Friday, February 29, 2008

Comics Out February 27, 2008

All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder 9. Scott has already reviewed this for us, but let me say two things. First let me plug the Batman book linked in the toolbar on the right; the essay I contributed to it explains why I love this title even though, like almost everyone else, I started out hating it. If you hate this book, my essay might turn you around. Second, as an artist as well as a writer you have to think Frank Miller's real reason to write this issue was to play up the visual absurdity -- yellow Batman and yellow Robin serving lemonade in a yellow room with the Green Lantern standing around unable to do anything about it. This issue continues to support the claims in my essay -- Miller brings the crazy, and the crazy is good for a character like Batman, who is such a franchise at this point. But their prank -- both with the yellow and with verbally harassing Green Lantern who is, in Miller's hands, more than a little dumb (Miller hates cops and hates space cops most of all) -- turns serious. The emotion is maudlin but it should be -- this is not a realistic portrayal of emotion. This is the emotion of a Mickey Spillane novel. And Mickey Spillane, if you missed the memo, is awesome. ALSO: how easy is it going to be for DC to roll out an anti-Green Lantern Batman action figure? All toy companies ever do is get a mold, then put slightly different paint jobs on it (jungle Batman, Winter Batman), and toss in some props (vine, sled). All they need now is some yellow spray paint and a drink pitcher from Barbie's pool set.

Batman 674.
I liked Morrison's writing here, and now I am wondering if his Batman run will be a failed masterpiece along the lines of his New X-Men run -- some great ideas, some great stories, some great artists, some bad artists, some misfires, some serious weak points. At least he fully has my attention again. The answers to who are the other Batmen was pretty satisfying, as was the narration about the king of crime. The art is OK, and we will see where we go from here. As for Morrison's claim that his Batman is 35 and has basically been through everything the stories say he has, it surprising me that Morrison has such a rational explanation. To me the irrational history of these characters was the best part of them, because that chaos requires strong revision. And all of Morrison's frustration with Miller evidenced in interviews and the comic book itself suggest that this is not mere history for him.

Kick Ass 1. Not as pointlessly sadistic or unlikable as I heard over at Newsarama, though surely electrocuted testicles was too far -- being tied and beaten by criminals would have been enough for anyone who can think of violence as anything other than sexual. But overall, not great either. The main character is not as unlikable as Wesley Gibson, but there Millar wanted the audience to see themselves in the main character. Here I cannot help but think that his target audience is Hollywood, and we are all here to make that happen for him, like the friends drug up to see a band play for no reason other than that there is someone in the audience who could give them a contract and it would be best to hear us cheer.

There was a con but I did not keep up with it. Let me know if there is anything I should know in comics news.

LOST season 4 episode 5 (and a big theory)

Last week I said that while season four of Lost may be my favorite season thus far, each episode was hitting the same note: building tension for the horrible event that resulted in the "Oceanic 6" (or the story about them). I wanted something ELSE and this episode gave it to me in the form of looney time travel romance.

Back in season three and parts of two as well, there were flashbacks that had little relevance to the main story other than a thematic connection. In Season Four the flashbacks seem to all have blood in them again. Here it is less of a flashback and more of the main story occurring in two timelines, jacking up Desmond's first "time travel" flashback.

Desmond is flashing back from 2004 to 1996, but remembers only 1996 so that he has no idea where he is in 2004. The beats come fast and furious: Fisher Stevens is going through the same thing; Davies knows what is going on, and tells Desmond that when he gets back to 1996 to go to Oxford and look him up, and give him setting for his machine; he needs a constant and -- oh how silly LOST is but how much I love it for all of its "(Fuzzy )MATH = LOVE" foolishness -- Desmond can find a constant in his love for Penelope, which exists in both time periods and will prevent his brain from exploding. If only Fisher Stevens had been blessed with the swarthy good looks of the hero on a romance novel cover he would not have died bleeding out of his nose (did LOST actually hire Fisher Stevens for only one episode?). Hume is Davies constant -- many people thought Charlotte was testing Davies for psychic ability with the cards, but I thought, from the way he reacts, it would be a memory thing, and it is. That is why he does not remember meeting Hume before and why the only flashback we got of him in episode 2 was him crying -- he has no memory and thus no flashbacks not from someone else's perspective.

PLUS: the island experiences time differently -- a 20 minutes helicopter ride off of the island feels like a day and a half for the castaways. Plus Hanso is selling a diary off of the Black Rock Pirate Ship lost on the island to Penelope's dad. Nuts.

After the show my friend Jason launched into his big theory, which I am going to mangle a bit, but which I will let you know the gist of (we were all adding things and it is very ramshackle): the island is what remans of a collapsing, shrinking universe, something caused by the creation of a singularity (by Davies?). There is nothing outside the island. Communication and travel is essentially a time travel or an alternate universe thing. Time travel explains why all the castaways have intertwined pasts -- the universe getting smaller brings them together, or they were mechanically brought together by some outside force that controls it. The bunny from the season four preview -- plucked from the time stream. Locke's healthy body -- plucked from the time stream before he lost his legs (remember Desmond's body does not time travel which we established with the ink on his hands -- just his mind does). Ben's "magic box" plucked Locke's dad from the time stream. Babies cannot be born on the island if they were conceived on the island because they cannot be plucked from the time stream -- they were never born "out there" to get to the island.

By plucked I do not mean people would notice they were gone -- I guess I mean something more like copied?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Scott on All-Star Batman and Robin #9

[Scott called this for guest-blogging in one of the comments threads. Remember, if you want to review anything here, you can do the same thing -- just let me know in the free form comments or whatever. I will blog about this tomorrow, though my comments will be more brief.]

Ok, move over “I’m the Goddamm Batman”… hell, move over “I Drink Your Milkshake.” The nations next greatest catchphrase should be “Damn you and your Lemonade!”

Miller continues to reach new levels of absurdity in this confrontation between his Batman and Green Lantern. In some ways, this match trumps the Batman/Superman matches that Miller has given us before in the fact that, theoretically, GL is far more powerful the Superman; at least he could be if he only had the imagination (something that Bats points out that he is woefully lacking). Miller also has a lot of fun with the idea that the ring, the most powerful weapon in the universe, is rendered useless, not by something as hard to come by as kryptonite, but as simple as “one of the primary colors” (Bats, Robin, and the room they’re meeting in are all painted yellow).

GL, being the nice guy that he is, just wants to talk (much as Superman did in TDKR “That’s right Clark, keep talking). Bats has no interest in listening, this meeting is simply a way for him to mess with GL and to let him know that he knows his weakness and how to exploit it (Robin reading “The Yellow Kid” was a nice touch). We get another throwback to Miller’s previous bat-efforts when we see the circumstance under which Bats first uttered the phrase “Of course we’re criminals. We’ve always been Criminals. We have to be Criminals!” he says in a laugh. “That even scares [him]” Then, possibly my favorite part of the issue, when Batman snags the ring and he and Robin (two mere mortals) play keep away with the most powerful weapon in the universe.

Then, it all goes horribly wrong. . .

I almost gave up here. For a second, I thought Miller had finally gone too far. Miller has tread a fine line in his depiction of the relationship between Batman & Robin with Bats treatment of his ward bordering on abuse. Here he crosses that line: when Robin takes on GL in hand to hand combat (Batman admits that his fighting style frightens even him) he ‘accidentally’ lands a killing blow that crushes his trachea. Batman’s reaction? He first hurls his apprentice into a wall with such force that it cracks the paint before punching him and telling him to stay down while he administers emergency treatment (interestingly, when he removes his mask, we learn that this is the first time, despite the implied weeks of training, that Grayson sees that Batman is Bruce Wayne).

At first, this might seem a bit extreme but, think about it, Robin has just crushed a man’s trachea. As harsh as Miller’s Batman is and as much he laughs in the face more ‘traditional’ versions of the character, the one thing he retains is a strict code against killing. Especially when you consider that Robin was in no danger and simply landed the blow because he could. To Batman, this is the worst kind of sloppiness.

Afterwards, Batman, for the first time in this series, admits that he’s wrong. Like any ‘parent’ he wanted his ‘child’ to be better than him. He thought he could do this by being harder on Grayson, making the training more immediate. But, for the first time, Batman is willing to admit the importance of the grieving process and the role that played in making him who he is. Without it, despite his chipper demeanor, Robin is just an angrier more reckless version of himself. Batman then takes Robin to his parents grave site so he can say “Goodbye” The issue ends with Batman embracing Robin as they “mourn lives lost, including their own” Maybe it’s a bit maudlin, but I like it. It’s a moment of tenderness in dysfunctional relationship that (if Dark Knight Strikes Again is any indication) is only going to get worse.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

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.

If you think what you have to say -- new topic or comment on an existing topic -- would be better to hear than to read, use the CALL ME button on the toolbar on the right.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

All Three Family Guy Chicken Fights (Commonplace Book)

Family Guy is a show that I always think I do not like, but whenever it is on it gets me to laugh out loud a couple of times. But these three sequences, from different episodes, are a running gag that is brilliant in its total commitment to its object of parody: Hollywood goes to ABSURD lengths to provide variations in setting for two guys beating the hell out of each other, settings that are then used as part of the fight itself; why they are fighting could not matter less. The show has now spent the total of HALF of a full episode on this one gag.

