Friday, November 28, 2008

Comics Out November 26, 2008 (Morrison's Batman)

Spoilers on Batman, below.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1. This was basically good -- the art work was fun and those time guys had a cool design. Gabriel Ba is why I get this book. The colors on the battle sequence were particularly nice, and I would like to see more comics embrace a really garish color scheme -- garish colors are such a staple of comics, and obviously a book like the JLA is going to have a mess of color, but I do like to see a book that takes it to a new level just to make it feel fresh. Umbrella Academy is not of the caliber of something like Dark Knight Strikes Again, but that is another book that really does a great job with color. Give me the color palate of Courage the Cowardly Dog or Chowder any day. But I am impatient to get to the meat of this post, so I am moving on quickly.

Batman 681. Tim Callahan is a good critic when you give him a good comic book, but in my mind, particularly with Morrison, he is far too forgiving of error. I do not mean for this post to be an attack on Callahan, but since he is one of the few critics I read on a regular basis he is going to have to stand in for some beliefs held by the comics community as a whole that I find frustrating. Here is what he writes about Batman 681 on his blog:

I do think Batman #681 is a three-and-a-half-star book, since it does plenty of things really well (basically all of the Joker stuff until his ambulance-fall-off-the bridge, the Club of Heroes arrival, the super-plans of the Batman, the flashback with the poison, the betting on Batman, the Zur En Arrh/Zorro in Arkham bit) and other things not so well (the rushed fragments of ending, the lack of a resolution or full explanation, some of the artwork). Still, as I mentioned in a comment on my annotations, I think Batman has been "by far" the best Marvel or DC ongoing series over the past six months. There's more to discuss in any single issue of this series than in a year's worth of other mainstream comics. And anything that provokes thought and discussion is better than something that doesn't as far as I'm concerned.

I disagree about the Joker stuff being on the good side: although there is something wonderfully ironic about his chilling speech to the Black Glove about how awesome Batman is and how they are totally unprepared, I was not crazy about his menacing "I'll get you later" fade out after killing a guy Morrison forgot to make me care about. The ambulance fall was, as I think Callahan implies, weak (though Damian's "What was an ambulance?" was a pretty awesome thing to say) -- coincidence is almost always lazy writing even when it is masquerading as a theme with all the gambling (the red and black did not add up to much more than a deck of cards and a color scheme Satan is associated with). I know this is supposed to be a crossover and I was only reading this book, but I hated the Club of Heroes arrival because they showed up heroically to fix a bunch of problems that I learned about the moment AFTER they arrived. The city is practically saved before I knew it was in trouble -- where is the drama there? The coffin flashback to Eastern training improved not at all on Kill Bill, and even the Princess Bride managed to think of a more interesting way to deal with poisoned cups. "ZurEnArrh" turns out to be derived from Thomas Wayne's claim that Gotham would probably put someone like Zorro in Arkham. Zorro in Arkham = Zur En Arrh. I don't hate that, I might even like it. It is an interesting bit of nonsense anyway. But it is such a mess because of the Dr. Hurt/Thomas Wayne connection -- the Batman of ZurEnArrh is derived from the REAL Thomas Wayne and that is what allowed Batman to beat Hurt? But Hurt knew the "trigger word" so maybe Hurt is Thomas Wayne? or I guess Satan just knows everything? What?

But even if I agreed with Callahan that all this was good, I cannot imagine giving a book three and a half stars for bad artwork -- the first thing that bothered me about page three, for example, was that it looks like Batman has a mustache and goatee; then I realized it was just shadow; then I realized that buried alive THERE IS NO LIGHT SOURCE -- maybe Daniel just wants US to be able to see in the dark, which makes sense for the scene (you cannot have three pages of black, because unlike the Tarantino comics have no access to sound), but then how are you determining where shadows fall? One the one hand this is just a quibble. On the other hand Daniels is just to lazy to care; Frank Quitely would never have let such a dumb thing on the page. "Rushed fragments of an ending" is a serious complaint alone worth more than half a star, especially since Morrison has been telling us for a year that his whole run was leading to Batman RIP. Morrison can stick a hell of an ending even on very messy books (New X-Men, Invisibles) but there was no saving this story. Dr. Hurt is who now? Satan maybe, Satan who lies about being Thomas Wayne? Alfred and Batman dismiss the idea, but I cannot tell if we are supposed to take their dismissals of the possibility at face value: if Hurt is OBVIOUSLY not Thomas Wayne why does he say he is? If it is some kind of mess with your enemy tactic it is really ineffective since neither Alfred or Batman seem phased by the issue. If the issue is in doubt why does it not bother Alfred or Batman more?

Tim Callahan writes -- and again I do not mean to go after him specifically, he is just a good example of what a lot of comics fans are saying right now -- "I think Batman has been 'by far' the best Marvel or DC ongoing series over the past six months." I do not know what "by far" is doing in quotes, but I am even less sure that this really the compliment Callahan implies it is.

And now we come to the kicker: "anything that provokes thought and discussion is better than something that doesn't as far as I'm concerned." Any major character written by an ambitious major writer that comes out this messy is going to generate a lot of discussion. A lot of that discussion is caused by a debate between people who see errors ("He implicitly promised us a big reveal on the identity of the Black Glove and Dr. Hurt, and he did not deliver") and justification of said "errors" as virtues ("Do you know how to read? He pretty clearly identified him as Satan. He just did not want to be OBVIOUS about it" or "ambivalence is a hallmark of literary fiction and even the best of recent genre fiction: look at the end of Heart of Darkness, the novel from which this issue gets its title, or even the ending of the Sopranos"). An comic book may spark a lot of debate, and the debate may be good, but that does not mean the comic book is good. If my friend gets shot in the face, it may make me think hard about my life, the brevity of it, and the people I care about, but the fact that it generated some good soul searching on my part does not mean it was a good thing that my friend got shot in the face, yeah?

A few points that I could not fit in the discussion above, just general details about the issue being a mess.

WAS Thomas Wayne and co drug addicts or is that just Hurt messing with Batman?

Batman stops being Batman (Nightwing with the cowl) but then someone else becomes Batman (the Bat-signal at the end: maybe Damian takes up the job? Is this what the next story will be about: Who is the new Batman and where is Bruce Wayne?)

I am pretty sure Bruce Wayne's black glove punching through the glass to get Hurt leader of the Black Glove -- and going down in a flaming helicopter is a lame ending by the way -- is ironic: "The Black Glove always wins" says Hurt, and indeed he is right, though not in the way he intended. There is something I really like about how Morrison wants to end this big epic with Batman punching someone, something of the pure superhero concept there. But the irony of Batman's black glove is marred because Morrison had him thinking for a moment he WAS the Black Glove, his own worst enemy, and this just muddies already muddy water.

Heart of Darkness is an overrated book, but that is a whole other post. Harold Bloom says Conrad ends with this non-sense about "The Horror! the Horror!" not because the character is in the dark, but because the author is in the dark. That seems to me to be going to far, as I think Conrad was genuinely interested in radical ambiguity and did his best with it. How this compares to what Morrison did here I do not know, but I think Morrison is just making mistakes.

I loved the end of the Sopranos, but that ambiguous ending is nothing like Morrison's, as it relied on the worship people had for the Sopranos, and the fact that this was it -- there was never going to be any more. As Brad pointed out to me, the end of the show was like a friend dying -- all you want is just five more minutes with the person, but you are always going to want five more minutes and the thing has to end. Many people thought Tony got killed at the end, and I can see the virtues of that argument, but in a larger way the show itself got killed. People expected a violent and shocking conclusion to a show that had always been about understatement, and Chase delivered tenfold on both levels: nothing was more violent and shocking, but also more understated, than that final, jarring, fade to black.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Free Form Comments

Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticisms (which can be anonymous), surveys, introductions if you have never commented before, personal news, self-promotion, requests to be added to the blog roll and so on. If 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, November 25, 2008

Guns and Roses' Chinese Democracy

By Scott

[See also: Chuck Klosterman's review for Spin. I myself remain on the fence about whether to actually listen to this thing fully.]

“Shackler’s Revenge” represents the worst of ‘Chinese Democracy’, a techno-industrial-metal mess (not all that different from the atrocious “Oh My God” released 10 years ago as part of the soundtrack to some Ah-nuld movie that I’ve since forgotten) that attempts to cram in every movement or influence on the past 14 years of rock/metal/ pop music into a single track. Axl tries the same trick on the rest of the album but (you’re never going to believe this), with the exception of a couple of tracks, it actually WORKS! The end result is probably one of the most interesting and unique albums that I have heard in years.

At some point during the recording of the ‘Use Your Illusion’ albums, for Axl at least, Guns N’ Roses stopped being about a group of sunset strip street urchins crawling out of the gutter to play amped-up Rolling Stone’s style blues-rock inflected with a heaping helping of punk rock attitude, and became about something much bigger. It was more than a band; it was a concept. The blue-based rock was still there but songs like “November Rain”, “Estranged”, “Locomotive”, “The Garden” and “Coma” (of which Axl was the sole or principal songwriter) took on an epic more conceptual quality and took us into the heart of their author’s twisted psyche. In fact, the ‘everything-but-the-kitchen-sink’ approach to the ‘Use Your Illusion’ albums can now be seen as a sort of house cleaning; a way of expunging the old G N’R by recording every song in their old repertoire in order to clear the decks for the new direction he was planning on taking the band (even the ‘Spaghetti Incident’ was made up of cover songs recorded during these recording sessions that, once again, had been a part of the band’s onstage set list for years).

