Friday, August 29, 2008

Comics Out August 27, 2008

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond: 3D. Jog and Tim Callahan have already noted that this is not a great comic book, and I certainly concur. The 3D glasses are annoying, and the project seems to have at its basis ideas -- the Gnostic mythology of the Monitors and the creation of the Platonic form of superheroes -- rather than character or plot, always bad news. And the ideas here -- especially the limbo for out of continuity comic book characters -- are practically commonplace territory, not only for Morrison, but also for Alan Moore. And you can keep telling me about the scale of the Monitors but since you cannot show it it all rings hollow. This constant need for everything to be HUGE all the time is exhausting.

On some level I guess this is just what superhero comics are -- I mean characters save the world all the time in their own books, and then they get together and save the multi-verse in the crossovers. And I suppose Morrision knows this and it is part of why he is going to do smaller non-superhero projects after Final Crisis.

The Maxx (YouTube clip 4/12)

"I wish it was time for Cheers. But it's not. It's time for vengeance." Brilliant. The deflation of the superhero monologue is one of Kieth's best maneuvers, but I suppose I should not stop to point that out every single time. Especially here, as he makes his third run at the "talking out loud" gag that is maybe a little old now. I will say that I love how 19th century the men look in the one shot of the crowd.

The Maxx refers to Mr Gone as a sorcerer here. This is an interesting City-Outback parallel. The sorcerer is going to be someone to fear because he controls reality, and can control your mind. The fact that in the city Mr Gone is a rapist says something important about the hold rape has on its victims -- something Kieth is very interested in both in the Maxx and in his other comic book work (Four Women)

The incorporation of stylized sound effect balloons even in a cartoon where there is sound is awesome. It really saves that device from the Adam West Batman cartoon.

"I have penetrated to the wet soft white squishy but toothed heart of darkness." I do not want to over-read this line. But in a series about sexual violence and male anxiety around powerful sexual women, I cannot but connect the Izz to the vagina dentata, and Freuds famous statement that "The sexual life of adult women is a “dark continent” for psychology," (in other words, the heart of darkness). My gender theory professor friends would be quick to point out that Mr Gone is quite phallic in appearance, with his bald head (these same friends described Capt. Picard like that). Kieth is loading his symbols.

The doll again appears again, and it is quite creepy.

I skipped over the Maxx being refered to as Br'er Lappin, but this is foreshadowing, and we will get to it later.

Gone enters in a mask, and African mask, and with it Kieth sets up one of the reasons the superhero genre works to his advantage -- the superhero mask, Maxx's mask (referred to in this scene), plays into psychoanalytic ideas about masks and their relation to the truth. We will be headed into Jungian theory soon -- theory Kieth is clearly familiar with -- and this is the set up. In this scene Gone explicitly says Maxx is not a superhero and that this is about something more complicated that comic book ideas about good guys vs bad guys -- an interesting turn that Gone, sorcerer, has much in common with Kieth, who sees the larger picture. The Maxx continues to be dumb. The whole scene goes completely into left field as Gone (rapist-sorcerer) and the Maxx (superhero) have a civilized chat, where the "hero" is educated on the nature of reality.

We are told that Julie is in danger -- but what threatens her is "the truth," which is quite psychoanalytic and not at all superhero stuff. Gone says that the outback is real and that the "real world" is just a dream where we play out our fantasies. Julie created a fantasy world of control in the city, and the Maxx has to keep her from learning too much of the truth all at once -- very like an analyst, or an internal psychic defense. Julie is revealed, obliquely, to be a rape victim who used her money to build this world where she controls things. And the Outback is clearly associated with her inner self -- which of course psychoanalysis would say is more "real" than the masks we wear when we are acting tough, as superheroes act, and as Julie (her underwear on the outside of her clothes) acts.

Kieth is heading for territory comic books -- like action genres in general -- are really bad with: describing internal states. He is developing a new language for having superheros and complex inner states share the same page, in something other than the monologues of grim and gritty superheroes.

Hilariously, when the Maxx recounts his meeting with Gone, he says "At least that's what the villain said. And who can believe a villain?" As a superhero, the Maxx cannot really change or grow in any meaningful way -- stuff happened and he chugs along as unaffected as Superman or Batman might be.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Maxx (YouTube clip 3/12 [mislabeled 2/12])

ThomasDaTubeEngine has the second the third parts of his Maxx cartoon out of order. Here is what should be part three.

This episode opens with a wonderful moment of Julie posturing in the mirror -- she looks just like every hot supehero female, who seem to stand around like that all the time, by default. But Julie breathes out and her whole body changes -- shoulders slumped, belly out, breasts in. People always say that those comic book women are unrealistic -- and of course often the proportions are so bizarre this is true. But I live in New York and have seen women that are as skinny, for example, as Quitely's Jean Grey. Just as, in the last episode, Julie admits that sometimes yes does mean no, Kieth here admits that women can sometimes look like superhero characters -- but only for a moment. Kieth is creating a middle-ground between superhero comics and their absurd women, and indie-comics and their "real women don't look like that, give-me-a-break" exasperation. [Boy, I do not know what I think about that sentence, but I am leaving it in for now.]

In addition to the serious sexual violence (Gone) meeting the cartoon foolishness (his henchmen), Kieth adds a third texture to the mix -- the total dead pan. "Oh. I get it. It's that guy's cape." There is something of the jaded comic book fan in this voice, and it strikes me as very much the audience Kieth is going for -- or trying to build.

In another example of deflating the superhero genre, the Maxx kills a hostage (or thinks he does). This is a very Wolverine moment, but is immediately taken down when a moment later he faints from being shot in the leg.

Gone himself is not immune to such takedowns. Here we see him shaving in the bathroom -- and getting shaving cream out of a fixture that shows a cows ass. Bad-ass in his living cape, he now appears pudgy, and weird, in the full light of the bathroom.

A kidnaped, tied up, and sexed up and not at all afraid Julie makes fun of his "tawdry sexual revenge" scheme, and the "baroque posturing" -- which we will recognize as the baroque posturing of ordinary superhero comic books. She dismisses the whole thing: Mr. Gone is not so hot since any crackhead on her block can kill her, and actually, she is not all that physically great -- she has a fat stomach, chafe marks from her jeans, stubby arm pits, and bad breath.

Importantly Gone reiterates what the cop said in the first episode: she was asking for it, wearing her underwear outside of her clothes. He is referring to her crazy outfit from her first appearance but "wearing underwear outside your clothes" has a different meaning -- it is the most traditional way to make fun of superheroes.

Mr Gone monologues in the dramatic way we have come to expect from comic book villains -- except here, we can barely hear him as he is not the focus, and his captured woman in the bunny outfit (significant for reasons we will get to later) is coming to kill him. He talks about the Outback and this elaborate fiction she has built -- it seems for a moment that we are in Morrison territory, which the fantasy world as the real world and our dreary world as something we have to rise above to see the truth. But the damaged Julie Maxx had a vision of re-asserts herself, and we see what Gone means -- he is talking about psychic pain and the fictions of self we build to avoid confronting it. Here is Kieth's thesis -- the superhero is not enough, because physical violence is not the problem, emotional violence is.

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #161

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

Uncanny X-Men, The #161

“Gold Rush”

Right from the opening splash of issue 161, the comparatively cartoonish style of Dave Cockrum is a culture shock after two months of darkly moody artwork from guest pencillers Bill Sienkiewicz and Brent Anderson. Once the eye reacclimatizes however, it finds an embarrassment of riches in “Gold Rush,” on the levels of both art and story. The issue is the last of the truly great Claremont/Cockrum X-Men collaborations, existing on a par with such triumphs as issue 150’s “I, Magneto” or the general creative hothouse atmosphere of their first run from X-Men 94-107. Indeed, in terms of directness, balance and unity of expression, “Gold Rush” surpasses those earlier triumphs.

Claremont gently segues readers into the meat of the issue – an extended flashback revealing how Xavier and Magneto first met. (When this issue was first published, that Xavier and Magneto had any history pre-Lee/Kirby’s X-Men #1 was a watershed revelation. But anyone reading this comic today is almost certainly going to come to it already aware of the Xavier and Magneto’s canonical pre-X-Men #1 friendship. It is, of course, even a key element of Singer’s and Ratner’s X-Men films.) Lest the suddenness of the story’s chronological scope and ret-conned revelations seem too abrupt, Claremont first opens with a surprisingly tender scene between Scott and Ororo, in which the former’s facade of officiousness (the quality for which he is still hated by many X-Men fans today) cracks in the face of Storm’s own forthrightness. Scott’s bold expression of love for Xavier is touching, as is Ororo’s compassion in the face of his unabashed emotional need. Again, as in issue 154, we see Claremont laying the foundations for a profound friendship between these two characters – potentially one of the most persuasive non-sexual relationships between a male and a female in a mainstream superhero comic. It’s a shame that this never quite stuck, as Claremont ended up sending each character into different directions, and the eventual, editorially mandated creation of “X-Factor” instead forced the two characters into adversarial relationships.

