Sunday, December 30, 2007

Comics Out December 28, 2007

X-Men. I have now read chapters one, five and nine, and was pleased to discover that since Bachalo is drawing the final part I will get to see how this all turns out without being suckered into buying a lot more books than I really want when I suspect that a summary of those books would do just as well. A new character, one I always loved, gets thrown into the mix, and Bachalo uses blood spatter liberally to distinguish those on the front lines from those clean and safe. A gay character is something, I suppose, but I feel like I have seen the dark future where mutants are in camps about a hundred times now, and it makes me glad I am avoiding the other books.

Batman. SPOILERS! I love the understated cover -- this could be any issue of Batman -- that does not hint at the insane last page, or anything like it. This issue is intriguing, but I think I am going to need either more issues, or more background, to figure out what to make of it. Part of the problem is that my entire Morrison Batman run is lent out so I cannot check to see if Commissioner Vane is from 666, or the year that story takes place -- will this Devil Batman become the Batman of issue 666? Time Travel? Just a concept chiming? The Bruce Wayne sequence did not really hold my attention, until he jumps out of a balloon and his Neil Adams lifestyle, and is figured as the Dark Knight Returns; then our Batman is reverse "crucified" on his own Bat-signal by the Devil Batman; gets shot in the chest revealing the shielding plate -- as in Dark Knight Returns; dies, as he does in Dark Knight Returns of heart failure; in his final moments sees the most iconic image from Year One, the full page bat breaking though the window; BUT in one of the strangest non-satiric revisions I have seen calls the Bat-Mite for help at the last moment, something Miller's Batman could never have done -- Morrison is doing what only he can do here, which is smart. Also there is something with a purple mask that I am not clear on -- is this from 52 or something? I am not quite sure how to put all of this together -- and anyone who has ideas should not stay quiet in the comments -- but Morrison does have my attention, at least, for the first time on this book I think. I hope he has a better point than "Batman has a wonderful history, can't we just embrace it all?"

As a side note, does anyone else think that DC pulled the rug out from under Morrison -- or he did it to himself -- with the whole return of the multi-verse thing at the end of 52? Morrison using excised pre-crisis stuff in Animal Man and JLA for example seemed so much more daring before DC decided to canonize so much of the weird stuff in other worlds. Isn't Bat-Mite a more interesting thing to use when you feel Morrison is "breaking the rules" a bit, than when "Zur En Arrh" or whatever turns out to be one of the 52 universes, right next to Wildstorm?

In Comics News Spider-Man: One More Day ended -- someone give us a detailed spoiler.

Scott on Grindhouse Revisited

[Guest blogger Scott revises some of the comments on Death Proof around here in his slightly longer argument about Grindhouse, and makes an interesting conclusion.]

First of all, I maintain that Grindhouse is a single film or at least a singular entity, bottom line being that both films must be viewed in the context of the other to be fully appreciated. This is especially true of Death Proof, which I will explain shortly.

Planet Terror is the least complex of the two and, as a result, the one most capable of surviving on its own, however, without Death Proof as its companion it is merely a fun homage to grind house films of the past (It also makes sense for Rodriguez to do the straight-up homage because he's more of a chameleon whereas Tarantino is much more of an auteur).

Death Proof is the more complex of the two films. Not only is it stronger on a technical level in terms of the actual filmaking; it is far more subtle. This isn't a recreation of grind house films like Planet Terror it is a deconstruction/revision of them (specifically the slasher, revenge, and car chase genres). This is why it relies on Planet Terror. If I say to the average movie go-er "Death Proof" is a revisionary narrative of grind house films" Their response would, most likely, be "Great! What are grind house films?" Few people today would have any idea what I'm talking about. Pop Culture Junkie that I am, even I don't know first hand what grind house is.

This is why Planet Terror (and, in my opinion, the trailers) are necessary. It acclimates the un-ininducted into the experience. Then, with Death Proof, something strange happens: The film begins to evolve. It's no secret that both Tarantino and Rodriguez grew up and drew inspiration from this kind of movie. The thing is, they took what they learned from these movies which were, let's face it, fairly disposable pieces of cheap, exploitative entertainment, not good for much more than a few laughs, and , in their own work, transform it into art (arguably, Tarantino is much better at this than Rodriguez). So, as Death Proof begins we are introduced to typical stock grind house characters only with greater depth and better dialogue (something Tarantino is famous for) but, still they remain characters rather than being real people. Jungle Julia and her crew are the typical victims in slasher flicks: they are 'doing bad things'; drinking, smoking pot, hooking up with/teasing guys. In other words, they're just asking for it.

Then, the change over, the film loses the faux aging and we're introduced to the second group of girls (by the way, the black and white segment in the extended edition adds nothing to the film other than another opportunity for Tarantino to display his foot fetish). This group is a departure, they are completely 'real' characters. It has been pointed out that they're all movie people but, so what, to Tarantino movie people are the real people in his day to day life. In fact, these might be the most believable, realistic characters that Tarantino has created. So, in the second half, he takes these 'real' people and puts them in a grind house situation. Still, take out the false scratches and such, the film can function on its own. Most people would still see it and 'get it'

The point that the film again changes is after the first leg of the car chase (which, by the way totally kicks ass and the use of traditional stunting and Zoe Bell as the star add a tension rarely seen in modern film making). Specifically, things go awry when, after Zoe emerges from the bushes unscathed, the point where any normal, rational person would say "Oh, Shit... we gotta call the cops!" a perky Zoe says "Phew, that was a close one... Let's go get 'im"

At this point, these 'real' characters begin a regression into the revenge seeking women of grind house cinema. Still, I'm buying it... I even buy the one chick shooting him. That's a plausible reaction. Where it falls apart (at least without the context provided by Planet Terror). Is the final few seconds where they drag Stuntman Mike from his car, knock the shit out of him and, ultimately, crush his head in.

So, these 'real', 'normal' characters have suddenly become cold blooded killers? It is also worth noting that during this sequence Abernathy's skirt, worn at a respectable knee length for the most of the film, is now worn at an exploitative point high up on her thigh. It is an, admittedly, cheap ending but it is a grind house ending. Death Proof has now taken us full circle back to the cheap thrill of Planet Terror. When viewed on its own, this ending makes no sense. However, as part of the larger Grindhouse film... project... whatever you want to call it. It makes perfect sense. In fact, in order for it to be a true grind house film. That's how it has to end.

So, in short... Planet Terror is a fun recreation of the grind house experience whereas Death Proof really makes you think about the genre (and all its various subgenres). Both films are great but I still see it as one big movie.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #7, part b

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series, click his name in the right tool-bar.]

“Out With the Old”

Almost all of the Claremont-Bolton backups are wonderfully done, but this one is especially fantastic. No X-Men are featured as characters, but we do meet a new mutant faction led by Sebastian Shaw. Claremont lays out the entire Hellfire Club premise here, ret-conning it into X-Men continuity years earlier than it was originally. It’s a club whose membership only extends to people with “wealth beyond measure.” Once inside its walls, all concessions to contemporary mores are stripped away. Theoretically, this means that a lot of crazy sh*t goes down in the Club, but as this is a Comics-Code-approved superhero comic, what it means in practice is that everyone dresses as if it was the 1700s, and a lot of the women walk around in corsets and knee-high high-heeled boots. This was all John Byrne’s idea originally, who was inspired by an episode of “The Avengers” (not the comic, but the show that later inspired a Ralph Fiennes/Uma Thurman movie) entitled “A Touch of Brimstone.”

What we see here is Claremont retrofitting the Hellfire Club into the Sentinels story by associating them with the mysterious “Council of the Chosen” (name-checked in Uncanny X-Men #100 but never really explained). Since the Hellfire Club are all mutants by the time they debut in Uncanny X-Men #129, some explanation is needed for why they would ally themselves with Stephen Lang and finance his mutant-hunting project. So the story in Classic X-Men #6b is what some would call a “continuity patch” – depicting a coup in which a group of mutants led by Sebastian Shaw overthrow the Council of the Chosen, the anti-mutant bigots that run the Hellfire Club and who backed Lang’s agenda. Shaw takes control of the Club and sets up his own Inner Circle, and all is in place for when the Hellfire Club show up again in the continuity.

Because they are club members already when this story begins, Shaw and his mutant allies (among them Emma Frost) are all decked out in 18th-century style outfits. This includes Shaw in all his purple-garbed glory, including a large bow in his hair, which Geoff has pointed out might look a little silly. Personally, I like it. The quaintness of his Hellfire Club clothing is a deliberate contrast to his character and personality, which is hardness on every level. He is described in “Out With the Old” as having worked his way up from poverty to a position of wealth. And his mutant power is all relentlessly physical, i.e., he hits harder, the harder he is hit. (Morrison missed this when he wrote him, apparently, giving him telepathic powers instead.)

Emma Frost (never drawn sexier than she is here, by John Bolton) is the female counterpart to Shaw, with a similar contradiction: corset-and-lace exterior, diamond-hard interior. (Sorry to belabor this, but I think Morrison screwed this up too, literalizing her personality by giving her the ability to turn into diamond. Seems too painfully literal to me – but that might just be my bias at work. It’s not as if a name like “Frost” isn’t obvious.)

The Claremont/Bolton backups are generally character-based, but this one includes a fantastic action sequence in which Shaw fights Lang’s Sentinels. Bolton rises to the challenge of dramatically depicting a man dressed in Regency-era British clothing (which is purple) fighting a giant robot (that is also purple – the exact same shade, in fact), and the whole thing is exciting and atmospheric. Claremont does as an excellent job of mixing in sci-fi terminology with high melodrama, with Shaw reciting a list of the Sentinel’s high-tech features (“...omnium steel frame, chobham armor, shock repressors, fast-acting damage control and repair systems ...”) even as he takes it down, then concluding with, “But good as you are ... you’re only a machine! And this man will always prove your better!” Great fun.

