Saturday, May 31, 2008

Comics Out May 29, 2008 (Final Crisis and Astonishing X-Men Audio-Reviews)
Giant Sized X-Men # 1 can only be reviewed with the power of the spoken word.
Final Crisis #1 ALSO demands an audio review.
Iron Fist 15. A pretty good story overshadowed by this week's other releases. The image on the cover is especially excellent.
Batman 677. Morrison's Batman has been as mixed a bad as his X-Met at least -- probably more. Surprisingly, I liked this issue better if only because I like all the possibilities for the identity of the Black Glove being tossed around: Thomas Wayne, Alfred (Batman's real rather?), Batman himself. The fact that Batman's obscure brother is not mentioned make him the right pick I think -- Callahan had that theory and it seems like a good one. I am still not 100% on board with this because the art is boring and I think the Bad Guy team looks kind of silly and random -- not in a good way. But I do want to see how it continues. And did you read the Morrison interview where he explained about the last page of the last issue, the one I called superfluous? Turns out the colorist got it wrong, and there was supposed to be no blood -- that way you know the last few pages were pure fantasy. Morrison has a history of not communicating with his artists, say on New X-Men or the end of the Invisibles and it is kind of sad. That's why the Quitely collaborations are the best, I think, because they are friends and live in the same city, and really plan this stuff together.
All Star Superman 11. Another perfect issue. The only problem with this series, and it is not really a problem I suppose, is that the tone was established a while back and so some of the surprise is kind of gone 11 issues in. I know what kind of thing to expect now, and 11 is not going to knock me out the way 5 did. From the moment this project was announced I have been looking forward to the inevitable Absolute edition -- 12 issues is the perfect number for a book like that. It will be, for me the definitive Superman. And maybe on a personal level more important: the definitive Luthor. I ADORE the final page of this, with Luthor transcendent in the green and purple. Notice the difference between the line work when he is in the chair in the opening two pages and this final image -- as he becomes more powerful he almost solidifies. I love Luthor. I am this close to shaving my head in solidarity.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #131

[Guest-blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“Run for Your Life”

The first trilogy in the Dark Phoenix Saga concludes here, in a quite conventionally super-heroic way. Claremont and Byrne are still being unapologetically Silver Age in their delivery, the only hint of the “holocaust” promised two issues ago being the further corruption of Jean Grey.

First, to speak to the former: “Run for Your Life” opens with a splash page ringed by headshots of the six X-Men, along with captions saying their names – a classic device, in this case implicitly promising that each character will play his or her part.

And, except maybe for Storm, they do: Cyclops is once again the supreme tactician, spearheading rescues, formulating strategies, and getting to deliver dialogue like, “I’m through tangling with shadows. Mind-scan our prisoners, Jean, and find out who we’re up against.”

For Nightcrawler, Byrne reprises a slick idea from Uncanny X-Men #111: Nightcrawler teleporting so fast that he knocks three villains down in a single panel. While Uncanny #111 had no accompanying dialogue or narration, this time Claremont gets in on the fun, letting Nightcrawler revel in his ability to “deck all these men before the first one even hits the ground!” The panel also contains the most entertaining use of Nightcrawler’s “bamf” sound effect, with a single instance of “BAMF” interpolated one letter at a time amongst the three simultaneous instances of Nightcrawler.

Kitty gets to use her phasing powers to rescue Wolverine, realizing in the process that when she phases through electronic equipment, she short-circuits it. (Byrne and Claremont clearly are already keen to have fun with their brand new creation.) Colossus has his moment in the sun when he takes down a Hellfire soldier and basks in the subsequent adoration from an already crushing Kitty. And Wolverine even gets to kill some people off-panel.

In the funniest gesture towards the Lee/Kirby X-Men, Professor X ends up “holding back and playing observer,” because he wants to see how the X-Men handle themselves in a combat situation. This as opposed to, say, using his telepathic powers to help out here and there. This is the kind of thing he did in the 1960s all the time.

The only unconvincing note is Dazzler. While all the other characters get to do something impressive, Dazzler “creates a lightshow, so intense and beautiful, that the guards’ minds can’t cope with it!” Even Claremont doesn’t sound very convinced by that.

On the other end of the spectrum is Phoenix, who in this issue is more of a powerhouse than all the other X-Men combined. Claremont and Byrne are using her very shrewdly in this issue – on the one hand, she’s so powerful that she lets the X-Men do anything they want. Her telepathic abilities allow her to learn almost all they need to know about the Hellfire Club, for instance, and her powers also get the rescue team into Frost Industries with utter ease. From a plotting standpoint, it’s a huge cheat, giving the good guys the ability to do whatever’s necessary to make the story work.

But all through the issue, Cyclops is expressing his fear and discomfort over the range of Jean’s abilities, thus not only disguising the narrative cheat but also deliberately directing readers’ expectation in the other direction: Rather than looking askance at the convenient nature of Phoenix’s powers, we’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop.

This thread culminates in the telepathic battle between Phoenix and the White Queen, a scene that both visually and verbally alludes to the Xavier/Farouk “psi-war” of Uncanny X-Men #117. Cleverly, Claremont and Byrne position the characters so that the White Queen – at a disadvantage and seemingly hopelessly overpowered – reminds us of the hero of that story, Xavier, while Phoenix’s mutation into her giant bird form is reminiscent of Farouk’s transformations in “Psi War.” The visual and verbal cues quite cannily serve a double function, both hinting at Jean’s further corruption and also foreshadowing the upcoming psi-war between Xavier and Jean in Uncanny X-Men #136.

Finally, Storm – the only X-Man who doesn’t get any cool, superheroic bits in “Run for Your Life” – makes another crucial allusion, this time to Uncanny X-Men #108, “Armageddon Now.” That story, the climax of Claremont’s first major X-Men saga and the apotheosis of Phoenix as a cosmic force for creation, featured Phoenix saving the Universe. Classic X-Men #15’s revision of the story added a dark twist, suggesting that the moment in which Phoenix triumphed, she also was set down the path to becoming Dark Phoenix. Storm being reminded of that moment as she sees Jean triumph over the White Queen reinforces this idea. “Armageddon Now” will be alluded to again and again over the next few issues, positioned very clearly as a reflection of this, Claremont’s second major X-Men saga and the apotheosis of Phoenix as a cosmic force of destruction.

Me at the Fashion and Fantasy Conference at the Met

The Graphic Body

Thanks to Peter Coogan, I will be hosting a discussion with Iron Man's costume designers at a conference on June 22nd at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in conjunction with the Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy exhibit. This is good because

1. Superheroes
2. Fashion
3. The MET!

Crazy exciting. Peter Coogan is my new hero. Here is the offical thing from the MET

The Costume Institute Hosts Panels and Lectures on Superhero Costumes in Comics

When: Sunday, June 22, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

What: Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy – Sunday at the Met
This all-day event of lectures and panel discussions brings together leading international scholars, critics, and designers to discuss the world of costumes and comics. Themes include the appropriation of the uniform, the adaptation of superhero costumes for the screen, the creation of modern mythologies, and the role of the superhero as metaphor in contemporary society. Free with Museum admission; reservations and tickets not required. The exhibition, Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy, which has been seen by more than 100,000 visitors in its first three weeks, runs through September 1, 2008.

Who: The program, hosted by Peter Coogan, Director of The Institute for Comics Studies, is presented in conjunction with Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy curated by Andrew Bolton, Curator, The Costume Institute. The schedule includes:
- Peter Coogan, "E Pluribus Unitard: Notes Toward a Theory of Superhero Costuming"
- Writers Panel: Danny Fingeroth (author, Disguised as Clark Kent), Richard Reynolds (author, Superheroes: A Modern Mythology), Paul Levitz (President, DC Comics)
- Scott Bukatman (Associate Professor, Art and Art History, Stanford University), "The Boys in the Hoods: The Costumed Vigilante as Urban Dandy"
- Costume Designers Panel: Geoff Klock (Assistant Professor, Borough of Manhattan Community College), Adi Granov and Phil Saunders (costume designers, Iron Man)
- Artists Panel: Alex Ross (comic artist), Stanford Carpenter (Assistant Professor, Visual & Critical Studies, School of the Art Institute of Chicago), Arlen Schumer (comic book art historian, Dynamic Duo Studios)
- Michael Uslan (executive producer, The Dark Knight), "The Gods of Greece, Rome, and Egypt Still Exist - Only Today They Wear Spandex & Capes!"
Where: The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street

Contact: Nancy Chilton or Elyse Topalian, 212-570-3951, or For more information and a schedule of events, please consult the online Calendar at

The exhibition is made possible by Giorgio Armani.

Additional support is provided by Condé Nast.

If you are in New York, save the hell out of that date.


CLICK HERE for the Met's page about the event.

It also looks like the panel I am hosting will be joined by the guy responsible for Mystique in the X-Men films, in addition to the creators of the Iron Man armor.

This is going to rawk, as Fraction would say.

LOST Season Four: The Finale (spoilers)

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Someone said Season Four takes place over 9 DAYS. It's been a busy nine days (though Jack Bauer might disagree).

