Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Little Kid Jokes (Commonplace Book)

I am again doing a participation commonplace entry, this one about jokes for little kids. The good ones have a quality you just do not find in jokes for an older audience, and some of them are pretty funny. Put them in the comments to this post. Here are my favorite three:

Did you hear about the new Pirate movie? It is rated AAAAARRRRRRR!

Do you know why a giraffe's neck is so long? Because its head is so far away from its body.

How do you stop diseases caused by biting insects? Stop biting the insects.

Your turn.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men 8

[This post is part of a series of posts looking issue by issue at Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men run. For more of the same click the Astonishing X-Men label at the bottom of this post.]

The team deals with a reactivated Sentinel and discovers the Danger Room is the new enemy just after the children are locked inside with Kitty.

Three separate beats, three different scenes, on the first page, perfectly handled. A shot of the danger room on the second page foreshadows the conclusion. Whedon is good at foreshadowing. Within this issue we hear more of the dark voice that speaks to Emma without learning anything. This is important because this will not bear fruit until the next arc like 8 issues down the line. Set this stuff up early and do not lose track of it, and your story will stand better when the time comes. Brand gets a page here as well -- there is a mole in the mansion. She might get a page every issue in this arc. Ord takes out Wing, Wing releases Danger, Ord Danger and Emma's voice come to get revenge at the same moment and they all end up on the Breakworld. 24 issues tied tightly together.

Whedon does some cool stuff combining a classic sentinel with religious talk -- he crawls toward the mansion with "I come... I hear you, Lord...Praise be to you...my Lord is watching you... she tells me the children will pay for the father's sins and I must not fear death." The classic Sentinel "Destroy" is revised by Whedon into the intriguing "Destroy the oppressors." "I want this thing off my lawn" says Scott and one amazing large red panel later it is down. If Cyclops gets a better moment in Morrison, or anywhere else, I cannot think of it. Even Wolverine says "Sometimes I remember why you are in charge." Whedon rehabilitates Scott much better than Morrison did, though Morrison layed the groundwork.

Wing is back as a twisted zombie ready to murder the children locked in the Danger Room with him. That is a great moment and I am hooked.

Unfortunately that is not where the issue ends. Two twists can be even better sometimes. But here, Whedon's second twist is a mess. Emma says "Our enemy is not in the danger room." Beat. "It is the Danger Room." The "its not IN x it IS x" is such a cliche, one devastated by the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode about Mothman (the third episode): Mothman parks a school bus in front of the house; Shake, scared out of his mind by nothing but his own fear thinks (for little reason) that there is a vampire in the bus, before shifting into "It's not IN the bus! It IS the bus! The bus of the undead!" When Sara and I read this issue together in a coffee shop in Oxford when we went to turn to the last page, before we even saw it, we were already saying together in our best Master Shake voice "It IS the danger room." That is not good. That is not the effect that is wanted.

Cassaday repeat/background watch. The farm guys get a triple take zoom, Emma gets a triple take, Cyclops gets a triple take zoom. Backgrounds are solid throughout. No problems here.

Friday, July 27, 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, 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.

Doctor Klock

It's DOCTOR KLOCK NOW! I passed my dissertation defence at Oxford and now have a doctorate. As my friend Jennifer said, of course the coronation of a guy with a comic book super villain name was heralded by the first of a series of biblical plagues here in Oxford. I will be doing a few self-indulgent posts on this in the coming week and a half, including photos of me in the robes, and a post that is simply a list of comic book characters who have, or claim to have, doctoral degrees. I may even change the blog header to read "Doctor Geoff Klock's Blog" but only for a week, I promise.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men 7

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men issue by issue. For more of the same click the Astonishing X-Men label at the bottom of this post.]

In this issue the team does a stand alone thing, taking down a monster with the Fantastic Four; meanwhile Wing dies in an ominous way suggesting that it means bigger things.

We are hooked immediately by a mysterious voiceover -- change is coming -- and Wing on the edge of suicide because he has been depowered. Cassaday does an amazing job with the background for a specific reason -- this will turn out to be the danger room. If Cassaday skimps here people will go back and say Oh that's why it was so empty. And someone will suggest many scenes were in the danger room. Before we know this is the danger room, we are shocked to discover Wing's friend Hisako suddenly wants him to commit suicide; after we will have to completely reevaluate what we have seen: a great fake-out. Someone with fortelling powers confirms that this death is a big deal. Something is coming, and whedon knows how to make us care, in part because we have spent time with Wing. He matters to us.

The title page spread is fantastic and elegant: Colossus surfs on top of the X-jet; below is the title. below that the team discusses how he seems psychologically. They are literally below him, and so their panels are below him, discussing what is going on beneath the surface of their friend.

Colossus, Kitty and Wolverine each get a page fighting the monster. Each page has an internal monologue. This is Whedon's thing: action reflects psychological states. Colossus and Kitty are disturbed. Wolverine is pure concentration, thinking only, after three panels of silence "I like beer." Action reflects psychology can be a bit of a cliche -- Whedon makes light of the device, and so it stands well. We get some great banter between the X-Men and the Fantastic Four: The Thing making fun of Wolverine for being Canadian; Wolverine messing with Johnny (who responds "Reed, can we be evil now?").

Brand gets an amazing character moment, standing up for herself at her performance review. This character gets our respect from now on. She is a bad-ass. Whedon is building for his final story. Again -- if we like a character early, they will matter more when they play a bigger role.

I have not been talking about themes. I do not have much to say in this department. Weigh in. These Whedon posts may be too thin to continue with, though I like that they are easy to do.