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #15, part b

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Claremont's X-Men issue by issue. For more in the series see Jason Powell's name on the toolbar on the right.]

“Starjammers Aloft”

This is sort of a companion piece to the previous issue’s b-side: Another story set in the past, this time about the Starjammers. As with Classic #14b, a lot of the fun here is seeing John Bolton’s more realistic artistic sensibility applied to Cockrum’s wildly imaginative character/costume designs. The Starjammers look fantastic here – Cockrum’s designs really hold up nicely. Note how intensely cool Raza looks on Page 8, panel one; how sexily cute Hepzibah is on Page 12, panel one; and how comically goofy Ch’od appears is on Page 12, panel four. I wish I had a scanner for this one. These images really do speak for themselves.

Appropriately, the story tying this all together – the tale of how Christopher Summers, Cyclops’ father, came to join the team – is told in a melodramatic, pulpy style. This isn’t the intense tragedy of “A Fire in the Night” (12b) or even the human drama of “Lifesigns” (13b). Claremont tells us right away what we’re in for this time, when the narration explicitly namedrops this story’s influences: “Christopher Summers spent many a joyous boyhood hour enthralled by the adventures of Flash Gordon, and John Carter, Warlord of Mars.” That’s the territory we’re in here. Adventure serials and pulp fiction.

Bolton’s own character designs, along with his affectionate handling of Cockrum’s, are what sell the entire thing. The main villain, for example – a slavedriver who threatens to eat Hepzibah in a formal feast (“meal and execution and work of art all in one”) while sporting a right arm that is just a shoulder and hand connected by a jointed mechanism – is fantastically over the top.

As for why Claremont even devotes an entire Classic X-Men backup to the Starjammers in the first place, it is presumably to help give readers a solid impression of these characters, since their original appearance in the a-sides is so abrupt and brief. They were very likely only there because Cockrum had an idea for some space-pirate characters, and he happened to be drawing X-Men at the time so that’s the book he threw them into.

And why did Claremont make Corsair into Scott’s father? Maybe he figured it would make X-Men readers care more about the Starjammers. Without that connection to one of the series’ lead characters, they are an arbitrary edition to the whole “M’Kraan crystal” arc. But the coincidence of Scott happening to meet his father in this story only strains credulity even further. Neither character knows of his connection to the other, so their two teams meeting up is pure happenstance.

Does “Starjammers Aloft” provide an explanation for this coincidence? No, it does not. However, it does begin a gesture toward placing the coincidence into different dramatic realm: A classically Greek notion of tragic fate.

Consider: In the a-story originally published back in 1977, a single-panel flashback shows Christopher Summers facing off against D’Ken, the Shi’ar Emperor, after D’Ken has just murdered Christopher’s wife (Cyclops’ mother), Kate. A flashback in “Starjammers Aloft” expands on that scene, telling a fuller story: A large part of the origin of Cyclops, in fact. While the Summers family was flying across the country in Christopher’s own private plane, they were attacked by a Shi’ar ship. Scott and Alex were shoved out the hatch with the only parachute, which proceeded to catch fire. Christopher and Kate were taken aboard the alien ship, assuming their kids didn’t make it, and eventually taken before D’Ken, who first took Kate as a concubine and eventually murdered her. Based on that one panel published in 1977, this was probably always Claremont’s plan, even as far back as that. It’s not a particularly inspired bit of plotting, though its recounting in “Starjammers Aloft” certainly suits that story’s pulpy trappings.

But, now ... here is why I love comic books. Flash-forward to 1980, the climax of the Dark Phoenix Saga. Lilandra, now the empress of the Shi’ar Empire (having displaced D’Ken with Christopher Summers’ help) has decided that the Phoenix – Jean Grey – is too dangerous to be allowed to live. Lilandra sentences Jean to death, but Jean’s lover – Christopher’s son, Scott – and the rest of his team fight to prevent that. They fail. Claremont and Byrne end the story with Jean being psychically neutered, but Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter decides this is a bad ending. The last few pages of the story are scrapped, rewritten, redrawn at the 11th hour, and the story now ends with Jean’s death.

Corsair’s son’s lover dies. Because of the empress of the Shi’ar.

Two generations of Summers men have now both watched their lovers die in front of them, thanks to the two consecutive rulers of the same empire. That’s beyond coincidence. That’s Greek drama; the will of the gods; tragic fate. An almost literary level of dramatic irony. And it happened COMPLETELY BY ACCIDENT.

Only in comics.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mark Millar's Wanted 1

[With the film coming out, and with writer Mark Millar in the spotlight, following Civil War with Fantastic Four and Kick Ass, and with artist J.G. Jones on Final Crisis with Morrison, I thought I would take an issue by issue look at Wanted. Some of what follows was suggested by my friend Erin. Wanted also meets my criteria for an issue by issue look: it is not by Morrison, and it is a mixed bag (because you would get bored listening to me just praise or complain).]

The first issue of Wanted introduces us to Wesley Gibson, cubicle-drone whose long vanished father, unknown to him, was part of a secret fraternity of super-villains who control the world. When the book begins and Wesley is 24, and his father has just been killed. Now Wesley will be transformed from hypochondriac whiner into the super-villain he was born to be by his father's friends.

The first three pages are spent on details establishing what a loser Wesley is: his girlfriend cheats on him with his best friend and he does nothing even though he knows, he has cheap Ikea furniture, he works in a cubicle, he gets picked on by kids in his neighborhood, he is a hypochondriac, he hates his friendly neighbors, his father, who he knows nothing about, left his pregnant mother when he was 18 weeks old. "Remember me? Wesley Gibson" he says pathetically, worried we may have forgotten him in the few pages we were away. We see that Wesley allows himself to be manipulated by his girlfriend, made to feel bad for her having sex with eleven co-workers. Then his best friend has sex with his girlfriend again, just to be sure you get it. Millar just piles it on, afraid that we might not get his point with, say, a careful detail. Why the overkill? Because, as the book progresses, we will see that Millar is not simply writing a story. No, he is writing a polemic. And with polemic he must be SURE we get the POINT about our LIVES. Many of the elements of the story work quite well, some are amazing, but when the polemic gets in the way, as it often does, Millar gets into trouble as we will see.

Two details in this montage stand out. At work Wesley complains "This is me taking shit from my African American boss." Later in the issue his boss will taunt him, asking him if he is looking up " or www.small-white-dicks". Toward the end of the issue he will meet Professor Solomon Seltzer, the sort of mad-scientist of the super-villain set, who will taunt him with the choice of "taking control of your life" (i.e. becoming a murderer) or "go back to being bitched at by your African American Boss," as if he could read Wesley's mind. Those kids that were taunting him on the way home from work about his clothes (obviously not work clothes, which is a confusing detail) he calls "Cholo fucks." He ironically says that he eats a fancy sandwich to prove he's "different from the herd." The obvious objection is that Millar, or this book, is racist, and elitist, and the obvious rejoinder is that Millar is writing about a guy who is basically evil in an evil word, so of course the character (not to be confused with the writer) is racist, and elitist. But there is a subtler reason why all of this is trouble, and not only because in hitting us over the head with the sad story of Wesley's life the book assumes we are stupid.

First the difference between sympathy and identification, which I always get into when I get into fights with people. Sympathy is feeling bad for someone else's misfortune. Identification is when we see ourselves in another person, and then feel bad for ourselves. These are two ways of creating a bond with viewers. A sympathetic detail, such as Alex's love of classical music in A Clockwork Orange might make me feel sympathetic toward him. But there is nothing sympathetic about Wesley Gibson. Millar is banking on our identification with the character. His version of the "leave your dead end job and become super-powerful" fantasy (which will be retained in the movie) is rooted in his belief that the reader is an awful person who will see himself in Wesley Gibson, and so become invested in the story. The only person who will identify with Wesley will be someone just like him. The book is not primarily mean spirited because it is racist; the book is mean spirited because it assumes we are. That is why the book includes the scene where his "African American Boss" taunts him about the Klan and his small white penis -- In making her cruel, Miller attempts to give us license to join Wesley in his (obviously racially motivated) hatred with the child's logic of "she started it." Because Millar thinks we are idiots.

We next see how Wesley's father dies, and another bothersome detail comes into play. Wesley's father, attired in an open bathrobe and and underwear, has hired to gay men to have sex in front of him. The first thing we hear from him is "I'm not a homosexual you understand. In fact I've bedded over five thousand women in my fifty-eight years which makes me quite the opposite I believe. I just like to do this gay thing every other year to whet my appetite for the pleasure of the fairer sex. There's nothing like the perfumed touch of a woman after twelve months of heaving, sweating man flesh writhing between one's sheets." So a year of sex with women, followed by a year of sex with men -- this is supposed to indicate his decadence, but the claim to not being a homosexual is something Millar thinks so important to establish he makes it the first words we hear from him. There is nothing in the words to indicate any irony; we are not, I think, to see The Killer as being defensive, of not really knowing himself. Millar has a history in his work of returning again and again to anal rape by and on men (it occurs more than once in his twelve issue Authority run). Bisexuality and a huge number of partners is surely enough to make decadence clear. And yet Millar cannot simply do that. He needs you to know the Killer is decadent, but he also needs you to know, by fiat if nothing else, that he is not one of those people. He is "quite the opposite." This is part of his firm heterosexuality, you see.