There’s a fantastic bit of dialogue toward the end of the Sentinel sequence, when Shaw’s lover, a mutant named Lourdes, dies from wounds received during the fight. It begins with a fairly standard cliché: As she starts to fade, she flashes back to a happy time in her life, and wishes she could be there again. She then looks at Shaw and says, “Oh, Sebastian ... why does Buckman hate us ...” Shaw’s reply: “Fear. Of what we are, and what we represent.” And then he adds, “Now, I’ll give him cause.”

From a sentimental flashback to a gently plaintive indictment of the villain’s racism, to Shaw’s surprisingly pragmatic response, to a chilling set-up for the story’s final act (“Buckman” is the head of the Council of the Chosen, the man who sicced the Sentinels on Shaw and the other mutant members). And it all happens in just a few lines. The flow is fantastic, and a great example of Claremont at his absolute best.

No Country for Old Men

[I continue to post minor things over the holiday break, like my reviews of movies long after such reviews are timely, or useful. I saw No Country for Old Men last night and wanted to add a few thoughts. Spoilers.]

This is what Tim Callahan wrote in his review of No Country for Old Men on this blog:

No Country for Old Men is, ultimately, the perfect western for this new century. It subverts clichés of the genre (the sheriff is no hero, there is no showdown, justice will not necessarily be served) while treating the characters with dignity. It doesn’t mock the conventions of the western, but, rather, it shows that our romanticism has always been flawed—Entropy is the only constant.

The film is thematically bleak, but, as in classical tragedies like Oedipus Rex, catharsis comes from the perfection of the dramatic form. No Country for Old Men is a great movie because it knows how to be a great movie—its artistry is vividly alive and engaging, even when its characters are doomed.

This is exactly right, and I want to expand on it a little.

A long time ago I posted about a Gnostic fable of Kafka's. No Country for Old Men seems like a similar kind of dark gnostic anecdote. The sort of friendly Merle Haggard old guy thing about kids with green hair walking the streets of nice towns is really just a folksy way of expressing a total moral and spiritual degeneration. The thing about green hair is that it is unnatural, and modern Westerns have often been about the clash of boundless nature and its dark opposite, for example the massive machine gun with which the Wild Bunch ends. From that weird haircut on down, Chigurh is a totally unnatural force -- so unnatural he makes us think of gnostic Archons, which gives this film about money in a Texas town an almost cosmic significance. Chigurh is alien in his detachment and his tools, weirdly principled (the reason for going after the wife), cruel and arbitrary (the coin), casual and methodical, and just WRONG, cosmically wrong. When we see him appear behind a character out of a cop car, or on the stairs we cringe -- even though we know almost nothing about him -- so forceful is his total evil.

In one of my first college courses Robert Gurland introduced me to the Christ-pattern in literature and popular culture: everything is peaceful; evil enters; the local forces that should deal with it either won't because the are corrupt or can't because they are weak; someone comes from the outside, fixes it, and leaves. This pattern covers the bible, Jaws, much of Batman, the Lone Ranger, and so on. (Gurland even argued it covered Playboy magazine as well: the nice girl suddenly finds herself wanting sex -- the reader, in fantasy, is to satisfy her and leave, rather than say, marry her). No Country for Old Men subverts that wildly -- evil enters, and you cannot get rid of it. Neither the local forces (the sheriff) NOR someone from the outside (Harrelson) can deal with it, because evil is eternal. Make this point in a horror movie, or even a genre splice, no problem -- but in a Western, especially one with Tommy Lee Jones in the lead, a man who gets things done, this becomes quite an impressive little shock.

I have not read the book, although I adore McCarthy -- the Judge is one of the perfect villains in literature, similar to Chigurh in a lot of ways. I would be interested in hearing from people who have read the book about how the Yeats poem from which the book gets its title fits in. The poem is about how Yeats wants to get away from this country for the young -- with its health, and sex, and life cycle -- and go to a place that is eternal, a city of art. "Out of nature I shall never take my bodily form from any natural thing" he says -- he wants to be made into a kind of eternal clockwork bird of prophecy and poetry. My initial thought is that the movie and the poem are on the same page, and that art and artistry of film and poetry are the saving grace -- not for the characters, but for the viewer. For the characters the film and the poem are tonally so out of whack the allusion to Yeats is brutally ironic -- this may be no country for old men, but you are not going anywhere.

This is a powerful, strange film, and I would put it with the best of the Coen brothers have made: Lebowski, Fargo, Barton Fink.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Southland Tales

I saw the final theatrical showing of Southland Tales last night, Richard Kelley's follow up to Donnie Darko. I am going to put major spoilers here because I think spoilers are the only way anyone will be convinced to see this, if they are going to be convinced.

Since the film is impossible to summarize let me point you to Nathan Rabin's discussion of the movie as part of his excellent My Year of Flops series. Here is his summary, which you can click to read his whole article:

Southland Tales opens with a nuclear blast in Texas in an alternate-universe 2005 and an endless orgy of voice-over narration from Justin Timberlake that explains and explains and explains without really explaining anything. The U.S., it seems, responded to a nuclear attack on July 4th, 2005 by taking a fierce rightward turn. World War III brought the pain to Iran, North Korea, and various other supporters of evildoers and a sinister entity called US-IDENT spies on the American populace and polices the world-wide webernet with an iron fist.

A revolutionary group known as the neo-Marxists populated disproportionately by distaff Saturday Night Live alums (Amy Poehler, Nora Dunn, Cheri Oteri) has brainwashed an Iraq War veteran played by Seann William Scott as a way of faking a Rodney King-like videotape exposing police brutality in hopes of instigating a revolt against the repressive new social order.

Meanwhile, an amnesiac action star with ties to the Republican party (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a real-life action star with ties to the Republican party) has written “a screenplay that foretold the tale of our destruction” yet is ignored, no doubt due to serious third-act problems and weak characterization, along with his girlfriend, a porn-star/current-events-chat-show-host and one-woman media empire played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, whose most recent release is a pop single called “Teen Horniness Is Not A Crime.” ... [And] the whole thing might just be an elaborate religious allegory. Or not.

The religious allegory he is talking about is glossed by a article, which argues that the film is a "semi-straightforward" adaptation of the Book of Revelations. The Salo article is taking the film much more seriously than the film allows -- you can compare Kelly to David Lynch all you want but he is not David Lynch.

Southland Tales is a total disaster of a film: the first act is too confusing to follow as a movie -- we just jump from non-sense set piece to non-sense set piece: Justin Timberlake reading from the bible and T.S. Eliot, dwarfs in see-through rain coats. Much of the second act was so annoying it had me looking at my watch to see how much more of this I had to endure -- we often talk about films being "trippy" or "drug induced" but in the case of much of Southland Tales this seems sadly literal rather than metaphorical: at many points you feel you are watching a movie based on the first draft of a screenplay written by smart but stoned high schoolers. There is an extended, self-serious conversation about characters who have not had a bowel movement (the film's words) in 6 days, and whether animals want to have bowel movements or not.

But by the third act I have to admit I was strangely engrossed in the weirdness. Stunt casting had a lot to do with my enjoyment -- I think I would have had no fun at all if I did not know these actors. The Rock, in particular, is really funny because he is in many ways a standard action hero, but he also does goofy really well, which we need here. Southland Tales is by no means a good film, but where else are you going to see Wallace Shaun dressed in a baroque black cape with his hair cut into three triangular sections open mouth kissing Bai Ling? Will Sasso leading a team to kill Miranda Richardson, who is taken down by a guy with a read Mohawk and an Uzi? Do you want to see John Lovitz in a "straight role" as a silver haired psycho racist cop? Than this is the film for you. How about Cheri Oteri as a Neo Marxist gunned down by a bullet from a mounted gun? How about a computer generated sequence in which two SUVs -- the cars -- have graphic sex? How about Rebecka Del Rio singing the National anthem? How about the Rock threesome slow dancing with Sara Michelle Gellar and Mandy Moore? Saturday Night Live's Nora Dunn electrocutes John Larroquette in the groin. How about that spooky woman from Poltergeist intoning the words to a Jane's Addiction song to the Rock while standing in a tableau on a baroque staircase while holding a blinking blue globe, just before the Rock gets into Robert Mitchum's car from Kiss me Deadly? How about Christoper Lambert as a guy who deals weapons out of an ice cream truck? How about a kid shooting down a computer generated "mega-zeppelin" with a rocket launcher from off of the ice cream truck as it floats in mid-air? How about an un-recognizably fake-aged Kevin Smith and Booger as super-scientists? How about Justin Timberlake lip syncing to a song from the Killers in a bloody shirt with dancing 40s nurses in an arcade? How about the phrase "I am a pimp and pimps do not commit suicide" as a serious biblical motif? Apparently, in a subplot that was edited out, but which will surely be available on DVD, Jeanane Garafalo plays a military general.

Southland Tales is a total disaster, and you will be bored an annoyed. But gets a lot of extra points for audacity, and the creation of surreal unforgettable things.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Random thoughts on Enchanted

Tim Callahan already reviewed Enchanted for this blog, so a full scale review from me is basically out, but I finally got around to seeing it and wanted to provide a few thoughts of my own. Spoilers, and a lack of organization, follow.

