Monday, March 31, 2008

Scott91777 on the Giffen-Dematteis-McGuire Justice League: The Roster

[Guest blogger Scott joins us here with a look at the classic JL. Scott's title, below, reminds me of the Oscar Wilde line about life -- far too important to be taken seriously.]

JLI: A not-so-serious book that should be taken more seriously

This will, hopefully, be the first in a series of blogs examining the classic Giffen-Dematteis-MaGuire run on the Justice League from the late 80s. It seems that lately DC has been doing everything in their power to undo what was great about this book (killing Blue Beetle, making Max Lord Truly evil before killing him) and make it almost as though it never existed. I definitely feel that it's a book that should be treated with a bit more respect than that. Too many superhero books these days tend to take themselves too seriously; the grim and gritty era only gave birth to the Alex Ross inspired era of overly revered versions of 'iconic characters' (in case you're wondering who Ross considers 'Iconic'... pretty much any comic character created before 1985) not to mention the era of the super-mega-crossover. Looking back at this series, it is a breath of fresh air to see a superhero book that didn't take itself so damned seriously. Giffen-Dematteiss-MaGuire managed to produce a series that was fun, funny and, at the same time, a pretty solid good-old-fashioned superhero team book.

First of all, a bit of context is necessary here. This series was first published in 1987, in the wake of both Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Comics had entered the Grim and Gritty era and, while this series was not necessarily a reaction to or deconstruction of that movement (the way that, say, much of Grant Morrison's work at the time was), it, undoubtedly, had a certain indirect influence on the way the series was about to take shape.

Before I get into the actual issues of the series, I thought I'd give a bit of background on how this League came to be and examine it's roster. I want to talk about why I think various past members were omitted and why these characters were chosen. These are mostly just my opinions and educated guesses so if anyone happens to have any inside info or differing opinions; I'm completely open.

First of all, DC's premiere super-team had been languishing for some time prior to this re-launch. An attempt to revitalize the team by moving them to Detroit (?!) and replacing the more well known roster with third string and newly created heroes only served to further this decline. The DC crossover Legends resulted in the dissolution of the old league and the formation of this one. On a larger scale, Legends was very much intended as a fresh start for the DCU as a whole. Massive revisions to classic characters were going on across the board (mainly as a result of Crisis on Infinite Earths rendering most of the old continuity nil).

The only one of "The Big Three" to make the cut here was Batman. Post-Crisis a lot of DC characters were undergoing reboots. The easiest one to figure out is Wonder Woman. As part of her reboot (one that has since been retconned out of existence) there was no Wonder Woman prior to The Crisis On Infinite Earths. As a result, the character went from being a veteran to being a rookie at this point (and I'm not even sure that she had been reintroduced to continuity). Next: Superman. Same issue really: he was in the process of a pretty extensive reimagining at the hands of John Byrne. Besides, in a post-DKR world no one was really quite sure how to treat the relationship between him and Batman or how that might play out on a team.

As for the other usual suspects? Well, the Barry Allen Flash was dead and the former Kid Flash (Wally West), who had taken his place, was being launched into his own series; perhaps the editors felt the character needed time to grow and develop a following. Green Arrow was being reimagined as a more 'realistic' vigilante by Mike Grell at this time and just wouldn't have fit into the JL; I think the Atom was living in some microscopic universe while Aquaman was undergoing a reboot as well (and perhaps the DC offices felt it was best to remove the taint he might leave from his Detroit-era leadership). The Hal Jordan Green Lantern? Well, I'm not quite sure but I have a few ideas I'll cover when I get to Guy Gardner.

So who made the cut?

Well, there were a few that made sense...Batman, Martian Manhunter, and Black Canary were all veteran leaguers and logical choices:

Batman- while he was about to be retooled a bit by Miller in Batman: Year One, his reboot was significantly less extensive than the other big two. His origin story is one of the most simple in the history of comics; as a result, he would have remained the most unchanged of 'The Big Three'

Martian Manhunter- Another veteran of the League. Also, Manhunter had never been that successful as a solo character but he always seemed to work as part of the League; maybe he was kept in to appease fans of the character since JL books were the only place you were guaranteed to find him.

Black Canary- I think she was mainly chosen for 2 reasons: 1. She was a League stalwart and 2. The League needed a female member and they couldn't use Wonder Woman; Black Canary would replace Wonder Woman in the League's post-crisis origin story. What's interesting is that it's almost as though the Black Canary we see here and the Black Canary appearing over in Grell's Green Arrow are pretty much two different characters existing in two separate continuities (I think Grell has basically said that was how he viewed it).

Now, the unlikely supsects:

Mister Miracle- Actually, a more logical choice than you might think. The Justice League had always been a good place to put characters who weren't strong enough to carry their own series yet still had a pretty steady fan following (i.e. Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna, Elongated Man). Miracle fits the bill. He actually makes sense as someone the other leaguers would have chosen for the team: He's a veteran hero who, as the son of Highfather, is one of the New Gods and, as a result, potentially quite powerful and deserving of a higher profile in the DCU.

Blue Beetle- from a business perspective, Blue Beetle makes perfect sense. Just a few years earlier DC had acquired the Charleston characters and had enough hope for their success that they had Alan Moore retool his original proposal for them into Watchmen so that DC would still have the characters in a usable condition when it was all over. Since Beetle had been the first of the characters introduced into the DCU (his first DC appearance was in the first issue of Crisis On Infinite Earths), I think DC felt he had the best potential for success and had even given him his own series that had launched prior to the Justice League. As a result, his inclusion in the League was to create a greater visibility for the character and, maybe, draw readers over to his solo series.

Captain Marvel- I think his inclusion was similar to Beetle's. Since acquiring the character, DC never quite managed to get him to take off and, like Beetle, he had just been re-introduced/introduced to the main DC continuity in his own series (before the Crisis, Captain Marvel's adventures had been confined to Earth-S). Besides, while he wasn't the most popular character in 1987 he was a classic Golden Age hero and, thus, a sensible choice for the league. I think his inclusion might also be another good reason to keep Superman out of the league; his presence would have rendered Cap redundant (I was also just reminded by my friend Shaun that Captain Marvel was only leased to the team for a few issues).

Dr. Fate- This one is a bit tougher than the rest. I know that he had 'assembled' this league in the Legends mini-series much the way Dr. Strange used to 'assemble' the Defenders (pretty appropriate considering this motley assortment of characters) or, if you will, the same way Raven brought together The 'New' Teen Titans a few years earlier. Also, Fate is a classic Golden Age character and founding member of The Justice Society so he kind of makes sense as a means to forge a connection between the two.

Guy Gardner- Ok, seriously, no idea. None. The only thing I can think of is that it sidestepped any controversy regarding John Stewart Vs Hal Jordan. However, this was perhaps the most important choice for the team since his character would be incredibly important as to the shape that the series was about to take, pretty much from the first page.

Dr. Light II- I won't say much for now since, as I'll get to in later blogs, Dr. Light is pretty much here to help move the plot along and was not 'chosen' for the league the way all the others were.

I think it's also worth noting that the roster represents a smattering of characters from the newly integrated DCU which had previously existed on separate 'Earths' before The Crisis: Martian Manhunter (Earth 1) Dr. Fate (Earth Two) Blue Beetle (Earth 4... I think), Captain Marvel (Earth S). Throw in Mister Miracle from Kirby's Fourth World and you've got a pretty good cross-section.

Over the course of these blogs, I will examine how Giffen and Co. took these lemonds and made lemonade and actually managed to shape the development of some pretty important characters here including Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and even Batman.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Nietzsche Family Circus

I think Neil pointed this out to be a long time ago, but I thought of it again when the Garfield thing came up, and thought I would link to it. This site pairs a random Nietzsche quote with a random Family Circus image. The results are funnier than you would expect.

Garfield Minus Garfield

Stefan Delatovic drew our attention to this in the Free Form Comments, but it is so great I wanted to give it a higher profile.

Stephan wrote, "With Garfield removed, this site reproduces comic strips that become devastatingly funny looks at a man's struggle with loneliness, depression and mental illness. It's my current obsession."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #20, part a (incorporating UXM #114)

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


The Neal Adams odyssey continues. Last month Magneto, this month the Savage Land. And, having given us two issues of conventional superheroics, Claremont and Byrne switch things up this time, with a more unconventionally structured issue – heavy on character bits – that in terms of plot merely transitions us from the previous action story to the next one.

It begins with Hank and Jean, the only two X-Men we saw escape in the previous issue. They make it home okay, but figure the other X-Men must have died in the volcano. Note the subtle touch by Byrne on the second page – Phoenix’s costume is torn in several places when she’s asleep in Hank’s arms, but the moment she awakens and powers up in an attempt to rescue Scott, all the rips disappear.

Thus do we begin a rather weird little mini-era in the comic’s history – a time when Jean and Hank believed the X-Men to be dead, and vice versa. Since Jean and Hank get back to civilization first, they also pass their mistaken impressions on to Xavier and Lilandra – and, eventually, to Moira, Havok and Polaris as well. This status quo lasts for a good year, and the longer it goes, the more it strains credulity. Claremont would go on to attempt this “world thinks the X-Men are dead” gimmick a couple more times over the course of his stint on the series, but – in his own words – he “never quite got [it] right.”