Cassaday repeat/background watch. Wolverine's face is used twice, Emma and Scott are doubled in separate panels. This is better than his last issues. Worse is the use of photographs for backgrounds: photos of New York fill in for New York for pretty much no reason; they tank the aesthetic integrity. It is especially bad because no where else in this issue does Cassaday skimp on the backgrounds as he has a tendency to in earlier issues, as I have pointed out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Comics Out July 25, 2007

[I am currently in Oxford for my viva. If all goes well I will have a doctorate by Thursday night. But because I am in England I cannot review this week's comics today because they are not out here until Friday. Worse, out of the bus window on the way from the airport to my hotel last night I am pretty sure I saw boarded up windows on the only comic book shop in town, so I may not even get these till I get back, and so won't review them till next week. Which is a shame, cause this week is a good one:]

Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker and David Aja's Immortal Iron Fist 7

Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert's Batman #666

Frank Miller and Jim Lee's All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #6 (amazing that this is coming out so soon after #5)

Mike Carey and Chris Bachalo's (is Bachalo on this one?) X-Men 201

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #5 (guest team: Vaughn and someone else?)

Mike Mignola and Duncan Fredrico (is that they guy's name) Hellboy: Darkness Calls 4

Reports that Casanova 8 were out today were wrong; it will be out next week. Nicely if all goes will be Doctor Klock 6 days before the premiere of Fraction's DOKKKTOR KLOCKHAMMER!!!


52 volume 2

Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker and David Aja's Immortal Iron Fist Hard Cover. If you have not been getting this GET THIS. SERIOUSLY. IT WILL MAKE YOU WISH YOU HAD DEDICATED YOUR LIFE TO KUNG-FU.

Someone else do me a favor and mention what is good on Newsarama this week. I have to run.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Limericks (Commonplace Book)

A recent Victoria's Secret ad features a baby faced model reciting a little poem.

There once was an angel with wings,
Who could fly without wires or strings,
She put on this bra,
Said I'm going out now,
No wires, no worries, just wings.

A couple of things to note there. First is the contrast with modern limericks, which are usually dirty and end with a punchline. For example

There was a young man from Peru
Who had nothing whatever to do.
So he took out a carrot
and buggered his parrot
and sent the result to the zoo.

But the Victoria's Secret does follow, sort of, the model of the lyric of the 1919th century. Edward Lear, the father of the modern limerick, did use a form in which the last word of the first line was the same as the last word of the last line; and unlike modern dirty limericks the last line of the limerick was not a twist, or punchline. Here is one of Lear's

There was an old man of Hong Kong
Who never did anything wrong.
He lay on his back
With his head in a sack
That innocuous old man of Hong Kong.

So the only thing that does not match in the Victoria's Secret poem is the rhyme scheme. I guess what knocks me out is what a massive effect not having a rhymed couplet has -- my brain wants to implode every time I hear her say the word "now" because my ear DEMANDS that she find a rhyme for the word "bra."

Also the delivery is horrible, because she says the last word of the poem with the pride little kids have when they recite something to grown-ups -- they are so proud of themselves for just getting through it (even though they have no idea what they have just said) and everyone else is proud too.

If you have a good limerick to share put it in the comments to this post. Here is one of my favorites:

There was a young man from Japan
Whose limericks never would scan.
When asked why this was,
He answered 'because
I always try to fit as many syllables into the last line as ever possibly I can.'

Monday, July 23, 2007

Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men 6

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men run issue by issue. For more of the same click the Astonishing X-Men label at the bottom of this post].

In this issue we learn that Ord is from a planet he believes is destined to be destroyed by a mutant; that is why he is trying to destroy all mutants. He tries to get away, and the X-Men stop him.

Wolverine goes nuts with a string of censored curse words. His "Diplomatic #%$@ *#%$@ *#%$@*#%$@ *#%$@* immunity?" starts the issue, and is a nice piece of exposition. You just pick this conversation up in the middle and know what is going on, and are also entertained by it. When Fury calls Wolverine "tiny" you simply KNOW, with a single word, that this guy is in control of this situation. You can never have read a comic book before and you will get the power dynamic in a single word. Whedon knows what he is doing. The guy tells a solid story.

Whedon told an interviewer he spent more time coming up with the acronym SWORD (Sentient Worlds Observation and Response Department) to match SHIELD than he did writing the issue. That is an exaggeration to be sure, but he did a great job.

Cassaday draws some really funny mutants who attack Benetech looking for the cure. Look in the background -- I think one of them might be Rorschach from Watchmen.

There is also a nice chiming of SHIELD knocking the mutants outside out with sleeping gas dropped from ominous flying contraptions and Agent Brand's story about how the Breakworld is destined to be destroyed. It actually took me a moment to realize the image was not of the Breakworld's future she described. Whedon does this to make the conversation more visually interesting and he succeeds well. Whedon is so talky that it is important that he does this kind of thing (as he has done before in the two danger room scenes) so it is not all talking heads.

Also elegant in this issue is the fastball special. The fastball special -- in which Colossus throws Wolverine -- is a classic, but dated and corny. Whedon gets to eat his cake and have it too by having Wolverine give a knowing look to both Colossus and the reader; turn the page and you get the two page splash image of Wolverine in the air and Colossus finishing the arc of the throw. Cassaday draws swirling clouds to show how the air is effected by Wolverine flying. The moment is possibly the best in the run.

Whedon will not wrap up his arc without that Whedonesque final beat, the hook to keep everyone on board (it is any wonder Whedon fans are so rabid: he made us like this): a voice tells Emma that when the time comes, they will deal with Kitty first.

With a few problems here and there Whedon's first arc is in the final analysis very good.

Cassaday repeat/background watch. Fury gets a double take, Emma gets a double take, Fury gets another double take, Brand gets a double take. Ord and Rao have a two page conversation in a white matrix, much of the conversation between the X-Men and Fury takes place in green matrix, Brand and the X-men have a conversation in a blue matrix, and in the end Kitty and Peter just get blue sky white clouds. That last one is fine with me; the other ones not so much.

Friday, July 20, 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, personal news, self-promotion, requests to be added to the blog roll and so on.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men 5

[This post is part of a series of posts looking issue by issue at Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men run. For more of the same click the Astonishing X-Men link at the bottom of this post.]