All of this would make the book thoroughly repulsive, except for the fact that the artwork is great, and so are many of the ideas of the story -- not to be confused with the polemic. The Killer exits his building sticking to the walls by what appear to be Spiderman's boots. Seltzer's lab is guarded by "a Downs-Syndrome copy of Earth's first superhero." Super-villains re-wrote reality in 1986, the year of Crisis on Infinite Earths. This book came out at the height of Planetary and the Authority's "analogues" for major characters owned by other companies (Apollo and the Midnighter are Superman and Batman, for example). Millar smartly ups the ante -- without naming names he makes it clear that these are not the boots of a Spiderman like character -- in the rewrite the Killer killed Spider-Man and took his boots. "Fuck-Wit" as he is called is a clone of Superman, not some analogue. And the book achieves real surprise with moments like a rifle fired from two cities away, and blithely killing everyone in a sandwich shop for no reason because you can never be caught because you run the world. Millar's story is in place; it is his polemic that is deeply flawed.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Chris Millward on Do Previews Detract or Enhance (Comment Pull Quote)

Chris Millward wrote in the Lost season 4 episode four discussion:

What are others thoughts on watching previews vs. not?

There have been many cases where the preview goes so far beyond what was necessary to make me interested in a movie/show that I regret having watched it. I still watch previews/trailers for movies (though trepidly), but for serials such as Lost, House, Heroes, etc. I already know I'm going to watch the show. I'd rather not be thinking while watching the show, well I know that Jack is going to be standing there doing ____, and I know that at some point he will be ____, and the show only has 10 minutes left, how are they going to make that happen. There are times when exploiting foreknowledge can end up bettering the experience, but that seems rare with marketing-driven previews. For the most part, I'd rather take in the narrative in a single serving.

An example of being in love with a premise and then having too much revealed in the trailer: Children of Men. The setup, a future with no children, was amazing. For me personally, I wish they hadn't revealed in the trailer that there was a single pregnant woman. There was plenty of opportunity to build tension in the trailer (his relationship with the rebel leader, Orwellian government, a mission of great importance) without the reveal.

Anyway, its a two way street, because I definitely see the benefit to trailers. I just wish there was some way to spark interest without giving away the farm (or a significant piece of the farm).

Open question: Any instances come to mind where previews either enhanced/detracted from the viewing experience?

[I can certainly think of times when previews have done both. For the most part I do not care what happens in the story I want to see how it is told, so I do not care about spoilers. Often I need a spoiler to get me interested -- I did not start watching LOST for example until I heard about that hatch. But now with LOST I would never want anything spoiled by someone who had seen farther ahead than me -- I would not want someone to tell me about a twist. But also, with LOST, I want to be invested in it on a week to week basis. I think guessing at things is part of the experience, as is being ramped up by previews of next week's episode. On the other hand the previews really bothered me when I saw season 3 episode 6 because they called it the "fall finale" and really, it was just an episode, and I felt let down. So I am in a total muddle about this, and, like Chris would like to hear what people think.]

Saturday, February 23, 2008


There is a button on the right toolbar that says CALL ME in big friendly CitiBank letters. You click it and it rolls over, prompting you to enter your name and your phone number, and to click a button that says "Call Me." Do that and it calls the number you put in immediately. When you pick up that phone, you hear my name and a brief recorded message, then you leave me a voicemail. I get the voicemail on my computer and I can then post it on the blog with an embeded audio-player for everyone to hear. You can also, I suppose, call me just to tell me something (though in that case you would probably be better off emailing me). I tried having the website call me to try it out. Here is the result:

There are two main things I can see using this for:

I can call myself whenever I want to and essentially do short audio-blogs.

You can call me to introduce a topic or respond to a topic; then I can either embed the player in a post as its own topic (creating an audio-guest blog), or I can do a kind of voicemail roundup however often I need to, introducing each audio clip.

This may be quite silly, but it seems like it could be fun.

The Importance of Poetry

I got into this conversation at a party a few weeks ago with a high school art teacher. She remarked that what we do is so "important," and I countered that I did not really think of it that way. The main thing I try to get across in the classroom is that poetry is fun. My pop culture juxtapositions -- the Beowulf movie, Outkast lyrics -- are meant to make that point: poetry should not be viewed as this intimidating thing, but as fundamentally the same kind of thing as comics and music and the movies and TV. But then the more I thought about it I thought that of course poetry is important or I would not be so invested in it, but that did not quite feel right. I told someone at lunch, still thinking about it, that maybe the "importance" of poetry is a side effect? Today I found the right formulation for how I feel about this subject reading Oscar Wilde, who is always right about everything, and paraphrasing him:

Poetry is far too important to be taken seriously.

[Wilde said "Life is far too important to be taken seriously" which is also true].

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #15, part a (UXM #108)

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Claremont's X-Men issue by issue. For more in the series see Jason Powell's name on the toolbar on the right.]

“Armageddon Now”

Penciller John Byrne and inker Terry Austin arrive with this issue, immediately giving the series a feel it has not yet experienced under Claremont. Byrne was hugely influenced by Neal Adams’ work, and that’s evident in his more realistic style, very evocative of Adams. Austin’s attention to detail completes the effect (note all the rendering on the giant robot), making for a more intense and realistic atmosphere. Indeed, the effect is very similar to the huge jump in tone between Werner Roth’s last issue of X-Men in the ‘60s and Neal Adams’ first. It won’t be the last time the Claremont/Byrne/Austin team evoke the Neal Adams run. Indeed, as time goes by and Byrne begins to take a more active hand in plotting, these evocations will become more and more deliberate.

As discussed in the review of the previous issue, Claremont is positioning the X-Men here as sci-fi characters. This is the conclusion to Claremont’s first major epic as writer of the title, and it ostensibly has nothing to do with the X-Men as mutants/outcasts. Unless we view their positioning here as sci-fi characters through the lens so cleverly conceived by Neil Shyminski. I’m hoping he won’t mind if I do an extended quote from a conversation with him:

“Science fiction is a genre, at its most base thematic levels, that is expressive of a fear of the Other - and a fear that its degeneracy will somehow rub off on you. Victor Frankenstein violates the laws of nature in creating his Monster and it leaves him alienated and drives him to his death; Rick Deckard, we're given reason to suspect, might actually be one of the replicants that he is chasing; Neo may actually be a failsafe function created by the machines to reboot humanity. 
... the X-Men can have superhero adventures, but they can't really be superhero characters. Their marks of difference, of the Other, has always made them a much more comfortable fit with a genre like science fiction.”

That assertion resonates powerfully when looking at this story. The resonance is stronger, I think, in Claremont’s rewriting of Uncanny #108 here, in Classic X-Men #15, than it was originally. But support for Shyminski’s thesis is all over this issue. Note, for example, the cut to the Avengers, and their assertion that the threat facing the universe in this story is “too big and too far away.” The superheroes can’t handle this one; the X-Men can.

The nature of the threat itself provides another clue to Claremont’s possible point here. He dresses it up in some technobabble, but the key is Jean’s comment that it is “anti-energy.” Later, when Jean as Phoenix is the one who faces the threat head-on, she wonders to herself, “Perhaps THIS is why I became Phoenix.” Thanks to the ret-con that Claremont reinforced in Classic X-Men #8, we know that Jean was deliberately bonded to the Phoenix, a being that was made of pure white light – energy. So indeed, the clues all add up: she was merged with the Phoenix force (which represents life) in order to counter the “anti-energy” (death) contained within the M’Krann crystal.

But here’s where it gets interesting: In Uncanny #108, Phoenix – with the help and spiritual nourishment of Xavier and his “dream” — finds the will to defeat and contain the anti-energy within the crystal, and the story ends. But Classic X-Men #15 adds a new page, in which – just after containing the destructive force but before leaving the inside of the crystal – Jean has a vision. “Heroism has its price,” goes the narration. “All things, you see, have their balance – the Yang to counter the Yin – and it is the brightest light ... which casts the darkest shadow.” And suddenly Jean comes face to face with an image of herself, almost identical, except her costume is red rather than green. Most X-Men readers, reading Classic X-Men in 1987, would’ve known immediately what this meant. It’s a vision of Dark Phoenix, which Jean is destined to become – the version of the character that murdered millions. The implication is that the use of her power here, to halt destruction and death, is the first step in her corruption by that power – into becoming a force of destruction and death herself. Jean reacts fearfully to the vision, crying, “No! Whatever you are, wherever you came from, you’re no part of me!”

As Shyminski said, “Science fiction is a genre, at its most base thematic levels, that is expressive of a fear of the Other - and a fear that its degeneracy will somehow rub off on you.” Claremont’s rewriting of the climactic scene of his first arc (Act One of his run) captures this beautifully, and also sends the series on a powerful trajectory toward the Dark Phoenix Saga (the climax of Act Two).

(The soap-opera twist in this issue – that Corsair, the buccaneering leader of the Starjammers, is the father of the orphaned Cyclops – is an audacious bit of melodrama that comes entirely out of left field. But it will weave into the Phoenix drama in surprising ways. More on that when we look at the b-side of this issue.)

[This issue reminded me of some of Promethea, with its big sci-fu universe life-death speeches, and its surprising use of the Kabbalah in which Xavier is the crown of the tree of life.