It is unfair to compare the Guns N’ Roses heard here with the band from ‘Appetite For Destruction’… that being said, this album actually manages to sound a lot more like Guns N’ Roses than Velvet Revolver did. Sure, Slash had a pretty distinct style but, I realized, that wasn’t the only unique part of the G N’R sound; it was the LAYERING of guitar upon guitar that created one of the biggest guitar sounds in rock: ‘Chinese Democracy’ has guitars ‘a plenty… guitar upon guitar upon guitar … upon guitar … and yes, I’ll say it once more… upon guitar are woven into songs throughout the album and, in fact, most songs credit no less than FIVE different guitarist. Sure, we all would have liked to hear Slash but Axl gives us, not one, but three, count ‘em three, lead guitarists to replace him: Robin Finck is a studio-pro who is more than capable of producing whatever sounds Axl’s heart may desire (more often than not this is a pretty decent Slash imitation) while Buckethead and “Bumblefoot” (I’m not kidding on that one; apparently at least part of Axl’s vision for the band requires upholding the tradition of guitarists with strange names) are both Avant-Guitar technical wizards who not only cam shred like maniacs but also accent the songs with all sorts of interesting beeps and buzzes (rythym guitars are handled by Paul Tobias and Richard Fortus respectively).

The guitars aren’t the only thing layered on the album. While it may not have been the mess that most of us were expecting it to be, it definitely sounds like it took 14 years to record. Indeed, Rose has crafted a veritable Rock symphony with layer upon layer of guitars, bass, strings, drums, synths, percussion and pretty much everything else you can imagine. To give you an idea, here are the credits for a single track, “There Was A Time”:

Guitars: Axl Rose, Buckethead, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, Robin Finck, Paul Tobias, Richard Fortus
Drums: Brain, Frank Ferrer
Piano: Paul Tobias
Bass: Tommy Stinson, Chris Pitman (additional)
Keyboards: Axl Rose, Chris Pitman, Dizzy Reed
Orchestra: Marco Beltrami, Paul Buckmaster
Orchestral Arrangements: Marco Beltrami, Paul Buckmaster, Dizzy Reed, Axl Rose, Chris Pitman
Synth Orcestra: Axl Rose, Christ Pitman, Dizzy Reed
Background vocals: Tommy Stinson, Dizzy Reed, Chris Pitman
Mellotron: Chris Pitman
Drum Programming: Chris Pitman
Choir and Additional Horn Arrangements: Axl Rose and Susan Katayama
Sub-bass: Chris Pitman
Guitar Solos: Robin Finck, Buckethead
Vocals: Axl Rose
Arrangement: Rose, Costanzo, Caudieux, Beaven
Drum Arrangement: Josh Freeman, Costanzo, Caudieux, Beaven, Brain, Axl Rose.
Digital Editing: Rose, Costanzon, Caudieux, Beaven, Billy Howerdel

Every detail on the album has been fine tuned to the point of ridiculousness, one credit on the album actually tells us that Robin Finck’s guitar solos on “Street Of Dreams”, “There Was A Time” and “IRS” were “initially produced by Sean Beaven, engineered by Critter, re-amped, edited and engineered by Caram Costanzon.” And, then, there’s my personal favorite credit on the album: “Additonal Demo Preproduction on ‘Madagascar’” Additional demo preproduction!?! What does that even mean?

This could very easily have the effect of too many chefs spoiling the stew and, granted, it is a pretty busy sounding album but, overall, the result is the kind of multi-layered and nuanced album that you can listen to over and over and always come out hearing something new. And Rose does this on EVERY track, while the end result of this may be less pleasing in some cases than others, it is clear that, for Axl, none of the songs on this album were intended to be throwaways or filler; he has treated each track as though it were a masterpiece.

As for that other distinctive component of the G N’ R sound, Axl’s voice, it is in as good shape as it ever was. There are hints here and there of its aging but he still has the range and, remarkably, a much greater control over his lower register (as is displayed beautifully on the song “Sorry”).

As for the songs themselves, they run the gamut of a variety of styles and influences. The title track is the closest thing to the old Guns N’ Roses and, while I initially dismissed it as being unremarkable a couple of weeks back, after a few further listenings, It’s actually a pretty solid tune. Oddly, when Axl goes heavier, on songs like the aforementioned “Shackler’s Revenge” and “Scraped” the results are far less interesting than anything else on the album. Of the ‘heavy songs’, only “Riad N’ The Bedouins”, which seems to be an attempt (and a fairly successful one at that) to reinvent Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for the 21st century, can be counted among the albums strongest moments.

The other songs can hardly be described as ‘ballads’ at least not in the classical ‘power ballad’ sense of the term. It’s hard to categorize exactly what they are: “Madagascar” is a classic Axl epic in the vein of “Estranged” and “November Rain”, “Better” combines elements of hip-hop and R & B with power pop, “Catcher In The Eye” sounds like early Queen (Rose is known to be a huge fan and, in fact, Brian May was reported to have played lead guitar on an early version of the song) “Street of Dreams” has a certain “Beatle-esque” feel to it as does the lovely “If the World” which also combines trip-hop and funk with flamenco guitar… Does your head hurt yet?

One can easily see how big of a mess this album could be but, to their credit, Mr. Rose and company manage to give the whole album a sense of coherence and unity. None of the songs feel out of place or better suited for another album. In fact, the arrangements and merging of musical styles are so odd that I can’t really think of any other album where they could possibly feel at home.

The lyrics are no less than what you’d expect from Rose; at times arrogant (“Scraped”), nihilistic (“Chinese Democracy”) or belligerent (“Sorry” where he states “I’ll kick your ass like I said I Would” which might be my favorite song lyric so far this year) but, also, sensitive (“Better”, “This I Love”) and always more than willing to pull us into the psychodrama raging inside his head. Much of said psychodrama can be tied in with Axl’s love-hate relationships with the women in his life. In “There Was A Time” he sings “There was a time that I would do anything for you” in the songs closing refrain but when he resentfully croons “and now you’re sleeping like an Angel, never mind who gave you head” we can assume that time has passed (the acronym that the songs title forms is also another pretty big hint).

One thing you can give Axl credit for: he certainly gives credit where credit is due. He does see the current band as a band and, not only does he credit their instrumental contributions, but many members of the band also have songwriting/arranging credits as well (Paul Tobias, Chris Pitman and ‘Brain’ Mantia seem to be among his most crucial collaborators).

In the album’s climactic masterpiece, “Madagascar”, Rose sings “Oh no, I won’t be told anymore, that I’ve been brought down in this storm and left so far out from the shore that I can’t find my way back, my way anymore.” It would seem as though Axl has finally, at long last, found his way back to the shore (whether or not he will actually, consistently show up to his performances so that this new incarnation of the band can remain a viable entity is something that remains to be seen) and with Chinese Democracy, Axl attempted to create the ultimate, epic rock masterpiece. I’m not necessarily sure that he was entirely successful but it is a noble effort nonetheless. And now for that free Dr. Pepper…

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #183

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

Uncanny X-Men, The #183

“He’ll Never Make Me Cry”

Kidnapped by the White Queen at the end of issue 180, Kitty was then bounced over to New Mutants issues 15-17, wherein she was rescued by the title characters. With the White Queen storyline complete, Kitty finds herself back in the parent title, in time to appear on one of the most devastating opening pages of any Uncanny issue ever published. Claremont’s writing is emotionally brutal here, as Kitty’s mostly rhetorical question to Colossus – “Anything interesting happen out there?” (i.e., during the Secret Wars) – is answered with painful directness: “I met someone else,” says Peter unemotionally. “We fell in love.”

It hits with the force of a gun, and the following three pages – once again moodily colored by Glynis Oliver – don’t let up on the intensity. Claremont’s writing is gorgeous here – simple, heartfelt, emotionally honest and excruciatingly realistic. Romita Jr. is remarkably expressive as well, demonstrating more subtlety and emotional realism than he has in any prior Uncanny issue. In both the phenomenal opening Peter/Kitty sequence and throughout the issue, the X-Men have never felt more like actual people (note that none of them appear in costume for the entirety of the story – except Nightcrawler, partially, in a mere three panels).

The Colossus/Juggernaut fight is also brilliantly conceived and executed, by far the all-time greatest use of the Juggernaut in an X-Men comic book. A once-impressive villain made to look foolish over time because his “unstoppable” riff rings hollow after so many defeats, Cain Marko here is portrayed for the first time as a genuine force of nature – or at least of karma, as his only role here is to give Peter what he’s got coming to him. (As Wolverine puts it in one of Claremont’s best-ever lines of dialogue, Peter’s beating at the hands of Cain is “what the boy deserves – what I was plannin’ t’do to him myself.”)

Romita Jr. is in his element too. Two huge bruisers engaging in a barroom brawl is the kind of thing that no comic book artist could do better. (As of this writing, the artist draws a comic book called “Kick Ass.”) Thanks to Romita’s incredible talent for drawing a fist-fight, combined with Claremont’s peerless ability to write superheroes as real, psychologically credible human beings, this is the first issue of Uncanny X-Men that – instead of being weighted one way or the other – is truly equal parts superb melodrama and dynamic action story. The balance would never again be this perfect.

Uncanny X-Men #183 is also the first issue that lists Ann Nocenti as the sole editor (instead of sharing the credit with Louise Simonson). Though obviously not every issue Nocenti edited is up to this stunning level, the fact that her first solo attempt at the job yielded such superb contributions from every single creator speaks volumes about her talent. She was absolutely the right woman for the job, fortuitously arriving at it just as Claremont was hitting his imaginative peak as a writer.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What I've been Playing

by Ping33

[Ping 33 will be joining us every few weeks to review video games, which is something I have wanted here for a while. Ping33 is a smart guy -- he knew Studio 60 was bad and All Star Batman was good long before I did, and he recommended Casanova to me.]

I've been thinking about doing this for a while now. I've been a gamer my whole life... I remember back in Kindergarten trading my Red Sox jacket (which no longer fit) to my friend Jessica for her copy of Dig Dug and Joust for the Atari 2600. I've owned a system in every generation. Being a confirmed Sega fundamentalist from 1986-1996 (with a brief co-habitation within the temple of Atari Jaguar, what can I say? I like losers) and have owned every console in the last 2 generations.