In this issue, the team rallies back against Ord and Dr Rao and the newly returned Colossus saves everyone before SHIELD shows up and stops the whole thing.

Cyclops wakes in a dreamscape caused by him being knocked out; Whedon uses the opportunity to make fun of code names (Ability-to-hop-man) and busy nineties costume design (all those pockets). This is all good fun, as is Kitty's demand to know if Colossus back from the grave is "a clone, or a robot or, yeah, a ghost or an alternate universe thingie .. a shapeshifter or illusionist." The switched body explanation makes no sense, but I do not really care about continuity stuff that much. Emma has a nice bit where she mentally controls two guards to vomit uncontrollably for 48 hours every time they hear the words "parsley," "intractable," or "longitude" which is awesome; Cyclops says in small letters "my girlfriend is very weird." And funny. Emma putting Dr. Rao between her and Ord is also a nice character moment. You can read comic book after comic book and have nothing like this. It is simple and small, but it is important. Comics should be fun, and a little silly goes a long way.

But there is a mistake brewing here -- I could talk about it later, but this is as good a time as any. At the end of issue three Hank says the problem they face is about the bodies Benetech is running tests on; Hank says "why does nothing ever stay buried" and Scott ends issue 3 with a muted "Jean?" In issue four they go looking for bodies at Benetech: Cyclops says "we probably won't find anything conclusive" and Emma says icily "Like a warm body?" Then Wolverine and Hank smell something: "Female. Dead." When they find the body, someone they don't know, Cyclops says "This can't be the only body." Then Colossus shows up. Issue four or five was promoted with an image of the Phoenix and the promise of a return; it may have been the same image as Cyclops's hallucination, but even if it is not that image serves as a parody of what we were expecting.

A fake-out can be great fun -- I loved the Ultimate/Regular-universe fake-out that led to the first appearance of the Zombie universe. But there the Zombies were pretending to be something that looked like the regular Marvel universe. Reed was tricked as we were. Similarly in Ocean's 12 much of the film is a fake out -- we are tricked as the Nightfox is. But here, we are led to believe the X-Men are looking for Jean for one, maybe two issues (depending on when you figure out you should give up on her return) -- and we have no surrogate in the narrative being tricked in this way, nor anyone in the narrative doing the tricking. All of those lines I quoted above are part Whedon's plan to make us think they are looking for Jean; but they must have known they were not looking for Jean moments after the final panel of 3 but before the first panel of four. Whedon is tricking us directly with no narrative surrogate of any kind. I am going to be bold and call this a reasonably sized gaff on Whedon's part, a full-on error.

I would like some debate on this point, if you are up for it.

Cassaday Repeat/Background watch. Cassaday reuses an image of Cyclops, a zoom in on Kitty and Colossus, a double take on Colossus, another double take on Colossus, another double take on Cyclops, a double take on Emma, a double take on Ord's weapon, a double take on Wolverine, and a double take on Ord. Many panels of Cyclops have no background, which is ok-- he is on the floor for those scenes, and a few panels are in a dream scape. Cyclops and Kitty have a conversation in an interesting space -- a red alien area underneath Benetech, but for much of that conversation and a whole page of the kids back at the school there is no background of any kind except for the shaded color. That, to me is a mistake, especially since early in those scenes a background is established. Cassaday just decides not to continue to draw it. Many panels in the fight with Ord have no background for a reason (that bold yellow is used again to communicate a strike), but many have no background for no reason, and then some do have a background -- it is all pretty random. You may think this lack of background is for emphasis. But it is not. I checked panel after panel for that kind of explanation. It works sometimes, but it is in no way consistent enough to call it a technique.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Comics Out July 18, 2007

Greg Pak and John Romita, Jr. World War Hulk 2. This is OK. It has a simplicity I can respect. I am getting it because of Romita, Jr. He is good, but he looks a little rushed on things like faces. Also I think he is stuck with some bad designs -- Hulk's buddies look annoying. Also I do not really know who the Sentry is. I wish the guy they were all counting on was someone I knew better. The final page (a splash page) was great.

Brad Meltzer and Gene Ha's Justice League of America 11. This is an odd duck. A formally experimental high concept JLA issue: Red Arrow and Mari trapped in a tiny space at the bottom of a building that has been crushed and dumped in the river; Gene Ha communicates the claustrophobia in his panel design and page layout, and a bit where you have to rotate the book. Meltzer clearly did some research on coal miners being trapped. I don't really need this kind of dreary, realistic thing from a superhero book. I don't really like it. But I will give them points for trying something different in such a high profile action packed big-splash-color team book. Here at Geoff Klock's Blog you get points for trying.

Matt Fraction and Barry Kitson's The Order #1. It is a great concept -- government superheroes can be fired and replaced at any time; media savvy reigns. The anti-decadence thing in the book makes it an interesting companion to Millar's Authority. Kitson is great, especially with cute girls with red hair. And next issue promises a bear in a jet pack. A BEAR IN A JET PACK. I wish this as yet unnamed creature would go head to head with Gorilla Grodd in a five part epic not unlike World War Hulk.

Review, recommend, and discuss the week's comics and comics news.

Final Crisis (Comics News This Week)

Newsarama has a preview image, drawn by J.G. Jones, for FINAL CRISIS. May 2008. Yes, May 2008 (when Countdown ends I think). I knew this was coming -- they said at the New York Comic Con that Countdown was a countdown to the next big DC event. But I did not realize they were calling it a Crisis. Given how long it takes to have a Crisis -- months of the core miniseries, all the lead-ups and ramifications -- I think it will be Crisis all the time from now on. Identity Crisis leads to Road to Infinite Crisis leads to Infinite Crisis leads to Infinite Crisis: Aftermath leads to 52 leads to One Year Later leads to Countdown leads to Final Crisis leads to 365 (DC's new daily comic book) leads to road to post-Final Super Crisis 2 leads to Final Super Crisis 2 leads to a year in which every superhero's head just explodes on a monthly basis (quarterly for the All Star Titles). At Marvel Road to Civil War leads to Civil War leads to Planet Hulk leads to The Initiative leads to World War Hulk leads to the announced third act of the Hulk Story leads to One More Day leads to everyone in the Marvel Universe dies of throat cancer on a monthly basis.

