Friday, October 31, 2008

When Movie Adaptations 'Choke'

By Scott

I recently saw the movie adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Choke and, while the novel is one of my favorite books and the book that got me into Palahniuk, the movie is completely unremarkable. Interestingly, this isn’t one of those cases of the movie being ‘nothing like the book.’ In fact, it is about 95% faithful to the plot of the book but, somehow, it manages to miss what, in my mind, is one of the main points of the novel.

In the film, we get the story of Victor, an unrepentant sex addict, who chokes in restaurants as part of a scheme to make money to pay for his ailing mother’s hospital bills. Throughout the course of the story, he must learn to connect with his mother to find out who his father is, come to terms with his addiction so he can be with a woman that he actually likes without it being ‘just about sex’. The movie gives us this and that is the basic plot of the book.

What the film lacks is the book’s emphasis on the fact that, throughout the story, Victor slowly loses or actively destroys everything he has ever believed about himself so that, in the end, he no longer has any pre-existing notions of who he is and is given a ‘blank slate’ so to speak. The idea of destroying yourself in order to start over is a key theme to much of Palahniuk’s work (this is how I tie the book into Fight Club which we watch as part of my class) and, that the movie fails to bring this point across, makes it a failure in my eyes. This is mostly due to the fact that they fudge the ending, the final scene of the book, which drives the point of Victor’s ‘clean slate’ home in the book, is cut from the movie. It’s not that the idea is not there at all, it just isn’t as clear as it is in the book.

So, can anyone think of other examples like this? Where works are faithful to their origins in plot structure but, somehow, miss out on key themes? I’ve always felt that Fight Club was an excellent adaptation of the book, but I can’t really be sure because I saw the movie first. When I was discussing this with a colleague today he said, “The movie told you how to read the book.” As Geoff pointed out when I proposed this idea to him, this is definitely worth discussing in anticipation of the Watchmen movie. Even if 100% of what we see in the movie comes from the comic, it’s pretty unlikely that the film will be able to communicate everything that the work encompasses.

Also, what are some good examples of adaptations that, while changes were made, managed to ‘get it right’ so to speak? My vote for best adaptation of a literary work is To Kill a Mockingbird; all of the changes that were made were for the sake of condensing the story into a two-hour film and were, mostly, extraneous sub-plots and the film got all of the books main ideas across.

[What made Frank Miller's 300 exciting was his experimenting with a new, looser style, which gave the whole thing a lot of energy. Snyder's 300 took Miller's work so seriously, tried to be so faithful, that he sucked all the energy out of it: Miller's artistic freedom is replaced by Snyder's worshipful, exact and claustrophobic recreation.

I think Soderbergh's Solaris was massive improvement on both the original novel and the earlier movie, for the same reason as you mention in the example of To Kill a Mockingbird -- a movie is not a novel and Soderbergh streamlines the whole thing. And most of the Phillip K Dick adaptations are improvements if only because Dick is a writer who has great ideas, but his writing is awful on the sentence level.]

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jason Powell on X-Men Annual #7

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

“Scavenger Hunt”

X-Men Annual #7 is notable for its opening, which marks only the second time that Claremont’s X-Men begin a story playing baseball. In spite of the few times the author has used this particular image, the idea – such a quintessential example of “heroes at play” – has come to be emblematic of Claremont’s approach to the characters. The rest of “Scavenger Hunt,” meanwhile, is anything but emblematic – it is, instead, a complete departure from just about anything that made Claremont’s X-Men good.

At this point it’s a given that the annuals have virtually no bearing on large-scale X-Men continuity. Here, Claremont exercises his freedom from the demands of the monthly serial, delivering a deliberately wacky story whose tone would be out of place in the ever-increasingly dark regular series.

The story is penciled by Michael Golden, whose previous collaborations with Claremont (Avengers Annual #10 and Marvel Fanfare #’s 1-2) led to some incredibly exciting superhero stories. Here, with Golden’s imagination hemmed in a bit by Claremont’s goofy plot and his expressive clarity destroyed by someone’s decision to change inkers every few pages, the visuals are an aesthetic mess, ranging in quality from exquisite (the apropos-of-nothing Dr. Strange page) to mildly attention-getting (the Steranko homage on Page 7) to painful (the “Marvel employees” bit).

Claremont meanwhile has hinged his whole comedy plot on the tired “madcap chase” premise, as typified by It’s a Mad, Mad ... World. The broad slapstick wears thin from the moment it starts, and the annual only ever comes to life when Claremont is able to digress from the ridiculousness back into his more familiarly melodramatic style – as in the Sebastian Shaw sequence, which is played relatively straight and teases enticingly at the next X-Men/Hellfire Club battle.

The overlong sequence in which Marvel Comics employees are trampled by the X-Men (one of them blaming Claremont for the situation, in an uncharacteristic meta-moment) is particularly egregious and self-indulgent. And the nonsensical ending is embarrassing not just for its attempt to sexualize the 14-year-old Kitty and Illyana, but in its dismal failure at doing so. (The Tom Selleck cameo, meanwhile, is an oblique payoff to a running gag from the New Mutants, wherein Sunspot periodically talks himself through tough situations by asking himself what Magnum, P.I. would do. The whole thing is laughably dated now, and probably was still laughable then.)

I do find one line in this issue amusing: Kitty’s comment “How can a single woman own so many costumes?” in regards to the Wasp is a deliberate irony, given that Claremont has been making a bit for three years of Kitty’s inability to pick a costume and stick with it. In truth, he stole this bit from the Wasp, who was doing the multiple-costume shtick years earlier. Kitty’s very next line of dialogue, “D’you think the Wasp’ll mind if I ‘borrow’ some?” is Claremont’s tacit acknowledgment of having stolen the gag. It’s pretty funny, but hardly enough to redeem a trying 39 pages.

Scott on Fall Music

[Scott asks a question about music and seasons.]

I recently put all my Fiona Apple music on my iPod for no other reason than I feel that her music is particularly appropriate to listen to in the fall. I also added some Simon & Garfunkel to my current playlist for the same reason. I'm wondering if anyone else does this? That is, has seasonal taste in music? I'm also wondering if what I consider 'Fall Music' is at all similar to what others might consider 'Fall Music.' For me, I guess, Apple's sultry vocals and her jazzy/bluesy piano style evoke a definite autumnal feel. It would also seem as though minor chords, with their inherent sadness, seem particularly appropriate this time of year. Are there certain sounds and tones that evoke specific seasons in the mind of the listener? If so is this a natural phenomena or is it more something produced over time by various composers/musicians using certain musical cues to evoke seasonal imagery? I also wonder if the fact that I first encountered Apple's music in the fall (I first heard "Shadowboxer" the fall of my freshman year) might have something to do with it. It also occurs to me that all of her other albums have been released in the fall as well.

Some other fall favorites of mine include:

"October"- U2 (for obvious reasons)
"November Rain" – Guns N' Roses (ditto)
U2's War album
"Macy's Day Parade"- Green Day
Kid A and In Rainbows- Radiohead
Achtung Baby- U2 (also a great winter album)
Hysteria –Def Leppard (with the exceptions of "Pour Some Sugar On Me" and "Armageddon It" which are, of course, 'Summer' songs)
X & Y- Coldplay (I also think that my initial feeling that Coldplay's latest, Viva La Vida, was a bit uneven may be due to the fact that it was a 'Fall Album' that was released in the summer. As I go back and listen to it now, it seems to work more for me this time of year).
"The Sound of Silence", "Scarborough Fair/Canticle", "The Boxer", "The Only Living Boy In New York"- Simon & Garfunkel.
Unplugged in New York- Nirvana (also my favorite Nirvana album)
A Kind of Blue- Miles Davis
Johnny Cash in general, particularly the Rick Rubin albums (because Fall needs a good baritone).
Empire- Queensryche
Disintegration- The Cure (possibly the best fall album ever)

So, does anyone see a pattern here? What are some of your 'Fall Favorites'?

Wednesday, October 29, 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 I forget, remind me. 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.

AND you can use this space to comment on posts that are old enough that no one is reading the comments threads anymore.

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 I see a big free form comment that deserves more attention, I will pull it and make it its own post, with a label on the post and on the sidebar that will always link to all the posts you write for this blog. I am always looking for reviews of games, tv, movies, music and books.

Jill Duffy, Girl Reporter, on Twin Peaks, Season 1, Episode 3

[Jill Duffy, girl reporter, continues her episode by episode look at Twin Peaks, which she is watching for the first time. For more in this series click the label at the bottom of this post.]

Episode 3 of season 1 of Twin Peaks was not my favorite. Too many new plots are introduced, one involving Norma Jennings, who is having an affair with Big Ed, and her husband, who is currently in prison but is trying to get paroled; and another about the Bookhouse and the Bookhouse Boys, the town’s secret society of cavaliers. There’s also some stuff pertaining to Bernard and Jacques, which seems to be in its early stages as well. Josie confides in Truman that she thinks Catherine and Horne are plotting against her, and that her husband’s (Andrew) accidental death might not have been so accidental after all. Oh yeah, and Madeline, Laura’s cousin who just happens to look just like her only with dark hair and glasses, arrives in town.

At the heart of episode 3, has two parts as well: Laura’s funeral and a visiting FBI agent named Albert.

Albert is a confrontational snob, pooh-poohing Twin Peaks for being so backward. At one point, while addressing Truman, he says, “You chowder head yokel, you blithering hay seed.” He’s just awful, but he gets his comeuppance: Truman clocks him, right in the morgue.