As I've gotten older, I've had less and less time for the hobby (Why am I taking time out to write this again?) but had more and more disposable income. As such I find myself here. Far too many games, far too little time. Because of this, my attention span has grown shorter. Back when I was 12, I could play a bad game to completion, I could learn the mind-numbing trial-and-error procedure needed to conquer Night-Trap for Sega CD. I could beat Alex Kidd 10 times, me and my College friends invented elaborate Goldeneye etiquette. Hell, two friends of mine even picked their first flat out of College on the basis that it had 2 floors so that we could run a 75' Cross-over Cat-5 cable for 4on4 Halo matches without the ability to look at the other guy's screen.

These days, if a game doesn't engross me in the first hour, it's out... possibly never to return. I don't like to lose, and so don't play online competitive shooters with 12-year-olds or my deadbeat college friends with little to do other than move up the ranks of Halo3 or CoD4. What I've been playing, and what I keep playing is dear to me. I envision this column as a bi-weekly check-in, a Top-of-the-Pops of my own personal gaming habits. I will always have material because, if nothing else, my 45minute train-ride gives me ample DS/PSP time. So now, with no further adieu, What I've been Playing:

PS3: Little Big Planet - For those unaware, LBP is perhaps the biggest paradigm shift to come along in gaming in quite some time. At its face, it's a derivative Mario-style platform game. It has you doing the normal stuff... running left to right, Jumping over stuff and dodging other stuff. With its mascot (the adorable Sackboy/Sackgirl) and old-skool mechanics it would hardly seem revolutionary if not for it's Internet2.0 ethos. In addition to the 50-odd levels 'shipping' with the game, it also contains the ability to create your own levels and upload them to the Youtube style Cool-Worlds planet. There you can jump around by creator or theme or randomly and just look for cool-ass-shit. Some creators attempt to recreate classic platforming levels (I highly recommend the Green Hill Zone 3 level from Sonic the Hedgehog) Some use the tools to make music (There is a KILLER version of Guns 'n Roses' Sweet Child of Mine, which plays automatically as you drive a car through the timed sensors) Some are... art? (There's a cool one in which you drive a Delorean from left to right as the wall shows your speed. When you hit 88mph lightning strikes and your tires seem to leave flames in their wake) and some are just mind-bogglingly amazing/creative/strange (a giant pinball game with Sackboy as the pinball, a totally faithful re-creation of the side-scrolling shooter Gradius, a giant clockwork calculator which can add and subtract 2-digit numbers through the use of around 16,000 moving parts.) All the user-created levels (there are about 100k of them at the moment) are nearly instantly accessible and can be played alone or over the internet with a friend (or random player.) LBP is the perfect game for my lifestyle. Rich enough to play for hours, but still accessible in short 10-20 minute bursts. It's really rare that a game is so innovative, fun and charming. If there were more hours in a day I might even try my hand at creating something... as is, I'm content to leech of the work of others.

Xbox360: Fallout 3 is in the system but, sadly I've not been playing it much. It's a massive spiralling post-apocalyptic RPG which I am about 6-8 hours into, but has scores of hours of content remaining and demands to be played in sessions extending at least an hour or two... something I haven't had time for in a few weeks. What I have played, I have loved... but when I sit down at home, and have the time to play a game I look at the PS3 controller with LBP at the end of it, and the 360 one with Fallout at the end of it... and invariably pick up the PS3. Fallout and LBP were my two most anticipated games of the year and while it's somewhat depressing that they came out within a week of one-another... I'm happy that the depth of both should keep me happy into the new year.

Wii: Nothing. I haven't turned it on in so long, it's gone from sleep to off.

PSP: Playing 2 things actually. Star Ocean: First Departure - a Remake of a SNES RPG which was never released in the west. I like the combat system. But hate some of the old-skool conventions, primarily not having a screen which reminds me what I'm doing, or having a map with place names (not to mention the ability to instantly travel to previously visited locations.) When I play on the train I really like games like this though, somewhat mindless grind-fests which allow me to listen to podcasts and not have to think that much. This is good for that, as the story is thinner than paper (Star-Trek rip-off involving time travel and basically moving from one location to the next.) The battles take place on a isometric 2d plane (think Final Fight or Double Dragon) and are action oriented with RPG stats below. You directly control one of your party of 4-players, the other three are have tactical options (heal, fight, protect etc) but run automatically. You can swap which character you control on the fly, but I have found little reason to do so.

The Second game I'm playing is Loco Roco 2 (check out the Flash mini-game HERE (click on minigame:) The sequel to the innovative 2d platformer which sees you as a Loco Roco, a cartoon blob who moves by rolling around as the world tilts to the left or right. Like the first one, it has a great visual style and a soundtrack which you will either love or hate. The game is relentlessly cheerful and saccharine sweet. It has come under fire for its possibly racist designed enemies. But in the end, these criticisms seem to have fizzled in the face of the game's overall charm and good nature.

DS: My wife abducted my DS, first to play the logical puzzler: Professor Layton and the Curious Village, a game which features classic brain-twisters like getting a Bird, Cat and dog over to an island picnic in a small 3-creature row-boat. Then to play Hotel Dusk, a new take on the old Point-and-Click gamestyle made famous in the early days of Lucasarts. I haven't played this one at all... she completed it the other night saying that I wouldn't like it. Too much random trial and error. She enjoyed playing it before bed as it put her to sleep... a ringing endorsement indeed.

That's all for now, I should be back in 2-3 weeks with a pre-Christmas update.

The Broken Kettle

A Freud joke via a review of Slavoj Zizek:

In order to render the strange logic of dreams, Freud quoted the old joke about the borrowed kettle: (1) I never borrowed a kettle from you, (2) I returned it to you unbroken, (3) the kettle was already broken when I got it from you. Such an enumeration of inconsistent arguments, of course, confirms exactly what it endeavors to deny—that I returned a broken kettle to you ...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Star Trek Trailer

In the comments to "Unimportant Things" finsof72 wrote "Though I have spent much of my life ripping anyone who has ever watched and episode of Star Trek, I'm ashamed to admit that I actually kind of want to see the new one after seeing the trailer...," and I have to say, coming from the same (distinguished) background, I agree.

I mean Simon Pegg seems to be having so much fun just with the one line he gets on the trailer that it would seem grinch-y not to join in.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Twin Peaks, Season 2, Episode 2 (or episode 9)

By Jill Duffy

“Sometimes things can happen just like this.” Snap.

The above line is delivered by a little boy, who is sitting in a big chair, in a room with an elderly woman named Mrs. Tremond. Donna has come to deliver food to Mrs. Tremond as part of the Meals on Wheels program.

The little boy is dressed formally, with a little bowtie. He’s studying magic, we’re told. He sits quietly for most of the scene, but there is something off about him.

Mrs. Tremond looks at the plate of food Donna has brought her and sees, to her utter frustration, a sloppy mess of creamed corn. She asks Donna, “Do you see creamed corn?” to which Donna answers, obviously enough, that yes, she does. Mrs. Tremond says she hates creamed corn and specifically requested no creamed corn. Then, in what seems to be a moment of senility, the woman’s asks Donna again, “Do you see creamed corn?” Donna looks down, and there is no creamed corn. There is nota speck of creamed corn’s existence on the plate at all, just a perfectly clean and empty third of the plate where it had been.

Donna looks over at the boy. He is cupping his hands, which are brimming with the gloppy, shiny creamed corn.

That whole scene has a grotesque quality that works really well with its overall creepiness. Sometimes things can happen just like that (snap). Sometimes things disappear just like that (snap). But creamed corn disappearing? And a little expressionless boy in a bowtie? It’s jarring and unexpected. It’s uncomfortable.

In looking up the cast of this episode to make sure I had Mrs. Tremond’s name correct, I came across the by actor’s name: Austin Jack Lynch. Indeed, this is David Lynch’s son. To me, this makes it even creepier.

In another disappearing act, we learn that Agent Cooper’s former partner, Windom Earle, was put in a mental institution but then “vanished into thin air.”

Other highlights of this episode include Albert, the brassy FBI agent with a strong distaste for local yokels. Albert is a treat to watch. He’s got a non-nonsense sensibility coupled with a cutting tongue. His verbal knocks are snappy and sassy, and yet they sometimes make him seem like a sixth grade boy who always gets picked last in P.E. class.

Lastly, a new plot line starts to develop about a man from Hong Kong, who is spying on Cooper and Albert in this episode, but quite frankly it’s one of these side stories that couldn’t be less interesting to me.

Comics Out Wednesday November 19, 2008 (Post #1000)

I did not pick up any comics this week, but this is still an important post: POST #1000. Many thanks to the guest bloggers who got us there.

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

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Unimportant Things

by Stefan Delatovic [I make a brief comment below.]

In fiction I find myself drawn to the small touches, those little flourishes that bring a story to life.

They let you know a writer has thought about the universe they've created for their characters and aids in the willing suspension in disbelief.

When I occasionally rewatch The Matrix - which it seems everyone owns as it was the first effects-driven film released at the same time as DVD players - it's the small touches I appreciate. When a black cat crosses Neo's path for a second time he remarks, and I'm paraphrasing, 'whoa, deja vu, whoa'. The other characters, more familiar with the digital facsimile that is the Matrix, tell him that deja vu is in fact a glitch in the system, things are repeating like a scratched LP.
It's a nice touch. While it flags the appearance of the movie's villains, its ancillary to the thrust of the story. It's not important, but its one of those nice little flourishes that I enjoy so much.

I enjoy things like that for two reasons. Firstly, they make the world I'm watching feel lived in. Otherwise - much like a comic panel without a background - things feel a bit thin. Secondly, they strike me with the thought that the world's creator cares. They know this world and its mechanics, and they're letting me know with a wink. It helps me get involved.

Asides such as this can vary in importance and can foreshadow future events, lending them an integral role in the story, even if its not immediately recognizable.
In season three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy shares a dream with her comatose counterpart Faith. As the girls make a bed and discuss the world in that dreamy-yet-weighty way our subconscious loves so much, Faith remarks that 'Dawn is coming', and that Ms Muffet is 'counting down from 730'. As the audience we write it off as dreamy nonsense, something to add to the atmosphere. But it is in two seasons - two years, or 730 days in the real world - that the character of Dawn will be introduced. There is never anything as dull as a 'this is like that dream I had' revelation from Buffy, and the dream is not mentioned again, but we as the audience make the connection, and the author winks to us that he has thought about this world, and he had a plan all along.