On the other hand, the eventual trajectory of Cyclops and Storm has a kind of poetic resonance in retrospect. That they will become enemies circa 1988 in spite of their forging a deep friendship in 1982 is a kind of microcosmic parallel (entirely unintentional, another example of comic-book serendipity) for the Xavier/Magneto relationship so beautifully explicated in “Gold Rush.”

As originally presented, issue 161 was only the second reference to Magneto’s new backstory as a concentration camp survivor, after the reveal at the end of issue 150. Here, Claremont and Cockrum’s recently devised Auschwitz origin becomes integral to the story. We even see Magneto’s tattooed arm, although as Rivka Jacobs points out, its depiction is somewhat historically inaccurate.

The plot here is perfunctory: Magneto (called “Magnus” here for the first time) and Charles become friends, then subsequently foil an audacious scheme by neo-Nazi terrorists. That simplicity gives Claremont ample room to insert a multitude of colorful character touches. Meanwhile, the rousing adventurousness of the story conveys the strength of the Xavier/Magneto friendship with more directness than any conventional drama could ever hope to. Superheroics as metaphor is on proud display here: the sheer exuberance of the adventure, so elegantly depicted by Cockrum’s bright, bold lines, and the relative ease with which Magnus and Xavier – the only superhumans in the story – foil the Nazis are in themselves symbolic of their optimistic friendship.

Claremont and Cockrum’s fluency reaches its apex on Page 15, which depicts Xavier and Magneto’s rescue of Gaby. Each line of dialogue says so much about the characters. When Gaby loudly panics, threatening to botch the rescue, Magneto whispers, “Charles, shut her up! Use your psi-powers, before she’s heard!” Like the villainous Magneto of the present who is not above killing mutants who oppose him for the greater good of mutantkind, even Magnus of the past sees a certain pragmatism in using harsh means to “shut up” the very person in need of rescue. Xavier, in his turn, is surprised that Magneto knows he’s a telepath, and two few panels later, when Magneto uses his own abilities to halt Nazi bullets, he says to Charles, “Surely by now you’ve realized that we are two of a kind.” In fact, Xavier hadn’t, though he’d expressed his suspicions. He thinks to himself, “He’s a mutant, like myself – with the ability to manipulate metal objects. This is fantastic!” Xavier’s naivety, contrasted against Magneto’s cool pragmatism, is charming. That Magneto is two steps ahead of Xavier already speaks volumes about both of them – ingenious characterization on Claremont’s part – but just as clever is the contrast in their differing reactions to meeting a fellow mutant. For Magneto, it is not necessary to be commented upon; to Xavier, it is “fantastic!” That single image and its accompanying text -- Page 15, panel three – is one of my personal favorites in the entire Claremont X-Men canon. That one panel alone tells you almost everything you need to know about those two characters and their relationship. Absolutely brilliant.

These days, whenever I re-read “Gold Rush” I’m also put in mind of Geoff’s observation about the asymmetry between Charles’ power (telepathy) and Magneto’s (the ability to control metal). The lack of parity between the two abilities (as opposed to the diametrically opposed genius-ness of Reed Richards and Dr. Doom, by contrast) is an interesting choice that in some odd way makes their relationship more realistic.

In a subtle way here, Claremont actually does draw a parallel between Xavier’s and Magnus’ abilities, and aligns the powers with their different temperaments: In an awesome scene midway through the issue, Magneto explodes a metal assault vehicle and deliberately kills each individual Nazi with its shrapnel. Xavier observes that the victims no doubt deserved being slaughtered, yet he “can still hear their death-screams” via his telepathy. He “feel[s] their shock and pain – and fear – as their lives were abruptly snuffed out.” In that bit of monologue, Claremont clues us in as to the origins of Charles and Magneto’s different philosophies. Xavier’s power gives him empathy with other humans beings, which can’t help but foster a more compassionate worldview. Magneto’s empathy is with metal – cold, hard, inorganic – and his comparative lack of insight into the people around him only helps foster the dimmer view of human nature first born in Auschwitz. So there is, in fact, a kind of parity between their powers, albeit a subtler one than is typical in the super-hero/arch-villain paradigm. Through Claremont’s shrewd writing here, Magneto and Professor X’s respective mutant powers can be viewed prosaically as the origins of their personalities, or – for those of a more literary bent – as outward metaphors for their intrinsic character traits. In the game of superhero comics, of course, trying to separate two such views can be a web of chicken/egg-style inextricability.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Free Form Comments

Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticisms (which can be anonymous), surveys, introductions if you have never commented before, personal news, self-promotion, requests to be added to the blog roll and so on. If a week goes by and I have failed to add you to the blog roll TELL ME TO DO IT AGAIN, and KEEP TELLING ME UNTIL IT GETS DONE. I can be lazy about updating the non-post parts of this site. Remember these comments can be directed at all the readers, not just me.

ALSO. You can use this space to re-ask me questions you asked me before that I failed to answer because I was too busy (but now might not be). That is often the reason I fail to get back to people, and on a blog, after a few days, the comments thread dies and I just kind of forget about it. Let's use this space to fix that, because it does need to be fixed; I look like a jackass sometimes, leaving people hanging. I will TRY to respond to any questions here.

AND you can use this space to comment on posts that are old enough that no one is reading the comments threads anymore. For example, if you thought of a great quote for the great quote commonplace book, but now no one is reading that, you could put it here.You do not have to have a blogger account or gmail account to post a comment -- you can write a comment, write your name at the bottom of your comment like an e mail, and then post using the "anonymous" option.

WRITING FOR THIS BLOG. If you think your free form comment here might be better as its own post, but you do not want it to be public yet, email it to me. My email address is available on my blogger profile page. If I think it will work on this site, your post will be published here with your name in the title of the post. You can propose what you will, I am always looking for reviews of games, tv, movies, music and books.

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

The Maxx (YouTube clip 2/12 [mislabeled 3/12])

ThomasDaTubeEngine has mislabeled this Maxx cartoon -- parts two and three of twelve should be the other way around. The right movie is here. This one takes us to the end of issue 1 of the comic book.

This opens with a really silly and entertaining cartoon National Geographic sequence, which jumping slugs, "Crabbits" (very much like the animals on Avatar, no?), and then the Izz. "It is just stupid" is just as funny a description of why the slug has no natural predators as it was when I saw this years ago.

Back in the city we see the Izz again, but this time they are black. Interestingly they are voyeurs, very much out of Rear Window, but also very telling of the comic book fan who sees all this sex and violence in a voyeuristic fashion, like the Izz, jumping around from one "frame" to the next. The tableau of life shown is significant: a man nervous about sex with a powerful woman, old people doing nothing, and a couple fighting give us three views of romance between men and women, important for this series and it's rapist villain. When we see people basically alone - a guy sitting, a girl dancing, and a man ignoring the kids jumping on him -- we are transported to the outback, and see these things as connected to this other world -- a savage world in which their loneliness makes them either monsters or the monstrous victims of violence.

Over these scenes, Julie is giving a fairly long monologue on third wave feminism, in which she admits that sometimes "no" does mean "yes," and admits that maybe a liberal is a conservative who has never been mugged. At 14 I found this really impressive. It strikes me now as interesting more in the way such a monologue is juxtaposed with the superhero genre Kieth is playing with on the Maxx. Batman's monologues as he gazes over the city at nigh from high on buildings are really dramatically refigured here, as Julie walks home through the streets at night. And reversing the perspective on the superhero monologue is not enough -- he also keeps throwing cartoon creatures, and lines like "Ya got any toast" so that we are always aware of the unreal, willy world in which all of this is happening.

Mr. Gone in the glasses, and in the layundry room, is terrifying. Notice that his living cape owes something to Spawn, also at image around this time. Notice also that Glory is not the sexually active teen of horror movies, punished by the monster who will in turn be taken down (or escaped from) by the good girl virgin. She rejects sex -- sending her boy away to cool off -- and is punished. She is dressed slutty like Julie, but the context indicates that this has more to do with laundry day than any active desire to be provocative. The fade to black when her boy returns, are also especially effective.

When the Maxx mentions the woman in the alley he was trying to save, reported rape, we have one more shut down of superhero tropes. Julie chastizes him for assuming responsiblilty for the lives of hurt women. All he can say is " I am the Maxx" a very superero thing to say, along the lines of "I am Batman" or "I AM BEOWULF." That kind of male tautological posturing -- along the lines of God's "I am what I am" in Exodus -- does not cut it here.

As the Maxx chases an Izz notice the heavy breathing -- just from going around the block. The comic book rooftop chase scene is really brought down to size, as Kieth continues to set up his claim that the guiding principles of superhero comic books have severe limitations.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Best Movie/TV Exit Music

One of the best things a movie can do is have a strong song over the end credits, because it will have a serious effect on the mood of the audience leaving. Let's see if we can't think of the best ones. I am not thinking of shows where the closing credits music is always the same (e.g. LOST), but I suppose we could count that as well. 

The two that jump to my mind are the Pixies at the end of Fight Club (the song starts just before the closing credits and then continues into them), and ROAR, the theme at the end of Cloverfield. Kill Bill v2 of course has Malaguena Salerosa, which is one of my favorites.