This season of LOST was all about how the flash-forward at the end of season three could build tension: season four is designed to fill in the blank space between the Jack's long hoped for rescue and a suicidal Jack who cries "we have to go back!" The first half of season four slowly revealed the Oceanic 6 -- every person on the island not in that group was in danger, and some, like Jin, we suspected were in specific trouble. Once the six were revealed the question became "Why these six only" -- something the finale played with by breaking them up so we could wonder how they would end up together (Kate and Sayid with the hostiles, Hurley with Locke and Ben, Sun and the baby on the boat with the bomb, Jack with Sawyer). A lot of the final three hours was people rushing around the island while we waited to see how the six would end up together.

The brilliant thing about the ending of season three was that it was so stunning and satisfying while at the same time keeping all the mysteries in place -- the big reveal was FORMAL instead of something of CONTENT: we feel like we get something big, while the creators still hold all the cards. At the end of season four, we get something very similar, in the reveal that John Locke is the dead man in the coffin seen at the end of season three. Now we have a similar "blank space" between two scenes to fill in during season 5: How did Locke go from taking over as the leader of the hostiles to being dead, with an alias, off-island, at a funeral attended by no one but Jack? Jack telling us he learned from Jacob that "horrible things happened" after the six left fills the same purpose as the six saying everyone else on the plane died. Presumably season five will juxtapose what happened on the island that put Locke in the coffin with the Six figuring out how to return -- with the help of Ben and probably Desmond and Penny and Walt (who was brought in as a red herring for the identity of "Jeremy Bentham").

Then you have to think season six will cover what they have to do after their return to the island, and then begin to answer the big questions about the nature of the island: the time disjunct, the monster, Jacob, that statue, Dharma and so on.

I had hoped for at least one part -- any part -- of that mythology to be revealed at the end of this season, if only to tide me over. I thought surely that the teaser clip of the copied bunny would play out in a more interesting way than the "don't put metal in the microwave" thing that allowed Ben to get to the ice cave. But the episode still had tremendous LOST moments: Ben had some really hilarious facial expressions in the Orchid when he explains that no, the Dharma chamber is obviously not the "magic box" mentioned in season 3, and yes, he is going against the video and putting metal in there; especially good is when he keeps John busy by giving him a video to watch -- that is what you do with little children when you want them quiet. And you have to love the Penny Desmond reunion, which took me by surprise -- although they had to get together sooner than season 6 so he could protect her from Ben's eventual attack. The "rule" that the person who moves the island can't comeback struck me as a little arbitrary, and the push wheel a little simple, but hey, no more arbitrary than anything else in the show, and I do not know what I would have replaced it with. I did enjoy the tie in to Ben's teleporting to Tunisia or wherever. And Sun rising to power and confronting fellow corporate bigwig Widmore was good -- she is clearly going to become the powerhouse for the return to the island next year, which is great character development.

The other thing that was a small let-down here was this was the first time I felt the effects of the strike, which LOST basically recovered well from. Charlotte was surely going to get an episode that would have expanded on the idea that she was born on the island and has been searching for it ever since; maybe we would have gotten a Miles episode as well -- he is a great actor and was underused. Also: I guess LOST really did end up hiring Fischer Stevens and Zoe Bell to do basically nothing. Their parts may have also been cut do to the strike. We know some of this will be folded into season five, but still -- that is not till January.

Overall, I still love LOST. And now, we wait.

Also: did you catch the add for something like (but not) -- that was obviously the start for the LOST summer viral marketing game thing (octagon= Dharma), which I am going to avoid. If you play, please let us know what it is on the blog.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Better Late than Never: Iron Man

I finally got around to seeing Iron Man. This is going to be short, since a lot of what needs to be said has been said.

It's not super-witty all the way through, but it has a good amount of funny, and the funny is sold really well by Downey: the fire extinguisher robot was great, as was Downey going into a wall. That is no small thing since the wave of new superhero films -- not counting lightweight fare like the FF movies which I did not even see -- have been overly serious moral parables about the weight of guilt and responsibility. X2 handled it well, but they had Shakespearian actors on their side. Batman Begins I remember as being really sour for a summer blockbuster with a guy in a cape, but people keep telling me I need to go back and see it again. One of these days. My friend Erin turned me around on the Hulk, which I hated when I saw it , but again, I will have to re-see it. And, with the Hulk, you have to admire the attempt to write an artsy meditation on anger using a superhero movie. Iron Man has nods to that seriousness, as Tony Stark must repent to change his life, but it seems more in the spirit of comics to me: the guilt is there, but it never gets in the way of a good time. Iron Man remembers the first principle of storytelling: the story comes first, and the moralizing or whatever, second, if at all. I know people have complained that the terrorists are a little flat, and they are -- but they are COMIC BOOK TERRORISTS, a phrase that is usually a pejorative metaphor, but here is the literal truth, so I am willing to let it go.

I do not know if everyone saw the J.J. Abrams clip from the TED conference I put up here a while back on Brad's suggestion. But Abrams makes a really good point about Jaws: he shows the scene everyone knows, where the girl swimming at night is eaten by the shark with all the music we all know; then he shows a quiet scene between our hero and his son in which he says "Gimme a kiss. Because I need it." Abrams point is that everyone steals the wrong stuff -- it's the father-son stuff that filmmakers should be learning from, not the shark stuff. What makes me think of this is the scene between Paltrow and Bridges where she is stealing stuff off of his computer. It is far and away the best scene in the film -- a kind of amazing feat, given all the bombast around it. Brad worked on the film and a friend of his, who was involved with editing, told me they called it "The Hitchcock Scene" and it really is: sold suspenseful storytelling hung on good acting. I was mesmerized by that bit. It shows craftsmanship. Bridges is really great as a villian, which surprised the heck out of me, especially because with that dome he really has the potential to come off like a poor man's Luthor.

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Did anyone else think the hair -- both on the head and on the face -- of Downey and Bridges really captured the antagonism somehow, like the Moore-Morrison conflict played out in All-Beard and No-Beard of the Manhattan Guardian?

I suppose we should still not spoil the post-credits fanboy moment, so I will talk around it. It is hard not to be entertained by it, especially because when you see these movies they are usually aimed at the general population; inside jokes usually don't go over well. But this is more of an inside-outside joke if you see what I mean -- and inside joke that works because it is outside the movie proper. It was a scene really just for the people that read a popular comic book series a while back, and I appreciated it.

Redbelt is next for me, in the better late than never series.

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #130

[Guest-blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]


A few years ago on the John Byrne Message Board, a friend of Byrne’s posted an old piece of paper he’d found, with a list of Uncanny X-Men issues from the 120s all the way up to 150, with a couple of words after each number – in Byrne’s handwriting – detailing what the corresponding issue would be about. It’s a fascinating peak into how things were originally meant to go down. One of the first deviations between the well-laid plan and the awry-reality occurs at Uncanny X-Men #130, which was originally meant to be the end of the two-part Kitty Pryde/White Queen arc (itself only the first act of the Dark Phoenix saga). But by this time, plans have changed, and now issue 130 is used to accommodate the editorially mandated first appearance of Dazzler – a disco-themed mutant superhero created pretty much by committee (a group of Marvel creators that included neither Byrne nor Claremont).

As with Claremont’s attack on Shooter’s edicts through dialogue between Scott and Xavier in Uncanny #129, here Claremont barely disguises his mockery of Shooter’s attempt to cash in on the popularity of disco. e.g., Scott’s dialogue upon entering the music club where Dazzler is performing: “Is this where old discos go to die?”

Because the addition of Dazzler to this storyline was a relatively new development shoehorned into Claremont and Byrne’s plot, they are forced to essentially rehash the plot of the previous issue. To wit: half the team goes to recruit a new mutant; they are attacked by Hellfire Club mercenaries in armor keyed to counteract their powers; they realize that each mercenary is only outfitted to counter one superpower, and by switching opponents are able to turn the tide in their favor. The previous issue ended when the White Queen showed up at the last minute and took everyone down. Here, instead, Scott, Jean and Nightcrawler take Dazzler with them and head to Chicago to rescue their captured teammates. Not a lot of variation, but at this point the Claremont/Byrne/Austin team is so remarkably fluent that they can make just about anything seem cool, even repetitive fight scenes.

In order to keep up story interest, they also inch the larger Wyngarde-seduction plot forward. Back in Uncanny #125, Wyngarde began using holographic illusions to make Jean believe she is having “time-slips” into the late 18th century. “Dazzler” contains the fourth such “time-slip” sequence, ending provocatively with Jean transforming into the Black Queen, basically a black-corseted version of Emma Frost. We are two issues from the culmination of this subplot, and again the controlled pacing by Claremont and Byrne is marvelous.

In retrospect, the expansion of the Dark Pheonix due to editorial interference is something of a happy accident. The storyline ends up being nine parts, comprising three acts which in turn are three parts each: a trilogy of trilogies. It’s an elegant design, and – amazingly – a largely accidental one.