As a child I had glasses of such thickness that I appeared to have two highly-polished trashcan lids attached to my face, and a spine which was bent into the shape of an S. While I thought the spine thing was cool, as it was the first letter of my name, the whole arrangement added up to crippling migraines and quickly lost its luster. That situation however (the less said about the hair I was sporting at the time the better), allowed me to first find appreciation in these small flourishes of fiction. In an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation - which alongside Nintendo had formed a patchwork replacement for friends, sports and the opposite sex - Captain Picard is getting headaches. They eventually turn out to be the nefarious plan of some kind of almost-human-but-with-slightly-more-face alien, but before that revelation, Doctor Crusher gives him the once over. He complains, dismissing his condition as 'just headaches'. She remains worried though, explaining that headaches are no longer commonplace since the brain was mapped hundreds of years ago. It's clumsy exposition to be sure, but it's a nice touch from this future world. It also neatly encapsulates the thematic centre of Star Trek, and I'm paraphrasing again: The future will be shiny and great.

Anybody else love this stuff? Any favourites?

LOST doesn't count though, as their entire structure is built around the small details that may or may not gain importance sometime but could equally just be a polar bear but what if the island is in the past whoosh.

[I watch for these moments too -- but the key problem I raise is what to do with them in the evaluation of the thing as a whole. How many "bonus points" do I award for these perfect little details? If the movie is a B at best because of structure, pacing, acting, or whatever, do these little details push the thing into an A? Dark Knight had a lot of problems but a hundred little details around the Joker pushed that thing into a higher category -- for many people making a B movie into an A. But for me -- and I will admit I am a little inconsistent on this point -- the A has to go to movies that do not have flaws, rather than movies with flaws but great moments to make up for them. Otherwise you get in a position where you have to say, for example. that Phantom Menace is a great movie on the principle that the fight scenes are so good they make up for everything else.]

I have already mentioned some of my favorite throw-away details on this blog, but I will repeat one here: Cameron Frye in Ferris Buller's Day off wears both a belt and suspenders, perfectly capturing what his character is all about. ]

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #182

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

Uncanny X-Men, The #182

One of the less convincing threads of the many that Claremont introduced during 1981 (quantitatively speaking, Claremont’s most awkward and creatively stunted year) was the Rogue/Carol Danvers conflict from Avengers Annual #10. Among the story’s many problems were: 1.) Rogue’s ability to temporarily absorb powers and memories is introduced by way of an exceptional case – i.e., in Carol’s case, the absorption was permanent. That’s awkward storytelling no matter how you look at it. 2.) Rogue’s motivation for attacking Carol in the first place was never explained – we are given to understand it has to do with a vendetta of Mystique’s, but the source of the Mystique/Carol animosity is never explained. 3.) Carol’s memories come back thanks to Xavier, and she eventually gets new powers as well, so the sense of Carol’s truly having “lost” something was rather muted. Claremont told us something tragic had happened, but never showed us.

In “Madness,” Claremont and his collaborators finally give the palpable sense of something truly awful having occurred, as the harshness of both Rogue’s assault and its after-effects are dramatized effectively for the first time. Employing a particularly oblique style of storytelling (the kind for which he’s now famed among X-Men fans), Claremont deliberately keeps readers in the dark as to what exactly is happening for most of this issue: Rogue seems more confident and clever than she ought to be as she single-handedly assaults the SHIELD Helicarrier. Long-time readers (particularly if they also followed Claremont’s Ms. Marvel back in the 1970s) probably could guess why, but we don’t get the explicit explanation until the end, during Rogue’s conversation with Michael Rossi: Carol’s psyche is bleeding through into Rogue’s as a result of their San Francisco encounter from Avengers Annual #10. At first, this works in Rogue’s favor, and it makes for a fun adventure story as well: Her battle with SHIELD is wonderfully handled, and the repeated bit wherein Rogue/Carol’s only weapon is a Susan B. Anthony dollar hurled at high-velocity is both cutely knowing (Carol was Marvel Comics’ first explicitly feminist superhero) and pretty cool.

Then suddenly the story takes an eerily psychotic turn, as – in a sequence evocatively colored by Glynis Oliver (then Wein) – Rogue’s personality finally starts to re-emerge through Carol’s. A bruised and battered Michael Rossi can only watch in horrified confusion as this stranger seems to go insane while impersonating an old lover, but when he at last learns the truth, he becomes ruthlessly hostile, smacking her down and saying, “I wish I had the power to kill you.” There is genuine pathos in Rogue’s confused/agonized reply “So do I, my love. So do I.”

In almost any Claremont superhero comic, the extraordinary circumstances work metaphorically. Here, the very comic-booky premise – a reformed super-villain finds her psyche invaded by the mind of a superhero she once fought and beat – is simply a heightened version of the prosaic phenomenon of guilt. Essentially we’re seeing the story of a murderer who, though ostensibly reformed, will always be haunted by the ghost of her victim.

As for the larger storyline introduced here – involving Hellfire Club spies infiltrating SHIELD – nothing really comes of it after this. Even the cliffhanger, wherein Rogue is framed for the murder of an agent, will only get a bit more play in Uncanny X-Men #’s 185 and 186 before silently fizzling out. (By the time Rogue and Nick Fury cross paths during the Jim Lee era of Uncanny, they will inexplicably act like old chums.)

Not insignificantly, this is also the first Uncanny issue edited by Ann Nocenti. A fairly unconventional comic book editor, Nocenti may not have realized (or simply didn’t care) that Claremont needs a fairly firm editorial rein to keep him from losing track of his plot threads. The stories Claremont would go on to write during her editorial tenure (roughly from 1984 to 1987) comprise an era both rich with imagination, creativity and innovation, and also – paradoxically, but perhaps inevitably – marked by a lack of overall focus or direction.

Wednesday, November 19, 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.

Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest singers?

by Scott

Rolling Stone recently published their list of the 100 greatest singers of all time. I have no complaints with the top 3 (Aretha, Ray and Elvis respectively) after that, it gets iffy. First of all, John Lennon is number 5. I love the Beatles and while I can certainly see Lennon being on the list somewhere, isn’t 5 a tad high? McCartney is only 11 and, for my money, he was the stronger all-around vocalist (not to mention the more influential … think of all the singers that have grown out of those ‘woos’ that were his contribution to the Beatles’ vocal sound. Granted, he ripped that off from little Richard). Now, if we were doing a list of 100 greatest vocal PERFORMANCES, Lennon’s throat shredding performance on “Twist and Shout” would certainly clock in somewhere in the top ten. But we’re not looking at that, we’re ranking it based on their overall vocal prowess aren’t we? And, quite frankly, I felt much of Lennon’s vocal work throughout his solo career to be a tad unremarkable not too mention nasally… even if the songs themselves were great. And, really, shouldn’t Marvin Gaye (#6) outrank Lennon?

I can also understand the logic of Dylan being on the list, that is as sort of representative of any sort of ‘non-traditional’ vocalist. But, again, the Top 10?

There are also those who should certainly be recognized for their overall contribution as musicians, songwriters etc. (Chuck Berry, Kurt Cobain) who, maybe, don’t necessarily rank among the top vocalist. Another example is Brian Wilson, who may have given us some of the most beautiful vocal arrangements in popular music, did not have the most distinctive voice himself (Mike Love, Carl Wilson and Al Jardine are actually the voices that most people associate with the Beach Boys).

For the most part, however, I think they managed to pick the right people but their placement deserves some questioning:

Roy Orbison (#13) should have been top 10 and his current placement behind Paul McCartney (#11) and Little Richard (#12) is unacceptable.

Smokey Robinson (#20) should have been higher, especially when you consider that he is beaten by Mick Jagger (#16) who, again, should be on the list but is more noteworthy for his abilities as a frontman and a performer.

Freddie Mercury (#18) should have been top 10… sure, Queen may have been campy… but that guy could sing frickin’ anything: Rockabilly, Opera, Hard Rock, Soul, R & B… you name it and Queen probably did a song in that style.

Johnny Cash (#21) again, should have been top 10… as Bono once proclaimed “The most male voice in all of Christendom”

Janis Joplin (#28), I’m not a huge Joplin fan but I’d still put her in the top 10.

Bruce Springsteen (#35) should have, at least, made the top 20

How Paul Rogers (# 55) beat Rod Stewart (#59) and Roger Daltrey (#61), both of whom deserved a slot in the top 20, is beyond me.

How is Joe Cocker only #97?

Mary J. Blige is only 100? I’m not saying she should have been in the top 20 even, but 100 is far too low a placing for the heir apparent to Aretha’s ‘Queen Of Soul’ title (especially when you consider Steven Tyler is 99… I mean, the guy should be on there.. but he shouldn’t beat Mary). Doubters should check out her remake/duet of U2’s “One”.

Conspicuously Absent:

Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Michael Stipe (REM), Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam-sure, he spawned hundreds of DREADFUL imitations but if Cobain can be on here…) Brian Johnson (AC/DC- if Steven Tyler can be on the list so can Brian Johnson… I’m not saying near the top… maybe move Mary up and give him the 100 slot instead), Robert Smith (The Cure- a much better choice than Morrisey for the ‘mopey’ singers). Melissa Etheridge (If Bonnie Rait can be on here… why not?)

I’d probably put Axl (#64) a bit higher (top 40 at least) and I have to say that Bono’s placement (#32) is probably about right even though I would feel inclined to put him in the top 20 (although he’s probably my personal number 1… and that opinion might help to explain some of my other opinions regarding this piece).

So, my fellow music geeks, what do you guys think of the lists? (I’m going to go ahead and assume that Jason is outraged by the omission of Ray Davies and that Neil probably totally disagrees with my stance on Lennon).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Carl Douglas Kung Fu Fighting Jack Black

Jack Black and Cee-Lo cover Carl Douglas' Kung Fu Fighting for the Kung Fu Panda movie -- although "cover" seems like the wrong word since they also rewrite most of the lyrics.