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #160

[Guest blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men Run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right. This one is particularly good, I thought.]

Uncanny X-Men, The #160

“Chutes and Ladders”

While last issue’s horror pastiche managed an admirable simulation of classical Gothic creepiness, the tone was mainly a synthetic phenomenon – the result of competent-to-superb execution of the prototypical tropes and story beats. Issue 160 is another genre exercise (by another fill-in artist marking time until Dave Cockrum’s return next issue), this time in fantasy. But where the previous month’s story took its strength from the surface elements, “Chutes and Ladders” cuts much deeper. Here, the X-Men’s immersion in the milieu conceived by Chris Claremont and collaborator Brent Anderson is extreme to the point of brutality, and the result is a story whose impact will go on to be felt for years (as opposed to the Dracula story, which – apart from its notably less inspired sequel in X-Men Annual #6 – has no lasting effect upon the canon whatsoever).

Issue 160’s opening sequence, a generic “Danger Room” practice scene despite taking place at the new Bermuda Triangle location rather than in the literal Room, almost constitutes a feint, promising nothing we haven’t seen before. With Page 2 however, the issue is plunged into more chilling territory, with an enigmatically demonic villain’s invocation to Illyana to “come unto him.” As is explained toward the end of the issue and at much more tedious length in Claremont’s misconceived “Magik” miniseries, Illyana’s mutant power involves an affinity toward magic, and the villain here – Belasco – wants her for use in some oblique ritual. That all speaks to the trappings of the genre, but there is an uncomfortable metaphor at work here, as Claremont evokes child molestation.

If not immediately obvious from the opening seduction of Illyana, the theme is signaled in Claremont’s most shockingly explicit scene yet, when an alternate-reality version of Nightcrawler molests Kitty Pryde. Though the panels are conceived subtly enough to circumvent the Comics Code, the images and text (Kitty’s line “KURT--- !?! How d-dare you ... t-touch me like that!” followed by his hand phasing through her back at breast level) leave no room for misinterpretation. That Claremont conceived such a scene for an issue of Uncanny X-Men is as surprising now as it surely must have been for readers in 1982 to encounter it in a Code-approved superhero comic.

Brutally unpleasant on its own terms, the scene is the key to deciphering the metaphor at work. The thematic significance of the ending twist, wherein Illyana transforms in moments from child to teenager, is clear from Colossus’ interior monologue on the final page. “Childhood should be the happiest of times – and, in a stroke, Illyana has lost that forever. ... What has she seen – what horrors, endured?” In the context of a sexual assault, those words take on a harsh and tragic resonance.

Appropriate to the gravity of the implicit subject matter, Claremont’s writing is mature and intelligent throughout the issue, even in scenes that are entirely plot-oriented. His use of both dialogue and interior monologue is leaner and more economical than usual, with very few extemporaneous digressions, musings or flashbacks to distract from the story at hand. (Note the smaller than usual need for explanatory footnotes.)

This issue marks a massive step forward in Claremont’s scope and ambition for Uncanny X-Men, and its abrupt occurrence in the series’ chronology makes it all the more striking. (Nothing in the issue preceding “Chutes and Ladders” prepares us for it, and likewise it is nearly a year before any successive issues will start to follow upon the plot threads it introduces.)

Claremont’s allusion to Dave Sim’s Cerebus via the character of S’ym here – which on the surface seeming no more than an arbitrarily timed riposte to Sim’s “Charles X. Claremont” character – may have a more appropriate meaning in a broader context. The death of Charles X. Claremont occurs in Cerebus #25, and in the very next issue Sim expanded the entire scope and tone of his comic, which immediately became less episodic as it launched into a longitudinal arc whose individual issues were simply small chapters in a far more ambitious and sustained narrative. “Chutes and Ladders,” with its cold plunge into material much darker and mature in terms of both tone and theme, is perhaps intended by Claremont to be a watershed moment for X-Men -- similar to Cerebus #26, hence the parallel Dave Sim allusion. Certainly it marks a point at which Claremont’s plotting becomes almost equally long-term; the Illyana arc begun here, in 1982, will stretch out over years, not finding full resolution until 1988’s “Inferno” crossover.

With Claremont both dependent upon multiple collaborators and vulnerable to editorial whims and marketplace upheavals when it came to story – all limitations of which the independent Sim was happily free – the path of Uncanny X-Men ended up being far more unfocused than Cerebus. Still, fate will allow a surprising number of poetic serendipities over the course of Claremont’s sustained narrative – not the least of which is that the “Inferno” issues of Uncanny X-Men will be drawn by Marc Silvestri and inked by Dan Green, whose respective subtly distorted figures and dramatically scratchy style bear an incredibly close similarity to the gorgeous work of Brent Anderson and Bob Wiacek on “Chutes and Ladders.” Claremont couldn’t have planned it better.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Streebo interviews Fraction

Morrison's Authority

[As you will be able to tell, I wrote this a very long time ago. I thought I had an opportunity to do some freelance work for an online magazine, but then they forgot all about me. But I came across it recently looking for something else in my hard drive and thought I would reprint it. Here it is.]

Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Authority, launched under the Wildstorm imprint in 1999, set a new standard for superhero comics by fusing together two closely related genres: the superhero team book and the Summer Action Blockbuster Event. The result was three four-issue plot arcs that could have been two issues each; the slow pacing – called decompression -- meant action sequences could go for pages and pages of grand panels filled with big screen action and big screen violence. Ellis was very violent – the Authority are so powerful that they can just punch through people’s skulls without thinking about it, as Superman could, but chooses not to. In Ellis’s finale they basically electrocute God.

Mark Millar and Frank Quitely picked the book up next and kept that structure: three four-issue plots. Millar added a faux-political twist: Ellis’s Authority saved the world from villains and aliens in each story; Millar’s Authority saved the world from dictators and shadowy government programs. Millar does this to take up Ellis’s original claim for the Authority -- that the Authority, unlike the JLA, really will change the world permanently rather than just restore the status quo each month. This is, however just an excuse to continue writing a very fun book, and play a game of one-upmanship, in terms of violence. Millar’s run includes the suggestion that a character based off of Captain American raped a character based off of Superman, and has a villain go back in time, in the middle of a big fight, and sexually molest one of the female characters, only to return and defeat her as she remembers what happened to her.

The violence and faux-political commentary of Millar’s run are an answer to a major problem that appears in the concept of the book after only twelve issues have been completed: superhero books are traditionally designed to be sustainable – The Justice League of America, for example, has been running for decades in various incarnations, and creators often complete runs of forty or more issues before handing over the reigns to someone else. The sheer scope of Ellis’s Authority makes it impossible to sustain – the same fevered pitch cannot be kept up indefinitely, especially since the point is these characters are supposed to change the world. Ellis does a mere twelve issues, all of them great, before leaving: how could he do more without failing. Millar does only twelve issues as well; his violence and faux “real world” politics allow him to have fun – and write a great book – while distracting the audience from the fact that he is covering the same territory.

And so it goes, as various writers try to keep the book going – everyone tries to introduce a twist, but they are less and less successful: the concept of the Authority is not designed to be sustained, but no one wants to let it die either.

In September 2006 Grant Morrison and Gene Ha put out the first issue of their re-launch of the Authority, followed almost six months later by their massively delayed second issue. Newsarama broke the news that issues 5-10 will be handled by another creative team who will be telling a flashback story; Morrison and Ha’s future on the book is unclear. Nevertheless their first two issues deserve to be singled out, because Morrison comes up with the stroke of genius that will get him out of the deadlock of the book’s concept.

Morrison begins with a surprising move – he exacerbates the decompression that was established in Ellis’s run. Ellis gave every fight scene more than ample time to unfold. In a possibly unprecedented move, Morrison makes the audacious decision to have NONE of the title characters, and no characters like them, appear in his first issue re-launch at all. Instead he and Gene Ha spend twenty-two pages on the minutia of a guy who lives in England and is called to investigate something that has gone wrong on a submarine. Ha draws much of the issue to look like digital video, almost a home movie or an independent film. Morrison subtly parodies Ellis’s decompressed fight scenes by spending pages on the tension between a man and his wife before he leaves the house – they have a shockingly realistic and petty fight over the phone bill, and he can’t find his cell phone. They have a very hard time communicating with each other without accidentally or intentionally causing emotional pain. While he is gone, she leaves him, taking her copy of Dan Brown with her, a wonderfully realistic detail. Once on the submarine, he and his buddies talk about farting, reality TV, the football game, and how lame Steven Segal is before they discover something huge under the ocean – the readers know it is the Authority’s ship, damaged. They guys investigating have never seen anything like it. And so the issue ends.

Morrison’s Authority, it turns out in issue two, have crash-landed in parallel world, a perfectly common plot for a team that sails the multi-verse. What is not so common is that the world they are stranded in is OURS – no superheroes of any kind, and no power source to allow the Authority to repair their ship. Bored, the Midnighter (the team’s Batman character) kills “terrorists” – that was what went wrong in the submarine our protagonist from the first issue was sent to investigate – but now something seems wrong. In a comic book world killing bad guys out of boredom is the fun kind of decadent; here is just seems … wrong, as his badass-talk clichés appear in another context.