Meanwhile, the X-Men have tunneled out of Antarctica and into the Savage Land – a Lee/Kirby invention first visited by the X-Men in Uncanny #10, and later done much more effectively by Neal Adams in Uncanny #’s 62 and 63. It’s brought to life gorgeously by Byrne and Austin, and colorist Petra Scotese. In fact ...

Byrne/Austin(/Scotese) Awesome Panel Watch: The first splash page of the Savage Land, and the following page’s final panel, with a fantastically rendered pterosaur talon about to grab Banshee. We also get the first-ever Byrne/Austin rendition of the “fastball special” (with a fun effect created by replacing Wolverine’s entire lower-half with speed lines).

Among the other noteworthy details:

The mystery of “How could Corsair be Cyclops’ father?” rears its head briefly, only to be completely ignored after this until 40 issues later, after Byrne is long gone. (Byrne was against the whole concept.)

Storm walks around in an embarrassingly cheesecake outfit, and Colossus is going to visit a “special island” with two Savage Land native girls in bikinis. All in all, it’s a pretty randy issue. (The Bolton/Claremont backup in issue 21 will ret-con the Colossus scene to make him seem a little more characteristically naive.)

Meanwhile, Wolverine is hurting over the death of Jean. (The picture he’s looking at is half of a photo of Jean and Scott. Wolverine ripped the Scott-half off in Iron Fist #15.) Scott, on the other hand, simply feels numb. Later issues will explain that Scott forced himself not to feel anything because the grief would have crippled him, but a newly interpolated page drawn by Kieron Dwyer implies that Scott’s lack of grief is because he is not sure that the Jean who died in Antarctica was really Jean (thereby weaving this thread in with the “Jean and Phoenix are two separate entities” retcon).

The other Dwyer pages in this issue go into detail about how the X-Men made their way from the volcano to the Savage Land. It’s a clever sequence, although Dwyer adds another audacious visual touch: Wolverine lighting a cigar and smoking it while the X-Men are burrowing under the earth. This in spite of multiple references to their being a limited air supply in the tunnel. Tsk.

[Classic #20 part b is again by Jo Duffy. Won’t be covered here.]

Friday, March 28, 2008

Comics Out March 26, 2008

All Star Superman 10. Though I thought the last issue of this, published many wagons ago, was weak (click the links to see the review), this one was quite good and renewed my thought that I had back when issue two came out that this is the definitive Superman in the way Dark Knight Returns is the definitive Batman. I will have to read them all again when the series is done -- probably when DC talks me into paying for the whole series again in "Absolute" form.

As for the specifics of this issue: Much of this issue is about the power of words and images: the sick kids at the hospital draw pictures of Superman, he writes his will out, the sphere thing talks in advanced text messaging, Superman copies the "letters" of his DNA code, Clark Kent gets the story of the century at the end; on the pocket universe (Nebolah?), our world -- the "world without Superman" (nice retool of a bad title) -- creation is the theme: art on cave walls and sculptures, the idea that we could potentially be as great as our created Gods (from a Renaissance hermetic text I cannot remember the name of just now, but I have it in a Bloom book somewhere), Nietzsche (a bit of a cliche, but still, I suppose it has to be there), the invention of Superman because he does not exist. The empty space on the first panel with the goth girl, and the way her colors clashed with Superman as he instantly appears behind her, was very well done. The "lighting" on the cover is amazing -- Jamie Grant is amazing -- and I really like that Earth has weather, since it rarely does when shown on images like this (I am always reminded of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 line at the Universal logo: "it's the nicest weather Earth's ever had"). The only thing that rang false was Lex Luthor reading a bad self help book -- I would have thought he would have thought that beneath him. Excellent that he says nothing, in any case. All in all it felt like a much better version of that "Superman" issue of Astro City where Samaritan is so harried he has so little time for loved ones (one of the first issues; my memory is not that good).

I know a lot of people don't like All Star Batman, and I know the publishing delays on the All Star books can get silly, but for my mind this is a much better thing than Marvel's Ultimate line: great creators working on prestige versions recognizable superheroes without all the absurd continuity. The Ultimate line had something like that for a minute, but once you start getting your issue numbers on individual books into the triple digits I can't help but think that you may have missed the point.

In Comics News a judge awarded Jerry Siegel's heirs the copyright to the Superman material in Action Comics #1. I am not quite sure what that means but the New York Times says it could go the same way for the Schusters and then "After 2013, Time Warner couldn’t exploit any new Superman-derived works without a licence from the Siegels and Shusters,” said Toberoff, who also represents the Shuster estate." Newsarama also has a big interview with Mark Millar, who I am sick of, and a preview of Secret Invasion #1, which I do not really care about. I am trying to cut down on comics I am not crazy about.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

J.J. Abrams discusses film at TED

Brad sent me the link to this 18 minute lecture by J.J. Abrams discussing movies and movie-making at the TED conference. Like Alias and LOST maybe not the most coherent thing in the world, but engaging nonetheless, and with some great moments.

J.J. Abrams discusses film at TED

I am putting this up today because I miss LOST, which does not return until April 24. If you have any LOST links to tide me over until then, let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, March 26, 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, March 25, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #19, part b

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

“I, Magneto”

“I, Magneto” is my favorite X-Men story of all time. The b-story in Classic X-Men #12, “A Fire in the Night,” depicts Magneto’s life in the years immediately following his escape from Auschwitz. There, Claremont plants the seeds of Magneto’s villainy, in that we see several massive tragedies befall the character. Here, in “I, Magneto,” is where the seeds bear fruit. It is set not long before Magneto’s first published appearance, in Uncanny X-Men #1, and addresses questions raised by an examination of the character’s internal chronology: How did this formidable three-dimensional personality created by Claremont ever come to be the ranting megalomaniac of the Silver Age? Why would a Jew, who had been persecuted by Nazis as a child, become such a totalitarian in his own right? (And that is what he is in the early stories, make no mistake. He even takes over a country in Uncanny X-Men #4 by having Mastermind create the illusion of a goose-stepping army to frighten the populace into submission.)

In 12 pages, Claremont crafts that transformation. The economy demonstrated here is breathtaking. Almost every line of dialogue and narration serves a dual purpose, allowing huge amounts of information, exposition, characterization, plot and dramatic irony to be conveyed. Certain lines reveal that Magneto is still a good, if tormented, man at this point. When he apprehends Hans Richter, a Nazi war criminal, he muses that mutants could rule the world “if we wished.” The juxtaposition makes an implicit meaning clear: Magneto doesn’t wish to rule the world, because he does not wish to go the way of the Nazis. Later, in a moment of gentle banter between Magneto and his physician/girlfriend, Isabelle, he refers to himself as a “unique, clearly superior being” as a joke. The line rings with irony, because we know he will soon be saying things like that in manically deadly seriousness.

Not yet, however. Right now, he works for the CIA, hunting down Nazi war criminals. (Indeed, the name “Magneto,” it is implied here, has its origin as his CIA call sign, which is a fantastic idea). He’s got a beautiful girlfriend who is also a doctor. He is practically a superhero. But there are cracks in the facade. He suffers from painful seizures whenever he uses his powers. He is still tormented by the tragedies of his past, as portrayed in Classic X-Men #12.

There’s a wonderful moment when Magneto learns in a newspaper profile that his old friend Charles Xavier has now become a teacher. He considers reconnecting with Xavier, thinking perhaps Charles might be able to figure out why he is having seizures. The implication is that if this story didn’t turn out the way it did, Magneto might have indeed gone to Xavier and, inevitably, become one of the original X-Men. It’s another clever layer of irony.

The story’s dramatic turns occur with a slick, unrelenting momentum. Isabelle is killed just as she has hit upon why Magneto’s power is causing him pain: “You manipulate the primal energies of the earth – the planetary magnetic field – through your body,” she says. “That must have some effect. Your seizures involve the central nervous system ... If there’s disruption to that bio-electrical network, goodness knows what effect it’s having in turn on the structure of your brain –”

She’s cut off then, literally, as her throat is slit by one of a group of government agents that have entered the hotel room. Their leader, Control, is the man Magneto has been hunting Nazis for, but Hans Richter wasn’t on the agenda. Richter was, in fact, a CIA asset. Magneto is appalled that the U.S. would work with Nazis, and Control replies, “We’ll use them the same way we will you muties.”

Magneto’s reality is falling in around him. His supposed allies are amoral, willing to use Nazis to achieve their own ends, and they will even kill Isabelle – an innocent bystander – simply out of spite. “Our ‘associates’ wanted their pound of flesh,” Control explains. “Sorry, pal, you play in the big leagues ... it’s better not to have friends.” (And now we know why the Silver Age Magneto treated his fellow mutants as lackeys rather than friends, browbeating them into doing what he wanted rather than treating them as allies. Ingenious.) There is also a harsh verbal irony in the use of “pound of flesh,” the price exacted in “The Merchant of Venice” by Shylock, the most famous Jewish villain of all time. (Claremont has come a long way from the unsubtle use of Shakespearean quotation we saw on the opening page of Uncanny #97.)

