that Sorkin is not realistic is like complaining that ice cream has no nutritional value, it misses the point. Sorkin is the only genuine – which is to say persuasive – inheritor of the films of Frank Capra, especially Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It’s a Wonderful Life. Capra is a filmmaker who is such a part of Americana that it can be hard to see how watching his films can be anything other than a study of the nostalgias, especially as Its a Wonderful Life hits with such regularity at Christmas. But they are great films, and Sorkin keeps them alive. Ethics as Aesthetics, beautiful, moving, unrealistic objects. Screw content. Sorkin is pure style over substance. I don't care that much what writers have to say -- as someone once noted Milton could have put all his thoughts on God into four or five pages -- I care how they say it. And Sorkin is a master.

On Studio 60 the parts are there, but they are just not persuasive in the same way. But that is for later.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Studio 60 and Allusion 2

The pilot of Studio 60 also alludes to real life in order to ingratiate us to one of the main actors -- when we are introduced to Matthew Perry his character is high on pain killers from his recent back surgery, an allusion to actor Matthew Perry's long time and public addiction to pain killers. Sorkin alludes to the actor's troubled past in order to transmute his bad reputation into comedy. Matthew Perry is instantly likeable for this reason; we feel he has admitted something to us, and so we feel closer to him (as we would to a friend who had confided in us). This tactic is not new for Sorkin -- the pilot of West Wing involved Rob Lowe's character getting dangerously close to a sex scandal, something the actor was very familiar with.

My fourth, and for now final, allusion in Studio 60 is in the fourth episode, which involves everyone realizing that, in the show within the show, they just aired someone else's jokes as their own; they scramble to revise the West Coast feed by inserting live material into the copy of the show that aired live on the East Coast. In the end it turns out that the "stolen" material was itself stolen -- stolen from a writer who wrote it under contract for Studio 60. It turns out there was no plagiarism, because the network owned the original material. They were "stealing" from themselves. What is funny about this is that Sorkin has an almost shameless ability to reuse his own material. The most dramatic example is the West Wing episode "Someone's Going to Emergency, Someone's Going to Jail" in which Rob Lowe, having discovered his parents are divorcing because his father has been having an affair with a woman for more that twenty years, gets crazy over a work related thing that, unconsciously, is a metaphor for his current situation. The exact same plot is the subject of the Sports Night episode "The Sword of Orion". Dozens and dozens of situations, lines of dialogue, kinds of jokes appear in all three shows (and in Sorkin's A Few Good Men); here is a whole list of them. The point is that just as Sorkin alludes to Perry and Lowe's personal history in the shows, he alludes to his own history as well, in order to charm viewers with self-knowledge.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Comics Out 18 October 2006

A good week for comics: Douglas Rushkoff and Liam Sharp's Testament 11, Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba's Casanova 5, and a double bill of Grant Morrison's Wildstorm relaunch with Wildcats 1 (art by Jim Lee) and The Authority 1 (art by Gene Ha). I will hold of reviewing these until next week, though I may say something in the comments section.

Strong potential stuff this week, but gear up: a week from today Planetary, with the exception of an epilogue, ends (we will see the defeat of the Four, I imagine) and Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers ends with an extra large issue drawn by superstar J.H. Williams III.

In comics news this week Marvel and DC's January solicits are up at

Plus -- and I know it is not exactly comics news, but Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodreguiz are making a movie -- the trailer is up and it looks absurd, amazing. It's called Grindhouse. I would link to youtube, but it keeps getting put up and taken down so you will have to hunt for it yourselves. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Robert Creeley's The Rain (Commonplace Book)

All night the sound had
come back again,
and again falls
this quiet, persistent rain.

What am I to myself
that must be remembered,
insisted upon
so often? Is it

that never the ease,
even the hardness,
of rain falling
will have for me

something other than this,
something not so insistent--
am I to be locked in this
final uneasiness.