Laura’s funeral is comi-tragic. A priest giving a eulogy says Laura was impatient and wanted her life to catch up to her. Bobby erupts and calls everyone a hypocrite: “Everybody knew she was in trouble, but we didn’t do anything -- all you good people. You wanna know who killed Laura? You did! We all did.” Bobby and James, who was heretofore lurking in the periphery (earlier in the episode he declares he won’t be going to the funeral), suddenly run at each other and break into a brawl, and in slow motion, Bobby screams at James, “You are dead! You are a dead man! You’re dead!”

All this occurs quite literally around the dug grave into which Laura’s coffin is waiting to be lowered. Out of nowhere, Laura’s father Leland jumps on top of the casket, sobbing. The machine used to lower the casket into the ground goes haywire, rising and lowering over and over, with Leland on top, bobbing in and out of the frame, crying for his dead little girl.

Between the funeral and the morgue, there are two fights that take place literally over Laura’s dead body.

For me as a viewer, there is already a clear distinction between the characters and plot lines I care about and the ones that take a back seat. With so much going on and so many characters -- not to mention what’s newly introduced in each episode -- it’s hard to care about all of it. The scenes with Josie and Catherine I see as taking time away from learning more about those horrid animal bite marks on Laura’s body. I do want to know what exactly is up Audrey’s sleeve when convinces her father to let her work in the department store “at the cosmetic counter or something” (Laura and the Pulaski girl both worked at the perfume counter at Horne’s), but I really don’t care about whatever drug trafficking was going on between Jacque, Bernard, Bobby, Mike, and Leo. I do want the show to further explore the relationships between the high school-aged girls and their fathers, especially because One-Eyed Jack’s (the brothel over the border) employees these very same girls and the fathers are the patrons. But I don’t really want to know why Leo is such a jackass (he is Twin Peaks’ most one-dimensional character so far, and perhaps there is no “why” behind his brutality). I do want to know more about the “evil” in the woods, the “darkness,” and what’s happened in the last 20 years as the Bookhouse Boys have been fighting it, but I don’t really care that there is a secret society.

In the closing scene, Hawk (the police officer who is also a tracker) and Cooper are talking about souls. People are dancing in the background. Leland is there, looking distraught. He starts stammering and whining and begging people to dance with him. It’s totally pathetic and yet comi-tragic. I think this scene captures something I like about the show. Leland makes the viewer very uncomfortable. It’s painful to watch him in this scene, as it was when he leapt onto the casket at Laura’s funeral. But I am willing to suffer through it to see where it’s going. I’m also willing to keep my attention focused because of the supernatural philosophical conversation between Hawk and Cooper. I want to know where that’s going, too, and how their ideas contribute to my understanding of this place called Twin Peaks.

[Are there shades of Hamlet in the fight at Laura's grave?]

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Official LOST season 5 trailer

Do not watch this if you have not seen all of season 4:

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #176

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


With another major storyline complete, Claremont (teamed with new regular artist John Romita Jr., who debuted on Page 30 of the previous issue) follows up with a slack-paced interim story, putting a cap on some dangling threads and setting up new ones. The main plot is a lightweight adventure starring Cyclops and Madelyne as they co-pilot a plane toward their honeymoon destination. Fraught with a lot of contrived peril that could charitably be interpreted as a superhero-styled metaphor for post-marital stress – but more likely to be viewed as mere filler – it comes off as a little sloppy. It’s notable chiefly for Madelyne’s dialogue at one point that she “know[s] more than [her] share about death and resurrection – and nightmare ... and miracles,” one last clue that she really is, secretly, Jean/Phoenix returned.

There’s also an interesting juxtaposition between the main thread, featuring Scott and Maddie, and a single scene involving Wolverine and Mariko. The relationship is effectively ended here in a scene with a “negative” (i.e., tragic) value, Claremont deliberately sandwiching the bit in between pages of Scott and Madelyne, whose relationship is, by the end of the issue, positively charged. It’s a screenwriter’s trick delineated in Roger McKee’s “Story”: tempering the energy of a story’s ending by closing out a subplot on the opposite value.

We also get two prologues in Uncanny #176, entirely unrelated to each other in terms of plot, but significant in that they both point toward the future of Claremont’s X-Men. First, we meet Valerie Cooper (who will become a staple of the X-franchise), a member of the national security advisor’s staff with a notion to form a team of mutants loyal specifically to the U.S. government. Later, Claremont cuts to the Morlocks, whose leader, Callisto, has an unspecified plan involving Kitty Pryde.

On the surface, neither plotline cries out as particularly significant – it’s simply more Claremont soap opera, always keeping new plot threads open even as other ones close. But we’re actually seeing the first steps towards the aligning of the X-Men with their putative politics. As Neil Shyminsky’s essay “Mutant Readers, Reading Mutants” points out, the X-Men are meant to be outcasts, yet occupy a place of privilege. Shyminsky also quotes Julian Darius’ observation that the very premise of the X-Men – protecting humans from other mutants – is “explicitly counter revolutionary.” “They were not created to fight for civil rights; rather they were created to fight against those who did so.”

Claremont’s two prologue scenes in “Decisions” each flag up dubious moments from Claremont’s own run: the Valerie Cooper scene gives a detailed recap of Uncanny #150, which featured Magneto attempting to force the countries of the world to disarm – a somewhat noble goal, albeit tyrannical in execution. The X-Men stopped him, effectively allowing the governments of the world to keep on building bombs and weapons. The Morlock scene reminds us of a much more recent adventure, wherein the X-Men encountered a group of underprivileged, disenfranchised, self-loathing mutants and reacted to their plight with no compassion.

Thus, Claremont is deliberately flagging up problematic moments in the story of the X-Men – moments that Claremont himself is responsible for – in order to plant the first seeds of a new kind of X-Men. In the coming years, Claremont will upset the status quo in significant ways. Valerie Cooper will eventually recruit Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants -- ironically rechristened “Freedom Force” -- and THEY, not the X-Men, will be the “counter-revolutionary” force of the series.

Meanwhile, the Morlocks will transform into a much more sympathetic group – often acting in the story as allies of the X-Men rather than enemies. Eventually, the X-Men are forced to seek shelter in the Morlocks’ underground catacombs after a particular catastrophe, and soon after, the X-Men fight to defend/avenge the Morlocks during the ambitious “Mutant Massacre” storyline.

Granted, it will turn out to be a slow transition (the X-Men will still live in a mansion for the next three years plus) but as early as this we see Claremont laying the groundwork for a significant reorientation of the overall premise’s skewed politics.

Not coincidentally, we are also now entering an era of X-Men that was long out of print – and even now has been reprinted only sporadically or in low-budget packages like the Essential volumes – until Jim Lee took over as artist and the book reverted to its Silver Age trappings. Claremont’s complication of the X-Men’s world from 1984-1989, though high-selling when it originally saw print as a monthly serial, turned out to be commercially unfriendly in the long-term.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Jill Duffy on Twin Peaks, Season 1, Episode 2

[Jill Duffy, girl reporter, continues her episode by episode look at Twin Peaks. For more in this series click the label below or Jill's name on the sidebar.]

Ah, the famous dancing midget scene…

Who but David Lynch would dare to put on national television this most unusual thing? It was not only broadcast on national television, but also appeared after just only a pilot and one full episode of a brand new show.

Everyone has at least heard of this scene or saw The Simpsons’ parody of it on (season 7 “Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part Two”).

Simpsons Does Twin Peaks - For more funny movies, click here

Briefly put, the dancing midget scene is a dream sequence of Agent Cooper’s that occurs nearly at the end of episode 2, season 1, of Twin Peaks. There are three people in this scene (though the dream sequence has an earlier part with two men named Mike and Bob): Agent Cooper, who looks wrinkled, an adult midget who (referred to outside of the show as the Man from Another Place), and a woman who looks just like Laura Palmer, whom the midget refers to as his cousin. The three of them are in a “room” though instead of walls there are red drapes. There is a statue of a woman, three arm chairs, two halogen lamps, and a dizzying zig-zag patterned floor. The midget, dressed in a red suit, and the woman don’t move smoothly or speak properly in a way that is disturbing and Uncanny Valley-like (the actors learned their lines backward phonetically and performed their actions backward, and then the film is played backward, so that the dialogue plays forward).

When the red room shot opens, the midget has his back to the camera and is gyrating violently. Eventually, he joins Cooper in the seating area. They speak to each other first. Everything the Man says is enigmatic. Then the woman and Cooper speak. She whispers directly in his ear, so we don’t hear much of their conversation.

Everything that’s said seems to be a riddle, a clue, or a symbol, for example: “Where we’re from, the birds sing a pretty song” and “That chewing gum you like is going to come back in style.” The scene ends with the midget dancing some jive. And when the credits roll, there he is, tearing up the zig-zag carpet some more.

When Cooper awakens from the dream (which he does before the end of the episode), he immediately phones Truman to tell him he knows who killed Laura Palmer but that telling him who can wait until morning.

Earlier in the same episode, Cooper tells the sheriff, Lucy, and Deputy Andy that he has a new “deductive technique” (which works with the “deepest level of intuition”) that he wants to use to help them solve the case of who killed Laura Palmer, and which he says he learned from a dream. He then proceeds to pitch rocks at a glass jug while reciting the names of persons of interest, waiting for the name that causes the rock to strike the jug and break it. This crackpot investigation tactic, oddly enough, seems to work.