[It is really telling that Dazzler and Shadowcat are created around the same time -- the one made by editorial mandate will become a joke; Kitty is still a major character now -- this week in Astonishing X-Men.]

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Scott on the JLI, Part 7

[Scott continues his look at the JLI. For more in this series see the toolbar.]

The Gray Man

So, wasn't Dr. Fate supposed to be a member of this team? He conveniently disappeared back in the first issue just before the League took on the terrorist at the UN and hasn't been seen since a couple of pages in the second issue that introduced the Gray Man subplot. In issue five, we see that he has since been held captive by The Gray Man. The Gray Man is the central plot of issues 4 and 5 is resolved at the beginning of 7. So who is the Gray Man? He is an ancient priest who in a ceremony many thousands of years ago summoned and came face to face with the Lords of Order. As his 'punishment', he was granted immortality and forced to live on a solitary island while his other 'selves' roamed the world collecting the dreams of the recently deceased for the Lords of Order (a plot point Neil Gaiman would later use in Season Of Mist, where the Lords of Order offer Morpheus these dreams of the dead in exchange for the key to Hell). Well, after thousands of years he, of course, has gone rogue and now seeks to take the dreams from the living as well and turn the world into the gray dreary landscape he has been forced to endure.

Jason's recent X-men post about Proteus got me thinking. Could the Gray Man be meant to represent anything? So much of this series placed an emphasis on having fun and they are now facing a character called 'the Gray Man.' At this point, the 'Grim and Gritty' era of comics had already began. It may not have been called as much but superhero comics were already beginning to get unbearably serious. The Gray Man's internal monologue is an overly serious, almost poetic prose where he says things like "If I could, I would laugh. Perhaps, weep. But such luxuries are not permitted me. I am The Gray Man" and he also goes around sucking the dreams out of the living, much the way the current serious tone in comics was sucking the fun out of superheroes. So, who better to fight the Gray Man than the colorful and jolly Justice League?

In issue five, Dr. Fate manages to get a call for help out to the League and Batman sends Captain Marvel to scout ahead before the rest of the team follows him to the town of Stone Ridge. There's a nice little bit of self doubt on Captain Marvel's behalf as he begins to consider how over his head he is despite being, potentially, the most powerful member of the team. I'm not sure if Giffen and Dematteis were the first to do this, but they portray Captain Marvel as still having the mind of Billy Batson. In the old days, when the transformation took place, Captain Marvel was always portrayed as an adult. Now, in this revisonary period, he has become much more of a superheroic take on the movie Big... which I think is really fun. However, Giffen and Co. may be potraying him as a bit overly Naive... at least more than most '15 year olds' that I know. In an early issue, the League vetos his suggestions to sing 'Row Row Row, Your Boat' to pass the time (once again I go back to my theory of the Marvels as the Osmonds of the DCU).

Also, isn't he endowed with the Wisdom of Solomon? Can someone be both wise and naive? (Actually, someone once told me that's what the word sophmore means, roughly translated).

The rest of the team arrives by the end of the issue and The Creeper shows up for a 'special guest appearance.' I kind of wish he'd become a permanent member of the team since the interplay between him in Batman is nice:

Creeper (off Panel): Tee-Hee
Mister Miracle: What was that?
Batman: I believe it's called giggling.
Creeper: Or Perhaps it was a titter! I know in fact it wasn't a guffaw!
Batman: The Creeper!
The Creeper: Where?!
Batman: What are you doing here?
Creeper: Oh, You know, creeping around.
Black Canary: I assume you know this wacko?
Batman: We've met.
Creeper: Ah, yes... I'll treasure those memories forever! The moon, the stars... drinking champagne out of your cowl.

Not only is Creeper's wackiness a nice balance to Batman's seriousness... but he's normally depicted as a sort of superheroic version of the Joker (the exchange also toys with some of the pseudo-sexual tension between Joker and Batman that Miller played around with in The Dark Knight Returns)... which could have been used nicely in the series. The issue ends with the Creeper guiding the team to a full-page view of the town of Stone Ridge which has now been transformed by the Gray Man into a nightmarish landscape that would be more at home in The Sandman (still a year away at this point).

Issue 6 starts with a great full page shot of the team by Maguire. Once again, his knack for subtle expressions cannot be underestimated in terms of the effect that it would have on shaping the team. In this instance, we have the experienced heroes, Mister Miracle, Batman, and Martian Manhunter, all sporting pretty stereotypical expressions of shock and anger, their expressions indicate that, while they're horrified, they are prepared to swoop in to save the day. Booster and Beetle, the two unlikely candidates who would eventually become the stars of the series, are sporting very different expressions both of which clearly indicate that they're in over their head. Booster's expression seems to be saying "We're not really going in there are we?" while Beetle's, quite simply, says "Yeeesh!"

As the team enters the town, we learn that the Gray Man has now managed to capture Captain Marvel and Dr. Fate, effectively putting the League's two most powerful members out of commission. The Gray Man is quite the intimidating adversary but, nevertheless, the team presses onward:

Batman: We're not dealing with any criminal here Beetle. This Gray Man has taken down Dr. Fate. I'd say he's quite capable of taking us all down.
Blue Beetle: So naturally we're going in there.
Batman: Naturally.

This team may have been big on the laughs but, at the end of the day, they were always heroes.

Batman: The only way we can help these people is to get to the root of the problem. We've got to find the Gray Man.
Booster: If we keep standing around out here in the open,he's going to find us pretty soon.
Batman: Good Idea, Booster... we'll stay right where we are and let him come to us.
Booster: But I wasn't Suggesting...
Batman: I like the way you think. Keep up the good work.

This is a nice bit of Booster playing accidental Robin to Batman... just try re-reading it using Adam West for the Batman voice and you'll see what I'm talking about (uhm, and use whatever voice you normally use for Booster Gold).

The team soon finds themselves confronting Captain Marvel, his hair colored gray to indicate that he is being mind controlled by the Gray Man. He quickly flies off with Booster and Canary and flings them off in the distance which results in one of my favorite exchanges in this series:

Booster: Canary, I'm not really up on every one's powers. you can fly, can't you?
Black Canary: No.
Booster: No?
BC: NO!!!
Booster: oh
[Batman dispatches Mister Miracle to save Canary]
Mister Miracle: Hang on Canary... I'm Coming!
BC: Go away... I can save myself!
MM: How?
BC: I haven't figured it out yet.
MM: Don't worry. I've got you.
BC: But I don't want to be 'got', I hate being saved.
MM: What if I promise to let you save me next time?
BC: Swear?
MM: Swear.
BC: Then it's okay... this once!

Nevermind that this exchange couldn't possibly happen during the time it takes Black Canary to fall, it's still great fun. As I mentioned before, there isn't a lot of character development with Black Canary; she's mainly served as a foil to Guy and to act as team's resident girl. But, she's not meant to be a girly girl. She's a modern woman after all which is why she doesn't want to be saved and finds her predicament rather embarassing. That's why I think it's so sweet when Mister Miracle, following along with his characterization as an all-around nice guy who appreciates his teammates, promises to let her save him next time; he manages to both save her life and soothe her ego at the same time. I think this could also serve as a nice little revision on the most famous flying-super hero rescue of modern popular consciousness: Superman: The Movie

Instead of: "You've got me? Who's got you?" We get "I don't want to be got" Not sure if this is what Dematteiss had in mind but it's a nice reference nonetheless.

Martian Manhunter, since he's the only one capable of doing so, rushes in to take on Captain Marvel and we have another familiar comic book trope: two good guy powerhouses going at it because one is being manipulated/mind-controlled (or is, occasionally, a robot). It ends with a laugh out loud moment when, since Dr. Fate has now broken free, the Gray Man's control slips from Captain Marvel. This is indicated to the reader as we see his hair change from gray to normal over a three panel spread. Unfortunately, Martian Manhunter, who had been knocked to the ground, misses the change and belts the Big Cheese with all his might which effectively sucker-punches the naive strong man headfirst into a stone wall.

Martian Manhunter: Captain Marvel?
Captain Marvel: (his head buried in the wall) uh-huh
MM: Is it really you?
CM: uh-huh
MM: I'm sorry, I was dazed... I didn't notice the shift in minds at first. Did I hurt you?
CM: UH-HUhhhhhh.....

This another great of example of the book taking a classic comic book cliche and having some great fun with it.

With Guy still unconscious back at headquarters and Marvel and Manhunter now going at it, the team finds themselves lacking their most powerful members as they go to confront the Gray Man... that is, of course, if you don't count Blue Beetle.... okay, not really... but still, they do have Batman. He'll figure something out right? Well, not really. The Gray Man (or more accurately his duplicates) very easily take out the remainder of the team leaving only Dr. Fate standing at the end of issue six. It is at this point that Dr. Fate let's us in on a secret.

Dr. Fate: You pathetic little man... I've been holding back in order to help you!

At the beginning of issue seven, Fate has teleported himself and the Gray Man to an unknown location.