Love, if you love me,
lie next to me.
Be for me, like rain,
the getting out

of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-
lust of intentional indifference.
Be wet
with a decent happiness.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Studio 60 and Allusion 1

I wanted to walk through a few allusions in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, to show on how many levels Aaron Sorkin’s writing works. You don’t need to have noticed any of this to love the show; much of it works on a subliminal level anyway.

This post is, I think, a good example of the intellectual back-patting that Ping33 and have complained about. While I still think Studio 60 is one of the best shows on television, I will admit that some of the old Sorkin magic is missing. Until I am ready to articulate exactly what has gone wrong, however, I want to concentrate on what I do like, even if it is exactly what others hate; the show has problems, but I don't think the smart stuff I am going to discuss in this post and at least two others is among them.

Sorkin alludes to his two other television shows in the teaser to the pilot of Studio 60. Long before Desperate Housewives and Transamerica Felicity Huffman was one of the main stars of Sorkin’s Sports Night, like Studio 60, a television show about putting on a television show. She is here to remind viewers of the continuity between Sports Night and Studio 60. When Judd Hirsch interrupts the fictional Studio 60’s live broadcast, he interrupts a sketch about George Bush in the Oval Office; Tommy Schlamme – Sorkin’s main director on both Sports Night and the West Wing – alludes to their second earlier show as he copies his famous camera push through the Oval Office Window – though here he breaks into a sketch comedy recreation of the Oval Office of George Bush rather than President Bartlett’s Oval Office. The set of the West Wing was the most expensive set ever built for a television pilot; here we see it for what it always was – a set.

At the end of the second episode of Studio 60 Steven Webber says to Amanda Peete “You’ve got spunk, kid,” and she replies, and he says it with her, “I hate spunk.” It works even if you don’t know where it is coming from, but it works better if you know that the line is from the pilot of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Like Amanda Peete’s character Mary, on the show, is a single woman trying to make a career behind the scenes of a television show. And of course, the line quoted in the show is delivered by Ed Asner, who had a cameo in the pilot of Studio 60, and appears in episode five.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Essays on Firefly and House

BenBella is putting out two more Smart Pop books, one on Firefly/Serenity (a sequel to their Finding Serenity, edited by Jane Espenson) and one on House; I have been asked to contribute to each (I already have an essay in the Veronica Mars book due out soon). For House I will write on Hugh Laurie's career as it leads up to the character of Doctor Gregory House, and for Firefly, on the complex and interesting story structure of the episode "Out of Gas." I will keep everyone updated on these projects.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

On Blogging (for

A few years ago I edited an issue of the online journal Reconstruction (the issue in which my essay on the X-Men and Gnosticism appeared). This week they have an issue on the theories and practice of blogging. They asked a host of people to blog about blogging so that that the journal can link to each one, creating a kind of hypertext collection of thoughts on the subject. This is my entry.

I like comics and movies and TV and poetry and music. Because I have all kinds of advanced training in English literature, when I read a book or watch a movie, I notice stuff. My superhero book attempted to collect all the things I noticed about comics into a single book-length argument. But truth be told, the thesis of the book came very late; it was not until I was nearly done that I realized that the connecting thread could be the argument about how the new comics I wanted to talk about constituted the successor to the industry’s Golden and Silver ages. It is the little observations about each comic book, rather than the big argument, that I think is the real value of the study. And when I read books it is the moment to moment observations that stay with me, rather than the big argument or story.

Blogging allows each little observation worthy of a bigger argument to be published, and available, before the book they belong in has been written, or even imagined.

Everyone needs to have a large discussion about the future of the University and the internet. If primary texts can be available on the web, for free, and academic essays and even books can be available in the form of blogs, for free, and if lectures by any professor can be recorded with a cell phone and thrown up on youtube, for free, then a very large part of an Oxbridge or Ivy League education can be had for free, at home, right now, by anyone with a decent computer connection.

The consequences of this fact – for established professors, and for future students and teachers – have not been thought through. But every time an academic pushes the “publish” button on blogger (or what have you) we get a little bit closer to the answer, good or bad. I, for one, cannot stop pushing that button.