So when Truman and Cooper finally do get together the next morning (in episode 3) to discuss the dream, and Cooper says he can’t remember the name of the killer, but that the dream is a code and “break the code, solve the crime,” well, we just have to take his word for it.

I liked the scene in which Cooper throws the rocks at the milk jug three reasons. First, it’s funny. Second, it gives Cooper’s dreams and intuition a little credibility before Lynch and Frost throw the Man from Another Place at us. And third, it serves a function that many people may remember learning about in high school English while reading Shakespeare – review. When live theater was at its most popular, it was outdoors, and a rabble would gather in the pit to watch the show standing. People would often talk through the performances, or rather, at the performers. What would happen, from time to time, is the audience would miss some crucial plot point or line. So playwrights would pen in little moments of review, and a character (or two or three) would summarize or repeat something that just occurred. It helped the audience stay on top of what was happening. That’s exactly what happens in Twin Peaks when Agent Cooper, Lucy, Deputy Andy, and Sheriff Truman read through the list of names that have a ‘J’ in them and state each person’s relationship to Laura Palmer. There are so many characters to keep track of, so many little plot lines forming, that this review helped me stay abreast of them all.

List of J names:
• James Hurley, Laura’s secret boyfriend
• Josie Packard, was instructed in English by Laura
• Dr. Lawrence Jacoby, Laura’s psychiatrist (bottle was struck, but did not break)
• Johnny Horne, tutored by Laura
• Norma Jennings, helped Laura organize the Meals on Wheels program
• Shelly Johnson, waitress and friend
• “Jack with One Eye,” which turns out to be One-Eyed Jack’s, a bar (this gets erased)
• Leo Johnson, drives a truck, connection with Laura unknown (breaks bottle)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Jill Duffy on Twin Peaks, Season 1, Episode 1

[Jill Duffy, Girl Reporter, looks episode by episode at Twin Peaks, which she is watching for the first time. For more in this series, click the label at the bottom of this post, or see her name on the sidebar.]

The summer before seventh grade, a friend of mine gave me a Grateful Dead bootleg tape. The friend had a sister who was almost ten years older than we were. The sister was married to a hippie. She and her hippie husband wore a lot of tie-dye. This was 1991.

Before I listened to the tape, I remember thinking I should hide it from my mom. I had heard about the Grateful Dead and knew that they were affiliated with the whole 1960s hippie recklessness, which I thought meant they were way into drugs, which by 1990s standards meant they could be anything from serious acid-trippers to agitated meth addicts. Naturally, I assumed they were a combination of both, as evidenced in their dark and troublesome band name. Who would ever be grateful to be dead, I thought, except deeply disturbed people? It was not beyond my imagination that perhaps they were even associated with dark occult-like things.

Finally, I got my first taste of The Dead. I remembered being surprised that I already knew at least two of the songs on the tape, and that the rest of them were happy sing-songy little ditties. Before long, I was comfortable playing that music loud enough for my mom to hear. “Are you listening to the Grateful Dead?” she asked. “Yeah,” I chirped. “Do you like them, too?”

She rolled her eyes.

Watching Twin Peaks for the first time ever has been something of a similar experience. There has been so much obscure pop culture references and lore about the show over the last 17 years since it debuted, and having absorbed them without any real reflection, I had certain expectations about the show. However, I have no idea what hard information those expectations were based on. Twin Peaks has been something I’ve always just kind of heard about. I’m familiar with David Lynch’s works and style. I saw Eraserhead while I was still in my high school years. I’ve even seen Fire Walk With Me – at least twice. Blue Velvet I liked. And Mulholland Drive I liked even better.

But I don’t think I really knew what I was in for when I started Twin Peaks.

The pilot, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, was not what I expected. It sets up a murder mystery, and no matter whether you think calling it a murder mystery misses the “point” of the show, it is irrefutably the genre that Lynch imitates. We have a murder, a detective, an unknown town, characters who lead double lives, and a number of musical cues that fit with the genre as well.

I’m still dumbfounded as to how this show ever made it onto prime time broadcast television.

The show is also very funny. Who knew? Episode one opens with Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Maclachlan) in a hotel room, speaking into a voice recorder, hanging upside down from an inversion rig, shirtless and wearing only boxer shorts and cowboy boots with metal fittings to hang from the rig.

Later in the episode, a character named Pete gives coffee to Cooper and Sherif Harry Truman (the name alone warrants a little chuckle), only to rush in moments before they drink it and shout, “Don’t drink that coffee! You’ll never guess. There was a fiiiish … in the percolator.”

Cooper also has an unbridled enthusiasm and goofy grin to match, especially when encountering new people or things that he really takes a shine to, like a good cup of coffee. At times, he invokes an old timey, film noir detective cadence to his speech, which is hilariously out of place in the simple logging town of Twin Peaks circa 1990.

Of course, the simple town and its people are more than what they first appear to be, and uncovering exactly what is a huge element of the show. But the reveals are as much like a soap opera as a murder mystery, delivered nearly every scene. (There is a joke about soap operas in a later episode; I’ve watched only as far as to the end of episode 4.) Leo Johnson is a soap opera character. He is callous in general, but absolutely monstrous to his wife, Shelly. Just as he is about to beat her with a bar of soap flung into a sock for supposedly losing a piece of his laundry, he announces “This is gonna hurt you.”

None of this is the midget-dancing, phonetically-backward-recorded dialogue, evil-spirits-in-the-woods kind of stuff I had been expecting. That stuff is there, too, and less at first, but there’s a lot else going on to contribute to this bizarre show.

As in the pilot, we get a lot of information in episode 1. Lynch lays before us a bounty of clues, most of which are left to open-ended interpretation for the time being. Why does Laura’s body have bite marks on it? Who drugged Big Ed’s beer at the Roadhouse? What does Donna means when she says to her mother, “You know how troubled Laura was”? When the video tape of Laura and Donna is played, and it lingers into slow motion, letting us, the viewer, have contact with Laura, whose voiceover do we hear saying, “Help me,” and what should we – or someone else – help her from?

The episode ends with Dr. Jacoby (he’s a complete weirdo), Laura’s psychiatrist, listening to audio tapes Laura made for him, presumably a part of his treatment (and again, giving us exposure to Laura nearly first-hand), and him opening a coconut and removing from it the half a heart necklace that we saw from the pilot.

Comics Out October 22, 2008 (Final Crisis 4)

Final Crisis Submit. This bored me to no end. There were some New X-Men stories that struck me as shockingly bog-standard superhero fare, and this is going to join that group. It is what Victorian art critic John Ruskin would call "furniture pictures" -- not good enough to deserve praise, but not bad enough to deserve complaint. This criminal guy doesn't like superheroes, which you can tell because he says it over and over. He meets Black Lightning and he and his family bicker. Then the drive a bus away from monsters. The criminal guy -- he has the same powers as the bad guy from the Elektra movie. Then, ironically, he gets a superhero's powers and responsibility. The last page makes it clear that we are supposed to be devastated by the fact that the hero has become one of the bad guys, but I did not know this guy before, and was not in the course of this issue made to care about him. The whole cast of this issue is black -- is that significant in some way? This cannot be the first all-black superhero comic book (Milestone comics was a whole line like this), but I got the feeling that it was important for some reason. It seemed notable, but did not really add anything significant to the comic as far as I could see.

Final Crisis 4. As you all know, nothing bothers me more than fill in artists. I have no patience for them, unless they are isolated, as in Fraction's Iron Fist, to some kind of flash-back or something. I meet a lot of people who just do not care about things like aesthetic unity, or enjoy the artistic chaos -- a mode Morrison played with in the second to last issue of the Invisibles, and which I thought was a total storytelling failure, especially compared to the picture perfect Quitely Invisibles finale. Final Crisis 4 brings in a fill in artist and worse -- the final issue will be drawn entirely by a fill in for the fill in. While I will see this through to the end, it now has no hope for me of cracking into the top tier of Morrison stuff (We3, All Star Superman, etc.). At this point it seems like a throwaway idea for an issue of his 1996 JLA run. At the end of issue 3, it seemed like the whole world was taken over by the anti-life equation, but here it turns out there are a surprising number of survivors -- I guess since they all have stuff to do in their own books and the Final Crisis spin offs you can hardly make them all into evil Justifiers, though that would at least have had the virtue of thinking the thought all the way out to the end. The Ray is delivering underground Daily Planet papers like Black Lightning was, and this is boring -- I think maybe Morrison likes the bit of Americana here, but it is not working for me. The Dark Gods as animal hybrids is also just not as visually interesting as the Kirby Cosmic Insanity, although they do have there really creepy moments -- the final page is a thing of beauty, especially that weird mise-en-scene. Barbara says "They've wounded our people, our minds, or planet in ways we can barely imagine" and in ways I think Morrison and his guys are incapable of showing, because I have not seen enough to believe her. I will also say that I hate the anti-life equation thing: it seems like looking for a moment will turn you into a zombie, but then Barbara saw it "for a moment" and was able to shake it off -- why everyone can't do this I do not know, and I really do not see how all these Superheroes are fine -- did they just never check their email? And the language if it is boring: Work; Consume; Die; Judge Others; Condemn the Different; Exploit the Weak; Anti-Life Makes it One; All is One; Darkseid = Self; Justifiers. BORING: I get it, they are like mean people we all know. I know the spread of superhero faces is supposed be grim, but a lot of them seem to be fine, according to the screen, a fact confirmed by the pages that follow. The Black Canary Green Arrow scene was boring, but I Oliver vs the Justifiers was fun, because of how much the typify everything he hates. What was going on with Mr. Miracle I do not know. This is the first time I have seen him since he died pretty much the exact same way at the hand of the exact same guy at end of Seven Soldiers -- is this some kind of weird commentary on the double contradictory deaths of Orion in Final Crisis 1 and Death of the New Gods? I do not know. But the final page was great. I wish the whole issue was a great as that final page.