Though he only mentions it in passing, Tim nails exactly what this movie is. It is not about a conflict between an idyllic fairy tale world and the harsh real world. It is about the conflict between an idyllic fairy tale world and a near-idyllic live action adult romantic comedy. In this sense it is closer is spirit to genre-jumping movies like From Dusk Till Dawn and A History of Violence than it is to Grant Morrison-esque "fiction invades reality stories." Genre jumping is often a great idea, but here there is not enough difference to provide much energy. The theme of the movie is "Happy endings do not exist in the real world, no wait, yes they do." There is a surprising amount of urine and feces and roaches in this movie as well -- this suggests to me that the film-makers are not sure what they are up to, as that works great if you think Dempsy's world is the real world, but not so great if you realize that it is a romantic comedy. It is unclear to me if Giselle's presence transforms the world she visits, or if she merely reminds Dempsy and company of what they have forgotten, which is that they are all romantic comedy characters.

Amy Adams and James Marsden are disarmingly fun, to the point that you will feel like a grouch being to hard on this movie. A dance sequence in Central Park is also silly buy quite fun, and I left the movie with the main song stuck in my head, as it stuck in the head of everyone I saw it with -- surely the mark of a good musical. Susan Sarandon is AMAZING as a live action old crone, and I wish we could have seen more of her in that role. But the movie is very confused a lot of the time.

Marsden's character is a total narcissist -- it seems like this will come back as a plot point, but it doesn't. Wont he be a terrible husband to Menzel, who is also not attractive enough to be marrying him? Dempsy admits that he never talks to his daughter, or anyone, about how his wife walked out on them -- and by the end of the movie he still hasn't. There is an odd scene where Giselle is telling the little girl a fairy tale and when the girl says that that is not how it happened Giselle says that Little Red Riding Hood does tell it differently -- which suggests that even in the fairy tale world there is a split between how a story appears and how it really is, just as Giselle is discovering in the real world. This is almost intriguing, but I really do not know what to do with it. I also Why does Giselle eat a fish out of the fish tank in the law office? I am supposed to be asking questions like this? Idina Menzel, a Broadway musical star who was in the fairy tale revision Wicked just suddenly find happiness with Marsden at the end, because that point in the screenplay demanded it. She does not sing in the film at all -- is our knowledge that she can sing supposed to satisfy us as to why she would be happy in a fairy tale world? I was also confused by the epilogue -- does Giselle inherit her new husband's ex-fiancee's dress making operation after Menzel goes to the fairy tale world? Because that is really very strange. The third act goes to the zoo, as the fairy tale meets romantic comedy thing gets dwarfed by a very unnecessary third genre -- big monster attacks New York. Feminism is sort of wrangled in -- a book about tough real women heroes is frowned upon by the little girl, we see Giselle reading it at one point (though she does not talk about it, I think), and then at the end of the movie, she takes on a more heroic role. There is some seriously strange imagery used for Giselle's shift of worlds -- she falls into a galaxy, is covered in little dots of glowing white goo -- suggestive of sperm swimming to the egg -- before being "reborn." A pop up book epilogue is a great effect, and there is a great detail, Sara noticed, in Dempsy's law office -- an elevator music version of a song from The Little Mermaid is being pumped in. Also there is an ad for Superman Returns in Times Square over Marsden's head, which I quite like -- in Enchanted, Superman Returns, and X3 he gets ditched by the girl he loves. Sad. Perhaps he will do better with Kathrine Heigel in that new movie they are in together.

The movie is fun, but odd, and not as strong as it could be. The screenplay could have used a few more drafts, I think, and the film as a whole just needed someone to come in and provide some kind of unified vision of what it was supposed to be about.

Chad Nevett reviews Charlie Wilson's War

[New guest Blogger Chadd Nevett reviews Charlie Wilson's War. My plan to watch movies over the break has not been working out, so I am, as usual, behind, and have not seen this yet.]

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but all of the Golden Globe nominations for Charlie Wilson’s War are in the “comedy or musical” categories, while every other description of the film calls it a “drama.” The funny thing is, the tone of the movie isn’t all that different from anything else Aaron Sorkin has written; there are funny moments, serious moments and everything in between. I guess without the usual “hour means drama,” “half-hour means comedy” rules of TV, people don’t know what to make of Sorkin’s writing.

Although, calling Charlie Wilson’s War a comedy isn’t that far off as the first act is almost exclusively played for laughs. Tom Hanks is Charlie Wilson, a congressman from Texas who likes whiskey and women and, well, doesn’t really do much else. He comes across as the happy idiot who got into politics, because it seemed like the smart thing to do at the time. He’s surrounded himself with young, beautiful women assistants because, “You can teach ‘em to type, but you can’t teach ‘em to grow tits.” Hell, one of the first times we see Wilson, he’s naked in a hot tub with two strippers, a Playboy cover girl and a wannabe TV producer (whose TV idea of “Dallas but set in Washington” is my favourite inside joke of the movie).

If you didn’t know better, you would think that you were watching a light-hearted political comedy ala Dick. Soon, however, Wilson is sucked into the war between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, but, even then, the issue is mostly fodder for comedy. Wilson’s meeting with the president of Pakistan and two advisers is more a classic comedy routine than the sharp political wit we’ve come to expect from The West Wing.

The comedy, though, only sets the viewer and Wilson himself up for a harsher fall when faced with the Afghani refugees in Pakistan who have fled from the Soviets. There’s a little girl with no arms because she picked up what looked like a toy and it blew up in her hands. There’s a woman who has to fight off two young men for rice. It’s a scene of human suffering that is not easily forgotten made all the more powerful by the laughs that preceded it.

As a result of what he sees in Pakistan, Wilson becomes deeply committed to providing the Afghanis with the means to fight the Soviets, which means working with CIA agent Gust Avrakotos, played to perfection by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and wealthy, sometimes lover of Wilson, Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts does a serviceable job here, but nothing spectacular).

The film isn’t just about the fight between the Afghanis and the Soviets, but is also a timely reminder of the current conflict in Afghanistan and the United States’ role in creating the very enemy they fight now. In that way, the film is bittersweet as we know that arming the Afghan people was crucial in ending the Cold War, but also that a little more than a decade later, the same fight would repeat itself except with the US and its allies in the place of the USSR.

Not only that, but the interest of the American people and politicians will be about the same. Throughout the film, no one cares about what’s going on in Afghanistan and not much else has changed. The most resonant line of the film (and forgive me if I don’t get it exactly right) comes near the end when Wilson is trying to get funding to rebuild Afghanistan and a congressman mentions that he was with the president in the Roosevelt Room the other day and the president said, “Afghanistan—is that still going on?”

Charlie Wilson’s War is a very funny, very entertaining movie, but it is also very timely and haunting. Sorkin and Nichols suck you in with laughs only to hit you hard with the harsh reality of the plight of the Afghan people, and remind you that 20 years later, not much has changed.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Patton Oswalt on the Star Wars Prequels

I continue to post minor things over the holiday break, such as old YouTube clips that did their rounds a while ago. This is funny, and it is also fairly insightful about what is wrong with Star Wars episodes 1, 2, and 3.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My First Appearance on the YouTube

My friends Jason and Ximena made a YouTube Christmas montage video, which I appear in for a few seconds. I put it here because I want to post something light on the holiday break, this is related to the holiday break, and also because, as I said, I am now on the YouTube.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Site Update

I have added a few more links to the tool bar on the right, including a link to THE BEAT (how did I forget that?). I have moved my Will and Grace post to the Best of the Blog because I think the point is surprising enough to justify it being there. I have also added our conversation that started with the Dark Knight Trailer because, well, it got to 51 posts.

Site traffic usually goes down during the holidays. I am still going to post regularly through New Years, but it is likely to be more unsubstantial stuff, links and stray observations, and questions and whatnot. Don't expect a 3000 word essay on the Black Dossier.

If you ever wanted to see anything on the blog template change, now is the time to say it, because I now have time to work on it -- broken links, you want to be on the blog-roll, you think a conversation that got lost should be in the conversation links, you think I should be wearing a suit in that photo, whatever.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

24: 1994

I am like that guy from the South Park episode that was frozen in ice for four years and then thawed out in a parody of those movies where someone is completely anachronistic: instead of not understanding electricity, or cars, he has an Independence Day poster (ID4!) and listens to Ace of Base. In my case I just started watching season one of 24. Someone I just met at a party told me about this pretty good 24 parody on youtube where someone has imagined what 24 would have been like had it aired in 1994. Forgive me if this went around years ago and I am just getting to it now. It is the Saturday before Christmas so I get to post nonsense if I want to.

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #8, part a (incorporating X-Men #100)

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series click his name on the tool bar on the right. The only thing I want to say about this issue is that the two splash pages are amazing. I feel bad I only got around to appreciating Cockrum after he died. Also, quick question Jason: is this issue the origin on the fastball special?]

“Greater Love Hath No X-Man”

Since it’s the 100th issue, how about a story in which the new X-Men fight the old ones? That seems appropriately milestonish, right? (Except that it’s a meaningless milestone, because this isn’t the 100th new issue of X-Men. The title was in reprints from issues 67 to 93, so this is only the 73rd issue.)

The previous issue’s final splash page featured the five new X-Men facing off against the five original X-Men, but here the five originals have been joined by Havok and Polaris. So it’s not so much the original team as the team as it existed in Neal Adams’ final issue (i.e., Angel is in his Adams-designed costume; Havok and Lorna have just joined, but the Beast hasn’t left yet, nor has he turned blue, furry and less articulate). Including Havok and Polaris as this issue’s villains is not the smartest narrative move on Claremont and Cockrum’s part, because it gets mixed up with the fact that they were the villains a few issues ago in a story wholly unrelated to this one. Colossus even mentions this while fighting Havok. Strikes me as needlessly confusing.

One thing I really disliked about this issue when I first read it in Marvel Masterworks (i.e., not in the expanded “Classic X-Men” version) is a bit in which Storm asks Jean Grey why they have become enemies, when before now they were the best of friends. What of the confidences we have shared?, implores Storm. Jean replies that she’s “never shared a confidence [with Storm]!” This is Storm’s first clue that it’s not the real Jean. Except ... in the original issues, Jean is right: She and Storm never seemed particularly close. The readers are meant to assume that it happened between the pages – which would be fine, except that to make it a point on which the plot turns the first time you bring it up is sloppy. There’s a tender moment at the end of this very same issue between Jean and Ororo that is also supposed to play on the idea that they are close friends, and it’s equally garish in its original presentation.