Smartly, Morrison gets an obligatory (and possibly stupid) scene out of the way quite early: in Manhattan, the team hits a local comic book shop and flips through the collections of the Authority comic book including Warren Ellis’s first trade, Relentless, and make jokes about people charging twenty dollars for a comic book. This really IS our world. The moment is important because superhero stories that attempt to be “realistic” often fail to mention actual superhero comics: in the pilot of NBC’s wretched Heroes, for example, it appears no one but Hiro has ever heard of a comic book. In real life it is the first thought any normal person would have.

In the final page of the second issue we see what this very strange idea for re-habilitating the Authority has accomplished: the team has agreed to not interfere with this world but Apollo, their resident Superman character, has been shot down flying over Afghanistan trying to power up in the sunlight, the source of his power. The Midnighter – his boyfriend (Ellis’s original twist on the Superman-Batman relationship) – goes out to fight because he wants to stay true to their original mission to change the world, Ellis’s initial manifesto for the book. “Oh, god,” says their leader as we see him ready, on his own, to take on military helicopters, “he’ll start World War Three.” That ends the second issue.

Morrison has re-envisioned how to make this book work like it did in the first few issues of Ellis’s run. Ellis’s Authority are supposed to feel HUGE but after a few issues we are deadened by the constant battles and HUGE begins to feel regular. With this final page, just one character suddenly feels MASSIVE again – you believe he COULD start World War Three on his own. As the Doctor, the team’s Shaman, says in this issue, in this world they cannot but be monsters, trampling on natural laws until they break. Implicit in Ellis’s story was the feeling that his “heroes,” in spite of the fact that they saved the world, were really bad guys – killing indiscriminately, changing the world as they saw fit, and answering to no one. Morrison’s protagonist from the first issue says it explicitly, asking the team, who identify themselves as the good guys, how they KNOW they are good guys. In terms of both physics and ethics, their whole world has been turned up-side-down – or right-side-up.

Morrison and Ha have figured out a way to reinvigorate a concept thought long exhausted. With only two issues out over six months with very little fanfare (it was hard to tell from the first issue if Morrison had a good idea or not), and with an unclear future, this two issue might have gotten past a lot of readers, but it deserves to be noticed. Even if it continues no farther, or continues for only for a few more issues, it is still a tremendous imaginative accomplishment.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


If you like Mystery Science Theatre 3000 you need to be aware of RIFFTRAX: the show lives on, making fun of blockbusters -- which is better, isn't it? I came to this party late, but really enjoyed Beowulf and I am Legend. I am looking forward to checking out 300, the Star Wars prequels, and the second the third Matrix films. You download the mp3 and then either hit the play button at the right moment to synch it up with the DVD you rented, or you download the player which synchs them together automatically.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A quick note on the fifth season of the Wire (spoilers)

I am finally watching the fifth season of the Wire (four episodes to go), and also reading some of the old press about it. The fake serial killer plot to generate police funds is often cited as a willing suspension of disbelief problem, but I wanted to say this: the serial killer is the perfect counterpoint to the Wire. The serial killer, so popular in film and television, is attractive because evil is localized in this one figure -- take out the figure and the evil is gone. But just as Lost is about mysteries, and Battlestar Galactica is about character, the Wire is about systems: evil -- if you want to call it that, and probably shouldn't -- is diffuse, living in the structure people find themselves in. You cannot get rid of the problem by removing a bad guy -- you cannot even destroy the drug trade without taking into account the schools, the ports, and the press, and probably a dozen other things. Nothing highlights the Wire's stunning accomplishment demonstrating that you have to see the contexts, the big picture of systems, than the inclusion of the serial killer plot, which is nothing more than a convenient fiction both for the characters on the show, and in real life.

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #159

[EDIT: Sorry if you saw this Thursday when it was posted by mistake]

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

Uncanny X-Men, The #159

“Night Screams”

At this point, sci-fi, space opera and straight-ahead superheroics have all been tested and tried by Claremont, and all have proven appropriate milieus for the X-Men when done right. Now, the author seems curious to test out other genres. In the next issue, he’ll play with fantasy, but here he goes for horror.

Back in the 1960s, at the very nadir of Roy Thomas’ creative inspiration for the X-Men, he had the original team fight Frankenstein’s monster. It was awful, and the premise for issue 159, the X-Men vs. Dracula, seems hardly better. But the gung-ho execution sells the concept surprisingly well. The art is by Bill Sienkiewicz, who in later years will become one of the most dazzlingly innovative comic book artists of the 1980s (and as such, will demonstrate a surprising synergy with Chris Claremont in New Mutants #’s 18-28).

In 1982 however, Sienkiewicz still draws in a relatively conventional mode, though his work is nonetheless strikingly powerful. With his exaggerated character poses and relentlessly busy and asymmetrical page layouts, Sienkiewicz wears the influence of Neal Adams on his sleeve -- but he certainly does the style remarkably well. If Adams had ever drawn the “new” X-Men around this time, they probably would have looked very, very close to how they do in “Night Screams.”

Inspired by the most unusual art to show up in his Uncanny X-Men, Claremont spins a convincing Gothic-horror pastiche, by pushing his already melodramatic style only a few notches in timbre. Tom Orzechowski’s letters (painfully missing since issue 153), with their artful arrangement and subtle shifts in font, give Claremont’s baroque text an added polish and legitimacy.

Urgent in tempo and frenetic in rhythm, “Night Screams” is Claremont’s most compressed X-Men issue to date, cramming almost all the beats of the prototypical vampire story into a brisk 23 pages. The first half of the issue – depicting Ororo’s initial attack by Dracula (kept off-panel), her subsequent seduction, and the ravages of her transformation – is particularly vigorous, while also incredibly moody.

Thanks to Sienkewicz’s confident line (embellished fluently by Bob Wiacek), the story’s segue into superhero action when Dracula battles the male members of the team feels entirely natural. While the straight-ahead intensity of the plot leaves little room for Claremont’s typical characterization, he gives Nightcrawler an intriguing comment at one point: “In my homeland, Bavaria,” says Kurt, “we have learned from bitter experience not to take vampires – especially Dracula – lightly.” The implication that vampires are an acknowledged reality for Kurt seems oddly predictive, somehow, of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, with its “all stories coexist” premise. We know that Kurt – besides being of demonic appearance himself – was raised with a family of witches, so his pragmatic belief in vampires is both surprising and fitting. The forceful reminder later in this selfsame issue that Kurt is also Catholic creates some definite questions about the specifics of Kurt’s upbringing, but Claremont will never answer them.

Though without any long-term significance to the canon, Uncanny X-Men #159 boasts a wide, cinematic scope – both in the art and the writing – that elevate it from a gimmick story to something of genuine impact. That Claremont could so successfully integrate the X-Men into a Gothic horror story a mere two months after plunging them into unabashed space opera speaks to the versatility both of the writer and the concept.

[I would love to see someone really make Dracula work as an X-Men villain. I wish Morrison had done it in some looney annual.]

Friday, August 22, 2008

Streebo interviews Al Feldstein of EC comics

Comics Out Aug 20, 2008

My comic shop AGAIN had some kind of shipping problem (which they said effected the whole northeast -- true?). But review, discuss, and recommend this week's comics, and comics news.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #158

[EDIT: Sorry if you saw that I had 159 up out of order for a few hours today.]

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

“The Life That Late I Led ...”

Having let the X-Men get away from him during the extended genre exercise of the previous two issues, Claremont nails them back down to the ground in this one. While a good portion of “The Life That Late I Led ...” is deliberately conceived as an epilogue to Claremont’s Ms. Marvel series (cancelled quite abruptly at the tail end of the ‘70s), the story is also dense with significant story points and character bits for the lead cast as well.

First, Kitty (back in a bikini – sigh) “wrestles with the realities of growing up,” in an extended internal monologue that stretches suspension of disbelief just a bit. Claremont wants Kitty both ways – young enough to be frightened of her burgeoning emotional maturity, but intelligent enough to step outside herself and analyze the situation as well. The combination leads to an unconvincing inner voice, albeit Claremont is eloquent enough to still elicit some amount of empathy.

An attempt by Imperial Guard member Oracle to break Charles out of the coma he’d lapsed into an issue ago makes for a dramatically orchestrated action scene as Xavier tries to use Oracle to commit suicide. Yet even at such a pathetic point, Professor X is again portrayed as a formidable character, most notably in Oracle’s demonstrative description: “I have never interfaced with a mind of such depth and complexity – such subtlety! His mental defenses are phenomenal. He has withdrawn deep within himself. Moira, he is at war with himself! I have done my best, but no outside force can aid him. His recovery is completely up to him.” If Xavier were not such a powerful mutant, he would not be so difficult to cure, which is a nice irony.

