Friday, November 30, 2007

Morrison's Batman vs Miller's Batman

The fight between Frank Miller and Grant Morrison to control the destiny of the Batman saw another blow today, as Frank Miller, in the tragically misunderstood secretly weirdly brilliant All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, took a shot at Morrison.

Batman tells his young charge to pick a code name and a costume. The kid picks up a bow and arrow, thinks of Robin Hood and goes with "Hood" -- as a name and a costume choice. Batman objects to the costume and says "Hood, huh? Do you know what any thug with half a brain would do with that hood?" He violently pulls the hood over Robin's eyes and walks out saying "Lose the hood. You're Robin." He has re-imagined the origin of the name and costume of Robin in a persuasive way -- Grayson goes with Robin Hood in this "year two" in the same way the young Batman identified with Zorro in "Year One."

But he is also taking a shot at Morrison's recent Son of the Bat plot. Miller emphasizes the father-son dynamic between the two: his Batman says "What am I DOING playing Father...?" Robin's first choice of costume looks exactly like the Robin tribute costume Batman's biological son wears in Morrison's book -- and Miller's Batman chastises him for picking something so stupid. Score one Miller.

Also Morrison, in the worst issue of his career, tried to create a "new" Joker. Miller actually does it.

To summarize earlier points of contact between Miller and Morrison's Batman, which you might be able to track down by clicking the labels to this post:

Miller owns Batman in the Dark Knight Returns and Year One. In order to avoid repeating Miller, Morrison gets indirectly at Batman in his JLA and goes for a more James Bond Batman. That does not hold so he has to try something else many years later in Batman.

In JLA Earth 2 Morrison has Green Lantern take a planet in big green hands. In Dark Knight Strikes Again Miller repeats the image -- bad move Miller.

Miller goes nuts with the Vikki Vale Scene in All Star Batman 1. Morrison responds by doing a gentle parody of the scene in All Star Superman 2 -- his girl reporter also gets naked while doing an internal monologue, but the pulp sexuality is removed for something more innocent.

Morrison makes fun of Miller's gritty Batman in an interview and says that he wants to get Batman back to the Neil Adams love god days. Miller GETS THE ACTUAL NEIL ADAMS to do a cover for All Star Batman and announces they are doing a project together.

Morrison makes fun of Miller in his Batman run by having gritty Batman like Bane-Batman and Future-Batman. Miller, as I mentioned above, makes fun of Morrison's "Son of the Batman" plot.

In Morrison's first issue of Batman he has a dirty cop who pretends to be Batman. This is a retelling on the story that appeared in the comics in the two issues that preceded Miller's Year One -- Morrison is saying "Here is where it all went wrong. Let me go back to that moment and start a divergent track, an alternate history." (thanks Mitch). As I discussed in the context of Astro City and Marvels in my book, that device, a mere fantasy, will not take hold.

Morrison emphasizes the Holmesean detective against Miller's hard boiled detective, but fails, in my lone opinion, because the League of Batmen is not a good story, and does not show Batman to be a good Holmesean detective. Miller, on the other hand, does a great jacked up hard boiled.

Miller's Batman takes a shot at Superman in All Star Batman #7 -- he says Superman is so stupid he does not even know he can fly. (who reminded me of this here?). The shot is a re-thinking of the original Superman, but it is also aimed at Morrison's Superman who is in the other All Star title.

Miller, remembering he repeated Morrison's Green Lantern moment in DKSA, attacks Green Lantern in All Star Batman 8 -- he dismisses the whole character in order to dismiss the one time he failed to best Morrison.

I may be forgetting something? Anything else?

Comics Out November 30, 2007

Batman. Part four of a seven part crossover where I only have the "prelude" and this issue. I follow creators, and am not going to be suckered into buying comics by lesser talents to complete a story. I did that for like five years in the mid-90s with the X-Men and I am done with that now. Morrison's Batman continues to leave me cold. At its best it is an awesome episode of Batman Animated. I can see that he has pulled an interesting switch-er-oo with the villain, but this is not enough in my opinion. Before David Aja and Iron Fist I also would have liked the art in this issue more, but alas, no one does a kung-fu fight like David Aja.

X-Men. Part five of a thirteen part story where I only have the "prelude" and this issue. I follow creators, and am not going to be suckered into buying comics by lesser talents to complete a story. I did that for like five years in the mid-90s with the X-Men and I am done with that now, as I may have already mentioned. I get this book because I LOVE Chris Bachalo, who does what a superhero comic book artist should do: he does great iconic images of individual characters and teams, where everyone looks beautiful and fun and cool. His Wolverine looks like a bad-ass cartoon, Mr. Sinister (a faintly absurd villain I always liked) looks eeeeevil, and Storm and Cable get great poster-style full page shots. I care a lot less when iconic characters are sidelined. As for the plot, I get the feeling that the issues I missed were just filler, cause this plot has advanced virtually nowhere in four issues.

Casanova. The palindrome title sets up an issue that divides in the middle and gives symmetrical layouts on either side -- just like Alan Moore did in that "Fearful Symmetry" issue of Watchmen. The art and story are great -- I especially liked the big text panels, and when Zephyr says "page eight -- but I am rapidly running out of ways to praise this awesome awesome book. There is some smart stuff in the back on sex and comics that might make it to a commonplace book entry one day.

All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. I am putting up a separate post about this issue in a few minutes. For now, let me just reiterate that I love this book because Miller is audacious, and I love this issue for the same reason. As Casanova is praised for having wild ideas on every page, I want to praise Miller for being audacious on every page -- there is almost always something NUTZ on every page, even when it is offensive or close to offensive. Like the absurdly sexy successful attorney who would have a one night stand with a guy with white skin and green hair. Or the swastika emblems on the chest of the Joker's companion, not referred to again or explained in this issue, which I LIKE. (Frank Miller always goes for absurd Nazis for bad guys because they are the ultimate evil in the pulps). Or Hal Jordan looking like an idiot with a hot-dog. (The only people Miller hates almost as much as Nazi's are cops -- and Hall Jordan is a super space cop, so there you go). Here is William Blake one more time for those who missed it: Exuberance is Beauty.

Angel: After the Fall. I got this a week late, because my comic book store under-ordered. Whedon plots but does not script. The art here is weak, but the writing is pretty good, especially because Lynch does not go crazy, as Vaughan does on Buffy, to do cute-speak with every line. Our main characters are introduced in new and persuasive formations and roles (though it took me a minute to think of Lyla to figure out why one character looked like a hologram). And Whedon solves his big problem -- this issue gives a narrative explanation, rather than one having to do with what comic book company was sold the rights to what characters -- why the Buffy and the Angel characters will remain in separate spheres. Generally I preferred Angel to Buffy, and now it looks like I might go the same direction with the comics. I do wish both books would find artists with some more flair.

In Comics News Newsarama had a report this week on Mark Millar's new project with John Romita Jr -- Kick Ass (that's the title of the comic book and not my reaction to it). It takes place in the "real world" and is about a kid who reads comics all the time and decides to put on a mask and fight crime with a baseball bat. Millar claims this premise will not be played for laughs, though the wording of the solicit (which concludes with the words "Miss out and you're an idiot") suggests otherwise. Millar on his own does not sell me on a comic, but in combination with Romita I might check it out.

Remember you can click the labels at the bottom of thus post to read my reviews of past issues of the comics that came out today. In the comments talk about your own haul this week.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Beowulf -- The Poem and the Film

I read Beowulf for the first time since British Literature One because of the recent film -- I picked up the Norton Critical Edition with the Seamus Heaney translation and the essays at the back. I recommend this book if you want to read Beowulf. The translation is great and the essays at the back -- including a great one by Tolkien -- give you some perspective on the issues at stake.

Here I want to simply list a few things that jumped out at me reading the poem with the film in mind. Very haphazard stuff, but that is what blogs are for.

I forgot about what Heaney, in his introduction, calls the poem's "claustrophobic and doomladen atmosphere." He writes "All [the characters] conceive of themselves as hooped within the great wheel of necessity, in thrall to a code of loyalty and bravery, bound to seek glory in the eye of the warrior world. The little nations are grouped around their lord; the greater nations spoil for war and menace the little ones; a lord dies, defenselessness ensues; the enemy strikes; vengeance for the dead becomes an ethic for the living, bloodshed begets further bloodshed; the wheel turns, the generations tread and tread and tread..."

So the cyclical doomladen tone of the film fits right in here -- except the doom in the film is figured as cosmic rather than social.

Heaney talks about the importance of gold in the poem: "Gold is a constant element, gleaming solidly in underground vaults, on the breasts of queens or the arms and regalia of warriors on the mead-benches. It is loaded into boats as spoil, handed out in bent bars as hall-gifts, buried in the earth as treasure, persisting underground as an affirmation of a people's glorious past and an elegy for it. [But] by the end of the poem, gold has suffered a radiation from the Christian vision. It is not that it yet equals riches in the medieval sense of worldly corruption, just that its status as the ore of all value has been put in doubt."

In the film, gold HAS become a symbol of worldly (and moral) corruption -- the golden dragon who is also the golden man, a gold man played by Winston, who lies dead next to the dying Beowulf (also Winstone) who is silver in his old age -- less valuable by any standard.