Someone needs to write a penetrating cultural/comics essay (not me) on how people used to have wars like World War Two, but then the idea of war became a constant thing -- the War on Drugs, the War on Terror -- with no real end in site: more of a climate than an event; the constant terror keeps everyone buying things (is that the theory?). Then the comic book companies followed suit, and for the same reasons.

Review of a Review of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

[I want to try out some mini-posts. I want to see if this is a good or a stupid idea. These will not interfere with my regular posting schedule: Comics Out will be up later today, when I have gotten and read the comics.]

The Village Voice's Nathan Lee reviews I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. He writes: "Tremendously savvy in its stupid way, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is as eloquent as Brokeback Mountain, and even more radical. " The review then goes on to back this point up, demonstrating how the film carries a positive social agenda to the un-adventurous Adam Sandler comedy demographic.

That is all very well. Fine. But back to First Principles. I have said over and over here that before you get to your theory or message or theme or idea you must deliver the basics: story, character, and the demands of the genre you are working on, if you are working in a genre.

I am glad, if Nathan Lee is right, that I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry carries a good social message to people that might not otherwise hear it. But it is a COMEDY and so its first job is to be FUNNY. I have no idea whether it is funny because Nathan Lee failed to tell me if it was funny, surely a top priority in a movie review of a comedy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Your favorite short quotations (Commonplace Book)

I want to try something new today; I do not know if it will work, but blogs are for experimentation. Instead of putting up some quotation today and moving on, I would like you to supply some of your favorite quotations in the comments to this post. I am thinking of pithy sentences, but you could put something longer down, if you feel so inclined. If this works out well, I might try it again on a particular theme, but today I am just asking for a favorite.

For me, I will give you two related ones from Kafka that I have been thinking about this week:

"There is only a spiritual world; what we call the physical world is the evil in the spiritual one."

"The fact that there is nothing but a spiritual world deprives us of hope and gives us certainty."

Like much of Beckett, the deeper you get into those words, the more savagely funny they become; you just get have to get through the initial two phases of confusion and depression to see it.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men 4

[This post is part of an issue by issue look at Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men run; for more of the same, click the Astonishing X-Men label at the bottom of this post.]

In this issue we find out more about Ord's background, his origin on a warrior world. The team goes to Benetech to find out about the mutant that Rao has been experimenting on, and Ord shows up at the school, fighting two children and de-powering one.

Cassaday is dead on in this issue: the opening shot of Ord on his home world, Ord confronting the two children in their pajamas (the girl drops her toothbrush which is pictured in mid air, a nice touch), and the tall vertical panels for the ascent of Kitty and later the descent of Wing and simple and effective. He reuses a shot of the children, which is ok, and he does a triple take of Kitty for great effect -- as she realizes Colossus has returned.

Whedon's authorial voice here is noticeable and likable: "As deaths go, its not the funniest" Kitty says. The conversation between the kids is great -- Whedon has Wing do a funny mid-sentence shift that is wonderfully not signaled with any punctuation. Classic Whedon is the awkward conversation between Ord and the kids at the X-Mansion. Ord is looking for a fight and he ends up putting a hand to his forehead in frustration and saying "And you're sure they're not here ... And you don't know where they went ... This is very frustrating." Also quintessentially Whedon is how this foolishness suddenly becomes something very serious, as Wing is de-powered just to sent the X-Men a message.

Having brought Kitty back to the X-Men, he brings Colossus back. Fans had a big thing over this -- Colossus died in a very heart rending issue (so they say -- I have this issue on my CD-ROM of all the Uncanny issues, and it is bad). Lots of people thought he should stay dead. But like Morrison's New X-Men Whedon's run is relatively self contained (with the exception of drawing on Morrison's run), to the point where I simply do not care. This is why fans love and hate these auteur comic book writers: they bring a new level of quality at the expense of continuity and sacred cows, and also at the expense of that editorial voice that can last decades no matter who writes -- Whedon always sounds like Whedon; Morrison always sounds like Morrison. Many fans angrily dismiss this as ego. I think it depends on the quality of the ego -- Morrison and Whedon are great writers.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Go Fug Yourself

[Sorry I did not blog yesterday; I take Jogtheblog as my model here and try to blog every weekday; like him I do Saturday and Sunday when I can. That has been the last few Saturday and Sundays. Yesterday just did not work out. Here I am going to continue with my using the Sunday blog for frivolous stuff -- silly stuff that would never make it into my weekday posts.]

Today a simple post, linking to another blog. [Jog does this kind of thing all the time.]


Stephen Frug (one of our regular commenters here) tells me he could not care less about clothes. I talked too much about clothes in my issue-by-issue dissection of Grant Morrison's New X-Men run for some people's taste. I thought I did not talk about it enough. I think that superhero comics have always made the clothes -- those crazy outfits -- fairly central, and I think Morrison was right to make them a central part of his run.

My interest in clothes is fairly recent, but I see it as a minor rebellion against my fellow academics, too many of whom just wear all black all the time, going for a Darth Vader-Hamlet-Johnny-Cash-Jeff-Goldbloom's-character-from-Jurassic-Park thing. I see an interest in fashion as an important extension of my interest in aesthetics. If aesthetics matters -- if it matters in poetry and music and film and comics -- then it must matter in clothes as well. I do not think it is quite right for us to look at people who read novels and look down on comics as snobs, but then turn around and look at people who care about fashion as frivolous (frivolous in a pejorative sense). So I put a bit of effort into caring about this subject and I think it is fun. It certainly makes walking around New York more fun. Also watching TV and movies. Things that make your life more fun should not be brushed aside in haste.