If the world was just, Morrison would make tons of money off of prestige products like All Star Superman and would not have to spread himself thing on a host of weaker books like Final Crisis Submit, and Superman Beyond 3D.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #175

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

Uncanny X-Men, The #175

In Uncanny X-Men #137, Claremont made canny use of continuity and allusion to give the impression of the story being the culmination of the entire X-Men saga – the final chapter of a single story stretching back to X-Men #1. There is a similar attempt at a capstone feeling in issue 175, which opens with a reminder that it has been 20 years since the publication of X-Men #1 and a glib observation that “a lot has changed since then.” This is a classic trick for writers of these long-running superhero comics, to create a sense of epic scope by alluding to the origins of characters. Claremont pulls the trick in several of his big finale issues: besides #137 and the present story, he attempts this “full circle” effect as well in issues 200 and 242, and in X-Factor# 68 and X-Men (1991 version) #1. Such entries in the canon can be looked on as touchstone issues, or as pillars supporting the overall tapestry of Claremont’s unwieldy canon. These occasional instances of historical perspective are crucial, in a way, to digesting such an ungainly mass of interconnected comic books.

Uncanny #175 is a worthy climax to the “From the Ashes” arc, and noteworthy most especially for its tour-de-force portrayal of Cyclops. Scott is a true dynamo here, a brilliant tactician always one step (if not more) ahead of everyone else, and fearlessly taking on impossible odds in order to win. Much is often made of Chris Claremont’s gratuitous use of thought balloons and interior monologue, but that writing quirk is a huge plus here: When Cyclops’ internal monologue never stops as he executes an elaborate plan to temporarily put the other X-Men out of action, the effect is to make Scott’s mind seem like some insanely brilliant tactical computer, constantly juggling variables and making adjustments as the situation warrants. He’s so unflappable that even when Colossus breaks snaps his ribs, Scott just registers that as “a problem [he] didn’t anticipate.”

This issue represents the apex of Scott Summers as action hero. It’s perhaps appropriate then that he marries at the end and, in the following issue, pretty much retires. He won’t return to the X-franchise (except as an occasional guest) until around the creation of the X-Factor comic, an editorially mandated event that inadvertently completely emasculates him. Ultimately it will require the work of Joss Whedon, an author who unabashedly loved the Paul Smith run – of which Uncanny #175 is the climax – to return Cyclops to the level of pure greatness we see him at here. (Given the nostalgia-drenched tone of Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men project, begun in 2004, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see it open with a caption reading “Twenty years ago, more or less, Chris Claremont and Paul Smith wrote Cyclops as the coolest superhero ever. ... A lot has changed since then.”)

A shrewd plotter, Claremont also smartly weaves in other ongoing arcs into this climactic issue: His use of the recently-added cast-member Rogue is quite clever, as is the fact that Storm’s newfound affinity for “violent weather” becomes a key to the team’s victory.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jill Duffy on Twin Peaks’ Log Lady Intros

[Jill Duffy , Girl Reporter, looks at some extras on the Twin Peaks DVD that I did not even know about. Ignore the first few seconds of the youtube clip below.]

On the DVDs of Twin Peaks, the viewer has the option of watching the so-called Log Lady Intros. The Log Lady Intros are short, cryptic messages from the Log Lady, a Twin Peaks crazy townie named Margaret Lanterman who cradles a stump of wood at all times. Whether she is really a crazy townie or in fact a misunderstood clairvoyant, or perhaps a mystic who went mad after seeing and knowing too much, is not really known.

The Log Lady intros did not air on the original series, but David Lynch created them and ran them when the show went into syndication on Bravo, according to Wikipedia. The Lanterman character does appear in the show, but her real appeal to me is in these intros.

The intros contain clear and focused camera work, though they look very low budget, with the Log Lady perfectly centered in the frame. She is seated in what we might presume to be her own living room.

In the intros, the Log Lady speaks directly to us viewers and tells us something theoretical and at times otherworldly. Before episode no. 1, she talks about “reasons” – (which I thought could be interpreted ostensibly as “motives”). In episode no. 2, she talks about “ideas,” saying everything we know in this world is someone’s “idea” and that “some ideas can arrive in the form of a dream,” which she repeats for emphasis: “I can say it again: some ideas arrive in the form of a dream.” But no matter the content, the Log Lady is speaking to us. She could be, it seems, filming herself, having set up a simple home video camera in her living room. (I know on the embedded video there is a slow but subtle zoom, but this is not the case on the DVD version.) She is making vignettes of herself for someone -- us. It’s a breaking of the fourth wall, but it feels creepy rather than awakening.

Unlike the rest of the show’s story, which we watch unfold before us or visit in flashbacks, we have no idea when the Log Lady Intros are supposedly being taped within the universe of Twin Peaks. Does the Log Lady make a new tape every day, just as the episodes of Twin Peaks are more or less the events of one consecutive day after the other? Were all the intros filmed after the events of the show? And how does the Log Lady know that we are watching? Why does she have this privilege of speaking to us, of knowing that we are watching, when the rest of Twin Peaks does not? She is a part of the town and a part of the show, and yet somehow, she also has a relationship to the viewer.

It’s these complex series of relationships she has with different worlds – the world within Twin Peaks, the world “beyond the Fire,” and the real world of the television show viewer -- that makes her prescient nature all the more frightening. It makes sense that she knows about the town, and it is creepy that she knows about whatever is beyond the fire, but how in the hell does she know about me? The Log Lady intros blur the line between Twin Peaks and reality, allowing more of that David Lynch creepiness to penetrate beyond the TV screen.

“To introduce this story, let me just say it encompasses the All – it is beyond the Fire, though few would know that meaning. It is a story of many, but begins with one, and I knew her. The one leading to the many is Laura Palmer. Laura is the one.” -- Excerpt from Log Lady Intro before the Pilot

(Note: Although there is some discrepancy about how to number the episodes, I call the pilot simply “the pilot’ and the first one-hour episode no. 1.)

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 I forget, remind me. 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.

AND you can use this space to comment on posts that are old enough that no one is reading the comments threads anymore.

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 I see a big free form comment that deserves more attention, I will pull it and make it its own post, with a label on the post and on the sidebar that will always link to all the posts you write for this blog. I am always looking for reviews of games, tv, movies, music and books.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Next Ten Days: twitter beats blog

With the wedding ten days away, I expect my substantial contributions to be as the have been the past few days: light to non-existent. Due to Free Form Comments and diligent guest bloggers -- including Jill Duffy Girl Reporter who WILL be doing more than one post on Twin Peaks, as requested -- we should still be updated around here on all the weekdays at least. 

If you are looking to keep track of me I seem to be becoming deeply addicted to Twitter, which, of course, you can see from the top part of the toolbar on this page. Blogging is amazing because it gives a place to a lot of remarkable things that would be unworthy of a print publication; twitter is amazing because it gives a place to a lot of remarkable things that would be unworthy of a blog post. Micro-blogging, I think is the term. When I blog I feel like I am writing an email about the latest comic book or whatever. When I twitter I feel like I am just talking as I would to someone I bumped into on the street. I can do it from my cell phone, which I love, and which is very handy now. 

Flickr is on my November Things to Do list. 

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #174

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


As per the title, this is an issue focused entirely on the romantic relationships among the X-Men cast: Cyclops/Madelyne, Wolverine/Mariko, Kitty/Colossus, Nightcrawler/Amanda, and Charles/Lilandra. Partly marking time so that the climax to the “From the Ashes” storyline can occur in issue 175, “Romances” bounces along amiably – Claremont’s inherently sentimental style working in tandem with Smith’s always-attractive images.

The heart of Uncanny #174 is surely the Kitty/Peter material. The sequence portraying Kitty in Peter’s arms, him gradually ascending from one floor of the mansion to another via Kitty’s phasing power, is the super-powered metaphor for the rising sexual stakes in their relationship. In the panels building to Peter and Kitty’s kiss, Claremont cannily leaves much unspoken, and is very shrewd in allowing the scene to be interrupted by the entrance of Storm. (Ororo was long ago established as a mother-figure to Kitty, so who better to put the kibosh on the latter’s sexual explorations?) Serialized storytelling requires a kind of ongoing coitus-interruptus (narratively speaking). Claremont knows this, and under his pen X-Men became one instance after another of dramatic incompleteness – readers left perpetually in a state of wanting more. It’s how Claremont kept people coming back month after month for a decade-plus, and simultaneously why so many fans found the series endlessly frustrating (with a capital “endlessly”). In his introduction to the “X-Men: Asgardian Wars” trade paperback, Claremont himself makes reference to his reputation for leaving plot threads dangling ad infinitum. He knew what he was doing, in more ways than one.