Ximena, who I saw Beowulf with, was surprised that Grendel disliked the harp music as much as the banging and clatter of the party. In the poem it is clear that he hates the music because it accompanies the Christian story of the creation from Genesis. The poem identifies Grendel as a spawn of Cain, and so an enemy of God, who hates to be reminded of Him.

The characters in the poem are pagan, but the poet is Christian and has attributed Christian aspects to Beowulf and his people, sometimes oddly. The fact that the poem is in a kind of transition period is marked by the film with the Malcovich character.

Hrothgar is not so corrupt in the poem as he is in the film, although the poem does describe him as "stricken and helpless, humiliated."

In the poem Beowulf's crossing the waters in his journey to Hrothgar is a pleasant one. But of course this will not do in a film for the introduction of a hero.

In the poem Beowulf removes his armor to fight Grendel, to keep things fair. His total nakedness in the film is an interpretation of this detail.

Formal boasts are part of Beowulf's culture. He describes how he will win his fights in the same way Babe Ruth called shots. The film interprets this to make him a braggart more in the modern sense -- it is not just an invention of the film.

In the poem Beowulf's accomplishments are almost immediately put to song, so that the poem, like the movie, emphasizes the translation of the life into the story -- though the film puts much more weight on the differences.

In the poem Beowulf's sword fails him against Grendel's mother, but then he finds a giant one "only Beowulf could yield in battle." The film ironically plays with this by making the symbolism overly explicit, in a fun way. An overtone of sex is already in the scene -- the film just turns the volume up.

In my last post on Beowulf I mentioned the Beowulf-Alien connection but forgot the detail that caused me to put it together in the first place: Grendel's mother (and/or Grendel) HAS ACID FOR BLOOD, which melts the metal of the sword till it is only a hilt. The film again uses this passage, and the earlier established symbolism, ironically as Beowulf's "sword" melts into liquid for a very different reason.

In the poem the Dragon is awakened because someone goes in a steals a single cup -- this establishes how absurdly greedy the dragon is (as opposed to Hrothgar who gives his gold to his warriors). The film picks up and re-inserts this dragon's cup, but it does so, in part, I think, because of the literary destiny of this scene -- this scene is at the root of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, and the film, coming hard on the heels of Jackson's movie, does not want to repeat this origin.

Beowulf has no sons in the poem (partly to emphasize on the the poem's themes, which is that Beowulf's heroic actions leave his people unguarded). The film investigates this lack of sons, provides a different reason, then projects this reason back to Hrothgar into order to hold the story together.

In the poem Beowulf goes home and becomes king there, and fights the dragon there -- the film makes this all happen in one country, for unity of place.

A brief cursory judgment -- the film makes a lot of changes but they are not necessarily all arbitrary: they are rooted in the poem itself, exaggerations and extensions of what is already implicit. The whole family romance aspect, for example, so offensive to many, is just thinking a thought found in the poem all the way to its logical end.

Finally a brief note on Tolkien's essay on Beowulf. First, it rejects the myth-criticism which is ironically so often applied to The Lord of the Rings by over-eager graduate students who do not know what a cliche it is:

"The comparison of skeleton 'plots' is simply not a critical literary process at all. It has been favored by research in comparative folk-lore, the objects of which are primarily historical or scientific."

Thank you Tolkien. AND Tolkien insists, against those critics (and they were many) who rejected a story about "monsters" as contemptible, that "There is no inherent magical virtue about heroic-tragic stories as such, apart from the merits of individual treatments. The same heroic plot can yield good or bad poems, and good and bad sagas." These are especially great quotations if you care about superhero comics. The connections between Beowulf and superhero comics is a whole other post, but it would be a good one, I think.

Wednesday, November 28, 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, November 27, 2007

Name Films Based off of Poems

So I picked up a Norton Critical edition of Beowulf today, with the Heaney translation (which, by virtue of being by Heaney is a contemporary poem in its own right) and a bunch of material at the back, including context (like passages from the Bible) an an essay arguing for the poem's aesthetic virtues by Tolkien (written for scholars at the time who were interested in the poem only for historical reasons). With the movie out, the conjunction of poetry and popular culture, kinda my thing, is too tempting to pass up, and so I am thinking about ways to teach Beowulf (the poem and the movie). I may just add it to one of my existing classes about poetry. I may design a course on Beowulf and Hamlet (about different kinds of violent protagonists). But I remembered the movie Troy and was wondering -- are there other films based off of poems that I cannot think of right now? "Literature to Film" is such an easy and popular class, I wondered if there was some way to create my own subset of this broad category -- "Poetry to Film."

A friend of mine, when asked this question, said Xanadu. So that joke has been taken.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tim Callahan reviews ENCHANTED

[Guest Blogger Tim Callahan reviews Enchanted, a movie I only wanted to see for Amy Adams and James Marsden. Someone should put Bruce Campbell, Patrick Warburton and James Marsden in a movie together, cause they are all living cartoons. Don't forget that you too, dear, reader, can propose guest blogs here.]

Your tolerance for Disney’s Enchanted will depend upon how much you want to smack Patrick Dempsey in the face. If, like me, you don’t really understand his appeal as a leading man, but you kind of fondly remember him from back in the days when he used to pay blond teenagers to pretend to be his girlfriend, then you might not mind his milquetoasty performance in this film. If you want to slap him upside the head for his vacant smile and his empty charm, for his rise to stardom via Grey’s Anatomy, for his general mediocrity, then you probably won’t have fun sitting through Enchanted. He’s in the movie quite a bit. He’s the straight man to Amy Adams crazy, homeless princess from another land, true, but that means he’s on screen quite a bit, sucking the life out of more frames than not.

On the other hand, if you think Patrick Dempsey is the dreamiest, most charismatic performer to hit the silver screen, then you’ll probably like the movie no matter what I say, and there’s really no hope for you. Good luck, and all that.

Have I really wasted this many words on Patrick Dempsey? Yes, and perhaps my decades-long fascination with his career blurred my judgment as I sat in that darkened theater. (Not that Patrick Dempsey ruined the film for me exactly, but when I should have been watching the wonderful Amy Adams, I kept looking over at the Demp—yes, I will now refer to him as “the Demp”--thinking, “ah, you’re so inconsequential, aren’t you?”—my issue, not yours).

Even with the ever-present Demp lurking in the edges of the frame, Enchanted does have quite a bit of life for a fall family film. The animated opening sequence is gorgeous, and much longer than I would have thought it might be. It’s both an homage to classic Disney animation and an exaggeration of the frolicking, joyous, silly excess of such a fantasy world. The archetypes are all present: wicked queen, dashing prince, innocent princess, sniveling sidekick. But nothing gold can stay, Ponyboy.

When Amy Adams. as innocent Giselle (and really? Giselle? Is that supposed to be one of the jokes? The name resonates discordantly every time it’s uttered), falls into the portal to “the real world” (aka the New York City sewer system), the story leaves behind its Disney-fied trappings and becomes a mid-1980s romantic comedy. Hence, the Demp.

It’s not a bad mid-1980s romantic comedy, largely because Amy Adams is so unbelievably earnest in the lead role, but there’s not much going on in the second Act. There is one great scene, when we learn that Giselle’s ability to coerce woodland animals to help her with the chores applies even in 2007 NYC. As the scene begins, we think it’s being set up to show how different the real world is. How her silly cartoon rules don’t apply anymore. But as the pigeons, and rats, and roaches invade the Demp’s apartment, answering her call, they join in on the housework, scouring pots, tidying up the living room, folding laundry, with their creepy little hands or tentacles or whatever they have (I’m pretty sure none of the animals actually had tentacles, but I wasn’t looking that closely, and there were a lot of them flying around). It’s a funny scene when we realize what’s going on, and it’s funnier still when the Demp and daughter of the Demp (he’s a single dad and he has the ugly girl from Rent as his girlfriend, both of which add CONFLICT to Act Two—nice, try screenwriters!) see the vermin infestation and don’t quite understand the context.

But that’s about it, as far as the laughs go.

Until Cyclops shows up.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen James Marsden do anything but make serious faces as he says bad dialog, but in Enchanted he gets to make goofy, hammy faces as he says intentionally bad dialog. And he’s quite brilliant. His Prince Edward (another supposedly funny name, I presume?) is buffoonish in a lovable way, and although we don’t really want to see Amy Adams end up with him, since he’s clearly a deluded egotist of mammoth proportions, he’s gotta be a step up from the Demp, right?

I won’t ruin the ending, but Susan Sarandon’s wicked stepmother/Queen Narissa joins the fray, dressed in Disney drag, and bad stuff happens. But not too bad. You can imagine how it ends.

Enchanted feels safe, ultimately. All of the formal play that might have occurred didn’t. The film is exactly what it pretends to be: the story of a fairytale princess in a Hollywood version of New York City. It’s lightweight and fun. In the Disney pantheon, if it even deserves a spot, it’s somewhere between Mulan and The Hunchback of Notre Dame For my wife, it was more than good enough, though. Then again, I think she might have a crush on the Demp.