Magneto erupts with fury, killing all the agents except Control, whom he then thanks “... for showing me the true path.” The momentum of the tragedies in Magneto’s life have culminated in this moment, and there is a strong implication that whatever it is that was happening to “the structure of [his] brain,” that process has reached its culmination as well. “At last, for the first time ...” he exults as he kills Control, “... my eyes are truly open ... my destiny clear! ... It is I who shall lead my people to the glory they deserve. I, ubermensch. I, mutant! I – Magneto!!!”

He has gone from tragic hero to comic-opera villain. He even invokes the Nietzschean word “ubermensch” that the Nazis had co-opted. The final panel sees him hovering above the carnage, looking down at the body of Isabelle, a symbol of what was good in him, now killed.

I’ve not said anything about the once-again solid work of everyone else involved in this story – the regulars: Bolton, Orzechowski, Oliver, and editor Ann Nocenti. They all do top-notch support work, but Claremont’s writing is the star here. Published in late 1987, “I, Magneto” is the pinnacle of his achievement on the X-Men. He would continue to write quality comics for the next 3 and a half years, but never another one this perfect.

Snake-Eyes from the Upcoming G.I. Joe Movie

Surely the new G.I. Joe movie will be awfully written slapdash nostalgia cash in like Transformers. But something about this image has my attention. Is it because, in the mid-80s, I was programed to think it looks cool? Or is it actually kind a not half bad costume design and execution? Certainly the total lack of human features helps here -- there is less of a disconnect comparing the cartoon source to the live-action update. Opinions.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Office

I have been watching The Office through Netflix and am now halfway through season two. I want to grab one episode as emblematic of what the show does, and then raise a question.

In a first season episode, boss Michael Scott makes everyone go through his version of a diversity seminar – painfully-funny scenes where casual racism is tossed around alternate with just regular funny scenes where we are, for example, making fun of Dwight for doing idiotic things. The Dwight scenes are generally not painful, because we feel he deserves it, as we do not think the rest of the office deserves being encouraged to spout racist things at their co-workers because Michael has the bad idea this is somehow helping people work through their “issues.” The day of the diversity seminar is also the day Jim expects to land a big account as he does every year on this day -- and pick up a huge commission. The seminar prevents him from doing so and he looses the account to Dwight, but in the seminar Pam gets sleepy and puts her head on Jim’s shoulder for a moment. He looks moved, and in the ending beat of the episode says that today was not a bad day.

The Office is what Brad calls “not really a Geoff Klock show” but I find these scenes moving enough to want to see more. I avoided the Office after seeing the first season of the British version and a few episodes of the new one until my sister insisted I see the Whedon directed episode since I am such a Whedon fan. It featured a terribly moving scene in which Michael and Pam comfort each other at her art show, and from then on I was hooked. But I keep returning to something I am not sure how I feel about and wanted to get your opinions on.

Does the show carry a kind of admirable philosophy of life in which your dreary, stupid, awful day-to-day existence can be redeemed by the smallest of perfect moments – as 19 minutes of uncomfortable scenes can be redeemed by one tiny, beautiful connection between Pam and Jim? Or is the show kind of frighteningly conservative, convincing us to be satisfied with our dreary, stupid, day-to-day existence by telling us that these tiny moments are enough, when maybe we should demand more, not from our television shows – on the show it is enough, at least for me -- but from our lives?

(I got this idea from a Slavoj Zizek comment on MASH. Zizek discusses Hawkeye’s use of subversive humour; Zizek argues it is not as subversive as it seems – instead of subverting the military system he hates so much, it actually allows him to do his job more effectively, which at the end of the day is all the army really cares about. It actually is not that smart a comment, since it is a question MASH asks itself, especially when Hawkeye receives a letter from a kid and describes his saving the lives of soldiers as “weapons repair”).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #19, part a (incorporating UXM #113)

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


Claremont wrestles with the same problem that Silver Age X-Men writers seem to have had trouble with: What to do with Professor X. He’s such a powerful character, writers were constantly trying to find reasons why he couldn’t just save the day in every story with his telepathy. Stan Lee alternately ignored the problem, or shunted Professor X to another country, or used villains like the Sentinels, Juggernaut and Magneto, who were immune – or very resistant – to Charles’ powers. Roy Thomas eventually killed Professor X, erasing the problem until the character’s resurrection. In his first few issues, Claremont first gave us the “nightmare” plotline, saying it was debilitating Charles. With that story done, we come to the solution seen here: Charles can’t help the X-Men now because he is on vacation with Lilandra. Meanwhile, Magneto is “subtly altering the magnetic field of the earth -- generating an impenetrable wall of psychic static to inhibit any and all long-range telepathic broadcasts.” A few issues from now, there will be an even more extreme (but creative) contrivance: have Professor X go to space.

As mentioned in the previous series, this is the conventional second half to a conventional two-parter. The X-Men rally and work as a team, and take Magneto down. There is a twist at the end. Claremont is very fond of a simple-but-almost-always-effective writing trick: Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. In this case, there is a well-set-up twist: It was established last issue that Magneto’s headquarters was beneath a live volcano – the lava kept out by “a bubble of magnetic force.” So when the X-Men start trashing Magneto and his fortress, the inevitable occurs – the bubble pops, and lava starts pouring in on all sides.

Magneto escapes easily, but the eight X-Men are left in dire straights. Phoenix and Beast are separated from the rest of the team, and are seemingly the only two to escape. After such a conventional story structure up to this point, this twist at the very end is a fantastic narrative sucker-punch.

Byrne/Austin Awesome Panel Watch: The nine-panel grid in which Storm snaps her head-peace off, then uses her tongue to grab one of the lock-picks concealed in it. This is another nice narrative turn, again well set-up in the origin of Storm told in Uncanny #102.

Byrne/Austin Awesome Panel Watch #2: When Magneto is blasted from four sides by Storm’s lightning, Scott’s optic blast, Jean’s telekinesis and Banshee’s sonic scream. The four distinct beams come from four vectors, putting Magneto at the center of a makeshift letter “X.” Brilliant.

The interpolated pages unique to Classic X-Men #19a are illustrated by Keiron Dwyer, and include a long interlude featuring Magneto alone on Asteroid M. The pages, unsurprisingly, layer in Claremont’s latter-day interpretation of Magneto (hence, a reference to Auschwitz, and to his dead daughter, Anya). The introspective tone of the pages work as a nice counterpoint to the Byrne/Austin action-extravaganza, but Claremont goes too far with one of the details: a narrative caption says, “[Magneto] numbers some of the finest minds on earth among his acquaintances,” and Dwyer shows a panel of a letter Magneto is writing to Stephen Hawking! I like the implication that Magneto is a genius on Hawking’s level – but are we to understand that Hawking is corresponding with a known terrorist? And doesn’t Magneto, at this point in his history anyway, despise all humans, even really intelligent ones? I have to smile at the audaciousness of the idea, but in terms of internal logic, that detail doesn’t quite work.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Comics Out March 19, 2008

A great week if you like comics that start with vowels.

Angel 5. The story continues without being so bad I will drop it, but not being so good I would actually recommend it to anyone. Page one does steal a bit from the Matrix, which is really lame considering how popular that movie was like TEN YEARS AGO. Overall it is a hard book to get really worked up over. Urru is a muddy artist, but there are some panels I am actually liking, such as the two girls on the bottom of page 16. The book should look more like that and less like mud. Maybe someone needs to give this guy more time to draw? Or not make him mimic actors' faces? Writing about this book makes me tired.

Iron Fist 13. So Aja only provides three pages this issue, which is a shame, but the fill in guys are pretty good, especially Zonjic. As for the writing -- the last two pages of this book made me cheer. It is really a lot of fun. Eat em up, Danny.

The Order 9. The more I read this book the more I like it. I wish people had supported it more. A detail that stands out -- I do not know if it was Fraction or Kitson who thought of putting a red smiley face on the torturer-surgeon's mask, but that is seriously going to keep me up at night.

In Comics News Matt Fraction will be writing us some Uncanny X-Men, which I am excited about for three reasons: I like me some Matt Fraction; as much as I follow creators, X-Men was the book I grew up on and I relish any excuse to read it if it is handled by someone I like; and Fraction picks up at issue 500, which I find satisfying because Uncanny X-Men 301 was my first comic book and this is the first chance in my life to compare my personal real-time investment in comics 200 issues apart .

Also -- remember that book about Superman that Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely used to do? I cannot remember the name, but it is totally out next week.


I hope no one is shocked that my first comic book was Uncanny X-Men 301. I know it is a lame place to start, but we all started somewhere. My mom got it for me from the drug-store because she noticed it had the same name as the cartoon I occasionally watched and the Sega game I had rented that week. Does anyone remember that game? The premise was that you were trapped in the Danger Room playing out scenarios and at the end of the fifth one, a timed one, you had to "reset" the danger room computer; except there was nothing to do at the end of the fifth level when you beat Mojo and the clock would just run out and you would die every time. I could not figure it out and just played the game with every character for fun until one day, wanting to play twice in a row, I hit the reset button on the game console rather than watch the clock run out on the fifth level. Hitting that button at that moment was the only way to get to the sixth and final level. Even looking back now that still seems kind of cool. You should have seen the look on my face. Like I discovered the Maltese Falcon.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

LOST season 4 episode 8 reviewed

In this, the last of the pre-strike episodes, the last episode for five weeks, and the original halfway mark for season 4 (it is now the 8/13th mark) -- we get the story of how Michael got from the island to the mainland and then back toward the island on the freighter. Ben also tells Alex to go to the temple, where he sent the Others at the end of season 3.