So, Kitty and Peter get a little closer to consummating their love than they did in Uncanny #165, but once again are interrupted. Over the course of the next nine months, Claremont will further frustrate the relationship (and readers), to exquisitely wrenching effect. The effect upon Joss Whedon (who professes to have been a great fan of the Paul Smith era of Uncanny X-Men) will be so profound that he’ll make a point of resolving the sexual tension during his Astonishing project 20 years later. As is the author’s wont, he’ll take the whole thing to unsubtly juvenile extremes, making a fetish out of Kitty and Colossus fucking. (The bit with Kitty coming so hard that she phases and descends to the ground floor of the mansion is Whedon’s crude answer/sequel to Kitty and Peter’s ascension in “Romances.”)

Claremont is finding clever ways to build on his own continuity in “Romances” as well. During the airplane scene, when Scott is handed a picture of Jean (who is posing sexily in a swimsuit in Greece) by a kindly seeming priest, this is an ingenious allusion to a pair of back-to-back panels in the Byrne-illustrated issue 125 (Page 8, panels four and five, to be precise). In plot terms, it’s the clearest signal yet for long-time readers that the mastermind behind the machinations of the last few issues is, appropriately enough, Mastermind. Thematically, it is Claremont’s deftest use yet of continuity. Rather than re-channeling the big moments and characters from great stories of the past – the classic “riffs” – instead he is playing just a few resonant notes: Jean’s vacation in Greece – when the picture was taken (by Jason Wyngarde, during an era expanded upon in Classic X-Men #24b) – occurred when Scott mistakenly believed Jean to be dead, and under that false assumption began a romance with Colleen Wing. What a brilliant little move on Wyngarde’s part (and Claremont’s), then, to remind Cyclops of that time in his life, now that Scott is once again pursuing a relationship with someone new in the wake of Jean’s apparent death.

As Mitch Montgomery points out in his X-traordinary People essay, “From the Ashes” is a sequel to the Dark Phoenix Saga, but not the typical superhero-comicbook sequel. Here, we are watching Cyclops as he deals with his survivor’s guilt in the wake of Jean’s death – that seminal moment in the Phoenix epic wherein Cyclops and Jean go forward together to face their fate, but she commits suicide and he survives. “From the Ashes,” while retaining the surface traits of a traditional comic-book reiteration (i.e., the villain returns for revenge) has greater psychological weight than anything seen before in Uncanny X-Men. The shiny genre trappings on the surface disguise a more universal story, depicting a man at last coming to terms with the death of a loved one. Claremont’s more subtle use of allusion to his own continuity – reprising the innocuous appearance of a kindly old priest on a plane rather than something flashier and more overtly menacing – works as a neat little indicator of how his focus as a writer has shifted. Indeed, “Romances” as a whole, which eschews super-villain battles in favor of pages upon pages of lovers in conversation, does much the same.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Scott on the Office Season 5

[Scott talks about the Office season 5. I would love to get involved in this discussion, but I have not been keeping up with the Office this season -- I figure I will get to it later after there are a good number of them waiting on Hulu. I haven't even seen the newest episode of Pushing Daisies -- that is how busy Sara and I have been. With the wedding the next ten days are likely to be wonk-y for me.]

Some thoughts on tonight's episode of the Office that tie-in to our other Office discussions:

While I can't say that I've been impressed with the overall quality of The Office so far this season (it seems a bit uneven... I can't quite put my finger on it... too much going on... story going in too many directions?), the show continues to impress in its handling of the Jim and Pam relationship. This is mostly because, as Geoff has mentioned, the show continually reminds us of how other shows would have completely messed things up.

In the season premiere, we are given the typical 'hints' that lead to the downfall of a relationship in most (really, every) sit-com: a lack of being able to spend time together, a separation and the introduction of a possible 'other person' who, at the very least, will create jealousy. However, instead of the relationship weakening in this episode, in climaxes with Jim's proposal.

Tonight's episode continued the shows trend of playing against what we're expecting based on our 'training' a la every sit-com romance ever up until this point. Pam and Jim attempt to have phone conversations at a couple of points that fail for one reason or another: Jim can't follow Pam's story because he is unfamiliar with her art school acquaintances, Pam has trouble hearing Jim when he calls her to give her the scoop of Jan's latest visit to the office. At first, we're thinking that the show is trying to tell us that Pam and Jim are drifting apart. Interestingly, the show even plays around with one of its own conventions of Pam, in one of the show's 'confessional' segments, assure us that "this kind of thing is norma and we're just a little out of sync" and that they "would even have off days in Scranton." Now, we have seen on the show many times before that when a character is assuring the audience that they are, in fact, assuring themselves. This leads us to believe that maybe Pam is really troubled by this and that we should also be worried. But just as we're about to groan "Oh, no... not again" to ourselves the show rescues us from our own expectations by showing how 'out-of-sync' Pam and Jim are by having them call each other at the exact same moment only to get the others voicemail. It then shows us that they are, in fact, so 'in synch' that they proceed to have a two-way conversation without ever hearing a word the other is saying.

It was a brilliant moment... and, once again, I was kicking myself for ever doubting the writers could go wrong with this relationship.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Ruskin quote I was looking for in the first place.

The BFI book on Blue Velvet quotes an interviewer who mentions to Lynch in passing that Kafka said he is a great writer because he can dream while awake. When I read that it completely opened up the poem "Sleepers Awake" by John Ashbery -- which in turn gave me the idea for my doctoral thesis in which the discussion of Sleepers Awake took up chapter 6. Three years later it turned out that Kafka never said that, as far as I could discover. I had enough evidence in other areas that the basic point still stood, but this mistake gave me my whole trajectory at Oxford.

A few days ago I put up a post of quotations by Ruskin while working on my budget, but could not find the quote I was looking for in the first place. Today, I discovered that it looks like Ruskin never said one of the main quotations I was searching for:

"There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that man's lawful prey."

There is an Oscar Wilde point in here somewhere about the value of error, but I am sure you can all see it for yourself.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ultimate Matt on All Star Batman Sex

[A post from new Guest Blogger -- though regular commenter -- Ultimate Matt. I am going to preface this post with an epigraph from T.S. Eliot: "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." I think Matt's specific point about the thunder clap here goes a little to far, but I think it goes a little too far in the way that the claim Leo Quintum is Lex Luthor in All Star Superman went a little too far -- while I am unconvinced in both cases, the dramatic claim is drawing attention to something that is present and important in the actual narrative. Tell me what you think:]

Check out this page from The Goddamn Batman #7 (my apologies for the poor scan quality).

Batman and Black Canary, right after beating the crap out of some criminals, lay down on the docks for some lovin'. They keep their masks on, because it's better that way (by the way, surprisingly little is made of the fact that this is a clear reference to Watchmen, when Nite Owl and Silk Spectre do the same thing, and for the same reason).

Originally, I took the Lightning Bolt in the center panel as a simple, all purpose metaphor for sex. Than it occured to me - for several pages leading up to this, Canary is all over Batman's jock. Telling him how hot he is, fauning over him like a lovestruck damsel. IMMEDIATELY after the sex, she's treating him like a total chump.

That lightning bolt isn't just a metaphor for sex, it was the LENGTH of the sex. The Goddamn Batman was done in seconds. Look how proud he is of himself in that last panel, and look how let down & vaguely disgusted Canary is (don't tell me Jim Lee is incapable of subtlety). It's clear as day - The Goddamn Batman is overcompensating for his lack of prowess. It fits in nicely with Miller's mockery of the tough guy Batman that he himself helped create (remember Gordon's annoyance with Batman's self-conscious "grim and gritty" style in issue 10).

Note also that he immediately goes to bragging about his car, arguably the most stereotypical male overcompensation for penis size and lack of sexual prowess. Then note how pissy he gets when she mocks his "car" and calls it queer.

This is such a great comic.

[This is such a great comic. I do not think Leo Quintum is Lex Luthor, but I do think the similarities are supposed to make up set them next to each other, and see what kind of person Lex Luthor could have become. As Jog said (I think), in a book where Superman fights versions of himself, it makes sense to give Lex and double as well. In All Star Batman, I think equating the lightning bolt with the length of sex is maybe too specific (cannons, rockets and champagne bottles are common things to cut to when you need to cut away from a sex scene for obvious reasons and they do not generally in those cases mean speed). But Matt is right to point out what I missed, that Black Canary is not exactly swooning after the encounter, she does make fun of his car, which is a stereotypical symbol of male prowess (and MIller loves that stuff) and he does overcompensate. And, in pushing his style to extremes Miller DOES seem to be sending up the tough guy thing in the series as a whole, even if maybe in his own mind he still has a kind of frightening awe for the tough guy thing.

Matt smartly notices Watchmen floating around the edges of this scene, something else I missed; something I noticed when looking closer: Miller does not exactly own the lightning bolt as an image, but it is so iconic in Dark Knight Returns it feels like he may be invoking both here. Why, I am not sure. I could say it means those books totally fucked the comics industry -- but now I think I am going too far.]

Comics Out October 16, 2008

I did not get anything this week, or see any comics news that grabbed my attention, but did anyone pick up the IDW reprints of Grant Morrison's 1990s Doctor Who stuff? Is it any good? 

Also, I feel like it has been a long time since Final Crisis 3 and Superman Beyond 3D. Is any of the other Final Crisis stuff worth getting? 