Beowulf 3D

The weirdness of sitting in a theater and watching Crispin Glover, as a mutant monster, reciting Old English poetry -- in 3D! -- is surely worth the price of admission. This movie, surprisingly, is pretty good, and is making me seriously consider teaching the poem in conjunction with the movie -- if only because it makes the poem accessible and because the film gives such simple, useful examples of irony and metaphor.

Beowulf seems, in part, to be tailor made for a screenplay because the original story breaks so easily into the classical three act Hollywood structure. Teaser: Grendel attacks. Act One: Beowulf v Grendel. Act Two: Beowulf v Grendel's mother. Act Three: Beowulf v the Dragon, in which Beowulf dies taking the monster down. The end. In a strange, unintentional way, this structure has already been presented to us in film in the first three Alien movies: in Alien Ripley fights the monster. In Aliens Ripley fights the monster's mother. In Alien3 Ripley fights a four legged version of the monster and dies taking it down. Obviously, in some lost codex, is the fourth part of the Beowulf poem, in which our hero is cloned as a Grendel-human hybrid who teams up with space pirates to defeat Dan Hedaya. Certainly Grendel in the movie Beowulf bears a striking resemblance to the alien that appears in the fourth Alien movie.

Gaiman's script for Beowulf is pretty solid. He looks at the original poem and figures out how to tie the three stories together more closely into a cyclical family romance, so that it avoids being merely episodic. It even gives the poem, written in an era before psychology and the interior monologue, a little Freudian oomph that seems more part of the myth than part of the characters, which works out well, since film, especially the action film, is not good with interior states. The film uses the most basic symbols available -- the sword and the cup -- simply and economically. Beowulf strips down to fight Grendel and a sword hilt in the foreground obscures his genitals. Then he enters a cave that has a shape that will not go unnoticed. Confronting Grendel's mother in a sexually charged scene, she strokes the sword tip until it melts into silver goo in her hands. That was the sex scene. The cup Beowulf took with him, used as a metaphor for the original King's wife in an early scene, returns later and is offered to someone else. We know what is being offered instantly. Beowulf is forced to damage himself in the same way he damaged Grendel. Ray Winston is credited as two more characters in the film besides Beowulf -- for metaphorical reasons. All of this is obvious, and you could complain about its obviousness, but it chimes with the un-anxious simplicity of a poem written before Milton and Spenser (though this is probably a simplification in itself).

The script also handles nicely the differences between the poem and the film. Since one of the main themes of the film is the difference between the poem and the life -- Beowulf, in his old age tells his wife to remember him not as a hero or as a king but as a man with flaws -- when the film diverges from the poem it is no mere whim, but a conscious irony. If you do not know the poem you do not need to, but if you do you will get more out of the changes. Absurdly, but in a fun way, this ridiculous over-the-top 3D motion capture animation film presents itself as "what really happened."

Also, Gaiman does not forget to give even minor characters, like the Queen and the fratricidal would-be priest, character arcs.

I have heard complaints about the technology, that they all look like freakish puppets, but the film embraces its role as a cartoon so well I do not think you can complain about this. I think it actually helps in some ways. The 3D experience seems to me to be crucial here. You may have some resistance to a whole film in motion capture animation, but just the gesture of putting on the 3D glasses makes you complicit in the absurdity, and so you care less about a possible realism. You have on 3D glasses. They SHOULD look like action figures. (The story fits the technology as Toy Story does -- especially years ago, everything Pixar was going to make was going to look plastic-y anyway so why not do a story about plastic action figures?). I have heard complains in which the scene where Beowulf fights naked is compared to Austin Powers -- what random object will obscure his genitals next. I think that joke is being made in more than one place more because it is easy than because it is true.

Plus Angelina Jolie shape-shifts into mutant high heels, even when naked. This is a really fun movie.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lost Webisode 2 / J.J. Abrams Movie Trailer

I am with Neil Shyminsky in not seeing the point of this. Did they think that because these things would be seen only by the fans committed enough to watch little videos on their computer that any bit of information would be fascinating?

This, on the other hand -- from LOST exec producer J.J. Abrams -- looks like it could be interesting: it comes out January 18th, yet it has no name as of yet. Is it Godzilla? Is that why there is no title -- so there is no stink of the earlier movie? Is it the monster from Lost? Is it some Lovecraftian Beastie? I very much want something surprising, because I am not sure there is a whole lot that can be done with a giant monster in New York movie. I have been surprised by things before, so you never know. (I realize I am a little behind commenting on this).

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #5, part b

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men here. For more in this series click his name in the toolbar on the right. Powell is tying these posts together nicely.]

“Prison of the Heart”

Another character spotlight, this time on Colossus. “Prison of the Heart” opens with narration about how on the “Ust-Odynski collective” where Peter Rasputin grew up, there were only 1,237 people, and he knew each of them by name. Now he’s living in a city with a huge population, and it’s a brutal culture shock. The story also reinforces a character element for Colossus that was conveyed in the John Bolton sequence in Classic X-Men #1: Peter as artist. This is another thing that was actually introduced into Colossus’ character much later (Uncanny X-Men #174 is the earliest issue that I can remember.) But Claremont is using Classic X-Men to integrate these characterizations very early on.

The story has some action sequences, but they once again take a back seat to providing a poignant character sketch. Colossus thwarts the attempted kidnapping of a young and beautiful girl from Russia (coincidence). She is knocked unconscious during Colossus’ big save, and Peter decides to revert back to human form before he revives her. Ostensibly this is so as not to frighten her, but the clear subtext is that he fears her reaction will be hurtful, which is a deliberate parallel of Nightcrawler’s situation in the previous issue’s “The Big Dare.”

Upon awakening, the woman, Anya, falls quickly for the hunky Colossus, and him for her. He learns that she is a dancer who has defected to the United States – in defiance of the wishes of her father, who sent people kidnap her back to her homeland. That night, Piotr attends her debut performance at the Metropolitan Opera House, and afterward – in a lushly romantic and sentimental scene, the kind of thing at which Claremont excels – gives her a sketch he’s done of her.

The two of them spend all night walking and talking, and at dawn the kidnappers return for another crack at Anya. Colossus transforms into his metal form and fights them off easily, but Anya is horrified to learn that Peter is a mutant. Peter, in the gentle, subtly poetic cadences with which Claremont always writes Colossus, insists that he is as human as she, and that she should look into his heart. She crumples up his sketch and throws it at his chest, and as she runs off, cries, “A man made of steel has no heart!”

The final page is another example of Claremont’s oft-forgotten ability to be sparse and simple when the occasion calls for it. The first panel silently depicts a stricken Peter (another gorgeously expressive face by Bolton), and a sequence of silent panels follow, depicting Colossus standing rooted to a single spot, stricken, as day turns to night behind him. Finally, Peter tears his portrait of Anya in half and discards it. His actions and expression suggest emotionlessness, but he speaks a single, simple line to contradict the visual: “You are wrong.”

The story is set up to provide stark contrast with “The Big Dare,” in which Nightcrawler’s fears about prejudice were made to appear largely groundless: with the exception of a few bad seeds with chips on their shoulders, humanity as represented in “The Big Dare” is benevolent and tolerant of Nightcrawler’s mutancy. This perhaps bordered on naive, but was appropriate to the whimsy of Nightcrawler’s character. Here, Claremont gives us the flip side: He pours on the saccharine in the first ten pages of the story, portraying a very idealized “first love” scenario, and then wrenches it into a grotesque image of prejudicial hate in the final two pages. It’s manipulative, to be sure, but effectively harsh, and it works fantastically in conjunction with the previous backup story’s breezy optimism.

The drama is also strengthened by making Colossus, in particular, the target of a racist rant. He is the X-Men’s gentle giant, whose essential contradiction during Claremont’s tenure is that he is a warrior with literally as hard an exterior as possible, while his heart nurses gentle passions (poetry, art) and enjoys simple pleasures (nature, farming). It’s fitting that the “hardest” X-Man should be, as of this story, the first of them to be struck right to the heart by the power of hate. (Claremont doesn’t leave Piotr out to dry, however. Redemption will come in Classic X-Men #21b, the thematic sequel to “Prison of the Heart.”)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Comics Out November 21, 2007

[Comics Out posts have been switched out with Free Form Comments and will appear from now on on Fridays -- so everyone has time to read the books.]

Angel: After the Fall. Joss Whedon did the plot, but not the script, for this post-season-5 Angel comic book. For some dumb reason Buffy is at Dark Horse and Angel is at IDW. But my local comic book store did not notice the word "Whedon" in the solicit and did not get enough, so I will have to get this later. Do not let that stop you from reviewing it with spoilers in the comments.

Umbrella Academy 3. This is still pretty good. Not the best comic book in the world, but fun -- and what more should I be asking for really? The colors, particularly the hot pink laser beam with the orange flame background and the judicious use of red for the last two pages is really eye catching. Dave Stewart. Nice stuff.

Not much comics news caught my eye this week, except film stuff reported by Newsarama: the Futurama straight-to-DVD film is out soon.

Also -- does anyone want to review Enchanted?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Free Form Comments (New Day)

[I am testing switching Free Form Comments (usually Friday) with Comics Out Posts (usually Wednesday) -- I think we will have better comics out discussions if people have 48 hours to get and read the things. Several readers backed me up on this in the comments to the previous Free Form Comments, and no one disagreed. Let me know if you do not like this.]