Also, stupid question -- the evil crystal causes the universe to stop existing for brief, terrifying moments. How are you supposed to notice when everything, including yourself, stops existing and comes back?]

Friday, February 22, 2008

Comics Out February 22, 2008

Runaways 29. I barely remember what happened since the last issue of this, which came out a long time ago I think. I am not optimistic about my abilities to remember this one when the next (and final) one comes out. For example, I do not remember if the kid and the miniature man are new to this issue, and brought in only to die, which is quite lame, but not as lame as the fact that I cannot remember. The art is dowdy and dull – check out panels two and three of page two for example: no backgrounds, exact same pose and expression. I was pleased that Whedon introduced a sympathetic character who is unable to transcend her culture and embrace interracial lesbianism; it at least avoids an easy out there. There is a dull romance plot, and an attempt to evolve Nico’s power, but none of this is keeping my attention. To cap the whole dumb thing Whedon, who usually is a MASTER of the final moment in an episode, totally fails to come up with something more interesting than a bomb. With time travelling mutant kids you have to end with something more imaginative than 24 would, especially if you are going to make everyone wait this long.

The Order 8. Knowing the Order is no more makes this a bitter-sweet read. Every issue I like this book more and it only has two more issues to go. In, perhaps, an effort to wrap the whole thing up quickly – or maybe it was always going to be like this – we get a big reveal about the man from SHADOW and the main threat. And hey, Whedon, THIS is how you do and ending beat.

The Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death. This is all good fun, even though I feel like I have seen these “put the hero through various periods of comic book history” thing. Fraction and Co seem to be working out a new structure for monthly books. In an age where slow auteurs produce amazing work (All Star Superman), and bog-standard monthlies support the industry (Ultimate Spiderman) Fraction, possibly unconsciously, is building a third way: Have your auteur strand (the Aja pages) but keep the pace up through sidebars (fill in artists who handle subplots in the main story) and specials like the annual and this thing – specials that genuinely augment the main story. That way you have prestige work without the gaps. I am not saying this is exactly what is going on -- Chaykin and Fraction on a book may be as prestige as Faction and Aja on a book – I am just saying that this book implicitly suggests something to the industry. I would like to see more people work with it.

Angel 4. This book remains basically acceptable, but I feel like Joss putting out a series of e mail letting us know periodically where he was going to go next would suffice as well.

Umbrella Academy 6. This book continues to look great. The fight, especially the reds, are great; the little “BOOM” is a particular highlight. You rarely see that kind of understatement in a punch-em-up. But the end is little more than a blood-bath, a random solution, and an epilogue. I would get more of this book if Ba is on the art. If not, not so much.

In Comics News Newsarama has an interview with Grant Morrison about his Batman run. Basically he sees himself as trying to imagine all of Batman's history as taking place in fifteen years of Batman's life. I am still thinking through exactly what I think of that. I will get back to you.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

LOST Season 4 Episode 4

The most recent episode of LOST was good, but it also felt a little thin. I think that condensing the second half of the 16 episode season into five episodes might work out really well.

This episode focuses on Kate: how did she NOT end up in prison when she returned to the real world, and who is the mysterious "he" she told Jack she had to get back to in the finale to season 3; that "he" the commercial told us, would be the fifth member of the Oceanic 6 that we will see.

She gets out of jail time because her dying mother refuses to testify, in part because -- due to the obviously false version of events the survivors have been telling the world -- she is considered a hero. We learn she has a son, and because of the time she spends in this episode with Jack ("I know why you don't want to see him") and Sawyer (who she nearly sleeps with) we wonder whose it is. The big closer at the end, revealed after it almost looks like the kid has down-syndrome (did anyone else think that?) is that it is not her biological son after all, neither of them are the father -- it is Aaron, Claire's Aaron.

I love LOST, especially this season of LOST, but I found the sub-plot in which Miles demands a very specific amount of money from Ben to tell the world he is dead to be not as interesting as I think they wanted me to. I am sure we will find out what the money is for, but it felt a little time-wastey because it was so empty. I also feel like I already saw John Locke feeling lost and doubtful in the hatch. Locke is also my favorite character; this is not a complaint about the show but what I want to see -- I want to see Locke doing well.

The thing about this season is the building of dread for the event I assume we are headed to in the finale -- why the Oceanic 6? What happened to all those people? Are they living on the island in secret and want the world to think they are dead? Are they being held hostage? Or are they all dead, at the hands of the people from the freighter? What terrible thing made Jack crazy, make Hurley go back to the asylum, made Jack check if Hurley was going to tell anyone about "it", made Sayid kill for Ben, has Lt. Daniels hunting them all? LOST is doing a good job building that dread -- the fact that Claire is not with Aaron, that Aaron is being raised by someone else, is very dark. Also dark, but only implied, is that there is only one member of the Oceanic 6 we have not seen -- so Son and Jin, or Rose and Bernard, for example, did not make it out as a couple, or so we are left to think. The tension built here is serious, but it also feels a bit like we are hitting the same note every week, or variations on the theme every week, and the feeling produced is maybe a bit too similar for me. I prefer the free-wheeling LOST where any genre is up for grabs (Alfred Hitchcock presents, time travel, jungle adventure, prison break, sci-fi monster).

One thing I DO like about the new LOST is that we get answers quickly -- who are the people on the boat? what do they want? who is Kate's mysterious "he" -- and next week we find out something about the problem introduced this week: why did Sayid and Desmond fail to get to the boat, or why are they people on the boat claiming this (since we know Sayid gets to the mainland eventually)?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

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, February 19, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #14, part b

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Claremont's X-Men issue by issue. For more in the series see Jason Powell's name on the toolbar on the right.]

“What Stuff Our Dreams Are Made Of ...”

The a-side of this issue finally gave us Lilandra’s origin. Unsurprisingly. Claremont again tied it to a Neal Adams issue – this time, Uncanny #65, wherein Xavier harnesses the brain-power of Earth’s entire population to drive off the alien invaders known as the Z’nox. Uncanny #107 explains that this burst of mind-power hit Lilandra, forging a mental rapport between her and him. He experienced it as nightmares, as shown in several issues of Uncanny beginning with #97. The b-side of Classic X-Men #14 is set in the past, and shows us how Lilandra first experienced that first connection.

Despite these Claremont/Bolton backups always running only 11 to 12 pages in length, each is surprisingly dense with incident, often broken into three complete acts. The present story’s first act is terse little sci-fi space opera, with Bolton having lots of fun playing with Cockrum’s brilliant spaceship designs (as seen on that great two-page spread at the beginning of Uncanny #97). Bolton’s realistic approach to comic book art, as applied here both to Cockrum’s tech designs and Cockrum’s design of Lilandra (with her broad, black, bird-feather hairdo, knee-high boots and one-piece swimsuit) reminds me a bit of Alex Ross’ painterly take on the work of Jack Kirby and other Sivler Age artists in Marvel. The realism manages to be striking in its own right while, at least for me, also making me that much more appreciative of Cockrum’s talent – for design in particular. The sum total makes for four pages of pure, joyous space opera, starring a surprisingly sexy Lilandra. (I’ll argue with anyone that the story’s opening splash page of Lilandra on Page 1 trumps Quitely’s Lilandra cover for “New X-Men.”)

The second act begins on Page 5, in a text-heavy portrayal of Lilandra’s mind reacting to the wave of psychic energy from Xavier. Claremont’s narration, reliant as usual on fairly classical rhetorical tricks, flows well. “Her mind --” he writes, “-- trained to repel the slightest psychic invasion – and her spirit, which since birth has reveled in its defiant, inviolable solitude, untouched and untouchable ... do not resist this alien intruder ... but – to her horror, to her joy – welcome him.” The horror/joy parallelism is nicely evocative.

Claremont then manages a clever trick for getting exposition across that I don’t think I’ve seen used, at least not often: Lilandra becomes confused by the influx of Xavier’s thoughts, so in an attempt to separate her thoughts from his, she begins to recite various facts about herself, her family, the Shi’ar ... all helpful info for the reader. We learn that Shi’ar are of avian descent rather than simian, so her ancestors can fly, and that she has a sister who is “an avatism – a genetic throwback – and fiercely proud of it.” (This is Deathbird, a birdlike villainess who first appeared in the Claremont-written Ms. Marvel series, at almost the exact same time that Uncanny #107 was published. Deathbird would go on to appear in Uncanny #155, wherein her relation to Lilandra is a key plot point.)

When Lilanrda finally figures out that a bond has been formed between her and a man who is “not only alien, but from some fringeworld,” there’s a nice moment in which she forces herself to ignore the urge to head to Earth. That rebellion against her brother the emperor isn’t going to lead itself, after all. It’s only when she recognizes that the rest of her rebellion has already been quashed – ironically, while she was dealing with the psychic assault from Xavier – that she strikes upon the idea to come to Earth for the X-Men’s help. That’s a neat twist on what readers were led to expect, given the flashback from the a-side.