“Classic X-Men,” however, has fixed this oddity. Reading the stories in “Classic,” people will have already read the marvelous “First Friends” in Classic #2, so this dialogue in issue #8 works. This is why everybody should read “Classic X-Men.” It’s unfortunate that it has become such a rarity, with so many fans neglecting. They don’t know what they’re missing!

As for issue #100, it’s all just old-fashioned superhero fun, with no depth beyond just the enjoyment of seeing Cockrum’s X-Men go up against Neal Adams’ X-Men. This IS fun, and I particularly enjoy the fact that Claremont writes the articulate, “polysyllabic” version of the Beast rather than the then-contemporary version (blue, furry, and prone to exclaiming “Oh my stars and garters”).

There’s a cool climactic bit in which Cyclops beats down Lang, and then he and Jean Grey team up to blow him up. (At least, that’s what happens in X-Men #100. Classic #8 interpolates another few panels to show that in fact the X-Men saved him at the last minute because “X-Men don’t kill,” but then an unexpected explosion causes Lang to die anyway.) The new pages are a little lame this time around, but the original pages by Dave Cockrum are great.

There’s a bizarre moment toward the end, when Cyclops angrily tries to stop Jean from piloting their space shuttle through a solar flare, and calls her a “Little – !” Was he going to say “—bitch”? Then, Wolverine, in love with Jean himself since Classic X-Men #1, tries to talk Jean out of this as well, but Jean is having none of it, and calls Wolverine an “obnoxious little upstart.” I guess Claremont’s point is that everyone is so frightened that they’re all freaking out – but it kind of seems like the X-Men are just really mean to each other.

The story ends with Jean piloting the shuttle into the solar storm. The radiation starts to get through, and both the art and sound effects deliberately recall the origin of the Fantastic Four. It seems such a simple cliffhanger at the time: Jean is going to get new powers from cosmic rays, just like the FF did. End of mystery. But 35 years on down the line, we know that this is actually the cusp of a huge moment in X-Men history.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Comics Out December 19, 2007

Angel. This book is serviceable, but like Buffy it has this weird thing where even though Whedon is writing it it still seems like fan-fiction. Pretty good fan fiction, but fan fiction none-the-less. Maybe it feels like fan fiction because it seems such an unnecessary addition to the television show. I don't know. I will continue to get both this and Buffy though. There is a weird bit in the art where Nina and Gwen do the same head-cocked danger face thing. The art on Buffy and Angel is not doing Whedon any favors. Since I half want the books a good artist like Bachalo could convince me this is a great idea.

Umbrella Academy. The art remains stunning as always -- I especially liked the monkey making Vayna feel better, and the experimental-y bits in the middle were ok. And I loved the bit at the end where she plays just the single note. I never talk about lettering, but I will also mention here that I adore the font chosen for the titles.

The Order. The Order continues to grow on me. This book has kind of a slow build that is really working. I think it is going to continue to get better and better in part because it is a character study on a lot of levels, and they more time we spend with these folks the better.

Iron Fist.
Aja continues to be just shockingly good. His layouts, often very architectural, create some unique rhythms that are light-years ahead of someone like Cassaday -- who I like, but who tends to just do simple layouts in a way that can seem like advanced storyboarding, rather than advanced COMICS. The more I think about it the more I think these layouts are a BIG DEAL. Look at the page three pages from the end and notice the way he uses empty space to break up the character's heads. Maybe I will scan some in and talk more about them. I like Aja so much that I also wonder what would happen if you read, from issue one, only the pages drawn by Aja? Is this being created in a way that that could be a valuable alternative reading style?

In Comics News they have one of those big, vague interviews with Dido about the future of DC and the next big event. I never read interviews like that, but I glanced at it. Here is an image:

(I cannot make blogger hyper-link today). Boy, Darkseid with the colored Green Lantern rings looks a lot like Thanos with the Infinity Gems.

Marvel and DC have their solicits up but I have not had a chance to check them out.

Review and discuss this weeks comics and comics news. You can click the labels to read reviews of the earlier issues of the comics out this week.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hellboy 2 Trailer

I do not really have that strong of an opinion of the first Hellboy movie -- I remember kind of liking the world that they built (Nazi Satanists are always great fun), but also being mildly offended that the girl could control her powers in the comic but was forced into the Hollywood archetype "woman-out-of-control" thing in the film.

I do not have that strong of an opinion about the sequel but I ADORE how the trailer starts with "From the Director of Pan's Labyrinth," then for a more than a full minute looks like an almost serious film along those lines (the creature that appears at the 49 second mark is breathtaking) -- then it GOES TO THE ZOO as soon as Jeffrey Tambor appears. I mean if you are going to go to the zoo, Jeffrey Tambor is the guy you want to go with.

The effect is a little like what happens in From Dusk Till Dawn, where you are watching a realistic road movie, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, at the 54 minute mark , a whole other movie comes crashing in. I know it is not possible, but how great would it be if Hellboy did not appear in the film until after the half-way mark, as he appears in the trailer?

Pulp Genre Christmas (From Scott)

[Here is Scott with a prompt for everyone:]

I've been reading Batman Black & White and one of the stories was a Christmas story. It occurred to me that there had been a great deal of wonderful (or wonderfully terrible) Superhero Christmas yarns and, come to think of it, a lot of Christmas stories in series where you wouldn't expect Christmas stories... so how about let's see what people can think of for their favorite/most memorable superhero/sci-fi/fantasy/horror Christmas stories?

[I remember Frank Miller having a good little short story in a Sin City book, but not much is springing to mind right now].

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Free Form Comments

Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticisms (which can be anonymous), surveys, introductions if you have never commented before, personal news, self-promotion, requests to be added to the blog roll and so on. If a week goes by and I have failed to add you to the blog roll TELL ME TO DO IT AGAIN, and KEEP TELLING ME UNTIL IT GETS DONE. I can be lazy about updating the non-post parts of this site. Remember these comments can be directed at all the readers, not just me.

ALSO. You can use this space to re-ask me questions you asked me before that I failed to answer because I was too busy (but now might not be). That is often the reason I fail to get back to people, and on a blog, after a few days, the comments thread dies and I just kind of forget about it. Let's use this space to fix that, because it does need to be fixed; I look like a jackass sometimes, leaving people hanging. I will TRY to respond to any questions here.

AND you can use this space to comment on posts that are old enough that no one is reading the comments threads anymore. For example, if you thought of a great quote for the great quote commonplace book, but now no one is reading that, you could put it here.You do not have to have a blogger account or gmail account to post a comment -- you can write a comment, write your name at the bottom of your comment like an e mail, and then post using the "anonymous" option.

WRITING FOR THIS BLOG. If you think your free form comment here might be better as its own post, but you do not want it to be public yet, email it to me. My email address is available on my blogger profile page. If I think it will work on this site, your post will be published here with your name in the title of the post. You can propose what you will, I am always looking for reviews of games, tv, movies, music and books.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dark Knight Trailer

I am not interested in the new Dark Knight film because I did not like Batman Begins. Having not seen Batman Begins in awhile I cannot give a detailed analysis, but basically I thought it was dreary, and I do not want my superhero comics all dreary. Caught between Tim Burton's fun hyperbolic stylishness (the definitive Joker?) and the audacious Spartan economy of Frank Miller's Year One (Batman fights cops), Batman Begins just looks weak -- it makes a gesture toward Year One, but still has to sell action figures -- so enter ninjas and the Scarecrow and all kinds of drearily designed "realistic" urban paramilitary cars and bikes and armor and things. Trying to get away from the Matrix and Kill Bill the fight scenes were also dreary muddy intentionally hard-to-see brawls -- again you can see the gesture toward a Miller-esque economy, but it really misses Miller's point. Miller is nuts but he knows a good Batman story should be fun, at least for him, and not so much a guilt-ridden ethical parable. Same thing with the music -- Burton has his pitch perfect theme tune, and you imagine Miller's Year One, properly brought to the screen, would use no music at all. But Batman Begins has to sell a soundtrack, and so we have dreary atmospherics for two plus hours.

The Dark Knight trailer opens up with the words "You've changed things -- forever," which should be a strong meta-line that is also about how amazing the first film was, but instead thuds to the ground since the first film very much did not change things forever.

I am very much with Neil Shyminsky in not liking HOBO-JOKER, as a design. Again, it is not down-to-earth enough to be striking, nor over-the-top enough to fly. As with Batman's gear fighting style, it is "realistic" in the most middling Hollywood blockbuster style.

I am not 100% sure this is what I want to say, but since this is a blog, let's test it: it is ironic that one of the tag lines for the film is the Joker's "Why so serious?" since that is just what I was thinking during the last one and am now thinking about this one.

On the plus side Maggie Gyllenhaal is one of the most beautiful women I can think of and she is introduced kicking some ass. Also there is a trace of Dark Knight Return's dark sexual connection between the Batman and the Joker when Batman takes the place of the woman and says "then you're going to love me." Works better with the Joker as a dandy though, surely, as he was in Dark Knight Returns and All Star. (All superheroes are dandies because they all care so much about outfits).

And just to be sure you cannot distinguish this movie from all the others, the trailer ends with nothing but dark streets, explosions, and gun-fire. These could be shots from just about any movie.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tim Callahan Reviews No Country for Old Men

[Guest Blogger Tim Callahan gives us another movie review. I have not been to the movies in a while but I have a plan to go see a ton of stuff over Winter break: Southland Tales, No Country for Old Men, Charlie Wilson's War, Alien v Predator, Enchanted, Michael Clayton, I am Legend. You may get a slew of movie review responses from me soon. Thanks especially to Tim for helping out in this busy week for me, in which I have grades due.]