An appearance by Senator Kelly reminds readers of the “growing wave of anti-mutant sentiment” alluded to in issue 154. Up to now, Claremont has not really pushed the “outcast” aspect of the X-Men, but he seems keen to start exploring that angle now. He’s already banished them to the Bermuda Triangle, and here he introduces a fascinating MacGuffin: a computer virus to erase all files the government may possess on the X-Men. The idea is fantastic, although it ends up being a little glossed over. Here, it is mainly an excuse to get the X-Men and Carol Danvers into the Pentagon – established in “Days of Future Past” as a base of operations for Mystique – so that they can fight her and Rogue. But the implication is rather exciting: the X-Men are becoming more of a clandestine operation here, deliberately trying to hide their very existence from those in power.

For whatever reason – again, I’d guess at the behest of Marvel’s traditionalist Editor in Chief, Jim Shooter – Claremont will soon snap the X-Men back into their traditional status as part of a school in Westchester. Things like their “open-ended virus program” will be forgotten for years, and not until Claremont exiles the X-Men again in 1987 (to the Outback) will he finally follow through on some of these stranger ideas. (The computer virus is a minor plot point in 1988’s Genosha four-parter, one of Claremont’s greatest and most underrated X-Men stories.)

Of course, the most significant aspect of issue 158 in X-Men history is that it contains the first appearance in the series of Rogue. She will go on to become the second member of the X-Men actually created by Chris Claremont (the first being Kitty Pryde), and actually emerge as a fan favorite. Here, she’s a fairly unlikable one-note villain, though her super-power is creative and makes for some interesting fight scenes. Her battle with Wolverine, Storm and Nightcrawler in the Pentagon marks the first post-Byrne fight scene in X-Men that doesn’t seem to exist even a little bit in Byrne’s shadow.

Nor does this issue seem particularly influenced by any of Cockrum’s inclinations or pet-favorite genre conceits. Indeed, with its density and diversity of plot threads, its intensely dramatized character bits, and certainly its unique antagonist, Uncanny X-Men #158 is the first 100% Claremontian issue – the first time it feels as if the comic is now his alone.

As such, Claremont is perhaps symbolized in this story by Carol Danvers, who unburdens herself of her past at the end of the issue. Far enough removed now that he longer feels the pressure of attempting to duplicate his past triumphs with John Byrne, Claremont is similarly unburdened. Symbolically defeating Byrne via Carol’s defeat of Mystique (who was the lead villain in Claremont’s last major collaboration with Byrne), he is free to chart a path that is of his own singular invention. His artistic collaborators will still prove crucial in making the X-Men seen and heard, but from here on out they will speak entirely with Claremont’s voice.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Free Form Comments

Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticisms (which can be anonymous), surveys, introductions if you have never commented before, personal news, self-promotion, requests to be added to the blog roll and so on. If a week goes by and I have failed to add you to the blog roll TELL ME TO DO IT AGAIN, and KEEP TELLING ME UNTIL IT GETS DONE. I can be lazy about updating the non-post parts of this site. Remember these comments can be directed at all the readers, not just me.

ALSO. You can use this space to re-ask me questions you asked me before that I failed to answer because I was too busy (but now might not be). That is often the reason I fail to get back to people, and on a blog, after a few days, the comments thread dies and I just kind of forget about it. Let's use this space to fix that, because it does need to be fixed; I look like a jackass sometimes, leaving people hanging. I will TRY to respond to any questions here.

AND you can use this space to comment on posts that are old enough that no one is reading the comments threads anymore. For example, if you thought of a great quote for the great quote commonplace book, but now no one is reading that, you could put it here.You do not have to have a blogger account or gmail account to post a comment -- you can write a comment, write your name at the bottom of your comment like an e mail, and then post using the "anonymous" option.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Previously on Lost Music (Commonplace Book)

I have not had much of a chance to look at this yet, but Brad sent this to me for perusal. He said The Ballad of Sayid was his favorite.

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #157

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

Uncanny X-Men, The #157


As in the previous issue, the X-Men occasionally get lost in the shuffle of this one. Instead of assimilating the genre trappings – as occurred in the awesome sci-fi of “Days of Future Past” – the X-Men here get a bit swallowed up in the space opera elements so exuberantly delineated by Dave Cockrum. Certainly the sight of a civil war among the Imperial Guard members is grand, especially when rendered by the man who designed most of them, but it’s not the most satisfying payoff to a plot thread that had originally focused on Kitty and Kurt. The two of them do get a couple of good moments – the sequence in which they escape from their room is cleverly executed, for example, and their “Dark Phoenix” hoax once again reinforces Kitty’s status as the surrogate Jean Grey – but ultimately they get shunted aside in favor of the “Imperial Guard vs. itself” bit.

To add insult to injury, in the big climactic moment wherein the Earth is about to be destroyed – the planet ends up getting saved by the Starjammers! The X-Men have become supporting cast members in their own comic.

Still, better things are coming, and they are hinted at here. The sequence wherein Xavier “senses an anomaly within himself” is suitably ominous, as is Deathbird’s promise to deliver the X-Men unto the Brood. (In a bit of overkill, Deathbird silently swears that she will eventually betray the Brood – this turns out to be an empty threat. She’ll keep her promise in issue 161 and then promptly disappear from the comic, not to return for nine years.)

So, the first act of the Brood saga – after a slam-bang start – ends here with a fizzle. Recognizing perhaps that they let their love of space opera overwhelm the finer points of their story, Cockrum and Claremont will now pull back from this entire milieu. The next four issues will each be mainly self-contained stories -- two drawn by fill-in artists and all of them much more grounded – before the series launches into the Brood Saga’s Act Two. By then, the lessons of this lopsided four-parter will have been learned, leading to a far more integrated and satisfying adventure.

In the meantime, “Hide-‘n’-Seek” can be enjoyed for its artistic achievement at least. Cockrum really seems to love drawing this kind of stuff, and his whimsical sense of humor is truly inimitable. (The visual gag of Kitty constantly changing her costume also hits its apex in this issue.) Claremont, not nearly as canny in this regard, can barely keep up – his feeble allusion to “Captain K’rk” being a particular groaner.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Two jokes I was thinking about today

[A slight post, but I had trouble getting to a computer today, and have little time with it.]

One of my favorite lines on 30 Rock is when Tracy Jordan says that he loves a sandwich so much, he is going to "take it out back behind the middle school and get it pregnant."

What's brilliant about that is how compacted the broken logic of Tracy Jordan is here. First, the "love" in "I love this sandwich" becomes the love in "make love" -- which for any other sitcom would be the end of it. But here, the absurdity of the "love" = "sex" displacement is highlighted with the idea that the sex could lead to pregnancy, and that pregnancy is the marker of how much love you have. And the whole thing is tossed in a really offensive context as the players -- likely middle schoolers -- are making their love as public as Jordan's declaration, a bit like saying you will cry from the rooftops how great something is so everyone knows.

And I was thinking of the little detail on Arrested Development, that the model home community is called "Sudden Valley." On the one hand this suggests the sink-hole that is virtually synonymous with a bad real estate investment, while also sounding like an idilic place, like the "hidden valley" of the salad dressing. But the best thing about it is that it is a bit like a puzzle, where you can intuit the missing, and inappropriate, word, Death: Sudden Death, Death Valley.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #156

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

Uncanny X-Men, The #156


Dave Cockrum is certainly in his element here. The entire issue serves, more than anything else, as a showcase for his fantastic sense of design. His sleekly organic conception of the Starjammers’ ship makes for a great reveal early on in the story, and the double-page spread of the Brood’s living whale-vessel is delightfully over-the-top.

Cockrum’s interior archaeology is equally eye-catching, particularly the first peek inside “one of the domed cities that dot the [Brood] vessel’s hull...” Cockrum’s new addition to the Starjammers – a tiny medically-trained helicopter that Claremont names Sikorsky – is cute and creative. Sikorsky’s syntactically inverted, Yoda-esque speech style is evidence that Claremont has obviously seen The Empire Strikes Back by this point. Like Kitty’s briefly wearing a Darth Vader costume in the previous issue, the allusions to Lucas’ film franchise are placing things firmly in the space opera genre, with hardly any superhero conventions in sight.

On the other hand, the tight plotting exhibited by Claremont in the previous two issues slackens a bit here. His impulse to again top himself by making the scope of the story even more vast now works against him, as the actual X-Men, who are meant to be the stars of the series, get lost among the explosive cosmic twists. Also, Claremont forces himself into a redundancy in the scene depicting Storm’s shock that the Brood’s whale-ship is alive. Besides being hardly a surprise given the organic feel of Cockrum’s design, the reveal is a rehash of Cyclops’ shock that the Sidri are alive in issue 154. Three issues into this saga – which had started with so much freshness – and Claremont is already being forced to reiterate story beats; not a good sign.

The other reveal of the issue – Samedi’s allegiance to Death-Bird – is another easily guessed twist, and zero progress is made with the Nightcrawler/Kitty thread as well. This initial phase of the year-long Brood arc is only four parts, set to conclude with the next issue ... yet with Part 3 it is starting to feel a little padded. The momentum generated by the previous two issues is just enough to see this one through to the final page with a reasonable amount of excitement and drama, but the plot certainly has burned through readers’ good will by the end.