Review, recommend, and discuss this week's comics and comics news. 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #173

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

Uncanny X-Men, The #173

“To Have and Have Not”

Whereas the previous issue’s power was in its perfectly executed clockwork plot mechanics, the joy of “To Have and Have Not” comes in watching the character dynamics unfold. Claremont has particular fun with Wolverine’s cold attitude toward Rogue. When she unknowingly sets off a trap that might kill her, Logan narrates (even as he saves her), “I’m tempted to let her take the shot ... to find out what her limits really are ... but I may need her later on.” Later, when Rogue plays at kissing Logan, which would let her absorb his power, he threatens to put his claws through her throat. She notes that she didn’t mean any harm, and his reply -- off-handedly tossed back even as he walks away -- is a terse: “That’s why you’re still breathing.” Wolverine is hard-edged throughout the story, providing proof that the layering of “Shogun”-inspired traits into his personality have not ruined Wolverine’s tough-guy core.

At the same time, the above scenes are setting the reader up for a precisely conceived narrative reversal at the climax: Rogue takes a shot intended for Mariko and is mortally wounded – Wolverine has thus learned “what [Rogue’s] limits really are” after all. Now, however, honor-bound to save her after she saved Mariko, Wolverine deliberately lets Rogue absorb his healing factor: the very thing he had threatened to kill her for. The level of reflexivity here becomes more astounding the closer it’s examined: In the opening scene of the previous issue, Wolverine’s first line of dialogue regarding Rogue was the brutal assertion that he’d like to “cut out her heart.” The cruelty of the sentiment prompted Mariko to offer a courteous welcome. That moment informs the climax of the present issue, as Rogue explicitly states that she’s willing to sacrifice herself to save Mariko -- specifically because of that initial kindness -- and Rogue’s selflessness in turn leads to the reversal in Wolverine’s attitude. The arc is a textbook example of shrewd storytelling: neat, clean and perfectly logical in conception, yet quite surprising as it actually plays out.

And in between the set-up and the execution, Claremont and Smith even make room for a dynamic four-page homage to the climax of the Frank Miller Wolverine miniseries: this time, Logan’s opponent is Mariko’s brother (in the Miller mini, it was her father), and the duplicated layout – multiple pages of four stacked horizontal tiers – creates another layer of symmetry in an issue already dense with it.

Claremont’s use of Yukio in “To Have and Have Not” is rather canny. She is a particularly contrived character, used in the Wolverine miniseries as a plot device that tempts Wolverine toward the more animalistic, less noble aspect of his character. Since Wolverine triumphs over that darker self at the end of the mini, the appearance of Yukio in issues 172 and 173 would seem redundant, so Claremont plays with expectation and instead makes her a foil to Storm. Where once Yukio tempted Logan toward a dark side of his nature, she now tempts Ororo. Logan ultimately refused what Yukio had to offer, but Storm “welcome[s] it!” That choice gives us one more instance of symmetry to bring the two-parter full circle: We opened with an image of Wolverine – the X-Men’s most psychologically unstable member – in a kimono, looking uncharacteristically civilized (as Nightcrawler explicitly notes on Page 2). We end with the shocking sight of Storm – traditionally the team’s most serenely balanced character – gone totally punk, sporting a Mohawk and dog collar. (Peter David, who was following Uncanny month to month at the time, cites the first appearance of “punk Storm” as a hugely surprising moment in the comic’s history, and characteristic of Claremont’s dynamic, “anything-can-happen” style.)

This and the previous issue make for one of Claremont’s best small-scale stories in the entire Uncanny X-Men canon, memorable enough that Bryan Singer even cannibalized it – specifically lifting the “Wolverine lets Rogue take his powers” dramatic beat – for the first X-Men film, made over 15 years later.

Wednesday, October 15, 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 I forget, remind me. 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.

AND you can use this space to comment on posts that are old enough that no one is reading the comments threads anymore.

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 I see a big free form comment that deserves more attention, I will pull it and make it its own post, with a label on the post and on the sidebar that will always link to all the posts you write for this blog. I am always looking for reviews of games, tv, movies, music and books.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #172

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

Uncanny X-Men, The #172

“Scarlet in Glory”

Published May through August of 1982, Claremont and Miller’s “Shogun”-inspired Wolverine miniseries ended with Logan announcing his engagement to Mariko Yashida. Eight months later, the continuity of the Uncanny series catches up, as we witness the X-Men arriving in Japan for the wedding.

Meanwhile, the Silver Samurai (Mariko’s half-brother) and Viper are on the scene, having sworn (in the contemporaneous New Mutants #6) to kill Wolverine before he can marry the heir to the Yashida empire. There’s a strong energy to comics like these if one has been following all the different threads in other titles (Viper and the Samurai had previously appeared in Claremont-penned issues of Marvel Team-Up and Spider-Woman); a pleasant cognitive crackle at witnessing the different threads suddenly come together. It’s something that can’t quite be duplicated by anyone without access to a large shared universe like Marvel Comics, and Claremont particularly enjoys bringing together these type of cross-pollinated moments. These days, he seems more inclined to try and create such effects without first laying the groundwork – one of the reasons why his latter-day X-Men work fails to satisfy. But in 1983, Claremont was a master.

So, “Scarlet in Glory” brims with cross-connections, right from the start: Logan catches up on what has been happening in X-Men in continuity (his enemy, Rogue, is now a team member; Kitty has a pet dragon, etc.). Meanwhile Yukio, from the Wolverine miniseries, fights the Silver Samurai, etc. Also in the mix is the slow-burning “Phoenix resurrection” bit. There is a lot going on in this issue, but – buoyed by penciller Paul Smith’s ingenuity -- Claremont handles the disparate components gracefully, weaving them into a clockwork plot that still stands as one of the most elegant and precise that the series has ever seen. So meticulously thought-out is the story that Claremont and Smith are able to execute no less than five surprises/reveals over the course of Pages 12-18, each one perfectly set-up and brilliantly executed.

Smith, meanwhile, once again employs a powerful sense of design characterized by hard right angles, this time also incorporating appropriately Eastern-flavored design elements. The cumulative effect is exotically futuristic: the superhero-comic-book equivalent of Ridley Scott’s retro-future aesthetic in “Blade Runner” (barely a year old when Uncanny #172 hit the stands). Some of Smith’s effects cry blatantly for attention, as with the symmetrical relationship between Pages 2 and 3. Others subtly tell their own story – note the final panel of Page 8, with the X-Men seated at a couch, except for Rogue, who sits at a bar. Smith’s choice of perspective masks the significance of the seating arrangement: the characters all seem to be gathered together. When Smith shifts the angle of the scene two pages later – revealing the degree of Rogue’s isolation with geometric exactness -- the effect is dazzling. The narration, wisely, never comments upon this aspect of the scene, letting Smith make the point through images alone.

Claremont, meanwhile, writes a lovely scene between Wolverine and Storm, carefully mixing plot tension (the poisoned tea) with a powerful character beat (Logan and Ororo each gently acknowledge the changes the other has gone through during their months apart). When the tension finally explodes, it’s with the force of a bullet.

From there, the domino-chain of strong dramatic reveals propels the story to a final page crammed with harshly horizontal panels dropping breathlessly to an exhilarating cliffhanger -- the final thrill in an issue densely packed with them. This is one of Claremont’s all-time best.

Ruskin Quotes (Commonplace Book)

Working on a budget, I remembered some good John Ruskin quotes

“The bitterness of poor quality lingers long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”

“There is hardly anything in the world that some man can't make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man's lawful prey.”

Then I came across some other good ones, having nothing to do with money:

“In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: They must be fit for it; They must not do too much of it; And they must have a sense of success in it.”

“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion — all in one.”

“They are good furniture pictures, unworthy of praise, and undeserving of blame.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

Scott on "...And Justice for All" and the Spookiness of Metal

[I almost did not post this because of a bias I have against all things Metal. I am not even sure I really get Metalocalyse. And I worry that as a person who avoids Metal I really do not know what I am doing with this post. But Scott has a knack for posts that get people talking so here you go. I still don't like Metal. Give me Country and Rap and Literate Alternative Rock any day.

That said, John Darnielle of my favorite band the Mountain Goats LOVES Metal so maybe I need to go though his suggestions and try it. He wrote a whole book on Black Sabbath's Masters of Reality so maybe I should pick up the book and the album and spend a weekend getting in touch with the music that distressingly takes up so much space on the guitar hero.]

For me, Heavy Metal should be spooky; in fact, when Black Sabbath, widely considered to be the first true heavy metal band, took their name from an old Boris Karloff flick, dropped the tuning on their guitars and peppered their lyrics with demons and witches it was their goal to create a sort of ‘spooky music.’ This sensibility has permeated the genre ever since. At times, this ‘spookiness’ has been merely superficial or theatrical. Sure, Alice Cooper looked scary and decapitated himself nightly onstage but the music itself wasn’t all that scary but I feel it’s always more effective when there’s something slightly off about the music itself. Which brings me to Metallica’s …And Justice For All.

When I first immersed myself in Metallica’s music, I just couldn’t get into this album. However, with the release of Metallica’s recent Death Magnetic (hailed as a return to their thrash metal roots) and the urging of a couple of friends I decided to re-evaluate the album. I came to an interesting conclusion: the album’s odd production, initially a turn off, is the key to why I like it so much now.