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.

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, November 20, 2007

Kanye West's Roses (Commonplace Book)

I was thinking of this song this week since Kanye West's mother died. Here are some of the lyrics from the first verse:

Hey chick, I'm at a loss for words
What do you say at this time?
Remember when I was nine?
Tell her everything gone be fine?
But I'd be lying,
the family crying
They want her to live, and she trying
I'm arguing like what kind of doctor can we fly in
You know the best medicine go to people thats paid,
If Magic Johnson got a cure for AIDS
And all the broke muthafuckers past away
You tellin me if my grandma's in the N.B.A.
Right now she'd be ok?

I just wanted to point out the simplest thing here. In this verse West is on his way to playing a game a lot of rappers and hip hop artists enjoy -- seeing how many lines they can punctuate with a single rhyme, often by coming up with smart unexpected words or word combinations and playing with pronunciation. Here "time," "nine," fine," "lying," "crying," "trying" and "fly in" get us started, but then it suddenly stops, thudding on the word "paid." West gets a subtle emotional charge here, as we realize why he cannot play that game now -- because in playing he will not be able to avoid the obvious word, the unsaid word that got him on this rhyme scheme in the first place, a word he does not want to say out loud in the hospital where his grandmother is being treated: "dying." This time the cliche holds: You have to listen to the rhymes he is not using.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men 19

[This post is part of a series of posts looking issue by issue at Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run. For more in this series click the Astonishing X-Men links in the right toolbar.]

In the first issue of “Unstoppable” (and I think I have accidentally referred to this as “Unbreakable” in the past) the team gets briefed on the situation as they fly toward the Breakworld, before being attacked by a Breakworld armada.

As I keep pointing out Whedon is a genius with opening and closing beats. In his cold open a stately speech on the Breakworld about a child being hope turns out to be, not a birth, but an alien funeral. This hits us both because we completely misunderstood what was going on, and because we might not have expected the Breakworld to be a place of compassion.

Whedon continues to focus on Kitty, giving her a “tough guy” moment with Agent Brand. Because her colors match the colors of Cyclops’s New X-Men jacket, and because she is holding a gun, I cannot help but think of Cyclops last issue. I do not know what to make of this, except to say that while Whedon appears to be fascinated with Kitty as the prototype of Buffy and many of his other female characters, his real focus will turn out to be Cyclops – the Kitty thing is just smoke and mirrors for what he is really up to on this book, the rehabilitation of Cyclops.

Whedon has a lot of exposition to establish, and the “discussion en route” template is pretty stale. (It was one of the most egregious parts of the film version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). He has to establish that Nova is not in Emma any more, he has to do something to curb Danger, he has to explain why they are not killing Colossus, and he has to establish what the basic threat for the arc is. It is not the worst exposition I have ever seen, but I have seen Whedon do better.

But we do get a nice moment of Kitty detoxing from Nova’s manipulation of her mind, and there is a great joke where, after Agent Brand explains that the Breakworld psychics say Colossus will destroy the world, she says to him “I’m assuming you’re as mystified as the rest of us, Rasputin.” Colossus says “No. I’m not. I have been planning to destroy the Breakworld since I was a child.” This is tremendously effective because it is exactly the kind of wrinkle Whedon would introduce into this plot – but of course it is ALSO the perfect set up for Whedon’s deflated drama humor. There is a beat and Colossus says sheepishly “This is why I don’t make so many jokes. I never know when is good.” I thought the exchange was really funny, especially after how serious Kitty and Peter were being in the earlier scene. A lot of internet people were angered by the way Whedon make Peter’s English broken. I think if Wolverine’s healing power can be inconsistent over the years, I don’t mind Colossus’s English varying a little, but I can see the force of the objection, especially if there is evidence in Whedon’s run that he speaks perfect English.

Overloard Kruun is introduced as we cut to the Breakworld. His barbarity in the scene is pretty standard for introducing a character of this type, but I like that he complains of Ord “The stink of his incompetence will outlast his body’s decay.” The phrase sound like something you would come across in the war poetry of ancient Rome, and it lets you see the violence in the context of the civilization. They are not barbarians. It is a culture of violence, with its own kind of bloody poetry.

And the ending beat is as good as the opening one. Brand says “Plan A is we land before they find us, find this missile, and disable it.” The Armada arrives sooner than she expected and begins to fire, hitting the ship and causing what appears to be serious damage.

Cyclops: What’s Plan B?
Kitty: We all die now.
Cyclops: What’s Plan C?

A shot of the attacking ships and the issue is done. Whedon always does the same thing – deflates dramatic moments – but I always fall for it.

I do not have much to say about Cassaday here, except to note that his style – fairly realistic but not overly so – is well suited to a story on an alien world – he really helps sell the other world. He makes it believable.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Spiderwoman and Modern Painters

My partner Sara is going to art school for her MFA in painting and she has had this April 2006 issue of Modern Painters: International Arts and Culture magazine lying around our house for ages. I randomly flipped through it the other day and this advert was on the very first page.

The caption for the advert says "Andreas Hofer. This Island Earth. March 31 to May 6, 2006. Hauser and Wirth London." Andreas Hofer is surely not the Tyrolean military hero, or the 17th century Austrian composer, thank you Wikipedia. I know about the film This Island Earth from Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Motion Picture. I do not know if the artist wants me to think of the film.

The image is of a "face" in a superhero mask. The mask, and the attached hair (white? -- not the current Spiderwoman's), is superimposed like a cut out over the "face." The "face" is a drawn map of north-east Africa and near-by places.

I knew it was a superhero mask, and I thought it was Spiderwoman's mask, but I thought that that was a pretty obscure and specific source for a contemporary artist to be going for (the audience surely would not know where this was from), and I thought I was maybe wrong. After picking up a New Avengers trade on a whim and now being SURE that is Spiderwoman's mask I am moved to ask the Whedonesque question:


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Lost Webisode 1: The Watch

The season three finale of Lost back in June was one of the smartest television shows I have ever seen, perfectly doing that impossible thing a show like this needs -- telling us nothing and making us feel satisfied at the same time. The twist is FORMAL, and is not based in CONTENT, which is genius.

I eagerly await the new season out of a combination of general obsession with Lost, the fact that not much else on TV is grabbing my attention, and anxiety about how to writer's strike will play out. (Though with this show, I know that if it goes down because of the strike, it will continue in comic book form, surely).

Now is going to have thirteen (I think) weekly mini-episodes of only a few minutes each until the premier of season 4. They claim these are original shorts and not simply deleted flashbacks.

The new Dharma Corp video, which I have already blogged about, was a brilliant little teaser. "The Watch" on the other hand, seems like a terrible thing to toss at viewers. Why, you know, ON EARTH, would you want to make such a harmless redundant little Jack flashback one of the first things viewers will see after such an amazing finale? Jack and his dad have issues. Yeah, I know about that actually. And in a show with an already important watch (the watch given to Sun's husband by her father to deliver) why would you want to introduce another one -- unless they are connected somehow (and even still)? I think there was a lot that Lost could have done with the Webisode format -- concentrating on Dharma Corp videos for example -- but I cannot understand why such a smart show would emphasize the insignificance of the format in the very first installment. There could be more going on of course, and all of this could tie together brilliantly, but why would you want to give viewers the impression that it is a waste of time right out of the gate?

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #5, part a (incorporating X-Men #97)

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For the rest of the posts in this series click his name in the toolbar on the right. Powell finds a great connection between Grant Morrison and Arnold Drake here].

My Brother, My Enemy

X-Men #97 is the first 100% Claremontian issue of the series, featuring an abundance of characters, an abundance of subplots, and an abundance of elements that won’t make a lot of sense until later issues clear it all up. In this case, X-Men fans wouldn’t get a full explanation for all the goings-on here until X-Men #107. X-Men was bi-monthly back then, so Claremont was keeping fans in the dark for 20 months ... over a year and half.

The premise of the storyline beginning in “My Brother, My Enemy” is that when Xavier used telepathy to repel an alien race in Neal Adams’ and Roy Thomas’ X-Men #65, there was an accidental side effect: His consciousness somehow interfaced with that of an alien princess called Lilandra, who is now on her way to Earth. None of the above is explained in the present issue, but the fact that Claremont’s story is tied into Neal Adams’ final X-Men comic from the ‘60s is significant. In an interview in “Comic Book Artist” #3 in 1998, Neal Adams said this about his own run on X-Men:

“What I did was make the world of the X-Men more complicated; build one thing on top of the other, integrate one thing into the other, so that after a while, you get a whole world populated by these characters, all integrated, so that you started to see a tapestry of characters, all having these different interrelationships. I don't think the X-Men ever should have been a story and then a story and then a story; it should be this tapestry that goes on.”

By tying in his first major X-Men arc to Neal Adams’ last, Claremont here both acknowledges his debt to Adams and makes it clear that the “tapestry” approach will continue. And then he goes even further.