The Gray Man: You're a fool Dr. Fate, if you think teleporting this building out of stone ridge will change anything.
Fate: A fool. Of Course.
TGM: I'm the gray man! I have power equal to you and your fellow lords of order!
Fate: Of course you do.
TGM: Again and again, you've tried to stop me... but it's clear now that... I'VE WON!

If it seems Fate is patronizing the Gray Man it's because he is.

Fate: You don't understand do you? You never had a chance.

And, with a wave of Fate's hand, The Gray Man finds himself confronting The Lords of Order and he very quickly shifts from thinking that he has won to grovelling. We learn that his 'punishment' was actually inteneded to be a reward, the Lords of Order were impressed since no other mere mortal had managed to summon them before. With the misunderstanding cleared up, The Gray Man begs them to take back their 'gift' and he disinigrates into nothingness. This is a nice twist. Fate could have ended this conflict at anytime and, as a result, saved the world at anytime but that was not his goal... his hope was that, with the help of the League, he just might be able to save the Gray Man from himself. It's pretty unique ending if you think about it, it was a story where the team was supposed to save the villain and, while the world ended up being saved, the fact that the Gray Man wasn't kind of means that... the team failed. Again, this series wasn't just about the laughs, it was also very clever and the Gray Man tale is further proof of that.

Next: The Earth Shattering Conclusion! (Ok, maybe I'm overselling it a bit... but it will be pretty good... promise).

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, May 27, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #129

[Guest-blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“God Spare the Child”

The X-Men have defeated Proteus – “... and, for the moment, all is well in their madcap, helter-skelter world.” So goes Claremont’s narration on Page 3 of Chapter 1 of the Dark Phoenix Saga, just before adding ominously: “None are aware that it is merely the calm before the holocaust.”

The portentous tone of the narration promises darkness over the next few issues of the series. The promise will be kept -- but first, Claremont and Byrne take an almost sadistic delight in re-setting the comic virtually to the Silver Age status quo. Professor X returns, Scott and Jean go back to being full-time lovers (the “Scott dating Colleen Wing” subplot unceremoniously dropped, never to be heard from again), and the X-Men are back to doing what they did in the Lee/Kirby days: practicing in the Danger Room and seeking out new mutants to recruit. It’s all almost playful.

Claremont and Byrne even tease at retreating back into Neal Adams/Roy Thomas homage on Page 7: Jean’s dialogue in the third and fourth panels (“Scott – wait! Don’t you remember?! That extra thick-door leads to – the danger room!”) is a verbatim recreation from Adams/Thomas’ X-Men #60. But it is only a tease, and actually a funny joke for people who have read the Adams run. It was already fairly ridiculous then that Scott would forget which door led to the Danger Room. That he has to be reminded again (by the same person, in the exact same words) takes it into comical absurdity. The message is implicit: Too much cannibalization of the past will lead to absurd levels of stagnation. Claremont and Byrne are only setting the X-Men down a familiar road with this issue so that it will be that much more of a shock when they shoot the wheels off the car.

On the other hand, the feigned step backwards into the Silver Age might not have been Claremont and Byrne’s idea. Byrne complains in “Comics Creators on X-Men” that around the time that the Dark Phoenix Saga was just about to get underway, Marvel Editor in Chief Jim Shooter got a “bee in his bonnet,” suddenly deciding that what made the X-Men unique was their attending a school. Byrne quotes Shooter as commanding, “‘I want to see these people getting demerits. I want to see these people getting homework assignments.’” Byrne continues, “I didn’t think Wolverine was going [to] react real well to demerits. I mean, come on!”

Hence this dialogue:

Xavier: “Scott, notify Wolverine that his childish outburst will cost him ten demerits.”

Scott: “Ten – or ten thousand, Professor – I doubt they’ll matter much to him. Wolverine’s a grown man ...”

When one knows the backstage details, it’s clear there’s a message being sent to Shooter there ... while on a more subversive level, Byrne and Claremont turn what may have been a forced step backwards to a dramatic advantage, as we soon learn it is really just a feint.

In the meantime, Shooter’s edict does result in one far-reaching addition to the series, as in this issue Byrne and Claremont introduce their co-creation Kitty Pryde. She is mainly a plot device here: a new mutant for the X-Men to seek out. But she will soon make X-Men history as the first new mutant to join the X-Men since Giant Sized #1, and the first X-Man that Claremont co-created.

This issue also marks the first appearance of the Hellfire Club, though most of them are kept in shadow. Claremont and Byrne are very careful about how much information they reveal, as this issue is only the first chapter of what will turn out to be nine.

Still, to keep from being entirely withholding, Claremont lets one long-standing mystery be explained, off-handedly, in the Hellfire Club scene: Warhawk, who bugged the Danger Room back in issue #110, we find out here did so on behalf of the Club. (He was shown to be in someone’s telepathic thrall in that story, so presumably that was the White Queen.) Claremont had let that one dangle for nearly two years, but at least he does finally explain it. As we’ll see, as we get deeper into his run, his willingness to let mysteries like this dangle indefinitely will grow and grow, until it tries even the most patient X-Men fans (but also, perversely, keep those same fans coming back for more).

The only Hellfire Club member besides Jason Wyngarde not shrouded in the present issue is Emma Frost, the White Queen, another Byrne/Claremont co-creation who will become a mainstay of the series. She will always be a villain during the Claremont run, though post-Claremont creators will make her into a member of the team. Here, she is just a one-dimensional comic book villain, the only twist being the fairly racy (for the time) visual design. And mercifully, no camel toe. (Sorry, Geoff, I still find that a little much. Does that make me a prude?)

[Yes. :)]

MUTO: animation on public walls (Commonplace Book)

Sara wanted to share this video for the commonplace book. It is pretty cool, and about seven and a half minutes long (although since it is not a narrative you do not need to see the whole thing).

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

Monday, May 26, 2008

What's best about Thursday, May 29th 2008?

The first issue of Final Crisis?
The penultimate issue of All Star Superman?
The final, double-sized, issue of Astonishing X-Men?
The end of the fourth season of LOST?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Beat that my Heart Skipped (Casanova Soundtrack)

The Beat that my Heart Skipped (Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip) is the fourth song on the Casanova soundtrack as outlined in Casanova 14. It is my favorite song on the album, no contest. The rhymes especially are great fun. The video will not embed for some reason so CLICK HERE to see it and read along below.

Every now and then I cower and I need to find empowerment
Empowerment is paramount to how I can begin to mount
A plan that I can implement
to make a dent on ignorance
Instead of drunk belligerence
and the dissidence of miscreants
Especially in this instance
with the never ending persistence
to use the words in each sentence
as if they were blunt instruments
to beat a hole in the defence
of this beauty and her innocence
which serves to just build resistance
in spite of all my good intents.

The beat that my heart skipped

This is the beat that my heart skipped when we first met
Now that I’ve heard it, it leaves me with a kind of regret
No disrespect
We just left a lot of people upset
And what we had wasn’t really what we’d come to expect

Well good god damn and other such phrases
I haven’t heard a beat like this in ages
To miss such a beat would have been outrageous
But when you heart skips a beat its ruthless and aimless

She caught my attention in her fishnets
Then she reeled me in expecting nothing more than kissed necks and quick sex
But that weren’t the case with this platinum princess
She’s attracted my interest
So I wanted to impress….
Upon her all the positive things
That come form having more than just a one night fling
But that’s something that’s easier in theory than in practice
Since pick up lines are tactics
To get prey to the mattress
And this actress
Is practiced
In shunning such theatrics
When put upon daily by tactless geriatrics

So my genuine advances are met with po-faced scepticism
Throwing complements but she just straight elects to miss them
Her lips were put on this earth for dispersing wisdom
God forbid I suggest she lets me kiss them

But I really want to know what she thinks of me
Because I’m loving every idiosyncrasy
But I ain’t one to jump through hoops to make a 1st impression
Been there, done that, learnt the worst of lessons
We want to be loved for who we appear to be instead of who we are
So I real selves take a backseat behind the pomp and the façade
And that’s as true of the rude boys, downing pints and acting hard
As of the kids shunning convention with clinical disregard

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #128

[Guest-blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“The Action of the Tiger”

The previous issue was the middle act of the Mutant X arc, deliberately slackening the tension and devoting the bulk of its narrative to the X-Men licking their wounds after their disastrous first encounter with Proteus. Here, the focus tightens to laser-beam intensity, and after a brief re-cap for latecomers (“Every issue is somebody’s first,” went the philosophy of Marvel’s then-Editor in Chief Jim Shooter), readers are treated to a dozen action-packed pages of the X-Men vs. Proteus.

As is often the case with these climactic battle scenes in the Claremont/Byrne run, Claremont’s writing is the secondary attraction. It is Byrne and Terry Austin who really shine here, producing panel after panel of viscerally exciting images: Wolverine slicing right through Proteus’ stomach; Cyclops and Havok blasting Proteus simultaneously from opposite sides; the fantastic three-panel Colossus transformation; etc.