In the final few panels, wherein Lilandra blasts off towards Earth, Claremont engages in some whimsical imagery that he must have fought to resist using anywhere on the previous eleven pages. It occurs to Lilandra that when she reaches her destination, she might learn that Xavier doesn’t feel the affinity for her that she feels for him ... and that’s if she finds him at all. Of course, we readers know that he does and she will. But how does Lilandra handle those doubts? “Take the wind as it comes,” she tells herself. “Trust there’ll be a perch to land on when it’s needed. In the meantime, I’ve a long way to fly.” A liberal deployment of optimistic bird-imagery would’ve seemed trite if introduced a second earlier, but Claremont saves it right to the end, rhetorically energizing these closing panels. The emotional effect is downright effervescent.

Ron Padgett's Mortal Combat (Commonplace Book)

You can't tell yourself not to think
of the English muffin because that's what
you just did, and now the idea
of the English muffin has moved
to your salivary glands and caused
a ruckus. But I am more powerful
than you, salivary glands, stronger
than you, idea, and able to leap
over you, thoughts that keep coming
like an invading army trying to pull
me away from who I am. I am
a squinty old fool stooped over
his keyboard having an anxiety attack
over an English muffin! And
that's the way I like it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

This is Post #600

We are also only a little more than a week away from the two year anniversary of my first post. Thanks to all my readers, commenters, and guest bloggers, especially Jason Powell, who, including draft blogs, has us halfway to 700.

The Poetry of Ron Padgett

When I started this blog I intended to discuss poetry more, but the poetry posts are few and far between, in part because other kinds of posts are, for obvious reasons, more popular. Nevertheless, a few words about Ron Padgett.

Ron Padgett represents a small but I think important shift in taste for me. He is a poet I was introduced to back when my undergraduate interest was shifting from philosophy to literature. I was entertained by him in part because my roommates, very much into a silly kind of surrealism, liked him so much. Here is his poem "Haiku" and "Nothing in that Drawer," which I put up on the blog a year and a half ago. Here is his poem "You Never Know":

1) What might happen.
2) How people will behave.
3) Oh anything.

Three rules that live
in the house next door.

Along comes the big bad philosopher,
and at their door
he hurls the mighty bolts
of lightning
from his brain.

The door is unimpressed.
Behind it the rules
are chuckling.

I witness this scene
through the kitchen curtains
as I rinse the dishes.

As I went deeper into literature my taste "matured" to more "serious" things like Beckett and Joyce, and when I began to focus on poetry it was the canon of great poets. Ashbery became one of my favorites in part because he had the silliness of Padgett on occasion, but was also authorized by Bloom as the inheritor of Stevens et al. Done with grad school, and having written a book on poetry, I have returned to Padgett in the last few months -- specifically his books Tulsa Kid, Great Balls of Fire, The Big Something, You Never Know, and his new one, and my favorite one, How to be Perfect.

Even the titles of these books sort of sing. Padgett is the master of a kind of charming, goofy-direct, freshness. He is surreal, but never "difficult" the way Ashbery, Carson, or even Mark Strand can be. Ashbery is a great poet, but Ashbery is also a great poet to write an essay on. I would feel faintly silly writing a serious academic essay on Padgett, maybe. But now that I am no longer required to write such self-serious essays, I find Padgett is a poet I really enjoy in a pure non-academic way. It is for this reason I say -- if you do not really read poetry, go get How to Be Perfect. Not because it is a major work of American Literature (though I suppose it might be) but because it is FUN TO READ.

I will put up the first poem in the book tomorrow, as the commonplace book entry.

Dave Cockrum

Cliff Meth is selling his friend Dave Cockrum's comic book collection to benefit Cockrum's widow. He wrote me and asked me to let people know about the site. I figured it could not hurt, but keep in mind I have no idea if this is legit, except that it looks legit at a glance.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

LOST season 4 episode 3 (spoilers)

This episode revealed two major things: Sayid is one of the Oceanic 6, and is working as an assassin for Ben in his post-island life; and there is some kind of time distortion operating on the island because when Jeremy Davies has a rocket sent from the ship to the island it takes far too long to get there, and the time-piece inside is 31 minutes off from the one he already had with him.

I have little to add to add in terms of discussion or reviewery on this one. I thought the episode was great -- not as good as the one before, but better than the season opener. A friend of mine who I got sucked into Lost said she did not care about the post-island stories, but I very much do, especially this one, which I suspect is the other half of the story we are now watching -- I wonder if "The Economist" is Lt Daniels, or someone above him, someone Ben is hunting down because of whatever horrible thing happened on the island that lead to only 6 people getting back and Jack to meet with Hurley to keep whatever they did secret. The post-island time builds a tremendous amount of slow burn tension about whatever story is lurking between the two time periods we are experiencing, something I imagine will be part of the season four finale.

There are only 9 more episodes until that finale. The season was supposed to be 16 episodes long. Eight were filmed before the strike. Post-strike, news is we will get only five more this season -- five more episodes that will condense the intended unfilmed eight and culminate in whatever basic material was going to make up the season four finale before the strike happened. I was initially dismayed by this -- I felt that, because of its smaller season, Lost should have been able to fully recover from the strike unaffected. Considering season five does not start until 2009, eight more episodes did not seem to me to be out of the question -- I thought maybe they could do them in the fall for example. Having to change your story for reasons external to that story reminds me of one of my least favorite things -- fill in artists in comic books. I think the problem may have to do with the expense of Lost, which films in Hawaii.

Three things made me feel better about this. The first is that NBC demanded Aaron Sorkin put some action into his West Wing. He did so under protest, but the results, the kidnapping of Zoe Bartlet, are some of the best TV I have seen. Second, while the second episode of this season was so action packed I thought it would be horrible to have to condense something like that, this third episode had sequences that, while I enjoyed, could have been condensed without really damaging anything. The whole Hurley tied up thing -- it reminded me that while I love Lost, and would never really complain about stuff like this, condensing material might work as well. Carlton Cruse said that season for was high-octane, and that the revised season four would be super-high octane, and maybe that will be great actually. Third -- the Lost writers know what they are doing, and I have some confidence that they will handle it gracefully.

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #14, part a (UXM #107)

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Claremont's X-Men issue by issue. For more in the series see Jason Powell's name on the toolbar on the right.]

“Where No X-Man Has Gone Before”

For the final issue of his run on X-Men, Dave Cockrum goes all out, introducing a score of new characters (each with a distinctively cool costume, Cockrum’s specialty) and loading almost every page with the kind of superhero action that the artist – by all accounts – just loved. Claremont rises to the challenge of keeping up with his artist, producing text that – for all the author’s characteristic verbosity – moves along excitingly. That’s not to say there isn’t the occasional cognitive dissonance between art and word here. Cockrum’s pages are filled with an exuberant love of this genre, and his art, embellished here by the fantastic Dan Green and colored in bold primaries and secondaries by Evelyn Stein, reflects that. When Claremont’s narration attempts something a little darker as the battle starts – intoning gravely, “It begins. And, in moments, a once-tranquil plain ... is turned into a scene out of hell” — it doesn’t quite match up.

This issue’s villains are the Imperial Guard, who make a strong first impression here. In spite of there being a good dozen members, several of them seem imbued immediately by Claremont with interesting backstory and there are some hints at intra-team relationships potentially as interesting as those among the X-Men. I assume, however, that this might have been Claremont’s contribution to Cockrum’s little joke, which is that the Imperial Guard are avatars of DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes. The Legion were Cockrum’s first major comics assignment (X-Men his second), and each Imperial Guardsman has his counterpart in Cockrum’s Legion. For the trivia-minded, this is how it breaks down:

Gladiator – Superboy
Astra - Phantom Girl
Fang - Timberwolf
Hobgoblin – Chameleon
Impulse – Wildfire
Mentor - Brainiac 5
Oracle - Saturn Girl
Quasar - Cosmo Boy
Smasher - Ultra Boy
Starbolt - Sun Boy
Tempest - Lightning Lad
Titan - Colossal Boy

So, in Uncanny X-Men #107, when Starbolt refers to Oracle as the woman he loves, I’m guessing that it’s because in the Legion comic, Sun Boy was in love with Saturn Girl, et cetera. (When Grant Morrison introduced a new incarnation of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard in his X-Men run, he made them analogues of what was then the contemporary Legion; another example of his attempting to play that particular “riff” faithfully.)

Then Cockrum goes ahead and unleashes another pet love of his: swashbuckling space pirates. Toward the end of the story, the Starjammers show up like a deus ex buccana to save the day. It’s kind of an odd way to go with the story, really; there doesn’t seem to be any narrative justification for a third team to show up (especially when readers already had a dozen new characters to keep track of in the Imperial Guard). But I’ve got another theory ...

It’s quite possible that Claremont and Cockrum were perhaps trying to recreate Star Wars with this issue: Lilandra is a princess who led a rebellion against the emperor, she sought out Professor X, her “only hope,” and Xavier sent his proteges (a sort of seven-headed Luke Skywalker) to do just that. They have to prevent the nine “death stars” from aligning, and have to fight the Imperial soldiers to do it. In that schema, the Starjammers’ showing up to save the day toward the end might be a gesture toward the moment in Star Wars when Han Solo shows up at the end to bail Luke out.

I suggested this to Neil Shyminski once, and he pointed out that there’s no way the Lilandra/Eric the Red arc could have been conceived this way from the beginning: it began in Uncanny # 97, released over a year before “Star Wars.” This is true – but by the time we get to this concluding two-parter, which is when a lot of the details are filled in, Claremont and Cockrum would’ve already seen Star Wars, and might’ve been familiar with its plot details even earlier. (The first part of Marvel’s comic book adaptation of the film – written by Roy Thomas, the scripter of Neal Adams’ X-Men issues – was released three months before Uncanny X-Men #107.)