The opening, with everyone in Locke's camp -- the main characters there anyway -- is one of those scenes the Lost writers keep requiring. With people on the boat, people on the coast, and people inland, everyone needs to be periodically updated about things like who sent the boat, and the faked wreckage of 815, who Ben's inside man is, what the freighter's mission is and so on. They try to add something to these scenes -- emotion, a detail like the claim that Widmore got 324 Thai bodies from a mass grave for the plane -- but they are coming so often I still get a little bored.

The structure here is, I think, new for LOST. Instead of intertwining the flashback, we get a frame story -- Michael answers Sayid's question, and we see his flashback as the answer for the middle 55 minutes or so. An oddly straightforward structure, especially after last week's fake out. Note the timing -- Michael wakes up in the hospital and there is a Christmas tree, Sayid got onto the boat on December 24th or 26th (there has been some debate about this) -- so Michael's flashback takes place in the three weeks before Sayid gets to the boat. This episode is very much about getting all the pieces in place for the finale, so if it is not the most shocking thing in the world, this is why.

Michael's flashback is not so surprising: he feels guilt over killing people, and confesses to Walt, who shuns him. It HAD to be SOMETHING since a show that tells the story of 100 days in four years cannot have any children on screen who are going to be around for any length of time. He tries to kill himself; he can't, possibly stopped my magic island forces; the Others recruit him to offer him redemption. This episode returned to a thing I quite liked that had not been mentioned in a while -- the Others consider themselves the good guys. Certainly when the guy shows up in the alley to stop Michael from killing himself, he seems like an angel in a movie -- actually he seems a lot like God in the new Holly Hunter show Grace Under Fire (where God is a badly dressed, grumpy old white guy). A while back it was explained Ethan was acting on his own orders, so I guess that explains why the Others appeared so threatening for a while, thought they still seem awfully evil a lot of the time, what with the kidnappings, manipulation, and terror. Still, I like the idea that they are good and the castaways are bad.

Michael's compromised morality is handled pretty well (though it seems kind of unfair that the Others kidnap Walt, leading him to commit murder -- the Others have no notion of entrapment, I guess): He killed two unarmed women; he was willing to just set off a bomb on a boat of people. The idea that he needs redemption, and would want it, is pretty persuasive.

And then the ending. They promised someone would die. So Rousseau and Carl it is. I would have thought she would have stayed alive for a Rousseau flashback about her crew, but as we established with Naomi in episode two of this season, dead people can have flashbacks, so maybe it is still in the works. The ending here felt a little cheap -- they just needed a shock to go out on -- but it is cheap with a kind of tradition behind it: hard-boiled detective novelist Raymond Chandler famously said in The Simple Art of Murder "The demand was for constant action; if you stopped to think you were LOST. When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. This could get to be pretty silly, but somehow it didn't matter." The word LOST in that sentence, not in caps in the original, seems prescient in this context. That quote really covers how LOST works, and covers the ending beat to this episode exactly.

EDIT -- as pointed out in the comments, the show I was thinking of was Saving Grace and not Grace Under Fire, which was indeed horrible.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Link: Chris Bachalo: Ten Cool Covers

As you all know, Chris Bachalo is my favorite comic book artist. A while back Marc Caputo sent me this link and I thought I would share it with everybody.

Chris Bachalo: Ten Cool Covers

Free Form Comments

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #18, part a (incorporating UXM #112)

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

“Magneto Triumphant”

“Magneto Triumphant” is part one of a two-part story that is considered by a large number of X-Men fans to be the best straight-ahead “X-Men vs. Magneto” story. It is the last one Claremont will do – after this, Claremont begins the deepening of Magneto into a noble character, so the pure, “good vs. evil” intensity seen here will no longer be possible.

Magneto is still the Silver Age version: nasty through and through, with no redeeming qualities. As in the first Claremont Magneto appearance, he wins the fight here. This is another significant aspect of Claremont’s Magneto: The X-Men never definitively beat him in a fair fight. They will come close in next issue’s conclusion, but true to Claremont’s form, it will be a pyrrhic victory. Although the tragic nobility is Claremont’s finest and most important contribution to the character, Magneto’s potency simply as a comic-book super-villain is another significant quality, and it is this story more than any other that put Magneto on the map. (He’s a fun villain in the hands of Lee-Kirby and Adams-Thomas, but nowhere near as cool as he is here.)

The story here is pure, simple and subplot-free action: The heroes attack Magneto one-at-a-time, and Magneto beats each of them in turn. He puts them in a very Silver Age-styled villain trap (albeit one that makes sense with Magneto’s recent history), and the story is to be continued. Next issue, the X-Men will escape and – working as a team this time – do much better in the second round. The simplicity of the plot allow for Claremont, Byrne and Austin to simply cut loose with sheer, super-heroic exuberance. The action scenes are dynamic and well-drawn, the dialogue fun. And Magneto comes off as an unstoppable powerhouse, giving the cliffhanger the appropriately nail-biting quality.

Byrne/Austin Awesome Panel Watch: The two-page sequence in which the circus wagon travels to an Antarctic volcano, then plunges beneath and enters an underground fortress is incredible. Byrne’s eye for dramatic angles and perspective, combined with Austin’s penchant for working extra detail into every nook and cranny of every panel, result in a breathtaking series of images.

Only two other things worth noting:

With the Beast in this issue, we have eight X-Men in the issue, three of whom (Cyclops, Beast and Jean) were members of the original five. This is very possibly Byrne already exerting an influence on Claremont’s plotting. An X-Men fan from the very first Lee-Kirby issue in 1963, Byrne took over as artist with specific agenda to eventually work all five of the originals back into the comic. For various reasons, he never got all the way there, but with the Dark Phoenix Saga, he gets very close.

Also: At one point during the battle, Nightcrawler observes, “[Magneto]’s doing it to us again ... taking our best shots and then smashing us down.” It’s a small thing, but will ultimately reveal itself as a hallmark of Claremont’s style on the comic. Like Neal Adams, Claremont treats the X-Men comic as one single narrative tapestry: Everything happens in context. If the X-Men fight the same villain a second time, they will compare it to how things went the first time. At first, this leads to small, incidental observations like Nightcrawler’s here. Eventually, it is this acknowledgement of the past that will allow Claremont to start taking the X-Men into new directions. With the past informing the present increasingly strongly, there will be less and less motivation for Claremont to ever repeat himself, and thence will spring stranger ideas, higher stakes, and greater and greater changes to the comic’s status quo.

This rarely ever happens on short-term runs on mainstream comics by writers – part of why Claremont’s unbroken 16-year stretch on Uncanny is so groundbreaking.

[Note: The b-side of Classic X-Men #18 is written by Jo Duffy, not Claremont, so it won’t be covered in this series.]

Damon Lindelof on LOST and 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42 (Commonplace Book)

[This is from EW but I found it quoted on the TV blog on the AV club. ]

Lindelof said,

“There will be more ON the Numbers, yes. But explaining WHY and HOW they are magic is like trying to explain why some magic kids are born to two muggles. The Valenzetti Equation USES those numbers, but trust me, they were around LONG before the early '60s. But for fans waiting for an advanced dissertation on the mythic significance of the numbers, I direct them to Qui-Gon Jinn's speech to Shmi Skywalker regarding midichlorians and pose the following question: Happy now?”

The Valenzetti Equation was something that was revealed in a viral marketing campaign between, I think, seasons two and three. I wont spoil what it is, but Wikipedia has the info if you want it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Rules of LOST

[I realize lately I have been hitting some of the same buttons I already hit around here. But I am trying to think some of this stuff into an essay, and writing it in parts. I do not know if it will work in the end, but it is something I get to use the blog for.]

Any screenwriting manual will tell you that one of the first things you must do in your screenplay – at least by the end of the first act – is establish the rules. The kid in The Sixth Sense can see ghosts, and we, the audience can see them with him – for us the only way we can tell them from normal people is that we can see the fatal wound. A kid might look normal in profile, but when he turns, we, with the kid, will see the head wound and know he is a ghost. What makes the ending of the Sixth Sense satisfying is that we only figure out Bruce Willis is a ghost at the end – and when we realize it, we see that it fits into the rules perfectly even though we failed to put it together earlier. The movie did something surprising within the confines of the rules established at the beginning.

Contrast this with the seventh season of Buffy, in which we are introduced to Uber-Vamps – basically super-powerful Neanderthal vampires. There is virtually a whole episode devoted to how hard these things are to kill even for an expert slayer like Buffy. Then suddenly, and basically for no reason, they become easy to kill – even when Slayers are outnumbered ten to one. The show broke its rules and we are not satisfied.

(Grant Morrison’s Cassandra Nova is a controversial example – the rules around her kept changing. This may have been the point, but I do not think it worked, especially since the changing rules made her a less and less interesting character. We covered all that in the New X-Men posts, but I thought I would mention it as different example of the rules).