For me, No Country for Old Men cannot be discussed out of context. I can’t see it as just a movie, and respond accordingly. No, the act of seeing No Country for Old Men is a convergence of concepts, predispositions, and prejudices. Watching it is a way to answer questions about Joel and Ethan Coen’s ability to bounce back from a mid-career slump, about their interpretation of a great novel by one of America’s greatest living novelists, about Josh Brolin’s emergence as a powerful actor in 2007, about what it takes to make a “western” in the 21st century.

Then again, I always watch movies in this mode: as a series of questions which the filmmakers will answer. Sometimes I think I know the questions going in, as with this film, while other times (usually in the case of foreign films involving cultures I know little about, like City of God or Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) the questions emerge as the story unfolds. In the case of No Country for Old Men, I knew the questions before the film began to roll, and I wasn’t surprised by any of the answers. That isn’t to say that the movie was formulaic or dull. It wasn’t. It was excellent, actually—thrilling where it needed to be thrilling, still when it needed to be still, suspenseful where in needed to be suspenseful, etc., etc. It may be the best movie of the year, and I say that because it answered my questions completely.

But if you go in with a different set of questions, or if you think it’s a different type of movie than it really is, you will probably be as disappointed as the audience I saw walking out of the Triplex Theater a few weeks ago. I won’t say they had the wrong set of questions in mind, but clearly they expected something other than the Coen brothers provided, and that didn’t work for the audience.

As I said, No Country for Old Men did answer my questions, primarily the one about whether or not the Coen brothers would make another great movie. Everyone who loves film seems to have a different opinion on which Coen films are the best, and perhaps Blood Simple fans would appreciate this movie more than Raising Arizona fans, but certainly No Country for Old Men is in the top tier of Coen films. It’s superior to than anything they’ve done so far this decade, and I would rank it in the Top Five Coen Brothers Films of All Time List. It’s up there with The Big Lebowski, and Fargo, and Miller’s Crossing, and Barton Fink. (I’m sure your list differs, but we can all agree that The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty are near the bottom, right?)


What, exactly, makes this movie so great? The bleakness. The image of Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh pacing toward the camera while the tank of compressed air clanks against the floorboards. The moment Tommy Lee Jones’s Sherriff Bell nearly puts the metaphorical pieces of the puzzle together, but trails away with the line, “the mind wanders.” The death-defying, ridiculous, savage chase between dog and man. The false sense of hope. The charm of Woody Harrelson’s Carson Wells, a man with the swagger of someone who knows the deal—but soon finds out that he understands nothing. Josh Brolin’s quiet performance (neither of the leads has much to say, or much use for words—quite a contrast from the Coen brothers usual zest for verbal wit) centers the film, and although the plot might seem to be about his character, it’s not; it’s about the setting, and his Llewelyn Moss embodies a certain time and a certain place with perfection.

As an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, it’s nearly spot-on. It’s probably the most faithful literary adaptation I have seen, with one of the only missteps coming in the form of Beth Grant’s Agnes, mother-in-law of Llewelyn Moss. The Coens add a scene (at least is feels tacked-on, and I don’t recall reading the scene in the book) in which Grant (whom you may remember as the fascist Sparkle Motion mother from Donnie Darko) hams it up and talks about “the cancer” with a performance that’s 10% Coen brothers and 90% Hee Haw. Her performance might actually kind of fit in something mannered like Raising Arizona or The Hudsucker Proxy, but it’s completely, jarringly out of place in the stillness and inevitability of No Country for Old Men. The rest of the movie captures McCarthy’s tone, and the essence of his characters, with great accuracy. But that Beth Grant scene really doesn’t belong.

No Country for Old Men is, ultimately, the perfect western for this new century. It subverts clichés of the genre (the sheriff is no hero, there is no showdown, justice will not necessarily be served) while treating the characters with dignity. It doesn’t mock the conventions of the western, but, rather, it shows that our romanticism has always been flawed—Entropy is the only constant.

The film is thematically bleak, but, as in classical tragedies like Oedipus Rex, catharsis comes from the perfection of the dramatic form. No Country for Old Men is a great movie because it knows how to be a great movie—its artistry is vividly alive and engaging, even when its characters are doomed.

Timothy Callahan

Strindberg + Helium

Erin, of Captain Fugmerica fame around here, sent me this link, and I thought I would share. Strange little short cartoons in the Adult Swim mode. Made me laugh.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Nathan Rabin's My Year of Flops: Body of Evidence

Nathan Rabin has been doing this really entertaining, funny series on the Onion where he writes short essays on horrid movies. Sara posted a quote from his review of Body of Evidence this week on Free Form Comments, because she knows how much I like Paglia. Here is the full quote, which I think shows how funny Rabin can be. Click the quote to read the review

I’m not entirely convinced that Madonna wasn’t somehow willed into existence some time in the late ‘70s by Camile Paglia. It’s as if Paglia was sitting around one day and thought “Wow, if only there was one virgin-whore-bitch-goddess-sinner-saint-icon-God who could embody every pretentious idea I’ve ever had. Then I’d be set.” Bam! Suddenly a full-grown Madonna would materialize out of thin air and masturbate with a big black crucifix while dressed as Elvis.

Maybe they can include this film in a Paglia-taught class on, I dunno, Madonna, Androgyny, Gender Subversion, and Sado-Masochism in Popular Culture As a Form of Social Protest as part of an elective credit devoted to colossal wastes of everyone’s time.

I know since I like Paglia I should not like it when people make fun of her, but I can certainly see where he is coming from, even if I am using Paglia's Break Blow Burn as a textbook in my intro to poetry class.

Scott on He-Man and Kirby's Fourth World (Comment Pull Quote)

Scott wrote in response to a comment by Christian in Free Form Comments this week that He-Man was originally supposed to be as adaptation of Jack Kirby's Fourth World:

I think it's my understanding that the script for the Masters of the Universe was originally supposed to be an adaptation of the fourth world/New Gods but due to some sort of copyright issues it was shelved and then adapted to the Masters of the Universe movie. Makes sense, the device that creates portals in the movie would have been the motherbox. One more clue to the Masters movie being 4th world: At one point, Skeletor disintegrates a henchman with eye-beams,a la Darkseid's Omega Beams.

How did I get this far into the comic book world and HAVE NO IDEA ABOUT THIS? How much of my brain would turn to piles of colored powder if I rented the He-Man movie to watch it again after many years just because I want to see the remnants of a FOURTH WORLD movie?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men 7a (UXM 99)

[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series go to the tool-bar on the right, under Guest Bloggers, and click Jason's name.]

“Deathstar Rising”

One of Chris Claremont’s hobbyhorses is pilots – whether of airplanes, helicopters, or space vehicles, Claremont loves them.

Claremont also seems to have a fascination with the machinery as well. Issue #99 is the first indication in an X-Men comic of Claremont’s airplane fixation, but it won’t be the last. There’s a long sequence (made longer in Classic X-Men #7 by some new pages) in which Peter Corbeau smuggles the X-Men into a rocket, and a lot of detail goes into the launch, as well as the countdown leading up to it. Dave Cockrum does some beautiful work during this sequence, the visual details adding a lot to the overall feeling of verisimilitude that Claremont seems to be aiming for.

We also get, during the countdown, another narrative device that will become a Claremont staple: A close-up of each X-Man in rapid succession, each with several attendant word balloons containing verbose inner monologue. This is one of those devices that contemporary readers seem to really despise – presumably because it’s very un-cinematic, and also (I suppose) a bit heavy-handed. Personally, however, I adore it. Claremont writes the best inner monologues in the business for my money, and I like the idea of allowing readers into the heads of every cast member simultaneously.

Characterization revealed during this particular inner-monologue sequence:

Colossus is deathly afraid, because his brother was one of Russia’s first cosmonauts, and he died during a failed launch.

Storm, as a claustrophobe, is freaking out both at being inside the rocket and at being stuck inside an enclosed space suit. She’s not telling her teammates, however. (Recall that at this point, readers know she’s a claustrophobe, but the only other X-Man who’s aware of it is Jean.)

Cyclops is worried about Jean. I know, what else is new, but recall that this point in the storyline, what we know about Cyclops is that when offered a choice between quitting the X-Men when Jean did or staying on to train the new team, he chose the latter. He’s starting to regret that decision now – we’ll see more of this over the next few issues.

Nightcrawler wishes his “friends in Dar Jarmarkt could see [him] now.” Once again, while all the other characters angst over their situation, Nightcrawler is the one who sees the positive side, the attractiveness of the adventure. (Nightcrawler was Cockrum’s favorite of his own X-Men creations, and given Kurt’s rather refreshing attitude in contrast to the other characters in the book at this point, it’s not hard to see why.)

Peter Corbeau even gets his own inner monologue. We learn that whenever he goes into space, he feels like he’s “going home.” Claremont loves to romanticize his astronauts ... even bit-players like Corbeau.

So, the X-Men take a space shuttle to the outer-space headquarters of Steven Lang and his Sentinels. During an outer-space battle, Storm gets sucked out into space. This leads to a strange scene in which Storm is able to generate wind even in outer space, by manipulating “the cosmic storm” as well as she does atmospheric weather. Classic X-Men #7 completely rewrites this scene, and attributes her maneuverability in space to her spacesuit’s jetpack. I’d call that an improvement.

Claremont hints at a romance between Colossus and Ororo in this issue. Claremont may have been too intoxicated by the idea of writing an interracial romance – he was writing one contemporaneously in the pages of “Iron Fist,” between the black Misty Knight and the white title character. For whatever reason, the hint of romantic tension between Colossus and Storm will be aborted in a couple of issues, and soon after Claremont will settle on the more familiar dynamic between the two characters – that of a surrogate-sibling relationship. These early hints tend to ring oddly in retrospect.