Shyminski has also suggested that Joss Whedon’s allusions in the pages of Astonishing X-Men, to films like Dune and – of course – Star Wars, are an attempt to resolve the question left by Morrison (what are the X-Men if they are not superheroe?s) by repositioning them into a different genre (answer: they are sci-fi characters). In one of my typical attempts to devalue any accomplishment by Morrison or Whedon in the context of Claremont, I immediately suggested that Claremont already did this, and the first example is right here: He’s plugging them into a sci-fi story that borrows heavily from Star Wars and whose title directly alludes to the opening narration of that other “Star” franchise.

And to cement the allusion, the Classic X-Men re-release of Uncanny #107, there is an interpolated scene wherein Claremont gives Nightcrawler this thought balloon: “Eat your heart out, George Lucas. This is a real ‘Star Wars!’” A few years later, Claremont and Lucas would collaborate on a series of fantasy novels. Then a few years after that, Lucas would re-release Star Wars with newly interpolated scenes. Coincidence?

[What is an earlier superhero comic book example of "analog" characters, as the Imperial Guard are to The Legion of Superheroes -- characters that are not copyright infringement, but are clear to anyone as properties of another company? ]

Friday, February 15, 2008

Comics Out February 13, 2008

Punisher 16. I am going to expose myself as a Philistine, in the hopes of getting an education. Because the only alternative is nodding my head and feeling like an idiot. I love Matt Fraction's stuff, and really trust him. So when he says Howard Chaykin, one of his big heroes, is a great artist, I believe him. Other comic book creators I trust tell me that Chaykin is great and I believe them too. I have faith. But I do not SEE. Can someone here explain the charms of Howard Chaykin to me? With examples, possibly images online? I have other Chaykin books in storage -- some American Flaggs, an Elseworld JLA story, some oversized thing with Wolverine, I cannot remember what else, and have not seen them in a while. My memory there is hazy, but I remember not getting it at the time. In the house I have Punisher 16 and the Iron Fist Annual. I have heard talk of his sexy women, but to me they all look too deranged to be properly sexy. I asked Sara, and she balked when she saw the art in Punisher 16 -- specifically at the hooker's left leg on page 8, panel 2, the wife's right leg on page 10 panel one, and the wife's fingers on page 15 panel 1. I BELIEVE and can also SEE that Chaykin is a better artist than Rob Liefeld, but I cannot help but notice that those three examples from Punisher 16 are similar to the kinds of anatomical mistakes Liefeld does with legs and fingers that we were all laughing at a few weeks ago here (compare the Punisher examples I mentioned to numbers 24 and 17 on that site). I have a hunch the difference is that Chaykin CAN draw, and is being mannered (like Frank Miller, who I love), while Liefeld is simply making errors. But still, I need help to appreciate this. I am open to learning. I do not hate the guy. I just do not get all the fuss.

Fantastic Four 554. Oh, did Ultimates vol 1 screw Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. If they deliver more of the same big action they are repeating themselves, as they did in the second half of Ultimates volume 2. Try and go the other direction, and you leave yourself with no real conflict, as in Fantastic Four 554. The cover is supposed to look like a magazine, but it does so in the dullest way posisble. The collar on Johnny Storm, and to a lesser extent Reed, make him look like a priest in a book where Millar wants to establish him as the Paris Hilton of the superhero set. The colors are washed out, a quality emphasized by the white gutters, which is an odd choice when doing BIG DUMB FUN. In the first panel they are being chased by indians; in the second, and again on that page, and again on the next, Sue is shielding them from a HAIL of bullets in spite of the fact that only three of the 25 or so indians have guns, and you have to assume they are, you know, muskets and not semi-automatics. And here is some subtle exposition:

SUE: I've got the girls coming over to talk about this new team I'm putting together.
REED: New Team?

(I have no patience for bad exposition; and no, I do not care that it is supposed to show us that Reed is so in his head he is forgetful -- we have a whole sequence devoted to that later this issue, so it is redundant anyway).

"How did she ever walk away from that?" says a teacher getting sexy to impress Reed: the page turn is supposed to reveal sexy, but Reed just looks dull, and haggard. We get a cliched joke about Reed being so in his head he talks to the kids like they are adults, and the Thing does his friendly Monster thing I have seen him do a thousand times. We set up a romantic conflict with Sue and this other woman, but it is all pretty dull. "Anyone we should know" Janet says when she shows up, to which Sue replies "SURE LET ME TELL OUR READERS ALL ABOUT HER." Sue's sexy rival by the way looks simply AWFUL, like a mutant white trash ELF in the panel where she hugs Reed and Sue looks back at the two of them jealously. The Thing says that "She's about ten time hotter than I remembered." I never met her before but I KNOW that cannot be true.

To end where I begun. I know why Millar does not want to end with something as crass as the murder that ends Ultimates 3 issue one. I see how that is a cheap ploy he wants to avoid. But in going the other direction we get something completely bloodless. The hook at the end of the issue is the plan to save everyone. WHO MAKES THE HOOK AT THE END OF A FIRST ISSUE THE SOLUTION TO A PROBLEM THAT HAS NOT BEEN INTRODUCED?!

"Oh, Buffy, you are the Vampire Slayer, gifted with special powers. That will be important if any vampires ever show up, or, you know, EXIST. SEE YOU NEXT TIME! [roll credits]."

In Comics News Newsarama has an interview with Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones about Final Crisis, but nothing really substantial is in it. It is more of an advertisement than anything else. X-Force came out, and I had it in my hand, but could not take the art, and so put it back.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Wanted Trailer

As usual, I am always late to the party. This blog is a lot of things, but timely is not often one of them. Sorry.

That said -- the trailer for Wanted, a film based off of the comic book by Mark Millar. A few observations.

Instead of looking like Eminem, which would obviously be dated, our hero looks like a young Josh Charles, from Sports Night. An odd choice. His earlier credits include Mr. Tumnus the Faun (not making that up), and British murder mysteries. Very odd.

Freeze the trailer at the 25 second mark and check out that eyebrow - eyeliner - forehead action. Crazy.

"He could conduct a symphony orchestra with [this gun]" is a really odd line. Obviously we are supposed to notice the skill involved in both, and think of shooting it instead of, you know, waving it around. But still. I am distracted by the thought, that in a pinch, you could conduct with a pistol in your hand instead of a baton.

"If no one ever told you that bullets fly straight, what would you do?" This line bears more than a passing resemblance to the "do you think that is air you are breathing" from the Matrix, and not only because it is being delivered by the wise old black man stereotype. Following it up with the image of the wise black man offering the young white guy the chance to leave his cubical existence behind and join a brotherhood of super-soldiers engaged in a secret war -- and you are sunk. Later in the trailer, the new guy DOES get it on with the girl who has already been a member for some time, just like Neo and Trinity.

I would think that a crazy talented assassin would be offended by the gimmick-ey tech of a gun that pivots 90 degrees and gives you camera view of your target in the sights. Freeze the image and tell me it does not look like a lame toy. I would think it would take all the fun out of killing. Look how bored she looks as it goes off. Her body language and facial expression make it look like she is using a pricing gun at the egg store. This is a story about shameless pleasure.

"Our purpose is to maintain stability in an unstable world. Kill one, save a thousand." How is this different than the American military? Or any military for that mater? Or the police? The whole point of the comic book was that super-villains had taken over the world and done EVIL things, like re-written reality to make Batman into a paunchy 60s has-been actor, and leave Superman in a wheelchair. (In spite of how offensive he is being, Miller offers a weird kind of compliment here, suggesting that Christopher Reeve on some level really IS Superman). Obviously, the film is going to have to change things since it is not a comic book. I get that. But it removes everything striking and what remains is only a warmed over version of The Matrix, which came out almost a decade ago and has been much warmed over since.

But as my friend Erin says -- Angelina Jolie is awesome, and, hey, good for the children of Cambodia, since that is where her money goes anyway.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Batman Unauthorized

There is now a link to Batman Unauthorized -- edited by Denny O'Neil -- on the toolbar on the right. The essay I have in the book is a nicer version of three posts printed here on Dark Knight Strikes Again, Batman/Spawn, and All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. My overall point is that these works are secretly awesome, and that Frank Miller is a misunderstood genius in the iconoclast mode of William Blake. BenBella makes a pretty good product and I am sure that the other contributers are equally sharp.

At this point I have no other essays in the que at BenBella so this is the end of my BenBella "Quadrilogy" until they put up another call for papers.

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, February 12, 2008

Shakespeare Out of Time (Commonplace Book)

I watched a gloriously trashy version of Macbeth today, filmed in 2007 in Australia. You all know I enjoy conjunctions like Harold Bloom and superhero comics so it should come as no surprise that I got a kick out of this made-for-TV-style action version of Macbeth. Here is the trailer -- relish in the awfulness. I am going to make my students next term relish in it.