The bulk of issue #97 is a battle between the X-Men and “Eric the Red,” which is another callback to an earlier X-Men story, and a significant one. The original “Eric the Red” was actually Cyclops, going undercover in X-Men #’s 49-52 to infiltrate a group of evil mutants led by Magneto and a mutant hypnotist called Mesmero. That storyline, written by “Doom Patrol” creator Arnold Drake, also involved Magneto falsely claiming to be the father of Lorna Dane, before Iceman exposed the truth at the climax of the story.

Neal Adams and Roy Thomas then went on to reveal (only about six issues later) that the Magneto who worked with Mesmero was a robot duplicate, rendering Drake’s story moot. This is eerily similar to what Marvel editorial recently did to Morrison’s “Xorn”-Magneto, ret-conning him into an imposter so that the “real” Magneto stayed more like the one Claremont used to write. So let this be a lesson to comicbook writers: Don’t fuck with Magneto and expect it to stick – especially if you used to write “Doom Patrol.”

The result of Roy Thomas and Neal Adams’ fiddling is a crazy-quilt cluster of retroactive continuity residing at this point in X-Men history – a daughter of Magneto who isn’t really his daughter, a Magneto who isn’t really Magneto, a villain (Erik the Red) who isn’t real at all, but just a false identity. This odd backwater of X-Men continuity could’ve been ignored, but Claremont instead embraces it, and adds another confusing layer: a “real” Erik the Red who – like Mesmero from the earlier story – has hypnotic powers. Claremont recognizes, perhaps only intuitively, that the weirdest parts of a superhero’s history are also its best, and so he attempts to make everything in X-Men history, even the craziest parts – especially the craziest parts – a significant part of the tapestry.

On the final page of this issue, Dave Cockrum zooms out from the aftermath of the Erik the Red battle to show the X-Men being watched on a monitor by a character who in turn is also being watched. Cockrum’s zoom-out may or may not be another deliberate call-back to the original X-Men run. In X-Men #36, the final shot is of the X-Men at the airport, getting on a plane to go battle with a villain team called Factor Three, unaware that their departure is being watched on a monitor ... by a member of Factor Three. So both X-Men #36 and #97 end with the X-Men at an airport, unknowingly being watched by a villain. If it’s a deliberate call-back by Cockrum, it’s a shrewd one, reminding longtime readers of the Factor Three storyline, another oddly constructed and contradiction-laden story in Silver Age X-Men continuity, that was as protracted and strange as Claremont’s Lilandra/Erik the Red storyline is going to turn out to be.

By adding a second mysterious watcher to the scenario, Cockrum and Claremont are either trying to one-up the previous version, or tacitly admitting that they are not so much building complexity from scratch as they are simply adding to an extant complexity with a new layer.

[GK: A couple of obvious observations: Cockrum is a great artist whose stuff aged really well I think -- his splash page in this issue is a good example of this. Claremont continues his "telling not showing" policy by having Cyclops inform us that Banshee and Wolverine were stolen. And starting off an issue with overused Shakespeare lines -- yikes. But still he continues to grow on me, as I learn to relax a little, appreciate how influential he was and cut him some slack for the era in which he wrote. It would be many years until Moore could do dense stuff with literary sources in League for example].

Friday, November 16, 2007

CGS Episode 327: Gerard Way on Umbrella Academy, post-game discussion with me

Episode 327 of Comic Geek Speak is up today. It is an interview with Gerard Way, lead singer of My Chemical Romance and writer of Dark Horse's kinda awesome Umbrella Academy. Originally I was supposed to participate in the interview alongside Peter Rios, but do to some technical difficulties -- no fault of CGS -- it did not work out. Since I prepped for the interview he brought me on later to do some post-game Umbrella Academy discussion. My contribution is fairly slight, but there you go.

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.

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.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mitch Reviews The Screwtape Letters

[Guest Blogger Mitch did a review of a theatrical production of The Screwtape Letters for another site. To prevent this from being just linkage, he was nice enough to give this site some extra words. Theater reviews is a new idea, but I say let's try it.]

The (Devilish) Assault of Reason at Off-Off-Online

I had never read The Screwtape Letters before I saw this production—in fact I don’t think I’ve even read any of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books. But I have always been very interested in him, because he’s always been so unapologetic about the amount of influence Christianity has on his work. Appropriately, most of the people involved in this staged version listed work for religious organizations or in religious theater in their bios.

So here is a biting satire about religion written by a devout Christian in the forties and put on by Christians now… and it’s FUNNY! What is the world slowly coming to?

One part that I didn’t talk about in the review is the beginning, in which the demon Screwtape gives a commencement speech-type toast to a new crop of graduates from the Tempters Training College. This little section wasn’t actually based on anything in the novel The Screwtape Letters; it is based on a short story Lewis wrote for The Saturday Evening Post years later called Screwtape Proposes a Toast. (Note: Why isn’t there a Saturday Evening Post anymore? Everything I hear about it is awesome.) Lewis introduces a great concept in this toast—that the Devil and all of his demons actually devour the souls that they bring to Hell. In fact there is a weird hierarchy in the structure of a demon’s diet. Particularly corrupt souls—like Hitler—are considered gourmet delicacies in Hell, while those who are only a little misguided would be considered humdrum. I guess Atheists would taste like… flan? Tofu? The not-so-subtle distinctions in the demonic palette are among the more amusing aspects of Screwtape.

Oh, and yeah the review title is a reference to Al Gore’s book.

You can read my full review at here

And if you are interested to read my other reviews at Off-Off, you can find them all here:

I’ve been writing at Off-Off for about a year and a half now—it’s a fun gig. Free theatre that ranges from excellent to weird to abysmal (check out my review of Vermillion Wine if you are curious to explore the depths of slap-shodary). Oh and they pay a little too, which is nice.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Comics Out November 14, 2007

[I want to makes these impressions shorter. I am also having a bad week, which may be effecting my reviews. As first quick impressions, you get what you get. Let me know if you think I am off base -- I may need some course-correcting this week.]

All Star Superman. Feeling kind of meh about this one. Quitely's characters are lovely, as are Grant's colors -- PINK for the cover is inspired! Yellow and purple for the Kryptonians is great as they of course wore dreary black for the film. But this issue seemed thin on plot, ideas and backgrounds. I was not really sure what going on with the reference to the "radioactive cloud." It just seemed like there was maybe going to be a problem, but then, no, wait, no there isn't, it resolved itself on its own. Maybe that is charming? I did not hate it. Maybe some of the surprise is gone as I think I know what to expect with this title now? Or, again, could just be my bad week.

World War Hulk. This issue is the emblem of the comics industry today. Guys, pretty well drawn guys, punch each other for 22 pages. It draws on an earlier "EVENT" stories like Planet Hulk and Civil War, and it leads into more EVENT stories like Son of Hulk and Red Hulk. I could make complaints, but what on earth did I expect?

Punisher. The segue to Turkey was a little odd, but Matt Fraction writes a hell of a Spider-Man, and the new artist has a good sense of humor -- plus Kool-Aid ad joke. Plus Domino! Who knew! I used to love Domino!

The Ultimates Saga. Did I really buy a summary of 25 issues I already have just for the four page frame story by Travis Charest in which Tony Stark wakes up next to two girls? Yes I did.

Buffy: Panel to Panel.
Did I really buy a 20 dollar reprint of past Buffy art just for the best Bachalo cover EVER? No. I did not. But the week is not over yet, and I have to pass that comic book store every day on the way to the subway.

The League of Extraordinary Gentleman: The Black Dossier. Frank Miller writes a hell of a Batman, but he is also kind of a pseudo-fascist Republican crackpot. Alan Moore is one of the smartest guys in comics but he is also kind of a self-indulgent, rambling pseudo-Blakean hippie nostalgia-pastiche novelist in need of an editor with a hatchet. Basically, I prefer Miller. I loved the first League but did not actually read the prose pieces. I have not read this one yet but flipping through it I feel bombarded by the worst of Alan Moore -- the endless prose, the cheesy invocation of the IMAGINATION, and the meticulous recreation of genres I do not think I really care about. Hard work to be sure, but rewarding for the reader? I do not know. I have not read it yet. But my hunch? Exhausting. But again -- bad week for me.

In comics news Marvel is putting lots of stuff online, but since I have barely cracked the Claremont issues on my "40 Years of X-Men" disk, I feel like it is not for me, at least not yet.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Camille Paglia on Adjuncting (Commonplace Book)

For those of you not familiar with the world of academia, there are tenured professors who can never be fired, tenure track professors who are salaried, teach, write books, and work on committees as much as possible to be approved for tenure in 5-7 years, and then there are adjuncts, who are hired to teach one course at a time, often at the last minute, often replaced, often given no health insurance. 40% of all English Ph.Ds will not get tenure track work, in part because there are so many more people than jobs, and because hiring adjuncts is cheaper for obvious reasons. NYU, in a staggering statistic, has 41% of their classes taught by adjuncts. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently said that unless an individual adjunct can lift himself above the herd (with, in their words, books, awards, or winning the lottery), "adjuncting becomes more like an expensive hobby." Around here Stephen Frug and I are adjuncts, and I know Neil Shyminsky is a graduate student teacher. Tim Callahan teaches high school, I think. I am sure there are more, possibly lurkers.