LOST seems to have accomplished something a show should not be able to do – to a large extent it refuses to properly establish the rules at all. One of the main reasons it gets away with this is because so little time has passed for the characters on the island – 100 days in three and a half years. Four years without knowing what the smoke monster is – and I bet it will become nearly six – would be silly, but 100 days, with all the time spent on basic survival, among other insanity, is not so crazy. There is also the large cast, which allows them to drop plot-lines for long stretches of time: something like 11 episodes pass until they can get the hatch they discovered open because they don’t spend 11 episodes on the hatch.

Then there are elements like the numbers – they simply will not explain it, and may never explain it. (It is explained to an extent outside the show proper, but I am going to put that aside for now). One of the show-runners, when asked if the numbers will be explained, brought up the metaclorians thing from the new Star Wars movies and said “Happy now?”

By keeping “the rules” at bay, LOST is able to tell all kinds of stories. If Neo could time travel in the second movie we would all go nuts, but LOST can introduce time travel three seasons in and we are OK with it, because, hey, why not? It does not break any rules. Smoke monsters, cursed numbers, time travel, morality tales, survival tales, jungle adventure tales, love stories, weird science, Christianity, paganism, drug stories, colossus statues, natives, doctors, a bunch of guys fixing a VW – it all works because by making reticence about the rules part of the show, we will accept almost anything. Season Two make Locke’s concern that the numbers were meaningless part of the show – the embodied the feelings of a host of fans. Compare the mythology of Lost to the mythology of any other show. You can articulate the mythology of other shows – aliens do not exist on Firefly – but on Lost you really never know. That’s one of the reasons why it is funny when Sawyer asks Juliet why they are breaking rocks and she says, deadpan, “we’re building a runway for the spaceship.”

It will be interesting to see where this all goes, but they have created a structure that really works, that really allows them to do what a show is supposed to do – tell surprising stories. One of the things I like best about LOST is they way it privileges characters and story over mythology on a show where mythology could easily dominate, as it does on Star Wars for example, or the Matrix sequels. But it also puts a ton of pressure on the ending – is there a guiding principle, a set of secret rules, behind it all? Or will LOST take them same road it did with the rules in the first place, and figure another way out?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Seven NEW Deadly Sins

A Vatican official has come up with seven MORE deadly sins. The AV Club has already made a joke about how this will inspire a sequel to Se7en called Fourt14en, and the New York Times wants to know, ironically, if this will inspire more paintings. What I find appalling about it is just the sheer inelegance. Sloth, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Pride, Wrath, Envy are at least catchy and not THAT redundant. This just feels silly:

1. “Bioethical” violations such as birth control

2. “Morally dubious” experiments such as stem cell research

3. Drug abuse

4. Polluting the environment

5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor

6. Excessive wealth

7. Creating poverty

It is all content and no poetry.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

LOST Season 4 episode 6

In this episode Juliet stops Sun from going to Locke's camp -- and thus putting her life in danger because pregnant women on the island die -- by telling Jin about Sun's affair. On the boat Sayid and Desmond find Michael undercover as a Janitor. In a flash-forward Sun, the final revealed member of the Oceanic Six has the baby. In what appears to be a sub-plot to the flash-forward Jin tries to get a present for the new baby and get to the hospital to meet Sun -- but it turns out to be an unrelated flashback. In the future Jin is dead.

The reveal of Michael was anti-climatic because I knew from the opening credits that the actor has been on call all season. That is partly my fault for reading about Lost before the season started, but it is partly the creator's fault because I think I would like to count the credits as part of the episode, and thus claim that they telegraphed their surprise. Desmond and Sayid get caught up on the whole Charles Widmore sent the boat thing, and the faked wreckage of flight 815, but we already knew that, so not so exciting.

Sun having the baby was Ok, maybe not the most exciting thing in the world. My favorite part was when Hurley showed up in a suit, and when he found out no one else would be there said "goooood." Something obviously happened that made all these folks not want to stay together, but you really like him for showing up -- and looking so sharp -- for Sun's baby. Also nice was that he is the guy who wants to see Jin's grave, he is the one who cares, who remembers the dead. He is very much the moral center.

The contentious thing about the episode was the fact that it mixed a flashback with a flash-forward for the first time, and did so in such a way that you thought the flash-back was a sub-plot to the flash-forward. Certainly there is evidence early on that Jin is not in the flash-forward -- Sun is the 6th and final member of the Oceanic survivors, the shopkeeper says it is the year of the dragon which is either 2001 or 2012 and it is not 2012, his haircut is the old one, he uses an old cell phone, no one recognizes him as they recognize other members of the Oceanic 6 and so on. But a lot of people still felt it was a cheap manipulation. Sun calling for Jin felt particularly cheap.

My first instinct was to blame the form as well -- I thought for a minute that they broke their own rules to get this effect, but they broke the form for the season 3 finale and that was awesome. The problem is that in order to make it really satisfying, it needs further justification than the emotional realization that this is a flashback and that he he dead. The flashback needed some significance. As it is it was the worst kind of season 3 style flashback -- thematic rather than narrative -- a problem highlighted by juxtaposing it with LOST's new kind of substantial flash-forward in which the story is advanced. (The flash-forwards have now finished creating a new Act One for the show, introducing the main characters that will now gather and do something like return to the island -- or maybe the new Act One will be done when the 6 are gathered again).

On the positive side, this makes me feel good about the post-strike plan to condense the last eight season four episodes into five. This one and the last one had material that I think could have been excised nicely. I think the final five might be the most exciting episodes of LOST yet.

Random thing: Jin's grave said he died Sept 22, 2004, the day of the plane crash. So his gravestone is part of whatever story the survivors have been telling about only 8 people surviving the initial crash. I do not necessarily know what to make of that, but there it is.

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #17, part b

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

“A Taste for Vengeance”

A surprising first for the Claremont/Bolton backups: A story whose entire reason for being is to see the X-Men fight a super-villain. Up until now, the pieces have been so entirely character driven, that even when a supervillain did appear (such as Sabre-Tooth’s stalking of Wolverine in Classic #10), it was always incidental. The point of each piece was to reveal important things about character. The only other plot-driven backups did not involve the X-Men (like the Hellfire Club vs. the Sentinels in issue #7, or Corsair in #15).

In this case, since the a-side of the issue starts with the X-Men as prisoners of Mesmero but never shows how they wound up that way, Claremont devotes a backup to it. There is really nothing larger at work here, except to show how Mesmero catches the team. It is mainly noteworthy just for the image of Mesmero as drawn by Bolton. The character design is so ludicrous, and Bolton’s style so grounded and realistic, the effect is jarring. It’s actually laugh-inducing, which is deliberate. Claremont writes him as a menacing comic-book villain when he first captures Jean Grey, then takes us into comedic territory with the scene shift: Mesmero in a fancy living room, no longer in his silly-looking costume but in purple pajamas, and surrounded by women in lingerie. Mesmero did not capture Jean Grey because he’s out for revenge against the X-Men – he wants her as a sex toy.

Unfortunately, though she is in his hypnotic thrall, the Phoenix part of her won’t let her be touched, so Mesmero is stuck. He falls to the floor dejectedly, leading to one of the greatest single panels in the Claremont/Bolton canon: Page 5, panel three: Mesmero sitting on the floor, saying “Darn Darn Darn Darn Darn Darn DARN!” (Note letterer Tom Orzechowski’s brilliance in delineating the multiple iterations of that Comics Code-approved swear word.) The details by Bolton are great: Mesmero’s bare green feet, and Jean’s pink-panty-clad lower half in the immediate background (the cheeky precursor, perhaps, to Quitely’s “camel toe” X-Men cover?).

The running gag here is that each dramatic turn keys off of Mesmero’s lack of imagination. He hypnotizes Jean Grey to have sex with her. When he can’t do that, he combines his hypnotic power with her telepathy to infiltrate the mansion and capture the rest of the X-Men. All he can think of to do then is make them fight each other. When he gets bored with that, he is stuck again. He laments the fact that he’s not as creative as Magneto (a retroactive foreshadowing to Magneto’s revenge-scheme in Uncanny X-Men #112-113). Then he happens to see a photograph of Nightcrawler from his circus days. He decides that he’ll make the X-Men circus freaks, and congratulates himself on his own brilliance.

The whole story, then, is a joke, albeit a kind of creepy one. Mesmero is figured as a sleaze, first with his attempt to – essentially – rape Jean Grey, and then with his circus-themed torture. That alone is more characterization than he got in the Silver Age stories he appeared in. It works well, particularly as a precursor to Claremont/Byrne’s fantastic Magneto story. If there’s an implicit theme in this story beyond the surface superhero genre trappings, it’s the contrast between a B-list villain like Mesmero and a truly awe-inspiring antagonist like Magneto.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Comics Out March 12, 2008

Serenity: Better Days 1. Someone asked me a while back why I considered Fray one of Whedon's "indispensable" comics. This is not really an answer, but to me it is a smart little story worthy of the Whedon canon. It is not like all those "Tales of the Vampire" Buffy comics where not only are the stories not great, but they are also inconsequential side-bars in the cracks of the main story -- if you did not read them you would not miss what is going on, and they are more of a chance to cash in on the property than advance the story or add a new dimension to it. All of this is to say that Serenity: Better Days is a worthless comic book, totally devoid of any life, interest, dialogue, or plot worthy of recounting, and in this regard is a lot like the other Serenity comic book that was designed to bridge the TV series and the movie. For one thing it takes place before the film. Whedon's little invincible clique in Buffy Season Seven was really bad storytelling. Killing off major characters in Serenity was the right thing to do -- with two already dead you really care about who might live or die in the final stand, and it could be EVERYONE. Here he has reassembled the team, to no effect. Everything about it is boring, from the design of the robot hunter thing on up. A total waste of time. I actually put it down halfway through reading it and just started flipping channels. With Angel and Buffy moving on, he should have started the events of a Serenity comic book after the film, to even have a chance of making this work.