Carl Douglas sings

Everybody was kung-fu fighting
Those cats were fast as lightning
In fact it was a little bit frightening
But they fought with expert timing

Jack Black sings

Everybody is Kung fu fighting,
Your mind becomes fast as lightning
Although the future is a little bit frightening
If look at your life then you’re arriving,

Carl Douglas sings

They were funky China men from funky Chinatown
They were chopping them up and they were chopping them down
It's an ancient Chinese art and everybody knew their part
From a feint into a slip, and kicking from the hip

Jack Black sings

You’re a diamond in the rough, You’re a brilliant ball of clay,
You can be a work of art, If you just go all the way,
Now what would it take to break? I believe that you can bend,
Not only have you got to fight, But you have got to win,

Carl Douglas sings

There was funky Billy Chin and little Sammy Chung
He said here comes the big boss, lets get it on
We took a bow and made a stand, started swinging with the hand
The sudden motion made me skip now we're into a brand knew trip

Jack Black:

You are a natural, Why is it so hard to see?
Maybe it’s just because, the people are looking at me
The journey’s a lonely one, So much more than we know
But, sometimes you’ve got to go, You’ve got to be your own hero.

Carl Douglas seems like he has just come out of a Kung-Fu movie, and is telling you all about it. Jack Black is singing, practically in character, a song about believing in yourself, which is weak. A big part of what makes the original so great is the patent absurdity of THIS being the SUBJECT of a song -- not a metaphor, no message, just a guy telling you about all these other guys fighting. There are LOTS of songs about being your own hero and so on. On the other hand I bet "funky Chinamen in funky Chinatown," although it has a certain zest to it, is probably not so PC.

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #181

[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 #181

“Tokyo Story”

Set chronologically after Secret Wars #12 (despite being published in the same month as Secret Wars #1, eleven months earlier), Uncanny #181 is a light-hearted story, one of Claremont’s most fun-filled issues. The opening sequence -- depicting a group of Japanese school children reacting to the sight of a dragon by pulling out spiral-bound “monster books” to look up which one it is – is extremely cute. (“Gojira ... Space Cruiser Yamato ... Astro Boy ... Red Ronin ... Hulk ... the dragon isn’t in our monster book! It must be a new one! We’ve discovered a brand-new monster!”) Here and elsewhere, Claremont seems to be poking fun at his own past portrayals of Japan, generally more based on clichéd, anachronistic and/or out-and-out fictional versions of the country than rooted in reality. Hence the very funny scene set in a Japanese war room, as reports of a giant dragon in Tokyo are met with reactions such as “It can’t be, this is the off-season!” and “Why us...? Why couldn’t it have attacked Los Angeles?” The whole idea that this is just another in a long string of giant-monster attacks in Tokyo is amusingly silly – a rare bit of meta-commentary from Claremont. He even pokes fun at his own exploitation of Japan and its culture in order to give Wolverine depth, as Logan laments, “[I] can’t seem to stay outta this flamin’ country, even when I want to.”

(As a sidebar, it’s also nice to see Mariko Yashida wearing something other than a kimono for once. She’ll dress similarly sensibly in the upcoming Kitty Pryde & Wolverine miniseries, a welcome indication that Claremont is finally willing to portray Japan in a more accurately contemporary way.)

Meanwhile, for all its ridiculousness, the actual premise of “Tokyo Story” is also rather sweet: a female dragon has fallen in love with Lockheed and is smashing up the titular city because – as we learn at the end – it needs material with which to build a nest for the two of them. The page in which Lockheed rejects his female counterpart is surprisingly effective, combining whimsy and pathos seamlessly. And while it’s not stated explicitly here, there is a deliberate parallel here between the situation of Lockheed and his “lady-love” and that of Colossus and Kitty. (At Claremont’s request, one of Jim Shooter’s plot threads in Secret Wars involved a romance between Peter and a beautiful female alien, which ended tragically.)

The actual mechanics of the parallelism are a little muddy – who exactly is representing who? – but the general contours of “Tokyo Story,” wherein a fantastical romance goes badly wrong, clearly are meant to have a resonance beyond its surface light-heartedness. It is Wolverine, acting once again as the cowboy-philosopher, who drives the point home at the end. “Love makes you crazy,” he says. “You find yourself thinkin’ about settlin’ down, raisin’ a family ... buildin’ a house ... or a nest. It’s a nice dream – when it works.” The lines resonate with the previous issue’s Logan/Colossus scene, which had Peter making similar comments about what he wanted for him and Kitty. One also can’t help but think – especially given the story’s setting in Japan and the occasional cutaways to Mariko – of Wolverine’s own recent failure to “settle down.” (In that context, Logan’s spontaneous adoption here of an orphaned Japanese child is thematically appropriate, although it’s a thread that Claremont will not do much with.)

Meanwhile, there’s also the amusing implication that Lockheed has rejected the alien female dragon because he is already in love, with Kitty – the same woman whose heart Colossus is two issues away from breaking.

All in all, Uncanny X-Men #181 is a kind of throwback to ‘70s-era Claremont (hence the inclusion of Sunfire, whose last X-appearance was in 1979); the adventure is more light-hearted, brightly colored and fun, but with resonances that imply the superhero action has meaning beyond the obvious. If there is a difference between “Tokyo Story” and 1970s Claremont stories, it is less to do with the arrangement of genre elements and more the result of the author’s own increased skill and fluency.

The story’s epilogue also harkens to the past. Since Uncanny #181 is the first issue to be published in 1984, Claremont takes advantage of the date, deliberately alluding to the alternate history related by the adult Kate Pryde in “Days of Future Past” (Uncanny #141). In a panel from that story depicting a rabid anti-mutant politician whose poster slogan reads “America! It’s 1984! Do You Know What Your Children Are?”, we learn that 1984 was – in the “Future Past” chronology – the year that the “Mutant Control Act” was passed. Now, obligingly, only 23 days into the “real” 1984, Senator Robert Kelly (the man whose life the X-Men saved in part 2 of “Days”) introduces a bill titled the “Mutant Affairs Control Act.” Thus does Claremont ominously suggest that the dystopian future the X-Men fought to prevent is still coming – right on schedule.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

I watched Kung Fu Panda over the weekend.

It is a pretty solid, fun little kids movie. The fight scenes are beautiful and frequent, which is probably the most important thing to get right in a Kung Fu movie: you get that right and everything else can slide. The trailer focuses more on the funny bits, and obviously it is a children's movie, but the fight scenes -- especially the non CGI one that opens the movie -- were clearly created by fans of Samurai Jack, and they hold the comparison well. It is probably a little unfair to claim that a lot of the rest of the movie goes through the standard Kung Fu movie cliches: the montage sequences (good!), the secret that there is no secret (fine), the hokey Yoda like master (whatever). Jack Black especially does a good job making fun of the cliches at times. One of the reasons the Panda character is so great is that, like Jack Black and like myself and most of the audience, he is a FAN of Kung Fu more than any kind of real trainee. The thing is 88 minutes long and mostly good fight scenes so overall I think this is a winner.

The only thing that I thought was kind of deeply off though not bothersome -- because you really do not notice -- is the kind of absurd celebrity casting. Voice over actors have been complaining since Aladdin (and probably before that) that Hollywood has replaced them and their talents with famous people with recognizable voices to no great benefit. Jack Black is irreplaceable, Dustin Hoffman is pretty good, and Ian McShane (from Deadwood) does pretty awesome bad guy, obviously. But outside of Black and Hoffman this is primarily a fighting movie, so, as in Samurai Jack, the movie smartly does not have characters talk all the way through fight scenes with lame lines. McShane gets a reasonable amount of dialogue, but the Fearsome Five get maybe a dozen lines among them all -- some only getting one or two, none particularly memorable -- so I really cannot see the point of casting Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogan, Lucy Liu, and David Cross, not to mention tossing in Michael Clark Duncan in as a prison guard. There seems to be some weird desire here to pay homage to great action stars while also getting in some more recent cynical / ironic comedians but it hardly matters, since you will barely notice them. It does not detract from the movie; it just seems really pointless.

Twin Peaks, Season 2, Episode 1 (or episode 8)

by Jill Duffy, girl reporter

The giant has appeared.

This is the first episode of season 2, after season 1 ended with Cooper being shot in his hotel room.

Like many of David Lynch’s works, Twin Peaks weaves into its world dreams, visions, and the supernatural. Given that the series is, at its essence, very much about fear, terror, and evil (remember it’s a murder story) the natural assumption is that the supernatural things are situated with everything else that’s dark.

But what’s weird is it’s not. Sure, there is Darkness in the vision of the gray haired man. He is clearly demonic. Yes, there is something awful about all the omens seen by Sarah Palmer and Maddy. There’s even the Log Lady who can catch glimpses and bits of knowledge about the evil, the things “beyond the fire.”

But Cooper has visions, too, and his appear creepy, but they are actually clues that point toward solving the mysteries, rather than being the mysteries themselves. I am by no means an experts on horror films (I’ve seen very few over the course of my entire life), but it’s my understanding that the most common depiction of the supernatural is that it is typically only evil; or if it is not entirely evil, then there is a clear distinction between good and evil, two forces pitted against one another.

The visions in Twin Peaks that are not necessarily evil, however, are still very creepy, like the Man from Another Place and the giant. The audio in those scenes causes the viewer to feel ill at ease. The lighting -- stark in the red room and throwing long shadows when the giant appears -- does not signify goodness in any way. There is nothing separating the helpful visions, thematically speaking, from the evil ones.

After having watched this episode, the giant has become by far my favorite character. The giant tells Cooper three things, then removes a ring from his hand, promising to return it when Cooper discovers these three things to be true. What I like about this exchange is that the giant isn’t actually telling Cooper anything that he won’t find out in due time. He’s just telling him in advance, thereby alerting Cooper to pay attention when these things happen or present themselves. The giant is calm and barely moves. He wears a red bowtie. He enunciates. When he appears, he towers over Cooper, who is lying on the floor bleeding. The contrast of prostrate man and standing giant, with a tall shadow cast on the wall behind him, only accentuates his enormity. There’s something comforting in his appearance. While the wounded Cooper can barely lift his head, the giant is unfazed, determined to lay out exactly what it is he came to tell Cooper, without regard for his weakened condition.

