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.