Also of note is a single-page montage in which we see news reports about how the Sentinel invasion has touched off a new wave of anti-mutant violence. The firebombing of Judge Chalmers’ house is interesting: First in that it’s a fairly violent image (even though the text makes it clear that no one was killed during the incident); second in that Chalmers (described here as being “pro-mutant”) is not a new character, but actually an anti-mutant judge from the Neal Adams Sentinel arc. Presumably this is another homage/acknowledgement of Claremont’s debt to Adams.

[A few minor things I thought worth mentioning: the phrase "Death Star" appears here less than a year before Star Wars: A New Hope; Claremont's neologism "atmos-spheres" (the personal bubbles that allow the X-Men to survive in the vacuum of space) is very Morrison-esque in retrospect (cf. Extrailia, Magamerica, Euthanasium); and Geraldo hilariously makes an appearance.]

Friday, December 14, 2007

Comics Out December 12, 2007

Punisher. I like the art here -- Wegener does comedy well, which is weirdly necessary in a Punisher book. The light touches -- Frank gritting his teeth behind the hot dog guy, Frank hearing someone getting his attention with little "attention" lines -- are great fun. And the whiplash vomit. Gotta love the whiplash vomit. The dialog between the Vulture and the Rhino is spot on as well. It is a light book, but light is a relief from self-serious comic events.

In comics news, Newsarama did an interview with Geoff Johns that almost makes me want to pick up his Green Lantern trades (Sinestro Corps War in particular), and the vile Ultimates 3 is being justly ripped apart on the message boards.

Recommend, discuss, and review this week's comics and comics news.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Will and Grace Series Finale

Will and Grace was a weak sitcom. Its ostensible selling point was its focus on homosexual characters. But really it was an NBC show that cravenly attempted to grab the often differing audiences of NBC's two biggest hits by attempting to combine the willful (and wonderful) cruelty of Seinfeld with easy Friends-style feel good togetherness. Most often this resulted in terribly awkward emotional shifts in the last few minutes of every episode -- characters who have been mean for 27 minutes suddenly, and very often for no reason, find heart in the last 3. Often the cast would split into pairs so that one pair (usually Karen and Jack) could be mean and silly, to balance the other pair (usually Will and Grace) being heartfelt. The only thing that was even remotely funny on the show was the occasional brilliance of Megan Mullally's Karen Walker, a woman so rich that, in my favorite joke on the show, she scoffs at Grace's suggestion that they take the subway during a taxi strike, because she thinks "magical trains that run underneath the city" are some crazy fantasy of Grace's, like an urban legend.

I never watched the show regularly, but I saw much of it in syndication, as I tend to do any chore that can be done in front of the television in front of the television. Recently I caught the series finale and was kind of blown away by how they ended the show. I am going from memory here, so some details may be off.

Jack and Karen are isolated by a dumb sub-plot in which Karen loses all her money but Jack inherits a fortune from a minor recurring character the show killed off. They make a few meta-jokes about how they are not enough without Will and Grace (a nod to the rejected Jack and Karen spin-off), and they sing Unforgettable at the piano as a farewell. End of subplot.

Will and Grace get in a huge fight over priorities: He wants to move in with his boyfriend Vince and adopt a child, but rejects the idea because he says Grace needs him. Grace is given the chance to rejoin her estranged husband in Italy, raise their daughter together, and repair her marriage. When she wants to go Will is furious because he was willing to give up his "normal" life for her, but, in the same circumstance, she is not. This, of course, has been the central conflict of the show since the first episode -- they are in every way husband and wife, except that because he is gay they end up with a strangely intense friendship that gets in the way of "normal" relationships. The surprise is that in the finale the show fast forwards, and we discover that Grace did move to Italy, that Will did movie in with Vince and adopt a kid, and that Will and Grace have not spoken in more than two years -- though they think of each other often and their significant others encourage them to get back in touch.

Separately, they recall meeting in college (living across the hall from one another, as they did for much of the show) and we cut to a college dorm where this scene takes place:

It seems like a flashback, until Will and Grace come down the hall with boxes for their children, who we just saw. Earlier in the finale Will and Grace wonder what life would be like if neither of them moved on. They are imagined by the camera twenty years later aged (with make up effects), balding, fat and bickering. (The good jokes are always about Karen -- she appears in this altered future looking exactly the same, since all of her is plastic surgery anyway). Now, at the tail end of the finale, Will and Grace meet again, again they are expertly aged by make up effects, but this effect is no longer for laughs -- they genuinely look twenty years older. They have not spoken now in nearly 20 years as they meet as they did the first time across a dorm hall. What we thought was a flashback turned out to be a flash forward. In the next scene we learn that the kids will marry each other, and that Will and Grace will be in-laws. They agree to meet each other at the bar they went to at the end of the pilot -- a bar where they were mistaken as a newly married couple, and where they kissed to satisfy the people who mistook them -- there the central conflict is established with the irony driving the emotion. Jack and Karen join the aged Will and Grace and as we zoom in on their drinks, we zoom out to show them all young again, without stage make-up, as they were before the flash-forward. The end.

Given that this is a sitcom, a land in which all problems are resolved in 30 minutes or less, and a pretty dumb sitcom at that, I was shocked at the uncompromising emotion the show went for. Their relationship really was holding them back from being adults, and being adults loses them 20 years of possibly the most important relationship of their lives. The deadlock of their relationship is not avoided or glossed over -- it has a tremendous cost and will only resolve itself in the next generation. This is an oddly intense novelistic answer to the central conflict, I thought, even worse because I can see a pretty easy (arguably) against-the-grain reading of the end -- given weight of the ten year show, my imagination is seized by the idea that Will's son, or Grace's daughter, is gay, and that the pattern will continue. Will and Grace, after all, were a couple in college before he came out. And the final scene of the gang together in present time is overshadowed by the knowledge that this moment exists only because the show needs a closing image -- these people, who have been such intense friends for more than ten years -- and ten years of the audience's life if you have been following the show since the pilot -- will not speak for two decades.

I do not know what to say about this except that I was really surprised and surprisingly moved. You really have to give a generic sitcom like Will and Grace extra points for being surprising.

I tried to find good youtube clips to go with this post, but I am going to have to make due with the little I did find. These are bad compilation videos, but you will see images of Will and Grace comically aged in the first, and Will and Grace seriously aged in the second. Both have that final shot of the gang together.

New Publication Link: House Unauthorized

The tool bar on the right has been updated with an image of BenBella's new essay collection on House, which contains a short essay by me on Hugh Laurie's career, and how his odd history as a comedy buffoon informs his portrayal of Gregory House in surprising ways.

Unlike all the other images of books in the right tool bar, I put this one up myself instead of having Sara do it. As you can see, as a result, one of these things is not like the other. The point is -- that's my fault and not Sara's.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Free Form Comments

Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticisms (which can be anonymous), surveys, introductions if you have never commented before, personal news, self-promotion, requests to be added to the blog roll and so on. If a week goes by and I have failed to add you to the blog roll TELL ME TO DO IT AGAIN, and KEEP TELLING ME UNTIL IT GETS DONE. I can be lazy about updating the non-post parts of this site. Remember these comments can be directed at all the readers, not just me.

ALSO. You can use this space to re-ask me questions you asked me before that I failed to answer because I was too busy (but now might not be). That is often the reason I fail to get back to people, and on a blog, after a few days, the comments thread dies and I just kind of forget about it. Let's use this space to fix that, because it does need to be fixed; I look like a jackass sometimes, leaving people hanging. I will TRY to respond to any questions here.

AND you can use this space to comment on posts that are old enough that no one is reading the comments threads anymore. For example, if you thought of a great quote for the great quote commonplace book, but now no one is reading that, you could put it here.You do not have to have a blogger account or gmail account to post a comment -- you can write a comment, write your name at the bottom of your comment like an e mail, and then post using the "anonymous" option.

WRITING FOR THIS BLOG. If you think your free form comment here might be better as its own post, but you do not want it to be public yet, email it to me. My email address is available on my blogger profile page. If I think it will work on this site, your post will be published here with your name in the title of the post. You can propose what you will, I am always looking for reviews of games, tv, movies, music and books.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

If you got the season 3 LOST DVD set today

do not read the booklet included in it. The episode guide in those little booklets are often spoiler-lite, but the description of the penultimate episode -- not even the last one -- spoils the twist that comes in the final seconds of the finale.

From Beowulf (Commonplace book)

[Yeah, I know. This is the last post on Beowulf. I promise. Probably.]

This I thought was the most moving part of Heaney's translation of Beowulf, the funeral for the hero:

On a height they kindled the hugest of all
funeral fires: fumes of woodsmoke
billowed darkly up, the blaze roared
and drowned out their weeping, wind died down
and flames wrought havoc in the hot bone-house,
burning it to the core. They were disconsolate
and wailed aloud for their lord's decease.
A Geat woman too sang out in grief;
with hair bound up, she unburdened herself
of her worst fears, a wild litany
of nightmare and lament: her nation invaded,
enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles,
slavery and abasement. Heaven swallowed the smoke.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Death Proof

[This post would be a guest blog, by my friends Ximena Gallardo and Jason Smith, but they do not have time to write it up. So this is more of a report of a conversation we had the other day about Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. To read my original posts on Grindhouse click the label at the bottom.]

I did not really like Grindhouse -- I did not think it worked very well as a package -- but I really liked Death Proof and picked up up on DVD as soon as I could. I wanted to see how I would feel about it, and its games with pacing, seeing it when it was not 2am with a restless audience, who had already sat through trailers, a movie, and more trailers. I took the DVD to my friends Jason and Ximena's house because they are the only people I know who know a fair amount about grindhouse revenge pics.