Go Fug Yourself is a fantastic blog about fashion, updated with these little posts all the time, more than once a day. It is funny and striking and well written and engaging even for someone like me, on whom many of the subtleties of fashion are lost. It does not take itself too seriously. And it is very focused: it is not like a lot of gossip magazines, which spend a lot of time talking about what some of these minor celebrities THINK -- where it is better just too look at the pictures. It is writing about clothes: what works, what doesn't, and why.

I am pretty sure that, on the subject of poetry, my classroom is built around this same principle: here is a poem -- what works, what doesn't, and why.

If aesthetics matter than fashion has to matter too. I could be crazy about this.

Friday, July 13, 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, personal news, self-promotion, requests to be added to the blog roll and so on.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men 3

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men run issue by issue; for more of these posts hit the Astonishing X-Men label at the bottom.]

In this issue the team deals with the ramifications of the "cure" for mutant abilities. Whedon does spot on conflict, which comes from a tremendous understanding and love of these characters.

Kitty councils a kid about the cure: her heartfelt speech about standing together and everything will be ok gets from the kid "Miss Pryde...are you a fucking retard"; end scene.

Kitty and Emma argue: Emma gives a big speech about the horror of the situation; Kitty picks up on an incidental phrase in it and comes back with "Oh my god. You teach ethics?"

Ord and Dr. Rao argue over her giving a sample of the cure to the X-Men; you can feel the tension between these two very uneasy allies who have just nothing in common -- he might kill her at any moment, and she is a serious woman, above being scared.

Cyclops and Fury have a very tense square off -- one of the best Whedon has written. Cyclops demands help and Fury won't be lectured. Fury says no one is worried about mutants losing their powers -- just look at Manhattan he says, referring to Morrison's Planet X. (Whedon is very respectful of Morrison's run, when he can be). The core of the conversation, and Whedon's ability to write conflict, in in the next lines.

Cyclops: The X-Men saved Manhattan, Colonel.
Fury: After your boy Magneto turned it into a pretzel.
Cyclops: Our "boy"? What exactly makes him our boy?
Fury: He taught at your damn school --
Cyclops: Years ago. When he was a lot more stable --
Fury: -- and just recently?
Cyclops: He was in disguise. What makes you think we would knowingly harbor a dangerous criminal?
Fury: How's Miss Frost?

Cassaday gets a small shot of Scott's face in a long panel, and nothing else, for this last line -- just a perfect beat. And Laura Martin makes the conversation more visually engaging by coloring solid red behind many of the panels. This is one of my favorite moments in the run. And Cassaday, by the way, draws a stunning Shield carrier. He is amazing here.

Wolverine and the Beast have an argument over the Beast's thinking of using the cure on himself that turns into a big fight, crashing through walls. Respecting Morrison's run, Whedon brings up Nova telling the Beast he is devolving. Martin, again, tries out a bold color background, yellow. So simple, it should not be as effective as it is.

Many of these conflicts are dealt with in the danger room as the team touches base with each other. We are told for the second time the danger room is on the fritz, foreshadowing the next arc.

And that pitch perfect ending beat, as we learn Dr. Rao has been experimenting on someone they love.

Find the conflict in every scene, find that great hook to end on, put in great jokes ("So, what -- the teachers spend all their time here trying to kill each other? This place is so cool."), and make the art amazing (Cassaday does a great job on everyone, and Martin does some fantastic color work). Whedon makes it all look effortless.

Cassaday repeats a drawing: a zoom in on page one, a triple repeat on page three, Cyclops and Fury get a zoom, Fury gets a double take, a pair of students get a double take, those same students and another get a double take, Emma and Scott get a triple take. Like it or hate it, these are facts. I don't mind it now, but it will get on my nerves before the run is out.

Cassaday background watch: most of the scenes have a background; when it disappears it is acceptable. Later in the run this will become a problem.

Comics Out July 11, 2007

Matt Fraction and Ariel Olivetti's Punisher War Journal #9. This story has fun, ridiculous art and a really solid story structure. And there is a primal pleasure to watching Frank Castle beat on Nazis.

Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons's Martha Washington Dies. Let's talk stats. The original series by Miller and Gibbons came out 17 years ago. The most recent installment came out 10 years ago. This issue -- a stand alone epilogue to the whole thing -- is 17 pages long. 4 of those pages are single-page panels. 8 pages are double spread splash pages. That's not a lot of story. In fact this is not a story -- it is a speech. You do not need to know anything about the character to follow this issue. A dying Martha tells a group of soldiers in a foxhole in the ruins of New York City that we are all just dust in the big picture, dies, her warrior torch is passed to a younger woman and they all go out to fight the "Barbarians" (Miller's word). The end. I think this is Miller telling America to kill Arabs before NYC is in ruins. I know it fails for many reasons, not the least of which is how Martha Washington's "wisdom" sounds a lot like the parody of the wisdom of Socrates in Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure. Wreched stuff.

Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen's Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. vol 2. I am going to keep this brief as I think I would like to do a longer post about this series. The long and the short of it is Warren Ellis is not my favorite writer: he has written some amazing moments and stunningly good issues (the first half of Planetary, The Authority), but has written a huge number of things I have no patience for (Transmet, Fantastic Four, Ocean, that one about NASA, that one about the British space program). Nextwave has a lot of failed jokes, warmed over Monty Python stuff, but it also has some SPOT ON BRILLIANT WICKED FUNNY STUFF. And the core idea is wonderful -- a parody of a superhero book that is a parody only by virtue that it strips away anything not fundamental to the superhero genre, leaving us with poses, and explosions, and maddness. My favorite moments include a superhero team called "The Surgery" every one of whose members' names starts with "Doctor" and the tag-line: "NEXTWAVE: blatantly wasting your money since 2006."

Nothing at Newsarama jumped out at me.