…And Justice For All is famously flawed in its production. The most noticeable anomaly is the fact that Jason Newsted’s bass guitar parts are almost inaudible. When listening to the album on my walkman, the bass on the album’s opener “Blackened” is present only in the form of rather annoying ‘vibrations’ in my speakers. Several explanations have been given for this over the years, the strangest of which is that the burying of his bass parts was part of Metallica’s hazing ritual inducting Newsted into the band (Newsted replaced original bassist Cliff Burton after the latter died in a tragic tour bus accident in 1986; part of the ‘hazing’ may have also been done in reverence to Burton’s recent passing). Another, more logical, explanation might simply be that, in their previous albums, Cliff Burton’s unique style of bass playing resulted in his parts being treated like a ‘third guitar’ and the band wasn’t quite sure what to do with Newsted’s more traditional style of bass playing.

Yet, that lack of bass guitar isn’t the only anomaly; there are almost no bass sounds on the album, period. The drums click, the guitars whisper. In addition to this, the songs are incredibly complex; most songs have multiple sections and several time changes and, while there are choruses and hooks, they are hardly of the fist pumping, sing-a-long variety. Combine this with the fact that the average length of the songs is about 7 minutes (with two tracks nearing the 10 minute mark) and one finds it hard to believe that this album was the band’s first crack at commercial success.

Upon revisiting the album, I discovered that the album’s odd production may, in fact, be a misunderstood blessing. Yes, the bass guitar is lacking but this actually gives an odd crispness to the other guitars. The emphasis is clearly on the interplay between Hetfield and Hammet’s guitars and this ‘treble heavy’ production only serves to accentuate the fluidity of Hammet’s lead playing. The drums are also robbed of their deeper sounds in this production and, while this may initially seem to reduce their power, it, in fact, serves to emphasize their speed and precision (something that can also be said of the guitars and speed is a very important criteria in terms of the thrash metal genre).

Most interestingly, in a genre known for its loudness, Metallica actually made a very quiet album. It has a strange, distant feel, almost as if you’re listening to it coming from another room. I would almost go so far as to say it sounds ghostly, which brings me back to my original thought: Heavy Metal should be spooky. Add in the facts that the band’s original bass player died shortly before this album was recorded, that the bass is only present in this album as a sort of ethereal background noise and that one of the tracks “To Live Is To Die” is made up of Cliff Burton’s old ‘riff tapes’ that he recorded before he died and, what we have, is an album that sounds truly haunted.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Burn After Reading (no spoilers)

I just got around to seeing this, and I wanted to expand on my twitter post about how bad I thought this was.

The movie has a "ridiculous-by-design plot" (as the AV Club says): it rambles around, takes a while to get started, does not really build anywhere, ends somewhat at random. In theory this can work. But the kind of movie that that works for is one where something else is OVERWHELMINGLY good, usually comedy. I cannot come up perfect examples here, but we will do with these: Harold and Kumar just kind of rambles around, but it is really FUNNY so you don't care; I have never cared an ounce about the plot of an episode of Pushing Daisies, but the design of the show, the casting and the characters are so great, it is never bothered me.

You can also have a movie with no sympathetic characters, but again, you have to be really funny or have some other over the top stand out quality. The best episodes of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia are funny enough that the fact that the protagonists are all monsters does not bother you in the least -- in fact it ads to the comedy. The characters in Burn were either completely unsympathetic, or they were sympathetic in the wrong way -- I felt sorry for them some of the time, and that made the jokes not work for me. Instead of laughing at their unrealistic monstrosity, I pitied them for their realistic dashed hopes.

Burn After Reading has BOTH a ridiculous by design plot AND no sympathetic characters (or sad characters), which means that the thing on the other side of the scale (performance, jokes, design, special effects, whatever) is going to need to be extra heavy as a counter-balance. And there was barely any counterbalance.

Moments were great: the CIA stuff with JK Simmons was wonderful and the last scene in the film was my favorite; John Malkovitch in a bathrobe and shorts with a hatchet was brilliant. Brad Pitt was really funny dancing in the car with the headphones or holding up his fist when he calls Malkovitch at home. But there were a lot of scenes that I think were supposed to be funny that I thought (and people I like disagree with me here) were not funny. Clooney's basement project -- there was something really sad about that, and about how he called his wife (who is leaving him) to tell her her present was complete. Francis McDormand is dumb, but we do not hate her, and when she goes on a date and is disappointed we feel bad for her; when a date goes well but it is with another man who is going to hurt her we again feel bad for her. She is stupid to be sure, but not undeserving of love (and someone does love her) -- this is not good if you are going for comedy to counterbalance your story. (For the record I do not like most Christopher Guest movies, where, again, stupid people are punished relentlessly: I seem to be the only one who feels so bad for these characters I cannot laugh at them). George Clooney freaking out - that was supposed to be funny I think and I guess it was sort of funny, but it was not enough. There is a gag late in the movie -- I think it is supposed to be a gag but it fell so flat I could not tell -- about what Tilda Swinton's job turns out to be. I would love to have seen more scenes like Malkovitch punching Pitt in the car, but when the violence hit again it hit characters who got hurt I did not want to see be hurt. I wanted to see it get out of control like an Acme Cartoon, as stakes kept rising in a Malkovitch Pitt/McDormand battle, where each became steadily more monstrous and thus more deserving of violence, but instead it fizzled with hurt people hurting each other. I wanted a movie that got started fast and kept going, but the first act was spent establishing main characters in the status quo -- a fine idea in a movie where we are supposed to get attached to them, but not a great idea if you characters are all unlikable. There are long stretches without comedy at all -- so maybe comedy is not the thing that is supposed to counter balance the silly plot and the bad characters. But I cannot think of what should be the counterbalance, and I believe this movie needs one. It is like being at a party full of people you want to get away from.

My friend Tim said that the problem was that the movie had no main characters: it was like a group of quirky throwaway secondary characters from a bigger film. As a secondary character it is OK to just run on quirks (like Clooney's "maybe I can get a jog in"), but i felt like in this movie we were paradoxically spending too much time with these people (all minor characters consisting of quirks) and too little time with them (there were so many characters no one got much room to do anything and my favorite character just disappeared at the end of act 2, having not done nearly enough; Malkovitch did not do enough either and he is JOHN MALKOVITCH).

To paraphrase Seinfeld: if I want a rambling pointless story with filled with petty people being awful to one another, I have my life.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Jill Duffy on Twin Peaks and the Serial TV Show Format

[New Guest Blogger Jill Duffy (girl reporter) started Netflix-ing Twin Peaks, and had a few things to say about the pilot. Someone needs to write a book about the development of television, especially the development of the narrative arc growing from the episode to the season to the series. Twin Peaks would be an important part of that story, I think.]

Twin Peaks, the cult hit television show from David Lynch and Mark Frost, opens as a murder mystery. High school teen homecoming queen Laura Palmer washes up dead, wrapped tightly and neatly in plastic, on a small strip of shore outside a log mill.

In the course of the pilot episode (which ran for two hours when it aired in 1990, with commercials, or about an hour and a half on DVD, which is how I watched it), we're given a surprising amount of information. It's the pilot for a murder mystery, and yet we know:

• Laura Palmer is dead and was murdered
• Where the murder took place
• Laura led a secret life
• Laura was being treated by a psychiatrist
• The FBI agent sent to investigate has information that the sheriff doesn't
• A girl from another town (Teresa Banks) was murdered under very similar conditions
• Another woman was presumably abducted alongside Laura, but was not successfully killed
• At least two of Laura's close friends know something related to Laura's death that they are hiding from the investigators.

For a mystery, that's a lot of information to give away in the pilot episode for a show.

What's more, Twin Peaks debuted in 1990, before serial television programming as we know it was established. At the time, it was in a network's best interest to sign new shows that would be on the air for as long as possible, or at least several years. How did anyone plan to accomplish that with a murder mystery, especially one that shows the scene of the crime in the very first episode? It's a little bit baffling that the show was ever given the green light. (The Wikipedia entry for Twin Peaks gives an overview of how it happened, but not in great detail.)

Twin Peaks ran just two seasons in 1990 and 1991. The murder is actually solved (or as much as one can expect it to be "solved" under the direction of Lynch) mid-way through season two; around the same time, viewers lost interest and the show's rating declined. It was Lynch's intent to continue the program by exploring the characters and their mysterious town, which by many accounts is the main character.

Had Twin Peaks debuted 10 or 15 years later than it had, it might have had a better run. It wasn't until the late 1990s that television network executives, and show creators and writers, started toying with the way they air television. By now, viewers are used to shows that have a pre-determined number of episodes or seasons. In 2000, Survivor had to have an ending. We know when Lost will have its last cliffhanger. And neither The Wire nor Sopranos would go on forever. 1999's Freaks and Geeks was canceled after 12 episodes, but has a wonderfully crafted ending, leaving the series feeling complete.

Had Lynch had this finite serial format in place, he might have been able to better map out the murder mystery that was Twin Peaks and kept the show alive for four or five seasons, rather than watch it come apart at the seams (from the network executives' point of view at least) after one and half. In that sense, the show was too ahead of its time.

[Chuck Barris, creator of the Gong Show and self-confessed CIA hitman, once said that he considered being ahead of his time to be a mistake equal to being behind the times.]

[Update: I originally attributed that claim to Chuck Barry and Scott pointed out that I meant Chuck Barris. For the record I do not know for a fact that Chuck Barry did not say that. ]

Comics Out October 8, 2008

I did not pick up anything this week, but do let me know what is going on. I know they announced that Green Lantern: Blackest Night will involve dead superheroes and villains coming back from the dead, which seems like a good way to one-up Marvel Zombies.