The best part of “Pursuit” is Professor X, whom Claremont and Cockrum seem to be suddenly on a mission to make cooler than ever before. His trashing of a Brood warrior with a fist to the face is the most satisfying moment of action in the issue, and the subsequent dialogue between Charles and Scott is by far the most entertaining character bit.

[Where does the "living space ship thing" originate? I know the Cylon ships are alive on Battlestar Galactica but I do not know if that is the case in the original series.]

Friday, August 15, 2008

Comics Out Aug 15, 2008

Astonishing X-Men 26. Last month I said I was going to stick with this because of the art and Ellis being high profile, and the fact that I love the X-Men. But this issue just did not do it for me in a big way, and I think I am dropping this. Discussions take too long: Morrison had this scene in his X-Men annual where Emma downloaded Chinese into everyone's brain and I think it was like a single line where Emma is like "Chinese" and Scott goes "Ah." And of course Professor X used to do this all the time in the old days. But Ellis seems charmed by the idea -- and his idea of charming never lines up with mine -- so he spends the first full page discussing it. Ellis's fastball special lacks any kind of fun, and is weirdly repetitive of when it was first used in Whedon's run. Scott says I'm sure he's survived being thrown at a parked spaceship and 500 miles an hour before" and you realize Ellis needs the word parked to distinguish it slightly from the time a fastball special was used to throw Wolverine at a spaceship 20 issues ago. "The Ghost Box" looked awfully interesting, but the labored two and a half page discussion on the morality of killing was really boring, and they guy was not even dead. Plot wise, I just did not get enough. I am dropping this book.

Batman 679. This is maybe my favorite issue of Morrison's run so far. Someone on another blog mentioned how boring so many of these images would be if Batman were in his regular outfit. The crazy day-glow mess is really a lot of fun to watch, and the idea of a back-up personality is one of those really fun Morrison ideas. The Bat-Mite and the talking gargoyle's were my favorite and the crazy black and read roses were brilliant. And I like that Batman gets different speech balloons. Plus, in a stupid joke I am loving, the new Batman fights crime WITH A BAT. A BASEBALL BAT. Hilarious. My only problem is that I do not trust Tony Daniels, because of earlier errors: it is really unclear what "What's that thing behind you" refers to, or even if it is supposed to refer to anything. This causes serious problems in a book where the fun is supposed to be looking for clues. That thing on Bat-Mite's back -- I have no idea what that is, and surely I should not, but it looks different on the next page. And there are weird maybe editorial glitches, like when Batman says "Might!" when he seems to mean "Mite" (which could of course be a pun, but it is very strange to have Batman's speech Balloon contain a pun that is verbal but not written). Tim Callahan has pointed out how strange it is that we are unsure that Bucket-head's name is unclear, and I do not know what to do with that. And let me say that I love how the iconic Alex Ross cover is completely undercut by the iconoclastic writing inside. Name another instance of Ross being used ironically.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #155

[Guest blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men run. I ask a question at teh bottom. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

Uncanny X-Men, The #155

“First Blood”

Issue 155 maintains the momentum of the previous installment, skillfully increasing the scope of the plot and weaving in the rest of the X-Men. The villains of the arc are revealed: Death-Bird, a villain from Claremont’s Ms. Marvel series revealed here to be Lilandra’s sister; and the extra-terrestrial Brood, as blatant a crib from James Cameron’s “Aliens” as the N’garai of issue 143 was from Ridley Scott’s original film. Cockrum’s design for the Brood is lovely, cannily evoking the Giger design to which it alludes but adding a distinctly comic-book spin. And since Claremont wouldn’t know what to do with mute villains, the Brood are also – unlike their film counterparts – fully capable of speech.

Actually, the “Aliens” inspiration for the villains of “First Blood” is not entirely obvious here. Apart from a brief reference to the “Mother,” the extent to which the Claremont and Cockrum have borrowed from Scott and Cameron isn’t entirely explicit. Later will come the implantation of eggs in host bodies, the existence of a Queen figure, etc.

In the meantime, Claremont’s plotting is as lean as it gets for this issue, featuring some neat details. Xavier’s planting Kitty and Kurt on the flagship after telepathically “punching” all of his knowledge about the Shi’ar into her brain is a particularly cool maneuver. The X-Men also come off very well in their battle with Death-Bird and the Brood, executing quite a few well-conceived stunts. The superfluous guest appearance by Tigra doesn’t add much (though Claremont clearly has an affection for the character), but apart from that the action sequence is tight and creatively done. That the X-Men still lose the fight despite being in such peak form adds to the credibility of the villains as well.

“First Blood”’s cliffhanger isn’t all that convincing, granted. (A lead character dying just before the “To Be Continued” is pretty much always a feint, in any medium.) But it at least ends the comic at a high pitch, priming readers for an exciting Part Three in a month.

On the negative side, why is Kitty once again spending half the issue in a bikini? The repeated objectification of a 13-year-old girl is starting to become distinctly discomforting. (Kitty’s four-panel fashion show for Kurt is a joke for long-time readers, reprising Nightcrawler’s image-inducer bit for Storm in Uncanny X-Men #101.)

[Should we not be bothered by Claremont's obvious habit for going to the movies and then coming back and basically importing other people's concepts wholesale into his books: Star Trek / Star Wars becomes the Starjammers, Alien becomes the N'Garai, Aliens becomes the Brood, the Terminator becomes Nimrod. Of course this is all part of fiction writing and influence happens all the time; I have argued that Morrison's Cassandra Nova is very much a version of Onslaught, who could of course be traced back to a number of villains, and of course the the evil twin thing is as old as time. Planetary builds itself through analogues, where you are supposed to recognize the source. But with Claremont it takes this particularly shameless form: very little time passes before the idea is swiped, very little revision is done to the idea so that it is crystal clear where the thing comes from, he does not improve on any of the concepts, and you just get the feeling that he goes to the movies looking for X-Men villain ideas.]

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Maxx (YouTube clip 1/12)

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Sam Kieth's The Maxx issue by issue or youtube clip by youtube clip as the case may be. For more in this series hit the label at the bottom of this post.]

ThomasDaTubeEngine is my new hero. You know what Mr. T.D. Engine did? He put the Maxx Cartoon on YouTube -- all of it. The Maxx cartoon, done for MTV, is a very faithful adaptation of the comic book -- basically all the dialog is here, and the animation is minimal so that it looks exactly like the comic book as often as possible. Even the shapes of the panels are recreated in parts. I do not know how long this will be up for, but as long as it is I am going to use this for my primary material, because life is better in youtube clips.

Everything about the opening, including the weather, tone of voice, and location, suggests the self-serious monologues of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns -- "its wet, dark and wet" is a pretty good description of the imitators of those books, and "dirty kind of, but real too" is exactly what they thought of themselves. Then he starts talking about Cheers and you know this is not Watchmen. For me the gag has not gotten old, and it is followed by another brilliant one -- well I don't know if it's brilliant, but it gets me every time: the Maxx's monologue, which includes exposition for the scene, turns out to be speech: "Sometimes it's luck that saves them, sometimes it's fate, but sometimes it's ME!" "Yes, and sometimes its us. Freeze." And that is the very first appearance of this character for those that did not get the Darker Image preview thing. Brilliant.

Gone gets a surprisingly scary intro after that joke, and importantly negates the Maxx's attempt to save the woman. The heroics and speeches are all wasted, and the Maxx is a failure right from his first appearance. This is not the defeat to be corrected in the finale that is so common in superhero books -- this is supposed to be the bit where our hero is introduced fighting low level street thugs in an alley, where he can show his stuff and be cool, like Batman. And it is totally reversed. That reversal sets up the bigger one coming in the comic book: significantly more than Morrison's X-Men, the Maxx never was a superhero.

The scene in the outback suggests this too: superheroes are mostly creatures of the city, but the outback scene makes it seem like he is a fantasy character displaced. And again his big moment is undercut: "Who writes this crap?" is Julie's first line.

Kieth does a great job with intros. Julie has no money, tries to help people, and dresses "kinda like a hooker," because she is a Paglia feminist -- as seen in the Paglia poster hanging on her wall: she is sexy, but also in charge of herself. She has no patience for a police officer's suggestion -- prompted by a college professor importantly -- that her outfit sends out the wrong signals, signals that might attract a rapist and murderer like Mr. Gone. And of course she is sexy in a particularly ridiculous comic book style outfit. Again, the basic superhero comic book stuff is here, but in a slanted way. Instead of the grim and gritty superhero monologuing about Nietzsche (the Maxx is too dumb to know Nietzsche), you have the sexy comic book girl with the Paglia poster. The fact that the Maxx is a failure is important -- Julie is really our main character. She is the one that saves people (people like the Maxx) and she is the one who will needs saving, but not the kind of saving the Maxx can provide.

That is not the end of the first comic book, but it is the end of the youtube clip, so I will save the rest for next time.