When the giant’s huge hands take Cooper’s to remove his ring, again, the act is comforting. One of the last things he says before he leaves is, “We want to help you.”

Audrey Nearly Hs Sex with her Father

One of the most uncomfortable moments of the whole show happens when Audrey, who has been hired to work in the brothel, is approached for sex for the first time. It’s the owner of One Eyed-Jacks who is to break in each new girl, and this owner turns out to be none other than her very own father.

We he enters the room, Audrey is on a bed with a canopy, swathed in fabric. She quickly shields herself from view by closing the bed curtains. Her father, Ben Horne, paces around, excited by the little vixen’s coyness. Eventually, he opens the bed curtains, but Audrey has grabbed a white featureless mask from the wall to once again conceal herself. He is practically on top of her before he is summoned out of the room. Close call, Audrey!

I find this scene reminiscent of the stuff of Greek tragedies, the white mask, the overwhelming sexual/pleasure nature of Horne’s lifestyle (The Bacchae?), the idea that Horne was trying to have sex with his own daughter without his knowing it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Comics Out Wednesday November 12, 2008

Again, I did not pick up anything this week. In the future, when I pick up no comics maybe I will get a trade -- I can try something new and give some first impressions here: things you folks have recommended. Unfortunately, this does not help us out today.

I did pick up a half-box. I found it inexpensive, and much better constructed than Superman Returns.

How to you guys store your comics? I have all mine in half boxes under the bed without (gasp!) bags or boards.

When Good Artists Go Bad

By Scott

[I am in a bit of a rush right now, but I will come back around and comment more fully on this tomorrow. -- Geoff]

If you have a favorite artist (whether it be in music, film, comics, etc.), chances are you have been let down by them at one point or another. No matter how great the artist, they always have their moments (or periods) of mediocre or, at times, just flat out terrible work. Even the Beatles are not immune to this fact, Jason and Neil have discussed the quality of “All You Need Is Love” at great length on this very blog [Ed. note: it was Jason and Neil right; Scott and I cannot remember and I cannot figure out how to search comments for key words]. Many Beatles fans (and the Beatles themselves) see ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ as the band’s greatest failure and I myself have always hated the song “Hello, Goodbye” (granted, the album did give us “I am The Walrus” but, even that, was intended as a bit of Louis Carollinian absurdity). So, when have your favorite artist broken your hearts?

Here are some of my top offenders:

The Who- ‘Face Dances’

When people ask me if the Who’s recent ‘Endless Wire’ album is any good, my response is usually, “It could have been worse. It could have been ‘Face Dances.’ While the album does have the band’s last great single, “You Better You Bet”, and the worthy “Another Tricky Day”, the rest of the album is embarrassingly bad. Songs like “Did You Steal My Money” and “Cache Cache” are almost laughable in their awfulness. It’s no small wonder that Rolling Stone would give the much better but hardly note worthy follow up, ‘It’s Hard’, a 5 star review a couple of years later. In comparison to this, it was a masterpiece of a comeback album.

REM- ‘Reveal’

“Imitation of Life” is one of the band’s best singles but the rest of the album just really left me flat. Unlike ‘Face Dances’, this album isn’t TERRIBLE it is just so incredibly bland; plastic is a word that comes to mind. Their previous album, ‘Up’, had used ‘Pet Sounds’ as a sort of template upon which to play to the bands own strengths, this was an attempt to continue that idea but it sounds quite often like they tried too much to sound like the Beach Boys (see “Summer Turns To High”) rather than sounding like REM. Many consider the follow up, ‘Around the Sun’, to be the band’s artistic low point but, for me, ‘Reveal’ was so bad that I actually considered ‘Around the Sun’ an improvement (this is also the first time I can remember the band, typically critical darlings, getting, not necessarily bad, but mediocre reviews).

Bruce Springsteen- ‘Human Touch’/’Luck Town’

Why would Bruce Springsteen ever endeavor to make a rock album WITHOUT the E Street band? It just doesn’t sound… right… again, like ‘Reveal’, these albums aren’t terrible just terribly mediocre. This also might be a case of a double album (or, in this case, two separate albums released simultaneously) that might have worked better as a single album.

U2- “Instant Karma”

About a year ago, U2 covered this John Lennon classic for a tribute/benefit album. This is one of those covers that looks great on paper but ends up poor in execution.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (George Lucas)

I don’t have to explain why this is bad to anyone but, at least I got something out of this: as a result of this movie my expectations were so lowered that I was pleasantly surprised by the other two prequels (especially Episode III).

Zac and Miri Make a Porno (Kevin Smith)-

Ok, ok… I know what you’re thinking… How could I be expecting anything after Jersey Girl? But, for the record, I happen to like Jersey girl. I also liked Clerks II (c’mon, you have to at least admit it was funny… my sides hurt from laughing after the ‘Donkey Show’ scene). Hell, as stupid as Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is… I have no problem because that’s EXACTLY what that movie was supposed to be. My problem with Zac and Miri (as mentioned in last weeks Free Form Comments) is that it is a romantic comedy where I have absolutely no emotional investment in whether or not the two leads end up together. Overall, this was just sloppy.

Chuck Palahniuk- ‘Snuff’

The transgressive fiction genre does rely heavily on shock value and its ability to offend but, ideally, the purpose is to make you think. Here Palahniuk forgets that latter part and pretty much spends 200 pages trying to gross us out and not much else. I’d figured out the twist within the first 20 pages and then the twist on the twist about halfway through. To date, his weakest work (granted, maybe I’m being more harsh to this book than I normally would be as it is the follow up to ‘Rant’ which I consider Palahniuk’s masterpiece).

Gabriel Garcia Marquez- ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’

I consider ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ to, quite possibly, be the greatest novel of the twentieth century so I was sorely disappointed with how boring I found this novel to be. I guess it isn’t all that bad but, I imagine, it would be like having your first exposure to Star Wars be The Empire Strikes Back and, then, you immediately follow it up with, not Episode I, but Episode II.

F. Scott Fitzgerald- ‘This Side of Paradise’

Many times, we can go back and appreciate the earlier work of an artist as much or even more so than their most well known work; ‘This Side of Paradise’ is not one of those times. Its Fitzgerald’s first novel and he has yet to develop into his ‘mature’ style yet. It also follows that ‘child-to-young-adult’ model that I find so annoying (the ‘David Copperfield kind of crap’ so to speak). I gave this to a friend and said “Hey, you like Fitzgerald, right? If you ever feel like not liking Fitzgerald, read this!”

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Twin Peaks, Season 1 Episode 7: Season Finale

by Jill Duffy

There is a gruesome sequence in this episode in which an undercover Cooper gets Jacques Renault to describe the entire act of the murder of Laura Palmer. The only thing we really don’t know is who did it.

Jacques, an overweight, slubbish, and slovenly guy, relishes the retelling, as if the words he chews through were some fatty meal. As horrific as the story is, it’s merely words, just an exchange between two men. Still, Cooper is left looking as if he is disgusted to the point of being sickened.

The rest of this episode involves more plot consummation. More people get shot. Someone turns out to be double-crossing someone else. The mill burns. Nadine tries to kill herself… More and more I feel like Lynch and Frost had one very good and complex story they wanted to tell, but had to pad it out with a soap opera in order to make it into television programming. (Nadine’s eye patch alone makes me unable to shake all the allusions to soap operas.)

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #180

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

“Whose Life Is It Anyway?”

Uncanny X-Men, The #180

Having apparently struck upon the idea months ago to end Colossus and Kitty’s relationship, Claremont made the odd decision to lay much of the emotional groundwork for the idea in issues of New Mutants rather than X-Men. New Mutants #’s 13 and 14 see Kitty palling around with a fellow teen computer geek called Doug Ramsey, and that thread continues into Uncanny #180, which itself is a lovely example of Claremont’s flair for superhero soap opera. An early scene between Kitty and Doug focuses primarily on the former’s long-brewing frustration at Storm having gone punk, but the overt use of both physical and textual clues make it impossible to miss the sexual tension. There is a dramatic irony at play, for while she rages about Storm’s recent alienating behavior with typical teenage emotional selfishness, she is entirely unaware that her own flirtations with Doug are also alienating Peter.

Colossus’ feelings, meanwhile, are made explicit in a lovely scene between him and Logan, the latter playing cowboy-philosopher while the former wallows in a rather affecting bout of self-loathing. “I am an ignorant peasant, from a society and culture as alien to her as any we’ve encountered in space,” Colossus says. Wolverine, as he takes a pull from a cigarette, replies, “If that’s what you truly believe, Peter ... you’ve lost already, more than you know.” Thanks to Romita and Green’s down-to-earth artistic style, scenes such as these – for all their Claremontian melodrama – are surprisingly grounded and effective.

As in Claremont and Byrne’s Uncanny #122, the present issue’s only bit of superhero action is a perfunctory sequence involving Storm vs. a gang of juvenile delinquents. Issue 180 is clearly meant to invoke its Byrne-illustrated precursor, wherein a naive Ororo explored a Harlem ghetto and was shocked when a youth she encountered cut her hand “to the bone” with a knife. Now, Storm faces down a group of criminals, all armed with blades, and her reaction is a knowing smile. Uncanny 122 also showed Ororo resorting to her mutant powers to save her life, but in issue 180 she tosses one thug through a window head-first and thinks to herself, “Against foes such as these – bare hands should suffice. More fun, too.” This is a shrewd use of serialized storytelling, one which Claremont will use more and more, re-creating key moments and dramatic beats from stories that appeared far earlier in the narrative cycle, inviting readers to examine the new iteration and reflect on just how much has changed between then and now. Romita and Green shine here as well. In spite of being tame by superhero standards, the two-page action scene here feels surprisingly brutal; the aforementioned panel of a man smashing through a window has particular strength, thanks in large part to the lack of sound effects and speed- or motion-lines. (The artists were perhaps obliquely influenced here by Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s similar aesthetic choice in the contemporaneous “V for Vendetta,” which deliberately eschewed sound effects, speed lines or thought balloons as a way of setting itself apart from typical action comics of the time.)