Review, recommend, and discuss this week's comics and comics news.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

From a Letter of John Keats's [negative capability] (Commonplace Book)

Henry Jenkins wrote one of those essays that make me nuts.* Pirates 3 is just no fun. No theoretical machinery is going to begin to justify even a single one of its egregious mistakes, such as the one pointed out by Fraction in the comments to yesterday's post, that Chow Yun Fat fails to kick any ass as a pirate.

In the essay Jenkins writes "The secondary characters [in Pirates 3] rely heavily on what my former student Geoffrey Long likes to describe as negative capability -- they are well enough defined that we can imagine who they are, what they want, and why they are doing what they are doing, but much remains for the audience to flesh out from their own imaginations."

Does he really think I should be satisfied with my imagining Chow Yun Fat kicking ass as a pirate? To quote the fellow audience member who responds to Lisa Simpson's gushing "you have to listen to the notes she's not playing" -- "I can do that at home." And for free I might add.

I am unclear from that quote if Jenkins knows his former student is cribbing from the poet John Keats. But we know he is, so lets take a look at the best prose thing Keats's wrote, in a letter of 1817:

"At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously -- I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason -- Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium [innermost and most secret part of a temple] of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration."

If you, as they guy in charge of Pirates 3, fail to provide the pure spectacle of Chow Yun Fat kicking pirate ass -- Beauty in its purist form -- then you do not get to claim, or have someone claim for you, John-fucking-Keats as a patron of your film's junky stupid badness.

[Apparently when I said in yesterday's comments that I was going to let the whole Pirates 3 thing go, I was not telling the truth. But NOW I am letting it go.]

*[thanks for the link Mikey: you inspired today's post].

Monday, July 09, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End -- Really?

Let me start with some choice quotes about PotC: AWE from Nathan Lee's Village Voice review:

"Long before the third, fourth, or fifth climax in this endless, obligatory summer diversion, I slunk into my seat in a passive, inattentive stupor, fully submitting to the fact that I hadn’t the slightest idea what the hell was going on."

"When Depp freaked his funk in The Curse of the Black Pearl, it seemed a sneak attack—the deployment of frisky, flamboyant, softly subversive shenanigans across the cold, impersonal grain of corporate entertainment. Dead Man’s Chest put him in the spotlight and he withered; blooms of such mincing, mascara’d rarity depend on nooks and shadows to flourish. At World’s End is even more aggressive in flaunting and defanging his spectacle, resorting more than once to the multiplication conceit. Give ‘em what they want has never been so literal, to such diminishing returns."

"Of all movies, this is the last you’d expect to talk and talk and talk and talk, but on it goes, everybody yapping about what they just did, what they’re about to do, what they should be doing, what it will mean if they do X instead of Y. Dude, just fucking do it."

In his Onion AV Club review Scott Tobias wrote: "Should the franchise warrant still another sequel, the dialogue might as well be in Esperanto."

When I read this I believed it, but last night I saw the movie anyway, in part because I had some free time, and some friends figured it would be a fun distraction, and I did not want to seem like a spoil-sport. Around the time the film, in a single scene, alluded to the penultimate scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey AND the Matrix I fell into that stupor Lee describes, and got to thinking. Where does the obligatory come from in Lee's phrase "obligatory summer diversion"?

My own list of complaints about the third Pirates film would have to include things like keeping the death of the Kraken off screen -- time taken discussing everything could have been used for a key, and probably visually interesting, scene. Lots of new pirates were introduced who seemed like they might do something, but their major role was to sit round and the cheer at the end. Elizabeth went through a number of changes in this film, but in the end she was just left stranded with nohting to do, and no direction. And, appallingly, the film expects you to remember things from the first film while throwing NEW incomprehensible mythology at you: the sword, the heart (old stories and new rules), the compass, the coins, the map, the objects for the bowl, gods, phasing through solid objects, the land of the dead, the pirate rules (does anyone else here watch Fairy Odd Parents?). I say "throwing" but I mean "talking about." Just one example: why can Barbosa and Depp can come back from the dead, but Elizabeth's father cannot? Because the writers want to write for Depp and Barbosa, but not for Elizabeth's father. I have seen movies make no sense in the past, but they were things like Charlie's Angels 2, or even Ocean's 12, where it was part of how the film is supposed to work -- these movies have no plot like ice cream has not nutrients, you are just supposed to enjoy the patter and the visuals. I do not know how much fun Pirates 3 would have to be to justify its incoherence, but I think, at the least, it would have to be the most charismatic, pure fun, energetic film ever made, for starters. They would also have to serve me some kind of free, excellent dinner during the film.

This is not the first film I saw in the theaters that I knew would be bad beyond belief: Spiderman 3, Terminator 3, Matrix: Revolutions, Johnny English, Star Wars 2 and 3, Daredevil, Hulk, Titanic, Identity. Pearl Harbor is, to date, the only film I have ever just walked out of -- Sara and I left the theater on December 4, 1941.

Social pressure gets me into the theater a lot of the time -- I feel like I have to see these films sometimes, to talk about them, and there are always some people I know who go and invite me along. Also I do get the occasional surprise: I enjoyed Live Free Die Hard for the most part, and Alien vs Predator was actually kind of fun. In some ways these films are the worst of all, because they lure me back into thinking that the critics and my instincts may be wrong. Why is seeing summer movies so much like being addicted to something that is clearly bad for you? I did avoid both Fantastic Four movies, but that is not enough.

The thing that kills me is the hours spent on Pirates 3 -- four, including travel time. I have so much unwatched stuff available on DVD I have so much more confidence in: I could have seen four episodes of 24, Battlestar Galactica, the Wire, or Deadwood. Not to mention all the things I only saw once that deserve a reviewing, like Lost and Samurai Jack. (I know I am comparing TV to movies, but I see the good movies as well as the bad; it is TV I am behind on).