Still, Claremont sneaks in a few good character bits amid the action. Cyclops is once again the perfect strategist/tactician, his mind always on the battle, and there’s a nice contrast in the way he and Wolverine react to seeing Proteus strike down Jean. Wolverine flies into a rage; Cyclops just keeps attacking the villain. And when Wolverine gives Cyclops grief about it – “Jean’s zapped bad, Cyke, and you ain’t even battin’ an eyelash” – Havok gets angry about it (“Short-stuff, you are so off-base about my brother, it’s pathetic”), but Cyclops isn’t the least bit bothered. Both Scott’s dialogue and inner monologue continue to be only about the fight, which is great characterization.

Colossus’ comforting of Moira on the final page is also rather touching, I think. It’s a nice irony that Peter – the most peace-loving of the team, and also the one who was so recently doubting whether he was pulling his weight – is the one who delivers the killing stroke. Congratulated by Wolverine on the job well done, Colossus replies with the gentle reproach, “Hush now. Let Moira grieve in peace,” which is a lovely example of the character’s quiet courage (he just told Wolverine to shut up) and compassion.

All in all, the perfect conclusion to a great action movie in comic book form. (The Proteus arc would have been a marvelous story for X-Men 3 -- certainly incalculably better than the hackwork that Brett Ratner delivered.)

And from here, it only gets better. Claremont and Byrne are going from strength to strength now.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Scott Reviews Indy 4 (spoiler free)

[Scott reviews Indy 4 for us. I have no plans to see this film soon -- right now it is way behind Iron Man and Redbelt on my list of things to do.]

So is it as good as the originals? No, of course not. Is it fun? Hell yes. First of all, kudos to Lucas and co. for going 'old school.' They followed through on their promise to keep the pacing traditional, rather than the quick-cut, stylized action films we've become accustomed to lately.

If the whole movie had been as good as the opening sequence, it would have been as good as the originals. It's easily the best opening since Raiders and the moment Indy picks up his hat and puts it on, you can't help but cheer. The first hour is pretty solid, then it becomes a bit flawed in the second half.

The movie's biggest flaw is the script.... not the story mind you... that's fine... it's the dialogue that tends to fall a bit flat... especially in many of its attempts at wit. Overall, it tends to lack that charm that the previous movies had. I doubt we'll be quoting this one 20 years from now. It does have its moments though. This is only heighligthed by the film's pacing. As I mentioned, they went 'old school' with this one and that, combined with the stiff dialogue, makes the movie grind to a halt and you find yourself awaiting the next big action sequence (and there are plenty of those).

Still, the movie has heart and the tips of the hat to the late Denholm Elliot and absent Sean Connery are nice (there's even a nice reference for fans of the Young Indy TV series). Overall, it's a fitting final chapter for our favorite finder of fabled... uhm... finds? Much like my attempt at alliteration, it's good overall but flawed. Bottom Line: It's Ford in the hat and jacket again. What more could you ask for?

Comics Out May 21, 2008

Nothing I pick up came out this week. And that is probably going to happen more often as I switch to the trade on some titles. Cannot Wait Titles of the Casanova / All Star Superman caliber I will of course continue to get the issues of. And time sensitive stuff such as Morrison's Batman, which, I don't know, I feel like I really need to weigh in on on a regular basis even though I do not really like it.

That should not stop you from talking about this week's comics, and comics news.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

If you saw the post that was just deleted...

... it should be back up later but it is too early now.

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #127

[Guest-blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“The Quality of Hatred”

When Joss Whedon and John Cassaday began their Astonishing X-Men run in 2003, X-Men fans had endured nearly 20 years of an absurdly uber-cool Wolverine and a pathetically emasculated Cyclops. So when the two creators went about making Cyclops the coolest superhero on the team – in the progress pulling the rug out from beneath Wolverine’s hyper-masculinity – it’s no surprise that they were applauded.

But for all that the above may have been well executed, it must be said that here – as with almost every cool thing ever depicted in an X-Men comic – Chris Claremont and John Byrne did it first.

The centerpiece of issue #127, the Mutant X arc’s middle act, is a sequence depicting the X-Men recovering from their failed first attempt to rein Proteus in. The premise here is that Wolverine, whose existence is grounded in physical reality, has finally met a villain who scared him, via the psychic manipulation of physical reality itself. The experience has reduced him to a stuttering weakling. (If that reaction seems extreme, I heartily recommend the John Bolton-illustrated b-story of Classic X-Men #32, whose script by Ann Nocenti expands deliciously on Proteus’ psychological torture of Wolverine.)

Worried that Wolverine needs to snap out of it or end up “permanently gun-shy,” Cyclops decides to pick a fight with him, in a scene that is simultaneously cool and, at times, humorous. (The panel with Cyclops emptying a mug of coffee into Wolverine’s face and Wolverine petulantly shouting “HEY!” is laugh-out-loud funny.)

A fight between Cyclops and Wolverine had to happen at some point in the series – there had been so many intimations of it over the last 30 or so issues, the idea had become an implicit promise to the readers. Cleverly, Claremont reverses expectations – we’d think Wolverine would start it, not Cyclops, and that it would be an explosion of anger, not a calculated psychological gambit. The result is a tour-de-force showcase of everything that makes Cyclops the greatest team leader in comics: tactical skill, psychological insight, raw power, etc. Meanwhile, Wolverine – after having been built up so long by Byrne as the coolest member of the team – by contrast plays the fool here. He plays right into Cyclops’ hands every step of the way, and never gets an advantage even when Cyclops is forced to fight other X-Men simultaneously. It’s a superbly constructed sequence, all the way down the line. And it even ends somewhat touchingly, with Wolverine – having realized what Cyclops was up to, and that it worked – tersely admitting, “I ain’t thought much o’ you in the past, Cyke – as team leader, or as a man. I was wrong.”

As Peter Sanderson pointed out in his “Wolverine Saga,” this entire sequence puts to rest the Wolverine/Cyclops rivalry that had been a key part of both characters’ characterization since Claremont first began writing. Even the love-triangle tension with Jean is gone now that Wolverine has become infatuated with Mariko Yashida. It’s a testament to Claremont’s fearlessness as a writer that he’s willing to remove one of the key conflicts of the series, confident that he’ll always be able to replace it with a new, equally compelling character bit.

The other major sequence in “The Quality of Hatred” is Moira’s confrontation with her husband -- Proteus’ father -- Joe MacTaggert. This is the first time we learn that “MacTaggert” is Moira’s married name, which of course couldn’t have been the intention from the beginning. The revelation throws a wrench into the chronology of Moira’s back story. I’ve never been able to puzzle out where her respective relationships with Joe and Charles occur in relation to each other. Anyone got any ideas?

Joe is a one-note character, an unrepentant bastard who serves no purpose but to merge with Proteus at the end of the issue, but one line in his scene with Moira is striking. “When we said our ‘fond farewells’ in New York all those years ago,” she says to him, “you didn’t just put me in hospital for a week, you left me pregnant.” The implication of rape is incredibly intense for a 1979 superhero comic, though I’m sure Claremont was counting on kids missing it (the 11-year-old me reading this in Classic X-Men certainly did). But apart simply from the brutality of this narrative turn, it’s notable for the potent literary effect. Proteus is now more than a nasty super-villain – he’s now a metaphor for violence begetting violence. It’s not a subtle metaphor, but it’s an effective one.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Brad Winderbaum: the Satacracy Interview part 3 (of 3)

Here is the third part of my discussion with Brad about the final episode of Satacracy 88, on

If that does not work, click HERE.

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, May 20, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #126

[Guest-blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth ...”

The cliffhanger of the previous issue hinged on a monstrously contrived coincidence: that the Beast would visit Xavier’s mansion at just the right time, prompting Scott to phone Muir Island at literally the same instant that Mutant X (having been stalking around Moira’s lab for weeks) decides to attack Phoenix. But, with that ropey bit of plotting out of the way, the Mutant X story now takes on some fantastic momentum, emerging as a solid and suspenseful thriller.

Claremont, Byrne and Austin are in solid form here, maintaining this issue’s taut pace with consummate skill. Overall, this four-part arc can be understood in terms of the screenplay foundation laid out by Roger McKee in his tutorial book “Story.” Issue 125 ended with Scott hearing Lorna’s scream over the phone: the story’s Inciting Incident, kicking off Act One, which we see here. The cliffhanger for “Serpent’s Tooth” propels us into Act Two (issue 127), and the concluding issue – a wall-to-wall action sequence – is a perfect, slam-bang concluding act.