So I give you Camille Paglia, from the introduction to her book Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World's Best Poems:

One result of the triumph of ideology over art is that, on the basis of their publications, few literature professors know how to "read" anymore -- and thus can scarcely be trusted to teach that skill to their students. Cultural Studies, for example, despite its auspicious name, has been undone by its programmatic Marxism and is a morass of misreadings and overreadings. During the past quarter century, humanistic principles and honest practical criticism could be more reliably found among low-paid adjuncts faithfully teaching service courses at community colleges than in the vain, showy professoriat of the elite schools.

Paglia has a flair for the dramatic, and like Bloom has been known to over-state her case, but I appreciate the compliment. I put it here, because I know it applies to some of our readers.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men 18

[This post is part of a series of posts looking issue by issue at Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run. For more posts in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

In the final part of “Torn” Ord, Danger, Nova and the X-Men collide moments before being “beamed up” by SWORD and taken into space.

Where on earth can you really go from the apotheosis of Cyclops at the end of the last issue? Whedon goes with the glorious freedom of shooting (illusory) people with a gun while making off the cuff quips. It is brilliant because Whedon is brilliant, but it is really brilliant because we finally get to see Cyclops just cut lose. Cut loose from the mode he has been in forever, but also cut lose from Morrison – one of the first things Whedon has him do is blithely shoot Morrison’s most enduring X-Men legacy, Nova, like it was nothing. He is finally free and it is exhilarating. He is happy. He is smiling. Morrison changed him, but he was still pretty angst-y, petulant, and over-serious a lot of the time.

In a battle with Ord and Danger, Wolverine is aided by the character who will be known as Armor. She is Whedon’s answer to Jubilee I suppose, a character I feel like a little bit of an idiot missing. She was terrible, right? I am sure I am remembering her through rose colored glasses. Importantly, we are re-introduced to Armor's powers in the fight, something that will become more important in the remaining issues of “Unbreakable,” I think.

One of the best bits of Whedon dialog: Wolverine: “Quit whining kid. I got eaten today.” Beast: “Yes, about that…” Wolverine: “Forget it.” Beast: “I can’t begin to apologize.” Wolverine: “Pfft! That’s what friends are for.” Beast: “I’m fairly certain it’s not.”

Kitty’s “Cry me a river, bitch” is also pretty inspired.

Whedon’s persuasively re-imagines Morrison’s defeat of Nova – since Emma put Nova away, Nova placed a psychic suggestion into Emma, and it fed off of Emma’s survivor guilt – guilt from Morrison’s Genosha attack. This is a much smarter – though to be fair much smaller – ret-con than something like Deadly Genesis. And Whedon delivers it without losing the tension of the scene because the explanation is going on as Nova is jumping into Armor -- you see why were were reminded who she was. All the talking actually builds tension, because they do not know they are missing something deadly, but we do.

Everyone collides, they are all hijacked into space, and Whedon ends with a little foreshadowing from a psychic character on the ground – one will not be coming back. This is Whedon at his best – simple, effective, fun, and smart.

"Gifted" was pretty good, "Danger" had some weak stuff, "Torn" is great and, as far as I can tell, "Unbreakable" will be amazing (it is as of issue 23).

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Brad Winderbaum's Satacracy 88.11.3

The third part of Brad Winderbaum's Emmy award winning Satacracy 88, episode 11, is up at As the third and final part of episode Eleven, this is the one where you get to vote.

Though it is up at the site, it is not up on youtube. A more tech-savvy person than I could probably figure out how to embed it directly from the site, but the only way I know how to do it is to cut and paste the "embed" thing from Youtube. So HERE IS A LINK TO THE EPISODE.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men 4b

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

"The Big Dare"

Some of the best Claremont/Bolton backups are ones like this, which seize on a very minor thread from the a-story, and develop it into its own piece. The Bolton vignettes stand alone on their own merits, but they also both enrich and become enriched by their relationship to the text that inspired them.

So, in Classic X-Men #4b, we begin with Wolverine and Nightcrawler playing a game of tag. It ends with Wolverine grabbing Kurt by the collar and thrusting his claws toward Kurt's face. At the last second, he retracts them, and with a grin extends his hand in truce. Nightcrawler is, understandably, a little freaked, and Wolverine's line as he helps him up, "Lookin' a mite pale, bub," is very funny (how could Kurt possibly ever look pale?). The entire scene is charming on its own, but when juxtaposed alongside a story that featured Wolverine almost chopping up Kurt for real, the scene is given an additional layer of meaning: We understand immediately that Wolverine will never cross that line again where his friends are concerned, but he's still the type of person who will scare the hell out of them just for a laugh.

What Claremont is showing us here is a typical comic-book "secret origin," only rather than being the origin of a character, it's the start of a relationship - specifically, the Logan/Kurt friendship that would soon become a cornerstone of the series. It begins when Wolverine dares Kurt to turn off the "image inducer" (a machine that holographically disguises Nightcrawler's demonic appearance) and stroll down a busy street as himself. Kurt accepts, and is amazed to find that he enjoys the various reactions from the people he passes. Bolton's artwork is delightfully whimsical in this sequence - especially the rather outré decision to give Nightcrawler a cane and hat as a way of emphasizing the character's extroverted, vaudevillian streak. Nightcrawler's internal monologue as he gets more and more comfortable is incredibly entertaining. "Smile," he tells himself at one point. "A little courtesy and charm won't hurt."

"The Big Dare" is an excellent piece not only for Nightcrawler, but for Wolverine as well, who spends the entire sequence keeping pace with Nightcrawler several steps behind him, covering his "buddy's" back. Kurt helps a "damsel in distress" with her bags and then keeps walking, it's Wolverine who is in position to overhear the woman's reaction: "What an extraordinary young man!" Wolverine's off-hand reply, "That he is, ma'am," speaks volumes. Claremont is often accused of excessive wordiness, but he consistently demonstrates restraint and economy in these Bolton collaborations.

Friday, November 09, 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.

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.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Joss Whedon's story in Giant Size X-Men 3

[I know I should be writing about Astonishing X-Men 18 today, but I wanted something less taxing, and this is sort of on topic. I am using a label to attach this post to my issue by issue look at Whedon's Astonishing X-Men because it is an X-Men story of his that came out during that run.]

Marvel put out Giant Size X-Men three in 2005. I do not remember where Whedon was in his Astonishing run at that point, but he was in the middle I think. The book has an eight page comics story called "Teamwork" written by Whedon and drawn by Neil Adams. The rest of the book just reprints stuff: Fantastic Four 28 (X-Men meet the Fantastic Four), X-Men 9 (X-Men meet the Avengers), 27 (a page where the X-men meet Spider-Man), and 35 (a full on X-Men/Spider-Man meeting). I do not understand why the theme is heroes meeting each other -- is it because the original X-Men met the new team in the original Giant Size X-Men? That seems like a weak connection. The only reason for this thing to exist is because 30 years have gone by since Giant Size X-Men. I do not really understand how this is much of a tribute to that milestone.

The cover is a parody of the cover to Giant Size X-Men: instead of the old team above looking down in shock at the new team ripping out of the paper cover below, Whedon's Astonishing team (drawn on the cover by Cassaday) looks down in shock at the team from Giant Size drawn by Dave Cockrum. Its a little weird that three of the members below are also above. (Though Cyclops was above and below in the original).

Whedon's contribution takes place during Giant Size X-Men. This is, I guess, an untold tale from that day, or an expansion of the training page from the original Giant Size X-Men. Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Sunfire, Colossus, Storm and Thunderbird meet in the danger room to train on everyone's first day. As in the original issue they are amazed to be able to speak English to each other. Sunfire does a Whedon-style double take at the fact that he is in costume for the training while many others are not. The joke falls so flat I am not even sure it is supposed to be a joke.

Wolverine says they need to be a team, which they are not right now because they have not been working together for years. He says "We're one too many. Prof knows at least one of us won't make it as an X-Man." Wolverine thinks they can weed out the weak member by fighting. They all get to show what they can do in a battle. Wolverine thinks this battle, not authorized by Professor X, will tell them who they can trust. Wolverine says "Personally, my money's on T-Bird to outlast the rest of you. I ain't been hit that solid since I scrapped with the green guy. So. Anybody wanna get a beer?" The end.

I recently read Giant Size X-Men #1 and have been reading the Claremont issues, including the issue where Thunderbird dies. I have NO. IDEA. what Whedon was thinking when he wrote this. It is rare to read something by an established guy like Whedon and not find one nice thing to say, somewhere. I see Whedon is aiming for irony with Wolverine's end pronouncement that Thunderbird will outlive the rest of them, when the audience knows he will be the first one to die and, generally, stay dead while the rest of them, basically, live. (You have to talk like this writing about comics). But so what? Whedon is often great with irony, but this one just sits on the page, doing nothing. I can sort of see this as a kind of homage to the old X-Men comics in which everyone's strengths and weakness would be revealed in a battle in the danger room -- Sunfire is proud and shoots fire, Colossus turns to metal and protects women, Storm shoots lightning and is afraid of confined spaces and so on. But again -- so what? Whedon is smart enough to know that the best homage is not reproduction, but going above and beyond -- as he does with Morrison in his Astonishing run by having Nova come back, or Cyclops be cooler than he ever was in Morrison's hands. Is Whedon hamstrung because, since this story has to fit in a crack in the original, no characters are really capable of change?