Instead of seeing Transformers -- with its reportedly stupid jokes and awful pacing, and baffling visuals -- I will be at home, watching Avatar. Maybe later I will rent Transformers, and just watch the action sequences. Only I can stop myself from hitting my head against a brick wall.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Food Ideas

[In my very first post on this blog I promised not to talk about what I eat; I lied. I was worred this was too dumb to post, but Sara said "That is what blogs are about." I am trying to be better than that, but one day will not kill me, and I decided to do sillier things on Sunday.]

Every day I drink a few bottles of water, a bottle of chocolate milk, an orange juice, and a V8, and those energy bars. If I do not time to get a sandwich with some kind of meat I grab beef jerky from the health food store. Sara cooks awesome meals for us. When I am on my own I rely on a few standards.

1) All kinds of variations on scrambled eggs (with mozzarella and Thai peppers, with bits of bread in the batter so they are like bits of french toast, with vegetables).

2) Grilled cheese sandwiches and, and grilled peanut butter sandwiches with bananas and honey.

3) Frozen vegetables cooked in spicy sauce and served over white rice.

4) Brie cheese, apple slices, and salt on broken matzoh Also sliced tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and avocados on broken matzoh with salt.

5) Nachos, with jalapenos, cheese, re-fried beans and whatever else is around.

6) Baked potatoes with everything on it, and baked sweet potatoes with brown sugar, butter, maple syrup, and Bacos.

I am looking for more very easy to make tasty recipes for one. Recommend.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Satacracy 88.9.3

The third part of the ninth episode of Brad Winderbaum's Satacracy 88 is up today. This episode, like a handful of past episodes, invokes Tarantino again, for solid effect. It strikes me that this kind of invocation is crucial in a format this short -- like mythology, something else Brad uses a lot, allusion is a good way to squeeze the most out of small resources. Small things can make your world seem huge. As with all the third parts, you get to vote on something when it is over. Go check it out. It is getting lots of attention.

Friday, July 06, 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, personal news, self-promotion, and so on.

Comics Out July 5, 2007

[Sorry: this is being posted 55 minutes later than I would have liked. Usually I keep on top of this.]

Geoff Johns, Richard Donner and Adam Kubert's Action Comics 851
. You know I actually liked the 3-D glasses, I thought they were really fun. I was surprised at my own enjoyment. I would have liked to see Morrison do this for All Star -- it would have been right in the spirit of things. In Action Comics a nice decision was made to keep the 3-D effects for the phantom zone, which makes a lot of sense, since the phantom zone is a floating 2-D plane. Also it makes sense for the colors to be off in the phantom zone; the colors have to be off if you are looking at something through red and green glasses. But the story here is not good. Many publishing months went by since the cliffhanger of last issue. Superman sent into the phantom zone seemed like a big deal. It did not take him a heck of a long time, or too much trouble, to get out. I guess it is because they did not want to do too much 3-D stuff, but if you want to have a gimmick, do not let it ruin your story.

Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting's Captain America #25 The Director's Cut. I did not get this issue when it first came out, because I felt burned by Civil War. Also I read Sleeper, and X-Men: Deadly Genesis and felt that while they were serviceable stories, they lacked a spark necessary for me to follow a writer. With the hype, Brubaker's connection to the flawless Iron Fist, and the fact everyone keeps telling me how great he is, I picked this up. My judgement remains the same. Brubaker seems solid -- he knows how to tell a story -- but I feel a little cold. I don't hate him, I just fail to see what all the excitement is about. His work seems to me to be like Law and Order -- always watchable, but never rising to the genius of Lost, or West Wing, or something like it. Could also just be my mood, and I can try again later.

Jeph Loeb and John Cassaday's Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America: Iron Man. Like the other Fallen Son books I got this only for the art. I have not read it yet, but I think the Thing looks unintentionally silly in a suit and tie. Otherwise, at first glance, it seems to be what I wanted.

Joss Whedon and Michael Ryan's Runaways #27. Joss Whedon does what Joss Whedon does, and he is great at it, if you like that kind of thing. Jokes are sharp, dialogue is crisp, plotting is solid as a rock. And you need great plotting for a time travel story. An example of Whedon 's smarts: You know when they try to blend in to the 19 th century, they will break out soon, and Whedon knows you know this, so they blow their cover one page after they establish it. People declaim his smart stuff as pretentious -- and I can see what they mean though I think he sells it -- but this is a great unpretentious example of why he is great. The art on this book, however, is dowdy. A particular example: Karolina says "We also can't hide in an alley and do nothing" and Xavin replies "You're not even pretending to contain your excitement." Go back and look at Karolina's face when she speaks -- try to imagine that is the face of an excited person. I dare you.

Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant's All Star Superman #8. The last issue was not my favorite, in part because I find the Bizarros a little more annoying that I am supposed to. The first half of this issue left me a little bored for the same reason. Also: Morrison does a very stilted "I already explained..." followed by "And I already explained..."; this kind of clunky exposition drives me nuts. Morrison may be doing it to honor his aim to make these like old comics, as self contained as can be, but I still think it is annoying. But by the end of this issue I was back to remembering why I love this book so much. Zibarro's face when he says "There only seems to be room for one on your rocket ship" has that indefinable something that makes me look at it again and again. The issue closes with a wonderful apotheosis of this mad planet, the danger and horror Superman is in, a great Bizarro version of The Star Spangled Banner, and several perfect ending beats.

Also 52 the novelization came out today. I obviously did not get it, but I burn with a single question. Who, you know, on earth, is the target audience of this book? Are there people out there going "I wish there was a way to read 52 again, but with someone describing the panels rather than me having to look at them"? It boggles the mind.

Plus in comics news, one amazing super-exciting thing: Samurai Jack will continue as a movie. Words cannot express. Though it is sad that the voice of Aku died.

Review, recommend, and discuss this week's comics and comics news.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Maybe the epigraph from Chip Kidd's Batman photograph book (Commonplace Book)

[I do not know where I read this, but I did, and I am trying to post every day: here is the commonplace book entry for this week. It may not be an exact quote. But it is July 4th, and I am busy.]