As much as I love about Whedon I am hard pressed to properly explain my vague animosity toward his insistence to continue ALL of his properties. I get the comics, and I do not hate them, but something about their existence gets on my nerves. I mean, I do not ask DC to let Batman go, but something here feels to me like the party should have ended two hours ago and these straggling guests have no manners. I mean, the party was fun and all but it is time to go home.

In comics news there is con stuff going on but I am not keeping up with it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Star Trek vs Doctor Who

I have been thinking about the distinction between Star Trek and Doctor Who as emblematic of two kinds of sci-fi. I think this distinction already exists in science fiction studies, but I have been thinking about it myself for a specific reason I will get to.

In Star Trek the universe is essentially rational, and humanistic. The technology is basically believable. The anti-matter engine is a real thing you can create in a laboratory -- though at this point it is nowhere near cost efficient. The way the warp drive works has been thought out ahead of time by writers with a knowledge of hard science. The science has not been imposed after the fact, as it is in a book like The Science of the X-Men. People who major in science like Star Trek because they can get their heads into the technology and expand the basically sane ideas into whole books with charts, and blueprints, and all kinds of stuff. The world is basically human -- aliens are basically human, and on Star Trek are actually analogues to human racial stereotypes: The Klingons are war-like, and have a lot of wicker things on their homeworld; the Romulans are acetic, minimal designers, the Ferengi have one over-large body part and are obsessed with money; that race Diana Troy is from is emotional and are thus all kind of effeminate. There is always a non-human character who wishes he were human (Spock, Data, Odo, that hologram doctor guy on the ship run by Katherine Hepburn), because humans are the BEST. Kirk's grand embracing humanism will solve anything. It is all very American.

Doctor Who on the other hand does not even play at making sense. The ship looks like a police call box and flies through space. The Doctor is not at all human -- his whole human look is a facade -- and his assistant is thrown into an alien world (although, for budget reasons, the apocalypse is always centered in, like, Manchester). Opponents are vastly inhuman, like the Daleks, who only talk in spondees. Science makes no sense. The difference between the anti-matter engine on Star Trek and the sonic screwdriver on Doctor Who is really telling. This is also, for the most part, the world of comic books. I think the "British Invasion" of superhero comics can be traced back to Doctor Who fans invading a country of comic book people who grew up on Star Trek. They were just unprepared for that onslaught of insane madness, and people still debate whether Grant Morrison comics make any sense. Anarchy rules the day. But the British creators were tapping into something already there in comics, something many Americans had worked with and invented. As comedian Daniel Tosh put it -- "I can suspend my disbelief and accept that Superman can fly. But how does he fly FASTER?" Comics won't tell you.

Obviously I prefer the Doctor Who style sci-fi, because I prefer a focus on imagination and storytelling with characters, over realism, science, humanism, and allegory.

What has been on my mind lately is J.J. Abrams. Lost appears to be a show of the Doctor Who type, anarchic sci-fi featuring spirituality, magic and technology in conflict -- as opposed to a Dungeons and Dragons idea of magic as just a different kind of rational science with its own operating parameters (this is what Ellis says magic is in Planetary), or a spirituality that turns out to be nothing but a straw man for science to knock down (see the "Satan" episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, or Stargate Atlantis, where religion turns out to be a big cynical scam like all the Star Trek fans were always saying in high school).

But with J.J. Abrams directing Star Trek I have started to wonder -- is it possible that LOST will end with a very rational explanation for everything? Will it turn out to be a show that only played with being a Doctor Who style thing, with Star Trek's mechanical heart underneath? I think that would bother me a lot. I miss Mr Eko. He was the voice of irrational spirituality, and a foil for Locke's paganism and when he died the show really lost something.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


[A guest post by Mitch on the new Watchmen movie pics.]

I'm not thrilled about the Watchmen movie. Right off the bat it feels like someone making a Citizen Kane video game or getting a Mona Lisa tattoo — that is to say, it misses the point to take a work that so perfectly highlights the advantages one medium and adapt it into another. With Alan Moore’s stuff, you can’t get lucky like Spider-Man 2: an iconic character + a popular villain + a popular story from the comics + a love interest sub-plot, shaken and baked = $$. With Moore, the methodical plotting and the juxtaposition of words and pictures — the craft — is more essential than the characters.

With that clear, I have to admit that I have been morbidly curious to see all the development info and photos from the movie. The cast is a little wompy-jawed— the child molester from Little Children is perfect for Rorschach and I’ve always liked Patrick Wilson, but can’t say I would have ever thought of always casual and charming Billy Cruddup as the stoic Dr. Manhattan. The production stills confirm that director Zach Snyder is going for a literal panel by panel adaptation, like he did with 300. Everything certainly looks straight out of the comics, but again... I just don’t know. This sort of thing sort of made sense for 300; first because there was an established audience for “epic classical war movies” and second, because it was a short graphic novel adapted into a 90 minute computer fight sequence/Nine Inch Nails video. There is a lot more material to cover with Watchmen, and how they could even BEGIN to cover it in two hours is beyond me.

In the face of all this negativity, I found myself surprisingly tickled by the recently released promo photos on the movie’s website. Some of the designs are totally faithful and some are black rubber, like all movie super hero costumes. (PS: Is this really Hollywood’s best answer to super hero costumes? Black rubber? They can go fug themselves. ) But right in the middle is Ozymandias’ black rubber costume, with two glorious Bat-Nipples on his chest. Certainly, Snyder is making a reference to the costumes in Batman and Robin, but for what purpose? Is the Watchmen movie attempting to address comic book movies in the same way the Watchmen comic addressed other comics? Or is he just feel that Bat-Nipples never really got a fair shake and deserve a second chance? I’ve yet to decide if I hate them or love them, but their presence amuses me at least.

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, March 11, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #17, part a (incorporating UXM #111)

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


This issue, and the ones that follow it, are again best understood in Morrison’s schema of the X-Men being defined by certain “riffs.” It really does all go back to Lee-Kirby, who in their brief 17-issue collaboration on the X-Men gave us not only the basic premise (with Xavier, the school and the students) but also Magneto, the Brotherhood of Mutants, Juggernaut, Ka-Zar and the Savage Land, aliens, and the Sentinels. In Uncanny X-Men #’s 54-66, we got Roy Thomas and Neal Adams playing those riffs and adding some new licks. Over the course of those final 13 issues before the comic went on hiatus, we got the Living Pharaoh/Monolith, Havok, the Sentinels, Sauron, Ka-Zar and the Savage Land, Magneto, the Japanese mutant Sunfire, aliens, and the Hulk.

Claremont and Byrne were both huge admirers of the Neal Adams run, and so only a few issues after Byrne replaced Cockrum, they began an extended run (exactly 13 issues) that again hit familiar chords and added a few new ones. It actually begins in Marvel Team-Up, which Claremont and Byrne were also collaborating on at the same time. In Team-Up #69-70, Spider-Man teams up with Thor and Havok against the Living Pharaoh/Monolith. That story pushes the dominoes over to Uncanny X-Men #111, wherein the Beast searches for the disappeared X-Men. He eventually learns that they’ve been kidnapped and made into circus freaks by Mesmero, a Silver Age X-Men villain whose mutant power is hypnosis. (I have a theory that Claremont originally intended Mesmero to be the surprise identity of Eric the Red – the fact that both characters’ power was hypnosis is a clue, and there are a couple others seeded in the early Cockrum issues as well – but that’s obviously not what saw print.)

From here, the X-Men will face Magneto, then go to the Savage Land and team up with Ka-Zar, fight Sauron, go to Japan and team up with Sunfire, then fight Canadian superheroes (which is what Wolverine was when he first appeared in The Incredible Hulk). For good measure, Claremont and Byrne even bring back the Beast, so that three of the five original X-Men are back in the series.

Claremont, Byrne and Austin manage a wonderfully cheap and sleazy tone for this issue, all set on the grounds of a low-rent circus. The tawdriness of Storm in her leopard-print bikini and Jean in her fish-net stockings (an embellishment added by Austin, according to Byrne, who seems to think they were a bit much); Wolverine’s smacking Jean around. There’s a subtly jokey tone to this one (which continues into the b-side), which we won’t really see from Claremont again as writing style grows darker and darker on X-Men. Ten years from now, Claremont will have to invent an entire new title to accommodate his sense of fun (Excalibur), because he’ll have painted himself into a dark and angsty corner on Uncanny. The surreal sense of humor on “Mindgames” will end up being a rarity.