Meanwhile, this issue itself is further divided into three tight sequence of its own.

sequence i: The X-Men, directed by an intense, driven Scott Summers, invade Muir Island with slickly military precision. (A brief skirmish between Havok and a couple of X-Men occurs, just to provide some action early on.) Every maneuver is executed perfectly, but it’s a wasted effort. Mutant X has already escaped.

sequence ii: The pace slackens a bit, as the X-Men hold a council of war, important exposition is revealed (Mutant X’s power is to possess people), the obligatory soap-opera twist occurs (he is Moira’s son), and the Jason Wyngarde subplot is advanced.

sequence iii: The story pulls taut again, as the X-Men split up into pairs to seek out Mutant X, with Wolverine and Nightcrawler being the team that finds him. This final third is by far the coolest, with Wolverine once again stealing the show when we learn he’s the only one who can track Mutant X. (Even Phoenix can’t, as established earlier.) Since an earlier scene established that Mutant X’s main weakness is metal, it seems as if Wolverine is about to wrap things up, but then the reader is hit with the Act 1 turning point: Mutant X (who calls himself “Proteus”) is more powerful than apparently even Moira realized, possessing the ability to warp reality. Wolverine and Nightcrawler – and Storm, who arrives in short order – all are taken down, and we’re set to move into Act Two.

There was originally going to be another interesting wrinkle to this arc: Not only was Moira the mother of Proteus, but the father was Charles. (So the “X” of “Mutant X” was originally to stand for “Xavier,” which would have been a fantastic twist.) This would have led to a climactic bit in which the X-Men, Charles’ figurative children, defeated his literal child, a creature of pure evil. The symmetry of it – right down to the palindromic chime of “X-Men vs. Mutant X” – would have been quite nice, as well as the redemptive qualities inherent in the idea. But the notion was squashed by Byrne, under the prosaic logic, “I don’t think superheroes have bastard children.” Given what the director of the X-Men films would eventually do with Superman, Byrne’s logic (quoted in “Comics Creators on X-Men”) is not without its irony.

Claremont would just go ahead and give Xavier a bastard son anyway, David, in the first issue of New Mutants. Eventually, in the pages of the revisionary series Ultimate X-Men, writer Mark Millar would bring the whole mess full circle, telescoping David and Proteus into a single character, unknowingly making the story more like what Claremont had intended from the start.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Brad Winderbaum: the Satacracy Interview, part 2 (of 3)

My discussion with Brad continues.

If that does not work, click here. Use the links at the bottom of the page, or scroll down, for part one.

Scott on the JLI, Part 6

[Scott continues his look at the Justice League International. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right]

"One Punch"

I will be covering the Gray Man storyline in the next blog but for this one I want to focus on a single moment, perhaps the most famous in the run of this series, the 'one punch' incident.

Guy Gardner has been a thorn in the side of the League since the first issue, particularly Batman's. That relationship comes to a head in the fifth issue of the series. I recently perused a friend's copy of the Legends trade to get a feel for how Gardner was portrayed prior to this series. He was definitely cocky, brash and arrogant but he wasn't quite the misogynistic, jingoistic jerk that he would become in the hands of Giffen and Co. In fact, it seems he was being set up to be a much more traditional team hothead like the Thing or maybe somewhat of a Wolverine style anti-hero.

Mister Miracle seems to be the most weary of the conflict between Garnder and the Dark Knight.

Mister Miracle (Thinking to himself): This is getting tiresome. If we don't boot Garnder the hell out of here... and soon... Mister Miracle just might quit this outfit. Not that it's all Guy's fault. Batman seems to enjoy these infantile confrontations.

It's easy to sympathize with Miracle on this one. Imagine, he's worked hard to finally make it into the league and now this is what he has to deal with

Guy: Did you just hear what I said, Bats?
Batman: I Heard you, Guy
Guy: Well don't you think it's time you wised up and turned command of this team over to me?
Batman: I'd sooner turn it over to Captain Marvel
Captain Marvel: Hey!
Guy: Figures you'd prefer Captain Whitebread over me. Gutless Pansy!

I like Batman's roundabout diss of Captain Marvel. As the team's Superman stand-in, there's bound to be some hostility there. Especially when you consider that Captain Marvel's wholesomeness makes Superman look like... well... look like Batman. After reading Giffen and DeMatteiss's 'reunion' stories that featured Mary Marvel, I think it's safe to say that it was their contention that the Marvel Family were, basically, DC's Osmond's. Cap and Mary are the Donnie and Marie of the super-hero set.

Guy: I think it's time I proved once and for all who's top dog around here!
Batman: This isn't a kennel, guy-- so stop acting like a mongrel.
Guy: (taking off his ring) That Does it! That does it! [...] here Beetle, hold my ring, I'm gonna bare-knuckle this bat-eared bozo into oblivion!
[there's a great gag in the next panel where we see Blue Beetle carelessly chucking Guy's ring over his shoulder. This is especially funny when you consider that this is the most powerful weapon in the universe that's getting tossed around]
CM: Batman-- as leader of the league, you should be providing an example. If you stoop to Green Lantern's level, well--
Batman: I know what I'm doing here, Marvel... and maybe when you've had my years of experience... you will, too. Till then, keep out of this.
CM: (storming off pouting like a small child... get it?) mutter mutter mumble mumble mutter mutter

I think it's a nice touch here that Batman comes off as so elitist; both in his treatment of Captain Marvel and his referring to Guy as a 'mongrel' we get a glimpse of how the refined millionaire Bruce Wayne is a crucial part of Batman's personality. After all, you would have to think that you were a bit above everyone else in order to take the law into your own hands wouldn't you?

Batman: All Bark and no bite.
Guy: Oh, I Bite! I BITE!!!

And then, in one of comic's most famous panels, Batman takes Gardner down with a single punch.

While he is berating Guy for his use of the 'top dog' analogy, that is exactly what he was doing with Guy. Miracle was on the money when he thought that Batman has been enjoying these confrontations. He's been waiting for Guy to do this; he's wanted this opportunity to show Guy, and the rest of the League for that matter, that he can take him down if necessary. This is reminiscent of two of the main fights from The Dark Knight Returns: The fight with the Mutant Leader and the fight with Superman. These are both good old fashioned cock fights. It's Batman showing that he's 'top dog'. In the case of the Mutant Leader, that he's top dog in Gotham and, with Superman, that he's top dog of the world. This fight was Batman insuring his place as 'top dog' in the league.

The fallout from the punch is hysterical and serves as a further showcase of Maguire's subtlety as an artist. Blue Beetle isn't just smiling as he shouts 'One Punch!' repeatedly, Maguire shows him in full guffaw, leaning against a control panel for balance, head tossed back in laughter with one hand clutching his stomach. A couple of panels later we even see him poking his fingers under his goggles to wipe away tears of laughter. It wasn't just the 'funny faces' that made Maguire's art so humanizing to these characters, it was the body language as well. Martian Manhunter and Black Canary arrive late on the scene and Canary remarks:

What happenned to him? Is he dead? Naw, we couldn't be that lucky.

This is the beginning of a running gag in the series where various members of the team contemplate that they may be rid of Guy only to think "Nah, we couldn't be that lucky." When she learns of what has happenned, Black Canary is distraught; not because two team members are fighting mind you... but that she missed it.

Martian Manhunter: Sorry we're late Batman (thinking to himself) but not as sorry as Black Canary.

Black Canary: I missed it! Batman BELTED him and I missed it!... oh god I'm depressed.

This is a great funny moment in a series known for them. Not only that, but it helps clarify a valid plot point. Why would someone as full of themselves as Gardner continue taking orders from Batman? After all, the general spookiness thing can only work for so long. Now, he has reason to tread lightly around the Dark Knight.

A few years back, Geoff Johns would attempt to do a 'call back' to this scene at the end of Green Lantern: Rebirth. In that scene, a resurrected Hal Jordan takes out a Batman who has been pestering him with a single punch. For me, the call back just didn't work for a few reasons. First of all, it just wasn't funny. Funny is one of Johns' weaknesses which is why his writing the new Booster Gold series is a pretty atrocious mis-casting. Secondly, Batman may have been a thorn in Jordan's side throughout Rebirth like Gardner was to him in Justice League but the difference is that Batman was justified in this. Throughout Rebirth, Batman serves as a sort of conscience; he constantly reminds us that, before Jordan died, he had become a major villain... not to mention a murderer (even though most of those 'murders' have been subsequently retconned away). Ultimately, I sided with Batman throughout the series. When Gardner got punched he was being an arrogant jerk, when Batman got punched it was because he had a valid point.... one that, apparently, could only be silenced through violence. Lastly, when Batman punched out Gardner it made him just that much more badass. Batman is a badass and you always have to give credit to those moments that empahasize this. When Jordan did it, not only does it serve to make Batman a little less Badass, but it was also attempting to make Hal Jordan more Badass. Look, there are many great things about Hal Jordan but his Badassery is not one of them and, at the end of the day, it's completely in character for Batman to take an unruly ally out in a single punch and it's completely out of character for Jordan.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Prof Fury: Comment Pull Quote (Casanova Spoilers)

In the comments section of my Casanova review this week, Prof Fury said,

"I myself am only turned on by the credits sequences of Italian neo-realist films, so I read pages of Zeph/Cass having sex with but trifling interest, of course."


Scott on the Office Season Four Finale

[I am only two episodes into season 4, since I have been playing catch up with this series.]