Superman is the American Dream. Batman is the American Truth.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ratatouille (Spoilers)

[The Commonplace Book entry will go up tomorrow. I wanted to put this out now, because something similar appeared on theonionavclub blog, and regretted not putting it up when I wrote it Sunday night.]

I can think of only a handful of children's entertainment on a level better than Ratatouille: Chicken Run, Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Nightmare before Christmas, The Emperor's New Groove, The Triplets of Bellville, Iron Giant (from Ratatouille director Brad Bird), Muppets. If we think it is fair to compare TV shows to film in this regard, I would add Charlie and Lola and Pocoyo (though Pocoyo is for little-littles). If we can expand to teen fare I will include Samurai Jack and Avatar, and a few episodes of Batman Animated and Teen Titans.

The film is simply beautiful -- literally every hair is perfectly rendered, as is Paris. Correspondence, rain, and building fronts are so fully created they look like live action. The action scenes are swift and exciting and the story is paced and structured excellently -- enough action to keep things exciting, but enough time spend on happy stuff as well. Brad Bird knows how to tell a story. It is engrossing, from beginning to end. The jokes are great but they tend to rely on a visual, or the delivery. Chicken Run really wins on verbal humor, which I do not think a perfect kids movie can be without. (I think I will post soon on why Chicken Run is one of my favorite films of all time).

Special mention should go to every scene starring Anton Ego, voiced perfectly by Peter O'Toole (even Ian McKellen could not have done a better job with the character). With a type-writer that looks like a skull, in a coffin shaped room, looking like the apotheosis of the Adams Family, he bring a very good movie a notch up every time he is on screen. When he tastes the food I laughed and cried at the same time, no exaggeration. If you do not you have no heart. Further special mention should go to the opening short, my favorite of the Pixar shorts.

But here a complaint (though not an aesthetic one): women have nothing to do in Pixar movies, as wonderful as they are, and Ratatouille is especially egregious in this regard. Jeanne Garafalo's Collette simply has nothing to do. As in the Incredibles, Bird sets forth his thesis, not entirely wrong and kind of daring in a kid's film, that some people are just born special. The rest of the population, in Bird's view, just needs to accept their low status, or risk turning into villains like the bad guy in the Incredibles (Batman has no place in Bird's superhero world; this half of Bird's thesis seems off). In the end it turns out our useless human "chef" Linguini has a talent, though a lesser one than our genius; Collette was never a good chef and will never be anything but the girlfriend. Besides the old woman in the opening sequence, she is the only female character in the movie, including EVERY rat. The next Pixar movie will be about a robot. Seriously guys -- get some female characters that are not hangers on. It will make your movies more interesting. They will not give your movie cooties.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men 2

[This post is part of a series of posts looking issue by issue at Whedon's Astonishing X-Men run. For more posts click the Astonishing X-Men label.]

Cassaday does a really knockout job here, especially rendering the monster the little girl gives life to, and all the X-Men attacking in separate panels. Also the cover is just stunning, especially Laura Martin's colors. Ord is a little weird looking, with that metal thing across his nose. I wonder if Whedon thought up the design, because it seems like something from Buffy, something from a medium where you have to think about practical issues with monster design.

We begin here to see one of Cassaday's worst habits, that will become more prominent in future issues -- though he is incredibly talented, he can be lazy. Give him a chance to use the same drawing twice, and he will take it. Case in point in this issue -- the cop's face is copied exactly from on panel to the next, there are three panels in a row of one of Ord's henchman that are again nearly exact copies, and a group shot of the X-Men talking is almost exactly recopied a panel later. So is a panel of Kitty and Emma talking. This is used for dramatic effect, and it is not awful, but it does not make it any less lazy. It does not seem too bad until you see how many times Cassaday resorts to this device -- stay tuned and I will grab all the ones I see.

Whedon's trademark serious-silly combination -- his main device that for some reason I simply never tire of -- is used to great effect here in the battle with Ord. His serious, violent, and nearly successful battle with the X-Men is ended by Kitty Pride's pet dragon, who appears for the first time simply breathing fire on Ord and saving everyone. "You are the best X-Dragon ever" says Kitty. "I think we should make him team leader," says Wolverine. You just don't get this kind of scene in Morrison, or anywhere else, and I am a sucker for it. I can, in all fairness, understand someone who thought it was lame. The press asks Kitty "Do you have a license for that bat? What is your relationship with the bat" and she replies "I don't even know what that means." Whedon, you had me at hello. My critical powers fail me, and I just swoon.

We have a great scene between Emma and Kitty, where it becomes clear Emma wanted Kitty on the team to keep an eye on her, which is interesting. She wants to be good, but it not sure she will. The team debates the virtues of the mutant "cure" in a well written and mercifully brief conversation -- Whedon provides a good mix of action and talking, though many people found this first arc too talky. Finally, Whedon, ever the master, finds that perfect ending beat as the Beast confronts Dr. Rao and wants to know if the cure really works -- presumably for him.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Imaginary Biography Book Stats

Amazon.com seems to have scanned in all of my new book Imaginary Biographies, so that when you search for stuff on the site it searches into books to give you results. For example, putting my name into Amazon gives you not only the books I wrote, but a few books in which I was quoted.

They have a new feature now called Text Stats, which has produced some probably true but odd statistics about Imaginary Biographies.

Cannot, death, fact, figure, god, lost, spirit, time, tradition, and tv are among the top 100 most used words.

The Flesch-Kincade index for readability (whatever that is) says that only 18% of books are harder to read than mine. Ok. Now is that all books throughout time in all languages? English books Amazon has scanned? Is this something I am choosing to care about today?

16% of the words I used are considered "complex" words, but, since only 44% of books have more that seems normal.

Only 13% of books have more words per sentence than Imaginary Biographies. Long sentences are a bad habit. I need to write shorter sentences.

The book has 613, 114 characters, and gives you 1147 words for every dollar you spend on it.