Let me also point you to Tasha Robinson's really well written review of the film over on the AV club. This sample really packs it in:

Re-envisioning the king Duncan as a modern Melbourne crime lord, with the untrustworthy Macbeth as an up-and-coming lieutenant, makes some story sense, but it intermittently just seems like an excuse to fill the screen with liquor, drugs, club lights and smoke machines, grubbily stylish men weighted down with laser-sighted guns, and tattooed naked girls. It's Macbeth by way of The Covenant, all brooding pretty-boys with emo eyes and hipster hair, standing around in gauzily decorated rich-kid boudoirs in the dead of night, and at times, it's too overblown to take seriously. The grainy high-def video and the over-reliance on bland medium shots sometimes makes this look like Macbeth on a budget, shot by a talented drama club with excellent access to prop guns and blood squibs. (click for the whole thing).

And finally, let me point you an Onion article I found linked in the comments on the AV Club review -- its called "Unconventional Director Sets Shakespeare Play In Time, Place Shakespeare Intended." Here is a sample. Click for the whole thing.

"I know when most people hear The Merchant Of Venice, they think 1960s Las Vegas, a high-powered Manhattan stock brokerage, or an 18th-century Georgia slave plantation, but I think it's high time to shake things up a bit," Hiles said. "The great thing about Shakespeare is that the themes in his plays are so universal that they can be adapted to just about any time and place."

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #13, part b

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Claremont's X-Men issue by issue. For more in the series see Jason Powell's name on the toolbar on the right.]


Presumably at the same time that the X-Men were vacationing in Europe (in between Uncanny X-Men #103 and #104), Jean is on vacation with her roommate Misty and Misty’s friends (who also happen to comprise the cast of “Iron Fist”).

“Lifesigns” is a breathtaking piece of work. Right from the opening page, in which a lovely image of Jean sitting on a beach, entranced by a campfire, is juxtaposed against an extended piece of lovely Claremont’s narration, we’re in powerful territory. I love the way Claremont’s narration is at once melodramatic and playful (the campfire “roasty-toasts” Jean). In a simple but canny layout, Tom Orzechowski places Claremont’s loquacious description of Jean’s perception of the fire straight against John Bolton’s drawing of the campfire itself. Geoff has discussed Grant Morrison’s and Matt Fraction’s ability at combining words in such a way that they hit you in a powerful burst (with Morrison’s aesthetic typically being sci-fi and Fraction’s – at least in “Casanova” – being noir). Claremont has a similar talent, I’d say, but his influence strikes me as more Baroque, more classical, which is an interesting contrast against the sci-fi nature of the X-Men. “Lifesigns” is full of nice examples. From his description of Jean’s perception of the fire:

“She stares into the heart of the blaze, where hard edges loose [sic] their definition ... wood cast in flicker-flashing strokes of molten gold. She watches electrons spin faster in orbital paths around their atomic nuclei, filling themselves with energy, casting off old structures, forming new, transitioning joyously, spontaneously from one state of matter to another.”

What’s nice about this story – and the quote above demonstrates this quality – is that it focuses not so much on Jean’s increased physical power (which will be demonstrated several times in the next few issues, in the front stories) but rather it couches her new powers in terms of increased levels of perception. So we get no psycho killers or supervillains – instead, Jean receives a telepathic cry for help from a “family” who is out at sea and being attacked by sharks. She telekinetically snags Misty (as backup) and the two of them take a motorboat to the rescue. In a scene poked fun of not long ago by Chris Sims on the Invincible Super-Blog, Misty ends up getting into a fight with a shark, which she wins by punching the creature in the nose with her “bionic arm.” That does seem odd, but Claremont makes it work in context. (Jean is a superhero, why can’t Misty be one too?)

After fighting off the shark, Misty learns that the family whom Jean risked both their lives to save are dolphins, not humans. “I almost got killed – for a family of fish?!!?” she demands. Jean’s reply is that they are “hardly fish,” but Misty isn’t mollified. So Jean telepathically deposits Misty’s consciousness into that of one of the dolphins, and lets her go for a swim with the rest of the school. There’s another wonderfully worded narrative passage here, another example of Claremont’s ability to convey ideas in a classically baroque style:

“The sea stretches far and away – click-whistle delphine sonar printing a picture of her surroundings so complete it takes her breath away.”

I adore the phrase “click-whistle delphine sonar.”

[Yeah that is pretty good.]

The narration continues along in this style, suggesting that dolphins, with their “light and wit and brilliance,” are said to represent the future, while the sharks are a dark anchor to a primordial, brutal past. It’s never stated explicitly, but Claremont’s poetic framing also works as a symbol for the X-Men. The X-Men are attempting to lead humanity into a better future, even as their enemies attempt to prevent it. I like that.

Some X-Men fans complain that the whole Jean-as-Phoenix storyline is entirely out of place in the X-Men, as it has nothing to do with the comics essential themes. And yet, here we see Phoenix using her own elevated perceptions to in turn open up the perceptions of someone else, Misty, a human. By story’s end, there is increased understanding on a personal level -- between Jean and Misty – and on an interspecies level: among humans, mutants, and animals.

“Lifesigns,” then, is a quintessential Claremont X-Men story, wherein the core concept of “mutation” connotes personal growth and increased understanding. It also contains a lovely expression of friendship between two women, another thing Claremont does well.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Outkast's Happy Valentine's Day

Ignore the home-made video -- it is the song I want to talk about.

Outkast is always thoroughly bizarre, and this is one of my favorite songs from Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. I want to just bullet point a few of its notable features:

The chorus is, I am pretty sure, "Happy Valentine's Day (Everyday the Fourteenth!)" except that "everyday" is pronounced to land somewhere right between "everyday" and "February" so that we get the specific day, and also the idea that love rules the entire calendar.

"Now when arrows don't penetrate, see, Cupid grabs the pistol" updates the image of Cupid while also remaining rigorously faithful to the idea -- "penetrate" does not add anything obscene to the image of Cupid, since the arrow was always a sexual metaphor anyway.

You won't believe in me
But you would fancy Leprechauns
Or Groundhogs, no, thank you Easter Bunny!
There’s all this talk about Santa Clause
but, see love will rule supreme

Outside of more recently outdated expressions like "fancy that!" using "fancy" as a verb in this way seems amazingly, weirdly, 19th century. Outkast updates the image of the Cupid but not the language used for discussing him. Better yet, is the way the song immediately jumps from the absurdity of believing in Leprechauns, to the absurdity of believing in groundhogs. Of course the groundhog is meant to invoke the incredible minor holiday of Groundhog's day, but the way the sentence is worded it jumps out at you because there is no reason to doubt the existence of groundhogs. "Easter bunny" lands the set in the middle -- Leprechauns are unreal, groundhogs real, bunnies are real but the Easter bunny is not. Finally the phrase "Love will rule supreme" is renovated as a cliché by imagining that it will win some kind of crazy vaguely literal War of the Holidays, probably because Cupid has a pistol.

When this chorus is repeated, its absurdity is heightened by its being broken up in pieces that put extra weight on "fancy" and "bunny":

You won't believe in me
but you would fancy
-- HEY, don't you supposed to be some playa or something --

You have to stop and really appreciate a song that uses the word bunny -- sung by a chorus of girls -- all alone, with that kind of emphasis.

Could be an organ donor
the way I give up my heart, but
Never know because shit
I'd never tella
ask me how I’m feeling
I'd holla that it's irella
I don't get myself caught up
in the jello jella
And pudding pops up other stops
that they call falling in love

Shortening "irrelevant" so that it rhymes with "tella" and "jello jella" -- which does not really mean anything in the first place -- is kind of amazing. It is so funny because it is so unnecessary -- you should not need a rhyme for "tella" and "Jello Jella" since these were never real words to begin with. Although, and I hope I am not showing my ignorance here, I assume "Jello Jella" is Outkast's made up slang for jealously -- since it fits both in terms of sound and sense. The final part of the silliness -- Pudding Pops, made by Jello, mentioned for really no reason other than that vague connection.

But, for the record
have you ever rode a horse
Like for you to take me to Pluto
I said of course
But if you ain't a sweetie
indeedy I won't endorse
Han Solo til I'm hit by the bullet
so may the force
Be which out and I'm which you

I quote this for no reason other than the fact that such a short song, with a grab-bag of holiday metaphors, just goes to Star Wars for no real reason other than the second half of "[May the force] be with you" suggests, vaguely, "be with you" in a romantic sense. Free association rules the day.

The song reminds us that at some point love songs were meant to be fun.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Dr. Geoff Schlock

Toward the end of Comic Geek Speak's episode 368 (link below) the guys played voicemail from listeners, as they often do. The first one was from a guy calling himself Dr. Geoff Schlock -- he proceeded to do a four minute parody of my appearances on the show.

His attack centered on things that should not surprise anyone who has heard me. I DO rattle off my credentials too often. This is a vice I swear was exacerbated by watching too much West Wing, where they rattle off their accomplishments every chance they get -- at one point Danny takes his award winning article out of his pocket and Josh balks and Danny says "Please. When you won the Fulbright scholarship you stapled it to your forehead."

And I DO name drop like crazy. As a guy who grew up on Bloom I also grew up on a "great man" theory of history that went out of vogue with Thomas Carlyle in the Victorian era. On some level I can see that it is silly, but I sort of cannot help thinking like that.

I have to also admit that the caller did such a good job imitating my voice there was a debate among the hosts when the call ended as to whether that was me doing a self-parody.