The emotionally climactic scene in the story, featuring the Storm/Kitty confrontation that had long been coming, is quite nicely handled as well. Sweet and simple, the sequence not only resolves Kitty’s recent frustration with Ororo’s changed demeanor, but also subtly brings closure to a much older thread wherein Storm’s parental attitude toward Kitty was causing feelings of irrational jealousy at Stevie Hunter, Kitty’s other surrogate-mother figure. “I am not – must not be – your mother,” Storm tells Kitty here. “I used to believe I could play that role ... but that was a mistake.” Unapologetically sentimental as it ends the scene with both characters in tears, Claremont’s writing here is also intelligent and shrewd; note another instance of dramatic irony in Kitty’s unknowingly prescient rhetorical questions, “Will it happen to me, too, like this? If I fall in love, will it only be for a while? Or worse, will the person I love stop loving me --?”

Though the story occupies an odd place in X-Men continuity, segueing not only between contemporaneous issues of New Mutants but also into Jim Shooter’s Secret Wars via a tonally dissonant sci-fi cliffhanger, Uncanny #180 is a solid entry in Claremont’s X-Men canon thanks to a fluent combination of sentimental drama and intelligent writing (marred only slightly by an unusually high incidence of typos by letterer Tom Orzechowski).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Twin Peaks, Season 1, Episode 6

by Jill Duffy, Girl Reporter

Very often, an episode of Twin Peaks will pick up right where the previous episode has left off. (I’ve watched up to season 2, episode 4, so I really have seen the show enough to gather that this is the pattern.) And so is the opening scene here: Audrey is naked and in Agent Cooper’s bed, right where we left her last time.

But just before this scene begins, we see a shot of a half moon, tinted blue. It is in contrast with the introductory shot from the previous episode: a full moon, tinted red. I’m guessing this shot was done in error, from full moon to half moon in a single day, but maybe not. If it was intentional, this is an odd symbol that’s not even creepy, and I can’t make heads or tails of it.

One of the very traumatic moments of this episode comes when Shelly tells Bobby that she has shot Leo. In my mind, this is one of the most moving performances of the show. Shelly doesn’t seem to be a highly complex character, but here we see her at odds with herself, her actions. She trembles with true fear in her heart at what she has done. She is a contrast to Laura who, as we’re slowing learning, had an unrepentant side to her.

It’s in this episode that the show picks up with action, drama, and murder. Hurtling toward the season finale, Leo is shot, Dr. Jacoby is surreptitiously lured from his office and into harm’s way, Nadine is in her worst state yet, Audrey slips off to work in a whore house, which, unbeknownst to her, is owned by her father. Lucy is pregnant. Maddy, Donna, and James are all guilty of breaking and entering (sort of). Bobby plants drugs on James. And Waldo the bird is shot dead

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Where is the Wire of Superhero Comics?

By Gordon Harries [I respond below]

The following is a response/extension to a recent conversation I had with Geoff Klock:

We were talking about the innate conservatism of the comics reader, in respect to the range of genres now on offer in comic books. To take Geoff as an example, in TV he appreciates both Pushing Daises and The Wire, which certainly have differing world views. He's a pop culture scholar, likes differing styles of movies and types of prose and yet when it comes to his appreciation of comic books he always --by his own admission-- leans towards superhero/fantastical comics.

Not that I wish anyone to imagine this is a slight against Geoff or to suggest that I'm an exception to this, my reading generally gravitates towards crime fiction and my favorite comic is 100 Bullets. And yet: it's not like 100 Bullets --or much of the type of crime fiction routinely published in comics-- is a million miles away from the tropes of the superhero comic. Consider the evidence; Bullets concerns a labyrinthine plot about which some things remain unclear, shifting alliances and affections (if not sexual relationships/encounters, something Bullets has been light on, overall.) between the principal characters and, some eight years since commencing publication, is beginning to feel a lot like a soap opera. Sounds somewhat like Claremont-era X-MEN, doesn't it? And that's before one observes the sporadic outbursts of violence which marries the two genres.

And yet, despite having long observed this commonality between the two …I still don't read superhero comics. In fact, after coming across this post by Neil Shyminsky I was tempted to pick up the relevant comic. Shortly after discovering that the X-Men all had long hair now, presumably because they live in liberal safe haven San Francisco, I decided put it down.

So, open question: why does the comic reader, with an otherwise wide range of tastes, tend to bank towards on one genre within comics? Five or six years ago I would have imagined that a case could be made for a stratification of readers. For example, you would read Warren Ellis' creator owned stuff for his 'real' work. After all the work for hire material was just to pay the bills. Now though we've had Bendis' Daredevil and currently Brubaker's Captain America runs, which are amongst the most well regarded comics of their day with any question about the authenticity of WFH almost completely disregarded.

Any thoughts?

[I asked Gordon to make his email into a post for the blog because I DON'T have any thoughts. I remember enjoying Bendis' early crime stuff, Torso and whatnot. And I love Sin City especially the first few volumes (I agree with Gordon that it fell apart in the end: his sticking point was its degeneration into superhero stuff with the origin of Dwight; mine was a preposterously stupid scene in the final volume in which the protagonist, his drawing of a naked woman in half in front of someone as a big defiant gesture of his refusal to sell out his artistic gifts for pornography or something -- I don't remember it exactly, but I recall thinking it was the worst kind of sitcom cliche about "artists" made much worse by its inclusion in the world of Sin City, and by the fact that the artist is also some kind of uber-military assassin. I read the first two or three volumes of 100 Bullets but never really got into it, although part of the reason may have been the time I took between volumes: I lost the thread of the big plot somewhere in there. Scalped, which everyone raves about, I thought was alright but I never went past volume 1: I have heard more recently that it gets better after that, so maybe I will give it another shot. Ruka and Brubaker have not impressed me with what I have read of theirs, which is not very much: Sleeper was the book that really turned me off of Brubaker, but his Cap run may be something I should just read all of, all at once, even though Captain America 25, which I read, did not grab me either. Bendis's Daredevil is a book I got for a long time but ultimately it just bored me and I dropped it. Ellis's sense of humor and preoccupations got on my nerves after a while altogether.

I am totally at a loss to explain why it is that I like both Pushing Daises and the Wire but only the superhero end of comic books. So I ask with Gordon: any thoughts?]

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #179

[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 #179

“What Happened to Kitty?”

Dan Green is one of the unsung heroes of Uncanny X-Men. Debuting here at the tail end of 1983, Green will ink 57 Uncanny issues between now and the start of 1990, thus contributing artistically to more single issues of Claremont’s X-Men than even John Byrne. Green creates attractively loose lines, which seem almost to have been made freehand, despite the inker’s job of following what’s already been put down by the penciler. (Compare the look of Uncanny 210, the last Romita/Green outing, to Uncanny 218, the first Silvestri/Green issue, for a dynamic example of how Green keeps the look unified via his own strong aesthetic, while still remaining true to the different temperaments of his two respective pencilers.)

Green’s organic and gesturely style is different from anything yet seen on Uncanny X-Men, which up to now has always been at its best when Claremont was paired with tidier artists like Byrne and Paul Smith. (Even when Green himself did fill-in inks for one X-Men comic back in 1977, it was in a much cleaner style than he employs years later.) Now supported instead by the gritty John Romita Jr. and the messy Green, Claremont’s writing immediately becomes darker, dirtier and more brutal in tone. The change seems to occur immediately: The first scene of Uncanny #179 takes place among the Morlocks in the grimy New York sewers; the second sees Wolverine, Storm and Rogue (the tough half of the present team) in a morgue, identifying a teenage girl’s corpse.

The latter scene is particularly striking, Claremont working with his artistic partners to evocatively establish the appropriate mood. Note the narration regarding Ororo’s reaction when she sees a dead body she believes to be Kitty’s: “Storm’s face is a stoic masque, the depth of her grief betrayed only by a trembling hand ... [cut to an exterior shot of the building] and a bolt of lightning that turns the night sky to day, followed by a boom of thunder that shatters windows ... and shakes buildings to their very cores.” The simultaneous shift in focus from interior to exterior by both image and text is executed in such a way as to suggest that there is no difference: the violent thunder and lightning shaking the world is simply one internal aspect of Ororo, as if somehow she contains the entire world inside her. More prosaic in scale but no less dramatic in its impact is Wolverine’s subsequent tough-guy intimidation of the coroner (“This once, bend [the rules] a little.”) and subsequent low-key delivery of the line “This ain’t Kitty.” Romita and Green craft the most outwardly masculine version of Logan yet to see print (the cowboy-hat-and-sideburns look innovated by Dave Cockrum has never been more bad-ass than on Pages 3 and 4 of “What Happened to Kitty?”). Right here is the birth of the hardcore X-Men, a concept that will flourish over the next few years, thanks not only to Romita and Green but also to Ann Nocenti (one of superhero comics’ wildest editors), who will inherit the Uncanny reins from the more conventional Louise Simonson in only a few months’ time. (Once Nocenti is replaced by corporate-minded Bob Harras, very little time passes before the X-Men franchise is scaled back in tone – even as it explodes in size – back into more standard superhero fare.)

As for the present issue, Romita and Green’s finest moment occurs midway through, during a sequence wherein Kitty attempts to flee through the sewers, only to fall face first in muck and be rescued by a tragically mutated Morlock (identified later as “Leech”). The tunnel is depicted as tangibly awful, while the panel of Leech as he cryptically speaks only three words (“Lost. Lonely. Scared.”) feels both hideous and pathetic. Leech is the most physically horrible mutant to appear in the series as of 1983, and his distorted visual design (possibly inspired by Spielberg’s “E.T.”), along with Kitty’s observation that “he sounds awfully young” makes for the most tragic portrayal of mutants Claremont has yet managed. A few pages later, Claremont proves equally effective at creating a sequence of pure terror, as Masque mashes Kitty’s phase into a repugnant piece of mush. Ending with Callisto’s terse admonition “She can’t breathe – fix her before she chokes,” the scene is genuinely chilling.