Geoff did those “Cassaday repeat panel watch” blurbs at the end of his Astonishing X-Men reviews. Since Byrne and Austin such an awesome team, I feel compelled to start putting a “Byrne/Austin Awesome Panel Watch” on these next reviews. For the present issue: The panel in which Colossus cold-cocks the Beast in the back of the head, and the final page, a splash of Magneto. That cool shadow effect on Magneto was created by Austin using something called zip-a-tone. I have no idea what that is.

Trivia: X-Men fan and fan-favorite artist Jim Lee collects Magneto splash-pages. There was one at the end of Uncanny X-Men #17 (Kirby’s final issue), and Cockrum did one in Uncanny #104, and now there’s this one by Byrne and Austin. If I recall correctly, Lee owns the original pages for all three. He’s also drawn a couple himself.

Guest Blog: From Sherman Alexie's Totem Sonnets (Commonplace Book)

From his book "The Summer of Black Widows" (Hanging Loose Press).

Edgar Bearchild
Holden Caulfield

The Misfit

Cecelina Capture
Jim Loney

The Incredible Hulk

Wikipedia says this about the order of figures on a totem pole: 'Vertical order of images is widely believed to be a significant representation of importance. This idea is so pervasive that it has entered into common parlance with the phrase "low man on the totem pole". This phrase is indicative of the most common belief of ordering importance, that the higher figures on the pole are more important or prestigious. A counterargument frequently heard is that figures are arranged in a "reverse hierarchy" style, with the most important representations being on the bottom, and the least important being on top. Actually there have never been any restrictions on vertical order, many poles have significant figures on the top, others on the bottom, and some in the middle.'

I like the cognitive dissonance of this "Totem Sonnet" form. In sonnets we think of the final couplet as being the two most important lines. But as wikipedia notes, most of us are programmed to think of totem poles as being oriented in the opposite direction: the icons are more "prestigious" the higher you climb. In this particular sonnet, that cognitive dissonance allows the stanza's final couplet to work like a punchline -- a list consisting of twelve appropriately "literary" fictional icons concludes, unexpectedly, with two comic-book characters. This is surely the only sonnet in published history whose final line contains the phrase "The Incredible Hulk."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power

I saw one of my students carrying around a copy of Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power. The book, a national bestseller, is essentially an updated version of Machiavelli's The Prince. Greene, who has a degree in classical studies, makes short chapters out of each "law." Here are some sample laws:

3 Conceal your intentions
9 Win through your actions, never through argument
17 Keep others in suspended terror: Cultivate an air of unpredictability (this one was quoted on Studio 60 to make fun of it)
38 Think as you like, but behave like others

Each chapter is really a series of anecdotes from various other books, including the Prince and the Art of War, illustrating the law and also its "reversal" (since, in certain situations, the law would be counter-indicated). On the margins of the book are red quotations from famous people in literature and history -- so it has a kind of scholarly backing that could be avoided by the incurious, but is there to attract people who like to see the background, or think ancient things are more true than modern ones.

I can of course see that the book is cynical little cash cow, simplifying complex stuff to make money, but I do admire to a certain extent someone using history and literature to make a practical point, rather than a theoretical one.

I was considering incorporating this book into a composition course, or even building a composition course around this book, as it sneaks in ideas from history in a form my students might be interested in -- they are, after all, very much the target audience -- and it is VERY debatable.

I wanted to get some reactions to the book from people around here -- any thoughts on this? Have you read it, or do you know about it?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Link: Stuff White People Like

A quick link to a site that -- all at once -- made me laugh and want to jump off a bridge.

Stuff White People Like

Personal favorites include:

#25 David Sedaris
#40 Apple Products
#47 Arts Degrees
#62 Knowing What's Best for Poor People
#71 Being the Only White Person Around
#74 Oscar Parties
#75 Threatening to Move to Canada
#81 Graduate School

Saturday, March 08, 2008

LOST -- season 4 episode 6

[A lot of these posts come from conversations with others -- Jason, Ximena, Brad and Chris. So thanks.]

Season four has been spectacular, which makes this less than perfect episode feel worse than I think it actually is. In a flashback we learn Juliet had an affair with the married Godwin, and that Ben had a kind of giddy crush on her, which turns into a snarl of "Because you're MINE" at the end. In the present time Jack, Juliet and Kate hunt down Davies and C.S. Lewis (Juliet has been commanded by an Other) because they are going to a new station to possibly release a toxic gas that will kill everyone. Turns out they are just making it inert so Ben cannot use it. Ben tells Locke about his man on the ship (which we don't hear) and about how Charles Widmore is the man who sent the freighter -- and Locke lets him out.

My main problem was that, especially given the reveals we have gotten this season, the reveals here we not that shocking because they merely made explicit what had been implicit, rather than twisting us around with something NEW. Four times.

One. Ben snarl was pretty exciting -- you really see this character lose it, which it interesting. For all his super-manipulation he is clearly very emotionally immature which makes sense given what we know of his background. That was the point of the Ben Juliet flashback -- but it took me a minute to realize it. They episode played like revealing that there was a failed romantic thing between Ben and Juliet was something I did not know, but it had been so strongly implied for such a long time ("I guess I'm out of the book club" being one of my favorite LOST lines) it seemed redundant.

Two. Similarly, I thought the Jack and Juliet kiss was weak, not only because it pales so much right after Desmond and Penny, whose love TRANSCENDS TIME (I love LOST). For more than a year romantic thing between them anyway I kind of forgot they had not kissed before. Brad pointed out that one good thing you can say about it is the episode clearly establishes that the conflict that is coming is Ben versus Jack.

Three. Charles Widmore is the guy who sent the freighter. Brad called this last week, and again -- it was pretty well implied with his buying the Black Rock diary or whatever, and being insanely rich (plus that actor almost always plays psycho-businessmen).

Four [sort of] -- is there any chance that next week's episode will, as the preview narrator says, show us a face we never thought we would see again? Because, it seems clear who it has to be. I vaguely hope there is some kind of Marvel Zombies style fake-out coming, and what we know about who has been hired this season is a red herring, and that it is something nuts, like Mr. Eko. Brad pointed out that most lost fans have not noticed the actor's name in the opening credits every episode even though we have not seen him yet, so my objection may just be a little unfair. If I was watching six or seven shows and not reading Wikipedia entries on LOST this would be a real surprise. My fault I suppose. Brad said that when he appears again, he better have changed in a really surprising way.

The other thing about this episode that bothered my was Locke. Maybe this is also unfair, because he is only of my favorite characters, but he seems to be really degenerating. No plan, no cabin, dictatorial in a less than awesome way, and now this -- it is a little hard to remember because we saw the event nine months ago, but didn't Ben shoot him and leave him for dead in a pit of corpses literally TWO or THREE DAYS AGO (in island time)? The AV Club thinks that Locke releasing him means whatever he told him must be so compelling that it was WORTH letting him go but I cannot see how that could be. I keep hoping this is part of a Locke master plan, but I do not know. It just feels like Locke flip flops a lot -- a quest (season one), frustrated by not knowing what to do next (season two), on a quest (season three), frustrated by not knowing what to do next (season four).

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #110

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

“The ‘X’-Sanction”

Uncanny X-Men #110 was not deemed worthy by Claremont and editor Ann Nocenti of being reprinted in the Classic X-Men series. Like Uncanny #106, it is an inventory story, for use when Dave Cockrum missed a deadline. When John Byrne (an artist who’s never missed a deadline in his life) came aboard, the editors presumably thought they had better use this inventory story quick before it gets out of date.

But whereas #106 is a bit of a generic job, issue 110 makes some significant contributions. Sure, the artwork (by Tony DeZuniga) is not as good as if it had been by Cockrum or Byrne, but it’s not terrible either. And it begins with the X-Men playing baseball, an image that’s become synonymous with “Chris Claremont” for X-Men fans. (Back in 1991 when Claremont left the series, the first issue of X-Men to not feature his name in the credits symbolically began with the X-Men playing basketball, an implicit message to readers that with Claremont gone, this was a whole new ballgame. When Claremont returned to Uncanny in 2004, he opened the comic with a baseball game, a signal that everything old would be new again.)

When you look at it empirically, Claremont didn’t really use the baseball thing that often during his 17 years on the title. (I will flag it up in this series whenever it happens, and as you’ll see it’s only a handful of times.) But for whatever reason, X-Men-playing-baseball has become a quintessential Claremontian image to fans, perhaps because it is emblematic of his penchant for showing the heroes at play, having key character moments occur during down time. Uncanny X-Men #110 gives us an example right off the (ahem) bat: Wolverine takes the game too seriously, and the claws come out to intimidate Colossus as he approaches the plate. This is still early, “psycho” Wolverine.

We never see Jean in her Phoenix costume here, because – as noted above – it was drawn before Jean became Phoenix, for use as an inventory story. Claremont’s dialogue attempts to cover for this, with Jean having an unexplained power-failure. This will later be woven into the ongoing Phoenix plot, the idea being that Jean’s own mind deliberately sealed off the power inside her mind with “psychic circuit breakers,” for her own safety. This will become important as time goes on.

The central plot here is vague: Warhawk (a villain who originally appeared in Claremont’s first Iron Fist story) has been assigned by an unknown “master” (who speaks to him telepathically) to bug Xavier’s mansion. He is beaten down by the X-Men, but not before he succeeds in that mission. Like Jean’s psychic circuit breakers, the bugging of the Mansion will be an important story point in the Dark Phoenix Saga. Why did Claremont leave this out of the Classic reprints?