I was disappointed by their first reaction, which was that Death Proof was nothing special. They noted that, as in the typical horror film, all of the people who are about to die are all engaging in "bad behavior" for which they will be "punished" -- drinking, dancing, and smoking pot. This was too much and too obvious in their opinion. They also noted that, in the second wave of protagonists, the conversation sets Rosario Dawson up as the "virgin" -- she tells her friends that she has a relationship with the director of the film they are working on but that she refuses to go past hand-holding and kissing because she wants to really date him and not become one of his throwaway tramps. This is, as Ximena said, about as close to the "virgin" character as we are going to get in a contemporary movie. And, as is common in horror movies again -- it is the virgin, the "good girl," the "pure" one, who survives and who delivers the killing blow to the big bad. Both Jason and Ximena were not impressed by the total breakdown of the male aggressor either, since, it turns out, such a breakdown in common, in rape-revenge films of which this is a kind of revision (as it is also a kind of revision of the horror film).

Later however, Ximena grabbed me to let me know that they had continued to think about the film in the days that followed. She wanted to know what it was that set the second group of women apart from the first, what allowed them to survive. What she came up with was this -- the girls in the first round are all standard horror genre victim types. Their fate is sealed. But the second group are not stock characters -- they are, in opposition to the first group, "real people." What makes this interesting is the way Tarantino conceives of "real" -- they are "real" because, in Tarantino-world, the "real" people are the movie people -- the actress, the make up artist, the stunt woman (who plays herself and does her own stunts of course). As "real" people, as "movie" people, they stand above petty genre characters like the first wave of women and antagonist they face -- which is why they are able to turn the tables on him so fast and so thoroughly, much to his shock.

In an e-mail Jason had this to add: And now, seeing the discussion summarized like that, it occurs to me that Tarantino has (once again) made a movie about movies -- or more specifically a film that engages its own means of production (pun intended) and, simultaneously, how cinema has impacted the "real world." Postmodernism. Feedback loop. Baudrillard. Zizek. Yadda yadda yadda. But seriously, that we tell stories at all is the essence of "human" (we are the only mammals with a concept of before and after beyond a few moments). Other mammals can communicate "I am hunngry" but no other mammal communicates "I was hungry yesterday and that really sucked." So, if narratives make us who we are, then what Tarantino is "playing at" how we, as humans, are redefining ourselves through film (a relatively new narrative genre).

UPDATE: see the comments: I did not represent Jason and Ximena fairly here.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

James and Neil Shyminsky on Astonishing X-Men (Comment Pull Quote)

In my post on Astonishing X-Men this week I was having a hard time articulating exactly how to feel about Whedon's repetitions of himself, of Claremont, and of other science fiction -- whether his revisions were enough to justify telling the story, or if has some big revision still coming, or if the apotheosis of Cyclops is enough. I was thinking if this in part because of Neil's posts, which I linked to, and Neil commented:

I'm still incredibly ambivalent about where I stand on Whedon's numerous repetitions and revisions, which I think is pretty clear if one were to read all of my blogs about the various issues: what I criticize grumpily in one issue I find reason to laud in the next; what I declare to be new, (like the riffing on Dune, science fiction in general) someone else identifies as old - but maybe old and better; and when I say that something is old but better, (like Cyclops breaking loose to save the team) someone will inevitably respond by saying that it's merely old and has, in fact, been done better before. And so I, too, am constantly revising my position. It's frustrating, but exciting in its own way, too.

Even in comparing your and my comments, I notice that we often catch the same repetition but value it in qualitatively very different ways. And I think you're right to say that our conclusions, ultimately, will hinge on how Whedon wraps the whole thing up. There's really a lot riding on the ending of this thing.

Then James comes in and comments with this:

It really doesn't matter to me if Whedon is repeating, improving, or just cutting and pasting Claremont scripts and getting John Casaday to draw them: this is the most fun I've ever had reading X-Men comics.

You can argue, and I might, that repetition makes a book less fun (because you are seeing something you already saw). But as fans of a genre with very tight storytelling conventions, we know there is fun to be had watching the same thing over and over again. I wonder if Whedon's Astonishing X-Men will end up succeeding just on the virtue that it is more fun than anyone has seen on the X-Men for a while. James's comment made me feel a bit like a guy watching a magic show and saying "but he didn't really cut the woman in half." Well of course he didn't, but there was a split second there, where he made it almost look like he did, and even though we know better, it was kind of fun.

I am going to keep thinking about this. In a weird way, Whedon's run on the X-Men has me thinking more than Morrison's run, if only because always knew how I felt about every issue of Morrison's X-Men. With Whedon, not so much.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #6, part b

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's Classic X-Men. For more in the series see the link in the right toolbar.]

Claremont Appreciation, Post Ten

A Love Story”

Claremont does a “silent” story, and it’s very self-aware. Ostensibly it is examining the innocence of Scott Summers’ and Jean Grey’s relationship, and mourning the fact that, as of X-Men #98, it will – to use a Claremont cliché – “never be the same.”

In the ‘60s, Scott and Jean were fairly bland as superhero couples go. Their early romantic tension had been defined by the angst of not knowing how the other felt, but once that was eliminated circa issue 32, the relationship had no defining dynamic that made it interesting. Claremont eventually made this narrative flaw into a salient character point: i.e., The reason the relationship seems boring is that it is; and the reason Scott and Jean don’t ever seem to be very romantic around each other is because Scott is so uptight. Hence, Jean’s attraction to the far more volatile personality of Wolverine. Considering how much it has been mined by subsequent writers of the comics, and how central it was to the first film, the Scott-Jean-Logan love triangle is surely one of Claremont’s most significant contributions to the X-Men franchise.

Wolverine is not part of the picture here, however. In “A Love Story,” Claremont takes advantage of John Bolton’s clean artistic style to paint a very pretty picture (literally) of the early Scott/Jean relationship. It is anything but staid in this story; instead, it glows with the effervescence of youthful optimism, as personified in the idealized drawings of Jean and Scott. Though no words are spoken, both characters are impossibly attractive; Jean is fresh, wide-eyed and glamorous, while Scott is the picture of debonair. And Claremont does sneak in some words, through means other than dialogue: Most significantly, Jean reads a note left by roommate Misty Knight informing her that she’ll be out of town for a while. “Go for broke!” is the concluding line of the letter, which is Claremont’s cheeky, silly way of suggesting that if Jean has her way, tonight’s date will end with Jean and Scott’s first sexual experience.

It’s all extremely sweet, but there is a twist. Jean and Scott are wearing the outfits that they wear in Uncanny X-Men #98 (or Classic X-Men #6a), which is when the Sentinels attack, touching off a story that will end in Jean becoming Phoenix. So, not only do we know that Scott and Jean won’t be consummating their relationship tonight, but we also know that Scott and Jean’s relationship is about to be destroyed. The visual cue for all of this within “Love Story” itself is its final panels: a zoom up on a poster on Jean’s wall, advertising Edith Nesbit’s play “The Phoenix and the Carpet.” The final page depicts a sonic boom as a Sentinel flies past the window of Jean’s apartment; the walls shake, and a framed portrait of Scott and Jean cracks, while the word “Phoenix” in the poster looms ominously.

So “A Love Story” has an air of tragedy about it, in that we are seeing Scott and Jean’s final moments of happiness before the Phoenix ruins their lives. But there’s another layer here. Even back in 1986, when Classic X-Men #6 was first published, X-Men fans knew that the Phoenix story had come, over time, to dominate the X-Men narrative perhaps too comprehensively. For various reasons, this odd plot device became an albatross around the neck of Claremont’s X-Men. (John Byrne, after leaving the comic with issue 143, despaired of Claremont never being able to “let [the Phoenix] go.”) Up until now, Classic X-Men readers have been enjoying the glorious pre-Phoenix days, but here in issue 6, Claremont very consciously signals to the audience that it’s time to wave that early innocence good-bye. The Phoenix is coming, and once it’s here, it’s not going away anytime soon.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Comics Out December 5, 2007

Buffy. This, the fourth and final part of Vaughan's arc, is better than the last three, but still not what I would call good. Buffy writers, on the commentaries to the episodes, all say that when someone compliments some scene, it is a scene Joss has written. I have a hunch the stuff I like here -- the ending, the darker Giles -- is Whedon's work, while the stuff I do not like -- the dialog, the death of that girl and that guy who was working with her, is Vaughan. Just a hunch. That force field thing is from a Fantastic Four issue, maybe Ellis, maybe Miller, maybe some earlier writer. The art continues to be dowdy. And you want to see some lazy art, check out Faith's little devil tee-shirt. Bad enough the "symbolism" (if you can call it that) has to be so painfully obvious, but worse -- the devil icon has been lifted by the artist and placed on her shirt REGARDLESS OF THE SHAPE OF HER BODY. It does not curve where she curves. Don't do that, Just do not do that. Sheesh. Though it is not happening at an Aaron Sorkin Studio 60 rate, Whedon is burning through my goodwill here.

The Order.
Kitson, who I like more and more every issue, just does the layouts here. That was not always true right? And is that the new status quo? The art in this issue is good, but some charm might have gotten lost in the translation, maybe. (I say "maybe" a lot on comics out posts, because these are first impressions).