On the message boards responding to the episode (the link to that discussion is on the episode 368 page, linked below) several people seemed to think the call was mean spirited, and there was a debate. I think it is best for me to stay out of it, since I was the guy being parodied. But I also thought it was silly to pretend it did not happen.

If you have not heard me on Comic Geek Speak before, you will want to go to the toolbar on the right, under Interviews, and hear one of my earlier appearances first. I recommend CGS 256.

The CGS guys and I are working on a new appearance by me, and I will let you know when that happens.

Click here for Comic Geek Speak 368 (the call comes around an hour and six minutes in).

I Am on the Facebook Now

I am not sure how much I will be using it, but it is another way to get a hold of me.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

LOST season 4 episode 2

I was completely blown away by LOST this week. It did what the finale to season 3 did -- had that perfect combination of feeling like it made huge leaps forward while actually just moving forward a little bit. That might sound like a complaint, but that is the quality that makes LOST work -- it is the epitome of what serial narrative needs to do. The Writer's Strike is breaking my heart because this season of Lost seems like it could be the best one yet. If the strike does not end we have now seen 25% of the new season, which will simply stop in six episodes with whatever episode they last filmed before the strike.

This episode felt like it moved so fast -- I felt like I had already seen two Lost episodes by the halfway mark -- because there was no delay on giving us some kind of back story on all five members of the freighter we have met, an unprecedented series of mini-flashbacks for each act of the show including the teaser.

I have loved Jeremy Davies since I saw the updated Solaris. He is one of those actors who can sell any line just with his delivery -- a perfect addition to LOST, which requires actors to sell ANYTHING (time travel, ghosts, weird science, jungle adventure). Because of his turn in Solaris I half expected his first line to be "yeeeaaaah ... we have come to ... rescue you?" Then in this episode he did start a sentence with that trademarked "yeah." Some viewers have found a clue in his remarking on the quality of the light on the island -- perhaps it is artificial, or they are underwater, or some other weird science thing.

My favorite things about the show is how it jumps around to different kinds of stories and shows a real love for pulpy non-sence -- so enter the "Ghost Buster," interesting aggressive, and carrying something with an "I made this out of a Dust Buster" quality that really invokes the movie. That this same episode established that we are to take him seriously was brilliant. Ximena's Theory -- he will exorcize the island of restless souls in that Dharma mass grave that Ben created. I love this show.

The woman's name is C.S. Lewis. And yes, as in the writer, the S stands for Staples. I have to say naming your characters after philosophers and the like is not my favorite thing about the show, but it is sort of fun. The big reveal with her -- a Dharma polar bear discovered at an archeological site in the desert. Time travel? Or does Dharma, like that ancient colossus, go back to ancient times? One of the best hooks I have seen Lost do in a while. And it was not even an end of the episode bump. Neither is Ben's shooting of her. The old Lost would have ended the episode with her being shot, and ended another with the vest reveal, and ended a third with that polar bear thing.

Jeff Fahey was quite fun and we got more information on the discovered remains of Oceanic 815. Right now it looks like a straight-forward cover up (the bodies have been faked), throwing off my friend Jason's theory that there is a parallel universe thing going on, as well as the "copy" thing suggested in the LOST season four teaser internet thing.

We learn that Lt Daniels (which is what I am going to call him from now on) put this team together. (The old Lost would have waited weeks before giving any more information a guy we just met last episode). That Naomi was the only real military person, and that she is now dead, really brings up the conflict, as the new characters may be as in over their heads as the old ones.

And we know what they want -- Ben. I loved John Locke's impatience with the smoke monster mystery -- it is the longest running one -- and the way the show avoids it by sneaking in lots of bullet point exposition on the new characters AND giving us a great hook for next week. Also, a little off topic, Ximena noted that Ben has really become the punching bag of the island since he was introduced in season two. I expect all this punishment is gearing up for a big breakout.

Finally, my favorite character, John Locke, gets one his great lines so far -- If I had had a kidney there, I would probably be dead. His team really are the new Others, suspicious about the new incoming strangers. "We don't want to be found." Hell yeah.

Even if the show never goes beyond the eight for this season, or even if the ending sucks a la the X-files, I am having a blast watching this. Live for today, and all that.

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #13, part a (UXM #105)

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Claremont's X-Men issue by issue. For more in the series see Jason Powell's name on the toolbar on the right.]

“Phoenix Unleashed”

We begin with new pages, which convey multiple, numbered prologues. They’re sort of mini-sequels to the multiple cliffhangers of the previous issue. They are arguably redundant (they convey much of the same information already shown at the end of issue 12), but – well, I like them. In its original form, X-Men #105 begins very abruptly, and I think that – while the difference in art styles between the new and old pages is somewhat jarring – the new pages overall make for a better-paced comic book.

This is another part of the long-running Eric the Red story, as Eric unleashes one more superpowered lackey upon the X-Men. The difference is that, while his earlier lackeys were familiar X-Men villains like Juggernaut and Magneto, this time he goes with Firelord, a cosmic character not associated with the X-Men at all.

This may come off, 30 years on, as apropos of nothing, so maybe an explanation is required. Essentially, Claremont and Cockrum wanted Phoenix to fight a hugely powerful superhero to prove that she was in the same league. They wanted her to fight Thor (if I recall correctly) and win. This idea was nixed by Editorial (possibly for sexist reasons), so instead the creators found a B-list character who was theoretically equal to Thor in terms of power levels, and let Phoenix beat him instead. This is why Firelord comments, after being hit by Phoenix, “Only Thor has struck me with such power!”

There’s an unintentionally humorous bit in which Claremont tries to really hammer the point home that Jean is much more powerful than she used to be. Cyclops has a thought balloon in which he observes with amazement the way Jean “powers up an interstellar transporter without batting an eyelash ...” Hmmm, how does Cyclops know how much power it takes to power up an interstellar transporter? Is this something he learned in class? (I’m reminded of my favorite Scott Lobdell joke in an X-Men comic: In X-Men/Wildcats: The Silver Age, Grifter makes a crack that Jean must have gone to “superhero school,” which she doesn’t deny. Later she’s shot down by a super-villain, and just before getting knocked out she exclaims, “A bio-kinetic blast!” Grifter’s riposte: “You can IDENTIFY the type of blast? Wow, that is one thorough school.”)

So, ultimately, this is a showcase for Phoenix. At this point, Phoenix hasn’t done anything since her first appearance but lie around in a hospital room. (If you’re wondering when she was released from the hospital ... that scene took place in an issue of Iron Fist. Go figure.) The creators wanted to have a big cosmic battle to show what Phoenix was capable of, and here it is. It is very well drawn by Cockrum, and contains a particularly great panel of Nightcrawler acrobatically swinging through the city. It also funnels all the characters toward the two-part climax that will appear in Uncanny X-Men #107 and #108. But for all that, I don’t see too much here to be commented on. It’s in the next few issues that the series will start to move forward much more quickly.

The next issue of Classic X-Men, entitled “Where No X-Man Has Gone Before,” will at last start to wrap up the long-running Eric the Red/Lilandra arc. Originally, however, fans had to wait four months between “Phoenix Unleashed” (X-Men #105) and “Where No X-Man Has Gone Before” (X-Men #107) because X-Men #106 was a fill-in issue (to give Cockrum a rest), telling an inconsequential flashback story. Classic X-Men saw fit to skip this story entirely when representing these early comics, so I feel comfortable skipping it too. True, it is scripted by Claremont – but Claremont didn’t actually like it all that much. It was originally written by Bill Mantlo; Claremont just took it upon himself to re-dialogue it because he felt Mantlo’s take on the characters was too far removed from Claremont’s conception of them. So while it’s technically a Claremont issue, it isn’t really one. We’ll just skip right on ahead to the next Cockrum issue.

[...and that answers my questions about why Uncanny X-Men 106 was so random, and why Firelord shows up for no reason. Also worth mentioning is the throwaway meta-moment where the Jean-Firelord fight interrupts Claremont and Cockrum in Washington Square Park discussing creating the issue we are reading. ]

Friday, February 08, 2008

Mitch on "In Search of Steve Ditko"

This is another for the "late-to-the-game" file.

Last night, I finally tracked down the BBC's terrific documentary "In Search of Steve Ditko" online. You can find it in seven parts here

Try to take a look at it soon, because the BBC never lets it stay online too long. The film follows a journalist named Jonathan Ross [cq], as tries to track down the still living and legendarily reclusive Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko. Along the way he interviews Alan Moore, Mark Millar, Joe Q, Neil Gaiman, and ultimately Stan Lee; who is, for the first time I've ever seen, not his chipper, carnival-barking self. Ross puts Lee on the defensive about whether he was the "true" creator of Spider-Man, and the usually unflappable Lee is... well… very visibly flapped.

You'll find a lot of bona fide treasures in here—like Moore performing a "dramatic reading" of a song he wrote about Ditko (!!), and some interesting studies into the creation of Ditko’s more paranoid characters like The Question (and by extension, Moore's Rorschach). But what I really walked away from this documentary with is a true sense of the raw deal Ditko got. He's renting an office in midtown Manhattan, so he must be doing okay. But still. Alan Moore once said that he’ll never go back writing the big comic companies' characters; not because of his own contractual issues with them, but because he can see a long line of disenfranchised old men lingering around every one of those trademarked characters like ghosts.