Free Form Comments

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cormac McCarthy: The Road as Prose Poetry 2

[I continue my selections for turning The Road into a volume prose poetry. Each of these would have their own page, in my imaginary version.]

He knew only that the child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.

The road was empty. Below in the little valley the grey serpentine of a river. Motionless and precise. They set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling in the ash, each the other's world entire.

Charred and limbless trunks of trees stretching away on every side. Ash moving over the road and the sagging hands of blind wire strung from the blackened lightpoles whining thinly in the wind. A burned house in a clearing and beyond that a reach of medowlands stark and gray and a raw red mudbank where a roadworks lay abandoned. The shape of a city stood in the grayness like a charcoal drawing sketched across the waste.

He lay listening to the water drip in the woods. Bedrock, this. The cold and the silence. The ashes of the late world carried on the bleak and temporal winds too and fro in the void. Carried forth and scattered and carried forth again. Everything uncoupled from its shoring. Unsupported in the ashen air. Sustained by a breath, trembling and brief. If only my heart were stone.

This is the day to shape the days upon.

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #154

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

Uncanny X-Men, The #154


The mostly-whimsical previous issue had one particularly intriguing scene, depicting Charles Xaver’s concern that the X-Mansion’s funds were running low because of all the repair work it was requiring lately. That tantalizing bit of verisimilitude takes us rather surprisingly into a new status quo in issue 154, as the X-Men have taken up residence at Magneto’s island headquarters in the Bermuda Triangle. The story notes that Xavier’s decision to relocate the team is also thanks to intimations of a new, “growing wave of anti-mutant sentiment in the States,” which “may have official sanction.” This references the esoteric “Project Wideawake” cliffhanger at the end of the “Days of Future Past” arc.

The abrupt change in the status quo, and the various intimations of mounting menace, combine to give “Reunion” an intense urgency that had been missing from the series for over a year. This is by far Claremont’s most tightly focused X-Men script since John Byrne’s departure. Claremont seems keenly aware, too, that he’s regained his focus and direction. His narration on the opening splash that Cyclops and Storm are “blissfully unaware that this is merely the calm before the tempest” is a paraphrase of one of the first lines of the Dark Phoenix Saga, implicitly promising that another powerful epic is about to begin. He’ll turn out to be right; the coming Brood story arc, while lacking in the laser-beam intensity of his best collaborations with Byrne, will over time resolve itself into one of Claremont’s most exciting and emotionally rewarding stories.

Roger McKee talks in “Story” of the importance of a great inciting incident, and Claremont deploys one shrewdly here. The reappearance of Corsair immediately re-ignites the long-ignored subplot in which Cyclops was kept in the dark about their relationship, and the shocking suddenness with which Scott learns the truth is arresting. The issue’s momentum does not let up – indeed, when the mansion is completely destroyed by the Sidri, it feels as if we are truly witnessing an epic change in the course of the series.

(As it turns out, this watershed moment will be somewhat swiftly reversed, as the mansion is rebuilt over the course of only a couple issues. My hunch is that Claremont would have liked to keep the mansion’s destruction permanent and keep the X-Men as outcasts whose new home was the Bermuda Triangle, but Jim Shooter felt the school was too integral to the X-Men concept. Very soon after Shooter steps down as Editor in Chief to replaced by Tom DeFalco, Claremont will again relocate the X-Men to a remote location – the Australian Outback this time – and keep them from returning to the mansion for over two years.)

Only two X-Men, Storm and Cyclops, take part in this issue’s extended action sequence, but that ends up working in the story’s favor, contributing to its streamlined feel. There’s also a sense of novelty to it, as these two particular characters have never interacted at so much length before now. Claremont discovers some surprising chemistry between Scott and Ororo – the way they continually hand back and forth the role of leadership over the course of the story is particularly well handled. One gets the sense that Claremont might have developed their camaraderie here into a deep and abiding friendship had the series’ plotlines not ended up taking the characters in other directions.

Artistically, this issue is a striking one as well. No doubt thrilled that the series is returning to the space opera of his and Claremont’s pre-Byrne collaborations, Dave Cockrum seems as refreshed and exuberant as his partner. After a string of conventionally superheroic exploits, the X-Men are back in an unabashedly sci-fi story, and on every level they seem the better for it.

Even in the humor department, Claremont and Cockrum both seem to be having fun. Cockrum’s touch of having “Kitty’s Dragon” painted on the side of the Blackbird can’t help but bring a grin, and Claremont seems to mock his own verbosity as a writer in a throwaway bit about how much information Kitty can fit on a postcard.

Also of note: Carol Danvers, imported into the book’s cast as of issue 150 from her quasi-redemptive misadventure in Claremont’s Avengers Annual 10, is starting to become more integrated into the proceedings. In “Reunion,” we learn for the first time that she and Wolverine have worked together in the past, an important revelation that will inform the early relationship between Logan and Rogue.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bea Arthur on Malcolm in the Middle

I wish the clip was on youtube, but I wanted to do a quick post on this great joke. This is all from memory, so details may be off.

Bea Arthur was Dorothy on Golden Girls, a show recently praised by Neil over on his blog. I am not a crazy Golden Girls fan: the characters are a little broad for my taste, basically in charge of one one kind of joke each. This is of course a big part of the sitcom, but a show like Will and Grace for example, combined those kinds of characters (Jack and Karen) with more (at least in comparison) nuanced characters. But every time Golden Girls is on I usually laugh. And of course the show is written by Joss Whedon's dad (Whedon's grandfather wrote for the Donna Reed Show)

Bea Arthur is a pretty great actress, especially on Maude, and she had this really excellent guest appearance on Malcolm in the Middle as Dewey's babysitter. Toward the end of the episode she and Dewey are eating milk and cookies in a tent set up indoors. She often talks in apostrophe to her dead husband, and Dewey asks her about it. She tells him that she always talks to him, that he is always with her and provides constant comfort and companionship. Dewey says something like "Well, this cookie can be his" and puts it down in the corner of the tent. Bea Arthur corrects him with a little edge in her voice, saying, "not there, there."

Malcolm in the Middle found this really amazingly tiny dividing line to play with. If you think your dead husband is a spirit all around you who you can talk to and who comforts you, that is really heartwarming. But if your dead husband is somewhere SPECIFIC, then you are insane.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cormac McCarthy: The Road as Prose Poetry

I broke my "no novels" rule and read Cormac McCarthy's two most recent this week. No Country for Old Men was excellent, and very close in every respect to the film, which I recently decided needs to be on my favorite movie list. The Road on the other hand I thought very overrated by critics -- I have heard it called his best novel, the best book of the year (or decade or whatever), and it won the Pulitzer Prize. Ridley Scott is planning to make it into a movie, but this seems like an awful idea based primarily on the success of No Country for Old Men. No Country for Old men has the structure of a thriller. In addition to being a disaster narrative, The Road is also a narrative disaster -- well, there really is no narrative. A man and his son travel across a post-apocalyptic landscape: they find food, they loose food, they find food again they loose food again, there are brief flashbacks to the pre-apocalypse world, they avoid bad guys, they deal with the weather, they have tense meetings with other people because you never know who is going to screw you, and at the end -- well this ending is just sort of tacked on because it needs to end somehow. Scott is basically going to have to put the alien from Alien in this movie to make it interesting.

But the novel has many many passages that are just stunning. And I thought -- hey, this would be so much better as a volume of prose poetry. Of course McCarthy would have lost a TON of money publishing his work as a volume of prose poetry, and I do not begrudge him that, but I thought I might, in a series of posts, whittle the book down to what makes it work. In a published volume edited by me these passages would get their own pages. Here are my first three selections:

Nights dark beyond darkness and they days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.

In the dream from which he'd wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some gigantic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.

Barren, silent, godless.

Weekly Roundup

[Is this a useful feature? I feel like it is redundant from the "most recent posts" thing on the toolbar, but I guess that is pretty far down. Jog does it so he must have a good reason.]

Sara in a Show!

Jason Powell on Bizarre Adventures 27, Uncanny 153, 152

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sara is in a show!

Sara will have two paintings in the DUMBO Arts Festival in Brooklyn, September 26-28! 150,000 people came to last year's show, roughly the same number of people that live in the Sooloo islands. 

Jason Powell on Bizarre Adventures #27, first story

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

Bizarre Adventures #27


Claremont loves building large supporting casts for the series he works on, and he loves to make as many of those supporting cast members women. Occasionally he seems to introduce female characters into his comics with no clear idea of how he’ll eventually use them. One example occurred in Uncanny X-Men #136, when Jean was revealed for the first time to have an older sister named Sara, already married with children. It’s possible that Sara would have become a significant part of the cast had Jean not been killed off. As it was, Claremont never thought of anything to do with her – except one time.