Thursday, October 09, 2008 Report on Superhero and Fashion at the Met

Kevin Maher -- whose blog is on the blog roll -- reports for AMC TV online. A while back I was in a comic book store when he was filming and got to be in one of his movies for a few seconds (though I was not at my best). He covered the Superhero and Fashion show at the Met that I was involved in this summer and I thought I would put this up so you could see what the exhibit looked like.

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #171

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

Uncanny X-Men, The #171


Perhaps having become immediately aware – intuitively at least – that there was something insidiously wrong in the way the X-Men were characterized during their dealings with the Morlocks, Claremont immediately puts the characters in another situation wherein they again come off as intolerant of anyone they deem “other.” This time, however, Charles Xavier is there to chastise them for their single-mindedness: “We pick and choose who we help, is that it?” he says to them. “Some are worthy, others not?” Shamed, the X-Men acknowledge their own hypocrisy, having been put in their place by the man who three issues ago was denounced as “a jerk.” A corner is turned, and as time goes by Claremont will find other ways to knock the X-Men off of their perch of privilege, in the process making them much more sympathetic.

Walt Simonson is the fill-in artist for issue 171, and his bombastic style – though certainly strong enough in its own right (see the X-Men/Teen Titans crossover for Simonson at his peak) – seems garish in comparison to the textured dimensionality of Paul Smith.

Still, the choice of Simonson as a fill-in artist is interesting, forcing a connection between the present issue and the Titans crossover. In the latter comic, Claremont suggested that the good, heroic version of Jean Grey (rather than the evil aspect) might have somehow survived the events of the Dark Phoenix saga. Since X-Men/Titans is non-canonical, Claremont could get away with such a romantic notion. Strikingly, it is in Uncanny 171 that we first learn that Madelyne Pryor is the sole survivor of a plane crash that occurred on Sept. 1st, 1980, “the same day Jean Grey died!” – this being the first major hint that Maddie is perhaps Jean reincarnated. Though the next four issues will deliberately raise the question as to whether Maddie is Dark Phoenix returned and then categorically answer in the negative, Simonson’s art here is the symbolic tether through which Claremont can allude to the alternative possibility that can only be spoken in a non-canonical book: that Madelyne is the good part of Jean’s soul reincarnated, not the bad. I maintain that this is Claremont’s original intention for the character, obliquely disguised so that editor-in-chief Jim Shooter wouldn’t spot the notion and nix it.

Things didn’t work out that way, and the explanation for the Sept. 1st coincidence will become something else entirely during the “Inferno” crossover of 1988. In another example of the serendipity of serialized superhero comic books, “Inferno” is also the culmination of Illyana Rasputin’s arc – an arc that is also jump-started here in “Rogue.” As the first appearance both of Illyana’s “soul sword” and of the Maddie/Jean mystery, Uncanny X-Men #171 is, retroactively, a hugely important prologue to “Inferno.” As if that didn’t make it overdetermined enough, “Rogue” is also – predictably – the issue wherein Rogue joins the team. All of which makes for a comic book that, for X-Men buffs, is a crucial entry in the canon on historical merit alone.

As for whether it’s a quality issue in its own right ... well, that’s rather another question. Simonson – a ferociously talented artist – delivers far from his best work here, offering up several examples of both stiff figures and awkward faces. (His Kitty is ugly in the extreme.) Claremont’s writing is similarly ropey. Particularly contrived is the notion that Illyana would program a holographic recreation of the events of issue 160 subconsciously. (Kitty: “She wasn’t paying attention when she programmed the simulation.”) I’m no expert on how to program holographic simulations, but surely it’s not something that can be done while “not paying attention.” Illyana’s “I – REMEMBERED!” word balloon on the same page, while thematically appropriate, is over-the-top in execution.

Following hard on the heels of the precisely rendered previous few issues, Uncanny X-Men #171 feels like it was tossed together haphazardly. The downside of Claremont having upped his game in 1983 is that issues like this – competent but un-inspired – no longer seem quite up to par.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Macy's and Dentyne Adverts

Macy's and Dentyne just recently started doing adverts that I thought were really striking, and I thought I would put them here. 

The Macy's commercial from last year focused on contemporary stars:

(Does Jessica Simpson seem to have been digitally altered? The second time we see her she seems pasted into the scene from somewhere else -- somewhere with different lighting. Or maybe like the president in Dark Knight Strikes Again she was a hologram all along.)

The new one now moves that theme through time. 

In most of these clips movie stars are just saying the name of the store, and yet it is still somehow really effective. I can, however, remember (but cannot find on youtube) a very similar add for train travel that showed people on a train and pasted in several famous train related movie scenes in in such a way that characters from Some Like it Hot and North by Northwest appeared to be interacting, or at least sharing the same space on the train, in spite of the fact that some of them were in black and white. 

The Dentyne posters that I see all over the subway just work a really simple irony: internet phrases and the real world that in some distant past inspired those phrases.

"Chatroom Full" pushes the idea quite far, as these good-looking half-clothed people, on one level, are just supposed to capture this idea of a room full of people, but of course also invoke the internet-for-sex aspect. I suppose it is less about the contrast of the internet and the real world than the internet and something like the world of One Tree Hill, but I am willing to let that go. 

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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 I forget, remind me. Remember these comments can be directed at all the readers, not just me.

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WRITING FOR THIS BLOG. If I see a big free form comment that deserves more attention, I will pull it and make it its own post, with a label on the post and on the sidebar that will always link to all the posts you write for this blog. I am always looking for reviews of games, tv, movies, music and books.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Internalization of Quest Romance and Pop Culture

[Jason was talking about Claremont and the internalization of a conflict that was external in the Phoenix saga, and it got me thinking about this.]

Harold Bloom had this idea back in the late 60s called the Internalization of Quest Romance. It was a way of characterizing what happened to poetry around the time of Wordsworth: Wordsworth, argues Bloom, took all of the poetic machinery of epic poetry that culminated in Milton -- heroes, villains, battles, the quest for some object or person -- and made it internal: the conflict portrayed in post Wordsworth poetry is not with an external figure, but with whatever mental blocks are getting in the way of access to your own imagination, for example.

The problem with the idea, interesting on a lot of levels, is that I am not sure I want to deny a big internal world to Homer and Beowulf and Spencer, but still. Maybe it is just a shift in emphasis. I am going on memory with the Bloom as well, and I may be over-simplifying. Since both Bloom and I have that habit it is hard to tell who might be more at fault on this point.

But it occurs to me that the shift in emphasis from external conflict to internal conflict is maybe the key factor in what appears to me to be these major jumps in storytelling quality in pop culture, and a lack of this shift often the reason for dramatic failures. Pop genres are all about external conflict so they are not going to go as far as Wordsworth -- who can write a major epic poem where virtually nothing HAPPENS. In pop culture, internal conflict is set alongside external conflict to either make us care about the external conflict more by providing a point of emotional identification. Sometimes the internal conflict becomes so important that the external conflict is little more than allegorical window dressing for telling stories about emotional states.

The advent of the Silver Age: superheroes with internal conflicts, like the Thing on the Fantastic Four.

Star Trek vs Battlestar Galactica: the latter takes the former and makes the conflicts internal rather than external. Stories are about emotional conflicts between -- or often within -- people more than they are about space battles and space politics. One of the reasons the premise of Battlestar is so compelling is that there is so much personal responsibility for the external conflict: the Cylons (unlike in the original, I think) are the endpoint of our technology, technology that we abandoned, and since they look just like people -- since we may be Cylons without knowing it -- existential crises are huge.

The original Star Wars movies drew on sources like King Arthur and German legend that "predated" the Wordsworth shift so the conflict was mostly external, like Star Trek. Fair enough. But as pop culture shifted into fancy stuff with internal states, the prequels pretended the shift never happened, and so it felt like we were watching dumb kids stuff -- the Star Wars Prequels should have been to the Original Star Wars movies what Battlestar is to Star Trek.

Kill Bill gave us that external/internal shift between the two volumes: volume on is all sword battles and violence and the body count is huge. In volume two Thurman kills only one person, almost bloodlessly and the final "battle" is a conversation with Bill, who is repentant, nice, and an excellent dad. The "battle" is between the temptation to be a family again and the warrior's sense of duty to the mission, no matter what.

The Sopranos begins with Tony the Mob Boss seeing a psychiatrist -- the show takes the mob genre and creates the drama by emphasizing the internal over the external, Tony's emotional states over power plays on the streets. This is a show that often holds out the possibility of some big gun battle but finds all the real "battles" in Tony's home and his therapy.

Joss Whedon tells stories about Cute Girls who fight Vampires, but -- revising old vampire stuff -- he creates an emotional core by making the vampire stuff just allegories for high school conflicts, conflicts that are more often than not internal. A witch's curse makes Angel go evil after a moment of perfect happiness but this is really just a story about a girl who looses her virginity and then finds that her true love has just become this completely different person who did not care about it as much as she did and, having got what he wanted, blows her off.

Our own Streebo made a great Zombie film that I won't ruin for you, but it involves a shift of this kind.

The Wire is a big exception here -- that is a show that goes as external as you can go -- away from people and into systems.

I do not know if this is a good model for thinking about the evolution of pop culture, because I feel like you can go into anything from any period -- especially if you know some psychoanalysis -- and demonstrate how it was always already internal. Is the shift I am talking about more putting the internal conflict on the surface, where before it was merely subtext?