Claremont also confronts the X-Men (both the characters and the overall franchise’s premise) with their own hypocrisy here, several times. Callisto shames Kitty at having exploited the trust of Caliban (the Morlocks’ other tragic character besides Leech), and Kitty in turn chastises the X-Men for their inclination to find “a convenient excuse ... to bash in some skulls” (particularly if those skulls belong to other mutants). While the X-Men are confronted with their own hypocrisy, several Morlocks are portrayed in a positive light: Callisto has a twisted sense of honor; Caliban proves heart-wrenchingly compassionate; the “Healer” is kindly. Only Masque seems genuinely nasty. The overall effect is that the X-Men and the Morlocks stand on equal ground, morally: The X-Men are just as willing as the Morlocks to use violence to get what they want, while the latter have at least as much compassion and honor as the former. The only different between the two groups is that the putative “heroes” are privileged, and the bad guys are not. It is a striking indictment of the series’ premise, and the first of many attempts by Claremont to overturn it.

With its dark tone, its powerful (and powerfully arranged) sequences of both terror and tragedy, and its genuinely hard look at the skewed politics that comprise the series’ foundation, Uncanny X-Men #179 is a watershed issue for the canon, and an overlooked gem.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Twin Peaks, Season 1, Episode 5

by Jill Duffy

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

Episode 5 of Twin Peaks is a little bit all over the map, but there was one scene that I really liked.

Cooper, Truman, Hawk, and Dr. Hayward go hiking through the woods in search of a cabin with red drapes. First they come upon the Log Lady, and after having tea with her and learning an unintelligible version of how Laura was murdered (“Dark. Laughing. The owls were flying. Many things were blocked. Laughing. Two men. Two girls. Flashlights passed by. In the woods, over the ridge. The owls were near. The dark was pressing in on her. Quiet then. Later, footsteps. One man passed by. Screams. Far away. Terrible. Terrible. One voice.” … “Girl. Further up. Over the ridge. The owls were silent.”), they set off again in search of the red drapes.

They trudge along slippery banks of ground blanketed in Pacific Northwest pine needles, four men on a mission to find something somewhere, though they’re not sure exactly what or exactly where.

As they march through the woods, Hawk hears a faint song in the distance. It’s a tune that’s both dark and airy. A woman’s voice sings. It’s both hopeful and sad. It’s both soft and low-fi.

All the music tracks used in Twin Peaks are rehashed over and over, and until this point in the show, none of them have had words. (Actually, one of the songs is shown in the pilot being sung by a performer at The Roadhouse, but that is the only instance.) Since the pilot, I believe this is only the second piece of music that has been new to the show.

So Hawk hears the music and now they must go toward it.

Then there is a shot in which the four avengers line up in three-quarter view. It looks like a scene from a cowboy movie, like an old poster perhaps. The shot holds for a moment, long enough for it to become its own image. There is a close-up of a crow or raven. There is a long shot of the bird in flight.

The cuts in this scene are so much like a great Western. I remember watching The Wild Bunch in college and learning to pay attention to movement between tight and wide angles. It’s a very pretty scene, even though it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the show’s look and feel.

The song becomes clearer and clearer. We hear the singer: “To the night. Shadows walk. Shadows walk.” They find the cabin, enter, and see a record stuck on repeat. Cooper says to himself, “And there’s always music in the air,” repeating what the Man from Another Place told him in his dream.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

T.I.'s On Top of the World

I really like how the chorus plays with out expectations. "I used to dream (o-o-woah) about the money and the cars and girls, but now I see (o-o-whoah), because I'm sitting on top of the world." The way the sentence is broken up by the music makes us guess at how the sentence will be completed. "I used to dream" -- but now you don't? " I used to dream about the money and the cars and girls." Ah. "But now I see" -- that these things are all vanity? No, it turns out that this clause does not continue -- the direct object of "see" is at the beginning of the sentence: the contrast is between dreaming about it and actually seeing it in front of you, rather than a contrast of goals.

The line about Samuel L. Jackson at 3:00-3:08 is brilliant, though I do not have any fancy reason why. It just makes me laugh.

EDIT: Turns out TI is saying "sing" not "See." We will all consider this a part of our earlier Misheard Lyrics post. Thanks anonymous commenter. Good thing this was a Saturday post, where I can take it less seriously.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Comics Out November 5, 2008 (A Rant About The Comic Book Industry)

I got the Bachalo Spiderman book I missed last week, and I really like Bachalo and it was pretty good but that is not what I want to talk about this week. I want to talk about the fact that I did not pick anything up this week, and about the state of the comic book industry generally. This is based off of a talk I had with Brad last night.

With All Star Superman and Casanova on hiatus I do not have any books to really GET EXCITED ABOUT except for All Star Batman which comes out too infrequently. Not that there are not good books being published, especially by Fraction, but there is nothing coming out now that I await with breathless anticipation, as in the past I waited for The Authority, certain arcs of New X-Men, Planetary, and Dark Knight Strikes Again, and recently Fraction's Iron Fist - perfect meetings of concept and art and writer.

Someone asked Joss Whedon is he would continue to write comics or go back to TV and he said something like "I want to feed my children solid food." I do not know what the pay rate is in the comic book world -- does anyone know what comic book writers bring in on an annual basis -- but it does not seem to be enough. So you get talented guys like Bendis, who was a writer I was once very excited about what with Powers and Fortune and Glory, spreading themselves thin writing six books a month with minimal content. I do not think Bendis is untalented, or greedy: I think he has bills to pay and and I can respect that, though I dropped his books a long time ago. I think the smart move for guys like Bendis is to isolate a portion of their genius in books like Powers, so that they are consistently (if infrequently) making something perfect, make their other books to pay their bills, and look to smart fans to see the difference between the two. I lost interest in Powers in part because I think Bendis did -- he took imaginative energy away from that book and spread it thin and I stopped following him. Warren Ellis did the same thing with Planetary -- it was clear that he had lost a lot of interest in that book, especially in issue 26, but he never focused his powers in quite the same way again: it is not that Ellis is a bad writer, but again, he has spread himself thin. I can see the brilliance in lines and pages and issues, but never in whole runs after Planetary 14.

Then there is the movie industry, which has turned comic books stepping stone rather than an endpoint. Mark Millar whose work I quite liked for a long time, especially Ultimate X-Men, now writes movie scripts in comic book form (Kick Ass) when his writing does not just totally dip into mean, abject unpleasantness (Kick Ass again), and occasional total boredom (Fantastic Four). Frank Miller now splits him time between comic books and film.

Alan Moore retired, though before he did he struck the right balance between works of total genius (The first two League books, Promethea) and additional, forgettable stuff (Tomorrow Stories, much of Tom Strong). Over and over again he would return to stuff dripping in nostalgia -- like his thousandth painstakingly perfect rendition of some silver age tone and form -- but this never interfered with he best works (except maybe in the last volume of the League, but that may be a special case).

Grant Morrison is planning on retiring from superhero stuff except for Batman. I do not know if he is serious about that, or what his independent post-Final Crisis books will look like (they may be brilliant, as We3 was). But for now a b-list story from his JLA run has been elevated into some kind of major crossover event (because again, that is how you pay bills), which was not a complete disaster until it turned out the book needs fill in artists well below the caliber of JG Jones, including a fill in for the entire last issue. As we discovered in Final Crisis four J.G. Jones is doing a LOT to keep this book afloat, and when he leaves the story -- already maybe wonk-y --just sinks. And then you get stuff like Final Crisis: Submit which can serve no purpose other than to just add a little money to his pocket: the story is not bad necessarily but it is completely uninspired and unnecessary, especially as part of a book that prides itself on jumping past major moments in a maybe interesting way (jury is still out on that). His Batman RIP story is similarly maybe pretty good, except that it can be hard to tell behind the pencils of Tony Daniels. I once felt bad for Morrison and his trouble with artists, but now I think that often outside of Quitely he considers himself done when he finishes a script. The industry has been working out how to get the most out of Event Crossovers (Spin Offs? A 12 part story that runs through four books over three months?), but Seven Soldiers got closest to something really great. Seven Soldiers had a lot of potential -- though it tanked the ending -- but the format was exactly right: you get seven guys putting four books out in whatever time period (I forget how long Seven Soldiers lasted), and because the books have an odd relationship, the different styles become an asset rather than a detriment, and in any case can have a kind of internal consistency in their own titles (disregarding Mr. Miracle). Matt Fraction et al. did something similar for a while on Iron Fist where the brilliant David Aja was allowed to handle the main story, but a monthly schedule was kept up because of isolated flashbacks drawn by other artists so Aja might only be drawing 16 pages a moth or something.

Meanwhile guys like Bachalo and Ashley Wood languish without a writer to match their talents; Mignola does not even draw Hellboy anymore (though at least he found a suitable replacement). Brad told me that a lot of the best "comic book artists" do not even draw comics: story-boarding in Hollywood pays so much more.

I have no idea if this is practical -- and even if it was my voice is hardly going to make it happen -- but I want to see writers and artists who can recognize in their own writing the difference between works of genius and stuff to pay bills; I want that distinction subtly communicated to discerning fans like myself through a lack of fill-in artists and a willingness to let the book come out rarely as long as it is just right; and I want the film industry and the comics industry to get some kind of symbiosis going, rather than the film industry interfering with comics and comic book writers when certain trends strike Hollywood; and I want comic book writers to be paid more. Hell, double the price of Casanova and All Star Superman and All Star Batman. I will pay it just to keep those books just the way they are, and I will buy any books a writer puts out as long as that writer has one work of absolute greatness coming out on some kind of regular basis.

I am not asking any writer or artist to do a better job than they are doing right now; I just want to see what we have redistributed differently. The comic book industry has a lot of talent, and someone needs to be making sure a handful of books are perfect 10s, while the rest of the books are 4s. Because right now I am seeing too many 6s, and it is leaving me unsatisfied.