I do not have any Neil Adams comics that are not in storage, but I remember that he is kind of great. I could be misremembering that. He is beyond awful here. This is as sloppy, rushed, and ugly as the worst Igor Korday New X-Men issues, and, like Cassaday in many spots on Astonishing X-Men, Adams has decided that he does not need to draw a background for most of the issue. Also Wolverine has a hot pink shirt. Was that a continuity thing from the original issue? Or is it just a random super-lazy version of Whedon's habit of not knowing what to do with tough-guy characters -- is he making Wolverine more feminine, as he does in "Torn"? It boggles the mind.

When Whedon does a short comics story as a tribute to Stan Lee and Spider-Man, he writes a charming, if throwaway, little thing. So it is not the work-for-hire tribute thing that is wrecking him here. It is bizarre to see a great writer just totally implode for no reason that I can see. Any thoughts on what happened here? Is there some part of this I am not understanding? When I first read this I assumed it was my lack of appreciation for the era, but now I HAVE been appreciating that era, and I am just lost. I think it is just a really bad story.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Comics Out November 7, 2007.

Since the comics out posts are always first impressions, I am going to write them a little faster and use more question marks. Because I am not always sure how I feel about it -- which is why I put my impressions here and wait for the comments. Please comment, even if this post is a few days old.

Hellboy 6. This issue's colors are dominated by red, yellow and blue -- especially in the first two pages 3, 4, and 5. Since those pages are about a hero who cannot die fighting a villain who cannot die, I cannot but think of Superman. Probably an accident, but I have a doctorate in making anything about of anything. You will remember -- and if you do not the post is in the Best of the Blog links -- that I have already discussed Hellboy's relationship to superhero comics. Fegredo's image of Hellboy, with the horns and mannered crown, leading an army, makes me fell like Fegredo has really come home. He points to big things, and I believe him. I cannot believe a book so linked to Mignola's art could survive with another artist, but boy howdy.

Buffy 8. The third part of Vaughan's story is actually not as bad as the last two, though that is not much of a compliment. The art continues to be bad, but in a slightly different way here. Parts seem...thin? Could just be my old pet peeve about removing backgrounds -- this issue is horrible about it. And the bathtub scene -- is that really all you want to do with that? Not a line of dialog about subtext or something. I feel like part of Whedon's world -- part of the modern media saturated world -- is that we perpetually comment on everything. The lack of comment seems, maybe, unrealistic? With one more issue in this arc to go before Whedon returns, I think the crummy-awesome ratio may be 1:1 next month.

The Order. Kitson again SHINES at panel after panel of the same face in slight but hypnotic variations. This small thing is quickly becoming my favorite part of this book, which is weird. You FALL IN LOVE with the character. It is a SERIOUS EMOTIONAL APPEAL that just knocks me out, every time, like a smitten little kid.

Iron Fist. I have to admit to being a little upset that Dog Brother #1 -- I cannot believe the awesomeness of that name -- got beat off screen by a character who seems less inspired, but the book is not over, and I appreciate that Fraction and Brubaker have a story to tell. Maybe he will be back. Aja Rules! Next comic!

Astonishing X-Men 23. I will save my big thoughts on this for the issue by issue posts I am in the middle of. No, I wont. All this Kitty Pryde focus -- her "nothing has changed" -- has been smoke and mirrors for what Whedon is really up to. Cyclops. Whedon has done for Cyclops what Frank Miller did for Batman. Definitive. Morrison set the stage, but was never even close to this. And is it a coincidence that the last page alludes to the last page of issue 10 -- except Morrison's bald surrogate has been replaced by the hero in Whedon's run most emblematic of Whedon's transumptive triumph over New X-Men? BAM!

Speaking of over-reading -- something I probably did twice in this post -- I have said this before but now I want to make it official. I have been arguing in comics out posts that covered Morrison's Batman, All Star Superman and Miller's All Star Batman that Morrison has been trying to trump Miller by going back to a pre-Miller time of fake Batman cops (as Mitch pointed out, an 80s plot that took place in the issues immediately before Year One) and Neal Adams love god stuff. How did Miller respond to this implied threat? He got the ACTUAL NEAL ADAMS. The Adams works for Miller story is on Newsarama.

Also, not really comics news but sort of -- word from the front is that this writer's strike could leave us with an 8 episode season 4 for LOST. Nutz.

EDIT: NEW THING! AGAIN! I have now included labels for all comics discussed in ALL 76 Comics Out posts. That means if you are reading this post for the review of Buffy #8, you can click the Buffy label and all the past "comics out" posts in which I reviewed Buffy 7, 6, 5, 4, and so on will be right there.

The Best of the Blog: Comment Threads

One of the things that makes this blog stand out is the discussions. Good comment threads became comment pull quotes which became guest blogging. But I did not want to forget about those original comment threads. So, after scanning through the comments to nearly 500 posts, I have added links to the best comment threads we have done around here. Many of these would have been forgotten about -- buried in a distant Comics Out post, or a Free Form Comment post, forever. If you think of any more, let me know.

I would like to say that this is the last time I am going to add something to the tool-bar on the right, but I am sure that I will think of something else soon.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Me and Marc discuss Continuity and Curmudgeoness (Comment Pull Quote)

[An old comment pull quote I found searching for conversations to add to the toolbar.]

Geoff Klock wrote

Mark Waid established "hypertime" in the post-Kingdom-Come Kingdom Come stories -- the idea that story lines do not have to be wiped out to create a coherent continuity (the first Crisis) -- all the universes of every story exist at once and borders can always be crossed (the second Crisis). For the record the only reason I know that is that Frank Quitely drew one of the post Kingdom Come Kingdom Come books (I cannot for the life of me remember what they were called: Kingdom Come Again? Kingdom Commer? Kingdom Come 2?). It didn't stick, and Johns is going to try again. This is where DC is going with all their countdown stuff I think. They even used Ellis's Bleed in Green Lantern, since Ellis made a big deal of this structure of universes with the Snowflake in Planetary. Frankly watching these guys develop the structure of a multi-verse so that continuity glitches will not keep them awake at night is very boring. Just give me a well told story with good art. I don't care if it does not have a clear place in your neat little universe structure, you big engineering geeks with your graph paper and your mechanical pencils trying to figure out the real world physics of the light saber.

Marc Wrote

Geoff: Is it just me, or have you elevated to curmudgeon status of late? As said in Wedding Crashers, "It's like pizza, baby! It's all good!"

This isn't the 60s, when Stan Lee was doing campus lectures and that era's college kids were the first to take their comics to the dorm with them. Nor is it the 80s, when comics "finally grew up" (quote from every third writer on comics for a non-comic forum from 1985 on).

This is the 00s, where the first generation of direct market geeks (in the club, so I can say so) has gotten their pens into the major companies. They're smart enough to realize that they can have their universe the way they learned it, especially the DC folk. And so you have what's been going on lately.

Also, the profile of someone who reads Casanova or something else from its rack buddies probably is someone who gre up on comics and wants a bit more. You're simply not going to get someone off the streets to read now if they haven't already read somewhere from ages 6-18. So there is a need for mainstream comics to be the mindless, pulpy fun they are. Every so often, they stretch their boundaries and come up with a homer (let's say, Green Lantern: Rebirth or our beloved JLA:Classified 1-3) but for the most part it's business as usual from month to month. The reason that a Seven Soldiers or a Planetary or a Casanova exists (and you can see a progression amongst them)is because someone wants to create, in the comic medium something with more to say than the average monthly. There's room enough in my love of the form for all types.

Also, the rag on continuity is pretty mean-spirited. Continuity is not for that, but for freedom to tell all types of stories without having to lock it down to one universe. It's not so someone can shrug off why Clark had rimless glasses in one book, but not in the other. AND it's doubly mean from someone who hung his theoretical book on what some might call a cynical cash-grab x-over between licensed properties and a half-assed X-Men ripoff. (Not me, though; I read your book and have spent the last two years mining the biblio for new material.)

Geoff Klock wrote

Marc: I have been in curmudgeon satus lately, which is a nice way of saying I have been mean and in a bad mood. You are nice to be so nice, if you see what I mean.

I find myself frustrated with a lot of things lately, not the least being the fact that everyone seems so happy with everything all the time -- every comic book that comes out seems to get a five star review at newsarama. Paul O'Brien really set me off this week, giving New X-Men 140 an A. I can not understand how people can "appreciate" both his A and my F at the same time without their heads exploding -- the things I called mistakes he did not mention at all. That was an overreaction, and I am sure O'Brien is a good guy and I am going to contact him soon for a little debate on this subject. I know that is not true that everything on newsarama gets a great review, but there are days when I FEEL like it is, when I see a horrbile book getting a great review, and start looking for ANYONE who is feeling the way I do. The way I feel is that some kind of quality control is important, and that when everyone loves something and I demonstrate -- DEMONSTRATE rather than the "SPAWN SUKS / SPAWN RULZ" school of criticism -- there is no category for me other than killjoy jackass.