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A while back on here, we had a discussion of how The Office was a show about celebrating the 'small, perfect' moments (particularly in regards to Pam and Jim's relationship). Tonight's finale was an excellent example of that. Throughout the episode, I kept waiting for something 'Bad' to happen with Pam and Jim. That's what traditional sit-com romances have trained us for; whenever things are going well... something bad has to happen to mess it up. When Pam gets accepted to design school, for a moment, I expected this to strain the relationship. Instead, they're both happy. Why are they both happy? Because unlike most sit-com couples and like most real, loving couples... they had actually discussed this! It was what they were both hoping for. They had planned for it and were prepared for it.

Also, it is when Jim realizes that so many of the small perfect moments have happenned at the office that he decides to propose to Pam at that evenings office party and, the real tragedy of the episode, is NOT that their relationship is broken but that Jim is robbed of his 'perfect moment' to propose to Pam by Andy's proposal to Angela. The show has me hooked... but I don't feel jerked around the way I do with the typical 'Sam and Diane/Rachel Ross' scenario. Doing that with Pam and Jim would rob the relationship of its sweetness.

It's also worth pointing out that Michael (always looking for his 'big movie moment') ultimately chooses to abandon the pursuit of 'small, perfect' moments with the new Human Resources lady to, instead, get back with his ex-girlfriend who is carrying a child that is not his; which sounds like the plot of a hackneyed romantic comedy... which is probably part of why it appeals to Michael (he's also desperate for children... and sees this as a short cut over Jim's advice of take it slow with the HR lady). Once again, Michael's pursuit of a 'big movie moment' over 'small, perfect moments' has robbed him of happiness.

The writer's for this show are smart, they know they don't have to mine the Pam and Jim relationship anymore for conflict: They're together and happy and, we, as the viewers like them like that. They also know that there's enought material with the other characters in the office. I've noticed that a lot of this season has been spent building up the background characters... we care about what happens with Dwight and Angela (and Andy).... and, now, we have the relationship between Michael and the HR lady (forgot the name... sorry). As long as the writer's continue to find ways to surprise us... the show can be fresh for some time to come.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Comics Out May 14, 2008

Casanova 14. Already reviewed on this site. Twice. One of my favorite comic book issues of all time.

Serenity: Better Days 3. Fine. Whatever.
Batman 676. Not paying attention to comics news enough, I did not realize that Batman RIP was something that was going to go outside the main Morrison written Batman title into 14 other issues. I will NOT be sucked into crossover madness, so you guys are going to have to tell me what is going on in those other titles. A few things this issue. One: the new Batmobile. I see what Morrison was going for, and the idea does not seem awful or anything, but my eye cannot help but think it is the tricked out first car of the alienated comic book loving son of some rich Wall Street jerk: he took a sports car, and added bat symbols on the wheels. Lame. Also: A CD changer. Really? I know Morrison's point was to give Batman a line about a dumb criminal, but to imply the Batmobile has ANY outdated technology is just WRONG. I mean the thing is brand new. Oh, I have become that comic book guy. Moving on. The Joker scenes were pretty scary, but I felt the last page of the comic book could have been cut altogether would harming the whole at all. Finally: are we sure the title of this refers to Batman himself? Tim Callahan has a hunch the Black Glove will turn out to be Bruce Wayne's little mentioned older brother. Thematically, I want it to somehow be his FATHER back from the dead (since Batman has his own son now). In either case: is the title a red herring, in fact telling some long dead character to stay dead (which is what RIP means)?

In comic book news, Fraction is on Word Balloon, and probably some other stuff happened as well.

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #125

[Guest-blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“There’s Something Awful on Muir Island”

With a couple of inconsequential issues involving the minor super-villain Arcade providing a buffer between the present issue and their extended Neal Adams homage, Claremont and Byrne now stride boldly forward into their own original epic. The Dark Phoenix Saga proper is a nine-part story beginning in Uncanny #129, but the four issues preceding it – the “Proteus” arc – contain some significant set-up material, while also presenting a neat thriller of their own.

An early narrative re-cap of the events that have brought Jean up to this point in the series, combined with a long inner monologue later in the issue by Jason Wyngarde, serve to focus and clarify certain aspects of past issues, and give a clear sense for the first time of where Claremont and Byrne have been heading. We see now the point of the contrivance of Jean believing the X-Men to be dead – it was necessary to isolate Jean from the rest of the book’s cast, as an explanation for how Wyngarde managed to get to her. As the villain explains here, he has been preying on her “ever since [she] left the safety of Xavier’s mansion.”

An explanation is even given for why Jean left the mansion in the first place since the expectation would be for her and Xavier to be united in their grief. That bit, though – it must be said – is less than satisfying. “Professor Xavier’s own grief built an unbreachable wall between them,” goes the narration. “[Jean] needed his help, support ... and love – but she gave her nothing. So, she left.” Claremont seems to have realized eventually how poorly that bit reflected on Xavier. New pages drawn by Kieron Dwyer for Classic X-Men #21 gave a better and more dramatic explanation for Jean’s departure.

Readers who have been following the series via the Classic X-Men reprints get to see other payoffs in “Something Awful”: e.g., a somewhat racy panel of Jean on a beach in Greece alludes (thanks to the power of retroactive continuity) to the Claremont/Bolton backup in Classic #24, and Wyngarde’s mention of “the Hellfire Club” – the very first when this issue originally saw print in 1979 – rings much more ominously thanks to Claremont and Bolton’s “Out With the Old” in Classic X-Men #7.

Claremont and Byrne are moving a lot of chess pieces into place with this issue, getting everything set for the dramatic endgame. A scene set on the Shi’ar homeworld, “Imperial Center,” depicts Xavier somewhat abruptly realizing that Jean needs him on Earth. He departs immediately. From a narrative standpoint, this seems a little facile on the surface: Xavier is shunted off of Earth to keep the whole “X-Men and Jean each think the other is dead” house of cards from tumbling down, and as soon as that’s done, he’s brought back to earth. But the plotting here is more nuanced than it seems, and Xavier’s seemingly superfluous stint on Imperial Center will pay off fantastically in the Dark Phoenix climax.

Meanwhile, scenes set on Muir Island establish that Moira, Jean, Havok, Polaris and Madrox have settled into a cozy little existence, and possibly for the first time it occurs to readers that all of these characters must believe that the X-Men are dead, thanks to Jean. And one can’t help but note that, for example, Havok never seems all that broken up over his brother being dead, and Moira hasn’t demonstrated any grief over Sean either. It certainly seems like more evidence that Byrne and Claremont really didn’t think all the implications through.

But that finally becomes moot, as this issue uses a visit to the mansion by the Beast to finally end all of the “believed dead” nonsense. The X-Men learn that Jean is alive and living on Muir Isle, and just pick up the phone to call Moira. (And they haven’t done this before now, why ...?)

It’s great to see Claremont and Byrne finally beginning to weave together these long-running threads, and the momentum will only increase over the next year’s worth of issues. There’s only one subplot page that will continue to dangle for quite some time: a surprisingly introspective image of Magneto on Asteroid M – still convalescent after the storyline in Uncanny #’s 112 and 113 — as he thinks about his “late wife,” Magda. Historically, this is the first mention of Magneto having been married in the past, and certainly the direction Claremont took the character’s backstory later rings oddly with the image of Magda seen here. Still, in terms of the original run of Uncanny, this is the very earliest inkling of Claremont giving added dimensionality to Magneto. It is a tiny seed to be sure, but significant when one considers just how expansively it would blossom.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Brad Winderbaum: the Satacracy Interview, pt 1

Brad Winderbaum's Emmy award winning Satacracy 88 (nominated again this year) comes to an end this week. (If you want to start from the beginning, click here.)

I did a 30+ minute interview with Brad, which is going to be up on this site in three parts over the next week -- and you can LISTEN to it.

If that does not work, click here.

LOST Season 4, the first hour of the finale

The final three hours of LOST (two hours not counting ads) are a single unit, the season four finale. The first hour of the finale aired yesterday, there is no LOST next week, and the final two hours air a week after that in a single sitting. Because yesterday's episode is not designed to stand-alone, I am not going to review it -- I will wait until this season is done.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Casanova 14 (spoilers)

The big twist here is that this is nothing like Fraction's Iron Fist partner Ed Brubaker's Captain America, as people said -- this is not a book missing the title character. It turns out Zeph was Cass the whole time. (The clues were everywhere: she is introduced wearing a shirt that says "undercover," she says "I want to kill this guy so bad it is making my dick hard," she tells Toppo Grosso he is confusing his boy gods and his girl gods). Cass, physically altered to be a woman, had a physical relationship with Kubark, our cool killer. In the epilogue to 14 Cass returns to the prison in a heartbreaking scene and tries to quietly tell him that there were real feelings there, that is was not all an act designed to trick him. Kubark can only respond with "I'm not a faggot" -- and Cass, choked up, walks away trying to keep his feelings to himself.