In mid-1981 – around the same time that Uncanny X-Men was seeing an expansion of the supporting cast in the form of such notable females as Stevie Hunter, Carol Danvers and Illyana Rasputin – Marvel’s black-and-white tabloid-size comic book Bizarre Adventures came out with an X-themed issue. Of the three X-Men stories contained therein, only one is by Claremont; entitled simply “Phoenix,” it focuses on Jean’s sister Sara as she remembers an “untold tale” of Jean Grey, presumably set circa Uncanny #110. Allowing Claremont to indulge his penchant for writing loving female relationships (this one recalls the Misty/Jean material from Classic X-Men #13, which it predates), it also features some of Claremont’s ideas for Jean’s “secret origin” -- an idea shot down at one point by Byrne on the grounds that her “origin” began when she arrived at the mansion by taxi in X-Men #1.

Claremont, however, exercising his characteristic favoritism for the female members of his cast, decides here that although Jean was the last to join the original Lee/Kirby X-Men, she was actually Xavier’s first student. In a flashback-within-a-flashback (a curiously sloppy technique on Claremont’s part) we learn that Xavier became Jean’s tutor almost immediately after the Lucifer adventure that crippled him. She had been traumatized after accidentally creating a telepathic rapport with her best friend Annie Richardson in the moments of Annie’s death, and only Xavier – another telepath – could help her deal with the after effects. This is ret-con smooths over a flaw in the Silver Age continuity, wherein Jean became a telepath because Xavier gave part of his powers to her (a premise hard to buy given the parameters of how mutant powers are supposed to work in the Marvel Universe). In Claremont’s flashback here, Xavier is depicted as putting blocks on Jean’s telepathy before she joined the X-Men, and helping her to develop her latent telekinetic talent instead. The implication thus being that all he did back in the 1960s to make Jean telepathic was to remove that imposed seal.

The effect of this added back-story for Jean and Charles is twofold: As discussed above, it irons out a wrinkle in the Silver Age X-Men continuity, and more significantly, it retroactively adds another resonance to the penultimate chapter of the Dark Phoenix Saga, which showed Xavier binding Jean’s powers with “psychic circuit breakers” in order to save her. Here, that part of the story takes on a layer of irony: Xavier saved Jean from herself twice, and both times utilized the same methods.

The rest of the Bizarre Adventures story is a weirdly conceived battle between Phoenix and an undersea villain called Attuma. As an adventure story it’s not at all noteworthy, although the artwork by John Buscema and Klaus Janson – which is excellent – flags up an interesting problem that dogs Claremont’s every attempt to be a feminist writer. His female heroines, while strong and capable – especially when compared to how women were written in other Marvel Comics of the time – always seem to end up in tight and/or revealing outfits.

True, Claremont’s comic-book-level feminism was ultimately a positive step, particularly for the X-franchise (actresses involved in the X-Men films occasionally commented on their pleasant surprise at how many strong female roles the franchise contained). But stories like this one, which feature Jean and her sister in swimsuits or slave outfits for large stretches of time, make one wonder if maybe there wasn’t a fetish at work there as well.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Comics Out Aug 6, 2008

Final Crisis 3. People always ask my why I put together poetry and comics all the time and my stock answer is that both have an intense coterie readership. That readership is very knowledgeable and as a result very sensitive to allusion -- as in a Ashbery alluding to Milton, or Morrison alluding to the old JLA introduction of Libra. Allusion is certainly one of the factors that makes poetry, especially modern poetry, difficult; but the real hallmark of modern poetry is ellipsis. Take Wallace Stevens' The Emperor of Ice Cream:

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

There is this big gap between the first and second stanzas of this two stanza poem -- you have to bridge the gap and make the connection, and see that the exuberant hedonism of the first stanza is thrown into high relief by the reminder of death in the second.

This is Morrisons style in Final Crisis -- because the previous Crisis books are so jam packed full of stuff, they make up for space by alluding to past events and knowing you will know they story there. But Morrison has chosen to deal with the info-overload by just skipping over things: Martian Manhunter's capture and any kind of buildup to his death, Turpin's story after the Darksied club thing, the final image of this issue -- Morrison keeps skipping over stuff, and focusing on minor characters. It is an odd approach to be sure, but it is not without merit. It is almost like he expects you to imagine your own tie-ins, like his Crisis is built on imaginary tie-ins that would flesh some of this stuff out. In THEORY is brilliant. In PRACTICE the jury is still out. Maybe, as a style, it just needs some honing.

As for this issue: Superhero comics of course tell the same story over and over, and it is somewhat unfair to complain about repetitiveness. But our heroes arrive in the future to a world ruled by Darkseid was in Morrison's JLA: Rock of Ages, the focus on minor characters literally at times the Seven Soldiers, the superhero draft thing is feeling a little like Morrisons World War Three, the bullet fired across time -- wasn't that in JLA One Million?

(As a side note let me say I like the sidelining of the major characters for minor ones, even if I have seen it before: that is where a lot of the interest is, cause they can, you know, change, especially with Green Lantern, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman taken off the board for now. I love the Super Young Team -- i just think a better book would have been if Morrison had focused his talents on a Super Young Team tie in book while someone else did the fan boy dance in the main title).

Finally, Morrison, so famous for that crazy imagination, seems to be sputtering a bit. The mind control helmet is dull, as is Libra and his idiotic Bible of Crime rhetoric; did Luthor think he could just go in and threaten Libra cause he seems SHOCKED when a flame thrower is aimed at him -- if only someone could have anticipated that. The superhero draft lacks a any spark as an idea, as does the anti-life mass email; and I know the black racer is a really goofy Kirby character, but Morrison used him to wonderful effect in JLA: Rock of Ages and without shame; now the racer is made to look like some kind of upsetting 90s anti-hero.

And I cannot believe they put the final page reveal ON THE COVER. Where are the fanboys with their cries of SPOILERS now? I mean I had a guy threaten to do me bodily harm because I said the monster from Cloverfield had little crab things come off of him. Sheesh.

Click the label below for my reviews of the earlier Final Crisis issues.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Avatar: The Last Airbender Finale (spoilers)

Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of my favorite television shows. It is the proper inheritor of Buffy (Sokka IS Xander Harris, part of the gang who follow the one chosen to save the world as they also learn to grow up). It airs alongside of shows like Kappa Mikey, but is a proper "adult" form narrative. Characters experience persuasive change (Zuko for example), and the series (rather than the episode or season) is the biggest plot arc. It can be very intimidating to just join in watching on TV: Avatar: The Last Airbender, Book Three: Fire, Volume 4, Sozin's Comet, Part Two, The Old Masters. While I am no anime expert, it seems to my untrained eye to take the best of the genre and ditch all the excesses (such as the 43 Hiroshimas that seem to follow everyone around every time I watch anime). (HC Duvall: did I steal that point from you?) In one of my favorite details on the show the various styles of fighting are closely modeled on real fighting styles, which lends the thing some weight and historical relevance.

(As a side bar to talking about the finale I want to say that the episode before the finale was my favorite episode of Avatar period, alongside the Beach and the one where Ang cannot sleep. It featured the gang going to a play that told the story of their adventures, unauthorized, for the fire nation. The comedy revolved around our character's reacting to the on stage versions of themselves, and the drama came out when Ang saw that Zuko and Kitara shared a moment together. For the audience it served as a massive series recap that was tons more exciting than the X-Files finale series recap, and also served as a dark reminder of what is at stake in the finale -- at the end of the play the Firelord beats Ang and takes over the world. But the best part was that the show sent up itself completely, making fun of itself with, for example, the scene in which Jet is defeated:"Did Jet just die?" someone asks. "It was kind of unclear" says Sokka. One imagines Jet's unclear defeat at the end of season three was the result of not being able to clearly kill a character on a kid's show). 

The finale was overall excellent and satisfying, and I still consider Avatar to be one of my favorite shows: Azula's final descent into madness was stunning, for example, and I was riveted the whole time. But the finale was also severely limited. For one thing it reminded me of something I had forgotten: Avatar is a kid's show. This seems silly, but if you have seen the show you will be surprised how easily you forget this, it is so well written. No one can die, which felt like the wrong kind of end for this show; someone will surely call me a sadist, but the journey needs to COST something -- Tolkin taught us that. 

But most egregious was that the finale completely compromised the ending that had been set up. Ang, in meditation with a guru, had given up many things of this world to unblock his ability to reach the Avatar state, but balked at the idea that earthly love for Katara should be one of those things. His chakra was blocked, and remained so for a while because (it seemed) he would someday have to make a choice between saving the world and having Katara, who clearly should have been with Zuko, the water to his fire. Ang, you will notice at the end, is a Monk. Either his boy hood pet goes the way of all flesh in an amazing tear filled sacrifice, allowing him to grow up into sexual love, or he stands above the earthly round, serene. In the end Ang's chakra becomes unblocked -- because the Fire Lord hits the small of his back against a rock. So the spiritual and thematic conflict is resolved through an accidental physical blow. That is the laziest storytelling move I have seen since James Franco developed amnesia in Spiderman 3 for no reason other than the screenwriters had too much going on to include him in the movie's second act. 

In the end the Avatar ending is a lot like the Sport's Night ending. The show is cancelled, and everyone gets their happy reward early and a little out of nowhere. It is very sweet; it does not really work, but you feel like such a grump begrudging them good feelings.