Your use of "mindless" in "mindless pulpy fun" is what throws me. You make it sound like I am objecting to mindlessness, but what I am objecting to is bad storytelling. If you are focused on reparing the structure of your fictional universe rather than storytelling your priorities are screwed up and it is going to show. And look what a mess of a story Infinite Crisis is. Civil War is not quite the same thing but the same principle applies: when editorial mission trumps storytelling bad things happen.

"Love of all types" is what I cannot embrace and it makes me look like a horrible person. When applied to people it is a nice idea: we should all care about different kinds of people and accept them for what that can do rather than for what they cannot. But I am not sure that comic books are like people in this regard. I think with a comic book it should be easier to say "well I see what it is trying to do and it does it, but what it is trying to do is stupid."

Also, life is short, and I try to just find the "homers" as you put it. People who do not distinguish between the two -- for example people who LOVE WE3 AND Runaways -- throw me off track by telling me that the books are both fantastic. WE3 is fantastic; Runaways is only pretty good at best. It is good, don't get me wrong, but it is nothing like WE3. So that is a big source of my frustration.

"Continuity is for the freedom to tell all types of stories without how to lock them down to one universe". Well, for a while it was trying to lock characters down to a single universe; now they are working on establishing something the structure of the multi-verse, or whatever, where characters can go from the main universe to the Kingdome Come one -- where one rule explains all the transitions. This will do what you describe, allow for lots of different stories. But what if no one cared about continuity so closely? What if no one needed to explain that continuity glitches were caused by the Pre-crisis Superboy punching the universe very very hard? What if we could just accept that the DC universe is a bit of a mess, with characters being in the same (Batman and Superman) but sometimes different (Batman and Wildcats) worlds that crossover sometimes for whatever reason? It seems like a small complaint on one level, except for the amount of money people are expected to spend to follow DC's world building -- Road to Infinite Crisis, Identity Crisis, OMAC project, Rann-Thangarr War, Spirit of Vengance, Infinite Crisis, 52, Countdown, all the spinoffs and so on.

From Slavoj Zizek: The Pervert's Guide to Cinema (Commonplace Book)

I normally hate theory but cannot help but come back, again and again, to psychoanalytic theorist Slavoj Zizek. Theory bothers me because it too often ignores, or sets the stage for ignoring, questions of aesthetic value. Slavoj Zizek does that to some degree, but he rises above it because he is the only theorist I know who can claim aesthetic value of his own -- he is entertaining. You could argue some of the French philosophers are writing a kind of prose poetry -- and I can see that to some extent in some places -- but I never find them anywhere as entertaining as Zizek. For your enjoyment today -- two brief clips from a television show I saw in the UK -- The Pervert's Guide to Cinema. Slavoj Zizek is in many ways big hero of mine because he is able to make stuff like this, and make it fun.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Geoff Klock on Comic Geek Speak Episode 319

Comic Geek Speak episode 319 is up today and I do a short bit. This episode they are just catching up with past guests. If you are a regular reader here there is nothing discussed in the interview you do not already know: I have a D.Phil. now, I have a stock of jokes about being a Doctor (Dokkktor Klockhammer, Dr. Dre., Dr. Doom, Doctor Perfect), I like Umbrella Academy and Sugar Shock, I have been updating the blog like crazy and we now have lots of useful links and guest bloggers. Maybe the only thing I discussed there that I have not covered here is how much I love the Venture Bros., but I am planning on doing a blog on that soon in any case. Anyway, if you want to check it out, Click Here for CGS episode 319.

Guest Blogger of the Future: Jim Roeg of Double Articulation

Jim Roeg writes a great blog over at Double Articulation. If you want an example of him being one of the smartest comics bloggers on the internet, I recommend his post on All Star Superman #1. Roeg has recently become a first time father, and that, in combination with other things, has caused him to neglect his own blog for a while -- he just posted again a few days ago after a four month hiatus, talking about why he has not blogged in a while. This is what he wrote:

As for Double Articulation? I don’t know. I’m not one to give up on things once I’ve started, but the days of painfully long and tortured pseudo-academic essays in which I project my fantasy life and romantic values onto contemporary comics and Marvel of the seventies are probably over—at least for the time being. If you’re still out there, dear readers, you can expect to see some changes around here. What those changes will entail, well... We’ll both find out soon.

So naturally I wrote him, and said if he is not sure about the future of his blog and if he thinks he may only be going at it irregularly, he should write for us over here. He agreed. I do not know when we will be getting our first Jim Roeg post -- there is a reason he backed off of his own blog. But I look forward to his contributions to the little project I am putting together here.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Batman's Son (Comment Pull Quote)

[There was NEVER a rule that said my comments were off the table for a comment pull quote!]

When I reviewed Morrison's Batman this week I said I liked Batman's son. In the comments, James pointed out that I did not in Morrison's first arc. Here is what I told him.

James -- you are right. I did not love him. But as of this issue he has an interesting family romance conflict. His mom is a bad guy. His biological dad is a superhero. His grandfather -- who seems a little weirdly incestuous with his mother, as if they are his parents -- considers him property. If the grandfather gets his way, and takes over the kid's body, then the grandfather will be his daughter's child, and one of Batman's villain's will become Batman's son. And just to toss things up even more the kid is still wearing the Robin Uniform -- even though he is Batman's biological son, he knows how close Batman is to Batman's surrogate son Robin, whose place he wants. Morrison is building a lot of interesting conflict here with this character, who I suddenly have sympathy for because he is so overdetermined.

For the record, I still think Morrison's Batman has been mediocre. But this one thing was well done in the most recent issue.

Brad Winderbaum's Satacracy 88.11.2

The second part of the eleventh episode of Brad Winderbaum's Emmy award winning Satacracy 88 is up at

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #4, part a (incorporating X-Men #96)

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

"Night of the Demon"

The issue begins with Cyclops having an argument with the narrator, which is ... kind of weird. The narrator is haranguing Scott about the death of Thunderbird, saying, "You and the X-Men saved the world ... but you'd lost a man to do it - and try as you might, you can't balance those scales ... can you, Cyclops?" "No," says Scott. "Can you?" the narrator repeats. "No," Scott says, a little louder. "CAN YOU?" "NO!" Claremont didn't ever really use second-person narration in X-Men after this issue. You can kind of see why.

Still, this is Claremont's first crack at fully plotting and dialoguing an X-Men story, and you can see his ideas about the characters starting to be developed by him and Dave Cockrum, and rapidly taking the place of Len Wein's more pedestrian notions. We see the classic contradictions beginning to take shape: Nightcrawler has the look of a demon, but his personality is out-going and fun-loving. (Wein's original conception of Nightcrawler was that he be more tortured.) Storm is a beautiful and naive native girl, but she's also incredibly powerful and has an iron will. Wolverine is an old, experienced soldier, but also psychotically unpredictable. (Wein's conception of Wolverine was that he was a rebellious teenager.) All of these contradictions are brought out in this issue, while still leaving room for a super-heroic brawl (albeit with a throwaway antagonist). There's also an encompassing aesthetic contradiction as well in these early X-Men issues. As Claremont proceeds to try to build in a stronger sense of psychological complexity than had been seen in superhero comics before now, the characters nonetheless all dress in bright primary colors. Blue, yellow and red dominate the X-Men uniforms at this point, with a bit of green (Banshee) and black and white (Storm) thrown in.

It may be a fanboyish thing to say, but the most fascinating X-Man, even in these earliest issues, is Wolverine. There's a vigorous dynamic established by the fact that the team is working and living alongside this guy who might disembowel them at any moment. In this issue, Wolverine gets mad at Nightcrawler for laughing at him, so he leaps at him and tries to slash him apart. Kurt, naturally, just teleports out of the way, and Banshee says to Wolverine, "You could've killed Nightcrawler then, you know." Wolverine's reply is a terse, "Yeah - I know." Then a few pages later, Kierrok smacks down Nightcrawler, and Wolverine becomes enraged, attacking Kierrok while screaming, "Nobody beats on Wolverine's buddies!" and then he goes to town on the demon with his claws. Already Claremont was giving Wolverine some interesting contradictions, of the kind that would later make Wolverine such a fan favorite among comic book fans, and - 25 years down the line - movie-goers.

There is a scene in this issue that's unique to Classic X-Men #4, not having appeared originally in X-Men #96: It starts as a corny comedy bit, with Storm going skinny-dipping in the mansion's pool only to be discovered by the male X-Men, much to the consternation of them all - except Wolverine, who finds it funny. Storm, who was strutting around topless when Professor X first recruited her, doesn't understand what all the fuss was about. She is telepathically chastised by Professor X to "use more discretion" in the future, and we segue into a scene between him and Moira MacTaggert, wherein Moira observes that the new X-Men are challenging Charles "in ways the old ones no longer could," and that they're "pulling [him] from [his] shell." It's a simple turn of phrase, but a very canny way to segue (retroactively) between the stodgy Professor X of the '60s and the more dynamic version that Claremont would create.

[Geoff Klock: Now that I will be reading these issues alongside Jason, I will drop in small comments from time to time. Here I would just mention the quaint moment where Storm says "That bolt of energy from the cairn -- there's no time to avoid it--*" Mystery Science Theater would be quick to point out that she had time to narrate the thing, but not to get away from it. I am starting to get to a place where I can find stuf like this charming rather than annoying.]