Best moment in the issue: Wolverine sees shrapnel about to impale Cyclops during the fight. Wolverine realizes that it’s a perfect chance to eliminate Scott as Jean’s lover and leave Wolverine a clear path. “Trouble is,” he thinks to himself, “back-shootin’ ain’t my style. When Summers an’ me finally have it out, i’ts gonna be face t’face.” He knocks Cyclops out of the way, much to Scott’s surprise.

The other moment of subtle significance in “The ‘X’-Sanction” also involves Wolverine. When he fights Warhawk, he thinks, “His style’s a lot like that Iron Fist character I fought a few weeks back.” Warhawk is an Iron Fist villain, as noted above.

The significance is this: The story being referenced by Wolverine saw print in Iron Fist #15, by Claremont and Byrne. In that issue, Iron Fist has this thought about Wolverine: “His sheer animal ferocity reminds me of Sabre-Tooth ... Could there be a connection?” Sabre-Tooth had just made his first appearance in Iron Fist #14. The line is an inside joke. John Byrne had designed a possible face for Wolverine months earlier, back before Uncanny #98 had revealed for the first time what Wolverine looks like under his mask. He didn’t know that Cockrum had already come up with the distinctive Wolverine look that has since become iconic. Byrne now had a face with no character, so when Claremont’s plot for Iron Fist #14 required a Canadian villain called Sabre-Tooth, Byrne used the face on that character instead. So the line about a “connection” between Wolverine and Sabre-Tooth was probably just Claremont being cute.

Not until Uncanny X-Men #212 – over 100 issues from where we are now – would Iron Fist’s idle speculation actually be woven into the canon. Reading the line now, it creates the illusion that Claremont plotted things very very far in advance.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Comics Out March 5, 2008

[little rushed today. sorry.]

Punisher War Journal 17. Chaykin continues to elude my grasp (blood that looks like Ketchup? That’s good right? I will get it soon, probably). The story is a fun one-off. Captain America, Casanova and Punisher work if the main characters are barely there, or not there at all. This is an interesting little trend. It epitomizes the idea that we do not read comics for the characters but because of the creators, which I like. But maybe it is the worlds the creators have built that replace the characters. I am still thinking about it.

Casanova. I continue to love this book, obviously. Fraction’s swiftness is really refreshing to read – things just HAPPEN. Things MOVE FORWARD. None of Whedon’s little invincible clique – everyone is in danger. Fabio Moon is amazing, and he shines here with few word balloons. The real danger in the issue is the vacuum of space and Fabio really brings it home with a great use of empty space on most of the pages. And an axe. Inspiration. In the back-matter Fraction reveals his real last name I think. I do not know if that was a secret up until now, but I did not know what it was.

Buffy 12. Buffy has sex with a girl as a PR stunt, and a pretty good one: the story was carried by several newspapers, and Joss is doing interviews (including one on Newsarama), where he is making it clear that she is not now gay – sexuality is a spectrum. That’s a nice idea to put in a comic book, and I do not think the PR stunt overly cynical – I think they handled it pretty believably, and hey, are you really going to fault a book based on cute girls fighting monsters for pandering to an audience? More importantly the story here is fun – the jokes surrounding the reveal, and the ones at the end of the issue are great. We recently had a conversation about Buffy being too dark, and this looks like a little light, which is nice. I still have a hard time developing strong feelings about this book other than that I basically like it, in part because of the art. Coming up soon – Buffy vs Fray. So if you did not get that trade paperback, get it now (it is one of Whedon’s indispensable comics works).

On Newsarama they have a whole interview with Morrison – part three just came out. Apparently, we have never really seen a New God, only their manifestations. That’s the old Morrison genius – just go all the way behind the concept and rethink it.

Click the lables to read reviews of older issues of these titles.

Review, discuss and recommend in the comment thread.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Mark Millar's Wanted 2

We start with a recap of Wesley Gibson's problems -- no sex with the girlfriend who cheats on him with his best friend, irritating old man neighbor trying to be nice, mean boss, being picked on by "Spike Lee extras." Millar seems very worried will have forgotten all of this since last issue. Ostensibly we are reminded of all these things because in this issue, called "Fuck You," Wesley says just that to his old life and accepts his super-villain destiny. You can see what Millar is up to by looking at Wesley's little rebellion -- he scatters the papers in the cubicle yelling "Fuck you you fucking assholes" and it is clear that this is a American Dream moment -- his coworkers are shocked, but also a little impressed (one laughs, one looks like he is almost ready to put his fist in the air and join him). Then he kills random people, goes after all his enemies -- including a girl who turned him down for a date, and a guy who spilled ink on him once. The vile non-sense just goes on and on.

Wanted is the complement to the Authority, but does not work nearly as well. The Authority -- especially in Millar's hands -- took the basic idea about superheroics and pushed it to its natural extreme: having super-powers and punching people until they act like you want them to leads to the violence and fascism of the Authority, where you can no longer tell the good guys from the bad guys. Wanted is supposed to do the same thing for that American Dream of quitting your job and doing whatever you want. The problem is that while there is something vaguely frightening about the idea of Superman that can be persuasively jacked up in the Authority, the desire to ditch your job in a cubicle needs a pretty specific strain of nastiness to end with your raping and killing an A-list celebrity as she sobs in the bathtub. I think Millar wants Wesley Gibson to be a kind of Everyman but it seems clear that he is just a nasty racist psychopath. Importantly, the power does not corrupt him -- it is just that now he ACTS on his nasty desires.

That is where Millar's polemic goes wrong, but it also causes problems with his story here. Mr. Rictus is introduced as a bad guy -- even in the context of this story of bad guys. How do we establish that? He kills babies. That is apparently where we draw the line. Killing random young women with a sniper rifle, and shooting your harmless old man neighbor who says the same nice phrase to you every morning is all part of being a badass, but killing babies is where we draw the line. Millar needs the line to create conflict, but you cannot erase the line first or your story makes no sense.

Two things keep Millar in business. First, he can write some great Bad-ass dialogue. "What kind of super-people show up to a fight stinking of booze? [head explodes]" -- "The dangerous kind" will always stay with me. But Wanted, at least the first two issues, do not really have lines like that. Just as Alfred Hitchcock got bad once the restrictions on violence were removed (see Frenzy, as opposed to the earlier much less gory Psycho) Millar loses his touch when he can simply have characters say "Fuck You" all the time. Issue two actually includes Wesley saying "If I was chocolate I swear I'd eat myself right now" which is seriously weak, Lifetime movie network comedy weak.

The second thing that keeps Millar alive is the fact that every once and a while he has a really good idea. I have heard people claim that he steals or borrows them from Grant Morrison, but these ideas show up in his books and he occasionally has a great one. The zombie fake-out in his Ultimate Fantastic Four issue was brilliant and brilliantly marketed -- Marvel made it seem like the Ultimate books were going to cross over with the core books, and everyone went nuts, but both we and the Ultimate Reed Richard discovered the fake out together at the last moment. The idea of Civil War is quite good (though I do not know if that was his). Having the Authority go up against Jack Kirby and all his creations was pretty fun. The end of Red Son, where time travel makes it possible for the "El" in Superman's real family name to be a corruption of L, itself a shortening of Luthor was brilliant (though that one is almost certainly from Morrison, as he used it, less dramatically, in DC One Million). Issue two of Wanted shows Millar at his best, as Solomon explains what happened to the real superheroes after the bad guys re-wrote reality:

Now your father's old nemesis is just a camp, podgy joke who signs autographs for money. The Warrior Princess is a menopausal drunk who thinks she was a TV personality. And as for my own arch foe... [image of a man in a wheelchair] Well, according to the newspapers he needs someone to help him defecate now and spends his long, dull days staring into space, trying to figure out where it all went wrong.

Kingdom Come is dedicated to Christopher Reeve, "who made us believe that a man could fly." In part because of his terrible accident, there was a real sentimental feeling that Reeve in some way WAS Superman. [He was, by the way, brilliant, when he played against this, appearing on The Practice post-accident, as a wheelchair bound criminal mastermind]. Linda Carter will always somehow BE Wonder Woman, which is why she appears as the principal of a superhero school in Sky High. Adam West has of course never transcended his role as Batman, possibly the most famous Batman (as someone said in the comments recently). As vile as Millar is trying to be, there is this underlying compliment to Reeve, Carter and West that I find weirdly moving, because it plugs into the way all three actors are so locked into those roles. Before the world got awful -- before the super-villains took over and re-wrote reality -- Reeve, Carter and West REALLY WERE Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. On some level, don't we all sort of believe that?

We were recently discussing the underrated Galaxy Quest. What makes Galaxy Quest so moving is that as much as it makes fun of Star Trek, it also provides a narrative in which the Star Trek actors -- many of whom fans know hated being pigeon holed into just those roles -- fully BECOME the characters. The contrast between the actors and the characters is finally resolved to great effect. There is something like that buried in Wanted, buried beneath the vile and casual assumption -- vile because it is so casual -- that its readers will identify with this racist monster who is our protagonist.

Wednesday, March 05, 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.