Ultimates 3. I almost was going to like the art here -- I liked Madureura on the X-Men ten years ago -- but the monotone color palate drains it of any energy. Bachalo often uses a monotone color palate, but I like it there. I am not 100% sure what the difference is, but there is a big one because I love Bachalo and Ultimates got me really frustrated. Is it that Bachalo knows the right moment when to make an icon pop off the page? Cause check out the Loeb's introduction of Captain America. You don't remember how Captain America was introduced in Ultiamtes 3 #1? No one does -- that was how unbelievably dull it was. This was the worst introduction of a main character I can think of since Superman Returns. This thing reads like a 90s Youngblood issue, complete with poster-ready splash pages of anatomically bizarre women (the placement of her nipples is just absurd), AND the cliched intro of your team in a big splash ready fight with a monster in the opening sequence so you can introduce all your heroes. If that was not bad enough check out this horrible exposition:

"It's like Clint Barton died with his family and the only one left is Hawkeye, Tony's locked himself into his bedroom drinking his way into oblivion, Thor is shacked up with a nineteen year old girl who turned up here six weeks ago with the powers of a "goddess" and no real explanation for it, I still can't get security clearance for the Panther, except that Cap vouches for him and ... [Dr. Pim overdoses]."

She might as well be on the very first page, speaking the "previously on the Ultimates" recap. I am not asking for the Wire or anything (that show just drops you in and wonderfully assumes you will be smart enough to figure everything out), but at least watch some of Whedon's better work and see how you do exposition. I am never getting this again.

In comics news this week, One More Day continues to do what everyone sadly expects it to do.

Review, recommend and discuss the comics you got this week. Click the labels to read my first impressions of earlier issues of the titles discussed here.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Scott on All Star Batman

[Scott sent me some observations on each issue of Miller's All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, and I thought he should join the ranks of our guest-bloggers. I have edited this to avoid repeating things myself and Scott have already pointed out.]

[I apologize for my lack of a substantial contribution today, but I am very busy grading. This was one of the reason's I wanted guest bloggers in the first place, so thanks to Streebo and Scott. I will return as soon as I can.]


I got a special retailer’s edition of this issue that includes Miller’s script to Lee; it’s obvious he’s having fun with this. It’s also worth noting a few of his instructions describing the Vicki Vale dressing scene:

“Detail her bra; it’ll drive them crazy, Jim.”

“She knows what she’s got. Make them drool.”

“Ok, Jim. I’m Shameless. Let’s go with an ASS SHOT [his caps, not mine]”

Miller knows what Lee is good at and one of those things is hot women!

I think the “I’m Shameless” line reveals a lot about Miller’s approach to the series as a whole.


During this conversation, Dick notes that, “That’s not his real voice. He’s faking it.” I think there’s something deeper and more important going on here than the traditional “he changes his voice when he’s Batman” motif. In a way, I think Miller may actually be saying that no one is as badass and tough as the image we’re getting of Batman; not even Batman! This is the first time Miller has given us a Batman in his prime (except for maybe Batman/Spawn); In Year One he was a rookie and in DKR he was an old man. This is Batman at the height of his hubris; he’s in his physical prime and he’s had enough time to cultivate and grow comfortable with his over-the-top personality. It’s not a complete act, some of it is very much part of who he is but it is an exaggeration of who he really is (it’s also worth noting that we’ve only seen two panels of Bruce Wayne in the series so far). Also, part of the reason he resents the kid is that he feels that the kid might see through the façade, to the fact that there is a man underneath bat.


When Batman tells Grayson that he calls his car ‘the Batmobile’, Grayson replies by rolling his eyes and saying: “That is so queer.” What makes this even more interesting is that in DKR Miller credits Robin with naming the Batmobile. More than likely, this is just a slip on Miller’s part, but I do like the idea of an older and wiser Batman placing the blame for his car’s queer name on Robin.


We get another hint that there might be more to Miller’s Batman than he’s letting on when Dick request some fresh clothes so that he won’t have to wear the ones with his parents blood on them, Batman recalls his own parents murders and his own mother’s blood on his hands and then:

“His hand lands on my [Grayson’s] shoulder. Weightless like a falling leaf. Those big ass fingers squeeze like a gentle caress.” Then he says: “Yeah, kid, I’ll see to it you get some new clothes.” Grayson notes that: “His voice is a croak. Like he’s about to cry or something” (Miller’s Batman crying? Surely you jest!). And then: “His voice goes all cold again” and, once again, Dick points out to us “That it wouldn’t fool anybody.”

I also love how, in this issue, Batman is using Superman as his errand boy. When I first read this issue, I wondered why Superman was running across the ocean instead of flying but Miller has revealed that this Superman doesn’t even know he can fly yet and that just makes it that much funnier! Think about it, Batman knows he can fly yet still makes him run to do his bidding for him. That’s how badass this Batman is; he’s not just ordering around the man of steal, he’s toying with him.


A thing worth noting at the JLA-BAtman meeting is Green Lantern’s outfit; it’s the old Gil Kane version of the costume. For Miller, GL represents a simpler more innocent time in superhero comics (a time that he was somewhat responsible for bringing an end to). As a result, his Hal Jordan speaks in an antiquated fashion saying things like “all we’ve seen is [Batman] tossing the young fella into the car…” He is a simple, nice guy. The way superheroes used to be. Miller has gone on record several times stating that he was upset several years back when they gave Hal a DUI (in the Emerald Dawn II storyline, I’m such a dork for remembering that) and, a few years later, they would make him a mass murderer. He felt that it was unnecessary to add that level of darkness to that character (i.e. Batman is a character that lends himself to a darker treatment; there’s no need to do that with GL). SO, he puts him in the Gil Kane costume; important because this is the one he wore before the Adams/O’Neil run, before superhero comics developed a social conscious, before it all went downhill.

As I’ve pointed out before, I think its absolutely brilliant that the first thing we have Batman say after a year between issues, a year in which the series was critically panned and “I’m the Goddamn Batman” became a phrase synonymous with everything that was wrong with the series, is “I LOVE being the Goddamn Batman.” This is a nice little ‘Fuck You’ to all of Miller’s critics, one that he takes to ridiculous extremes over the next couple of issues.

The most significant sequence in this issue, as far as establishing the character of Miller’s Batman, is Alfred’s workout. During this scene, Alfred reminisces to when Bruce was a boy, before his parents were murdered. It is hinted at that, even then, “There was SOMETHING about the boy […] something DARK and WILD behind those eyes.” Basically, Miller is saying that Bruce was already nuts before his parents’ murder; the Batman aspect was already there and, had his parents’ murder not given him focus, he may have become something even worse.


In this issue, we’re introduced to Miller’s Batgirl and we get to see the Black Canary in action. It’s worth noting that with both Batgirl and the Canary following in Batman’s footsteps and Batman’s preparing to train Robin that, whether he likes it or not, Batman’s got his own army now. This is exactly what the League was afraid of in the previous issue: that Batman would inspire others to join his crusade. Gordon’s conversation with Sarah reveals that there are others; Batman has now got his own ‘Justice League’, one that doesn’t require super-powers as a prerequisite (I just hope Green Arrow and The Question show up at some point; I love the way Miller depicted them in The Dark Knight Strikes Again)

We get to meet Jimmy Olsen in this issue. Miller has him working as a cub reporter in Gotham. Many people might wonder where he’s going with this but I think I know: If the series culminates with Batman getting his kid sidekick then it may very well end up by giving Superman his. I can see it now: at the end of the series Superman saying to Olsen “Hey, I know some people at the Daily Planet… I can get you a job there; just ask for Kent”


When Canary gives him a tough time about calling his car “The Batmobile” he replies by saying: “Not one word. I’ve taken enough grief about calling my Goddamn car the Goddamn Batmobile. I’m the Goddamn Batman [I feel like this should be followed by a Trademark at this point] and I can call my Goddamn car whatever the hell I want.” This is Miller saying, “I’ve taken enough grief about ‘The Goddamn Batman’, I’m Frank Goddamn Miller and I’ll call him ‘The Goddamn Batman’ if I want to!” Albeit, I think Miller is probably much more tongue-in-cheek about it in reality than Batman is here.


The most important thing in this issue might be when Batman says: “I’m talking to myself. That’s NEVER a good sign.” First of all, this is another affront to Miller’s critics since Batman’s internal monologue is pretty much a trademark of Miller’s Batman. It’s Miller saying, “Uh-oh, here we go again…” However, more importantly, this is essentially going to be a story about why Batman needs Robin. As Black Canary pointed out in the previous issue, Batman could benefit from just having someone to talk to and, if you look it up, that’s exactly why Robin was created in the first place: Bill Finger was tired of having Batman talk to himself in order to explain plot points to the audience so they gave him a partner that he could explain things to. In addition to this, Robin is there to lighten him up. In this issue there’s a great conversation where, after being ordered to come up with a costumed identity Grayson says:

“Ok. I’ll work on it. But first you’ve got to answer me a question”

“Sure, kid. Fire away.”

[dramatic pause as we turn the page]

“What’s with this big robot T-rex. I mean as cool as all hell, but what’s with that?”

Throughout the series, Miller has shown us that Grayson sees the cracks in the Batman persona, as a result, he’s the only one capable of getting through to him and the only one who dares to talk back to him. Even though Miller’s Batman consistently laments his decision to take in Grayson, calls him “a snot” and “a brat”, and repeatedly says how much he doesn’t like him, I think he, in fact, is starting to like the kid. What we have here is a classic example of “The Unreliable Narrator” at work. We’re not being presented with all the information and have to read between the lines to get at what the character is really about. People have consistently pointed out that Miller’s Batman is too over-the-top; that ‘no one is that extreme’ and I don’t think he really is. It’s a persona that he puts on to fight crime, it’s the “striking terror” part of the job that he enjoys so much. It could be that Miller is working towards Robin eventually being the one who mellows him out (exactly as he did with the character when he was originally introduced). It’s been pointed out again and again in the comics that the reason that Batman needs Robin is that, without him, he’d be too extreme. So, ultimately, what Miller may be doing with this story is showing us exactly how extreme Batman would be without Robin. He has created a Batman that needs to be chilled out.