Tim Callahan says this about the gender reverse in the book:

The genius of such a shocking gender reversal is twofold: (1) it undermines and mocks the typical super-spy convention of aggressive male sexuality. When Casanova, returned (through science!) to his original male appearance, confronts his former lover Kubark Benday, there's a real sense of loss and longing there. Their (as it turned out) homosexual experience was not without meaning, and Casanova's halting apology isn't enough to fill the uneasy space between the two characters. (2) the "bad" Casanova from Timeline 909 (a.k.a. our hero) replaces the "bad" Zephyr from Timeline 919 to do what's right. He not only redeems himself, but he redeems his sister by adopting her physical form. Or, if it's not complete redemption, at least it's an acceptance of responsibility.

To that I want to add this. I have argued that Grant Morrison insists that the world we live in every day is full of crazy time travel drug visions and whatnot so that his comics become more realistic than, say, Moore's Watchmen. The world of Casanova is nothing if not outlandish, but again, there is something more realistic here than in most fiction: a genuinely complex male bi-sexual relationship. Kubark's failure is that he can only see it in terms of paltry notions of sexuality that have been handed down to him: there are straight guys and there are "faggots." Fraction's point here is Sorkin's in Sports Night (in the words of Bill Macy): "Life's not really like that. Life's a more interesting place that THAT." (Because this is Matt Fraction, I fully expect Kubark to evolve in some future arc; mostly his reaction is just freshly hurt feelings here.) Fraction's "realism" is the emotional realism of Whedon, but he goes farther than Whedon does (or maybe can): though it does push some people's buttons, lots of folks -- girls and boys -- can get behind girl on girl sex between cute monster hunters. A male protagonist who becomes a female and has a relationship with another man, with emotionally messy results - that is something else, particularly with the often sexually immature demographic that reads comic books.

Did I mention Casanova 14 is the best thing Matt Fraction has done?

Neil Shyminski could probably be subtler than I on these white male gender issue points -- and I would love to hear what you have to say on this, Neil -- but that is my take on it.

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #29, part b

[This one got lost in the shuffle, and should have come out days ago. Sorry. I really have no idea what happened with this one].

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men run, for more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]


Throughout the issues of Uncanny X-Men published in 1979, there are several instances of Colossus having doubts about being an X-Man. He occasionally worries that he isn’t pulling his weight; he thinks of missing his family in Russia. In the Murderworld two-parter of Uncanny #’s 123-124, Arcade even uses brainwashing to exploit Peter’s fear that his membership on a U.S.-based team makes him a traitor to the Soviet Union.

For some reason, come 1980, this arc for Colossus seems to have quietly dissolved. By the time of Uncanny #140, Peter has decided he can never go back to his homeland because he’s simply seen “too much.”

What happened? Claremont’s backup to Classic #29 – illustrated in a very Bolton-esque style by penciller June Brigman and inker Roy Richardson – cannily and dramatically fills in the narrative gap.

In “Motherland,” Colossus returns home to his mother and father, and Illyana, his sister. The first half of the story is infused with a convincingly palpable atmosphere of familial warmth, which nonetheless is ever so slightly tainted. Even as Peter tells his mother how much he misses her meals, his father is becoming blatantly unsettled by the sketches Peter has brought with him, which depict his “travels and adventures” — in space, the Savage Land, et cetera. Peter attempts to resolve his parents’ discomfort, telling them that for all his time with the X-Men, his “thoughts were never far from you, or home ... or the Rodina,” and his father strikes a defensively condescending posture (“Glad of that, glad of that.”). Later, Peter encounters unsettling thoughts of his own, when his little sister sees him in his metal form and declares, “I love it, brother, when you’re shiny and strong like this! I can’t wait till I am, too!” Illyana’s “eager[ness] to manifest a mutant power” and the frightful thought that she indeed might, disconcerts Peter. The homecoming is turning out not to be the idealized experience he’d imagined. (The bit about Illyana wanting to become “shiny” foreshadows Claremont’s long-running New Mutants subplot involving Illyana becoming slowly coated in a magic suit of form-fitting silver armor. She has very similar dialogue in Uncanny #148.)

But Peter’s unexpected uncomfortability with his family is brutally pre-empted when he learns that many of his friends – including his best friend, Sasha – were killed in Afghanistan. Soon after, Colossus is arrested on charges of being a traitor, and taken before Colonel Vazhin, the same man who – in evil-robot-duplicate form – had denounced Peter in the Murderworld story. (A line in Uncanny X-Men #124 had established that Vazhin was a real person in the Marvel Universe; the Soviet equivalent of Nick Fury).

From Vazhin we learn that Colossus is now officially branded an enemy of the state, even though unofficially, he is not; the Soviet and American governments are both forbidden by treaty to draft super-humans, so Colossus could not have served in Afghanistan even if he’d wanted to. (In terms of story, that’s an intriguing idea, though on a thematic level it is apropos of nothing – and almost a cop-out, since it more or less lets Peter off the hook.)

The result for Colossus on a personal level are deeply tragic. He has to remain, officially, a traitor in the eyes of everyone, even his parents. He may return to the X-Men – Vazhin even encourages that choice, since the X-Men are international heroes – but once he does, he must stay out of Russia forever.

In his screenwriting tutorial, “Story,” Roger McKee discusses the positive or negative “values” that end stories, noting that an ironic ending is one that mixes both values, but never in equal amounts. The overall “charge” must be either positive or negative. In “Motherland,” Claremont creates a gently negative ending, exiling Colossus from the land that he loves. (The penultimate panel -- depicting Peter in profile, a tear in his eye, holding a bit of wheat to his nostrils as Vazhin’s hard words echo in his head – is heartbreaking.) Yet there are upsides: First, Peter’s memory of his family can now remain idyllic. He will never again have to feel ill at ease with them for having “seen too much.” Also, his conscience is cleared – his country has authorized him, unofficially, to be an X-Man and he can now serve his team, guiltlessly, for the first time. Claremont has elegantly stirred some positive values into the story’s overall negative charge.

Wednesday, May 14, 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, May 13, 2008

Jason Powell on X-Men Annual #3

[Guest-blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“A Fire in the Sky”

Except for the ones he did with Art Adams, Chris Claremont doesn’t seem to have taken the X-Men Annuals all that seriously, and he often crafted scripts that were pretty much disposable. Adams drew the X annuals for 1985 (#9), 1986 (#10), 1988 (#12) and 1990 (#14), and those are each significant entries in the Claremont canon. The other annuals, however, are standalone stories with virtually no impact on the series as a whole.

In the case of his very first one, the 1979 annual, there is only one scene that stands out as particularly Claremontian. It is even described in detail by Bob Harras (Claremont’s editor on the series from 1988-1991), as his favorite scene. “Scott is changing out of his visor into his glasses, and he has to keep his eyes shut really tight while he’s doing that,” describes Harras in the “Comics Creators on X-Men” book. “Storm just says to him, ‘Scott, is this the life you imagined when you were a kid?’ ... I remember that was such a great little moment, because it explains that they do this because they have to – because it’s what life has forced them to do – but they once had dreams of doing other, ‘normal’ things. ... For some reason that scene, more so than the death of Jean or some other major event, sticks out to me as the kind of thing that makes those characters great.”

That lovely bit has a payoff in the climactic sequence of the issue, wherein Scott’s power is augmented by Storm striking him with lightning. Scott’s body metabolizes the energy (even though his mutant power is charged by sunlight, not electricity), and converts it into a pure white optic blast, which is a fantastic visual. It’s also a treat for Cyclops fans, demonstrating how cool he is. His ability to metabolize any form of energy, no matter how painful, could also be seen (charitably, perhaps) as a metaphor for Scott’s character: he can absorb any amount of pain or tragedy, and he’ll keep on powering through.

For all of the above, though, most of this issue is depressingly generic: It seems a bit like an Avengers plot that went south. “A Fire in the Sky” is a sequel, according to the footnotes, to an Avengers story; it features an Avengers villain (“Arkon the Magnificent”); and there is even a painfully contrived bit where Cyclops only knows how to proceed because he saw the Avengers fight Arkon on a “TV newstape” [sic]. (If Cyclops follows the Avengers’ adventures on TV, it’s strange then that he still doesn’t know Hank McCoy is alive. The Beast IS still an Avenger at this time, after all. I apologize for once again harping on this, but John Byrne irritated me when he told me I was simply thinking too much.)

For all its below-par plotting, the artwork in X-Men Annual #3 is jaw-dropping. It’s penciled by George Perez and inked by Terry Austin, arguably the two most detail-minded artists at Marvel in 1979 (or possibly ever). The result is that virtually every panel has dizzying amounts of detailed linework. Every piece of furniture in the X-Men’s mansion (including each book on the bookshelf), the leaf of every plant in Storm’s attic, every individual piece of rubble after an explosion is painstakingly rendered. In a more deliberately paced story, such busy artwork might be somewhat distracting. (Byrne, with his more thoughtful and expansive sense of layout and design, is a much better artistic foil for the render-happy Austin.) But here, the delirious detail of Perez/Austin is the best thing about the comic book. The story might be banal, but it’s incredibly fun just to look at each individual panel and marvel at the sheer number of lines it contains. Honestly, how long did it take them to draw this thing?